Title
Life After
Prompt
Big Bang 2008.   After season 4.
Summary
"We could do more," John said, turning to him, and there was a conviction in his voice and eyes that sent shivers down Rodney's spine. "We could destroy the Wraith."
Pairing
McKay/Sheppard, mention of Emmagan/Kanaan, Lorne/OFC, Ronon/OFC
Rating
NC-17
Word Count
48206 words
Notes
Thank you very much to my betas lavvyan and neevebrody for their hard work, patience and advice. For warnings see the footer notes.
Companion Artwork
  • Life After by anna_luna

Prologue:

Charlie Mayer's life began when he met Susan Derkowitz.

Admittedly, he had a whole life and friends in another town before that first day at a new school when he was sixteen. But for Charlie, everything changed in that moment.

Susan wasn't stunningly beautiful. She had unremarkable long brown hair and a tooth gap that was rather unattractive. But when Charlie first saw her, she had grinned widely at something that a friend of hers was saying and it was a completely infectious grin that made Charlie just watch her for a moment, before being dragged away by the person showing him around.

While it was love at first sight for Charlie, the same couldn't be said for Susan.

Charlie was a year younger and a head shorter. He lived in her neighborhood and they walked home together and struck up something of a friendship. But his crush on her was more endearing than attractive and something she tolerated rather than encouraged. She preferred older guys and also had a thing for "bad boys".

It was when one such bad boy, Steve Thomas, usually seen in a tattered leather jacket and riding his barely roadworthy motorbike, broke her heart that Charlie suddenly didn't seem too nice and young anymore.

He took her out to see movies to distract her and left funny little notes on her locker to make her laugh.

Most of all though, he didn't expect anything of her and one day she asked him if he wanted to come home with her and the rest was history.

They got married once Charlie graduated.

He loved handling machines and he was good at it. He joined the Armed Forces because he wanted the training to make him even better at it and because his brothers had before him.

When the SGC approached him, he discussed it with Susan and she agreed that it could be a chance of a lifetime. He joined them and became a member of SG-18.

Working for the SGC and going on missions was exciting and terrifying, for both himself and Susan. He wasn't allowed to tell her about anything he did of course, but he hadn't once lied to her in his life and he wasn't about to start now. He trusted her not to say a word to anyone and she never did.

Susan had a good job as a teacher and they began to think about kids. They both agreed not to wait too long, since they wanted to be young parents who'd still be able to play with their grandkids. They also agreed that Charlie should stop going on missions once they had kids, because while the SGC were possibly the best trained soldiers on Earth, their job was also among the most dangerous.

However, going on missions also paid the best, so they decided to wait a few years and save for their own house.

When the opportunity came up to join the first Atlantis expedition, Charlie didn't go, because he couldn't take the risk of never returning. However once they'd established contact with Atlantis again and created the Midway Station, which allowed visits back to Earth, Charlie went.

He frequently visited Earth to see Susan and they decided to start trying to have a baby.

When the Midway Station was destroyed, Susan told Charlie he didn't have to take the first ship back. It turned out she was pregnant from Charlie's last trip to Earth.

It was one of the happiest moments in Charlie's life and that day had one enthusiastic Sergeant Mayer telling everyone who'd listen that he was going to be a father.

He wanted to return to Earth when the Daedalus made her next trip from Atlantis, but Susan urged him to stay until she was five months pregnant.

His commanding officer, Colonel Sheppard, was not only happy for him, but understanding of his situation. He was assigned to missions where no combat was expected and when possible, was allowed to perform special tasks that would grant him special pay.

Charlie was once again showing off an ultrasound of his unborn child when he first heard rumors about Atlantis not being able to establish contact to Earth.

This wasn't an entirely uncommon occurrence since unscheduled off-world activations happened regularly at the SGC as he knew from first-hand experience.

A couple of hours later, the rumors had spread and people began to speculate. Theories made the rounds, half-jokingly suggesting the gate might have been stolen or the bills not paid, never mind that it was the connecting gate that provided the energy. There were, of course, doomsday scenarios of Earth unwittingly dialing another black hole or the whole mountain having been attacked and buried under rubble.

Charlie listened but didn't join the discussion. Those spinning wild tales wouldn't be interested in the most obvious explanation: a simple defect with the gate. He had every confidence in the world that it would be fixed within the day.

It wasn't.

In fact, a week later Atlantis still couldn't establish contact with Earth. They had managed to send their compressed data burst to the Alpha site, but when they dialed in regularly, there was no answer. Apparently, there was a discussion about whether or not to try to contact the gate of an ally in the Milky Way, but the energy needed to explain the situation and ask for assistance would be substantial. There would also be no guarantee of an answer and nothing they could do in the case of an emergency. It was a hard decision, but they decided they might need the ZPM power to return to Earth, once establishing contact was possible again.

So they waited for the Daedalus's next scheduled arrival. The ship had been en route from Earth the first day they lost contact. When she didn't arrive on schedule, there was speculation that she had been called back to assist in whatever emergency there was at the SGC.

It was at this time that not even Charlie, positive thinking by nature though he was, believed in a simple defect of the gate or an emergency that resulted in the order to disable it. If the Daedalus had been asked to return, even though the Apollo and the Odyssey were standing by to assist Earth, then the threat had to be substantial.

He tried to stay calm. Earth had faced much in the last decade and always come through. The Goa'uld were no longer a threat. The Ori were defeated and their supporters no longer an enemy. The Wraith's attempt to reach Earth had failed. He couldn't believe that anyone or anything could be a real risk to Earth's survival, if not the SGC's.

Susan and their unborn child were safe.

He had to believe that and he knew that the SGC would rather self-destruct than compromise Earth, so maybe that was what they had done. He didn't want that to be true either—he still had a lot of friends at the SGC—but if it meant the safety of his family then he knew the SGC would make the right decision.

The Daedalus came ten days later, along with the Odyssey, the Apollo and the Phoenix.

It was the news of the latter's arrival that made Charlie's stomach drop. The Phoenix hadn't been scheduled to be finished for another five months. Charlie couldn't think of a reason why the SGC or the Air Force would decide to send a half-finished ship across two galaxies when three others were readily available. He also couldn't think of a reason why they would send all of their ships—the best defense Earth had—to Atlantis, when Atlantis hadn't asked for assistance.

Charlie could only think of two possibilities. One was that Atlantis would soon need those ships. However, there was no plausible reason for Earth not to inform them about this in a data burst. The other explanation was one that had worked it's way to the top of the list of doomsday scenarios. The ships had been sent to Atlantis because there was no more Earth.

No news other than the arrival of the ships made it from the control room. If there was further communication, it wasn't shared.

Like many others, Charlie was in the gate room when Colonels Caldwell, Davidson, Ellis and Major Marks were beamed in. Their meeting with Colonel Carter, Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay took place behind closed doors.

He didn't need to hear what they said though. When the crews of the ships embarked on the east pier, where a good portion of Atlantis personnel seemed to have gathered, Charlie could see it on their faces. Any doubt he had vanished when he recognized at least half a dozen members of SG teams that had no reason to take the trip to Atlantis unless Earth was gone.

Charlie didn't wait for them to answer the questions the others asked. He slowly walked back to his room. He put up pictures of his pregnant wife, of himself and Susan and the ultrasound of their child—the child that would never be born.

When the announcement came through the PA system, Charlie hardly heard it. He let it wash over him, gaze fixed on Susan's smile, hand clutching his Beretta.

Charlie Mayer's life ended with that of Susan Mayer and their child when he put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.


1.

"Gunfire reported in living quarters, section 5."

Dammit! John looked at the others. They'd heard the call, too. He got up and tapped his earpiece.

"Major—"

"I'm on my way, sir," came Lorne's immediate answer.

John wanted to curse. They'd been over this. How to prepare for this moment, then postponing because it wasn't something you could actually prepare for. He'd seen death and tragedy and genocide. He'd seen the remnants of civilizations burned to the ground. But those hadn't been Earth with its myriad cultures and billions of people, their culture and their people. Almost everyone they knew...

Dave.

He swallowed. Now was not the time. Grief would have to come later. Right now, he had a job to do and that was to protect everyone on Atlantis—if necessary against themselves.

"Okay, I want everyone to group up."

"John..." Carter began, but he wasn't going to stop.

"Nobody should be alone right now." She opened her mouth again, but he didn't let her speak. "I don't care if they want to or not. This is not happening again if I can help it."

This. He'd have to go there and see who it was, although he had an idea. But first, he had to get them moving. He looked at her until she nodded, giving him permission to continue.

"I'll take care of the military. Teams together," he said towards Rodney, who nodded almost absent-mindedly. "Base units with their leader. I want no one unaccounted for. Rodney, can you take care of the scientists?"

Rodney stared at him. John could see that he was still struggling to comprehend and it pained him to see Rodney like this. He wanted to go to him, take him aside and talk to him, be there for him and give him the time that he needed to let it sink in, but this was their job and it sometimes required them to do things that they wouldn't ask of anyone else. Their situation would hit everyone, but they were supposed to be able to handle it and to lead everyone else.

"Rodney? Can you do that?" John pressed.

Rodney snapped out of it. "Yes. I'll inform them."

"And I don't want any excuses or exceptions."

Rodney nodded and tapped his earpiece. "Radek?"

John was satisfied and turned to go when he remembered the crews of the ships. "You'll take care of your crew and the personnel you picked up?" John asked in the general direction of the Colonels.

They all watched him. John felt his skin crawl. They hadn't really discussed who was in charge and it certainly wasn't going to be him, but this was still his base and he did what he had to.

He waited, forcing his feet not to tap in impatience. He wouldn't stop until they ordered him to stand down, which would happen any moment now.

But then Caldwell said, "I'll take care of it, Colonel," and the others nodded.

John turned, too tense to be surprised, and rushed off to section 5.

"John?" Teyla's voice stopped him.

He spun around again, trying to hide his impatience.

"I could ask for some of the Athosians to come here. We would love to support you in your hour of need as you have supported us. We could pray together or simply be there to listen."

John couldn't think of anything he wanted to do less right now than pray and talk. But others might feel differently. And the Athosians knew about losing their people. "Yes, I think that might be a good idea."

He couldn't authorize that himself though, so he looked at Carter, who had turned towards the row of pictures behind her desk. Her team, her family. "Colonel?" he asked.

"Yes, okay," she said, finally turning to Teyla with a weak smile. "We should set something up in the mess hall for those who'd like to gather."

He let her handle it and went off to meet Lorne.

A few people pointed him towards the right direction, eyes blank or uncomprehending. Major Lorne was waiting for him in the hall. He didn't have to ask, but he did.

"Sergeant Mayer?"

"Yes, sir."

God. He remembered when he'd first talked to him. The guy had gone on about his wife and the house they were going to buy and the family they were going to have and John had thought that people like Mayer shouldn't be here and shouldn't have to face the Wraith and whatever else was waiting to stop them from ever seeing their loved ones again.

It was ironic that it turned out to be a greater danger to be the one staying at home.

"Have you called Keller?"

"I told her to stay put. There's nothing she can do for him and I think she'll be needed in the infirmary. Sir?"

"Yes, good thinking." John was glad that he could count on his XO to do what needed to be done. "You remember what we talked about?"

"Splitting up into groups?"

"Yes, teams and units together. I don't care where they meet, but I don't want anyone alone now." As an afterthought he added, "Teyla is going to invite some Athosians over. I think they'll gather in the mess."

"Understood."

Lorne left, giving orders over the comm as he walked.

John wanted to check in with Rodney. He trusted him with his life, but he wasn't sure if Rodney would have the energy to insist that everyone find a partner to stay with for the next hours.

Rodney had been shocked like everyone else. He'd gone quiet and that worried John. For a moment, he couldn't remember if he'd told Rodney that he meant him too, when he said everyone should join up with their team members. He'd tell him when he found him.

But first, he had to do something else.


2.

John had seen death before of course, even suicide, but it wasn't the kind of thing you ever got used to. The force of the bullet had blown off the back of Mayer's head. His whole head looked badly smashed in. What a fucking mess.

John turned away and his gaze fell onto the pictures on the nightstand. From what he'd heard about Mayer's wife, he didn't think she would have wanted her husband to end up like this. He thought about what Mayer could have contributed to the life they'd have to build for themselves in the coming months and years.

John wanted to hit something. Instead, he turned around and left.

"Major, the body needs to be taken care of," John said into his earpiece on his way to the labs.

"Yes, sir."

Bless Lorne. John had never been more happy to have him as his XO than on this day. Lorne would take care of the body. And John could go and find Rodney.

He went to the main physics lab. He saw a few people on the way, pleased to see that most of them weren't alone. The few that were alone, he stopped, making sure they were heading towards others and not the next balcony.

The physics lab was quite full. In one corner, a few people were hugging each other. Others just sat together staring sightlessly into the screens in front of them. A few talked quietly.

The main board had been turned and Radek had started putting up names on it, grouping them.

"Colonel," he said, when he saw John.

"Radek. I see you're assigning groups for the physicists." John scanned the room again. "Where's Rodney? Has he gone to tell the other departments?"

Radek hesitated for a moment. "No, he's told me to take care of that. I don't know where he is."

Delegation was an important part of leadership. Radek had John's full confidence to handle things, but that still didn't answer the question of Rodney's whereabouts.

"Okay. Thank you. Don't forget to put yourself up there," John said on his way out, gesturing at the board.

Where would Rodney go?

John took the quickest way to his lab. He could have called him via comm, but he wanted to see with his own eyes how he was doing. Rodney could lie, even if he didn't excel at it, but his eyes always gave him away. At least John could always read how he felt. And he needed to reassure himself that he was okay.

Rodney wasn't in his lab.

John told himself not to panic as he walked briskly to Rodney's quarters. He couldn't imagine Rodney harming himself. Then again, after the defeat of the Ori, he wouldn't have thought Earth would have been destroyed in the blink of an eye either.

He ran the last few steps, but found the door locked. He called for Rodney, but didn't get an answer and when he'd finally coaxed the door to open for him, John found it empty.

This was the point where John did start to panic. People didn't just vanish into thin air and this wasn't the kind of situation where Rodney would just randomly walk off. John couldn't help his chest constricting as scenarios of the unthinkable came to his mind. Rodney wouldn't have... John took a deep breath. He would find Rodney.

He tapped the comm. "Ronon, have you seen McKay?"

"He's with us in Teyla's room."

Relief flooded John. He let his head fall for a moment, just basking in the knowledge that Rodney was safe and not alone.

"You coming?" Ronon asked.

"Yes, when I'm done."

He took a deep breath and made his way back to the control room.

"Have the Athosians come through?"

"Yes, sir," Campbell said. "We're expecting a second group shortly."

He looked at the technicians in the control room. None of them had left. Their faces were drawn, but they kept on monitoring everything.

"How are all of you holding up?"

There were faint nods. They were okay. They sat at the center of it all and regularly saw the incoming teams and all they sometimes brought with them. He didn't need to take care of them.

"Can you run a life sign scan?"

"We can even highlight life signs that are isolated," Jurgens suggested. "With a radius of four meters?"

"Yes," he said, smiling faintly. Being with Rodney sometimes made him forget that he was surrounded by smart people.

She started the scan with the parameters and John saw a few highlighted dots, but most of them were moving towards others.

"Can you monitor this for me and tell me when we're done?"

She nodded.

"You'll all stay here?" he asked, already turning.

Any answer was pre-empted by the gate connecting. Carter came out of her office, Caldwell on her heels. She looked like she might have been crying.

"It's the Athosians," Campbell said.

"Lower the shield," she ordered. "How is your plan working?" she asked John.

"People are grouping up. Major Lorne will take care of the body. Sergeant Mayer."

"Yes, I know. Jennifer told me."

"How are things in the infirmary?"

"They are administering sedatives when necessary. Matthews is with her."

"Should I check—"

"Colonel Ellis is with them," she said. "Go join your team, John."

"What about you?" he asked.

"I'll stay here," Caldwell said.

"Maybe we'll go to the mess with the others," she said, looking down to the Athosians, who'd come through the gate carrying candles and other objects that John recognized from rituals for the dead.

He nodded at her and Caldwell, then made his way towards Teyla's room. He made a detour to the mess hall, where a large portion of the inhabitants had gathered. The room was lit by candles. Groups of people were huddled together. Some were crying, some were hugging. Some had a comforting hand on a shoulder and some just sat side by side. Sofas, beds and benches had been brought there. He spotted Lorne with his team. He nodded at him. Lorne nodded back.

"Sir, there are no more single life signs on the scanner."

"Thank you," he said into his earpiece, stepping aside to let the Athosians enter.

He turned and walked to join his own team.


3.

John slowed down as he approached Teyla's room.

He wasn't sure what to expect. Had Teyla gotten Rodney to talk? Was he still stoic? Had he accepted their comfort? Was there anything John could do for him?

John hesitated when he reached the door. Rodney needed him and John would never abandon him, but he had to steel himself for the look he suspected he'd see in those blue eyes. He wanted to be there for Rodney and that included not breaking down himself.

It would be okay to cry. It would be more than okay, it would be perfectly understandable, but at the same time, John felt that of all the people here, except Teyla and Ronon, he might very well have lost the least. Of course, he'd had friends on Earth and Dave and his family. But he'd only seen his brother once over the weekend after his father's funeral—and Charlene and the girls hadn't even been there. It had hardly been time to reconnect, much less to become close again. As for everyone else: he'd cut all his ties long before he left the Milky Way.

Rodney, on the other hand, had really gotten close to his sister and his family again. And he knew that being a part of the scientific community, even if they were all below him intellectually, was something that meant a lot to Rodney. He'd never win the Nobel Prize now. He'd never present his amazing findings. He'd never argue with Jeannie over what Madison should or shouldn't do with her life.

John knew that the realization would break Rodney's heart.

He took a deep breath and entered.

The room was lit by nothing but two large candles. It took a moment for John's eyes to adjust, then he could make out three figures on the bed. Teyla must have left Tagan with someone, perhaps his father.

Rodney was sitting in the middle, body turned towards Teyla, head buried in her neck. John could hear his sobs in time with the shaking of his body. He was clinging to Teyla, who had her arms around him, stroking his head in a comforting rhythm, while Ronon had one hand on Rodney's shoulder and the other running up and down his back.

John's heart clenched at the sight. He hadn't expected Rodney to cry. Not like this. John could hardly breathe watching Rodney so desperate. He'd never seen him so vulnerable. And he hadn't expected him to be so accepting of their comfort. John felt completely superfluous.

For a moment he contemplated leaving again and joining the others in the mess or maybe the control room. But then Teyla spotted him. She switched her stroking to the other hand and gestured at him to come closer.

He wasn't sure where to sit. He could settle on the bed next to her, where she'd surely find a way to stroke his head too. Or he could sit next to Ronon, who'd put his arm around John in half a bear-hug.

But this was about Rodney. He wanted to be there for Rodney. So he carefully settled down before him, legs angled sideways. He put his hands on Rodney's knees, then slid them around his legs, hugging them. He lay his head on the knees and closed his eyes.

Rodney didn't give any sign he even noticed. He kept sobbing and John just listened to him, tightening his arms a bit. Teyla's hand found her way onto his head as well and soon Ronon had one of his hands on John's shoulder too.

It's gonna be okay, he thought over and over and over.

He wasn't quite sure if it was what he really believed or if it was just reassurance and if it was for Rodney or for himself.

In the end, he figured it didn't matter.


4.

Rodney didn't know how long he'd cried. He remembered how it started, how he had that sudden realization that he'd never see Jeannie again, that he'd never find out if Madison had inherited the McKay brilliance, that they were simply gone from his life forever, and then Teyla had been there and ready to hold him and he hadn't been able to stop.

Now the images of all the things that had been lost started to blur. No Nobel Prize, no Vancouver Canucks, no PNAS, no fast food, no garbage cans in the shape of R2D2. All those big and small things that only humans on Earth had ever had the genius or craziness to come up with. It was too much to even contemplate and far too much to comprehend.

Thankfully, his brain had gradually shut down, staving off the flood of memories of the history and culture of humans on Earth, everything he'd lost, and focused on Atlantis and on what he still had. They still had what they'd brought here, they still had this city and most of all they still had each other.

Gradually, his sobs began to die down and he just breathed heavily into Teyla's neck, letting her hand and Ronon's calm him down.

He was suddenly aware of someone else holding him. He inhaled the warmth and comfort of Teyla once more and then turned his head to look down.

John.

Rodney was overcome by affection. He'd lost so much today, but he hadn't lost everything. He couldn't bear to even think about losing John. John, his best friend, the person who, without a doubt now, was closest to Rodney, who understood him better than anyone, who was like him in so many ways and who, unlike Teyla and Ronon, shared the history that came with being from Earth.

John had lost the same things that Rodney had. Rodney thought about Dave and it broke his heart that John hadn't had as much time as Rodney had with Jeannie to get closer to him again.

John hadn't moved from Rodney's knees and Rodney couldn't see his eyes, couldn't see if he was crying. He'd never seen John cry. He wasn't sure if he could bear it and comfort John or if it would just make him cry again.

Even if it did, they could comfort each other.

He slipped his hand over John's head and John turned and lifted it, looking up with dry eyes and worry. He looked small and lost, arms still hugging Rodney's legs, but Rodney couldn't see the pain that he'd expected and he was both relieved and a bit troubled by that. He let relief win though.

"How are you?" John asked.

"Better." Which was true. Crying had lifted something of the weight on his heart and now his mind was mostly blank, shutting out everything that he couldn't think about right now. "Numb," he tried to clarify.

John looked surprised and removed the hands from Rodney's legs.

Rodney frowned, then realized that John thought he meant literally numb—which now that more blood was circulating through his legs again might actually be true. "No," he said smiling. "Emotionally numb. In an it's-too-much-to-take-in-so-I'm-shutting-it-out kind of way."

"Oh, okay," John said and Rodney wanted to hug him badly for being so worried that he'd put Rodney into discomfort, for always worrying so much about Rodney and not about himself.

Rodney wanted to ask 'How are you?', but he knew that John would say he was okay. Maybe he even believed that. He looked as if he'd done his own share of shutting things out. He still looked lost though, sitting in front of Rodney on the floor, looking up at him.

Rodney lifted his hand and cupped his face. John looked surprised again and Rodney removed his hand, awkwardly patting John on the shoulder. He was out of his depth in this situation. Maybe they both were. He knew that they would want to be there for each other, but this was the kind of thing that their relationship hadn't developed a simple pattern for. They'd slipped into other things so easily, the teasing, the games, the saving each other's lives, but comfort, especially in a physical way was nothing that they'd done a lot of and never in a situation like this because, of course, there'd never been a situation like this.

He remembered John's calm orders from earlier. "Has everyone grouped up? I told Zelenka—"

"He's taken care of everything," John assured him. He put one hand on Rodney's knee for a moment, then got up.

"How long do you want to keep up that order?" Rodney asked. John looked defensive, which hadn't been Rodney's intention at all. "I was just wondering," he quickly added. "I'm not sure I can sleep tonight, but with the four of us and Atlantis beds, that might be a moot point."

John smiled weakly. "It's okay to split up in pairs to sleep. Although I think they've brought some mattresses to the mess hall."

Rodney screwed up his face. His back hurt just thinking about sleeping like that, not to mention that he didn't want to see others right now. It might have been selfish, but he didn't want to face the pain of the others at the moment. He was lucky to have Ronon and Teyla on his team and he'd do anything for John, not that it looked like he'd break down any moment.

"We don't have to go there," John added hastily. Then his face turned soft and hesitant. "Uhm. I don't know who you'd rather stay with."

Rodney wasn't sure what he meant for a moment. Then it occurred to him that he could stay with Teyla or Ronon. He hadn't really considered staying with anyone but John. "What would be the point in inconveniencing both of them."

"It would not be an inconvenience," Teyla immediately said. "We would be more than happy to help."

"You'll want to pick Tagan up, right?" Rodney said.

"He is in good hands," Teyla insisted.

"Let him go with Sheppard," Ronon said quietly and Rodney looked at John because yes, of course he'd go with John.


5.

They ended up going to Rodney's room. John felt a bit awkward. He'd given the order himself and he stood by it, but up to this point he hadn't given any thought on what it would mean for him.

He would spend the night with Rodney, in the same room at least. It wouldn't exactly be the first time, either. They'd stayed off-world a few times overnight, but on those few occasions they'd either been given separate rooms or had taken turns in standing guard. It simply hadn't been the same as staying with him on Atlantis would be. Here, there was no mission to take care of.

Once inside, John went to sit on the couch. Rodney got out of his jacket and John averted his gaze when Rodney turned.

"You do know that if I wanted to kill myself, you couldn't keep me from doing it," Rodney said quietly.

That caught John's attention and he looked at Rodney, his mouth going dry. "Do you?"

"No," Rodney answered and John calmed down. He wouldn't have thought that Rodney would feel suicidal, but then again, he also wouldn't have thought he'd find him crying in Teyla's arms. "I just wanted to point out that I'm not sure we'll manage not to lose anyone else."

John stiffened. "I know that. But if we can keep only one person from not doing it simply because someone else is with them—"

"It'll be worth it, I know. I wasn't disagreeing with you."

John realized that he must have sounded defensive. He hadn't meant to, but he was just feeling so helpless. There was no enemy he could fight, no rescue to plan.

He didn't say anything. Instead he got out of his jacket and boots, removed his thigh holster and settled down on the couch. It was too small for him, but not much worse than his bed and he'd slept far less comfortably over the years.

Rodney was watching him. When he saw John looking at him, he turned around. "I'll just..." he said, going towards the bathroom. John moved around on the couch trying to find the least uncomfortable position.

When Rodney came out, he was wearing boxer shorts and an old T-shirt. He quickly glanced at John. "Do you want a blanket?"

John didn't think he could sleep either way and it wasn't very cold and he was mostly clothed. Still he hesitated long enough for Rodney to rummage in a drawer and pull out a light blanket, something that could be used to picnic.

Rodney walked to the couch and John expected him to hand the blanket over, when Rodney unfolded it and laid it over John, tugging here and there when it didn't fall right.

"Uh, thank you."

"You're welcome," Rodney said and he watched John for a moment as if he wanted to say something else.

But he didn't. Instead, he walked over to his bed and got under the cover before switching off the light.

They lay like that for a moment and the darkness seemed oppressive to John.

"Goodnight," Rodney said and John heard some rustling from Rodney settling to sleep.

"Goodnight," he answered.

Sleep didn't come. Somewhere on this base, the body of Charlie Mayer lay covered up to be... John wasn't sure. It was custom to send the bodies back to Earth to be buried.

They wouldn't do that from now on. John had no idea what they'd do. They could cremate the body and disperse the ashes over one of the balconies. They could bury him, although John wasn't sure if they would do that. What if they had to leave this planet again? Maybe they could find an abandoned planet and bury their dead there, although it sounded morbid. Planet of the Dead.

