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"Rodney! Rodney! Rodney come on, snap out of it! Rodney!" the insistent voice of Carson Beckett slowly drew Rodney's attention away from the calculations he had been working on. He turned his gaze away from his computer screen and looked into the worried face of his oldest – and only – friend.

"Carson, I'm trying to work here," he snapped impatiently, and only then noticed the small group of people gathered around his workplace. Realizing what must have happened, he closed his eyes in defeat, asking, "I had a zone-out, right?"

"I fear so," Carson confirmed and Rodney sighed. He hated public zone-outs, hated how it only reminded people once more that he wasn't a fully functional Sentinel. It reminded them that he was 'defective' and 'flawed' without his Guide keeping him grounded. All his considerable intelligence, genius even, useless without the steadying influence of his so called bond mate. His very absent bond mate. It was just so humiliating.

"How long was I out?" he finally asked, fighting the urge to go and hide in his rooms. He had work to do and the embarrassment and shame he felt weren't as important as his work. Work that had been delayed by his damn zone-out.

Carson looked at him sympathetically. "That was a bad one. About twenty minutes I'd say," the doctor said.

Rodney cringed. That was a bad one indeed. He'd have to work harder on engaging all of his senses during his work, like he had learned in the lessons that had been forced on him. Still, Rodney knew that this was no guarantee for not slipping into a zone-out. Without his Guide, he would never be completely stable.

"Show's over, get back to work," he snapped at the still lingering scientists, feeling anger at the unfairness of the situation rise up in his chest once again. Why the hell did it have to be he who didn't find his Guide in time? Sentinel and Guide, matched pairs that were meant for each other – that's how it was supposed to be. So why didn't there seem to be a Guide for him? There were always way more Guides than there were Sentinels, but still, none of them were Rodney's Guide. That fact hurt more than Rodney would ever admit to anyone, even Carson.

Trying a weak smile, Rodney banished his somber thoughts and quietly asked, "Any new ideas how I can get my senses under better control?"

"Not since you last asked me a week ago, I fear," Carson answered patiently. "But you know the only real solution is to find your Guide, Rodney. I don't have to tell you that." He paused, looking thoughtful. "Did you have a look at the new international Guide list that came in yesterday? I saw there are several new names on it. You should try and schedule some meetings soon, lad."

Rodney tensed. Every time he got the updated list he hoped his Guide would finally be on that list and every time he got disappointed. This time, however, the new names had held no appeal at all. He glared at Carson and snapped, "Yes I had a look and I know there are several new names on it. But did you have a closer look at it? There are six fifteen year-old girls, four sixteen year-old boys and a pair of fourteen year-old twin girls. They are kids, Carson! I draw the line at child molestation, thank you very much!"

"Och Rodney, not all Sentinel/Guide pairs end up as lovers. You know that. You can't be picky. Don't you want a Guide of your own?" Carson asked, a hint of impatience in his voice.

At that, anger boiled up in Rodney. Carson of all people should know best how much Rodney longed for a Guide of his own. "Of course I want my own Guide, Carson, you know that very well. I'm practically an invalid without her or him, damn it. But I'm not gonna go after children. You can tell me all you want that not all Sentinel and Guide pairs end up as lovers, but most of them do. Hell, 98.2% of them end up in some sort of relationship. So there is an astoundingly huge chance of me ending up with a kid spouse, don't you think?" he asked sarcastically. "Was that talk supposed to be reassuring?"

Carson sighed at Rodney's outburst and Rodney had to restrain himself to not tune his senses in on Carson to estimate the level of his annoyance. Another zone-out wasn't exactly what he needed.

"Rodney, you know as well as I do that the chances of finding a new adult Guide on that list are extremely slim. The average bonding age has dropped to between sixteen and seventeen years, with children being tested as young as two years old now. It's very unlikely that any adult Guides will be discovered so late. You know that, Rodney, and I'm sick and tired of having this conversation with you over and over again. Every time young Guides show up on the list you rebel. I hate to tell you, but they'll keep getting younger, and you will only keep growing older. If you are not prepared to accept the fact that you might end up with a very young Guide, then you're never going to find your Guide. You've been through that entire list twice and none of the candidates is your Guide." Carson chided him and Rodney cringed. His friend was serious about this.

They'd had this conversation countless times over the last few years, but it got worse the younger the candidates got. But Rodney could not and would not accept that a teenager might be his Guide. That he would end up relying on a pimple faced, moody kid that by some sort of cosmic joke had the right body chemicals to even out and stabilize his fragile Sentinel senses. The thought of forming an unbreakable life-bond, on putting his sanity into the hands of a mere child made Rodney sick to the stomach. He'd rather stay unbonded and miserable before he let that happen. And he sure as hell wouldn't end up bedding a child so young it could almost be his own, no matter if they were a fully trained Guide or not. All the required touching would be bad enough as it was. The thought alone made Rodney queasy. He didn't like people touching him. Carson insisted it would be different if it were his Guide touching him; that the touch of his Guide would be pleasant and welcome. Rodney didn't believe him. He just hoped that one day the right name would show up on the list and would lead him to his Guide. His adult Guide.

oooooOooooo

Rodney buried his head in his hands, sighing heavily into his whiskey. Drinking wasn't exactly what Carson would approve of, but Rodney didn't care. He needed to come to terms with the fact that he would not be allowed to go to Atlantis. The dream he had clung to so desperately over the last few years had been snatched out of reach. The SGC and the IOA and several other institutions had made it perfectly clear that they would not allow an unstable, unbonded Sentinel to step through the gate. The risk was too high of triggering a zone-out no one would be able to bring him out of again.

So here he was, sitting in a bar in Colorado Springs, near the apartment the government provided for him, like it did for all Sentinels. Save for the barkeeper, he was alone in the small room that was reserved for Sentinels, so they wouldn't be bothered by too much smoke, too loud music, an overly crowded room or simply the many chemicals that had been used to clean - or not clean - the place. It was lonely, but that served Rodney just fine. When everyone on his team had been sent home from Antarctica to get their things in order before going to the Pegasus galaxy, Rodney had been sent off as well. It hurt to know that all the others were preparing to go on this huge adventure - going to another galaxy - and all he could do was go to those stupid meetings with the 'Guides' Carson had arranged for him. Not that he planned on actually going. No matter what Carson said, Rodney would not risk ending up with a child-Guide.

Rodney knew his chances of actually finding a Guide of his own were pretty slim, and even though Carson insisted it was worth a try, a part of Rodney had given up hope. He hadn't found his Guide by now, what were the chances that he would find his Guide now of all times? Sure, if one of the new kids on that list turned out to be his Guide, he'd be still be able to go to Pegasus, but he'd be dragging along a child into an unknown situation. They might never be able to get back to Earth. They might die trying to get to Atlantis. Despite what many people thought of Rodney, he wasn't so heartless as to take a kid away from his or her parents into an uncertain future. Just because the law said he had the right to demand his Guide stay by his side at all times didn't mean Rodney would actually do that. It was bad enough that Sentinels needed Guides so much that it had been necessary to create laws for it.

Those laws had always made Rodney slightly queasy. Sure, the Government told everyone what a huge honor it was for the Guides to care for their Sentinels and that they were rewarded plenty for the sacrifices they made their entire lives, but sometimes Rodney tried to imagine what it would be like had the roles be reversed. If he had been born a Guide and some stranger would be allowed to uproot him and take him away from his work and the research he loved so much. Rodney wasn't sure he'd be able to bear that. And now? If he went and found his Guide at the SGCC? A child, years from being legal, forced to lead the life Rodney planned out for it? It just didn't feel right to Rodney no matter how often he was told that the Guides were trained and prepared for their lives at the sides of their Sentinels.
In Rodney's case it would damn the poor kid to a life in another galaxy with the possibility of never getting home again and the very real threat of dying an early death.

The other alternative would mean making a huge sacrifice and staying on Earth with his child-Guide, but Rodney didn't trust himself to withstand temptation if he really were to find his Guide after all this time. And why should he? The Atlantis Expedition would have much higher chances at surviving if he came along. That was what Rodney had tried to tell them, he had tried to make them see how essential, how absolutely vital his presence on this mission was.

But nobody had listened to him.

They had told him the risks were too high, and chances were he'd get stuck in a zone-out and be of no use to anyone at all, instead ending up as a liability. It had hurt to hear them say that. It had hurt that just because he hadn't found his Guide in time, all his hard work over the last few years was for nothing. He would never step through the Stargate, would never get to see another planet, would never leave Earth. How he envied Sam Carter, who would get to go to the Pegasus galaxy instead of him. Head of the science department in another galaxy - it didn't get much better than that.

Rodney sighed and downed the rest of his drink, trying to chase away his maudlin thoughts. When he waved for the barkeeper, the man refilled his glass without hesitation. He didn't try to talk to Rodney but left him to his thoughts. Rodney was grateful for that. All his life he had been different. At first because of his genius, then because he didn't find his Guide in time. Rodney admitted he was bad with people, had never understood them like he understood equations or the pure beauty of physics, but that didn't mean he didn't need someone, too, from time to time.

It would be nice to have someone to talk to after a long, trying day, someone who would listen to him not because they had to, but because they wanted to. Rodney had always imagined his Guide would be such a person. He liked to think that the person meant to balance him, a person that fit him so perfectly would, in a way, love him for himself. Not because he made big money, not because he was likely to win a Nobel prize in the near future, not because he was famous and envied, but despite all his shortcomings and insecurities. He knew it was a ridiculous wish, childish and sickeningly sentimental, but Rodney couldn't help himself. He just felt so damn lonely all the time and his cat really wasn't an adequate substitute for a real partner.

Sadness washed over him in sickening waves and he took a sip of his drink to combat it, even though he knew getting drunk wasn't going to help at all. Tomorrow all he'd have gained was a raging hangover but nothing more. He'd be as lonely as before. But in the meantime he might get lucky and be able to fall into bed and go right to sleep instead of lying awake overthinking everything that had happened to him lately. He knew of no other way of shutting up his brain even for a short while.

Finally, Rodney emptied his drink once again, tossed a few bills on the bar and turned to leave. He would walk the short way home, go to bed, and with a bit of luck he would feel less hopeless when he woke up. Not that this was very likely, seeing he still wouldn't get to go to Atlantis and he still only had his cat for company. He stood and nodded to Bill, who bid him goodbye and turned to go into the adjoining room, since he only was there when a Sentinel was around as well. Somehow this small gesture made it even more clear how utterly alone Rodney really was.

The night air was cool and slightly damp when he stepped out of the bar. Rodney took a deep breath and tried to clear his head. Maybe he should go back in and ask Bill to call him a cab. He seemed to be more inebriated than he had thought. Out of the corner of his eyes a flickering 'vacancies' sign from a nearby motel caught his eyes. It was strangely hypnotic and bright. As he looked at it, the world began to fade away.

oooooOooooo

Major John Sheppard made his way to the nearest bar. He was due to go back to Afghanistan in three days time and he didn't really want to think about that. He needed to get drunk, badly. Absentmindedly he touched the fresh tattoo on his right arm. Another name. Another name added to the two that had already been there. That was all that was left of the closest friends he'd had. Men he had called 'brother'. Name, rank, unit, along with a simple KIA and the date and location where they had died. Their loss etched into his skin - his way to remember. Although, tonight he just wanted to forget.

An unusual sight caught his eye. A man, standing completely still, in the middle of the sidewalk, staring into the distance. Something about the way he held himself and the fact he hadn't moved an inch since John had come near enough to be seen set off an alarm somewhere in John's mind. He approached the man, stepping into his field of vision purposefully, but nothing happened. Then John caught a glimpse of a necklace half hidden under the jacket of the man standing in front of him. John knew that charm, had seen a similar one thousands of times around his father's neck. It was the letter 'S', surrounded by five small stars that symbolized the five senses. And suddenly he knew what was wrong. The man was a Sentinel, caught in a zone-out.

Cursing under his breath, John quickly scanned the area for the man's Guide. He didn't want to risk a confrontation for touching the Sentinel if his Guide was just around the corner and ready to help. But the area was strangely deserted for this time of day. Hesitantly, John stepped closer to the man in front of him. He'd seen his own father in a zone-out every now and then and knew what it did to a Sentinel. He needed to get him out of it sooner rather than later.

Blocking the sight to the flickering light that John was reasonably sure had been the cause for the zone-out was only a first step. He felt a bit awkward, but he'd try what he had seen a few other Guides do to their Sentinels. Sure, he wasn't that man's Guide, but maybe he'd get a result anyway. So he took hold of one of the Sentinel's hands, and squeezed it gently, saying, "Sir, you need to focus on me. Come on, you can do it."

John's worry grew tenfold when it didn't work. Maybe it was important after all that he wasn't this man's Guide. But he needed to try again. He couldn't very well leave the man helpless and unprotected out here alone. "Listen to my voice. You need to focus. Please, I need your help!"

That did it and John let out a breath he hadn't been aware he had been holding. Telling a Sentinel you needed help sometimes did the trick. Most Sentinels he knew were hands-on, ready to do whatever they could to help. After all, the anthropologists had said that was what their purpose had been all along. To protect and help.

The Sentinel blinked several times before yanking his hand out of John's, a confused, panicked look on his face.

"Calm down. It's okay. You had a zone-out. Everything's alright, no need to worry," John said hastily, raising his hands in a soothing manner.

The Sentinel's eyes narrowed at him. "Who are you? Where am I and ..." His eyes grew wide when realization hit. "Oh god, no, not again ..." he all but sobbed when John's words registered. "If they find out they'll try to put me on drugs again. I can't work on drugs, my brain gets all foggy and ... oh please, no ..."

He looked so stricken John impulsively put a hand on his arm, steadying him, "Whoa! Slow down, buddy. Why don't you calm down a bit and tell me what happened? Maybe I can help? And then I'll take you home; I really think you shouldn't go on your own. Wouldn't want for you to have your next zone-out in front of a car, now would we?" He knew he had to sound patronizing, but the man in front of him reminded him more of a lost little kid than a Sentinel who could fend for himself. Besides, John was pretty sure the man was at least slightly drunk.

The Sentinel seemed to get himself together as he took a shaky breath. "Thank you! I mean, for helping me out of that. Who knows what could have happened ..." he broke off, clearly uneasy. "I'm Doctor Rodney McKay and I'm a Sentinel, as you noticed. I ... I'm having a few problems with zone-outs, lately, but the drugs they try to force on me make me feel all sleepy and dizzy and my head feels all foggy and I can't work on my projects then and what use am I anyway if I can't ..." he ranted, obviously working himself up into a panic again.

"Stop!" John said, tightening his grip on the Sentinel ... Doctor McKay's arm. "I think I should bring you home now. Will your Guide be there or do you need to call them?"

McKay's body suddenly went stiff beneath his hands and he looked away from John, avoiding his eyes. "I don't have a Guide. Never found mine. That's why they want to force drugs on me. I'm unstable, a liability." He sounded bitter now and somehow resigned. "It's such a total waste of my genius. All because there's no-one out there who belongs to me ..." he trailed off and John was sure it was the alcohol speaking.

"Alright, buddy, why don't you tell me your address and I'll get us a cab. I think you should sleep off whatever you had. Maybe tomorrow things won't look as bad, once you've had a good night's rest," John said, but he knew it was most likely nothing more than a phrase. If this man really had told the truth and he had no Guide, then he had every reason to get drunk and feel sorry for himself. John knew how much his father had relied on the comforting, steadying influence of his mother. John had seen her calm him with just the barest touch, suggestion to breathe differently, or the steady tone of her voice.

John didn't want to imagine how hard life as an unbonded Sentinel had to be; he sure didn't envy the guy. The drugs and the training the government provided for these cases were pretty much useless. Despite his own issues with the Sentinel/Guide bond regulations – John despised the power imbalance between the partners – he suddenly felt very sorry for the man he had just met. According to his father and some other Sentinels John had had the chance to talk to over the years, a Sentinel would never feel completely 'whole' without their Guide. That had to be a really shitty life to lead.

The Sentinel must have read something in his face, because the look in his eyes changed, turning stubborn. "My apartment is just a few blocks away. So, thank you for your help, but I don't need your assistance – or pity," he said, chin jutting forward, his arms folded defensively in front of his body. John thought it would have been more impressive if he hadn't swayed slightly.

"Listen, Dr. McKay, you just had a zone-out and you've obviously had some drinks, so I'd rather not let you go alone. I'll walk you home, if you tell me your address - look at it as a private escort," John replied, keeping his tone light. He really didn't want to get into a discussion with the guy, but he felt uncomfortable letting an unstable Sentinel run around on his own in the middle of the night. John didn't know why he felt responsible for a man he'd just met, but fact was, he did.

"Fine, I hope you're not some crazy murderer who wants to drag me into some dark alley and slit my throat. It would be a terrible loss for mankind, " McKay mumbled, fumbling with his wallet, presumably to show John his address.

"McKay, if I wanted to hurt you, I could have done it while you were standing in the middle of the street, caught in a zone out and completely helpless. Why don't you give me that and I'll take care of the rest, alright?" John said patiently, and slowly took the wallet from McKay's unresisting fingers.

"Oh, that's right," McKay replied, sounding slightly baffled.

John suppressed a grin and checked the address on McKay's ID. The guy really didn't live far away. ID placed back in its proper place, John swiftly put the wallet back into the inner pocket of McKay's jacket. He highly doubted the man would have been able to do it himself.

A grumpy, "Hey!" came from McKay, but John just took the Sentinel's arm gently and tugged him into the right direction.

"Come on, let's go!" he said, and thankfully, McKay followed.

oooooOooooo

After having watched McKay trying to fit his key into the lock three times, John resolutely took it out of McKay's hands and opened the door himself. He then pressed it back into the startled man's hands, giving him a gentle nudge to get him to step into the apartment.

Walking around in the cool night air had unfortunately done nothing to lessen McKay's inebriation; in fact, for some strange reason, he seemed to have gotten worse. John suppressed a sigh and resigned himself to babysitting-duties. He'd brought McKay home and now he'd see to it that he made it to bed in one piece so the Sentinel could sleep off the booze and maybe wake up feeling a little less like his world had ended.

John was still determined to hit the nearest bar once he'd made sure McKay wouldn't inadvertently hurt himself. Or suffocate because he'd choked on his own vomit. Or break his neck while walking around his own apartment. Especially since the latter was a very real possibility right now, considering how McKay stumbled across the room.

Cursing under his breath, John reached over and grabbed McKay's arm to steady him. "Just how much did you have to drink?" John asked, trying his best not to sound too exasperated. It was none of his business, after all. He didn't even really know this man. Just because John's boy-scout instincts had kicked in full force and he felt an odd protectiveness towards this stranger didn't mean McKay had to actually like it. In fact, John had practically made McKay accept his help. Not that McKay didn't need all the help he could get.

"Not so much. Had three … or was it four … whiskeys. I think it could have something to do…" he frowned, "something to do with my hyglope … hyplygly … hypoglycemia!" McKay finally said, grinning at John dopily.

