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Crimes Against Humanity

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Atlantis was a neutral colony before it became a prison camp, split between the mainland facilities and the ocean bound city itself for the war criminals and those convicted of crimes against humanity. Alcatraz, he'd heard Sheppard drawl when he arrived in the gateroom, manacled and bruised from a scuffle in the Colorado gate room that ended with four injured Marines. Inescapable, or so they said, but Sheppard's single word reminded him that nothing's inescapable.

They just haven't figured out how to do it yet.

Rodney's restrictions keep him from the computers, unwired rooms, as low-tech as an Ancient facility light years beyond human evolution can possibly manage. Setting his hand against the wall, he feels the hum of energy just out of reach, the flashes of power that pulses into his palm like heat, watching the flicker of the force fields, memorizing the new modulation like he does every day, like there's a damn thing he can do about it.

God fucking dammit, he hates this place.

Looking out of his cell, he watches Sheppard being brought down the hall, accompanied by ten special ops, zats trained on his every movement. Tall and rail-thin, bloodstained prison uniform and messy dark hair, moving like naqada-reinforced manacles at wrists and ankles don't weigh any more than air. The dark head lifts briefly, eyes flicking to study the line of cells that were once living quarters, and for a second, Rodney feels that intense gaze on him.

Just a second, long enough for a pretty quirk of his mouth, and Rodney nods back, introductions done.

The cell across from Rodney is opened, and Rodney's view is blocked as one of the men presses the zat against John's throat, forcing his head higher, stripping away the manacles and pushing him inside. Rodney hears the sound of a body hitting the floor, straining his neck enough to see Sheppard on his feet, moving almost too fast for the eye to see, but they're ready, the forcefield going up instantly.

Rodney winces as John's thrown back with a shower of sparks, hitting the far wall, the sound like a rotten watermelon slamming into the ground.

Atlantean prison guards don't bother with banter with the prisoners--work done, they set the passwords and leave. Grabbing his one chair, Rodney pulls it to the doorway, sitting down to wait for Sheppard to recover consciousness.

It's been a while since he had a neighbor, after all.

Four years ago, Dr. Rodney McKay was the toast of the scientific world, consulted by the Asgard for his work in subatomic particle physics and winner of the Nobel prize twice over. He pioneered the creation and engineering of the first-ever ZPM based bomb and extended his research to learning how to create ZPMs using vacuum energy from their own universe.

Thirteen hours into his first tests, he wiped out a living solar system, leaving blackened asteroids and the extermination of sixteen point three billion lives.

Later, Rodney still thinks his biggest mistake was not killing Dr. Radek Zelenka with the rest of his staff after the failure, as Zelenka's testimony was integral to the prosecution that stripped him of his titles, his accomplishments, and sent him to rot the rest of his life away on the outskirts of the universe, convicted of crimes against humanity before an intergalactic panel.

He's still a little bitter about that.

Sheppard, he learns, was brought in under an intergalactic warrant, crimes unlisted, but Rodney's been around a while, and rumors are as good as fact. There was once a county and now there's a barren wasteland, the levels of radiation so high that it's impossible to survey, burned into dust. There was an Asgard embassy, and now there's rubble. There was a president and now there's a corpse.

And that's just what they *know* about.

Sheppard's quiet, but he's intense, and Rodney watches him pace his cell for two days, running long fingers over the walls and checking the unmoving panels and flat, smooth floor, a thorough study of a twelve by twelve foot cell with a meticulousness Rodney approved of.

On the third day, though, it gets boring. "There's no way out," Rodney says, watching Sheppard do his thirtieth study of the panels by the door.

"How are they powering this?" Sheppard asks, not looking up.

"ZPM," Rodney says, and the bitterness in his voice brings Sheppard's head up, pushing too long hair from his eyes to grin, sudden and bright. Christ.

"Huh." Sheppard drops liquidly to the floor, legs neatly crossed. "Isn't this place supposed to be mind controlled or something?"

Rodney waves a hand. "ATA was deactivated," Rodney says, and Sheppard's eyes flicker. "And it's not like anyone here has the gene to use it anyway." Rodney thinks of Carson, six cells down, writing his theories on the walls of his cell these days, and Rodney might mock, but his own walls aren't any better. Absently, he flexes his hands, looking away from nails bitten to the quick, the crusty line of dried blood at the tip of every finger.

"Huh." Sheppard leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees, watching Rodney with bright, curious eyes. "Dr. Rodney McKay, right?"

"Duh." John just grins. "And I suppose you're the one that did the first live test of my ZPM in atmosphere?" And God, what he wouldn't give to have seen it.

John's grin widens. "My reputation precedes me. Nice to know. So the question is, why the hell is someone like you still locked up in here?"

Rodney crosses his arms. "Oh, I don't know--the forcefield may be an issue? Armed guards? The fact I can't so much as look at a touch tone telephone? Any of that penetrate?"

Scratching his chin, Sheppard considers him for a moment, then his eyes snap to the side, leaning forward and craning his neck at the sound of multiple footsteps--definitely more than the four required for any visits to this level. Getting as close to the forcefield as he dares, Rodney sees six grey clad bodies surrounding a tall, slim woman, in prison white, head up. Familiar in that way that their kind are always familiar to each other--and then Rodney's memory puts it together.

"Elizabeth," Sheppard says, softly enough that only Rodney could hear. Elizabeth's eyes stay straight ahead, but Rodney isn't fooled--she notices everything. The cell beside John's is opened and she's pushed inside. Standing straight, she stays in the center of the cell while the forcefield is activated, unmoving and quiet. Only when the guards are gone does she move, coming to the very edge to glance around warily.

Closer up, Rodney can see the dark circles under her eyes, the pallor of too much time spent in a South American prison before extradition. The fragile bones of her collar are in stark relief beneath the thin skin, and her slow movements tell him that her clothes are hiding some less savory results of too much time with guards not acquainted with Geneva convention standards.

He can feel her eyes flick over him, pause, then dart back. "McKay."

Rodney waves. "Got it in one. Nice to see you again, Dr. Weir."

Her mouth quirks in an amused smile before her gaze darts to the side. "And Sheppard, I presume?"

"Presume all you want," Sheppard says expansively, leaning his head on one hand. Anyone else would look silly, Rodney reflects, but not Sheppard. "So I guess your government failed?"

The dark eyes narrow sharply. "And your famed ability to vanish into thin air abandoned you?"

Oh yeah. Rodney sighs, leaning back in his chair. "Yes, yes, yes, we all are here because we didn't get away. And hello? Some of us have been here a couple of *years*, so spare me the self-pity." Flexing his fingers, Rodney watches Sheppard uncoil himself, standing slowly, eyes fixed on the wall separating him from Elizabeth. "I'm glad we've all gotten to know each other. Now if you'll try to be interesting now? That would be nice." Before Carson was moved, at least he'd been subject to fits of psychosis, and watching had pretty much been Rodney's only form of entertainment. This isn't as fun, but at least it promises to break the monotony.

Sheppard relaxes. "You know. You have to wonder." Finding his chair, he drags it to the edge of the forcefield, slumping into it in a way that should, by all rights, be impossible.

"Wonder?" Rodney says sharply, when Sheppard lets it drift. The dark eyes are unfocused, still everywhere. "Wonder *what*?"

"Whose ass is going to go up in a sling when we get out of here." Turning his head, he smiles slowly, all teeth. "You in?"


During trial, Rodney's lawyers hadn't been able to break Zelenka's testimony that Rodney had already been aware of the dangers of his research and that his test in a populated solar system had been both deliberate and with malice aforethought.

There are reasons for this, though the truth is, Zelenka is pretty close to right. Fifteen hours before the first stage of the testing, Major Samantha Carter was touring the fourth planet after formally opening an inquiry into the deaths of ten of Rodney's most recently deceased staff.

So really, when he thinks about it, he just can't see how he's to blame at all.


For a few weeks, Rodney has some questions on Sheppard's sanity.

Socializing with the other prisoners has never been restricted--something the Nox and Asgard had insisted on during their negotiations for alliance with Earth. Group exercise is provided in the wide inner courtyard, under heavy guard. A city-island in the middle of the ocean isn't something any of them are going to voluntarily try to run out of without an active gate. Very rights of prisoners, even the ones you never expect to allow to breathe free.

Every afternoon, just as the sun passes its zenith, their block is led here, two hours of free time surrounded by forcefields and armed guards before another twenty-two hours in their cells.

Rodney blinks up at the narrow stripe of sky and wonders if he's actually as pasty as he feels. Even Sheppard's tan is fading, pale winter-gold from dark brown, hazel eyes flickering green when they catch the light.

The women come out later. Not that there are many besides Elizabeth and Carson's scary wife.

Sheppard crouches, eyes flickering around the guards, probably looking for weaknesses, but for all Rodney knows, maybe he's noticed their uniforms don't fit.

"Special ops," Sheppard told him once when he asked. "Special conditioning." Sheppard had leaned into the wall, thoughtful. "I read up. They have to pass an intergalactic committee to get an assignment here. Incorruptible."

"Tell me something I don't know," Rodney had snapped.

"The second in command is a junkie," Sheppard had said easily.

"Ford," Rodney says, circling Sheppard. As he passes, he sees Sheppard's gaze meander up, fixing on one of the balconies briefly, then he stands up.

Every time, every guard tenses, and Rodney thinks it just might say something, that a room full of the most notorious scientists and criminals in the Milky Way doesn't freak them out half as much as the slightest twist of Sheppard's smile.

Rodney tries to see what Sheppard saw in Ford. The dark face is still, but now that he's looking, he can see the tension around his mouth, the tight look around his eyes. Rodney remembers his days on amphetamines--there's a look you get when you're going without, and Ford has it, in spades.

When he looks at Sheppard again, Sheppard nods briefly, stretching as he makes a circuit of the perimeter. The other prisoners have avoided him since the first fight three weeks ago.

And for that matter, how long is Bates going to be in the infirmary anyway?

But they avoid Sheppard, and so they avoid Rodney, which Rodney admits he's getting used to. Getting your ass pounded into the floor three times a week gets old, and he worries about concussions. The guards break it up. But Rodney suspects they give it a few minutes for the entertainment value.

Sheppard drops on one of the smooth, bolted metal benches, smiling as Rodney follows him. It's the warmest part of the courtyard, highly prized, and pretty much the demesne of Sheppard alone. No one's bothered since the second fight to even try. "Sumner's watching."

Rodney doesn't bother being subtle, craning his neck to see the red-clad commander on the balcony beside Ford. In all his time here, he's only seen Sumner twice, and always from a distance. Sumner never dirties his hands with his own prisoners if he can help it. "Why?"

Sheppard licks his lips. For the first time since Rodney met him, he looks--nervous. "I used to serve with him."

Sumner's eyes are on them--on John--the entire time. Rodney feels his back begin to crawl at the narrowed focus, laser-intense and utterly unflinching.

"He can't--" Rodney says, but the words stop in his throat. Atlantis is an modern, enlightened, commission-overseen prison, bright and lovely and humane and boring as shit. But that doesn't make it any less a prison.

And they're a very long way from Earth.

After Sheppard is taken from the courtyard, Rodney doesn't see him again for two weeks.

The thing about Elizabeth Weir isn't her work for the Goa'uld, because that was impossible to prove, though Rodney's pretty sure it's accurate. Her bloody coup that united South America into a single force under her command with a serious chance of taking over the planet--again, brilliant and dangerous, but on the scale of criminality for Atlantis, it was pretty standard.

Her deal with the Ori, turning over thirty five Nox and Asgard peacekeepers for interrogation and torture in exchange for their assistance in taking Earth--that had gotten her ass here, a woman who was willing to play the part of god or mystic or diplomat, whatever the situation requires. Her cult's still going strong and petitioning for her release, he's heard. They leave offerings of bodies all over the galaxy.

They don't talk much; Elizabeth is like Sheppard, happy with silence, but she doesn't do anything else either. Rodney's getting envious of Grodin down the hall, where every Thursday Carson has one of his episodes, screams echoing down the hall and the pounding of a body against unyielding metal.

They won't let him look at a computer, touch a wire, life bound by books, a small cell, and two hours beneath the sky every day. Insanity, Rodney thinks, watching Elizabeth sitting cross-legged in her cell for hours on end, has started with a lot less than this.

"Where's Sheppard," she asks the second day. Rodney shrugs, but the truth is, he's beginning to wonder too.

"Sumner," he says, and she opens her eyes.

"Oh." She stretches her legs, studying the force field with a thoughtful expression. Her head cocks slightly, mouth tightening in a thin line. She doesn't say anything else.

Rodney really misses Carson

Sheppard's brought back, pale and pounds lighter, showing signs of flesh regeneration at the small of his back and into the waist of his pants when he changes shirts. He talks even less than he did before, but the restlessness is back, like something's burning him up inside.

They don't hear much from the outside world, but they do hear some things, which is why Rodney's surprised but prepared when half the wing is cleared and Sheppard shoved into his cell when ten Athosians are brought in for temporary storage until the next dial-up to earth. The guards are doubled and suddenly their two hours a day is switched to one.

"Ori," Elizabeth says briefly, looking fond.

Sheppard's even thinner than Rodney thought, fragile bones beneath too-thin skin, and a change of clothes shows exactly why regeneration was required, making Rodney wonder how Sumner explained why a prisoner would need such extensive surgery. Sheppard twitches at the most casual touch and occasionally wakes at night with his hands around Rodney's throat, but he always stops as soon as he comes back to himself, and honestly, this is about the most interesting life's been since Rodney was exiled to the Pegasus galaxy, so he's not complaining too much.

Sheppard's chattier in such close quarters, curling up on the foot of Rodney's bed wrapped in their combined blankets, telling him about the last few years in the Milky Way that he's missed. The Afghanistan ZPM explosion, assassinations, the return of Dr. Jackson from the dead, and the efforts of Jack O'Neill to repair negotiations with the Asgard after John had started destroying their embassies.

"Why did you?" Rodney had asked, and John had grinned, stretching out beside him with a wince when it pulls the tender flesh of his back.

"I was hired to." He shrugs a little, and Rodney watches the dark eyelashes fan over his pale skin and the way his mouth quirks. "Not like the ZPM though." He opens his eyes, eyes shining. "That was a thing of beauty."

Rodney pushes himself up on an elbow and leans closer. "Tell me about the damage again," he breathes, and John begins to whisper casualty and mutation rates, the massive environmental destruction unseen on any planet before, and then he tells Rodney how he worked the equations to calculate the destruction perimeter, how he adapted Rodney's greatest achievement to create something that could have destroyed a world.

Rodney falls in love with the sounds of his voice, the cadence of his speech, and the way his eyes shine when he tells Rodney that one day, they'll test it on Earth, watch from the sky as they destroy a world together.

The next dial-up to earth is canceled for reasons unknown, but Elizabeth's suddenly watching the halls like a hawk and talking to the other prisoners. Late at night, Rodney wakes to find Sheppard seated by the forcefield, listening to Elizabeth with wide eyes, and later, when Rodney pulls him back to bed, John tells him what she told him. She wants out, and she thinks they can do it.

"How?" Rodney asks beneath the masking cover of blankets, closing his eyes against the warmth of John's body. What Sumner's doing to him makes Rodney wary of sex, but it's been two years, and he's just not sure he can hold out against that lean body much longer.

"I'm figuring it out," John says softly, eyes bright, and Rodney believes him.

The upshot is, Elizabeth gets as a roommate the elusive leader of the Athosian terrorists and John takes up permanent occupancy in his bed. The Athosian also offers up the kind of visual porn that was seriously lacking in Rodney's life before John came, and between the two of them, the number of times he's jerking off beneath the covers has tripled. Teyla Emmagen and Elizabeth are weirdly compatible, in that way that women can be when their goals are the same. Every night, Rodney wakes up to hear the two of them work on John, and every day, he listens John make plan after useless plan.

Useless, but interesting. Rodney knows shit about strategy, but what John's doing is the kind of stuff Rodney thinks that most former soldiers just can't do.

"The ATA," John says finally, leaning back, and Rodney pull him back to bed, mostly to feel the lithe body curl around him again, run his hands over too-thin skin and feel the shape of his bones. Sumner's weekly meetings with Sheppard haven't gotten any easier, and Rodney dreads and waits for the mornings he wakes to find John returned to him, crouched in a corner, wild-eyed and simmering. Coax him to bed and feel John wrap around him like a blanket, clinging fingers and soundless rage that beats against Rodney's skin like the feel of his heart.

He wasn't fond of Sumner before, but Rodney's beginning to think that when Earth goes up in a gaseous cloud, Sumner's going to enjoy the view from vacuum.

"What about it?"

"We need it," John breathes against his skin, and Rodney wishes to God John would stop moving his thigh like that. "We can--you know what the Ancients were. What this city was."

"The most secure place in the galaxy," Rodney says, but it's an interesting thought. Rodney turns it over in his mind. "But we can't use it. We need the gene--"

"Carson," John says softly, head pushing under Rodney's chin like a giant puppy. Rodney runs a soothing hand down John's back, feeling him arch into the touch. A few weeks of conditioning and John pretty much lets Rodney touch him whenever he wants. Familiarity, in this case, definitely does not breed contempt. "Gene therapy. He was working on--"

"Right." Carson theoretically has the gene, but not in any useful way. He could make lights come on and that was about the scope of his talents outside the lab. "Hmm."

John lifts his head. "You have an idea."

Maybe. "Not yet. But I'm getting there."

John smiles, curling back up against him, and Rodney resigns himself to a restless night and a quick jerk-off while John's sleeping in the morning. "I like their guns," John murmurs.

"Zats," Rodney corrects absently. "One stun, two kill, three vaporize."

John snickers. "Why bother with stun?"

"It's a question I often ask myself. God. We have to figure out why they're not dialing earth."

John shivers, and Rodney pulls the covers closer over them, thinking of Elizabeth's murmurs of Ori conspiracy, but for some reason, he just doesn't believe it. He's noticed, however, that they're cutting the power to environmentals, conserving energy, which argues that the officials are worried about power, which means they're worried about supplies. And he's noticed they're getting a lot more Pegasus galaxy staples and less exclusively earth foods the last few days.

John's noticed too.

Free time in the courtyard has triple guard, what with forcefields is pretty much the epitome of overkill, but John looks suddenly about as happy as Rodney's ever seen him.

"It means," John says softly as he stretches out on the bench, head in Rodney's lap, like a cat drowsing in the sun, "that they're getting paranoid. And paranoid men make mistakes."

Rodney watches the rotation again, the way the guards jump at unexpected noises, Ford looking that much greyer, and strokes John's hair. "What I wouldn't give for a fucking palm pilot," he says, and John's head tilts back, eyes dark and curious. "For the force fields. They used the lowest level of tech they could," and with so many unstable geniuses, Rodney admits it was probably a good idea or there's a good chance the really crazy ones would blow up the city in a fit of pique, "so it's pretty simple to disrupt." He sighs. It's what comes after that would be the problem.

John nods, eyes closing under Rodney's touch, and from the corner of his eye, Rodney sees Bates limping the far side of the perimeter. Sheppard's head turns sharply, pushing himself up as Bates freezes, then turns toward them, and as John stands up, Rodney resigns himself to a week alone in bed.

On the other hand, watching John beat the shit out of Bates is the kind of masturbation material you just can't turn down. Leaning his elbow on his knee, Rodney watches John and Bates begin to circle and hopes the guards don't stop it too quickly.

Rodney wakes the next week to John crawling into their bed, smelling of disinfectant from a shower in the infirmary and fresh blood. Moving over, Rodney sleepily reaches for John beneath the blankets and his fingers encounter cold, faintly damp metal.

Opening his eyes, he stares into John's glittering eyes. "Just don't ask me how I got it in here," John says, and Rodney wraps his fingers around the palm pilot, reaches for John's face with his other hand, and kisses the smiling mouth, tasting antibiotic and dental regeneration like victory.

John likes guns and bombs and weapons of mass destruction, reminding Rodney a little of Zelenka in his enthusiasm for explosions. Rodney shows John his equations, written in ink when he can get it, pencil when he can't, and blood when that's all he has, the work he's done that's recorded in the margins of his books, the rare paper they let him have, the walls of his cell, the mattress they sleep on, beneath the sheets.

And John *understands*, which makes Rodney begin to think this is all a hallucination brought about by isolation, because no one should be that hot and that smart, sitting naked on the edge of their cot when Rodney's too wired to sleep, quoting master class engineering texts and murmuring the sums of strange particles and calculating fallout in a voice that's made for porn.

Pi naught plus n must equal the sum of kappa plus and epsilon minus, John whispers while Rodney scribbles on the wall with bleeding fingertips, sucking Rodney's blood away with the same soft lips. One planet, two, a solar system, a *galaxy*, and Rodney watches John get hard beneath the sheet when Rodney tells him the death tolls.

Sumner was five days back, and Rodney doesn't even pretend he's going to wait anymore.

Pushing John down on the bed, Rodney finishes his notes on John's bare stomach, sucking down John's cock and gripping his hips to stop the instinctive arch. Pulling up, he crawls the length of John's body, straddling his hips, cock rubbing the math into flaking smudges, breathing sharply at the glazed look in John's eyes.

"Fuck me," John says, and Rodney grins, leaning down to kiss him, tasting blood from a bitten lip, his or John's or both, he's not sure, doesn't even care.

"Not until I'm the only one that does," he says, rubbing into John's skin, soft hair tickling his balls, entwining their hands as he rides John's responsive body. "Not until they're dead and this place--Christ, John, we can have it, we can do it, we can--"

"Yeah," John says, breath catching. "I can--if we do it right--Rodney--"

"We will," Rodney says, ducking his head to John's throat, biting down the curve of his jaw.

"Shift change, third to first," John grunts, arching up. Rodney thinks he could die happy like this. "Thirty off, sixty on, we need--we need--"

"Elizabeth," Rodney whispers, and John's eyes glaze more. Yeah, she's getting to him, Rodney thinks, setting a mental note aside to watch John more carefully when she and Teyla are talking to him. "She can--oh, God. John."

"She wants Atlantis," John whispers. "She's--"

"Fucking nuts," Rodney whispers, just to feel John shiver. Reaching between them, he lines up their cocks, breath catching at the feeling, a shot of heat that rides down his spine, so close, so *close*. Burying his face against John's neck, he bites into the soft skin just below his jaw. "Next time she's up for a chat, let me do the talking." Thinking of the palm pilot beneath his mattress, Rodney shuts his eyes, feeling John's fingers tighten around his, bone rubbing bone. "That's it, come on, come for me, we'll get all of them, we'll save Sumner for last, he can *watch*, you can do anything to him you want, anything at all--" John goes still, shaking, and the burst of heat between them brings Rodney off, too, a rush like falling off a roof or watching a solar system die.

Afterward, he traces his fingers through the come drying on John's stomach, writes his name and his promise into John's flesh with fingers and mouth, loving the way John watches him with naked eyes and sucks his fingers clean.

After that, it goes surprisingly fast.

Elizabeth's a natural organizer, no surprise there, and she has access to the women, passing messages for Carson when he's lucid enough to talk, pulling together a workable plan out of Sheppard's analysis of the guard patterns and the fact that Ford's been demoted to command of third shift.

"He wouldn't notice a landmine under his feet," Sheppard says disparagingly, stretching out on their cot, body relaxed, still too thin but putting on weight again. "There are ten blocks of twenty prisoners each on Atlantis, not including the mainland facilities." Sheppard purses his lips thoughtfully. "We want them?"

Rodney thinks of Kavanagh and Simpson in the mainland complex and sighs. If he's going to get anything done here, he's going to need his people. "Yeah, we do." Seeing John's mouth turn down, Rodney grins, crawling back up on the bed. "Elizabeth's got people there, too. Limit it to the guards for now. We have plenty of time to work out who stays and who takes a walk through the gate into space after we've secured the planet." John's still tender from Sumner, so Rodney's careful, kissing John gently before relaxing beside him. "You okay?" Regeneration again. Rodney's watched people die before, but he's thinking that Sumner will be the first to give him a taste for it.

"Yeah," John says, eyes dark, and Rodney kisses him again, running his fingers through dark hair. "I just--" John's restlessness is taking sleep he can't afford to lose, and sometimes, Rodney suspects Elizabeth's actively working John's instability, though she can't be stupid enough to set him off when they're still confined.

Elizabeth's timetable has set them for the night before John's next visit to Sumner, which can't be a coincidence, considering how tense John gets the closer the time comes. Watching Ford make rounds, Rodney watches him using John's experienced eyes, and notes the way his hands tremble and the dark eyes dart, his hand near his zat at all times. John watches too, coolly evaluative and weirdly hot at the same time.

Every time John catches him looking, he smiles, though, and Rodney grins back and thinks of the legendary Ancient labs, years in disuse, but waiting for him beyond the walls of his cell, the wide ocean around them, the computers and the databases, the massive collection of Ancient data that no one had ever bothered to erase.

And how when this is over, it'll be his.

During the trial, when Rodney was restricted to the Cheyenne Mountain military base, he'd watched as Zelenka inherited his job, taking command of the remains of the science contingent that hadn't died in the lab explosion that destroyed key records needed in his prosecution. The data had been recoverable, Zelenka working day and night to assure that Rodney never saw daylight again.

Rodney had listened as his lawyers told him in careful words that he was fucked, no deals, listened to the galaxy call him the greatest mass murder in human history, listened as they convicted him to imprisonment, stripping his name from the journals that once celebrated his every word, his awards taken, his work destroyed, his doctorates revoked.

It was like he never *existed*, and when he wakes up in a cold sweat, shaking with hate, he has John pressed against his back, John's voice in his ear, telling Rodney what they'll do with Zelenka when they have him, how many days it will take Zelenka to die.

When he opens his eyes again, John rolls him over and Rodney remembers what today is with a rush so good it's almost painful. "Ready?"

Rodney kisses the smiling mouth, biting John's lip hard enough to draw blood. "Yes."

Carson's fit starts like clockwork, screams echoing down the hallway, metal chair hitting the metal wall with an off-note, echoing bang that makes Rodney's ears hurt and John tense up beside him. Beneath the blanket, Rodney desperately enters his calculations, despite the fact that Carson's really taken it up a notch today--Elizabeth's encouragement or Carson's inspiration, he can't be sure.

"The door locks at both ends of this hall," John had told him, sketching out a diagram on the floor. "They lock themselves in when they do patrols before they unlock to get out. Good for security, bad for them. It leaves them four to eight men vulnerable for the entire length of the hall with backup having to get through both sets of locks." John had leaned over him, tracing a dusty red path with one finger. "Ford's the best armed, but his aim's shaky and his concentration shit. These two first." John traces a line, grinning. "Once we have the hall secure, you work the doors open."

The plan calls for all forcefields to drop simultaneously, with the understanding that each block is on its own. Priority is to get control of the computers before they're gassed, which, considering the people they use for tech work here, won't be hard if Rodney has a laptop and five minutes.

John stays quiet on the edge of the cot, fully dressed beneath the thin blanket, and shivering in the cold. Rodney thinks, not for the first time, that second priority is getting environmentals back up to par, because John's cold feet are beginning to drive him crazy. The hazel eyes are huge and dark, fixed on the hallway outside, his entire body attuned to the barracks, waiting for the activation of the locks that signals the last third shift patrol.

"Shields," John had said succinctly to Elizabeth. "Once the shields are up, no one can get in or out. Communication blackout." John had waved a hand idly, looking bored. "Atlantis' weapons systems are deactivated, but they're still here. Shouldn't be a problem."

They both hear it at the same time--the soft sound of fingers entering code, the almost inaudible voices of men about to go off shift. Rodney reaches over, placing a hand on John's thigh, muscle thick and tense and almost *shaking* with anticipation.

Across the hall, Elizabeth's shifted to the edge of her cell, crossed-legged and relaxed to casual view, Teyla leaning against the edge of the cell behind her.

They wait as the patrol starts, passing the first two cells, Dumais and Kusanagi, the four cells of Athosian prisoners, and Elizabeth makes a soft sound just as they come parallel to John's cell.

Carson screams like someone just killed his mother in front of him and Rodney, sliding to his knees, enters the last three digits and hopes to God this works.

When the fields sputter and die in anticlimactic dark blue fizzles, Rodney thinks, oh my God, it worked.

The thing is, watching John with Bates hadn't really prepared him for when John went lethal. John makes violence as good as sex, *better*, and Rodney wonders dazedly what he looked like when he took out the first Asgard embassy, if anyone born had ever looked so good.

One broken neck and four zat shots later, Rodney comes out to see the other prisoners just beginning to emerge, a little dazed and a little put out, because Elizabeth had revved them up for a serious fight in the halls and John kind of spoiled that. Coming over, Rodney watches John study the cowering Ford in the corner with cold, bright eyes, zat trained neatly on his head.

"Search them," Elizabeth says somewhere behind them, but John's focused on Ford.

"How the hell did you get through the psych tests?" John says softly, and Rodney frowns, looking down to see Ford pressing harder against the wall. Like calls to like, he remembers abruptly. "Rodney. Can you activate one force field?"

Rodney sighs, pulling out the palm pilot. "I can, but why--"

"Command codes." John's head tilts. "And Ford here would love to be helpful." Crouching, John grins. "We'll talk later." Firing off a single shot, John steps back, motioning to one of the men behind him. "Bates? Search him and put him in a cell and there's a private moment with that pretty little guard off block six in it for you."

Bates limps by and Rodney watches blankly as Bates picks up Ford's unconscious weight like it's nothing, dragging him to the room before throwing him inside. With another sigh, Rodney reactivates the shield, setting it for single room, then follows John to the locked door.

"Can you break it?"

