Together They Have Built A World and A Lot Of It Is Real
Big Bang 2007.   Atlantis is cut off from Earth.
"I'll never get tired of watching it land," John says, watching the Daedalus glide smoothly toward the city. Thirty seconds later it blows up.
Word Count
41254 words
Humor. I haven't seen the second half of SGA season 3 so the story goes AU after Echoes.
Companion Artwork
  • A Lot is Real by slodwick
  • Header for the story by zoetrope

Part 1: Someday Your Ship Will Come In (and some days it will blow up in your face)

John Sheppard feels it is his responsibility to drag Rodney from the labs and out into the fresh air for at least an hour every day. Partly as an excuse to flirt with him without Zelenka smirking at them from behind computer terminals and inside large pieces of Ancient technology (and even though John can't see anything but Radek's ass sticking out from machinery he knows the other man is making kissy-faces at them) and partly because Elizabeth is concerned that Rodney is going to lose it one of these days and accidentally destroy the city (on purpose).

Either way it's a win/win situation for John who is using the time to 'accidentally' touch Rodney on the hand/shoulder/back and stare at his ass. If Rodney notices he never says anything. He just lets John lead him to the southern most part of the city (with minimum complaint) to watch the Daedalus dock and listen to John wax poetic about the design and the build and the fact that it isn't fair Colonel Caldwell doesn't let him try his hand at flying it. Rodney's quick to remind him that he had a spaceship of his own once and he abused the privilege and that if he was Caldwell he wouldn't let John touch the Daedalus either. John's quick to remind McKay that for once it wasn't him and that Major Lorne still isn't allowed to touch remotely cool.

"I'll never get tired of watching it land," John says, watching the Daedalus glide smoothly toward the city.

Thirty seconds later it blows up.

The shock of it sends John stumbling backwards to crash into McKay, taking them both down behind the balcony railing.

"Well, that was unexpected," Rodney replies, kneeling next to John as he brushes bits of ash and debris from his uniform. "But not really considering we live in a floating city on the edge of another galaxy and nothing expected ever happens here." He's staring up, squinting at the fire that lights the sky, deep reds and dark blacks where the most magnificent ship John had even seen had been just a moment ago. The explosion is almost as beautiful as the ship itself.

John helps Rodney to his feet and they lean against the railing as the ocean water rises up and splashes over the sides of the city, seeping into the coarse fabric of their BDUs as large chucks of the ship fall into the water. Fire and flame fall from the sky and they watch it until the scraps of heated metal start burning holes through John's uniform and burn reminders into his skin.

The comms are unusually silent the few moments following the explosion and John is just about to call the control room when Elizabeth gets on the radio and asks for him and Rodney to join her in her office. Her voice is too calm, even for Elizabeth, and John double-times it to the nearest transporter with McKay complaining the entire way. Elizabeth has never lost her cool, never shown signs of stress, no matter what order she's giving or how much it hurts her to give it, but John's afraid that this might be the tragedy that sends Elizabeth over the edge. John is trained to deal with death...Elizabeth is trained to deal with people.

They meet Doctor Zelenka in the hallway outside the command center and the two scientists do a little dance of glee that Kavanagh was onboard the Daedalus when it died a horrible fiery death and John's worst nightmares are confirmed that they are all going to die a lot sooner than he would like, thanks to the fact that not a single department head is above the age of twelve. Except maybe Elizabeth, but John overheard her telling Doctor Brown in the mess the other day that she thought Major Lorne had a cute butt in a very high-pitched whisper, which he's pretty sure means they are doomed.

The control room, although full of scientists and marines, is strangely quiet considering a giant spaceship full of their friends and colleagues (and this months supply of chocolate) just blew up in the atmosphere and you can hear pieces of debris colliding with the city's structures.

John was expecting mass hysteria from the scientists, who still liked to freak out for a moment before getting themselves under control enough to come up with something brilliant that in the end saves them all, and thick tension of excitement and anxiety simmering under the surface of the skin from the military personnel. Instead, he is greeted by nods from the soldiers and sad smiles from the scientists. John waits for someone to ask him if it was the Wraith or the Genii or some other alien race trying to kill them and if they should head to the labs or the armory or wherever they go when the shit hits the fan, but no one does.

There is a balcony off the back of the control room and as he walks quickly by, John is reminded of the first siege, of how together he and Rodney watched the shield as it held back the Wraith. Fragments of the ship are still falling from the sky, exploding against the shield that has been reestablished sometime between his exit from the pier and arriving in the control room.  The smell of sulfur and burning metal is thick in the air.

Rodney stops at a console to check the shield and ask Sergeant Campbell something and John tries to open the door to Elizabeth's office but it is locked from the inside, and no matter how many times he thinks open, Atlantis doesn't listen. John leans against one of the consoles waiting for Rodney, staring at the shadows in Elizabeth's office, the windows no longer clear, disrupting his view inside. John's anxious, vibrating with the need to do something, to kick out the windows of Doctor Weir's office and demand to know what is going on. He hates the feeling of being left out, especially when he feels he of all people should be included.

Someone has to start organizing the troops, so to speak. Heightmeyer needs to be contacted and SGC briefed. John doesn't want the responsibility of doing either, but he likes to at least appear in the background, standing a few steps behind and to the side of Elizabeth like he's doing more than pushing his paperwork off onto Major Lorne and being the science team's personal 'on' switch. He isn't any good at the administration part of the job, the personnel aspect of being in command of the military contingent.

John's staring off into space, a thousand thoughts racing through his mind—the memorial service Elizabeth will want John to organize and speak at, saying things about the new soldiers aboard the Daedalus he never met and the returning ones he's been trained not to miss. The way SGC will look at him, them, as failures. Another batch of letters addressed to The family of....Another list of names of people who didn't have to die.

The swish of the office door makes John stand at attention for a second before he moves forward, following Rodney into the office, ready for the inevitable but not prepared for it all the same.

John doesn't realize Rodney has stopped walking until he steps on the back of the scientist's heels and almost takes them both down. He's got a hand on the office wall and another around Rodney's waist, using the opportunity to steady himself as an excuse to run his fingers down the front of Rodney's shirt and over the soft curve of his belly, trying to calm his own nerves with the familiar when he hears the sound of a man clearing his throat beside them. John's still smiling at the slight way Rodney leans into his touch when he looks up and meets the grim expression of Colonel Caldwell and the pained one of Doctor Kavanagh.

"What are you doing here?" John and Rodney ask at the same time. John's arm is still holding Rodney in place and John takes a step back to lean nonchalantly against the far wall of the office. Rodney's pale as a ghost, the corner of his mouth turned down and his arms crossed in what John knows is a defensive manner. The fear and anger and confusion John's been feeling since the explosion are still coursing through his body full force and he pushes himself off the wall to pace just inside the door. His fingers are curled around the gun in his hand and it isn't until that point that John even realizes his thigh holster is empty.

"Miss me?" Kavanagh asks, smiling at Rodney in a way that gives John the urge to smack him on the other man's behalf. At the very least it would help John get rid of some of the pent up anger he is feeling at the moment.

"Not really, no." Rodney lifts his chin in defiance as his hands fist at his sides. His jaw is clenched so tightly John can see Rodney's heartbeat pulsing from his neck and he has to stop himself from reaching out and resting a strong hand on Rodney's shoulder, or running a soothing hand down his back to loosen some of the tension before Rodney has a stroke. But Caldwell is giving John that look again like he's taking mental pictures of every look and touch between John and Rodney to report back to SGC at a later date, like during the Atlantis Expedition's Annual Review. Because John isn't stupid, and he can tell when someone really really wants his job. If, for no other reason but to woo Elizabeth.

"I thought you were dead," he says, instead of 'why aren't you dead' like he'd originally planned.

"The Asgard have invented a remote control landing device for all their ships and Hermiod was testing it on the Daedalus," Elizabeth starts, her face relaxed and happy. "So all personnel were beamed down to the lower gymnasium ten minutes ago for their own safety." She looks calm, smiling over at Caldwell like she is seeing him in a brand new light and John's really glad he missed the obligatory 'thank god you're alive' hug.

He's not jealous. No matter what Rodney says, John doesn't actually expect that everyone in two galaxies should fall madly in love with him, although he has to admit that Elizabeth's uncontrolled laughter and the tears that had run down her face after he'd propositioned her had hurt a little. It's because just the thought of Caldwell and Elizabeth makes him fell a little sick.

"So no one died?" John asks, because mentally he's still in emergency-mode as Rodney likes to call it and no matter what anyone says about John he can't go from solider to slouch instantly.

"Nope," Elizabeth replies. "We were lucky this time. The only thing lost was the ship and its cargo."

That gets Rodney's attention and he stops glaring at Kavanagh long enough to ask, "My coffee?"

"Lost," Kavanagh says, a smile planted firmly on his face.

"And the chocolate?"

"Also lost."

"And the French fries?"

"Mashed potatoes by now," Kavanagh answers.

"Well that's just great," Rodney snaps. "If things weren't bad enough, now we're all going to starve to death as well." He looks like he's about to blow and John doesn't want to be anywhere near him when he does. John might enjoy baiting Rodney as much as the next guy, but even he knows when to back off.

"Why are you so happy about this?"

"Unlike most of my colleagues, I took the liberty of bringing my own bags down with me when Hermiod beamed us out. Everything I brought is already in my quarters."

"Perfect," Rodney says, arms flailing wildly, knocking over an empty coffee mug and almost taking John out in the process. "You never fail to amaze me, Kavanagh. There are other people that live in this city besides you, some with life-threatening medical problems that require them to eat on a daily basis, and not the Pegasus Galaxy substitutes that the kitchen staff come up with but real Earth food so as to not die, leaving the city to succumb to the Wraith or worse, idiotic and irresponsible people like yourself."

As Rodney finally pauses for a breath (and no, John is not at all thinking about how convenient it is that Rodney can hold his breath for so long) Kavanagh, face pinched and red, turns to Elizabeth and starts ranting about disrespect and the lack of quality leadership on the expedition and how he'd like to send a report back to General Landry in the next data burst. Rodney is flustered and looks like he's going to launch into what John figures is a lengthy and well-versed description of how very very useless Kavanagh is when Elizabeth reaches out and rests her hand on Rodney's arm in what John has come to think of as the only way she knows how to calm Rodney down when he is in full panic mode.

"I don't think that will be necessary, Doctor Kavanagh," she says in her most polite tone of voice. "The first thing we need to do is make sure everyone is all right and that the city hasn't suffered any damage. Then we will ensure that those members of Colonel Caldwell's crew who lost their belongings are given whatever supplies they need. And then we'll check the inventory to see where we stand on food and other conveniences."

"Coffee, Elizabeth," Rodney grumbles, crossing his arms over his chest as he leans back against the clear wall of her office, "is not a convenience."

"It is when you don't have any underwear," Caldwell murmurs under his breath and John assumes that means he is one of the many who lost their luggage at the terminal and not that he isn't wearing any, which is something John does not want to think about.

"Everything is going to be fine," Elizabeth replies, before waving Sergeant Campbell into her office. "Why don't you check the scanners and make sure the city wasn't damaged before the shield went up."

"I knew I shouldn't have gotten out of bed this morning," Rodney says as John steers him out of Elizabeth's office and over to the large screen in the back of the control room.

"You never went to bed, Rodney," John points out.

"Yes, well, some of us are too important for sleep. I take a break and they blow up our only source of coffee and chocolate and DVDs."

Rodney's breathing quickens as he clutches one of the consoles for support and John uses Rodney's panic as an excuse to wrap his arm around the other man's shoulders.

"Hey," John says, lowering his voice so the technicians can't hear. "Everything is going to be okay. There is nothing to worry about."

"The last time you said that I was shot in the ass."

"See, after that what's the worst that can happen?"

The black eye Rodney gives him is still visible three days later when the last of the Daedalus' crew who have asked to be sent back to Earth have stepped through the gate. Stargate Command assures them that the Asgard are 'really very sorry' that their automatic piloting system had some unexpected results and that they are doing everything they can to rectify the problem.

Hermiod uses some type of personal transportation device to beam himself directly aboard the closest Asgard ship seconds before Rodney tries to strangle him and John's glad he's gone because if Hermiod had stayed any longer Elizabeth and John were going to have to have the 'please don't stare at the alien just because he is not wearing any pants- it upsets our allies' talk again. John has to have a lot of 'talks'.

John can see Colonel Carter smirking in the background as General Landry explains to Elizabeth that the war with the Ori is a little bit more important than Doctor McKay's coffee shortage, no matter how many times they try to tell him differently. Elizabeth even drags an exhausted and caffeine-deprived Simpson up from the labs to describe in detail exactly what McKay is like when separated from any constant and sure supply of coffee.

It doesn't help.

"I'm sorry, Doctor Weir, but there is absolutely no way I can justify sending the Odyssey to you on a glorified beer run. We just can't spare it."

"But, sir, if you'd just let me explain-"

"No. This conversation is over. Now tell me about-"

The control room is suddenly quiet as the Stargate shuts down, cutting Landry off mid-sentence and causing everyone in the room to turn and look at Sergeant Campbell who is staring down at the dialing computer in confusion.

"Did you just hang up on the general?" Elizabeth asks. She's trying to look displeased but John can see a hint of a smile on her lips.

"No, ma'am," Campbell stutters, pushing helplessly at the dialing crystals as nothing continues to happen. "I don't know what happened."

"Don't worry," John says, slapping the sergeant on the back. "I did that once too." Before John can say anything else, someone behind him groans as Sergeant Campbell rolls his eyes and Zelenka says "Yes, yes, Colonel, you're a badass" from where he is standing beside a very annoyed-looking Doctor McKay. Just for that, John very slowly starts telling his new favorite story of how he (and Rodney and Carson and Elizabeth) single-handedly saved the city from the Asurans while everyone else was watching reruns and twiddling their thumbs. He is just getting to the good part, the part where he stole the jumper, when Rodney starts giving him the 'Danger, Will Robinson!' death glare and John shuts his mouth.

"What is it?" he asks, glancing at the computer Rodney's scowling down at.

"I don't know yet," he replies and snaps his fingers in the sergeant's general direction.

"What did you touch?" Rodney asks as Ancient text begins scrolling across one of the console computers.


"It's never nothing," Rodney says loudly, seconds before the lights in the gateroom start flashing and a piercing alarm fills the room.

"What is it?" Elizabeth asks, her hands over her ears to block out the noise. John wants to stick his fingers in his own to shut out the alarm, but Major Lorne has joined them in the control room and is smiling at John like he can read his mind and knows exactly what he is thinking.

"It's the ZedPM," Rodney yells over the noise, typing frantically on the keyboard. "I installed an alarm after the trouble with Caldwell and the, well, the thing..." Rodney trails off, glancing quickly to where Caldwell is standing beside Elizabeth, before turning his attention back to the computer.

"Can you turn it off?" John shouts into Rodney's ear at the same moment the alarm shuts itself off. Rodney jumps back, scowling at John and rubbing the palm of his hand against the offended organ.

"Is it over?" Doctor Weir asks coming to stand beside Rodney as he stops rubbing his ear and is staring at the computer screen, the color draining from his face. John can't read Ancient but he knows by the look on Rodney's face that they're in trouble.

"What happened?" Caldwell asks.

A few seconds go by where Rodney does nothing more than stare at the screen before Zelenka comes up beside him to look over his should at the print out. "The ZPM is depleted," he says, in a tone much too casual for the words he is saying and it takes a moment for the reality of his statement to sink in before John blinks and asks "What?"

"The ZedPM is depleted, Colonel," Rodney repeats for him. "Are you deaf as well as dumb now?"

"Hey!" John replies before Elizabeth interrupts to ask for someone to hurry up and explain what is going on.

"According to the readings, the ZPM was drained of all energy. That is why connection to Earth was lost." Zelenka is still way too calm in John's opinion and the way Rodney has barely said two words to anyone is starting to make John squirm.

"Are you sure?" Elizabeth asks, because it wouldn't be the first time that their technology and the Ancients' were incompatible and things went a little haywire until Rodney stopped freaking out long enough to fix it.

"Yes, Elizabeth," Rodney blurts out. "The ZedPM is gone."

"But I don't understand-"

"Please, like this wasn't completely expected. We can't just have a bad week around here. No, everything has to fuck itself up at exactly the same time."


"What? First the Daedalus, now this. What's next? The Wraith come in search of the promised land? Half the city falls into the ocean? My sister decides to come for a visit? What?"

The gateroom goes completely silent as soon as Rodney stops talking and John holds his breath for a moment waiting for the worst. When it doesn't come he lets out a heartfelt sigh of relief and smiles at Rodney.

"See, McKay," he says, patting the other man on the back. "I told you we had nothing to worry about."

That's when the sun goes out.

The city starts experiencing brownouts five minutes after the sun disappears and while John is rubbing the sore spot on his arm where Rodney has punched him (way harder than was necessary to prove his point in John's opinion) Rodney and the other scientists are scrambling around to unhook the generators before they are drained completely of power as well. They leave one connected long enough to hand out flashlights and check the database for anything that could clue them into what is draining all their power sources. It's Major Lorne, who John didn't even know was learning Ancient in his spare time, who figures out what the problem is.

"It's a solar eclipse," he says, smiling at the warm look Elizabeth is giving him. "According to the database it happens once every thousand years, lasts for two days and drains any power source still connected to the city."

"Well that doesn't even make sense," Rodney says over the comm from somewhere in the city.

"And space-vampires do?" John hears Zelenka's muffled voice ask.

"I don't know how it works, but it does. From what I can tell the Ancients hadn't figured out a way to combat the problem other than turning off the lights and taking a vacation."

"You've got to be kidding me. I told you the Ancients were idiots," Rodney says, exasperated. John can hear Zelenka agreeing with him in the background.

"How much longer until the generator fails?" Elizabeth asks. Even she looks a little pissed off at the Ancients.

"That depends on if you want the generator completely drained or just almost."

"Alright," she says switching to the citywide communicators, "this is what we're going to do. First, all department heads and anyone they think needs one will be issued a tac vest. Until the batteries in the comms run out we'll use those. Second, all non-essential personnel will collect their bedding and whatever supplies they feel are essential to their survival and head directly to the mess hall."

"Oh, goody," Rodney says sarcastically. "A sleepover."

"Third," Elizabeth continues, ignoring the peanut gallery, "everyone else will work on trying to get the city up and running again. Or at least from collapsing into the ocean."

"Because that would make this week perfect," Rodney adds.

"But that isn't going to happen because you're going to fix it. Right, Rodney?"

"If the Ancients couldn't figure it out, what makes you think I can?"

"Because I have every confidence in you," she replies.

"Yes, well, I would expect you to."

"Lastly, I want every one to stay calm and look at this as mini-holiday. We're survived the Genii, we've survived the Wraith, we've survived the entire ocean trying to swallow us whole, we can survive this."

"At least when we survived the Wraith we had a shield," Campbell mumbles.

"A shield," Rodney squawks. "When we survived the Wraith we had lights and indoor plumbing."

"Everything is going to be fine," Elizabeth says with a grim smile on her face. "I know we can do it."

John's in one of the science labs holding a flashlight while Doctor Zelenka tries to manually open the storage closet holding the extra flashlights they had stored there back during their first year in Atlantis when Rodney calls him.

"Colonel Sheppard," Rodney says and John moves the flashlight to the hand holding Zelenka's toolkit and activates his earpiece.


"I need you to come down here."

"Yeah, well, I'm kinda busy at the moment."



"I need you to come down here."

"And like I said, I'm busy. I'll send Lieutenant Miller down as soon as he's done helping Elizabeth."

"It'll be too late by then," Rodney whispers, his voice so low John can barely hear him.

"Too late for what?" he asks handing Zelenka a screwdriver.

"They're here," Rodney says.

"Who's here?"

There is silence over the comm and John sighs as he switches the flashlight back to his other hand again.

"Listen, Rodney, I don't have time for this right now."

"He's touching me," Rodney says and Zelenka makes a noise like he's choking on his tongue.

"Who's touching you?" John asks trying not to laugh.

Rodney doesn't answer and John lets him fume a little in private before getting back on the line.

"Listen, McKay, we're almost done here. Give me a few minutes and I'll come find you."

Again there is no answer and the light dances off the wall as John rubs his forehead and tries to ease the headache forming behind his eyes.

"Come on, buddy." Rodney is still silent and John feels a knot start to form in the pit of his stomach. "Rodney?"

"Someone is here," Rodney says and now there is no mistaking the fear in his voice. John doesn't hesitate for a minute, dropping the tools and the flashlight with a bang. The transporters are out of order and ten minutes crawl by before John can find the stairwell and descend the thirteen levels to where Rodney is supposed to be trying to hook the generator up to the lights while bypassing the main control crystals.

When John gets there, sweating and panting harder than he does after a workout with Ronon, Rodney is standing in the middle of an empty room. The flashlight is lighting up Rodney's face and John would laugh at his expression if his heart weren't still beating wildly in his throat.

"Where is he?" John pants, coming up beside Rodney and ignoring the way the other man flinches at the sound of his voice.

"Over there," Rodney says, motioning slightly with his head in the direction of the far corner.

John pries the flashlight from Rodney's tight grasp, feels the sweat from Rodney's hands on the base and shines it into the empty corner.

"There's nothing there," John's says and Rodney huffs and mumbles, "I can see that."

"Fine," John says because he's still worried and his breathing hadn't returned to normal yet. "I'll check it out."

He checks the corner, shinning the flashlight under lab tables and along the wall, while Rodney clings to the back of his shirt. He can feel the heat of the other man along his body and John takes a second to reach back and run what he hopes is a calming hand over Rodney's thigh.

"There's no one here," John says turning around and handing the flashlight back to a very annoyed looking Doctor McKay. "The boogieman has left the building."

"Laugh it up, Colonel. I know what I felt," he says. "Someone touched me."