"You're hypoglycemic?" John asked, alarmed. Damn it how did he manage to always end up in those situations? "When was the last time you ate anything?" he asked, staring at McKay and willing him to focus. John needed to know if this was simple inebriation or if it was a combination of alcohol and not enough to eat.

McKay seemed momentarily confused by that question before he appeared to be thinking it over. Not good. So not good. If he had to think about when he ate last, it was most probably longer ago than strictly good for the man.

"Huh. That might have been a while," McKay finally answered and frowned. "Weird, I usually don't forget that."

"So you are hypoglycemic and drunk," John murmured under his breath, annoyed at the Sentinel's careless behavior. Surprised, John realized that he actually was worried about this man. He was worried about this stranger who was sarcastic and vulnerable and a bunch of other things John didn't want to think about because they made John uncomfortable. Sure, John had always been protective, and leaving a man out on the streets drunk and helpless wasn't something he could have done, but there was something more going on John just couldn't name. It might have been his own exhaustion, the trying day, and the memories of Aaron's death still too close to the surface that were causing this strange sensation though. Whatever it was, John didn't really have time for it.

"Seems like it," McKay answered and at John's surprised look he pointed at his left ear, grinning like a loon, saying "Sentinel, remember? I could hear you."

John pinched the bridge of his nose and reminded himself firmly that this whole stupid situation was his own damn fault. He had been the one to insist on walking McKay home. If he hadn't done it he could be sitting in a bar right now, drinking himself into oblivion. But then McKay might not have made it home. And the man wasn't in any condition to prepare himself something to eat, either.

"Okay, listen, I'm going to make you something to eat. You go and get ready for bed. And try not to break your neck while you're at it, alright? You look like you're about to keel over any minute now," John said and went to the kitchen, starting to yank open drawers and cupboards in search of food.

The kitchen shelves were disturbingly bare of anything edible. There were a few canned soups and other packaged meals, but almost nothing fresh. In the end John decided against warming up soup, thinking it would take him too long and he really wanted to get some food into McKay. He took out the bread and the meat he'd seen in the fridge. Then he searched around for the mayonnaise but couldn't find any.

"There is no mayonnaise. Who the hell has sandwich bread but no mayonnaise? What sort of American is he anyway?" John complained quietly, annoyed that he was spending one of his last days on leave babysitting a complete stranger, going so far as to make dinner for him. When had he turned into Mother Teresa?

"An American who's actually a Canadian and deathly allergic to anything citrus," came an amused voice from behind him and John looked up, seeing McKay standing in the doorway. He was wearing hideous flannel pajamas that were at least two sizes too big. On his feet there were thick woolen socks, and his hair was tousled and sticking up at odd angles. To John he looked like a five year old who had been woken by a nightmare and wanted to crawl into his parents' bed.

Something in John's chest clenched.

"Allergic," John sighed and rubbed his face tiredly. "Alright, I'm just going to assume you don't have anything here you're reacting to, unless you're trying to kill yourself. And you're not, are you?" he asked suspiciously. McKay had sounded pretty depressed earlier.

"Huh? Of course not!" McKay snapped, sounding scandalized. "Why would I? It'd be a terrible loss to mankind and also … suffocating? Not pleasant. In fact it's scary as hell. I'm a genius; if I wanted to die, I'm sure I could come … could come up with a better method to …" he waved his hands about, obviously searching a word. Watching him, John was once again reminded that the man was acutely hypoglycemic and drunk. "Better method to kill myself," McKay finally said, looking proud. As if he'd completed some really difficult task.

"Whatever. Sit. Eat. Then go to bed," John said, losing patience.

McKay's face fell. "You're leaving? Can't you … can't you stay for a little longer? Please?" he asked, sounding small and helpless and nothing at all like the in-control mythical warrior the press often made Sentinels out to be. Not that John didn't know better. His own father had been a Sentinel and he wasn't some sort of mythical warrior, that much was certain.

Still, seeing McKay so vulnerable did peculiar things to John's insides, and once more John wondered what the hell was wrong with him today. He'd already done more for McKay than he would have for any other stranger. But there was something about the man – even drunk as he was – that made John want to help him.

To make it better. Whatever 'it' was. No Sentinel would get drunk just because, John knew that much. And even though McKay had told him he'd never found his Guide, McKay had been living like this for all of his life now, so that couldn't be the sole reason for his getting drunk. There had to be something else, and somehow John had the completely irrational urge to take McKay in his arms and tell him everything would be all right.

John suppressed a sigh. This was ridiculous. His being in another guy's apartment was a danger to his career in itself. If he'd stay the night and someone found out, he could get in real trouble. But then again, when had John ever been good at obeying rules? Not very often, admittedly. But this wasn't just about his career, this was about losing the chance to fly. And flying was the one thing John had done everything for. He didn't think he could live without flying.

Was it really worth the risk?

McKay had sat down and was munching his sandwich unhappily, apparently already convinced John was going to leave. Which actually would be the right thing to do for John. See to it that the man got into bed all right and then leave, hit the closest bar and get drunk. He was due to leave in three days time and this was one of the last nights he had before going back to war.

While John was still contemplating what to do, McKay had finished his sandwich and was putting the plate into the dishwasher. When he turned back to John, the look on his face had changed from unhappy to embarrassed and he was avoiding John's eyes.

"I … I guess I should go to bed now," McKay said, rubbing the pad of his thumb over his fingertips nervously. "Thanks for… you know, getting me out of the zone-out and … bringing me home. Oh, and for making me dinner. I … ah, I appreciate it." He finally looked at John, and there was so much loneliness and something John reluctantly identified as longing in the expressive blue eyes that John suddenly had to swallow hard.

This man was hurting. Fiercely. And John had the power to make that hurt better, even if it was for just a brief amount of time. It wasn't that big of a sacrifice to stay with McKay, John told himself. And if anyone really found out he'd stayed the night, McKay surely would set things straight and make it clear that John had only helped a Sentinel in need. Which was honorable rather than punishable.

"If you still want me to stay, I will," John heard himself say, and the smile that lit up McKay's face almost made up for the prospect of having to spend the night on a couch.

"Really? Oh wow, that's … thanks! Really, I …" he trailed off, looking so happy and grateful that something clenched in John's chest painfully. A grown man shouldn't look like that just because he didn't have to be alone at night.

John couldn't stand it any longer. All he wanted was to get McKay to bed, make sure he wouldn't suffocate on his own vomit and get some sleep himself. Not that John had much hope he'd be successful. The couch didn't look too comfortable.

"Come on, then. Let's get you tucked in. I'd like to get some sleep myself," John said and followed after McKay, who obediently had turned around and walked toward what John suspected was the bedroom.

McKay's bedroom was nothing like John had imagined it. The room was dominated by a huge bed, covered in what John would have bet were extremely expensive sheets. Other than that it looked a lot like an upper class hotel room. Neat and completely impersonal. Much like the rest of the apartment, John realized now that he thought about it.

John suspected that McKay didn't spend a lot of time in this apartment at all; the absence of edible food was another piece of proof for that theory. Not that it was any of John's business. What McKay did when he wasn't in his apartment was none of his concern. John just thought that the man really didn't seem very happy.

McKay sat down on one side of the bed and as John watched swallowed down two pills of what John suspected were painkillers with a sip of water. He then clambered onto the bed clumsily before he settled, pulling the sheets up to his chin. John hadn't moved during all of it, he had just stood at the foot of the bed, watching McKay.

John realized he was staring and pulled his eyes away from the bed and the figure lying in it, looking somehow lost in the huge bed. He turned around and headed for the door, reaching for the light-switch. "Good night, Dr. McKay," John said and turned off the lights.

"Mr. Sheppard?" McKay's hesitant voice called out to John just as he was about to close the bedroom door behind himself. John realized that was the first time McKay had said his name at all, after he had introduced himself on the short walk to McKay's home.

John suppressed a sigh and turned around again, praying for patience. McKay was getting under his skin more than John was comfortable with, and the image of him in that bed, looking so small and vulnerable among all those pillows and sheets, was making it worse.

"Yes, McKay? Did you need anything?" John asked, thinking that he sounded like a nursemaid or a babysitter already.

"Could you … could you …" McKay started, his voice tight and strained. "God, this is embarrassing," John heard him murmur and dread settled into John's stomach. He had a feeling he wouldn't like what McKay had to say next. Then McKay took a deep, audible breath and asked in a rush, "could you please stay in here with me tonight?"

John closed his eyes and let his chin sink to his chest. He'd feared that McKay would say that. The man was drunk and not really in his right mind at the moment, considering he'd just recently eaten, and surely his hypoglycemia was still wreaking havoc with his body as well. Of course he'd feel out of it and vulnerable. Maybe even scared. And he didn't have a Guide. Didn't have a person who would just hold him and soothe him and balance him physically as well as emotionally.

For a fleeting moment John thought the man might have been better off medicated after all. But then he reminded himself firmly that those drugs were heavy stuff, messing a lot with the Sentinel's mind. John could still remember the summer when a Sentinel friend of his father had stayed at their house because his Guide had been sick and he had had to rely on drugs to get through the day. It had been awful; the man had been a wreck. Somehow the thought that McKay would end up like that poor guy pained John.

"Dr. McKay," John began, but was interrupted by a pleading, "Please."

In the dim light that was illuminating the bed from the corridor, John could see McKay push himself up on his elbows. He looked straight at John and said, "Please don't leave me alone in here. I feel dizzy and shaky. The bed's big enough for us both. You can lie on top of the covers and I promise not to touch you. But please," he repeated, sounding desperate.

John cursed inwardly. Damn McKay and damn John's stupid protective streak. "McKay. You don't even really know me. I can't sleep in here with you, on the same bed. Aren't you afraid I could take advantage of the situation? That I could hurt you? We've met roughly two hours ago. It's not -"

"Doesn't matter. I trust you. You smell nice. All girly. Like strawberries in summer," McKay murmured, clearly on the verge of sleep already, and John barely bit back on a sharp remark. Girly? he thought. Strawberries in summer? Oh he'd have to have a talk with McKay in the morning, that much was sure.

"Okay, okay," John gave in and stepped into the room, the small smile that crept over McKay's face warming his heart.

"Thanks," McKay murmured gratefully and snuggled deeper into his pillow, eyes drooping.

Watching him, John thought it would be really easy to lie down briefly and then, as soon as the Sentinel was fast asleep, go to the couch in the living room. But that would mean deceiving McKay, and somehow John knew he couldn't do it. Another wave of protectiveness washed over him, and he sighed. Why did he get the feeling this whole staying with the Sentinel thing had been a really bad idea?

Making himself comfortable at the place on the bed furthest away from McKay, John finally settled down himself. He had a really long night and a very awkward morning ahead of him.

oooooOooooo

Rodney woke slowly to the scent of sun-warmed strawberries and something he couldn't identify. He opened his eyes and came face to face with a dark haired stranger who was sleeping – fully clothed and on top of the covers – on the other side of his bed. Instantly the events of the previous night came rushing back, and Rodney's face heated up in embarrassment. Oh, good God, he had begged a stranger to stay with him because he was feeling lonely. He had allowed … Rodney searched for the stranger's name … John Sheppard … he had allowed John Sheppard to walk him home. He had allowed Sheppard to walk him home and make him dinner. And he had pleaded Sheppard to stay with him, in his apartment, in his bed.

Suppressing a groan, Rodney rubbed his burning face with both hands, wishing the earth would just open up and swallow him whole. This had to be the most embarrassing moment of his life – and that included zone-outs, being bullied at school and fucked up dates with women. Strawberries. Sheppard smelled of strawberries. And he'd told him so. Had called him girly. Had said he trusted him. How stupid could one person possibly be? Rodney was lucky the guy hadn't decked him for calling him girly.

"Stop it! You're thinking too loud," came a sleepy voice from beside him and Rodney slowly took his hands from his face and peeked over at his guest. Tired green eyes under long dark lashes, a head full of tousled hair that was sticking up at all angles, soft lips, a prominent chin covered in dark stubble. The man lying beside him was sexy as hell.

Rodney's stomach did a little flip, but he forced himself to stay as calm as possible – not an easy task by any means. "Uh, I'm … sorry, I guess," he frowned. "Did I wake you? I mean, you can't really … you know, hear me think or something, can you? You're not one of those new mutant freaks who claim to be able to mind-read or do telekinesis, are you?" Rodney asked alarmed.

"Jesus, McKay would you listen to yourself? Calm down before you have a stroke. No, I'm not mind-reading you and I don't do telekinesis," Sheppard said in an annoyed tone of voice, glaring at Rodney. "It was just very predictable that you'd react like that and judging by the color of your face, you remember last night," Sheppard went on and grinned maliciously.

"Yeah, erm, about that …" Rodney stammered, face heating up once more. God, that was embarrassing.

"Girly! You called me girly. Do you always insult people who are trying to help you? And what's with the talk about me smelling like strawberries? Because I don't!" Sheppard sounded insulted now, but also slightly curious.

"Well, I agree that I shouldn't have called you girly," Rodney admitted, sitting up in bed in hopes of feeling less vulnerable under Sheppard's searching gaze, "but you do smell like strawberries, so why shouldn't I say it? I bet it's some product for that messy hair of yours. No way is it doing that on its own," Rodney said, pointing at Sheppard's unruly mop of hair, and jutting his chin forward. Why did Sheppard even bother to deny it? The smell of strawberries was so strong Rodney was sure he would have smelled it even without his Sentinel senses.

"Hey! There is nothing in my hair, and especially not some product that makes me smell like a strawberry sorbet. Are you sure your senses work alright? Maybe you've got something messed up. Because I'm absolutely sure I don't smell like a girl," Sheppard insisted and sat up on the bed as well, shifting closer to Rodney in the process.

Suddenly Rodney was overcome by the urge to kiss Sheppard. It came out of nowhere and confused him, yet aroused him at the same time. The man was in his bed looking all tousled and sleep-warm and sexy, and Rodney's stomach did another little flip. God, this was just so ridiculous. What the hell was going on? Were these the aftereffects of getting drunk the night before? No, unlikely. But what was it then? Other than the fact the man sitting currently only about a foot away from Rodney looked like some kind of poster-boy and smelled literally edible. Rodney liked the way Sheppard's own scent wasn't completely being overpowered by whatever made him smell like the Popsicles his sister had loved when she was younger.

Belatedly Rodney realized that Sheppard most probably was waiting for an answer to something he had said. But what had the question been again? Had there been a question? Rodney just couldn't remember. Something strange was going on with him and his senses were all over the place. "God, I want to kiss you," he blurted and watched in fascination as Sheppard's pupils dilated almost instantly, while the strawberry smell mingled with the scent of male arousal. Sheppard was turned on, Rodney realized.

Afterward, Rodney wouldn't be able to tell what exactly made him lean over and just press his lips to Sheppard's, but at that moment, he just didn't think. His reactions were overruled by instincts, and his senses zoomed in completely on the man he was kissing. After only a fraction of a moment, Sheppard's hesitation faded and he kissed Rodney back, his warm, large hand coming up to cup Rodney's neck tenderly.

As fast as the kiss had begun, it ended again and Sheppard hastily stumbled off the bed, looking haunted. He ran both of his hands through his hair, messing it up even more, and said, "Listen, McKay, that was a really, really bad idea. I'm military. Major John Sheppard, USAF. I'm going back to Afghanistan day after tomorrow, I took a great personal risk when I stayed the night in here with you, and that kiss just now could end my career." He looked helpless and panicked and even a little angry. "Look, I gotta go. You'll be fine now on your own and I still need to pack. Take good care of yourself, McKay," with that he turned around and fled the room.

Rodney sat on his bed, touching his lips where he could still feel Sheppard's … John's mouth on his. It had been a great kiss. And now John was gone. Military. Oh fuck. He'd kissed a soldier. A male soldier who was serving in a pretty homophobic environment, to say the least. Letting himself drop back onto his pillow again, Rodney cursed, "Fuck. My life officially sucks!"

oooooOooooo

Rodney shifted uncomfortably on the hard chair in the waiting area. One would think that an institute dealing with Sentinels would be able to provide visitors with adequate furniture, but no, here he was, ruining his back on this monstrosity. So, alright, it wasn't only the chair that was making Rodney uncomfortable; no, Rodney was pissed off at Carson as well. Carson, who had gotten wind of the fact that Rodney had tried to cancel the appointments with those kid-Guides. Carson, who usually was patient and gentle but who had gone angry and demanding on Rodney over this. Carson, who had threatened to never, ever speak to him again if he didn't go and meet with the counselor and let her introduce him to the Guides.

So here Rodney was, sitting in a small waiting room in the Sentinel/Guide Counseling Center – SGCC – and wasn't it ironic that this place sounded almost the same as the organization that was currently making his live a living hell? The SGC and the SGCC – Rodney was annoyed with both.

"Dr. McKay, please follow me. Mrs. Herolds will see you now," a young woman said as she poked her head around the corner of the door, smiling at him brightly, and Rodney resisted the urge to run.

"I can barely wait," he murmured under his breath, following the woman to Cynthia Harolds' office.

It wasn't the first time Rodney had been to the Center, and it was mandatory that a Sentinel always be tended to by the same Counselor. Cynthia Herolds was easily the most bland and boring person Rodney had the displeasure of seeing on a regular basis. As someone working with – sometimes hypersensitive and fragile – Sentinels, she of course was wearing neither perfume nor bright colors. That wouldn't have be a problem at all if she hadn't be so unremarkable allover. He hair was gray, her eyes were gray and most of the time her clothes were gray as well. Her voice was somewhat pleasant, as she had been trained to use a timbre that would be relaxing to the Sentinels she dealt with. All in all, Rodney could have done without the useless visits the SGCC insisted on. He could have done without Cynthia Herolds.

Of course Rodney knew Cynthia speech by heart by now. It always started out the same. She would pleasantly ask him how he was, how his senses were doing and how severe or frequent his zone-outs had been. All the while she would smile at him lightly and radiate confidence and patience. She then would remind him that she and the SGCC weren't his enemy and were only interested in helping him, either by finding his Guide, or by giving him means to deal with his out-of-control senses and his zone-outs. The latter usually included the gentle reminder that it would be best for him to accept their drugs. Rodney hated that woman.

And he was tired of this whole farce. So damn tired. Rodney decided to cut her speech short this time. Might as well get it over with, meet with a few of those horrible children and then go back to his quiet apartment, his loneliness and his thoughts of John.

So when Cynthia began her usual spiel, Rodney interrupted her. "Listen, Cynthia, I've heard it already more times than I care to count. I know you only want to help blah blah blah. Can we please get over with this? My senses are fine, no better or worse than they were the last time I was here. No, the techniques you showed me are not preventing zone-outs completely; the worst one was a few weeks ago and it was about twenty minutes long and no, I do not want any of your drugs," he rambled, hoping to annoy the woman badly enough to send him away again. Maybe then he wouldn't have to meet their so-called Guides.

To his disappointment, Cynthia once more smiled at him brightly and said, "Oh well, since that is taken care of, would you please follow me to the physical part of the evaluation, before I introduce you to our lovely new Guides? I assure you they are great young men and women and will make fine partners for any Sentinel. I so hope for you that your Guide is among them, this time."