Rodney frowns at the panels, then shrugs. "Low tech. Open it up, blow the interior out. The failsafes will kick in." Stepping back, Rodney tries not to find John's grin as hot as it really is as he pries open the panel with the edge of the zat, then steps back, pushing Rodney behind him as he takes aim and fires.

"Bates," John says as the smoke clears and the door trembles. "Stay with Elizabeth. Anything happens to her, you live long enough to watch your guts fall out. The rest of you? Fan out. Keep to the plan." John's head turns, eyes glittering dark. "Fuck this up, you'll deal with me. Gateroom, fifteen minutes."

Opening the door, John peers out, then turns to Rodney. "Ready?"

No shit. "Let's go."

Elizabeth had been difficult about what to do with alpha shift.

"We can't lock them out," John had said reasonably, head turning toward Elizabeth from the safety of Rodney's thigh.

"And we can't fight eighty fresh guards on top of third shift," Elizabeth had answered sharply.

"Okay, first, that was insulting. I can totally handle them. Second--you have some people on the mainland, right?" Elizabeth had nodded reluctantly. "Okay. When shields go up, there won't be any communication going out. What we don't want is to alert the *five thousand staff* assigned there that anything is wrong in the city by a mass of shifts running back. Not unless we drop a bomb and wipe out the facilities, and Rodney's got some people there he'd like to keep." Scratching his chin, John had closed his eyes as Rodney fondly stroked his hair. "And Lorne's there, and he's pretty cool. I'd like to keep him around."

"Lorne?" Rodney had heard himself say later that night, in a voice that he barely recognized. Funny how jealousy could do that to you. "Who is Lorne?"

John had grinned and pushed him into their cot, arms braced on either side of Rodney's shoulders. "An old friend. You'll see. You'll like him."

Rodney had doubted that, but when John kissed him, he didn't worry. Carson would need new subjects when they got out anyway.

Coming down the corridor, John keeps in front of Rodney, but it's not like there's much resistance. And it makes sense.

The problem with an inescapable, technically advanced prison is that outside the cellblocks, there really isn't much in the way of defensive measures. Rodney picks up a laptop after John wipes out the tech staff in lab three, rubbing off the blood from the keyboard with the edge of his sleeve before tucking it under one arm, kicking a body out of his way and sitting down at one of the Atlantean interface stations. The moron hadn't bothered to log out when he heard fighting in the corridor, so Rodney finds himself with midlevel access. Pulling up the defenses, Rodney checks the shield and then sets the locks on all the gateship bays. Lifesigns show none of the alpha shift got out.

"Cool," John murmurs, looking over Rodney's shoulder. Reaching, John strokes a bloodstained finger in a line. "Here, here, and here, gas? Set it off."

Rodney tilts his head up. "Why not just blow it?"

"Gateships. Spaceships. Two armories and anyway, why damage the city if we don't have to?" He looks as disappointed as Rodney feels.

"Fine," he says, pulling up countermeasures in neat menus, amazed that anyone would make a system so easy to turn against them. "Ooh. Did you know there's a self-destruct code? Set for command level only." Tilting his head back, Rodney grins. "If Sumner tries, think you can get Ford to help override?"

John grins back, leaning down enough to brush lips in an electric kiss. "Absolutely. Got everything you need here?"

"Activating the ATA first," Rodney says, typing. "Carson's useless until he gets Laura back, but some functions--yeah. They'll respond better with the gene." Finishing up, Rodney sets a few more of the countermeasures off, then nods, ducking beneath the computer under John's amused surveillance and pulling two of the crystals. "Okay, just in case someone gets in here after us and tries to fuck around. Then we--"

But he stops, watching soft blue light begin to fill the room, earth-based lamps and harsh fluorescents lost beneath the cool light of Atlantis waking up. Turning in a slow circle, he watches Ancient computers slowly begin to beep to life, waking up with a stretch and a yawn, the city seeming to curve around them, around--.

Rodney had himself tested years ago, and he knows, *knows*--

"Oh my God," Rodney whispers, turning to see John surveying the bright room with wary eyes. "It's you."

First thing--Jesus Christ, his life can't get any better.

"All you need to do is think," Rodney says, talking fast. John, two fingers hooked in the back of Rodney's pants, gives him a wary look. "Oh please, Carson can feel it, even if he whines about it too much. Think on, open, activate--hell, just think of something you want, and if the city can give it, it will." Doors are suddenly marvels of ease--no need to work manual locks, they open smooth and wide every time John comes close, corridors lighting up around them, John beginning to grin, and oh God, yes. Of course. Of course John would have the gene. "Okay, we have five minutes to get to the gateroom. What--"

"This way," John says, head turning, and Rodney follows when John lets go, getting a handful of John's shirt to keep him from getting too far away. "We need a better way to communicate."

"Atlantis has a communication grid built by the Ancients that came up when the ATA came online. I've seen examples of the earpieces." The guards use Asgard tech, not compatible with Ancient systems. "If we can get those--"

"It'd be easier," John says, and Rodney opens the laptop still moving, bracing it on one arm as he interfaces with the system.

"There's an armory--thirty feet straight ahead. But we need--"

"Let's see what they have in there," John says, sounding drugged, and Rodney thinks that just maybe, he shouldn't have said armory. But even a zat has its limits, and John's going anyway.

The door opens for John easily, and Rodney takes a second to enjoy the way John glows as he looks at the crates of P-90s in the corner, Berettas and M-16s, C4, grenades, things Rodney doesn't recognize but John does. Reverently, John tucks the zat into his pants, picking up a P-90 with the look of a man in a church. "Christ," John whispers, then slides it on, picking up two more handguns and a bag, dropping weapons and grenades in. "Ammo, ammo--got it," and dropping on his knees, John loads five guns in less time than Rodney to tell him they don't have time. Standing up, John grabs two black vests from a high shelf. "Put this on," he says, and Rodney sighs but puts it on, taking the gun John gives him and waiting as John gets a gun holster and straps it on. "All right," John says, looking almost post-coital standing there, playing gently with a utility knife, expression soft. "Now I feel better. You see those communication thingies?"

Rodney nods, mouth a little dry as he points, and John gets the box down, opening it up and handing one to Rodney before taking one himself. Rodney can hear static until John keys his, another Ancient system coming to life around them.

"This working?" Rodney hears in stereo, and he meets John's eyes with a smile.

"Oh yeah."

John shoves them into a pocket of his jacket and, hooking a hand in Rodney's vest, pulls him into the corridor.

Elizabeth's team took the south entrance, leaving them the north. Conventional Asgard locks held the door closed beneath John's stare, but only barely, and Rodney steps back as John takes out the C-4, setting the timer before backing away, pushing Rodney down the corridor and into the wall, John's body shielding his.

He's almost deaf when John pulls away. Then a jerk, pulling him flat onto the floor when zat beams skim the air above them. John's hand on his chest holds him still.

"Give it a second," John says, slinging the P-90 around, shifting until his back is against the wall. Taking aim, he starts to fire, one bare foot pressed to Rodney's chest, a silent warning to stay down. In the distance, Rodney hears people screaming, but he's not sure who they are. John pauses, peering down the smoky corridor, and Rodney stifles a cough at the smell of burned metal and the byproducts of the explosion filling the air. John's foot presses gently into his waist, nudging him, and Rodney scrambles for the wall, laptop clutched against his chest. "All right. You stay here--"

"You have got to be kidding me," Rodney says, pulling out his gun. John frowns, but nods shortly, standing up and pulling Rodney behind him as they approach the gutted door.

John keeps him back, though, as he peeks inside, but Rodney gets a look at John's smile suddenly bursts out, huge and happy, as he unslings the P-90, takes aim, and fires once. "Hey, Elizabeth. Need some help?" John waves a hand behind him, and Rodney comes up to look over his shoulder.

The gateroom looks like the scene of a massacre, bodies everywhere, Elizabeth lowering a zat with a contented expression while Bates and another man methodically go body to body and put bullets in every head. "Glad you could join us, Sheppard." Her eyes linger on the P-90. "Nice gun."

On the other side of the room, Sumner leans against the wall, a bullet neatly shattering one kneecap, gun forgotten on the floor beside him. Strolling over, John kicks it farther away and places a bare foot against Sumner's chest, Atlantis' lights coming on around him in welcome. "Nice to see you again, Colonel."

John, Bates, and a couple of the more military inclined lead sweeps of the city and check the other prison blocks while Rodney and Grodin secure the gateroom and listen in using the Atlantis communication grid. Carson spends most of his time muttering in a corner until John shows up with Laura Cadman in tow, leaving her to bring Carson into coherence and give them all a little peace and quiet before Rodney shoots Carson himself.

"Sheppard," Rodney says as he starts bringing up the power grids. "You busy?"

The sounds of shooting drown out the response, then Sheppard drawls, "Not really, Rodney. Whatcha need?"

"A muffle for Beckett, but if you can spare the time? I need you to activate a few more things." First thing they need to do is get Carson in his lab and let him go as crazy as he likes. Early testing of the gene treatment on earth had been positive; surely the man retained enough sanity to recreate his work. Preferably now.

A glance at Carson curled up in Laura's lap isn't encouraging, though.

"We're almost done. Found some lifesign detectors in the jumpers."

Rodney rubs a hand across his eyes. This is more activity in a few hours than he's had for years. "What on earth is a jumper?"

The conversation is briefly derailed by another round of gunfire, and then John is back, sounding smug. "For the gate."


"Those little puddlejumpers?" Rodney can hear the amusement in John's voice. "Hey, can you bring the west pier online?"

Flicking a few keys, Rodney sighs. "Got it. How's it going?"

"We're almost done. Can Grodin get that manifest up? I've done a head count and we're still missing ten, not including the ones in the bays."

"He's decrypting it." Rodney shoots a sour look at Grodin, who winces before going back to his laptop like his life depends on it. Which it does, come to think. "All the blocks open?"

"No." John's voice changes slightly. "Six of them didn't get their heads out of their asses fast enough, so I'm leaving them until we decide what to do with them."

"If I can interrupt, gentlemen?" Elizabeth's voice slips between theirs. "I'd like to see you both." Rodney can hear her moving in her seat. "Have you gotten the gate operational, Rodney?"

"A long time ago," Rodney answers, checking the shield automatically. "What's so important that we need to stop our very important work? I mean, some of us have more to do than lay around and--"

"I thought," Elizabeth says, voice sharpening, "that you both might want a say in what happens next." She pauses significantly, then sighs. "Rodney. We're in this together. Let's figure out what we're going to do before Earth or the mainland figures out what's happened here. Conference room." She keys out, and Rodney hears John's breath release in a soft exhalation of air.

"Wait there for me," John says softly, then keys out, leaving silence behind.

Rodney finishes opening as much of the grid as he can, leaving the locked cell blocks locked, backed with Ancient tech so no one can change that but John. Eighty loose is enough to deal with, he thinks, nodding at Grodin as he gets up, just in time for John and Bates to emerge from the top level. At some point, Bates had acquired serious weaponry and a vest, looking crazier than usual. Unhooking his laptop, Rodney tucks it under one arm and follows them up into the conference room.

Elizabeth and the Athosian, Teyla, are already seated, and as John slums into the chair beside him, Bates on his other side, Rodney begins to wonder exactly what Elizabeth means about what comes next.

As it turns out, she's talking more than the mainland.

"They could send hyper drive ships," John says, while Bates and Teyla stare each other down across the length of the conference room table and are no help at all. Opening his laptop, Rodney hacks into the administrative database.

"If the Ori don't occupy them," Elizabeth says a little dreamily, then shakes her head. "The Daedalus is scheduled to arrive in less than a month--"

"Twenty two days," Rodney says, pulling up the manifests that Grodin has finally managed to decrypt. "The mainland's going to figure out something's wrong in a few hours. Grodin's playing at communication officer, but they're going to notice when second shift arrives, if they don't get around to wondering what the hell happened to third shift."

"Mainland facilities don't have a lot of tech," John says unexpectedly, and Rodney turns to see the hazel eyes are almost green with excitement. "Hey, I read up, okay? Not like there's that much to do waiting for sentencing." Stretching, John relaxes back into his chair. "Conventional weapons, nothing we can't handle."

"Except numbers," Elizabeth says sourly.

"And ten thousand prisoners." John grins, and the lights seem to glow with him. Christ, when he gets John alone…. "Give or take a few I really don't see us needing out here."

Elizabeth folds both hands on the table, erect and focused. "You have something in mind."

"I think," John says, waving expansively, "that if Earth is having issues, we don't need to go back there. Tell her about Pegasus, Rodney, the original survey."

Rodney flicks up a screen. "Mostly pre-industrial, a few pushing into early fifties technology, a couple of others doing something vaguely at our level of development, but let's put it this way--nothing we can't handle. Surprisingly low population density, considering the abundance of livable worlds." Looking up, Rodney catches a fond look on John's face. "Easy."

Elizabeth nods, leaning back in her chair with a satisfied expression. "Teyla and I were considering something very similar." Crossing her arms, Elizabeth smiles. "It's a whole new galaxy, gentlemen. Teyla's informed me that Earth forced her people from their rightful planet, and she's very interested in seeing if what we can do to--rectify that. They have many contacts throughout the galaxy that they'd be happy to share with us."

"A whole new galaxy," John echoes, elbow braced on the table. "And I take it Teyla wants to be on the winning side?"

Teyla's eyes narrow, but Elizabeth's hand on her arm stops her in place. "You suddenly object to allies?"

"Not at all." But John smiles then, leaning forward to look at Teyla in a way Rodney does not find amusing at all. "I heard about your work all the way across the galaxy, Teyla. You and Halling have quite a reputation here, don't you?"

Teyla's head tilts. At least she's bright enough to hear the implied compliment. "We do not tolerate weakness." Unlike humans, she seems to imply, with a glance at Rodney that speaks volumes.

"And the Athosians are willing to make an alliance with us?"

Teyla hesitates, then nods slowly. "For now, it would seem the wisest course." Her eyes flicker to Elizabeth. "If you indeed plan to stay."

Elizabeth looks between them with the look of a woman whose negotiations have gone extremely well, head tilting before she stands up. Dressed in the blood and dirt stained prison uniform, dark hair ragged around her thin face, she still manages to capture the attention of the entire room. "Ten thousand years ago, Atlantis ruled the Pegasus galaxy from this city." The dark eyes brighten, like John with weapons, like Rodney feels every time he creates a new bomb. "They left it and lost it. We won't make that mistake."

And Rodney knows exactly why Elizabeth Weir was locked up here; he can trace it in the glaze of John's eyes, Teyla's fierce agreement, even Bates' startled, absorbed attention. She created her own cult and built her own country, negotiated with the Goa'uld and the Ori, stood before more international courts than he can count and they let her off scot-free, every time. A woman that scared the Milky Way so badly the tried her in space and sent her across the galaxy to silence her. Even Rodney's caught in her certainty, but he reaches over, sliding a hand over John's thigh, jerking him back into the room, reminder and warning both.

John's eyes flicker, giving him a quick glance of understanding before his eyes slip back to Elizabeth.

"What do you say, gentleman? Let's see what Pegasus has to offer."

John follows Rodney willingly as they scout for clothes, leaving Grodin and Kusanagi to take care of keeping the mainland oblivious to problems. The latest excuse is repowering the jumpers, which is completely plausible only if you know nothing about Ancient technology.

Apparently, the mainland is filled with idiots.

The private quarters are easy to open with John wandering down the halls, and Rodney's greeted with comfortable looking beds, sofas, huge windows spilling early morning light in squares all over the floor. For a second, Rodney thinks bitterly of his tiny, cold room, the hard surface of his cot, then turns around, pulling John inside, the door sliding shut behind him.

"Rodney--" John says, but Rodney pulls at the vest until John moves, letting Rodney push him down on the bed. Instantly, John's eyes dilate, spreading his knees slightly before Rodney steps between them, pulling the vest sharply over his head.

John has weapons everywhere, Rodney discovers, working open the thigh holster with fingers that aren't as steady as he wants, running his palm up John's inner thigh after, feeling the tip of a small knife beneath the thin material. Another one at the small of his back beneath his shirt, slicing his finger open on the razor-sharp blade, and an ankle holster holds another one. "Christ, John--"

John licks the blood away, sucking Rodney's finger, eyes going even darker, and his mouth makes Rodney think of how it will feel around his cock. They hadn't gotten too creative in the cell, but now, now….

John raises his arms as Rodney jerks off the filthy top, taking in the collection of scars on his chest before straddling his lap. Tangling his fingers in John's hair, he jerks John's head back. "What's with you and Elizabeth?"

John smirks up at him. "I like her."

Rodney snorts softly, but the odd coiling in his gut begins to ease at the smile in John's eyes. "Really?"

"She's good at this sort of thing," John says reasonably, which is true. "Why? You want Atlantis?" Rodney tightens his hold, trying ignore the flare of heat from John's easy words, the press of John's cock against his belly.

"You do, don't you?" And does he? "You can have it," John whispers, and Rodney rides the buck of hips beneath him, trying to ignore the rush. Atlantis. "I'll take care of it for you. Go out, put a bullet in Liz's head. Teyla's too. Anyone you want. Everyone you want. Everyone here, if you want me to." And Christ, that's hot, the image of sending John to the control room and watching him take them out one by one. That John would *do that* if he told him to, then come back here and stretch out on this comfortable bed, just for Rodney. It's as good as a ZPM, a nuclear explosion in unprotected atmosphere, better even than the anticipation of watching Zelenka die.

And such a bad idea. "I want it," Rodney admits reluctantly as John's hands close over his hips. "But we need her."

John's head cocks slightly and Rodney softens his hold, leaning down to brush a slow kiss over John's parted lips, tasting copper and salt and the warmth of John's perfect mouth. Pulling back, he slides one hand to rest on the back of John's neck. "She's good at this," Rodney agrees, closing his eyes when John's mouth presses against his throat, soft and wet. "And if we're going to pull this off, we need her." The woman who could get the Goa'uld to cut a deal wasn't someone that Rodney ever wanted to be on the wrong side of this side of the grave.

Rodney thinks dizzily of the labs he only glimpsed, the massive databases, years of research ahead of him, freedom suddenly hitting him like a speedball. "God. We can do anything." He grinds down into John's lap and feels teeth graze his throat. "Harder."

John obliges, and Rodney tilts his head back as teeth sink into the side of his throat. "Anything," Rodney says dizzily, fingers digging into the back of John's neck. "Where's Sumner?"

"Locked up," John says against his skin, then he pulls his head back, grinning up at him. "I thought we might need some information. Just in case."

"How's his knee?" Rodney asks, pressing his forehead against John's.

"Which one?"

"Christ." Kissing John, Rodney pushes him back on the bed. They don't have time for much, but he doesn't need all that much. Pull John's pants off, swallow him down quick and dirty, feel him shiver beneath Rodney's hands, unstringing his words into meaningless pleas and promises, drive him out of his mind, wiping out Elizabeth's speech and Sumner's touch, remind him--

Rodney loves his work, loves the bombs he's built, the power contained in a single red and gold cylinder that he's created, the potential to end a galaxy that can be held in the palm of his hand, and John's all of those things rolled into one. Destruction and power condensed and refined, wrapped in addictive skin, beautiful and dangerous and perfect and his. Rodney holds John down when he comes, salty and bitter, climbs up to rub his cock against John's bare skin, John's fingers leaving bruises on his thighs, and God, everyone that sees them will know what they've been doing, what Rodney does to the man who terrorized a planet before he was brought down.

Mine, Rodney says against John's lips when he comes, the world exploding in silver white heat around him, looking into eyes as green as new leaves that know him better than anyone he's ever met.

"We won't always need Elizabeth," John says softly, and Rodney lifts his head, meeting John's smile.

"No, we won't."

Rodney leaves John to shower alone, suspecting that if he stays, very little showering will get done. Finding a spare science uniform, he pulls it on and wanders back to the gateroom, checking Grodin's work and smirking at the way Grodin fumbles the laptop when Rodney comes up behind him.

"They suspect anything?" he asks, setting up his laptop.

"They're not suspicious, but they seem--distracted." Grodin frowns down at some readings, making an adjustment in power flow to the east pier before continuing. "I think--" He pauses, frown deepening. "They ask a lot about a transmission from Earth. I think they suspect that Sumner received one and has not informed them."

"Hmm." Rodney watches the screen of his laptop blankly. "Find the transmissions log and hack Sumner's files. I'd like to know what's making them so nervous." Stretching his fingers, Rodney opens up the weapons system diagnostics to see what they have to work with.

"So do you have a plan, Sheppard?" Elizabeth's voice cuts through the quiet room, and Rodney turns to see John slumped against the stair rails, arms crossed, smirking up at her. Clean and still damp from the shower, he'd changed into a black t-shirt and the standard pants of the guards, issue boots though John made them look a little indecent and a little messy. Rodney tries not to stare at the gun at his thigh or slung across his back, and fails.

"Always." Picking up the bag and the vest at his feet, he comes to abrupt attention with a mocking look. "Atlantis' third shift is reporting to the mainland."

Elizabeth raises an eyebrow. "Who's going with you?"

"Bates, a couple of the others. We only need enough time to land inside." John pauses, giving Elizabeth an expectant look. "And Rodney to shut down their computers enough for the forcefields to be deactivated."

At Elizabeth's look, Rodney shrugs. "I could do it in my sleep. They're not going to worry about activity from Atlantis until it's too late."

Elizabeth's mouth twists, but she doesn't seem displeased. "What's my guarantee you don't use them and turn on me?"

John shrugs expansively, still watching her with the same mocking smile. "The same as mine that you won't raise the shields the second I leave. I'm taking it on faith." And the fact that Rodney's encrypted the shields to his personal code. John's head tilts. "Rodney'll keep in constant touch and you can listen in on communications. I'll need up to date sensor information and Rodney can hack into their mainframe."

"It's not a hack if they don't even bother to protect it," Rodney says disparagingly. ''And since when am I staying here anyway?"

"Since this is grunt work and not for someone of your elevated intellect," John says with a warmer smile, eyebrow raised. "I need floor plans, guard deployment, armory locations--"

"You mean everything."

"Pretty much."

Elizabeth nods thoughtfully. "You're taking one of the gateships?"

"Puddlejumpers," John answers, pulling on the vest. "Yeah."

"What makes you think you can fly Ancient tech? You haven't been in the air for a while, Sheppard."

Sheppard's head tilts slightly, eyebrows raised in amusement. "Elizabeth. If it flies, I can fly it." Draping the bag over his shoulder, he gives her a jaunty salute that somehow manages to include Teyla. "With your permission, Doctor Weir?"

Elizabeth grins back, and Rodney's struck again how she turns that on. No fucking wonder people would die for her. "Have fun. Bring me back a surprise."

"I'll bring you back a planet."

The 'jumper--God, only John could think up something like that--flies like John's been in them all his life, and Rodney fights off an inconvenient erection as he pulls up everything Atlantis has on the mainland facilities.

Beside him, Elizabeth's pulled up a chair, comm in her ear as John has small, terribly public orgasms over a mind controlled ship and does nothing for Rodney's self-control. "This thing--" John says, voice husky, "--it's like--"

"It's reading your mind," Rodney says dryly. "Duh."

"Better," John says, voice dropping, and Rodney gives Elizabeth a sideways glance, watching her cheeks slowly flush. Uh huh. "You have got to try this. There's nothing like it."

Rodney thinks of Laura leading Carson off to the infirmary to help him relax. He needs familiar surroundings, she had said with glittering eyes, which might mean Carson just wants time to feel up the instruments, but also might mean she's going to go pull a prisoner or two from the locked cellblocks and let him indulge in a little nostalgia.

Gene therapy, he told her sharply, and she'd smiled, head cocked, and wandered away, Carson in tow. "Have you thought about what to do with the rest of the prisoners?" Rodney asks sharply, and Elizabeth's gaze clears, eyes snapping to him. He wants to say, keep your hands off John (it's not like he doesn't know what she does with her followers), but it might be a little premature to worry. After all, she has Teyla to occupy her.

Tapping her fingers on the edge of the console, Elizabeth looks thoughtful. "Keeping two hundred people under control--much less the addition of whoever we want from the mainland--won't be easy." Hell, keeping control of themselves is hard enough. Rodney's holding out on the labs by the skin of his teeth. That's a few too many brilliant, dangerous people trapped in one area, and Rodney thinks uneasily of the blocks filled with ex-military.

"John scares them," he offers, pulling up blueprints as John makes a pornographic sound when the jumper does new. "Christ, John, we're trying to think here."

"Yeah," John drawls thickly. "And that's not enough, if we're still talking control."

"You have any suggestions?"

"Several, but I think you can figure out the easiest way to control Pavlov's dog."

Rodney stops short. "Huh." Looking away from the laptop screen, Rodney sees Elizabeth's curious gaze. "Pavlov was--"

"I know who Pavlov is," she says sharply, arms crossed, but she looks intrigued. "You mean conditioning."

"I mean if our resident genius can engineer us up a small neural interface, we'll have a lot less problems with population control," John says, amused.

"An implant," Rodney says, intrigued despite himself. At Elizabeth's raised eyebrows, Rodney feels himself begin to grin. "It's pretty easy, actually. Small bit of Ancient tech, set to react to certain--unhealthy neural impulses. With a manual switch, of course, for more direct action, but--hmm. The Ancient tech all uses a neural interface--that's why John's getting himself off just sitting in the pilot's seat right now."

"Hey!" But it's not like it's not true.

"A little refining, we can use it as a more--direct form of control." Now that he thinks about it, Rodney's pretty sure he saw this episode of Star Trek.

"Can you make it?"

"Making it isn't the problem. That's a lot of data even for Ancient computers to calculate. But if the majority was manual control--it'd be a good way to silence dissent." And keep the science staff's collective mouths *shut*. "Hey, by the way, John? Block C, section eight--Gaul, Kavanagh, Simpson. I want them back in one piece, if possible."

John snorts softly. "They'll be wrapped up all neat in a package just for you. I have visual contact--anything in their communications?"

Rodney glances at Grodin, who shakes his head. "Nope. You're clear. I assume you have a plan and not just running out screaming and shooting your gun?"

"There are some explosions, and a few concussion grenades, but that's the gist." John's good mood is contagious--Rodney catches himself smiling and forces it down when he feels Elizabeth's gaze. "They seem to want me at the west landing. Good or bad?"

"Um, give me a sec--good. One armory, all general administrative and private quarters, nothing interesting. Go ahead and blow that, you won't lose anything we'll need. I should have their computers wiped before they blow anyway. First goal will be block A, lower priority prisoners." Glancing at a manifest, Rodney sighs. "And no one terribly interesting there, either. Blocks C, F, G, H--"

"M," Elizabeth says quietly.

"M, K, and looks like--your Lorne is in Y. Let's keep those intact. You have the lifesign detector?"

"Got it." John's glee is contagious.

Rodney watches until Grodin gives him a quick nod. "Okay, you're in communications range."

"Cool." John pauses. "All right, communication blackout until we're inside. Three minutes. See you on the other side." The radio goes dead, and Rodney sits back, startled with the sudden sense of loss.

John's fine, John's the best at what he does, but--

He's startled by Elizabeth's hand on his shoulder, and turning, he looks into serious brown eyes.

"He'll be fine," she says softly, and Rodney thinks of John's warm hazel eyes and quick, capable hands and nods.

"I know."

It'll be the longest three minutes of his life.

John doesn't waste time on dramatics--three minutes on the dot, the gateroom is introduced to the sound of something blowing up, a rain of gunfire, and John Sheppard drawling, "Miss me?"

Rodney breathes out and catches Elizabeth doing the same thing. It's weirdly comforting. "Not really. Please tell me you're actually getting work done, not blowing up things for fun."

"I live for my work." There's a pause, and Rodney thinks he hears Bates in the distance. "Right, go for it, but don't do anything stupid. Drop the forcefields, Rodney."

"All at once?" But Rodney's already pulling up the screens. "Or systematic?"

John seems to take a few seconds to think and commit homicide before answering, if the sound of a P-90 is anything to go by. "All of them. One third staff terminated during the initial explosion. A breakout should take care of the rest of them." Even from here, Rodney can see his head shake. "Stupid. No defensive measures in the administrative residential area at all. I could have walked in with a pipe bomb. Have you got all the computer stuff you need? Bates is setting the C4 now."

Rodney glances at Elizabeth, who's already nodding. "Go for it."

There's a brief silence livened only by gunfire, and Rodney weirdly wishes he were there with them. And that's just crazy.

The explosion is loud enough to knock both him and Weir back in their chairs, and Rodney grabs for the earpiece, massaging the skin at the back of his ear where he still thinks he can feel the vibrations. "What the hell, Sheppard?"

From somewhere distant--probably the result of permanent damage to his eardrums--Rodney hears, "Cool." Then, "Hey, you Kusanagi? No? Too bad."

Turning his head, Rodney sees Elizabeth shake her head ruefully, but she's smiling. "John," she says, "don't eliminate the other prisoners if you can avoid it. We may need their skills." Or other things, she doesn't say, but she watched Carson going off to the infirmary. And it's not like a lot of the guards survived John and Bates.

"I'm not," John says, sounding aggrieved. "I'm sending them outside to wait. Hey, Block C--and let me say, these are the worst guards I've ever seen in my life--"

"And how many prisons have you been in?" Rodney asks, thinking that soon, he should think of pulling up John's file.

"Eight, if you don't include the Asgard brigs." John pauses. "Now they understood security."

"You still got out." Faintly, Rodney remembers hearing about that on the news, but at the time, he'd been a little busy in court.

