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"The Sweep of Easy Wind"

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The stargate closed behind them, and a huge slab of mud fell from his shoulder and splattered on the floor. Lorne laughed, slapped him on the back, and muck flew. "Let's hit the showers."

There was a large communal shower directly off the locker room, but Rodney never used it. His quarters were much more private, and the last thing he wanted was to be popped on the ass by a towel. He didn't think they would, but there was no reason to tempt them.

"I'd rather, um—"

"McKay," Lorne interrupted, "you get mud all the way to your room and all over your room, and you're cleaning it up. We clear?"

"Crystal." Rodney sighed heavily and trudged after him; his boots heavy with mud and water. Elizabeth had her mouth covered, and Teyla looked amused also. He glared, stopping to grumble, "Next time, you go meet the mud people!"

Teyla nodded gracefully. "I am looking forward to it."

Rodney almost wiped his hand across his mouth before he remembered he was caked. He'd fallen several times - stupid mud. Elizabeth shooed him away before he dripped on them, and he caught up with the rest of his team in the locker room. Lorne was already half-naked, and Rodney averted his eyes. Ford flicked some mud at him, Stackhouse laughed, and Rodney pretended not to notice, encouraging them would be a bad idea.

"Teyla will be ready to join the team soon. She's a good shot, better than McKay," Ford said with a laugh in his voice.

"Only with a P-90," Lorne replied. "She's having trouble with the handgun part of the test, but I think she'll pass this week."

Asking the question was more difficult than he'd thought it would be, but it was time to get it over with. He and Lorne weren't anything more than cautious co-workers, except that Lorne thought he was in command. Rodney needed to know the truth, and then he wouldn't be disappointed.

"So, um, when she's ready for the team, I'm gone, right?"

Lorne's eyes widened in surprise. "Stackhouse is joining Bates's team."

"Oh." Rodney tried not to look relieved. It wasn't that he cared, except, well, that he did.

"Or is this your way of getting out of it?" Lorne asked with a trace of suspicion in his voice. "You bitch and moan enough."

"No! That's not it, and if I'm not complaining, I'm not happy. Really." Rodney tried to convince him. This would be easier if they were friends. He tried to smile. "Okay, then, go team."

"I love your enthusiasm." Lorne flashed a smile, and Rodney wished he knew what it meant. For now, he'd take it as a win. Mud slid from his hair, smacking the floor, and he sighed in disgust. More gunk dropped as he slunk out of his tac-vest. It would need to be hosed off, and he didn't have much hope for the power bars in the pockets. The electronics he set aside carefully to be thoroughly cleaned later. His jacket wasn't quite so dirty, but he made sure the pockets were empty.

"Thanks, Shep, but why don't you go help McKay get his boots off? He got the worst of it," Lorne said.

Rodney turned around, frowning. The last thing he wanted was some ham-handed Marine ripping his feet off. "Wait, um, what?" He edged away from a tall guy with crazy hair who stared at him intently. "Lorne?"

"That's Airman John Sheppard. Everyone calls him Shep. Colonel Caldwell assigned him in here for a few days. I guess things are damn dull on the Daedalus right now. He'll help us clean up." Lorne grimaced. "I have mud up my ass."

"Like we needed to know that!" Rodney spat, staring at someone he'd just met in complete fascination. "What's that silver disc in the middle of his forehead?"

Lorne shrugged and went around the partition to the showers. Rodney could hear the water running. Stackhouse was ahead of them all. Shep reached for him, and Rodney flinched.

"I'm okay. Seriously."

"Might as well give in, Doc. Shep always obeys orders." Ford dropped his shirt with a splat.

Shep took another step, and Rodney waved up and down. "He needs clothes!"

"It's a locker room, McKay." Ford snorted, and Rodney's calves bumped into a bench. Shep was there instantly, helping him sit down and starting on the boots. The sight of him, naked and kneeling, made Rodney gawk. With a slurping, smacking noise, Rodney's first boot popped off. Shep sat down hard, mud on him now, and Rodney waited for him to curse or yell or something. Nothing, but the guy rubbed his hand through his hair and started on Rodney's other boot.

"Hey, your butt okay?" Rodney tried not to look directly at the object in question. Shep frowned at the boot, yanked hard, and this time didn't fall down. His chest and arms were a muddy mess, and Rodney felt like he should apologize.

"Hey, Shep! Come wash my back, will ya?" That was Stackhouse, and Shep hurried away without a word. Rodney took several deep breaths, wondering what exactly was happening beyond the obvious. He wanted to go to his room and pretend this was a weird dream, with a wet, naked guy.

"McKay! You asleep?" Lorne's voice carried easily from the shower area.

Rodney grumbled under his breath, got to his feet, and marched into the shower fully dressed. There was no way in hell he was getting naked in front of his team. They laughed at him enough for being an out-of-shape geek. He was used to laughter; it brought back lovely memories of high school gym. It had been a required course, and being the youngest in the locker room had been a unique sort of hell.

"McKay's my first genius. Are they all so weird?" Ford asked loudly.

"Pretty much." Lorne laughed. Rodney refused to look any higher than their feet. He turned on the shower farthest away and upped the temperature a bit. Mud swirled on the floor, and his clothes grew very heavy. He lifted his face to the water, shutting his eyes. At least his face would be clean. A gentle touch on his arm surprised him, and this time, he flinched. Yelling was always his first reaction, but he pressed his lips together.

"Let him give you a hand," Ford said.

The crazy hair was plastered flat from water, and his eyes were almost brown, kinda green. He wasn't that much taller, but he was very lean. Rodney took in a hundred details in five seconds from the silver disc, down to dog tags and long toes. Shep didn't smile, grin, or in any way look as if he cared that he was being stared at by another guy.

"Come on, now, stop laughing. McKay is shy." Lorne's voice cut through Rodney's inspection. "We were all shy once, well, maybe not you, Ford. Meet us in the infirmary when you get clean, McKay."

Rodney nodded, and his teammates trailed out of the shower. Shep hadn't moved an inch. The sound of the water droplets hitting the floor seemed loud, and Rodney tried to sound normal. "You don't have to help me."

Shep shrugged, reached, and this time Rodney let him work the heavy jacket off. It hit the floor hard, and stripping away the T-shirt was easy in comparison. Rodney shivered a little, and Shep nudged him back under the water. Before Rodney could protest, Shep's strong hands were making fast work of his BDU's and boxers.

Vulnerable. He felt vulnerable, again, and he never liked it. His pride surfaced and he already had a long speech about his physical condition, or lack thereof, prepared. Opening his mouth to deliver it, nothing came out but a groan because Shep took the soap and rubbed it all over Rodney's back. That felt good, really good. The water ran muddier, and he tried not to go boneless and slither to the floor.

"Hey!" Rodney's knees stiffened, and he flipped around fast. Shep lifted one eyebrow; his hands pulled back. Rodney really did try to glare, but the water on his face made it hard to be convincing. Shep smirked. That was a smirk. Rodney found himself almost smiling as his eyes were drawn to the silver disc. It was about five centimeters across, definitely oval, and it couldn't be actual silver. There was also some type of ornate writing inscribed on it. Loops and whirls and his hand reached before he thought about it. Shep's eyes widened and he leaned away.

"Sorry. Sorry. Sorry." Rodney forced his hand down, but his thumb twitched in circles. He wanted to put the disc under a scanner. "The scientist in me wants to touch it."

After a long moment, Shep shook his head, and Rodney accepted it. He also gasped because Shep went to work cleaning him up and left no spot unwashed.

"What?" Rodney pried his eyes open. Fatigue was setting in hard, and he wouldn't have minded sitting down during the rinse cycle. Shep patted Rodney on the thigh again. Rodney looked, stared even, and said, "Well, ow."

The water snapped off, and Rodney blinked in surprise. He hadn't done that, had he? Shep left him for a moment, but came right back with three towels. Rodney tried to do most of the work, but Shep didn't take no for an answer. "Yes, yes, I'm fine." He hissed when Shep pressed one of the towels into it. Suddenly, there was a rumble in the room, and Rodney's mouth fell open as warm, even hot air, came up from the floor. He nearly dropped to his knees to look for blowers, but Shep had hold of Rodney's leg.

The air felt good, and he was dry quickly - dry and confused. He'd wanted to be dry. Had he activated some program? The blowers cut off unexpectedly, but it'd have to wait until later because the pain in his leg was worse. Adrenaline was good stuff, but he was at the end of it. He couldn't get dressed with blood trailing down his leg, and he squeezed Shep's shoulder.

"I'll go sit down and call Carson."

Shep nodded and helped him back to the locker room. Reapplying pressure, Shep settled down by Rodney's feet, and Rodney fumbled for his radio. It was really hard to think with a naked man nearby.

"Carson?"

"Aye, lad, I was about to come find you!"

"I found a cut on my leg under all the mud, and it's bleeding, and I don't want to put on pants. Could you bring me a bandage or something?" Rodney draped the towels in such a way to cover as much skin as possible. "I'm in the locker room."

"On my way." Carson didn't shut off his radio. "Yes, Colonel Lorne, I'm going to get him. Rodney, are you alert?"

"What?" Rodney curled his fingers into Shep's bare shoulder. "I walked halfway across a muddy planet today! I'm exhausted!"

"Take your pulse."

Shep's fingers pressed into Rodney's wrist. Rodney slowly counted to thirty. Shep flashed him the number.

"It's ninety." Rodney frowned. "Why doesn't Shep talk?"

"Who?"

Shep pointed at the disc on his forehead.

"Rodney? Are you with me?"

"I'm fine." Rodney patted Shep on the shoulder. The urge to take apart the disc was stronger now and to get it the hell off Shep's forehead. This was obviously a blatant misuse of alien technology.

"Dr. McKay, do you need assistance?" Caldwell stepped inside the locker room, looking concerned.

Rodney felt Shep's reaction through his shoulder. Fear? Shep got to his feet fast; his eyes blown wide.

"Keep pressure on that, Shep," Caldwell barked. "Dr. Beckett is on the way?"

"I'm here." Carson had a gurney with him. "Lad, you should've come to see me first!"

"I didn't know, and Shep found it, and it only just started hurting, and it didn't bleed that much, but, um, ow."

Carson's medics took over, and Shep stepped back fast. Rodney didn't try to hang on to him. Caldwell frowned, and Rodney saw Shep swallow hard. They helped him hobble up onto the gurney, and the last thing he saw before they wheeled him away was Shep kneeling at Caldwell's boots. Bile forced its way up to his mouth.

"Rodney, don't be throwing up now."

Rodney breathed through his mouth. "Shep?" He wasn't sure what he was asking.

"One of Caldwell's crew off the Daedalus," Carson said softly. "The disc, it's Goa'uld. Keeps him docile. He's a criminal, murder is what I heard."

Shock. Anger. Disbelief. It all curled through him. Shep's hands had been gentle on him. They were the hands of a killer? His eyes had been kind, and it didn't seem possible. "Murder?"

"Hush, now." Carson repositioned the towel, and Rodney made up his mind to investigate further. Something strange was going on between the showers suddenly blowing hot air, Goa'uld technology being mis-used, and the repulsive way Shep had knelt at Caldwell's boots.

"But it's wrong," Rodney whispered. He didn't have all the facts, but he knew it was a bad thing.

Carson leaned over him so they were closer. "President Kinsey is a right bastard. We're lucky we're not Americans."

That was true, but it didn't make it okay. Rodney clutched his leg, cursing loud and long, demanding morphine. Everyone expected it of him, and while his mouth yelled, his brain swirled with possibilities and solutions.


"Aye, he's much better. Puncture wounds almost always get infected, and this was a doozy. Some PT and he'll be right as rain."

Rodney listened with one ear as he worked on his tablet. "I'm ready to go."

"Colonel Lorne's team needs him." Weir drew closer. "Rodney, how are you feeling?"

"Good." Rodney powered down the tablet, but he'd finish later. "The crutches really aren't necessary."

"Take one step without them." Carson crossed his arms.

"Um, no." Rodney had tried that this morning and nearly cried. "Seriously? This city can't take much more of me being unavailable."

Weir smiled. "I'm sure it can't. Light duty, Carson?"

"Aye." Carson brought the crutches to the bed. "Interestingly enough, it was the smaller puncture wound on his calf that caused all the trouble. You should've seen the—"

"I think I can skip the details." Weir raised her hand to stop him from going further. "Teyla went out with Lorne's team."

Rodney fumbled with the tablet and the crutches, trying to get things organized. A cup of coffee and this would be impossible. Lorne had explained that instead of waiting, they were going to get Teyla warmed up on a few missions that probably wouldn't require a scientist. Rodney had agreed that it was a good idea. He'd meant that. Weir was looking at him as if she expected him to be angry. He waved his hand at her.

"Yes, yes, I have business elsewhere."

She didn't look convinced.

"Elizabeth, I'll be back out there soon enough. I have a few things here I want to get at." He used the strap to hang the tablet around his neck. "Bye." He saw them exchange a funny look as he cleared the door. The crutches hurt his armpits, but his leg was furious about the infection and not inclined to cooperate yet.

Weir caught up him and slowed as he clunked along. "Are you sure you're okay? Carson said you were remarkably docile."

"Threatened with the possibility of my leg rotting off, I decided to forego my usual insults." Rodney had counted the days, and it shouldn't be too late. "Is the Daedalus still here?" He tried to sound casual.

"Hermiod wanted to run some tests on the sublight engines, so they're out circling the solar system."

"Damn," Rodney muttered. He stopped and flexed his hands. His first plan was shot, so he'd head for the lab.

"But Colonel Caldwell is still here. He didn't like the idea of flying in circles." Weir laughed softly. "Did you need to see him?"

"Maybe." Rodney redoubled his efforts. He'd check first and go from there. She finally quit following him, and he looked around furtively before going in the locker room. It was empty. He cursed under his breath, leaned against the wall, and shut his eyes to breathe deeply. His stomach hurt, and there was a terrible sense of urgency scratching madly at the back of his brain. He didn't know what was going on, but he had to get to the bottom of it. A touch on his elbow, and he nearly fell over.

Shep caught him. "Oh, thank God," Rodney whispered and grabbed him tight, letting the crutches fall to the floor. Shep furrowed his brow, but there was a smile lurking in his eyes. Rodney drank him in and said, "Are you okay?"

Shep nodded. He waved his hand in the direction of the shower, and Rodney understood. "In a minute, I wanted to check on you. I was worried."

That made Shep look cautious. He shrugged and pointed at the tac-vests. It took a moment, but Rodney caught up.

"You cleaned it?" Rodney smiled. "Thanks. I bet you needed a shower after that!"

A small smile and a nod was the answer. Rodney felt his hands tremble, and he peeled them off Shep's bare shoulders, managing to keep his balance. Happiness surged, and he felt light-headed. "Do you even have clothes?"

That got him a full-sized grin. He returned it. "Help me to the shower. I don't want to slip." He was grateful when Shep wrapped his arm around Rodney's waist. It took some twisting, but he managed to sit down and take a good look at the flooring. It was perforated. They'd assumed for water, but obviously, it was also a huge blow dryer. He booted up his tablet and tried to find the power source. Shep looked confused, ducking back out and returning with the crutches.

"The dryer." Rodney put his hand flat against the floor and tried to think it on. He could dimly sense something, but nothing happened. Two seconds later, there was a rumble and his hair blew straight up. "Wow!" He scrambled for his tablet and frantically set it to collecting data.

Shep sat down next to him, cross-legged, and peered at the tablet. Rodney resisted the urge to touch him, maybe lick him. This kind of obsession wasn't healthy, especially if the man was a killer, which was increasingly hard to believe.

The air became positively hot, and he frowned as he tried to turn it off. No luck. Understanding dawned, and he got Shep to look him in the eye.

"Turn it off?"

It quit instantly, mystery solved. "You have the gene." Of course Shep didn't answer, but Rodney knew the truth. The urge to jump around and cheer was tempered by the reality that it might not matter. When the Daedalus left, Shep would be on it. Caldwell went by the book, throwing good sense aside in the pursuit of the rules. Rodney wanted to stroke down Shep's arm. There were so few natural gene carriers, and Shep's had to be incredibly strong to initialize equipment that no one else ever had. Giddiness swept over Rodney, and he saw an answering smile.

"You have the gene!"

The silence was broken by Shep's sarcastic clapping. Rodney laughed, loudly. He leaned against him, feeling the warmth, the strength, and he grinned. "Well, it's good news to me."

Rodney saw Shep's gaze go to the tablet, and instead of snatching it or interrupting, he let it happen. Several minutes later, Shep looked up, and there were a host of I.Q. points dancing in his eyes. Intelligent, good-looking, and so very naked: Rodney never wanted to leave the locker room again. Except that Shep deserved better than this. He was far above towel duty, and Rodney squared his jaw, making up his mind.

It was time to get Shep in the labs where he could help, and he wouldn't be leaving Atlantis. No matter what it took. Only one thing dimmed Rodney's rampant enthusiasm. One tiny glitch, and he hated to even ask about it, but he had to know the truth.

"Shep, the reason you have that. Did someone die?"

The brownish eyes dipped, and he slowly nodded. Rodney blew out a huge breath of air, worried beyond belief but willing to keep on investigating in the hopes that it was all some mistake. "On purpose?"

Now Shep reacted. He shook his head violently and jumped to his feet as if he might run away. Rodney might've panicked. "Wait! I can't get up!" He reached for him, and Shep paused in the doorway. "Don't leave. Please."

Coaxing a wild cat might've been easier. Shep's eyes were crazy, and he was breathing hard. Rodney went ahead and felt guilty. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked." He wrapped his tablet strap around his neck again and struggled. His leg pulsed and throbbed, but he gritted his teeth and tried to get to a wall. Shep gave a sigh and lifted him straight up. It was a shock. "Wow. You're strong."

Shep steadied him, got the crutches, and refused to look at him. Rodney stopped trying. He'd crossed a line by asking. "Sorry. But listen, you have the gene. I need it. I need you."

There was no answer, not a shake or nod. Rodney made his way back to the locker room and the main door. "It's too important—" He was talking to no one. Shep had vanished back into the shower, hiding out until Rodney left. "This isn't over." He believed Shep. Whatever had happened, Shep hadn't murdered anyone.

Rodney banged down the hallway, going towards Stargate Operations to find Caldwell. Somehow, he was going to get Shep out of that locker room.

Luckily, Rodney spotted Chuck before he had to tackle stairs. "Chuck, give me your radio."

"What?" Chuck's hand went to his ear. "Where's yours?"

"Don't argue. Hand it over." Rodney snapped his fingers twice. "You can run out and get a new one. I can't."

"That's no reason to steal mine!" Chuck groaned and took it out of his ear. "It has my germs, ya know."

"Nice try. The outer ear is practically germ free." Rodney put it on quickly and tapped it. "Colonel Caldwell?"

That name was enough to send Chuck packing, and Rodney didn't bother to wave goodbye. Caldwell answered quick enough, "Dr. McKay?"

"Yes. I'm not far from the locker room. Can you meet me? I'm not terribly mobile at the moment, and I need to speak with you about current—"

"On my way," Caldwell interrupted and clicked off.

Rodney considered his next action carefully. A full frontal assault might not be the best way to get this done. Yelling and throwing his arms about worked for nearly every situation, but Caldwell was made of stone. He'd be swayed by calm facts, not a lot of bluster.

"There you are." Caldwell never smiled. "How's the leg?"

"Sore." Rodney told the truth. "As I had suspected in the past, dirt is bad in wounds." He shuffled, intentionally dropped a crutch, waiting for a helpful hand. Caldwell put his hands behind his back, making no move to help, and Rodney tried to look confused instead of pissed. "Listen, what with the tablets, laptops, coffee, and whatnot, I'm going to fall on my ass before the day is out." He saw the raised eyebrows. "Don't you have someone on the Daedalus that could… well… help?"

"The Daedalus isn't here presently." Caldwell frowned. "Don't you have lab rats?"

"They all have actual jobs that involve keeping this city afloat." Rodney sighed heavily, trying to look sad but resigned. "Never mind. I'll manage. Forget I asked." He turned, trying not to fall on his ass for real.

Caldwell said nothing for three long seconds. "There is Shep, but—"

"But what?" Rodney stopped, trying not to look interested.

"He requires a certain level of supervision." Caldwell rubbed his forehead.

Trying to look smug instead of slightly angry at the insult, Rodney leaned a little closer. "I'm very good at yelling at people. Have you noticed?"

"Actually, I have." Caldwell gave an easy shrug. "I'll get him. Don't expect much. The device renders men useless beyond very simple tasks, and he's a bit lazy on top of that."

Rodney felt his teeth grind, but he kept a careless look on his face. "If he can carry coffee, it'll be a help."

Caldwell gave a stiff nod and strode inside the locker room. Rodney found a convenient wall to lean against and wiped his brow. He wasn't worried about the lazy thing. If he'd been stuck on a ship with Caldwell, he'd have found a closet to hide inside. His biggest concern was that Shep would be naked. If he had to look at that tight ass in the labs, he'd never get anything done.

"You'll obey him, and no sneaking off to stare mindlessly at the sky." Caldwell's voice was very deep. "Understood?"

Shep had his head down, but thankfully, he was dressed - in a flightsuit that looked painted on his ass. He nodded, and Rodney swallowed hard. He'd get him some different clothes - baggy ones - soon.

"Send him to me every evening." Caldwell was entirely too serious.

Now that was ridiculous. "And how exactly am I going to get in and out of the shower? Change my bandages? Also, like Einstein, I only sleep four hours a night. Do you really want to be interrupted at two in the morning?"

Caldwell shifted to one hip and sighed annoyingly. "How long?"

"I have PT for two weeks." Rodney raised his chin. "It's not as if having a full-time shower attendant is even remotely useful to this base."

"You have a point, and I'm sure you've dreamed of having a personal assistant." Caldwell paused. "Shep, it's up to you. If you don't want to stay with him twenty-four seven, I won't order you."

Rodney ducked his head, peeking through his lashes and hoping for the best. Shep looked back and forth twice and moved to stand behind Rodney. "Well! That's clear enough. Thank you, Colonel. I appreciate your help."

"I want him back in one piece," Caldwell growled. He pivoted and marched away. Rodney breathed a sigh of relief, and he thought that Shep did too. Shep reached over Rodney's shoulders and took the tablet.

"Thanks." Rodney tried not to smile and failed. "We have to talk."

Shep pointed at his throat and made a slicing motion.

"Think outside the box - the voice box." Rodney started for the mess hall. "But I have to eat and coffee is necessary to my survival, and you're as scrawny as… some sort of scrawny thing." He always babbled when he was nervous, and he had to get organized so he could utilize Shep's talents to the fullest. Avoiding Colonel Caldwell would also take up a portion of every day, but after some coffee he'd be able to plan more clearly.


"Who is new friend?" Zelenka asked, pushing his glasses back and still managing to squint.

Rodney concentrated on not banging his leg into the table. When he was down, safe, wishing that Shep would touch him again, he found an answer. "Airman John Sheppard, meet Dr. Radek Zelenka."

Shep nodded and put the crutches on the floor. Zelenka raised his eyebrows. "Why are you not in the infirmary?"

"Because I was going crazy!" Rodney snatched the laptop and got it started. He nudged the chair next to him. "Please sit down."

"You are polite to him?" Zelenka asked noisily. "You must still be ill."

"Oh, shut up." Rodney found a blank page and typed. Hungry? He pushed the tablet at him and waited, fingers twitching. Shep stared at the word for so long that Rodney nearly tugged his hair in frustration. He was sure he'd seen intelligence in Shep's eyes. Caldwell had said the disc made him only fit for simple tasks, but that didn't match up with what Rodney had seen. He saw Zelenka's curiosity and practically held his breath.

Slowly, Shep pecked at the letters. I'll get yours.

Rodney pulled the tablet over and typed. It would've been easier to speak, but this way they could talk without people listening. Okay, but you have to eat too, and I'm deathly allergic to citrus, and I love blue jello, and bland food is always best, and you do know what citrus is, right?

Shep tilted his head, scooted that much closer, and answered, faster this time. I'm not stupid, just lazy.

Thank God. P.S. I don't believe that lazy thing either. The big question is: why aren't you stupid? Caldwell said you were!

Their eyes met, and Shep hesitated a long time. Things were fuzzy until I got here. It was like I woke up in the locker room.

Wow. Rodney's brain spun in three different directions, analyzing, theorizing, matching up Goa'uld technology versus Ancient, but his hunger was distracting. "Food, now? Please? Oh, and I love cream and sugar in my coffee. Don't worry about too much."

Pushing his chair back, Shep patted him on the shoulder and went to get in line.

"You are a very odd man," Zelenka said.

Rodney leaned as close to him as possible and lowered his voice. "He's going to be working with us, and you are going to scream like a little girl when you see what he can do."

Zelenka blinked several times. "He is military."

"You can't tell a soul. The lab is going into full lockdown on the topic of John Sheppard." He would have to gather his evidence and present it with a flourish to Weir. If news leaked, Caldwell might grab Shep and run. Rodney glared at the very thought. "He's our secret. Got it?"

"No, but you will explain again later." Zelenka scrubbed his hand through his hair. "The thing on his head?"

"Goa'uld. We need to do some research." Rodney knew enough to hate it. If it were possible to neutralize it with Ancient technology, he'd do it without asking permission and claim it was an accident.

Shep slid a tray in front of Rodney. Rodney smiled as he surveyed the contents. Perfect. He loved breakfast, best meal of the day. Then he frowned. "I was serious about you eating. You're bony. I can't work with people who show actual bones. It not only creeps me out, but I feel guilty for eating."

"You do not!"

"I do!" Rodney started to struggle up. "Get some food, or I'm getting it for you."

A strong hand pressed him down, leaned over his shoulder, and typed. There are rules about eating.

Dumb rules! Get food. Eat. I insist. Rodney answered quickly, not wanting to embarrass him by yelling the words.

I will try. If the pain comes, I'll stop. Shep left him again, and Rodney glared at his own food.

"What did he say?"

"There are actual rules from that stupid oval thing that govern his eating. It doesn't sound possible, but he's not an idiot." Rodney sipped his coffee. He needed the caffeine to think. "Are they trying to starve him?"

"Perhaps they have little interest in feeding slaves," Zelenka said softly. He picked up his tray, ready to leave. "I must warn people that you are on the way."

Rodney flipped his hand at him and started eating. He hadn't hacked Shep's file yet but not for lack of trying. He'd get it soon. Sam Carter was a genius, but she wasn't a Rodney McKay. Anyway, it'd been hard to think in the infirmary.

Shep placed a tray down next to him. Not all that much, a breakfast sandwich and a slice of fruit, but it was a start. He didn't touch it. Rodney grew impatient quickly, watching him not eat.

What are the damn rules!?

That dark head of scruffy hair got a good rub before Shep's fingers went to the tablet.

1. I must kneel.
2. I must be in the presence of my overlord.
3. I am not allowed one bite more than is necessary.

Rodney gestured wildly. "That's just wrong!" He tapped his earpiece firmly. "Colonel Caldwell, how exactly did you expect me to feed him?"

The silence was short. "Lower your voice, McKay." Caldwell was undoubtedly glaring at him long distance. "I hadn't thought of that. Are you in the mess hall?"

"Yes," Rodney snapped.

"I'll be there shortly." The radio clicked off.

"What a moron. Him, not you. Wait until we figure this out." He chugged his coffee. Idly, he erased the conversation on the tablet. "Was it better to be fuzzy?"

Shep bit his lower lip and looked directly away from him. An answer that wasn't one. Caldwell came striding into the mess hall and headed straight for them. He put his hands on his hips. "I should've known this wouldn't be easy."

Instead of snapping at him again, Rodney tried to sound reasonable. "He's really very skinny."

"I feed him," Caldwell growled and sat down across from him. "He doesn't always eat." He glared at them both, and Rodney saw Shep shrink back.

"I'm not familiar with this technology." Rodney frowned as if it bothered him. "Options?"

Caldwell didn't look happy. "Shep, go out on the balcony where you can still see him, kneel, and eat your food. All of it. Return here when you're finished."

Rodney watched him hurry away and tried very hard not to yell. "How many men wear those discs?" he snapped.

"It was decided that it was more cost efficient to put them to work than warehouse them. President Kinsey ordered the use of the technology, citing safety concerns." Caldwell's eyes narrowed. "No one asked my opinion about it." He unzipped the top of his flightsuit and stuck his hand inside. Rodney crossed his arms and waited. He'd always hated the military mindset, and this technology seemed a violation of any number of human rights. Caldwell took off a necklace and handed it to him. It was a dog tag chain with a fairly large silver disc hanging from it.

"Wear it. You're his overlord until I get him, and it, back. To punish him, merely press it firmly."

"You have lost your mind." Rodney spaced the words evenly. The chain dangled in his fingers.

Scrapping his chair back, Caldwell got to his feet. "To tell the truth, I'm looking forward to a couple of weeks off." He smiled in his smirky way. "I'll send the paperwork around later."

"Fine." Rodney wanted to throw the disc into the ocean. Barbaric didn't seem to cover it. The American military and their moronic president had gotten cocky since they'd defeated the Goa'uld. He scooped the medallion into his palm and studied it. There was no seam, no way to take it apart, but he'd confer with Zelenka on how best to find out exactly how it worked. "This is just wrong."

He looked to where Shep knelt, hating this for him. Shep shoved his mouth full, and their eyes met. Two seconds later, a mess of dark hair pressed into Rodney's thigh, and he nearly jumped through the ceiling. "No, no, no."

Shep didn't move. Rodney put the disc on the table, glaring at the people staring, and there was not enough coffee on this world to make this better


"Okay, everybody, listen up!" Rodney almost made the mistake of clapping and falling over. "This is Airman John Sheppard. He's mine, in the sense that he's not here to get you coffee!"

Miko looked confused, as did a number of other people. Rodney made sure to keep on his mean face. He could've tried to sneak Shep in the lab, but that would've raised more questions than introducing him. The trick would be to keep everyone quiet about his genetic abilities.

Zelenka rubbed his face. "I need vacation."

"Zelenka, find him a radio and some work space. He'll need a laptop and a tablet of his own." Now Rodney spoke softly and quickly. "Miko, do you have a spare coffee mug for him?"

"I will get Mr. Sheppard one," Miko said.

Now Rodney rubbed his forehead. "Call him…" He really hated the name 'Shep.' It reminded him of cheesy Lassie movies. Stepping closer to him, Rodney gave him the courtesy of asking, "John?"

Shep blinked, rubbed the back of his neck, and then slowly smiled as he nodded. Rodney wouldn't have minded staring at that smile all day, but his underarms were starting to ache. "John's his name. Use it."

Shep sighed loudly. Rodney didn't even want to know what that meant. He eyed his usual stool and knew it wasn't happening. He'd have to actually use his desk chair. His leg began to ache, but he wanted to check everyone's projects before he collapsed.

"This way, John," Zelenka said.

Shep - John? - gave him a confused look. Rodney didn't want to hear it. He nodded. "Get him that box marked crap. John, make a report on each piece. No complaints. Move it."

John - he really did look like a John - nodded and went with Zelenka. Rodney wanted to rub his hands together with glee. Caldwell didn't know it, but he was never getting John back. Never.


Hungry?

Rodney blinked several times and then passed the tablet back to John. "Starved. You?"

Yes, and you have PT in an hour. Also, Dr. Weir wants to see you, and you're due in the jumper bay.

"When did you become my secretary?" Rodney glared and then deflated. "Never mind. Okay, go grab some lunch that we can eat on the move, and I'll head to Weir's office." He followed the path of John's eyes to the silver disc on the table. Both he and Zelenka had been studying it. "I don't want it."

It could hurt me in the wrong hands. Thought I'd mention it.

"Was that sarcasm?" Rodney picked it up and put it over his neck quickly, as if doing it fast would make it less distasteful. "I hate those snake heads." He saw John's shrug. "Okay, food. Go. I'm cranky when I'm hungry."

"You're always cranky." Zelenka chuckled as John beat it out the door. Rodney got slowly to his feet and flexed his hands. This morning had gone very well. Zelenka steadied him. "He is remarkable."

"Didn't I tell you?" Rodney smiled in victory. "I'm serious about keeping it a secret. If the military finds out, they might take him from us."

Zelenka tilted his head and then nodded. "You are right. I will make sure everyone understands importance of zipped lips. We need him to sit in the chair."

"Not today. We'll have to get ready first." Rodney wanted him in that chair more than anything. "I hacked his file. He went to Stanford, majored in Math. Put some equations on his desk while we're gone. I want to see what he can do."

"Rodney, I'm still waiting," Weir said in Rodney's ear.

"I'm injured!" Rodney grabbed one last drink of coffee before swinging out the door. His armpits still ached, but his leg hurt worse. This time, he used the transporter and ignored the glare from Chuck before crossing the bridge. Weir looked up and smiled, and Rodney wondered if she liked seeing him incapacitated. "Did you forget I was on crutches?"

"No one on this base can forget." Weir laced her fingers together; her smile didn't dim. "Tell me about your new friend."

John picked that moment to hurry through the door. He put everything down and grabbed hold of Rodney right as he lost his balance. Rodney clutched him hard, trying to sit not fall. His leg pounded now, and he still didn't understand how a couple of holes could cause so much pain. He breathed hard until the dots stopped swimming in front of his eyes. John didn't turn him loose until Rodney managed a tight smile.

"Thanks, John," Rodney whispered. John went back to the food, and Weir's eyes were very round.

"I see now why you asked for help." Weir looked convinced. "Introduce us."

"Airman John Sheppard, meet Dr. Elizabeth Weir. She's the head of this base." Rodney was grateful for the sandwich and bag of chips. "John is helping me get through the day."

"And everyone is grateful for that." Weir was watching him closely. John gave her a shy smile, and Rodney saw her react. She liked him already. Well, she couldn't have him. Rodney had to believe that Caldwell had briefed her because she hadn't asked about the disc. Everyone had asked about it, except the people he'd glared at so fiercely that they'd broken off and run away.

"I hope Rodney doesn't wear you out, John."

Rodney didn't think that was possible. He took a bite of his sandwich, realized from the look on John's face that he was hungry but didn't want to kneel and thought fast. "John, would you mind going on ahead to the jumper bay and telling them I'm on the way?"

John looked hard at him and then nodded. He scooped up the rest of the food and hurried away. Rodney didn't watch him go. Eating was more important.

"Are you sure you want to do this? He's a convicted criminal." Weir frowned now, and that was more honest than her smile.

"Helping me is more important than standing in the locker room handing out towels, and anyway," Rodney swallowed before continuing, "I kinda like him. Not sure why."

"You don't like anyone."

"Exactly." Rodney nodded and ate some chips. He didn't want to spend all day talking about John when they had things to do, like lunch. "When's my team due back?"

"Three hours." Weir focused on her laptop now. "Light duty means light duty. Quit by five."

He didn't bother lying to her. Stuffing the last of his sandwich in his mouth, he checked the time. With a tap to his headset, he swallowed hard and mumbled, "John, you okay?"

Two quick snaps answered him. That was yes, but John would lie about that sort of thing. Rodney was determined that if nothing else John would gain some weight in these next two weeks, and to that end, Rodney needed to get moving.

"Rodney, he's a risk. Watch him."

"Elizabeth, you're wrong, but I'll let you see for yourself. Okay, jumpers first and then PT." He balanced on one leg, put his chip bag in his mouth, grabbed up his crutches, and left her to go to the jumpers. John was sitting in the corner, not far from Jumper Three, food near his boots, and Rodney wanted to sit next to him, maybe put his head in John's lap.

"I'm telling you that the ratio is right!" Kavanagh shouted from inside the jumper, and he was being a moron again; Rodney just knew it. Instead of facing that, he tossed his crutches away and slid down the wall to sit by John.

John gave him a sideways look. Rodney ate a chip and handed him one. "Nice day for a picnic."

Pushing his tablet close, John typed. That jumper is whispering to me.

Does it want your phone number or just casual sex? Rodney made a note to ask Lorne if he experienced the same thing. Rodney didn't, not at all.

Slapping his hand over his mouth, John tilted sideways. His head bent, and Rodney laughed softly as John tried not to spit up his food. John couldn't laugh aloud, but he was laughing.

I'm going to yell. Get ready. Rodney exerted himself. "Kavanagh! Bring me the ratio! Now!"

A small team of scientists descended on them, and Rodney ate the last of the chips while he scanned everything. "Kavanagh, you're still an idiot. These are wrong. Balance is necessary! Even desired!"

Simpson smirked. Rodney handed all the tablets back to their respective owners. "You guys break for lunch. John and I will fix this."

The bay cleared amazingly fast. Kavanagh lingered to pout, but he decided arguing with Simpson was more fun than being yelled at, and he left also.

I can go inside the jumper?

"Someone has to help me!" Rodney struggled, hoping John would take the hint and get him up. John did with a smile, and Rodney hopped towards the jumper. "Well, come on."

John's smile grew larger, and Rodney had to stare at him. Inside, Rodney collapsed on the bench seat and waved at the front. "Go have sex with it. Be careful not to fly anywhere."

Air was displaced as John surged for the pilot's chair, and Rodney hated that they'd taken the sky from him. It was silly, but he had a small inkling of how John felt. If they'd have taken the stars from Rodney, he'd have wanted to die.

"Old pilots never fade away, I guess." Rodney leaned back and shut his eyes. He'd fix the jumper in a minute. The silence was nice, and he dozed, cracking open his eyes once to see John, tablet plugged in, frowning down at it. Reassured, Rodney let his tired body rest.

"Rodney, are you on your way to PT?" Carson's voice was loud in Rodney's ear.

Rodney jerked awake, nearly falling off the bench. He slapped his radio. "Going there," he lied automatically.

"See that you do!" Carson clicked off.

John helped him up.

"Fixed?" Rodney asked with a wink. John bit his lip and looked away. Rodney hugged him tight and tried to breathe deeply. "It's okay. Seriously, did you get it?"

Grabbing up his tablet, John showed him. Rodney nodded several times. "Right. Yes. Have to watch that." He hobbled to the seat and called up the HUD. It was good work. Of course, half of it had been done already, but it was still good. John obviously had good math skills, coupled to an incredible affinity for Ancient tech. Rodney bit back a compliment because it wasn't his style. "Let's haul me to PT before Carson comes after me."

I did it? Really?

"Don't get a fat head. Zelenka will check it again before it's taken out." Rodney started hopping and took John with him. "Don't worry. The jumpers will be here later." He spared a nasty look for the crutches. One day and he already hated them. "Can you grab some water on the way? And a muffin? You know I don't like nuts, right?"

The tablet was pushed in front of him, but he didn't stop to read. "Yes, yes. I know it's quite a jump from towel boy, but you did it right. Don't worry so much. Oh, and get yourself a muffin and something to drink."