His mouth quirked in the dark. Then he became serious again. How many would they have to bury? John wasn't naive enough to believe that Sergeant Mayer would be the last. Even if he'd somehow prevented another suicide through his actions, there'd be the next casualty eventually. The Pegasus Galaxy was really their home now and that meant that like all the other people here they'd have to learn to live with the Wraith. Unless, of course, they could somehow do what even the Ancients hadn't managed: defeat them.

John let his mind drift and imagine a future here without the Wraith, where the worst things they'd have to worry about were unfriendly natives or accidents with Ancient toys. It was hard to picture what life would be like on Atlantis. It was even harder to imagine what it would mean to Teyla and Ronon. He couldn't see Ronon without his gun always at the ready. Teyla he could see. He could see her and Tagan joining Kanaan and the other Athosians to finally settle down in peace.

That was what she deserved. That was what this galaxy deserved, but instead they had the Wraith and looking back, John had to admit that for all their good intentions, they'd only made things worse over the years. He'd woken up the Wraith, they'd caused the attack of the Asurans and then Michael, and even though they'd been able to defeat both the Asurans and Michael, the cost had been high.

He wished they could defeat the Wraith, not just for Atlantis, but for all the people of the Pegasus Galaxy. But without back-up from Earth, that goal seemed even more unreachable.

So, they'd have to settle in like everyone else and just try to stay alive. At least they had ways to protect their home. On missions, however... They'd have to go back out there, more than ever before, trying to get food and to trade for clothes, weapons, medicine. He remembered their first year, but this would be worse. They hadn't planned for being out of touch with Earth. And back then, they'd known that help would come eventually, even if it would have taken years.

No one would come this time. They were alone and would have to make the most of it.

He couldn't imagine what life would be like now. Would everything suddenly change? Some things would have to change, like what they did with their dead. But he wasn't sure about the living. Actually, he wasn't sure about anything. The possibilities of what they could do with Sergeant Mayer's body only highlighted how unprepared he was for this. And he knew that he wasn't alone.

They had so many decisions to make and all the while would have to fight the Wraith and stay alive. Especially stay alive. That had always been the highest priority, but it was never more important than right now. They were the last survivors of Earth, around five hundred people, and each and every one of them held precious memories of their own individual histories and cultures and the ability to carry some of that over into their new home. John would do everything in his power to keep them alive.

He listened to Rodney's breathing for a moment.

John needed Rodney to survive more than anyone else. Without him... John knew that he wouldn't give up if he lost Rodney. But it wouldn't be the same. He was used to doing things out of responsibility. He could continue to do it for the rest of his life, but his life wouldn't be the same without Rodney. Losing Rodney would leave a void inside of him that would never be filled again. He'd still have Ronon and Teyla, but there was nobody on this base—hell, in this galaxy or any other—who understood John like Rodney did. They just fit together in a way that John had never experienced before.

And he didn't mean being in love with Rodney. He was. But relationships had never ended well for John, not even the ones with men. His friendship with Rodney though was something that could last, something that had only grown stronger over the years and he felt that Rodney needed its support now more than ever.

John was under no illusion that it would ever be more than friendship. He imagined it sometimes, but in reality, he knew that one day Rodney would end up with a smart and pretty woman who was courageous and funny and who probably needed to be patient or at least tolerant. Maybe it would be Keller. John had wondered about that after returning from his involuntary trip into the future. He knew that Rodney and Jennifer were just friends now, but the extreme situation after leaving Atlantis had brought them together then. Maybe it would be the same now.

It could also be Carter. She'd told John once that she'd been married to Rodney in an alternate universe. Married and divorced, but still, they liked and respected each other and John found it hard to believe that Rodney's crush had completely vanished. Maybe it was just a matter of circumstances that would bring them together in this universe, too.

He'd have to live with that and he would. He'd encouraged Rodney when he'd wanted to marry Katie Brown—Katie, who might still be alive today if they hadn't broken up. And he'd offered to Rodney's holographic image not to change the timeline, so that he could be happy with Jennifer. He would have done it. He wanted Rodney to be happy.

He wanted that more than anything for the future.

Rodney's breathing had slowed down enough that John knew he was sleeping.

That was the thing that they hadn't lost today. They still had a chance of happiness. Some more than others, but they all had a future and that was what mattered. Thinking about teasing Rodney on missions, John eventually fell asleep.


6.

John woke up to a noise. He instinctively reached for his sidearm before realizing that it was Rodney making noises of distress in his sleep. He put down the Para and got up.

"Rodney?" he asked not too loudly. He didn't want to scare Rodney anymore than his dream.

Rodney kept whimpering, eyes moving rapidly behind his lids. John put a hand on his arm. "Shhh, Rodney."

Rodney stopped whimpering and seemed to calm down. John stroked up and down his arm, then took his hand away, but as soon as he'd turned to return to his couch, Rodney became agitated again. He spoke unintelligibly and began to move.

John put his hand back on his arm and Rodney calmed down. John stood like that, watching his hand on Rodney's arm. He didn't want to wake Rodney, but he didn't want him to go through whatever he saw in his nightmare.

He took his hand away once again, but Rodney reacted immediately to the loss, so John tried not to think and quickly slipped into bed next to him.

It was a tight fit, but since John's presence seemed to help against the nightmares, John simply put his arm over Rodney and held him.

Rodney turned away from John, putting his own arm over John's, pulling him close until John was pressed against Rodney's back.

John inhaled the smell of Rodney. This was a bad idea. But Rodney's nightmare seemed to be over and he had to admit that this was more comfortable than the couch. Much more comfortable.

He decided not to overthink this. If Rodney asked the next morning, John would tell the truth and say that he'd only tried to help him through a nightmare.

John snuggled against Rodney's back trying not to get used to the warmth and the way they seemed to fit together perfectly. He fell asleep within minutes.


7.

Rodney woke up at the far side of the bed, with someone pressed against his back and an arm slung over his body. A disoriented look around confirmed that he was in his room on Atlantis. He turned his head until he could see unruly dark hair.

His heart leapt in his chest. There was a sense of satisfaction at having the notoriously hug-shy Sheppard so close, followed by terror because this couldn't mean anything good.

Then he remembered.

Earth. Jeannie. Madison. All gone. Everything that had dulled down in his mind last night as he cried in Teyla's arms was suddenly sharp and clear and cutting right into him.

He started to breathe hard, forcing air into his lungs in the hopes that it would calm him down, but he could only hear his sister's voice ringing in his ear. Oh, Mer

He was going to hyperventilate, he knew it. He tried to think of a way to extricate himself from Sheppard's arm, when it suddenly tightened around him.

Rodney froze. He held his breath and for a moment, there was neither movement nor sound and then John minutely stroked his arm over Rodney's chest and Rodney didn't think and just reacted.

He turned around on the bed and flung his arms around John's neck. After a second, he could feel John's arms tightening around him, holding him firmly.

Rodney closed his eyes. His cheek was against John's, John's hair tickling his nose. He wasn't sure if he would cry again.

"Shhh," John whispered in his ear and Rodney could feel the warmth of his breath. It was soft and soothing and when John started to move his hands, one stroking up and down his back, the other gently running through his hair, Rodney could feel a tear running down his face. Not because of Jeannie and Earth and everything that he'd lost, but because of what he hadn't lost.

He still had John. He still had the best friend he'd ever had and it wasn't just the man who goofed around with him and sneaked into secret labs to play a game, or the man who regularly saved his life, or the man who had convinced another man to sacrifice himself so that Rodney's sister wouldn't have to die. Jeannie was dead now. But John was here and Rodney was lying in his arms and as close as they had gotten over the years, he wouldn't have thought that this was possible until now.

He'd never felt like this with another person, so safe, so cared for, so precious.

He hugged John fiercely, pressing his nose into John's temple.

"Rodney."

Rodney released a shuddering breath. "I'm okay," he said, because he was, he would be. With John at his side, he would be okay.

He pulled back to look at John. He could see the doubt in his eyes.

"I'm better," Rodney said, because of you.

John looked at Rodney as if trying to figure out if he could believe him. Rodney didn't know if he did, but eventually John nodded.

They were still only inches apart, lying tangled together and Rodney suddenly became very aware of how little he was wearing and that they were in bed together. He flushed and moved away, but since he was practically lying on the far edge of the bed that nearly pushed him over. John pulled him back and moved away on his side.

He got out of bed. "We have a meeting in half an hour."

Rodney looked up at him from the bed and nodded. A minute ago, they'd lain together on the bed and now it was back to this. It was a bit hard to put together, but of course there was a time for everything and it had always been like this, that each new puzzle piece in their relationship was added and didn't replace what they had before.

John started to leave and as Rodney watched him go, he recalled John's order from the previous evening. "What about staying together?"

John turned and his mouth quirked for a second. "I was going to take a shower."

"Oh." Rodney flushed again.

"I promise not to drown myself. You can check on me in ten minutes," John said, pointing at his comm. Then his voice softened. "You'll be okay?"

"Yeah," Rodney said.

John smiled at him and left.

Rodney sat on the bed for a moment. Then he got up to go to the bathroom. For some reason the bed didn't seem as inviting without John in it.


8.

Rodney couldn't help himself. Ten minutes later—dripping from his own shower—he contacted John over the comm. "So?"

"No accidents, fatal or otherwise." Rodney could hear the smile in John's voice and the corners of his own mouth tugged upwards.

"That's good to hear. I made it out alive too. Breakfast?"

"Actually, I wanted to check in with Lorne if that's okay."

"Of course," Rodney said, trying not to sound disappointed. John was needed now. He'd spent the whole night with Rodney, which really should be enough for the moment. "See you at the meeting."

"Yes. Sheppard out."

Rodney smiled. Then he frowned. He suddenly realized that he couldn't remember going to bed with Sheppard. In fact, he distinctly remembered watching his hardly distinguishable outline on the couch from his bed.

John must have slipped into bed with him during the night. Maybe he had woken up and wanted some comfort. Rodney chastised John mentally for not waking him up. He always had to be the hero, pretending nothing got to him. He'd lost just as much as Rodney and Rodney hoped John knew he was there if John needed him. They would all be there for John. If only he'd let them.

Rodney remembered last night and this morning. It had been about comforting Rodney both times. In fact, Rodney couldn't remember any sign that John felt anything except worry for others after learning of Earth's destruction. Even last night... maybe it hadn't been John's need at all. Rodney didn't remember any nightmares, but maybe that had been because of John.

He made a mental note not to let John get away with suppressing indefinitely. If necessary, he'd recruit Teyla and Ronon. It was what friends did.


9.

When Rodney showed up in the infirmary with sandwiches, Jennifer nearly collapsed in gratitude. "You're an angel." Rodney's flush intensified, when she kissed him on the cheek.

She looked tired, exhausted really. All the beds in the infirmary were full.

"Shock?" he asked looking at the patients.

She nodded, taking a hearty bite out of the sandwich. "We've been giving out sedatives if necessary. Alex has been talking to people, but there's only so much he can do alone. I don't think he's slept more than an hour," she said, looking at their psychologist.

Rodney didn't know Alexander Matthews very well. He hadn't gone to him regularly after Matthews had arrived as Kate's replacement. Rodney wondered if the reason for that might not also have been how close John had become to him. And not just John, the rest of his team and Jennifer, too. If he wanted to talk, he knew where to find someone to listen.

"How are you?" Jennifer asked.

"Okay," he said. "I had a bit of a panic attack this morning, but Sheppard was there."

"That's good," she said.

"What about you?" Rodney asked.

They were interrupted by a nurse. Jennifer quickly answered her question, then turned to Rodney. He could see her face change as it became suffused with grief. "I haven't really thought about it yet. I can't," she said, looking over to her patients.

Rodney nodded. He understood. Just like Sheppard and Matthews and the others on base, she put everyone else first. "I'm sorry about your dad," he still said.

"Yeah, I..." She blinked a few times, struggling to keep her composure. "I can't think about it now."

"I'm sorry," Rodney said. He hadn't meant to make things more difficult.

"No. Thank you," she said. Then she lifted her sandwich and took another bite.

Rodney's earpiece came to life. "Rodney?" he heard Sheppard's slightly worried voice in his ear.

"Yeah?"

"Where are you?" This time it held a hint of impatience.

"I'm in the infirmary. I thought I'd see if Jennifer had had breakfast." He checked his watch. "Oh, damn. I'm on my way. McKay out."

He smiled apologetically at Jennifer and rushed out.


10.

The meeting room was already full. Sam sat at the center. Caldwell, Sheppard, Marks and someone Rodney vaguely recalled seeing at the SGC sat on her right. On her left, Ellis, Davidson and Teyla sat, with a space between Teyla and Davidson that Rodney now took.

"Sorry."

Sam just nodded. "We have important things to discuss today. Let me start with the news that there have been no further casualties." She looked at John. "However, Dr. Matthews and Dr. Keller, with the assistance of the rest of the medical personnel, have their hands full with cases of shock and two patients who are recovering from injuries from their last mission. Some of you might know Colonel Reynolds," she said, nodding towards the man on her far right. "His team was caught in a skirmish when they couldn't reconnect to Earth."

Now that Rodney looked more closely, he could see that the Colonel's arm was in a sling, the same color as his uniform. Rodney tried to imagine coming in hot and being unable to connect with their home base. He exchanged a look with John.

"Thankfully they managed to hide until the Odyssey picked them up. They weren't the only ones that were picked up as you probably know. Ten teams were off-world at the time of the... attack. Additionally the Alpha site and two off-world labs at Beta sites were in operation."

Rodney perked up at that. Maybe they'd brought some useful technology—and coffee supplies. He'd have to ask Sheppard to find out. He could make nice with people better than anyone else.

"All in all there were seventy-seven people picked up off-world. Together with the crews of the Daedalus, Apollo and Odyssey and the skeleton crew of the Phoenix that's one hundred eighty-six people."

She let that number sink in. One hundred eighty-six survivors out of 6.7 billion. An unbelievably small number.

One hundred eighty-six new inhabitants on Atlantis. That, on the other hand, wasn't a small number. Rodney knew that accommodation wouldn't be a problem. They'd just have to clear some more living quarters. But with around three hundred fifty people last stationed on Atlantis, this would be the biggest addition since re-establishing contact with Earth, bringing them to a total of five hundred something inhabitants. Of course, their addition was nothing compared to the adjustment of losing contact with Earth—forever.

"Our first priority will be to integrate them into the base and to resume missions in order to trade for all the supplies we'll need to survive." She stopped as Caldwell cleared his throat. "Colonel?"

"Shouldn't we first decide where we'll want to have our base of operations from now on. It has actually been discussed whether to bring everyone to Atlantis or whether to just inform you of our whereabouts in the Milky Way."

Rodney stared at him, then at the other Colonels, who seemed to agree.

"You mean relocate Atlantis to the Milky Way?" Sam asked.

Rodney's gaze snapped to John, who looked at him, then Teyla before vehemently saying, "We can't do that!"

"Why not?" Ellis asked in his cool, superior, infuriating manner.

"Atlantis belongs in the Pegasus Galaxy," John said without hesitation.

"Why? If I understand correctly, Atlantis was located on Earth before it came here."

"We can't just leave the people here to fight on their own," John said with a quick glance towards Teyla.

Teyla listened calmly, but Rodney could see that she was tense. She'd witnessed enough of these kinds of discussions to know what was going on. Rodney had no idea if they were going to win this one. They'd lived here for the past four years, but for Ellis and the others Earth was still home and they might want to cling to it in any way they could.

"Nobody's leaving anyone," Sam interjected. "Since you have apparently discussed this, what exactly are you suggesting, Colonels? Where in the Milky Way would you want to relocate?"

Caldwell and Ellis exchanged a glance. But it was Davidson who spoke. "We haven't discussed a possible location. It should be possible to find a suitable planet though. I think what Colonel Ellis is trying to say is that it's a possibility that we have to consider."

Rodney could feel that John wanted to jump up and say, "No, it's not!" But he was holding back, turning to Sam instead. He couldn't win this on his own. But thank God, it didn't look like he'd have to.

"All right. Let's consider it," Sam said with a polite smile, but steel in her voice. "Relocating Atlantis to Earth would take three weeks. We could use these three weeks to assign new quarters, teams and where the scientists should work and to compile a list of supplies that we'll need in the future."

Caldwell nodded.

"Let's say we find a planet with breathable atmosphere and a large enough body of water. We would have to immediately go on missions to try to arrange for even the most basic supplies. Atlantis is currently in trade arrangements with over fifty planets in the Pegasus Galaxy, all of which would have to be replaced."

"I'm sure our allies would be willing to help us. The Jaffa would provide us with basic supplies, if necessary," Reynolds interjected.

Sam got a faraway look for a moment and Rodney thought about how he'd seen her laughing with Teal'c on his last visit to Atlantis.

"I know they would," she said softly. "But we couldn't live on their charity forever. I think it would be preferable, if not necessary, for Atlantis not to have to depend on a single ally. We have visited many worlds in the Milky Way, but trading for food and supplies was simply never a concern for us before."

"Would the puddle jumpers even work with the Milky Way gates?" Sheppard interrupted.

"You could always dial manually," Caldwell said.

"And I'm sure Dr. McKay could come up with something," Ellis added, smiling at him.

"The Milky Way gates aren't meant to be used remotely. Short of rigging every single one with that capability there's nothing I could do," Rodney informed him.

"The puddle jumpers are not the main concern," Sam spoke loudly. "Dr. McKay is right. They can't be dialed from the jumpers, so we could only use them as we would use any other vehicle. My main concern is still that we'd have to find suitable trading partners. If you want to give up the connections we've made here, what is the gain of relocating to the Milky Way?"

"We wouldn't have to fear the Wraith," Caldwell said.

Rodney looked to John, whose jaw was clenched. Teyla didn't look any less pissed off. "If you are afraid of the Wraith, why did you not leave this galaxy when you first re-established contact with Earth?" she asked, her voice managing to stay even.

Caldwell looked at Sam, then back to Teyla. "The IOA felt that the Ancient technology found in the Pegasus Galaxy was worth supporting a base here, despite the dangers."

"I understand," she said coldly. "We are no longer of use to you."

"The Wraith are no immediate threat to us at the moment," Sam told Caldwell. "They do not know our location and in the unlikely case that we were compromised, we could relocate within this galaxy."

"We could," Caldwell agreed.

"I think we all agree that we could stay here," Ellis added. "We just felt it was worth pointing out the possibility of relocating to the Milky Way."

"Okay. You brought it up and it's something to keep in mind as an option, but for now I think we should assume that we'll stay in this galaxy and work with the allies that we have," she said, looking at Teyla.

Teyla nodded.

"Agreed," Caldwell said. "And having such close ties to the natives will be invaluable." He leaned forward in something that looked vaguely like a bow towards Teyla.

Rodney was a bit surprised by that, but then again Caldwell was only trying to do the best he could and wasn't as much of an asshole about it as Ellis.

Teyla looked at Caldwell, then returned the gesture. "I am sure that hearing of our needs, our trading partners will be more than willing to provide us with more supplies," she said.

"I don't know if it would be wise to tell anyone," Ellis said.

"We wouldn't have to tell them why we need them," John said.

"Let's make one decision at a time," Sam interjected. "So we all agree that for the time being we'll stay where we are?" She looked around and everyone nodded. "Good. That's one thing off the list. Next we should discuss our most pressing needs and how we could fill them."

Rodney sighed inwardly. It was going to be a long day.


11.

Rodney watched John practically run from the room as soon as Sam suggested they take a lunch break. He got up to follow him. They had discussed all morning what it was they should concentrate their next efforts on. There was finally getting back to exploring the city in full now that it was their home. Then there was the search for trading partners, of course, though even something obvious like this turned out to be a source of discussion, because they couldn't decide on the focus of their search.

Would it be food or weapons or technology? Should they try to begin relations even with people who couldn't provide them with anything they needed—which John favored—or should they concentrate on allies only who could give them valuable supplies—as Ellis felt more prudent.

This then segued into the discussion that Rodney had been waiting for: who of the Colonels, if any, would be in charge. Surprisingly, they all quickly agreed that Sam should remain in charge for the time being. That was until they decided on the structure of their society.

That discussion wasn't started however—thank God—and they went back to simply collecting all options and the supplies that would be needed and trying to prioritize them.

Then it was decided to split the SGC teams up under Ellis' and Caldwell's command, with Reynolds being in charge in their absence. The Daedalus and the Apollo would go on missions too. The Odyssey would provide assistance as needed, but for the most part, she was to stay on Atlantis to make it possible for the scientists to integrate the Asgard technology with the Ancient technology in the city and to finish the Phoenix.

Sam asked to oversee that personally with Major Marks acting as executive officer for her.

It was a relief to Rodney when it finally became clear that they didn't plan to remove John from his position. John was oddly quiet through most of this. Maybe he hadn't thought he'd walk out of this meeting as military commander of Atlantis either.

Rodney walked around Teyla and gave her a quick smile. This hadn't been easy for her either. Rodney had flinched every time they'd talked about the "value" of a trading partner as if these people could be assessed like pieces of meat. It was only made worse by the fact that he recognized himself in some of the statements.

Colonel Caldwell approached Teyla now and Rodney lingered just long enough to hear him launch into something that sounded like a long-winded apology. Between this and not trying to take over John's job, Rodney found himself being glad Caldwell wasn't gone.

He turned and left to find Sheppard.


12.

He finally found John on a balcony near the mess. Rodney didn't immediately follow him out. Instead, he watched John look out at the ocean.

Everything about his posture projected "leave me alone", but Rodney wasn't sure if that would include him and even if it did, he could always go. He stepped outside to join John.

John gave only the barest hint that he'd even noticed his presence. For a moment, they just stood next to each other in silence, looking at their city and what was beyond.

Rodney wasn't sure what to say. He sensed the unrest in John, but he had no idea what exactly it was.

"Well, it could have been worse. There's no mutiny—so far," he eventually said in a tone that he hoped sounded light.

John smiled weakly, still looking at the sea. "They're military officers. They don't stage mutinies. They prevent them."

"Still, all things considered, it could have gone a lot worse."

"It's not over yet, not by a long shot," John said, sounding tired.

"You think they'll want to replace you eventually?"

John seemed to consider it. "No. Maybe. I don't know. It's really not that. I'm just—" He stopped himself, clenching the hands on the railing into fists.

Rodney didn't say anything. Sometimes it was better to just wait for John to find the right words.

"They behave as if this galaxy owed them," John eventually said, obviously releasing the frustration that Rodney had seen all morning. "This is like... We're not the only ones who have to live here. We came here. We came and woke up the Wraith and the Replicators and the Hoffan disease and Michael. We didn't mean to, but we did."

Rodney contemplated the truth of it. Overall, he had the feeling that they were about even when it came to successes and failures, but hearing it like that, it wasn't hard to imagine that the people of the Pegasus Galaxy would be better off if humans from Earth had never come. "We did," Rodney agreed. "But we can't exactly undo it. Well, we did undo what we could. We defeated Michael, we stopped the spread of the Hoffan disease, we destroyed the Replicators. It doesn't undo the damage, it can't bring back the dead, but it's something."

He had to believe that they'd done their best. And he only hoped that John wasn't still beating himself up about waking up the Wraith, although at the moment it seemed exactly like that.

"We could do more," John said, turning to him, and there was a conviction in his voice and eyes that sent shivers down Rodney's spine. "We could destroy the Wraith."

For a moment, Rodney just stared at John, not sure if this was John's reaction to Earth's destruction, that he'd cracked and gone mad. "The Ancients went to war with them for decades and didn't win. What could we do that they didn't?" he asked, trying to give John a chance to see reason.

"I know, Rodney," John said, shoulders sagging, and Rodney was relieved to see that apparently he hadn't completely lost his grasp on reality. "But think about what they had that the Ancients couldn't fight."

"Superiority in numbers," Rodney said automatically.

"Exactly! That and nothing else."

"They didn't need anything else to defeat the Ancients," Rodney pointed out.

"They didn't, but they don't have it anymore. Not like then." John's voice rose with passion. "Their feeding grounds are empty. We woke them up too early. They've been decimated by the fight against the Replicators. This is the best shot we'll ever get at this."

Rodney wasn't immune to John's fervid display. And John wasn't wrong. The Wraith were weaker than they'd been in centuries. But that didn't change the fact that Atlantis had just over five hundred people, three and a half ships and no back-up at all. Even if they could win this war, Rodney couldn't see how they could risk it now.

"But at what price?" he carefully asked. "We've lost too—"

"No! I'm not saying we should take unnecessary risks. This would be for nothing if we had to sacrifice more of our people. I would never ask that of anyone," he said, looking at Rodney.

He wouldn't ask it of anyone. Except himself, Rodney suddenly realized. "No," he said, shaking his head. "Not anyone, not even you. Especially not you."

John looked taken aback for a moment. "I didn't say—"

"But that's what you meant. How do you think we could defeat the Wraith without risking a single life?"

John looked to the ground then back at Rodney. "It would be worth the risk."

"No, it wouldn't!" Rodney said, grabbing John by the arm. John looked at where Rodney's hand held him, but Rodney didn't let go. "I will back you up with this in front of the others, I'll do my best to work on shields and weapons and whatever we need, but I'll not send you to your death. That is not negotiable. I want the Wraith gone as much as anyone, probably more, because yes, I really, really like to be alive, even if I have no idea what life is going to be like now, but I'm not doing this without you, do you understand?"

John looked at him, no, studied him with an expression that made Rodney think he could see right through him.

Rodney let go of John's arm and turned away. He didn't think that he'd given anything away that John didn't already know at this point in their relationship. They'd grown to depend on each other over the years, but still, he hadn't told him quite so desperately that he needed him. And it was easier not to look at John right now. Rodney feared he couldn't resist the urge to either hug him or hit him, neither of which would be welcome by Sheppard.

"I understand," John said and Rodney felt John's hand brush against his arm. It was gone again by the time he turned around.

They looked at each other and it was like one of those moments that usually came when they thought one or both of them had died or was going to die.

"I'm hungry," Rodney said, because it was true and there was nothing more he could say.

A teasing smile formed on John's face. "Come on then. Wouldn't want you to faint." He grinned at Rodney and went towards the mess.

For a moment, Rodney could only watch after him. It seemed like a million years ago that they'd joked about that. That John would even remember it...

Rodney shook his head and followed.


13.

John waited patiently for the meeting to come to an end.

They had worked out a vague plan that included visits to their established trading partners and searching for new ones to supply them with everything they needed with an emphasis on food. They would also try to exchange their knowledge more than goods. It looked like the Asgard replication technology would meet their basic needs in terms of medicine and small consumer goods. Rodney would have a department look into what could be manufactured and Teyla and Ronon would suggest planets with markets to trade.

They would review their supplies, what they could get, what they couldn't, to adjust their strategy.

