Recipient: pipisafoat

Pairing: Rodney Mckay/John Sheppard, Evan Lorne/Radek Zelenka

Rating: R

Word count: 28,375

Warnings: Character Death (assumed)

Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis, the characters and universe are the property of the Sci-Fi Channel and MGM.

Summary: After tragedy strikes, Rodney's friends watch as he tries to do everything in his power to find a way to set things right. Sometimes the lengths Rodney McKay would go to on behalf of John Sheppard amazed even him; especially when those lengths included not being able to tell a single person about what he'd done.

Notes: pipisafoat, you were very open and encouraging in your request, so I truly hope this is something you enjoy. Many thanks to my support team who shall go unnamed for now.

Rodney glanced up only briefly when he heard the door to his lab open on the heels of a perfunctory knuckle-rap. He'd known that it was Sheppard from the knock - Sheppard could make even his knock laconic - and the fact that the person entered the room without waiting for his verbal approval (an action that would, and had many times over, have gotten the enter-ee a vitriolic tongue-lashing); the quick look was just to confirm his suspicions. Sheppard's face spoke volumes to someone familiar with reading it. And Rodney was nothing if not a student of the John Sheppard school of emoting.

He bit back a sigh. "They said 'no'."

It wasn't a question.

"They said no," Sheppard agreed grimly.

Rodney paused a moment to pick up a fine-tipped soldering iron, touch the tip against the end of a spool of solder wire and then press it down on the micro-circuit board he was peering at through a lighted scope. There was a slight sizzle and miniscule puff of smoke wafted up.

"Building a transistor radio?" Sheppard quipped, moving closer to peer over Rodney's shoulder. He dodged the dismissive hand-flail - Rodney still held the soldering iron in that hand - and ignored Rodney's scoff.

"If you must know, I'm rewiring the power-converter on the visible spectrum ion modulation device."

"The whosits?

"It's the device that bends light around a person or figure and essentially renders them invisible due to the refractive properties of the charged ion particles that it emits.

"Ohh, the invisibility cloak?"

Barely missing his own cheek with the iron, Rodney diverted at the last second to put his forehead against the back of his wrist. Still, he assumed the message of the 'not-quite-a-facepalm' was clear enough. "Seriously? Who called it that? I want names."

John patted him on the shoulder. "I'll never tell. Doctor Lee's secret is safe with me."

Rodney looked up to see him smirking playfully. Unfortunately, he could also see that underneath the devil-may-care expression was the undercurrent of tension and frustration that had been plaguing both of them for far too long.

"When do you leave?"

Sheppard gestured with a quick cant of his head towards the door. "Now, actually. Daedalus leaves orbit in half an hour. Teyla and Ronon are already on board." His expression softened. "Did you talk to them? To Teyla?"

Rodney looked back down, not really seeing the exposed circuit board with its spider-legged capacitors, embedded chips and ferrite arrays, and swallowed. "Yeah," he replied, forcing his tone to stay even in spite of the emotion clogging his throat. "Earlier, they came by the lab," he said in a rush. "It was awful and there were too many tears and Ronon was a big, blubbery idiot."

"Ronon, hun?" Sheppard said, wry and amused.

"Yes, Ronon," Rodney snapped. And no, his eyes weren't getting misty again, no matter what it looked like. It was just the smoke from the soldered metal. The fumes were awful... really.

He felt Sheppard's hand close over his shoulder again. "I'm sorry they won't let you come along, buddy. But Ronon and Teyla understand. The SGC needs you here."

"Yes, yes, I know. I'm 'too important'," he did air quotes so hard that a knuckle popped, "to be away from the SGC for the time it would take to run to Pegasus, drop off our friends and then come home. The same as Atlantis is 'too important'," another cracking noise accompanied the forcefully repeated gesture, "to send back to Pegasus where it belongs..." he trailed off with a derisive snort.

He knew Sheppard agreed with him. They'd stood shoulder-to-shoulder, time and again, in front of dozens of IOA officials arguing and fighting and cajoling for the return of the Ancient city to its home galaxy. All to no avail. The IOA was standing firm in its decision that 'for the foreseeable future', Atlantis was to remain on Earth. They weren't ruling out a return entirely, but Rodney knew that was just double-talk to try to shut him up.

Rodney was convinced that his sudden elevated importance to over-seeing half-a-dozen projects along with the out-of-the-blue ruling that he couldn't join his teammates on the trip that would take the two Pegasus natives home (temporarily or permanently was yet to be determined) was some kind of punishment for his continual push to get Atlantis on her way. Sheppard had just come from one last attempt to convince General Landry to let Rodney join him on the trip.

The hand curled casually over his shoulder squeezed tighter and Rodney fought the impulse to reach up and take hold of it. He may have leaned into it just a little, though. "Just tell them... bye for me again, would you?"

"You got it, Rodney." Sheppard held the firm pressure on Rodney's shoulder for just a few more seconds and then let go as he moved towards the door. "Well, I'll see ya when I get back."

Rodney waved him off with a brusque, "Yes, go on so I can get back to my oh-so important work." He was going to need a mop for all of the sarcasm dripping from his voice.

Rodney held his tongue and swore up and down he wasn't going to add anything else, but when Sheppard was pulling the door shut behind him, he blurted, "Just, stay safe out there, okay? I mean, I'm not going to be there to keep you out of trouble. Don't do anything stupid."

He got the exact reply he expected, another of Sheppard's cocky grins and he scowled as it, and the man wearing it, disappeared behind the closed door.


Almost a month to the day later, another knock - this one tentative and soft - to his door had Rodney throwing down a thoroughly scorched crystal with a disgusted sigh. The sigh was half towards the crystal - which refused to cooperate with the battery of tests he'd put it through - and half towards whoever it was outside his door. He almost wished they'd barged right in because he really would've enjoyed berating someone just then.

When the door stayed shut after a few moments, Rodney blew out another aggrieved breath. "Well, come in."

Maybe he'd be able to get in that lambasting after all?

Sam Carter peeked her head around the door and Rodney felt a frisson of something sharp and cold chase down his spine. Sam was one of the few people at Stargate Command who ignored his 'knock, or else' policy.

When she said, "Rodney," in that quiet, awful tone he KNEW. That and the puffy, reddening around her over-wide eyes were a dead giveaway.

"It's Sheppard, isn't it?"

Sam nodded.

Rodney's mouth thinned to a narrow line and he lifted his chin, bracing as he asked, "The others? Ronon? Teyla?" He stopped himself there. Unable to keep going with names of the others he knew who'd been on the Daedalus.

"Are fine," she hurried to reassure him. "Everyone else is okay. Just..." she trailed off, looking awful and horrified.

"Just Sheppard," he concluded for her. He scrubbed at his face with his hand and then dragged it down with an abrupt jerk, feeling bitterness float to the top of the emotional miasma roiling inside of him. "So, what kind of ridiculously heroic and self-sacrificing thing did he do?"

Sam's eyes went wide. "Rodney!" and the tone may have been incredulity or chastisement, he couldn't tell.

"Please, Sam." Rodney cocked his head to the side and gave her his best 'are you really that thick' expression. "This is John Sheppard we're talking about." His chin lifted a little more, daring her to contradict. "You can't tell me that it wasn't something like that, can you?"

She stared at him for a few moments, and Rodney could tell she was trying to find a way to re-fashion the truth in order to deny his accusation. He managed not to roll his eyes when she finally gave a sad little head shake and said, "No, I can't."

"So what did he do?" There was a fury welling up to join the bitterness and from the way Sam flinched, Rodney knew he was letting all of this show. He fought harder to school his expression into something that might convey a more appropriate emotion. Obviously Sam was expecting an outpouring of grief, and it was there... somewhere, just not enough to overpower some of those other emotions. Not yet. "Just tell me how it happened."

"I don't have all the details, just the preliminary report." Sam said. "Daedalus dropped out of hyperspace just when they reached the outer rim of the galaxy so they could notify us. Apparently the Daedalus was already on her way back to the Milky Way, just on the edge of Pegasus, when they picked up a distress signal."

"While in hyperspace?" Rodney interrupted to ask.

Sam nodded. "Yeah. That's why they decided to investigate. They traced it to a planet with an orbital gate. From their scans they determined the planet was pretty heavily populated, but technically not very advanced. The distress call was quite beyond them, technically speaking.

"So, Sheppard took two teams down to investigate. They located the source of the distress call as coming from some kind of Ancient facility, and then specifically to an unknown device inside the facility. Apparently, it appeared to be sending the signal due to an overload building within the device. They're not sure what activated the device, whether that was due to malfunction or age, but it essentially required input from an ATA carrier to deactivate. Readings also suggested that the overload could trigger secondary explosions at several smaller outposts positioned on the planet. There were thousands of lives in the balance."

Rodney's shoulders slumped. He could already fill in the rest. Sheppard, with his uber-ATA gene expression, had probably decided to investigate the device himself. Maybe he figured he could disable it, or prevent it from doing whatever it was going to do that would result in catastrophic death for the whole of the planet, or a basket of puppies, or whatever the hell else.

Rodney visualized the scene as it likely played out. Sheppard idly wandering over to a console and pointing out that it powered on, or there were blinky lights, or something else ridiculous like that. And then, instead of doing the smart thing and letting the accompanying scientist check it out, he'd have put his hand on it, or leaned on it, or smiled at the damn thing. And then it would have responded by doing something that made Sheppard decide that he was the only one who could fix it or activate it, or piss it off; allowing him to make some stupid, sacrificial move - the kind that Rodney had been holding in check for so many damn years...

"From the reports," Rodney shook his head and picked up the thread of Sam's ongoing explanation, "after he stepped on the platform, there was a flash of light and then Sheppard was just... gone." She looked ceiling-ward, trying to regain her composure and then continued. "There was a pile of ash on the platform he'd been standing on. It was instantaneous," she added in a rush, as if that might make hearing it any better. "Unfortunately, activating it seemed to have also triggered some kind of failsafe which caused a smaller, secondary overload and there was an explosion. The team was unable to restore the device or even retrieve it because the damage was irreparable."

"So there's no body?" Rodney asked, a sudden thought springing to mind. "There's no actual proof that he's dead?" Rodney wasn't sure why, but he latched onto that like a drowning man grasping at life preserver. Something deep within him was screaming that it was important; that he not lose sight of it.

"Rodney." This time the duality in Sam's tone was sympathy and frustration, "there was a pile of ash left behind. The Daedalus even stayed in orbit for days searching the other outposts and scanning the planet for Sheppard's subcutaneous transmitter. They found nothing. I know you don't want to believe it... but it's the truth. John is gone."

Rodney waved that away with a dismissive hand, mind already moving far beyond the conversation. "John Sheppard has narrowly avoided dying on more occasions than I can count. And I mean that, I finally gave up counting when I couldn't find categories appropriate to some of his death-inviting antics. And yes, I meant death-inviting, not death-defying, although they're that too." He could see that Sam was about to protest again, and he held up a hand. "Okay, fine. Ash, I get it." His shoulders slumped again and he gave a little gesture towards the door. "Could you please just go?"

"Rodney," she said plaintively, eyes welling, "I'm not telling you this to hurt you. I just don't want you to have false hope. You know I want it not to be true as much as you do, but you just have to believe me."

"Sam," he replied, not ungently, "I appreciate what you're trying to do. And I'm not questioning your own grief. Believe me, I know that Sheppard was important to you, too, but I just..." he scrambled for something that would get her out of his lab, "... need to be alone right now. I need to process this, on my own," he hurriedly tacked on when it seemed like she was going to interrupt. "Please." Rodney saw her waver, saw the beginning of a step backward and then that determined lean forward and knew he was going to be hugged.

He braced for it.

There were fresh tears on her cheeks when she lunged forward across the short gap between them and wrapped her arms around him. He held still for a moment, and then figured 'what the hell, how often did he have Sam Carter in his arms' (working with her on Atlantis had finally quashed the crush he'd had for so long, but she was still Sam) and gave in to the urge to return the hug. It was particularly nice. She fit pretty well in his arms and wasn't holding back. He gave her back a few reassuring pats just to hurry it along though.

She let go just before things started to get awkward and pulled back with a watery, barely-there smile. "I'm here if you need me, Rodney." Thankfully at those words she turned away, seemed to square her shoulders, and then left his lab.

He waited a minute then followed her path to door and locked it. Then he leaned forward and pressed his head against the cool metal of the door.

John Sheppard dead?

Rodney just couldn't bring himself to believe it.

Which was odd, really, because it was one of the things he feared most in his life and had been steeling himself for since practically right after he met the man.

Maybe Sam was right and he just didn't want to believe it. Or maybe he couldn't bring himself to believe because he hadn't been there when it happened. He'd always figured that he'd be there when John finally won out in his bid to off himself in one of his crazy, suicidal, ridiculously heroic stunts. He'd always pictured himself right there with John, frantically scrambling to do something equally crazy and impossible to try to save Sheppard and Atlantis and the galaxy.

Rodney'd imagined... no, he'd known that when John Sheppard died, he'd be there with him, because Rodney never planned on living beyond the man. They were supposed to go out together.

And now Sheppard was dead and he was alive and nothing made sense.

John Sheppard just couldn't be dead. Rodney had never gotten to tell the man how he felt about him.

Every single time they'd faced a life or death situation and he thought Sheppard was gone he would swear up and down to himself that he was going to do it... just come out and admit to years of feelings and emotions and thoughts that would probably have sent Sheppard running for the hills. And then he'd find out Sheppard was alive and the opportunity was just waiting for him, and... he'd chicken out.

After the Wraith super-hive and nearly losing Sheppard for the umpteenth time, Rodney had finally told himself that he was just going to bite the bullet and tell the man how he felt. Explain to him that he'd always cared more deeply than made sense. That he'd tried to bury it by pushing his energy into relationships that were destined not to have a future (Jennifer had at least wised up to that and been very kind when she broke it off with him). That at the end of the day, the only person he saw himself having any kind of a life with was John.

But then the news came that Atlantis was being grounded for an indeterminate future, and Rodney was 'temporarily' reassigned to the SGC and he couldn't bring himself to saddle Sheppard with that kind of guilt. Not when they were stuck on Earth and everything was so uncertain and they were saying goodbye to their team and the only family they ever needed.

He chickened out. Again.

And now he'd never get another chance, because Sheppard was dead.


Something about this didn't feel right. Even if he hadn't been there with Sheppard, even if it didn't fit with any of the innumerable visions he'd had of Sheppard's death, he just couldn't believe that the man was dead.

Rodney threw his head back in frustration and winced when the back of it bounced off the door. He blinked. When had he ended up on the floor? His knees were pulled up, elbows braced against them, and his palms - pressed over his face - were damp. He swiped a forearm across his eyes and his sleeve came away dark-streaked with moisture. Okay, so maybe he wasn't taking this quite as well as he'd thought.

"Great," he muttered as he levered himself up off the floor and then had to reach out an arm to steady himself. "Uncontrolled crying jags. Next thing you know I'll be talking to myself." He gave a bitter smile at that, half expecting some kind of witty rejoinder to come from the empty room.

Rodney pushed off of the door and returned to his desk. He typed out a quick e-mail to Sam. He assumed she wouldn't be at her desk, and if he wanted immediate answers he'd probably be better off tracking her down, but waiting for a reply would give him more time to think.


When does the Daedalus get back?

Who was with Sheppard when it happened?

Do Teyla and Ronon know?


He hoped they'd at least contacted Ronon and Teyla. Both Lorne and Zelenka were on the Daedalus (Rodney had insisted that if he wasn't allowed, they at least bring one competent scientist along), so he trusted that they'd have argued for it. If Teyla and Ronon DID know, what did that mean for their status in Pegasus? Would they come back to Earth? It was selfish, but Rodney hoped so. If he did actually accept that Sheppard was gone, he didn't know how he'd be able to get through it without his team.

Ronon had planned to stay on New Athos with Teyla for at least a little while. He'd also planned on coming back to Earth during one of the Daedalus' promised future trips. But Rodney knew that the likelihood of continued travel to Pegasus was all talk. The IOA would maybe allow a few more Daedalus runs to the other galaxy, maybe, but then they'd come up with some justification as to why they couldn't put the concerns of another galaxy above their own and stop the trips altogether.

