Title
Adrift
Prompt
Big Bang 2009.   Alternate Season 4
Summary
Atlantis is forgotten, at least, the people have forgotten who they are. They struggle to find themselves in an alien city, adjusting to this new isolated life. But there is also another story out there, one of a team not exactly who they think they are. They must fight to save the very galaxy themselves, or watch all life in be exterminated. The balance of power is shifting in Pegasus. Fate is in flux, and there may be more than one city that can save the day.
Pairing
McKay/Sheppard, Ronon/Jennifer, other minor pairings
Rating
R
Word Count
86800 words
Warnings
This story has warnings; they are listed at the end of the story.
Jump to the warnings.
Companion Artwork
  • Battle over Replicator World by Korilian
  • Playing doctor. by Korilian
  • Scuffle by Korilian

Part I: Tabula Rasa


The first thing Rodney remembers is saving the city by finishing a program he doesn't remember writing to expose the city to a cure for the mass amnesia. He remembers Teyla and the soldiers and that he wants somebody to be safe. He doesn't remember his name—except from the recording he'd left himself—or his childhood, or his parents. Teyla says it'll take time, so he takes a seat on the stool he woke up on and waits, hoping the genius she says he has comes back so he doesn't feel quite so lost.

The dreadlocked man stops by to glare at him, and Rodney shifts uncomfortably at the almost threatening nod the man offers before vanishing again. Communication is still down, but he knows—remembers? No, Teyla told him—that people were dying. She went to the infirmary, to check on the patients, that was it. The small guy with the glasses, he was gone when he woke up, but the blond woman, she went with Teyla.

He still doesn't remember their names. He lifts his jacket sleeves instinctually, but all he finds are black smudges and incomprehensible symbols. He must have been sweating while he slept, and that plus the jacket ruined everything. Names, numbers…did he ever get names? He's not sure. No, no, he decides after a minute, he didn't. They were strangers, strangers that trusted him, trusted in him. And he saved them. Somehow.

Another stranger shows up, this one with messy hair and slightly tanned skin and a tense slouch. He doesn't say anything, just half-sits on the edge of a table, arms crossed, looking at nothing. There's a temptation to ask him who he is and what he's doing, but for all Rodney knows this is the guy's lab. And it's comforting to not be alone, to have someone here to confirm that he's not losing his mind.

It's when he starts feeling sleepy that he realizes he and the guy have been sitting there staring into the air for hours, and nothing's changed. There's been no rush of knowledge, or recognition of the computer systems, or even an inkling of who his silent friend is. He himself is a patient guy, but judging by the jiggling leg of bed-head man, that doesn't apply to everyone.

Then the soldier who was rounding everyone up to lock away in the mess appears. He's still got that hand weapon, the one that man in the glasses refused to give up, and Rodney can just make out a bottle of pills in one pocket, but he looks a little calmer than earlier. His eyes are still narrow and intense and he's scowling, but nonetheless, calmer. "Come on, staff meeting and the giant says you're senior staff." He turns and blinks at the stranger. "Colonel," he digs out a picture real quick, "Colonel Sheppard," he tucks it back away, "ready to take command?"

"Sure." The voice has a drawl, but its tone is unsure, angry. He fully stands, and Rodney walks over to stand just out of arms reach of the pill-happy soldier. "I'm sure you'll understand if we need to follow you."

"Yes, sir." The guy barrels his way into the lab to grab something from the table, and Rodney instinctively grabs the object the man slams into his chest. "Only laptop unlocked. Don't lose it."

"Right, right, yes. No problem." Rodney exchanges a quick look with the stranger—Colonel Sheppard, identity, even if it's not his own—and follows the swift-footed military officer. "So you're in charge?"

"Apparently." The guy, Sheppard, grimaces, lowering his voice. "According to the Major's picture, at least. I don't remember. And I certainly don't feel authoritative."

Rodney simply nods, automatically speaking softer in deference to the Colonel's volume. "The woman, Teyla, says I'm head of science, and a genius." And he's not sure if that makes him a not-good person, which would explain the shorter soldier's attitude towards him. "I don't feel that smart." Though maybe a bit authoritative. He was able to organize the breakout pretty well, and everyone listened to him.

"Didn't you save everyone?"

"Sort of." Most of the work was done before he'd lost his memories. "I don't remember you."

"I was on the mainland getting the cure." Sheppard smirks slightly. "And I flew the ship."

"You remembered how to fly?"

The guy shrugs a shoulder. "I just knew. Instinct." He stays silent as they climb some stairs. The soldier's not even breathing hard, but Rodney's heaving, a little. "So do you remember anything?"

Rodney tosses a look at their guide. "No, you?"

"No." His eyes become shadowed at the admission.

"No one's remembering," their guide says tersely, turning at a bronze door leading into an enclosed room. "That's why we're here." He jerks his arm towards the door, and Rodney can see he's resisting the urge to use his weapon as a directional tool.

The Colonel moves as if to shield Rodney from the gun, but freezes once they're in the room. Rodney feels everyone's eyes on the three of them; some on him, but most on the soldier by the door.

Teyla is standing and smiling reassuringly, a hand on the arm of the blonde wearing a black shirt. The dreadlocked guy is in another corner, looming and glaring at all three of them. It's unnerving, but Rodney shoves down the urge to backpedal. They said he belongs here, and he won't let anyone intimidate him into thinking otherwise. There's another blonde, much younger, with a pony-tail and yellow panels on her unzipped jacket.

He has a vague recollection of her, from when they were locked up by the soldiers. She was one of the first to follow him in the idea to escape. He still doesn't remember their names but he feels drawn to them, secure. He can trust them. He moves towards them, but a sharp look from the giant has him stopping halfway. Instead, he ends up at the middle of one of the table sides and just stands there, clutching the computer to his chest.

"I can't find the other guy. Scruffy, with glasses," drug soldier finally says.

"Radek," Teyla comments. "I'm sure Rodney would be more than happy to catch him up."

"Sure." Rodney meets Teyla's smile with a small one of his own. "Who is he?" The happiness slips from Teyla's face, and he feels like a heel for that.

"Perhaps we should sit down and get to know each other," the black-shirted woman says, taking a seat on the far edge of the table. "Teyla," she glances questioningly at the woman, who nods subtly, "can tell us who we all are."

The other blonde sits beside her. "That would be good." There's relief in her voice. "I'm getting a headache referring to all of you as Laptop Guy, Gun Guy, and Black Shirt Girl." She doesn't smile, but she half-laughs.

The short soldier reluctantly places his weapon on the table and sits across from the two women, ignoring the attempt at humor and glowering at everybody. Sheppard slouches into a chair away from him, while the dreadlocked man remains standing and Teyla takes the seat next to the one Rodney slides down into. "I believe that's a very wise idea, Sam."

Rodney notes that everyone turns their head to intensely focus on the black shirted blonde—the yellow-coat woman even mouthing the name—in an effort to remember, retain, recall an identity. "You are Colonel Samantha Carter. You are the head of this expedition."

Samantha nods, eyes locked on the table. "Right. So, I'm in charge?"

"Of the city, yes." Teyla smiles, and then turns her head to the left. "You are Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard. You're in charge of the soldiers, and of a Gate team."

Colonel—John; John sounds right in Rodney's mind—shifts uncomfortably in his chair, not making eye contact with anyone. He can just make out a fist under the table, clenched and shaking. Rodney can't tell if it's from frustration of not remembering, or of not liking all the attention on him. He decides to rescue the guy. "What's a Gate team?"

Teyla hesitates. "Perhaps I shouldn't have brought it up. It will take a while to explain-"

"So explain." The soldier crosses his arms and glares at Teyla. "We're just taking your word that you and he," his glare shifts to the giant, "are our allies."

"I came back with Sheppard. Sheppard's your commanding officer."

That, Rodney notes, seems to bring a change over the soldier's face. A moment of blankness, then a grimace, as if some sort of inner turmoil just poked a nerve. He turns towards John. "You know him," he jerks a chin to the giant.

John glances at the soldier before shrugging. "Says we're best friends. And that he's under my command." That seems to quell the soldier, for now. Rodney makes a mental note to keep an eye on him, and then starts feeling for a pen to write it down so he can remember to keep an eye on the soldier. Teyla stops him after a minute with a gentle pat on his arm, though her attention is on the soldier.

"I understand your concern, Major, but this is not…quite the situation we expected."

"What were you expecting?" That question comes from the other blonde, the one in yellow.

"The enchuri plant helps to cure Kirsan fever. Once distributed, we assumed you'd get your memories back." The Major lets out a hostile breath. It's not quite a snort, but it's close. Rodney's attention is turned to Teyla, though, when she gestures to him. "Rodney theorized the Ancients brought the bacteria millennia ago, but without any contact with the rest of the galaxy, it mutated into this disease." She shoots a glance at Ronon. "We were not expecting the enchuri to…fail."

"It hasn't though," Samantha says. "You said people were dying, going to die, without the cure." And oh, how Rodney is very, very glad he'd forgotten that detail. "But they aren't. People fell asleep and got better. No one's dying anymore."

"No one's remembering anything, either." The Major put his hands onto the table. "We can't trust-"

"Can it, Major." Everyone stares at John. The outburst wasn't loud, but it was definitely firm. "I trust them. Without…" he opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again, then simply points.

"Ronon."

"Right. Without Ronon I'd still be stuck in that dark forest. I didn't even know I could fly that ship. He could've told me to go anywhere. We came back to save everyone."

"Fine, but she attacked me," the Major shoots back, pointing at Teyla.

"Because you did not remember that I was not infected. You were acting irrationally."

"I was under orders-"

"What're we going to do," the blond pipes up again, interrupting the argument. She shrinks a little under everyone's gaze. "I mean, I still don't know who half of you are-"

Teyla takes a deep breath, but it's Ronon who continues, pointing at each person. "Major Evan Lorne. Doctor Rodney McKay. Teyla Emmagan. Doctor Jennifer Keller." He points a thumb to himself. "Ronon Dex."

The blonde—Jennifer, Rodney reminds himself, and starts repeating everyone's names in his head—blinks a few times. "Oh. What, what am I a doctor of?"

"You are the ranking medical officer on base." Teyla's explanation doesn't seem to ease Jennifer's discomfort. "I know you do not remember, but all of you are passionate in your fields. Rodney, you remember how to use a computer still, yes?"

"Well, I…" he pulls the computer away from his chest and stares at it. It still has a picture of Teyla, telling him to find her. He focuses and thinks and tries to get some tidbit of knowledge. After a minute of silence, he hits the power button. "I can turn them on and off." This close he can see Teyla's neck tense at the admission, and wonders if they're really in more trouble than she's making it seem.

If it came down to it, could Teyla and…Ronon? Yes, Ronon. Could they run the city, without everyone else?

Samantha finally put her hands on the table. "Has anyone reported remembering anything?"

The Major—Evan shakes his head. "I've had my soldiers ask everyone in the mess hall. No one's remembering anything."

"Of course they wouldn't tell you! They're terrified of you!" Jennifer blushes at her outburst. "I mean-"

Teyla takes a deep breath. "What Doctor Keller is trying to say-"

"Hey, were we trying to contain-"

Rodney glances to John, who's scooted his chair towards the corner of the table, closer to him. The man's fist isn't clenched anymore, but he still isn't looking at anyone. Maybe he blames himself, Rodney thinks, for Evan's behavior, the treatment of everyone not in the special round-up team.

On the other side of the table, Samantha is trying to defend Jennifer. She was one of the ones locked up, knows how frightened everyone was, how frightened she was. Teyla isn't being heard over Evan's yelling, and the big guy has a hand on his weapon.

Before he can think about it, he knocks his chair back while standing. The clatter shuts everyone up, gets all their eyes on him. He opens his mouth but doesn't, for the life of him, know what to say. He was a genius, and he's sure before this whole amnesia thing he'd have something inspiring and motivational and…something, but now he just…he doesn't want things to degenerate.

"Rodney…?" Teyla places her hand over his own resting on the table.

He jerks it away, and stares at the room as a whole, waiting as first Jennifer, then Samantha, and reluctantly Evan settle back in their seats. John, he notes, has looked up from the floor and is watching him with fierce intensity. Finally, finally, he takes a breath. "No one's got their memory back." Silence answers him. "We need to figure out what to do now."

With that he sits back down and waits. He's not in charge. Samantha's in charge. He's not going to step on anyone's toes. Well, maybe Evan's, a little.

It's Evan who breaks the silence. "We need to keep everyone contained." There's strain in his voice, but Rodney can tell he's trying to control his temper. "I know you didn't like it, but there could be dangers in the city. We could be dangerous to the city. We can't let people roam free."

"Except your soldiers, of course." Jennifer's sarcasm comes as a bit of a shock, but then, Evan had shot her during the escape attempt. Rodney hadn't even considered what the soldiers would do in retaliation, what they would do to prevent another breakout.

Rodney meets Samantha's eyes, tries to encourage her. He already knows Teyla will try to make peace. Evan won't accept that. Samantha's in charge. John's in charge. They have to stand up, take responsibility, take action.

Some of what he's trying to silently convey must reach her, because she clears her throat. "The soldiers aren't exactly safe at the moment, either." Evan scowls, but doesn't say anything. "We can't just lock up everyone and not get another riot. But if your soldiers were…also confined, maybe."

"So who keeps the order? Who'll stop people from wandering the halls?"

"Well, we can make a general announcement, or maybe talk to people," Samantha looks to Rodney, "they listened to you once, maybe they will again."

Rodney considers it, but he can't really endorse locking anyone in the mess hall again, let alone with the very soldiers that locked them up before. It just wouldn't end well. He waits a few minutes, then, slowly, "We live in this city, right?"

"Yes, Rodney." Teyla frowns a little, but nods encouragingly. "You have lived here for almost four years."

"So we have homes. Rooms, something, right?"

The frown melts away as she smiles. "Yes. An excellent idea. Perhaps familiar surroundings will encourage you to regain your memories."

Evan leans forward. "And we could ask people not to leave their rooms." At Jennifer's sour look, he ducks his head. "For a couple days, to see if it helps."

"And food? People still have to eat." The bite in Jennifer's tone is missing. Rodney wonders if she's only snappy because of Evan, because he remembers a vocal, but less sarcastic woman in the mess hall. At least, he's pretty sure that was her. It's still a little blurry.

Samantha, though, begins nodding, and points to Rodney. "Signs. You were going to mark something, to show where we'd gone. We can do that. Make signs telling people how to get to the mess hall. There's plenty of prepared food."

"Great," John finally says, sitting up straighter as he scoots his chair towards the table. "Does anyone know where people live?"

Silence greets the question, and Rodney is tempted to reach over and slap the man upside the head. It wasn't the best plan, but it didn't call for such a cold dose of reality so soon. Samantha casts her eyes down and Jennifer is now scowling at John. Teyla looks like she wants to say something, but is holding back, probably in deference to Evan's suspicions.

It's the mostly-silent Ronon that answers the question, in the end. "How'd you guys know Sheppard and I returned?"

Evan points a thumb over his shoulder. "The control room. Someone left instructions on sensors, a shield, and…" His brow furrows in concentration. "Some other things, I don't remember them all." Then he jerks up. "Quarter assignations would be in the computer!"

Ronon smirks and Rodney wonders just how much the man knows about their systems, and whether Evan's fears are justified. Except Teyla trusts Ronon, and above all else, he knows he can trust in Teyla. He'd recorded as much to himself before the amnesia struck. He's just letting Evan's paranoia get to him. It's a tense situation, but he can't let his emotions blind him. He's a scientist. He has to be the voice of reason, the objective calm above all else.

There's some excitement in the atmosphere as Evan scoots away from the table to talk into a communications device. Rodney frowns, but waits before popping the happy bubble they've slipped into. The instant the Major is back at the table, Rodney knocks his knuckles on the table and waits for the group's focus. "We need to set some rules, too."

Jennifer nods emphatically. "Like soldiers not shooting unarmed, willing civilians."

Evan narrows his eyes, but Rodney slams his hand down before anything else is said. He waits a beat. "We need some rules."

"Like what?" Samantha asks. Teyla and Ronon, Rodney notes, have shifted themselves away from the table, trying to let them work things out. Or maybe trying to deal with the current situation, since they'll have their own issues to face if no one else remembers things.

Rodney was hoping Samantha would pick up the thread, but maybe she naturally defers to him. She was the first person to follow his lead, to garner even more support for the riot. Maybe he's her idea man. He can run with that, at least behind closed doors. They'll need to present a unified front to the people of the expedition, to try to present a sense of normalcy.

So he points to Evan. "Your radios. How many are there?"

Evan shifts in his seat and glances to John. The Colonel says and indicates nothing, so the Major purses his lips. "We found a number just lying around in hallways. In total, we probably have a few hundred."

"Enough for everyone in this room, if not everyone in the city?" There's a reluctant nod. "Then your first order is to get us some radios, then distribute the rest to everyone else you can find."

This time Evan's tone is mutinous. "I don't take orders from you."

"Major," John says, "do what he says."

"Sir-"

"You follow my orders, right?" This time the nod is immediate. "Well, I'm ordering you to follow him."

"Follow him," Evan deadpans, "and Ronon."

"Sure." John sounds a little nonchalant about giving up his direct command, but from the way his shoulders relax, Rodney wonders if John was ever really meant to be in charge of the military contingent, or if it had been thrust upon him. "And," John adds, "whomever they think you need to follow until we get our memories back."

Evan is tense, and for a moment Rodney's sure the weapon on the table is going to be used on John, but then Evan shuts his eyes and nods, even saluting John a minute later. "Fine." He turns back to Rodney. "Anything else?"

"Are there other weapons? Things that don't stun?"

"No." Obviously, Rodney's not the only one suspicious of that answer. "But," Evan continues, "there are a lot of rooms locked-down that we can't get into."

"If we were losing our memories, maybe we locked all the really dangerous stuff behind closed doors." Samantha looks around the table. "It makes sense."

Rodney has to nod. It'd be too dangerous to have even something as simple as a bladed weapon without people who remembered their medical training around. "When we get the room assignments, send your men to do brief checks. Don't disturb anything, but…the last thing we want is someone scared enough to use a non-stunning weapon." He glances to Samantha and, though frowning, she is nodding.

Evan nods once. "Anything else?"

"The seven of us will run the control room for the next few days." Evan tenses at that, but Rodney stares him down. "Samantha runs the city. I run sciences. John's in command of the military. Obviously we coordinated a lot of activities there. Maybe using the systems and working in that room will help us remember. Jennifer," he turns to the woman, "when we find the medical bay, maybe you can go down, try and remember your training. Or find a field book. Something. In case someone gets hurt."

Teyla finally steps forward, touching Rodney's arm in askance. "I noticed Major Lorne taking many stimulants. They were used to slow the process of amnesia, but since the cure I've witnessed him and his soldiers continuing to take the medication. It has…adverse affects if taken in high doses. I believe they are also addictive."

Evan's crossed his arms, coincidently hiding the bottle of pills in his vest pocket. "We need them to remain at peak performance."

John lets out a sigh. "Order your men to stop taking the pills, Major. Give them to Kelly," he frowns at Jennifer's look, "Keller, sorry. She probably gave them to you in the first place."

Rodney feels himself sit a little taller at John's involvement. Maybe he is leader material after all. "Any soldier who refuses will be put in the brig."

"I won't put my men-"

"I will." Despite John's interruption of Evan, his tone is hardly threatening. At Evan's narrow look, he waves across the room. "I'll get him to do it." Ronon crosses his arms, mirroring Evan. "C'mon, Major," there's a hint of wheedling in his voice, "you're supposed to follow orders. And if the pills are bad for you…"

This time Evan does huff, but he stands up and nods tersely. "I'll have them all by the end of the day. Anything else?"

Rodney looks to Samantha, waiting for her to say something, to try and bring some cohesiveness to their obviously fractured leadership group. She's looking at John, examining him, Rodney would say. It's up to him then. He locks eyes with the Major. "We need your help in this." His voice is softer, though he didn't do it consciously. "I hope we can count on you, Major. We all have amnesia, we're all panicked and afraid, but we can do this."

Evan keeps eye contact, and for an instant Rodney could swear everyone is holding their breaths. Then, almost imperceptibly, he nods. Then he's turned and gone from the room, and Rodney realizes that other than Teyla and Ronon, they have no idea where to go, or what to do next.

Fortunately, John is more than willing to break the ice. "So is there some food here we can eat? I don't think we should go to the mess hall yet."

Samantha lets out a little laugh and Ronon wrinkles his nose and Rodney, Rodney decides that maybe, just maybe, they can actually handle this situation.


The control room is deserted except for two soldiers, both of whom must have spoken to Evan, as they relinquish their seats and explain the sensors and shields and point out the other notes taped to various consoles and screens. One soldier is more agitated than the other, but it's quickly explained that while the shields, sensors, and other major city controls have been unlocked, basic things like personnel files and crew assignments are password protected.

Rodney turns to Ronon, who shakes his head. "Don't look at me. You always yell if I touch anything."

Teyla, however, steps forward. "May I?" The soldier is wary, but scoots over. A few keystrokes later, though, the crew manifest and quarter assignments are on the screen.

"Nice work."

She smiles, but it's strained. "Thank you, but it may be wise to focus on remembering your password." Rodney glances around, but no, she is looking at him. "You maintain the systems and files of the city. My password will work for some security files, but yours, Rodney, is the override password for all systems."

"Why were the manifest and room assignments under lock and key anyways?" Samantha looks from the screen to Teyla. "Are we at war?"

"Not at the moment." Rodney's not sure, but he could swear she's holding something back in that comment. "But years ago Colonel Sheppard and Doc—another, no longer with us, were taken over by an alien entity and used the crew in the quarters as hostages. Doctor McKay didn't want something like that to happen again, so he locked down any file that was linked to the habitat systems."

Rodney would like to think that proves he's a good man, but at the moment he's freaking out a little bit at the whole 'alien' thing. He's not entirely sure what an 'alien' is, but from the rate of his heartbeat it's not good. Whatever it was, they got it out of John, or he wouldn't still be in command of the military. They might come back, though. Other aliens might come, too. So he sits in front of the computer and focuses as hard as he can. Password. Password. It'd be important, something for him, something only he and maybe a close friend would know-

As if responding to his thoughts, the red-outlined password screen and fourteen asterisks scroll across. A second later, the full directory of the Atlantis system is open. Research files, personnel, mission reports—something Rodney intends to read in-depth as soon as the more pressing issues are dealt with—everything. "Who did that?"

Everyone looks at each other, except John, who slouches so far down in his seat that his head is almost equal to the top of the chair. Rodney steps over to him and looks at the computer screen. It's an exact mirror of his own, with an open directory and all the files just ready to be looked at. He looks to John, who's gripping Rodney's black marker in one hand. On the back of the other, numbers are written. 16431879196842.

He looks around, but Teyla is showing Samantha the systems and Ronon is pointing out on the city map where the infirmary is. The two soldiers have left, so Rodney lowers his voice and squats beside the Colonel. "How'd you know that?"

John glances at him, offering a half shrug. "Numbers keep coming up in my head. 314159265. 31340. 42. When I saw it took seventeen slots I figured 'what the hell.'" He lifts his hand. "I wrote it down, in case we forgot." He tugs at his jacket, enough for Rodney to see that John's also written his own name on his arm, before tugging the sleeve over his hand. "I guess you trust me." The smile isn't like the one he occasionally gives Ronon. It's shy, uncertain. Like John doesn't know if he's supposed to know Rodney's secret passwords.

Whether he's supposed to or not, though, it's just saved them hours of trying to find a password that, frankly, hadn't been coming to Rodney's own mind. Other things, strange symbols and equations that make no sense, yes. But nothing he can associate with anything else. And maybe this is proving Teyla true. That even though they don't remember, the fundamental parts of who they should be are still in them. They just have to wait, be patient.

He offers John a small smile back, memorizing the number and trying to burn John's face into his memory so that, if they are still forgetting things, it'll be one of the last of his memories to go.

When Evan returns, John is using Rodney's marker on a pile of papers, coloring in big arrows with words like 'This Way To Food' and 'Transporter, Only Use This Button' and 'Please Stay In Your Quarters'. Samantha and he are working on a series of laptops—or tablets, as the transfer button says—and are matching up faces and identities with crew quarters and, with Teyla's help, directions.

Lorne hands Ronon and Jennifer a radio each, and then they're gone. He hands one to everyone else, giving a narrow-eyed look at Rodney after handing one to John, before standing at attention. "I've got half my men ready to search rooms, the other half are handing out radios. They were almost finished when I left."

Samantha looks up from the computer. "We should say something. Let them know what's going on."

Rodney looks at her. "You should. You're the leader." He looks around, then rolls his chair over to the big center console facing the downstairs and the giant round ring, and looks at the laptop. The soldier explained how the communication system worked, but it still takes him a few minutes to find the keys connected to the command. He marvels for a moment at how he could've ever known this system and every other and been able to recall it immediately, like Teyla says.

He rests his finger on the city-wide key and looks back. Samantha seems overwhelmed, but determined, exactly the same look she had when she suggested they follow Evan. Or did glasses guy suggest that? Why were some things so clear from before the cure, and other things not? Probably a result of the…progressive amnesia, Teyla called it. "Ready?" She nods, and he activates the system.

There's a quiet minute of breathing, then, "Hello?" Her voice echoes all around them, around the city. "This is Sam…Colonel Samantha Carter, leader of the," a pause, "Atlantis expedition. I'm sure you're all very scared, and want to know what's going on." A longer, heavier pause. "Due to a disease, a bacteria, we've all contracted amnesia; which means we've lost our memories. It's…it's disorienting, and frightening, but I want you—need you to listen. Myself and Rodney, Rodney McKay—he saved us all from dying—we're trying to help you. Help all of us."

John slides his chair back and forth, head down, and Rodney makes a mental note to remind Samantha that it was John and Ronon who brought the cure, he just executed some program he doesn't even remember writing.

"The communicators the soldiers have given you are for emergencies, or if you get lost. Or if you remember something. Anything." Her voice is a little desperate on that last word, but she regains her composure quickly enough. "Shortly, there'll be soldiers arriving to identify who you are, and lead you to your quarters. I would ask that you remain there, study your surroundings, and see if they help bring back your memories."

Eventually, Rodney and all of them will have to go to their quarters, to sleep. Ronon, and Jennifer, and even Evan. And before that they need to set up a shift to run the control room, and some people to watch after the food, and even a team to catch people who get lost, or don't trust authority of any kind.

"I know this is difficult, and I know none of us feel safe, or comfortable, but we will get through this. Please, retire to your rooms for a few days. Directions will be put up for getting food when you get hungry, but please do not deviate from the signs for your own safety. This is a large city, and we may not be able to reach you if you're hurt. I am…hopeful that soon this will all be over, and we can return to the way things normally are." A rather long pause, then, "Oh, um, Colonel Samantha Carter, goodbye?"

Rodney takes another minute to figure out how to disconnect the city-wide, then silently sighs. It was slightly less inspirational than he'd hoped, but with luck the lure of getting an identity and a room with their own things would be enough to keep the wandering and unrest to a minimum.

"You're gonna have to rest sometime too, Doctor."

Rodney turns to Evan, and while he's pretty sure the man hadn't meant to sound hostile and slightly threatening, it still sounded that way. Teyla and John are tense now, John even capping his pen noisily, but Rodney just shakes his head. "We'll all have need to, Major. But first we have to make sure everything's okay. No fear that they're being herded, no rough treatment from the soldiers. Just…everyone trying to learn who they are again."

Instead of answering, Evan turns to look down at the giant ring and crosses his arms. "Any idea what that is?"

Not really, though he's willing to bet it has something to do with that Gate team thing Teyla mentioned earlier. Instead he rolls his chair down to another console, this one with buttons that match the symbols on the giant circle, and depresses them one by one. Nothing happens. "Broken, I'd guess. Probably by us."

"A weapon, then."

"Or an escape. If this was an isolated disease, we wouldn't want it to spread. Disabling the escape would prevent that."

Evan stares at the ring for another few minutes, then rotates his neck and shoulders. "My men need those identities and maps."

"I'm almost done here," Samantha responds.

"Send one of your soldiers up," Rodney replies, grabbing another tablet and uploading the residence map onto it. "He can take the identity files. We're ordering them in residential blocks, so you can take a group at a time." One of Samantha's ideas, rather brilliant, actually. Teyla smiled when he'd said that out loud. "You should start putting the signs up."

He holds the computer out for Evan, who takes it with a puckered look on his face. "Yes, sir."

Rodney holds back the sigh. "It needs to be done, Major, and frankly, you know the city better than anyone but Teyla. And we need her here to tell us what systems are safe to access, and what ones aren't."

The man's face relaxes, but when he grabs for the signs John's made, John holds onto them an extra minute, giving the Major a laconic look that Rodney can't interpret. When John finally lets go, Evan turns to Rodney. "I understand, sir." He salutes with his fingers crumpling the papers. "I'll report back when I've run out of signs."

"Thank you." He waits until Evan's gone before Rodney looks at John, still turned towards him. "Is there going to be a problem between you two?"

John shakes his head. "Just, you know, reminding him who's in charge." He turns back to the table and starts coloring a new batch of signs, pointedly ignoring the look Teyla is giving him.

Rodney does sigh that time, but then he gets up and grabs two more tablets—one of them the one with Teyla's picture on it—and goes back to work uploading identities and maps. There's hundreds of people on the expedition, and thousands of rooms they're using. It's all got to be sorted out, and he won't be able to take a break until that's done.


It takes the rest of the day and most of the night to get people sorted and escorted to their quarters. It's compounded by the fact that some people that were already identified return to the mess hall to eat and get mixed up with the unidentified. Rodney wants Samantha to make another announcement, but she's asleep over a console, so he does it, telling people to remain in their rooms until everyone knows who they are and an all-clear is given.

By the time Evan returns to report that the mess hall is empty and his soldiers are turning in for the night, Rodney has managed to read not just his profile, but that of everyone who was in the earlier meeting. It's a personal matter, really, but he feels if he is Samantha's second, he should at least know who his closest working companions are. Also, he's pretty sure Evan will do the exact same thing the first chance he gets.

They make for interesting reading, but offer little insight into the people he knows personally. Jennifer's psychiatric profile describes a hard-working woman from the top of her class who has problems being assertive of her feelings and reservations about her capabilities. The Jennifer in the file wouldn't make sarcastic comments at Evan, much less start an argument with him, with anyone.

His own file is even more telling. Cutting, ornery, acerbic know-it-all. Full of himself. An agitator. Snubbing his nose at authority with the undeniable belief that he's always right. Doing what he wants regardless of permission or the safety of people under his command. It's such a direct contrast to what Teyla has told him that he feels like someone punched him inside his brain. If he's such a bad guy, why is he in charge of the science department? Why is he Samantha's trusted advisor? Why isn't he locked away in some cell to be punished?

"There are many who did not want you on this expedition," Teyla suddenly says, taking the tablet away from him. "You should not heed everything you read."

"Why am I in charge when they obviously don't think I can handle it—should handle it?"

"Your qualifications. And you, Rodney, have proven that you have evolved beyond that. Have become more." She rests a hand on his wrist. "Our first week here, you walked into an entity that could kill you with nothing more than a weak shield. You risked your life to save all of ours."

"So this file?"

"There are other files. Your mission reports will give you a better idea of who you are than someone who was envious of you for getting to come to this city."

He nods and shuts his eyes. Maybe instead of releasing profile reports, he should put together the reports people have written, let them find their voice in their own work, and not the voice of other people. Or maybe it won't matter. Who they were only matters if the memories come back. If they don't…if they don't, they have to discover who they are now. He recognizes they need the skills and know-how to run the city and survive, but do they really need to know who they were behaviorally beforehand?

"You have been up for over a day. Perhaps some rest would do you good."

"Maybe you're right." He reaches for the tablet again and looks at his picture. Chest puffed out, chin up, eyes smug. He's wearing a tan jacket with blue panels, looks like a man confident in who he is and where he's going. Someone who probably has his life goals mapped out and is well on his way to completing them.

It's not a conscious decision to turn off the screen. He just does, and stares at the reflection of the new man. Bruised eyes, perpetual frown, slumped shoulders and pale skin. That's who he is now. That's who they all are. No longer posed and perfect and well on their way to great things. They're lost, frightened, even angry. A name and history won't change that, can't change that. A person is formed and defined by their memories, but what if your memories only go back two days? What sort of person are you then?

He carries the tablet with him into the glass office nearby. It's probably Samantha's, some sort of leader's room, but Samantha's gone to look at her quarters and Evan's resting on the stairs and he, he really can't handle going to his room. So he falls back onto the couch and tucks the computer underneath. He puts one hand over his head and the other on his stomach and stares at the ceiling, blinking slowly.

He must have dosed off because when he blinks again, there's light coming through the window, a crick in his back, and John sitting at the desk. Wincing as his neck twinges, he slowly sits up and hears something clatter as his heel hits the floor. John looks up from the screen of the computer at the desk and offers a quirk of the lips before he focuses back to whatever he's doing.

Rodney looks down and finds the tablet, a little dirty, but not broken, so he picks it up. The face in the transparent reflection hasn't changed. He still doesn't remember anything. He lets out a silent sigh. At least he hasn't forgotten anything from yesterday, and that's something to be proud of. Whatever is blocking their old memories isn't blocking the formation of new ones, which means they can actually function without leaving notes for themselves all over the place.

Standing, he walks over to stand beside John and see what he's doing. "A card game?"

"Solitaire," John says proudly. "The instructions are in the help menu. It's not that bad."

"Shouldn't you be going through your profile?" He doesn't remember John looking through it last night. He'd left with the last of his signs, identifying the infirmary, the power room, and some other critical areas. Rodney also got the impression that he missed Ronon's presence, which he could understand. Waking up blank left an easy imprint process. It's why he trusts Teyla so much.

"I got tired of seeing me smirk." There's an edge to the voice, a tensing of the shoulders. On the screen, he moves a red card over the green backdrop to hover over different stacks.

Rodney lets the topic drop, instead looking through the glass tabletop to see a stunner on the man's lap. "Trouble?"

"Just thought I should be prepared. In case of aliens. Or scared people."

Or Evan, Rodney hears. Maybe John, in addition to being head of the military, is also his bodyguard. It would explain the protective stances he keeps taking. "You remember anything?"

"No. No one else does, either. The Colonel released the profile logs to the people, encouraged them to go to breakfast."

Colonel—Samantha, right. Technically she's military, Rodney remembers. "Where is she?"

"She went to the power room. Evan was asking why we can't just cloak the city indefinitely and it's some sort of power problem."

"Does she-"

"She just said she wanted to look." He closes the program and scoots away from the desk, looking up at Rodney. "What do we do now?"

Rodney clutches the tablet a little in his hand. In all honesty, he's not sure. He'd really hoped to remember something by now. "Where's Teyla?"

"She's manning the control room with one of Lorne's soldiers." John turns to nod out the giant window. "She says everyone but Doctor Zelenka's been accounted for."

"Who's that?"

"Some scientist. Scruffy hair, glasses."

Rodney brightens a little. "Oh, I know him." At John's look, he shrugs. "He's good at hiding. The soldiers never found him."

"Huh. Well, she's trying to get the city sensors to work, but someone must've done something because there's damage or it's non-responsive or…I don't know. I couldn't follow."

"I'll take a look at it." This time, John gapes. Rodney does too, a little. "I…don't know why I said that."

"Memory?"

Rodney concentrates, but…no. Nothing. "Instinct," he says, disappointed. John nods, obviously hopeful on his behalf. "Jennifer and Ronon?"

"Doctor Kelly—Keller. Keller," he repeats softly, then goes back to his normal voice. "Keller is reading through first aid. She found the nurses' files and had Ronon get them so they could study together. Try and get some sort of medical expertise."

"Good." He lifts up his tablet and turns it on. His smug face looks back. He pokes at it once with the attached pen, then closes that screen and opens the main directory. "Tell Evan I'm going to need him to bring some people to the main lab. We can't remember, but we can learn, and this city won't run itself." Though it might. It looks pretty fantastic and technological. But even so, they have a large scientist contingent for a reason.

"You don't want to get some breakfast?" John's tone is so full of whine and hurt that Rodney actually has to look up from his brief examination of files to stare at the man. "I mean," John squirms in his chair, "you've been asleep for ten hours. Aren't you hungry?"

And yes, actually, he is. Yesterday Teyla discovered a stash of things called MRE's and they're good enough for him. He still hasn't discovered what every room is for, and there's lots of work to be done, at least things to set in motion so if something explodes they won't be scrambling to the ocean to escape the danger. So, he sets the computer down and jerks his head towards the door. "Come on. I remember where they hide the foodstuffs, and Teyla said there's a balcony on this level. Let's go see what our planet looks like."

John hops out of his chair, easily sliding the stun gun into the waistband of his pants and almost bounces on his feet as he walks beside Rodney. If not bodyguard, Rodney thinks as he waves at Teyla and the unknown soldier, then definitely a friend.


The first few days are hectic, but on the whole aren't so bad considering the situation. Ronon apparently took some cooking courses before, and has taken to teaching the chefs and some of the soldiers how to prepare the raw food in their stores for meals. Teyla spends much of her time in the control room, but even more in Samantha's office, acting as a therapist. Almost everyone on the expedition has come to talk with her, and those that don't go to Ronon, seeking to know who they were before the amnesia.

Samantha spends more time in the labs than in the control room, reviewing the database and technology along with a handful of other scientists. Rodney's tried, but while he aesthetically recognizes the equations and the words evoke schematics in his mind, the underlying principles are missing, preventing him from understanding even the most basic formulas. He wants to spend more time down there, but a civilian needs to be running things upstairs. Samantha smiled when he said that. "I trust you, McKay. I'll work on the power problems and train the scientists. You're better at dealing with the situation anyways."

When he says that to Teyla, she laughs. Briefly. "I apologize. It is just…normally you would rather practice fighting with Ronon than be up here conducting daily operations."

He smiles and laughs a little, but it's a bit of a show. Teyla may still have hopes, but he's seen it in Ronon's eyes, the acceptance and determination to move on. No one's memory has come back, not a one. Some things, Samantha's knowledge of power generators, John with numbers and flying, even Rodney's own sometimes savant skills with the city's mainframe, they're so ingrained that the abilities are there without conscious thought.

No one can name where they were born, or what city they're from. Some still write their own names down, because they're good with knowing how much water plants get and how to fight, but they don't have any confidence in their cognitive or retentive skills.

He thinks that's what's going on with John. The man spends a lot of time in Rodney's periphery, hands in pockets, or clutching the marker pen Rodney never did get back. Sometimes he sees things, numbers, words, written on his hands. He doesn't like to approach, except when Rodney sleeps in Samantha's office, or sometimes when Rodney goes to eat. Other times he vanishes, just vanishes. Rodney's heard from Jennifer that sometimes he hangs out around Ronon, but other times no one sees him for hours.

Zelenka—Radek's another mystery. Rodney's ordered the search for him to stop, but the man still hides. According to Teyla, he knew the layout of the city perhaps even better than Rodney before the amnesia, and that may be what's allowing him to elude the search parties. Rodney knows he's okay, though. Food goes missing from the mess when no one's around. White boards with Samantha's equations have strange comments and new numbers some mornings. Once, Rodney even sees Radek leaving what one of John's signs marks as the Jumper Bay. He doesn't call out, but Radek spots him and waves before walking around the corner and, apparently, disappearing.

Rodney would worry more about it, but he's decided that everyone is adapting to the current situation in their own way. Teyla's reported three scientists and one soldier who've locked themselves in their rooms to deal. Another man by the name of Chuck has decided the floor in front of the big circle is a good place to juggle—apparently the only skill he remembers. One soldier was fine until today when withdrawal pressure from the stimulants hit all at once and he threw a table halfway across the mess hall. No one was hurt, fortunately, but a lot of people decided to stay in their rooms afterward.

It isn't all bad, though. Jennifer's classes have graduated to using dummies, or in some cases, soldiers. They don't seem to mind. For the most part, the soldiers have integrated pretty well now that they're not downing pills and trying to herd or shoot anyone. Only a few really overdosed on stimulant intake, and they've been extra courteous to the civilians and Teyla and Ronon.

Well, almost all the soldiers.

No one's really sure what to do about Evan. Rodney has seen him storming through the halls, scaring everyone but the soldiers that had followed him during the crisis. He's heard some people ask if he's angry, or upset, or about to snap and kill everyone—a line from Radek muttered through a ventilation shaft. The Major barks orders and snaps at scientists and still twitches towards a weapon around Ronon and Teyla. No one's even sure he's slept in the past few days.

Rodney listens to everyone, takes in their worries and concerns. As a scientist, he considers it his responsibility to be an observer. He's learned that Teyla is a peacekeeper, Ronon is protective of him and John, Samantha prefers the lab to any other environment. That certain people instinctively know their way around the city, that despite the reports they don't know what everything in the city does, that no one likes the order to remain in quarters as much as possible at all.

He's learned that Evan does three circuits of the known city a day. He's seen that while the Major's officially off the pills, he still carries a bottle around. He's felt the shakes running through the man's body that one time they ended up on a transporter together. And Rodney…doesn't consciously remember, but he must have some sort of muscle memory of withdrawal because he knows, just knows, what Evan is going through. Knows what he's feeling, knows why he's jittery, knows what he needs.

He makes a decision, one that has to take place tonight. He goes to a rarely-used corridor Evan passes by on his daily rounds and waits just around the corner out of sight. He knows Evan still carries at least a stunner, but by making a surprise attack he should be okay. Otherwise this could be a very short plan, especially since he's pretty sure Evan has other weapons secreted about him, and not necessarily the stunning kind.

On cue, at nearly one-thirty in the morning, he hears the Major clomping down the hall. Rodney readies himself, quickly glancing to check no one else is around, and waits. And waits. And waits. The footsteps stop, there's the sound of a rattle, and Rodney bites down a sigh. Obviously Evan's defying orders and is still taking the stimulants. He makes a mental note to talk to Jennifer, get her to lock away the medicine in another, secret location. They have limited supplies and really can't afford to maintain the Major's drug habit.

He almost misses when the Major starts marching again. He's still learning how to not vanish into his thoughts which, according to Teyla, happens because his mind is so much faster than everyone else's. Oddly, it seems to happen to John a few times, too, but whether it's for the same reason or something else, Rodney hasn't figured out yet. The Colonel is a very quiet, very enigmatic person.

Evan certainly isn't, as is obvious by the glare of hatred over Rodney's hand. As soon as the Major turned the corner Rodney slammed into him, shoving the man so his back was against the wall. He slapped one hand over the man's mouth and used the other to toss the stunner down the hall before grabbing Evan's crotch. Evan's panting harshly and Rodney can feel the bared teeth against his palm, but he isn't yelling, isn't really struggling even. He's just trying to push back against Rodney's body, but Rodney checked the medical files and knows he's got the greater mass.

He keeps his eyes locked with Evan, trying to show he won't harm the man, but won't release him, either. One of Evan's hands has latched onto his forearm, trying to pry it away. Rodney can feel, through the grip and shirt and jacket, faint tremors running through the hand and down the arm. In fact, he can feel all of Evan's body vibrating, tense and strong but not wholly under his control. For a minute Rodney's lost in sensation, a memory he doesn't have of shaking and clutching and pain, and so much want, a need to be touched, to feel any sort of euphoric high.

It lasts less than a second, and he knows he has to finish, he can't let Evan go through this alone.

Under his palm he can feel Evan's erection, half-formed and stiffening in the curve of his fingers. He gives an experimental stroke, and it jerks. Evan practically quivers, a growl, or maybe underdeveloped yell catching in his throat. Rodney pushes his body harder against Evan, keeping him in place and, with their eyes locked, starts a steady rhythm or sliding almost side-to-side with his hand, using his knee to nudge the Major's legs wider apart.

Evan's eyes narrow to near-slits as Rodney picks up the pace. This time, the growl is more of an angry, cut-off scream as his hips thrust against the weight of Rodney's body. Evan's resistance becomes involuntary, more writhing than shoving, and then his lower body tenses up. Evan's other hand comes up and grips his arm so hard Rodney knows he's going to have bruises and the cloth under Rodney's fingers becomes damp.

Rodney yelps as Evan clenches his teeth, catching some skin from his palm. Evan's quiet, save for a low sound that's some variant between a hiss and a hum. His motions have become sharp jabs, but are slowing, slowing, and then he stops. He's panting through his nose and his forehead is damp with sweat, but the Major makes no move to escape. In fact he leans against the wall, eyes wide, but intently focused on Rodney.

They stare for a good few minutes, and Rodney waits until the harsh breaths against his palm are even and calm, before removing his now damp hand from Evan's body. With it, he reaches into Evan's vest, and pulls out the bottle of pills. It's almost completely full, Rodney notes, with maybe one or two missing. A fresh dose. Rodney holds it in front of Evan and shakes it once, then clutches it in a fist and lowers his arm to his side.

Evan follows the bottle with his eyes, then releases Rodney's arm, pushing his palms flat against the wall to help support himself. Rodney takes his other hand away and takes one step back, two, four; until he's up against the opposite wall. Evan's barely trembling anymore, save for his hands, which shake as he steps sideways down the hall. Rodney follows his movements, and though it's probably not smart, watches the Major bend to scoop up the discarded stunner.

Evan shoots him one more, unreadable look, and then he turns and walks away. Rodney holds his breath until the Major turns the corner and he can't hear the footsteps anymore. Only then does he let himself collapse back against the wall and slide down until he's sitting. He takes deep breaths, trying to get his heart rate back to something even resembling normal. He's pretty sure Evan got the message, but what happens now all lays on the man's next move.

When he's sure he can walk without having to support himself with a hand on the wall, Rodney gets up and starts back to his own quarters. He has just enough time to wash up before falling onto his bed fully dressed. He only has a few hours to catch some sleep before tomorrow, and the next challenge, begins.


The next day Evan makes reports by radio, and doesn't come to the control room once. The day after, he radios in sick. John steps up at Evan's request to take over his duties, but Rodney doesn't see Sheppard with any expression other than displeasure all day. In fact, by dinner time John is tense with no neck and twitching at any movement. When Samantha approaches him to ask about his day he snaps completely, shoving her away and retreating to the office.

Rodney makes sure she's okay and in the capable hands of another Major and Chuck before cautiously approaching the office. He sees John standing in front of the couch, just staring out the window to the ring room. He's very careful, very slow, and when John doesn't move, he pulls the stunner out of John's holster. John swallows, but still says nothing. Rodney reaches his hand up, sees John's entire body freeze, hesitates, then removes the radio from John's ear.

He backs up and places both items on the desk behind his back, then, as neutrally as he can, asks, "What's wrong, John?"

John's whole body seems to convulse, and then he's on the couch, head in his hands. "Sorry. Sorry, sorry."

Rodney crosses the room and sits beside him. "Samantha's fine. Winded, startled, but fine. Really."

John takes a shuddering breath. "How did I do this?"

"Do what?"

"How the hell did I run the military?!" His head jerks up, and Rodney takes in the dark circles and stress lines, and wonders how he could have missed those signs. "I keep leading people to their deaths, Rodney." He sounds broken, and all Rodney can think to do is imitate Teyla, to touch his arm, his shoulder, in support. "I've been reading the missions. I've killed…God, Rodney, not just soldiers, but-"

"Teyla says you're a very adept, well-liked commander. Ronon says you're the best one he's ever had." Rodney's own reports deride John's intelligence and need for sexual encounters, but there's also praise and compliments. "I trust you with my life."

"They all do." He lowers his head again. "I guess…I'm sorry, I just—" he takes a shuddering breath. "I need to stop reading those files. I know Teyla said they'd help, but…I don't like the man I was. The man who brought so many people out here just so they could die."

Rodney remains silent and tries to think. He's read only a quarter of the reports he's written, but he knows what's out there. Aliens that suck the life out of people, and aliens that shoot at them, and aliens that poison themselves and, well, just a bunch of evil aliens, really. It's a miracle any of them haven't snapped after four years, or even have the bravery to leave their base to face all the shit out there.

In the end, he squeezes one of John's hands. "Then don't be." At John's startled look. "Fresh start, remember? Not a clue that I am. Not a clue that you are. Blank slates. And since you've been here, you haven't hurt anyone." John's hand squeezes his hard at that, so hard Rodney bites back a pained sound.

Before he can say anything else, though, Ronon's there looms over them. He looks straight at John and jerks his head towards the door. Rodney would rather stay, but he should make sure Samantha's okay, and Ronon is John's best friend. Maybe he's the best equipped to deal with this. "I'll tell Samantha you're sorry."

John holds onto his hand another minute, then drops it, drops both his hands and falls back against the couch so he can stare at the ceiling. "Thanks, McKay." The enigmatic, quiet John reappears, and Rodney gives John's shoulder one last pat before getting up and escaping to the control room.

Samantha, despite being the victim, is looking at the windowed wall anxiously. "Is he okay?"

"A little stressed." Rodney puts a hand on her back and gently guides her away. John should have some privacy, something that Chuck and the nameless Major must have realized. "How about we get you checked out by Jennifer, and then grab something to eat?"

"I'm fine, really." Her stomach lets out a loud rumble, and she flushes, laughing. "Well, I could use some food."

Rodney smiles and heads for the transporter, keeping his hand on her back. He asks her about what she learned, and tries to ignore the strange pain in his chest as she talks about power ratios and equations and his detailed reports. He knows he's missing something, some crucial aspect of which he is, but the pain is lessening as he discovers his new self, whatever that is.

A leader, part of his mind whispers, but he pushes it away. He doesn't want to usurp Samantha's authority. He's just taking care of things while she tries to deal with their power problems, something she's obviously qualified for, since she apparently created the generators they're using.

When they arrive at the mess hall, Rodney pauses to look the room over. He's pretty much taken meals in the control room, partially because of how much needed to be done, but also, if he's honest with himself, because he doesn't want to be trapped in the room again. It's different, though. The beds are gone, replaced with long tables and short tables and even some plants to brighten the place up. Most people, he notes, are tucked away in seats in the corners, alone. He makes a mental note to rearrange the room in a day or two, encourage people to sit together and talk.

They have to live together, after all.

Samantha doesn't seem to pause for a breath as they move down the serving counter, and Rodney picks up two sandwiches and a salad automatically. There's a new drink that's a bright color with a smell that excites and frightens him. He grabs a bottle of that and one of water, and though Samantha heads towards a small two-person table in front of the panoramic window, Rodney boldly strides towards the center long table, easily able to seat twelve or fourteen.

That subdues Samantha's conversation, but once they're seated and she's had a few bites, she's back up to her previous pace, if a little quieter. Rodney feels eyes on him, but concentrates on smiling and relaxing and showing that this is good, this is okay. This is normal. He and Samantha are command staff, they're setting an example. At the next meeting he'll bring it up with the others, try to encourage eating in groups rather than just alone or with one other.

He eats his sandwich by rote, making agreeable noises to encourage Samantha. Her eyes are shining and she's obviously excited relearning the technology around them. Rodney knows that thrill, but for some reason it doesn't bring him the same sense of wonder as her. Perhaps that's because he's been here longer than her. His reports from the first year have an excited quality, but his tone becomes more blasé as time passes.

Which begs the question, if Samantha is so stoked by the technology around them, why was she put into a simple administrative role? Was she being punished for something? Or sent here to keep him on a leash? Or maybe before the amnesia struck, understanding technology had lost its luster for her. Maybe she knew everything already, and Rodney, despite being here longer, actually knew very little compared to her.

Mulling that thought over, he misses Teyla's arrival in the mess, but he certainly hears the "Rodney!" she screams as he picks up the strange new drink. She knocks the bottle from his hand before he can even open it. It bounces on the floor and spins away, eventually resting against some sergeant's boot. Rodney knows his mouth is hanging open, and Samantha is gaping at Teyla, her sandwich halfway between her mouth and her plate.

Teyla isn't panting, but the panic on her face is clear. "I thought," she says, her tone barely controlled fury and fear, "that you had read your medical file."

"I did." He stutters.

"Did your file not say you were allergic to citrus?" Teyla's words sound more like a warning than a question.

He nods slowly. He remembers that detail; he just doesn't remember what citrus is. He looks over to the bottle, which the sergeant is watching as if it were some hostile creature about to attack him. "So that has citrus?"