Another point of discussion was the exploration of the city. Only a minor part of Atlantis was actively used. The rest had been categorized in quarters, labs and unknown and was mostly restricted. Now these areas were to be reviewed to decide what could be opened up and used and what was worth re-examining. Some of the labs had simply been ignored in favor of more pressing issues or more interesting finds. John pointed out that safety should be a priority though.

"Why are you looking at me?" Rodney asked, irritated.

John smirked. Rodney glared at him.

Carter agreed with John and asked him to work with Caldwell and Ellis to come up with a mission roster.

"I think we're done for the day," she finally concluded. "I know that there is a long road ahead of us, but we've taken the first step today. I would like to involve everyone on Atlantis in what will happen beyond those first steps. It's something we should discuss in the next meeting. Please let me know if there are other concerns you would like to see on the agenda."

They all nodded.

"Is there anything else that we need to address now?"

"I have something," John said. He could see the surprise in their faces except Rodney's. "I agree with all the short terms plans we've made, but I think in addition, we should consider an attack against the Wraith."

The answering silence was deafening. Rodney gave him an 'I told you they'd think you're crazy' look and even Teyla seemed shocked.

"May I ask why you think that now is a good time to go on the offensive?" Caldwell asked and even though John knew that he probably thought John was insane, something in his tone told John that he'd be willing to listen.

"They've never been weaker," John said immediately.

"Neither have we," Ellis said.

"That's not true. We don't have the backup of Earth anymore, but we have three ships that are furnished with Asgard energy weapons. A concentrated attack on a single Hive ship will almost certainly be successful and mean no risk to us."

Carter straightened and John could see the spark in her eyes.

"What good will the destruction of a single Hive ship do?" Ellis asked.

Before John could answer, Teyla stepped in. "It would stop the Wraith on board from ever culling a world again."

Ellis looked as if he wanted to say 'what do I care about that?', so John pressed on. "A single Hive might not make a difference initially, but they only have a limited number out there. The fight against the Replicators destroyed many of their ships and Michael cost them a few more. It might take a while, but the fewer there are, the fewer they can rebuild. Their strength is in numbers and we can systematically take that strength away."

"If we're explicitly planning hit and run missions, I should be able to increase the strength of the shields on first impact," Rodney added in support.

"I think the idea is interesting," Carter said, "and I agree that for such attacks, specifically, the risk would be minimal, but I don't think we can assume the Wraith will just sit back and let us pick them off one by one. That didn't work with the Replicators either."

"The Wraith are fighting amongst each other and it is likely that it would take them longer to realize what is happening and to react," Teyla said.

"But when they react, they will concentrate their efforts against us," Caldwell pointed out calmly. With a look at Teyla, he added, "Us and our allies."

She nodded in concession. "That is true. But we have always lived in fear of the Wraith. Our only hope to be free is to defeat them. And if you set out to do that, you will find all the support in this galaxy that you need."

John smiled at her proudly. That was what he'd meant to say. If they could do this, if they could defeat the Wraith, they would have earned their place in this galaxy among these people.

"I do not think this is a decision that we need or should make today," Carter said. "We will all want to consider the opportunities and risks of such a course of action. Thank you, Colonel," she nodded at John, "I will put this on the agenda for our next meeting."

John smiled at Rodney. After feeling so helpless the day and night before and with his latest task being mostly administrative in nature, this was something that he felt could really change their lives and those of everyone in the galaxy for the better.

Rodney smiled back almost indulgently. He probably still thought that the idea was a bit crazy.

Teyla, on the other hand, looked as if she wanted to hug him. He flushed and gave her a soft smile. He did this for her more than anyone else in this galaxy. It was too late for Ronon. He had lost his people and while John would love to see him settle down in peace, he knew it would never be what he would have wanted his life to be like. But for Teyla, he could still have that. She could still settle down with her people and see her children and grand children grow up among them.

Bringing peace to this galaxy was the only kind of peace that Atlantis would ever really have. That was his ultimate goal. For himself, for everyone who lived here and especially for Rodney.


14.

John stood next to Carter in the gate room as she addressed everyone on Atlantis. She told them about the next steps that they'd decided on. John didn't really listen. Instead, he looked at the faces of those listening. He saw the shock, the grief, but there was also expectation as if they could somehow make it all better. As if they could fix it somehow.

Of course, they couldn't. Things would never be the same, but there was a future and when Carter talked about building a new home, because Earth would always be part of them, their roots, their history, he saw something like hope in some of the faces.

Carter ended by asking them all to think about what they wanted their future to be like and how they felt they could achieve it and when the meeting ended, he could see discussions start in a few places. But some people still looked numb; John wasn't entirely sure if they'd even heard a word of what Carter had said.

He knew not everyone would find their new place here. He'd seen the different ways people reacted to war. Even if they were trained and prepared for it, there were a few who couldn't deal with it. Those were the minority, but even of those who could adjust, some changed quite radically and he couldn't think of anyone who was completely untouched by such experiences.

It would be the same on Atlantis. Nothing would ever be the same for anyone here, but while some would accept the change and make the most of their new life, others would have a hard time adjusting and he feared that some would never manage to move on from a life that was gone forever.

When the meeting broke up, John met with Lorne to inform him in more detail about their plans and to start deciding which teams should go on trade missions and which teams would be better suited to explore the city.

Lorne was helpful as always and looking at him, John didn't see any outward signs that he'd had a hard time coping with what happened. He still felt he had to ask how he was holding up and at that, Lorne got a faraway look for a moment and he tightened his lips.

"I'm good, considering the circumstances, sir," he said and John wanted to say that he hadn't meant to ask if Lorne felt he was up to the job—John knew that he was—but how he felt. Then he realized that it might not be something that Lorne wanted to discuss with his CO and also that it was likely hard to express. John didn't necessarily want to talk about Lorne's feelings, he just wanted to know if he would be okay.

John nodded and Lorne left. John sent off the list to Carter and tried to work on the requirements of the teams and the others under his command. If the scientists didn't come up with a way to produce ammunition for their weapons, they'd have to modify them or switch to Pegasus variants completely.

He went to Ronon's room. Teyla was with him, which was even better. John wanted to discuss which strategy they felt would be best in terms of arming their teams and ensuring supplies for their weapons. He had just begun when Ronon got up from the bed and hugged him fiercely.

John was too shocked to feel awkward about it and then Ronon let go, looked straight at him and said, "We'll get them. I know we will."


15.

When John came into the lab, he looked very tired but satisfied with himself. Rodney was glad to see him.

"Have you convinced Sam to go with your plan?" he asked.

John perched on Rodney's desk, giving a cursory glance at the spreadsheets on Rodney's screen. "I haven't talked to her about that. But Ronon's fully on board with it."

Of course he would be. If there was anyone on Atlantis who'd push for a move against the Wraith it would be Ronon. But Ronon wasn't going to make the decision and John knew that. He still seemed happy about the support and Rodney didn't want to remind him that it was all just a consideration at this point. He didn't want to dampen his spirits.

"The engineers are brainstorming ideas on how to build all the things we'll need and then all the things that everyone will want. I'm not quite sure which of the ideas are jokes and which have a chance of being implemented without Ancient intervention."

John smiled. "I'm sure they'll figure it out. And we can still get what we need from the natives."

"Right, I'll tell them you said that when the first iPods or digital cameras are broken." Rodney couldn't help his pessimism. Once he'd sat down and started to compile a list of things that they might need in the not too distant future it had come down hard on him that wouldn't have any supplies from Earth. Every pen, every piece of paper, the hardware in their computers, the chair he was sitting on would all have to be replaced at some point and they'd either have to trade for it or build it themselves.

They were an almost entirely consuming society and Rodney didn't know if they would be able to adapt quickly enough to survive. Seeds that they planted now—the biology department was coming up with a schedule for that—would take time to grow until they could be harvested. They would have to reuse much more of their resources than they were used to, but even so, there remained things that needed to be replaced once they were used up or broken. They would have to start to manufacture those goods or to trade for them, which required them to be able to offer their trading partners something in return. Trading for knowledge was one step in that direction, but he couldn't send all his scientists out there to do repairs and installations and he couldn't really imagine who'd trade for the expertise of a linguist or paleontologist.

"I said what we need," John said.

Rodney just looked at him, not sure if he was right and what it would mean if he was. They needed food and water, clothing and the city to be safe. They'd survive with just that, they'd done it before, but Rodney wasn't sure if simply surviving was the same as living. However, John looked so earnest that it was hard for Rodney not to believe that things would turn out okay.

He might lose all of his laptops, his camera, his MP3 player, his alarm clock, but the city had stood for thousands of years and would stand for another 49,000 at least.

And he'd have his friends and most of all John.

"I think I'm going to pack up for the night," Rodney said. He wouldn't finish tonight anyway and there was no point in running himself into the ground. He was more important now than he'd been two days ago and he'd been pretty damn important in the first place.

"Okay," John said and he seemed to hesitate to say more.

They'd lifted the 'No one stays alone' ban, but urged those who felt they needed to, to talk with someone. The Athosians were still on Atlantis and Matthews had recruited a few helpers and secured a few rooms where people could come and talk. They'd also said that if people preferred not to be alone they could continue staying together.

Rodney had looked at John when Sam had announced it, but John had kept his eyes on the crowd. Now, they'd have to make a decision though.

Rodney wanted John to stay with him again. But it was nothing that he could justify or explain. Even though a small part of him dreaded going to his room tonight, he knew that he'd ultimately be okay if he'd stay there alone and that he could always go to Jennifer for some pills or Teyla or Ronon for comfort.

He didn't need John to stay, but he desperately wished he would because just the idea of sleeping in John's arms made him feel safe.

In the end, it was John's behavior that morning that made him decide. John hadn't hesitated to comfort him, had wrapped his arms around Rodney and held him and it hadn't been awkward or bad for him as far as Rodney could tell. And John still hadn't talked about his feelings or shown any real signs of grief. Maybe this would be good for both of them.

"You could stay with me again," he said, trying to make it sound light, like suggesting having lunch together, something that John could refuse without having to feel bad about it.

John didn't say anything for a long moment and Rodney's heart beat loud in his ears.

"Yeah, okay," John said, sounding just as casual, but in his eyes there was gratitude and relief and a certain kind of tension as if he'd been waiting for Rodney to ask, but still hadn't known what to answer until now—and maybe still wasn't sure if his answer was the right one.


16.

John went to his room to change into something more comfortable. One night in his uniform had been enough. He went to the bathroom to get ready and then slipped into boxers and a shirt. He couldn't walk to Rodney's room like that of course. Well, he could, but he wouldn't. In fact, he hoped that nobody would see him.

As he put on his sweatpants and zip-up sweater—for his run with Ronon in the morning—he wondered what people would think if they saw him. He wasn't sure how many people had decided not to spend the night alone. He knew that mattresses had been set up in more than one gym and he vaguely remembered overhearing talk about a second cot on his way from the lab.

It would be okay for him to be seen going to Rodney's room. John didn't really wonder about what other people thought as much as what Rodney thought. After being so vulnerable the night before and that morning, he'd held up well during the meeting. But maybe that had been because he'd had no time to think about what had happened. Having to make decisions was a good way to distract yourself from thinking, especially if you didn't want to think. But late at night alone in your room was another matter.

John wasn't quite sure what Rodney expected from him and what he should expect when he got to Rodney's room. Would it be like that morning? John hadn't really thought about it while he'd held him. In that moment, he had only reacted. He had only wanted to be there for Rodney to make it better and it had worked. He would do it again too. But a part of him feared that he wouldn't be strong enough for Rodney in the long run. Seeing Rodney vulnerable always got to John, but most of the time he managed not to let it show. It was hard, if not impossible, to distance himself though while Rodney was clinging to him.

John had liked being so close to Rodney. He found it difficult to express feelings verbally or physically. He was a man of actions, not words or touches. But touching Rodney like this, to comfort him, felt like an action. It wasn't wrought with expectations and the possibility of misunderstandings. It was something he could simply do for his best friend and they'd never have to mention it again.

Rodney's room was down the hall around the corner from John's. He forced himself not to jog there and felt stupid about the relief he felt that nobody crossed his way. There was no reason anyone would think anything other than they were two friends sharing a room for the night. John, however, as he entered Rodney's room, suddenly couldn't stop thinking about the fact that he'd get into bed with Rodney again, only this time he wouldn't be sleeping.

Rodney was in the bathroom when John closed the door behind him. Rodney stuck his head out, toothbrush in hand. "You can use the bathroom after me or make yourself comfortable," he said, gesturing vaguely at the bed. Then he disappeared again.

John got out of his sneakers, sweater and sweatpants and slipped under the covers. The bed was absolutely tiny. It was hard to imagine that they'd shared it last night. But when John recalled waking up plastered to Rodney, squirming against him, he knew how they'd done it. He had no idea though how they'd do it tonight when they were both awake and conscious.

Rodney came out of the bathroom and John tried to remain still and not pull up the cover to his chin or scram to the far side of the bed—which didn't really exist.

Rodney looked at him and the bed as if he was just realizing the same thing. This bed was hardly suitable for a grown man. For two, certain measures had to be taken, namely they'd have to be touching, which was a more neutral term for snuggling, which John couldn't bring himself to think let alone say. Not that he was saying anything at the moment.

"Well, it's going to be cozy, that's for sure," Rodney said eventually. Then he switched off the light, lifted the covers and got into bed next to John. John moved as far to the edge as he could without falling out and Rodney was on his side, facing John.

"This isn't going to work out without touching, so which way would you like to..." Rodney trailed off and looked at John.

John opened his mouth but then stopped himself from saying 'Any way you want, Rodney' because he couldn't say that when Rodney was lying in bed with him. What came out instead was "Uh."

"I prefer to lie on my stomach, so I'll just." And then Rodney shifted forward enough to lean half against half on John. He put his arm down across John's chest. "Is this okay?"

John felt like he couldn't breathe for a moment, but he didn't think it was Rodney's arm. He moved a bit, turning towards Rodney, and they both shifted around until there were in each other's arms, with Rodney's head against John's shoulder.

"We can move if I get to heavy," he said.

"No, it's okay. This is nice." John wanted to cringe at his own words, but Rodney tightened his arm a bit and snuggled into him and it was nice.

It wasn't exactly comfortable and he didn't think he'd get a lot of sleep, but there was something incredibly soothing about feeling Rodney move with every breath either of them took. It was a sign that they were both alive and with that thought, John fell asleep much sooner than he would have imagined.


17.

John woke up around 6:30 the next morning. Rodney was lying against his back, one leg between John's, one arm slung over him and breathing into John's neck.

John smiled. He felt oddly rested, considering the bed they had to lie in. He carefully tried to remove Rodney's hand.

"Wha' time 's it?"

"Half past six," John said, extricating himself from Rodney.

Rodney made a noise of complaint, but moved away enough that John could slip out of bed. He mumbled something, of which John only heard the words "military" and "brain".

John quickly went to the bathroom. After he was done, he put on his sweatpants and sneakers. He hesitated to leave though. Rodney had fallen asleep again—if he'd ever been really awake in the first place. John didn't want to wake him, but he also didn't want Rodney to wake up finding John gone when he needed him.

He crouched next to the bed and put his hand on Rodney's arm.

"I'm going to take a run with Ronon now. We can have breakfast together," he said quietly.

Rodney opened an eye. "Freak."

John grinned. He figured Rodney would be okay, but couldn't resist temptation and ruffled his hair. Rodney tried to swat it away, but then took John's hand and moved it. For a split second, John thought he was going to kiss it, but then Rodney just held it against his chest for a moment before letting go and closing his eye again.

John released his breath and took him in for a moment. Rodney's mouth was turned slightly downwards in irritation, but overall at peace. John wanted to move forward and kiss him, on the mouth, on the cheek, on his head, anywhere. But he let Rodney sleep and left to meet up with Ronon.


18.

They went on their first mission "After", as it came to be known. John felt both like going back to routine and starting something new. And he saw that same feeling in many faces on Atlantis. Life went on. The new people were settling in their assigned quarters. The teams, both the old and new ones, took on missions again. And yet, everything was different.

Atlantis had been a base before. You did your job and when you didn't, you spent your time alone or with people you got a long with. You killed time, because this assignment was temporary.

But now that Atlantis was their home, John could see a dramatic change in the way people took interest in what went on in the city. The city exploration missions were made public and there were discussions almost immediately about what should be opened and what the newly opened areas should be used for.

The suggestions that Carter had asked for were pouring in. Groups were formed to plan and install a better movie theater instead of the rather unorganized movie nights that had taken place before. John didn't know if it was worth the trouble since they only had a finite number of movies to screen, but as he heard Rodney complain about how his engineers' energy was wasted on things like that, he realized that maybe it wasn't so much the result that was important, but working on this, on building a new home for themselves.

Rodney was working on the shield modifications and on installing long-range Hive detectors on the Daedalus and Apollo. They didn't approach Carter again about an attack on the Wraith. Rodney wanted the shield modifications done and tested before he got into another discussion with Ellis and they'd need to find a Hive to attack it.

More subtle changes were also set into motion. Scientists who'd mostly stayed on Atlantis in the lab before were sent on missions to established trading partners. They took over from the scientists on regular teams, which could then go on reconnaissance missions to find new trading partners instead.

John was also worried about the separation of the teams from Earth and from Atlantis. It made no sense to split up established teams, but groups were forming outside of missions as well. Whenever he entered the mess hall, he seemed to find most of the Earth people on one side and the Atlanteans on the other.

When he brought it up in a senior military staff meeting, he was glad to see that the others agreed. Strategies for integration were discussed. Reynolds suggested splitting up half of the Earth teams and wanted to discuss new teams with John. Since Reynolds knew the teams best, John gladly took him up on the offer.

Caldwell suggested rotating personnel on the ships, both to familiarize people on Atlantis with the ships and the ships' crews with Atlantis systems.

It was Davidson who suggested moving all teams under John's command. It only made sense, especially with the newly formed teams with mixed personnel, and to strengthen the unity of all teams.

John couldn't quite believe it when he left that meeting. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he'd always thought that eventually they'd relieve him of his duties as commanding military officer of the base. But then Caldwell, Ellis and occasionally Davidson were busy flying their own missions, gone for days on end sometimes.

He went immediately to find Rodney and tell him about it. Rodney was rather unimpressed. There'd been no problems integrating the scientists from Earth into various departments. They were working through the backlog of Ancient labs and devices that they'd never analyzed or helping with the interface to the Asgard technology, which was Dr. Lee's project. He'd been banished to an off-world lab after the Midway disaster and had survived Earth's destruction there.

He seemed a bit more quiet than John remembered him, but considering he'd lost his children, John thought he was holding up very well.

John thought that this might have been one of the things that separated the people from Earth from those on Atlantis. Much more of them had lost close family and friends. Sergeant Mayer had been one of the few who'd gone to Atlantis even though they were married.

Only three of the people on Atlantis at the time of the destruction had children. Of the people who had come from Earth after surviving, forty-seven did.

One of them was Sergeant Stephens, a capable, quiet Marine who was on one of the newly formed teams. They'd been doing a good job, working well as a team, so John started to assign them first contact missions. They handled everything without major problems and later Rodney told him he couldn't have known what would happen, but John still felt responsible.

It didn't enter official records as a suicide. But even Rodney didn't try to tell him that it wasn't. They'd both been in the field and they knew the difference between setting down defensive fire to cover for your teammates and running back to die in a shower of bullets for no fucking reason at all.

Dr. Matthews told him it was to be expected. Only the most extreme cases of PTSD were put on light duty. In a normal situation, half of the base would be taken off duty to recover, but they couldn't afford to do that.

Matthews himself was working almost around the clock. Carter had offered to give him a day off, but he said he was doing fine. He still had several offices and a few people, some of them Athosian, who volunteered their time simply by being present, so that there was someone available at all times.

John was still spending every night with Rodney. It was a source of comfort and peace, both when they made good progress and when things went wrong. Rodney had tried to talk him out of his guilt over Stephens' death, but it was late at night, lying in Rodney's arms when Rodney had just pulled him close and held him so tightly that it almost hurt that something had lifted from John's heart.

It was nothing that they discussed, among themselves or with others. When he brought a toothbrush and a set of clothes, Rodney didn't even mention it and it was surprisingly natural to slip into Rodney's arms at night or to have him snuggle up behind John, when he came to bed late at night.

Rodney hadn't cried again, at least not at night or in the morning. But one day John got a call from Zelenka, telling him that Rodney had had a bit of an episode and John had found him in his bed.

"I forgot," he said, eyes still red and shining too brightly. "I just... 'I should show this to Jeannie.'" He looked at John. "I forgot. I forgot that she's gone."

John got into bed and held him, letting him murmur on and telling him, "Shh. It's okay. I'm here."

Mostly though they simply exchanged a few words about their days and then fell asleep in each other's arms.

It wasn't very late when one night John was already in bed and Rodney came in. "I'm done," he simply said.

His voice was more weary than enthusiastic, so John wasn't quite sure what he was talking about. The shields or coordinating the various new projects along with general maintenance on Atlantis. "With what?"

"The shields," he said almost tonelessly. "Sam and Zelenka looked over the modifications. Caldwell came in and agreed to a little field test which was successful. The Hive that Ellis located a few days ago is still there. We're good to go if we want to do this."

"And you don't?" John asked, because Rodney couldn't have sounded more unenthusiastic. He had seemed on board with the plan when John had first suggested it.

"No. I do. I think. Caldwell has a point. Even if the risk of attacking a single Hive with three ships is practically nil—especially with the new modifications—they could come after us."

"They'd have to know where we are for that first," John pointed out.

"You know what I mean," Rodney said and sat down on the bed to take off his shoes.

It was strange to have such a conversation in bed. Especially if they were disagreeing on something. Although John wasn't sure they really were. "There's a risk in everything we do. Every time we step through the gate, there's a risk."

Rodney turned on the bed to look at him. "This isn't just risking a team." John wanted to protest, but Rodney pre-empted it, lifting his hand. "I know, I know. Every death would be horrible. But let's be realistic here. Losing a team wouldn't be the same as losing Atlantis. There's nowhere to go now."

"We won't lose Atlantis. Even if they found us, we could easily relocate. We have three ZPMs now." It was important to John to convince Rodney. "This is our chance to finally do something against the Wraith. With no direct risk. Rodney, imagine a future without the Wraith."

"It's not going to be that simple. You know that."

"I do," John conceded. "But we can come up with something else. Maybe with the ZPMs, you can make the shields as strong as on Atlantis. We need to do this."

Rodney nodded, but John knew he still had doubts. Rodney got up, picked up a shirt and boxers and went into the bathroom. John wondered what else he could say to convince him. Unfortunately, he didn't have any killer arguments. There was a risk. The Wraith had shown time and again that they were resourceful and they'd never sit back and simply watch their own destruction. There was also the question of whether or not they had the right to commit genocide, but not even those that felt uncomfortable with the idea had asked or even suggested that they shouldn't do it. And John knew that this wasn't a concern Rodney shared, as he had said, "That's all fine and well, but what exactly would be the alternative? We negotiate who and how many people we will provide for the Wraith to feed on?"

Rodney came back out and slipped into bed. They lay facing each other, the light still on.

"I think it's what the people in the Pegasus Galaxy would want and what they deserve. Teyla and Ronon agree that it's something that we should do. And the Athosians have suffered more than anyone from what we did in the past."

Rodney winced. John didn't know what else to say.

"You're right. If we want to defeat the Wraith, now is the best chance. Attacking a single Hive will be no risk. We should do it," Rodney said, still sounding weary.

"But?" John prompted.

"But I fear that sooner or later it will come down to them or us and I'm not exactly convinced it's going to be us in the end and even if through some miracle it is, there's the chance that sacrifices will have to be made in the process." He looked at John and John finally realized that Rodney was afraid for him, not just in general.

"I promised you no unnecessary risk," he said, incredibly touched for a moment. For a second he contemplated putting his hand on Rodney's arm, but it would be too intimate a gesture while they were in bed and discussing this. The intimacy that they'd come to share at night was wordless. It wasn't there to put meaning into words. It was there to comfort them when there were no words. To touch him like this now would be intimate in a way he wasn't prepared for. "I want to defeat the Wraith for all of us," he added, hoping Rodney would see that he didn't have a death wish and was looking forward to a future as much as anyone else on Atlantis.

Rodney nodded and turned to switch off the light before settling in John's arms. They just lay like that for a while when Rodney asked, barely above a whisper, "Do you really think we can do it?"

John thought about it for a moment. There's always a chance he wanted to say, but Rodney wasn't asking if he believed in miracles, but if there was a real possibility. "Yes," he finally answered. "It's not going to be easy and I'm not sure yet how we can do it without losing our ships, but we've destroyed Hives before and in the end that's all they've got. Just a couple of inferior ships."

Rodney snorted into John's shoulder. "Right. And by a couple you mean several dozen and by inferior you mean able to destroy our ships."

"Only if they get a chance and we're still faster." John wasn't willing to give in so easily.

"I know that Katie said I'm a pessimist, but I'm not sure being an optimist is better." Rodney trailed off and John wondered if he thought about her, maybe even missed her. "She would have made a difference, here and now. She would have believed in a future just like you."

"I'm sorry," John said, because he didn't quite know what else to say.

"She would be alive if we hadn't broken up."

John didn't want Rodney to feel guilty, although he knew that he'd feel the same way. "Or you could have both been on your honeymoon in Paris and died."

"Now you're sounding worse than me," Rodney accused. John had to smile.

They were silent again for a while.

"It was the right decision not to marry her at the time," Rodney said quietly. John silently agreed. Marrying someone if you weren't 100% certain wasn't just useless, it would just end in pain for both parties. "If we were still together now..." Rodney began, but didn't finish.

"You would feel different now?" John asked, dreading the answer. The idea that Rodney had only now, after losing her, realized that he would have wanted to spend his life with her was horrible to him on several levels.

"I'm not sure if we're going to have much choice." Rodney sounded unsure.

"What do you mean?"

"There are maybe a hundred and fifty women on Atlantis now and four hundred men competing for them. You do the math."

John stiffened. It sounded like a rather crude way to put it—after all women weren't like supplies that you could simply distribute. And if Rodney saw it like that, it was a rather grim look on the future. "You only need to find the right one in those hundred and fifty," he said. "People have started dating." It was true. It had been one of the many changes now that everyone was here to stay.

"And I can see how that will be true love rather than convenience," Rodney said sarcastically.

Loving you is not convenient. Of course, John didn't actually say it. And he knew that Rodney wasn't talking about them, because they weren't dating, but he still felt the need to defend himself. "You never know when it happens. Sometimes a situation like this just makes you open your eyes to possibilities that you would have otherwise dismissed. Do you think you'd have ever become friends with someone like Ronon?"

Rodney snorted. "Not in a million years. Maybe you're right. Or maybe in situations like these we just delude ourselves into believing that the things that we settle on are what we really want."

Rodney moved around, getting comfortable—a sign that this conversation was over.

