The Return to Normalcy
Big Bang 2007.   Forks in the Road: The Return I/II - Atlantis is not attacked; they stay on Earth.
"The three month anniversary of the exile--as John thinks of it--falls on a three-day weekend."
Word Count
61900 words
Major kudos to my four betas and two research assistants! I owe you so much, especially for responding under the wire like that! Any remaining mistakes are my own.

Spoiler warning for Seasons 9 and 10 of SG-1.
Companion Artwork
  • returning whole by jedoch

The three month anniversary of the exile--as John thinks of it--falls on a three-day weekend.  John spends the Friday waking before dawn, running almost four miles, and finishing the questionable leftover sweet and sour pork with the rest of the brie; a vice Rodney imposed on him during his weekend visits.  He then wastes three hours sitting on his couch staring at his turned off television.

Sometime around noon, he feels something snap inside him.  It's, sadly, not an unfamiliar snap.  He's snapped once before, after Mitch and Dex.  His CO had come to see him; after the hearing, after the banishment, after all the shit had gone down and John was left with nothing but snow and a job as a glorified taxi driver.  Colonel James wasn't a bad guy, and later he'd revealed that he'd been one of John's few supporters during the whole debacle.  That night, though, John had been at the end of his rope and James' nose had suffered the consequences.

At least this time John hadn't ended up in the hospital with a cursing ex-CO who kept giving him pitying glances.  He's never getting his deposit back, though.  The rug is torn and stained and he's ripped a few cabinet doors off their hinges in the kitchen.  The TV is in shards after he'd bodily thrown it against the wall, and though he can't see it, he knows the corner of his mattress is jutting out of his bedroom window.  By the end, John's panting and sweaty and he's sure his neighbors think he's insane because he was screaming the whole time and he's almost positive he's lost his voice because of that.

He curls up against a corner of the wall, one denim-covered leg stretched out into the glass and plastic from the television, one pulled up tightly so he can rest his arm on his knee.  He isn't sure how much time passes, but eventually the locks on his door click and it's darker outside but he only sees it a minute because there's a big bulky body blocking the view.  There's a heart-stopping moment where the man freezes, and John locks eyes with the searching bright blue gaze.

It lasts only an instant.  Rodney leaves his key in the door and looks around.  He isn't scowling, or glaring, or even telling John what an idiot he is and does he know how much money he's wasted in this rampage.  Instead, he walks quietly over to the bookshelf that had been over the TV and shoves the lone DVD that escaped John's wrath onto the floor.

The box doesn't even pop open.  It's a little unsatisfying.

After another few moments of silence, Rodney sighs and snaps his fingers.  "Come on."  When John looks at him, he rolls his eyes.  "Yes.  Mental breakdown.  Horrible mess.  I've just driven half a day to spend the weekend with you and I'm starving and there's no way I'm eating on that couch--what'd you do, take your teeth to the cushions?"  He crosses his arms.  "Now let's go.  And if you rip apart my car seats I swear to god I'll shove you out while we're on the interstate."

Then he turns and leaves, ripping the keys out of the door.  John blinks slowly, listening to the familiar stomping of Rodney's feet.  It's comforting, familiar, and after the third time Rodney honks the horn and screams out the window for him to move his skinny ass, John gets up and follows him, carefully shutting the door on the disaster.

Dinner turns out to be greasy burgers and overcooked fries with watered-down soda at a roadside diner of two half tables with filthy seats right next to the roadway and no indoor service.  John passes it every day going to and from the Mountain, but every time he's thought about stopping, he's heard Rodney's voice griping about health code violations and enough smog to choke a horse.

Oddly enough, the voice in John's head is ranting, but Rodney across from him is utterly silent.  In fact, from the instant John had gotten in the car, Rodney hasn't said a word.  At first John hadn't noticed, but when Rodney scarfed down half his burger without bitching about the incompetents he's now surrounded with in that hellhole at Area 51, John drops his handful of fries and seriously considers calling the SGC to ask if Nevada was infiltrated by aliens.

Of course, then they might want to stop by his apartment, which looks like the aftermath of a hurricane disaster or like someone tried to kill John, and that'd bring up a lot of questions that would lead to the loss of his pitiful 'team' and a lot of therapy and--yeah, he doesn't want to go there.  After watching Rodney eat, John decides that maybe Rodney's just going through his own version of a breakdown, and if Rodney wasn't going to say anything, John certainly wasn't.

They don't stick around for dessert--some soupy frozen yogurt--and Rodney again takes the wheel.  John gives it the old college try, but Rodney is refusing to let him take any control tonight.  Not that Rodney's afraid he's going to wrap them around a pole.  It's more that Rodney loves driving because he's actually better on the roads then he ever was with the Puddle Jumpers, and John's driving always makes him nauseated.  John used to argue with Rodney about that, but last week he drove Mitchell home and saw him throw up on his doorman.

So John simply watches the scenery of ignorant people and over-commercialized stores and tries not to think of the city of shining metal and glass that felt more alive to him than the crowded overpopulated place he lives in now.  Rodney brakes sharply only twice: the first time is followed with dark mutterings of moronic American driving ages, the second time he shuts the engine off and jerks the door open and slams it so harshly John feels the vibration through his seat.

They're in the overhang of an enormous Hilton, at least twenty stories tall, and exactly the type of place John could never go to during his time off.  They were always booked, or more typically, priced far beyond his range.  Of course, Rodney wouldn't think twice about the cost.  He probably has thousands stashed away just gaining interest.  John has that, too, now; but since returning from Atlantis, he's been unable to touch the account without feeling a sense of shame.

Maybe, one day.  When it doesn't seem like a bribe, or blood money.

His door jerks open, nearly causing him to topple from the car, his seatbelt the only force restraining him.  Rodney huffs, glaring at him.  John stares at his open mouth, waiting for the rant to come, waiting, waiting.  He slouches a little in the seat under Rodney's gaze, and finally Rodney shuts his mouth, snapping the fabric against his chest once before moving back to the trunk.

John glances down at the sting against his chest.  There's a little pang in his lungs because he remembers that first time in the Jumpers and discovering seat belts weren't necessary when inertial compensators were available.  It's one of his favorite early memories of Atlantis, one of the few favorites that help him deal with the whole nightmare of waking the Wraith and killing Sumner.

Letting out a breath, John unbuckles and gets out in time to see some pimple-faced teen open the driver's side and climb in.  He barely lets go of the door before the car flies off to an unseen lot, and John seriously considers having Rodney checked out by the base shrink, because the McKay he knows would never hand over control so easily.  But then he turns and sees Rodney pointing out everything the bellhop is doing wrong in the 'Kavanagh's an idiot' voice and John feels a small smirk settle on his face.

"What're you smirking at?  You have to tip this sorry excuse for a bag monkey--careful!  That computer's worth more than what you'll make in your illustrious career as a gas jockey!  Oh please, like I didn't hear you talking about your classes at trade college.  At least they're putting your inconsiderable brainpower to decent use.  Stop standing there like a dope and move it!  I'm tired and we have a very large minibar so move!"

John hooks his thumbs into his pockets, offering the scowling bellhop a helpless 'what can you do?' shrug that he used to give the nice alien priests when McKay scoffed at their religious beliefs.  Unfortunately, it only had a fifty-percent success rate which led to a number of worlds where they were no longer welcome, but the other half of the time, like now, it seemed to work.  Also, in the elevator he made sure to flash a folded twenty at the poor kid.

The room is on the top floor with plush red carpets and soft blue walls and paintings of flowers and fruit that try for Victorian but look more like art school knock-offs.  John has to pause at the thought, and remind himself to hit Lorne, because all that rambling about art history when he didn't want to do John's share of the paperwork apparently stuck.  If Rodney ever finds out, he'll never hear the end of it; just like his fear of clowns, or his totally rational hatred of black lace.

The room is some VIP suite which is, thankfully, more understated than the hallway.  While Rodney harasses the bellhop over where to place his bags, John takes a quick tour.  Large Jacuzzi tub, balcony door to another room with a couch that undoubtedly folds out into a bed, a smaller bathroom, and the main bed; which must be a California king because he and Rodney and Ronon could sleep on it with room to spare.  There's also an enormous flat screen facing the bed and John falls a little bit in love with it because, god, the resolution has to be utterly fantastic.

The minibar is cleverly hidden in the cabinet beneath the TV and, as Rodney promised, it's large and very well stocked.  He's pulling out two Molson's when the kid comes up to him, frowning, sweating, and obviously fighting back the urge to either punch Rodney or run crying.  John gives him a second twenty and distracts Rodney with the beer as the kid runs out in almost the blink of an eye.

"Thank god.  Booze."  Rodney twists open the bottle and downs it in under a minute.  John blinks once, twice, then hands over his own unopened bottle.  It seems safer than trying to keep the beer to himself all night.  Rodney gets grabby when he really wants something.  Rodney sits on the foot of the bed, and John snags the remote while he's busy drinking.  He settles at the head of the bed, the twenty-some pillows offering ample back support, and crosses his ankles as he turns on the TV.

While sports are appealing, all that's offered is Japanese baseball and college football and he's not really in the mood for either of them.  Not because he doesn't like the sports, but the announcer's voices grate on his frail nerves, and the same man must be from a set of triplets because both CNN and ESPN have identical tones and he ends up wincing at one woman's laugh.  He switches back to the hotel menu channel and lets the hand holding the remote fall beside him, shutting his eyes and letting his head fall back.

To think, he used to like TV.

"Insipid.  Narcissistic."  Rodney's at the head of the bed now, sitting up with a small bottle of scotch.  He waves it towards the flat screen.  John nods, hits the power button, and tosses the remote to the desk.  He takes a minute to kick his shoes off his feet and over the side of the bed, then settles back.  There's a part of him that wants to reach over, to make contact with Rodney, to feel whole again, even if it's only for a minute.

When he looks over to Rodney next, he's on his side, back to John, and three small bottles are on the end table.  It takes John a minute to realize he's been asleep, and it's now the middle of the night.  Rubbing his face, John lets his own breathing fall into sync with the rise and fall of Rodney's shoulders, eyes locked on the back of Rodney's neck.  John's spent months watching that spot, waiting for Rodney to roll over, willing him to move.

When they started sleeping together, John used to hate the extra weight and burning heat from Rodney's need to hold him in his sleep.  In the narrow beds it was cramped and sweaty and not very comfortable to wake up to.  At first.  But he got used to it, even enjoyed waking up to Rodney's drooling, lopsided frown in the mornings.  Since the exile, he and Rodney have shared a bed almost every weekend, and he's fallen asleep warmed by blankets and awoken to the pale expanse of Rodney's back.

Not that John's going to complain, because he's had his own issues since their return, and if he brought up Rodney not wanting to cuddle--something John vehemently refuses to reveal he likes--then Rodney would bring up his inability to do anything but make out.  They've tried, god knows they've done everything short of requisitioning little blue pills.  John just...can't.

For now, John gets up just long enough to throw the comforter over Rodney, then climbs under the remaining sheets and tosses a few pillows aside until he's staring up at the ceiling.  Someday, he tells himself, things will go back to normal, and Rodney will curl up against him after a round--or two or three--of intense sex.  Someday, when neither of them associates that with Atlantis, and everything they've lost.

Someday, but not soon.

Monday rolls around with the usual fanfare.  Wallace somehow manages to trip into an elevator and ends up with a minor concussion and a twisted ankle.  And yes, while every person is entitled to their clumsy moments, Wallace seems to have a chronic case of the clumsy.  Bambus isn't much better, a botanist that puts Parrish to shame.  While he never worked with the man, Lorne always said Parrish was very competent and observant, if a little excitable.  Today, Bambus was working with Dr. Lee on some Pegasus spores and turned green.  Not metaphorically.  Both he and Dr. Lee were vibrant green and John was treated to Carson bitching about Earth scientists not reading all the expedition's notes carefully.

On days like this, John wonders if General Landry sits in his office and laughs at him.  The unwanted leader of Atlantis reduced to babysitting the inept misfits of the SGC.  Not that his team doesn't contribute significantly to the base.  After all, hadn't they just asked John to approve Lieutenant Jacob's transfer to SG-6?  They felt the man had successfully completed his field training on John's team and should be moved to one where his expertise would be more beneficial.  God forbid they let John have a seasoned officer or scientist.

He still hasn't heard who his new fourth will be, but it's just as well, since the rest of his team is incapacitated for a week or two.  He spends the morning training with a zat.  He misses Wraith stunners, which, when he thinks about it, is a little twisted.  Also, the zats look like a penis and like the naked aliens, that's a little hard for him to handle while surrounded by military officers.  By lunch he decides to put in a request to join another team while his team heals.  Even SG-3 would be better than sitting around staring at his wall.  Sure, marines aren't his people, but he can shoot just as well as any of them.

What he really wants to do is take the Puddle Jumper in the lab out for a spin, like he used to do when he needed to unwind.  Helicopters and jets and even the 302's are inelegant and crude compared to the Jumpers.  He doesn't want to fly over a city, just cloak and orbit the planet a couple times, maybe drop by Area 51 and pick up Rodney and go for a quick jaunt to Mars.  Just hang out and banter and maybe reminisce about the many times they'd saved the galaxy and why the Ancients could blow it out their asses.

And he really needs to stop thinking so much about McKay.  They just spent the weekend in a hotel, and he should be able to go at least a day without wanting to talk to him.  Except now that he's not in Atlantis and can reflect, he can see he's spent an inordinate amount of time with Rodney, even before they were together.  It's a frighteningly high number of hours, which just proves that Rodney really was his best friend and now they're states apart and John's surrounded by people who can't believe he actually protected the city of Atlantis.

Which is why he tends to sit alone at lunch, like today.  He's having an egg salad sandwich because the bastards have run out of turkey again.  How the hell could they run out of turkey?  It's not like the meat is seasonal, but somehow, they almost always run out of turkey by the time he makes it to lunch.  He almost wants to bring a lunch from home, except that's kind of pathetic and Rodney would eventually find out, which would be followed by all the men on KP rotation getting very nasty and threatening emails to save at least one turkey sandwich for John.

That would lead to the General calling him into his office to ask why a scientist is bitching out the cooks and maybe a few questions as to what he and Rodney do on the weekends and could lead straight to a discharge from the service.  Frankly, he's lost too much recently to want to go down that route, so he just rolls with it and gives the servers dirty looks.  At least the dessert is the wiggly red jello Rodney hates but John loves and he takes a double helping as consolation for not having a place to live.

He hasn't been back to his place since Friday, and he knows that eventually he'll have to go and get what's left of his stuff, or at least clean up the mess a little before he gets evicted.  He has quarters on base, of course, but it has four beds and he knows for a fact at least one of those bunks belongs to Wallace and there's a very good chance he'd strangle the man in his sleep.  Ronon snored, but he had nothing on Wallace, who actually once awoke an entire village with his nasal symphony.

So John plays with the jiggly dessert and seriously considers calling Rodney to see if he can get the room back at the hotel when the usually elusive Doctor Jackson pulls out the chair across from him and takes a seat with a cup of coffee and a slice of coffee cake.  "Colonel."

"Doctor."  John actually likes Dr. Jackson on some level.  For one thing, he pesters Rodney constantly for details about the Atlantis database, which sometimes leads to Rodney coming out a day early or staying a day late.  For another, he seems to sense that John doesn't want to talk about the exile, Atlantis, or anything, and so hasn't requested an interview like he has with the rest of the Atlantis contingent.  Also, John suspects Jackson's jealous over O'Neill being asked to stay on Atlantis, and not him.

"I got a call from Rodney yesterday," he says casually around a sip of coffee.  Too casually.  Like he knows he's approaching a spooked horse and is trying to be over-casual about it.

They must have spoken while Rodney drove back, because Rodney refused to speak to anyone that wasn't bringing them food or the car.  John spreads his legs as he shifts forward in his seat, his spine slouching to accommodate his faux-relaxed pose.  "Anything major?"

Daniel has blue eyes, not as bright or sharp as Rodney's, but they have the same spark of intelligence.  "He asked if I knew a good house for sale."  He cuts a piece of the cake--blueberry, from the looks of it--and takes a small taste.  He doesn't talk with his mouth full, like Rodney.  John's a little grateful for that.  He doesn't like all of Rodney's habits.  After Daniel swallows, he waves to the left.  "Now, I'm certainly not moving, but I have a friend that has a house he wants to rent.  It's partially furnished, but he's willing to put his stuff in storage."

"Well, I'm not really looking," he starts, but Daniel raises an eyebrow, and John suddenly knows that Rodney spilled everything.  Maybe not about his mental state, but definitely the state of the apartment.  And that's a little personal so John slips a spoonful of jello into his mouth as he ponders how best to kill McKay.  He already knows he needs to dispose of the body in Carter's lab.  No one would be surprised at her killing him.  The question is how to do it, because shooting him is just a little too swift.

"You don't have to, but why don't you take a look at it."  Daniel digs in his pocket, then pushes an envelope across the table.  John can see the outline of a key inside.  There's probably an address, too.  "If you don't like it, I've still got my old apartment.  It's Teal'c's, but he's never there."

"Never?"  Because John doubts that's the case.

"Cam has a spare bed," is all Daniel says by way of explanation, having another bite of cake.  "It has a second bedroom," he says after a minute, "for Rodney."

John sighs, but he thinks of Wallace and the mattress hanging out of his window and pulls the envelope off the table and shoves it into the pocket of his BDUs.  It really is the lesser of all evils, and Rodney rarely steers him wrong.  Besides, how bad could the house be?

"It's on Winklebleck," is the first thing John says into his cell phone upon arriving at the house.

"At least it's not-"

"Winklebleck, McKay!  Who the hell lives on a street named Winklebleck?!"  Because he can't seriously believe any officer would live here.

"General O'Neill.  It's his old house."

Of course.  O'Neill would probably get a kick out of that name.  "No."

"Would you just-"

"No.  No, no, and to quote you: no."

"Shut up and go inside."


"Fine, it's a stupid street name.  Would you at least look at the house?"

"I am."  He is.  It's in the shape of an 'L' reversed and rotated ninety degrees with a garden and walkway along the inner side.  There's no garage, but a large driveway that ends right up against the house and is just begging for a drunk driver to pull into what looks like the living room.  The whole house is raised off the ground, and the walls are covered with some fake log siding to give it a rustic cabin look.  There's a wholly inadequate fence to the side of the deck, and he can just make out an enormous back yard perfect for barbeques and parties and touch football and Rodney would make him mow the damn thing every week.  "I'd rather go back to my apartment."

Rodney doesn't buy his lie; he doesn't blame him, John can't buy it either.  "They won't let you near that hellhole again."  His tone softens just a bit, and he sounds a little lost or maybe in pain when he speaks.  "We'll never find the perfect home."  John totally ignores the 'we' in that because he doesn't want to admit that they're at that level in their whatever-it-is yet, but his grip on the steering wheel is suddenly painful and he's looking at white knuckles and willing himself not to punch something.

"I don't want this, Rodney."  He says it through almost clenched teeth, and they both know he's not referring to the building before him.

It's a script.  They've had this conversation twice before, once drunk and once sober.  John knows exactly what Rodney will say, and how it'll end with them swearing to return to Atlantis if they can.  He's in a strange neighborhood and anyone could walk up to the car and hear him and get him in trouble about revealing confidential information, but he doesn't care.  He's ready to hash it out again.  Except Rodney jumps to the end of battle.  "In a heartbeat, you know it."

And John doesn't know what to say, because afterward they always sit in silence, staring off at nothing and avoiding each other's gaze, save for the press of their shoulders, their thighs against one other as they pass the time in miserable contemplation.  "I miss it," he finally confesses, and he tries to ignore how throaty his voice is.

There's another few minutes of silence.  John finally gets his fingers to release their vice-like grip on the steering wheel and lets his hand fall in his lap.  There's a smacking sound on the other end of the line, and John guesses Rodney lost the internal struggle to not hit something.  Whether it was a wall or another creepy sycophant is anyone's guess.  Then Rodney gives John, and probably himself, a pathetic out.  "My sister knows where we can buy beachfront property.  I'd have to build the house, and you know I'm not made of money and the SGC would have apoplectic fits because of the time I'd take to do it but...if you're interested."

'I'd build you an Atlantis,' is what John hears.  Not the city, it would never be the city again if the Ancients had their way, but as close an approximation as he could make it.  It's touching and creepy and frightening and John looks at the house again because Rodney is willing to give up Area 51 for him if it meant he felt at home once more.  It's the most anyone's ever offered him without wanting something back, and he feels a little warmth inside his lungs and down his spine at the prospect.

Opening the door, he jumps over the flower border around the walkway and takes the steps up two at a time.  The door is glass and polished wood and opens without a squeak.  There's a poster of Mars in front of him and hanging above the mantle is the head of a buck.  It's homey and weird and the lights don't react to his thoughts and the door doesn't close by his will, but maybe Rodney was on to something when he called Dr. Jackson.

"I'm not living with a moose head staring at me, McKay."

"Yes, fine.  We'll redecorate this weekend."  His voice is gruff, but John detects a slightly pleased note beneath it.  "Try not to put anymore beds through windows."

"No promises," he replies, and hangs up on Rodney's squawking, just because he can.  He leans against the wall, taking in the atmosphere, and considers the odds that he and O'Neill would have the same needs when it came to comfortable atmospheres.  But that's just too creepy to dwell on, so he goes down the hall and into the bedroom and sits on the bed.  There're some model airplanes on surfaces and pictures of them on the wall.  It's not terrible, and John can see himself here, if only for a little while.

Until he opens the drawer beside the bed, because knowing what porn a CO reads is disturbing on levels John never knew existed.  He sleeps in the relatively bare guestroom.  Besides, it's closer to the bathroom and kitchen and therefore hot showers and coffee and Rodney will hate him taking that room.  The look on his face will be totally worth it.

John's request for a temporary reassignment is granted, but not to another team; which totally sucks and relegates Landry to the same shit list he has Koyla and the Ancients on.  He has an hour to call Rodney to say he'll be out of touch and not to turn O'Neill's house inside out before he's banished to the Alpha Site for three weeks.  Three, because Wallace may need an extra week of recovery and John reminds himself smothering the bastard is bad, bad, bad for his career.  Also, Carson would kill him for making him lose a patient, no matter how annoying he is.

The Alpha Site is still under a mountain and John can swear he's developing a case of claustrophobia just from that, but he spends his days outside, training soldiers even newer than Wallace in the art of exploring an alien world and not touching anything.  In the middle of his second week, he goes on a shouting diatribe expounding upon the stupidity of six recruits and how they would never survive in a real situation when Simpson--who took over the Alpha Site labs--walks by and gives him a an approving look.

He snaps his jaw shut and walks off without dismissing the failing soldiers because he just spent the last ten minutes sounding exactly like McKay.  Exactly.  Like.  McKay.  He spends the rest of the day sitting in a grounded 302 pretending it's a Jumper and randomly trying to power it up with his mind between bouts of freaking out.  Eventually, the engineers kick him out and he makes his way to his room in a bit of a daze.  Just before dinner, Simpson stops by with a bottle of Radek's moonshine she's saved and gives it to him.

No words are exchanged, but her eyes are sympathetic, and she calmly pats his arm before leaving.  She's obviously gone through her own 'McKay has taken over my mind' freak out, and considering he's seen some of the marines stationed wince as she walks by, he figures it's better to just go with it.  After all, McKay may hate his current job, but he's also well-respected by everyone.  With luck, John could learn to be frightening enough to berate Landry into getting a better team.  Or fired.  Either way, the thoughts comfort him as he drinks the burning liquid.

There are no more McKay moments, and John goes out of his way to return to his 'cool superior officer' veneer.  The recruits relax a little, probably blaming the outburst on a bad day.  However, their performance significantly improves after the yelling session.  Obviously McKay's method has merit.  John vows to try it on Wallace and Bambus when he gets back.  Only once though, because he does not want to become McKay.

By the end, the recruits are ready to be placed on their own new teams, no worse than McKay was at the beginning; except they can shoot straight and don't yell or get outwardly scared.  He returns to the SGC feeling accomplished and more relaxed than he has in ages, and is even looking forward to returning to O'Neill's house.  Kicking back with a beer and watching a game sounds good, really good.  Of course, he'll also call Rodney to harass him, because he's missed Rodney a little.  ...okay, a lot, but he's also proven to himself he can live without the scientist for three weeks.

He's in the control room on his way to a debriefing with Landry when the off-world activation sirens sound.  Reflexes he'd honed in Atlantis kick in automatically, and he hovers over the dialing sergeant.  He thinks the man's name is Walter.  "We expecting anyone?"

"Yes sir," the computer already confirmed an identification code.  "SG-1 is due back."

John feels a presence beside him, and turns to find Landry giving him an amused look.  John feels his ears burn.  "Sorry, sir."  Two minutes back and he's stepped on Landry's toes.  So much for his glowing achievement of molding new SGC soldiers the past three weeks getting him out of the doghouse.

Landry just offers him a small quirk of a smile.  "It's understandable.  When O'Neill last visited, he did the same thing."

Except O'Neill and Landry are friends, and John is the scourge they hadn't wanted running the military in Atlantis and can't get rid of.  Still, this time there appears to be no harm, no foul.  His attention returns to the Gateroom, where the pig-tailed black-haired woman from the team is already on the ramp, looking back at the event horizon expectantly.  John also spots Dr. Jackson fiddling with his glasses and trying to hide a smile.

The next person that comes through John hears before he sees, and he feels himself frowning before he can help himself.

"I can't believe you shot me!"  Rodney's glaring over his shoulder, one hand clutching a tablet computer and the other waving violently behind him at the alien Teal'c and Cameron Mitchell.  "And you, you let him shoot me!  Do you know how many brain cells you could've damaged?!"

"It was just a zat blast, McKay," Mitchell drawls in that southern accent that John secretly finds annoying and Rodney always says makes the man sound uneducated and useless.  "He warned ya," he adds a moment later.

"You could've made me lose an entire day's worth of research if it had disrupted the computer's processes!  I'll have you know I'm the sole person most likely to create our own ZedPMs and you could've damaged my mind!"  Rodney steps off the ramp and pokes viciously at Dr. Jackson.  "And you!  You're supposed to be on my side!  You may be a soft scientist that turns out little in the way of legitimate research, but you're still an academic!"

"Teal'c did warn you," Dr. Jackson reiterates, smiling as he puts on his glasses again.  It isn't, John notes, a mean smile, or even a victorious one.  It's friendly, the same one he offered John in Antarctica after he'd sat in the chair.

Rodney throws up his hands.  "You're all morons!  Sheppard appreciated the value of having someone who could get them out of any technological trap or alien puzzle!  Also, he never shot me!  He liked when I discussed the number of ways we would die.  Or how stupid his hair was.  Or why Radek was wrong about the latest power consumption ratio experiments, because he was wrong about that so many times-"

Teal'c moves his hand towards the zat on his thigh, causing Rodney to squawk and duck behind the pig-tailed girl--Vala, that's her name, Vala--and use her as a human shield.  She's as amused by this as Dr. Jackson.  "We're on Earth now!  You can't shoot!"

There's a moment of disorientation and John isn't sure how his body moves without his mind ordering it to, but the next instant he's in front of Rodney and Vala, hands on his hips and raising his eyebrows in a vaguely menacing manner at Mitchell and Teal'c.  "There a reason you're threatening McKay?"

"Threat?  Naw, there's no threat.  T asked McKay to quiet down or he would shoot him."  Mitchell grins innocently to go along with a not-so-innocent shrug.  "It was just a zat, and even McKay admitted he deserved it."

John's tempted to shoot Mitchell with 'just a zat,' but a quick glance behind him reveals a standing Rodney with his chin raised and eyes glaring but no subtle indications he's hurt or angry; just general McKay bluster.  Still, just to be sure...  "You alright, Rodney?"  He keeps his voice relaxed, but uses the undertone of 'do you need me to shoot the bad men holding you hostage, or is this just a creepy-yet-safe alien ritual' that they'd developed over the years.

"Other than this pale imitation of Ronon trying to deprive the world of my valuable mind, yes."  He blinks, then snaps his fingers and points at Dr. Jackson.  "You, you, did you try-"

"Rodney, debriefing.  Then we'll talk."

Rodney waves off the very suggestion.  "That's what the Colonels are for, Daniel."  He grabs Dr--Daniel's sleeve and drags him towards the door.  "I have an idea and we need to work on it now."  Over his shoulder he calls back, "You smell like you haven't bathed in a week.  And don't you have a style for your hair other than rat's nest?"

That's Rodney-speak for 'welcome back, I missed you' and John would smile, except Teal'c and Mitchell are still there and he still hears the accusing tone in Rodney's voice.  Sure, Ronon had shot Rodney once, but it was an accident and really, Rodney shouldn't have tried to take Ronon's gun apart.  This, though, this has more of a hazing feel, and while he can understand the desire, Rodney doesn't deserve it.

Vala seems to have some sense of the atmosphere.  "Well, good mission all.  I'm gonna go check on Sam.  Muscles," she reaches out and pats Teal'c's arm, now that he's closer.  "I'll miss you."  And then she's off, almost skipping down the hall.

"Wonder what she means by that."  Cameron scratches the back of his head and ambles towards the door, Teal'c following after inclining his head down at John a moment.

John knows.  Vala's probably heard the horror stories of what Rodney did to antagonistic people on Atlantis.  Lorne, for instance, was out of hot water and heat for over a month before Rodney forgave him.  And there's a story floating around the SGC that one of Rodney's new minions at Area 51 has gone missing after incurring McKay's wrath, supposedly meeting with an untimely fate.  It's a story, but if it makes the tall alien look over his shoulder for a few weeks, it makes John feel a little better.

Also, he's totally driving Cameron home again.  By the scenic route.  He's gonna make the prick hurl like a kid on the teacup ride.

When John returns to O'Neill's house--no, his house now, even though he's just renting--he finds almost all of O'Neill's knick-knacks gone.  The moose-head, the airplanes, the posters of various planets, and even the porn stash he'd discovered that first day.  In their place are bookcases filled with scientific journals and cheap science fiction and a DVD collection and atop the fireplace mantel where anyone could see it, in complete violation of so many regulations, is a model of a Pumper Jumper.

The furniture is the same, though rearranged so that John can watch the brand new twenty-inch flat screen hanging where O'Neill kept his family pictures against the wall facing the street.  It's gorgeous and beautiful and exactly like the one he'd fallen in love with at the hotel.  Big love.  The love that means Rodney could've turned 'his' bedroom into some goa'uld prison cell--gaudy decorations and manacles above the bed and all--and he wouldn't complain because he has the most awesome TV in the world now.

And then he hears the hissing.

He jerks around, hand reaching for an absent side-arm, when his eyes settle on what can only be described as an enormous ball of white fur with two beady eyes and paws that look like they've been dipped in ink.  Very, very sharp teeth are framing a mouth from which the hostile noise is coming.  A cat.  An older one, since it looks a good ten pounds, though maybe it's all the fur.  And one that doesn't like strangers, obviously.  Probably a stray, because Rodney has a soft spot for cats and for once wouldn't be obsessed with catching something like, say, fleas, or rabies.

"Uh, hey there."  It's standing on top of the coffee table, on top of a flight magazine that Rodney obviously bought for him.  A somewhat shredded magazine, and John takes a long hard look at the claws it scrapes along the paper before he decides he can handle a cat without a gun.  Really.  It's exactly like Ronon.  Offer it some food, and it should be docile.  Or at least less willing to shred his jeans.  He takes two steps towards the kitchen and nearly trips over a blur.

There's more hissing, with an arched back and an angry flicking tail.  "Okay, maybe you're not hungry," he says in his drawling, 'we're all friends' voice that only backfired on them twice when greeting natives.  "I'm John.  Rodney's, um, friend."  He crouches to its level and extends his arm just out of claw reach, exposing the back of his hand.  Granted, he only had dogs growing up so he doesn't have much to go by, but cats can't be much more difficult, right?  They just sleep more and don't fetch.

There's several tense seconds, and then John blinks and he releases his own hiss as he pulls his hand back.  "Son of a!" There are neat dual scratch marks against his knuckles.  Throwing a glare at the animal, he stands up and stomps towards the bathroom, intent on washing and disinfecting the now bleeding cuts.  Then he's going to call Rodney and bitch him out because there's no way he's living with that little hellion.  The cat once more zooms ahead of him, but this time guards the master bedroom, O'Neill's old room.  John throws another vicious glare at it and turns into the bathroom.

Somewhere between applying the anti-bacterial soap--he knew it'd be there, Rodney is germ-phobic enough to overstock the anti-bacterial stuff--and digging for a band-aid, there's the sound of a car pulling up outside and the white blur rushes down the hall again.  He practices his brooding scowl once in the mirror, then marches out of the bathroom with every intention of telling Rodney the cat is going.

Except Rodney's practically cooing and stroking the cat between its ears and the door is left wide open where everyone can see this soft, cuddly side of Rodney McKay and it's all a very pod person moment.  Rodney's laptop and papers are on the floor where they could get dirty or put out of order or stepped on, but his eyes are bright and he's wearing his crooked, cute smile and John feels that warmth tingling down his spine again.  Until he catches a look at the cat's smug, arrogant face.  A face that says 'he's mine and this attention is all for me and as long as I'm around you'll never get it.'

If he gets a running start, he's pretty sure he can punt the cat across the living room.  It makes him grin, the feral, 'I can kill forty of your soldiers at the push of a button' grin and something of that must penetrate all the fur because the animal flattens its ears before turning and strolling towards the living room.  Rodney watches it go with a bit of a wistful sigh, then gathers his things and stands up, shutting the door with his foot.

"I'm a dog person, McKay.  And what the hell were you doing with SG-1?!"  That sounded a little harsher than he'd intended, but he doesn't like the idea of Rodney out there without him.

"Then get a mutt, but if he chases Euler he won't be the only one getting neutered."  Rodney sets his bag on the seat of the chair nearest the kitchen and drops his papers on the table, taking only a moment to glance them over before heading into the off-white kitchen.  "Sam found some half-destroyed Ancient outpost and got injured in the resulting cave-in, and since Mitchell isn't a complete moron he asked if I could help them with it.  I am the foremost expert on Ancient technology."  He's digging through the freezer packed with, John sees, lots and lots of frozen dinners.

"Mitchell?  The guy who threatened you with a lemon?"  Okay, so he had given the man the lemon, but he didn't mean for the Colonel to brandish it like a grenade.  And he's really not thinking about the neutering thing, because when that happens to Euler--geeze, how geeky is he that he likes the name?--it'll be sweet, sweet revenge for cutting him.

Rodney, of course, shoots him a venomous look over his shoulder, but goes back to rooting for food quickly.  "I know who told him do that.  Also, he's stopped."  He pulls out a Hungry Man dinner with turkey and gravy and potatoes and John's stomach rumbles at the sight.

"How'd you get him to do that?"

"I printed up some firing targets of a guy brandishing a lemon."  He's smirking, vibrating a little with glee.  "After the second day he stopped grabbing fruits altogether.  Even on-base."

John can just picture Rodney on the range, practicing shooting the lemon out of Mitchell's hand.  He can also picture Mitchell taking one look at the targets and realize that the rumors of Ronon trying to teach Rodney how to be a sniper and failing were more than just exaggerated stories.  McKay couldn't always hit his target, but he always inflicts a lot of collateral damage in the attempt.  He smirks a little, too.  "But Teal'c zatted you?"  That's still overstepping a bound in John's opinion.

The glee dims, and two spots of red appear on Rodney's cheeks as he stuffs the food into the microwave.  "I kind of kept him up half the night.  And maybe I yelled too much at Vala.  And sort of frightened the natives into thinking I had a demon within me."

That's more in line with the Rodney he knows, and also something he can process.  He understands McKay, always has for some reason.  All of Rodney's bluster is just his way of working off nervous energy, and unless you know how to handle it, shooting him is a rather logical recourse.  Not to mention if the people are primitive enough the 'magic' of a zat blast can probably convince them that the demon has been evicted.  Giving up on leaning against the wall, John moves over to the freezer, looking at the meals.  "You want me to come next time?"  He tries to play it cool, but figures his tense shoulders give him away.

"Despite what Lorne's said, I don't need a babysitter.  I'm perfectly capable of handling myself off-world.  It's not like we're dealing with life-sucking goth wannabes or nuclear Amish or drugged up ex-teammates with suicidal plans."  His mouth curves downward.  "Just a bunch of insane Jehovah's Witnesses bent on galactic domination.  It's like visiting the Vatican, only less gaudy and with more weapons."  The microwave beeps.

John finally picks the same turkey meal and closes the freezer, his nose tingling slightly at being in the cold so long.  "So you want me to come next time?"  He nudges Rodney's shoulder with his own as he takes McKay's place in front of the microwave.  Rodney keeps frowning as he pulls the rest of the plastic off the steaming food.  He doesn't answer immediately, and John knows that the nervousness on the planet was because John wasn't there to watch his back.  And probably some residual emotions about Teyla and Ronon that John had to face down by his fifth mission with the incompetent trio.

It isn't until John has his own steaming food that Rodney answers.  "Only because you wouldn't shoot me.  Also, I wouldn't be distracted having to initialize all of the technology myself."

"You're just with me for my genes."  John grabs some napkins and they end up eating over the counter by the sink, Rodney on one side, John on the other.

Rodney delves into the fridge for a moment to retrieve beer--Canadian, of course.  "Well, they did make life convenient."  Which is an outright lie, because Rodney is nearly as good at initializing things after Carson's therapy, and was practically as good as John after the first year.  Except John liked to hang out with Rodney and some of the best times he remembers were them goofing off, finding new labs and activating strange devices.

Then John remembers why Rodney was with SG-1 to begin with.  "Wait, cave-in?  And you willingly entered after that?"