"Anyone but me wouldn't have." Because John can kill easily and fly anything that could get in the air. Rodney still wonders what John did with that Asgard cruiser. It's not like that's a subtle machine to have lying around. "Okay, we're wrapping this up. I'm getting bored." John sighs, sounding faintly disappointed, and Rodney hears the sound of many feet running, fairly close, followed by gunfire. The lack of screaming tells Rodney this must be Bates' idea of incentive for them to move quickly. "Their systems are toast, if there are guards left there won't be much longer, and I'm starving. I say let them fight this out and we'll check out whose left. Rodney, Liz, I need a list of your people--"

"All of M," Elizabeth says steadily, hands clasped in her lap, eyes shining.

"Gaul," Rodney says, searching his memory for the name. "Simpson, Kavanagh, some other people--Simpson knows, she'll tell you who else to bring back. You'll need another jumper--"

"I can take forty," John says easily, "the way I'll be carrying them. Liz, what, twenty of yours, hey, Lorne!" Another burst of gunfire. The screams are becoming enough to give Rodney a headache. "All right. Packing everyone up for home. They'll be unconscious, so have someone down there with the sedatives and get some cells opened up. I'm not risking them out and about until we have population control ready. You up for some fast and dirty inventing, McKay?"

Rodney grins, leaning back in his chair. "Please. Give me an actual challenge." He pauses to listen to John giving orders. "How long?"

Someone who is definitely not Bates says something about weapons, which John replies to with a grunt and, "Sure. Why not?" Another pause, longer this time. "All right, should be finished in about two hours," John says. "We'll do a quick sweep for supplies and weapons. Anything in their inventories you just have to have?"

Rodney thinks about it. "Bring all the computers that aren't damaged. Any Ancient tech--that means, anything that makes pretty lights when you go near it." Rodney smirks at John's snort. "Anything that looks interesting."

"Got it."

"And come by Lab A when you get back. We'll look at some options while Elizabeth does orientation for the new arrivals. And the ones still locked up for that matter."

Elizabeth gives him a sideways glance but nods affirmation. "Good job, John. Bring them home."

"Yes, ma'am," John says jauntily. Rodney can almost see him salute. "See you later."

When John signs off, Elizabeth straightens, shaking her head. "That was--faster than I expected."

Rodney watches her smooth down the front of the prison uniform, mouth pursing as she hits a patch of dried blood, picking at the loose waist with a frown. "Hoped it would be harder?"

The dark eyes fix on him, one eyebrow arching. "I'm not stupid, Dr. McKay," Elizabeth says steadily. "I can't run this place alone."

"Maybe you can with your people from the mainland." Though he doubts it. Elizabeth tended to attract religious zealots, failed sociologists, South American guerrillas without a leader, and terrorists in need of a cause. Getting competent security had always been a problem of hers. "I'm monitoring all computer activity until they're back."

"And if you know my file--which I presume at some point, you have read--you know I don't have a background in Ancient tech. Relax, Rodney. At least give me the benefit of the doubt until I have people here." With a quick, charming smile, she moves off, dusting her hands against her pants. "Where are supplies? I need to change."

"Near the mess," Rodney says, glancing at his laptop and tapping a few keys. "Or try quarters. All the doors should be open."

"Thanks." With another smile, she heads to Sumner's former office.

Beside him, Grodin tenses. "I don't trust her."

"Never trust the soft sciences or a beautiful woman who can speak Goa'uld," Rodney says sharply. "Monitor her, tell me where she goes, what she does, and how she does it. I'll be in my lab. Anything goes wrong and you fuck up, we'll test out the gate's power levels on you first." Standing up, Rodney unplugs the laptop. "Radio me when Sheppard's back in the city."

"Aye aye, sir."

Rodney can't help the smirk as he turns away. "I knew I kept you alive for a reason."

John reports as ordered, still slick with blood and black-streaked from the fires, grinning from ear to ear as he hops onto the lab table, thrumming with energy. He makes Rodney tired just looking at him. "Whatcha got?"

Christ, is he never not attractive? "You didn't shower," Rodney hears himself say, reaching out despite himself to rest a hand on one dirty knee.

"Did you want me to?" John's smile widens, then he reaches across, tapping Rodney's screen. "You have something."

"Kind of." Pulling his attention from John, Rodney frowns. "It's a little crude, but I can make something better when we've got things under control. This," he says, pointing at the screen, "is the program the Ancients used for interface with the computer. It reads intent--in a very, very general way. Luckily, this variation doesn't require the gene. But this part--" Rodney points to his own quickly added code, "is a little different. It has a direct link to the brain and sends very specific signals to certain sections."

John's eyes light up a little as he reads it. "If I'm reading this right, you plugged into the pleasure and pain centers."

"Set to certain unpleasant intentions, and a manual control and override," Rodney says, enjoying John's pleasure. It's always nice to be appreciated. "It can be individual, group--I'm going to need Carson to double check and help design the actual delivery method and the best place for implantation. Once it's in, in the best of all worlds, it should fuse to the spinal column. Not easy to remove."

John's eyes widen. "Wow."

Rodney crosses his arms, feeling smug. "What you were looking for, hotshot?"

"Pretty much read my mind." With another grin, John hops off the lab counter. "Everyone's tucked into a cell nice and tidy, and last I saw, Elizabeth was telling them how they're part of a grand new adventure or something." Scratching the back of his head, John frowns as blood flakes off. "She's good."

"That she is." Finishing up, Rodney saves and closes the laptop. "Grodin's watching her."

"So's Lorne." John's eyes flicker over him. "You're frowning."

"Lorne's not with the others? You trust him that much?"

John raises an eyebrow. "Guess who sold an Asgard cruiser on the black market?" With another smirk, John shrugs. "Bates is with him, and yes, I trust them both that much. If I didn't, I wouldn't have gotten him out."

Rodney stares until John sighs, rubbing his neck. "If they so much as twitch the wrong direction, I'll shoot them myself, okay? Now. We have a little time while the new people are locked up and briefed on the situation. Let's get some sleep before Elizabeth wants to start a crusade or something."

Rodney frowns but lets it go, making a mental note to get Grodin to watch Lorne as well. "But the lab--" God, all around him. The computers are *fast* and he hasn't even scratched the surface of the databases.

"And food," John says, a hand sliding under his elbow and pulling him unresistingly toward the door. "We don't have kitchen staff anymore--and hey, we should do something about that--but there's a lifetime supply of MREs." The doors open for John with a liquid slide, and Rodney tries hard not to envy him the ease of use. "And I need a shower," John says, frowning down at his shirt. Rodney brushes his fingers across the front, feeling the stiffness of the material. "Seriously."

They go back to the room they'd originally appropriated, and Rodney sets himself to methodically searching it for anything interesting. A laptop, some photos, a hidden cache of candy, an impersonal room, but then, guards didn't stay here long. Stripping the sheets and blankets, Rodney finds clean linens and remakes the bed, then tosses a pile of unearthed clothes at the foot of the bed for John to go through. He seems attracted to the monochrome look.

Pilling the discards in the corner, Rodney sits down with peanut butter cups and a considerably improved frame of mind after a quick chat with Grodin, listening for the shower to turn off. John comes out wrapped in a towel, and free of dirt, Rodney can see the exhaustion coating him like a second skin. Drying his hair, John surveys the pile of clothes with disfavor. "Ford's started hyperventilating. I should think about feeding him."

"He can wait." Sitting back on the bed, Rodney watches John dress, approving of the lack of underwear. "Hurry."

"Anything from Cadman about Carson? Speaking in full sentences yet?"

Rodney thinks of the two missing guards from where John had the few survivors stashed. "He's probably fine." John snickers softly as he sits down to pull on his boots, so Rodney guesses he must know, too. "Done? Food? You mentioned it? I'm holding you to it."

"Got it." Grabbing his holster, John straps it on, and Rodney takes a few seconds to watch John arm himself like someone about to engage in single combat with a battalion. "I'm thinking we need to--hmm." John stops thoughtfully, head tilting as he looks at Rodney.

"What?" Standing up, Rodney palms the door open, hoping John will follow. Suddenly, food seems like the most appealing thing in the world.

"Just hmm." John follows him, though, eyes flickering down both sides of the hallway. "The SGC on Athos. They check in here pretty regularly."

Rodney stops, catching John's wrist. "How do you know that?"

"About once a week," John continues, eyebrows raised as he tilts his head. "Or so."

Oh. That's how. "They checked in at night?"

"Athos evening, something with the regular gate cycles." John pulls gently, and Rodney starts moving. "So should be today sometime. You break Sumner's files yet?"

And no, they haven't, and Rodney can't even fairly blame it on Grodin, though he thinks he might anyway. "Not yet. We have access to the computer core, but not the command codes, either. I've disabled all the SGC protocols I can find, but that doesn't mean they didn't leave a nasty surprise somewhere. Do they actually--is it communication or visit?"

John shrugs. "He leaves, but that doesn't mean much. It never took long, so probably databurst for a report to Earth." Turning the corner, John eyes a vaguely familiar man hurrying by them with a wary expression, shoulders hunched, like if he moves fast enough and small enough, they won't notice him. Rodney makes a mental note on his list to find out who he is, locking the face in his memory. "Hmm. Actually, there was more than one last week," John continues, steering them down another corridor. How the hell John is finding his way is anyone's guess--Rodney's got the route between the gateroom, his new lab, and their quarters and hasn't tried deviating yet. The abject humiliation of having to call Grodin to help him find his way around Atlantis tends to defeat his curiosity.

"More than one?" Something on Earth, maybe. As they turn into the wide mess hall doors, Rodney takes a second to appreciate the huge windows and wide open spaces, stepping over a body and ignoring the smell of spoiling food. Keying his radio, Rodney follows John into the kitchen. "Grodin? Sumner's files. I want everything he has, and find all transmissions between here and earth and here and Athos. Something could be going on, and I'd kind of like to know before it shows up and screws us."

"Yes, sir," Grodin says, not sounding mocking at all, but Rodney bets he's rolling his eyes. "I need another tech up here--"

"Get--God. I don't know. Probably lost by now. That little Asian girl--get her up to help."

"And she's--"

"What's her name?" John says, touching his own radio. Rodney's blank--she worked in his lab, but damned if he knows much more than that.

"Miko," Grodin says, and Rodney passes it on. "Miko."

"Bates? Do a floor to floor, little Asian girl, Miko, get her to the gateroom to help Grodin."

"Got it."

Keying his radio off, John sighs, looking around at the food--*God*, real food, not the crap they've been serving them the last month. "The bastards were holding out on us," John says, and grins. "Come on. I want to sleep before Elizabeth decides she wants a holy war."

John gets about two hours, mostly due to Rodney taking his radio and hiding it as soon as he drifts off, one arm slung across Rodney's waist, head buried against his shoulder. If there's an emergency, and only if there's an emergency, Grodin will call, and Rodney's not sure if Bates or this Lorne know the difference.

"Anything with Elizabeth?" Rodney whispers, but John pretty much sleeps like a brick when Rodney's there, so there's not much chance he'll wake up to his voice.

"Still talking. Glorious age, bright future, she's been at it for hours." Grodin sighs. "There were references to revered Ancestors, but that could be for Teyla's benefit. Miko's taken over decryption--she's better at it than I am."

Hmm. Possibly true. "She make any progress?"

"Short databursts, she says. Something about potential communication blackout, but without context…" Grodin trails off and Rodney nods, feeling John shift against him, nuzzling sleepily before drifting off again.

"Right. Keep me informed what she comes up with. Athos is calling in this evening and I'd like to be ready for them." Carding his fingers through John's hair, Rodney thinks of his lab, but he can't quite find the motivation to get up just yet.

"Will do." Communications cut, Rodney closes his eyes, drifting off to the sound of John's slow, even breathing, the warmth of his body, and the fact that environmentals are back at normal and they don't live in a meat locker anymore.

They open again at the sound of a pounding at the door.

"What the--" Sitting up, Rodney shifts John over, mumbling unhappily, and grabs his pants, jerking them on as he goes to the door. Palming it open, he comes face to face with a man he doesn't recognize but guesses maybe he should. From the startled look on his face, and the way he cranes his neck to look over Rodney's shoulder, he's going to go out on a limb and guess this is Lorne.

"I'm looking for Sheppard," Lorne says, about to push by. Setting himself in the door, Rodney pushes him back.

"And that would be a no, he's sleeping," he says, "and what the hell is--"

A fist wound in the top of his shirt stops the flow of words, pushing him up against the wall, and Rodney has just enough time to think, bad idea, before the sound of a gun cocking cuts through the room like a bullet.

"Let go."

Lorne drops him like a sack of potatoes. Rodney catches himself on a knee and a hand, rubbing his throat and looking up to see John sitting up, perfectly awake, a gun pointed at Lorne's head with very, very little chance of missing.


"Step back." Lorne takes a slow step back, arms out, no sudden moves here, and Rodney pushes himself up, shaking his head a little. John's eyes flicker over him briefly before fixing on Lorne again. "You okay, Rodney?"

Rodney takes a few seconds to think about it, wondering if John will shoot if he says no. From the look on his face, there's a very good chance he will.

It's tempting. But. "Fine. Though if your friends are going to visit, maybe they could, I don't know, *learn some manners*--"

"We're going to have a talk about that," John says pleasantly, and even from the wall, Rodney can see his finger on the trigger. A twitch and Lorne will be a dead man. "Wait outside, Lorne."

Lorne takes another step back, eyes never leaving the gun, and the door closes with a satisfying slap of Rodney's palm. "So, that's Lorne?"

John sighs, uncocking the gun and lowering it to the bed. "Lorne. You sure you're okay?" Crawling out of bed, John walks over, thumbs pressing beneath Rodney's jaw, tilting his head up, peering at his throat for a few seconds before gentle fingers trace the sides of his neck. "You seem okay. What did he want?"

"Didn't tell me," Rodney huffs, but he leans into the touch anyway. "I'm going to like him, huh?"

"When I get done with him, you will like him a lot," John says with a smile, brushing a quick kiss against Rodney's mouth. "Or you won't see him again." Stepping back, John dresses quickly, frowning as he searches for his radio. "McKay--"

"In the bedside drawer."

"Right." Taking it out, John shakes his head. "Okay, I'm going to go chat with Lorne and see if Elizabeth's still having a religious experience. You need anything?"

"Athos should check in soon, so I'm going to the gateroom. If it's just communications, we should be good. If they want to visit--"

"We'll let Teyla have them." With a brush of fingers against his shoulder, John backs toward the door. "Tell me when they call in. I want to hear it." With another smile, John goes out, and Rodney gets a satisfying glimpse of Lorne's pale face before the door shuts between them.

Sitting down, he picks up his shoes and keys his radio. "Grodin, I'm coming up. Have everything Miko's done ready for review. Also, thought. When I said, keep an eye on Lorne, what did you think that meant? Not telling me when he appeared at my door?"

Grodin's quiet for a long second. "Dr. McKay--"

"You're fucking lucky I don't have anyone else right now. That will change. McKay out."

Rodney spends most of the night with Grodin, disabling the SGC protections and defenses, slowly stripping out command level code inch by painful inch. The SGC had never been able to achieve a good interface with the Ancient computers, so the massive databases and upper level computer functions were relatively clean, leaving Rodney to start rebuilding new protocols from scratch. His fingers remember better than he does, pulling Miko from decryption to start work on the laptops that need to be evaluated, setting up a network between them to back them up into a single secure area before starting the process of wiping them clean. SGC runs with Asgard and Nox protections, and Rodney's brilliant, but that doesn't mean he wants to spend the next year trying to wipe them out if they trip a defense code.

Weapons control, environmental, defense, sensors, power consumption, and Rodney grits his teeth at the dazzling information just beyond his fingertips and forces himself to move on, not look too closely. He has time. God, does he have time.

Elizabeth comes in for a little while, Bates at her elbow, and they talk supplies and scenarios for contact with Earth while Rodney personally vets each laptop Miko finishes, writing new protocols to keep the city running until he can get one of his programmers down here to work on an entirely new interface.

"They just copied the database," Rodney tells Elizabeth as she watches over his shoulder. "Didn't bother with setting up any kind of reasonable interface here, since they didn't need to."

"I'm almost surprised they didn't wipe the entire database," Elizabeth says softly, eyes on the screen.

"No need. The Ancients were big fans of overkill--lots of extra space." Backing up another laptop into an isolated section of the network, Rodney start reconfiguring, and Elizabeth leaves again, Bates a shadow behind her. Rodney doesn't think she's fooled by John's bland statement of security, though it's that, too, but she hasn't said anything yet.

Six hours in, Rodney frowns at his watch and touches his radio. "John?"

There's a pause. "Sheppard here" He sounds breathless, and Rodney feels something tighten in his chest as he pushes the laptop away. "Problem?"

"Where are you?"

"The gym." John laughs suddenly, and in the background, Rodney can hear other voices-a lot of voices. "Setting up security teams, that sort of thing. Teyla's been demonstrating how thoroughly she can kick my ass." The sound of a body hitting something that's not quite floor interrupts, and over the radio, Rodney can hear John's breathing, fast and light. "Lorne's now enjoying quality floor time. Everything okay up there?"

Rodney frowns at the laptop screen. "Just a lot to do," he says, which doesn't explain why he's wasting time on the radio when he could be working. "Athos hasn't called in yet."

"How's Carson coming along on the implant?"

Rodney snorts. "He's not an engineer, but he's working. I'll check on him. Look, I get we need to keep the population low, but if we want to actually use this city, I've got to get more people.

"I can get them," John says easily. "Gateroom okay? I'll bring them up. Which ones?"

Rodney mentally maps the distance between the cells and the gateroom. It would be faster if he went to the labs, but-- "Gaul. Simpson. Going to have a little talk?"

Even through the radio, Rodney can hear the smile in John's voice. "A little explanation of the rules. There's some ankle monitors they used on prisoners when taking them offworld on work detail or transported on the Daedalus. They'll do for a short term solution with small groups. Check security and see if there's a way to flag specific people so you don't have to have them directly under your eye, or I can get a couple of people to watch them."

Rodney doesn't seriously think that any of his people, after seeing John, will do more than nod hysterically and promise whatever the hell he wants as long as he puts down his gun, but John's got a point. "Right," Rodney says dryly, catching Grodin's eye. "Have fun with that. I'm going to my lab and then check up on Carson. Radio me if anything interesting happens."

"Got it. Sheppard out.." The radio clicks off on the sound of Teyla's voice calling for John, and Rodney watches Grodin's head jerk down, concentrating on his screen as if it holds the secret to cold fusion. "Peter."

Grodin stiffens. "Dr. McKay-"

"You didn't survive Colorado because I'm sentimental." Rodney waits for Grodin's fingers to twitch, slipping off the keys. "Simpson and Gaul will be up here soon, and that makes you expendable. I need scientists, but I can live with being short staffed. Do we understand each other?"

Grodin lowers his chin, eyes downcast. "Understood, Dr. McKay."

"Good. When Simpson and Gaul get up here, brief them and get them started. Sheppard wants security flagging on them. Find a way for the computer to identify them automatically. I'll be in the infirmary. Keep me informed."

Carson, for a miracle, almost passes for normal in fresh scrubs and a white lab coat, various bottles and beakers in neat lines across the shelves. Something's in the incubation oven, but Rodney honestly does not want to know what. "Carson?"

Carson turns around with a wide grin. Laura's not in evidence, but Rodney remembers vaguely that she's former Marine and Sheppard had probably picked her up for security. Coming around the bed, Rodney glances into the isolation ward window briefly and then turns away before he sees anything he might regret. "Thought you'd be lost in the databases," Carson says jovially, washing his hands in an Ancient sink. Rodney watches bloody water swirl down the drain with a flicker of bitterness as the water turns off at a thought. Carson has the gene. John has the gene. Rodney thinks he could get heartily tired with not having the gene very, very fast.

"Rodney?" Carson says, and Rodney jerks his attention back to Carson. "Do you need something?"

"A lot, and I need it yesterday." God, it's been twenty four hours since this started and he's slept less than a full hour since. "To start, the implant. I send my notes with Laura. Can you make it?"

Carson rubs his chin thoughtfully, crossing to one of the few cleared laptops and sitting down. Pulling up the correct screen, he frowns slightly, then shakes his head. "Possible, yes, but--"

"But what? I can find you an engineer to build it if you can do the surgery."

Carson turns his head up. "S'not that. Body rejection of artificial--"

"And you are a geneticist. With Ancient tech. Look, this isn't a point of debate--"

"*Rodney*." They stared at each other for a second. Running an absent hand over his face, Carson sighs. "Rodney. I've not practiced for over four years--"

"And I haven't touched a computer in nearly three, but do you see me whining? Figure. It. Out. Preferably before Earth and the SGC figure out what's happened and we end up right back where we were." Leaning into the side of the table, Rodney stares down at Carson until he looks away. "You want to go back into a nice cell somewhere far away? And hey, you're not enjoying actually touching your wife, are you?" Carson flinches. "This isn't a debate. It's an order. We have plenty of very smart people to help build it and a few thousand to test it on to get it right."

"I can build the implant," Carson says finally, eyes flickering to the screen. "What I can't guarantee is that it will be as reactive to mental commands as you wish."

"I don't need it reactive to mental commands. A manual control will do for more direct action. I just want them to be sensitive to--unfortunate turns of mind."

Carson's mouth turns down. "You want them tortured for how they think."

Rodney raises his eyebrows. "I'm sorry, did we skip into an alternate dimension where you give a shit? Don't argue purity of research and the advance of scientific knowledge being a higher purpose. It didn't work in court and it won't work on me. Unless prison time was good for you. Or do you even remember?"

Carson's mouth tightens, but he's already turning away, flicking through his laptop, opening up Rodney's design. "Give me a few hours to build a prototype. I'll need a test subject, preferably someone already engaged in thought patterns we can use to fine tune control."

Like that's hard to decide. "Just tell me when it's ready."

"Rodney?" Carson says slowly, and Rodney pauses, hand on the pad. "Sheppard brought one of his men down for regeneration."

Rodney turns around, feeling a smile curl up the corners of his mouth. "What happened?"

Carson gives him an steady look. "Looks like he lost his hand to a door. I was able to reattach, but he'll have some weakness for a while." Carson's eyes darken, and Rodney wonders if Carson's done any delving into their files. From the look on his face, he might have hit Sheppard's. "Said it was an accident with the technology."

Rodney leans into the door, arms crossed. "Then that's what happened, isn't it?"

Carson watches him for a moment, then nods slowly. "I suppose so."

"Carson," Rodney says softly, and the blue eyes flicker up. "Don't try and grow a conscience now. Go play with your new toys. It's a whole new world we've got here. We're not going to fuck it up." Pushing out the door, Rodney goes into the hall, touching his radio as soon as he's out of earshot of the infirmary. "Grodin?"

There's a pause that lasts almost too long. "Dr. McKay?"

"Get to the infirmary and makes sure Carson gets that prototype ready. And watch him until Laura gets back. I don't want him leaving his lab for anything short of the city sinking."

"Yes, sir."

Kusanagi and Gaul are both assigned to the main lab to start debugging. SGC had been careless and stupid both, setting up the protections in the same pattern of all Earth-based SGC computer systems, hybridized human-alien technology that would be frighteningly complex to the layman.

Careless and stupid, setting up the same system that Rodney had designed himself at the SGC. Setting them each to a task, Rodney starts work clearing the databases of all blocks, hoping to God the SGC hadn't left corrupt data in their haphazard attempts to remodel Atlantis into a prison.

It's pretty boring, all things considered, and Rodney closes his laptop before the lure of Ancient data can tempt him into staying too long. From somewhere distant, his stomach rumbles, and Rodney abruptly remembers he's no longer bound by a schedule. He can eat *any time he wants*.

"I'm getting something to eat," he says, and catches a hopeful look on Gaul's face. "Yeah, nice try. Figure out how to get that self-destruct disabled first." Rodney glances at the plain prison pants, bare feet peering from beneath the folded cuffs, and notes the shine of the security anklet on one thin ankle. Looking at his laptop, he pulls up the security logs and sees Grodin's program patch that shows Gaul in here, with Simpson under Grodin's eye upstairs. Assuming Grodin's not contemplating further rebellion--and in all honesty, Grodin doesn't have that kind of courage, so Rodney feels comfortable enough--all should be fine for an hour away.

In the hall, he passes two fairly professional-looking pairs of former prisoners, redressed in the guard uniforms, unarmed but trying to look dangerous, and assumes that John's got his security force. Rodney touches his radio anyway. "John?"

This time, John's even more breathless. "You're still awake?"

Rodney frowns and goes back into his lab, opening his laptop and pulling up the security feeds. "Where are you?"

"Gym," John answers promptly, and Rodney checks his watch, just to make sure.

"For the last ten hours?" If this lab had windows, he'd probably be able to see late morning on Atlantis.

"Still testing personnel," John says easily, and Rodney tries to remember if John's military background had included command experience.

"So that's who's wandering the halls." Rodney frowns. "Is there a point, since they can't actually, you know, *shoot anything*--"

"You'd be surprised what they can do without a gun," John answers, sounding amused. "Come down. I'm almost done."

"I'm hungry."

"I'll buy you dinner. Know a great little place." The background sounds sudden rise in volume--it sounds like people yelling. "Come down. Where are you, lab one?"

Close enough. "There."

"Take the transporter to your left and follow the noise. Trust me, you won't miss it." The radio clicks off just as the sound of crashing comes over the radio. With a frown, Rodney keys it off.

John's right, it's not hard to find--well before he finds the right corridor, the noise is at an almost painful volume. The door opens at a touch, and Rodney walks in to see a group in a large circle around two moving figures, both armed with--and he can't believe this--what looks like pieces of wood.

The room's thick with sweat, hot even with the far windows opened wide, and Rodney thinks he sees Laura on the other side of the circle, but the moving bodies keep blocking his line of sight.

It takes him a second to recognize John, shirt stripped away, feet bare on the padded surface of the floor, flushed and looking about as happy as Rodney's ever seen him. A flicker of long leather skirts draws his attention to Teyla and her halter top of minimum concealment, and he watches as John ducks another swing, crouching to watch her for a moment before they begin to circle each other again.

Rodney pushes one at someone's back until they see him, moving out of his way fast enough to make him wonder if Lorne's been talking, coming up to the front in time to see Teyla roll gracefully out of John's way, almost faster than Rodney can follow, sweaty hair clinging to her forehead and the back of her neck. This close, Rodney can see fresh bruising rising up on John's arms and a thin cut on his temple, the reddened knuckles on both hands. Eyes searching the crowd, there aren't many that don't have some sign of having their asses kicked, but no one seems willing to leave and miss this.

He can't blame them, really. Watching John in his element is always, always the best part of his day.

It doesn't last much longer, though, and Rodney half-tries to follow the crowd's shouted instructions and encouragement, but John, slick with sweat and flush with energy, pulls his attention back every time. Another flurry of sticks, sharp and fast, and John's on his back with Teyla's foot pressed into his throat, skirt swirling around John's head.

He has, Rodney thinks, a little dazed, one hell of a view. The room goes quiet, either due to the fact that the fight's over or they're all thinking how they can subtly find some time alone after watching the closest thing to pornography Rodney's ever seen live.

After a long moment, Teyla removes her foot, extending one hand, pulling John up almost effortlessly. Then her hands close over his lower arms, pulling him close, John's head tilting toward her, and Rodney watches them touch foreheads. Right. The Athosians did that. It didn't mean anything.

"All right," John says, pulling away, fingers lingering on Teyla's shoulders for longer than Rodney thinks is strictly necessary. "Clean up, bandage up, sleep, and be back here at twenty-two hundred hours and I'll assign out shifts. Laura, Lorne, pick your teams and be ready by six tomorrow morning." Taking a towel from Lorne, John wipes his face and glances toward the back of the room. Craning his neck, Rodney follow his gaze to Elizabeth, Bates at her elbow, watching with dark, thoughtful eyes. "Be ready. We have a lot to do tomorrow." He waves a hand, bringing instant pandemonium as people move to leave, and Rodney pushes out before he dragged outside with them, coming up to John just as Elizabeth pushes off the wall.

"Only two teams?" she says softly, and John shares an unreadable look with Teyla before shaking his head.

"Halling is taking a group of Athosians and I'll be leading another group, four total." Cracking his neck, John's eyes flicker over to Rodney. "Ready?"

"What do you need teams for?" Rodney asks, watching Elizabeth turning to Teyla, fingers delicate on the curve of her elbow. Rodney flickers a look at Lorne's bandaged hand and then catches the dark eyes for a moment before Lorne moves toward a small group comprised of two Athosians Rodney doesn't recognize, Laura, and Bates.

"Athos," John says, running the towel over his arm, wincing as it comes in contact with bruised flesh. "If the message doesn't come tonight, either something's wrong or they figured something out."

"They can't contact Earth directly."

John shakes his head. "No, but they can send out a subspace transmission that eventually, the Daedalus could pick up when they enter the galaxy." Tossing the towel into a pile near the door, John shrugs. "Anyway, they'd expect to be contacted if they miss check-in, so--"

"You're going to go." Rodney stares at him. "John Sheppard. Recognizable on sight by pretty much everyone. Yes, that sounds like a brilliant idea. Did you want to offer yourself up for a quick bullet to the head or wait until they try to question you?"

John grins, reaching out, and Rodney lets long fingers close around his wrist, pulling him to the door. "Don't worry so much. I'll take care of it." John lets go, pushing his hair back with a frown, then shaking his head. "In and out. Once Teyla's there, the Athosians will do whatever the hell she wants, and as for the Earth personnel--" John's smile widens, showing teeth. "I can bring Carson a nice present. If I can."