She slides into the seat next to him. "Orange juice is made from oranges, a citrus fruit. Lime, lemons, and oranges all contain citrus." She picks up his water bottle and turns it to show him the tiny print by the box describing calories and salt and other percentages. "Always check the ingredients. If it has citrus, you can't have it. You have told us you cannot even touch it." Her voice lowers, filled with worry and concern. "You stop breathing, Rodney. And without proper medical treatment, you could die."

He can feel the blood draining from his face. It has from Samantha's as well. Idiot, he berates himself. He's read about the citrus allergy, but he hasn't looked further to see what citrus is. After all, why would they send an expedition leader to a place where an allergy could hurt him? He'd never even thought to ask.

He shuts his eyes and takes a few deep breaths, pushing what's left on his plate away. He knows it's wasteful, that they don't have enough food to just leave some unfinished, but he's lost his appetite. He was a minute from death. If Teyla hadn't come in…

"Rodney?"

He rubs the edges of his eye sockets, then leans back and sighs. "I'm fine," he reassures Telya, even though he really isn't. "I just…I think I need to get some rest." He touches her shoulder. "Thank you. For…" Saving my life seems so inane, but it's true.

She must understand, though, because she smiles. "Do you remember the way?"

"Yes." Samantha moves to stand and he waves at her. "No, no. Finish eating."

"Yes, please." Teyla turns to Samantha, still smiling. "Tell me, how goes the research on the cloak?"

Distracted, Samantha's attention refocuses to her new audience and Rodney manages to walk out. He manages to keep his steady, sure gait out of the mess hall, through the corridor, and all the way to the transporter. Once the doors close, though, he slumps against the wall, his shoulders bumping against the destination screen. He could've died. Died. From just a drink. And he ate and drank stuff off-world according to the reports. He's allergic to fruits and insects and how did he have the courage to leave the city with nature itself ready to plague him?

Obviously, he was a braver man than he thought. Or stupider.

It's not something to be obsessing over in a transporter, where anyone can open the doors and find him having a little freak out. He has to focus on the schematic of the city for a few more minutes before he remembers which square is his destination. He feels no physical sensation, no indication that anything happens, but the doors open to a different hallway. It's a strange sensation, but having lived in this city for four years, he knows he'll get used to it again.

Finding his way through the halls is easier now, but he still counts the doors down the corridor that lead to his room. His first time in the "command hall" he found John's room, Samantha's room, and an empty room before finding his own. The empty one had a beautiful balcony view, with a wreath hanging above the bed, and the power cut from the lights. Teyla told him it belonged to Elizabeth Weir, a respected leader no longer with them. Rodney's doing some research to learn how to permanently lock the door, so no one else disturbs the quiet.

His own quarters had been intimidating at first. His initial visit—led by Teyla after spending nearly three days in the control room—was very brief. He'd stood in front of a diploma-covered wall for an hour, reading Rodney McKay's accomplishments. Obviously his career and knowledge was his life, as was the little furry animal and the blond woman and girl. He didn't know if it was his wife, his sister, or his academic advisor. She was important, though, important enough to take up one of the frames reserved for those precious, precious certificates.

He didn't get any sleep that night, as Teyla'd hoped. Instead he found a spare box in the closet and carefully took all the framed papers down and packed them away. The blond woman and furry beast joined them, and then he stuck the box in a corner of the room, folding the lid closed and resting a big book of Astrophysics on top to keep it shut. He escaped back to the tower, and when Teyla brought him down the next evening, he didn't feel nearly as overwhelmed as before.

He didn't know that Rodney McKay, and being forced to confront his old self before sleeping would lead to restless nights. Now the walls are bare, and he's turned most of the books so their spines are facing the inward wall. The books and publications are comforting, just like his tablet, and stuffing them in the closet seems wrong. He's thinking of getting a plant, but it's a low priority right now. There are more important issues.

Stripping down to his shirt and boxers, he slides into the bed and curls up on his side. He's tried sleeping on his back, his stomach, but side seems to be the most comfortable for his spine. It's hard for him to believe he'd be comfortable sleeping off-world, but maybe the hard ground helps. It's something worth asking Teyla about, anyways. Eventually. When he isn't freaking out about John losing it, and nearly dying by drink.


He's not sure when he falls asleep, but when he focuses on the world again, his room is dark, the moonlight is growing, and his door is chiming. Insistently. He reaches for his radio, and sighs when he realizes he forgot to take it off, so it's lost in his sheets. Again. Letting out a heavy breath, he rolls himself to the edge of the bed and gets up, twisting the waistband of his boxers so they aren't so tangled around his legs.

He's expecting Ronon or Teyla or even Samantha coming to fetch him for some problem. Maybe John or Jennifer coming to talk. At the very outside maybe Radek, deciding to finally come out of hiding. He's absolutely not expecting Evan.

Especially not Evan out of uniform. "Major."

"Doctor." Evan's skin is pale, dark circles ringing his red eyes, and his hands are tugging on his t-shirt. "Think we can talk?" His voice sounds terse, but not angry or paranoid like it did prior to their hallway encounter.

It's obvious Evan isn't going to take no for an answer, and after what Rodney did to him in the corridor it's probably better to work this out in private. So he nods and backs into his room, giving the Major as much space as possible in case violence is coming.

Evan doesn't make any overt moves, in fact all he does is stand just inside the door, taking in the stripped down room before turning his attention to Rodney. Not the intense, angry glare, but still focused, still threatening. There's a tense few minutes of silence where Rodney ends up holding his breath, then, "I wasn't addicted to the pills." Rodney fights the urge to argue. This is Evan trying to talk, and obviously it isn't easy for the man.

"I wasn't," Evan reiterates. "I just," he pulls the shirt edge tightly between his fists, "I sleepwalk." His neck turns red, eyes darting to focus on the wall behind Rodney's shoulder. "When I went to sleep that first night, I woke up somewhere else in the city. Alone." He swallows. "I'm—I was…"

Scared, Rodney finishes, but he isn't going to make Evan say it. "Why didn't you lock your door?"

"I didn't know how," Evan snaps. He shuts his eyes and breathes deeply. "I didn't know how, and the soldiers still saw me as head of the military. I had to be strong." A shudder wracks his shoulders. "Sleepwalking is a vulnerability. I couldn't show that." His eyes slide back to Rodney. "I took just enough to stay awake."

Rodney nods and sits down on the edge of the bed. Evan's freak-out over the situation happens while he's unconscious, and that's probably even more frightening than other manifestations. Waking up in a strange part of a strange city…Rodney wouldn't want to fall asleep either. "And now?"

"I know how to lock the door." He's back to wrapping the shirt around his hands. "I'm through some of the worst of the withdrawal, I think." He looks down at his hands. "You didn't have to force the issue." This time there's a thread of anger in his tone. "Especially that way."

"It wasn't like that." Rodney feels his shoulders tighten reflexively, but he forces himself to keep his tone neutral, calm. "I…knew. Just…knew what you were feeling, and knew the only way to help."

"So you remembered something." Accusation in his tone.

"Muscle memory. I don't know how or why but seeing you…I just knew what you were feeling, knew what you needed." Evan lets out an undecipherable snarl and paces two steps back and forth, a fist clenching at his side. Rodney watches him carefully, keeping himself just on the edge of his bed. He should say something reassuring, something to sooth the Major. "You weren't exactly receptive to normal methods," is what comes out, and he's not sure where that came from.

It's got Evan's attention, though. He's glaring again, shirt edge taut between his fists. Rodney swallows, and decides to just go with it. If it comes down to it, he's pretty sure he can throw a punch as well as Evan. "The Colonel gave you an order. No more stimulants. You had—have—a very good reason, but you went about it wrong. If you'd come to us and explained it-"

"I don't have to explain anything to you, Doctor."

"Except you do." Rodney squares his shoulders and stands up, trying to make himself taller than the man. "John said that for now, you follow my orders. You may not like it-"

"And you have no right deciding how to discipline me," Evan interrupts. He surges forward, leaving less than an inch between their noses. "You had no right," he continues in a fierce whisper, "to deal with the situation. I'm Sheppard's responsibility-"

"And obviously he's an ineffectual leader if he let you continue to endanger not just your health, but the mental and potential physical health of everyone around you!" Evan's fists find Rodney's shirt too fast for him to see, but he knows they're there, feels the trembling of either withdrawal or rage against his chest. The stare-off is spectacular, and Rodney isn't sure what's going to happen next. He's still processing what he just said.

It's what a good leader admits, he tells himself. He likes John, and obviously John likes him. But Evan's problem shouldn't have gone on for as long as it had. And the meltdown today…maybe John was a good leader before, but now, now it may be too much. Without all the training and emotional control, is John really the best man to lead Atlantis' military forces?

Despite the anger in Evan's eyes, Rodney can see the Major is asking himself the same question. And neither of them wants to acknowledge the answer. It's something that needs to be examined in the morning, when heads are cooler, and they've had time to think. He reaches up and grabs one of Evan's arms, the other man's heaving breaths tickling the backs of his fingers.

"I did what I thought was best." He tries to keep his voice steady, but he knows he's stuttering a little. "For you. For Atlantis. We…we need you. Not just as a soldier, but as a member of this community." He squeezes Evan's arm. "I did what I thought would…help you. If you were a little more approachable-"

"I'm not supposed to be."

"John was." Evan narrows his eyes at that. "I've read the reports. He's the military leader, but he's also a friend. Someone they can talk to." He tugs at the arm. "Let go, Evan. We can't keep this up. If we don't trust each other, work together, then what hope is there for the rest of the base? We lead, they follow. Do you really want more fighting? Or can we move on and figure out who we are now?"

They stare at each other for another minute, then Evan gently shoves him away and takes a step back, his face down-turned. "You still had no right," he mutters.

Rodney takes a minute to calm his racing heart and nods. "Yes, I'm sorry. I just—next time, I'll talk to John."

"No." Evan glances at him, then at a point past his shoulder. "No. We can…we…should…" His neck flushes red again. "There won't be a next time." He rolls his shoulders. "Sir."

As the adrenaline starts to drain away, Rodney decides the need to stand isn't nearly as important as it was five minutes ago, and sinks back down. "You don't need," he starts, then shakes his head. "Look, Evan. I don't want to be your superior. I just want us to be able to…work together." He hesitates. "Trust each other."

Evan still doesn't look at him, but Rodney can see some of the tension fade from his stance. "I trust you." From the wide-eyed look Evan gets, Rodney's willing to bet he's not the only one surprised by the admission. "I mean—you've done everything you said. Gotten things running, at least."

Rodney isn't sure what to say, so he just sits there, blinking. He can't really take all the credit. Everyone on the command staff had a hand in returning some order to the situation. "Thanks," is what he finally settles on. "You've done a good job, too."

There's an awkward silence after that. Rodney looks at the wall behind Evan, while Evan finds the bed suddenly enthralling to watch. He's pretty sure progress has been made, but the next step could be…anything. He's just been making this up as he goes along. Does he offer to talk right now, or dismiss Evan like a soldier, or change the topic completely?

It's Evan who breaks the stalemate, clearing his throat as his hands begin to tremble again. "It's late si—it's late. And we both have a meeting tomorrow."

Rodney glances at his clock, finding that yes, it's nearly two am, and he should be fast asleep. "Right." He coughs. "Right. Um, see you in the morning?"

Evan nods, shuffles his feet, and then almost runs out of the room. Rodney waits until the door slides closed before shifting up the mattress a bit and lying back, lifting his feet from the floor. Tomorrow, he thinks, could be interesting.


Rodney catches John talking to Samantha quietly in the corner in the morning staff meeting. His eyes look bruised, haunted, but Samantha is smiling and rests a hand against his arm. He smiles, then Samantha moves to take a seat at the table. John, though, stands there staring at the corner for a minute before seeming to steel himself to head to the table. Keeping an eye on the Colonel, Rodney turns in his seat to face Samantha. "You okay?"

She pushes her hair back over her shoulders. Normally she wears it bound in some way, but today it's loose, and she gives the follicles an annoyed look before grinning. "Oh yes. He just wanted to apologize in person." She sighs and touches his wrist. "How about you? You had a scare yesterday."

For a minute, he thinks she means his conversation with Evan, but then he remembers the orange juice. "Oh, right. No, no. I just needed a good sleep." Which he had, except for that intense half-hour. He waves awkwardly at his hair. "Trying a new look?"

She sighs again, rolling her eyes. "I set the band down in the lab and it's gone missing. And I'm not sure where I keep the rest." She let out a soft laugh. "My bathroom is ridiculous." She lowers her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Mine isn't the only one, at least. Jennifer asked me yesterday why she needed so much cos…cosmetics."

"Maybe Jennifer has some of those hair bands."

Samantha nods. "I'm going to ask her after the meet—oh." Some of the cheer vanishes from her voice. "He's back."

Rodney looks to the door to see Ronon and Jennifer entering, followed by Evan. His uniform looks wrinkled, and even a bit over-sized on him, but that probably has to do with the way he's a little hunched over. His eyes are a slightly bloodshot, and his hair is nowhere as anally neat as it was pre-incident. He doesn't hesitate in the doorway, just ignores the hush and takes a seat one away from John. Rodney's pretty sure it's a bad sign that both heads of their military look so crappy.

Teyla is the last one to join them, not looking so well herself. She looks a little green. He knows he's not the only who notices, judging by Ronon's frown. "I'm sorry for my tardiness. Breakfast did not agree with me," she says, sitting beside Jennifer.

"It's all right," Samantha says, placing her hands together on the table. "We were just about to start." She nods to Evan. "Welcome back, Major."

"Thanks, ma'am." He clears his throat. "I'm ready to take on command of the soldiers again, sir." John flaps his hand in either an acknowledgement or a dismissal. Evan nods once, but his eyes meet Rodney's briefly, and he knows the man hasn't forgotten the outburst from the night before.

Teyla takes the lull in the conversation to lean forward a bit. "I would like to put forth the request of going to see my people." Rodney can see the denial about to come from Evan's lips, but at the last second the Major bites his tongue. "They will be worried, not hearing from us for so long."

Rodney knows that the Athosians are perhaps the only allies they can really trust in this galaxy. Like Ronon and Teyla, they are probably already immunized from the amnesia illness. And they do need to replenish their food stores eventually, and the Athosians are probably the only civilization that would do so with no intention of taking advantage of the people of Atlantis.

There's just one major problem that Rodney has to point out. "I thought we couldn't use the big ring-"

"Stargate," Ronon interrupts

Rodney nods. "The Stargate without some vital part."

Teyla blinks, as if she'd forgotten that. Considering how much she's done this past week, he wouldn't be surprised if she had. "Right." She finally says. "The control crystal Doctor Zelenka removed."

Samantha grimaces. "Unfortunately, Doctor Zelenka is still unaccounted for. Not even the sensors can find him."

Teyla seems to deflate. "I was hoping he would be ready to come out of hiding by now."

"I could find him," Ronon offers gruffly.

Evan looks like he's going to protest, but John beats him to it. "That'll just send him deeper into hiding." He slouches in his chair. "That's what I wanted to do, when I woke up." What he still wants to do, is the vibe he's giving off. "And you said he knew the city better than Rodney."

Teyla nods. "I don't suppose you've learned enough to work around the removed crystal, Rodney?"

"Have I done it before?"

She smiles, gently. "Yes. Though you complained that next time you'd insist on a raise."

Good to know, but, "I'm sorry, Teyla. I'm just starting to get around the system. I'm not sure I can tackle something like the Stargate."

"I can take a look," Samantha offers. She looks to Rodney. "I've worked longest with alien technology, right? And I'm starting to get a feel for the generators."

"By taking one apart," Rodney counters. A dead one, but still, they hadn't known it at the time. "I don't think we should take apart the Stargate. We've only got one, it looks like."

She opens her mouth, then shuts it. "That's…a good point. But there are schematics, right?"

Rodney's not sure, so he looks to Teyla. She nods. "All right. There's no harm in looking over schematics." When he looks to Samantha again, he sees she's raised an eyebrow at him, and he realizes he's acted more like the leader than her. A bad precedent to set, or habit to get into. "Sorry."

It's Jennifer's turn to clear her throat. "I had to sedate Lieutenant Peterson yesterday." Evan looks over sharply at that, but John only glances at her. "He had an anxiety attack. I think it was an anxiety attack. It may have just been pure panic. I'm still trying to discern-" Ronon nudges her arm and she looks to him silently. After a moment, she looks back to Samantha, studiously ignoring Evan. "It was the two moons. I think…our records indicate that we're from another planet, another galaxy. Our planet had one moon."

"But we don't remember it," John replies mulishly. "It shouldn't affect us."

"People are reacting to our situation differently, Colonel," Rodney says, with a slight edge in his voice. "Some people have become reclusive, some are freaking out, and some just can't handle the stress of a day." John has the dignity to duck his head at that. "We don't remember, but our bodies do. Two moons mean different gravity, a different affect on the planet." And wow, he has no idea how he knows that, but he knows it's true.

"Five moons, actually," Samantha interjects, then nods to Jennifer. "So he doesn't remember home, but he had the attack because we're on an alien planet?"

"I believe so, yes. I," she flushes lightly, "may have given him too much. I meant to knock him out for a few hours, but apparently I gave him enough to keep him unconscious for almost three days." She coughs. "We're, um, going to study medicine doses again, see if we can get a better understanding. And the allergies of everyone here. I don't want to…well…"

"That's a good idea." Samantha turns to John, but after an awkward half-minute where the man refuses to look up from the table, she turns her attention to Evan. "Can you talk to Peterson when he wakes up? See if the attack can be controlled, or if he's in trouble."

"Shouldn't be a problem, ma'am." Evan licks his lips. "But what's to prevent this from spreading? None of us are native here." He glances to Ronon and Teyla, but doesn't say what everyone knows he's thinking.

Teyla sits forward again, looking even greener than earlier. "Some distractions may prevent that. There are many rooms designated for gathering events and media. Showing films from the media database may help, and get you reacquainted with your own culture."

"Help with the boredom, too." Ronon crosses his arms and leans back. "People are getting sick of just sitting around in their rooms."

Rodney has to nod at that. He may be the busiest man on Atlantis, but there's still the hundreds of others who are only allowed out for some retraining on their skills, or to get food. Watching films would also contribute to his plans to get people to sit together. "I think that's an excellent idea. We can get some soldiers to set up the rooms and John, you can make more signs, right?"

John nods, offering Rodney a brief, ugly smirk. "Yeah, Rodney, no problem." And then he's looking back at the table.

Rodney lets out a mental sigh and returns his attention to Teyla. "Do you think you could access the media database, compile a good cross-section for us?"

"I would be happy to, Rodney." She's even greener now, and eyeing the door. He makes a mental note to ask Jennifer to check on her later, and to look over the food. An outbreak of food poisoning is the last thing they need.

He turns his chair to face Samantha. "Sound like a good plan, Samantha?"

She simply nods, her face unreadable. "Sounds like a plan, Rodney." Rodney winces internally. Damn it, he did it again. "I think we should reconvene in the evening, see how far we are in implementing it." She looks around the table. "Any other pressing business?" At the silence, she leans back. "Then until tonight."

Teyla is out like a shot, not even pausing to apologize to the marine she knocks over in her haste. Ronon is quick to follow, as is Jennifer. Maybe a mental note isn't needed after all. He moves to stand, along with Evan, when Samantha grabs his arm. "If you've got a moment, Doctor McKay?"

Full title. That can't be good. "No problem, Colonel Carter." Evan leaves and, after a darting glance at them, John does as well. When the door closes, Rodney falls back into his seat. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"

She rolls her chair back about a foot, eyeing him. "You're not the head of this outpost, Rodney. I am."

He flinches at the pronouncement. "I know, I'm sorry-"

"I'm talking, Rodney." He shuts up at that. "I acknowledge that you are vital to this mission. According to the reports I've read, this city would've been lost in the first year if it weren't for you."

Except past performance means nothing now, his mind helpfully supplies. Something in his expression must betray the thought, because Samantha nods.

"I don't…I've been thinking about this. You've been important, the second civilian in command after Doctor Weir, and now after me. I call the final shots, but you and John, you've been here longer, know what's best for the city. I haven't been here that long." She takes a deep breath, as if steeling herself. "And I think that's why you're trying to run things now, why you should run things."

Rodney stares at her. "I…what? Samantha?"

She shrugs. "I've been dealing with the technology a lot longer than I have the administrative stuff. And you…you know the systems, the people, better than I do. People respond to you better." She offers him a half-smile. "You were a natural in the mess hall."

"I don't want—I didn't mean to try to take this from you."

"It's all right, Rodney. You didn't. I haven't exactly been up here combing through all the files, trying to figure out who did what, or what our emergency guidelines are. That's all been you and Teyla. I've been down in the lab, understanding our power systems."

"A vital job-"

"Your job, Rodney. And I took it." She smiles fully this time. "It's only right you take mine."

Rodney sits back in his chair. "That's not funny," he says, even though he can feel the corner of his mouth quirking upwards.

"It's a little funny." She shakes her head. "I don't mind, Rodney. Clearly I'm more suited to the labs right now. I'm more in tune with the technology than the people, the city itself." She stands up and he immediately follows suit, trying not to tense as she places her hands on his shoulders. "You care about this place, more than I…had the opportunity to, before the amnesia. This isn't a coup, I'm offering it to you."

He hesitates. "How will this affect us if—when, when we get our memories back?"

"Hopefully, we'll still be good friends." She raises her eyebrows at him. "Come on, Rodney. Please? At least say yes so I can stop feeling guilty spending all the time in the labs and you can stop feeling guilty about trying to usurp my position."

He feels himself grin at that. "Well, when you put it that way." He lets out a slow sigh. "I accept."

"Thanks, Rodney." She pulls him forward and gives him a tight hug before stepping back. "I'm going to take a look at the Stargate schematics, for Teyla." His smile diminishes at the name. "Do you think she's okay?"

"I was going to ask Jennifer to check on her. And the food." He looks around the room, then joins her on the way to the door. "Think the others will be okay with this change in command?"

Samantha shakes her head. "Frankly, it probably should've happened before now. Of course, Major Lorne's probably going to protest."


Evan doesn't protest. In fact, no one seems too surprised, except John, who perks up for all of two minutes before going back to staring at the table and slouching. And Teyla, thankfully, looks a whole lot better. Rodney takes Jennifer aside to ask how the check-up went, and found out they're following a standard outline of basic tests from the How-To manual. It's not great, but it's better than they could do four days ago.

They're mostly set up for the media shows, and Rodney writes a small speech for the next morning after the meeting is over. They could start tonight, technically, but he doesn't want people staying up all night watching the films. According to Ronon, they're very addictive. At least to people from Earth. He also makes time to swing by the labs once they're 'closed'. He has a suspicion, and it's confirmed when he spots Radek writing notes around the drawing of the Stargate schematic on the whiteboard.

"You shouldn't sneak up on a man with a gun."

Rodney spots the stun weapon they took from the guard after the break-out. "You could just come out during the day, help Samantha with everything." He leans his hip against the nearest table and looks over the equations. Some of them spark…something, in his mind, but nothing tangible, nothing he fully understands.

"I much prefer my solitude, thank you. It's quiet, and no one disturbs me." There's a pointed look over the shoulder at that.

"It's my lab, you know."

"Samantha's lab, you mean." He's back to looking over the white board. "You almost never come." Radek sounds almost sad at that.

"You could visit me."

"With the soldiers? No, no."

The way the man twitches at the thought tells Rodney to drop the subject. "So you're doing okay? Found a place to stay? Getting enough food?"

"Yes, yes." He wipes out a blue equation with the side of his hand and writes something in with red pen. "I work best alone." No look this time, just tone.

Rodney decides to go for the hot topic. "Apparently," he says as casually as he can, "you removed a control crystal from the Stargate—the big round thing, in the main chamber. Teyla wants to visit her people, but without it, she can't go." Radek stops writing, tilting his head. "Do you know where it is?"

The inked hand tugs at the scraggly hair twice before he turns around. "Crystal. It is small, squarish?" He indicates a size with his pointer fingers. "This big, yes?"

Rodney shifts his weight from one foot to the other. "I'm…not sure. Maybe?"

Radek squints at him from behind the glasses. "I have some. Many. I collect them." He pauses. "Maybe that is why, yes? I was told to hide one crystal. And I still do."

Rodney shuts his eyes and lets out a long breath. "How many?"

"Many." Another pause. "Will she die, if she cannot go?"

Rodney flashes on how ill she looked this morning, the thin thread of desperation in her voice, the hope she could see her people. "I…don't know. I don't think so." Silence. "I hope not." Some scuttling, then more silence. When Rodney opens his eyes, Radek is gone. He sighs. "Worth a shot," he mutters to himself. Waving his hand over the controls by the door, he turns the lights out and locks the labs for the night.

He means to go to his quarters, but his feet take him towards the Jumper Bay instead. He hesitates, just outside. It's technically forbidden. He's only seen Radek come out of there. That's probably what brings him there, he reasons. An off-chance that the Bay is Radek's hiding place for the crystals, even though since John and Ronon returned it's been locked down.

Only it hasn't, because the door opens for Rodney just by waving his hand over the crystal panel.

On the other side, John's head snaps up, eyes wide and mouth open, taken completely by surprise. Rodney feels just as surprised, but quickly masks it, stepping in and letting the door close behind him. John's mask tries to slip back on, but the worry seeps out. His usual control seems to have evaporated, and now he looks guilty, sitting on the ramp to the ship with a sandwich and bottle of water.

Rodney walks forward, each step seeming to disturb John more, if his shifting around is any indication. In the end, he sits cross-legged at the foot of the ramp, wincing at the small pop his back makes. "You know," he says conversationally, "there's these things called tables in the mess hall." John narrows his eyes a little, then picks up the sandwich and takes a defiant bite out of it. Rodney lets his eyes trail over the small vessel. "Is this the one you and Ronon flew back in?"

John swallows and nods. "I could move it, but I…well, Ronon pointed out I hit the wall twice already. And if I accidentally accelerate…"

"So what're you doing here?"

"I like it. Not the," he gestures to a bench with his hand, "because I woke tied up on it, but the front part I like. And the ramp is nice. My back likes it."

"What about your room? Doesn't it have a bed?"

John seems to shrink in on himself a little, taking another bite of his meal. "It's okay," he says in a tone that Rodney reads as 'I'd rather sleep in the hallway.' "There's this giant poster with a man staring at me. And curtains. And magazines and these clubs and…they're not me. I look at them, and it's not…me."

"And the ship is?"

John shoots him a dirty look. "The ship likes me. Ronon says what I have to fly them is in my blood, and I…I feel that. A little. A connection." Another uncomfortable shift. "He also says I'm not allowed to sleep in his room anymore."

Rodney feels his eyebrow raise at that. "You slept in Ronon's room?"

"I just…like having someone around, all right? I don't like sleeping alone." He looks Rodney over, as if judging something internally. "I get nightmares." He puts his sandwich down and swallows, for a different reason. "Really, really bad nightmares."

Rodney scoots himself a little closer to the ramp. "About?"

John looks around, then, almost reluctantly, "Everybody."

It's certainly not what Rodney's expecting. "Everybody?"

"Dying."

Ah. He reaches out to touch John's knee. "We're fine."

"I know that," he says in an annoyed voice. "But I keep…you keep drowning. Or I bury Ronon alive. Or I…I push this blond woman I don't know off a tower." The annoyance vanishes, replaced with a more haunted, frightened tone. "I keep killing people, and I don't know why."

And Rodney does. In addition to their early reports, he made an effort to read some of their more recent ones. And he knows some creature inhabited, imprinted John's form and memories and terrorized most of the senior staff. A woman died, someone named Heightmeyer. Some of the people's dreams were in their reports, but in the end, they had to get the entity out of John.

What if there was some feedback, some of the entity's memories stacked on John's own? Or maybe Colonel Sheppard made a point of reading everyone's reports. He seemed like that sort of commander, when he was responsible for the damage, to look over everything and see what he could do to fix it, to help the healing process. Either way, John didn't remember, but his subconscious did, and it was haunting him.

The outburst about everyone dying made a whole lot more sense now.

"Are these memories?" John's voice cuts into Rodney's thoughts, and hazel eyes are boring into his own. "Rodney, am…was I a monster?" He sounds desperate, pleading.

"They're just dreams-"

"But are they me? Who I was?! My…my old desires and thoughts and…oh god." He uses his hands to grip his hair tightly, looking to the floor. "Of everything, why did that stay? Am I such a…how horrible was I?"

Rodney can't let this go on. This has obviously been eating away John, long enough that it's festered nearly to a breakdown. He puts both of his hands on John's cheeks and shakes him, gently. "You are Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard of the United States Airforce." John's eyes are wide, panicked, which just makes Rodney more determined to ground John. He keeps his tone firm. "You are a good man. If you weren't, I wouldn't trust you. Ronon and Teyla wouldn't have trusted you. You wouldn't put your life in danger nearly every week to save the lives of everyone on this expedition."

"But the dreams-"

"Are from an alien. Not too long ago an alien entity adopted your form and could access memories." He carefully squeezed John's face. "It's. Not. You." He keeps his eyes locked with John's, tries to will his belief and knowledge that John Sheppard is a good—if risk-taking—man. John's breathing syncs up with Rodney's, and slowly, the panic ebbs away from the John's eyes. It's only when John's entire body seems to go slack that Rodney pulls his hands away.

John licks his lips, his gaze darting around the room. "Th-thanks. I…the nightmares just-"

"Where have you been sleeping?"

Rodney can just see John's ears flush red. "In here. Sometimes. Maybe an hour or two at a time." He tries again for the mask, but even with it, he's wearing his emotions on his face. "I can usually catch some sleep during the day, fast naps."

Rodney frowns, but doesn't say anything. John takes the moment of silence to mean the talking is over and picks up the latter half of his sandwich. Rodney watches him eat, a plan forming in his mind. It's not ideal, but maybe it'll stabilize John enough that he won't have any more mini-breakdowns. The man needs at least one full-night's sleep. And to do that, he's going to need a light sleeper to comfort him back to sleep after any nightmare.

John gives him a worried glance as he finishes off the water bottle. "So it's okay if I sleep here, right?"

"No." Rodney pushes himself up, wincing at his knee's protest. "Come on. You're sleeping in my room tonight." John looks at him skeptically. "Look, sleeping in Ronon's room helped, right?"

"Yeah," he drawls, "but I don't want to intrude on the leader of Atlantis'-"

"It's my job to look out for everyone's welfare." Rodney tugs on John's arm to get him stand up. "Besides," he says a little uncertainly, "we're friends. Good friends. I mean, you knew my password. That has to mean something, right?"

That seems to brighten John's mood, as he smirks lightly. "Hey, yeah," he replies softly. "I've probably stayed with you a few times."

"Probably." As he leads John out, he makes sure to lock the Jumper Bay doors. He doesn't intend for anyone to sleep in there again.


John has an office, apparently, one that Evan's adopted even prior to the amnesia. So after he leaves John to eat breakfast in the mess hall—something John found utterly uncomfortable, but made both Samantha and Ronon happier—he follows the signs until he's at the office. Once he's there, he looks out into the hall, then shuts the door. When Evan turns his attention to him, Rodney makes a show of taking off his ear piece. He doesn't want anybody to hear what he has to say.

Evan picks up on the message, and removes his own, sticking it in a desk drawer. "Something up, Doctor?"

Rodney shifts his weight from one foot to the other, then carefully takes a seat on the couch. It's a lot more uncomfortable than it looks, like there's wood just underneath the cushions and the pillow padding is designed to transmit that hardness. "I was thinking that Jo—Colonel Sheppard could use a change of scenery."

Evan sighs and leans back in his seat, his brow furrowing. "McKay, he's my senior officer-"

"He can't handle it." The way Evan narrows his eyes lets Rodney know he wants to defend John, but also that he doesn't have any grounds to. "You and I both know it. You've seen it. He's…not in the best place to lead others. For now."

Evan's gaze darts to the door. "Does he know you're here?"

"No. But I—he and I talked last night. I…" He shakes his head. "He's a soldier, but he can't handle the burden of command right now."

"And I can."

"You were left in command. Your last thoughts were of military methods and how to lead your men. Follow the chain of command, compartmentalize, deal with stress." Rodney waves an arm towards the door. "He woke up sort of knowing how to fly one of the Jumpers and to defer to Ronon. That's it. And the identity he had…it's not exactly easy to live up to."

This time, Evan locks eyes with him. "And you know something about that."

Rodney meets Evan's careful gaze, trying to probe for any insult. In the end, he decides to accept the comment as an acknowledgement of understanding John on a level Evan can't. "He loves the city almost as much as me. So I was thinking maybe a patrol. Something that lets him see what he's tried to sacrifice himself for." And maybe to help him understand his worth as well.

"You were thinking of using him as a replacement for Peterson?"

Except that might be awkward for the lieutenant or sergeant patrolling with him. "Well, Ronon patrols the city, right? And he and John are friends. And you like to have someone tailing Ronon whenever he goes off on his own…"

Evan gives him a surprised look, as if Rodney should be less attuned to the military situation. "Lieutenant Sven has mentioned that he'd prefer a later shift," Lorne finally suggests. "I suppose Sheppard could join Ronon."

Rodney nods. "I'll let John know by lunch." He moves to get up, but Evan surges forward in his seat.

"Permission to speak freely, sir."

Rodney looks around. "I think," he says slowly, "as long as it's just us, you can be as…free as you'd like, Major."

"I don't like this," he says evenly, crossing his arms. "The Colonel shouldn't just have his command taken from him. He's been a good leader-"

"And since the cure was introduced, you've been a better one." Rodney runs a hand down his face. "John is…he doesn't have the mental facilities to handle who he was, or to handle all the responsibility. In fact it's…hurting him." At Evan's frown, he tentatively sighs. "He's been having nightmares. Nightmares that his previous mind could probably handle, but his current one is barely managing."

Evan thinks for a minute. "Memories?"

"Subconscious. Possibly alien remnant." Evan stiffens at that. "I already checked. He was cleared medically. His mind was just better at dealing with the effluence because of his previous experiences. But take away those experiences while leaving the recent trauma…"

"And you don't think taking his command won't hurt him?"

"I think it'll be," he pauses, thinking, "actually, I think it'll be a bit of a relief for him." Rodney raises an eyebrow at Evan. "Are you worried you won't be able to handle it, Major?"

Evan scowls a little. "I can handle the soldiers."

"I know." He makes eye-contact with Evan, long enough to let him know it's a compliment. "If that's all-"

"I'll tell him."

Rodney hesitates at that. "Technically, now that I'm in charge-"

"I—if I can't tell him myself, I'm not fit to lead these people. He's getting a demotion. If I'm not comfortable with him reporting to me, if I can't tell him…"

Rodney thinks it over, thinks how Sam transferred her authority to him, and nods. "All right." He stands up, and this time Evan does as well. "Any chance you'll move to the control room office?"

"Maybe if you get rid of that ugly painting."

Rodney's not entirely sure if Evan's kidding or not, but he simply offers the Major a half-smile and leaves. He wants to see how the media rooms are working out before tackling today's stack of Samantha's paperwork pre-amnesia. Just to get an idea of what their bosses at the SGC want.

That evening, when John arrives at Rodney's quarters with a small travel bag, he isn't upset or angry. Rodney takes that as a good sign and just says, "Planning on staying a while?"

"Just a few nights." John hesitates at the threshold before going to Rodney's dresser and making room in a drawer for his clothes. "I still can't believe your bed is bigger than Ronon's."

"Apparently I have a bad back, and this helps." If he wants to play it like nothing happened, Rodney's okay with that. Or maybe Evan couldn't talk to John today. That's entirely possible. "Though I've seen Teyla's. Hers is a little bigger. Made by her people."

"Really? Huh. How, uh," his unpacking slows down, "how is she?"

"Still sick in the morning, but she doesn't seem too worried about it. Ronon, either. So it may just be a bug. Jennifer said she'd have some results tomorrow."

"Ah." John goes back to putting things away, and Rodney pulls off his boots. He hears a drawer close, and then, "I'm going to be leaving a little earlier. I'm on patrol with Ronon."

"Oh?" Rodney carefully keeps his voice calm, trying not to betray a hint of how much he knows.

"Lorne thinks," John's gripping the edge of the dresser and staring at the wall, "that I could use a break. Something a little more mindless and a little less authoritative."

"Are you okay with that?" Rodney eyes John, noting that there's not as much tension in his back as there was yesterday.

There's a long exhale, and then, "I know you asked him to do this." Rodney waits. And waits. And then, "Thanks. I…it might help."

"Are you sure you're okay with it?"

"Yes, Rodney." When he turns around, his face is relaxed, with a small grin. "It's…I feel lighter. By a lot."

Rodney nods, letting his own grin slip through. "Good. Maybe tonight won't be so bad then."

John's grin shrinks a little. "Maybe." He bounces back against the dresser for a minute. "So, um, I was wondering if you'd checked out the media rooms yet."

"I looked them over." Rodney shrugs out of his jacket. "If tomorrow's calm, I was planning on seeing something in the afternoon. Pull Samantha away from the labs, show some senior staff support for the program."

"Oh. Well, could I come too? I…Ronon says they're going to be showing some of our favorites tomorrow in media two."

Rodney tosses his jacket to the chair. "Yeah, it'd be great if you could join us." He glances at John. "You not coming to bed?"

"I thought I might go for a walk first. I'm feeling a little restless." He raises his eyebrows in a hopeful manner.

Rodney sighs. "Well, the door's keyed for you, but I'm actually a little tired. I thought I'd go to sleep early. In case I…in case you need help tonight."

John's face falls for a minute. "Oh. Well, uh, thanks. I'll…I won't be long. Promise. And I won't wake you."

"No sweat." Rodney waits for John to leave before he strips out of the rest of his clothes and goes to sleep. Last night, John had only had two nightmares, one about Rodney, and one he wouldn't talk about. It took the better part of an hour both times to get the man back to sleep. The release of pressure from leading the military may help, but Rodney isn't going to assume that. And he needs at least six hours if he's going to be functional tomorrow.


That turns out to be his mental mantra over the next few weeks. Teyla's morning sickness turns out to not be a bug or virus, but according to Jennifer—"If I'm reading this report right, which I'm fairly certain I am."—is a symptom of pregnancy. Rodney does some mental math based on Jennifer's chart and realizes it must've happened shortly before the amnesia. Take in Teyla's lack of surprise, and Rodney's willing to bet she suspected even before the test results were back.

"Do you know who it is?" He's asked her to sit at one of the smaller tables against the wall to talk to her over lunch. It's not the most tactful question, but he tries to keep his tone respectful, courteous.

"Yes," she replies. "I wanted to let him know it was a possibility." She sighs into her soup, one of the few things that hasn't upset her stomach lately. "Unfortunately, Sam has had little success in finding the correct crystal, or a way around the mechanism."

Rodney thinks of the dozen or so crystals that mysteriously appeared yesterday and today on Samantha's desk. Radek obviously collected quite a bit, and he's slowly bringing them out, to help Teyla. He reaches across the table and rests his hand against her wrist. "We'll find a way to reach your people. Soon."

She offers him a thin smile. "I know you want to, Rodney. But…none of you have the capabilities yet."

"But we will. And when we do, we'll go visit your people and congratulate the father and Ronon will, I don't know, threaten to break his neck if he mistreats you and your child."

Her smile thickens at that. "I am sure he would be more civilized than that." She stirs her soup once, twice. "Thank you, for trying to cheer me up. It is…I know you miss who you were, but I admire who you have become in this crisis." She turns her hand to brush her fingers against his wrist. "I hope you realize how much you've done for everyone here. Including me."

Rodney feels his face flush, but nods. "Thank you. I…thank you."

She takes her hand back. "And now, though it is not opportune, I am afraid I must rush to the bathroom. The smell of the soup is…disgusting." As she dashes for the door, Rodney leans over and sniffs. Garlic, some other spice, and cooked purple-tinted bean. He wrinkles his nose, then waves an arm at Ronon by the kitchen door. Yet another food Teyla can't eat.

The next day brings its own sets of surprises. Rodney arrives at the control room office to see marines struggling to get a desk through the door, with Evan supervising. Obviously, the Major decided to take him up on the offer. Good. He feels a little more comfortable having the two heads closer together. Evan's still getting the hang of email, and Rodney doesn't feel entirely comfortable talking about some things over their headsets.

Though Rodney thought Evan was organizing everything, it turns out that Chuck, the man who keeps juggling in front of the Stargate, is arranging the room. "For maximum efficiency," he yells over the marines, then does some grunting, the desk rotates and suddenly the desk is in the office. "We should be done in a few hours." He shows off his teeth to Evan, then gets back to work.

Rodney exchanges a look with Evan, and they both shrug. "At least he's not juggling."

Evan crosses his arms. "He's offered to help me with emails and memos. Apparently, it's easy for him."

"One of his previous jobs was communications for the city. All forms."

"And he's been juggling?"

Rodney looks at the empty floor space. "I kind of miss it now. It seems so…barren."

"Huh." Evan seems to examine the tiles for a few minutes. "I'm sure my stuff won't eat up all his time."

The joint office seems to be some sort of symbol to the rest of the expedition. The next day, Rodney notes a lot more mingling between the military and civilians. Before it was tentative. A scientist eating with some marines. A sergeant asking to join civilians with the same flag on their sleeves. Within a day of he and Evan becoming office mates it's almost a sixty-forty split at each table. There are some outlying loners; some he recognizes as people still having trouble being on a different planet, or because they're obsessing over their lost memories.

He decides to send out an urgent announcement that the mingling should remain platonic in nature a few days later, when he goes to Jennifer's teaching room and discovers her half-naked and Ronon trying to devour her breast. It probably says something that Ronon doesn't immediately hear him or the door, but they both hear the "Good God!" that escapes from his throat. He has to cover his eyes when Ronon turns and, wow, he's not exactly dressed from the waist down, either.

When he looks again, Jennifer is doing an admirable impression of the red quira fruit from the mess hall and Ronon looks, looks…well, he's trying to look sheepish, but he just can't quite hide the smugness. "Look, you—we—the door was unlocked! Anyone could've walked in here!" Ronon shrugs, but Jennifer seems to be glowing, like she could combust from humiliation. "We…for all you know, she has someone!"

"Nope. I asked." Ronon grins and puts an arm around her shoulders.

"And he's been ever so helpful in demonstrations, and in pointing out what things go where." Her eyes widen right before she hides her face in her hands. "I mean, in the infirmary. The equipment. And…stuff."

"Yes but…how do you know if this is what you wanted before?"

Jennifer shrugs, but Ronon lets his grin slip. "You're not going to go back."

"We might-"

"No one's remembering." He shakes his head, dreads nearly knocking over the model of the human heart. "You're not going to. You've got to move on."

"Yes, well, I'm sure three minutes of gratification is motivation enough for that argument." Ronon growls a little at the tone, but Rodney's having none of it. "Look, just…be more discrete. And maybe postpone for a while. We don't remember it, but some of us might have…mates back home. Kids."

"Jenny doesn't. You don't. Sheppard doesn't," Ronon ticks off.

"Yes, fine, great. But if we go around kissing and-and-and…stuff, then other people will too. People who don't remember their lovers back home, and will regret it later if—if," he points to Ronon's opening mouth, "we remember. So no," he waves up and down at them, "for at least two weeks. A full month to try and regain our memories, and-and figure out how to do brain scans, isn't too much to ask for."

Ronon bares his teeth, but Jennifer punches him in the side. "He's right," she says with a tinge of sadness, face still red. "It's not that much to ask."

"It is for me," Ronon mumbles.

And Rodney remembers that report, the one dealing with who Ronon was, and how he'd seen his world, his race killed, been forced to run. Is it really fair for Rodney to take a relationship from him, whatever it is? He grimaces, his shoulders drooping. "Jennifer, you're sure-"

"Yeah. I mean, I can't find any proof that I was with anyone before, and I haven't been here that long." She looks up to Ronon, and the flush that crosses her face has nothing to do with embarrassment. "We may have jumped a little ahead, but I'm not really sure how to court. I mean, we can't do those things in the films we've seen."

Which is a good point. Rodney pinches the bridge of his nose. "All right, all right, fine. Just…behind locked doors. And wait two weeks before doing anything in public." He turns on his heel and hurries for the door.

"Thanks, McKay," Ronon yells as Rodney leaves. He can hear the grin in the voice, and makes sure the internal lock is activated before he steps outside. Just in case they decide to pick up where they left off. Hopefully they'll be discrete enough that no one else will pick up on what's going on. It's too early for people to be forming such intense relationships.

A thought that goes out the window when, five days later, he wakes up to John curled up behind him with his arms draped over his chest. It's the first full night's rest he's gotten in a while, the first night where John hasn't woken him because of a nightmare. He clumsily moves his arm so he can touch John's elbow. "John."

"S'nice." Warm breath that smells vaguely of algae gusts across Rodney's neck. The smell is more pungent than he's used to, and he gags just a little. He tries to ignore the way John seems to be…snuggling closer to him, too. "Warm."

"Yes, well, maybe it's time you returned to your own room? I mean, if you can sleep through the night." He absolutely ignores the way his body is reacting to having John right up against him. There's nothing in his journal entries that indicates he and John are anything more than best friends, and he's not about to betray that. Even if that isn't who they are now.

"Naw." John yawns, resting his chin against Rodney's shoulder. "Like it here."

"John," Rodney says slowly, with as much patience as he can, "wake up."

"M'wake, Rodney." Another yawn comes out right beside his ear, along with another gust of algae breath. "You…help."

"Help?"

"Touch." The arms squeeze him. "Kept the nightmares away."

"Well, as nice as that is, this is a little…when I said I'd help-"

The arms tighten a little more. "Please don't send me away," he whispers, voice just a notch above broken. "I just…need this. Please."

Rodney lets out a slow, long breath through his nose, and rubs his hand over John's arm. "All right. A little longer." He feels his stomach flip at John's relieved exhale and tries not to think too much about how dependent John is, or how nice it is to have his near-naked body up against his own.

He also tries to ignore the fact that more and more, he just can't say no to John.


He gets complacent with the status quo, which Rodney will admit is a mistake as alarms blare around the control room. They're in a war zone, and Rodney's gotten used to their insulated society, and it being untouched, ignoring the outside universe. They let their guard down—something he's sure Evan is cursing himself for—as they look at the two vessels in orbit on the screen. Evan got the shields up as soon as the alarm started, and Rodney made a city-wide announcement for civilians to go to their rooms, soldiers to get ready to fight, and command staff to get to the control room.

They're not ready for a confrontation, but like hell they're going down without a fight. "John, there's notes about a chair room, where you can sit down and fire weapons at ships in orbit."

"I know where it is." Ronon clasps John's shoulder, but Teyla stops them from leaving.

"I believe that is the Daedalus and the Apollo. They are both ships from your homeworld."

"We don't know what they're planning. And I don't care what they look like, this city is still in lock-down." Evan points to John and Ronon. "Get to this…chair. But don't fire anything. Yet."

Rodney has to say he agrees, despite Teyla's frown. "It looks like if you don't sit in it, you won't have to worry about accidentally setting anything off."

"Got it." John turns to Ronon. "Let's go."

They're just jogging out when the communications panel chimes. "Atlantis, this is Colonel Ellis of the Apollo. If you've got the Gateroom clear, Colonel Caldwell and I will beam down to discuss the situation. Please lower the shield."

Rodney exchanges a look with Evan, then touches the open channel crystal. "Colonel Ellis, this is Doctor Rodney McKay of the Atlantis expedition. I'm afraid we're under quarantine."

"McKay? Where's Colonel Carter?"

Evan activates the crystal next. "We don't answer to you, Apollo. We're under quarantine, and the shield will remain powered until we've determined who you are."

"Major Lorne, where—Major, a Colonel is of higher rank than a Major. You do answer to me, and to the SGC. I'm ordering you to lower the shields."

"Until we have confirmation of who you are and your intentions, that is a negative. We'll contact you within an hour." He waits a beat. "Any attempt to enter the city or disable our shields will be construed as a hostile action, and we will retaliate with deadly force."

"Major, Doctor-"

"We'll call you within an hour, Colonel," Rodney says, cuts the connection, and points to Miko, the scientist currently sitting at the scanner console. "Take a look at what we've got. Let's make sure they're from Earth."

"Rodney," Teyla says, a little exasperated, "they are."

"No offense," Evan says, "but I'm not just taking your word on it." He moves to stand by Miko and touches his radio. "Sheppard, you in the chair room?"

"Affirmative." There's a pause, then, "I just sit and then think about blowing the ships up, right?"

"That's what the instructions say," Rodney replies. "But don't do anything yet. And if we end up having to fight, don't use up all our ammo. We have a limited supply of the weapons."

"Got it. Just let me know what's going on."

"We will." Rodney looks at Evan, who's watching Miko's screen. "Well?"

"Advanced technology. Weapons, shields. And a lot of storage space." Miko runs her fingers over some of the crystals. "They appear to be carrying a lot of…food. And some data storage. No excessive amount of crew."

"Wouldn't need one if they planned to simply fire from orbit," Evan mutters, but he straightens up. "I don't like it."

Rodney takes in the data on the screen himself. "But," he adds.

"But," Evan sighs, "they match the descriptions of the ships from our missions."

Rodney nods, then looks to Teyla. "Will they try to do anything to the city? If they can transport people in, they can transport people out."

Teyla has a sour look on her face, but she shakes her head. "They may be upset, but they would not do anything to endanger this place, or its people."

Rodney weighs that, and the fact that Ronon's been commenting on how some supplies are depleting from the kitchen and, well, an influx of food might not be so bad. He nods at Evan. Evan nods back and starts deactivating the shield. Rodney takes a deep breath, and touches the crystal again. "Apollo, Colonel Ellis and Colonel Caldwell may come down. However, while we have a cure for the disease, we can't guarantee the safety of-"

Humming and a flash of light deposit two figures at the bottom of the stairs. For a minute Rodney thinks he's made a mistake, but then he sees the clear faceplates of the teal suits, and realizes that the colonels are in some sort of protective clothing. "Doctor McKay," the darker man states, "long-winded as usual. Where are Colonel Carter and Colonel Sheppard?" The voice sounds exactly like the one from the radio, so he deduces this is Colonel Ellis.

"Colonel Carter's-"

"They're both busy," Evan interjects, "making sure systems are running and that we have the ability to blow your ships out of the sky if you make any hostile gestures." He steps a little in front of Rodney. "Insulting Doctor McKay isn't a good way to win us over."

"We'd still like to know where the Colonels are, Major," the other man, Colonel Caldwell, Rodney guesses, says. "They weren't killed by the disease, I hope. The last transmission you sent said fatalities were a possible outcome."

"And why they aren't here to greet us," Ellis adds. "As senior officers, they should be present."

Evan narrows his eyes, but Rodney's not about to let a pissing contest happen in his…Gateroom. "There were no fatalities. The cure Teyla mentioned was successful in treatment." He clears his throat. "Unfortunately, none of our memories have returned." The narrow look Evan shoots him tells Rodney he didn't want that information revealed, but if these are their people, they have a right to know.

"That's why you haven't restored the Stargate," Caldwell says. "You don't know how."

"We've chosen to remain in lockdown," Evan replies evenly. "I thought it was safer, since we're not entirely equipped to handle this galaxy."

"You decided," Ellis says with obvious derision.

"It was a joint decision," Rodney chimes in. The venom in Ellis' eyes actually makes Rodney take a step back, but before he can say anything else, Evan has the stunner out and pointed at Ellis' head. "Major-"

"One more slight to Doctor McKay," Evan says levelly, "and you won't be conscious for the rest of this discussion."

"That's a court martial offense, Major."

Evan's aim doesn't waiver. "Without Doctor McKay's help, we wouldn't be doing as well as we are. So either show him the respect he's earned, or get out of my city."

"Abraham," Caldwell finally says, "just shut up this mission and watch your feet."

Teyla finally steps up from behind them all, still looking upset but trying to hide it as best she can. "Perhaps we should discuss things in the conference room."

"I don't think so," Evan says. "We lost our memories, but we're not going to die. Teyla and Ronon remember everything, but they're two amidst hundreds. We're not about to bow to an outside authority."

Caldwell puts his hands on his hips. "We're not asking you to, Major. We just…we were hoping to arrive and discover you'd cured yourselves. Or at least had some memory of who you were."