And perhaps with what happened to Sheppard, they'd call them off sooner?

Rodney needed to get to Pegasus himself. To go to the planet and see what happened. He was fairly sure that only then would he be able to accept this for himself.

What he needed was time to think and to plan. He needed to step back from his work at the SGC and figure out a way to focus his efforts on getting Atlantis back to Pegasus and from there, finding out the truth about Sheppard. If, by some crazy miracle, Sheppard was still alive? Rodney couldn't leave him alone out there.

Fingers flying over the keyboard, he typed up half-dozen e-mails reassigning his current projects temporarily, and then set his Out of Office notification, stating quite simply that he wasn't to be disturbed, for anything. He knew he'd be forgiven the need to take a day or two to himself.

He finished typing and hit 'send' on the last message, just as Sam's reply hit his mailbox.


The Daedalus is still a week and a half out. They've just hit the edge of the Milky Way.

Major Lorne, Dr. Zelenka, Sergeants Meacham and Brandemere and Private Lewis were all down on the planet when it happened. I don't have details on who was specifically with Colonel Sheppard when he entered the device.

Yes. Major Lorne ensured that they were informed. He gated to New Athos shortly after it happened. Ronon came back on the Daedalus but Teyla wasn't able to return right away.

If you need someone to talk to, I'm here.


Rereading the e-mail two more times provided no more context than the first time through, so Rodney closed it and then sat down to think. He wouldn't find out more until the Daedalus was back, so he needed to focus on the situation with Atlantis.

Suddenly an idea came to Rodney's head. It just sprung to mind, practically fully formed. He had to laugh at the simplicity of it, and then realized he was sitting alone in his empty lab laughing a bit desperately and bit down on the odd combination of hysterical giggles and tears that seemed to be welling up.

Once he got control of himself - as much as he could manage - Rodney got to work. The overall concept might be simple, but carrying it out was going to take all that he had, and more.


Sam stopped outside the closed door to Rodney's lab and took a deep breath, steeling herself for what she was pretty sure wasn't going to be the most pleasant encounter.

Rodney's initial reaction to the news of Sheppard's death had been concerning, to say the least; the anger and bitterness hadn't really been a surprise, but the surety of doubt and absence of grief were. When she'd received notification from Rodney that he wanted to take some time off and reassign his projects, Sam had taken that as a good sign. Hopeful that he was going to allow himself to grieve. Landry had approved the time off without a second thought.

Then just a day and a half later, Rodney was back to work, claiming that he needed something to keep him busy. Sam hadn't liked hearing it, but she could almost understand.

But then he kicked almost everyone off of his project teams, moved to a remote lab two floors up, shut himself up in the new space and barely spoke to anyone.

And from the reports Sam was getting, when he did speak, it was only to viciously lash out, calling people imbeciles and morons and to laboriously berate them for their poor performance. He was rude and hostile in a way she'd never seen before. Even the smarmy, know-it-all attitude he'd had when she first met him would have been welcome over this cold, cruel detachment.

She didn't bother to knock - these days especially, it set Rodney off - and just let herself into his lab. He was hunched over a workstation, focused on whatever device it was that he had open to his explorations on the table.


He ignored her. She hoped he was just so engrossed in his work that he'd tuned out his surroundings and that he wasn't deliberately shutting her out.

She tried again, a little louder. "Rodney."

He looked up at her finally, but only for a moment, and then dropped his head back to his work. "What is it, Colonel? I'm working."

Ouch. He rarely referred to her as Colonel when it was just the two of them.

"Rodney," she began as calmly as possible, "we need to talk about your behavior." She ignored his derisive snort. "There are at least a dozen complaints being leveled against you by your fellow scientists," she also ignored the uncomplimentary things he said about 'fellow scientists' under his breath. "Look, Rodney. I don't think you're dealing with things very well. And I want to help."

Rodney set down the micrometer he'd been using and turned his full attention on her. He looked awful. Worn and haggard in a way she hadn't seen in very long time. Likely not since Teyla went missing back on Atlantis.

"Look, Sam, I appreciate that you're concerned about me, but I'm doing exactly what I need to be doing in order to deal with this. I need to focus on my work right now." He scowled. "In case you hadn't noticed, the rest of my team and most of the senior staff from Atlantis aren't here. It's just me. And therefore this," he waved at his lab and the device in front of him, "is how I need to deal with it."

"Rodney, they'll be here." She sighed. That had to be the hardest thing for him: going through this alone. She'd always had the other members of her team around when things went bad.

When they'd lost Daniel for the first time (and subsequent times after that), she and Jack and Teal'c supported each other through it. Rodney was at the SGC pretty much alone right now. At least until the Daedalus got back. The only person she knew he considered a friend who hadn't gone to Pegasus was Carson Beckett, but he was still off-world, having been dispatched on a humanitarian mission for the past several weeks. He'd been notified and told to come back as soon as he was able. Sam hoped that might be as soon as tomorrow.

"Look, Rodney, I'm not going to fight with you about needing to work. I get that," she looked him in the eyes to make sure he would see her sincerity, "I do. But just please try to keep the remarks to a minimum. I don't want to have to make you take a mandatory leave, and I meant it when I said I wanted to help; so I'm going to tell Landry that we'll put out a notice to the entire science department that unless you specifically request assistance, you're not to be disturbed."

For a moment something genuine and a little sad flashed across Rodney's face. It disappeared before Sam could interpret it fully, and Rodney nodded. "Thanks."

Figuring that was probably the best time to retreat - before things got uncomfortable again - Sam just returned the nod and then left the lab, pulling the door shut behind her. She wasn't sure, but she thought she heard the sound of the door lock engaging as she got a bit further down the hall.


Carson stepped through the gate already walking fast. He paused long enough in the Embarkation room to drop his gear and hand off the cases he was carrying to a waiting soldier, and then hurried to track down Rodney. When he arrived at what had been Rodney's lab the last time he was back on base, he found it occupied by two other scientists that he didn't recognize, told that 'McKay was off being a hermit' and was redirected to another floor.

He was breathing hard by the time he found right lab. He'd taken two wrong turns, had to be escorted party way by a marine and then finally happened to find it when he thought he should be turning around. He tried to let himself in but the door was locked, so he rapped on the heavy metal door with the side of a fist. "Rodney, it's Carson. Open up, will you?"

He waited what seemed like forever until he finally heard the door unlock and it swung open. "Oh, Rodney," Carson blurted and grabbed his friend up into a hug. He told himself he wasn't going to cry, dammit. That he needed to be strong for Rodney's sake.

Rodney tolerated the embrace, and the sniffling and what might have been a bit of sobbing - but didn't really react. He was stiff and quiet and though he gave Carson a few back-pats, there was very little energy in his actions. He extracted himself eventually and then wearily slumped down onto a stool.

"Glad you're here, Carson." He gave a wan little smile. Then leaned over to pull another stool out from under a workbench and push it towards Carson.

Settling himself on the too-tall stool, Carson looked at Rodney carefully; studying him with a doctor's eyes as much as a friend's. He looked just awful; like he hadn't had a proper meal or a good night's sleep in days. He was unshaven, his eyes were sunken and shadowed and his skin was sallow. He looked, frankly, like he'd been drained by a Wraith. "I'm so sorry I wasn't here sooner, Rodney. What a terrible thing to be facing this alone."

Carson didn't know what else to say.

Rodney just shrugged. "I've been keeping busy." He stood then and walked over to a desk that was shunted away into one corner of the room. He rummaged around in one of the bottom drawers and then pulled out a clear, unlabeled glass bottle full of some amber liquid. "Think I could use this," he said, lifting the bottle towards Carson, who nodded. He also grabbed two coffee mugs and poured a liberal amount in each and then carried them back over to the stools.

At this point Carson didn't care what it was, he just accepted the mug that was handed to him and lifted it in a toast. "To John Sheppard."

"John Sheppard," Rodney repeated, draining his glass in one long swallow.

Carson frowned, but took a hasty sip of his own. And then a much longer pull. Apparently Rodney kept a very nice single-malt in that unlabeled bottle.

Rodney poured another liberal splash in each glass. This time he just started down into the contents of his mug. "Carson," he finally said, "do you remember when John ended up in that time dilation field?"

Carson nodded. "Of course. Poor man. Six long months he waited for us, thinking we'd all but given up on him." Realizing that wasn't exactly the best memory, he hurried to add, "But of course you figured it out right away, and got him out of there as fast as possible. Who knows how long he'd have been stuck there if you hadn't. Why do you ask?"

"Sheppard didn't suffer any ill-effects being displaced from normal time for so long, did he? I mean, there wasn't anything that affected him physically as a result, right?"

"No," Carson shook his head. "Not that I recall. He had a few vitamin deficiencies as a result of the diet he'd been living on, but otherwise he was the picture of health." Such a strange question to have. "What brought that on, Rodney?"

Rodney waved that away with a dismissive gesture. "Just an idle thought."

Carson frowned. Rodney'd never had an 'idle thought' in his life that wasn't accompanied by a thousand other, purposeful thoughts. Oh dear. He wasn't after thinking that John was still alive somewhere, trapped again, was he?

"Rodney, you don't... I mean, I don't want to sound like I'm being daft, but..."

"Spit it out, Carson." Rodney said, though the barest hint of a smile softened the demand.

"You don't think that John's not dead, do you?"

"Of course he's not dead, Carson. This is John Sheppard we're talking about."

"Rodney, that's not a very --"

"I know it sounds crazy," Rodney interrupted, "and you probably think I should track down the base psychologist, but I just don't think that John Sheppard is dead." He threw up his hands wildly, splashing the remaining alcohol in his mug onto the floor. "Maybe it's just because I wasn't there to see it, but until I have more information, I'm not counting Sheppard out just yet."

"Och, Rodney. You know that's just going to make it harder to face the truth when you finally do accept it." He didn't want to quash Rodney's hope, but clinging to something like this was only going to hurt him in the end.

"You're probably right, Carson. But until I can get some closure on this, I don't think I'll be able to accept it. And I have a feeling that even after I find out what happened, closure's going to be hard to come by."

"Isn't there going to be a funeral?" Carson asked. Cliché as it was, funerals often did offer some sense of closure.

Rodney shrugged, which was an odd response to the question. "No. Not yet anyway. Sheppard's requests were very specific." Rodney snorted inelegantly. "Although for a guy who tempted death as often as he did, it's no surprise he gave this a-lot of thought."

"There's some Military legalese, but basically it boils down to that in the event of his death either in Pegasus or offworld from Earth, he didn't want anything done formally for six months, just in case." He eyed Carson significantly at that. "And then his preference was for a memorial to be held in Pegasus to make sure his whole team could be there. He wanted elements from Athosian and Satedan as well as Earth customs to be included. Then he wanted to be cremated and his ashes taken up in a jumper and released into space. Suppose that's not an option now." He shook his head, eyes going distant for a moment then came back to himself with a cough.

"Anyway, he also had a stipulation that notification to family be delayed for a similar time frame. So, his brother won't be told for another couple of months. I expect he'll probably arrange something formal, though whether or not any of us will be included in that is unclear."

Carson couldn't help but cringe through Rodney's explanation. He almost wished he'd considered such a thing in his own Will. Being a clone of the 'original' Carson Beckett who'd been killed in the tumor explosion meant that his family had buried the Carson they knew; and that he wasn't able to communicate with them again. That had been one of the worst things about finding out he WAS a clone. He imagined that John had that in mind when making such an odd-seeming request in his own final instructions. Carson shook his head ruefully and gave a small smile. "Guess he learned a thing or two from all the crazy stuff that happens when you work for the SGC."

"Yeah, he sure did. And so did I." Rodney declared. "Which is why I can't count him out just yet."

Clearly getting Rodney to change his mind on that - at least for now - was a battle Carson couldn't win.

"Do you need me to stay here, Rodney? For a time at least?" Carson asked instead. He'd been on a relief mission for the SGC aiding several Jaffa planets that were dealing with the aftermath of the Ori plagues. It was important work and he couldn't abandon it indefinitely, but he was still worried about Rodney and didn't want to leave him alone.

Rodney shrugged off the offer with a flip of his hand. "No, Carson. I'm fine. The Daedalus is due back next week and Ronon and Zelenka and Lorne are onboard. I'll be okay until then. You get back to doing your Doctors without Borders thing. Just stop by now and again, would you?"

Carson nodded, "I can definitely do that, my friend."

"Now," Rodney said, grabbing at the bottle that he'd set on the counter and giving it an inviting shake. "Why don't we finish this off and drink to the memory of John Sheppard."

"I can definitely do that as well!" Carson said with a chuckle.


When the flash of white light from the beam down faded, Evan took a moment to let his body adjust to being back on Earth. Despite the claims that the body shouldn't notice the difference in artificial gravity, Evan still felt like he had to resettle himself to the pull of the planet.

He glanced over to see Zelenka patting himself down as if to make sure every part of him had been successfully transported down from the Daedalus, and managed a soft smile. It faded the moment he looked up and saw Rodney McKay striding towards him. This was definitely a moment he'd been dreading.

He felt Zelenka move closer to him, offering comfort or presenting a united front, either of which was welcome and Evan bumped his shoulder softly, to let him know he appreciated the gesture.

"Major, Radek" Rodney was already saying as he hurried up to them, "I need to talk to you both."

Evan drew in a deep breath. "About Colonel Sheppard?"

McKay's eye roll was theatrically over the top. "Of course about Sheppard." He stopped a few feet away and waved Evan and Zelenka over to join him. "C'mon, I don't want to do this here," he gestured with an expansive arm that took in the whole of the Embarkation room. "And where's Ronon?"

Since McKay started to walk away just after that Evan and Zelenka hurried to follow as Evan replied, "he got beamed directly down to the infirmary."

That stopped McKay in his tracks. He spun around, demanding, "infirmary? Why?"

Zelenka fielded that one before Evan could. "Is nothing serious. A fractured ulna."

Rodney opened his mouth to ask, and again, Zelenka jumped in. "Ronon has been," he glanced over at Evan - who gave a quick shrug - and then concluded as diplomatically as possible, "uh, dealing with his grief in his own way."

"Let me guess," Rodney said with a resigned sort of shake of his head as he started walking again, "he's been beating up marines and took on half a dozen at once."

"Eight, actually." Zelenka corrected, and Rodney looked back with a raised brow.

"Huh. That tops his old record." He sounded impressed. "So why wasn't he treated for a broken arm before reaching earth? I assume he's sent more than one of those idiots who were stupid enough to fight him to the infirmary?"

"You're right," Evan confirmed. "Twelve men injured in total, thirteen broken bones and seven fractures amongst quite a few other injuries. They were all treated in the Daedalus' sick bay, and Caldwell put a stop to the sparring sessions. Ronon refused treatment initially, but Caldwell insisted on the beam down to the Infirmary when Ronon came on to the bridge an hour ago with his arm swollen and a dozen different shades of bruised."

Rodney shook his head. "He's so stubborn sometimes. Well, c'mon. Let's go see him." He turned down the corridor that led to the infirmary. "And Teyla? I only heard that she wasn't able to come back. I didn't hear why. Is everything okay?"

"She wanted to come, but Torren has Menarian Pox," Lorne explained. "Caldwell wouldn't let us bring them onboard and Teyla couldn't leave him behind." Even after Caldwell had refused (though he'd felt terrible about having to do so) Teyla had been torn about leaving. But in rare cases Menarian Pox could develop a secondary infection that was especially dangerous to the young and elderly, and Teyla couldn't risk it.

"That's ridiculous!" Rodney protested, though it was halfhearted. "It's not like they don't have protocols in place for quarantine situations." He continued grumbling until they reached the SGC Infirmary.

Ronon looked up when they came in, spotted McKay and started to get up, but a petite, non-nonsense Doctor put a hand on his chest and pushed him back down on the gurney. "You're not getting up until we're done wrapping this," she warned. "And if I have to have you sedated or stunned to accomplish that, I will."

Reluctantly, Ronon settled back down, but he nodded towards Rodney. "Can we just uh, have a minute?"

The Doctor eyed him warily, and then relented with a sigh. "Just don't get up and don't move that arm," she warned before walking to the other end of the infirmary to give Ronon and Rodney some privacy.

