Down to Sleep
Big Bang 2008.   Forks in the Road: Doppelgänger - The Alien hitches a ride in a different team member.
As the Atlantis expedition reels from their narrow escape from the Replicators, their re-location to a new planet and the loss of their commander, Team Sheppard is also attempting to deal the internal fractures which have developed. After mistakes made in the heat of conflict, John and Rodney manage to broker an uneasy peace. Will their fragile relationship be strong enough to deal with the latest threat that Pegasus appears to now be throwing at them or will their worst fears succeed in destroying them completely?
Word Count
63880 words
I count myself exceedingly fortunate to have had the help of three very talented friends when writing this story. Without their encouragement, suggestions and excellent beta-ing skills this story would not exist. Madison, Bluespirit and Zinnith – thank you all so very much. I would also like to thank the other members of my Big Bang support group for their helpful and insightful comments on my original plot ideas.
Companion Artwork
  • Threat assessment by Bluespirit
  • True Kiss by Bluespirit

The Ancients were morons – total idiots every last one of them, Rodney thinks to himself as he ducks in response to a spray of weapons fire that sounds a little too close for comfort. He returns his attention to the control panel in front of him, still cursing the Ancients and doing his utmost to block out the sound of gunfire; he's been getting good at blocking things out recently. No, don't go there – concentrate on the task at hand. You'd think that if one were to build a network of stable wormholes capable of sustaining human transportation across vast distances, one would at least have the presence of mind to make sure the devices controlling the destination of said transportation would be pretty damn secure. But, oh no, it turns out that DHDs are notorious for malfunctioning; most notably the ones on hostile alien worlds where the natives have a particular fondness for projectile weapons.

"How's it coming, McKay?" a voice shouts through his headset.

"Oh, just wonderfully," Rodney mutters into his radio as he juggles a couple of control crystals in his left hand and tries to unknot several pieces of wire with his right. "I'm trying to perform the intricate re-wiring of a complex piece of alien technology while simultaneously being shot at from all angles and getting shouted at by impatient Air Force officers – how could my day possibly get any better?"

"Just concentrate on getting the damn gate to work, McKay," Sheppard growls into his ear. "I'd like to get off this planet sometime soon, ideally before I am completely riddled with bullet holes."

"You and me too," Rodney replies morosely, but his words are probably lost to Sheppard as another burst of gunfire clatters over the radio link. Rodney winces internally, both at Sheppard's harsh tone and at the audible proof of the danger he is in at the moment, but outwardly he keeps his attention focused on his repairs. He finally manages to complete the connection between the DHD's control crystals and his laptop and hunches down over the screen, tapping away madly to load up his analysis package so he can figure out which crystal is causing the malfunction in the dialling sequence this time around. They have all, in Rodney's opinion, been through this particular procedure far too many times before; and usually under the favourite threat of certain death of whichever planet they're unfortunate enough to find themselves. At present, the natives of this planet seem to prefer the crude, but indisputably effective, means of gunpowder to dispose of people they dislike. Fortunately, Rodney is fairly sure that once he's isolated the problem with the DHD, he should have a program already to go on his laptop that he can utilise to get the gate functional again. Really, after all the shit they've been through recently, it's about time this damn galaxy gave them all a break.

With a grim smile, Rodney hooks the first crystal up to his laptop and initiates the analysis program. While he's waiting for the results, he hazards a quick peak out from behind the DHD to check on his team mates. The stargate of the planet that SGA-1 is currently exploring is located amongst a thick coniferous forest. He can see Ronon and Teyla fairly clearly as they stand their ground behind a group of trees to the right of his position. They're holding back the main force of their attackers, the loud discharge of Ronon's energy pistol breaking clean through the forest to hold the enemy at bay, whilst the intermittent clatter of Teyla's P-90 sounds as she picks off anyone who breaks off from the main band to try get a better angle from which to attack them.

Sheppard is harder to spot, but Rodney is somewhat encouraged by the fact that not too much time has passed since his last radio communication. That said, he's never met a person with a greater propensity for actively attracting trouble than Sheppard.

When Rodney scans his surroundings for a third time with still no indication of Sheppard's presence, worry starts to gnaw at his gut; he really doesn't want to use his radio in case he gives away Sheppard's position, but his brain has started supplying depressingly detailed images of the various ways Sheppard could get himself injured, captured, or killed. Just as a particularly gruesome scenario makes itself known, Rodney manages to catch sight of a quick flash of black amongst the branches and relief floods through him. He couldn't bear to lose anyone else after all the loss they've suffered recently - especially not one of his team, especially not John; even if things have gone completely to ruins between them lately.

Rodney's computer starts flashing, drawing his wayward attention back to the screen where the analysis is now complete; it is showing no malfunction. Of course, it wouldn't be that easy Rodney thinks to himself as he disconnects the crystal, puts it carefully back into the DHD and reaches for the next. The ground is dry and covered in discarded pine needles, so Rodney at least has been able to spread out his equipment and the crystals without worry of misplacing or damaging them. He's learned after three plus years of living in Pegasus to be grateful for small mercies - after a narrow escape from a desert planet about half a year ago, he'd found himself picking bits of debris and the odd alien ant-thing out of his laptop and scanner for weeks. Of course, he'd happily put up with no end of sand and alien arthropods if only the damn inhabitants of this wretched planet would just stop trying to kill him.

He lets out a groan of frustration as the second crystal's analysis also comes up clean.

"McKay? Come in, Rodney!" Sheppard's voice comes over the wire again, sounding a lot more insistent this time.

Rodney realises that Sheppard probably heard his groan over the active radio connection and misinterpreted it as a sign that Rodney was in trouble. He quickly replies to John's query, trying to ignore the fission that goes through him at John's use of his first name for the first time in what feels like weeks. "Yes, yes; I'm still here you'll be glad to know. Just give me two more minutes, Colonel, and you'll have your wormhole," he snaps; there is only one crystal left to try.

Rodney winces as the sounds of fighting continues all around him, but continues to block out the noise as he hooks up the final crystal and runs the programme one last time. The analysis halts nearly immediately, indicating a problem with the crystal's power routing sub-routine. Rodney lets out a sigh of relief – it's a fairly common problem and he can easily use one of his programs to compensate. Booting up the appropriate work around, he quickly completes his repairs and slots the final crystal into place. The DHD lights up with a pleased hum.

"Okay, I'm done; dialling Atlantis now," he shouts into his headset to alert the others. That done, he rises up from his crouch just enough to punch in the coordinates, hoping he isn't drawing too much attention to himself in the process. To his satisfaction, the wormhole locks on at his first attempt and so Rodney pulls the tangled mess of wires free and disconnects his datapad. As event horizon splashes into place, Rodney watches Ronon and Teyla break from their cover of trees and head towards it. They continue firing as they run, holding the outraged natives back as they make their way towards the gate and then disappear through it with graceful leaps. Suddenly Rodney feels a hand land heavily on his shoulder, grasping him tightly and pulling him to his feet. He lets out a squeak of surprise before a familiar voice drawls in his ear.

"Go on, Rodney," Sheppard says, his voice low and the command in it clear. "Get to the gate now, I've got you covered."

Rodney's eyes close for just a moment as the pain strikes him hard out of nowhere at Sheppard's words and touch – they've hardly spoken a word to each other in weeks - but there's certainly no time to dwell on that now. Before Rodney knows it he's moving, running towards the gate and following Ronon and Teyla through, albeit at a much slower velocity and with much less grace.

He bursts through into the control room of Atlantis milliseconds later, coming to land heavily on the smooth marble slabs of the gateroom floor. His eyes immediately seek out Teyla and Ronon, both unharmed thank goodness, before turning just in time to see Sheppard follow him through. Rodney breaths out a deep sigh of relief as he recognises that they've all made it back safely this time. If anything, the events of the past few months have brought home to Rodney once more how very much his team mates, his friends, mean to him; even if the relationship between himself and his team leader is somewhat strained at present.

"Disconnect the gate," Sheppard shouts as the clatter of gunfire echoes through the gateroom from the other side of the wormhole.

As the event horizon dissipates, silence falls. "Thank god for that," Rodney says to the room at large, still trying to catch his breath from his frantic sprint from DHD to gate.

"You ran into some trouble, I take it," Carter comments as she appears from the office on the mezzanine level and starts walking down the curving staircase towards them. She looks cool and in control as she surveys them, her command uniform spotless and her blonde hair tied neatly back; every bit the leader of the expedition as opposed to the scientist and soldier Rodney remembers from the brief time he spent working in Cheyenne Mountain. Even though it's been almost three months since she took command of the Atlantis expedition, her appearance still comes as a bit of a shock to Rodney. A large part of him still expects Elizabeth to appear from what is still really her office.

"They were unaccustomed to having any visitors come through their stargate," Teyla replies to Carter's unspoken question. "Experience has taught them only to expect the Wraith, therefore our presence disconcerted them."

"Yeah, you could say that," Sheppard adds as he re-clips his P-90 to his tac vest and runs his eyes over the rest of the team, checking them all visually for injuries. "They certainly didn't take to kindly to us," he finishes dryly.

"They didn't have anything we'd want anyway," Ronon puts in. "I've visited many planets like that before – the people there want nothing more than to protect their own and their crops. So they will attack strangers on sight, rather than talk to them. They don't want to have anything to do with anyone else in case they attract the attention of the Wraith."

"We then encountered a malfunction in the DHD when we tried to escape," Teyla picks up the story. "Rodney performed the repairs while John, Ronon and myself held off our attackers."

"Rodney?" Sam asks turning towards him. "Have you got anything urgent to add?"

Rodney waves a tired hand towards his team mates, "What they all said." He sighs wearily as he speaks, unable suddenly to dredge up sufficient energy to go into all the details of his heroic DHD repairs.

Carter regards him with surprise, but then nods in acceptance. "Okay, then," she says, addressing them all. "Go get yourselves cleaned up and we'll meet in the conference room in an hour to debrief properly and go over the next mission scheduled."

Rodney responds with a nod of his own and then turns to go. An hour is good, he thinks to himself, he'll have time to get showered, changed and even, if he's lucky, be able to do a quick check in at the lab before he needs to be back up here. Fresh coffee and food are also a priority; no doubt the sugar and caffeine will boost his energy and help him feel a bit more like himself.

John watches his team file out of the gateroom and lets out a sigh; things had gone well out there and they'd all made in back in one piece, but Rodney in particular is worrying John. He is still too quiet and withdrawn, which means that John has to reluctantly acknowledge the fact that he will now have to do something about how things stand between them - talk to Rodney and hope that, between the two of them, they can figure out a way to salvage their relationship. John is well aware that he is as much to blame for the breakdown in their relationship as Rodney is, perhaps even more so, and that he has let the situation atrophy for long enough. Still, it's taken him this long to work out what he thinks is best to do in his own head, let alone figure out how to broach the subject with Rodney. After all, it was their last heated encounter which resulted in the mutual avoidance strategy they're both employing at present. Their last few missions as a team have shown John that he and Rodney can still work together effectively, but the easy camaraderie between them – their unlikely but undeniable friendship - has gone. And, god help him, John doesn't think he can keep doing this without Rodney's friendship.

At least now he thinks he knows how best to proceed, he just hopes that McKay will listen to his reasoning and agree with him. Getting Rodney to go along with John's ideas has never been an easy task – he'll just have to get Rodney to see how much they both have at stake here; get him to acknowledge that hyped on too much adrenaline and too little sleep, they had both made a terrible mistake. A mistake which was then compounded by events beyond their control.

John shakes himself out of his introspection, now is so not the time to be dwelling on Rodney – that's at the very core his grand plan after all; to not dwell on Rodney, or at least keep such dwelling to a bare minimum. He runs a hand through his hair in frustration, his action dislodging a shower of pine needles picked up during the mission while he'd kept watch over Rodney as he repaired the gate. As the needles fall to the floor all around him, John is reminded of a time about six months ago when he and his team had returned back from a mission almost entirely coated in sand. The control room had been covered with the stuff from when they'd come through the gate at a run, trying to get home before an approaching sandstorm hit, and dusted themselves down right then and there. Elizabeth had burst into spontaneous laughter at her first sight of John's sand-covered team and asked them if they were hoping to hold a sand-castle building competition instead of a de-briefing. Teyla had joined Elizabeth's laughter as Ronon had shaken his dreads hard, showering yet more sand all over the place, while Rodney complained loudly about his vital and irreplaceable equipment being almost certainly completely ruined. The memory is a happy one - all of them together and alive, happy and healthy - but recalling it now, so soon after losing Elizabeth and while Rodney and he are still as good as strangers, means that it is tinged in sadness.

Pulling himself back into the present, John lifts his head to look at Carter, wary that she might have seen his distraction. But she has already turned away from him and is now deep in conversation with one of the gateroom technicians. He smiles wryly to himself, things have certainly changed around Atlantis over the past few months. He's got nothing against Carter - she's a good soldier and scientist and, thus far, a capable commander - but she has a hard job ahead of her and damn big hole to fill. With a final glance around the gateroom, John turns and heads off after his team leaving a flurry of pine needles in his wake.

Moving quickly, John catches up with Rodney, Ronon and Teyla before they've managed to get too far from the gateroom, and joins them just as they are starting to make their way along the corridor that will lead them to the living quarters. They are walking together in a close group, but John finds the lack of conversation between them both unusual and unsettling; it is yet another sign of how they are all finding it hard to adjust to the changes that have occurred of late.

"Hey, guys," John says lightly as he joins them. "Nice job out there."

Teyla glances over at him and smiles while Ronon merely grunts in response, but Rodney stays quiet. John tries again, hoping to get some of their normal banter going. He knows what Rodney's like, how negative he can get sometimes, especially about personal relationships, and he needs to show McKay that things can go back to normal between them all; that nothing needs to change because of one lapse in judgement and a subsequent flurry of words spoken in the heat of anger. "So I think we've earned ourselves a successful mission next time out – maybe come across some funky gadgets or a cool alien spaceship."

"It would be nice to find something that could help us in our fight against the Wraith or the Replicators," Teyla responds with a sigh, her exhaustion almost tangible in her voice. "I have to admit that I am growing tired of our missions being constantly beset with difficulties."

Teyla's clothing, like John's own, is dirty and covered in pine needles. When she turns to look at him, John can clearly see the dark rings that shadow her eyes, their presence telling of the difficulty she's had sleeping of late. Teyla and Elizabeth had been very close. They had enjoyed a deep friendship forged through the heavy burden of leadership they both shared, and John knows that Teyla is still having difficulty coming to terms with Elizabeth's loss. Nevertheless, Teyla has remained strong – John has no doubt that, had their mission to steal the ZPM from the Asuran homeworld failed, she would have succeeded in leading the rest of the expedition members to safety. Even now, she has been playing a vital role in helping people deal with the aftermath of the Replicator attack. Between the two of them, Teyla and Kate Heightmeyer have been counselling the people who have been traumatised by recent events and also seeing to the well-being and pastoral care of everyone else in Atlantis. John is intensely grateful to Teyla for taking on this responsibility; it is a task to which John feels entirely ill equipped to contribute and one in which Carter, as a new addition to the expedition, cannot really help.

"It has been a hard few months," John admits as lightly as he can, not wanting to stir up bad memories now when what he is trying to do is to lift his team's spirits. "And that wasn't exactly the most pleasant of missions."

Ronon turns his head at John's comment to grin evilly at him. "Yeah," he replies. "Especially not for those villagers."

John laughs, relieved to see that at least with Ronon things have more or less returned to normal. He had followed John's orders to the letter that afternoon – he and Teyla holding their ground as always. And now, walking confidently down the halls of Atlantis, Ronon finally looks at ease and at home.

They'd had a close call a couple of weeks ago when Ronon and Teyla had run into the Satedans Tyre, Rakai and Ara. For a time there, John had feared that Atlantis would lose Ronon to them altogether. Although John was sorry to discover that Ronon's friends were Wraith worshippers, especially when it turned out they had led his team into a trap that resulted in Rodney being held hostage, a part of him still can't help but be relieved. To hear Ronon declare his loyalty to John and the rest of the team had gone a long way towards healing the wound that still hurts more than John cares to admit, which was caused when he had failed to bring Ford home. And the one that is still open and bleeding in the shape of Elizabeth.

John has always felt very protective of his men; the mantra 'never leave a man behind' having struck a chord deep within him during his officer training. Since his very first days in command, he has always been determined to protect those he serves with, and who serve under him, to the best of his ability, even if to do so comes at a high personal cost. John is just as committed to the civilians and soldiers for whose safety he is responsible in Pegasus. But what he feels for his team on Atlantis is different; for them, his sense of commitment and duty is far stronger and deeper than anything he has experienced before. They have been through so much together that perhaps it is only natural that their lives have become so irrevocably intertwined. He owes his life to each member of his team many times over, just as they do to him – it's a bond that should be unbreakable. Rodney, Teyla and Ronon are more than just people under his command, they are also his friends and, in many ways, the closest thing he has left to a family.

Unbreakable, John thinks, casting a sideways glance in Rodney's direction. He certainly hopes so. Of course, the pressures of surviving life in the crucible that Atlantis so often is also goes a long way to explaining just what happened between him and Rodney – in that first flush of excitement when you realise you have survived despite overwhelming odds, and in the dark depression that comes when you realise just what your survival has cost, the normal lines of interaction can easily get very blurred. Or even disappear completely.

They approach the intersection at which they'll go their separate ways to get to their individual quarters. "I'll see you guys in the conference room in about an hour, then," John says to Teyla and Ronon, internally gathering his courage to take this opportunity to talk to Rodney alone.

"I will see you then, John," Teyla replies with a smile and a nod of her head as she and Ronon take the right fork.

John and Rodney take the left fork, heading towards the east deck where they both live now. There's a large picture window at the end of their corridor through which the light reflected from the water's surface spills in and ripples along the walls. It's late afternoon on M12-578, their new planet, and the sun is just starting to set, casting rays of gold and red across the surface of the ocean. It's beautiful here, John thinks, and will be even more so in less than an hour when the two visible moons start to rise and night falls. It's strange, but even on a completely different planet, this city and its people still feel to him like home.

At least they would if he could only get his emotions in check so he can get on with his job. Perhaps it might not be the most sound approach psychologically speaking, but it is the one with which John is most familiar. It's how he's always dealt with his emotions, pushing them to the background and concentrating on his job. This strategy of mental health has seen John through many a hard patch in the past. The mere thought of having to go see Heightmeyer and actually talk about his feelings fills John with a profound sense of dread; and he doesn't want to think about what it says of his mental state that he'd rather face a battalion of Wraith armed with nothing more than his Swiss Army knife than talk to a psychologist. All the more reason to sort things out himself as quickly as possible; if Carter picks up on his distraction, he might be left with no choice but to schedule some sessions with Kate.

Despite life returning to some semblance of normality since the upheaval of the Asuran's attack, their infiltration of the Replicator homeworld to steal the ZPM, Elizabeth's sacrifice, the relocation of Atlantis and Carter's assumption of command, John is painfully aware that there is still a lot still unresolved - between himself and Rodney in particular. And that is something about which he certainly cannot tell Heightmeyer, nor have her ask him to explain.

Which is why his solution to their little problem is so perfect. True, they'll have to have what will no doubt be one incredibly awkward conversation about what happened and their subsequent falling out, but once he's explained things to Rodney, John is confident they'll be able to put this behind them and move forward as friends and team mates – as they should.

What he certainly does not want is what he has at the moment, which is himself and Rodney walking towards their respective quarters in an uneasy silence and at least three feet of space between them. Rodney keeps shooting him little awkward glances from out of the corner of his eye, as if he isn't sure how to act, and John just wants to reach out to him and do something – exactly what, he can't quite decide. Talk – he quickly reminds his wayward brain – to do anything else is just not who he is.

"Look, Colonel," Rodney says suddenly, launching into hurried speech as they draw close to the entrance of John's quarters. Rodney slows to a halt just outside John's door and draws in a deep breath, looking equal parts determined, worried and resigned. John feels the relief flood through him as he realises that Rodney is going to take the lead here. This is excellent – John can listen to Rodney's take on the subject, and then put forward his own plan. He turns to face Rodney, cocking an eyebrow in inquiry, curious to hear what Rodney is going to say. Although Rodney has never had a problem with talking, he's not much better with the emotional stuff than John; arguably worse.

Rodney visibly steels himself and then continues, "I... um... I know that things have been somewhat... strained between us lately." He flaps a hand between them in a descriptive gesture. "I mean, stress levels were high, tempers were frayed, actions were taken, and things were said and..." Rodney trails off then, his eyes dropping to the floor. "It's just that I… I hate the way things are between us now," he finishes softly and, even though Rodney's face is still downcast, John can see the blush that is starting to creep across his fair skin.

"Me too, buddy," John replies, just as softly. "Me too."

Rodney looks up with a start at John's words, his expression morphing from nervous panic to surprised delight almost instantly. "Really?" he asks cautiously.

"Really," John replies, and then, forcing himself to continue, "Look, we don't have much time now, but how 'bout we meet up this evening, after the debriefing, to…" he trails off, unable to force the last little bit out.

"Talk?" Rodney finishes for him, his mouth pursing slightly on a little moue of distaste. "I guess, we probably should," he admits reluctantly, still looking a little unsure. His eyes narrow slightly as he considers this prospect, "You've got beer, right?"

"Molson's," John clarifies.

"Okay," Rodney says with a nod, sounding determined. "In that case, I can probably just about cope with the talking."

John laughs, feeling relieved beyond measure – Rodney will agree with him about how best to handle things and then they can finally get back to their normal interaction. "Good, me too," he replies as he opens the door to his quarters with a deft swish of his thoughts. "I'll see you at the de-brief, then."

The first thing Rodney does upon entering his quarters is shoulder his way out of his heavy mission pack. Once relieved of its weight, he rolls his shoulders slowly backwards, sighing in relief as the muscles flex, pop and then finally relax as he twists his neck to get the full extent of the stretch. He pulls out his laptop and scanner from his rucksack, depositing them on his desk, and turns on his coffee maker, smiling in anticipation as it starts to bubble and hum happily to itself. All the while, he is very careful not to engage his brain.

Rodney strips out of his dirt-streaked uniform as he makes his way across his quarters to his bathroom. As he goes, he tosses each discarded piece of clothing in the vague direction of his laundry basket, the majority of them falling short of the mark and landing in a rumpled heap on the floor. Once in the bathroom, Rodney concentrates hard as he tries to turn his shower on with his mind. He's pleasantly surprised when the water starts to flow almost immediately, but then again, after the vast number of hours he's put into protecting, restoring and upgrading the city over the past three plus years, it's really only fair that it should start responding to him to some extent.

Adjusting the temperature setting to as high as he can stand, Rodney steps into the cubicle. He lets out another sigh of relief as he ducks his head under the flow of water and it starts to wash away the dust and grime of the mission. He grabs his sponge and shower gel and, working up a thick lather of soap, scrubs at his skin and hair until he's completely clean. He watches in satisfaction as the water spiralling down the drain turns brown with dirt before gradually returning to clear. It's not until he's rinsed away the soap and is standing with the scalding hot spray aimed at the back of his neck, shoulders and upper back that he allows himself to think about his recent conversation with Sheppard. With the hot water pounding hard on his tired muscles, he finally engages his brain and tries to figure out what has just happened.

To be honest, he's not exactly sure what to make of the whole situation with Sheppard. The limitations of their recent interactions had caused him to come reluctantly to the conclusion that their friendship was over and they were only to interact in work-related matters. This latest conversation, where John seemed to be reaching out to him again after weeks of either ignoring him completely or snapping orders at him, has taken Rodney completely by surprise.

Rodney can appreciate that John is confused – he is himself, well, had been initially at any rate. Things between them went from a frantic fuck to just plain fucked-up over the course of that hellish week when they were both lurching from one catastrophe to another whist all the while trying desperately to hold the city together. Perhaps now, given sufficient time, Sheppard has decided to re-evaluate how they left things. Rodney certainly hopes so – he's been taking his cues on how to act from John, after all John is the one with the most to lose. Of course, the fact that he can also take Rodney down without even breaking a sweat may also have something to do with it. Things had got pretty heated the last time they 'talked'.

He screwed up big time – Rodney knows that – but, on the other hand, he is also fairly certain that he was not the only one at fault. Sheppard was there too, and he had seemed to be just as enthusiastic as Rodney to… well, do what they did. After all, John had been the one who started it.

Rodney shakes his head - there's no point in going over all of this again; his skin is starting to prune and he's no closer to reaching a conclusion on this all than he was when it first happened. He turns the shower off with a wave of his hand. Of one thing he is certain, if having sex with Sheppard hadn't been enough to seal the coffin of their friendship, then Rodney disobeying his direct orders and re-activating Weir's nanites, not to mention the fight they that they'd had about it all afterwards, had certainly been sufficient to finish the job.

But maybe the situation is salvageable after all; John's offer certainly seemed to indicate that. Ever since their big argument, Rodney has been doing his level best to avoid Sheppard entirely. Any hopes he might have harboured concerning the evolution of their relationship having been blown right out of the water when John went ballistic at him for trying to save Elizabeth the best way he knew how. Although how Sheppard could expect him to just stand there and do nothing while she died, especially once Rodney knew he had the power to save her, is still something he just cannot fathom.

Rodney cracks the door of the shower cubicle open just enough so he can reach out an arm to grab his towel, trying to keep the warm steam from escaping. Happily ensconced in his own little world of steam, Rodney wraps his towel around his waist and leans back against one of the warm tiled walls. He is reluctant to leave the warmth of the shower stall just yet and lingers instead, letting his mind wander.

Rodney is a realist – he believes in collecting data, analysing the results, and drawing logical conclusions. From these, he can determine how he should act and what his next steps should be. It is a tactic that has served him well, especially professionally, and it is one he uses with both his work and in his personal life. Everyone has always tended to assume that Rodney is bad with people - that he just doesn't understand them - but this is not the case. The fact of the matter is that Rodney understands other people all too well; it's just that, more often than not, he simply couldn't care less about them. He has no interest in getting involved with their petty jealousies, their faulty understanding, or their flaky logic. He learned at an early age that most people are really not worth bothering about; who they are and what they think is rarely of any importance. They are, for the most part, cruel, stupid and seem to take great delight in wilfully misunderstanding and belittling him.

Rodney is also a pessimist; another one of life's handy little lessons. It's not that 'if something can go wrong, it will go wrong' – because that is just statistically improbable; it's more along the lines of 'if you can be prepared for every perceivable disaster, then you've a far greater chance of actually surviving it and/or being able to prevent it'. This lesson, in particular, has served him well in Pegasus because, at the end of the day, it is Rodney who is responsible for most of the disaster-potential aspects of life on Atlantis. As the city's Chief Science Officer, it is his job to consider about the worst case scenario, and then have a way to prevent it from happening or to solve in if it does.

It is these two rather stark character traits that make up an awful lot of who Rodney is. However at his very core, underlying it all, Rodney is an extraordinarily gifted scientist. Being realistic and prone to pessimism does help with his job – they prompt him to question, advise him to be cautious, and keep him, and everyone else on Atlantis, alive. However, it is his innate curiosity and thirst for knowledge as a scientist that drives him. He is passionate about uncovering the secrets of the universe, relentless in his quest to understand Atlantis and her Ancient technology, and always awed by the wonders each new day brings.

What all this means is that Rodney enters each new situation with his eyes wide open and his brain fully engaged. He always hopes to be amazed and challenged by what he observes and deduces, but he is also always prepared to accept the reality of things and have to deal with the fall-out if everything were to suddenly go to hell. Therefore, Rodney was prepared for John Sheppard; prepared to be attracted to him physically and to become, albeit reluctantly, attached to him emotionally. Rodney had read the signs early on – he had recognised his wonder at Sheppard's remarkable connection with the Ancient technology, had acknowledged that he enjoyed Sheppard's company, his intelligence and his wit, and had accepted the terror that struck him with Sheppard's life was in jeopardy for what it was – an indication that he was in danger of getting too deeply involved.

And just as Rodney observed the signs in himself, he had also taken careful note of those that Sheppard displayed. Unsurprisingly – and this is where the pessimistic part of his psyche comes into play – Rodney could not see an equal response in Sheppard. Although John seemed, almost from the very beginning, happy enough to be his friend - to push him over balconies, argue with him over the finer points of science fiction and number theory, and also proved to be a more than adequate chess partner – friendship had always seemed to be as far as Sheppard was willing to take things between them.

So Rodney had accepted Sheppard's friendship happily and had moved on – the realist in him accepting the results of his observations and the conclusion he had drawn from them. He has made a life for himself in Atlantis – a good life, the kind of life of which he had always dreamed. He is surrounded by technology the likes of which he had only ever imagined, he is exploring a new galaxy and amassing more amazing knowledge with each passing day, he is conducting research at the very cutting-edge of his field, saving lives, and working to prevent the destruction of worlds. Sure, he is scared to death nearly 99.9% of the time – but that is where his team comes into play. With John, Teyla and Ronon at his side, Rodney feels as safe as… well, as safe as one reasonably can feel in a galaxy full of life-sucking monsters intent on eating you and evil self-replicating Lego bricks bent on universal domination.

The last of the steam has started to dissipate from the shower cubicle, so Rodney pushes himself away from the tiles and steps out of the stall. He shivers in the slightly cooler air in the bathroom itself, goose bumps rising on the surface of his skin. Unwrapping his towel from about his waist, he dries himself quickly before padding back out into his quarters. He first heads over to his coffee machine and pours himself a fresh cup, cradling his mug in both his hand as he brings it up to his face. He inhales deeply, the smell of the fresh grounds pulling a happy hum from him, before taking a mouthful. It's hot, but Rodney became conditioned to the temperature long ago and the taste and flavour of the coffee brings with it a deep sense of contentment – a feeling he is in dire need of at the moment.

Setting his now half-empty mug on his desk, Rodney dresses quickly, discarding the towel and pulling on his clothes before the chill has a chance to settle. He boots up his laptop and spends a few minutes scrolling through his emails. There's nothing of particular urgency there and only a few of the preliminary reports on some Ancient artefacts catch his eye. He downloads the details of the pilot tests onto his PDA for further study when he next has a moment and makes a mental note to talk to Sam about them as soon as he can.

By now the sun has sunk deep down into the ocean and the view from Rodney's window is breath-taking. The twin moons have started to rise and the surface of the ocean gleams in their light and the very last rays of the setting sun. Rodney re-fills his coffee cup and finds himself walking towards the window, captivated by the wash of colours. He props himself up against the window sill and stares out across the ocean, letting his eyes glaze over slightly as he thinks back over recent events, remembering how things between him and Sheppard got far too close and then fell, inevitably perhaps, apart.

It had all started in the aftermath of their encounter with the Asuran stargate-satellite – and, wow, wasn't that just unexpected; honestly, sometimes Rodney had to wonder about the intelligence of, well, US military intelligence. Had Rodney's own clearly voiced concerns about the idiocy of a first strike with just six nuclear weapons not been enough to convince them, you'd have thought that history itself would have taught them pre-emptive aggression always had its price. But, no – he'd been beamed aboard the Apollo without so much as a 'by your leave' and put to work with Zelenka ensuring the nuclear capability of her weapons platform arsenal.

Unsurprisingly, the Asurans had retaliated and everything had pretty much gone to hell from that point on. They had managed to escape the Replicator's weapon beam by successfully launching the city into space – a flash of inspiration that had hit him and John in the same instant. They'd flown under the cover of an asteroid, with a boost from a drilling platform and with John at the helm, or rather Chair, and hadn't he just loved that. Of course, Rodney thought it was pretty damn cool too – they'd got Atlantis to fly – but he wasn't about to give Sheppard the satisfaction of knowing that, at least not yet. Typically however, their escape had not gone smoothly; when did things ever go smoothly in Pegasus? Elizabeth had been critically injured, the city's stardrive had burnt out and they had no further source of power. So, they'd found themselves drifting, lost somewhere in the depths of space with only 24 hours left until their power ran out and the shield dropped for good… Rodney closes his eyes and shudder – the fear, pain, and senseless loss of life all still so recent, the memory still so vivid…

Rodney typed as fast as he could, trying to stay one step ahead of the power drain that was sucking the life right out of the city – literally. He closed his eyes for a moment, seeing again stark warning on the computer monitor that unemotionally declared "BIO SIGNATURES TERMINATED"; three good men, all dead.

At least it hadn't been completely in vain, unlike so many deaths thus far – Rodney's readings now showed that they had finally been able to shut down all of the non-essential systems that had been draining power from the damaged conduits. He'd also had an idea for how to conserve their remaining power for just a little while longer – hopefully long enough to give him sufficient time to think of a more permanent solution. Rodney blinked and rubbed his aching eyes, grimacing at the blood which the action left smeared on his hands from the cuts on his face. Stop-gap measures, he thought to himself in disgust, unfortunately they were all Rodney could come up with for the time being. Shaking his head, he pushed himself upright, staggering slightly from the dual effects of sleep deprivation and low blood sugar - he needed to find food, caffeine, and the Colonel.

Rodney managed to track Sheppard down in one of the rooms in an undamaged part of the control tower; he looked just as exhausted and dejected as Rodney felt, head down and staring vacantly out of the window into the blackness of space. He glanced up at the sound of Rodney's approach, eyes locking on to Rodney's in the reflection of the glass.

"Hey," Sheppard said with a tired smile. "Please tell me you've got some news for me."

Rodney came up to stand alongside him, "Well, we're no longer losing power, will that do?"

Sheppard gave a tired laugh, one hand coming up to rub the back of his neck. "After the day we've had, hell, I'll take it and be glad."

"Day?" Rodney snorted. "Please, I'm certain it has to have been at least a week."

"Yeah, I hear you buddy," Sheppard replied with a sigh, his shoulder bumping against Rodney's amicably.

"Sheppard..." Rodney started and then amended, "John." He felt Sheppard jump a little in surprise at Rodney's use of his first name, but Rodney had wanted to get the man's attention and so he continued on regardless. "This all has been just…well, with the attack and then Elizabeth and then losing Matthews and…" he trailed off uncomfortably, took a deep breath, and then ploughed ahead. "I just wanted to say that I'm sorr-"

"Rodney," John interrupted, turning away from the window at last to look directly at Rodney. "Don't. Just…please, don't. Let's just take a moment, yeah?"

Rodney nodded; he felt it as well - it was all too much, too close, too recent. He and John both needed a break, just a little time away from it all. He was about to turn and go, to leave John to his thoughts and find some place else, preferably with food and coffee, to collect his own, when John moved. All of a sudden Rodney found himself being backed up against the wall with John's hands braced hard on his shoulders.

Sheppard was staring at him with wide and slightly bewildered eyes, his hands still clutching Rodney's shoulders as he held Rodney in place. He looked almost as surprised as Rodney felt - as if he couldn't quite believe that he had been the one to move and put them both in this position, their bodies mere inches from each other. For a long moment they did nothing but stare at one another – Rodney could hear his blood pulsing loudly in his ears and feel the brush of Sheppard's breath on his lips each time John exhaled. A wave of exhaustion and longing crashed through him, surprising him with its intensity. He was so tired, everything seemed utterly hopeless, but here, with John, for these few short moments, it all seemed to fade away. Rodney let his eyes drift closed, his body relaxing completely in John's hold.

"Rodney," Sheppard said, his voice sounding as broken and desperate, echoing Rodney's own emotions.

At the sound of his name, Rodney's eyes flickered open once more. He watched as one of John's hands moved from where it had been holding Rodney's shoulder to hover in the air a few centimetres above his cheek.