Rodney sighs and pokes at his mashed potatoes.  "Daniel assured me it was safe.  Also, she shouldn't have tried to activate an Ancient drill before figuring out what it did."  He shakes his head.  "Stupid decisions.  Didn't I tell you she'd blow up the Earth one day?"  Then his eyes sparkle.  "Not that I'm a geology fan, but the research we found there...and the drill.  It uses some sort of sonic resonator to erode the rock, but it runs almost silently, and takes very little power.  If we had something like that on Atlantis..."  The brightness in his eyes fades, and he shovels a large lump of potato mush into his mouth.  "It was fun," he murmurs, "being in a lab again."

John chews on his own turkey, trying not to think back to that time.  He waits until Rodney swallows before clearing his own throat.  "So, uh, are you staying on?  The team, I mean."  Not that he's a huge fan of SG-1, but after three weeks he can get behind Rodney sticking around for a while.  Rodney spears his last piece of turkey and magnanimously places it on John's plastic plate.  John stares, then sets his fork down.  Rodney willingly offering food is a big deal in any galaxy.  "Rodney," he drawls questioningly.

"I quit.  My job at Area 51."  His chin is raised and he's trying to sound confident, but his voice is strained just enough to indicate he's unsure.  Also, he can't meet John's eyes.

"You transferred to the SGC permanently?"

"Ah, not really.  At least, not at first."  Rodney tosses the rest of his dinner in the garbage and if that doesn't tell John how apprehensive Rodney is, nothing will.  He takes a long drink from his beer before setting it down with a little more force than necessary.  "I told them I wanted to work on the Puddle Jumper project or nothing at all."

John doesn't need to know how that ended.  "So it's only because Colonel Carter got hurt that you-"  Rodney nods sharply.  "Are you going to stay?"  Because he really can't see Rodney as a kept man.

"Until Sam's better.  We may have stumbled onto something."  John raises an eyebrow, and it makes Rodney look away.  "Something big."

"Big like 'Orion' big?  Or big like 'defeat the Wraith' big?"

Rodney's fidgeting now.  "Both?  We don't actually know."  He glances around the room, then steps forward and lowers his voice.  "The lab made mention of the Clavus Therresa Infiniatis."  He looks over John's face, then waves the words off.  "A possible Ancient weapons repository.  We're trying to keep it hush-hush because of Ba'al and the IOA and, you know, the Ancients."

John knows that feeling.  He still has nightmares of waking up and finding the Puddle Jumper gone, recalled to Atlantis by the Ancients.  "I thought it was a myth."  The Infiniatis is a term he vaguely recalls from a recent report circulating around the Alpha Site.

"So did everyone at the SGC.  But there was reference to it in the lab, though we're not sure what the reference actually was because the database was damaged.  Of course."  Rodney's voice is returning to its normal annoyed tone, which makes John feel a little better about this.  He knows that when Rodney sounds annoyed, the man can solve any puzzle.  "So we had to go on the wall carvings, half of which were collapsed by Sam and half of which had eroded away.  And the natives were useless, bunch of crude morons who shouldn't be allowed to breed further stupidity-"

"McKay."  Rodney's mouth quirks up at John for jolting him out of his rant.  It's familiar, friendly.  Their thing.  "So you're sticking around until Colonel Carter gets out in, what, a week?  Two?"

"They're saying at least a month.  She really got buried."  Rodney sounds remorseful at that, but the underlying excitement from finding a possible Ancient cache of weapons is still there.  "Maybe longer, if she isn't healing well.  We really need to figure out those goa'uld healing devices."  He looks speculative again.  "Huh, I wonder-"

"Then what?"


"After she returns."

Rodney's entire demeanor changes from excited to shifty, and he carefully diverts his eyes towards John's food.  "I haven't decided yet."

Which is bullshit, so thinly veiled that it's almost an insult.  John pouts, because if Rodney wants to leave and go see the world, he could get behind that.  Hell, he'd go with Rodney.  It'd be better than babysitting Wallace and Bambus and whoever the hell else Landry saddles him with.  Or maybe Rodney's lying because he doesn't know if John would say yes to them living together permanently--which they already sort of were, but who knew the inner workings of McKay's mind.  And for all his bluster and arrogance, John knows Rodney's insecure when it comes to their relationship.  Really insecure.

It's just hard to remember that when he seems to be the strong one between them.

"So, a month," he finally settles on.  He can figure out what Rodney's planning afterward another day.  He picks up his food and stuffs an entire turkey slice into his mouth.  "Think Mitchell will survive it?"

Rodney snorts, stepping back and picking up his beer again.  "He's just lucky I can't turn off his hot water and back up his toilet."  He freezes, bottle an inch from his mouth.  "Although..."

"No messing with Earth plumbing, McKay.  Especially in revenge."  And because he remembers Daniel saying Teal'c stayed with Mitchell often.  He really doesn't want to save McKay from a pissed off half-showered Jaffa.

Rodney glares at him a minute, but finishes his beer.  "So I heard a few stories from the recruits you brought back."  He's smirking, that superior smug one he likes to use when he wins a fight.  "And there's a note from Simpson in my email."

John scowls and shoves the last bit of turkey in his mouth.  Stupid new recruits.

His wake-up call the next day is not a languid blowjob--he wishes--or the intense blue stare of McKay, or even the soft sounds of the piano mix Rodney made for their alarm clock.  His wake-up call is the smell of dust and hair followed by hot pain that dances up his arm and has him clutching the wounded appendage to his chest.  "Fuck!  I hate your cat, McKay!"

The miserable beast darts out of the room as John swings his legs over the edge of the bed.  Rodney went to bed early, citing another off-world mission leaving at the ungodly hour of eight and John opted to sleep in 'his' room, rather than the master bedroom.  It was more to avoid the cat than face the not-sleeping together even in the same bed thing.  Unfortunately, the animal came for him.  There's three neat gashes a good two inches long on his right forearm and he's two seconds from strangling the hellion or Rodney; he hasn't decided which.

Clasping the gashes to staunch the blood, John stomps to the bathroom to find the mirror steamed and Rodney washing what little hair he has left.  He slams the sliding door open and ignores Rodney's yelp, thrusting his injured arm in Rodney's face.  "Him or me, McKay."  Rodney frowns and pokes one of the gashes, and John hisses as the soap burns.  "He sat on my face and mauled me!"

"He probably thinks your hair is a rival."  Rodney is gripping his wrist now, examining the slashes by twisting his arm back and forth just on the rough side of gentle.  "You need to let him get used to you."  He practically pulls John over the edge of the tub to place the arm beneath the spray of the shower.

"No.  Way."  He's grinding his teeth and clenching his fist and oh, the first chance he gets that fur ball is so going through a window.  "He's done it twice, and I swear if he slices me one more time-"

"Yes, yes.  You'll show off the great hunting skills you learned from Ronon."  Rodney sighs and shoves the arm back at John.  "I'll handle it."  He shuts the door and goes back to washing his hair.

John scowls through the glass.  "I swear-"

"Heard you.  Showering now."  He waves his hand above the door, dismissing John through the steam.

John turns to the sink and goes through disinfecting the cuts again.  It takes a little longer because he has to tape gauze to his arm, which will grab Carson's attention even through his uniform which means he'll be spending at least an hour in the infirmary today.  The scream Rodney gives after John flushes the toilet is a little satisfying, and he feels completely justified in drinking all of the pre-made coffee even though it'll make him piss all day and crash by two.

Rodney gives him the stink-eye fifteen minutes later when he finally comes out to the kitchen, and sputters indignantly when he finds the coffee pot empty.  "Do you want me to get him de-clawed?" he asks as he goes through the ten-step process to make another pot of coffee.  "Because you know that'll leave him defenseless and has been proven to psychologically scar them-"

"Get rid of the damned cat, McKay."

"Euler just isn't used to you!  You have to give him a chance to get used to your scent!"

John glances to the dining room, where Euler is watching them with those evil, beady eyes and his tail is twitching.  He seems to be staring directly at John's bare feet, and John makes a mental note to buy slippers asap.  "I can and will use him for target practice."  He deliberately keeps his voice laconic, mentally working out how to sneak a zat off-base.

He can feel Rodney's glare bore into his ear, but he simply sips his coffee and ignores it.  He's faced McKay's wrath before, and he'd rather deal with that than the feline from hell.  "Give me a week-"

"Today, McKay."

"I'm going off-world!"

"You can leave him there."  An absurd part of his mind imagines Euler becoming a minion of the Ori.  It's very, very difficult not to laugh at the image.  There's a few clinks, and then Rodney is sitting next to him, hands cupped around his mug.  His hands are bright pink, and John ignores the temptation to pry them off the cup.  Rodney can burn his damn palms if he wants.  "I don't want that cat in my house."

Rodney's head jerks up, his eyes wide and his mouth turned down as a pained sound escapes his throat.  A sound that John has only heard a few times and it makes him feel like a heel, because it means he hit Rodney below the proverbial belt.  The look vanishes in an instant, and Rodney's gets his constipated 'I'm upset but not going to admit it' face on a second later.  "Fine, I'll take the cat out of your house."  There's a million veiled threats in the tone, all of them promising John will be bald, naked, and possibly in the middle of a Celine Dion concert within the next few days.

But John also picks up the emphasis, the 'your', and he reaches over to reassure Rodney that it isn't just his house, it's theirs, and he's an asshole.  Rodney jerks his arm back and downs the coffee in one painful gulp.  He stomps off and John hears an angry yowl a minute before the door slams.  He doesn't know where the cat came from, or where Rodney's taking it, and there's a part of him that really doesn't give a shit.  There's another part, a part that knows just how much his words can hurt Rodney, as much as his fist or gun, and that part makes him want to run out and tell McKay to forget about it.  He was upset and the cat can stay and to not leave angry.

The throb of his arm keeps him in his seat.  His next sip of coffee is his last because it's become too bitter to drink.  He dumps it down the drain, then picks up and puts down the phone three times; wanting to call Rodney's cell and fighting that urge.  In the end, he drags himself to the shower and figures it'll blow over in a few days.

He's still going to hide his hair products.  There had been more than one proud marine who found Nair in his shampoo on Atlantis.

By the time John's on-base, Rodney's shipped out with SG-1 and John is facing a pile of twenty folders, all newly integrated potentials for his team.  Landry wants his decision by three so that the team can get together this week and get to know each other before they go off-world on Monday.  Not a one of the candidates sparks his interest, and he nearly tears four of them up because they're so raw that even he can see they'd be dead within a month.  He almost, almost, shoots off an email to Landry telling him to fuck himself and give him real candidates and stop screwing around.

In the end, he accepts a marine who, at the very least, can follow orders and is the least likely to shoot the rest of John's team accidentally.  The only other one he'd consider is a scientist who's most famous for nearly decapitating Daniel with some alien sword, and she only made the list because it takes strength to lift a sword like that.  Landry approves it, and John goes home after ordering his team to meet in his office the next day for introductions.

The house is empty, but it's not like the first night where it was still O'Neill's house.  Now there's reminders of Rodney, and John's things are strewn about, and it feels a little lonely.  Until he sees the TV and the unoccupied couch and he falls back onto the cushions without fear of claws or hissing or teeth.  The sports announcers still get on his nerves, but he finds a local channel with some sort of medical drama and settles in.  He only gets up to fix himself a frozen dinner--Southern fried chicken with potatoes, gravy, and corn--and around eleven, when his body is begging for sleep and he knows if he sleeps on the couch his neck will never forgive him, he goes to bed.

The next morning goes much smoother, with no psychotic feline or bitchy McKay and time to cook some hard boiled eggs to go with his toast.  He even stops by the grocery store to buy some pre-made pastries to try and ease the morning meeting.  It's not that the guilt from yesterday isn't with him, it's just that maybe Griffith is a chance for a better team, a balance to Bambus and Wallace.  And there's a chance Rodney will return pissed about a disaster on the planet, rather than about John being a jerk and hurting him.  A very, very slim chance because Rodney has a memory like an elephant, but it's not like things could go even further downhill.

As it turns out, things could go further downhill.  Plummet, even.

Wallace, for once, manages to get to the office and in one of the chairs without being clumsy.  Bambus wanders in while reading some botany magazine and munching on a bagel.  Sergeant Major Griffith comes in right on time.  Not early, not late, right on time to the second.  He stands at attention and John takes a quick look at Griffith's folder again and mentally winces.  He hadn't looked too closely at the man's age before, but he's only six years younger than John.  The man glances at Bambus (twenty-seven) and Wallace (twenty-five) then his new CO, and John can see the instant disgust crosses Griffith's eyes.

He thinks he deserves his own team, and shouldn't be relegated to babysitting duty.  John can relate, but he doesn't think they'll be bonding over that.  "Bambus, Wallace, meet Griffith."  The pastries remain in their plastic box, open and waiting for someone to take one.  Wallace smiles nervously, but retracts his hand from the sweets when Griffith looks at him.  Bambus doesn't even look up from his magazine.  "He's our new fourth," he adds encouragingly.

Wallace actually seems to shrink a little at the announcement.  Bambus finally looks up from the oh-so fascinating article, and a look of horror passes over his face.  "You!"

Griffith doesn't even bat an eye.  "Mr. Bambus."  He also doesn't look at the botanist.

John gets a very bad feeling.  "You've met?"

Bambus points accusingly at Griffith.  "He ran over Sweetums!"

"It was an accident."  Griffith's voice doesn't even waiver, remaining cold and unemotional.  He's staring straight ahead at the wall.

"Sweetums?"  John's almost terrified to know.

"My daughter's poodle!"  John's never seen Bambus get angry before, and he doesn't want to again.  The way his face scrunches up as it turns red looks almost pug-like.  "I'm taking this to the General!"  The man runs out of the room before John can open his mouth.

Griffith stares ahead another minute.  "I don't think this is going to work out, sir."  He doesn't even look at John when he says it.  "Permission to be dismissed."

"Yeah."  John sloppily salutes and hopes the man isn't going to run Bambus down before the scientist gets to Landry.

Wallace waits until Griffith is gone for a good two minutes before stepping gingerly forward and snagging a strawberry strudel.  "So, no mission next week?"

John sighs and falls back into his chair.  "Nope.  You were looking forward to it?"

"Actually, my knee's been-"

"Get out, Captain."  He really, really doesn't want to hear about any injuries the man has.  Wallace retreats quickly and John puts his head in his hands.  He doesn't know when the call from Landry will come, but he knows it is coming.  He's debating the merits of being completely honest, and thus ending his career in flames, or being diplomatic and retaining what little dignity he has, when the phone rings.  He peeks out from his hands, letting it ring twice more before picking it up.  "Colonel Sheppard."

"John?"  He quickly sits up at the voice.  "Are you alright?  You sound tired."

"Elizabeth?"  He tries to remember how to page Carson while he's using his phone, but gives up.  They've all been concerned.  Even though John's pretty sure he was hit hardest by the exile, Elizabeth is the only one among them that's let it eat away at her life.  "Fine, just, you know," he waves at the door, "new team stuff.  How are you?  Did you get our messages?"  All two hundred that he, Carson, and Rodney have left over the last few months.

"Yes, I haven't been...  It's been hard." 

John almost responds with 'Yeah, I know, but not all of us could cut ourselves off from the world and our friends and be a depressed mess, even though it feels like my heart's been ripped out of my chest and if anyone deserves a massive pity party it's me!'  Instead, he says, "Yeah.  I know."  Huh.  Apparently he did have some repressed resentment issues.  Figures Rodney'd be right about that.

"Are you...how are you coping?"

'With Rodney,' he wants to say.  'I'm not really but I'm trying, which is more than you,' he thinks.  "I still get to go through the Stargate.  They let me visit the Jumper every now and then."

"That's...that's good."  She goes silent, and John is tempted to fill that silence with pleasantries, but there's something heavy about this conversation, something that keeps him quiet.  "Are Carson and Rodney...  How are they?"

"Okay.  Carson's co-chief doctor.  And Rodney...Rodney's on SG-1 temporarily.  Covering for Colonel Carter."

"Oh?"  There's a spark of interest in her voice, and John wants to keep her talking because this is the greatest sign of life she's shown in months.  "That's good.  It sounds like you're all doing very well."

John hears some bells in the background, and having been dragged to Elizabeth's apartment twice he knows there's nothing that makes that sound around where she lives.  "So what have you been up to?  Thinking of taking up any of the offers?"  He knows via Carson that Elizabeth's had at least twenty offers for jobs, from the UN to presidents of countries across the world to the IOA.

"I've been thinking things over, getting myself resituated."  She waits a beat.  Then another.  "Tenzin Gyatso offered to let me work with him.  It required me to relocate."

It sounds almost ominous.  "Elizabeth, where are you?"

"India."  She says it as if it's normal, like Montana or Hawaii or England.

That throws him.  He does a quick Google search.  "You're studying with the Dalai Lama?"

"Many of his teachings fall in line with the Ancients.  I can't tell him his scripts are mostly right, but-"

Of course, of course she would do this.  She'd once admitted to being jealous of John being trapped in that time-dilation field because of how much closer he became with the Ancients.  "You're trying to ascend?"  He can't keep the hint of fury out of his voice.

"Not ascend really, just spread their teachings.  You...you're much closer to them than any of us.  You don't understand how it felt-"

"They took our home, Elizabeth!  They took our lives!"

"I know."  She sounds bitter.  Good, John thinks.  "And I must face that.  But that doesn't negate the good I can do here, the knowledge I can pass on.  And I won't violate any of the agreements," she pre-empts.  "This is...I need to do this, John.  Not just for them."

"And the IOA and UN don't mind letting you go?"  He's glaring at the wall.  It's not fair that she gets to run away, and he's stuck in his own personal hell.

"It's still my life, John."  She sighs.  "And I'm hoping to negotiate his return to Tibet."

That's when it clicks in his head.  Heightmeyer would know the psychological terms, but this is Elizabeth's way of replacing what she's lost, and maybe regaining it symbolically.  He's still a little pissed off about it, though.  "If you're sure-"

"I am."  She says it with such finality that John knows he can't change her mind.  "Would you...I wanted to let you know.  And could you tell Carson, and Rodney?"  Because she's too cowardly to face them herself, he broods.  "We had a good run, John.  I'm proud to have worked with you."

"Me too," he notes a light is blinking on his phone.  The one that's his direct line to Landry.  "Look, the General's calling, but-"

"I'll be out of touch for a while, John.  But we'll talk again."  There's a smile in her voice.  "Be careful out there."  And then there's a dial tone.

John takes a deep breath, then a second, then punches the General's line hard enough to crack the phone casing.  It's not the General, but that Walter guy.  "Two minutes?  I'll be there."  He hangs up and sits staring at the phone for a good minute.  He touches the base, pulls his hand back and stands to leave, then hauls the thing off his desk and hurls it at the wall.

He has no intention to clean up the shattered remains as he shuts the door behind him.

General Landry is very tactful when he tells John that Griffith's been reassigned to the Alpha Site.  Unfortunately, it means his team's grounded until at least next Thursday, and that's only if he chooses another fourth by Monday.  He'll probably pick the She-Ra scientist, but his thoughts are waylaid when Landry gives him another assignment.  SG-1 checked in and Mitchell asked for a favor.  Since Landry has meetings the rest of the day and Sheppard doesn't have a team to bond with, he gets the job.

John hadn't planned on going to see Colonel Carter in the hospital.  He doesn't really know her, and in all honesty, he plain doesn't like her for the way she'd treated Rodney on Atlantis.  But Cameron and SG-1--minus Rodney--had bought a get well gift and they wanted someone to personally deliver the flowers, card, and laptop of games; and part of it was tied-in to some sort of event today, and they wouldn't be back in time.  So it was up to him to save the day.

He'd rather save the day fighting Ori soldiers than as a glorified delivery boy, but it's the General's orders so he's kind of stuck.  He can fake it, at least the grin.  With luck, she'll be asleep or out on PT and he can just drop the stuff off and be out of there without saying a word.  Not that he hates her, but both he and Rodney, and even Carson, to some extent, are still outraged at her for outright saying it was better the Ancients were back and that Atlantis was better off.  John hadn't thrown a slice of pie in her face, but he also hadn't hidden the satisfied smirk as Rodney did before storming out of the mess.  Since then McKay's refused to do anything but communicate with her through email, even if they're in the same room.

If John could get away with it, he would jump right on McKay's bandwagon.  He can't, though, and so he's bringing SG-1's get well present to Carter in her supposedly private hospital room on the third floor.

Only it apparently isn't so private judging by the masculine voice thrown his way as he enters the room.  "Is this who you're dating?  Looks a bit gay to me."

John feels his spine react automatically, relaxing even as his nerves coil and he readies himself to attack the bedridden man.  Both of the stranger's legs are wrapped in blue casts and hanging from a trapeze at the foot of his bed.  John is treated to a scathing brown-eyed look from the sneering blond.  He has a pinched look on his face, the same one Rodney has whenever he sees citrus fruit, or Ronon eating.

Carter's in the bed near the window across the room.  Both of her arms are in casts and hanging, and her encased left leg is hovering over the edge of the bed.  She lets out a terse sigh and jerks her head back, either having a seizure or indicating John should come over.  "Colonel Sheppard, Pete Shanahan.  And Sheppard's just a co-worker."

John feels himself smirk, just a little.  "I'd be a pretty bad friend to Rodney if I started dating his gal," he addresses the comment to Shanahan, but from the corner of his eye he sees Carter turn red and open and shut her mouth in either frustration or fury.  "They're really close now.  I think he might pop the question any day."  And oh, it looks like she's going to break out of her casts just to strangle him.  Perfect.

"Rodney?  Rodney McKay?  The jackass you sent to Atlantis?"

That wipes the smirk clean off his face, and he narrows his eyes at Carter as he sets the gifts down.

She rolls her eyes.  "We weren't as close then.  And I'm not seeing him."  She shoots a glare at John.  "The Colonel has a strange sense of humor."

"The Colonel doesn't have to put the games in your reach," he says as he sets the flowers on the small table by the window.  He's still Rodney's friend--okay, more than friend, but Carter doesn't know that--and he won't have her insulting him behind his back.

Carter sighs.  "Are you still angry about the Atlantis thing?  I said I was sorry."

John knows she's said that.  She's said it to all of them, especially Rodney, many times.  Carson's the closest to forgiving her, and Rodney of course isn't speaking with her.  John would rather lean more towards Rodney's end of the scale, but he may have to work with her again.  "You sure you should be mentioning Atlantis around him?"

Shanahan rolls his eyes.  "I have the clearance.  She told me all about the Stargate program and the Atlantis project.  Back before she was my fiancee."  He aims a glare at Carter, who looks half sheepish, half outraged.

John simply looks between the two and wonders how quickly he can escape from what is obviously a war zone.

"You'd better tell your friend McKay to watch himself.  She says she loves you, but she's actually pining for someone else.  Someone who she was never going to have.  There's rules against fraternization for a reason."

"There is nothing between me and Rodney!"  Carter's face is turning very red, and John takes a silent step back.  "And I was a little infatuated-"

"A little?!"  The man sits up more and points accusingly at her.  "You-"

"-but," she continues, "maybe you were moving too fast and that's why I gave into those feelings.  You ever think about that?"

"I moved here for you!"

"I never asked you to!"

Using every stealth technique the USAF and Teyla and Ronon taught him, John edges towards the doorway.  He's tempted to drop to the floor and crawl, except he's pretty sure it won't improve his odds much.  Instead, he focuses on ditching the ex-couple and on how he's going to kill Mitchell for this.  The bastard had to know he was sending John into a tinderbox.

John's got his hand on the handle when the raised voices stop and the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.  He's torn between looking over his shoulder to see what happened, and flinging the door open to dive for cover.  In the end, stupidity--as Rodney calls it--wins out and he turns around, one hand still on the door handle.  Both Shanahan and Carter are looking at him.  Carter's blushing and looking at him but not directly, Shanahan has the pinched look of any guy who knows he revealed too much and has created an uncomfortable atmosphere.

"Colonel," Carter finally says, looking at him.  "John," and okay, that sounds so wrong coming from her, and he can see her flinch as she realizes it, too.  "I'm sorry you-"

"We shouldn't have-" Shanahan chimes in, and the two exchange a look.

John takes the moment of silence to straighten his shoulders.  "Why don't we just pretend this," he finally offers, waving between the three of them, "never happened."

Some of the tension bleeds out of Carter's posture.  "Thank you, Colonel."

"You're a real pal."  Shanahan shifts back against his pillow, practically mumbling.

John nods once and pulls the door open, causing a nurse to practically fall in.  Obviously she's been listening at the door.  Giving the woman a curt nod, he walks out of the room and towards the elevator.  It isn't until he's safely in the car and the doors are closed that he finally leans against a wall and lets out a long breath.  Next time, he's telling Mitchell to deliver the damn gifts himself, because he never wants to be in the same room with those two again.

He rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands and lets himself relax a little more.  Now it's over and he doesn't have to be stressed about anything else until Monday.  Which is, of course, when the elevator door opens and a bed slams into his stomach and he's riding along with four doctors and a patient who's bleeding out.  At least they're not going back to the floor Carter's on.

Like all good men, John deals with his bitter anguish by driving around aimlessly for five hours before going home and finishing off the six beers in the fridge.  He isn't sure who he's more pissed at--no, that's not true.  It's Weir.  He respected her, followed her command.  Her running and hiding after the exile was one of the biggest betrayals John has ever felt, and now she's running again, along with spreading the word of the very people that kicked them out in the first place.  More than anyone else, John understood what she was feeling, what a great loss Atlantis was.

It isn't fair.  She gets to run and hide, and he remains the laughing stock of Stargate Command.

A slamming door brings him out of his thoughts, and John looks up to see Rodney staring at the floor forlornly before the pissed scowl returns and he glares at John.  Obviously, not a good day at the office, but John can trump any shit Rodney dealt with off-world.  Nothing could be worse than-

"You drank all my beer!"

John gives Rodney a narrow, thin-lipped glare of his own.  "Elizabeth called."  It throws Rodney; John can actually see the moment his mind stops and the gears switch.  "She moved to India to work with the Dalai Lama.  Oh, and to covertly spread the philosophy of the Ancients."  She'd spent many days reading up on Ancient ideology.  In the first year it was her hobby, one she had tried to bring John, Rodney, and the rest of the senior staff in on.

Rodney stares at him, and he looks over the bottles of beer, then goes into the kitchen.  John can hear him dropping his things in the dining room.  When Rodney returns a minute later, it's with a bottle of vodka the size of his arm.  He sits next to John, their legs and shoulders inches apart.  He breaks open the seal and takes a chug that would make John's old frat buddies proud, then leans back and stares at the black screen of the television.  They sit in silence, the light slowly disappearing as the evening turns into night.  Finally, Rodney says, "Traitor."

John nods.  "I really hated her.  When she told me."

Rodney takes another drink from the bottle.  "You're not alone in that."  His lip curls down.  "Any reason she didn't call me directly?  My voicemail works just fine."

"She figured it'd be better coming from me."  As if he could keep the resentment and reprisals to a minimum.  He waits a beat.  "I broke my phone."

"And drowned yourself in ale."  Rodney frowns.  "Stupid natives.  I'm starting to talk like those backwards little--" He takes another drink.  "I could probably get the Odyssey to transport Elizabeth back to the SGC."

It's tempting, but John doubts he can punch another ex-CO and get away with it.  "She worshiped them."

Rodney snorts.  "Everyone on base does.  Except Daniel."

John raises his almost empty beer bottle.  "Here's to Daniel."

Rodney rolls his eyes and takes another drink before saying, "You're drunk."

"After that I fuckin' deserve it.  She calls and just expects me to...she wanted me to be happy for her!"  John slams the empty bottle down.  "She's goin' off and trying to redeem those bastards, and I'm stuck combing the reject pile and getting assholes who run over people's puppies on my team!"  Rodney blinks once, twice, and hands over the vodka.  John takes it and does his own chugging.  He really should look into this semi-alcoholism he's developed since returning to Earth.  "Thanks," he mumbles.

Rodney looks at his hands, then down at the floor.  "I'll get my own place."  He sounds miserable.


"Look, you're obviously going through some stuff--okay, a lot of stuff--and not really able to handle me.  Not that I need handling, but even I know I'm high-maintenance and you can't do that right now because...well, just because.  Also, you suck.  All I could think about today was Euler and how he must be lonely at the shelter and I shouldn't have to choose between you and my cat but you made me and-" his breath hitches, "-and I...Sheppard, we can't, I can't..."

John waits for more, but Rodney apparently either doesn't know where he's going with the rant, or just ran out energy.  Obviously, the ball's in his court, and despite everything, he can't do this without McKay.  He tried and ended up trashing his apartment.  He nudges his knee against Rodney's.  "I didn't mean it."

"You're an asshole."

"Yeah, and so're you."  Rodney doesn't even protest the label.  "It's us.  It's how we are."

"If you want me gone-"

"I don't."  John tries to sound as sincere as possible.  "Never."

Rodney's shoulders tense, and John holds his breath instinctively.  After a moment, he feels his shoulder get bumped.  "Never?"

It takes him a minute to realize he's practically offered a marriage proposal, complete with a declaration of eternal love.  It takes him another minute to realize he doesn't feel any panic or fear or even a desire to deny it.  He scoots closer, so that their thighs are brushing against each other.  "We'll find a damned cat, McKay."  As Rodney relaxes against him, John thinks that it may have been a crappy day, but one thing turned out for the better.

At least, for now.

The weekend is filled with almost-uncomfortable silences and forlorn looks and little physical contact.  John goes out of his way to get Rodney's favorite pizza and movies and there are boxes of Chinese left open on the kitchen counter.  Rodney makes all the agreeable sounds, sits next to him and cuddles a bit on the couch, but John knows Rodney isn't there.  Rodney's hands keep moving to stroke what's missing, and his gaze is glued to the floor looking for a white blur.  He's not miserable, but he's not coping, and John feels like a complete heel because he knows it's his fault.

He waits until after Rodney leaves Monday morning before calling in sick and grabbing his leather jacket and keys and steeling himself for what has to be done.  He was willing to put up with an ex-husband, a mother-in-law, and a rat in his failed marriage.  In the end, is a cat really that demanding?  Even one that hates him?  At least the cat won't try and strike him with a walker.  With that argument in mind, he spends the next three hours going to every animal shelter in the phonebook.  The second to last one--of course, it's going to be at the end of the list--he finally strikes gold.

"Euler?"  The volunteer is a college girl with big green eyes and a blond pony tail and a bright, bright smile.  Her teeth are so white it actually hurts to look at them.  "I think we have a cat by that name."  She bats her eyes and clasps her hands behind her back, pushing out her frighteningly buxom chest.  "Would you like to come back and get him?"

"Just bring him out in a travel box please."  His cuts are almost healed and he doesn't want new ones.  She smiles at him again, then turns and bounces off and John pinches the bridge of his nose as she vanishes into the back.  Ever since the exile, he can finally see it coming.  A lot.  He's starting to get why Rodney called him Kirk so much.  At least none of his team has tried to hit on him.  That one nurse did, but Carson pulled her aside and he really doesn't want to know what the man said to scare her away.

"Here he is."  The woman's voice squeaks at the end of her sentence, and John notices Euler flinches along with him.  Maybe they do have something in common.  "You sure you don't want to take him out?"

John pulls out the sixty-five dollars he needs to pay for the return of the hellion and smiles, though not directly at her.  "He's not a fan of car rides.  It's best if we just leave him in there."  He checks out the beast through the bars.  Same white fur, same beady eyes, same dangerous claws.  He returns the wallet to his back jeans pocket and rests his hand on the travel box handle.  "Thanks for your help."

She puts her hand on top of his.  "You know, he had a lot of behavior problems during his stay here, and I happen to be an excellent animal trainer."  She bats her eyes again.

John knows his smile is forced, but he keeps it in place.  "You'll have to take that up with my boyfriend."  Her blinding grin vanishes instantly.  "It's his cat."  He lifts up the carrier and gives the silently laughing woman behind him a nod before leaving.  He waits until he's outside before he takes deep breaths to slow his racing heart.  He just outed himself to two complete strangers and referred to Rodney as his boyfriend.  He's never actually thought of Rodney in those terms and now he is.

And yes, he's getting that familiar heart palpitation feeling.  He's only gotten it once before, with a woman he loved and it was exciting and terrifying and after he'd proposed he'd had a near anxiety attack.  Of course, he'd proposed to Rodney only a few days ago--well, kind of proposed, maybe more of a suggestion they never separate--oh god, he proposed to Rodney and he's going to live with a cat that hates him and he needs to sit down now before he passes out outside the animal shelter.

He sets the carrier down and sits on the edge of the sidewalk and puts his head between his knees and locks his hands behind his neck and just concentrates on breathing in and out and in and out and in and out...

"Okay," he says.  "Okay."  John stares at the pavement and his sneakers.  "You like Rodney.  A lot.  It won't be like before."  Granted, 'before' had ended because John wanted it to end.  The fact that she'd been unfaithful was beside the point.  And, now that he's thinking about it, he's been with Rodney longer than he'd been married.  And Rodney isn't one to get bored easily, or likely to strike up an affair, because everyone he works with is an idiot.  Except Colonel Carter.  If she asked him to have her babies, he could see Rodney agreeing.

He might have to shoot her if she does.

Rodney.  His boyfriend.  It had been so easy to say it in there, to let it roll off the tongue.  "Boyfriend," he tries again, but it sounds alien, dangerous.  It also sounds better than the alternatives.  He can't even get his lips to form the term 'lover' or 'life-partner' or 'gentlemen friend'--a term his dad liked to use for all queers.  Of course, if his dad was alive he'd probably be spitting nails.  Not so much at the gay thing--his dad had been surprisingly open-minded for a general--as the 'jeopardizing your career' thing.    Actually, once they got through sizing each other up, John knew Rodney and his dad would've gotten along.

He doesn't think about his mother, and how she'll react if he ever takes Rodney home.  Some things are just too painful to dwell on.

At least there's nothing to worry about on Rodney's side.  He's met Jeannie and she loves him--well, she didn't know he and McKay were together at the time, but that probably wouldn't change anything.  She even invited him to visit them sometime during leave.  And Rodney has complained about his late parents many, many times; and said nothing about aunts, uncles, cousins, or any other relatives.  Of course, from the few tales John's heard of the McKays, they might have alienated the rest of the family.  So no worries there, unless Jeannie's husband is a religious conservative, or a jerk.

He brings his hands around and rubs them over his face.  "Right."  He's thinking of family and Rodney and him and Rodney and their families together and he's not having another heart attack.  He'd try to picture him and Rodney in the future, but he's never been that kind of guy.  Even with his first marriage, he never thought of them beyond a few months.  Rodney would say it's because he has suicidal tendencies and no regard for his own safety, but it's not that.  There's only been two things John has ever envisioned over the long-term: flying, and math.  Everything else has always seemed...transitory.

Although the thought of McKay old and complaining and waving his cane about at some atrocity by the latest physics wiz kid does bring a smile to his face.  And he knows he wants to see that, to live long enough to see Rodney bitch out the new SGC recruits, telling them horror stories of his time in Pegasus and how everything is so easy because he figured all the technology out for them.  John wants to live, but he's never wanted to live for somebody before.  It's...different, but it brings a warmth to his chest that he has only ever associated with Rodney, and maybe he can handle this whole proposal thing.

Just, not in public so much.  And if Rodney wants a wedding in Canada, John may have to hit him.  A lot.

Euler remains a silent but hostile companion on the drive home, and John very carefully doesn't look in the cage until he's inside the house and sitting on the couch, the carrier in front of him on the coffee table.  The beast is cleaning a paw, but its beady eyes are focused on John as he leans forward so they're eye-level.  He can't see the tail, but John's willing to bet it's twitching back and forth in a sinister method.

He's got to be totally insane.  "Alright, we're not on the best of terms right now."  Euler doesn't stop with the licking.  "But if you're going to stay here, we've got to set some ground rules.  You scratch me again, and it's declaw city.  Shred my magazines, my books, my clothes?  Straight to the vet's."  He leans closer.  "And don't think I won't tell them to neuter you while you're under."  Its ears fold back and finally, the feline put its paw down.  "Don't think Rodney will save you, either.  I'm willing to make this work, but you?  You're going to change."

He leans forward even more.  "Cause Rodney," he tells the cat, his voice low and edgy, like the last time he met a Wraith Worshiper, "is mine.  I'm willing to share, but you screw up this time?  No one will find the body."  He thinks Euler's listening, but he still feels like an idiot.  "Do we...understand each other?"  There's a low rumble from within the carrier, not a purr, but not the hissing he met on his first night, either.  "Good."  And because he's not stupid, he turns the carrier around before unlocking the door.  Euler leaps out and immediately runs for the hallway.  "And if I find any yellow stains you're getting snipped tomorrow!"

There's no answer, but John figures the animal got the message.  Or he was just making noise and he's going to find his bed covered in feathers and cat piss tonight.  Either way, he brings the carrier down to the basement then settles back on the couch--no hissing beast this time--and turns on the TV.  He flips through the channels before he finds a Law and Order marathon.  He's not really into it, but it's less annoying than the sportscasters' voices.  Also, Cadman would never share her collection, so he's got three years of seasons to catch up on.

Shortly after four in the afternoon, he hears Rodney cursing outside, but doesn't bother to move.  Obviously Rodney heard he'd called in sick.  He smiles just a little as the door slams open.  "Sheppard!  You should have told me you-"  He's cut off as a white blur literally skitters around the corner and slams into his shins.  "You...Euler?"  The animal makes a pitiful mewling sound, and there's a small waterfall of papers and the thunk of a laptop case as Rodney actually scoops the cat into his arms and hugs it.  "Euler!"