Rodney frowns, that urge rising again, because John's good, but he's reckless, and Rodney just doesn't trust anyone here to know how to keep him safe. It's a whole new galaxy and Pegasus doesn't know John Sheppard. "I want to go with you."

John shakes his head. "Security only. In and out, no fuss, promise. Besides, I don't want Elizabeth left here alone."

Yes, that's one for the nightmares. "Right," he says, staring past John to Elizabeth, still talking to Teyla. At a glance from John, Bates casually starts to move toward her. "And you think I can stop her if she does something stupid?"

"I know you can," John says, following it with a kiss, brief and salt-thick before fingers close over his wrist, gently pulling him to the door. "Have you been in the labs all this time?"

"Just trying to keep the city running while you and your friends play soldier."

"And we're eternally grateful," John answers as they go out, door opening at look from John. "Your new people behaving?"

Rodney thinks of Gaul's barely concealed terror and Simpson's white lipped silence. "If they aren't complete idiots, we should have the computers clean by tomorrow."

John nods as the transporter door slides closed, programming it absently before leaning back into the wall. Rodney catches himself staring at the bare, narrow feet peeking out from under grey pants hanging too low on narrow hips, wonders what happened to his shoes. And his shirt. "Who are you taking to Athos?" Rodney hears himself say, and John makes some kind of answer, but Rodney's staring at the line of his shoulders, the gleam of his skin, pale gold beneath Atlantis' cool white light, the curve of his mouth as he falls silent.

The transporter door opens. Still staring at John, Rodney reaches out and palms the door closed. "Get on your knees," he hears himself say breathlessly, and John complies, hands loose at his sides, head titled up, pupils blown wide. Riding on enough endorphins and energy for Rodney to feel with the first touch against one high cheekbone, humming beneath his skin as he runs a rough thumb over the cut on John's temple, blood flaking in the air. "Who did that?"

"Teyla," John says, voice husky. Rodney reaches down, jerking his chin up farther. John licks his lips briefly, and Rodney can see his hands fisting at his side. "She's--"

"Don't talk."

John swallows, eyes almost black as the lights seem to respond to them, edging yellow, painting John in dark gold. Rodney pushes his foot between John's knees, knocking them farther apart, hearing John's breath catch when he comes up against John's cock, pressing against his leg. "Suck me." He slaps away John's hand when it brushes against the waist of his pants. "No hands."

The dark eyes flicker down, then John leans forward, and Rodney has to brace a hand on the wall behind John at the slow, deliberate rub, slow and hard, John's lips moving against the too-tight material, like a rough hand jerking him off. A scrape of something harder than lips, then John's mouth is wet and brief against his stomach before teeth close over the top button.

It spins lazily across the floor a second later, and Rodney watches as John slowly, deliberately leans forward, teeth closing on the zipper and pulling it down with aching slowness. Reaching down, Rodney caresses the tense line of his jaw when John leans forward again, mouthing his cock through the thin boxers, breath hot and wet and teasing against the head. There's a frightening chance Rodney could come just watching this. "John," he says, tangling his fingers in John's hair and tightening. "Do it. Suck. Me. Off."

John licks his lips, looking up for a heart-stopping second, then he's nosing the material aside, tongue on flesh, warm and wet and perfect, an air-gentle brush of lips, and Rodney peels his hand off the wall and reaches for his cock, pulling it through the opening in his boxers. Pressing his thumb into the joint of John's jaw, he opens him up, pushing past swollen pink lips, watching John's eyes flicker half-closed, mouth stretching round and obscenely hot, taking it with a tilt of his head as Rodney grabs for the wall, knees liquid. "Christ, John."

John has a mouth made for cock, and he knows how to use it, tongue sharp and fast on the underside, wet and slick and *tight*, cheeks hollowing under Rodney's fingers when he sucks. Wide eyes stare up at Rodney, glittering in the light, cock so hard against Rodney's leg that he's got to *hurt*, but he's still, hands loose at his sides, following the touch of Rodney's fingers, slow and easy, the way he likes it.

Except he wants more, shifting his grip, pulling back until just the head rests on John's tongue. "Hands behind you," Rodney hears himself whisper, and John obeys as Rodney pushes his knees further apart. Running the tips of his nails against the back of John's neck, he presses them in and thrusts into John's wet mouth.

John's perfect, God, he knew that, but he didn't know the half of it, John swallowing him down as naturally as breathing, taking it like this, eyes open and as dark as a moonless night. And it goes on, leaving him hovering on the edge, unable to look away from John's pretty, swollen mouth, his cock wrapped in the hot, tight flesh, sparks flickering in his vision, narrowing the universe to the space of the transporter and John on his knees in front of him.

Then John does something--something amazing, indecent, tongue pressing just *there*, and Rodney gets two more thrusts, losing feeling in his fingers from his hold on John, coming with a shock of sensation that starts everywhere, glittering bright and almost frightening, balance shot and John's hands on his hips the only thing holding him up while he swallows it all down, easing Rodney through each rippling shock, intense and so good he never wants it to end.

When his head clears, he just lets himself drop, trusting John to catch him, like he'd feel a goddamn thing if John cut his throat right now. "God. John."

John deliberately licks the corner of his mouth, grinning as Rodney pulls him forward, licking the taste of himself from John's pretty, pretty mouth. They make out on the floor of the transporter, John easy and pliable and almost lazy, pressed up against the wall when Rodney pushes his knees apart and opens up his pants with one hand, palming John's cock, slick and hot against his hand.

John shivers, head twisting away, and Rodney runs a finger over the bloody marks of his fingernails in the back of John's neck.

"Come on," Rodney whispers, licking John's ear to get another shiver, jerking him off as slowly as he can, watching his face as he bites his lip. "Yeah, like that, take it, John." Kissing the unresisting mouth, he pulls John into his lap, enjoying the feel of slick, sweat-damp skin and the way John tastes, the movement of his hips and the sounds he makes, buried in Rodney's mouth. John shivers and shudders and twists, breath hot and erratic against Rodney's temple when he licks down the slope of John's throat, skin salty-sweet, using his teeth below his jaw, John's arm around his shoulders tightening until he stiffens, breath catching in his throat, coming in Rodney's hand.

Rodney coaxes him back down, soft and careful, breathing into his skin as John relaxes in a liquid sprawl, flushed and indecent and the hottest thing Rodney's ever seen.

They're both going to need a shower before they can go near anyone, Rodney thinks contently as he runs his thumb on the blooming bruise high on John's throat in the shape of teeth. A few long seconds later, John lifts his head, eyes sleepy, looking almost drugged. Food. Maybe a nap. Rodney stands up, pulling John unresistingly to his feet, taking another brief kiss, all soft lips and caught breath, before leading John back to their room.

Rodney takes John's radio before he's even touched the bed, calling Bates to inform him their fearless leader is sleeping and the first person to disturb him for short of an alien invasion or call from Earth will be the first testing the new implant.

It seems to get the point across. John gives him a reproachful look but rolls over, falling asleep so fast that Rodney hasn't even peeled his sweat and come-stained pants off.

"Yeah," Rodney mutters, "leave me to do all the work here." Tossing them in the corner--and Atlantis has something like a laundry room, doesn't it?--Rodney checks in with Grodin and almost sighs at the sound of Carson's unhappy Scottish burr in the background.

"How difficult is he being?"

"Not difficult, just perfectionist. He's trying to access nanotech data off the mainframes--"

"We don't have time to learn a whole new technology," Rodney bites off, finding a stash of powerbars he'd liberated from the kitchen. Just thinking of trying to find his own way across Atlantis is too tiring for words, and John, curled up around a pillow in bed, is too much temptation to resist. "Look, get him started, get some sleep, leave Gaul to watch him. Tell him to check in with me every two hours." Rodney kicks off his shoes and sits down on the edge of the bed. Regular sleep seems like such a luxury right now. "Anything goes wrong--and impress on him what I consider going wrong--call me immediately."

"The gateroom?"

"Put the shield up, I can set my codes from here to keep it up. Simpson can handle the rest. Same orders." Turning the radio off, Rodney debates putting it up, but settles for putting it on the bedside table, eating a powerbar as he finds his spare laptop and hooks it up, flicking on security while he rummages the bathroom for a first aid kit. John barely moves as Rodney cleans the cut, taping it carefully after. "I should have made you shower first," Rodney says ruefully, touching the dark bruising crisscrossing one shoulder and down his arm. John makes a soft sound, swollen mouth curving up in a sleepy smile before he drifts again.

Getting his laptop, Rodney nudges John until he moves over, kicking off his shoes and settling down with John a warm presence against his side, starting his second powerbar as he checks Grodin's work and resets the security codes to his own. Just in case Elizabeth gets any bright ideas of freeing her people early or trying to use the gate.

Rubbing his forehead, Rodney looks down at John's peaceful face and wonders if it's really worth the effort of keeping Elizabeth alive if they're going to have to watch their backs every second.

"I can hear you thinking."

Rodney frowns down, but John's eyes are still mostly closed. "You know, sleep? Good thing if you're wandering off to attack another planet. Or so I've heard."

John reaches down lazily, pulling at the blankets until Rodney slides off the bed, stripping off his pants and leaving them in a pile by the bed before getting back in. Laundry, soon. Not that they don't have enough clean clothes to see them through the next month. But still. "Sleep," Rodney says, running his fingers through John's hair, watching it fall over slitted hazel eyes.

"I'm fine," John says, breaking into a yawn. "You should. I can--" he yawns again, stretching, and Rodney tries not to watch the ripple of muscle under smooth skin. "Watch."

Rodney snorts. "I have every security protocol I could find on the door. And anyway, Elizabeth's sleeping, or so Bates said. He left Lorne to watch."

"Good call." John's eyes slit open. "Can I have my radio--"


Pulling a pillow more comfortably under his head, John watches Rodney thoughtfully. "You know we're not safe until there's no SGC presence in Pegasus," he says reasonably. Rodney bites off a piece of powerbar in answer, frowning at his laptop. "And it'll be easy. The SGC is Air Force."

Rodney rolls his eyes. "You were Air Force."

John smiles. "When did you read my file?"

"Didn't yet," Rodney admits, trying not to smile back. "Public information."

"Black ops." Rodney blinks. "Yeah, that's kind of on the far side of information no one ever wants anyone to know, but it's there somewhere." John rubs his nose into Rodney's upper arm, making a low sound in the back of his throat. "I was very, very good."

Rodney swallows. "I should have known."

"Should have," John says, and Rodney feels the touch of moist lips. "Don't worry. You'll be safe. Bates knows his life depends on you while I'm gone."

Rodney turns his head, looking down at John incredulously. "Of course I'll be fine. It's just--" Rodney thinks of Teyla and Halling, the SGC and their arsenals, and John's inability to see the difference between risky and flat out suicidal.

John pulls himself up on one elbow, eyes searching Rodney's for a second. "Bates--"

"You're an idiot. You're going off to a planet of hostile aliens and SGC personnel with less than twenty people and some guns. In a shocking turn of events, I'm worried you won't come back. Sue me."

John stares at him a minute. "Huh."

Giving up, Rodney leans back against the pillows, setting his laptop on the floor. It'll alert him to suspicious activity. "Believe it or not, I've gotten used to you."

Rodney can feel John's smile against his shoulder. "Don't be worried."

"Oh, that helps."

John's mouth is warm and soft against his throat, a nuzzle that ends with Rodney giving up, stretching out with John beneath the thin blankets. "This conversation isn't over," he warns, but John's warm and close, strong arms pulling Rodney down. Closing his eyes, the steady beat of John's heart lulls him into sleep.

"What did you do?"

Moments of severe cognitive dissonance are rare--the universe isn't that unpredictable. But right now, standing in the gateroom after ten solid hours of sleep (and he's talking to John about that one), John Sheppard in a black and grey SGC uniform, straight back, standing at attention in front of Weir, with--

"McKay?" John says, deadpan, but the hazel eyes give it away.

Rodney comes down the stairs two at a time, ignoring Weir's smirk as he reaches up, fingering the razor cut edges. "Your hair…."

John's eyebrows arch in amusement. "SGC has regulations. If I'm going to pull this off, I have to look like I know what they are." And weirdly, Rodney's beginning to think he can. Clean shaven, shorter hair, the high cheekbones look even sharper, and maybe it's the sex and sleep, but the perpetual edge of barely-checked violence seems farther beneath the surface of his skin. It's almost a completely different person looking back at him. He could pass for normal. Hell, he could pass for an Air Force officer in good standing.

He's still John, though, in that for a gateroom without the potential for sudden outbreaks of violence, he's armed to the teeth. Elizabeth is nodding her approval. "The rest of your men?"

"Getting ready." John snaps off a salute, making Elizabeth laugh before she takes a report from someone that Rodney doesn't recognize. The glimpse of an anklet, however, gives it away.

"He one of her people?" Rodney asks, tilting his head.

John shrugs. "We pulled a couple of hers." John glances at Grodin, who looks well-rested and slightly pale. Rodney wonders idly what John's been doing up here. "Grodin's got them all in the computer." John flashes a smile at Grodin, and Rodney watches in satisfaction as his least favorite tech flinches away from them both. "We got the call."

"What?" Rodney pushes by John, kicking Grodin's chair from the communications relay. "I wasn't called? Why wasn't I called?" A few taps pulls up the databurst--short and to the point, routine except for the fact that Rodney's worked with the military half his life and in every even, non-inflammatory word is the language of fear. Something's gone wrong. "Okay, they're having problems?" He turns a narrow look on Grodin.

"Breathe," John says behind him, and Rodney turns the look on John, who puts both hands up. "Hey. It was less than ten minutes ago and you were in the shower. They didn't seem to want an answer, so we waited for you to get up here."

"Right," he says, reading through the information. Supply requisitions, deployment, two more Athosians captured, unidentified intruders-- "Wait. Intruders…."

John leans a hand onto the console. "They ran across something," John says, leaning over Rodney's shoulder, filling the air with the scent of clean skin and John. It's a little dizzying. "Some people disappeared. Unfamiliar ships were seen in the sky." Long fingers brush the air just in front of the screen. "Very kidnapped by aliens."

Rodney scrolls down, skimming the information. "It looks like they sent this data to the SGC a few weeks back."


When he looks, John is frowning. "What?"

"We have the transmission logs up yet?" he asks, and Rodney gestures sharply at Grodin, still flattened against the rail. "Okay. Get me--six weeks back, when they started cutting rations. And see what was in that databurst."

"John?" Elizabeth sounds worried.

"Shut up," Rodney says, as Grodin sends over the information. "Okay. Looks like the SGC found something here they didn't like." Or didn't like them. Either one works for Rodney. "Christ, they're coding this like they think they're at war…"

"Or they think there's intelligent life in the Pegasus galaxy after all," John says, reading over his shoulder. "Look, here and here--they're not asking for supplies, they're waiting for orders." John whistles softly. "You know, if I didn't know better, I'd think they were preparing to move out."

Rodney reads between the lines. "Abandon Pegasus?" he says, feeling a sudden chill run down his spine. Thinking of the cut rations, the lower environmentals, the well-stocked kitchen, Teyla and the other Athosians held too long. Doubling up on cells. "Conserving power," Rodney says slowly, and Elizabeth's suddenly right beside them, reading along. "John--"

"Yeah." Touching his radio, John steps back. "Lorne, get everyone awake and in the gateroom, full gear. One hour. Sheppard out."


"All Sumner's notes, everything, we need it now," John says, and Rodney's picking up his urgency. John's military trained and paranoid by nature. If this is spooking him, there's something there to be spooked about. "I--"

"We don't have time to interrogate Sumner," Rodney says, meeting John's eyes. For a second, there's nothing there, just blank, thinking silence, and John nods shortly. "Right. Get him, take him to the infirmary. We'll meet you there." Turning to Grodin, Rodney waits until he looks up. "Any transmissions, call." John's already going out the door, Elizabeth a step behind him. Shoving his radio in his ear, Rodney keys it. "Miko, Gaul, Simpson, get to the gate room."

"Sir?" Grodin looks warily from the computer to Rodney and back again.

"Get someone at every station and bring weapons on-line. They're expecting a reply and soon. If they call back, do whatever you can to keep them on the line until Sheppard can listen in. I'll be in the infirmary."

Carson's frowning absently when he hands over the bottles, which doesn't bode well. Going through them, Rodney identifies the ones he'll need. "He's conditioned," Rodney says, getting out a syringe. "Mix me something stronger if this doesn't work."

From the corner, Cadman nods even as Carson makes unhappy noises, still working over his microscope. "If you want this implant completed--"

"Yeah yeah, Laura. You did interrogations, right?"

"Among other things." One long fingered hand runs over Carson's shoulders soothingly. "Don't worry, I checked. These should work." Reaching over, she taps two bottles. "Watch these. He's still coming off a heroin addiction, so his heart could stop."

"As long as he talks first, I don't care."

Picking up the packet, Rodney spares a glare at Carson, but he can't fault the man for his devotion to his work. Turning, he comes in sight of the first isolation room, blinking a little at the white on white of a sterile environment, the bodies twitching beneath thin blankets. Shaking himself, he turns away. Really, really don't want to know.

Coming in to the observation room overlooking the main surgical suite, Rodney sees Elizabeth already waiting, arms crossed over her chest, tense and fragile, her entire body radiating worry. Coming up beside her, Rodney looks down to see the room's been cleared, Ford in a chair on one side of the room, Bates on the other side, watching him steadily. "He's in withdrawal," Elizabeth says disapprovingly. "How do they even get drugs out here?"

"You can always get drugs," Rodney answers, searching for a chair. One materializes almost under him, and Rodney blinks before looking up at John. "Right. Where were you hiding?"

John smirks, but the shadow in his eyes doesn't fade. "Whatcha got?"

"Sodium pentothal, some Carson variations thereof, useless crap for the most part" Rodney says, picking up each bottle. "Crystal meth. Oh, heroin." He tilt his head. "Answers the question on where he got his drugs, if this is in the regular supplies."

"Nice." John smiles, eyes fixed on Ford through the glass. "He'll be easy."

Rodney follows John's gaze. Grey-skinned and panting harshly, sweating even though the room is chilled. "Does he even know--"

"Won't know until I ask." John reaches for the box, pausing briefly as he meets Rodney's eyes. "You staying to watch?"

He hadn't planned on it, but-- "Yeah. It's not like there's an entire city out there that needs my attention," he says, leaning back as Sheppard tucks the box under one arm.

John smiles, soft-mouthed and slow. "Thirty minutes," he says, giving Elizabeth a nod before going out the far door.

Rodney feels Elizabeth leaning in beside him as John goes down.

It's annoyingly fast, after all: ten minutes in, Ford's blissed out and happier than anyone has a right to be, lolling in his restraints while Bates and two security start clean up. John shakes his head, watching Ford with narrowed, thoughtful eyes.

Elizabeth is standing when John comes back in, frowning down as Bates drags him away. "You think he told the truth?"

"He'd bend over and let me fuck him dry for this," John says, tilting the tiny bottle with a lazy grin. "Here's what he knows. There's something picking off people. Triangular shaped ships beam them up, definitely not Asgard, or so the SGC says. Athosians have been making a lot of noise about it, but the usual not listening to the non-technologically advanced natives is going on." One eyebrow arches. "So maybe Teyla should start talking less about vengeance against her oppressors and open wide about what the fuck is going on?"

Elizabeth frowns, leaning back into the glass. "Wraith. She said the cullings were rare, however. I wonder--"

Rodney feels something turn over in his stomach She would have let John walk right into that without warning. "And when were you going to share that bit of trivia?"

Watching John go from casual to predatory never stops being fascinating. Rodney's pretty sure the temperature of the room drops at least five degrees in the time it takes for John to lower the bottle.

Elizabeth seems to notice, straightening off the glass, eyes darting to check her exits. Rodney could have told her she didn't have any. John always covered all exits, even when he didn't need to. Licking her lips, her eyes flicker to Rodney. Right. Relaxing in his chair, he waits to see what she'll do.

"Teyla had--stories," she says, slowly straightening. John doesn't move, but somehow, he seems to be close enough to strangle her. "There's no way I could have known that they're--. It's been years, stories of aliens from the sky--"

"That come in tiny ships and take off humans with magical beams of light?" John says, deceptively casual. "Yes, that's not something you should have mentioned when we were planning this, before I took twenty people through the gate and into hostile territory."

Elizabeth's chin lifts. "I needed more information. Teyla couldn't tell me much beyond their existence."

"Anything else?" he says, voice low and edged, feral like something that had never seen a cage, and Rodney remembers when the guards would bring John back from Sumner. Nothing human looking out at him, crouched in the corner of the room, and Rodney remembers coaxing him into bed with leading touches and soft words, bringing back John from wherever Sumner sent him.

Wherever Elizabeth's sent him can't be much better, and Rodney stands up. They can't lose Elizabeth yet. "John."

For a second, John doesn't move, but nearly six months of patient work, the attention to detail that made Rodney the most brilliant physicist in two galaxies, aren't wasted. John snaps out with an audible click, flicking to Rodney. "Next time."

"Next time, I'll load your gun myself."

John nods shortly, flicking the bottle into the box, eyes on Elizabeth with cool evaluation. Then he cuts her out like she's not there. "Bates is taking care of Ford. I'm going down to brief my men." With a nod at Rodney to make his point, John turns sharply, light controlled step, and Rodney almost feels sorry for the next person to meet John, because they are so fucked.

When the door closes, Elizabeth breathes out, watching the door before turning to Rodney. "You can't possibly think you can--" She stops, eyes narrowing. "You can't think you can hold Atlantis with just Sheppard."

"I think I could probably take over the entire Pegasus Galaxy with John," Rodney says. "The thing is, I don't really want to. Not yet anyway. Though you're making it hard to stop myself if you're going to be this stupid."

Leaning into the glass, her eyes flicker ot the door again. "He's unstable."

"He's probably the most stable person you're ever going to meet, unless you keep pulling shit like this. You want Atlantis? Fine. I want the technology. Let's make this easy on us both. You can't do it without us. But I'm pretty sure we can do it without you." The dark eyes narrow. "I can tell John that you're an unacceptable threat and you don't walk out of this room."

Elizabeth doesn't move. "If that were true, I wouldn't still be alive."

Rodney doesn't like it that she knows that. "Or I have a solution. We never find out."

Elizabeth crosses her arms. "You're asking me to trust you."

"I'm telling you none of us have a *choice* if this is going to work. You want followers, you want your own kingdom, you want to be high priestess of the fucking *fish*, I don't *care*. But we can't work like this."

He watches her face, not giving a thing away, fingers tapping arrhythmically against her arm. "Separation of interest."

Rodney nods slowly. "Yes," he says, and he doesn't have to like it, but it's not like anything better is occurring to him. "Lead Atlantis to a glorious future, whatever. But we stay in the loop. All information comes to me and John. And in return, you won't have to worry every time you close your eyes."

"And John?" Her voice is deceptively light, and Rodney picks up his box.

"He has exactly what he wants," Rodney says, thinking of John and the jumper, touching Atlantean controls, asleep in bed, fighting with Teyla. "Gateroom? Before John gets bored and starts a war for the hell of it?"

Elizabeth mouth tightens, but she follows Rodney to the door and Rodney keys his radio. "John? We're on our way down. How close are you to ready?"

John's voice comes back, calm and comfortingly amused. "We'll leave when you get down here. Have fun?"

Rodney flicks a look at Elizabeth. "More than words can adequately express. McKay out." Going out the door, flicks his radio off, catching Elizabeth's sideways glances. "What?"

The dark eyes meet his. "Do you really think you can keep Sheppard under control?" she says, sounding honestly curious. Rodney gives himself a second to imagine that he hadn't stopped John, then shakes it away.

"I know I can."

John's got everyone suited, doing something to vests and checking the weapons that Lorne must have gotten from the armory, sending half to the jumper bay as he finishes final checks on the remainder. Grodin, showing more sense than Rodney had ever given him credit for, had unearthed the IDCs and he and Simpson were programming them. Rodney checks their work from habit, blinking as John breaks open a crate and starts issuing what seem to be small, easily portable rocket launchers.

"I was actually joking about him starting a war," Rodney says when Elizabeth comes up beside him. There are more weapons than he can identify scattered among the men, including Teyla and Halling. Rodney wonders if that's a good idea.

Leaning over Grodin's shoulder, Rodney reads the data on Athos, skimming over the blueprints for the SGC base, the known Athosian camps, and most recent inventory manifest.

Glancing at John, he watches him straighten Lorne's vest, smoothing long fingers down the front, checking each Velcro strap, hands quick and busy. Lorne watches Sheppard a lot like Rodney's pretty sure he does, which isn't reassuring at all. From the corner of his eye, he catches Elizabeth's smirk and fights the urge to say something.

Besides, he has the perfect excuse to call John away. "John."

Hazel eyes flicker up, and with a final pat, John takes the stairs two at a time, giving Elizabeth a bright smile before circling around, leaning in on Grodin's other side, taking the IDC Grodin offers.

"This is your code. Before coming through the gate, send that through and contact us so we can lower the shield. Otherwise. Think bug and a windshield. Got it? Check-in every four hours."

John smirks, nodding as he tucks it into one of many, many pockets. "Those are for Lorne and Cadman," Rodney says as Grodin hands over the second and third. "But tell them if I see theirs and you're not with them, I'll put them right back through the gate and collapse it while they're still inside."

"I'll do that." John looks up, jerking his head at someone behind Rodney's back. "All right, anything else I should know?" John's gaze flickers to Elizabeth, holding her in clear green hostility. Her face remains blank, but Rodney can almost see her wishing she could take a step back.

"If I knew more, I'd tell you." She pauses, head tilting back to meet his eyes, serious and sincere, like only Elizabeth Weir can ever be. She might even mean it. "Be careful."

John smirks. "Won't be a problem." Stepping back, John unhooks his P-90, and Rodney has a flash of skin on skin, brief and hot, before John's leading everyone to the jumper bay, where the other half the expedition is already waiting, ready to go to a planet that Elizabeth's already lied about once.

As the gate comes to life, Rodney looks at Elizabeth. "All deals are off if he doesn't come back." From behind him, Rodney can feel Bates' quiet affirmation.

Elizabeth looks at them both soberly. "They'll come back."

When John Sheppard was twenty-three, he was pulled in for the first of a series of special assignments--SGC code for assassinations, bombings, and specialized kidnappings and interrogations. Usually it was high level diplomats or sect leaders from people like the Tok'ra, who didn't acknowledge the Asgard-Nox-Human triumvirate as the leading force in the galaxy after the Goa'uld had been exterminated, and later, Jaffa who didn't respect the authority of Teal'c. The SGC and John had gotten along well for almost ten years, but like most long-term relationships, John had found, they had fallen out. With the rise of Dr. Samantha Carter and General O'Neill to the top of the SGC, there'd been a switch in policy that had dumped John back into regular Air Force, invisibly marked as dangerous, and quietly sent to Afghanistan to live out the rest of his time in the most boring backwater in the galaxy along with most of his team.

John hadn't taken that very well, and now that he thinks about it, destroying the country they'd assigned him to had possibly been an overreaction.

The thing is, John doesn't mind too much. When he thinks of Afghanistan, he doesn't think of dust and heat and incredible, mind-numbing boredom. He doesn't think of the lack of reliable internet or reliable running water, or the fact that he'd been chained to the ground.

Mostly, he remembers Rodney, Dr. McKay, the ZPM paper that led to the development of the first ZPM based bomb. He remembers late nights at cheap internet cafes on short, grudging leave, reading in fascination as they spoke of McKay like they spoke of Oppenheimer, awe and fear and breathless horror, this device that could, in the right hands, destroy a world.

And sometimes, he thinks of the view of Afghanistan from the air, hours after he set off the first ZPM bomb on a forgotten road in the middle of nowhere, flat countryland turned to dead soil that would never grow anything again.

In retrospect, John thinks he should have known all along that he was in the wrong line of work.

They're fifteen minutes on Athos, and John already knows something's wrong. Touching his radio, he makes eye contact with one of his team, a nod sending them into the brush that surrounds the SGC compound. He can feel Teyla coming up behind him, catching her narrowed gaze from the corner of his eye. "Lorne? Hold up. Something's up."

A mission that starts wrong usually ends worse; John learned that the hard way, leading to three weeks as a guest of the Asgard before extradition to earth. Intergalactic crimes were usually tried in space, outside planetary jurisdiction, but no one had wanted to risk John Sheppard in something that could fly.

He can't blame them. "No patrols," he says, studying the obvious clearing that the SGC had made in the forest, leading from gate to camp. They hadn't been trying for subtlety. Hell, they were the SGC. Absolute power didn't *need* subtlety.

"No gate security," she answers, frowning. "There were--six when I was taken." Her mouth tightens. "I do not like this."

John doesn't either, likes it less as the scout returns, looking grim. "Nothing."

Flying ships that transported people away. Sheppard motions for his and Hallings' teams to get under cover--all that bare sky is suddenly very, very worrying. "Okay, total of eighty personnel are helping the Athosians set up self-government." The way her mouth tightens almost makes him laugh. He thinks the Goa'uld had probably looked a lot like that once upon a time. "Right. How many of your people are still locked up?"

"Here? Thirty were not taken through the gate."

"Any executions?" He doubts it, with Asgard peacekeepers checking in every so often, but Pegasus is a long way from Earth. They could manage.

"I do not think so." As they come under the cover of the forest, Teyla's frown deepens. "There have been reports of cullings, but not on Athos for many years."

"Huh." The path looks less worn than it should; dead leaves are scattered over it, like it hasn't been used in several days. "What do you call them?"