John didn't want to believe that. He needed to believe that happiness could still be found after disaster. He thought about Teyla and Kanaan and their son. What they had at the moment was far from perfect. They were separated often and Kanaan depended on regular treatments to keep the Wraith DNA in check. But when they were together as a family, John could see that they were happy and that everything else was worth it because of that.

Rodney would have that too. John would do anything in his power to make sure of that.


19.

They ran their first attack against a Hive two days later.

Rodney felt a special energy on Atlantis the whole morning. The attack had been announced the previous afternoon, after the senior staff meeting in which they discussed it. There had been no real dissent. The risks of turning the Wraith against them were weighed, but since they weren't exactly on friendly terms now and it wasn't even sure that other Hives would find out, it was quickly agreed to attack the single Hive that Colonel Ellis had located earlier.

Life in the city went on like normal. There were explorations and missions scheduled, but when Rodney beamed onto the Daedalus with his team, he knew that they were on the minds of everyone in Atlantis.

The attack itself turned out to be rather anti-climatic. They dropped out of hyperspace at the same time and fired at the Hive. It was destroyed without being able to raise its shield or fire even once.

Of course, that had been the plan and in this case, there had been very little chance of failure—which was why they'd done it in the first place. Still, when Rodney looked at John, he could see a fire in his eyes, a spark of awe and hope and almost giddiness, that made Rodney smile too. Ronon looked almost feral and even Teyla's satisfied smile had a hint of hunger for more.

It was so easy.

Of course, Rodney knew that sooner or later the Wraith would catch up to their attacks and come up with a strategy to evade or combat it. They could work on better sensors or simply group up. But how many Hives would they be able to destroy before that happened? Five, ten, twenty?

This had been just a single Hive, but it was also the beginning of more. When they returned to Atlantis, an impromptu party was getting into full swing.

Rodney didn't mind the pats on the back, even though his shield modifications were never employed. He could see hope in the eyes of some people, but the mood was still not as it would have been had Earth not been destroyed. In particular, those who'd come from there—the survivors as they were sometimes called, even though everyone on Atlantis was as much a survivor—had an air of sadness around them that never quite left them.

But they still participated. They came and ate and drank. They didn't lock themselves away and Rodney counted that as a win because it meant that they still wanted to be part of this society.

Not everybody came of course. Some were still on missions or otherwise working and a few weren't there. But in general Rodney felt as if they were all celebrating this day and it made him happy for Atlantis and for Sheppard who'd wanted this so badly.

Rodney was amused by the way he re-enacted the attack to anyone who cared to hear about it. Watching Sheppard, it looked much more impressive than he remembered it, but then most of it was his enthusiasm. When the first signs of drunkenness appeared, Rodney left. He had to catch up on the various projects that he'd neglected while working on the shield modifications and he didn't especially want to be present when the first person threw up.

He went to bed around 11:00 pm and soon afterwards John joined him, telling him about the possible need for drinking laws, Sergeants Mason and Taylor dancing—which was a bit disconcerting since they both had the size and grace of a refrigerator, even though John said they'd looked great—and people had started to make out in plain sight. He'd left it to Lorne to keep everything under control.

Rodney resisted the urge to ask who had been making out with whom. Chances were the rumor mill among the scientists would do their duty and he'd get the full scoop the next day anyway. Also, the influx of people dating was a bit depressing.

He'd meant what he said to John two days before. He wasn't sure if people were just deluding themselves. Or maybe it was some sort of biological reaction to death, the need to procreate or at least have sex. Rodney didn't feel in a rush to join them. He didn't want to make another mistake like with Katie and it wasn't as if any opportunities had presented themselves.

Of the new arrivals, nobody had caught his eye. And dating just for the sake of it seemed like a monumental waste of time. Especially now that he had this.

He was settling in John's arms like every night and John squeezed him and said, "We did it."

"Yes," Rodney answered, not willing to point out that it was just a single Hive. John deserved his happiness for the moment.

Going to bed like this was incredibly comforting, if not comfortable. To see John relaxed had a relaxing effect on Rodney as well. They were good together like this in a way that he didn't think being with a woman would be. There'd be sex of course, but he had two perfectly good hands and right now his friendship with John was more valuable to him than a relationship with a random woman.

And he wasn't the only one who thought that way. People had started dating, but friendships had blossomed too. A few people had taken up larger quarters together. Ever since John had brought his toothbrush and an increasing number of clothes, Rodney had started looking into something for the two of them.

They were practically roommates already and with larger quarters, John wouldn't have to carry around clothes and come down the hall to sleep. They could have adjoining rooms so that they still had their separate space if they wanted it.

They'd both probably start dating eventually and if that time came they could just move or keep the door between their rooms shut, but until then, new quarters only made sense to Rodney. Now he only had to find them.


20.

Nothing really scandalous had happened at the party Rodney found out the next day. He promptly forgot about it until John was late for lunch.

"Sorry, we had an unscheduled meeting," he said, sitting down next to Teyla.

They all looked at him. Unscheduled meetings hardly ever meant anything good. John didn't look particularly tense—and Rodney didn't expect him to be; had it been a life and death situation, they would have called him too—but he didn't look happy either.

"Has something happened?" Teyla asked while feeding Tagan.

"There were some... issues that we felt needed to be addressed after the party last night."

Ronon's eyebrows rose. Rodney was feeling pre-emptive outrage. They were all grown-ups here—with the exception of Tagan, who wouldn't have a drinking problem any time soon—and if alcohol use was the first thing that prompted a law in their new society, then Rodney could feel a revolution coming. At the very least, the scientists wouldn't stand for this, although he doubted that the members of the military felt differently. And it wasn't even as if anything bad had happened last night as far as he knew.

"What issues?" he asked.

John glanced at him then began eating. "More people are dating now and that poses problems with certain regulations," he said, not looking up.

Rodney blinked. The dating was the problem, not the alcohol? He had no idea what John was talking about.

"You mean guys dating guys," Ronon said, before stuffing a healthy portion of mashed potatoes in his mouth.

Oh. Rodney looked to John, who gave Ronon a slightly panicked look. "No," he said hastily. "Well, actually that too. We got rid of those regulations, but I meant fraternization rules. With people—teams—getting closer, this could become an issue and it's been pointed out that it makes dating difficult for superior officers."

Rodney couldn't help the irritation. Sheppard's phrasing aside, what this meant was that he'd asked to change the rules so that he could start dating one of his soldiers. Which was actually understandable, because more than half of the people on Atlantis were under his command, but Rodney couldn't help feeling that if he didn't want a relationship right now, Sheppard shouldn't either. Which, of course, made no sense at all.

He stabbed his meatloaf, wondering if he should forget about the whole shared quarters idea.

"What have you decided?" Teyla asked. Rodney admired her ability to keep up a conversation while tending to a baby, quiet though he was most of the time.

"We'll handle it on a case by case basis. We'll be asking people to inform us and then talk to the affected people. But we will only reassign if we feel it's necessary and we'll allow dating across hierarchies. It's a thorny issue, but we hope to avoid problems by communicating openly and inviting people to come to us—any of us—if they fear problems could arise."

"I didn't see any superior officers making out at the party yesterday," Ronon pointed out.

John glared at him.

"But they want to," Rodney said, smirking at John. The smirk faded when he saw John straighten, clenching his jaw.

"I think it is good that two people won't be prevented from seeing each other simply because of a regulation. Husbands and wives have fought together for generations among Athosians. It makes us stronger if anything."

"Wasn't a problem for us either," Ronon added. "But we had rules against it along the chain of command too."

"Well, it wouldn't be fair to disallow Sheppard from dating half the base." Rodney managed to keep the sarcasm from his voice and John looked at him, before beginning to eat again.

They talked about other things for the remainder of lunch and when they went back to work, John walked with him to the transporter, uncharacteristically quiet on the way.

They'd almost reached the point where they'd part ways when he blurted out, "Lorne brought it up."

Rodney had already been thinking about one of the new labs the ongoing exploration had found. "What?"

"The fraternization rules. I don't want to date any of my men—uh, soldiers, someone under my command. I don't actually think Lorne wants to either, but it's a valid point, so..."

John sounded positively nervous. It was sort of cute. Especially now that Rodney could start looking for large quarters for them again. "I understand," Rodney said magnanimously. "Plus, you also stopped the discrimination against gays, so I trust you're trying to do the right thing."

John flushed at that and for a moment Rodney wondered who had brought up that bit of discussion. Probably Lorne; being from San Francisco was bound to sensitize you to such issues. Although he was glad to say that John, Sam, even Caldwell and Davidson were probably intelligent and progressive enough to see that in their new society nothing would be gained by holding up rules that were based on nothing but prejudice.

"I'll see you at the pre-mission meeting," John said and walked away towards his office.

Rodney only nodded at him.

Things were really going to change now. If the military started to modernize their rules, other things would follow soon. Rodney both looked forward to it and dreaded it. Humans had an amazing capacity for creating something from nothing. Whether all of it would be good was another question.

He himself had his own plans for change. He entered the transporter and pressed the location of his lab. It was time to start looking at his short list of possible quarters.


21.

The change in regulations had surprisingly little effect. Two of John's soldiers came out, but he—and everyone else on base—had known about their respective relationships with civilians. John figured there were more affected, both because of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and fraternization rules, but he suspected that they'd either have to adjust to be allowed to date who they wanted now or that they'd hidden their relationships for so long that they couldn't immediately make the step out of hiding.

The announcement itself had caused a general echo of "about time", although the ability to date your superior officer raised a few eyebrows at first. The fact that none of the Colonels and Majors immediately started harassing people, in fact nobody even dated anyone under them, put a few fears to rest.

John was both dismayed and relieved that Rodney's immediate assumption had been that not Don't Ask, Don't Tell was relevant for John, but fraternization. It could have given him an opening to tell Rodney that he wasn't straight. And he could have, except that in the end it had been embarrassing enough to clarify that he didn't want to date any of his soldiers.

Coming out was a two-edged sword. It would be a relief to finally be honest with Rodney, but of course, it held the danger that Rodney might realize how he felt about him. He really wanted to avoid the awkwardness that was sure to follow and he couldn't imagine Rodney sleeping in the same bed with him like they did if he knew that John was into guys. He'd put up a fuss or fight very hard not to. Either way, it would be the end of their comfortable nights, at least temporarily, if not finally.

After all, there was no real reason for them to continue sharing a bed. Rodney hadn't cried again since that first morning. And if he did feel like he needed a friend, he knew that he could always call John—or Teyla or Ronon. Still, it had become something of a ritual for them, talking about the day they'd had and then going to bed together, holding each other until they fell asleep.

It strengthened their friendship—their relationship. Before, there were days when they only saw each other in meetings—rarely, but it happened—but now there was the stability of coming home to each other every night. And if something had gone wrong on a mission, they could be there for each other, something they couldn't have done before, because neither of them could have asked for it. Now asking wasn't necessary, they simply slid into bed together without saying a word and clung to each other until it was better because they weren't alone.

John didn't want to lose it. He knew that if they stopped even once for whatever reason, he wouldn't be able to ask Rodney if they could continue because this had to be something coming from both of them. So he decided not to mention his sexual orientation until it felt right to do so.

But while the thought of losing their current sleeping arrangements crossed John's mind every now and then, he didn't consider any other changes.

One day after dinner, not long after the regulation changes, Rodney simply told him, "Come with me," with a certain glint in his eye that made John think about weapons or space ships or other really cool things.

Rodney led him to the transporter and then pressed on one of the newly opened areas. He probably wanted to show him a lab. In John's mind, various exciting things played out, a new personal shield, an invisibility cloak, a blaster, something to disable engines—because if one thing could be cooler than destroying Hives, it would be taking them over.

When Rodney entered the first door to the left of the transporter, it turned out not to be a lab. John wasn't sure what it had originally been. It didn't have the typical cut of living quarters in Atlantis and most of all it had a bed of a decent size.

Suddenly, he realized why Rodney was showing him this. He'd gotten himself new quarters and this bed was for them. Which was really, really nice.

He started grinning. "Has Carter approved this?"

"I don't actually have to ask her. We're not at a point where space is so scarce that we have to go the whole administrative nine yards. Anyone of the senior staff can approve quarters."

John's eyes lit up. "You mean I could get quarters like this?" He didn't spend as much time in his little room as he used to, but just lying in his tiny bed, feet hanging over the edge, was something that he'd like to put into the past forever.

Rodney hesitated for a second. Then he came up to John and dragged him towards a second door in the room. There was no bed in the adjoining room, but another desk and couch and cupboard.

"You don't have to," Rodney said and looked at him so hopeful that John wanted to run his hand through his hair. Then it suddenly registered with him what Rodney had said.

He turned back to look around the main room with the bed, then to this, then to Rodney, who stood in the middle of what apparently were their new shared quarters. "This is for us?"

"Of course," he said. "A lot of people are getting new quarters and a few of them are rooming together. You'd still have your own room to put your stuff in, but there'd be no more carrying around clothes and well..." He turned to look at the bed, then back to John. "I wasn't sure if you still wanted a bed and what size. I'm sure we could organize something for you even if we still... John?"

John realized he was staring at Rodney.

Rodney wanted them to live together. His mind tried to rationalize that they'd just be roommates—well neighbors with a direct door who also happened to share a bed—but his heart was beating faster and it was as if a voice was repeating in his head living together over and over and over.

"I don't know what to say."

"You could say yes," Rodney suggested carefully.

John started nodding. "Yes, yes, of course yes."

Rodney's face split into a wide grin. "I knew it! I mean I thought maybe I'd been wrong the way you reacted, but there's really nothing bad about this. As you saw, the quarters are as close to a transporter as you can get. We have a direct view of the main tower. I don't know if you would have preferred sea view. We're also not quite high, but we have our own spacious bathroom—there's a tub, do you want to see it?"

John could only say, "Sure," before Rodney continued seemingly without taking a breath.

"And as you can see there's a lot more space. I've already asked Teyla where we could organize something like a coffee machine. This room is larger, but you're welcome to stay here. If I want to work in peace I'll go to my lab and there's not much else I need to be alone for, except maybe..." His face flushed as they entered the bathroom. "Well, I suppose I can do that in the bathroom."

Oh. "We could just come up with signs or something to put on the door," John hastily said. He didn't want to disturb Rodney's masturbation habits. And the thought alone of being in the next room made his ears turn red.

"Right, yes. That's a good idea. Also, for things like bringing someone over to... well, if either of us started dating."

"I told you Lorne brought it up," John said immediately.

"I know, I know. If I'd thought you were planning on jumping into a relationship now, I wouldn't have bothered with this," Rodney said, gesturing around them.

John was relieved to hear it. Especially since this implied that Rodney wasn't looking for a relationship either.

They were going to live together.

John still couldn't quite wrap his mind around it. When he thought about it, he had to agree that it made sense for them. It wasn't much more than their previous sleeping arrangement—except with a bigger bed. Still, it meant something to John. It meant something like a promise—commitment. He'd been afraid that their temporary arrangement could be over, but this meant that they were in it for the long haul.

Not forever, of course. John knew that and he expected that Rodney would move into different quarters if he found a partner, but for now it was the two of them—together.

They started moving their things immediately and John was a bit nervous when he told Lorne about his new quarters, but he simply nodded and said, "Understood," as if John had informed him that some mission reports were late.

Officially, they lived in different rooms, but after filling up his closet with all sorts of junk and since Rodney had the bigger closet, John put his own clothes there, next to Rodney's. He also put his comics and books on Rodney's shelf, since he didn't have one.

They did set up a bed in John's room. It was only a single, brought in from the Odyssey, but still larger than the Atlantis beds. John figured as soon as people found out that moving quarters could give you such options, there'd be a run for them. Not that he'd need his bed.

That night they went to bed early and it all had the air of christening the new bed. John had to remind himself that weren't actually going to have sex, even though the new bed was much, much better suited for such activities. They were still just friends, even though sharing a bed was a quirk that he supposed wasn't normal for a regular friendship, but then again little in their lives was really normal.

They lay down next to each other on their backs. They could do so without touching and didn't hang over the edge either.

"This is unbelievable. Just imagine, you could be reading when I come to bed and you wouldn't have to stop when I get in."

John turned his head and smiled indulgently. Rodney had a look full of wonder. This was so much better than before—except for one little thing. The size constraints of their previous bed made it necessary to sleep close to each other unless they wanted to risk falling out of bed during the night. In their new bed this wouldn't be an issue, so there was no reason to snuggle up to Rodney or take him in his arms.

"Or we could play chess in bed. Or watch a DVD. Or have breakfast in bed," Rodney continued dreamily.

John gave him a look, raising an eyebrow.

"Okay, maybe not. Crumbs are a thing of evil. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night."

"We could do that too, you know. Occasionally," John drawled.

"Haha. You can't tell me you don't like this."

"I do, but it's still just a bed."

"Blasphemy," Rodney shot back and John laughed.

He watched Rodney caress the bed right and left of him, then shook his head and switched off the light on his side.

"Two separate night stands with lights," Rodney pointed out unnecessarily before switching his own light off.

"You're not going to continue this all night, are you?" John asked.

Rodney didn't answer and John could practically hear the wheels in his head trying to come up with more things to praise about the bed—just to tease John.

"Goodnight," John said pre-emptively.

"I could continue," Rodney said.

"Or you could sleep."

"Oh, all right," Rodney gave in.

Then John felt him move and Rodney was on John's side of the bed. John held his breath.

"Uh, is this okay?" Rodney asked.

John listened to the beating of his own heart for a few seconds, then he released his breath. "Yeah," he said, trying to sound casual and probably failing miserably.

Rodney moved into his arms and then they lay cuddled together like this with a lot of room to spare in their new bed.

John fell asleep with a smile on his lips.


22.

They took down seventeen single Hives before it was over. Which was a rather incredible number. The Asurans had been so much faster in adjusting to their strategy, but this just showed the lack of communication between the Wraith. But sooner or later word had to get out.

They'd located groups of three to five Hives almost from the start, but at some point the frequency of Hive groups instead of single Hives dramatically increased as they had feared from the start. At first, they'd hoped it was just a coincidence, but after locating the tenth consecutive Hive group, it was statistically improbable, and quite obvious, that this was a deliberate reaction to the attacks.

There was a very short discussion about whether it was worth attempting an attack on a group of three. But it was unanimously and quickly decided that they could not risk any of their ships. The parts could maybe be replaced—the engineers had made great progress in manufacturing larger objects of various materials—but they simply didn't have the manpower needed to rebuild a ship.

Some of their closer allies with long-range sensors—their own or outfitted by Atlantis—had helped and still helped locating Hives, since the ships alone wouldn't be able to cover enough ground. They asked what Atlantis intended to do now.

Rodney could sense John's unrest at that question. He knew that John intended to continue the fight. They were working towards that end on many fronts. There was a large project with the goal to make the shields strong enough to withstand several direct hits from a Hive ship, but technical problems aside it was difficult to accomplish without an energy consumption that would quickly drain their ZPMs.

Radek had the idea to localize the shields, but it would take a long time to cover a Daedualus class ship with small shields strong enough to withstand Hive attacks. And time was an issue.

Now that the Wraith had noticed what they were doing it was likely that they were planning a counter attack. They'd had to find Atlantis first, but with an increasing number of allies and trading partners the risk of being found out grew.

Their other project was a better energy beam. They had three ships—and the Phoenix—but they needed three hits to destroy a Hive. If they could cut that down to one hit, they'd be able to destroy groups of three Hives and it would possibly make attacking larger groups of Hives feasible too.

But that project wasn't going very well. Again, the most direct approaches to make it possible would drain their ZPMs and while they had almost an abundance at the moment, with a more likely attack by the Wraith they couldn't afford to "waste" them on just a few Hives.

The only project that had yielded a direct result was simply building more energy beams. They were close to finishing one. It had still taken quite long, but at the moment, it was their best bet.

Rodney was frustrated by the lack of progress and when they discussed an idea that was close to Jeannie's area of expertise it tore at him even more than usual when he thought of her.

John was there to comfort him, but on that particular day it only reminded him that John hadn't once shown any sign of grief over the loss of his own family. He asked John about his brother then, but John's whole body went still and his face became an impenetrable mask.

"He's dead," John said.

Rodney wanted to hug him, to be there for him too. Because that was what friends were for and John was as close a friend as you could be without it becoming more.

But John gently held up his hand and said he was fine.

"You're not fine," Rodney insisted. "I know that you're very good at the whole stoic silence act, but you can't just keep pretending that this has affected everyone but you."

John crossed his arms, his jaw clenching. "I'm sorry that I don't act as you think appropriate. Would you like me to break down and cry now, so that you can feel good about comforting me?" he asked coldly.

Rodney was taken aback. "That's not... Was that what you did when you comforted me?" Rodney asked quietly.

John's anger dissolved. "No, I... I know that you just want to help, but I can't... do that." He looked away, clearly uncomfortable with this discussion.

"I'm sorry," Rodney said. "I shouldn't have said anything." He still thought that John was suppressing his grief, but he also knew he couldn't force it and had to let John take his time. At least he knew that Rodney would be there for him.

Things were awkward between them for the rest of the day. Rodney wasn't sure if he'd find John in his bed that night, but when he came home later than usual, John was there and relief flooded him.

They didn't say a word, but John moved to let Rodney slide into his arms and it felt a bit like an apology which Rodney accepted.

A few days later, John insisted on dragging Rodney to the football match Atlantis versus Athos. Ronon would be playing and John said it would do Rodney some good to get into the sun again. And a few hours away from the labs wouldn't make a difference.

They'd actually built two grandstands for the event. Rodney had heard that there'd been training sessions, but he'd figured it had been just a few guys roughhousing each other for fun. However when the teams got on the field, it did look like they'd be playing with actual rules—and strategies.

No wonder Sheppard was so excited.

"So will this be rugby or the American sissy version? It's hard to tell how much padding they have on."

John turned to him and glared. "American football is a hard and very manly sport," he informed Rodney. "We're playing by an agreed upon set of rules, slightly different from American football or rugby, but the idea is still to get the ball and try to score. You'll figure it out."

Rodney looked at him, amused. "'We'?"

"I helped with the rules," John said, turning his head away. Ostensibly, he checked the bag of snacks he'd brought along, but the tips of his ears were slightly red.

"So why are you not playing?" Rodney asked.

"Yes, John," Teyla joined in. "After hearing you talk about it, I would have expected you take the opportunity and actively participate in this very manly sport."

It was Teyla's turn to be glared at. "You can mock all you want," John said. "It's going to be brutal. We're going to make Athos weep."

"We'll see about that," Teyla said, raising one eyebrow in challenge.

"And you didn't answer the question," Rodney pointed out.

John turned his attention to the snack bag again. "Sweet nuts anyone?"

"Yes, thank you," Teyla said, taking a handful out of the bowl John had unearthed.

"Okay, now I really want to know," Rodney said, because it was promising to be good.

John looked at him, then Teyla, then sighed. "I wasn't good enough," he said under his breath.

Teyla laughed. At John's pout, she tried to compose herself. "I am really sorry," she said, trying to be sincere, before starting to grin again.

John sat there in a huff, his pout getting more pronounced. "Weep!" he said, giving her an evil look.

"I'm sure," Teyla managed, still smirking.

Rodney stole a few of the sweet nuts. John got excited again. "They're going to start."

The game wasn't bad actually, but Rodney had at least as much fun watching John as he did watching the players. John winced every time someone from the Atlantean team was taken down and sometimes also when it was an Athosian, because Ronon was pulling no punches and—ouch.

John was so involved that Rodney found it impossible not to go along with him. They cheered together and after Ronon scored, they started a two man Mexican wave, which soon grew to include most of the grandstand.

"It is far from over," Teyla said calmly, but Rodney thought she looked a bit pissed off.

She was right however. The teams were pretty evenly matched. By half-time Athos led by one point—much to Teyla's satisfaction.

"I will go and check on Tagan," she told them, before smiling sweetly at John.

"I think she'll actually gloat if they win," John said to him when she was gone.

"Won't you?" Rodney asked.

"Well, yeah, but she's..."

"A woman?" Rodney ventured. The crowd consisted of considerably more men than women, though Rodney wasn't sure if it wasn't just the male female ratio on Atlantis.

"Teyla," John said.

Rodney snorted. John turned his attention to the snack bag again. There seemed to be a never-ending source inside, because John had kept getting out something new during the game.

Rodney certainly hadn't minded. He liked to be fed and entertained at the same time. And he got a weird, but nice little jolt whenever his and John's hands touched while they were grabbing for something.

At one point, when he'd wanted to get another Heltos cake, John had held onto his finger. Rodney had growled at him, but John had smiled so happily, that Rodney couldn't help smiling back. Then John had taken one of the Heltos cakes and simply pushed it into Rodney's mouth with a smirk, before turning his attention to the field again.

Rodney still didn't really know what that had been about, but he'd pressed his knee against John's and John had pressed back.

At the end of the game, Rodney was glad that John had taken him along—even though Teyla was very smug when Athos won.

After that, it was back to work for Rodney while John continued to ask about the progress of the projects—as he'd done ever since they'd realized they were no longer dealing with single Hives. Rodney would have long been annoyed if he hadn't known how important it was to him. He hated to disappoint John every single time.

"We're doing the best we can," Rodney said. "And the progress on the second energy beam for the Apollo is good." Which was an exaggeration, but he tried to be positive for John.

John wasn't fooled however. "It's taken weeks. We'll need five more for an attack of just a trio of Hives. And as soon as we do it, they'll just form larger groups."

John was right. But working on shields or weapons was still the best approach. "We've discussed other ideas," he reminded John.

"I know, I know. Anything that requires us to plant something would expose at least one ship to them," John recited in frustration.

They'd learned it the hard way. The Odyssey had cloaking technology, and they'd tried to beam a bomb on board of the Hives. It had worked, but the damage hadn't been enough and they'd immediately turned on their shields and switched on a scrambling mechanism that made it impossible for the Odyssey to get a lock on another location. Worse than that it had also revealed the Odyssey's position and one of the Hives had managed to score a hit before Davidson was able to jump into hyperspace.

The repairs for that were still ongoing and it was decided that this strategy too would only be feasible if they could be sure to destroy all Hives at once. This wasn't even considering that it was likely that after the latest attack, where the Hives had gotten away, word among the Wraith must have gotten out and they were probably all activating their scrambling mechanism by default now.

They had bombs that were powerful enough to destroy the Hives, but those held the risk of also destroying neighboring planets and would destroy the Odyssey for sure. And outfitting the bombs with a timer was far too risky. The Wraith would have the time to beam the bombs into space or worse, disable the timer and have a bomb with which to attack the Atlantean ships.

"What we'd need is something that wouldn't involve our ships. A trap," John said, walking around in their room—which was technically Rodney's room, but they both spent most of their time off there.

"Right and then we'll just call up the Wraith and say, 'Hey, could you meet us at this address?'"

John glared at him. "We could tell them it's our secret base and then when they arrive it's nothing but our energy weapon."