Evan held Zelenka back when he started into the room. "Just give them a minute, Doc," he said in a hushed tone. As much as they were all Ronon and Rodney's friends, Evan knew this was a Team thing and that they'd need some time.

They watched from the doorway as Rodney moved over to the gurney and he and Ronon just started at each other in silence. Then Rodney stepped forward and awkwardly threw an arm over Ronon's shoulder and leaned in to speak to him.

Lorne couldn't hear what was being said, but Rodney was animated and Ronon's reactions varied from alarmed to angry and then to just plain puzzled. It seemed like a very strange conversation, considering what Evan expected they'd be talking about. Eventually Ronon just shook his head and laughed (laughed?) and then, despite Doctor's orders (and Rodney's protests) wrapped both of his arms around Rodney to squeeze him far too tight - if Rodney's complaint were to be believed.

The nurse chased them out at that point.

"Uh, McKay, what was that all about?" Evan had to ask.

"Hrm? What was what about?"

Evan hitched a thumb over his shoulder. "Whatever you said to Ronon that had him laughing."

"Oh, um, nothing," he gave a little shake of his head. "Just, you know Ronon. Laugh in the face of death, that sort of thing."

He said it so carefully dismissive, Evan knew he was lying. But he held his tongue and continued to follow McKay through the labyrinthine hallways of the SGC. "Uh, McKay, where are we going?"

"My lab. It's just a bit further."

"They really stuck you in the middle of nowhere, didn't they?"

"Actually," Rodney said as they finally reached a closed door and he waved a key card in front of a scanner. "I requested the space myself. Got tired of people bugging me all the time."

Zelenka let out a low whistle when they finally got inside. Evan had to agree. It was a pretty big lab. "All to yourself, huh?"

"Of course." He said it like there was no other option, and Evan supposed that for him, there wasn't. The SGC seemed to want to keep Rodney happy (or quiet, as he and Sheppard had discussed during the trip to Pegasus) and if giving him a huge lab in an out of the way corner at the SGC would do it, then it got done.

Rodney waited long enough for them both to get settled into seats and then looked at Evan and said, "So tell me what happened."

Evan told him everything he could remember, and Zelenka filled in the gaps. Rodney asked dozens of pointed questions and prodded them into providing details Evan hadn't even realized he'd been aware of. Reliving that day sucked, and even though Rodney didn't react outwardly, Evan knew it had to be tough for him to hear.

He honestly didn't know which would be worse to live with: having been there and unable to prevent it, or not having been there and being unable to even try.

It took over two hours to go through it all and afterwards Rodney pleaded a headache and all but chased them from his lab. Evan stopped Radek when they got outside of the room and the door shut behind them. He knew the base pretty well and knew where there were hidden angles on the security feeds. Maybe by accident, or maybe deliberately, Rodney's lab doors were out of line of sight of any cameras.

Evan took advantage of this and pulled Radek into his arms. Going through that again had been tough on both of them, and he needed the comfort as much as he was sure Radek did. He didn't hold on long, it was too dangerous, but it was enough to feel just a little bit of that pain recede.


Radek placed a fruit cup on his already laden tray and then turned away from the line to survey the mess. He spotted Lorne sitting alone at a table in a quiet corner and went over to join him. He got a quick smile in greeting as he settled down next to him and Radek returned it warmly.

They ate in relative silence for a few minutes, chatting here and there about when Radek would be returning to Atlantis, and when Evan's next scheduled offworld mission was, but Radek knew they both had other things on their mind to bring up. He recognized that pensive expression on Evan's face. He'd gotten to know it rather well in the weeks on the Daedalus.

"Is Rodney acting strange to you?" Radek finally said during a lull, asking the question he figured they were both thinking, and then amended, "I mean, stranger than usual?"

Evan nodded. "Yeah, I mean I expected him to want to know what happened, but I guess I expected anger, or..." he trailed off with a shrug. "I dunno, something more upset, I guess."

"Exactly," Radek said, pointing at Evan with his fork. "He is far too quiet about all of this." He paused to stabs the tines of the utensil into a chunk of potato. "It has been what? Three weeks?"

Evan nodded. "Twenty-two days," he confirmed with a tight frown.

And that was painful. To know that Evan was still counting by the day. He knew the other man took it personally that he'd been on the mission with Sheppard when it happened. That he hadn't prevented it. Then again, Radek felt the same. If he'd gotten to the device before Sheppard, maybe it wouldn't have activated and he could've prevented...

Radek stopped those thoughts in their tracks. He'd been over it time and again and knew that there was no going back. Some of what he was thinking must've shown on his face though, because Evan slid his hand over and let his fingers shift over Radek's on the table top. It wasn't overt, but still, he appreciated the gesture nonetheless, especially knowing that Evan had to be careful and something so small as even this could be a risk.

"Can't do that to yourself, Doc." Evan said, his voice low with concern.

"I could say the same to you, no?"

That earned him a culpable little shrug. "I suppose."

Distracted as he was, Radek didn't notice Rodney approaching their table until he was standing next to it.

"I'm not interrupting, am I?" Rodney's brows lifted as he looked down at the table where Radek realized that his hand was still under Evan's. It wasn't that he cared if Rodney knew; it was just that he didn't want to rub anything in. Radek yanked his hand back, but Lorne just rolled his to the side and casually picked up his fork.

"Nope," Lorne replied smoothly. "We'd be glad to have you join us, McKay."

"Good, good." Rodney took a seat and set his tray down but then pushed it aside as he leaned forward across the table and hissed, "Radek, I need a favor."

"Anything, Rodney, you know you need only ask."

"Good. I need to get on Atlantis."

Radek tilted his head curiously. "I shouldn't think that would be a problem, Rodney? Or have you been forbidden from visiting Atlantis." He frowned. If that were the case, it definitely lent credence to the theory that someone thought he was planning on hijacking the city.

Rodney shook his head. "No, I haven't, but it can't be just a visit. I need to be there for a period of time where I won't be..." he paused and seemed to be sorting through and discarding several explanations. "I need to be there to help you out so I can work without a deadline. It's got to be something non-specific that will allow me to come and go as I please."

Radek nodded. "I'm sure I can come up with something." He raised an eyebrow. "I don't suppose you care to tell me why I'm doing this for you?

Rodney's face shuttered. "Um, I just," he flipped a dismissive hand. "I just need some time away from the SGC. Normally when I'm on allowed back on Atlantis it's for a specific purpose and I've got people managing my time. I need a break from that." He actually tried for a sort of wounded, wide-eyed expression that Radek tried very hard not to laugh at. "But if you find some sort of issue that needs my urgent assistance, but won't require a lot of people to get involved, I can get the kind of peace and quiet I need."

"You know," Lorne chimed in, and Radek recognized his 'don't bullshit me' expression, "if you wanted some time off, you could just ask for some vacation time."

"No, no." Rodney protested, oddly vehement for the innocence of the comment. "I need to keep busy. I just need to..."

"Right, keep busy somewhere that isn't here." Lorne finished for him.


Radek glanced between the two of them. Lorne merely looked curious and Rodney less defensive, but still wary. "It will be no problem, Rodney." He cocked his head, "You know, I think the Stardrive needs recalibration. Is tricky job. I don't trust anyone else to do it. Might take some time to get it just right though. Three or four days? You could start tomorrow?"

Rodney nodded, "That would be perfect," and his sigh of relief made the suggestion worthwhile. "Thanks, Radek." He looked over to Lorne, "You too, Major."

"No problem, Doc."

At that, Rodney got up. "Aren't you even going to finish your lunch?" Radek asked.

Rodney looked down at his tray like he'd forgotten it was there. "Oh, right." He picked it up. "I'll just take this back to my lab." He nodded at them and then left the cafeteria.

"He's up to something." Evan said matter-of-factly after Rodney walked away.

Radek nodded. "Yes, he is."

"Something to do with Atlantis."

Another nod. "No doubt."

"So, what do we do about it?"

It gave Radek such a thrill that Evan assumed they'd make a decision about this together.

Radek gave a deliberately casual shrug. "I say there is nothing to know about, so nothing we need to do."

The corner of Lorne's mouth quirked up and he tipped his coffee cup in acknowledgement. "Right, there's nothing to know about."


"And this is the palm scanner for opening the Iris," Walter Harriman explained and Chuck nodded. He was only about an hour into his training and it was all pretty easy to pick up on so far. He was glad that the SGC had finally decided to find a place for him, since they determined his presence on Atlantis wasn't necessary at the moment, but was definitely going to miss being in the city - even floating on Earth's ocean as she was.

He listened quietly as Walter went on to describe the protocol for activating and deactivating the Iris. It wasn't the same mechanism as the shield on Atlantis's gate, but the concept was similar enough.

Which was pretty much true of everything about working here at the SGC. It wasn't going to be the same as on Atlantis, Chuck knew, where he ended up privy to most everything that was going on in the city, simply because he spent so much time in Stargate Operations that conversations and actions went on around him as if he wasn't even there.

The Control Room at the SGC was certainly a hub of activity, though he knew that much of the discussion and decision making went on behind the scenes in the main conference room. Still, Chuck liked to know what was going on and this was as close to the center of the action as he could get.

He was about to ask Walter's thoughts on 'gut feelings' for Iris controls (goodness knew that happened often enough with the gate shield on Atlantis) when a commotion from the floor of the Embarkation room caught his attention. A loud, aggressive voice calling "McKay," echoed all the way upstairs through the glass. He moved to the window to see what was happening and watched Ronon stalk across the room to grab McKay's shoulder and spin him around.

"Don't ignore me, McKay."

"I'm not ignoring you, you Neanderthal," McKay spat, yanking his shoulder out from Ronon's grip. "And stop manhandling me."

"Oh, I'll do more than that," Ronon growled, stepping closer to loom over Doctor McKay. Chuck had done some hand-to-hand training with Ronon and would not have wanted to be on the receiving end of that kind of rage. Even when Ronon was being careful, he was dangerous.

"What's your problem," McKay asked, and he wasn't backing down. He was either brave or stupid. Or, Chuck had to allow, like most of the Atlantis personnel, still dealing with his grief.

"You're my problem, McKay. I just heard that you're supporting the decision to keep Atlantis here in your galaxy instead of sending it home." Ronon sounded both angry and hurt.

Chuck watched Rodney do that chin-lift thing he did when he was getting defensive and he wanted to close his eyes because whatever was coming, wasn't going to be good. Although, he couldn't blame Ronon for his outrage. Had McKay really done that? He'd been the most vocal proponent for getting Atlantis home, and to have just given up? It made no sense to Chuck.

"Yes," McKay gave a quick little jerky nod, but didn't break his eye contact with Ronon. "I wised up, Ronon. I realized that it's a futile effort. They're not going to send Atlantis back and the sooner I accept that, the better."

"Sheppard wouldn't want that, and you know it. If he were here, he'd be pissed." And oh, that had to sting. Chuck couldn't imagine that Ronon had wanted to hurt Rodney, but his reactions certainly showed that comment cut deep.

McKay's eyes squeezed shut for a moment before he opened them and said, "Yes, well, Sheppard isn't here now, is he. In fact, it was because of that damn galaxy and all its crap that he's not here. So, I'm done with concerning myself over the happenings of a place millions of light-years away, and am going to focus on a galaxy that I can actually help."

Ronon seemed a bit taken aback by that, if the flummoxed expression on his face was anything to go by. He recovered quickly though and narrowed his eyes viciously as he asked, "What about Teyla? You just going to abandon her?"

Chuck winced on Rodney's behalf. That was an emotional low-blow.

McKay did that stiffened chin lift again and said, "I'm going to accept the fact that we're not going back and I'm going to take some small bit of comfort that Teyla is at least with the people she loves. You should probably do the same." He turned away then, clearly telegraphing that he was done with the discussion.

"Damn you, McKay." Ronon ground out between clenched teeth. Chuck watched as he reached out again to yank Rodney around by his shoulder, but he certainly wasn't expecting the fist that swung up to impact with Rodney's face.

Holy crap!

McKay went down like he'd taken a wraith-stunner blast, and Ronon just stood over him, glaring down and looking furious and sad and guilty all at once.

Caught for a moment in stunned disbelief, Chuck came back to himself already scrambling down the staircase that took him to the Embarkation room. He waited as several marines moved in - very carefully - to corral Ronon and get him out of there. Ronon looked up at him, gave a quick jerk of his head towards McKay, and Chuck nodded that he got the message, and then eventually let himself be escorted out.

Chuck knelt down next to Rodney, who was cupping a hand over his face, and said, "C'mon, let's get you to the infirmary." He held out a hand and helped get Rodney to his feet. Then he walked an oddly quiet and subdued Rodney McKay to the medical center. He handed Rodney off to a nurse and was surprised that before he could leave, McKay reached out to grab at his arm.

"Uh, thanks." He looked genuinely grateful.

Chuck just ducked his head and shrugged. It wasn't anything else he wouldn't have done for anyone, but he suspected that McKay was as much appreciative of the help as he was the fact that Chuck didn't ask any questions. McKay let go and Chuck left him to the care of the medical staff.


Sam tracked down Zelenka - who was fortunately at the SGC that day for a meeting - and headed down to the infirmary. She'd have liked to have Major Lorne there and Carson too, for nothing more than moral support, but they were both off-world again.

Zelenka immediately asked if the rumors were true that Rodney and Ronon had been in a knock-down, drag-out brawl in front of the gate. Sam had to laugh; the SGC rumor mill at work.

Rodney, who was sitting on a gurney in a quiet corner, holding a chemical cold-pack to his eye and cheek, was still perfectly capable of glaring with one eye. "Here for the intervention?" he asked snidely, then seemed to lose all fight as his whole body slumped forward. "Look," he said, "don't blame Ronon for this, okay?" He gestured to his face. "I deserved it."

Sam wasn't going to comment on whether or not that was true. "Rodney, what's going on? Besides that," she indicated his face with a nod. "You missed your meeting with that IOA to discuss Atlantis's status in the Milky Way this morning. I thought... well, I guess I want to know why." And indirectly it would help to answer whether or not Ronon was justified.

Rodney looked from her to Zelenka and back. "Because I'm done, Sam," he said matter-of-factly. "I'm done fighting for something that's not going to happen."

"Rodney," Zelenka started.

"No," Rodney cut him off with a swipe of his empty hand. "I'm done, Radek. Neither of you is stupid enough to miss the fact that I've been planning something." His eyes narrowed. "Something to do with Atlantis."

Sam held up a forestalling hand, "Rodney, I can't know about that," she cautioned. Yes, she'd suspected, but she'd purposefully avoided looking into the rumors that had been almost impossible to avoid. She might have even been secretly cheering for him.

Rodney rolled his eyes - both of them if the wince that followed was any indication. "Fine, let's pretend I'm speaking entirely in hypotheticals. So a hypothetical me was hypothetically planning something to hypothetically do with hypothetical Atlantis."

Geez, no one could quite do sarcasm like Rodney McKay. Radek even gave an impressed little huff. Sam couldn't help the slight smile that played at her lips. "Okay, I got it," she said, holding up that hand again, this time in surrender. "So, why is hypothetical you giving up on this hypothetical idea of yours?"

Rodney heaved a sigh. "You may have noticed this about me, but I'm a very selfish person and my sense of self-preservation is extremely important to me"

Sam gave a noncommittal shrug, but Zelenka said, "Of course."

Rodney flicked a rueful gaze at Zelenka and then went on. "Well spending time on at Atlantis last week, I realized that my self-preservation is not only for my physical self, but my emotional well-being as well." Another, even wearier sigh followed. "And I just can't go through losing anyone else. Even if my hypothetical plan had worked, it's not going to bring Sheppard back. And it's even more likely that my uh... plan would mean trouble for all those involved and that I'd eventually lose Teyla and Ronon for good. God knows that's going to happen sooner than later anyway. And, I just can't say anymore 'goodbyes' and 'see ya's'." His bitterness on the last was palpable.

"Ronon is going to go back home. He has no reason to stick around here and there are still Wraith in Pegasus he can fight. And Teyla isn't going to come back to Earth. She shouldn't. Her people and her family are out there." He dropped the ice pack away from his face, letting his hands drop to his lap. The swelling around his eye was already pretty bad. "And I have to face the fact that Sheppard isn't coming back this time. And, I just... can't do it without him."