"We're just figuring out who we are now," Rodney says as he steps forward, putting a hand on Evan's arm. Evan peeks at him from the corner of his eye, then slowly lowers his weapon. "Some of us are relearning our skills. And some of us are…"

"Adapting," Teyla says, giving him a relieved look. "Quite well, actually. And others…not so much."

"So I take it you don't need, or want, evacuation," Caldwell asks.

Rodney can see Evan wants to raise his weapon again, but the man just tenses instead. "Thank you, but no. We could," he says carefully, "use some supplies. Some of our medicine's been depleted. And our food."

"Of course." The Colonel touches a device on his wrist. "Daedalus, Apollo, begin transport of supplies. At the landing pier."

"Confirmed."

"Major, would you send some marines to inspect and deliver the contents?" Evan nods and lowers his voice as he activates his radio. "Thank you," Rodney says to Caldwell. "So you brought supplies in two ships…because?"

"Worst case, we left them here and evacuated everyone back home. Best case, you'd be oversupplied for a while." Caldwell grimaces. "I guess this is a good medium."

"I guess so."

"We've also received orders to…restore Atlantis, as much as we can."

"No," Evan immediately says.

"I know you're paranoid, Major-"

"We're-"

"Hey!" Rodney yells. "Last I checked, I was in charge." Evan glowers, but backs down. To Caldwell, he says, "While it's a generous offer, until there's a way to restore memories too, I'm keeping us quarantined." He can tell that Ellis wants to say something, and is struggling to keep quiet. "The people of Pegasus are pretty well protected, but this virus is too prolific to risk sending it through the Stargate. We're not even sure your hazard suits are effective."

Caldwell huffs, but gives him an acknowledging nod. "One of us will remain in orbit, but the other needs to report back to Earth. And we'd like someone to accompany us."

"I just said-"

"We have stasis pods able to keep people quarantined. And the medical facilities back home have greater resources. They may find a way to unblock your memories."

"Venting the enchuri plant through your systems should immunize your crew," Teyla says. "At the very least, it will reduce the chance of the disease striking your people. Though I wouldn't recommend landing, in case it is not…entirely effective."

Caldwell nods. "So who would you send?"

Rodney frowns, not knowing the answer to that. "How long will it take to finish transporting down all the supplies?" he asks instead.

"About three hours from both ships."

"It'll take at least that long for my men to finish checking it over," Evan says tensely. "Make sure it's what they say it is. And you," he points to Ellis, "you will be the ship that returns to Earth."

Rodney sighs, but can't say he argues with Evan on that. "We need to discuss this. Figure out who to send. We'll contact you in…six hours. That should be long enough to check the cargo and flush the enchuri through your systems, right?"

"You're asking?" Caldwell says, surprised, then pulls himself together. "Right, sorry. I…yes, that sounds fair." He nods to Rodney, then Evan and Teyla. "We'll await your call." He touches his wrist again. "Apollo, we're ready for pick-up." Another flash of light, and the tension in the room diminishes tenfold.

Rodney shuts his eyes, takes a deep breath, and turns to Evan. "Thank you for the defense, but in the future-"

"You represent Atlantis. By insulting you, he was insulting us all."

Which is flattering, but, "Next time, let's not exacerbate the problem."

"I'm not going to say sorry-"

"In this case, Major," Rodney snaps, "you say 'yes sir', because this is an order."

Evan grinds his teeth, but he gives a sharp nod. "Yes sir."

Rodney nods back. "Now check on the cargo. Start distribution right after scanning. Then gather the senior group." Evan salutes and goes to execute the orders. Rodney knows there's going to be some fallout from this, but it had to be done. He turns his attention to Teyla. "Thank you, for trying to be a peacemaker."

The sour look is back on her face. It makes Rodney feel vaguely guilty. "I wished the situation could have been handled differently."

"I know, me too." He lets out a sigh, then nods up the stairs. "You should tell Jennifer to send the rest of the enchuri to the ships. Give the Colonels the antidote just in case. Then get a list of the manifest and join me in the conference room. We need to figure out who we're sending back." He shuts his eyes for a minute, dreading having to do that.

So he's surprised when two hands clasp his head and his eyes snap open in time to see Teyla's head leaning towards his. Their foreheads touch, and then she's letting him go. "Um, thanks?"

"You are a good leader. Never forget that." She steps back and heads for the transporter, sporting a small smile.

Rodney stares after her, and then his radio clicks to life. "Um, guys?" John's voice says in his ear. "Someone want to tell us if we're shooting or not? Ronon's starting to get hungry."


They're down to twelve candidates, most of whom haven't assimilated and keep suffering attacks of not being on Earth, when Samantha shakes her head. "We can't send any of them."

"They're not exactly much use here," Evan spits out. The two ships in orbit are keeping him on edge in a way eerily similar to the time just after they were cured.

"Not everyone can adjust as well you, Major." Jennifer bites back, glowering.

"Maybe if I had someone to f-"

"Whoa!" Rodney shouts. "Enough! We've got fifteen minutes and I'm not going to have you two arguing! If you can't be together I'll confine you both!" The intensity of their glares diminishes, but Rodney can feel the tension still simmering in the atmosphere. "Samantha, why can't we send them?"

She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. "They're all suffering from attacks. While being on Earth may help them, the trip back could exacerbate the problem. It may even leave them unable to assist in finding a cure once they get there." She pushes the tablet away from her. "We're looking at this wrong. We need to send someone healthy, someone who can contribute to examining the memory problem."

"Doctor Keller's pretty intimate with the case," Evan says levelly, not breaking eye-contact with Jennifer.

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" she snarls.

"And it's irrelevant. We need her. She's the closest thing we've got to a doctor. Unless you want to invite medical staff down from one of the ships." Evan finally sits back, seething, but gives Rodney a look that says 'no way' to that. "Maybe one of the nurses."

"I was thinking more along the lines of me," Samantha interrupts. Silence meets her pronouncement. "I'm apparently very familiar with the SGC. I've been there longer than everyone else. Maybe I'll recognize something there."

"It's generous, but we need you here," Rodney says carefully. "You're our expert on the generators. And we're still trying to fix the Stargate."

"I'm also the leader of this expedition." She folds her hands together on the table. "You're in charge now, but…I can't ask any of you to take a treatment that I haven't taken myself."

"You think I don't feel-"

"She's right," Evan interrupts Rodney. "There's no way in hell I'm letting you take on that responsibility. As the original leader, the responsibility lies with her."

"Nice to know you'd throw me to the wolves, Major," John says from his slouch, still looking over his tablet.

Evan makes an undecipherable noise from his throat. "No offense, sir, but it's a different scenario. You…I wouldn't ask that of you."

"Just of our civilians."

"Colonel Carter isn't a civilian," Evan says levelly.

Rodney turns to Teyla, but like Ronon, she's being very careful to mask her feelings. "What do you think?"

She remains silent for a minute, then shakes her head. "It is not a decision to take lightly." Which is absolutely no help. "However, we now have experts in orbit. And the SGC will treat Colonel Carter with the utmost respect, no matter what she remembers."

"And you can't say that for anyone else on this expedition," Rodney probes.

"I…cannot. Your world attributes strange value to some persons." She exchanges a knowing glance with Ronon that unsettles Rodney's stomach. What kind of crap, he wonders, did the SGC put them through? "I believe Samantha may be the safest choice, as well as the best candidate."

Evan shuts down his computer with a jerk of his thumb. "I'm not exactly liking this SGC. First they send someone who despises McKay, and now they don't treat us with the same respect as their own people."

"Or we're getting a skewed perspective." He gives Teyla an apologetic glance. "You are, technically, aliens. Maybe you see things through a different light, but we…understand the value system." She bows her head, but by the look in her eyes, he can tell she doesn't believe him. He turns back to Samantha. "You're sure you want to do this?"

"I think it's what's best." She smiles warmly. "Radek can take care of the generators for a while." Rodney remembers walking in on them a few nights ago, the two of them discussing ways to increase power flow efficiency while scanning crystals, trying to discover the one that would fix the Stargate. Radek vanished shortly after Rodney's arrival, but obviously, they've been partners in the lab for at least a week.

Of course, considering Radek's recent history, he won't be pleased with soldiers taking Samantha away. Even if it is to find a cure. "Any objections?" is what he asks the group. John looks like he's about to raise his hand, but after looking around the room, just shifts in his seat. "All right. I'll radio the Apollo. They said they have quarantine arrangements to transport you into." He stands up to dismiss the meeting.

She leans over to give him a hug. "I'll see you when I get back, Rodney."

Rodney just hopes she's coming back. The SGC may be their employers, but Evan's right, they haven't made themselves very amiable since arriving, other than bringing supplies. Add in Teyla's observations, and he doesn't feel comfortable letting Samantha go, wouldn't feel good letting anyone go back to Earth.

He isn't the only one who feels that way, he finds out that night. "You know, I'm pretty sure we talked about you returning to your own room over a week ago."

John won't be swayed, even as he's getting undressed to climb into Rodney's bed. "I don't trust them, Rodney. I don't feel right letting any of our people go back to this Earth." He throws his shirt to the ground. "This is home. If they want to run scans, to try and cure us, they should do it here."

Rodney sighs and sits against his headboard, arms crossed. "There's no real hostility between this expedition and the SGC. None in the reports that I can find. And we have to extend some sort of olive branch, something to keep them from storming the place."

"We have shields-"

"And limited power to run them." Rodney grabs John's arm as he tries to balance while kicking off his pants. "What's this about? You…we all knew we couldn't stay in our isolated little world."

John jerks around and gives him an intense stare. "Did we? Did we really?"

Rodney feels his shoulders droop. "Fine. So none of us were ready for this."

John grunts, climbs over Rodney, and settles next to him, also leaning against the headboard. "Maybe I don't want to rejoin the universe." He glances at Rodney out of the corner of his eye. "Do you think they'll let us opt-out of any treatment they come up with?"

"Why would we want-" Rodney pauses, notes the tension in John's back. "John," he reaches out to touch his shoulder, "you do want to remember, right?"

John shrugs the hand off. "Maybe I don't."

"You can't be-"

"I don't like who I was! I couldn't even get through the reports!" He lets out a shuddering breath. "I don't want to go back, Rodney. I like not having the guilt of all those deaths, of not having to worry about everyone's well-being." His gaze moves to the window. "Would you even let me stay here if I didn't need your help?"

"You don't need my help. You can sleep fine through the night. You just like-" Rodney shut his mouth with an audible click. "John, things won't change just because we get our memories back." At John's skeptical look, Rodney ducks his head. "Okay, yes, so I'll go back to working in the lab and you'll go back to being the head of the military. But," he waves his hand between them, "we won't change. We'll still be best friends."

"Well maybe I want more than best friends." John flings his arm towards the door. "Ronon and I are best friends, and he made me sleep on the floor. But you," he punches the mattress lightly, "you just bring me in the bed. You let me roll against you and you haven't kicked me out-"

"Not for lack of trying," Rodney points out.

"-and maybe I've been trying to tell you I feel…something." His ears turn red at that. "And if we get our memories back, if you remember you and I remember me, then this, all of this could go away because that's not who we were. Not what we did. And I—I don't want that. I like this," he says fiercely. "I don't want it to vanish."

Rodney lets John's breathing calm down a little, rubbing the spot between the man's shoulder blades. "You feel something?"

John's ears positively glow, and he shoots Rodney a narrow look. "The nightmares have been gone for four days. And I keep hugging you at night. And I brought you that jell-o stuff you like."

And, okay, Rodney admits that he can be a little oblivious—he totally didn't see the Ronon and Jennifer thing coming—but even he should've picked up on this. It's not like his own body wasn't sending him messages. "I was trying to do the honorable thing. Not take advantage of you while you were vulnerable."

"I'm past it, Rodney." John shifts a little closer to him. "So does this mean you don't…that we could do what Ronon and Jennifer get up to?"

Rodney let his head fall against the headboard. "Does everyone know about them?"

"Yeah. Ronon's sort of a screamer."

"Way too much information." Rodney looks towards the ceiling for a minute, then lets his arm fall from behind John's back to land on his leg. "I can't deny that I've thought-" John cuts him off by rolling over and kissing him. Forceful, but the fingers on his cheek are hesitant, just barely stroking him. John keeps them like that for a minute, two, and then he pulls away, just a bit. "You might regret it. Later."

John smiles, brilliant and warm and practically straddles Rodney to get better access for their next kiss. "No, I'm not," a brief kiss, "I'm not taking any cure they find. I'm not losing this. Not for that…that guy I was before."

Rodney wants to argue, but instead he sighs, wrapping his hands around John's neck. He should be better than this, above it, but it's John, and he's just not good at denying him anything. Even the right to destroy his past identity.


The Daedalus stays in synchronous orbit, doing daily check-ins, and sending polite inquiries about everyone's condition and what they're learning now. Rodney figures there's no harm in that, save for filtering out any private proclivities. It's not the SGC's business who he or Jennifer or anyone has sex with. Evan agrees with him, his eyes straying to both Miko and Chuck as he says so.

Really, really oblivious. John just laughs when Rodney tells him that night, before they discover how good it can feel having someone's mouth around their dick.

Radek has taken over Samantha's role in the labs, though in a unique method of running things. Rather than working with the scientists, he seems to come out at night, continue his work with the crystals and the generators, then leaves notes around the entire lab for the day shift. It's unorthodox, but the one time Rodney sees Radek, the man appears unhappy, and shoots him a disgusted look.

The next day, Rodney receives an email that says: "There were other choices." Rodney would email back his reasons and logic, but decides to just leave it. It's a true statement. Samantha volunteered, but Rodney didn't have to let her go. Didn't have to let anyone go. Except that there's a part of him, deep down, that does want the cure. He doesn't miss who he was, not so much, but he and the rest of the expedition are living half an existence. Sitting watching films trying to understand their own society isn't life. Nor is barely comprehending the city they call home.

It was for the best, he tells himself every day, mentally counting the days Samantha's been gone. It's a three week journey from Pegasus to Earth. At the earliest they'll hear something in six, seven weeks. Which John thinks isn't nearly long enough, but Rodney thinks will leave his insides chewed up and twisted.

So he's both excited and terrified when, three weeks in, the Apollo exits hyperspace and takes up orbit beside the Daedalus. "Colonel Caldwell, is everything okay?" Rodney radios up to the ships. Did something happen to Samantha? is there in his tone, but he doesn't want to say it over the radio.

"Everything's fine Doctor McKay. Colonel Carter wants to transport down with Doctor Jackson and Colonel Mitchell. They have the cure."

Rodney feels John stiffen at the pronouncement, but ignores it. "Go ahead and send them to the…Gateroom."

Hum, light, and there's Samantha, smiling. Under one arm is an innocuous square box, and she waves as she spots them. Rodney waves back, and looks over the other two men with her. He's guessing the one with glasses is Doctor Jackson, since he's looking around the place whereas the other man seems to be doing more of a threat assessment. "That was a short trip."

Samantha laughs and starts up the stairs. "The Apollo brought me to the Midway station, and I took the Stargate to Earth. Cut the whole trip in half." She looks around the control room. "Looks like you've managed to keep things running pretty smoothly." She slaps him on the shoulder. "Thanks, Rodney. I couldn't have done it without you."

"Yes, well…you're welcome. I hope I lived up to your expectations." Samantha looks more professional. Dressed in the full uniform, jacket on and zipped up, hair tucked into a bun, and her face…she looks older, far older than she did from when she left. She's giving him an affectionate look, but not the adoring, friendly one she's had for weeks now.

"So you found an antidote?" John tries for nonchalant, but Rodney's pretty sure everyone picks up on how uncomfortable he is asking.

"Actually," Doctor Jackson says, bounding up beside Samantha, "the disease creates a buildup of chemicals similar to a pesticide we encountered about seven years ago." He tilts his head to look at the screens behind them. "Huh. You're looking through the cultural database?"

Evan moves to block Jackson's view. "You encountered this disease before?"

Samantha shakes her head. "Not quite, Major. Dargol, which is what the chemical was called, built up in the natives' minds, and blocked their ability to remember, though they could form new memories."

Jennifer, catching the tail end of the statement as she approaches, nods. "That sounds familiar."

"So when they examined my brain, they found a similar chemical buildup. One injection later, and a massive headache, it all came back."

"One shot, huh," Evan says. "So that's one day. Maybe two. What kept you?"

She shakes the box at him. "Had to develop a way to deliver the solvent by air. I install this into the air filtration system using the program Rodney developed to deliver the last cure, and we should all be back to normal by the end of the day."

Rodney nods, keeping an eye on Colonel Mitchell, who's now walking circles in front of the Stargate. "That's great news Samantha. However, we have a…" He hesitates, deliberately not looking at John, "There are some who have expressed an interest in not receiving the treatment."

Despite his avoidance, Samantha's gaze zeroes in on John. Obviously she's retained her memory of the last few weeks. "Well, I'm sure we could discuss…alternatives. But I'd like to get to work as soon as possible. The faster we all remember, the faster we can catch up with the galaxy."

He nods again. "Major Lorne, why don't you escort Samantha, Doctor Jackson and the Colonel to the infirmary. Jennifer should look over the cure." Jennifer nods and holds out her hand for the gray box. "I'll talk with…those that might not want the treatment. In private." The look Samantha gives him tells him she knows there's only one hold out. "We'll be fast, I promise."

"All right." She looks over her shoulder, and Mitchell jogs up to them. "Just let me know when you're ready for me to start." She touches his arm, and then the whole group leaves.

Rodney waits until they're at the transporter before looking at John. "Can you have those people I was talking about meet in Evan's old office in five minutes?"

"No problem." John doesn't look at Rodney's face as he heads down the stairs towards the hallway, to take the long way to the office.

Rodney sighs, then touches his radio. "Evan?"

"Lorne here."

He takes a deep breath. John'll probably hate him forever for this. "If Jennifer clears the treatment, have Samantha install and distribute it."

There's a heavy silence on the other end of the line. "What about those people you were talking about?"

"It's the right thing." He waits a beat. "Executive decision, on behalf of the whole expedition. Get your marines to round everyone up and get them to their rooms. Let's have them wake up in familiar surroundings."

"Understood, sir." The line goes dead for a moment. "In case I don't say it later, you were a good expedition head."

"And you were an excellent military leader." He deactivates his radio and turns around. "Chuck, Miko. No one else is to be in the control room for a few hours. You two hold down the fort." Chuck nods. Miko, ever the professional, gives him a thumbs up without looking up from her screen. Taking a deep breath, Rodney walks towards the Major's ex-office.

John is leaning back against the desk, palms flat against the surface, when Rodney gets there. "I can wear one of those hazard suits." Rodney slides his hand over the door controls and makes sure to lock them. "Rodney, I'm not taking the antidote." Rodney strides forward. "I don't want-" He grabs John's shirt and pulls him forward for a demanding kiss.

Even with her diminished knowledge, Rodney estimates Jennifer will clear Samantha's cure within an hour. Two at the outside. With the program already within the system, it won't take more than twenty minutes for Samantha to install the solvent and get it dispensed throughout the city. He's going to take one last moment with John, before it's over, before he's cured and hates Rodney either for letting this thing happen between them, or for lying and curing him when he didn't want it.

"Rodney," John pants, "we—I need to-"

"Jennifer's going to take at least three hours. I want—we'll figure it out after-"

"Okay, yes, yes." And then John's fumbling with the buttons on Rodney's pants and Rodney ignores the guilty part of his mind telling him this is wrong.

It's for his own good, he tells himself. It has to be done.

Forty minutes later, they're both lying on the floor, John wrapped around Rodney, their pants tangled around their ankles and Rodney's shirt is definitely not public presentable now. He rubs his hand back and forth across John's knuckles, his stomach gnawing with more than hunger. "That was good," John says snuffling into his neck.

"I'm glad."

"I," John lets out a heavy breath, "I don't want the cure. Don't make me lose this, Rodney." Rodney feels himself stiffen up, then slowly extricates himself from John's grasp. "Rodney? I didn't…what? Why are you-"

"I radioed Evan. Samantha should have the antidote hooked up and venting the system by now." A small lie, but a necessary one.

"You what?!" John's tone is half angry, half terrified. "I told you-"

"They never would've let you remain," he blurts. "If you…you're useless, as you are." He catches a flash of hurt cross John's face. "That's not—not to me! John, you're…you're something." He swallows. "But if you don't remember who you are, they would insist that you leave. You're…they'd call you a drain on resources."

"So you just decided what was best for me. Because you know what's best for everyone." He yanks up his pants. "Well thanks a lot. I thought what we had-"

Rodney pulls his own clothes back on. "I'm being selfish, okay!" John stills at that. "I don't want you to go. And I know—I know, John—that they'd take you away. And I…didn't want you to go."

"So this was, what, goodbye sex? A stalling tactic?" John scowls at him. "It was, wasn't it. You son of a-"

"I'm in charge of everyone's wellbeing, and that includes you," Rodney says miserably. "Even if it means you don't like my choices."

"I could just leave. Just because I remember doesn't mean I'll want to stay here with someone who-who lied and used our," he waves between them, "to keep me occupied and give me medication against my will."

Rodney sucks in a breath. "I'm betting that you won't." He glances up from under his eyelashes. "You love this city. You won't leave."

"That's a big gamble."

Rodney steps forward, heading for the desk. "I'm hoping you'll forgive me when you remember."

John lets out a truly ugly snort. "Go drink some orange juice." He slams his shoulder against Rodney on his way to the door.

Rodney moves behind the desk and pulls open a drawer as John deactivates the lock. "I'm really sorry, John."

John doesn't even look back. "Drop dead," he says into the hallway.

Hating himself a little more, Rodney pulls out Evan's emergency stunner and shoots John. The man lets out a strangled sound before collapsing face first on the floor. Putting it away, Rodney goes across the room and, grabbing John's feet, drags him back into the office. He tries to make him comfortable, then he leaves the office and touches his radio. "Major, how's it going?"

"Jennifer just cleared the antidote. Colonel Carter should have it dispensed in another thirty."

"All right. Tell your men to get comfortable and wait for the antidote to kick in."

"Will do." A hesitation. "Are you all right? You sound a little…"

"I'll be fine." He sucks in a deep breath. "But avoid your previous office. Colonel Sheppard is…not happy with what's going to happen."

"I see." And on some level, Evan probably does. "Will you be there?"

"No. I'm going to my lab. Teyla told me I was most familiar with it. I figure it'll be the most comfortable place for me to…remember."

"All right. Talk to you in an hour or two, sir."

"Bye, Evan." He deactivates his radio and walks to the transporter. Somehow, even knowing he's the cause, Rodney's not entirely thrilled to be regaining his memories. He has a feeling that what he's losing now will hurt him as much as it was losing his memories the first time. "Blank slates," he mutters to the map of Atlantis in the transporter, then presses his destination.


It doesn't come back in a flood, or flash, or in any dramatic form that Rodney witnessed in the movies they've seen in the last few weeks. He's looking at the white board, at one of Radek's unfinished power equations, and decides to finish it. And then he sees an error in one of the other equations, and before he knows it, he's sitting in front of three computer screens and running simulations and power differentials before it hits him: he knows this stuff. He remembers this stuff.

And now that he knows he's cured, he flips through his memories, reviewing math and astrophysics and the Ancient alphabet and can't keep the stupid grin off his face. Before, remembering was so mundane, so simple for him to do. But now, now it's complicated and beautiful and he plans to spend at least an hour every day appreciating the recall function in his brain. It's almost enough for him to believe in a God, if aliens hadn't already blown that theory out of the water.

And then Doctor Jackson—Daniel! His name is Daniel! And he didn't have to tell you!—sticks his head in and Rodney points at him and says, "Get the hell out of my lab and start translating those noted files relating to zero point energy! I've got six weeks of maintenance to catch up on!"

Daniel rolls his eyes and yells, "Yeah, he's back to normal," before jogging down the hall. Rodney ignores him and starts system checks. Database integrity, waste system efficiency, power consumption…six, almost seven weeks of winging it just isn't good enough. He starts a list on his tablet, what needs working on most importantly, which scientists to assign. There's just so much to do.

Which means it takes Lorne nearly five minutes to grab his attention. "-don't want to repeat the hallway, but I will if I have to. Doc?"

"Yes, what? Who? Major." Rodney squints at him. "Did you just reference what we-" his cheeks start glowing. "Right, so, um. We're okay with that, right?"

Lorne shuffles his feet. "Yeah. No problem, Doc. Circumstances and stuff."

"Yes, so articulate. I'm glad they teach things like communication in the military." Lorne snorts at him. "So what do you want?"

"Colonel Carter's sending senior staff to bed."

"What?! Forget it. There's too much-"

"That can wait for tomorrow. Her words. She knows you've been down here working for the past few hours. She wants you fully awake for the status meeting later today."

"What today? It's only-" Lorne holds up his chronometer, "-two. Right." He looks at the computer screens. "I guess it can wait until tomorrow afternoon."

"It's an evening meeting." He shrugs. "I think she thinks we worked a little hard, wants to give us a chance to recuperate."

"I guess a little sleep isn't a bad idea." His stomach rumbles, so he pulls a power bar from his desk. "Any problems?"

Lorne shakes his head. "Everyone that was having attacks calmed down after they remembered. No adverse reactions, no regression. SG-1 saved the day again."

Rodney snorts and shuts down the systems as he takes a bite of the bar. "I'd say we were pretty instrumental in saving this place. SG-1 just gets the glory."

"We did make a good team, didn't we."

"Once we got past all that awkwardness. Oh, in case I didn't say it, thanks for threatening Ellis."

Lorne winces. "Yeah. He's still pissed about that."

"Let him be. If I remembered then what I remember now…"

"Yeah, yeah." Lorne waits until Rodney's almost out the door before saying, "So, have you seen the Colonel yet?"

Rodney feels his spine stiffen. "Not yet."

"Funny thing, someone stunned him in his office. And he won't say who that someone is or why they did it."

"Yes, very funny, ha ha." Rodney waits until they're in the hallway. "You seen Chuck or Miko yet?"

Lorne's neck flushes red. "You play dirty, Doc."

"You don't win by following the rules. Not in this galaxy." He hesitates, then slaps Lorne on the back. "Good work, Major. I'll see you at tomorrow's meeting."

"You too, Doc. And thanks," he moves his shoulders in a semi-shrug, "for everything you did. Atlantis wasn't bad under you."

Rodney wants to say something smug, something about how it was obvious how good things could be under him. Except it's not obvious, and now that he remembers who he is, he can see where he would've gone wrong, what personnel disasters he would've made. Because he was stripped of who he was, he made a good leader. It's not the most comforting thought in the world, but he gives Lorne a crooked smile nonetheless. "It wasn't, was it."

Lorne gives him a brief salute, then turns and walks away as the transporter doors close on Rodney. He's always known he wasn't the most…charismatic leader, or even the best person for the job diplomatically. But he got things done. Now he knows he can get the same results without the bite.

Unsettling doesn't even begin to cover his feelings. He sighs and pushes the location for his quarters, wishing that Heightmeyer was still here, or at least that the SGC had been thoughtful enough to send the replacement along with Sam and Daniel. There's a lot he'd like to talk about with someone, mental observations he now can't help making of his success over the last few months, and the successes of his life.

"Or," he mutters as he opens the door to his room, "about how disorienting this moment is." He remembers exactly what his room should look like, with the books and the hanging diplomas and the unmade bed with pristine white sheets. He also remembers that he made the room sterile, with his diplomas packed away and his books turned around and his unwashed filthy sheets tucked down with hospital corners.

Rodney knows for a fact he didn't make it, but that's a thought he's just…pushing out of his mind for the moment. He's not going to get any sleep if he keeps reflecting on his time as an amnesiac. Actually, he decides, he won't get any sleep until he pulls out his picture of Starbuck. The one of Jeannie and Madison can wait for tomorrow, and even his diplomas, but he had the cat for almost twenty years, and it's a face he's used to waking up to in the morning.

Until recently, his treacherous mind reminds him, but he quashes that voice, digs out the picture from the closet, and gets ready to sleep. There's a part of him looking forward to his dreams making sense again.


A knock on the door rouses Rodney from his slumber. A loud knock. He glares at his clock, revealing it's only 3:30 in the morning. "What simpleton knocks when there's a chime?" he grumbles as he sits up, only to let out an unmanly yelp as he realizes the knock came from inside the room. From John, who's looking sheepish, shy, and a bit ill, his fist resting against the metal door.

It takes a lot for Rodney not to yank up the sheet and cover his chest, even though he's wearing a shirt. Sometimes his mind is just…irrational. Especially when it comes to Sheppard—John… "God damn it," he hisses. This isn't going to be easy. All the emotional walls are back.

John takes a step forward, stops, stares, then bounces his arm limply against his side, his knocking fist unclenching, then clenching again. Rodney tries to meet his eyes, but he's not having much success. Partly because John is evading his look, and party because Rodney himself is afraid to make full contact. He's not sure if it's because of what he'll see…or what he won't.

John finally clears his throat. "I, uh, left my clothes here." He's staring very hard at the open bathroom door, ears flushing in the moonlight.

Right. That time in the tub where Rodney…well, aquatic blowjobs wasn't one of his better ideas, in terms of executing a plan in real life, but it certainly was creative. Rodney feels his face heat up. "Right, um, but not all of them?"

"And my toothbrush," John continues, this time staring at the wall next to the bathroom door.

Rodney finally settles on staring at John's neck. "Uh huh." It's a good neck. Warm and pleasant, and susceptible to being ticklish when a tongue is applied. He's pretty sure his entire chest is blushing now.

John takes a deep breath. "And, uh, my favorite pillow."

Rodney shuts his eyes and reaches up to rub them with the heels of his hands. This is…he's not sure what this is. "Sheppard-"

"I liked it when you called me John."

Rodney takes his hands away and blinks, finally making eye contact with Shep—John. The blush has spread from the man's ears and down the sides of his face. "I…okay. I can call you John."

John rocks back on his heels and lets out something between a laugh and a desperate cry. "That's not—I'm not—God," he spins on his foot and takes one step towards the wall, his right hand reaching up to rub at the back of his head while his left knocks on the door once. He turns around again and takes five swift steps forward so he's looming over Rodney.

Rodney tilts his head back so he can maintain visual contact. He juts out his chin out of habit, like when he's trying to stare down Ronon.

John's arms fall to the side again. "I suck at this."

There's only two ways to respond to that in Rodney's mind, so he goes with the honest one. "Yes, you do."

That gets a chuckle out of John, and then the man is sitting on the edge of the bed, elbows on knees and face in his hands. "This is why I got divorced. Communication issues."

"I always thought you were more of an 'actions speak louder' man, myself," Rodney states after a minute. It's the most honest answer he can give. He'll call John out about the whole 'married' thing when he isn't running on less than two hours of sleep.

John glances at him from the corner of his eye, then straightens his back and takes a deep, confident breath. "Right, then." Before Rodney can move, John practically leaps at him, and presses their lips together in a very, very familiar way.

Rodney blinks once, twice, then shuts his eyes and kisses John back because…well, because it's good. What they had was good. And if John's willing to kiss him now, after what he did to him earlier…

John breaks it off before either of them are out of breath, and Rodney feels a bit of smug satisfaction that John's flushing as much as Rodney feels he is. "It was, this was," he moves his hand between their two torsos, eyebrows twitching slightly as he tries to spit something out. His shoulders slump for a moment, and then he brightens a bit and says, "You were my Doctor."

It's the most sincere and utterly pathetic declaration of love Rodney's ever heard, and since he's made most of those declarations in his life, he thinks that's saying something. He gives John some points for tapping into his geek side, but really they could do better. They did do better, back when they didn't remember anything. Back when they were both just blank slates, with no emotional hang-ups or baggage lurking around the corner.

Which is probably why he just rolls his eyes in response and wraps his hand around John's neck, muttering, "Kirk" just before pulling John down with him for some serious make-out time.


"It would've been embarrassing," Rodney croaks out the next morning, "if you hadn't fallen asleep before me." John laughs low and soft, one arm around Rodney's waist, their legs intertwined. It'd be far more romantic, in Rodney's opinion, if they were A, both under the sheet and B, not clothed. As it stands, he's pretty sure they're ridiculously tangled in his sheets.

"Next time," John says, nuzzling Rodney's neck, "we should try and do more than kiss."

"Next time," Rodney says as he tilts his head to the side, "we won't be desperate for sleep and fail to stay awake for more than five minutes after we hit the bed."

John hums, then pulls back. "Probably wishful thinking."

Thinking of the Wraith, and Asurans, and the insane people in both galaxies, Rodney lets out a sigh. "Yeah, probably."

John shifts his hips in a meaningful way. "We have some time now." He's wearing a sexy grin, but there's a hint of bashfulness in the way he ducks his head and looks at Rodney through his lashes.

"Well," Rodney glances over John to peek at the clock, "Jesus!" He practically shoves John off the mattress as he struggles to get out of the sheets. "We have a meeting in twenty minutes!"

Clinging to the mattress edge, John tries to waggle his eyebrows. "I think we're good enough to have ten minutes to spare-"

Rodney doesn't even need to look to know his pillow hit the mark. Not with the satisfying thump John makes as he falls to the floor.

John doesn't stop by his quarters, which means he's still wearing wrinkled, slightly smelly clothes as they walk through the halls. Rodney would worry about it, but about half the population is in a similarly rumpled state. The laundry machines were never high on our priorities. Considering how clothes were traded over the last couple months, he's willing to bet there'll be a few embarrassing give-backs happening over the next week or so.

John brushes his shoulder against Rodney's, and smirks at him as they go up the stairs past the control room. Four marines are trying to get Lorne's desk out of Carter's office, and Chuck is just scratching his head, like he doesn't remember how he got it in there in the first place. Rodney feels his own mouth curl up in a grin, and he wonders how he never realized they had this. They've always had this.

John just cocks his head, like he knows exactly what he's thinking, and offers him a little shrug. "I never saw it either."

Rodney just rolls his eyes as he takes his usual seat to the right of the head of the table. "We're both idiots." John takes the chair right next to him, eyebrows raised. "What? I may be a genius, but not when it comes to…" He waggles his fingers a bit, trying to admit his flaw without actually saying it. But he knows John gets it, and John scoots his chair closer so their shoulders are touching once again.

Rodney lets out a contented sigh and opens his laptop. They're still about five minutes early, and even Sam hasn't shown up yet. He runs his fingers over the keys, rememorizing the texture, the pressure, even the sound of them. He's missed computers. He's missed math. Hell, he's missed everything about his job. Nonetheless, he can't help but give the unofficial command chair a wistful glance.

"You weren't bad," John says softly, tone honest. "Maybe one of the best under pressure I've had."

Rodney glances at him out of the corner of his eye. "You didn't mind patrolling? Giving it all up to Lorne?"

John shifts in his chair, as if he's uncomfortable, but his foot rubs against Rodney's. "You took care of us. Of me." He ducks his head, ears starting to flush. "You knew what I needed. It was…" He struggles a bit, as if he's choking on his next words.

They really are terrible at this, Rodney thinks. Really, really terrible. It makes them sort of perfect for each other.

John finally sighs, leaning back in his seat. "Not having any responsibilities felt good," he lets out almost quietly. His eyes are downcast, and to Rodney it looks like John is being weighed down by the guilt of his admission.

Rodney opens his mouth to tell him he's a moron and that he deserves a break like everyone else, but that's when Ronon, Sam, and everyone else arrive. Sam and Lorne look surprised to see them early, and Rodney shuts his mouth so that he can give them a sufficient glare at their presumption. He has learned a thing or two after his time in command. Having now dealt with tardiness in meetings, he's going to try and be more punctual, even if half of them are a waste of his very valuable time.

Teyla looks vibrant, as if she has a little glow, despite the trepidation in her eyes. Pregnancy is good for her, but Rodney makes a mental note to up his priorities from city maintenance to getting the Stargate up and running again. She needs to see her people as soon as possible.

Ronon and Keller are sitting together at the table, which is a major change in positioning. Usually medical sits farther down from them, but obviously getting their memories back hasn't affected their relationship. It does cause Rodney a moment to think back to worrying about Katie Brown, and wonder if he should check on her. Except she and Parrish got together about two weeks ago, and she hasn't sought him out despite the restoration of their memories.

Rodney isn't really inclined to give up what he now has, either. Still, he should at least send her an email, though maybe a quick visit to botany would be better. That way Teyla won't give him disappointed stares when she finds out. And she would find out. There's nothing on the gossip mill that escapes her notice, and he still doesn't know how.

Radek looks…well, either he didn't get Carter's edict to go to sleep last night, or he got stuck in a ventilation shaft. Or perhaps he slept in a ventilation shaft. Considering his hiding capabilities, Rodney wouldn't dismiss that scenario. As if he can sense Rodney's thoughts, Radek gives him a dirty glare, one that promises stealing of coffee and not filtering out idiotic project requests. Rodney just snorts silently. He can handle anything the Czech can dish out.

Sam looks as if she'd never lost her memory, never gave up the command of the city. She's looking from her tablet to Lorne, who's standing over her shoulder, talking quietly. When they notice Rodney watching, Sam just smiles brightly and Lorne takes his seat. He looks a little wistful, but a quick glance to Sheppard has him putting on his 'I'm a good little soldier' face. Rodney nudges John's foot at causing that, and John nudges back. For some reason, it makes Rodney flush, and he ducks his head, even as he feels John's smirk.

"Well, I hope everyone got a good night's rest," Sam starts out with. Zelenka glowers and Jennifer turns bright red as Ronon just sits back and grins, but otherwise there's a lot of nods at the question. Rodney goes through the lab checklist on his tablet he started last night. "Good. First off, Rodney, I'd like to thank you for," she clears her throat, "well, everything."

Rodney spends a moment preening, but only a moment. "It wasn't just me." He makes eye contact with Lorne, then looks around the room. "I just…helped hold things together." They all give him incredulous looks at the declaration, especially Zelenka. Rodney bristles. "What, I can't grow and learn from this? I'm the smartest man in two galaxies! I can learn to be humble and share credit!" He kicks Sheppard when he sees the man holding back a laugh.

Teyla offers him a smile. "We are just proud of how well you dealt with the situation, Rodney. And that you have gained something positive from the experience."

"We all did," Lorne says seriously, "at least, we all learned something about ourselves when all the other…stuff is stripped away."

He won't meet anyone's eyes at that. Jennifer looks a little guilty, undoubtedly recalling their first days without memories. Rodney glances around, and catches that everyone is thinking back to then, to what they were like. Even Teyla seems a little lost. Only Ronon meets his gaze, shrugging about it all. He'd probably learned all he wanted about himself from years on the run from the Wraith.

Sam finally clears her throat. "No one blames you, Major. You were…we were all coping as best we could." She pointedly doesn't look at John as she says it. "Rodney, were there any issues with those who…didn't want to receive the treatment?"

Rodney tenses, because he and John hadn't discussed that, hadn't even really referenced it. He'd basically shoved pills down Sheppard's throat, forced him to take medication. As a Canadian he should be horrified, even the US's backwards moral stance didn't approve of that. He'd drugged John for his own selfish reasons, and with the spotlight on him, he finds himself struggling to answer.

"He was able to talk them out of it," John says nonchalantly. "He made them understand that they'd be sent back to Earth, unable to remain here. And forced between a world they couldn't remember and a city they at least recognized…" He shrugs, slinking down in his chair. "They weren't happy, but when their memories returned they…if they could, they'd thank them."

Rodney stares at John, who under the table reaches over and squeezes his knee. After a moment of silence, the squeeze turns into a pinch, and Rodney snaps his head back towards Sam. "Yes, right. Convinced them, completely. I'm a very convincing guy. Didn't even have to yell much."

"You yelled a little," John says, smirk obvious in his voice.

"I just wanted to remind them of what they were losing out on. They'd be insane to give this up."

He can feel John shrug. "They saw his side of the argument in the end."

There's a hint of affection in the tone, and a stroke of his leg that Rodney knows means he's forgiven. He feels himself relax and sit back in his chair, almost mirroring John's pose. "So we don't have to worry about fall-out from that."

There's an awkward silence in the room, and Rodney can practically see the elephant standing in the middle of the table, but then Lorne clears his throat. "We didn't find any stragglers on our search of the city, other than Doc Z here," he says, pointing his thumb at Zelenka. "I don't think anyone really…regrets McKay's executive decision."

Sam nods a little jerkily. "Right. Good, then." She looks down at her laptop. "How're repairs going?"

"I remembered where I hid the control crystal," Zelenka says tiredly. "I finished installing it in the Stargate an hour ago. And after a few tests, we can dial New Athos."

Teyla visibly relaxes at the pronouncement. Ronon reaches over and punches Zelenka in the arm lightly, a wide grin on his face. Zelenka clutches the spot and lets out a few Czech curses.

Rodney decides it's a good place to step in. "I've got an initial list of systems to check and update. I should have a final one ready by tomorrow morning. We can get back on schedule within a week if we double shift hours."

Sam shakes her head. "I'm reluctant to do that. I think it's important we all…appreciate what we've been through, and adjust to situation. There have been many…upheavals," she looks around the table, "between personnel. Taking an extra week wouldn't hurt, I don't think." She raises an eyebrow at Rodney.

Rodney does a mental tally, then double-checks his tablet. They haven't done terrible maintenance, just sub-standard. It's really not too bad. "Barring any attacks or dangerous devices or off-world disasters, we should be okay." He looks over the list again. "And with two vessels in orbit, we're probably better protected than usual."

"Of course, now that you've said it, you've probably just jinxed us," John says, nudging Rodney's knee with his own.

"There's no such thing, Colonel. Just because this galaxy seems to have it out for us-"

"Will there be any issues with possible relationships that have occurred while our memories were impaired?" Lorne interrupts, once more sporting his soldier mask. Rodney's pretty sure he's asking on his own behalf more than John and Rodney's, but news got around, and John and Lorne weren't the only soldiers who found solace with their fellow man..

Sam clears her throat a bit. "It is standard SGC policy to overlook breeches of conduct when under the influence of alien," she waves her a palm, "well, anything. And people, for the most part, were discrete. If they choose to continue, however, we will have to re-evaluate the situation then. Especially if it affects team dynamics." She stares very hard at the laptop as she says this.

John exchanges a quick glance with Lorne, and then gives him a subtle nod. Lorne doesn't so much relax as shift to an at-ease posture. "I think we can handle it on a case-by-case status, Major. If it's big enough, we'll bother the Colonel. Right, Carter?" He gives her a challenging stare at that.

She meets it head on, not flinching, or backing down. "Of course, Colonel Sheppard. You should use your best judgment as you come across these…situations." A small smile crawls across her face. "It wouldn't be the first time we've made accommodations for special circumstances."

John just leans back and folds his arms across his chest. "Cool," he says with a tad of smugness.

Rodney just beams at his tablet. He's pretty sure that's the closest thing to a blessing Carter's ever going to give them, but it's enough.

"Doctor Keller, any more issues with panic attacks or injuries?"

Jennifer shakes her head. "The drug seems to have cured them of their symptoms, but I would like to recommend counseling for some of them, with your approval."

"As it happens, the Daedalus has brought Doctor Heightmeyer's replacement. I would recommend everyone see him at least once over the next couple of weeks." She closes her laptop. "Rodney, I'll want a more detailed report on our repair status by tomorrow morning. And Colonel Sheppard," she waits until John is looking at him, "we have something to discuss with Colonel's Caldwell and Ellis. Briefing is at twenty-hundred tonight."

Rodney winces, but John just nods. He'll probably hear about it shortly after the meeting, but four Colonels in a room, especially in Atlantis, never bodes well. It usually means a situation is cropping up very, very soon. One which will make the last few weeks seem ridiculously pleasant by comparison.

"All right, I want fresh duty assignments and final department analyses on my desk by tomorrow noon." Sam stands up and looks around the room. "And welcome back everyone."

They all stand up at the declaration, and Rodney makes sure he's next to John when they exit the room. As they leave, he can see Lorne exchange a look with Chuck, who's back at his usual position. Neither of them blushes, but the tension in the air is fairly obvious. "Think he'll make a move?" Rodney whispers.

John just shrugs. "Could be either."

"We should start a pool."

John raises an eyebrow. "I'm not betting on the Major's love life."

"How about Chuck's?" Rodney can see John either considering it or trying to figure out how to change the subject when the klaxons start blaring throughout the city. Rodney winces, ears unfamiliar to the sound after so much time. The instinct is still solid, though, and he and John both jog over to the command center. "What've we got?"

Chuck barely gets out, "Incoming wormhole," before the Stargate begins the dial-in procedure.

"Raise the shield," John says as the wormhole establishes itself. Sam and Lorne arrive just as a new screen appears scrolling programming code. "What the—Rodney?"

Rodney body-checks Chuck out of the chair to get a closer look at the program. "It's a hack. They're trying to disable—huh."

"Huh?"

He can feel himself frown. "This is a variation on the code I used to lower the shield when we retook Atlantis from the Replicators."

"So you mean," Sam starts, but the shield vanishes before she can finish, and a few seconds later, three people step through onto the main floor. None of them look alarmed at the weapons and marines focused on them.

The first two in front knock the wind from Rodney, because he thought…no, they'd been dead. They'd definitely been dead. And from the grip on his shoulder from John, he knows he's feeling the same thing. But when he catches sight of the last person, he nearly panics, because he's been through this once before. He didn't like it, doesn't like it, and he's not, he will not stand for it again.

As one, Elizabeth Weir, Carson Beckett, and a second Rodney McKay raise their hands in a salute at the control room.

"God damned Pegasus galaxy," Rodney mutters.


Part II: All My Sins Remember'd


The first thing Rodney remembers is looking at colored blocks in pre-primary and, having just learned of addition, putting the numbers together to create the first column of the multiplication table. He remembers the teacher staring as he pushed some clumsy kid away so he wouldn't kick the blocks and his parents being called. He remembers that his mom was pregnant and his dad started spending a lot more time with him and that numbers, numbers made perfect sense.

He also remembers that those aren't his memories. They are, but they aren't, too. He's just a copy of the original, a fake. Simply a lab rat to be studied by psychotic machines in an attempt to comprehend the concept of ascension, beyond the simple transformation of matter to energy. A tool to find that special gene, that neuron spark, that something that would grant nanites with parental issues the chance to be with their progenitors.

None of them are taking it well, Rodney notes as they sit in the stolen Puddle Jumper, nacelles locked between the hull of an Asuran cruiser while it flies through hyperspace. Fleeing the doomed Atlantis replica was the easy part. They were focused, they had a goal, they were driven. It's funny,, he muses, I never noticed how much we were defined by our goals.

It's ironic, but Rodney never thought he'd be so grateful to Mister Harrison, and his decision to crush and obliterate Rodney's dreams of being a concert pianist. The goal had been Rodney's identity, had driven him all his life up until then. He'd had to pick up the pieces, redefine himself, and discover a new life. It's probably the only thing keeping him from breaking down at this moment, from being as withdrawn as the rest of his team.

Sheppard is brooding in silence, emptily staring out the window while his hands absently rub the uniform on his knees. It's not even their uniform. It's some synthetic replicated copy that repairs itself. Rodney knows this because the cuff of his uniform was torn on the way to the Jumper Bay. It's been completely repaired, like Sheppard's head injury had been, like Ronon's broken finger when he punched the wall of the ship.

Ronon is also brooding, but Rodney suspects it's for a different reason. He's tracking space as they fly, watching the ship below, fiddling with his gun. When their eyes meet, Ronon gives him a barely perceptible nod, then looks down at the weapon. The Replicators took his life away, even though it wasn't a true life, his life. The illusion was too real, and Rodney knows that the truth must've hit him as hard as the others. But like Rodney, Ronon's life had been taken away before. Compared to the destruction of his world and people, this must be simple to process.

He risks a glance to the back benches, where Teyla and Elizabeth are sitting next to each other. They were whispering earlier, but Teyla has gone silent, fiddling with the bracelet Charin had given her. Except it hadn't been Charin, not really. Just the memory of it, and the Replicators had constructed it, created the same emotional bond with the dead woman, in an effort to understand them.

Just the thought of it feels like a violation. He knows it must be even worse for Teyla.

Elizabeth is more…stunned. The proclamation that she's dead seems to have finally struck home, and now she looks like a nun Rodney once met. Surrounded by people, but alone, contemplating mortality in a way no living person should. After perceived months of thinking she was dead, Rodney finds he's having mixed feelings on having her there. It's Elizabeth, and he loves her like he loves all of those in Atlantis. But it's not his Elizabeth.

I'm not exactly the Rodney McKay, though, am I, his mind snipes back bitterly.

He turns back around to study the navigation screen Sheppard left up. They're traveling through space fast, and in another hour, they'll definitely be within the Asuran's solar system. We're not going there. Thus far, the Asuran battleship hasn't detected them, but he's willing to bet the Asuran's homeworld has better sensors, and he'll be damned if he's going to let them get blasted out of the sky.

A while ago, he debated the merits of launching an X-302 with the—real? Fake? It's hard to tell, now—Zelenka while a ship was in hyperspace. He'd concluded that the extreme stresses would actually damage, if not destroy, the man-made ship. He had also postulated that a Jumper might just be resilient enough to survive. The Ancients had designed their ships to survive a hell of a lot, including pounding from Wraith weapons. A bumpy jaunt across the hyperspace threshold shouldn't be too damaging.

At least, he really, really hopes so. It was a hypothesis he'd never actually wanted to test. Never tempt fate in the Pegasus Galaxy.

The Asuran ship will have to 'turn' in the artificial hyperspace corridor, he can see that by the real-galaxy map overlaid on the scanner schematic. Detaching from the hull while cloaked will be easy. The next questions include, 'will we stay cloaked?' and 'Will we be caught in their backwash?' and 'Am I insane?! Why the hell would I even try this?!'

A glance at Sheppard and he knows why. He would do anything to protect his team. He may not run into a fight guns blazing, but he would do any technological miracle possible to save them. Going to the Replicator homeworld is suicide, any way one looks at it. It was just too high a chance that they'd be discovered. They'd have to leave before that.

The crazy Asurans that made them had ensured he was identical to the original. Yes, he could heal, but he didn't think faster, or have a superior knowledge of the technology, mathematical theories, or even a greater grasp of hyperspace dynamics. But just knowing he has nanites in him acts like a placebo effect. He feels like his mind is working twice as efficiently, that the numbers are more intuitive, his equations less flawed. He sees where the turn point in hyperspace is going to be, and he double-checks his mental math seemingly twice as fast as humanly possible.

He lays his hands on the controls in front of him, deactivating John's side of the console. Ronon looks up, and seems to brace himself. John pulls himself out of his reverie to start saying, "McKay, what are you-"

And Rodney just announces, "Hang on," a second before he retracts the engine pods and the Asuran vessel shoots away at a sharp angle, nearly clipping them on its way home. The Jumper turns over and flips and Rodney has a complete, clarifying moment of, Oh shit! before he sees the hyperspace corridor wall grow close and everything goes black.


"…I'm going to kill that crazy son of a bitch if he's not already dead! What the hell did he think he was doing?!"

Rodney winces at the sound of John's voice, and he must let out an involuntary groan, because the next second Sheppard is yelling only inches away from him, and he feels a set of hands clasping his shoulders hard enough to bruise.

"What the fuck, McKay?! If you have a death wish don't take the rest of us along with you!"

"Don't think he was trying to kill us, Sheppard," Ronon pipes up.

"Then what the hell-"

"Maybe it would be wise to let Doctor McKay recover," Teyla interrupts. "He was thrown about the cockpit worse than either you or Ronon."

"From his own stupidity, maybe."

"John." The tone is firm, direct. It actually hurts a little to hear Elizabeth's voice like that, or even at all. Obviously he hasn't totally accepted the fact that they have a version of her alive. "We should let Rodney explain his actions. He obviously has his reasons."

There's an oppressive silence to the atmosphere as the headache he has diminishes to nothing and he finally opens his eyes. The inside of the Jumper looks a little shaken, but not too damaged. John is fuming in the pilot's seat, arms crossed tightly as he glares at Rodney. It's not the most pleasant sight to wake up to. Ronon looks more relaxed in his chair, playing with one of the knives from his hair. Teyla looks worried, and Weir, Weir looks composed, if a little tired.

Really, not the best day for crazy ideas. But with luck, it'll keep them alive. "Everyone okay?" is the first thing he asks. It's needless, because obviously the nanites are still working well since his own aches and pains are fading away in minutes, now that he's conscious.