"I believe you," John says, because Rodney looks freaked out and even though his default setting is to worry and complain about everything, the look on his face is enough to convince John that whatever Rodney thought was here really was.

Rodney's pulling away now, stomping around the room as he bangs equipment against the lab tables. John's about to ask if Rodney wants him to stay until he's finished with whatever it is he's doing, but John's afraid Rodney's pride will send him away, so he leans back against the lab bench and makes himself comfortable.

"He was here," Rodney says a few minutes later. He hasn't looked at John once. "Someone was here moving my tools so that I couldn't find them and then touching my ankle when I turned my back."


"You think I'm crazy."

"I don't, Rodney. I believe that you think someone was here."

"But you don't believe anyone was."

"I didn't say that."

"You don't have to," Rodney says kicking the equipment at his feet. It's too dark for John to make anything out. "I know what I felt."

"Rodney, listen-"

"Thank you for your assistance, Colonel Sheppard, but you can leave now."

"Come on, Rodney," John says reaching out to grab Rodney's arm. He moves at the last minute and John is left with nothing but air. "Fine," he says, because John isn't going to argue with Rodney when he's in a mood, and leaves. He's halfway down the hallway, cursing the fact that he left his flashlight with Zelenka, when he hears a loud crashing noise coming from the lab. He's already back in the room before Rodney's done screaming his name.

"I told you!" Rodney yells, half scared out of his wits and half I-told-you-so. He's got the light pointed at the far side of the room where one of the boxes of Ancient technology is dumped all over the floor.

John says "come on" and pulls a smug looking McKay from the room and heads in the direction of the gateroom.

"Okay," Elizabeth says, twenty minutes later and John can see, even in the fading light of the flashlight that she's trying not to laugh. "Explain this to me again."

"I'm being stalked by a ghost," Rodney exclaims and although John knows how stupid it sounds he can't help but agree. Besides the two instances in the lab, John witnessed at least three other suspicious occurrences on their way to meet Elizabeth. Twice Rodney tripped, slamming into John and swearing he'd been pushed and once the lights had flickered for a second even though Rodney assured John that there was no longer any power going to the city.

"A ghost?" Elizabeth repeats and this time Caldwell doesn't hide his chuckle as Rodney frowns and John tries not to look too frightened.

"A ghost of the Ancients," Rodney confirms and now it's John's turn to stare at Rodney like he has completely lost it.

"The Ancients?" he asks because he still can't believe that Rodney said that in front of Caldwell and Elizabeth and Major Lorne who just happened to be in her office when John and Rodney had come stumbling in, looking over their shoulders into the dark expanse of nothingness.

"They're angry that I'm so much smarter than they are."

John blinks at the proud look on Rodney face and tries to remember why exactly he's spent the last two-plus years attracted to that kind of arrogance.

"I'm sure you think you felt something, Rodney," Elizabeth starts, speaking slowly like you would to a child, "but I don't think the ghosts of the Ancients are following you because they're jealous."

"He was there," Rodney says, waving his hands in John's direction. "He's my witness."

Elizabeth raises an eyebrow at him and John can't do anything but shrug and slouch more firmly against the wall. There is no way he's telling Elizabeth that he thinks that for once Rodney isn't being paranoid and there really are ghosts after him.

"This is all very fascinating, Doctor McKay," Caldwell says in a tone that lets everyone in the office know exactly what he really thinks of McKay's claim of ghosts. "But what does this have to do with getting the city back online?"

"I'm sorry," Rodney says, arms crossed against his chest. "I didn't know I was expected to be brilliant while fighting off the Ancients."

"What the Colonel is saying, Rodney," Elizabeth cuts in, "is that we really need you to get the generators back online so that we can get the long range scanners and maybe the lights working again."

"And the toilets," Lorne mumbles and Rodney scowls even harder.

"Hello? Ancient ghosts are trying to kill me and you want me to turn the lights back on? This is just typical."

"Listen, McKay," Caldwell starts but Rodney interrupts him.

"No, you listen. No one believed Teyla when she said she saw the Ancients and we were almost eaten by whales and poisoned by radiation from the damn sun!"

"McKay," John drawls because Caldwell is starting to give him the evil eye and John really needs to get things back under control.

"Yes, Colonel?" Rodney asks and the look he gives John just screams you are NEVER getting laid again.

"Why don't we make a list of everything that needs to get done and start delegating some of the work to people other than you and Zelenka."

"Because you think I'm crazy?"

"Because you can't be everywhere at once."

There is a pause and John can tell by the way Rodney tilts his head that he's trying to figure out what John isn't saying.

"Fine," Rodney finally says. "I'll call Simpson and have her collect ten or so of the least incompetent scientists in the city."

"Good," Elizabeth says, clapping her hands together. "Why don't we pair them up with some of the marines?" She asks nodding toward John. "Just to make sure everyone stays safe and sound."

"I wouldn't worry," Rodney says as he's pulling John from the room. "I'm the only one who even comes close to being as brilliant as the Ancients were."

John's still not sure how he gets paired with McKay, or why he's carrying a P-90, but he's positive Rodney told Elizabeth they were heading down to work on the generators, even though they're standing in an unused part of the city nowhere near anything remotely resembling a power supply.

"What are we doing, McKay?" he finally asks, because John is tired and hungry and he didn't get to eat three powerbars like Rodney had while waiting for John to find his weapon in the darkness that was the armory.

"We're looking for the ghost."

"Wouldn't it be easier to find if we could, you know, see it?"

"Yes, because if I were a ghost I'd come dancing out into the spotlight with rings on my fingers and bells on my toes. Please, Colonel, lets try to pretend you're not as stupid as Kavanagh."

Just for that John flips the flashlight around so it is lighting the path they'd just come from and smiles when Rodney walks into the wall.

"Very mature, Sheppard. It amazes me sometimes that they promoted you this far. Although, it is the United States government we're talking about."

"You want my help, McKay?" John asks. "Because I could take my flashlight elsewhere."

"You wouldn't," Rodney counters. His arms are crossed and there is a faint smile on his lips as he steps in front of John and blocks the walkway.

"I don't know," John drawls. "You gonna make it worth my while?" He reaches out a hand and wraps it loosely around Rodney's wrist drawing the other man closer to him until they're touching, knees knocking together as Rodney stumbles slightly into John.

Rodney leans forward, breath warm against John's lips, his cheek. John tries to kiss him but every time their lips connect Rodney playfully pulls away.

"Help me find the ghost," he whispers against John mouth, "and I'll do whatever you want." And with that, he pulls completely away, tapping his foot, and waits for John to shine the light down the hallway once again.

"Anyone ever tell you that you don't play fair, McKay?"

Rodney laughs and John really wants to push him up against the wall and show Rodney what he really thinks of being jerked around. But he doesn't. Instead, he pushes past the other man and continues down the hall, looking for the ghost of Atlantis' past.

"You do know this is ridiculous," John says, because he feels stupid searching around in the dark for something he knows isn't there.

"Shut up and keep looking."

"Maybe we should call in the experts," John says, pulling a small square box from his vest pocket. Zelenka had passed it to him right before the search teams split up on level four. It was supposed to turn pink when the 'ghosts' were in the vicinity but the way Radek was smirking when he handed it over John figured Zelenka was just humoring them.

"And who, exactly, are you going to call?"


"Gonna what?"

"Who you gonna call?" John sings-songs as the Ancient box lights first blue, then green.

"Don't say it," Rodney growls, turning toward John, face illuminated by the laser-light show in John's hand.

"If there's something strange in your neighborhood. Who ya gonna call?" John sings, prodding Rodney in the side.


"If there's something weird and it don't look good. Who ya gonna call?"

"What are you, twelve?" Rodney asks, but he's smiling and John takes that as a sign to do an MC Hammer type dance while singing "I ain't 'fraid of no ghosts" and humming the movie's theme song.

"You done now, Doctor Venkman?" Rodney says, trying not to laughter.

"Lead on, Doctor Spengler."

Rodney is smiling as John extends his hand for the other man to lead on, and then pinches Rodney's ass when he walks by.

They walk in a comfortable silence until Rodney finally says, "You do know that movie is almost as stupid as Back to the Future, right?"

"It's a classic, Rodney."

"You think Beetlejuice is a classic."

"A pair of ecto-goggles would come in handy right about now." John has walked into the wall three times in the last twelve minutes and it's starting to really annoy him.

"I'm sorry, we aren't seriously talking about this are we?"

"Just imagine what I could do with a Proton Pack."

"I guess we are."

"Come on, Rodney. What could you possibly have against Ghostbusters?"

"Do you know the amount of power you would need to create the particle waves in the proton pack? It would be like strapping a ZPM on your back and then cracking the external shield to make the beam."

"Cool. Do you think you could make one?"

"Unless you're a genius and have been keeping the method to create handmade ZPMs a secret, then no, I can't."

"But it's possible?"

"In theory, I guess, but there is a lot more to it. The problems of operating such a system would be almost impossible."

"But it's possible?"

"You really are twelve, aren't you? Yes, it's possible."

"That is totally cool."

"You know, Colonel, it scares me that someone, somewhere, put you in charge of saving my life. If you had your way we'd all be walking around with light-sabers and towels."

"Don't mock the towel, Rodney. The towel is 'the most massively useful thing an interstellar traveler can have'."

"It is amazing, but you really do find a way to ruin everything, don't you."

"It's a gift." John holds the now brown box out in front of him and frowns.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Ask away."

"Why are you carrying around a spatula? You look ridiculous."

"Spatula?" John asks, as the box finally turns pink and a flat-ended cooking utensil springs out the side. 

They've been walking for about ten minutes when they hear the sound of movement from one of the botany labs at the end of the hallway. John takes the lead, flashlight illumination their path as he and Rodney slowly make their way toward the shuffling and banging sounds. They're standing right outside the door, Rodney trying to pry it open with his fingers and a screwdriver that apparently Rodney was planning to use as a weapon against the ghosts, when he gets a call from Zelenka.

"What did ghost look like?" he asks and John ignores Rodney's mumbled "like a ghost, dumbass" to reply.

"We didn't actually see them. Why?"

"Because I think they are here, with the generator."

"Well, that doesn't make any sense," Rodney says leaning forward to speak into John's earpiece. "I'm down here."

"Maybe the Ancients are envious of my intellect as well," Radek replies, the humor obvious in his voice.

"You know, Radek, this jealous streak of yours is getting old."

"We too have seen things that can not be explained," Teyla interrupts.

"Where are you?" John asks her, motioning for Rodney to keep working and covers Rodney's open mouth with his free hand, stopping his rant about how stupid the Ancients were that they couldn't even tell the difference between him and Radek or Teyla in the dark.

"Ronon and I are in the mess hall, making sure that every one is alright."

"Okay, stay there. Rodney and I are going to check out the botany labs. We'll call you when we're done. Sheppard out."

"This is ridiculous," Rodney complains as the door opens a couple of inches. "What would the Ancients want with them? I'm the only one even remotely close to their level of intelligence."

"Maybe they want Radek for another reason." John pushes the door open a couple of feet and pushes Rodney through.

"Please, the ghosts can't be that hard up. I know he's all wily and hot in a mad scientist kind of way with the hair and the glasses and the accent, but that can't compare to me."

"Hot?" John repeats, squeezing his way through the small opening a second before the door closes behind him.

"You don't see it? That's interesting. So it's actually me that turns you on, not the fact that I'm the smartest person you've ever met."

"I never said you turned me on," John says, appreciative of the fact that the lights are still out and Rodney can't see his blush, or the guilty look on his face.

"You just keep telling yourself that, Colonel."

Just for that, John turns out his light again and smiles at the sound of Rodney tripping over something large.

"Oh, ha ha, Sheppard. You're a comedian."


John is about to turn the flashlight back on when the sound of something heavy drowns out the sound of McKay's mumbled complaints followed shortly by another thump.

"Who's there?" John calls in the direction of the noise while reaching out a hand to try and locate Rodney. It lands on something furry and John jumps back, falling against a lab bench and muffling his cry of pain as he drops the flashlight.

"What? What's going on?" Rodney whispers.

"That wasn't you was it?" John asks. He kicks at the hand that wraps around his calf and grimaces when Rodney yelps.

"Yes, that was me."

John helps Rodney stand and doesn't say anything about the way McKay leans into his side, holding tight to his upper arm. He pushes Rodney slightly behind him as he aims his gun at where he felt the creature and switches on the light. There is nothing but pieces of Ancient technology, soil and plants scattered along the table. Nothing furry or fuzzy or ghostly.

There is another noise behind them and they both jump before swinging around and looking at nothing but an overturned pot. There is another crash and the sound of something scurrying past their feet. John tries to follow the noises, but he's always a second too late. He and Rodney are circling now, eyes darting back and forth into the darkness that surrounds them. They can see nothing but what is directly in front of the flashlight's single beam of light.

"Maybe we should try talking to it?" Rodney asks, clinging to John's back.

"And say what?"

"How should I know? Don't kill us?"

"If they wanted to kill us they'd have done it by now."

"Please. These are the same people who want to jump Zelenka's bones."

"No, Rodney. That's just you."

"I'm so glad my impending doom amuses you, Colonel."

"You're not going to die, Rodney."

"Because you have a plan?"

"Because I'm not going to let the ghost of the Ancients kill you."

"Why?" Rodney is breathing against John's neck, cooling his sweat slick skin. John sighs, leaning his head to the side and lets Rodney's tongue explore the spot right below his ear.

"This isn't really the time for that, Rodney."

"If I'm going to die because the ghost of the Ancients can't deal with the fact that I'm smarter than they are, then I'm going to die happy."

"No one is going to die," John tells him, turning around to meet Rodney's lips in a kiss. John swings his gun to the side and cradles the back of Rodney's head as he licks his lips open. Rodney likes to move slow, to slip his tongue into John's mouth, runs his hands down John's back and murmur things like you're wonderful and fuck me against John's lips. He likes to press himself against John's hips, kiss his way down John's jaw and suck lightly on his collarbone. Rodney likes to slip his hands under the hem of John's shirt and drag his fingers down John's back, making him arch into Rodney's body. Rodney likes to drive John crazy, but John never points it out for fear Rodney will stop.

John rubs his fingers over Rodney's cheeks, ending the kiss so he can stare into Rodney's eyes, brighter than he'd expect in the dark room.

They're wrapped around each other, pressed up against each other with John's pants slipping from his hips when the auxiliary lights come on and blind them both. John stumbles backwards into a table, Rodney falling with him. He hears something on the shelf beside his head and both John and Rodney turn to look into large red beady eyes.

John screams.

He's pulling Rodney away from the wall stumbling backwards when the door to the lab opens and they both turn toward the sound tripping over their tangled legs when John's pants fall to the floor, Rodney landing heavily on top of John's chest, John's head hitting the floor with a thump.

John screams. Again.

It takes John a moment for his eyes to adjust and for him to focus on the very amused expression gracing the face of Major Lorne and about ten marines who John can tell are trying not to laugh at their commanding office who is naked from the waist down, one hand on Doctor McKay's ass (a Doctor McKay who is passed out and limp on top of John) and the other flailing wildly over their heads. John drops it, patting the back of Rodney's head as he closes his eyes and tries really hard to pretend like this whole incident never happened.

"Atlantis has rats, sir," Lorne says, crouching down beside John and Rodney.

"I noticed."

"Apparently they escaped from the Biology labs when the power went out. It wasn't until Doctor Zelenka got the emergency lights back online there that we noticed the cages were empty."

"So no ghosts," John asks.

"No ghosts, sir."

"I'll make sure to tell Doctor McKay when he, uh, wakes up."

"Yes, sir. Anything we can do to help with that?" Lorne asks, gaze leaving John's just long enough to scan Rodney's body.

"No, no, I think I've got everything under control here, Major. Thanks."

"Just call if you need us, sir," he says and has the tact to wait until he and the marines are in the hallway and out of sight before laughing hysterically.

The eclipse ends the following afternoon, and in the end, all they lost were two generators, their one and only ZPM. Thirty-four socks and their entire stock of cereal were also lost to the rats, who biology is really sorry about and no, they don't know how many there were or if they captured them all or why they seem to really like to chew anything in Sergeant Stevens's quarters.

Biology also refuses to let John and the Marines exterminate them, claiming they are a protected species because they're native to the Pegasus Galaxy and it distinctly says in the bylaws (section 10.2a) of SGC that "no person, plant or animal should be harmed by any off-world team/expedition for fun or recreation." John doubts that such bylaws exist, but since they're currently cut off from Earth he can't check. Instead, he tries to convince the biologists that hunting the rodents will be neither fun nor for recreation, but Sergeant Davis looks much too happy at the prospect to make John's argument appear even slightly truthful or convincing.

Part 2: What Are You Going to do For a Face When the Monkey Wants His Bum Back?

"Apparently the Ancients weren't as stupid as I first thought," Rodney says. He's walked in without knocking, again, and John would have been irritated if he wasn't currently sprawled out on his bed, naked, hand on his cock about thirty seconds away from what he's hoping is going to be a really good orgasm.

"Ahhhrrrmmm," he replies and spreads his legs a little further apart. His eyes are on Rodney, whose eyes are on his datapad and appears to be in his own little headspace where he is the genius and the rest of them are just the window dressing.

"It looks like, for once, that the Ancients labeled something in their database correctly and we've found another list of Stargate addresses that possibly have ZedPMs. Hopefully this one will be a lot more rewarding than the one Crazy Old Weir gave us. And I'm sure we would have found it sooner if Elizabeth didn't insist on letting complete morons have access to the Ancient computers. It was titled In Case of Emergency Look Here for fuck's sake. Seriously, does no one but me see how useless the soft science people are?"

"It's their job, Rodney." John almost chokes on the last word, hand moving faster as he arches off the bed. He's so close, just a few more minutes and—

"Yes, well, Elizabeth has given us permission to explore a few of the planets on the list. She wants to see us in her office in twenty minutes."

As John's hard on fades at the mere mention of meeting Elizabeth and Rodney turns on his heel and leaves, still oblivious to the prime opportunity he's missed. A marine and one of the scientists are standing in the hallway outside his door and he watches as they slowly turn and stare open mouthed at him for a moment before the door closes behind Rodney. John's too busy being angry at the sheer lack of orgasms happening in his quarters to be embarrassed. (That and the number of times he and his team have come back through the gate naked.)

"Okay," Rodney says three minutes later just as John's managed to get the image of Elizabeth out of his mind and is working on a fantasy that involves Ronon, Rodney and one of the engineers from the Daedalus' crew. "I know I'm clueless when it comes to this kind of thing, but are you flirting with me?"

John has one hand on his dick, stroking hard and fast and the other between his legs, pushing as far back as he can reach.

"If I say yes will you shut up and get over here?"

John can count on one hand the times Rodney has done what he was told the first time, without complaint or exposition, but before John has even finished his sentence Rodney is kneeling between John's legs licking his lips and grinning like the evil scientist that he is. John would smile, if he weren't jerking himself off. He sucks his bottom lip into his mouth and tips his head back as his fist tightens around his dick.

"Need help?" Rodney asks and John wants to wipe that smirk off his face, only he's afraid Rodney will start sulking and leave and John's got other plans for him. Hot, sticky, wet plans that John's been thinking about since that morning at breakfast where John had watched Rodney suck his fingers clean of every and all traces of maple syrup.

"Yes, please." John arches off the bed and shoves his dick in Rodney's face, only Rodney just stares at it like he's never seen one before and even John's abs-of-steel can't hold that position for very long. So he settles back against the bed, tucks his hands behind his head and does the only things that's stood by him, never fails him and always, always works. He pouts.

"Okay, now that just isn't fair," Rodney complains. John puffs out his bottom lip as far as it can go and sniffles. "Seriously, Colonel, didn't anyone ever tell you it isn't nice to tease the other children?"

"All bets are off when it comes to blow jobs, Rodney," he replies, putting emphasis on the 'Rodney' because now isn't really the time to have the You Don't Have to Call me Colonel in Bed Unless We're Playing Sexy Air Force Colonel and Brilliant Scientist speech.

"I'm just saying, maybe if you cut back on the pouting while off-world, we'd spend a lot less time running for our lives. And smiling, because we both know that never ends well. Or speaking in general to the so-and-so chief's unmarried daughters. And the married ones too. Really, Sheppard, do they teach Kirk 101 in the military? Because I've seen Sergeant Billick do it too and it's slightly disturbing."

"Blow job, Rodney," John demands, because if he has to watch McKay tap his finger against his lips one more time he isn't going to last very much longer.

"Ah, yes," he says and swallows John whole.

It isn't the first time Rodney's gone down on him. There was the time on P1X-012 when Rodney felt guilty about not paying attention to where he was walking and got them stuck in the underground bunker. Or the time on P3X-964 when they were under siege by the Wraith and Rodney felt guilty for calling John stupid. Or all the times they managed to get themselves captured by angry villagers and then had hours to pass while they waited for Major Lorne to save them. Or when they're bored or procrastinating or sleepy. Sometimes it's frantic and rushed in a we're all about to die in horrible, horrible ways kind of way and sometimes it is slow and easy. John is enjoying the lazy way Rodney is licking a path up the underside of his cock before circling his tongue around the head and sucking gently. The slow seductive pace is killing him, so much so that he grabs Rodney's head and holds it still so John can set the pace himself.

John closes his eyes as Rodney licks John's length over and over again, relishing the feel of blunt fingernails as they dig into his thigh and the warm wet mouth that engulfs him. But he wants to see, and pries one eye open long enough to see the way Rodney's mouth opens wider as it tries to take all of John in, noticing how his skin glistens with spit and come when Rodney pulls away and loosens John's hands from the back of his head.