Sam proceeded gingerly, "Rodney, you know I can't ask, but..."

"What?" he sputtered. "Oh. No it's not that."

Radek made a noise that might have been clearing his throat or possibly a word in Czech hidden by a cough.

"Okay fine, it's not all that." Sam pretended very hard she hadn't heard that. "Look, Sheppard was part of that self-preservation I was talking about. I can't do it without him; without my team. And bringing Atlantis back to Pegasus is not going to miraculously change that. She can't resurrect the dead. So I'm done. I give up."

He replaced the cold pack over the purpling lump on his cheekbone, and then looked at Sam. "I'd like to request a week off. You suggested it earlier and I think it's a good idea. Plus, Jeannie's been bugging me to come up and stay with her. I think you'll find that all of my projects are ahead of schedule and at a stage where a week away won't do any harm."

"Rodney," Sam fought to keep the sympathy from her voice. She knew he wouldn't want to hear it. "Of course you can take time off. You've done exemplary work on all of your projects and I'm sure you've got enough vacation accrued to take several months off."

That got a rueful smirk. "As appealing as that sounds, I don't think Jeannie could put up with me for that long."

Sam grinned. "Well, a week then. I'll clear it with Landry for you."

"Thanks, Sam." Rodney lifted his chin towards the door. "Do you think I could have a minute with Radek?"

"Of course," she knew it was tempting fate, but she reached out and put a hand on his forearm and squeezed quickly, before making a hasty exit from the infirmary.


"Hey, Sam."

Sam glanced up from the report that she was scanning at Daniel Jackson's greeting. "Hi, Daniel." She shifted her laptop over so he could set his tray down.

"Did you get the latest reports on Cam and Vala's mission?" she asked archly.

Daniel snickered. "Oh yeah. If those two don't kill each other, or Vala hasn't sold Cam off to the highest bidder before they get back, I'll be shocked." He took a sip from his coffee cup then canted his head, curious. "So how've you been?" he asked and Sam recognized that he was concerned for her. "I mean with Landry away in Washington and having to run things around here while he's gone."

"I'm doing good, Daniel. Things have been pretty quiet, thankfully." She smirked. "Which is a pleasant surprise."

Daniel sniffed in amusement. "Yeah, that's true."

"It's actually doubly quiet," Sam continued, "because I don't have the science staff coming up to me every few days with complaints on Rodney."

"That bad, huh?"

"Well, yes and no." Daniel raised a brow, so Sam clarified. "He's been more difficult than ever to work with, but that's when he even does interact with anyone. Half the time I wouldn't even know that he's on base except that he's been updating his project files regularly and with significant progress. I'd hoped that the few days he spent on Atlantis helping out Doctor Zelenka might improve his mood, but if anything, it just seemed worse. I was honestly at my wit's end until he decided to take some time away."

"Yeah, I heard he actually requested a week off."

"Well," Sam admitted, "I may have suggested that he do it before it became mandatory, but then he reached the decision on his own. He's just been working himself so hard. I mean, as I said, his output has been phenomenal, but honestly he hasn't been so difficult to work with since his first days with the SGC." They shared a grimace, both remembering their first encounter with the cocky, know-it-all scientist.

"You know, if I hadn't had the chance to work with him on Atlantis, I may not have agreed with you. But you're right; his time out there changed him. Actually that's why I was especially surprised at his shift of attitude regarding Atlantis." Daniel confessed. "I would've thought he'd never give-up fighting to get Atlantis back home."

Sam shrugged wearily. Having Rodney finally break down to her about everything had been painful to witness. "Honestly, Daniel, I think that losing Colonel Sheppard just really hit him that hard." She held her tongue about just how affected he likely was and why, because it was Rodney's business and no one else's. "I think he just wants to distance himself from anything that reminds him of Sheppard. Though his change of heart regarding Atlantis surprised me as well."

"Not just you," Daniel pointed out.

"Right, Ronon." Sam heaved a heavy sigh at that. "That was certainly a shock. I thought that he'd be closer to his team after Sheppard. I know Teyla isn't here, but I figured that he and Ronon would lean on each other." She reached out to squeeze one of Daniels hands, "That's what we did when we lost you."

"Each time," Daniel quipped and Sam couldn't help but smile.

"Right." Her levity lasted only a moment, "I just think that Rodney is pushing everyone away and maybe what happened with Ronon finally made him take a step back and realize that he really did need some time to deal with his feelings. I'm just glad he decided to do this on his own, without me forcing him."

"And he's actually on vacation?"

"Yep," Sam nodded. "He's staying with his sister for a few days." She ducked her head and then looked up at Daniel sheepishly. "I even had the Daedalus track his subcutaneous transmitter to make sure that's where he was. I was half afraid he'd holed up in the apartment he keeps in Colorado Springs and kept working." She'd felt guilty checking up on him, but he'd been so secretive lately and so anti-social. Every time she'd tried to draw him out into conversation, he all but cut her off in his hurried attempts to get away from talking to her.

"Well, I hope the time away does him some good."

"You and me both, Daniel," Sam agreed. "You and me both."


A claxon began to sound and a red light above Sam's temporary office door began to flash and less than half a second later she heard, "Unscheduled off world activation. Incoming wormhole," over the comm system. She was out the door and on the way to the Control Room even before the announcement came to an end. She reached Control with Rodney, oddly enough, right on her heels. "Was on my way back from the gate room," he offered by way of explanation.

"What's the status?" Sam barked out.

"Unknown origin, no communication or IDC received," Sergeant Harriman reported back.

"We're not expecting anyone back, are we?"

"Nope. SG-12 isn't due back from their relief mission until tomorrow, and SG-9 is scheduled to return from PCX-481 tonight at oh-nine-hundred."

"And we're not getting any indication of where the dial in is coming from? No signals?" Sam frowned. "Nothing?"

Harriman shook his head. "No Ma'am, I'm not getting anything at all." He gestured towards data that was scrolling on his screen, inviting her to look closer. "Although these readings are strange."

Leaning over his shoulder, Sam made an affirming noise. "That is strange. McKay," she glanced back at Rodney briefly, "could you take a look at this?"

Sam hoped it wasn't obviously that she was trying to get him involved in things and play up his importance to the SGC by running stuff like this by him - he'd already assured her several times that he wasn't going to quit, but with his mood lately, she worried. Still, he stepped up to her side and studied the data for a moment. "Definitely strange. It looks as if there is something coming through, but we're not reading it as any kind of communication." He took hold of Harriman's desk chair and wheeled him out of the way, ignoring the man's protests, and punched at the keyboard.

"Hrmm," he looked over at Sam after he finished and a new set of data displayed on screen. "Radiation?"

Sam studied it a moment, puzzled by what she was seeing. "No, but... there's something familiar about this. May I?" She was quite a bit more polite to Harriman that Rodney had been, but still, she stepped in eagerly to tap at the controls. "There," she pointed at the screen, "it's some kind of data transmission, but it's not transmitting to us. It looks like it's..." she trailed off for a moment as her fingers went back to the keys, then she looked up at Rodney, alarmed. "It looks like we're being scanned."

"Scanned?" Rodney scoffed. "Through the wormhole? Let me see that." He none-to-gently hip-checked her aside, and spent a few moments doing his own typing and manipulation of the data. Frowning, he stepped back when he was done and nodded. "I think you're right. There's unexplained activity in all data systems. It's subtle, but whatever that signal is, it's reading us and transmitting data back to the source."

They stared at each other for a moment in silence, and then both began to speak at once.

"Can we piggyback on the signal..."

"We can use their own signal..."

Sam stopped when she realized they were talking over each other and saying almost the same thing; Rodney just kept on going. "Right, right. See if you can trace that signal back to the source, and meanwhile I'm going to try to recreate the frequency of the transmission." He wheeled over another chair and propped his laptop up on the console, got it hooked up and was frantically typing in a matter of seconds.

Sam followed suit and settled into the chair that Harriman offered over with a quick, "thanks, Walter."

A few minutes later Rodney crowed, "Ha! I think I've got the little bugger. It's sneaky, but I think I can duplicate it..." he broke off when Sam stopped in the middle of what she was doing and gasped.


"The signal," she said, feeling a sudden rush of fear. "It's not coming from another planet through the gate. I traced the source and it's reading high earth orbit."

"You mean something activated our Stargate from orbit and is scanning us?"

She nodded. "I need to get Landry on the phone. Sergeant, can you get me a line to the White House?" She pushed herself away from the desk to find Walter holding out the phone.

"They're on our emergency speed-dial, Colonel," he offered with a wry grin.

While Sam had a quick exchange over the phone to notify Landry of the situation, Rodney moved into Sam's spot at the console to review her data. "You're right," he confirmed after she hung up the phone, and had the good grace to look a tiny bit abashed when she frowned at him. "I mean, of course you're right, I just wanted to double check... What did Landry have to say?"

"He wasn't available, but I spoke with Major Davis who was able to get a message to him. Apparently they were just contacted by N.O.R.A.D, who were able to confirm that there's a small object stationed high in geosynchronous orbit. They've tried scanning it, but are getting conflicting readings. Davis said that the Apollo is still in orbit and has been dispatched to investigate."

Rodney canted his head and eyed her speculatively. She knew he was probably thinking the same thing she was. "You don't want to wait for the Apollo's results, do you?"

Sam knew she probably looked just a little bit guilty. "Think we can still piggy back that signal and get our own data? See if it'll work both ways?"

"I do," Rodney told her with only the faintest of maniacal grins.

They worked in tandem, having quick, one to two-word conversations, doing most of their communicating via pointing and data sharing. Despite her concern over the issue at hand, Sam almost enjoyed it. It was the most animated she'd seen Rodney in some time. His vacation seemed to have done him some good, he'd been less moody and marginally nicer since he returned, and for the first time since Sheppard, he actually looked like he was actually interested in what was going on.

"Almost got it," Rodney said and Sam nodded. She waited for him to send the file through to the SGC computers and when it transferred she grabbed it and was just starting to activate the protocol when all the consoles and the Stargate went dark.

"It shut us down!" Sam worked frantically at the controls for several minutes before slamming her hands down on the edge of the console. "Dammit."

"We've lost Stargate controls," Sergeant Harriman reported, "and main systems are down. I'm seeing what I can do to reroute."

"Try the secondary system, and if that doesn't work, we can bring the back-up online."

Rodney stood up and backed out of the way. "I see you've been through this before," he commented.

Sam flashed him a quick grin, "Yeah, not the first time someone's tried to shut us down and take control. We've got tertiary systems in place to work around it."

Despite their efforts, though, they couldn't only get minimal power returned to command. Harriman grabbed the phone when it started to ring, while Sam continued to try to get more power to their systems. It was frustrating. The majority of operations throughout the base weren't affected, but the Control Room and Embarkation room were both dark. Who, or whatever, had done this, knew just where to target them. It wasn't a difficult assumption to make that they'd gathered their data during their initial scans.

"General Landry's on his way back, Colonel Carter." Harriman informed them after he hung up from the call. "The President wanted him here for this," he added somewhat apologetically. "He's been beamed up on the Apollo and will be here shortly along with Major Davis and two representatives from the IOA."

"Damn," Rodney muttered, voiced pitched for Sam's ears only. "Now the government and IAO are going to step in and screw this all up."

Sam turned to frown at him, but didn't disagree. "General Landry has handled plenty of situations like this-"

"What, completely unknown, seemingly super-powered aliens threatening to take control of the Stargate?"

Sam shrugged, "Sure."

"So much for your stint at command, huh?"

"Trust me, Rodney, the best place to be in situations like this is next to the guy in command. I'll be happy to have Landry in charge so I can get to work."

Rodney nodded. "Yeah, you don't want to be the one in front of the pencil-pushers when -"

The gate reactivated without dialing, event horizon of the wormhole whooshing out with a flash of blue-white light that brightened the whole of the darkened Control and Embarkation rooms.

A moment later, several consoles powered back up. A tinny, almost metallic sounding hiss began issuing out of the speakers of the internal communication system. The noise grew louder and more stringent, becoming almost a buzz like an electric drill or power tool would make. Eventually the sound reached a crescendo, - nearly everyone in the Control Room and the Embarkation Room covering their ears - resolved itself into a series of loud, static-y spurts and finally:


"Was that?"

"... the hell?"

Sam and Harriman spoke in unison.

"COMMUNICATION ACHIEVED," the voice continued.

"Communication?" Rodney repeated warily.

"Are we speaking to someone?" Sam tentatively asked, eying Rodney with concern.


"Greeting protocol?" Sam mouthed to Rodney. He shrugged but gave her an encouraging 'keep going' gesture. "Um, hello? My name is Colonel Samantha Carter."


"Who am I speaking with?"


"Nerin," Sam echoed. "Is that a designation for your people, or just the individual I'm speaking with?"


"Hello then, Nerin. We also greet you." She flashed a sideward glance to Rodney. She hated to go for the cliché, but considering their actions, she had to know: "Where do you come from? What is it you want? You've taken control of our Stargate and I'm sure you can understand we'd like to ascertain if your intentions are peaceful."


Rodney rocked back on his heels. "The Pegasus Galaxy?"


General Landry came into the room just then, and beckoned Sam over to him, "What's the status," he asked in a harsh whisper. When Sam frowned, puzzled, he said, "Walter gave me an update when we beamed down into the conference room. I left Major Davis with our two guests from the IOA. Have these aliens told us anything yet?"

"Just that they're from Pegasus," Sam replied, keeping her voice low. She wasn't entirely sure how these Nerin were monitoring their communication, as they didn't seem to need the comm system active to do so. "Do you want to take over communicating with them, Sir?"

Landry gestured for her to continue. "No, you keep going. I'm going to see if Walter can get hold of N.O.R.A.D or Area 51 and find out if they can get us any solid information."

"IT IS INADVISABLE TO ATTEMPT TO SCAN US." The Nerin said, indicating they'd heard the entire conversation. "YOUR VESSEL THAT APPROACHES WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO DO SO."

Sam looked at Landry with alarm. "What do you mean, 'will not be allowed'? You won't harm the ship, will you?"

"NEGATIVE," the Nerin replied. "WE DO NOT INTEND TO HARM."

"That's very goo --"


Sam gulped. That didn't sound good.

"Why are you here?" Landry spoke up, seeming anxious to change the subject. "Did you come to Earth for a specific reason?"


"The city ship?" Rodney asked, eyes going wide. "You mean Atlantis?"


"The mind you scanned? I don't understand. You mean you scanned our minds and got this information?" And didn't that up the terrifying factor by about twenty. Bad enough they could control the gate and computers, but reading their minds on top of that would be truly frightening.


Well, that was at least a little bit more reassuring. Not much. But a little. Sam looked over to see Rodney's reaction, expecting him to look as anxious as she felt, but there was an odd, almost wondrous expression on his face. What was that about?

"How are you able to do this scan?" Landry, from his tone,did share her concern.


"From when you scanned our computers?"


Acting on the assumption the Nerin could only hear them, and not see them, Sam gestured to Landry then pointed at the computer and mimed typing and then pointed skyward. She wanted to see if she could connect to Apollo's communications and find out what their status was.

At Landry's nod, Sam stepped back from the console to Rodney's side and tipped her mouth close to his ear. "See if you can get us linked into Apollo's systems," she whispered. "I want to contact them and see if they've got else anything yet."

Rodney nodded.


"I don't understand."


"How are you doing that?"


"Why is it invalid?"


"I'm sure you can understand that we are concerned, though." Landry spread his hands, speaking in his most diplomatic tone, "You've taken control of our Stargate and have shut down our computer systems."


"What do you know of Atlantis? You weren't those who built it were you?" Could these be Ancients, Sam wondered? Or distant descendants of some of that race who remained in Pegasus?


"Why do you want Atlantis returned to Pegasus?" Sam asked. "If you didn't build it, and clearly you have equal or greater technology, what purpose could it serve?"


"Why is it so important that Atlantis go back?" Rodney broke in. He looked curious, but there was wariness around his eyes and the slight hitch to his voice suggested he might get defensive.


"So you want us to bring Atlantis back to Pegasus because you think her being there and our presence is beneficial to the whole galaxy?"