"I'm sure you do," Rodney murmured under his breath sarcastically and followed her into the adjoining room. He hated the physical evaluations. They were boring and draining and a complete waste of his time. He couldn't really control his senses well enough to get the results he wished for, and on top of it all, in the end they would stick needles into him and take blood. Sadists, the lot of them.

Rodney sat down in the small room they used for testing, his mind not even registering his surroundings any more. He just wanted to be over and done with it. As always, Cynthia asked of him to hear specific things, feel, taste and smell, identify certain patterns by touch …the tests went on and on and on. After that she shone into his eyes with her annoying penlight, knowing full well that even for a Sentinel who struggled with his senses it was bordering on painful. Blood pressure and EKG came next and in the end she took three vials of his blood.

Just like always.

Surprisingly enough, this time Rodney didn't feel as exhausted when they were through as he usually did, and Cynthia had a puzzled, thoughtful look on her face. Something uneasy settled into the pit of Rodney's stomach. He didn't like it when things moved outside a well-known pattern. Maybe his senses had gotten worse. Maybe they'd manage to force him to take their drugs this time, if the results were too bad and he was testified to be too unstable.

"What's the matter? What are you not telling me? What's going on? I can see it in your face that something is wrong. I demand to know what's going on here!" Rodney snapped at her, fear coiling in his chest. He didn't want to take drugs, didn't like the way they made him feel. Like he was caught in molasses, his mind sluggish, his thoughts slow and uncoordinated. No, Rodney would never accept that.

Cynthia sighed, looking at him with worry and compassion in her eyes. "Please calm down, Dr. McKay. There is nothing to worry about just yet. We'll see what the blood test tells us and then we'll discuss the results. I assure you, we won't try to force you to do anything you don't want to do, if that is what you're thinking. Why don't you sit back down and I'll have someone bring you some coffee, what do you say? I'm sure you'd like to relax some more until you get to meet your potential Guides?" Her voice was professional and calm. Supposed to be reassuring, but it didn't do anything for Rodney.

Still, he bit back the sharp reply that was on the tip of his tongue, not wanting to anger her and make her think he was out of control. Out of control was bad. Really bad. Out of control meant psych wards and drugs and being put on suicide watch. Because Sentinels who were out of control were more likely to harm themselves than anyone else.

"Coffee would be wonderful, thank you," Rodney forced himself to say and Cynthia smiled a worried little smile and left with the promise to send someone in with the coffee.

Twenty minutes and four cups of coffee later she came back, a manila folder in hand. She looked somewhere between confused, excited and worried. Rodney didn't like it one bit. The moment she had sat down again behind her desk, he asked, "So, what do the test results say? What is the matter? Is anything wrong? No, strike that, I can see it in your face that something is wrong. Would you please just tell me already?" Rodney fought down his panic and forced himself to sit still.

"Well, I wouldn't say that anything is really wrong with you, Dr. McKay," Cynthia said, smiling at him and there was the excitement again, the happiness that seemed to overpower the slight worry Rodney could see in her. "In fact, everything is perfectly right with you, Dr. McKay. Congratulations! You're bonded. Full imprint. Perfect match. Your test results are really impressive," her voice was different now. Her words were not carefully measured like they usually were, but bubbling out of her. Rodney thought she sounded like a schoolgirl talking about her crush.

Then her words registered with Rodney and he froze. She couldn't have said what he thought she had said. That was absolutely, completely impossible. He wasn't bonded. Had never found his Guide. That was why he was here after all. Because they wanted for him to meet those wannabe kid-Guides.

"That can't be true. That's just not possible," Rodney snapped but instantly stomped down on the urge to yell at her when he saw the smile vanish from her face and a frown appear. Rodney knew he couldn't lose his temper, especially not now. This might all be an elaborate trick to test his mental stability. "I've never found my Guide. I'm not bonded. You should know I'm not bonded," Rodney calmly said instead of the 'What kind of idiots are you? Of course I'm not bonded – that's why I'm here after all.' he'd like to yell in her face. If that was a joke, it was a cruel one. "Now, can you please tell me what's going on?"

"Dr. McKay, I am sure that after such a long time of searching for your Guide and not finding them, this must come as a complete surprise to you. But I assure you, this is no mistake. You really are bonded, Sentinel McKay. We did the test on your blood three separate times and the results are absolutely clear. Judging by the way your blood-chemicals look, it's a very strong bond. Still pretty fresh – about three to twelve days old our experts say – but it's completed. A full imprint, of that we're certain," she smiled warmly at him, the hint of worry never leaving her eyes though. "I'm so happy for you, Dr. McKay. It's good to know you finally found your mate."

Rodney just stared at her, still shocked to the core. After a moment of just her smiling at him indulgently, her face grew serious though and she opened the folder she had brought with her.

"Dr. McKay, am I assuming right that you honestly didn't know that you were bonded? You reported in as unbonded earlier today and you seem very shocked just now. I just need to clarify that. You know, spontaneous bonds are not all that common and need different paperwork. Also, I'm a bit worried that you might not know who your Guide is. Can you tell me something that would help me locate your Guide, Dr. McKay?"

"No. No I have no idea who my Guide is. I … should this even be possible? How can I be bonded and not know it? How did I bond without doing anything? How's that possible at all?" Rodney looked at her helplessly, feeling like someone had shoved him into an alternate reality. This just couldn't be happening.

Rodney must have looked as panicked as he felt because the next thing he knew Cynthia leaned over her desk, doing something that usually was strictly off limits: she reached over to him and covered his shaking hand with her own. She actually touched him. "Please calm down, Dr. McKay," she said in that professionally soothing kind of voice. "It's going to be alright. We will find your Guide and re-unite them with you. We're here to help Sentinel and Guide, and I'm sure we'll be able to find your Guide for you," Cynthia Herolds promised, but Rodney wasn't convinced. He was too busy having a panic attack to be able to think straight.

"Was there someone you felt especially drawn to during the last few days? Someone you took an instant liking to? You see, bonding often takes the form of an instant sympathy between both participants. If a meeting is not actually set up for a bonding, that process can easily be mistaken for making a new friend or being sexually attracted to each other," Cynthia said, obviously trying to help him discern who his Guide was.

John's face appeared in Rodney's mind, his voice, his smell, the memory of the kiss they had shared like a sharp knife to Rodney's gut. A horrible suspicion began to creep up Rodney's spine. It couldn't be, could it? John was no Guide!

Rodney forced himself to concentrate again on what Cynthia was saying, but with every word she spoke Rodney's chest turned more and more to ice. "… the most distinct difference between the mere start of a friendship and an actual bonding is the connection that's being formed. Almost all recorded spontaneous bondings were initiated by scent. We believe there's such a thing as a bonding scent, pheromones, if you will, that the Guide unconsciously releases, signaling the readiness for bonding. It's different for every person, and almost always the Sentinel is the only one aware of it. Then there's…" She went on and on but Rodney didn't listen any more.

Bonding scent. he thought and felt slightly dizzy, remembering the strong smell of strawberries and John's insistence he wasn't using anything that made him smell like a girl. Full imprint. All five senses, tuned in on his Guide. He'd touched John, had heard, seen, smelled and yes, even tasted him when he'd kissed him. The realization of what had happened, of what he had unintentionally done to John almost made Rodney keel over with horror. He'd kissed him. He'd sealed the bond.

They were life bonded. John was his Guide. He just didn't know it yet.

"Dr. McKay? Dr. McKay, are you alright? Dr. McKay, please talk to me. Don't zone on me," the worried voice of Cynthia brought Rodney out of his thoughts.

"I'm not zoning," he whispered. "I think I just realized who my Guide is."

Cynthia's face lit up. "Oh, that's wonderful. If you tell me the name I'll have them informed that you are bonded. Depending on where your Guide currently lives, we should be able to arrange a meeting with them within 24 hours," she said enthusiastically, opening her laptop and also already pulling out forms and regulation sheets, ready to get to work.

"He's not on your Guide list," Rodney said, suddenly feeling like someone had punched him in the gut. Yes, he had wished for an adult Guide, but this? This was a nightmare. John was a soldier, he didn't know he was a Guide, he hadn't lived all his life with the thought that he might end up bowing to his Sentinel's wishes. How was Rodney supposed to justify to himself what he was about to do to John? How could he destroy John's life, knowing what it must do John? But they were bonded. What choice did Rodney have? He couldn't just choose to un-bond with John, that wasn't how it worked. They were bonded for life and from now on John would be the one keeping Rodney sane. He was the one who Rodney would depend on to help him keep control of his senses. Whether they liked it, or not.

Oh God, this was such a mess. Rodney needed John, but at what cost for John? Rodney didn't know what to do. If he didn't tell the SGCC John's name and tried to find him, to talk to him personally first, maybe then John wouldn't be as freaked. But he and John had been apart for almost two weeks already and Rodney didn't know how much longer he would be able to control his senses, now that he was bonded. His senses had been going haywire a lot lately, but Rodney had blamed it on the stress he'd had. How wrong he had been. Being bonded to John changed everything. He'd need drugs to function without John being there, and soon. It was a risky idea at best, because once he was on that mind altering drugs they had for cases as such, Rodney might not be able to tell the SGCC about John, even if he wanted to. It'd mean insanity and eventually death for Rodney.

Sentinels who lost their Guides or were for other reasons permanently parted from them rarely survived longer than six months on just medication. Sometimes, but not always, a secondary Guide – someone who wasn't a perfect match but would still be able to bond with the Sentinel – was found. For Rodney there would be no secondary Guide. It was John or no-one at all. Rodney needed John. He needed John to function, to control his senses, to stay sane. And he needed him to be allowed to go on the biggest adventure of his life. Destroying John's life in the process. Even if it was completely legal.

"Dr. McKay," Cynthia said, gentler than he'd ever heard her speak, "are you sure that this man you're thinking of is your Guide? Are you certain there's no mix-up? Because the chances that you bonded with an previously undetected, adult Guide are extremely slim," she looked apologetic now. Like she wanted to say 'sorry' for doubting him. But Rodney didn't care. He was one hundred percent sure that it was John. And even though Rodney had been attracted to John from the get go, now he just wished they'd never even met.

"I'm absolutely certain," Rodney said tiredly, wishing he could deny it, wishing he could make it all go away. "It was exactly like you described it. I was attracted to him, I felt … secure with him. And there was that overwhelming smell. I couldn't explain it at that time but now …" Rodney trailed off and when he looked at Cynthia again he saw the barely suppressed sigh she gave.

As he watched, Cynthia pulled a legal pad out of a drawer and looked at him expectantly. "Okay, if you are absolutely certain that this is him, then we should start. Here is what we'll do: I need you to tell me everything you remember about your Guide. His name, what he looked like, if he has anything that makes finding and identifying him any easier for us," she said, leaning forward slightly. "Did he mention where he lives? Or maybe where he works?
I need as much information on your Guide as you can possibly give me. If he is not on the Guide lists, then we night have problems locating him otherwise."

There was definitely worry in her voice now and Rodney knew he had to tell her something, and soon. Only, he didn't want to. He didn't want to give John over to them, didn't want to have him get the news of their bonding by being dragged out of his life but deserved to hear this from Rodney himself. John had said he was going back to Afghanistan and Rodney had connections in the military. Great connections. Maybe he would be able to locate John and talk to him before all hell broke lose. Satisfied with his decision, Rodney forced an impersonal smile onto his face. "I'm not sure where he is and I'd rather not tell you his name for now," he said slowly, testing the words on his tongue. It felt right to protect John that way. If only for a while.

Cynthia's face went blank, but she caught herself quickly. Her expression softened and when she leaned forward this time to touch her hands to his, he knew her compassion was a façade. "Rodney – can I call you Rodney, Dr. McKay?" She asked, but didn't wait for his answer. "Rodney I know this must be difficult for you. Your Guide, the person you are life-bonded to, isn't aware he's a Guide. He hasn't had all the training he deserved to have and that is unfortunate. I know you feel protective of him, that's only natural. It's in the makeup of the bond. But Rodney, we're not your enemy," she said and Rodney thought that he might just get sick from the pity he could see in her eyes.

"I promise you, we will take good care of your Guide, it's after all our job to deal with new Guides. We'll do everything in our power to make sure his transition from his civilian live to that of a bonded Guide will be as smooth and painless as possible. Trust me, Rodney. I'm here to help you and your Guide. I don't mean to harm either of you but you have to let me help. You're already feeling the effects of being separated from him, don't you?" she asked and Rodney thought that at least now there was real worry in her voice. "Have you been dizzy or disoriented? Did one or several of your senses act up?"

Rodney had to admit that yes, that was the case, but really not worse than at any other time when he had been under extreme emotional stress. There was no way he could have guessed it was anything out of the ordinary this time.

Cynthia seemed to take his silence as confirmation and went on. "Since you had problems with your senses before, I'm sure you didn't know what was happening to you and that's okay. We know now. And we need to do something about it, Rodney. I don't want to lose you to insanity. I don't want you to suffer, just because the bond is playing a trick on you. Rodney I promise we are no threat to your Guide. You can trust us with his identity. You can trust us with caring for him until you can do that yourself. We'll make sure that he'll be okay. We'll send a Counselor for him who can explain everything and once he is reunited with you, he will be given full Guide training. And of course he will immediately receive every bonus he is eligible for, as a bonded Guide. You will see, all will turn out for the best."

She really believes that crap she's spouting, Rodney thought miserably but remained silent. He didn't want to anger her. That would only lead to more problems than he could reasonably handle.

"Please Rodney, talk to me," She pleaded suddenly. "Tell me where to find your Guide and let me help you. You know you can't survive without him for long. Of course we will provide counseling for you and I'll have a prescription for medication filled for you before you leave here, today, but you know it won't be enough. Not by a long shot. You need him. You need his presence. He's the baseline for all of your senses now. Without him you can't get control over them. Of course we're going to keep an eye on you and we'll do everything we can to lessen the effects of the bond-withdrawal for you, but I won't lie to you, it won't be easy. And you might not be able to tell us about your Guide later on, even if you changed your mind and wanted to do so. Are you aware of that?"

Yes, Rodney knew that everything she had said was right, it was what he had thought himself, already. But what other chance did he have? It was either John's life or Rodney's, only that John wouldn't die if he had to come to be with Rodney. Rodney on the other hand wouldn't survive long, separated from John.

"If you don't want to do it for yourself, then do it for your Guide, Rodney. I know these cases are rare, but there have been cases where the prolonged absence of a Guide's Sentinel caused severe physical problems for the Guide as well. We've had Guides die from aneurysms, Rodney. You surely wouldn't want for your Guide to drop dead in the middle of his living room, just because you decided that you'd rather go insane than disturb his life. And then there's the fact that your Guide is as responsible for your bond as you are. It was him, who initiated the bonding. You only reacted to the pheromones he released. He's as much responsible as you are, if not more. Have you thought about that? Maybe he does feel a pull as well? Maybe he just doesn't know what he's feeling because no-one told him what's wrong. Would you really want for your Guide to suffer like that?" Cynthia's tone was calm and reasonable as she talked about the possibility that John would die. Instantly a picture appeared in Rodney's mind. John, unconscious in the cockpit of some aircraft, dropping out of the sky because one of his blood vessels ruptured. Rodney shuddered.

Did he really want to risk that?

No, he didn't.

Which left him with telling Cynthia he would contact his Guide himself and tell the SGCC his name was after he had talked to him personally.

Swallowing hard against the thought of choosing his own life and sanity over John's freedom, Rodney told himself that life as a bonded Guide really wasn't all that bad if one had the right Sentinel. And it wasn't as if Rodney was actually going to dictate John's life. Rodney just didn't want to die. And he didn't want to go insane either. Maybe, maybe when John realized that Rodney didn't want to own him, merely wanted, no, needed his help, maybe then John would understand.

"Rodney, I'm sure your Guide wouldn't want for you to suffer," Cynthia's soft, compassionate voice interrupted Rodney's thoughts. "We believe that all Guides, whether they know of their gift or not, are inherently protective and caring. A Guide's instincts drive him to want the best for their Sentinel. And I'm sure that your Guide is no exception to that rule. He will be very distressed if he learns how you endangered your life and your sanity for his comfort," Cynthia went on and Rodney felt his resistance falter.

Cynthia had a point.

John had been protective and caring about him from the moment they had met, that was true. Maybe Cynthia was right? Maybe John would really be at least okay with this. The Sentinel/Guide project was the pride of the government and the pet project of the President himself. They would treat John right. They would make sure that he was treated the way he deserved.

"I'm going to try and contact my Guide myself first. I don't want for him to get to know it from you. I want to talk to him myself. I know, I know that's what you're there for and all that crap, but really, this is my Guide and my life and I want to talk to him first. I'll give Dr. Beckett all the information I have about my Guide and in case of me not being able to tell it to you myself any more, you can retrieve the information from Carson and still try to contact him," Rodney said firmly. He would protect John from the SGCC to his best abilities – which admittedly wasn't all that much – but better than nothing.

Cynthia threw him a disapproving look, but in her face Rodney could see she knew he wouldn't budge. "If that's what you really want, Dr. McKay, then I'll just get your prescriptions for you," she said and there was a sliver of ice in her tone that hadn't been there before.

She was disappointed with him, most probably even angry that he didn't trust the SGCC, trust her, with is Guide. He was actively hindering her from doing her job and Rodney could see she didn't like it one bit. Whether it was the fact that she was scared for him or him interfering with hat she viewed as her responsibility, Rodney couldn't tell.

And to be honest, he didn't care, either. Rodney's concern lay with John.

Getting up, Rodney thanked Cynthia and promised to call her as soon as he had spoken to his Guide. He picked up his medication and called Carson on the way to the mountain. Rodney needed to pull a few strings and call in a few favors if he wanted to get hold of John in the middle of a war-zone. He just hoped, all would go as planned.

 

oooooOooooo

John was panting, sweat running down his back and dripping off his forehead as he forced himself to run yet another lap around the gym. He was alone and grateful for it as he pushed his limits, trying to stop thinking. About the last mission, the one they had sent him on pretty much the moment he had returned from his R&R. Thankfully there hadn't been any casualties this time, but it hadn't been an easy mission by any means.

Running helped John get his head free. Just, it didn't seem to work so well this time around. Instead of memories of the last mission, now memories of Rodney McKay haunted him. The way he had looked, the way his lips had felt against John's the way…

"Major Sheppard, there is mail for you, sir," the voice of a young lieutenant pulled John out of his thoughts. John slowed down, walking over to where is towel lay and wiped his face. This had to be a misunderstanding. John had been back to Afghanistan for no more than three weeks and even if he had been, his family was dead. There wasn't anyone who would want to send John something. Besides the one package John had received from a little old Lady through the Any Soldier program, he never got mail. To John's great surprise, the soldier handed him a small package after saluting to him – a package that actually was addressed to him. That was odd. John looked at the lieutenant questioningly, but the kid didn't say anything, just left the same way he'd come.

Confused, John tore the package open and a necklace fell into his hands. John dropped it like he had been burnt, staring at it in horror. There, on the gym floor right at his feet, lay the necklace with the traditional charm for a Guide – two stylized hands, cradling the letter 'G'.