"Wraith." If possible, she tenses even more, hand tightening on the hilt of her gun. "There have been reports on other planets, but--" She shrugs. "I have never seen a culling. I only know what I have heard on other planets, and the stories of my people."

Pegasus galaxy legends, which is probably why Elizabeth hadn't bothered taking it seriously. Tightening his grip on the P-90, John considers the possibility this is something else entirely. Something's happening on Earth, and a hyperdrive ship could have come here, picked up whoever they wanted to keep if they were cutting free of the Pegasus galaxy. John was in the military long enough to know it's possible. It's just not *likely*.

And frankly, if there'd been a full evacuation, Sumner would have been on the first wormhole or ship *out*.

The forest is silent around them as they approach, and the uncomfortable feeling continues to grow. John catches himself glancing up through the canopy of trees overhead, twitching at the movements of the people behind him, finger too close to the trigger.

The compound itself is nothing to write home about; John rolls his eyes at the square stone design that tries and fails to mimic Ancient architecture, but the lack of guards is disturbing. The SGC could be stupid, but they were rarely *this*stupid. Motioning to Teyla, he touches his radio. "Lorne, anything?"

Lorne's voice is flat; John can hear his own unease reflected back at him. "Nothing."

Taking out the lifesigns detector, John looks on the screen again, but nothing's changed. No lifesigns except their own. Either they really are alone here, or that building has better shielding than anything John's seen outside a warship-class spacecraft. "Perimeter sweep," he says to Lorne and Cadman. "Halling, back entrance. We'll take the front." Without waiting for acknowledgement, John motions to his team, circling warily just inside the forest edges, eyes on the building.

The front entrance door is completely gone, and at this distance, John can see the marks on the stone around it, black smudges in unfamiliar patterns. He can feel Teyla stop behind him, close enough to breathe the scent of fresh leather and sweat. "These marks were not here before."

"Hmm." Looking around the quiet woods, the clean green grass surrounding the compound, he pauses. "Were all your people kept in here?"

From the corner of his eye, he sees Teyla nods shortly. "Yes. A small group of defectors were also present, as your people had promised them assistance in taking the rest of the planet."

John smiles. "Not my people. Where are the others?"

Teyla hesitates. "We had a--several camps. They were beyond the edges of SGC claimed territory…."

"Right." Gun in hand, John approaches the door, studying the broken wood frame, the impact lines. Brute force after weapons, splintering the door, a hole like a fist higher than his shoulder. "Tell me about the Wraith."

Teyla's voice is soft. "I do not--sense them." Then the flashlight flickers over something, and as John brings it back, Teyla's breath lets out in a low rush. "But they have been here."

The smell hits John before he can quite comprehend what he's seeing, and he thinks, just maybe, that he wasn't prepared for this.

Before the trial, he had some good years.

The thing they forgot, the thing that made him good, the best at what he did, was they trained him to it. He knew the passwords and the people, who could be bribed and who needed to be silenced, knew the secrets because he's the one they always called to bury them. And if they still called, off the books, then the difference was these days they paid him better than they had before. And John really has to wonder what made him stay regular for so long, when he could have been doing this all along.

A troublesome Asgard here, a Tok'ra dissident there, a few planets not bowing to Nox peace efforts on the side. Sometimes he just played, for the fuck of it, because he loved his work.

When the news talked about his crimes, it was always hushed voice and shocky, like they couldn't comprehend what they were reading, seeing, hearing.

Three years and seven hundred thousand and eighty-five deaths later (not that he counts, but Lorne does), John still finds it funny that anyone could be surprised by anything he'd done.

They find bodies everywhere--shrunken and small, impossibly old, and John can't quite make himself understand what he's seeing yet. The control room is almost empty, papers and laptops spilled like garbage on the ground, fewer bodies. They were caught unaware.

"Teyla?" John says, pushing a body over with one boot. The wizened face that looks back at him isn't like anything he's ever seen. "What the fuck do they *do*?"

"They take life." Coming up beside him, she kneels, pulling aside the too large uniform shirt. John stares at the scar on the man's papery chest. "Here. This is how they feed."

Well, fuck. "Spread out," John says sharply, seeing the hesitation. "Get a body count, see if there are survivors. *Now*." John moves to the computers, looking at the display for a second, then touches his headset. "Dial Atlantis," he tells Markham at the gate. John sweeps the room, fingers twitching against the P-90 at the sight of every wizened body, tiny and skeletal and horrifying in some way that John can't quite get over. *Eaten*. Christ.

"Wormhole established," Markham reports, and John makes himself turn away, sitting down at the keyboard.

John takes a slow breath, then keys a private channel. "Rodney?"

The silence on the other end gives John enough time to run through a dozen scenarios that would prohibit Rodney from answering--and every one of them ends with Elizabeth dying very slowly in a holding cell while he watches. Then, "John? Everything okay?"

John breathes out, keeping his eyes on the console and not the dead body at his feet. He really, really doesn't need this shit. "You okay?"

Rodney snorts softly. "Just finished the prototype for the implant." A pause, then Rodney's voice, lower. "What's wrong?"

John fixes his eyes on the screen. "I need two of your people over here "

"Is everyone--. I mean, did you--"

"Everyone's dead. So not a lot of activity over here but counting bodies. Teyla is taking a team to go find her people." Leaning back, he watches Teyla as she circles the room, checking every body with a thoroughness he approves of. Never take anything for granted.

"Everyone?" Rodney's voice rises in pitch, and John wishes to God he knew how to adjust the volume on this thing.

"Pretty much. I want your people here to salvage what we can of their tech and those last databursts."

A thoughtful pause. John can see where this is going. "I can--"



"There is no way in hell I'm letting you touch foot on this planet." Just thinking about it makes him reach for the trigger, and it's a physical effort not to pull it. The only things here to shoot are walls, and they wouldn't satisfy him anyway. Keeping his voice even, John continues. "Choose who you want and get them prepped. I'm leaving two teams here; they'll be under orders to get whatever the scientists want." After another pause, John flicks the radio, opening to a general channel. "Elizabeth."

"Sheppard? Report." She's not happy with being out of the loop, but John's really beginning to think that they could live without her.

"Ten minutes, tops. I'll leave two teams here to investigate." Motioning Lorne over, John leans back in the chair, turning enough to stare down at the body again. "I'm bringing some bodies back for analysis," and isn't that going to be interesting. "Inform Carson he's doing some autopsies. The Wraith didn't leave anyone alive."

"Was anyone taken?" Elizabeth asks.

Standing up, John kicks the body out of the way. "I'll need a manifest of who was on Athos," John says, glancing at the screen of one of the computers before turning away. "One of the scientists should be able to find out."

The short silence is fucking annoying.. "What aren't you telling me?" Elizabeth asks finally.

"Exactly what you neglected to tell me. It looks like we're not alone in the galaxy. Tell Carson to be ready in fifteen minutes. Sheppard out." Pausing, John looks between Teyla and Lorne. "Your teams stay. Get a count, compare against whatever manifest Rodney's people can pull up." Seeing Teyla's frown, John smirks. "Or did you plan on reclaiming Athos now that these Wraith know there are humans here?"

Teyla's frown deepens. "I will assist you in your--investigation." For now, she doesn't say, but that's really the best he can hope for. Calling in the other teams, John gives out assignments, not least of which is securing any remaining supplies. If the Wraith use humans as food, there's a better than good chance they didn't bother with any of the provisions left. His team collects three bodies, and John stares around the control room one last time. Anti-climactic, to say the least. Fucking *annoying*.

"Report every two hours," John tells Lorne, as much an order as a warning to Teyla. "Make sure the scientists have whatever they need to get this place stripped."

"What about the rest of the bodies?" Lorne asks, brows raised. "You want them disposed of or--"

Sheppard shrugs. "Let 'em rot."

After they finally caught him the second time, the last time, John had a lot of time to think.

John cut the throat of his first lawyer when he recommended John throw himself on the mercy of the court. Afghanistan made his reputation, but it was the tip of the iceberg, comparatively speaking, to what could come out if they decided to really investigate, and he knew earth didn't want another Rodney McKay to create new rumors of Earth instability. Or the fact that the SGC program seemed to be breeding some of the most skilled psychopaths ever released on a general population.

But he was John Sheppard, and his second lawyer wasn't as stupid, with a forcefield between them as he explained how John was fucked, reading the list of crimes with awe, Asgard and Tok'ra assassinations for hire, intergalactic terrorism, list growing longer and longer until John cut him off and asked if he wanted to know everything.

Funny thing, the man did. Two months later, John was standing in front of a wormhole in Colorado, chained to the ground, but alive.

The SGC had more to lose than he did, when all was said and done, so when the death penalty was stripped from the table in exchange for his silence, it wasn't like he was surprised.

He just wonders, even now, if they really believed he wouldn't find a way out. Knowing them, he thinks that they did.

Rodney's practically hovering at the gate when John gets back, looking a vague unhappy that changes to startled nausea as the three bodies are brought in. John catches him before he can go too close, putting his body between Rodney and the medics. "Trust me. You don't want to see."

Rodney frowns. "But--"

"No." Wrapping a hand around Rodney's wrist, he gently pulls him away, giving Elizabeth and Bates a short look before leading Rodney out the door to the transporter. He can feel her eyes drilling into his back with every step before the door cuts them off.

"She'll want a report," Rodney murmurs.

John shrugs, resettling the P90 as they step into the transporter. "You said implant?"

Rodney's frown flickers, changing into something that John can't quite recognize, but looks strangely like satisfaction. "Finished the implant procedure right after you called." Rodney pauses as they get inside, pressing in the sequence for the medical section. "I thought you might want to watch the first round of tests," he says casually, leaning into the wall, and John fights the urge to touch him, contenting himself with watching Rodney's quick, sharp gestures, the curve of his mouth. "You. Five minutes, Wraith. What did you find?"

"Everyone's dead." Rodney's eyes widen. "Lorne's investigating and getting a count to see if anyone was taken." John turns it over in his head. On one hand, that's less SGC personnel to deal with. On the other-- "How is it that Athos has been occupied for eight years and we never heard about them?"

Rodney shrugs. "SGC isn't known for its fair and impartial treatment of alien civilizations that are less advanced than they are." John thinks of the way Elizabeth had dismissed Teyla's warnings and nods slowly. "Neither are the Asgard, or the Nox, which often begs the question of why they allied with us in the first place--" Rodney waves it aside, leaning into the wall with a frown. "And hello, since when do you decide where I go? That's fairly sensitive equipment--"

"On a planet that was just relieved of at least part of its human population," John points out, holding the scowling blue eyes. "No."

Rodney's frown deepens. "John--"

"Are you actually arguing to go to a planet with proven hostile alien activity? That doesn't even make *sense*." John tries not to smirk as Rodney's mouth opens, then shuts abruptly. Right. "Rodney."

Rodney waves it aside, but John's lived with Rodney for nearly six months and knows a hell of a lot better. This isn't even close to over. "Come on," he says, touching the control panel so the door will open."

"So implant…" John says, almost jogging to catch up.

"We have a test subject," Rodney says, leading John into the infirmary, past some random medic, currently studying something gelatinous and flesh-colored on an isolation bed. "I just--" He stops, looking uncertain, and John tries not to smile. "Well, we have him in the room you interrogated Ford in," Rodney continues briskly as he palms open the door. "He should be--yeah."

Walking to the wide observation window, John stares down at the man, manacled at one end of the room, two of John's men watching him with bored attention. John freezes inches from the glass, chest going tight and hard. "Sumner."

John doesn't remember a lot that happened with Sumner.

He knows there were sometimes guns, sometimes knives, something hot that burned through skin to char bone. There was rope and there was wire and sometimes there were needles. He knows there was sex, violent and strangely simple, and that it got Sumner off to get him off. He knows he was in the infirmary for too long sometimes, because he'd read it on Rodney's face when he got back, terrified and angry, coalescing into something hard and frozen.

But he doesn't remember what *happened*.

It could have been the drugs they were giving him, or regeneration amnesia from being too often thrown into the machine to be put back together, or whatever delayed trauma shit that psycho Heightmeyer always mumbled about before they put her in isolation when she talked one too many prisoners into messy suicides.

The truth is, John thinks that maybe he just doesn't want to remember. He'd wake up in a corner of their room and not recognize his body, new tissue and regenerated bones, teeth, cheek, face. Whatever Sumner fucked up, they would fix. And so little of it felt like him, new skin and new blood and new fingers and new toes, a stranger living in his own body.

He does remember Rodney.

Every morning after he was brought back, warm hands and gentle touches that skimmed new flesh with careful fingers, measuring size and depth and width and everything that had happened when John had been taken away. John learned his body through Rodney's hands, skidding over repaired hips and reconstructed thigh, spots of new growth from gouges that still smelled of disinfectant and smoke, the shattered spine that he remembers only in a pain that went on forever and could have driven him crazy.

Had. Maybe.

Rodney would say, "We'll make him wait for it," into his ear, hand on John's hip to ground him into the room, *their* room. "Slow starvation. We could do that. Vacuum, at five second intervals. He'll live like that for a long time while his organs slowly shut down. He'll rot from the inside out."

John would close his eyes and listen to Rodney's voice, soft and gentle when he told John how they'd watch Sumner die. But first, they were going to enjoy it.

"I thought you'd like it," Rodney says softly, and John breathes out as Rodney rests his chin on his shoulder, voice close to his ear. "Carson fixed his knees and got him hydrated. Mostly. So he'll last a long time."

John feels the remote that Rodney presses into his hand, lighting up at the activation of the ATA gene, warming his skin. No part of his body doesn't feel this, humming along every nerve, bringing him alight. "Ancient," he hears himself say. "How--"

"I needed to thread it through the main processors," Rodney whispers. "Soon, I'll get it so refined you won't even need a remote. You can think at them and turn it on." Rodney's hand covers his, guiding his thumb. "This controls sensitivity. This controls sensation. And this?" Blunt fingers trace across the remote, and John has just enough comprehension left to recognize the layout of the LCD screen. "Press that to wake him up. It administers a low level shock to his cerebral cortex--in case he passes out."

John's mouth is completely dry. Licking his lips, he murmurs, "Have you--"

Rodney presses a kiss behind his ear, a brush of teeth behind it. "No. This is for you."

Jesus. John knows he's shaking by the way Rodney plasters himself against John's back, arms sliding soothingly around his waist, and John makes himself breathe again when Rodney's hand moves under his shirt. Slow, gentle circles on his belly, soothing, reminding John of hours in their cell after--well, after.

John takes a deep breath, then touches his radio with his free hand. "Keep your distance from him," he says, voice already thickening. Rodney's fingertips press just beneath the waist of his pants, nails scratching gently. Keying off, he tries another breath. "Can I--"

"Jesus, yes." Rodney's fingers press against his on the controls, and John's eyes jerk to the floor when Sumner convulses suddenly, jerked off his knees, mouth a silent o of shock and pain. "You want sound?"

"Christ." Rodney moves away eternal seconds, and the sound comes on in a scream that John can feel in his bones. He's suddenly unanchored, adrift in the vision of Sumner writhing on the floor and his screams echoing through John's head.

Then Rodney's back, warm and grounding, and John leans back into him gratefully. Pressing, John ups the sensitivity, the scream choking off halfway through as Sumner loses breath, and John can feel Rodney's hands quick and efficient on his pants, unbuttoning and unzipping so his warm--God, hot--hot hand slides inside.

"No underwear," Rodney says thickly, and John half wants to close his eyes to feel Rodney's hand better, but he can't look away from Sumner, writhing on the floor in front of him, mouth drawn up in a tight rictus of pain. "You can change the sensation. I only have one setting for most of the remotes, but yours is--special." Teeth close over the side of his throat, and John bucks into Rodney's hand when Sumner lets out a breathless scream. "Yeah. That's it. I told you. We'd get him."

Rodney's hand is amazing, slow and deliberately cruel, too tight then too loose, using fingernails and the rough sides of his fingers, pinching the head of his cock to make John bite his lip against a moan. Sumner manages a scream then, and Rodney presses down on John's thumb, upping the level.

John licks dry lips as Rodney lets go, raising his arm as Rodney ducks beneath to lean against the glass in front of him, blue eyes half-closed and smoky with arousal. Just over his shoulder, John can see Sumner choking back another scream, and Rodney strokes one hand down the front of his own pants, pausing over his cock, before he goes down on his knees.

"Fuck," John whispers. Strong hands cup his hips, thumbs digging into the hollows as soft lips tease the head, tongue wet and soft and amazing; Rodney sucks cock like he's solving an equation, methodical and so certain he's right, and he is. He know John's body because he learned it, the old parts and the new, scraping with teeth as he goes down, and God. God. Rodney. With his free hand he braces on the glass, watching Sumner fall apart in front of him while Rodney's mouth puts John back together, pulling the disparate pieces into a single whole. "Yes." When Sumner can scream, John flicks his thumb over the button, and Sumner convulses into a hard arch, back leaving the floor, feet flexed painfully. He's going to hurt when this is over, John thinks breathlessly, Rodney licking him slowly, gently, one hand moving to cup his balls. He's going to hurt.

It's like nothing John's ever felt, and he can barely hear Sumner screaming over the hard beat of his heart, watch Sumner writhe and whimper breathlessly and die a little every second that passes, seconds that have to feel like years. "Rodney--" he hears himself say, voice hoarse, but Rodney hears him, hand taking the place of his mouth as he pulls back, head tilted up in question. "Fuck me."

Rodney blinks, mouth opening briefly before he nods, and John shivers as Rodney gives him one more stroke before he gets to his feet. One hand cups around the back of John's head, pulling him into a kiss, gentle and almost sweet, edged with John's taste on his tongue, teeth pressing quickly into his lip before he withdraws. The blue eyes are blown, pupil leaving a narrow band of electric blue, and John thinks he's never seen anything hotter in his life.

"Get on your knees," Rodney says softly, fingers stroking the back of his neck. "And watch Sumner. I'll be right back."

John does it, lowering the level a little, giving Sumner a chance to breathe. You can adapt to anything, John knows, even pain. He doesn't want Sumner adapting too fast.

On the other side of the room, the two men are watching, bored and a little fascinated. John reaches for his radio, considers checking in, then abandoning the thought as Sumner rolls onto his knees--regenerated, John thinks with black satisfaction. Both hands braced on the floor, the familiar face comes up, looking toward the observation window. Even from here, John can see him sweating, lines of agony drawn into his face, shuddering with every flare of pain. Just because he can, John lowers it again, then more, watching Sumner try not to relax and doing it anyway, slumping into the floor in a loose, very unmilitary sprawl.

Then Rodney's kneeling behind him, and John comes up on his knees so Rodney can pull down the pants, spreading his legs as much as he can so those clever fingers can trace the line of his ass, sliding beneath the curve to press against him for a breathless second before pushing one finger inside.

Regeneration always heals him too tight, and he hasn't had anyone since the last time they took him out of the infirmary. John closes his eyes at the slight burn, feeling Rodney's hand on his shoulder, a warm mouth on the back of his neck, slowly licking up to his hairline. One hand slides around, gently bracing over his stomach, rubbing soothing circles. "This is going to hurt."

"I know." John ups the level, just a little, enough to watch Sumner start in shock, before dropping it again. Watch him pant into the metal floor, satisfying to see in a simple, predictable way.

Rodney's slow, methodical, taking his time to stretch John, two fingers scissoring slowly, and John makes himself relax, trying not to melt into Rodney's mouth when he brushes soft kisses onto his shoulder. He loves Rodney's mouth, loves how he uses it, the contrast between hard fingers and soft lips, the shock of pleasure when Rodney finds his prostate, glittering bright and fading too fast.

"Come on," he murmurs when Rodney's mouth brushes his jaw. The fingers twist again, and John shudders at the pressure, glittering arcs of sensation that catch the breath in his lungs as Rodney's knees move between his, a hand on his hip slowly guiding him down. He can feel the head of Rodney's cock press, pausing, soothing hands trailing down his side, and John opens his eyes on Sumner and presses down the button as he opens himself and takes Rodney's cock.

"Jesus," Rodney whispers against his skin, Sumner screaming loud enough for John to feel it in the glass pressed against his fingertips, and it *hurts*, but it's Rodney against his back, pressing wet kisses against his neck, murmuring into his ear as John adapts to the burn. Rodney feels huge inside him, filling him up, *grounding* in this place. Bracing himself against the glass, John pulls up, then takes him in again, settling on Rodney's thighs as Rodney gasps into his back.

It's good, slow like this, Sumner's sounds trailing off to panted, ragged breaths, wet sounds that sound like bubbling blood, and he loves, fucking *loves* the sounds Rodney makes, gasped into his shirt, loves the marks Rodney's leaving on his hips, finger-shaped bruises that won't be erased by a regeneration machine, loves how Sumner shudders and curls onto his side, face wet with tears and snot and sweat while he convulses.

John may not remember what happened, once a week, every week, but he can learn it from Sumner's body, a tendon-snapping stretch that leaves him gasping for air while Rodney's hand wraps around John's cock, jerking him off with rough, even strokes, palm slick and hard and perfect.

"Watch him," Rodney whispers, and pushes John forward to the glass, getting enough leverage to thrust, and John shivers into it, skin alight with pure pleasure. "Come on, John," Rodney says, biting into his shoulder through his shirt, hand moving faster, molten heat crawling down John's spine. Fingers thread gently in his hair, pulling his head back just enough for Rodney to get to his neck, tongue drawing patterns that John recognizes from his last regeneration cycle, new skin to replace what had been torn away, muscle ripped from bone, choking…choking…

John presses down with his thumb just as Rodney does something amazing to the tip of his cock, going back down in a fast, hard stroke just tight enough, just wet enough, and he's coming with Sumner screaming silently into the ceiling, Rodney warm and real against his back, and he's shuddering, twisting through it, wanting to keep this feeling forever, feeling Rodney's hand on his hip go rigid, and the spread of heat inside, cock pulsing as Rodney comes with a whispered benediction in John's skin.

When John opens his eyes, he can still feel Rodney inside him, trembling with aftershocks of sensation when Rodney runs blunt fingernails up his back beneath his shirt before withdrawing carefully, pausing for fingers to slide between his thighs, brushing him with another spike of heat. "Good," Rodney says breathlessly. "No bleeding." John feels Rodney gently ease up his pants, tucking his soft cock away, zipping and buttoning with quick fingers before kneeling up, leaning into John's back, peering at Sumner over John's shoulder. "I think he fainted," Rodney says, sounding surprised. John unclenches his thumb from the button and smirks, tilting his head back for a slow kiss, all exploring tongue and warm familiarity.

Pulling back, John leans his head against Rodney's as he studies the remote. "This is pretty fucking cool," he says, tasting blood where he bit his lip. Touching his radio with his free hand, he smiles at Rodney's look of wide-eyed attention. "Take him to Carson, get patched up whatever needs fixing. We're going to have him around for a while."

When he meets Rodney's eyes, he sees amused understanding. "You want to do it next time?"

Rodney kisses him, open mouthed and thorough. "Maybe next time, we'll even ask him a question."

John gives his briefing rumpled, still glazed from sex and satisfaction, lazily draped across his chair as he drawls out statistics gathered from Lorne on deathcounts and MIA, so comfortable in his skin that Rodney has to lock his fingers around the bottom of his chair to keep from touching.

Elizabeth's irritation fades with every word, a slight frown creasing her forehead as she listens, making brief notes into one the tablets Miko cleared for general use. "Is there any sign that they know about Atlantis?"

"If they didn't when they arrived, they probably do by now. It's been at least two days since the place was taken and they definitely took at least ten people." Slumping even further into his chair, Sheppard smiles with lazy malice. "Makes you wonder about the legend of the boogeyman, huh?"

Elizabeth's eyes narrow, but she doesn´t comment, turning back to her notes while Carson gives a bored report that's all biology and pointless trivia on aging that Rodney has no interest in hearing. Teyla makes some complaint regarding her people, still on Athos under Lorne's strict supervision, and Rodney makes his report on the effects of the implant with no clear idea of what he's saying when John turns half-lidded green eyes on him.

"Can we start mass producing it?" Elizabeth asks, and Rodney can almost feel her submerged excitement.

"As soon as I get facilities built," Rodney says, feeling John's booted foot bump into his beneath the table. "I'm putting--Gaul on it. It's fairly simple, and upgrades to the programming are integrated automatically." Rodney feels the boot slide up his calf and loses his train of thought completely as John smiles, slow and dirty. Jerking himself to attention, he finds Elizabeth watching with a sardonic lift to her brow. "When I have enough for a initial test, I'll let you know."

"I'll look forward to it, Dr. McKay," Elizabeth says genially, leaning back. "If that's all, dismissed. We'll meet again in the morning to set up a strategy in case we encounter these Wraith--and consider what skills we may need to get from the mainland." Her expression turns thoughtful. "If the implant works as Dr. McKay has said, we can easily control a large enough population to make life here much more comfortable."

"Staff would be useful," John says, stretching, and Rodney watches Elizabeth's eyes focus on John briefly with a look that's unmistakable. "Not to mention we need to start looking for supplies. The MREs aren't going to last forever."

"The implant works," Rodney says shortly, eyes narrowing. "But as you know, most of the population still can't access the city since they don't have the ATA gene. Work's going to slow down until Carson catches back up with his research on the ATA." Standing up, he watches John's head tilt back, controlling the urge to wrap a hand in his shirt and pull him to his feet, drag him somewhere unoccupied and just touch. John's rumpled and liquid and smiling, legs slightly spread. Rodney knows his skin tastes like salt now, and Rodney's come is still smeared on his inner thighs, beneath the straps of his gun.

"If I could speak to you, Dr. McKay," Elizabeth says from behind them. With a raised eyebrow, John gets to his feet, smirking as he leaves Rodney hard and half-panting. Touching his radio, John glances around the gateroom, and one of his men appears at his side like he'd been waiting the entire time for just this reason. Together, they vanish into a transporter.

Rodney forces himself to look away.

"I have a list of key personnel that require the implant so I can start them on duty," Elizabeth says, tapping at her computer, and Rodney, with a frown, sits down and opens the list she transferred. The names aren't a surprise--Rodney's scientists from the mainland, Elizabeth's people (which had to say something, that she was willing to implant her worshipful followers), some of the Athosians including Halling to keep Teyla in line-- Jesus. She's got to be kidding. "John?"

Elizabeth looks up, hands folded beneath her chin. "I think he's a risk."

Rodney stares at her, appalled. "God. I never thought you were stupid before."

The dark eyes narrow abruptly. "Sheppard is unstable and a danger to us all--and to you as well, Dr. McKay. You have to know that. I don't trust you, but I do believe you are aware of the benefits of our continued--association. Sheppard isn't."

"John's *feral*," and Rodney can imagine this in sickening technicolor--the first kick of pain, and they might as well give up hope of living until morning; John Sheppard will cease to *exist*. There's no way to explain what John could be like when Sumner was done with him, no way Elizabeth gets there's a fucking narrow line between John, smart and violent and restless, and the guy who had to be chained down during regeneration sequences because he would kill his doctors while bleeding out on the floor. The only thing that had kept Sumner alive was that he *knew that*. "Jesus. He's the most powerful manifestation of the ATA we have. And we still don't know how the ATA *works*. If we really want to see if he can sink the fucking city on the power of his fucking *mind*, hey, keep up this train of thought." He pauses, watching her mouth go tight and hard.

"He's dangerous."

"We're all dangerous." Rodney clenches both hands beneath the table. "You're not touching him, Elizabeth. I even think you're pulling shit like that, I'll let him kill you."

Elizabeth's eyes narrow. "And what's to stop either of you from turning on me?"

Oh. She wants leverage. That actually makes more sense. "Common *sense*. Look. You agree to all your people and Teyla's, I'll agree to all of mine and John's. That puts everyone on equal footing."

Elizabeth's eyebrows raise in polite disbelief. "Will John agree to that?"

Sometimes, Rodney thinks Elizabeth isn't nearly as bright as reputation suggests. "Of course." Slamming the laptop closed, he tucks it up beneath one arm. "I'm starting mass production as soon as I can get Gaul to assemble the equipment." Walking out, he radios Gaul, ordering him into the largest of the cleared labs before stepping into the transporter, feeling Elizabeth's eyes on him until the door closes.

Out of sight, he sags back against the wall. Elizabeth's smart, and she has enough people here. God knows Beckett will do anything he's told if it's said in the right tone of voice. Someone among Elizabeth's people just might be stupid enough to try that shit if she orders it, and they're amazingly fucked if John shuts down again.

God. John will try to rip it out with his bare fingers if it happens. And the first time someone tries to activate it--

Yeah, no. Rodney shivers and punches in the lab location, coming out to see more of John's recruits wandering by in the mind-bending uniform of the SGC. They give him short, respectful nods, which he ignores as his due, barging in to find Gaul waiting. Opening his laptop, Rodney uploads the design. "Start mass production. Recruit whoever you need." Gaul nods briefly, turning to his laptop, and Rodney watches his face drain slowly of color, eyes almost black as he recognizes what he's seeing. "Gaul," Rodney says, and Gaul turns toward him with slow horror. Rodney likes that look, wonders what Grodin will look like when Rodney sends him to get the implant. "Think of it as a guarantee."

Gaul nods, ashen as he looks back at the screen, licking his lips restlessly. "How many--how many units--"

"One hundred seventy-five in the first group. Five hundred in the second. They're fairly simple; the core program is already uploaded. The basic structure should be easy enough to mass produce." Rodney taps a few keys, then leans one hip against the lab table. "Gaul."

One shaking hand locks onto the edge of the table. "Sir?"

"Keep in mind I pulled you off the mainland. You're here and not an after dinner fuck for some men and women much larger and dumber than you because I wanted you. That can change at any time. You fuck this up, you warn anyone, I give you to Carson to play with. And he's running out of former guards. I hope we understand each other."