Sam looked to Landry, concerned about Rodney's line of questioning, but he shook his head. She hoped Landry knew what he was doing. Atlantis was a touchy subject for Rodney and she didn't want to see the Nerin offended by whatever attitude might bleed through to his questions.


"What the hell are you talking about" Rodney completely ignored Sam's warning gesture at his apoplectic tone. "The first damn thing we did when we got to your galaxy was wake the wraith early. Then," he ticked that off on a finger and raised a second," we reprogrammed the Asuran Replicators and unleashed them on an unsuspecting galaxy where they killed hundreds of thousands. Oh, and then we destroyed dozens of Stargates and caused innumerable deaths when we activated a device to try to stop the Wraith. And let's not forget that whole four fifths of a solar system that I blew up. How can you say we were good for the galaxy? How?" He sounded almost desperate.


"I still don't understand why you need Atlantis for this. Clearly your technology is well beyond our own even with Atlantis. And I'm guessing your weapons would be also."


"Then why do you need us?" Rodney asked petulantly. "Why not eliminate the wraith yourself and then if some power-hungry race tries to fill the gap left behind, handle it yourselves as well."


"But you're here," Sam pointed out. "Isn't that involving yourself directly?"


"So you want us to bring Atlantis back so you can continue to monitor how our presence there affects the galaxy?" Landry stepped in before Rodney could respond to that.


"Well, uh, Nerin, you must understand that we also need to be concerned with our own galaxy. We have enemies here just as formidable as the Wraith and just as bent on taking control."


"Yes, but --"


Landry threw up his hands. "I understand that the impact would be greater, but it would be greater for Pegasus. Earth is here, though, in the Milky way."


"Atlantis may not be ours, but the people on it are." Landry was clearly trying another tact. He couldn't win on moral ground regarding Atlantis because the city technically WASN'T theirs. "You said so yourself that it's the presence of the people of Earth on Atlantis that make the difference. We don't know that we can allow our people back to Pegasus on Atlantis while we've got our own concerns and threats to face in our own galaxy."


"No," Landry was forced to admit. Sam was glad he hadn't tried to subvert the truth of that one. She had a feeling these Nerin would see right through it.

"Alright," Landry continued, resigned, "but this isn't something I can decide for the entire Earth. There are many people who need to be involved in this decision. Will you allow us to discuss this without your observation?"


At that, the lights in the control room all came back up, and the Stargate shut down. Harriman hurried to his console and looked up after a moment to confirm. "We've got full control again, General. All systems are working."

Landry nodded. "All right. Keep an eye on things in here and notify us if anything changes." He waved for Sam to follow. "We've got to meet with the IOA on this one. They're waiting in the briefing room."

"Sir," Walter called out. "Apollo has transmitted what little data she was able to get." He nodded to Sam. "Sending it through to you."

"Thanks, Walter." She turned to Rodney. "Can you take a look at the data and see what you can find out?"

"Yeah," Rodney agreed. "Good luck in there." He smiled wanly. Clearly he knew how this was likely to go.

They convened in the briefing room. Aside from General Landry and herself, Major Davis, the two IOA representatives and Daniel Jackson were in the room. She'd brought Daniel up to speed while everyone was getting settled.

"What do we know about the probe?" Landry asked Sam for the benefit of those assembled.

"From what little Apollo was able to get in the initial scans," Sam said, bringing up a display on the view screen that showed the images of the probe, "it appears to be made of similar alloys to those on Atlantis and in other Ancient construction we've examined."

"But these Nerin aren't Ancients."

Daniel shook his head. "No, they say they're aware of the Gate Builders, as they call the Ancients, but are definitely a race we've never encountered before." He waved at Sam to continue.

"We reviewed the monitoring data from when they first entered the solar system and their trajectory does seem on par with having come from Pegasus." She shrugged. "Not that that's anything we already didn't know from what they told us."

An IOA official that Sam didn't know by name asked, "So aside from not letting us scan them, have we really got any confirmation that they're capable of forcing us to return Atlantis to the Pegasus galaxy?"

Sam shook her head. "We've got no idea if that probe or vessel is even armed. Frankly, I'd rather not test it. They were able to take complete control of all of our computers and command operations, as well as access our Stargate without dialing it. We've never encountered that before and it suggests that their technology is quite advanced."

"But they're basically forcing our hand and insisting that we essentially 'give back' Atlantis." A different IOA represented said. Sam recognized this one. Ronald Prosser. One of the men that Rodney'd had repeated confrontations with and who he referred to as 'Mr. Head-up-his-ass'. She could see why.

"Atlantis wasn't ours to take in the first place," Daniel grumbled. "Just because we occupy her now, doesn't mean she's ours."

"But, how do we even know they're a threat?" Prosser repeated, blatantly ignoring Daniel.

"So far," Landry responded by pointing to the screen, where Sam had displayed the surveillance video of the gate activating without dialing. "We know they have the technology to control our Stargate and access our computer systems at will. They're also shielded in such a way that we can only get the most minimal of readings from the Apollo's sensors. I don't feel that we should count out the fact that they might have weapons tech beyond anything we've ever seen."

"The IOA is here representing the not only the President of the United States but the leaders of all other member states as well, and we will not be ordered around like children, General." Prosser said stubbornly. "Not without cause. And we have no intention of giving up the city of the Ancients just because some aliens want to finish their science project."

"Mr. Prosser," Landry started but was cut off.

"No, General." Prosser stood. "It is the decision of the IOA at this time that we're not going to give into the demands of these Nerin. Not without cause. We'd like to continue the negotiation and also assess their weapons capability."

"With all due respect, Sir," Sam broke in, grateful that Rodney was in the other room and not witness to this. He'd have gone ballistic at their idiocy, "how do you propose we get that information? We're unable to scan them."

Prosser frowned. "I don't know, Colonel, but I'm sure you'll figure out a way." With that, he and the other IOA representative left the briefing room. Major Davis frowned apologetically at Sam then Landry and then followed them out of the room.

Landry shook his head. "I don't know why they're being so stubborn about this."

"They probably just don't want to agree to let Atlantis go until they can find a way to spin this so it looks like their idea," Daniel said with a droll smirk.

Landry eyed him with bemusement, but didn't disagree. He waved them towards the door. "C'mon," he invited, "I'm going to go talk to Major Davis and see what we can do to get the right kind of support on this, you two head back to the Control Room and see if maybe we can just ask them nicely tell us about their weapons?"

"Maybe," Sam agreed doubtfully.

When they returned to the Control Room, Rodney was right where Sam had left him. He looked up at her anxiously and Sam hated that she didn't have better news. "We're to continue negotiation. The IOA wants us to get an idea about their weapons status."

As she expected, Rodney sputtered indignantly at that. "Their weapons? Does the IOA not understand what 'unable to scan them' means? Or maybe, 'let's not piss off the aliens who can arbitrarily control our Stargate'." He accompanied both phrases with eye-rolls and air-quotes.

Sam was almost relieved to see him so sarcastic. It was the most emotion he'd show - that wasn't anger or sullen silence - since he'd been back from his vacation. "I know, Rodney," she interrupted before he could continue his diatribe. "We're going to continue the discussions with the Nerin and maybe the topic of weapons will come up." She gestured to the console. "How're things going in here?"

"Well, we've got a direct line to the Apollo now, and I've linked her visual input to our screens." He pointed to the monitors that showed a curve of the earth in one corner and a small, unassuming object - cylindrical with several indents and protrusions along its length - and gleaming silver in the light reflecting off of earth.

"That's it, huh?"

Rodney nodded. "We think it's got hyperspace capabilities. At least that's what we've been able to surmise based on the limited data. Really, other than that, we don't know much."

"So, no easy way to tell if they're armed?"

Rodney shook his head.

"Guess we're doing this the old fashioned way then. Can you raise them again?" She wasn't sure if they'd be able to contact the Nerin or if they were going to have to wait for the promised twenty-four hours.

"I'll try," Rodney said. He activated the comm system and gestured for her to talk.

"This is Colonel Carter for the Nerin."

As before, the gate whooshed and a wormhole connected without the gate having dialed. This time, thought, their computer consoles remained operational.

"WE GREET YOU," came the familiar, robotic voice. "WHAT IS THE DECISION OF YOUR PEOPLE?"

Sam frowned. She really didn't want to have to share the IOA's decision. She proceeded as diplomatically as she could. "I'm sorry, but we were unable to reach a consensus regarding the return of Atlantis. There are those among us," she hesitated, making sure to choose the right words, "there were those among us who feel that the city's presence here on Earth is too important to consider letting it go back, despite your insistence."


"Well," Sam started to say, but held her tongue as the Nerin went on.


"No!" Daniel blurted. "Wait. Please, you don't want to do that."


"Sam," Rodney hissed, alarmed evident even in that noisy exhalation. "I'm reading a build-up of some kind of energy from the Nerin probe."

"Colonel Carter," the voice of Colonel Ellis came through the comm. "This is Apollo. We're showing that there's some kind of energy build-up happening on the probe."

"We can confirm that, Apollo. The Nerin feel they have to provide us with an example of their threat capability. They strongly advise that you don't retaliate."

"Colonel Carter," Ellis cautioned, "I have my orders from Washington. If that thing displays any hostility, I'm to return fire."

"Colonel Ellis, I..." Sam tried to argue, but it was too late.

She heard Rodney say, "It's discharging!" and an echoing, "Weapons fire detected," from over Apollo's comm channel.

Sam looked up at the monitor that showed what Apollo was seeing on her view screen. There was a flash of yellow-white light that pulsed from the probe, and shot down towards Earth.

"Right," Colonel Ellis said, "I'm returning fire. Launching warheads."

"Colonel," she tried to stop him but at the same time Rodney was behind her saying, "Tracking the shot." Unable to do anything but watch at that point, Sam gripped the back of a chair and watched the missiles streaking towards the probe. There was a flash of an explosion on impact, but when the flare of light faded, the probe remained looking completely unharmed.

From the Apollo comms, Sam heard someone saying, "We show no damage to the Nerin probe, Sir."

And then Ellis replied, "Ready the Asgard beam and fire on my mark."

"Rodney," Sam barked out. "Where did that weapon impact?"

Rodney sounded puzzled when he replied, "I'm showing impact at one-hundred-fifteen degrees, forty-nine minutes, twenty-two seconds West, thirty-seven degrees, fourteen minutes, twelve seconds North. Which is Groom Lake, Nevada, part of Area 51's weapons test range. Satellite imaging shows no collateral damage to anything except several staged building and vehicles used for that purpose. Although, from what the scanners are showing, the impact crater is immense."

"Colonel Ellis, did you hear that? They fired on nothing. It was just a warning shot."

"Understood Colonel Carter. Major, belay that last order."

"Might be too late," Rodney cautioned. "I'm showing another charge building up in the Nerin probe."

"Shields are at maximum," Ellis reported.

Again they watched the screen as the pulse of white light shot out from the probe, this time heading directly towards the Apollo. But where Sam expected to see the energy pulse splash against the Apollo's shields, instead it when right through as if the shield wasn't there and impacted against the ship. The scene in the view screen shook for a moment.

Chaos erupted over the comm. Sam could hear Ellis calling for status reports.

"Colonel," Sam asked in a moment of quiet, "what's your status?"

"Weapons are disabled, Colonel," Ellis reported. "But we've got no injuries reported and no indication of other systems affected."

Sam blinked. That was it? Just disabled weapons?


"Oh, I think you achieved that, alright." Sam agreed breathlessly.


That sounded too good to be true. "You'll share your weapons technology with us?"


"Uh," Sam looked over at Rodney, who had his brows raised in interest, "we'll find out. If you could please give us a bit more time?"


After the gate disengaged Sam relayed the information to Landry, who called for another briefing.

This time Rodney joined Sam and Daniel as they headed back to the conference room. They arrived to find the same group as before, along with two additional IOA officials and Mister Woolsey and Major Lorne. Sam smiled as they approached. She'd been bitter towards Woolsey for a while after he'd replaced her as Expedition Leader of Atlantis, but put that aside quickly enough. She knew it was the IOA who put him in charge and hadn't made his tenure any easier with their interference.

"Colonel Carter, Doctor Jackson, it's good to see you again." He turned to Rodney. "Doctor McKay, I'm glad to see you're here for this."

Rodney nodded, but seemed rather distracted. He settled into a seat and didn't say anything as the discussions began.

Landry summarized the conversation with the Nerin, relying on Sam to provide input on the data they'd offered in 'exchange' for the city. The IOA were surprisingly eager to learn about the offers of technological advancement from the Nerin.

It was that, above all, Sam believed that finally made the IOA start to change their tune. They obviously still didn't like having the Nerin force their hand, but the promise of even better protection and better weapons made it easier to ignore that this 'decision' was essential just a formality. No one seemed to want to admit that if the Nerin truly wanted to force the situation, they apparently could do just that.

Rodney was suspiciously quiet through all of this, even when talk started to turn toward agreement and approval of returning Atlantis, until he finally leaned over to whisper, "Can you make sure I'm reassigned to Atlantis if this does happen?"

"I thought you didn't want to go back to Pegasus, Rodney?" Sam hissed under her breath. "What changed your mind?"

"That was before," he said significantly, as if Sam should understand.

"Before what?"

"The scans!" His reply was louder, enough that Woolsey and Lorne turned to follow the conversation.

Sam knew she was missing something, especially with the annoyed look Rodney shot her when she asked, "What about them?"

"Don't you get what this mean?" Rodney blurted, unable to contain himself any longer. "They said they've scanned someone to get this information. The only person they could have scanned in Pegasus who knows any of this is Colonel Sheppard!"

"But Teyla is still there, and all of the Athosians know about Atlantis," Woolsey pointed out. "Couldn't they have gotten this information from her?"

"No, that doesn't make sense," he was practically shouting now. Every eye was on him now and the expressions on each of those faces was identical in its skepticism.

"Colonel John Sheppard?" Prosser asked. "Isn't he dead?"

Sam squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the fallout, but to her surprise Rodney didn't react except to stand and start pacing.

"How can you people not get this," he started to gesticulate a little wildly at that point - at least two of the IOA officials jerked away from him - but apparently he couldn't vent his frustration solely in words. "These aliens knew about decisions that were communicated to only certain people. Teyla wasn't privy to the discussion about using Atlantis as a means to secure the cooperation of the Lucian Alliance." Sheppard had certainly been there for that one. Sam recalled that he and Rodney had been furious about the idea.

"Couldn't they have gotten that information from us?" Woolsey asked.

"We don't believe so, Sir." Sam replied, and Rodney looked at her like he was glad to see that at least she was catching on. "They indicated a need for physical contact, or at least closer proximity with a person in order to do this scan of theirs. They've had no contact with anyone on Earth or on the Apollo. And though they refused to go into detail, they did say got their information prior to coming to this galaxy." She eyed Rodney, and then almost reluctantly added, "It is a possibility, however remote, that they could've gotten the information from Colonel Sheppard."

"Exactly," Rodney crowed. "Which is why we need to go there and find him!"

"Doctor McKay," General Landry said with not-very-well-feigned patience, "unless you missed it, we've already made the decision that Atlantis will return to the Pegasus galaxy --"

Rodney's derisive snort cut him off. "You and I both know that if and when Atlantis gets sent back, we're talking months, weeks at the earliest, before she departs. If John Sheppard is alive, we need to go and get him, now."

Landry held up a placating hand. "Atlantis returning to Pegasus is not an 'if', it's a 'when'. These Nerin have made that decision quite easy," he added wryly. "Actions are just about to be ordered to get underway to get her prepped and provisioned for the return trip."

When Rodney opened his mouth to press his point, Landry's upheld hand waved in a gesture of finality. "No, Doctor McKay. We're going to get Atlantis on her way as quickly as possible. The Daedalus is away from earth on a diplomatic mission to engender relations with those groups opposed to the Lucian Alliance and is at least two weeks out, and I'm not sending another ship to another Galaxy when I've got one almost ready to go." He smiled in a way that was likely as diplomatic as he could manage. "Rest assured, Doctor. Atlantis will be well on her way before the Daedalus is even available. That's the final word on the subject. Now, let's go tell the Nerin that the Pegasus galaxy can have Atlantis back."