"John," Rodney said as the feeling of longing shifted and twisted low down in his gut, morphing into the deep and steady thrum of arousal. Before he even knew what he was doing, Rodney tilted his head to one side and was pushing his cheek into John's hand, suddenly desperate for John's touch. He felt the fine tremor that went through John's body in response to his action and watched as John's eyes went all hazy and glazed. Rodney shuddered at how intimate it felt to have John hold him like this, to feel the scrape of his whiskers against the skin John's palm and the pressure of John's fingers clasped tight around his shoulder.

"God, how did we get here?" Rodney said brokenly. "What are we even doing?" He was both utterly confused and terrifyingly turned on at the same time. His dick was rock hard in his pants, pulsing almost painfully as his need grew greater with each passing minute of Sheppard touching him. In that moment, Rodney wanted nothing more than to be able to just press himself up against John's body and rut against him until their combined pleasure blotted out everything else. He wanted to lose himself to the pure sensation of being with John until all of the horror and worry and pain and fear of the past few hours faded away, leaving nothing in its wake but peace and comfort and John.

John shook his head in response to Rodney's question, his eyes darkening and turning almost black as his gaze moved over Rodney's face and came to rest focused on Rodney's mouth. Rodney licked his lips self-consciously, his arousal leaping up another notch as John's eyes tracked the motion of his tongue closely. John's hand moved, his fingers trailing softly over Rodney's cheek before his thumb swept across Rodney's damp lips. Rodney's breath caught as John leaned closer to him and replied softly, "I don't know," his words nothing more than a whisper of warm air across Rodney's mouth. "I don't know; all I do know is that, right now, this is what I need."

"Yes," Rodney replied, but the word was all but swallowed as John's mouth closed the last small distance between them and they were kissing.

For a moment Rodney could do nothing more than moan into John's mouth as he felt himself being completely devoured by the force of John's passion. John's entire body was hot and hard and frantic against Rodney's – from his tongue thrusting wetly into Rodney's mouth to his cock grinding almost painfully against Rodney's groin. John held Rodney tight against the wall with one hand still cupped around Rodney jaw, firmly holding Rodney's head in place so he could continue to attack his mouth. John's other hand had moved from its position on his shoulder and was now braced in the centre of Rodney's chest, the heat of his palm seeping through the layers of Rodney's uniform to where Rodney's heart felt like it was racing out of control.

Rodney's initial shock was short-lived; desire and lust taking over almost instantly as every fantasy he had never allowed himself to imagine about John Sheppard was suddenly and shockingly being realised. As if a switch inside him had been flipped, Rodney surged into action. He found himself returning John's kiss hungrily, opening his mouth to John's probing tongue and pushing his into John's mouth in return. He spread his legs apart to steady himself and finally worked up the courage to touch John's body as John was touching his. He brought his hands up from where they had been flattened to the wall on either side of his body to rest them on John's shoulders.

John's breath seemed to catch as Rodney touched him and Rodney could feel his body clenching and releasing under Rodney's hands. John pressed himself even closer to Rodney, taking advantage of Rodney's spread legs, and kissed him even deeper, all long, lean, lithe muscles and hot, wet, hard mouth. Encouraged by this response, Rodney moved his hands along the top of John's shoulders, feeling the heat of his skin through the heavy material of his uniform, until his fingers brushed against the soft spiky hair at the nape of John's neck. John gasped a little into Rodney's mouth as Rodney dipped his fingers inside the high collar of John's shirt to stroke the soft sensitive skin underneath.

Rodney was reluctant to move his hands from John's bare skin, but John was still kissing him, his lips never leaving Rodney's and his tongue now thrusting into Rodney's mouth with obvious intent. All of it, the taste and touch and feel of John, in his mouth, under his hands, over his body, drove Rodney on – he needed to feel more, to take more, to give more – he wanted it all. Driven to near desperation, Rodney slid his hands all the way down the length of John's back, his fingers spread wide so he could relish the feeling of John's muscles as they tensed and flexed under his caressing palms. Rodney's hands moved all the way down John's body until he could cup the cheeks of John's ass. Now it was John's turn to moan as Rodney squeezed him tightly and pulled him even closer, aligning their bodies so their cocks were pressed tightly together between their bodies.

Rodney's actions tipped them both over the edge; John growled long and low into Rodney's mouth before he pulled back a little to look into Rodney's face. "Rodney," he all but begged, sounding desperate, his voice cracking with desire.

Rodney felt his cock pulse in response to the questions in John's voice. He pulled John tighter to him, thrusting himself forward and pressing his erection even harder to John's. "Nughh," was all that came out as John's hands moved so they were clutching Rodney's hips and bracing Rodney even harder to the wall behind him. And then John started thrust.

John was rough as he pumped himself forward, grinding his dick against Rodney's and all but fucking Rodney into the wall through their clothes. Rodney let his head fall back against the wall, half-formed words and groans of encouragement flowing uncontrolled from his lips. This was what he needed, what they both needed – it was mindless, desperate, and so damn good Rodney knew it wasn't going to be long before he was spewing his release into his pants. John's head had dropped down into the hollow between Rodney's neck and shoulder. Rodney could feel the head of his breath and the wet desperate kisses he was mouthing into Rodney's skin.

The scrape of the material of Rodney's clothes against the engorged head of his cock was just a touch shy of too much sensation, but the heat and pressure coming from John's dick as it slid along Rodney's with each upward lunge of John's hips blotted away the pain completely. Rodney could feel himself leaking copiously, the moisture softening the cloth of his boxers and allowing his dick to slide more easily alongside John's. John had Rodney's hips pinned almost completely to the wall and it was his thrusts alone which were controlling the pace of their fucking.

John suddenly threw his head back, the tendons of his neck standing out in sharp relief and he arched into his release. Rodney could feel John's cock pulse in his pleasure and the wet heat of John's come started to seep through his clothes to coat his own dick. Rodney's eyes snapped closed as he felt his own orgasm fast approaching. It slammed into him hard, bright pulses of pleasure coursing through his body, collecting heavily in his dick and then spurting out in the uncontrolled jerks of his hips.

Rodney blinks himself back to the present and sighs in disgust when he realises that even now his body is reacting helplessly to the images of recalled happiness. It hadn't lasted long – when did the good things ever last long for him? – but for those brief few moments, still cradled by John's pleasure slack body while the city drifted aimlessly in space, Rodney had felt secure, happy and at peace for what had felt like the first time since he stepped through the stargate to the Pegasus galaxy.

Night has fallen completely now and Rodney realises that if he doesn't hurry, he's going to be late for the de-brief. His cock is still half-hard in his pants from reliving the memory, something he hasn't allowed himself to do since it happened, and he shifts uncomfortably from side to side trying to rearrange himself. Shaking himself out of his stupor, Rodney berates himself for wallowing for so long in such self-indulgent memories. Reality had descended shortly after his and John's encounter and they had never had a chance to talk about what had happened – about what it meant to either of them. Before Rodney knew what was happening, the city was careering head long into an asteroid field, the hyperdrive was damaged, and Keller shooting him doleful looks and telling him about Elizabeth's decompressive craniectomy and how she didn't think she could save her. And finally, in the midst of all the death and chaos, Rodney had realised that he could save her. That maybe everything was going to be alright after all – that perhaps the entire universe was finally going to cut them a break and he could do both, save Elizabeth and love John. For the first time in a very long while, he'd allowed himself to dream.

Of course, as it turned out, he could do neither. Even now, Rodney isn't quite sure what John was so angry about – his idea had worked after all. Reactivating the dormant nanites in Elizabeth's bloodstream had healed her completely of all her injuries, plus he is certain that he had prevented the nanites from making any sort of connection to the rest of the Replicators or from doing anything else in Elizabeth's body save repair her physical injuries. Rodney knows John was angry at him for disobeying his orders, but he's also fairly certain there was more to it than that. For once, John had been passionate in his anger – it hadn't been anything like the cool sarcasm he'd displayed in the aftermath of Doranda – rather, he'd been as close to being completely out of control as Rodney had ever seen him. Added to that the fact that Rodney had never had a particularly close reign on his temper either... well, suffice to say things had not gone well. Even after nearly three months, the briefest of flashes of what had been said is enough to kill Rodney's ardour and make him shy away from any further walks down memory lane. Rodney shakes his head, he can only hope that whatever it is that John has to say to him tonight is better than that encounter. He will just have to wait and see... If the outcome is them being able to return to their friendship, with no hope for anything more, then Rodney will count it as a win.

Rodney turns away from the window, he's done far too much introspection for one day. He'll have to rush now to make it to the conference room in time and he's already too far behind schedule to make it to the labs. Consulting his watch, he decides that he has just about enough time to stop by the commissary for some food before the debriefing. Swallowing the last mouthful of his coffee, Rodney grabs his laptop and data pad and heads out of his quarters.

Once John is freshly showered and de-pine needled, he makes his way to the commissary to grab some dinner. As soon as he arrives, he spots Lorne, Parrish and a few other members of SGA teams two, four and five eating at one of the long tables by the open window. John decides to swing by that way first, before getting his own dinner, to check on how Lorne's mission had gone. Carter, Rodney and himself had all agreed that it would probably be a good strategy for them to keep missions to the minimum for the time being, to give everyone a chance to adjust to both a new planet and the expedition's change in command. It is something of a relief to realise that they actually can take things relatively easy, with the Wraith and the Replicators both currently engaged in fighting each other. Furthermore, many of Atlantis' personnel, both military and scientist, are still engaged in repairs to the city and in the exploration of the oceans and continents of their new planet. As a result, there are only a handful of teams going through the gate at the moment, Sheppard and Lorne's teams amongst them.

Despite relocation to a different sector of Pegasus, their primary mission objective has remained unchanged; they are still making their way through the planets listed in the Ancient database, on the look out for potentially useful technologies, allies and trading partners. In spite of Rodney's continual protestations that not only is the database hopelessly out of date but also decidedly sketchy in detail, it is what has been dictating their missions schedule for the past few months and Rodney has been taking great pleasure in filling in the gaps left behind by the Ancients. That said, Rodney hasn't been quite so vocal in his disagreement to their mission schedule of late. John suspects that this is partially due to Rodney's lack of communication with regards to John in general, and partially because he's now placing bets with Zelenka as to the outcomes of each mission.

John's brief discussion with Lorne and his team reassures him that at least someone's mission that day hadn't ended in a shower of bullets, although it doesn't sound as though the uninhabited swamp planet designated PX3-676 is going to be of any use to them in the foreseeable future. John wonders idly whether Zelenka or Rodney had won that particular round. Or perhaps, he muses, Parrish has a piece of the action for himself. Military commander duty done, John ambles over to the food and picks up a sandwich, a package of chips and an apple. He seeks out a table in the far corner of the eating area with a view of entire room and the adjoining balcony, determined to collect his thoughts prior to his meeting with Rodney after the de-brief.

John eats his sandwich slowly, carefully peeling the crusts off the bread and eating them first before starting on the turkey-filled middle. He mentally outlines the salient points of his argument in his head as he eats, knowing that it is vitally important that he gets in first before Rodney starts rambling awkwardly and John ends up doing something even more stupid than before. Like shouting at him again. Or kissing him.

John doesn't like emotional encounters, especially not ones involving himself, but he sees no way to avoid this one, not if he wants to keep Rodney as his best friend. His past experiences with relationships, his marriage notwithstanding, have been rocky at best. While he has always had no problem with giving to his men and to his job, he just can't seem to give to whatever woman he is seeing at the time. He would do anything, give anything, to protect his team, but he had never before been able to do, or give, what his girlfriends and wife had all wanted – to open up completely, to give himself to them.

It is his problem - John knows this and had accepted it long ago. He has sat through enough break-up conversations to know that women find his laid-back front impossible to deal with in the long-term. What none of them have ever realised is that his front is all he has ever been able to show anyone. It isn't just an issue he has with women, or even with authority figures, as his father and every CO he's ever served under has always believed, it is simply who he is. Somewhere along the line, probably during his divorce with Nancy and in the midst of the right royal fuck up that was his tour of Afghanistan, John had come to the conclusion that it just wasn't worth it. He didn't have the emotional make-up necessary for a successful relationship and it would be better off for all concerned if he were to stick to flying choppers and scratching the occasional itch with another convenient body or his right hand.

It is partially because of this decision that he'd been happy in Antarctica. Alright, so perhaps it wasn't quite the posting of his dreams, but at least there he got to fly in the bright open sky and there wasn't really anyone around who he could either disappoint or get killed. So yeah, all in all he'd liked it there. Of course, he'd been stationed at McMurdo for less than a year before his world had been turned upside down by an exploding squid, a reclining chair he could control with his mind and a talkative genius in day-glow orange. Before he knew what had happened, John had found himself tossing a coin and stepping through a giant puddle into another galaxy. And, although John will never admit it, the coin toss had been largely for show - it isn't as if he'd had any reason to stay in the Milky Way.

Pegasus, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely. They'd been here less than a week when had John suddenly found himself with more reasons than he ever could have asked for to stay and do whatever was within his power to ensure that the Atlantis expedition was a success and that her civilian participants were safe. He was suddenly the ranking military officer of a civilian-run expedition which was, for all intents and purposes, alone in an unexplored galaxy facing the enemy who had single-handedly wiped out the Ancients. Now, he has a city, complete with spaceships, a weapons chair which responds to his thoughts, and a team of people who have become closer to him than his biological family ever had been. It is both terrifying and exhilarating, and has changed John's outlook completely.

He still carries his duty and responsibilities just as heavily as before - hell, the whole damn galaxy is at the mercy of the Wraith because of him – but he is also learning how important it is to let others share his burden, at least some of the time. He still holds on to his belief that the military is a necessary presence on Atlantis and that their role – his role – is to protect the civilian scientists at all costs. He is just as committed to this view now as he had been the day he flew what was supposed to be a one-way mission into a hive ship with a nuclear bomb strapped to his jumper. He is willing to do whatever it takes to keep them safe… even, as it turns out, let other people in. Even in those first few months, he had already come to realise just how much he relied on Elizabeth and Teyla and, heaven help him, on Rodney.

John finishes the last bite of his sandwich and starts methodically crushing his chips, one by one, into tiny yellow fragments on his plate, finding the crisp sound of them shattering beneath his fingertips very satisfying. Rodney. Somehow John's thoughts always circle back to him. He'd slipped in under John's radar completely undetected, which is odd because no one could ever accuse Rodney of either subtlety or stealth. At first, John was pretty sure he no more than tolerated the guy for his obvious brilliance and his position as CSO. Then, somewhere along the line, they'd become friends and he'd found himself playing the on-switch for Rodney's experiments on Ancient devices, throwing Rodney off balconies and watching cheesy sci-fi with him.

Things between then had ratcheted up a notch during the storm and the Genii invasion; when Koyla had held Elizabeth and Rodney hostage. Koyla had held a gun to Elizabeth's head and had Rodney tortured - cut him, made him bleed, made John think that he was going to lose them both. And maybe that was when John had first noticed it – what Rodney really was to him, how very important he was, how vital, not only to the expedition, but to John. It was also then that the spectre of possibility had first raised its head, not a lot but enough to hint to John what Rodney could be to him.

The trouble is that John needs Rodney and he doesn't know what he'd do if Rodney suddenly wasn't there for him. Somehow Rodney's constant stream of words, hand flaps and sheer unadulterated brilliance have become part of what makes Atlantis home for John. Things just wouldn't be the same without his litany of complaints, his excruciatingly detailed explanations or his last minute solutions that somehow always manage to save John's ass. So, in the aftermath of the storm, when John started to find himself watching Rodney and wondering… what it would be like to touch him with more than friendship, to hold him rather than to just pat his shoulder, to stop his words with a kiss rather than with an arched eyebrow and a drawled insult… Of course, he caught himself as soon as he could and locked those feeling down tight. He was Rodney's friend, his best friend he likes to think, and that was enough. If he let himself be greedy and tried to have too much of Rodney, sooner or later John would it screw up and he'd lose Rodney for good. And that was a risk John found simply unacceptable. No, he'd stick to his original plan – nothing more for him than friendship and his right hand.

As the last potato chip is reduced to shards, John reaches across his plate for his apple, bringing it to his lips and sinking his teeth into the skin with a pleasing crunch. Of course, it has turned out that John is no better at following his own orders as he is at following anyone else's. To give himself some credit, he'd held firm for the best part of two and a half years – staying Rodney's friend through the good times as well as the bad. True, he might have been a little harder on him at times that was warranted, after the spectacular failure that was Project Arcturus for example, but that was only because it was times such as those that John found it hardest to pull away and remain in the role of platonic friend. It was typical that after years of accusations that he was emotionally detached, he should find himself with an overwhelming urge to go over to Rodney, pull him into his arms, and hold him until pleasure replaced the look of hurt on his face and shadowing his eyes.

Thankfully Rodney had remained largely ignorant of John's baser thoughts. Of course John had noticed the speculative glances he'd sent John's way in the early weeks of their friendship, but John hadn't had to hide anything back then. By the time he had started to notice Rodney, Rodney had already consigned John to the role of his best friend and had moved on to dating Katie Brown, albeit rather awkwardly and with more than a little help from Cadman. Suffice to say Rodney was no longer ignorant. The desperate, sweaty, frantic, can't wait to take clothes off, coming in their pants, up against a wall sex they'd had a few short weeks ago has probably blown any thoughts John might have had in the direction of plausible deniability right out of the water.

He's still not entirely sure what had come over him – those fucking awful few days have merged into one garish nightmare in his memories with the two bright sparks being flying the city (because, come on, he'd flown the city!) and humping Rodney McKay up against a wall. Even though he knows that the memory of the latter isn't really something on which he should dwell. Not that he regrets any of it per se, because, god, the sex… Just thinking about it now makes John cock twitch in his pants, already half hard at the briefest of memories; what Rodney's body had felt like pressed up against his own, how he gasped and writhed against John in ecstasy, how their cocks had fitted together so perfectly, how their combined climax had made everything seem okay, even though objectively nothing could have been further from the truth. John blinks and tries to force his wayward thoughts back into place.

So no, he doesn't regret having had Rodney. What he does regret is the inevitable fight that had come afterwards. Inevitable, he supposes, given his own complete inability to prevent himself from fucking everything up. Of course, Rodney had played is own part the fight as well, but it had been John who had ended it. John stares sightlessly across the room, reliving the moment when his world had finally done what it had been threatening to do for weeks and fell apart.

John didn't think he'd ever been so angry in his life; the emotion had been simmering just under the surface of his consciousness all day and it was all going to come welling up out of him any damn minute. He probably had been this angry before, but he's damned if he could remember when at the moment through the haze of rage which was slowly starting to cloud his vision entirely. At the moment, his anger was directionless or perhaps, more accurately, it's directed everywhere and at everyone - a general sort of all-encompassing fury.

He paced up and down the floor of his quarters trying to expend some energy in a non-violent manner. If he thought he could make it to the gym without the risk of bumping into anyone en route, he'd go there. Ditto for going for a run. However, given his current run of luck, he'd probably get no further than a few steps outside his quarters before the swarms of people he'd been dealing with all day, and had finally managed to escape, would swamp him again. He'd even had to turn off his radio, so desperate was he for just a few moments alone. The reality was that he's been lucky to have been left alone this long already.

He'd been angry for awhile, probably since the Apollo made her ill-fated first strike on the Asuran shipyards. A move which, John thought with yet another wave of anger, hadn't taken long to come back and bite them all in the ass; a move that had been made against the Atlantis expedition leader's express wishes. Elizabeth – who had been fatally injured in the Replicator's counter-attack. Elizabeth - who should have died then and there, but hadn't. Elizabeth - who John had left for dead on the Asuran homeworld while everyone else on Atlantis had escaped.

John's hands clenched into fists as he fought the urge to punch the wall. He's angry at the whole damn galaxy… no, scratch that, because both Pegasus and the Milky Way are at fault here – actually, he was pissed at the entire fucking universe. At the IOA for its cowardice and inability to wait until Area 51 had put the finishing touches on the Planetary-Wide Anti-Replicator Weapons; at the SGC for authorising Ellis' mission but not supplying him with enough nukes to completely eradicate the Asurans; at himself for not fighting harder for Elizabeth's point of view; at Elizabeth for first almost dying in the first place and then for sacrificing herself for them all; at Rodney for reactivating her nanites and making her sacrifice possible; at himself for not being able to save her. He felt like screaming, so close to railing aloud against the injustice of it all, so damn angry at everyone and fucking furious at himself.

Just then the door John's quarters chimed, interrupting his thoughts and making him curse explicitly under his breath. Part of him wanted to ignore the chime, secure in the knowledge that his gene was strong enough to hold at bay anyone he didn't want to enter; if he didn't want anyone coming into his quarters, Atlantis would make sure that no one did. However, a larger part of him, the responsible military commander part – acting expedition commander now, his mind promptly reminded him, and god, just what the hell was John supposed to do with that job? – telling him that he had to see if there was a problem. He opened the door. Rodney was standing on the other side, his blue eyes wide and uncertain. Of course, John thought to himself, of all the people who could be standing on his threshold at this particular moment in time, it would be Rodney McKay. What had happened with Rodney just a couple of days ago was a whole other can of worms that John hadn't even started to work up the courage to open yet.


"McKay," John's growl interrupted Rodney before he could even get the first word out. "You really don't want to be talking to me at the moment," he warned.

Rodney flushed a little, but tilted his chin up in determination and pushed his way into John's quarters. John let him past for the simple reason that he didn't want to have this conversation in public.

"Damn it, Rodney," John all but shouted, desperately trying to hold on to his temper and fearing that he was already failing rather spectacularly. He didn't want to lash out at Rodney, he really didn't, but he was upset, caught off guard, and Rodney, he'd gone against John's explicit orders and…just…god. "Just what the fuck did you think you were doing?"

Rodney blinked in surprise at John's language and then opened his mouth to reply. "John, listen," he started.

The very thin rein John had been using to keep his temper in check suddenly snapped at Rodney's use of his first name – something which never failed to prompt an emotional reaction. "No!" he replied, shouting properly this time – which wasn't at all like him, because he didn't shout when he was angry normally. If anything, he got even quieter and more sarcastic, but when had he ever had the appropriate responses to Rodney? "No, you listen. What you did was totally unacceptable, inexcusable, so far out of line it isn't even in the same fucking galaxy. I told you to keep me in the loop, that I was in charge. I even told you not to do it, McKay. But did you listen to me? No, you did not. You went right ahead and reactivated those damn nanites! And by doing so, you put the entire city and everyone here at risk!" He broke off, heart racing, breathing hard, and fists clenched. He'd needed Rodney, damn it, needed him like he'd never needed anyone else before, and Rodney's actions had felt like a betrayal.

Rodney was breathing hard too now, red-faced and looking every bit as angry as John. "And just want was I supposed to do?" he shouted back. "Just sit there and let Elizabeth die when I knew how to save her?!"

"Yes!" John all but screamed. "That is precisely what you were supposed to do!"

"And then where the hell would we be?" Rodney replied, seemingly just as angry as John. "We needed her – without her we wouldn't have been able to get the Zed-PM. Without her we'd all be dead and Atlantis would still be floating in space just waiting for the Wraith or the Replicators to find her!"

John just shook his head and turned away, not really sure any more who he's more angry at, Rodney or himself. Rodney was right, up to a point, but, damn it all to hell, couldn't he see what he'd done? What he'd forced John to do? "It wasn't your call to make, Rodney, it was mine. I gave you a direct order and you disobeyed me."

Rodney rolled his eyes in scorn, "Yeah, like you've never done anything like that before either? I seem to recall you disobeying orders rather drastically around about the same time that Elizabeth wound up with the nanites in the first place."

"No," John said, his anger at flash point now; Rodney just never knew when to stop. "No, that is not the point. The point is that you asked me for my opinion, I gave it to you, and then you went right ahead and did what you wanted to do anyway – with no thought as to the consequences!"

Rodney just looked at John, as if seeing for the first time the true extent of John's anger. "John," he said, reaching out with one hand, his blue eyes wide and very vulnerable all of a sudden.

"No," John said, shaking his head and taking a step back. "No, I can't. Just... just get the hell out of here McKay, and leave me alone."

Rodney's blue eyes widened momentarily, before closing for a few beats, a look of resignation coming over his face. When he opened his eyes again, they were devoid of all emotion – something John didn't think he'd ever seen before and, at the sight, John's anger drained away completely. Rodney was always so animated and his eyes reflected this – gleaming in triumph, shining in curiosity, full of fear, or brimming with sorrow - but now his eyes were empty. John's heart squeezed painfully in his chest, the fiery burn of anger there replaced by the low pulsing ache of loss; he could hardly bear it – that he should be the one to make Rodney look like that. John steeled himself - all the more reason to channel his anger towards sending Rodney away. John would only hurt Rodney far deeper later on, better to do this now before they became even further involved. Mind made up, John turned his back on Rodney, facing out the window into an unfamiliar ocean, staring at it sightlessly long after the low hiss of his door heralded Rodney's departure.

With the taste of angry regret still sour in his mouth, John is pulled sharply back into the present. Yes, he had certainly ended things – taking his anger out on Rodney, letting Rodney go, avoiding Rodney for days afterwards. Unsurprisingly, Rodney had taken his cue for how to behave from John and avoided him in turn. And John doesn't think he can stand another day of that – he simply has to have Rodney's friendship.

John drops the half eaten remains of his apple core onto his plate beside the little pile of chip fragments. Wiping his fingers on his napkin, he reaches out to fill a glass of water from one of the jugs which sits in the middle of every table in the commissary. He brings the glass to his mouth and takes a long swallow, the cool liquid helping to wash away the unpleasant taste with which his memories have left him. So now he has a chance to make things right between them and, from Rodney's reaction to John's attempt to reach out to him, it would seem that John is likely to succeed. The only remaining thing to work out is how exactly John wants his relationship with Rodney to be. Part of him, the larger part if he's honest, just wants Rodney; wants the peace he found in Rodney's embrace. However, another part of him, more sensible part, knows that asking for that is too much. He's already failed that particular test – he has had Rodney and still managed to hurt him and push him away. No, it will be far better to just explain to Rodney that what had happened between them was a mistake, something borne out of tiredness and terror, rather than passion and need. With any luck, they can then get around the fight they'd had over Elizabeth, and they can return to being best friends.

John is startled out of his plotting by Rodney's abrupt entry into the commissary. God, John thinks as watches Rodney, he'd better not screw up this second chance with him. Checking his watch, John realises that they have about five minutes before the debriefing is supposed to begin. He tracks Rodney's progress as he scurries over to the food, laptop and PDA held tightly in one hand and his face thoughtful as he peruses the selection of sandwiches still available. John braces himself and rises to his feet, determined to keep reaching out to Rodney. He gathers the remains of his dinner onto his tray and picks his way through the maze of chairs and tables across to Rodney's side, placing the tray on one of the clearing areas as he passes.

"Turkey's good," he says.

Rodney jumps a little, scowling automatically at John's stealthy approach, before huffing out a little breath of air and rolling his eyes. "You always say that," he says, eyes narrowing at John suspiciously. "Tell me Colonel, it that good as in edible and unlikely to give me stomach cramps, or good as in it's turkey and as such is always good in John Sheppard Land?"

John shrugs, fighting the smile that's pulling at his lips, relieved that Rodney already seems more relaxed in his presence from only their brief chat in the corridor. "I don't know, Rodney," he replies patiently. "It tasted pretty good to me and so far I've not had a single stomach cramp. Of course, that may be just because I'm the ruler of John Sheppard Land and therefore my sandwich wouldn't dare to give me cramps, but," and he lowers his voice and leans a little closer to Rodney as he speaks, "if you ask me nicely, I'll put in a good word to your sandwich for you."

Rodney snorts at this, but he does pick up a turkey sandwich, seemingly unable to stop himself sniffing it suspiciously before he drops on to a plate. "Right," he says decisively, looking up at John with a crooked smile. "Now I need coffee."

John nods in agreement and wanders over to the commissary's coffee machine to fill two mugs. "We need to get a move on," he says, tilting his head in the direction of the door.

Rodney rolls his eyes again and nods, mouth momentarily out of action as he devours one half of his sandwich. He puts down his plate, picking up the second half and using it to shoo John ahead of him. "Well, come on then, Colonel," he snaps. "What are you waiting for?"

Now it's John's turn to roll his eyes, but he starts heading towards the door still carrying both their coffee mugs. Rodney follows at a more sedate pace, still chewing thoughtfully on his sandwich. They enter the transporter together and John tilts his head towards the control panel, looking meaningfully at Rodney and gesturing to his mug-filled hands. Rodney lets out a much put upon sigh, stuffs the remaining bit of sandwich into his mouth and keys in their destination. They're on the other side for less than five seconds before Rodney is snapping his fingers at John and demanding his coffee. John hands over the larger of the two mugs without demure, well aware of the dangers of getting between McKay and his coffee. He's about to head out of the transporter and into the large public corridor which leads to the conference room when Rodney stops him with a softly spoken, "John?"

John freezes, it's the first time Rodney has called him by his first name since the fight. "Yeah, buddy," he says, trying to keep his tone light and casual, pivoting slowly on his heel back to face Rodney again.

Rodney shifts his weight from foot to foot nervously, his gaze darting from John's face off to one side and then back again. "I just-," he starts, a flush starting to spread over his features.

John tilts his head to one side in what he hopes is encouraging enquiry. Rodney takes a deep breath and then raises the hand in which he's holding the steaming mug of coffee, toasting John with a small shy smile gracing his crooked mouth. "Thanks."

John feels himself smiling at Rodney in return, "Anytime, buddy," he says softly and together they step out of the transporter and head into the conference room.

Rodney takes a slow sip of his coffee, intent on savouring the flavour and trying to make his single cup last the entire length of the de-briefing. With any luck, the meeting shouldn't go on for too long – it is already late and it's not like anything of any great importance had happened on PX3-42K. Rodney sighs quietly to himself as he puts his coffee cup back down on the conference room table beside his PDA. As he does so, he wonders just when malfunctioning DHDs and angry weapon-wielding natives had become par for the course of SGA-1s missions. Actually, they have become the preferred mission type of mission really – at least DHDs can be repaired and bullet wounds healed, for the most part anyway. Death was far more likely at the hand of a Wraith, literally, or under the cold, emotionless gaze of a Replicator.

Blinking away the rather maudlin thoughts, Rodney takes another sip of coffee and turns his attention towards Carter. At the moment she is talking to Teyla about her take on the mission, so Rodney promptly tunes her back out again; he's already lived through the mission once, thank you very much, and he sees no real need to do so again. She'll probably move on to Ronon next and, in preparation for that, Rodney switches on his PDA. He keeps half an ear on the conversation whilst scrolling slowly through the preliminary results Hackman and Ryan have sent him on the Ancient devices they're currently testing. Carter is certainly taking this whole expedition leader thing seriously, Rodney will give her that, making sure to spend time with everyone to help establish her position and get to know the people for whom she is now responsible.

The results look promising, even more so on his second read-through than they did when he first reviewed them in his quarters. It's almost unbelievable really that, even though it's been over three years since they arrived on Atlantis, there is still so much to learn and so many devices, gadgets, and programs they have yet to understand. One of the first jobs the whole science team had been involved in upon the expedition's arrival, once the city had been secured that is, was to collect up as many 'things' as possible from the city's various labs to be catalogued and stored for safe-keeping. Rodney himself had done a thorough once over of the initial collection, immediately identifying those devices which he either recognised from the years he'd spent in Area 51 or from his extensive study of the Ancient database in the Antarctic outpost. The rest had been carefully catalogued and stored by his team for proper examination when they had sufficient time and manpower. Rodney now has the science department organised in such a way that at any given time, bar the imminent destruction of the city and/or galaxy of course, there are at least a couple of scientists performing preliminary tests on the slew of as yet unidentified Ancient devices. Once a month Rodney gets sent a report on the progress to date which details the devices examined that month and goes into the confirmed or likely uses, as well as indicating which devices they think have suffered permanent damage. From time to time Rodney steps in and oversees the testing of a device himself, if it looks as though it might either be dangerous, exceedingly interesting, or could be of immediate use. Most of the time however, the scientists currently on the prelim test rotation make recommendations as to which sub-department is best placed to continue the tests, and Rodney is more than happy for them to proceed. The current batch of results include a couple of scanners which Ryan and Hackman believe were designed for medical purposes, a data crystal containing accounts of what look like historical events, and one device of unknown use. Rodney sips the remaining few mouthfuls of his coffee as he emails them both back, indicating they should go ahead and send the scanners to the infirmary for further study, the historical archive to the anthropologists, and tells them that he'll take a quick look at the mystery gadget as soon as he can.

He doesn't realise that he's zoned out of the meeting altogether until Sheppard kicks him in the shin. Rodney jumps and looks up, stifling his cry of annoyance when he notices that Carter is looking at him expectantly.

"Um… yes?" he asks, hoping she'll repeat whatever it is that she's obviously asked him.

"About the DHD, McKay," Sheppard prompts from his place across the table opposite Rodney.

"Ah, yes, the DHD," Rodney repeats, thinking fast. "Um… well, it was nothing really. It had a malfunctioning crystal, easily to repair once I'd figure out which sub-routine wasn't working," he says with a dismissive wave of his hand. "So, nothing of any interest at all."

Carter accepts his explanation with a nod and then looks around at them all. "Okay then," she says, winding the meeting to a close. "It's late, so we'll finish for tonight. I'd like your reports by tomorrow afternoon, if you don't mind."

Rodney lets out a huff of relief and starts collecting up his mug, laptop and PDA. He feels his stomach twist a little in anticipation when he looks up to find Sheppard watching him from across the table. The Colonel cocks an eyebrow and tilts his head towards the door – oh, right, their talk. Rodney swallows heavily and nods in response to Sheppard's unspoken question before getting to his feet and heading for the door. Sheppard rises as well, obviously intending to walk out with him, when Carter's voice stops him.

"Could I have a moment please, Colonel?" she asks.

"Sure," Sheppard drawls as he slouches back down in his seat, shooting Carter an easy smile as he does so; it's the smile that Rodney knows is fake. "I'll catch up with you a bit later, McKay," he says to Rodney just as easily, but Rodney can see the small tension lines around John's eyes which tell him that John is as anxious about their talk as he is.

"Of course, Colonel," he replies and, with a nod to Carter, Rodney makes his escape.

A clean get-away would be too much to ask Rodney thinks when he find Teyla waiting for him in the corridor just outside the conference room. "Something I can do for you?" he asks her, trying to affect a busy air in the hopes that she will leave him alone; he has an uneasy feeling that she's been trying to talk to him for a while now. Unsurprisingly, he's not that lucky and she falls into step beside him.

"Is everything alright, Rodney?" Teyla asks softly as they make their way to the transporter. "You seemed more distracted than usual at the de-briefing and we can all see that you have been unhappy of late."

At her gentle enquiry, Rodney releases a quiet breath. He knows that Teyla and Heightmeyer have been trying to help the Atlantis' crew talk about their feelings with regards to Elizabeth's death and their re-location, but he had hoped that he'd managed to successfully evade their concerns; he really should have known better. "I'm fine," he answers shortly as they enter the transporter. He knows that she won't be content with that response, but doesn't know what else he can say. He's tired, overworked, over-stressed, grieving, scared, lonely, and whole other bunch of emotions he doesn't really want to go into at the moment. That said, they're all more or less part of how he's felt since the moment he arrived on Atlantis. That he might also be missing one of the people who has helped make the pace of life in Pegasus bearable for him is beside the point and, most likely, entirely his own fault.

The transporter door slides closed behind them and Rodney turns to punch the button for the living quarters. Teyla stills his action with a light touch of his arm and reaches past him to press the button that will take them to the commissary instead.

"I have not yet eaten," she says by way of explanation. "And I would be very grateful if you would join me. Besides," she continues, glancing over at him with an assessing eye, "I am not sure you have eaten appropriately today either."