At the word 'secret base' Rodney pictured John in a superhero outfit—black with a Zorro kind of mask. Then he remembered the rest of the sentence and it was like switching on a light.

"If it's installed on the ground of a planet, do you think it could reach high enough?" John asked, but Rodney's mind was already racing.

"Nothing but the energy beam," he mumbled. Oh, it would be glorious. John would love this.

"Huh?"

"What's our biggest problem at the moment?" Rodney asked.

"That the Wraith caught on to our strategy and grouped up."

"No. I mean yes, but it's that we have the weapons to destroy them, but can't use them, because we can't risk our ships," Rodney explained, because he couldn't wait for John to get where he was heading.

"We could but we won't. So you're suggesting what I just said? Installing them on an abandoned planet?" John asked hopefully.

"They'd have to fly close to be effective, so no." John deflated at Rodney's answer. "But I have a better idea," Rodney continued. "How do you feel about a puddle jumper with an energy beam?"

John blinked. Then his face lit up like Atlantis at night. "We could do that?"

"Well, I could, I think. We might have to make some modifications and we'll want to outfit the jumper with a shield—"

"Shield and energy beam?" John asked, looking almost scarily happy at this point. Rodney suspected he'd start salivating any moment now.

"It would be of little use if they could easily destroy it. And with the smaller size of the jumper it should be possible to make the shield strong enough to take a few hits."

John's eyes were glowing. "When do you think I can fly it?"

"What? Nonono. You won't fly anything."

John's face fell. "Rodney, I know that you won't like it, but I'm the best qualified for such a mission—"

"Yes, I know. And leaving aside the issue that I'm not sending you on a suicide mission if there is any other way, that's not even the point."

"What is the point?" John was impatient now.

"The jumper will have to be unmanned. As it is, I'm not sure how exactly we'll put everything we need into the small space. There's the energy beam, the shield, we'll need some basic AI that will make it possible for the jumper to fly, attack and evade autonomously. I think we'll go with something rather crude there. Simple recognition of Hive positions and just trying to hit the center. Movement should be random. With the cloak that should allow us to avoid too many hits for the shield to withhold. We'd probably still want to fit it out with a ZPM, we could use an almost depleted one. Oh, but that means even more space for the interface. I'll have to consult Radek."

"Rodney!"

Rodney stopped. "Yes?"

"You're building me an automatic Hive destroyer out of a puddle jumper?" John asked entirely calm.

Rodney wanted to say that it was out of much more than just a puddle jumper and that it wasn't for John exactly but looking at him, he realized that making John so happy was certainly also a benefit. "Yes," he said and before Rodney realized what was happening, John had him in a bear hug and was twirling him around until they fell on the bed, Rodney on top of him.

"This is..." John stopped and cupped Rodney's face in both hands and Rodney thought, Oh God, he's going to kiss me. But then he just hugged Rodney again and Rodney felt relief and a strange disappointment, followed by happiness and excitement about their plans.


23.

The Wraith didn't leave it at grouping up. Of course they didn't. A week after Rodney started working on the Hive Destroyer, as John insisted on calling it, John's greatest fear was confirmed. Word reached them of an attack on one of their allies.

They had managed to hide in time, but their village was destroyed and half of their crops burned to the ground. They didn't blame the Atlanteans and John wasn't sure if he wished they had, because it was their fault. Since the Phealos had a very sophisticated cave system that allowed them to disappear very quickly, the Wraith hadn't attacked them for over a century when their technology had grown to a level that the Wraith couldn't tolerate.

John knew that the attack wasn't a coincidence and even though the Phealos were supportive of their fight against the Wraith, even now, maybe especially now, John couldn't help wonder if this would be worth it.

The Phealos had been able to escape without losing any people. Their village could be rebuilt, crops regrown, but he knew some of their other allies wouldn't be so lucky.

It was only a few days later when the report of the culling of an ally made the rounds on Atlantis. It wouldn't be the last. The people on those planets remained hopeful. They'd seen it all before, but John couldn't help thinking that without their attacks it might have been another year or ten years or hundred years before the Wraith would have come down on them again.

Teyla and Ronon assured them that they were determined to continue the fight to finish off the Wraith once and for all.

Rodney was working almost around the clock on the Hive Destroyer. Both he and Radek had stopped working on their other projects and Rodney was doing only the most cursory of administrative tasks as Chief Science Officer with Bill Lee taking up a lot of the coordination of projects, even though he, too, was helping them reduce the size of the energy beam to fit into the jumper.

Rodney still went on missions with them and seeing what the Wraith were doing only made him more determined. John was incredibly proud of him.

It promised to be another harrowing mission to one of their recently attacked allies when one of the villagers stepped up to John, shouting accusations.

John almost felt relieved. He'd been waiting for this, to take the blame for all the loss that they caused, even though it was in the interest of everyone in this galaxy. When Ronon wanted to step in, he stopped him, raising his hand. He wanted to hear this. He needed to hear this.

"I've lost my children, my wife. What have you lost?"

One of the elders tried to calm him down. "Nolyb. They are doing this to defeat the Wraith so that no one will have to lose their family again."

"And yet it's only our families that have to suffer. How many of you have died? How many?"

They hadn't lost a single person except Sergeants Mayer and Stephens. There'd been injuries, a few of them severe, but everyone had survived. Before John could admit it however, Nolyb pulled out a knife.

"I'll show you what suffering is," he said.

John saw Ronon pull out his gun, but when Nolyb went down it was with John, who twisted at the pain from the knife in his hip.

He vaguely remembered being carried back to the gate, Rodney cursing along the way while holding his hand.

Then there was only blissful nothing.

When John woke up, he was disoriented for a moment. The bed didn't feel right, even though he was curled around Rodney's back. He blinked and took in the infirmary. Then he noticed the faint throbbing in his hip. Bless Keller and her arsenal of drugs.

She took that moment to check in on him, probably alerted that he'd woken up. John closed his eyes. Maybe she'd go away again and give him another hour.

"Rodney!" she said, obviously trying not to shout in the infirmary.

He felt Rodney bolt up from his sleep. "Wha?" Then he settled down again. "Morn'g Jennifer. What time's it?"

John didn't open his eyes and only listened in amusement as she completely ignored his question. "This is not what I meant when I said you could sleep here."

"You said he'd be okay," Rodney protested.

"Be. In order to do that he needs rest."

"He is resting," Rodney pointed out. John felt it was time to support him.

"I am," he confirmed, cracking open an eye.

He couldn't be hurt too badly, because Keller looked at both of them in exasperation.

"And I'll go back to doing it now," John said, moving an arm over Rodney and snuggling against him.

Keller sighed. "I'll be back in an hour," she informed them and left.

"You've got stitches and lost quite a bit of blood, but you'll be back on missions in no time," Rodney told him.

John made a vaguely understanding noise.

"Just please don't do that again," Rodney said in a tight voice.

John opened his eyes. He'd meant to listen, to allow the man to express his grief and anger. He hadn't meant to put anyone in danger including himself. "I'll be more careful," he promised.

"Good, because I couldn't sleep at all last night without you. How am I supposed to get the Hive Destroyer finished if you go and get yourself killed?" he said in a huff.

"Guess I better call off that mission, then," John quipped.

"That's not funny."

"I'd never risk missing you finish the Hive Destroyer," John said with feeling, stroking Rodney's side.

This mollified Rodney. He patted John's back and they went back to sleep.

The last thing on John's mind was the realization that Keller had seemed scandalized that Rodney would sneak into John's infirmary bed while he was injured, but she hadn't sounded surprised or embarrassed to catch them like this.

Then again, they were living together and it was likely that a few people were misinterpreting this. He wasn't going to correct them.


24.

The attack on John was the last straw. Rodney knew they'd never finish the Hive Destroyer on time. They had to do something now.

Groups on Atlantis had formed, discussing immigration. Rodney tried to ignore it, because it opened up a whole new can of worms and he simply didn't have the time to listen to the various arguments, especially since most of them made sense in some ways, even if they were completely conflicting.

People also began discussing the election of a leader of Atlantis. Thankfully, even those pushing for it were willing to wait until their current situation improved. Not that Rodney thought it would make much of a difference. He couldn't see anyone other than Sam getting a majority at the moment, certainly not Rudi Acthyk, a doctor of social "sciences" with obviously too much time on his hands who liked to talk about his "vision" of Atlantis. Rodney refrained from telling him where he could stick his vision as long as he wasn't in the way of those who were actually doing something.

A relocation program was begun. Outfitting the gates of their allies with an iris was dismissed as impossible to achieve and diplomatically difficult since they'd never be able to do it for all. Instead, Rodney and others built a remote kill-switch into the gates, so that it could be shut down without having to work on the DHD. This would cut down the number of Darts able to enter and gave people the opportunity to dial out to an Alpha site that was set up for the purpose.

It wasn't perfect. A few Darts always managed to come through and villages were destroyed, but the loss of life was reduced.

Dealing with the relocations took up many of the human resources of Atlantis. But it wasn't enough to keep one Lt. James Leary from believing that rumors about Lt. Stephanie Rieger's promiscuity entitled him to a piece of the pie so to speak.

Rodney found out about it when John called him to ask if he could track down radio calls that had been made. Major Lorne had found Leary on the ground, cradling his balls, with Rieger pointing her sidearm at him. She had called Lorne on the radio and when he'd arrived Leary had spouted some story about how she had called him out there and attacked him after he turned her down.

Lorne had taken him into custody and John wanted Rodney to help confirm Rieger's version as soon as possible. Nobody really doubted when she explained that she had turned Leary down before and hadn't thought anything of it when he called her out there until he came on to her again and wouldn't take no for an answer this time—to the point where she had to defend herself. John had sounded cold with a simmering anger that would have scared Rodney had it been directed at him. Rodney didn't blame him. After all that had happened, Atlantis was their home and should be the one place where everyone could feel safe. And Rodney knew John felt responsible for the safety of everyone on this city and to see one of his own men attacking a fellow Atlantean and threatening the peace had to have him seething. Rodney was thankful that Lorne had handled the arrest.

John only had to deal with the fallout and it was something that neither Rodney nor anyone else on Atlantis would ever forget. Everyone on Atlantis was busy at the time, but all military personnel were ordered to assemble and get a dressing down that almost nobody had had to face before from their CO.

"I don't give a damn what you think is going on in such a situation. No means no. I didn't think I would have had to spell this out, but apparently I was wrong. So I'll make myself very clear here. If you're out on a date and are invited to their room and they say no it still means no. If you've had sex with someone twenty times and they say no for the twenty-first time it still means no. And if someone chooses to have sex with every damn person in this galaxy except you it still means god damn fucking no.

"And I don't just mean sex and I don't just mean here in this city. If I ever hear about such behavior off-world, you will regret it. That's a promise. You are representing us out there. I'm not saying you can't meet people, make new friends, even have a relationship. But if you meet a nice lady and you've hit it off really well and you ask her out on a date and she says no, please do me the favor and take that as no. If you think she's just shy or it's a cultural thing, then ask. And I don't mean ask her again and again until she gives in. Ask Teyla. I'm sure she'll be more than willing to interpret and mediate for you. And if she says no means no, then you better take it as no.

"We all have to live here together and that means we have to stick to certain rules. We understand that everyone has needs. I understand it, believe me I do. Nobody is going to judge you. If you feel you have a problem, talk to someone. Dr. Matthews is there for this sort of thing. You can't control what you feel sometimes, but you can control what you do and that is what I expect from each of you. Show some common sense, people. I know it's hard, but if I can use my right hand, then so can you."

The military personnel were too stunned to react to that last comment, but when Rodney later showed it to his scientists—because really, not even he could say it better—there were some snickers and Rodney thought he heard something to the effect of "looks like McKay's not putting out". He didn't follow up on that because he was too proud of the overall look of terror Sheppard's speech had caused on the faces of his underlings.

The speech became legend, even though there wasn't as much talk about it as there would have been if everyone hadn't been so busy. Their current situation didn't allow for any distractions. City exploration was on hold as well as all unnecessary projects. Everyone either worked on helping out their allies or on the Hive Destroyer project.

Into this stressful situation came the news that two large groups of Hives were approaching Atlantis. So now, Atlantis had to deal with its own relocation as well. Thankfully, the long-range sensors had picked up the Hives well in advance, which gave them a lot of time to find a suitable planet.

They chose something relatively close by. They would still be able to monitor the progress of the Hives. They also set up a special site through which they went on missions and communicated with their allies. This "proxy" of sorts was there to ensure that even if their address should be compromised again—they suspected a Wraith Queen had probed the minds of one of those culled—they'd only have to choose a different proxy site and not relocate.

Before putting the new proxy site into operation, the Daedalus transported two gates from abandoned planets to their old location, both as a testing ground for relaying signals and also so that the Wraith wouldn't be alerted that Atlantis knew they were coming.

This presented them with a unique opportunity. They knew exactly where and when the Wraith would arrive.

Rodney tried his best to get the Hive Destroyer ready for deployment, but they'd been unable to fit everything into the jumper—even after removing half of its innards—and had to make modifications that would extend the jumper without sacrificing its maneuverability.

Radek had made good progress, but the shield generator was still taking up too much space and without it, there was too high a risk that a single shot would destroy the jumper.

Rodney had only begun to work on the AI, which was also not as simple as he'd thought, since he needed the jumper to move in unpredictable ways and yet to stay in range to fire the next shot. He knew that he would solve this, but it was all taking up time that he didn't have.

"Rodney." John suddenly appeared out of nowhere in his lab one night.

"Is it time for dinner?" Rodney asked, panicked. Time was really flying and his mind focused only on the most important tasks.

"Radek brought you dinner," John said, pointing at the remains of the goulash.

"Right," Rodney said. He vaguely recalled Radek coming in and reminding him of his hypoglycemia, without being sarcastic or rolling his eyes. He turned his attention back to the screen.

"Rodney, come to bed," John said and turned off the monitor.

"Are you insane? It's just," he checked his watch. 2:49 am.

He didn't say anything else and wordlessly followed John to their quarters.

When he slipped into bed, he didn't move into John's arms immediately.

"I'm not going to be able to finish the jumper on time," he said quietly. It felt good to admit it even if he hated to disappoint everyone on Atlantis, their allies and especially John. But he needed to see the truth of it before running himself into the ground. He would build the Hive Destroyer. Just not in time for the Wraith's arrival at their old location.

"I know," John said.

Rodney was surprised that John didn't give him a pep talk—things like 'You still have time', 'You've made amazing progress already'. He was even more surprised that he didn't seem too disappointed.

"I'm sorry," Rodney still said because it was the truth.

"You don't have to be. This wasn't the original plan anyway."

"But this is the best opportunity for a trap that we'll ever get."

"Yes," John agreed. "And we've already talked about things we could try."

"When?" Rodney asked. At this point he wasn't sure if he hadn't been present or if he just couldn't remember.

"Senior military staff meeting. It looks like we're going either with a mine field or blowing up the planet."

"Don't," Rodney said, remembering Doranda. "You couldn't be sure to contain it if it's strong enough to take all Hives with it."

"Yes, Carter thought so too. I'll recommend going with the mine field then."

"It'll only do damage if they come in without shields," Rodney pointed out.

"It's worth a shot anyway. If nothing else, it will make them think that we have no means against them in groups. It'll be a strategic advantage."

Rodney admired John's positive outlook. Maybe his failure wasn't quite as bad.

He moved into John's arms and soon fell asleep.


25.

Rodney had been right. John watched the dots of the approaching Hive ships on the monitor until they passed the position of the mines without even slowing down.

Rodney looked at him, resigned about what John thought he viewed as his failure, then turned and left to continue working on the Hive Destroyer.

"They do not know our new position. And they have stopped their attacks for the moment," Teyla pointed out the good of their situation.

"We'll get them when McKay's ready," Ronon said, clearly not happy about seeing the Wraith go unharmed, but he was right. If Rodney's Hive Destroyer worked, it wouldn't matter.

The people on Atlantis apparently also thought the positive outweighed the negative. Soon another party was going on.

"The Wraith didn't get us. That's good in my book," Keller pointed out when John joined her at the makeshift bar. "Where's Rodney? He should celebrate with us."

John didn't think he'd be in the mood. He said as much to Keller.

"Rodney doesn't always know what's good for him. Come on. Go and get him, Colonel!" she said, giving him a friendly shove.

John left. He wasn't sure if he'd be able to persuade Rodney to let work be work for a few hours, but he was at least going to check on him.

When he entered the lab, Rodney spoke without looking up. "If I'd worked a bit on the mines I might have been able to make them more effective."

"Or you would have just wasted valuable time. Forget about those Hives. If the Destroyer works..." John trailed off because words wouldn't do justice to what it would mean to them and everyone in the galaxy.

"I know. I'll try to finish it within the month."

That wasn't at all what John had been trying to say. "Well, then a few hours won't hurt. Come on, let's go." He nodded towards the door.

"Go where?" Rodney asked suspicious.

"Haven't you heard? The Wraith didn't get us. Some people think that's reason to party."

"If that is reason to party, what will they do when the Hive Destroyer works?"

"Things I don't want to think about probably," John admitted. "Are you coming? I can't go back there without you. Keller would have my head." John wasn't sure if she'd push it, but he agreed that Rodney could do with a bit of rest from work.

"Jennifer asked about me?"

John couldn't suppress the pang of jealousy. The tale of holographic Rodney's past was quite unforgettable in his mind and he and Keller were friends. Given the right situation, they could become more. And while John wanted Rodney to be happy, he wasn't quite chivalrous enough to want to encourage him. He'd never told Rodney about what he'd learned on his trip into the future. If he and Jennifer were meant to be, John wouldn't stand in the way, but they'd have to get there themselves.

"Yes," he said neutrally.

Rodney seemed to think it over, then stood up. "I guess a few hours won't make too much of a difference. Do you know if Johnson's made some of his appetizers?"

John smiled.


26.

John was glad that he'd gotten Rodney to join them. He looked relaxed for the first time in well over a week. He was munching mushroom pastries—Lt. Johnson, proud owner of the first Atlantean restaurant, had a standing order for mushrooms from the biology department—and chatting with Keller and Carter and John let himself enjoy this moment. They'd escaped from the Wraith and Rodney was going to build the Hive Destroyer that might very well be the key to defeating them.

They had a real chance to do this and even though John had hoped they'd manage it ever since he'd woken them up years ago, he'd never believed they'd get a shot at it. Even when he'd first suggested the attack on the Hives, he'd thought they'd only get a few, everything after that had been up to some miracle—and Rodney had delivered, as usual.

When Lt. Rieger asked if he wanted to dance, John agreed. By this point, someone had set up music and there were a few people dancing in the center of the mess hall.

He knew that he wasn't the most graceful dancer, but when he caught Rodney's eye, Rodney looked like he was trying not to laugh. John glared at him and continued. Rieger had an amused smile, but didn't say anything and when the music stopped she thanked him with a grin.

"You're welcome, Lieutenant," he said with a wink and left to join Rodney and Keller.

"I still haven't quite decided what that reminded me of," Rodney said holding his chin in mock-thoughtfulness. "I recall rainmakers in some cultures also dance to appease nature."

"I'm sure I've secured the harvest for the year," John said dryly.

Rodney smirked at him. Then he turned to Keller. "Would you like to dance?"

She gave him a speculative glance. "Well, let's see how much better than the Colonel you are."

"Much," he said, leaving no doubt to the truth of his statement. He stood in front of her, gave her a little bow and took her arm to lead her to the dance floor.

This dance was slower and John watched as the round movements to the rhythm turned more subtle as Rodney pulled her closer. They smiled at each other and John's hand clenched into a fist.

He didn't even think that Rodney was consciously trying to flirt with her. But the hand that gradually wandered lower on her back and their inclined heads was something that Keller at least would notice.

John mostly kept this petty side of him in check. He only wanted the best for Rodney. But they—Rodney and John—were doing great at the moment. They'd as good as agreed not to date anyone. And now Rodney was accidentally making a move on other people.

John wanted to go there and point out to Rodney what he was doing and that he didn't really want that—at least John fervently hoped he didn't. John hadn't had much to drink, but it was enough not to watch this any longer. When the next song started—another slow one—and they didn't stop, John walked over.

He wasn't sure what he was going to do until he stood in front of them. "May I cut in?"

Rodney looked at him, first confused, then slightly hurt as he took a step back.

John turned to him.

"Sure," Jennifer said, gesturing towards Rodney with a nod.

She walked away and Rodney's confusion was back. It turned into something like shock, when John took his hand and wrapped the other arm around him to pull him close.

"Just wanted to show you that I can do better," John said with a shrug.

Rodney's eyebrow rose. "You haven't drunk that much."

"No, I haven't," John agreed. He wasn't sure if it was true. It wasn't as if he didn't have these moments of jealousy whenever he saw Rodney flirting with a woman. He just usually chose to do nothing but tease him about it—or try to out-flirt Rodney. But this, this was much nicer.

Rodney seemed to have gotten over the shock and they really started to dance, moving a bit to the music. John was used to being close to Rodney by now. But this was different. When they went to sleep, it was always dark and the words they exchanged right before meaningless. It was a bit like its own dance, always making sure that the no doubt intimate gesture didn't get an intimate meaning.

But this was outside the usual parameters. Rodney looked at him as if he was trying to read John's mind, to see what it meant. John couldn't stand the scrutiny, so he pulled Rodney even closer until they were dancing cheek to cheek.

Rodney didn't protest. They danced like that, holding each other, Rodney's warm breath in his ear. John was tempted to do more. Just a quick brush of his lips against Rodney's cheek. But not even Rodney would be oblivious enough not to notice that. And then there'd be no going back.

So John resisted temptation and only nuzzled Rodney's temple for a second when the dance ended, before giving him a quick smile. Rodney didn't smile back and looked at John intently.

John left him standing and walked away without a word, because he feared that Rodney had noticed now, even if he was still in the phase of putting it all together in his head. But he'd have it in no time, he was a genius after all, and then John would have no choice but to blame it on being drunk—which they both knew he wasn't—or to just be honest with Rodney and see what happened.

He tried not to hope. Rodney had never given any sign that he was into guys.

But then he had been supportive of ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He had just danced with him cheek to cheek and he slept in his arms every night. And just now Rodney had looked at John as if he was searching for an answer. Maybe Rodney had just been oblivious to the possibility of this too.

John closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It would be so easy to turn around, take Rodney in his arms and kiss him. But he didn't quite dare to do it yet and face the consequences, even if he could no longer deny that what he felt in his heart was hope.


27.

Rodney watched John go and then followed him, without really thinking about it. He reached him just outside the mess hall.

John acknowledged his presence with a quick glance. Rodney didn't say anything either. Thoughts were racing through his mind. Part of him wanted to joke 'You know how this will look to the others', but the other part wasn't sure if it would be a joke.

Rodney had never given what they did much thought. Sharing a bed was just something that allowed them some comfort in their sometimes very harsh reality. Of course, he wasn't unaware of how intimate it was, but somehow they'd always managed to keep it as something that wasn't part of real life. It was part of their relationship of course, but only in its clearly defined boundaries. They'd never hugged outside of the bed, except when Rodney had come up with the idea of the Hive Destroyer and now he remembered how he'd thought that John would kiss him back then.

He'd dismissed it immediately, too psyched about the possibility of destroying the Wraith with a machine. But now he remembered that look and recognized it from when John had asked to dance with him.

Rodney had to admit that he sometimes didn't notice these things. When Jennifer had asked him out for a drink after that horrible mission, it had taken him completely by surprise.

And John was a guy. A guy who liked pretty, long-legged women and hadn't given any indication that he could be interested in handsome, if not quite long-legged male genius astrophysicists.

Except maybe he had. He had never really asked John, but that first night John had slipped into bed with him. He hadn't tried anything with Rodney—not then and not in all the nights that had followed—but that wasn't exactly something that he could imagine other guys doing—at least not guys like John.

When a woman was interested in Rodney, John had either teased him or downright tried to steal her. He'd pretty much ignored Katie and looking back he didn't think John had ever taken Rodney's relationship with Katie serious, until Rodney had decided to propose to her.

Dancing with John had been intimate—in different ways than when they shared a bed. It had been familiar and yet completely new. John had initiated it and Rodney had followed his lead. They weren't the first guys dancing like that on Atlantis, but this was about him and John and Rodney wondered if you could just turn a switch and suddenly see someone in a different light.

He was aware that John was attractive of course. He wasn't blind. The whole cool and charming thing worked for a lot of people and Rodney would be lying if he said he'd never thought about it. But that had been in the beginning, before they'd become friends.

Rodney didn't have relationships with guys. He had sexual encounters with men, but they were never anything more and he'd never particularly cared about any of the guys he'd had sex with. It just seemed like a stupid thing to turn down a handjob or a blowjob, just because the hand or mouth belonged to a person of the same sex. The fact that he only interacted superficially with these guys made it very easy to avoid any potential awkwardness. And the sex was too meaningless to him to risk it with someone whom he engaged with regularly on more than a passing level.

That's why the closer he'd gotten to John, the more he'd grown to care about him, the less he'd thought of him in a potentially sexual way. And for the last two years, it had become entirely a non-issue.

Even their nights together, spent so close, so intimate, had never been sexual to Rodney. But that dance.... He'd felt John's rough cheek against his and he'd wondered what would happen if he leaned forward a bit to kiss John's ear or if he let his hand slip beneath John's shirt. And he knew that those weren't thoughts of friendship or comfort.

Rodney wasn't shocked that he had sexual feelings about a guy, but that it was John, someone he cared about—a lot. He didn't know what this meant or what to do about it, because it had never happened to him before.

When John slipped into bed with him that night, Rodney was much more aware of him than usual. His scent, his warmth, his body. Every bit of movement sent shivers down Rodney's spine and suddenly, all he could think about was what it would feel like to move against John's thigh or to rub his nipple.

It was like a wonderland had opened up right next door and Rodney didn't know whether he could take a ride. Finding out if John was interested would be simple enough. Being rejected would be awkward for sure, but Rodney was quite certain that they'd get over it and still remain the friends that they were now.

But he still didn't know what exactly he wanted from John. Sex would be amazing, but what then? His sexual encounters with guys so far had been completely casual and he'd known he'd never see the guy again eventually. But this wasn't college or a pick-up in a bar. This wasn't even Russia with it's thankfully temporary assignment. This was his home now. This was how it would stay.

Not to mention that he didn't want to lose John as a friend. He loved John. It wasn't even hard to admit, but he'd always thought it was the way a friend feels about another friend. But friends didn't want to have sex with each other. And right now he couldn't deny that he wanted that with John. He just didn't know what else he wanted.


28.

Rodney woke up before John the next morning, which was a rare occurrence. It gave him the opportunity to watch him sleep.

John was beautiful. It was a corny thing to think, but that was how Rodney felt. He wanted to stroke John's cheek, feel the stubble. But he didn't want to disturb him when he was so peaceful. Rodney recalled the night before, remembered the realization that he was attracted to John.