Suddenly John found it hard to breathe. This couldn't be, couldn't mean what John thought it meant, couldn't mean what a tiny part of John's brain had been telling him since the moment he had kissed the Sentinel. That his attraction to Rodney McKay hadn't been a coincidence. That there was something going on John couldn't quite grasp or name. That his out-of-character reaction to the vulnerable Sentinel had to have a reason.

And that reason was that he, John Sheppard, was this man's Guide. John had always known that the chance that a Sentinel/Guide pair, like his parents, had a child that was either Guide or Sentinel was a lot higher than for other couples. But John had been tested – his mother had said so. She'd said he'd been tested when he was four years old and none of his results had shown any Sentinel or Guide potential. Yet here he was, having received a necklace that identified him as a Guide, which begged the question how anyone had come to the conclusion that he in fact was McKay's Guide. And that it would be Rodney's name in the letter he was still holding, John had no doubt about.

With a sigh, John opened the dreaded letter and read it. It was pretty much as he had expected. It had been reported that he most likely was the Guide of Sentinel Dr. Rodney McKay and he was to come to the SGCC in Colorado immediately. His Sentinel needed his presence and transportation had been arranged. Everything else would be explained to him during his travel.

Anger swept over John like a tidal wave and he crumpled the letter in his hand into a tight ball, throwing it at the nearest wall. McKay was dictating his life, that selfish, arrogant bastard. He'd helped the man out of a zone-out, had brought him home, had fucking cared for him as if he were and child, and that asshole thanked him by ruining John's life. Yes, he was a potential Guide for McKay, but they weren't bonded yet. McKay could still find another Guide to play babysitter for him. Why did he have to insist to bond with John? Why couldn't he choose one of the trained, eager-to-bond-with-a-Sentinel Guides they had on the lists? Surely there was someone else who would fit. Maybe not as perfectly as John did but still … fit? Why did McKay have to destroy John's life?

The thought that he would lose flying, that he'd end up chained to some boring astrophysicist (John hadn't been able to resist and had looked McKay up) who never left his lab made John's stomach turn. His life had no worth if he wasn't allowed to fly. It was all John had ever wanted. Flying meant freedom for John, and he knew if he lost it, he'd lose part of his soul.

John wasn't stupid. While most Guides never entered an actual bond with a Sentinel but lived out their lives like everyone else, there were still certain careers Guides were discouraged or outright forbidden to take. Like anything that was highly likely to get them killed. Like being a pilot in a war. The government didn't want for the Guides to risk their lives, thereby risking leaving a Sentinel without a matching Guide, if the Guide were to die.

Sure, being a bonded Guide had its perks, Sentinel/Guide pairs were highly respected and practically pampered by a great deal of people. But that wasn't the life John wanted to lead – never had been. And now, he might not get a say in it. If he really was McKay's perfect match and Rodney insisted that they bond, then John would have to stay close to McKay, if that was his Sentinel's wish. McKay could forbid him to do any job at all; in fact, he could demand John stay at his side 24/7.

John's stomach rebelled. This was a nightmare. That night in the apartment McKay had been needy and insecure, and if he was anything like that all the damn time, John might as well off himself right now, because his life would consist of babysitting the eccentric scientist. The articles John had read about Rodney had made it very clear that he wasn't only the most brilliant man of his time, he was also the most annoying.

"Sir, your transport is waiting." John was startled out of his maudlin thoughts by the voice of another young lieutenant. The soldier picked up the necklace that was still lying in front of John's feet, dropping it into John's hand before saying, "Your bag has been packed and the rest of your belongings will be sent to you later. Here are your papers. You must be on your way now. Your Sentinel needs you. The colonel is waiting outside, he wishes to see you off himself," the lieutenant reported, and John stared at him in disbelief. He was still in his work out clothes and he was sweaty and filthy. "Don't I even get to take a shower?" he asked, incredulously. Why was everyone in such a hurry?

The young soldier smiled apologetically and replied, "I'm afraid not, sir. I have orders to escort you to your transportation. The colonel said it is of utmost importance that your Sentinel not be kept waiting."

John sighed, his anger climbing new heights. He'd just known he'd end up like this. McKay was already dictating his life.

Inwardly cursing McKay with every foul name he could think of, John stepped out of the gym, his hand curled painfully tight around the hated necklace.

"Major Sheppard," John was greeted by his commanding officer, and John suppressed a flinch. Colonel Markson had never liked him and had let John know it on a day-to-day basis. Now his voice was syrupy sweet, and the false smile on his face was gone as soon as John stepped up to him.

"Sir?" John asked politely. No matter how pissed off at McKay he was, John knew mouthing off to his CO was a bad idea, even if he was on his way back to the States where most likely his discharge papers were waiting for him.

"I knew you meant trouble the moment I set eyes on you, Sheppard," Markson hissed and John kept silent. "But this beats everything. How did you do it, Sheppard? How did you manage to wipe your test records clean? How did you manage not to show up on any Guide lists? You egotistic little shit. Because of you a Sentinel had to deal with his senses on his own. Do you know what it's like for an unbonded Sentinel?" Markson stepped closer to John until their faces were only inches apart.

"You're scum. I pity the Sentinel that is saddled with you. I hear it's a guy. 98% Sheppard. 98% of the bonded pairs end up in a sexual relationship. I should have known you're a cocksucker. The hair should have tipped me off. Do you like to take it up the ass, Major?" He looked John up and down but John gritted his teeth and kept stoically silent. Markson was just getting off on some sort of power trip. He was trying to bait John, trying to make John lose his temper – and he almost succeeded, but not quite. Balling his hands into tight fists at his sides, John held himself perfectly still as Markson continued his insults.

"I'll be glad to have the likes of you out of my military. You're a disgrace for every upright soldier," Markson spat. When John didn't say a word, a sneer appeared on Markson's face and he snapped, "Dismissed, Major. Go get your ass out of my sight. Major Tobin will bring you to your plane. You shouldn't keep your sugar-daddy waiting."

John pushed back the urge to bash the annoying man's skull in. He'd had a lot of practice in that regard. Keeping his face as neutral as possible, John replied, "Yes, sir," snapped a perfect salute and turned to find Tobin. He wouldn't give Markson a reason to criticize anything else about him, John was in deep enough shit already.

oooooOooooo

Rodney rubbed his stinging eyes, well aware that he should take the drugs the SGCC had provided him with, but too stubborn to do so. He hated the way the drugs made him sluggish and foggy minded. He couldn't work if he couldn't think and if he couldn't work, what was his life worth?

He was still feeling angry at the fact that he hadn't been able to contact John himself for a whole damn week and had had to agree to tell the SGCC John's name so that they could get in contact with him and bring him back. It was frustrating and humiliating and Rodney still didn't think it had been a good idea to tell John he was Rodney's Guide by sending a letter and just taking him away. But once the matter had been in the hands of the SGCC, Rodney didn't have a say in it any more. They had told him they'd bring his Guide back to him and that he should leave the details to them. That all he had to do was take his drugs and sit tight until John could be re-united with him. As if it were that easy. Rodney didn't want to take the drugs and had told them as much. And until he collapsed or was attested to be a danger to himself, they couldn't force him.

Sighing, Rodney sat back and opened the file of Major John Sheppard. The file the SGCC had had delivered to him, barely two hours after he had given the SGCC John's name. He had to give them that much: they were really good. It was all there, all of John's life, neatly put down on paper. From his birth to a bonded Sentinel/Guide pair, to his supposedly negative testing for Guide potential – Rodney needed to find out what went wrong there – to the black mark.

They'd almost kicked him out of the military, but then obviously someone had decided that John would be going back to war. Just like that. Rodney didn't know yet what to think of it all – other than giving a black mark for disobeying a completely stupid order was quite ridiculous. He couldn't really put a finger on it, but something about the whole case and the way John had received his black mark was off. He'd need to look into it some more, he decided. Or better yet, have the SGCC look into it. Even if he didn't know John all that well, John didn't strike Rodney as someone who took it lightly if Rodney tried to meddle into his life and his career. The SGCC had people for such situations and Rodney had worked long enough with the American military to know that John would lose all respect among the armed forces if it looked like he was the protégée of his influential Sentinel.

That John would be able to stay in the military at all, well that was something Rodney could take care of, though. Rodney didn't really trust the SGCC to work on that part all that hard since they didn't approve of Guides working in high risk environment, as they put it.

But from what Rodney had seen, heard and read up to now, John enjoyed being in the Air Force, enjoyed flying, and Rodney would do everything in his power to make sure John didn't lose that, too. He might have lost his independence when he had become Rodney's bonded Guide, but that didn't mean he had to lose flying as well.

Not if Rodney had anything to say about it. And in fact, he had. It was really ridiculous what you could get away with, as a bonded Sentinel. And Rodney knew how to play his cards.

Throwing a quick glance at his watch, Rodney decided to finish reading the classified files of John's black ops time and then go and see if there was any blue Jell-O left in the mess.

Fifteen minutes later he left the small office he'd claimed as his for the time being and headed for the mess hall. He was in a foul mood already, the things he'd just read setting his teeth on edge.

The more Rodney had read, the more he was convinced that the way John had been treated was wrong, and Rodney had no qualms of telling that to Sumner and that General whatever his name was. The guy who was supposedly in charge of Guide/military relations on the military's side, and with whom Rodney would meet in thirty minutes.

"The meatloaf was really good today, wasn't it?" Someone seemed to say right beside Rodney's ear, startling him out of his thoughts. But when he looked, no one was near.

Great. Rodney thought. His time was running out. Soon, Rodney wouldn't be able to control his senses on his own any more at all. Not without the aid of drugs, or well, John. He needed John, needed him desperately. This whole problem with his senses dialing up and down on their own was really beginning to grate on his nerves – and it scared the hell out of Rodney. It meant losing control. It meant drugs and insanity and death. Just now his hearing had dialed up all of a sudden, again.

"Yeah, different to what we usually get. I think they changed the …"

In the attempt to tune them out, Rodney concentrated on his tray. The voices subsided but didn't vanish completely. Sighing, Rodney told himself that it was just an inconvenience and he'd have to make do with the situation until John arrived. It wasn't that bad – yet. Rodney made his way over to the desserts when another snippet of a conversation drew his attention.

" … a shame Sheppard will have to give up flying. I've served with him a few years back and he's a good guy. He cares for his comrades, even if he's a bit reckless sometimes. And now he's saddled with McKay of all people. I don't envy him. McKay may be brilliant, but he's the biggest asshole in the whole base …"

Of course they'd heard. The grapevine was very efficient in the SGC.

Suddenly very aware of the fact John and he had to be the topic of a lot of conversations, Rodney found himself unable to shut the voices out. He wanted to know what people thought of him, but more importantly, Rodney needed to know what they thought of John. He'd need to know to nip any malicious actions towards his Guide in the bud, right from the start.

Another conversation drifted over to Rodney, this one even less pleasant than the one before.

"I'm glad they're gonna get rid of Sheppard. I talked to Colonel Markson earlier, he said that he always suspected that Sheppard's a faggot. Wanna bet he's gotten fucked by McKay already? A friend of mine's working at the SGCC, she told me they've supposedly 'bonded without noticing.' Said McKay previously rejected all the Guides on the list. Only Sheppard wasn't on any lists. And suddenly, when McKay's place on the Atlantis mission is in danger, McKay shows up, presenting a Guide. What are the odds? I bet they've known each other before and found a way to hide it, or handle the situation with drugs or something. Bonding without noticing, my ass. What are the chances McKay found his Guide the moment he needed him most? I know Sentinels are supposed to be these great heroes but McKay is a coward to the bone, and Sheppard's a disgrace to the Air Force. They should have court-martialed and kicked him out years ago …"

"I've heard it was a spontaneous bonding. How pathetic. McKay's too stupid to recognize his Guide even when he has him right in front of his nose. Some genius he is. A pity his Guide wasn't killed while playing war. Then we wouldn't have to suffer through McKay going all superior on us in Atlantis. I'd have rather had Carter as head of department …"

"I pity Sheppard. He's losing his career and has to cater to McKay of all people. That's a fate worse than death in my opinion. If he had to lose his independence to someone, couldn't it have been someone cool?"

"They say McKay's Guide is a Marine …" "No, I've heard he's Air Force. He's supposedly actually quite nice. It must be hard for him to give that up now. I wonder how he managed to get into the Air Force in the first place, though. I thought Guides are not allowed in the armed forces …"

"Sheppard's a good guy, but he should have never been allowed to become one of us. I mean seriously, he fought so hard to not get kicked out when he got that black mark and now? All for nothing because he's a Guide. Maybe he even faked his records to not show up as a potential Guide, did you think about that? McKay's pretty messed up and I think that's because he only just found Sheppard now. I mean, look what it did to McKay, finding his Guide so late. Maybe he wouldn't be such an ass if he'd been bonded sooner …"

Shocked to the core about the maliciousness and hatred he could hear in the voices of scientists and military alike, Rodney felt anger well up inside of him. This was confidential information. It should have never made common knowledge. Rodney would make sure to make the life of the person who had leaked that information living hell.

It was one thing if people hated Rodney because he was a genius and superior to them, making them look like idiots and yelling at them. That was nothing new and almost something Rodney expected. But John didn't deserve those words. Didn't deserve their hate. It was another thing completely if they badmouthed John, his Guide, someone who was a good person, loyal and protective and brave. And he wasn't to blame for this situation at all.

From what Rodney had read in his numerous files and from the brief time he'd spent with John, Rodney knew John wasn't someone to take his oath to his country lightly. He cared for his comrades and he was an exceptional pilot, even though Rodney suspected he was a bit too smart for his own good.

That the people on this base would be so cruel and malicious to John when he had done nothing wrong at all made Rodney's blood pressure skyrocket. Those stupid, arrogant, self-righteous assholes.

Rodney would need to have a word with O'Neill about this and also with Sam Carter and a few other people. Including the SGCC. One thing was sure, Rodney wouldn't stand for it that John, who'd had no say in what was happening to him, would be treated any less than he deserved.

John was a member of the American Air Force and he was a Guide. Rodney's Guide. The fact alone that he was a Guide should have made those people treat him with respect. But no, they were blaming him for not realizing that fact earlier. Without even knowing if it really had been John who had been responsible for the fact that he didn't show up as a potential Guide in the records.

John had been four years old when he had been tested. So either he hadn't been reported as a potential Guide in the first place – which was the most likely case since manipulating all Guide lists later on was practically impossible – or someone had spent a great deal of time and money on erasing his name in the database. Which Rodney didn't believe had happened, but couldn't be sure of until he had hacked the SGCC database and looked for himself. Somehow he didn't trust the SGCC to give him the information he really wanted and needed.

Not that the 'why' mattered much in the greater picture. Whatever reasons there were for John not being on the Guide lists from the beginning, it didn't change the fact that John was a legal, bonded Guide and he deserved the respect that came with his position. He was Rodney's Guide. Rodney's life-bonded mate.

O'Neill really would have to have an eye out for homophobic behavior, too. The integrity of the pair bond was above those regulations and no-one should have even mentioned it. Besides, no matter what the uniform code said, the SGC was not place for prejudiced people, especially not if they were by any chance part of a gate team. Alien cultures and prejudice didn't mix well.

The feeling of rage inside Rodney's chest grew and grew, and he felt like putting some people into place. Let them know he'd heard, let them know he knew about them and the way they had talked about John. His Guide. His partner.

The wave of possessiveness that rushed over Rodney took him a bit by surprise and he stomped it down, viciously. He needed to try and stay in control. Rodney couldn't allow those feelings to rule him. With his senses all over the place, at least his mind needed to be sharp.

Jell-O suddenly forgotten, Rodney slammed his tray down onto the nearest table, startling quite a few people, who looked at him with a horrified expression on their faces. So they were aware of him having heard them. Good, he'd deal with them later. Those morons would pay for their words, and they'd pay for them dearly.

Fuming, Rodney turned around and left the mess. He felt like throwing something against the wall or yelling out his frustration. But that would have to wait. He had a meeting to attend and things to sort out for John. Time was short and there was a lot to be done.

oooooOooooo

An hour later Rodney rubbed his aching forehead, trying to calm down again and not rip off the heads of the two morons that were in the room with him. Colonel Sumner's eyes were shooting daggers at Rodney, and the General Rodney had forgotten the name of already wasn't looking too happy, either. But Rodney didn't care. He was there to discuss John's future in general and as a Guide and with the military in particular. Thus far, Rodney wasn't pleased with what the two men had had to offer. According to the SGCC, John was on his way back from Afghanistan, and Rodney wanted things cleared before his Guide arrived.

Sumner wanted John gone, wanted him discharged, even if that would mean they'd have to give him an honorable discharge, which Sumner felt John didn't deserve. The General had agreed on the discharge, talking about Guide duties clashing with service and that John would never have been allowed in the forces if it had been known he was a Guide. That the prospect of John disobeying orders again to do the bidding of his Sentinel would set a bad example. At least the General hadn't breathed a word about the uniform code and the fact that John would most likely end up in a homosexual relationship. It wasn't nearly enough to appease Rodney, though, since the general agreed with Sumner that John would be better off leaving the armed forces. He would be offered a generous bonus and would receive all benefits an early retirement would usually bring, on top of the benefits that being a Guide entailed.

Rodney felt insulted on John's behalf.

Taking a deep breath, Rodney decided to ignore Sumner completely and concentrate on the general instead. He'd set some things straight and see to it that John would be treated right this time. Staring the general down, Rodney said, "As I see it, General, what you've told me so far is a piece of shit. I've read John's file, I've read every report - yes, all of them, even the classified ones - and I have to say you've got a lot of nerve saying to me what you just did."

Beside him Sumner wanted to protest, but Rodney's head snapped around, finger stabbing in his direction and temper rising. "You shut up. Nothing of what you have to say is of interest to me. Try interrupting me again and I'll have your ass, am I making myself clear? You've been bad mouthing my Guide since you walked in this room and I won't stand for it. So you'd better keep your mouth shut before I forget myself."

Rodney turned to face the general again, who was looking at him, a horrified expression on his face. "As I was saying," Rodney went on as if he hadn't just threatened Sumner in front of his commanding officer, "what you've offered so far is unacceptable, yes, an insult even. I am aware that you are trying to act in the best interest of your military, but I have to act in the best interest of my Guide, who is not here at the moment to defend himself. Just know that I will have Major Sheppard's case regarding the black mark looked over by the lawyers of the SGCC and if anything at all is amiss with it, I'll make sure he's compensated adequately for it. He may not have had anyone to fight for him until now, but that has changed. And don't even try to make me change my mind, either, I've got some really good friends who wouldn't like it, at all."

"Are you implying that we not only wrongly accused Sheppard but also would try to threaten you? How dare you question the integrity of the United States military and myself?" the general fumed and out of the corner of his eyes Rodney could see Sumner grin meanly. But Rodney wasn't impressed at all.

"I know exactly what you've been doing, and I tell you it ends here and now. I don't care much what you're doing to the other poor guys that piss off one of your empty-headed brass, but this is my Guide we're talking about, and I do care about what's happening to him. So he better get treated with the respect he deserves, before I decide you're not worth talking to."