Rodney thinks back to the rather numerous cups of coffee he's drunk over the past couple of hours and to the decidedly soggy turkey sandwich he ate as a hasty dinner before the meeting and has to reluctantly agree. The transporter door slides open and Rodney waves his hand towards the corridor. "After you," he says.

Teyla smiles up at him as she walks out of the transporter and then turns her head to look back at him questioningly. Rodney rolls his eyes. "Yes, yes, I'm coming," he huffs and proceeds to follow her obediently out of the transporter, down the corridor and into the commissary.

The commissary is even emptier than it had been earlier and Rodney briefly wonders whether it would be worth making some 'I'm very busy and have lots of vitally important things to do' noises in an attempt to avoid further discussion with Teyla of his admittedly fragile emotional state. However, he quickly decides against it when Teyla shoots him a look out of slightly narrowed eyes and, as if she's somehow been able to read his mind, effortlessly relieves him of both his laptop and PDA and places them on a table by one of the large windows. Rodney looks dolefully at them for a moment, but then gives in the inevitable and accompanies Teyla up to where the food is located.

Teyla smiles at Rodney as she picks up a tray for each of them, handing them both to him to hold and, by so doing, makes it blatantly obvious that she is going to be in charge of what they both eat and drink. She fixes them both plates of fresh salad and some of the spiced fish they'd recently obtained from PX5-TQV and completes the meal by brewing a pot of Athosian tea. As he watches her prepare the pot, it suddenly occurs to Rodney that this is something he's used to seeing Teyla do regularly, expect that normally it is she and Elizabeth who share both the meal and the tea. All at once his feelings of reluctance at being here dissipate as he realises that perhaps this meal with Teyla is just as much for her benefit as it is for his. Teyla is his friend and, although he might not quite understand why, he knows that she cares for him deeply, just as he does for her.

Teyla remains silent as they make their way back over to their table, Rodney still carrying both trays of food and Teyla holding the teapot and a couple of mugs. He takes the seat across from her and places her food down as she pours them each a steaming mug of tea. Night has well and truly fallen by now, but two moons produce a surprising amount of light and Rodney can clearly see the breaking crest of every wave that comes lapping up on the pier far below them.

When Rodney looks back over to Teyla, he finds that she too is staring out the window. "There are times," she says slowly, "when I find it hard to believe that so much has changed."

"I'm sorry," Rodney says baldly and, even thought he knows his apology probably sounds clumsy, he hopes that Teyla can hear his sincerity. "You… um… you used to do this with Elizabeth, didn't you? Share dinner together and…" he breaks off uncomfortably, waving a hand in front of him to encompass their meal and drinks.

Teyla turns back to face him. "Yes," she replies with sadness in her eyes. "But now Elizabeth has gone, and I must accept that." She lowers her face to her plate, picks up her fork and starts to eat. At a loss of how to respond, Rodney does likewise.

"If there is one thing I have learned in my life," Teyla says several minutes later, "it is that we must accept that which we cannot change and that we must hold onto those for whom we care for as long as we can. Elizabeth was one of my dearest friends; she was a good leader and a kind, passionate, brave and loyal person. I miss her deeply and will do so every day of my life."

Rodney nods in agreement, because it is true, and takes another bite of fish.

"But," Teyla continues, raising her head to look directly at Rodney. "I can continue to live my life and cherish my memories of her secure in the knowledge that we had many happy times together while we had the chance." As she finishes speaking, Teyla puts down her cutlery and picks up her tea, cradling the mug in both of her hands and taking a delicate sip before regarding Rodney thoughtfully over the rim.

"Ah," Rodney says because, while he may be somewhat oblivious, he isn't completely clueless. "Yes, I see." He can feel himself start to flush, but Teyla's gaze is kind. "I'm supposed to be meeting with Sheppard tonight to… um… talk," he tells her softly, lowering his eyes and studying his own teacup intently as he speaks.

Teyla reaches out and covers one of Rodney's fidgeting hands with her own. "I am glad," she says. "Neither of you has been happy lately."

"Well, it's not exactly been a barrel of laughs around here for anyone," Rodney replies with a snort.

"No," Teyla acknowledges. "But I think you and John are always happier when you can share your burden with each other."

Rodney nods, "Like you and Elizabeth," he says.

Teyla smiles, "Like we did," she corrects. "But we are all family here, Rodney. And we can share our burdens with each other."

"Yes, I know," Rodney replies softly, realising that it is true.

"Hey, guys," Sheppard's voice floats over to them from across the room, breaking the intensity of the moment.

"Hello, John," Teyla replies, turning her head towards him with a smile as he approaches. "You are looking for Rodney?" she asks.

"Yeah," John says to her and then looks over at him. "You ready?" he asks.

"Yes, yes, I'm ready. Let's go," Rodney replies to John, rising awkwardly to his feet as he collects together the remains of his dinner. He gathers up Teyla's plate as well, leaving the warm teapot with her as she's still holding her half-full cup. When he's ready to leave, he looks over to her. "Thank you," he says with feeling.

"You are most welcome, Rodney," Teyla replies smoothly. "I will see you both in the morning."

"Night," John answers cheerily, smiling at Teyla before turning to watch Rodney try to carry two trays, two plates, his laptop and his PDA without dropping everything on the floor in a broken mess.

"Oh, for goodness sake," Rodney snaps as John's smile notches up to a grin. He rolls his eyes and thrusts the trays and dirty plates at John who reaches out to take them automatically. "At least make yourself useful and do something sensible with these," he orders as he starts heading for the exit. "And take that moronic grin off your face; you look brain-damaged."

As Rodney's departing words echo across the commissary, John grin widens and he shrugs helplessly at Teyla before dispensing with the dinner trays Rodney had pawned off on him. He then follows Rodney from the room, his slightly longer stride meaning that he catches up with the other man before he's reached the transporter. John had been pleasantly surprised to find Rodney and Teyla together when he'd managed to track Rodney down after his impromptu meeting with Carter. They had looked happy and comfortable together – plus Teyla had Rodney eating something other than pre-processed food and drinking something other than coffee. That in itself is a minor miracle, but then again, he's found that Teyla is capable of a surprising number of those.

"So," John says as he comes to stand beside Rodney at the transporter. "You trading the coffee in for tea then?"

Rodney grimaces and looks over at John. "Teyla," he says by way of explanation.

"Hmm," John hums in agreement. "Just be glad you don't have to train with her."

"Oh, please," Rodney replies. "Like you don't love every minute of it."

In lieu of a response, John just smiles and ushers Rodney into the transporter. "Your place or mine?" he asks as he selects the button for the living quarters.

Rodney's eyes narrow at this. "I was promised beer," he says. "Molson's no less, you'd better not be holding out on me, Sheppard."

John holds his hands up in mock surrender. "Okay, mine it is."

This time, the walk down the corridor is a vast improvement on the one they'd done earlier in the day. It's almost as if once John had come to the decision that he was determined to re-build his friendship with Rodney and made the first tentative steps to reaching out to the other man, Rodney is only too happy to reply in kind. At least it bodes well for their future prospects.

The door to John's quarters swoosh open easily with the merest brush of his mind, the lights coming on automatically to the level at which John likes them. Rodney follows John in somewhat cautiously, setting his laptop and PDA down on John's desk and then standing uncertainly in the centre of the room. Keen to put Rodney at his ease, John grabs a couple of beers from the little fridge he keeps stocked beside his closet and hands one to Rodney whilst indicating he should take a seat. Rodney grasps the proffered beer tightly, seemingly thankful to have something with which to occupy his hands, and sits down in John's desk chair. John takes a seat opposite him on the corner of his bed, twisting off the top of his beer as he does. Rodney does likewise and John leans forward with his palm outstretched to take Rodney's bottle top. As Rodney hands it over, his fingers brush lightly across the skin of John's palm, making him shiver. Rodney draws his hand back quickly, flushing slightly at the brief contact, and John takes a long sip of his beer and mentally prepares himself for what needs, no, has to be said.

Rodney takes a long drink himself, closing his eyes as he swallows and for a moment John finds himself hypnotised by the movement of Rodney's long, pale throat. Once he realises what he's doing, John averts his gaze and takes another steadying mouthful of beer.

"So," Rodney says. "We were supposed to… you know..." He waves the hand not clutching the beer bottle in the air in a descriptive gesture, "talk?"

"Yeah," John agrees, but no further words are forthcoming and, for once, Rodney doesn't seem to be any more eager than John is to fill the silence.

"Okay," John says decisively after a while, putting his almost empty beer bottle down on his night stand and leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "So I think we need to talk things out so that we can get back to-"

"I'm sorry," Rodney says, the softly spoken words interrupting John's admittedly uneven flow.


"I'm sorry," Rodney repeats, looking at John with his blue eyes wide and appealing. "For getting so mad that night, I didn't mean to get so upset, or to… you know…" Rodney trails off then, looking more and more unhappy with each passing second.

John swallows thickly. "Yeah, I know," he replies. "I am too… sorry that is," he leans back again and raises a hand to scrub against the back of his neck, a nervous habit he hasn't ever been able to break. "I was just so pissed at everything that evening and I took it out on you. It wasn't your fault, it was mine."

"Yeah, well," Rodney said, twirling his hands uncomfortable around each other and the bottle he's still holding. "I did, you know, disobey your orders and everything."

"You had your reasons," John forces himself to acknowledge. "And that still doesn't excuse me… you know…"

"Going off on one?" Rodney fills in for him. "No, it doesn't. But then it doesn't excuse me either. I was worked up too, you know. Tired and confused and, just, well… everything."


"Yeah." Rodney replies with a small crooked smile and takes another long sip of his beer.

John feels something in him relax at Rodney's simple acceptance, but there is still one more topic to be broached. The larger one, if he's honest, and the one that, whether he wants to admit it or not, that is probably at the root of the unease between them, for him at any rate. It seems like Rodney is perfectly happy to forgive John for behaving like an asshole, but John knows that he needs to make Rodney understand that, despite what might have occurred, the only kind of lasting relationship John is capable of maintaining is one of friendship.

"So," he starts warily. "About the other… um… thing." John looks over at Rodney who is studiously avoiding his eye. "Well… I… what I mean to say is…"

"Sheppard, please," Rodney says, sounding resigned again and starting to flush. "Can we just… I don't know… forget it? I mean, I get it – really I do… and it's fine."

"Rodney?" John asks, not daring to believe that it could be this simple. "Are you sure? Do you really understand why I can't-"

"Yes," Rodney cuts John off quickly as he answers. He looks up at John this time and John thinks he sees a shadow of something dark pass across Rodney's eyes before they return to their normal colour of intense blue. "I understand," Rodney is saying. "I really do. Look, neither one of us is any good at this, so let's just drop it. Please, John."

As always, Rodney's use of John's first name strikes a chord deep inside John which always urges John to give Rodney whatever it is that he wants. "Okay," he says, not sure if he should be relieved and pleased or unnerved and disappointed by this outcome. "We okay, then?" he asks before he can stop himself.

Rodney nods. "Yes," he says firmly. "Fine," he says pointing at himself. "And cool," he says pointing at John.

John can't help but laugh at this. "Nah," he counters. "I think we're both pretty damn cool."

John is awake bright and early the next morning, ready to face the day even before his alarm goes off. He hadn't realised just how badly he'd been sleeping lately until he'd had a night of really good sleep. After their talk last night, he and Rodney started to take the first few cautious steps back into their friendship. They'd cracked open another couple of beers each and sat slouched side by side on John's bed talking and half watching old episodes of Battlestar Galactica on Rodney's laptop. It had been nice – comfortable, normal and just what John needed after months of uncertainty, stress and loneliness.

He's waiting at the base of the central tower a good few minutes before he's due to meet Ronon for their morning run. Even though it's not yet half-past six, the sky is already lit by the rising sun, bright and cheery as it reflects against the ocean and starts to chase away the shadows from the towers of the city. John warms up slowly as he waits, jogging in pace for several minutes before starting a series of light stretches to warm up his muscles.

Ronon arrives a few minutes later, grinning at John's obvious enthusiasm and wondering aloud whether it means that he's actually up to giving him a challenge this morning. John rolls his eyes and they set off together on their usual route, falling into the pace at which they normally run; one which pushes John just a touch harder than he'd like and which is slightly too gentle for Ronon, but one to which they can both keep. The steady beat of their footfalls on the deck lulls John's mind into a state of peace; with his team mate at his side, his best friend's friendship confirmed, and his body flexing and straining at his command, John starts to truly believe that his life can go back to normal. Or at least what resembles normal in Pegasus.

Ten klicks and a little under forty minutes later they're back at the tower, John panting hard and sweating copiously. He grabs their towels and water while Ronon checks their time.

"Not bad, Sheppard," Ronon says with a huge grin, looking up from his watch.

"What did we do?" John asks, still panting and handing over one of the towels and water bottles to Ronon.

Ronon takes both, slinging the towel around his shoulders and opening the water. "Thirty-eight fifty," he says, sounding, to John's ears at least, annoyingly not out of breath.

"Hmm," John hums, still concentrating on getting his breathing under control, but pleased with their time nevertheless. "And you complain I slow you down," he says.

"I won't if you keep this up," Ronon replies with a grin which lets John know that he will be upping the pace of their next run.

John grins in return and twists off the cap of his water bottle, forcing himself to take no more than a few of slow measured mouthfuls at first. He then wipes down his face, neck and chest with his towel. "I'll do my best," he promises.

A light breeze is coming in from across the ocean and John turns towards it, closing his eyes and turning his head upwards slightly so that it hits his face and ruffles through his sweat-soaked hair. The sun has risen still further during their run and it seems as though it is going to be another clear day. John opens his eyes to look out over the ocean and feels Ronon come to stand beside him.

"Nice planet," he comments.

"Yeah," John agrees. "You seen much of it yet?"

"Not really," Ronon replies. "Not so much call for it now that the Athosians are settled on New Athos rather than somewhere here. You?"

"Likewise," John says. "I've done a few jumper sweeps from low orbit." He rolls his shoulders and then eases down into a calf stretch, using the railing of the pier to steady himself. "What I'd really like to do is take a jumper and do some aerial reconnaissance of the whole planet, rather than just relying on scans. Get a real feel for the place, you know?"

"You gonna do that today?" Ronon asks. "We're not scheduled for another mission until tomorrow."

John shakes his head, pushing away from the edge of the pier and starting on his quad stretches. "Nah," he says. "I don't have time today, I've got a ton of paperwork to get through, several meetings with Carter and Lorne and then I promised Rodney that I'd head down to the Science department to help him test an Ancient doo-hickey that they can't seem to get working."

"So, does that mean that you've finally got things together with McKay?" Ronon asks, pausing in his stretching to look over at John.

John freezes, unsure as to whether Ronon really meant to imply what he sounds like he's implying. "Yeah," he answers slowly, coming out of his final stretch and grabbing his towel and water bottle so he can head back to his quarters to shower. "We worked things out last night – cleared the air between us and we're now back to being friends."

Ronon looks at John for a moment more, but then nods. "Whatever you say Sheppard," he says mildly as he follows John back inside the city.

Rodney's day has been tolerable thus far; naturally there have been a couple of minor crises which had required averting (both of which were precipitated by one of their newest recruits who had so far not learned that connecting data crystals to the mainframe without properly isolating the sub-system in question was not the best of ideas), a fair amount of tedium with which to put up with (i.e. paperwork – the writing and reading of) and a meeting of his sub-department heads to chair (which was saved from also being included under the classification of tedium by a rather interesting discussion about the potential of some of the Replicator base code he'd managed to download whilst SGA-1 was on their homeworld), but now, with his regular duties dealt with, he can move on to more interesting things. He has a freshly-brewed cup of coffee at his side, a new directory open on his laptop, a mysterious Ancient device just waiting to be investigated, and his best friend due to come play light-switch for him any minute. Rodney smiles – life is good.

Rodney is still pleasantly surprised at how well things had gone between him and Sheppard the previous evening. He had been envisaging a much longer and far more painful discussion, but John had seemed just as keen as he was to make amends and they hadn't had to dredge up too many painful memories or face any truths which might have been potentially harmful to them resuming their friendship. Rodney had, as he usually did, taken his cues on how to behave from John – observing, accepting and moving on. True, he had been the first to apologise, but only because it had quickly become patently obvious, first, just how uncomfortable John was with the whole process of talking things out - like Rodney didn't know that already – and, second, that John had been trying to reach out to Rodney all day. Besides which, Rodney had felt just as badly as John obviously did about their argument and was just as keen to resume their friendship.

The fact that Rodney would have happily resumed more than just their friendship is something upon which he will no longer dwell. Realist and pessimist he reminds himself firmly – John... no, Sheppard, had a momentary lapse in judgement; he didn't really want Rodney, hadn't, didn't, never will. Not like that at any rate. Rodney had been happy before with just John's friendship and he is determined to be happy with only that again. And even though he wants more, at least he'd had John – he now knows what it was like to be held and kissed by John, and knows that he has given him pleasure and comfort in return. It is enough; it will have to be.

"You ready for me, McKay?" Sheppard's voice echoes across the lab.

Always, Rodney thinks before he can stop himself, still caught up in his thoughts. However, "You're late," is what he actually says, ruthlessly quashing the greedy part of him which will forever want more, reminding it that having Sheppard at all is what is most important. Rodney steels himself by swallowing a mouthful of coffee and swivels his chair around to face the doorway.

"Sorry," John replies as he saunters into the lab proper. "Lorne collared me in the corridor – something about mission schedules."

"Ah," Rodney replies. "Now while I'm sure that was indeed fascinating for you both, I can assure you that there are far more interesting and important things that need doing down here."

"Yes, of course, Rodney," Sheppard replies smoothly, coming up to stand beside Rodney "Is that it?" he asks, with a nod in the direction of the small metallic-looking sphere that is sitting on Rodney's desk.

Rodney rolls his eyes. "No, that's just my very expensive and decidedly Ancient-looking paperweight," he replies sarcastically. "Of course that is it."

John ignores Rodney's sarcasm and reaches out a hand towards the device. Rodney watches, curious to see whether it will react to John's touch. Both of the scientists who had done the preliminary analysis of the device are fairly strong ATA gene-carriers, but the device had remained inert to their attempts to activate it. Rodney'd had no better luck, although this doesn't really surprise him given that most of the Ancient tech that doesn't respond to a natural gene-carrier is likewise reluctant to respond to his artificial gene. Therefore, in situations like this, it is Sheppard's gene to which Rodney turns.

John's hand hovers a few centimeters shy of the device and he turns his head to look at Rodney. "Aren't you going to squawk at me not to touch it?" he asks.

Rodney resists the urge to roll his eyes again. "No," he says with what he feels is imminent calm. "You not touching it would rather defeat the purpose of you being here – you're supposed to be helping me turn it on!"

"Oh, yeah, right," Sheppard says, looking a little sheepish.

"And I never squawk," Rodney adds as an after thought. John just raises an eyebrow at Rodney as he reaches his hand across the last little distance to pick up the device.

The device is perfectly spherical with a radius of 6.25 centimeters and weights approximately 5.5 kilograms. It's fabricated, as far as their scans have been able to make out, of an alloy which comprises naquadah and some other metallic element they have yet to identify. The surface is highly reflective and is covered at its equator by a long string of stylised Ancient symbols.

"Hmm," Sheppard hums as he holds the globe carefully in front of his chest using both hands to support its weight. He rotates it slowly, studying the markings on its surface with deliberate intent. "It's heavier than it looks, isn't it," he remarks as he raises his head to meet Rodney's eye. "So, you don't have any idea what it does?"

Rodney shakes his head. "I'm afraid not," he admits. "It was discovered a few months ago in one of the rooms just off the lab where we found the Ascension device."

John freezes at Rodney's words for a second before surging into almost frantic action. Before Rodney realises what he's doing, John practically flings the device back down onto Rodney's desk, grabs Rodney by his left arm and propels him towards the door of the lab, moving to place his body between Rodney and his desk. No more than a blink of an eye later and John is standing facing outwards into the lab, his body blocking Rodney from whatever harm seems about to come their way, his weapon already in his hand.

Rodney is at first terrified out of his wits, but when a couple of minutes pass with no sign of the expected explosion, Rodney starts to wonder just what the hell is going on. "Um, Sheppard?" Rodney says to the back of John's neck from his new position, pressed tightly into an alcove near the door by Sheppard's body.

He feels, rather than sees, John take a deep breath before starting to move cautiously into the lab. Rodney pushes himself away from the wall and is about to follow him when he's stopped by John placing a hand on his chest and pressing him back into the cover of the alcove. "Stay here, Rodney," he hisses, his tone brooking no argument.

Rodney stays, watching as Sheppard carefully approaches the desk with his weapon held at the ready. It isn't until John reaches out and taps the device with the barrel of gun that Rodney realises what has been going on in John's mind. When he does, he comes out of the alcove fully and walks over to stand next to John, who is still looking down at the device with equal parts suspicion and hate.

"I though I told you to stay put, Rodney," he growls, his left hand coming up to fist in the front of Rodney's uniform jacket, forcibly holding him away from the device.

"It's not dangerous," Rodney says to John, gesturing to the device with one hand. "It's not even operational at the moment. And even if it were, there is no way it could possibly channel the energy needed to force anyone's body into ascension."

John's shoulders relax a tad at Rodney's assurances, his hand loosening its grip on Rodney slightly. "You sure about that?" he asks, his focus still on the device.

In answer, Rodney reaches past John and grabs his scanner from his desk, making sure not to move too fast as John is still looking rather twitchy. He runs a quick scan of the device from his current position even though John is partially in the way. He turns the screen towards John so he can see the results. "You see," he says, tapping the screen impatiently. "No power, not a jot – it's not going to do anything. At least not unless we can a.) fix it, b.) work out what it is supposed to do and c.) turn it on." He counts off his points on his free hand.

John's eyes move from the scan results in Rodney's hands to the device on his desk and back again. Eventually he looks up into Rodney's face and, to Rodney's relief, slides his weapon back into his thigh-holster and releases his grip on Rodney's jacket completely. "And that's what I'm here for," he says.

"Yes," Rodney answers, resisting the urge to pat him. "That is what you are here for. You're on light-switch duty this afternoon, no heroic self-sacrifices required."

John nods, turning back to the device and then slanting Rodney a grin from over his shoulder. "I think I can handle that."

"Good," Rodney says with a smile of his own. "Now sit down and see if you can get anything from it." He pushes John down into his desk chair and reaches out to hand him the device. John beats him to it though, almost as if he's still reluctant to let Rodney touch the device again, picking it up carefully and going back to studying the design on its surface.

"So, let me get this straight," Sheppard drawls on he's finished his perusal. "It isn't registering any power output, you're not really sure what it's supposed to do, it was found in a room next to the device that almost killed you, and you're pretty sure it's broken," he stills and looks up at Rodney. "Why are we interested in it again?"

Rodney sighs. "Well," he starts, reaching out for his coffee mug and taking a sip. "You make several good points." He ignores Sheppard's grin in favour of continuing. "First, the fact that it isn't producing an energy signature yet is a good thing – it means we can continue to investigate it without undue worry. Second, that it was found in close proximity to the Ascension device is part of its appeal. From what we've been able to gather about that wing of the city, it was used for the development of new technologies-"

"Yeah, to do with Ascension," Sheppard interrupts him with a sharp look.

"Perhaps," Rodney concedes. "But, not necessarily with the sole purpose of attaining ascension. I mean, just think about how the city works – it is all designed around user integration with the technology via the ATA gene," Rodney can feel himself getting excited and the myriad of possibilities flood through his brain. "Sheppard, you flew the entire city through hyperspace by means of the relatively small effort of linking your mind to the city's AI. If that is what normal Ancient tech can do, just think at what else they could be working on."

John is looking at him, his hazel eyes wide with as much wonder as Rodney knows is showing on his face. "Okay," he says slowly. "I'll admit you've got me interested, Rodney, but you gotta know that I'm not likely to forget having to watch you die as a result of that failed Ancient experiment." Rodney's about to argue that this is a very different case, but John raises a hand to forestall him. "Let's just take it slowly and I'll do what I can to help."

"That's all I ask," Rodney assures him seriously, but his grin breaks out after a few moments and he rubs his hands together in glee. "Okay, now let's get started." John grins back and, in that moment, Rodney feels another wave of happiness flood through him. This will be enough, he tells himself as they start work, it has to be.

An hour later and they're still deeply engrossed; Rodney with their joint experimentation on the device and John with watching Rodney work. He acknowledges to himself that it probably isn't the wisest thing do to, especially given their newly re-evaluated friendship, but John can't seem to help himself. Rodney at work is just... well… mesmerising. With his blue eyes alight with the thrill of discovery, his large hands moving over his computer, the device and in the air with their usual expressive grace, and his running commentary babbling away merrily in John's ear, he is captivating to say the least. All the more reason, John reminds himself, for him to keep his distance – spending time with McKay like this is something he can't bear to lose, the past few months have shown him that. Thank goodness last night's conversation had gone well and that John had realised, before it was too late, that wanting any more was both dangerous and selfish. He can't imagine what it would be like to have to continue living on Atlantis and not have some kind of relationship with Rodney, even if he knows he can't have the kind of relationship he may truly want. No, this is good, John thinks, this easy friendship is enough; to attempt to get more would only result in him losing everything.

"Right, try it now," Rodney is saying, his voice breaking across John's thoughts.

John carefully takes the device from Rodney's outstretched hands and holds it in his cupped palms. He reaches out with his mind, searching for the ephemeral connection he instinctively or, rather, to put it more accurately, genetically, has with Ancient technology. This time, unlike his previous attempts, he gets something. Not much, and certainly nothing to indicate that the device is working yet, but there's definitely...

"Something," John says aloud.

Rodney immediately turns to face him, scanner forgotten at his side. "You can sense it?" he asks excitedly.

"Yeah," John says, tilting his head to one side while he searches for the right way to describe what he's picking up. "It's like... an echo," he says at last. "Very faint, but definitely there."

Rodney hums in satisfaction. "So we're on the right track," he says, plucking the device from John's grasp and setting carefully into the hold he's created for it out of a set of swivel clamps.

The last hour or so have been spent trawling the Ancient database of clues as to what the device could be (mostly John) and carefully dismantling it in an attempt to see if it can be repaired (mostly Rodney). John's search of the database has pretty much a bust, Rodney's scientists having already gone through most of the archives which detail the Ascension device and other assorted technology associated with that section of the city. They have, however, discovered that the engravings that look like writing around the sphere are not actually writing, but rather part of an opening mechanism. Together they carefully managed to prise the device apart, revealing a highly complex array of miniature crystal and circuitry. At that point, Rodney had been practically incandescent with joy and John had sat back to enjoy the sight of Rodney in full scientist mode.

"Hmm," Rodney says as he carefully exposes the circuitry again. "Maybe if I give it just a little more power, you'll be able to activate it properly this time."

"Yeah," John agrees. "I don't think it's broken any more, whatever you did with your," he fumbles for the correct word for the tool Rodney is using, "sonic screwdriver-type thingy seemed to do the trick. I think it just needs more power now."

Rodney pauses in his repairs, looking first at John and then down to the instrument in his hand. His mouth pulls into a crooked smile and he snorts in amusement. "Geek," he says affectionately as he turns his attention back to the device.

John smiles and settles back to watch at Rodney work. His fingers, which look so blunt and clumsy, are anything but as he reconnects the device's delicate circuitry to the mobile power charger he's rigged up especially for the purpose. John has to work hard to ignore the sensations which threaten to obscure his mind of how it had felt to have those hands touch him with equal care and dedication. Not worth the risk, he tells himself firmly, you'd only fuck everything up again and this time you'd lose him for good.

It doesn't take long before Rodney has the device charged to his satisfaction, unhooking the power source and then seamlessly fusing the two halves again. That his work has been successful is apparent the moment John picks it up, the calligraphy around the middle lighting up with a brief flash of blue.

"Hey," John says in surprise, almost dropping the sphere as a small charge of current flows from his fingertips and up the length of his arm.

"Oh," Rodney echoes in awe, hands already reaching for his scanner. "Are you getting anything from it?"

"I…um…" John stutters as he tries to work out what is going on. The tingling sensation had dissipated almost as quickly as it had come and now all he can sense is the low hum at the base of his brain that he usually gets whenever he interfaces with Ancient technology. He'd noticed it from the first moment they'd arrived in Atlantis – the light buzz of the city responding to his ATA gene and had learned fairly quickly how to tap into it so that he could make the city and its technology work. Over time, he's noticed that the 'sound' of each different piece of equipment has a slightly different timbre; the jumpers have a light, almost melodic, hum in contrast to the deeper vibration of the Chair.

"Sheppard?" Rodney asks.

As John probes the device with his mind, he's vaguely aware of Rodney at his side, circling him almost constantly as he runs scans of the device's activity. He's talking to John as well, something about 'low level energy emissions' and 'a steady power flow rate', but nothing more penetrates until Rodney says his name again.


As always, hearing his first name on Rodney's lips has the power to get through to John. "I'm fine," he tries to reassures Rodney. "I'm just trying to get a handle on what this thing does."

John tries closing his eyes help him concentrate better, something that helps him control the Chair, and reaches out again for the device, following the small pulses of sensation that prickle behind his eyelids. This time, when the device releases its low-level charge, John is ready for it. He allows the device to connect with his mind, querying it as he does when he's flying one of the jumpers and requests telemetry. He feels the hum of response and feels a vague sense of purpose start to coalesce in his consciousness. He's just about grasped the essence of it when the device cuts off suddenly, abruptly releasing his mind and returning to its inert state. John opens his eyes slowly to find Rodney kneeling in front of him with a concerned look in his eyes and one of his hands resting on his leg, the heat of his palm bleeding through into John's thigh. John feels a bolt of pure lust shoot through him at the sight.

"John?" Rodney repeats in concern, his hand tightening on John's leg and his face hovering mere inches from John's.

It would be so easy just to lean forward and… John clears his throat and wills down his arousal, so not part of the plan. "I'm fine," he grits. He pushes his chair back, moving away from Rodney and puts the device down on Rodney's desk. He does not see the flash of disappointment in Rodney's eyes or the little downturn of his mouth. When he turns back to Rodney, it is as if nothing had happened; he is merely holding his scanner and regarding John with nothing more than professional interest.

"My scan isn't picking up anything out of the ordinary, either in you, Colonel, or in the device," he says, standing back up stiffly.

John sighs internally; so he's back to being the 'Colonel', perhaps it is for the best. "I think it scanned me," he tells Rodney.

"It did? Really?" Rodney looks at him with real interest now, practically vibrating with scientific curiosity. "What did it do? Are you feeling okay? I mean, I'm pretty sure it doesn't have the power to actually do anything harmful, but perhaps we better take you to see Keller, just in case. Not that I put any stock into her mumbo-jumbo scans and, seriously, are we really sure she's properly qualified because she can't be more than about 25, but it is probably better to be sa-"

"Rodney, I'm fine," John cuts across Rodney's babble before he works himself up into a full panic attack. "It didn't do anything to me, it was just…" he pauses, searching for the correct word. "Taking readings, I think."

"Readings?" Rodney asks, looking at the device with some trepidation and then back to John, his eyes wide.

"Yeah," John replies. "I think that it might be some sort of communication device, at least the prototype of one."

Rodney's eyes narrow. "What makes you say that?"

"Well, there's a kind of… feeling I get from Ancient tech," he tries to explain as best he can. "You know, like what a certain device is for, or what it does. Do you know what I mean?"

"Hmm," Rodney hums, looking thoughtful. "I think so," he says slowly. "I mean, I only experienced it the once, but then I suppose I don't have your super-gene." John rolls his eyes at this but otherwise lets Rodney continue. "More like an instinct, right?"

John nods, "Something like that. It's almost as though the jumpers tell me they need to fly or the Chair says that it wants to protect the city." He feels his hand rise as he rubs the back of his neck in an unconscious gesture of unease; he feels silly taking about this. "I know it sounds ridiculous, but…"

"No," Rodney says. "No, it doesn't sound ridiculous at all – John, you've got to realise by now that that's how Ancient technology works. It creates a mental bond with an individual, the bond is facilitated through the user's genetic characteristics, sure, but the connection is still a mental one."

"Okay," John says, feeling slightly less ludicrous by Rodney's willing acceptance of his explanation. "So now what?"

Rodney turns back to his scanner and studies the readings once more. "Well, now it's doing nothing," he reports, gesturing towards the device. "The question really is, what do you think it should be doing? It told you it was a communication device – what kind?"

John sighs. "That's what I'm not sure about. I think in took a scan of my brain – like it was 'tuning' itself to me."

"Okay," Rodney says slowly, starting to pace up and down in front of John like he usually did when he was thinking. "So it's an Ancient communication device which calibrates itself to the person who wants to use it." He pauses for a moment and looks at John, apparently for confirmation. When John nods in agreement, Rodney resumes his pacing. "Right, and what we know of Ancient technology would seem to suggest the communication might well take the form of a mental link. I mean, the jumpers do what you think them to do, so it would be logical to assume that this device will communicate what you think it to communicate." Rodney stops pacing and spins around to look at John.

"You mean like telepathy?" John asks. "Cool!"

"Well, let's not jump to conclusions," Rodney warns, but John can see the excitement on his face. "We need more data. Hmm, I wonder if I tried hooking the device up the Atlantis mainframe…"

"Or we could try actually using the device," John suggested.

Rodney looked at him askance. "It's not working," he said, waving his scanner in front of John's face. "No power, remember?"

John closes his eyes for a moment, checking, and yes, it's still there, humming away lightly at the base of his brain. He opens his eyes and reaches out to pick up the device. "I think that's just because it doesn't know who I want to communicate with yet," he says, holding the device out towards Rodney.

Rodney snaps his fingers, catching John's meaning instantly and grinning at him. "Of course," he says as he takes the device. "I wonder if it will work with my artificial… oh!" He gasps in surprise as the device immediately pulses with a bright flash of blue light.

"I guess it works for you, after all," John smirks.

"Wow," Rodney murmurs. "I see what you mean about it scanning you," he says to John, his eyes still focused on the device in his hand. "It's like being you're being finger-printed."

"Brain-printed," John suggests and Rodney snorts.

Like it did for John, after about a minute the device suddenly goes dark and inert once more. Rodney looks momentarily disappointed, but gets over it quickly, replacing the device carefully on his desk and picking up his scanner. John watches as he carefully scans the device, then John and then finally himself. "Hmm," he concludes.

"What?" John asks.

Rodney flaps a hand in John's general direction but otherwise ignores him completely as his fingers fly over his scanner. Mumbling under his breath, he shoos John out of his chair and then pulls his laptop towards him. Soon he's engrossed again, connecting his scanner to his laptop and then switching to the mainframe to study the results further. After ten minutes of frantic typing and muttered mumblings, Rodney turns to look at John. "I think you're right," he proclaims with a grin.

John blinks, but then quickly covers up his surprise by grabbing another chair, spinning it around backwards and then straddling it. "Of course," he replies, but then has to ask. "How exactly?"

Rodney frowns at John's posture for a moment with something that looks a lot like jealousy on his face, but then shakes his head and gets back to the matter at hand. "What I mean is that you are correct about the device, as far as I can tell anyway. My scans seem to indicate that one of its mini-data storage crystals now has a significant of data in it, roughly twice as much as when I first scanned you. It would be logical to assume that it now holds information on both of us – that it's now calibrated to both our neural patterns."

"So, do you think it will work now? Maybe it's ready to transmit our mental communications?" John asks, barely able to contain his excitement. How amazing would this be if it were to work? What a tactical advantage it would give them in the field, to be in constant contact with each other without the need to rely on radios.