Gaul nods quickly, fingers flying over the keyboard as he goes to work, and Rodney's satisfied by the blank terror on his face. Humming, Rodney settles on a stool, pulling up the Atlantis mainframe to check Miko's progress in debugging, and turns his attention to clearing the last of the SGC code.

Gaul's motivated at least; he's already got the protocols in place, and two engineers are adapting equipment to start manufacturing the implant with no clear idea what they're making. Rodney sends him to bed when it's clear he's beyond exhausted, one of John's men following him at a discreet distance; Rodney wonders idly if Gaul even notices.

John's nowhere to be found--not the messhall currently a mess of half-open containers and slowly spoiling food from people too stupid to put up what they don't eat; not in the practice room, though a few limping people give Rodney the impression John's been around recently; not in their quarters, though there's still water clinging to the shower. Rodney reaches for his radio, annoyed, then stops himself. Leaving his laptop on the neatly made bed--and that's John, who is the cleanest person Rodney's ever met--Rodney wanders down to their old cells, unsurprised to see John cross-legged in front of Ford's, a emptied tray in front of him. Rodney watches John holding a water bottle through the bars with an expression that Rodney can only describe as fond.

"Rodney," John says, not looking at him. "Done?"

Rodney hesitates, then nods, crossing the room to see Ford, both hands wrapped around the bars, watching John with wide, glazed eyes. Besides food, there's a used hypodermic needle and laboratory class heroin on the tray. Huh. "You want to get something to eat? And how long have you been down here?"

"A while," John says vaguely, waving a hand, but he takes back the bottle, setting it on the tray. "Get some sleep, Ford."

Ford pushes himself into the bars, looking desperate, and prison is apparently not agreeing with him at all--the dark skin is ashen, black circles beneath his eyes. "Sheppard--"

"Ford." John stands up lazily, tray in hand, one eyebrow raised. Ford deflates, fingers tightening on the bars. "I'll be back tomorrow."

"Yes, sir," Ford whispers, staring up at Sheppard with an expression of desperate hope. John smiles, quick and bright, then turns away, shoulder bumping Rodney's as they go out. With a brush of fingers, John lets the lights drop, stepping out of the hall and closing the door behind them.

"So Ford."

John shrugs, handing the tray to one of the men stationed outside. "He's malleable. Seriously. Whoever did his psych-eval should get another job." Shaking his head, he bumps Rodney's shoulder with his. "You look tired."

"It's been a long day." Rodney hesitates, thinking of the conversation with Elizabeth. John doesn't need to know. On the other hand-- "You should keep someone from security with you," he says as they walk toward one of the transporters. John's raised eyebrow is answer enough. "I'm aware you can take care of yourself," Rodney snaps, pausing as John touches the controls and going inside. "But if something goes wrong--and really, how many of these people can we really trust?"

"None of them," John says philosophically, leaning into the wall as Rodney programs in their destination. When Rodney looks up, the green eyes are focused on him with startling clarity, and Rodney has uncomfortable flashbacks to watching John with Elizabeth. "What's making you suddenly worried about my safety?"

Rodney crosses his arms; the ground under his feet seems suddenly unstable. "I just--"

John slumps slightly, looking harmless and relaxed, which is how John always looks, as good as a warning, teeth bared and ready for an unprotected throat. John works on pack theory, and Rodney's his pack. Rodney *gets* that. Making himself stay still, he meets the flat green eyes with careful detachment, hoping to God he doesn't look as sick as he feels. "You want to know about what happened with Elizabeth."

"I'm more interested in her list."

And that's what Rodney was trying to get across to Elizabeth--this is the only ATA gene they've ever seen that manifests this strong. If John asks the mainframe, it'll damn well show him what he wants to see--or what someone told him to look for. And Rodney suddenly wants to know who the *fuck* told John "If you really thought I'd fuck you over, you would have killed me already. So cut the shit and just ask."

John pauses briefly--a second of flickering thought, a moment to decide six months against whatever the hell he saw (and Rodney wonders, suddenly and sickly, if that entire scene in the conference room was staged just for this moment; Elizabeth has that kind of mind)--then he nods slowly, and Rodney can almost feel the tension melt away. Breathing out, Rodney crosses the transporter, leaning into the wall beside John, close enough for a casual brush of shoulders, a less casual thumb brushing John's wrist.

John's mouth curls up in a tiny grin, but Rodney can feel his pulse slow into calm. "What deal did you make?"

"Everyone but us--you, me, Elizabeth, and Teyla." Though right now, Rodney would give a lot to get Elizabeth down to Carson, there's just no way they can pull it off and not have a fucking holy war in the middle of Atlantis. "That includes Lorne," Rodney adds, not even trying to hide his pleasure. "We'll do everyone on Atlantis first, then sift through the mainland to see if there's anyone there we need."

"All of them," Sheppard says suddenly, but before Rodney can ask, the door opens. John goes out, lazy and loose-limbed, but still on edge, though Rodney suspects that whoever told John to go looking for that list is the one who is currently the focus of that simmering anger.

Jogging a little, Rodney catches up, noticing that they're heading toward the mess hall. "Okay, give. What the hell made you think I'd want you *implanted*? From a practical perspective, you control the people who make sure *my people* don't try to kill me in my sleep. I'd rather have nothing that impairs your efficiency in your reign of terror, thanks."

John smirks, throwing him an affectionate look before draping an arm across his shoulders. "I didn't."

"So that little moment in the transporter--"

"I wanted to know." With his other hand, John draws his gun, checking it briefly before the mess hall doors open. John stops him two feet in with a gentle touch. "I'll just ask next time. Hey," John says, glancing across the mess hall, and Rodney watches the gun come up and take a shot before whoever the hell John is talking to has a chance to respond.

Instantly, there's scrambling from the table, quickly hushed screams to keep from drawing attention, and Rodney takes a step back and flips open the panel with the manual lock, flicking it before leaning into the wall.

John doesn't rush his stride--there's only one voice screaming, one person on the floor, clutching helplessly at his knee, surrounded by spilled mashed potatoes and a handful of lettuce leaves. John casually kicks a chair out of his way, nudging the table aside with one hip before lowering one boot onto the man's chest, flattening him on the floor.

"You know," John says thoughtfully, flicking the safety with a thumb as he shifts his foot, boot pressing on an unprotected throat, "I hate being manipulated. And working with Elizabeth was just stupid."

The guy--Rodney vaguely remembers him being from one of the other cellblocks, dressed in the grey uniforms all of Sheppard's people had adopted--whimpers breathlessly, and Rodney watches John put more pressure. Even from the other side of the room, Rodney can see the panic, one hand reaching up to clutch helplessly Sheppard's boot. He says something that Rodney can't quite hear, but Sheppard cocks his head, nodding pleasantly. Then he shifts his weight abruptly, and Rodney can almost hear the crunch of the man's throat beneath the heel of John's boot.

Blood bubbles up around the man's mouth, eyes huge and dark and terrified as he struggles for air.

"I'm glad you realize that. But this lesson wasn´t for you." John pauses, leaning back on one hip. Both the man's hands clutch at his ruined throat, and Rodney can almost hear him thinking of the regenerator only a transporter away--even now, he could probably be fixed. Hell, he could die and still be fixed.

John just watches, head cocked, kicking one reaching hand aside as the man rolls over on his side, struggling for each breath with sickening sounds like tearing a wet paper bag. After a few more seconds, John turns away, stepping over one reaching hand. "Leave him there," John says to the assembled crowd, who maybe didn't quite get that John didn't earn his reputation by being a truly vicious chess player. Holstering his gun, John smiles at them. "Move."

They scatter, some glancing toward the main door and Rodney, the others shifting warily toward the balcony--to jump off, Rodney supposes maliciously, thinking that hitting the ocean from this height will be like hitting solid concrete--while John wanders through the kitchen, filling a tray with whatever's at hand. "Coffee," Rodney calls as John pauses by the carafes, and John grabs one and the sugar, coming back toward the door as Rodney unlocks it and takes the carafe and cups before the tray tips over. Glancing back, Rodney lets himself enjoy the terrified silence, then at John's nudge, follows him out into the hall.

"Feel better?" Rodney asks, reaching for an apple teetering on the edge of the bowl and taking a bite. John grins.


Rodney does a brief check-in with the gateroom, but it's apparently closing on evening, which reminds Rodney that they need some kind of shift assignments put into place and reminds himself to get a copy of how John set up the shifts for security. Miko gives distracted answers on how far she's progressed decrypting the last databursts. Rodney finds it worrying how many times she uses the word 'sir' without direct threats.

Mostly, though, he just wants to get John somewhere to rest. Rodney knows the signs of exhaustion, and that little scene in the messhall, though fun, was as good as a warning.

It's weirdly domestic, watching John remove his boots for cleaning, careful not to get any blood on the floor on his way to the bathroom while Rodney hunts for the flatware he'd brought in days ago. Eating while Rodney instructs John on the tablet Rodney liberated from Miko for John's use. Powering up his own laptop while John spreads out a drop cloth on the bed and starts to disassemble and clean his guns. John takes reports from Lorne, still on Athos with Teyla and Halling as they hunt down both her people and Athosian collaborators; from Bates on Elizabeth and her followers, meditating in one of the larger lounging areas; check-ins from every person assigned to watch a scientist; and Cadman, reporting on Carson's stability as she gently shifts him back to ATA gene therapy studies.

After checking the progress of the scientist Gaul had designated to continue work on implant production, Rodney does a brief check of diagnostics on the tragically draining ZPM before finally leaning into the wall to watch John. John, who's humming tunelessly, looks peaceful as he reassembles a nine millimeter and sights it before setting it aside. "You said all of them."

John looks up, Zen moment broken. "What?"

"The mainland. When I said--"

"Supplies," John says, stroking gentle fingers over a knife as sharp as a straight razor. "As in, we are no longer supplied from Earth."

Rodney pauses. "Oh."

"It's land, they're people, and they have no other use." John shrugs as he sets the knife aside.

"And how many are farmers?"

"They'll learn or they'll starve. Teyla wants to bring some of her less--obedient people back. At least, the ones she doesn't kill on sight." John looks thoughtful. "Elizabeth wants to start contact with some of the worlds the SGC has exploited already; with any kind of luck, their bitterness will be strong enough not to question too closely how Atlantis came under new management. More likely they won't care all that much." John sighs and starts to put everything away, folding up the drop cloth and sliding it under the bed. Rodney wonders if he's doomed to a lifetime of smelling gun oil and getting hard. "But even assuming we can set up some kind of trade, I'd prefer having a regular supply line on the planet." Rodney must have been showing his surprise, because John grins at him. "You'd be surprised what they teach you when they're grooming you for command."

Rodney smirks, fighting the urge to kiss the smile off his face. "Right."

John smirks, pulling up his knees, narrow socked feet pressing into the bedcover. The short hair is still unfamiliar. Crawling onto the bed, Rodney knees his way between John's thighs, reaching out to run gentle fingers through the fine, spiky strands. John's eyes shut lazily, leaning into each touch, making a low, appreciative noise that could be a purr deep in his throat.

"I liked it longer," Rodney says wistfully, tipping John sideways on the bed, the better to stretch him out and look at him, long and lean and perfect. John makes a vaguely affirmative sound, shifting onto his back so Rodney can arrange him as he likes, one arm curled beneath his head, legs slightly spread, lazy and sleepy and content. "Let it grow out."

John's eyes half-open, giving Rodney an amused look before they flicker closed again, body going boneless. Reaching for his laptop, Rodney moves up the bed, opening up the latest of Miko's decrypted databursts, petting John as he reads, soft hair, silky skin, the stubbled line of his jaw. He never gets tired of touching John, feeling John uncoil beneath his hands. "Daedalus," Rodney says thoughtfully. John shifts beneath his fingers. "Were they coming back?"

"Irregular supply runs," John answers huskily. "Hmm." Raising himself on one elbow, John leans across Rodney's lap, peering into the screen. "You know. They were supposed to come to get the Athosians when they decided against gate travel--to save ZPM power. That was at least two regular runs ago. They might be due back." John yawns, shifting back to the bed, but he doesn't look as relaxed anymore. "New prisoners, too."

Rodney rubs soothing circles into John's neck. "Sumner talked a lot?"

"He left his laptop open a lot." John's mouth is tight. "But this was in one of the databursts. If the Daedalus left, that means they'll be out of communication range of Earth by the time SGC checks in with us. Just in case that goes wrong."

Rodney thinks, a little nauseated, of the Daedalus--weapons, cloaking technology, shields, a hyperdrive, while they have a mostly-depleted ZPM--but for some reason, John expressions softens, going dreamy. "What are you thinking?"

John shrugs, eyes glittering. "I've always wanted my own hyperdrive ship."

Rodney stares at him. "You want to take the Daedalus?" Of course he does. John commits grand theft spaceship with Asgard cruisers, so why the hell *not*? "Nevermind, stupid question. Have any idea how we'll get it?"

John smiles tranquilly. "A few." Reaching up, he tangles his fingers with Rodney's. "You know Elizabeth's going to approach me next."

Rodney remembers the way Elizabeth watched John at the briefing, feeling himself tense, fingers tightening around John's. There was more than one reason she'd want John to have the implant, and not just to keep him under control. All on its own, his mind jumps, imagining Elizabeth straddling John's lap in the conference room, hands buried in his short hair, *touching him*. Holding that tiny remote and using it while she fucks him. The nausea's so strong he thinks he might be sick. "Yeah." Breathe out, think *logically*. "If you killed her--"

"She has too many people here. I'd have to kill every one of them, and they could do some serious damage before we got rid of them all." Pausing, John waits, coiled energy at rest, and Rodney can guess what she'll ask. He just doesn't think he can deal with it. "Rodney."

"If she--"


"If she--" Rodney licks his lips, and he can actually feel the request, sticking to the tip of his tongue. Send John out to kill her now, and maybe they could get rid of most of her followers, but maybe they won't. Bates reports her with the scientists, with security, with Teyla…. "If she *asks*--"

"That's the question."

Looking down at John, face smoothed over in calm acceptance, Rodney's throat goes tight. John will do it if he asks, even if it's a crappy idea. Pushing the laptop onto the bed, he twists around, cupping John's face in his hands. "No." He doesn't know how to share. He's never learned. He doesn't want to. He'll kill her himself first, and he knows, knows that John's right. If they wanted Elizabeth gone without complications, it's far too late for that. Teyla and the Athosians, Elizabeth's followers, whoever else she's got. "Do you want to?" He can't even make himself say it. "With her?"

John snorts softly, leaning in for a brief, warm kiss, and Rodney licks desperately into his mouth, feeling the tension drain away with every possessive touch Rodney leaves on his skin. "I'd rather watch her die."

John rolls him over, stretching out on top of Rodney like a cushion, settling them together like pieces clicking into place. Rodney wraps his arms around John's back tightly, accepting the slow kiss with fingernails digging into John's back, marking wherever he touches. "Then we'd better be able to deal with what she'll do with that answer."

After a while, Rodney can breathe again, exhaustion pulling him under. Pushing John gently over, he gets the covers pulled out, watching as John sleepily struggles out of his pants and shirt, curling up with a heartfelt sigh of satisfaction against Rodney's shoulder before drifting off, gun shoved beneath the pillow, one leg slung over Rodney's thigh, fingers twined in the waist of Rodney's boxers like he thinks Rodney might get away if he sleeps.

He doesn't want to give her John, not for a second. See John learn to relax into someone else's touch, go pleasure-soft and boneless, twined with Elizabeth in her bed, sitting in the conference room close enough to touch. He can't *do* that.

He can take care of this himself, he thinks, closing his eyes at the feel of soft hair against his chin, matching to John's slow, deep breaths. He just needs to think.

"Shifts," Rodney says briefly, looking around the newly cleared main lab at the faces of his new department. White coats and terrified faces, not so different from Cheyenne mountain, except for John's men stationed behind him, blank faced and armed to the teeth. "Check your assignments, be here on time. I don't think I need to tell you that I don’t like lateness." Glancing at Gaul's exhausted face, Rodney tries not to smile. "Third shift, report to Carson immediately. The rest of you--you have your assignments. Let's start bringing this city online."

The plan is actually fairly simple; the main database, now clear of SGC code, could be brought back up to take over automated functions, up to and including defense and Rodney's personal favorite, the control chair. Hooking in the cleaned laptops, they should be able to take control of all Atlantis' functions free and clear of the SGC's protocols. With any kind of luck, this will slow the drain on the ZPM, though even at best-case scenario, they will need another one and soon. Without access to Earth and the few ZPMs still functional there, they'll need more than just the backup naquada generators that Rodney ordered installed--they needed to find another ZPM in this galaxy.

"Rodney." The sudden buzz of the radio jerks Rodney's attention. He watches the assigned third shift tramp out on their way to the infirmary, trying not to smirk as he touches his radio.


"We have long range sensors picking up hyperdrive residue." There's some argument from the back. "Whatever. Grodin ran it through the database. It's the Daedalus."

Rodney straightens, waving vaguely at Miko as she approaches. "I'll be there in five minutes. McKay out." Turning, Rodney points at Miko. "Miko's in charge. Fuck around and orbital gate visits are in your future." Grabbing his laptop, Rodney shoves it under one arm, jogging toward the transporter while hitting his radio. "Grodin, how long?"

Grodin pauses. "Three hours, give or take."

Three hours. "Find SGC uniforms for everyone." Rodney tries to remember when the last time the Daedalus came to Atlantis--it has to be more than six months. Probably at least half a crew that's fairly new. Colonel Caldwell, still in charge? Maybe.

"What if he scans the mainland?" Grodin asks worriedly.

Jesus. "We'll worry if that happens." Programming the transporter, Rodney takes a deep breath, remembering John's dreamy smile. Well, at least one person's going to be thrilled. "Sheppard--"

"Everyone's under order to get into uniform," John drawls. "Thanks for the vote of confidence there."

Rodney snorts softly, breaking contact as the transporter comes to a stop.

In the gate room, Elizabeth's in uniform too, hovering over Grodin with an intent expression. John is standing off to the side, looking so pleased with the universe rearranging to his whim that Rodney's torn between growling and kissing him. Shaking himself, he pushes by Grodin. "There's little to no chance they'll recognize your face," Rodney says. "They focused on me during the trials. Get changed, come back." Sitting down, Rodney pulls up the coordinates. "Go by the lab, get Abrams and Simpson up here as well. Make sure Miko understands she has to stay out of sight." At Elizabeth's querying look, Rodney shrugs. "She's visible."

By visible, Rodney means Miko attempted an assassination of two of his jurors. Good scientist, lousy in perceiving the difference between a hit man and a police officer. Sighing, Rodney glances at John. "Stop that."

John grins back. "Daedalus. One of only three warship-class cruisers under Earth's control."

"Daedalus. With a lot of weapons." Rodney has only vague memories of the original specs he saw before his unfortunate incarceration. "Hmm. I wonder--"

"They are," John says, coming up behind him, leaning over his shoulder to tap in a command. The design pops up instantly, and Rodney makes a mental note to transfer it to the three-dimensional projector for closer study. "Did some reading."

"I wondered why you wanted full database access," Rodney says absently. "Onboard gate, primary, secondary, and tertiary weapons banks--huh. That's a lot of firepower."

"It's primary function is intimidation of native personnel," John says, sounding amused. "Problem is, the defense aren't nearly as advanced as a regular Asgard warship. It was developed after the Goa'uld went down, and since the galaxy is pretty much settled--"

"Yeah, there's no one strong enough to mount an effective attack." Rodney leans back, thinking of Atlantis' weapons complement, then the jumpers. "You've flown the ships--fine, jumpers," he corrects when John's teeth suddenly graze his ear. For positive reinforcement, it really works for him. "Defensive capabilities?"

"Equal to the Daedalus at least," John says, breath hot against his neck. "For an all-out attack--" John pauses, studying the screen. "Here, secondary weapons array, and maybe on the belly jointure. Defenses aside, they usually don't need anything other than the shield, and that's pretty--"

"Hard to breach," Rodney says, rotating their view. "But if we set a nuke here--"

"Lose aft shields," John breathes. "Enough for a jumper to get through before they can make repairs." John's eyes narrow thoughtfully. "Assuming we can get to it; they know their vulnerabilities as well as we do. I'll need Lorne." Sheppard straightens, turning just as Grodin comes back in, still zipping up the uniform top. Rodney shifts from his seat, opening his laptop to get the database up on his screen. "Grodin. Dial Athos."

Rodney's still studying the Daedalus' engines when his radio trills.

"What?" Rodney says impatiently. John might need engineers to shut down the engines without damaging them, though if worst comes to worst, Rodney's fairly sure there are still some engineers and techs on the mainland he can call up for exclusive repair duty.

"Carson's finished the first ten," Cadman purrs in his ear. "Next group?"

Rodney turns to John as the wormhole engages, bathing him in blue. "John, time."

"Got it. Bates," John says over his shoulder. Bates nods; Rodney wonders a little at John's people. Bates, at least, knows perfectly well what they're going to do.

As Bates goes to the transporter, Rodney occupies himself with the console, speaking quietly. "If they don't arrive--if anything happens--"

"Signal you and gas the room. I know. But don't worry. They're John's team. They'd walk into fire if he told them to. And they have. Cadman out." With that extremely unnerving thought, Cadman cuts communications, leaving Rodney to stare blankly at the screen. Intellectually, he knows that John had a team before Atlantis--hell, had a life and a couple of careers, and apparently, one had even been with the SGC--but the John he knows is so far removed from that it's like a story. A story, however, that's meticulously recorded in sealed SGC files, along with Bates, Lorne, Biro, and others that only now he's connecting together into a coherent whole.

Turning to Elizabeth, Rodney dismissed the thoughts; one day he'll have time to get the rest of it out of someone. Lorne, probably: Bates is like talking to a wall. "Elizabeth."

She saunters over, glancing briefly at the screen. "Nice. New toy?"

"One way or another. You have a group--"

"They're already assembled." Her head tilts toward the door. Right. It's morning prayers. Rodney doesn't roll his eyes, but only just avoids it. "What are you--"

"Shut the gate down," John says suddenly, voice hard, and Grodin cuts the connection, the blue glow vanishing. Rodney's on his feet as John takes the steps two at a time, talking into the radio. "Stackhouse, get your ass up here and bring everyone not with Carson or on security. Suited, five minutes."

"John?" Rodney pulls up the defenses instinctively. "What--"

"No response to my call," John is saying, and Cadman had said, *They'd walk into fire if he told them to*. "Something's wrong."

"You think it was the Athosians?" Elizabeth asks sharply. "No. Teyla needs our support to subdue her people."

"But the ones she's going after might, though how the hell they got the drop on Lorne…."

"Wait." Pushing out of his chair, Rodney motions toward the sensors grid, the Daedalus plugging along toward them. "The Daedalus--"

"I know. Fuck." John pauses, then shakes his head, touching his radio again. "Cadman, send Bates to the gate room now. He'll go through later."

"Wait." But John's already going to the transporter--with a silent order at Grodin to watch Elizabeth, Rodney takes the steps two at a time, sliding in before the door closes.


They rematerialize mid-sentence, "--the Daedalus is on the way. You can't--"

"They're my people," John says shortly, jogging down the corridor. Rodney can barely keep up; he's got to work out more. "I'm not leaving them--"

"I'm not saying to leave them," though honestly, he is. "I'm saying--"
"I'm going." The door opens just before John would run smack into it, and Rodney has to stop, panting against the doorway as he watches John suit up, watching him handle the weapons with familiar ease, getting a tac vest from the closet and sliding it over his short-sleeved shirt, pulling out a case from under the bed that Rodney hadn't even known was there. When John opens it, Rodney cranes his head to look; he doesn’t know what half of the stuff is called, but all of it looks dangerous.

"Who's going to--"

"Bates will keep an eye on Elizabeth," John answers grimly, sliding various objects into the tac vest's many pockets. "After I leave, lock the gate down and get the shield ready." He pauses, frowning briefly before taking out--Jesus God. John was keeping *C-4* under their bed. They've been fucking on a bed directly over an explosive. "When the Daedalus arrives, get Grodin to handle the hail. Bates will keep the others out of sight until we know what we're dealing with. If worst comes to worst, bring up the shield; you can hold them off until doomsday. Even the Daedalus can't get through Ancient shields--"

Rodney blinks, mouth going dry. "You're--you're acting like--" he can't make himself say it. Wiping damp palms against his thighs, Rodney takes a halting step into the room. "You can't leave."

John looks up. "They're mine," he says finally. Rodney can feel the order on the tip of his tongue. He's pretty sure John will obey it; what he's not sure of is what he'll have to deal with if he gives it. He's never ordered anything that John wasn't willing to do.

He weighs the risk; losing John on Athos (granted, this is John Sheppard. Rodney doesn't exactly think he's inviolable, but he's pretty damn close), or losing John by making him go against his instincts.

John watches him calmly, like he knows exactly what's going through Rodney's mind. Hell, he probably does. "I'll be back," John says, voice low. Closing the case, John circles the foot of the bed, coming up in front of him, close enough to touch.

"We don't know what happened," Rodney says, equally low. "*I* don't know--"

John's hands close on his shoulders, and Rodney lets himself be pulled in, closing his eyes when John's arms go around him. "I've been doing this for almost half my life," John murmurs against his ear. "No one's ever caught me when I didn't want to be."

Rodney sucks in a deep breath. "The SGC did."

"Exactly." He can feel John's smile against his cheek, before one callused hand turns his head, hazel eyes looking into Rodney's. "I have my radio."

Rodney doesn't like it--hates it, hates that he still responds when John kisses him, slow and dirty, like they're about to fuck, like they're fucking now, when John's about to go try and fucking *die* on that stupid planet with those useless people. He digs his fingers into John's back, into the back of his neck, licking into that warm mouth, biting John's lip hard enough that Rodney can taste blood slick on his tongue. When John pulls away, rumpled and flushed, Rodney gets a handful of tac vest, jerking him back in. "Fine. But one thing before you go."

John raises his eyebrows. "What?"

"Infirmary," Rodney says breathlessly. "Now."

John's still frowning when they get to the gate room, rubbing restlessly at his side. "A *tracker*?"

Rodney slaps his hand down. "Stop scratching it. It's range is pretty much that entire solar system after I initiate the gate. Check in every two hours or I come myself." At John's incredulous look, Rodney rolls his eyes. "I'll lock down the city before I go and disable the shield. Miko is perfectly capable of gassing the city if need her to"

"Can you even use a gun?"

Rodney narrows his eyes. "I can shoot. And when you get back, you're going to teach me how to use every damn thing you're wearing." Rodney ruthlessly suppresses the way his mind wants to sidetrack over to John standing behind him, hands warm on his, showing him how to shoot. It's the very epitome of not the time. "I'll bring some of your men with me."

At the top of the stairs, John pauses, looking down at the floor. "Bates, pick eight, they stay with you in the gate room. McKay will brief you on the Daedalus. Elizabeth, if all fails--"

"We won't engage if they figure out who we are." Elizabeth looks tense as well; at least she has the good sense to realize there's no way in hell they can do shit about the Daedalus if they lose John. "Are you sure--"

"Yes." John's eyes flicker between the teams currently assembling on the floor, then fix on Elizabeth. "If I--"

"You'll make it back," she says, mouth curving slightly in amusement. "We don't need a knife at our throat if the Athosians are going to be a threat."

Rodney watches them exchange a smile of perfect understanding. If the Athosians are behind this, there won't be anyone left alive when John's through with them.

"All right, lets get the jumpers and get going," John says. Obediently, they file out the door. Turning to Rodney, John smirks. "Play nice."

"Get back in one piece," Rodney makes himself say, going to one of the stations so he doesn't have to watch John leave. "When they've gone through, disengage and redial the gate. I want radio communication open and I want that gate to be useless for as long as John's there."

Grodin nods and Rodney settles himself, pulling up the tracker's program and initiating it as the wormhole flares to life. Keeping his eyes on the screen, Rodney waits until they've gone through, then looks at Grodin. "Redial now."

When the wormhole flares again, Rodney watches the tracker, mouth tight. John will be back.

It's less than an hour before the radio flares. "McKay, shut down the gate. Coming back with company."

Rodney blinks, reaching for his earpiece, refusing to acknowledge the rush of relief that makes him feel drunk. "That was fast." Over his shoulder, Rodney nods at Grodin. "Shutting down. You have them?"

"Not exactly. Elizabeth, you and Rodney meet me in the jumper bay. Carson, be ready for thirty more in the next five minutes." There's an edge to John's voice that makes Rodney straighten; from the corner of his eye, Rodney sees Elizabeth coming out of her office, hand on her radio. "Sheppard out."

"When they're through, lock it down and raise the gate shield," Rodney tells Grodin. "And keep tracking the Daedalus. Tell me when we're in their sensor range."

"Yes, sir."

Following Elizabeth to the jumper bay, Rodney tries not to think of what could have happened; if his teams had been killed, Rodney kind of thinks that John would have called in to report that he was exercising his idea of an appropriate proportional response and asking if Rodney could build him something very large and very explosive. Which leaves--he has no idea.

John's the first out, barely letting the jumper land; behind him, grey-clad team members haul out several Athosians looking much the worse for wear. The second jumper spills more of them, tossing into a group on the floor; Rodney counts twenty, and they all look like they got to know John Sheppard very, very well.

"What happened?" Elizabeth asks, frowning at the Athosians. "They aren't Teyla's."

"No, but they've promised to be very, very helpful." John shakes his head abruptly. "It seems the Wraith came back and picked up take-out."

Elizabeth sucks in a breath. "How many?"