Landry closed the briefing after that. Sam got up from her chair, but she watched Rodney as he gathered his tablet and files. There was an almost hidden, secretive little smile turning up the very edges of his mouth. He looked oddly triumphant. She truly hoped he was right about Sheppard.


The first time Evan Lorne boarded Atlantis as a Lieutenant Colonel and her new Military Commander, he felt an odd combination of pride and sorrow. The promotion had been unexpected and appreciated, but he hated feeling like he'd stepped in John Sheppard's shoes. He knew that he'd never be half the Commander Colonel Sheppard had been. The man had been the best commanding officer he ever had, and Evan had respected the hell out of him. Not to mention the fact that he liked to consider them friends.

Still, this was Atlantis and he was relieved beyond words that she was going home. He'd all but given up hope when Rodney seemed to lose all interest in whatever scheme he'd been cooking up. Watching Rodney moping around the SGC after he'd had the fight with Ronon and come back from his vacation had made Evan ache for the man. But he couldn't really blame Rodney for giving up like that. He'd finally accepted that Sheppard was dead, and didn't want to surround himself with the memory of a man he - pretty obviously - cared deeply for.

But now, there was the sliver of a chance that maybe Sheppard was alive out there. He'd listened to the explanations and McKay's arguments and though he didn't want to have false hope, Rodney certainly had been convincing. Maybe these Nerin really had scanned Sheppard's mind to get their information? It was unbelievable and almost too good to be true, and Lorne just didn't know if he could bring himself to believe it, despite McKay's assurances.

Hell, the whole thing with the Nerin had just been unbelievable in general. To think that there was some kind of alien race monitoring everything they were doing in Pegasus was just mind-blowing.

He'd taken Radek aside while the preparations for getting Atlantis ready to travel were underway and asked the scientist what he thought about all of it. There was just something that felt 'off' to Evan.

Radek had agreed with him. Radek had wondered if these Nerin were a race that Sheppard and McKay had actually encountered before, and perhaps Rodney had used his time on Atlantis to contact them.

Lorne figured maybe it was all a set-up by the SGC to pull the wool over the eyes of the IOA. He'd seen crazier in his time with the SGC.

Speculating and coming up with wild and often outrageous conspiracy theories had been the way he and Radek had passed their free time - limited as it was - the past two weeks while getting everything ready for the return journey. Well, not the only way. Lorne grinned as his mind drifted to recalling some of the other kind of fun he and Radek had managed to get up to.

"Colonel Lorne," Woolsey's voice came over his headset, starling Lorne from his reverie.

"Lorne here, Sir."

"We're ready to get Atlantis underway. Engage the Stardrive. Take us up, and as soon as we're out of range of Earth, get us into hyperspace."

And that was an order that Lorne was only too glad to obey. "Yes, Sir! Engaging Stardrive." He felt the hum all around him and that connection in his mind between himself and the city as she surged to life. It felt like even Atlantis was ready to go home.


Rodney reached the end of his route - measured pacing taking him from one end of Stargate Operations to the other - spun around and halfway across the room, and paused to ask, "Are we reading anything yet?"

From the tightening around Chuck's eyes, he was probably getting sick of Rodney asking, but he was way too polite to say anything about it. "No, sir," Chuck reported. "Nothing new on the sensors since the last time that you..." He broke off and then looked back at Rodney significantly. "Reading something now, Doctor McKay. We're picking up a faint signal."

Rodney fought the urge to punch the air in excitement or self-satisfaction. He knew they'd find it... he just knew. With forced casualness, he moved to stand behind Chuck's chair and look over his shoulder at the readings. "Yep, there it is." Rodney moved to the communications station. "Mr. Woolsey," he reported, "we're receiving a distress signal. Request permission to drop out of hyperspace to investigate?"

Woolsey sounded as if he'd been expecting this as well. "Permission granted, Doctor. Major... I mean Colonel Lorne is on standby for chair duty, correct?"

"Yes." Rodney confirmed and he was glad of it. Lorne and Carson were rotating between that responsibility, and of the two, Lorne was much less nervous about maneuvers like dropping out of, or jumping into hyperspace.

Rodney tapped at his earpiece again. "Colonel Lorne, we're picking up a distress signal. Can you get to the chair and drop us out of hyperspace."

"Can do, Doc." Lorne's reply sounded in his ear. And Rodney was surprised by the relief in the other man's voice. "On my way. ETA five minutes."

And sure enough, barely five minutes later Rodney heard the familiar hum of the star-drive slow, and felt the shift in motion and watched out the stained-glass-like windows of the control tower as the coruscating flashes of being in hyperspace abruptly gave way to star-strewn black.

"Sergeant Campbell, how's that reading now?"

"Coming in strong, Sir."

Rodney tapped the comm again. "Mr. Woolsey, the distress signal is still coming in clear. And it originates from MLX-447 just like the other one. Requesting permission to take a jumper down to the planet to check it out."

"You have permission, Doctor McKay. Take Colonel Lorne and a team of marines with you. Oh, and Ronon is not allowed to join you. Doctor Beckett was very clear that he needs to stay off that leg."

"Understood," Rodney replied and the cut communications. "Chuck, keep monitoring and let me know if anything changes or if we get any other signals."

"Will do, sir." Chuck said and he was smiling eagerly.

He radioed Lorne on his way to the Jumper Bay, stopped to gear-up, and arrived there to find Lorne, a squad of four marines - all Atlantis veterans - and Ronon waiting. He frowned at Ronon.

"Sorry, big guy. Woolsey was clear that you're not allowed to come along." He gestured to the crutches. "And should you even be walking around?"

Ronon shrugged. "Wouldn't have these if I wasn't supposed to, would I?"

"Uh, I guess not. Still, it's a direct order and you really don't want Carson to insist on sedating you, do you?"

"It's stupid," Ronon muttered.

"Well maybe you should remember that before you go trying to fight a dozen marines at once. You think you'd have learned your lesson the last time."

Ronon ignored his chastisement, saying simply, "Just get him back, McKay."

Rodney nodded solemnly. "I will."

He boarded the Jumper and took the co-pilot's seat, and then Lorne got them underway.


"McKay," he heard Lorne call out, but Rodney couldn't stop now. He knew who'd sent that distress call. He knew who was waiting inside the outpost. He practically slammed his hand against the door sensor and was through the door almost before it finished opening.

"Sheppard," he called out, ignoring the dust kicked up by the rush of inbound air and half-lighting that made visibility difficult to push further into the complex, frantically scanning for any sign of movement. "John, where are you?"


Rodney spun to the voice. Was that...?


Just Lorne, hurrying to catch up to him. He was holding out a Life Signs Detector and Rodney took it from him, and then forced himself to look down at it. Four dots indicating the team waiting outside, and just the two dots of him and Lorne inside.

He'd been so damn sure. "He's not here," Rodney said plaintively, voice small and lost.

Lorne patted him on his shoulder but from his equally crestfallen expression, he'd clearly bought into Rodney's surety. "It was a long shot at best, Doc."

Rodney shrugged off the comfort being offered and pushed his way past Lorne. "The device, it's over here, correct?" he bit out. He knew his tone was harsh and taking it out on Lorne wasn't going to change things, but he couldn't help it.

Lorne looked for a moment like he was going to say something, maybe protest or offer sympathy, but finally he just signed and nodded. He pointed to the furthest end of the small chamber. "Over there."

Mind a desolate blank and with nothing better to do - he really didn't know where to go from here - Rodney headed in the indicated direction. He saw the device, frowned down at it and really just wanted nothing more than to raise the muzzle of his P90 and shoot the damn thing. Oddly, the device didn't look active. It looked- as Sam and then later Lorne and Zelenka had described - like it had been nearly destroyed in an explosion. It was charred and twisted into unrecognizable shape, and the platform beyond was in no better condition.

So where had the distress signal come from? He looked down at his hands, belatedly remembering that he had his tablet scanner and saw it indicating power from nearby. Tracking the energy signal led him to a nearby console, and he skirted debris and pushed aside a tipped over seat to get to it. Lorne followed dutifully behind.

There had clearly been some jury-rigging and work-arounds used on the console, if the loose wires, half-hearted connections and scavenged parts were anything to go by. He studied the readings on the tablet to see if he could get a better idea of what had been done to the console. Had this been the original source of the signal that Daedalus had come across? It didn't fit with what he'd been told, but maybe Zelenka hadn't realized that the device wasn't related to the signal or maybe the destruction of the device had temporarily interfered with its transmission?

"McKay," Lorne's voice broke in to his reverie. He waved the Colonel off. Something about the whole situation was niggling at him.

"McKay," Lorne sounded strange, more insistent, yes - but something else as well. Rodney turned to tell him to back off, but bit down on the words before they left his tongue when he saw Lorne's expression, and that the man was pointing again.

He followed Lorne's wide-eyed, impossibly hopeful gaze and saw it. Scrawled on the wall in an oh-so-familiar messy scribble.

"If you find this, Rodney, then you've made it this far and maybe you're willing to go a little further. Do you remember the name of the town... HA! Just kidding. Couldn't stay at the outpost. No supplies. Go about 20 clicks N-NE. There's a settlement. I'll be the guy waiting for you to get your ass over there to rescue me."

"Holy crap!" Rodney blurted and then he spun to Lorne. The equally shell-shocked expression on Lorne's face told Rodney that he wasn't imagining what he'd just seen.

"He's alive!" Rodney crowed "I knew it. I knew John Sheppard couldn't be dead!"

"Uh, Doc."

He realized after a few moments that he was hugging Lorne. Pretty tightly. Rodney stepped back and cleared his throat. "Right, well, let's get back to the Jumper then. What're we standing around here for?"

They all but ran for the waiting Puddlejumper, clambering inside and scrambling for their seats to a slew of questions from the rest of the team. He let Lorne take the pilots chair - only because his hands were shaking so much he figured he'd end up crashing them before they got to the settlement - and shot out answers in a rapid-fire staccato. "No, he wasn't at the outpost. He's at a village nearby. We're going there now."

Twenty miles in a jumper only took a few minutes, but to Rodney it felt like forever, and no time at all. He was out of his seat and waiting back by the door before they landed. And thank god Lorne was a competent pilot who set them down easy despite the excitement and anxiety he must be feeling, because otherwise Rodney would have ended up on his ass.

When the rear hatch went down Rodney scrambled outside, already frantically scanning what looked to be a central square in relatively primitive village. The structures were early pioneer, built of mud-caulked logs and rough shaker shingles. There was a central well in the town and a handful of carts harnessed to remarkably bison-like creatures tied to rough log hitching posts. A few people watched them from around doorways and through crude glass windows, but otherwise the place was eerily still. Rodney was about to call out when a familiar figure appeared in one of those doorways.

Rodney went still; his heart leaping to lodge in his throat and his breath catching in his lungs.

"Hey, Rodney," John Sheppard drawled - and oh, that voice. He'd missed that voice. John ambled across the hard-packed dirt, like he hadn't a care in the world and hadn't been marooned on an alien planet these past couple of months. "Glad you could make it."

Rodney managed a swallow and gestured over his shoulder with a quick jerk of his thumb. "Thanks, ah, for the note. Back at the station."

He felt, rather than saw, Lorne come up beside him and nearly stumbled as he was shoved forward. "Get going," Lorne said in a voice pitched for his ears, and sounding only a little choked-up. "Cuz if you don't, I'm going to." Which was pretty much all the prompting Rodney needed.

He didn't run, that would've been a bit too tacky and they did have an audience of marines, but he did stride across the remaining stretch of ground that separated him from Sheppard at a rather hurried pace. Sheppard kept coming towards him, although he seemed to be limping slightly which slowed him down a fraction. They reached each other, both paused and it wasn't clear who was the first one to throw their arms around the other, or if it happened at the same time.

Rodney put everything into the embrace, gripping tight and squeezing, yet he was ever cognizant of their audience and so he made sure to include some manly back pats as well. Sheppard was obviously thinking the same, because he mimicked Rodney's actions.

Drawing back from the hug seemed to be the signal the rest of the team was waiting for, and they all surged forward to join in greeting and back-slapping and (in Lorne's case) hugging Sheppard. Stepping back from the commotion, Rodney studied John, cataloging everything about him. He was dressed in relatively clean home-spun tunic and trousers, and there'd been that slight hitch to his gait when he moved, but his hair was as gravity-defying as ever and he looked... good. A little scruffy, and maybe a bit dirt-streaked, but really, really good.

"So where've you been, Sir?" Lorne asked, once all the arm-clapping and handshaking, and happy chatter finally trailed off.

"Been here all along," Sheppard explained. "Got zapped to a smaller outpost about six or seven clicks from here, and then made my way to this village." He gestured around him. "They're a shy bunch, but pretty friendly once you get to know 'em."

"But, we searched the planet for three days," Lorne protested, sounding perplexed. "We scanned for your subcutaneous transmitter and didn't find any sign."

"It was the matter-transmat at the outpost." He quirked a grin at Rodney. "It's sort of like the time-travel device in the Terminator movies. Only transmits living, organic tissue. Anything non-organic on me, or in me, didn't make it." He gestured to his leg. "Including the transmitter and a couple of screws I had in my leg. Oh, and my fillings." He added after a moment. "I'm in dire need of a trip to the dentist."

"So that pile of ash left behind on the transport pad," Lorne said with widening eyes, "it was just the non-organics like your gear." He scowled. "If the damn device hadn't blown, we'd have been able to sample it and we would have known." The scowl turned into a guilty frown. "I'm sorry, Colonel Sheppard. We should've never have left the planet. We should've kept searching..." he trailed off, looking awful.

Sheppard shook his head firmly. "There's no way you could've known. I'd have figured the same thing if I'd have been in your shoes. Don't beat yourself up, Major." He stopped himself, squinting at Lorne's uniform. "Or should I say Lieutenant Colonel!" He clapped Lorne's bicep. "Congratulations."

"Thank you, Sir. You should know that you also got promoted, uh, posthumously."

"Full bird Colonel, huh?" Sheppard looked a bit too pleased with himself. His casual attitude about all of this was starting to drive Rodney crazy.

"Yes, yes." Rodney threw up his hands. "Promotions for everyone. Now can we get Sheppard back to Atlantis and get him checked out."

At that, some of John's forced calm seemed to leave him and his whole face animated. "Atlantis is here?"

Rodney nodded. "Yep, we were on our way back to New New Lantia when we picked up your signal."

"But I thought..." Sheppard trailed off, and his expression went strange. There was something about the way John was eying him that set off alarm bells in Rodney's head.

"Trust me, Colonel," Lorne said with a bit of a wild-eyed grin, "it's a very long story."

"Well, what are we waiting for? I can't wait to hear this."


John's return to Atlantis and the land of the living was celebrated from the moment he stepped off the Jumper. Zelenka and Ronon were waiting in the Jumper Bay, and Ronon tossed aside his crutches when the Jumper hatch came down, limping over to engulf Sheppard and lift him off the ground. "Good to see you alive, Sheppard."

"Good to be alive," Sheppard replied, wheezing slightly. "Kinda like to stay that way." Ronon just laughed and shook him some more.

"McKay said you were alive. I didn't believe him."

"Guess you owe him an apology then."

Ronon shrugged. "S'pose I do."

"Uh, Ronon" Rodney finally felt the need to interrupt. "You may want to put him down now."

"Okay," Ronon agreed, and he released Sheppard with a laugh. "We contacted Teyla too." Ronon said. "When we got word from Lorne that they were heading to the village to pick you up."

Rodney hadn't even realized that Lorne had radioed back to Atlantis. He supposed he could be forgiven that oversight. He'd been a little distracted at the time.

"What did Teyla have to say?" John asked, looking a little like a kid expecting a dressing down from his Mom.

"She's got some words for you, Sheppard." Ronon told him with a beaming, wolfish grin. "Probably about doing stupid things and worrying us all for nothing. But she also said she's glad you're back. She's looking forward to seeing all of us when we land."

"Colonel Sheppard," Zelenka said, stepping in to hand Ronon his crutches and settling for a handshake instead of a hug, though Rodney suspected he was barely holding back. "Is good to have you back. This one," he jerked a thumb at Rodney, "has been all but impossible to deal with."