He'd have sworn that John rolled his eyes, but it couldn't be. John ducked away to go to the mess hall, and Rodney kept going to PT. The last thing he wanted was for Carson to come after him.


"You will not sit here and watch me rest." Rodney wiped some sweat from his forehead. He needed a shower, but first, he had to sleep. "Report to Zelenka. Please. I'll use the radio when I need some help."

John looked disbelieving. Rodney waved his arms at him. "I promise!"

The tablet was held up after a few seconds. You better.

"Geez." Rodney pulled the pillow up to throw it, but John beat it out the door. PT had been no fun at all, and tomorrow, he would find a way to skip it.


The shower felt wonderful, and it was easy to remember John's hands rubbing him from top to bottom. He'd known him less than a full day and already he wanted to lick him everywhere. It was pathetic. Typical, too. He never fell easy.

John would probably be appalled at the idea. Samantha Carter had been. That was also typical. Rodney gingerly soaped his leg after removing the bandages. It ached like all hell, and he wasn't sure he could even make it back to the lab. He'd call Carson and ask for a painkiller stronger than Tylenol.

Snapping off the water, he grabbed a towel and hopped his way to the bed. No way to get dressed without help, and he wanted to sit a minute. He picked up the radio headset he'd put by the bed and clicked it.

"Zelenka, how's John doing?"

There was a tiny pause. "He is smart. I do not understand. The device is intended to dull their minds."

Rodney made a note to change his passwords again. "He told me he woke up when he got here. For some reason, Atlantis is fighting the device."

"This is ridiculous." Zelenka said something in Czech. "His gene is strongest of anyone."

"I know," Rodney gloated. "Is he eating? He needs to eat."

"You are like nasty mother hen." It was possible to hear Zelenka's fingers on the keyboard. "It is creeping everyone out."

There was no reason to tell him that John Sheppard embodied everything that Rodney found attractive. "He was a pilot. They're always smart, in that stupid 'crash your plane' sort of way."

"So you are not staring at his ass?"

"Are you? You better not be, you Russian goat!"

"I am Czech, you brainless American!"

Rodney clicked off before he started laughing. He switched to the medical channel and begged for Darvocet.

Carson made a grumpy noise. "Everyone is gossiping about your John Sheppard."

"He's not mine." Rodney ignored the silver disc by the bed. "He works for me."

"I want to examine him." Carson sounded firm on that. "Nothing Goa'uld can be good."

Rodney agreed with that. "I'll bring him with me when I come tomorrow. Okay?"

"Good enough. I'll send some Tylenol with codeine." He clicked off. Rodney scrabbled to get under the covers without banging his leg and pulled them up high. Once there, he quickly grew bored, but he wasn't moving to get his tablet until his painkillers were delivered. Reaching as far as he could, he snagged the disc and gently began to examine it. The writing was similiar but not identical to the disc on John's forehead. He turned it around by the edges several times and made damn sure not to press it. He'd have to get John to tell him about the pain.

The Goa'uld had been pure evil, and he sincerely hoped Canada wasn't employing this device. Wishing the United States and President Kinsey had a few morals was a waste of time.

The door opened, and John slid to his knees in front of him. Rodney's mouth fell right open as John buried his face in an area not one centimeter from Rodney's crotch.

"Oh, God." Rodney tried to keep breathing, holding onto the sheet for dear life. "Um, John? Really? That's not a good place to be."

John snuck a look at him.

"Seriously? I'm very naked, and I'm not one of those people that likes being naked, and well, that combined with you touching me, isn't a good thing." He scooted as far away as possible without falling off the bed. John leaned back but continued to kneel. He pointed at the disc, and Rodney wasn't in the mood for twenty questions. "Tablet's over there."

There was a knock on the door at the same time, and John got it. The nurse glanced at them both and blushed. Rodney nearly pulled the covers over his head. He really didn't want an earful from Carson about this, especially when it was nothing.

"Anything else, Dr. McKay?"

"No. Go away," Rodney choked out, glad when the door finally slid shut. John brought him the pill, and Rodney swallowed it dry. There was no way he was getting up for water. Okay, that was an eyeroll. John brought him some water and made a sharp gesture. Rodney drank it all, thinking that he'd better.

Only then did John bring the tablet over and perch on the side of the bed. After a couple of pecks, the words appeared.

You took a shower without me?

Rodney nearly cringed, wondering how John managed to put guilt into so few written words. "Yes. I felt pretty good after I rested, and there're no steps, and, no, I wasn't going swimming, and stop frowning at me!"

John was ready for him. You could've fallen! You promised!

"Are you pouting? No, no, no! You don't get to take over my life!" Rodney flailed the disc at him but knew he'd lost when John smiled. One smile. That was all it took. Rodney groaned and cowered, afraid for his future.

You took over mine, and fair is fair. Clothes? Food? Work?

"In that order, and Carson wants to see you in the morning. You can go with me." Rodney wasn't imagining John's look of disgust. "Too bad!" He suddenly focused on the disc and John's dramatic entrance. "Did this stupid thing call you here?"

Pretty much. I knew you needed me. John stared at the disc, and there was a world of hurt inside those eyes, and Rodney almost had to look away. Rodney wasn't entirely sure that Atlantis had done John a favor by waking him up. Ignorance was bliss, or so they said.

"Do you, um, want to wear it?" Rodney had to ask. He hated the thing, and he'd only wear it if John let him. The tablet slipped from John's hands, and Rodney made sure to catch it. John got to his feet very fast, obviously avoiding the question, and began opening drawers until he found a pile of boxers. He shot Rodney an amused look - at the colors? - and came back to grab the covers.

"Hey!" Rodney so did not want to be naked in front of him - again. "Hand them over! I'll do it."

John narrowed his eyes. Rodney tried to hang on to the covers and failed miserably. Three minutes later, he was trying not to let any blood any where near his dick. It was so not his fault that John was handsome, and smart, and smirked. Rodney trembled, trying to hide it. He was tempted to shut his eyes and pretend this was all some great dream, and that was the wrong thing to think about in this situation. Diving under the covers wasn't an option, but he did try to scoot away. He shrugged helplessly at John's disgusted look that slowly turned into a pleased smile.

"Yes, yes, laugh at the injured man!" Rodney really tried to work up some indignation while desperately trying to hide his erection. Unfortunately, the disc was still in his fist, and he banged it into said delicate part. "Ow!"

Pale didn't begin to describe it. John thumped to his knees; his face ashen. Rodney ramped on up to panic and nearly threw the disc out the window. Instead, he gingerly extended it.

"Take it. Wear it. It's not the sort of thing anyone could be trusted with. Please." Rodney hoped he didn't sound as awful as he felt.

After an intensely long moment, John cupped it gently in his hands. For an instant he stared in wonderment, and then his back arched. Rodney watched in horror as John tried to scream and smacked back against the wall. The disc hit the floor hard between them, and Rodney felt as if he'd been punched in the guts. He slithered off the bed, looped the disc around his neck, and felt for John's pulse. It was thready, weak.

"Medical emergency, my quarters!" Rodney yelled at Carson. "Hurry!"

"What the bloody hell?"

"It's John! He's collapsed. Hurry!"

"Aye!"

Rodney tried to figure out if John was breathing without much success. "Oh, crap. I killed him. I should've done more research." He picked John up by the shoulders and clutched him. "Sorry that I'm an idiot," he whispered.


"Rodney, lower your voice." Carson took him by the arm. "John's fine. There was some sort of electrical shock to his heart, a feedback loop between the discs is my best guess, but he's recovered nicely."

"I nearly killed him," Rodney growled. "I didn't know!"

"We all know. John knows." Carson sighed and pulled him farther away, which wasn't easy with the crutches. "Or I think he does from the rolled eyes and heavy sighs. I did a complete body scan. He's in good health - a mite thin - but there are no ill effects from the device."

"He can't talk!" Rodney hissed. "That! Is an ill effect!"

Carson rubbed his forehead. "The brain scan shows several parts of his brain are affected. His speech center, for one, and others, but if what you say is true, he's more cognitive now than he was before he got to Atlantis."

"Does Caldwell know about this?" Rodney whispered now. "Tell me you have some sense of discretion. If he finds out—"

"Rodney!" Carson winced. "Now you got me yelling. Caldwell hasn't been in, and there's nothing to tell if he does. John can leave with you. Make sure the discs stay far apart and feed him more."

Rodney bit back his next sarcastic remark because Carson was eyeing Rodney's leg. "I'm trying, and no kidding! I may throw the damn thing in the ocean!"

"I wouldn't. The technology is a complete unknown. John might drown." Carson looked utterly serious, and Rodney tried not to look like a fish out of water. "Oh, and I want him back tomorrow for another brain scan. I want to see if there are any changes."

"Remind me." Rodney tried to hit him with a crutch, failed, and made a beeline for John.

John had his tablet up and ready. The words were big, bold, and in red. I can hear, ya know!

Snatching it up, Rodney typed an answer. I'm aware of that! Are you feeling okay? Like, not dying? And this red is very annoying.

I'm fine.

"Okay, lad, you're free to go." Carson smiled. "I appreciate you helping Rodney get around. Everyone does."

"Occasionally, I get the feeling no one likes me." Rodney leaned into his crutches. "In other news, you need some more clothes."

"Lorne's team is on their way in," one of Carson's pretty nurses said.

Carson hurried away, and John put on his boots quickly. He was picking up his flight suit, tablet and pointing with his chin at the door before Rodney could even turn on his crutches.

"Yes, yes. Let's get out of here." Rodney tried to hurry, but they were only halfway down the hallway when Lorne and his team came around the corner. Teyla was all smiles, and Rodney took that as good news. He squeezed over to let them pass, and John did the same.

"Go ahead. I'll be there after I have a word with McKay." Lorne had a habit of smiling, but he clearly wasn't happy right now.

Rodney shuffled a half-step in front of John and didn't question why. "Mission go okay?"

"It was fine. Tava beans for everyone." Lorne's eyes were sharp. "Shep is assigned to you for now?"

"Yes." Rodney raised his chin. "I need some help with these crutches and whatnot, and he was available."

If anything, Lorne looked more upset. "I've known Shep since my days at the SGC, and some people have taken advantage of him, and I will not tolerate that under my watch! Are we clear?"

"Uh, yes? No?" Rodney was trying to keep up, but he'd taken pain medication, and John had nearly died, and he was a bit woozy. He glanced at John to see him looking studiously, blankly, at the floor. Rodney decided quickly not to tell Lorne that John had spent part of his day fixing the jumper. "He got me coffee! That's all!"

Lorne put his fists on his hips. "For your continued good health, that's all he better be doing," he growled.

Instead of stammering a protest, Rodney changed the subject. "Can you get him some clothes? Real clothes? And does he have quarters?"

After a long thirty seconds, Lorne backed off. "I'll tell inventory to expect him, and no, he has to sleep near you. It's one of the rules. Get a cot for him, and if I see any signs of abuse, you're off my team. Hell, I may push you off the pier."

Indignation swept over him, but protestations weren't coming out. Maybe his blood pressure had gotten too high. It was John who intervened. He stepped closer, put his arm around Rodney's waist, and hooked his chin over Rodney's shoulder. Lorne's eyes flew wide.

"You like him?" Lorne clearly wasn't asking Rodney that. "Seriously?"

Rodney had to look, and he couldn't believe it either. John was so very close, practically molded into him, and Rodney hoped he didn't fall down from it. "I'm as surprised as you are."

"I doubt that." Lorne rubbed his hand through his hair and smiled. "Sorry, Doc. It's just that there were some of us who didn't agree with the sentence handed down to Shep, and we decided to look after him. We haven't always been successful at it."

"You didn't agree?" Rodney asked, fearing his voice was faint.

Lorne took a long look down the hallway and eased closer. "It was a rescue mission gone wrong. Men died. Shep lived to take the blame, and no matter what the rumors say, it wasn't murder. Get it?" he whispered.

"I have no idea, but I'll figure it out." Rodney had to bite his lip to keep from whimpering. John had to stop touching him, or he was going to crash to the floor.

"Rodney, John, get back to your quarters and rest, and Lorne, get your sorry carcass in here!" Carson snapped from the doorway.

"Coming." Lorne slapped Shep on the shoulder and got moving. Rodney nearly collapsed when John stepped away from him. John caught him under the elbows and steadied him.

"Thanks," Rodney muttered. He had to catch his breath. "Tablet?"

John blinked but produced it. Rodney deleted their previous argument and wrote a note for the guys in inventory. They'd give John the needed items. He handed it back to him. "Take that list to inventory and meet me in my quarters, okay? I can't make it to both places."

After glancing at the tablet, John nodded. He raised one eyebrow.

"I'm tired is all. I'll go slow." Rodney hoped that was the right answer. "Get moved in so you can rest. Long day and all." He started for his quarters and kept his head down, concentrating on getting there in one piece and not tripping John so he could fall on him. John didn't linger to give him kisses either, and Rodney tried to force the image from his mind as he crutched painfully along.

The sight of his bed made him giddy with relief, and he hated that he was breathing heavily as he sank down. The crutches clattered to the floor, and he stretched out, unwilling to struggle out of his sweats. Toeing off his shoes was also not possible. He sighed, moaned, groaned, and shut his eyes. His stomach rumbled, and for once in his life, he was too tired to do anything about it.


"Oh, God, is that coffee? Do I have to pay you for it?" Rodney was wide awake instantly, like usual, and there were more than a few details that were all wrong. Coffee, food, and John staring at him from a cross-legged position on a nondescript cot tucked into the corner. "What? I'm awake!"

Are you always this loud when you wake up?

"Yes!" Rodney lunged for the coffee. "Ow! Ow! Ow!" He fought through the pain for the caffeine, pausing one second to make sure it wasn't piping hot and then slurping. Swallowing, he assessed his situation again.

"Did you undress me?" He was afraid he'd screeched from the wince that John made. "Never mind. Don't do it again!" He instantly regretted his tone as John turned pale and nodded almost frantically. Rodney gulped some more coffee and tried again. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Just, I'm not…" He waved his free hand at John's beautiful body, unfortunately dressed. "Like you, and I'm shy, and please?"

John rubbed his face and typed. Sorry, but you didn't look comfortable, and we should change your bandage.

Drinking the rest of the coffee was Rodney's answer to that. When he was finished, he could think more clearly. "Okay, I need a shower. No, you may not help. I am embarrassed enough for the week."

I should help. John got to his feet and padded into the bathroom, and Rodney had the feeling that he'd lost that argument. He never lost arguments. Never. The tray of food totally distracted him from yelling after John. It was very clear that John didn't play fair. He was, however, a tidy sort of guy, and he'd fit himself into Rodney's relatively small room without making a mess.

A strong hand took the empty tray away, and Rodney looked up into a very stubborn face. "You didn't eat?"

With a nod, John pointed at another empty tray on his cot. He tossed a towel on Rodney's lap and hooked his thumb at the bathroom. Rodney clutched it, wanting a bathrobe. Now John used his pointy finger on Rodney's leg, glaring while he did it.

"It'll hurt!" Rodney protested. He tried to get out of bed and would've fallen if John hadn't caught him. "Crap!"

John held him close, and it made Rodney's heart beat so hard he thought it might jump out of his chest. Slowly, very slowly, they made their way to the bathroom, and Rodney cursed the entire time. When John knelt and started removing the bandage, Rodney braced his hands against the walls and bellowed about it, letting the towel hit the floor.

"Is that blood and pus, and oh, God, it hurts!" Rodney leaned his forehead onto his arm and tried not to pant like a crazy dog. "No more touching!"

Jerking his hands away, John got up quickly. He ducked his head, and Rodney forced himself to turn loose of the wall and touch him gently on the shoulder. "I'm sorry. It hurts so bad I don't know what I'm saying."

After a quick nod, John helped him into the shower. Rodney blushed while trying not to scream at him. Standing seemed impossible, and his muscles - all of them - trembled. He'd been so sure he was going to be fine, but now he wanted to head back to the infirmary.

Reaching for the soap, he felt sweat break out on his forehead. He would not fall down, but he couldn't do anything but let the water slide over his body.

"Slow down, John! I'm here already!" Carson's yelling made Rodney flinch, and that hurt too.

Rodney managed to cover his manly bits. "Can this day get any crappier?"

Carson stared at him for a long moment. "You look like bloody hell. You must've pushed too hard yesterday. John, help me get him clean and out, and then we'll deal with the mess."

Slapping at them took far more energy than he had, and he suffered through it, consoling himself with plans for revenge. It took both of them to get him back to the bed, and Carson nagged him the entire time.

"Okay, John, stay with him. I'll go get what I need." Carson hurried from the room, and Rodney really tried to find a frown for John, who had ducked his head again.

"Can I have boxers?" Rodney tried not to plead but failed. "And a shirt? And some warm socks?"

John brushed his fingers through Rodney's hair several times. Rodney caught him by the hand, holding on tightly. They stared into each other's eyes until John shrugged in an odd way and left him. He came back with boxers, a shirt, and socks. Rodney tried to snatch them, but John helped him anyway. It was mortifying. When it was over, he lay still, trying very hard not to curse. He hated feeling helpless. He hated people seeing his naked body. He hated pain.

Fingers carded through his hair again, and he opened his eyes. John stilled his hand, sliding away, and Rodney managed a deep breath. "Could you get me some more coffee?"

Grabbing up the tablet, John typed. Carson told me to stay. I sorta have to, unless you command me while holding the disc.

"Oh." Rodney wiped sweat from his forehead. He said nothing else until Carson rang the doorbell and John let him inside. "Carson, don't give John commands. Not ever!"

Carson's eyes flew wide. "What? I did no such thing!"

"You told him to stay, like a damn dog!" Rodney let his rage out. "Don't! Ever!"

John was white as a sheet, and that was the only reason Rodney bit off the rest of his tirade. Carson sat down on the edge of the bed. "I won't. My mistake. I didn't know." He spoke softly. "My apologies, John."

Rodney wanted to complain some more, but John turned and left the room. "I yelled at him."

"Everyone knows you're a bit of an arse. John does too." Carson fussed over Rodney's temperature, blood pressure, and pulse. "Stay in bed today except for bathroom breaks." He handed Rodney a pill. "Take that, and I'll leave a bottle. Take one every morning for the next three days. It'll help with the pain from the leg stiffening up at night."

"I was better!" He dry swallowed the pill, hoping it worked fast.

"And then you overdid it, setting yourself back a pace or two." Carson raised his hands. "I'm going to examine your leg. Yell as much as you need to. I don't mind."

"No!" Rodney put up his hands to ward him off. "Let the pill kick in. Give me a break!"

The door opened, and it was John. He handed Rodney another cup of coffee, somehow managing to get Carson out of the way. Rodney wanted to kiss him.

"Thanks." Rodney cradled the coffee and tried to make John look at him. John wasn't having any of that. He was unavailable, and Rodney was pretty sure it was all his fault. Rodney caught Carson by the hand. "Carson, fix me. I have to work."

Carson sighed and sat down next to Rodney's sore leg. "It'll take time. Can you go easy on it?"

"Probably not," Rodney grumbled, but the pain had started to ease away. "Go ahead and hurt me."

"I'll be gentle," Carson said softly. Rodney put the coffee down so he didn't spill it, wrapped his hands into the sheets, and tried not to embarrass himself. When he was weak from pain, ears practically ringing, he heard Carson say, "John, if you won't help him, I'll have to take him back to the infirmary. He doesn't have the strength in it now to get around on his own.Your decision."

There was no reply to listen for, and Rodney didn't have the energy to sit up and demand answers from either of them.

"If you're sure." Carson didn't sound sure. "I'll explain the medication I'm leaving. Any problems, and I expect you'll come get me again."

Rodney was sure he heard John nod. It was the hair, flopping. "John, you didn't sign on for this. Save yourself. I'm a total asshole when I'm hurt."

"He's right about that!" Carson didn't laugh to take the edge off. "It might be easier for me to take him."

The silence was deep and wide, and Rodney just wanted his coffee. He cracked open an eye, reached, and missed completely. John sat down on the edge of the bed next to him and handed it over. It was hard to sip, and after a distinct sigh, John helped him sit up a little.

"Thanks."

John rubbed his face, and Rodney wanted to touch him but wouldn't.

Carson plunked John's tablet down in his lap. "Here you go with the instructions, and God bless."

"Sorry?" Rodney went with that, but only after Carson's butt had cleared the doorway. "I nearly killed you with the whole disc thing, and I yelled at you, and I'm sorry." It looked as if John was studying the tablet, but his eyes flicked over, and Rodney took that as a good sign. "I could tell Caldwell—"

A slender finger pressed into his lips, and Rodney swallowed hard. He decided to focus on his coffee and then a nap. It would give John a chance to change his mind. What he didn't expect was John practically tucking him in, and complaining about it after all that yelling wasn't possible.

When he woke up, he was alone, and that was nothing new, but he wanted to know where John was, and chasing after him wasn't possible. He could tell by the sun that it was close to lunch, but he wouldn't be hobbling to the mess hall today. Carefully, biting his lip, he flexed his leg and nearly passed out. Telling himself that it wasn't all that bad wasn't going to work. Work. Crap. He forced his leg to let him sit up, scanning the room for his radio. It could be under the bed for all he knew, but his laptop wasn't that far, resting on his desk. He could hop.

Throwing aside the covers, he stopped when the door slid open. Technically, John shouldn't be able to do that, but Atlantis was his friend. John had two things with him: food and a nasty frown. He set the tray down and pointed at the bed.

"No!"

John crossed his arms.

"I want my laptop!" Rodney abruptly realized that he sounded like a brat. He wanted the food too. "Is that a muffin?"

There was hurried typing. You're staying in bed unless you have to piss. No arguments, or I throw the muffin out the window.

"What?" Rodney yelped as John pulled the covers back over him. "Wait! Is it too late to get a real nurse?"

Yes.

"Give me the muffin and my laptop, and I won't make a break for it." Rodney lifted his chin, determined to get his way.

Is that an order? John looked unsure.

That was all it took for Rodney to feel like a total asshole. He adjusted his pillow so he could lean back against the wall and took a steadying breath. His leg hurt. "No. Those are only suggestions. Always suggestions. Never orders."

John flashed the same question and a tentative smile.

"Yes, yes, the muffin?" Rodney reached, satisfied when it landed in his hand. "Now, that might not hold true if we're in the lab and you're getting ready to touch something that will explode. If I scream out an order then, I expect you to obey, just like everyone else in the lab who likes living."

He noticed that John wasn't listening. John fussed about the food, put the laptop within reach, and smoothed the blankets. He tapped the bottle of water in what was not a subtle hint, and there was no coffee. When he knelt by the side of the bed, Rodney thought his entire blood supply dropped into his lap. Groaning, Rodney handed him the plate.

"God, I hate guilt as a motivator."

John's eyes went very wide. He tapped on his tablet. Rodney refused to complain again, instead he ate his muffin and drank his water. In between bites, he opened up his laptop, trying for casual, not desperate.

"Would you mind grabbing my radio for me?" Rodney was careful not to look at him directly. "It might be under the bed for all I know."

The hand that gave it to him after a short pause trembled slightly, and Rodney was afraid to know why. "Thanks," he croaked, desire making his throat tight. He jammed it in his ear and started his day, better late than never. "If I'm going to be in bed all day, we're not going to get anything done!"

I'm going for more food. John put the tablet right in front of Rodney's eyes.

"Whatever. Swing by the lab and see if Zelenka needs help with anything." Rodney waved his hand, trying for nonchalant. When the door shut, he practically collapsed, curling his hand around his very hard dick. He wasn't sure he'd ever wanted anything like he wanted John.

"Rodney, are you awake?" Zelenka's voice piped up in Rodney's ear.

Rodney touched his hurt leg to make his erection go away and sat up. "Tell me again why you aren't on Lorne's team?" He might've yelled, pain making it hard to know for sure.

"Because you like it." Zelenka paused. "Are you monopolizing John Sheppard today, or can I have him?"

"I sent him your way," Rodney growled, angry again. "Listen to me; he can't disobey orders, even random comments that sound firm. Watch what you say, or I swear I'll hobble down there and brain you with my crutch!"

"Um, you guys know you're on an open channel, right?" Lorne's voice cut into the conversation. "I thought Shep was giving McKay a hand?"

Panic pushed aside everything else. "He is! I just thought since I was in bed, he could be an extra set of hands for Zelenka for a couple of hours! It's no big deal!" Rodney practically panted from fear. He was so stupid.

"Oo-kay," Lorne drawled. "Geeks are weird. Switch to your own channel."

Rodney switched immediately. "Radek, I'm going to murder you!"

There was no answer. Rodney nearly threw the radio across the room. If Lorne figured out that John could think, Caldwell would know within seconds. Rodney spoke clearly. "Radek, make sure John has a headset tuned to this channel. I know you can hear me."

"Will do so," Zelenka said. "Get rested."

"Get to work." Rodney clicked off. He sipped some water, trying to wash away the fear that Caldwell would take John. This was another one of those times that life was completely unfair, and Rodney was going to have to make it right. Atlantis would be so much less without John.


Going to the bathroom was hell. He couldn't get there without help, and once there, he couldn't piss if John was close. Not to mention the pain was excruciating just to stand and hobble. He told himself every hour that he was practically well, but it was wearing thin.

With a terrible groan, he settled back onto the bed. John's hands smoothed across Rodney's shoulders, and the door bell chimed. Rodney went ahead and yelled, "Come in!" There was no way he was getting up again until his eyeballs were yellow. Before he even saw who it was, John folded down into the kneeling position, twitching the covers over Rodney's legs.

"How are you feeling, Dr. McKay?"

Rodney blinked up at Colonel Caldwell. "Hurts," he ground out. "A lot."

"I can see that." Caldwell didn't leave. "How is Shep working out?"

John's eyes were stony, dark, and Rodney wasn't sure it was a good thing that he noticed. "John and I get along well enough." That was all he could say without cursing, and Caldwell never reacted well to rants and screaming.

"I happen to hear that Shep was giving Zelenka a hand today." Caldwell stepped closer. "If I may give you a suggestion, don't confuse him with too many tasks. He'll end up staring at the sky, trying to remember his last order."

Anger boiled right on the tip of Rodney's tongue, and after a day of nothing but shame and agony, he ached to unleash it. "Tell me, Colonel Slavedriver, how exactly did you end up with custody of John?"

Caldwell narrowed his eyes. "He was assigned to my ship, and as the ranking officer, he's my responsibility. You do understand about responsibilities, don't you, Dr. McKay?"

"I understand that what's been done to him with Goa'uld technology is a travesty, an insult, and Stargate Command should be ashamed!" Rodney waved his hand towards the door. "But don't let a little thing like morality get in the way of orders. Thank you for your help. I'll make sure John's brain isn't overloaded with commands."

"If Dr. Beckett hadn't personally thanked me for Shep's assistance, he would be returning to the locker room." Caldwell tilted his head, eyebrows up. "Watch your step."

"Whatever." Rodney wasn't intimidated. Picking up his tablet, he started a blistering email to Zelenka, concerning confidentiality and the need for it. The instant the door shut, John thumped his forehead on the bed and put his hands over his ears. Rodney didn't bother with guilt this time. He'd done nothing but tell the truth. The urge to lay his hand on John's head and stroke that crazy hair was stronger than a ZPM, but he resisted by clutching the tablet tightly. "Are you angry at me?"

John raised his head slowly and circled one ear with his finger. The implication was clear. Rodney smacked him on the back of his head. "I am not crazy!"

Later, after dinner, settled in front of a movie with planes that John had picked out, Rodney realized he was crazy. Nuts. Insane. Certifiable. He was crazy for John.


"Good to see you up and around, Rodney," Weir said, coming up behind him.

He didn't slow down. There were people in the lab to yell at, and it'd taken him half the morning to get going. "Thanks. Working. We'll talk later."

She laughed and paced him. "Don't work too hard today. I want you in your quarters by dinner."

Lying wasn't something he was good at, but he nodded, glancing over at John. John had his head down. He did that far too much, and it made Rodney grind his teeth. "John wants to watch Top Gun tonight, so we'll head to my quarters early."

"He's staying with you?" Weir sounded freaked out.

Now Rodney stopped to address the issue. "He can't sleep unless he's close. The disc." He pointed to his own head. "Did you agree with the civilized solution that your military imposed on him?"

Her mouth sagged. "No!"

"Good." He went back to stomping along, noticing that she didn't follow this time. John held out his tablet.

You're a mean, mean man.

"You knew that." Rodney stopped again, snatched his coffee, and took a drink. "I'm going to need an IV of that today."

John rolled his eyes and shook his head. Another flurry of typing— Are we really watching Top Gun?

"I'm mean, remember?" Rodney laughed, handed the coffee back, and continued toward the lab. He totally ignored John's pouty lips.

Zelenka gave them both a very long look when they cleared the door, and Rodney went straight to the nearest sofa. Sitting down was painful, to say the least, but he made it. When he was finally able to look up, John was right there.

"I'm okay," Rodney whispered. He watched his hand shake as he took the coffee. John hovered, getting two laptops, a few powerbars, and finally a pillow until Rodney favored him with a terrible glare - the one he reserved for true morons.

I'll be at my desk.

Rodney waved his hand that way and didn't look at him again. He even managed to ignore the messenger window blinking at him for all of an hour.

Lunch?

Rodney hesitated. He wasn't up to crutching that far, but he hated to admit it.

I'll get it and bring it here.

Fingers poised to answer, he wasn't sure what to say.

Rodney, do you need CPR?

Not funny. Rodney put his laptop aside. "Everybody! Go to lunch! Now!"

The lab cleared in record time. Zelenka led the charge, and Rodney hated that he was glad for the quiet. John wandered over, looking everywhere but at him.

"Some food would be okay." Rodney twisted his hands. "I hate this."

John sat down, close enough to touch. It's hard to be hurt. After Afghanistan, it would've been easier to die than get well.

"I bet after they put that disc on your forehead, you wished you had died," Rodney said softly, seeing the truth in John's eyes. "I'm going to fix it. Don't ask me how, but damn it, I am."

Shaking his head, John got to his feet. He was out the door in a flash. Rodney let his head sink back, staring up at the ceiling. He didn't blame John for not believing, but it was the truth. Somehow, some way, Rodney was going to make it better.


Of course they watched Top Gun. Rodney wasn't sure why, but he dutifully read John's running commentary on the movie, even once or twice asking a question that led to John furiously typing for long moments.

"They're not even in space," Rodney grumbled about halfway through the movie. He'd had enough, but he didn't have the heart to yell about it. It worried him. Sinking lower, he shut his eyes. Some sleep would be fine.

John touched him on the shoulder, and he woke up with a groan. "What?" He tried to focus his eyes on the pill that John held out. Taking it quickly, Rodney tried not to move his leg. Pain kept him from going right back to sleep, and he listened to John move around the room. When silence fell, he ventured a look. John was at the window, staring up at the sky. Even in the very dim light, it was easy to see that he wasn't happy. Rodney wished that he was good at comforting people, but he wasn't, and he shut his eyes to give John some privacy.


"No, no, no, no, no!" Rodney brandished a crutch at the object of his ire. "You've added instead of subtracting! Unless you meant to double the output and overload it! What's another huge explosion in our daily lives?"

Shut up, you jackass! John's evil eyes almost matched Rodney's. The system can handle it!

"No, it can't!" Rodney turned to Zelenka for support only to discover an empty stool. "Run away, you coward!"

I'm hungry.

"Me too." Rodney threw the marker at him, knowing he'd catch it. "Fine. Do it your way, but don't come crying to me when you're on fire!"

I'll make a note.

"You are so not funny." Rodney didn't wait. He had a crutch disadvantage, and John had two very strong legs. "Seriously? A few days does not make you an expert on these systems. I don't care what Atlantis is whispering in your ears."

John didn't shove the tablet in front of Rodney's face with a rebuttal, so Rodney took that as a victory. He was starting to get around faster, relatively speaking, and he kept up with John's strides, but they both stopped dead in their tracks when they rounded the corner and Caldwell was right there.

"Colonel," Rodney said politely, hoping he pulled it off. He didn't want to have another argument, especially in the hallway.

"Dr. McKay." Caldwell's eyes flicked up and down. "I can assume everything is going well between you and Shep?"

"Good. Good." Rodney prayed he didn't start to sweat. "He's a very, um, well, useful sort of individual." He tried to meet Caldwell's eyes firmly. "Everyone likes him."

"He looks good. I think he got tired of a steady stream of MRE's aboard the Daedalus."

Rodney nearly snorted. Maybe it never occurred to Caldwell that John didn't like eating on his knees. "Nothing like fresh food." He shuffled his feet. "We're getting lunch. You?"

"Meeting with Colonel Lorne." Caldwell didn't look in a hurry to get to it. "I want a report by the end of the week."

"Get over it." Rodney started for the mess hall again. "I have better things to do than detail how many times he brings me coffee!" He shot a glare over his shoulder and didn't slow down. John was right behind, eyes down, looking stupid.

Caldwell had his fists on his hips now. "He's still a member of my crew."

"Give him, and me, a break." Rodney managed a wave, leaving him behind. Caldwell was a problem, but Rodney had known that from the beginning. Getting Weir on his side was critical. The question was how much to tell her about John's abilities, intellect, and instinctive ability to manipulate Atlantis. With John, everything was easier. Rodney almost flushed at the errant thought - everything but sleeping was easier. Having John so close was like torture - wonderful torture.

Six full days of projects, jumpers, fixing things together, a thousand hastily typed messages, movies that Rodney hated, tentative smiles, and long lunches in the sunshine: it had made it very hard to yell appropriately at the morons. The nights were the worst - best - and Rodney was very glad that he was accustomed to never sleeping because with John in the same room, sleep was difficult.

All that breathing.

Rodney made sure the hallway was clear, gesturing with his head for John to follow him into a small alcove that was hidden from plain sight. They needed to have a private conversation. Rodney eased down, and John joined him instantly.

Do you like Caldwell?

>Well, he's strict, but fair.

The first time, in the shower, you seemed scared.

John shook his head. Worried about you.

Do you want to go back with him? Rodney felt a tennis ball lodge in his throat as he waited for John to type the answer.

I'd like to stay here. Not sure that fulfills the terms of my punishment. I should probably go with him, back to the Daedalus.

Stabbing at the tablet, Rodney answered him. You are needed here. You might be the one who saves us from the Wraith! And you've been punished enough. For God's sake, people took advantage of you!

I can't disobey anyone. John pressed his palm into his disc. I didn't care.

Well, I do! Rodney wanted to hold him tight, chase away the despair that was easy to see and difficult to bear. He put his arm around him, trying to comfort him. John lifted his face, and they were kissing. Kissing. Rodney couldn't feel his feet because all the blood rushed to his groin. The crutches hit the floor hard, and it shocked Rodney out of his lips and back into his brain.

"John."

After rubbing his hand across his mouth, John used the tablet. I'm sorry.

No, no! Rodney typed frantically. You can't say no! It's my fault! I'm probably brainwashing you by having lustful thoughts night after night, and you've been turned into some kind of

John caught Rodney's hands and raised his eyebrow. He mouthed the word 'lust' and smirked. He smirked! Rodney groaned and put his face in his hands, wanting to slide through the floor. John didn't turn Rodney's hands loose and kissed him gently on the forehead. Rodney gave in and hugged him into another kiss.

"Um, Doc?"

"Lorne, unless this city is sinking, please walk away." Rodney put his forehead on John's shoulder; his lips still tingling and aching for more. "And don't you have a meeting?"

"Skipped it." Lorne sighed heavily. "You're going to make my life hell, aren't you? Caldwell is going to want him back. You're going to cry, and I'm going to feel guilty. Shep, please, don't fall for this egotistical, stubborn, fat-headed scientist! Please!"

Rodney snapped up straight in irritation. John pointed the tablet at Lorne.

Too late, and you forgot about the grouchy part.

Lorne stared, and Rodney nearly panicked. This was bad. "Lorne—"

"Wait! He can, talk, um, write?" Lorne looked very suspicious. "I thought the disc—"

"Yes, yes." Rodney flashed to his feet and nearly fell over. Pain shot through his leg, but he ignored it after a short gasp. "John has the gene. The Ancient technology, that is Atlantis, made him smart again. I suspected it in the locker room, and he's been helping us, and by us I mean Zelenka, in the labs."

You need help. Your basic math skills suck.

"Oh, shut up." Rodney clutched at Lorne's sleeve. "Please, help me keep him here. We need him. Atlantis needs him."

"You need him," Lorne said slowly. "He's the reason that you've almost been polite to people lately."

"I have not!" Rodney wasn't going to stand for that insult. "Lorne, I've busted my ass for you, and I've never asked for even one thing. Please, don't send him back to the Daedalus. Back to misery."

That's a bit dramatic. Once I go back, I'll barely remember how great Atlantis is, and how much I like… Zelenka. John met Rodney's eyes and smiled. Rodney returned it, but he was getting some payback for that later.

"Shep, I have to tell him. In fact, you should tell him. Plead your case. He's not unreasonable. He might transfer you to my command within the hour." Lorne frowned. "Not sure about being in the labs full time. You're still Air Force."

Rodney almost held his breath. He thought those were terrible ideas, but John might disagree - the idiot.

My friends - they're still dead - if he says no, I won't argue. John looked at Rodney and shrugged. He mouthed the word 'sorry.' Rodney wanted to hurt people, and if he had anything to say about it, John was staying.

"Food now." Rodney let John help him with the stupid crutches.

Lorne tugged John aside and whispered in his ear, and Rodney gave them privacy by leaving. He'd give John an earful in a minute. The best thing to do was try to get John assigned to the labs as a lackey, or even discharged, though that was unlikely. It was definitely time to re-read John's file. Rodney stopped in the doorway, and John hurried to Rodney's side two seconds later, flashing the tablet.

I'll get it. You go sit down.

"I'll be on the balcony," Rodney grumbled. He was about ready to throw the crutches in the ocean. His leg was better. Yes, it still hurt, but he was capable of walking. Carson was being ridiculous, and John was buying into it. Tossing the crutches aside once he got to the balcony, Rodney limped to the far corner, slid down the wall, and leaned back. The sun was high in the sky, the breeze was perfect. Typical day in Atlantis, and he wasn't in the mood.

John did two things. He glared at Rodney after seeing the discarded crutches and rolled his eyes. Rodney pretended not to notice and stared out at the ocean. It was very blue, almost peaceful. John put a tray across Rodney's lap and tapped it.

"Sit with me?" Rodney always asked. John's lopsided smile was his reward. He picked at his food until John settled in next to him - shoulder to shoulder. They'd discovered the first day that as long as John was sitting on the floor, and they were close, the disc would leave them alone. He didn't have to kneel. It had been a profound relief for both of them.

"Don't tell him. Not yet," Rodney whispered, never sure if someone was close. "We need more data."