John opens his mouth to probably snap out some barb, but Weir gives him a sharp look that keeps him quiet. She sits up straight in her chair. "We're fine, Rodney. But we were wondering…"

"I didn't want us to go to the Asuran homeworld." He struggles to sit up and feels something pop in his back. He's surprised, but then, the nanites are designed to mimic their original physiques, which means he'll still have back problems. Damn. "We may be able to slip in cloaked, but there was also a chance their sensors could penetrate it, since they managed to find the replica of Atlantis."

John shifts his shoulders in a way that means he agrees, but doesn't want to admit it. Rodney lets out a mental sigh, but Weir looks more relaxed, and Teyla moves to take a seat in the back again. "You could have given us some warning, Rodney," Weir says.

"I know. It just, it was the timing. We had to make a move, and if I had to explain it-"

"We're all we have right now," she says, reaching out to touch his arm. "We have to trust each other, communicate. Otherwise…"

She doesn't need to explain the otherwise. They all know what would happen if the Replicators or Wraith got hold of them. He's not prone to apologies, so he just says, "I'll explain it if we have more than ten seconds next time."

Ronon snorts, but Weir…no, Elizabeth smiles at the pronouncement. "Good."

Rodney nods, then looks out the window. It appears they're just floating in space. "So how come you haven't flown us to a planet?" He activates the star charts. "There's a moon with a Stargate less than a day away."

John glares at him again. "Because your stunt knocked out the engines."

"And you wait until now to tell me?" Rodney gets up and moves to the back, grabbing his tablet as he goes. "We're sitting ducks, Colonel!"

"If you hadn't just ejected us from hyperspace-"

"Gentlemen!" Elizabeth's voice almost resonates around the small interior. "Rodney, see what you can do with the engines. John, start running scans. And," she reaches for the door control, "both of you cool off." With a touch, she shuts the door between the front and the back of the Jumper.

Rodney stares at the door, then jumps as Teyla touches his wrist. She seems to be smiling, but there's sadness to it. "I had forgotten she could get you two to behave."

"We don't need a sitter," Rodney mumbles, pulling off the panels to access the drive pod mechanisms. He starts scanning through the crystals. "I did…it's nice to hear her again. To…have her again."

"Even if it is not the real her," Teyla says, softly, staring down at her hands. "And we are not the real us."

Rodney pauses in his scans, then sets his tablet aside and sits next to her. "We're still us. We have…all the memories of the originals, the bodies, the minds. That's, that makes us real."

"That makes us copies." She curls her fingers until she has two fists. "No two shall ever be the same." She blinks. "Do you know there are no twins on Athos? Major Lorne had to explain it to me after I saw a picture of Doctor Heightmeyer and her sister."

Rodney frowns. "But you met the other…the alternate Elizabeth. And Rod."

"And I was…accommodating. But I was never comfortable around them." She unclenches her hands and rests them on her knees. "For many years, we believed the Wraith stole more than lives. They stole memories, the…soul of a person. To run into a, an image of someone you knew, was a trick of Wraith, using the soul, the memories, the body of a person to lure you to them."

Rodney muses over that quietly, not quite sure how to respond. "So it's not just freaky psychic shadows, but actual…people?"

"They use images and memories to manipulate us." She reaches up and touches her chest, resting her hand over her heart. "I am now one of those, but real. This body is the stolen soul of the real Teyla Emmagan. I am an…abomination in the eyes of my people."

Rodney lets out a small sound at that. For different reasons, the same view would apply to him, Sheppard, to all of them. Replicator doubles, especially with what happened at the SGC and Carter's double, were never viewed favorably. "That," he starts, then, "It doesn't quite," but that doesn't fit either. She continues to remain silent, so he gives up speaking and just reaches over and hugs her. It's not very Athosian, but it's definitely him, Replicator-clone or not.

He can feel her smile at the effort. "That was kind, Rodney."

He pulls back, just a little. "The Athosians may see you that way, but we don't." He waves a hand at the door, at himself. "We're your people. You're…you could never be wrong to us. You're part of this…family thing."

Her smile grows a little. "You are a bit terrible at this."

His shoulders slump. "I know." He tilts his chin up. "But I mean it. If anyone gives you a hard time about you being you. Then I'll, I'll, I don't know, get Ronon to shoot them."

That gets him a chuckle, and she reaches forward to touch her forehead to his. "Thank you, Rodney. For trying."

"I just," he fidgets a little at the contact, "we care about you. You're part of the team."

"I know." She sighs, then pulls back, her usual smile in place but the shadows are still lurking in her eyes. "I know."

Rodney sits there for another few moments, then grabs his tablet and gets up. He still has a Puddle Jumper to fix. And no one else is nearly smart enough to do it in his place.


An hour later, Rodney slides the last crystal back in place as John opens the door. Teyla decided to lay down on the bench about fifteen minutes into Rodney's muttering, which he really couldn't blame her for. He isn't the most pleasant person to be around when he's found disturbing problems with systems. Though Sheppard never seemed to mind those times, but then, Sheppard is weird. The original and the replica, as far as Rodney could tell.

"You got the engines fixed yet, McKay?" He still sounds pissed off, but it's tinted with more worry and impatience than anything else. Being trapped with Elizabeth and Ronon could probably try anyone's patience. Given the chance, Sheppard probably would've just put on sound-dampening headphones and zoned out.

Sadly one of many luxuries they didn't have access to anymore. "The good news is I got the drive pods operational again." He holds up the one yellow crystal he found. "The bad news is we need to move, fast. This was some sort of homing beacon. I was able to turn it off, but we need to drop this on a planet and Gate out of there as fast as possible."

John loses all appearance of attitude and just nods sternly, moving to take his place in the pilot's seat again. By the time Rodney makes his way to the copilot chair, they're off at full speed heading towards the nearby moon. Elizabeth has tense lines around her eyes, and Ronon is starting to look a little restless. Judging by the speed of the Jumper and orbit of the moon, they have at least fourteen hours to kill. Teyla's still asleep in the back, but Rodney's a little too worked up to sleep. At least, so far. "So what's the plan?"

"The plan, McKay," John says, adjusting the course slightly, "is to get to the moon, drop the crystal, and get the hell outta there."

"Yes, but where to," he huffs. "We can't just dial Atlantis. They'd never lower the iris. The Alpha sites we know have probably been compromised, given the time discrepancy the not-Keller told us about. And who knows where the Gate teams would be."

"I've been worried about the same thing," Elizabeth says. Ronon grunts and takes two steps to the rear compartment, then flops down on the other bench. His shoulders are tense, and Rodney wonders if it's because the man is having the same issues Teyla is, or if it's something else. "I believe the best solution will be to go to the Athosians. Explain the situation."

Rodney shifts uncomfortably, setting the tablet on the control console so he doesn't accidentally break or drop it. He won't be able to get another. "I don't think that's a good idea," he says quietly. "Teyla and I were talking and, well, Athosians don't do well with doppelgangers." It's not a pretty word, but he's pretty sure it's what best describes them. Not human, not Replicator, just duplicates.

"You don't think they'd welcome us," John says flatly.

"I think they wouldn't receive us too warmly, no." Elizabeth lets out a sigh at his statement. "What about one of our early Alpha sites?"

"We had to abandon them because of the Wraith, remember?" The edge from earlier has returned to Sheppard's voice.

It's not a tone Rodney likes. "I don't see you coming up with any suggestions-"

"What about the original world the city was on?" Elizabeth interrupts quietly. "We—the real we—had to abandon the planet quickly due to the attack. If that's the case, maybe some of the transmission equipment was left behind. Or a clue to where they went."

Rodney exchanges a glance with John. Going to a planet the Replicators attacked, one that they're probably still monitoring, isn't the best idea. In fact, it's terrible. But Rodney really doesn't want to be the one to shoot Elizabeth's idea down. And from the look of things, neither does Sheppard. After thinking of her as dead for so long, it seems…wrong to just reject her ideas outright. Like she would vanish if they did.

It's John who gives in first. "That's probably not wise, Elizabeth. The Asurans will be watching for anything that comes through the Stargate. I know I would."

She doesn't appear to deflate. In fact, if anything, he sees something like resolve form in her eyes. "Then we should go to one of our other allies. Not the Genii, but perhaps Proculus."

"Unless Chaya sees us as a threat thanks to our…enhancements," Rodney says with just a touch of sarcasm. "Then we'll be blown from the sky before we can even get close to landing."

She still doesn't falter, and Rodney is beginning to see the old Elizabeth emerge, the shock of the real her being dead washing away as the issue of command, of decisions that will drive the course of their survival, become most prominent in her mind. "We have a list of uninhabited worlds, or primitive worlds we've met before. Perhaps one of those-"

"Go to Sateda," Ronon's voice booms from where he's looming in the doorway. "There are no Wraith there we have to worry about. And no natives." He can see John slouch at that last pronouncement, just as Rodney knows he himself has shrunk a little. None of them like forcing Ronon to remember where he came from, or what he lost.

He goes on without any hesitation. "If the Replicators follow us, we can hide. If we need supplies, I know where to scavenge. It's a taboo world, and those that remember try to forget the address. Atlantis knows it's a safe world, with no hostiles." A rumble seems to come from his chest, a suppressed yell, or maybe his version of a sob. "And the Stargate is planetside. We can abandon the ship if necessary."

"It shouldn't be." Rodney grabs his tablet back up just to check, though. If he were building ships to keep lesser races from stealing them, he wouldn't just leave one tracking failsafe. In fact, he'd create some sort of failsafe in at least one computer system, maybe more. "I'll make sure of it," he says confidently.

He ignores the almost grateful look that appears on Sheppard's face for a moment. It's the only thing connecting them to Atlantis, and if he can keep that for Sheppard, he will, for as long as possible.

Elizabeth reaches out and clasps Ronon's hand. "Thank you, Ronon. That's a good plan." She hesitates, then says, "I know that must've been difficult."

From the corner of his eye, he can see Ronon shrug. "We're on the run. I know the best places to run to." If he wasn't so well attuned to his friend, Rodney probably wouldn't have noticed the undercurrent of pain in his words. "You should sleep," is what he says instead, tugging Weir out of her chair. "I'll take the floor."

"If you're sure," she says, and Rodney can see her face them from under his lashes. He flaps his hand at her dismissively. It's a bit rude, but it's also normal. He's pretty sure they can all use a dose of normalcy right now, no matter how minor. "A few hours wouldn't hurt, I guess," she admits. Ronon grunts and shuts the door between the sections, leaving Rodney alone with John.

Rodney focuses on his work, being as diligent as he can to not set off any traps while they're not planet-bound. The silence weighs on him, and from the glances he sneaks across the way, he can see it also weighing on Sheppard. They're not like this, not supposed to be. They're Sheppard and McKay, friends, buddies, always at ease even during a fight.

Sheppard breaks first, which is an indicator to Rodney right away that this is definitely a big deal. "You had no right, Rodney. You could've gotten us killed."

Rodney forcibly shuts his mouth and struggles for a moment. "I had to take the risk," is what he finally settles on. "If I didn't, we might've missed our chance and bam! Right in Replicator territory, where we probably couldn't even sneeze without being detected."

Sheppard's hands grip the steering mechanisms. "It was still reckless, stupid, suicidal-"

"Well, now you know how it feels." He tries to sound smug, but the strain on his voice keeps him from succeeding. "Do you think you're the only one who gets to take insane risks to save all of us?"

"That was different," Sheppard grinds out. "I was protecting the city."

"Which time?"

"You're not funny, McKay." Sheppard is glaring out the window, almost as if he can't bear to look anywhere else.

Rodney has no such compulsion, and he leans forward, glaring directly at John. "You're not the only one who gets to risk himself for the city, for the team, Sheppard." He points his stylus at the closed door. "I would do anything for them," he says harshly, "even if it meant taking a ridiculous risk so we weren't flayed alive by the Asurans."

"I wouldn't have let that happen." Sheppard keeps his voice level, but there's fury behind it, an anger Rodney hasn't seen since he reactivated the Replicator nanites inside Elizabeth.

"Let me guess," Rodney sits back and crosses his arms. "You'd throw yourself in front of the gun. Or maybe drop us off then pilot yourself into an exhaust port." He points to the ceiling. "Oh, I know! You'd just fly the god-damned Jumper into the main city!"

"McKay!" John's head snaps in his direction. "Knock it off! This isn't about me!"

"Bullshit, Sheppard! This is about you. And me. And them!" He points to the back again. "This is about what we've lost." He lowers his voice. "This is about the fact that I, I, I'd do anything, like you'd do anything, to protect what we have left. I wasn't going to let the Asurans get their hands on any of you. And I did what I thought was best." He slumps back in the seat, but keeps some of the passion in his voice. "And don't you dare argue I had no right. Because you'd do the exact same thing in a heartbeat."

John seems to deflate in his seat as well, the Jumper still on course thanks to the auto-pilot. "I wouldn't force us out of hyperspace mid-flight."

Rodney waves his hand back and forth. "Semantics. It's a metaphor or some stupid English Lit thing." He sighs. "Look," he leans forward again, "I'm sorry. I just…we're all we have."

Sheppard doesn't respond at first, and Rodney worries that he's gone a little too far. Then, letting out a slow breath through his nose, Sheppard sits up straight again. "I know, Rodney," he says quietly. "Because it's been that way for me for years."

It'd be a slap in the face if Rodney hadn't already suspected that was the case. It's more stunning that Sheppard actually admitted some feelings. By the time he recovers, Sheppard is back to needlessly flying the Jumper, keeping his eyes on the vastness of space. Rodney tries to think of something else to say, but after a few minutes just gives up, picks up his tablet, and gets back to work.

This is going to be a long trip.


No one comes up from the back until they're approaching the planet. At least, Rodney assumes that's the case. He slept for about six hours after double-checking all onboard systems for tracking devices and failsafe sabotages. When he woke up, Sheppard had been asleep, all tension drained away, but still looking worried, anxious. He wants to help, he's John's best friend, but he actually has no idea what to do. This situation, there's really no answer for it.

He mulled it over on the final leg of the trip. They can't go to Atlantis, they'd never be welcome. At the SGC, or even the Milky Way galaxy, they'd probably be brought to a lab and dissected. The Asgard would sooner shoot them than help given their history with Replicators. The Nox might be willing to shelter them, but then they'd actually have to find the Nox, which as far as Rodney knew, no one had done for nearly ten years.

By the time Sheppard wakes up and announces a brief pit stop for bathroom trees and to bury the tracking crystal, Rodney's pretty sure he's worked himself up to a good fit. Unfortunately, other than Ronon, he seems to be the only one handling all of this, well, rationally. If he breaks down now, who knows how the others would take it.

No, he thinks firmly. Freak out on your own time. Right now they need you to save the day. It's what you do best, especially under pressure. Doctor Heightmeyer would probably say that sort of reasoning isn't good for his mental status, but she isn't here. And it's unlikely he'll meet a shrink again anytime soon.

He makes sure he's one of the first ones out, holding a small spade they found in a storage compartment, the tracking crystal tucked in his pocket, and a direct line of sight to a grove of trees that no one should be able to see through. He may have shared a locker room with his team for four years, but that doesn't mean he's come to enjoy peeing in front of other people.

Some of Sheppard's training kicks in, and as Rodney enters the grove, he swings his berretta around, looking for hostiles. When he finds none, he goes to the tree farthest from the Jumper, and starts digging. He gets about a foot down before he decides it's enough, and drops the crystal in. Urinating on it probably won't affect the subtle radioactive isotope back-up it has, but it does give him a small sense of satisfaction. Putting the dirt back is a simple matter, and then he's heading back to the Jumper, feeling a little better that he's accomplished some small feat.

Sheppard, unsurprisingly, joins him halfway, looking a little less tense himself. "All set?"

"Mum." He swings the spade around absently. "I was thinking, we do have a list of a few uninhabited worlds. We should go through a couple before we go to Sateda."

Sheppard nods. "Good thinking. Can you input the coordinates?"

"Can Schrödinger's Cat be both alive and dead at the same time?"

That gets a small grin out of Sheppard, and again, Rodney feels lighter. He's not quite sure he's ready to examine the reasons why, though. They walk a little further, and then Sheppard nudges his shoulder. "Thanks," he says awkwardly, "for, you know. Getting us away from the Asurans. And talking." He sounds like he's swallowing his tongue on that last bit.

Rodney can understand, though. Feelings aren't exactly either of their strong suits. Poor role models. "Thanks for not hitting me. Or throwing me off the team." It's a ridiculous statement, but one that he knows John will get, one that means they're okay.

He gets another nudge out of that. "I'd never throw you off. Ronon likes the Catwoman movie."

Rodney lets out a mock shudder, and by the time they're going up the ramp, both of them are smirking. Ronon rolls his eyes, Teyla gives them an amused smile, and Elizabeth looks like she's dreading to hear what they did this time.

Just a bit of normalcy, he thinks as he retakes his place in the copilot's chair. Even if for a short time.


Sateda, Rodney comes to realize within two hours, was a very, very bad idea. Of course, he's the only one to realize this. Elizabeth wanted to dial New Athos immediately, but John suggested waiting a bit, to make sure their presence on the dead world wasn't noticed. Like the invisible Jumper didn't do just that. Rodney set about scanning for Wraith probes and Asuran satellites while the rest of the team explored nearby buildings for supplies.

By the end of the first day, they've relocated to one of the lesser damaged buildings, the planetary equivalent to a hotel; though from the décor, it could also be a barracks or a brothel. Ronon's gone a lot more silent since they stumbled upon a slew of Wraith corpses, including one that had a drone drilled right through him. Obviously, the real Atlantis had come here and run into trouble.

Which just sets Sheppard even more on edge. He set up watches and has Rodney reprogram the Jumper to continuously scan while cloaked, and still remain undetected. It takes him six hours and he's still not sure how effective it is because they don't have the equipment to test it. They bunk up, boys in one room, girls in another. Sheppard snores like a horse, which isn't too much of a surprise, except that usually Ronon's in another tent, so he doesn't get the sound in stereo.

By day two, Ronon's just gone off. They can see him on the scanners, wandering the city. Rodney can tell when there's a purpose behind it, the speed and direction very direct, very specific. Other times, the dot just wanders around, like Ronon's lost. He spends the day watching, while Teyla searches for food and Sheppard continues his vigil on the Gate.

Weir goes from the room they sleep in to the Jumper at, as far as Rodney can tell, random intervals. During one of Ronon's wandering sessions, she says, "I wonder if we're all like that." At his look, she nods to the screen. "Unsure, looking for something that's not there. Or rather, no longer there." He can't really think of a tactful reply, which seems to be fine by her, since she retreats back to the hotel.

Ronon never returns, and Teyla volunteers to stand watch the second night. Sheppard makes them all bunk together in one room. After an hour of his snoring and alternatively staring at him and the ceiling, Rodney grabs the blanket, pillow, stands, and marches his way to the Jumper.

It may be crap for his back, but at least it's more familiar than his friends at the moment.

The third morning, Ronon is back with weapons, extra Satedan clothing, and his world's version of canned goods. He has this haunted look, dark circles outlining his eyes and his hair haphazardly shorn. He's wearing more of his knives on his belt than in his hair.

Teyla looks just as bad, but for a different reason. Since he'd been in the Jumper, it'd alerted him to the spike of energy caused by a wormhole activating. He'd detected a life sign at the DHD. When he heard Teyla's voice on the radio, asking for Halling, for a man named Kanaan, for Jinto, he didn't worry. She'd seen them breaking down during the day, and got past her own issues to try and reach out for assistance. Disobeying Sheppard to help her team wasn't a red flag.

The radio channel remaining completely silent had been.

A weird symbiosis must be happening, because he takes one look at Ronon, one at Teyla, and they present a united front to the just-awakened Sheppard and Weir. Sheppard eyes them warily, going from Ronon's lack of hair, to the damaged Satedan guns strapped to Teyla's waist, to finally resting on Rodney's upturned chin. He's between the two of them, and steps forward at John's challenging look. "We're going to New Athos."

John leans back against the wall, slouches, really, but one hand rests distinctly on the P90. "It may not be safe."

"We're at day three, Sheppard."

He shakes his head. "The Replicators-"

"Would've been on us by now if they knew where we were."

Sheppard narrows his eyes. "If they don't know, what's the rush?"

Rodney stomps forward, so he's only a foot away from the man. "Have you gone blind as well as emotionally impotent?!" Sheppard actually flinches at the word. "Oh, I'm sorry. You've always been impotent there."

"What the hell-"

"This is torture for Ronon!"

John points at him. "He suggested it!"

"Elizabeth's going bonkers!"

She glares at him. "I am not-"

"I'M going to go insane if I have to spend one more day with nothing more to do than watch little dots on a map. And you! You're starting to act a like Stephen King protagonist!"

Sheppard jerks upright at that. "I'm trying to keep us safe! In case you've forgotten-"

"Of course I haven't forgotten! Just like Teyla, or you, or any of us! But we can't stay here! This-this-this place…" He takes a deep breath. "This place is just reminding us of what we've lost. Of what we can never have again. Because that," he points out the broken window, "that's our world now. And we can't deal with that! We need help. Real help."

"And the Athosians will be so welcoming," John bites back.

"If they're even there." John keeps glaring, but he can hear Teyla gasp behind him. "Teyla tried to contact them last night." John's gaze shifts to her, but he holds up a finger, which immediately brings Sheppard's attention back to him. "She didn't get a response. Teyla called the Athosian homeworld, and no one answered."

Sheppard continues to look furious for one moment, two, and then Rodney can see the meaning of his words impact in Sheppard's brain. The complete transformation from anger to surprise to guilt and finally, resolution. It should be a complex facial transition, but it seems to occur in the dance of Sheppard's eyebrows and the tightness around his eyes. He releases the grip on the gun, letting it hang from his tac vest. "You're sure?"

Rodney glances back. It isn't really his story to tell, he knows, but he's also aware that in this mood few things can get through John's slightly-thick skull. Weir can too, at her best, and while the fire is in her eyes at his comment, she's still sitting on the ground, not standing and proving Rodney wrong through action.

Teyla merely ducks her head in apology. "I waited the entire length of the wormhole, John." This close, he can see the tension in her face, the fears she's barely managing to restrain at the thought of what could be. "Even with the time difference, my people would have someone near a radio, in case Atlantis called."

Ronon pulls out one of the knives and tosses it at Sheppard. He catches it easily. "Shave. Clean up, then we're going." He raises his chin, in a maneuver Rodney's pretty sure was stolen from him. "Too many ghosts, Sheppard. Time to stop dwelling. Time for some action."

Time for revenge, is what Rodney hears in those words. Ronon's never been one for sitting around, especially when there were things to be done. If the Athosians are in trouble, there's a good chance that Atlantis is as well, and the Wraith are probably behind it.

He tries not to think about what the Replicator Jennifer had said, about the Asurans wiping out entire populations. With the Wraith, they can launch a rescue. With the Asurans, all they can do is dig graves.

He swallows the meager breakfast that threatens to come up at the thought and meets John's eyes. The staring contest is short-lived, and promises a discussion, or maybe a lecture later, but they know crisis management. The Athosians come first. They'll resolve whatever's going on here after.

Sheppard looks around the room, and out the window. He stares for about a minute, then walks out to the hall and heads towards what they've been using as a communal bathroom. Some of the pipes even bring in semi-clean water, though Rodney's personally been sticking with the sealed containers in the Jumper.

Rodney looks to the ground, the flimsy bedrolls, and starts packing them up. The Athosians might welcome them, or they might have to leave for another planet, depending on the situation. They should be prepared. Teyla stares after Sheppard, but Ronon starts cleaning up as well.

He's just finished packing up his and John's bedrolls and he hears a rough clearing of the voice behind him. He looks back and sees Weir standing there, the stern 'teacher does not approve' look on her face and her hands on her hips. "I'm going 'bonkers', Rodney?"

Kneeling as he is, only Rodney can see the smirk that spreads across Ronon's face. Rodney swallows. "Yes, well, I had to say something. And you have been acting…odd."

"I've found out I'm dead." She says in a deadpan tone. "But bonkers?"

"It worked, didn't it? And that's the important thing. Getting Sheppard to pull his head out of his-"

The cuff to the back of his head is completely unexpected, and he sputters at the retreating Ronon, who's also laughing, the jerk. But Elizabeth's lips quirk, like she's trying not to laugh too, so he continues with his near-tirade on physically abusing scientists and their very delicate brain.

Because soon, no matter the outcome, he's pretty sure they won't have much to laugh about.


John lets Rodney dial New Athos, but insists on trying the radio for at least twenty minutes. "Just to be sure, McKay," he says, slightly annoyed. He's clean-shaven, but like Ronon's hair it's rough, not as well-done as it could be. Rodney wonders if the Athosians can spare their barber for a few hours, get the team a little more presentable.

"New Athos, I repeat, this is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, do you read?" They're getting close to twenty-five minutes, and they're all in the cockpit, eagerly listening to the silent radio. Except for Ronon, who's making sure each weapon he procured is ready to be used. Teyla's eyes are wide, and if he didn't know her better he'd say she was holding back tears.

Sheppard just looks grim, lips thin and eyes narrowed in that 'someone's getting shot' way. Elizabeth, astonishingly, has the exact same look on her face. "Bring us through, John."

"Eliz-"

"Now," she says, tone brokering no argument. Rodney sits back as John pilots them through. There's a quick sensation of flying without the ship, and then they're shooting out the wormhole, Sheppard cloaking the vessel and raising them into the atmosphere as soon as they're clear of the Gate. Elizabeth turns her attention to him. "Rodney?"

He pulls up the scanner immediately, and even though John has one eye out for Darts and hostiles, his gaze drifts over to the screen. Teyla has gotten out of her seat and is leaning over his shoulder. He ignores the feeling of her breath on his ear and runs the scan a few times to be sure. "No sign of energy weapons. They weren't bombarded from orbit."

He lets out a sigh as he says it, and hears everyone else do so as well, and he realizes he wasn't the only one who remembered the Asuran's brilliant plan. He continues scanning. "There are some…huh," dots appear on the map, and he can feel Teyla brighten beside him. "There are definitely life signs, but nowhere near what it should be for the settlement."

"Maybe some have moved to Atlantis." Elizabeth says, moving to take the seat Teyla vacated. "Word of the Asuran's attacks, even if the people don't know what they are, must be spreading."

Teyla simply shakes her head. "No. If my people moved to safety, they would all move. Plus," she points to heat sources a couple miles out from the settlement, "these are…bunkers, I believe you call them. It appears Atlantis created some contingencies in case of an attack."

"So who's on the planet?" John asks, starting to steer them down.

They're about fifty feet above the largest cluster of people, on the western edge of the settlement, when Ronon growls, "Bolo Kai."

He and Sheppard exchange a glance. It doesn't look like a race they've encountered, but obviously it's one Ronon's familiar with.

Teyla is too, from the cold steel now permeating her voice. "They have chosen the wrong planet to pillage." She points to the obvious landing area for Jumpers. "We will teach them to respect Athosian property." She pulls out both Satedan pistols at her hip. "And find out what they have done to my people."

Ronon's grin is all teeth, and completely feral. John sets about landing the ship while Rodney wonders exactly what their role is going to be in this offensive.

Weir takes the decision away by picking up one of the guns Ronon's stashed just around the compartment dividing wall. It's obvious she's uncomfortable holding the weapon, and finally she nearly drops it in Rodney's lap, looking slightly apologetic. "What can we do to help?"

"Search for survivors. Some Athosians may have escaped whatever occurred here."

"Shoot any Bolo Kai you find," Ronon says as he heads for the rear hatch. "They won't hesitate to shoot you."

Rodney grimaces, but stands when Sheppard does, adjusting his grip on the unfamiliar weapon. It's like a hybrid between Genii rifles and something out of Farscape. At least it's still point and shoot, even if it is a more obvious symbol for penile dysfunction. Not that he's going to be sharing that opinion anywhere in Ronon's in earshot, of course.

Elizabeth takes Rodney's seat, working the same sensor controls he had just a moment ago. "I…I'll track you from here." She tries to sound decisive, but Rodney can hear the reluctance in her voice. She wants to help, but she won't fire a weapon. He gets that, he used to be the same way. Until Sheppard coerced him onto the team, made him learn to defend himself and those he cared about.

It's the one value none of them wanted to violate with her. Given their current situation, Rodney's not sure if they can live up to that. Still, for now he points to the controls. "We can't differentiate life signs, but this one should be able to track us by both our radio signals and the nanites in our bodies." He hears the rear hatch open, and there are two seconds of nature sounds before the firing begins.

"So much for the element of surprise," Sheppard mutters, bringing up his P90. "Come on, McKay." He glances back as he heads for the ramp. "Shut the door behind us. You should be safe."

Elizabeth nods, and Rodney touches her shoulder, though he's not sure if it's to reassure her, or himself. He hoists his own unfamiliar weapon, frowns, and sets it aside, pulling out his berretta and a life-signs detector. It's a little superfluous, with the Jumper, but at least he'll see what Elizabeth is seeing. "Where to?" he asks John at the edge of the ramp. He can't see Teyla or Ronon, but he can hear the increased fighting in the settlement.

"We hid caches of weapons on the previous world. We probably placed new ones here." He glances to the life-signs detector. "Odd that the bunkers gave off heat."

"More likely I built in detection protocols so the Jumpers could always find them."

John grunts, and points to one of them on the map. "It's about two hours' walk away. We could at least get some…familiar weapons."

And see if there are any bodies along the way, he hears. Rodney adjusts the settings on the detector, glances around the outside, then carefully makes his way towards the trees. Most of the life signs are rushing back to the village, obviously alerted by the gunfire. Satedans, apparently, liked their guns to be loud.

At first they avoid the Bolo Kai signatures, ducking behind trees, jumping into a ravine, even once just standing really, really still and hoping they don't get spotted. So far, there are no obvious signs of bodies, or even a fight. They've got at least another hour of walking to go when they hear it. A yelp of pain that's coming from ahead of them, not behind. John takes off running, and Rodney jogs behind him, trying to remain as stealthy as he can.

It's not quite stealthy enough, though, because he hears a 'fwip' and then lets out his own yelp as an arrow embeds itself into his shoulder. Reflexes kick in and he falls to his knees, bringing his gun up. Fortunately, they hit the shoulder he was holding the detector in. Unfortunately, there's an arrow in his shoulder.

He sees another arrow flying through the air towards him, and but before it hits John is there, and jerks back with a grunt as the arrow strikes. Rodney opens his mouth to say something, but it's drowned out by Sheppard unloading the cartridge of bullets into the forest. He hears a couple of thumps, and then ragged breathing as John turns to him. "You okay, buddy?"

"Yeah," he reaches up to the arrow, "I-shit!" John falls back, trying for a controlled fall, from the looks of it, and ending up lying on his side, an arrow sticking out of his chest. "Sheppard!" He crawls forward and feels for John's pulse. "Guys, Sheppard's down, and-" The heartbeat is strong, steady. "And…"

"McKay, what's going on?"

"I…I'm not…I really don't," he hesitates, then grabs the shaft of the arrow. "If this kills you I'm…" He struggles for the words, but can't find them. This is the man who said it all with 'So long, Rodney.' He's pretty sure John'll understand if he's just as eloquent. "I think this will save you." John's got a bit of a glazed look, but Rodney tries not to think about it as he grasps the shaft of the arrow, and yanks it out.

It's sturdy enough construction that the arrowhead is still attached. John's blood gives it some shine, and all Rodney can do is stare at it for a few minutes. He hesitates, then repeats the process with the arrow in his own body. "Son of a-" He bites his lip, eyes clenched shut. Nanites or no, it still hurts like hell. For a minute, he thinks he made a mistake, that his theory is wrong and he's just doomed Sheppard because you never, ever pull the weapon out of the body without a doctor nearby.

Then the pain in his shoulder begins to fade. There's no disgusting sounds, no mental or even physiological queues. His shoulder was wounded, and now it's, well, better. He opens his eyes and finds the hole in Sheppard's chest, the one that was right over his heart or lungs or something vital, is bright pink, like raw flesh. And even that's fading, blending back into its normal color. As he watches, hairs begin to grow, and Rodney's pretty sure if he removed John's shirt, that injured spot would now look like the rest of his chest.

A minute later John takes a deep, sharp breath and tries to bring his weapon up and clutch his chest at the same time. Rodney lets out a sighing laugh. "Oh thank you thank you thank you non-existent God." He grabs the weapon from Sheppard's hands and sets it aside. "He's okay." He laughs a little. "He's okay because of those god-damned nanites!"

"Are you okay, Rodney?", Elizabeth asks. "You sound a little…"

"Insane?" His laughter starts dying as Sheppard looks up at him. "I just realized I'm invulnerable." There's confusion in the man's face as Rodney sings out that last word, just like he did four years ago, when they'd discovered the personal shield. "And I have the Replicators to thank for it." And for making John the same way, for saving him from some primitive backward Pegasus race.

The silence on the radio is palpable, but then Ronon breaks it with, "So you're both okay?"

"Yeah," Sheppard's voice is a little rough, but he sits up. "Yeah, we're both," he eyes Rodney's shoulder, "we're both okay, buddy."

"Good. They're trying to run." There's a grin in his voice. "You're distracting."

"I'm sorry if my little freak-out is a nuisance," he snaps into the radio. "I just saw Sheppard get-" John firmly touches his arm. "Right, fine. We'll talk later. McKay out." He turns off his radio, then looks at Sheppard, noting that the hole in his clothes is almost completely repaired. "What? I'm sorry if you getting shot is an issue."

Sheppard squeezes his arm. "It was my turn to save you," he says, trying to pass off one of his carefree grins. He fails, miserably. Even Rodney can see he's disturbed by what just happened. "I'd…forgotten they did that."

Rodney rolls his eyes. It figured. The man was the first to figure out they rapidly healed, and forgets about it at the first sign of danger. Rodney, at least, had the excuse of seeing his best friend killed. "Yes, well," he picks up the detector and gun and gets up, "maybe I over-reacted. I mean, it's not like you're…" He tries to think of a suitable stand-in for that statement, but even Jeannie doesn't work in that context.

John picks up the P90 and stands as well, smiling a little. "Yeah, I know, buddy. Like a friend feels about another friend."

And if that didn't sum up their completely screwy relationship, Rodney doesn't know what would. He's about to retort when a loud moan is heard. They exchange another look, then head towards it cautiously. They've been lucky no one else has come by, but a quick glance to the detector reveals there's still a lot of Bolo Kai in the area, though not so much nearby or in the settlement proper, anymore.

The source of the sound is not a Bolo Kai, nor anyone Rodney recognizes, either. He's wearing Athosian clothing, though, which means they may have found a survivor. Maybe not a survivor for long, however, since he's got a freshly-made abdomen wound leaking through his clothes. "Figures."

The man looks up, one hand clutching his wound, the other clawing the ground. "H-help."

Rodney turns to John, only to find the man looking at him expectantly. "What?"

John waves at the guy. "You can patch him up, right?"

"Yes, of course. I happened to catch that very special episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, so I'm completely competent to help someone in need of delicate medical treatment."

John isn't even fazed by the sarcasm. "You took that first aid course."

"One, it was 'Wilderness Survival.' And two, it was patching to stop bleeding! Not, I don't know, tying intestines or whatever this is."

"Then stop snarking and stop the bleeding, McKay."

"You stop the bleeding! I'm not about to let my hands be covered in blood-"

John looks at him pointedly. "They already are."

Rodney freezes in place, then looks at his hands. There is blood, though it's fading. It appears the nanites are absorbing the residue left from pulling out the arrows. "I…uh," he swallows. "That was different. It was, you were…"

"And this man may be able to tell us what happened to the Athosians," John says levelly. "I'll stand watch, you," he hesitates, "you do what you can, okay?"

Rodney nods, swallows again, then kneels so he can apply the one bandage he has tucked into his vest. "So, uh, sorry if I hurt you. I'm not exactly an expert on voodoo, but I'm all you've got because Colonel McMoron didn't even take First Aid."

"Wilderness Survival, and I know all about surviving, Rodney. I once set my own broken leg in the desert."

Rodney winds the bandage around the man's torso, ignoring the pained sounds as he tightens it. "Yes, you're oh so manly. Was that before or after you freaked out over a spider?"

"It was a tarantula the size of my fist and I-"

"A-are the Bolo Kai…g-gone?" the man interrupts, reaching up to Rodney with his bloody hand. Rodney deftly ducks the attempt at bonding, coincidently dropping the rest of the bandage. Which is looking pretty bloody itself, now that he's paying more attention. "Um, I'm not sure this is…helping as much as it should."

"If it's fresh, it'll bleed a lot."

"Yes, and keeping his organs inside his chest cavity will do so much good when he bleeds out all over the dead leaves and dirt!"

John looks around, grunts, then squats down beside him to slap the man in the face a couple times. "Hey there. Colonel John Sheppard. And you are?"

"Na-Na-Nabel." His voice is weak, and a bit shocky. Rodney's seen enough movies to recognize the tone. "T-the Bolo-"

"We're taking care of them. Listen," he bypasses the bloody hand and grabs the man's shoulders. "The Athosians. What happened to them?"

"Th-the Bolo K-Kai."

Rodney waves his hands. "Yes, yes. You're safe from the-"

"W-Wraith worship-ship," the man coughs, causing even John to jump back as some blood is spit out. "They c-called." He looks to Rodney, pleading. "H-help me."

"Look, I'd love to, I really would. But I just…that's the extent of my medical knowledge! And his isn't much better." As he looks to John, he notices the man's eyes have gone cold, his mouth a firm line. Definitely not good signs, from Rodney's personal knowledge of Sheppard looks. "Colonel?"

"Keep watch, McKay. I'll do what I can to help."

"But you-"

"Now, McKay." It's his 'we're leaving before the planet blows up' tone. He waits a minute to make sure Sheppard's sure, before he gets up and backs off a little, checking the surrounding area for signs of movement. When he hears some pained cries, he winces, but ignores them. If John is doing voodoo, it's not going to be pretty. He checks the detector, making sure no one's hiding behind some trees, when a gunshot rings out, one from a P90.

He rushes back, gun at the ready, when Sheppard stands up. As he skids to a stop, he sees Nabel's bandage is soaked with blood, and his fingers, once fine, are broken at different angles. His eyes are sightless, staring accusingly, and terrified. There's a bullet hole right between them.

"Sheppard! What-"

"Later, McKay." He steps around the body and continues towards the bunker. "We'll get it on the way back." Rodney just stares after him, mouth half-open. Sheppard glances back. "Now, McKay!"

Rodney shuts his mouth and follows, turning his eyes back to the detector. That was the Colonel Sheppard voice, the one he used when he swore to kill Kolya during the storm. This is not someone you can communicate with. This is someone who's doing his duty, protecting his people.

So Rodney continues on in silence. He'll get the story out of John at some point, they all will. Because Sheppard wouldn't kill for no good reason. He also wouldn't torture. There was something the man said or did that triggered this in Sheppard. Because otherwise, this is a sign of stress, or worse, a defect in the Replicator cloning-creation process.

And if Sheppard has a defect, they all do, and he does not want to contemplate the ramifications of that dark thought.


"No," Teyla says, after Sheppard drags the body back to the village. "He is not one of my people. I have never encountered him before."

He can see a part of Sheppard relax at the announcement. Obviously, despite his actions, he'd had some doubt. Rodney would've spoken with him about it, but Sheppard had made him carry a crate of supplies, weapons, and ammunition two hours back to the village. He's a little sore about that. Okay, a lot sore about that. Of course, Sheppard had to haul back the body, which really was payback enough.

Rodney glances around the empty village. There's a bonfire off to the side, and Ronon is piling on the Bolo Kai corpses. Elizabeth looks about as green as Rodney feels, but he's not wasting time to dig graves for scavengers. Or Wraith Worshipers. If that's what they were. "So who was he?"

John still has the stony military mask on. "He claimed he was a spy from the Genii, planted to watch the Athosians. He said the Wraith came, brought here by the Bolo Kai."

"They have been known to worship the Wraith," Teyla says, anger in her voice, "but only as scavengers. I have never heard of them…summoning the Wraith to a planet. Especially as they are well recognized, and most disliked."

"That's what didn't add up," John says. "There's no way your people would've let one of those Bolo guys on this world, much less make contact with the Wraith. You would've shot them the instant they came through the wormhole."

"They also do not work with initiative," she says, nodding slowly. "Each Bolo Kai has its own tribe, each worshipping a different Wraith, who calls them when a world has been completely culled. They are used as…clean-up. Hunting down survivors, and destroying the evidence of civilization. So when the next refugees come…"

"They won't know the Wraith were there, and a new culling season can begin," Rodney finishes. It's rather insidious, and something he can see the Wraith doing. It makes perfect sense, a way to keep the food from realizing a new colony world is favored feeding grounds. "So if they're the clean-up crew, who called in the Wraith?"

John points the muzzle of his gun to the dead body on the ground. "The Genii may be a pain, but they despise the Wraith. He wasn't Genii." A shadow passes over his face. "He wouldn't say what he was, but he did say one name. The name of the Wraith who culled the Athosians."

It takes Rodney a moment, and when it clicks together, he gapes. It takes Elizabeth a few minutes more, but he can tell the instant she gets it because the blood drains away from her face and she has to sit on a nearby stump, her head between her legs.

Teyla narrows her eyes at the body, her fists clenching. "Michael."

Rodney takes a step back at the intensity of hatred in that one word. He would not want to be that particular Wraith the next time they meet.

Sheppard seems to share her feeling, his hands wrapping around the P90. "We need to contact Atlantis. They're the only ones who can track Michael."

They continue to stare at the corpse, and Elizabeth looks no closer to coming up for air, so Rodney sighs and heads over to what he's pretty sure is the communication cabin. He can tell because it looks more like an Earth building disguised as an Athosian structure. Enough to blend in, but if you know what to look for, is obviously artificial. Ronon, Rodney notes, is the only one enjoying this task, but then, killing Wraith Worshipers is only slightly less enjoyable than killing Wraith.

Oh yes, we're adapting just fine. He shakes his head as he enters the hut. It's definitely made of more sturdy materials. He sees a small electric generator, some hidden solar panels, a simple communications system, and a standard Atlantis laptop. He can't help but smile as he boots it up. Obviously, whatever is shielding the bunkers is protecting this facility, too, and they got lucky the Bolo Kai were more interested in finding survivors than raiding the huts first thing.

A scanner program similar to the Jumper's pops up on the screen immediately. After that, it's a basic communications program, though there's no ability to remote-dial the Gate from the village. A serious flaw, but then, the radio is portable, and the Athosians do tend to enjoy their walks. He wouldn't be surprised if they'd requested that set-up.

Still, he checks for some emergency protocol, in case something—like a culling—prevented them from making it to the Stargate. He's pretty sure he's on the right track, when the sensors on the laptop flare, and he bites back a curse as he rushes out of the hut. "We've got an incoming wormhole!"

Nabel's body is gone. Instead, Weir is standing once more, and Ronon has left the fire to conference with Teyla and Sheppard. They all turn at his outburst, Ronon and Sheppard jogging towards him as he runs towards them. "What've we got, McKay?" the Colonel says as they meet.

"I don't know. The sensors aren't that exact, and since there's no shield, no GDO signal is needed. But if they managed to call their Wraith masters…"

Ronon growls and sprints over to the pile of weapons Rodney hauled back. Sheppard claps his shoulder. "Did you get Atlantis' address?"

"Yes, but we can't dial out-"

"That's not important right now." He catches the extra ammo Ronon tosses his way. "Take Weir and go to the Gate in the cloaked Jumper."

"I'm not leaving you-"

"You're our ace in the hole, Rodney! Weir can't pilot or fire! We need you in there!"

"Yes, but," Rodney looks into John's eyes, tries to tell him he doesn't want to leave his team. Except John's looking back, telling him he needs to know Rodney's safe, that someone's protecting Elizabeth, and that he won't be the one behind the Jumper's drone weapons. He trusts Rodney not to accidentally blow them up while taking out the Wraith or whatever it is that's coming through to them. "Yes, alright, fine. Just don't, you know, get stabbed or blow up the Gate or something."

John gives him a half-smirk, then turns and runs over to join Ronon and Teyla, already loaded down with weapons. Elizabeth comes over and watches them head off to the Stargate, her arms crossed. "I never liked watching you go out, not knowing if you'd come back."

Rodney glances at her. "They'll come back. Invulnerable."

Elizabeth gives him a sad smile. "Perhaps this situation is more of a gift than we'd thought."

Rodney just hums, before turning to go to the Jumper. Even at a run, he's got another ten minutes before they reach the Gate. Elizabeth matches his gait, and within three minutes they're in the Jumper and flying over the village. He sees the three dots on the screen—his team—as they approach, then pass overhead, as well as a cluster of life signs around the Gate. A growing cluster.

It starts as twenty, but more keep coming through, each person moving to the left or right, leaving the central stairs clear. As they hover above, he sees through the window that they're not Bolo Kai, but other natives of Pegasus. He'd call them refugees, but they look far too rested and far too well off to be in that category. It's more like a planned resettlement.

Some people have livestock, others have plants. There are a few children as well. None of them are leaving the Stargate, and none of them look panicked as Sheppard, Ronon, and Teyla emerge from the trees, weapons drawn and aimed at them. Most of them are simply watching the wormhole itself.

"This is…unusual," Elizabeth says.

"More like creepy," he replies, scanning the people more closely to make sure they're not Replicators, or smuggling any Wraith tracking devices. Nothing sets off the alarms, though. "Sheppard?"

"No red flags, McKay?"

"Nothing yet." There are almost seventy people now, the groups on both sides of the Gate are watching the wormhole expectantly. Rodney hears Elizabeth hold her breath, and then a young woman walks through. She has blond hair that curls near the shoulder and is wearing a Puritan-type blue dress. Her arms are folded in front of her, hugging a large book. She looks directly at Sheppard and the others, and a large grin breaks out on her face just as the wormhole disengages behind her.

"Colonel Sheppard, people of Atlantis, it is good to see you," the blond woman says.

"Do we know you?" he hears Sheppard ask.

"No, but my father told me of you, and how you will save us from the Asurans." She holds the book tighter, beaming. "We have brought his words to aid you, and ourselves to assist in any way you need."

He can practically see Sheppard's suspicious look. "Who are you people?"

"My apologies," she says, almost embarrassed, but still proud. "I am Linara, leader of the Vedeena." Ronon abruptly lowers his gun, and Teyla lets out a surprised squeak at the announcement. Linara continues to smile, looking at Teyla now. "Davos, the great Seer, was my father."

And to Rodney's—and he's sure Sheppard's—surprise, all sense of hostility melts away from Teyla. She steps forward, clasps Linara's shoulders, and touches their foreheads together. "We are honored by your presence," Teyla says, no anger or frustration left in her voice, "and we welcome the wisdom of Davos."

And soto-voice, just loud enough for Rodney and Weir to hear, Sheppard says, "Anyone else as confused about this as me?


"The Vedeena," Teyla explains once they're back at the Athosian village, "are…were a very private race. Almost legendary. They rarely dealt with other planets, preferring instead to live their lives in isolation. However," she glances over to Linara, who is sitting on one of the elder benches, the book resting in front of her, "their leader, Davos, has been known to me, and many worlds, since I was a child. He was a great Seer, and his visions led worlds to prosperity or ruin. Many who go to consult are turned away. And others, I've heard, arrive to find a welcome group with the answers they seek already prepared."

"And you believe them?" Elizabeth asks.

"I have not thought of the Vedeena for many years, but I have always believed the tales told. My father would exaggerate, but not lie. And Charin was never one to tell tales." She looks Elizabeth directly in the eye. "If these are the Vedeena, then it is a blessing to have them visit this world."

"Or they're moving on because their own was decimated." At the glare he receives from Teyla, Ronon, and Weir, Rodney cringes. "What? We were all thinking it."

Sheppard cuffs the back of his head. "But we weren't saying it, McKay."

"Someone has to," he mutters back.

Ronon crosses his arms. "I'm with Teyla. Fishy timing, but the Satedan government approached the Vedeena for consultations many times. They warned us of the Wraith attack."

"But not of the fact that your military prowess would fail to protect your world." Rodney ducks as Sheppard swings this time. "What? It should be pointed out."

"They did warn us of that," Ronon growls. "We chose not to believe it."

"Oh," he replies. Sheppard won't meet Ronon's eyes at the statement, and Elizabeth is looking at Linara with a glint of curiosity. "Well, it was nice of them to offer to clean up." Ronon hadn't gotten rid of all the bodies yet, and the other Vedenna, the ones not finding temporary shelter among the Athosian dwellings, are continuing the body-burning.

"Yes it was," Teyla says as she exchanges a look with Sheppard and Weir. "We should hear what Davos foresaw in our futures. Perhaps he knew where to find my people."

Rodney is still a little skeptical of people seeing into the future, but he's not going to tear apart what little hope Teyla has. If Michael did take the Athosians, he could be doing anything from feeding on them, to torturing them, to simply spacing them. He's a brilliant man, but not the most stable. So any boost they can get to help rescue them they should take.

Even if the source is questionable. Or dead.

They make their way to the table, Teyla sitting across from Linara, and Weir next to Teyla. He finds a seat next to Sheppard near the end of the oval shape, while Ronon is content to stand in a corner, eyes on them.

Linara looks them all over, before bowing her head. "I am humbled that you respect my father enough to hear his words through me."

"The reputation of Davos is well known among the Athosians," Teyla says, and nods to Ronon, "as well as the Satedans." She holds her hand up. "I am-"

"Teyla Emmagan of Athos. Ronon Dex of Sateda. John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, and Elizabeth Weir of Atlantis and Earth," she stumbles over the last word. "My father saw you. Twice," she says, smiling. "We were all confused by that. But then he said the first ones he saw were…forgotten."

Sheppard's brow furrows, and Rodney moves to say something, but a look from Elizabeth keeps him quiet. "Forgotten, how?"

Linara shakes her head slowly. "He could not explain. He had been in poor health for two harvest seasons. He said that Atlantis and all in it had…forgotten. And that without them, the Asurans would win."

Rodney doesn't like the implications of that. With the star drive, if they so desired, the original Atlantis and her crew could easily escape this galaxy, 'forget' the Wraith and Asuran problem, and go back to Earth. That would mean finding a couple of ZedPMs, but he wouldn't put it past the IOA to be that cold-hearted, especially with the Ori at the doorstep.

Of course, it could also mean there was some system wipe of both the Atlantis computer system and the minds of the crew, or that the city had been forced to submerge and go to sleep again, or even worse, been destroyed. There are too many variables whirling around his head, and something of his conflict must show because Sheppard bumps their shoulders together, giving him a firm, 'we'll deal with it later' look.

Somehow, it's very comforting, and he settles the 'forgotten' issue on his mental back-burner. Still, there is one question that he has to ask. "If we wanted to dial Atlantis, could we?"

Linara looks uncertain. "I…do not know. His visions did not work quite so…specifically. They came in glimpses, moments in time. And towards the end he was not very…" He can see she's struggling. "He did not always make sense. But I wrote everything down, as he said." She touches the book, eyes going distant as she rubs the cover.

"I asked him to grant me the gift, but he said…he said he would be the last. I knew it would help you, help to clarify his visions, but he said," she takes a shuddering breath, "he said he would not end my life so soon." She's frowning now. "I did not understand. He led a long life, but he spoke as if the visions would shorten mine."

Something nags at the back of Rodney's mind and he snaps his fingers, once, twice. "Tumor." They all look at him, Linara especially inquisitive, as if holds the key to some great mystery. And perhaps he does this time. "Jonas Quinn got a tumor in his brain, and it gave him visions of the future. Your father may have had something like that." That, or he was partially ascended, but since the life-signs detector hadn't found anyone with the gene in the population, he doubted that was the case. "It was all very voodoo and random, as if a tumor could violate the laws in a mechanical Newtonian universe-"

"McKay," Sheppard said, "we get it."

At the redness gathering in Linara's eyes, Rodney quickly cuts off his tirade. "Right! Well, anyway, um, so, visions of us?"

Elizabeth gives him a quick, 'you're in trouble' glare before turning a comforting smile on Linara, "I know this must be difficult, but-"

"No," she sits up, shoulders back, "no. I accepted this responsibility. I must not be…distracted." She takes a deep breath, hand pressing down on the cover. "He saw worlds attacked by great ships, filled with false Ancestors. And he saw you," she looks around the table, "speaking with them, calling them Asurans, as a false Atlantis was destroyed by flying yellow lights."