Rodney shrugs, "I don't know," he replies. "Only one way to find out," he grins at John, scanner at the ready. "Go on," he urges. "Try to contact me."

John reaches out with his mind towards the still-present thrum of the device. 'Rodney,' he thinks hard, 'can you hear me?'


Rodney obviously can't hear him, but he's looking at John with such excited anticipation that John feels compelled to try again. He closes his eyes this time, doing his best to focus his thoughts and project his words clearly to the device. 'Rodney, I have four bars of dark chocolate hidden in my quarters.'

Still no reaction – it's definitely not working then. John opens his eyes in time to see Rodney consult his scanner's display and then turn to the device. "Nothing," he says with a disappointed sigh. "I'm not getting anything," he expands, twirling a finger around his head, "and nothing is registering on the device."

John frowns in disappointment. "Again?" he asks.

Rodney looks over at him. "Yeah, okay," he concedes. "I'll try harder this time – maybe I have to mentally 'listen' or something."

They try for the next half an hour, taking turns at 'transmitting' and 'listening', one of them holding the device, switching places, both of them in contact with it, all to no avail. Rodney's scans don't pick up any indications that the device is functioning, even though the data crystal still seems to contain information pertaining to his and Rodney's mental functions. Rodney is starting to dismantle the device for what must be at least the fiftieth time when John decides that they've both had enough.

"Come on, buddy," John says, standing up and moving to stand behind Rodney's chair. Without thinking about it, he reaches out and places his hands on either side of Rodney's neck, squeezing his taut shoulders firmly. "Let's call it a night. We've a mission tomorrow and it doesn't seem likely that we're going to get this thing to work."

Rodney sighs and lets his head fall back at the touch of John's hands. They both freeze like that for just a moment, John with his hands holding tightly to the broad expanse of Rodney's shoulders and Rodney with his head thrown back, resting against John's chest, his eyes closed in obvious pleasure at John's touch. Suddenly Rodney's eyes fly open wide in shock and, despite himself, John notices that they are also slightly glazed with arousal. For a fraction of a second John is tempted to bend down and press his mouth against…

John pulls his hands away from Rodney's body as quickly as he can, moving back several paces and turning his body away from Rodney while he tries to collect himself. This is in no way acceptable, he tells himself harshly. He wants to remain friends with Rodney and, therefore, some distance is required. Surely he's already learned that inappropriate touching leads to inadvisable kissing which in turn leads to… insanely good sex – no – the inevitable loss of his best friend. That thought is as good as a cold shower and he is able to turn back to Rodney without the fear that he letting too much of himself show. Rodney is still in his chair with his back to John, the tight line of his shoulders visibly radiating his discomfort and embarrassment.

"So," John says lightly. "Can I lure you away with the promise of dinner, coffee, and more sci-fi?"

Rodney's shoulders relax infinitesimally as he turns to smile crookedly at John. "I suppose so," he says. "Although you owe me at least one session of light-bulb duty when your wonder-gene actually works," he grumbles as he turns to finish tidying up his desk.

"I promise that all my genes will be in perfect working order tomorrow," John replies lightly as he starts to usher Rodney out of the lab and heads towards the transporters and commissary.

The planet is lush, green and dark, a veritable tropical rainforest complete with suffocating humidity and infuriating biting insects. Rodney is convinced that the insects are actually some sort of hybrid Wraith-mosquitoes – sucking a minute of your life away with each bite and leaving nothing but an itchy welt and an extra grey hair in return. Still, he is resolved to make the best of this mission, sludgy ground and dripping vegetation notwithstanding. Besides, you never know what you were going to find on a new planet – surely the entire galaxy can't just be full of life-sucking insects, killer robots, and crazed neo-Nazis. No, on this planet they are going to find something of value.

Rodney had made a decision just last night to be more positive in his overall outlook. He'd been sitting shoulder to shoulder with John in his quarters, drinking beer and watching a movie on his laptop. Rodney had been feeling happy and relaxed, despite having had no success with getting the Ancient device to work, he and John had worked companionably together. The fact that they were now spending their leisure time together was just the icing on the cake. Then John had reached across Rodney to put his beer bottle down on the bedside table and Rodney had suddenly been hit by a surge of lust as John's warm body had come into such close contact. Rodney'd had to clench his hands into fists to prevent himself from reaching out and touching John in return. He'd spent the entire rest of the evening in a state of almost constant arousal, desperately trying to detract attention from his half-hard cock and forcibly stopping himself from doing something stupid like twining his hands in John's unruly hair and crushing their mouths together. Even the knowledge that John didn't want him like that was of only limited use. It had been with both sorrow and relief that the evening had drawn to a close and John had finally left. It had been then that Rodney had come to his decision. He is not going to let something as insignificant his misplaced desires destroy the best friendship he's ever had. He's spent a happy three years on Atlantis secure in the knowledge that John, though undoubtedly attractive, will never be more to him than a platonic friend. He can and will return to that state of mind.

Ducking under the large branch of a vine-covered tree, Rodney re-focuses his attention on the mission. He can see Ronon up ahead of him, hacking his way through the thick undergrowth.

"What are we doin'?!" Ronon complains as he dismembers with particular violence what appears to Rodney to be nothing more harmful than a red flower.

"Exploring the Pegasus galaxy," Rodney replies. "It's what we do."

Ronon pauses in his efforts to decimate the forest single-handedly. "You know what I meant," he says looking back at Rodney.

"There certainly doesn't appear to be anything here that would help in our fight against the Wraith or the Replicators," Teyla adds, sounding tired. Rodney flashes her a quick look of concern, from the dark circles under her eyes he surmises that she's still having trouble sleeping.

"Come on; you guys kill me!" Rodney says, trying to inject some enthusiasm into his team. "Planets are huge, you know."

" Yeah, and usually you're the one complaining," Ronon replies with a grimace as a vine hanging across their path seems to be putting up some resistance to his knife.

"Yes," Teyla adds. "This enthusiasm is most unlike you, Rodney." She smiles as she adds, "I hope we will see more of it."

"I'm turning over a new leaf," Rodney says with a sniff.

Sheppard chooses that moment to add his oar to the conversation. "We did the standard fly-over in the Jumper, scanning for life signs – nothing," he says, his voice as close to a whine as Rodney has ever heard it.

Rodney huffs and rolls his eyes in response. "You can't fly around for ten minutes and decide there's nothing here!"

"Huh," Sheppard says. "Yes, I can."

Rodney is about to ask him what the hell is up with him this morning when his scanner starts beeping. "Hmm," he says, tapping a few buttons to try and narrow down the source of the alarm. "I'm getting strange energy readings," he reports to the others.

"Yeah?" Ronon asks, sounding mildly interested. "From where?"

"I can't pinpoint the source," Rodney replies with a shake of his head. He runs another scan and quickly scrolls through the results, but to no avail. "The jungle's pretty thick, though -- it could be hiding just about anything," he explains.

"I don't know," Sheppard drawls. "It's almost as if somebody in a warm, cosy room typing onto their computer sent us here for their own amusement."

"You don't really think Zelenka would do that?" Rodney asks in shock, his dedication to his new sunny attitude having precluded this particular possibility. Damn it, he should have anticipated that the sneaky little Czech would have something up his sleeve when Rodney had won the last round of their betting pool.

"If he did, he's gonna be sorry," Ronon rumbles, and Rodney decides that he'll let Ronon deal with Radek if this energy signature is indeed his doing. Still, Rodney has to admit that he can't really believe that Radek would sabotage a mission in this way.

"Look, do you have any idea how many gate addresses there are in the Ancient database that have no accompanying description?" he asks the group at large.

"Forty-two," John responds immediately. Rodney covers his smile at John's public display of his inner-geek by rolling his eyes.

"No, I think it's a little more than that," he tells John, aiming for a tone that conveys exasperated annoyance rather than the baffled affection he really feels. "Look, I don't really remember," he waves this minor detail to one side with a flick of his hand. "That's not the point. The point is the entries say nothing about an awful lot of planets -- no information at all. I say that has to mean something," Rodney insists, experience thus far has taught him that the Ancients, though they had undoubtedly were technical geniuses, were sorely lacking when it came to the common courtesy of properly documenting their discoveries.

"Maybe it means there's nothing worth writing about on those planets," Sheppard suggests.

"Or there is, but the Ancients are trying to hide it," Rodney counters.

"From themselves?" John asks, eyes wide in disbelief.

Another thought occurs to Rodney. "A lot of time has passed since the Ancients were around," he says. "You know, things change -- maybe there's something here they didn't know about."

Teyla stops walking for a moment to look at Rodney narrowly. "You have a bet riding on this, don't you?" she asks, but Rodney can tell from the tone of her voice that it's not really a question.

Rodney blinks, knowing that he's been found out and wondering whether it would be a good idea to offer Teyla a cut of his profits in exchange for her silence. He shakes his head; not a chance in hell. "What makes you say that?" he says instead, trying his best to sound innocent.

Suddenly from behind him he hears John curse under his breath and turns to look at him. "All right. That's it!" Sheppard says angrily as he pulls his boot out of the bog in which he has just obviously stepped with a wet squelch. "I'm calling this one. Everyone back to the jumper."

"Aw, come on!" Rodney complains immediately. "What about the power reading?"

Ronon grins at him. "Face it, McKay -- you lost this one," he says.

Rodney sighs and gives in to the inevitable, preparing to head back to the jumper with the rest of the team. Perhaps he can get John to run a scan for the particular power signature before they head back to Atlantis. He's just turning to follow the others along the path Ronon cut on their way through the forest when he notices, out of the corner of his eye, a light glowing in a tree just behind him.

"Ooh! Ooh! Hello?" he shouts excitedly to the departing backs of his team mates. "What's that, then, huh?"

As the others turn to look, Rodney starts conducting multiple scans of the phenomenon, exclaiming in delight at apparently having found the source of his mystery energy signature. John walks towards the tree and studies the source of the light. Having completed his final scan, Rodney comes up beside him and together they look at the circular group of crystals jutting out from the trunk of the tree.

"Hmm, it looks like some kind of a natural crystalline growth," Rodney theorises. He looks down to consult the results of his scans. "And it is also what's causing the energy readings."

"It's pretty," Teyla comments.

Rodney hums in agreement, because the crystal structure is beautiful, but his attention is now focused almost entirely on his scans. The power emanating from the crystal appears to be more akin to a high frequency vibration rather than something connected with the light. The source of the light would appear to be something else entirely. "Bioluminescence perhaps," he muses to himself under his breath. "And, if so, I wonder what it is designed to do?" Beside him, John also appears to be captivated by the crystal. A wry grin pulls at Rodney's mouth. "A lure, perhaps?"

"It looks like one of those toys you play with when you're a kid," John says.

Rodney shoots him a look. "What, Commodore 64?"

John grimaces at him, which Rodney takes as further evidence that John is just as big a geek as he is, but then his expression morphs into one of downright disbelief when Ronon offers, "Triple-barrelled shotgun?"

"A kaleidoscope," John says to them both with exaggerated emphasis.

Rodney chooses to ignore this in favour of beaming at John as the possibilities of this discovery start to dawn. "Do you realise what this means?" he asks.

"We discovered an alien fungus that glows," John replies sarcastically, raising an eyebrow at him.

Rodney flaps his hand at him in irritation, he hates it when John plays dumb. "How about a power source that literally grows on trees?" He's heartened when John seems to take his comment seriously and turns back to crystal.

"Look, admittedly these energy readings are pretty low level," Rodney tells Teyla and Ronon. "But if these crystals could be cultivated, then ..." He turns back just in time to see John slowly reaching out to touch the crystals.

"Whoa-whoa-whoa, wait. What are you doing?" he gasps in horror, reaching out his hand to try to stop John's hand from making contact. However, although he succeeds in knocking John's hand out of harm's way, the velocity of his action keeps him moving forward so that it is Rodney who ends up stumbling forward into the crystal himself. He pulls his hand back immediately from where it's buried in the heart of the crystalline structure, feeling a small tingle pass through his fingertips. He closes his eyes in horror as he cradles his hand protectively against his chest with his other arm, preparing for the worst. After several seconds pass without the horrendous pain he is expecting actually occurring, Rodney cautiously opens his eyes again.

John is looking at him with a repentant expression on his face. "Rodney, are you okay?" he asks, reaching out a hand for Rodney's.

"What on Earth did you think you were doing?!" Rodney yells at him, angry beyond reason that John would put himself at risk like that and moving himself out of John's reach in his outrage. "It could have been dangerous! I told you it was giving off energy. Seriously, why would you even try to touch it?"

John looks bewildered and shakes his head in confusion. "Honestly, I don't know why I did that. I just felt compelled to touch it."

Rodney sighs and, noticing that the crystal has gone dark, looks down at his scanner for confirmation. "Well, now you've killed it!" he snaps at John. "It's not giving off energy any more."

"Rodney, are you sure that you're okay? Did it hurt or burn you?" John's voice is low and full of concern and Rodney raises his head to see that John is approaching him with an arm outstretched.

Rodney watches in amazement as John takes his hand from where it is hovering over the keypad of his scanner. John's touch is gentle, but firm, as he wraps his fingers around Rodney's wrist and pulls Rodney towards him. Rodney is captivated for a moment by sight of the darker skin of John's fingers contrasting sharply with his far fairer complexion. John tugs on Rodney's hand again, pulling it even closer to him and using both of his hands to turn it over. John looks down and carefully examines the tips of Rodney's fingers and the palm of his hand, cradling Rodney's hand in one of his and using his other to touch Rodney. Rodney feels his breath catch in his throat as John runs his fingertips lightly over the soft sensitive skin of Rodney's palm, his face turned downwards in concentration as he checks Rodney's skin for signs of damage. Rodney can feel the hot brush of John's breath against his hand and he watches in fascination as a pink blush blooms across John's cheekbones. In spite of his good intentions, Rodney feels his cock twitch and start to lengthen as John continues to stroke his fingers over Rodney's skin.

"John?" he asks in a low voice, unsure as to what exactly is happening between them; the knowledge that this isn't what John really wants contrasting painfully with the sensation of pleasure coursing through him at John's touch.

John looks up into Rodney's face at the sound of his name. Despite what he might have said to Rodney about not wanting to change their relationship, John's face clearly reflects the arousal Rodney feels - his eyes are almost black, the pupils blown and he's breathing heavily, looking just like he had been that fateful day three months ago. And, just like before, Rodney feels himself being inextricably drawn to John. He starts to lean forward, his mouth already softening in anticipation of John's kiss and his dick already pulsing and wetting itself in readiness for John's body.

Suddenly Teyla's voice interrupts them, breaking the moment. "Perhaps we should return to Atlantis and have Dr. Keller check Rodney for signs of injury," she says.

At her words, John drops Rodney's hand and pulls away from him quickly. Rodney feels himself flush when realises just how close he'd been to just grabbing John and taking him forcibly right there on the damp forest floor. Although, from the looks of John, it wouldn't have required that much force on Rodney's part. Even though he's retreated to a respectable distance, Rodney can still see the flush of arousal on John's cheeks and the tell-tale bulge in the front of his BDUs. However, when Rodney's gaze flickers back up to John's face, he watches in dismay as the shutters come back down. From one moment to the next, John's face goes entirely blank, his eyes losing their warmth and his back straightening so that he's standing almost to attention. Rodney can't help but feel the disappointment well up inside him, even though he knew this to be the most likely outcome. He curses himself inwardly; how could he have fucked things up already?

"Umm, there's no need for that," Rodney babbles, desperate to make amends and show that they can have a normal friends-only working relationship. "I feel fine, besides there's gotta be more of them around here," he holds up his scanner and starts peering into the thick vegetation that surrounds them.

"Teyla's right, Rodney," John says and, to Rodney's intense relief, he's actually looking him in the eye as he speaks. "We should get you back to Atlantis and make sure that thing didn't do anything nasty to you. Besides," he says, gesturing to the dense forest, "it's not like there's anything else of interest here."

"But-" Rodney starts to argue.

"Hey," John interrupts, starting to head in the direction of the jumper. "I'll run some extra scans from the air before we go through the stargate. If we pick up anything worthwhile, I'll recommend sending a science team back here to check it out."

"I am a science team," Rodney mutters under his breath, but he turns obediently and follows John to the jumper under the watchful gaze of Teyla and Ronon.

Even though Rodney is looking none the worse for wear, John can't help but be worried about him. It is always a source of concern for him when a member of his team is injured off-world. He would be just as troubled were it Teyla or Ronon who had touched the crystal, he assures himself firmly. And it is true – but the nervousness that's been fluttering in his stomach ever since the incident and his overwhelming urge to touch Rodney, to see for himself the extent of the damage, is something exclusive to Rodney.

"Rodney, infirmary, now," he orders as soon as the jumper touches down safely in the bay in Atlantis.

Rodney rolls his eyes. "Please," he says. "Do you not know me at all? Of course, I'm going straight to the infirmary. Who knows what weird alien infection I could now be harbouring." True to his word, Rodney hops out of the jumper and immediately starts heading for the transporter.

John watches him for an instant, torn between wanting to follow him and knowing that he should probably report in to Carter first.

"It's okay, John," Teyla says. "Ronon and I can give the mission report to Colonel Carter if you would like to accompany Rodney to the infirmary."

John stifles a sigh, he would like to go with Rodney, but he also knows that to do so would be taking a step backwards – he'd be just that bit closer to losing Rodney for good. "No," he says decisively. "I'll go see Carter."

"Then I shall escort Rodney," Teyla replies with a smile.

John looks at her for a moment, but there's nothing on her face which suggests either judgement or disgust. "Thank you," he answers softly.

"It is no problem at all, John," she says as she heads off to catch up with Rodney, squeezing his arm on her way past and saying softly. "I care for him too, you know."

John feels himself flush at her departing words and looks over at Ronon to gauge his reaction.

Ronon returns his gaze placidly enough, but John can feel the weight behind it. Despite that, "Come on," is all he says. "Let's go see Carter."

It's a relatively quick process to report to Carter about the outcome of the mission. She's obviously concerned about Rodney's run-in with the glowing crystal, so is more than happy for John to head down to the infirmary almost immediately. She is also obviously interested in Rodney's scans of the glowing crystal, something which grates with John even though he can't even begin to articulate why. She's a scientist, after all, Rodney was interested in the crystal so why wouldn't Carter be? It's just that part of him knows that Elizabeth would have prioritised things better – she would have been concerned about her people first and foremost, questions about potential finds would come later, after she'd checked in at the infirmary in person.

As he and Ronon leave Carter's office, John can't help but give a sigh of relief. Ronon gives him another look and then follows him silently down to the infirmary. The check-in with Carter had taken a grand total of twenty minutes and so they are able to make it down to the infirmary in time to hear Keller's pronouncement on Rodney's alien crystal encounter. As the infirmary doors slide open, John immediately seeks out Rodney – automatically checking the colour of his skin, the light in his eyes, the curve of his mouth and the activity of his hands in an attempt to gauge both his mood and his state of physical well-being. Even before Keller makes her diagnosis, John is relieved to conclude from his own observations that Rodney is feeling fine and itching to get back to work.

"Well, Rodney," she says as she consults one of the infirmary's many computer interfaces. "All your scans are clear. Blood tests are normal. As far as I can tell, you're in perfect health."

Rodney snorts as he struggles to sit up from where he's been lying on one of the short and uncomfortable infirmary beds. John comes forward to give him a hand, but is waved off immediately by impatient hands and a furious scowl. John feels the relief well up inside him.

"Just no more touching strange things," Keller continues.

"That's good advice." John can't help commenting and grins when Rodney immediately turns his scowl from Keller back to him.

"Yes," he says sarcastically to them both. "Invaluable advice; I would never have thought of such a thing myself."

"So," John says quickly, trying to appease him. "Lunch? Golf?"

Rodney looks tempted for a moment, but then his face falls and he shakes his head. "I'm afraid I can't do either today," he replies, already grabbing his mission pack and fumbling out his scanner. "There are several projects that I need to check up with in the lab, then one of the biology teams is presenting the findings of their latest round of experiments, so I really need to attend that, plus there's the results from the scans I took of the crystal to go through, not to mention the fact that there are still pieces of that device we were testing last night scattered all over my desk." Rodney's detailed diatribe ground to a halt and he huffs out a sigh. "I really need some coffee," he says plaintively, looking up at John pleadingly for a moment.

John raises an eyebrow at him. "Was that a request, Rodney?"

Rodney opens his mouth in what has to be an immediate denial, but then closes it again before actually speaking. A somewhat sheepish expression comes on to his face and this time, when he does speak, his tone is considerably meeker. "Please, John," he says. "I need to go straight to the biology lab now or else they'll think I'm snubbing them... which, of course, I am to a certain extent," he snorts. "Honestly, how they can even think to call themselves..." This time he cuts himself off before he can get properly into his rant, obviously having recalled the point of his plea. "Anyway," he continues with a wave of his hand. "They have crappy coffee down there and I..." he trails off, looking at John again.

John heaves a much put upon sigh and relents to the inevitable. "Okay then," he says. "I suppose I could swing by your lab and get you a supply to see you through the meeting."

The brilliance of the smile Rodney gives him stays with John for the rest of the day. He tells himself that it doesn't mean anything – if he thinks it enough times, he's bound to start believing it at some point.

Rodney finally makes it back to his quarters in the early hours of the morning; he isn't entirely certain quite what the time is, but the first rays of light are starting to spill over the edge of the horizon, so he's pretty sure that he doesn't want to know. He's come straight from dealing with an emergency situation involving the power flow to one of the science labs on the southern pier, which had quickly escalated into a full-scale fire, and he is now practically asleep on his feet. He can't really remember his trip back from the pier to his quarters. The conduit was one that had been seriously damaged in their escape from the Asurans and the repair teams had assured Rodney that it had been adequately fixed. However, it would appear that their understanding of 'fully operational' and his own differ vastly – although something tells him that they won't be making that mistake again any time soon. As a result of their incompetence, he now has two xenobiologists and three oceanographers in the infirmary being treated for third-degree burns, a burnt-out shell where the marine science lab should be, and has spent the past six hours barely stopping to catch his breath as he tried to re-route the power flow, prevent a chain-reaction that could have destroyed the whole city, and stop Sheppard from frying himself to a crisp by leading a rescue party into the lab before the plasma fire had been adequately contained.

As he recalls that last one, Rodney closes his eyes tightly against the memory – he's far too tired to deal with things like that now. Swaying dangerously on his feet he resolves not to think again until he's had some sleep. At least that way he stands some chance of keeping his promise to Sheppard that nothing between them has changed and that they are no more than friends.

Rodney strips off his smoke-charred clothes on auto-pilot and heads towards the bathroom. As tempting as it is to just collapse unconscious on his bed, he knows he has to make at least some attempt to wash off the layers of sweat and soot in which he is covered. He manages to remain upright in the shower only by bracing himself against the wall, watching out of half-closed eyes as the water washes away the worst of the night. When he finally tumbles into bed, belly down and still both damp and naked, he's asleep nearly instantaneously.

When Rodney regains consciousness, he wonders at first whether he's somehow managed to sleep straight through to the following night. His quarters are unusually dark, despite him having forgotten to close the blinds before he fell into bed, and when he squints in the direction of the window, all he can see is steel-grey sky and rolling ocean.

"Huh," Rodney says to himself as he levers himself up, trying to recall if they've experienced any bad weather since they'd arrived on their new planet; if there has been some rain, he can't remember it. Indeed, he's come to think of this new ocean as nothing more than a tranquil pool of deep blue – a far cry from what it is now, with sharp, foam-crested waves crashing violently towards the edge of the city.

Rodney collapses back down on the bed and stares at the ceiling for a few minutes. He still feels exhausted, his eyes are all achy beneath his eyelids and he can feel the dull pounding of an impending headache thumping ominously behind his temples. He doesn't like storms; hadn't been particularly fond of them when he was child and his encounter with the Genii during their first year on Atlantis had merely confirmed his abhorrence of them. He tilts his head to the side so he can see the clock on his bedside table, it's coming up to ten o'clock – he's probably had about five hours sleep, if he's lucky. Still, he can't lie here all day, there's far too much to be done and, anyway, it's highly unlikely he'll be able to fall back asleep now.

Mind made up, Rodney rolls out of bed with a groan and realises that he's naked. He grimaces when he catches sight of his smoke-soiled uniform, crumpled in a discarded pile by his bed along with a soggy towel he'd used to quickly dry himself off after his brief shower. Rising unsteadily to his feet, his back already creaking in protest from the hours he'd spent crouched in the south pier's power access hatch, Rodney makes his way towards the bathroom. He nudges the sooty, damp heap of clothes in the direction of his laundry basket as he passes. Once in the bathroom, Rodney stares blearily at his reflection in the bathroom mirror as he braces himself with his hands on either side of his sink. His reflection, all tufted hair, pink cheeks and bristles, stares back at him out of hazy blue eyes. Rodney decides that another shower is most definitely in order if he's at least to make a decent stab at facing the day.

He concentrates really hard, reaching out with his mind for his genetic link to Atlantis, trying to turn on his shower with his thoughts like he's been able to do for past few days. Nothing happens – no connection with the city today it would seem. Rodney scowls at his shower in disgust as he activates the water flow manually and adjusts the temperature setting – and after all the trouble he's just gone through to prevent it going up in smoke. He sighs as he steps under the spray; he has a feeling it's going to be one of those days.

The hot water goes some way to re-invigorating him, but he still feels fairly rough as he stands in the cubicle on shaky legs – like he's only half-awake and everything is fuzzy and grey around the edges. He smiles wryly to himself; so much for his new positive outlook on life. It's been a grand total of about forty-eight hours and he's already feeling entirely despondent again. And all it took was a shock from an alien crystal, a city-wide emergency, and a few hours too little sleep. Oh, and John rushing head long into danger again, taking all of Rodney's dreams along with him. Rodney shakes his head – thinking like that is not going to get him anything but heartache and, between his head and his back, he has quite enough aches to be getting on with for the moment.

Still, he can't help his body's involuntary reaction to his thoughts of John. He'd been so relieved last night – or was it this morning? - to see John emerge from the wreckage of the marine lab, sweaty and filthy, but alive and unscathed. With his face and hair covered with soot and his eyes bright with success and adrenaline, he was the most beautiful thing Rodney had ever seen. John had sought Rodney out from amongst the crowd of people gathered in the open area of the pier and for a moment their eyes had locked. Rodney's cock twitches and starts to lengthen at the memory of the dark intensity he'd seen in John's eyes. In that instant he'd looked at Rodney like he'd done when they were on the planet. Rodney closes his eyes – it's also the expression John was wearing when they'd been alone in that room in the tower, when John had Rodney pressed hard up against a wall with his body, his dark eyes full of emotion; want, need, passion, desire.

Rodney lets out a little moan as he pictures the scene once more – twice in two days he cautions himself, he's getting greedy – but lets his body fall back against the wall of the shower regardless, reaching up with one hand to tilt the spray of water from the shower head to one side so only a fine warm mist is falling over his aroused body. He's been so good, so careful not to use this memory, to use Sheppard like this once he'd made it clear that it had all been a mistake and he didn't really want Rodney. But now, for some reason, Rodney can't dredge up the strength to stop himself. It's as if now that his body and brain have started down this road, there's only one way for him to reach completion.

Giving in to the inevitable, Rodney fills his right hand with a palm-full of liquid soap and reaches down to drag his slick fist slowly down the hard length of his erection. He groans as the sensations of his body and the images in his mind meet and merge into one. Entirely without his conscious volition, he is now no longer alone in the shower. Rodney feels his cock pulse in his grip and a little spurt of pre-come oozes out of the tip as his mind conjures up the sensation of John's body, hard and hot and wet, pressing against him. He only has his memories of those few stolen minutes in John's arms from which to draw, but it's more than enough for this particular fantasy. Rodney doesn't think he'll ever forget the feel of John – the solid press of his hands holding Rodney against the wall, the soft feel of his hair beneath Rodney's fingertips, the heat of his body as Rodney explored him through his clothes, the hard length of his cock thrusting mercilessly against Rodney's – such perfect friction despite the layers of clothes and mixed up emotions separating them.

Rodney's hand is moving constantly over his cock now – jacking himself almost frantically as the memory morphs into the present, becoming more dream than reality. Rodney can see John clearly now in his mind's eye. Stripped of his clothes, he takes Rodney's breath away – all long, lean muscle and whorls of dark hair. Rodney brings up his other hand to trail it over his chest. He teases his right nipple first, circling around the areola with his fingers before dragging his thumb over the tip. Groaning lightly, he moves over and treats his left nipple to the same procedure. He then pinches both nipples hard in turn, his hips jerking forward into his fist as bolts of pleasure race from the sensitive nubs straight down to his dick. Behind his closed eyes, he imagines that the hands on his body are John's – that John is here with him – that John truly wants this, wants Rodney.

Rodney lets his head fall back against the hard tile of the shower as the pleasure continues to mount. He can feel his climax gathering heavily in his balls, the coil of ecstasy curling tighter and tighter with each passing moment. His dick is leaking constantly now as his hand whips over the shaft, gripping tightly, twisting on each down stroke and smearing his length with the come which is seeping from the head of his cock. His left hand leaves his nipples as moves down to his groin. He pauses for a moment to circle the shiny blunt head of his cock once with his forefinger, before spreading his legs a little further apart. He slows the tempo of the hand on his cock right down so he's doing no more than stroking himself lazily – he doesn't want this to end too soon. If he's going to let himself slip completely and fantasize about John, he's at least going to make absolutely sure he gets a damn good orgasm out of it.

With this end in mind, Rodney opens his eyes and pushes himself away from the wall just enough so that he can reach behind himself with his left hand. Reaching between his legs, he circles his hole lightly with his pre-come lubed finger, shuddering at the new sensations which run through his body at his own touch. This is what he wants, he acknowledges silently, to be touched here – for John to be the one touching him, wanting him, taking him. Dropping his head and letting his eyes drift closed once more, Rodney takes a deep breath and breaches his body with his finger. He's tight – it's been a long time since he's done something like this, even to himself - and it burns a little, but he welcomes the pain. Images of John dance through his mind; how John would look at him, with his eyes dark and intense, how his hands would move over Rodney's naked body, teasing, caressing, exploring, and how he would ultimately touch Rodney just like this. Rodney groans in pleasure as his body relaxes enough so he can slip finger all the way into his smooth tight channel. John would feel like this too, he thinks, his passage hot and tight as it stretches to accommodate Rodney's dick.

At the thought of fucking John, Rodney has to squeeze the base of his cock hard to stop himself coming right then and there. He's panting hard, teetering on the edge of his orgasm, trying his best to hold on and stretch his pleasure out just a bit longer. He manages to pull back from the brink just enough to work another finger into his ass. The pain has given way fully to pleasure now and Rodney rocks his hips back and forth in ecstasy. He pumps himself forward into where his fist is forming a tight channel for his cock and then fucks himself back onto his fingers. He's moaning aloud now, only vaguely aware of the half-formed words, pleas, and John's name falling almost incoherently from his lips. He's approaching the edge so fast now there's nothing in the universe that could possibly stop him from coming. He squeezes his cock tightly, his hand jerking down hard and fast as his fingers work his ass just as frantically, pushing in deep and stroking over his prostate with each backwards fuck of his hips. It feels amazing, like his entire being – brain and body – is dedicated entirely to his coming orgasm. His eyes open of their own volition and it's John he sees, hears and feels – John touching him, fucking him, loving him. His body clenches hard one final time and he spews come messily all over the shower stall, panting and groaning as his vision whites out and his knees buckle.

Rodney comes back to himself, sprawled on his hands and knees on the floor of his shower, shuddering in the aftermath of his orgasm. He sits back on his knees somewhat shakily, blinking rapidly to get his surroundings back into focus and concentrating on getting his breathing back under control. Once he's certain he can stand without collapsing again, he heaves himself to his feet. He reaches out, noticing that his hands are still trembling slightly, and turns the shower head back towards his body. Gathering another handful of soap, he carefully cleans himself off, washing away his come and cleansing his hands and ass carefully. He then shuts off the shower, cracking up the door to grab a towel and drying himself off quickly inside the stall. Wrapping the towel around his waist, he steps out of the shower and is once again faced by his reflection in the mirror. His face is flushed and his pupils blown from his recent orgasm, but he still feels tired and his headache shows every sign of returning as the rush of endorphins gradually recedes. He's a little surprised by this because sex is usually the one sure-fire way of relaxing him. Shaking his head as he reaches for his razor, Rodney resigns himself to a day of unpleasantness.

John is in his office when it finally happens. He has been feeling out of sorts all day – it is like he knows that something is wrong, but he can't quite put his finger on what precisely it is. The weather has continued to worsen as the day wears on. It was grey and windy when he woke up, already mid-morning as it had been past 0400 when he had finally got to bed, and by mid-day the city's towers are being lashed by the torrents of rain and its edges are being battered by the breaking waves. But, the weather aside, he'd known something bad was coming from before he'd even opened his eyes that morning. He could feel it in the prickle of unease that ran chillingly along his spine when he'd first entered consciousness and can hear it now in the unfamiliar high-pitched whine that has replaced the usual low hum of Atlantis in his mind. Of course, there has been very little he can actually do about his unease – he can hardly approach Carter and say that something is wrong because the city doesn't sound right – but John has kept his wits about him nevertheless, secreting an few extra weapons about his person (a trick he's honed from watching Ronon) and keeping a close eye out for anything that seems even a little out of the ordinary.

The explosion last night had been no more than an accident, Rodney at any rate had been convinced of that, but John isn't going to risk letting anything slip by unnoticed. So the first thing he does, post shower and coffee of course, is to drop by the south pier to look over the clean-up operation and tell Lorne that he wants a full report as to what exactly had gone wrong. Satisfied that Lorne has things under control, John retreats to his office. He figures that having personally mounted the rescue operation that had saved the five scientists from the burning lab is sufficient an excuse to get him out of actually having to deal with the aftermath personally. Besides, there have to be some perks to being military commander. That said, he is now up to his eyeballs in requisition lists and transfer requests and is starting wish that whatever it is that's been building all morning would just appear already.

And it does.

One moment he's happily (well, not really) typing up a report for Carter and the next his screen goes blank and all the lights in his office go off at once. At first John does nothing by blink in surprise and hammers Ctrl, Alt and Delete on his keyboard a few times automatically with no result. He then tries the lights, first with his mind and then, when that doesn't work, he gets up to use the control panel manually – but again to no avail. With this in mind, he approaches the door of his office cautiously and is unsurprised when it also responds to neither mental command nor the control panel.

"McKay?" John says into his radio – his first thought is always to contact Rodney – and he sighs with relief when he hears the connection go live. He starts trying to prise the door of his office open manually while he waits for a response from Rodney. It's a tricky business, the door is heavy and the opening mechanism is designed to be operated electronically and not manually. Nevertheless, John is able to lever the door open a crack by using the larger of his two knives.

"Colonel," Rodney replies after a few moments sounding tired and cranky. "Before you say anything, just let me tell you that if one more person radios to tell me that their computer has shut down, or that their lights have gone off, or that their doors won't open, I will find a way to have them killed them remotely and, trust me, a painless death it will not be!"

While Rodney rants, John manages to get his hands into the small space he's been able to open and heaves on the door with all his might. "Shit," he curses as his door slides open all of a sudden and he very nearly ends up on floor on his ass.

"What?" Rodney squawks in his ear.

"Nothing, McKay," John replies as he regains his balance and then ventures out into the corridor, looking left and right down the corridor and trying to assess the situation. The lights are off out here as well and the corridor is dark and empty. "I won't tell you what's wrong – in fact I was calling to ask you what the problem was."