The quick shrug didn't reassure him. The tablet was off to John's side, and he didn't seem to want to put down his sandwich long enough to type. Rodney needed to convince him to fight to stay and wasn't sure how. The city needed John. Rodney needed John, and it shouldn't be possible to care so much in so little time, but here they were.

Carson and Weir stepped out on the balcony, and Rodney froze. He didn't want to be interrupted. This was his time with John.

"You're sure he hasn't told you anything?" Weir didn't even glance in their direction, unaware of their presence.

"No." Carson shook his head. "They do seem quite attached."

Rodney almost groaned, and John had stopped chewing.

"I'm sure this Sheppard is safe, but let's face it, he's a prisoner, and I don't want Atlantis in this position." Weir sighed. "Caldwell is oblivious to the ramifications. I will not have Atlantis turned into Alcatraz."

John met Rodney's eyes, and Rodney wanted to jump up and slap them into tomorrow for not having the sense to check the corners before they started gossiping.

"Rodney needs help, and from what I hear, John has yet to throw something at him. I say we leave the situation alone." Carson was not funny.

"But this isn't a military expedition, and I won't have Caldwell abandoning military prisoners here. I expect you to back me on this."

Enough - Rodney had had enough. "Could you two take this fascinating, yet ridiculous, briefing elsewhere? John and I are trying to eat, and you're making it hard to swallow."

Weir turned faster than Rodney had ever seen, and Carson actually covered his eyes with his hand. She lost every speck of color in her face. "Rodney!"

"And John." Rodney flashed a fake grin. "But now I'm curious. Whatever gave you the impression that Caldwell intended to leave John here?"

Her eyes flicked back and forth between them. "Nothing," she lied. "Airman Sheppard, do you like it here?"

She spoke slowly, as if to an idiot. Rodney had to rub his mouth to keep from laughing and cursing at her. He nudged John. "You can just nod or shake your head."

John slowly nodded and then took another bite of sandwich.

This situation was turning into more of a problem. Rodney had thought that Weir would be an easy sell, but he could be wrong. It didn't happen often. Women threw his statistics off. "Carson, I'm sick and tired of those crutches. I'm officially done. Finished."

Carson actually blinked several times. "After you eat, come see me." He pointed in the mess hall. "Ah, I have to go."

"Chicken," Rodney muttered. Weir looked as if she envied Carson. Rodney lifted his chin. "Perhaps a briefing?"

"Excellent idea." Weir tried for diplomatic mode. "When is good for you?"

"End of next week." Rodney stuffed his mouth completely full of food and went back to staring at John. Weir talked about some more things, but Rodney waved it all away and kept eating. He was very hungry. John munched his apple and after a small smile, wiggled closer.

"I'll leave you two alone," Weir choked out and left in a real hurry. Rodney laced his fingers through John's, and they didn't talk until all the food was gone. Pulling the tablet into his lap, Rodney bothered because it would give them privacy.

You did that on purpose.

Yup. John smiled in his lazy way. He didn't move away. You like her?

She occasionally overthinks things, but she's a diplomat. So, yes. Rodney ventured a kiss to the side of John's head. You have to stay here, and you're going to be quiet while I make it happen.

John bit his lower lip. Lorne left out delusional to your list of bad habits. I understand the need to play stupid, but I'm about done, and if Caldwell makes me leave, well, I'll go quietly.

"Yeah, leave me to do the kicking and screaming. Very manly of you." Rodney gave him a half-hearted push and started trying to get up. He made it, but it wasn't easy, and he tried not to screech from the shooting pain. John kept his hands away until Rodney was steady on his feet. "Yes, yes, I need the crutches, but maybe only one?"

John leaned over and handed him one. Rodney fussed with it while John returned the trays and slung his tablet over his shoulder. They gave each other a shrug and went back to work.


"Dr. McKay?"

Rodney was surprised enough to hear that voice in his lab that he turned and smiled. "Teyla, when are you going to call me Rodney?"

Teyla raised her eyebrows. "I am uncertain as to when that will occur." She smiled back at him. "Do you have a moment?"

"Not really." Rodney stretched his back and tried to look as if he didn't need the crutch. "Did Lorne send you to pester me?"

She laughed softly. "No. I am in need of a pilot to take me to the mainland. Dr. Beckett had a minor emergency, and I dislike asking—"

"One of the military," Rodney interrupted. He really shouldn't take the time, but it was Teyla asking.

"Please, go. You are impossible today!" Zelenka took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "And your evil minion also!"

Rodney leaned closer to her. "John got on Zelenka's last nerve." He turned to peer over his laptop towards John's workspace. "John! You want to go to the mainland in a jumper?"

John made record time getting to them. Teyla bowed her head slightly at him. "I think he does."

"Give us fifteen minutes to get to the jumper bay, okay?" Rodney turned back to shut down his laptops.

"I will be ready."

When Rodney finished, he discovered a look on John's face that he hadn't seen there before. "Yes, everyone knows that she's hot," he grumbled, smacking at John's leg with the crutch. John flushed and managed to look slightly guilty. Rodney didn't even look at Zelenka. "Radek, my city better be floating when I get back."

Czech curses followed them out the door. Rodney put his free hand on John's shoulder, for extra balance that was all, and said, "Don't worry. Everyone thinks she's hot. All the Athosian women are babes, so try not to drool all over them while we're on the mainland."

The tablet made an appearance, but Rodney didn't stop now that he was going.

She's cool, but seriously? I can go in the jumper? With you? Flying?

Rodney hated that he felt sorry for him, and he was very careful not to show it by keeping his head down, focusing on his legs. John practically hummed with energy, but Rodney noticed that John tried to put a damper on it when they entered Stargate Operations.

"I hope it's okay that I suggested you to pilot Teyla." Weir came up behind them, and Rodney tried to ease right in front of John.

"Zelenka was relieved." Rodney rolled his eyes. He thought quickly and blurted, "We'll take the one that's been recently repaired, and I can run some tests. Return tomorrow, perhaps?"

Weir's eyes widened. "Why, Rodney, are you asking for a night on the mainland?"

"Not in so many words, and of course, I'll be working! But, um, yes?" Rodney sighed loudly. "It's not like my team needs me."

Her eyes seemed to be tracking elsewhere. "You're taking Airman Sheppard?"

"I'd planned on it." Rodney stamped the crutch once for emphasis. "Are you worried he'll escape?"

"Do you have the disc?" Her voice snapped at him now.

"Close to my heart," Rodney said. He always wore it. Leaving it lying about was dangerous for John's health. "John would never run off. He likes the coffee. Can we go?"

She frowned but nodded. "Spend the night. I'm sure Zelenka will thank me."

Rodney made a grumpy noise. It was expected of him. "Come along, John. Don't be scared of the mean lady. I'll protect you."

"Rodney!"

Waving, he clutched John's shoulder and made his getaway to the jumper bay. John gave a small sigh that sounded suspiciously like happiness when they walked up the ramp. Teyla was already there, surrounded by piles of supplies. She was organizing them quickly and efficiently. John immediately began to help, and Rodney sat down heavily in the co-pilot's seat to watch.

John glanced three times at the empty pilot's seat, not Teyla, with a look in his eye that could only be described as lust. Rodney waited until they were almost done, and then hit the comm button as he opened the roof.

"Flight, this is Jumper One, prepared to leave for the mainland."

"Jumper One, you have a go."

He made a broad sweeping gesture at the chair. "Sheppard, we have a go."

John licked his lips twice. He hesitated nearly a full millisecond before practically diving in the seat.

"Teyla, I suggest you sit down," Rodney said with real amusement in his voice. The autopilot kicked in and took them smoothly up, and he nearly squirmed watching John's strong hands caress the controls. John might not have a crush on Teyla, but his relationship with the jumper was definitely love. Rodney said very casually, "Don't hit anything, okay?"

"Dr. McKay, are you sure—" Teyla snapped off her question as John executed a fancy maneuver, bringing them about for a flyby of the city. Rodney stopped looking at John's hands and looked out the window to enjoy the view. Two seconds later, he quit trying and let himself stare at John's enraptured face. This time, it was impossible not to get hard. He pulled his tablet into his lap to hide the evidence of his arousal. Tonight, maybe, if he could ascertain that John had free will in regards to sexual matters, they could—

A very soft something came from John's throat, and Rodney licked his lips. Never, ever, had he enjoyed flying before today.


It was Teyla that handed him his crutch. John had landed them easily, better than even Lorne had ever managed, but he was still staring at his hands, and Rodney hated to interrupt what was obviously a Zen moment.

"Did you know he could fly a jumper?" Teyla asked softly.

"Would I endanger my own life?" Rodney snorted. "Not likely. No one needs to know who flew us over here, right?"

Teyla lowered the hatch. "I am uncertain as to why anyone would care." She started tugging bags toward the ramp, and Rodney could see people coming to help. Teyla wouldn't offer the information that John had flown, and that was good enough. He wasn't sure if he wanted to actually run a diagnostic, or if he would rather hunt up Charon and see what was on the fire.

Taking time off wasn't something he did often or well, but he had to face the possibility - slim - that John would be gone on the Daedalus next week. A night here, it might be all the time they had. Giving himself a small shake, he shoved the melodrama away.

"John?"

John got up fast. His eyes were blown wide, and Rodney handed him the tablet. "You okay? I mean, your brain, is it on fire or something?"

"Teyla!" That was Halling. Rodney glanced that way and then nearly dropped over because John was hugging him so tightly it was difficult to breathe.

"Who is the man hanging on Dr. McKay?" Halling whispered. Rodney met Teyla's eyes and could see that she understood. Rodney gently nudged John away.

"Take a couple of deep breaths." Rodney hoped John was still breathing. "Seriously, no pain?"

He shook his head and seemed to be waking up. Rodney desperately wanted to quiz him on how much he'd interfaced with the Ancient technology, but it could wait until later. He turned and met Halling squarely. "Halling, this is John Sheppard." He wanted to say more, but it was all sticking in his throat.

"John has been helping Rodney since his injury." Teyla filled the silence. "We have things to carry, and I believe Rodney and John will be staying with us tonight."

Rodney made up his mind to go ahead and do the diagnostic. "John, you can go with them or help me with this. Whichever." He tried to look as if letting him go was easy. Teyla smiled, and even though there were plenty of people to help, John went with her, carrying something, and Rodney busied himself with connections instead of complaining.

When everything was set, he dug out a power bar, ate it fast, and found a bottle of water. The sun was shining, and there was a cool breeze. Dimly, he could hear happy village noises, and he had the absurd hope that John was having fun. As soon as they got back, he was going to write up an exhaustive report, single-spaced, on why John should be allowed to remain in Atlantis, but today, tonight, they could almost relax. As long as the Wraith didn't come.

When a long, lean, slightly sweaty body dropped down next to him, Rodney focused on the roll in John's hand first and stole it shamelessly.

Hey!

"I'm the one working here," Rodney mumbled around his bite. He squeaked in surprise when John snatched it back and took a huge bite. That wasn't acceptable, and Rodney half-tackled him. It only took one second to realize that putting his hands on him was a good way to forget all about food.

"You feel good," Rodney whispered, immediately hoping that John hadn't heard him. John shoved the roll in Rodney's mouth and the ramp began to shut. Rodney sputtered as John's hands made quick work of his BDU's and pushed up his shirt. The roll dropped to the side, and John kissed him.

"Tell me that you want this." Rodney slid his hands under John's shirt, and it was the warmth that surprised him. Someone so skinny shouldn't put out so much heat. John wrapped his hand around Rodney's cock and kissed his way down. Rodney decided to take that as a yes. He abandoned the concept of lying still and thrust up. John licked his lips once before sucking him deep, and Rodney almost lost control instantly.

John did something obscenely wonderful with his tongue, and Rodney clutched at John's shoulder as he spiraled up and exploded. The fall to clarity took a minute. He pulled at him, ignoring an ache in his leg. John teased his tongue over Rodney's belly button.

"Stop that!" Rodney hissed, yanked harder, and kissed him. John smoothed his thumb over Rodney's lips. "Let me." Rodney tried to make his hands work efficiently enough to get John's pants down. John kissed him and moved away. "Let me—"

Cool air rushed over Rodney's mostly naked body, and he blushed. Now he could feel the metal plates of the floor digging into his ass. Jerking his shirt down, he fumbled with his pants. "Hey, I didn't make you, did I?"

John snatched the tablet and typed. Rodney put himself back to together and leaned back against the bench. Half of his I.Q. points were still gone. "So, I guess you changed your mind. I don't blame you. I'm not exactly good at this sex stuff. I think I could be, but lack of practice and all, and usually I'd rather be in my lab. Not that you aren't—"

The tablet shut him up.

I wanted.

"Well, okay. I hope so." Rodney fumbled with his fly. He still felt stupid, but John kissed him again and that helped. Waving his hand in the general direction of John's pants, he asked, "Can I?"

John ducked his head. It's okay. I, uh

"I got it." Rodney tried to keep from grinning, wiggling enough to put his head in John's lap. "What was it like, flying the jumper?"

Free.

"Could you be a bit more specific?" Rodney stretched his leg and tested the soreness. It was much better. Not long and he'd be going through the stargate again.

It was easy. I meshed with her. My thoughts became action. One sweet ride.

Rodney laced his hands across his stomach, enjoying looking up at him. "No stutters? No lost commands?"

No.

"Huh. Even Lorne has problems occasionally. I can't wait for you to sit in the chair. If Zelenka keeps to the schedule, it'll be ready when we get back."

John looked puzzled.

"Where's that roll?" Rodney wasn't willing to move just yet or explain about the chair. "I'm hungry enough to eat it dirty."

The ramp started to lower, and John leaned far enough to give him an upside down kiss. Rodney wrapped his arms around John's neck and held him close. There were a lot of things he wanted to say but he usually screwed things up when he talked too much. "Help me up, will ya?"

He'd never get tired of looking at that smile on John's face. He tossed the crutch away when John handed it to him and hobbled slowly down the ramp. John wrapped his arm around him, and he shamelessly leaned into it.

"Thanks," Rodney said.


Rodney waited until it was dark and they'd eaten before giving John a nudge. "We need to finish that diagnostic. Help?"

John had them up and moving towards the jumper so quickly that Rodney felt a small stab of jealousy. His boyfriend - and John was, damn it - was in love with a machine.

"I suppose you want to go night flying?" Rodney nearly fell down when John abandoned him for the pilot's seat. "Give a guy some warning!" He noticed the lack of guilt, sat on a bench, and gathered his laptop close. "No barrel rolls."

The grin was back, and they were in the air as soon as the ramp was up. Rodney let John play in the sky while the diagnostic ran. They fell into an easy rhythm of him asking for certain systems to be engaged, and John doing it instantly.

"Seriously? This jumper is now perfect. We could kick Wraith ass!" Rodney rubbed his hands together happily and started disengaging. "Your choice: the mainland or Atlantis?"

The jumper nosedived towards the water, and Rodney panicked for a full second before he saw John's smirk. "That's it! I am so taking your toy away!"

The jumper leveled out right above the ocean, and they cruised back to the mainland. John gave Rodney several more kisses before lowering the ramp.

"Maybe Teyla has a tent we can borrow." Rodney bit John on the neck and hung on him. John started dragging him towards the camp, and that was very reassuring. Teyla laughed and got them drinks. Sitting, drinking, and laughing were quite possibly the most painful things Rodney had ever done. John, of course, drank without laughing or talking, but his leg pressed hard into Rodney's and that said what Rodney really wanted to hear.

Teyla's eyes glittered by firelight, and she had to know that she was pushing the edge of good taste by making them stick around the fire. Rodney broke. He'd had enough. "Okay! We'll sleep in the jumper! Teyla, are you going back with us in the morning?"

"Rodney, I am shocked." Teyla's grin was sly. "Don't you know we count you as family?"

A cranky uncle?

"Ha ha," Rodney snapped. He caught Teyla's frown and remember that she didn't read English yet. "He insulted me."

"John, you do not know my people. Would you accept our hospitality tonight?"

Averting his eyes, Rodney didn't want to influence him. Sleeping - making out? - in the jumper would be fine. John touched him on the knee, and Rodney looked at the tablet.

"He says he'd be honored." Rodney tried to keep his smile away. Teyla nodded gravely, and there was finally some hope that they'd be able to grope each other very soon.

Beams of bright light cascaded down, and Rodney's mouth fell open as Colonel Caldwell took a good look around. "Dr. McKay, the Daedalus has been recalled to Earth."

His breath came short and his heart beat wildly as he leapt to his feet, trying to keep John behind him. "No. John is staying. You can't have him."

Caldwell looked slightly amused. "Airman Sheppard is a member of my crew, not your personal slave." He raised his eyebrows. "I'm fully aware that you're Canadian, but Shep is in the Air Force, and we have our orders."

"What the hell does that mean?" Rodney sputtered, wondering when his country of origin had become code for gay. He caught John by the wrist. "He has the gene! He's vital to Atlantis' survival against the Wraith. We've done more with his help this last week than we'd accomplished in a year. You simply can't have him!"

Teyla stepped closer. "John did fly us here. He was very good at it."

"The fact is, Dr. McKay: you'd say anything to keep him. When we return to Earth, I'll have him tested, and perhaps he'll be reassigned to Atlantis." Caldwell stepped right into Rodney's air space, glowering. "But we're leaving now. The disc, please."

"No!" Rodney shook his head, trying to look mean. "We'll take this to Dr. Weir!"

"She made it clear that Shep is leaving." Caldwell held out his hand. "Now."

Rodney turned when John pulled at him. The tablet said it all. Thank you, for everything. Give it to him.

"I won't. I can't. It's wrong. You could do so much good, and the charges were bogus! Everyone says so!" Rodney felt his stomach muscles tremble. He was losing, and it was his own damn fault. He should've been a jackass from the beginning and insisted that John be assigned to the labs. "I can't," he whispered.

John hugged him tightly; the tablet sliding down to the ground. Caldwell put his hand on John's shoulder, and Rodney shoved him away.

"Fine! Take it! But I'm going to use every contact I have to get him back. Believe me, the President is going to hear about this! And the Prime Minister!" Rodney ripped off the disc and threw it at Caldwell's feet. "If anything happens to him, there'll be no place in either galaxy for you to hide."

Caldwell shrugged. "I think you're taking your crush a bit far." He scooped up the disc and took several steps away. "Shep, attend me."

Rodney had to hug his elbows as John turned into a robot. His face went slack, and he knelt by Caldwell's boots.

"Hermiod, we're ready."

The light took them away, and Rodney collapsed down to the ground.

"Rodney?"

Her voice seemed a thousand miles away, and he put his hands over his face.


"Lad, you need to eat."

Rolling to his other side, Rodney had no idea what had motivated Carson to barge into Rodney's quarters, but it was time for him to leave.

"Rodney." Carson's hand landing on Rodney's arm made him twitch. Rodney clamped his lips together so he didn't scream obscenities. He was too tired anyway. He'd been awake four straight days, putting together email after email to be sent Earthside when they opened their weekly wormhole. He'd screamed at Weir until she'd screamed back at him - first time for that - and he'd compiled an exhaustive list of people to be contacted by every scientist here on the base that ever wanted to look him in the eye again. He was done. There was nothing else he could do, unless he wanted to fly Atlantis to Earth and pick John up. It wasn't that terrible of an idea, except the only person with a strong enough gene to do it was on his way to Earth.

Maybe he could just threaten to fly them to Earth.

A pinprick to the hand he had draped over his face made him jerk to sitting. "What the hell?" He was shocked that his voice was nothing but a cracked whisper.

"I say we kick him in his moping ass," Lorne said. "I knew he was going to cry."

"I'll leave the kicking to you." Carson pointed at his equipment. "But his blood sugar is dangerously low. When did you eat last, Rodney?"

"Get out!" Rodney managed a scratchy yell. He'd rarely been so embarrassed. He was not moping or crying. He was tired!

"This is why people who work together shouldn't become attached," Carson said.

Lorne shrugged. "Well, you know, I don't think Shep actually slept with him, seeing as how he can't, well, you know."

Rodney was sure his blood pressure had just exploded into the red. "Hello! I am in the room - my quarters! You two get the hell out!"

"Damn Goa'uld," Carson muttered. He tried to pull Rodney to his feet. "Infirmary for you."

Rodney batted weakly at Carson's grabby hands. "His name is John, and I'm not going anywhere, and he can't do what?" He tried to keep Lorne away with a glare, but they circled like vultures.

"I knew he wouldn't do it." Lorne almost smirked.

Protesting that indeed they had rolled around in the hay was a waste of breath. He tapped his ear piece to tell Weir exactly how he was being abused when Lorne's big hand took it from him. Carson gave a heave, and Rodney groaned because his knees shook and then quit. The trembling took him by surprise.

"I forgot to eat." Surprise made him weaker. He never forgot to eat. Not even when he was building bombs.

"Genius, right." Lorne grabbed Rodney from behind and held him up. "I'm thinking a gurney."

Carson rubbed his forehead. "Medical team to Dr. McKay's quarters, bring a gurney."

Oofing, Rodney slumped back down on the bed. He did find strength to glare at Lorne, who had practically tossed him aside. "Can I sleep instead?"

"Are those tear tracks on your face?" Lorne peered at him suspiciously. "I swear, if you really do cry, you're off the team."

"Colonel, you're scarcely helping things. Why don't you go make sure the door stays open?"

"Caldwell didn't reply to any of our messages." That was all Rodney could think to say. Weir had allowed him and Carson to send two messages while the Daedalus was still in range. He knew they'd been sent, but there was silence from the Daedalus. It more than worried him. Wraith were the first thing to pop to mind. "I'm not crying."

"I know." Carson patted him awkwardly. "We can only hope the switch back wasn't traumatic."

Rodney sat up fast and grabbed him. "What? You never said that! What if he's dead?" he yelled in Carson's face.

Leaning away, Carson sighed heavily. "I put my concerns in the message to the doctor on the Daedalus, but we've heard nothing so I have no information. The brain is a delicate thing, Rodney. You can't just flip it on and off like a torch!"

"Oh, hell." Rodney struggled to his feet, swaying. "I'll boost the long distance scanners. If there was trouble—"

"There's nothing we can do about it." Lorne got right in Rodney's face. "We don't have a ship. You're dead on your feet, and I'm taking you off duty, if Carson doesn't beat me to it."

Bracing his hand against the wall, Rodney propelled himself out the door. "John needs my help. You two are idiots."

"Doc, shouldn't we stop him?"

"He won't make it to the end of the hallway, not with that leg."

They were wrong. He staggered faster and made it all the way to the transporter. Pushing the center button, he bumbled out and fell to his knees. He should've eaten, and there was no excuse for that level of stupidity. Sleep, he could go without. Food, not so much.

"I want an IV in him." Carson peeled back Rodney's eyelid. "You bloody fool."

"No one cares about him," Rodney said softly. "He's nothing but a body."

Carson gripped Rodney's hand. "We'll get him back, now hush."


Every time he looked up, Zelenka glanced away, and that was a very bad sign. Rodney didn't want to talk. Yes, he loved to yell, but he wasn't even in the mood for that. If they wanted to blow up the city, they could go right ahead. The Wraith would be upset about all the Happy Meals they would miss out on, but he didn't give a damn.

"Your leg?"

He shrugged, sipped his coffee, and tinkered with the equation a bit more. It was almost right.

"Two weeks is not so long." Zelenka sounded cautious.

It was a damn eternity was what it was, but Rodney didn't feel like screaming that at him. He knew the truth - the Daedalus was gone. Someone - something - had gotten them. Radio silence for two weeks plus the looks Lorne was giving him added up to John being dead. That was an equation anyone could do, and Rodney could only hope it'd been fast, not a lingering space death. He nearly retched at all the scenarios a brilliant mind like his could come up with, and he had to put his coffee down and breathe through his mouth.

"Maybe you should take some time."

"Please shut up." Rodney eased off the stool, threw his coffee into the trash, and forced himself to walk calmly for the door. "Mind the store, Radek."

An errant thought crossed in front of the pile of guilt he carried, and he turned his steps toward the infirmary. Carson was in his office, leaning his face into his hand. His eyes flickered up and then went back to his laptop. Rodney moved a stack of files off a chair and sat down. He spun his thumb in a circle, aware that Carson kept giving him little looks.

"He's dead." Rodney hadn't said it aloud yet, but it was time to get it over with and know how bad it was going to hurt. It really hurt.

"Rodney, we don't know that!" Carson finally looked at him. "What if they simply lost communications?"

"Simply? Do you have any idea how many redundant systems the Asgard put in those ships?" Rodney could see by Carson's face that he didn't. "Suffice it to say, a lot! At the very least, they should've contacted the SGC by now, and they haven't. Kavanagh, who shipped out on the Daedalus, is an expert in those systems, and he's a moron, but even he could've fixed them by now!"

"You don't know." Carson looked very stubborn now. "You're being overly dramatic!"

Rodney simply glared, changing the subject quickly, trying to catch Carson off guard. "What can't John do? You and Lorne were discussing it in my quarters."

Carson turned a funny color. "There is such a thing as patient confidentiality!"

"I built your database," Rodney growled. "We agreed that I wouldn't hack your files." He crossed his arms. "If Lorne knows, all the military knows, and if you don't tell me, I'll—"

"He can't have sex!" Carson waved his arms. "The implant makes it impossible for him to, um, get started."

"But—" Rodney snapped off that sentence immediately. He got up and paced the length of the office several times before leaving. Walking blindly down the hallway, Rodney groaned. John had enjoyed giving, but he hadn't allowed Rodney to touch him where it counted. It made sense now. Rodney had been gloating about making John come in his BDU's, when in fact nothing had happened. Nothing could happen. He'd used John just like all the others.

"Hey, Doc, you okay?"

"Yeah." Rodney stuck his hands in his pockets to make them stop twirling. He hadn't known about John's condition, but it didn't excuse it. He hadn't asked after all. Looking everywhere but at Lorne, he finally shrugged. "This isn't any fun without him."

"You're losing it, Doc."

"Lost it." Rodney quit trying. Then he nearly laughed.

Lorne grabbed him hard by the arm. "Rodney, Shep liked you. Dunno why, but I know you didn't hurt him. The point is: you gotta get over this!"

"Why?" He didn't try to jerk his arm away.

Irritation was all over Lorne's face. "Stop acting like some broken-hearted lover!" He shook him. "Atlantis is what's important, and you have work here. Do it!"

"Oh, kiss my ass." Rodney yanked away now, taking several steps back. He was smart enough to see that he'd been moping, and he was able to face the truth that loving John had been damn easy, but he wasn't going to get over it. Lorne slammed his fists on his hips and began blabbing about crap that Rodney didn't want to hear so he walked away.

Rodney decided right then that he was finishing with waiting. He'd take what measure of control he could and work for a solution. He pretended not to notice the big eyes that Chuck flashed at him and stepped across the bridge to Weir's office.

"Rodney?"

"Am I making you sick too?" He refused to look at her.

"Do I think you're over-reacting for a man you only knew for six days? Yes." She sighed. "If you'd have been honest with me, I might've done something while he was here."

"Really?" Rodney didn't believe it, and this was the second time she'd mentioned it. "I'm going after him. You can sign my temporary transfer papers to the SGC, or I can bring up a stunner during the night shift and make my own travel arrangements. Your choice."

Her eyes widened and she drew back. "Rodney? Have you lost your mind?"

"You can make it a permanent transfer, if you don't want me back. Either way, I'm going." Rodney wasn't going to listen to any arguments. "I need to pack a bag. Let me know." He left her there, mouth hanging slightly open. He'd sat around on his hands, whining, moping, all he was going to, and now both galaxies better get out of his way. John was out there, somewhere, and Rodney was going to find him. If the worst had happened, at least he'd know.

Opening his door, he wasn't surprised when his radio squawked at him. "Rodney, you have gone crazy?" Zelenka, of course.

"Yes." Rodney got out a duffel bag. He might have to make a run for it. With a thought, he locked his door. "You know that cart full of things we said we'd send to Earth but forgot about?"

"You mean the things you refused to share?"

"Roll it to the gateroom, will you?" Rodney packed quickly and efficiently and made sure to get John's tablet. When he opened the door, Carson was standing there. Talking seemed a huge waste of time. Rodney started for the gateroom, walking as fast as his gimpy leg would take him. It really wasn't much of a limp anymore.

"Don't go," Carson said, catching up with him easily. "Rodney! Be reasonable!"

Whipping around, Rodney poked him in the chest. "Do you know how many people like me? Do you know how many people have ever liked me? Now, push all that aside, and do you know how many people can manipulate Ancient technology like John Sheppard?"

Carson stared.

"None! Not even the famous Jack O'Neill can get it to roll over and beg like John Sheppard does." Rodney stepped closer. "Now, I'm going to Earth to find out what happened to the Daedalus and all the people on board her. You can laugh at me all you want, but I'm going."

"No one is laughing," Carson said fiercely.

"Right." Rodney glared at the gathering crowd. "I'm the butt of every joke because I actually cared for someone, and he liked me back. Well, fine. Get your jollies while I'm gone."

Lorne came around the corner. "McKay, a word." He hooked his thumb in the direction of a private balcony.

"Yes, I have a word for you. It's goodbye." Rodney waved and headed for Stargate Operations. That had been easier than he'd expected. Zelenka and Weir were both waiting on him. He stopped in front of her. "Permission to go to Earth?"

"Granted, temporarily." She handed him a tablet. "Give this to General Hammond, and Rodney?"

"You're being a moron," Zelenka muttered. He blinked. "Was that in English?"

Rodney almost smiled. He was going, and he would fix this, somehow. "I'll bring him back."

"We need you back." But Weir nodded. "He would be a bonus."

"This is my fault. I have to find him." Rodney was willing to give her that. He should've tried from day one, instead of waiting and gloating over all the remarkable things they were going to do together.

Lorne hurried to Weir's side. "I think this is a mistake. He's Air Force."

"Noted." Weir looked up at Chuck. "Dial Earth!"

The energy expenditure was one that Rodney would've been cursing over, if it hadn't been wasted on him. "Radek, if my city isn't floating when I get back, I'll rip your—"

Ka-woosh!

Zelenka hid behind Weir, and Rodney went as fast as possible, pushing the cart through first. No reason to dawdle.

"What the hell is going on here?" Hammond boomed. It wasn't really a question, and Rodney stood in confusion for a split second - wormhole freeze - he called it.

"Look what the wormhole spit out," Carter drawled. "I say we throw it back."

"Have you heard from the Daedalus?" Rodney handed the tablet to Hammond. "This is from Dr. Weir."

"Debriefing in ten minutes. Colonel, find him quarters." Hammond marched away, and Rodney kept a good hold on the cart so it didn't careen down the ramp. He moved carefully until the cart was on concrete.

"The Daedalus?" Rodney glanced up at the control room but didn't see Bill. He caught an uncertain look cross Carter's face. "Anything?"

"No. We're all concerned. The Apollo is being prepped, but General Hammond wants to give it another ten days." Carter peeked inside a box. "What is that?"

Rodney had to look her over from top to bottom one more time. He was slightly appalled that she didn't appeal to him any longer, and he didn't appreciate her sarcastic attitude. "Ancient tech. I thought, since I was coming, I'd bring some of the more delicate items that I didn't trust to what passes for scientists on the Daedalus." He almost slapped her hand away. "We don't have time to look at every item. You're supposed to be showing me to my quarters."

"You know the way." Carter lifted a small box. "Are you making a pass at me?"

"No." He was almost dismayed that he wasn't. With a small sigh, he let himself look around the room. He'd never belonged here. These people… didn't like him at all. The doors opened, and the rest of SG-1 strolled over. Teal'c didn't bother trying to look polite, and that was almost a relief.

"So, wha'cha doin', McKay?" O'Neill made his usual casual entrance.

"Is this stuff from Atlantis?" Daniel practically dived inside a box while trying to grab what Carter had. "Let me see."

Rodney clenched his jaw so he didn't scream at them to drop everything and move away. If he wanted John back - he was alive, damn it - he'd have to play nice and show them what could be gained.

"McKay finally broke out his stash of goodies." Carter rubbed her hands together. "It's a bribe. He wants John Sheppard back."

"Yeah, we know." O'Neill shrugged. "I think everyone on the planet knows. Oprah had a show on it the other day. She got your email."

"Indeed."

"John activated nearly everything you see. Atlantis needs him back if we're ever going to accomplish anything!" Rodney wanted to hit them all. They were so sure of themselves, so comfortable in their skins. "Caldwell wouldn't listen."

"Of course not. He had orders, and Sheppard is a member of the crew." O'Neill spoke slowly, as if Rodney were an idiot. "They'll be here soon. No worries."

"And did your Magic 8 Ball give you this information? Do you have any idea how dangerous the Pegasus galaxy is?" Rodney's fingers twitched as Daniel caressed something he had no business touching in the first place.

O'Neill put up his hands. "Hey, I'm on your side. For now."

"We all think Sheppard should return to Atlantis." Carter smiled. "He's too valuable an asset there to go to waste."

They were words that Rodney had said himself but hearing them nearly pushed him right over the edge into insanity. John wasn't an 'asset.' He was John. Words choked him, and he forced his hands into his pockets so he didn't accidentally strangle anyone. Teal'c would kill him if he tried.

"Not really that simple. He's part of our grand military penal system." O'Neill's finger was almost brushing the device that Carter was holding, and Rodney should've warned him but didn't and watching them all shout at the flash of purple light was the highlight of his past two weeks. The device was for instant decontamination, but they didn't know that. He shouldered his bag and trudged towards quarters. He'd find something empty.

It was Daniel that caught up with him. "You're sorta limping."

"It's better." Rodney hadn't been to physical therapy since John had been stolen. "I guess I could stay in my apartment," he muttered. The rooms at the SGC were so dull.

"Um, yeah, about that." Daniel walked a little slower. "I think the general wants you on base. All those emails kicked up quite a fuss."

"Huh, I'm amazed anyone read them. He's just a prisoner. Who really gives a damn if he can't talk!" Rodney pointed at a door. "This one?"

"Occupied. Keep going." Daniel led the way now. He glanced over his shoulder and lowered his voice. "Some people were angry because they didn't realize the technology was being used like that. Teal'c being one of them. The entire Jaffa nation is currently furious at us."

"Are you saying I caused an interplanetary incident?" Rodney had to stop and stare at him. This was far beyond his wildest expectations - in a good way.

"Well, yes." Daniel opened a door. "This room will work. It's bare, but you spend most of your time in the lab. Oh, and the Tok'ra? Also mad."

"Good." Rodney tossed his duffel on the bed. "No one deserves to wear one of those medallions, not even people I don't like."

Daniel tilted his head. "For you, that's saying something." He waved his hand at the room. "If you need anything—"

"I'll hunt it up." Rodney dug out his tablet. "Go on back to the toys. I have something in the big box that you'll particularly like. I'll find my way."

Daniel's eyes widened behind his glasses. "Bye." He practically ran, and Rodney made a mental note to steal a few things back.


"You had no business interfering in a military matter!"

Rodney had known he'd be yelled at, and he had at least five snappy responses ready, but none of them were coming out, and he hated that he whispered into the dead silence, "I thought we were better than the Goa'uld."

Hammond didn't look appeased. Rodney half-expected Carter to make some snippy comment about how stupid he was, and he tried to think of something else to say, fast.

"Indeed." Teal'c nodded. "My people are most displeased that your government has abused Goa'uld technology in this way."

"It was seen as a way to safely return these men and women to a productive life." Hammond touted the party line easily.

Daniel bit his lower lip, and as Rodney looked around the conference table he got the feeling that they knew. The assholes knew, and it was being covered up. "If you call a productive life being sexually assaulted by your co-workers, then I agree with the reasoning behind it."

O'Neill found some ceiling tiles to stare at, and Hammond jumped to his feet. "That's nothing but a damn lie! I recognize that Sheppard is important to the Atlantis base, but I won't stand for you spreading lies in an effort to get him back!"

Rodney pointed at O'Neill, who flushed and crossed his arms. Daniel rubbed his hand across his mouth. Teal'c's frown managed to get deeper. "The device does not allow for refusal to any order."

"The inability to give consent means that any sexual contact is abuse." Rodney felt his own color rise. "I wish I'd have known the full extent of the damn thing."

Carter stared at him in complete bewilderment, and he shrugged, unable to continue. O'Neill cleared his throat. "General, we have had a few, um, incidences. We handled them in-house."

"See that lump under the rug? That's where it's all been swept!" Rodney let out a full measure of sarcasm now. "Colonel Lorne advised me that Sheppard had been abused, and you'll excuse me if I believe him!"

Hammond sat back down with a thump. "You." He pointed at O'Neill. "I want a report on my desk by the end of the day. You." His finger swiveled to Daniel. "Get the men together that are assigned to this base. I want to speak to them."

"There's a woman also." Daniel almost sounded apologetic.

O'Neill shot a glare at Rodney and then swiveled to face Dr. Lee. "It wasn't just my men."

Bill swallowed three times, and the obvious guilt forced Rodney to his feet. "Who was it?" He was afraid that he screeched.

"Kavanagh," Bill choked. "It was right before the Atlantis mission, and he swore he didn't know."

Rodney wondered if he were going to stroke out before this was all over and John was home safe. "So! I not only have to worry that the Daedalus has exploded, I also get the pleasure of visualizing Kavanagh with his filthy hands on John! Kavanagh better pray he's dead."

"McKay, report to the infirmary," Hammond snapped. "Your leg needs to be checked."

"So you and your co-horts can find a way to make this all go away?" Rodney was well gone into furious now, and he was through playing nice. "I will—"

"Dr. McKay, that will not happen." Teal'c's voice cut through Rodney's, bringing him up short. "Perhaps Major Carter would accompany you to the infirmary?"

Rodney cast a fast look around the table. They all wanted him gone. He didn't belong here, and they didn't want him privy to their faults, their mistakes. Fury pounded through his veins, but he hadn't survived in the military infrastructure for years without knowing when to make a retreat. "I can get there on my own."

He tried very hard not to limp, but he was tired from walking the miles of this base. They should install some transporters. Carter caught him and slung his arm over her shoulder. "Hammond won't sweep this under the rug."

"The fact that he didn't notice the first bulge in the rug concerns me!" Rodney tried not to lean on her. "And John didn't even fight about it. He said he deserved his punishment because his friends were dead. Carson's afraid the shock will kill him."

"You lost me, McKay." Carter pushed open a heavy door.

"Did you read the report I sent you?" Rodney made sure to sound insulting. "Or did you dismiss it because you still have the hots for me?"

Carter hit him with the door, and he fell down. A good dose of shame joined all the other emotions churning in his gut.

"Oh, hell. I'm sorry!" Carter reached for him, and he shoved her arm away. He used the wall to fumble up and refused to let her touch him. He straightened his back and forced his leg to get there. She babbled about how sorry she was, but he pressed his lips together because if he started talking, he was going to end up screaming at her.