John slides his legs off the coffee table and ambles over, just standing behind Rodney with his hands on his hips.  Euler is rubbing his face against Rodney's chin and hands and purring like crazy.  John watches them--well, Rodney--until one of Rodney's memos blows out the door.  Since Rodney's pretty much oblivious, John jogs outside and snatches it before they violate any non-disclosure agreements.  By the time he's back at the door, Rodney's moved into the living room and John's rescued three pages from blowing into the night.  He takes another few minutes to clean up the entry way and put everything in the dining room before looking in on Rodney.

He's gone quiet, fussing over the animal silently as he holds it.  John leans an arm against the doorway and waits.  It doesn't take long for Rodney to look at him, giving him that crooked, shy smile that always appears when John surprises him.  "I thought you said-"

John shrugs one shoulder and stands up.  "It's just a cat.  I," he rubs the back of his neck, "I overreacted."  He doesn't need to say any more.  Actions always did speak louder than words for him.  He tilts his head back.  "So, I'm going hit the hay.  Early morning tomorrow, got to make up for today."  He's been munching on the remains of the Chinese since he got back, so it's not like he's hungry.  "I'll see you tomorrow."  He heads towards the bedroom not expecting a reply.  He's been an asshole, now he's just trying to make up it.  Rodney doesn't owe him anything.  He climbs into bed feeling like he weighs less than he did yesterday, and it helps lull him to sleep.

In the morning, he wakes up suffocating from the heat and restrained by a new weight on his chest.  A familiar weight.  A few blurry blinks in the pre-dawn light and he can make out Rodney face down beside him with an arm around his chest, a leg between his, and drool on his shoulder.  After four months of barren contact, this should feel intrusive, strange, even bother him that he's overheating and has Rodney's saliva on his skin and pillow.

Instead, he closes his eyes and decides he doesn't really need to go in early after all.  For the first time in four months, Earth finally feels a little more like home.

The next two days are fairly uneventful.  She-Ra scientist, who's actual name is Dr. Betty Santos, gets along great with both Wallace and Bambus, and Landry schedules their first off-world mission for that Friday.  Even missing a day, John's been caught up on his paperwork because he's been base-bound, so he spends most of Wednesday bugging Carson.  If Carson's annoyed, he doesn't show it, probably because John's not the only one who's worried.

That morning SG-1 went on a reconnaissance mission to a world thinking of joining the Ori cause.  Granted, SG-1 has had the best luck when dealing with Priors and hiding from the armies of the Ori, but this is the first time Rodney's with them on such a mission.  And John's a little nervous.  He's used to watching Rodney's back, and while there's some team cohesion, he still doesn't trust Mitchell to not abandon McKay if the going gets too tough.  The man's not used to dealing with civilians, and despite all his training, Rodney is still very much a civilian.

They're scheduled to be back at three in the afternoon.  The fact that John just happens to be in the control room at that time is merely because he wanted to ask Siler something about motorcycles--he doesn't care if McKay forbids him to even look at them, they're fast and sleek and the next best thing to flying.  By half-past, John has no reason to be in the control room at all, but no one gives him any sour looks, though General Landry offers him a sympathetic smile; something that kind of freaks John out.  By the time it's almost four, he's ready to grab SG-3 and SG-6 and lead the charge to rescue his scientist.  And the rest of SG-1.

At four-oh-five, the Gate begins to dial.

"Unscheduled off-world activation."  John doesn't recognize the dialing technician.  As far as he's concerned, Chuck is the best one there is.  "It's SG-1's IDC," the man confirms a moment later.

Landry looks over the man's shoulder.  "Is the anti-Prior device active?"

"Yes, sir.  And the defense team is in position."

"Very well.  Open the iris."

John puts his hands on his hips and waits.  And waits.  And holds his breath.  And waits.  And finally, finally, all of SG-1 step through the wormhole.  No weapons firing, no hurried running.  No ducking from spears and energy blasts.  Just a stroll through the wormhole.  Although, if he squints, it appears that Colonel Mitchell doesn't look too happy.

"I told you to get to the Gate, McKay."

"I'm sorry, are you saying I did something wrong?  Because unless I'm mistaken, I just saved your life."  Rodney's got that post-adrenaline frightened-but-smug grin that makes John want to kiss and strangle him at the same time.  At least, it did while they were on Atlantis.  "So really?  Not very interested in what you said."

"I gave you an order-"

"Funny, Sheppard did the same thing.  And he never complained when I didn't follow it and it ended up saving his life."  He looks up to the window, just expecting John to be there.  John resists the urge to smile and merely raises an eyebrow.  Rodney looks back at SG-1.  "Also, it wasn't a very well thought order.  The Gate was guarded."

Mitchell waves his hand violently at McKay.  "You have a gun!"

"Yes."  Rodney's voice is dripping with disdain, like right after hearing Kavanagh's ideas on power consumption equations.  "And one gun is going to let me kill six Ori soldiers.  Real brilliant thinking."

"I think what the Colonel is saying," Daniel says as he pushes his glasses up, "is that it was a dangerous move.  You could've been captured as well."

"So I should've hidden and let you all get killed?"

"Well, no-"

Vala suddenly claps her hands.  "Well I'm just glad it's all over.  And that Rodney's plan worked."  She's grinning.  "And I'm very happy you grabbed the wrong weapon."

"Yeah, about that," Mitchell grouses, "I said a zat, not a zapping gun thing."

"SG-1," Landry says through the microphone, "you're overdue."

Mitchell looks up.  "Sorry, sir.  Ran into a Prior.  Wasn't too happy to see us."

"Yes, fortunately I was able to save the day before he burned Colonel Hotshot at the stake."  Now he's got the smug, superior look that means Rodney's about to wow them all with good news.  The 'I found a personal shield' news.  John barely bites back his grin.  "And I discovered a new weapon to use against the Priors.  It'll be in the report.  Teal'c!"  He snaps his fingers as he walks towards the door.  "I need you to loom over some baby lieutenants in the armory."  Then he simply walks out of the room.

John watches as Teal'c just follows Rodney.  So does Vala, but John's pretty sure she just wants to see the fallout of the armory action.  Mitchell still looks upset, and Daniel waves at John before heading for the door himself.  He finally lets himself smirk, and turns to leave himself.

"Colonel Sheppard."  He freezes and swivels on his heel.  "Did Doctor McKay ever attend post-mission briefings?"

"Sometimes."  He puts his hands on his waist again.  "Mostly he left it up to me and Teyla to do the reporting.  Unless there was something of interest on the planet.  Technologically speaking."  It was actually kind of a reprieve, since he and Rodney easily distracted each other in meetings.  Subtle things.  Like exchanging glances, or synchronized eye-rolling, or passing messages over the tablets.  "I could try and talk with him, but if Rodney doesn't think it's worth his time..."

Landry lets out a long sigh.  He's done that a lot since McKay joined SG-1.  "Tell the doctor I want a full debriefing over this new weapon.  And Sheppard," he gives John a pointed look, "I want you there, too."

"Yes, sir."  John waits until the General is back up the stairs before getting out of the control room and strolling towards the main armory.  He's hoping to catch the last bit of the show, but when he gets there there's no sign of McKay.  Or a weeping lieutenant.  Or anyone that looks very cowed.  With at least thirteen other possible armories--John still hasn't learned every nook and cranny of the place--he goes to the next most likely place to find Rodney.

Sure enough McKay's in his lab typing on a laptop.  Crossing his arms, John cants his hips so he can lean against the doorframe and just waits for Rodney to realize he's there.  It takes almost a page, or so he estimates, before Rodney looks up.  "Yes, what?  I'm very busy and I have to finish this before the idea passes."

"Weren't you going to scare some soldiers?"

Rodney waves his hand in the air.  "I left it to Vala and Teal'c."  He narrows his eyes.  "You weren't waiting in the control room for me, were you?"

"Nah.  Landry just wanted to talk about my mission on Friday."  Yeah, Rodney's totally not buying it.  "So, found a Prior?"

He rolls his eyes and goes back to typing.  "I'll bring you a copy of the report."

"Actually Landry wants me to be there."  The typing stops.  "When you present this new weapon against the Priors."

"Oh."  Rodney blinks a few times.  "Well.  Good."  He nods once.  "It means he's finally going to give you some responsibility.  Something other than those snot-nosed useless children he's having you babysit."

John pushes off from the doorframe and ambles to the table, planting his hands on the surface.  "I think he's going to use me as a barometer.  To read you.  Or maybe as some kind of leash."

Rodney snorts.  "Yeah, that's going to work."

He can't help but smirk at that.  "So when will your report be ready?"

"Be in the meeting room in two hours."  Rodney is wearing his own crooked smirk.

John taps the table once then turns on his heel and strolls out, keeping his smirk in place.  He takes three minutes to inform Landry that Rodney will be ready in two hours, then kills the rest of the time in the cafeteria with a cup of coffee.  He could be doing something else, but he's been meaning to give the enlisted KP the evil eye for running out of his turkey sandwiches for a while, and right now he feels like he can.  One of the airmen drops a tray of glasses under his gaze.  He figures that's worth a second cup of coffee.

He makes sure to be one of the last ones in the conference room, mainly because he's attended Rodney's lectures before, and the man is always seven to nine minutes late.  Always.  According to Jeannie, Rodney was exactly eight minutes late for his graduation speech; a speech the Dean had requested Rodney make personally. On Atlantis, everyone knew about this, but only the scientists were berated if they weren't there right when Rodney ordered.  Everyone else Rodney didn't care if they counted on his tardiness.  It was only in crisis mode he was punctual.  It was a good system.

Just as the vein on Landry's forehead begins to throb, Rodney walks in and looks around at SG-1, his look lingering a bit longer on John.  "I'm assuming Mitchell caught you up on the events of P3X-978?"

"For those of us at the post-mission briefing."  Landry tries to give Rodney the evil eye.  John doesn't even bother to hide the quirk of his lips.  Such things never work on Rodney.  Well, at least not from anyone on Earth.  "Colonel Mitchell didn't say what you used to take the Prior out with, though."

"That's because Mitchell didn't read the reports from Atlantis.  Or play with any of the toys we brought back."  Rodney unclasps his thigh holster--and god, that really shouldn't be that hot; John turns his seat a little more so his lap is better hidden--and tosses his weapon onto the table.  A very familiar weapon.  "I meant to grab a zat, but I was in a hurry and instead grabbed this by instinct."  Another crooked grin, this time aimed at John.

The weapon is deep blue, organic looking, and gun-shaped with a white bulge where the barrel should be.  There's no exit for a bullet, rather just a smooth ovular surface.  It's a weapon that everyone on Atlantis was familiar with.  "A Wraith stunner?"  The outburst is involuntary, but Landry gives him a warning glare anyways.

"I don't understand," Landry says.  "You saved SG-1 with this?"

"I know.  I was surprised too, but," Rodney points to the stunner, "that might be the key to our Prior problem."  John glances at SG-1 and sees none of them are following Rodney's logic.  John isn't either, but he can hide it better.  Rodney sighs, as if it's a huge burden to have to explain it to them.  "The Wraith evolved technology to battle the Ancients, right?  They were their sworn enemies."

"They still are," Daniel says.  "But from what I read, the Wraith use the stunners to incapacitate their victims."

Rodney nods.  "Yes, yes, but the stunner can also be set to kill.  From the compact version to the large ones, that look like a pike."  He looks around the table.  John nods subtly for him to go on.  "Think about it, why would the Wraith want to kill their food?  They need it alive to feed."

Vala finally leans forward.  "Because they first used them...on the Ancients?"

Rodney snaps and points at her.  "Exactly!  And some of the Ancients started ascending in Pegasus.  That means that they evolved extraordinary abilities.  Telekinesis, telepathy, healing, etcetera, etcetera."  He grins as he puts his hands on his hips.  "Now, telepathy and healing isn't much of a big deal, but with telekinesis the Ancients could protect themselves from normal energy weapons."

"You're saying the Wraith developed weapons to fight super-powered Ancients."  Mitchell picks up the stunner and looks it over.  "But why did it knock out the Prior?"

"I'm having Miko run some comparative analysis, but I'm willing to bet the energy field that the anti-Prior device generates is similar to the energy wavelength of the Wraith stunner."  Rodney bounces on his feet.  "You see why this is good news, right?"

"Pretend I don't, Doctor McKay."  Landry folds his hands together on the table.  "Why is a weapon designed to fight the Ancients able to negate the powers of a Prior?"

Rodney huffs out an impatient breath.  "What are the Priors?  People that have been artificially advanced to a state just before ascension.  Wraith stunners are designed to take out Ancients in a mental and physical state of pre-ascension."  He's looking more frustrated than pleased now.  "We don't need anti-Prior devices.  We can just use the, oh, fifty or so Wraith stunners lying about in our armory.  More if we can get the Ancients to fork some over."

John snatches the stunner from Mitchell's hands.  It's warm and familiar and now he has an excuse to bring a little of Atlantis with him on missions.  He can see Rodney's thinking the same thing, and he twirls the stunner around his finger, just to show off.  A little.

General Landry is pleased, but John can sense he's trying not to feed McKay's ego.  "Well, doctor, this is good news-"

"Good?  This is great news.  Fantastic!"

"And I'm sure the IOA will be pleased at your finding."  He nods.  "Good work.  I'll recall the ones we have at Area 51 and start distributing them among the SG teams."

Rodney lets out another huff and crosses his arms.  "You don't get it."  Landry frowns at him.  "What Sam built?  Remarkable, genius."  He waves a hand circularly before tucking it back against his chest.  "But this?  If I'm right this could lead to something more than just stopping the Priors."

"How so?"

Rodney opens his mouth, then shuts it, then tilts his chin up.  "I'm not sure.  I still have some research to do.  But I promise, it's going to be big.  Bigger than big.  You'll wish you could give me a medal-"

"Yes, well," Landry stands up, "until you're ready to present that, let's just be proud at discovering what the stunners can do."  Rodney at least knows when to stop battling and nods tensely.  "Good job, doctor.  SG-1, I want you on stand-down the rest of the week while Doctor McKay looks into this.  Now go home and get some rest.  Reports due on my desk by ten-hundred hours."

Mitchell salutes, and John does so as an afterthought.  He ignores the rest of SG-1 as they talk, some about the mission, Vala and Daniel specifically talking quietly to Rodney.  He just keeps looking at the weapon, a weapon that he'd never thought he'd use again.  Yes, Rodney didn't mean to discover this, but it still feels like McKay brought a little bit more of home to this strange world called Earth.  He glances up and nods as Rodney catches his eye.  Rodney's neck turns a little red, and John smirks, looking forward to getting home tonight.

Rodney spends the rest of the week cooped up in his lab with Miko, so John doesn't really get to say goodbye before his team head through to P4X-776 that Friday.  Like the rest of his missions, the world is uninhabited, safe, but with some interesting flora that might hold the cure for cancer, or prevent acne, or something.  He doesn't really pay much attention when Bambus rambles unless he hears the word 'poison' or 'rash.'

Unfortunately, the initial survey seems to have missed something, because he's got a spear at his throat.  "I'm guessing we came at a bad time."

Wallace swallows nervously, his hands tense on the P90, but not making any overt threatening gestures.  He's also keeping himself between Dr. Santos and the hostile natives.  John gives him a brief, almost unnoticeable nod of approval.  It'd be better if they weren't backed against a tree, but at least the man's doing his job.  Dr. Santos seems torn between grabbing the nearest spear and ducking behind Wallace.  She keeps shuffling her feet.  He'd say something to tell her to stop, but he's more worried about his other scientist.

The reason they'd come to this world was the strange field of Bonsai-like trees.  No other SG team had discovered something like that, and they were in sharp contrast to the forest visible almost two miles away.  It was a botanical curiosity that had Bambus tittering with excitement.  The man had immediately gone into the Bonsai field to examine the specimens, and a few seconds later John felt a familiar tingle from the obelisk behind the Stargate and they were surrounded by the natives.

Bambus, who had been a good ten feet from John, had been completely cut off from his view as twenty half-naked soldiers encircled the hapless man.  He hasn't heard any cries of pain or pleas for help yet, but John is still tense.  He can't see one of his team, and he's been on enough missions to know when the natives swarm, it's not good.  "Look, we're peaceful explorers-"

He feels the spear dig just a bit into his skin.  "Why have you disturbed our holy site?"

Oh, definitely not good.  Rodney had defiled three 'holy sites' in Pegasus, and each time it had taken skill, cunning, and a lot of shooting to get out.  "We're sorry.  We thought the world was uninhabited."

"You were defiling our dead!"

John catches a peek of Bambus through the throng of legs.  He's on the ground, but seemingly unhurt.  Good.  "We didn't know."  He glances over to Wallace and Santos.  "Is there any way we can start over?  I'm Colonel Sheppard-"

The man growls, but then John feels that tingle again.  The one that speaks of Ancient technology activating, and a new someone is suddenly clearing their throat.  "Jarn, relax."

"This is a matter of the Temple.  They-"

"Are new to this world and obviously had no idea we were here."  The newcomer is fully dressed in a ruffled shirt and trousers that seem to be from the sixteenth century.  He's also giving a stern glare to all the half-dressed people, taking an extremely long time looking at the man holding a spear at John's throat.  "This isn't any way to make friends."

"The Temple has jurisdiction over the Gateway, Tens."

"And the government has jurisdiction over the Temple."  Tens has his arms crossed now.  "Ergo, I have final say.  Now let them go."  He offers a small smile to John.  "Would you mind not digging around our holy gravesite?"

"Shouldn't be a problem."  John raises his voice.  "Right, Bambus?"

"No problem."  His voice is straining, squeaking just a little, but otherwise he doesn't sound too panicked.  That's good.

John nods towards Tens.  "See?  So, about these spears..."

"Of course."  Tens gives Jarn a scathing look, and after a battle of wills that lasts a minute, Jarn lowers his weapon.  That's all it takes, apparently, as the other natives lower their weapons and cautiously retreat towards an obelisk situated behind the Stargate.  "My apologies.  Those of the Temple take their duties very fervently."

"Understandable."  John runs a hand over the front of his neck and looks around.  Wallace is watching the half-naked men, while Santos' eye seems to be caught by the obelisk.  She has the same gleam that Rodney got on Atlantis with new technology.  He's going to have to keep an extra eye on her.  Bambus is on his back, but seems to be collecting himself methodically.  He's also moving towards the edge of the Bonsai field.  Good man.  Finally, he turns to look at Tens, who's having another staring match with Jarn.

John makes a mental note to impart some brief Earth history to Tens.  Any guy that wants to prevent bloodshed with strangers is good in his book, and he'd hate to see another decent government taken down by religious radicals.  It'd only happened twice in Pegasus, but both times the results were rather bloody, and never in favor of those in Atlantis.  Of course, the Wraith culled both worlds to extinction within a year, but that was neither here nor there.

The gem in the center of the obelisk glows, and John knows where the Ancient itch at the back of his brain has been coming from.  There's a brief almost invisible beam and his team is finally left alone with Tens.  "I think we got off on the wrong foot," he says to the man.

"Again, I do apologize.  Ever since Jarn became Chief of the Temple, he's been more hostile towards outsiders.  Please, don't think poorly of us because of a few select reactionaries."  Tens' smile is warm and hopeful, his hands clasped in front of him in a most disarming way.

"Reactionaries?"  John spots Santos moving towards the obelisk.  Wallace takes a second to round up Bambus before rushing over to the stray doctor.  Good.

Tens' smile brightens and his hands wave about in an excited maneuver reminiscent of Rodney when he's giving an impassioned speech about ZedPMs, or Canadian chocolate.  "Oh yes.  Professor Rets has inspired a revolution of scientific growth and understanding the likes of which we've never had since the old Gods left us a century ago.  He was inspired by," he gestures to the obelisk, "the Tower of Ancestry."

Which explains the hostile religious fanatics.  "Interesting.  You know, Doctor Bambus here is an expert on plants.  I'm sure he'd be willing to share some of our science as a form of reparation."

The man's eyes are sparkling, eager.  "Oh, that's not really necessary, you were unaware of the taboo."

John offers his disarming, 'let's be allies' smile.  "He's happy to."  Plus, it'll give the natives a distraction while he talks to Santos and finds out about the obelisk.  And maybe find out if the Temple has more Ancient technology.  He really misses the hand-held scanners of Atlantis.  The things were useful, damn it.

"Well, if you insist."  Tens is practically vibrating.  "Come, come.  I shall bring you to Sensens."  He places an arm around John's shoulders.  "I feel this is a good beginning for us."

"Yup."  Though if he finds any subterranean tunnels, he's hauling ass off this world.  Been there, done that, and never going to live through it again.

They miss their check-in, but return within the six hour window relatively unhurt, with an invitation to return and potential new allies.  Wallace managed to get a black eye when he walked into a door--really, how did the man manage to survive boot camp?--and Bambus had to reject four different marriage proposals, one of which was not from a member of the opposite sex.  Santos seemed to have McKay's tendency to wander off, but the information she returned with saved the day and won the hearts of Tens' people.

"Colonel Sheppard, is everything okay?"

"Yes, sir."  John salutes up to the window.  "Found a nice society on the other side of the planet, saved them from a goa'uld impersonating the Chief of the Temple, and didn't get shot at once."  Well, okay, he had been, but the hand device wasn't really very scary, not when he'd faced hands that could suck the very life from his body.  And the snake had missed, anyways.  "They'd like to open negotiations for an alliance."

If Landry's eyebrows moved any farther north, they'd be off his forehead and into his hairline.  Obviously he wasn't expecting John's team to do well.  "Good work.  I look forward to hearing the debrief."

"Cool."  Landry frowns.  "Sir."  He turns to his team.  "Let's get to the infirmary."  This has been the best mission since he started at the SGC, and John knows it's just asking for it, but he doesn't think anything can ruin the mood he's in.

He's really got to learn to stop tempting fate with his good moods.

The rest of his team is handled by Dr. Lam and the others, but John always heads for Carson's office.  Dr. Lam keeps giving him a sour look, but everyone knows the Atlantis crew likes to keep together.  It's why no one's really raised their eyebrow about him and Rodney renting a house together.  Of course, judging by the look on Rodney's face as he enters Carson's office, renting with Rodney is going to have a major downside tonight.

Carson's got the same sour look, only with a hint of nausea and disgust.  "Did someone die?" he asks without humor.  It's not the same devastated looks they got on Atlantis, but they haven't lost anyone on Earth yet, so this could be the new look.

"Atlantis dialed in for their weekly update."  Rodney's scowling.  His usual laptop is missing, and Carson's stress doll has been ripped in two.  Oh, this is bad.

"Are O'Neill and Woolsey okay?"  Not that he really liked Woolsey, but General O'Neill was a pretty good guy.

"Oh, they're just peachy!  General O'Neill helped strategize with Thor over a worldwide bombardment of the Asurans by an Asgard fleet."  He flails his hands randomly.  "The Ancients return and suddenly the Asgard can't wait to swoop in and save the day!"  He claps loudly.  "Like that!  It took them five minutes to wipe out the Ancient Replicators.  Five minutes!  When we asked for help they said they had to develop a weapon to be deployed on a planetary scale because they couldn't spare any ships!"

That might explain Carson's sick look.  Genocide of any kind is abhorrent to the man.  Hell, John knows he still feels guilty over developing a retrovirus that turned the Wraith human.  "That's good news, though."

"Oh, but it gets better!"  Rodney crosses his arms.  "You want to tell him, Carson?"  It makes the doctor turn even more green, and John starts looking for a silver basin just in case.  Rodney frowns a minute, and awkwardly rubs the sick man's shoulder.  "Sorry."

"They used my retrovirus," Carson finally says feebly.  "They did it."

John blinks a few times.  Carson can't mean...  No, no, that can't be right.  He looks to Rodney for confirmation.

"We would've been popping champagne and throwing confetti and having a damned orgy in the control room!"

John can't find a seat fast enough so he ends up sitting on the desk.  Something gets crushed beneath his ass, but he's a bit too stunned to move, or care.  "But...how?"

"Oh, they loved Carson's retrovirus.  They just felt it needed some tweaking.  And again, the Ancients return, and the other powerful races come out of the woodwork."  Rodney's voice takes on an edge John's rarely heard.  "The Nox were more than happy to work with the Asgard on stealthily sneaking up on Hive ships, planting the drug, and rescuing the survivors.  Oh, they put in a formal protest when the Asgard then blew up the humanized Wraith and their Queens, but they still helped."

Rodney's scowl deepens.  "Two weeks!  Because of Carson's work and our plans and all the shit we dealt with and the people that died-"  He takes a deep breath, then another, and another.  "Two weeks," he yells again, as if that's all he can say.

But John can get the picture.  Significantly outnumbered, outgunned, out-everything, and the Ancients finally manage to win the one war they couldn't thanks to the primitive people they deemed unworthy of sharing their city with.  John's not sure what stuns him more: the Wraith being defeated, the Nox and Asgard finally pulling their weight, or the fact that the Ancients didn't even call to thank them for their work.

It can't be that last one.  The Ancients are arrogant assholes who barely said thank you before shutting them out of Atlantis.  "So it's over?"  He thought he'd feel a little righteous superiority, or at least relief.  Instead he has this pit of seething anger and disgust in his stomach.

"Oh, oh, of course not!  The Ancients, in their infinite means of giving thanks, are asking us for some extra materials to finish repairing their city!  And the Asgard are going to be out of contact for a while because apparently, the Ancients promised them some way to save their race in gratitude for helping wipe out the Wraith!  And the Nox, oh, the Nox have settled amongst Pegasus to help spread the ideal of pacifism throughout the remaining cultures so that when the Ori come they'll have no resistance!"

"I helped ta kill an entire race."  Carson looks a little horrified.  "I wanted to save them, not make them helpless for a slaughter."

And that, that solidifies the anger for John, because even if the retrovirus was temporary, the Ancients have no right to make Carson feel responsible for the extinction of a race, even one as evil as the Wraith.  He gets up to storm out of the office, but Rodney grabs his arm, hard, and pulls him back to the desk.  "Rodney-"

"I'm not letting you ruin your career!"

"Fuck, McKay!  You're just as upset as I am!"

"Yes, and that's why Daniel had Teal'c drag me out of the control room when I started swearing at the bastards and told O'Neill to fuck off!"

"Then why the hell are we sticking around?!"

"Because if anyone's going to save this cesspool of arrogance and stupidity, it's us!"  The infirmary, John suddenly notes, is extremely quiet, and Rodney had shouted that last line.  Rodney, red-faced, lowers his voice.  "These halfwits don't stand a chance at defeating the Ori because they still think the Ancients are the greatest thing since sliced bread and only we know that they're a bunch of clowns that can't even save their own asses.  So either we quit, enjoy a few months of life then get killed when the Priors blow up our sun, or we show up the Ancients and beat the shit out of those religious freaks."

John feels himself making fists as he stands there, part of him wanting to fight Rodney's grip and the other wanting to stay put.  Rodney's right.  His team may finally be turning around, but the rest of the SGC look at him and the other Atlantis survivors and wonder how the hell they ever functioned, much less survived.  These people look to SG-1 as their saviors, the very team that ignored Rodney's brilliance and mocked the fact that he has saved the day more times than Cameron could count.

"I'm going home."  Carson's broken voice snaps both John and Rodney out of their silent battle and they stare at him.  "Me Mum's been worried sick.  I...I need to get home.  I just, I can't be around..."

Rodney's anger melts away instantly.  "You can't leave the program," he pleads.  "Well, I mean, you can, but I don't know if I can do this without you.  And yes, I have Sheppard but he's only so useful and I can't talk to him about the stuff I talk to you about and you're really my only friend here because Miko still thinks she's got a shot at me and Radek refuses to return so-"

"I'm not leaving."  Carson sighs and falls back against the wall.  He looks tired, John notices, and almost ten years older than he should.  "I just...ah, I just need a break, Rodney.  I need to get out of this mountain, get away from stupid doctors and scientists that don't even read my notes and soldiers who ask me who the Colonel was sleeping with to keep his job."  John sees Rodney puff up, a sharp glint in his eye.  If Rodney ever finds out who those soldiers are, they're going to find life very unpleasant.  "I just need a break."

Except if Carson goes, John doubts the man will ever return.  It could just be stress, or it could be a post-traumatic symptom of the entire Atlantis experience, and this is just the final straw that pushes Carson to leaving this hell behind.  Like Elizabeth.

Running away suddenly doesn't seem like such a bad option.

Then Rodney gets a look on his face.  The determined, grim, 'we're doing this and god help anyone who stops us' look that meant the mission would be messy, but successful.  He yanks open the door of the office and points at the nearest airman who, coincidently, happens to be Wallace.  "You!"

True to his record, Wallace looks towards Rodney as he's walking, and manages to get tangled with an extra IV pole.  His staggering leads him towards the office, and he falls flat on his face at Rodney's feet.  Rodney doesn't look impressed, just crosses his arms again.  "Uh, sir?"

"Go and tell the General that I'm taking a month of leave.  As is Doctor Beckett and Colonel Sheppard.  If he has a problem with it, tell him the Russians and Chinese would love to have any one of us."  He waits a beat.  "Well?  What are you waiting for?  Go!"  Wallace tries to scurry, and ends up falling down again before finally making his way to the door.  "And I don't want us contacted unless the world's going to end!"  Nodding once, Rodney turns back around.  "There.  Carson, go see your mother.  Sheppard, I hope you like vegetarian meals."  With that, he starts out of the infirmary.

Carson looks both relieved and tense, and apparently unable to move.  John carefully guides him towards the exit, and wonders what exactly Rodney meant by his last line.

General Landry calls exactly five times.  Each call, John hands the phone to Rodney and continues packing.  He easily tunes out Rodney's ranting and yelling and saying things like "saved the galaxy thrice over" and "most brilliant man in two galaxies" and "I know how to blow up solar systems!"  The sixth time, it's Daniel on the line, and John likes him enough to protect the man from Rodney's venting.

"You're not leaving the program, I hope.  I know things haven't been..."  John can hear him clear his throat.  "Alright, you got pretty shafted.  But we do need Rodney.  And Doctor Beckett.  And you."

"We just need some time off."  Because the defeat of the Wraith should be a joyous occasion, not one that makes John want to go on a killing spree.  "We'll be back--well, me and McKay.  I can't speak for Carson."

There's a sigh.  "We have a couple missions that aren't related to Merlin's weapon that we can follow up on, but we could use Rodney's expertise.  Plus, his knowledge is invaluable on the...other projects he's working on."

Miko's handling the Wraith weapon research, so he probably means the Infiniatis thing.  "I'll see if we can keep it down to two weeks."  He'd been banished to the Alpha Site for three weeks, he's pretty sure his team can handle the downtime.  Plus, Dr. Santos was making noise about going back to Sensens on the trip back to the Gate to study the obelisk technology.  "I have to ask.  Did you know-"

"About the Asgard and Nox?  About Beckett's research?  No.  Jack never told me."  There's undertones there that means the General probably has some explaining to do.  "If I'd known, I would've told you.  Or Rodney.  Or spoken to Doctor Beckett."

At least there's someone on their side.  "I'll talk to you when we get back."

"We'll try to keep the world from ending."  There's a pause.  "Vala says to tell Rodney to bring her something back."  John hears an accented "Something pretty and expensive!" in the background.  "Enjoy your time off."

"Thanks."  He hangs up just as Rodney brings out the kitty carrier.  "McKay..."

"Madison wants to meet Euler.  Besides, I can't just leave him."  The beast is giving John a smug look through its bars.  "You don't mind, right?"

John rolls his eyes and goes back to debating how many black t-shirts he needs.  "You sure Jeannie doesn't mind?"

"I made reservations at a nearby hotel.  Besides, it's not like she's not going to be there.  And I can finally investigate that school they're sending Madison to.  I did some research, and the credentials of the teachers are atrocious!  She's a McKay!  She needs to have her mind challenged and exercised, not smothered with pointless drills and children she can think rings around."  Rodney continues to talk as John zips up the final bag and considers whether to bring War and Peace or a miniature DVD player.

The limo for the airport arrives early, which means John won't have to leave an exorbitant tip to counter Rodney's impatience and excessive berating of the American work ethic.  Just the average thirty percent for dealing with McKay's compulsive need to tell the man how to place the bags in the trunk and not drive like a maniac.  He stops complaining about the latter when John threatens to take the wheel so the man can have a break.  John has a feeling he's not going anywhere near the driver's seat of the rental car they're getting, which royally sucks since he distinctly heard the word Porche while Rodney was on the phone.

At the airport, Rodney pulls obscene strings with their clearances.  They bypass security--"I'm bringing a stunner, and these morons obviously don't have the clearance."  It makes John feel better about carrying a Beretta and extra ammo in his carry-on--and bump two people from first-class to coach--"In the interests of national security!  We must be the first on and first off.  I don't care if you're full!  Let me see that!  Here, these two!  They'll understand, now do it before I have you arrested and detained for an undetermined amount of time!"

John feels a little guilty about the first-class thing.  The people they bump are a young couple that grouse until Rodney says things like "just returned from war" and "post-traumatic stress" and "you wouldn't even be here if it weren't for us!"  After that, they're more than willing to give up their seats; though whether it's to stop Rodney's tirade or because they're honestly patriotic and thankful, John can't tell.  In the end he's able to charm the flight attendant into refunding their first-class upgrade in cash, which makes them happy.  Rodney simply rolls his eyes.

The movie the airline shows is some crap about a monster in a deep dank cave, but John watches it anyways because he's totally done that, and can't stop himself from laughing at the stupidity.  The heroine, who's obviously going to live at the end, wouldn't have lasted two minutes in Atlantis.  The creature isn't dead until it's blown up into little itty bitty pieces.  Especially insect-like things that like dark, damp areas.  Rodney elbows him each time he laughs, muttering about donkeys and dying orcas.

McKay, of course, is working on his laptop the entire time.  John glances at his screen a few times, but after seeing what appears to be the computer's flight records aboard the craft they're flying, he decides he really doesn't want to know.  War and Peace doesn't really hold his attention, so John decides on a small nap along the way.  Rodney continues to mutter, and John eventually enters that state of half dreaming, half wakefulness.

He dreams of a random mission, he can't even identify which one.  Teyla's smiling and ducking her head as Ronon teases her about some marine she's been especially hard on.  Which, of course, means she actually likes him.  Rodney says something about alien mating rituals which leads to Ronon stealing one of his MREs and Rodney swearing revenge in the form of pilfered pudding cups.  And Teyla laughs, and laughs, and she gives John one of her serene, comforting smiles.  'This is home,' that smile says, 'this is family.'

He awakens as the plane touches down.  Rodney's still muttering, looking out the window as they ride out the plane's inertia.  John feels some moisture at the corner of his eyes and he takes a quick swipe at them.  He hasn't cried in a long time, and he doesn't intend to anytime soon; especially in front of dozens of strangers that know he's a soldier.  It's another ten minutes before their gate is free, and then, as promised, Rodney makes sure they're the first off the plane and out of the airport.

He must not have been as careful as he thought about hiding his almost-tears, because Rodney not only rented them a Porche, but it's the exact same color as Atlantis' blue stain-glass windows, and he hands over the keys without a fight.  He stands there a good minute before Rodney snaps his fingers, bags already in the car and him buckled and ready to ride.  John spots a couple Dramamine in his hand, and he smirks before slipping into the driver's seat and gunning the engine.  "Oh yeah."

"If you kill me driving this car, I swear I will Ascend, break every goddamned rule to resurrect you, then strangle you!"  Rodney dry swallows the medication, and lets out a squeak as John hauls ass out of the rental lot.  "Right turn!  You don't even know where you're going--look out!"

As it turns out, Jeannie isn't in the mood to entertain, nor is she glad that 'Mer' and John are dropping by.  Caleb, who Rodney introduces as "The guy she got stuck with," is on his way to a staff meeting when they arrive and ducks out.  True to all children Rodney meets, the little girl with blond pig tails and eyes as blue as Rodney's--a trait all McKay's seem to inherit--runs across the room and hugs his legs.  John smirks, enjoying Rodney's discomfort until the man says, "This is Col--John.  Uncle John.  I forgot to get a present, but he's more than happy to buy you one.  For me.  To you."

The little girl immediately hones in on his own legs, but Jeannie catches her arm.  "Madison, why don't you get your coat.  I need to talk with Uncle Rodney."  The look she shoots them makes John very glad he's been volunteered to leave the house.  The hotel allows pets, but Rodney insisted on bringing Euler over and not carrying the beast, so John sets the crazed animal in a box in the entry way and waits for the little girl's return.  Rodney and Jeannie have already migrated to the kitchen which, really, isn't that big of a surprise.

Madison returns only a few minutes later in a bright pink fuzzy coat that makes her look even more adorable and John knows he's going to have a plethora of women asking how old his daughter is and if he's single.  He bites down the groan and takes Madison's hand.  "Well be back in an hour!"

"Don't spend more than a hundred!"

"Rodney!"  A slapping sound is heard.

"Ow!  What, like we don't have the money to spend?  And how often do I get up here to visit?"

"If you were spending the hundred-"

"Oh please, like it makes a difference.  We practically have joint checking!"

There's a choking sound and a long pause.  "Mer, did you just come out to me?"

John takes that as his cue to leave.  He quickly shuts the front door and hustles Madison to the car before Rodney can run out and call him in as reinforcement.  "So, what do you want?  Some ice cream?  My Little Pony?  Barbie?"  She looks small enough to need a car seat, but he's not willing to brave that household to get keys to Jeannie's car and borrow hers.  He vows to drive very, very carefully.  And use his Beretta on anyone that crashes into them.

Madison settles into the front seat easily enough without his assistance.  "I want a dragon!  I have a princess and a castle and now I need a dragon to guard the princess from the evil prince."

John starts the car and heads for the town they bypassed to get to the Miller house.  "Isn't the prince supposed to save the princess?"