"All of mine, all of Teyla's people, and thirty of them," John says, turning a look on one of the men. Rodney marks out the bruising on his face and the way he holds his side; looks like John started interrogation early. "Stackhouse, Ramirez, get them to medical and then start interrogating them. I want a play by play of every damn thing that happened." He pauses, hazel eyes very flat and very, very green. "I don't care how you get it out of them; just do it."

They nod sharply. John turns back toward Rodney, mouth a grim slash. "We need a plan."

Cadman comes from the infirmary to represent Carson, currently at work implanting the Athosians. Rodney cradles the coffee Miko brought for them with hands that shake. "So they know about us."

"If they didn't when they took the SGC group, they will soon." John's twitchy, edging on manic, though he's so still that it's all in his eyes, the way the long fingers clench around his cup. "And they'll know a hell of a lot more if we don't do something about it."

Elizabeth frowns slightly, eyes narrowing. "You want to go after them?"

Of course he does. Rodney would be surprised if he wanted anything *else*. "If we don't," John says, each word clipped short, drawl forgotten, "we're going to have a problem a hell of a lot bigger than the Daedalus or the SGC."

"That's assuming they don't know already."

"If they're coming back to Athos and not for Atlantis, they don't know yet." John pushes his cup aside, leaning both elbows on the table. "So either they know and are incredibly stupid, or they don't and now they have the opportunity to find out. I don't think they're that stupid."

"How long ago were they taken?" Elizabeth asks, glancing down at her laptop. Rodney can almost feel John fighting the urge to get up and just go. "Lorne's last check in--"

"Was four hours ago," John says shortly. "They were taken an hour before I called, so two hours tops."

"And you know where they went?"

"One of the Athosians watched the dialout."

Elizabeth's eyebrows raise in surprise. "And you believe him?"

"When I was done with him, he would have sold out his mother."

Rodney, remembering the bloody Athosians on the gate room floor, has to agree. Elizabeth leans her head on her hands, mouth pursed in thought. "I don't like the idea of the Wraith having any information on Atlantis," she says finally. "How many men do you need?"

"Twenty," John answers immediately; Rodney can almost feel him relax. "Two jumpers and--"


Both Elizabeth and John blink, turning almost in unison to look at him. Taking a deep breath, Rodney raises his chin. "Rodney?" John says, voice very soft.

"The Daedalus will be here in two hours," he says, words tumbling out before John or Elizabeth can interrupt. "One, we have to handle that or the Wraith won't be a problem since we'll be under siege from Earth. Two--" Drawing in a deep breath, Rodney forces himself to continue. "Two, I'm going with you, and don't even start; you're going after aliens that none of us have ever seen, with technology we can't even speculate about, leading to three: *we can use the Daedalus*."

John's mouth opens to object, then pauses. "That's two hours off."

"One hour forty-five minutes, give or take. They have the weapons, the hyperdrive, transporters, a gate, and the technology, which--small flying ships that transport people? Who took on the SGC's outpost and not only got through the security, but killed every one of them? *Who eat us*? We need the best technology we can get our hands on, and since Atlantis isn't up to flying around quite yet, we'll take second best and get the Daedalus."

Elizabeth leans back, looking thoughtful. "How sure are you we can take it?"

"Absolutely sure," Rodney says, believing no such thing. "I have a plan."

"You don't have a plan," John says as their door closes behind them. Rodney had been expecting this since they left the conference room and chose their ground accordingly. Grabbing a chair, Rodney drops into it, booting his laptop as John prowls the room; the manic energy is still there, making every movement too sharp and too fast. Here, in private, John can indulge himself. "Rodney--"

"Jumpers against advanced aliens with technology we haven't seen yet," Rodney says flatly. "You're good, but I'm betting that a race that can kill an entire outpost of the SGC isn't going to be like taking an Asgard cruiser."

John stops short, then finally nods jerkily. "It's a delay--"

"And it's already been a couple of hours," Rodney continues, controlling the urge to just grab John and *shake* him. "We go in now--"

"*I* go in now--"

"We," Rodney says, keeping his voice firm. "New tech, I need to see it to know what to do with it. Never mind that I'm one of maybe three people here that can actually *operate* the Daedalus."

Apparently, that hadn’t occurred to John. With another frown, he drops on the bed, elbows resting on his knees. "I don't want you in this."

"I'm the best we have, and you're not boarding a ship like the Daedalus with someone who doesn't know what they're doing."

It feels crazy; it *is* crazy, actually, and Rodney's nauseated just thinking about it. But it's true; he's needed to operate the ship. But there's also this: an order might not work to get John to give up a rescue gone bad, but Rodney's pretty sure that if given a choice, John will get Rodney, in the Daedalus, back to Atlantis, even if it means leaving his people behind.

Ninety percent sure. Maybe ninety-one. "You know I'm right."

John looks at him. "I don't like it."

Which is as good as capitulation. Rodney shrugs, ignoring the knot of fear lodged in his chest. He's never been interested in adventure. And this entire thing sounds very, very adventurous. "I'm confident that you'll keep us alive."

John sighs, then gives up, lying back on the bed with a discontented expression. "Right."

Winning isn't everything, or so Rodney's heard; he has yet to see it proven in real life. Getting up from the chair, he straddles John's thighs, looking down at him. "We make a good team," he says coaxingly. "And you need someone like me."

"I could have used you when I was still SGC," John says unexpectedly. The hazel eyes warm as John's hands settle on his thighs. "I wonder--"

Rodney waits, then gives up being patient. "What?"

"Just why I never saw your screening." John's hands slide up his thighs and hips, pulling him down; Rodney braces both elbows on the bed. "Mitchell has a lot to answer for."

One day, Rodney's going to corner someone and find out all about John and the SGC. Shifting to the bed beside John, he strokes his fingers through John's hair. "I didn't even know you worked for them."

John's eyes drift closed beneath the slow, steady touch. "Not many did. Long story."

Rodney glances at the time on his laptop. "We have an hour. Give me the short version."

"As soon as you're ready, Daedalus," Grodin says, voice carefully stripped of its accent. "The jumper room is clear."

"Acknowledged." The communications cut abruptly, but that's very Caldwell. Rodney glances over to Miko, whose been slowly but surely working her way into their computer system.

"Do we have the manifest yet?" Rodney asks as Elizabeth paces the balcony. "What's the complement?"

"One hundred sixty-five on board," Gaul answers, frowning at the screen. "Fifty in the brig. The manifest is coming, but the ship's computer is running slow."

Rodney does the math. "They're running skeleton, so it's running on automation." It backs the theory that something's gone dramatically wrong on earth; skeleton crew and the smallest transport of prisoners he's ever heard of. Turning slightly, he catches sight of John. "Fifty in the brig."

"That ship holds two hundred," John says lazily, leaning over the rail. "It's secondary purpose is hostage extraction on hostile worlds. Very useful."

"Yes, I read the design just like you did." John smirks down at him, almost bouncing in place. "When they arrive--"

"Markham knows what to do. And so does Ford."

That part, Rodney's not so sure of, but with Cadman and Ford's drug of choice inches away, there's not that much danger. But. "She knows--"

"To cut radio if he says something he shouldn't." John's smile widens. "Rodney. I was there when they *wrote* the hostage protocol. And sadly, the SGC never did get around to changing it."

It's depressingly true; Rodney wonders about the SGC sometimes. "Right. I'll just--"

"Breathe." John scratches the back of his neck, glancing at Elizabeth. "You know, you have to wonder when their idea of shore leave is sending their people to a prison planet."

"Transporting now," Caldwell says stonily, and Grodin grins, opening the channel to the jumper bay as Markham says, "Yes, sir. Welcome to Atlantis. Colonel Sumner offers his apologies and hopes that--"

Rodney closes his eyes as the radio chimes and the channel patches to Caldwell's signal. Across the room, Miko taps a short sequence, unscrambling the private line.

"Sorry, Colonel Caldwell," Ford says. He sounds more normal than Rodney would have imagined was possible. "Lieutenant Ford, second in command of Atlantis. Colonel Sumner's picked up a virus and is currently in isolation while it runs its course."

"Is it dangerous, Lieutenant?" Rodney can almost *see* him reaching for his radio.

"No, sir. Just unpleasant." Fords' voice drops conspiratorially. "Sumner gets weird about being seen when he's ill, sir."

Caldwell snorts. "Hasn't changed at all, has he?"

"No, sir. Markham will fill you in. We've set up temporary command next to the infirmary while they finish repairs in the gate room. I have to tell you, sir, we were getting worried out here when we didn't get a check-in."

"All in time, Lieutenant. Caldwell out." There's a pause before Caldwell's voice comes over the radio again. "You new, Sergeant?"

No, sir," Markham answers. "I've been assigned to Atlantis for two years."

"I haven't seen you around."

Markham's voice is perfectly calm. "Rotation from the mainland, sir, while the regular take R&R." There's a pause for the transporters, then they emerge on medical suite floor. "...but it's been quiet."

"Quiet?" Caldwell chuckles. "Have they started population reduction yet?" he asks after a moment. Rodney blinks, looking up in time to see Elizabeth stiffen, John going still and blank.

"I'm not privy--"

"Of course," Caldwell says smoothly. Rodney motions to Grodin to continue monitoring them while he pulls up the databurst logs, marking the ones they haven't gotten to yet.

"There's an encrypted communication being sent from the ship to Atlantis," Grodin says unexpectedly. John looks at Elizabeth, eyebrows raised. "It's not for Caldwell."

"Interesting," Elizabeth murmurs, holding John's eyes. "Who was it supposed to go to?"

"One of the guards," Grodin says, frowning as he types. "It looks as if it was intended for Ford."

"Is he receiving?"

"He doesn't have access to that channel," Grodin says slowly. "I don't think anyone else does, either. It's not one of the standard Atlantean communication channels."

"Patch it through," John says, leaning his elbows on the balcony. "I think we just found his dealer."

Grodin frowns, typing rapidly, then pauses. "I--can't." Looking up, his eyes flicker to Rodney, already pushing out of his chair. "I don't recognize this. It's not a standard SGC or Asgard algorithm."

"Let me see that." Rodney circles around, pushing Grodin's chair away from the console. The first view of the screen stops him short. For a second, he's almost sure that prison did in fact snap him; there's no way he can be seeing what he thinks he's seeing.

From somewhere distant, Rodney can hear John's voice, then Elizabeth's, but it's washed away in a red haze of rage. "It's not SGC or Asgard," he says tightly.


Rodney starts to sit, realizing at the last second that the chair's nowhere close; almost immediately, it slides under him, catching him before he hits the floor. Closing his hand over the edge of the desk, he tries to breathe through shock. Of course they did, he thinks, staring at the pattern he remembers in his fingers. Of course.

"Rodney." John's suddenly beside him, hands on his shoulders. "What?"

"It's mine." Sucking in a breath through his nose, Rodney stares over John's shoulder at the screen. "That's mine. I remember writing this. I just never--never got to test it." Staring at the screen, Rodney reads his own fingerprints in the neat patterns of encryption that no one on earth could possibly, possibly have discovered. "Though I never--you know, I never did ask why they let me have pens."

John's eyes widen, breath catching as he twists around to look at the screen. "It's yours. From here."

"From here." He remembers it in pencil and paper first, refined on his walls when the Daedalus was behind schedule and they'd run out of paper, knowing that one day during their time outside, his room would be scrubbed bare, his work washed away like it had never existed at all. It hadn't mattered; he'd carried it all in his head.

Once a day, every day, he'd get his ass kicked in the Atlantean equivalent of the yard while someone took careful pictures, recorded his groundbreaking work. And somewhere out there, someone else was--

--was *claiming this*. Hands fisted, Rodney fights the urge to pick up the laptop, break it, tell John to fuck being subtle; Rodney wants the Daedalus databanks, the tetras and tetras of information inside them, wants to know how much they've taken, what they've used, and most of all, who took it.

"Can you break it?" John murmurs. John's hand covers his knee, tightening gently in silent promise. The hazel eyes make a silent promise; this is one more thing to add to their list.

"Of course."

John straightens, pushing Rodney toward the laptop. Having something immediate to focus on is good; it's possibly the only thing that is keeping Rodney from something that might be very like hysterics.

"So they take away my life," Rodney says tightly. "And my degrees. My awards. But they didn't ever try to--it was never on the table." Rodney makes himself concentrate; he's never seen it live, only in his head, scrolls of numbers with a key that's almost impossible to break. "No one, not even the Nox, and those little bastards are vicious--it was never requested." Rodney's fingers falter on the keys; distantly, he realizes his hands are shaking. "They made me--made me beg for--"

"I know," John says quietly.

"They *took* it." Entering the last command, Rodney gestures sharply at Miko to try again. John pushes the laptop back and away, perching on the narrow edge of the desk as Rodney slumps in his chair, letting the memories of the last nearly four years wash over him. "They took everything."

"It's stopped," Miko says unhappily, turning from her station with an expression that seems to imply if she'd had a sword, she'd fall on it. "My apologies, Dr. McKay--"

"Do you have a trace on where it came from?" Rodney asks, keeping his voice even. It's not her fault, and he can't afford to lose her: doesn't want to, either. She's a brilliant scientist and, more importantly, she's utterly loyal. "Get me a section or a deck or--"

"Engineering," she says, fingers flying over the keys. "Shielded--possibly near the engines."

"Impressive," John murmurs, and Rodney lets himself smile. "Doesn't shielded mean--"

"I wrote the protocols for that, too." Rodney rubs his fingertips against his thigh; the scars are almost gone, replaced by smooth, featureless skin. "A year ago."

John sucks in a breath, palm smoothing slowly up Rodney's thigh as he leans closer. "I'll make sure they aren't injured when we take them," John breathes, voice thick. "Not even a scratch."

Rodney licks his lips, unable to stop the tiny shiver. "You give good gifts."

"I learned that from you." Straightening, John nods at Miko. "Stackhouse?"

"They're in Medical Suite A," Miko reports. "Ford has explained to Caldwell that he has to endure decontamination and that the radio will be unavailable until it is complete."

John glances at Elizabeth sharply. "Why isn't he more suspicious?"

"Because the Ancients never built a prison that could be breached," she answers as she comes down the stairs, one hand resting on the back of Rodney's chair. "If they were thinking of pulling out, then Caldwell *expects* it to be--disorganized. Especially if Atlantis had unofficial orders to--."

"Reduce the population," John drawls. Rodney sees his free hand clench on the butt of his gun. "Some accidents. An escape attempt. Regeneration error."

Elizabeth nods, mouth tight. "Starvation. Due to the sudden lack of sufficient supplies."

Rodney abruptly remembers the cut rations, the use of Pegasus staples, and wonders suddenly if it wasn't just economy; it's fairly possible that they also lacked the nutrients and supplements that earth-born humans required.

"But the Asgard," Rodney starts, then stops at Elizabeth's raised eyebrow, John's cynical smile. "Son of a bitch."

Elizabeth shrugs. "If they knew about the Wraith, I think they could unofficially ignore what happened here. After all, Pegasus is a long way from the Milky Way. SGC could blame the guards, rush them through a trial in space, and execute them before anyone thinks to start wondering what actually happened."

Rodney thinks of all the times that John was regenerated, the logs that he'd grudgingly given to Lorne and Bates, hating to share John's vulnerability and knowing that they needed to know.

Regeneration error: they'd gotten lucky that Sumner had been so obsessed with John, or John would have been one of the first casualties, with Rodney right behind him. Rodney, who'd been the one that made sure John Sheppard came out of post-regeneration psychosis somewhat sane, so Sumner could do it all over again.

Sumner had been obsessed and sadistic, but never stupid. He'd known exactly what he was doing. And by then, he'd known that the medical logs could build forever and no one would give a shit.

"We have a hail from the Daedalus," Grodin says abruptly. Rodney blinks, looking down at his station; he hadn't been paying attention. "The second group is ready for transport."
Weir smiles. "Welcome them to Atlantis."

The Daedalus had been built after the Goa'uld threat had come to an end; it was and had always been a symbol of power, the proof that Earth was accepted as equal to the Asgard and Nox, accepted natural successors of the Ancients. It was fast and flashy, with the most advanced hyperdrive in current production, but, as John put it, "Built by the lowest bidder. Lowest Asgard bidder, but still lowest bidder."

Elizabeth taps her fingers against the communication console thoughtfully. "Caldwell and his guard, three of the five senior staff and their guards--do we have names yet of who is still onboard, McKay?"

Rodney glances at Miko, who shakes her head. "The manifest is under several layers of security," she says apologetically. "So far, I have been unable to access the files."

"Because this isn't an official visit," John murmurs in Rodney's ear. "They're here to confirm that Sumner's reducing the population--"

"Or help him along," Rodney answers. "Just in case he's squeamish, which our charming former commander never was." Leaning around Miko, Rodney types in a quick sequence, then turns to the video surveillance. The three latest officers follow one of theirs with a flat, unhappy expression, looking at the wide, bright corridors like they're slumming in the Red Light district of the galaxy. "John, Weir--you recognize them?"

When he turns around, John's head is tilted slightly, hazel eyes distant. "The lieutenant colonel and the major are both SGC," John answers finally. "One of Cam's pets before he was demoted to cannon fodder a couple of years ago; the other's SG-10's leader." Rodney frowns at the nickname, but John's still studying. "The third one I don't recognize."

"Peacekeeper," Weir says, coming up beside John. Rodney watches with narrowed eyes as one slender hand brushes against his hip, almost as if by accident. "I negotiated with her on Chulak a few years ago. She was part of the Asgard diplomatic corps." That being a euphemism for genteel terrorism; if she'd been chosen to negotiate with Elizabeth Weir, she was both extremely competent and very disposable. "She wasn't SGC or military."

"Huh." John glances across the room at Bates and another man that Rodney vaguely recognizes as one of the ones assigned to Rodney to watch over the labs. "Grodin, can they track our sensors?"

Grodin blinks, then pulls himself back into his chair, sliding along the console until he gets to another laptop. "I--yes."

"Are they tracking?"

Grodin makes a few adjustments. "No, they seem to have a few systems off-line. A lot of power being re-routed around though--"

"Through weapons," John says grimly. Rodney blinks, then pushes Miko out of the way, pulling up Grodin's screen.

"Bingo. Naquada torpedoes, drone weapons--when the hell did they get drone weapons?" Rodney demands, feeling sweat break out on the palms of his hands. "Forward shields are being powered slowly, aft still at regular. Communications--"

"We are ready to send our fourth group, Atlantis," a voice chimes through the radio.

John's gaze darts to Elizabeth, who nods, touching her radio to contact Cadman in the infirmary.

"Bates," John says quietly. "Jumper bay. I want answers before we find out if Asgard-built drones trump Ancient shields."

"Got it." Motioning behind him, Bates leads two of the men to the door, drawing their weapons before the door even closes behind them.

"How much longer can we hold Caldwell?" John asks, voice low.

"Not that long." Elizabeth hesitates briefly, eyes sliding to the laptop screen. "Can you trust Ford?"

Rodney's on his feet. "You have got to be kidding me." Glancing at John, Rodney doesn't see denial, however. "No. He's--John. He was Sumner's *second in command*. Using him to get them down here with Cadman on his ass is one thing--"

"She can keep doing it," John answers, touching his radio. "Cadman. Get you and Ford into surgical scrubs. If Caldwell asks, you were assigned to Sumner's room."

Cadman, Rodney has to admit, isn't stupid at all. "You want a meeting."

"Got it. Think he'll remember you?"

Cadman hesitates briefly. "No. I never served under him and during the trial, they kept the SGC connection as minimized as possible after what happened with McKay and with you. I'm not sure they ever even ran my picture."

"We need fifteen minutes."

Rodney can almost hear Cadman thinking. "If he slips?"

John smiles, looking fond. "Kill everyone but Ford. Take him by Carson's lab before you see Caldwell. I think he'll get the message."

"Too kind. If Caldwell figures it out?"

"Gas the room, get out." John pauses. "Caldwell has an imbedded SGC tracker that's set to his lifesigns. So if it comes to that--"

"Follow emergency procedure, got it. Anything else, sir?"

"Give Ford my best. Sheppard out." Closing the channel, John sighs. Rodney thinks most of it is annoyance that everyone but him is out playing bad cop, worse cop. "All right, set the clock. How long will our shields last under direct fire?"

Rodney pulls the screen. "Full strength, a few hours, but that will burn out the ZPM." Rodney hesitates, trying to remember the SGC's senior chain of command. "I wonder what Caldwell did to piss off Landry."

"If Landry wasn't dead before the Daedalus left the Milky way, he is now," John answers flatly. "I think Mitchell's run out of patience."

Rodney's never been good at waiting; he's never had to be. He sets Miko to watch the Daedalus while Grodin monitors communications, though the conversation between Ford, sounding almost creepily normal, and Caldwell is both mind-numbingly boring and three quarters code. Gaul's currently running diagnostics on their weapons while a couple of John's people accompany Simpson to the jumper bay to prep the jumpers

Whoever tried to contact Ford on Atlantis hasn't tried again, which irritates Rodney even more. Almost so much that he ignore Miko's startled squeak, because he just isn't in the mood.

But. "What?" he asks irritably, spinning his seat around sharply.

"Unauthorized transport," she says, squinting at the screen. Rodney thinks he can feel John's sudden, sharp attention. "One lifesign, directly into--into the lab district, sir." Her eyes widen. At least four fairly recognizable scientists are currently debugging the database and decrypting databursts.

John turns away, already on the radio. "Ramirez, someone just transported into the labs," he says sharply. "I'll meet you there. Bates, kill whoever you're working on now and give the others five seconds to tell me something I want to hear. We're out of time."

"Yes, sir." Bates sounds pleased. Rodney supposes any day is a good day when you're allowed to exercise your best skills.

"John," Rodney says. John's already shaking his head even as he touches the transporter. "John. It's the *labs*. I highly doubt that's an SGC goon poking around down there. If they're really here to destroy the base, then the science staff is probably under orders to retrieve what they can if they can."

"Or it's someone gunning to get rid of Caldwell before the fighting starts." But John sighs. "You, give him your gun."

Someone Rodney doesn't recognize slips a nine millimeter into his hand, hilt still warm. Blinking, Rodney wonders where he's supposed to holster it, then shakes himself. "Right." Tightening his fingers around the butt, he follows John into the transporter, tapping in the floor before turning to John. "So the plan is--"

"You stay behind me and when I say get down, get down." John smiles pleasantly. "Or I shoot you in the knee and apologize with a regenerator."

Rodney stares at him. "You wouldn't." But he kind of thinks John would. "Fine."

Ramirez is already waiting for them; against the wall are four startled looking scientists that Rodney really thinks he should at least try to remember. After all, they were at his trial. "Where is he?"

Ramirez grins slightly, shaking his head. "Doesn't even know we're here. Went straight to the database and started working, hasn't looked up once." Motioning toward the half-open door, Ramirez shrugs. "No weapons. Not Daedalus crew either; he's wearing the one of the SGC civilian uniforms. One of the scientists."

"Then subtlety is wasted." John releases the safety, motioning for Ramirez to follow him. Rodney glances at his scientist and sighs. Names. "Go back to the lab and stay there," he says with a wave of his hand.

From inside the room comes a started yell with a flood of unrecognizable words, garbled by the sounds of feet and something very large being broken. "Go on. I'll call for clean-up." Going to the door, Rodney peers around the edge. Ramirez is straddling a barely moving figure, gun resting neatly between the guys eyes. Rodney can see the SGC jacket--science division, and more importantly, astrophysics, the SGC's most elite department. He wonders if his aim's good enough to hit him from here; maybe just fatally injure. "John?"

"Rodney." John's voice is surprisingly light. "Come in; I need you to tell me if this is what I think it is."

Rodney pushes the door open the rest of the way as Ramirez gets off his prisoner, rolling the limp body onto its belly before securing his hands. John's leaning over one of the database interfaces, typing something intently before he shakes his head, eyes catching Rodney's. "Two guesses what Ford's been trading for his habit."

"Dr. McKay?" Grodin's voice sounds urgent. "Someone just made a direct connection between the Daedalus and Atlantis' database. Miko's blocking transmission. Should we--"

"Tell Miko to make it look like a glitch." Curious, Rodney comes up beside John, looking at the files. "Someone's trying to send something to the Daedalus. What are these?"

"Ford's private files," John answers blandly. "Copies of some pictures, some scanned documents, some reports. Nearly four years worth of files, actually."

Pictures.... "Why would anyone want--" Rodney pulls up the complete directory and stops short. "Son. Of. A. Bitch. Ford was selling my work."

"For drugs, even. Ramirez," John says, holding Rodney's eyes, "show Rodney his surprise."

Blinking, Rodney tears his eyes from John, turning slowly to see Ramirez prop up the semi-conscious man, taking a handful of hair to pull his head up. Glazed brown eyes stare blankly into Rodney's before they slowly clear, widening in shock.

The last time Rodney saw him, he'd been standing on the steps of the White House, surrounded by reporters and gawkers while a president congratulated him on helping to convict the greatest mass murderer in history. He'd smiled at the crowd, bowing modestly as he accepted their thanks, saying that the SGC was changing and he'd be happy to help lead the science department into a new era of innovation and discovery.

John's head rests lightly on his shoulder. "Hey, Zelenka," he says, breath warm on Rodney's neck. "I've heard so much about you."

Elizabeth's waiting impatiently near the transporter, but the frown vanishes as she takes in the limping figure Ramirez is dragging behind him. "SGC's chief scientist."

"With all the current codes," John confirms as he goes down the stairs, Rodney following numbly behind. "Ramirez, get our guest a seat."

Zelenka's shoved into a chair just a little too close to Miko. Shaking the shock off, Rodney gets across the room, grabbing the hand that's already creeping toward her thigh, where he's fairly sure she's hiding a knife. "Not yet. I need his codes."

Miko blinks wide, unhappy eyes on him, but nods, turning back to her laptop, typing busily as Ramirez efficiently ties Zelenka to the chair, flattening one of his hands on the console.

"Been a while," Rodney says as he leans back in the space between Miko and Zelenka, arms crossed. John, one eyebrow raised in amused query, leans one hand on the back of Zelenka's chair. "I need the primary access codes for the Daedalus databanks."

"I will not tell you anything."

Rodney meets John's eyes. "Cut off his finger." John smoothly covers Zelenka's mouth as Ramirez's knife flashes down. Reaching over Zelenka, Rodney takes a breath, making himself pick up the severed finger and dropping it in Zelenka's lap. "Scream again and you lose another one."

Zelenka quiets slowly, chest heaving, face wet with tears. When he's reduced himself to hitching breaths, John removes his hand, placing it lightly on the back of Zelenka's neck. "I need the primary access codes for the Daedalus databanks."

For a second, Rodney almost thinks he'll refuse, and really, Rodney has to wonder if he really dislikes his hand that much. Then Zelenka nods hesitantly. "Encryption."

"Type it in. If you fuck us over, your hand is next."

Zelenka's eyes flicker to Ramirez, who rests the sharp edge neatly over his wrist, and swallows hard. Blinking tears away, he places one hand on the keyboard, carefully averting his eyes from his right hand, awkwardly pecking as Rodney watches. Grodin gives Rodney a quick nod as he watches the Daedalus; so far, so good.

Zelenka chokes and pushes the laptop away when the screen clears, the interface materializing on the screen. "You are in."

Database access, function arrays--f302 bay. "We can shut down weapons and shields," Rodney says slowly. "Actually, I can shut down environmentals, but that could end up crashing the ship if we delay."

"Or when they figure out they can't self-destruct, blowing up some of their ships in the hangar," John answers. "No. I'll take a detachment and two jumpers. If you can get everything offline, we shouldn't have a problem. Radek. Why does Mitchell want Caldwell dead?"

Zelenka swipes roughly at his eyes with his free hand, stiffening as Ramirez's knife rests lightly on his third finger. "Getting rid of competition," he says, voice thick. "SGC is in upheaval."

John jerks his head at Ramirez, who steps away. Circling the chair, John leans back into the console, hooded eyes trained on Zelenka's face. "Landry?"

"Presumed dead," Zelenka whispers. "They would not accept General Mitchell as the head of the SGC after he called for the elimination of the Ori. The Jaffa backed Mitchell's demand. Landry vanished"

Elizabeth materializes beside John. "Are the Ori rising?

Zelenka hesitates. John reaches over, a knife materializing in his hand, pushing the tip a quarter inch into Zelenka's forearm. "Faster answers. The lady asked a question."

"They have begun demonstrations on allied planets," Zelenka chokes out, eyes darting between the knife and John. "There is word that they have sent back to their homeworld when Mitchell ordered their demonstrations be answered with force."

"Trust Mitchell to make the pacifists feral," John says, glancing at Elizabeth. "Nox?"

"They do not care, so long as their tribute continues."

Elizabeth nods sharply. Rodney can almost see her scrolling through her memories of her negotiations with the Ori, who might be pacifist, but after five thousand years of living under the heel of the Asgard and Nox--and now persecuted by upstart humans….

"They have a militant order," Elizabeth says, tapping a finger idly against the back of Zelenka's chair. She'd know; she was probably their favorite human. "They were called dissenters from the Way, but if their sect gains power in their home galaxy…."

"Less Salvation Army, more jihad." John nods. "So Mitchell sent his undesirables to Atlantis so the Asgard don't have a choice on who controls the Earth and those that they have under them. I assume the ones sent down here are supposed to die when you use the Daedalus to blow up Atlantis."

Zelenka nods quickly, eyes fixed on the blood slowly pooling on his forearm. "Mitchell's order was to make certain no one survived," he says. "He sent--he ordered the destruction of this planet."