"I heard that Dr. McKay was on base." Dr. Frasier frowned. "How were you injured?"

He gave Carter a pointed look, and Frasier shooed her away. Frasier made him sit up on a bed, and he told her about the mud, the sticks, and the infection. She took blood, made sympathetic sounds, and he assumed her and Carter would have a few laughs about it later.

She issued him a cane, and he would use it, but only because he could hit stupid people with it, and there were an abundance of idiots on this base. "Rumor is the Tok'ra are on the way. If it's true, I'll ask them to heal your leg."

There were more important things to discuss. "You got the information from Carson on John Sheppard?"

"I did." She nodded once. "I'll be ready if he's brought in."

He had to accept that, even though he knew that without access to Ancient scanners, she'd be handicapped. If Earth had a ZPM, life would be much easier. Perhaps he could find another power source while he was here.

"What we need is a bridge," he muttered as he hobbled out the door, grateful for the painkiller she'd given him at the last minute.

Carter looked up from the wall she was leaning against. "A bridge to the Pegasus galaxy."

"Exactly." His mind twirled with possibilities. "We could—"

"Build a series of gates?"

"Writing the macros would take, well, me." He swung John's tablet around and turned it on. "Getting the gates would be the easy part."

She nodded several times. "Build a midway point. How many gates can someone go through before their energy is lost?"

"Theoretically, an infinite number." Rodney read John's last words again before opening a screen to work. "Maybe twenty on each side?" He snapped his fingers. "This could work."

"Of course it will. I have great ideas." She beamed at him. He went ahead and rolled his eyes. She wasn't finished. "The Carter-McKay Intergalactic Bridge."

"I can tell everyone how you hit me with a door." Rodney gripped the cane tightly and got moving again. He needed a place to work. "Or I can dig out that footage I have of you and—"

"Your name can go first, not like I care," she interrupted him quickly. "You said you destroyed that!" she hissed.

Rodney made several non-committal noises. "Why don't you run along, Blue Eyes, and find out how your military is planning on explaining their screw-up?"

Her blue eyes glared now. "You're still a jackass."

"Says the woman who intentionally knocked a cripple down." Rodney stopped for a second. Jokes aside, he had to make sure that she was still sympathetic. "Will you tell me if you hear from the Daedalus?"

Carter stared at him for a long minute. "You really care about him. You, Rodney 'I'm a Jerk' McKay."

He found it remarkably easy to say, "I'm going to shake this galaxy until he falls out, and then I'm taking him home. Give me a hand, or get on the sideline, but you can bet that shapely ass that I'll remember which you choose."

"Jerk."

"If you're through insulting him, not that you have to be, Dr. Lee is asking for him in the lab." O'Neill looked at the cane. "A wheelchair maybe?"

"I'm biting my tongue because you're on my side. For now." Rodney left them to gossip about him. He had other more important things to do than stand around and watch them flirt.


The fact was that even Kavanagh could've fixed a communications array by now, and the entire SGC was in deep denial. The Daedalus was fine, no worries. Rodney pressed the heels of his hands into his eyeballs and tried to block out the sound of Bill's droning voice.

"Dr. McKay, report to the infirmary. Dr. McKay."

Never had Rodney been so glad to go see a doctor. He wasn't sure that Bill even noticed that his audience was missing. The walk wasn't getting any shorter, but he took his time, in case it was nothing and he had to turn around and walk right back.

It was the Tok'ra, and, boy, Daniel had been right. They were mad, all three of them were scowling, and for some reason, Hammond was still glaring at him like it was his fault, and it obviously wasn't. They healed his leg while asking him question after question, some of which he didn't have answers for, and finally, he snapped, "Carson sent a detailed report of all the brain scans that he took while John was in Atlantis! Has anyone shown them to you?"

"Guess not," O'Neill whispered into the sudden silence.

"There are also reports from Dr. Zelenka about the technologies, if you're interested." Rodney saw Carter's eyebrows go up. "Well, there are! I was working on other important projects." He lifted his chin and tried to stare them down. Snapping his fingers several times, he reached for his tablet, and it was Daniel that handed it to him. "John also wrote—" He scanned through the documents quickly. "This!"

"May I?" One of Tok'ra almost reached. Handing it over was harder than it should've been, and Rodney wanted to snatch it back immediately.

"Perhaps we should adjourn to the briefing room, and I'm sure we can have printouts of all the relevant reports for you to look at." Hammond shot Rodney another stern look. "The President wants to reassure you that his utmost concern is for the men and women of the military."

"It's slavery, pure and simple. John couldn't sleep unless I was close by. Couldn't eat unless I was there, and he was on the floor, and he also couldn't disobey a command. Humans aren't able to—"

"Thank you, Dr. McKay!" Hammond interrupted. "Daniel, help Dr. McKay to his room. He'll need to rest after his procedure."

Frasier patted him on the arm. "You should go rest."

Daniel moved to help him out the door, and Hammond herded the Tok'ra away. Rodney snorted. "I can't believe you're not protesting. You're the biggest hippie on base!"

"For some reason, no one listened to me, and Teal'c has been on Chulak a lot. The scientists hadn't even noticed until you sent them each an email." Daniel sounded glum.

Flexing the muscle of his leg, it was great not to hurt, he walked a little faster. "Kavanagh noticed. This program has been going on since before Atlantis. You should be ashamed."

"Oh, I am." Daniel sighed. "But the military, much less Kinsey, won't listen to me."

For a moment, Rodney almost felt sorry for him. "Hey, well, no, but, well, do something while we have their attention." He stopped and caught Daniel by the arm. "You know better than I do that one man can change everything."

There was a long moment of silence, and then Daniel looked down at Rodney's hand. Rodney jerked it away fast and put both of his hands in his pockets. "Sorry. I'll go rest. Why don't you get my tablet from the Tok'ra? It's, well, mine." He felt his face flush.

"You know that old saying about still waters run deep?" Daniel frowned at him. "It doesn't apply to you at all."

"Well, yes, now take your mumbo-jumbo upstairs and get my tablet. I'm going to go find the Daedalus." Rodney turned the other direction and didn't look back. He was going to finagle his way up to the Apollo today while Hammond was too busy to notice.


"If you had sent me the schematics, I could've done the work!" the chief engineer aboard the Daedalus argued. "Does Colonel Ellis even know you're here?"

"Bill asked me to take a look. Go argue with him and let me work!" Rodney waited until he'd reviewed two systems before he began yelling at the staff. That was much longer than usual, and he applauded his own restraint. "You! Get over here!" He marshaled what scant resources he had and that combined with massive doses of coffee started producing results.

"Dr. McKay, what the hell are you doing to my ship?"

Rodney nearly banged his head on the console, but this wasn't totally unexpected, and he pulled himself to his feet. He met Ellis's stormy eyes firmly. "Fixing it! Good thing orbits are stable by nature, or I swear you'd have burned up before you noticed that half the systems are only functioning at seventy percent, if that! Maybe your rank interferes with your ability to think independently!"

"That is more than enough!"

Ellis's so-called chief engineer smirked. "I told you so."

"Oh, well, it's good you're well-versed in schoolyard taunts because when I'm finished with your career, that's where you'll be teaching science!" Rodney clicked his radio. "Bill, do you have those supplies ready to beam up?"

"Give us five more minutes. Those scrubbers were close to failing altogether. Good thing you were there."

"Yes, yes. Five minutes." Rodney never took his eyes off Ellis. "Colonel, this vessel is a delicate blend of Asgard and military technology, two of which he isn't capable of handling."

"I don't approve of your ham-handed manners," Ellis growled.

"Get over it. Competence doesn't require manners." Rodney snapped his fingers to get one of his lackey's attention and took the tablet from him. "Sublight engines are closer to normal now. The hyperdrive is still a disaster, but I'm going there next. Colonel?"

Ellis slowly turned to look at his chief engineer. "Help him, or resign."

"I recommend the latter." Rodney threw himself into making sure the ship could actually go on a rescue mission. It helped that he'd repaired the Daedalus on several occasions and spent weeks studying her systems.

"Dr. McKay?"

"Yes, yes, I was thinking. You should try it." He eased out from under the console. "Keep working. I need to start the upgrade to the long range scanners."

"Yes, sir." At least he was polite, if not competent. Rodney checked four other projects before he started on the sensors. Strangely enough, it was the only system that was top notch, and there wouldn't have been anything to do if he hadn't learned a few things from Hermiod.

"What are you doing?" The so-called chief engineer pulled up a chair. "I'm pretty sure you weren't listening the first time, so again, Dr. Ryan Mathers."

Rodney paused, more impressed than he wanted to admit. "This is good. Your work?"

"Yes." Mathers coughed. "Not too stupid."

"You're obviously an expert in this field and mediocre in the others. I recommend you get off this boat and into a lab where you can help us make real improvements." Rodney never pulled punches when it came to this sort of thing. Too many people depended on this man, and he wasn't doing his job.

"Going back to the lab seems like failing," Mathers said softly.

Rodney almost felt sorry for him. "Accept your limitations before someone dies and you have to live with the guilt forever because you were too fat-headed to admit them."

Mathers's eyes bulged. "God, you are a dick."

"Yes, but seriously? That was experience talking." Rodney had made very few mistakes in his career, but when he did, they were usually fatal to someone. "Help me find the Daedalus, and I'll get you any job you want in this specialty."

"Even Atlantis?" Mathers looked more confused than anything now.

With a nod, Rodney made a small adjustment. "Let's pretend the lives of the people on the Daedalus are riding on us and see how fast we can get this done."


Daniel eased into the chair across from Rodney and waved his white napkin in the air. "Next time you come to town, I'm taking a small vacation."

"Me too." O'Neill sat down next to him and glowered.

"Not my fault the military is full of morons," Rodney mumbled around his bite of salisbury steak and mashed potatoes. He wasn't going to stop eating for anyone. His blood sugar had dipped while working on the Apollo and surviving on power bars. "Mason is going back with me to Atlantis."

"Mathers? Does he mean Dr. Mathers? You stole one of Ellis's crew?" O'Neill rubbed his eyes. "They keep you in another galaxy for a reason, don't they?"

"There are signs in every lab that say, 'Do the job right, so McKay doesn't have to come to this galaxy and fix it!'" Carter sat down next to him, laughing. "Oh, I'm not joking."

"It's actually a compliment," Daniel said; his brow crinkled as if he were thinking. That was when Teal'c pulled up a chair and frowned. Rodney swallowed hard. He wouldn't admit that he was scared of the Jaffa, but he was. The guy was huge, for starters, and he might also be carrying a grudge. Carter certainly had never forgotten that Rodney had given up on Teal'c.

"How's Colonel Lorne?" O'Neill asked innocently enough, but Rodney wasn't fooled. Yes, yes, it was all about team.

"Not happy with me." Rodney went ahead and told them. "I can see the shock on your faces. He didn't agree with my meddling in Air Force personnel."

"And! He had a point." O'Neill held up his finger. "No matter how attached you were - are - to him, Sheppard is Air Force."

Daniel took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Rodney didn't go into his spiel about cruel and unusual punishment, rule of law, and misuse of alien technologies because he had the feeling that Daniel had covered it all for him. Instead, Rodney went another direction. "One thing I didn't see in his file - how long does he have to wear it?"

Carter used her fork to point at him. "I encrypted those files!"

"I noticed. Your backdoor was flapping in the wind." Rodney made sure to sound cheery - that would annoy her the most.

O'Neill coughed and then grinned. "Please, geeks, no fighting."

"Funny," Carter snapped. Rodney waited for an answer to his question, but when Daniel looked away, it was answer enough.

"Life. He got life," Rodney whispered. His appetite quit on him, and he nearly gagged. "A lifetime of handing out towels, being forced to kneel, and waiting for someone to abuse him." His voice stopped working, and he got shakily to his feet.

"Dr. McKay, this is Dr. Mathers. I think I found them." The words were loud and clear in Rodney's earpiece, and he jerked.

"Have me beamed up, please." Rodney stepped away from the table. He was churning with emotions, but he had to push it all away and focus. Later, he could have a screaming fit, complete with insults and histrionics. O'Neill said something but it was lost as Rodney transported aboard. He hurried, almost running, and wanted to shove people out of his way. "Where?"

Mathers put it on the big screen. "Here. Whatever it is, it's headed this way, slowly. I estimate—"

"Years. It'll take them six lifetimes, or more," Rodney breathed. His fingers had to touch, make John real, and he analyzed it all in a blink. "It's them. They're trying to limp home. You've informed Colonel Ellis?"

"He's right behind you." Ellis had his arms crossed. "You're sure?"

"Position is all wrong. They must've come out of hyperspace far off course." Rodney compared and contrasted with all other known types of ships. "It's them." He glanced at Mathers. "See that tiny blip of an energy reading? Our sublight engines put that out." Looking up, he met Ellis's eyes firmly. "I'd like to go with you."

Ellis sighed loudly. "You're a pain in the ass."

Answering that statement had become part of his life, and he never promised to reform but he was willing to make a concession, this time, for John. "I'll stay off the bridge."

"Mathers?"

"He's the best qualified to help them, if they are damaged." Mathers swallowed hard. "I couldn't do it."

Rodney's headset squawked at him. "Rodney, General Hammond wants you in the briefing room five minutes ago," Carter said.

"On my way." Rodney didn't want to leave the ship, in case they wouldn't let him back on, but it was a chance he had to take. "Hammond wants a debriefing. Perhaps, you should accompany me?"

There was no hesitation. "Good idea. Mathers, you're with us."


Daniel tugged Rodney's sleeve, and Rodney leaned closer so he could hear the bare whisper. "Don't give up."

"As if." Rodney didn't bother to talk softly.

"Colonel Ellis, you have a go." Hammond speared them each with a look. "Dr. McKay, I think your talents are best utilized by remaining on this base."

Fury welled up, but it was Mathers that got to his feet. "Colonel, General, I resign, effective immediately."

"I'll go." Carter spoke up. "The Daedalus might need someone who knows the systems inside and out."

Rodney could, literally, see red, but once again, Mathers cut him off. "Colonel Ellis, Dr. McKay is the best qualified for this mission, and if you can't see that, well, then—" He shook his head. "Whatever, but I'm not going."

"Colonel Ellis, it seems you're short a chief engineer." Hammond's voice was a growl. "I won't force you to take Dr. McKay."

Ellis rubbed his hand over his bald head. "I don't like him, but he's good. Dr. McKay, will you accept the position?"

"Dr. Weir does expect me back at some point," Rodney grumbled. He was getting what he wanted, but he wasn't thrilled with all the insults. "Let's cut the chitchat and get moving. They could, easily, be running out of air, or fifteen other calamities that I can think of without trying."

"Get whatever you think you'll need," Hammond said to Ellis. "McKay, you're probably safer off-planet until this issue with the military prisoners is resolved."

"Great. Someone plans to beat me up because I told the truth." Rodney got to his feet, noticing the spark in Hammond's eyes. "Oh, you meant from you. Well, fine, but I was right about the Daedalus."

"Yeah, we made a note," O'Neill drawled. "Carter, you going?"

"No, she's not." Hammond surged to his feet. "I've committed her to another project. Colonel, push your engines."

"Yes, sir."

Rodney ran. It was time to get John, and the rest of the crew, and there was no more time to waste.


The transmission from Daniel made Rodney's jaw drop, and it stayed that way for longer than he'd care to admit. Somehow, Daniel had found a company to make fake discs that looked remarkably similar to the one John wore on his forehead, and more than a few people were wearing them - adhesive on the back - in protest. They were also refusing to speak. The SGC was in revolt, and Daniel said the use of the fake discs was spreading to every base on the planet and a few off-world. People were angry, protesting, and when Rodney got back to Earth, Hammond was going to kill him.

"Any news that I should be made aware of?" Ellis asked far too loudly.

"No!" Rodney uploaded the file to his tablet and erased it from the mainframe as fast as possible. "Really, no. Personal. My sister, and all that."

Ellis pointed towards the hallway that led away from the bridge. "I'm sure there's work for you in Engineering."

Rodney saw a few smirks. "I'd rather finish adjusting the carbon scrubbers, unless you'd prefer no air up here, hmm?" The smirks faded, and Ellis sat down in his chair, and Rodney went back to work, but he laughed on the inside.


The first three days, he'd been so busy that he hadn't had time to worry beyond all the worrying he'd done previously. Today, there was nothing to do but pretend he was working and worry about things he hadn't thought of yet. A thousand different horrible scenarios kept him on edge, and there was no one to rant at because there was nothing to fix or upgrade, and staring into his coffee wasn't a productive use of his time.

"Dr. McKay?"

Rodney jerked up, focusing on a female med technician, glad to be distracted. Hopefully, something needed fixed. "Yes?"

She bit her lower lip. "Carson Beckett is a friend of mine."

"Ah, yes, good old Carson." Rodney sipped his coffee. "Um, Doctor?"

"Bishop. Dr. Bishop." She cautiously sat down. "Your leg feels fine?"

"Never better." Rodney wondered if she were flirting with him, but it wasn't even in the realm of possibilities. He waited for her to say something else. She didn't, and he couldn't stand the silence another second. "You're ready for casualties?"

"I hope so. Radiation burns are likely." She frowned now, and then leaned closer. "Did General Hammond say anything about the discs?"

Now that was a surprise. "Other than he's mad at me, no." He sensed her disappointment. "Tell me why you care."

Her lips pressed tight, and then she crumbled. "My ex-husband wears one." Her hand trembled on her coffee. "He doesn't even know me, or our grown daughter. It's just… wrong."

"It is." Rodney pulled the tablet close and turned it on. "Let me show you something. It might give you some hope." He grimaced at his own sappiness, but it was true. Her eyes grew wide and she smiled a little as she viewed Daniel's transmission. Rodney let her watch it twice. "There's a chance things will change."

"Thank you." She touched his hand. "When we find your John Sheppard, I'll take very good care of him."

"He's not actually mine, but thanks." Rodney eased his hand away. He was sure his face was red, and he desperately tried to find an excuse to flee.

"Dr. McKay, I have those readings you asked for." The voice in his ear saved him.

Rodney smiled with relief. "Gotta go." He practically dashed back to Engineering. The readings were mostly bad news. If they'd have waited, with their normal sensors, it would've taken twenty years to spot the Daedalus, maybe longer. "I want all the spare parts for their hyperdrive and sublight engines double-checked. Get a team together and get it done."

"Yes, sir."

That 'sir' thing was going to take some getting used to, and he'd rather go back to Atlantis before it happened. Being on these ships was actually pretty dull. Two more days. He hoped he stayed sane. Maybe he could boost the engines.


"Daedalus, this is the Apollo, please respond."

Trying not to twirl his thumbs or pace, he also made sure not to lean over Ellis's shoulder, but keeping his mouth shut was impossible. "I'm starting to think their communications are out."

Ellis shot him a dirty look. "Bring us up alongside, match course and speed. Maybe someone will look out the window."

Rodney tapped his headset. "Engineering teams, prepare for transport."

"No one is going anywhere until I'm certain we've been seen and won't be shot when we transport over!" Ellis was always so dramatic. It made Rodney's brain hurt, and he took a second from analyzing the damage that was clearly visible.

"Those are Wraith blasts." He tried not to bounce on his toes. "I'll go. Beam me right to the bridge."

Everyone gave him a look, and he nodded. "Yes, I'm serious." He double-checked one important thing. "Their life support is barely adequate. We're wasting time." He clicked his headset again. "Dr. Bishop, prepare for wounded."

"McKay, you're stepping on my toes," Ellis growled.

"Then move your feet. We're here, and they need our help!" Rodney clasped his tablet tightly to his chest. "Get me over there!" He hoped he was yelling loud enough to get his point across. He was scared, but damn it, he was going. Ellis finally nodded, gave the command, and Rodney took a deep breath. He materialized in hell. The smell of burned electronics hung the air, cables dangled, blood smear, shattered glass: he could taste the death amid the stench.

"Dr. McKay!"

"That's me." Rodney put up his hands fast, swallowed hard, and several people lowered their guns. "Don't you guys ever look out the window?" He gestured weakly at the bulkhead door that was right in front of where the windows usually were. "Had a bit of trouble?"

"Is this about those emails I didn't return?" Caldwell managed some humor, and Rodney couldn't help but admire the guy's chutzpah.

"Yes, yes, I always chase down people who ignore my emails. You're just lucky I brought the Apollo and lots of spare parts." He began to catalogue the damage as he talked. They were going to need all those parts. "Let's get busy. Injured to the infirmary, engineers and scientists report to me, and Colonel? I believe Colonel Ellis wants to speak with you."

Caldwell eased up from his chair; his bandages bright in the dim light. "I never thought I'd say this, but it's good to see you, McKay. Your radio, please?"

Rodney handed it over without a quibble. "My teams are standing by, but I'd rather some of your people were gone first. Life support is hanging by a thread."

"I'm well-aware of that." Caldwell clicked the button. "Colonel Ellis, this is Colonel Caldwell, requesting your assistance."

"Steven!" Ellis's voice was easily heard the length of the bridge; what was left of it. Rodney wasn't going to waste time listening to them chat. He caught the arm of someone he knew, not their actual name but close enough.

"Where's John Sheppard?"

"I'm not sure, Dr. McKay." The guy looked exhausted. "We had containment breaches all over the ship."

His heart began to pound in his chest, and although he could hear Ellis and Caldwell making efficient plans, it wasn't comforting. It'd been too much to hope that John would be on the bridge.

"Dr. McKay, your first priority is life support," Caldwell said very unnecessarily.

Going to him, Rodney lowered his voice and counted bandages. "Shouldn't you be in the infirmary?" Even a social dolt like him could interpret the look Caldwell gave him. "Guess it's your ship. Anyway, where's John?"

Caldwell's eyes blazed, but then he drooped. "I realize that he's the only reason you came all this way, but I need you to save my ship first!"

"I can do both." Rodney gestured towards where the transporter room used to be. "My teams are coming aboard?"

"After the infirmary is evacuated." Caldwell limped down the hallways with him. They ducked under exposed panels and stepped over chunks of exploded ship. Rodney stopped twice to fix something that couldn't wait. During the second repair, Caldwell said quietly, "Shep is in my quarters."

Carefully, Rodney finished the connection and slammed the panel back up. His pulse raced, which couldn't be good for his heart. "But he's alive?"

"Yes." Caldwell ducked his head. "He saved us all. Hermiod wanted to run a test on the hyperdrive; we'd had a glitch, but unfortunately, we dropped out near two hive ships. They didn't waste any time pounding us. Shields nearly gone, we were practically adrift, but Shep took the helm when my crewman was killed. He got us the hell out of there. I still don't know how he did it. Not long after, while we were struggling to survive, he basically collapsed."

"You must've been attacked very soon after he left, before the disc had a chance to work again." Rodney would read the report in detail later. What mattered now was finding him and repairing this ship, in that order. "Hermiod?"

"Dead." Caldwell gently rubbed his bandaged head. "Most of my engineers were killed when the hyperdrive blew. Luckily, we were just inside the Milky Way when it happened."

"Crap." Rodney felt his hands begin to shake. This rescue wasn't theory anymore. It was right in his face, casualties and all. "We'll get you home, Colonel. I didn't come all this way to leave this ship behind."

For one second, Caldwell showed his exhaustion, and then he straightened his back. "Well, thank God you're Canadian, or we'd have been pedaling home a lot longer."

"I still have no idea what that means." Rodney frowned and pushed for what he wanted, needed, would probably beg for without any pride. "Can I have the…?" He couldn't finish, and his face turned beet red as heat surged up his neck.

Caldwell leaned against the wall, wincing and rubbing his leg. "It's in my quarters on the desk. If Shep wants to return to Atlantis, we owe him that."

Relief ripped through him, and he nearly sagged to the floor. "I'm going to check on him before my teams get here, and Colonel? Seriously? See the doctor."

"I'll get there." Caldwell went on towards the infirmary, and Rodney hurried towards Caldwell's quarters. He'd crossed two galaxies for this, and he breathed hard as he opened the door. The room was dark, and he stopped to let his eyes adjust.

"John?" Peering at the bed, Rodney saw nothing and fumbled for the lights. Unfortunately, nothing on this ship worked. "John, are you okay?"

Something moved in the corner, and fear gripped him before his good sense took over. John wouldn't hurt him, couldn't hurt him. He took a deep breath and saw the disc glinting on the desk. Carefully, he picked it up and put it around his neck. He touched the edge very gently. "John?"

Still nothing, and he tucked the stupid disc away, wishing he could space it. He got down low and made his way to the corner where he'd heard rustling. The touch made him flinch, and he whispered, "John?"

A warm hand gripped him tight, and Rodney pulled John close. "We spend a lot of time on the floor."

John's forehead pressed into Rodney's chest, and he couldn't help but babble. "I came all this way, and we're going home, and you're okay. I promise." He held John closer. "I can feel bones. God, John, you have to eat." He tried to remember to breathe. "I brought your tablet. I know you probably can't think, but it was yours. Oh, God, I can't think. This ship's a disaster. I wish you could help me."

Lips pressed into the skin above Rodney's shirt, and he kissed John's forehead. "Come on. Please."

Hands clutched him tighter, and he knew he'd be dragging John out of here, but they were going. "You can do it."

The shaking alarmed him, but Rodney insisted, and he outweighed him by a good fifty pounds, and they were finally in the dim light of the hallway. "John, it's all right," Rodney whispered over and over again, but it wasn't, and he had to shut his eyes and count to ten.

"Dr. McKay?"

Forcing himself back into the situation, he kept hold of John and turned. A Marine handed him an earpiece. "Want me to help him to the Apollo?"

John squeezed him so hard that Rodney gasped. "Uh, no. We'll get there. Engineering teams on board yet?"

"Transporting now."

"Good." Rodney tapped his earpiece. "Colonel Ellis?"

"Busy." Ellis didn't click off.

"I want a team of Marines dedicated to removal of debris in the hallways." Rodney nearly fell over some rubble from the ceiling at the same time that Ellis clicked off, but he'd do it. John's eyes were big, and Rodney hugged him again. "Stay with me, okay?"

Now John nodded, and it was the first sign that his mind wasn't totally gone, and Rodney took that as good news. He forced himself to let go. "John, I have to work, or the life support might fail and we'll die, and I don't want that, not after coming all this way." He took him by forearm and started walking, stumbling, through the ship.

They had to get life support fixed before they ran out of air. John followed so closely that they touched and bumped constantly, and Rodney hoped none of the dozens of scabs on John broke open. Scabs, black eyes, two fingers that looked broken, clothes hanging with holes, and more burns than Rodney wanted to count. Sobbing wouldn't help the situation, but later he might indulge himself.

"People! Focus on life support!" Rodney cut through the confusion with his loudest voice, and everyone stopped to look at him. Several people gasped, and John crumpled to his knees. "Life support! Then the engines! Focus!"

His team seemed to take a deep breath and get started, and he had to help, and he had to get John to the Apollo, and he felt as if he might fly in two directions. John had Rodney's knee in a death grip, and Rodney stared down at him, totally unable to think.

Kneeling, he cupped John's face with his hands. "John, can you make it here with me?"

A quick nod, and John shuddered. Rodney straightened and went to the main console. A sudden, keen ache for Hermiod, and then it was time to get to work.

"Thank God you're here, Rodney."

"Are you sure you should be working, Novak?" Rodney had to ask. She sported her own share of bandages, one on her hand. She nodded and turned away, and he caught her by the elbow. "Let's get busy, hmm?"

Her small smile was enough to encourage him. He kept John close, never pausing, until he saw Novak sway. She was exhausted but wouldn't quit. She needed a break, and he would find a way to make her take one. He dropped to one knee, smiling falsely. John had huddled underneath the console, and Rodney gave him a squeeze of encouragement.

Tapping his earpiece, he called for help. "Dr. Bishop?"

"I'm here, Dr. McKay."

"If you can, send someone to the Daedalus with bottled water and MRE's. My people are going to have to work around the clock, and if that person happened to have some bandaids for Colonel Caldwell and a few others who are walking wounded, that'd be perfect."

"I understand. I'll send a medic with supplies. Bishop out."

Rodney clasped his hands together tightly to make them stop shaking. He could do this, and he would, and John was with him.


"Report, Dr. McKay."

Rodney made two adjustments before giving Caldwell what he wanted. "Life support is at eighty percent, which is the best we can do until we get to Earth. Sublight engines are back on-line at about fifty percent, and I've spent enough time with the hyperdrive to know that it'll be a week. Luckily, we have the parts to fix it." He took a deep breath, noticing Caldwell's new bandages.

Caldwell limped closer. "Anything we can do about the hull breaches?"

"I don't recommend it. Too risky." Rodney almost yawned and then swallowed it. "Anything you want done now?"

"Why, Dr. McKay, that almost sounded as if you remembered my rank!"

"Most of the lights are working again." Rodney waved his hand, dismissing that stupid remark. "No way to get the fighter bay door open. Um, let's see, oh, and I got sensors back up, but your communications system is fried beyond repair."

"Navigation?"

"Not bad. You'd have only missed Earth by a solar system or two." Rodney was pleased overall, and it was time to find a hospital bed for John. "I'm returning to the Apollo, but I'll be in contact with my teams."

Caldwell's eyes dipped to the floor where John's legs were visible. "Do that, and just out of curiosity, how many more days did we have?"

Rodney almost brushed the question aside, but he could see that Caldwell wanted an honest answer. "Two, maybe three." He knelt and put his hand on John's arm. "Let's go."

John came out slowly, looked around, and plastered himself to Rodney's side. Rodney clicked his radio. "Apollo, please beam us up."

They materialized on the bridge, and there was another round of gasping. John looked bad, and he hadn't let the medic touch him. He folded down to his knees again.

"Can I assume this is Sheppard?"

"Airman John Sheppard, Colonel Ellis." Rodney included the rank to get him some respect, which he'd totally earned. "I'm taking him to the infirmary."

Ellis looked John up and down twice and then gave him a salute. "Welcome aboard."


"John! I'm not leaving!" Rodney could see that John was going to try to run out the door. Moving faster than usual, he got up behind him on the gurney. Wrapping his arms around him, he whispered, "I'm right here. They need to check you. Please let them."

Breathing hard through his mouth, John leaned his head back into Rodney's shoulder. Bishop's eyes were very wide, and she approached them slowly.

"Can you get his shirt off?"

Rodney peeled it off him. "He never acted like this on Atlantis. I'm afraid when the Goa'uld technology took over his brain again, it sent him into some kind of traumatic shock."

"It probably did." Bishop began to clean the burns and cuts, and John shuddered once but didn't try to run. She patted Rodney on the arm. "I want him on an IV for dehydration. I'll give him vitamin shots and an antibiotic. I think he's running a fever, and those fingers need splints."

John burrowed tighter into Rodney and sighed. Rodney brushed his hand through John's filthy hair. "That sounds good. Can you give him something to sleep?"

"Will do."

Holding him close, Rodney ignored the looks from nurses and other patients. He wasn't sure if they were repulsed or pitying, but they were rude. Bishop did the IV herself and soon after John fell asleep. Rodney accepted help getting off the gurney, and they tried to make John comfortable.

"Will he be okay?" Rodney had a big ball of guilt for the delay in bringing him to the infirmary lodged in his throat. John would understand, but that didn't make it any easier to swallow.

"He's tough." Bishop nodded. "His mental state will have to wait until we get back. I can keep him sedated, if you want."

"No." Rodney didn't want that at all. "We don't know enough about what happened to him."

"I agree."

"Give me plenty of warning before he wakes up. I'll come back." Rodney smoothed John's hair back and wanted to kiss him. "And we'll have a shower."

"Good idea."

Rodney hurried away before he couldn't bear to leave. Grabbing some food, he went back to work on the Daedalus. John - the one hidden under that damn disc - would insist.


Rodney reacted to John's gentle touch to his shoulder by looking up as Ellis and Caldwell came around the corner. He heard John, clutching the tablet, crawl under the console again. John was healing, but his mental capacity was still severely limited. He couldn't use the tablet except for drawing with the stylus, and Rodney told himself five times a day that it wasn't permanent. John would recover, once he returned to Atlantis. They just had to get there, and he pushed himself hard to make it happen.

"Ah, there you both are, I think we're ready." Rodney didn't remember the last time he'd slept, but it wasn't important. Getting John to Earth was the goal, and Rodney had turned a week's worth of repairs into four days. "I suggest we make three hyperspace jumps. I know you're going to ask why but don't. Also, my recommendation is that we run with a skeleton crew, just in case."

"We explode?"

"Exactly." Rodney pointed at Caldwell. "But it shouldn't happen. Still, with the life support giving us trouble, no reason to have too many of us breathing."

Ellis and Caldwell exchanged a look. "Anything else?"

Surprise made Rodney blink. He had expected ten arguments. "Um, no? I gave the coordinates for the first jump to the Apollo and any time you're ready, we can—"

"Get out of Dodge?" Caldwell nodded in obvious pleasure. "That's a command I'd be happy to give. Will you be remaining on board?"

"Please keep him," Ellis said with pained look. "He won't stay off my bridge."

Caldwell shrugged and threw a pointed glance at John, cowering under the console. "Infirmary for him?"

"He'll be with me. Here. I moved my stuff over earlier." Rodney crossed his arms. He wasn't listening to anything else.

"Dr. Bishop signed off on it." Ellis didn't look down. Caldwell frowned, but he nodded, and Rodney breathed a small sigh of relief. John probably did need to be in the infirmary, but he wouldn't stay there, and things would go to hell very quickly. Ellis continued, "I hope the brain damage isn't permanent. Man was a fine pilot."

"He is a fine pilot," Rodney snapped. "And he can hear you, and I suggest we go before Priors show up, or pirates, or huge amoeba-like space creatures!"

"Way too much Star Trek," Caldwell muttered. He turned to Ellis. "I'll meet you at the first jump, Colonel."

"We'll be there, Colonel." Ellis was gone quickly in a beam of light, Caldwell went towards the bridge, and Rodney stopped glaring. He made sure his minions were working instead of gawking and squatted down next to John.

"Okay?"

John snuck a peek and then looked at him full-on. Rodney touched him gently on the shoulder. "Hungry?"

There was a small nod, and Rodney smiled. "Did you draw me a picture?" He told his heart to shut up.

Pulling the tablet around, John showed it to him. Figuring out what it was took a moment, and then Rodney's heart did snap right in two as he stared down at a crudely drawn jumper. "Good job on that. After we eat, we'll run a diagnostic on the hyperdrive. The quicker we get to Earth, the quicker we can get to Atlantis and your jumpers." His voice steadied the longer he talked.

Creeping out, John latched to Rodney's side, and Rodney made sure no one was sneering at them. There had been a few rude comments, but it hadn't been Rodney who had put them in their place. It'd been several of Caldwell's men. They'd impressed on everyone that there would've been no ship to rescue if it hadn't been for John Sheppard, and that had taken care of that. Kavanagh would've had a field day with the whole situation, but he'd been forcibly ejected into space during the battle with the Wraith and died screaming, and part of Rodney was glad.

They found a corner to sit together, and Rodney made sure that John ate as much as he could. It was never much, but they'd share a power bar soon. Rodney kept his pockets, and John's, full.

"This is Colonel Caldwell. We're engaging the hyperdrive now. I know we're all tired, but with any luck we'll be home soon and can get a little R and R. Caldwell out."

Rodney was not impressed with the pep talk. John tucked his face onto Rodney's shoulder, and the Daedalus surged into hyperspace. "Haven't blown up yet."

John smiled, and Rodney let his eyes shut. There was still a ton of work to be done, but they were headed in the right direction, and John was healing, and for right now, all that was good enough.

"Dr. McKay, here are those readings you wanted."

"No rest for the wicked." Rodney stretched and got to his feet slowly. John did the same, and they went together to Engineering. The hyperdrive was operating at eighty-eight percent, and after three hours of prodding, he got it up to ninety percent. It wasn't going any higher. Too many subsystems were still damaged, and he could only do so much, although he'd never admit it.

"By my count, you've been up for three days straight. I want you in your quarters, sleeping, now."

Yawning was probably not the way to convince Caldwell otherwise, but the word sleep had made Rodney dream of actually doing it. "I should, um, well, I guess I could take a break. With any luck, we won't blow up."

"That's comforting." Caldwell sighed heavily. "Go get some sleep. John looks tired too."

"You called him John? Not Shep?" Rodney was suddenly wide awake, and now that he was looking, he could see Caldwell's concern. Maybe it had been there all along, and Rodney had been too busy, too angry, to notice it. "You've been protecting him?"

"He's Air Force, and he's my responsibility." Caldwell strode away without another word, and Rodney stared after him, deciding for the first time that he might possibly like Caldwell. Shoving that aside, he made sure everyone knew where he'd be before they went to their quarters. He told himself twice that the crewmen who had shared these quarters were safe and sound on the Apollo. Anything else gave him the creeps.

He gestured at the bunk beds. "You want top, John?"

John didn't move, and Rodney gently took the tablet from him. "Come on. Let's sleep." Still, no reaction, and Rodney put the tablet on the small dresser before kicking off his shoes. Getting undressed didn't seem like a good idea. He might have to dash to Engineering. "John?"

He knelt, and Rodney couldn't stand it anymore. Pulling, he dragged John to the bottom bunk and put him on the bed. Quickly, he yanked off John's boots. John didn't fight, or protest, or even sigh like he used to, and Rodney tried to block the sobs that were coming from his own throat.

"John," Rodney whispered. He tucked him close. "Don't worry. I'll fix it." He pillowed his head on John's shoulder. "I promise."

When John stroked Rodney's hair, Rodney quivered. He really had no idea if John - the real one, trapped behind the disc - wanted him, but that tiny gesture made him almost giddy with relief. "I'm Canadian, you know," Rodney whispered.

John squeezed, and Rodney let his exhaustion drag him down.


"No, no, no!" Rodney had to wave his arms. "They have no idea what they're asking. We'll burn up. Remember the space shuttle Columbia?"

Caldwell rubbed his forehead. "We withstood hyperspace."

"Totally different." Rodney put on his best glare. "Tell them no. It's not possible to land the Daedalus at Area 51. She'll have to be repaired in orbit, a high orbit."

"They're saying we're too damaged," Caldwell grumbled. "But I didn't come all this way to explode now."

Rodney pulled up a 3-D representation of the Daedalus. "The biggest problem is right here." He pointed to the hanger bay. "I had Colonel Ellis send a 302 to look, and we have no outer door. When, not if, the heat from re-entry gets inside and blows up our remaining 302's, we'll end up scattered all over the sky!"

"Are you forgetting we have shields?" Caldwell wasn't giving up. The man did love to follow orders, even stupid ones.

"We do? I hadn't noticed." Rodney rolled his eyes, snapping his fingers. "Oh! I remember! That charred bit of equipment I threw in the refuse pile!"