Rodney grins and slides very slowly up John's body, the material of his uniform dragging across John's sensitive skin. He thrusts up against the harsh fabric, rubbing himself off on Rodney's belly as their lips meet. Rodney tastes like John, and coffee and the not-fruit they'd had at lunch. John deepens the kiss, letting his tongue search the back of Rodney's throat for something that is purely him. Rodney moans against his lips, into John's mouth and pushes a hand between them to wrap surprisingly strong fingers around John's length. Rodney has calluses in places John doesn't, the hands of a scientist trained to use a weapon.  The exotic feel of someone else's hand on him, the familiar grooves of a gun and the unfamiliar marks of the stylus are too much for him. John comes with a silent cry, arching up into Rodney's body, kissing him hard and dirty while he comes all over Rodney's shirt.

John doesn't pull away, but holds Rodney to him with slow sloppy kisses as his heartbeat slows and his breathing returns to normal. He rolls them over and settles on top of McKay who pulls away just long enough to check his watch.

"We have seven minutes, Colonel," he says, wrapping an arm around John's neck and pulling until their lips meet again. "And I'm going to need to change my clothes thanks to you."

"That's plenty of time," John tells him and slips a hand under Rodney's sticky shirt.


The only thing P3X-727 has going for it is trees.  They're not just any kind of tree, but tall ones with large, thick, dense green leaves. As a child, John had visited the Redwood National Forest once, stood beside a tree that reached toward the heavens and felt that he was the smallest thing on Earth, that nothing he could ever do would equal the magnificence of something that had grown for hundreds of years. Standing at the bottom of the gate's thick stone steps, John is in awe. The forests of Earth don't even compare to this one.

The air smells strong and rich, like autumn after a heavy rain, but the ground is dry, covered in tall grasses about knee high that sway softly in the breeze. The stalks are thin and wispy, but when John reaches out to run his hand across the top he is shocked to find they are coarse and rough against his palm. There are purple and blue and pink flowers surrounding the gate platform, and orange and red ones interspersed between the grasses.

His team has brought along Major Lorne, Lieutenant Reed and two botanists, because Doctor Parrish happened to be in the gateroom when they received video transmission from the MALP and almost tackled Doctor Weir begging to be sent along. Rodney had argued against it, reminding everyone how important it was that they find a ZPM, how they only have about a dozen generators trying to power the entire city, how the Wraith could get hungry and decide to return for the Atlantis Blue Plate Special at any time. Elizabeth just smiled and patted Rodney on the shoulder before telling Parrish to collect his equipment and a couple of friends. Rodney tried to fight her, but when Elizabeth told him he needed to share, he took a step back and stared at her before turning to John and whispering very loudly that he thought Elizabeth had been compromised and he was taking over command.

"I haven't been compromised," she'd said, tapping her fingers against the Ancient console in an uneven rhythm.

"That's exactly what you want me to believe. First you say you're you and then you're running off to conspire with the Ghost of the Ancients. Nice try, but it isn't going to work this time."

"This time?"

"Do I really need to remind you of your little lip-lock with the Colonel? I know I haven't forgotten it." He made a face that let everyone in the gateroom know exactly what he thought of that.

Elizabeth blushed, gaze flickering quickly to John before giving Rodney her full attention again. They had agreed, while recovering in the infirmary, that they would never ever speak of The Incident again. That didn't stop Rodney from describing at length how hot Elizabeth looked toting a gun around the city. John agreed, but the one time he'd told Rodney that he'd had nothing but cold showers for a week.

"Are you having any intense urges to jump Sheppard's bones?" Rodney asked her, causing one of the gatetechs to start laughing so hard that he had to run from the room.

Elizabeth smiled and raised her eyebrow in John's direction. He just shrugged and rolled his eyes like he hadn't spent the last thirty minutes naked with McKay, or like he wanted to continue to be naked with McKay. Rodney turned just in time to see John make a face in his direction and promptly forgot about Elizabeth's evil plan to let crazy gun-wielding senior citizens take over her body again and spent the next five minutes reminding everyone that Sheppard had screamed like a girl when the Marines had found them trapped in the lab during the blackout. Sheppard was therefore busy giving two grinning sergeants the evil eye when Doctor Parrish returned with Doctor Brown and Major Lorne, and missed Rodney tripping down the stairs while trying to explain just how happy he was that Katie was joining them, turning at the last second to see him land flat on his face.

Lieutenant Reed hasn't stopped sneezing since he stepped through the gate and Rodney is keeping a running commentary on the distance germs can travel in 2.3 seconds. Major Lorne doesn't look phased as he hands Reed an anti-bacterial tissue and tells Rodney to hurry up and locate an energy reading before the botanists declare a mutiny and start building arboreal residences like the Swiss Family Robinson. John's pretty sure he's in charge of this mission and tries to remember back to the briefing with Elizabeth, but recalls nothing except the way Rodney kept looking at him and smiling. Still, as military commander of Atlantis he's positive it's written into his job description that he gets to be in charge during all off-world missions where he is present. Lorne is nudging McKay west with his knee, one hand on Parrish's sleeve to keep him moving and not standing still, staring up at the trees, and the other patting Lieutenant Reed on the back. Teyla and Ronon are following Lorne's lead and Doctor Brown is not so secretly staring at Rodney's ass.

"Anything yet, McKay?" John asks, which gets everyone's attention. They all turn back to look, like they have forgotten he is even there. John crosses arms in front of himself, P-90 pressed firmly against his chest as he taps his foot and waits.

"Oh, for crying out loud!" Rodney yells, and marches back to where they've left John at the base of the gate. The rest follow, but not before Rodney mumbles something about jealous Air Force colonels and lack of sex.

"Find anything?" John asks again, only this time he narrows his eyes and tries to send secret no more blowjobs for you messages to McKay with just a look, only Rodney is staring at his scanner and looking confused.

"That's weird," he says and pokes at the control panel with the edge of his finger.

"What is?" Lorne asks, just as Reed sneezes all over the side of his face. John tries not to grin as Lorne rubs the mess around as he tries to wipe it away with his sleeve.

"The initial MALP readings indicated a strong power signal coming from somewhere north of the Stargate."

"And?" Ronon asks before John can. He looks bored and a little hungry and John knows first hand what kind of trouble they can get into when Ronon goes looking for a snack.

"And now it's gone. No signals, no readings, no nothing."

"Maybe it needs new batteries?" Parrish says and Rodney shoots him a look that causes Parrish to back up three feet. Lorne pats his arm and then asks if maybe Rodney should try another scanner.

"It isn't the scanner that's the problem," Rodney huffs, but John can see him running his fingers over the Ancient battery pack to make sure the slight vibration is still there.

"It seems strange that the signal would just disappear. Perhaps we should consult the MALP for more information."

"Thank you for your scientific opinion, Teyla, but I don't think the MALP is going to help us."

"Why not?"

"Because it only transmitted the signal for about three seconds before shutting down."

"What do you mean it shut down?" John was standing next to Rodney in the gateroom when first visuals had come up on the screen and Rodney screamed, "Yes, that's it! I'm getting a reading. Can we go now?"

"I mean it stopped transmitting the signal."

"Then why didn't you say something?"


"Because why?"

"Because I was distracted."

"Distracted how, Rodney?"


"You what?"

"I was about to beat Radek's high score. Apparently he doesn't have anything better to do beside sit around all day and goof off while I kill myself trying to save the world. Both worlds. It's sad, really, that he's so depressed over my obvious brilliance that he has to resort to something so childish."

John just stares at him, because he's too angry to actually form words. Reed sneezes, Parrish asks Lorne if he could please go look at the trees now if he stays in sight of the group and tries not to fall down any more giant rabbit holes. John's hands are balled into fists at his side as he tries not to do something stupid, like kill them all.

"Alright, listen up. First we're going to head in this direction," he says pointing over his shoulder in the opposite direction Lorne had been leading them in. "Doctor McKay is going to try and locate the signal again." Rodney looks like he's about to speak up but John shushes him with a finger in the face. "If, in an hour, we haven't found a ZPM or an energy reading or any sign that the Ancients have ever set foot on this planet, then we'll turn around and let Parrish and Brown look at the local flora for awhile."

"An hour?" Rodney cries out just as Lorne says "I don't think we should go that way" and Ronon asks when they are stopping for lunch.

"This isn't up for discussion," John tells them and tries to glare at Rodney, who is glaring back at him, and at Lorne who is looking over John's shoulder at the big open field flanked on both sides by woods.

"I really think we should head west, sir," Lorne says again.

"Well lucky for us I'm the Colonel and I make the decisions." He starts walking east but after a couple seconds he realizes that no one is following him. When he turns to look over his shoulder everyone is still standing at the base of the gate.


"Do you have any idea where you're going?" Rodney asks, arms over his chest and chin titled up. John's always kind of thought it was cute when Rodney did that, but at the moment he just wants to punch him (or Lorne, who keeps giving him suspicious looks whenever John and Rodney argue. Or touch, or speak, or kill the Wraith, or the Genii, or Ancient mice together.)

"I'm going this way and so are you. Now come on!"

"This isn't going to be like that time you got us lost in the woods and we were almost eaten alive by Smokey the Bear and that man-eating pig-thing, is it? Because Beckett's been stingy with the rabies shots lately."

Lorne's smirking, Teyla is rubbing the spot on her arm where the bear grabbed hold and refused to let go until Ronon shot it and Parrish is looking into the woods with a worried look on his face. John's not sure when he lost control of the situation: the moment they arrived on 727, or the moment he stepped through the Stargate and into Atlantis for the first time.

"Walk," he orders, his I'm the Colonel voice not leaving any room for discussion, and points in the direction he wants with the barrel of his gun. He wonders if General O'Neill ever had these types of problems when he was in command of SG-1.

They walk for over an hour, McKay in the lead, mumbling under his breath about radiation and how he's suing SGC and John and Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter when he dies of skin cancer. John tries to ignore him, busying himself instead with tales of Freddy Krueger for Teyla and Ronon who have taken to them better than the Athosian children did.

"I have never known a world where your dreams could become reality. It sounds most unpleasant." John can't tell if she's serious or pulling his leg. Teyla likes to keep him guessing, and then looks disappointed when he doesn't guess correctly. He hates that look, like he's a child being scolded by his mother.

"Yeah, well it isn't real, so nothing to be afraid of."

"That is what Doctor Beckett said when I was channeling the Wraith on the Hive ship while I slept."

"Yeah, well, this really is fiction."

She looks skeptical, like John's making fun of her again, even though he never means to and usually ends up on the wrong end of an Athosian stick because of it. Reed's eyes are bloodshot and watering, nose red and sore from the constant blowing. Doctors Parrish and Brown are leaning against each other as they walk, no longer even looking at the grasses and trees around them. Major Lorne looks satisfied, like he's known all along they weren't going to find anything in this direction.

"Let's head back to the gate," John says and not even Rodney complains about not continuing the search for a ZPM. They haven't picked up a single energy reading since they started walking and John's making a mental list of which scientists are supposed to maintain the MALPs and make sure they don't send back false readings so he knows whose ass he can kick when they get back.

The team stops for water and so Doctor Brown can dig up some of the grass in a large empty field with trees to the left and a long stretch of nothingness to the right. There is a flash of something in the distance, a small black mark on the horizon, but it is too far away for him to make out anything. John thinks about asking Ronon to take a look, but decides against it. The sun is almost too bright, even with his glasses on, and the spot is probably just strain on his eyes.

Ten minutes later, they stop for lunch, because Rodney's whining about hypoglycemia and Reed looks a little worse for wear. John has listened to Rodney complain about his allergies and his hay fever and how the tiniest speck of pollen can kill him, but John has never seen him get this bad. Reed's eyes are almost swollen shut, his face red and glistening with perspiration. Every time John suggests he and Lorne head back to the gate he says "I'm fine, sir," and pretends he can breathe.

John almost misses the first tremor, but Ronon's spidey senses are still working and he looks up and out over the vast field. He places a hand on the dirt beneath them and tells Rodney to stop talking.

"What is it?" Rodney asks, because they've been in trouble enough times to know when to trust Ronon's instincts.

"Something's coming. Fast." He stands, and John follows suit, aiming his P-90 in the direction Ronon is looking, trying to make out anything that might look suspicious.

"It stopped," Ronon says after a minute his eyes never leaving the horizon.

"Maybe it's an earthquake," Doctor Brown says.

"And maybe it's a giant monkey hell-bent on killing us," Rodney replies with a smirk. "Maybe, you should leave the science to the real scientists. Just a thought."

Whatever reply Katie Brown has for McKay is drowned out by the sound of the earth moving and trees being uprooted. John can't hold his balance as the vibrations from the ground travel up his legs and ring inside his skull. Ronon is looking behind them now, eyes scanning the dense forest for any sign of what the hell is going on. John can see hundred foot trees flying into the air and something large making its way toward them.

"Run for cover!" John yells at Brown and Parrish as the ground shakes harder. The trees begin to sway and a very large very hairy gorilla breaks through the tree line and storms toward them.

The scientists take off, Rodney in tow and John tries yelling for him to "get back here and fight, damn it!" and "why the hell do you think you have a gun?" and "GIANT MONKEY!" but between the rounds he and the others are firing at the creature and the noise it's making just by walking John's wasting his breath.

Reed is aiming at the trees and John reaches out to turn him in the right direction. Magilla Gorilla is probably 30 feet tall, weighs 30 tons and blocks out the sun when he stands in front of it. John's team is made up of a five foot four woman, an Air Force major and a blind lieutenant who apparently can't see the giant wall of ape-flesh walking toward him and Ronon, who John normally would place his money on for the win. Only this time, Ronon's about 24 feet too short and John's not sure it would be a fair fight if he turned and ran with the others and left Ronon to guard their backs. As if he can read John's mind, Ronon turns to look at him and John swears he can hear the other man growl.

Their bullets bounce off the animal's chest and don't seem to affect it at all. John's counting clips in his head, knowing they can't outrun it and can't hide from it in the trees, because the thing appears to be a lot stronger than it should. John keeps one eye on the area where Rodney and the others disappeared, knowing the only way to save them is to draw the monster away and give them time to make a run for the gate and safety.

He's trying to relay his plan of attack (which is more of a strategic withdrawal, to be honest) to Lorne through ESP, when the monkey slows its steps, stops about thirty yards away, reaches out one long arm and wraps his giant fingers around Teyla before turning around and heading back through the forest. John stills in shock because he knows he didn't just see that when Lorne says "holy fuck" under his breath and Reed asks if they killed it.

Lorne calls for the scientists to join them as John tries to keep Ronon from following after Teyla alone by grabbing hold of his arm and yanking back against the other man when he starts moving, dragging John behind him until he trips and lands in the soft grass and watches Ronon disappear into the woods. He knows they're short on time, that they need to get to Teyla before the gorilla hurts her, or eats her, or does whatever giant gorillas do, John knows that, but he has two unarmed scientists and a blind, slowly asphyxiating lieutenant to worry about as well.

Rodney's running toward him, gun waving wildly in the air. He looks scared and worried, just like John feels. John gathers them together quickly, handing Reed's sidearm to Parrish and his own to Brown.

"This isn't my fault!" Rodney yells and ducks a punch from Doctor Brown, which John knows, isn't the first. There are dirt stains on his uniform pants, leaves in his hair and a small bruise forming on his chin.

"We don't have time for this," he says and pushes the stumbling Lieutenant in Parrish's direction. His lips are red and swollen-looking and he's covered in leaves as well. There is a bruise starting to form on the side of his neck. John looks from Parrish to Rodney and back again before it clicks.

"A botanist?" John asks, glaring at Rodney.

"Please, Colonel," Rodney says but he's fidgeting and not looking at John (or Parrish.)


"Fine, I thought we were going to die," Rodney says, throwing his arms into the air. "I was desperate."

"Hey!" Parrish exclaims. Katie tries to punch Rodney again but Lorne steps between them and stops her.

"You three head back to the gate and tell Doctor Weir to send reinforcements and a jumper."

"I can fight, sir," Reed says but Brown already has her arm hooked through his and is pulling him in the opposite direction.

"Brief Weir," John tells him, a quick pat to the back. "Keep your eyes open," he adds.

Parrish looks shaky and Katie looks nervous but determined. "Yes, sir," she replies.

John doesn't watch them go, just nods at Lorne and Rodney and heads in the direction Ronon went, jumping over fallen branches and upturned earth. The forest is strangely quiet, void of any bird or animal noises. He can hear the familiar sound of Rodney's heavy breathing as he runs, the low deep grunt of Lorne pushing debris out of the way. The lack of noise, of thunderous footsteps and shaking ground makes John anxious and he speeds up. He doesn't want to think about what could be happening to Teyla, if Ronon has found her or if he is injured, not to mention how he is going to kill them both as soon as he makes sure they are okay.

Behind him Rodney trips over a rotten log and John hesitates for only a moment before going back to help him up. McKay's shirtsleeve has gotten caught on a wayward branch and when John pulls him up it rips down the seam. There is a dark hand-shaped bruise on his arm, accenting Rodney's pale skin. John wants to ask him why, why Parrish, but Rodney just shakes him off, grabs his gun from where it fell when he hit the ground and starts after Lorne. John follows.

The sun hangs low in the sky when they reach the edge of the forest. There they find a large cave. The three of them slow their pace and step gingerly to the mouth of the mountain. Rodney's got his penlight out and is shining it into the dark void but John can't make out anything.

"Sir?" Lorne asks, his gun at ready. He hasn't taken his eyes off the cave since they arrived.

"You don't really expect us to go in there?" Rodney interrupts. "Who knows what could be waiting for us."

"I'm hoping it's Teyla and Ronon," John replies and motions for Lorne to lead the way.

"Am I the only one concerned about the GIANT MONKEY?"

"Shut up, Rodney."

The cave is damp and smells like rotting flesh and shit. John chokes on the smell, sound echoing off the walls so strongly he can feel the vibrations through the floor and off the walls. When John passes the light on his gun over Lorne's face he can see that the major is trying to hold his breath while Rodney digs through his pack.

"What are you doing?" John asks, and even his whisper echoes.

"There is no way I'm going any further if I have to breathe this in." He's got a sock in one hand and a pair of briefs in the other and John watches as Rodney turns his extra underwear into a mask. They're the green ones with the pot of gold over the crotch.

"See," Rodney says, pointing to his face. "Much better."

John can't say anything, just stands there listening to Lorne snicker and Rodney look at him with narrowed eyes.


"Nothing," John says, shaking his head. "Just that I owe Elizabeth a month's worth of dessert rations. She said you were about to crack."

"You've been talking about me behind my back to Elizabeth?" Rodney demands, and the sound is so loud John winces.

"Um..." John looks to Lorne for help, but the major just smirks and takes a step back against the rock wall.

"Well that's just typical!" Rodney yells and stomps around the opening of the cave, arms flailing. "Is this where our relationship is headed, Colonel? Backstabbing and gossip? No wonder you're single. You make a really bad boyfriend."

"Boyfriend," John squeaks out at the same time as Lorne.

Rodney stops pacing, eyes wide as he looks from John to Lorne and back. "Um...do you hear gun shots?"

John's still trying to decide if he's going to strangle Rodney first and then Lorne, or wait until after they've saved the rest of their team when he does hear gunshots somewhere in the distance.

Lorne takes the lead, and John and Rodney follow. It's too dark to see anything, even with the lights on their guns, and they are forced to move at a snail's pace. John listens as Lorne stumbles along, preparing himself for whatever the Major tripped over only seconds before John does the same. Rodney's clinging to his pack, one set of fingers brushing John's neck every time one of them slips and they collide.

John figures they've been walking for about forty minutes when Lorne stops abruptly and John nearly falls over him.

"There is a light up ahead, sir."

John can see it, the faint flicker of light in the distance.

"Don't shoot until you have a visual of Teyla and Ronon," he says and then starts forward, eyes pinched shut as he tries to adjust to the brightness that is starting to flood the cavern.

They stop at the end of the corridor, where it opens up into what John can already see is a large room. Crouched down behind three large boulders John can see the gorilla where it sits in the middle of the open cave, his back to John and the others. Ronon is standing off to one side, back straight and gun pointed at the ground. Teyla appears to be talking to the monkey but John is too far away to hear what she is saying.

Taking a deep breath, John can feel the warmth of Rodney's body pressing against his back. He sighs and tightens his grip on his P-90 before nodding to Lorne and jumping over the giant rocks into the canyon.

It isn't until much later, after Major Lorne helps him limp from the jumper bay to the infirmary that John finally figures out that the world is against him.

The ledge that John lands on holds his weight for only a moment before crumbling beneath his feet and sends John sliding down the side of the slick rock to land on his back at its base. John closes his eyes for a second and tries not to think too hard about what the sticky substance that now covers his body is. His leg twitches and John can feel the slight pull and deep ache of a sprained ankle.

When he finally opens his eyes he can see Lorne and Rodney staring down at him, still partially hidden from view. He waves up at them, eyes heavy and head fuzzy. He blinks, slow and easy, and when his eyes open again he's staring at a blurry face with mounds of dark hair.

"You alright?" Ronon asks at the same time Teyla says, "it is nice to see you, John" from somewhere behind them.

"I'm here to rescue you," John says and then passes out.

When he wakes, there is a giant gorilla poking him in the chest. John doesn't scream, exactly, but the manly yell echoes around them and makes the aching in his head pound even harder.

"Thanks for that, Colonel. I think my eardrums just burst." The underpants he's still wearing on his head muffle Rodney's voice.

"Shut up, Rodney," John says and adds, "monkey?"

"Yes, sir. He's kinda hard to miss."


"Great. He's mentally handicapped now. That's all we need." The large finger that's been hovering way too close to John's face suddenly disappears and is replaced by a very concerned looking Rodney. "You hit your head, Colonel!" Rodney yells into John's face.

"I'm not deaf, McKay!" John yells back and winces when the pounding in his head increases. John rolls onto his side, curling up into a ball and trying not to jar his ankle too badly. He covers his eyes with his arm and tries to block out his team, the monkey and the damn mission.