Rodney sighs, "I knew this day was going to be a nightmare," John can hear him muttering under his breath. "That, Colonel" he says to John, "is precisely what I'm trying to find out, only people keep interrupting to tell me the blindingly obvious!"

"Focus, Rodney," John says, trying to get Rodney back on track.

"Yes, yes," Rodney replies and John can see the accompanying hand-flap. "Look, I need a few minutes to track the problem down. Can you give me that? I'm down in the Chair room at the central control core. Thus far there seems no cause for undue alarm – I've managed to get our long-range sensors up and running and they aren't detecting any threats from space, also the quarantine lock-down procedures haven't initiated, so I'm guessing whatever is causing this glitch isn't too major."

"Alright, Rodney," John says as he sets off down the dim corridor, "you do your thing and figure out what the hell is going on. I'm going to find a way to get up to the command centre and talk to Carter. And Rodney? Keep me posted, okay?"

"Of course, Colonel," Rodney replies stiffly, obviously taking slight offence at John's pointed remark.

"Good," John says and then, because he wants to soften his comment, "I'll be back in contact soon, buddy."

John nods to himself in approval as he hears Rodney snap closed his radio connection. He feels unaccountably comforted by his conversation with Rodney, secure in the knowledge that if anyone can get the power back up and running again, it will be Rodney. Rodney always comes through for him. He fixes what's broken, he keeps things running, he's the one who diffuses the bombs, builds the explosions, dreams up the solutions – Rodney is the reason John is still alive. So instead of worrying needlessly, John concentrates on getting to the command centre. The corridors along the deck are empty and John assumes that most people are stuck in their rooms and offices. First things first - he needs to check in with Carter.

"Colonel Carter?" he says into his headset. "This is Sheppard."

"What's your situation, Colonel?" comes her immediate reply.

"I'm on level 3, making my way towards command. The power appears to be down in all the rooms and corridors on this level; McKay is already on the case and I'm making my way up to you now."

"Good," Carter says. "I'm in the gateroom at the moment – our power is down at the moment as well, but the long-range sensors seem to be operational again-"

"Yes," John interrupts. "McKay doesn't think it's anything too serious, but will need a little bit of time to hunt down the glitch."

"That's fine," Carter replies. "I'll check in with him now. We're working to get city wide communications up and running again from here, so hopefully I'll be able to make an announcement in the next few minutes."

"I'll see you in a few." John taps his headset to close the connection and continues down the corridor. He's reminded of how the city looked when they first stepped through the stargate when the multitude of rooms and long corridors were dark and deserted. It's a far cry from how things are at present, with the expedition now numbering in the hundreds and Atlantis shining with her new lease of life and power.

At the moment, however, the corridor John is in is once again dark and empty. The only light is coming in from the picture window at the far end and outside the storm is still raging, the sky almost black with the storm clouds which are heavy with rain. John is suddenly beset with the urge to call Rodney again to see if he is alright. He knows that Rodney probably won't thank him for the interruption, but this is the first real storm they've had in the city since the Genii invasion. Of course, this is just a normal storm, not the hurricane they'd faced back on their former planet, but John's noticed that since his encounter with Koyla, Rodney has been a little more jumpy whenever they encounter a storm off-world. John shakes his head and quashes the urge, cursing under his breath when he realises that his hand is already halfway to his ear to activate his radio. Still, he can't stop thinking about Rodney and he checks his watch, wondering how long before he can check back in with him. With a sigh he realises he should probably wait 'til he's managed to make it up to the gateroom.

Suddenly something catches John's eye. It's nothing more than the movement of a small shadow up in one of the corners of the ceiling by the transporter, but John has turned to face it and with his weapon at the ready in an instant. Nothing. John holds his weapon steady, the barrel still pointing directly at where the moving shadow had been. Several moments pass. Slowly, he scans the surrounding area, moving his weapon in long slow sweeps of the ceiling, gradually making his way down to the floor. Still nothing. John takes a deep breath and tries to calm his frantically beating heart. He's not normally skittish like this, but his nerves have been on edge all day and it's like something inside him has finally snapped. Swallowing his fear, he re-holsters his weapon and shakes his head. He wonders whether he simply imagined the shadow, but the odd sensation is still there – an unsettling whine he can't seem to shake.

Deciding that the power outage coupled with the storm and too little sleep is making him slightly loopy, John gets back to the task at hand. Of course, with the power down the transporters are not working, but John is planning to use the city's network of access shafts and ventilation hatches to make it up to the gateroom. He's grateful that he's in the central tower, as opposed to out in one of the other areas of the city, and that he has been able to break out of his office and get into the corridors where he now has access to the shafts. If the quarantine lock-down had happened, he'd be left with no alternative but to break through one of the windows and climb the exterior of the tower. That is not something he fancies doing, least of all in the middle of a thunderstorm. Bending down, he takes out his handy door-opening knife and pops open the panel of the access hatch before starting to squeeze himself into the shaft.

He gets his head and shoulders through the gap and then looks up and down to orient himself. The main shaft runs up the entire length of the central spire of the city, with access hatches branching off it at every floor and smaller conduits leading from it out into each room in the tower. Conveniently, there are rungs in the wall which allow for personnel to climb between floors and also to work on the mass of circuitry which resides inside. The Ancient technology here is typical of that throughout Atlantis, clean lines of high-end optic fibre cables which link in with the crystal control core on each level and with the central processing core down in the Chair room at the base of the tower. Alongside these run the auxiliary power cables which Rodney and his team installed when they'd first arrived on Atlantis and were reduced to running the city on naquadah generators. At the moment John is grateful for both sets as they help illuminate the otherwise dark opening.

John hefts the rest body into the shaft, reaching to the right to grab hold of the rungs and then swinging himself out onto the ladder. He's five levels down from the gateroom, so he starts to climb upwards, holding tight to the rungs and moving fairly slowly, hand over hand, because he really doesn't want to fall. His nerves make him pause – he's never been afraid of heights and he knows he has no real chance of falling now, but the noise in his head is gradually getting worse and he's starting to feel dizzy.

That is when he sees it again – the shadow flashes through the open hatch and skittles down the cables across from him. John can't hold in his involuntary gasp of surprise and he spins to one side, his left hand still holding on the rungs while his right hand reaches for his weapon. He half-hangs in mid-air, his right foot swinging out over the open shaft while his right arm, weapon in hand, moves steadily over the far wall of the shaft as he searches for whatever the hell this thing is that keeps catching his eye.

John can feel his pulse beating hard in his ears, the sound almost deafening, and knows that his breath coming out in pants – he's teetering right on the sharp edge of terror. He needs to get a handle on himself, but damn it, he heard it this time too – the tinny scuttle of metal legs.

A fucking Replicator on Atlantis.

And it's now heading down the shaft that he opened – heading for the Chair room and for Rodney.

Rodney stares at the mass of wires and crystals before him and curses aloud. "Shit!" He then turns his head to look at the reams of computer code which is scrolling over his laptop screen and promptly upgrades his invective to from a 'shit' to a "Fuck!"

Rodney closes his eyes and takes a deep breath to steady himself; this is just a simple systems glitch – nothing major, he can fix it easily. Or rather, he should be able to fix it easily. The trouble is that just when he thinks he's got the error tracked down and repaired, another warning pops up in an adjacent system. He's spent the first thirty minutes since the power outage struck chasing gremlins around the system before giving up and simply cutting power to the entire sub-section. Once that was done, he'd been able to get the critical systems back up – city-wide communications, long-range scanners, and core computer functions – but now the task of returning all systems to normal operations is proving challenging. The pounding of his head doesn't help, nor does the rolling sickness he feels starting to claw at his stomach indicating the first stages of hypoglycaemia.

Rodney just doesn't understand what is going wrong with the city's computer network, the power grid, or his own body. By rights, the city should be secure, the power should be back on line, and his glucose levels should be stable. He's restarted the necessary processors, re-routed the requisite circuits, and eaten the correct amount and kinds of food, but he's still facing program errors, power shorts, and the adrenergic manifestations of hypoglycaemia. As a result, he now finds himself reduced to staring at a screen beside an open crystal array and hurling plebeian expletives at inanimate objects.

Rodney shakes his head and feels a cold shiver of fear run down his spine – he just can't seem to come up with the solution to what should be a relatively simple problem. This would seem to indicate one of two things: either that this galaxy has finally succeeded in driving him insane or that the problem with the city is in reality far more serious than it at first appears. Rodney isn't entirely sure which scenario he would prefer, neither option being particularly appealing from his point of view. He rubs a hand over his face and turns back to his work – he will find the solution, he's obviously just not concentrating hard enough, perhaps if he was to look at the underlying base code...

All of a sudden Rodney's concentration is well and truly shattered by the abrupt and rather dramatic entrance of Sheppard. The door to the chair room is suddenly prised open, quickly and efficiently, and the Colonel is standing in the doorway silhouetted by the dim daylight coming from the window at the end of the hallway. Sheppard has his weapon raised and he appears to be both intensely focused and very dangerous – the epitome of the special ops soldier. At the interruption, Rodney yelps in shock and instinctively dives for cover, abandoning his laptop, scanner and the data crystals as he flees. From his position tucked firmly beneath one of the control stations, Rodney watches Sheppard thoroughly threat-assess the entire room, panning it first with his weapon before slipping carefully inside and pacing the floor intently and carefully checking every possible hiding spot.

"McKay," Sheppard hisses to Rodney at last, his eyes never ceasing in their constant search of the room. "You got a life-signs detector on you?"

"Um, yes," Rodney replies, inching his way cautiously out from under the work station so he can grab his scanner. "What do you want me to scan for?"

Sheppard shakes his head somewhat ruefully. "I'm not entirely sure," he confesses, "but I fairly certain I caught sight of a Replicator heading his way."

Rodney feels his blood run cold at Sheppard's dire pronouncement. "A Replicator?" he squeaks, his fingers already flying over the keys of his scanner. From the corner of his eye he sees Sheppard nod and Rodney feels his fear ratchet up another few notches. But Sheppard is here with him, looking calm, focused and downright intimidating, and that alone makes Rodney feel far safer than it should – because, his pessimistic reason whispers to him, what can one man do against a bullet proof machine capable of self-replication? Then again, now is hardly the time for pessimism, so Rodney does his best to quieten the voice and finds it surprisingly easy to shut it off this time – of course he is safe, John is here, John will take care of him as he always does.

"Rodney?" John's voice cuts into Rodney's musings, his tone tight in its urgency.

Rodney blinks and focuses his wayward attention to his scanner. "Um," he says. "I'm not picking up anything out of the ordinary – there are no biological life signs registering on this level except for the two of us and no indication of the type electro-magnetic activity we associate with the Replicators anywhere in the city." Thus reassured, Rodney clambers out for his hiding place and squints over at Sheppard through the faint light. "Are you sure?" he asks.

"I… I thought so, but maybe I…" John trails off and takes a deep breath and re-holsters his weapon, his shoulders relaxing slightly and he slowly relaxes his guard. He shakes his head and then looks over at Rodney with a grin. "I guess the storm and power outage just spooked me a bit."

"Isn't that my line?" Rodney asked, his eyes shifting nervously to look out of the window at the end of the corridor to where the storm still raged, now visible, thanks to Sheppard, through the gaping door.

"Don't worry, Rodney," John murmurs softly, sounding much closer than he had a few moments ago. "I won't let anything hurt you."

Rodney feels his eyelids go heavy at the dark promise in John's voice and shudders in helpless response. "Uh," is all he can manage by way of reply.

"Rodney?" John asks in inquiry. "Are you okay there, buddy?"

Rodney jumps in surprise as John's hand lands heavily on his shoulder and feels John move to come stand close beside him, the heat of his body seeping across the small space between them. Rodney can't help but become achingly aroused at John's close proximity and has to close his eyes and swallow repeatedly before he can formulate a suitably platonic reply. "Yes, yes, I'm, um, fine… I just need to… um… fix this power failure."

With that, Rodney moves back to the workstation which he'd been at when John had first arrived as quickly as he can. He's desperate to get away from the heady pull John's sphere of influence. If he lingers too long he knows he will be unable to escape and end up moving even closer to the man, even now he longs to go return to John's side, to press himself against John's strong body and just beg for whatever John is willing to give him. His desire for John is akin to a narcotic, it's like at this moment Rodney needs John more than he does his next breath. He longs to touch John – to be allowed to run his hands all over John's body, without the barrier of clothes between them. He wants to be on John, over John, in John. But, no – Rodney bites back a moan and forces himself back to the task at hand. He has a fault to repair and then they both need to report to Carter. Atlantis needs him, Rodney tells himself sternly, John would want him to save Atlantis. He needs to fix the power problem to make John happy, to make John want him.

He returns to work.

As John watches Rodney work, he feels all of his fears quietly slip away, replaced by the growing thrum of arousal. Rodney is gorgeous like this, his blue eyes positively luminous in the glow of this computer screen and his face a study of intense concentration. John wants to cross over to him, push his laptop out of the way, and have all Rodney's attention, all his energy and passion and genius, directed towards him alone. God, what that feels like… the memory alone is sufficient to send John dizzy with lust. But Rodney is hard at work, captivatingly so, but at work nonetheless. He has a city to save after all – Atlantis, John's city, a truth of which John is certain, just like he is likewise sure that Rodney is also his. So John sits back and prepares to enjoy the view.

It doesn't take long. Barely a quarter of an hour has passed when Rodney sits back in his seat with a pleased hum. He then gets up and goes to collect up some of the discarded control crystals that are scattered about the floor, trots over to the central core and starts inserting them into the mechanism. He shoots John a delightfully crooked grin as he inputs the last crystal and Atlantis suddenly hums into light and life once more.

"You did it," John says.

Rodney positively beams at him. "Well, it wasn't actually that difficult…" he says. "Well, that's not strictly true, the nuances of this particular problem did indeed elude me for a not inconsiderable time, but once I realised the problem was in the underlying system sub-routine, it was fairly simple to fix." He flashes John another brilliantly smug smile whilst adding, "For a genius, at any rate."

John swallows thickly, unprepared for how strongly Rodney is affecting him, and feels his cock shift and grow heavy in his pants.

Rodney turns away from John and starts pressing a few buttons on the central terminal, presenting John with a wonderful view of his plump ass, stunningly outlined by the tight fit of his BDUs. Rodney's assets are emphasised yet further as he then proceeds to bend further over the console in an effort to complete whatever it is that he is doing. An incredibly detailed series of images flash before John's eyes – he can see himself walking over to Rodney and fitting himself tightly to the curve of Rodney's body. He wants to suck on the soft-looking skin at Rodney's nape and press his aching dick between the inviting mounds of Rodney's ass.

Rodney leans back and starts talking to John again, waving a hand at him while the fingers of his other hand fly over the console – he's practically glowing with frenetic energy, happily prattling on to John about the city having power once more and how none of his numerous scans have picked up any sign of Replicator activity.

Before has time to think things through, John realises that he's moved and is now standing directly behind Rodney. All he has to do is lean forward a tiny bit more and his chest will brush up against Rodney's broad back. John tries to hang on to the last vestiges of his sanity, to remind himself of all the reasons why he really shouldn't be doing this, why it was a mistake the first time round, and how it can only end in loneliness, but at this moment, mere inches from Rodney, none of this seems to matter.

John starts to move forward slowly, urged on by the overwhelming beat of arousal that is pounding through his veins and pulsing in his cock. At first he does little more than lean over Rodney's shoulder, ostensibly looking at the results of the scan Rodney has run. In reality, the neat rows of figures may as well be gibberish for all the sense they make to his lust-hazed brain and it is Rodney's hands that are really captivating his attention. Rodney still is standing over the console, leaning over it with one hand braced flat out in front of him and the other one hovering over the keys of the touchpad. Rodney's hands are large with broad, blunt fingers and a light sprinkling of fair hair on the knuckles. They are also dexterous, John muses as he watches Rodney's fingertips tap out a complex series of commands which compile to produce yet another report of Atlantis' systems. Perfect, John thinks, it's like Rodney's hands have been made to perfectly fit John's body – Rodney's hands are big and strong enough to hold John close while Rodney's fingers deftly tease him open, readying John for his possession. He can almost feel it – how Rodney's girth would burn and stretch him, the pain soon giving way to bone-melting pleasure.

John almost groans aloud at the thought and it is only the fear of scaring Rodney away that forces him to muffle the sound. Even though his senses are spinning, he is lucid enough to know he shouldn't take things too quickly with Rodney – after all, it was only a couple of nights ago that he'd warned Rodney off wanting anything more to develop between them. Nevertheless, in the here and now, John has to acknowledge that there isn't anything, anyone, he has ever wanted more.

John blinks and shakes his head, trying to clear his thoughts, unsure why he seems to be totally unable to ignore his instinct to touch Rodney now when his control has only ever slipped up once before. However, at this moment, he finds himself utterly compelled to act on the strength of his feelings. He leans just a little further forward and places his left hand lightly over the top of Rodney's, whilst at the same time encircling Rodney's shoulders with his right arm. Rodney freezes instantly at the contact and John uses his stillness to his advantage, taking the opportunity to bury his face in the crook of Rodney's neck and just breathe Rodney in. As Rodney's heady scent fills his brain, John's arm tightens around him, pulling Rodney's inert body more fully into his embrace. John closes his eyes at the shock of sensations s which flood through him; it feels so unbelievably good and utterly right to have Rodney like this in his arms. Rodney jerks out of his trance with a start of surprise and John immediately tries to soothe him by pressing soft, open-mouthed kisses up his neck and along the line of his jaw.

They're both still standing facing the control console and John is now almost completely plastered up against Rodney's back, but he needs for them to be even closer. John's hand closes more firmly on Rodney's as he intertwines their fingers and then brings their joined hands upwards so he can wrap his arms more fully around Rodney. His mouth opens wide on the soft skin of Rodney's neck and he bites down on it gently as he presses his now-weeping cock against the welcoming warmth of Rodney's body.

"John," Rodney gasps, turning his face towards John as he does so. Rodney looks at John in confusion but, as John watches, his eyes soon start to turn dark with desire, the pupils dilating to become almost full blown. John wants to reassure Rodney, to tell him just how much he wants him, just how much he needs him. Just then however, Rodney's eyes drift closed and he starts grinding his ass backwards into John's cock and John finds that all coherent thought is promptly incinerated by the hot flare of need Rodney's movements ignite.

"Rodney," John moans, turning his face to bring their mouths together. The angle is awkward and they can't quite align the kiss properly, but none of that matters. The only thing that matters is that they are finally together. John licks his way wetly into Rodney's mouth, running the tip of his tongue over Rodney's lips before skimming over his teeth and then thrusting deep inside. Their tongues meet and twine together, and they're panting deeply into one another's mouths. John can't stop kissing Rodney, holding Rodney, or grinding his body into Rodney's. His dick has found its way into the still-clothed crevice between Rodney's ass cheeks and it's all John can do to keep himself from going utterly wild – the urge to just pound himself into Rodney is so strong. He can already feel his pants grow wet with the liquid leaking freely from his dick and he knows he won't have the control to last much longer. He needs Rodney – to fuck him or be fucked by him doesn't matter, either will do.

Suddenly Rodney pulls back, wrenching his mouth away from John's. John makes a startled sound of protest and opens his eyes to see why Rodney has stopped kissing him. Rodney's eyes are glazed with lust and his mouth red and wet from their kisses. John leans forward again, intent on capturing Rodney's mouth once more, but before he can, Rodney looks down. He takes note of their respective positions and then turns his head straight, grimacing slightly as he does so, as if in pain. John realises that their positions have been forcing Rodney to keep his head at, what must be by now, a painful angle. He's about to move away when Rodney solves the problem himself. He pushes his ass back against John once more and then twists his body quickly in John's arms. This time when John thrusts his hips forward again instinctively, the motion brings their bodies into perfect alignment from thigh to chest. Their cocks slip alongside each other and Rodney groans his approval into John's mouth.

Now it's John's turn to pull back. "Wait," he says. "This is all wrong."

"What?" Rodney squeaks, his eyes going wide and his face paling instantly in shock.

"No, no," John says, leaning forward to kiss Rodney gently to reassure him. "I only meant," he continues, breathing the words hotly against Rodney's half-open mouth, his tongue swiping over Rodney's lips, "that this time, I don't want any clothes between us. I want you naked. I want to feel your skin under my hands, your cock against mine with nothing between us."

"Oh, John, yes," Rodney replies and then he kisses John hard.

John loses himself for long moments in Rodney's embrace, giving himself over to Rodney, content to let Rodney do with him what he will. Rodney's arms are wrapped tightly around John's shoulders, his hands large and warm, spread wide on John's back.

"Oh, John," Rodney whispers, his words interspersed between lush, hot kisses to John's mouth. "The things I want to do to you…"

"Yes, oh god, yes. Please, Rodney," he gasps.

Rodney's broad hands travel slowly down John's back, the warmth of them practically branding John. Rodney doesn't stop kissing him, their mouths moving together almost frantically as the sensations continue to build between them. When Rodney's hands reach John's waist and slip under the fabric of his shirt to touch his bare skin for the first time, John has to clench his fists hard on Rodney's shoulders to stop himself from coming. And if this is how good Rodney's hands feel on his back, John shudders to think of what his hands will feel like on his dick. The mere thought makes his hips buck forward, his dick rubbing hard against Rodney's solid erection, the friction between them making John's eyes cross and his toes curl.

"Skin," Rodney is panting into his mouth. "I need to feel your skin, John." And with that, Rodney shoves his hands down the back of John's pants, beneath his boxers. The shock of Rodney's hot, broad hands cupping his ass, the fingers curling into his crack, has John practically screaming in pleasure. He cock pulses wildly, pressing painfully against the front of his BDUs and spurting out little jets of precome as his orgasm rapidly approaches.

"Rodney," he pleads and gasps when his voice seems to galvanise Rodney into action. Suddenly Rodney's hands are on his hips, pushing him back just enough so he can attack the zipper of his pants.

It takes a few moments, but John eventually catches on and reaches out to return the favour. He gets side-tracked for a while by the pulsing ridge of Rodney's cock, running his fingers down its shaft through Rodney's BDUs and then pressing the heel of his hand hard against the full length. He smiles at Rodney's groan and the surge of his hips, but ends up whimpering when Rodney finally manages to get his pants open and thrusts a hand in to wrap his fist tightly around John's cock.

John throws his head back with a shout as Rodney jerks his hand down John's shaft. He isn't going to last long, not at all, but he wants to feel Rodney too. He looks down, determined to get into Rodney's pants this time. However, he's immediately distracted by the sight of Rodney's hand on his dick – Rodney's wonderfully talented hand moving up and down on John's shaft, milking his cock, jacking him with strong, firm strokes. Rodney's thumb suddenly comes up to swipe over the head of John's dick, smearing the pre-come down the shaft and twisting deliciously on the down stroke. John whines and his hands scrabble frantically at Rodney's pants as he tries desperately to get to Rodney's cock, even though there isn't enough blood left in his brain to make his hands work properly. Eventually Rodney takes pity on him and bats his hands away, opening up his pants himself and pulling out his own cock.

Rodney's erection is thick and blood-red, the head almost purple and shiny with pre-come. John moans at the sight and thrusts his hips forward so that his dick knocks into Rodney's. And, god, John thinks that it's just about the best thing he's ever seen – he can't believe they didn't do this the first time they had sex. What on Earth was he doing not getting out Rodney's cock? He wants to do everything to it – hold it, stroke it, lick it, suck it, work it deep inside his ass and fuck himself on it...

"Oh, John, yes," Rodney gasps, and John realises that he's been chanting his desires aloud.

"Nughh," John replies, rubbing his cock against Rodney's, his hands fisted tight on Rodney's shoulders as he tries to get their dicks as close together as physically possible. Of course, this is when Rodney proves himself to be a genius and reaches down between them to grasp both their cocks together in his sweaty palm.

John had been wrong; this is, without doubt, the most amazing thing he's ever seen – his and Rodney's cocks pressed tightly together in Rodney's fist. Rodney pumps them as one, squeezing their leaking shafts together. He reaches round with his free hand to clutch John's ass, encouraging John to fuck himself forward into Rodney's fist. Rodney does the same, leaning forward to thrust his tongue into John's mouth as he does so. The combined sensation of Rodney's kiss, his hand on John's ass, and his cock against John's own spells the beginning of the end for both of them. John's hips stutter forward a few more times and then he's groaning into Rodney's mouth and spilling endlessly over Rodney's hand and cock. John's orgasm triggers Rodney's own and the feel of Rodney's come shooting all over John's dick prompts it to give one final spurt of its own.

Rodney collapses back against the console and John goes with him, leaning his weight heavily against Rodney. They're both a mess with their pants round their knees and if they stay like this for too much longer, they'll probably be glued together at the groin, but for the moment John can't bring himself to care.

"John?" Rodney says, his voice soft and unsure once more. John feels Rodney's arms come up as if to embrace him, but then Rodney hesitates, like he's worried that John will not welcome his touch. John lifts his head and presses his lips to the corner of Rodney's mouth. Rodney lets out a little huff of relief and his arms descend to pull John towards him. John embraces Rodney in return, luxuriating in the afterglow of his release and in the comfort afforded by Rodney's arms.

Eventually however, they have to pull apart. John pulls a handkerchief out of his uniform jacket, using it to clean up the mess of come on his cock and belly before pulling up his boxers and pants.

"Nice," Rodney says sarcastically, but John notices it doesn't stop him from holding out a hand for the handkerchief so he can clean-up likewise. Or from snapping his fingers twice in impatience until John hands it over to him.

"So," Rodney says when they've both cleaned themselves up as best they can. We're… um… What I mean to say is, I thought that this was..." Rodney trails off, both of his hands circling the air between them in question.

John looks back at him in silence, temporarily at a loss for words. He's not sure what had happened, only that Rodney was here and he always made things better for John, like he always did. John made sure Rodney was safe and Rodney made life bearable for him in a way nothing and no one else ever has or could. Afterwards, it had seemed only natural to go to him… like there wasn't anything else John could have done. It was what he wanted, no, needed to do, and somehow all his carefully planned out reasons for not doing it had suddenly ceased to exist in his mind.

He opens his mouth to try and explain, but "I don't know," is all that comes out.

"Oh," Rodney replies softly and he looks quickly away.

John takes a step forward trying to reach out for Rodney, but Rodney has already turned his back to John and is collecting up the remains of his gear that is still scattered all over the fall.

"The power's back on," he says shortly. "Everything is operational again, so we should probably check in with Carter.

"Yeah," John replies, shaking his head because just what the hell was he thinking going up to Rodney like that? He'd been the one to fuck things up again – after he'd sworn to himself and Rodney that he wouldn't do this. And in the middle of a city-wide crisis too. "Look, Rodney," he says. "I am so sorry, I don't know what came over me, but I-"

"Look, it's fine," Rodney snaps in frustration, turning to glare at John with his cheeks flushed red in clear agitation. "I understand; it was just another mistake," he all but sneers. "An error, a lapse in judgement… on both our parts."

John winces, wishing he had the words to correct Rodney's obvious misunderstanding, because it wasn't a mistake – or rather it was, but not for the reasons Rodney thinks. "No, Rodney, I…" but then it no longer matters what he was going say as alarms burst into life all over the city as Atlantis goes into full quarantine lock-down mode.

"What the fuck!" John shouts as the door to the Chair room slams closed and the extra security shutter comes down, effectively sealing them in. "What now? I thought you'd fixed the problem"

"I did!" Rodney shouts in reply. "This must be something different. Hang on, hang on, hang on," he chants as he promptly drops his recently collected scanner and laptop back onto the floor, pushes himself upright and then dashes back over to control console as quickly as he can. He's almost relieved at the interruption, pathetically grateful for anything that will put a stop to John's fumbling attempts to let him down gently. Pushing that thought to one side for the moment, Rodney calls up an interface window and scrolls through the latest round of status reports, trying to isolate what has happened to trigger the quarantine lock-down. Are there reports of illness, traces of infection, the possibility of a pathogen infiltration?

"Nothing," Rodney says to himself as he shakes his head in dismay at his inability to locate the cause of the lockdown. "I can't see what's would cause this." He stumbles mentally, his brain feeling sluggish and unusually unwieldy all of a sudden. It's all getting to be too much, everything is moving too fast – he feels like he's lurching uncontrollably from one emergency to the next – be they burning labs, power outages, or mind-blowing but ultimately ill-advised sex with military officers. He can feel his pulse racing as endorphins and adrenaline flood continuously through his system – fear, arousal, anger, lust, all of the above. It's like all his experiences of Pegasus to date, only magnified by a factor of ten – everything is harsher, brighter, faster and far more painful.

Rodney is dimly aware of John watching him from across the room. He has one hand up by his head as he tries to activate his radio. Rodney already knows there's little point in that attempt, his report is showing him that the comms went gone down when the quarantine shutters did, along with several other secondary systems. All in all, it doesn't look good – and he still doesn't even know what it is.

"Rodney," John says.

Rodney's gaze snaps up to John's at the sound of his name. "I'm trying to figure out what has happened," he says by way of explanation for what has probably been an unusual period of silence for him. He bends back over the console again, desperate to get out of the intense focus of John's gaze. Rodney knows he's never been any good at hiding his emotions, and he doesn't want to give John any more reasons than he already has to pull away from him.

"Comms are down," John says.

"I know," Rodney says shortly, not bothering to go into any further detail until he actually has something concrete. His fingers move over the terminal of their own volition, automatically compiling the data he will need to work out what is going on. Whilst his body is so engaged, Rodney's mind, entirely against his will, flickers back briefly to exactly how they'd spent the previous twenty minutes or so before the lock-down activated – once again, it had been both John who had started the whole thing and John who had so obviously regretted it afterwards. It's just not fair, Rodney thinks to himself as a deep sharp pain he stalwartly refuses to identify blossoms in his chest. Why does it always have to him who keeps paying the price for wanting something so badly that he's willing to do anything to keep it, no matter what the cost to himself? He can already hear John's poorly phrased excuses and his own awkward acceptances, a repeat of their earlier conversation which will do little more than plaster over the cracks in their increasingly crumbling façade of friendship. A friendship he already knows he will do anything to keep, even denying himself that which he wants most. The pain in his chest grows in intensity, but Rodney continues to ignore it – if he does so long enough, he will eventually habituate to it and besides, it has never hindered him before.

Rodney realises that his fingers have stopped moving and that the terminal screen is now blinking with the information he requested. It only takes the touch of a few more buttons to project the image up onto one of the large viewing screens and then Rodney lets his hands fall to his sides as he considers what he has discovered. "Oh," he says faintly as he recognises odd bits of the strange code he's discovered, which now is scrolling on a continuous loop on the screen before them.

"What is it?" John asks, coming to stand next to him, close enough so their shoulders are brushing.

Rodney takes in a shaky breath at their proximity and, god, it will be a fucking miracle if he survives this day intact. Surely he can only withstand a limited number of these seemingly endless emergencies without shattering into a million pieces, and he knows there's a limit to much he can take of John's conflicting signals before he does go completely bat-shit insane.

He takes a deep breath, trying to calm his racing heart. It doesn't help – nothing so far has helped, the whole fucking universe has been on the verge of collapse since he woke up this morning. He's had not a moment's peace, unless he counts those few fleeting minutes when he was truly with John, before the insanity returned. "It's a virus," he says, his voice eerily calm despite the abject terror coursing through him. "It's everywhere – it's what's caused the quarantine shut down. It's..." He pauses as he take a few moments to ponder the virus' coding a little closer, because there is something about it that is all too familiar. Ah, yes, of course – there it is, how perfectly apt. "It's Replicator code."

"Fuck," John says succinctly.

Rodney snorts. "Quite," he replies, just as calmly as before.

It's odd, Rodney knows that he should probably be freaking out right about now, but he's not. If anything, he's the calmest he's ever been. His mind flashes back to the few other instances when he can recall this type of calm descending – on that desert planet when John was being attacked by that Wraith and Rodney had fired his entire clip of ammunition into it before asking John what to do next, on Atlantis watching the little blip that was John disappear into the mass of hive ships armed with a nuclear weapon and a one-way ticket. Each scenario was a time when he was facing the loss of something so profound that his mind was quite simply unable to process its magnitude correctly, when he seemed to switch off from actively participating in his life and merely observe his body do what needed to be done. He feels like that now, watching the virus' code flashing by with a sort depressed detachment. He notes, almost absently, how beautifully intricate the coding is, more like a living and evolving organism than the mechanical replicating software he has become used to associating with Replicator coding. At that recognition, something stirs in the back of Rodney's mind, something familiar – he has a feeling that he's seen something like this before, he just can't work out when or where.

"Can you break the code?" John asks tightly. There's the barest hint of urgency in his voice which snaps Rodney immediately out of his emotionless haze.

Rodney blinks away his distraction and their situation suddenly roaring back to him with a vengeance. The truth is that he doesn't know if he can fix this, he is very afraid that the virus has already spread too far, has infected too many key systems for him to bring Atlantis once more under his control. He can't imagine how he missed it, he's just been working in the central processing core for goodness sake. He closes his eyes briefly, the fear so bad now he can feel it starting to cripple him, his brain freezing up in one massive clench of terror.

"Can you, Rodney?" John asks again and his voice goes some way to alleviating the worst of Rodney's emotions.

Rodney opens his eyes to stare at the code once more. "I don't know," he admits to John softly. "I'll try though," he says and sees John nod in satisfaction. He doesn't know if he's worthy of John's apparent trust but, for John, he will do his best. He can only pray that it is good enough.

Rodney spends the next half hour painstakingly going through each line of the virus code and trying to see some way to hack back into Atlantis' systems. The feeling that there is something oddly familiar about the virus, beyond it's obviously Replicator origin, still niggles at Rodney, but the actuality of what that something is remains just beyond his reach. He has managed to get a tentative handle on his fear at least, his brain otherwise engaged as he interprets the alien coding algorithms as fast as he can and attempts to hack back into the system that was once his. Just when he starts to think that he might be making some progress after all, the inevitable happens.

Things get worse.

"Oh my god." Rodney gazes at the results of the scan he has just run for a few moments, at a total loss for what either say or do. This time, it would appear that they really are well and truly fucked.

"Rodney?" Sheppard asks. "What is it?"

"Shit… I," Rodney swallows, reluctant for some reason to actually say the words, as if until he does so, what he seeing isn't actually real. It can't be, surely, because if it is, then they are all as good as dead. Earth too. "Ships," he says. "At least thirty of them in geo-synchronous orbit. They're surrounding us completely."

"Wraith or Replicator?" Sheppard asks, already starting to make his way towards the control chair.

"No… yes," Rodney replies, still unable to take in the consequences of what he's seeing.

"Rodney," Sheppard snaps impatiently.

"Both," Rodney says and watches John pause mid-stride and turns to look at him. "Replicator and Wraith… Oh my god," he exclaims as another, even more horrifying, thought occurs to him. "It's them," he hisses. "They're the ones doing this – all of it. They're working together."

John is at Rodney's side in an instant. "But how is this possible?" he asks. "I mean, how did they even find us-" he breaks of abruptly and his head goes down, eyes closed, pain etched across his features. "Elizabeth," he whispers, his voice little more than a ragged breath of pain.

Rodney wants to reach out and touch John, to comfort him somehow, but with all that has occurred he has no idea if it's the right thing to do or not. Still, he can't leave John like this, not when he's so very obviously suffering over something that he had neither caused nor could have controlled. So Rodney approaches him slowly and rather awkwardly, not certain his touch will be welcome when John had seemed intent on again pulling away from him and from what they've shared. John doesn't notice his approach, he's staring rather sightlessly at the display screen on which the Wraith and Replicator ships circle ominously over the city, his arms by his sides and his hands clenched into tight fists. Fighting down his nerves, Rodney reaches out and places his hand on John's arm, feeling the little tremors that shudder ceaselessly through the tense muscles and wishing there was a way for him to make this right. At his touch, John turns his head from the screen and looks at Rodney with his hazel eyes full of sadness and guilt. Suddenly Rodney is angry, furious beyond measure that John should have to carry this burden along with all the innumerable others he already shoulders.