Finally, the reality seemed to sink in, and Caldwell paled. "That would be a suicide run."

"Exactly!" Rodney heaved a sigh of relief. "We don't even have transporters if something goes wrong." The argument won, he turned back to the fifty or so last minute details he wanted to complete before he and John beamed down to the SGC. Suddenly, he noticed the worry in Caldwell's eyes. "They're not going to scrap the Daedalus? Are they?"

"Over my dead body," Caldwell growled. "In any case, the Daedalus is no longer your concern. General Hammond wants you, and Airman Sheppard, in his office as soon as you're packed. The Apollo will transport you when you're ready." He glanced at John, who was sitting in the corner, and then met Rodney's eyes firmly. "And in case I didn't mention it - thank you for your assistance."

"You're welcome, and maybe now you'll look on Canadians in a more favorable light," Rodney said mildly, enjoying the slight wince around Caldwell's eyes. Caldwell gave John a small salute before marching away.

"He likes you way more than me," Rodney mumbled.

John tapped his tablet, and Rodney stepped close to look. It was a stargate. "Yes, we'll get home. I promise." He didn't know how since the Daedalus usually made the trip, and she'd be out of commission for some time, but if he had to dig up all of Egypt to find a ZPM, he would.

Getting packed took all of five minutes. John had one change of clothing, and Rodney had two, and other than the tablet, they were ready. Rodney slung the duffel on his shoulder, and said softly, "Ready?"

Confusion marred his green eyes, but he nodded. The tablet was firmly in his grasp, and it wasn't long after that they were standing in General Hammond's office. Or Rodney was. John immediately knelt, back somewhat bowed, pressing into Rodney's leg, and Rodney found it hard to speak.

Hammond stared for longer than was comfortable for any of them, but eventually he cleared his throat. "Dr. McKay, Airman Sheppard, first, my thanks on a job well done."

Rodney throttled down his temper, or at least he tried. He wasn't entirely sure why he was so angry, but it didn't help that he could feel John shaking with what was probably fear. Hammond raised his eyebrows, waiting for something, and Rodney discovered that he didn't have it in him to yell all the usual obscenities. It just wasn't important. He knelt down and pulled John's face close.

"It's okay," he whispered for the millionth time. "He's a general. No big deal. We'll eat, and rest, and very soon, we'll go home. Remember the blue ocean, the tall spires, Colonel Lorne's lame jokes, and Teyla's terrible Athosian stew that you nearly spit on the floor?" He hoped what he saw in John's eyes was a yes.

"Doctor, why don't you take Sheppard to the infirmary and then report to the briefing room? There's a lot to go over."

The instant widening of John's eyes was so very easy to see. Rodney took him by the neck and pressed their foreheads together like he'd done with Teyla countless times. "I won't leave you."

John sighed and shut his eyes; his hands relaxing their grip on Rodney's jacket. Rodney got to his feet, taking John with him.

"The infirmary will be fine. John and I will meet you in the briefing room when he's finished." Rodney didn't think Hammond would agree, but it wasn't open to discussion. "Not sure why you need me there anyway. Every time I open my mouth, you all roll your eyes and assume my ego is out of control."

Hammond came around from the back of his desk. "I'll walk with you, and you have to admit that has happened a time or two."

"You conveniently forget that I saved O'Neill's butt, no matter how Carter spins it." Rodney wasn't going to bring up the Teal'c thing. He wrapped his fingers around John's and didn't rush him. "Colonel Caldwell isn't going to be happy if you scuttle his ship."

"Never crossed my mind." Hammond sounded sincere. "Dr. Weir is insisting we send you back, but I want to offer you the position of supervising the refit on the Daedalus. No, don't answer right now. Think about it."

Glad they were at the infirmary and he didn't have to answer, Rodney guided John to Dr. Frasier, who gave them both a look that he couldn't interpret.

"So! This is the famous John Sheppard!"

"Yes," Rodney said shortly. He felt a tug on his hand, and he turned fast. "John, I won't leave. You need a checkup. For your hand?" He pointed at the splints. "Please?"

John glanced at Hammond and then Frasier, and his knees went out again. Rodney hissed at them, "Can't you see he has a case of PTSD that makes Rambo look sane? Give us some room! Please!"

Hammond nodded. "We'll talk later. No rush."

Frasier sighed softly and waved away several nurses who John was eyeing fearfully. "I'm sorry. My voice was too loud." She backed up slightly. "Can you get him to sit up on the bed?"

Kneeling again and hoping his knees didn't give out on him, he spoke softly. "It's me she doesn't like, John. I made a pass at her girlfriend, and she's still mad." He heard her chuff of annoyance but she didn't matter. "Let her check you, and then we'll get ice cream. It's my favorite thing, you know. Well, as long as it has fudge on it. No nuts, but you knew that, and—" He stopped when John met Rodney's eyes firmly. "I know. I'm babbling."

She shifted, and John looked right at her. Rodney groaned as he got up, and John smiled, not much, but enough.

"Here, please?"

A deep breath, and John handed Rodney the tablet. Rodney put it down on a chair, scooted up on the bed, and offered his chest as a pillow. John was there almost instantly. They were molded together when SG-1 came through the door, and Rodney grabbed John around the waist.

"They won't hurt you. They won't hurt you." Rodney nearly winced as John's good hand dug into Rodney's thigh. "We're okay," he whispered, almost more for himself than John.

Frasier moved so John couldn't see them, and Rodney felt him relax an inch or two. She pulled the curtain around them, leaving them alone. She was whispering, and Rodney kissed the back of John's neck because it was there. John tried to wiggle deeper onto Rodney's lap, and Rodney hugged him. The very last thing he wanted was to be ridiculed by Carter and O'Neill. He didn't give a damn what they thought about him, but it might scare John.

"He's Air Force!" That was O'Neill.

"He's traumatized, and I won't have you making it worse." That was Frasier.

Rodney pressed his face into John's neck and let the warmth calm him down.

"We can talk to McKay, right?" Carter almost sounded whiny, and Rodney wished they'd had wild crazy sex before he discovered how much he didn't like her. John rubbed Rodney's leg, making it feel better.

"No, and certainly not all of you. Airman Sheppard might fly through the roof." Frasier had it right, but she was still rude.

"Let me talk to them," said Daniel in his quiet way, and Rodney was surprised that he wouldn't mind that.

Frasier didn't answer right away. "Daniel only, but after I've got them settled. I'll call you." She came back around the curtain and continued her examination of John without a word. Rodney wasn't completely surprised when she took his blood pressure also. She might've been tipped off by how red his face was.

Finally, after forever, she stepped back. "He seems to be healing, and I'll x-ray his hand so we know how his fingers are doing. What concerns me is that you're both clearly exhausted and dehydrated." She pinched the skin on Rodney's hand.

"Ow!" Rodney felt John's jerk and tried to reassure him, "I'm fine. She's a witch doctor, but—"

"Your skin shows how bad it is." She rolled her eyes. "Okay, I need blood. Both of you, hold still, and McKay, be brave."

"She thinks she's funny," Rodney whispered in John's ear. John turned his face up to him, and Rodney had this sinking feeling in his gut. O'Neill was right. John was Air Force, and that meant he couldn't like men, and no one wanted to see them together like this, and Rodney had to take a deep breath, trying to calm his jitters. "Blue skies," he whispered, hanging on that much tighter.

"Okay, there's a small room that's empty, two beds, I want you both in them. We'll get IV's hooked up while I go over your blood work."

Rodney groaned and thumped his forehead down on John's shoulder. "Come on! Let us go to our quarters. We'll be fine."

"No." Frasier glared at them, and John ducked his head. Rodney felt his blood pressure notch up, but he couldn't yell without freaking out John.

"Let's get down," Rodney said quietly, and John hopped off, taking his tablet immediately.

"I still need x-rays so forget about going anywhere." Frasier glowered some more, and Rodney took John's extended hand to clamber down. John didn't turn loose, and Rodney reassured himself again that he wasn't forcing John to do anything. They held hands while John's other hand was x-rayed, and then she showed them to what really was a small room with two beds.

John put his back to the corner fast, but at least he was on a bed, and Rodney didn't listen to all the blah-blah about dehydration and exhaustion. "Hammond wanted us in a briefing," he grumbled, but no one listened, especially the nurse that pushed a needle in his arm as he sat on the edge of the bed. It would've been worse, but John crept up behind and held him.

"Ow," Rodney whispered, watching her tape it firmly to his arm, and it was really going to hurt coming off all that hair. He glanced over his shoulder. "Your turn, John. No, don't pout. Fair is fair."

With a sigh, John extended his arm and got the same treatment. They both stared at their IV poles when it was over.

"This isn't how I wanted to spend my day." Rodney pushed his shoes off. John hooked his chin over Rodney's shoulder, and they stayed that way until Daniel eased around the corner. Rodney tried for a small smile. "Daniel, this is John Sheppard. Have you met before?"

Daniel moved slowly into the room and sat across from them. "No. How are you, John?"

There was a moment where Rodney thought from the hand trembling that John might hide in the corner. He'd done that pretty consistently aboard the Daedalus. Turning a little, Rodney tried to look encouraging. John slowly held up his tablet so Daniel could see the picture.

"That's a nice stargate." Daniel smiled but was smart enough not to reach. "Do you want to go back to Atlantis, John?"

John pressed the tablet into his chest and turned so his back was to Rodney. That conversation was over. Rodney shrugged. "I think we'd both like to go home. Unfortunately, it may take us a while to get there."

"Yeah, about that." Daniel sighed, and that was really a bad thing. "In the time you've been gone, there's been a policy change in regards to the Goa'uld technology that was used on military prisoners."

"I would hope to hell so!" Rodney felt John's slight flinch. Pitching his voice lower, he continued, "I was impressed with your demonstration. You're not as narrow-minded as I thought."

Daniel's mouth dropped open, and then he recovered. "I wish Jack had heard that. Me, narrow-minded, huh." His eyes focused again. "We're still working out the details with the Tok'ra, and John can't go anywhere until it's resolved."

"Then I won't either." Rodney saw the doubt flash across Daniel's face. "I mean it." He put his hand to his head. "She must've slipped us something. I feel groggy all the sudden." He could feel himself sliding into sleep. Getting to his feet, he swayed and Daniel steadied him. "John, we have to rest now. Take off your boots."

"He's asleep." Daniel helped Rodney sit on the other bed. "Lie down. I'll get him settled."

"He doesn't like to be touched," Rodney mumbled. He tipped over to his side, feeling the pinch of the IV and straightening his arm. Daniel helped him too, and then it all faded away.


"You see! This! Is what I'm talking about!"

Staring in absolute fury, Rodney kept his hand on John's knee as he yanked the covers over his head and burrowed under the pillow.

"O'Neill, you have the manners of a moose and the I.Q. of a deranged ferret." Rodney had more insults, but those were a good start. "Why don't you fire a few shots in the air to further traumatize him?"

"If I start shooting, the ceiling isn't what I'm aiming at." O'Neill gestured at Hammond. "But you see my point."

"Somewhat." Hammond frowned. "I'm sure you're restless, Dr. McKay, but I wanted to be sure that Airman Sheppard was in good health."

"Restless? How does insane sound?" Rodney nearly threw his discarded lunch tray at O'Neill's smirking face. He wanted to stride to them and demand answers but hospital scrubs didn't allow for much dignity. "What the hell is going on? And why are we basically under arrest?"

"Told ya he'd be mad."

"Dr. McKay, you do realize that you're not military?" Hammond frowned. "The only reason I've allowed this," he pointed at the bed with them in it, "is because it's in Sheppard's best interest, and the Tok'ra insisted that he be healthy and well-rested."

Fear grabbed Rodney hard, and he never should've trusted them, or even come back. Rigging up the transporters to take them somewhere else would've been very doable. "You're taking him to prison, aren't you?"

"The Air Force is in your debt for your part in rescuing the Daedalus, but what we do with our personnel isn't any of your business."

Rodney looked from one set face to the other. "You bastards!" He couldn't find any more words, and they all flinched when John sat up and grabbed him tightly.

O'Neill sauntered to the bed and snapped his fingers. "The disc."

"No. You can't." Rodney wanted to beg, scream, shout, and they were damn lucky he'd left his gun at home. "I promised him."

"Sheppard saved the Daedalus. He'll probably get a medal, and right now, I need you to give me the disc." O'Neill wasn't backing off.

"Things didn't work out so well for him the last time you gave him a medal!" Rodney got to his feet fast, and he saw a tiny of bit of surprise cross O'Neill's face. "No, just no."

Hammond actually groaned. "Why is everything so hard with you?"

"Blame it on the I.Q. points." Rodney reached back and touched John on the shoulder. In the instant that O'Neill looked away, Rodney punched him in the jaw. "Run, John!"

"Jesus Christ."

Teal'c stepped into view, and electricity hit Rodney right where it hurt.


Groaning, Rodney tried to coordinate his arms and legs with little or no success. A zat was almost as bad as a Wraith stunner. "John?" Part of him knew it was too late, but it was the only word he wanted to say.

"You're awake. Good." Daniel helped him sit up. Rodney tried to push him away, but Daniel didn't seem to notice. "Rodney, take a deep breath. John's fine. Well, he will be. I hope."

The weight of the disc was gone from around Rodney's neck, and he had never hated anyone like he hated SG-1 and General Hammond. "Turn me loose."

Daniel got back. "I don't want a lump on my jaw like Jack has."

Rodney stumbled to his feet. "I knew this would happen, and I sat around for three days, believing the whole medical bullshit. God, I'm a worse idiot than you." He rubbed his face and managed to make it out the door. He'd even enjoyed those three long days with nothing to do but be with John. That's how big of a sap he was.

"Daniel, if I were you, I'd find other employment. The temptation to build a bomb is a strong one."

"Hey, McKay." Carter met him as he staggered into the hallway. "If I were you, I'd take cover. The colonel is pretty mad."

He glanced down at his scrubs and really hated to blow up the SGC dressed in them, but he had no idea where his pants were.

"Where is he going?"

"I just hope there's not any uranium on base," Daniel muttered. "There's not, right?"

"Uh."

His legs began to really work, and he picked up the pace. First, he'd hack into the security system and find out where they'd taken him, and then he'd-

"Rodney!" Daniel grabbed him by the shoulder. "Whatever it is you're planning is a bad idea. Come to my lab, we'll talk. I'll find your clothes. Please."

"Why should I trust you?" Rodney knocked the hand away, but he stopped because he needed pants.

"Because I'll tell you the truth." Daniel pushed his glasses back. "I may not agree with Jack's tactics, but he always looks out for his men, and John Sheppard is Air Force."

"I hate the Air Force." Rodney hated them all.

Carter stepped very close. "Let us explain it to you."

"You? You'd lie, cheat, and steal to protect O'Neill's backside." Rodney dismissed her out of hand. He didn't actually blame her for that loyalty, now that he understood it. "Daniel, did they hurt him?"

"I hope to hell not." Daniel cupped his hand under Rodney's elbow. "My lab, please?"

"Fine, but not her. She can go rub O'Neill's feet or something."

"I get the feeling he doesn't trust me." Carter frowned. "Rodney, we're friends."

"No! I was never anything but a joke because I was stupid enough to like you. Go elsewhere." Rodney had a moment of panic. "Where's John's tablet?" He headed back to the infirmary. Maybe they had it. This entire fiasco was his fault. If only, if only, he'd trusted Weir or taken John to another planet, or done… something right.

John's tablet was gone, but Rodney found his clothes, and Frasier tried to give him a lecture about leaving the infirmary without permission, but he didn't listen. After he was dressed and had his duffel bag, he finally rounded on her. "Did you sedate him for them?"

She paled as her lips thinned. That was all the answer he needed, and he pushed Daniel aside to get out the door even faster.

"Rodney!" Daniel jogged after him.

"I promised him that we'd go home!" Rodney wasn't sure who exactly he'd have to kill to get his way on this, but he was starting with General Hammond and working his way down until he got results. Daniel got in front of him, forcing him to stop.

"Please, let's talk. If you're going to yell at people, you should at least have all the facts."

Rodney could see the reasoning behind that. "You do have a computer, right?"

"Of course." Daniel blinked. Rodney let him lead the way to his lab, and it had to be one of the creepiest, dustiest places on Earth. He avoided looking in corners, expecting mummies to be there. The computer was barely adequate, and he dropped his bag before hacking into the security system.

"What are you doing?" Daniel hovered close. When the first pictures of John on the security feed came up, Daniel groaned. "Don't watch."

That was impossible, and Rodney held his breath as Teal'c stunned him. John hadn't run. He'd crouched almost on top of Rodney, face wild. They'd tried to get him to walk, but he'd refused, pulling and fighting. Rodney winced as Frasier sedated him. Switching cameras, Rodney made sure his mouth was shut tight as John was frog-marched to the gateroom. He never let go of that tablet, but he resisted every step of the way. O'Neill and Teal'c took him through the stargate.

"The Tok'ra, with help from Carter, think they have a way to get it off. You see, the Goa'uld didn't intend for them to be removed."

"He's going to be their guinea pig?" Rodney interrupted. His knees felt weak, and he needed to throw up.

Daniel put a gentle hand on Rodney's arm. "No. They won't do it if they think it'll hurt him."

"I could've gone!" Rodney slapped the keys so he didn't have to look at the still frame of John's scared face any longer. It was burned into his retinas anyway. "There wasn't any reason to terrorize him!"

"I agree, and I argued for that, but when push came to shove, John is—"

"Air Force! I know!" Rodney could almost hear their stupid arguments. "And I'm Canadian!"

"And you made a bunch of people with ribbons on their chest ashamed, and they weren't going to give you a chance to further embarrass them in front of our allies." Daniel took off his glasses and rubbed his face. He looked tired, and Rodney, for one second, felt sorry for him, working in this mountain, surrounded by morons.

"So tell me the official new policy of your glorious military." His mind was scurrying a hundred different directions at once but other than gassing everyone and gating to the Tok'ra's home planet, he was going to have to trust that John wouldn't be hurt. That, at some point, John would be given a choice, and he might choose Atlantis. It was a lot of trust, and Rodney didn't have it in him.

"No more discs. It's banned technology. The Nox, who are beyond furious at us, have offered sanctuary to anyone with one who wants to go there." Daniel wandered away and came back with a strange-looking device. "Can you turn this on for me?"

"Put it down. I don't touch anything until I know what it'll do." Rodney was admittedly curious, but it could wait. "John's sentence was life. I fully expect them to throw him back in prison."

Daniel put it down right in front of him. "I doubt Colonel Caldwell would allow that after what happened on the Daedalus. You're going to have to be patient. Wait and see what happens. There was a lot of concern that your influence over him was driven by the disc."

"Of course he doesn't really like me. No one does!" Rodney wanted to grab it up and smash it. "And didn't I bring you enough toys?"

"This was found on a dig in Egypt. Brought in about a week ago. You're here, and I'm curious." Daniel sat down on a stool. "Do you think it was the disc that made him like you?"

"Daniel, have you noticed that I'm a scientist? That I collect and analyze data?" Rodney began to study it, without touching. "John was normal on Atlantis, if you consider normal someone with an overactive gene and a degree in Mathematics. Wow, he's a geek. He and I, well, we got along. He called me a jackass and I taught him, well, physics and stuff about the jumpers."

"You're saying that you two weren't…" Daniel didn't look as if he wanted to finish that sentence.

"Not at first." Rodney blushed. He wasn't going to share those memories. "But he kissed me! I think."

Daniel laughed softly. "I guess it's possible. He probably thought he had nothing to lose."

"I am so complimented." Rodney rubbed his face hard. He was useless here on this base, and there was nowhere else to go.

"I thought you had a thing for—"

The door slid open and Carter started talking instantly. "There's been a security breach traced to your—. Oh, of course. You let McKay touch it."

Rodney shrugged. "I got over her."

"The Tok'ra will take good care of him. If he's lucky, they'll erase the last several years from his memory." Carter looked from Rodney to Daniel. "Glad you calmed him down."

Calm. He was calm. Taking a deep breath, he picked up the item Daniel had been curious about and thought 'on' at it. It responded instantly, and he looked up to study the constellations it had thrown towards the ceiling. "Those are Pegasus constellations."

"You read Ancient?"

"More or less." Rodney turned it off. "A toy, nothing more."

Her words echoed in his ears. If John were lucky, he'd have no memory. Rodney hoped for John's sake that was true, but some small, selfish part of him wanted John back with it all intact. "I'm hungry," he muttered.

"Same old McKay."

Daniel extended his hands for the toy, but Rodney tucked it under his arm. "I'm leaving." He scooped up his duffel and headed for the cafeteria. After that, he'd go to his apartment. He certainly wasn't going to do the refit on the Daedalus. Carter and Daniel didn't try to go with him, or stop him, and he ate because he had to, wishing he were in a corner with John.

No one tried to stop him from leaving the base, and he caught a cab to his apartment. It still sucked, and he sneezed twice from the dust. Looking about in complete disgust, he did the only thing he could. He filled his duffel bag with clothes, made sure the toy was well hidden, found his wallet, and left.

It took him about ten minutes to re-master taxi cabs, banks and ATM machines, and Colorado was still awful, and it was a shock to be cold. It didn't take long for him to realize that he had no idea where to go and no desire to go anywhere without John. Leaning against the side of an elevator, he questioned what exactly he was doing. Instead of this hotel, he should go camp out in the gateroom, except there was no guarantee that John would ever come back.

It was within the realm of possibility that John had already returned, but Rodney didn't believe it. Somehow, those sons-of-bitches were going to work it so he never saw John again. They hadn't even had sex, and it was incredibly unfair for them to be punished for something that hadn't happened. That thing in the jumper didn't count at all. John hadn't even gotten to enjoy it, and that was just wrong.

By the time the Tok'ra and the Air Force were finished with him, there'd be nothing left of what they'd shared, and that was if Rodney remembered it right. He probably wasn't. Daniel was right. No one liked him, not willingly, and the sooner Rodney faced that John was no different than the rest of them, the better off he'd be.

Damn Goa'uld technology had managed to screw him over worse than the Wraith because those snakeheads had given him John, and none of it was real.


This wasn't normal, and Rodney didn't need a degree in the soft sciences to know it. He sipped his latte, breathed in good Canadian air - no damn discs here - and let his butt get cold on the picnic bench. After the always temperate Atlantis weather and the stale Daedalus air, this was good, even nice, and he'd repeat it until he believed it.

She looked the same, except her hair was shorter, and he ended up focusing more on the child than he should've. The girl was cute, fearless, and dashed from one thing to another with no regard for personal safety. Her mother laughed at it, and Rodney didn't think that was appropriate.

"Mommy, who's that strange man staring at us?" Her little voice practically carried to the States, proclaiming her a McKay for all time.

Rodney rolled the warm cup in his hands and hunched in his coat. This little park wasn't far from Jeannie's house, and he'd been here every day for a week, waiting. It was the dumbest idea ever, worse than some of Zelenka's, and he'd been driven to it by Goa'uld. He didn't look, couldn't look, and he seriously didn't care one bit.

"Mer?"

"Hi." Rodney went with that, but he made damn sure to stay an arm's length away. She might want to hit him, and she'd always had a good left hook. Sure enough, those hands balled into fists and thumped onto her hips.

"That's it? Four years with no word! And that's it?" She loomed over him, somewhat reminiscent of their mother, who'd also had a vicious left hook, not that Rodney would bring it up right now.

"Yeah, pretty much." Rodney drank some latte and wished it had more vanilla in it. His niece was adorable, not that he'd noticed.

"Madison, that's no one you need to know." Jeannie took her daughter by the hand and left the park, and Rodney didn't turn to watch them leave. He shifted on his very cold butt and wondered again what could drive a man to this. Maybe it was guilt. He wished it were something else, like envy, but he wasn't sure, and by the time his latte was gone, he had his answer. This little family drama proved that he was alone, and he'd needed that. No one in this galaxy gave two shits about him, and it was time to leave.

At least in the Pegasus galaxy he had Carson, Teyla, and maybe even Zelenka. Maybe. Rodney lowered his head and pretty much knew he'd do whatever it took to get back there. The SGC had him over the proverbial barrel, and chances were good they knew it. It wasn't going to be fun without John, but he would survive.

"God," Rodney whispered, hating his own sense of drama. Six days was not enough to fall in love, and six days was not worth all this worry, and six days—

"What the hell are you doing? If you freeze to death, I am not burying you next to Mom and Dad!"

"Well, thank God for that!" Rodney stared mournfully down at his empty latte and casually tossed it into the trash. He should've known she'd come back for round two. "I thought you left."

"I took Madison home to her father." Jeannie stomped into his field of vision and planted herself there like a tree. "Are you here to apologize?"

Rodney blinked several times, analyzing. "For not calling, or for not going to your wedding, or for wishing you'd have married anyone but an English professor?" He thought there were probably more reasons, but it was a start.

"Yes!"

"Uh, no." None of that had crossed Rodney's mind, not once during the long trip here. "I, well, things have really sucked lately." He could see that she had no pity in her heart, not that he'd expected any. "And I wanted to make sure you didn't like me before, I, um, leave?"

"You are an idiot." Jeannie smacked him right in the middle of the forehead before he had time to move.

"Ow!" Rodney put his hands up and cowered. "You see! You don't like me!" He got to his feet, outraged at his own stupidity. "And I'm fine with that! Don't smack me again!"

Jeannie said some very rude things that Rodney basically agreed with and stormed away again. He sure as hell wasn't going to follow her. She was obviously crazy from living with an English professor and raising a small hellion. Zipping his coat higher, he rubbed his cold ass for a minute, picked up his duffel and wandered towards the road.

He nearly turned to run the other way when he saw Jeannie was coming back at him.

"Leave?" She poked him in the chest hard. "What exactly did you mean by that? It sounded rather final!"

He guessed that he had meant it that way. "Come on, Jeannie, don't pretend you care now. I suck as a brother. Hell, I suck as an Earthling." He hated his raw laughter. "You won't miss me," he croaked, feeling empty and hating that he'd noticed. "And it's better this way."

Her eyes couldn't get any wider. "Somehow you've turned this around so I feel guilty! I did nothing wrong!"

"Crap," he breathed, and he could see her point. It did sound like that, and he hadn't meant it that way. It was just the truth that she wouldn't miss him, and he didn't - couldn't - blame her. "No. My fault. Totally. Hate me all you want. Before I… well, go…" He searched for declassified words. "I needed to know that you wouldn't wonder. You wouldn't notice or care. I probably shouldn't have come."

She sighed very softly. "Idiot isn't a big enough word for you. I'll have to ask Caleb if there's some word in the English language that covers it. Go kill yourself, if that's the plan, but yes, once or twice a year, I will wonder whatever happened to that very stupid brother of mine!"

"Oh." Rodney could see that he was way out of his depth. There was a flash of something like worry in her eyes, and he struggled to reassure her. "I'm not going to kill myself." A big Wraith popped up in his mind and laughed heartily at that. "Okay, I am most likely not ever coming back." He groaned at her terrible expression. "I'm not good at this."

"At this point, I don't even believe you. You look like shit, skinnier than I've ever seen, tired, and the bags under your eyes have their own postal codes." She sighed. "Come on, before we freeze to death. I'll make hot chocolate."

Rodney didn't see where that would solve anything. "Marshmallows?"

"Of course."


"Did you bring me a present?"

Staring down at the small child attached to his legs, he automatically shook his head. "Is that the rule?"

"Yes," Madison said quite clearly. "Relatives bring presents."

"Madison," Jeannie scolded and pulled her away. Rodney hesitated right in the doorway, sure this was a bad idea. If nothing else, Madison would drive him crazy, and kids were always sticky. It was one of the few things that Zelenka was right about.

"And this is?"

Before Jeannie could call him a moron again, Rodney took one step and introduced himself. "Dr. Rodney McKay."

"My stupid brother."

Caleb - was it Caleb? - tentatively extended his hand, and Rodney shook it quickly. He didn't want to get in a squeezing contest; he'd lose. The house was cozy, warm, and he shivered a little; glad to be inside. Looking about at the comfortable furniture, the pictures of family, and the occasional art project, he was struck again that this was a life he'd never wanted. Never needed, and he'd be fine on Atlantis… as long as John were there.

"Get ready for the insults," Jeannie muttered.

"What?" Rodney wanted to sink down on that sofa, pull the afghan around him, and pretend that physics and Ancient technology were still enough to keep him happy. It'd been that way before John, but John wouldn't want him. John wouldn't. It was a certainty, like gravity, and Rodney was going back to Atlantis anyway.

"Is he my uncle? Or my aunt?"

"Good question," Jeannie said, taking Rodney by the arm. "Kitchen is this way. I should've known that if you ever did show up, it'd be in time for dinner."

Rodney left his duffel by the door and trailed along behind her. He tried to think of something to say, settling on the weather. "So, it's been cold?"

"It's winter!" Madison popped into the chair next to him and stared. "I go to pre-school."

"That's good?" Rodney saw the evil look his sister gave him, telling him to be nice or she'd whack him. "Are you smart?"

"Mom says I'm too smart for my own good." Madison smiled big at him.

"Sounds like her, but really, there's no such thing." Rodney slowly unzipped his coat as it seemed Jeannie wouldn't immediately be throwing him out in the cold.

"Are you really stupid?"

"Madison!"

"You said it!"

It was a good question, and one that Rodney took seriously. He'd always thought he was ragingly brilliant, and he was, but he'd screwed up this entire thing with John. He leaned a little closer to her, she didn't smell awful, and said softly, "I'm very smart, but I've made some bad choices. You ever do that?"

Madison's eyes grew very round. "Sometimes, people—." She glared at her mom for a second. "—don't understand."

"And it's easy for them to criticize." Rodney saw her small nod. He glanced at his sister, and she was giving him the strangest look. Caleb smiled tentatively as he padded into the room, planting a small kiss on Jeannie's cheek, and Rodney was smart enough - barely - to see the obvious love between them. Jeannie had given up physics for this man. Her career, everything, for that man, and Rodney felt his guts shrivel because he knew he'd do the same for John, and he wouldn't count the cost.

Of course, they wouldn't let him, but he'd have done it. The sudden chilling thought that John might end up with the Nox swept over him. If that happened, Rodney might never know. The very idea made him fidget, and he almost bolted out the door in a mad dash to get back to Cheyenne Mountain and demand answers.

"My brother is half-a-second from a panic attack from the mere idea that we might love each other." Jeannie rolled her eyes - she'd minored in that at college.

"We really are married. I swear." Caleb tweaked Madison's nose and sat down across from them. He was tall and had an easy smile, and Rodney almost smiled back at him.

Madison rubbed her nose. "It's kinda gross."

Rodney couldn't help but laugh softly. He agreed with her. "All that mushy stuff."

"Ew." Madison stuck out her tongue. "I'm never getting married."

"Me neither." Rodney could say that with certainty now that he'd met John. He stared mournfully at his sister. "Weren't we promised hot chocolate?"

"Madison's asked for a younger brother." Jeannie put down mugs in front of Madison and him. He used the spoon to swirl the marshmallows around, letting his mind chase options and permutations of his problematic future. Of course, he'd been doing that for nearly a week, but he kept hoping he'd come up with an answer - the happy ending, of sorts.

Jeannie was suddenly sitting across from him; her eyes wide, face intent. "Mer, what happened?"

He noticed that Caleb and Madison had gone somewhere. "Stuff." There was so little he could say, but words tumbled out almost against his will. "I found someone, and I was stupid, so stupid, to think it was possible, and what I could have done, I didn't, and now, well, there's nothing left I can do. I didn't know where to go, first time for that, and I'm sorry I bothered you."

"Oh, Mer." Jeannie leaned her forehead into her hands.

It was time to drink his hot chocolate before she threw him to the curb. "I'm sorry, okay? I never should've come here. I guess for the first time - and wow, I did not expect this to happen - I understand why you married… him, and I'm sorry I was so… wrong."

Her mouth dropped right open. "You're dying, aren't you?"

"No!" Rodney slumped in his seat, feeling like a complete jerk, and this little homey episode had further convinced him that John, healed, would have nothing to do with him. His stomach twisted, and he got to his feet. "I'm tired. I should go."

"Where?" Jeannie didn't look as if she'd be stopping him. He didn't bother to answer because he didn't know. She stood quickly and reached for him. He automatically ducked and then glared as she giggled. "Mer, eat dinner with us. Then we'll talk more."

He wasn't sure that was a smart thing but she nudged him towards the bathroom to clean up, and he went, and then the food was on the table, and he ate. It wasn't all that good, and he was almost sure it wasn't real meat, but after Atlantis's crazy food and six million power bars, it was hard to tell for sure. He tried very hard not to worry about John, and whether or not he was eating. The man was far too skinny.

"Aren't you going to complain about the food?" Jeannie's eyebrows were up, challenging him.

"I've been living on warm water, power bars, and MRE's." Rodney could say that much, and he didn't feel like insulting her. It was barely possible that he was getting sick, but he just didn't have the energy. "It's nice to eat something else."

"Military?" There was an element of disbelief in Caleb's voice.

"Mer has always worked for the military industrial complex that is the United States." Jeannie used the tone that meant she disapproved. "Afghanistan? Iraq?"

"Classified," Rodney said softly, sneaking a peek at his niece. She was remarkably well-behaved at the table. He was tempted to flick a pea at her. "I hate vegetables. How about you?"

"Green is only okay in gumballs." Madison gave him a toothy grin. "Orange stuff is usually good."

"Yeah, good and deadly," Rodney muttered, but he was glad she hadn't inherited any of his bad genes.

Jeannie pointed her fork at him. "Madison doesn't have any allergies."

"Epilepsy?" He was curious.

"No." Now Jeannie sounded relieved. "Caleb's genes pulled through for us."

"Unless she grows up to write bad poetry and play the bongos." Rodney leaned back in his chair so Jeannie couldn't get to him. Caleb laughed softly, and it was harder and harder to dislike him.

"Letters are nice, but numbers are better," Madison said. "What's your favorite number?"

Rodney didn't think too hard about it. "Seven." He smiled at her instant frown. "It's a good number!"

"Three is better." Madison looked sure about that. She ate her peas with a dramatic grimace. Dimly, they all heard the phone ring. Caleb went to get it, and Rodney suddenly worried that it was the SGC. They wouldn't just let him walk away, no matter how angry Hammond was with him.

"Mer, is the United States military after you?"

It was Jeannie who'd always been too smart, too intuitive, for her own good. He shrugged, trying to look casual. "It's barely possible."

Her eyes flared. "Have you put my family in danger?" It was clear that she'd never forgive him if he had.

"No. They might drag me away, but they'll ignore you." He sighed heavily. It was time to go somewhere and straighten out the mess he'd made of his life. "Thanks for dinner and for not hurting me too badly." He rubbed his forehead and quickly finished all the food on his plate.

Jeannie put her hand on top of his. "Don't leave. You smell like a crappy hotel. Stay with us tonight. If they call, I'll lie. Mer, I was serious about how you look."

"Nothing some rest wouldn't cure." Rodney didn't pull his hand away. They weren't a touchy-feely sort of family so she must mean it.

Caleb sat down again with a small thump. "Some grad students need their hand held daily."

She pulled away with a small laugh. "Mer was like that. He practically lived in his advisor's office."

"She was blond and had a great—" Belatedly, he remembered Madison was next to him. "—brain. My kind of girl."

Madison tugged Rodney's shirt. "So you like me?"

Rodney found a real smile. "Of course I do. We're relatives."

She nodded. "I think we are. Wanta go play?"

"Finish your peas," Jeannie said. "You too, Mer."


He stayed, and he had no idea why. This family stuff was his absolute worse thing, even worse than shooting a gun. Reluctantly, after a tea party with real cookies, he admitted that Madison was a good kid, much better than those forest rugrats on M7G-667.

"Time for bed, Madison!"

Rodney groaned with her, and she crawled in his lap. He didn't mind, and he caught sight of his duffel bag by the door. "Go get my bag. I have something inside you'll like."

"So you did bring me a present?"

"Go get it." Rodney was being sucked in by her hopeful eyes. She hurried, and he dug around dramatically, prolonging the moment. "Oh, go shut off the lights."

"It'll be dark." Madison looked suspicious now.

"Really?" Rodney smiled at her tiny glare, but she shut off the lights and dashed to his lap. He tucked her close and whispered, "Look up." He turned it on with a thought and smiled at her gasp. It wasn't merely a projector. The stars hung in the air, and he made them dance in a circle. Her little hands drifted towards it, and he didn't see the harm. It was when the stars all turned purple that he nearly threw it in the air. "Did you do that?"

"I thought it. It happened." Madison's voice was a mixture of pure delight and awe.

"Mer? Madison?"

Rodney thought 'off' frantically, but she had it, and she wanted to share. He didn't know if this meant she had the gene, or if the toy worked for any child. Jeannie sat down next to him and stared upward.

"Those aren't our constellations," she whispered.

"Hand it to your mom, please?" Rodney was relieved when the stars snapped off as Jeannie took it from her.

"Why are you sitting in the dark?" Caleb hit the lights.

Madison kissed Rodney on the cheek. "Best relative ever."

"Well, I—" Rodney fell silent as she snitched the toy back from her mom, tucked it under her arm, and skipped out the door. He flapped his hands. "Um, what just happened?"

"Did you give that to her? And what was it?" Jeannie poked him in the chest with her finger. "You did not get that at Wal-Mart!"

He rubbed his eyes and knew he was doomed. No way he was getting that back. She'd cry or something and he'd crumple like she'd hit him with a stunner. "It's classified?"

"You are dead!"

"Before you kill him, explain to me what just happened." Caleb frowned at both of them. "Please?"


Curling around his pillow, he waited for his brain to stop thinking long enough to fall asleep. Telling himself over and over to rest wasn't working. He'd taken a long shower after Jeannie had pronounced his clothes disgusting and taken everything to the washing machine. Caleb's shirt was far too small so he hadn't bothered, keeping the robe pulled tight. Now he was incredibly uncomfortable. Yanking it off, he put it on the floor and slid under the sheets naked.

He hated being naked. Rolling to his back, he laced his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. When he'd left his apartment, he hadn't planned on ending up here, but he was glad he'd done it. He could only hope that Jeannie was glad too.

He really needed to know was what was going on at SGC. He sighed, shoved the covers down, grabbed up the robe, and went back downstairs. The computer wasn't anywhere near state of the art, and he grumbled about English professors under his breath while he waited. It gave him time to consider if he wanted the SGC to know where he was, and he wasn't certain he did. They owed him a considerable amount of vacation, but they might be angry he'd taken it without asking.

"What are you doing?" Jeannie whispered.

Rodney flinched. "Using your substandard computer. You mind?"

"Don't blow it up like you did—"

"Oh, hush!" Rodney had only done that once, and it had been for science. "I need to get an email to someone." He didn't protest as she pulled up a chair to watch him point, click, re-route, and hide any trace of his location.