John can't make out the hushed voices behind him, but a few minutes later there are surprisingly gentle fingers carding through his hair and down the back of his neck, smoothing tense muscles. He cracks open an eye and peers out over his arm to see Lorne smirking down at him, arms crossed and gun held casually over his chest. Ronon is sitting beside the gorilla, watching as it pets Teyla's hair. John moans and rolls onto his other side, curling around Rodney's knees.

"Home," John says, voice muffled by the fabric of Rodney's pants.

"The jumper is on its way, Colonel," Rodney says, patting his check a bit too hard. "Major Lorne says as soon as Teyla's done flirting with King Kong he'll carry you out."

This time when John passes out it is to the sound of Rodney's yelp where Teyla has hit him in the head with a rock.

"He is just lonely, Doctor McKay," Teyla says as Ronon adds, "Can we keep him?"


The moon itself makes John uncomfortable, hollow and dry, spreading out in a wave of sand as far as the eye can see. He doesn't think they are going to find a ZPM here, considering the Ancient database said it was located in a lush green forest and John isn't seeing too many of those around. The place looks as if it hasn't seen rain since the Ancients left. John wants to leave, head back through the gate and get ready for his date with Rodney, which was to involve some of Sergeant Stackhouse's old Battlestar Galactica DVDs that John had used his powers of persuasion to con him out of without payment, when Rodney, who has been complaining about the heat and how the dry air is making it hard to breathe, stops babbling and drops his computer in the sand, the tiny grains floating only inches into the stale air before settling around Rodney's pant leg. John searches his pockets frantically for a powerbar and an epipen while telling Rodney to hold on and asking if it's hypoglycemia or allergies when he notices that Rodney is breathing just fine. His skin is flush and his eyes glassy as they stare off into the distance. John turns to look, expecting to see nothing more than more sand.

The planet the moon orbits is rising, so close to the surface that John takes a step back, afraid that the two masses are going to collide. The planet is pink and hazy, like he's looking at it with tired eyes, and the rings are golden brown and look close enough to touch. John reaches out and places a hand on the small of Rodney's back and McKay, face still relaxed and eyes wide in wonder, leans into it.

"When I was little," Rodney says, so low that John has to take a step closer just to hear him, "I used to dream of space." They're pressed up together, bodies warm through the fabric of their uniforms, as they watch the slow progression of day into night. "When I joined the Stargate program," he continues, "it was for the science. I never expected, I never expected it would be like this." His fingers are twitching against his chest, like it's taking all of Rodney's willpower not to reach out his hand and touch. John rests his chin on Rodney's shoulder and smiles into the other man's neck.

"Me either."

"It's beautiful," Rodney whispers, and John wishes that people could see this side of the man. The part of Rodney's personality that isn't obnoxious or arrogant or inconsiderate. That part that sees the beauty and magnificence in science, in the universe. Who still longs to be that little boy who turned to science as an escape and found his way home. Who, no matter how egotistical he seems, is still trying to convince everyone that he's good enough, that he's worth something.

They stand together and watch as the sky turns a deep shade of pink and orange, as it creeps across the moon's surface and causes the pale sand to sparkle.

"I have never seen anything as amazing as this," Teyla says, breaking John from the spell that the vision has put him under. He smiles at her, reaching down to gather Rodney's fallen equipment before stepping back to stand beside her and Ronon.

"We should get started," John says. "Before the planet completely covers the sun."

"I need to take video of this, for scientific purposes of course." Rodney is a really bad liar, but no one calls him on it. He fumbles with the camera, trying twice to open the video screen. John smiles and turns away, letting Rodney record in private.

The UAV had been damaged the day before when Lorne's team was preparing for a mission and Zelenka had flown the UAV into the side of a mountain. It still flew, but the images being sent back were blurry and red. Zelenka has assured them that the red wavy lines indicated a forest about a two klicks from the gate, but John is skeptical. It wouldn't be the first time they wandered a planet looking for something that didn't exist.

They head north from the Stargate, John in front, Rodney following with the scanner, Teyla and Ronon bringing up the rear. They don't move as fast as John would like, the sand shifting beneath their feet, trapping them and slowly their progress. They trip and slip, Ronon wrapping an arm around Rodney's waist to steady him and the equipment on his back.

The team walks for over an hour before John can see the sight of a tree line in the distance

"Find anything?" John asks Rodney. The other man is checking his scanner again, frowning at the screen.

"The signal is still there," Rodney answers, "but it keeps fluctuating. Both in intensity and in distance."

"What does that mean?"

"Do I look like a mind reader?" Rodney says turning to glare at John. John wouldn't be surprised if McKay chose that moment to put his hands on his hips as well. "I may be a genius, but even I can't decipher energy readings that give me no information other than, 'yes, there is something or other this way'."

Rodney's hand continues to wave back and forth in front of John's face for another minute or so before his arm gets tired and he rests it against his chest, massaging the muscles.

"So, we should keep walking that way?"

"What do you think?"

The closer they get to the forest the harder is it for John to see. The planet already covers half the sun and the sky is quickly turning dark and black. The air that had been so thick and heavy with dust when they'd first arrived is cool now and slightly wet. Even though there is no sign that the moon had ever seen rainfall, the clouds rolling swiftly in their direction look solid and gray. John can hear the far-off sound of thunder in the air.

"I don't like this," Ronon says before John can voice the same opinion.

"I think it would be wise for us to turn back," Teyla agrees.

Even Rodney isn't complaining about ZPMs, or energy readings, or how they just walked for two-plus hours for nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing.

"Okay, team, lets head back. The last thing we want is to be caught in a storm."

Even as the words are still leaving his mouth, John feels the first few drops of rain on his hair and face. A second later his shirt is soaked and he's debating on how many hours it will take to run back to the gate as opposed to the couple of minutes it will take to make it to the tree line. The next flash of lightning and the deafening sound of thunder make the decision for him.

They run, feet sinking into the over saturated sand, scrambling in the mud as they fall and crawl their way toward the only cover they can see.

John rests against the trunk of a large tree. Rodney is propped up beside him, the deep panting breaths he is taking hidden below the rumble of thunder, so loud it shakes the tree they're leaning against and makes the ground shake. John moves closer to Rodney, shoulders touching as they huddle together for warmth. Ronon and Teyla stand a few feet away, huddled together under Ronon's tan jacket.

Even with the canopy of trees above them, the rain is still coming down hard, soaking through their uniforms and chilling their skin. John has never seen anything like it before, but in the fifteen minutes since the first raindrops had started to fall, the water has begun to puddle around their ankles.

"We have to get out of here," John yells. Rodney and Teyla give him a blank look but Ronon nods his head and peers into the thick woods.

John can't hear what he says when Ronon answers, can't read his lips in the darkened woods. Ronon points to their left, and John pushes away from the tree trunk, wrapping his fingers firmly around the upper part of Rodney's arm, pulling gently until Rodney, shaking his head, lets John lead him away. They trip through the underbrush and water, bracing their hands against worn bark and each other as they stumble along.

It's Rodney who first sees the Dimaians. He's still waving at them in a frantic manner when John runs into him, the water in his eyes clouding his vision. He's plastered against Rodney's back, one arm around his waist, trying to hold them both up as they slide through the mud.

"Stop," John says, using his free hand to grab wildly at Rodney's as he continues to wave at the three half-naked men making their way towards them. Rodney shrugs him off and stumbles forward, smiling in a way John has never seen. Usually Rodney is more suspicious of the natives than John is, but this time McKay practically throws himself into the naked man's arms.

John can't hear what they are saying, but he understands the frantic arm waving and pointing. John knows that they don't have very many options, can feel the water lapping at his pant legs, filling his boots. He watches as Rodney clings to the arm of one of the men and gets an arm around his waist in return. John can feel the knot forming in his stomach, the anger of watching someone else touch Rodney and takes a giant step, trying to reach them, but he can barely walk now, his legs weighed down by water and mud. Instead, John grips Ronon's jacket and lets the taller man drag him along behind for a couple of steps before Ronon falters and John is forced to let go or drag them both down.

They walk for another ten minutes before stopping. The water level has risen past their knees, and under normal circumstances John would use this as an opportunity to get Rodney all riled up, spouting off about the difference between science and rainwater. He'd dunk Rodney, get him wet and sputtering, clinging to John as they stumbled through the water, swimming through the deeper parts. He'd watch as Rodney frowned and complained but John would see the smile in his eyes.

Rodney removes his pack and his equipment when the water reaches waist-high and John admits to himself that the extra weight is not only slowing him down, dragging him under as the current gets stronger and tries to pull him in the opposite direction from where he and his team are heading. He grips the barrel of his P-90 tighter and hopes the strap slung over his shoulder and chest holds. A few moments pass and then Teyla too discards her pack and vest.

John doesn't see the rope ladder until it swings back and hits him in the face and John swears he can hear Rodney laughing, even though the water is rumbling louder than the thunder now. John knows he should be assessing the situation, looking for trouble, expecting trouble, anticipating trouble. John looks around but can't see his teammates, can't remember the last time he's seen Teyla or Ronon, remembers seeing Rodney being led away by strangers. Remembers that he let Rodney be lead away by strangers.

The fear bubbles up inside John's stomach and into his chest a second before the anger does. Anger at himself for not keeping his team members safe, for not keeping Rodney safe. The thick weaving of the rope tears into John's hands, cutting open his palm. He pushes the pain to the forefront of his mind, ignores everything but the sting. His clothes are wet and heavy, weighing him down as he scales the ladder. John reaches for his gun with slick hands. Years of experience and training are the only things keeping it from slipping from his grasp as he climbs what seems like miles up the ladder.

By the time John reaches the wooden base the rope is attached to, his body is so tense with fear and anger that he doesn't realize he has one of the Natives by the neck, gun drawn until it's already over. John can see Rodney standing next to one of the men who had met them in the woods. Teyla, hair plastered against her head and neck, standing beside Ronon who is looking around suspiciously, fists clenched at his sides, but his gun is still holstered.

The natives are staring at him with confused looks on their faces. John turns his attention to Rodney who is still standing beside a man with hair more wild than John's and more body hair than John's ever seen. John tries to get Rodney to move away from him, towards Teyla and Ronon where he has some chance of being safe, by staring angrily at him and thinking get back, get back very loudly in Rodney's direction.

The other man doesn't move though, just sends John a tired and frustrated look before rolling his eyes and placing a hand on the dirty hairy man's arm. John tries very hard not to lose it, tightening his grip on his captive's neck and pushing the gun harder against his temple. Rodney whispers something into the dirty man's ear and then steps forward to yell into John's.

"I don't think this is the way to make friends," Rodney says, looking between the gun and John's eyes.

"I don't like this," John replies and doesn't let go.

"There isn't anything we can do about it now," Rodney says back and places the hand that was just touching Dirty Hairy on John's forearm. "They just saved our lives," he adds, in case John has already forgotten the rising rainwater and the near drowning of the past thirty minutes or so. John wants to yell at Rodney that it's his fault they're here, because Rodney followed blindly when the aliens came calling. He wants to yell at Rodney that he's driving John crazy. That he loses his mind whenever he thinks of Rodney. He wants to tell him to get his ass down the ladder and back through the gate before someone else touches him and John really loses it, but the water has risen to the top step and John knows there is a time to take chances and a time to sit in a tree house on an alien planet with the half-naked natives and try to make nice.

Rodney's giving John his 'you're an idiot and I'm having a hard time stopping myself from slapping the stupid out of you' look. John hates that look. The man John had trapped walks quickly to the other side of the open room to stand beside Dirty Hairy and another man. They're scowling and staring at where the first man is rubbing his neck. There are pointed stakes and wooden arrows coming out of the woodwork now and John fumbles for his pistol and tries shoving it in Rodney's direction. McKay, as usual, ignores him.

"Now would be the time to do that thing where you make nice with the natives," Rodney says to Teyla, taking a step back to stand half-hidden behind Ronon, who is finally getting with the program and has his gun drawn and ready.

There are more than twenty or so people now standing in front of them and John tries shaking his head to clear some of the dripping water from his eyes so he can better assess the situation. It's dark under the canopy of thatched roofing and tree branches, and he can't make out from where or what direction the people are gathering from. They look angry though, and John knows the same emotion is being reflected back on his own face.

"We are not here to hurt you," Teyla says, hands raised in a welcoming position. "We are traders looking to make an alliance."

Dirty Hairy raises a hand and the crowd behind him stops advancing.

"We are thankful for your help by bringing us here and saving us from the water," she continues, a smile on her face. Teyla is the only person John knows who can do totally relaxed and happy to be here when spears are pointed at her head. John knows Teyla is always watching and waiting for something to go wrong, always ready to make a move, but he also knows that her words and her smile are sincere and he's pretty sure the group standing across from them knows it too.

"It is the Great Habooboo," Dirty Hairy says, looking around Teyla and over Ronon's shoulder to stare directly at Rodney. John moves a couple steps closer to Rodney and glares at Dirty Hairy with his gun pointed directly at the other man's chest.

"What is the Great Habooboo?" Teyla asks, smiling wider this time. She too has taken a step closer to Rodney, putting herself more directly in front of where he's still hiding and totally blocking him from Dirty Hairy's view.

"Once, every five cycles, the Arsis rises to meet the Orsis. First the skies go dark and then the Great Habooboo comes."

"The Arsis must be the planet we saw as we stepped through the Stargate," Teyla says. She's looking more relaxed, now that some of the men have stopped pointing their weapons in their direction.

"Ask him how long the Haboobie lasts?" Rodney calls out from behind Ronon.

Dirty Hairy laughs and his smile is so wide and bright John is momentarily distracted by it.

"The Great Habooboo lasts for three moons," he says and with that steps around Teyla to direct his smile right at Rodney. Ronon's gun is pointed directly at his chest, about an inch away from the perfectly tanned skin, but Hairy doesn't seem to notice. "Come, friend," he says and looks appraisingly at what he can see of Rodney. "Come dry yourself by the fire."

"I'm not sure I want to go anywhere with people who are too stupid to know that lighting a fire in what appears to be a very large treehouse is a very bad idea."

Dirty Hairy just smiles, even while John is shaking his head in agreement with Rodney and continuing to glare at the people milling about around them. When they don't move, Dirty Hairy motions again for them to follow him and begins to walk toward the furthest corner of the treehouse. It's completely dark now, except for the light on the end of John's gun and a few torches a couple of the natives are holding, way too close to the ceiling for John's comfort.

"I don't like this," John says for what feels like the hundredth time since they stepped though the gate.

"I do not think we have much of a choice," Teyla replies. "We are trapped."

John hates that word. He hates the idea of being cornered, of having no visible route of escape. He looks from Rodney to Ronon before settling on Teyla and says, "we're not trapped."

She frowns and looks out over his shoulder. John knows what is there, even if it's too dark to actually see. He can hear the rushing of the water and feels as it laps against at the underside of the wooden base he is standing on. The planet is flooded and unless he wants to take a swim in unknown waters on an unknown planet with unknown creatures that could kill him as soon as he jumps in, John's stuck.

"Keep your eyes open," he says and rests his P-90 against his chest. He isn't aiming it at anyone anymore, but he isn't prepared to relax completely just yet. He needs to be prepared if things start to turn ugly.

Ronon holsters his gun and follows as Teyla leads them in the direction Dirty Hairy went.

"Stay close to me," John whispers in Rodney's ear, placing a hand on his elbow and giving it a short but strong squeeze. He doesn't like the way Dirty Hairy is looking at Rodney. Eyes wandering over Rodney's body like it's free for the taking.

Rodney replies, "Don't worry, Colonel," and brushes John's shoulder as they walk.

They find Dirty Hairy standing beside a glowing fire, one of many that John can see that appear to go on for about a mile and then branch out in another direction. He wonders how elaborate the treehouse actually is, and figures it must be quite large to house an entire population for three days every time it rains.

Dirty Hairy motions for them to sit, and they do, joining a few other men around the glowing fire. An awning that covers the walls of the treehouse keeps out the rain and the fire is housed on some sort of raised platform made out of some sort of metal that John can't place. It's purple and shines against the glow of the fire.

It isn't until John is sitting that he realizes exactly how cold he truly is. The warmth of the fire on his face and hands accentuates the deep chill in his bones. He moves so he's sitting just a tiny bit closer to Rodney, whose teeth are chattering. John lays his gun down on his lap and rubs his hands quickly up and down the arms of Rodney's jacket, trying to warm him up.

"You will feel better if you take this off," Dirty Hairy says and brushes John's hands away as he starts removing Rodney's jacket. Rodney starts flailing and backs away into John, who wraps an arm around Rodney's waist and glares daggers at Dirty Hairy. Dirty Hairy looks from John's grip on Rodney's waist, to John's face and then back, before grinning and reaching forward again. "You must let the heat do its job and warm you. These are too wet." He pulls at the cuff of Rodney's jacket sleeve and this time Rodney slaps Dirty Hairy's hand away.

"There is no way I'm getting naked," Rodney hisses, but lets John help him remove the soaking wet jacket. "The pants stay on," he adds, staring directly at Dirty Hairy as he settles more firmly back again John's chest. John wants to remove his jacket as well, but he'd have to let go of Rodney to do that and the look in Dirty Hairy's eyes tells John that that would be a very bad idea.

"You must eat," Dirty Hairy says, motioning toward a plate of greens circulating the fire. John watches as the people around him grab one or two helpings of what looks an awful lot like leaves before passing it to the person on their right. John can see the same thing happening at the other fire pits as well.

"What is it?" Rodney is using a finger to poke at the vegetation with a disgusted look on his face.

"It will help to warm you," Dirty Hairy says and shoves one of the large leaves into his mouth. He grins, teeth speckled with green. Rodney shudders, but takes one of the leaves from the wooden platter and very slowly raises it to his mouth.

"If I die, this is your fault," he says to John and eats the leaf.

"My fault? What did I do?"

"Failed to protect me," Rodney says around a mouthful of leaves. As he chews Rodney makes an appalled look, but it doesn't stop him from taking more of the leaves before handing the tray to Ronon. "Is it just me or do these leaves burn like hell going down?"

John can't answer because he's currently choking on said leaves. There is no way his stomach is going to hold up against the intense burning sensation of the leaves when he swallows.

"It will pass," Dirty Hairy says and hands Rodney a glass. It looks like water.

"Not bad," Rodney says after the first sip and takes another. John's banging on his own chest now, trying to dislodge a piece of leaf that's burning a hole in his esophagus. He's staring at the glass, waving in Rodney's direction trying to get the other man's attention. Rodney ignores him and empties the cup.

"You need something?" he asks as John scrambles frantically for his canteen.

"Water," he chokes out and downs the contents in one go.

"It is not that hot," Teyla says slowly chewing on a bit of leaf.

"Pretty tasty," Ronon agrees and shoves another handful into his mouth.

"Hot," John rasps and grabs for Rodney's canteen as well.

"Is he alright?" Dirty Hairy asks, not sounding at all concerned for John's welfare. It sounds more like he's laughing, waiting for John to spontaneously combust so that he can take McKay out back and have his wicked way with him. As that thought crosses his mind John chokes again and spits water down his chin and the front of his uniform.

"The Colonel has very delicate sensibilities," Rodney says, and slaps John on the back a couple times for good measure.

"You going to be okay?" Rodney asks.

"I think I'll make it."

"Let me show you to the area where you will rest," Dirty Hairy says. "You must regain your strength after surviving the Habooboo."

He leads them to a large open area and points to an empty spot in the middle of the room. There are furs covering the wood floorboards and a pile sitting beside the sleeping area. John and his team climb over the already sleeping women and children before settling down on the animal-skin mats.

"This will do, yes?" Dirty Hairy asks Rodney.

"Do you have any idea what sleeping on the ground is going to do to my back?" Rodney complains, lays down on the blanket and promptly falls asleep. John watches Teyla and Ronon settle down as well, but only after John tells them he'll take first watch.

Dirty Hairy is also settling in on Rodney's other side, leaving nothing but a few inches between them. John growls and rests his arm over Rodney's chest, pulling the sleeping man tight against him. He looks over Rodney shoulder to make eye contact with Dirty Hairy. Neither of them waver and they stay in a bastardized version of a staring contest all night. Dirty Hairy looks relaxed and happy, gaze flickering between John's angry face and Rodney's sleeping one. It makes John want to kill him, but the thought of the disappointed look he'd get from Elizabeth stops him.

They eat leaves again for breakfast, John dragging his feet as they make their way back to the firepit. His eyes are heavy and his body is tense and sore. He's exhausted from watching over Rodney all night and making sure Dirty Hairy didn't get any ideas.

The worst part about it is that Dirty Hairy seems wide awake, like he got a full eight hours of sleep and hadn't spent the night watching John watching him.

"Don't you have anything more substantial to eat besides leaves?" Rodney asks and Teyla shoots him her patented 'don't be rude' look that reminds John of the look his grandmother used to give him as a child.

Dirty Hairy just smiles, pats Rodney on the back and leaves.

"What?" Rodney says as Teyla's look of disapproval becomes sharper. "It isn't like I insulted his culture or his use of Ancient technology, which, by the way, I see none of, even though the Ancient database said there would be ZedPMs here. I didn't even tell him how stupid he is! All I asked for was something other than leaves for breakfast."

"We should be grateful that the Dimaians have given us shelter from the storm and are sharing their supplies with us."

"I am grateful. I'd just be more grateful if there were some meat and snacks involved."

"I agree," Ronon says, which causes Rodney to look smug.


John rolls his eyes at Teyla behind Rodney's back and watches as Teyla tries not to smile.

"Some Jello would be very nice right now," she says. John laughs.

"Or a chocolate powerbar," John adds.

"No, no, I've got it," Rodney says. "A cheeseburger, with French fries and coffee and some of those cookies from that planet with the polar bears and the little snake-rat things."