"You can't be serious! Who do you think you are?" The general's face had taken on an unhealthy red color and he looked about ready to explode. "Major Sheppard can leave the Air Force and play babysitter to you full time if he likes to, but that's about it. If he wants to have a romp in the sheets with you then he better do it on his own time and not on mine. I want him out of the military and you're crazy if you think you can threaten me into keeping him," the general all but yelled.

Something in Rodney snapped. That asshole of a general had practically called John a whore and Rodney saw red.

"Get out, both of you! I've had it. What the hell is wrong with you people? You've been dealing with enlisted Sentinels and their male Guides in the armed forces for years without any problems. What is so different about John that you degrade him like that?" Rodney was sure his head was a bright red, judging by how hot his face felt, but he didn't care. He was practically burning with anger.

"Because a Sentinel is actually a productive member of our military and not some lapdog whose greatest concern lies with his Sentinel's wishes and not the welfare of his men. You're insane if you think anyone at all will allow him to stay in the Air Force. He's a hazard to everyone around him in the field. Don't deny it, you know it as well as I do, Sentinel McKay," the general's tone was dripping with venom and Rodney's anger climbed new heights.

"Oh my god, you are even more stupid than I thought," Rodney said, staring at the General. "I can't believe you are this arrogant. But really, that's your problem, not mine because I'm going to make sure that John gets to stay in the Air Force whether you like it or not. I should have called Andrew right away like I had planned to, but no, General O'Neill said I had to talk to you first. That I shouldn't bother the President with this. But now I've had it. I'll have your head for this, that much is certain. Get out, I said!" Rodney snapped at him, pointing to the door. His vision blackened briefly, but normalized again almost instantly. Damn, this was the worst time for another sense to go haywire.

The general had turned deathly pale. "The President?" he asked in a small voice. "You know the President?"

Rodney shot him a 'what are you, an idiot?' look and said, "Yes, yes I've known Andrew for a few years now. And Nancy as well. Linda's a pretty smart kid. Reminds me a bit of my sister Jeannie when she was younger. I used to play chess with Andrew every once in a while. We haven't had much time for that, lately," he added, smiling a syrupy sweet, false smile. "It's really about time I call him again," he added in a conversational tone that belied his anger.

"Now get out, I have a phone call to make," Rodney turned around and walked over to he desk with the phone on it. He just hoped that his sense of hearing wouldn't play tricks on him again. But before Rodney could actually dial, the general spoke again.

"Listen, Dr. McKay. Maybe I've been a little too hasty. I think, if you give me some time to make a few arrangements, we can work something out. The SGCC can look into the case and we can let them decide what needs to be done. Major Sheppard is a valuable member of the U.S. Air Force and he certainly deserves to stay part of it." The general looked uneasy, two bright red blotches the only color in his pale face. He looked like he was about to collapse. Sumner was watching the conversation in apparent horror.

"No one will respect Sheppard, even if they clear his black mark. He's a disgrace to our military and nothing more than the plaything of his Sentinel. He'll never be taken seriously by anyone ever again. It's pathetic all around and I wouldn't want him on my team in Atlantis, messing up the morale of my troops. He's not worthy of seeing the lost city of the Ancients," Sumner sneered at Rodney.

Rodney's control had been slipping for quite some time now, but when he heard Sumner insulting John, he lost it. He whirled around and stalked over to the annoying man, punching him right into the face. The chair Sumner had been sitting in toppled over backwards, sending the colonel flying and hitting his head on the floor, hard.

Sumner's lip was split, and he'd have a nice bruise in a few hours, Rodney saw as he grinned down at him. Adrenaline was rushing through his veins, and he didn't even notice the pain in his hand where he had hit Sumner.

"That's it. I'll get you for that. That was an unprovoked assault. You can kiss your career goodbye and I don't think you will go to Atlantis after all," Sumner hissed, wiping his bleeding lip. He then slowly got up from the floor, all the while glaring at Rodney.

The general stood, staring at the two of them, but didn't say a word, and Rodney thought that maybe was for the best. Shaking his head in disbelief, Rodney addressed Sumner, his voice deadly soft. "You know, Colonel Sumner, I don't think you've quite grasped the concept of what I can and can't do. Let me explain it to you in small words, so that someone with limited intelligence like you can understand it. I'm a Sentinel. John Sheppard is my Guide. You insulted my Guide and me. I can get away with pretty much anything I choose to do to you in that case, because newsflash - Sentinels and Guides are something like the Holy Grail for the American government. I don't even need to call Andrew to get you sacked for conduct unbecoming."

Looking stricken, Sumner shot a quick look over to the general, who just said tensely, "I'd apologize, if I were you."

Rodney grinned. This was starting to be really fun. Now, if he only could get his senses back under control, all would be perfect.

oooooOooooo

John frowned. Where the hell was that SGCC counselor who was supposed to talk things through with him? John was growing really tired of the way people were ordering him around without telling him anything. They'd taken him to Buckley AFB where he'd finally had the chance to clean up properly. He'd changed into a set of clothes provided to him by a friendly SGCC member who politely told him that he had no information on his case but a counselor would talk to him soon and take him to the local SGCC center. But that had been almost two hours ago and still no sight of the mysterious counselor. In fact, no-one had talked to John at all since he had been escorted into the surprisingly cozy room he was currently waiting in and not even his comfortable surroundings could better John's mood. Until now, John had played along, tired and frustrated and unwilling to fight a battle he couldn't win. But with every moment that passed and every minute he spent waiting and not knowing what was going on, he became more and more angry.

Just when John thought about demanding some answers in a less than polite way, a young woman stepped into the room. She looked petite, almost fragile and reminded John of an expensive china doll. The moment she offered her hand and he took it, she began to talk.

"Guide Sheppard, I'm so very sorry that I kept you waiting. My name is Monica Phoenix, but you can call me Monica. I'm your counselor. I would have liked to have a little more time to get to know you, but here has been an incident and we need to hurry. Usually we would brief you and explain everything to you but we're running out of time. Sentinel McKay is in severe bond-withdrawal and he collapsed. We need to get you to his location so you can go and stabilize him. Did you read the information material on bonding and the Sentinel/Guide relationships you were provided with during your flight?" she chattered, while she signaled the two men who had entered the room as well to pick up John's luggage.

John was stunned. How could McKay be in bond-withdrawal if they weren't even bonded yet? It didn't make sense. Deciding to first answer her questions before asking some of his own, John said, " I just skimmed them. I know about bonding and the Sentinel/Guide relationships. As you probably know, my parents were a bonded pair. Now would you please tell me what's going on and how McKay can be in bond-withdrawal without having actually bonded?" John knew he sounded angry and impatient now but he'd had about enough.

"Guide Sheppard, we are aware that this is a lot to take in and I am extremely sorry for just dumping the news on you like that but as I said, we are running out of time. Sentinel McKay reported you as the most likely candidate to be his bonded mate. In fact, yours is the only name he gave us. His status is reported as full imprint, perfect match, recently bonded. A strong, stable life-bond. I hope you understand that we couldn't just take any risks with a matter like this," she said hastily as she took a hold of John's arm and began to walk him out of the door.

John suddenly felt numb. Full imprint, perfect match, recently bonded. That couldn't be. They hadn't bonded. John would have known if they had completed a bonding.

As if she had read John's mind, Monica went on, "Spontaneous bondings are very rare and you are not even a trained Guide, so we are not sure we actually have the right person here. We couldn't just declare you Sentinel McKay's bonded Guide without having tested your blood first for confirmation and you were scheduled for that as soon as you reached our SGCC branch in Denver. We planned to have you meet with Sentinel McKay after the confirmation of your bond. Unfortunately there was an incident with Sentinel McKay and we don't have the time for formalities any more. Either you are his Guide, which we will know once you've seen him, or you are not his Guide, then arrangements will be made for you and we need to search for his real Guide. But if it's not you, chances are slim that we will find him or her and I fear Sentinel McKay won't survive long enough for us to find a Guide for him. Let's just hope he was right with his insistence that you are his Guide."

John felt like someone had punched him in the gut. He was dimly aware that he was being led out of the building and towards the flight field again.

"Spontaneous bonding? Why the hell didn't anyone tell me about this sooner? And why are the drugs not working? If he's right and I'm his Guide then we only bonded a little over three weeks ago. He should be fine with medication. Why did you only come now and get me if he told you it was me? Why wait so long? What are you not telling me?" John demanded as he walked beside Monica.

The thought of McKay collapsing and going insane made John's stomach turn to ice.
Anger was welling up inside of him. Anger and an inexplicable, sharp fear for McKay. No. Rodney. Good Lord, he was already bonded to that man. Just thinking about it sent jolts of worry and anger through John, a strange mix between hope that he would be able to help McKay and the justified rage he felt at being chained to a stranger for the rest of his life. If he really was McKay's bonded Guide, his mate, then – that much John knew – McKay had gained the ultimate control over John's life. More control that anyone had ever had over him.

"Sentinel McKay refused to take the medication provided to him by the SGCC. He thought he could handle the time until your arrival without the aid of drugs. We got you here as fast as possible, Sentinel McKay at first refused to give us your name. He was adamant that you not learn of your bond by being taken out of your life and he spent a week trying to contact you himself. Only when he found he couldn't reach you he gave us your name and left it to us to inform you of your new status. It is very unfortunate that he now had such a bad reaction. We would like to honor his wishes and not drug him, but if you are not his Guide, then we will have no choice if we want to save his life," Monica's voice was calm and professional but still carrying a hint of regret.

John felt strangely disconnected from his surroundings now. His thoughts were twirling in his head, thinking through everything he had been told. Bonded. McKay refusing to take drugs. McKay trying in vain to contact John himself. McKay who had obviously been worried about John and about taking John away from the life he was used to. McKay who had collapsed and who would go insane and might die if John wasn't his Guide. McKay who would rule his life. The feelings raging inside John were contrary, leaving him feeling like he'd been put through the wringer. There was the strange, unfounded fear for McKay in his gut, but also the overwhelming rage of being bound to a person he didn't know. Rationally John knew that McKay hadn't had any more choice in the matter than John had himself, he knew that if McKay wanted to survive, he had to be with his bonded Guide. If only that Guide could have been someone else than John.

The helicopter flight from Buckley to Peterson didn't register with John any more than the drive from Peterson to Cheyenne Mountain. John was dimly aware of Monica talking to him, asking a few questions which he answered absentmindedly.

There was so much going through John's head still, so much to think about, so much to consider. It was making his head spin and his stomach clench. On the one hand John was still mighty pissed that all of this had happened to him, that he would have to spend his life in some gilded cage, if he really turned out to be Rodney's Guide. On the other hand he felt almost sorry for the guy. He hadn't chosen John as his Guide, hadn't deliberately done anything to make John's life any harder than it had to be. In fact, if the reports of the counselor were anything to go by, Rodney had tried to make the whole transition as painless as possible for John. It was maddening just thinking about it. Anger, despair, gratitude, compassion, protectiveness – John didn't know what to feel any more.

Not that that changed anything. Not really anyway. John was still screwed. He had no say in what would happen to him. John would still be chained to 'his Sentinel', he would still be less free than any other citizen who was not a Guide. If he turned out to be Rodney's Guide, that was. But somehow some part of John had known he was McKay's Guide since that first fateful kiss.

The pull of a bond maybe?

If that was what it had been, then John's destiny was sealed anyway. Maybe that's why mom did it, John thought. The only reasonable explanation for John's supposedly negative testing was that his mother had somehow made sure John didn't show up on any Guide list. Because she had wanted for him to have a free life. Because while John had always thought his parents had been happy together, there might have been a kind of longing in his mother that never really went away. Maybe Guides didn't feel the same sense of 'completeness' a Sentinel experienced after bonding?

A hand on his arm startled John out of his thoughts and he saw Monica trying to get his attention. Apparently, they had arrived at their destination.

John slipped his hands into the pockets of his jacket and fallowed Monica inside Cheyenne Mountain. Once they were inside, Monica handed him off to two Marines, saying she wasn't allowed to go any further, but that someone would await him and escort him to Sentinel McKay. Then she was gone and John had no other choice than to follow the men who so politely had made their order sound like a request. As if John had any say in what was happening to him, at all. They moved swiftly through rooms and corridors and just when John began to wonder what Rodney was doing that had him working for NORAD, they went into the mountain for real. Deeper and deeper. Under the mountain. And deeper still.

Unease settled in the pit of John's stomach, everything about this whole ordeal screamed 'Top Secret' and it made John painfully aware of the fact that he practically knew nothing about the man who might in all probability be 'his Sentinel'. Somehow that was a very disturbing thought. But it couldn't be helped now and so John decided that for the moment, he would treat the situation as if it were just another mission. And John would try to be a good little soldier and obey his orders.

When they finally arrived in some underground level, even more Marines were joining them, falling in step. It was creepy and John felt like a criminal rather than like a Guide who was supposed to come and help a Sentinel in need.

And then there apparently was bureaucracy. John had to suppress a sarcastic remark about that. They'd shipped him back from Afghanistan, top priority, so he could come and try to help Rodney, and now they wanted him to fill out forms first. It was rather ridiculous, but not really surprising.

Just as he was being lead into a neutral conference room to be briefed – again – and given some non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements to sign, a man came rushing towards them. John mustered him curiously and the Marines that had accompanied John straightened and saluted, one of them bringing out a surprised, "General O'Neill?"

The general waved his hand at the Marines dismissively, his eyes on John. He looked impatient and slightly angry, and John decided to better not agitate the man any further. He wasn't officially discharged from the Air Force yet and this man was still a higher ranking officer to him.

"Sir!" John said in greeting, snapping an acceptable salute.

General O'Neill winced. "Stuff that, Major. I need you to come with me. No time for signing any papers now. McKay has gotten himself into deep shit this time and I need you to fix it. So come on, Sheppard, your Sentinel's waiting."

With that he turned around, walking away without even checking if John actually followed him. John was intrigued. For about one second. Then he hurried after the General, who – as John was pleased to notice – seemed to at least have some common sense and postpone the paperwork 'till later. Because if McKay really was as badly off as Monica had made it sound, there was no time to lose.

Getting the situation under control would be hard enough as it was. They hadn't really had time to settle the bond, let alone get a feel for each other or begin to work on sensory control for Rodney. John knew his mother had had a couple of exercises she had talked his father through every once in a while. Usually after an especially trying or gruesome day at work for him.

There was no way in knowing what exactly had happened to Rodney and his senses at this point in time. The new bond was bound to be unstable from the separation, even though John knew the status of Rodney's bond had been reported as a 'strong and stable life bond'. The 'strong and stable' part of the evaluation was actually what was causing the problems now, most likely. Because a strong bond's only weakness lay in separation. The stronger the bond, the closer both partners had to stay in order for it to work properly. But he more successful they were, as well. A strong bond also meant better control, better efficiency, being able to do things that pairs who were less strongly bonded couldn't do.

Everything really had its pros and cons.

But John didn't want to think about that right now. He would worry about bond-withdrawal and other complications once he had seen for himself how bad it really was. John just wished they were there already or someone would at least give him real information about how Rodney was doing. The guy might be responsible for ruining John's life, but that didn't mean John wanted for him to actually suffer. Or god forbid, to die. Not when John might be able to help.

"McKay collapsed after he got a bit agitated over a few … people," General O'Neill suddenly said as if on cue. "We're not sure what exactly happened, only that it's bad. He's holed up in one of the conference rooms and he won't let anyone near him. The SGCC doctors were reluctant to treat him, to give him anything, since he always refused medication and with you on the way they might get away with not drugging him. In fact they said it might interfere with your bond and would reduce your chances of helping him quickly." O'Neill reported while he led John out of yet another elevator and through what felt like at least a dozen different hallways.

They were walking at a brisk pace but John had no problem keeping up, despite having been awake and traveling for what felt like eternity. It had been late afternoon when he had been picked up and he'd been on duty the whole day already by then. John had lost track of how long he was awake by now, but it didn't matter anyway. Rodney was his top priority.

His Sentinel needed him. Rodney needed him.

Finally they arrived at the appropriate room and O'Neill signaled the guards that were standing in front of the door, to step aside. John took a deep breath. It was time for him to do what he had come to do. Be a Guide. Help Rodney. He was about to take on the responsibility for Rodney's life.

"He's alone in there?" John asked and the general nodded.

"Yeah, he's alone. We didn't want to risk sending anyone in there while he's in that state. He was pretty agitated and we didn't want to make it worse," O'Neill sounded like he really was concerned for Rodney which pleased John greatly. He wasn't used to the feeling of protectiveness that had been building inside of him over the last few minutes – or had it been hours? John didn't know. He only knew that it was there and that it somehow belonged to him now, it felt right. It felt natural.

John also had a feeling that he would really like the general a lot once he got to know him better. His laid back attitude was right up John's alley. Taking another deep breath, John reached for the doorknob, but didn't turn it yet. He felt suddenly insecure. This would be the first time he would act as Rodney's Guide. There was no going back after this. If he really was Rodney's Guide, John's fate would be sealed. He'd be officially Rodney's bonded partner. For life. It was a scary thought.

"Let's hope the SGCC got us the right guy here. I really don't want to have to go and hunt down another Guide to help McKay. I don't think he actually has the time for that. So I expect you to do what you can, Major. And now, go on in," O'Neill said and it was clearly an order. John released the breath he had been holding and opened the door.

The room was small and well lit, a conference table and a few chairs domineering it. In the far left corner of the room John could make out Rodney, huddled into himself. He hadn't reacted to John entering.

Slowly John walked towards Rodney and when he was close enough to see his eyes, John suddenly knew why Rodney didn't seem to have noticed him even though he had been staring into John's direction. Rodney's pupils were blown, making his eyes look unnaturally dark, the blue color of the iris barely visible. He was shaking badly, tremors wracking his body and John just wanted to reach out and wrap him into his arms. Wanted to hold him close and tell him everything was going to be alright.

There was no doubt in John that he was indeed Rodney's bonded Guide. But instead of the despair John had expected to settle in at the prospect of being bound to this stranger for the rest of his life, there suddenly was a strange sense of peace and belonging in John. It should make John angry but he hadn't time for anger just now. John knew he would need all of his concentration for getting Rodney back from the brink of insanity.

Determined, John focused on Rodney again when suddenly Rodney's head jerked around and he seemed to smell the air. "John?" he asked weakly, unseeing eyes trying to make John out. "John, are you there?" Rodney asked, sounding small and lost, one hand reaching out in front of him, as if trying to feel around for John.

"Yeah, buddy, it's me. I'm here. Everything will be alright," John replied, trying to make his voice sound as calm and reassuring as possible. He didn't know where the words came from, but they were suddenly there inside of him. It felt right to say them, it felt right to comfort and soothe Rodney. It felt right to be there for him.

"John, John I'm so sorry. I didn't want for them to just drag you here. I tried to reach you, tried to contact you but I couldn't … couldn't get a hold of you. I had to give them your name so you could come help me. I thought I could do it on my own, I thought I could hold on until you came here but everything is all messed up now. I can't see you and I can barely hear you. My senses are all over the place. Help me. Oh God, please help me I can't take this any more," Rodney sobbed brokenly and John's heart ached for him.