"You think two satellites are enough?" She sounded amazed.

"Probably not." He managed one more, waffling between asking and merely mentioning that he was fine, if they'd wondered. Knowing that John wouldn't want him didn't make any of this any easier because Rodney still wanted John. God, how he wanted him. Heading back to Atlantis by any means available should've been easy, but Rodney wasn't sure he could do it without John, and after hesitating one more second, he wrote a terse email to Daniel, asking for information about the 'package.'

"What package?"

He wasn't going to answer that, and he shopped on-line while he waited for an answer. "There are a lot of things you don't know and can't know, but I made you my executor in case I, um, don't come back. Use the money to put Madison through college, okay?"

"What if I have another child?" Her face was very serious by the light of the computer.

"There'll be enough. I've been getting hazardous duty pay." He browsed through a selection of laptops. "Pink for Madison?"

"Don't you dare." She swatted him on the arm. He dared alright, but it could wait. If he used his credit card, the SGC would be here immediately, assuming they were looking, and they might not be, but he wasn't sure. The email account beeped, and he opened it.

Where are you? Weir is having a fit, and Hammond is not happy. People are out looking for you. The 'package' is still gone. No word. More 'packages' go every day. Call me. Please.

Daniel

Rodney disconnected and deleted every trace of the emails from the servers they'd gone through. Their encryption codes were ridiculously simple after dealing with Wraith codes.

"What have you gotten yourself into?"

"It's complicated." Rodney completed what he was doing before turning to her. "The military is doing something that I find very objectionable."

"So you told them they were fatheads."

"Well, yes, but more importantly, I demanded answers, and then Daniel organized a rebellion, of sorts, and some people aren't very happy with me." He didn't want to think about the words Weir was using to describe him right now. "I couldn't stand by and do nothing while people were hurt."

"You build bombs and weapons that kill people all the time." They'd had that argument several times, and she wasn't turning it loose. "So why all the morals now?"

"Defending ourselves, or fighting a war against other soldiers, is one thing, but they were abusing people for reasons that were beyond ridiculous." He lowered his head, refusing to picture John being sexually assaulted. If he did, he'd have to nuke the planet. "I met someone who made it very clear how wrong it all was, and I set out to… do something to fix it."

"My brother?" Jeannie rubbed her forehead. "You don't even like people!"

Rodney knew that, and he couldn't explain it either, but he loved John and that made all the difference. That truth slapped him hard in the face. He wasn't going to quit fighting to get John back for Atlantis, and for himself. He wasn't. Not until John looked him in the eye and turned away.

"Daniel helped, and he didn't laugh at me. Well, not much." He wasn't sure why that was important to mention, but it was. "Anyway, on base, I'm persona non grata, but it also sounds like they aren't very happy I took off."

"They wanted to know where you were so they could kick your ass." Jeannie smiled, and she was right. "They'll come here eventually."

"They'll check Vegas pretty thoroughly first." Rodney had used his credit card to get there, and then hired a charter with a fake name and a wad of cash to bring him to Vancouver. "If I were an adult, I'd go back, smile, and pretend nothing was wrong."

Jeannie laughed softly. "Being an adult is over-rated. This, um, person. Are they okay?"

"I don't know. I may never know." He told himself firmly to stop being an idiot. "I'm sure I misunderstood everything anyway. You know how terrible I am at relationships."

"Do I ever." She got up with a yawn. "You can help me put your clothes in the dryer."

He tightened the robe and followed her through the house to the laundry room. She tossed, he pushed, and they were done. Like old times, and he really ought to invent something better, but there was never time. "Your daughter is amazing. I'm sure you know that."

"Yes, but I'm surprised you noticed."

It was weird how the words hurt him, and he was almost curious as to why snippy comments had never bothered him before. Before what? John? Rodney didn't understand, but somehow he'd changed, and people would never believe it. He didn't care about most of them, but this was his sister, and for some reason, he did.

"Mer, you okay?" They went upstairs together, and she stopped on the landing. "Really okay?"

He didn't know how to answer that. "No, but it doesn't matter. I'll go back to work."

She sighed softly. "You fell in love, and it changes a person. I still can't believe it."

"Me neither." Rodney turned from her and went to the guest room. He couldn't talk about this any longer without saying things that she'd laugh at because it was him saying them. Six days that had made his life impossible to live, and he crawled into bed, pulling the covers over his head.


"What are we doing today?" Madison bounced up and down.

He didn't even glance at her. "No bouncing before I've had five cups of coffee."

"But you slept forever!" She slumped dramatically in the chair next to him.

Digging in his pocket, he handed her five dollars. "Go away for thirty minutes."

"Deal!" She dashed out the door, giggling. He drank his coffee slowly, not even bothering to wonder where his abusive sister had gone. It was long after lunch, and he had slept forever, but he was still tired. His body wasn't used to more than four hours at a time, and ten had been a shock to his system. He was combating it with massive amounts of caffeine.

Exactly thirty minutes later, Madison sat down in the chair next to him. "Now?"

"Shopping?" He was sure she'd like a real computer. Who wouldn't?

She blinked at him. "I was thinking finger paints. Some crayons?"

"Throw in a few magic markers and you have a deal." He put his empty mug down, got up with a long stretch, and took the offered hand.


The next day, he caught himself waiting for the doorbell to ring. Madison gave him a funny look, and he shrugged. "I have to go soon."

"But you're fun." Her forehead crinkled. "I wish you lived closer."

"Maybe someday you can come visit me." He let her crawl in his lap. "Before I go, is there something you want? Really want?"

She gave him a steady look and then patted him on the cheek. "You'll come back? I heard you tell Mom that you wouldn't."

Rodney wasn't sure which conversation the little genius had eavesdropped on, but it didn't matter. "My job is dangerous, Madison. I'm not going to lie about it, but yes, I'll try very hard to come back."

"Promise?"

"Promise." He gave her a hug, and for the first time, he knew someone in his family loved him. Sure, she only weighed forty pounds, dripping wet, but he'd take it. "Thanks."

"For what?" Her little brow furrowed.

"Stuff." He kissed her messily on the side of the head. "Let's go out to eat tonight. One more unseasoned, unbuttered vegetable and I'm going to-. Oh, hi, Jeannie."

She casually smacked the back of his head. "Where are you taking us?"

"Some place expensive? But casual? With a buffet." He rubbed his head and glared at her. "And then I'm buying you a new computer."

"Mer, I don't-"

"Shut it." Rodney put up his hand. "That piece of crap is an embarrassment to the family name, and if anyone knew it was here, my shame would be complete. You should also have a separate laptop, in case there's a power outage."

Her mouth hung open. "Caleb will kill us."

"I'll buy him a book, and he'll be fine." Rodney got to his feet after depositing Madison gently on the floor. "And you need some new markers."

Madison danced around him. "And ice cream!"

"With sprinkles." Rodney wanted sprinkles before he headed back to Pegasus and certain death. "I have years of presents to make up for." He shrugged away the guilt because it didn't do any good.

"Don't worry. You gave me the best light show." Madison grabbed him by the hand. "Can we go to the park until Daddy comes home?"

He looked at Jeannie, who nodded. "Fine, but no running, no swinging too high, and I hope there aren't bees."

"Uncle Mer, it's winter."


"Jeannie Miller, is Dr. Rodney McKay here?"

"No." Jeannie shut the door hard.

Rodney peeked out of the playroom, trying not to smile. "Um, Sis, that usually doesn't work. Trust me."

The doorbell rang again. Jeannie yanked it open. "What now?"

"We have reports that you have a houseguest, and his credit card was used locally."

"Jeannie, psst!" Rodney made sure to stay out of sight, circling around behind the door. "They have guns."

"Uncle Mer, what are you doing?"

"Hiding." Rodney got way too much enjoyment out of watching Jeannie's eyes roll.

"He is your brother, correct?"

"I don't have a brother." Jeannie broke a patently false smile. "I'd know if I had a brother, and I don't, and I haven't seen him."

"Here, let me try. My name is Daniel Jackson. I'm a friend, of sorts. When you see Rodney, will you tell him that we were here and need him to come back to work?"

"Why? So he can blow up more innocent people?" Jeannie took a step forward, and Rodney had the feeling that she was smacking Daniel in the forehead. "Or invent things that seem innocent, and then the military takes them to make weapons that kill people!"

He sighed softly and wondered how he'd ended up with a fake pacifist for a sister. She hit him all the time!

"Mommy, Uncle Mer and I want cookies." Madison tugged on her mom's dress. "And chocolate milk."

"Uncle Mer?" Daniel asked.

Rodney cringed. He really didn't want SG-1 to know his first name. "It's Uncle Rodney, Madison. We've been practicing!" he hissed.

Jeannie lifted her hands. "I give up. You seem nice enough for a mass murderer. You can come in, but the goons stay out."

"Good enough," Daniel said. Jeannie shut the door behind him. "Hey, Rodney."

"Hi." Rodney waved weakly. "Didn't take long to find me."

"I think Jack's still in Vegas. I told him you wouldn't go there, but he didn't seem to care." Daniel smiled down at Madison. "Did I hear something about cookies?"

"Since you were nice to Mer, yes." Jeannie headed for the kitchen, and they all trailed after her like ducklings.

Madison caught Rodney by the hand. "Is he my uncle too?"

"No," Rodney said firmly, claiming his favorite chair. "He's not. Daniel, tell me about the package."

"No news. All the packages have gone out, but still nothing." Daniel hesitated before sitting down. "Do you need some help?" he asked Jeannie.

"Finally, someone asks." Jeannie shot Rodney a glare. "Sit. I can handle cookies and milk." She almost smiled - Rodney saw it - and she continued, "Mer's worried about his package. Don't you have any real news?"

Rodney had to laugh at the look on Daniel's face. "She does it on purpose. It's her idea of humor. No news could be good news."

"Maybe." Daniel seemed to eye Jeannie with caution. "Mer?"

"His name is Meredith Rodney McKay," Jeannie said with her usual satisfaction.

"I go by Rodney!" He tried again, knowing it was futile. Jeannie saw nothing wrong with her brother having a girlie name. "Please," he pleaded, but he knew Daniel would tell Carter almost immediately.

"He's my uncle!" Madison smiled at him. "He's nice after he's had his coffee."

"Words to live by." Daniel smiled at her. "When are you planning to come work for us?"

Madison crinkled up her nose. "Mommy says the United States is full of morons with too much ammunition, and it's too bad there isn't an ocean between us."

Jeannie didn't even look embarrassed. She put down the cookies, glasses, and milk and said, "I meant that in a nice way." She smiled, and Rodney wondered if he'd have a job after Daniel gave his report about this meeting.

Daniel took a cookie and poured himself some milk. "No wonder you haven't come back to the SGC. No cookies like this!"

"That and the morons," Rodney drawled. He got his own cookies and milk before Daniel hogged it all and saw Jeannie's quick look of exasperation. Madison wasn't a slowpoke on the cookie rush either. She had quick hands - a family trait. He took a bite and mumbled, "I had vacation built up."

"But you're in Canada," Daniel said with exaggerated patience. "Do you have any idea how hard General Hammond's head exploded?"

"I bet his mom had to clean up the brains. My mom says men never clean anything." Madison smirked and drank her milk. Rodney shoved the rest of the cookie in his mouth so he didn't have to answer.

"Madison, Daniel was joking, I hope." Jeannie picked up the last cookie and nibbled it. "Is General Hammond your boss, Mer?"

"No. Dr. Weir is, and—" He held up his hand before Daniel interrupted. "I don't want to know what she's saying. I can imagine, but I assumed that I'd be contacted if there was a way to make her happy."

Daniel drank his milk before answering. "Um, you were hiding, but yes. We'd have taken more drastic steps if it were possible to get you back on the… job."

"How long before you brainiacs remembered I have a subcutaneous transponder?" Rodney tapped his shoulder and laughed aloud as Daniel put his face in his hands, groaning. Jeannie giggled too, and Madison laughed because everyone else was. Rodney drank some milk and realized that he was really going to miss them, Caleb too.

"Okay, so it's not our finest hour." Daniel slowly smiled. He stole a cookie from Madison, or tried, but she was quick, and Rodney smacked Daniel's grabby hand. They all looked when the doorbell rang again. Rodney groaned, waved at Jeannie, and went to get it.

"McKay, if you're through acting like some love-sick—"

Rodney slammed the door in her face and went back to his cookies. "Daniel, why did you bring her?"

"Uh, you've always listened to her." Daniel frowned. "Did she say…?"

"Something rude? Yes. She's not welcome in my sister's house." Rodney had really had enough of Carter's attitude. If she couldn't respect the fact that he cared for John, she could stay away.

Jeannie left the kitchen; her expression grim, and he heard her open the door. He'd said the wrong thing, and now he would shut up and swallow the ridicule. Carter would tell Jeannie that he was in love with a man. It'd take two minutes, tops.

Daniel's eyebrows were up. "Carter would never violate protocol."

"Even to make fun of me?" Rodney found a smile for Madison. "You have chocolate on your face."

"So do you." She giggled. They clicked their milk glasses and finished in a race. He saw Daniel's smile and decided to ignore it. Jeannie was whispering fiercely out in the hallway, but it was impossible to make out what she was saying or Carter's answers. He didn't fool himself that this was a good thing.

"You missed the cookies," Daniel said as Carter and Jeannie came through the door. Rodney decided to keep looking at Madison. She crossed her eyes, and he returned the favor.

"We could use your help back at the lab, McKay," Carter said, instead of hello.

He was very sure they could, but he wasn't inclined to give in that easily. "Daniel, any leads on a ZPM?"

Daniel's eyes bulged. Carter shouted, "Rodney!"

He smiled up at his sister. "Jeannie, I have to go back to work. Thanks for letting me stay."

"Idiot." Jeannie smiled back. "Will I ever find out about the package?"

"Never know." Rodney wasn't going to promise to bring John back with him.

Carter and Daniel broke apart from where they'd been whispering, and she suddenly smiled. "Your name is Meredith?"

"Laugh it up." He went to pack, surprised when Jeannie came to help.

"Mer," she said slowly, "are you sure you want to go back? You were pretty angry when you got here, and it doesn't sound as if things have changed all that much."

He checked under the bed and zipped his duffel. "I had about given up when I got here, but you fixed that. It's time for me to go back."

"To find your package?" She smirked.

He let it pass. "Light-years to go before I sleep," he said, watching her eyes widen. "I'm not going to quit looking for my package. I know that now."

Jeannie nodded. "Don't." Her hands fluttered at her sides, and Rodney pulled her into a hug. She resisted for one second and then returned it. "Come back."

A small girl attached herself to his legs. "And bring presents. That's the rule."

"Will do." Rodney knelt and gave the munchkin a proper hug. He whispered in her ear, "Remember what I said."

Her face was solemn. "No one. I promise."

"I know you'll keep it." He'd made her promise she'd show no one the toy. He was still breaking a half dozen regulations, but he didn't care. When she was older, he'd have her tested for the gene.

"Thanks… for everything." Rodney thought that should cover it. "Especially the cookies."

Jeannie swept Madison up into her arms. "Send me an email occasionally."

"Will do." Rodney left with Daniel and Carter hurrying to catch up with him. He'd had a vacation, and he'd slept, and now, he was going to find a way to get John to Atlantis. The Apollo beamed them from a small airport to the SGC, and he found himself in General Hammond's office too quickly for his taste.

"I have half-a-mind to have you arrested!"

Rodney had heard worse threats. "Will you let me help the Tok'ra? And is the Apollo headed to Atlantis any time soon?"

"No, and no." Hammond didn't look as if he'd even considered it. "Report to the lab. You'll be working with Dr. Lee on a number of projects."

Drawing himself up, he set his jaw. "No."

"Excuse me, Dr. McKay? Did I hear you say you'd like to return to the Russian naquadah program?" Hammond swung right to nasty.

"Either give me latitude to work on a project with Daniel, or I'm walking off this base for good, and I'll do it, it's not a threat." Rodney pushed his hands in his pockets so his thumbs didn't twist from nerves. "I have rights. I don't wear a disc, not yet."

Hammond looked down at some paperwork and then back up. "I'm somewhat surprised you didn't demand the right to camp in the gate room."

"Thought it over, decided it wouldn't work." Rodney shrugged. He'd never missed Atlantis more than right now. "I don't fit in very well on this planet any longer. I'm going to look for a power source to take me home."

Sighing loudly, Hammond got to his feet and came around the desk. "Son, you never should've come here, but I'm glad you did. Given your tireless work on the Daedalus, I'm inclined to leniency, but I want there to be no misunderstanding; the Air Force will assign Sheppard where it sees fit when he returns."

Rodney tried very hard to shrug. "If the Air Force in its wisdom chooses to assign the strongest gene carrier this planet has ever seen to toilet duty, I will stand aside and let it happen. No emails. No complaints."

"I don't believe you, but we'll see what happens. If you want to work with Daniel, I don't have any objections. I'm sure he will though." Hammond opened the door. "Stay out of trouble, and you're confined to base until further notice."

Daniel was right outside Hammond's office, leaning against the wall, and he opened his mouth, shut it, and then tilted his head. "Me?"

"Mostly, I just need your files. All of them." Rodney didn't slow down as he passed him. When Daniel didn't follow, Rodney paused and snapped his fingers several times. "Now please."

"Dr. Jackson, you're under no obligation to do what he says, and he'd better not interfere with your other duties. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," Daniel said slowly, and then he hurried to catch up. "You've got a crazy light in your eyes. Is that usually a good thing?"

"Not according to Zelenka." Rodney itched to get his hands on files, laptops, and coffee. "I may need some equipment from Atlantis. Is that doable?"

"Um, yes?" Daniel kept up easily. "Seriously, I don't know."

Rodney took that as a yes.

"What's the plan?"

"Shake this galaxy until a few ZPM's fall out." Rodney knew they'd been too busy fighting the Goa'uld to look, and it was time to get it done. "Want to help?"

Daniel caught him by the shoulder. "The odds of there being another one on this planet are very small."

"Hmm." Rodney wasn't worried about odds. He, better than anyone else, knew how the Ancients thought, and he'd bet there was one in Antarctica, hidden under more ice than he liked to envision. Rubbing his hands together, he smiled around the ache. John would love this.


The blue jello at the SGC was much better than the blue jello on Atlantis. Rodney didn't understand how something so simple as jello could have such a range of deviation, but it was true. He took another bite and let it melt on his tongue. John liked the red jello better and was willing to argue its attributes. Rodney sighed softly. He missed that.

"That's McKay. He's gay."

He didn't turn his head. He'd heard it more than once over the course of the last week, and he felt like a new exhibit at the zoo. He certainly wasn't going to waste brain cells arguing that he wasn't gay since he liked women too. The concept of a fluid sexuality based on interest and general compatibility versus boobs hadn't quite entered the military mindset as of yet.

Laughter came rolling out of the corner where SG-1 camped, and Rodney didn't bother to envy them. On his team, he was the geek scientist, running for his life and trying not to shoot himself. There was no camaraderie. It was possible that Teyla would change all that, but he might never know if Lorne didn't let him back on the team.

There was a sudden lull, and Teal'c voice was clearly audible throughout the cafeteria.

"I do not see the humor behind the name Meredith."

Rodney picked up his blue jello, nodded politely to the homophobes sitting nearby, and left the cafeteria. He very nearly bumped into Colonel Caldwell, who was looking much better.

"Doctor."

"Colonel." Rodney didn't slow down. He had nothing to say.

"McKay?" Caldwell stopped right outside the door. Rodney slowed and spun. He raised his eyebrows and waited. Caldwell frowned. "Any news about Sheppard?"

"No." Rodney hoped he didn't sound choked up because it'd taken one second for the question to make his throat ache. "The Daedalus?"

"Shields are finally operational." Caldwell flashed a quick grin. "We're getting there."

"Good, good." Rodney thought he'd said enough. He hurried back to Daniel's lab. Picturing Caldwell joining SG-1 in laughing their asses off at him was far too easy.

It took time to grab everything he wanted, but he managed it all in two trips, and shut the door to his room firmly behind him. It wasn't exactly comfortable, but it was his space, and over the course of the day, he scavenged up another desk. He also bullied Bill into giving him two more laptops and access to the jumper project. The hardest part was stealing enough MRE's and power bars to make going to the cafeteria unnecessary for at least a week. The food he hid under his bed.

Satisfied, he organized the files again. Real paper files, and he was sure that Daniel was mostly crazy, but he had a tremendous amount of information, and that was what Rodney needed. He made a note to steal a coffeemaker, some of Bill's good coffee, and—

A knock on the door interrupted him, and he considered not getting it. "What?" he shouted irritably, waiting for whoever the moron was to show himself.

"Hey, Rodney." Daniel sidled into the room. He peered about, looking half-confused. "You moved out, and I was worried."

"Right." Rodney rolled his eyes, refusing to believe that. "If I don't have what I need, I'll be calling."

Daniel perched on the side of the desk, frowning. "I saw you leave the cafeteria. I just—"

"Wanted to confirm that SGC is full of people with few social graces and a discernable lack of I.Q. points? Thank you, but I know." Rodney started an email to Dr. Mathers, who would be useful for the project ahead. "It's taken me most of the week to get organized, and now I want to work, so go away."

The silence wasn't a good thing because it wasn't followed by the sound of the door shutting. Rodney didn't want to look at him.

"You thought… you…" Daniel spread his hands.

Rodney slapped his hand down on the desk and stood quickly. He thrust his finger at Daniel's chest, trying hard to give him a good poke. "Yes, I thought at least you wouldn't laugh at me. Gee, I was wrong. The bottom line is this: I don't like any of you, and I'm going to work my ass off to get home."

"You were never nice to any of them. It's hard for them to see that you've changed." Daniel abruptly took off his glasses and tucked them away. "Have you changed?"

"The very last thing I want to talk about is my mental health, past or present." Rodney backed away from him almost as quickly as he'd jumped up. "Let me work, and then I'll be gone, which is better for all of us."

"And John Sheppard?" Daniel eased away.

"One step at a time." Rodney sat back down and flexed his fingers. John was returning to Atlantis, whether they liked it or not. "Work now. Talk later."

Daniel nodded. "Okay. I'll leave you to it. Let me know what you find."

"Hmm."


It was the blue jello that forced him out of his cave, but he hoped that it was late enough that everyone was asleep. He took a paltry two helping and found a spot in the corner. One more day, give or take, and he'd be ready. Convincing Hammond to let him off-base was going to be the hard part.

"McKay."

Rodney about spit jello. He had to start paying more attention to his surroundings. "You have to sit here?"

"We need to talk." O'Neill took a big bite of cereal. "About you."

"Did I break another stupid Air Force rule?" Rodney stared morosely at what should have been a wonderful treat. "Or are you just here to make fun of the geek?"

"Probably some of each." O'Neill kept on eating. He didn't look angry, but Rodney really didn't know him very well. "You made Daniel feel bad."

"What is this? Preschool?" Rodney belligerently shoved his mouth full of jello. He talked around it. "Did you think maybe it was your fault?"

O'Neill shrugged. "Not really. You caused a lot of trouble before you got here, and now that you're hiding in your room, you're still causing problems."

The jello was so much more interesting than the conversation, and Rodney decided to focus on the blueness, the flavor, and the simple enjoyment of it. He savored each mouthful, lacking only John to make the experience completely rewarding.

"Okay, this is the deal. We think you should transfer up to the Daedalus and finish the repairs there." O'Neill didn't look up from his cereal.

With a shrug, Rodney told him the exact truth, hoping it would choke him. "So you can feel less homophobic? So you can feel less guilty for all the men and women who were sexually assaulted on your watch?" He shook his head. "I don't think I will. Thanks. Yes, my name is Meredith, which is screamingly funny, and yes, I like John. He's a good man, a good friend, but no, I will not order my life for your comfort level. Grow up."

"You were Sheppard's overlord, nothing else. Nothing. If it hadn't been for the disc, he wouldn't have looked at you twice," O'Neill snapped. "I think, Meredith, that you need to get on with your life and forget about John Sheppard, because I can guarantee he's forgotten about you."

The jello curled in Rodney's belly, and he had to take a deep breath. "That's probably true. I'm not known for my sparkling wit and dazzling personality." He hated that it was so easy to believe that John couldn't have liked him. Abruptly, he realized that arguing with O'Neill would get him exactly nowhere. "But I'm not going to the Daedalus. I'm working on something important, and I'm not bothering anyone."

"Much." O'Neill rolled his eyes and sighed. "Carter thinks you've lost your mind. I'm not sure you had it to lose."

Rodney finished his first jello and pushed it aside. His appetite for the second one was gone, and he blamed O'Neill for that. Anger and frustration forced him to say words that should've stayed in his gut. "I see how you look at her. You'd cross however many galaxies and do whatever it took to save her, help her, make her whole again.

"So really? I don't want to hear your condemnation. The only reason I'm still on this base is because I believe the Tok'ra will do their best to help him. I am completely convinced that when he returns you and your cohorts will put him in prison again. I'll deal with that when it happens." Rodney got to his feet, clutching the jello. He'd said far too much to a man who couldn't be trusted.

O'Neill looked up and smiled. "There's that dazzling personality. Now you sit down and listen to me."

Rodney sat. He didn't want to, but he did. He stroked his thumb along the smooth glass of the jello cup and waited for it.

"You going about trumpeting your sexuality and John's willing participation has only hurt your case. Some of us aren't as comfortable as you Canadians with the idea." O'Neill narrowed his eyes. "And whatever you think you know about Carter, you should forget, for your own safety."

"I only told Daniel!" Rodney protested instantly. "And nothing happened on the Daedalus! Nothing!" He hated those smug, rolling eyes. "I wouldn't, not while he's influenced. I'm not that sick!"

"Right."

Later, Rodney would mourn the loss of the jello but right now, throwing it on him was the perfect solution. Teal'c came through the door as Rodney hurried out, but he didn't slow down to chat with the behemoth. Unfortunately, Teal'c's huge hand wrapped around Rodney's bicep, and that was more than enough to stop him.

"Your loyalty to your friend is admirable, Dr. McKay. The Tok'ra will do all they can to remove the disc." Teal'c let go of Rodney's arm. "My apologies for touching you, but I have been unable to speak with you, given your ability to hide when I appear."

"Oh, well, I just, never mind, but—" Rodney stopped trying to formulate rational thought and rubbed his arm. "Thanks," he finished lamely. He was never sure what to do when facing rationality after expecting violence. Teal'c bowed his head fractionally, and Rodney forced a smile that he suspected looked strange and walked quickly to his quarters. He wanted to get everything perfectly organized before meeting with Hammond.


"Let me get this straight: you want to take the jumper and look for ZPM's?" Hammond blinked several times and looked at O'Neill, who rubbed his eyes.

Rodney moved around the table and sat down. "Dr. Mathers, please explain further." He had to nudge him to get him moving, but it was encouraging to see their disbelief turn into speculation as Mathers gave his presentation.

"If, and I mean if, McKay has the sensors properly aligned, it's barely possible." Carter didn't look convinced.

Mathers, who was turning out to have some spine, countered, "Dr. McKay and I believe the parameters are correct. Detecting sources of energy is easy, but knowing if it's actually a ZPM is more difficult. The fine tuning was the key."

"I thought you were working on a bridge between Pegasus and the Milky Way?" Hammond still looked slightly befuddled.

"I am. I have the first macro completed." Rodney slid a file folder to the general. "The project in total, and estimates on how many gates we'll need."

Hammond looked at Carter. "Have you read this?"

Carter nodded. "I didn't realize he had the first macro done, but we're definitely moving ahead. Finding abandoned gates will be the difficult part."

"In this galaxy," Rodney said softly. He'd seen Wraith-destroyed worlds far too often for his peace of mind. "Back to the jumper - I'm not suggesting we go hunting on every planet in the galaxy. Only ones that Daniel has proven to be inhabited by Ancients at some point. There are ten of them, including Earth." He stopped talking when he saw that Hammond was starting to frown.

O'Neill sighed. "We could use one or two of the damn things."

"I'm not sending McKay and Mathers out in a jumper to search the galaxy for ZPM's." Hammond sounded sure of that. "Colonel, I assume you can fly the thing, and Major Carter, I expect you'll be able to initiate the technology."

Rodney put his elbows on the table and rubbed his face hard. He'd envisioned several scenarios, including this one, but he was dismayed how stupid it sounded in person. Mathers practically laughed and moved to sit back down next to him.

"Sir, with all due respect, Dr. McKay has logged hours flying a jumper, and I will probably need to make some adjustments for atmosphere on each planet." Mathers picked up the next set of files and passed one to each person at the table. "Here's our projected missions."

Sitting up straighter, Rodney looked solely at O'Neill. "I could teach you how to fly one."

"Oh, thanks." O'Neill practically glared. "I can fly anything."

"I'm sure you can with that gene of yours, but I don't want to be shot down while you're trying to figure out the cloak." Rodney saw that remark hit Hammond right between the eyes. "How about we compromise? Mathers and I find them, and SG-1 retrieves them."

The silence wasn't exactly a comfortable one. Daniel cleared his throat. "Each of these worlds does have a passing reference to a great power source. Rodney did his homework."

Chewing the side of his cheek, Rodney waited for Hammond to make up his mind.

"Dr. McKay deserves our trust," Teal'c rumbled.

Carter's mouth tightened. "He would've left you to die."

"He argued for the safety of this base, and I can not fault him for that." Teal'c paused. "He has proven that he is loyal to his friends. If we are not his friends, part of the blame is ours."

Rodney tried very hard to keep from blushing. "Hey, I'm Canadian," he said with as much self-deprecation as he could manage.

Mathers inched his chair closer. "Tell them about Antarctica."

"No. All we have is speculation at this point." Rodney wasn't going to get their hopes up. Hammond gave him a look that told him to talk fast, and he glared at Mathers. "He thinks there's a ZPM in Antarctica, and the sensor readings are promising. There's a blip not too far from where the old gate was found, but I refuse to go out on a limb and say exactly what it is. The Ancients had a way of leaving powerful things behind that weren't zero point modules, and this energy reading doesn't quite fit the profile."

"I say we go find out." O'Neill slapped the file closed. "Defending ourselves with the drones is one of our first priorities."

"I agree," Teal'c said.

Hammond got to his feet. "You have a go, but Dr. McKay, I want it clear that Colonel O'Neill is in charge of the mission. You will follow his orders."

"Can you even shoot a gun?" O'Neill didn't look hopeful.

"According to Colonel Lorne, I can." Rodney gathered what remained of his paperwork, heartily wishing for a tablet and John for the zillionth time. "Ready in an hour?"

"Make it two," Hammond said. "Make sure they're properly outfitted."

"Will do."

Rodney let himself smile for the first time in days. "I just realized that I'm going to get to see the sun again. I better pack sunscreen."

"Only you, McKay." Carter shook her head. "Only you."


"You're sure you know how to drive this Winnebago?"

"Would I endanger my own life?" Rodney didn't much like the clearance - there was no room for error - and it was much further up than the Atlantis door.

"I do not believe he would."

Rodney glanced up. "Sit down in case I hit a wall." He was completely serious, and O'Neill took the co-pilot's seat quickly.

"Yes, yes," Rodney whispered to the jumper, which wanted to cede control to the stronger gene carrier. "But not yet." He frowned, concentrating, and suddenly they were out. The cloak engaged, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He heard a small retching noise. "Mathers, I told you to take a Dramamine."

"I did." Mathers gagged again.

O'Neill ran his hand over the controls. "Doesn't even feel like we're moving."

"Inertial dampeners are a good thing." Rodney pushed the jumper for more speed and gained altitude. He called up the HUD. "Mathers, do your thing."

"Right," Mathers croaked.

"Are you sure about this?" Carter murmured, and Rodney didn't snap at her. She'd believe when they found something. The HUD registered the new data stream and pinpointed the target. Rodney watched the scroll.

"You do understand the concept of linear, right?"

"I've heard that complaint before." Rodney straightened his course with effort. The jumpers loved to slip under his hands. O'Neill made a disapproving noise, and Rodney forced a better course again.

"You see it?"

"I see it." Rodney didn't believe it was a ZPM, but it was something that made his palms itch. "Notice the lack in the upper register. Scan the rest of the planet while I try to convince the jumper not to listen to O'Neill."

O'Neill barked a laugh. "Let me try. This is killing me!"

"The cloak would fail. You can wait." Rodney spared a glare for O'Neill. "Don't think about drones!"

"What?" O'Neill flinched and then looked guilty. "Oh, sorry."

"He's a backseat driver. Why am I not surprised?" Daniel didn't sound as if it were funny. "Let's hope he doesn't blow up the Green Bay Packer's stadium."

"Shut up!" O'Neill roared. "It's Lambeau Field, and shut up!"

"I don't see anything else that falls even remotely into the proper spectrum," Carter said.

Rodney had known it wouldn't be that easy. "Mathers?"

"I agree."

"Colonel, you want us to turn around or check out the energy signature?" Rodney wouldn't have bothered to ask Lorne.

"Carry on." O'Neill suddenly got to his feet. "Carter, you sit up here. I can't take it any longer."

"Sounds great."

Rodney felt his control assert more power over the jumper as O'Neill moved away. It was a relief. Carter skimmed her hand over the DHD. "Nice."

Mathers dry heaved.


"I'm driving. No, don't argue. Sit over there." O'Neill pointed at the co-pilot's seat. "The planet is uninhabited."

Rodney glanced at Mathers before sitting down. "You okay?"

"Sure." Mathers swallowed hard. "I'm getting used to it."

"How did you manage aboard the Apollo?" Carter asked.

"It's not a can of sardines." Mathers started checking the equipment. "One more trip and you can handle it, right?"

"Right," Carter said.

Preferring Mather's help over Carter's was immature, but Rodney went with it. He shut the ramp and hit the communications control. "Flight, this is Jumper, requesting—"

"General, we're leaving. Clear the gateroom," O'Neill snapped.

"Will do, and Godspeed."

Rodney snorted and dialed the DHD. Telling himself there were only nine more planets to search didn't make him feel any better.


"I think, McKay, that my team can handle it from here. Not that we don't appreciate all your hard work." O'Neill had waited until the end of the briefing, but Rodney had known it was coming. They had finished three planets, found an Ancient shuttle and two weapons consoles, and O'Neill had been giving him looks for the last two missions.

Getting to his feet, Rodney waved his hand dismissively. "Good. I have macros to write, but don't come whining to me when you're injured and your team is stranded in a perfectly good jumper." He headed straight for the door.

"The chances of that are remote," O'Neill snapped.

Rodney shut the door behind him. He understood perfectly that his mere presence got on O'Neill's last nerve, but there were safety protocols and if the jerk wanted to ignore them, well, he and his team were on their own.

"Rodney!"

"Jesus, Daniel, quit chasing me through the halls. People are going to get the idea you like me." Rodney leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. "What?"

Daniel brushed his hair back. "Can you stop pissing him off for a few minutes?"

"How many words did I say on the last mission?" Rodney lifted his chin and waited for Daniel's wheel to turn.

"Too many?" Daniel almost smiled. "I know! You were so quiet I thought you were ill." He shrugged, lifting his hands. "We can't do this without you, and Hammond isn't going to listen to Jack on this one."

"Oh, really?" Rodney thought O'Neill had Hammond over a barrel, but far be it for him to criticize.

"Really. You found an Ancient ship!" Daniel smiled now, and it was big. "Jack's just crabby. He'll get over it."

"No. He won't." Rodney started walking again. He needed a shower, some food, and some sleep, in that order and in increasing amounts. "I threaten him. To be exact, the fact that I'm fond of John makes him cringe. He can barely stand to look at me."

Daniel sighed loudly. "He's not that way."

"You're wrong." Rodney opened his door. "Go ask him but leave me out of it." He ducked inside and locked the door behind him. He'd spoken to Dr. Weir yesterday, and she wanted him home. Even Lorne had sounded regretful. The Tok'ra needed to get off their asses, only seven planets left.


"McKay, gear up and meet us in the jumper bay." O'Neill's voice snarled over Rodney's radio. Rodney rubbed his face, gulped as much coffee as possible, and stretched before finding his tac-vest. He stuffed in a few extra powerbars, buckled on his gun, and made sure he had everything before starting for the jumper.

Instead of slumping down on the seat, he started running several diagnostics. This jumper had been in mothballs forever before they'd started using it, and it didn't hurt to check a few things. Memories of John in the pilot's seat, beaming with joy, tugged at him, and he nudged them away. Tired, he was tired. He'd meant to sleep, but he hadn't.

"You okay?"

Rodney didn't turn or look because there was no chance that Carter had directed that question at him. Teal'c probably had a hangnail or something. Rodney shut the panel he'd had open and made sure the extra equipment was still secured properly. That done, he sat down near the ramp. He'd meant to sleep, but thoughts of John had kept him awake. It'd been a month since he'd been taken to the Tok'ra. Evidence suggested that he wasn't coming back. Some of the women had gone to the Nox, that was a fact, and if he'd had to break into a few files to find out, it was Hammond's fault for keeping him in the dark.

"Rodney, you look awful."

Now he met her eyes, unwilling to think she cared. O'Neill came striding up the ramp, and Rodney sat back further.

"Okay, kids. Let's go find a proverbial Easter egg." O'Neill pointed at the co-pilot's seat. "Carter, you're there. McKay, I don't want to hear it."

Doubts about this course of action assailed him. Maybe over-seeing the refit on the Daedalus would've been a better use of his time. Daniel shut the ramp and sat down next to him. Teal'c was across from them, doing his usual impassive thing, and Rodney wondered why he'd never thought to ask him.

"Teal'c, do you think John will recover?"

Teal'c met Rodney's eyes firmly. "It is difficult to say." He paused and then seemed to reconsider. "I do not. I have seen men broken by the disc, and he was. It is likely that he is dead."

Rodney felt the jumper spin on its axis, and all the air in his lungs whooshed out.

"He can't know that." Daniel's voice was very far away.

"Thank you for your honesty," Rodney croaked. His chest actually ached, and he rubbed it, surprised to find that Daniel had wrapped an arm around him.

"Hey! None of that in the back of my jumper!" O'Neill speared them with a glare.

"Jack, do me a favor and shut up," Daniel snapped. Rodney moved away from him, opening the main laptop right as they went through the wormhole. He booted it up on the other side, noticing that O'Neill hadn't bothered to cloak.

"Daniel, you keep your hands to yourself," O'Neill ground out.

Energy readings spiked and ebbed, and he panicked. "Cloak! Evade! Evade!"

"What the—"

The jumper rocked, and he felt the left drive pod shudder. The cloak slipped, and he threw himself at the proper panels, working furiously to keep them in the air and undetected.

"McKay!"

"I know!" Rodney forced the jumper to stabilize by reducing power in the right drive pod. He spared a glance at the laptop. "They're firing again!"