Rodney sighs and his eyes glaze over just thinking about the tiny strawberry-like cookies. John can see Ronon nodding his head in agreement.

"When we get home, I'm raiding the mess hall." Ronon looks to be in agreement with that too and John laughs.

"We haven't even been gone twenty-four hours yet," he says, remembering the turkey sandwich he'd had for lunch a couple of hours before they left for the mission. "You can't be starving yet."

"Yes, I can," Rodney says and then screams and jumps back, arms flailing as he tries to steady himself and get as far away from the dead animal that has been placed in his lap as possible.

"For you," Dirty Hairy says, reaching down for what looks like a squirrel the size of a cat that he'd placed in McKay's lap only seconds before.

"What are you trying to do?" Rodney yells. "Scare me to death!"

"You asked for something other than the Rufus plant," Dirty Hairy says, taking a seat by the fire and using a sharpened piece of rock to skin the dead animal.

"And that is..." Rodney trails off. He looks appalled and fascinated at the same time, going to sit beside Dirty Hairy as he works, face rotating between a lovely shade of green and pale white.

"It is the scared animal of the gods. They are only allowed to be killed and eaten during ceremonies or when sacrificed to someone very important." Dirty Hairy gives Rodney a bright smile, which Rodney returns.

"I am very important," he points out, settling down more comfortable beside Dirty Hairy.

"I know," is his reply as he continues with his work.

No one else is allowed to eat the scared meal beside Rodney, who moans around every bite and keeps telling John how he has to try it, because it's the best piece of meat he has ever had. The one time John tries to snag a piece from Rodney's plate he almost loses two fingers to Dirty Hairy's knife.

They spend the day questioning the people about their gods and Ancient technology. Rodney explains in great detail the importance of finding a ZPM and gets frustrated when no one knows what he is talking about.

"There are stories of a great society that was destroyed by the Great Habooboo many many cycles ago," Dirty Hairy tells them. "Only a few of our Ancestors survived. They are the ones who built the great city you are in now. To protect us from the great waters as they rise."

"What happened to the old city?" Teyla asks.

"It was washed away by the rising waters. It no longer exists."


"Many cycles ago our people were strong and powerful. It is said that they possessed weapons of the gods that allowed them to rule over man and beast. They kept the weapons in great temples built by the gods themselves."

"What kind of temples?" Rodney looks excited, staring at Dirty Hairy in a similar fashion to the one Dirty Hairy has been looking at Rodney with ever since they met.

"Ones made of stone so tall it reached the home of the gods."

"And it protected them from the Habooboo?"

"The Ancestors did not worry themselves over the Great Habooboo. It did not arrive for many years."

"So somewhere on this planet is a giant temple full of weapons?" Even John is feeling a little giddy at the prospect.

"No. The Great Habooboo destroyed all traces of our Ancestors and their temples."

"Of course it did."

"How?" John asks.

"It is not known for sure, but it is said that one day the sky opened and the land was covered in water. It flowed down from the highest mountains and settled where we are now. It lasted for three days and only those who were able to hide in the trees were safe. We thank the ancestors for building this great city for us to live in and keep us protected from the Great Habooboo."

"Does any of this sound familiar to you?" Rodney asks in a tone that says it should.


"Great temple. Powerful people. Giant flood coming and taking them all out?"

"Nope," John says shaking his head. "I've got nothing."

"The lost city of Atlantis," Rodney says with a very put-upon sigh. "Water completely covers the city and all traces of the civilization are lost."

"I thought we lived in Atlantis?" Ronon asks.

"And I thought there was an ocean involved?"

"You are all morons," Rodney says and turns his attention back to Dirty Hairy and completely ignores John for the rest of the day.

"So, apparently not everything was lost," Rodney says later, waving a piece of bark in front of John's face. He's playing cards in the sleeping area with Ronon and Teyla.

John replies, "That's nice," and goes back to looking at his cards, because he knows it'll make Rodney feel as angry as John has felt all afternoon.

"Please," Rodney says, sounding much too happy for being trapped in an oversized treehouse while an ocean of water gathers underneath. "You're not still upset about the squirrel thing, are you? Because I can't help it if even alien races recognize the importance of my genius."

"I'm just recognizing you for the asshole that you are," John says from behind his cards and feels a sense of pride when he hears the angered squawk from behind him.

Three hours later, Rodney is sleeping on Dirty Hairy's side of the mat and John is regretting ever stepping foot through the Stargate. He falls asleep dreaming of the many different ways he can kill both of them and make it look like an accident.

It's completely dark out when John is shaken awake by a very nervous looking Rodney. He keeps looking over his shoulder in the direction he was lying in when John finally drifted off.

"I think I might have misinterpreted the situation."

"What situation?" John asks, running his hands over Rodney's chest and arms checking for new scratches and bruises.

"The squirrel thing," he whispers.

"What happened?" John is sitting up now, searching blindly for his gun while continuing to check Rodney for injuries.

"Apparently it wasn't my mind he was after."

"No," John chokes out because the anger he's experiencing feels tight in his chest.

"Uh, no."

"What happened?" John asks, even though he doesn't really want to know the answer.

"Woke up with a dick poking me in the back. Thought it was you at first."

"It wasn't me."

"I know that now," Rodney huffs and lies down beside where John is sitting. He's embarrassed, but otherwise unharmed so John loosens the grip he has on his gun and faces Rodney, wrapping his arms tightly around him. They don't do this on missions, can't risk it most of the time, but John figures once isn't going to hurt them.

Rodney's breath is warm against the side of John's neck and he starts to relax as Rodney's body melts into him. John closes his eyes and is about to drift off again when Rodney mumbles something so low John almost doesn't hear him.

"You're a much better kisser, just so you know," he says and John's eyes snap open, staring daggers into the dark in the direction he thinks Dirty Hairy is in.

For the second night in a row John doesn't sleep.

By the third day everyone is on edge, not just John and his team. The children are restless, the women haggard and the men spend most of their time arguing between themselves. John's witnessed two near-fights before lunch and he spends the rest of the morning standing beside what he now thinks of as their firepit watching for trouble.

Rodney spends most of the day looking a mixture of suspicious and awkward. He accepts the squirrel meat from Dirty Hairy but eats it hiding behind Ronon and not around the circle like he has every other time. Dirty Hairy looks confused but doesn't say anything. Just keeps smiling at Rodney and trying to engage him in conversation about Rodney's homeplanet and his favorite activities and keeps asking Rodney what he thinks of his planet?

"It's very...nice," Rodney says.

"It is, isn't it," Dirty Hairy agrees and gives Rodney another one of his full-face smiles. "You would like it here?"

"It's nice," Rodney says again. Dirty Hairy just keeps smiling.

"And you enjoy the food?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Good, good," Dirty Hairy says and claps his hands together in a way that makes John really uncomfortable. He shoots a look over toward Ronon who John can tell is picking up on the weird vibes as well. John waits, but minutes go by and when Dirty Hairy doesn't say anything else, John shakes it off as paranoia and goes back to keeping watch.

John's eyes have grown so accustomed to the darkness that he doesn't notice the way it is starting to subside until the natives start tearing down the awnings that haven't been in use since it stopped raining a few hours after it had started.

John stands at the edge of the treehouse platform, squinting up at the sky and watches as the sun takes shape behind the rings of the planet. It is even more magnificent and scary at this height than it was the first time John saw it.

He can hear the sharp intake of breath as Rodney and Dirty Hairy come to stand beside him. John tears his eyes away from sight to stare at the awe-struck look on Rodney's face.

"You like it?" Dirty Hairy asks and Rodney laughs, shaking his head and never taking his eyes off the sky above them.

"It's amazing," Rodney says, eyes bright as he reaches out to touch the golden rings even though John knows he can't. "I've never seen anything like it."

"I give it to you," Dirty Hairy says and John is too busy watching Rodney to notice what Dirty Hairy has said doesn't make sense until Rodney turns away from him and asks, "what?"

Dirty Hairy, for his part, looks embarrassed. Bowing his head he takes a step closer to Rodney, resting a hand on the other man's shoulder.

"I give you the light of the ancestors, Doctor McKay," he says as people start to gather around them.

"Okay," Rodney says looking from Dirty Hairy to the crowd and back.

"So you agree?" Dirty Hairy asks. He looks nervous and excited and John's got a hand on Rodney's shoulder and another on his gun before he even realizes he's moved.

"Agree to what?" Rodney asks, taking a step back into John.

"To stay here with me and be my mate."

"Your what?" John yells at the same time Rodney says, "you want me to marry you?"

Dirty Hair takes another step forward and rests a hand on each of Rodney's shoulders brushing John's away in the same way John had to him the first night they arrived.

"You ate the ceremonial offering."

"The squirrel thing. You proposed to me with dead animal meat?!"

"It is the way of the ancestors," Dirty Hairy says in a matter-of-fact way that really means 'duh'. "And you kissed me."

"I don't think...that is to say...Colonel!" Rodney has his arms out trying to stop Dirty Hairy from coming any closer. Dirty Hairy is leading with his lips.

"He says no," John barks in his I'm the Colonel voice. It has the same affect on Dirty Hairy as it usually does on Rodney. None.

"Is that true?"

"Well..." Rodney stutters.

"It's true," John answers for him, giving Rodney an annoyed look.

"Come, we will talk more of this matter in private," Dirty Hairy says, steering Rodney toward the back of the treehouse.

"I don't think that's such a good idea," Rodney says, looking toward John for help.

"I believe it is."

As Dirty Hairy's grip on Rodney's arm tightens, John throws down his gun and advance on the other man.

"That's it," John says. Botanists are one thing, but grabby-handed tree huggers wanting to marry Rodney are another.

John's lying on the floor of the treehouse, Dirty Hairy above him, a hand tangled in each other's hair as their fists swing wildly when John looks up and sees a jumper flying about two feet from the hut, Lieutenant Miller piloting and Major Lorne waving at him with a smile. Dirty Hairy, in awe of the jumper, sits heavily on John's waist as he stares, trapping John's one hand not still tangled in Dirty Hairy's hair against his body.

"You need some help, sir?" Lorne's voice comes over the comm. John can hear Miller laughing in the background.

"The colonel is busy," Teyla answers for him and before Lorne can ask anything else Ronon adds, "He is fighting for the honor of Doctor McKay."

Lorne doesn't bother hiding his amusement this time, as his laughter can be heard from inside the jumper, over the rushing water and through the murmur of the tree-people who've gather to see the flying ship. John lets his head fall back against the wooden floor and closes his eyes. He can hear Rodney's satisfied expression when he says, "See, I told you everyone wants me."


The last second before stepping through the Stargate, John trips and comes tumbling out the other side, down the stone steps to fall face-first in the mud. He lies there for a moment, waiting for the rest of his team to arrive and the gate to shut down. He ignores Rodney's laughter and bats away Ronon's hand on the back of his neck trying to help him up. Lifting his head he looks toward the DHD.

"Teyla, dial the gate."

"What about the ZedPM?" Rodney sputters.

"Dial the gate," John repeats and rests his head on the ground again and listens to the event horizon whoosh to life above him.

Somewhere in Atlantis

"See! This is why I tell you not to touch anything!"

"Come on, Rodney, it isn't that bad."

"Isn't that bad! Isn't that bad! I'm dying and you don't think it's that bad."

"You're not dying."

"Ah, yes, because you're a doctor now. Carson will be so proud."

"If I were you, I'd be more worried about what this thing actually does than the fact you haven't eaten in the past 45 minutes."

"I can't breathe!"

"As long as your mouth is moving I'd say you were breathing just fine."

"Perfect. I couldn't have gotten trapped in here with Ronon. At least he'd stop talking long enough for me to panic."

"Breathe, Rodney. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. See, nothing to worry about."

"Thank you, Colonel. I feel much better now."

"No problem. Ow!"

"Sorry, sorry, my foot is falling asleep."

"Ow! Rodney. Stop. Moving."

"I can't help it. This position is putting a lot of undue stress on my lower back. You do want me to be able to stand up straight if we ever get out of here, right? Because I really can't see any advantages to being bent over at the waist for the rest of my life."

"I can think of one," John says, wiggles his hips against Rodney. Even though he can't see him John knows Rodney is scowling.

"You. Are not funny."

"Aww, you don't mean that."

"Yes, I do."

"Don't you love me anymore?"

"Shut up and let me hyperventilate in peace, damn it."

"Fine," John says and waits about a minute before asking, "So what do you think this thing does anyway?"

Suddenly the chamber's lights come on flashing green then blue before finally settling on red. It's the first time since they (John! Totally John!) activated the machine that he's been able to see Rodney's face and the look Rodney is giving him is exactly what John was expecting.


"You do this on purpose, don't you? You are trying to kill me."

"I'm not trying to kill you, Rodney."

"Then explain to me why every time something bad happens to me, YOU are somehow involved."

"I wasn't there when the jumper crashed into the ocean and you were trapped."

"Fine, so the one time. That number is statistically insignificant. I'm sure if I wasn't contemplating my death, again, I'd be able to figure out exactly how that was your fault too."

"I wasn't there when your scientists released the nanovirus and you were trapped in the labs with Zelenka and Ford. Or, when Ford shot at you the first time. Or, when-"

"So you admit you do a lousy job of protecting me."

"The point is, you can't always blame me for everything that goes wrong. I'm not your scapegoat, Rodney."

"Oh, I'm sorry, did I offend you? Because I distinctly remember saying 'Colonel, please don't touch that glowy green thing'."

"I don't remember you saying please."

"Would it have made a difference?"

"Probably not."

With the lack of ZPMs being found off-world, many of the teams, including John's, were starting be become discouraged. So Elizabeth decided now would be the perfect time to explore the previously unexplored parts of the city. John and Rodney had spent much of the day skirting the other scientists and hiding out in what Rodney claimed was the Ancients' version of an arcade. So far, they've found three flamethrower-type things, fourteen of the pen-like things Zelenka and Kavanagh have been using to prop open the lab doors, one US military issued sock, complete with two not-rats inside and a chamber that swallowed them whole when John 'accidentally' touched it.

"Come here," John breathes into Rodney's neck, sliding two fingers under his shirt and along the soft skin of Rodney's belly.

"I'm right here," Rodney whispers back, turning his head so that their lips meet.

The kiss is gentle and slow. John can feel Rodney's smile against his lips, his hands tangled in John's hair as he slips his tongue between John's lips. It's only for a moment, and then Rodney pulls back, relaxing against the wall of the chamber and smiling.

"Okay, I'll admit, this could be a lot worse."

"And a lot better too," John says, and traps Rodney between his pelvis and the wall. Their second kiss is a battle, all teeth and tongue, as they both try to take control of the situation. John has both his hands on Rodney's face, trying to hold him semi-still while Rodney's hands slid around John's hips to grab at his ass, pulling them even tighter together. John can feel the outline of Rodney's erection against his stomach and he breaks the kiss to moan into Rodney's open mouth.

"We've got to stop meeting like this, Colonel," Rodney chuckles into John's ear and John breathes out a laugh, wrapping his arms around Rodney's shoulders and hugging him. There is a second where Rodney doesn't move and then John feels the other man's arms around his waist.

"I want to go down on you," John says, because it's usually the other way around. Their relationship, if you can call it that, has been pretty one sided from the start, although Rodney has never complained.

"There isn't enough room," Rodney replies and although it's a whisper it sounds loud in the small space.

"Later then."

"Definitely later," Rodney answers and kisses John again.

They've never talked about it, not even the first time, when John had stepped forward, into Rodney's space and kissed him. It was a 'thank god we're okay kiss' and a 'don't do that again' kiss and a 'you're not suppose to have to be a hero' kiss. Rodney, for probably the first time since John had met him, didn't say a word. He just stood there, in a dark corner of his lab, and let John make a fool of himself. When it was over, when John stepped back, an apology and an excuse for his behavior on the tip of his tongue, Rodney had smiled, an embarrassed, shy smile. A smile that was so unlike the Rodney John had spent the previous year getting to know that John was thrown for a loop and Rodney was able to walk away before he could explain.

They have an unspoken understanding, a relationship of convenience. They don't promise each other anything, don't lie about who they are or what they want or why they need it. But John knows how Rodney feels about him. Can see it in the other man's eyes when they're together. The way Rodney sits a little too close in the mess or listens to John's suggestions, even when he thinks they're stupid. They way he jokes about being John's boyfriend and then looks embarrassed afterwards, like he has said something wrong and John is going to end this whatever it is that they've doing.

John also knows how he feels about Rodney, the tightness in his chest when the other man is in trouble; the warm feeling in his stomach when Rodney's excited about something in the labs. And John knows that Rodney doesn't believe it is true, doesn't understand that John wants him as much as he wants John because John isn't comfortable with touching, isn't good with using words, but he tries.

John kisses Rodney's lips, kissing a line up Rodney's jaw until he can suck the soft round earlobe into his mouth. Rodney's rubbing off on John's hip, his hands scrapping across John's belly, around his waist and down the back of his pants. He squeezes what he finds there, bring them closer and closer until John's leg slips between Rodney's thighs because he has nowhere else to put it.

John's distracted, mouthing the spot right below Rodney's ear and doesn't realize Rodney's got John's pants open, just enough to slip his hand inside, until his fingers are curled around the base of John's dick and stroking slowing from base to tip. John loves Rodney's hands, loves Rodney's mouth too, but right now all he can think about is the way Rodney's skilled fingers curl around him, the slow easy pressure that's too much and not enough.

"Rodney," John breathes against the other man's neck, letting every twist of Rodney's fist echo through his body before John reaches down and makes quick work of opening Rodney's pants and slipping his own hands inside. The sound Rodney makes when John's hand makes contact with skin, the quick thrust of his hips as John palms the warm skin is perfect.

John can feel Rodney everywhere—Rodney's body pressed along his front, his hand tight on John's dick, his smell gathering deep within John's lungs with every breath he takes. John leans more firmly against Rodney, trapping their hands between them almost to the point where they can no longer move and kisses him hard on the lips.

"Do you think the Ancients ever imagined this when they built this thing?" John asks, feeling Rodney's lips beneath his own, and relishes the clumsy way Rodney laughs against his mouth.

"I'm not about to put anything past those imbeciles," he says, answer almost lost in John's open mouth.

"They built Atlantis, Rodney."

"Exactly. Poorly designed containment devices for unknown power-draining entities and nanoviruses. The safety issues surrounding building a race of people with daddy-issues. Leaving unmarked secret sex chambers lying around where anyone stupid enough to touch the green button can just fall right in."

"You're not complaining about that last one, are you?" John asks, tightening his grip on Rodney's dick and very slowly drawing his hand to the tip.

"Uh...no. Do that again."

John does, and Rodney goes boneless against him. The grip he has on John loosens just enough that John can barely feel it when he moves. With a hard bite to Rodney's earlobe, John pushes his hand between them and wraps his hand around Rodney's fist, bringing their lengths together.

"Don't stop,"' Rodney mutters, so low John can hardly hear it. "Don't stop," he repeats over and over again. John obeys, searching for Rodney's lips in the green-tinted light of the chambers.

Rodney panting now, deep coffee-flavored breaths against John's neck, his jaw, his mouth until John opens up and lets Rodney slide his tongue between John's parted lips.

The sound of harsh breaths and the scratch of uniform pants are loud in the tiny chamber but somewhere in the back of his mind John can hear a dull knocking. He ignores it to concentrate on the feel of Rodney coming against John's hand and his own release that follows shortly after.

Rodney's propped up against the wall, breathing still erratic as he tries to calm down and John leans against him, listening to the other man's heart pound inside his chest, echoing John's.

"That was good, eh?" Rodney asks, and John laughs because it's never not been good with Rodney.

"Yeah, it was good." John rubs his nose against the sweat-coated skin of Rodney's neck and licks a strip under his jaw, loving the way Rodney automatically tilts his chin to the side to give John better access.

"This almost makes up for you getting us trapped in here in the first place."

"Almost? I must not be doing it right then." John sinks his teeth into the soft flesh of Rodney's neck and smiles when Rodney bucks up against him.

"No," Rodney squeaks, "you're doing it right."

"For a second there I thought I was losing my touch."

"No, not losing your touch."

"I'm glad to hear that. Could have been bad for my boyfriend." Rodney's hands tighten around John's shoulders and he knows he's said the right thing when he's reward with a hard, sloppy and dirty kiss to the side of his face.

"I'm glad to hear that, sir. You ready to come out now?"

John whole body freezes at the sound of the other man's voice and he stops mouthing Rodney's pulse long enough to whisper 'did you hear that' against the wet skin.

"Yes, sir, you did hear that," comes Major Lorne's reply and John jumps back, which isn't very far considering the chamber is barely big enough for the two of them, and tries to duck Rodney's elbow and the two men scramble to button their pants and make themselves look somewhat presentable.

"Stand back," Lorne calls out again. "Doctor Zelenka's about to open the door."

"What door?" Rodney asks as the wall behind John opens with a whoosh. Seconds later he's laying on the ground looking up at Zelenka, Lorne and about a dozen random scientists and marines. John knows what he must look like—pants stained, hair messier than usual, lips swollen and red. He knows this because Rodney's just stepped from the chamber and he looks exactly like John feels, only he's got a giant purple hickey on the side of his face as well.

"Have fun?" Zelenka asks and Rodney scowls at him, standing back straight and arms crossed. Even rumpled and smelling of sex, Rodney still manages to make the scientists standing behind Zelenka take a step back with just one look.

"Where have you been?" Rodney yells, glaring at Zelenka who's still smiling and shows no signs of backing down. "We've been in there for hours."

"You have been in there for fifteen minutes," Zelenka says, gathering his toolbox from beside John's head. "And we did not want to interrupt your research."

"What research?" Rodney asks.

"You were testing out the Karaoke machine, were you not?" Zelenka says waving at the chamber as he walks by. "Works well, yes?"