"Drone weapons," McKay mutters. Sheppard only nudges him in the ribs once with his pointy, pointy elbow.

"He couldn't…narrate it all. Sometimes he spoke of places, buildings and towers that made little sense." She opens the leather-bound tome and gently flips through the first few dozen pages before resting her hand on the spine binding. "I attempted to show what he said." She holds the book up, showing them a picture of a rural village, and the command tower of Atlantis rising out from the ground in the background.

It's a familiar image to the team. Rodney remembers the thousands of drones, and the few extra Jumpers they were able to scrounge from the place. He sees Sheppard squirm in his seat a bit at the memories, and gives them a man a crooked smirk. John wrinkles his nose at him I return.

Teyla reaches across the table to touch the page. "We have been to this world before." Her eyes scan the page. "There are no people in your drawing."

Linara nods. "He did not describe any." Her tone turns somber. "Almost all the images lack people. I believe…I believe he saw the future if you could not stop the Asurans."

"How are we supposed to do that, exactly?" Rodney asks, trying to keep the sarcasm from his voice. He is genuinely curious. "We only have one Jumper."

Linara hesitates again. "He said you would know what to do." She fingers the edges of the book, then turns the pages, showing off the artwork. One page shows a crater with a bubble. Sheppard flinches and Rodney bumps his shoulder this time. It's obviously the world with the time dilation field. Another page, and it shows a ghost town right out of America 1920s. The large building in the center is the giveaway this time, the hospital-research facility-repository of knowledge that the Hoff were so proud of.

The Hoff are gone now, though. They were wiped out by the Wraith during the second year of the expedition. Carson never touched the research again after that.

She sets the book down after that picture, looking at the art herself, upside down. "The Asurans are not the only threat. A plague is spreading through the worlds. Only a few have been touched, he said, but more would be if we did not stop the source."

Rodney nearly gets a headache resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "So we have to defeat the Asurans, stop a plague, and solve the mystery of the cryptic drawings as well as save the Athosians?" Sheppard doesn't elbow him this time. In fact, he presses their shoulders together and crosses his arms, presenting a united front. He won't say it, not to Weir directly, but Rodney knows he feels the same way.

"If the other Atlantis is indeed…forgotten," Weir says, "then we have a responsibility to pick up where they left off."

"And have you forgotten that we have our own problems? Never mind the Athosians," Teyla gives him a dirty glare for that, "have you forgotten about us? We're not even the real Atlantis Team! We still have to figure out what to do about that!"

Ronon shrugs, coming out from the shadow of the wall. "We were gonna fight the Asurans anyway." He nods to Linara. "Now we have help."

"Yes, well, we can't exactly be the saviors of the galaxy without the full resources of the SGC and Atlantis backing us up."

"We can try," Elizabeth says resolutely. "We will not run from our responsibilities, just because we are facing our own…personal crises."

"That's putting it mildly," he mutters.

Teyla plants her hands on the table sharply. "Rodney, your disparaging remarks-"

"Are completely in character-"

"And not exactly uncalled for," John completes. "He's right. We can take on the universe all we want, but without some decent support," he nods to Linara, "no offence to your people," he looks back to Weir, "we're just making a lot of noise."

Linara doesn't seem upset at John's comments. In fact, she's sitting back, letting this play out. For a moment, he wonders if this was something Davos saw as well, but shakes it off.

Elizabeth leans forward to argue with Sheppard, but then her mouth shuts, and she stares at John, and him, hard. Rodney shifts uncomfortably under the scrutiny, but eventually she sits back in her seat, folding her hands together on the table. Teyla follows her lead, looking both confused and upset, though the latter are glances she throws mostly at Rodney.

Finally, she looks at Linara. "I want to agree to help," she says diplomatically, "but John and Rodney are right. I would be…impulsive not to consider their words." She looks down at her fingers. "We are in no shape to fight on your behalf."

Linara nods. "And you are worried about the original Atlantis, and the Athosians." She waits for Elizabeth to nod. "My father," she pauses, "my father said you would understand, when you saw it all. But he said to show you those three pictures first. There are…more." She hesitates. "There is more you should hear, too. She flips towards the front of the book, before stopping on a few pages in from the cover.

"He saw the fall of the false-Atlantis, and that you would come here, to a world now vacant. He said," she runs her finger down the page, "he said the Athosians would still be alive," she pauses, letting Teyla sigh her relief, "but that they were in danger from a," she looks up from the book. "He could not settle on this word. He struggled. I suggested 'abomination.' It is not a Wraith, but not a man."

"Michael," Sheppard says, no anger, or even any emotion this time. "I don't suppose you know where we could find him."

She turns the page and reads on her own for a moment, then flips ahead a few more. "He…it was not always in order," she apologizes as she looks over the pages. "Here. They will come to a world where the plague has past. There are no people, but…" She brightens, "Oh." She quickly turns back to the pictures, and holds up the drawing of Hoff. "He went on to describe this place."

Her pleasure fades as a weighted silence descends on the room. Rodney immediately goes over everything Linara has said, what they know of the situation thus far. With the Asurans wiping out whole populated worlds, Michael would have to go to ones already dead, ones the Asurans would have no reason to suspect of life. He'd have to keep on the move, but even so he could set up a series of bases.

Sheppard comes to the same conclusion. "If he's there, he won't be for long. Not if the Asurans are hunting out life signs."

"But why Hoff?" Elizabeth asks.

The pieces slide together so efficiently in his mind that Rodney can't believe he didn't see it before. "A new plague is striking planets in Pegasus."

Teyla's eyes widen. "The Hoffan drug. With such a high mortality rate-"

"It would appear like a plague." He stands up and starts pacing, ducking around Ronon as he goes on each pass. "It makes sense. It kills humans, which he doesn't care about, but it also prevents the Wraith from feeding. And if he randomized it enough," he snaps his fingers and points to Teyla, "then the Wraith will get overly paranoid and turn on each other."

"And on the planets they can't feed on," Ronon pipes in. "They like Runners, but a whole planet will end up like Hoff."

"Which is what Michael wants. He doesn't care about either race." He punches the bottom of his fist into his palm. "And Hoff is perfect! He can perfect the drug, and continue his genetic experiments!" He looks at Weir. "Think about it! We didn't take any of their medical supplies, we thought they were too primitive, and we had the Daedalus ferrying in supplies from Earth."

Elizabeth sees exactly where he's going, frowning as she too sees exactly what they left to scavenge. "I see what you mean." She looks at Linara. "And you're sure the Athosians are there?"

She shrinks back at the combined force of their stares. "I…when they will be there, I cannot say. Davos' visions can be weeks, even months ahead."

"The Athosians were taken recently," Ronon says. "He'd have to keep them somewhere."

"And if he wanted to experiment on them, that world is all set up. They even have quarantine cells he could lock them in."

"Right," John stands, putting his hands on his hips. "Teyla, Ronon, Rodney, we're going to Hoff. If we're on time, we free the Athosians and take Michael out. If we're early," he looks to Rodney, "you can sabotage his work, right?"

Rodney snorts. "Look who you're talking to, Colonel. Think before you ask."

"Colonel," Elizabeth says, still seated, hands still in front of her. "I haven't approved this mission." Rodney looks between Elizabeth's 'I'm in charge' glare and Sheppard's 'Don't leave anyone behind' look. Elizabeth may be their leader, but he knows, one way or another Sheppard will be going to Hoff. "We still need to decipher the rest of Davos' words and pictures, and the question of what to do with the Vedeena."

Again, Rodney could swear the nanites are accelerating his brain, helping him work out enigmas as if they were a simple power distribution problem. "The Tower." All eyes turn to him again. "We don't have Atlantis, but the world with the Tower is a sister city. We took its primary weapons, but maybe it has secondary. Or maybe some other weapon we can use to destroy the Replicators."

He points to Elizabeth. "If you approached them, with Linara and some Vedeena guards while we're off saving the day, maybe we can get access to the city." He brightens. "It may not be Atlantis, but it's pretty damn close, and you know we need a resource like that if we're gonna fight the Asurans."

Sheppard stares at him, then breaks out his own grin, before turning it on Elizabeth, eyebrows rising. "Sounds like a good idea to me."

A flash of hurt, or maybe betrayal crosses her face, but then she composes herself, and turns to Linara. "Would that be…acceptable to you? I was the diplomat for Atlantis, but you are the leader of your people."

Linara's eyes glimmer with a hint of amusement. "I don't think you quite grasp why we're here, Doctor Weir." She looks outside. "These are the last of the Vedeena. The Asurans will destroy our world tomorrow. We are not just helping you to defeat the Asurans. We are pledging ourselves to you."

Rodney would mock the stunned look on Elizabeth's face, except he's pretty sure he's sporting the exact same expression.

Linara barrels on. "I know…my father knew you could not return home. Atlantis has forgotten. We will help you fight, and then we will help you build. We need a new world, and it was my father's wishes that you," she waves her hand around the room, "would be a part of that."

For once, Elizabeth seems to be at a loss for words. Rodney isn't, but he can't say anything because so many words want to come out that he's mentally stalled, unsure of where to start. Ronon doesn't even bother being stunned. He exchanges a glance with Teyla, then tugs on the sleeve of John's jacket. John nudges him, and Rodney is about to snap at him when he sees the three of them quietly sneaking out.

Right. The mission to Hoff. And Michael won't stay in one place for very long.

He's almost sorry about his feelings of team loyalty and protection. He'd give a map to a ZedPM to hear how Elizabeth talks them out of that situation.


Their arrival on Hoff is about as subtle as, well, the backwash of a wormhole forming. They're cloaked, naturally, but a wormhole opening with no one arriving is bound to set off any and all of Michael's alarms. Fortunately, he has something of a plan. The wormhole shuts down a second later, and Rodney starts dialing a random planet.

John grabs his hand. "What're you-"

"Automatic correlative updates, Colonel." He yanks his hand free and finishes the dialing sequence. "The Stargates use them occasionally to re-reference star systems. With the destruction of worlds by the Asurans, it wouldn't be surprising that some are occurring."

Teyla leans forward as the wormhole forms, stays active a minute, then deactivates. "You believe Michael would know of this system?"

That's the gambit. "He's smart enough to know how to disable a DHD," he offers with a weak smile.

John sighs, but swings the Jumper around and pulls up the scanner display. All of them gape at the number of life signs being picked up. "For a dead world," he says, "this place sure is lively."

Rodney figures it's his turn to reach over and slap John on the shoulder, so he does. "You might also have noticed that, Colonel." He points to the far edge of the settlement, and as far as it can be from the Stargate, lies a Wraith Hive Ship. He checks over the readings. "Minimal power. He's obviously not expecting company." And probably keeping all power outputs so low the Asurans won't detect him, he thinks.

Michael may be a psychopath, but he is definitely a good strategist.

Ronon points to a cluster of life signs with four others patrolling around it. "The Athosians?"

"Probably," Rodney pulls up another display, showing the schematics of the structure. "And of course, only one entrance filled with guards." He flops back in his seat.

Sheppard smirks at him, and taps his P90. "Got that angle covered, McKay."

He resists rolling his eyes, just barely. Unfortunately, he still finds himself grinning. Obviously, he's been hanging around Sheppard and Ronon far too long.

Teyla looks at the rest of the display. "Which one is Michael?"

Rodney shakes his head. "It can't differentiate except between us thanks to our radios." He points to the old Hoffian lab. There's four life signs, including one that's fading. "He could be here," he points to a room near the Athosians, also being patrolled, "or maybe even here."

"Could be in the ship," Ronon adds. "Can't see life signs till you're in."

Which could be a problem if Michael realizes they're there and decides to obliterate the buildings with a quick burst of weapons fire. "So what's the plan?" he asks instead.

Sheppard lands the Jumper behind one of the larger disused buildings, one with no life signs in it. "Teyla, Ronon, you take the ship." He glances over his shoulder. "I'm sure you can handle a few Wraith, right?"

Rodney can see the two of them actually remembering their stint on Sateda, and that bit about who could kill the most Wraith. "You want us to destroy the ship?"

"No!" Rodney nearly jumps out of his seat. "We can use it! Especially if we can get it intact. We can see what worlds he's delivered the drugs to, and any other lab facilities he might have."

Teyla nods. "Then we shall go to the bridge. And if I find Michael I promise not to kill him. Unless it is absolutely necessary." Ronon chooses that moment to charge up his energy pistol. It's perfect timing, like a dramatic scene right out of a television show. "You will ensure my people are unharmed?"

Sheppard nods. "That'll be our first stop." He looks to Rodney. "Then we'll check out those other life signs after your people are on their way to the Gate."

Teyla bows her head, then slides from her seat and heads to the back ramp, picking up an extra Satedan gun as she moves. Ronon doesn't even bother with another gun, just pulls out the broadsword from his back. Rodney looks at the display another moment, and when he turns back, they're gone.

Sheppard sets the security system and lock-out protocols for the Jumper. "Radio silence, McKay. We don't want to give Michael any indication that we're here."

"What if Teyla and Ronon need help?" At Sheppard's raised eyebrow, he rolls his eyes. "Fine, what if we need help?"

"I'll be just fine, and nearby. Just yell if you're in trouble." He pushes himself up from the seat and hooks his P90 to his tac vest, along with a few extra rounds of ammo.

Rodney follows suit. "Do you think the nanites would stop the Wraith from feeding on us?"

Sheppard's fingers freeze as he double checks his straps. "McKay…"

"I'm not saying they're going to get the chance! I'm just…if it can heal an arrow wound, what happens when they go into a body that already has regenerative properties?"

Sheppard frowns, and tightens his vest one last time. "Let's go, McKay." He's doesn't wait for a response as he heads towards the ramp.

Rodney sighs, but follows, making sure to grab the bag with his tablet as well. Knowing Michael, there'll be a few unpleasant surprises in his systems. Some sort of self-destruct mechanism, or booby traps. He plans on being ready, not getting trapped beneath the rubble of a building until he…well, can he starve to death? Or can the elements kill him? Just what are the maximum parameters for their nanites?

He makes a mental checklist as he follows Sheppard through the ghost town. He should check to see the nanites' defensive capabilities, what termination protocols are in place, whether they're interchangeable with each other, or even if they're adaptable to other life forms. He decides to snag the two arrows that had hit him and Sheppard once they're back on New Athos when Sheppard holds up a fist and drops to kneel on the ground.

Rodney kneels as well and checks the detector. They're right outside the building with the cluster of people, about a twenty minute walk from the ship. Two dots are moving around the building, and will cross the alleyway they're hiding in. He lowers his voice and leans close, his mouth right next to Sheppard's ear. "Do we wait until Teyla and Ronon can infiltrate, or move first?"

Sheppard's ears flush, but he holds up his fist again, and Rodney backs down, moving to the other side of the alley so he can get a clean shot off if necessary.

He's expecting Wraith, or even those bug monsters from their last encounter with Michael. He is not expecting humanoids with Wraith features. They're wearing Athosian garments, and sporting Athosian hairstyles, but that's where the similarities eyes. Their skin is gaunt, a sickly pale with a hint of purple veins just beneath the surface. Their eyes seem almost black, even from this distance, and their hands, though clutched around stunners, have five fingers ending in sharp, black-tipped claws.

He's not sure if this is a better or worse direction in Michael's research, and in all honesty he doesn't want to find out. A quick glance reveals that the other patrols are far away, nowhere near enough to help. He glances at Sheppard, who's set his P90 to single-shot. Rodney tucks himself as close to the wall as he can, exchanges a look with the Colonel, then ducks the man fires his first round.

It hits the nearest patrolman right in his temple, and he falls to the ground, a look of shock on his face. The other one shoots blindly in their direction, striking a barrel at the entrance of the alleyway. As he reaches for what looks like a radio, Sheppard fires again. This one strikes the man in the throat, and he chokes. Sheppard stands then, firing three more rounds. Two hit the man's heart, the other his stomach. He falls, gurgling on blood.

Rodney swallows. "Very efficient, Colonel." He checks the detector again. Another of the patrols will be by in about five minutes if they keep up their current pace. "Now what?"

Sheppard goes to stand over the bodies. To be safe, he shoots five more rounds into each guy, mostly in the face, then looks to Rodney. "How many others?"

"Six. Each is a team of two. We have about three minutes now."

Sheppard nods, frowning at the two corpses. Up close they look even more like bastardized native hybrids, and Rodney suddenly has an inkling of why Michael targeted the Athosians in particular. If he could make them like him… "His ultimate revenge."

"I think that's him killing us," Sheppard says, glancing at the detector before swinging his weapon towards the corner of the building. He switches back over to automatic fire. "Get ready, Rodney."

Rodney tucks the detector away in his vest and brings his own weapon up, facing the opposite direction. He has no idea what stunners will do with a nanite body, but since reactions are supposed to be pretty normal, he's willing to bet they'll still be paralyzed.

And he is not letting Sheppard face these things on his own. The instant he hears gunfire, he falls to his knee, ignoring the twinge of pain. After a moment, it's completely gone, just in time for two more guards to come around the corner, weapons drawn. He may not be the best shot, but he sprays back and forth, simply holding down the trigger. He can see he hits both of them several times, mostly in the knees before he adjusts his aim, but by then, they're staggering to the ground and their heads are directly line of site for the weapon's muzzle.

A door slamming open is the only warning they have before weapons fire comes from the building next to them. They must be having a psychic moment, because after Rodney rolls away from the weapon blasts to hide behind an abandoned cart, he sees Sheppard completing the same move, landing behind a pile of sandbags. Unfortunately, he has to duck behind the cart since two of them are firing directly at him. He can hear Sheppard in the same predicament, only one of the sandbags explodes.

Then he hears wood splinter, and he realizes the stunners aren't set to stun, but kill. Which is basically just an energy blast, like a staff blast. It gives him a disturbing idea. He's insane, he's got to be insane, but…well, he was insane when he pulled that arrow out, and it's worked for him before.

Letting out a long yell, Rodney jumps up from his position and runs in an arc towards Sheppard, firing blindly in the direction of the four guards. He sees one go down and one clutch a new wound when two blasts of energy hit, one in the shoulder, one in his thigh. His cry is cut off, and he falls, feeling pain, then numbness as blood tries to flow to the cauterized wounds.

"Rodney," he hears Sheppard scream, and then more gunfire. He's not dead, but the blast on his thigh must have vaporized one of his arteries, because the world becomes dim, a dark haze covering his view. One more of the guards goes down, but the other two have ducked behind his abandoned cart, getting off a shot or two when Sheppard pauses.

He thinks he's about to pass out, when the world stills, or at least, his perception of it does. He can't hear anything but his own heartbeat, and the null background noise he registers when his mind is in overdrive. The haze just lifts, like a flimsy curtain, and the pain slips away as the blackened skin melts into the new growth. His leg no longer feels numb, and for just one instant, that rush of invulnerability strikes, a mix of an adrenaline, endorphins, and finding an awesome new weapon in Atlantis.

It's like being on the Wraith enzyme again, except there's no temptation of addiction, just a moment of mental and physical elevation, of perfection. This is what he'd always assumed Ascension would be like, not just his mind, but his body becoming something greater before leaving this plane of existence.

The world snaps back into focus, and he sits up, the guards completely unaware that he's fine until he mows them down. He has a perfect side-view of their position. Within two minutes, the shooting's over, and Rodney can't help but grin, because getting hit hurt like a son of a bitch, but it worked. His idea worked!

He could get used to this.

Then Sheppard is hauling him up by the front of his tac vest, face furious. "Don't you ever do that again, McKay! Do you know how fucking-"

"Invuln-"

"I don't care!" He shoves Rodney against the nearest building, standing so close they are literally nose-to-nose. His voice goes quiet, dark. "If you ever do that again…" He angrily exhales hot air right into Rodney's face. "God damn, McKay. If you really do have a death wish-"

"I thought I could end it."

"You thought wrong."

Rodney looks over Sheppard's shoulders to the strewn bodies, but decides now probably isn't the time to contradict him, especially when he shoves his own body against Rodney's.

"Don't you dare do that to me," he whispers fiercely. "We're all we've got, your words. I will not lose my team. Especially not, not," he glares, eyes almost glowing in the shadows, but he doesn't finish the sentence. After keeping eye contact for a minute, the fist that's holding him in place shaking, Sheppard steps back, releasing him. "Don't do it again." He turns and goes over to inspect the bodies, make sure they're actually dead again.

Rodney lets out the breath he forced himself to hold and leans against the wall. That was…alright, that was actually frightening. Obviously, he's getting a little reckless, but last time Sheppard had been thrilled. Of course, that had been under controlled circumstances, with Atlantis and medics and other people Sheppard could rely on.

Only Sheppard keeps glancing at him, as if making sure he's still there, still alive. It could just be reflex but the intensity in Sheppard's voice, the emotion in his eyes… It's not something Rodney can identify. Not now, at least. Sheppard has always been an enigma he needs to study quietly, and from multiple angles. This moment was Sheppard being himself, but also something else, something that demands his attention.

He'll focus on it later, after they've freed the Athosians. He checks the detector, but no other life signs appear to be running in their direction. Even the ones guarding the two rooms in the next building are staying put. Obviously, these creations can follow commands, or the guards aren't actually guards, but something else. They'll know soon enough.

He walks over to Sheppard, who's checking the interior of the building. "I'm not seeing anyone until we hit the basement," he says, trying to keep his voice normal. "Either Michael didn't have enough guards yet, or these ones weren't ordered to remain with the prisoners."

Sheppard nods tersely. "Alright. Let's go." He heads into the building, weapon sweeping the area even though Rodney just declared it all clear. Shaking his head, Rodney follows, checking the detector ever few steps to make sure nothing hibernating suddenly wakes up. He obviously wasn't wrong with his guess, because they make it to the basement and the makeshift holding pen without further problems.

"Colonel Sheppard!" Halling rushes to the front of the crowd. They've all lost weight, but from the looks of things, it appears most of the Athosians are here. "We were not sure you would find us. The Wraith came without warning-"

"We had a little help from some new friends," Sheppard says, standing as close to the bars as he can. Rodney finds the door and the semi-computerized lock. "Your people okay?"

He smiles, relieved. "A little hungry, mostly frightened. Have you brought many reinforcements?"

Rodney grimaces as he looks over the non-technological part of the locking mechanism. From the corner of his eye, he can see Sheppard making the same face, though for a different reason.

"Unfortunately, it's just us. Ronon and Teyla have gone to deal with those on the Hive ship."

Halling clutches the bar. "They mustn't! Some of our people have been taken there, and changed! He has taken nearly forty of us for his experiments!"

Rodney does not envy Teyla having to face her own people, but she's faced worse challenges. And if worse comes to worst, Ronon will handle it.

"We'll check on them," Sheppard assures him, "once we've got you safely home. The Vedeena will take care of you on New Athos."

"The Vedeena," Halling says, almost reverently. "They…why did they come to see us?"

"It's a long story," Sheppard glances back at the stairwell. "I'll tell you later. McKay?"

Rodney glances down at the detector. Some new signs have left the ship, but are still ten minutes away. Which means he doesn't have time to decrypt and then pick the lock. He holds out his hand and looks at Sheppard expectantly. "I assume you have C4 in there?"

Sheppard frowns, but true to form pulls out a block from one of his less-used pockets and tosses it at him. "Halling, you and your people get as far away from the door as possible."

"Yes, yes, of course. Everyone!" He makes a complicated hand motion and as one the group immediately moves to the opposite side of the cage.

It's good timing, because Rodney's finished affixing the plastic and sets up the detonator before sprinting towards Sheppard. "Ready!" They both run to the edge of the room.

Sheppard pulls out the switch and yells, "Fire in the hole!" There's a sharp blast, and almost anticlimactically, the door slowly swings open a few inches and hangs there. "Alright, we'll cover you back to the Stargate. Let's go," he yells into the cell before running up the stairs.

Rodney follows him, trying not to get run over by the stampede of Pegasus natives. He tries to sound encouraging, but for all the good the nanites do, it's still difficult speaking and moving up stairs. He settles at the landing, pointing the way out and yelling general directions to the Stargate. In ten minutes the basement is clear. When it doesn't look like any more people are coming out he checks the detector to make sure they didn't leave anyone behind, then rushes to the doorway and presses himself against it, aiming the gun towards the street.

The first wave of pursuers is tailing the crowd, and he can hear the exchange of stunner energy and Sheppard's P90. Every dot that goes still has a small herd descend on it from the fleeing mass and continue towards the Gate. It's very efficient, especially since Michael's men seem to be dwindling in numbers with every shot the Colonel takes.

However, twelve more life signs are approaching, and while some are going around, heading for the Stargate, nine are heading in the most direct route, and he'll have the perfect shot to take most of them out. He's not exactly proud that he knows how to slaughter people, maybe even once-allies, but at this moment he's glad Sheppard and Ronon forced him to target practice at least three times a week. He may not be as precise as the Colonel or ex-Runner, but a sweeping spray of bullets is just as effective as one deadly shot.

He waits until all the reinforcements are around the building before opening fire. He doesn't look at their faces, their uniforms, just shoots at anything moving. And when he finishes, he finds himself smirking because this time, there's not a single mouse with the bodies on the ground. His smirk fades, however, as he looks at the earlier patrols, the one that should be dead. They're regenerating. At a slow rate, but a check confirms that some have a weak heartbeat again. Obviously, whatever Michael did to these people, it made them more resilient.

Which makes them a greater threat. The Wraith need to feed to regenerate. He doesn't see a single feeding orifice on any of these men, which means they're regenerating in a manner similar to the nanites, only at a much more sedate pace.

In the distance, he hears the Stargate activate, along with some huffing nearby. He swings around, weapon up, but it's just Sheppard, a little bloodied, but any wounds he had must've been superficial, since he can't see any damage. Sheppard slows as he approaches, looking at the new bodies. He slaps Rodney on the shoulder. "Good work, McKay."

"Temporary work," he says, showing Sheppard the detector's scans. "Michael's been busy." He sees two of the three pursuers vanish from his detector. "Armed the Athosians?"

"Halling picked up some of their stunners. They're not getting captured again." Sheppard taps the detector. "Not much of an armed force."

"Either Ronon and Teyla are distracting most of them, or Michael didn't have enough of his," he waves at the bodies, "converts ready." He winces. "Give him a month, though, and he could've made an army."

"Just as well these guys are invincible," Sheppard says, taking aim at the ground. "Maybe we can figure out a way to change them back." Lets out a series of shots over the bodies, taking particular aim at the first guards they took down. "Think that'll buy us some time?"

"Yes, Jesus, Sheppard!" He taps the screen on the detector almost violently. "They wouldn't have been up for at least three hours by my calculations!"

"Hey," Sheppard says with a dark smirk, "it's all voodoo." Rodney huffs in reply. "C'mon. Let's see what they're guarding in the main medical building."

"Fine. But if we run into those giant bug things? You're on your own."

Sheppard shakes his head. "With our luck? And knowing Michael? It'll be worse than giant bugs."

Rodney snorts, but brushes his shoulder against Sheppard's once as they power walk towards the Hoffan hospital.


There are no patrols around what was once the Hoffan's greatest building, and the two guards outside the crowded room fall before they even know anyone else is in the building. The door slams open and another guard runs out. Sheppard shoots that one just as something slams into Rodney. The guard from the other cell, he realizes as the man tries to claw out his throat.

He's getting used to almost dying, and he chokes on his blood for all of twenty-three seconds—he counts this time—before the wound heals up and the man above him makes a surprised, almost frightened noise. He manages to choke out, "Boo," before Sheppard kicks the guard away and puts about thirty rounds in the body.

By the time Sheppard helps him up, his clothes are stained, but the wounds are practically gone. He swallows the blood and makes a gagging noise. "I hate the taste of iron."

"Next time don't get blindsided," he says, tone a mix of worry and humor.

Rodney has a snappy comeback somewhere in his mind, but he's risked a look at the detector to make sure neither of them are about to be ambushed. The cell down the hall still holds a single, unmoving life sign. In the room before them there are two unmoving dots, and one edging uncertainly towards the door against the wall. Rodney shows it to Sheppard, pointing at the screen, then the open metal door.

Sheppard gives him a small glare, but doesn't say anything as he approaches the room. Rodney follows just a little behind, ready to play bait if necessary. He still can't help thinking, Invulnerable, over and over in his head. The real him should look into nanite enhancement. Other than being an outcast from Earth and probably viewed as a threat by Atlantis and all his closest friends, it's not bad.

He actually lets out a snort at that, to which Sheppard gives him a sharp look, one that promises pain and lectures about stealth, before the sound of something glass dropping interrupts them.

"I bloody know that snort…Rodney?!"

Rodney freezes at the voice, at the familiar accent, and as the owner of the voice almost skids around the corner, he feels a vice clamp around his heart, his lungs. His head pounds in time with his pulse, and he feels his extremities go numb, like he's just bitten into an orange. It can't be him, he knows because the Replicators were very thorough with their memory reconstruction. He remembers attending the funeral, and actually sobbing in the hotel room, and falling asleep clutching a very drunk Sheppard, knowing that if he ever lost John, that he'd…he couldn't…

"Rodney? Are you okay-"

Sheppard steps between him and Carson, weapon still up and aimed at the man. "Not another step."

"Colonel, what are you doin'? It's me!"

"Carson Beckett died in Atlantis." Sheppard's voice is as sharp as any of Ronon's knives. "You're dead, Doctor."

There's a shocked silence, and Rodney takes the time to get his breathing under control, to stop himself from throwing up all over Sheppard's back.

"I…I didn't." Carson's response is quiet, shocked. "I was in the medical tent, with Michael. He was…he used a stunner. When I woke up, I was trapped on a hive ship." There's a loud swallow. "I swear, swear on my mother's good health, that I am Carson Beckett. The man you knew," Sheppard raises the gun, but it doesn't deter Carson. "The man you knew," he says again, "must've been a clone."

Finally, Rodney thinks he's got enough control over himself to move forward so he's next to Sheppard. What this man is saying is plausible, it wouldn't be the first time Michael's used cloning, but it's more likely the real Carson died, and this, this is just a clone. He looks at the detector, and sure enough, Carson is the third life sign in the room. "He's, he's not an Asuran."

"Doesn't mean he's not under Michael's control."

"I'm not!" Carson says, but he looks ill. "I, he's…well, he's poisoned me." He flinches when John moves, but he's just lowering the gun. That seems to give Carson some of his resolve back. "I have to take a derivative of the Wraith enzyme, something only Michael can synthesize, at least once a week or I go through…cellular degeneration."

Rodney tightens his grip on the detector, and resists the urge to call Teyla and tell her to shoot the bastard for him as well. "What'd he do to you?"

Carson looks around the building. "He brought me here to perfect the virus. He wants…wants to starve the Wraith, make them turn against each other."

"We figured that much out," Sheppard snaps, tone still guarded. "Who's in the room?"

Carson shuts his eyes and turns away. "He makes me…perfect his experiments."

Rodney stares, then steps forward. Sheppard puts a hand on his chest, but Rodney brushes it away, stepping past Carson to look in the room. He sees two male Athosians, young, one who couldn't even be out of his teens. A series of IV bags are hung around the tables they're strapped on. They're unconscious, but he can see their nails are turning black, their healthy tanned skin turning the sickly Wraith skin color.

He looks over his shoulder. "How do we stop it?"

"I can't." Carson sounds apologetic at that. "I've been trying to work out a reversal formula, in secret, but he's…very good at watching what I do. Even if we unhook them, the transformation will continue. Without the full treatment, though, their genetic structure will degrade, and they'll-"

"Do it," Sheppard says. "Stop the transformation."

"Colonel-"

"They'd rather be dead than slaves to Michael. You know that." Sheppard looks directly into Carson's eyes. "If we can save the others," he says, some of his usual tone slipping in, "we will."

"What do you mean if, Colonel," he asks as he goes in to disconnect the IVs. "With the full resources of Atlantis-"

"It's complicated," Rodney interrupts. "We'll…explain once we're safe."

"Can't be too safe with Michael around. He had about seventy of these hybrids on his ship before he started changing the Athosians." He looks to the side again. "He wanted to see if dormant Wraith DNA would enhance the transformation process."

"I'm starting to think shooting the son of a bitch is too good a death," Rodney mutters.

"Wouldn't work anyways." Sheppard indicates the two Athosians on the table. "How long until…?"

"Three, maybe four hours. Colonel, it's…if they regain consciousness, the pain they'll be in-"

"Rodney, take Beckett to the other cell."

Rodney knows what John's going to do. It's just like what he did back on New Athos. He grabs Carson's arm and though the man resists, Rodney's able to drag him to the hallway and down the corridor. About halfway to the other room he hears jogging, and then Sheppard's caught up to them. Obviously, he went for something more subtle than a gunshot to the head, but the flash of guilt in his eyes vanishes the instant Rodney meets them.

"I have to warn you," Carson says as they approach the door, "the guard that stood here was to prevent me from going in, from…ending this line of Michael's research." There's trepidation in his voice, along with anger, or suppressed rage. "I…I actually begged him to stop, even refused the medication for a week before…"

Sheppard stops in front of the metal door and slams the butt of the rifle against the padlock. It snaps and he tosses it to the ground. "What're we gonna find in here, Doc?"

"The source of Michael's latest hybrid experiments." He takes a deep breath, but refuses to get any closer. "I'm," he hesitates, an ocean of sorrow behind his tone, "I'm so, so sorry, Colonel."

That makes John pause, for just a minute, but he opens the door with a gentle push, and lets it swing to the inside wall slowly. His face immediately goes blank, but from the way he grips his weapon, Rodney knows this is bad, an abomination beyond what they've seen of Michael's works in the past. When it looks like Sheppard's going to burst a blood vessel, Rodney grabs his shoulders and shoves him to the side, out of the doorway to the wall just outside.

He stands there, stone-faced, before turning a look of utter fury on Carson. He stalks forward and looms, his hands rising like he's going to hit the doctor, or choke him, or just snap his neck. Rodney's about to intervene when Carson quietly says, "I know."

Sheppard's hands clench, but then fall to his side, and he storms off heading, back down the corridor.

Rodney moves to look in the room, and Carson touches his shoulder. "Don't."

"I have to," he says. Because whatever this is, it's enough to shake Sheppard to his core. And if Rodney's going to help, he has to understand. Steeling his resolve, he walks into the doorway and lays his eyes on the sole body in the room.

It's a man, completely stripped and strapped to an upright-angled table. He's undergone a vivisection, with his chest skin pinned down to the sides of the table and his organs laid bare. Some have been moved, one or two have been sliced up. Above the neck the head's still intact, until the upper cranium, where the skin and upper skull have been removed, and wires are plugged directly into the brain. There's a life-support monitor, but Rodney doesn't need it because he can see the heart pumping, the lungs expanding. There's even some rudimentary brain activity.

A solid black left eye stares at him accusingly, while the normal brown right one is empty, glazed. His mouth is propped open, the pink of his tongue a stark contrast to his dark skin. Parts of his hands are deformed, or missing fingers. Welts and full sections of tissue have been dug out of both legs, and his left foot has been almost completely sawed off.

"Ford," he manages to gasp, before promptly turning to the side and throwing up.

Carson is there, rubbing his back. "I…I've been trying…" He lets out a pained sound. "He didn't deserve this."

Rodney would whole-heartedly agree, except he's trying to heave out his liver and most of his intestines at the moment. The sickest part is that his mind is connecting the dots, of how Michael found Ford, found the effects of the Wraith enzyme on a human, and turned it into the cornerstone of his new hybrid research. He can even understand why Michael would need to keep him alive, how much more useful he is like this, than as a corpse. A little more bile escapes from his mouth.

He feels, more than sees, Sheppard return. He's still radiating fury, but his tone is more controlled. "Did you do this?" is all he asks in a tight voice.

Carson seems to shrink at Sheppard's presence, though against the wall, rather than into the room. "No. I…he knew what I would do. He showed me the source of his new work, but did all of this," he blanches a bit, "himself."

"Can he understand us?" He sees Sheppard grab Carson's coat and pull him forward. "Does he feel any of those scalpels and wires?!"

Carson takes a deep breath, and lets it out, a little relieved. "Blessedly, no. He…he's brain dead. He was the instant…" He hesitates. "You don't want to know, Colonel. But I did check. It…it's a small mercy."

Sheppard growls, growls exactly like Ronon, then shoves Carson away and goes to stand by the table. Ford's eye doesn't track the movement, in fact the brain monitor, from what Rodney can see, registers just basic autonomic functions. Sheppard stares down at the body, looking it over, before settling on the face, studying it.

His stomach seems to be out of materials, so Rodney leans back against the wall, not standing up, but not moving to sit, either. He watches John, as Carson stands nearby, head down, entire posture projecting shame and disgust, though whether the latter's at himself or at Michael, Rodney can't tell.

"Michael doesn't do mercy," Sheppard says quietly. "If he could, he would've let Aiden suffer." He moves to touch the body, then pulls his hand away. He ducks his chin down. "Could we help him?"

Carson opens his mouth, but Rodney holds up his hand to keep him quiet. He knows who that question was directed towards. "Even if we could, we don't know what would happen in another body. And I doubt they can fix brain death."

Sheppard nods once, never taking his eyes off Ford. "How do we end this?"

Carson moves over to the monitoring equipment. Behind it is obviously a central processor. Beneath that is a large Wraith-looking box. "Personal generator. If this stops…"

Sheppard moves around the table and traces the fibers from the processor. All of the wires keeping Ford alive condensed into one simple cord. Sheppard yanks it out of the generator with a sharp twist. The monitors go silent. Ford's heart beats once, twice, then his lungs completely deflate.

They stare at the body, one minute, five, ten. Rodney doesn't know. He hears Sheppard whisper, "Semper Fi, Lieutenant," before lapsing back into silence.

A crackle over the radio breaks it a while later. "Colonel," Teyla says, "We have secured the Hive ship and Michael is…detained." Rodney can almost hear the violence imparted behind that one word.

Sheppard doesn't respond for a few seconds, before he reaches up to his earpiece. "Good work. Bring him to the main hospital. And tell Ronon the hybrids heal even after they're down."

"He is aware of the situation and is cocooning the ones not decapitated. Do you need assistance?"

Rodney looks from Carson, to Ford, to Sheppard, and touches his own ear piece. "Not of the kind you're thinking of."

Carson lets out a soft sound at that, a sob or a laugh.

Rodney knows exactly how he feels.


Ronon and Teyla bring Michael with them when they come. He's not so much following as being dragged by a boot. He doesn't have his hands with him, but Rodney's willing to bet they're in the bag dripping blood from Ronon's belt. The most startling thing is Ronon's sword, standing straight out of the guy's neck. "He was not very…cooperative," is all Teyla says in explanation, dropping the man.

Ronon grunts. He's covered in blood and his clothes are still repairing themselves, but he's grinning. He goes over to the hybrids he, Carson, and Sheppard dragged out of the building before they applied the C4. They left Ford inside, the door closed. Rodney could see Sheppard debate that, wanting to bring the kid home for a proper burial, but bringing him like that would destroy Elizabeth. Not to mention if Atlantis isn't around there would be no proper place to bury the body.

At least they now can take him off MIA and officially list him as KIA. It's not the great comfort he thought it would be.

The open fury from before has vanished, but the fire raging behind Sheppard's eyes makes Rodney wary. He approaches Michael's prone form, gun at the ready. He's not dead, unfortunately. His chest heaves occasionally, and he lets out a choked, gasping sound when Sheppard's shadow covers him. The hybrids may heal quickly compared to humans, but Michael was originally a Wraith, which means his regenerative powers are far superior to begin with. In theory, he could be left in this living limbo, his body regenerating just enough to keep him paralyzed and living in utter agony.

Rodney can't deny that the thought has merit, and a bit of poetic justice.

Ronon gives Carson a slap on the back so hard the man stumbles, while Teyla hugs him, smearing the blood she's wearing all over his lab coat and Athosian clothing. Rodney ignores the happy reunion in favor of moving to stand on the other side of the body, letting his presence be known as John squats just above Michael's head.

"You're a son of a bitch," he says quietly, "a fucking bastard who deserves ten times the torment you inflicted. It was always personal, but I never let it impede my judgment." His breathing becomes harsher, and he grips the hilt of the sword. "Until I saw what you did in there. You cut him open." He tugs, slicing some of the neck. "You left him there like a fucking frog in fucking biology."

His knuckles have turned white and, Rodney notes, all sounds of conversation have stopped. He can feel the eyes of everyone on them, on what's going on.

"You created a clone of one of our dearest friends, used him, his knowledge, to kill hundreds, thousands." He bares his teeth, lowering himself even closer to Michael's face. "You took the Athosians. You kidnapped Teyla's people. What were you gonna do? Turn them all into those monsters? Use them to lure her to you?"

"John-"

"You're done," he continues, ignoring Rodney. "You are never coming after my people again. You're never coming after anyone again." He jerks up, grips the hilt with both hands, and torques his body like he's hitting a drive. Rodney gets spattered with Michael's blood as his head rolls to the side, half cut-off.

Rodney pushes down the instinct reaction of freaking out at being covered in Wraith blood to instead step over the twitching body. John is holding the sword up, the perfect post-swing golf pose, except for the black liquid dripping off the blade. Sheppard's still staring at the body, visibly shaking again. Slowly, Rodney reaches out and places one hand on Sheppard's armband. With the other, he grabs the butt of the hilt.

"John," he says quietly, "let go." He guides the arm down a little, trying to get Sheppard to release his grip. "C'mon, Ronon wants his sword back." A full-body shudder wracks John's frame, along with a harsh breath, and then Rodney has to move quickly to avoid the weapon from falling on his feet. It lands with a harsh clang, Michael's blood pooling around it.

That's one change Rodney could've done without. He much preferred it when the Wraith didn't bleed so excessively.

Sheppard shakes off Rodney's hand and stumbles over his feet in the direction of the Jumper. Rodney would follow, but he knows there's more to do. For one thing, that won't kill Michael. Eventually, he will regenerate. They need a more permanent solution. He looks to Teyla. "A lot of his research was in there," he nods to the Hoffan hospital. "We planted C4." He pulls out the detonator and hands it to her. "Could you…handle this?"

A grim sense of satisfaction settles on her face. "I would be pleased to, Rodney." She picks up the sword in one hand, and Michael's foot in another. Her stride is even, proud, as she heads towards the condemned building. He has a feeling they'll all sleep a little better knowing Michael's gone for good.

He takes a deep breath and turns to Carson, who's staring after Teyla. "You should go back with Ronon. See if you can find whatever it was he was using to keep you alive. Maybe it'll buy you some time before…"

Carson's face is morose. "He used his own blood as a main component."

Ronon slaps Carson again. "Plenty of blood here," he says, kicking his toe to the ground. "I'll get the bodies, meet you back at the Hive."

Now Carson looks queasy, which is Rodney's cue to get going. He nods to Ronon. "Great. You three secure the ship. I'll go see how Sheppard is."

"Rodney," Carson starts, hesitates, then, "you're not really Rodney." He glances at Ronon, then back to him. "Are you."

It's not a question. Rodney tries to think of a way he can break it gently, but finds himself saying, "We're like you, only better and invulnerable."

Carson blinks once, twice, and Ronon lets out a short laugh. "Right then," he finally says. "I'll get the story later?"

"Don't worry," Ronon says, going to a damaged kiosk and wheeling it over. "I'll tell you on the way."

"Great. I'll, um, radio. Unless you don't hear from us in an hour. Then, you know, you should probably check that we haven't run into another Michael or something."

Carson shivers. "Do not even joke about that, Rodney."

"Right, fine. Then I'm going after Sheppard. Check in later," he half-yells, walking backwards a bit until he's comfortable they're busy piling the bodies on the make-shift cart. He then turns and power walks his way through the dead city, ignoring the creepiness of echoes and the long shadows thrown by the setting sun. He focuses his mind on Sheppard, and what he's going to do once he reaches the Jumper.

It takes him twenty minutes, and when he sees Sheppard sitting on the edge of the ramp of the now visible vessel, he blurts out, "Good form with the swing."

If glares were energy weapons, he'd have been incinerated by John's look. "Fuck off, Rodney."

"Yeah, that's happening," he strikes back, walking up the ramp, past John, and sitting on the end of the left-side bench. "Nice freak-out, by the way. Very subtle. I don't think anyone even noticed. Except," he waves his arm to encompass the quiet world, "everyone."

John turns around, half-leaning on the ramp. Oh, there's fury, and hate, and pain, and a myriad of emotions that John never, ever, ever lets to the surface. Hell, Rodney was dying that one time and he'd barely managed to admit he liked Rodney. If pissing John off is the only way to get him to express himself, Rodney is more than up to the task. He can even take a hit now.

God bless the nanites, he thinks bitterly. One day soon he's going to have to process the conflicted feelings he has over their existence. Just as soon as things settle down. Which will be never, but at least his memories have made him used to that fact. He's comfortable with being conflicted. Heightmeyer said it would lead to dysfunctional relationships and behaviors, but then again, she's not here, so he'll settle for comfortable.

John isn't comfortable with any emotions, he knows this. Even their meaningful talks are done over beer, or when they're on the good drugs, or when they absolutely have to or are going to be killed. Friends for four years, and he's penetrated maybe a millimeter of Sheppard's locked-down emotional psyche.

And now it's all erupting at once. A volcano that John is trying to tamp down, to control.

Oh yes, this is going to end so well.

"Don't you dare, McKay," John starts, voice rough with a touch of phlegm. "You have no idea-"

"What it's like to discover one of your friends was, as you put it, a biology project for a psychopath? Or that your best friend, your first best friend," he emphasizes the 'first' just to see John wince, "has been cloned and used as a pawn? Or how about revenge on a monster we helped create? Do you remember who spent all those nights with Carson? I don't even like voodoo and I was helping him go over all the simulations!

"If you think you're the only one having issues, Sheppard," he raises his chin, "then you're more of a selfish bastard that I thought."

Sheppard's off the ramp in a flash, practically jumping at him, hands fisted in his vest. "You arrogant self-righteous-"

He's shaking again, Rodney can feel the vibrations through his clothing. He ignores it, ignores all his usual self-preserving instincts and grabs John's vest, right at the neck. He puts all his weight into one thrust and manages to slam John into the other side of the Jumper, putting him off balance as the back of his knees hit the bench. "What about you?! You think I'm not hurting? Or Teyla?! What about Carson? He thought we abandoned him!"

He puts up a cursory struggle, but for once, Rodney's got the upper hand, and he's keeping it. He slams John back again. "You don't think Teyla would've liked to land that blow," he says sharply, throwing in a sneer. "No, of course not! That didn't even cross your mind! Never mind the fact that Teyla has always been his fixation, that she's suffered the most at his hands. You just had to do your macho military leader shit and rob her of the satisfaction!"

John actually lets out a roar at that, and Rodney finds himself surprised as John flips them down the bench, reversing their positions. "He was my responsibility! Like Ford! And Carson!"

"And they aren't mine?! I helped create the bastard!" John isn't pushing down with much weight, so Rodney pulls the same maneuver, shoving them back to the other side of the Jumper. "Ford was dissected by a something I helped create! Carson was tortured because I perfected the simulations! The Athosians-"

"It's not fucking about you, McKay," he roars, trying to push.

"Then what's it about?!" He pushes John's chest, not enough to slam against the wall, just to shake him a little. "Is it about feeling like The Man? Is it satisfaction, you're upset you feel good about killing him? Is it all about Ford? Because that's not nearly upsetting enough for this level-"

This time, the roar is more of a cry, and he lets go of the vest to take a swing at Rodney's chin. It's a good blow, but not nearly enough to send him stumbling. Rodney doesn't even shake his head, just swings back, landing a solid hit on John's cheek. Within seconds, the bruise fades, but not the wet trails down John's cheeks.

Whatever it takes, he reminds himself.

The fight isn't particularly nasty, or fancy. It's more like a bar brawl, or a sparring match gone out of control. There's punching and hitting and John doesn't try to gain the upper hand. He just hits, and hits, and Rodney gives back, aiming for the gut, the chest, the eyes. Everything Ronon taught him to do if he was ever caught in this kind of fight.

After fifteen, twenty minutes—Rodney's not sure—they're both panting, sporting bruises. John's black eye is fading, and Rodney can feel his nose, painful as the punch was, going numb as it reshapes itself. John lets out one final, pained scream and punches the Jumper wall, before stumbling back, then sitting on the bench, clutching his bleeding knuckles.

Rodney sways a bit on his feet, but gauges the violent part is over for now, and takes the seat next to him, making sure their shoulders are pressed together. He's got a few reflexive tears running down his face, but John, John is crying. Silently, but crying, staring at the now blood-stained floor of the Jumper. He decides not to say anything, just sit there, absorbing the wracking shudders going through John's body.

Even once they're healed, John doesn't move, and Rodney stays right where he is, his breathing automatically falling into sync with John's as they calm down. Finally, after seventeen minutes and twenty seconds John unclenches his fist and finally, finally looks at his palm. His face contorts, but he manages to get out, "I shouldn't have done this."

"What, beat the crap out of me?" He tries to keep the tone light, but he's pretty sure it comes off weary. The nanites may heal, but they don't adjust for post-adrenaline flow. His body's reacting normally, which is never pleasant.

"I don't mean," John starts, then he says, "The real me. Not… I'm a fake," he grinds out. "I—he'll be pissed, that he didn't finish off Michael. And I, I shouldn't have." He shuts his eyes. "We're months old, Rodney, programmed with memories. But I feel like…what I felt when I saw Ford, when I saw Michael…"

"They programmed us to be exactly like our counterparts," he replies calmly. "Down to every flaw, every memory, every emotion. They were studying us, finding that magic key they needed."

"I wish they'd cut out the emotion. I," he swallows, "I know hate, and I know loss, and… Rodney, what I felt out there was too intense. It wasn't-"

"You loved Ford." At John's sharp look, Rodney shrugs. "The way a friend loves another friend. Can you say you've ever felt that before?" John doesn't answer the question, just turns his attention back to the floor. "Ford has always been a, a sore spot for you. You forget, I—our counterparts were together after the failed infiltration. I remember your drunken monologue." He offers a weak smirk. "It's one of the few times you've ever been open."

He waits a minute, then rests his arm around John's shoulders. "And you believe in never leaving anyone behind. What you saw, do you really think anyone blames you for losing it? For taking revenge?"

"It was reckless," he mutters. "I'm not supposed to be reckless."

"Oh please." Rodney rolls his eyes. "That's all you've been since day one. Not to mention a thorn in everyone's side. A welcome one, but still a thorn."

"Thanks," that has a bit of a sarcastic drawl to it. Then, in a more sincere tone, "Thanks."

"It's what a friend does for another friend," Rodney says, just as seriously. "We'll figure this out. So we have to save the universe," he waves his free arm at that, which earns him a small smirk from John. "But that's what we do best, original or clones."

"Then what?" John doesn't pull away, but he does glance at Rodney out of the corner of his eye. "We can't go back to Atlantis, we can't go back to Earth."

"If Atlantis is truly forgotten, then it's our job to make sure the people aren't," Rodney says firmly. "We may not be them, but we can continue on in their name, or something equally motivational sounding." That gets him another smirk. "Sheppard and McKay. No substitute for the original, but just as good."

"Yeah," John says, small grin settling into place, "I guess we are."

"To quote Cadman, damn straight." He matches John's grin with his own, and a little light comes back to his eyes. Rodney feels something in him relax at that, letting out a mental breath. "Think you're up for flying? Or should I do the honors."

"I'd rather get to New Athos in one piece," John says lightly, drawing himself out of Rodney's arm to head for the front of the craft. "What about Teyla and Ronon?"

Whether not mentioning Carson is deliberate or not, Rodney can't tell. "I thought Teyla could fly the Hive Ship back." John rests his palms against the doorway edges looks at him with a raised eyebrow. Rodney leans back at the look. "What? It's large. It has weapons. We can use it to fight the Asurans."

"Are you sure Teyla's up to that?" he asks. "Or that she can, with the…you know, in her system?"

"It shouldn't affect how things work, no." It hasn't with the Jumper, but then, it is originally a Replicator craft. He activates his radio. "Teyla, this is McKay."

"Hello, Rodney." She sounds serene and satisfied. It's a little disturbing. From the tilt of his other eyebrow, he's pretty sure John feels the same way. "How is Colonel Sheppard?"