O'Neill cursed, the jumper lurched, and the cloak failed utterly. Rodney managed to boost both engines. "Fire. Fire!"

"I've never—"

Rodney heard them burn away from the jumper. "Get us down! Now!"

The landing shook them all, Daniel ended up on the floor sprawled, and Rodney rushed the two steps to engage the life signs detector. "Group of five about three minutes away." He dropped to his knees and routed all power into the cloak. It sputtered, and then they shimmered, and he held his breath as five Jaffa burst out of the undergrowth.

"McKay, we could've just killed them," O'Neill drawled.

"There are a hundred more not fifteen minutes from our position." Rodney wanted to whisper but didn't. "I thought you'd defeated the Goa'uld!"

"There are a few holdouts!"

"Obviously!" Rodney made sure the crystal was snug. He had to get them out of here. "Sam, can you keep the cloak going while I fix the drive pod?"

She nodded, and he went to work. Teal'c was a large obstacle to move around, but it was O'Neill's silence that wore on Rodney's nerves.

"Can I be of assistance, Dr. McKay?"

"Yes, go watch the life signs detector on the HUD. If they come close, tell O'Neill to fire a drone at them." Rodney wasn't joking. He used Daniel to hold crystals and wires and check the cloak periodically. They were surrounded by Jaffa now, but no one had walked into them. Using his teeth, he ripped open a powerbar and ate it in two bites. "Daniel, keep your eye on the laptop. If there's a spike, tell me."

"Will do."

Only after he had all systems stabilized and repaired enough to get them by did he engage the special sensors. It was a risk, but he took it without asking. "Oh, God."

"McKay?" Carter asked.

"There's a ZPM on this planet." He was sure of it. Feeding the information to the HUD, he moved close to Teal'c to get a good look. "Ancient outpost - the Goa'uld must be salvaging it."

O'Neill didn't hesitate. "I say we go get it so they don't."

Rodney saw Carter's reaction. She didn't agree, but she was wrong. He studied the readings a minute longer to make absolutely sure, and he was. "Colonel, I suggest you ready your team. I'll get us in and out."

Carter's quick breath of surprise was loud in the jumper. Daniel said softly, "Jack."

"I agree." O'Neill eased from the pilot's seat. He shooed Teal'c to the back. "Kill us, and I'm going to be pissed at you."

"I'll have to take the laptop," Carter said. Rodney sat down and told the jumper to give up a hand-held life signs detector.

"O'Neill, use this. It'll show you where the people are." Rodney handed it back to him. "Takes the gene to use it."

"Damn," Carter whispered.

Rodney ghosted his hands over the controls before grabbing the sticks. "Hang on." He gently convinced the jumper to drop two inert drones and then took them straight up. Blowing them from a distance was the hardest thing he'd ever done. His brain actually ached from the strain.

"Damn!"

"Watch the laptop, Sam." Rodney eased the jumper into a high-altitude orbit, but no one fired at them, and there didn't seem to be any Goa'uld ships around, and that was the good news. Getting the ZPM out was going to be tricky. "O'Neill, the ZPM will most likely be powering something. You'll have to ask the console nicely to give it to you. There's usually a place to rest your hand."

"Usually?"

"Yes." Rodney felt his knees shake and that was bad since he was sitting down. "Grab it and run. Do not drop it."

"Daniel, you're in charge of carrying it."

"Here we go. Hold on to something." Rodney took them in hard and fast, straining to keep the jumper from straying. As soon as he had visuals, he fired over and over again, clearing a path.

"Nice little ship," O'Neill said smugly.

Rodney eased the jumper down between two buildings and lowered the ramp. O'Neill's team was gone so fast that he almost missed it, but the HUD told the story of where they were going and who they killed to get there.

"Could use some help here!" O'Neill didn't sound too worried, but Rodney coaxed a drone into blowing up a nearby building. In the noise and confusion, a Jaffa ran straight inside the cloaked jumper. There was a moment of stunned silence on both their parts, and then the staff struck him as he scrambled for his gun.

Falling to his knees, Rodney shot him dead, focusing his fire on the symbiote.

"Not anywhere near as tough as Wraith," Rodney whispered. He went back to watch the scene unfolding on the HUD. "Are you close?"

"Working on it!" O'Neill shouted. Rodney held his breath and nearly cheered when he saw them start to return.

"We're coming in hot," Carter panted.

He slid the jumper ten feet closer, counting the seconds. They jumped, and he raised the ramp as he threw them into the sky to avoid a multitude of energy blasts.

"Gotta install some handles," O'Neill muttered. Rodney swung the jumper around a lucky shot and dialed the gate. He checked to see if Daniel was okay - he was - and maxed out the engines. O'Neill collapsed into the seat next to him. "You couldn't throw out the garbage?"

"No time." Rodney kept the cloak tight around them. "Is it beautiful?" he asked.

O'Neill shrugged. "Yeah."

The jumper raced through the gate, and Rodney moved to Daniel before the docking procedure was complete.

Daniel smiled and held out a small canvas bag. Rodney's hands shook as he grabbed it and let the bag fall to the floor. "Hello. Hello."

Carter laughed. "Now that's love in a man's eyes."

"He does seem enraptured with it."

"SG-1, do you require medical assistance?" Hammond's voice boomed in their ears.

Rodney carefully handed the lovely ZPM back to Daniel and fell down hard on the bench. Everything got blurry after that, and when consciousness completely returned, he was in the infirmary.

"Good, you're awake. How do you feel?"

He tried to throw the covers back, winced, and struggled to sit up. "Ow," he mumbled, unsure why he was hurting.

Dr. Frasier pushed him back down. "You're not going anywhere."

"That's an order, son." Hammond loomed into Rodney's line of sight.

"ZPM," Rodney gasped, trying to form a coherent sentence. He wanted to curl up into a ball, but getting back to work was far more important.

Hammond stood over him. "It's being analyzed, but I understand that it's fully charged."

"Oh, God." Rodney had to get moving, see it for himself, but now Hammond was pushing him down.

"How is he?" Hammond asked.

"He came in dehydrated, hypoglycemic, exhausted, and he has a fracture of the ulna. Teal'c told me there was a dead Jaffa in the jumper, so I assume it was from the staff hitting him. If he gets some rest, I'll release him tomorrow, but I want his blood sugar under control first."

Staring at the cast on his arm, Rodney groaned loudly. "I need to look at the ZPM!"

"No, you don't." Hammond sounded sure about that.

"My question is: why didn't anyone on his team notice that he wasn't fit for duty?" Frasier asked.

Rodney shut his eyes. He could still see it, and it was beautiful, and it was his and John's ticket home, and they had to let him out of here. His arm ached, and the other had an IV stuck in it, and he swallowed, trying to work up some spit.

"Teal'c thinks John's dead," Rodney whispered; the memory slammed into him, and he curled. "Tell me he's not."

"I can't do that, Dr. McKay."

"Is there anything he wouldn't do for John Sheppard?" Frasier asked softly.

"My guess is no."

Sleep rushed in on him.


"Does Carter have a report on the ZPM yet?"

Daniel frowned. "Not even a hello? You wake up after sleeping for the better part of two days, and those are the first words out of your mouth?"

"Any word from the Tok'ra?" Rodney cradled his arm as he struggled to sit up. Daniel helped by positioning a pillow in the right place. Rodney glared at the stupid IV. "Get Frasier. I want out of here."

"Okay, but two things first: the ZPM is what Carter describes as perfect, and the Tok'ra will be here tomorrow. They asked specifically to speak with you." Daniel got him a small cup of water. "General Hammond is also working with Dr. Weir to send supplies and personnel to Atlantis. My impression is that you'll be included in that shipment."

"Frasier!" Rodney tossed the cup aside and threw the covers off. She burst around the corner; her eyes wild, and he didn't want to hear it. "Remove this. Now. I have a limited amount of hours to study the ZPM."

"You eat a good meal, and I'll turn you loose."

"No, you turn me loose, and I'll go to the cafeteria." Rodney glared at the cast that stretched down to his knuckles. "Is this necessary?"

"Yes!" Frasier rubbed her forehead. "Your arm is cracked!"

"Good meds." Rodney didn't feel it at all. He rapped on cast and flexed his arm. "Daniel, tell her."

"He, ah, has things to do?" Daniel waved his hand. "Janet, give up."

She sighed and began removing the IV. "I'm sending a care package to Dr. Beckett. The man is obviously a saint."

Rodney snapped his fingers several times. She tugged out the IV, and he winced. That always hurt, and he got to his feet slowly. It always paid to go slow. "Clothes?"

"I'll get them." Daniel hurried away. Frasier pushed him back down and did a quick exam. He didn't pay her any mind. John, ZPM, and the Tok'ra were all spinning in his head, and he was glad to take several deep breaths as directed. He'd waited so long, worked so hard, and it was finally within his grasp.

"I want you to sleep regularly." Frasier practically shook her finger at him.

Daniel put the clothes on the bed and left immediately. Rodney reached for the shirt. He might see John tomorrow. Fear pushed its way through him, and the possibility that the Tok'ra wanted to tell him that John was dead in person made him shiver. His stomach complained, and he could suddenly smell himself.

"I need a shower."

"That door." Frasier pointed. "I put a dry cast cover on it so don't worry about the water."

He stared down at the covering, glad it was green, not pink. "John could be here tomorrow," he said, and he wanted to believe it. "He could be dead." He wasn't talking to her. "At least I'll know."

Snatching up the clothes, he went to shower. His arm ached by the time he got out, and he knew he was going to regret those meds wearing off. She'd be stingy with painkillers. He didn't try to tie his shoes, and she was waiting for him when he got out.

"Wear the sling. No, don't argue." She put it on him and adjusted it. "Go eat and rest. I'll be watching."

"Yes, yes." He beat it out the door, nearly bumping into Daniel and Teal'c. "Are you two trying to hurt me?"

"I do not believe so."

"Um, no."

Rodney rolled his eyes in pure frustration. "Don't you two have jobs?"

"Colonel O'Neill asked me to escort you to your quarters." Teal'c lowered his head fractionally.

"And I want to talk while you eat." Daniel nudged Teal'c out of the way.

"I'm confined to my quarters?" Rodney would admit to some amazement. He'd saved their asses, and they were locking him up? His stomach told him to get moving, and he was careful not to bang his arm into Teal'c.

"Colonel O'Neill is concerned that you will not rest."

"Teal'c, has Jack looked in Rodney's room?"

"I do not believe he has."

Rodney tried to walk faster and escape them, but they didn't seem to notice. They were still bickering when Rodney stared hopelessly at the jello, unable to get one, or two, because of the stupid cast.

"Still hooked on the jello, huh?" Carter snagged one and put it on his tray. "Let me help. They don't have a clue."

"I was going to help," Daniel grumbled.

Sitting down almost gingerly, he fussed with his sling. He should've gone to his room and eaten an MRE. This whole being nice to him thing was making him nervous. "They might bring John tomorrow." The words popped out because it was all he could really think about, and he nearly crawled under the table from embarrassment.

"Don't get your hopes up," Carter said with a kind look, and he wanted to smack her. "Six more planets to go, and you're not available, any ideas?"

"Find someone with knowledge of Ancient tech and get him, or her, the gene therapy." Rodney wasn't giving up any of his people. "Either that, or let me give you a crash course in jumper repair."

"We'll do both." Carter nodded. He wiggled a little in his chair, feeling surrounded, but unwilling to yell at them to leave him alone. She sighed softly. "The ZPM is perfect. After we get you home, it'll be going to Antarctica to power the chair there."

His fingers itched to touch it, take it back to Atlantis, but that was a lost cause. "We get the next one you find."

"Maybe." Carter grinned.

"You killed a Jaffa warrior," Teal'c said loudly.

Rodney dropped his fork, sure he'd killed Teal'c's uncle or something.

"I told you Lorne wouldn't have him on the team if he wasn't competent." Daniel switched to Goa'uld, Teal'c immediately answered, and Rodney started eating again. It might be his last meal, and he wanted to finish it.

"Frasier bawled out the colonel, so you should lay low."

"Again?" Rodney felt like the room was spinning, and he was pretty sure it wasn't. These people were nuts. "How is that my fault?"

Carter shrugged, giving Daniel an opening. "There is a general sense of worry over what exactly you'll be saying to the Tok'ra tomorrow."

"You could seriously damage our alliance," Carter said.

"The Tok'ra were forced to clean up your military's mess. How many men and women, hmm?" Rodney saw his words hit home. "I'm thinking there's very little I can do to make it worse."

"You underestimate your mouth," Carter said.

Daniel nodded. Teal'c had no expression at all. Rodney kept on eating, thinking about John. He knew his behavior was borderline obsessive. Okay, more than borderline, but they couldn't understand what John meant to Atlantis, to him.

"John had better be alive, or I will raze the American military to the ground and sow salt," Rodney growled.

"That's exactly what we're worried about," O'Neill said, coming up silently behind Carter. The very last thing on Earth that Rodney wanted to do was sit with SG-1 and discuss his many shortcomings. O'Neill pointed. "Carter, take his jello."

Moving as fast as he was able, he tucked a spoon in his sling, snatched his jello, and got the hell out of the mess hall. First, he'd talk to Mathers, make sure he was serious about leaving, then go see the ZPM, and finally start Carter's crash course. If he did it right, it'd keep him busy until the Tok'ra arrived.


"The Tok'ra High Council has voted. We refuse to return any of the freed Tau'ri if they are to be put back in prison."

"I have authority from the President to assure you that will not happen. All their sentences have been commuted." Hammond spoke loudly, firmly, but it wasn't reassuring to Rodney.

"I'd suggest you get it in writing. Guantanamo Bay ring a bell with anyone, hmm?" Rodney fielded the glares with a glare of his own, crossing his arms.

The Tok'ra nodded. "We have also decided that the Tau'ri among us will be given a choice of where they would like to live. Is Earth a viable option?"

"Wait a minute! Those are our people!" O'Neill slapped the table. "You can't keep them!"

"We are giving them a choice," the Tok'ra said slowly. "They qualify as political refugees under our system of laws."

Hammond held up his hand. "Those are men and women of our military. We agreed that you would assist them. That was all."

Rodney opened his mouth to say something about John, but Daniel kicked him under the table.

"And we appreciate your help, but they are our people," Carter said.

Daniel leaned forward. "Did the High Council grant them asylum?"

"We did." The Tok'ra nodded. "Several of them fought us fiercely when we mentioned returning them here. They seem to feel that the abuse would continue or become worse."

"Wait, they spoke?" Rodney asked, hoping that Daniel didn't kick him again.

"All but your John Sheppard have recovered the use of their vocal chords."

Rodney was glad he was sitting or he'd have fallen down. John still couldn't talk. The good news being that he was alive. Rodney felt his lungs start to work again. "What's wrong with John?"

Before the Tok'ra could answer, Hammond butted in with, "Very few of those men and women have SGC clearance. We will have to evaluate where they can return to their duties."

"Dr. McKay, please tell us the truth."

He was happy to do just that. "That means the men and women will be put away - prison, a base, somewhere secure. They're a risk."

O'Neill had the gall to roll his eyes. "McKay has his own agenda here."

"Dr. McKay has been truthful from the beginning. Can all of you say the same in regards to this matter?"

"Unscheduled off-world activation!"

No one moved for one long second and then Hammond stood. "Excuse me. I'll have to deal with that."

The Tok'ra said nothing. O'Neill went with him, and Carter did too after a pause. Rodney took the opportunity he'd just been handed. "Where's John Sheppard?"

"He is with the Nox."

"Oh, God." Rodney wanted to put his head between his knees. "He was so damaged. So hurt."

Daniel caught Rodney's flailing hand. "He could be healing. You don't know."

"John Sheppard's condition was grave. The Nox healed his body when we failed, but we fear the pathways the disc controlled in his brain are burned out. He will not speak or interact with anyone."

"I have to go to him." Rodney got up and moved around Daniel. This was the moment to act. He'd worked and waited, and it was time to push for what he wanted. The head Tok'ra stood, and Rodney pleaded, "Please. Let me try. Let me take him back to Atlantis."

"The Tok'ra do not have the authority to make that decision," General Hammond said as he marched back into the briefing room. "And you're going to Atlantis in the morning."

Words clogged in Rodney's throat as he eyed the tiny man with insane hair standing at Hammond's shoulder.

"Anteaus, it's good to see you again." Daniel eased his way to the front. "I think you know everyone here but Dr. Rodney McKay." He made a brief gesture.

"The one with no reason to lie."

"He does exaggerate from time to time," Carter whispered.

Rodney wasn't sure if he should shake hands or not and decided to skip it. "John's injuries?"

Anteaus showed remarkably pointy teeth. "The Tok'ra device for healing only caused him further pain, so he was brought to the Nox. We performed the ceremony of healing for him, and he did not die."

The chair looked good as Rodney's knees wobbled. "I wanted to go with him. To help. They stunned me. I could've helped!"

"Perhaps." Anteaus shrugged. "He is sick, withdrawn, and we are unsure how to heal him further."

O'Neill sat down with a thump. "I say we let McKay go see him. Bring him home. We need him."

"His gene, you mean," Rodney said derisively.

"Yup." O'Neill didn't pull his punches.

The Tok'ra were all frowning. "Out of many, you would choose only one?"

Hammond shook his head. "We want all our people back."

"Yeah. McKay is just on a mission. He's attached." O'Neill made a pained face.

Rodney wanted to promise anything to convince the Nox to take him, but it was Hammond who stood directly in the way. "I want to go." He saw Hammond's small shake of the head and played his only card. "If that's the way you want it. Anteaus, I formally request asylum from the Tau'ri. I've been unjustly imprisoned since my arrival here."

"I hardly call being confined to the base unjust." Hammond glared. "You violated any number of regulations by going to Canada!"

"Have you seen his room?" Carter asked quietly. "It's got better equipment than my lab."

The Tok'ra exchanged a glance and moved to put themselves between Rodney and the rest of the humans. Rodney tried to will the tiny guy with nutty hair to let him go. He wasn't going to quit on John now.

"You are welcome to stay with us until such time as you are reconciled with the Tau'ri." Anteaus waved his hand at the crowd. "We will discuss again if the refugees are to be resettled. They are fragile in so many ways."

"Dr. McKay will not be allowed off this base! He's far too valuable to—"

Hammond's voice faded as Rodney's world blurred. Time and space moved in ways it shouldn't, and his stomach lurched. They were moving, damn fast, and he could feel Anteaus' hand on his shoulder. Inside the space of one breath, they were in the gate room.

"Unscheduled activation!"

Rodney blinked, nearly tripped, and caught sight of Gary's wide eyes up in the control room. An impossibly short time later, they were on the other side of the gate. "Wow."

"Welcome to our home." Anteaus took several steps away. "Follow me."

"That was impossible. Incredible." Rodney stumbled and had to gather his courage to follow him towards the forest. "How do you do it?"

"We are old." Anteaus laughed. "Many things are easy with age."

"Zen mumbo-jumbo." Rodney hadn't exactly dressed for a mission, and he hoped he didn't need a power bar, or his gun. "You're not repulsed by the idea that I might, possibly, care for John?"

Anteaus stopped in the middle of the trail and turned to him. "The Tau'ri are young, foolish. I sense that you are impatient but not foolish."

"I did so much. I worked and didn't ask for anything but the chance to help John." Rodney cradled his arm, afraid that he was whining. "We're friends, and I never had one before, my sister doesn't count, and—"

"Stop." Anteaus touched him gently on the cast. "We will go see him, and if he chooses you, you will know what decision to make next."

"I just want to see him, know that he's alive." Rodney pointed down the path; he was so close now. At least he hoped he didn't have to walk miles through the dense forest. "That way?"

Anteaus went first, and Rodney strained to keep up, nearly tripping over a log when he saw the primitive huts. His heart pounded in his chest, and he almost wanted to race back to the gate. It might be easier to go on pretending John was a friend than know the truth.

"He is there." Anteaus scooped up a small boy and hugged him. "Did John Sheppard eat?"

"Some. He threw up again."

Rodney would've sworn his feet were in quicksand, and he couldn't take a breath to save his life. John was dressed in green BDU's, black T-shirt, and no shoes. His hair fit in perfectly with the Nox. He was sitting on a stump, back to Rodney, not moving at all.

"John, you have a visitor. You don't have to see him, if you don't want." Anteaus spoke softly, crouching down in front of him. "But it would be polite. He has crossed the galaxy twice to find you."

"Three times, if you count Pegasus." Rodney saw the tiny flinch across John's shoulders. "They wouldn't let me come, John. I'm sorry I let you down." He could taste ashes in his mouth.

"It is true. I had to steal him away." Anteaus laughed softly.

Moving seemed impossible. Rodney felt his knees go out, and he was sitting down, and he wasn't getting up without help. He ached, and he was tired, and he had gone his last mile. "I understand if you hate me. I was never good at this friendship stuff, but I…" He ran out of air, words, and will.

"The Tok'ra told us that his memory might be lost."

It was no comfort, but he was glad if John had forgotten all the bad stuff. It would be selfish to want him to remember a few shared kisses and lunch on the floor. They were only ten feet apart, but it was far enough, and he should go back to Earth. Hammond would try to fire him, and then ship him quickly to Atlantis, and he'd be miserable, but it'd be fine. Not good, but he'd honestly never expected to be happy. He'd known that John would reject him. Everyone had said it, so this was no surprise. He could live with it. He'd have to live with it.

A hand touched him on the cast and he jumped, looking straight up into John's dark eyes. There was a small scar where the disc had been. John handed him the tablet and rapped it lightly. Rodney flipped the switch, but it was dead. "It needs to be recharged," he croaked, unwilling to believe that John was looking at him. "I don't have any equipment with me."

John tilted his head and sat very close. Their shoulders rubbed, and he touched Rodney's mouth. Rodney twitched, trying to make sense of this new permutation in his life. He didn't understand, but it might be possible that John - the real one - liked him.

"Yes, I'm hungry. I'm always hungry." Rodney's face practically cracked in half from smiling, and he nearly kissed John's fingers. "You?"

He shrugged and touched the tablet again.

"We must celebrate. John Sheppard will heal." Anteaus practically shouted the words. "He has chosen life!"

Rodney ducked his head onto John's shoulder. "You forgot me?"

John took the tablet back and turned enough to kiss him on the forehead. It was recognition and forgiveness all wrapped together, and Rodney swallowed a sob of relief, more than relief. No matter where they went from here, they were going together.


"Not entirely sure this is food." Rodney took a bite to stave off hypoglycemia. "I guess for all their technology they haven't invented butter yet. Or cooking."

John touched his forehead, shuddering.

"It hurts to eat, doesn't it?" Rodney wanted nothing more than to get John's brain under a scanner and let Carson work his voodoo.

A quick nod, and John handed him a bowl of berries. Rodney fed him and ate more than a few himself. They were good, juicy.

"His body rejects all but the smallest amount of food." She was tiny, slender, and most of her body weight had to be hair.

"It's his brain. He was punished for eating if he didn't follow certain rules. The disc is gone, but the behavior is learned. His head hurts, and he vomits." Rodney handed John something that was like tea except sweet instead of bitter. "I'm hoping that we did this enough to fool his brain into thinking everything is fine."

"I hope so also. He is far too thin." She hovered. "We cannot heal his mind."

Rodney was glad they hadn't tried. It might've hurt him worse. "Thank you for what you did."

"You are welcome." She smiled. "You are not as foolish as some Tau'ri."

"A great compliment," Rodney said dryly. He rescued his tea and took a drink. The Nox had come and gone around them during the day, but they didn't make demands or pry. It was almost scary. John seemed content to stay within an inch, and Rodney liked it far too much.

Her hair swirled, and she moved away. Rodney snagged a bowl of something that looked like celery. He snapped it into several pieces. "John, can you make a letter?"

John took a piece of the celery, eating it. He frowned and touched the tablet. Rodney pulled it close and lay the celery on top of it. He arranged them so they made an A. "Like that."

After a few seconds, John ate the side of the A. He shrugged, and Rodney told himself that John was still healing. The Nox hadn't asked them to leave, not yet, but they would have to go home to get John the help he needed. Darkness crept up on them, and it was the small boy that showed Rodney the way to a hut. John held Rodney's hand, ducking inside.

"This is your place?"

Putting the tablet down on a tiny table, John waved his hand in front of a ball that hung from the ceiling. Soft light answered him, and Rodney told himself twice not to take it down and dismantle it. The Nox were an incredible series of contradictions, and he really didn't see the sense in living in squalor when they had the technology to live in the clouds.

John patted what clearly wasn't a bed as much as a good-sized pallet. Rodney joined him and took off his shoes.

"I missed you," Rodney whispered. He didn't think the words were adequate. John touched the cast and wrinkled his brow. Rodney rolled and wiggled, finding a comfortable spot. "We were looking for a ZPM so we could dial Atlantis. So I could take you there," he admitted. "A Jaffa hit me with his staff. I didn't even feel it at the time. It hurts a little." He smiled as John tucked himself close and pulled blankets over them. "Sleep?"

John waved his hand, and the light went out. Rodney laughed at the Nox's version of the Clapper. "We'll get there. I promised you, and I plan to keep it."


"I must apologize to you, Dr. McKay. The Nox did not know that you and John Sheppard were mates. We should have asked the Tau'ri." Anteaus handed him a bowl full of something orange that wasn't citrus. John's long fingers snatched one, and Rodney tried to frown instead of smile.

"It was only six days, maybe seven," Rodney said weakly.

"Bonds can be forged in a heartbeat. Six days can last a lifetime."

John took the bowl, and Rodney laughed softly, changing the subject. "I think he's hungry."

Anteaus nodded and picked out something yellow to pass to them. "All the sickest of the Tau'ri are here. You have taught us how to help them, and we are grateful."

Rodney hadn't seen any other humans, but it was a big planet. John tugged Rodney's shirt. He'd used the top of the tablet, creating a circle from orange chunks. He pointed.

"Home. I know." Rodney was relieved that John remembered. "The way I see it, we have two problems. One - the military isn't excited about letting you go. Two - we can't gate home without returning to Earth, and that leads us back to one."

"The Alterans took their city to the Pegasus galaxy." Anteaus handed John a bowl of something that looked very sticky. "Dip the cheve."

Rodney snitched a piece of the stargate and gave it a try while thinking furiously about how the hell the Nox had heard about Atlantis. Daniel might know.

The sauce was sticky, but good, and he fed John the next piece. "I can see your bones," he chided. John inched closer. Rodney wiggled on his back end, wishing for a chair. "If we go back to Earth, they won't like us… touching." He wasn't sure what Weir and Lorne would say about it. There were a few openly gay people in Atlantis, and no one cared, but none of them were military.

"When you and John Sheppard are well, we will return you home." Anteaus got to his feet easily. "You both must eat and rest."

"Can I study your technology while I'm here?" Rodney had to ask. He was a scientist and wanted to learn, sitting around in a forest for days might push him right over the edge.

Anteaus tilted his head. "We will consider it. Would you leave John here, if it were best for him?"

"Leave him?" Rodney frowned, not liking the sound of that. "Do you have any idea what I've done to be with him? I'm not leaving him, not willingly, not for anything, and it's going to take a dozen or so of you to make me."

"They stunned you and took him. We know." Anteaus looked up at the sky. "We will think on these things." He vanished.

John touched Rodney's lips. Rodney rubbed his forehead against John's bony shoulder. "You like these people?" he asked softly. He saw the quick nod. "They're safe, but I get the feeling they have an agenda of their own."

Putting the bowls aside, John got to his feet. He tugged and helped Rodney get up also. Rodney's back popped, and his arm ached, but he was up. "What?"

John smiled and led the way down a tiny trail. Rodney watched his feet so he didn't trip and land on his arm. Following John around was all he did lately.


"This kind of diet would be all well and good if we were rabbits!" Rodney had made it one day before becoming convinced that the Nox didn't understand John's dietary requirements. "Humans are omnivorous. That means we require protein, usually in the form of animal flesh. No, don't go all wild-eyed on me, it's a matter of our physiology. John is never going to gain weight eating like a big bunny! He needs fat and meat!"

The Nox all stared at him. He wasn't actually volunteering to go hunting, but there had to be something they could do.

"I'm not asking you to slaughter a cow, and this diet is fine for someone like me who is in basic good health, but John needs the extra protein after being sick. He could be anemic." Rodney suspected that John was. "That's bad. For a human."

One of the old Nox stepped forward. "We thank you for telling us this truth, but what is a bunny?"

Rodney had to sit down and rub his face. John nudged him, and he laughed. "A small furry animal on Earth that eats all this…" He waved his hand at the buffet. "They don't eat meat."

"Are they wise?"

"Mostly they like to have sex and hop around." Rodney felt a flush working its way up his neck, trying so hard not to visualize Nox hopping or doing other stuff.

John crunched into something very loudly. The small Nox boy said, "We should ask the Tollan."

"Yes, yes, good idea. Mention the word protein." Rodney pulled John close and whispered in his ear, "I know you're laughing on the inside."

Abruptly, John got to his feet. He pointed to their hut, and Rodney groaned as he got up. "I'm not young any longer." He let John drag him to their makeshift bed and push him down. "A nap? Okay."

They had napped yesterday, or John had. Rodney pushed off his shoes, and John crawled to kiss him. On the lips.

"What? Wait!" Rodney put his good hand on John's chest and gave a weak push. John kissed him harder, which was very nice but didn't answer any of Rodney's dozen questions. "What brought this on?"

John blew in Rodney's ear. "Oh!" They moved against each other, pushing and pulling, and Rodney's brain suddenly worked again. "John, you can't, and if you can't, I don't want to," he squeaked. John drew back enough for Rodney to finish, "And everyone said it was the disc! You don't really like me, not like that."

John pressed his forehead against Rodney's. The kiss that followed was so deep in Rodney's mouth that he lost the ability to complain about all those people and their wrongness.

"Oh, God." Rodney wasn't going to push him away again. "Wait, you know the sun's up, right? Does this mean you've forgiven me?" It seemed important to ask. John nuzzled Rodney's neck, not much of an answer, but he'd take it. "John, let me touch you."

With a jerk, John sat up and moved out of reach. Rodney sprawled underneath him, panting. His cock was so hard it hurt, and he was going to come if John so much as looked at him. "You still can't," Rodney said softly. "We'll wait. I can wait." He tried to touch him gently. "I'm sorry."

Frowning, John wiped his mouth. He griped his head tightly and squeezed. Rodney scrambled up and held him close from behind. "You'll heal. You will." He had to believe it. John curled into him, and he moved them around until they were laying on the pallet back to front. "It's okay." He pressed his forehead into the back of John's neck. John shuddered, and then he was still, and Rodney held him. It was all he could give him.


"Rodney?"

Rodney turned, surprised to hear the familiar voice. Before he could say anything, John pushed his way in front of him. Rodney peeked over John's shoulder at Daniel and Teal'c. "Hi," he said somewhat weakly. He had hoped the Nox would keep them away. John shifted, and Rodney half-expected him to kneel.

"How are you feeling, John Sheppard?"

John flinched, and his eyes narrowed, and Rodney tried to step to John's side. John didn't allow that. He looked furious.

"I think he's still angry." Daniel glanced at Teal'c. "About the whole stunning thing."

Teal'c stepped forward, and John pushed Rodney toward the hut. Rodney nearly fell down, caught himself on a log, and scrambled back to him. "John, he won't hurt us. I promise."

Daniel slid between John and Teal'c. "Teal'c isn't armed. He's concerned for both of you."

John backed up and grabbed Rodney's hand tightly. Rodney went ahead and hugged him. "The Nox will protect us, and Daniel might have news from Atlantis."

Slowly, John eased away, and Rodney got him to sit in his usual spot. Rodney joined him. Daniel and Teal'c looked confused for a moment and then they sat also, but not too close.

"A loyal friend, indeed." Teal'c bowed his head to them both. "General Hammond petitioned the Nox that we be allowed to see you to discover how you and the others are doing."

"They agreed, and here we are." Daniel glanced about and smiled. "Looks about the same. John, how are you?"

Rodney didn't nudge him to encourage him. John would make up his own mind. He didn't even look at Daniel for the longest time, but finally, his shoulders relaxed a little.

"General Hammond, all of us, have been very worried about you," Daniel said.

John spat off to the side, and it was all Rodney could do not to laugh. Teal'c tilted his head. "He communicates very well."

"That he does." Rodney reached, grabbed a bowl of one of John's favorites, and fed him a piece. "The Nox say they'll return us when we're well. That's all they'll say."

"Dr. Frasier is concerned about your arm." Daniel pointed at the cast. "Any pain?"

"Not really, but I'm careful." Rodney offered Daniel a piece. "It's very good. For bunny food."

Daniel frowned, taking it. Anteaus appeared next to them in a blink. "Your arm is injured? We thought the covering was a new Tau'ri custom."

It was Teal'c who answered. "His arm was broken fighting Jaffa. The cast keeps the bone straight until it heals."

"We did not understand such a primitive healing technique." Anteaus sat directly across from Rodney, so close their knees bumped. "May I look?"

Rodney held out his arm and looked at John as Anteaus poked, stroked, and made humming noises over the cast. John glowered, definitely sulking.

"So, everything here is fine?" Daniel asked slowly.

"After your friends are gone, we will remove this covering and complete the healing." Anteaus gently touched John on the knee. "Your anger is for your mate. I understand, but do not let it injure you."

John didn't stop glaring. Rodney was sincerely glad that O'Neill wasn't here to hear about the mates thing. "John, Teal'c was following orders. You know how that is."

Daniel cleared his throat. "Have you seen any of the others?"

"No," Rodney said. "Anteaus has very strong feelings about that. All of the men and women here were severely ill from the removal and most, if not all, still have difficulty eating. Apparently, they live in fear that the military will storm the planet and force them back."

Anteaus got to his feet effortlessly. "Rodney McKay has helped us with their recovery. You will not be allowed to see them. They are too sick."

"Do you ever intend to let them return to Earth?" Daniel asked in a very quiet voice.

John jumped to his feet, threw a small pile of twigs at Teal'c, and vanished into the forest. Teal'c did nothing but raise an eyebrow. Rodney grinned. Not too long ago, John would've knelt, and that show of anger was a vast improvement.

"Daniel, our people aren't prisoners here," Rodney said calmly, hoping he could make them understand. "They're free to come and go as they wish. The Nox would never keep them from leaving."

"I am surprised some haven't returned," Teal'c said.

Rodney got to his feet. After a week, it was getting easier, but chairs still wouldn't have killed them. "I'm sure, eventually, a few will trickle back, but most would rather not." He gestured down the trail. "I'm going after John."

"Wait." Daniel moved quickly and touched Rodney on the arm. "Why haven't you come home?"

"John's not ready, and I'm not sure he wants to return to Earth." Rodney was glad that Carter wasn't here to laugh at them. "Daniel, can't you see the situation from their point of view? Your military, your government, hasn't even made a token effort to help the Nox, the Tok'ra, or the Tollan deal with a fairly large population of refugees. If you cared, you would. You just pushed them through the gate and hoped someone else would make you look good."

Daniel let his hand slide away. "The Tollan?"

"They have been generous," Anteaus said. "You did, after all, help them in their time of need."

"We tried." Daniel rubbed his forehead. "Rodney, you should come back and tell them."

"And risk being tossed in the brig so hard I bounce? I don't think so." Rodney edged away from Teal'c, just in case. "If John wants to go back, I will. Not before."

"He will be ready to leave soon," Anteaus said. "He waits for you at the waterfall."

"Talk to them," Rodney said, and he tossed a wave before heading down the trail. He hurried, but he always watched his feet, and he was just in time to see John jump off the cliff into the water. John wet equaled a very good thing, but Rodney wished there weren't cliffs to tempt him. Stripping off his clothes, after a look back to make sure Daniel or Teal'c hadn't followed, he waded in and paddled towards John.

John popped up next to him, grabbed him, and kissed him fiercely. Rodney nearly sank, taking John with him. They sputtered, Rodney found an underwater rock to stand on, and John kissed him hard again.

"I'm not leaving!" Rodney laughed and tugged that crazy hair. "Not for all the tech in two galaxies." And he meant it, and that made him think of his sister, and he should've apologized again before he'd left. He'd have to email her when he got back to where they had internet service.

John slicked his hands down Rodney's chest, driving all thoughts away. Rodney smoothed his fingers over John's forehead, so glad the damn thing was gone. "I'm never leaving you again, unless you make me, and even that probably won't work."

Their bodies came together, and Rodney hadn't intended to grab, caress, but John was doing it, and fair was fair, and it was hard to think of reasons not to when John grinned and moved his hips like that.

"You're bound and determined to have your evil way with me." Rodney still didn't know why John wanted him, but there was no denying that John did. John couldn't get hard, but he sure acted horny. Rodney didn't understand it, and he wasn't asking the Nox to explain it.

He jerked in surprise when John wrapped his hand around a very private part. "Hey!"

John kissed and worked his hand up and down, and Rodney wasn't strong enough to resist any longer. He let the water, kisses, and wonderful feelings wash over him. It ended too soon, and John's eyes laughed at him. Rodney used his weight to dunk him. That started a huge water fight, and John won, of course. Staggering to the shore, Rodney found a big rock to sit on and dry since the Nox didn't believe in towels any more than they did cheese toppings. John went back to cliff diving, crazy man, and then swam over to him.

Rodney smiled, almost shy, and John tapped him hard on the chest. "What? Are you trying to bruise me?"

John rapped him again; his face very intent and eyes wide. Rodney returned the favor, hoping he understood. "I feel the same."

After a nod, John settled down next to him. Rodney wasn't sure what John was thinking, but it was becoming obvious who the boss was in this relationship. And it wasn't Rodney.


"Have you seen enough of our technology?"

"Could I have a set of schematics? Of everything?" Rodney managed to get his eyes to focus on the small boy - whatever his name was. "And your main power source?"

"I was told to say no." He tugged John's hand. Rodney wasn't leaving the flying city for the mud huts until they made him. There might be real beds here, or chairs, or—

John nudged him with a bony shoulder. Rodney sighed and ran his hands over the console one last time. They weren't going to let him stay here and study for a couple of years, but he'd put it on his list of things to do before he died.

The trip back to the huts was nothing but a blink of the eye, and he felt like throwing himself on the pallet and doing some serious pouting. Instead, he forced a protein bar - the Tollans had come through - on John and sat down on a log so he wasn't tempted to bang his head into a tree.

The Nox made it all look so easy, and it wasn't. He hated feeling like a moron.

"You are both restless." Anteaus sat down across from him. The whole popping out of nowhere thing wasn't even a surprise any longer. "John Sheppard will continue to heal, but he no longer needs us."

Rodney practically held his breath, and he made an impatient gesture. "You're sure he'll heal?"