"They could have found us any number of ways," he says with as much certainty as he can muster. "The how doesn't matter; what matters now is what we are going to do about it."

"That's easy," John says with grim determination, shaking off Rodney's hold and heading towards the Chair again. "I'm going to blow the fuckers out of our sky."

"That won't work," Rodney says. "Even if we had the energy to power the weapon, which I'm fairly certain we don't, the Chair won't work." He gestures violently towards the lines of code still scrolling over the large data screen. "The damn virus has completely destroyed all our security protocols. We couldn't launch a jumper right now, let alone a volley of drones."

"I have to try, Rodney," John says. "What else can I do?"

So Rodney lets him try; watches John as he sits down in the Chair, closes his eyes and sees his brow furrow in deep concentration. Nothing happens, just as Rodney had predicted. The chair neither lights up nor reclines in response to John's command – it is as dead as the rest of the city, its power flow completely decimated by the virus. John's eyes open again and he moves forward to sit on the edge of the Chair.

"Can you get it working again?" he asks.

Rodney shakes his head, "We simply don't have the power, the virus has completely destroyed the software pathways that the control crystals use to power the city."

"What about the naquadah generators?"

"They use the same Ancient power conduits, so they're just as useless now. Besides, they don't produce anything like enough power to run the chair."

"And the shield?" John asks tightly.

Rodney just shakes his head.

"Okay, so it's bad then. What are our options," John says, looking at him expectantly. "And don't shake your head again, Rodney. You've always got something up your sleeve that ends up saving the day."

Rodney just stares at him in astonishment, stunned at the complete and utter certainty in John's voice. And he just hates disappointing John so much, but… "You don't get it, do you?" he all but shouts. "There are no options – we're completely surrounded, being attacked on all fronts, our defences have been compromised both inside and out." He shakes his head in amazement as everything suddenly comes sharply into focus – of course, that's why the virus code looked the way it did, almost organic in its structure. "They've been planning this all along," he gasps, turning to look at John, knowing that the terror he's feeling must be reflected on his face by the way John's hand flies instinctively to his weapon. "Don't you see? They really are working together, god knows why, but it's true. This virus – it's Replicator code alright, but it's Wraith coding structure."

"What do you mean?"

"It's them, both of them – Wraith and Replicator. They're both responsible for everything, all of it – the power outage, the virus, the shield, and now they're preparing for the final assault." Rodney starts pacing up and down while his brain flies through possibilities and fear and adrenaline flood endlessly through his veins. "It started with the virus… or maybe with what you saw," he pauses mid-pace to point a finger in John's direction before resuming his pacing. "Perhaps there is a Replicator here after all, maybe that's how the virus got here…. God, it could have been here all along, perhaps they transported it onto the city undetected when we were otherwise engaged in escaping their weapon's beam." He shakes his head, "But we checked over the whole city thoroughly once we landed here, so maybe the virus got here another way; uploaded when we did a sensor sweep or something, perhaps even when-"


John's interruption helps Rodney get back on track. "Right, doesn't matter – the point is that the virus has now effectively put a stop to us making any decent kind of defence, let alone launching a counter-attack." He marches back over to the console and brings up a schematic of the city, overlaying it with a pictogram depicting the areas the virus has already infiltrated in red – it doesn't look good, already two-thirds of the city is highlighted in red, the central tower amongst them. "It's everywhere," he says to John, gesturing towards the display screen. "In every major system – power, life support, shields, weapons, you name it – it's already there." He considers the virus's dispersal thoughtfully. "From this, it looks like it first tapped into our secondary back-up power grid and then managed to work its way through the power flow matrix into the central processing core, that's why we had the power outage." Yet another wave of emotion goes through him and this time it's the sour taste of guilt that weighs heavy on his tongue when he speaks. "Who knows how long it's been here, and I never even noticed. When I re-started the system just now, I merely expedited its transfer."

"Rodney," John says. "You couldn't possibly have known." His voice is low and soft, without a hint of blame. Rodney feels the emotion held within it wrap closely around him; it helps to calm him in spite of the way his brain is screaming in terror. Now it's John's turn to approach Rodney, moving just as cautiously as Rodney had done. "It's not your fault," John says as he reaches out his hand to place it on Rodney's shoulder, squeezing lightly as if to share his strength. For a moment, Rodney allows his eyes to drift close and lets himself enjoy John's touch – to revel in the fact that John is reaching out to him, touching him purely for his own well-being. This contact is not about sex or fear or lust, it's about connection, it's about John caring for Rodney.

Rodney opens his eyes, at last strong enough to face the inevitable. "It's over," he says nodding towards the viewscreen which shows that the ships are now in attack formation. "You know that, right?" There's nothing more he can do – there will be no escape this time, no last minute miracle to bring them back from the brink.

"Yeah, I know," John says, and Rodney has to smile at the irony of it all. Here they both are, perhaps closer than they've ever been before, closer that even when they were fucking, and it's the end of the world – literally. He, Rodney McKay, double PhD, would-be Nobel-laureate, the smartest man in two galaxies, admitting defeat. And beside him Lt. Colonel John Sheppard, the man who never stops fighting, who ordered Rodney to make him a god-damn nuclear warhead for him to ride to his death in order to save Atlantis, doing likewise.


Rodney glances up to the ships in the viewscreen shudders, it won't be long now. He turns to face John just as John moves forward towards him and when they kiss this time, they are both moving together in perfect synch. Mouths meeting and lips parting, kissing deeply as though they have all the time in the world, which, in some senses, they do.

This not exactly how John pictured spending his final few minutes of life. He had always known he was unlikely to die of old age, unless of course it was premature old age at the hand of a Wraith, and had pictured his death, as soldiers are wont to do, a number of different ways. The grim scenarios usually involved him dying in combat as a result of being shot or shot down on some strange alien world, or possibly fighting with his last breath to save Atlantis, but never in all his darkest nightmares or most maudlin thoughts had he pictured his last act to be kissing Rodney McKay. It would appear, however, that kissing Rodney is precisely how he is going to go out and, as he pulls Rodney even closer to him so he can deepen their kiss, John finds that he can't possibly imagine a better way to go.

"Hello? Is anyone here?" A woman's voice gradually penetrates John's consciousness and he realises that they are no longer alone. He frowns and lets out a small whine of annoyance into Rodney's mouth at the interruption, but then Rodney nips sharply on John's lower lip before sucking it into his mouth.

"John? Rodney?" the voice calls again and this time it's Rodney who gives a huff of aggravation. John doesn't want Rodney to be aggravated so he swipes his tongue leisurely over Rodney's soft palate, earning a little whimper that is definitely not one of aggravation, and then softly pulls back from the kiss, intent on doing something about whoever it is who thinks they can interrupt them.

"John, oh, thank goodness." John would have thought that Teyla's voice would be as effective as a bucket full of cold water in dousing his ardour, but he still finds it rather difficult to pull himself out of Rodney's arms. If anything, it is the shock of hearing Teyla here that gets through to him, that and the fact that Rodney practically catapults himself out of John's embrace as he becomes aware of her presence.

"Oh my god!" Rodney shouts out in surprise.

John winces and takes a quick step back from Rodney as somehow he manages to bellow his words directly into John's ear. It's actually quite a feat when he must have been aiming for Teyla. Rodney looks as stunned as John feels, wild-eyed in his surprise with his mouth still wet and red from John's kiss.

John feels a little gurgle of laughter bubble up inside him at the situation. He wonders vaguely if he's gone insane – it was bound to happen eventually he supposes, the risk of living too many years stuck in a galaxy far, far away and dabbling a little too often with the dark side. He's suddenly beset with the urge to have hysterics, either that or launch straight into a full-blown temper tantrum.

"What... Where... How...?" Rodney stutters, not sounding like he'd score all that many points more than John on the sanity scale at the moment. But perhaps John is underestimating Rodney's genius because he pauses to take a deep breath and his next attempt is substantially more coherent. "What are you two doing here?"

And, wow, does John lose even more points because it isn't until that moment that he realises that both Teyla and Ronon are now in the Chair room with them. The door is still closed... and yes, Rodney's stuttered questions don't really seem all that insane anymore. Or at least no more so than the rest of their current situation.

Teyla takes a careful step towards them, one arm outstretched in a placating gesture. "John, Rodney," she says again. "Something has happened; we need to get you both out of here."

Suddenly the attack they've been waiting for begins. The viewscreen shows the Wraith and Replicator ships start to open fire, their weapons appearing as small moving dots which rapidly approach the city. Beside him John hears Rodney let out a noise somewhere between a snort and a laugh.

"Nice thought," Rodney says, gesturing towards the viewscreen. "But, unfortunately, there is no getting out." He tilts his head to one side, considering both Ronon and Teyla carefully and then looking over at the still quarantine-locked door. "Which brings us back to how you two got in here." His eyes narrow suddenly in suspicion and he asks, "You're not Replicators, are you?"

A flurry of movement has John's weapon in his hand, aimed directly at Ronon who has likewise raised his energy pistol. Rodney lets out a little whimper of fear and John moves slightly so that he's got Rodney even further behind him. With a noise of intense frustration, Teyla manoeuvres her way between John and Ronon, her hands raised and palms facing outwards towards each of them.

"Stop it," she says sternly to Ronon. "This will not help matters and we do not have much time." She obviously means business because Ronon lowers his pistol almost immediately at her command.

Teyla then turns her attention towards John and Rodney. "You do not understand," she says. "It is true that you are both in danger, but not from what you suppose. We are not Replicators, but we are not real either. None of this is real, you see. We are all not really here."

John frowns at that and sees Rodney do likewise, so he keeps his weapon trained.

"Please, John," Teyla says, lowering her hand and taking a cautious step towards them. "Let me explain, we do not have much time."

John considers this, she sounds sincere so he slowly replaces his weapon in his thigh-holster. It's not like they really have a whole lot to lose at this juncture. Beside him he feels Rodney relax as well. "So," he says sceptically. "We're not really here."

"I... just... no," Rodney says firmly. "As much as I'd like to not really be here, and believe me I would very much like that to be the case, I do have to say that, unfortunately, I am very much here."

John waves his hand in the air. "Me too," he adds helpfully. Rodney shoots him an exasperated look to which he replies with a shrug. "Well, I am."

"No, you're not," Ronon replies shortly.

John opens his mouth to argue that yes, he is, but closes it again when Rodney butts in ahead of him.

"Oh, for goodness sake," Rodney shouts, practically bristling with indignation. "I am not going to spend my last remaining minutes watching the two of you bicker. I was just starting to enjoy this damn nightmare again and then suddenly the two of you show up out of nowhere. I am quite obviously delusional but, strangely enough, I'm okay with that. So, as you two are not really here, I suggest that you just go back to wherever it is that you came from and let me get back to enjoying my last few moments of life." And, with that, Rodney waves a dismissive hand at Teyla and Ronon and turns back towards John, already reaching out to pull John into his arms once more.

"Wait, Rodney, please," Teyla says urgently, turning away from John so she can appeal to Rodney directly. "That is it exactly – a nightmare. That is what this is – your nightmare."

The fact that Teyla is sincere is evident in her voice, and it obviously makes Rodney pause. He turns slowly back towards Teyla, an expression of confusion on his face. "What?" he asks.

"You're asleep," Ronon says. "Both of you."

Now it's John's turn to ask the question, echoing Rodney, "What?"

Teyla and Ronon exchange a quick glance in which they're obviously deciding which one of them should do the talking. Unsurprisingly, Teyla wins the battle of wills again. "Please," she says. "Let's all sit down so I can explain, we do not have much time." Just then, as if to emphasis her point, the first salvo of weapons fire hits, sending them all to their knees with the force of the first set of explosions.

"So let me get this straight," Rodney says, jumping to his feet and starting to pace. "Both John and I are, in reality, lying unconscious in the infirmary." He pauses mid-stride and turns to look at Teyla for confirmation of his assertion.

"Yes, Rodney," Teyla affirms.

"And all of this," Rodney says as he continues his pacing. "The city, the virus, the quarantine, the ships, the attack – all of it," He pauses again so that he can flail his arms about to encompass said everything, "is just a dream?"

Another explosion rocks the city, seeming to dispute the point, but still Teyla repeats "Yes, Rodney," with a compelling amount of conviction.

"Well, thank goodness for that," Rodney replies is a sigh of relief, sitting back down beside John with a thump.

"I'll second that," John drawls. The city continues to face a continual barrage from the assorted warships in orbit and, with only minimal shielding, John knows that the only reason they've been protected from the worst of it thus far is because the Chair room is located at the very base of the central Atlantean spire. "So how did this happen?" he asks.

"Yes," said Rodney, perking back up again immediately. "What caused this?" His face falls as an idea apparently strikes. "We're not back on that mist planet are we?"

"No, but I do believe there are some similarities in the current situation to what we experienced there," Teyla replies. "Dr. Keller and Colonel Carter both believe that you are being affected by the alien crystal we encountered."

Rodney sends John an evil look. "See, I told you not to touch it," he hisses. "This is exactly the kind of horrible situation your sticky fingers get me in to." He then turns back to Teyla and Ronon. "So," he begins. "What does it want, how long have we been like this and how do we stop it?" He tilts his head to one side consideringly. "And why on Earth is Sheppard here? I mean, I was the one who touched the crystal."

Teyla and Ronon share a look before Teyla turns back to Rodney. "We believe that the glowing crystal contained a living organism."

"Yes, yes, of course," Rodney say, snapping his fingers repeatedly. "The bioluminescence, it was a sort of lure to encourage things to touch it." He shoots John another glare.

"Exactly," Teyla says. "Dr Keller believes the organism to be some sort of parasite. When an individual comes into contact with the crystal, the parasite is able to transfer itself in to its body."

"Makes sense," Rodney muses as he nods to himself.

"We discovered you and John this morning when neither of you showed up for our mid-day briefing," Teyla continues. "You were both in your quarters apparently asleep, but we could not rouse you; it was then that we realised that something was wrong."

"When was this?" John asks. "I mean, how much have we missed?"

"As far as we know, you have both been unconscious since you went to bed in the early hours of this morning, after the fire in the science lab on the pier," Teyla replies.

"So everything since we woke up this morning has been a dream," he says.

Rodney snorts at this. "A nightmare, more like," he replies as the shock wave from yet another detonation shakes the room.

"Thanks, Rodney," John drawls sarcastically.

Rodney glances quickly over at John and promptly blushes bright pink. "Well, what I mean is, all this?" he breaks off and waves a hand at the wreckage the continual blasts have caused. "Not so fun."

"And the rest?" John asks teasingly, more to watch Rodney fidget than anything else.

Rodney does not disappoint as his blush grows more pronounced and his hand flaps become even more agitated. "I… um… well, the rest was… um… not completely terrible, I suppose," he mumbles at last.

John grins, pleased that he is clearly not the only one who is having a hard time quantifying all of this.

"Hey," Rodney says suddenly, jumping to his feet and pointing at Teyla. "Do you know what the parasite is feeding on?" he asks. "I mean, why would it make its host unconscious and then go to all the trouble of creating an artificial reality like this." He pauses for a minute, apparently lost in thought. "Unless…" he continues, snapping his fingers and spinning towards John, pointing at him this time. "Unless it has something to do with what we've been dreaming."

"What do you mean?" John asks in confusion.

"I mean, what if there's something about the nature of this dream that the parasite wants," Rodney explains. "Think about it, John. Why else would we be experiencing something like this if not for the parasite's benefit?"

"That is what Dr. Keller believes is happening," Teyla says. "She theorises that the crystal parasite is feeding on fear."

Rodney rolls his eyes at that. "Yes, quite," he says dismissively. "'Feeding on fear' is just how I'd expect a voodoo-practising non-scientist to describe it. It's far more likely that it's feeding on some physiological aspect of the fear reaction." He hums thoughtfully for a moment, looking at John with such close attention that John feels himself start to grow hard at the focused intensity of Rodney's gaze. His interest obviously attracts Rodney's attention, as his eyes flicker quickly down to John's groin for a moment before flashing back up to his face, a small crooked smile appearing on his lips. "Hmm, or perhaps not the fear reaction exclusively, maybe any arousal of the sympathetic nervous system that will do the trick."

"You mean like adrenaline?" John asks, twisting his hips slightly as he talks in an effort to re-arrange himself and also trying to focus on Rodney's words rather than the effect Rodney is having on his body.

"It's not the adrenaline it's feeding on, it's the glucose the adrenaline release causes to be sent to the brain that it wants," Ronon volunteers. John, Rodney and Teyla all turn as one to look at him askance. "Hey, Keller's kinda cute when she gets all excited about science," he says by way of explanation.

John blinks and shakes his head at that, before forcing his attention back to the matter at hand. "So, it's feeding on the glucose produced when our bodies become aroused?"

"Yes," Teyla agrees. "That is what Dr Keller believes."

"But that still doesn't answer Rodney's question of why the dreams," John says.

"Ah, but it does," Rodney replies. "You see, the images, thoughts, emotions and sensations that you experience when you are asleep are not really all that dissimilar to what you experience when you're awake. So, in essence, a person experiencing a nightmare would experience all the physiological and psychological effects of really experiencing a horrible situation - the fear, horror, pain, and their accompanying physiological responses."

"Like the production of adrenaline which releases glucose," John says.

"Yes, which is exactly what the parasite wants," Rodney replies. "I guess that by making the host unconscious and then manipulating the host's dreams the parasite can ensure that the arousal reaction which produces the glucose continues for as long as possible. And also that the host remains inactive so it isn't 'wasting' glucose by moving about and being conscious."

"Yes," Teyla agrees. "Dr. Keller noticed a drastic decrease in your glucose levels almost immediately, Rodney. She had to hook you up to a glucose drip in order to prevent your body suffering a hypoglycaemic reaction."

"What?!" Rodney squawks in outrage.

"Calm down, Rodney," John says immediately. "Now we know what's going on we're gonna get out of here." He reaches out and clasps Rodney's arm firmly in an effort to reassure him and is pleased when Rodney takes a deep breath and then nods.

"Yes," he says. "We are."

"Good," John replies softly, squeezing Rodney's arm once before releasing him. Something occurs to him and he turns back to Teyla. "But none of that explains why I'm here," he says. "I mean, Rodney is the one who touched the crystal, not me."

"Yes," Rodney interjects. "He's right. Neither does it explain why you and Ronon are here."

"We're here 'cause of Carter," Ronon says.

"Colonel Carter was able to successfully alter a piece of equipment acquired on one of SG1's missions ten years ago. The SGC have been using it for training purposes as it allows for the creation of virtual realities," Teyla elaborates.

"Ah," Rodney says. "So, they've managed to tune it in to subconscious mental activity. Huh, that's not an entirely stupid idea."

"We needed to see what exactly you were experiencing," Teyla says. "So I was connected to you, Rodney, and Ronon to you, John. We are both being monitored to ensure that the procedure does not harm us; Dr Keller has also advised us that she will terminate the connection after thirty minutes have passed to be absolutely certain that we are not adversely affected. Therefore, we need to work fast if we are to determine a way to break you out of your unconscious state before Ronon and I are pulled back and it's too late for you," she concludes.

"Too late for us?" John asks in some trepidation.

"She means before we wind up dead," Rodney mutters morosely. "After all, there's only so much stress our bodies can take, even if they do keep topping up our glucose levels... Hang on a minute," he says. "Teyla, you said Keller had me wired up to a glucose drip, what about Sheppard?"

"No, I do not believe that his glucose levels have been dropping as yours have been, Rodney," Teyla replies.

"Wha-" John starts to say, but Rodney shushes him immediately.

"Quiet, I'm thinking," he snaps as his eyes go vague and unfocused and he stares off into the distance, lost in thought.

John lets him ponder for as long as he safely thinks he can. They really need to hurry, the explosions are now detonating just scant metres from the tower and it's only the thick quarantine blast doors that are protecting them from the brunt of the attack. "Rodney?" he says after a few moments. "Buddy, we're kinda on a tight deadline here, so if you've got an idea about how to get us out of here, I really need to hear it."

Rodney's eyes clear at last and he turns his head to look at John. "It's okay," he says with a small, sad smile. "I think I understand why this is happening. I know how to get you out of here, John."

Things have finally coalesced in Rodney's brain and now he can now see the solution with perfect clarity. True, it might not be a solution for him, but it will at least prevent John from having to die trapped in a nightmare of his own making. That fact alone makes it good enough for him.

"Of course, that's why we couldn't get it to work; it tunes in to subconscious mental activity," he mumbles to himself, grateful for Teyla's unwitting prompt that had sparked his idea.

"What?" John asks. "Rodney, we both need to get out of here." Another bomb blast shakes the room, its proximity and intensity sending a couple of the supply cabinets over and cracking the screens on all the various pieces of equipment.

"Yes, of course," Rodney replies, rolling his eyes. "While that is obviously the ideal, I…" he trails off for a moment, before forcing himself to continue. "It's just that I'm not sure it is actually a realistic goal."

"Damn it, Rodney, if you thi-" John starts to argue, but Rodney doesn't have time for this – or rather, John doesn't have time for it.

"Not now," he interrupts, holding a hand out towards John in an attempt to physically prevent further arguments. "As you said yourself, we don't have much time." He then turns to Teyla and Ronon. "You said Keller was giving you thirty minutes, right?"

"Yes Rodney," Teyla affirms calmly. "Colonel Carter does not believe the equipment which allows us to be here will remain safely active for much longer than that. What do you need us to do?"

"So that means you've got about ten minutes left," he says, giving silent thanks for Teyla's quiet efficiency. He flips through his plan one final time in his mind, takes a deep breath, and then starts to explain the relevant aspects to Teyla and Ronon. "Right," he begins, "the first thing you need to do when you get back is to go to my lab. There's an Ancient artefact on my desk – it's shaped like a sphere, about so big," he demonstrates the diameter of the device with his hands. "You need to get it and find a way to turn it off."

"Wait," John interjects. "You think this has something to do with that device we were testing?"

"Yes," Rodney replies succinctly, but then can't help but explain further. "Well, it doesn't have anything to do with the nightmare scenario, but it does explain why you're experiencing it too, even though I was the only one to touch the alien crystal." He automatically starts to pace as he explains, unable to sit still while his brain is whirring. "You see, I'm the one who is infected with the parasite – it's my glucose that it's feeding on and my arousal response it wants to influence. However, what it doesn't know is that we are linked," he waves a hand between John and himself for emphasis. "The Ancient communication device we were testing? Well, it would seem that it is for the communication of thought and that it does work, however just not in the way we originally thought. Rather than transmit conscious thought, it would appear that it is unconscious thought that it's tapping in to."

"So we're communicating to each other through our dreams?" John asks.

"In essence, yes," Rodney replies as he spins to face John. "I mean, I'm sure it's vastly more complicated in reality – probably something involving alpha waves or some such soft-science nonsense," he waves away the details with a flick of his hand. "That's beside the point, the point is that because of the link, the parasite is able to access both of our brains and so we're both being manipulated by it in its attempt to arouse a sympathetic response, even though it's only me on whom it can feed." He pauses to take a deep breath, crossing over to Sheppard so he is standing directly in front of him. "John, there's no need for you to be here," he says seriously. "When Teyla and Ronon are pulled back into reality, they can deactivate the device. With the device no longer active, our connection will be broken and you will no longer be under the influence of the parasite - you'll be able to wake up."

"But what about you?" John asks, staring back at Rodney just as intently. "Rodney, I can't just leave you here to face your worst nightmares alone. I'm sorry, I can't."

"Look, we don't have much time," Rodney begs, willing John to understand. "John, please, this is the only way to ensure that at least one of us survives." He needs John to realise just how vital it is to him that John escapes this nightmare, for him to know that John is safe.

"Only one of us surviving is unacceptable," John grits.

"Rodney is right, John," Teyla intercepts kindly as she adds her plea to Rodney's. "This would appear to be the way to get you out of this nightmare. Once that is done, we can concentrate our efforts on saving Rodney." She turns to Rodney next. "How do we deactivate the device?" she asks.

Rodney isn't sure that it is possible to save him, but if pretending that it is what it will take to get John out of here, he'll gladly play along. "Well," Rodney replies. "I'm not entirely certain, but-"

"Perhaps we can just destroy it?" Ronon suggests with a grin.

"What?! Are you insane? What are you trying to do? Kill us both?" Rodney yells at Ronon, promptly distracted by the mere thought of such unconsidered destruction that will very probably end things painfully for John and himself.

"Ronon," Teyla says warningly. "What do you suggest, Rodney?"

Rodney takes a deep breath and pointedly turns away from Ronon to address Teyla directly. "You need to find a way to deactivate it – not destroy it. It's Ancient tech, so either find someone with a strong ATA gene to try and deactivate it, I would suggest Major Lorne, or get Zelenka to try opening it up and removing the mini-power crystal. My lab notes about the device are on my laptop in the sub-directory labelled 'Unknown devices' and its device number is 01152. Have you got that? This is really important, okay? Please make sure that-"

"Rodney," Teyla interrupts his near-frantic babble, stepping forward and taking his flailing hands between her own. "It will be okay. We will deactivate the device in order to free John and then find a way to get the parasite out of you." She squeezes his hands firmly and then bends her forehead towards him. Rodney leans forward to return the Athosian gesture. "We will free both you and John," she says softly. "I promise." And, with that, she and Ronon disappear.

Rodney blinks in surprise at the abruptness of their departure. "Well," he starts to say, but is interrupted by the yet another explosion. This one is worse that all those that have come previously – larger, closer and, for the first time, the blast doors which have been successfully shielding the Chair room from the worst of the attack start to crack open.

"Fuck," John curses quietly under his breath. "It's getting worse," he says as he makes his way over to the door to assess the damage caused by the latest attack.

"Yes," Rodney agrees. "It's probably down to the parasite trying to up the stakes – to get a bigger reaction out of us so it has more to feed on."

John nods in agreement. "There are probably Wraith and Replicators already in the City – we should try and secure the room." He looks around for a moment and then heads towards a pile of the over-turned supply cabinets. Grasping hold of the closest one, he starts dragging it along the floor towards the door in an attempt to provide them with some more protection. "Come give me a hand with this," he grunts as he strains to move the heavy equipment. "It won't hold out for long, but it's better than nothing and it will buy us some time."

Rodney feels the fear return, knowing that it's not really worth the bother – there really is so little that he can actually do. "Is there any point?" he asks John. "This isn't real, remember. It's not like we're actually going to be able to win here – all that will happen is the parasite will manipulate the dream in its favour."

John pauses in his efforts for a moment to glare at Rodney. "Rodney," he orders sharply. "We are not giving up," his tone brooking no argument. "Even if we can't beat the damn parasite, we can at least delay it some. It might only be a dream, but we're living in it without realising it all day. If we can hold off this attack, even for a short amount of time, we're still increasing our chances of survival by giving Carter and the others more time to figure out how to get us out of here."

Rodney has to concede the point, so he does as John's asked. Together they manage to move three of the supply closets and use them to barricade the opening in the blast doors. When they're done, John stands back to assess the work and then starts running a critical eye over the rest of the room.

"Okay," he says at last. "We need to work out what else we can do to secure the room."

"Hang on a minute," Rodney says staring at him. "What did you say? You said we'd be buying them time to get us out of here - what do you mean us?" he snaps. "You will be getting out of here any minute now – it shouldn't take Teyla and Ronon long to get either Lorne or Zelenka to turn off the device and cut our connection."

John winces at Rodney's words. "Rodney," he says, stopping in his examination of the room's defences and coming to stand in front of Rodney. "I already told you, I am not leaving you here to face your worst nightmares alone. It's not going to happen. End of story, okay?"

"No, it is not okay," Rodney shouts at him. "Don't you see, this might be your only chance. This thing that's infecting me, it's not going to stop. It'll just keep fucking with my mind, creating more hideous scenarios, each one more terrifying than the next, until my body just gives up completely and I die!" he finishes, panting at the effort it's taking him to admit the stark truth of his situation. John is looking with guilt and horror etched clearly on his face, and Rodney forces himself to take a deep breath in an effort to regain some semblance of control. "John," he says, calmer this time even though his voice is still trembling slightly. "If you're still connected to me when that happens, there's every chance that you will die right along with me." As he speaks, he reaches out a hand towards John, willing John to understand.

For a moment John does nothing more than look back at Rodney, his face as blank and expressionless as a mask. Rodney knows that look only too well, it's the look John gets when he's debating doing something really stupidly heroic… Rodney really hates that look, and he closes his eyes against it.

"Rodney," John says brokenly, and Rodney opens his eyes just in time to see John take two quick steps forward before he's pulled bodily into John's arms. Rodney blinks at the sudden change in John's demeanour, but the sensation of John's strong, hard body against his own is unbelievably comforting. He sighs in pleasure, relaxing his body into John's care and bringing his arms up to embrace John in return. He lets his head come to rest naturally on John's left shoulder and shudders when he feels John bury his own face into the side of Rodney's neck. John's mumbling incoherent words into Rodney's neck and the feeling of his lips whispering across his neck is enough to ramp up the sensation of comfort another notch. Standing close in the safety of John's embrace, Rodney feels the thrill of arousal start to bubble through him. Even though he knows that circumstances are being manipulated to induce this very effect, he also knows that his emotions, at any rate, are real; he would want him regardless of the situation. John is so important to him…

"You have to go back," he whispers into John's shoulder as his hands start to run of their own accord up and down John's tense back. "You have to be safe."

John pulls back and this time when he looks at Rodney, Rodney can see that his composure has cracked completely. He stares at Rodney, his eyes looking unusually green and vulnerable. "You are not doing this," he says.

"It's my choice to make," Rodney replies. "You're here because of me. I can't fix the problem, but I can get you out of here. Look, this isn't easy for either of us, but-"

"Rodney, I can't," John interrupts, looking away for a moment. When he looks back to Rodney, there's pleading desperation in his eyes. "I just can't abandon you here. I'm sorry."

"What else do you think you ca-" But another explosion hits before Rodney can finish and the ground buckles beneath their feet, sending them both flying. Rodney lands heavily on his hands and knees with John sprawling on his back just a few feet in front of him. He groans as pain floods through his body, the weight of his landing impacting jarringly up his arms and into his shoulders and back.

"Rodney!" John shouts, pulling himself to his feet and coming over the where Rodney is still hunched over on the ground. "Hey, you alright, buddy?" He crouches down beside Rodney on his haunches and puts a hand on Rodney's shoulder. Rodney leans into the touch, trying to regain the strength to get to his feet. The parasite must be getting a big meal out of him now. He's shaking with the pain in his back and, when he manages to sit up, he realises that his palms are cut and bleeding from where he's landed amongst fragments of broken glass.

John draws in a sharp hiss of breath at the sight, tipping forward so that he's now kneeling cautiously on the floor beside Rodney. He reaches forward and takes hold of Rodney's hands carefully by the wrists, pulling them towards him so he can inspect the damage. "Damn," he mutters. "We need to get the glass out and then wrap these up to stop the bleeding."

Rodney shakes his head. "It doesn't matter," he says. "It's not real anyway, only the pain is real." He pulls his hands out of John's grip, wincing at the movement as the cuts sting sharply and ooze more blood as he does so. He starts to struggle to his feet and John gets a hand under his elbow to help him up. "God, is the pain real," he says as his lower back screams in protest and it takes him several seconds to straighten up all the way.

John's still beside him, something for which Rodney is grateful. He is holding Rodney gently, helping to keep Rodney upright with his forearms braced underneath Rodney's own and his hands cupping Rodney's elbows. Rodney breathes in deeply, trying to slow his racing heart, but with the combination of the pain and the ever increasing sound of the attack, it's difficult. He doesn't want to think about what it's going to be like once John disappears and he has to face this on his own. Trying to distract himself, he looks down at his bloody palms and grimaces – they're a bloody mess of torn skin and shards of glass. John moves back a pace, his hands sliding out from beneath Rodney's in a slow caress that makes Rodney shiver, arousal starting to wrap around him like a thick warm blanket that blocks out most of the pain.

"John," Rodney whispers, watching captivated as John lowers his head in concentration and carefully starts picking out the shards of glass from the broken skin of Rodney's right palm. His left hand is holding Rodney's steady as he uses his right to remove the glass.

"Shhh," John shushes Rodney gently, rubbing the soft and undamaged skin of his wrist lightly with his thumb. John then moves on to Rodney's left hand, his movements as careful as before. When he's finished he leans forward even closer and places a gentle kiss on each of Rodney's wrists, his lips warm and soft against Rodney's skin. Rodney draws in a slow shuddery breath and when John raises his head to look at Rodney, everything else – all of Rodney's pain and fear and terror – fades away to nothing.

John takes a quick few steps backwards, pulling Rodney with him. He leans back against one of the waist height consoles by the Chair and pulls Rodney to him so that Rodney's resting almost all his weight on John's body. John reaches up and frames Rodney's face with his hands. "Be careful of your palms," he whispers and then he leans forward to take Rodney's mouth with his own.

Rodney falls into the kiss, letting himself get lost in the heat and comfort of John's embrace. He rests his hands on John's shoulders, his fingers curled up into loose fists to protect the broken skin. John's touch is infinitely gentle, his tongue lightly tracing over Rodney's lips until Rodney's mouth parts on a sigh. At that, John lets out a small grunt and his hands move to wrap tightly about Rodney's shoulders. He spreads his legs and pulls Rodney closer as he thrusts his tongue deep into Rodney's mouth. Rodney moans and moves closer still. He feels the length of John's erection flex against him as their kisses deepen and shifts his hips, without thinking, in an attempt to align their cocks.

In an instant pain shoots from his lower back all the way up his spine and radiates down both of his legs. The agony is so intense that if John weren't holding him up, he would almost certainly be doubled over with it. "Oh, fuck," he pants and squeezes his eyes tight shut, hardly able to talk through the pain.

"Rodney?" John sounds concerned, but Rodney can hardly make out his voice through the waves of pain battering his aching body. John moves and suddenly there is a large warm hand rubbing the spasming muscles.

"Uhhh," he moans as his back slowly starts to unclench and the pain gradually recedes. He opens his eyes to find John watching him, his hand still massaging Rodney's lower back and his concern evident.

John opens his mouth as if to speak, but then something happens. Suddenly his eyes go vague and he tilts his head to one side, as if listening carefully to a distant sound. His brow furrows and then his eyes snap sharply back into focus, a firm and determined looking coming on to his face. "Damned if I will," he says and that's when Rodney realises what's happening – back on Atlantis they're trying to turn off the device, John is being pulled back into reality.

"John," he says urgently. "You have to go, it's getting worse, and we both know it. You have to get out of here while you still can."

"How many times to I have to tell you Rodney, I will not leave you."

"You don't have choice – they're turning off the device and there isn't anything you can do about it," Rodney says, trying his best to sound brave. He can't stand the thought of being trapped and dying here alone with nothing but his own terror. Nevertheless, the thought of John dying here as well - needlessly, just because Rodney was too much of a fucking coward to face this like a man – is far worse. No, he needs to go – Rodney needs to know that he is safe, back on Atlantis where he belongs.

"Yes, there damned well is something I can do," John replies. "I can fight it." He closes his eyes and concentrates, his hands fisting in the cloth of Rodney's jacket as if to help anchor him in the nightmare.