John's eyes widen. "How much naquada?"

"All the brig. The prisoners are political dissidents."

Miko makes a soft sound, catching Rodney's attention. "I have the manifest of both crew and prisoners," she says. Rodney leans over her shoulder, skimming quickly through the list.


"The entire Trust leadership," Rodney says, licking his lips. No great loss. "The IOA board. Two cabinet members. Some military--I'm betting SGC teams."

"I would too." John touches his radio. "Bates, time's up. What have we got?"

"Access codes to the brig and location and access to the armories."

"Good enough. Dispose of them and take two teams to retrieve Caldwell and his men from the infirmary. We may need Caldwell later. Report to the gate room when you're done."

"Yes, sir."

John grins at Rodney as he changes channels. "Cadman? Time's up."

Even Rodney can hear Cadman's glee. "Yes, sir."

"Markham, get to the jumper bay with two teams. Five minutes. Sheppard out." Turning off his radio, John stops behind Miko's chair, but his eyes are on Rodney. "Can you shut them down?"

Miko deferentially moves aside and Rodney takes her place, pulling up the interface. "Weapons and shields. Internal defensive measures, no, not without being on the ship." Rodney tilts his head back, looking into John's face. "Where's my gear?"

John grins back. Rodney doesn't think he's ever seen John so happy. "Ramirez, get McKay suited up and issue him a weapon. Get whatever else he needs for the Daedalus." Leaning down, John drops a friendly kiss on his forehead. "Jumper bay, ten minutes. Don't be late. I really want a warship."

Miko gives them the signal for the bay doors, shutting down weapons and shields, setting a worm loose in the database to wreck havoc. The Daedalus was too sophisticated to be damaged for long, but a distraction was all they needed. Sitting behind John in the jumper, Rodney stares at the huge ship hanging like an ornament in the sky, hands clenched in his lap. John had met him in the locker room, kneeling unselfconsciously to strap on the thigh holster, hands sliding up Rodney's thigh to smooth the material down with slow, deliberate strokes before he stood up again, leaving Rodney panting and so hard he wasn't sure he could walk. There's a knife at his hip and a P-90 slung around his chest, just in case, John said with a grin, hands lingering on his chest as he fit the shoulder strap.

"You're doing this on purpose," Rodney hissed, aware that Ramirez had discreetly turned his back.

Sheppard had just smiled.

Rodney had lived in his lab when he'd been at the SGC. He hadn't gone offworld, never stepped foot in alien ships or alien worlds. And there were reasons for that, and right now, staring at the vastness of space surrounding them, he thinks he remembers why.

Maybe this wasn't such a great idea.

"Anyone around?" John asks as they glide in; Rodney twists around to read the screens John pulls up effortlessly.

"Three corridors over," Rodney says, checking the lifesign detector. "Looks like the virus is causing problems with the doors--they've moved to manual. Concentrations in the brig, on the bridge, and in the mess hall." Rodney frowns. "We have time to strip their stores?"

"Hell yes," John answers. The rest of the men murmur agreement. "How does the engine room look?"

Rodney feeds the detector information into his laptop, pulling up a rough skeleton. "Ten. I need bridge access to set off the ship's internal defenses," he continues, feeling Ramirez watching over his shoulder. From the way Ramirez has been shadowing him, Rodney figures this is his assigned bodyguard for the duration. "Unfortunately, we can't use the transporters." Rodney almost sighs. He's never liked physical labor.

John nods agreeably as he lands. "Miko, close the bay doors."

Rodney watches the readout for the signal that the bay had recompressed. John, leaning back in his seat, closes his eyes briefly; Rodney watches something like peace spread over his face, breath slowing, almost like he's synching with the ship.

Maybe he is.

"Done," John says, opening his eyes. "Stackhouse, take eight men and secure the engine room. I want them alive. Markham, you have the brig." John pauses, mouth quirking. "We keep the scientists and the SGC teams."

"Yes, sir."

Rodney tries to remember the names he saw on the manifest; Novak's conspicuously absent, as is Hermiod.

"Dr. Weir," John says, standing up. "We're going in. Radio silence until I call."

"Understood." Rodney can almost hear the smile in Elizabeth's voice. "Good hunting."

John grins. "Always is. All right, the rest of you are with me . Ramirez, you have Rodney. Once the internal security protocols are tripped, the jumpers and the bridge are the only safe places. You have an hour." He doesn't issue a threat, but then, Ramirez is one of his. Cadman said they'd walk through fire if John said so; looking at him now, flushed and glowing with energy, Rodney thinks he would too.

"Move out."

With the transporters down--and Rodney delays them a few minutes to burn out as many of the connecting circuits as possible to keep them that way--they head for the first emergency exit, and it's so much worse than Rodney had thought.

"Ladder," he says blankly, looking up into the pitch black darkness. "Seven levels."

"It'll do you good," John says placidly, swinging up onto the first, grinning down at them. "Anyone close?"

Rodney squints at his detector, aware that Ramirez couldn't get any closer if he crawled inside his jacket. "Range is three levels up. No one's showing so far."

"Good." John starts climbing. Rodney starts to move, but Ramirez's hand closes over his wrist. Three more men go up before Ramirez leads him forward.

"Go ahead."

Rodney frowns but grabs on, palms slick and sliding on the slick metal. Wiping them down his sides, he tries again, aware that the men ahead are outdistancing the rest of them fairly quickly. Gingerly climbing up a step, Rodney feels his boot slip from his uncertain balance.

A hand on his hip holds him still, long enough to force his foot into place. "Easy, Dr. McKay," Ramirez says, voice soothing. "There are seven of us back here. We'll catch you."

Rodney scowls down at them, trying to hide his relief.

Climbing is about as boring as Rodney had always assumed it would be. He can feel the strain in his arms before they've gone up one level, his thighs burning after the second. The P-90 seems to be *trying* to drag him down. One more, he thinks, then they stop for the life signs detector. Or he jumps.

He has no idea what it says about him that he almost hopes that something shows up.

Struggling up the last few rungs, Rodney sees a hand thrust in front of him. Rodney grabs on, letting John help him up the last two rungs, dropping to pant on the floor and hate the universe so much it physically hurts.

Or that's his knees, wondering what the hell he thinks he's doing.

"Okay?" John says, crouching beside him. Rodney wants to glare, but he's not sure he can lift his head that much.

"I hate you."

"You wanted to come along," John says, a smile in his voice. Patting his shoulder, John straightens. "Anyone on this level?"

Rodney pulls out the detector, giving it a cursory check. "Mess hall, infirmary--" he cuts off, turning to see John eyeing the door speculatively. "What?"

Several of the men share knowing grins, body language falling into a pattern so old that they almost seem to move as one. These are John's team, Rodney realizes, watching the silent communication that had been built over years--years at the SGC when Rodney hadn't known he even existed, years after when John cut himself free. They weren't just professional terrorists and assassins; they were the best the SGC could train, let loose on an unsuspecting galaxy, taking ships and supplies, people, terrifying races older than Atlantis.

Abruptly, the klaxons go off. Shit. Rodney struggles to his feet. "Okay, we need to--"

"Get out of here," John agrees, eyes on the door. Jerking his head at Ramirez, John goes ahead. "We keep the techs," he says over his shoulder. "Watch yourselves."

Rodney starts to wonder how John thinks they're going to keep that many people under control up here, but since no one else seems worried, he decides to leave it to them.

"There's no one in the corridor," Rodney says as John pauses at the door. "Closest are two rooms down."

"Crew quarters," he says, then shrugs. "All right. You four, messhall. Follow standard procedure." With that, John goes out, gun drawn, two men following just behind. "Meet on the bridge twenty minutes. If it takes longer than that, I'll be deeply disappointed."

There's some quiet laughter before they split. Rodney watches the detector, trusting Ramirez to nudge him if they want to turn. Shots are fired at close range, but they barely pause, and Rodney looks up long enough to avoid tripping over a sprawled body with an Daedalus patch.

John seems to have the layout down; either he memorized the schematics or he's just that lucky. Rodney guesses the former, just as John brings down the P-90 and enters the small infirmary.

The lights are on here; tertiary power, probably localized in case of sudden system-wide failure. Rodney approves. The screaming he doesn't, looking up long enough to see the huddle of people scattered over the floor in drifts of white coats and colorful scrubs.

"Stay down," John says softly. A nod sends two of the men to the medical suites; Rodney hears gunshots as they go through the wounded. "I'm looking for Dr. Keller," John says genially, one foot pushing closest man over. "She here?"


"Sheppard?" A second passes, before a hand goes up near one of the surgical beds, emerging from a huddle of several shaking bodies.

"Hey," John says. "How's life treating you?"

There's a pause, then a red-brown head comes up, eyes finding John immediately.

"Better when I thought I was getting some leave," she says. She keeps her voice light, but even Rodney can see she's terrified. "Didn't expect to see you."

"You were going down today?" John asks. He's not aiming at her, but that doesn't mean anything at all.

"Group six," she answers. Frowning, she looks them over; Rodney knows the second she recognizes him by the way her eyes widen. "So I take it there really isn't a prison that can hold you."

"Not really." John tilts his head slightly, studying her. "Question--why are you on the Daedalus? Last I heard, you were next up for SGC chief medical officer."

Keller blinks in surprise, mouth twisting unhappily. Must still be a sore point. "Change in policy at the SGC. There's been some--"

"High casualty rates." John lowers his gun and shoots the man at his feet. There's a series of muffled screams, but Rodney notices that Keller doesn’t flinch. "Who else was scheduled for leave?"

Keller goes still, staring at John. "Disposal," she says finally. "Son of a *bitch*."

John grins at her. "Come on, let's get out of here. We have one more stop."

"Bridge?" she says as she stands up, stepping out from among the other staff. Glancing down, she carefully avoids the splatter of the former Chief Medical Officer of the Daedalus. "Right. I know your MO."

"Gun," John says, holding out his hand; Ramirez slaps it into his palm. Handing it to her, he surveys the room. "Anyone else?"

Keller checks the gun, eyes flickering up grimly. "No one else had leave."

John pulls the safety on his gun. "Cool."

"You know her? How do you know her? Where did you--"

John grins, hand on Rodney's chest as they come to an intersection. "No one," Rodney says impatiently. "She wasn't hired until after you left," He can hear Keller behind them, boots clicking faster than the others as she half jogs to keep up. "How can you know…"

"Read her file." John pauses briefly as they pass the messhall, looking inside; Rodney knows better. Keeping his eyes fixed on the detector, he waits until John ducks back out, motioning for them to follow, like they were in some danger of stopping for a snack.

"Her *file*?"

John gives him an amused look. "We had a little talk on Chulak a while back," John says, which Rodney's mind interprets as 'wild and crazy sex', though he fights off the images that present themselves. "Don't worry. I'm never wrong."

Rodney wants to dispute that, but there's a four level climb up a ladder ahead of him and he has to conserve his energy.

It's not any easier this time, though at least Rodney has the satisfaction of Keller panting three people behind him. He can barely feel his legs when they finally hit the top, leaning against John as John checks the detector, nodding in satisfaction. "Thirty bodies, all military. Cover Rodney while he works on the computers." John turns to him, hazel eyes vividly green and almost incandescent; Rodney swallows hard. "How many?"

"Thirty," he says. "What about the--they were going to meet us."

"They're here," John says with a grin of absolute faith. "You ready?"

Rodney nods, mouth dry. "Yeah."

Rodney remembers the bridge in circuits and overrides, using Zelenka's codes to break through, pushed flat on the floor at irregular intervals by Ramirez. Bullets whistle overhead, one lodging itself an inch from his vulnerable hands as he pulls the environmental console apart down to it's component parts.

"McKay?" Ramirez asks once. Rodney looks up, startled to see the left side of his face is covered in blood. Keller, huddled on Rodney's other side and being particularly useless, mutters something and kneewalks around him, jerking Ramirez's head around. "Just a cut, ma'am. McKay, Sheppard wants to know--"

"When I know, I'll tell you," Rodney snarls as Keller pulls bandages out of her pocket, holding Ramirez still long enough to twist a bandage around his head and wipe his eye clear of clotting blood. "Five minutes," he says after a second. A bullet buries itself in the wall behind him; Rodney sucks in a breath, feeling for his gun. "Maybe less."

"Got it."

It's not that it's complex; the Daedalus was built with humans in mind, and the Asgard had dumbed down their technology enough for SGC techs to take care of basic repairs. Good to keep the humans from accidentally blowing themselves up. Bad when you hit your fifth security redundancy. Rodney wonders if the crew accidentally gassed themselves too many times to require this many failsafes.

Plugging in the PDA, Rodney types in Radek's codes, frowning at the results. His hand goes automatically to his radio before he remembers they're on radio silence. Shit.

Keller eventually settles beside him again, blood streaking her hands and one cheekbone, gun in both hands. Rodney wonders if she even knows how to shoot; the SGC gave them all a basic course, but Rodney had come away from it with the vague impression he would be best served never having to hold a weapon again.

And look where he is now. "Keller," he says sharply. "Be useful. Hold this." Shoving two of the ripped cables into her hands, he studies the connections. He can sit here and work through five billion levels of security, or he can do this the old fashioned way. "When I say to, connect those."

Keller frowns at the cables, hands carefully staying on the insulation. "Is this going to blow up and kill me?"

"It would kill me, too, so no." Rodney's never wished for a decent set of tools more. Wirecutters. Hell, he'd take an insulated butter knife. "Ramirez, I need your knife."

Almost before he finishes speaking, it materializes at his knee. "That's the power," Rodney tells Keller. "If you touch them now, I'll die a hideous death by electrocution and Ramirez will kill you."

Keller's eyes cut to where Ramirez is currently acting out something from Saving Private Ryan or Apocalypse Now; something with shooting anyway. Checking to make sure the cables are far apart, Rodney starts cutting.

"You sure you know what you're doing?" Keller asks dubiously.

"No, I'm just prolonging the fun of a fire fight," Rodney says, mentally tracing the schematics in his head. Four, five, six--here. Cutting it, Rodney reaches out a hand. "Give me the one in your right hand."

She's careful, he'll give her that, insulation slapping into his palm, wires safely distant from his skin. Rodney takes a deep breath, hoping to God he read them right. "Ramirez, tell Sheppard it's ready."

Ramirez acknowledges with a gesture and Rodney closes his eyes and touches the cables on their exposed metal edges.

For a second, nothing seems to happen. Somewhere out there, John's throwing himself into the path of bullets and reinforcements are doubtless on their way, and here he is, sitting on his ass unable to even get a simple fucking--

Daedalus lurches abruptly, emergency lights flickering, red lights across every board. Keller draws in a sharp breath and Rodney realizes abruptly that the noise is over.

Maybe for a while.

John, blood-splattered, what was an SGC jacket's sleeve wrapped around his thigh, comes up to lean against the console. Rodney licks his lips as John reaches lazily for his radio. "Report."

"All accounted for in the jumpers," Stackhouse says immediately. "How long do we wait?"

John looks a question.

"Ten minutes to dissipate."

"Give it ten, have the jumper double check before you come out. Do a floor by floor. Put the ones we want in the brig for now." John pauses, scratching absently at one blood-streaked ear, nose wrinkling slightly. "I'm going back to the city. Stackhouse, you're in charge of clean-up; report every thirty minutes, private channel."

"Yes, sir."

John smiles at the group of men that have drifted over. "At least you didn't get soft," he says with something like affection. "Clean up here and then report to Stackhouse. Rodney, can you get the transporters working to get us into the jumper?"

Rodney stands up, then realizes Keller's still holding one of the cables. "Put that down. And yeah, just--" Stumbling slightly, Rodney calls a diagnostic up on the main board, wiping away the blood. "Yeah. Now?"

"Let's get going. Keller--"

"I'll stay and treat the injuries," she says, wiping her hands on her thighs. "There's a few things in the lab you might want to take a look at, though, especially considering you're living in the city."

"Such as?"

"Carson's gene therapy." One side of her mouth quirks up in a smirk. "Mitchell started trials two months ago at the SGC. There's a fairly high failure rate, since we're still working off his original design, but it works."

"Failure rate?"

Keller arches a brow. "Not dead. But they might wish they were."

"I always liked you," John says with an answering grin. "Get it and take it to Carson when you're done."

"It's ready," Rodney says, breaking their moment; is there anyone not after John's ass? He doesn’t have time for this shit. "Keller, you know how to--"

"Yeah." With a parting smile for John, she takes Rodney's place at the console. "See you on the other side."

Rodney barely has time to brace himself before he's staring at the walls of their empty jumper. Turning, he sees John already in the pilot's seat, wiping the blood from his hands on his pants before he touches the console. "Stackhouse, you're in charge. Miko, open the bay doors."

"Already done?" Elizabeth's voice cuts through the connection. "That was fast."

Stumbling into the copilot's seat, Rodney sees John roll his eyes as the jumper begins to rise, bay doors yawning open before them. "It wasn't my first time. ETA fifteen minutes. Where's Caldwell?"

"Bates is interrogating him," Elizabeth answers tranquilly. "He's been a mine of useful information since he realized he was sent here to die."

Rodney imagines so.


"Passed out in his cell." Elizabeth pauses. "Grodin's tested the gate address the Athosians provided and we sent a MALP through. There's a ship in orbit around the fourth planet. It's four times the size of the Daedalus, and lifesigns are--showing conflicting reports. The Athosians have explained the Wraith go into hibernation between feedings."

John takes a breath, staring at the display like he can make it change by will alone.

"We can't take a ship that size without the Daedalus in full working order," Elizabeth continues, sounding very sure and very, very careful. "I've sent a group to the mainland to pull every engineer and tech we can find to repair and crew the ship temporarily; Carson will implant them the minute they get to Atlantis."

John closes his eyes. "Right," he says finally. "We were able to minimize damage."

"Then it shouldn't take too long to get her ready. A day at most."

John doesn't answer, eyes blank. Rodney touches his radio. "We'll be there in fifteen minutes. McKay out."

John's silent most of the trip back, his entire attention seemingly concentrated on the jumper. Rodney's not stupid enough to think that's true, but he also just walked out of a bridge of thirty dead Daedalus crew and watched John and three men slaughter an infirmary. And that was *before* Elizabeth told him he couldn't take his new toy for a spin before tomorrow.

On the other hand, silence has never been his forte. "That was interesting."

John shoots him a sidelong look as they descend, clouds whispering by like gauze in the clear blue of the sky. His voice drips irony. "Really."

Rodney bristles. "I was fine. I told you I was perfectly capable of being an asset--"

"I know. And you were." John's hands relax on the controls, fingers slowly straightening from the tight clench. A very good sign. "You want to keep doing it?"

Rodney frowns. "Doing--"

"Field work."

And that he hadn't expected. "Really?"

"Even if we get the mainland population producing, we'll need outside supplies. And more people. The Athosians had a very lively trade market--"

"You mean extortion."

John cracks a smile. "Persuasive bargaining." The smile fades almost immediately, gaze turning inward; even from his seat, Rodney can see the tension emanating from him like light. "We need the contacts."

Rodney nods, trying not to relax too much. "Right." Weir's made some noise about it already; Rodney could frankly care less as long as he's kept in food, technology, and bodies for the labs. And John, of course.

John, however, will need more than sex to keep him occupied, and setting him free in Pegasus with a few teams to benefit Atlantis sounds like a pretty good plan.

"I don't have the training," Rodney says finally, curious about John's reasoning. Because yes, he survived the Daedalus, but that pretty much was John and company around him.

"I can train you."

They don't have a lot of records from the SGC, and Rodney doubts that John's are the kind that are accessible anyway; what he knows he knows from John, from sideways comments by Lorne and Bates, rumors that filtered to Atlantis through three long years, the men that John brought from the mainland.

They're specialists in every sense of the word, recruited and trained by the SGC, retrained by John when he chose them. And some part of Rodney feels--odd--that John wants to count Rodney among them. He's almost sure it's good.


John gives him an amused look. "I have time." The jumper shivers slightly, and John's slight smile fades, hazel eyes glazing. "We're on approach, Atlantis," John says flatly.

"I'll be in my office," Weir says calmly.

John's eyes narrow. "Five minutes."

John goes to Weir still bloodstained and faintly feral--back on Atlantis, adrenaline still high from the fight on the ship, he strides through the gate room, leaving footprints like some kind of reminder that he doesn't play well with others. Bates, running herd over the personnel on duty, watches him with concealed worry, eyes flickering briefly to Rodney and beyond them, obviously hoping for someone from one of the teams to fill him in.

It's beneath him, but--

"Weir says when the ship's repaired," Rodney says, trying to look absorbed in the view of the Daedalus on one of the screens. Bates stiffens slightly, giving him a brief look. Rodney grits his teeth before he can ask; he knows John. John, *this* John, knows him inside and out, and he doesn't need Bates to confirm the thin sheath of calm is hiding rage that's barely held in check. John's vicious, impulsive, but most importantly, possessive. As long as Lorne and the other men are being held, John's fragile leash on his instincts will stretch until he snaps.

Even a day might be too long.

Glancing around the room, Rodney pinpoints Zelenka, slumped in the chair by Miko. Presumably still alive, since he's still breathing. With a final look at Bates, Rodney makes his way over, glancing at Miko long enough to note she's taken possession of the finger, leaving it in Zelenka's sight. Rodney wonders what she's going to do with it.

There's a lot of things that Rodney wants to do to him, but a few days won't make a difference.

"I need the Daedalus fully operational."

Zelenka head moves sluggishly, tilting backward to look at Rodney from behind dull eyes. "What--" he slurs, then shakes himself. "Damaged?"

"Minimal." Rodney steps between Zelenka and Miko, forcing Zelenka to tilt his head farther back. Rodney's never been adverse to petty psychological warfare. "I'm going to kill you," Rodney says, copying John's horrifically bland tone when he describes torture. "I've had four years to plan it, and it will take four years for me to finish it. Do you understand?"

Blood loss may have sent him into shock. He just nods.

"Here's where you get an extra day of survival. I need the Daedalus operational by tomorrow. That means everything, from engines to defenses to weapons to the cloak. I mean everything. And I need it run by someone who knows what they're doing."

Zelenka blinks at him blearily, but he's tracking at least.

"I'm sending you to Carson for a little modification," Rodney says, and takes a second to enjoy the raw terror that flares in Zelenka's eyes. "When he's done, you'll be escorted to the Daedalus with five other people you sent here to die. Their only motivation is to please me, and right now, it pleases me to for you to live long enough to fix that ship. That could change at any second. Do you understand?"

Zelenka nods. Rodney snaps his fingers in the general direction security. "Get him to Carson and send him up with my people when the repairs start." Rodney holds Zelenka's wide, terrified eyes. "They won't kill you," Rodney says softly. "If you fuck up, they'll bring you to me. And you'll start paying me what you owe."

Over Zelenka's head, Rodney sees John emerge abruptly from Elizabeth's office and straightens. Radek looks scared enough to be malleable, at least for a little while. "Miko, get every engineer we have prepped for repairs."

"Yes, sir."

John pauses at the transporter, blinking like he's not entirely sure where he is: very bad. Bates focused attention only confirms it. "I'll radio when it's time."

Going up the stairs, Rodney shoots Bates a warning look before reaching for John; there's a second of tension that coils like electricity beneath Rodney's hand, but the hazel eyes finally focus again, recognizing him with an ease of tension. "Rodney."

"Rest," Rodney says firmly, leading John into the transporter. There's blood streaking his jaw, in his hair, soaking his uniform like he rolled around in it. Rodney wouldn't put it past him in this mood. Sliding his hand down, he gets bare skin, wrapping his fingers gently around John's wrist, feeling the sharp, staccato beat of his pulse.

"I'm sending my people up to do the repairs," Rodney says, entering their floor on the console. When the door opens again, John's unsurprisingly docile, letting Rodney lead him down the hall. None of the patrols so much as blink as they pass. "You should eat."

John shakes his head sharply as they turn the corner, their door opening almost before they reach it. Rodney goes in first, trying to remember if their store of snacks has been depleted yet, then he's up against the wall and John's hand is resting lightly on his collar, fingers pressed to his throat.

Taking a breath, Rodney forces himself to relax, looking into the blank hazel eyes that tell him John's slipping somewhere that Rodney can't follow, reminding him sharply of those early mornings he'd sat on the floor with John's head in his lap, pale and shocky, with new pink skin and newly healed bones. Then, he thought that one day he'd pay Sumner back for every injury he'd inflicted on John's body, every crack he'd made in John's mind, every regeneration sequence that pushed John that much closer to the edge of sanity, every second that Rodney worked to coax him back to him.

Now he thinks there's nothing he can do to Sumner that can ever match what he'd done to John.

Closing his eyes, he leans into John's hand, aware of John's body less than an inch away, smelling blood and sweat and gunpowder, the recycled air of the Daedalus that coats John like a second skin. Reaching out, he touches damp cloth, thick and stiff, pushing it up to get skin, resting one hand on John's flat belly to feel every stuttering breath.

Warmth trails down his neck, stiff hair rubbing his cheek; John licks a slow line from his neck to ear, nuzzling his shoulder through his shirt. Rodney tilts his head as John's free hand snaps the buttons on his shirt off one by one, teeth grazing his collarbone before there's no air and John's kissing him like he's starving.

Months trapped in that cell together had taught Rodney everything he needed to know about John; how to quiet him and comfort him, de-escalate the rage that always pulsed beneath his skin; coax him back from the place Sumner sent him. Rodney had months to condition John to respond to his voice, to his touch, make himself John's focus, the center of their tiny world, knowing, *knowing* that Sumner had learned to count on that, that Rodney could fix what he'd shattered, bring him back so Sumner could do it again.

Sumner might have thought he broke him; Lorne and Bates might think the same thing. Rodney knows better. Sumner had stripped away John's remaining scruples like cheap paint, burned away the flotsam that kept his instincts in check, refining the lessons John had learned in the SGC. John's a weapon because he wants to be, because he can be, because they taught him how to be one and Sumner showed him how to like it.

Sliding his arms around John's waist, he jerks him closer, licking into John's mouth, nipping his tongue as John pins him to the wall, hand unwrapping from around Rodney's throat and sliding down his chest, nails scratching red welts into his skin, ripping through the button on his pants with a tear of material that makes Rodney grin into the next rough kiss, still breathless. Reaching between them, Rodney cups his cock, hard and hot through the thin material of his BDUs, groaning softly as teeth sink into the side of his neck, breaking skin with a shock of pain that makes Rodney so hard he can barely see.

Maybe John's conditioned him, too.

"Come on," Rodney murmurs, working John's pants open one-handed, reaching inside to get skin. "Fuck me."

John growls agreement, another flash of heat that crawls through Rodney's nerves and goes straight to his cock. John's hand fastens on the front of his ruined pants, pulling him from the wall, walking him backward the short distance to the bed. Rodney get his shirt off on his own, hitting the mattress with his pants around his thighs, catching at the top of boots that there's no way either of them are coordinated enough to untie.

Two quick slashes of his knife and the boots are gone, John straddling his thighs and kissing him, dirty and possessive and almost cruel, fucking his mouth with sweeps of his tongue, Rodney's cock rubbing against material that feels like sandpaper. Curling his hands in John's hair, he lets John do as he likes, following John's hands until he's stretched out on the bed, John knees between his thighs and two slick fingers buried in his ass.

"Yeah," he gasps, shifting into each thrust, making himself open to John's fingers, the too-quick stretch that makes him want John's cock in him when he's this tight, this ready. One hand gropes the bed, finding the lube, slicking his fingers and reaching to stroke John's cock. "Now, do it, come *on*, *fuck* me--"

One hand slides under his ass, lifting Rodney's hips with almost negligible ease, and then John's sliding into him, huge and hot, forcing his thighs up, bright pain as John forces him to open up and take him in. Digging his fingers into John's hair, he pulls him in, burying his groan in John's mouth.

It's good, better than good, John blood-stained and electric like a coming storm, ruthless and desperate, gun holster hard against Rodney's thigh, rubbing with every thrust, riding the fine edge that separates John from a feral animal that kills without thought or remorse. Rodney sucks bruises into his throat, leaves the imprint of his teeth in John's shoulder, his chest, shuddering when John sucks his nipples with ruthless care, tonguing the hollow of his throat; he knows Rodney's body as well as Rodney knows his, squeezing Rodney's ass before wrapping around his cock, hand slick and tight, and Rodney's coming so hard he stops breathing.

John comes too, with a shout buried in Rodney's mouth, still thrusting like he can't make himself stop before collapsing on top of him, panting and sweaty and sated. Wrapping his arms around John's sweaty back, Rodney turns his head just enough to see John's face, the brittle tension drained away, softening as exhaustion finally pulls him in. "We'll get our people back," Rodney whispers, bracing his foot to roll John gently onto the bed, stroking slowly through his hair. John's eyes slit open in acknowledgement, warm and lazily content, the sharp edges blunted.

"Let's get rid of those clothes," Rodney whispers.

John's liquid, shifting as Rodney strips away his shirt and pants, his boots, curling into Rodney instinctively as Rodney pulls the blankets over them, breath warm against Rodney's neck as he falls asleep.

When John's asleep, Rodney reaches for the radio. John's his, but the men are John's, and John thinks Rodney can do anything. "Grodin," Rodney murmurs, pitching his voice low enough that John won't wake. "I want that ship functional in six hours."

"It will take at least ten--"

"Six hours, or I'll kill every person working on it." Rodney doesn’t bother to pause to let it sink in; Grodin doesn't need the emphasis. "Make sure they know that. Radio when they're done."

Grodin answer is immediate. "Yes, sir."

"McKay out." Closing the channel, Rodney settles in, letting John's warm weight soothe him into sleep.