Madison shakes her head violently.  "Nuh uh.  The prince is evil and wants the princess to steal her life and be young and handsome forever.  But the princess is hiding high, high up in her castle, but the prince can still get there.  So the dragon has to protect the princess, but the prince kills the dragon, but then the dragon turns into a princess and banishes the prince and the princesses bring peace forever and ever."

"That's," he has pause for a minute, "liberal."  It's not quite the way he remembers the story, but then, this is Canada.  And it has been over thirty years since he was a kid.

"Mom says that the princesses can kiss now in my story, but they couldn't before because of leg...legic...rules.  Bad rules.  But I don't think the princesses should kiss because kissing's icky.  Daddy kisses Mommy all the time even though it's gross."  She looks out the window.

"I see."  Of course Jeannie would instruct her kid on politics even though she's only five.  McKay genes carry genius.  "So what story is this?  The princesses and the dragons."

"I made it up.  I didn't like the other stories.  Princes always win in the other stories, but boys can't always win.  Boys are dumb.  They don't even know two times two."  John can feel her gaze swing back to him as he enters main street of downtown.  There's got to be a toy store somewhere.  "Uncle Rodney isn't dumb, even though mommy says he is for not coming to visit more.  Can he visit more?  Can you bring him again?"

And that's hitting a wee bit too close to home for John's comfort.  "I'll try.  Hey, what kind of dragon are you going to get?  I like the blue ones."

"Blue ones are boy dragons," she says in a disgusted tone that's almost Rodney-like in inflection.

"There can be girl blue dragons."

"No."  She shakes her head again.  "I'm gonna get the big purple dragon with a long tail and sparkly wings and its neck goes as tall as my castle so that she can talk into the tower with the princess.  The princess is pink, so the dragon has to be purple."

"What about green?  Green's a good girl color."

"No it's not.  Green is a boy color.  So is red, and orange, and brown, and whites..."

John finally spots the toy store and pulls into a parking spot almost a block up.  Madison goes quiet once the engine goes off, and as they get out and walk towards the store, John notices a transformation.  At home and in the car she was very lively, but out here she's more shy.  He's guessing that's Caleb's genes more than Jeannie's.  With luck she'll learn to balance the two in a few years so that it's not such an obvious attitude shift.

John wouldn't be surprised if Madison took the McKay genius and applied it to writing.  Granted, everyone makes up stories as a kid.  John remembers his own stories with Captain Jones and the plane that could fly faster than any other and the battles with aliens--a disturbing similarity to his life on Atlantis, actually.  But Madison seems really passionate about her stories, something that she might stick with beyond childhood.

In the store, Madison quietly tugs his arm and leads him to the stuffed animal aisle.  He spots a purple dragon immediately as does she, but he's smart enough to look up and see the really big purple dragon hanging from the ceiling.  At least three feet tall and two feet long.  Madison doesn't seem to see it, carefully rubbing the sparkly wings of the smaller dragon hanging from the shelf.

He really shouldn't.  Rodney will hate him.  Jeannie will kill him.

When they exit the store, Madison is still quiet but her grin is bright enough to power a ZedPM, and John is ignoring all the odd looks as he lugs the enormous stuffed dragon to the car.

"You're insane, you know that?  Caleb will never speak to me again.  While I don't care what that hemp-smoking hippy thinks, I don't want to wake up one night and find Jeannie looming over my bed with a knife.  What on Earth possessed you?!"

"It was less than a hundred dollars."  It wasn't.  John spent exactly one-hundred sixty-three dollars on the gift, but Madison loves it.  It takes up three-fourths of her bed and she gleefully showed John the castle and princess and the evil, evil prince as thanks.  It was as good an excuse as any to avoid Rodney and Jeannie and the pissed off Caleb.  Apparently, he has some sort of lizard-phobia.

"Bull.  I looked at your Visa account while you were off playing fairy tale kingdom."

"Hey!"  That's just an invasion of privacy.

"Like I can't hack their two-bit security system."  Rodney pulls his shirt off and stares at it.  "She seemed, um, to really like it.  So, you know," he bunches the shirt up, "you did good."

John tosses his jeans across the room and slides under the comforter.  They got a room with two queens, but one bed has their bags on it.  And now a pile of dirty clothes.  "Jeannie didn't seem to think so."

Rodney's shoulders tense.  "She, uh," he clears his throat and drops his shirt to the floor, "she thinks you're good.  Well, okay."  He looks shyly over his shoulder.  "You showed her my video."

John feels his ears burn.  "She told you?"

"It's when she first suspected."  Rodney stares at the floor, then stands and strips off his jeans with military efficiency.  John finds it a little hot.  "She won't say anything.  Though she did ask about Sam."

John rolls his eyes as Rodney climbs in on the other side of the bed.  There's a beat, then Rodney curls up next to him.  Euler, the little bastard, is sleeping on the pillow of the other bed, but giving John the evil eye as one of Rodney's arms hugs John's chest.  "So are we banned from the Miller household?"

"No," Rodney says into his shoulder, "just on probation."  There's a gust of hot air against the skin.  "We have to go to some school play tomorrow.  Apparently, we arrived just in time.  But you have tomorrow to look around."

"What, you're not going to take me around your old neighborhood?"

There's a snort, but a heavy silence follows it.  "Jeannie wants to know what's going on.  And I...it's..."

Right.  Rodney is as bad at emotions as he is.  And Jeannie and Rodney have their own private relationship that, no matter how invested he is, John has no right to intrude on.  "What's the zoo like?"

"Better than the one in Colorado."  Rodney squeezes his arm.  "I'll show you after tomorrow, if you want."

John smiles a little at that.  The weight against him grows heavy and there's one long exhale that means Rodney's fallen asleep.  He glances to the other bed, but Euler also appears to be asleep, so John blinks once, twice, and then darkness overtakes him.

He wakes up thinking of Teyla and Ronon, and the celebration that must be going on with the destruction of the Wraith.  It makes him tense up and it takes him a few minutes to realize he's crushing one of Rodney's arms.  And that Rodney isn't complaining.  He opens his eyes and finds Rodney grimacing, trying to wiggle his arm away without waking him.  John goes limp and ducks his head into the pillow.  "Sorry."

"You know, we have a second bed.  I like having all my limbs."  There's no venom in his voice, even though the sun isn't up yet.  "I have dreams too, though I'm careful about not cutting off your circulation.  Not that I mind, but-"

"We should be there," he interrupts.

Rodney blinks.  "Where?"

"There."  He traces the Atlantis glyph on the bedspread where Rodney can see.  "It should've been us."

"Ronon and Teyla probably don't know."  There's a bitter edge to his voice.  "The Ancients don't think the lesser beings are any of their concern."

"They deserve to know."

Rodney sighs.  "Daniel can probably get General O'Neill to visit them and share the news.  Of course, the Nox could already be there."

John doesn't know the Nox, or even what they look like, but he does know he doesn't like them for ignoring the crap going on around them all in the name of pacifism.  "Ronon'll shoot them at the first mention of disarming."

"His gun would vanish before he could pull it out."  Rodney sighs and rolls so his chin is tucked against John's neck.  "We can still show them.  Kick the Ori's asses.  They don't have the numbers or technology to deal with them."

"Neither do we."

"Please.  I'll solve the Infiniatis and get you those space weapons--yes, I can feel that grin, I swear, it's like a Pavlovian response--and then we'll beat those wannabe Spanish Inquisitors out of this galaxy.  Even that idiot team of yours."

He's still grinning.  "They're not idiots."

Rodney snorts.  "I saw Wallace's ineptitude first-hand, remember?  If they get you killed you know I'm going to plant nukes in their houses.  Or maybe I'll drag Ronon from Pegasus to deal with them.  Teal'c is an okay stand-in, but nothing beats sheer intimidation like Ronon fingering a knife."

"Hey, did you abuse your Ronon privileges?"

"It's nothing that wasn't deserved.  They caused a backup of the water purification center."

"Wait, was that the week of cold showers?"


"Okay, then the intimidation was deserved."  John likes remembering Atlantis this way.  "Hey, do you miss the...you know."

"God, yes."  There's a wistful sigh.  "They were on the verge of steam technology."

"Only because you cheated."

"I did not cheat.  I just pushed them to pursue and value technological progress more than working out or hunting or whatever it was you emphasized."

"And you cheated."

"No I didn't.  Besides, um," Rodney coughs gruffly, "General O'Neill mentioned that.  Before the whole, you know, winning the wars."

"He discovered the Game?"

"The Ancients did, and they were a little bit upset.  Just a little.  It's not really important, I don't really think we need to talk more about it."

"Rodney."  He uses his warning drawl, drawing out the name to four syllables.

Rodney sighs and raises his chin.  "They didn't like how I pasted my face all over the city.  Or that they hate citrus.  Or that our two civilizations were only a few steps away from war."

"I always thought the face thing was foolish."

"You're one to talk Mister Leather Fetish."

John feels his ears turn red again.  "It was just a game."

"Yeah, about that."  He clears his throat.  "It wasn't."

"A game?  So what, it was a simulation?  Some grand experiment?"

"Sort of.  You know, I found more maps in the system, but didn't want to access them because I thought they were different levels and, well, we hadn't finished the one we were on, but it's really good I didn't because apparently we did enough damage to that one map-"


"They weren't just games," he finally blurts.  "They were--are planets in the Pegasus galaxy.  With satellites in orbit.  And the Ancients were carefully guiding the civilizations.  Some sort of sociology experiment.  Or maybe an exercise to show the dangers of interfering with lesser beings.  The point is," Rodney takes a deep breath, "it wasn't just a game."

John pushes himself up on an elbow.  "Wait, so these past few years we've been...what, playing God?"  Rodney nods.  "And you didn't-"

"No.  There was no excessive energy use, or any sign of a transmission to the satellites."  At least Rodney's looking a little guilty.  "On the plus side, the advances I gave the people of Geldar will benefit the Hallonans--that's what the people you control call themselves--once the Ancients set up some sort of peace agreement.  So my not-cheating overall was a good thing.  Except, you know, for..."

"Making Sam Carter the epitome of beauty.  And having them hate citrus.  And thinking the sun is damaging."  John's torn between hilarity and shock.  Only in Pegasus, and only the Ancients, would design such an addictive, fun game and of course have it be real.  It's right up there with turning life-sucking bugs into the Wraith and creating homicidal robots.  On the other hand, he played God, literally, with a group of people he'd been prepping to fight against Rodney's people.

Really, it's a miracle he and Rodney are as sane as they are.

"Sheppard?  Don't tell me I actually broke you.  I knew I shouldn't have said anything.  The whole defeating the Wraith crap was too much and now you've snapped and oh god!  Jeannie's going to kill me when she finds out I sent you into a psychotic break-"

"Rodney, I'm fine.  I'm just..." John rolls sits up and rolls his shoulders.  "Did we really almost send them to war?"

"Yeah, at least, that's what I heard.  I was kind of fielding glares from General Landry for, you know, never actually mentioning the Game in any of our reports and Daniel was, of course, insatiably curious.  But only until O'Neill brought up the whole winning the war thing."

"And you started cursing him."

"And the Ancients.  And the Asgard.  And somewhere around trying to tear the screen out of the wall Teal'c dragged me off."  Rodney hunched his shoulders.  "I may have dialed back how upset I was.  You arrived a few hours afterward.  Daniel helped calm me down.  And Teal'c kept me from hitting Doctor Lee.  You know what he said?  No, you know what?  I'm not going there.  I can already feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about it."

John feels himself smile as Rodney's face glows with resentment.  He leans in and kisses him chastely.  At least there's someone who gets him, someone who understands how he feels, even if they don't actually talk about it.  Okay, even if he doesn't actually talk about it.  "So when are you going to Jeannie's?"

"After the munchkin has left to that viral hotbed we'll be going to tonight.  That's a thought.  You need something to do today.  Go to the pharmacy and get as many antibacterial drugs as you can.  And maybe some antiviral drugs.  Your clearance should fool whoever's there."

"I'm not stealing you drugs, McKay."

Rodney frowns.  "You're right.  You don't pay taxes.  We'll swing by on the way to the show."  He pushes away and slips out of the bedcover, heading for the bathroom.  "Well, you can at least buyout their airborne sterilization mists.  If I catch a single thing from those disease ridden mongrels..."

The door closes and John lets himself fall back down.  He sniffs his pillow, then throws it off the edge and slides the one Rodney's been using over and inhales deeply, relaxing as he burrows back under the covers.  For once he feels like he can sleep in, and he's going to take advantage of that.  At least until Rodney brings him coffee.  Or until he needs to pee.

He's willing to bet the latter is more likely than the former, and falls back asleep smirking.

The first six days go fairly well.  Madison's in school, and after their day talking, there's a lot less tension between Jeannie and Rodney.  Except at the dinner table, because Rodney can't get over the vegetarian meals.  John can't either, but he's better at hiding his disdain.  Rodney does give him that tour of the town, and John learns more about Rodney's childhood then than he ever did before.

Rodney was a star child in grade school that everyone loved before he skipped grades.  In middle school he went through a depression phase after being told his piano playing was hopelessly clinical and sterile, and then of course he made the bomb and was recruited by the CIA--and no, he wouldn't tell John what that job was about.  In high school he was king of the geeks, which came as no surprise, but while he hated the entire experience, he was also voted the Prom King.  They stop by the place and after seeing a picture of Rodney with long blond locks and a rebel-without-a-cause look, John can understand why he won.

They also drive by the graveyard where Rodney's parents are buried, along with the rest of the McKay clan, but Rodney refuses to stop to look in on them.  The way he gets silent and hunches over the wheel tells John it's a subject he shouldn't broach.  He understands.  John's never taking Rodney to see his hometown for just that reason.

Then, on the seventh day, they arrive at the Miller's to Jeannie writing equations John can't fully understand but get Rodney excited, and John is pushed out of the house with a bundled up Madison--now on Thanksgiving break--and unsure of what to do.  In the end, he takes her to the local park and then the nearest McDonald's before deciding to bring her home when she nearly falls asleep in her kid's meal.

Jeannie and Rodney are quietly talking in the kitchen, so he carries Madison up to her room and tucks her around the giant dragon before going downstairs to lean against the kitchen doorframe.  The siblings have stopped talking and are staring at each other.  Jeannie notices him first, and then their stares focus on him.  Jeannie is frowning, unhappy, and Rodney has that awkward 'sorry but hey, this is good' twitch on his lips.  John simply crosses his arms.  "Someone want to tell me what's going on?"

"Well, you know since that whole Prior thing?  I've had Miko researching the energy similarities, trying to work out a greater weapon against the Ori themselves.  And I told Jeannie about it.  And some of the math.  And she had this idea that's not entirely stupid-"

"Mer!"  She hits his arm before looking back at John.  "One of Madison's friends had to go home sick yesterday because of food poisoning.  Fortunately it wasn't a school meal, but the administration notified everyone anyway because they didn't know that at first."  She glances to the table that's now filled with pages of equations and crossed-out notes and sloppy handwriting that Rodney gets when he's in the throes of genius.  "And I had this idea-"

"We need to go to the SGC," Rodney blurts.  "But she doesn't want to because I don't know how long it'll take, but we need to go right now for this to work, and the consulting I need from Colonel Carter," there's distaste in Rodney's voice, "can't be done remotely.  Not on this level."

"I'm not going, Mer."  Jeannie turns back to Rodney.  "Madison only gets a few days off, and Caleb and I have had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner every year since she was born.  It's tradition!"

"Oh, sure, tradition is so important!  It's not like, you know, the entire galaxy isn't at stake!  Wait, wait, yes, it is!  Do you want your child to grow up under the oppressive hand of religious zealots sucking away her life energy?  Or maybe she'll just get blown up with the rest of the planet-"

"Rodney!"  John straightens and moves to get Jeannie a glass of water.  She's a strong woman, but she looks a little pale at the moment.  "They're not going to wipe us out in the next few days."

"And just how do you know that?  Did you become clairvoyant overnight?"

"The SGC would beam us back the instant there was a threat to the planet."  Rodney shuts up at that, and John hands Jeannie the glass.  Her hand's shaking.  "You okay there?"

"Yeah, just," she sets the water down on the table, "just tired"  Rodney looks worried now, and not because she spilled some water on the papers.  "Really tired."  Then she shuts her eyes and falls towards John.

Rodney's out of his seat and diving for his bag.  John focuses on propping Jeannie up in the chair, dipping his fingers into the water and sprinkling it on her face.  A minute later, Rodney's on the other side holding a white rectangular device.  "You brought a life-signs detector?"

"I always keep one with me.  I'm just another geek with a PDA--huh."  The panic bleeds out a little of his voice, even though his eyes are a bit wild.  "Well, this, um.  Huh."

"What?  Rodney, what's wrong?"

"She's, um, pregnant."

John almost shoves Jeannie out of the chair.  Almost.  "What?"

Rodney pokes his screen.  "It's detecting two life signs."

Jeannie begins to blink hazily, her head tilting towards John.  She carefully sits up herself.  John pulls his hands away slowly, letting them hover like she's about to fall again.  "I'm sorry...Mer?  Meredith, you look sick."

"I'm just," Rodney swallows, "I'm not ready to be an uncle.  Again," he adds a beat later.

"And unc--Mer, I'm not pregnant."

John nods towards the detector.  "Not according to that."

"Is that a life-signs detector?  You shouldn't have taken..." she trails off as she looks at the screen.  "Meredith, what's this writing here?"

"It's, um, Ancient.  Other life forms it can't differentiate, but apparently for humans...  I noticed it a couple times off-world, but since it wasn't a threat-"  He takes a look at Jeannie's face and clears his throat.  "It says 'undeveloped entity.'  And since it always said that around pregnant women--well, it means that...um, congratulations?"

Jeannie looks like she's in shock.  Obviously this isn't part of her plan.  "Excuse me," she finally says and heads for the bathroom.  Both John and Rodney watch her leave, then, for lack of something else to do, John grabs some paper towels to dab away the water on the table.  Rodney keeps squatting by the chair, watching the door.

After five minutes, and no sign of Jeannie, John takes the empty seat and looks at the papers.  As always, Rodney's notes require leaps in logic that the layman, or even someone as gifted as John, can't follow.  "So what is this?"

"What?"  Rodney's head snaps towards him.  "What's what?"

"This," he waves over the table, "whatever that means we have to return to the SGC."  He isn't sure he wants to go back just yet.

"Oh.  Um.  We're going to poison them."

"The Priors?"

Rodney squints at him, that 'why am I sleeping with you' squint.  "No.  But the energy that blocks the Prior's abilities does so within their mind.  The Ori feed on the mental energy of their worshippers."  He taps the table.  "This will ruin that."

"By, what, blocking the mental energy?"

"Did I say blocking?  No.  I said poisoning.  The Priors have proven to be very talented at overriding the anti-Prior devices.  The Ori would not only retaliate, but eventually adapt and overcome a simple block."  He rifles through the papers and pulls one out.  "Now, granted, no one at the SGC would think about blocking the energy, they're not that bright."  That makes John grin a little.  "But Jeannie had this idea about altering the anti-Prior devices.  And this is why she shouldn't have given up physics, because-"

"You're going to create a field that poisons the mental energy the Ori feed on."

"Yes!"  Rodney brightens.  "Assuming, of course, that the Ori's mental wavelength is close to the one the Priors use, we can bombard a planet that...it's not depolarizing the energy, but-"

"You're going to sour the milk, like in that one Next Generation episode."

"How are you a closet geek?  It's completely obvious."  Rodney's grinning now.  "And yes.  Except we're not doing it enough to catch their attention.  It's going to be subtle, so that the energy actually starts to harm them, but with luck, and all the non-affected galaxies, they won't be able to isolate where the poison's coming from."

"So you're going to deliver this poison generator on every planet in our galaxy?"  That seems a bit unrealistic.

"Yeah, Jeannie was stuck on that, too.  But then I remembered Merlin's mantle.  It can bring things out of our phase of reality and shift it into one undetectable by the Ori.  But!"  Rodney bounces on his feet.  "Things like oxygen and radiation transcend the dimensional barrier.  Otherwise SG-1 and the Sodan Jaffa would've suffocated every time they entered it."

"So you're going to generate this radiation-"

"Actually, it's more like interference that alters the mental energy-"

"You're going to generate it here," John places his hands in front of him, "and let it spread through this...other dimension?"

"Well, generate massive amounts of it, then use the Gate's updating protocol to disseminate it throughout the galaxy."

John leans back in the chair, his arms falling to the side.  "It sounds like you've got it all figured out."

Rodney grimaces.  "It was Jeannie's idea, so she deserves most of the credit.  And I'm going to need her there because we have to make this interference self-propagating without artificial means for it to spread throughout planets and not just hover around the Stargates.  I mean, otherwise it'll just float around our planet, and, well...one planet doesn't make a difference to them."

"Right."  Well, that seems like a good enough reason to drag Jeannie away from Thanksgiving.  Even a Thanksgiving that's over a month early in John's opinion.  "We could bring them all down to Colorado, have Thanksgiving there."  And now Rodney's turning as pale as Jeannie.  "Or not."

"This could be enormous.  Miko can help work through the adaptations, but I am going to need Jeannie.  And Sam, as much as it pains me to say it."

"I'll do it," Jeannie says from the doorway, making them both jump.  She looks less pale and more grim than shocked.  "I'll have to talk to Caleb.  Maybe he can take Madison to see his family for the holiday."

"Or John can stay."  John gapes at Rodney, who shrugs.  "I need to be there, and so does Jeannie, and Radek if I can drag him from that third-world he's trapped in, but, well...you might be distracting."

Jeannie quirks a smile at that, and she tries to hide it behind her hand.  John feels himself blushing.  "This is your family-"

"You're family," Rodney says awkwardly.  John's stomach does that warm mushy thing again.  "And Madison loves you.  And you won't throw the tofurkey at Caleb's head."

"I might."  The very uttering of that word is blasphemy to John.  He knows he can refuse, can return to Colorado and Rodney won't say anything.  Neither would Jeannie.  He flashes back to his own childhood Thanksgivings.  His dad tried to make it home every year and cook an enormous dinner.  And the years without him, sharing a private dinner with his mother and the tense atmosphere and the questions about where his dad was and when he'd return...  "Alright."


He points at Jeannie.  "You have to convince him to get some turkey."

"I'll see what I can do."  She looks over to Rodney.  "When do we have to go?"

"Let me get Euler, and I'll have the Odyssey beam us there."  Rodney stands and leaves the kitchen.  "Um, did you tell Caleb about," he waves his hand around his stomach.  It makes him look ridiculous.

She lets out an exasperated sigh.  "Mer, go get your demonic cat.  I'll worry about my husband."  She rolls her eyes and leaves down the hall.

Rodney frowns.  "He's not demonic," he mutters and stomps off to find the little hellion.

John stares after them, wondering why he's both elated and panicked over what he's just promised to do.  After a few minutes he turns back towards the table and starts collecting the papers into a neat pile.  Rodney will have a fit, but he can re-order them once they're down in a lab and working on it.  First Wraith technology is a key to fighting the Priors, and now a potential weapon to kill the Ori.

In his mind, the mental scoreboard of who's done the most for the war against the Ori now reads 0 - SGC, 2 - Atlantis personnel.

Madison, predictably, asks where Uncle Mer--and that absolutely does not make John grin every time he hears it, no way, nuh uh.--and Mommy are, but Caleb distracts her by having her help in the kitchen and since there's no football airing, John puts on a Harry Potter movie marathon.  Madison declares she's going to marry Ron Weasley and spends most of the afternoon telling John what's going to happen in the movie right before it actually does happen.  Caleb seems grateful for the break, especially when John goes to fetch a beer and finds the man sitting on a chair against the wall, breathing deeply.

"If the turkey's freaking you out-"

"No, it's," Caleb scrubs a hand over his face, "we weren't even trying.  And I...the house isn't even paid off.  And yeah, my benefits are fine, but I don't bring enough for two kids and...and..."  He blinks at John.  "Sorry."

"Hey, it's big news.  And I'm sure the government will be happy to pay Jeannie for her consultation.  You got some money when she came to Atlantis, right?"

"It bought our new van."  Caleb grabs a beer off the counter and takes a long drink.  "Jeannie could go back to work.  Though she needs to finish getting her degree.  Maybe she can teach physics."

John reaches out and squeezes the man's shoulder.  He's not really sure what to do, or say.  "You know, Rodney's back now.  Maybe he could help."

Caleb lets out a weak grin and takes another pull from his bottle.  John pulls his hand back as Caleb finishes the rest of the beer.  "It's just a pregnancy freak-out.  I'll be fine."  He laughs self-depreciably.  "You know, when Jeannie told me the first time?  She also asked me to marry her."

"Sounds stressful."

"I took it pretty well.  Just, you know, didn't sleep for three days.  I couldn't sleep for a day after Jeannie told me about, you know."  He glances up meaningfully.  "It's probably a good thing she's not here right now.  She tends to hit me when I get like that."

John rolls his own bottle of beer back and forth between his hands.  "If you want me to leave-"

"No!  No.  Madison loves having you here, I just...need to adjust."  He takes a deep breath and shakes out his hands.  "Right.  Sorry to unload, just...I'm fine.  Go back to Harry Potter."  He stands up.  "You really haven't read the books?"

"Another galaxy, remember?"

"Ah.  Right.  Well," he claps his hands on his knees before standing, "that tofurkey isn't going to stuff itself."

And that's the sign for a retreat, so John leaves Caleb to his little freak-out.  Perfect timing, too, because apparently the werewolves are coming out and, according to Madison, he just has to be there so she can hide her face because they scare her.

Dinner goes relatively well, Madison finding she likes real meat to Caleb's dismay, and spending the rest of the afternoon having John read her the sixth Harry Potter book until it's bedtime.  John returns to the hotel despite the offer for the guest room and tries to sleep alone.  After finally getting Rodney to cuddle again, it's more difficult than he'd like to admit, but he does manage to fall asleep by midnight.

The next day Caleb is technically out of school, but has tons of grading to do, so John takes Madison to the local zoo.  She insists on him picking her up so she can get a better view of the animals, and in the end John heaves her onto her shoulders.  She giggles and holds onto his hair, absently kicking his chest every once in a while.  John can't keep a goofy grin off his face even though it makes almost every woman he sees flirt with him; including one that's visiting with her fiance who nearly decks John.

They're at the sea lion exhibit and Madison's trying to bark back when a voice nearby wipes the smile from his face.  "Good to see you again, John."

John barely turns his head, not wanting to attract Madison's attention to a potentially dangerous situation.  "Allison."  She's just as he remembers her.  Immaculate red hair held together in a bun, brown eyes framed by sharp cheekbones and a petite nose.  The mouth is less rosy, but only because she's using a different shade of lipstick.  The sun is out, but the wind makes dresses and skirts impractical, and since she never used to wear anything else, he's surprised to see her.

Except she's obviously finally accepted that women can look good wearing pants, especially with the pair of jeans she's wearing that show off her lithe legs and tight ass.  She's also got a tight bright red sweater with a low neckline that leaves very little to the imagination.  He doesn't remember her breasts being nearly that big, but it has been years since then.  Or she's had surgery.  He had once found a plastic surgeon's pamphlet in her purse.

"You're looking well."  She's eying him up and down, eyes lingering on the very slight--almost unnoticeable, no matter how much Rodney pokes it--gut that's forming before resting on the girl that is obviously not his.  "Babysitting your latest girlfriend's child?"

"Something like that."  He doesn't want to give up too much.  He remembers the divorce, and how she used his black mark to vindictively undermine his character.  If she finds out he's gay and still in the military...well, it just doesn't bode thinking about.  "Where's...Bill?  Or is it Dick."  He's using his pseudo-friendly voice that those from Atlantis are well familiar with; it's the tone he used when he named Michael.

"I'm between husbands right now."  She's looking at his hands, his fingers, and John can see the exact moment she decides he'd be worth a night or two of sex.  "It's been hard, what with my career.  I'm the northwestern division head-"

"You know, I really don't care."  He jostles Madison.  "Hey kiddo, want to see the sea otters?"

"Yeah!"  She tugs his hair and John heads towards the next exhibit.

Unfortunately, Allison doesn't take the hint and falls into step beside him.  "So they finally kick you out of--where did you end up?  Antarctica, wasn't it?"

John very carefully doesn't grit his teeth as Madison laughs at the antics of an otter playing with a small rubber ball.  "Promoted, actually.  I'm a Lieutenant Colonel."

"Oh?  Stationed up here?"

"Can't really talk about it."  He smirks.  "Classified."  It takes him a minute to realize that she won't see that as stonewalling, or his clipped answer as rejection.  To her, it's intrigue.  She always found what he couldn't talk about for missions sexy.

"Really?  That sounds just...fascinating."  She steps closer, brushing her arm against his.  "Perhaps we could...not discuss your career over some lunch?  I'm sure little...I'm sure she's getting hungry."

It is near lunch time, but the last thing he wants to do is spend any more time with a woman who tore both his heart and his character to shreds just because she could.  "We packed our own lunch."  It's a lie, but he's pretty good at it.

Except when he's talking to people he loves, of course, and since he did once love Allison...  "My treat.  Come on, John.  We'll reminisce.  Surely it won't be-"

"Honey, there you are!"  A blond woman John's never seen before wraps an arm around John's other and gives Allison a pointed glare.  "I run to the restroom and then you go and wander off."  She rolls her eyes.  "Men, can't take your eyes off 'em."  She smiles above John's head.  "Madison, you want to get some lunch?"

"Yeah!"  She bounces on John's shoulders.  "Let's go, Uncle John!"

"Yes," the stranger gives Allison another sharp look and tugs John away from the otters, "let's go, Uncle John."

"Duty calls," he tells Allison as he's led away.  He keeps one eye on his ex-wife.  She stares after them until they turn the corner of the penguin tank, and then John loses sight of her.  The stranger lets go of his arm and he ducks his head.  "Thanks."

"Violet Williamson."  She helps Madison down from his shoulders.  "Sarah, my daughter, and Madison are best friends.  And you looked desperate."  Another blond girl, though it's more of a dirty blond, runs from down the tank to hug Madison.  A brown-haired man follows quickly, probably Violet's husband.

John keeps one eye on Madison, and one out for Allison.  "Thanks.  Ex-wife."  He holds out a hand.  "John Sheppard.  I'm a friend of Jeannie's."

"You came to visit with her brother."  She shakes his hand.  "A Colonel, right?  For some project she worked on a while back?"

"That's right."  He lets himself relax ever so slightly.  "And really, thanks.  I think she wanted to get back together and, well..."  He rubs the back of his neck.

"A friend of Jeannie's is a friend of ours."  Violet glances at the tank as two of the tuxedoed birds swim by.  "Would you like to join us for lunch?  There's a cafe near the monkey house."

"Sounds great."  He reaches out and takes one of Madison's hands as Violet does the same with Sarah's, leading them away from the tank.  "So you've known Jeannie a while?"  With luck Allison will leave and John'll be safe for the rest of the day.  Just in case, though, he decides to stick with the Williamsons.  And if he rides with them a few extra times on the merry-go-round, well, he's only being a responsible guardian.

Unfortunately, that's not the last he hears of his ex-wife.  Somehow, and he really doesn't want to know how, she tracks down the hotel he's staying in and leaves him numerous messages.  There's the temptation to use his government power, as Rodney undoubtedly would, to report her as a potential threat to either national security or the Stargate program.  Two days after the zoo, when John's ready to gun her down, though, he gets a message from Carson inviting him and Rodney to visit Scotland.

It's as good an excuse as any, so John packs up and takes a midnight flight with the hope that Allison won't notice, and by sleeping most of the flight, he's awake and ready to visit with the Beckett family when he arrives.  He drives to the family farm--an actual farm with sheep and yeah, suddenly that outrageous coming-of-age story from that dare game that one poker night doesn't seem so outrageous--and is surrounded by twenty-odd people, all of which want to know about the man responsible for keeping Carson alive the last couple of years.

He gets plied with pie and strange meat dishes and hears family stories of Carson as a wee lad and hears how the good doctor was betrothed but, it turns out his chosen was a tramp so it was okay for him to leave for medical school.  He gets to see some actual sheep farming in action which, as it turns out, is more fun conceptually than actually watching, especially when a stray sheep knocks him over right into a pile of brown goop that takes four showers to get out of his hair.  And since the nearest town, thus the nearest hotel, is ten miles away, he gets to sleep in Carson's bedroom.  With Carson.  Fortunately they have a cot for him to sleep on.

Rodney would've loved the stories, but would be horrified at the thought of sleeping in a house that doesn't even have high-speed internet access, or cable.  It's for the best that he's not here right now.  It's also best because the time change makes John wake up at three in the morning.  Carson, ever the light sleeper, notices and looks towards him from the bed.

"John?  If you have ta use the loo, it's down the hall."

He doesn't, actually, but he knows he should say something about the events that led them to this.  Not that he particularly wants to, that's more Rodney's field, but Rodney isn't here.  He feels the muscles in his neck tense as he grates out, "So, how're you doing?"

"M'fine, lad.  I went before I got in.  You're between me and the door, after all."

John rolls his eyes and internally struggles before not taking the easy out.  Rodney owes him for this.  "I mean with the whole," he lowers his whisper even further, "Wraith thing."  Silence answers him.  It remains quiet long enough that John thinks Carson's gone back to sleep, until he hears a sigh.

"Better.  I mean, I knew it was a possibility, but I never wanted...I guess the Ancients know best, though."

"The Ancients are idiots."  Now that's an emotion he can share.  Easily, and with a lot of people.

"Aye."  There's another sigh.  "If you're worried, don't be.  I'm coming back.  This Sunday, actually.  After Mass."

John pulls his blanket up and concentrates all his staring power at a loose thread.  "If you want some company for the trip," he offers, trying for nonchalant; but to his ears sounds like he's offering to eat some glass, or maybe pass a kidney stone.

"Aye, if you like."  He can hear the relief in the tone.  "Me Mum said I should get a job here.  There's an opening for a genetic researcher at the Roslin Institute."

John knows that name.  Some famous place that deals with genes and sheep.  "Did you apply?"

"I seriously considered it.  The people at the SGC, the doctors, the scientists, all of 'em.  They don't take me seriously."

"Me either."  It's a bitter truth that the Atlantis crew are almost all viewed as second-class personnel.

"But it's...you just can't give that up.  The ATA gene is still an important evolutionary step.  It needs to be studied, understood.  And the Ori may still come up with new diseases."

"Maybe not."  He grins at Carson's confused look.  "Rodney has an idea."

"Oh, of course he does."  Carson's smiling a little too, now.  "But they don't respect us.  And now Elizabeth's gone..."

"Yeah."  John bunches up part of the blanket.  "S'why we stick together, Carson.  The SGC sees us as a bunch of jokes.  We have to show them otherwise."

Carson settles back into his cot.  "It'll take a lot to do that."

"Like defeating the Ori.  Or finding that stash of weapons."

Carson takes a few deep breaths.  "I don't want to be responsible for something like that again, John."

John lies back and puts his hands behind his head, keeping his eyes on the ceiling as Carson's breathing evens out.  He may not be able to promise that Carson's research won't be used as a weapon of mass destruction, but he can certainly help diminish the chances of it happening.  He shuts his eyes and vows to help solve the Clavus Therresa Infiniatis mystery so that none of them ever have to feel inadequate again.

The transition from a team leader to a researcher for a potential Ancient mystery is actually rather easy.  General Landry broke up his team during his little vacation.  Wallace is now on SG-4, Bambus on SG-8, and Santos transferred to Area 51 after an intimidating meeting with one Rodney McKay.  All of which means John technically has no team at the moment.

Which works, since Rodney is more than willing to have an assistant who won't cower or record every word out of his mouth as holy doctrine bring, and brings him coffee and rubs his shoulders, .  After a day, John finds he can appreciate the restraint needed to not kill the sycophants hanging onto Rodney's ranting.  No wonder Rodney quit Area 51.  On the second day, Rodney has an afternoon off-world excursion, but is spending the morning trying to work out some sort of mathematical code for the mysterious tablet.  John invites Carson down to watch the flogging of the 'toadies,' as the doctor calls them.

Ironically, it's Carson, of all people, that give them the first real break in the Infiniatis problem.  He looks at the stone tablet and its markings and says, "You know, I saw a picture in Daniel's office of a podium.  It had similar markings."  Which of course leads to yelling and Rodney dragging people around and one tense moment when Rodney and Landry face off in what's sure to be a spectacular throw-down, no-holds-barred events.  John hasn't seen McKay so incensed since before the Ancients kicked them out of Atlantis, and he makes sure to have a ringside seat for the big event.

That, as it turns out, is a mistake.  Sort of.  Rodney is scheduled to leave with SG-1 on another mission, and even though Landry's reluctant to admit it, he reminds Rodney he's a member of the team and can't just abandon them on a whim.  For a moment, John catches surprise and hope and a little glee in Rodney's posture, before the man turns and points accusingly at him.  "You!  You're going right this minute and if you screw up I'm letting Euler maul your socks as much as he wants!"

Which sounds way too domestic and wifely, but Landry seems to ignore most of Rodney's little threats, so his career isn't in danger...yet.  Unfortunately, Landry also seems to catch on to Rodney's idea very quickly.  "Colonel Sheppard, since your team is currently disbanded," and John is going to seethe for a long time over that, "why don't you join the Odyssey for a quick mission."

Which John really doesn't want to do.  He doesn't know anyone on the Odyssey.  He'd rather go on the Daedalus, where, yes, things are still a little tense between him and Caldwell, but at least he knows the crew.  "Sir, don't you think SG-1 should take this?"  Even if Rodney says it's harmless, he'd rather go with McKay to fetch some alien doohickey than go by himself on a strange ship.