"John, no!" Rodney urges as he realises what John's doing. "Don't fight it, please." John ignores him, his face a study of concentration as he uses his gene to fight whatever they're doing back on the real Atlantis to break John's subconscious connection to him. Desperate, for what he's not exactly sure – for John to be safe, for just John – Rodney leans forward and kisses him – it's clumsy, he misjudges the distance and John's mouth is closed, but it's John, and he's home, and Rodney loves him so goddamn much and…

"Rodney," John sighs into Rodney's mouth. "I l-"

But before he can finish, John vanishes and Rodney is left all alone.

John opens his eyes to see the dim lights and blue-grey walls of Atlantis' infirmary. "No," he shouts, sitting upright with a jolt. "Rodney!" Hands immediately settle on his body, trying to get him to lie back down and he struggles against them. "No!" he shouts again." Get me back, I need to go back, get me back there now!"

"Colonel Sheppard, please, you need to calm down."

Calm down? How the fuck can he possibly calm down knowing that he's left Rodney back there – just abandoned him to face his worst nightmare – their worst nightmare, the total annihilation of Atlantis – alone?

"Rodney!" John screams again as he continues to fight the hands that are trying to restrain him, feeling the pull of an IV in his arm. He looks frantically around the infirmary for some clue as to how he can get back to Rodney. Keller is standing beside his bed, her hands resting on his bicep and chest, trying to get him to lie back down. He is also surrounded by two other infirmary staff and Teyla and Ronon, all of whom are trying to suppress his movements. He spots Carter, Zelenka and Lorne standing at the foot of the bed, just to the right of his feet; Lorne is holding the Ancient communication device, having obviously just used his ATA gene to switch it off. John tries again to get up, throwing out his arms and lunging forward in an attempt to reach for the device, certain that if he can just touch it again he can return to Rodney.

Of course, he doesn't get anywhere near Lorne, doesn't even make it up into a sitting position. Ronon stops him immediately by simply placing a hand on the centre of John's sternum and pressing down hard, pinning John back to the bed with ridiculous ease. "Do you need to me to knock him out?" he asks Keller across John's now-prone body.

"No, Ronon. It's okay," Keller replies slightly baffled by the obvious sincerity of Ronon's tone, and then looks down at John. "John, please," Keller says urgently as she checks his IV line. "You need to calm down, your blood pressure is still dangerously high! If you don't relax, I'm going to have to sedate you fully."

John grits his teeth and forces his body to relax, knowing that if Keller doses him up on something he'll never be able to get back to Rodney in time. He takes a deep breath and makes a concerted effort to unclench his muscles. He manages to relax his back and shoulders just enough so that he is no longer arching against Ronon's hold, but can't seem to convince his hands to unfist. He's angry and frustrated and needs to get back to Rodney now.

"Are you okay now, Colonel?" she asks.

John only just manages to prevent himself from shouting at her – what kind of question is that? Of course he's not okay, how can he possibly be 'okay' when he's just left Rodney standing broken and bleeding amongst the ruins of Atlantis, all alone, waiting to die from sheer terror. John shuts his eyes against the image, his fists tightening yet further and his body shaking with the effort it is costing him to just lie here and do nothing while it happens. Rodney is going to die. Alone. Without John. How can he ever be 'okay' again?

"Your body has just undergone a huge amount of stress," Keller is saying. "You need to relax as best you can so that we can bring your adrenaline levels back down into a safe range. I really don't want to sedate you completely, but I am going to give you a mild sedative which should help relax you so that your body can recover...." she continues to talk, but John has already tuned her out – he's just spotted Rodney lying in the bed to his left.

Or rather, he's spotted Rodney's body; Rodney himself – his mind, his consciousness, everything that makes Rodney who he really is – is still trapped in the nightmare dreamscape created by the crystal parasite. He's too pale, John thinks to himself as he stares at Rodney's prone form, and far too still. It's disturbing actually, to see Rodney lying just there but knowing that all he's seeing is really nothing but an empty shell.

John wishes he could look away, but he can't. Like John, Rodney is wearing a pair of infirmary scrubs and he's surrounded by a multitude of different monitors and sensors. He's also hooked up to a couple of drip feeds that, John presumes, are feeding the glucose his body requires into his blood stream as well as keeping him hydrated. John notices that there is one of the crystal structures from the planet where Rodney had been infected sitting on a stand beside Rodney's bed. It has a number of different wires attached to it with crocodile clips which run from the crystal itself to one of the machines which is in turn hooked up to Rodney. From the looks of it, Keller, Carter and Zelenka have been trying to find a way to get the parasite out of Rodney and back into the crystal.

Rodney. God, but John needs to touch him – he's aching with the desire to throw back the covers, get out of bed, cross over to Rodney and simply pull him into his arms. To hold him close and never let him go. He blinks at surprise at the intensity of his emotions, wondering for a moment if he truly is out of the nightmare that he should still be reacting to Rodney so strongly.

"John," a calm voice says, and he turns his head to see Teyla watching him closely. She has both her hands resting lightly on his left leg, but her touch is more one of comfort than an act of restraint. "You are home now," she assures him. Her hands tighten on his leg in determination as she continues. "And we will also find a way to get Rodney home."

"Okay, here you go," Keller says and John looks over to see her holding a syringe. "Like I said, this is just a mild sedative, it wo-"

"Tell me about Rodney," John orders, not caring in the slightest that he is interrupting Keller mid-stream.

"I will, I promise," she reassures him. "But first you need to let me administer this, after that I'll answer all of your questions as best I can."

"John," Carter says, speaking for the first time. "Let the doctor do her job. I know you're worried about Rodney and I assure you that we are all doing our best for him." The order is clear in her voice, but her eyes are kind and even through the maelstrom of emotions swirling around inside him, John knows she is sincere.

It doesn't seem like he has a choice. It's so hard though, to let them treat him when he's not the one really in danger. Nevertheless, John swallows his objections and nods to Carter. Keller injects the sedative into John's IV drip.

"There," she says as she steps back. "You should start to feel a lot better now. The nightmare you were experiencing had your nervous system working overtime producing unsustainably high levels of adrenaline and glucose. Now you're out of there, and with the help of this, your body will be able to return to a stable state once more."

John takes a deep breath, it's a bit late for that, he thinks. He could have done with the calming influence whilst he was actually in the nightmare… but then again, that probably wouldn't have helped anyway, not as the parasite wasn't in him, but in Rodney. That thought gives him pause.

"Why can't you use the sedative on Rodney?" he asks Keller.

"It wouldn't do any good," she replies sadly. "We're doing all we can for him, keeping his glucose levels topped up so he doesn't lapse into a hypoglycaemic coma and keeping him hydrated." She glances across to Rodney's bed, a pained expression crossing her face. "The parasite is in him – in his brain, manipulating what he sees and feels, all of his body's responses. If we interfere with that, it will only ramp up the pressure, destroying his body even more in the process."

"Because it's feeding?" John asks.

"Yes," Keller replies. "Feeding on his fear reactions, or rather the glucose that his sympathetic nervous system is producing in response to them."

"But what if it couldn't feed?" John asks. "What would happen then…" He trails off as his thoughts start to coalesce into a plan of action he might actually be able to implement.

What if Rodney could manage to calm himself? If he could somehow manage to stop his body's reaction mentally – after all, he'd done it once before. When Rodney's DNA had been re-coded by the Ascension device and he'd been faced with the choice of dying or ascending, he had been able to lower his EEG levels to almost nothing.

"Hook me up to the machine you used to send in Teyla and Ronon," he orders quickly. "If I can just get back in there, talk to Rodney, maybe I can… What?" he demands as Keller starts shaking her head.

"I'm sorry, Colonel," she replies. "We can't; the device ran out of power just moments after Teyla and Ronon were pulled out of your consciousnesses."

"We're surprised it even worked at all," Carter adds. "It was never designed to be integrated with our technology and we were only able to stabilise its power module sufficiently for one use."

John curses under his breath; there has to be another way. He's certain that this is the solution - if he can only find a way to connect with Rodney's mind again, then he can let Rodney know there might be a way for him to rid himself of the parasite. Perhaps if there's nothing actually in Rodney's system on which the parasite can feed, it will merely return to its crystal so it can try to lure another host. John eyes the Ancient device, which now Lorne has now passed on to Zelenka. If only they'd let him touch it once more, if only for a few moments…

Then again, he might not even need to touch it. John closes his eyes and concentrates, hoping against hope that it's still there. Yes, it is, thank god. There, at the very back of his brain, is the familiar low hum which signals the presence of the Ancient device. It's so quiet that he's sure he only notices it because he is listening so very carefully, but now that he's found it, there is no way anything is going to force him to let it go. Keeping his eyes closed, he tunes out the sight, sound, scent and touch of everything around him and focuses all that he has on the tiny buzz of the Ancient device. This will work, he tells himself, it has to.

'Rodney?' he projects his thoughts as strongly as he can into the device. Then he waits breathlessly for a response. Nothing. He tries again, channelling everything he's got into the effort to reach Rodney's mind.


There! Finally he's picking up something. It's faint at first, more like a whisper of breath than actual sound or thought, but it's Rodney, he's sure of it. Their connection is extremely tenuous – almost non-existent – yet John can still feels waves of terror emanating from it, the faint echoes of Rodney's fear and distress washing over John and almost making him whimper in empathy. Damn, there really isn't much time left at all he realises; surely Rodney can't take much more of this. One shot, John thinks to himself, just one shot - that's all he's going to get. He needs to keep his message clear and simple; Rodney just isn't in any state to interpret anything complex.

He carefully blanks his mind, preparing himself as best he can. He knows that he needs to prepare himself if this is going to work; it's like when he flew the city, he needs to isolate himself completely and concentrate solely on his link to the Ancient device. It's hard, getting harder by the minute in fact, the thin connection he has with Rodney seems to be fading by the second. It's the sedative Keller gave him he realises with a start, his own system is slowing down and it's affecting his ability to link properly with the Ancient device. He's got to hurry.

Strangely enough, the worry actually helps to motivate him, gives him even more reason to think of nothing but Rodney. John pictures Rodney in his mind's eye, envisages Rodney right in front of him, looking at John with his blue eyes wide and full of fear. John wants to reach out and comfort Rodney, to pull Rodney into his embrace and tell him that everything is going to be okay. His fantasy helps even more and he reaches out towards Rodney, trying to invest his words with every ounce of sincerity that he feels, wrapping his thoughts around Rodney like a blanket of protection.

'Rodney, you need to relax. You're not alone; I'm here with you. It's all going to be okay, you just need to let your thoughts go, buddy… Think of nothing but clear blue skies.'

John's connection to the device and to Rodney continues to fade, even as he struggles to maintain the link. He repeats the words over an over again, chanting them in his head, transmitting them to the device, and even whispering them aloud.

'Rodney, I'm here with you, you're not alone, clear blue skies.'

John continues his litany long after he loses all sense of Rodney, unwilling to accept the fact that Rodney is really gone. He's finally pulled unwillingly into unconsciousness with his lips still shaping Rodney's name.

John vanishes and Rodney is left all alone in his nightmare. He lets out a little cry at the abruptness of John's disappearance and has to blink rapidly to clear his eyes. He wanted John to go, to be safe, but now he has to face up to the hopelessness of his own situation. He looks around the room nervously, taking in the debris, the wreckage and the cold dark walls that all of a sudden seem to be closing in on him. He thinks he hears something outside in the corridor – the sound of boots, or perhaps it's the scuttle of metallic legs – and a little whimper escapes him, the fear clogging his throat and threatening to suffocate him. Keeping his eyes locked on the barricaded door, Rodney retreats into the far corner of the room. He pauses for a moment to gingerly pick up the weapon John must have dropped during the last explosion, holding it carefully in his bloody right hand. Once in the corner, he hunkers down behind another one of the overturned cabinets, sitting positioned with his back to the wall so he can keep an eye on the door. He takes a deep breath and grips John's gun tightly, trying to ignore the pain in his hands and back, and his almost crippling fear. This is it, he thinks to himself, trying his best to be brave. At least he can die knowing that he's done what is most important – at least John is safe.

John. And he's really the crux of the matter. Rodney has never really been one for in-depth self-analysis, but somehow it seems appropriate that he at least make an attempt at being completely truthful with himself before he dies. Although, really, honesty has never been his problem. If anything, he's too honest – expressing his thoughts and opinions without first thinking through their possible implications. But, no, that's not quite right either because he has been getting better at that - trying to be more considerate of the feelings of people he cares about before he speaks. Despite the situation, Rodney has to smile wryly at that thought – he doubts that many of the people he used to know back on Earth would recognise him now.

A sound outside the door brings his attention sharply back to reality... well, not actual reality per se, but as close as Rodney's ever going to get again. His breath catches in his throat and he strains hard to hear whatever it is that's moving around outside over the frantic galloping of his heart. Wraith or Replicator, he wonders a little hysterically. Perhaps, if he's really lucky, it'll be both. He rises up to his knees, groaning aloud as the pain shoots down his back and into his right leg, and peers over the edge of the upturned cabinet behind which he's hiding. The door to the Chair room is still secure, the barricade he and John constructed firmly in place, but there is definitely someone or something moving around just outside. Rodney wraps both his hands around John's gun, not even noticing the pain from his cuts any more over the levels of adrenaline that are flooding through his system. He brings his linked hands up to brace them against the top of the cabinet, the barrel of the gun pointing directly at the door. Just as he gets the weapon in place, something hits the door from the outside at high velocity. The loud crash makes him jump and he lets out a little scream. They're trying to break through, he realises in terror; it won't be long now.

Suddenly something buzzes by his ear, a light brush of sound and breath. Rodney nearly jumps out of his skin, spinning around on his knees and only just managing to keep a hold on his gun. His hands are shaking and his heart feels like it's trying to beat its way out of his chest. He doesn't think he's ever been so terrified in his whole life – which just shows the power the crystal parasite has over his mind and body, because Rodney knows he's been in... well, maybe not worse situations exactly, but it isn't as if his life thus far on Atlantis has been a barrel of laughs, far from it in fact.

When Rodney scans the area from which he's sure the sound came, there's nothing there. He goes over every inch of the wall and floor with his eyes, listening closely for the sound and trying to calm his breathing. He finally manages to convince himself that there really isn't anything there – how could there be? There's only one way into this room and that's through the door, which is somehow managing to remain closed despite the obvious efforts of whoever it is outside. Rodney takes a shaky breath and turns his attention back to the door.

That's when he hears it again – not a sound as such, more like an echo; the faint call of a voice reaching out to him across a vast distance.


Rodney jumps in surprise – that's John's voice. He's on his feet and looking around the room before he even has time to think his actions through. How can John be here? John is supposed to be safe, back on Atlantis, out of this nightmare. But the room is empty and Rodney is still alone. A small hysterical burst of laughter comes unwittingly from his mouth – okay, so clearly his mind has finally snapped if he's standing in the middle of the Chair room re-enacting scenes from a Brontë novel.

Another loud crash sounds from the door, the impact sending the blockade of furniture scooting forwards a few inches. Rodney flees; scrambling back into his corner as fast as he can, resigning himself to spending what remains of his life both terrified and insane. He resumes his defensive position, weapon aimed at the door which is now starting to buckle as the invaders upgrade their attack from battering to weapon's fire. God, he is so screwed.

Just then, he hears it again – John's voice calling out to him. He can barely make out the words, but the emotion that accompanies the message is clear – a feeling of companionship, worry and, best of all, hope. For whatever reason, John truly believes that Rodney can get through this. Rodney closes his eyes and concentrates, blocking out the sounds of the pulse weapons which are inextricably cutting though the door and instead focuses entirely on John's words. The message is broken, full of static and interference like a poorly tuned radio, but Rodney manages to catch the jist of it.

'Rodney... relax... not alone... going to be okay... clear blue skies.'

Rodney frowns as tries to understand the somewhat garbled message. What is John saying? How is he communicating? He's certainly not back in the nightmare, not like he was before and certainly not like Ronon and Teyla were, so how... His thoughts are waylaid by another light breeze of sound.

'Rodney, I'm here ... clear blue skies.'

John's words are even fainter this time, but the urgency of the message is nevertheless still tangible. Clear blue skies, Rodney ponders to himself. Of course he recognises the words, doesn't think he'll ever be able to forget them or how close he was to dying when John first suggested that he imagine the clouds of his troubles parting to reveal clear skies beyond. It's strange that John would say this to Rodney again, especially now when he's in a similarly seemingly hopeless situation.

But, then again, it would seem that John doesn't think the situation is hopeless, not if he's contacting Rodney with such a message. He must be using the Ancient device, Rodney realises, obviously not properly as they are no longer sharing each other's subconscious thoughts, but Rodney doesn't see how else John could be communicating with him. And it must really be John – there's no reason for the parasite to conjure up this little scene, not when the mere thought of John help eases Rodney's fears considerably.

Ease his fears.

Clear blue skies.

It's not just a message; it's a plan. Rodney had been dying the first time John's words had conjured up the image of clear blue skies in his mind, his synaptic pathways blazing as his DNA mutated, propelling him towards either ascension or death. He had thought his situation was insolvable then too – the very thought of ascending, of essentially giving up everything that made him who and what he was, anathema to Rodney. And yet, he had succeeded, or rather he would have succeeded had he not been able to communicate telepathically to Carson the method by which his DNA could be repaired. Elizabeth had shown him his last readings taken by the EEG machine – at 0.3Hz he'd been on the very brink of ascension.

He just has to work out the meaning of John's message. Another loud noise from the corridor has Rodney spinning towards the door once more with his heart in his mouth. He watches in terror as the gap caused by the previous explosion is finally exposed; in just another few minutes they'll be in the room with him, he realises in horror. The thought sends yet another jolt of adrenaline through his system, making his hands shake and the sweat start to run down his face like tears.

The fear is crippling him, making it hard for him to think at all, let alone work out what sort of plan John's disjointed message is supposed to be instructing him to implement. Fear, he thinks as his brain finally manages to latch on to a single train of thought long enough to follow it though to the logical conclusion. If the parasite is feeding on his physiological reactions to fear arousal, maybe what he needs to do is to simply not have them. Clear blue skies. If he can somehow manage to stop reacting there will be nothing on which the parasite can feed – it's a stretch, even with his diminished mental capacity Rodney can recognise that, but it just might work. After all, both he and John have had wackier plans in their time which have still managed to somehow save the day.

Rodney takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. Relax, he thinks to himself, recalling the sound of John's voice. It heartens Rodney to think that even though John is now free, John is obviously still thinking about him - John still believes in him and trusts that he can do this. Rodney feels his heart rate start to slow and even out as his mind holds on tightly to John's words - he is not alone.

Another loud noise echoes through the room from the outside: the high pitched scream of metal being forced open. Rodney takes another deep breath, but he can't block out the sound. His eyes fly open of their own accord and his pulse sky-rockets when he sees the doors to the Chair room is slowly starting to be prised apart. He gulps, it isn't going to work, there's simply no way he's going to be able to relax enough to stop reacting, especially as it now seems like the parasite is hell-bent on wringing every bit of emotional terror it can from him. He adjusts his grasp on his gun, wishing that he had a better weapon or some sort of force field or shield with which to protect himself.

Rodney, I'm here. Rodney recalls John's message - John's voice calling to him and assuring him that he is not alone - Rodney realises that he can't just give up, he has to at least try. Perhaps if he pictures that John really is still here with him he will have a better chance of succeeding in calming himself. Rodney closes his eyes again and concentrates on John. To his surprise, it actually starts to work; he can almost feel John behind him, the strong length of his body pressed up against Rodney's back and his arms wrapped tightly around Rodney's chest. Rodney takes another deep breath and feels the shaking of his body gradually start to diminish.

However, another screech of metal has his eyes popping opening again and not even the thought of John beside him is enough to keep him calm. He watches in horror as the door is finally prised open completely. Swarms of mechanical Replicators come flooding into the room in waves, the tapping of their metal legs clearly audible over the sound of Rodney's frantic breathing and racing heart. A contingent of Wraith appear in their wake, striding into the room without preamble with their teeth bared and their nostrils flared as if they can already smell Rodney's presence.

Rodney is suddenly unaccountably grateful that John isn't really here – he wouldn't want John to die alongside him, not when he's so important to Atlantis. Not that Rodney himself isn't equally important, of course, but he doesn't really see that there's any other option open to him, not in the time still available. The Replicators scuttle over the debris-cluttered floor towards him, crawling over the over-turned cabinets and consoles and climbing along the walls as they approach in their hundreds. The Wraith move in as well, five of them fanning out in a hunting formation to hem Rodney into his corner. They then start stalking towards him with single-minded determination, their eyes glinting in hunger.

If he had a bit more time, maybe he'd stand a chance of relaxing sufficiently to be able to stop his physiological responses. After all, when it came down to the wire, he had been able to lower his EEG readings to a sufficiently low level to make ascension achievable. But time is something he no longer has in any abundance. He's still crouched low behind the cabinet and so far neither the Wraith nor the Replicators have got close enough to attack.

When the flash of inspiration hits him, Rodney gasps out loud at its simplicity. He's been circling around the solution all along, but never truly seen it until now. This was all a dream, his dream to be precise, and although the parasite might be in his brain calling the shots, it is also still his brain. He'd wanted something to buy himself more time, so perhaps all he needs to do to get this is to conjure it up. Big weapons have always really been more John and Ronon's style than Rodney's, but some sort of shield, now that is a gadget Rodney can get behind. Rising up from his hiding place for a moment, Rodney lets of a few shots into the swarm of Replicators, a large enough show of force to still their approach for a moment while they adjust their shielding. As he ducks back down, Rodney closes his eyes and thinks very hard about a shield of his own. He recalls the personal shield he'd discovered in those first few weeks on Atlantis; how it had felt to pin it to his chest and activate it with his new ATA gene, the comforting flash of its green glow, and the security he gained from knowing that nothing harmful could touch him. When Rodney opens his eyes, he looks down to see the familiar device hanging from his shirt front. He laughs aloud in relief as the first of the Replicators reaches him and is knocked back by the shield when it tries to attack him. Now he might just have a chance. With the shield keeping the Wraith and the Replicators at bay, Rodney can take the time to properly concentrate on clearing his thoughts.

Rodney takes a deep breath and closes his eyes, letting the sound of the nightmare's now impotent attack fade away. His thoughts immediately reaching out to John to help centre and calm him. You're not alone. Calm, he thinks to himself from within the protective bubble of his dream-created personal shield. He's calm, floating in clear blue skies with John at his side. John's body is pressed warmly up against his and their hands are entwined. John is with him and they are together. Rodney feels safe, happy and loved; when John is with him, nothing can possibly harm him.

Clear blue skies. Rodney stays calm, his breathing slow and even and his heart pumping to a steady beat. Little by little, he feels all the stress and fear drain away from his body. He no longer feels any fear; instead he is completely at peace. "John," he whispers to himself, the name bringing a smile to his lips. As the entire dreamscape starts to fade away, Rodney lets himself go, rushing up towards the light of the clear blue skies that are waiting for him.

John gradually makes his way back to consciousness following the familiar hum of Atlantis. It's a welcome sound, comforting and unobtrusive, assuring John that he really is home. He opens his eyes and takes a deep breath as he surveys his surroundings. He's still in the infirmary but, unlike the last time he awoke here, he's no longer surrounded by people or hooked up to a drip. The curtains around his bed have been pulled closed to give him some privacy for which he is grateful, particularly as he recalls just how totally out of control he had been earlier. It is the thing he likes least about life in Pegasus, worse even than the Wraith and the Replicators is the propensity of this galaxy to mess with his head – to manipulate him and twist his emotions, making him act in ways that he never would normally. He feels so much better now than he did the last time he awoke, in both body and mind. His heart is beating once more at its usual pace and he feels relaxed and in control of both his thoughts and actions, a state he's not been in for what feels like months.

A small sound has him turning his head to the side to see Teyla sitting in one of the chairs set up against the infirmary wall. When she notices that he is awake she smiles in delight. "John," she says, getting up from her chair and approaching his bedside. "I am so glad to see that you are awake. How are you feeling?"

"Better," John replies. His voice is cracked and dry and Teyla reaches out for the cup of water that's sitting on the table by his bed. John levers himself up into a seated position, reaching out to take it from her. He takes a long drink, enjoying the sensation of the cool water on his mouth and throat. "Thanks," he says as he finishes the glass and puts it back on the table. "I needed that."

"Would you like some more?" Teyla asks.

"No," John answers, shaking his head. "I'm okay, really." As he speaks the words, his memory stirs, reminding him of how very not okay he'd been the last time he was conscious. Because Rodney was dying. Rodney, with whom John had been trapped in a nightmare. Rodney, who he had fought for, protected, held, kissed, fucked, lov-. John draws in a sharp hiss of breath and slams the door closed on that line of thought, thankful that he once again has the capacity for that kind of control. That had been one of the worst aspects of the nightmare – the loss of his control. He depends on it, needs it to keep him together and on course. Even now he can feel the turmoil of his emotions churning inside, threatening to drag him under. He's Atlantis' military commander; he simply can't afford to let his feelings get in the way of his duty.

Teyla obviously notices something untoward in his demeanour. "Perhaps I should go and get Dr. Keller?" she asks, her concern evident.

"No, I just need a minute," John replies quickly to forestall her, taking a deep breath in an effort to help compose himself. When he feels like he can speak without showing any inappropriate emotion, he looks up at Teyla. "So, how's McKay?" he asks, proud that his voice comes out steady and that his tone is no more than that of a concerned friend.

Teyla glances down at her hands for a moment before looking back up at John. "I should get Dr. Keller after all," she says.

John feels his heart plummet and his emotions slowly start to haemorrhage. "No," he says urgently, reaching out to grab hold of Teyla's arm as she rises and starts to move past him. "Please, just... just tell me – you tell me."

Teyla pauses, looking into John's eyes as if searching for something. She seems moderately satisfied with whatever she finds there as she nods slowly. "Alright," she replies, reaching out to place her hand over John's where he's still gripping her upper arm. "But you must promise me to let me finish, John."

John licks his lips nervously. "Okay," he agrees. "Just, please, tell me if he's..." he trails of, unable to formulate the words.

"Rodney is still with us, John," Teyla assures him quickly and John feels almost giddy with relief. "Dr Keller and Colonel Cater both believe that the parasite has left his body."

John nods, unwilling to speak for fear of what he might give away. Teyla knows too much as it is, she's always been able to read him far better than any other person ever has. Plus, she was witness to John and Rodney's embrace in the nightmare, she has seen first-hand his obvious desire for Rodney.

"His adrenaline levels started falling soon after you succumbed to the sedative Dr Keller gave you," Teyla explains. "Colonel Carter theorised that Rodney might have figured out a way to fight the influence of the parasite from within his nightmare. As a result, Dr Keller took him off the glucose drip, so the parasite would no longer have a source of food. Their summation has proven to be correct as Dr Zelenka and Colonel Carter both now believe that the parasite has returned to its crystal."

"He did it then," John breathes quietly to himself.

"Yes, John," Teyla replies, picking up on his words nevertheless. "Although," she continues, tilting her head to one side to regard John with curiosity, "I believe it might be more correct to say that you both did it."

John doesn't respond at first, but instead continues to look steadily at Teyla. "What aren't you telling me?" he asks at last.

Uncertainty creeps into Teyla's eyes and John feels his heart clench again. "He is in a coma, John," she admits.

John draws in a deep breath as he digests this news, looking away as he tries to maintain his outward façade of composure.

"Dr Keller expects him to make a full recovery," Teyla continues quickly, "but we do not know when he will wake up." She leans forward and places a hand on his arm, her touch causing John to turn his face to hers. "John," she says seriously. "He will wake up, I am sure of it." She pauses for a moment, as if trying to decide whether or not to continue. Mind seemingly made up, she smiles at him. "You care very much for each other, I think. I am very happy for you both, John."

John looks at her in shock, at a loss for what to say. Teyla returns his gaze placidly for several moments. "I should let you rest," she says at last. "I will let Dr Keller know you are awake. I'm sure she will want to check you over before she releases you."

"Teyla... I..." John trails off unhappily, unsure of what to do, of how to make Teyla understand that he can't-.

"John," Teyla says with eminent patience, effectively cutting off his train of thought. "It is alright, you know, for us sometimes to have that which we truly desire. We all deserve to be happy, even you."

'We all deserve to be happy, even you.' Teyla's words are still echoing through John's head long after he's left the infirmary. Keller had been overly thorough in her scans and examination; at least she had been in John's opinion. He'd been prodded and poked and sampled for what had seemed like forever, long enough for him to consider taking a leaf out of Rodney's book and going on a rant about the legitimacy of the soft sciences. Eventually however, she had declared him fit and healthy and had released him from the infirmary with strict instructions that, even though she had cleared him, he was to take it easy for the rest of the day and not return to active duty for the next 48 hours.

It was mid-afternoon when he had finally escaped and he now finds himself at something of a loss for what to do. He doesn't feel hungry nor does he feel like having to interact with anyone, not even Teyla or Ronon. He's still reeling slightly from the events of the last few hours, unsure what to make of his loss of control or of his experiences in the crystal parasite's dreamscape. Despite Keller's warnings that he needs to take it easy, he finds himself heading back to his quarters and pulling on his running gear. He needs to get away from everything and to lose himself in the mindless repetitive motion of his body, to totally disconnect himself from his brain.

Once he's changed, John heads away from the inhabited part of the city, avoiding all the main corridors and making his way to the lower levels of Atlantis, the ones that are still below sea-level. The corridors down here are cool and dark and John gains some small amount of comfort from the subdued blue lighting and low-level hum of the city as he starts his warm up stretches. He feels at home here, in the very depths of his city, despite his emotional turmoil. It is a sensation he hadn't felt in the nightmare's version of Atlantis, save from when he was with Rodney.

John starts to run.

Before he had left the infirmary Keller had asked John if he'd wanted to see Rodney, but John had declined. He's first response had been to say 'yes' and to rush to Rodney's side, as if there was something he could do to break Rodney out of his comatose state by the merit of his mere presence. Indeed, it had been the strength and immediacy of this impulse that had caused some small part of his brain to start sounding the alarm which tells him that he's getting in too deep. As a result, he had refused Keller's offer and left the infirmary without another word, not even letting himself glance in the direction of Rodney's bed.

John eases his pace up a notch, his feet beating out a steady rhythm on the deck and he endeavours to think of nothing more than the sound of his next footfall. It doesn't work and his mind continues to spin, his thoughts spiralling and twisting around in his head, refusing to still. He runs faster, hurtling through the corridors as fast he can go, his legs and arms pumping hard as he tries desperately to outrun the emotions that are endlessly circling about him.

Teyla's words come back to him once more, 'to have that which we truly desire'. But just what is that exactly? Oh, he knows that he wants Rodney, that much is clear. He knew that even before the crystal parasite locked them both in a nightmare of their own creation and used their inner most thoughts to spark their arousal. But John also knows that he doesn't want to lose him. If anything the experience of the last few hours have shown just how dangerous his feelings for Rodney can be. He shudders internally as he recalls just how close he'd come to losing control completely, struggling against his team mates and friends in his efforts to get to Rodney. That had certainly not been acceptable behaviour for the military commander of Atlantis.

John pushes himself into a sprint, moving as fast as he can through the dim corridors. What does he truly desire? Rodney's friendship? His support and companionship? Their evenings spent playing chess, watching movies and engaging in heated arguments? Or does he want Rodney's body? To strip him bare and fuck him? To lose himself in the pure enjoyment of Rodney's body and to take his pleasure from him?

John stops running, simply unable to maintain the pace any longer. He comes to an abrupt halt and, as he does so, the realisation catches up to him, slamming into him hard - the answer to each and every one of these questions is a resounding yes. He bends over, bracing his hands on his thighs and letting his head drop down between his legs as he struggles to catch his breath. His legs are shaking from the effort of the final mad sprint, his thigh muscles burning and tensing beneath his hands. He inhales a great gulp of air and then releases it slowly through his mouth, trying to calm his breathing. Because he wants it all; to have Rodney and to have him. He wants the dream in which he and Rodney can hold on to each other and lose themselves in the pleasure created between them and he wants the nightmare in which he is the one Rodney turns to for comfort and support, and where he is the one who can protect Rodney.

John rights himself and the starts walking slowly back to the transporters. His legs still feel shaky and weak, and he knows he's probably pushed his body a little too close to breaking point. And for what? He's still not clear on what to actually do with any of this. Of course, there is the added complication of what had actually happened between them in the nightmare itself. At the smallest indication that Rodney might have been in trouble, John had instantly abandoned his duty and gone to help Rodney instead. To make matters worse, his desire for Rodney had obviously also spilled out over into their shared experience, making the parasite manipulate Rodney into thinking that he wanted something deeper with John in return.

He supposes that there is always the possibility that Rodney does want something more than friendship with him. After all, he'd certainly seemed willing enough each time they'd found themselves locked in each other's arms, their mouths kissing deeply and their cocks pressed tightly together. John can't help the involuntary shudder than passes through him at the memory, of what Rodney had looked like with his eyes glazed with desire, his mouth red and kiss-bruised and his cock hard and weeping. Still, John can't help but wonder how much of that was down to the parasite's manipulation and John's own latent arousal and how much of it had really been Rodney's true response. John is somewhat heartened by the fact that he and Rodney had had sex in reality, with nothing other than fatigue, grief, and the shock of still actually being alive driving them. That, at least, had been real, something just between the two of them, however wrong and messed up it was at the time.

He had thought that friendship was all that he was capable of offering Rodney, but now he's starting to wonder whether things have gone too far for even that... that maybe friendship is no longer enough for him. He enters the transporter and presses the button that will take him back up to the living quarters. For just a second his hand hovers over the level on which the infirmary is located. Rodney is in a coma. John closes his eyes against the thought. He doesn't think he's up to facing the reality of that fact just yet; he just can't consider the possibility that all his self-analysis might very well be in vain, that Rodney might never wake up. That John might have already lost him forever.

John walks quickly through the more populated corridors of the living quarters, attempting to affect a suitably angry air to dissuade anyone from approaching him. It works until he's almost reached his quarters, then he hears someone call his name.

"Sheppard," Ronon says, walking up to him.

John stops and turns to face him, crossing his arms over his chest. "What can I do for you, Ronon?"

"Been for a run?" Ronon asks, his eyes flicking up and down John's body, taking in his sweaty t-shirt and running shoes.

"Yeah," John replies. "Needed to work off some excess energy, do some thinking, you know."

"Did it work?" Ronon asks, raising an eyebrow.

John reaches up a hand to rub at the back of his neck. "Not really," he admits.

"You should go see McKay," Ronon says, apropos of seemingly nothing.

John drops his hand and looks up at Ronon in surprise. "Ah, I… I just…" he trails off with a sigh.

"Go see him, Sheppard," Ronon says again, his expression solemn.

John's breath catches. "Has something happened?" he asks urgently.

Ronon looks at John for a moment. "No, but you should be with him now."

John blinks, unsure of how to respond to that. "Yeah, okay, I'll go visit," he says at last.

"Good," Ronon replies with a nod and then he walks off down the corridor. Before he's gone more than a few steps he pauses and turns back to look at John over his shoulder. "And don't go on any more runs," he warns. "Keller told you to take it easy."

As John showers and changes into fresh clothes, he considers Ronon's words. "Damn it," he curses under his breath. Ronon is right, he should have visited Rodney earlier – should still be there with him, in fact. If Rodney had been injured on a mission, rather than as a result of the parasite, nothing could have convinced John to leave his side. It is only his own emotions, his own fear and uncertainty that are keeping him from Rodney now. Rodney is, at the very least, both his team mate and his friend. He shakes his head in disgust, angry at himself for having avoided Rodney for so long and that it has taken Ronon approaching him directly to make him see what he's been doing.