John touches his earpiece. "Been better, Teyla." He ducks his head. "McKay was able to…reason with me."

"I am sure," she says, holding back an obvious laugh. "I have finished up with Michael. He will not bother us again."

John's mood shifts back into a more militaristic mode. "You're sure?"

"I severed the head, and attached it to one of the C4 bricks. His body is across the building also strapped to the explosives."

That certainly explains her satisfaction, Rodney thinks. He's really looking forward to the building coming down now, too.

Ronon's voice comes on the line. "Thought I'd keep the hands. Make 'em good luck charms." In the background, there's a very loud Scottish scoff. "What're we gonna do with the ship?"

"Take it back," Sheppard says, glancing at Rodney. "McKay thinks it could be useful against the Asurans."

There's some scuffling, then Carson says, "I may be able to help the hybrids. Or maybe Rodney can. A lot of Michael's research is on board." He sighs. "I have a couple days before I'll need Michael's treatment."

"Any help will be most appreciated," says Teyla. "Rodney, I assume I shall be flying the vessel back to New Athos?"

"Yeah. Since it's Michael, he's probably got some extra stealth technology of some sort, so you shouldn't be bothered."

"We'll go ahead," Sheppard chimes in. "Via Jumper. Warn them you're coming, and not to panic."

There's a lengthy pause over the radio. "My people may not be so…inviting to our presence. The appearance of a Wraith cruiser-"

"We just saved them!" He can't help but interrupt Teyla's speech.

"Don't worry," John says immediately. "We'll smooth things over."

Another pause, then, "All right, John. We'll see you when we arrive on New Athos."

McKay moves up to the cockpit, taking the copilot's chair. "We'll stick around until you lift off, make sure the systems are intact."

"Thank you, Rodney. I shall be at the Hive ship shortly."

"Give us the signal when you're ready to move out," John says. "See you shortly." He cuts the connection. Rodney waits another minute, then does the same. "You sure she'll be safe?"

"Michael wouldn't booby trap his own ship. He wasn't expecting us, or anyone." Rodney puts as much confidence into that sentence as he can. Truth be told, Michael was arrogant, but paranoid. He's pretty sure the odds are fifty-fifty that there'll be any traps or passwords. "I'm more worried about the hybrids getting out."

John just turns his chair to the controls. "Ronon can handle 'em."

Obviously more than true, since he and Teyla were able to secure the ship. When Rodney gets his hands on the vessel, maybe he'll look for surveillance records. That's a fight he'd be interested to see. Instead, he pulls out his tablet. "We should lift off. The Hive will be out of the blast radius, but we-"

"Already on it, McKay," John says, launching the ship upwards to hover above the city. He has them floating about a hundred feet off the ground, giving them a nice aerial view of the building and the ship itself. Rodney can see when things change, and doesn't even need John's, "Hive ship is powering up," announcement.

"You think it's over?" John shoots him a glance. "I mean, over. Gone. Dead. Finito."

A shadow passes over John's face, very briefly. "It's over, McKay." A flash below punctuates his last statement, as part of the hospital blows. He knows that's just the beginning. While he and Sheppard had been planting the plastic, Carson had gone and found as much ethanol, alcohol, and every other kind of flammable substance he could.

The next explosion disrupts the foundation, and one quarter of the building actually begins to just fall, like a pile of Jenga blocks. Flames are now visible around the perimeter, and they're growing. He's willing to bet some of the other buildings will catch fire as well. The end of the Hoff civilization, for good this time. Nothing left but ashes and char.

"Rodney, the ship is accepting my commands and we are leaving now."

John answers for him. "Thanks, Teyla. See you on New Athos."

Rodney watches another part of the building collapse, then turns his gaze to the Jumper's DHD. He starts the dialing sequence. Sheppard gets the message, and by the time he finishes, they're practically gone.


Rodney spends most of their time back on New Athos in the Jumper, borrowing parts from the communications hub. Halling apparently tried to contact Atlantis once the Athosians returned, and had not been able to reach them via Stargate. There were a few Vedeena, but the rest, along with Weir, have apparently gone to negotiate the use of buried Tower city.

Sheppard gets peppered with questions immediately. Where Atlantis is, why was there no support, why do the Vedeena speak of Weir as if she is alive? Rodney ducked the questions by fetching the bloodied arrows from before. By the time he returns Sheppard and the Vedeena are locked up in the main meeting hall with the Athosian elders and half their population.

Sheppard can handle himself, he figures, especially when he has an idea. It may not be their Carson, the real Carson, but it's a Carson, and he's missed his friend too much to let him die because of some genetic defect Michael built in. The nanites could heal him, if only they knew how it would work on a separate body. So he uses the blood from the arrowheads, a microscope, and the Jumper's computer system to look at their programming.

"Figures," he mutters, as he finds that the nanites from Sheppard's blood have a separate protocol than the ones from Rodney's blood. Blanking that particular bit of code will be easy. The final effects, he could only guess at. The codes are designed to limit them only to one individual clone. No interchange, no using Teyla's blood to save Weir's life, no bleeding out on the Jumper and having the nanites repair systems. "It's never like Star Trek."

"If you're comparing us to the Borg, I'll kick your ass," John says, collapsing into the chair behind the pilot's seat. That's fair. Rodney's using the copilot's console as a table top right now.

"It would be more convenient if we were like the Borg. Not the whole one-mind thing." He leans back from the microscope, tilting his head. "Although, productivity in the labs-"

"We had this discussion. Their stupidity would overwhelm and degrade your own genius in the collective consciousness."

Rodney wrinkles his face. "Oh, right." He turns in the chair, taking in Sheppard's rumpled clothes and weary posture. "Bad news?"

He runs a hand over his face and rests his head back, slouching further in the chair. "Halling was very appreciative, but they're not very trusting of us. Something about the Wraith using people they know against them."

Rodney nods. "We knew that. Teyla told us."

"Yeah, well," he rubs the back of his neck, "they're willing to help. Give us some supplies, act as a mediator between Atlantis—if they ever make contact again—and us. But they don't really want us here."

"Maybe Elizabeth will get us access to the sister city."

Sheppard doesn't meet his eyes. "They also forbid Teyla," he contorts his face, "our Teyla, from stepping foot on this world."

He can't say he's surprised. Still, he's not exactly thrilled at the idea of telling her. 'Hey, welcome back from rescuing your people. They're all fine, will help us with Atlantis. Oh, and they never, ever want to see you on their homeworld.'

Sheppard leans forward in his seat, squinting at the console. "So what're you working on?"

It startles Rodney, but he's glad for the distraction. He turns his seat halfway to look at his work. "Trying to figure out a cure for Carson. If I can find out how the nanites in our system are designed, then I could reprogram them for his system. Then an injection and voila," he says, snapping his fingers, "no more need for Michael's blood."

John squints some more, then frowns. "Are you sure we should be messing with these things? I mean, you remember what happened with Niam last time."

That's a bit of a sore subject, even if it's just memories. "That's why I'm being careful and not doing anything. Yet." He looks back to the tablet. "I also don't know, I mean, he was created by Michael. What if he's not exactly…"

"Trustworthy?" Sheppard leans back in his chair. "Ronon'll figure it out. If Beckett isn't safe, he'll be dead before they arrive."

Rodney narrows his eyes. "You know, I'm noticing a distinct rise in accepting homicidal actions."

"Maybe I'm falling back on my training."

"Maybe you need a shrink."

"We all do, McKay." John shuts his eyes and leans his head back, letting out a long breath. "It's just…I'm a soldier."

"Please-"

"No, McKay. That's just it. I know I'm more than that. And the memories are there. But they're not me."

"We are essentially us. We've been over this."

"Only we don't have to face the consequences. We run in shooting blindly," he offers a half-glare at Rodney when he says it, "we heal. We kill one of our enemies, or even a random tribe of aliens, there's no paperwork, no repercussions. We're not part of a larger system."

"No backup, no supplies-"

"No moral issues, no political agendas." His eyes open, and he stares at the ceiling. "They're the bad guys, Rodney. We're the good guys. Even if we were made by the bad guys."

"And you think that means you can let your darker side come out?"

There's a minute of silence, then, "It means I have to, Rodney." He tilts his head, just enough to lock gazes. "You're all I have, and I need to protect you even more than I did. Because if you—if any of you go." He stops. "There's…I can't…"

Abandonment issues, Rodney's mind helpfully supplies. And as usual, Sheppard can't verbalize it. Rodney could, but instead he says, "That's what I'm doing." John raises his head. "I'm not letting Carson go again. Not when we have him back. But we can't just…we need to have our boundaries, even if the system isn't there."

Going against boundaries has always been Sheppard's modus operandi. He can work the system. He can even work within the system. But bending a few rules, theoretical, nonverbal, or even actual, has always been his way. Sheppard is entering the same mindset as during the Storm, where the intruders must be killed, even if it means being heartless enough to turn on a shield as they come through a wormhole.

It's a good mindset during an invasion, or when the odds are against them. Right now, the odds are theoretically against them, but they have potential allies, they have half-formed ideas. The expectations from the Vedeena are high, but not impossible, not for them, not now.

And he really can't believe he's the one who's going to have to get Sheppard to learn how to relax. He sighs, but before he can say anything he hears boots on the ramp. He immediately swivels his chair to look, while John stands up, one hand reaching for the P90 resting on the floor.

Rodney brightens. "Elizabeth!" He offers her a crooked grin. "The good news is we found the Athosians. Mostly unharmed. We also found, well, another clone. Only this one was one Michael made. What is it, do you think, that makes our enemies want to clone us? I mean, other than our brains. Because they seem to hate us enough that you'd think-"

"What's wrong?" John interrupts.

Rodney turns to glare, but takes a look, a good look, at Elizabeth's face instead. It's pale, haunted, her eyes a little bit empty, and definitely red, as if she'd been crying, or really upset. Her hair hangs limply, and her shoulders are slumped. "Did things not go well with the negotiations?" he asks, a little more quietly.

She takes a shuddering breath. "No, no. The…the planet is empty." She looks at John, then Rodney. "Apparently, they were culled a few months ago. The Vedeena are checking the area, searching the city….the catacombs. They've found a couple of children but," she takes another shaky breath. "They caught their attention, apparently."

John doesn't reach out, that's not his way, but he does sincerely say, "I'm sorry."

Rodney decides if Sheppard can't, he can. He rests a comforting hand on her shoulder. "But…the city's intact?"

John shoots him a glare, but Elizabeth nods. "A few scorch marks on the tower, but it looks like they searched it and left."

Because we took everything of value when we found it, Rodney reminds himself. They're indirectly responsible, depleting the city's ZedPM to save the villagers. From the looks on their faces, he's not the only one who's remembering that particular week.

A quiet hum on the console attracts his attention, but Elizabeth chooses to accept his offer of comfort and moves forward to hug him. He very awkwardly waves his hands, then settles them somewhat around her. He's certainly a better option than John right now.

Sheppard moves to the pilot's chair and pulls up the screen, showing a Wraith Hive ship approaching. He activates the comm system. "Teyla?"

"Hey Sheppard," Ronon says. "Where you want us?"

Sheppard glances at them, at the microscope, and out the window to the Athosian village. Finally, he pulls up the navigational controls. "Change of plan, big guy. We're relocating. I'm sending you the coordinates."

At least we've got a city, the logical part of Rodney's mind supplies. From the downcast look, Sheppard's thinking the same thing. At least they're feeling guilty together.


Rodney feels a little bit at home behind the command consoles of the sister city. It's barely responsive, using what little energy is left to keep the lights and life support functioning in the underground parts of the city. Right now he's downloading the historical synopsis, city diagrams, damage report, and weapons capabilities directly to his tablet. He already knows what his first request is going to be, besides the two-bedroom suite that used to belong to the King.

They need a ZedPM. More if they're going to do damage or even fight the Asurans. He's not sure he's willing to recommend a raid again, though. Sheppard asked him to plug in the Replicator tracking device not-Jennifer had given them. The results…well, Rodney was very glad the room was cleared because Asuran ships? Are everywhere. A good forty of them. And, from the looks of things, more are being built in orbit of their homeworld.

He knows he's got a hopeless look on his face, but when he turns to Sheppard, his has become grim, devoid of every other emotion. The only way Rodney knows he's not the only one scared is because Sheppard actually leans on his shoulder, as if he needs that support to stay upright.

"Good God."

"God has nothing to do with this, Rodney."

"Fine. Good Devil."

Neither of them looks away from the screen. "How do we fight them?" Rodney knows it's bad because Sheppard is the one asking.

"I come up with something brilliant, naturally." He wishes he could fortify that statement with some vocal confidence, but his confidence is somewhere around his knees at the moment.

Sheppard, thankfully, ignores it. "Naturally," he echoes absently.

"Colonel! Rodney! You've got to come see this! I…you're not gonna believe what I've—" That radio turns into static, then, "Get down here!"

They're still working on the communications. Even though it's all Ancient material, some of the damage done by nature, and done by the inhabitants, is causing glitches in the radios. Fortunately, the infirmary in this city was left mainly untouched, due to a sealed door that took Rodney ten minutes to open. Apparently, it was also part of a major lab, though they're staying out of those rooms for now.

Shutting off the screen, Rodney pushes himself away from the console and heads for the stairs. Sheppard falls into step, gaze still distant. They have to walk, since there's no guarantee the transporters will work, but it's all downstairs. He just hopes Carson's talking was excited, and not scared. He's examining Elizabeth, as a pretext to getting to know her again. Apparently, he did the same to Ronon and Teyla on Michael's…on the Hive ship.

He's left the hybrids untouched, for the most part. No sense in inviting trouble when they can just leave it in stasis for now.

Fortunately, the vessel is immersed in a lake about a mile away. Some of the Vedeena are guarding the 'prisoners' with Teyla and Ronon, who said they needed space from Carson, as well as an opportunity to study the ship a bit more. That's fine by Rodney. Anything that can help him dissect the computer systems faster is useful. Especially when searching for information that'll help Teyla save those people changed into hybrids, of course.

When they enter the infirmary, Rodney sees Weir under the scanner, and Carson practically vibrating beside the controls. "Rodney!" He beams, then waves excitedly at them. Obviously, it's good news. "Take a look at this!"

Rodney frowns, but looks at the scan results. At first he doesn't get it. It's the same scan results they all show, bodies filled with nanites. Hers are a little less concentrated in her body a lower overall count, as if they were moving around via blood circulation rather than implanted there. That could simply mean she was an earlier model clone. There's also a rather high degree of nanites in her brain, approximately where-

He freezes. His mouth drops open and he just, all he can do is stare because, because it's impossible. The Replicators said she'd been killed. Cloned, but killed. But this…these scan results…

"McKay?" John shoots look over to Carson. "What? What's going on?"

"Elizabeth told me that, well, what their Jennifer told you."

John nods slowly. "The Replicators saw Dr. Weir as a threat and terminated her."

Rodney moves his jaw soundlessly. He's still trying to…he can't believe he just accepted what they said at face value. Never, ever take a robot at face value, especially duplicitous ones with parent issues. He manages a squeak, which has Carson beaming again.

"Except they didn't," Carson exclaims. "These scans indicate that the nanites themselves are far older than cells they inhabit." He points to the screen. "They're not even genetically locked, like yours. Her nanites are completely separate in nature. They were introduced to her body by a Replicator!"

Rodney turns to Sheppard, who he can see still doesn't get it. He points to Weir. "I…the scans we took on the false Atlantis showed we were grown with the nanites imbedded into us, Sheppard! Our cells had them as we were created!"

A moment ticks by, two, and then Sheppard flinches, jerking back as his entire body pivots to stare at the supine woman.

Elizabeth continues to stare up at the machine, a look of… Rodney winces. She's got her diplomatic mask on, the one that he could never, ever interpret. She could be upset, or angry, or calm, or depressed. He honestly can't say, which is a feat because it's usually Sheppard who gives him the hard facial expressions.

"Is she a security risk?" are the first words out of Sheppard's mouth. Carson's entire demeanor changes to that of shocked outrage, while Rodney just goes ahead and slaps Sheppard on the arm. Hard. He actually reaches up to rub it. "What? She's got Replicator-"

"All homing beacons and control codes and all of that were eliminated!" He pushes the still outraged Carson aside to modify the scanner's protocols. A few minutes later, he's scanning the codes of the Replicator cells he—the real Rodney—created. "There, see? It's all there!" It'll actually take him about an hour to scan through everything, but he's willing to bet that, given what the faction of Replicators set out to achieve and were doing so in secret, they wouldn't alter any of the programming.

"I have to ask, Rodney," he says, slightly apologetic.

"Well think first! In all likelihood, they used her memories to capture our personalities, as well as the details of the fake Atlantis!" He sees her start to get up, so he shifts his attention back to the screen. "This is great news," he mutters.

"I know that," Sheppard says.

"You're not acting like it," Carson finally spouts, giving Sheppard a forceful tap on the shoulder. "I call to give you good tidings-"

"Things are different-"

"Yes," Elizabeth says, finally sitting up, "they are." She looks at them calmly, a slight hint of diplomatic glee in her eyes. "Now we have something Atlantis will want. When," she pauses, then more firmly, "when we find them. We can get help." Finally, her features soften. "It…it's good to know I didn't die in vain."

"You never died in vain," Sheppard says. "Without you…" Rodney can see he wants to continue, but things are starting to get too emotional again. "If we'd known-"

She finally manages a soft smile. "I know. Like Carson does," she says, nodding her head at the man. "Rodney's right. Our enemies are very good at…hiding us from ourselves."

Carson actually lets out a chuckle at that, and finally, Rodney relaxes, because even if there are some alterations to his codes, at least the tension in the room has been sapped. He's scanning over the biological repair function when he feels the sparks in his mind light up and starts snapping. Everyone, including John, turns to look at him.

"Yes, Rodney," Elizabeth asks, practically swinging her legs back and forth.

"This…this is great!"

"Yes, you said that."

He shakes his head and points at her. "No, you see? You…we can alter the nanites now. The ones from our systems! The ones that will repair and replicate themselves as necessary!"

Sheppard raises an eyebrow, he knows where this is going. Weir just tilts her head. "I'm afraid I don't understand…"

"You can help Carson!" It's his turn to grin wildly, pivoting to face the doctor. "They can fix your degraded DNA! Make you good as new!"

He shifts, uncomfortable. "I'm not sure that that's-"

"It might not be permanent, like the rest of us," he lies. He knows he's lying, and from Carson's face he can tell they all know it, too. "Alright, fine, so it probably would be, but it's your best shot at getting better! Especially since we don't know if you can keep manufacturing whatever drug Michael was using."

Sheppard doesn't say anything, but Elizabeth gets up and walks over, putting her hands on Beckett's shoulders. "We would…you have been missed, Carson. Please consider the treatment." She rubs his shoulder. "For Rodney's sake, at least."

Carson huffs, "Well, if it's for Rodney…"

Rodney would protest but he's turned back to Replicator code. He's had another idea, one a little more radical. He just hopes the real Rodney was as brilliant creating this as he remembers.


"The city has about sixty percent damage, mostly from disuse or, not surprisingly, nature invading. Not to mention that each use of the Drones caused a minor earthquake when the launching mechanisms jammed. There's been no upkeep at all, save for making it pretty, and don't even ask me what kind of shrine they assumed the power room was for."

"Thank you, Rodney," Elizabeth says, folding her hands on the table. They're all in the briefing room, what Sheppard said the King used as his dining hall. The familiar triangular shape is welcoming, and he's sitting at his customary seat, tablet in front of him.

Teyla and Ronon are sitting across from him, along with Linara. Carson and John are next to him, Sheppard paying his customary amount of attention to the wall, appearing to not be in-tune with the conversation. Rodney knows better. "I still say our first course of action is to get ZedPM's. Without it, the underground parts of the city will become uninhabitable, and the control tower is too tempting a target with all these life signs."

"You suggesting another raid," Ronon asks, one hand already resting on his weapon. "Could be up for that."

"It may not be wise," Teyla cautions. "Given the data on the Asuran fleet, it may be safer to find power sources elsewhere." They all know what he and Sheppard did, including Linara. It was part of Rodney's presentation on the status of things. "However, searching for them has proven…difficult in the past."

Elizabeth nods. "I'm not quite clear on what you're proposing either, Rodney."

Sheppard stays silent, gaze still on the wall. It's his version of showing Rodney he has faith, in him or in fate, Rodney's not sure. But he likes to think it's him. "Actually," he sits back, a satisfied smirk on his face, "Linara made the proposals."

The alien looks surprised, and she quickly looks around the room, as if there were another Linara. "I did?"

"Your drawings," he waves at the book. "The world with the time-dilation field, the abandoned temple on the planet with the kids," Elizabeth sucks in a breath through her teeth at that, "I'm pretty sure one of them is the world with the Fifteen Guardians or whatever they're called."

"Brotherhood of the Fifteen," Sheppard chimes in.

"On Dagan," Teyla adds. "Though they will not be receptive to our return."

"If they're even there." It's callus, but needs to be said. "At this point, we need them. The Asurans are bent on wiping out all human life. It's effective in killing the Wraith, but I think we can all agree the fallout is unacceptable." Linara doesn't look nearly as shaken as Weir, which he thinks is a good sign. "We also need eyes and ears on other planets, ways to find any other ZedPMs in case we need them for power boosts."

"Unfortunately," Linara says, "my people have not…integrated themselves among others in this galaxy."

"Athosians aren't exactly everywhere," Ronon supplies.

"But we know one Pegasus nation that has its grubby hands in every planet it can." Now he has Sheppard's attention. He doesn't even need to look to feel John's gaze on him. "And they claim to be our allies."

"Rodney, you cannot be serious," Carson says, loudly. "Even if they do, they're not exactly-"

"The Asurans are as much a threat to them as they are to us. More so." He holds up a finger. "But we have something more we can offer them."

"And what's that?" Elizabeth asks warily.

"The Hoffan drug."

Now there's noise. Carson protesting, Teyla objecting, and Elizabeth outright angry. Ronon, however, appears to be thinking. And a glance to Sheppard reveals he's staring at Rodney hard, not judgmentally or condemningly, just staring.

After about three minutes, Sheppard stands up. The noise dies down. He looks around the table, then turns his attention to Carson. "Thirty percent fatalities?"

"Typically, aye." Then he blanches. "You can't seriously-"

"It's a good plan. And I bet Michael helped lower the ratio from fifty percent with his knowledge on Wraith physiology and retroviruses."

"Aye," Carson says, subdued.

"Could you further his research, make it better?"

"Maybe, given time, but right now-"

"Could you make more of it?"

Elizabeth starts to stand. "John-"

His attention immediately shifts to her. "We need this, Elizabeth. It's a weapon. It's not a good weapon," he ducks his head and sighs, but looks back up, still determined, "but a weapon. Not to mention our best bargaining chip."

"Even so," Elizabeth says slowly, "Carson is right. They're not the most…trustworthy of people."

"Everyone wants to survive, Doctor Weir." Rodney sees Elizabeth frown at the use of her title. "We need the Genii's help if we're going to fight the Asurans." John leans both hands on the table, looking directly at her. "You negotiated for nuclear weapons, convinced them that our survival was their survival."

"I'm…not sure I can do it again. Even with Ladon in charge."

"You don't have to," he says evenly. "I will. With Rodney."

Another set of objections, but Rodney keeps out of it. He knows he has to go. He's the only one who can help find and determine the viability of ZedPM's. Sheppard silences them all with a slice of his hand, then looks back to Weir. "We're in this together," he says. "Everyone in Pegasus. And the Genii are part of this galaxy."

Elizabeth looks to the table, frowning. Sheppard continues to lean on his palms, staring at her. Finally, she looks up, and gives one meaningful nod. Sheppard nods back, then retakes his seat, scooting it a little closer to Rodney.

Rodney tells the cramps in his stomach to knock it off. Even if it is potentially a suicide mission, it was his idea. He's not allowed to have second thoughts now.

"Carson," Elizabeth says, "use what you can to improve the Hoffan drug, but make enough of it for the Genii population."

He looks like he's going to protest, but then his gaze shifts to Sheppard, to Rodney, and he leans back, nodding wearily. "All right. But…I will not give them the vaccine. And," he thumps the table with his palm, "I insist they get a copy of the research. Not all of it," he says quietly, "just enough that they know what they're getting, and what they're getting into."

Elizabeth agrees easily. "They'll probably request it anyways," she says. She turns back to Rodney. "The world with the children-"

"We'll bring them here," Sheppard says.

Rodney nods quickly. "The EM field is like a big bullseye on their planet telling the Asurans, 'Hey, civilization to shoot right here!' Plus, if we bring the whole device back, maybe we can integrate it into the city's systems, give us a bit of protection from the Wraith." She seems placated by that, and Sheppard nods at him.

"I believe we can take care of that," Teyla says. "You may have formed a bond with Keras, but the Athosians have kept their relationship quite strong." She glances at Ronon. "The device-"

"Is very delicate," Rodney says, looking at Ronon.

Linara leans forward. "Then we shall be careful." As one, they look at her. "We are in this together, correct, Colonel?" she says, looking at Sheppard.

"Well, we didn't mean-"

"My people will be tending to these…children, I assume?" The silence is enough of an answer. "Then they should know me, as I will be the symbol of their new protectors."

"They're pretty…independent."

Linara smiles. "As are we. Perhaps together our independent spirits will form an even greater community with which to fight the Wraith. And Asurans."

Ronon looks intrigued and Teyla actually looks proud, so Rodney decides to just leave that be and move on to the next item on the list. "The tough one will be the time-dilation field. We'll have to, uh, enter it. To find the ZedPM."

Now Sheppard looks as unhappy as Elizabeth. "I'm not sure-"

"I know the general direction of the energy readings, and the glowing village people were able to control it while they were inside the field." He crosses his arms. "It may take us days, or weeks, but it's only a few hours for you."

"S'not as easy as that, Rodney," Sheppard says.

Rodney looks at him. "We'll bring supplies." They may not have all the media files Atlantis does, but Rodney can find something to entertain Sheppard. Math puzzles or data mining or teaching him survival techniques, if absolutely necessary.

Sheppard picks up on his unflappability, the same kind he just had regarding the Genii. He sighs and turns to Weir. "We'll hit the Genii first, then go to the time-dilation planet."

"What of the Brotherhood of the Fifteen?" Teyla asks.

"That may take a little more…convincing," Sheppard says. "If they're still around, they won't just hand over the ZedPM. To anyone. We may need the whole team on this."

Teyla nods, looking very much like her old self. Rodney looks to Elizabeth. "While I'm gone, I'll be doing some research into the city's systems." He taps his tablet. "If you could do so on your end, too. Find habitable rooms, make sure the Vedeena are settling okay, get Carson the nanite treatment-"

"Hey!" Carson glares at him.

Elizabeth looks at him curiously, studying him. He's still working on his idea, but it really depends on the trial run, and unfortunately, that trial run is Carson. She probably only sees his concern for Beckett, sees him not wanting to lose the man again. And that's true. But he's a man of many layers.

Layers Sheppard knows, by the look he's giving Rodney. It's both reprimanding and interrogative in an 'I'm going to find out what you're up to later' way.

"What of the Hive ship? And the hybrids?" Teyla asks.

Linara leans forward again. "The Vedeena are happy to watch over it, and them. The people are in stasis, and while we are not comfortable, we understand the importance of the vessel, of what it could mean for the fight."

Elizabeth nods. "All right then. Colonel, Rodney, I want you to set out first thing in the morning." It's almost sundown on this planet, though Rodney's still on the not-Atlantis' time, which puts it at about six am. "Ronon, when you are finished with the kids on M7G-677, I would like you to help me contact some of our…some of Atlantis' other allies. The city may be forgotten, but they should know they are not alone." Ronon grunts his approval. "Alright," she looks around the table. "Meeting adjourned."


They get the kind of warm welcome Rodney's come to expect from the Genii. Soldiers with guns walking them down tunnels to a locked conference room. It's still a cell, though dressed up with diplomatic overtures like a table, fruit basket, and tapestries on the wall. He drums his fingers against his arms, staring at one. "You don't think of Genii as being knitters," he says. "It seems out of character for them."

"Even the Nazis made coloring books," Sheppard replies, walking a perimeter around the table.

Rodney looks at him. "Really?"

He shrugs. "How the hell should I know? But it's plausible."

Rodney rolls his eyes. "Yes, and plausible implies that it manifested in this quantum universe."

"So you don't deny that there's a universe out there where I'm right."

"Très drôle, Sheppard."

"I try." He finishes his walk, and ends it standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Rodney, looking up at the same wall of fabric. It seems to depict the story of how the Genii went underground, at least, Rodney's pretty sure that's what the snakes are doing as they slither into the ground to escape the hellish vulture-like birds. "Fitting, that they chose snakes," John says.

"I was just thinking the same thing." Rodney lets a hint of amusement tint his voice.

Sheppard crosses his arms, hugging the P90 to his chest, then, in a lower voice, says, "Did you see the surface?"

Rodney rolls his eyes again. "No, Colonel, I was busy staring at the other sensor readouts, the ones that looked for leprechauns and rainbows." At Sheppard's nudge, he sighs. "Of course."

"Wraith or Asuran?"

"No major craters, so I'm guessing Wraith."

"They're getting desperate for food," Sheppard says. "Some of this complex collapsed. Obviously, the Wraith are starting to figure there's more than just the anthill."

"And what would that be?" a new voice says against the echo of an iron door closing. "Anthills, I mean."

Sheppard and Rodney turn as one. Rodney doesn't bother smiling. He's not known for it. Sheppard has his 'let's be friends' smirk on, the one he uses to seduce native princesses and bilk worlds out of their excess tava beans. "Ladon, good to see you."

The man looks skinnier than Rodney remembers, more like he's starving himself than losing weight. Dark circles ring his eyes, and his clothes are less clean than the soldiers who brought them. "I wish I could say the same," he says, taking a seat at the end of the table, "but your visits tend to coincide with trouble on Atlantis."

Sheppard takes a seat on the left side of the table, so Rodney takes one on the right. "I'm guessing," he says, "you tried calling them for assistance after this last attack?"

Ladon eyes Rodney. "That's an accurate assessment."

"I'm also guessing you couldn't make contact," Rodney continues.

Ladon leans forward in his chair, worry glinting in his eyes. "We have heard reports about a powerful space-faring race wiping out entire worlds. When we attempted to contact you, to request confirmation," he hesitates, "we could not dial your world." He looks between them again. "You haven't moved your city again."

Sheppard grimaces slightly. "Yeah, we're kind of the…the B team."

Ladon sits back, exhaling loudly. "You were right. The Wraith were desperate. Whether they know of our city or not…" he closes his eyes.

Rodney exchanges a glance with Sheppard before leaning forward in his seat. "Ladon?"

He opens his eyes again. "If your city is gone, why come to us? We have no ships to fight."

Sheppard shifts uncomfortably. "We're…we've found another city." Ladon blinks at that. "It's damaged, and, kind of…" He pauses. "It's not in the best shape to begin with, but it's a start. We've been able to track the Asurans'—that's who's attacking worlds—fleet, but we'll lose that ability soon without power."

"Power," Ladon repeats. "So you've come to request some of our nuclear material?"

"God no," Rodney exclaims. "Do you know how much attention that would garner? The radiation trails alone-"

"McKay," Sheppard interrupts, then puts his hands on the table. "We know you have an extensive information network."

Ladon nods slowly. "It has diminished due to the attacks, but many of our sources are still viable." He looks back and forth between them. "You want us to find you something."

"ZedPMs," Rodney says. Sheppard doesn't chastise him visually for giving it away. "Even at five percent power, it will give us a start."

Ladon folds his hands together. "You expect me to divert our resources from, from surviving, to finding your ZPM's."

"We know you know how to look for them," Rodney says. "You used a depleted one to capture us last time."

Ladon scowls at that, but he looks at Sheppard. "Why not send your own men out to search?"

"They don't know the area," Sheppard says, "We…also don't have the resources." Ladon blinks again. "When Atlantis was…let's just say we're pretty much all you've got."

"You," Ladon says. "You two."

"And a few others. Plus the Vedeena."

That piques Ladon's interest. "The Vedeena? They have not left their world-"

"They've come with us to the new city," Sheppard says. "They're helping us prepare to fight the Asurans." He leans forward and lowers his voice to a conspiratorial level. "They believe we can save this galaxy. They told us you," he looks directly into Ladon's eyes, "will be the source of our power." He leans back, smirking a little. "Naturally, McKay took that literally."

Rodney opens his mouth to protest, then sees the 'play along' glance Sheppard throws him, and says instead, "Well, you can't just expect me to believe in this future-seeing claptrap. In a linear-"

"The Vedeena truly said that," Ladon interrupts, with a hint of reverence.

Rodney holds back his surprise. Who knew such an insular society could have such an influence on even the Genii.

Sheppard shrugs. "It makes sense. You guys are one of the more advanced races here. And Davos saw that you have a place in this attack, as we do."

Way to milk it, Sheppard.

Ladon stares off at the other wall for a few minutes, then jerks slightly. "Of course, it may take time. And," he frowns, "our world could use assistance. Not to mention protection from another Wraith attack."

Sheppard grins and holds out his hand. Rodney hands him the data module he modified to integrate with Genii systems. "Well, we don't have much by way of firepower, but we've come across this retrovirus you may find interesting…"


They get the same treatment leaving the Genii city as they do arriving, and Rodney sits quietly until they're through the wormhole and flying towards the time-dilation cave entrance. "You don't think they'll attack, try to take the city?"

"I think the Vedeena will discourage that. And if not, Ronon and Teyla most definitely will." Sheppard's been smirking since they've taken off. "You know, if we'd been on Atlantis? I'd never have thought to use Davos' visions as a bargaining chip."

"Definitely a deception worthy of Weir," Rodney agrees. "Maybe even on par with my level of genius."

"Why Rodney, I think that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me."

"Don't get used to it. Flattery breeds arrogance."

John grins at him. "So how do you account for your personality?"

Rodney huffs indignantly, but he can feel himself grinning back. "Har har, Flyboy. Very witty."

"Twice in one day. Better be careful, I'll get a swelled head."

"At least then it'll match your hair."

"Jealous, much?"

"Humph." Rodney looks out the window as they approach the unnatural mountain ridge, the black portal just barely in view. The landing is a little bumpy, especially for Sheppard, so he looks over to the pilot's seat.

John is also looking at the portal, and the smile has shrunk from his face. "So we get to go in, huh?"

Rodney lets his own levity drop. "It won't be like last time."

"You mean we won't get out?"

He hesitates, then reaches across the way and punches Sheppard's arm, lightly. "You won't feel abandoned, moron." He gets up from his seat and starts collecting his things.

"I didn't feel abandoned."

"You felt as abandoned as I did miserable."

He hears Sheppard come up behind him. "You were miserable?"

"Of course! I did the calculations, I knew how long-" he takes a breath, "I knew what you would think, that you didn't know…"

"I figured it out," he says slowly, moving past Rodney to grab his own backpack. "Eventually." He looks down, checking the pockets. "I never, you know, thought you'd given up."

It's a soft admission, and Rodney stares at the back of Sheppard's neck. Even in his memories of that evening, when John had shown up with beer for them to drink at the pier, that had never come out. Though it was there, unspoken, in the way John stayed close to him as they drank, chatted, stared at the sky. Now that Rodney can see it, he can't believe he missed the silent admission.

He knows Sheppard isn't expecting an answer, so he just tightens the straps of his pack and heads towards the descending ramp. "The cloak's up and running, right?"

A relieved smirk appears on Sheppard's face. "No, McKay, I thought I'd leave our only Jumper visible for any and all to target and destroy."

Rodney takes a moment to slap Sheppard's arm as he passes, and ignores the smack he gets in return. Ten minutes and a debate about which Batman villain they were most like, and they're standing in front of the portal. Sheppard shuffles his feet, but Rodney can tell he's determined to see this through. "You ready?"

"Not really," Sheppard replies, then he walks through.

Rodney grabs the straps of his pack and follows. There's a painful sensation of tearing, as his body is forcibly adjusted from normal time to the compressed time within the field, and then he's falling into the cave floor, choking on dust as he tries to get air to his lungs. His only consolation is that Sheppard seems to be in the same position, except he's managed to get himself sitting up. "Ow!"

"Yeah," Sheppard coughs, "always hurts like a bitch."

"It didn't coming out," Rodney complains, then pushes himself up onto his knees. The front of his uniform is completely covered in dirt, and his palms hurt from trying to use them to stop his fall. The flesh is a little pink, but otherwise, there's no sign of any scrapes. "So…"

"We should go to the village," Sheppard says, pulling himself up by the wall. "S'bout a day's walk. We can rest there."

"Fine. The ZedPM is on the other side of the structure, in any case." He actually spits as he stands. "Bleh."

Sheppard holds out his canteen. "Here."

Rodney takes it, swishes some water around in his mouth, then spits it out. "Thanks." It's only after he hands it back that he remembers he has his own canteen. He thinks about what that means, but gives up as they leave the cave because damn it, it would have to be summer inside the field. "I knew I should've brought sunscreen."

"Nanites'll protect us."

"Maybe," Rodney says. "You've still got your tan."

Sheppard raises an eyebrow at him. "You been checking out my tan, McKay?"

He flushes. "I have—no! I've just….it was a scientific observation!" At Sheppard's self-satisfied smirk, Rodney mutters, "Shut up."

Sheppard just lets out his sea lion laugh and continues walking.

An hour later, they've paused to strip off their jackets. Rodney feels the sun burning him, but when he checks in the reflection of a stream they cross, he only sees a hint of pink. Obviously, the nanites are compensating for the burned skin.

Sheppard, after stretching his arms and marching silently beside him, finally speaks up. "So what've you got planned with Carson?"

"What?"

Sheppard gives him a knowing look. "I know you don't want to lose Carson again. None of us do. But normally you're the last person pushing for an untested medical procedure."

"Except when it saved you from turning into a bug, and it stopped Elizabeth from dying."

"Extenuating circumstances," Sheppard says dismissively. "Carson said he had at least a week. And we do have some of Michael's blood, plus all his research. You wouldn't be pushing unless you had a plan."

Rodney looks away from John. "Oh look, elk."

"Sena," Sheppard replies. "They're hunted for meat. No antlers." He pokes Rodney's arm.

"How is their population kept in check without predators?"

"Teer said something about them mating only once a year." He pokes again. "Stop evading, McKay."

Rodney sighs. "Look, it's not…I do want Carson to be fine. It's just, if Elizabeth uses the code and it works for Carson it means we can use the nanites for…other things."

Sheppard stops walking, reaching out an arm to halt Rodney's movement as well. "Other things," he says flatly.

"The city is in desperate need of repair, not to mention it's buried under centuries of sediment." Rodney rolls his shoulders. "I'm working on a code where the nanites use the raw materials of the ground to…replicate, and repair the new city."

"Assuming they don't become sentient and transmit our location."

"We've been over this-"

"You're changing the parameters again!"

"And we need to uproot that city! Look, even with power, if we activated the shield? We'd still have a city buried under dirt, dirt, and more dirt! The stardrive would need nearly three times as much power to lift that much mass, and then we'd have to figure out what to do with it all."

"And you think nanites are the way to go," Sheppard says, crossing his arms.

Rodney crosses his own in return. "I think we can't waste time, and it's better than making the team and the Pegasus natives dig for months or years on end." Sheppard narrows his eyes, so Rodney steps forward until their arms are touching. "You know I'm right, John," he says calmly. "If we wait, the Asurans will wipe out too many worlds. Maybe all of them. We need to get a command center ready as soon as possible."

John stares at him some more, then his eyes widen. "You want to take the city into battle."

Rodney nods. "We'll need every weapon we can get, especially against an armada like that. The city is one giant weapon."

Sheppard takes a step back, then two. He opens his mouth, shuts it, then, after a moment, turns and keeps walking.

Rodney watches him, then sighs and follows. He knew he was going to have to fight an uphill battle on this one. At least they have a couple of days in the field for him to try and convince John.

And a few days for him to figure out what good a city with no weapon stores actually is.


For being abandoned, the village is actually in very good shape. Rodney says this to Sheppard, but the Colonel just grunts back, sounding too much like Ronon for comfort. They haven't spoken for nearly four hours, and Rodney's starting to worry that maybe he shouldn't have revealed his idea. Except he'd been hoping to get Sheppard on his side before approaching Elizabeth and the others. It's risky, yes, but he's pretty sure with Elizabeth's help it'll work. And really, Carson does need the treatment.

The sun is starting to go down. Sheppard makes a motion that he's going to check the perimeter, then walks off. "Well, fine," he mutters, and picks the nearest hovel and finds a bed to settle in and study his tablet. He's got a database to skim. If Sheppard doesn't want to talk, then he can just entertain himself on this trip.

Time flies and before he knows it he smells roasting meat just in time for his stomach to rumble. He blinks up, noticing that it's very, very dark except for the glow from his laptop, and then Sheppard sticks his head in. "Hey, you hungry?"

He shuts down the computer and gets up. "How long-"

"Bout three hours," Sheppard replies, hands in his pockets. "So, uh, working on the…"

Rodney spares a glance at John, who's shoulders are a little hunched. "It's a good plan."

"I'm not saying it's not," Sheppard says.

"I wouldn't lead the Replicators to us."

"Not intentionally-"

Rodney grabs John's arm and forcibly turns the man to face him. "I would never endanger us like that," he says evenly. "You have to trust me."

"I do trust you," is the immediate reply. "I don't trust the technology."

"Which is why Elizabeth and I will watch it every step of the way." He lets out a slow breath, making sure he meets John's gaze. "The repaired parts of the city will become inert, like normal matter. They won't be nanites anymore."

"I know that," he says, annoyed. "I'm worried about-"

"The active ones. So am I." He steps forward, so they're toe-to-toe. "I get it."

"It," Sheppard mimics.

"It." He waves between them, then back towards the portal. "You're not the only one obsessed with protecting…things."

A small smile tugs at John's lips. "Things, huh?"

Rodney huffs. "Yes, things."

John shuffles his feet then nods. "Okay."

"Okay?"

Sheppard shrugs. "Okay." He goes over to a fire pit and pulls a stick out of the ground, strips of meat stabbed on it. "I found some Tenli. It tastes like rabbit." He holds the stick out towards Rodney. "I figured we could save the MREs."

Rodney takes the offered food and moves over to what was obviously the communal meal table. Despite the darkness, the heat from the day hasn't dissipated. "You know," he says, carefully pulling the meat off to put on the tray Sheppard set up with some root and green things, "you take to this hunter-gatherer system quite well."

"You saying you want me to club you over the head, McKay," Sheppard comes back with his own stick of meat and pries it off to put on his own tray.

"Do it and I'll tell Ronon you tried to steal his gun. Again."

John points at him. "That wasn't funny the first time."

Rodney smirks, then sets his stick aside. Crude utensils have been placed by the tray, along with a glass of water, and something red. "What's this?"

"Wine." John grins. "Found a sealed bottle in one of the huts. They used it for ceremonial blessings." He raises the cup. "Figured they wouldn't mind."

"As long as it's not made from citrus," Rodney says, raising his own in response. He waits a beat. "It's not, is it?"

"Rodney," John drawls, annoyed.

"I mean, I only have one epi-pen-"

"Drink the damn wine," he mutters, sipping his cup.

Rodney rolls his eyes, but does. It's actually sweet, and tastes a bit like cranberries. He hums and sets the glass down, mixing in his vegetables with the hot rabbit. "So no one here?"

"Some wildlife, but all in all, doesn't look like anyone's come here to find inner peace." John mostly stabs his food, a piece of meat, a piece of root, and a green stalk. "So," he says, chewing, "what've you been doing?"

Rodney makes a circular motion with his fork while he finishes chewing and swallowing. It's actually not half bad for alien food. "Researching the city details. It was built shortly after Atlantis arrived."

"Cool. What's it called?"

"Ys." At John's raised eyebrow, Rodney shrugs. "Don't look at me. Though I do recall some sort of Spanish myth. Something about a city by the ocean and the devil."

"Sounds charming," he says, taking another sip of wine. "Anything significant?"

"Yes, actually." Rodney spears his own food for a few minutes. "Apparently, its primary function was initially manufacturing."

John sits up at that. "Manufacturing. As in…"

"Drones, Jumpers," he looks at John through his lashes, "the La Grange Satellite."

He can see the Pavlovian response in Sheppard's eyes. "Seriously?"

"We'll have to find some raw materials, of course. And figure out how everything works. But," he sets his fork-like utensil down, "the weaponry on the Satellites? Were originally intended to be integrated into the city systems. The piers, to be precise." He pokes the table with his finger, in six different locations. "They actually managed to build everything but the power matrices, though none of the equipment's installed yet."

"So it's like Atlantis: the Warship."

"Essentially. There are allusions to returning to the home galaxy, spearheading some sort of war, but then of course…"

Sheppard nods, his arms on the table, food forgotten. "The Wraith. You mean they didn't bother trying out this system with their greatest enemy?"

"Apparently, there were some…issues." Rodney takes a few more bites of food. Sheppard slouches back in his chair, arms crossed. His body language says relaxed, but his eyes are telling him to hurry up.

Rodney takes a few extra bites, just to tease him. When he swallows, though, he lowers his voice. "The main Ancient council didn't like the idea of…heavily arming one of their cities. Especially since the drone weapons were more than a match at first."

"Then the Wraith multiplied like crazy-"

"And there weren't enough Ancients to keep both cities running." He outlined a dome with his hand. "Apparently, they'd just left the city shield up the entire time the thing was active, so nature had built up a bit of a natural dirt wall around the lower half. When they left, they just turned off the shield-"

"And made it look like the city had been decimated by some natural disaster," John finished. "Without power, and no obvious entrances-"

"The Wraith left it alone. They were after Atlantis. The few scouts they did send seemed to report an active defense platform. And after Duranda…"

Sheppard doesn't even bat an eye at the name. "They figured it wasn't worth it. Just another attempt to create the perfect weapon."

"And that it would power itself out over time."

"Huh." John sits up again and goes back to eating. Rodney continues his own munching, before Sheppard gives him a narrow-eyed look. "You said the city was initially for manufacturing."

"Mmhmm," he says, mouth full.

"Initially." John says again. "What was it used for later?"

Rodney swallows, then finishes off the half-glass of wine he has left. "It actually has to do with, well, the larger part of the infirmary." At Sheppard's glare, Rodney shifts uncomfortably. "Apparently, with enlightened intelligence came some…not so nice side-effects, for some."

John stares a little longer, then, "You mean some of them decided to go mad-scientist and try to blow up a world."

"Something like that. The Council decided that if they followed the path of Ascension-"

"Which they obviously did."

"-then they'd have to remove the…undesirable parts of their society from the processes. They couldn't let unstable individuals be all knowing and all powerful."

Sheppard let out a quiet curse. "So what crazy experiment did they decide would be best for this Orwellian idea?"

"They, uh, transferred people's consciousness into crystal nodules." The few pictures he'd found were actually quite beautiful, like perfectly cut sapphires set in silver. "They brought all the crystals to an uninhabited world and bonded them with trees."

John scrunches up his face. "They stuck people in crystals?"

"Their minds. The bodies they apparently, uh, vaporized. And the idea was to check-in on them. The trees would be an indication of whether they had gained stability and inner peace over time-"

"Or gone even more mental because they'd been stuck in a crystal for-" John cuts himself off. "Rodney," he says slowly, "would that world still exist…today?'

Rodney nods. "The Gate address is highlighted in the file, along with a warning to never touch the crystals directly, because it may allow the hostile mind to manifest…in the person who…who touched it."

Sheppard drops his utensil. "What if," he starts, then, "what if Atlantis found this world?"

"The Ancients-"

"Didn't keep the best records when it comes to worlds in the main database," Sheppard finishes. "You only know it because the main penal colony project was on Ys."

Rodney mulls that over. "That would explain how Atlantis could be…forgotten," he says slowly. Then he feels himself start to panic. "Oh god, oh my god. And they register as a power source! I would've insisted we bring one back to study and-"

"Hey, whoa whoa!" John raises his hands. "Hang on, Rodney! It's…I mean, it might explain it, but that doesn't mean that's what happened."

"Of course that's what happened!" He stares morosely at his water. "My curiosity killed Atlantis."

"No one said anything about killed!" John stands up and leans over enough to shake Rodney. "It was just a thought!"

"It makes sense!"

"Well, until we find out we shouldn't panic!"

"Why not? Panic works well for me! Really well!"

"Because we have to save the god damned galaxy first!" He glares. "We can't save ourselves if we don't stop the Replicators!"

Rodney opens his mouth, shuts it, then, "That's the most idiotic thing you've said." He thinks. "Today."

John glares some more, then sits back down mulishly. "Not that idiotic."

"Yes, it was." He points across the table. "You shouldn't have brought it up."

"Well I know that now!"

"You know me! You know how my mind works!"

John rolls his eyes. "No one knows how your mind works, McKay. No one wants to."

"I'll have you know-" Rodney starts, then stops and narrows his eyes. "No, you know what? I'm not getting into it." He hunches over his tray and continues munching on his dinner.

"What, that's it, McKay? No long rant? No pointing out the flaws in my argument? No making fun of my hair?"

"No, because," he swallows, "because you're right. Stupid, but right."

"I'm right," he says flatly.

"Yes. I can't panic right now. I should save that for whatever idiotic plan we enact to stop the Replicators."

There's silence, and then, "Well fine." He hears Sheppard go back to his own meal. After a few bites, he says, "I don't really think that happened, McKay. I was just-"

"Trying to interpret the ramblings of a dead man, yes, I know."

"Plus, it is kind of creepy, what you found out."

"The Ancients are creepy. And a few electrons short of a stable molecule."

"Heh. That they are, McKay. That they are."


The next day, they're once more walking side-by-side, Rodney with his detector out, and John peppering him with questions on what the city will need to build up its weapons reserves. By midday they can see the mountain ridge border that cuts off the dilation field from the real world.

John pulls out his binoculars and scans the ridgeline while Rodney drinks from his canteen. "Huh," he says, pulling them down and pointing. "Another cave opening."

"Makes sense," Rodney says, snatching the equipment from his hands to look himself. Sure enough, there's a cave that has the same darkness as the portal. "You think they knew it was there?"

"Probably," John says before drinking as well. He finishes it off by pouring a bit of it over his head.

"What are you—we need to conserve that!" That earns him a splash to the face, along with Sheppard grinning wildly. Rodney gives him the stern point with his finger, the one that has scientists wetting themselves because it means he's going to scrap their research or make them work with the marines, or worse, the anthropologists. "You. Will pay."

"Lighten up," he says, capping the canteen and shaking his head, sending water droplets everywhere. "It's hot. Thought we could use a cool down."

Rodney sputters and swipes the water dripping down his forehead away. "I'm carrying very delicate-"

"Waterproofed."

"-very delicate equipment!"

"Cute, McKay." He starts walking, running his hands through his hair and wiping the water around the back of his neck. "C'mon. I think we can make it in a couple hours."

Rodney mutters something about cold showers and the promise of fixing the Jumpers last as he catches up. He makes sure to do the same neck-wetting trick when Sheppard isn't looking, the jerk. From the smirk, he's pretty sure his attempt at subterfuge fails.

Sheppard starts up the conversation after the water has almost evaporated from their heads. "So what do you think we should focus on? The drones or the satellite weapons?"

"The shield," Rodney says. "We'll have at least a dozen ships launching their drone weapons at us, along with whatever else they've got."

"The Wraith ship-"

"Will be taken out in five minutes. That's our reserve." Rodney glances down at the detector. "Whatever's in that cave is blocking my scans. I'm getting faint power readings from the opening, but nothing inside."

"Okay, so after the shield, then what?"

"It'll depend on our supplies. If we can find some raw materials, drones. If we can get more ZedPMs, the satellite weapons." He turns the detector off. "It'd really help if we had our own fleet."

Sheppard frowns at that. "You think so?"

"I'm not building you a fleet of Ancient Warships. For one thing, it's the wrong city. For another, I wouldn't even know-"

"I know, Rodney. I'm just," he rubs the back of his neck, "I'm getting an idea of my own."

Rodney stares at him, then throws up his hands. "Great. Another suicide attempt I have to thwart."

"Hey! I haven't died yet."

"Because I'm a genius and someone up there—probably Chaya, the whore—likes you."