John listens as Rodney sputters an explanation before giving up and just yelling at Zelenka and the other scientists as they head to the transporter. When the room is silent again John bangs his head against the floor a few times for good measure before looking up into Major Lorne's smiling face.



"It's probably a good time to have that What Happens in Atlantis Stays in Atlantis talk with the boys again."

"Sounds good, sir."

"Yeah," John says, and bangs his head against the floor once more, just because it has been that kind of day.

Part 3: Is That a Ghost in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

"This does not go into the report," John says, pulling on the ropes that bind his hands behind his back, feeling each individual thread cutting into his wrists.

"Oh, yes, because I really want Zelenka to know that that crazy, one-eyed bastard was able to down the 'jumper, subdue us and drag us back to his secret underground lair single-handedly."

"I wasn't subdued," Ronon pouts.

"Try again, caveman," Rodney replies, slumping back against the wall. There is a bruise along the side of his face where he'd hit his head against the control console when the 'jumper had crashed into the planet. The cut above Teyla's eye has finally stopped bleeding and John's recently sprained ankle is aching. Ronon is the only one who doesn't appear injured, but John can tell by the way he is leaning to the right that he is in pain.

"So," Rodney finally says after they've been staring at each other for five minutes. "Now would be the time where someone comes up with a plan that doesn't involve me dying."

"Hair knives?" John asks Ronon who just shrugs.

"I can't reach them."

"Manly feminine strength?" Rodney suggests.

"These are not normal ropes," Teyla answers, pulling on the bindings that tighten more with each flinch.

"Why doesn't Sheppard just seduce him?"

"I don't think so," John says, glaring at Rodney who just looks smug. When they get home they're going to have to have the 'don't say things in front of the kids that you don't want repeated on a mission/in a report/to the marines' talk again.

They're still trying to come up with a plan that doesn't involve John sucking cock when the door of their jail cell flings open and their captor bounces through.

"What's up, Doc? Sir?" Lieutenant Ford asks, smiling.

"Kill me now," Rodney says a second before John gets shot with a Wraith stunner and passes out.

John has never been fond of the Wraith stunners, especially when he's on the wrong end of one. The hangover he gets afterwards, head spinning, stomach clenching, eyelids heavy and tired, isn't something he looks forward to. John's not sure how long he's been knocked out, but as he tries to come out of it, shaking the cobwebs from his head, he can hear Rodney's pissed off voice and it makes John relax a little. If they were in danger Rodney wouldn't be calling anyone a dickhead, because no matter what anyone says, Rodney does have enough common sense to know when to keep his mouth shut and enough of a will to live to do it.

"You're supposed to be dead," McKay says and John squints open an eye to watch Ford and Rodney facing off on the other side of the room. Rodney doesn't appear to be tied up any longer, but when John turns his head to search for Ronon and Teyla, headache almost splitting it in two, he sees that they are still bound against the wall next to him.

"Way to make a guy feel loved," Ford says, handing Rodney what looks like a piece of PVC piping with a tomato on the end.

"You tried to shoot me!" Rodney yells, before holding the pipe tomato end up and giving it a curious look before poking it with the tip of his finger. "Please tell me this is a joke."

"No joke," Ford answers, continuing to pile objects on the table in front of him. "This time it's really going to work."

"Okay, Ford, I know you've had a hard time, being doped up, blown up and called an idiot, but believe me when I tell you that no plan that has your name on it is ever going to work. So you should probably give up now before you get us all killed and I get really angry and come back to haunt you."

"You know, Doctor McKay, I think the fact that I have a gun and you have a rotten tomato on a stick means I get to come up with the ideas and you get to shut the hell up."

"I knew it was a tomato," Rodney says and goes back to poking at it with his finger.

John's pretty sure he passes out after that, because he swears he hears Rodney and Ford fighting over which one John loves more, followed by the sound of Ronon breaking loose from his restraints and chasing Ford outside.

The second time he wakes up, it's to Teyla's fingers carding softly through his hair and Rodney's hand on the small of his back.

"How are you feeling, John?" Teyla asks. John tries sitting up and when his head doesn't feel like it's about to explode, he gratefully takes the canteen of water from Rodney's outstretched hands and drinks.

"Okay," he replies, rubbing his hand over the gritty skin of his face.

"Who knew you were such a lightweight," Rodney says, bits of the powerbar Rodney is currently chewing spraying lightly against John's face.

"Thanks, Rodney," he says. "Is everyone alright?"

"We are fine," Teyla replies and Rodney just laughs, propping himself up against the wall beside John and letting him rest against him. Rodney is a lot more comfortable than the wooden wall behind him and it isn't until Rodney's arm is wrapped around his shoulder and his breath is warm on the back of his neck that John even realizes that he's practically sitting in Rodney's lap. Teyla is smiling her sweet not-smile at them, the one John has come to interpret to mean that she thinks he and Rodney are the cutest thing ever.

"Where's Ronon?"

Rodney sighs and Teyla shoots an anxious look toward the door. "He is outside having a...discussion with Lieutenant Ford."

"And by discussion, you mean...?"

"They're fighting."

"Oh, well that's nice."

"Not really."

"Has anyone thought to maybe go out there and check on them?"

"Yes," Teyla replies, but when she offers nothing more John just sighs and pushes himself up from the floor.

"This really isn't my life, right?" John asks, holstering his gun before reaching down a hand to help Rodney stand as well.

"Don't even get me started," Rodney says and pushes open the door.

Ford's good eye is bloodshot and surrounded by a deep black ring and Ronon has a footprint the size of Ford's shoe on his chest. By the time John and the others join them, both men have ripped clothing and multiple scratches and scrapes. They're not fighting anymore though, so John takes that to mean they're done.

"You finished?" he asks anyway, because the last time he'd assumed two of his men had come to an understanding after a fight, Sergeant Hernandez used John as a distraction and punched Doctor Reynolds in the nose, thus ending the fight for real and getting John called into Elizabeth's office for a little chat about the proper way to break up a fight.

"We're done," Ford answers. John tilts his chin in Ronon's direction but the other man just grunts.

"Good. Then does someone want to tell me what the hell is going on?"

They all look at Ford, who looks guilty for only a moment, before looking John straight in the eye in a way the Lieutenant never would and said, "I need your help."

"The last time you needed our help you drugged us and held us captive 'til I used my manly strength and brute force to escape."

The entire group looks at Rodney and Ford says, "sure thing, Doc."

"I did," Rodney huffs and crosses his arms over his chest in defiance. "I almost died."

"Really?" Ford asks, shaking his head and laughing. "Funny, I don't remember you on the Wraith ship when it blew up."

"I was there," Rodney argued. "Just...not there, exactly."

John can see the anger building in Rodney, sees the same thing reflected on Ford's face and decides it's best to take charge of the situation before he's got another fight on his hands.

"So, what's the plan this time?"

Rodney looks betrayed, Teyla looks upset, Ronon looks suspicious but Ford, Ford is smiling now like he used to before the Wraith and the enzyme destroyed the man he was, destroyed any potential future he might have and turned him into the Pegasus Galaxy's version of an addict. Seeing the way Ford is bouncing from foot to foot and smiling in the childish way that used to make Rodney complain, Teyla laugh and John roll his eyes is worth whatever trouble the former Lieutenant is about to get them into.

Ford is one of John's men, and he's looking at John for help and there is no way John is going to fail him again. He's got to try. John's lost so many good men since arriving in the Pegasus Galaxy three years previous, he doesn't think he can sit back and watch one he can save walk away again.

"Let me show you," Ford says, waving for John and the others to follow him back into the underground bunker.

"Why do I have a bad feeling about this?" Rodney whispers, a little too loudly and John watches the muscles in Ford back tense up as he walks. John's expecting fireworks, but nothing happens.

"Let's just hear what the man has to say, Rodney," John says, patting him on the back in a way that he likes to think is reassuring, but knows drives Rodney crazy.

"There's a temple," Ford begins and Rodney rolls his eyes and laughs.

"We know. Why do you think we're here?"

"There's a temple," Ford begins again, laying a set of four crackled and aging maps down on the table. "According to my sources the Ancients used it to hide some of their more sensitive items, like weapons, and ZPMs."

"Who are your sources," John asks, staring at the maps in what he hopes is a thoughtful military-genius kind of way and not confused about where they are at the moment kind of way. "Allies?"

"Manaria and Dagan." Teyla leans over and points to a location on the map and John gives her a tight smile in return before trying to make out the temple's location.

"Those aren't allies!" Rodney yells throwing his hands in the air. "They're backstabbing greedy-handed idiots. We couldn't even convince the Daganians to give us their ZedPM to defeat the Wraith."

"Yeah, well, I'm a lot more persuasive now than I was back then."

Rodney stares at Ford's eye, the way his hand is twitching and nods once before taking a seat beside John at the table without saying another word. For a moment Ford's face darkens, his eyes narrowing until there is nothing but hate and anger there. But a second later it's gone and Ford is smiling at them again, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

"It's a good mission, John," Ford says and Rodney mouths John at him, but doesn't say anything else. "We go in, find the ZPM and take it back to Atlantis. Like the old days." Ford's gaze strays to Ronon for a second and again John sees a flash of something in his eyes that makes him sick to his stomach.

"If it's so easy why do you need us then?"

Ford laughs, and leans against the wall.

"What?" Rodney asks.

"As a distraction."

"A distraction for what?"

"The Wraith that guard the temple."

"How many Wraith we talking here?" John asks, because the last thing he wants to do is get involved in a skirmish with the Wraith with an overeager drugged up ex-Lieutenant in the lead.

"A hundred, maybe two from three different Hive ships."

"Oh, is that all," Rodney says, sarcastically. "A hundred, maybe two."

"And how do you plan on defeating these Wraith?" Teyla asks. She looks upset and suspicious of Ford and John doesn't blame her. Their escape the last time was a little too close for comfort, even for John.

"We're not. They've placed a small group of twenty drones at the entrance. The rest are on the cruise ship four klicks from the gate. I figure we talk out the guards, find the ZPM and take it back to Atlantis before the rest of the Wraith even know we're here."

"All of us."


"We all go back through the gate or no mission." John crosses his arms and stands his ground, a move he's learned from Rodney. Ford meets his gaze, steady and sure and John knows if it comes down to a battle of wills he's in for a fight.

"We all go back," Ford says, eventually, and sits down hard in one of the wooden chairs, eyes never leaving John's. "It'll be dark in a few hours. We can go then."

John agrees, not because he thinks the plan is a particularly good one, or because he has any faith at all that Ford isn't sane, but because the Lieutenant needs him to and John's afraid of what might happen if he pushes the issue and tries to take them all home. In the back of John's mind he knows he should just leave him; Ford is suicidal and out-of-his-mind on the enzyme, but John can't turn his back on him, not now. A long time ago he made a promise to himself to never leave anyone behind and John has no plans to start now.

Ford's proposal looks easy on paper, but John knows from experience that nothing having to do with the Wraith is ever that easy in reality. He leans against the far wall, listening to Ford and Rodney bicker over the merits of the mission. Watches Teyla standing at the far end of the table, arms tight to her side and hands clenched in fists as she tries not to reach out and touch Ford like she used to. Ronon is looming over the maps spread out on the small table, not saying anything, but grunting in response when one of the other men says something he agrees or disagrees with. John is comfortable just sitting back and letting Ford make the decisions. John wants Ford to feel comfortable with them too, to feel like a part of the team again. He wants Ford to understand that they aren't here to judge him or alienate him or make him into something he once was and isn't anymore. John wants Ford to remember where home is and to come back, willingly.

They wait until nightfall, walking as silently as possible through the woods that surround the temple. The team isn't prepared for a night mission, and without the help of the enzyme like Ford or seven years honing their survival skills as a Runner like Ronon, John and Rodney stumble through the woods at a slow pace. Afraid to draw attention to themselves and give away their position (even more than Rodney's constant complaints of "ow!" every time he trips over a fallen limb or into a tree) John refuses to use his flashlight or the light on his rifle.

"You trying to give our position away?" Ford asks when they finally catch up to him. Teyla's fairing a bit better than Rodney or John, but not by much.

"Excuse me if my shins are bruised and bleeding. I never asked to come on this idiotic mission. That was all you."

"It isn't idiotic," Ford says, sounding twelve. Rodney huffs and doesn't sound much older. "And no one forced you to come."

"I'm sorry. I must have been confused by the whole shooting down the jumper and tying me up and holding me against my will parts. Silly me."

"You know, McKay," Ford says, talking a step closer to Rodney, Wraith stunner pointed at his head. "I'm getting pretty sick of your mouth."

"You think you're the first person to say that to me? You're just the last on the long list of people who I could care less if they liked me or not. Coming from you, doesn't mean much."

"Hey," John says, hands held up as he takes a step to the right to cover Rodney. "We're all friends here."

"No we're not."

"Thanks for the help, Ronon."

"I do not think the woods at night, surrounded by an unknown number of Wraith is the time or place to have this discussion." John can hear the tiredness in Teyla's voice as she speaks. "We should be concentrating our energies on finding the ZPM."

"Teyla's right. Let's do what we came here to do and get the hell out of here."

John holds his breath, ready to take control of the mission from Ford at the first sign of trouble, but neither he nor Rodney makes any attempt to argue. Within minutes they are moving again, Rodney holding onto the back of John's tac vest for support and guidance.

"He's crazy, you know," Rodney says a few steps later. "He isn't the same guy who stepped through the gate."

"I know," John replies, because he does know. He just doesn't want to admit it. It's the reason Ford has been listed MIA and not branded a deserter. He's had too many fights with Caldwell and Elizabeth over the subject, not just about the security risk Ford presents, but because John's let the loss eat away at him for two years.

"You have enough responsibilities," Elizabeth had said to him once, months after his return from P3M-736 with Ronon in tow and Ford lost to the Wraith. "I can't authorize another mission because you've heard rumors from our allies that he's still alive,"

"We can't leave him behind, Elizabeth," John had said, angry with her that she no longer felt as strongly as he did. "He's still a member of my team."

"I don't think he'd agree with you, John," she had said and that had been the end of the discussion.

There were times when John felt no one cared, that the closeness they'd felt that first year, that sense of family had disappeared the moment Atlantis had re-established a permanent connection to Earth. John tried hard not to think about all the people they'd lost that first year, couldn't let it cloud his judgment when it came to making the hard decisions, but seeing Ford, watching the lieutenant as he smiles at Teyla and argues with Rodney, John can't help be reminded of his failures.

"You okay?" Rodney asks.

"Yeah," John replies. "I'm okay."

They are almost to the edge of the cliff when Ronon gives the signal to get down and be quiet. John crawls along the forest floor, through the thick underbrush filled with bugs, twigs and leaves, over to where Ford is using his binoculars to survey the area. In the dark John can't make out much more than shadows.

"There are sixty Wraith," Ronon says, voice low and rough beside John's ear.

"And fifteen more stationed at the entrance to the valley."

"Oh, goodie," Rodney says. "Seventy-five against five. Nothing like another day outnumbered and in trouble."

"Shut it, McKay."

"I'm sorry, Great and Mighty Warrior. Now that we are here what's the plan?"

"I figure we shoot as many as we can from up here and then finish the rest off on the way down."

"Oh," Rodney laughs and he's starting to sound a tiny bit hysterical. "That's just brilliant."

"I don't see you coming up with anything better."

"It's not going to take much, is it? Of all the dumb things I've ever heard come out of your mouth that, that takes the cake. Seriously, do you try to be this stupid or does it just come naturally."

"Shut up, McKay."

"Very mature. How old are you again?"

"Shut up, Rodney," John interrupts.

"Hey!" Rodney protests but quiets down immediately when John just ignores him while he thinks.

"How many weapons do you have?" John asks Ford, looking down at the Wraith camp as he tries to puzzle something out. There is a way around everything, but sometimes that way is through.

"Three Wraith pistols and a handful of detonators"

"Good," John says, running his hand over his pistol and checking the various weapons on his vest.

"What are you thinking, Colonel Sheppard?" Teyla asks.

"I think I have an idea."

John leaves Teyla and Rodney at the entrance to the path that will lead them down the cliff to where the Wraith have made camp and follows Ford to the only way of escape from the valley, a small opening between two mountains where a half dozen Wraith are stationed. Ronon heads for the far cliff, moving quickly and silently through the woods. On the way, they use the C-4 from their vests to set minor charges along the perimeter. It's a slow process and takes much longer than John would like, especially since the chargers are too far away from the Wraith's camp to actually do any damage, but it's a necessary part of his plan, so he helps Ford set each timer before moving onto the next one.

"You really think this will work?" Ford asks, as they make their way into position.

"Do we really have a choice?" John replies, and Ford shrugs, two Wraith detonators clenched tightly in his fists.

John presses himself against a thick base of a tree beside Ford, peering out from behind the large trunk every few seconds to survey the area. There are five Wraith warriors with stunners standing about fifteen feet in front of them and six more gathered not too far away. The rest of the Wraith are inside the valley, stretching to the base of the temple steps.

John closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, letting the adrenaline of the oncoming battle take over. He's about to give the others the signal, a low whistle, when he feels a hand on his arm.

"It's really good to see you again, sir,"' Ford says, and even in the dark John can tell that he's smiling.

"You too," John replies, the same smile on his own face.

"Ready to kick some Wraith ass?" Ford asks.

"Always," John says and whistles.

The C-4 discharges as planned drawing the Wraith's attention away from John and Ford long enough for them to throw the detonators. The grenades have taken out three of the Wraith and in the commotion John is able to kill three more with almost no trouble. He can hear the rest of the contingent starting to assemble and he yells wildly before shooting two more. Further up the path John can heat the telltale sound of Wraith stunners.

Ford's on fire, taking out the rest of the Wraith before bending down and using his knife to remove the enzyme sac from one of the dead. John grabs him by the back of the neck, dragging him only a few steps before Ford uses his superior strength to break free.

"We don't have time for this," John yells as the sound of gunfire and even more explosions fills the air. Ford is sucking greedily on the pouch now, and if John weren't fearing for his life right now he'd be disgusted by the act.

John can hear the distinct sound of Ronon's pulse weapon mixed with the mechanical sound of a P-90 as they move closer to the center of the camp. The C-4 continues to detonate, doing nothing more than confusing the Wraith and keeping their attention away from John and his team. He can just make out Ronon's form as he runs down the outer cliff shooting without looking. John can't see Teyla or Rodney, but he can hear them moments before he starts shooting again.

There are Wraith here, at the base of the temple steps that have been shot with the large hand-held stunners that John and his team don't have. Giant holes and burnt flesh that make John smile and pat himself on the back for a moment. John was counting on the Wraith's distrust of each other to take over when the C-4 first went off. By the number of bodies littering the path it's obvious to John that it didn't take the Wraith long before turning on each other.

There are Wraith bodies scattered everywhere and John tries not to trip over any as he and Ford make their way to the temple steps where Teyla and Rodney are waiting. Ronon takes care of the last remaining Wraith before joining them.

Quickly, John scans the members of his team looking for any type of injury. He sees nothing but dirt and sweat, a scratch on the cheek or elbow. For the most part though, they're fine.

"We cannot stay here," Teyla says, pointing with the barrel of her gun toward the sky. John can hear the high-pitched whistle of darts headed their way.

"Follow me," he says running up the steps and toward the large door of the temple. It takes them a moment to pull them open, stepping over the threshold into the thick humid air of a stone building that hadn't been opened in years. Ford and Ronon pull the doors closed and immediately the team is plunged into darkness. John switches on his rifle light and waits while Teyla and Rodney find their flashlights.

"Follow me," Ford says leading them down one of two tunnels.

"How do we know this is the right way?" Rodney asks, staying close to John as they follow Ford anyway.

"Because it is," Ford replies and John rolls his eyes at the annoyed way Rodney huffs and shakes his head.

"Trapped in an Ancient temple surround by Wraith with no idea how to get out is not my idea of a good time," Rodney says, shining the light of his flashlight into every corner they pass.

"What is your idea of a good time, McKay?"

Rodney laughs and winks in John's direction.

"I don't think you want to know," he replies and for once in his life is discreet.

"I didn't think you knew how to have fun," Ronon says from where he's trailing the group. John laughs and then tries to cover it up with a cough.

"What is this, pick on Doctor McKay Day again? I'll have you know that I was quite the partier in my day."

"And when would that day be?" John asks. "You sound like my grandfather."

"I wouldn't laugh, Colonel. I'm not the old man of this little group."

"I'm not old," John mumbles under his breath and it's Rodney turn to laugh.

"Don't worry, Colonel. Gray hair is very distinguished."

"I do not have gray hair," John says, hand coming up to run his fingers along the edges of said hair. As soon as he realizes what he's doing he drops it down to his side again.

"Old age is a gift from the Ancestors, John," Teyla says with a genuine smile. "It should be welcomed, not feared."

"I am not old!" John repeats and glares at Rodney for starting the conversation.

"Yes you are," Ronon says and Rodney doesn't even try to hide his laugh this time.

"At least I have hair." It's a mean thing to say but has the desired effect. Rodney shuts up after that and pouts as they navigate the dark corridors looking for the ZPM.

They've been walking for twenty minutes, the sounds of the Wraith echoing off the walls around them when the team turns a corner and steps into a large open room. There are Iratus bugs on every available surface, large sacks hanging from the ceiling. John shudders and pulls the collar of his jacket high around his neck. Rodney does the same.

"We'll be fine as long as we don't startle them," Ford says and Rodney's muttered "no duh" is exactly what John is thinking.

Slowly they make their way to the center of the room where a tall pedestal stands. There are markings written in Ancient covering the base and Teyla and Rodney move forward to get a better look.

"What does it say?" John asks. There is a waver to his voice that he doesn't like. The bugs make him nervous.

"I have no idea," Rodney replies, running his scanner over the stone.

"What do you mean you have no idea?"

"My Ancient isn't very good," Rodney says, scanning another area, "but I'm pretty sure this is the Ancient word for ZedPM."