"Time heals many things." Anteaus smiled in that vacant way of his that was annoying. "Before you go, I must ask you one question, and you will choose to answer it, or not."

John squeezed in next to Rodney, and their hands gravitated together.

"Anqueetas uban deserdi fallatus?"

"Eetium," Rodney said instantly. He'd never heard spoken Ancient, except from what Weir and Teyla muttered occasionally, but the translation was easy enough. Of course Atlantis needed power, but the Nox technology wasn't reliant on ZPM's. Anteaus gave a solemn bow and vanished. Rodney, somewhat confused, looked at John. "I wish they'd stop doing that."

John grinned and slowly raised his hand to wrap it around Rodney's neck. Rodney rolled his eyes in mock protest at the long and involved kiss that followed. He finally tugged his lips away. "We're leaving soon. Are you ready?" He wasn't reassured by John's cautious shrug. "We can go somewhere else. I know more gate addresses than you can shake a stick at."

John picked up a stick and wrinkled his brow. He shrugged again, tossed it, and tried to steal another kiss. Rodney sighed. He didn't think Earth was a good idea at all, but they didn't have any other option if they wanted to get to Atlantis, and he'd been gone far too long.

"Come. It is time." Anteaus and a small group of Nox became visible. "Is there anything you wish to take?"

Rodney scooted into the hut and picked up John's tablet. John took it from him almost instantly, and they all headed for the gate.

"Thank you for everything," Rodney said, hoping he sounded sincere. He didn't have much practice at it. "I'm in your debt." He meant that more than they could ever know.

"For Tau'ri, you are a surprisingly gentle man." Anteaus might've been smirking. "You both are welcome to return whenever you like."

The rest of the trip passed in silence, but when the stargate appeared, John's steps faltered. He stopped, looked back towards the Nox camp, and Rodney waited from him to decide. The Nox joined hands in a half-circle around the DHD, leaving the small boy to take John by the hand.

"You should go home, John."

Rodney couldn't get his lungs to work. He shifted, watching John think and clutch the tablet. Anteaus began to dial the gate, and Rodney crossed to John, unable to keep his mouth shut any longer. "I promised we'd get back to Atlantis. We will."

John caught him in a wild kiss right before the ka-whoosh. Rodney grabbed John's other hand, and they went together.

"Wait! We need an IDC!" Rodney panicked at the last moment. He had no intention of becoming a bug on a windshield.

The small boy pulled at John's hand. "You are needed there." They walked into the event horizon, and Rodney threw himself after them.

"Rodney!"

Atlantis burst into life in front of them. Alarms going off, people running, and more guns than Rodney could easily count pointed at them. He shook himself and, for the first time in his life, wanted to kiss a dirty child.

"I cannot stay." The Nox boy pulled off a small backpack and handed it to John. "Look inside yourself, and you will find what you seek."

"Rodney, who is your little friend?" Weir practically yelled.

John held the bag tightly and dropped to one knee, hugging him. Rodney opened his mouth to explain but shut it when the wormhole re-engaged behind them.

"McKay! What the hell is going on?" Lorne's eyes were wild. "And who is that?"

Rodney noticed the lack of the ka-whoosh. He could only smile at the insanity of it all. "Tell them thanks."

The boy vanished, and the wormhole collapsed. Rodney dropped to his knees and kissed John on the mouth. "No place like home."


It was the noise that bothered Rodney the most. Everyone needed to shut up and give him and John a minute to adjust. John looked about one second from going feral, and Rodney yanked Carson aside.

"John's going to lose it. You've got to do something about all these people," he whispered fiercely.

Carson whispered back, "There was a time when you'd have done it!"

Rodney gave him a push, grateful for when Carson started yelling, waving his hands, and clearing their part of the infirmary. Weir, Lorne, Zelenka, and the rest of them would be back for another round soon, but hopefully, John could hold it together after a short break.

John's hand trembled inside Rodney's, and he turned to face him squarely. "They're worried, concerned, not angry. Well, maybe at me, Lorne, at least, but not you. Not you."

John tucked his worried face into Rodney's neck and took a very deep breath. Rodney let his hands settle on John's back. "We're home. You can feel it in your bones. The city practically sang when you crossed the threshold. Already the jumpers are humming happily, knowing you'll come pet them soon."

Rodney laughed when John bit him gently on the collarbone. "Carson will take some blood, make weird noises, and then we'll go find some real food. No more bunny food, thank God." He rubbed John's back. "You'll have to help me when Lorne yells at me, and he will, loudly."

That got John to raise his head, and he narrowed his eyes, putting on his mean face. Rodney loved that.

Carson cleared his throat. "Are you ready, lads?"

"John, do you remember Carson?" Rodney nudged him enough that he turned. John looked Carson up and down and then tilted his head.

"How are you feeling, John?"

John furrowed his brow and then touched his forehead. Carson smiled. "Aye, it's gone, and I'm glad to see that." He pointed towards a bed. "Can we get started?"

"I'll go first," Rodney said, scooting up on a gurney. John hesitated, found a chair for the tablet and bag, and then claimed the spot between Rodney's legs.

"Oh, well, that'll work." Carson might've blushed, and Rodney wanted to smack him. "I'll pull the sheet," he sputtered, doing just that.

"Carson, are you a homophobe too? I sorta expected it at the SGC, but we're different here, better." Rodney said, trying to sound sure, but he faded away towards the end because Carson looked furious. "What?"

John wiggled back, pressing them together. Carson pulled a cart full of medical stuff closer. He snapped on a pair of gloves and said, "Rodney, it was a surprise is all. In all the time I've known you, you haven't been too keen on people touching you.

"I'm not a homophobe," he continued fiercely, "and I doubt you'll find anyone on this base that is, but that doesn't mean people go about holding hands."

Explaining Rodney's current theory that John needed the physical reassurance because of the trauma seemed a bit rude with him sitting right there. John might still be limited by the brain damage, but he wasn't stupid. Carson stepped closer, and John put his hand on Rodney's thigh.

"Carson, it would be polite to tell us what you're going to do before you do it." Rodney had no desire for more bruises on his leg. He wrapped his arm around John's midsection and gave him a squeeze for reassurance. "Have you gotten all the updates from the SGC?"

"Last I heard you had a broken arm and John's condition was unknown." Carson smiled a little. "I can see your arm is better." He paused. "I need some blood. It may sting a wee bit." He paused. "John, you first?"

John sighed and held out his arm. Rodney smiled, glad that someone finally had the sense to talk to John, instead of about him.

Carson alternated questions with explanations, and Rodney slowly began to relax. They were home. He had done it. Carson coaxed them over to the scanner, and Rodney encouraged John to lie down. A small sense of giddiness swept over him, and he giggled.

"Rodney?"

"We're home," he said, slumping down in a chair not far from the scanner. The trickle burst the dam, and he began to laugh. "I had to invent a new kind of sensors, upgrade the Apollo, find a ZPM, fix the Daedalus, make every Air Force officer at the SGC angry, break my arm, and visit my sister, but we're finally here. In Atlantis!"

"You're punch drunk." Carson moved the scanner across John twice. "Did you have to make everyone angry?"

"It seems like I did." Rodney covered his mouth so he didn't giggle again. John padded over to him, frowning. "You need some boots."

Glancing at his feet, John shrugged. He touched Rodney's mouth and smiled.

"You have a sister?"

"We'll send her an email." Rodney stood and swept John into a hug. "We're home," he whispered into John's neck. "Let's stay here."

John kissed him, Carson rolled his eyes, and Weir stepped around the corner. Her eyes widened, and she asked, "Carson, how are they?"

"A mite skinny, but they're in good health."

Rodney laughed again as John moved to stand between him and Weir. John was awfully protective lately. Rodney could admit he liked it. "Let's get lunch. I'm hungry."

That got a decisive nod from John, and Rodney couldn't stop smiling.

"Aye, go eat. I'll speak with John later about his scans after I've compared them to the others." Carson smiled. "And welcome home."

"I hope there's jello, and cheese, and—"

"Briefing first." Weir crossed her arms. "You have a lot of explaining to do."

John looked from her to Rodney and shook his head. He touched Rodney's lips. Weir's eyebrows couldn't get any higher without crawling away.

"I want them to eat first," Carson said, looking at a report that a nurse had just handed him. "Rodney's blood sugar is a trifle low, and John is a bit anemic."

"I knew it!" Rodney laughed again, knowing they were staring at him. "We'll report to you as soon as I find John some boots, and after we eat."

"And eat," Carson shook his head. "Protein for the both of you!"

Rodney watched John give Weir a look and then he hurried to get his tablet and bag. "Did you miss me?" He couldn't help but bounce on his toes. "Did I tell you I found a ZPM?"

"We heard." Weir straightened her red sweater and gave John a shifty look. Rodney tucked his hand inside John's elbow and started for the mess hall, forestalling any more questions or complaints. He'd write a thorough report later when John was curled up to him, sleeping. John didn't lag behind, but Rodney didn't slow down either. People tried to get him to talk - the fools. He wasn't stopping until he had a full tray.

Finally, John gave him a tug, and he stopped. "Okay?"

John's eyes were blown. Rodney could see the worry. "Dr. Weir—" She'd been following them. "Give us a moment, please."

She nodded and went on, and Rodney ducked into a shadow. John smirked - he did way too much of that.

"No kissing," Rodney said weakly, not really meaning it. He leaned and took John's free hand to put it against the wall. "Feel her?"

John's eyes grew distant, and Rodney didn't interrupt him, but his stomach caused a fuss, grumbling about the lack. John focused on him and rolled his hazel eyes.

"I know!" Rodney smiled, wishing he'd stop. People were going to think he was losing it. "The next couple of hours are going to be crazy. If you can't handle it, squeeze my hand twice, and I'll find a way to get us to my quarters, okay?"

John handed Rodney the tablet and tapped it rather impatiently. Rodney got the message. "You're right. I'll charge it." He looked both ways. "Let's hurry. My stomach is getting cranky."

They trotted to Rodney's quarters, and he stared in dismay at the wreck for two seconds before starting the tablet on a charge. When he turned around, John was staring down at his cot.

"I always respected you." Rodney let his thumbs spin from sheer nerves. John caught him by the hands.

"Oh, Jesus," Lorne said as the door opened.

Rodney marched up to Lorne and shoved him, not much, but enough to get the point across. "John has PTSD. He got it saving the Daedalus. Not one harsh word, or I swear you will never have a quiet moment again on this base."

Shock worked its way up Lorne's neck. "I read the report from Dr. Frasier," he ground out, stepping back close.

"Good. Act accordingly," Rodney said with equal intensity. John stepped right between them with his back to Rodney.

Both of their mouths dropped open when John gave Lorne a half-decent salute. "Make me look stupid," Rodney muttered, backing away.

"Welcome to Atlantis, Airman Sheppard." Lorne returned the salute. "Until I get orders concerning your deployment here, consider yourself on medical leave. Understood?"

John nodded. He half-turned and put his hand on Rodney's chest. Rodney glanced down at the hand and then up at Lorne.

"I get it. I won't ask. You don't tell. Now, airman, let's get you some boots." Lorne met Rodney's eyes firmly. "You and I will be discussing other issues later."

"Good enough." Rodney wouldn't look forward to it. "I'm going to the mess hall. John, would you like to go with Lorne or myself?"

Lorne opened the door. "Boots can wait until after you eat. A stiff Atlantis wind could blow you away, Shep."

Rodney's anger flared back up. "His name isn't Shep!"

"No, it was his call sign when he flew F-15's." Lorne shook his head in clear disgust. "When are you going to figure out that he's Air Force?"

"Oh, shut up," Rodney muttered. He hurried now to the mess hall, letting John - not Shep - and Lorne trail behind him. Lorne was talking softly, and John was listening, and Rodney was annoyed by it. It wasn't that he was possessive, it was just that he didn't share well.


They'd taken their usual spot on the balcony, and while Lorne had left them alone, Zelenka hadn't. Also, Teyla, Ford, Stackhouse, and Simpson had stopped by and then found an excuse to plunk their butts down. The tables had been pushed back, the sun shined, and there was a breeze, and Rodney couldn't quite manage to be annoyed at the impromptu picnic. Food came and went, people sharing and adding to John's tray.

"You are very quiet. I am scared." Zelenka hunched over his tray. "Tell us what happened."

Rodney groaned, but John handed him a muffin and that helped. "Didn't Dr. Mathers fill you in?"

"He is tight-lipped." Zelenka shook his head. "It worries me that you know his name."

Teyla laughed, and Rodney couldn't glare at her. "Okay, I'll start at the beginning, but Simpson, grab a tablet and get it down so I don't have to later."

"Lazy," Zelenka said, but he smiled. Rodney took a deep breath and started. He tried to keep it simple but it wasn't a simple story, and he pretended not to notice when Weir and Lorne and half the personnel on base sat listening to him.

It was Teyla that interrupted with the first question. "They did not care if you left?"

"Aye, they did. Dr. Frasier was quite upset that her patient had put on his pants and disappeared!" Carson said.

"Well, I was mad too!" Rodney glared at Beckett until he felt John take him by the hand.

"Is that when you went to Las Vegas?" Lorne chimed in, smiling.

John found some wiggle room, leaning back and plunking his head in Rodney's lap. It was obviously nap time. Rodney saw everyone stifle a gasp or two. He had to say something. "They didn't understand that I was really the only person John knew, and I seriously considered gassing the place and gating after the Tok'ra, but Carter had all those damn protocols—" He saw Weir press her palms into her eyes and kept going. "Anyway! Yes! I walked away, and I didn't know where to go or what to do."

"Why didn't you finish fixing the Daedalus?" Weir asked softly.

"I'm not a damn welder!" Rodney had done his part, and he refused to feel guilty. "So I left, and I went to Las Vegas long enough to make them look for me there, and then I went to Canada."

"To your sister's house!" Carson nodded.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Let me tell the story! And someone get me some water." He wasn't wading through the bodies at this point. Waiting until after his first drink, he made sure John was comfortable. "After I'd been there awhile, I decided the only thing to do was find a ZPM." He didn't want to discuss his sister with anyone but John.

"I heard Daniel Jackson tracked you down and forced you back," Lorne said.

"Why ZPM?" Zelenka asked.

"The Apollo was busy with the Ori, the Daedalus wasn't going anywhere, and I wanted to come home." Rodney took another sip of water. "I also thought if I could find one, they'd be damn grateful and let me go get John."

"Not likely," Lorne said. Rodney shrugged and talked until he was tired of hearing the sound of his own voice.

It was Weir that interrupted him towards the end. "You claimed asylum?" She sounded amazed, and she put her face in her hands for a moment. "That little boy was a Nox?"

"He's about sixty years old." Rodney was hungry again, and his butt was asleep.

"I can't believe he killed a Jaffa," Ford muttered.

"I can't believe any of it." Lorne slowly shook his head. "He was quiet? That's where he lost me."

"You realize that the Nox boy had the power to keep our shield down, don't you?" Weir didn't sound happy about that.

"He didn't. There were at least six of them on the other end who opened the wormhole. I thought we were going to Earth. I had no idea they had enough power or the address to send us here." Rodney tugged John's pointed ear. "What did the little guy give you? Some of that orange rabbit food you liked so much?"

John lazily reached for the small bag and began to fumble the strings open. Rodney shifted on his sore butt, not even looking until he heard Zelenka's sharp intake of breath. A blaze of a hundred different colors in multiple light spectrums washed over them, and Rodney thought he might pass out.

"R-R-Rodney?" Every consonant and vowel sounded painful, stretched, broken, and John slowly crumpled.

Rodney caught him, Zelenka caught the ZPM, and Carson steadied them both. Time slowed way down as Lorne and Weir cleared the balcony of gawkers, Carson called for a gurney, and Zelenka stared open-mouthed at Rodney.

"Get it to a lab!" Rodney barked, amazed and horrified. "Move!"

"His heart rate is fast, breathing shallow."

Rodney cradled John's head and shoulders. "Carson, what—" He broke off, not sure how to finish. The ZPM had done something, hurt John, and there wasn't enough air in the room.

"Rodney! Breathe!" Carson bellowed. Rodney flinched and jerked when Lorne lifted him by his jacket and gave him a shake.

Everything sped up, and they put John on a gurney, and Rodney stumbled after it. Nothing mattered but him, and Rodney's universe narrowed to panic. Lorne forced him into a chair, too far from where Carson and his team were working on John.

"He's gonna be okay." Lorne squeezed Rodney's shoulder. "He talked. He's getting better."

Rodney felt small. When it really mattered, he couldn't do a damn thing. His vision dimmed, and he jerked back upright when a nurse handed him a mask. He tried to get up, but Lorne pushed him back down.

"Sit down. Breathe. You pass out, and I'm leaving you on the floor!"

He breathed, and he listened, and as soon as his legs were ready, he tossed the mask and got to his feet. He took a deep breath and shrugged off Lorne's hand. "I need a headset."

Lorne used his own to request Ford bring them one. Rodney eased closer and refused a nudge back from a nurse. He circled and laid his hand on John's forehead.

"He's stabilizing." Carson met Rodney's eyes. "Rodney, lad, you have to understand. The scans show that the speech center of his brain was destroyed by the disc. How he spoke earlier is a true medical mystery."

"And you were going to tell us this when!" Despair crept over him. "It was the ZPM. It did something."

"Maybe." Carson did his doctor thing, but Rodney didn't pay much attention. He watched John's face, barely moving when Lorne put the headset in Rodney's hand. Securing it, Rodney clicked it.

"Radek, talk to me."

"I am speechless." Radek's voice was breathy.

Rodney didn't take his eyes off John's face. "What did it do to John?" he ground out the question, wanting to strangle Radek's scrawny neck.

"I am thinking he activated it, and—" Static broke the transmission.

John's eyes fluttered, and Rodney tried to say something intelligent. "John?" It wasn't much.

"He's coming around," Carson said unnecessarily. "John, wake up for us now."

John rubbed his face and twisted his neck so their eyes met. He touched Rodney's lips and then his own.

"Yes, you spoke. It was a good word." Rodney smiled and stroked the side of John's face. John frowned, and Carson helped him struggle up.

"Basin!"

Rodney cringed as John lost his lunch. That wasn't good, and John hadn't thrown up in days.

"John, I'm going to give you an IV." Carson patted him on the knee. "Breathe through your mouth."

John's throat worked, and Rodney thought it was attempted speech. John rubbed his mouth, and Rodney caught him by the hand.

"We'll figure out what happened." Rodney wasn't sure how, but anything seemed possible after what he'd done to get them here. "Relax." He eased him back down and snuck a fast kiss on John's forehead. "Please."

John suddenly grabbed his head and curled.

"Carson!" Rodney held John while he threw up again.

"Get him out of here," Carson snapped, and Lorne man-handled Rodney away from John and out the door. Rodney didn't go without a fight, but it was useless, especially when Ford jumped in to help.

"McKay!"

Rodney fell down to the floor, panting and hating them. "I'm not doing this again. You and your small-minded cohorts need to back off! He counts on me!"

Ford calmly pointed a stunner at him. Lorne stood over him, hands on his hips. "Settle down, Doc. Carson will let you in as soon as possible, you know that."

Shoving, he got to his feet fast, but all his insults were interrupted by Zelenka, who came dashing around the corner.

"Rodney, you must come. Now. Right now!"

"Did it burn out your radio?" Rodney didn't take one step toward the labs.

Zelenka's hair was standing in a good imitation of a Nox. "John is okay?"

"No, he's not. He's convulsing, and I'm not leaving him." Rodney stepped back towards the door, but Lorne raised his eyebrows, making that a bad move. "Why the hell did the Nox give him something that would hurt him?"

"ZPM is three times as powerful as others we have seen." Zelenka waved his hands in the air. "Colonel, Rodney, I want you to shut your eyes and think of Atlantis."

Lorne sighed loudly. "Doc."

"Do it!" Zelenka finished his spate in Czech. Rodney decided to humor him and put his hand against the wall to give himself a boost. Shutting his eyes, he forced himself to listen, just listen.

John. John. John.

Rodney jerked his throbbing hand away from the wall. "That's not possible!" he screeched.

Lorne's eyes were wide; his mouth open. "What the hell?"

"Miko heard it very clearly in the lab. I believe John has somehow keyed the ZPM, and it is broadcasting a signal to him."

"But John's sick." Rodney tapped his headset, belatedly remembered that it wouldn't work down in the lab and changed tactics. "Chuck, use the city-wide. Tell Miko to bring that ZPM to the hospital. Now!"

"What are you thinking, McKay?" Lorne frowned.

"Don't you see?" Rodney snapped his fingers. "The Nox sent us a power source that would be able to help John. No, I don't know how they did it. I don't know how they do anything, but we took it away from him too soon. We have to let John fully initialize it. There are power spikes, right?"

Zelenka nodded frantically. "It could explode if we don't bring it under control!"

"Finally, you get to the point!" Rodney paced until Miko barreled down the hallway. He grabbed the ZPM from her, and Lorne got the door for him.

"What the bloody hell?" Carson yelled, Rodney side-stepped him and thrust the ZPM at John's chest.

"John, think happy thoughts. Even 'off' would be good," Rodney said, trying not to sound hysterical.

John's eyes popped open when the ZPM touched his bare flesh. He wrapped his hands around it tightly, breath coming hard, and Rodney touched his forehead to the side of John's face.

"Breathe, calm, feel it. Everything is good here."

John turned just enough that his lips grazed Rodney's cheek. "No pain," he croaked.

"No pain. No hunger. Nothing but happiness," Rodney murmured, wrapping John into a hug. "You feel fine."

"Rodney," John whispered, sounding broken. "I never forgot. I thought you didn't want me any longer, when you didn't come."

"Never, John, never. They wouldn't let me. I swear I did everything I could possibly think of to get to you." Rodney held him tighter.

A small chuff, and John relaxed against him. "I know. I was… sick. Nothing made sense, and they wouldn't let me die."

"They're not totally stupid," Rodney whispered, hearing his voice crack. "I'd have been pretty mad after I went all that way." He smiled at John's soft chuckle. "Can you feel it?"

"It's strong, like you." John's voice was still thin, almost reedy. "I think it's stabilizing. We have to get it in the console soon." He sighed softly. "Help me get there."

Rodney looked right at Carson. "If he doesn't do this, we all die."

"Lovely." Carson started working on the IV. "Lorne, you get John's other side. I'll follow. Do not drop him!"

It was easy to hear John's rumbled laughter, and Rodney wanted to hear that sound every day for the rest of his life. "You feel okay?"

"Better. Pain is gone." John walked slowly, letting them help. He glanced at Lorne. "Colonel."

"Sheppard." Lorne grinned. "Glad you're back."

"Yeah," John croaked. Rodney watched the ZPM like a hawk. It was almost pulsing, wrapped in John's strong hands. Zelenka was right behind them, practically bouncing up and down. Halfway there, Weir fell in step, and Rodney began to count the seconds. John walked a little faster. "So much power. It needs an outlet once it's initialized."

Lorne opened the last door, and Rodney waved at Zelenka to man the console.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing, Sheppard?" Weir asked.

"Easy as flying a puddlejumper, ma'am." John leaned slightly against Rodney and placed the ZPM in the proper place. "When this engages, there'll be a backlash. Everyone get away."

"No." Rodney wrapped his arm around John's waist. "Carson, hand me that and get back."

"Rodney—"

"Do it!" Grabbing the IV, Rodney held on for the ride. "Not losing you again."

John gave him an easy smile. "Don't cry. Colonel Lorne hates that."

"Oh, shut up." Rodney held his breath as John placed his palm on the ZPM and pushed. It descended slowly, light blooming, filling in the room. Everyone shaded their eyes, and Rodney felt his back arch, hair stand up. John shuddered as surplus energy went to ground, using them as a conductor.

"Holy crap."


"You'll have to excuse me, Dr. Weir, Rodney is trying to escape again."

Rodney slumped down on the bed, letting his shoes drop to the floor. John silently laughed at him. "Oh, like you're not going insane!"

John shrugged, but it wasn't very convincing. Rodney tried to look innocent when Carson stepped into view.

"Staying overnight didn't kill you!" Carson glared at them both for a change. "John, report to me every day for a vitamin shot and eat some meat!" He waved the nurse in the room. "Aye, give it to him in the arse."

The tablet was held up so they could all read it.

Completely not fair!

"And you!" Carson pointed his finger at Rodney. "Your blood sugar level is fluctuating wildly. I don't know what new regimen you've been on, but stop!"

"Well, I, uh, it's hard to eat when he's, um, not?" Rodney blamed John effortlessly.

Jackass.

Carson laughed. "That he is. Now both of you can leave as soon as John gets his shot. Lorne is asking for John, and Dr. Weir wants you in her office, Rodney."

"Gah." Rodney threw the covers back and scrambled into his clothes, not caring who saw his boxers. He found his headset, put it on, and glanced over to see John's butt getting it good. That brightened his day considerably, and he tied his shoes fast. "I'm going to run to the lab before I go see Dr. Weir. You coming?"

An order is sorta an order. I'll catch up later.

The nurse started removing John's IV, and Rodney put his hand on John's forearm. "You sure? I could go with you."

John sighed loudly. No. Go on. I'll be okay.

Rodney hesitated. He knew that John was feeling better, even if his speech center seemed dependent on a ZPM to work. Figuring that out was Rodney's first priority. He had a few ideas already, but he had to get to the lab.

Rodney, I can do this. If I get freaked out, I'll find you.

"Okay, but get a headset so I can check on you and don't let Lorne bully you into night patrol." Rodney stopped when John frowned. "What? I worry! You have no idea how much trouble you've been!"

"I'm done here," the nurse said, giving John's arm one last pat. "Try to eat."

Now John dived for his clothes, and Rodney shooed the nurse away before hesitating again at the door. With a small sigh, he forced himself to leave and Carson caught him on the way out.

"He'll be fine," Carson said. "You did a good thing, Rodney. I'm proud of you."

"Me?" Rodney smiled weakly, feeling happy and trying not to show it. "You do realize that I have a collapse scheduled for later?"

Carson chuckled. "I think you've earned it. I'll get the rubber room ready."

"Ha, ha." Rodney looked for John to come flying out of the isolation room any second now. "Promise me that you'll keep an eye on him."

"I will, now go on. Dr. Weir has news from Earth."

"What? No!" Rodney yelled at Carson's back, which did no good at all. John practically raced by, slowing only to flash his tablet.

Get moving, you moron.


That stupid grin was still on Zelenka's face when John burst into the lab and planted a huge kiss on Rodney's lips.

The clapping was now officially annoying, and he yelled, "Get back to work before I force you all to do a stint at Cheyenne Mountain!"

Silence fell gratifyingly fast, but he saved his best glare for Zelenka. Only then did he turn his attention to John. "How's Captain Sheppard - the hero of the day - doing?"

John grinned and handed him a Snickers bar.

"You're breaking up with me, aren't you?" Rodney scowled but took it fast before Simpson found an excuse to grab for it. "Who did you have to kiss to get this?"

About ten people. John's grin got wider. He typed frantically for a moment and then held up his tablet for everyone to see. Where the hell is my coffee? My desk? And if any of you have damaged my jumpers, I will end you!

Slowly, Rodney collapsed onto his stool. Laughter raged inside him, and he let it out. John was home, and he was obviously here to stay. When he was down to giggling, John tapped him on the cheek.

Get a grip. You're scaring people. Like me.

"Sorry." Rodney took several deep breaths. "It's good to be home." He got to his feet, and they were eye to eye. "Did Lorne get you your own quarters, clothes, shaving kit? You're not using mine again."

I thought, well John's fingers paused. He slung the tablet over his shoulder, grabbed Rodney by the hand, and dragged him from the lab. Rodney went along without a protest, surprised when they ended up in the ZPM room.

Gently, John laid his hand on the top of the ZPM. "I thought—" He swallowed hard, and Rodney had to touch him. They stood together, and Rodney put his hand on John's. "I thought I slept with you."

"Have you seen my bed?" Rodney loved the sound of John's voice. It made him warm all over, and they really were together, and John wanted him. Him. The six days hadn't been lies, and he hadn't misremembered, and all those people who had tried to stop him had been wrong. Of course they'd been wrong, so wrong, and he would've gone farther, done more, for this one moment.

John leaned his forehead into the curve of Rodney's neck. "Yeah. You can fix that, right?"

"Did you ask Lorne if it was okay?" Rodney hated to even ask the question, but as he'd been told repeatedly, John was Air Force.

"No." John's voice dropped into the husky range. "Not going to either."

Rodney stroked John's spiky hair, breathing and holding him was a perfectly good way to spend any day. True shock flooded through him when he felt something poke him in the thigh. He looked, gaping in what he was sure was an unattractive way. "You're—. Oh, my. Hold still." He dropped to his knees and got John's new BDU's open faster than the laws of physics allowed for fabrics.

"That. Wow." John stared right along with him.

"Don't even think of taking your hand off that and lock the door." Ten or twenty crazy thoughts swirled through him as he took a firm grip on John's cock. "I'll build us a bed right on top of the ZPM." He licked the long length of it. "Talk to me, John," he whispered, rubbing his face against it before taking it in his mouth.

"Words aren't easy," John croaked. "Not going to last very long." His voice grew hoarser. "Never cared about anyone before you."

Gloating while sucking wasn't easy, but he was a genius, and if his knees would hold, he was willing to do this all day. John's cock was perfect, and he tried to remember every trick he'd ever learned.

"Rodney," John whispered. His other hand wrapped around Rodney's neck and held them together as he orgasmed. Rodney swallowed; his own cock straining in his pants. That had been the best thing ever, and he licked until John whimpered for mercy. Releasing him reluctantly, he let John pull him up for several kisses.

"My turn," John said with a wicked smile.

"No." Rodney kissed him again, refusing to let him go down to his knees. "I owe you several." He caressed John's hand. "An interesting problem, but I think I have a solution." He stripped the wrapper from the candy bar, took a big bite, and shoved the rest at John's face. "See you here again in an hour?"

John laughed, pushing it back at him. "Thirty minutes should do." He rubbed the side of his head and took his hand off the ZPM. Rodney gave him a filthy, chocolate kiss.

"Dr. McKay and Captain Sheppard, report to the gateroom. Dr. McKay and Captain Sheppard."

They scrambled to get John's dick put back in his pants, and Rodney tried not to smear chocolate everywhere and was mostly successful. He ate the rest of the bar in one bite, grabbed John by the hand, and they ran, but it was hard not to laugh. Stopping right outside the gateroom, they looked each other over and shrugged.

Together, they headed for Weir, but they stopped in their tracks when they saw who the guests were. The crowd parted, and there was one painful groan.

"I need Tylenol."

"Jack, you said you'd be nice." Daniel smiled at them.

O'Neill waved his hand. "Okay, everyone listen up!"

Rodney really hoped they weren't here to shoot him. A quick glance at John showed that he was worried also.

"Dr. McKay, you're a pain in the ass, and we never, and I mean never, want you stationed at the SGC again. That said." O'Neill shrugged in Daniel's direction. "You went above and beyond the call of duty - especially since you're a civilian and all - and the Air Force has honored you with a Civilian Award for Valor."

Daniel produced a box with a flourish. Rodney clicked his jaw shut, John pushed him forward, and the gateroom erupted in more of that annoying clapping. Daniel grinned, and Rodney checked his hand for chocolate smears.

"Geez." Sam snatched the box and stuffed it inside Rodney's shirt. "Try not to lose it!"

"Okay, no geek fights!" O'Neill waved everyone quiet. "In addition, Captain Sheppard, in recognition of your valor in saving the Daedalus, we award you the Aerial Achievement Award." He opened the box, and Rodney watched John's hand shake as he took it. Now he participated in the clapping, and it was gratifying to see Caldwell nodding in agreement.

Caldwell took it from John and pinned it to his shirt. "Thank you, Captain Sheppard."

Lorne punched Rodney in the arm. "You cry, and I'll shoot you so you have something to cry about."

"God, I hate you." Rodney grinned at him. "You're just jealous." He dug out his medal and opened the box. It was shiny, useless, but still nice. He was more proud of John's. John was a real hero. Rodney had done nothing more than what was necessary to get him back. Shutting the box, he tucked it in his pant's pocket. He'd think about what it meant later, after he invented a device that would help John. One blowjob wasn't going to be enough, and the ZPM room lacked a certain privacy.

Zelenka whispered, "ZPM had some odd fluctuations while you and John were gone."

Rodney speared him with his meanest eyes. "John can talk if he touches it. We have to invent something that puts him in constant contact with it."

"Ah, I can see we won't be sleeping." Zelenka shook Rodney's hand. "Congratulations."

"Hey, McKay, rumor says you snagged another ZPM." Carter smiled and winked. "And you got your boyfriend back."

"Did you tell my sister that?" Rodney nearly poked her in the chest with his finger. "If you did, I'll—"

"No!" Carter looked somewhat sincere. "She told me that I'd better play nice in her sandbox, or she'd blow up NORAD. For some reason, I believed her."

He flushed with pride. "She's great, huh?"

The party started moving towards the cafeteria. John was shaking hand after hand, and Rodney could've stood there forever, basking in John's smile. Daniel found his way to Rodney's side.

"We told them to provide more support, and after some confusion, it began to happen. Doctors, supplies, family members: they've done their best." Daniel clapped him on the shoulder. "You did good."

"It's not my usual thing," Rodney said, fighting the urge to run to the safety of his lab.

Carter laughed, but Teal'c gave him another of those serious nods. O'Neill barked, "McKay, you have two days to get Carter up to speed on jumper repair."

"But—" He had other plans, big plans.

"No arguments!" O'Neill shook John's hand. "Captain Sheppard, I'm counting on you to keep McKay in line, and here in Atlantis, far away from General Hammond."

John smiled. He used his tablet for a moment. I'll keep him out of your hair.

"Good." O'Neill ran his hand through his thinning hair. "I was promised food."

"I want to meet Teyla Emmagan," Daniel said, craning his neck to look through the crowd.

Rodney took John by the hand because he could. Lorne rolled his eyes and snorted, but John smiled, and the word drifted back that there was cake in the mess hall. People started moving then, and if Rodney ate enough cake to have a stomach ache, no one said a word about it.


Epilogue

"Captain Sheppard, if you aren't in our quarters in five minutes, I'm going to blow up Jumper One." His threat complete, he stretched and finished his email to his sister. It'd been more difficult to write than he'd thought it would be. Between not knowing what to say about the 'package' and most of his life being classified, he'd stared at the screen for a good ten minutes. Finally, he told the bare bones truth, omitting the gender of the 'package,' asked her to kiss Madison for him, and called it good. Maybe he'd know what to say in the next one.

John practically burst through the door. He immediately grabbed Rodney by the jacket collar to give him a good shake. Rodney loved that. He kissed John's neck when it was over.

"Sit. We have to talk." Rodney pointed at their bigger, better, exactly what he'd needed, bed. He sat first, and John joined him, eyes wide. He had his tablet ready, and Rodney took it from him, placing it on the nightstand. "I made something for you. Well, Zelenka helped, a little, but basically, it was me, and before I give it to you, there's a few things I have to say. First, you don't have to accept it. Secondly, if it hurts in any way, shape, or form, you will throw it out the window, and thirdly, well, if you want to keep it a private thing, that will be perfect also."

Tilting his head, John spread his hands. Rodney took a breath that came up from his toes and handed him the sweatband. John stared down at it; a smile twitched in the corner of his mouth. Rodney took him by the hand.

"Ready?" Rodney put it on John's wrist quickly. John jumped to his feet. His hand flew to his head, and he slowly toppled over. Rodney grabbed him. "John! Oh, crap." He clicked his headset. "Carson! Medical emergency, my quarters!"

"You daft fool! I told you to do that under medical supervision!"

"No," John said in a very scratchy voice. He clicked his own radio. "Carson, it's okay. It was a shock, but I'm okay."

"It was a damn fool thing to do!"

John caught Rodney by the face and kissed him. "Sheppard out." He took his headset off and tossed it. "How did you do this?"

"Inside the sweatband is a metal plate, of sorts. It channels and amplifies the wavelength of the ZPM directly to you." Rodney smirked. He deserved one. "You didn't think I was really going to build a bed in the ZPM room, did you?"

"I never know what you're going to do." John kissed him again, hard. He took a harsh breath. "It doesn't hurt, but it's intense. My cock is like stone."

"I should check on that." Rodney groped down, smiling when he found what he wanted. "Carson still thinks your brain is going to find other pathways, but I didn't see any reason for you to wait."

Pushing him back, John crawled on top and pressed his hard cock into him. "For you to suck my cock?"

"That too." Rodney pushed up against John's cock. "Make love to me?"

John stopped moving, staring down at him. "You mean that?"

Rodney blushed all the way down to his feet. He probably should've been cruder, rougher, but he'd had that kind of sex before, and all he wanted right now was John's gentle touch, mixed in with those vicious kisses, of course.

"I can see that you do." John abruptly got off the bed, and Rodney made a desperate grab for him that missed. John looked surprised. "I do have to take off my gun."

"Oh." Rodney tucked his squirming hands under his legs so he'd look less anxious. "Do it slow."

Laughing, John took it off with highly exaggerated motions. "Not sure I can do this if we're not standing in the ZPM room."

After licking his lips, Rodney nodded. "Oh, me too. If my knees aren't aching, I can't get it up." He locked the door with a thought, but the lights were staying on so he could see every bit of John's body. "You're off duty, right?"

"Right." John let his jacket hit the floor, and his T-shirt wasn't far behind. "We could take a shower."

"I liked our waterfall," Rodney said softly. He stopped breathing when John untied his bootlaces and slid everything off into a big heap.

"Hey, you're still dressed," John complained, wearing only his watch, dog tags, and new wristband.

Rodney gulped, trying to start his lungs again. "Best show in town," he said hoarsely. He had seen it before but not in all its… glory. "My, that certainly is big, not on a galactic scale, but—." He had to stop talking and grin.

"Rodney," John drawled. He crawled onto the bed and stalked his way directly over him. Rodney reached and pressed his lips to John's chin. John growled, "Get naked."

Easy enough, but he was glad for John's help with the laces and zipper and whatnot. John's bobbing cock was a huge distraction, and a bit of moisture from the tip of it smeared Rodney's thigh, making him gasp.

The lights dimmed, and John kissed him in his usual way. "I think I can do this all night."

"I created a monster." Rodney ran his hands down John's back and latched onto his tight ass. "Funny that I'm not scared."

"You should be." John nipped Rodney's neck. Rodney laughed, making a note to stop doing that in the labs because people were starting to think he was a nice guy. John laughed with him. "Did I ever say thanks?"

Rodney flicked his hips up into warm skin, groaning and twisting. "I think you did." He had about two brain cells left devoted to coherent thought. John nibbled at Rodney's lips before sliding his tongue deep. Rodney groaned, and as soon as he got his mouth back, he was telling John that crossing a galaxy or two had been nothing.