Sheppard snaps. "There's an idea. Chaya-"

"Won't leave her world. Especially after what happened last time." He glares at the man. "And if you think Weir will let you go just for some alien nookie-"

"I'm trying to find a way-"

"To defeat the Replicators, yes, I know. Leave the thinking to me, Sheppard. You just point and shoot when I tell you."

"Gee, Rodney, tell me how you really feel," he drawls, but keeps Rodney's pace. They're silent for a few minutes, then, "How long has it been, out there?"

Rodney does the calculations quickly in his head. "Probably about fifteen minutes. Maybe twenty."

"So if we're wrong, and get stuck in here-"

"We have at least a year before anyone will realize something's gone wrong." Rodney frowns at the ground, then, "Do you think we could talk about something a little less depressing?"

"We can't go home, we're fighting against impossible odds, I'm recovering from a nervous breakdown, and the city we now inhabit was used to trap people in crystal prisons."

"On the bright side, Colonel Caldwell will stop glaring at your hair like a Klingon does at a Tribble."

"No, he'll just shoot me because I have hostile entities swarming my cells."

"I think he'll be a little sympathetic, considering his history with hostile entities."

"Assuming he's even in this galaxy. Or alive."

"You really know how to kill the mood, Sheppard."

"That's not what Cadman said."

"Asshole," he mutters quickening his pace.

Two hours later, they've reached the cave. Rodney's using the detector to scan the surface, while Sheppard does a completely unnecessary perimeter walk. "What has you so agitated, anyways?"

"The Beast came from the minds of the Ancients living here." John shrugs, leaning against the mountain wall. "Between you and me, I'm expecting our minds to conjure something far worse."

Rodney can't help where that sentence takes his mind, and he mutters, "Stay Puft Marshmallow Man" at the same time John does. They exchange a quick grin, then Rodney steps back. "Well, it's definitely got the same energy field as the entrance portal. Except we found no other caves when you were stuck here the first time."

"Maybe they didn't want the equipment to breakdown super fast."

He rolls his eyes, but tucks the detector away. "I've always wondered how many ZedPMs they have. One might sustain the shield, but time-dilation eats some serious energy."

"Maybe the generator has three, like Atl—like the cities do."

"This one should've reached entropic failure if that were the case." He takes a deep breath, then steps forward.

"Hang on," Sheppard quickly ducks in front of him. "Soldiers first, remember?" He steps through, gun at the ready.

Rodney braces himself and steps through as well. There's pain again, different from the main entrance. This one feels like his body's imploding and on fire at the same time, and he actually gets thrown out of the portal, landing uncomfortably on the body of a bony Colonel. "Ow!"

"I think," comes a muffled voice, "that's my line."

Rodney manages to roll off the body and lands on his back, breathing heavily as the aches and pains slowly fade. John groans nearby, and flops down next to him. "Ow."

"I just said that."

"I'm re-saying it. It deserves to be repeated. Ow."

"Ow," Rodney agrees. "The Ancients were insane."

"Completely fucked up."

"They're probably floating around us, laughing at the stupid humans."

"We'll shoot them later," John groans as he sits up, slapping Rodney's thigh twice. "C'mon. We've got to find that ZPM."

"Zed," Rodney replies, but pulls himself up as well, wincing at his back. He really needs to find the healing protocol in his nanites. There's got to be a way to end that particular brand of suffering.

"We've got a couple caves," John says, light-piece of his gun turned on and swinging around. "You take left, I'll take right?"

"Sure. That way the monsters can pick us off one by one."

"That's the spirit." John wanders into the left cave.

Rodney pulls out a flashlight and heads right. It's obviously a control room, but with no apparent power console. Still, he touches the equipment, waking it up from its hibernation. The wall in the back opens to reveal a screen with scrolling Ancient writing and a topographic map of the enclosure. "Huh," he says as a he reads.

"Find anything interesting?"

"We're in another time-dilation field, only this one is designed to be slower. Normal time beyond the mountain range, accelerated time inside the field, and decelerated time in these chambers."

"By how much, do you estimate?"

"It's a pretty straight-forward ratio. Six months out there is a minute in here." He does the conversion mentally. "Huh. So we've already spent about four real-hours in here."

"Great. Can you shut it off?"

"Give me some time, Colonel. What's the rush?"

"Well, you mentioned something about the field needing a lot of energy to be maintained for so long."

"So? It's not like we'll drown or implode if the ZedPMs become fully depleted. It'll be like going through the portal again." Not pleasant, but survivable.

"I just think I've found how they maintained it."

Rodney sets the system in standby and immediately heads towards the other cave. It's larger than the command room, with some equipment. He recognizes the ZedPM power chamber immediately, but John's light is pointed across the room, looking at a…a… "Is that a pile of ZedPMs?!"

Sheppard swings around, startled. "Rodney!" He lowers his weapon. "Don't do—did you just have an orgasm?"

"What? No! Not everything is about sex, Colonel. This is just my…really, really, really happy face."

Sheppard mutters, and turns back to the crystals. "Found them just stacked up here."

Rodney pulls out his detector and quickly scans over the treasure find. His face falls. "Damn it. Minimal energy readings." He can feel himself frowning. "These aren't charged. They're probably—huh." A blip appears on his detector, a high energy spike, in the giant metallic contraption a few feet to the left of Sheppard. "Huh."

"You said that."

He walks up to the device and looks it over. It's similar to the ZedPM energy reactor, only instead of being upright, the indents are horizontally, having to push in rather than lower in the crystals. There are five pockets to put the power sources into, one of which is full and glowing a warm orange. To the right is a small screen. He touches the only button on it and it lights up blue.

"Rodney, what is this?"

"I'm not," he reads through the commands. The Ancients weren't fans of touch screens, so it takes him a few more minutes to find the compact stone controls in the wall, more reminiscent of Ancient technology in the Milky Way than here. "I think…"

"McKay, full sentences."

He depresses the stones, bringing up various screens, energy levels, chamber status. "If I'm reading this right…they're using the dilation fields themselves to…to…"

"This is getting really annoying-"

He turns slowly to John, mouth opening and closing, then he envelops the man in a tight hug. He'd jump up and down if he wasn't so sure it'd be terrible for his knees. His head is ringing with, Zero Point Module Recharge Chamber, and he must say it out loud because Sheppard is grinning excitedly at him as well and then they're both hugging and-

And he doesn't know how, but when Rodney pulls himself out of his utter rapture at finding a ZedPM Recharging Station, he discovers he's kissing John. Or John's kissing him. Or they're mutually kissing. He can't even remember who started it. He lets out a choked sound and pulls away. John looks stunned himself, his ears and face flushing as his shoulders immediately rise to hide his neck.

"I-uh, that is-" Rodney bounces a bit on his feet, not sure whether to stand his ground or duck into the control cave across the way. "I didn't mean-"

"It was-" John starts.

They stare at each other, and Rodney can tell he's as red as Sheppard based on how hot his face feels. "So, uh, you're not-"

"Not so much, but I didn't-"

"I was just very-"

"Yeah, very, very…"

They stare at each other some more, then Sheppard points his thumb over his shoulder. "So I'm gonna check out the portal, see if we can just…leave. You got everything under control here?"

Rodney finds himself nodding enthusiastically. "Yes, yes, very under control. No need for you to be here to supervise or, uh, anything."

"Right, then I'll just," he points over his shoulder again, ducks his head, and nearly runs out of the room.

Rodney tries not to take it too personally, especially since he felt like doing the same thing less than a minute ago. It wipes the back of his hand against his lips, then licks his lips and lets his heart rate slowly return to normal. It wasn't a…terrible kiss. In fact, it was definitely one of the top five—no, no, top three, hallucinations don't count—top three kisses he's ever received.

"Huh," he says, a little dazedly. Then, "huh," again, because now he's not quite sure what to think, but some of the feelings he has been having may be explained by latent homoerotic fixations that may not be as buried in his subconscious as he thinks.

And then he remembers why he ended up kissing Sheppard, and he turns around gleefully to examine the ZedPM still in the recharge chamber. The status check says yes, it's fully charged, and a new crazy idea starts formulating in his mind. He removes the charged power source, fits in five of the dead ZedPMs, and heads over to the control room.


He finds Sheppard lying on his back just inside the portal entrance. "Not locked?"

"Not locked," he says, before rolling up and getting to his feet. He doesn't look at Rodney as he says it. "Scientists first."

Rodney pats his backpack, then takes the plunge. There's the twist-burning-implode he felt last time, and then he's back out in the main dilation field, summer having passed and the rainy season upon them. He hears a wet 'pop' and then Sheppard's stumbling beside him, looking a little dazed. "Must be spring."

"We spent enough time in there for years to have passed out here."

"Guess the meat I salted is gone," Sheppard jokes flatly.

"Come on. The sooner we get out of here, the less likely Elizabeth will send someone to rescue us." He looks up at the sky and squints. "We've been in here almost fifteen hours by their time."

"Ronon'll be getting antsy." Sheppard agrees, and starts out at a fast pace. He pulls out a cap from his vest and puts it on, not even bothering to wipe the water from his face. Rodney rolls his eyes and does the same, pissed at himself for sacrificing his parka to make room for the ZedPM. Sheppard might have a spare, but they'd still have to dig it out.

They move fairly quickly, and make it to the abandoned village in two-thirds of the time. The Ancients liked convenience at least: there were no major muddy areas. He ducks into the first structure he can find, and Sheppard follows him, doing a quick sweep. "Meeting hall?" he asks. Other than the roof, there's just pillars and lattice woodwork keeping out the weather.

"Meditation room."

"One with nature. Got it." He looks at the pouring rain, then peels off his bag and looks around. "Plenty of mats, at least."

"Yeah." Sheppard's moved towards the center of the room, where what appears to be a sauna steamer rests. "It's simple wood burning," he explains, opening the door. He nods, then pulls out a lighter and sticks his hand in. A few minutes later, Rodney starts to feel heat coming from that direction. He moves his bag closer to it, then strips out of his shirt.

The Colonel's ears immediately turn red. "What," he asks acerbically. "If you think I'm catching pneumonia—even if the nanites can cure it—because of your puritanical beliefs, think again."

Sheppard moves to the other side of the steamer, and Rodney can see him remove his shirt. He tries to force his own flush away, but he can feel his cheeks burn anyways. Yes, well, it's just temporary. It's not like either of you are interested.

He can almost hear Heightmeyer scoffing at his subconscious.

An MRE appears over the heating rocks. Rodney blinks, but takes the offered food, ignoring the nude chest across from him. "Thanks," he says.

"Yeah," John says back. Then, "we're cool, right?" There's a hint of desperation in his voice.

It probably mimics Rodney's own tone. "I'm fine, you're cool."

"Cool," he says. "Um, I'm probably going to…" He clears his throat. "Going through the door four times was exhausting."

"Okay." Rodney sits, his back to the warming object. "I'm going to do some coding, then, um, sleep."

He hears rustling. "We should get going early tomorrow."

"Yes, definitely early."

"Sun up?"

"Not that early," he says, slightly outraged.

"Right, okay." More rustling, then, "night, Rodney."

Rodney peels open his MRE. "Night." For once, the pre-made meal isn't much to his liking, but he eats it anyways. He's willing to bet he can still go into hypoglycemic shock, it just won't kill him. He tosses the remains of his meal at the corner of the building, then settles in to review the nanite protocols he'll need to repair Ys.

It's not that he trusts the nanites, but if they can fix Carson, they can definitely fix the city. As much as he'd like to say the infrastructure is infinitely more complex than a human body, he knows the truth is that fixing Beckett will be the more complex operation.

Hours later, he rubs his eyes, shuts the laptop, and settles onto his own mats, comfortably warm thanks to his time spent by the sauna rocks. He hums as he lies down, trying to find a comfortable spot, when he hears, "So I've been thinking about what I said."

He hesitates, then rolls over. He can just see the back of Sheppard's head. "When, exactly?"

"Back on New Athos, about no rules, no one to answer to."

"Ah, that." Rodney feels his stomach twist. He rolls onto his side, just to be safe. "What about it?"

"I don't belong to the US military anymore," he says.

"You're still an officer."

"But not a member of their military," he says. "And it's…it's not something…I mean I've considered leaving, but it's not…there are sacrifices one makes-"

Rodney squints. "Are you trying to come out to me?"

John quickly flips over, eyes wide. "No! I'm not—that is—" He closes his eyes and says, rushed, "I'm not. Except maybe a little…?"

Rodney blinks at him. "Are you asking?"

Sheppard says, "Never mind," and starts to roll back over.

Rodney sits up. "Hey! In case you didn't notice, I didn't exactly push you away."

Sheppard turns back to him. "You weren't exactly enthusiastic afterward."

"Neither were you."

"Maybe I was startled!"

"You think I wasn't?! We were kissing!"

"You started it!"

"I did not! …did I?" At Sheppard's unsure shrug, he says, "Huh. So…either one…?"

"It was a great find." Sheppard rolls onto his back. He stays quiet, then, "So I was thinking…I don't have to answer to don't ask, don't tell."

Rodney sighs and lays back down, also looking at the ceiling. "And I guess the whole fraternization rules kind of don't matter, either."

"Yeah…"

They continue to stare in silence.

"We shouldn't act on it."

John's head snaps in his direction. "What?!"

Rodney lets out a long breath. "Everything is…none of us are exactly in our right minds. You said it yourself, you had a breakdown, I'm trying to resurrect a city, Elizabeth is coming to terms with…herself. Teyla's feeling abandoned by her people…"

"I get it, I get it," John interrupts. "Bad timing."

"It's not that I don't want to. I mean, it was a great kiss. A really great one. Top three, definitely."

"You kiss better than my ex-wife."

"Really?"

He can just see Sheppard's grimace. "I really need to talk to Heightmeyer."

"Maybe we can clone her." At Sheppard's sharp look, he holds up his hands. "Kidding! Kidding!"

"Humph." John folds his arms over his chest. "It…we are okay, right? I know we said we are, but-"

"Sheppard, you talked. About your feelings." Sheppard winces at that. "If that doesn't make us okay, nothing will."

"Right, fair enough." He pauses, then, "You feel the same, right?"

"I'm pretty sure. You're, uh, not the only one who's not sure."

"That actually made sense." He lets out a giant yawn. "Alright. Mid-morning sound good?"

"A blessing." Rodney goes back to finding a comfortable position for him. "Night, Shepp—good night, John." He feels himself blush a little at that.

He can almost hear Sheppard's shy grin. "G'night, Rodney."


Things are back to normal the next day, which lifts a huge weight off Rodney's chest. They're mocking various Spider Man enemies and comparing them to the plans of the Genii when they finally reach the portal. Even the fact that he's soaking wet can't diminish his grin.

"So how do we get through?"

Rodney pulls out the detector and brings up the command interface he programmed. "Your confidence in me is vastly justified." With a few adjustments the doorway is open. He tucks the detector away and heads through, this time expecting the twisting pain. Fortunately, he stumbles out this time, and rights himself just in time for Sheppard to fly through.

Apparently, those two years of enforced softball at Area 51 were good preparation for catching wayward Colonels. "You always this graceful, Flyboy?"

The grin is more cocky than annoyed. "Funny, McKay."

Rodney hefts his backpack. "Ready to bring home a ZedPM?"

"More than." He heads for the Jumper. "Can you still control the doorway?"

"Of course."

"I mean from out here."

Rodney lets his smugness shine. "Can the sonic screwdriver doom Daleks?"

Sheppard grins. "Awesome."

"Geek."

"No, I'm the cool one, remember?"

"Uh huh."

When they fly the Jumper back through the Gate to Ys, they find a lot more life signs than they expect. "Huh." Rodney looks out the window at the ground, where some inhabitants are actually re-cultivating the abandoned farmlands. "Guess Weir got through to the allies."

"Let's check in, just to be safe." Sheppard pilots the Jumper to the top of the tower, before remembering that without power, the bay doors won't open. He quickly lands on the other side, cloaking the Jumper as they exit. "Just as a precaution."

"You didn't hear me protest, did you?" Rodney's hugging the backpack to his chest, glancing everywhere. He can see some people with Genii uniforms, a lot more kids, and—"Teyla!" He waves his arm, then grapples the bag as it tries to escape his grasp.

Teyla comes over and smiles. Rodney notes that it still doesn't reach her eyes. "Colonel Sheppard, Doctor McKay. We have much to discuss."

She leads them towards the Tower's entrance. Sheppard casually rests his hands on the P90. "Looks like you've been busy."

"Yes. And you are quite late. We were beginning to get worried."

"Time-dilation field inside the time-dilation field," Rodney says. "It's…well, I'll explain in a meeting, because really, it's the best discovery in the world and I really wish the Colonel had found it the first time he was trapped there-"

"Hey! I had other things on my mind."

"I'm sure," Rodney breezes on, ignoring Sheppard's pout. "But where did all these people come from? And why are there children in the control room?! Get down from there this instant you-"

"I got 'em," Ronon says, punching Sheppard's arm as he passes and taking the stairs three at a time. "Sorry 'bout that. Like herding lenkas."

"Lenkas?"

"They are similar to your llamas, except they are much smaller and their spit contains corrosive properties," Teyla fills in.

"Why on Earth would you want to corral something like that?"

"Their hair is said to be…I believe the equivalent would be a 'mink coat.'" She sighs. "I have often dreamed of purchasing one."

"Maybe next time we're on Earth," Sheppard says, watching as Ronon literally lifts two of the kids off the ground. "Keras around?"

"He is with Linara, discussing agricultural needs and work schedules." Teyla, Rodney notes, is leading them down to the power room. "The Genii have held up their end of negotiations. They have delivered two ZPMs, and spoke with the people of Dagan on our behalf."

Rodney perks up. "They're willing to give us the ZedPM?"

Teyla's steps falter slightly, and John elbows Rodney in the side. "Unfortunately, they were one of the worlds Michael…infected. Those remaining of the Brotherhood agreed to an exchange."

Sheppard lets out a long sigh. "Let me guess, sanctuary for the power source?"

"The Vedeena are finding them accommodations among the village." She looks over her shoulder, her smile gone. "With the last culling, they were down to thirty villagers. They wished to move on, but due to the attacks…"

"Couldn't think of a safe place to live," John finishes.

"This place won't be much safer with all the traffic we're getting. Someone's bound to notice." Rodney pushes ahead as he sees the door to the power room. Three ZedPMs are resting on the main pedestal, a Genii he doesn't recognize standing at attention against the wall. "Who the hell are you?!"

The man twitches. "Lieutenant Jonas."

Rodney stares. "Seriously?"

The man gets a constipated look on his face, which Rodney knows for a Genii, means he's confused. "Yes, sir. My name-"

"We've got it from here, Lieutenant," Sheppard interrupts, hand back on the end of his gun. "Why don't you check in with Weir?"

The Lieutenant nods, offers them a Genii salute, then exits, sliding Rodney a perplexed glance.

"Just when the galaxy can't get any less sane," he mutters, setting his bag down and pulling out the fully charged ZedPM. "Sheppard, you want to help?"

Sheppard looks out the door, then comes over and starts removing the dead ZedPM's from their alcoves. "We just left him alone in the power room?"

"No," Teyla says, walking over to one of the control stations and picks up an earpiece. "We made sure to listen to the background sounds. Ronon's hearing is quite acute."

"Would explain why the behemoth let all those monkeys climb on the delicate equipment." He scans the donated power sources. The one from Dagan appears to be about a third full. The ones from the Genii…well, ten percent each is better than nothing. "It's a start," he says, then touches his radio. "McKay to Weir."

"Rodney, welcome home. You'll be pleased to know-"

"Yes, yes," he places the fully charged one into its frame and lowers it into the chamber. "Just wanted to say," he smirks at John, "let there be light!" He activates the generator. Immediately, the lights brighten, and he can hear the city come alive around them. Even John seems to perk up at the sound.

"Very impressive, Rodney," Elizabeth says slowly, "however, as I was saying, Carson has accepted the treatment."

"Really? Great!" He smirks at Sheppard. "Told you he'd take it."

"Radio's on, McKay."

Rodney shrugs, and goes about setting in the Brotherhood and Genii's ZedPMs. "So it all went well?"

"Quite well. According to his scans, all traces of Michael's genetic defect are gone."

"Perfect. And no wayward nanites trying to contact the collective?"

"None that," she clears her throat, "none that I could detect." She sounds a bit shy about that. "I have to admit it's…disconcerting, being linked with them. I'm not sure how I did it before."

"They probably blocked or deleted those memories, to make sure you wouldn't be a threat." Rodney freezes. "Oh, crap. Uh, I didn't mean-"

"Yes, you did," Elizabeth sighs. "And you're most likely right. It's just…difficult to hear."

He can feel Teyla's disappointment boring into the back of his skull. He quickly ducks his head and focuses on the power readings. "I, uh-"

"It's all right, Rodney. Really." She goes silent for a few minutes, then, "Would now be a good time for a staff meeting, or would you and John-"

"No, no. Now's perfect. In fact, it'll help with the, uh, population problem we're having."

"Very well. Meeting room, five minutes. And good work." She cuts the connection.

"Smooth, McKay," Sheppard says.

Rodney just glares at him, and ignores the continued stares from Teyla. "I was just distracted by," a console hums, and he hurries over to it, "shit, by an Ancient warship entering orbit!"

"I shall warn Ronon and Linara," Teyla says, and Rodney hears her run out of the room.

John is by his side instantly. "Can you get the shield up from here?"

"It's an emergency secondary command room-"

"Rodney-"

"Yes, yes, but I still need to access the commands, and it's been centuries since they have been activated, not to mention buried under rock and soil-"

"If they get a shot off-"

"I know! Believe me I—I…they're…they're hailing us?" Rodney frowns at the computer. "Do we answer?"

"I will," Sheppard says. "You work on the shield."

"Right." Rodney hits the communication panel. "All yours."

Sheppard steps closer and raises his voice. "This is Colonel John Sheppard of the city of Ys."

"Colonel," a female voice practically oozes over the line, "what's this I hear of a new alliance? And you don't even think to call me?"

Rodney glares at him. "Another princess you didn't sleep with, Kirk?"

"I swear, McKay, I've never heard her voice before."

"Shit, that means she met-"

"Great. Uh," he opens the channel again. "I'm sorry, I had a little bout with amnesia not too long ago…"

There's a heaving sigh from the ship. "Sheppard, don't play games with me."

"No, really. No clue who you are."

There's disbelieving silence, then, "It's Larrin, Colonel. Larrin of the Travelers."

"Sounds like a band," Rodney mutters.

"Shield," John hisses, before turning his attention back to the woman on the other line. "Well, Larrin, I'm not sure what you've heard-"

"I've heard that there's an old race known as the Asurans who have decided to wipe out entire worlds. I know that my people have lost three of our vessels to their weapons. And I've heard from a Genii spy under torture that you are putting together an alliance to fight these monsters." Rodney can make out the menace in her voice. "You will speak with me, John, about these things I've heard, or I will be forced to open fire on your shiny new city."

Rodney makes a helpless motion. At least one shield emitter needs immediate repair, so even if he gets the shield up it won't be at full strength, never mind the gaping hole in their defense thanks to city's state of disrepair.

John sighs. "Why don't you land your ship? We were just about to start the meeting."

"I'm glad that our difficult history won't interfere with our focus on a common enemy."

"Yeah, sure," he says laconically, and sends landing coordinates on the other side of the Stargate. "We'll leave an escort for your arrival."

"I'd expect nothing less, naturally. I'll bring the rope." She cuts the connection, and Rodney tracks her ship starting its descent from orbit.

He turns to John. "She'll bring the rope?"

"I really hope she's not expecting anything," he says uncomfortably. "You know, I never see it coming, so maybe she-"

"You know what, let's just go tell Elizabeth." He sets the room to lock itself after they leave. "And maybe Ronon should meet her. He can intimidate anyone." John looks at him. "Fine, anyone at first sight."

As Rodney makes sure the door shuts completely behind them, he hears John ask, "So how do you think she got her hands on an Ancient warship?"


"An alliance," Elizabeth says to the leather-suited woman. Her cleavage is practically popping out of her low-cut top, and the expectant look she keeps shooting Sheppard hasn't waned since she sat down at the table beside Linara. "You believe we are creating an alliance?"

Larrin finally turns her attention to Weir. "Yes. You have invited the Vedeena, the Genii, and," she looks disdainfully at Keras, "apparently everyone except the Travelers." She turns back to Sheppard. "Which hurts, John. I thought we had a deep connection."

"These are not," Linara says sharply, "the inhabitants of Atlantis."

Larrin looks at Linara with a sense of pity. Rodney takes in their near-identical hair and cookie-cutter bodies and wonders if Zelenka's theory was right about the limited gene pool in this galaxy. "If they are not, then who are they?"

"They were created on a false Atlantis, but turned on their creators when they discovered they were the very people wiping out whole worlds to get at the Wraith."

Larrin scowls, looks at Sheppard, then at the rest of the Atlanteans. "So you are part of these…Asurans?"

"They are to be our saviors from them. Their knowledge will stop the Asurans."

Rodney's pretty sure they're about two barbs away from a cat fight when Ronon steps between the two chairs and just stands there with his arms crossed. Both women look up at him, then at each other, then finally back to the table.

Rodney shrugs, turning his attention back to Elizabeth. "Either way, if her people have ships, we could use them." Larrin glares at him, arms crossed. Obviously, she's not thrilled with the idea. "If they don't want the Hoffan retrovirus, we could offer them something else."

"Such as?" Sheppard drawls.

"I could think of something," Larrin says with a small leer. Ronon quickly hip-checks her chair, nearly toppling her to the floor.

Rodney bites back a snort. "I was thinking more along the lines of upgrading your ships. If they're generational, like you say, they're probably in need of repair."

"You don't exactly have the time, McKay," Sheppard says. Rodney looks at him and raises an eyebrow. It takes the man a minute to get what he means. "Oh, right." Sheppard tilts his chair a bit. "Rodney has an idea, about the nanites."

"Oh bloody hell," Carson moans, leaning on the table. "Can't you just be glad they worked with me?"

"I am," Rodney says sincerely, trying to ignore the way Lieutenant Jonas is paying extra close attention to him. Why they had to include the Genii in this, he's not sure. "But I think if we extract a few, and reprogram them, we can restore the city to good working order. Including some pretty impressive fire power."

Elizabeth sits forward, resting her elbows on the table as she clasps her hands together. "And if it works, you're thinking a similar method could be applied to Larrin's vessels?"

"Maybe not with as many upgrades, but definitely to reinforce the hulls, the shields, maybe extend life-support capabilities."

Elizabeth nods, then looks at Larrin, who's staring at Rodney now. "Would that be acceptable?"

Larrin blinks once, twice, then looks at Elizabeth. "How much for the scientist? I'm sure fair trade could be obtained."

The Genii man snorts. "Good luck with that, lady."

Larrin quickly glowers at the man. Obviously there's no love lost between the Genii and the Travelers.

"Jonas is right," Elizabeth says. "The Genii have…requested Rodney many times. I'm afraid Colonel Sheppard and I are unlikely to change our minds."

"Never mind the fact that I could blow up your ships five minutes after I got on board."

"Thank you, Rodney," Elizabeth says with an undercurrent of, 'shut up'. Rodney can get that message. "Could you convince your people to contribute to this battle?"

Larrin glares at the Genii a little longer, then looks at the table. "It depends," she says slowly, "on the plan you have to…defeat these Asurans. No one will simply throw themselves into battle unless they know there is a good chance for victory."

"We're planning on taking the Ys into battle," Sheppard says confidently. "Beyond that, we're not willing to state what our strategy is." He leans forward. "The Asurans have their own spies, after all."

Rodney's pretty sure they don't. With their superior technology, they don't need spies. But Sheppard's gotten them this far on bluffing. Rodney's not about to spoil the effort.

Larrin narrows her eyes at Sheppard, searching his face, then after a minute, she nods once. "Very well. I will consult with my people." She stands. "You don't mind if I do it from my ship, I assume."

"As long as you do it in hyperspace, or away from here," Rodney says. "We're trying to be discreet, we don't need you lighting a stellar communications flare."

She throws an appraising glare at him, then to Sheppard she says, "I see why you like him. He won't take your shit."

"Won't take yours, either," Sheppard say comfortably.

She rolls her eyes, exchanges one last hostile look with Jonas, then leaves. Ronon's eyes trail after her, Rodney notices. Huh.

"I, too, shall take my leave," the Genii says. "Doctor Beckett has supplied me with the required amount of retrovirus for my people. Colonel Radim is awaiting their delivery."

Keras stands up. "I'll help you bring the supplies and make sure you get to the Stargate safely." Jonas seems to want to decline, but changes his mind and shrugs. He exits, along with Keras.

"Well," Elizabeth says, "that was good happenstance."

"Only because Colonel McBluff over here," he indicates Sheppard with his thumb, "said we had a plan."

"I'm sure you'll come up with something, McKay," John says laconically. "The question is what do we do? Regardless of whether she gets the ships, it still won't be enough up against a count of, what was it?"

Rodney feels himself getting a little depressed. "Sixty by tomorrow."

John nods. "We need more firepower."

"We could try to contact the Daedalus," Carson suggests.

"And they'd probably fire on us rather than listen to the whole story," Rodney replies. "We're on our own."

"Perhaps not, Elizabeth says. "We do have a growing group of people here."

"About that," Rodney perks up, "I had an idea. On how to protect them, and hide our presence here."

"You mean cloak the city?"

Rodney shakes his head. "Same issue as with the shield, there'll be a visible rift in the ground. Very conspicuous. No, I was thinking about the time-dilation field."

Elizabeth frowns. "You can't be serious."

"Why not? I can reset the differential to be a second, a minute, or ten-thousand years. It doesn't have to be as extreme as it was for the Colonel. And the time bubble reflects scans and acts as a natural shield." He spreads his hands. "The system is already set up, Elizabeth. It's large enough to sustain a population of at least five hundred, provided they build additional houses and cultivate the land a bit more."

"I agree," Sheppard says quietly. "We can't protect them. We could barely protect worlds with the full resources of Atlantis. This way, any more refugees that come through will be safe."

"And who will shuttle the people there?" Elizabeth says. "The Stargate is in orbit."

"We can affix it to the ground," Rodney says confidently. "It'll take all of a day, at most. I need to go in anyways to retrieve the fully recharged ZedPMs-" At everyone's startled look, he adds, "Oh, right, we didn't tell you. ZedPM recharge station, and about a dozen empty crystals."

"That's fabulous news," Elizabeth exclaims.

"Yes, yes," Rodney waves his hand to the side, "the point is, given a day, we can set this up so that everyone who joins this little community is safe. If necessary we can lower the field long enough to land Ys there to hide it from the Asurans." He pauses. "Well, after we get the city up and running again, of course."

"Of course," Sheppard parrots.

Elizabeth looks to Teyla. "Do you think the people will go along with this recommendation?"

Teyla leans back in her chair, eyes distant for a moment. "I believe many people are scared, even with us here. They believe we have a chance to defeat the Asurans, but they also believe they may be sacrificed in the process, as has occurred in many battles before. I think most will relish the opportunity for safety, especially in a place the Ancestors once lived in."

Elizabeth nods, then looks on to Linara. "And you?"

Linara grimaces, but says enigmatically, "I believe Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay should proceed with their plan to relocate the Stargate. From my father's writings, another ally may reveal themselves."

"You don't look particularly pleased at the idea."

She bows her head. "It is…I believe I heard Doctor Beckett say something about a 'deal with the devil.' A malevolent force? The other ally is something like that."

Sheppard doesn't even look fazed. "But we need all the allies we can get. Even demonic ones."

Linara shrugs. "The writings are…unclear. My father's life was ending that day."

Rodney looks at Elizabeth. "As much as I hate to admit it, the hocus-pocus has been pretty accurate so far. Might as well see it through to the end."

"Rodney," Elizabeth chastises, but he can tell she's thinking it over. "One day," she says. "And don't promise anything we can't deliver."

"Scout's honor," Sheppard says. "Besides, it'll give McKay time to come up with a brilliant plan to save the day."

"It always comes down to the scientists. You wave your big guns and your macho army, but in the end, you always turn to the geeks."

"We've heard the bloody speech," Carson says, flapping his own hand. "Get off your arse already and fly out. I'll have those nanites ready for you when you get back."

"You're a good friend, Carson."

"I was your bloody guinea pig." Still, as they get up to go, Carson reaches out to briefly hug Rodney. "But I'm glad I don't have to worry about it anymore."

Rodney hugs him back, glances at Teyla, and whispers, "Help Teyla with the hybrids. I think she could use some friends."

"Aye," Carson says, looking him in the eye, "that she could."


"I'm just saying, he sounded kind of ominous, like he was trying to impart some vast secret wisdom."

"Can we talk about this later?" Sheppard grits out. "I'm trying to concentrate."

"Oh please," Rodney waves his hand, looking at the tablet. "I'm the one who has to make sure the shield-cloak conversion maintains integrity. All you have to do is fly us to the surface."

"Which is a lot easier when you don't have a Stargate wrapped around your hull."

"It was that or figure out how to attach grappling hooks, and since we don't have the materials, much less the time…"

"I get it, Rodney. It's still difficult." A new screen appears over the windshield. "Crap. We never get a break."

"Why the hell did a Wraith Cruiser come out of hyperspace here?! There are no life signs!"

"Just a Jumper moving a Stargate."

"There were no monitoring devices! Certainly nothing Wraith that we detected!"

Sheppard checks the topography of the ground. "Hang on, I'm gonna drop the Gate."

"Like hell you will!"

"We're only a hundred feet up! It'll survive!"

"And if it doesn't we have to find a Gate for harvesting!"

"McKay, if we don't cloak-"

"We have a shield!"

"And what happens if they hit the shield?!"

"It'll hold!" Sheppard throws him a brief glare. "Alright, fine. But I'm telling Weir you broke the Stargate."

"Fine. Just hold on." Sheppard puts them into a nose dive that Rodney's pretty sure he'll have nightmares about for years. "Lower the shield!"

"Yes, yes, hold—got it!" The lights flicker as the power fluctuates, then Sheppard pulls them into a sharp halt. He can practically hear the Stargate scrape against the hull as it hurtles away from them. Rodney just flinches as it impacts, though it seems to be intact for the moment.

"I need that cloak," Sheppard pressures. "We've got six Darts coming for us."

"I'm working….damn it," Rodney gets up from the seat and moves to the back. "Do some fancy flying, Colonel! We've got a glitch in the cloak!"

"McKay!"

"I know! I know!" He hangs on to the wall as the inertial dampeners struggle against Sheppard's flying. "Who thought we'd be attacked?"

"S'our luck, Rodney." A few choice words follow that phrase. "They're trying to corral me to the ground."

"Seriously?!" His grip tightens as Sheppard takes another tight turn. "I'm not hearing any weapons fire!"

"They're trying to force—shit—forcing me to the ground!"

As if to emphasize his words, a loud crashing sound screeches through the small craft, along with the whole cabin shaking. Rodney loses his footing completely and struggles to not slam his head against the edge of a bench as he goes down. "What-"

"Dart glanced us!" Sheppard's voice is shaky. "If they keep it up, they'll hit a drive pod."

"That'll strand us!" Rodney pulls himself along the aisle, hanging on when the cabin shakes again. "Land the damn Jumper!"

"The Wraith-"

"It's better than losing a, our only way home and b, our only fully functional Jumper!" He pulls himself up and holds onto the doorframe. "Land the damned ship!"

He can almost hear Sheppard grinding his teeth, but the next glance sends sparks flying in the rear cabin, and that seems to do it. "I'm gonna land us as close as I can to the Stargate."

"If they haven't dialed it themselves, then it means it can't be dialed," Rodney says despondently. It's not a good situation. At least they don't have the ZedPMs yet. He really doesn't want to reveal that secret to the Wraith.

"Get armed, McKay," Sheppard says as the ship rocks a bit. He powers down the systems and hops up, grabbing both his weapon and one of the Satedan firearms.

Rodney really wishes the Replicators hadn't been so paranoid as to give them fake drone weapons in the Jumpers. The sensors show five Darts strategically circling them. A sixth one is flying down from the ship, aiming for the rear of the Jumper. He braces himself and picks up his own weapon, making sure the ammo is locked in place.

Sheppard glances at him. "Wait for them to come in, or meet on their terms?"

"Can't you make this sound less hopeless than it is?" Rodney hits the door control panel. "Their terms. We need the Jumper intact."

The sound of Wraiths overhead sets Rodney completely on edge, and then he hears a Wraith transporter right outside the ramp. When it finishes lowering, he sees four Drones and one Wraith. It has what appears to be a black star outline over its left eye, but other than that, it looks like every other white-haired Marilyn Manson Wraith.

"Colonel Sheppard," it says in a gravelly voice, "I had hoped you would be more agreeable to speaking with me."

Sheppard's brow furrows in a way Rodney recognizes as 'does not compute.' Then he tenses and he brings up his weapon. "You're the Wraith who was trapped with me by Kolya."

"I see you remember," it says, grinning. "I hope you don't mind the…direct request to land I made. My attempts at contacting Atlantis have been…ignored. When I detected your vessel, well, I took the opportunity that presented itself."

"You could've just asked," Sheppard says sarcastically.

"I did," it replies, showing its teeth as it grins. It looks at the Jumper, then at Rodney. "You must be Doctor McKay. Colonel Sheppard spoke highly of you. He was sure you would find him."

"We did," Rodney says, keeping his weapon on the Drones.

"Yes," it says, amused. "I must wonder, what you are doing with the Stargate, on such a strange world?"

"You can wonder all you like," Sheppard's voice has an edge to it. "What do you want…do you have a name?"

"It is not…there is no equivalent in your language."

"How about Todd, then? What d'you think, McKay?" he asks over the barrel of his gun.

"I think you don't get to complain when I name things."

"Todd it is," Sheppard says, ignoring him. "So what do you want, Todd?"

"I'm here about the mutual enemy that has arisen. From your meddling," Todd says, looking at Rodney. "I believe you call them the Replicators."

"We're aware of them." Sheppard says, moving a step closer to Rodney. "What of it?"

"They are targeting human worlds, destroying our food source."

"Like I said, we're aware of the situation."

Todd eyes them both, then snorts over his shoulder. The Drones lower their weapons and step back. Todd takes a step forward. "It is an intolerable situation, for both of us," he says. "When I received no response from Atlantis, I did some…investigating." He tilts his head. "Apparently, it has vanished. And then you appeared, with some…deceased members of your contingent."

Rodney huffs. "Does everyone keep tabs on Atlantis?"

"It is…well, was a great power in this galaxy." Todd looks to the skies. "The Replicators aren't the only threat. There's some…poison, affecting worlds out there." He turns back to them. "I assume you know of this as well?"

"I can't say I disagree with that plan. Except for the casualties."

"It has caused many Hives to become…paranoid, and destroy the poisoned worlds. They are beginning to unify again, against common enemies." Todd doesn't look pleased at that statement. "I believe you are familiar with the battle of the Ancients."

Sheppard offers a shrug, his weapon still aimed directly at the Wraith. "If you guys and the Replicators want to duke it out, we won't stop you."

"They are seeking Atlantis," Todd says. "They know they cannot defeat the Replicators, but they believe that by…capturing as many worlds as they can, and creating secret breeding fields for the food, the Queens can consolidate their power and control other Hives through livestock."

"And this makes you unhappy."

Rodney can relate, though he tries not to show it. If a single Wraith, or even a collective, manages to consolidate all the Hives together, they won't have factions that can be played off one another, they'll have one unified army sweeping across the galaxy. The Ancients fell because of that force.

"Primarily, it will lead to the extermination of my kind," Todd says. "Once the Replicators have destroyed all other sources of food, they will wait. When they see we still thrive, they will revert to their primary objective. And then this galaxy will consist of Replicators, and nothing more."

"Not the most pleasant picture," Sheppard says slowly. "And secondary?"

"My Hive is not the most…popular. Undoubtedly, we would be excluded from any unification endeavors. Most likely," he says with just a touch of regret, "we would be hunted, and fed upon by our own kind."

"Yeah, that's a cryin' shame."

"Neither of us want a unification of the Hives, Colonel," Todd says forcefully. "Which means dissention must be sowed, a difficult task under the best of times, or the reason for their unification must be eliminated."

Rodney slowly lowers his weapon, openly gaping at the Wraith. "You want to fight the Replicators."

"It is my belief that the destruction of the Replicators would dissolve the pacts tenuously being formed, yes." Todd grins again. "If that means assisting you, members of Atlantis or…other entities," he says carefully, "then I believe I can convince my Hive to join any effort you launch."

"You believe you can convince," Sheppard says, keeping himself ready, but lowering the gun enough that his first bullet won't be a headshot. "They're not behind you right now?"

At that, Todd actually looks uncomfortable. "It is still working with what many perceive as…inferior life forms."

"But not you," Rodney says.

Todd meets Rodney's eyes. "I have seen the persistence of your kind. I have also seen the desire to work with an enemy, if it means toppling a grander foe. You are an…innovative species. We may not be destined to be allies, but on occasion, circumstances rise where…"

"…the inferior life forms give you an edge," John finishes.

"Exactly." He looks at them both. "So what do you say?"

Sheppard spares a glance at Rodney, then at the Darts overhead. "What are the terms, if we agree?"

"I will gather as many Hives as I can for the cause, if your plan is to assault the Replicator world. Beyond that, I'm not sure what I could offer you."

"And what's the cost of this…assistance?" he continues, with that edge back in his voice.

"Just an open mind, Sheppard. Perhaps we work better together than you think."

"Perhaps." Sheppard narrows his eyes. "If you screw us over-"

"Then my species is doomed, Colonel. Do not worry. I will keep my end of the bargain, as long as you can promise none of your…allies will strike us while we fight."

"Fine." Sheppard finally lowers his weapon. "Speak with your Hives. In," he glances at Rodney, "three days' time, return here. We'll escort you to the War Council."

Todd smiles. "Very well. I believe," he says, holding out his arm, "it is customary to shake hands when such arrangements are made." Rodney tries to hide the horror on his face. Sheppard just keeps his stern military façade up. "A little Wraith humor," Todd says after a beat, lowering his hand.

"Not as funny as you think."

"Believe me," Todd says, as he waves up to the circling darts, "the pilots are laughing hysterically." All but the one that deposited him fly back up out of the atmosphere. "Before I go, a gesture of good will." He waves his hand to the right, where the Stargate is lying in a neat indentation on the ground. The remaining Dart flies over it. A grapple hook shoots out and pries the Gate out of the hole. A minute later, it's standing in its own indentation, completely upright.

"Thanks," Rodney says, fighting back the itch to approach the Gate. He wants to run half a dozen diagnostics, make sure every crystal is still in its place.

"We may be enemies," Todd says, "but there are…advantages to working together." With that, the Dart swoops by again, and the transport beam snags him and Drones before flying straight up into the atmosphere.

Rodney turns back to the Jumper and hurries inside. The sensors show the Dart entering the main ship, and then the power spike that indicates a hyperspace window is opening. A few seconds later, they're alone on the planet.

"That was certainly…interesting," Rodney says. "Guess Linara was right about that last ally.

Sheppard, still tense, stomps up into the Jumper and holds out his hand. "Give me the detector. I'm getting the ZPMs."

"I still need to-"

"I'll figure it out." His tone is unyielding. "You fix the Jumper and Gate."

"But the dilation fields-"

"I'll figure it out." He grinds out, leaning forward. "Now, McKay."

Rodney debates the merits of arguing, but realizes either Sheppard will come back out and say he needs help, or he'll be back in a few hours and have cooled off from whatever's bothering him; be it memories, the attack, or just negotiations with the Wraith.

"Fine," he says sharply, slapping the detector in Sheppard's palm, hoping it stings. "If you're not out in six hours, I'm coming in."

Sheppard doesn't respond, just stomps back out of the Jumper. Rodney sighs, then starts a system diagnostic. With luck, it'll only be the cloak that's damaged, and he can focus on establishing a stable wormhole.

He does not want to spoil any good mood that might result from Sheppard's little retreat by telling him they're stranded.


Sheppard's three-day deadline passes ridiculously fast for Rodney. Sheppard is in a better mood when he returns with the ZedPMs, and the readings indicate the time-dilation field is adjusted properly, but he still keeps his sentences brief, short. He abandons Rodney as soon as they're back in Ys, going to check out Michael's Hive with Carson and Ronon.

True to his word, Carson extracted enough nanites to get the city repair started. Rodney uplinks the new protocols and asks Elizabeth to watch the interactions carefully. The few auto-repair systems that are already operational struggle, but within four hours a good two inches of dirt have vanished and the number of nanites has multiplied fifty-fold.

"At this rate, the city should be operational before the Wraith shows up."

Elizabeth sighs. "I really have a bad feeling about that."

"We don't exactly have much choice. We need a fleet."

Larrin shows up on day two, a promise of fifteen ships in exchange for equal partnership and upgrades for all their generational ships afterwards. "Assuming we survive," she says, eyeing Rodney.

By now, one of the piers has emerged, and Rodney's busy thinking of the fastest way to integrate the energy cannon just lying in a nearby lab. He tries not to worry about the fact that he hasn't thought of a plan to stop the Replicators. Hell, he hasn't even diverted any of his mental resources. With full power, the city's coming alive and he's fighting the scientist within himself to not investigate every new lab, computer terminal, or data stream that appears.

The fact that all life in the galaxy may cease to exist is apparently good enough motivation.

Teyla coordinates the evacuation to the time-dilation planet. She brings Carson along, since they haven't moved a DHD to activate the Stargate. Carson only agrees to go because it'll take most of the day to see if his gene therapy works in reversing the hybrid process. "I could use nanites," he says, "but Teyla's pretty sure they won't be accepted by her people, then."

"Given their response to her, that makes sense," Rodney answers absently. He's pouring over the energy equations for firing the satellite weapons. He has to isolate any flaws that the Ancients failed to do so.

Carson continues, a little morosely. "I don't think she's doing very well. Ronon is spending a lot of time with Larrin, and Colonel Sheppard was speaking to her the other day about you."

"Hmm," then, "wait, what?"

Carson rolls his eyes. "It's not like it's a surprise to any of us. You practically spend all your time together already."

"We decided not to do anything!"

"Until the crisis is over, aye. But when it is…I think he was looking for some advice."

"From Teyla," Rodney deadpans.

"Supposedly, she's had a successful courtship." Carson looks over his shoulder to the screen. "You really think that will penetrate Ancient shields?"

"They pack about the same amount of firepower as Asgard weapons," Rodney says, momentarily distracted. "What about you? You can hang out with Teyla."

"She sees me as a way to heal her people, Rodney. She would consider it a…conflict of interest." He blushes a little. "Besides, I wouldn't…I mean, she's a beautiful lass-"

"Oh my god." Rodney feels utterly dirty. "You have a crush on Teyla!"

"Keep it down," Carson hisses, looking around wildly. "I don't want her to know! It's…it's complicated. I think, like the Colonel, I'll wait until after all the excitement."

"Yes, because this is just a 'wee bit of excitement', not the very future of the Pegasus galaxy we're dealing with."

Carson huffs. "I see your blood sugar's getting low." He shoves one of the native fruits at him. "Here. I need to check on Elizabeth."

"Don't disturb her concentration," Rodney calls after his retreating back. Elizabeth spends most of her days watching the nanites do their work, making sure they don't evolve beyond their programming, especially now that they're assigning some to the Traveler generational vessels to enhance their capabilities. Again, mostly shields, life support, hull integrity. He doesn't bother with weapons, since they seem to have devised their own system, but he does make sure they're at least in full working order.

On day three, the city has been completely uncovered, and should be restored and ready for anything by sunset. Integrating the satellite weaponry is actually easier than he thought, again with the help of the nanites, but he still has to calibrate the targeting systems manually, so they can be controlled by the Chair or the Command room.

Sheppard finally comes to see him and takes a seat nearby, his legs splayed out as he leans back on his palms. "Todd just arrived. He managed to convince eleven Hives to join the armada."

"They know not to cull any other ships in the fleet, right?"

"He knows we have a city with the destructive capacity to take out his vessels," Sheppard says laconically. "I think he can put two and two together."

"Good." Rodney looks over his latest adjustments. He's got three more cannons to align today, and then he they should be good to go. They may need to swap out ZedPMs between firings, but they've got four to spare.

Sheppard clears his throat. "So, I've been thinking, we need a kick-ass plan to defeat the Asurans."

Rodney sighs. "I know. But in case you didn't notice, I've been pretty-"

"Busy, yeah." Sheppard sighs through his nose. "I know I've been freaking out-"

"It's fine. I needed to focus."

"I just didn't want you to think-"

"Look, Sheppard, I'm still a busy man."

A huff, then, "We need to get all the Asurans into their home system. If even one survives…"

Rodney finally stops working on his tablet and sits back from the console, turning on the stool. "I'm aware of the situation."

Sheppard rubs the back of his neck. "So I was thinking, maybe a disaster might cause a recall of the entire Asuran fleet."

Rodney narrows his eyes. "What sort of…disaster are you thinking of?" John's shit-eating grin does nothing to alleviate Rodney's anxiety.


"You're going to crash Michael's Hive into the Asuran homeworld."

Sheppard nods, completely serious. "If we take out the main city along with the Stargate, then they won't be able to escape. Plus, with the amount of ZPMs they have, the damage will probably cause a concussive overload."

Todd actually looks amused at the prospect. "Even if you succeed, that may not be enough to wipe out all the Replicators on the planet."

"That's not the goal," Rodney says. "We want them to think that you're desperate enough to make that move." He points to Todd. "You and your Hives will then drop out of hyperspace and begin attacking the shipyards. With their subspace link, every Replicator in the galaxy will know the homeworld is under attack."

"And with their advanced technology, we're estimating even the farthest Aurora-class battle cruiser will return within ten minutes," Sheppard continues. "When their fleet shows up to surround you, that's when the Travelers," he nods to Larrin, "will drop out of hyperspace and attack, trapping the armada between your fleets."

"That's all well and good, Sheppard," Larrin says, leaning forward, "but even with McKay's enhancements, we can't take out…what are we at? Eighty ships? Even with the help of these," she sneers at Todd, "Wraith."

Todd ignores her, but nods. "This is most likely true."

"Which is why," Rodney says, bouncing on his toes, "we'll be using one of Colonel Carter's more brilliant, but insane plans." He points to the Ancient screen, which is currently depicting the Asuran system. "About a decade ago, Colonel Carter blew up a sun."

"Rodney," Elizabeth says warningly.

"I know, I know, but this'll work. Larrin, with the Ancient warship she has, will release an active Stargate into a decaying orbit. We'll make sure to dial it beforehand so the wormhole connects to the black hole discovered for the SGC's Pegasus Project." He exchanges a glance with John. "Sheppard asked Larrin to have a ship check out the area and it's reported back. The Stargate is intact, but inactive. Hopefully because the Ori Supergate is destroyed and not because…well, I could think of a half dozen other reasons, but-"

"McKay."

"Right," Rodney waves away his thoughts. "Anyway, the black hole will draw the mass of the star in, thus destabilizing it and creating an artificial supernova. The shockwave will wipe out anything in the system, which means we'll have to sync up our chronometers and jump back into hyperspace at the exact same moment or risk, well, obliteration."

"Won't the Replicators realize what's happening?" Larrin asks.

Rodney winces. "That's…the part of the plan we're having issues with. We believe Doctor Weir can…access their base code, get them to cease functioning for a few minutes. She's done it before."

"But you are unsure if you can repeat the procedure," Todd says. "Which would defeat the purpose of this plan."

"If we can take out their hyperdrive engines," Sheppard says, sitting up, "then they won't be able to escape when we do. They'll be trapped."

"Such precision in targeting," Larrin starts, then stops. "What if we cannot disable every vessel?"

"I believe," Todd says, "that suicide runs by the Darts may handle those, assuming enough of the armada is disabled or destroyed beforehand."

Rodney nods. "Which is where we'll come in. When the Replicator fleet is focused on you two, we'll bring the Ys out of hyperspace and attack from above, trapping them on three sides with the planet itself blocking their retreat." He smirks, his arms crossed. "They won't be expecting an attack from an Ancient city."

Sheppard folds his arms as well. "The entire operation shouldn't take more than thirty, thirty-five minutes. If we run into trouble, or something goes wrong, we regroup back at the original Lantean homeworld." He meets all the eyes around the room, resting longest on Larrin and Todd. "We rendezvous back here afterward."