"Did I not just say SG-1 had a mission?"  It's a rhetorical question, and John's getting the same stink-eye his older CO's gave him when he was treading on thin ice.

"It's just," he hastily adds, standing up from his slouch and trying to look a bit more like a soldier, "shouldn't Rodney be there?  In case there's a problem.  And, you know," he shrugs a shoulder helplessly, "it's his crusade."

Landry squints at him, looking far more like an ogre than a general.  Rodney looks even less pleased, his hands firmly on his hips and his cheeks flushing red.  Not the good red.  The kind of red that led to John continuing his inappropriate affair with the television in the living room and no making out for a week.  He tries to send 'hey, I'm on your side' vibes and McKay's ears turn a new shade of pink.  Okay, definitely not good.

Then Daniel, who had been brave enough to sit between the General and McKay--whereas John was smart enough to lean against the wall--finally takes part in the conversation.  "The room might have fallen into the sea.  You should take the Jumper, in case you have to dive for the pedestal.  And the Odyssey is better equipped to handle any issues that might arise from that situation."

John blinks, and he feels his heart beat a little faster because anyone--and by that, he meant everyone--knows that the fastest way to get him to agree to do anything is to promise him time with the Jumper.  He'd whore himself on the streets of the Ori capital for five minutes in that ship, and it's unfair for Daniel to dangle that carrot in front of him.  Except now Landry has the tomato skin-tone and Rodney has his thoughtful 'huh, you're probably right' pinched look.  "Is the Jumper available?"  There's a dam holding back the excitement in his voice, but just barely.

"Well, Dr. Lee wanted to run a few more tests-"

Rodney waves off Landry, dismissing him.  "I'll have to set up the shield modifications, in case you have to go deeper, but he's right."  Rodney eyes him, a little envious.  John knows he'd never admit it, but Rodney misses the Jumpers too.  "I can have it ready to go in an hour, show you in thirty..."  He looks at Daniel, not even acknowledging Landry's existence anymore.  "Think you can get Mitchell to postpone the mission an extra thirty minutes?  I want to make sure Sheppard doesn't blow himself up trying to raise the shield."

Daniel is smirking, just a little.  "Probably, though you may want to ask the General first."

Rodney frowns, but turns to Landry.  "War against the Ori, hunt for advanced weapons."  He makes a circular motion with his hand, the type he used to give Weir when he thought the answer was obvious and she shouldn't contradict him or ask him to explain further.

Landry seems to hold out for one minute, then lets out a long, pained breath that will probably lead to a hernia some day.  "Try not to damage it.  I doubt the Ancients will give us another ship."

"Please.  Sheppard takes better care of the Jumpers than the idiots assigned to the project."  Rodney turns and marches for the stairs, not even waiting for a dismissal.  He snaps his fingers just as his head vanishes.  "Colonel!  I don't have all day!"

Grinning, John stuffs his hands in his pockets, gives a short nod to the General, and resists the urge to do a little victory dance as he follows Rodney and his caterwauling to Siler or Walter or whoever's in charge of the Gate at the moment.  "Call the Odyssey and tell Colonel Pinhead to prepare to receive Sheppard and the Puddle Jumper.  Don't give me that look!  God, I miss Chuck.  He could follow orders.  Colonel! Move it!"

Colonel Emerson looked a bit like John's second cousin, except with more hair and he actually smiled every now and then.  He didn't bat an eye when John told him he was flying the Jumper up rather than transporting, and invited him to the bridge immediately as they got underway.  Of course, John took the long way around to take in the ship.  The Daedalus was the first ship of its class and was a little rough around the edges.  John thought it gave it character.

The Odyssey is more refined, its insides looking more like a chunk of the inside of the SGC than an actual ship.  It makes John feel a little claustrophobic, and he considers hanging out in the Jumper for the rest of the trip because while it's an enclosed space, it's familiar and warm and still smells slightly of ocean and burnt crystals.  He almost doubles back, but Emerson's voice comes over the intercom and since he's only a lieutenant colonel and Emerson is a full bird, he follows the almost-but-not-quite order and finally goes to the bridge.

The view of hyperspace, as always, is slightly hypnotic, as is Emerson's grin.  It's friendly and even a little believable, and inexplicably John relaxes minutely.  "Colonel Sheppard."  Even his voice is congenial.  "Welcome to the Odyssey.  She's not the Orion, but we love her all the same."

He feels his eyebrows raise.  "You read the Orion file?"  All of Stargate Command had, of course, but no one ever talked about it.  It was a 'what if' that could've turned the tide at the Battle of P3Y-229 and stopped the Ori vessels.  John's still miffed that he hadn't really gotten a chance to fly it before it was destroyed.

"Read?  Our pilot can't stop talking about it."  Emerson nods towards the forward chair, and John sees a familiar head, and a glowing neck.  "The Major here loved that ship."

John crosses his arms.  "The Major wasn't the only one."

The person turns in his seat, Lorne finally facing his previous CO.  "I already wrote 'I'm sorry for blowing up your mid-life penile substitute' five hundred times, sir.  Can't you let me off the hook?"

John can tell he's just barely holding back the grin.  "I really wish McKay hadn't gotten to you."

"It was that or cold showers for three months."  The grin finally breaks free.  "Glad to see you again, sir."

John smirks, just a little.  "So," he glances to Emerson, "how'd you get saddled with the man who blew up my warship?"

"Colonel Caldwell refused to have him on his ship.  Something about not wanting to have history repeat itself."  Emerson says it with such a straight face that John's pretty sure he's not kidding.  "He's a pretty good pilot, but doesn't quite know when to quit."

"The Orion was my one true love," he says wistfully.  "How I long to fly her again."  He waits a beat, then lets out a laugh.  "This ship is cool too, sir."

Emerson waves at Lorne to go back to flying.  "The Major will be joining you at Heliopolis."  He raises an eyebrow.  "I hope you don't mind that, Colonel."

"Not at all, sir."  Emerson, John decides, is really, really cool.  Awesome, even.  Of course, he'll have to fight Lorne for who gets to fly the Jumper, but he's pretty sure he can take the man.  It's not like he ever survived five whole minutes against Ronon.  "So I'll just be in the Jumper."  Emerson nods.

"You're not leaving without me, sir," Lorne warns.  It's almost a Rodney-like tone.  John chuckles as he leaves the bridge.  He wanders around for all of five minutes before returning to the Jumper and relaxing in the pilot's seat, pulling up display after display and discovering a wicked flight simulator that probably drains power and will make Dr. Lee wet himself.

He's almost beat the high score when Lorne settles into the co-pilot's seat.  "Huh, cool."  The ship instantly responds to Lorne's gene--natural, but still not as strong as John's--and for the last ten minutes of their flight to the planet they engage in a battle simulation.  John finally lands a killing shot, but flies into an asteroid a second later.  He still counts it a victory.

"Emerson to Sheppard, we're in orbit.  You're clear to launch."

The displays immediately change to pre-flight status screens, and they're hovering in the shuttle bay by the time the doors open.  "Understood, sir.  We'll be back soon."

"Good hunting." 

The radio clicks off and once they're clear of the bay, John very reluctantly turns over the controls to Lorne.  He hides his emotions better than McKay, but even he can't hide the face-splitting grin.  "Thank you, sir."

"I get to see her more than you.  It's only fair."  He's totally flying her back to the ship though.  "So, the Odyssey."

Lorne looks at the sensor grid, at the red blip that's the Odyssey.  "Caldwell really said he didn't want me on his bridge because of what happened with the Orion."  He does a totally unnecessary barrel roll once they're in the atmosphere.  "He also said Emerson needed good men on his ship.  A lot of them transferred from the Prometheus.  Most of them couldn't take being in space again."

John knew the story of the Prometheus, and like the Orion it's something people at the SGC try not to talk about.  "Do you like it?"

"They don't have an Asgard engineer."  He chuckles.  "I thought of you."

Someone spilled the beans about him and naked aliens.  "McKay?"

"McKay," he confirms.  "It's not like this."  He flies over the forest, heading for a building in the distance, a castle.  "Nothing's like this.  But I get to fly 302s sometimes.  And pilot a really big ship."  They circle the castle once, half of it and the cliff missing.  It looks like it's torn off, leaving rubble and rough edges.  "I heard about your gate team.  You deserve better, sir."  He lands the ship just beyond the castle.  He isn't grinning anymore.

Sheppard stares out the window at the gray clouds and wind-whipped trees.  They sit there as the Jumper powers down, then he reaches over and claps Lorne's shoulder.  He clears his suddenly congested throat.  "Thanks, Major."

"Evan."  The grin returns a little.  "No offense, sir, but you've earned that much at least."

"Rodney's totally going to ream you for having that name, you know," John says as he gets out of his seat.  He hears a snort from behind him, then the ramp is lowering and they're facing a windy gray world and a beaten up castle straight out of fairy tales gone wrong.  "You know where the room is in here?"

"Ernest said it was the safest room there was.  Knowing the Ancients, they built it into the foundation to ensure the room endured, even if the castle collapsed."  His eyes are darting around, and John can see the geologist in him evaluating the place.  "The ground looks stable, but I still wouldn't advise staying too long."

"Too bad.  Looked like a nice little vacation spot.  Beachfront property.  Forest to hunt.  Endless sky."  John takes the lead.  There are no doors shutting the place off from the world.  It's also not an enormous entry way.  An arched door, only a little taller than an average human.  They're quiet for a good five minutes, exploring the undecorated main hall with them both focusing their weapon on a small rodent when it squeaks angrily for intruding upon its home.

They're just going down the stairs when Lorne speaks up again.  "So I hear you took over O'Neill's house.  With McKay."

"Yup."  John knows Lorne won't ask, or look too closely.

"Is it true Colonel Makepeace's body is buried somewhere in his backyard?"

John stills for a moment, and turns slowly to face his ex-second.  Lorne is half-grinning, but the tone wasn't kidding.  "Do I really want to know?"

"Just that he deserved it.  Also, if the rumor's true, avoid any gardening in the north quadrant of the grass."  Lorne's gaze moves up the wall.  "The support's been cracked.  We should keep moving."

He goes back to following the steps down.  He's so getting Rodney to scan the backyard when they have a day off.  That's going to bug him for weeks.  "So where's this pedestal?"

"It should be--whoa."  Lorne lets out a whistle.  "They said they thought the Gate fell through the floor but, wow."

They're at what used to be an intersection.  Ahead of him is open air, obviously they've arrived at the sheared-off part of the castle.  The main room ahead of them, however, is the real spectacle.  The walls are still standing, and John can even see some faint writing.  However, the floor and ceiling are both missing, and he can see straight down into the raging sea.  He can also see why they couldn't just redial the Gate.  There's a rock jutting from the water, sharp and angled and it almost looks like the tip of Saint Helen's from a distance.  Encircling the protrusion is the Stargate, balanced at what looks like forty degrees because the top of the ring has dug into the cliff side while the rest is wrapped around the rock itself.

"You don't see that every day."  He wants to step forward, to get a closer look, but even he knows the floor is probably unstable any closer from where they are.  "Hard to believe it survived that."

"Stargates are very durable."  Lorne is just as entranced by the view as John is.

"The Stargate on Taranis melted."

"Actually, the heat from the super volcano wouldn't have melted the naqahdah very quickly.  It was probably only partially degraded when the eruption occurred."  Lorne's voice lowers.  "The surface hasn't even worn away.  Nearly ten years, and there's barely a scratch."

John would be impressed, except he's met the Gate builders and right now he can't be impressed by anything they do.  Especially with how they defeated the enemies in Pegasus by human plans.  He tears his gaze away from the scene and looks over to another hall, one that has stairs that seem to lead into the cliff.  "Is it in there?"

"Is what?"  Lorne looks up, then follows John's gaze.  "Oh.  Yeah, yeah I think that's where the Doc said it'd be."  Lorne examines the floor they have to cross, then tentatively steps out onto it.  John keeps himself a few paces behind Lorne, but still within arm's reach.  "Seems stable enough."  He doesn't speed up, probably because they're less than three feet from the edge of the hole.  "We might want to try and get them to beam it up, sir."

"Sounds good."  He really doesn't relish the thought of carrying something across that floor.

"One of us will have to go with it."  Lorne doesn't turn around, but John can hear the bitterness.

"I'll go."  Lorne does glance back then.  John shrugs.  "I'll fly it back to the SGC."  He'd rather be the one left behind here, but John knows the lure of the Jumper.  He also knows the SGC won't let them do any fancy tricks or have fun.  They'll expect a straight flight from Point A to Point B.  John will get to fly the Jumper again just by virtue of working in the same place as it's stored.  Lorne might not.  "Just don't get trapped here."

"No way, sir.  The storms here are a bitch."  There's some glee in Lorne's voice.  And then he's down a set of stairs, only his shoulders and head visible.  "Room's still here sir.  And the power's still going."

John finally makes it down the stairs and looks at the pedestal.  It's like a DHD, only with no keys.  He can see the engravings, thin and only visible because of how the light is reflecting off the metal.  "Is it detachable?"

Lorne shoulders his weapon and braces his arms against the device.  "One way to find out."  He lets out a heaving grunt, then shoves the thing.  Two inches.  "I'd say so, sir."  He lets out a heavy breath.  "Fuck, that's dense.  It's definitely a composite of refined naqahdah and another material.  I'd bet on it."

John pats Lorne's shoulder.  "Head back to the Jumper.  I want you onboard in thirty."  The entire trip, including going back through the castle, would only take fifteen minutes at most.  Lorne grins brightly, then heads for the stairs.  "Sheppard to Emerson."

"Odyssey.  You found it?"

"Yes sir.  Requesting transport."  He squats and wraps his arms around the base.  "I'm holding it, so just beam up everything around me."

"Just a moment."

It's more than a moment, closer to five minutes from the way John's muscles start to cramp, but then there's a slight tingling sensation, and from one blink to the next he's back onboard, in what appears to be a lab.  Emerson is in the doorway, nodding.  "Good work, Colonel."

He straightens himself out, careful to not touch the dome of the device.  "Thank you sir."

"Major Lorne?"

"Is bringing the Jumper back.  He should be here in twenty or so."

Emerson raises a blond eyebrow, but doesn't call John on what he's done.  "Find anything interesting?"

He thinks of the Stargate, and of the chance to be in a Jumper, and even the time Emerson gave him with Lorne.  "Plenty, sir.  Just nothing worth reporting."

The Colonel nods.  "Come on.  They're serving turkey sandwiches for dinner.  And I'd like to hear more about Atlantis."

John quickly follows.  Emerson is definitely the coolest guy in the Stargate program.  He wonders if it's possible for him to become a regular on the Odyssey.

Rodney hasn't returned from his mission with SG-1 by the time they get back to Earth.  The Odyssey actually lands on the planet, needing some minor repairs that had been interrupted by McKay and his insistence on this mission.  Emerson brushes off the annoyance of McKay ordering him around like water off a duck and John invites him for a beer if he's ever in Colorado with a night off.

Twenty hours after he delivers both the pedestal and the Jumper--which he only took for a two minute joy-ride, how could they expect him not to after all this time?--SG-1 is overdue, the pedestal is safely secured in McKay's lab under orders not to be touched, and John finds he has a new member for his team.  He blinks at the request, then picks up the phone and dials.  It only takes three rings for his target to pick up.  "You're transferring to my team?"

"You need someone experienced with the war heating up," Lorne replies.  "And I miss going off-world."

"Does Colonel Emerson know?"  Because he doesn't want to make an enemy out of the coolest guy in the command structure.

"He suggested it since I was denied a promotion for the Apollo.  Also, Colonel Edwards, my old CO, has a demolitions expert that he feels isn't integrating properly with his team."  John can hear the grin over the line.  "I think they'll fit in with us."

It takes John a minute to remember who Colonel Edwards is, and that he runs SG-11.  There's also only one demolitions expert on the team that Lorne could be talking about.  "Cadman's gonna kill you.  I know for a fact she loves that team."

"She punched their last anthropologist." 

"He pinched her."

"I think she'd like it, sir.  Also, she really wants to see if she can blow up an Ori vessel."

Which, with the luck of the ex-Atlantis crew, is a situation they would very likely have to deal with one day.  "We're gonna need some scientists."  John's grinning too, because Landry may have been jerking him around before, but with Emerson's backing and the war heating up, there's a good chance this could work.  "Think McKay's up to working with Cadman?"

There's a pained sound, then some soft swearing.  "Of course sir."  Oh yeah, Lorne's not as happy about that suggestion, but it's better than Carter, or one of the SGC babies.  "I might have some other options for that position."

"Let me know who you get.  I'll write a proposal for Landry."  This time there's a snort.  "What was that, Major?"

"Nothing, sir.  I'm sure you'll enjoy all that paperwork, sir."  He's laughing, the son of a bitch.

"That I will, Major.  I'll catch you tomorrow."  He hangs up, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.  His hatred for paperwork is legendary, but this...this is totally worth the hassle.  He could get his own team.  His own Atlantis team.  Experienced, friendly, and no idiots in the field.  Cracking his knuckles, he powers up his computer and starts typing.  This is going to be the best surprise Rodney's come home to in a long time.

General Landry isn't on-base by the time John sends the request for a new team, so he goes searching for Jeannie.  He finds her temporary quarters, only to be informed by the nearest SF that she was transported back home two days ago.  That certainly explained why Rodney wasn't too twitchy this morning.  Still, he's kind of sad he missed her, and returns to his office to shoot her a quick email thanking her for both her work and hospitality.  And to ask her to thank Violet for him.

He finishes up just as Rodney rounds the corner.  "There you are.  You weren't signed out and you always complain about me staying out too late so it's really not fair for you decide to stay late.  It's a double standard that-"

"I was just sending Jeannie an email."

"Oh.  Well," he pulls the sleeves of his fleece pullover, the bright orange one that should look horrible but on Rodney really works, "you ready to go?"

John stands and slips on his leather jacket in one smooth move.  Rodney rolls his eyes at the practiced coolness.  "Chinese?"

"It's eleven at night.  The only place that's open has the rotten fish and congealed mu shu."  Rodney leads the way out of the mountain, rambling about the dangers of bad Chinese food and how he'd better not find any in the kitchen, ever, upon threat of cold showers.  John just tucks his hands in his pockets and lets him rant, smirking as they get to the car and he oh-so-smoothly swipes the keys from Rodney's hands.  "I just got back from a long mission, Sheppard."

"All the more reason I should drive, Rodney.  I won't fall asleep on the road."  He climbs in, ignoring Rodney's grumbling about hospital visits and having to sit there with his eyes closed if he doesn't want to lose the quasi-beef settling in his stomach.  It doesn't take them long to get through the guard check-point and out onto the road, Rodney gripping the car door with white knuckles, eyes glued to the floor.  "So you got the Ori poison device working?"

"Pretty quickly, actually.  We had to go off-world--me and SG-1, not Jeannie--to take some readings, but it turns out I was right about the Ori feeding off a similar wavelength as the Priors.  Jeannie worked out the self-propagating aspect of the interference with Sam."

"How is Colonel Carter?"  John twists his grip around the steering wheel.  "Going to be back on the team soon?"

"Not really."  Rodney sighs.  "Apparently some moron at the hospital placed her in a hospital room with her ex-fiance and things started heating up again and apparently trying to have sex when five of the eight limbs involved are in light-casts is a bad idea."  He snorts.  "They transferred the pervert to another room, but Sam was more than willing to share her plans.  Apparently, they're going to give it another go.  Jeannie was thrilled.  Romantic nonsense."

"Says the man that built me a model of a Pumper Jumper."  He grins as Rodney's face starts to turn pink.  "So you built the poison generator."

"And let Jeannie activate it."  Rodney shifted in his seat, glancing to the road briefly before looking back at the floor, grabbing one of the airline courtesy bags stolen from the plane that brought them to Canada.  "It's spread to most of the Northern hemisphere and should encompass Earth by Tuesday.  Today's mission was to see if the interference would spread through the Stargate and around another planet all by itself out-of-phase and if the Priors would notice and could you not swerve so much?!  Power bars are only good going down and-"

John tries to ignore Rodney's outburst, but he's starting to turn a little green, so John gently pulls off the freeway and into their neighborhood.  They're pretty close to home anyways.  "And did it work?"

"What?  Yes, of course it worked.  Do you think I'd invent something--okay, Jeannie and I would invent something that wouldn't work?  And don't bring up the energy bridge."  Rodney sags against the seat as they turn onto Winklebleck.  How he knows they're on their street without looking out the window John doesn't know, doesn't really want to know, either.  "The Prior knew there were cloaked intruders, but Merlin's dimension is still just as invisible to them as it is to the Ascended."  There's a hint of smugness in that statement.

"And is it poisoning the Ori?"  John pulls into the driveway and shuts off the engine.  He doesn't move to get out, though.  This isn't something they can talk about on the way to the door, and once they're inside he just knows Rodney's going to dote on Euler.

Rodney looks at where they are, then puts the bag back beside the seat and frowns.  "No clue.  They're in another galaxy, Sheppard.  For all we know, we're making it easier for them to feed off us."

"You don't believe that."

"It doesn't matter.  All we could do was detect was the active parts in the brain of an ordinary Ori worshiper.  So maybe the Ori feed directly, or maybe that energy is siphoned to the Prior, who forwards it on to the Ori themselves.  Or maybe the Orici handles it."  He lets out a frustrated sound that John remembers from their pre-Daedalus days, when they were trying to solve the power problem.

John leans over enough to nudge Rodney with his shoulder.  "You did good."

Rodney rolls his eyes, but half of his frown quirks upward.  "Yes, obviously, Colonel.  Otherwise I'd be in the lab trying to find out why our plan didn't work."

"When do you do the full-scale spreading of the interference?"

"Tomorrow, oh-eight-hundred."  Rodney rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands.  "They don't need me, but I want to be there."  He blinks a couple times, then unbuckles his seatbelt.  "So how was Heliopolis?  Any virgin princesses to throw themselves at you?"

"Nope.  Just a half-ruined castle, a damaged Stargate, and some weird Ancient device."  John feels himself smirk as he gets out of the car.  "Saw Lorne, let him pilot the Jumper for a bit."

"Bet he loved that."  Rodney slams his door--he always slams it, it's a bad habit John can't break him of--and digs for his keys as he walks to the front door.

"Thrilled.  I think he'll put me in his Will."  John dangles the keys from his hand and Rodney shoots him a disgusted look.  The man hates it when John pulls one over on him.  "He's bringing a surprise for you tomorrow.  Lunch time in the mess."

"With my luck, it'll be a lemon bar, or Parrish," Rodney grumbles as he snatches the keys from John's hands and jambs them into the deadbolt lock.

"Naw, you'll like it."  John waits a beat.  "By the way, can you do a scan of our backyard?  The Major mentioned something and I want to check it out."

John's meeting with General Landry is at oh-nine-thirty exactly.  Rodney is absent, but Lorne shows up exactly on the dot with a cheeky grin and a folder that means he has everything under control.  John doubts it, but settles in at the opposite end of the meeting table, Lorne taking the seat on his left.  He half expects Landry to rebuff his proposal immediately, but whatever's in the folder the Major slides to the General keeps the man quiet for a long couple of minutes.  John raises an eyebrow at his ex-second.  Lorne shrugs.

Finally, Landry looks up.  "Both of the Colonels signed off on this?"

"Yes sir," Lorne says, sitting straighter in his chair, "and Doctor Lee is more than willing to accommodate us."

John hides his grimace, but just barely.  His team needs a scientist other than Lorne, but he's heard the horror stories about Doctor Lee from Rodney, Carson, and random base personnel.  He's not a man John particularly wants on his team.

"You do realize, Colonel, that a change in your roster doesn't necessarily mean a shift in your mission priorities."  Landry gives John a very narrow look when he says this.  "We have twenty-four teams total, including yours.  To reorganize the mission assignments now would be chaos."

Landry thinks this is a bid for better worlds.  While John's been bored on many--okay, most--of the worlds he's traveled to in this galaxy, it's been a nice change from the pandemonium of Pegasus.  He wants the respect and recognition more than the highly-coveted worlds.  "I understand, sir."  John makes sure he's slouching down in his chair when he speaks.  "I'm just trying to put a team together so I can continue the SGC's mission."  His grin is sardonic.  Lorne's charm seems to fade for a minute because of it.  That's fine, John's not aiming it at him.

Landry sighs and nods.  "Alright.  You've got your team, Colonel.  Your next mission is at ten-hundred on Thursday.  Good luck."

He stands, and John does as well.  Landry's shaking his head as he retreats to his office, and John turns to look at Lorne.  "Doctor Lee?  Major..."

"Had to get him to sign off one of his lab assistants to us."  Lorne heads for the door, and John follows, his thumbs hooking into his pockets.  "Come on, they're in the commissary."

John follows Lorne to the elevator, whereupon he reaches up and scratches the back of his head.  "So you couldn't get Radek, huh?"

"Thought about it."  Lorne nods to the MP that gets off the lift as he steps in.  He waits for John to join him before pushing the button.  "Apparently, his teaching job was a cover.  The IOA has him working with the Russians on developing their technology.  They want some of the other world powers to be constructing world defenses and power generators."  Lorne lowers his voice as the doors open.  "Apparently, he's adopted Doc McKay's methods of motivation.  At least, according to my sources."

Which means Radek is yelling at scientist minions and calling people idiots.  After working with McKay for three and a half years, John's willing to bet Radek means every single insult.  It's hard to go from working with brilliance to working with moronic parasites.  "So who'd you get?"  Lorne nods over to a table against the far wall before walking off to get some coffee.  John keeps his pace, returning Lieutenant Cadman's wave with a small smirk as his eyes settle on the other figure at the table.

"Good to see you again, sir."  Short blond hair, dark eyes, and ears that end in points similar to John's.  The Canadian lilt is familiar, as is the sunny grin.

"Chuck."  John pulls out a chair and slides into the seat, his legs spreading of their own accord as he crosses his arms.  He knows it seems defensive, but they know him well enough not to be put off by it.  It's how he always sat with his team on Atlantis.  "Haven't seen you in a while."

"Doctor Lee had me running simulations on whether the chair in Antarctica could be moved."  The man rolls his eyes.  He's wearing the normal blue BDUs, but he's also wearing the Atlantis uniform jacket, the one with the green panels.  "Pointless, really.  But he didn't know what else to do with me."

"Chuck here's been keeping me entertained during my downtime."  Cadman is grinning brightly, she folds her hands together on the table as she leans forward and lowers her voice.  "Helped me increase the explosive yield of my C4 by twenty percent."

"Something that Colonel Edwards still hasn't forgiven either of you for," Lorne interrupts carrying a tray with four cups of coffee.  He takes a seat next to Chuck and gives the Lieutenant a pointed look.  "Normal yields unless we're blowing up an Ori warship."

"Sir, yes sir."  She doesn't bother grabbing a cup of coffee.  "This is going to be just like old times.  Except this time I'm not getting stuck in anybody's head."  She nods towards Lorne.  "It's the Major's turn."

"Pushing it."  Still, Lorne's grinning.

John is taking slow sips of his coffee.  "You made sure Chuck is cleared for off-world travel, right Major?  I'd hate to have to call Radek and tell him his zero-to-skittish record is ruined by a Canadian."

Chuck laughs at that.  "I'm cleared, Colonel.  I've just never had any field experience."  He shrugs a shoulder.  "I liked the control room.  And the teams were full here.  Until the Major called me."  He takes a big gulp from his mug.  "Thank you for doing so, Major.  I was about to give in and let Doctor Lee teach me how to play World of Warcraft."

All three members of his team--his team, and that thought makes John feel proud, relaxing into his seat a bit more--shudder at Chuck's comment.  "So what's our mission look like?"

Chuck and Cadman immediately take interest, but in Lorne, not John.  He's not sure that's a good precedent.  The Major shrugs.  "Standard recon.  Possible ex-goa'uld mining planet.  Hopefully without any Unas."  Cadman grins knowingly, John makes a mental note to read up on Lorne's SGC career before Atlantis again.  "Just need to take some soil samples and scout the area.  With luck we'll hit a vein the snake missed."

John nods.  He vaguely recalls the mission brief, mainly because he hadn't been looking forward to it with his old team.  Of course, that was weeks ago, and since the General hadn't sent any other teams in John's two-week absence, that means the high-ups don't think the planet is actually valuable.  No naqahdah, no natives, nothing but dirt and maybe some trees that look like California's redwood forest.  Still, it'll be a good warm-up mission for Chuck.  No hostiles, no stress, just a simple mission.

"So, Colonel," Cadman's smile has diminished greatly, and she's trying to pin him with her gaze.  "The brass are keeping a tight lid on the Atlantis transmission that sent you, McKay, and Carson running."

Lorne shifts in his seat.  "Lieutenant-"

"We have a right to know."  She shoots Lorne a sharp glance.  "We spent over a year there.  We have every right to know what happened."  Her gaze returns to John.  "Something did happen.  To set McKay off.  To set all of you off.  If Doctor Weir weren't incommunicado it would've-"

"Lieutenant, it's none of our business."  John can tell Lorne's trying for stern, but the backbone isn't there.  Obviously he's just as in-the-dark as everyone else.

John turns his eyes to Chuck, who's now leaning on the table trying and failing to not appear eager to hear the answer.  Cadman's steel gaze isn't helping his resolve, but it's Lorne's hangdog expression that does it.  He looks into his coffee and feels his hands tighten instinctively.  "General O'Neill gave us an update on the war..."

It takes a couple hours to go over everything, from the O'Neill's information to disbelief that it's over to wanting to kill the Ancients--that's mostly from Cadman over devastating Carson; apparently they may be broken up, but she still feels protective--to why three of Atlantis' senior staff up and left.  John's not too worried about it.  He never got an order to not reveal any information.  If he had to guess, John would say Landry is trying to be polite, let the ex-Atlantis Command structure distribute the news as they see fit.

The mix of joy and anger at the news appears to be universal for those who were on Atlantis.

Rodney appears as John is explaining the game he and Rodney played.  It's a lighter subject, a nice way to ease the topic far from the Pegasus war news.  Cadman is once again trying to hide a laugh, and Lorne looks, well, envious.  Chuck doesn't seem that surprised, but then, he could monitor energy use while in the control tower and probably knew all along.

"I just figured you and Doctor McKay had discovered some sort of Ancient movie theater," Chuck admits calmly, "or an experimental weapon's lab that you didn't want to talk about since it might raise false hopes.  Or the Ancient's version of a strip club."  He grins at the last one.

"The Ancients are too burdened by higher science to appreciate the finer qualities of strip clubs."  Rodney's standing at the edge of the table, eyeing Chuck.  "What's going on?  You said Lorne had a surprise for me."  He looks expectantly at the Major.  "Well?  I don't have all day."  He narrows his eyes, first at the stunned Lorne, then at John.  "He didn't get me anything.  Why did you drag me away from my very important research to-"

"McKay."  Rodney's mouth snaps shut, and John smiles easily, waving a hand at the table.  "The surprise is this."  At McKay's crooked frown, John sits up a little.  "The team.  He got together a team for me."

"Huh.  Interesting."  Rodney glares a little at Cadman, but doesn't say anything.  That's good, John's not sure the commissary could handle one of their verbal matches.  At least he doesn't look hurt at not being invited, though John's willing to bet it has more to do with the fact that Rodney's mind is probably still working on the problem in the lab rather than at this very moment.  John just has to be ready for to face a pissy scientist when that fact finally does register.

But then, he's more than ready for Rodney to be on his team.  He's just waiting for the chance to invite him.  In a savvy, not-at-all desperate way, of course.

"So what's going on today, Doc?"  Lorne grins as Rodney scowls at him for using the abbreviation.  Rodney hates that.  John does too, secretly, but it's fun to rile up McKay.  Plus, if Rodney really disliked it, he would've given Lorne cold showers on Atlantis.  It's like a nickname, and Rodney doesn't seem to mind if Lorne uses it.  Only Lorne, though.  Rodney made that one marine flinch for a week after using it.

Rodney crosses his arms as Cadman mouths the word 'Doc' at Chuck, who's still grinning.  "What's going on is the Ancients didn't leave the Infiniatis for us."

John raises an eyebrow.  "That Meaning of Life thing looked Ancient to me."

Rodney lets out a huff of air.  "It is Ancient.  The design, the knowledge, even the circuitry.  But the programming isn't."  He's got an 'ah hah' tone in his voice, the kind he only gets when he's solved a mystery.  "It took a while, but it looks like the Ancients left the programming to the Furlings.  Which makes sense, since their technology was almost on par with the Ancients.  At least, what we've seen of it."

"I thought the tablet had no technology in it."  Rodney blinks at Chuck, who shrugs a shoulder.  "Doctor Lee had me run a series of tests."

The snort Rodney says exactly what he thinks of Doctor Lee. "The tablet is a piece of stone, but apparently the programming in the pedestal can detect the carvings when it's aligned properly and instead of molecules, script comes out."  Rodney pulls a hand from where he's tucked beneath his elbow and waves it up above their heads.  "Alien.  Probably Furling.  From what Daniel's deciphered, it's not so much a cache of Ancient weapons as it a depository for them."

John shrugs.  "What's the difference."  The withering stare Rodney throws at him is ineffective, has been for a long time.

Rodney opens his mouth, but Lorne jumps in first.  "From what we know of the Furlings, they gave up all their technology to return to a simple, utopian lifestyle."

"Yes, we all know this."  Rodney rolls his eyes.

"I don't," John counters.

"Well, fine, you don't.  But you don't read all the mission reports."  Unfortunately, John's own withering stare is just as useless on Rodney.  "The point is, advanced technology doesn't just vanish from the universe.  The Ancients cleaned up a lot, but there's still quite a bit left."

John sits up, crossing his arms so he can rest them on the table.  "Are you saying the tablet isn't going to give us Ancient weapons, but technology from another advanced race?"

"Yes," Rodney replies assertively, then falters.  "Well, maybe.  It's not exactly clear.  It does say some Ancients joined them in their utopian ideals.  Of course, we don't know where the Furlings went to find Utopia, so this may just lead us to them."

The 'another advanced race too self-interested to think about the suffering of primitive cultures' is unsaid, but John can read it in Rodney's eyes.

"So how advanced were the Furlings?  Could they take out the Wraith?"  Cadman looks around the table.  "I mean, if they were as advanced as the Ancients, they must've had pretty powerful warships."

"Almost as advanced," Rodney corrects.  "And no, they probably couldn't take out the Wraith."  He crosses his arms again.  "We don't really have much to go on.  What they left behind...well, they didn't really leave behind anything.  Sam guessed they were about as advanced as the Tollan."  He snorts again.  "Obviously wrong, but then, she never worked as closely with Ancient technology as I have."  He smirks crookedly, and John feels an urge to smirk back.  He fights the urge, but just barely.

"Yeah, but how advanced," Cadman presses again.

"From the programming and what we removed from that transporter, I'd say they were only a thousand or so years behind the Ancients.  Maybe two."

"So we're talking warships to rival the Ori."  John can't help the smile, or the way he feels himself perk up.

"If there's any warships, yes."  Rodney immediately brightens to reflect John's improved mood.  "There's still a lot of work.  The text is interactive--Daniel thinks they may have worked with Merlin--and there's some code we need to get in order to find the actual coordinates, but it should only take me-"

"And Daniel," Chuck adds.

Rodney pauses.  "Alright, fine, technically.  But it shouldn't take long."

"Cool."  John waves his knee back and forth, banging it lightly against Rodney's shin once.

"Yes, yes, very cool."

"So Doc," Lorne stands up and nods to the counter, "you gonna stick around for lunch?  I hear they have lemon cookies today."

"Yeah, McKay.  I'll even flirt with the server to get you extra dessert," Cadman chimes in, grinning.

John knows it's in jest, and unlike Mitchell they've earned the right to joke like that.  Rodney knows it too, which is why he simply sniffs haughtily at them.  "I'll have you know-"

"There you are!"  Vala's sudden appearance comes with a one-armed hug that makes Rodney rolls his eyes so hard his entire head moves.  "Muscles and I were beginning to think you'd gone out of phase."

Teal'c is standing there too, his arms clasped behind his back.  "Indeed.  We have been investigating the upper levels as well as the lower ones for your personage."

"Don't think I don't know what you're doing."  Rodney points to Teal'c.  "I know you know it's 'searching high and low.'  Ronon tried the exact same thing and I didn't let him get away with it."  Which is a blatant lie that has both John and Lorne looking anywhere but at Rodney.  "And I was just about to get lunch."

"Good timing, McKay."  Colonel Mitchell sloppily waves at John before patting Rodney on the back.  "Daniel," who nods in their direction, "here was just about to tell me the new page he discovered.  Something about winters and glue."

"Cold fusion," Rodney snaps, "and I know you're not that stupid.  Stop trying to be like O'Neill."  Then he grabs Daniel's arm and all but drags him to the line.  "Cold fusion?  And you didn't call me?"

Cameron tucks his hands in his pockets and follows.  Teal'c inclines his head, and Vala waves excitedly, and then John and his team are alone.  And Rodney-less.  John watches Rodney animatedly discuss energy sources and math theories with Daniel and wonders how he'll ever get that back.  Maybe he should beg Rodney to be on his team.  Just a little.  When they're at home and in bed.  And have had a good fuck.

Right, John still can't do that, though he got close to it when they were in Canada.

He's brought out of his thoughts by Lorne thumping his shoulder.  "I'm sure he'll come 'round, sir."  John can see that, despite the mock-animosity, Lorne is just as let down by Rodney's abandonment as John is.  Chuck looks a bit stunned, and Cadman even seems to be pouting.  Obviously the thought that Rodney would give up SG-1 to join an Atlantis-based team had crossed everyone's mind.  They may not have the choicest planets, but they all know each other, they all have history, they can all relate.