Lying in bed next to him and taking in his sleeping form, one arm curled against his chest, Rodney knew that it wasn't just a sexual thing. He felt genuine affection and fondness, something that had always been there for John on some level, but which now took on a completely new meaning.

He thought he could be in love with John and that was surprising and yet it wasn't.

John stirred next to him. He blinked his eyes open. "You're awake." It sounded almost accusing.

"It's still early."

"Couldn't sleep?" John asked, worry now tingeing his tone.

"I'm fine," Rodney said. He wasn't sure why he wasn't telling John what he felt. It wasn't just the possibility of being rejected. He simply felt he needed to think about it a bit more.

That afternoon it suddenly clicked why he was worried about his revelation regarding John.

He went to Jennifer and asked if she had a moment for him.

"Shoot," she told him in her office.

"Right. I've been thinking... about relationships and how they can change. Obviously, our situation now is very different from before. We're not even a thousand people and really how big is the chance that two people among six hundred just fall in love? And not just two, but many couples."

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Rodney," Jennifer said.

"I'm getting to that. I had this conversation with John a while ago, but I'm not sure he convinced me. Do you think that maybe because of circumstances our mind adapts and will make us think we're in love based on availability and chances of success?"

Jennifer looked at him, frowning.

"I'm not talking about you," Rodney suddenly added, realizing that she might misunderstand.

"I didn't think you were. I'm just not sure.... Well, first of all, maybe that's a question for Alex and not me, but since you asked: if it's John that you're worrying about, I don't think you have a reason. I think it's obvious to anyone who's seen the two of you interact more closely that he genuinely cares about you."

"Actually, I wasn't— You really think he cares about me?" If even Jennifer saw it, that was a good sign, even though that hadn't been his question.

She laughed. "I know that guys don't often talk about feelings, but you've been together for a while now, you're living together—"

"What?! We're not— John and I are not together." Yet, he mentally added.

"He's been sleeping in your room ever since that night. Did you two think nobody would notice?" She sounded amused.

"That doesn't mean— We're not together. And we're not the only ones who are living together. There are quite a few people who share quarters."

"But not beds," she pointed out with a smirk.

"How do you know—" He stopped himself, realizing he'd just admitted it.

"You couldn't even spend a night apart when he stayed in the infirmary."

He remembered that night now. He'd gone to bed alone, but it had felt too large and wrong and he'd tossed and turned until giving up and going back to the infirmary.

"All right, we do share a bed, but it's not what you seem to think," Rodney tried to explain. "We slept together—in the sleeping, i.e. not being awake sense of the word—that first night and it just... stuck. We're just friends."

"Who share a bed," she said.

"Well, yes."

"And dance cheek to cheek."

"No! I mean, this is what I wanted to talk to you about. We're friends, except now I'm not sure if there isn't more."

"I'm afraid I can't help you there. I already thought there was more, but since apparently I was wrong..." She still sounded as if she didn't believe him.

"I can't ask you to tell me how I feel or how John feels, but do you think it's possible that I just think I'm in love with him, because we're living together and friends and he is pretty hot... out of, I don't know, convenience?"

She frowned. "You think you're in love with John out of 'convenience'?"

"Uh, well."

"No, I don't think you're in love with him for any reason other than that's how he makes you feel, because it's what you mean to each other."

"I've never been in love with a guy," Rodney admitted.

"It is pretty late to discover that you swing both ways, but I'm sure Alex could tell you a number of reasons. Maybe you repressed it."

"I had sex with guys," Rodney said, possibly in defense of his obliviousness.

"Oh. And it never occurred to you that you and John... even though you were sleeping in the same bed—Atlantis bed?" She sounded suspiciously close to mocking him.

"We were friends. It was comforting."

"I'm sure," she said, grinning.

He glared at her. Then his expression softened. "You really think what I feel for him is real? I'm not just... settling for what is within reach?"

"When you look twenty years into the future, what do you see?"

"The Wraith gone," he said at once.

She gave him a look.

He thought about it. He figured he'd have a family then, children, eventually grand-children, but his wife was just a nebulous figure, whereas John.... John was there at his side, in his bed. So maybe no wife then, and probably no kids. But John, he'd definitely have John.

"Thank you," he said.

She smiled. "You're welcome."


29.

Rodney worked on the Hive Destroyer for the rest of the day. He kept thinking about his feelings for John before talking with Jennifer, but now he felt at peace with them and had accepted them.

When he entered his room—their room—late that evening, he felt calm.

He still wasn't sure if John felt the same, but there was a chance now for something that he hadn't been sure would still be possible—After.

John was already in bed. He turned his head, but didn't say anything. But then he wouldn't.

Rodney went to the bathroom and prepared for bed. He looked into the mirror. He was good-looking. Maybe not in the tall, dark and handsome way John was, but in combination with his intellect and creativity, he was a damn good catch. Some people might be put off by certain aspects of his personality, but John wasn't one of them. He liked Rodney, including his quirks.

Rodney remembered their dance last night, how John had pulled him close into his arms.

Yes, this was going to work.

He opened the door and felt the rush of adrenaline coursing through him. The beating of his heart thrummed through his whole body. Every step that took him closer to John seemed to take forever. Finally, he was there and slid under the cover.

"Working late?" John asked.

This was the time when they usually talked about their day, sometimes longer, sometimes just a few words. Rodney couldn't have cared less today, but he didn't have anything better to say than I'm in love with you. How about you?

"I was a bit distracted earlier, so I tried to make up for it," he said instead.

"Distracted?" John turned to lie sideways, facing Rodney.

This was Rodney's opening. "I had a few things to think over."

"Things?"

Rodney looked at John, trying to find a way to test the waters without jumping in. He did think that John had feelings for him too, but maybe Rodney wasn't the only one who could be oblivious and he didn't want to jump the gun and scare John away. "I had a talk with Jennifer. She thinks we are in a relationship."

He could see something in John's eyes, not quite surprise, before he looked at Rodney neutrally. After a moment, he asked, "Relationship?"

"Romantic relationship," Rodney clarified.

"Because of the dance last night."

"No, actually not. The living together and sharing a bed."

John's eyes widened. "How did she—"

"Infirmary," Rodney said immediately. "Remember when you were attacked and I crawled into your bed?"

"Right," John said. "So you told her she was wrong."

"Yes," Rodney said. Something that could have been disappointment crossed John's features. "You aren't surprised about her assumption?"

"Well, we are living together. I figured some people might misinterpret it."

"You never said anything about it when we moved in together." Rodney had dealt with the few jokes, but people actually thinking they were together was something else and John didn't look as if he minded.

"It's just rumors. You can't stop them," John said, shrugging.

"And you don't mind that people think you're... you'd be with a guy?" Rodney asked, taking that first step towards what he really wanted to ask.

John looked at him for a long moment. "No."

"Because... it's just rumors and rumors wouldn't make it true."

Another long pause. "No."

"No what?" Rodney asked, and maybe he was a little agitated, because this was important and John could be so obstinate sometimes. But he needed to be sure what John was saying.

"No, rumors wouldn't make it true," John said.

Rodney suddenly felt like he couldn't get enough air into his lungs. He couldn't believe that he'd been wrong.

"But they wouldn't make it untrue either," John added.

Rodney's heart beat furiously. John wasn't helping and he couldn't wait for a straight—ha!—answer any longer. "John."

"I'm gay," John said.

For a long moment, all Rodney could feel was the beating of his heart. "You're gay," he repeated.

"Yeah."

"And do you— I mean, I... And you..."

"Yeah, Rodney, yeah." John leaned forward, his mouth stopping an inch from Rodney's.

Rodney looked at John and saw all the confirmation that he needed in his eyes. Rodney's gaze dropped to John's parted lips. "I..." Then he couldn't wait any longer and closed the distance between them.

The kiss felt strangely familiar although their lips had never touched before. Maybe it was just that it was right, that they should have done this a long time ago.

Moving his arms around John was familiar. Rodney knew how his body felt close, but now a shower of excitement ran through him with every exploration. John's hand moving up his back had never felt like this. Slipping his thigh between John's left him as breathless as their continued kisses. And when their tongues met, Rodney could feel the heat of it to the tip of his toes. It was amazingly good, but he wanted more. He didn't think he'd ever get enough of this.

Rodney rolled onto his back and pulled John on top of him.

He didn't know how he'd lain in John's arms night after night and never thought of this. John was covering his whole body, clasping his hands with Rodney's next to Rodney's head and Rodney felt deliciously like he belonged—with John and to John.

It was an almost scary thought, but he'd learned to trust John with his life. Why shouldn't he do the same with his heart? This was John after all, who'd always been there for him, who always supported him, who quite possibly loved him.

Rodney pulled away from the kiss for a moment. He looked at John and he could see how he felt. He saw the happiness and the wonder and the love. Rodney cupped John's face with one hand and let his fingers run over the smile that formed there.

He was too overwhelmed for a moment to speak.

"This is really happening," John said.

Rodney nodded. He wasn't sure if he had doubted it. It was as if his brain had taken a temporary vacation and he could only feel and what he felt was Yes, yes, exactly this.


30.

They didn't do more than kiss that first night. John didn't mind. He'd waited so long for this moment—although waiting wasn't quite the right word since it implied the expectation that it would come to pass eventually—he didn't want to rush things. Kissing was great. Kissing Rodney was quite possibly the best thing ever.

When John woke up and remembered, he immediately went back to continue, even though Rodney squirmed for a moment when John's lips first touched his. Once awake, he returned the kiss as fervently as last night. They continued to make out until Ronon showed up to ask where he was.

John was about to tell him that he could go run alone when Rodney told him "Go" and made a shooing motion. John told Ronon to wait for a second and crawled back into bed on top of Rodney.

"Tired of me already?" he asked teasingly.

"On the contrary. I'm afraid we may never leave the bed again. It's important to the survival of this city that we keep functioning."

John snorted, although Rodney did have a point. "All right. Up and at 'em, McKay," he ordered, but Rodney just turned his face into the pillow. John kissed him on the cheek and slipped into his running clothes.

Ronon gave him a speculative glance, but didn't say anything.

"Rodney and I are together," John said, shortly after they'd started running.

Ronon just grunted, "Uhuh."

"Are you okay with that?"

Ronon didn't immediately answer and John started to form arguments in his head to convince him that this wouldn't upset the team dynamic and wondering what other reasons Ronon might have not to answer at once.

"Are you planning on changing anything?"

"Change how?" John asked.

"I'm okay with it," Ronon said instead.

John waited for him to explain, but when he didn't, John let it go.

He went to Teyla after taking a shower and changing. Rodney was gone already, which was just as well, because John would have been tempted to distract him from work and they really needed to get Hive Destroyer finished as soon as possible.

"You seem in a good mood this morning," she said smiling.

"Rodney and I are together," he said without hesitation, unable to suppress a grin.

She picked up Tagan from his bed. "I am not surprised," she said. "And I am very happy for the two of you."

"So you don't think it will be a problem for our team dynamic?" John asked.

Teyla frowned. "Should I?"

"No. Nothing's going to change. At least I don't plan to," he amended. Ronon's question had made him wonder for a moment.

"Your feelings for Rodney have not emerged just now, have they?" she asked reasonably.

He flushed. "Uhm, no."

"Then I do not see why you would be unable to act in the same way you did before if you felt the same."

It was true. He did have more to lose he supposed, but losing Rodney had never been an option. So there was no change.


31.

John stopped by the lab to pick Rodney up for lunch. They weren't alone and he wasn't quite sure how they were going to handle this in public, so he didn't kiss him, although he wanted to.

"I told Ronon and Teyla about us," he said, quietly enough for the others not to overhear.

Rodney looked at him for a moment. "Good. They're okay with it, right?" Rodney asked.

"Yes, they're good. Teyla said she's happy for us."

"Anything else? You look a bit on the edge."

Part of him just wanted to drag Rodney back to bed, but John was determined not to turn into a complete teenager. He'd be patient—at least until dinner, afterwards, all bets were off. There was something else though. "I should tell Carter eventually. And I'd also like to inform Lorne. We don't have to do it right away."

They could wait with informing his superior and his XO until they'd done more than kiss. On the other hand, there was no doubt in John's mind where this was going and that it was going to last. That's why he hadn't hesitated to share the news with Ronon and Teyla straight away.

"You think we should wait?" Rodney frowned and John feared that he thought John had doubts.

"No," he clarified. "We can tell her after lunch. Or I can tell her alone. How's the Hive Destroyer coming along?"

Rodney made a face and stood up. "Let's go to lunch."

"That bad, huh?" he asked.

"You're very lucky that your boyfriend is a genius," Rodney said, then he seemed to realize what he'd said. "Is 'boyfriend' okay? Are we dating? Or... partners?" Rodney looked to be on the verge of panic.

"Yes," John quickly said. "Any of those. All. Whatever you want."

"Right," Rodney said, calming down even if he still looked suspicious, as if labels were sneaking up around them trying to jump him.

"I'd like to take you out to dinner," John said. When they'd abolished Don't Ask, Don't Tell, he hadn't thought it would apply to him any time soon, but now that he could date Rodney, he found that he really wanted to do it. He wanted to enjoy this first phase instead of immediately slipping into complete "coupledom". He was almost glad that they hadn't had sex last night, although he wasn't sure how long he could hold out on that front.

"You mean on a date or just a normal dinner at Johnson's, just the two of us?" Rodney asked.

"What would be the difference?" John asked in return.

"Well, I'd consider shaving for a date and if you're nice I'll let you kiss me goodnight."

"Are you sure you want me to be nice?" John asked, stepping close to Rodney and looking at him seductively.

Rodney looked around and coughed. "Okay, let's go before this turns into a discussion on whether or not I put out on the first date." He went towards the door.

"Do you?" John asked, following.

Rodney just turned, grinned and lifted his eyebrows.


32.

They kept looking at each other over lunch.

For a moment, John thought about how he'd never gotten to do this before, how he'd always had to hide or have the knowledge in the back of his mind that he'd have to go back to the real world before a flirt could become something serious.

Not anymore.

They had yet to discuss how open about their relationship they wanted to be, but it was the same decision he would have had to make if Rodney were a woman. This was the same as Lorne dating Lt. Rieger or any other couple. And since Rodney had agreed to go out on a date with him that night, he didn't think they'd try to keep it a secret, although people might not notice they were dating if they didn't outright hold hands or kiss in public.

It was quite a high for John to be able to look at Rodney adoringly and not care if anyone noticed.

He cut down on the adoring looks when they went to Carter right after lunch. He didn't think she'd have a problem with them dating, but this was the first time members of the same team had begun a relationship, so he was prepared to discuss it.

"John and I are involved in a romantic relationship," Rodney jumped in, before even saying hello. John wasn't sure if he was in a hurry to get back to work or if he just wanted this to be over with quickly.

Carter looked at Rodney then turned to John.

"What he said." John nodded in confirmation.

"And you're telling me this now, because...?" she prompted.

John frowned for a second then it clicked. She must have thought they'd told one of the other Colonels. He looked at Rodney who looked at him. "Does everyone think we're together?" Rodney asked, slightly put out.

"Didn't you just say you were in a relationship?" Carter asked, looking slightly confused.

"We are," Rodney told her. "But it's only been a day and I really wouldn't have thought that you'd buy into unsubstantiated rumors," he finished accusingly.

Carter's eyebrows rose. "Unsubstantiated?" She smiled widely at Rodney and said teasingly, "Maybe we were just more perceptive than even you yourself." Then she got serious and turned to John. "I'm sorry. I assumed you had talked with Teyla and Ronon and informed Major Lorne."

"I've talked to them and I'll tell Lorne after we're done here. You don't think we need to discuss it?" he asked just to make sure she was okay with this.

She looked at both of them. "Being particularly attached to your team members can make things difficult, but the trust and confidence it builds far outweighs any problems in my experience."

John's gaze strayed to the pictures of her teammates that adorned her office. "I agree," he said.

Rodney went back to work after that and John went to Lorne to get that out of the way too.

"Dr. McKay and I are in a relationship," he informed him.

Lorne looked confused for a moment.

"A romantic relationship," John clarified, flushing slightly. In his defense, Lorne had turned bright red when he'd told John about being with Lt. Rieger.

"I..." then he snapped out of it and straightened. "Yes, sir."

"Is there a problem? I've talked to Teyla and Ronon and informed Colonel Carter." Then he realized why Lorne reacted surprised. "You thought we'd been in a relationship for a while," he guessed.

"Uhm. Frankly, yes, sir."

The rule was to tell any superior officer, so John wouldn't have had to tell Lorne. "You weren't the only one, Major," John said with a small sigh.

"I never told anyone," Lorne added hastily.

"It's not a problem," John said.

He spent the rest of the day going over mission reports and deciding which follow-up missions to suggest and who should man those missions. The closer it got to eight o'clock, however, the more his thoughts strayed to his date with Rodney.

He knew Rodney would be hungry by then, but he'd already said he wanted to finish the basic flight algorithm for the Hive Destroyer before their date. John was grateful, because otherwise there would have been a good chance that Rodney would have had his mind elsewhere and John wanted all of Rodney's attention focused on them.

At half past six, he went to spar with Ronon for an hour and then he took a shower and shaved, wondering what to wear for his date. He settled on a simple blue shirt and black slacks.

Rodney came in as he was buttoning up the shirt. He covered his eyes when he saw John. "I don't want to see you. It's bad enough trying to decide what to wear."

"Shouldn't it be easier when you know what I'm wearing?"

"No," he said emphatically. "Also, I already have something in mind and I don't want to know if I'll be overdressed or underdressed." He still had his hands over his eyes and John finished buttoning up his shirt and walked around Rodney to stand behind him.

"I'm out of your line of sight," he whispered in Rodney's ear.

Rodney removed his hand. "Good, then I'll take a quick shower now. Don't be here when I come out!"

"I'll be waiting for you at our table." He watched Rodney's backside as he walked to the bathroom.


33.

John chatted a bit with Lt. Johnson as he waited for Rodney. The restaurant was apparently doing very well. John wasn't surprised considering that almost all tables were taken.

"Is this a special occasion, sir?" Johnson asked eventually.

"What makes you think so?" John asked back.

"You look like it is," he said with a half-smile.

"I, uh, actually you could say that. Maybe you could bring some, uhm, candles?" John felt a bit stupid, but he wanted this to be different from other times they just ate out together here. Plus, Rodney was sure to have a reaction to a candlelight dinner.

Johnson just looked at him for a moment. Then he bowed and smiled formally. "Of course, sir." His smile softened. "We also have a few separate rooms available, if you'd rather be alone."

John didn't know what to say. He should really stop being surprised when people thought they were in a relationship, especially now that it was true. The thought of dining with Rodney alone seemed romantic, but on the other hand, part of him felt excited about being on date with Rodney where the other guests could see them. Then again, maybe they wouldn't even notice since everyone already seemed to think they were together.

"I think we'll keep our normal table today," John said. "But thanks for letting me know. We might take you up on the offer another time."

Johnson nodded and disappeared, only to come back a while later with candles and a basin with delicate looking flowers.

"I'm not sure about the flowers," John said, remembering Rodney's rant the first time they'd eaten here.

"I took the liberty of asking Dr. Keller if Dr. McKay is allergic to these. They should be safe." Johnson still waited for John's approval before setting them on the table.

John nodded and with a few movements of his hands Johnson had set up the table nicely for a romantic dinner, the candles set left and right as not to disturb two people looking at each other, the flowers lying between surrounded by a finely wrought metal object that beautifully reflected the candle light.

"Thank you," John said. It never failed to impress him how some people on Atlantis managed to pursue a vocation that they hadn't been formally trained for and do it so well.

Johnson disappeared again, since John had said he'd wait to order until Rodney arrived. John checked his watch. It was five past eight now. He wasn't worried though. If there was an emergency, it was likely that he would have been called too and he figured if it was some technical issue, Rodney would at least let him know before he had to bail on him.

No, it probably was dressing for the occasion. John smiled to himself. He wondered what Rodney would wear. Not that it really mattered. John already felt the anticipation in his whole body. It took only a few minutes more for Rodney to enter the room and walk straight towards their table, just a bit out of breath.

He was wearing a dark blue shirt with black pants and a jacket. No tie though, John saw with relief or he might have felt underdressed.

"Sorry," Rodney said, sitting down, before John had decided whether it would be appropriate to stand up. He didn't have much more experience dating guys than Rodney had. And he'd never gotten up for Rodney any of the previous times they'd eaten here. Of course, those hadn't been dates.

Rodney's hair was still damp and he had indeed shaved. He was critically eyeing the decoration on the table.

"Johnson checked the flowers with Keller. They should be safe."

The frown on Rodney's face dissolved. "Oh, okay." Then he raised one eyebrow, one side of his mouth tugging up into a half smile. "Candlelight dinner?"

"It is a date," John pointed out, smiling himself.

They just looked at each other for a moment and John noticed the candlelight reflected in Rodney's blue eyes and how his shirt brought out their color. God, he was besotted. This was going to get embarrassing.

He looked up to wave Johnson to their table so that they could order.

The date wasn't all that different from any other time they'd eaten here. They talked about all sorts of things, staying clear of work though by mutual silent agreement. The attempts to establish a football league were discussed, which Rodney found idiotic and John found cool. This segued into an argument about various Earth sports and then got silly when John started talking about several sports Ronon had told him about and Rodney accused him—or Ronon—of making them up, at which point they started to make up possible sports in the Pegasus Galaxy including outfits and team names.

What was different were the looks they gave each other now and then, especially when putting something in their mouths. They also played footsie beneath the table, although they drew the line at going above the middle of the calf.

There was a bit of an awkward moment when Johnson left them the bill.

They had pretty much the same amount of RePs—Replication Resource Percentages—Atlantis' semi-official currency. There'd always been a bit of bartering going on on Atlantis, less so after they'd first re-established contact with Earth, but after Earth's destruction it had really taken off. Since trading directly wasn't always or even mostly possible, IOUs in various forms had made the rounds. The RePs were introduced to keep demands for replication to a manageable level.

Of the replication resources allotted to the personal needs of the inhabitants, fifty percent were distributed equally among everyone. Ten percent went to personnel in positions of higher responsibility, giving them a slightly higher base pay. The remaining forty percent were given out for work that benefited all of Atlantis, mostly for those going on missions to find new trading partners or to work in exchange for goods or services.

It didn't have to be for missions though, e.g. Dr. Snyder also received RePs for her chip card that allowed an easy exchange of RePs between Atlanteans. She had developed it in her free time, but Carter had gladly made it official after asking Snyder to implement an interface to a server that could track the flow of RePs for official records and to avoid tampering. After the cards were distributed, they quickly replaced any other IOUs, since practically everyone on Atlantis needed RePs. Even those that preferred to buy at Pegasus markets needed something to exchange goods for and the rest used their RePs to have things replicated for them that they couldn't trade for, like Rodney's coffee.

John didn't use most of his RePs and he'd gladly spend them on this occasion. "I'll pay," he quickly said.

"You don't have to," Rodney said.

"I want to," John insisted. Then he added, "You can make it up to me," and winked at Rodney.

John was delighted to see Rodney flush. They hadn't discussed the matter of putting out on the first date again, but John was almost more eager for the goodnight kiss, loving the idea of taking it slow and doing it the old-fashioned way with no sex before the third date.

They walked home from the restaurant instead of taking the transporter. John kept looking over to Rodney, who had a lovely glow on his cheeks, possibly from the alcohol, but John hoped it wasn't just that.

Shortly before they arrived, their hands brushed together once, twice and then Rodney took his hand and John clasped their fingers together.

Finally, they were in front of their room. "I'd ask you to come inside, but..." Rodney joked, a bit nervously.

"You don't put out on the first date," John teased him.

Rodney flushed. "There's really no point in standing here in front of our quarters," he said, turning to open the door, but John put his hand on his arm and pulled him back.

"I'd like to say goodnight before you go in," John said seriously.

"Before I go in?" Rodney asked, confused.

John ignored his question and cupped his face in one hand. "Goodnight," he said and leaned forward and kissed Rodney softly.

It wasn't their first kiss, but in some ways it felt like it to John. There was a slight hesitation—maybe because Rodney was still confused—but soon they grew more confident and opened up for each other to deepen the kiss.

Before their tongues could touch and things could get too heated, John gently pulled away. He wanted to leave Rodney wanting more and from the dazed look he gave John, it had worked.

John resisted the urge to kiss him again and, stroking Rodney's cheek with the back of his hand, turned and left to enter his own room through the door that he only ever used when he wanted to get something stored there.

His heart was beating as he went towards the door that separated their rooms. He wasn't going to sleep in his own bed. They'd never slept apart since that night and he didn't plan on starting now, but he wanted Rodney to know that he didn't intend to do anything more with him tonight.

He listened as Rodney went to the bathroom and when he thought he was in bed, he went to get ready for bed himself, using his door to the bathroom, which was a bit difficult since they'd placed a towel holder there.

Eventually he went into their room and quietly walked to their bed.

"Is this your way of telling me that you're not putting out on the first date?" Rodney asked before John was even there.

John didn't say anything, but slipped under the cover. "If it's okay with you," he finally answered.

John could only see Rodney in the faint moonlight coming through the window. "It is. As long as..."

"I put out eventually?" John guessed.

"Yeah." Rodney was quiet for a moment. "When you said, you were gay, that wasn't just in theory, right?" he finally asked, sounding worried about it.

"No," John assured him.

Rodney sighed in relief. "Good. I would have hated to be the one with experience. Unfortunately, our research material with regards to gay sex is about as limited as my experience."

John snorted. "You'll do fine," he said, finally moving closer to Rodney, draping an arm over him.

Rodney pulled him closer and after a while, John felt his lips on the top of his head, before they settled down to sleep.


34.

Rodney spent the next few days working all day until John picked him up for a dinner date.

For their second date, he took him to the south pier for a moonlight picnic. Rodney couldn't help but point out that this was what he'd done with Chaya and maybe it came out a bit bitter.

"Rodney, that was years ago and I never even had sex with her. And I was never... She was just... And you're you."

"Thanks for that clarification," Rodney said grimly.

"Listen, we can go back inside and eat in the mess or go to Johnson's," John said, ready to pack up what little he had unpacked.

Rodney stopped him. He really needed to get over those times John had been with women in the past—past being the keyword. "No, sorry, I'm just.... What makes you think I even like picnics?"

"It's food," John said as if that was enough. Which it was.

"Good point," Rodney said and sat down. John had taken care to put a mat from the gym beneath the blanket so that it was quite comfortable. Rodney watched him unpack various finger foods, mostly salty with a few sweet.

The visible moon of the two that orbited the planet was nearly full and the night was clear, a warm breeze blowing pleasantly.

"This is rather nice," Rodney admitted.

John smiled and handed him a nicely decorated cracker.

"Did you make them yourself?" Rodney asked.

"I won't reveal my sources," John said with smirk.

Which meant no. Rodney put the cracker into his mouth and it was delicious. "Hmmm," he said approvingly, still chewing.