"It's alright, Rodney. Don't worry about that now, we can talk about this later. Let's concentrate on getting your senses back under control, alright? I'm here now, that's all that's important. I'll make it better, I promise," John replied and found he actually meant it. A strange mood settled over John as he carefully took Rodney's outstretched hand into his own. Instantly John felt a surge of … something. Something he couldn't name. It was a strange feeling. But pleasant. It was a good feeling, familiar in a way that surprised John.

It felt like coming home.

Right then and there, John knew why Guides didn't seem to mind the whole 'a Guide's place is at the side of his Sentinel' thing. He really did feel like he belonged with Rodney. Like this was exactly where he was meant to be. It was scary how strong that feeling inside him was, but John pushed his unease aside, he needed to concentrate on the task at hand.

Rodney seemed to relax slightly at the physical contact, hand wrapping firmly around John's own. "I was so scared they would drug me. I couldn't reach you, couldn't contact you and I was afraid that it wouldn't be enough. That you wouldn't be here in time. So I gave them your name. I didn't mean to get you in any trouble, I swear," Rodney repeated and John knew then and there that this was something they would definitely have to talk about, soon.

"I know buddy. It's alright. Don't worry, I'm not in trouble at all," John soothed him, his thumb rubbing small circles on the back of Rodney's hand. Rodney's knuckles looked slightly bruised and John wondered why that was, but didn't have the time now to think about that. First things first. "Listen, I need you do something for me, alright? I want you to close your eyes and concentrate on my voice. Can you do that for me?" John asked in an even tone.

"I … I don't know. I … I can't see much anyway. But I won't be able to see anything at all if I close my eyes. I'm scared, John," Rodney confessed and he sounded so small and somehow embarrassed that it broke John's heart.

"No need to be scared, Rodney. I'm not going anywhere. I will be right here with you. All I want you to do is concentrate on my voice. I know you can't hear me very well yet, but we will change that. I promise. Come on, I know you can do it," John encouraged.

"Okay," Rodney agreed hesitantly and obediently closed his eyes.

"Good. Very good, Rodney," John praised. "Don't worry I'm right here, I'm not leaving you. Just listen to my voice. Concentrate on it. Tune out everything else. All that is important right now is my voice, okay?"

"Yes, I can do that," Rodney agreed, visibly relaxing some more.

"You're doing great, Rodney. You know how to dial your senses up and down, right? You know how it works?" John asked. He had been present at enough exercises his mother had done with his father to know how it worked and the reading material provided to him during the flight had done the rest. He'd practically had a Guide crash course over the last few hours.

"Yes, I know how it's supposed to work. But it never really did for me. It never worked like it should have. Sometimes the dials were stuck or it took a lot of effort to move them. Sometimes they would dial up or down on their own. It's all … messed up, John. They are no use to me," Rodney replied, a hint of panic creeping back into his voice.

"That's alright, Rodney. It's in the past. I'm here now, we're bonded, remember? You had me come all the way from Afghanistan to be with you. We can make this work, okay? Just trust me on this one, buddy," John hoped Rodney wasn't too panicked to listen to him because John wasn't sure he knew what he'd do if Rodney got stuck in a zone out in his current condition.

"Oh, that's right. I …" he took a deep breath and John could see him making the conscious effort to relax, "I think I'm ready."

John noticed that the tremors that had been wracking Rodney's body were subsiding and he tightened his hold on Rodney's hand, never stopping the soothing motion of his thumb. "That's really good, Rodney. Now, you know about the dials. I want you to tune your hearing up. Tune it up more than you usually would. Not too much, but well enough to hear my heartbeat. I want you to concentrate on my heartbeat only. Listen to it for a while. Let it calm you. Take as long as you need," John spoke in an even, almost monotone sort of voice hoping Rodney would follow his instructions. "Once you feel calmer, I want you to tune your hearing down to normal."

This time Rodney just nodded, looking concentrated and a little determined.

John waited.

He knew it would take some time to talk Rodney through getting all of his senses under control again. But that wasn't important. They had time. They would get through this.

John was exactly where he belonged.

oooooOooooo

John didn't know how long exactly it took them until Rodney had control over all of his senses back, but John knew it had taken a couple of hours at least. By the time he had Rodney ready to get up from the floor and sit at the conference table with him, John was hungry, thirsty and bone deep tired. He'd bet Rodney wasn't off any better.

So John seated an exhausted Rodney at the conference table, shrugged off his jacket to place it over Rodney's shoulders and made his way over to the door. As expected, there were still guards in front of the door and John asked them to inform Gen. O'Neill that the situation was under control. He also asked for something to eat and drink, trusting that everything else – like a place for them to clean up and sleep – would be taken care of.

When John came back to the table, Rodney was slumped in his chair, head buried halfway in Johns jacket. It was obvious to John that the scent clinging to the fabric was a far greater comfort to his Sentinel than the warmth it provided. Rodney's hypoglycemia was clearly bothering him by now and John hoped the food would arrive shortly.

Rodney and John sat in companionable silence, fingers interlaced, just relaxing. The questions, the re-arrangement of their lives, of John's life would come later. There was a great deal they needed to talk through, a lot of things that needed to be addressed. But not right now. It could wait till morning, everything would be easier after they'd had some sleep. John knew he and Rodney would need time to talk in private. They needed to discuss what each of them expected and wished for in this partnership, how far Rodney would want to take the control over John's life and what John would still be allowed to do while being Rodney's Guide. John needed to know how close Rodney needed him to be, and how extensive his work as Guide would be.

Basically, they needed to set the ground rules that were different for every Sentinel and Guide pair. But John had no delusion, he knew that his days in the Air Force were numbered. During the last few hours John had begun to accept that his place was at Rodney's side now – but the thought didn't hurt as much any more than it had just a day ago. He'd grown up in a Sentinel household, he knew that he couldn't let Rodney down, even if he had wanted to. Sure, losing flying, being tied to the ground would hurt like hell, would most probably hurt for a long time to come, but John had dealt with losses in his life before. He'd adapt. He really didn't have a choice. And somehow John found that this whole bonding thing wasn't as half as bad as he had imagined.

In fact, it felt strangely good being close to Rodney in this way. Most probably another failsafe in the bond. Right then and there, John was too exhausted to be upset about that though.

The door opened and General O'Neill entered, two Marines in tow, who were carrying trays with food and water. O'Neill was grinning madly, gesturing for the Marines to put the tablets on the table before dismissing them.

"Good to see you're better, McKay," O'Neill began, sitting down at the table across from where John and Rodney were seated. He shoved the trays towards them, smiling encouragingly.

John looked over the assortment of food and drinks, already scanning for anything that could be dangerous to Rodney. It was weird how ingrained into his behavior this kind of thing was already, even after a few short hours of being Rodney's Guide. O'Neill seemed to realize what he was doing and said, "We've been dealing with Rodney and his allergies for a long time now, Sheppard. We've never tried to harm him and we're not going to start now, so relax. There is no citrus in any of this. Neither in his food, nor in yours."

John could have sworn there was amusement in O'Neill's voice and it took John's tired brain a second to discern why that was.

Oh. Right. 98,2%. If John ate or drank anything that contained lemon and then kissed Rodney – which in all honesty was a pretty safe bet – then Rodney could have an allergic reaction.

Huh. Interesting.

Trusting O'Neill that the food was safe, John nudged Rodney lightly, who had been staring into space beside him. Not zoned, just really tired and pretty worn down by the hypoglycemic reaction already. "Come on, buddy. Let's get some food into you," John coaxed and unwrapped one of the sandwiches from the tray. "Why is it that every time I meet you, you're hypoglycemic and I have to get you fed? That supposed to be endearing?" John teased deliberately and Rodney snorted, finally coming out of his stupor.

"Endearing," Rodney snorted. "As if I am ever endearing," he mumbled sarcastically before he tucked in.

John did the same, feeling himself unwind more and more by the minute. His Sentinel was safe. Rodney was safe. Sure, he was tired and a little worse for wear but they'd made it. They had made it through this difficult situation and all was going to be fine now.

From across the table, O'Neill watched them curiously for a moment, as if he was searching for something specific. John didn't know what the General was looking for, but he seemed to have found it, anyway. He got up, saying, "Listen, why don't we leave the whole paperwork for tomorrow. Eat, have a shower and get some sleep. If we meet tomorrow evening to discuss things, it will still be early enough.

"McKay," O'Neill tried to get Rodney's attention, which proved to be difficult since Rodney's whole focus seemed to be on the food. "McKay!" O'Neill tried again, a little louder and a lot more insistent.

"What?" Rodney asked around a mouth full of sandwich, looking up from his plate.

"Your stuff has been brought to one of the VIP guest suites," O'Neill started, before he looked over to John, speaking to him now as well. "Yours as well, Sheppard. When you're done here, Major Latos will take you there," he said, smiling at John slightly.

John thought what a weird conversation this was, and that he should feel more … something … at the prospect of sharing living quarters with a man, in a military facility, when everyone knew that the probability of them ending up in bed together was somewhere around 99%. Not that John had any illusions about them being able to do anything but sleep. Both of them were practically dead on their feet, the whole 'getting Rodney's senses under control' thing having taken a lot more out of them than John had first thought.

"Sounds like a plan, sir," John replied and O'Neill waved him away when he wanted to salute to him properly. John was still military, until the moment he was officially discharged.

"Get your ass and that of your Sentinel to bed, Sheppard," O'Neill said, walking over to the door. "Both of you look like shit."

Then he was gone and John thought that this had been really weird 36 hours.

oooooOooooo

John woke in an unfamiliar bed, realizing he'd slept for a solid 14 hours. In fact, both of them had, seeing that Rodney was still in bed beside him, completely dead to the world. It was a strange feeling, knowing that his mornings would be like this from now on. Waking up in bed with a man. Living with a man, and yes, in a way taking care of him. If he hadn't been so god damn tired, John suspected he'd be angry about it all. As it was, John felt somewhat confused when it came to his feelings.

He was bonded. To a man.

John had no doubt Rodney and he would have sex eventually, even though John was slightly unsettled by that thought, still. The time in the Air Force had conditioned him in a certain way and John had always known that if he wanted to stay in the armed forces and keep flying, he would have to play by their rules. Which meant he couldn't be in a sexual relationship with another man.

But now his situation had changed. He wouldn't be military for much longer and even if he were, the integrity of the Sentinel/Guide bond overruled everything else. Not that it was a good idea to flaunt the fact that you were officially allowed to have hot gay sex with your partner while still being part of the military. At least not when you were the Guide. That would be a lot like committing social suicide.

John stretched lazily and tried not to think too much about what he would be losing pretty soon – it just hurt too much. Instead he tried to focus on the positive aspects of his new life. He'd be paid better. He'd get to work in a top secret facility, which John hoped would be pretty cool. And then there was Rodney. Being bonded to him wouldn't be as bad as John had feared it would be. Yes, part of that was the bond at work, but John had a feeling that Rodney was a pretty decent guy. Having sex with him was certainly going to be fun. Being able to be with a man and not having to hide would be nice as well.

And it wasn't as if John had any other choice anyway.

Beside him, Rodney stirred. He lifted his head for a moment, looked at John with bleary eyes and said, "Go back to sleep. Way too early still. We've got as much time as we need. We should make full use of that." With that he turned around and went back to sleep. John thought that maybe he'd had the right idea, some more sleep certainly sounded good.

oooooOooooo

The good mood and the feeling of 'it's not that bad' vanished pretty quickly for John. Not only had he woken up and found Rodney gone, since that day, he'd rarely seen his Sentinel at all. He and Rodney had had a brief talk in which Rodney tried to apologize again and assured John that he didn't want to rule John's life, but other than that, they barely saw one another. Once John had signed the necessary confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, he had been whisked away by the SGCC, who insisted he get proper Guide training. Each day they would bring him to a nearby training center where he'd learn to be the Guide Rodney needed him to be. It was a rather tedious procedure, but even John saw that it made some kind of sense. Apparently Rodney was too important to be left with an untrained Guide. At the same time the people from the SGCC insisted that what little time he did spend with Rodney at the moment – namely sleeping in the bed next to him for a couple of hours each night – was enough to sustain the new bond. John had to believe them, they were the ones with the experience in that matter, but it still left an uneasy feeling in his gut.

Everyone assured him that Rodney would make his needs known if problems would arise. They insisted that John's training was of utmost importance and not to be neglected. So John resigned himself to spending the next three weeks getting lectures on how to care for his Sentinel, how to deal with zone-outs and other Sentinel specific conditions and how to generally be a good little Guide.

Some of the stuff John learned was actually interesting but most of the time John just didn't see the use of it. It felt like there was something the SGCC and Rodney kept from him even though he didn't know what that was.

On top of it, John hadn't been officially discharged from the Air Force yet and to John that was pure torture. He didn't really feel like he belonged with them any more, being grounded and unable to fly and every day he had to spend waiting for his discharge to come was pure hell. He just wished it would be over and done with, but instead they kept him hanging in this weird place in between.

What was about as bad was that, even though he was still living in a top secret facility and had gone through all of the bureaucratic stuff, they'd told him nothing and showed him nothing. He was being kept completely in the dark about what they did underneath Cheyenne Mountain. That treatment alone drove on point home rather thoroughly: He didn't belong to any of them. He was just the Guide of Dr. McKay and while he was being treated with the utmost respect and politeness, John still felt all too clearly that he didn't really belong anywhere at the moment. He wasn't a fully trained Guide yet and not a pilot any more. It was maddening.

Two days before the end of his Guide training John walked down the hallway in search for General O'Neill. John had been asked to come see him but the general wasn't in his office and so John had to locate him somehow. The soldier he had asked for directions had given him a pretty good description though and John felt confident he would actually find his way around those identical, endless corridors by now. He hadn't had much time to walk around the base yet, but it didn't seem to be all that hard to get a hang of.

"Colonel Sheppard," someone called from behind him and John turned around, back into the direction he had just come from, his heart sinking. A young man was rushing towards John and as he came closer, John could see that the name tag read Major Harrison.

"Colonel Sheppard, it's good I found you, sir," Harrison said and John inwardly cringed. This was torture. He'd been living here for three fucking weeks now, was it too much to ask for that they stick to 'Guide Sheppard' or something along the lines? It hurt to hear his rank being used and the major even had gotten it completely wrong on top of it.

"There must be some sort of mistake, Major," John said as politely as he could muster. "I've not been a Lieutenant Colonel for a long time now and even if I were, it wouldn't matter any more. I'm a Guide now. So, you know, just 'John' will do. I'm only still military because someone forgot to kick me out I think." Forcing a false, relaxed smile on his face, John held himself perfectly still. As if the pain that was raging inside of him just didn't exist. As if losing that part of his life wouldn't hurt like hell.

The young Major looked at him confusedly. He opened the file he had been carrying and shuffled through some papers. "But sir, here it says that you … oh …" Harrison stopped mid sentence, blushing a bright crimson.

John gave him a pained half smile, "That I have not been officially discharged, yet. I know," John said.

Harrison shifted uneasily, and John blinked. The Major was acting weird.

"Actually, sir, it says you have not officially been promoted yet. My apologies," Harrison answered, sounding somehow embarrassed.

John's stomach gave out and he hated the tiny sliver of hope that bloomed in his chest. This of course had to be a mistake. He wouldn't be allowed to stay in the Air Force much less be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. That just wouldn't make sense anyway. But the thought was nice and for a short moment, John allowed himself to dream.

"Yeah, right. I don't think that's ever gonna happen," John said, wishing the situation were different.

"Ah, John, there you are," Rodney's voice suddenly sounded from behind him and John turned around, seeing Rodney hurry towards him.

When Rodney noticed the file in Harrison's hand he frowned, asking, "What's going on here?"

"I was just telling the Colonel that …" Harrison began but was interrupted when Rodney rubbed his forehead and then glared at the Major. "You. Go away. I need to talk to John alone for a moment."

A cold feeling settled into John's stomach at Rodney's weird behavior and he stiffened. Rodney looked uneasy and almost guilty now and that was never a good sign.

"Doctor McKay, I have orders to find Colonel Sheppard and give him his new schedule. He's all set up to train with SG-2 tomorrow and they need the confirmation within the hour. Didn't you get notified of that?" Major Harrison looked confused and apologetic and John suspected he had had the 'pleasure' of being on the receiving end of Rodney's 'charm' more than once. And this time wouldn't end any better for the poor Major, John realized.

What John didn't understand though was the whole mixup with his rank and the fact that suddenly he was scheduled for training other than the Guide stuff he had been learning. It clearly was a mistake. His Guide training wasn't even finished yet. Sometimes John hated those idiots who couldn't keep their files straight. Maybe there was another Major Sheppard on this base. It was really annoying and Rodney's behavior didn't do much to calm John, either. He was acting weird, as if he had done something behind John's back and now feared it would come out. Somehow that thought angered and yes even hurt John. Rodney was his Sentinel, he shouldn't keep things from him. He might have the last word on everything that happened to John, but he should at least talk to John about it, beforehand. That was what they had agreed on. Everything else disturbed the still fragile balance they had. They didn't know each other long enough yet that their bond and the budding friendship between them could take any insincerities.

"Major, I need to talk to my Guide alone. Have I made myself clear? You can come back in fifteen minutes, when I had a chance to explain the change of plans to him. Now go away before I lose my patience," Rodney snapped, confirming John's suspicions that he knew something about what was going on. Anger flared up inside of John but he pushed it back viciously as Rodney grabbed him by the arm and dragged him towards the nearest room. Great, just fucking great.

Without so much as knocking Rodney pulled the door open. It was a small office and the two men currently working in it looked at them curiously. Until Rodney snapped at them, that was. "Get out. I need this room. You can come back when I'm done. Out!"

John wasn't the least surprised that the men hurriedly closed their laptops and vacated the room without any complaint. Rodney's reputation of making the life of anyone who angered him a living hell was legendary.

Finally the door closed again behind the men and John turned to Rodney, barely holding his temper in check. He was angry that Rodney had obviously known something that concerned John and hadn't told him a single word about it. That just wasn't how it worked. If they wanted to have a stable relationship – working or otherwise – in the future, there needed to be honesty between them. But it didn't seem as if Rodney was holding up his part of the deal.

"What was that all about, Rodney? What's going on?" John finally asked, crossing his arms in front of his body. He suddenly felt vulnerable and he didn't like it one bit. There it was again, that sword of Damocles hanging over his head. Rodney did have the power to make changes in John's – in both of their lives and technically, he didn't even have to ask John before he made them. Since John was Rodney's bonded Guide, the one he needed, the one he depended on to stay alive and sane, he got to make the calls and John would have to obey, whether he liked it or not. In the Air Force John had chosen that kind of servitude, would have been able to leave if he chose so, being a Guide was something John had never had a say in. He wouldn't get to leave, either. It was something that still bugged John a lot. It felt too much like slavery.

"Listen, John, I'm sorry. You shouldn't have learned of it this way. Jack was going to tell you about the new schedule and the other stuff at your meeting later," Rodney began, sounding somewhat defensive but not really sorry at all and John noted with annoyance that he still hadn't told what 'it' was.