Not allowing himself time to re-think his decision, John leaves his quarters as soon as he is dressed in a fresh uniform. He heads straight to the infirmary, taking a deep breath to steady himself before he enters. He looks about cautiously as the doors hiss closed behind him, but the infirmary appears to be largely deserted. The lights in the large outer room are dim and the beds that line each wall to his left and right are all empty; all, that is, apart from the one at the far right hand corner of the room.


John approaches Rodney's bed slowly, drawn to him almost against his will. His hands clench into fists at the sight of Rodney lying comatose before him, his emotions rising up again and clamouring at him to do something to help Rodney. For a few moments, John merely stands at the foot of Rodney's bed, full of impotent energy but unable to do anything other than drink in the sight of him. If he tries hard enough, John can almost pretend that Rodney is merely asleep, that at any moment his blue eyes will flash open and he'll sit up, his hands waving animatedly in the air as he orders John to bring him some coffee, something to eat and his laptop. John swallows thickly, trying to compose himself.

"He's doing better," Keller says, her quiet approach making John jump slightly as she comes to stand beside him. "Still in a coma, but his latest test results show that his blood chemistry is pretty much back to normal."

John looks over at her and frowns. "What does that mean exactly?" he asks.

Keller smiles at him. "It means," she says kindly, reaching out to touch his arm gently, "that I have every confidence that he will wake up on his own very soon."

John staggers slightly at her words, his knees giving way for just a moment so unprepared is he for the relief that washes through him. Keller's hand on his arm tightens in an effort to steady him, but John manages to catch himself quickly. He takes a step back, ducking his head in an effort hide the extent of his relief. "Good, that's good," he says roughly.

"You know, Colonel, you can sit with him for a while if you like," Keller offers with a small smile.

John looks up at her again, but there is nothing but kindness on her face. He nods slowly. "Thanks, doc," he replies. "I... ah, I think I will." He turns away from her quickly and grabs one of the chairs that are lined up against the wall. He pulls it closer to Rodney's bed and sits down before he can change his mind. Looking up he flashes Keller a quick, strained smile. She nods once to herself and then turns to go. Before she does, however, she pulls the privacy curtain closed around them. With that, and a softly spoken "Good night, Colonel," she is gone and John is left alone with Rodney.

John relaxes fractionally as the silence descends, grateful that he and Rodney are now hidden from view. He's still shaking with the strength of his reaction to Keller's words; Rodney is going to be okay, he's going to wake up. John closes his eyes and allows himself to fully appreciate his complete and utter relief – thank god. He huffs out a breath of air as he recalls Teyla's words, 'we all deserve to be happy, even you'. It's okay; they're alone and Rodney is asleep. Perhaps she's right, perhaps he can have just this one small moment for himself without anyone being the wiser. He'll give himself this small thing. He can be with Rodney now, while he is still unwell, and then deal with the rest of it when he wakes up.

"It's okay, buddy," John says softly, leaning forward in his seat so that he can place his hand over Rodney's and then carefully laces their fingers together. "You're going to be just fine. I'm here and I'm not going anywhere."

The first thing Rodney sees when he opens his eyes is John. He blinks a couple of times at the sight of John slouched down in a chair at his bedside, trying to ascertain whether this is in fact reality, or just another weird twist in his nightmare. John's legs are stretched out in front of him, his arms crossed over his chest, and his head is lolling down to one side. He's fast asleep, snoring softly, and drooling a little onto the shoulder of his shirt. Rodney blinks, quite unprepared for how appealing the sight of John is, or how pleased it makes him feel to find John asleep at his side. Rodney's eyes drift shut again and he lets out a heartfelt sigh of relief; he really is home.

With his eyes still closed, Rodney stretches out his body, flexing his arms and legs whilst he concentrates on checking himself for signs of injury or illness. To his surprise, he feels completely fine; physically well-rested and mentally alert. Rodney opens his eyes again and starts to look around the room. He's obviously in the infirmary, but the privacy curtain about his bed is pulled shut, so he can't actually see the rest of the room. There are various Ancient machines surrounding his bed, but he is no longer physically hooked up to anything, his vital signs being monitored remotely instead by the Ancient scanner above his bed.

He starts to sit up and the noise he makes doing so obviously begins to wake John. John stirs, twitching for a moment in his sleep before jerking upright with a start. He blinks to himself and then looks over to stare at Rodney, his face entirely unguarded for the moment and the relief and delight etched on his features is clear to see.

"Rodney," he says shakily. "You're awake."

Rodney returns John's smile. "Yeah," he says, his voice a little rough from disuse. "You... um... you got out okay, I see. My hypothesis concerning the Ancient device was correct then?" A pained expression crosses over John's face at that, but he doesn't reply so Rodney continues. "I... ah... I got your message, you know, about the clear blue skies and whatnot," he explains, waving his hand over his head for a moment in illustration. "So… um… thanks for, you know, thinking of me," he finishes in a rush.

John remains silent, but expression grows intent. Finally, he reacts, getting up out of his chair and coming to stand over Rodney's bed.

"Rodney," he says, his hand reaching out to touch Rodney. At first it looks as though John is going to touch Rodney's face as, for one breathless moment, his hand hovers just above Rodney's cheek. But then another series of emotions flash one after the other in John's eyes – desire, fear, regret – and his hand changes direction. Rodney pulls in a startled breath as John's hand finally makes contact with his body, John's long fingers wrapping firmly around Rodney's forearm, holding him tightly as his thumb starts to rub lightly against the sensitive skin of Rodney's inner arm. Rodney watches as John's eyes drop from Rodney's face down to where they're touching, his eyelashes fanning out against his cheeks as he watches himself caress Rodney.

"You're awake," John repeats in a whisper. "You're really okay and you're awake," his eyes fly back up to Rodney's as if to request confirmation of this fact.

Rodney nods mutely in response, unable to reply in any other way, afraid that his clumsy words will somehow manage to break the spell that seems to have fallen over both of them. John's entire body relaxes visibly, but his expression remains intent, his eyes very dark as they start to trace over each of Rodney's features in turn.

"Have I been out for long then?" he asks at last, curious as to what exactly it is about his condition that has affected John so strongly.

"Yeah, too long," John replies shakily. "Shit, Rodney, you were in a coma. We didn't know when, or if, you were ever going to wake up. You damn near scared me to death."

"Oh," is all Rodney can think of to say. "But I feel fine now," he adds quickly as John's face starts to fall yet further.

John's grip tightens on Rodney's arm as a flurry of emotions Rodney can't quite decipher pass over his face. "You made me leave you there, Rodney," John says quietly, his tone deadly serious. "You made me leave you trapped in there to die alone."

"I didn't know what else to do," Rodney replies as honestly as he can. "I… ah, I didn't think there was a way for me to get out, but I did know how to save you, so..." he trails off, waving a hand towards John.

The hand John is using to hold Rodney tightens still further as John pulls Rodney towards him. "Don't you dare do anything like that again, do you hear me?" he says urgently, breathing hard enough that Rodney can feel his exhalations on his skin. "Because, if you do," John continues, "I swear that I'll..." John breaks himself off suddenly before he can finish his threat, his free hand is shaking with tension and his eyes are deeply pained.

Once again, all Rodney can do is nod silently in reply, completely unable to find his voice, lost as he is in John's hold. They stare at each other for a long moments and, after a while, Rodney feels his face start to burn in response to the intense concentration written on John's face. Rodney doesn't quite know what to make of John's attention, of what it actually means that John is at his bedside, studying him so closely while his fingers move in a restless caress across Rodney's skin.

Rodney finally breaks their eye contact himself, shifting uncomfortably and looking down into his lap as he struggles to think of something to say. He feels the need to do something to ease the tension that is steadily building between them. He feels a little off balance, truth be told. Unsure of what exactly happened between them in the nightmare - of how much of it was actually real, how much of it John actually wanted. That said, with John looking at him with something awfully close to need shining from within the depths of his hazel eyes and with his fingers tracing patterns of desire onto Rodney's skin, it is all too easy for Rodney to believe that everything they had experienced together in there was real.

Just then a sound penetrates from outside the curtain. John drops Rodney's arm and practically jumps away from Rodney in the blink of an eye, his face going completely blank.

"Ah, Rodney," Keller says as she pulls opening the privacy curtain and smiles at him in delight. "You've decided to come back to us, I see."

Rodney rolls his eyes, but otherwise doesn't deign to reply to such an obvious remark. He does, however, start to scowl at Keller as she begins to examine him. It has little effect, so when Keller just continues to smile cheerily at him as she checks his vitals, he gives up the battle and lets her get on with it. He listens with half an ear as Keller proceeds to tell him about how the parasite had finally left his body, most of his attention still focused inwardly as he considers both John's recent behaviour and his own response to it. John himself is hovering about a meter away from Rodney's bed, shifting uneasily from foot to foot in a manner quite at odds with his usual casual slouching. Keller doesn't comment on his presence and after a while Rodney finds his gaze straying towards John as Keller continues her exam. After several glances in John's direction, his gaze finally collides with John's and they both freeze again, neither seemingly able to look away.

"Okay," Keller says at last, her voice breaking the connection John and Rodney seem to have forged. "You'll be pleased to hear that everything is looking good, Rodney. All your test results are coming back in the normal range and I'm not seeing any lasting after-effects of the parasite."

Part of Rodney wants to dispute her findings – to say that he's been infected by an alien parasite which had invaded his consciousness and started, near enough, eating his brain and ask, therefore, how he can possible be anything near approaching good. However, the fact still remains that he does feel entirely healthy and he can't seem to think about anything other than John. What it would appear that he needs at the moment, rather than more time spent in the infirmary under observation, is some time alone with John so that together they can figure out what exactly is going on between them. Surely things cannot return to how they were before. After all, Rodney had found it hard enough to go back to just being friends after their first encounter. To do so now, after all they had shared in that nightmare, would be nigh on impossible. And, judging from John's response to him thus far, Rodney has cause to hope that this is a belief that John will share.

Just then, the infirmary doors slide open and Teyla and Ronon enter. Teyla smiles as soon as she spies Rodney. Keller beckons them both over and then excuses herself to check over Rodney's scan results one last time in her office, leaving Rodney alone with his team mates.

"It is so nice to see you awake again, Rodney," Teyla says with a smile.

"Yeah," Rodney agrees. "I think I've had more than enough sleep for the time being… Um…Thank you," he continues. "For your help in there."

"It was our pleasure," Teyla replies. "But I believe it was you and John who made both of your escapes possible." Her gaze flickers between himself and John as she speaks.

Rodney feels himself flush at her words as he recalls just how much Teyla and Ronon had seen when they'd entered his and John's shared nightmare. But neither she nor Ronon act as if anything is amiss, so he relaxes again. Perhaps they did not see as much as he'd believed.

He can't help but notice, however, how John tenses up at Teyla's words, his face growing even more blank, if such a thing were possible. Rodney is suddenly hit with the highly out of character desire to reach and comfort John and he's saddened by the knowledge that this would most likely result in John withdrawing yet further. As if to confirm his suspicions, something suddenly shifts in John's eyes when he notices Rodney watching him. Rodney quickly turns his attention back to Teyla, but it is already too late.

"Look, guys, I've got to get going," John says shortly. "I'll see you later," and, with that, he turns on his heel and walks out of the infirmary without a backward glance.

Rodney watches John's departure in dismay. Why is it that just when he thinks he is making some progress with John, actually getting closer to him, John chooses that moment to pull away? No matter how many times Rodney tells himself that this will happen and that he should be prepared for it, he still feels the sharp sting of rejection each and every time. It's so much worse now, Rodney realises. The ache in his chest much sharper since he had actually started to believe that John might truly return his feelings.

"He doesn't know what he wants," Teyla says suddenly, her words interrupting Rodney's thoughts.

Rodney blinks at Teyla while he considers her assessment of Sheppard; her statement would seem to be true, at least from the outside. However, it's not entirely correct he realises with growing excitement. Observations and deductions, he reminds himself sternly, first he must construct considered hypotheses, then look at the available evidence and draw the most logical conclusions. Rodney slowly starts to take account of all John's behaviour towards him. Looking back, the bond between them was solid from almost the very beginning, joined as they were in their shared wonder of a new galaxy and its enchanted city. Their friendship has only grown over the years, of course there had been bumps along the way, but they've somehow always managed to find their way back to one another. The frantic sex of the past month is new, but now that he thinks about, not as unexpected as it might at first appear for they have always turned to one another in times of crisis. Saving each other's lives, it's what they do. Is it any wonder that one day they would cross the line of friendship into deeper waters? And is it not logical to assume that it is precisely their growing feeling for each other that the parasite picked up on when it was reading their shared subconscious, using their emotions and mutual attraction to one another to create situations in its dream environment that would fuel the arousal reaction on which it fed. With a shaky breath, he he realises that he can't escape the obvious conclusion that although John's conscious mind might not know what it wants, John's body and his subconscious certainly appears to do so. And, despite the fact that Rodney might find it hard to believe at first, all the available evidence seems to suggest that what John really wants is Rodney.

The only question left remaining now is what is Rodney going to do with this knowledge?

He shakes his head slowly, still trying to wrap his head around the implications of the conclusion to which all available evidence seems to be pointing. "Not quite," he says in response to Teyla's assertion. "He does know what he wants, it's just that, for some reason, he doesn't seem to want to accept it."

Teyla looks back at Rodney in surprise. "Yes," she says, understanding flaring in her eyes. "I believe that you are correct, Rodney. Perhaps I should have said that John does not believe that he knows what he wants." Then a flash of sadness darkens her features, "Nor does he believe he is worthy of it."

"So, you gonna let him get away with thinking like that, McKay?" Ronon asks, his expression seeming to threaten dire consequences if Rodney does so.

"I...ah," Rodney flounders for a moment, looking between Ronon and Teyla in surprise. He smiles for a moment, suddenly very grateful to both of them for their support, in all things. "No," he says firmly. "No, I am not." He starts to get out of bed, pushing the covers aside and getting to his feet. Teyla comes over to help him up, but he waves her away. His previous assessment of his physical state seems to bear out, as he still feels perfectly fine now that he is upright. Of course, he would prefer it were he actually dressed, not to mention had something on his feet, but given the situation, the scrubs he's dressed in will have to suffice.

"Good," Ronon replies with satisfaction, as he and Teyla accompany Rodney to the door of the infirmary. "You need to learn to fight for what you want."

At Ronon's words, Rodney comes to a halt, tilting his head to the side to consider what he's said. Fight for what he wants; it's not something he's ever really done, at least not for something like this, something purely personal as opposed to for his work or his survival. "You know what," he says slowly, turning his head to look up at Ronon. "I think you may be right about that."

Ronon snorts in reply. "Yeah," he says. "It's about time you noticed, McKay."

"Go on now, Rodney," Teyla interjects, "Ronon and I will talk to Dr Keller."

"Thank you," Rodney says most sincerely to both of them. Then, mind made up, he nods once firmly to himself before turning and leaving the infirmary at a fast pace. John Sheppard, Rodney thinks to himself, has called the shots in their relationship for long enough. In both reality and dreamscape, John has been the initiator and the one to draw back from each of their physical encounters. Well, Rodney has had enough - no more. Ronon is right; it's time for Rodney to fight for what they both want.

Rodney feels his anger and determination build as he proceeds to track John down to his quarters. He feels buoyed by his righteous indignation, and the strength of it carries him all the way to John's doorway and then straight over the threshold and into John's quarters. He's greeted by the sight of John sitting on his bed, apparently lost in thought. He's leaning forward with his forearms braced against his knees and staring into space. However, he sits up straight and meets Rodney's eyes in surprise when Rodney barges through his door without knocking. John masks his shock quickly enough, his face morphing into a bored smirk as he leans backwards so that his back is resting against the wall.

"You're getting better with that gene of yours, I see," he drawls.

Rodney lets out a snort of frustration; he is not going to let John do this to him again. "Stop trying to change the subject," he snaps, coming to stand in front of John and crossing is arms over his chest and lifting his chin. "And stop trying to run away; we need to sort this out once and for all."

John's eyes move swiftly over Rodney's body, taking in his bare feet and scrubs, before returning to his face "Should you even be out of the infirmary?" he asks blandly, but Rodney takes note of the fact that the tips of his ears have gone bright pink.

Rodney waves away the question. "Please. I'm fine," he says. "If I weren't, do you really think I'd be here? Besides, Ronon and Teyla are clearing my release with Keller as we speak." He stops speaking and frowns for a moment; it would seem he's drifted off topic. "Anyway, the state of my health is not the issue with which we need to deal, not at this particular moment at any rate."

"Rodney, I really think that-"

"Stop, stop right there," Rodney snaps, raising his hand to hold off John's words. "For the moment, thinking is not required of you. Nor is talking, for that matter. What is, however, required is that you listen."

John raises a rather expressive eyebrow at Rodney's proclamation, but otherwise remains silent. Rodney glares at him for a few moments more, just to be certain, and then continues. "Right then," he says, preparing himself. "As I was saying, I think we need to work some things out between us; admit to ourselves what happened when that parasite was screwing around with our emotions and also what happened before that – back when Elizabeth was first injured."

"And why would you think we need to do that, McKay?" John asks, sitting up straight again with his voice low and his body taut; everything about him warning Rodney to leave it alone.

"Because we're friends and we have to if we want to stay that way," Rodney replies, determined not to give up. "Because you're pulling away from me again and I can't stand it. Because I think that we mean something. To each other, that is. And because we are more than just friends." He flushes and looks away for a few moments. He can feel John watching him, his face blank. Rodney draws in another deep breath and forces himself to turn back and meet John's eye as he puts everything on the line. "I want more, John. I've always wanted more, since that very first time… from long before that actually, if I'm being honest, and well, honesty is what I am going for, so," he makes a gesture with his hands to indicated 'there you go'. There's still no reaction from John, so Rodney gathers his courage and goes one step further, moving a little closer to John and dropping down onto his haunches so that they are eye to eye. "And I think you want me too."

That gets John moving, in an instant he jumps to his feet, almost knocking Rodney back onto his ass as he does so, moving away from Rodney and over to the far corner of the room. Rodney rises to his feet as well, turning in place to find John standing with his back towards him, looking out over the ocean. "I don't know what you're talking about, McKay," he says, his words short and clipped.

"I think you do," Rodney replies. "Your actions would certainly suggest otherwise."

John keeps his back to Rodney as his replies, but his voice is filled with disdain – designed to hurt. "Please, McKay, that meant nothing; you were nothing but a convenient body."

Rodney ignores the cruel insult in favour of continuing his attack. "And in the nightmare? How do you explain what happened between us then?"

John turns back to Rodney, his eyes cold and his body positively vibrating with tension. "That wasn't real – it was just some damn alien fucking with our heads."

"Yes," Rodney replies. "Yes, exactly – with our heads – that is precisely what it was doing. Our heads, John – it was arousing reactions in our bodies from what it learned from our minds. Everything we saw in there might have been fake, but everything we felt? Ah, now that is a different matter entirely. Everything we felt was real – it had to be, you see, because that is what the parasite needed – to create real emotions which would arouse real responses."

Rodney can tell that John is fighting hard to deny what he is saying. Nevertheless, John can't quite hide the shock Rodney's words are causing, his gaze flying to Rodney's and so Rodney takes the opportunity to press home his advantage, grateful that what he is saying seems to be having some effect on John. "What we felt in there was real, John. What we did – it was something we both wanted." He takes a step forward, willing John to believe him, wanting nothing more than to pull John into his arms and comfort him like he had been able to do in the nightmare.

However, John tenses up again at Rodney's approach. "Don't, Rodney," John says, taking a step backwards and holding a hand out in front of his body as he shakes his head in denial. "Don't... Rodney, please understand, I can't," John says, his voice low and pained.

Rodney holds himself back with effort. "But why not?" he asks, wanting desperately to understand. "I wan-"

"It's got nothing to do with you, Rodney," John interrupts him angrily. "It's me; I'm the one who can't do this – I've never been able to do this!"

"Do what exactly?" Rodney asks, his patience beginning to wear thin. "What precisely do you think we're doing that you can't?"

"I... you... we," John lets out a noise of frustration at his apparent inability to successfully communicate his emotions. He takes a deep, measured breath, and then forces his body to attention, his back ramrod straight and his hands clenching into fists at his sides. "I can't get too close, Rodney," he says stiffly, "to anyone. I'm sorry."

At John's words, something in Rodney finally snaps. "Oh, John," he says, his voice sounding low and rough to his own ears. "Don't you get it? It's far too late for that. We're already as close as we can possibly be, and there is no way that I am going to let you go." And then the time for words are over as, now it is Rodney who reaches out to give them both what they need.

Rodney's hands fist in the material of John's jacket, jerking him forward to get him off balance before pressing him backwards into the wall by the window. John brings his hands up to Rodney's shoulders, as if to push him away, but Rodney won't allow it. Driven by need, anger and desire in equal measures, Rodney retains his grip on John long enough to pin John in place and press their mouths together. The kiss is hard and almost desperate at first, with Rodney pouring every bit of himself into it in an effort to breach John's defences.

John does nothing. He doesn't fight back Rodney's advances, but he doesn't respond either. His hands slip from Rodney's shoulders and then he just stands there stoically in Rodney's embrace. At first Rodney thinks he's just being stubborn, putting up a front to convince Rodney to give up. So Rodney tries another tactic. He pulls back slowly, his hands still braced firmly on John's chest as his mouth softens on John's. He licks at John's lips teasingly, letting his tongue linger on the stern line as he gently tries to coax a response from John. Still John does nothing. Rodney pulls back in shock as he feels despair and shame start to flood through him. He forces himself to look at John, taking in John's blank face, emotionless eyes, and clenched fists, and feels himself start to shake. He was wrong; John doesn't want him.

"I'm so sorry," he gasps in distress as he staggers backwards. "I was so sure... but, god, I... It was me all along – in the nightmare, only me, not you at all," Rodney shakes his head in self-disgust. "And I forced you to.... I… I am so, so sorry. I won't bother you again, Colonel." He turns away clumsily, the tears already stinging his eyes and obscuring his vision.

"No, Rodney, wait," John's voice calls to him, but Rodney pays it no heed. He's made a fool of himself – he'd been so sure that he'd read John right, but it was all a lie. He needs to leave, to get far away from John so he can break down in peace.

A hand lands on his shoulder, trying to still his flight, and Rodney tries to shrug it off, still intent on escaping. "Rodney," John's voice says again, as his hand on Rodney's shoulder tightens its grip and Rodney finds himself being forcibly stopped and turned. "Rodney," John says again, but Rodney closes his eyes and turns his head away, unwilling to see John's rejection of him.

But John isn't rejecting him. "Rodney, please," he is saying. "You didn't force me. I didn't mean to... I'm sorry, I thought it was for the best, but I... damn it, I don't want to lose you... I can't lose you."

Rodney opens his eyes and looks back at John. "What?" he ask in bewilderment, now thoroughly confused.

John takes a deep breath and moves closer to Rodney. Rodney watches him warily, starting to take another step backwards, but prevented from doing so by the hand John has still holding his arm. "I do want you," John says softly, and Rodney can't bring himself to doubt the sincerity of John's words.

Rodney moves forward just as John pulls Rodney to him, his hands gripping hard onto Rodney's shoulders. This time, they share a true kiss – a kiss of equals and of real, truthful and heartfelt emotion. Their mouths are gentle at first as they explore cautiously one another, just soft touches and light strokes, but the kiss soon grows harder and more desperate as the feelings between them continue to build. Rodney feels John's mouth start to part under his and the bolt of desire that runs straight to his cock startles him with its intensity. Some part of him, he realises, expected this to be somehow less consuming than what happened in the nightmare, but the opposite is in fact true. To have John's real body in his arms, John's real hands holding him close and John's real mouth hot and hard on his is far, far better than anything the alien parasite could have possibly dreamed. Rodney groans and thrusts his tongue into John's mouth, his hands reaching out to hold John in return. With his hands tight on John's waist, Rodney kisses John deeply, never wanting the feelings to end.

John still has his hands clutched on Rodney's shoulders, but they start to move as the kiss deepens, travelling along the breadth of Rodney's chest and sliding up Rodney's neck to cup Rodney's face. Their kisses grow hotter and wetter, their mouths moving urgently on each other's and their tongues thrusting steadily as their bodies start to move with the same rhythm. Rodney finds his hands digging harder into John's hips as he feels his arousal growing. It is as though each sweep of John's tongue is automatically connected to his cock, causing it to twitch in his pants. His hips stutter forward of their own volition, pressing his aching hardness against John's body. The thin material of his infirmary scrubs doesn't present much of a barrier and the sensation is intense almost to the point of pain.

John moans at the first thrust of Rodney's hips, his own body twisting in Rodney's embrace in such a way that their groins align. Rodney can feel the solid length of John's erection burning through the layers of their clothes and he starts to shake with the overwhelming need John's obvious arousal sparks within him. Rodney's hands slip around behind John to clutch at his ass, pulling them even tighter together. John wrenches his mouth away from Rodney's, throws his head back and lets loose a sound of pure pleasure as they start to pump together.

This is perfect, Rodney thinks as he buries his mouth against the exposed skin of John's neck, trying to drink John in, but it isn't enough. He needs more. "Naked," he gasps aloud, his hands moving back around to scrabble at John's waist, trying to free his jacket and shirt from the waist band of his BDUs. "We need to be naked."

"God, yes," John replies, his voice thick with passion. He pulls back himself out of Rodney's embrace and starts to peel Rodney's scrubs off his body with alacrity. Rodney can do no more than stand their and watch as John yanks Rodney's shirt over his head and flings it off to some far corner of the room. John pauses then, his eyes travelling over the length and breadth of Rodney's now exposed torso – it's the first time John's seen him like this, Rodney realises. In all their previous encounters, in the dream or otherwise, they'd managed to bare nothing but the very minimum amount of their bodies, if that. Rodney watches John cautiously, a little nervous as to how John will react to his less than stellar physical condition.

John's eyes are almost black, his lips are parted and he's breathing heavily through his open mouth. "Rodney," he says softly, licking his lips as he focuses his attention on Rodney's nipples. John slowly lifts a hand to his own lips, licks the pad of his thumb and then reaches out towards Rodney. Rodney swallows and feels his cock twitch and spurt in anticipation as John hand touches his chest and John drags his damp thumb straight across Rodney's right nipple. Rodney jerks at the contact, his head falling back as a moan is ripped from his throat. His reaction to John's touch seems to make John go a little mad. Before Rodney has time to collect himself, John is bending down over him and taking Rodney's nipple with his mouth. Rodney almost screams at the intense pleasure as John nips at it. He arches his back, offering himself up totally to John's caress. John licks at his nipple, his tongue flicking over the tip time and time again before sucking it totally into his mouth. Rodney feels his knees start to buckle as the sensation threatens to overwhelm him completely. It is only John's arms, which have slipped around his back, that are preventing him from melting to a pool of need on the floor.

John pulls back slowly, allowing Rodney to regain some of his balance. Rodney stares into John's face in amazement, shuddering when he notices how red and wet John's mouth is. His eyes travel down to John's still fully clothed body, taking in the heaving of John's chest as he breathes and the taut pull of John's pants over his very obvious erection. Rodney licks his lips at the sight and smiles when he hears John's moan. It's his turn, he feels, to have John at his mercy.

Rodney reaches out and this time succeeds in pulling John's shirt free from his pants. He tugs on it a few times. "Off, off, off," he mutters to John. John obliges and strips out of his jacket before slipping both his shirt and dog tags over his head, dropping them to the floor at their feet. Rodney's gaze runs appreciatively over John's leanly muscled chest and can't resist running a hand down through his thick chest hair and over his taut stomach. John gasps and shudders at the contact, but Rodney doesn't linger, he has another goal in mind.

With slightly unsteady fingers, Rodney undoes the top button of John's pants and carefully eases the zipper down over John's erection. His mouth starts to water as he makes out the outline of John's cock, clearly visible through his black briefs. He drops to his knees to become more intimately acquainted. Above him, he hears John moan, but he wastes no time in peeling down John's pants and briefs. John's cock springs free, long, hard, shiny-tipped and flushed dark with need. Unable to resist, Rodney's tongue darts out to lap at the rounded head and John's hips jerk forward, his dick practically begging for Rodney's mouth. Rodney is only too happy to oblige, so he opens his mouth wide and closes his lips around the crown, moving his head down the shaft, sucking steadily as he fills his mouth with John's thick cock. John's hands come down to pet restlessly at Rodney's head, carding through his hair as he moans Rodney's name over and over again. Rodney takes John's cock in as far as it will go, feeling it hit the back of his throat. He then lifts himself up on his knees so that he can take it further down his throat. Above him, John sways and bucks a little and Rodney closes his hands tightly on John's hips to steady him. He then starts to pull back, keeping the suction steady and rubbing his tongue over the sensitive underside as he goes. When he has nothing more than the very tip still between his lips, Rodney swirls his tongue around John, tasting the smooth head which is already steadily leaking with pre-come. In his flimsy scrub pants, Rodney can feel his own dick doing likewise and he is tempted to reach down and jack himself to completion whilst blowing John. But, no, he wants more than that.

With some regret, Rodney pulls back, sitting back on his heels and looking up at John. John gazes down at Rodney and then, with a groan, leans down to grasp Rodney's biceps, pulling him to his feet and crushing their mouths together. "Bed," he gasps into Rodney's mouth. "Rodney, bed now, I need you." Then John is pulling away from Rodney and pushing him in the direction of John's bed.

Rodney goes only too happily, turning when he reaches it to see John desperately fighting his way out of his boots and pants. He pushes down his own pants, sighing as his dick springs free. When he looks up, John is staring at him again. He's as naked as Rodney is now and he starts stalking towards Rodney with a proprietorial light in his eyes that makes Rodney shiver in anticipation. John comes to a stop in front of Rodney, their bodies scant inches from each other. Slowly, John brings his hands up to frame Rodney's face.

"I can't lose you," he whispers softly as he starts to close the distance between them.

"You won't," Rodney promises, his words melting away in the heat of John's kiss.

Neither of them wants to stop kissing and they somehow manage to get on the bed without having to disentangle. They land on their sides, still entwined, and Rodney immediately rolls onto his back, pulling John on top of him. Pleasure courses through him as he welcomes the weight of John's body pressing him down onto the bed. They're still kissing and Rodney brings his hands up to keep John's mouth on his when John makes an attempt to draw back. He sucks John's lower lip into his mouth and laves it with his tongue, swallowing John's moan. He then parts his legs, allowing John's hips to come rest between his thighs and shifting just enough so that their cocks are pressed tightly together.

John grinds down into Rodney and Rodney bucks up against him in response. Their cocks slide together, the friction and feel of John's hard length shorting out Rodney's thought processes entirely for a moment. They move together, pumping their cocks against each other in near desperation, smearing sweat and pre-come along their lengths. Suddenly Rodney's brain catches up with this body and he remembers what exactly he wanted from John. With this in mind, he move his hands from where he's been squeezing John's ass to his shoulders, pushing up against John so he can ask for what he wants.

John pulls back almost immediately, holding himself above Rodney on his arms. Rodney is momentarily distracted by the contractions of the muscles of John's chest and shoulders as they flex to support his weight.

"Rodney?" John asks roughly, the sound of his voice drawing Rodney's attention back to his face.

"Fuck me," Rodney blurts out. "Please, John. I want it, want you."

John blinks in surprise at this and his hips jerk convulsively forward. "God, Rodney," he grates. "Just… okay, I, here…" He reaches out with a shaking hand and scrabbles around in his bedside table, emerging a few moments later holding a bottle of lube.

Rodney feels the anticipation start to fizz through him at the heated desire in John's eyes. He bends his knees and spreads his legs even wider apart as John settles down between them, lube in hand. He watches as John slowly dribbles the liquid onto his fingers and then reaches down between Rodney's legs. His breath catches as John proceeds to slide his fingers gently down Rodney's needy cock to his balls and pressing firmly down on his perineum. Rodney gasps at the contact, his eyes unable to look away from the focused concentration on John's face as he touches him. When he feels John's fingers continue to explore and move down further to circle wetly around the entrance to his body, Rodney moans aloud and arches further into John's touch. Pleasure courses through him when John's fingertip finally breaches his body. He loses track of time, floating on wave upon wave of heady arousal as John teases and stretches his body.

"Okay, that's it, I'm ready," Rodney pants at last, needing to feel John's cock in him so badly he's almost aching with it.

John slowly pulls his fingers free of Rodney's body and Rodney misses them at once. However, he then feels the blunt head of John's slick cock snub up against his hole and he arches his back, groaning aloud. "Yes, now, in me," he gasps, wrapping a leg around John's hips and trying to pull him inside.

John lets out a harsh groan as he starts to slowly press forward, carefully pushing himself into Rodney's body. Rodney bears down against the pressure, trying to get his body to accept John's dick as fast as he can. It's painful at first, burning despite their preparations, but John is tender and gentle. He moves in slow, shallow thrusts at first, allowing Rodney to get used to his girth and watching Rodney closely the whole time. At last, he is all the way in and they both let out a sigh at the depth of their connection.

Rodney feels amazing; it is just so right to have John on and in and around him like this. John's looking down at Rodney with such deep emotion in his eyes and Rodney feels his pleasure soar even higher. His cock is trapped between their bodies, hard and leaking as his ass squeezes convulsively around John's dick. Then John starts to move. He pulls back slowly until only the tip of his cock is still lodged in Rodney's body.

"More," Rodney begs, desperate to be filled again.

Something flashes in John's lust-filled eyes. "Rodney," he gasps as he slowly sinks back down into Rodney's body. "How you feel…", but instead of finishing the thought, John groans and starts to move in earnest.

Over and over again John buries himself deep inside Rodney. All of a sudden, John pauses for a moment and tilts his hips to change the angle of his thrusts slightly. Rodney cries aloud and arches upwards as the new angle ensures that John's next thrust forward makes his cock press hard against Rodney's prostate. John grins at Rodney's response and then ensures that he hits the same spot deep inside Rodney each time.

Rodney is lost in the spiralling cycle of his pleasure which winds higher and tighter with every thrust of John's hips. He's dimly aware that he's moaning constantly now, his eyes fixed on John and all his senses concentrated on the intense feelings coursing through his body. John movements gradually grow faster and more ragged, and then Rodney feels John shift above him and a hand reaches between their straining bodies to close tightly around his aching dick. He groans aloud and bucks into John's hand. A couple of pulls is all it takes and Rodney is coming, his back arching as he screams John's name, his dick pulsing and coating his belly and chest with thick streams of come. John fucks forward two or three more times before he freezes, arched above Rodney as his body clenches in ecstasy. John then collapses forward onto Rodney, who wraps his arms about John's shoulders as the shudders of their release continue to run through their bodies.

Sometime later, Rodney lies staring sightlessly at the ceiling of John's bedroom; his body is relaxed, but his mind nevertheless shies away from sleep. By his side, Rodney feels John start to shift as he turns to bury his head into the crook of Rodney's shoulder.

"Shh," John murmurs into Rodney's skin. "Sleep. It's okay. I'm here and I'm not going anywhere."

Rodney scoots down the bed so he can kiss John in reply, holding him close as their mouths move in tandem. John hums his pleasure into Rodney's mouth and then pulls back, rising up on one elbow so he can look down at Rodney.

"Rodney," he says softly, his eyes bright.

"Yeah," Rodney replies, feeling his lips twitch with a smile. "I know. Me too."

John's eyes flash with joy and he nods. "Good," he says firmly as he settles back down. He wraps an arm about Rodney's chest, insinuates a leg between Rodney's thighs, and then tucks his head under Rodney's chin. Rodney wraps his arms tightly about John in return and closes his eyes as the delight sparkles through him.

Together they drift off to sleep.

The End