John settled down next to him at an angle that allowed him to not squash the food and still be close enough to Rodney to kiss him on the cheek.

It was a really sweet gesture and Rodney felt bad about earlier. "Sorry about the Chaya thing. It's none of my business what you did before we got together."

"I don't mind your jealousy." Rodney expected it to be teasing, but when he looked at John he wasn't smiling, in fact when he saw Rodney looking at him he ducked his head.

In that moment, Rodney realized that he didn't know a whole lot about John's feelings—for him or otherwise. He found himself curious but wasn't sure if he could ask.

Then he decided that if John didn't want to talk about it, he'd find a way not to.

"Since when have you... not minded my jealousy?"

John gave a quick laugh. "A while," he said after a moment, looking at the moon.

"And you never said anything." It wasn't an accusation. Rodney was just genuinely curious.

"I thought you were straight," John said.

Which made sense. "So did I."

"Well, I can't exactly be open about it—couldn't." He added the last emphatically as if reminding himself.

"I know, and actually that wasn't what I meant. I thought I was straight, too. I mean I thought we both were by and large."

John froze next to him.

"I was obviously wrong on both accounts," Rodney quickly amended.

"You've never been with a guy?" John asked strangely neutrally. "From what you said last night I figured you weren't very experienced, but... never?"

"No, I've had sex with guys, but only... handjobs and blowjobs," Rodney admitted, flushing.

John seemed to think that over. "And you still thought you were straight."

"It was only sex with guys. I've never felt about a guy the way I feel about you."

"And that is?" John asked carefully, looking up from where he was leaning on the blanket.

Rodney felt himself flush again. He wasn't sure if it was too early for any declarations. "Not just sex," he said. "Obviously," he added with a wry grin.

John smiled back, more relaxed again now. "You don't mind us taking it slow, do you?"

Rodney shook his head. He really didn't. It was nice to build up the excitement and a part of him thought once he had sex with John, he was less likely to work as late as was necessary to finish the Hive Destroyer within the month. And he was a bit nervous about having sex with a guy in a bed. But even that nervousness was kind of exciting.

They ended up kissing in the moonlight before finally going to bed. They didn't enter through separate doors this time, but there was no more kissing once they were inside except for a tame kiss on the cheek that John gave Rodney in bed.

For the third date, John set up a table in their room. Afterwards they made out on the couch—purposefully avoiding the bed—and this time, Rodney was tempted to screw taking it slow because he wanted to feel more of John's hard body beneath him—preferably naked.

"I think we should stop now," John panted between kisses. "Or we won't be able to."

"Uhuh," Rodney mumbled, hand running up and down John's side under his shirt while he rubbed himself against John's thigh.

"Rodney?"

Kissing John's neck. "What?" Kissing his mouth again.

"Stopping?" John said, pulling away. "I really want to have time when we do this for the first time. A lot of time."

Rodney was torn. John felt unbelievable good beneath him, hot and hard and so damn gorgeous, mouth wet and swollen, but he liked the idea of taking his time, of knowing that when they got off, it was just to take off the edge before they were hard again. He liked the idea a lot.

"Okay," he conceded reluctantly.

"Good," John said. "I think I'll go take a cold shower now."

Rodney made a face. He wasn't one for denying himself satisfaction for no good reason. "While you do that, I'll jerk off."

"God, Rodney!" John groaned, involuntarily thrusting up against Rodney's thigh.

Rodney smirked. John tried to glare at him, but failed and gave him a quick kiss instead. Then he turned them over, got up and disappeared into the bathroom.

True to his word, Rodney opened his pants and slipped his hand inside. He was really looking forward to finishing the Hive Destroyer.


35.

Five days—and two dates—later the Hive Destroyer was finally ready for test deployment. Rodney wouldn't call it finished—parts of the beam weapon were located outside of the jumper, making it too wide to go through the gate and he thought with some more work, he could make the navigation algorithm a lot better, namely he could allow the jumper to move while firing—but all the basic functionality was implemented and operational.

It was rather simple really. Since the jumper couldn't go through the gate—and since that would only unnecessarily alert the Hives—the Daedalus would drop the jumper off far enough for it to cloak out of sight before approaching the Hives. Then it would find its target, shoot and move away, three times until the first Hive was down. This action would be repeated with the other two. A shield was in place in case the Hives managed to get a lock on the jumper despite its cloak and evasive maneuvers.

All of this would be powered by a ZPM. Technically the beam could be powered by other means, but that would make the Hive Destroyer even larger and the energy requirements for both beam and shield—especially if the Jumper wouldn't be hit too often—were comparatively small. They would use one of the nearly depleted ZPMs to power the Hive Destroyer, so that the risk of the operation was only to lose a nearly depleted ZPM, a puddle jumper, the energy weapon and of course, the many hours that had gone into designing and building it.

All in all Rodney felt the risk was negligible. There was more danger every time they stepped through the gate. The jumper would have to be hit at least a dozen times for the shield to fail and he calculated the time needed to destroy the Hive after locating it to be thirty seconds.

The entire team beamed on board the Daedalus along with the Hive Destroyer. John's eyes still glowed every time he saw it. Rodney thought John would probably hug it if he was sure not to be caught and maybe be tempted to do lewd things with it. Thinking about John and lewd things was a bad idea, however, especially since they'd all but agreed they'd have sex once the Hive Destroyer was in operation.

Rodney didn't know what to be more excited about.

For the moment, he and Zelenka performed the last check-up on the Destroyer before giving Caldwell the signal to release it and send it on its way.

Rodney joined the others to monitor the progress as the jumper neared the three Hives they'd chosen as their first target. The only sound was that of Lt. Yokamoto giving reports on the distance.

When the Destroyer was within range of acquiring its target, Rodney silently counted to thirty. Thirty-one. Thirty-two. Thirty-three. Damn it. Five more seconds ticked by and Rodney looked to John, who seemed to want to say 'Give it time, Rodney'.

"Target one destroyed," Yokamoto said, just as the red dot disappeared from the screen.

Rodney smiled at John. John grinned back with an 'I told you' expression.

The next ninety seconds were among the longest in Rodney's life. The second Hive was destroyed forty seconds after the first. Then the long wait for the last red dot to disappear began and when it did and Yokamoto announced, "All targets eliminated," the blue dot of the Destroyer was still intact and waiting to be picked up. Rodney stared at the screen—they'd done it. They'd done it!

He turned to look at John. Ronon picked Rodney up in a bear hug, but Rodney's eyes never left John's and after Caldwell reported the good news to Sam and the others on Atlantis, Rodney told him to go back for the Destroyer so that they could get home.

John stayed behind when Rodney went to check the data the Destroyer had recorded. It was a good idea, because Rodney wanted to jump him then and there and even though there seemed to be a general understanding that they were a couple, he wasn't sure if anyone cared to have first hand proof.

The Destroyer hadn't been hit a single time. Rodney wasn't naive enough to believe it would always be so easy. The Wraith would adjust their strategy, but so would he. He had a few ideas beyond making the jumper a moving target but right now, the only thing that mattered was that it had worked as planned and he was going to have sex with John as soon as they beamed down.

Sam only managed a "Congratulations" and a hug before Rodney said, "We'll be taking the rest of the day off." He then turned abruptly and headed for the nearest transporter, dragging John with him, who looked back at everyone apologetically.

Ellis actually raised an eyebrow in something like surprise, so maybe there was someone on Atlantis after all who hadn't known about them.

Rodney didn't give it any thought however. They rushed to the transporter and Rodney had never been happier that their quarters were right next to one.

They entered their room and for a second, they just looked at one another. Rodney's body was vibrating with anticipation. Finally, finally, finally.

Then they were in each other's arms, kissing wetly as they stumbled to the bed. Rodney tore at John's uniform, wanting to feel skin and they quickly undressed, limbs poking, kisses strewn across their bodies until they were both naked, Rodney on top of John, making out.

Rodney had always had an aesthetic appreciation of the male physique and going down on a guy for a reciprocal blowjob had been more enjoyable than he'd thought it would be, but he'd never felt the hunger and lust he felt now, faced with John's naked body.

He slid his hand between them, taking hold of John's cock, reveling in its hardness. "I want," he panted into John's ear.

"What?" John asked, thrusting into Rodney's hand.

He looked so open and ready to allow Rodney to do anything with him that Rodney was speechless for a moment. "I don't know," he blurted out.

John laughed—a happy, infectious laugh. Rodney snickered, even as he hid his face in John's neck in embarrassment.

John turned them onto their sides and Rodney let go of his dick. "We can do anything you want," John said. "We have all day—and night."

Rodney kissed him. He knew that whatever they did, he'd enjoy it. He trusted John completely. "You decide," he said.

John frowned for a second and put his hand on Rodney's chin, smiling softly. "We don't have to do anything you're not completely comfortable with. I could just blow you. Would you like that?"

Rodney just nodded. He wasn't sure how to say, 'I'd like anything' and even though he trusted John, he had to admit there was a certain amount of nervousness involved at the idea of fucking John and especially being fucked.

John kissed him deeply and let his hand wander down Rodney's body to his dick. He took it in his hand, giving it a few firm strokes before moving his mouth away from Rodney's.

He kissed down Rodney's neck and chest, leaving a wet trail with his tongue as he sought to taste Rodney along the way. When he sucked Rodney's nipple into his mouth, Rodney groaned and pushed up into him.

"Easy," John said.

"Easier said than done!" Rodney said, biting his lip when John ran the tip of his tongue over and around his nipple.

John chuckled. He continued his path down Rodney's stomach until he reached his dick. He studied it, stroking up and down almost absently, then he breathed on the head.

Rodney started to squirm. "Please."

John flicked his tongue over the tip, licking away the beads of pre-come. Rodney shuddered. John took the head in his mouth, sucking gently. Rodney needed to put his hands somewhere so he reached for the nightstand on the one side and clawed the bed linens with his other hand. This was so good. He tried his best not to thrust up, but John's mouth was hot, wet heaven.

He sucked and licked Rodney, firmly then gently, shallow then deep. "John." Rodney widened his legs, slowly pushing up and John picked up the pace, jerking him off with his hand, while his mouth and tongue did sinful things to the head of Rodney's cock, things Rodney answered with incoherent noises of pleasure.

"God, John." John sucked him hard and had his cock in an iron grip. When his other hand stroked over his balls down to his perineum, Rodney jerked and groaned. "John, I'm going to—"

Rodney came hard, shooting jet after jet down John's throat. John swallowed it all, nursing him through it until Rodney was too sensitive and he gently pushed John's head off and pulled him close to kiss him.

"Amazing," he panted between kisses, exploring the salty bitterness of John's mouth.

"Yes, you are," John said reverently and Rodney cradled his head and kissed him and kissed him.

Eventually he became aware of John's hard-on pressing into his groin. Sneaking his hand down to cup it, Rodney whispered, "We should do something about that," then tightened the grip on the shaft.

"You won't have to do much," John said, thrusting into Rodney's fist.

Rodney could just jerk him off until John spilled all over his hand and their stomachs and the thought of that was very inviting, but Rodney wanted more. He imagined John pressing his hard cock into him. "Fuck me," he said hoarsely.

John froze, then groaned into Rodney's neck. "I want to," he said. "But are you sure?"

"Yes," Rodney said. "But you'll have to... do everything."

John laughed. "It's not astrophysics, you know."

"Of course not. If it was, it'd be easy for me," Rodney pointed out.

John kissed him on the cheek and rolled off him to get lube and a condom out of his nightstand drawer. Rodney was really glad that they were able to produce such necessities. Now, if only he didn't have to pay an incredible amount of RePs for every pound of coffee, life would be perfect.

Although things were pretty close to perfect as John settled between his legs and began stroking the inside of his thighs with the back of his fingers.

Rodney pulled his knees close to his chest, spreading himself for John. It felt a bit obscene to show John his ass like that, but John seemed to like what he saw—a lot. He stroked up and down his hard dick before beginning to prepare Rodney.

"Relax," he said, and brushed over Rodney's hole a few times.

Rodney took a deep breath and tried to overcome the instinct to tense up. He had to tell his body that this was okay, even if usually things weren't supposed to go in there.

John was very patient and encouraged Rodney with a murmured "Yeah" or "Good" or "You have an amazing ass", which made Rodney flush down to his chest.

When John pushed a finger inside, it was weird and not really sexy at all. John moved in and out, getting deeper and then pulled out to apply some more lube and go back in with two fingers. And okay, wow, that was tight. He wasn't sure how John's dick—which wasn't freakishly big, but also not small—would fit in there without being uncomfortable.

"Hey," John said softly, stroking Rodney's dick with his unlubed hand.

"I'm okay," Rodney said, trying to keep the strain from his voice. "Just, you know, not used to... something in there."

John laughed quietly. "Maybe we can change that," he said and there was a note of hopefulness there.

"Uhuh," Rodney said as John moved his fingers around, stretching him. When he pulled out again, Rodney braced himself for three fingers. He bit his lip as John pushed in, wondering if John had always had such large fingers.

When John had pushed three fingers in completely, Rodney released his breath and breathed in and out a few times.

"You okay up there?" John asked, stroking his thigh.

"Just peachy." This time it did sound strained, but he had three fingers shoved up his ass, so Rodney felt it was justified.

"Okay, I'm gonna try something now," John said.

Rodney was about to complain and ask if he could be any more vague about that when John moved his fingers around until a flash of... something shot through Rodney. "Huh."

John went back and did it again, stroking that spot and Rodney felt heat gathering and then spreading throughout him. "Okay, that's... nice," he said, noticing that his dick seemed to agree, because it began to harden again.

John pulled his fingers out. Rodney watched as he rolled a condom over his hard cock and lubed it up. It was an incredibly hot sight—that and knowing that in a moment John was going to put that inside of him, fuck him, made his dick twitch in anticipation and Rodney pulled back his legs even further.

John leaned forward and positioned his cock at Rodney's entrance. "Ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be." Rodney took a deep breath and told himself to relax and then John pressed into him, going deeper and deeper in shallow trusts until he was balls deep inside Rodney's ass. He looked down at Rodney and they both took a few calming breaths before John leaned forward and Rodney up so that they could kiss.

John felt huge to Rodney, but it wasn't a bad feeling, and when he slowly started to move in and out, Rodney relaxed even more and wound his legs around John. He slowly sped up the rhythm, fucking Rodney at a leisurely pace.

They kept kissing and Rodney ran his hands over John's body. John was tense and sweaty and flushed with exertion. "You can go harder," Rodney said and John stopped then pushed in hard with a groan.

He kissed Rodney possessively and started fucking him with quick deep thrusts.

"Rodney."

"Yes."

"Rodney!" A particularly hard thrust and fuck, he must have changed the angle because Rodney felt that heat again that made his cock jump. He yelped and held on for dear life as John began to drill into him, hitting that spot and filling him so good Rodney thought he'd melt any moment.

They were both groaning and panting and Rodney felt his grip on John weaken. It was too much. He wasn't going to last much longer and then John somehow managed to touch his dick and it was over. Rodney spasmed helplessly, spurting come on his chest.

John fucked him through it, repeating Rodney's name until he froze and came, his face a mask of sheer bliss. He slid out of Rodney—Rodney bit his lip to keep from wincing—and dropped down on top of him. And damn, he was heavy.

Maybe it was just the need to breathe, but Rodney rolled them over, so he didn't have to take John's full weight and yes, now he could breathe again too.

"Sorry," John panted.

"Nothing to be sorry about," Rodney assured him.

John grinned. "So?"

"Yes," Rodney answered. "I could definitely get used to this."

John leaned closer until their foreheads were touching. Then he kissed Rodney—softly, almost hesitantly. Rodney's heart filled with affection. He kissed back, butterfly touches of lips against lips. And somewhere in there, a soundless "love you" might have slipped in.


36.

John floated around Atlantis on a cloud of bliss. Not only was he happily in love and having regular, imaginative, amazing sex, he and his boyfriend were also destroying Hives in his spare time.

The second attack had been somewhat less successful in the sense that the jumper had taken a few hits. But Rodney had expected that. The Wraith had changed their strategy and started firing more or less randomly in the direction of the last location of the jumper. It hadn't been enough to save them, but Rodney still worked to change the new developments to their advantage. He managed to harness the energy from the hits into the energy weapon, making it load much faster and thus be much more efficient.

They attacked all known groups of Hives in quick succession to keep them from forming a cohesive plan of defense against the Hive Destroyer. Word among their allies spread like wild fire and soon reports came in from recently culled planets that they'd never even heard of, letting them know Hives were close so that they could target them.

It took the Wraith a week to realize they didn't have a chance. John didn't know what had taken them so long. Maybe the more efficient Hive Destroyer had been too fast for them to send a message or maybe they didn't want to believe that it was true after Atlantis had left those pitiful mines for them at their old location.

They began to split up and flee as soon as the Hive Destroyer showed up. It was usually still able to get at least one Hive and soon after, the reports about Wraith cullings simply stopped.

By that time, they'd destroyed fifty-seven more Hives, bringing the total kills to seventy-four. People all over the galaxy began to celebrate. Rodney jokingly mentioned the montage at the end of The Return of the Jedi and it felt like that except that John knew they hadn't defeated the Wraith.

Most people on Atlantis didn't care about the difference. And he couldn't blame them. The Wraith had fled, actually fled. They'd stopped their attacks as far as they knew, and at the moment, their network of information spread very far through the galaxy. John wouldn't quite say there wasn't a spot left, because obviously the Wraith were somewhere, but it was close enough.

However, he wasn't the only one who was a bit uneasy. He could see it in Teyla's eyes and especially in Ronon's. Ronon was on the edge, training as hard as ever, pushing John in their morning runs until he could hardly keep up and it couldn't all be blamed on being tired out from sex with Rodney.

Rodney returned to his usual work. He understood John's concerns. "But I can't work on measures against their next plan of action if I don't know what it will be," he pointed out.

John had to accept that. Not just for Rodney, but also for himself. So far, they'd managed to keep one step ahead of the Wraith, but now he didn't know what to expect. He just knew for sure they hadn't heard the last of them.

There was the faint hope that the Wraith had gone back into hibernation, to wait a few hundred years until they wouldn't be expected and people wouldn't be prepared for them any longer. It seemed like a viable option, but somehow John doubted that they would do it. They hadn't done so when they'd found out that they'd woken up too early, their feeding grounds not yet fully replenished. Part of that might have been the knowledge that a veritable feast was waiting for them on Earth if they ever found it.

But the Wraith didn't know that Earth had been destroyed and that, together with the destruction of the Hives, made John almost certain that they would launch a final attack on Atlantis to secure not only their survival, but their dominance in this galaxy if not more.

There was nothing he could do, however, but wait. The wait was sweetened by many more peoples offering to be their trading partners and allies, by the feeling of having earned their place in this galaxy, of finally being truly welcome and, of course, by Rodney.


37.

Rodney enjoyed this first stress-free time since they'd attacked the Wraith, even if the shadow of waiting for the Wraith to return hung over them.

He could finally delve into some of the projects that had been on his mind since Earth's destruction. One of them was the modification of the Ancient replication device that they'd found. It could manufacture various object needed for the maintenance of Atlantis and technically there shouldn't be any limits to what it could create; however, so far they had only managed to manufacture one of the limited sets of objects that were programmed into it.

Sources for non-essential supplies were in extremely high demand. Their trading partners could provide a lot, sometimes replacing Earth equivalents. The gaming console from the Rostek became a great hit. Fruits and other foods were only seldom asked to be replicated these days. People had simply changed their diet and enjoyed what the Pegasus Galaxy had to offer. Computers were gradually switched over to new technologies and the clothes were also more and more often bought at markets on other planets, even though there were a few people on Atlantis who would tailor clothes on demand or fix them.

But the list of classifieds looking for everything from ping pong balls to guitar picks was long and every non-essential item that was manufactured with the Asgard replication device had to be paid for in limited RePs. That included Rodney's coffee—for which he hadn't found an adequate replacement in the Pegasus Galaxy so far.

John jokingly called it his coffee-making project. But when the time came to test the replication device on something it wasn't programmed for, Rodney manufactured a desktop model of Earth's old solar system.

"You've made it work!" John grinned happily, but Rodney couldn't help the bit of melancholy he felt.

"For the things we can't let go of," he said.

John had never complained about anything missing After. He'd wear his jeans and shirts until they fell apart and always said he had everything he needed. But after Rodney had shown him the model of Earth's solar system he'd asked him if he could have it to put it on his desk.

"It's all right not to let go of everything," he said, pulling Rodney into his arms. "As long as you don't forget what you have here and now."

Rodney looked at him. As if he could ever forget what he had—what he was so lucky to have. He smiled and kissed John playfully. "I won't," he said with a grin. "But if I have coffee and you..."

John snorted. "It's good you have your priorities straight," John said, nuzzling Rodney's temple and nibbling on his ear.

"Uhum," Rodney mumbled into John's neck, mouthing his way up to his jaw, "Although I wouldn't call them straight per se."

John chuckled and pulled Rodney onto their bed.

Coffee and John weren't the only things that made Rodney feel content. He enjoyed having time to himself and for his friends. He watched Ronon play and even joined their training sessions once or twice. They spent time with Teyla and her family.

Tagan could walk now and Rodney could see that John was already mentally making a list of things to show him. He was waiting for John to ask Teyla for permission to take him out in a jumper.

"You should consider confiscating John's skateboard," Rodney told her as they watched John playing ball with Tagan.

She laughed. "I wouldn't worry." She turned to her son and John and added, "I know Uncle John will take good care of you."

John looked up at that and Rodney expected a glare for himself or a smile for Teyla, but instead John's face seemed to crumple. Tagan hit him with the ball, but he didn't even seem to notice.

Tagan looked at his mother, face screwing up because he didn't know what was going on.

"John?" Rodney asked, getting up.

John straightened and took a deep shuddering breath and Rodney was with him in a moment. Teyla picked up Tagan behind him.

"Dave," John began, not looking at Rodney. "Dave had two girls."

That... Rodney hadn't even known that. John, stubborn bastard that he was, had never talked enough about his brother to ever mention that.

"His wife had taken them to her parents for the funeral." John's voice and hands were shaking as he continued. "I never.... I never saw them. They never called me... I thought I had time."

And then he looked at Rodney and seeing John like that, eyes bright with unshed tears, Rodney couldn't do anything but pull him into his arms. Tears were forming in his own eyes.

He thought about Jeannie and Madison, but most of all John, John and his responsibility and the need to always put everyone else's needs first.

John was clinging to him. "I'm sorry," he whispered and Rodney had no idea what he was sorry for.

"I'm sorry," he said instead. "God, I'm so sorry, John."

He kissed John's temple and stroked his hair, making soothing noises and letting John cry into his shoulder. Rodney didn't know how long they'd stood like that. When John pulled back, his eyes were red and his face was pretty messy, but Rodney had never loved him more.

"Thank you," John said, leaning forward until their foreheads touched.

"Always," Rodney said, cupped his face and kissed him.

After that, they hung up some pictures of Dave's and Jeannie's families in one corner of their room. After some deliberation, they added pictures of Elizabeth and Carson and not wanting to make it about what they'd lost, they put up some more of Teyla and her family, Ronon and of themselves. Eventually pictures of Atlantis and happy events would follow, like the party after Sam won the election—which was a proud moment for her even if it didn't change much in practice—and Ronon's touchdown that won his team the championship.

But first they went on a short vacation together. Jennifer and Teyla teasingly called it their honeymoon. They didn't object to that.

Rodney had never been on a honeymoon, but he didn't imagine it any different. They had an amazing amount of slow, gentle take-all-the-time-in-the-world sex and spiced that up with some fast, hard I-need-you-now sex.

In between sex, they talked about Earth and their childhoods, recalling little and not so little things. John even talked about the fight with his father once and Rodney had listened and stroked John's side and cursed a society that made it possible for a father and son to stop speaking to each other over something as natural as being attracted to another person regardless of their gender. But mostly they shared happy memories, things that they wanted to remember.

John went swimming every morning while Rodney slept in, waking him with a wet enthusiastic kiss. One day he actually insisted on taking Rodney for a hike up the hill behind their beach house. Rodney was so happy and content that he didn't complain too much. He even volunteered to go on walks on the beach. "Don't get used to this, though," he warned John.

John just smiled and squeezed his hand. "Too late for that."

When they returned, no major catastrophes had taken place. Rodney went back to terrorizing his minions, but he couldn't help smiling through most of the day. By now, nobody noticed the difference.


38.

Life on Atlantis flourished after the Wraith disappeared. The new trading agreements secured them all the supplies they needed and then some. The exchange of knowledge was one of the most important objects of trading. Atlantis was invited to join an education center of one of their allies where they could contribute along with representatives from many planets, who taught about growing particular Pegasus plants and various crafts from building of weapons to weaving cloth and soft and hard sciences—even though Rodney tended to dispute the latter.

The "industry" on Atlantis itself grew, too. Goods and services had unofficially been exchanged for some time, but now people began to open up shops to sell them. The northwest pier grew into something like a mall and arcade, where people could go after work to spend their hard-earned RePs.

A night club was one of the first things to open and John decided to take Rodney there shortly after its opening night. People were watching them more or less subtly. There was talking and sometimes even pointing and John felt it was as good a moment as any to make it official.

"Rodney?" he asked, stroking his finger along the small of Rodney's back.

"Uhuh."

"We're being watched."

"There's a betting pool on when we're first going to kiss," Rodney said casually.

John raised an eyebrow.

"In public, obviously," Rodney clarified.

"How do you feel about now?" John asked.

Rodney looked at him. Then he leaned in and John did the same until their lips met in a sweet, familiar kiss.

Rodney pulled back and blinked. "Was that a camera flash?"

John chuckled. "I think it was."

"Obviously, the one thing we desperately needed to preserve from Earth was the Paparazzi," Rodney said, making a face.

John just pulled him close and kissed him again.

They made the headline of the newsletter that week. John didn't know why their relationship rated more important than the completion of phase three of the Phoenix or the upcoming election, but he really liked the photo and asked to get a high resolution version to print out and put on his desk.

A marine won the pool and neither John nor Rodney were able to find out how many RePs had been in it exactly, but the marine asked for two weeks of vacation and returned tanned and relaxed enough that Rodney said, "We should have asked for a share."

It turned out that there'd been a few people after all who hadn't known about their involvement. Or maybe they had wanted to wait until it was "official". Either way, several people congratulated them over the next few days.

They took it in stride. Coming out as a couple didn't change a lot for them, but John felt free to kiss Rodney when he visited him in the lab. It was also nice to be treated as part of a couple, like when people gave him a fond and knowing look when he said he had to go, because Rodney was waiting for him.

What John cherished the most though in the reaction of their fellow Atlanteans, was that they faced virtually no prejudice. There were a few instances of what John figured was jealousy of either himself or Rodney, but there was no homophobia, no one trying to tell them that what they were doing was wrong. A few people were more polite than happy for them and one of them admitted to John that she wasn't used to "this homosexuality".