"Alright, Rodney, why don't you start by telling me what 'other stuff' you've been talking about?" John asked, keeping a tight rein on his temper. "What the hell is going on here? Why does he think I'll get promoted when I'm waiting to get discharged? Talk to me Rodney! Is this some kind of joke?" John was actually surprised the pranks hadn't started yet. It seemed to be some sort of weird initiation ritual, but usually those were harmless and fun, rather than malicious. Maybe someone thought he needed to be taught a lesson.

When Rodney just stared at John miserably, John went on.

"I can live with being your Guide, Rodney. I will have to live with losing my independence because I have no fucking choice about it, but don't go round doing stuff behind my back. You said you wanted us to be equals." He had. Rodney had promised to talk to John about any life-altering decisions before making them – even though John knew he had no veto rights whatsoever. But he'd like to have a bit of warning first.

Rodney definitely looked guilty now. A lot guilty. Oh great. Just great. What had Rodney done now?

"Rodney," John hissed angrily, "what was General O'Neill gonna tell me? What is going on here?"

"Look, John, I know I promised to tell you everything, but I really couldn't tell you this, alright? I didn't want to raise your hopes. If this turned out to be all for nothing I didn't want for you to feel like you lost something. But now they decided and it's all going to be okay and the SGCC did a good job and Jack will tell you about the training," Rodney ranted. He didn't make much sense to John. What the hell had he and the SGCC done behind John's back?

Apparently there would actually be training, which was cool, and John supposed the SGCC had to agree to it since he was not officially done with Guide training yet, but John had a feeling that wasn't all Rodney had been talking about.

"Rodney, what exactly is it that you and the SGCC did?" John asked exasperated, but Rodney suddenly had a far off look on his face. Every alarm bell in John's head went off immediately. This might not be a zone out yet, but something was definitely not right with his Sentinel – and John hadn't noticed it until now. Cursing inwardly at his own stupidity for believing that crap the SGCC spouted, John reached for Rodney. There was a slight tremor running through Rodney and John's heart missed a beat. Crap. They had a problem.

Why the hell had he believed the SGCC when they had told him that sleeping beside his Sentinel each night would be enough? Why had he believed that Rodney would come complaining to him if he didn't get enough interaction, enough closeness to sustain a stable bond? Sure, whenever something went wrong in the labs Rodney voiced his displeasure in a most obvious way, but even since the very first day, Rodney had shown the utmost restraint and reluctance to ask for anything from John. Like he felt guilty about being responsible for the change in John's life. They'd talked about that and John had thought they'd reached an agreement, but now he wasn't so sure any more. Rodney was clearly suffering from sort of bond related issue and he hadn't said a word.

"Rodney," John said urgently and had to restrain himself as to not shake him. "Rodney, come on, focus on me. Tell me what's wrong. What is the problem? Rodney?"

Rodney blinked, looking slightly confused, his eyes not properly focusing on John. The sight made John's blood run cold. He reached over, cupping Rodney's face in his hands, the skin under his fingertips clammy and too cold to the touch. Fuck.

"Rodney, tell me what you need," John said, hoping to get through to the obviously very distressed Sentinel. He really hadn't seen it coming that Rodney would go from seemingly perfectly fine to a drop in blood pressure and severe sense-maladjustment.

"Hold me?" Rodney finally asked and John felt himself reminded on that night he'd met Rodney for the first time. Insecure and small – that was how Rodney sounded.

"Of course. Dammit, why didn't you tell me you need more contact? Why didn't you say something?" John muttered without accusation, in fact he was surprised by the tenderness he could hear in his own voice.

"They said you need the training. They said sleeping next to each other should do the trick. I really don't want to be such a bother," Rodney replied, still some sort of far off quality to his whole behavior.

"Yeah and we just saw how well the sleeping next to each other worked, huh buddy?" John said sarcastically. "Now come on, I have an idea how to fix this." At this moment John was grateful for the thorough training he had received – even if it was indirectly responsible for the state Rodney was currently in. They'd have to talk about his guilt trip later on though.

John took hold of Rodney's arm and led him over to the nearest wall. Then John sat down on the floor, leaning his back against the wall and pulling Rodney to sit between John's opened thighs. He pulled Rodney close, Rodney's back coming to rest against John's chest and John plucked Rodney's shirt out of his pants and slipped his hands underneath it, skin on skin. It was a way of allowing the Sentinel to tune in on his Guide – one that usually only pairs used that shared a sexual bond as well. But John didn't have time for thinking about modesty – Rodney needed a connection and this method was the fastest and easiest one. If all went right Rodney would – surrounded by John's scent and touch as he was – connect to John almost automatically.

The moment John had settled them comfortably, Rodney heaved a small sigh and John could feel him relax noticeably, the tremors already subsiding.

"That's it, buddy. Let it all go. Relax. I've got you. Take whatever you need," John soothed, keeping up a string of nonsense words to engage one more of Rodney's senses. Rodney slumped against him, head coming to rest on John's shoulder and John could see had closed his eyes. He trusted John to keep him safe.

Wrapping his arms around Rodney a little tighter, John thought that they were going to take a little longer than those fifteen minutes Rodney had demanded and that it would take some time still until John would get the answers he wanted. But John found he didn't care.

oooooOooooo

"What the fuck do you mean you didn't know? Are you or are you not the specialists for Sentinels?" General Jack O'Neill sounded about as pissed as he looked, John thought, as he watched O'Neill stab a finger in the direction of the SGCC counselor. "You were the one who dragged Sheppard away from his Sentinel to train him. You were the ones who said that they would be fine spending so little time together. What the hell were you thinking? First we transport Sheppard back from Afghanistan top priority so McKay doesn't go insane and then you are the ones who cause the next emergency."

The general had a point.

Sure, Rodney's guilt over having uprooted John's life and bound him to his side played into the escalation of the situation as well. But John was convinced that if Rodney hadn't been told he was pretty much expected to be fine with what little time he got to spend with John, then things hadn't escalated at all. Rodney might have voiced his concerns more readily and John could have done something, sooner.

"We had no way of knowing that it wouldn't be enough. We are still not sure why Sentinel McKay dropped into sensory-maladjustment. It has been proven over the last few years that close proximity and regular touches – even if they are confined to a short period of time each day – are more than adequate to sustain a new bond. There is no reason why Sentinel McKay should have been in any danger to go into bond-withdrawal. It's never been documented. We will need to take tests to see what caused this abnormal reaction." Counselor Kathryn Mobec sounded reasonable and calm, like the professional she was. But something about her words made John frown.

"Wait, wait, what did you just say?" he asked, completely puzzled. He had been told that sleeping next to Rodney would be enough to keep their bond stable. John was reasonably sure that Rodney had been told the same. No-one had said anything about touching tough. "What do you mean 'regular touches'? No-one said anything about how we needed to actually touch. I mean we've only just met. We're sleeping in the same bed already, which admittedly is still feeling weird. Why didn't anyone say anything about touching? You've forced three weeks of training on me and none of you clowns actually thought of telling me that I need to touch my Sentinel for a certain amount of time each day?" John couldn't believe it. He really couldn't believe that the SGCC had been so careless as to neglect to tell him about something so … basic. So crucial.

"I am not sure I can follow you, Guide Sheppard. When we talked to you and Sentinel McKay about how you met and bonded, both of you confirmed that you had kissed. You also confirmed that you are living in the same quarters and share a bed. Logically we assumed that you would engage in a sexual relationship. It is the conclusion of what you told us about your living arrangements and the nature of the bond. It is not the policy of the SGCC to pry into the privacy of the bonded pairs that confide in us. I apologize for not making it more clear that a regular physical contact is required to sustain a bond that has just recently formed." The counselor sounded anything but sorry, and John thought he could actually hear amusement in her voice. It made him unaccountably angry. But before John could actually reply something to her, Rodney, who had been sitting on his chair acting like a chastised child jumped up and snapped at the startled counselor.

"What are you? An idiot? Of course it's something you should have told us instead of jumping to conclusions. I mean seriously, how dense can you be? Just because we kissed once doesn't mean we fuck each other's brains out each night. Even though right now I wish we did since it would have spared me a lot of pain and humiliation. You're supposed to be specialists. Now look what you did: you made my situation worse," Rodney ranted. John watched his face go red with anger and embarrassment and thought that he should intervene. Not only was Rodney getting way too agitated for John's liking, John also felt an urge to protect Rodney from the ridicule and the lecture John had a feeling would come.

John walked over to Rodney and touched his arm lightly, tugging a bit, drawing Rodney's attention. "It's alright Rodney. Calm down please. They made a mistake," John said soothingly and with a quick move brought himself between Rodney and the other people in the room, shielding Rodney with his body.

The urge to hold and comfort Rodney grew inside of John with every minute that passed and John used the short moment of surprise that had Rodney speechless, to pull him in for a hug.

"John, what …?" Rodney started to say but trailed off quickly again, almost melting into John's embrace. From the other side of the room John could hear a murmured argument between the Counselor and General O'Neill.

"You're still not completely recovered from the earlier breakdown," John whispered into Rodney's ear "Please don't let them get to you so much. I don't want for you to collapse." John deliberately kept his voice down knowing that Rodney be even more embarrassed if the others in the room were made aware of the fact just how much Rodney still needed the physical contact to John.

"Sentinel McKay, your behavior over the last few years has indicated that you would not have condoned any more prying into your relationship with your Guide. Further have you shown that you are capable and willing to voice any problems concerning your senses. The SGCC had every reason to assume that you would react in an unfavorable way to any interference into your bond. That we called your Guide in for training is standard procedure but it is also our way of making sure that you will receive all the necessary support from your Guide." The counselor didn't seem to mind that she wasn't actually able to see Rodney, she was talking to him anyway.

"Furthermore the training was designed to help your Guide to settle into his new role and find his place in his new life. We are aware of the difficulties of entering into Guide duties under these unusual circumstances and were merely doing everything to give you and your Guide the best possible support," the counselor sounded stilted and almost insulted now, but before John could say anything, could tell her that he had a name and he didn't like the way she was talking about him, Counselor Mobec went on.

"Your Guide's live has changed a lot and he needed time to realize what his new status would entail. We firmly believe that it is for both your benefit. After having been without a Guide for so long, surely it isn't easy for you either, to rely on another person like that. Maybe that is the reason why the incident today occurred. Sentinel McKay you need to be aware of the fact that from now on your Guide will be the one to keep you stable and sane. You will have to learn to turn to him for support," there was amusement in her voice now, as if the she found the idea of Rodney being stuck asking for help somehow funny. Rodney's hands on John's arms tightened and John could see that Rodney was about to explode with anger. This person was the most tactless and stupid SGCC counselor John had ever encountered – and he'd seen his share of those over the course of the last three weeks. Someone should really shut her up.

"That your Guide is reacting in a natural way to you now is very promising. We were merely surprised that you have not entered into a sexual relationship yet. Given the way you bonded and considering the fact that all the signals-" John was pretty sure that Counselor Mobec wanted to say more, but Rodney tensed even more in John's arms and the next second John heard the still angry voice of General O'Neill.

"Listen, I don't care what you thought was happening or not, fact is that you assumed instead if just giving them all necessary information. See that it doesn't happen again. Now Sheppard, I'd just love to order you to take your Sentinel to bed but since the regs say that I can't ask and you as a Guide also don't have to – tell, I'm staying the hell away from this topic. Let's just say that I'd appreciate it if you kept Rodney from collapsing again. I don't care how you do it, just do it, okay?"

John searched the general's eyes and found them dancing with mischief.

How weird.

"I'll make sure that it doesn't happen again, sir," John promised, not sure how to act about the fact that O'Neill so laid back about the whole situation. Maybe this was the time to bring up the topic of discharge and the fact that John still had no clue at all what the hell Rodney and O'Neill had hatched together.

"Alright, Sheppard. Now, if that is settled, we should say goodbye to the counselor, because she has to leave us now. Your last days of Guide-training are cancelled. You, Major have a new training schedule here; one that I would like to discuss with you later today," O'Neill said and looked smug about it. "I believe we had an appointment before Rodney had this little incident and now that he is better, I expect you and your Sentinel in my office at 1600 sharp. There are a few things that we still need to talk about. Wear your dress blues, we're expecting company."

"Sir?" John asked, confused but O'Neill wasn't providing any more information.

"Just obey your orders for once, Sheppard. I'll explain later."

 

oooooOooooo

John thought he might be dreaming. The last four weeks had been strange already, but this? This beat everything. Apparently Rodney had asked the SGCC to look into his case again and the SGCC lawyers had decided that his black mark was unjustified. Now his record had been cleared and he had actually been given the promotion he was due. John couldn't quite grasp that fact just yet. It shouldn't have been possible. The military just didn't work like that.

Yet here he was, standing in Rodney's and his shared quarters in a secret base a few miles below the surface, wearing his dress blues, his new insignia as Lieutenant Colonel of the United States Air force firmly in place. John knew he had to be grinning like a loon, but he couldn't quite help himself. It was just something he'd never thought would ever happen. What logically shouldn't have happened.

They'd promoted him. They'd given him back his life.

That wasn't the most strange, amazing thing of all, though. No, after three weeks of being kept in the dark, John had finally learned about what this secret underground base he had been living in for some time now was all about and the revelation had been incredible. Alien spaceships. O'Neill had grinned like a little kid when he had told John about that one. The general was pretty cool and the whole day couldn't have gone better. There had been so many wonderful surprises for John.

Rodney had no intentions of keeping him grounded or out of the action at all and most importantly – John hadn't lost the sky. Instead he'd gotten his new insignia standing in front of a huge ring made of alien material that could send you to other planets, could send you to other galaxies even. Planets John would be allowed to visit once in a while as a temporary member of SG-5.

John still had a bit of a problem wrapping his head around all he had learned.

There was an actual spaceship in Earth's orbit and beaming was real. Well, they called it something else, of course but still … this really had to be the most amazing day in his life.

The only small disadvantage in it all was the fact that John just knew that some people in the service would not be happy about his promotion. Or the fact that John was still in the Air Force at all. He knew many people believed that Guides should stay with their Sentinels at all times and be kept out of harm's way at all costs. Something that stood in stark contrast to what John would be doing. On top of it, there was the fact that Rodney had initiated the process that had lead to John's promotion – a fact that could come back to bite him in the ass – even though Rodney had had no direct influence in the whole thing. John supposed he, no they – he and Rodney were a team now after all – would deal with any problems once they would arise. For now John was content with how things had turned out.

As if on cue, Rodney came in, an amused look appearing on his face as he watched John stand in the middle of the room. "It's pretty cool, isn't it?" Rodney asked sounding excited and a bit smug.

"You have no idea," John replied, feeling giddy with happiness. Somehow Rodney being there made everything even better. Of course, logically, John by now knew that it was the bond working, that it was some sort of failsafe mechanism that assured that the Guide stayed with their Sentinel. John's stomach didn't care about the hows and whys however, when it did a little flip as Rodney came further into the room, stepping closer to John. Their very … physical bonding a few hours ago and the way Rodney kept looking at him made John think they should have done something about the attraction between them a little earlier.

"Oh, I think I actually have a pretty good idea what this day felt like, to you. I've recently gained something I never thought I could have, too. Best feeling ever," Rodney smiled brightly at John and John thought that yes, maybe Rodney could actually relate. There was a whole lot of things Rodney had gained, just by bonding alone. More control over his senses had only been one thing among many. As John watched Rodney's smile dimmed and a shadow rushed over his face. "I'm glad you're happy, John, because I actually hoped that, now that you're still military and you've been promoted and all," he hesitated and John felt uneasiness creep up into his stomach.

"Yes, Rodney?" John prompted. He was really growing tired of the guilty look on Rodney's face. So yes, Rodney had broken their deal and not told him everything from the start. They would have to talk about that so it didn't happen again in the future – John wanted to at least have a warning before his whole life was being turned upside down – but John was sure they would work it out.

"I kinda hoped you'd be so happy to still be a flyboy and all that you wouldn't be too angry at me that I'm going to take you to another galaxy with me," Rodney said in a rush and it took John a moment to decipher the words Rodney just had spoken.

"Another galaxy?" John asked, dumbfounded. He wasn't sure that he'd heard right. Sure, he'd been told theoretically the Stargate could send you anyplace with a another Stargate on the other end if you had enough power, but …

Rodney obviously switched into lecture mode and answered, "Yeah, listen, there is this expedition. It's been rescheduled due to me finding you and it's now due to be leaving in about four weeks. At first I wasn't allowed to go because I wasn't bonded and Carson and the IOA and the SGCC and the SGC and a whole bunch of other people couldn't be sure they would be able to bring me back from a zone out and …" Rodney ranted going faster and faster until John stepped up to him and placed a steady hand on his arm, grounding him.

"Rodney, breathe. Just tell me about that expedition and what I have to do with it. I'm not mad at you," John assured him and it was the truth. How could he be mad at Rodney when his Sentinel had given him so damn much already? Both actively and by chance. John had been promoted, he got, for the first time since joining the military, to be able to actually admit that he was attracted to a man. Rodney had not only allowed him to stay in the Air Force, he had actually intimidated high ranking Military to make sure John was treated right. He'd made the SGCC look into his case again. And on top of it all, John had learned about Stargates and actual spaceships. Nothing Rodney could tell him could make John be angry at Rodney at that moment. Not after Rodney had given him all that.

"Alright. So the expedition will leave in roughly four weeks. It's all volunteers because we're going to the Pegasus galaxy and we might not have the power to dial Earth and get back. At least not right away. Maybe never. This might be a one way trip for all of us. But I want to go. I want to go so badly and I'll need to take you with me and that would mean you're going to have to give up your life here on Earth and I'm just scared you'll hate me for making you do that. But it's the Pegasus galaxy," Rodney finished, sounding unhappy and so very wistful now.

"Okay, so I get it that the expedition goes through the Stargate and on the other end, in the Pegasus galaxy, there might not be a enough power for the Stargate and so there is no way back to Earth, right?" John surmised. "Hm, sounds cool. What's in Pegasus galaxy that you're all willing to risk your life on this trip? Cause that's what we're talking, right? This might be a trip into certain death?"

Rodney cringed. "If you put it that way I admit it doesn't sound too appealing. But John, the things we could learn, the things we could see …" There was the wistful look on his face again. "Ancient tech. So much knowledge, so much …" he broke off, looking at John with wide eyes. "I mean, I can't promise we'll find more spaceships but the city alone should be so awesome."

"City?" John asked confusedly. He wasn't sure he could actually follow all of Rodney's thoughts. "We're gonna risk our lives for some … ancient city? But you're not even an archeologist. I mean, I'd understand it if this … Doctor Jackson guy would do such a thing, but I'd never pegged you for the shoveling sand and piecing together pottery kind of guy."

"I'm not," Rodney replied, sounding indignant. "That be a terrible waste of my time and my genius. And I sure hope there won't be any sand shoveling involved. But we're not talking about just any rotten city here. We're talking about the city of the Ancients. We're talking about the lost city of Atlantis." Rodney said and there was so much awe and excitement in his voice, John was momentarily speechless.