Then again, even John has to admit that something as awesome as cold fusion would drag him away from his team.  Not that he'd ever be given such a chance.

John's first mission with his new team is not the peaceful recon it should be.  But then, their first mission is actually on SG-1's list, except that team got called for an emergency mission that everyone at the SGC is being tight-lipped about.  It's a fluke, a mission given to them because every other team is either occupied or on mandatory down-time.  And considering SG-1's history with missions, and the luck of Atlantis personnel, it's actually not a terrible first mission.

It is, however, still a disaster.  "You think Landry will demote me for taking hostages?"

"On your first first-contact mission in this galaxy?  No."  Lorne's languidly moving his Wraith stunner back and forth, to the distress of the still un-stunned natives.  "After all, in your first first-contact in Pegasus, you killed a queen and awoke the greatest enemy of the Ancients."  The tone is light, and he grins at the crowd.  John can taste the anxiety levels rise.  "And they made you a colonel.  Sir."  He finally settles against a pillar, weapon pointing down, but eyes locked on the seated captives.

"Technically, that was my second first-contact in Pegasus.  I met Teyla and her people first."  John nudges the guard they found trying to play hero with his boot.  "You think they're buying it outside?"  The 'they' are this world's SWAT, who think John and his team are Rebel terrorists bent on making...some point or another.  John hadn't really been paying attention, he'd been silently cursing the fact that Rodney wasn't here to save the day.  The stupid DHD by the Stargate was a fake, and now they had no way home.  Stupid museum replica.

"Don't know, sir.  Cicero's intel seemed right."  Cicero was the equivalent of this world's Daniel Jackson, from what John could tell.  He's the only man that believes the Stargate does lead to another world, and is more than willing to help them in order to prove his theory.  Of course, Cicero is merely a civilian.  They have to convince the negotiator outside, Quartus.  "I doubt they're just going to let four terrorists fly out of here."

"We don't need to fly out, we just need time."  Cadman and Chuck had found a naqahdah bomb while trying to look for the real DHD with Cicero.  They're back at the Stargate, trying to wire it up to dial out without blowing up half the city in the process.  John has to hand it to the Canadian, he sounds perfectly stable on the radio, as if he were back in the Atlantis control room announcing an incoming wormhole.  Cadman, on the other hand, is panicking, just a little.  Mainly because Cicero is now missing.

With their P90's, they could easily keep the hostages at bay, but John didn't want to risk killing anyone, so he and Lorne played into their terrorist roles an hour ago and went nuts with the Wraith stunner, incapacitating over half of the natives.  There was screaming and near-rioting, but once it was confirmed that the people were simply stunned and not dead, order was restored.  John shooting a few priceless vases with his handgun probably helped, too.

"Cadman to Sheppard."

"Sheppard her-"

"Rebels, this is Quartus." 

Lorne looks down at the native radio he's holding.  Talk about bad timing.  Still, Lorne's been doing the negotiations up until now, so John figures he might as well see it through to the end.  John nods and walks away, hoping the echo wouldn't carry.  "Hold on, Lieutenant," he says into his vest.

Lorne lifts his own radio.  "I'm reading ya."

"We have your transport, Malfoy."  John is still irked that, instead of their real names, Lorne identified them as the bad guys from Harry Potter"You and your friends have amnesty, and will get to have your say in the media as you wish."

That's a blatant lie.  John knows any government would never let terrorists actually speak to the public.  It's a rouse, to release the hostages.  It's the only reason the police haven't stormed the place.  "Cadman," he whispers, "what's up?"

"We got it working, sir.  We're dialing it now, but there's only enough power for a couple of minutes."

"Good, good, now one more thing," says Lorne.

"You get nothing more until you release the hostages."

"We'll wait until you and the Major get here."

"That's a negative.  Dial home and get out of here.  If we're not behind you, have Landry send a rescue."  The subcutaneous transmitters should remain hidden long enough for them to be saved.  He hopes.


"Well, Malfoy?"

Lorne's looking at him.  Either they push for more time, or they make a run for it.  John nods.  "We're sending the hostages out," he says into the radio, then drops it and jogs over to John.  "I'd say we have two minutes, sir."

They'll be lucky if they even make it to the Gate.  "Both of you, get out of here, now," he yells into his radio.  He looks at the hostages and decides to take a page out of McKay's book.  He waves both his hands wildly at the hostages.  "What're you waiting for?  Go!  Get out of here before I decide you're so useless I need to throw you off a pier to prevent your stupid genes from further polluting the human race!"  It's enough to get them cautiously moving, then en masse they bolt towards the doors.

John runs the other way, Lorne at his side.  "Pier?"

"Rodney to his staff.  Early days," he puffs out.  Something whizzes by his ear.  He knows that sound, even if it's an alien bullet.  "Shit!"

Lorne's already tucked the stunner under his arm and is firing blindly behind them.  They round the corner in time to see the Gate disengage.  There's no sign of Chuck, but Cadman ducks around the corner.  John shakes his head, then exchanges a glance with Lorne, and all three of them hunker down behind faux goa'uld pillars, stunners at the ready.  John gets off two shots before he feels something cool and metallic against his neck.  A glance to Lorne shows there's a gun against him as well.  The brief scuffle sounds means Cadman's been compromised as well.

"Where are the others," a man--Quartus, John can identify the voice with the name easily--asks.  Some of the police take their stunners, their P90s, and once they're standing, their handguns and knives.  They're lined up together, each with a gun on their neck and a hand on their shoulder.  "There were four of you."

"One left."  Quartus immediately narrows his eyes at Lorne.


Considering the visible hostility Quartus has towards 'Malfoy,' John decides to take over the negotiations.  He did learn a thing or two from Teyla, after all.  He can be diplomatic.  "Through the Stargate."  Quartus looks at Lorne another minute, eyes Cadman, then turns towards him.


John shrugs a shoulder.  "I don't totally get it.  If McKay were here, he could explain it."  He can just see Cadman's itching to say something smart about that, but she restrains herself like a good soldier.  This isn't the time for joking.  "They just went through a wormhole created by the Stargate, back to our world.  Turns out your Doctor Cicero isn't a quack."

Quartus looks over John's shoulder, and it takes a moment for him to realize Cicero is in the room.  From the way Quartus is looking at him--a look John recognizes because he's made the same face numerous times to Rodney--the man shouldn't be here.  "The Stargate is an artifact, constructed by our ancestors to worship pagan deities."

"Then how did they get here, Quartus," Cicero asks.  John strains his neck enough to catch a glimpse of the man from the corner of his eye.  He's examining the now-depleted naqahdah bomb.  At least Cadman had enough sense to send the MALP back with Chuck  "And where is their fourth?  He couldn't have simply vanished.  Your men have had this building locked down from the beginning."

John can see Quartus' jaw muscles tic.  The bad sort of tic.  The tic that means he can't understand what's going on, can't believe the truth, and is about to fall back on police protocol.  It also means Cicero may not see the light of day again if he keeps talking.  The official reason will probably 'consorting with terrorists' or something as equally asinine.

John clears his throat, catching the man's attention.  "I know it's hard to believe," he tries for the sincere-charming tone that always got the Pegasus civilizations to eat out of their hands, "but we're from another world."  Okay, almost always.

"You're Rebels.  How else would he," Quartus points to Lorne, "know what to ask for?"

"Actually, Cicero told him what to say."  Quartus scowls at Cadman.

John nods to the few bodies lying on the floor.  "And if you notice, we didn't actually hurt anyone.  They'll feel a bit tingly when the stunner wears off, but they're all fine."

Cicero actually steps closer.  John thinks the man has no sense of self-preservation.  "Their weapons are unlike anything we've seen.  No one has energy-based firearms on this world."  His eyes are sparkling, like they did when he first realized the 'terrorists' weren't actually terrorists at all.  "Real aliens.  Do you know what this means?  We're not alone-"

"For all we know, Doctor, you set this up to prove your theories."

Cicero seems taken aback by that.  John opens his mouth to defend the man, but his radio clicks once.  So does Lorne's and Cadman's.  Unfortunately, the sound doesn't go unnoticed by the people holding them.  "Sir," the man holding John's arm reaches up and yanks out his ear piece, "they're being contacted."

Quartus puts his hands on his waist.  "Not Rebels, huh?"  He points to another cop.  "Trace the signal."

All of their earpieces are yanked out, but Lorne actually seems to relax.  There's no wormhole, so either Chuck is still on this world, or rescue's arrive.  Of course, that's pretty fast, and he knows that any ships of Earth--built or captured--aren't anywhere near advanced enough to fly across a galaxy that quickly.

"Any chance we can get our stunners back," Lorne doesn't so much ask as he does yell.  Quartus actually turns red.  "Because we're not supposed to leave advanced technology on developing worlds."

"And if I were you, I'd bury the gate," Cadman adds.  "Got some real nasties nowadays, you're lucky they haven't come through yet."

Quartus shakes, then the man he pointed to earlier returns, pale and quaking.  "Sir," Quartus turns sharply to face him, "it's from orbit."

"What is?!"

"The transmission."  The man's eyes are wide, flicking to John and his team like they're ghosts.  "The government just contacted us, said they're taking over the," he swallows, "alien situation."

John guesses Quartus is about to blow.  It's time for them to make an exit.  "Sorry to be such an inconvenience," he smiles and waves with his free arm, "but we have to go."  He tucks his chin close to his chest and raises his voice.  "Now."

The last thing he sees is Quartus' disbelieving face as he, Lorne, and Cadman dematerialize.

When they're whole again, John spots three stunners lying on the floor near them, but none of their other weapons.  They're on a ship, but he's not sure which one.  Lorne puts his earpiece back on and starts to collect the weapons, so John gives the Lieutenant a pointed look.  "I thought I ordered you back through the Gate."

"Never leave a man behind.  I sent Chuck."  She's standing almost at attention, something John never likes to make his soldiers do.

In this case, though, he's making an exception.  "I gave you an order, Lieutenant.  If you can't follow them-" He stops himself, not wanting to become the hypocrite of his previous CO's.  He can feel Lorne standing behind him, as well as an unfamiliar set of eyes drilling into the spot between his shoulder blades.  Cadman remains at attention, not betraying a single emotion.  He takes a deep breath and forces himself to relax his tense muscles.  "Don't let it happen again."

"Yes, sir."

He takes another deep breath.  "Lorne."


"From now on, you're with Chuck."

"Yes, sir."  He knows Lorne can follow orders, even if it's to retreat and leave him behind.  Especially since Lorne's seen how tenacious Rodney can be when it comes to rescuing John.

John locks eyes with Cadman.  The tense atmosphere remains for another minute, and then her pose relaxes minutely, and John steps to the side, turning to see which SGC stooge saw the exchange.

It's Colonel Emerson.  His arms are crossed and his face is carefully neutral.  "Major, Colonel, welcome back.  Now Major, Lieutenant," he points a thumb over his shoulder, "get to the bridge."  They don't wait for John's acknowledgement of the order, simply clear the room, though Lorne shoots him a supportive look.

John waits until he's sure they're alone before crossing his own arms and standing at-ease.  "Sir.  Thanks for the swift rescue."

"It was on the way.  You're just lucky your team mate got to the SGC before we were out of radio range."  He eyes John over once before cracking a small smile.  "You did the right thing, Sheppard."

John feels himself relax, and he lets his arms fall to his hips.  "Always get the civilians out first.  Unless it's McKay," he smirks, "because he'll save everyone's ass at the last minute."

"I meant with Cadman.  Disciplining your team is always hard."

It's not something John likes to think about, he's never been eager to dole out punishment.  "It's for the best.  At least Lorne won't talk Chuck into ramping up C4."

"I think I heard about that incident."  Emerson tucks his hands into his pockets, then nods towards the door.  "Come on.  You have a mission."

"Another?"  John moves over to the Colonel and walks beside him as they head for the bridge.  "What is it?"

"What you said about Doctor McKay, actually."  Emerson swipes his card in the elevator's scanner.  "SG-1 ran into some trouble.  Ba'al and the Orici to be specific."

John feels himself tense all over, but once more forces himself to relax.  Rodney is the reason the Odyssey is out here in the first place.  "Did they find the weapon?"

"It's not clear.  McKay said something about an Ancient transporter and a network of Stargates off the normal grid.  He also told us to pick up something from Area 51--the General also added an anti-Prior device--then transmitted coordinates for a planet they'll be on at a certain time."

"As in, they're going to that planet, but they're not there yet?"

Emerson shrugs.  "He also mentioned something about having to stop Doctor Jackson from being an idiot, then ran off.  The wormhole disengaged.  In time for your team mate...Chuck?"  He waits for John's nod.  "Chuck to come through.  Good timing, really.  A minute before and the Gate wouldn't have locked."

Yeah, that's something John doesn't want to contemplate.  He steps off the elevator first and heads towards the bridge.  "So what's the mission?"

"Help Doctor McKay.  His orders," and Emerson smiles at that, apparently amused by Rodney's gumption, "were to drop off a team for back-up and deliver the device without anyone touching it."

"That's Rodney."  They arrive on the bridge.  Emerson immediately heads for the captain's chair.  A quick survey reveals Lorne looking over the pilot's shoulder and Cadman checking out the sensor grid.  They share a brief look, and then she cracks a smile, teeth and all.  John smirks back and takes it to mean things are still good between them.  "So what team?"

"SG-2 and SG-3."  The second premier team and the muscle.  Good choices.  "General Landry thought Merlin's weapon warranted at least two teams.  But since you and your team are here, I don't think they'd mind if you join them."  He rests his chin on a fist.  "Especially if you can keep Doctor McKay from getting distracted."

Yeah, Rodney can sometimes need someone to focus him, especially when there are minions to order about.  And Rodney will think of the SG teams as minions.  "I think SG-20 is up to the challenge."

"Good, because we're there."  John looks to the front window at the exact instant they exit subspace and re-enter normal space, almost directly in orbit of the planet.  "I'm sending the other teams to secure the Gate.  You'll have to wait a minute, then I'm sending you down with the device.  Hopefully Doctor McKay will be able to tell us where."

John nods.  Lorne comes over to stand next to him, looking out of the window.  Cadman's missing for a minute, but by the time the other SG teams are gone, she's back with stunners and P90s.  "So do you know what this device is?"

"Not a clue.  I try not to read Area 51's reports unless they relate to the Odyssey or the 302's."  Emerson shrugs at John's raised eyebrow.  "I'm dealing with enough, I don't want to know about the experimental technology that could one day doom civilization."

"Fair enough."

"What lot was it," Lorne asks.


Lorne frowns.  "The M lots contain all of Ma'chello's technology."

"Ma'chello?"  Cadman appears to be as clueless as John.

"Alien that nearly took over Doctor Jackson's body, spent his life inventing stuff to defeat the goa'uld."  He inspects in P90 briefly.  "We'd be using it, except he developed a unique, highly complex language only he understood.  And because each encounter with the technology almost resulted in disaster, they decided to lock it away and not study it."

"McKay know about it?"  It sounds like a puzzle Rodney would like to sink his teeth into.

"Probably from the reports, but it's highly-restricted access.  Until someone cracks Ma'chello's code, no one's supposed to touch the stuff."

Cadman shrugs.  "So he brought something to take out Ba'al."

"Except a gunshot would do that."  Lorne frowns.  "No, something else-"

"Odyssey, this is McKay.  Where the hell is M-24A?  We only have twenty minutes here!"

Emerson presses a button on his armchair.  "It's on its way, Doctor.  Where do you want it?"

"Where do I--oh, right.  Locate me and transport it ten...what?  Fine.  Twenty feet to my left."  There's some yelling, then, "West of my position.  And whatever you do don't let anyone touch it!  This is going to be complicated enough--Daniel!  Vala, grab him!"  The radio cuts out and Emerson nods once to Sheppard before he and his team transport to the surface.

They appear in a cave with technology that looks both Ancient and alien.  Mixed with it is what looks like a medieval-type bedroom, complete with a cot made of animal skins and straw.  The device with two sets of handles and looks like a solid railcar is off to his team's left.  Apparently, Emerson beamed them midway between Rodney and the requested beam-in location.  It's scuffling sounds that catch his team's attention next.

Daniel is struggling against Rodney and Vala, trying to get to a black portal sticking out of the wall.  John's not sure what's going on, but Lorne is off like a shot, building up enough momentum to tackle the trio to the floor with the bulk of his weight on Daniel.  Cadman snaps out of it a moment later and goes to help Vala, then Rodney off the floor. Lorne gets up slowly, and Daniel groans.

"Not that I'm not pleased to see you but I had it under control, Major!  You didn't have to come barreling at us like one of those low-brained football players!  And I mean American football, because Canada at least recognizes real football, and I think you cracked my spine!  If you broke something, I'm blowing up your car!"

"Rodney," McKay jerks around at John's slow call, "what's going on?"

"What're you--never mind."  He moves a hand up to his ear.  Typical Rodney, unable to give up the compact, efficient earpiece for the tac vest radio.  From the look Lorne gives him, John's willing to bet their first request when they get back to Earth will be a radio upgrade.  "Teal'c?  You ready at the Gate?  Good.  Remember to--yes, yes, I know you've worked with this--you know what?  Forget it.  I'm sending you help.  And tell Mitchell if I have to wrestle Daniel again he's losing the shiny new toy privileges!"

"Way to be the man, Rodney."  Cadman grins at him.  "What's the plan?"

"Plan?  What plan?  I'm making this up."  He snaps his fingers at her.  "You got that spiced up C4 on you?  I don't care, just help Teal'c set a trap up around the Gate.  We're facing an invasion force."  He blinks twice.  "Oh, but save two at least two bricks."

"Rodney, there's a team of marines out there."  She winks.  "I think there's plenty of explosive to go around."  She heads for the only obvious exit, leaving a sputtering Rodney behind.

Vala sits on the edge of the wooden table and claps her hands to her thighs.  "I like her.  Who is she?"

"My mortal enemy.  And you," he points at Lorne this time, "don't let him near that," he points at the face-sized portal, "or else."

"I know," Lorne says gravely.  "Geeze, Jackson.  You want to go all Ancient on us?"

"Jack put you up to this," Daniel groans from the ground, "didn't he."

Vala checks a watch.  "Eleven minutes."

"Assuming I'm right.  Okay, John, move that," he points to the device, "to there," a more central area of the room, a place that looks like it should be a ring platform.

"Sure.  If you help."

Rodney lets out an exasperated sigh.  "It's a body switching device," he says with the 'you're a moron' tone.  There's a more pained groan from Daniel with that pronouncement.

"Oh."  Well, that put the whole 'don't touch it' order into new context.  Grabbing one set of handles, John grunts and starts to drag the thing towards the center of the room.  "So what's this for?"

"Two birds with one stone," he says smugly, checking his pad.  "Vala, you found the hiding places?"

"Yup.  And the device is active."  She holds up an anti-Prior device, this one blinking green instead of blue, meaning it's the power-blocking version and not Rodney's interference thing.  "Will she be in for a surprise."

"Assuming this works." Rodney checks his own watch.  "Hurry up, Colonel."

John grunts again, silently promising to flush the toilet every day for the next week while Rodney's in the shower.  "Rodney, what happened?"

Rodney sighs, this time more tired than anything else.  "Short version, Adria sent the dream to Vala because she couldn't get Merlin's weapon herself.  We went through a series of insane tests--including a dragon!  Thank you psycho Ancients!--found Ba'al, and passed.  We ended up on another world in this lab with Merlin in stasis."  Something beeps on the pad and Rodney's attention is instantly diverted.

John thinks the dragon part sounds kind of cool, but wisely decides to keep that to himself.

"But after all this time," Vala picks up the tale, hopping off the table, "he was barely alive.  He began to build his weapon, but it took too much out of him.  He did something and the device flashed and, well," she cuts a hand across her throat, "dead.  As a doornail.  Daniel thinks he downloaded his knowledge, but, seriously?  He's crazy enough without alien knowledge in his head."

Daniel finally sits up, though he sways a little.  "I can handle it.  His sacrifice shouldn't be in vain."  That actually makes Lorne move forward and wrap a firm hand around Daniel's arm.  "Don't worry, Major.  I won't look into it now."

"Just making sure, sir."  Lorne doesn't loosen his grip.

John finally gets the device in place and jumps away, wiping the slight sweat from his brow.  "Really, Rodney?  You're passing up the chance to download the knowledge of the Ancients?"

"Hmm, yes, well, the whole dying after a few hours seems like too much of a downside.  Though I'm told you get cool super powers."  He types one last thing.  "Alright, we're set.  Major, move Daniel-"

"I can walk," Daniel grinds out through his teeth.  From the tackle, John's willing to bet the man's going to have bruises up and down his back.  "You sure this'll work, Rodney?"

"Yes, because I always hang around when a religious zealot with Darth Vader abilities is about to attack and I know my plan's going to fail.  Now move, move!"  Lorne wisely keeps between Daniel and the Ancient device in the wall.  Finally, Daniel lets out a long breath and rests his hands on the handles, facing the cave entrance.  "Try to look determined.  Vala," he pulls out a life-signs detector and holds it out, "when I give the signal, upload the program.  Who knows how long we'll have before the Ori send a second wave."

She takes the device and nods once before hugging him tightly.  "Good luck."  Then she jogs out of the room.

"How much time, Doc?"

Rodney doesn't even make a face at the name.  "Any minute.  Hide in that alcove behind Daniel.  Sheppard, we're over here."  He ducks behind the pillar with the Ancient portal.  He waits until John's beside him before lowering his voice to a whisper.  "Merlin was very clever.  There's an obelisk in front of the Stargate-"

"It's a transporter."

He nods, biting his lip and glancing around the pillar to make sure Daniel's still in place.  John makes sure he has a clear view for now, not wanting Daniel to go Ancient-like, either.  "It transports everyone and everything in the cave to a set of worlds outside the normal Stargate system at random intervals.  Knowing the Ancients, I figured out the program was in the transporter, not the DHD, and disabled the anti-dialing program long enough to contact Earth."

"Because Adria and her army are on your heels."  John would be impressed, but he knows Rodney works best under pressure, and no one spent more time with Atlantis' transporter systems than McKay.  John's now glad he didn't ask Rodney to be on his team yet.  Without him, SG-1 might not have been able to find the program, or find a way to contact the SGC.

Rodney nods.  "I was able to un-randomize the planets temporarily and designate our next world.  The program I wrote Vala will automatically dial the next random site and shut down the transporter."

John nods.  It's a good plan.  "So you can wipe out the Ori soldiers before transporting again."  He wait's a beat.  "Why didn't you just return to the SGC when you had the wormhole open?"

"Merlin had just died, and we didn't have the weapon.  And there was no way to transport everything into the Gateroom."

"Okay.  But why did you need the body swapping-"  Rodney holds up a hand, his brow furrowing.  Obviously he's on a private channel.  He waves his palm violently down and ducks into the shadows, pulling out a Wraith stunner.  John does the same, making sure he's out of sight of whatever's coming.  Though, really, if the soldiers teleport into the cave-

They're not.  Or rather, not a soldier.  He feels a tingle at the base of his neck, and knows the instant the transporter deactivates.  He sneaks a peek and sees the slim back of the Orici.  He ducks back to his hiding place.  He wants to take a shot, but Rodney is giving him that stern 'don't you dare move or the bomb will blow up' look.  Lorne, fortunately, can't shoot from where he's hiding.  The device and Daniel are in the way.

"Doctor Jackson."  Her voice is warm and silky, save for the undertone of steel.  He hears her heels click against the floor as she moves.

"You're too late."  Another peek, and he can see Daniel's gripping the device as if his life depends on it.  Part fear, part desperation.

"You haven't activated the weapon.  I'd say I'm just in time."

"And I'd say things are different now."

There's a thunderstorm brewing in the cave, a battle of wills the likes of which the universe has never encountered.  Sweat is beading down the back of his neck, and he sees that Rodney is gripping his gun so tightly his hands are completely white.  And they're still shaking.  He'd try to comfort him, but John's not sure he can do anything but jump out and shoot at the woman.  He's struggling to both keep his breathing quiet and keep his eyes open.  With Adria in the room, blinking could mean the difference between survival and oblivion.

"Do you really think blocking my powers will aid you?  I'm already overcoming the effects."  She's now standing on the other side of the device, staring Daniel down.  "You don't know how it works, do you."  He can hear the smile in her voice.

Daniel has obviously locked eyes with her.  "It's only a matter of time."

"Which you don't have."  John sees Rodney tap his earpiece five times.  Vala's signal, probably.  Adria doesn't hear it.  "You won't win.  My soldiers will be here in a matter of minutes."  Judging by the slight reverberations he feels, John's guessing they won't.  Not with Cadman manning the detonation devices of the C4.  "We've won.  And I shall take Merlin's weapon," she places one hand on the right handle, "and use it to destroy the Ancients."

Daniel lets out a maniacal bark of a laugh.  "You'll have to pry it from my dead hands."

"That won't be necessary.  Our plans require you alive, Doctor Jackson."  She places her hand on the other handle.  There's a hitched breath on the part of Adria and Daniel, and then utter stillness.

John feels a burning in his lungs, and he realizes that he's been holding his breath.  As much as his body screams for oxygen, he doesn't move, doesn't breathe, just waits, and waits, and waits.  After a small eternity, he hears Doctor Jackson, though he sounds enraged and confused.  "What have you done?!"

"Lorne, shoot Daniel now!"


Rodney's out of his hiding spot and moving to block the portal.  John follows, but sees neither Daniel nor the Orici have moved.  The Orici, however, is grinning.  It's a mean grin.  "Surprise," she says.


"Oh for-" Rodney brings up his stunner and fires.  Daniel waves his hand to the side, as if he could deflect it with his mind, only to be enveloped by the stunner energy and fall back, eyes wide and mouth open in a surprised 'o'.  "I thought you could follow orders!"

"It is confusing, McKay," Adria says.  She's got a hand on her hip and is looking right at them.

"Hello!"  Rodney flings his arm back and forth through the air.  "Body-swapping device!"

It takes John a minute to register, what with the adrenaline pumping through his system.  He can also see the exact moment Lorne figures it out too.  It's a double-take that almost gives him whiplash.  "So, you..."

"I know."  Adria--no, Daniel--looks down at her body.  "It's...different."  His nose scrunches up, something he's seen Daniel do a number of times.  "Is that what the inhibitor field feels like?  Huh."

"You can feel it?"

"I think only because I know it's there."

Lorne finally stands up, looking down at Daniel's prone body, and then Adria.  "Sir, I'm...uh...good plan?"

Daniel chuckles.  It's light and airy in his new body.  "It was Rodney's idea.  He was worried about Ba'al hopping into Adria's body and taking over the Ori fleet."

Yup, that's definitely a McKay leap in logic.  John grins, then immediately drops it and clicks on his radio.  "This is Sheppard, do you need help out there?"

"Sheppard?  Damn, man, you missed all the fun."  Cameron would think fighting for their lives was fun.  "Where are you?"

"In the cave.  With...Daniel."

"Great.  Listen, can you ask McKay to fill the rest of us in?  He wasn't exactly forthcoming."

"I can hear you perfectly fine, Colonel, and I'll explain in a minute.  Vala?"

"I'm here Rodney.  The program uploaded fine, we're dialed into the new world."

"Perfect.  Alright, I'll be out in a minute.  In the meantime, I'm sending Daniel ahead.  The transporter won't work on him anymore."  He clicks off his radio.  "Sheppard, escort Daniel.  In that body...well, marines.  Lorne, carry Dan--Adria.  We don't know if her Ori essence is part of her physical mind or it's a mental ability that's transferable.  If it's the latter, Daniel may be stuck with breasts forever."

"Thanks for that thought, Rodney," Daniel deadpans.  He can't quite pull it off with a woman's voice, though.

"Hey, just be glad for that personal shield.  It'll probably save you from the trigger happy grunts."  He clicks on the radio again.  "Cadman?  Remember those two power C4 bricks I wanted you to set aside?"

John watches Lorne pick up Adria and carry her--him?  Pronouns are going to be a bitch, he thinks--in a fireman's carry towards the door.  Keeping his stunner at the ready, he looks to Daniel-in-Adria.  "So should we play it straight, or pretend you're my prisoner."

"Prisoner, at least until we get to the other side.  With Rodney explaining things, it could be a few hours."  Daniel offers an arm, John takes it, and with his weapon pointed at him, he leads his 'prisoner' to the Stargate.

Word gets out pretty quickly, especially once Rodney transports the cave and all SG teams to the new planet.  John manages to keep the truth quiet, but then SG-3 goes to the wrong cave and sees that their 'prisoner' is free and talking amicably with both Mitchell and Vala.  They don't fall for Vala's distraction of 'who has the bigger boobs' and in the end nearly take out half of SG-1.

Fortunately, with Adria's body comes Adria's power, and Daniel manages to stop everything long enough for Mitchell to get on the radio.  Before anyone can run for a Wraith stunner, Rodney's voice comes over all their headsets very, very loudly.  "Stop shooting projectile weapons near sensitive Ancient technology!  And since you're all obviously morons, we used a body swapping device!  Adria is Daniel Jackson and if you shoot him the world will be a great deal stupider than it already is!  Now get back to work!  We have a schedule!"

Since John isn't wincing and the marines are, he's willing to bet Rodney somehow rigged their volume control.  He doesn't know how, but he doesn't put it past him.  They lower their weapons and glance around nervously before John claps his hands.  "You heard the cranky scientist."

John smirks at their surprised faces.  He was the commander of a base.  He can give orders, he just doesn't like to.  "And if he doesn't get this done on time, then he has to stay here longer.  If he has to remain here, I have to feed his hell-beast of a cat."  He crosses his arms sternly.  "And if I have to do that, you're all going to be Lieutenants."

SG-3 looks from him to their commander, then to someone beside John.  A glance out of the corner of his eye reveals Lorne, also crossing his arms.  He fights the flush of humiliation and anger at the marines' nerve, obviously trusting the word of an SGC Major over the misfit Colonel of Atlantis.  Lorne, however, isn't taking it.  He doesn't give any indication whether they should ignore John's orders or not, just stands there staring them down.

John feels his chest puff up, letting a little of his indignation show on his face.  "Are you really as stupid as McKay says you are," he belts out.  They snap to attention automatically at the tone.  "That man just saved all our asses and gave us control of the Ori's best weapon!"  Daniel frowns and crosses Adria's arms, propping up her breasts.  Vala rolls her eyes and pushes the arms back down.  "So you can either follow orders or you can go scrub bathrooms at the SGC!"

That gets a reaction.  Major Petrov clears his throat.  "No offense, sir, but this could be a trick.  You were in that cave, too."

"I wasn't," Mitchell pipes up.  "And if you can't trust McKay or follow his orders, you don't belong here."  John blinks, but keeps his stern fa├žade up.  He supposes he shouldn't be surprised.  McKay just grows on people.  "From here on out, consider Doctor McKay in charge.  If anyone doesn't like it," he points to the ceiling, "the Odyssey will be here in a few hours."

"Or Rodney can just kill you."  Everyone turns to stare at Vala, except Daniel, who looks to the ceiling and sighs.  "What?  Surely you've heard the stories.  How Rodney punished his insubordinates.  And they never did find the body of that poor chemist."

"Thank you," Daniel pulls Vala back by her arm, "but not helpful."

"I'm only trying to-"

"I'm sorry, did I say I say this was coffee break time?  Don't think I can't see you!  You're worse than the botanists."  John's pretty sure that last bit was meant to be muttered, not broadcast.  "If you're going to be as worthless as Kavanagh, then--what?  No, no!  We don't want power--Sheppard!  Get those idiots to work or fire them!  I don't have time for--don't touch-"  And the radio goes silent.  Obviously Rodney's having trouble with Merlin's equipment.  He makes a mental note to harass him in a few hours to take a break.

One more focusing on Petrov and his team, John put his hands on his hips.  "Since I know you're all so eager to help McKay," now they look wary, unsure; good, "you can start by pulling double shifts guarding the Gate."  That elicits one wary groan.  "Unless you want to take over for SG-2.  They're working directly with McKay."

Petrov salutes stiffly.  "Double shifts, sir.  Anything else?"

John locks eyes with Petrov and waits for a long moment; long enough that he can see sweat start to appear on the man's forehead.  "For the record, McKay never killed anyone."  Except Wraith, of course.  "And while I understand the desire to ignore a civilian's orders, you will never ignore his again."  He meets the gaze of every marine.  "Or mine."  His eyes rest on Petrov once more.  "Am I making myself clear, Lieutenant?"

There's a sharp intake of breath at that.  "Yes, sir."

"Good.  I'm glad we had this conversation."  He keeps his hands on his hips.  "Dismissed."  This time, SG-3 doesn't hesitate.  They're out of the cave within a matter of minutes.  John keeps a stern look on the entry way, then lets out a long breath.

"Idiots," Lorne mumbles, then his neck flushes red and his gaze darts to the ground.  "Sirs."

"They ain't the brightest bunch, but you want 'em there when the shit hits the fan."  Cameron heads towards the entryway, slapping John on the back as he passes.  "Gonna catch up with Teal'c, see if he wants a break from watching Adria."

Adria, in Daniel's body, is strapped to the makeshift bed from Merlin's lab.  Not that it's a problem yet, the stunner's effects won't fade for another few hours, but this is the Orici.  They can't be too cautious.

"I should probably see her, too."  Vala doesn't seem happy about that prospect.

Lorne tries to offer her an out.  "She won't be able to respond for a while.  Hit she took, probably'll keep her out for five, six more hours."

"Yes, well, this is probably the only chance I'll get to force her to listen without trying to kill me."  She squeezes Daniel's hand and leaves with Cameron.

Lorne waits a beat, then, "When did McKay get to be such a good shot?  I thought he ejected his clip the last time he tried to fire."

John lets his shoulders sag.  "Don't bring that up.  He'll start bitching about the American military buying and supplying substandard firearms again.  I'd rather sleep with his cat."

Lorne laughs.  "Right.  So, sir," he nods at Daniel, "you need anything?"

"Other than a set of clothes that don't show off my--her assets?  No."  He pulls the dress up, looking at the chest he's borrowing.  "I think this is a size too small."

"I'll see what I can do.  Shep," he sloppily salutes and, grinning, leaves.

Daniel looks up and raises an eyebrow.  "Shep?"

Yeah, that's a Lorne thing.  Not really a trend John wants to see happen.  "So, uh, what's it like?  You obviously have control over her powers."  He kicks at one of the bullets now lying on the ground.

Daniel goes with the change in topic, retaking his seat on the bench.  "Apparently having ascended once helps.  I don't have access to the memories in my sub-conscious, but I just..."  He thrusts a hand forward, grasping at air.  "It's there, this...understanding of how it all works."  He lets the hand drop.  "I don't know."

"Do you have any of her memories?  Do you know ship positions or anything?"

Daniel shakes the head.  "The body-swap affects the mind.  Adria's memories, all the intel of the Ori and their plans are in her mind, in my body."  He reaches up to feel the necklace that acts as Adria's personal shield.  "I can feel it, though.  The Ori half of her.  She's human, and the knowledge she has obviously comes from them, but there's something...a..."  He moves the hands back and forth, searching for the right word.

John has a terrifying epiphany.  "Do they know you're in her?  Can they read your thoughts?"  Daniel, while brilliant, is also one of the most dangerous minds the Ori could get their hands on.  With that knowledge they could probably win the war in a matter of weeks.

Daniel shakes his head.  "They know that something's wrong, but no.  I'm alone in my head."  He sounds relieved at that.  "Her body almost has an," he's searching for the word again, "umbilical cord.  Metaphysical, or maybe in another plane.  They can feel that something's not right, just like I can feel that..." he frowns.  It's a frightening look on Adria's face.

"Feel what?"

"They're not...I don't know how to describe it."  He stands up and starts to pace.

"Try."  This isn't the time for any surprises.  "If you've found a weakness, we need to know."

"It's not a weakness, it's," he stops and cants his head, "huh.  It's like nausea.  Really light, barely noticeable."

"But you noticed it."

"Well, I'm not used to it in the first place.  I could be wrong," he brightens, smiling, "but I think we can tell Rodney his interference device is working."

"That's good news."  Rodney will be silently proud while berating everyone who said it wouldn't work, but John keeps his enthusiasm dampened.  If Daniel can feel something off with the Ori, that means they might be feeling it too, and looking for the cause.  And if they can sense that something's wrong with their precious Orici, they may look too closely at Earth, and discover that the most hated planet in this galaxy is the source of their illness.

Unfortunately, like most of the plans he and McKay sort out, the full ramifications only occur after the immediate danger.  Maybe they can find a way to 'cut' this connection--okay, maybe McKay can find a way to cut it.  He doesn't want to leave Daniel alone, though, not with some hostile confusion over Daniel's true identity.

Luckily, Cadman has an excellent sense of timing, and practically bounces in with an extra set of BDUs.  "The Major said you might need these."  She sets them on the second chair, then leans against the back of it.  "So, want to create a support group?"  She grins toothily.  "Hi, my name is Laura, and I've been free from a male body for-"

"Rodney would kill us."  Daniel's grinning back as he says it.  He starts to feel for a clasp on the dress.  "Think we could get him to attend?"

"I'll find a way."

John sneaks out while they're plotting.  At the very least, when they get back to Earth there's going to be quite a bit of entertainment.  He just has to practice his innocent look.  If Rodney suspects he knew about this prank beforehand, he's looking at cold showers for a month.

It takes almost a week for everything to fall in place.  The Odyssey had to travel to the home world of the Sodan and retrieve the remaining obelisk, then bring it to Earth to be installed.  That took a day to figure out because of some ethical dilemma John isn't entirely clear on.  Merlin's cave--as everyone had taken to calling it--couldn't just appear somewhere, nor was there room in the SGC to house the entire structure.  Daniel solved the problem by reminding everyone of the mostly abandoned original Antarctic excavation site, where the second Stargate had been found.