John shot Rodney a grin, and Rodney just grumbled under his breath about meddlesome Czechs. "Alright, alright, c'mon. Sheppard's been living like in squalor for the past three months; he's probably going to collapse from rickets or something any minute.

"Rickets?" John echoed with a laugh. "And it wasn't squalor, Rodney. It was just a little simple."

Rodney shrugged. "Just trying to get this train moving, Colonel." He waved Lorne to lead the way.

Getting John to the Infirmary and Carson (who openly cried and kept stopping in the middle of his exam to hug Sheppard) was an arduous process for as many times as they stopped along the way. Thankfully, aside from needing to schedule time to get his knee checked out further, he was in terrific health. Carson was also happy to report that his genetic scans all came back normal, telomeres and all, so he was definitely the original John Sheppard.

After that, they gave him enough time to get showered and changed into his BDU's and grab a meal (Ronon standing guard outside John's quarters, refusing to let anyone bother the man while he did so), then brought all of the senior staff together for a meeting.

The debriefing took hours; between filling John in on all he had missed and then getting John's side of the story.

For the most part it was all the questions. John was particularly curious about the Nerin, wanting to get every last detail about what they'd learned about them and their technology and whether or not they were expected to be in contact with Atlantis once she settled down. Eventually though, the questions ran out, and he and Woolsey wound up scheduling a follow-up meeting to discuss the issues.

After the meeting, they all headed to the mess hall. It started out as a small gathering, but naturally it seemed that everyone who'd been on Atlantis with Sheppard at some point stopped by to welcome him back. By the time it wound down to just senior staff again, Woolsey had broken out several bottles of good wine and the cigars and they spent the next while just reminiscing.

Eventually - long after Rodney would have expected it - John pleaded exhaustion and headed off to his quarters.

<& lt;> 1 Day ASR (After Sheppard's Return)

An hour later, Rodney hesitated outside Sheppard's door. He could still walk away from this. He'd promised no one but himself that he was going to follow-through on this crazy idea about telling Sheppard how he felt once and for all. Maybe he'd be better off waiting until they were settled back on New New Lantia and Sheppard had time to get used to being back home.

No. Rodney knew exactly what he was doing. He was making the same excuses he'd always made. The same excuses that had led to him trying to get over his feelings and settle for something less... well, just 'less' with other people. He had to trust Sheppard right now. Trust that no matter what happened - good or bad -he and Sheppard would be able to get past it. And trust that Sheppard would understand why he had to do this.

With a heaving sigh, Rodney waved his hand in front of John's door chime.

And then decided this was a terrible idea.

Before he could turn away though, John's door opened.

"Hey, Rodney."

"Oh, uh, hi." He looked down the hall in both directions. "Were you going somewhere?"

"Nah," John eased one shoulder up a fraction in a lazy shrug. "Just figured you'd be out here about now. Guess I was right."

Rodney frowned. What did he mean by that?

A few minutes of expectant silence passed, and then John said, "Did you need something, Rodney?"

"Look, Sheppard, can we talk?"

John eyed him a bit strangely, but he nodded and stepped away from the door, inviting Rodney in.

Rodney glanced around as the door slid shut behind him, somewhat surprised to see how normal it looked. He supposed that made sense. Since there hadn't been a funeral, no one had really bothered - or wanted, in truth - to pack-up John's stuff on Atlantis. It wasn't like they needed the room after all.

"I was supposed to get your quarters packed-up, you know." Rodney said, which wasn't what he'd wanted to say at all.

John looked around. "Good thing you didn't," he said, again with that odd sort of smile he'd been wearing now and then since the moment they'd rescued him. "I got it just the way I liked it. Would've been a pain to put up the Cash poster again." The easy grin wasn't quite making it to his eyes. "So, thanks, but I'm more curious about why."

Rodney sighed and walked further into the room. He passed by the bed, where he'd normally have felt comfortable settling down, and instead chose the small, rather stiff couch to sit on. John just dropped down onto the end of his narrow bed, seeming content to wait for Rodney to answer.

For his part, Rodney just looked around the room again, not really seeing anything except John sitting there looking inquiring. "I suppose," he finally admitted, when he couldn't find a single other thing to remark on in John's room, "it's because I knew you weren't really dead."

"You knew, huh?" And there was that damn smile again. What the hell did it mean?

Rodney could only shrug. How to explain that bone-deep surety he'd felt? "I just..." he twisted his hands in the air in frustration. "How could you be dead? I wasn't with you and it's just not supposed to happen like that."

John's faced scrunched up in that puzzled expression Rodney had always found so charming. "Not supposed to?"

"No, dammit," Rodney swore vehemently. "Because you don't get to go on without me, John Sheppard, and I'm sure as hell not doing this without you. We're in this together."

"Rodney," John looked both amused and a little sad at that. "It doesn't work that way, and you know it."

"I don't care." Rodney said stubbornly. "If I'd have been out here on the Daedalus with you, we wouldn't have almost lost you."

John raised a hand to scrub at the back of his neck, "Yeah, Rodney. About that--"

"No!" Rodney said firmly. He'd come here tonight to say something, and he wasn't going to let John get away with distracting him. "Look, I need to tell you something. I've been putting it off for years and everything that happened with you being dead made me realize that if I don't say it now, I'm never going to and I can't not say it." He frowned. Had that come out right?

"Oookay," John said slowly. It seemed a bit like John's indulge the crazy natives response, but Rodney supposed he couldn't blame him.

"Every single time that something happens and you go off and do something brave and heroic and stupid," he continued right over John's "Hey!" of protest, "and I think I'm going to lose you, I tell myself that if you come back alive? I'm going to admit this." He gave a shoulder-shrugging sigh. "And then every time you come back, things go back to normal and I chicken out. I tell myself I don't want to upset the status quo or ruin a good thing, or make you uncomfortable or wreck our friendship.

John gave a rather inelegant snort. "C'mon, Rodney. What could you have to tell me that would make me not wanna be your friend? It's not like you're gonna profess your undying love or anything."

Rodney froze. Panic revved his already pounding heart to dangerous speeds and his mouth went dry. What was he going to do now? He needed to stall, to buy some time until he could figure out what the hell else to say. "," he managed to rasp out, "of course not."

John's eyes went narrow, wrinkling at the edges and the look he gave Rodney as he cocked his head and smirked his smirkiest grin was another one that Rodney was far too familiar with.

He was being messed with on an epic scale. Rodney thawed enough for his eyes to go wide and disbelieving. "You utter bastard!"

"What?" And now the innocent act. It was like John was making up for being dead and out of Rodney's life by running through his entire repertoire of expression and emotions in one sitting.

Rodney stood, put his hands on his hips and then realized that wasn't a strong enough gesture so he threw his hand up and waved them around. He felt quite justified if his gesticulation got a little out of control. "Fine, fine. Mock the man who's trying to say something deep and profound here. I mean, it's not like I thought you were dead for the last two months or anything. It's not like I thought I might never get a chance to tell you how I feel about you."

John surged up off the bed and across the few feet between them to get close to Rodney, crowding into his space. "So tell me now, Rodney," he urged, and okay. This was a new expression. One Rodney had never catalogued. It was desperate and anxious and hungry all at the same time.

Rodney liked it a-lot. He brought his arms down; resting his hands on John's biceps and pulled him even closer. "How 'bout I just show you," he managed to say in a husky voice, before completely closing the distance.

He put every single bit of anger and sadness and joy and hope and love that had been building up inside of him for the last two months- hell, the last five years - into the kiss. And apparently that came through loud and clear because John pulled back after a very long, long time and looked just wrecked. In the best possible way. Flushed and wild-eyed and eager.


"Yeah," Rodney agreed, breathlessly.

"Uh, care to repeat that?" John said, dropping his chin to look up at Rodney through half-mast lids and gave him a look that was absolutely smoldering. "I don't think I heard you the first time."

Rodney eagerly complied with that request. Kissing John was just as hot and passionate and exciting as he'd always imagined it would be. More so even, because John was here and his body was pulsing with life and heat and pressed against Rodney's in the best way.

And John clearly had the best ideas, because Rodney felt fingers scrabbling at the hem of his shirt and then it was whisked off, and then John's shirt somehow went missing and there was bare skin against bare skin. And maybe John had grown extra arms while he was away because Rodney could feel him everywhere. Pushing his fingers into Rodney's hair, sliding and squeezing over the curve of his ass, sneaking down the front of Rodney's khakis' to curl around his hard shaft.

Rodney returned the attention as best as he could. He palmed the front of John's BDU's while biting at that ridiculously tempting muscle that connected his neck to his shoulder. Then he gave into the urge he'd had for years to just run a hand through the wild array of John's hair, fisting and tugging at is as he slid the other hand down the back of John's pants, all the while sucking kisses along the lines of John's eagerly bared throat.

"Uh, naked." John managed to pant into his ear. He extricated himself - eventually, though there was quite a bit of grabbing and touching on the way - and stepped back from Rodney a pace.

Rodney was impressed John could manage a two-syllable word. He didn't even bother to try and speak, just nodded eagerly and shucked off his pants and underwear as fast as he could.

As he kicked off his own boxers and BDU's, John swayed a little, and had to turn and reach out a hand to steady himself on the wall. "Sorry, the knee is a little bit wobbly still."

Rodney, who'd moved closer the moment he saw John waver, continued into John's space. John put both arms against the wall when Rodney moved up behind him, and let his head droop in what seemed like relief.

Testing a sudden theory, Rodney curled the whole of his body against John's, chest fitting against John's back, hips pressing firmly to the curve of John's rear, and nudged him even closer to the wall. He kissed the back of John's neck, and wrapped one arm around John's chest while the other moved lower, slipping around the curve of John's hip, fingers splaying low on John's belly. John's whole body juddered against him, and his breathing went shallow.

"Can you stay like this?" Rodney asked, mouth against the shell of John's ear. "Standing, I mean?" He was worried about John's knee, but just the way John went all non-verbal and groaned low in his throat was answer enough.

Rodney shifted so that instead of sliding his erection against the seam of John's cheeks, it slipped down to the tight, narrow space between John's thighs. He pushed his hips tentatively forward and John squeezed his legs tighter and gave another of those throaty moans. God that was so good.

With John braced on the wall, Rodney could slide the arm that curved around John's chest lower, to give himself more control and move the other to take John's erection in hand. He squeezed firm at the base and then gave a long, slow pull up, thumbing the tip and then twisting as he slid back down. It earned him more guttural, desperate noises, so he did it again. And again.

It didn't take long. He rocked his hips in time to the measured stokes of his hand, John pushing back to meet his thrusts, and then John gasped and shuddered beneath him and there was hot wetness pulsing over his hand. Rodney's hips thrust jerkily a few more times, and then he was spilling too.

He slumped against John, who was bowed all the way forward with his head resting on the wall. They stayed like that, panting and sweaty and just catching their breath, until Rodney felt his lower back twinge. If he was feeling that, John's leg was probably not going to like this for much longer. He straightened and hauled John up with him. It felt so good to just wrap his arms around John and hold him, that he did that for a while, just breathing in the scent of him and nuzzling into his hair.

John didn't seem to mind at all, although eventually he shifted his hips in a way that told Rodney it was time to get him off his feet.

"C'mon," Rodney said, helping John over to the bed. "Get in there and give that leg a rest. I'll get a towel or something." He retrieved a hand towel from John's bathroom, cleaned himself off and then brought it out to John and wiped him down too.

"Good enough," John muttered as he yanked the towel away, tossed it aside and then grabbed at Rodney's arm, pulling him down. "Get down here."

It was a bit of a trick getting them both to fit on John's narrow bed without doing damage, but they managed. Rodney lay on his back with John sort of on his side and half sprawled across him.

John shifted next to him, yawning and stretching out the long, lean lines of his body in a thoroughly languorous and totally showy way. Rodney appreciated the view, but knew that John had to be exhausted.

"Want me to go?" he asked, suddenly feeling just a bit unsure of himself and whatever was happening here.

"Nah," John said, shifting to throw a leg over Rodney's thigh. "Stay. Just don't let me sleep too late. I've got a briefing with Woolsey tomorrow morning at oh-eight-hundred to discuss the Nerin situation." And suddenly - although not a muscle twitched in John's body and his expression didn't change - he went from lax and sated to alert and wary in a heartbeat.

"Kind of going to be a pointless meeting though, isn't it, Rodney," John said in a tone that belied the casualness of the words.

Rodney, for his part, tried not to react. "Not sure what you mean. Though I suppose the Nerin did say that they didn't have any plans to contact us or interfere in the goings on in Pegasus, so..." he trailed off at the 'don't bullshit me' look John gave him.

"No, Rodney." There was a hint of steel in that voice now, though he didn't seem angry, just intently interested. "It's going to be pointless because the Nerin don't really exist, do they?"

Rodney stiffened. He couldn't help but react to that. Still, he tried to deflect. "Um, I don't know what you mean. I uh..."

"Yeah," John pushed, "you do know, since you made the damn things up."

"I, um..." Rodney sputtered, struggling to sit up. How in the hell did Sheppard know that? Nobody knew that. Not Ronon or Radek or Lorne or Sam. He'd been so damn careful to keep that - the most secret of secrets - to himself. Even when he'd included others in just the barest hint that he might have something up his sleeve he was so damn careful to give them only enough bits to satisfy curiosity and to send them down the path to thinking that Rodney's master plan was actually to hijack Atlantis.

He flopped back on the bed with a sigh. "Crap." Though his head was against the pillow, his chin still lifted a bit when he asked, "How did you find out?"

John huffed a small laugh. "I didn't, for sure. Well, not until just now," Rodney grumped at that, "but I guessed." He shifted up to his side again and looked down at Rodney tenderly, then reached out a hand to curve against Rodney's jaw and pull his chin down.

Rodney let it happen and let himself be kissed. But the distraction only lasted a moment. He pulled back, sputtering, "But how?"

John rolled his eyes and let out another of those soft, fond chuckles. "It wasn't one thing, Rodney. It was everything. All the little details added up. I do have a couple of questions, though, if you'll indulge me?"

Rodney shrugged. What harm could there be in telling Sheppard now? In truth, he'd wanted to tell someone since the day the idea came to him in his lab. Actually, he'd wanted to tell Sheppard. It was the kind of crazy, impossible idea that he'd known Sheppard would appreciate.

"How did you do it? I mean, I've talked to a few people, figured out a few things. Radek mentioned you spent a half a week on Atlantis and that he really wasn't sure what you'd been up to. I'm guessing that's when you managed to get the materials to build that probe, since it had Pegasus origins. And god knows we've got enough of a scrap collection around here from all sorts of places." John paused and held out a hand, grabbing at empty air. "But that's a small part. I want to know it all."

"It's kind of a long story," Rodney warned, because it really was. The layers of complexity surprised even him, and he'd been the one to carry it off.

"I've got nothing but time, Rodney." John smirked and then made a show of propping himself up on an elbow and giving Rodney his full attention.

"It started the day that Sam came to tell me the news," Rodney frowned. Even with John here, lying in bed with him, naked body pressed against him, warm and healthy and alive; that memory was difficult John obviously got that because he settled back down into the bed and placed a hand on Rodney's chest, sliding it in slow soothing circles.

"I didn't believe her, of course," Rodney went on, "but I knew that getting you back was going to be next to impossible. And I also knew that I needed to get Atlantis back to Pegasus. That had to be part of the plan. I just knew." He tried to shrug but was pressed tight against John's chest now, so he settled for lifting his free hand in a sort of mini-shrug.

"Anyway, I knew that I was never going to convince the IOA to send Atlantis back. They'd already shot down every argument you and I had made. So whatever changed their minds had to come coupled with some kind of threat and benefit that would make them want to send Atlantis back.

"But it also couldn't be anything too specific. I needed a credible threat from a virtually unknown player. So I made one up. Built the probe, programmed it, created an entirely new language for it actually and god, Daniel Jackson would kill me if he knew that," Rodney laughed.

"But how did you build it? When? Where? In your lab?"

"Well first I had to design it, and a few other things. And to do that I knew I'd need more time. But I also didn't want you waiting out here for me for months and months, so I built a small-scale, portable time-dilation field generator. I even ended up changing labs at the SGC so I could find a space with the right dimensions to operate field."