If it had been anyone else saying such a thing to him, he'd called them nuts. But this was Rodney and Rodney didn't lie. And his excitement was real, so all John could do was stare at him and ask, "You want to take me to Atlantis?"

oooooOooooo

Two hours and few surprisingly patient explanations from Rodney's side later, John took another sip from his beer. He and Rodney were sitting on the couch in the living area, John had taken off his jacket, loosened his tie, rolled up his sleeves and opened the topmost buttons of his shirt. He felt relaxed and content listening to Rodney talk about gatetravel, Goa'uld, Ori and the wonders he expected to find in the Pegasus galaxy. Rodney's eyes were bright with excitement and he waved his hands about, explaining this and that, looking much like a kid on Christmas Eve.

John smiled indulgently enjoying the passion and love for his work Rodney displayed. Deciding to get a bit more comfortable, John slowly pulled his tie open completely and tossed it over to where his Jacket was lying, abandoned. He then leaned over and undid the laces of his shoes, pulling them off one by one and kicking them under the small table that was placed in front of the couch. After years of neatly made beds and meticulously folded laundry, John decided he'd get to relax and be messy just once.

Only belatedly John realized Rodney had suddenly stopped speaking, mid-sentence. At first John thought for one horrible moment that Rodney was caught in a zone out, the way his Sentinel was staring at the bit of chest hair that was peeking out over John's open shirt. But then John saw Rodney move, just a little, and he was obviously not only mesmerized by the sight of the bit of John's skin, but also by John's scent, judging by the way he seemed to smell the air.

Fascinated, John watched as Rodney moved slowly but steadily closer to him, like a moth drawn by the light. There was an almost predatory gleam in Rodney's eyes and before John knew it, Rodney was right in his personal space, pushing up against him, then straddling him. "Rodney?" John asked curiously but Rodney's eyes were glued to John's lips now and a moment later John felt Rodney's mouth on his.

Rodney kissed with the same passion he displayed for his work and if possible, this kiss was even better than the first one, the one they had shared what felt like a lifetime ago in Rodney's apartment. John's head began to spin and his stomach gave a little flip at the way Rodney's tongue explored his mouth. Someone was groaning throatily and John couldn't have told which one of them it was. Possibly both of them.

Then Rodney's hands were in John's hair, messing it up even further, massaging his scalp and John thought hat he could get lost in the feeling of Rodney's hands on him. This was good, no brilliant and John felt more aroused, more excited than he could remember having felt in a long, long time. He'd been right. They should have done this a lot earlier. Like … from the start. Apparently Rodney and he were fitting perfectly with the 98,2 % majority in this case.

Thinking that maybe they should take this to bed, John carefully disentangled himself from Rodney pushing him back slightly to be able to look into Rodney's eyes. "Rodney, stop," John said, breathlessly and Rodney's face fell. A horrified expression rushed over Rodney's face and before John could react, Rodney jumped up from John's lap and scrambled away, coming to sit on the couch, several inches away from John.

Confused as to what had just happened, John looked at Rodney questioningly. He really didn't understand what was going on. "Rodney?" John asked, carefully.

Rodney's face was one of pure misery. He lowered his gaze, refusing to meet John's eyes and said, "Oh dammit. Look … I'm … I'm sorry. I have no idea what's just gotten into me. I just … I watched you take off your tie and then I … I couldn't look away again and then … Dear God, you smell so nice and I just had to get closer to you and then … then I suddenly had this urge to kiss you. I'm … sorry. Really, I don't know what's the matter. I usually have better control over myself than that. I've sworn to myself that I won't push you into anything you don't want and just now I …What I mean to say is that I'll understand if you want to request separate quarters now and-"

"Stop!" John snapped in his best military voice. Rodney looked stricken for a second before he pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, his whole posture tenses and unhappy. This guilt trip Rodney had going was really beginning to grate on John's nerves. Suppressing a sigh and getting his anger under control, John softly said, "Look at me, Rodney."

Rodney let his hands sink but didn't open his eyes. He took a deep breath before he murmured another, "'m sorry."

John leaned over and gently gripped Rodney's chin, tilting his head up. "Open your eyes and look at me, Rodney," John repeated patiently, a hint of amusement audible in his voice. At that, Rodney's eyes snapped open, confusion appearing on his face.

"Rodney, you've had a meltdown earlier today. We know you need physical contact to stabilize the bond and it's no secret that I'm attracted to you, so I really don't see the problem here, do you? I mean, do I look like I'm mad at you?" John asked, his steady gaze never leaving Rodney's face.

"But I was practically jumping you," Rodney argued instead of answering John's question and this time, John did sigh.

"Yes, so? I'm more than okay with you 'jumping me' as you put it. I thought I made this pretty clear this morning. What did you think I was doing anyway?" John asked, hoping Rodney would get with the program already.

"I don't know," Rodney answered and he sounded frustrated now rather than miserable. "Maybe you were only doing your job. Keeping me sane and all that. I mean, O'Neill pretty much told you to bed me after all. And … and then there is the fact that the bond might be making you do things. I just … I guess I don't know what to think."

"Then I'll make this easy on you: I want to have sex with you, Rodney. In fact, I only stopped you to suggest we take this to bed instead of staying here on the couch," John replied and leaned over to capture Rodney's lips in another kiss.

When John pulled back, an amazed, slightly dazed look was on Rodney's face.

"Wow, okay, I didn't expect that," Rodney said, his voice suddenly hoarse. "Could have fooled me. I really thought it was the bond working, way back then. So, you're saying you've done this before? You … you've been with men before?"

There was so much astonished awe in Rodney's voice that John had to chuckle. "Yes, Rodney, I've done this before. Handjobs. Blowjobs," John trailed off, hoping Rodney would get the picture.

And he did. The look on Rodney's face was priceless.

"You call that experience?" Rodney asked incredulously. "You've no idea what you're getting into. What if you don't like it? What if I screw this up and then you'll hate me?" Rodney asked, sounding somewhere between aroused and on the verge of panic.

"I'm not gonna hate you for wanting to get into my pants," John grinned. "Besides … you're a Sentinel. You can figure it out," John's, voice was barely above a whisper now and he leaned close to Rodney, letting his breath ghost over Rodney's skin. He knew Rodney would be able to listen to his heartbeat, could feel John's skin warm under his hands, could smell his arousal. Rodney had most probably just never thought about using his enhanced senses in that way.

"Oh!" John could see a whole candelabra go on above Rodney's head and suddenly the panic that had been lacing Rodney's posture just a moment ago was gone. The penny had finally dropped and Rodney practically leapt at John, kissing him, straddling him again.

"I'm a genius and a Sentinel, of course I can figure it out," Rodney replied confidently, before attacking John's lips again.

John smiled into the kiss, enjoying the enthusiasm with which Rodney was setting to work, his fingers beginning to undo John's shirt. John let him do as he pleased for a while before he carefully caught Rodney's wrists in his hands, stilling Rodney's movements.

"Bed, Rodney," he murmured into Rodney's skin, and Rodney moved back slightly, looking straight into John's face.

"Mhh, good idea," Rodney hummed approvingly, smiling at John.

"Yeah, I have those sometimes," John joked and placed a quick kiss on the tip of Rodney's nose.

"Smartass," Rodney chided and got up off John's lap and from the couch. As he started to walk over to the bedroom, Rodney called over his shoulder, "You coming? I'm not getting any younger here."

John just laughed and hurried after him.

oooooOooooo

Rodney stood in the bedroom, looking at the bed as if he'd never seen it before. Anticipation was sending shivers down his spine and he couldn't help the feeling of finally. Finally they were going to share the bed in the way he'd wanted since the moment he had kissed John for the first time, weeks ago.

Strong, gentle arms wrapped around Rodney from behind, startling him out of his thoughts.
John's chin came to rest on Rodney's right shoulder and he whispered in Rodney's ear, "Making plans on how you're gonna use those senses of yours to drive me nuts?" John asked, humor in his voice and bit Rodney's earlobe.

"You can count on that," Rodney replied, grinning. He turned around in John's arms pressing up against him, but the moment their groins touched – hard cock rubbing against equally hard cock – John tensed. It was just a second, gone as fast as it had come but Rodney had still felt it, his heightened senses picking up the movement of each of John's muscles.

Rodney looked at John and sighed, slowly bringing some distance between their bodies even though John tried to pull him in close again insistently. "Alright, what's the problem?" Rodney asked. "You say you want this but your body just told me differently. Maybe we should forget about this. We don't need to have sex just because I had a meltdown or O'Neill thinks we should do it."

John's hands let go of Rodney and a hint of impatience was creeping into his voice and his posture. "Damn it, McKay, cut that crap. I'm not some blushing virgin. Sorry, but I just can't shake instincts that have been part of my life for the last couple of years in the matter of a few minutes. This is not about O'Neill or the bond. It's just me finding you hot. You get it?"

Huh Rodney thought, stunned by John's outburst. John's words just had made the last few pieces of the puzzle slot into place. He grinned at John, excitement making his skin tingle.

"Yeah, I totally get it. This is gonna be so much fun, you know? You have no idea what I can do to you. Sentinels aren't said to be the best lovers for nothing and you got especially lucky since I'm a genius, too. Leave it to me, I'm gonna make you fly," Rodney said eagerly and John laughed.

"I'm sure you will. Now, less talking, McKay. I wanna get naked with you," John grinned playfully and pulled Rodney is closely once more. Rodney came willingly, letting John touch all he wanted, losing himself in being caressed. At one point John must have gotten rid of both of their shirts because when Rodney lifted his hands to John's chest the fabric was gone.

John's skin was warm, his heart beating wildly under Rodney's fingertips and Rodney reveled in all the sensations. Discovering a new lover's body was always a thrill and now even more so with the knowledge that his wouldn't be a one time thing. John was his to keep and with being bonded to him, Rodney could even allow himself to use all of his senses to the fullest, without the fear of going into a zone out.

Capturing John's lips in a passionate kiss, Rodney focused completely on his Guide, letting John's scent, his touch, the taste of his skin draw him in. Rodney's senses were filled with John until there was nothing keeping them apart and Rodney felt, for the first time in his life completely at peace. He'd finally been made whole.

oooooOooooo

"Thank god, you're okay. I'm not going offworld without you again, McKay," John announced the moment he lay eyes on Rodney, as he stepped out of the event horizon and off the ramp into the gateroom.

In a matter of seconds Rodney was in his arms, face buried in John's neck, inhaling deeply. Slight tremors were running through Rodney's body and John held his Sentinel tightly, rubbing small, soothing circles onto Rodney's back. John was dimly aware of his team – SG-5, the team he'd been going through the gate with for the last three weeks – pulling around them in a protective circle as Rodney snuggled in his arms.

This mission really had sucked quite a lot. SG-5 never went on first contact missions or any missions that required to be away from the SGC for more than a day or two, making sure Rodney wouldn't go into bondwithdrawal with his Guide offworld. This time however a sandstorm had surprised them, stranding SG-5 for almost five days. It had been pure hell for John, imagining what Rodney must be going through and it had taken all of his team mates' considerable experience with unforeseen situations to keep John from freaking completely.

Now John held Rodney in his arms, feeling him relax and unwind more and more with each second that passed, now John began to calm as well.

"I hate to cut this reunion short, but all of you are expected in the infirmary for your post mission check up," the voice of General O'Neill suddenly startled John out of the warm and cozy haze he'd been drifting into. John could feel Rodney's reluctance at the order, his body going tense in John's arms.

"McKay, go with Sheppard and make sure Dr. Lam checks you over as well. And don't forget the meeting at 1700. We can't keep the expedition crew waiting forever." O'Neill turned to leave again and John suddenly remembered that they had had a scheduled meeting with his new CO on the Atlantis mission the day before. A meeting he had missed by being stuck on that godforsaken planet.

Just when O'Neill was almost out of the door already, he half turned again and grinned, "Oh, and McKay? No spoiling Sheppard's surprise, you hear me?" With that he was gone.

"Surprise?" John asked softly into Rodney's ear, trying very hard to keep his unease out of his voice. They'd agreed to no more secrets and statements like that of O'Neill just now always made John flinch a bit.

"'m not allowed to tell," Rodney murmured before he reluctantly pulled back from John's embrace. "But it's something nice, I promise," Rodney said, looking at John earnestly.

John smiled and resigned himself to once again being poked and prodded and to whatever it took to make his Sentinel feel secure and cared for.

oooooOooooo

A few hours later found John showered and wearing one of Rodney's t-shirts underneath his uniform shirt (Please John, showering just didn't cut it. I need to get the smell of this planet off of you. I need you to smell like … me.) while his new Guide charm was resting beside his tags. Rodney had asked why John didn't wear the one he'd had sent to him through the SGCC and John had just held up the golden necklace with the Guide pendant wordlessly, until Rodney got it. The new one was made out of stainless steel and covered in rubber. Just like the silencers on his tags. It looked much better than expected and John had no qualms about wearing this one, even though he had hated this symbol of … possession during the first few days as a Guide.

But Rodney had managed to dispel John's worries about being owned, grounded, ruled over or treated like a slave in a matter of days. In fact, Rodney had tried to give John everything John could have wished for. It was a rather amazing and somewhat humbling experience to have someone like Rodney care for him like that.

Now he and Rodney were in a conference room with General O'Neill and Colonel Franks, John's new CO. John felt the first flutters of nervousness in his stomach. What if he messed this up? What if Franks was like Markson, who hated John's guts and thought Guides shouldn't be allowed to stay in the armed forces? John wouldn't have any means to get away from him – couldn't get another posting, couldn't convince Rodney to leave to someplace else. They might in all possibility get stuck with each other in a foreign galaxy.

John wasn't exactly sure what this meeting was all about, really. Was this a test? Could this guy decide that he didn't want John in his military on Atlantis after all? Would Rodney get a say in whether or not John would be allowed to stay with the military? Would John get a say? No, most probably not. That wasn't how the US military worked.

"I read your file," Franks said after watching John writhe in his chair for a while. "I have to say, I'm impressed. That's quite a nice record you have there. And to stay in the Air Force even after becoming a Guide is just what I expected of you. You're a stubborn son of a bitch, aren't you, Sheppard?" Franks asked, eyes twinkling and amusement evident in his voice.

"Sir?" John asked, unsure as to how to react to the unusual behavior of his new CO.

Still grinning, Franks then turned to address an equally amused looking O'Neill. "Jack, you were right. He's a good guy and I'm sure we'll have lots of fun together. Won't we, Sheppard?"

Forcing a tortured smile on his face, John replied, "Of course, Sir. If you say so."

At that, both O'Neill and Franks laughed and Rodney wordlessly reached over to John, placing a soothing hand on his thigh.

"Sir, may I ask what's going on here?" John asked carefully and Franks stood, patting John on the shoulder in a very paternal manner.

"I just wanted to see you in person before we leave. Jack here said he'd found the perfect XO for me and he was right. You and I will get along quite nicely, Sheppard. Just don't go and do anything stupid, alright? I'd hate to have to sic your Sentinel on you to rein you in. I know how those can be, I tell you. Grew up in a household full of Sentinels. My nephew's a Guide. He's unbonded and wants to join the Air Force. You know, because of you and your Sentinel that might actually be possible." Franks grinned at Rodney now, who had been surprisingly silent, only watching the scene unfold, ever since they had entered the room.

At Franks' words though Rodney's face lit up. "Hey, what did Andrew do now? Did he finally sit down and have a go at changing the Sentinel/Guide regulations? He was always complaining that he never found the time to do it. Huh. Seems like this whole mess was good for something after all, then."

"Rodney?" John asked incredulously. "You knew about this?"

"Knew? Oh no, no I didn't know he was gonna do this. He's been talking about it for years but never really put anything in motion. He believed the SGCC when they claimed the Guides are happy with the way things are. And well, he's been busy I guess," Rodney explained.

Franks moved to the door while John was still trying to wrap his head around everything he had learned in the last few minutes. It was all so surreal. Franks was actually nice, Rodney and he had apparently made the President change the laws and O'Neill surely had something up the sleeve still, because he was grinning like a loon.

"Want me to send in Sheppard's surprise now, Jack?" Franks asked, hand on the doorknob looking at O'Neill curiously.

O'Neill grinned even more. "Sure, go ahead, send him in. No time like the present."

John wondered briefly what was going to happen next when suddenly Evan Lorne stepped thought the door, smiling brightly.

John had to control the urge to just jump out of his chair and hug him. It had been so long since he'd last seen him and John had wondered if one of the last friends he still had was still alive.

"Evan!" John greeted and Lorne stepped further into the room looking at everyone in turn.

"General O'Neill, Dr. McKay, …Colonel Sheppard," Lorne stumbled a bit over John's new rank but made up for it with a blinding smile. "It's good to see you again, Sir."

John felt weird having Evan call him Sir, but since John had been promoted now technically it was required of him.

"Major Lorne, I've been informed that you and Colonel Sheppard here are old friends. Why don't you go and show him who's gonna accompany you to Pegasus? Let him know about the … spring cleaning we did. I'm sure he'll appreciate it if you introduce him to the men before he has to go and read all those new files, huh?" O'Neill grinned, mischief dancing in his eyes.

"Spring cleaning, sir?" John asked carefully wondering if he really wanted to know.

"Oh, we've been getting rid of a few … outdated things, a few old fashioned ideas so to speak. All of our men have been checked thoroughly for any signs of problems regarding your status as a Guide and second in command of the military in Atlantis. As McKay put it, alien cultures and prejudice don't mix well, Colonel. And MajorLorne here made sure you won't run into any unpleasant surprises. The last thing I need on my base are homophobic idiots screwing up important missions," O'Neill was bouncing on the balls of his feet now, a gleeful look on his face. He had clearly had his fun kicking some people's asses.

"There's been a lot of changes since Sumner has been replaced as military leader of the Atlantis mission. To be honest, I never liked that guy," the general went on and John felt slightly lost for a moment. It was all happening so quickly.

"With your permission I'll take Colonel Sheppard to the others now, Sir," Lorne addressed O'Neill and John watched in fascination as the general slumped back into his chair and waved at them dismissively. "Go and have fun, kids. But don't break anything, alright?" He crossed his army behind his head and raised his eyebrows when neither John nor Rodney moved.

"Why are you still here? McKay, make sure your Guide keeps his fingers to himself. There's ancient tech around and we don't want to have any accident so close to departure, will ya? Oh and Sheppard, Lorne's all yours. He's going to Atlantis with you guys. Just … make sure you don't break him, he might be persuaded to do your paperwork. And now, out!" There was laughter in O'Neill's voice as he sent them out and John felt a little bit like Alice who fell through the rabbit hole.

This had to be some sort of strange hallucination. Standing in front of the now closed conference room door, John turned to look first at his Sentinel and then at his friend, before he asked, "What the hell just happened in there? Did I dream that or did he say he had our people screened for homophobia? And you are coming with us?" John asked Evan, who grinned cheekily and replied, "Wouldn't miss it for the world, … Sir."

"Yeah, me neither," John replied and found it was the truth.

Somehow he had a feeling everything would turn out for the best.