"Yeah?" John prompts, because that the best news he's heard since they crash-landed on the planet.

"Yup," Rodney says, excited. "This might be it."

Teyla is nodding, staring at the Ancient writing and looking slightly less confused than Rodney. Of all of them, her Ancient is the best.

"I believe Doctor McKay is right," she says and points to two ring-shaped buttons on the far side of the base. "I think we are to push here." She reaches out with her fingers, delicately touching the outside edge before Rodney's at her side waving his hands and pushing her out of the way.

"Do not touch."

"I was not planning to," Teyla says annoyed and takes a step back beside Ronon.

"Sure you weren't," Rodney replies, waving the scanner of the buttons. "No one ever touches anything, do they, Colonel."

"Hey," John says, holding his hands up high. "I'm way over here."

"Why don't you do something useful and think on instead of standing around doing nothing?"

John's about to remind Rodney that five seconds ago he was yelling at people not to touch when he figures, the hell with it, and thinks on. At first nothing happens but then Rodney trips over his own feet, using the stone pedestal to steady himself and the thing lights up a bright blue and starts to open. The bugs covering the surface of the structure and the surrounding area scuttle back into the darkened corners of the room.

Rodney stumbles back into Ronon and watches as the four sides open out to reveal a chamber. He rushes forward again and leans over, his head halfway into the opening.

"It's empty," Rodney's muffled voice comes from deep inside the structure. "It's empty."

"No, it's not," Ford says pushing past John to stick his head inside the chamber next to Rodney's. "It can't be."

"Yeah, well it is." Rodney glaring at Ford and the empty chamber and John can't tell which one he's angrier at.

"That intel was solid." Ford straightens up and matches McKay's glare with one of his own.

"We just risked our lives for what? Nothing! Another one of your screw-ups. This is becoming a pattern for you."

As Ford brings his fist up, aiming it directly at Rodney's face, John reaches out quickly and grabs it. Rodney steps back, his hand over his chest and a look on his face like he can't believe Ford just tried to hit him.

"We don't have time for this," John says, as the sounds of Wraith footsteps get closer. "We need to get out of here."

"There's a back tunnel through this way," Ford says pointing toward the lone passageway at the far end of the tunnel.

"And you're just telling us this now!"

"I forgot," Ford shrugs.

"Go!" John orders before he completely loses control of the situation. They make their way carefully through the bugs and down the dark corridor. As they move, John begins to notice the walkway is getting more and more narrow until they're walking in a single-file line, shoulders brushing against the web-covered walls.

"I can't breathe," Rodney gasps in front of him. Since this is not the time for Rodney to go into full panic mode John does the only thing he can think of to take Rodney's mind off the fact that they barely have room to move. He pinches him.

"Ow!" Rodney screams for something like the tenth time in the last hour. "You pinched me."

"I know I did. Now keep walking."

"I'm pretty sure I don't have to put up with this physical abuse," Rodney points out, bring his right arm in front of his body so he can better rub the sore spot.

"Take it up with Elizabeth when we get back. Now move!"

Rodney doesn't stop complaining, but he keeps walking.

The passage keeps getting more and more narrow, the ceiling getting more and more shallow, until John's about to get on his hands and knees and crawl the rest of the way, but then Ronon pushes on one of the walls and it opens out into the cool night air.

John takes a deep breath and listens as Rodney gulps it beside him.

"That sucked," Rodney says and John's pretty sure that's the understatement of the year.

"Where to now?" Ronon asks, eyes to the skies as the Dart continue to patrol the entrance to the building.

"Looks like forward," John says and starts walking further into the woods. They can't afford to go back and run into the Wraith, they used too much of their ammunition in the first battle.

They make camp inside a cave that smells worse than anything John's ever come in contact with in his entire life, even worse than King Kong's camber, something John didn't think was possible. He takes first watch, staring out into the dense forest and listening to Rodney's deep even breaths as he sleeps.

After everyone has had a couple of hours of rest they sit around a small fire, in the very rear of the cave, sharing two powerbars. A sense of familiarity washes over John as he watches Ford laugh with Rodney, watches as Teyla places a hand on the lieutenant's shoulder, comfortable and welcoming as they eat. It feels right, sitting here watching his old team and his new team interact and John can't stop the smile that's been building up since he first learned Ford was alive.

"Do you not miss it?" Teyla asks, when things have quieted down and they are looking forward to another night of missteps and bruised knees as they wander around in the dark. "Do you not miss your home?"

"Sometimes," Ford says, playing with the dirt at his feet with the toe of his boot. "The freedoms nice though."

"Family is important," Ronon says. He doesn't look at Ford, just plays with one of his knives.

"No one to tie you down or boss you around. I can make my own decisions and not have to worry about what anyone else thinks."

"The military was a poor career choice then, huh," Rodney laughs. Ford ignores him and keeps on talking.

"I like not having any ties to any one person or place. For the first time in my life I feel like I'm living for just me."

"I would like to have a family one day," Teyla says.

"Me too," Rodney agrees, and John looks at him, surprised.


"Yes. Is that so hard to believe?"

"No," John says quickly. "I'm just surprised, that's all. You never mentioned it before."

"Yes, well when most of your conversations begin with evil life-sucking vampires and end in RUN! I'd imagine it wouldn't come up very often."

"What about your sister?"

"Jeannie is nice, but it isn't the same. I presume, of course, as I've never had a family before. Well, I had parents, just I'm hopeful that is different as well."

"What about you, sir?" Ford asks. "You have any family."

"This is it," John answers, waving his hand to encompass the group and try to distract from the truth he is afraid they can detect in his voice. "Just call us the new American family."

"I'm Canadian," Rodney says, sounding insulted.

"I am also not American," Teyla points out.

"American, like the cheese?" Ronon asks, and John just groans.

They head out again at sunset. There hasn't been any sign of the Wraith in well over twelve hours and John's starting to get that anxious feeling in his gut that something isn't right.

"Do you know where we are?" he asks Ford, coming to walk beside the younger man who looks fidgety and a little worse for wear. The enzyme must be wearing off John thinks and tries to ignore the way Ford's hands are shaking.

"It's this way," Ford says, pointing east. John can by the way the Lieutenant squares his shoulders and stares directly at John that he's just guessing and has no idea where they are.

He looks at Ronon who just shrugs.

"Lead on," John says because they left the maps back in Ford's bunker and east is as good as any direction right now.

It gets dark quickly and even though they haven't seen the Wraith, John doesn't want to risk using the flashlights just yet. They stumble around in the darkness, staying close to each other to make sure no one gets lost. Rodney spends most of the time walking into John's back, almost taking them both down.

"Watch where you're going," John hisses, wanting to stay as silent as possible in case the Wraith have scouts out looking for them.

"That would be a lot easier if I could see," Rodney complains, not so quietly. John smacks a hand over his mouth and waits until it stops moving.

"You okay?" John asks a few minutes later. Rodney nods his head and John slowly releases him.

"I'm hungry," Rodney whispers and John hangs his head to his chest and sighs.

By the third day they've run out of food, not having expected to be gone this long. Ford had taken their radios as a safety precaution when he first tied them up and even if there was a team looking for them the forest canopy is so thick neither would be able to see the other.

Teyla looks as if she hasn't slept in a week, tired and irritable, and she keeps snapping at John and making rude comments about his hair. Rodney hasn't stopped complaining for the last hour and Ronon keeps giving Ford hungry eyes, like he's going to eat him if they don't find something edible soon. After the purple rash and open sores they got on 516 and the raw burning throat on 347 John nixed the idea of scrounging for leaves or berries.

"I'd rather starve," he'd said, shivering as he remembered the blue ooze that covered their bodies after the pain of the rash had subsided. Beckett had quarantined them for three weeks after the mission and Elizabeth had stricken the planet from the dialing computer.

By the time the sun rises on the fourth day, John is doing his best to physically restrain Ronon from killing Ford, who is trying unsuccessfully to hide his shakes. Rodney isn't speaking to anyone and still managing to give John a headache because he hasn't actually stopped talking. Teyla has made a set of fighting sticks out of a fallen tree limb and keeps threatening to use them on anyone who gets close enough (which John learned the hard way when he went to stand by Teyla to ask her to help keep Ronon contained.)

"Fuck this!" John finally yells, two hours later when Teyla's sticks hit him in the ass for the fifth time and Ronon has Ford in a headlock as Rodney sits on a rock and lists all the ways he 'absolutely and genuinely despises each and every one of them', with footnotes. "You want to kill each other, fine. I'm leaving!" And with that he makes a sharp turn and pushes his way through the thick brush of the thorny bush standing in the way of his exit.

When he comes to, John has to squint up into the sun to make out the faces of Major Lorne and Sergeant Stackhouse as they stand over him, grinning.

"Colonel," Lorne says and John can distinctly hear the humor in his voice. "Good to see you again.

"You too," John lies and tries to push himself up into a sitting position. The ankle he hurt on 427 is throbbing and swollen when he's finally sitting high enough to see it.

"Damn it," John says, mumbling under his breath and motions for Stackhouse to help him up.

Rodney is sitting beside one of the puddle jumpers, eating an MRE like he's never seen one before. Teyla is picking various leaves and thorns from Ronon's hair and Ford is standing on the outside of the circle looking like he's ready to bolt as soon as someone makes a move towards him.

John is too tired and hungry and sore to deal with any of them right now. He pushes Stackhouse away and hops over to where Rodney is now eating a powerbar. John leans against him, pouting, until Rodney sighs, wraps his arm around John's waist and gives him half.

"It's been fun, sir," Ford says with a half-hearted salute. He is backing away toward the woods, eyes darting from Ronon, to Stackhouse to Lorne.

"You coming this time?" John asks, ready to order Sergeant Stackhouse to tackle Ford if he refuses. Ford shakes his head and bouncing from foot to foot with a smile.

"I'd like to, sir, but I kind of met a girl."

"A girl," John and Teyla say at the same time as Rodney cries "of course you did" and Ronon growls.

"What about all that crap about not being tied down or living the free life."

"A man has needs, McKay," Ford points out, smirking at Rodney. "If you know what I mean."

"You've got needs all right," Rodney mumbles and John hits him on the back of the head to shut him up.

"She's really nice. Pretty. Doesn't mind the fact that I look like, you know." Ford waves a hand in front of his face and glares at Ronon when the other man growls again even louder.

"Well," John drawls not exactly sure what he's going to say. "I guess, that you could bring her back with you. If Doctor Weir gives her okay, of course."

"It isn't that easy, sir," Ford says. He looks anxious and John knows he doesn't want to hear the rest.

"What could possibly be wrong now?" Rodney asks, tightening his arm around John's waist. John would never admit it, but he might lean into the touch, just a bit.

"She's married. And you know, pregnant, with my baby."

The sound of Rodney screaming "Oh my fucking Christ!" in John's ear is drowned out only by the sound of his own head hitting the side of the jumper repeatedly.

"You know this is your fault, right?" Rodney asks him. His eyes are dark and cool as he quickly pulls his arm back from around John's body and goes to stand in front of Ford. "Totally your fault."

John is grateful to Major Lorne for catching him before he falls flat on his face due to the fact that Rodney dropped him. He glares in McKay's direction and hopes the pain he feels in his foot due to Lorne laughing too hard to not jostle John isn't reflected on his face.


"I told you whoring yourself out to the entire Pegasus Galaxy was a bad example but no, you don't listen to me. Just ignore the fact that I'm always right."


"It's about time one of your brain-dead underlings knocked someone up. I'm just surprised you didn't beat them to it."



"Get in the damn jumper!"

John watches as Rodney considers the order for a moment, arms crossed over his chest and chin tilted to the side before throwing his hands in the air and storming off into the back of the puddle jumper. Teyla follows him, giving Ford a small smile as she passes him. Ronon doesn't move.

"Well, it's been fun," John says, motioning for Ronon to get in the jumper and hoping that the other man listens.

"Bye, sir," Ford says and waves. John has an urge to bang his head against the side of the jumper a few more times, but he isn't going to give a laughing Major Lorne the satisfaction.

Part 4: What's That Got to do With the Price of ZPMs (or coffee or chocolate powerbars?) OR Winners Never Quit. They Just Take Out the Competition with a P-90.

"What the hell do you mean Lorne's team is the first contact team now?" John yells as the rest of the Gateroom staff pretended not to listen or watch through the office window.

"I mean that Lorne's team will be going through the gate first. It isn't a bad reflection on you, John. I just think Major Lorne's team is better suited for these types of missions." Elizabeth sits upright in her chair, hands clasped firmly on her desk and in no way intimidated by John's angry eyes or the growl.

"Better suited? What the hell does that mean?"

"I don't know if you've noticed, John, but your team has a habit of offending and/or alienating the civilizations you're supposed to be making contact with. If it wasn't for the other teams doing damage control, we'd have more than just the Wraith and the Genii to worry about."

"What's my team supposed to do in the meantime?" John asked, fists so tight his knuckles are white.

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. The biologists need help categorizing some specimens that Miller's team brought back, and Doctor Zelenka has asked for the furniture in his room to be re-arranged. Apparently someone has explained the concept of Feng Shui to him and he's very excited about it."

"I don't think so," John states, sitting down heavily in one of the office chairs.

"You don't have a choice, John. Do I have to remind you again who is in charge here?"

"No, you're doing a pretty good of reminding me on a daily basis. Just wait 'til Rodney hears about this."

"Yes, well as team leader I expect you to deal with that. Now, if that's all, I have mission reports to review."

"This isn't over, Elizabeth. There is no way we're going to—"

John's renewed tirade is interrupted by the office door opening and Major Lorne himself waltzes in whistling "Fell In Love With a Boy" and staring at the magazine that he is carrying totally oblivious to the other two people in the room. The Gate staff, which let him walk right in without even a warning, snicker under their breath. They're due for some entertainment that doesn't include the words chevron three encoded.

"I'm going to have to move up our date tonight, Lizzy," Lorne says as he walks around the other side of the desk with his face still buried in the magazine. "Colonel Sheppard asked me to train with some of the Marines."

"Did he?" Elizabeth asked, eyebrows raised in John's direction.

"Yes, he did," John replies, standing in front of her desk again. He watches as Lorne slowly lowers the magazine from his face before standing at attention.

"Colonel Sheppard. Sir."

"Major Lorne."

"I didn't really mean date, sir, when I said that."

"What did you mean exactly?" John questions, his face red with anger and recognition.

"Um..." Lorne sputters.

"He meant sex, Colonel," Elizabeth pipes in. The amused look on her face is in no way helping the situation.

"Damn it!" John screams, before turning on his heels and heading for the Science lab. Rodney will know what to do.

"What the hell do you mean Lorne's team is first contact team now?" Rodney yells, spraying John's face with spit. After wiping his sleeve across his slightly wet face a few times, John goes and sits on Rodney's stool. John likes the stool. It's a good height and has a very good cushion that doesn't flatten your ass when you sit on it for a prolonged period of time. Not that John has any ass to speak of, but still, he likes the stool.

"Elizabeth thinks it a good idea. I think it's bullshit."

"How could she do this to me? I'm too brilliant to be a mover. I'm the only person standing between us and certain death by the Wraith and she wants me to waste my time moving Zelenka's furniture, which he is so going to hear about and spend the next three months working on the water-treatment system with Kavanagh to make up for, but she doesn't even have the decency to give us a reason as to why."

"She's fucking Lorne."

"Ah, well that explains it. Major Lorne is a handsome looking man, once you get past the haircut."


"But that has nothing to do with the fact that I'm number one-"

"We're number one."

"Yes, yes...that we're number one and will accept nothing less. I have multiple PhDs for fuck's sake."

"So," John asks, leaning back against Rodney's current work station and crosses his arms over his chest, "what are we going to do?"

"First, we're going to reprogram the door to Zelenka's room so it opens every time someone passes by."

"Good idea. Then what?"

"Why am I the only one that ever has ideas?"

"Because, Rodney, you're the genius."

"Yes, well I can't deny that," Rodney murmurs, tilting his head to the side.

"No, you can't," John replies, hoping Rodney's ego will stay hidden long enough for the other man to come up with a plan.

"We need to tell Teyla and Ronon," Rodney decides as the door to the lab opens and two scientists that John vaguely recognizes enter.

"We can't talk here." John stands up and closes the distance between the two of them so the other two people in the room can't hear their conversation.

"We'll meet in my room at 2200 hours."

"Fine. I'll let the others know," John says, heading for the door to the lab.

"And bring food," John hears Rodney call out after him. "Thinking makes me hungry."

"Why don't we just kill him?" Ronon grunts, pulling out his gun and placing it on the tabletop. John is about to shoot down that idea, when it occurs to him that it's the best idea any of them have come up with so far.

"What I think Ronon means," Teyla says, "is that we should come up with something more permanent than just getting him removed from the next mission."

"Like killing him," Ronon repeats.

"He does have a point," Rodney agrees.

John would like to agree as well, but he likes his life the way it currently is, free and without prison bars.

"Why don't we save that one as a last resort," John suggests. Elizabeth probably won't be too keen on giving them their old jobs back if they kill her boyfriend.

"I guess that leaves only one thing," Rodney says around a mouthful of chocolate brownies. John cringes at the thought of what he had to do to get the snack for Rodney. Who knew Doctor Novak was a screamer?

"Yes?" John prompts.

"These are really good brownies. You said Novak just gave them to you?"

"Get on with it, McKay."

"Right, right. I think our best option is to make him seem incompetent, which shouldn't be a problem, him being military and all."

"I'm really getting tired of your mouth, McKay," Ronon growls. John doesn't like the way his hand moves toward the gun still laying on the table.

"Now isn't the time for this," he cuts in before Rodney can say anything that will end with a hole in his chest. "We need a plan."

"Yes, well I've been thinking-"

"Like that's a surprise," Ronon mutters.

"-and I think I've come up with an idea that is just brilliant enough to work if I do say so myself."

"You plan on telling us this idea of yours, or should we guess?"

"Well, Colonel, the only way we're going to convince Elizabeth to give us our old job back is to make her believe that Lorne's doing a worse job at saving the universe than we ever did."

"And we're sure Dr. Weir won't listen to reason?" Teyla asks. John can see in her eyes that she is starting to feel sorry for the other woman. John knew she'd be the weak link.

"You want to go back to your people and tell them you're no longer going off-world because Dr. Weir thinks Lorne looks cute in his BDUs?"

"No, not especially."

"Then this is our only option. Now all we have to do is wait for the right opportunity," John says.

"And get more of these brownies," Rodney adds. John bangs his head softly against the wall and tries to remember whose name was on the other package of snack cakes.

Their first problem is how exactly they're going to make Lorne look incompetent. The best solution would be for Sheppard and his team to go through the gate and secretly ruin his life. Unfortunately, not even Rodney can think of a way to sneak off world without anyone noticing that the gate has been activated. Not to mention getting back into Atlantis unnoticed would be a problem. Rodney scans hundreds of Ancient files but he's yet to find any mention of invisibility.

Lucky for Team Sheppard, they don't have to wait too long to put their plan into action. Lorne's team is being sent out to the next planet on Rodney's ZPM list, P3X-887 in the morning, with instructions from Doctor Weir to make nice with the natives and to bring back something useful.

Teyla has had many dealings with the people of that planet, and to John's dismay told him that Major Lorne would have no trouble accomplishing his task. The Edrobbinians are a peaceful people, always willing to help others. John hates them already.

The thing that makes the whole mission worthwhile, at least from John's perspective, is the note that Elizabeth gives to Lorne to give to the people he meets. If all goes well, and they can read Ancient (which Teyla assures him they can) then Lorne is to give the letter to their leader thanking the Edrobbinians for their help and welcoming them to an alliance with Atlantis.

The plan is to swap the real letter to the Edrobbinians with a fake one. Teyla's been studying Ancient with Elizabeth and is confident she knows just enough to make Major Lorne look incompetent and John's final check of Lorne's gear before he steps through the gate is the perfect time to switch the letters at the last possible second. John's pretty proud of the plan, but figures he's pointed this fact out to the other man a few too many times when Ronon tackles him to the mat while they're sparring and refuses to let John up until after Ronon's finished training the new marines. John's pretty impressed by the fact that Ronon still manages to intimidate the young soldiers while sitting on John's chest and not moving for an hour.

"Okay," Rodney says, barging into John's office during one of his morning briefings with the jumper pilots, "I haven't checked the chart of all the ideas you've had since coming to the Pegasus Galaxy, but I'm almost positive this is your most stupid. So, congratulations."

Lieutenant Miller, who had been updating the team on the research he and Zelenka have been doing the past week, stops talking and looks from John to Rodney before turning to grin at Sergeant Smith, who chokes back a laugh.

"Seriously," Rodney continues, "you're a moron."

Lieutenant Miller's still grinning like he knows a secret and Doctor Turnbull, who is turning out to be a better pilot than anyone expected, is looking at Rodney like he has two heads and a tail.



"Get lost."

"Fine," Rodney huffed, "but when everything goes to hell, again, and Elizabeth finds out what you did, I'm going to be very angry. Understand?"

John understood. He'd been in time-out enough times as a child to know that that look Rodney is giving him at the moment means more than I'm pissed. It means no blowjobs and no sharing of pudding and no more Sexy Colonel. Only Miller is still smiling; Smith is leaning back in his chair nodding toward Patterson and John has heard too many of the rumors about him and Rodney and which one of them is actually on top to say he's sorry.

"Fine," Rodney continues, stomping out of John's office. "Just don't come whining to me when it all blows up in your face."

John spends the next few seconds staring down at his desk and the mess of papers strewn across it. The room is silent, but John can feel the laughing eyes and knowing smiles on the faces of his men without even looking up. No matter how many times he tries to convince himself that no, not everyone in Atlantis thinks he's Rodney's bitch, Rodney does something that gives the military contingent of Atlantis (and probably the entire expedition) reason to call him Colonel McKay behind his back.