"Time dilation field?" John repeated.

"Small one," Rodney said with a nod. "And the time disparity wasn't nearly as far off as the one you got stuck in. It was approximately a one-to-fifteen ratio. So, I could spend hours in the time-dilation field working on designing the probe and all of the systems that needed to go into it, and not have to worry about being interrupted. I even rigged it so that the generator would alarm and I could deactivate the field if someone tripped the motion sensors outside my door."

"I don't know if that's crazy or amazing, Rodney. And the power requirements for that must've been enormous," John surmised. "How did you manage it?

"Oh," Rodney said as flip as he could manage, even going so far as to feign buffing his fingernails against his bare chest, "I just figured out how to recharge a ZedPM."

"Holy shit!"

"I know!" Rodney cackled delightedly. "I just ... sat down one day and figured it out. It all made sense to me. Of course it helped that I still had some of the notes I'd put together from when I almost ascended. Apparently, with enough effort, I can figure out what smart-me was getting at."

"That's astounding. You realize that there's no way you won't get a Nobel once this all gets declassified, right?" Rodney nodded. "So you designed the entire thing while in a time dilation field. Did you build it there too?"

"No on base, no," Rodney couldn't' help the smug grin. He was pretty proud of his ingenuity on this one. "Off world."

John looked truly perplexed. "What? How did you manage that? You went off world with a gate team and they just let you wander off?"

"No, no. No one knew I was even gone." Okay, maybe giggling was going too far. John's increasing exasperation was clear. "Okay, there was a regular dial out every other day to a research station on P4M-332 for resupply and personnel transfer. I tagged along sometimes and when the research team headed to the outpost, I hung back and dialed a different gate to the planet I was working on. Well," he amended, "there were several gates in between, just in case. I worked on it in an old Goa'uld lab station on an abandoned planet."

"Rodney," John was growling now. It was kind of a sexy sound. "I still don't know how you got through the gate with a research team without anyone seeing..." he trailed off, eyes going wide. "The invisibility cloak!"

"Spectrum modulation..." Rodney started to correct, be he couldn't contain his glee "Yes! The invisibility cloak. They never knew I got it working. I used it and timed my exits and returns through the gates like clockwork. It was better than going through with a regular gate team because there was generally a lot of chaos with personnel changes and transporting gear."

"What about at the SGC? Didn't they notice you were gone? I mean, I could see you disappearing for a few hours, but days?" He blew out a breath.

"Oh, I don't think anyone at the SGC really missed me. I became sort of a recluse there. I spent the first couple of days setting myself up as persona non grata to pretty much the entire science staff. I berated people, I trashed their egos, I ripped apart their science --"

"So pretty much, your normal behavior," John broke in with a smirk.

"Oh, ha ha." But Rodney smiled. "Let's just say I cranked up the 'Rodney McKay factor to eleven. I think the only reason Sam didn't kick me out was because she felt sorry for me and was worried about me. Plus, I was still getting projects competed and I made sure to be around enough to piss people off and convince them to stay away. On top of that, I even had a system running so that I had a secondary computer system accessing my files on the SGC servers and making periodic updates to my project data and changes to files. So if anyone wanted to confirm that I was working in my lab, the evidence was right there."

"So you not only worked on all of this," he lifted his hand off of Rodney's chest for a moment to wave it around, "but you managed to keep up with your work for the SGC?"

"Sure," Rodney scoffed. "That stuff was pretty easy." He wrinkled his nose a bit, "Okay, so maybe even with the time-dilation, those first couple of weeks when I was planning all this, and trying to get everything prepared, I may have gone without more than a few hours of sleep. Still, I got enough done on my existing projects in those first weeks while in the field that I could provide continual updates and show enough progress when I was gone.

"There were a few times that I'm sure people came looking for me and probably figured I was just being anti-social when I didn't answer the door. Oh, and I also set up the protocol that was running so that if there was a red-alert situation at the SGC when I was off-world, it would shut-down the data activity. My only real concern was that while off world, I couldn't do anything if there was a situation at the SGC where they desperately needed me, but I had to trust that that wouldn't happen." He again managed a shift of one shoulder against the mattress. "It was the riskiest part of my plan, but in that way, I got lucky.

Rodney watched John to make sure he wasn't talking too much, but John looked rapt. Like he was just in awe of everything he was being told. It was quite the ego-boost.

"I actually did most of the assembly and mechanical engineering of the probe during a week-long 'vacation'. As far as anyone knew, I was in Canada visiting my Sister. Hell, I even deactivated my subcutaneous transmitter and programmed a second one, and sent it to my Sister's if anyone got curious about where I was. Jeannie, bless her, didn't question it when I asked her to carry a package around with her when she went out. And she had strict instructions to let anyone know that I wasn't to be disturbed.

"In reality I'd just stored up some MREs, a few changes of clothes and some other gear and pretty much worked non-stop at the off-world outpost for seven days. Well, seven days in Time Dilation, which was a couple of weeks. Then when it was complete, I launched the probe and ensured the trajectory suggested that it had come from the general direction of Pegasus. After that it was just keeping up with a few loose ends at the SGC." He reached up to touch at the rim of his eye. "Like getting Ronon to punch me in the face," he said wryly.

"Yeah, Ronon mentioned that was all part of a plan of yours to convince the SGC that you were finally done with anything to do with Atlantis. Pretty brave move," John said, stroking his fingers gently over the spot just on his brow that was still a little green-ish yellow.

"Brave or stupid, I dunno. And Ronon certainly didn't pull his punch! But yes, it was part of my plan. I needed to make sure I wasn't connected to the Nerin or anyone to even get the notion that I could somehow be involved. There was a pretty good speech to Sam and Radek about why I was giving up and wanted nothing more to do with Atlantis. I wish I'd had a recording of it. It was Oscar-worthy."

"What about the gate activating without dialing? Didn't Woosley say that these 'Nerin' had been capable of doing that? How did you manage that one?"

"Tshh," Rodney made the noise dismissively, "that was easy. I don't know that anyone knows it, but there's a diagnostic setting in all Stargates that allows for a self-connecting wormhole to form, no dialing necessary. It's kind of like the wormhole is a Mobius strip; it just loops back on itself. If anyone had actually gone through the gate? They'd have ended up right back where they started."

John looked thunderstruck. "Rodney, that's genius. I mean, even for you."

Rodney waved that away. "That's nothing. Aside from the ZedPM charging, the multi-phasic, trans-dimensional shielding on the probe is what I'm most proud of. It blocked the probe from scans, and weapons fire from Apollo. Both Mark IX warheads and the Asgard beam."

"You realize," John broke in, "that these genius ideas of yours could have HUGE implications both here on Atlantis and back on Earth."

"Yes, yes, of course." He turned a truly diabolical smile on John. "That's why the Nerin decided to offer some basic data in exchange for us sending the city back. They left behind a data packet of files with some limited details on their designs. Just the bare bones, mind you," Rodney wagged a finger, "because once Jackson finishes translating the files, then I can still get credit for 'discovering'," his air-quote was one-handed, "their secrets and developing them into something useable for the SGC and Atlantis."

"Rodney, that's brilliant," John exclaimed and he was grinning so wide that his eyes were practically hidden away behind his cheeks. "That's just so damn brilliant!" he repeated and reached across Rodney's body to put a hand on Rodney's shoulder in effort to pull him close.

Rodney rolled back and away from the attempted embrace. There was just something so proprietary and smug about John's attitude that really didn't fit this whole situation. "Wait a second," Rodney said, fending off John's continued attempts to pull him close. "why are you looking like the cat that got not only the canary but the cream and maybe some fresh tuna, too?"

"What? I can't be pleased at how this all turned out? I got rescued, we've got Atlantis on her way back to where she belongs... and there's the added bonus that you finally decided to come clean about lusting after me all these years," he leered and wagged an eyebrow in a ridiculous manner.

"Hey," Rodney protested, "to be fair, for a while there I wasn't aware that I WAS lusting after you. I just thought it was a really strange sort of crush or obsession or something." Wait a second. Rodney recognized this tactic. "And good try on the distraction, Sheppard, but I know your tricks. You're hiding something and I want to know what it is." He poked John in the chest for emphasis. Although when John captured and trapped the hand doing the poking with his own, Rodney didn't fight too hard to get it free. "So tell me, why do you look so damn smug? It's not like all of this was part of some big master plan on your part," Rodney scoffed.

John's eyes narrowed just a fraction.

"Oh my god!" Rodney blurted. "It WAS part of some big master plan. But what... how?"

John gave a lazy sort of roll of a shoulder. "I may have snuck a Jumper from New Athos to MLX-447 when I was supposed to be running supplies." His voice was doing that octave rising thing he did when he was being especially smarmy. "And I may have arranged that distress signal. And it's possible that I planned the whole 'fake death' thing and actually knew that the transmat wouldn't kill me, but send me to another station a few miles from the village. And you know, since it's possible I arranged that, I may just have arranged that minor explosion that ensured the team in the station wouldn't be able to get any useful information from the transmat device."

Rodney gaped... He didn't think his jaw could drop any further if it had come unhinged. It was probably the craziest thing he'd ever heard. And considering he'd solved impossible physics problems and invented an entire alien race to threaten Earth, that was saying something. He felt overwhelmed, and astounded and... pissed off!

He pulled his arm free and thwapped John hard across the chest. "How the hell could you do that to me! Do you know what it was like for me to find out that you were dead? Do you know what kind of hell that was? How could you do that?"

"Rodney, hey, no... Just listen, please. " John caught Rodney's flailing arm again and pinned it to his chest. "Look, just let me explain why I did it, okay?"

Rodney pursed his lips stubbornly - he wasn't going to give John Sheppard the satisfaction - but relented at the pathetic look he was being treated to and gave a sullen nod. "Fine."

"Okay good. See, the thing is, I did it FOR you, Rodney. Well for both of us. We both know that if this hadn't happened, there's no way we'd both be on board Atlantis heading back for the Pegasus galaxy. Short of hijacking her and having the whole of the SGC on our ass, not to mention never being able to see our friends or family on Earth again, there wasn't another way.

"I saw the writing on the wall, Rodney. The SGC didn't know what to do with me. They offered me a gate team, but wouldn't let me keep Ronon or Teyla on it because they were concerned about getting those two back to Pegasus. I think they were considering cutting all ties with this galaxy. They would have likely shipped me off somewhere else soon enough, or sent you down to Area 51 or done something that would have split us up because they were afraid of what we could do together.

"See, but I knew what you were capable of on your own." He frowned, but it was a contemplative expression. "I'll admit I didn't expect the sheer creative genius of what you did end up doing, but leave it to you to far exceed my expectations." He squeezed the arm that he still held down tight.

Rodney did not take the bait, although he was tempted by it. Much as he hated to admit - more for the fact that it would punish him - John was right. He'd seen it happening too. Hell, that's why he'd been given the 'honor' of working at the SGC and had been removed from Atlantis and also why he hadn't been allowed on the Daedalus mission in the first place. They'd already been working to separate him and John.

"It had to be this way, Rodney. Ridiculous as it may sound, I had to die so I didn't lose you and lose what we have here, with our friends and our family and each other. This was the only way, absolutely the only way we could get it back, and keep it." He looked down at Rodney, face as desperately concerned as Rodney'd ever seen it. "Do you understand? And can you forgive me for it?"

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Of course, how could I not. I mean, look at where we are. Don't you know that I'd have done what I did a thousand times over and more just to get us here?" John looked a little bit melty at that. Good, he deserved it. "It was just a bit of a shock, you know? You had everyone fooled, including me. And you know I don't like to admit that." The whole thing still kind of blew his mind. He latched onto the first of many questions whirling around in his brain. "How did you even know about the device on MLX-447?"

"Ancient database. I did a search before we left on the Daedalus to find a planet that would fit my needs. I kinda had an idea in mind for something else, but when I came across the mention of the transmat, I knew that would work."

"So you've been what? Essentially living like a primitive on some kind of vacation?"

"Well," John admitted with a shrug. "I did make a couple of trips through the gate to drop off supplies, just in case the native weren't friendly. Figured I might have to rough it for awhile. But thankfully they were a peaceful sort. Happy to take me in, let me earn my keep. Heck, it was barely a couple of months," he said dismissively. "I spent lots longer than that in that original time dilation field."

Rodney scowled. John had a point, but he didn't like being reminded of it. He said so. "Don't remind me. Shack up with any ascended women this time?" And okay, that was probably a touch petulant.

John didn't seem to mind. "Aww, Rodney." But damn him for sounding so pleased, "if I didn't know better I'd say you were jealous."

"Maybe I was." Rodney ignored John mouthing 'maybe' and raising his eyebrows, "But that's not what we're talking about. We're discussing your insane, death-defying, crazy master plan. I mean how could you have known we'd come back? How could you have known I'd find a way to get to you?"

John grabbed Rodney's hand, which had, at some point, pulled free and begun flailing yet again and tugged it, and Rodney close. "Because I had faith in you, Rodney. I knew you'd never believe that I was gone. And I knew you'd figure it all out. You said it yourself 'If I go, I'm taking you with me.' That we can't do this alone." He pressed a kiss against Rodney's knuckles.

Rodney was too overwhelmed to reply. That John had had THAT much faith in him and his abilities. It was humbling and scary. "But what if I'd believed that you were dead, John? What if I'd just been overcome by grief and given up." He looked away, suddenly terrified despite how things had played out.

"Hey," John slid a hand up Rodney's neck and pushed it through the hair at his nape. "I never doubted you, Rodney, not for a minute. I knew you'd come back for me. I knew you'd find a way to get Atlantis back home. I knew you could do it all, Rodney." He leaned forward and pressed a sweet, gentle kiss on Rodney's lips, then drew back with a grin.

That was a sweet sentiment, but Rodney wouldn't be baited. "That's all well and good, but me aside, did you consider how your actions would affect everyone else? Ronon and Teyla? And, do you know how difficult it was for Lorne and Zelenka to deal with thinking they'd watched you die? You know they both blamed themselves?"

John did look a bit guilty then. "That was the one thing that I couldn't get around, Rodney. I hated the idea of having to do that to everyone." He sighed. "But I knew that Ronon would take his lead from you and if you didn't believe I was gone, neither would he. I did worry about Teyla in case she didn't make it back to Earth, but I hoped she'd have her own doubts as well. Doing what I did in front of Lorne and Zelenka was probably the worst of it." The corner of his mouth turned up, "Although, from what I've seen, they seem to have found some consolation with each other, so maybe it was for the best."

"'You noticed that already, huh?"

John nodded.

"Okay," Rodney shrugged, "there is that."

"Besides, I knew it wasn't going to be too long. I mean, I knew you'd figure out I wasn't dead when you heard about the transmat. I remember when we found the one on GCX-114 and you griped about how useless it was since it couldn't transmit anything non-organic. How Atlantis's transporters were far superior."

Rodney blanched. "Uh...GCX-114?" he asked. So that's why the device had looked so familiar. "Right," he hastened to add, "right, GCX-114."

"Uh, Rodney?" John eyes narrowed in concern. "You did remember the device on GCX-114, right?"

Rodney waved his hand dismissively. "Of course I did. You don't think I went through all of this on the mere HOPE that you weren't dead... That I'd base my actions on something as ridiculous as faith and gut-feelings?"

A gruff "Rodney," was accompanied by a very stern eyebrow lift.

"I mean, uh... it never occurred to you that I might be initially too overcome by grief to think clearly and then too caught up in all of my genius planning to remember a throw-away comment from four years ago?"


Rodney sighed. "Look, you master-minded an insane plot that meant you faked your own death and trusted me with saving it and getting us home, and I broke the laws of physics and advanced technology by decades to get back to you. Let's just leave it at that, shall we?"

John growled. "Rodney," for a third time, but it was an entirely different sort of growl. Affectionate and a little desperate maybe, and then John pulled him close again and continued to grumble against his mouth and his neck and shoulder and Rodney figure they could argue about it later.

"Hey," John said quite a while after that, coming up for air, brows once again waggling suggestively, "think we could get that portable time dilation field set up in my quarters?"

Rodney pulled him back down, already getting back to the kissing as he said, "I think that can be arranged."