Then there was aligning the technology, and Rodney had to reprogram the obelisk to transport not just everything within the cave, but the cave structure itself.  That meant checking every system and sub-system, and confirming that the power generator wouldn't overload the transporter.  It hadn't before, but as Rodney pointed out, it hadn't transported ten tons of stone the last few times.  It was a legitimate enough worry that almost the entire set of personnel was evacuated to Earth through the Stargate before transport.

Rodney, of course, stays on the other side in case any problems should arise, and to destroy the DHD, in case the Ori stumble upon the planet.  "Cadman is too excited about this.  She's going to prematurely blow us both up, I can feel it."

"Doctor," General Landry sighs into the microphone.  He looks weary, with dark circles under his eyes.  John feels a little sorry for the man.  Between getting Merlin's laboratory to Earth and debriefing Adria he's been working almost nonstop.  At least Adria's interrogation is going smoothly, but that's probably due to the combination of tranquilizers and a Tok'ra memory device.  Nobody protested her treatment because everyone had lost someone in the current war.  Daniel only asked if there'd be any chance of permanent damage to his body before watching the orderlies insert the IV and the memory implant.

"Yes, yes.  You don't want to hear about it.  It helps me think.  Radek, you in the green?"

Thanks to the IOA, Merlin's cave is considered an international issue, and thus Russia was more than happy to contract Radek out for a couple weeks.  There were other people they could've used, but Rodney insisted.  Unfortunately, despite some of the free time he's had, he hasn't gotten a chance to even see the Czech, or even speak to him.  "Yes, Rodney.  We have been in the green for a while."

"You sure you don't have the obelisk pointing the wrong way?  We only have one shot-"

"Yes, yes.  I deliberately pointed the obelisk towards the wall so that the best possible weapon against the Ori is destroyed.  I am incompetent like that."

"I wasn't implying--stop laughing, Lieutenant!"  John can just imaging Radek grinning at Rodney's indignant voice.

"You are losing your touch, Rodney.  The marines used to fear you, now they laugh." 

Landry looks like he wants to bang his head against the wall.  SG-1, for the most part, looks amused.  John rests his hands in his pockets and exchanges a smirk with Lorne.  Radek and Rodney used to provide some of the best entertainment on Atlantis.

"The marines still fear me!  It's only because it's Cadman--what?  Shit."  The joviality vanishes from Rodney's voice.  "Prepare to receive."

"Doctor McKay, what's going on?"  John feels the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.  The transporter's been activated.  "McKay!"

"Cadman here, sir.  The MALP just detected three goa'uld ships in orbit." 

Which means they possibly have a leak.  Or Ba'al got lucky.  It could go either way.

"Are they opening fire?"

"Rodney, we have the cave, the system checks out."

"Doctor Zelenka," Landry gets interrupted before he can say anymore.

"Power good?  Everything's intact?  We can't come back-"

John nudges the general out of the way and grabs the microphone.  "McKay, get your ass back here now."


"Now, Rodney!"  He glares at the wormhole, willing McKay to just follow orders.  There's a minute, and then both Cadman and Rodney dive through the horizon.  "Close the iris!"  Knowing Cadman, there's going to be a hell of a shockwave following them.  There's a loud noise against the metal, and then the wormhole deactivates.  He glances to his right.  General Landry doesn't look pleased.  "I knew I could get him to listen, sir."

"Just don't make a habit of it."  He sounds bitter, but John accepts the unspoken reprimand quietly.

"Zelenka, begin checking-"

"I know, Rodney.  Go and shower.  I have heard horror stories from the scientists you sent me.  We will be ready when you come here."

"I'll have you know, Radek, that-"  Rodney sniffs loudly, pauses, then sniffs again.  He rolls his eyes.  "Fine.  I'll be down in a day."  He taps the radio on his ear.  "You could've said something."

"And hurt your feelings, McKay?"  Cadman steps off the ramp and offers him her hand.  He takes it, grumbling.  "Good hustle."

"Yes, well, SG-1 has a tendency to have to run.  A lot."  He shoots the control room a glare before turning and walking towards the door.  "I'll be at the debrief in thirty!  Don't be late!"

John pouts, but only a little.  He's going to keep Rodney home until tomorrow if he has to drag the man kicking and screaming off-base.  Radek can handle things for a day.  He nods at Lorne, but before he can start to leave, an alarm goes off.  Not the dial-in alarm.  A quick glance over Sergeant Harriman's shoulder shows that the cell Adria's in is the source.

It takes no time for John and Lorne--and Cadman and Rodney, who simply fall into step behind them--to arrive at Adria's cell.  She's still strapped down, but this time with a gurney and medical restraints.  She looks like she's sleeping, but Daniel has a firm grip on the shoulders of his body and is squinting to the point of shutting his eyes.  Vala looks like she wants to do something, but can't.  "What's going on?" John asks.  Cameron repeats the same thing a second later as he and the rest of SG-1 dash in, pushing their way towards the bed.

"I don't know.  Daniel and I came in to see how she was doing, and he suddenly went pale and told me to hit the alarm."

Rodney bulldozes his way through the Atlantis team to stand by the medical monitors.  "She's trying to ascend."  He turns to Lorne.  "Get Carson!"

"And Lam!"  Cameron meets Rodney's quelling look with one of his own.  Surprisingly, Rodney backs down first, looking back at the medical monitors.  "Can you do anything?"

"Do you think I understand ascension?"  Rodney glares.  "I can tell you the scientific process, but I don't think Adria accelerated Daniel's body to the point where ascension is just the next evolutionary step!  She's doing it through some other means, and we don't know how the Ori actually leave this plane of existence!"

John moves against the far wall, then tilts his head to Cadman.  "Fetch one of those anti-Prior devices."


"Just in case."  John glances towards the ceiling.  If there's going to be interference from either side--but especially from the Ori--it's going to come now.  "And lots of stunners."

"Yes, sir."  She runs out quickly, and John turns back to the bed.  Vala, Teal'c, and Mitchell are huddling around Rodney.  "Need another brain?"

Either they don't hear him, or they're ignoring him.  "If Adria's ascending, is there a way we could have her do it in her own body?"  Vala makes a back and forth motion with her hands.  "Get the body swapping device and put them back?"

"No.  It absolutely won't work.  The distraction would--huh.  Wait."  Rodney snaps twice.  "Yes, yes."  He offers Vala a crooked smile and breaks from the group, moving around the bed.  "Daniel?"

"Little busy right now."

Rodney waves a hand.  "Yes, yes.  Listen, when she's about to ascend, switch your minds."  Daniel grunts and finally shuts the eyes entirely, squeezing the shoulders even tighter.  "Okay, I hope that's a yes."

Cameron rubs his head.  "So Vala had a good idea?"

"A brilliant idea.  If Adria's on the verge of ascension, she might not notice the body swap at the last minute."  Rodney bounces, then slumps.  "But if she does-"

"Already on it, McKay."  Cadman grins and tosses a stunner at him.  He makes a fumbling move to catch it, but Teal'c grabs it out of its arc a few inches from his hands.  "Nice."

"I could've caught it."  Rodney takes the weapon from Teal'c.

"I'm sure you could, DoctorMcKay."  John thinks he's a bit of an expert on alien expressions after three years with Teyla and Ronon, and he's pretty sure that's Teal'c's smirk is amusement at having to humor Rodney.

"Out of the way!"  Lam, Carson, and three other medical personnel suddenly flood the room and quickly surround Adria and Daniel.

John finds he's now sharing the wall with SG-1.  He nudges his shoulder against Rodney's.  "It was a good plan."


"The body swap."

"Oh, well, considering how much had to be done to complete Merlin's weapon.  Plus, you know what the Sangraal does?  Kills ascended beings."  Rodney rolls his eyes.  "We'd have to travel to the Ori's home galaxy to activate it, which means deactivating the Supergate."  A snort.  "Why don't we just lay down and ask the Ori if they'd like to steamroll us.  It was luck that allowed us to dial that-"

"McKay."  Mitchell has a stunner up, pointing at the bed.  "Get ready."

"Wha--oh.  Crap."  Rodney brings his own stunner up, along with John, and aims it at Adria's body.  Both it and Daniel's are glowing, though there's a shift in the color spectrum from white to gold in each.  Lorne ducks behind the door, ready to strike in case Adria somehow disarms them all.  Cadman has her finger on the anti-Prior device's power switch.

"What's going on," John asks after a few more minutes of the light show.  The golden shimmer is migrating to Adria's body, the white shimmer moving to encompass Daniel.  Where Adria's gripping Daniel, however, the two auras are clashing, fighting.  "Why isn't Adria ascending?"

"Probably because if she has to leave this plane of existence, she's taking Daniel with her."  Rodney narrows his eyes.  "Carson, can you separate them?"

Carson hesitates, then moves close enough grab Adria's hand.  There's a flash and John finds himself on the floor with a disoriented Scottish doctor on top of him.  John wheezes out a breath as Lam and an orderly gingerly move Carson towards the door.

"Any other ideas, McKay?  Cause if not, I'm having the big guy stun them both."

"We don't know if the Wraith stunner will stop ascension."

Cameron watches the clashing auras for another beat.  He raises his stunner up and lines up his shot.  "Good a time as any to find out."

John knows by the sound of the energy discharge that the stunner isn't set to just stun.  Adria's body flies away from the bed, crashing into the visitor's chair as collapses on the ground.  The aura around Daniel fades immediately.  The one around Adria, unfortunately, doesn't.  It glows brighter as her body is consumed by flames.  John waits for the heat, but there isn't any, just a golden fire that rises into the air, leaving nothing but empty BDUs on the ground.  It hovers ominously, and even though they're underground he swears he can feel the pressure build, like just before a roiling lightning storm.

John's almost positive that none of them are going to be alive in the next five seconds.  He wants to reach out, touch Rodney one last time, but can't find it in himself to move.

In the next instant, though, the malevolent Adria vanishes, and John feels that his knees want to give out.  They don't, but it's a close thing.  Rodney doesn't try to fight it, just slides down the wall and starts to hyperventilate.  It looks like everyone else feels the same way, even the ever-stoic Teal'c seems affected.

Vala stumbles her way to the bed and leans heavily against the rail.  "Daniel?"  There's no response.  "Daniel, if you're you, give us some sort of sign.  A name, a sentence."  She waits a beat.  "I suppose I could try and kiss you.  Wake the sleeping prince."  The words are glib, but the tone is desperate.  "Please, Daniel.  Something.  Anything."  She leans forward, resting her head against Daniel's stomach.

John finally squats to help Rodney through the last of his anxiety attack by rubbing his shoulder, when there's a soft voice.  "You..."

Vala raises her head.  "Daniel?"

"You," he lets out a long breath as he opens his eyes, "will just use any excuse to kiss me."  The wry humor and warm smile is definitely Daniel.  "Can't let my guard down around you for a second."  He lets out a sigh, closing his eyes again.

"No, no you can't."  Vala's smiling too, sounding a little choked up.

"If you don't mind, some of us were nearly forcibly ascended."  Cameron smiles at that, and Cadman rolls her eyes.  Rodney just exhales, the attack finally over.  John helps him up.  "And Rodney, I can smell you from here."

"And here I thought it was the Colonel's new cologne.  Eau de Overworked Scientist."  There's no bite in his voice, and Rodney lets himself be led by John to the door.  "Glad you're back.  Though I'll miss the breasts."

John's not the only one that whaps him on the back of the head.

It takes a few days for Daniel to finish debriefing--meaning they're sure he actually is Daniel--and rejoin SG-1 on missions.  During those days John and his team finally go on that geologic survey mission and Rodney vanishes to the Antarctic to hassle Radek and argue about whether or not Merlin's Weapon is worth freeing up the Supergate and potentially inviting more Ori ships into their galaxy.  Considering the trouble both SG-1 and Atlantis went through to dial the thing, John doesn't think they should shut it off unless they can destroy any further Ori ships that come through.

John's not there for the arguing, but he gets all four days worth of ranting in one super-compressed tirade over dinner, dessert, a movie, and the first hour in bed.  It takes three long, lung-straining kisses before Rodney finally slows down.  It only takes a few minutes of petting before he's out like a light.  Obviously no one thought to make sure Rodney slept for more than two hours a day.  And on the plus side, John's learned that Radek's doing well, seeing this very sweet girl, writing letters to Elizabeth, and nearly finished with the Mark III naqahdah reactor design.

He also learned that the IOA took Rodney's objections very seriously, and are still debating whether deactivating the wormhole is worth the chance to kill the Ori in their home galaxy.  John thinks they're holding out a little longer to see if the Infiniatis research finally bears fruit.

The day after, SG-1 goes off on a mission to screw some pirates calling themselves the Lucian Alliance and John gets food poisoning from the ham sandwich at lunch.  Since his team's on standby for the next forty hours, he leaves early, runs a few errands, and heads home to try and watch the sports channels again.  The voices aren't as annoying, and John finds himself finally relaxing to the sounds of cheering fans and banging helmets.

Unfortunately, he wakes up--after falling asleep at three in the afternoon--and just barely makes it to the bathroom to throw up lunch, breakfast, and probably the dinner from the night before.  He feels fine for another twenty minutes, then has to visit the porcelain bowl again.  When his bowels start to contract and rumble, he knows it's more than just bad meat and calls Carson.  He gets about two words out before heaving again.  Obviously the message gets through, because the doorbell rings fifteen minutes later.

Carson isn't alone.  "I live six doors down," Lorne shrugs.  "Since Carson hasn't actually been here and I have a car..."

While an interesting tidbit of information, John actually doesn't care at the moment because, joy of joy, he's getting warning signs from both ends and runs to the bathroom.  Carson joins him.  "Carson!"  He's not actually embarrassed, but at the moment he really doesn't want anyone to see him like this.  He can't even keep down water without his body reacting badly.

"I've seen it all before, Colonel."  He snaps on a latex glove.  "Now, let's see what we've got."

The flu, apparently.  A very virulent thirty-two hour flu that's put a number of people in the hospital for dehydration.  Of course, John got a flu shot with his regular check-up, but this was obviously not in that cocktail.  "You can return to the base, but some suppositories and rest here will also cure you .  Though you'll need help."

John's pretty sure Lorne's bonded with the second love of his life out in the living room and will graciously volunteer to help out his CO.  That TV has awesome power, but like the one Ring, John has to be careful not to let anyone take his precious.  He blinks.  Okay, he's definitely not well if he's mixing Lord of the Rings metaphors.  "Lorne'll stick around."  He slowly uncurls from his squatting position, but he can't bring himself to stand upright.  His muscles just won't let him without considerable protest, not that it stops him from trying.

Carson rolls his eyes--something he probably picked up from Rodney--and rubs John's arms before helping him towards the bedroom.  A bedroom John's going to be running from in the next twenty minutes if Carson's description of this particular flu is true.  "Now you just rest up.  And don't go stretching yourself unless you need to."

It's a rough night, one that has Lorne wearing latex gloves and a surgical mask and treating John like a leper, but by the time the sun starts to rise John has literally nothing left in his system, and the contractions are no longer sharp and urgent.  Carson said the worst bit was in the first twelve hours, and that he'd tell the SGC he was sick, so once he's sure he won't be awakened by any urgent needs, he lets himself fall into a fitful sleep.

He's out of it for most of the day, up long enough for Lorne to feed him half a package of Top Ramen and water.  Lorne also gives John the packets of suppositories, carefully keeping his face serious yet sympathetic, and says absolutely nothing.  There's also a bottle of pills as an alternative, but the soup isn't settling well so John lets Lorne help him to the bathroom and John does some acrobatics to get the medication in.  When he opens the door, Carson's on the other side and John can hear the sounds of a Spanish soccer announcer from the living room.

"He looked a wee mite uncomfortable.  You get it in fine?"

John sighs, too tired to feel any humiliation.  "Yes."  He shuffles slowly back to the bedroom, then stops.  "Isn't Rodney supposed to be back?"

"What?  Oh, no, no.  Tomorrow.  It's a very tricky mission."  Carson never could lie to John, and if he had more strength he might pin the doctor with a glare.  There's a part of him that worries, wants to go to the base and find out the truth and if he and his team need to go in and save SG-1.  There's a larger, more demanding part that makes him start to inch his way back to the bed.  He lets Carson think the lie's been bought and decides to call Cadman tomorrow.  She can lie, but probably won't to him.

Maybe he'll get Lorne to call.

When he wakes up the next time, a glance at the clock shows he's slept nearly sixteen hours and there's someone in the room with him.  With the blinds closed it's hard to make out a shape, but when he does he feels himself relax and reaches out to brush against the hand resting on the edge of the bed.  The reaction is immediate, with the other hand curling around his.  "Hey."

"I just can't take my eyes off you for two seconds.  I leave for a quick mission--which sucked, by the way.  The Lucian Alliance tried to carve up my arm which, after Koyla, I'm a little sensitive about and I may have had a small freak-out that actually saved us from being hurt but-" Rodney takes a breath, "the point is, I leave and you catch the plague."

"S'just the flu.  I'm feeling better."  John wishes for a minute they were back in Atlantis, where he could just touch the wall and bring the lights up softly so that he could see Rodney.  Instead, he lets his fingers roam up Rodney's hand to trace his scar, searching for a bandage or a small cut.  The skin's a little rough, something that hasn't changed since that incident, but otherwise feels okay.  "You okay?"

Rodney shifts from the chair to the edge of the bed so John can continue his tactile exploration.  "Yes, other than feeling a little guilty about how crappy your fortieth birthday was."

That makes John pause, and he does a quick mental calculation and, "Huh."  With all the commotion of Merlin's cave and Adria and everything else John had forgotten his birthday was this week.  And after all the obsessing he'd done on Atlantis about it, he should feel a little silly.  Instead, he takes a moment to reflect,

He has Rodney which, really, counts for a lot.  He has an SG team he likes, and while they're not Teyla and Ronon, it feels like they're just as close.  He doesn't have Atlantis, but he can now think about it without having a lot of nightmares or brooding for days.  And he's actually content with his life.  At the moment, he's not actually happy, and it's certainly not what he envisioned, but on the whole he doesn't have any massive fears of a midlife crisis or a desire to change anything.

Plus, Rodney's forty-two, so he's still the young one of the relationship.  He smiles and goes back to holding Rodney's hand.  "Guess I'm over the hill."

"And you still have no sense of self-preservation.  You left Lorne alone with the TV?  He was so zoned the Wraith could've attacked and he would've just turned the volume up.  We'll be lucky if he doesn't try to steal it away one of the days we're both off-world."

"He's on my team."

"He'd find a way."  Rodney hesitates.  "I, uh, may have made you something."  There's a shy quality to the admission, and John pushes himself up on an elbow.  "But it's in the other room, and you'd have to get up-"

"You made me something?"  Rodney stinks at arts and crafts.  John knows this because of that one time he tried to do a macaroni picture with Madison.  On the other hand, he can solder like a master if the Puddle Jumper model is any indication.  He can't help but grin.  "You like me."

Even in the dark John can see Rodney's flush.  "Shut up and come on.  Lorne said he'd swing by before noon and I still need another few hours of sleep."  He stands up and John eases his way out of the sheets, taking a brief minute to wrap his arm around Rodney's and squeeze their hands together.  Rodney leans into the touch just a little.  "Come on."  Rodney doesn't let go as he leads John out of the hall towards the one room John's never been in.

Tucked behind the kitchen and beside the basement stairs, catty-corner to the bathroom is a tiny work room Rodney forbade him to ever go in.  It even has a lock that John doesn't have a key to.  John figures it has all of Rodney's theoretical research, maybe a few tokens from Atlantis that he snuck away from Area 51.  John can respect boundaries, and while there have been times he's almost snuck in, there's always been something that held John back.

Probably the small thought that the room actually held some of Rodney's secrets.  Musical scores and ZedPM research and a list of scientists lost on Atlantis.  A place Rodney buried all his failures in and wouldn't give access to anyone; even himself.

So John's heart is beating pretty rapidly, both afraid and eager to see what's behind door number one, that he feels disappointment when it only appears to be computer equipment and some screens in the darkness.  Then Rodney flips the switch and John feels his stomach flip because the desk has two computer monitors facing opposite walls and there's a large blank screen for a projection.  And John doesn't know how Rodney got the construction done under his nose, but the architecture looks metallic and familiar and he grabs the doorway to keep himself from collapsing.

Rodney has his wry grin and his hands on his hips.  "I snuck the original programming into the weekly data bursts after we re-established contact.  I just classified it as unknown data and the SGC left it alone, what with the need to find weapons and power sources."  He bounces on the balls of his feet.  "I've been working on it since we were exiled.  Not the room, obviously, but the program.  You don't want to know how many systems I burnt out trying to set this up."

John finally decides his rubbery legs aren't going to let him down and he steps into the room.  "You...you brought our game?"

Rodney shakes his head.  "Just the program.  The, uh, saved files, so to speak, I didn't get a chance to send out.  So we'll have to start over.  And there's no sending out of transmissions, I triple checked.  No telling primitive cultures what to do."  He waits a beat, then, hesitantly.  "There're no windows, and I'm going to get a more secure lock, but I thought you might like...I mean, I miss it too, but you really, and...well..."

"It's perfect."  John lets himself fall into the chair, and except for the door, it's like stepping back to Atlantis.  Except he's in boxers instead of jeans and a shirt.  "The SGC, they don't mind?"

Rodney ducks his head and slips into the chair on the other side.  "I thought it might be our little secret.  Again."  He grins.  "So you like it?"

It's like all his Christmas and birthday wishes from forty years condensed into one room.  All for him.  By Rodney.  He feels himself vibrating.  "I love you."

Rodney rolls his yes.  "Yes, Ancient architecture tends to bring out-"

John rolls his chair around the table and sidles up against Rodney.  "I love you."  It's something they've never actually done before.  That L-word that feels corny and stupid and makes John's lungs tingle and stomach roll over.

Rodney turns a bright red, obviously struggling.  Finally, he blurts out, "I love you too.  Now can we not do that again?  We're both horrible with feelings and now I-"

John lets out a braying laugh right before he kisses Rodney.  Kisses and kisses and not even Lorne pounding on the door can make John pull away.

Forty years old, and his life is fucking perfect.

John spends his last sick day with Rodney, who graphically depicts for the General exactly what Euler is throwing up and sometime between the tuna-smelling paste and uncontrollable bladder John hears the General yell, "I get it, doctor.  Fix your cat."  John's willing to bet Landry's wishing the cat would just die from whatever he's got, but in actuality Euler's as healthy as a horse.  John isn't going to say anything, especially since it means he gets to play the Game for almost ten hours.

By dinner time he feels giddy and, if he's honest with himself, a little frisky.  He hasn't felt this way on Earth since, well...he's never felt this way.  He waits until Rodney's set the pizza down before pinning him to the back of the chair for some serious make-out time.  There's a few protests before Rodney gets with the program and they make it as far as the hallway--away from prying eyes, at least--before pulling at each other's clothes in frantic, jerky ways.

Unfortunately, while John feels in the mood, there are parts of him that most definitely aren't.  Oh, it's not for a lack of trying, with Rodney's hand and mouth and, of course, Rodney rubbing against him desperate and needy and John's panting when Rodney tenses up and finally comes against his thigh.  There's sloppy kisses and gentle strokes and John feels a little something break inside of him because he wants this, wants it so badly.  His dick just can't seem to get its act together.

Rodney doesn't say anything, just holds John as their heartbeats slow down and he burrows into McKay's warmth automatically.  He doesn't have to hide, Rodney's with him despite his faults.  And he got it half-up this time, so it's just a matter of time.

"Pizza's probably still warm."

"Yeah," John says roughly, making no move to escape from his position.  "Should probably eat on paper plates.  I caught your devil cat licking the remains off last night's dinner."

"He's a clever cat.  And stop leaving food remains.  He's getting fat."

Neither of them moves, not until Rodney's stomach lets out a protest that makes John laugh that braying donkey sound.  This leads to Rodney shoving him away playfully and making Pinocchio comments.  In revenge John grabs all of the clothes and dashes for the kitchen.  Normality returns and John wonders if Rodney will brave the two seconds he's visible from the street for greasy pizza.

The next day there's a spark about them, the old energy and banter that was at its height in Atlantis, is making heads turn--and in Rodney's case, making scientists flee--at the SGC.  Lorne and Cadman and Chuck smile and trail behind like a line of ducks, obviously enjoying the old status quo.  John doesn't even notice they're heading for Daniel's office until Rodney abruptly halts and goes silent.  It takes John a moment to realize why.  "General O'Neill."

"Colonel."  O'Neill is fiddling with one of the small artifacts constantly spread out over Daniel's desk.  John knows for a fact Daniel hates that.  Probably why he's doing it, though.  It's fun to tease geeks.  "Doctor McKay, how's that repository...thingy you've been researching going?"

Rodney's spine goes ramrod straight, and John can feel the looming storm if McKay decides to let his not-so-paranoid thoughts spew out into the room, so John not-so-subtly kicks the man's heel.  "We're making progress, but with his time on SG-1," O'Neill doesn't look surprised to hear that, "he hasn't been able to make much headway."

It's a lie, but Rodney's become a little more adept at hiding the truth since returning to Earth.  John can see him biting his lip and glaring lightning bolts at the General.  He's not actually the focus on McKay's anger.  No one in this room--and John's willing to bet O'Neill feels the same way--wants the Ancients to take this away from them.  Not when they refuse to help in every other respect.

"Of course.  Well," he looks down at the artifact, then sets it back on the table, "now you can focus on it.  SG-1 is being reassigned."

"What?!"  John flinches a little.  Rodney may have bitched and complained, but he would've built a dozen nuclear bombs and left them in John's room if he'd been pulled off the team on Atlantis.  "I'll have you know I'm doing an excellent job-"

"It's not you, McKay."  O'Neill shrugs.  "The Asgard were very specific on who they wanted to see."

"Asgard?  And they don't want me?"  Rodney huffs and strides forward.  "I'll have you know I've gone against Hermiod and--and I'm a part of SG-1!  You can't just pull me off-"

"Actually, I can."  The general sighs when Rodney turns even redder.  "Look, McKay.  The Asgard aren't doing so well, and we're their last chance to save 'em.  They can't even receive us by Stargate.  We're taking the Apollo."  Rodney deflates a little at that.  From O'Neill's tone, it almost sounds like they're going to say goodbye.  "They gave us a list of people they wanted, and, to be honest, you're not on it."  He waits a beat, then twirls his fingers in the air.  "If it makes you feel any better, they asked Vala and Mitchell to stay behind."

Rodney keeps glaring, but his shoulders slump and John knows that means Rodney's giving up this battle.  "I still think I'd be useful."

"Yeah, well, Hermiod's suggestion of you didn't go over so well, not with the way he swears."  O'Neill frowns.  "At least, I think it's swearing.  Never did learn-"

"Yes, yes.  So how long until you're back and I go on missions again?"  John remembers a time when Rodney wasn't so eager to travel off-world.  He doesn't miss that Rodney much.

"Actually, we're taking Carter with us."  This time, O'Neill does look guilty, and John has a bad feeling Rodney's about to get dumped.  "She'll be fully recovered by the time we arrive at their home world."

Rodney stands there for a few minutes, not glaring or pouting, just staring at some spot on the wall.  It makes John's heart twist and he has a moment where he wants to break O'Neill's nose.  Then, Rodney lets out a huff of breath.  "Right.  I'd better...the Infiniatis needs to be deciphered.  Say hi to Sam.  And don't come running to me when you blow up their planet, because I'm going to be busy.  Very busy."  He about faces and stalks from the room.

John doesn't watch him leave, just keeps his eyes on O'Neill.  The General raises an eyebrow, but does seem genuinely remorseful for having to deliver the news.  "Bit of a handful, isn't he."

"Usually worth it, sir."  John tries to win the staring contest they seem to have, but ends up shifting his gaze to the bear-shaped rock O'Neill was playing with earlier.  "I'll make sure he doesn't do anything too vengeful to your office."

"Much appreciated."  O'Neill stuffs his hands in his pockets and looks around, then, over John's shoulder, "You seen Daniel?  Last time I beamed him out without authorization...well, it wasn't pretty."

"No, sir, but I can look."

"Thanks, Major."  The General watches the Egyptian men cross the screen saver as Lorne jogs off.  "Waiting for something, Colonel?"

"No, sir."  John signals to Cadman and Chuck that it's time to go, but he's only at the doorway when the General calls his name and he stops.

"Exploratory teams can have up to five members," O'Neill says casually.  "If you have four, another scientist might be worth looking into."

The General rocks on his feet after that, staring intently at the screen saver.  John takes that as his cue, and mentally writes his next request to General Landry.

John's going over the final details of his proposal with Lorne when Rodney bustles in excitedly with the latter half of SG-1.  Obviously whatever resentment and residual anger from the confrontation with General O'Neill has worn off thanks to some new discovery.  And, knowing Rodney, John's willing to bet the scientist locked himself in with the Infiniatis.  This is definitely going to be big.  "Rodney, come on in.  My door's always open."  It actually hadn't been, but a closed door never stopped Rodney before.

"Yes, yes, protest the interruption of your pressing need to finish that game of Spider Solitaire."  He quirks a side of his mouth up and snags John's arm in an almost bruising grip.  "You're going to want to hear this."  He practically drags John across the desk in his haste to get back out the door.  John can feel his arm socket protesting the harsh treatment and, once they're in the elevator, he's able to extricate his now-damaged limb.

"So what's this about?"

"You got me, man."  Cameron's grinning.  "All I know is we're going on a mission."  He's really enthusiastic about that.  So is Vala, from the way she's grinning.

John raises an eyebrow, but the doors open and Rodney's off like a shot.  He and Vala get stuck in the doorway trying to follow, only escaping thanks to an excessive shove from Lorne.  By the time they catch up Rodney's already shoved an MP aside and is kicking out some suits from the meeting room.  Fancy suits.  The Washington DC-type suits.  General Landry looks like he's about to have a stroke.  Or kill Rodney with his bare hands.

At least until all the suits are out and Rodney holds up a folder.  "I found the Infiniatis."  The hostility from the General vanishes instantly, and John slides into his seat along with the rest of the trailing group.  Merlin's weapon has the potential to destroy the Ori, but that won't stop their followers.  It could even make it worse.  It's one reason they haven't begun to build it.

"You've got my attention, Doctor."  Landry folds his hands on the table.  There's a hint of ire behind the words, but a find this big has to supercede political meetings.

Rodney doesn't sit.  "Athena got it wrong which, if you think about it, isn't that surprising since the goa'uld know next to nothing about the Ancients and what's left of them.  It's not a repository of weapons so much as it's-" the folder snaps as he flicks his hand about.  "Does it matter?  It'll have ships and weapons and maybe more, but we have to go-"

"Not so fast, Doctor McKay."  Landry looks pointedly at the folder and holds out his hand.  Rodney huffs and slides it down half-way.  Lorne passes it to Cameron, who then passes it respectfully to the General.  "Why don't you start at the beginning.  Where exactly is the repository?"

"I said it wasn't a repository-"

"Then what is it?"

Rodney heaves an enormous sigh that clearly transmits how moronic he thinks Landry is for not taking his word and finally sits at the other end of the table.  "The Clavus Therresa Infiniatis isn't infinite treasure--or whatever it translates into--left by the Ancients.  It's left by the Furlings."

Cameron leans back in his chair.  "Don't think I've read that file."

"Yes, and that's probably because we don't know if they're still around, or if they even still exist.  They did, however, live on Earth for a brief time.  And if Daniel's translations are right, were at war with the Ancients."  Everyone's got their eyes on Rodney at that, John can practically feel Lorne and Landry's eyes drilling through the back of his chair to get to Rodney.  "Not that I want to actively promote having children waste time studying useless trivia like mythology, but you have heard the myth of Atlantis, right?"

"I haven't," Vala volunteers.  "But I'm not from here."

"Refresh my memory, Doctor.  It's been a while."

Rodney scowls, but John slouches more in his chair.  "Wasn't Atlantis at war with Lemuria?"  He shrugs at the curious gazes.  "My dad liked to tell me that story."  He turns his chair towards Rodney, who looks relieved that he doesn't have to explain it.  "Lemuria was in the Pacific, right?"

"I heard it was Mu," Cameron frowns.  "Don't know why."

"The point," Rodney says a bit loudly, "is that those crazy writers who claimed there was a lost continent were right.  Except they weren't because it was a city, not a continent."  He flexes his fingers, obviously missing his laptop and unsure of what to do with his hands.  "The Furlings were roughly even with the Ancients in regards to technology, which means they were more advanced than the Nox and the Asgard."

"What started the war?" Landry asks.  "We don't want another enemy."

"There was something of an ideological difference in regards to manipulating worlds.  There's a lot of useless history, meaningless competition over who gets what planets, whether it's okay to build Stargates in this galaxy, stuff like that.  But the hostilities really heat up fifteen thousand years ago, and end less than ten thousand years ago."  He glances at John.  "Sound familiar?"

"After the Ancients abandoned Atlantis."  Which means the Lemurians had a militaristic advantage.  "Why didn't they wipe the Ancients out?"

"The Nox."  Rodney almost, almost sneers at the name.  "They were a common ally, and after the Ancients returned defeated were able to convince the two sides to put aside their differences.  That's when Heliopolis was formed."  Rodney leans forward on the table.  "When the plague struck the Ancients, the Furlings weren't affected, but felt it was a sign that advanced technology only led to ruin.  There's a very vivid visual of them destroying every planet they'd been on.  They didn't want to leave anything behind that could contaminate future races."

Cameron points at Rodney.  "But they left something.  Their city."

"They wanted a back-up location, in case primitive utopia wasn't all the Nox claimed it to be.  So they collected all of their battleships and any the Ancients wanted to get rid of--not that there were many left, considering how desperate they were with the Wraith--and sent it to another galaxy."  Rodney sits smugly and crosses his arms.  "And I just unlocked the code with the coordinates."

John smirks back and tilts his chair in the other direction.  It's a breakthrough, a discovery that has the potential to be as large as Atlantis.  General Landry, however, doesn't look as pleased.  "How do we know the city's still there?"

"How did we know Atlantis was still there?" Rodney snaps back.  "We send a MALP through first, obviously, but we'll need the ZedPM, which means once the wormhole is open we have to head through."

Lorne rests one palm on the table.  "Any ships that are still there would be airtight and probably functional with a power source, sir."

"If there are any Aurora-type warships, we could salvage them."  John really hopes they find some of those.  It'd be even cooler than finding a second lost city.

"At this point, sir, can we really be that cautious?  The Asgard are unavailable, the Ancients aren't responding, and for all we know, more Ori ships are on their way here through hyperspace."  Cameron nods to Lorne, then John.  "I say it's worth the risk."

"And what happens if it's a one-way wormhole, or you find you can't activate anything?"

Rodney snorts and starts ticking off his fingers..  "Ancient warships, Wraith cruisers, the lost city of Atlantis, Asgard transporters, the Daedalus, the ZedPM, the control chair in Antarctica--do I really need to continue?"

"That's not helping your case, Doctor McKay."

"Then send the Odyssey."  Lorne leans over the table, holding his hands apart at first, then moving the one close to the table's edge nearer to the resting palm.  "We go through, and you send the Odyssey to pick us up if anything goes wrong, or they'll meet us halfway."

"Who would we need?"  Vala asks this, not of General Landry, but of Rodney.  "Mitchell and I, certainly.  And Colonel Sheppard."

Rodney frowns for a moment.  "Lorne, Cadman, Chuck, Zelen--no.  You'll need a backup in case something happens.  And he's your best shot at building Merlin's weapon."  He waits a beat.  "Miko, and Stackhouse.  Carson if we can, but we'll have to convince him.  Jean--no."  His eyes glaze over.  "Can't do that to Madison."  He blinks a few times.  "With the equipment I'll need, that's probably all we can fit in the Puddle Jumper."

"What makes you think you'll need the Puddle Jumper?"  Landry does not sound happy about Rodney's list, or taking the Ancient shuttle.

"To interface with any Ancient technology.  The city undoubtedly has safeguards, and the Jumper will identify us as friendly."  He taps his fingers on the table.  "Unless the original programming is in place, then it'll identify us as hostile and blow us out of space."

"Won't we be in the city?"  Lorne shifts in his seat, looking as unsettled as John over the 'blowing up' news.  "I mean, where else would they put the Stargate?"

"If the galaxy is uninhabited--which, after ten thousand years, who knows--they might have placed it on the planet then ascended.  Or they could just leave it in orbit above the city.  We know they didn't sink the city, but the Infiniatis doesn't specify exactly what they did with it, either."

Right, so another potential one-way suicide mission.  With his new Atlantis-personnel team, and Rodney, and the Jumper.  John can't help his glowing smirk.  He can't even hide it, but as Rodney keeps saying: big weapons are just a Pavlovian response.  "Sounds like a normal mission to me," he says dryly.

Rodney smirks crookedly back, then at Landry.  "We can beam the ZedPM in and I can have everything I need in three hours."

Landry looks at everyone around the table, probably feeling the same hopeful energy charging John and everyone else.  "I'm guessing you don't have time to wait for the Odyssey to take you there."

"The Ori could send their ships long before we'd be back."  Rodney leaves off 'you idiot,' but John knows it's there.

"Sir, if we find an Aurora-class vessel, and it has power, we can have it back in a matter of days."  It's playing dirty, but John wants this mission to happen and he's willing to use hope of advanced technology to blind the General from the downsides.  "It'll also means we can use Merlin's weapon without shutting down the Supergate."  Of course, they don't know where the Ori home galaxy is, but he's willing to bet the Ancients will help with that because, well, it's self-serving.