John only smiled understandingly and assured, "It's not contagious and we're not out to get you."

"I never thought so," came the prompt defense, followed by a sheepish admission. "I'll just have to get used to it."

But she was willing to and that was all that John could ask for.

At night when he had Rodney in his arms, John sometimes mused how life sometimes threw you a curveball. Five years ago, he'd been alone, ferrying military and civilian personnel back and forth in Antarctica with nothing much to look forward to but another day in peace—and loneliness.

Now that world literally didn't exist anymore. Instead, he was in another galaxy leading the life he'd always wanted to lead. It almost seemed like a dream and sometimes—rarely—he wondered if he would wake up one day and it would all be over.


39.

It wasn't quite like that.

It was a message of another culling. They went to check it out, the Hive Destroyer in tow. The first red dot showed up on the screen, then another and another and another until there was a giant blob of close to fifty red dots, glowing menacingly on the center of the screen.

"We can forget about the Hive Destroyer," Rodney said quietly, as Caldwell informed Carter. John put a hand on his shoulder.

The discussion upon their return was short, but heated.

"Nothing!" Rodney groused. "We can do absolutely nothing at the moment. The Hive Destroyer would be vaporized. It might take a few Hives with it, if we're lucky, but they're not flying close enough to cause a chain reaction and the Destroyer's shields are not built to withstand that kind of fire power. And quite frankly, I don't know what is. So if you'll excuse me, I'll go to the lab and try to pull a miracle out of my ass."

The discussion continued for a bit after Rodney left, but they weren't one step closer to a solution or even an idea.

John went to Rodney when the meeting was over.

"We're going to try to determine if these are all Hives left," John informed him. That was about the only productive thing that came from the meeting.

"If they are—and I'm not doubting it—then this would finally be our chance to finish them off."

"Yes," John said hopefully. Maybe Rodney already had a plan.

John's hopes were dashed with Rodney's sarcastic answer. "Great, then we just have to destroy that tiny group of forty-seven Hives and we'll be all set. Piece of cake."

"No ideas?" John asked carefully.

"Oh no, I have plenty. I'm just not telling you," Rodney said acidly.

John must have looked slightly hurt, because Rodney's scowl softened. "I'm sorry," he said, cupping John's face. "I just happen to like my life at the moment. I don't want to lose this. I really don't."

He leaned his forehead against John's. "We're going to figure something out," John said, and he believed it. If anyone would do it, it was Rodney.

He kissed Rodney, slow and soft, then deepening. The kiss only made him more determined to save them, to save this.

John put his hand on Rodney's head. "What does that brilliant brain of yours say?"

Rodney shook his head, looking almost resigned.

"Come on, Rodney. It's forty-seven Hives, we've destroyed many more than that," John tried, doing his best to stir up some enthusiasm.

"Not at once," Rodney pointed out.

"But we had that same problem before. We dealt with single Hives, they grouped up and we adjusted. We can do it again. We just have to get to the how."

"Okay," Rodney said, and at least he sounded scientific and reasonable now instead of resigned. "Let's look at our problems. First, forty-seven Hives means amazing fire power. Way too much for the Hive Destroyer. Also too much for any of our ships, even with a ZPM powered shield."

"Right. But how about a sacrifice? If we're right and this is the rest of their fleet, we only need one shot. Could we get one of our ships—or the Destroyer—with the intent of being destroyed, to carry a bomb that's powerful enough to get them all?"

"I suppose if we destroyed a solar system, it would take the Hives with it," Rodney said carefully.

"There you go," John said.

Except it wasn't meant to be so easy. When they discussed the issue in a senior staff meeting, various problems were brought up. A sun couldn't be made to explode at the press of a button without some preparation. There was the issue of actually calculating what needed to be sent into its midst to make it explode and they couldn't just destroy a solar system that included inhabited planets.

"We could," Ellis pointed out, "For the greater good."

John wanted to hit him but at the same time, he couldn't deny that he wasn't entirely wrong. There were thousands of planets in danger of being culled, what would be the sacrifice of a few? But the truth was they still didn't know what the Wraith had planned. Maybe this was just about Atlantis.

They were tracking the progress of the Hives and from the culled planet they seemed to go directly to the ally that had been in contact with them. The evacuation was on the way, but at this point, their allies and allies of their allies covered the whole galaxy. If they wanted Atlantis, they'd go after it and that meant it wasn't necessarily a matter of "the greater good", but sacrificing others to save their own asses.

"Let's see what their plans are before we make such a decision," Carter said. "Rodney, how long would you need to prepare everything to initiate an explosion?"

"We'll have to make an analysis first. Provided we take everything we need with us, I'd say four hours at least from the moment we get there."

"I'm not sure that's enough," Carter said. "I don't think we can expect the Wraith to stop anywhere and linger. But since it's the only plan we have, gather everything you need, while we keep monitoring."

John followed Rodney as he ordered various heavy materials to be beamed on board the Apollo. The Daedalus flew out to gather a gate for them to drop into the sun.

During the preparations, they learned that the Wraith Hives had arrived at the evacuated planet of their ally—and immediately moved on to no discernible destination.

"They're not stopping," John told Rodney.

"They know that we have superior weapons. They'll keep moving, culling planets on the way to gather information," Rodney said.

"That means they'll come after our allies next." John didn't want to be in that situation again. Not when they couldn't do anything about it.

"Do you doubt it?" Rodney asked.

"No." It pained John to admit it. "Do you think this can work?"

"Maybe. But I don't think we'll have time to evacuate a whole solar system," Rodney said.

They'd have to sacrifice those planets. "Dammit," John said. "This is not... we wanted to save planets, not destroy them."

"I'm afraid the time of destroying Hives with no loss of life is over," Rodney said sadly.

"I'd feel better if it were mine," John said honestly.

Rodney looked at him sharply. "I know that you're just dying—and pardon the pun—to sacrifice yourself to save the world, but leaving aside the issue that I wouldn't allow it, there's nothing, as one man, you can do. We don't have the explosive power to take out all Hives at once—"

"It doesn't have to be all at once," John said.

"Everything that we could send at them would be destroyed before we'd get all of them. John, I know what you're trying to do and believe me, I don't want to destroy a solar system—another solar system. Especially not one inhabited by our allies, but the fact is that the Wraith are out there and culling and the only thing standing between them and everyone else in this galaxy is Atlantis. We're the only ones who can do anything at all. It might be the worst possible plan, but so far it's our only one."

"Back up," John said, suddenly getting an idea.

"What?"

"Do you remember that you said that none of our ships would withstand that kind of fire power?" John asked.

"Any shield would quickly weaken to a point where it would be vulnerable to penetration," Rodney answered.

"What about Atlantis?"

"The Atlantis shields... would probably be able to hold off the attack, but it would drain our ZPMs very quickly."

"But it could be done?" John insisted.

"You want to fly Atlantis into the Hive blob?" Rodney sounded incredulous, but John could see that he was catching on.

John nodded. "How long would it take to mount up all the energy beams that we have?"

"Well, the hard part with the Destroyer was making it fit into a jumper, if we're going for practical without finesse, I could have it done in a day. But John, if this doesn't work..."

"You can still destroy a sun to get them. People could relocate with our allies." It was another way. Couldn't Rodney see that?

"You want to risk Atlantis?"

"You want to destroy a solar system? How are any of our allies going to trust us if we sacrifice them if the situation is dire enough?"

"Don't you think, they'd want it that way? In the end it's all of their lives on the line."

"Is it?" John asked. "Do you really think the Wraith care about any single of their feeding grounds? The people here survived for thousands of years despite the Wraith. The Wraith don't want to completely destroy their feeding grounds. But they want to destroy us. As soon as they find out that Earth doesn't exist any more—and they will as soon as they cull any of us—they'll have no reason to keep us alive."

"We brought this upon them," Rodney said flatly.

"I did. And if I can stop this I will. If you help me."


40.

Rodney supported John as they made the proposal to Sam. Their suggestion was to outfit Atlantis with all five energy beams that they had, transfer the ZPMs from the Odyssey and the Phoenix and seek to meet the Hives head-on.

"The shield won't last for long in that kind of attack," Sam pointed out.

"They only have to last until the Hives are destroyed," John told her. "With five energy beams and as close as they're flying that won't take long."

"We hope," Rodney added, because he wasn't sure of it.

"What if it's not long enough? What if the Hives disperse when you attack?"

"Then we'll get them one by one. We can use the program Rodney has written for the Destroyer. This is no different, just with more beams and a better shield," John said.

"And risking Atlantis! John, I know how you feel. Believe me, I'm not happy about blowing up a sun in the backyard of our allies. But this is our only home now. I have a responsibility for the people who entrusted me with this job. I cannot risk losing Atlantis. I'm sorry."

"You wouldn't have to," Rodney said, trying to help John—and Sam, because he could see that she wanted to say yes, but didn't see how she could. "The shields are completely impenetrable until they fail. We can jump into hyperspace before that happens."

"And if you haven't destroyed all Hives by then?" she asked.

"Then we can explode all the suns you want," John added.

"I don't want—"

"Sam," Rodney interrupted her. "You wanted another plan. This is it."

"We'll likely use up all the ZPMs we have," she said, as if they didn't know that.

"We could defeat the Wraith," John said.

"Okay, Rodney, get started on this. I'll discuss it with the others."

By the time John came to him, Rodney had already installed two of the energy beams.

"What did they say?" he asked.

"Yes," John said. He actually looked a little shell-shocked by it. He sat down on a chair and watched Rodney work for a while. "Listen, Rodney, the plan is not to lose Atlantis under any circumstances, but we've still agreed that it would be safer to beam everyone onto the ships, just in case the Wraith have some kind of weapon or anything that we don't know about."

"Okay," Rodney said, still working on rewiring the interface.

"Okay?" John asked, as if he hadn't heard correctly.

"Okay. We'll beam everyone on board the ships. Actually, I think it would be beneficial to stop by a planet and beam down the most necessary equipment and data. Anything they might need to survive if we fail."

"We?" John asked.

This made Rodney look up. "What, you thought I'd let you fly into a giant Hive blob without me?"

"If I fail, they'll need you to—"

"I'll be there to make sure that we don't fail," Rodney said.

"Rodney, there's not much to do really. It's flying towards them, letting the beams do their thing and getting out before the ZPMs reach the minimum energy level needed to jump into hyperspace. You can set up a nice big screen for it and I'll just have to think 'Go'."

"Right, because at no time does anything ever go wrong in our world. Remember what I told you when you first suggested defeating the Wraith. This is not negotiable, John."

"But I'll be risking my life no matter what. I just want to know that you'll be safe." John approached Rodney, taking his face in his hands, but Rodney pushed him away.

"For what? So you'll feel better when you die?" Rodney couldn't believe that they even had to have this discussion. Things were different now.

"I'm not going to die," John said.

"Exactly. We're both not going to die and we're both going to defeat the Wraith and live happily ever after." Rodney wanted to believe it, but even he realized that he didn't sound convinced.

"And if not?" John asked quietly.

"Then we'll dietogether," Rodney said, because that was really it. They were in this together now.

John stepped closer again and cupped his face in one hand. "Together."

"Yes," Rodney said, moving into John's hand before he leaned forward and kissed him.


41.

It took Rodney another fifteen hours to set everything up. John helped organize the evacuation of Atlantis, but kept checking in on Rodney, just being there, putting a hand on his shoulder or massaging out the worst of the kinks in his back.

They'd announced that the evacuation was just a precaution and that they fully expected to be able to return within a day, but he could still see the tension in everyone's faces and when they arrived at the planet they'd chosen as the evacuation site. All four ships were beaming down things almost constantly, as if they were preparing for Atlantis never to return.

Maybe past experiences, especially the loss of Earth, had made people wary and made them prepare for every eventuality. John appreciated it. He was going to do his best to defeat the Wraith and bring Atlantis home, but if they failed, it was good to know that the lives of the Atlanteans, the remaining survivors from Earth, would go on.

John was with Rodney again when Teyla and Ronon approached him. They had helped set up the temporary camp at the evacuation site.

"We have something that might be useful to your fight," Teyla said and there was a glimmer in her eyes that told John that this was good.

He turned to Rodney, but Rodney hadn't even looked up from where he was working. Ronon held up a wooden box. "McKay, you're gonna want to see this," he said.

Rodney looked up. "Is it another energy beam?" he asked sarcastically.

John opened the box. "Oh, wow. Is this?"

"Full," Teyla said with a wide smile. "Dr. Zelenka has already checked."

Rodney scrambled up from where he'd been crouching. "A ZPM! Where on Earth did you find a full ZPM?!" He reached out and reverently touched it.

"It is the Potentia," Teyla said.

"We went to see the Brotherhood," Ronon added.

"And they just gave it to you?"

John could understand Rodney's doubt. They'd made it quite clear that they were keeping the ZPM for the Ancients' return.

"They realized that what we are doing is in the interest of the Ancestors and might very well be the step to prepare for their return," Teyla said.

"Just like that?"

"Teyla convinced them," Ronon said, grinning.

John raised an eyebrow. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"They do see what we—what you have been doing," Teyla insisted. "I just pointed out our need in this situation and that they could help us if they wished to do so."

"This means we have three almost full ZPMs. We can leave the half-empty one from Atlantis with the Daedalus and go into this nearly fully charged," Rodney said, smiling brightly at John. "Thank you," he added, hugging Teyla and then Ronon.

They gave John and Rodney an hour of sleep while the last of the personnel was beamed to the evacuation site. Radek had set up an interface for the main control in the Chair room, so that Rodney could stay with John during the attack. John was unable to express how grateful he was for that.

He and Rodney lay in bed together, too wiped for sex, but too excited to really sleep. They held each other and kissed.

"In a few hours the Wraith could be history," John said, trying to cling to that outcome.

"They could," Rodney agreed.

John couldn't even begin to imagine it. It had been his goal since Earth's destruction and even before that, but they'd never been close enough for him to really contemplate it as their future. It had remained a fantasy, a dream.

"Peace," he whispered.

"Knowing mankind, there'll still be war. We seem to be pre-disposed to it," Rodney said.

"Here and there maybe. But not for everyone. The Athosians will live in peace. Can you imagine Teyla with her grandchildren, telling about cullings and they'll get big eyes because the Wraith are long gone."

"Not that long," Rodney said. "But yes, I can see that. Do you think Ronon will settle down?"

"I don't know. I wish he'd stay," John admitted. "I'm not even sure what he'd want to do with the Wraith gone. Maybe he doesn't know himself."

"He'll figure it out."

John nodded. He pulled Rodney close and kissed him. "This might be our last night," John said, after he'd pulled back.

"Nonono, no talk like that. We have three ZPMs, five energy beams and a flying city."

"Okay, can I still say something?" John asked.

"What?"

"I've never been more happy in my life than with you." John could feel himself flush.

Rodney just looked at him for a moment, hand stroking John's side. "I love you," he finally said.

"I love you too," John answered.


42.

The actual sight of forty-seven Wraith Hives flying together in a large group was breathtaking in a horrifying way. Atlantis was still cloaked and they just watched in fascination for a moment.

Then John looked at Rodney and Rodney looked back and nodded. "Switching from cloak to shield now."

John sat in the Chair and he could feel the change.

"Go!" Rodney said, and John thought about their targets and Atlantis starting moving directly into the Hive blob.

"Oh my God," Rodney said in complete awe. Then he seemed to pull himself together. "Okay, first one down, second, third."

John looked over and now he saw what Rodney meant. On one of the screens, he could see the shield glowing from the points of impact. It was an even more impressive light show than when they'd been under siege that first year.

Rodney kept steadily counting the ships that the energy beams destroyed. Red dots vanished from the screen at a dizzying pace.

Then John saw the energy level screen that Zelenka had prepared and, unfortunately, that was going down at an equally impressive rate. They were now at sixteen destroyed Hives and two-thirds of the energy left.

"Dammit," Rodney said.

John looked at him.

"They're moving apart."

The Hive dots disappeared at slightly decelerated pace, whereas the energy loss seemed to increase.

John concentrated again and sent Atlantis towards some of the Hives.

"Good, that's good. Keep going," Rodney said and John did, trying to maneuver Atlantis so that not all Hives could target it at once. Then he crashed into one Hive crushing it against the shield.

"Nonono, that's not good. This is draining the shields. We're losing energy too fast."

"How many left?"

"Oh God, we're at 40% energy level."

"How many, Rodney!"

Rodney took a breath. "There's twenty-six more. God, we're not going to make it."

John tried to concentrate on maneuvering around the Hives without hitting them.

"Oh no," Rodney said.

"What!"

"Some of the Hives are moving away."

John opened his eyes to check the screen. A group of dots had separated themselves. John tried to follow without leaving the remaining Hives behind.

"Twenty to go. I don't think we can get both groups if they move apart and the damn shield is about to collapse."

"We can't jump into hyperspace yet."

John looked at Rodney. He could almost hear him think, surrounded by blinking screens. Then it came.

"I've got an idea," Rodney said and started working on the console.

John could feel the shield getting smaller. "Rodney, what are you doing?"

The outer parts of Atlantis began to take hits as the decreasing shield exposed them to the Hive fire.

"Decreasing the size of the shield," Rodney said.

"I can see that," John hissed. "Why?!"

"Saves energy and," he pointed at the screen.

John saw the Hives that had moved apart were coming back. Eighteen, seventeen, sixteen remaining. The map of Atlantis blinked red wherever the city had been hit. Fifteen, fourteen.

"John," Rodney said, pointing at the energy screen where their level rapidly approached the cut-off level to jump into hyperspace.

Thirteen. John shook his head. "We'll finish this."

Rodney nodded. He decreased the size of the shield even more. Twelve. Eleven. Ten. The level dropped below the one they needed to make the jump.

This was it. At the end of this fight, either the Hives or Atlantis would still exist.

Nine. Eight.

John could see small blown-off parts of Atlantis floating in space. Seven.

Rodney adjusted the shield size again. "It's not enough," he muttered.

They weren't going to make it. The Hives found positions that the beams couldn't reach.

John concentrated to turn Atlantis. Six. Five.

The remaining Hives moved with him, hitting them out of the blind area of the beams.

"The shield will fail in a minute," Rodney said.

"I'll hit them," John said. If they were going down, he'd take the Hives with them.

"You don't have enough energy!" Rodney shouted.

"Then give it to me!" John shouted back.

They stared at each other for a second, then Rodney turned off the shield completely.

John pressed his hands into the pads on the chair willing the city to move around as fast as possible. The movement brought two of the piers towards a Hive each. They tried to evade but were grazed, the impact enough to cause several explosions that broke them apart. Three. Two.

For a second neither Atlantis nor the last two Hives shot. Then John actually felt the impact of their attack. Atlantis didn't have enough energy to crash into them, too, and he could only watch as the Hives shot at a completely unprotected Atlantis.

John's eyes sought Rodney's. There were no words between them. Just love and the knowledge that if they had to do it all again they wouldn't change a thing. His only regret was that he hadn't had more time with Rodney. He could see all of this reflected in Rodney's eyes and he was glad that he was with him, even if it meant death for both of them.

There was flash on the screen behind Rodney and John stared as he saw first one then the other Hive—no longer caring about staying in the blind spot—hit by energy beams until it stopped. The energy screen showed a level of zero.

The Hives floated in space like Atlantis. They were heavily damaged, but it wasn't over and John closed his eyes and sent out the drones until tiny explosions became a larger one.

One.

He turned to Rodney again and to the screen and then the last Hive ship exploded in a swarm of drones.

Zero.

For a moment, John stared at the single blue dot on the screen.

"We did it," Rodney said completely in awe.

John looked at him. Rodney looked flushed and breathless and quite disheveled and as if he might faint at any moment. John wanted to get out of the Chair, but then he noticed that his own body was shaking all over. He got up, knees almost giving way until he stood opposite Rodney.

"We did it," Rodney said again, happiness beginning to shine in his eyes.

John couldn't say anything at all. Adrenaline was still pumping through his veins. He simply grabbed Rodney's face and kissed him wetly.

"Nghmph," Rodney said, before giving in and kissing him back.

John let his hands wander to Rodney's ass and pulled him close. Rodney pulled back his face enough to squeak, "Now?!"

John kissed him again in answer, pressed his thigh between Rodney's legs and lowered them to the ground.


43.

"You're insane," Rodney said, panting heavily.

John was still lying half on top of him. Their pants and boxers were around their knees and they'd made a complete mess of their shirts.

John lifted his head to grin and say, "We defeated the Wraith," as if that would excuse anything. Which maybe it did. But they couldn't stay like this forever. The Daedalus would be waiting for them.

Their little impromptu celebration hadn't taken very long. A few uncoordinated jerks had been enough to make John come and the sight had been so hot that Rodney had soon followed him over.

Now they needed to inform the others of their victory—such as it was with damage to Atlantis that Rodney hadn't even roughly estimated—and tell them that they needed to send the remaining ZPM since theirs were all depleted.

Also, they needed to get out of their clothes.

John settled his head back on Rodney's chest as Rodney stroked his hair. "We need to organize our ride home."

"Do we have to?" John mumbled into his chest.

"I think there are a few people who'd love to hear from us."

John grumbled something and lifted himself off Rodney before reaching out to help him up. They pulled up their pants—oh, sensitive—and Rodney activated the communication.

"Daedalus, this is Atlantis," he said, glad that there was no video being transferred. John started nibbling on his neck again. Rodney suppressed a groan.

"Atlantis, it's good to hear from you. We've been expecting you at the rendezvous point," came Caldwell's answer.

"Yeah, we're going to need your help for that. We need you to bring us the ZPM. We've depleted all three that we have with us."

"The Wraith?" Caldwell asked.

"Are all destroyed," John said, grinning widely, before he went back to kiss Rodney's cheek and jaw.

For a moment, the only answer was cheering in the background.

John started to push up Rodney's shirt and Rodney wondered if he had some kind of kink and if so, for what exactly and if it was a situation they could safely recreate.

"Congratulations, Colonel, Dr. McKay. We'll bring the ZPM ASAP. We should be there in half an hour," Caldwell informed them.

"Yes, great. Atlantis out," Rodney said, quickly switching off communication.

John pushed him against the next available console.

"Again?" Rodney asked helplessly. There were a thousand things that still needed to be done.

"Oh yes," John said, pushing up Rodney's stained shirt.

Rodney lifted his arms, so that John could pull it off. Once he'd flung it aside, John kissed Rodney hungrily, pressing into him until he had lowered Rodney onto the console.

Rodney looked up at John, breathless for a moment. John was flushed and happy and alive.

They had done the impossible. They'd defeated the Wraith and Rodney couldn't even begin to think what this would mean for them, for everyone.

John leaned forward, grinning, and Rodney ran his hands up his arms, meeting him halfway in a deep kiss. He wrapped his legs around John and pulled him down on top of him. John thrust against him and groaned into his mouth. Rodney smiled and slid his hand beneath John's shirt, feeling his hot skin.

This was so good. Better than good.

He pushed the shirt out of the way and nibbled on John's jaw.

It was perfect.


Epilogue:

The celebration that followed their return was like nothing Atlantis had ever seen before.

Rodney was glad that he and John had had their own little celebration because within seconds of their return they were whisked off to report what had happened and after that, it looked like every single person on Atlantis wanted to congratulate them (except for the biologist who was in tears because the attack had completely destroyed her lab).

The gate activated almost non-stop with allies asking what was going on. Many had only just heard of the Wraith's return. Soon though, those who had helped ascertain that there were no other Hives out there, spread the news of this final victory over the Wraith and congratulations started pouring in. Rodney crankily suggested switching off the relay from the proxy site, but Sam vetoed that, sending them to bed instead.

They slept for ten hours, but the celebrations didn't stop. They were invited to festivities with numerous of their allies and John kept humming the Ewok celebration theme until it drove Rodney insane. He was mollified by John randomly dragging him away to have celebratory sex. But after a week of that, Rodney was exhausted and more than ready for normal life to begin again.

Of course, things weren't the same, for them more so than others who had begun life without the Wraith when they'd first disappeared.

Teyla and Tagan moved to the new settlement of the Athosians on the mainland. She was still on their team and the settlement could be reached by foot just past the Atlantean mainland settlement, so they saw her and her family often.

A movable bridge was constructed to connect the northwest pier with the mainland. A few people—those who had come after Earth's attack more so than those who'd been on Atlantis at the time—moved to the mainland, where a few small houses and recreational facilities were built.

They had a field for various sports between the Atlantean and the Athosian settlement. There was a track for hiking and biking and once Sam had given in to his prodding, John took her new motorcycle—she'd built it herself after defeating the Wraith—out for a ride. Rodney could hardly watch and was at least as relieved as Sam when he returned with the bike, both intact.

Ronon was restless after the Wraith were gone. A few weeks after the last attack, he left Atlantis. John took it especially hard, but every now and then a visitor to Atlantis would bring them a knife—a gift from a stranger they said. When the knives stopped coming they began to worry. Ronon hadn't sent them in regular intervals so Rodney tried to reassure John that he was okay, but eventually they started considering options and asked around—without any luck.

It was a little over a year after the attack when Ronon returned. He didn't look very different, even though his hair was a bit shorter and there wasn't a knife in sight. He wasn't even wearing his gun, but the real change was that he had the air of a man who'd settled down in peace—with his wife. John immediately organized a party for them. Teyla was ecstatic to see him again and they became neighbors when Ronon and his wife moved into a house between the Athosian and Atlantean settlement.

Life didn't change very much for John and Rodney. They continued to go on missions and had their day jobs. They still explored new planets and met new people. Not everyone knew that the Wraith were gone. And of those who did, a few thought they could use the chance to their advantage. Raids took place and some enemies that had called a truce while faced with a common enemy went back to fighting. Atlantis tried to stay out of feuds as much as possible and assisted in catching the raiders, but didn't take part in dealing with them.

There were other problems as well. Some people tried to make up for centuries of Wraith preventing their progress by taking on too much too soon with sometimes catastrophic results. Rituals, developed to deal with life under threat of the Wraith, had to be unlearned in some cases. People that had organized their life in hiding could now step outside and live under the sun.

It all took time and was sometimes painful, but it was so much better than the pain that the Wraith had caused.

John and Rodney were happy together.

When John suggested they take a day off for their first anniversary, Rodney had to stop and think because to him it felt as if they'd always been together like this. Rodney never joined John in his morning runs—Evan and Stephanie stepped up for that in Ronon's absence—and John let him fiddle with Radek in the labs late into the night when he had another special project, but at the end of the day they fell asleep tangled together and that's how they woke up the next day. They went out together or stayed in. They made each other breathless with laughter, lust and occasionally worry. They fought and made up and then teased each other over who had begun and who'd given in first.

They were best friends and they were in love and in a galaxy far from a planet that didn't exist anymore, they found the life they had always wanted—together.

The End
Notes
Warnings: Death of supporting canon and original characters (early in the fic). Suicide of original characters.