Elizabeth tries to project an aura of confidence, even though Rodney can see the doubt in the crinkles around her eyes. "Does everyone agree?" Todd and Larrin exchange some evaluating glances, but otherwise no one objects. "Good. We'll gather the fleet in orbit around Hoff."

Rodney sits down and lets out a silent breath as the room empties. He's pretty sure the city's ready, all he has to do is program Michael's ship to fly by remote. Carson and Ronon escorted the recovering hybrids to New Athos about an hour before the 'War Council', as Larrin called it. He's pretty sure he can tie the Hive's computer system into a remote console. The difficulty will be in overriding the genetic requirements needed to pilot the vessel, like with the Jumpers.

"Rodney," Teyla says, sitting in the chair next to him. "Rodney!"

"Yes, yes—sorry. I was thinking-"

"About the Wraith Hive Ship." She searches his face. "Can you wire it remotely in the allotted time?"

"I think so. Mentally, I'm running into the same problem I had with the Jumpers-"

"Then perhaps it would be best if I pilot the craft."

Rodney stares at her. "What?! No! It's a suicide run!"

"It will not be the first time I have…escaped destruction on a Hive ship." She smiles reassuringly.

"Yes, but this is different! You'll have to exit hyperspace in lower orbit! You'll have less than three minutes to get from the bridge to a Dart!" Rodney tries to show the distance the ship will be from the surface. "Not to mention if the Replicators have a any sort of planetary defense-"

"I am well aware of the risks, Rodney." She rests an arm on his. "But you must take care of the city, and set the Stargate to survive in space near a sun. This is a simple solution."

Rodney shifts uncomfortably, knowing he's not hiding his anxiety. "It's dangerous, Teyla. And…I don't want anything to happen to you."

"It is dangerous for all of us," she says calmly. "The city shields may fail. The Replicators may instead find another world to go to. The Wraith may betray us. It is the risks we take as a team."

"We can get one of Todd's brain-dead-"

"And they may not listen to your instructions." She shakes her head. "I am most familiar with the ship, and well-versed in following your instructions. You need not worry." She smiles. "If John does not mind, I believe having the Jumper on board would be the most efficient way for me to leave before impact."

"I," he says, then reaches out to touch his forehead to hers. He has a really bad feeling about this, but he also knows if he didn't need John in the city, he'd be volunteering to fly the Hive. "You'll have to talk to Sheppard about the Jumper," he says as he pulls away. "And see if Carson can give you the gene treatment."

She nods. "That would be preferable to trying to learn to fly a Dart." Her hand lingers on Rodney's shoulder a little longer, then she stands up. "I will be careful, Rodney."

"You'd better. Or I'll send Ronon to kick your ass."

She laughs quietly. "In his dreams, Rodney."

Rodney sighs, watching her go, then looks across the room, where Elizabeth is staring at her hands. "You okay?"

She shakes her head. "I've been watching the nanites, learning the systems. I think," he looks up, "I think I remember, that last day. Getting into Oberoth's head."

Rodney looks around, but no one else is nearby. "I'm…that's good, though, right? Easier to control the Replicators?"

"It's also difficult." She takes a deep breath, closing her eyes. "I'm going to rest, until we reach the meet-up point." She stands.

He watches her walk out, then looks down at his tablet. The plan is all there, nice and neat. He's got a sync program, the dialing program, even the protocol to override hyperspace safeties to exit in low orbit. It's all coming together.

Yet somehow he feels it's all about to come apart.


It's different, being able to see Sheppard in the Chair from the control center without the medium of a screen. It's a comfort, but also sets Rodney on edge. If anything goes wrong with the engines, the weapons, the shields, the feedback will lead directly to the floor beneath Sheppard, which…he doesn't want to even think about the potential backlash.

Having a projected screen over the chair angled for Sheppard and the control center is also different, but it's a lot more useful, especially since he doesn't have to twist around to see the tactical display. The main screen behind them is showing the system statuses, the one next to it showing them the fleet in Hoff's orbit.

It's a very impressive picture, twenty-seven Wraith and native Pegasus vessels, along with one Aurora battle cruiser. He's willing to bet the fleet dwarfed by the shielded city makes for a majestic sight, something Lorne would probably want to paint.

Rodney, however, is more focused on the next five minutes. "Teyla, once you exit hyperspace, you'll lose all subspace contact. Once you leave the ship, all systems will be scrambled from the electromagnetic chaos."

"I understand, Rodney." She sounds a little strained over the channel. "I shall circle around and be picked up by Larrin once she releases the Stargate."

Larrin's voice comes over the system. "We'll be keeping an eye out for a Dart in case your…gene therapy got repaired."

"That will be most appreciated. I shall see you after the battle." One of the Wraith Hives breaks off from the group and enters a hyperspace window.

Rodney watches as the rest of the Hive ships adjust their course, weaving around the Traveler vessels so they can enter hyperspace without disrupting their flight paths. Rodney estimates it'll take approximately one hour transit time for them each. If they're going to make the tiered attack work, he has to time it all carefully.

Unfortunately, none of the other ships have the sophisticated sensors of Ys, which means they're all relying on him to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. Elizabeth is doing what she can, keeping an eye on the city's systems, but it's just the three of them. Ronon is on Larrin's ship, to make sure the launch of the Stargate is successful, officially. Unofficially, he's there to make sure she doesn't abandon Teyla. Carson's back on the time-dilation world, preparing with the other native witch doctors to handle the aftermath.

Even Rodney knows that under the best circumstances, they'll have at least twenty-three percent casualties. Sometimes, it sucks being a genius.

The tablet timer beeps at him, and he hits the radio again. "Todd, set course for the shipyards. Remember, hit hard, hit fast, and don't move too far back from your exit position."

"I know the plan, Doctor McKay," the gravelly voice replies. "Just make sure the back-up arrives."

"They will. Good luck." Eleven Hive ships turn as one and become much faster beacons on the sensors. Larrin's up next, after seven minutes. Fifteen minutes after that, it's the Traveler vessels. And then finally, Sheppard gets to launch them through hyperspace again ten minutes after that.

Nice linear measurements are helping him keep his blood pressure down. They may be the best shielded, but they're also going to make the biggest target if the Replicator fleet pulls its act together quickly enough—a serious threat, considering they're robots able to calculate at speeds human mathematics only has theories on.

"It'll be fine, McKay," Sheppard calls up from the Chair. "Quit your worrying."

"How can you tell?" he snaps back.

Sheppard gives him a look that makes Rodney want to yell at him to focus on flying the damn city because obviously, he's diverting his inconsiderate brain power to trivial details. Except Elizabeth reaches over to touch his arm as well. "It's a good plan, Rodney," she says. "The waiting is always the hardest."

"Yes, well," he starts, then, "I just want it to be over."

"We all do," she says, with a sad smile. "That's the worst part about wars."

Rodney turns to check on the ZedPM power levels rather than respond to that. He announces the other departure times by rote, double-checking every system they may or may not need in the next hour until finally, they're in hyperspace as well. He has a few minutes downtime, so he grabs a flask of water and heads down the stairs, leaving Elizabeth to her meditating or whatever it is she's focusing on.

Sheppard looks up from his reclined position. "McKay."

Rodney holds up the water. "Thought you might like a drink."

John swallows. "Would be nice. But I haven't found the autopilot on this thing."

Rodney unscrews the top and holds the bottle to Sheppard's mouth. It's just water; he's not risking anything stronger right now, but he knows this has got to be exhausting, keeping the city in control, priming the weapons systems, making sure the engines are perfectly attuned.

Sheppard kind of pushes the mouthpiece away with his lips when he's done. "Thanks," he says, sounding far more like his usual self. "It'll be fine, McKay."

"I wish I had a power bar," Rodney mutters, before drinking from the flask himself.

"You shouldn't eat when you're nervous."

"Last meal," he tries to joke. He can tell by the glare on Sheppard's face that if he could, he'd slap Rodney on the head for that. "Just a little hungry."

The glare softens, and Sheppard sighs, turning his attention back to the projected screen showing the hyperspace corridor. "Front right vest pocket," he says.

"Really?" Rodney rips open the velcro and lets out a pleased hum when he finds a peanut butter chocolate chip power bar. "Best team leader ever. Way better than O'Neill."

"Forgot to feed his geeks, eh?" John teases. Rodney's too busy enjoying his first mouthful to do more than poke Sheppard in the shoulder. John waits until Rodney's finished the food and stuffed the wrapper in his pocket. "We'll be fine. The Replicators won't know what hit 'em."

Rodney nods, but his eyes stray to Elizabeth. "Right. Won't know a thing."

Sheppard follows his gaze, then shifts so he's more comfortable in the chair. "You'd better make sure the timer's set. I don't want to be stranded in another galaxy." At Rodney's surprised gape, he says, "What, you think I don't read SG-1 mission reports?"

"I didn't think you paid attention." Rodney trudges back up the stairs. "Try not to aim for any Wraith vessels."

"I know," Sheppard says, annoyed.

Rodney retakes his seat in time to see that Teyla's almost at her objective. "We'll have initial contact in ninety seconds." He does a mental countdown as the Hive exits hyperspace, and from Elizabeth and Sheppard's concentrated looks, he knows they're doing the same. "Sixty. Forty." He recalibrates the sensors as best he can. Once impact is made, it's going to be nearly impossible to tell anything about the planet. He's trying to compensate for that already.

"Thirty," John says.

"Fifteen," from Elizabeth.

Rodney stops his hands and just watches the small blip begin to merge with the planetary outline. "Five, four, three, two-" White flashes on the screen, completely understating the level of destruction and devastation that's just been wrought. "Impact established." From the electromagnetic chaos, he can tell at least some damage was successful. Enough that the planet may not be a threat in the attack.

Elizabeth starts depressing crystals on the scanner console. "Todd's fleet is emerging from hyperspace at the proper coordinates."

Rodney changes the projected screen from showing hyperspace to the tactical display over orbit of the Asuran homeworld. Two of the shipyards are already winking out. Another is under attack. The other three, however, appear to be initiating some sort of defensive protocols. "They work fast."

"How's the armada?" Sheppard asks, voice tense.

Rodney turns his chair around and brings up the engine tracking program. All the Asurans ships are moving, but not in the way they predicted. The hope was that they'd all enter hyperspace to rush to the defense of their planet. Instead, the farthest ships have entered hyperspace, and it appears they're grouping with ships as they approach. Instead of a series of arriving ships, they'll have about fifty appearing all at once.

One highly effective attack, and the Wraith could be wiped out in one shot.

"Fuck," he mutters, then, "Uh, they're coming."

"I can see the display." A quick glance around reveals Sheppard used the Chair to access the tracking screen. "Can we warn the Wraith?"

"Not without risking them overhearing us."

"We'll have to hope Todd's scanners give him a bit of a warning."

Rodney exchanges a worried look with Elizabeth, then sets the projection back to the battle. Some of the Wraith Hives have moved behind the shipyards, setting themselves between the planet and the stations. Since nothing appears to be launching from the planet, he's pretty sure Teyla succeeded in wiping out the mimicked Atlantis construct Oberoth and the others worked in.

The remaining three stations are either disabled or destroyed when Rodney says, "Armada about to re-enter normal space. From their trajectory they're hoping to trap the Wraith between the planet and their ships."

"They'll be in for a nasty surprise," Sheppard says.

In three minutes, he tells himself. Since everything was timed, and they're under a communications blackout, the Travelers will arrive when they arrive. They can't encourage them to speed up or slow down.

And a lot can happen in three minutes.

"Rodney," Elizabeth says, pointing to the map of the Asuran system. "The Stargate has been activated and released." He can see Larrin's ship, as well as the energy signal that indicates the wormhole is active. "It appears she's maintaining a high orbit."

Rodney checks the readouts of the sun and yes, its mass is being draw in. At an accelerated rate, thanks to the low orbit. He starts the countdown clock at twenty minutes. At fifteen, Larrin will have to leave, but she should be gone long before that. He estimates, thanks to the power of the black hole and the mutual proximities of the Stargates, that the star will begin its nova cycle at the first timer. After that they have exactly three minutes to get everyone out of the system. There's a margin of error of about thirty seconds, but he figures there's no point in tempting fate.

Two of Todd's Hive ships explode, shielding some other heavily damaged vessels, when hyperspace surges appear on the screen and the Traveler vessels swarm in, guns firing. Four Asuran warships are destroyed before they realize they're being attacked on two sides. A series of drones launch, some aimed at the Wraith, some at the Travelers.

Darts appear at the same moment, launching immediately from all the Hive vessels.

"McKay," Sheppard says anxiously.

They're about eighty-three seconds from emerging from hyperspace. "Charging all weapons." He wishes they'd had the material to construct drones. Each one will be like a Dart exploding on the shield. It eats power quickly. "Elizabeth, are you ready?"

"I believe so," she says, determined.

He glances at the stardrive systems. "Emerging from hyperspace in two…one…"

The flash even through the wall of glass is bright enough blind him momentarily, but Sheppard must have kept his eyes closed because when Rodney looks at the projection, he sees half a dozen Asuran vessels destroyed, all with the satellite beam weapon from their piers.

He calls down, "We have limited power and a long cooldown, make each shot count!"

"I know what I'm doing, McKay," he grits out, eyes still closed. Three more ships get holes punched in them.

A look at the screen and Rodney's pretty sure if the Replicators were human, they'd be panicking. As it is, their fleet is scrambling, trying to find the exact configuration to protect themselves from attack on three sides. Todd keeps his word and begins suicide runs with the Darts, though rather than engines, he's aiming to take out entire ships.

He can also spot the debris from three Traveler ships.

"McKay, Ronon."

"We talked about-"

"We're not picking up Teyla on any scanners."

Rodney immediately lowers the volume, not wanting Sheppard to get distracted. A quick glance reveals a dozen ships going up in flames. Damn. He did hear. "What do you mean, you're not picking her up? She's cloaked."

"She should've reached us by now," Larrin says. "McKay, my people need the firepower from this ship."

Rodney checks his own scans. Even if the Aurora cruiser couldn't detect them, Rodney made sure to attune the Jumper's engine signature to Ys' sensors. There's not a Dart where it doesn't belong, and not a single Jumper in the air, though he still can't get a clear reading on the planet.

He swallows. "Bring the ship into the fight."

"McKay," Ronon starts.

"I'll be watching for her here. You're the fastest ship we've got. The instant I see anything, I…I promise." He tries not to think how if she didn't get off the Hive in time, it's likely she didn't survive. It's Teyla, she always survives. Just like the rest of his team.

"Thank you," Larrin says before cutting the connection. On screen, her ship jumps to full speed heading straight for the battle. Halfway there she begins launching drones, which immediately fly towards the Asuran targets.

Forty of them are still left, a quarter of their own fleet is gone. And they still have thirteen minutes on the clock.

"They're targeting us," Elizabeth says, just before he registers multiple impacts against their shield. The ZedPMs struggle to maintain weapon power as well as shield integrity before Rodney's eyes. He quickly shuts off all non-essential systems, including life-support to all sections but the tower itself. It was a gambit he'd thought up en route, and now it's paying off, giving them just enough energy to maintain both systems. "I'm running down to the power room." He points at Elizabeth. "Time to start the show."

She nods once, then closes her eyes, resting her hands on her knees.

Rodney shoots out of his seat and ducks into the transporter. He timed it on the way to the launch point. He counts to four, the doors open. He counts to eleven, he's in the power room. One of the ZedPMs is already vastly depleted over its counter parts. He activates his radio. "Weapons. Fifteen seconds," he says, grabbing another fully charged ZedPM.

"I'll just dance around with the city while I wait," John replies, voice strained. "We've got half the armada coming our way."

"Then bring us closer to the planet," he says, setting the charged crystal in its stand. "The closer they are, the harder it'll be for them to escape once we leave—done!"

The power levels stabilize just in time for Sheppard to launch another wave of attacks. He checks the power levels of the remaining chambers, then runs back to the transporter. With luck, he won't have to make the trip again until they're in hyperspace. As he arrives back in the command tower, the entire city shakes violently and he gets thrown into the wall. "What the hell?!" he shouts.

"They focused all their drones on one cannon!" Sheppard yells back from the chair. He's sweating, a pinched look on his face. "Fuck, they took it out!"

"Leave it," Rodney yells back, hitting the communications button as he retakes his seat. "Ys to Fleet, we could use some back-up!"

"You are not alone in that, Doctor McKay," Todd answers. Nonetheless, one of the Hive ships breaks formation and starts firing on the cluster of ships near Ys. One of the remaining Traveler vessels does as well.

Seven minutes to go. "Elizabeth-" He turns, then stops. All the blood has drained from her face, and she stares at the screen, both in fear and in pain. "Elizabeth, we need-"

"I'm," she squeezes out, "I'm…trying. I…may need…"

"Damn it, you had physical contact with Oberoth last time." He calls over, "Sheppard! Problem!"

The city rocks again. "Then fix it!"

"I'm not sure-"

"No," Elizabeth says, more firmly. "No. I've…" He can see the veins on her head fluttering with the effort, "I believe…yes."

At that, the noise of the assault vanishes. The alarm still blares, but a quick check shows the ships are immobile, at rest. He hits the comm system. "Disable as many vessels as you can! I don't know how long-"

"We're on it," Larrin says.

"As are we," Todd answers.

Now the shootings exchanged are one-sided. The Travelers, he notes, are aiming for engines, while Larrin's ship and the Wraith are attempting to blow up the ships themselves. He looks back at Elizabeth, and finds a troubled expression. "What?"

"I can't…hold them…" she says, squinting. "They know…the plan. If I…release…" She takes a shuddering breath. "They have…Stargate. Rebuilt."

"Shit, fuck. Sheppard! Can you target the capital city?!"

There's a quiet moment, then, "Rodney, I can't even tell what's where on the planet!"

"Rodney," Elizabeth says, in a voice not her own.

Rodney slowly turns back to her. "Elizabeth?"

"No." The smile is familiar, and doesn't belong on Elizabeth's face. "I was unable to reach a vessel in time. However the nanites were most…efficient."

He glances at the clock. "You have about four minutes, can you-"

"Rodney," Teyla repeats, "Elizabeth accessed their code while I was being…interrogated. It was my mind that allowed her access." Elizabeth bows her head. "I have come up with a solution."

"Don't you let her, Rodney," John calls up. "Tell her to get her ass off the planet-"

"I cannot," she says, smile turning sad. "But it is for the best. Elizabeth has directed my nanites to construct the same mental adjustments as is in her mind. I will be able to use the link with my captor to keep the Replicators here as the sun bursts."

"Telya, no! We can…I can modify one of the transporters. Or rings! The Ancients had ring technology-"

"I am trapped," she says, a little urgently, "and you do not have time. You must go. Signal the fleet."

The twenty minute timer goes off, and he hears the three minute countdown, they all do. The Travelers are already moving into position to launch into hyperspace. Three of the original eleven Hive ships are collecting the remaining Darts, also aiming to escape.

Larrin comes over the radio, "McKay, do we leave, or search for Teyla?"

He looks into Elizabeth's eyes, and he sees the acceptance, the serenity that he has always associated with Teyla. He opens his mouth, shuts it, then, quietly, "Head to the rendezvous."

"McKay!"

"Understood," she almost sounds sorry at his order. "We'll see you there."

Rodney reaches out and rests his forehead against Elizabeth's. "I never…you don't deserve this."

"I am saving my galaxy from a threat graver than the Wraith," she says with a smile, but tears are sliding down her cheeks. "It's your galaxy, too."

"I know." He grips Elizabeth's shoulders tighter. "You won't be forgotten, Teyla. Everyone will know."

"You have to go," she says.

Rodney sees the transformation, the quiet, peaceful look melting away to Elizabeth's tense face, blinking at Rodney's proximity. "Rodney," she touches her forehead, then, "I…I've lost the connection!"

A glance to the map reveals the ships are still at rest. "I'll explain later." They have about thirty seconds before the nova hits them. "Sheppard!"

He can feel the anger in the moments of silence, and then, "Opening hyperspace window," said through clenched teeth.

Rodney watches as the scanners show the planet, and every other signal in the area, vanish as the wave of solar energy spreads through the system. He turns his attention back to the systems, making sure the star drive will survive the trip back.

Anything, to get his mind off the sacrifice that shouldn't have been made today.


Larrin and half the Traveler fleet aren't there when they get back. They wait three hours, but the injuries sustained on the remaining vessels are too great. Sheppard retracts the shields long enough to let the ships docked before flying them directly to the time-dilation world. He says nothing except when he's announcing landing, take-off, and telling the Travelers to ask Carson where to take the wounded.

They manage to land near the dilation field, only a few kilometers away. It's kind of obvious, but with the Asurans gone, and three cannons able to fire from the city, he's pretty sure they can handle any Wraith issues they might have.

The Genii dial in shortly after they land, mostly with medical supplies, but Rodney suspects it's more to get the whole story from the Travelers, who they move among with food, water, and news of various trading worlds. Lieutenant Jonas is among them, and he approaches while Rodney's in the power room, checking for damage. "I hear the Wraith kept his word."

Rodney sighs. "Todd, yeah." They haven't seen the Wraith Hives since the attack, but then, they'd kept their end of the bargain. They didn't need humans any more.

"Ladon was wondering if it was wise, trusting the Wraith," Jonas continues. "They are usually…"

Rodney rolls his eyes. "If this Wraith hadn't helped Sheppard, we probably wouldn't have been willing to entertain the offer. We've been screwed by them before."

Jonas stays silent for a few minutes, letting Rodney work, then, "Do you think this Wraith will come after the world it knows survived?"

"Your people are fine," Rodney says acidly. "Part of the agreement was that they'd leave certain civilizations alone." He points. "Though there are plenty of other Wraith out there."

Jonas doesn't even flinch at the reminder. "Then I will report that this Todd is no threat." He hesitates. "What will you do now?"

Rodney waves his arms. "Are you blind? I'm fixing the city!"

The scorn Jonas shows him says he's not amused, but the statement was enough to send the man off.

It's a good question, what to do now. With the nanites, he can repair the Traveler ships and the city in a matter of days. Carson's job will take much longer, probably weeks with some of the injuries.

He'd discuss exactly what their options are with Sheppard and Weir except none of them are speaking to each other right now. After they arrived and the Travelers were in Carson's hands, the three of them had a screaming match he's sure everyone on Earth heard. About Teyla, about the fallout from the plan, about the choices…about everything.

Weir's been spending her time with Carson, who's a little less judgmental than John right now. Sheppard is off brooding around the city. Rodney's just keeping himself busy, trying not to count the days Ronon's missing, or focus on how much he misses Teyla. Even when not with him, she was a presence. Just knowing she was around acted as a comfort on some level.

Or maybe that's because they have so little to relate to now.

After four days, the city's in peak condition again and repair of the Traveler ships is going fairly quickly. There's still no word from Larrin and Ronon, which has them all worried. Elizabeth is negotiating with some of the Traveler commanders, trying to discern what might be going on. Rodney just reminds himself that if they harm Ronon, a, he can heal and b, he'll make them regret ever being born.

Also c, Rodney can simply reverse the nanite programming and have them damage the vessels. He hasn't shared that yet with anyone, but he's keeping it as a reserve plan. Sheppard's right. They don't have Atlantis or the resources they need. Sometimes, the ugly road is the one they'll have to take.

He collapses into bed, in the nice spacious four-room apartment he found at the base of the tower. There's no balcony, but it's five feet from a transporter and has a built-in projection display in what he's pretty sure is a living room. It also has the biggest bed he's ever found in an Ancient city, and while it's still no prescription mattress, it's better than the usual Ancient variety.

He's got his shirt peeled off and is about to sit up to deal with his pants when the door opens. Or rather, he hears the door open, since the bedroom is in another room. He frowns, but before he can say anything Sheppard is standing in the doorway. He's projecting anger, fear, and… "Huh."

Sheppard lets out a low sound, not a growl or anything else Rodney can identify, but then the Colonel is on the edge of the bed, pulling him up and into a bruising kiss. It's desperate and needy and the hands on his shoulders say, 'I need to know you're here.'

Rodney's returns the favor, pushing Sheppard's jacket off and breaking the kiss just long enough to help him pull the shirt over his head. They stare at each other, panting. John kisses him again, briefly, then rests his forehead on Rodney's shoulder.

Rodney reaches up and runs his hand through John's hair, finally resting his palm on the back of the man's neck.

"I," John starts, swallows. "I hated that."

"Me too," Rodney says quietly. "Is that why-"

"No. Yes." He can feel John close his eyes. "Regrets," he finally says.

Rodney's glad he's fairly fluent in John-speak, because he tugs at Sheppard's hair a little until the man is looking up at him, and Rodney looks into his eyes. "Yeah."

"Yeah?"

Rodney initiates the kiss this time, running his hands down John's shoulders, his back. He traces the waistband of John's pants around his hips, then dips his fingers in the front. "Yeah," he says heavily.

After that Rodney has a sensation of falling back and rolling around and he's not sure when his pants fell open, but it's probably about the same time John's did because they've got their hands around each other, stroking. John uses his other hand to hold Rodney's head close, keep him there as they spar with tongues, with noses, and Rodney feels himself come just as John lets out a choked sob, from pleasure or something else, Rodney's too dazed to determine.

They're both breathing heavily, lying there a good twenty, thirty minutes. John goes to move and Rodney pulls him back, rolling so they're both on their sides, facing each other. Sheppard is flushed, but his breathing's evened out and he looks…content, and ashamed, and a million other things Rodney's sure are reflected in his own expression.

He just gives John a brief kiss, and rests his head on his arm. It takes a few minutes, but Sheppard finally relaxes as well, and a sense of contentment starts to build in his chest, even as the pain of their recent loss echoes between them.

Rodney isn't sure how long they sleep, especially since there are no windows to let in sunlight, but the radio wakes him. Sheppard groans with him as they roll apart, a dried tacky feeling between them. "Gross," he says, grabbing his radio. "What."

"Hey, McKay," Ronon says.

That wakes him up. He sits up, not even considering John. The Colonel gets half-thrown off the bed in the process and glares sleepily at Rodney in reply. Rodney mouths, 'Ronon', and Sheppard's eyes widen before he scrambles for his own radio.

"Ronon, buddy," John says after a he's fumbled the radio into his ear, "we've been wondering where you've been."

"Larrin," and Rodney can hear the giant grin as he says the name, "decided to follow the Wraith, make sure they weren't up to some double cross. Turns out they had some cloning facility, stole a couple ZPMs from the Asurans before they jumped."

"That's…" Well, that answers how the Wraith numbers increased so dramatically in the past. "I'm guessing you took care of it."

There's a rumbling laugh over the system. "Larrin called for some backup. We wasted the place."

"Sounds like Todd wasn't as trustworthy as we thought," Sheppard says.

"Naw. He helped us. Seems he had a traitor in his Hive. I dunno, it's all Queens and bugs." There's a brief pause over the radio, which gives Rodney enough time to shuck the rest of his clothes and stumble towards the bathroom. John, he notices, follows. "So we're on our way down with some friends. Larrin has a proposal she thinks you and Weir should hear."

"Sure thing," John replies. "Listen, about Teyla-"

The humor vanishes from Ronon's voice. "We'll talk later, Sheppard." The radio disconnects.

Rodney sets his ear piece on the sink and starts up the shower. "That sounds like it'll be painful."

John steps in before Rodney. "Guess we should make the most of it while I'm not in traction," he says shyly, ears flushing.

It's one of the most enjoyable showers Rodney can ever remember having, of his memories or the original McKay's.

When they get to the conference room, they find Elizabeth and Carson talking quietly, and Ronon and Larrin sitting proudly over three ZedPMs. Linara, Ladon, and a few other Pegasus natives Rodney doesn't recognize have joined them. They're all sitting on one side of the table, leaving the other side for himself and John. Everyone stares at them as they arrive. He feels Sheppard tense up beside him, but otherwise, they take their seats.

"Quite a party," John drawls.

"Apparently," Elizabeth says, eyeing the Pegasus crowd, "the Travelers and the Genii have taken it upon themselves to…assure other worlds that the Replicators are no more."

"They deserve to know," Ladon says firmly. "Especially given the…sacrifices made, by our," he struggles for a moment, "esteemed equals."

Larrin smirks at him. "Of course. And the sacrifices of the Genii have been noted as well." The bite in her voice has Ladon frowning and Ronon glaring at the man. "However," she turns her attention back to Elizabeth, "as we spoke to people, told them of this city and your wonderful world for refugees, many of us," she indicates the people around her with a raise of her hand, "felt it wasn't enough."

Rodney scowls. "What? You want reparations for saving the lives of every habitable planet-"

John puts a hand on his arm just as Elizabeth says, "Rodney" firmly.

Larrin looks smug at the outburst, but then turns her attention to Carson. "The retrovirus, you said it's not perfect. Could you perfect it?"

Carson shifts in his seat. "Aye, with time, and some help."

She turns her attention to Sheppard. "And you have led many successful attacks against Wraith Hives before, am I correct?"

"More like we have," Rodney starts, then glowers as Sheppard's foot kicks him.

"A few," John says, slouching in his seat.

"The main problem we have," she says, "is that the Wraith have superior fire power, and greater numbers than any of us." She leans forward.

"So what are you proposing?" Elizabeth asks slowly.

Larrin grins slyly. "We're thinking a Coalition is in order."

"A Coalition?"

Larrin nods, along with Ladon and a few others. "With your technology and our fleet, we may finally be able to strike at the Wraith."

Linara rests her hands on the table. "There are many worlds, devastated by both the Wraith and the Replicators. If we…combined resources, especially the resources you have to offer here, we may be able to preserve some of those worlds."

Ladon crosses his arms. "The Genii have extensive information networks." He jerks his head back, indicating the others. "There are many who specialize in textiles, metalworking, even trade routes."

"This is all well and good," Elizabeth says, "but why do you need us?"

"This city," Larrin says.

Linara nods. "It is a beacon of this galaxy, in a way Atlantis should have been."

Ladon looks a little sour at that. "We have tried to unify before, but even then, a Coalition with no capabilities to fight the Wraith has no power." He nods to McKay. "You can get us that power."

Larrin leans forward even more. "With our fleet and this city, we can finally take the war to them. But we need the technology here, and your skills."

Rodney stares at the group, then stares at Ronon, who shrugs. Obviously, no help there. John looks as stunned as he does, and Carson and Weir appear to be having a silent debate over the proposal.

Finally, Elizabeth says, "A Coalition takes time to form, needs a charter, especially one as…complex as you're proposing."

Larrin spreads her hands. "We've got time." She taps the table. "You need us, though. This battle helped us realize this fleet is the salvation of this galaxy. With McKay's upgrades and Sheppard's strategies, we will wipe the Wraith from existence."

"And this way," Ladon says, "no one world is…stronger than the other." There's a derisive snort from Larrin. "A set of…checks and balances, I believe you call it."

Elizabeth nods slowly. "We will…take your proposal under advisement."

"Of course." Larrin stands, which seems to be the signal for the rest of the natives to head for the door. "We'll be here for a while. McKay still owes us those upgrades."

Rodney flaps his hand at her. "Yes, yes. After we discuss this insane notion of yours." She just smirks at him, making sure to duck through the door just in front of Ladon. After the door closes, Rodney points his thumb in that direction. "The Genii don't like being second best. If we do this they'll be even lower in the pecking order."

"The Genii are already hurting," Sheppard says. He swivels his chair back and forth. "The bigger question is, what happens if we find Atlantis?"

"What do you mean?" Carson asks.

John points at him and Elizabeth. "You two could probably go back. It's us," he waves at himself, Rodney, and Ronon, who's taken Larrin's seat, "who wouldn't be welcome."

Elizabeth nods slowly. "Perhaps, but what they are proposing would be beneficial, for us and them. We can't just…ignore it."

They sit quietly at the table for a few minutes, exchanging glances at each other, before Ronon shrugs and crosses his arms. "I'm sticking with Larrin. Whether this happens or not, she's planning on hunting Wraith."

"Great. More repair work for me." Which means he'll need supplies, materials, not to mention a steady food source… "Huh. I can see where she got the idea."

Ronon smirks at him.

"How long do you think it'd take," Sheppard says, "a couple years? There can't be that many Wraith anymore."

Carson looks vaguely ill. "But you're talking about the genocide of a sentient species."

"We tried every other option, Doc," John points out.

"Gentlemen," Elizabeth says. "If we agree," her tone stating she hasn't just yet, "Colonel Sheppard is right. What if we do find Atlantis?"

Rodney thinks for a moment, then shrugs, "You could be consultants. Even if you return. Carson's still the best expert on the retrovirus, and you're our best negotiator."

The, 'So was Teyla,' is unspoken, but hanging in the air.

Elizabeth sighs, but looks around the table. "Then you're all agreed?" Rodney notices Sheppard and Ronon nodding along with him. "Very well. Rodney, continue with the upgrades to the Travelers vessels. I'll negotiate a formal agreement with the Pegasus representatives.

Sheppard leans back in his seat, hands folded on his stomach. "Cool."

Three weeks later, the day after they formally sign the Coalition into order, word of Atlantis' whereabouts finally reaches them through Larrin's network of ships.


Part III: Kindred


"…and so we thought we'd bring you three ZedPMs," Rodney, the other Rodney, says with a small flourish. "I mean, the Wraith are still out there, and in this galaxy? Probably a few other surprises the Ancients forgot to tell us about."

Sheppard slouches lower in his chair, arms crossed. Beside him, the real Rodney mimics his position. The arm-crossing, not the slouching so much. The other Rodney—RepliRodney, John mentally tags him—looks exactly like Rodney, except his air of smugness seems more like the first-year Rodney's, right after finding the shield.

But then, they are invincible, apparently. It's probably earned. Still, RepliRodney wasn't there for him when he was having nightmares, nor did he run the city when Carter fell back on her science, and he certainly didn't make an effort to safeguard John's mind.

Though from the subtle glances John catches, perhaps RepliRodney is leaving out some of the more sordid details of his days with his other self. It makes sense.

"I would ask," Elizabeth—actually Elizabeth, not some clone, not some Replicator duplicate—says, leaning forward, "that we remain in this galaxy. Carson's research is worth continuing. And while we would like to return, we don't want to…abandon the people of this galaxy."

"Like sister cities," RepliRodney says with a nod. "Except, you know, we'll just send emails, never visit each other."

"So exactly like sister cities," Rodney says, a bit of levity in his sarcasm.

RepliRodney gives the real one a crooked smirk.

Carter, however, looks wary. "This is very generous," she says slowly, "but we have had issues in the past. With alliances, booby-trapped ZPMs…"

"I think I remember that," the clone says, "but you've checked us out a bit." Sheppard is very glad he didn't have to be at that infirmary visit. When it takes more than four hours and the Scottish doctor is yelling, well, Sheppard knows when to not be found. "We're legit, or as legit as we can be. We want to help save the galaxy as well. It's not like you can't use the help."

Caldwell exchanges a look with Ellis, before nodding to Carter. "The Apollo did do a flyby last night, while everyone was recovering."

Ellis looks like he wants to speak up, but Sheppard gives him a small glare. A hint of insubordination, telling the man to keep his trap shut. He knows that even though Lorne feels terrible, the Major's probably giving the man the same look. The way he treats McKay is wrong. You respect the scientist who's saved the city more times than Kavanagh can count.

He smirks to himself at the McKay humor. "Rodney can check out the ZPMs, right?"

McKay scoffs. "Of course I can. Thanks to the SGC, we know a few new tricks for finding booby traps." He glances over to Carter. "Of course, we can't be one-hundred percent certain until we…plug them in."

Carter nods, her finger thoughtfully tapping against her chin. "All right." She swivels her chair to face the three Replicator-touched people. "Doctor Weir, Beckett, if you don't mind additional testing and some debriefing, I think we can…tentatively welcome you back."

Beckett gives her a relieved smile, while Elizabeth just nods diplomatically.

"We should hear more about this Coalition," Ellis says, slight suspicion in his voice. John can tell the man just wants a reason to watch these people. Like a few other Colonels in the program, he hasn't realized that the natives are dangerous, but they're hardly the threat. Not if you treat them with respect and courtesy.

Even Rodney's learned that, though it did take him four years of off-world experiences.

RepliRodney stands up. "So I can tell Sheppard and the others you're okay with this arrangement on a…trial basis?"

Carter eyes the standing clone. "I'd like us to run a few more tests on you as well," she crosses her arms and sits back, "but I have the feeling the other Sheppard and Ronon wouldn't take kindly to that."

RepliRodney just shrugs, grinning and bouncing on his heels. "Probably not. Sheppard made Larrin promise to come and harass you if I'm not back in a day." He looks at his non-existent watch. "Oh, look at the time."

Carter shakes her head. "Fine." She waves at the door. "Go. We'll be in contact."

"Excellent!" Another bounce on his heels. "Do you, uh, mind if I borrow your Rodney for the walk? Explain some of the systems we found on Ys that I'm pretty sure Atlantis will have here, too."

Carter throws McKay a questioning eyebrow, but Rodney's already nodding as he gets up. John watches them walk out of the room, two armed lieutenants following at a not-so-discrete distance. He turns back to find Elizabeth looking at him, and he ducks his head. Right. He stands and goes over to them, the meeting dissolving into minor discussions between the three full-bird Colonels, and Teyla and Ronon talking with Carson.

Elizabeth reaches out to touch him, but he pulls slightly away at the last minute. He internally flinches at the hurt look that scuttles across her face. "I'm sorry, it's just-"

"I understand," she says, exhaling. "It must be…difficult seeing me," she glances to Carson, "seeing us again."

"Yeah, a little." He shuffles his feet uncertainly. "We honestly thought-"

"I know," she reassures him, folding her hands tightly together. "You—the other you explained it to me."

"But, hey, it is good to have you back. It's just," he rubs the back of his head, "a little weird."

She smiles. "Articulate as ever, Colonel."

That actually makes him laugh, just a little. "Yeah, haven't really changed much over the years."

"No," she says, glancing to the door both McKays just left through. "Guess you haven't."

He feels his ears flush, but he nods. "So, um, think they'll let you stay in the city? Take back your old job?"

She sighs. "I honestly don't know. I don't know if I want that job now," she says. "I think I'll have to…adjust to life. It's been almost a year. Perhaps it'd be best if I reacclimate before I make any decisions."

"Yeah." At least Carson has his research, he realizes. Now that he thinks about it, with Sam in charge, Elizabeth's fall-back position is translator of the Ancient database, and they already have six of those. Maybe she could be the liaison between Atlantis and Ys.

In the background, he hears the wormhole form, and half-turns his body. "So, I'm gonna make sure McKay makes it off okay."

She smiles. "Okay, John."

"It's, uh, good that you're back."

She takes a deep breath, like she's inhaling the scent of Atlantis. "It's good to be home," she says.

With that warm statement he turns and nearly power walks to the control room. RepliRodney, differentiated by McKay via the uniform, says something quietly with a soft grin. John can't hear Rodney's response, but it comes with lots of jerky hand motions and a flush face.

Sheppard grins. He can't wait to weasel that little conversation out of Rodney.

RepliRodney spots him, gives him a wink, then turns and marches through the wormhole. By the time he's down the stairs, Rodney's facing him, cheeks flushed. "So what was that about?" he asks, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

"Just some…gossip, about the other you. And him. What they do for fun. Certain…activities," his emphasis on the hushed word holds more leer than he's sure Rodney intended to put into it, "that they've come to enjoy without the…amenities of Atlantis."

"Huh," he says. He can feel his ears burning, but since most of the city knows, or rather, knew about them during the amnesia epidemic, he's not too worried about what the marines can see. "So, want to review that…data in your quarters?"

Rodney makes a pained, torn sound. "But…three ZedPMs…"

"Carter won't let you play with them until they do some more testing." He rocks back on his heels. "Let Zelenka do it. That way, you can call dibs when it's time to plug 'em in."

That brightens Rodney a bit. "You think they're clean?"

Sheppard shrugs, starting to walk down the hall. He doesn't have to look to know McKay's following. "I think you love this city. Any version of you. And you'd never knowingly put it at risk."

"Humph," Rodney says, but he bumps his shoulder against John's as they walk. "And here I thought all the romance in you was wasted on alien squids and horny princesses."

"Naw," he says as they approach the transporter, "I save the best lines for important people."

Rodney's face brightens even more, and as the doors close, John moves in to steal a quick kiss before pressing their destination. "Right, well," Rodney coughs and stumbles out. John catches his arm so he doesn't fall. "We'd better go over that…data soon. Knowing our luck, the Wraith will be by any minute now."

"I doubt it. With the Coalition, I think they'll be a little extra cautious." He waves his hand over Rodney's door sensor, then nudges the scientist inside. "I'll bet, with that new fleet of theirs, things are going to start settling down in Pegasus."

"Great, you just jinxed not just us, but the other us."

John pushes Rodney onto the bed, then hops on so he's straddling the man's thighs. "You really shouldn't believe in that superstitious mumbo jumbo, McKay."

Rodney sputters in response and John laughs, leaning down to kiss Rodney's incoherence away. And somewhere, on another alien world, he's willing to bet his clone self is doing the same to another Rodney.

And as Rodney sighs into John's mouth, John can't help but think, Pegasus, take the day off. We deserve it.

Around them, Atlantis hums.


Ladon Radim tries not to think of himself as a foolish man. He helped bring a new era of prosperity to the Genii, even in the face of mass cullings and the devastation wrought by the Asurans. But that era is ending fast. The attacks on their world have left them weakened. Their fields are reduced to smoldering craters, their dwellings destroyed, and half of their underground infrastructure has collapsed or been damaged beyond immediate repair.

The new Coalition being created by the not-Atlanteans and the Travelers will help, but their focus is currently building a refuge for those without a world, a set of alliances designed to support and protect the Pegasus galaxy from the Wraith and, if necessary, each other. He'll make sure the Genii have a voice, a presence. Even decimated after current events, they are still one of the largest surviving races, with people on almost fifty worlds. He'll make sure they're not forgotten.

But he doesn't see any resources coming to him immediately, to help him and his people rebuild both their world and their trade. Which has led him here, to this Wraith…structure. There are bodies, some half-formed, some fully grown. The five men he brought with him are getting nervous, jittery. He can't blame them. This place is haunting, even to the most hardened soldier.

He stops at the main chamber. There's a chair with what looks like veins and muscles dangling over it. In it sits a Wraith queen, eyes gouged out, and chest ripped apart. Her feeding hand has been cut off, and he spots it across the room, half-buried beneath a collection of Wraith Drones. Beside the pile of bodies stands the creature he's looking for, the one he made contact with.

His people have all their guns trained on him and the two Drones behind him. Ladon raises his hand, telling them silently not to shoot. "You are the one they call Todd."

The Wraith looks at his small arsenal, either appraising, or genuinely curious. This Wraith is unlike any Ladon has met or heard of before, which is why he's risked everything to come here. Even as armed as they are, he knows this Wraith could summon an army, or even a Hive ship, and kill all of them. He's betting on the thing's memory, of how they worked as allies against the Asurans.

Finally, he nods. "I am." Todd offers a horrific smile. "I was surprised to receive your transmission. I did not think I would hear from any by the Atlanteans after our last…encounter."

Ladon crosses his arms and makes a point of looking around the room. "Everyone knows you tried to resurrect this place." He looks at Todd directly. "And failed."

"Yes," he hisses out. "The Travelers are far more…efficient at detecting deceit than I had anticipated." He shrugs. "Just as well." He waves at the mutilated queen. "She was not of my Hive. I had a traitor who betrayed me. I thought it fitting justice to…maintain their previous base of operations."

Ladon doesn't want to smirk, though the urge is there. Todd is a very…unusual Wraith. He seems to get that humans are more than just food stock. "I've also heard, through sources, that you've lost quite a bit of respect as a result." That elicits a growl from the Wraith. "In fact," he continues smugly, "since this facility no longer functions, even with power, I've head your Hives have abandoned you."

Todd prowls back and forth a bit, and Ladon notices that two of his marksmen follow the movement with their weapons. Finally, the creature turns on him. "Your sources are well informed. But this is a minor set-back." He straightens up. "Unless you are here to finish the job."

"Quite the contrary." He steps forward, ignoring the way all of his men stand at attention at the action. He picked them because they were loyal to him, to his people, and well-trained. They wouldn't fire unless he gave the signal. He also knows they won't shoot him when he speaks again. "I have come to offer a proposal."

The blue-green tinge of the thing's skin seems to pale a little, perhaps their version of a flush, he doesn't know. He steps forward as well, though remains carefully out of arm's reach, both Ladon's and his own. "What sort of…proposal?"

"The Genii have become vulnerable. We require some of the resources of the decimated worlds to rebuild." He's already put those plans into motion, quietly sent out small mining crews to Asuran-hit worlds and farming teams to the culled ones. When they have more people, he'll turn them into proper Genii colonies, maybe even into an empire.

If only Cowen could see him now.

"And that interests me, how?" Todd asks.

Ladon puts his hands on his hips. "I want—protection. From your Hives, as well as ships from other Hives."

Todd's grin shows all of his teeth. It's very unsettling. "You wish to become worshipers."

At least three of the men behind him unlock the safeties on their rifles. Todd glances at them, but doesn't move. "No," Ladon says calmly. "We won't worship you. And we will continue to exterminate those that do." The not-Ronon's idea of Bolo Kai hunting parties is one Ladon is more than willing to endorse. "No, what we want an alliance of convenience. Like what you had with the Not-Atlanta's."

"And what is the benefit for us in this alliance?" Todd's tone has shifted to something between amused and intrigued. Ladon knows he has him now.

"The Genii have always excelled at information gathering."

Todd waves him off with his non-feeding hand. "We have our own sources."

Ladon barrels on. "But we gather our information through infiltration. We have allies and people on dozens of worlds, worlds that you and your kind are fighting over to feed upon." He bites back the bile at the statement. He's doing this for the greater good of the Genii. He'll deal with these Wraith some day, but right now, he needs them.

Todd tilts his head again. "You still have not stated what benefit our working with you will bring."

He straightens his shoulders. "It would be…quite upsetting to your rivals to suddenly find all their feeding grounds poisoned." There, that has the creature's attention. "The Hoffan drug was offered quite freely by Sheppard. We have the capabilities to mass-produce and distribute it to many, many, many worlds."

Todd advances one step, but no further. "Including worlds outside my territory. Worlds that would make them fight over the few worlds they could still feast from."

Ladon tamps down the disgust he feels. His people need this. "We don't know every world. In fact, since our contact with the Atlanteans we've learned there are hundreds of worlds we can't access thanks to the location of the Stargate. But the worlds we can go to we can influence, and change, and poison."

Todd throws his head back and laughs. Actually laughs. It's a strange mix between the echo of death and sounding exactly like Cowen used to. When Todd looks at him again, he's grinning. "You will poison the worlds we ask you to, in exchange for protection from my Hive and the rest of my kind."

Ladon nods. Thirty-percent losses are high, but certainly acceptable if it means entire civilizations can't be culled. "We will use the Coalition to help protect the poisoned worlds afterward. You will protect us." He unbuttons his coat and pulls out the two copies of the treaty he drew up the night before. "No one can know of this, Todd. You will protect us in secret, and we will help you gain dominance among your kind the same way."

He holds out the pieces of paper. He already signed both. He intends to burn his copy once they return. It's only paper, after all. The symbolism is the important thing.

"The Atlanteans—either of them—may find out. They are quite clever," Todd says, taking the documents from his hand.

"Considering their work with you and other events that they would not like revealed to their new allies," Ladon smirks a little, "I think we can count on them focusing more on the Wraith fighting one another rather than some, as they put it, 'cloak and dagger.'"

"Curious words," Todd says, slicing open one of his fingers and pressing the blood to the pages. "Tell me, will I one day find a dagger under your cloak?" He holds out one of the copies, his finger already healed.

Ladon takes it back, looks over the document, and tucks it into his coat. "I could ask the same about you."

Todd smirks as well. "I have a feeling you and I will have a most…unusual friendship."

The smile melts from Ladon's face. "This is no friendship, Wraith. I need you, and you need me. And one day-"

"We will dispense with one another," Todd finishes, still smiling. "Sheppard once told me the same thing. And now he calls me to help fight a greater enemy." He crosses his own arms. "You and he have much in common. You should talk. I feel the three of us would have…much to share."

"Just keep your end of the alliance, Todd," Ladon replies. "Send me the worlds you want poisoned first. I'm sure you have your own…worshippers you can use."

"For you, Ladon," Todd says, "I shall send my best." He nods, then turns and walks down the tunnel, his Drones following.

Ladon stares after him a few minutes, and then looks to the dead queen. One day, he thinks, that will either be him, or me. He turns and starts walking back out of the facility, his men following. It's unfortunate, he muses, that they'll be executed upon their return. No one can know this secret beyond him. And if some have to die, if some principles have to be sacrificed for the good of his people…

Well, he muses, Cowen would definitely be proud. It's a new age for the Genii. One he intends to end with the Wraith gone, and his people in charge of the Coalition. It'll take time, but the Genii are nothing if not patient. The lost worlds will be reforged and rebuilt in their image. The Wraith will fall fighting one another over scraps. He has time. He has many, many years thanks to the efforts of Dr. McKay and Dr. Beckett. He will see his people the proud leaders of the galaxy once more.

Striding forward, he dials the Gate for home. A new beginning for the Genii.


The blur of white flashes blue, depositing them on the black edge of the unknown, a galaxy unreachable by any wormhole. It had taken months to find it, of following Stargate fluctuations and false hyperspace trails. It had been an arduous journey, and he has sensed the doubts, the questions. Now those thoughts are fleeing as pristine, wild world after world appears on their sensors.

He sits up, the chair realigning itself upright with him. With a glance the communication channel opens to their sister ships. "At last, my children, we have reached the end of our journey. But as we know, a journey's end brings new challenges, new dangers, and new hopes." He stands up, knowing that the captains of the other vessels are doing the same.

"We have reached Pegasus, the favored home of our ancient enemy. Even now, they try to veil this place from us, delude our senses and dissuade us from entering this place." He grips his carved, curved staff, the orb at the top emitting a soft glow. "But we will not," he lifts his staff and slams it to the floor, "be blinded! We have come with a purpose, and nothing shall deter us!"

He looks out the viewport, past his own pale, scarred reflection. His eyes are milky, and should be blind, but he can see, see far beyond the people on this ship. He can see the waves of energy, the eddies and currents being used to hide this place. He can see the four other ships, pristine white and ovular-shaped, each with a sphere of energy powering their shields, their weapons, their followers.

"Today, my children, is a new dawn for this galaxy. For too long have these people been unaware, been deceived. We will purge from this galaxy all evil, burn away the lies, and scour false worship from every star, every planet, every person until there is nothing left but the truth! The truth."

He pauses, feeling the eyes of the people around him on his back. He feels the eyes of all their people, towards his ship, towards the bridge, towards his position. They are all exemplary followers, and all chosen because none are more devout, more dedicated to their cause. Even the other captains look to him, and he can see their faces reflected with his own, scarred, white, sightless, and knowing. They are the passion behind these people, the guiding hands for this campaign.

"The truth must be spread. Too long have the people of this galaxy walked in darkness. They have been scarred, their worlds damaged." He can see some of them, now, through the time stream. Massive vessels of insects terrorizing worlds, the worship of a false goddess, even the impurity of technology made sentient. "They are to be pitied…but also saved. And we," he emphasizes, "we are their salvation!"

There's no cheering, no yells of affirmation. That is not their way. Instead the followers are all bowing their heads, praying. That is their solidarity, that is their unity. He continues in a more revered tone. "We will bring the word of Origin to this galaxy, and cleanse it of the vile deceivers."

He turns away from the starscape. He looks around at the prostrate members of the bridge. "So say the Ori." He remains silent for a moment. "Hallowed, are the Ori."

And throughout all five vessels, he can hear the reverberation of one million voices: "Hallowed, are the Ori."

The End
Warnings
Memory Loss, Semi-Character Death, Minor Dub Con, Swearing
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Notes
Inspired by multiple SGA Big Bang plot bunnies, first by Tabula Rasa. It sounds far darker than it actually is, but as my betas will attest it's actually quite a fun little romp through Season 4. Extra special thanks to my betas never_says_die, lavvyan, and clockstopper! They went above and beyond the call of duty!