It's three long minutes with the General looking over the paperwork in the folder before letting out a leaden breath.  "I'll need presidential authorization to remove the ZedPM from the Antarctic platform.  If President Hayes agrees, you have a go."  He points to his right.  "Colonel Mitchell will be in charge."

Rodney waves it away.  "Fine, fine.  He can worry about making sure we have enough food and water to survive until we encounter the Odyssey."  Not, John notes, until the Odyssey arrives to rescue them.  From Rodney, that's positively optimistic.  "Lorne, get Stackhouse and Cadman.  Miko will have a list of what I need.  I need to go make sure Doctor Lee didn't break the drive pods again."  There's a bitter note in that last sentence as he swiftly walks out of the room.

John watches Landry rub his temples before pushing away from the table and retreating to his private office.  A brief nod to Mitchell and Lorne and soon he and Vala are the only ones left in the room.  John's watching the General through the window, and he sees she is, too.  "Looking forward to the mission?"  She simply grins wildly.  John takes that as a yes.  They return to watching the General, who hangs up a minute later and gives them a thumbs up before digging out a bottle of aspirin.

He'll tell Landry about his team proposal when they get back.

"MALP is on its way."

John pretends to be busy double-checking the Jumper's systems while they wait for confirmation that there is something on the other side of the wormhole.  Rodney says they're heading to the Phoenix Galaxy, a name that Lorne's still smirking about.  John really hopes it's just coincidence that humanity happened to name the two galaxies containing lost cities after mythological creatures.  Anything else is just...disturbing.

He hears a cough behind him and very carefully keeps his eyes forward.  Ten people in a Jumper usually isn't a problem, but with the equipment and survival supplies filling all but a narrow aisle in the back, everyone has crammed into the front section.  He thinks this is what a sardine feels like, and wonders how Rodney's coping.  Though, the new galaxy and having to find an ancient city is probably enough to distract him.  He can hear Stackhouse taking deep breaths.  He's a good soldier, but John still remembers how he tensed in the Atlantis transporters.  Crowds and tight spaces can make even the best soldier uncomfortable.

"We're through.  Receiving telemetry."

It's easy for John to use the Jumper's systems to pick up on the MALP transmission even though it's a double-encoded signal.  It doesn't take the  Ancient communication grid more than a minute to filter through the security and show everyone in the Jumper what they're up against.  It takes a minute for John to realize that the MALP is floating in space--an orbital Gate--and that it's very, very dark.  "Rodney?"

"Start shifting through the filters," Rodney says into his earpiece.  The screen changes colors and contrasts as the perception filters are rotated.  Ultraviolet, night vision, infrared.  The latter shows that while there doesn't appear to be any nearby light, there is a very large planet-like object the Gate is floating above that's giving off trace amounts of heat.  "Hmm."

"I'm not seeing a city, Doc."

"Major's right, McKay.  It's looking like a bust."

"Unless it's hidden somewhere on the planet," Vala interjects.  "Wasn't Atlantis underwater?"

"It also had the Stargate on the inside."

"Yes, let's all compare apples and corn in the hopes that we-"  Rodney goes silent, and his eyes widen in a way John's only seen when they detect a dozen Wraith ships.


"What?  Oh.  Power spike."  'A big one' goes unsaid.  "General, I'm getting readings from the other side of the planet."

"Are you sure, Doctor McKay?"

"No, I'm making it up so you'll just let us go."  He rolls his eyes.  "This is a potential one-way trip.  So either there's a lost city or the ZedPMs are alive and we've just found their breeding grounds."

Wow, okay, that's a lot of power.  John licks his licks, his mouth drying at the prospect.  By the third year he got just as excited about ZedPMs as Rodney.  Not to the point of orgasm, but pretty damn close.  It's not something McKay kids about.  There's something powerful on the other side, and so far it hasn't blown up the MALP.  That's enough for John, but he doesn't move the control stick forward just yet.

"Alright, Doctor.  You have a go.  The Odyssey will see you in a week."

Which is the estimated time it'll take for the ship to travel from Earth to the Phoenix Galaxy.  John is just itching to prove Landry wrong, that this mission won't be a bust.  Feeling the Jumper hum beneath his hands, he guides them into the Stargate.

Even though John knows he can't perceive the passage through the wormhole, when they exit he has the distinct impression that it was a far bumpier ride than the normal trip through a wormhole.  Rodney has a similar look on his face, that 'maybe I shouldn't have eaten before we left' expression that means he's unsettled by the trip.  The MALP, however, is in front of them, so they're obviously in the right place.

The display shows the Stargate deactivate a second later.  John swings the Jumper around so they're facing it.  "McKay, dial it up."  Rodney reaches over to dial Earth, but after he depresses the third chevron he stops.  John doesn't need to ask why, he can see that the Gate isn't responding to the commands.  "Just finish, see if it activates."

He does, but the console in the Jumper simply glows for a minute after Rodney depresses the activation control.  "It's probably a failsafe.  They planned on moving here if the utopia thing didn't work out."

"So they don't interfere with the development of lesser races."  Cameron leans forward in his seat.  "So where's this Lemuria, McKay?"

Rodney glides the stylus over his laptop.  "Give me a second to recalibrate the Jumper's sensors.  Since nothing lit up, the city probably shifted its power spectrum to hide from intruders."  There's quiet blips from Rodney's computer as John slowly moves in a circle, getting a feel for where they are.  There's no nearby star, so John has the Jumper's lights on.  The planet is large, dark, and seems to have clouds like Jupiter, only not as bright.

"I thought a planet couldn't form if a star wasn't around."  At Chuck's pronouncement, John pulls up the sensor screen.  He knew something about this planet was nagging him, not that he's an astronomer, but it makes sense.

Rodney takes a brief moment to look at the current sensor readouts.  "It's not a planet.  It's a brown dwarf."

"I don't see any midgets, McKay."

"Hah, hah, tres droll, Cadman."  Rodney goes back to recalibrating the sensors to detect the lost city.  "Brown dwarf stars can't sustain fusion, so they don't emit much light.  We can only normally see it on the infrared scope."

"Cool," John says.  It is, but it also makes him wonder why the Furlings chose this star, and not one that was burning brightly and could help sustain them should they come here.

"There."  The sensor grid immediately pops up in front of John with a square blinking red on the other side.  "There's our city."

"I don't suppose they have bathrooms."  Both Cameron and Rodney turn to stare at Vala while John starts flying around the rather dark star.  "I suppose I can hold it."


"Permission to freak out denied, Sergeant."  The Jumper's interior is well-lit, but without light the outside seems cramped, dark, and only exacerbates the confined conditions they're in.  John hears Lorne rustle and move and hopes his ex-second can calm the man down.

Lorne can't, but Chuck gets Miko and Stackhouse talking about their favorite Japanese movie directors, and the two hit it off, the Sergeant sounding more and more relaxed.  Then Carson asks Vala and Cameron about the Ori plague, and Cadman wants to know about the color scheme of Lorne's house and how he's remodeling it.  Soon everyone but Rodney and himself are talking.  John wants to say something, but he really can't think of anything appropriate in this context.  He's excited and nervous and doesn't want to out himself in front of, well, everyone.

"You know, it's been pointed out that maybe the people of Geldar advanced a little too quickly, and should maybe, possibly, have considered their neighbors a little more."

That has John smirking.  "Well, you did help them through a cheat."

"It was not--look, I'm just saying that maybe you could give up some of that coal you're barely using for something equally as valuable.  Like paper, or better hygiene products."  He lifts his chin.  "What is it with you and the leather uniforms, anyways?"

It takes almost an hour to swing over the dwarf to their destination, and by that time everyone is listening to him and Rodney bicker over mining and farming rights, each with their own suggestions and ideas and, in Lorne's case, wondering when he can play.  Then three different screens pop up and all levity vanishes as everyone once more focuses on the mission.  John doesn't see any alarms or incoming weapons, but the itch at the back of his neck from Ancient technology has ratcheted up far more than it should for just a Jumper.

"What've we got, McKay?"  Cameron gave up his seat to Miko fifteen minutes ago so he could stand between the front chairs.  He isn't leaning over Rodney's shoulder, but John can tell he wants to, curious at what's on the laptop screen.  "What's got this thing so jumpy?"

"Hah.  Not funny, Colonel."  Rodney moves some of the dials on his side of the dashboard and all three screens minimize.  He looks back at his laptop.  "When we got close, a proximity detector went off and we received several pings."

"Pings?  Is that a bad thing?"  Vala glances at Carson.  "I don't like the sound of it."

"It's not bad.  Scans.  Ancient, actually."  He frowns at his screen.  "And we transmitted something automatically.  One of the screens told us it was sending the activation protocol."

That doesn't sound...well, like Rodney said, it's not bad; but John isn't sure it's good, either.  "Activating what?"

"It's an Atlantis protocol.  Like the one that called the Aurora back to Atlantis.  Only this one is designed to let it--or them, actually, from the number of messages we sent--know that we're arriving."  Rodney looks up and activates the sensor screen.  There's a blip taking up a good quarter of the screen, and they're almost on top of it.  "Angle us down, Colonel.  We should be able to see it."

John stops the ship and lets them hover as he flips them over.  It doesn't take them long to find their target, and they don't even need the lights to see it.  "Wow."

"Nice work, McKay."  Cadman sounds like she's in awe.  "You brought us to the city of the damned."

She's not far off.  They have an aerial view of the city, and from where they're floating, the city has five piers, but unlike Atlantis' snowflake-like design, they end in sharp points, giving the thing an overall form of a pentagram.  It's not the five-pointed star shape that gives Cadman's words merit, it's the blood-red pentagonal shield radiating around the structure.  It's a stark contrast to the near-transparent look of Atlantis' shield, but nearly not as stark as the city itself.

Instead of a central tower catching his eye, five tall ones in the middle of each point do.  Then buildings that form another pentagram within the interior, each with a smaller tower in the center of their points.  The very center tower is the smallest, but from the looks of things the smaller towers of the second pentagram form a second shield, meaning that's undoubtedly the control tower.  It's an inversion of design that John's never seen before, and it's as intriguingly cryptic.

"I told you to show us the city, not fly towards it!  Sheppard!"

John tightens his grip on the steering stick automatically and realizes the reason he can make out the detail of the second shield and control tower--made of something that looks like obsidian and in the form of a five-sided pyramid--is because they're a lot closer than they should be.  John immediately shifts the ship away, trying to get into a steady orbit.  They don't move.  John concentrates on the ship, squinting at the dashboard.  "It's not me, McKay."  The Jumper's steering controls aren't responding, which means they've lost control of the situation.

"This is good, right?  Like the automatic docking of Atlantis?"  Miko tries to sound optimistic, but a quick glace shows her eyes are wide and she's extremely pale.  Stackhouse is slightly in front of her, looking stoic but is equally as white.

"I don't know."  Rodney's poking furiously at his laptop.

"The answer's no, McKay.  We're not in control of our ship, so no, it's not good."  Cameron is touching the dialing chevrons, fingers twitching like he wants to take the controls and try for himself.  Of course, he doesn't have the gene, so he's feeling antsy.  John feels the same way, he's just more used to losing control of a ship he's flying.

They're close enough now to make out the individual buildings, most five-sided in shape, but there are a number of glass domes with metal ribs that are more reminiscent of Ancient architecture.  It doesn't have the majesty of Atlantis' towers or the grace that the metal and glass the city seemed to evoke, but there's a quiet dignity in the structures, the buildings looking almost like a series of temples and monasteries interlinked.  The nearest tower has windows and balconies, but unlike Atlantis also seems to have abstract alien artwork carved into the walls that faintly glow the same hue as the shield.

Speaking of which, "This isn't a bug on a windshield thing, is it?"

"I've been trying to reroute the drive controls and gotten nowhere.  I'd go to the back, but by the time I got things moved-"  McKay seems both frantic and calm as he sits back in his seat, staring out the window with his tablet in his lap.  "If it is, Colonel, we're caught in flypaper."

They're skimming the shield now, moving swiftly across the city towards the inner pentagram.  The ship repositions itself so they're at an angle heading straight for one of the second towers.  John braces himself, holding his breath as the tip of the ship closes the last gap of space between it and the energy field.

There's a loud thump.  A jarring sensation that makes Cameron fall over and has Miko squeaking loudly and holding onto Stackhouse's arm.  Even Cadman loses her balance and crashes into the wall, bringing Lorne with her.  John shuts his eyes as the inertial compensators fail and he jerks forward in his seat and waits for the explosion of the drive pods.

There isn't one.  In fact, when he opens his eyes a second later, they're through the shield and flying within the bounds of the city.  Rodney gives him a barely-confident grin from his limp position in the chair.  "See?  Good."  John hits him in the arm with the back of his hand, then turns the chair around to make sure everyone's alright.

"So," Vala  seems to be the only one who wasn't thrown about by their shield passing experience, though Chuck is now sprawled across her lap, blushing and trying to get up.  "Where are we going?"

Rodney gets his second wind and sits up, looking back to his tablet.  "Well, I'm guessing a docking station.  Probably a Jumper bay, or the Furlings' equivalent to one."

"So that tower."  John points to the structure they're going to hit in less than two minutes at the speed their going.  He tries the control stick again and finds it just as useless.  "I don't know about you, but I don't see a door."

"Maybe it's hidden?"  Carson sounds shaken.  John somewhat regrets that he let Rodney talked the man into joining them.  He's still a little upset from the Ancients, and he was never a big mission doctor.

"We'll know in a minute."  Cameron's back up, holding onto the back of John's chair tightly.  "And if it doesn't show up, I'll kick McKay's ass in the afterlife."

Rodney snorts.  "Really, Colonel, if the fact that our entire mythological structure was created by aliens hasn't dissuaded you to the fact that there is no afterlife-"

"Not now, Rodney," John forces through clenched teeth.  Rodney frowns, and John feels a little smug when the scientist sees how close they are to the tower's wall and grabs his armrests, pushing himself back into the chair.  At the last second, the Jumper stops.  Just stops.  A minute later the ship lifts up, up and up until they're at the top of the tower, and then they move to its center and begin descending.  The shaft is rather nondescript, a shiny black that disappears as soon as the bay doors shut above them.

There's a soft bump as they land, then silence.

"Ladies and gentlemen," John says in a wobbly-light tone, "welcome to the lost city of Lemuria."

The lights show that the bay has at least three other Puddle Jumpers, but is otherwise empty.  The atmosphere is breathable, and Stackhouse and Lorne take point when they open the back hatch.  It's only after they've searched the room thoroughly that John lets Rodney leave.  He protests, but John shuts him up with a firm grip to his wrist.  If that shield hadn't phased them through, they'd be as good as dead, and after that he isn't about to let Rodney out of his sight, much less take off in an abandoned alien city.

The lights don't come on as he descends the ramp and touches the floor.  He feels some familiar tingling when he looks at the Puddle Jumpers, but otherwise the city is as dead gene-wise as Earth is.  John had been wary in his first alien city, but at least Atlantis had welcomed his arrival.  This place doesn't even seem to acknowledge their presence.  He's not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

"Anybody find a light switch?"  Cameron swings his light across the wall.  It's the same design as the Jumper bay in Atlantis, only the metal is a dark green and the supporting structure is that same obsidian shade, only less reflective.  There's also a silver trim, making the primary exit door easily found.  Lorne and Cadman are already standing by it, weapons ready.

"We'll need to see what the power reserve is.  Like Atlantis, we probably need to activate it by the primary control room."  Rodney heads over to Lorne.  John snags his tac vest at the back of the neck and hauls him back.  "What?  We need-"

"Not so fast, McKay."  He points to Chuck.  "Can you use the Jumper's sensors, try and get a layout of this place?"

"Shouldn't be a problem."  He immediately goes back to the Jumper, abandoning his position by Miko, who's blinking owlishly at everything and trying to shrink against the Jumper at the same time.

John wants to make sure it's more secure before the less-experienced go exploring.  "Carson, can you help Miko unload the equipment?  Sergeant," Stackhouse comes to attention, "help them set up a base-camp here."  Cameron looks amused at his handing out assignments, but doesn't contradict him.

Carson is definitely relieved that he isn't going to be out searching with the rest of them.  "What if we have to leave quickly?"

"Save the supplies till last."  Sheppard checks his stunner and P90.  "Teams of two?"  He aims his question towards Mitchell.

"We'll check out the area, make sure we're alone."  He's loaded down with at least four different sets of projectile weapons.  Vala has two extra zats with her standard equipment.  They're obviously no strangers to hostile situations.  "Assuming we ever get the doors open."

John looks at the indignant McKay and finally lets go of the vest.  The man huffs and walks to the door, pushing Lorne aside of the control mechanism that, so far, hasn't worked to open the door.  Lorne glances to Cadman.  "We'll try to find the main power source, see how much time we have before the shield fails."  Because ten thousand years sustaining a shield is a strain on power sources, he remembers.

"Let's hope it's beneath the central tower.  Pyramid, actually.  We'll head to its upper levels, try to find the control room."

"Then let's lock 'n load."  Cameron grins and poses.

"I take it back, Sheppard," Rodney says from where he's looking over the circuitry of the control mechanism, "you aren't the most embarrassing Colonel I've ever served with."

"Aw, shucks, McKay.  Never knew you liked me so much."  Cameron's still grinning.

Rodney mutters something under his breath, but then there's a flicker of lights from within the circuitry and the door slides into the ceiling.  "Hah!"  He gathers his tools as Lorne and Cadman slip out to secure the hallway.  "And remember, closets probably aren't closets.  And don't touch anything!"

John activates his radio.  "Chuck, do you have a life-signs lock on us all?"

"Yes," his voice doesn't betray a hint of nervousness.  "But only to the control tower.  The sensors can't extend beyond that."

Understandable.  "Keep an eye on us, let everyone know if you see a new life form, or if one of us disappears."  Cameron and Vala leave, Cameron swatting Rodney on the back in a show of approval, and John makes his way over to the scientist.  He switches the channel to open.  "Everyone, keep in contact.  The last thing we need is to awake another alien species."

Rodney doesn't snort at that.  John would like to think that it's to spare his feelings, but it's probably because deep down he's thinking the same thing.  Lorne and Cadman are well ahead of them, but John doesn't urge Rodney to hurry up.  Without transporters, it's a good few kilometers to the control room, and who knows how many levels they'll have to climb to get there.

Craning his neck to examine in the hallway, John realizes that it's very, very different than the similar Atlantis architecture from the Jumper bay.  Beneath his feet is the obsidian material that, when he pauses to feel it, is far softer than the stone it mimics.  Atlantis had intricate golden metallic overlays for its walls, logical and geometric.  Here the overlay is an extremely dark green, and it's more of an intricate metal lattice; curves and sharp angles and no mathematical pattern--or any pattern--that John can discern in the shapes.

The silver trim still borders the edge of the floor, but it's the ceiling where it's most noticeable.  Rather than black, the surface is made of the same silver color and covered in the same artistic carvings as the ones he saw upon their approach.  There's even niches where light should be showing through.  He watches them for a few steps, to see if they light up at his thoughts, but it's a failed experiment.  He and Rodney are left with their flashlights.

Starting to get a bit dizzy trying to follow the art and trellis along the wall, John turns his attention to Rodney.  "So what's with Mitchell?  He seems a bit...unpredictable."

"Hm?  Oh, he's just upset that Teal'c left to save the Asgard and he wasn't invited."  He's tucked his tablet away and is now poking at a life-signs detector, trying to get it to work.  "I'm not surprised.  I went so nuts I quit my job while you were at the Alpha Site."

John nods like it makes sense, until he remembers that he and Rodney are more than just teammates and friends and it stops him in his tracks.  "Wait, are you saying Mitchell and Teal'c are..."  He trails off because he's not sure if he's disturbed or attracted to the idea.

"Of course they're--oh!"  Rodney waves his hands back and forth.  "No, no, no, no.  They're just friends.  Room mates!"

"Relax, McKay.  It's not like I'm going to run back to Earth and report it."

Rodney does relax, face flushing.  "Right, yes.  That would be hypocritical of you, and Cameron's a nice guy.  Not very bright, and he still sounds like that annoying moron from Grade Seven who thought he was a big shot but was really a dickless hick from-"

John rolls his eyes and keeps walking.  So, Mitchell and Teal'c.  That explains Mitchell's irritation when Teal'c started following Rodney's commands.  He's wondering about how to tell Mitchell they're in the same club and maybe try to be friendlier when he realizes he's walking alone.  "McKay?!"

"What?"  John turns around and sees Rodney took a left instead of a right.  He glances at where Lorne and Cadman are going down a set of stairs far at the other end of the hall, then turns on his heel and goes to fetch his wayward scientist.  "You're not supposed to wander off-"

"I didn't.  I made sure I could see you."  Rodney's looking at his detector.

"But I didn't notice," he says in quiet anger.  "You follow the regs or you can watch our movements and I'll take Chuck to the control tower."

Rodney looks at him and blinks.  John can see the instant the words he isn't saying hits, and all of Rodney's arrogance recedes, leaving just the almost-humble Rodney.  "Nothing's going to happen."  A blatant lie, they've nearly died a dozen times because of things left over on Atlantis where they had tons of support and a city at least willing to work with them.  "But I'll let you know next time."  He hesitates before rubbing the back of his free hand against the tense one John's using to hold his stunner.  John knows that's the best kind of McKay apology he can get at the moment.

He relaxes a little, knowing Rodney means the not-wandering-off bit, and looks to the wall.  "So what've we got?"  The silver trim breaks from the floor into two, thick, vertical lines outlining a three-man alcove before merging with the ceiling.  The black and metal lattice follow the indent of the wall, but the ceiling within the alcove doesn't have any designs on it.

"It's drawing power, whatever it is."  He touches a few commands on the detector.  "It's not responding to any of the access codes I have."  Rodney gets a look on his face, one that John knows well.  It's the one he gets before trying to Ancient technology without thinking of the consequences.  This could be an incinerator, or a jail cell, or even their equivalent of a lab.

And John isn't about to let Rodney take that risk.  Before Rodney can move, John steps over the silver outline crossing the front of the alcove and turns around.  "Colonel-"  Rodney stops as a screen appears in front of John.  A holographic screen that's showing him a two-dimensional transparent grid of the city sprinkled with purple spots, one of which it looks like he's standing in.  "Huh.  I guess this is their version of a transporter."  He taps his earpiece.  "Chuck, keep an eye on Sheppard."

John meets Rodney's eyes and, hesitantly, taps the highlighted spot at the center of the map.  He doesn't hear or feel anything, but a minute later he's in another hall.  He can tell it's another hall because there's a door directly across from him.  "Chuck, where am I?"

"It looks like the central control tower, but I don't know which level."

John steps out of the alcove and does a quick mental inventory before looking in both directions.  Instead of a single hallway, there are two rooms, and hallway branches on both walls at their thresholds.  The rooms are dark, but shining his light reveals consoles and screens and, to the right, a giant window that's allowing a small bit of red aura to penetrate the darkness.  "McKay-"

Before he can say anything else, he hears a humming and pivots around, bringing his stunner up to face the transporter.  There's a flash of vertical red lines, very similar in look to an Asgard transporter, and then Rodney's standing there, looking extremely pleased with himself.  "I knew this was a good find--huh."  He steps out of the transporter towards the closed door.

"McKay, you should've waited-"

"I heard you and Chuck over the radio."  He's got his tablet out and is interfacing with the controls.  This one looks more like Atlantis in that it's crystals.  Unlike the Ancients, though, all the crystals are a different color.  And not just the colors prominently displayed around them, but every one in the spectrum.  The difference doesn't even slow Rodney down, and the door's sliding open within minutes.  "Maybe I overestimated them.  Pretty simple system."

John carefully steps into the lighted room.  Here the niches are glowing a dull white, some clustered to focus on control stations.  There's no Stargate, or even a place for one.  Because of that, though, the room feels bigger than the control from Atlantis.  After a few steps John notices that he's actually heading down and sees the floor is slanted, leading to a set of consoles arranged in a pentagonal shape.  Obviously the nerve center of the control room.

"They certainly liked five, didn't they."  Rodney looks around the room with interest before heading for the center.  "Come on, Colonel.  Let's see if the shield's stable or if we have to run for the nearest Puddle Jumper."

John follows slowly, eyes scanning in all directions for booby traps or hidden creatures.  Even if the city feels abandoned like the story says, there's still a chance to find something hibernating, or someone in stasis.  His gaze finally settles on the room across from the main door.  John only notices it because there's a good seven feet of wall that's glass and looks over the entire center.  Obviously the primary office.  There's no desk, though, no indication that anybody ever used it before.  He shines his light into the corners to make sure there's no hibernating Wraith, then turns back to Rodney.

He's interfacing a laptop into the system.  Since the Furling controls also use crystals, he doesn't have to work out a whole new system for the interface, and John only has to pace the room twice before Rodney stands up.  "Alright, let's see what we've got."

"Just a thought," John sidles up to Rodney, brushing their shoulders together, "you can read Furling, right?"

"Do I look I've had time to learn a whole new language?  Do I?  No."  He uses a stylus to filter through some screens.  "I compiled all of Daniel's notes and created a translation program."  At John's dubious look, he huffs.  "Fine, maybe Radek created it, but I tested it out!  It works fine."  Rodney ducks his head and pokes at the display.  "As long as we don't run into words it can't translates."


Rodney touches his earpiece.  "Mitchell?  Get Miko and Chuck.  I'm going to need their help.  Chuck can show you the transporters."

"Transporters?  Damn, you'll do anything to avoid walking."

"Just get them.  Carson, take over the life-signs detector."

"Aye, aye.  Any other orders you want to give?"

"No--oh!  Tell Stackhouse not to slack off just because Miko's not ordering him about anymore."

John rolls his eyes and tilts his head to read the screen.  It looks like Rodney's in the main directory, half of which is a garble of English and Furling.  There are a few things he can make out, though, and he points to one line.  "Is that the power menu?"

Rodney pokes the side of his finger with the stylus.  "Yes, Colonel.  Very good."  He accesses that system and looks through it.  He looks at the five stations, the laptop, then moves to the third to the right and, after a minute, touches a set of crystals.  The flicker, then get brighter.  He smiles.  "There we go."

"Cool.  But are we wasting power?"  Rodney pulls the laptop over and studies the screen again.  He doesn't look up when Cameron and the others arrive.  "See you found the transporter."

"Nice job with the lights."  Mitchell rests his hands on his P90.  Miko and Chuck are already moving towards Rodney.  "Place secure?"

"This room, but there are others on this level."

"Right."  Cameron leans to the side.  "Stay out of trouble, kids."

Rodney waves them off absently, not even breaking from pointing something out to his new assistants.

It doesn't take John long to check out all the rooms on this level with Mitchell.  They're all empty, abandoned, but well-lit.  The one with the window to space seems to be just that, a viewing gallery to space.  The other room is some sort of conference room, tables and chairs and though there's no screens, John's willing to bet there's some sort of projection system like in the transporters.  They even find a closet of spare crystals that Rodney sends Chuck to fetch.

"You don't mind the orders," Cameron asks later.  Lorne and Cadman couldn't find the power room, so John told them to meet them in the meeting room.  Vala is in the main control room watching the activity and poking the growling Rodney from time to time for amusement.  John carefully keeps his hip canted against the table, projecting an air of cool indifference as Cameron puts his feet up on the table, leaning back in his chair.  "I mean, yeah, he's smart, but doesn't it get to you?"

"Not really.  You just have to know how to deal with him."  Of course, it helped that he'd earned Rodney's respect.  It was one reason he always followed John into debriefings, rather than immediately returning to the labs.  Also, John would've had Teyla break him for abandoning him--them.  Them.

"I'm not saying he's not a good guy.  Just a little...rough."  Mitchell's eyeing him.  "I mean, that must be hell, sharing a house with him."  He perks up.  "Hey, you're on O'Neill's property.  Is it true about Colonel Makepeace?"

"We understand each other.  We know what our boundaries are and don't cross them."

"Except for that cat."  Cameron shakes his head.  "Man, Teal'c and I stopped by one time when you were off-world and that thing tried to gouge my eyes out."

Maybe Euler isn't such a hell-spawn after all.  "He's just fussy."

"Uh huh."  His tone is loaded with meaning, but before he can continue, Lorne comes in with Cadman.  "Hey, guys!  No luck, huh?"

"No, sir.  I thought we'd send someone back to the Jumper.  Stackhouse is getting a headache from staring at the screen."  Cadman bounces on her heels.  "Since Vala has the McKay teasing under control, I thought I'd go.

"Sure thing."  She leaves as Mitchell nods towards John.  "So how long do we wait before bothering the scientists for some answers?"  John raises his eyebrow, but Rodney walks in distracted by his tablet computer, nearly running into Lorne.  "Speak of the devil."

"What?"  Rodney looks up.  "This isn't the city of the damned."  He makes a sour face at Mitchell's boots but takes a seat at the table.  "So, good news or bad news?"

"Bad news."  Cameron slides his feet off the table and scoots forward.  Lorne moves to stand outside the door, but John can see him hanging back just enough to hear them.  Shrugging a shoulder, he takes a seat beside Rodney.

"None of us can read Furling, so it took us--by which I mean, me--longer than necessary to find out our situation."  He glances at the screen.  "Fortunately we," he pauses, "okay, Chuck, found a translation matrix in the Furling sub-directories.  Why the hell is he Lee's assistant?  It's an insult to his intelligence.  He should at least be working in my labs."

John crosses his arms.  "So now everything's in English?"

"Don't be dense, Colonel.  That's what Mitchell's here for."  Cameron rolls his eyes.  Apparently, that particular McKay quirk is contagious.  "Furling to Ancient.  Though I don't think the Furlings knew it was there.  It was pretty well hidden."

"So the Ancients snuck in a way to take over the text in the city, and you can read everything.  That's good news."  Cameron nods and leans back in his chair, stretching his arms so he can put his hands behind his head.

Rodney practically bounces in his seat, his eyes bright and his grin crooked and John knows what's next is going to be even better.  "We have near-unlimited power."  It takes a lot of effort for John to keep his jaw from dropping.  "They experimented with cold fusion, but you know those five towers?  Like the one our Jumper's in?  Beneath each one is a micro-star.  They created a self-renewing power source that won't die for millions of years."

Cameron sits back up and leans forward, elbows on knees.  He's not hiding how stunned he is as well as John is.  "You're saying we can fly this thing back home?"

"We could fly it to the opposite edge of the Pegasus galaxy and still have enough to make it a round trip back to Earth.  Several times."  Rodney pokes at the screen.  "I have Miko running diagnostics on the Stardrive, and Chuck is combing through the systems to see if we can shut down the stars if necessary, but basically...we have our city.  It's even a weapon."  He holds up his tablet, showing a schematic of one of the taller towers near the points.  "They're defensive towers.  We haven't found any drones yet, but they have an excess of particle weapons.  Powerful ones."

John finally finds his voice again.  "What about the ships?  Are there any?"

Rodney turns to him and John can tell just from his face that there are.  There are and there's at least an Ancient one for him to have.  "There are three space docks in the outer piers.  Inside, actually.  The ships land on the surface and get brought in.  That's why we didn't see any."  He looks to Mitchell.  "There's at least five Furling warships, and a number of smaller craft.  We can't get a clear count because the systems have been dormant for a long time, so we don't have all the sensors up yet."

"Even so, sweet."  Cameron hops out of his chair.  "So what now?"

"Help Stackhouse secure our things."  Rodney stands and kicks John's shin not-so-discretely.  "I want to check out a remote section.  I think it's one of their armories, but since the sensors aren't functioning I need an escort."

"As you wish," John smirks, but he's still a bit numb.  This is...if the Ancients had left some clue about this city, they could've easily defeated the Wraith.  "Later," he says to Cameron.  As he passes Lorne, the Major's grin threatens to split his face.  John ignores it as he follows Rodney.  "So, we're not stealing this from some other civilization, are we?"

"According to the database, they chose their galaxy because the planets had a ninety-nine percent chance of not producing sentient life."  He tugs John into the alcove and turns around.  There's more purple spots on the map, as well as a few blue ones.  The blue ones all seem to be clustered together in one pier.  "I wanted to show you first," Rodney says in a gleeful whisper before pressing a blue spot and they vanish.

The tingle on the back of his neck is strong, stronger than the last time he was in Atlantis, and it makes him dizzy for a moment because he feels everything come to life around him.  When he can focus, Rodney's pulled him out of the small room and is now in front of him with his hands on his hips and a smug smile.  It's the smile he gets when he knows he just trumped John's next ten Christmases and he is so getting laid because of it.

And John decides, as he takes in the awakening bridge, that spontaneous orgasm over Ancient technology is totally okay and he forgives Rodney for doing so if they ever find a fully-charged ZedPM.

"There's ten of them.  Not all warships like this, but they're not Jumpers, either.  I think they're a middle class.  But this," he waves his arms out, "was something I knew you had to see."  It takes John a few stumbling steps before he reaches the flight console.  The crystals light up under his hands and he can feel the thrum-thrum of the engines.  "Intergalactic drive.  Fully powered.  With a naqahdah generator we could be back to Earth in less than twelve hours."

John can feel his heart pound as he slides into the seat, stroking the crystals.  Rodney did this.  Rodney found him this.  Yes, it'll also save Earth, but this.  This moment, this ship, this place...is for him.  He feels a warm shiver as Rodney's breath hits his ear.  "They each have a full compliment of drone weapons.  We'll have to use them sparingly, but this ship?  This one we're keeping to study.  I'm calling her the Orion II."

John's panting, and he quickly turns in the chair, grabbing Rodney's shirt to pull him that last inch and gives him a bruising kiss.  Rodney breaks it just long enough to mutter, "Pavlovian," before John growls and sucks on his neck, his hands quickly unsnapping McKay's BDUs and parting the slit in his boxers.  He's hard, and John leaves the pulse point to give Rodney the best blowjob in history.  In the history of three galaxies.

Rodney found him an Ancient warship!  A warship, and the Game, and a house that John's starting to like despite the demonic cat, and a family that cares about more than his stupid career.  He presses his tongue against the underside and Rodney whimpers as he comes.  After, John pulls Rodney back down for another kiss.  A longer, gentler one with tongue probing and needy throat noises, and he tightly wraps his arms around Rodney.

He feels whole.

Rodney breaks the contact again, but only long enough to get to his knees.  "My knees will hate you, but," there's a mischievous gleam in his eye, "you deserve this."  He rips open John's fly and mouths him through the boxers.  "Stripes.  My favorite."  John simply leans his head back and groans as Rodney deftly guides him out of the cloth slit and licks a stripe up the side of his shaft.  This is it.  John can feel the heat coil in his abdomen and Rodney's barely gotten his mouth over John's head when he comes, jerking his hips and holding onto the chair's arms so hard the metal digs into his palms.

He denies blacking out.  He'll deny it to the end of his days.  "Temporary blindness," is what he slurs out, boneless in his chair.  Rodney snorts, and John manages to open one eye.  He's got a dopey grin on his face, but it's okay because Rodney's got a matching one.  "Awesome."

"You know I hate that word."  Rodney has tucked both of them back into their pants, and is now sitting on the floor, resting his head against John's thigh.  It takes a lot of thought, but John finally gets his hand to move so he can stroke his fingers through what's left of Rodney's hair.  "I started to name the Furling ships.  Starting with the warships.  The Rodney McKay, the John Sheppard, the Elizabeth Weir."

"What about the smaller ones?"

Rodney's silent a moment.  The Peter Grodin.  The Brendan Gall."  He rubs John's shin.  "Aiden Ford."

There can't be enough ships to name everyone that died or went missing in Pegasus.  There aren't enough now to name the ones who've died because of the Ori.  "Can we win?"

"We can kick them out of our galaxy.  Maybe a few others."

John can just see out of the main window into the hangar, sees the other Atlantian ships.  It's not enough.  It may never be enough.  "The Ori control dozens of galaxies."

"I'm not fighting the Ancients' war," the venom in his voice brooks no argument.  "I just want my sister and niece safe."  Rodney sighs.  "And you."

John rubs a finger over Rodney's temple gently, eliciting a contented hum.  John knows when they get back to Earth the SGC is going to be all over this.  John may never see the Orion II, or this city, or even travel through the Stargate again.  He knows, though, that if he goes, Rodney will follow.

And that's all he needs.

Their radios chirp, and Rodney reluctantly sits up.  "Yes, what?"  John reaches up to turn off his radio, wanting to bask in a few more minutes of afterglow.  "Great.  We'll be there in ten.  Yes, ten."  Rodney deactivates his radio and pushes himself to his feet, groaning.  "Stardrive checks out.  Of course, I need to double-check Miko's findings, but if she's right--and she probably is--we can get underway."

John peels himself out of the chair and takes a paranoid minute to make sure both the chair and the area around it is clean.  "How long is it going to take?"

"With the amount of power we're generating?  Three days.  Less if we push for extra speed."  Rodney straightens his clothes and pulls out the life signs detector.  "Not that we need to rush things."

"Oh, I don't know."  John waits until Rodney leads him into the transporter before placing his arm on Rodney's shoulder and leans in so he can whisper.  "The sooner we get home, the sooner we can properly break in that mattress of yours."  Rodney sputters and turns beet red.  John smirks and leans against the wall as McKay tries to compose himself.

John waits until he's about to transport them back before springing again.  "So McKay, my Gate team could use another scientist..."

The End
This story came about after, well, The Return, obviously. There was a slew of Return fic and I got to wondering "what if McKay somehow ended up on SG-1 while they were back?" It took a few drafts before this evolved, and, well...ta da! There's more to the story, obviously. The future, missing scenes, and of course Rodney's POV. So I'll probably be visiting this world again.

To my betas, I read all of your edits and compiled them together along with my research assistants' notes. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything you've done. You've been utterly wonderful! Next time, I'll try not to cut it so close.

To everyone, I hope you've enjoyed the story!