"He was never here," John says, because he can just imagine what kind of evil plan the guys think he and McKay are cooking up and the last thing John needs is for the gossip to get back to Lorne or Elizabeth at exactly the wrong time.

"Whatever you say, sir," Miller answers, a hint of a smile on his face, before continuing with his presentation.

John and Rodney just happen to be sitting on the gateroom steps arguing over blue vs. green Jello when Team Lorne returns from 887. Lieutenant Miller is the first through the gate and as soon as he sees his face John knows that it worked. He gives Rodney a slow, sweet smile, patting him on the back twice while Rodney scowls before walking over to greet the returning team.

"Colonel," Miller says, giving John a skeptical look. John can see a little bit of awe and fear in the Lieutenant's eyes and he can't help but feel just a little bit more smug about the entire situation.

"Lieutenant. How'd the mission go?"

"Well, sir," Miller starts and then smiles, passing a look between John and where Rodney is standing just over his shoulder. "It was interesting."

"Was it?" John asks, returning the grin.

"Oh, yeah," Miller says and turns to watch as Sergeant Smith leads a dazed looking Major Lorne through the gate, followed by a confused and slightly scared looking Doctor Parrish.

"Major," John says, trying not to smile too much. Lorne's skin is covered with a layer of something sticky looking and slightly orange. He smells sickeningly sweet. Lorne's eyes are glossed over, his pupils dilated and unfocused. For a moment John's worried that maybe Rodney was right and this was a really stupid idea, when Lorne leans forward and hugs him, laughing into John's shoulder.

"I love you, sir," Lorne giggles and John pats him awkwardly on the back before trying to push him in the direction of Lieutenant Miller. John's hand comes away sticky and he wipes it on the back of Rodney's jacket without thinking.

"What the hell is that?" Rodney asks, trying to look over his shoulder at the mess John just made. Eventually he takes it off and throws it at John's head. He misses, of course, and hits one of the marines who patrol the gateroom in the back of the head.

"It's honey," Doctor Parrish answers and uses a cotton-swab to collect a sample from the back of Major Lorne's neck. The major is still out of it, instead telling Miller in great detail why he loves him more than any of the other Lieutenants.

"What the hell is going on here?" Caldwell interrupts, joining them at the base of the steps. "Major?"

"You're the best colonel ever," Lorne replies and attempts to give Caldwell a hug. The older man sees it coming though and moves away at the last moment, leaving John to catch Lorne before he sinks to the floor. "Except for you, Colonel Sheppard," he adds.

"Thanks," John mutters and motions for Sergeant Smith to take his own turn hugging Lorne. Smith shoots a scared look at Doctor Parrish who sighs and motions for Lorne to go to him instead.

"Sergeant Smith had more than enough time with Major Lorne back on the planet," Parrish says and there is a hint of a smile on his face. Smith turns a lovely shade of red and tries to hide behind Miller, who hasn't stopped smiling since he came through the gate.

"There was some kind of ceremony," Miller starts to explain. "I think it had something to do with fertility, but you can never be too sure if you know what I mean, sir."

John knew exactly what Miller meant. John and his team had been chased back through the gate once by angry villagers because they mistook a ritual sacrifice to the gods for a simple harvest ceremony.

Caldwell is calling for Beckett at the same time Doctor Weir comes out of her office. She takes one look at the group, eyes pausing on Lorne's disheveled appearance and points toward the briefing room. John's about to wish Team Lorne luck when Elizabeth says "you too, Colonel" and disappears back into her office. John sighs and drags Rodney along with him.

"This isn't my fault," John says, watching while Beckett examines a very stoned Lorne. Elizabeth is looking at him with this disappointed look, like he should have stopped this from happening even though he was on Atlantis (specifically in Rodney's room) and nowhere near 887. John's trying very hard not to hide behind Rodney just to escape her sad eyes and frown. They have a power over him that even Rodney and his scientists have yet to decipher. It's the kind of look that makes John's stomach tight with guilt and his breathing become labored until he confesses to her exactly what kind of trouble he and his team have gotten up to today. John flew planes in Afghanistan, faced down the Wraith and the Genii and the Asurans. He's been turned into a bug. His head almost exploded thanks to their friendly neighborhood whales. He has been trapped on a Hive ship more times than he wants to count. They've spent three-plus years in the Pegasus Galaxy, three-plus years worth of trouble to get into. And John's team has seen more than their fair share of trouble. But nothing, nothing makes John flinch like one of Elizabeth's looks.

"No one is blaming you, John," she answers, running a hand through Lorne's hair. It keeps sticking to her skin but Lorne doesn't seem aware of the tiny hairs she keeps pulling out.

"Someone needs to start talking now," Caldwell says, leaning forward on the conference room table. He's also glaring at John, and John can just imagine what he's thinking. John wonders how Caldwell would have handled the situation if he were in charge. Probably would have had Lorne and his team quarantined in one of the lower medical bays before the gate had time to shut down. The many times John and his team have come back through the gate naked, covered in body paint/sacred oils/their own blood makes John happy that Caldwell isn't in charge. Which reminds John that he is and he should probably take control of the situation before Caldwell sends a report to SGC and gets him permanently removed back to Earth.

"What happened here, Lieutenant?" John asks taking a seat beside Caldwell and motioning for the others to do the same. Beckett is blushing now as Lorne tries to kiss him and Elizabeth tries to hold him back.

"Everything was going well, sir," Miller starts, looking at his drugged team leader with an amused expression on his face. "The negotiations went well. We ate, we drank, we sang the sacred mating song of their national bird-"

"Sacred mating song?" Caldwell asked.

"It isn't the first time, sir," Miller replied before continuing. "It wasn't until Major Lorne gave the village elder the letter from Doctor Weir that things turned weird, sir."

"Weird how?" John asks, although he's been on enough off-world missions to have an idea what 'weird' meant. That and the fact that Lorne is covered head to toe in not-honey and getting pretty personal with everyone he's made contact with since getting back.

"After the ceremony Major Lorne gave the village the note from Doctor Weir. The Elder got this weird look on his face, said something to his assistant in a language I don't understand and they told Major Lorne that they'd like very much to be trading partners with us and that since we had complied very graciously with their customs they would return the favor."

"What happened next?"

"They striped Major Lorne, covered him in honey and proceeded to let all the available, um, men, sir, lick it off."

John barks out a laugh at the same time Rodney spits coffee out across the table. Even Caldwell looks amused while trying to hide it behind a cough. John turns his grin on Rodney and can see in his eyes that Rodney is impressed. John is too. Who'd have thought a letter that read in Ancient 'cover me in honey and find me a mate' would really work.

"What did Major Lorne have to say about this?" Caldwell asks, after clearing his throat half-a-dozen times. Beside John, Rodney is still laughing into his fist.

"He didn't say much of anything, sir. About three seconds after they applied the honey he became very...um." Miller turns to Smith for help, but the sergeant is so red from embarrassment that he can't do anything but stare at Miller and shake his head.

"Compliant, sir," Miller finally says. "Major Lorne became very compliant."

"I bet," Rodney laughs and leans back in his chair. "Too much for your innocent little eyes?" Rodney is still laughing and Sergeant Smith looks like he wants to crawl under the table and die.

"What about the negotiations?" Elizabeth asks, coming to sit at the head of the table and tries wiping her hand on a piece of loose paper.

"We're to return to finish going over the treaty after we've come back and gotten the Major cleaned up a bit."

"I don't know if that's such a good idea," Elizabeth says. Lorne is still curled up in Carson's lap, naming off all the people on Atlantis that he loves more than anything. They're currently going through the kitchen staff.

"I don't think they meant anything bad by it, ma'am," Miller states.

"We'll go," John jumps in. He doesn't want Elizabeth thinking too hard about the situation and deciding to scrap the entire deal.

"We've doubled in size thanks to the crew from the Daedalus and we're completely cut off from Earth. We need the grains and the vegetables from the trade so we don't starve to death." Rodney actually looks worried and John runs his hand over the other man's knee.

"We're far from starving," John says and Elizabeth agrees.

"Doctor McKay's right," Caldwell interrupts.

"Of course I am."

"We don't know how long it will be until Earth sends another ship or we find a ZPM. We can't be turning away safe and willing trading partners."

"Fine," Elizabeth says. "John, your team will handle the negotiations with the Edrobbinians from now on."

"Good," John replies, clapping his hands together. "Give us fifteen minutes and we'll be ready." Rodney is nodding beside him, following John's lead as he gets up from the table and walks toward the door.

"There's one more thing, sir," Miller says from behind John and John contemplates running out of the room before he can hear the bad news.

"What is it, Lieutenant?" Caldwell asks, smirking. He's been on Atlantis for long enough now to know when the shit is going to be hitting the fan and John's about to get screwed.

"You need to bring Major Lorne back with you," Miller says, and he shoots a glance to where Lorne is now sleeping heavily against Beckett's shoulder. John's surprised that Beckett hasn't taken him down to the infirmary yet.

"I don't think that's a good idea," John points out. Lorne is drooling now.

"Part of the agreement with the people of 887 is that Major Lorne is to be present at all treaty negotiations. Something to do with the ceremony and the...honey."

"Perfect," Rodney says, as John falls back into his unoccupied chair. "We can't just have a normal negotiation. There's always the inevitable honey ceremony."

"It has something to do with trust, Doctor McKay," Miller says.

"Is there no other way?" Elizabeth asks.

"No, ma'am. They made sure we knew how important the major's position in the negotiations are."

Elizabeth rubbed her temples for a moment before leaning her elbows on the table.

"You'll go together," she says. Rodney made a move to argue but John stopped him with a hand to his shoulder. "As soon as Beckett clears him, you'll take Lorne and his team back with you."

John would rather his team be sent on alone to prove themselves, but he was happy that their plan seems to be working. Being grounded makes John anxious.

They leave three days later, after an embarrassed looking Lorne apologizes to half the expedition for his touchy-feely behavior. John has heard a rumor of an incident between Lorne and Caldwell that was more than grabby-hands and didn't give it much credit until Elizabeth finally approves Caldwell to go off world and sends him to check on the kids on M7G-677. She sent Kavanagh along with him as punishment and because Rodney was threatening to kill him with a piece of Ancient technology that reminded John of a cattle prod.

It wasn't unusual for Rodney to threaten Kavanagh's life (especially since the Daedalus went down and they've had no way to send him back to Earth) and normally Elizabeth wouldn't take it seriously, telling Kavanagh to stop provoking Rodney, and Rodney to stop threatening the staff as it's bad for morale, but when Kavanagh came streaking through the gateroom being chased by an angry and fully-armed Rodney Elizabeth decided it was time to separate them. Since John's team was still grounded, waiting for Lorne to be cleared for duty and since Caldwell was already being punished Elizabeth decided to kill two birds with one stone. Rodney was banished to one of the lower labs, with nothing but his computer and a scanner. John went with him, for security reasons only.

Caldwell and Kavanagh both return three weeks later, married. Caldwell to a very beautiful young woman who wants nothing more than to cook and clean and take care of her husband, now that she doesn't have to die on her next birthday, and Kavanagh to a burly man, who had originally mistaken the scientist for a woman. By the time it was all sorted out, it was too late and Doctor Kavanagh came home, husband in tow. John and Rodney's skin was still tinted fuchsia from their very own 'wedding ceremony' on P9X-754, where the Ancient technology they'd been promised after the ceremony turned out to be nothing more than a potato peeler, so Rodney couldn't even poke fun at the other man until after the stain had worn off.

"I don't think Elizabeth had this in mind when she banished me to what can be nothing other than the Ancients' version of a greenhouse." He has his hands down the back of John's pants and until now hadn't seem too upset by the fact that they were laying on the floor of what was probably a greenhouse with John sprawled on top of him, tongue in Rodney's ear.

"You want me to stop?" John asks. He bites gently on Rodney's earlobe before placing wet sloppy kisses on his face and neck.


"That's what I thought."

John laughs and pulls back just enough to look down at Rodney, bumping his nose against Rodney's.

"You're not that cute," Rodney says, trying to catch John's lips. John won't let him though. He swivels his head from side to side trying to avoid any contact.

"I'm totally cute," he replies, biting the tip of Rodney's nose and pulling away quickly.

"You're so funny," Rodney grumbles, moving his hands from John's ass to his head, tangling his fingers in John's hair.

"I like kissing you." Rodney looks pissed at himself and surprised at the honesty that has a way of escaping whenever they're alone together. John's smile is genuine, this time. No humor in it as he leans forward to place a chastate kiss to Rodney's lips.

"Me too," John replies, before moving in for another kiss.

John doesn't think they can get any closer, but he's going to try, pushing Rodney's knees out of the way and settling more heavily against Rodney's body. He kisses Rodney again, putting more force behind this one than the previous. Rodney is moaning into John's mouth, clawing wildly at John's back. He can feel Rodney's length as he pushes up against him and John tears his mouth away to breathe deep and heavy into Rodney's neck.

"You are so hot," John whispers against the sweat-covered skin, mouthing his pulse and feeling Rodney's heart beating strongly.

"Don't tease me." Rodney strains against him, wrapping his arms around John's back and holding on so tightly that John is having trouble breathing.

"I'm not," he says, thrusting hard against Rodney before kissing him again. First John trails his tongue along the outline of Rodney's lips before pushing inside and kissing him deeply. Rodney's hands are pushing between them, trying to work their way down towards the front of John's pants. John shifts his hips slightly, gives Rodney just enough room for his fingers to slip below John's waistband. The tips run softly over John's skin, stretching down just enough to touch the head of John's length. He jerks back, kneels above Rodney with a slick smile and a hand on the snap of his pants.

"Maybe we should wait until later," he says as he pushes the fabric of his uniform over his hips, just low enough to give Rodney a hint of what's below.

"Maybe you should shut up and get down here," Rodney says and pulls John back down with a laugh. "We still have seven minutes."

Elizabeth had been put out when she'd gotten her first good look at Lorne as his team had carried him back through the Stargate, but she hadn't become angry until she caught him making out with Lieutenant Novak while waiting for the drug to wear off.

"It's perfectly harmless, love," Carson had assured her minutes after she'd ordered a dazed looking Novak be brought down to the brig and left there. "He probably isn't even aware of his actions."

"Probably?" she'd asked, turning the evil glare she been giving John since the meeting had ended onto Carson.

"I'm sure it will wear off soon," he'd said and hid in his office until Lorne's glazed expression had disappeared and he looked mildly embarrassed.

There had been a fight afterwards, in Weir office before John and the others returned to the planet with Lorne and his team. Every one had stood outside the door pretending not to listen as Elizabeth accused Lorne of cheating on her.

The planet is so hot when they return that John's shirt is soaked five minutes after they walk through the gate. The village is two klicks from the gate and they haven't even gotten to the first tree line before Rodney's heaving against John's back, claiming he can't breathe while dripping sweat all over him. Ronon's hair is wilting, Teyla looks miserable and Lorne's trying to hide the fact that he hasn't stopped smiling since the briefing that morning, all the while sending John and his team suspicious looks. John tries to pretend he doesn't know what Lorne's thinking, and tries really hard not to let Rodney's babbling and guilty expression give them away.

"Right," John says and leads them back in the direction of the Stargate. They return an hour later with two separate 'jumpers.

The village is very happy to see Lorne and his team return (and John spends a lot of time keeping Lorne as far away from the bowl of honey on one of the tables as he can) and they ignore the others until Rodney trips over what John believes is a potted plant, falls headfirst into a ceremonial statue and lights the thing up brighter than the Fourth of July. The blue light reflects off one of the nearby stone statues, shining the light onto another statue and lighting that one up as well.

"The gods have blessed our union!" The Chief yells and all the villagers fall to their knees in front of where John's helping Rodney back to his feet. "As it was written by our Ancestors it has come to pass."

"Um...what?" John asks, looking from Lorne to Miller and back. They look just as confused as he is.

"It was written that the Ancestors would send a man to us, one who would know their secrets. A hero with the power of the Ancestors to defeat the Wraith. "

Rodney looks startled for a moment and then smug, crossing his arms over is chest and smiling at John.

"A hero, huh."

"I think you're missing the important part here, McKay."

"Oh, you mean the part where I save the world using a powerful Ancient device." Rodney stops, staring at John for a moment before turning his attention back toward The Chief. "And where exactly would we find this powerful Ancient device."

The chief reaches out a hand and points a long thin finger at the shining blue statue. John and Rodney turn at the same time to stare at what can only be a picture of a ZPM and a gate address underneath.

"I was thinking," Lorne says, coming to stand beside John, "that whoever brings back the address of a ZPM will probably be given control of the first-contact team. Don't you think?"

John nods and watches as Rodney scans the brick before taking a digital picture of the markings and handing the camera to John. Lieutenant Miller is doing the same thing, giving his device to Lorne.

John flips the camera over in his hand to look at the display window before turning his gaze on Lorne. Their eyes meet and for just a second everyone is quiet and still.

John's halfway to the 'jumper when he remembers to yell back for his team, but he doesn't have to worry because they're right behind him. Lorne's team is running toward their 'jumper as well and John knows this is their last chance to win Elizabeth over. If they don't get back to Atlantis first, Lorne and his team will be first contact and John will be left moving furniture in the biology labs.

He manages to get Jumper One into the air a couple of seconds before Lorne does, but Rodney's still screaming, "Not buckled! Not buckled!" when Jumper 2 crashes into the side of them and sends them straight for the trees.

"Hold on!" John yells into the back where Teyla and Ronon have fallen, not even to their seats before John had taken off. He thinks up and fast at the HUD watching the numbers as the Jumper rights itself and speeds underneath Lorne and to the front again. This time Lorne hits them from behind and Teyla is thrown over the seat she's still trying to get into and into Rodney's lap.

"Hello," he says, smiling down at her. John tips the Jumper on its side and watches as she's thrown back into her seat, far away from Rodney.

"Where the hell are the inertial dampeners!" Rodney's holding onto the control console with a grip so tight his knuckles are white and he's turning a lovely shade of green.

"I don't know!" John yells back, asking the Jumper very nicely to Stop This Shit Before We Die A Horrible Fiery Death and You're Turned Into Scrap Metal! A moment later, the Jumper stops shaking and speeds past Lorne, forcing them into a tailspin to reclaiming first place again.

"Dial the gate," John tells Rodney, one hand over his mouth and the other reaching for the dialing crystals.

Rodney enters their I.D.C. and a second after they get confirmation from Chuck in the control room the Jumper is through the gate and landing hard on the floor of the gateroom. John has crashed it into the stairs, backwards, and has to push himself through the tiny opening in the Jumper door when it doesn't open all the way.

He's yelling for Elizabeth, camera and ZPM address firmly in his hand, when the second Jumper comes through the gate, crashing into the first and sending both flying into the far wall. John jumps out of the way and Rodney, who'd been trying to climb from the Jumper when it was hit, screams and falls back inside.

"What the hell-" Elizabeth starts as John falls at her feet, the display on the camera pointed up.

"ZPM," John rasped, out of breath. "Found. ZPM."

Elizabeth takes the camera from his hand and looks out over the railing to the damage on the floor of the gateroom. There are two Jumpers in the corner, smoke coming from everywhere and random members of gateteams 1 and 2 crawling out from the burning jumpers. Rodney's screaming for Lorne to be arrested, claiming he tried to murder them while Lieutenant Miller tries to help Teyla down from the Jumper that landed on top.

"I don't want to know, John," Elizabeth says, patting John on his flattened hair before smiling and heading toward the briefing room. John collapses at the foot of Sergeant Campbell's station and tries really hard not to pass out.

It takes three days for the engineers to move the mess from the gateroom down to their lab and another two before Elizabeth's hard expression eases up enough for John to request a meeting with her to discuss the ZPM. Rodney had spent hours that first day in John's quarters pacing from one side to the other, hands waving and talking so fast that John can only make out a handful of words. One being "Holy Grail" and the other "Satan's bitch".

"It's just sitting there waiting for us!" he cries, flopping down onto John's bed, covering his eyes with his arm and sighing very loudly in John's direction. "And I haven't been sent to time out since I was six."

"At least she let us serve our time together," John says, patting Rodney high up on the thigh. Rodney's still grumbling, but he moves his legs just the few inches John needs to slip his hand between them and rest his fingers on the warm curve of muscle.

"A ZedPM. It's a fucking ZedPM," Rodney says, voice low and amazed. "And she won't even let us go find it until we've thought about what we did. Which, I'd like to point out, I did nothing wrong. If anyone should be grounded it should be you and Lorne. I'm an innocent bystander here!"

"Rodney," John says, running his fingernail up the inside of Rodney's thigh, "you have never been innocent."

"Hmmm..." Rodney moans, letting his legs fall open even more. "At one time I was innocent."

"I seriously doubt that," John says, following the trail his finger is making with his tongue.

"Maybe not for a long, long time." He's pulling on John's hair, just this side of painful and John fights it for only a moment before rising up to meet the other man's lips.

They kiss for a long time, their actions starting out slow before speeding up and then slowing down again. Rodney has his fingers tangled in John's hair, slowly scraping his nails over John's scalp and making John shiver against him.

"This is the best punishment I've ever had," Rodney smiles into his mouth.

"Don't let Elizabeth hear you say that or she won't let us play together anymore."

Rodney laughs, deep and rich, as he flips them over, removing his shirt and then settling between John's legs. John props himself up on his elbows and waggles an eyebrow at Rodney before the other man huffs and makes quick work of John's shirt too.

"You are so high maintenance," Rodney mumbles against John mouth and he laughs, can't help it, even when Rodney pulls back with a frown.

"That's rich, coming from you," he says, but eases the sting of his words by pulling Rodney down on top of him again and kissing him slowly until Rodney stops pouting and starts kissing him again.

The tip of Rodney's tongue is tracing the inside of John's mouth, like he's trying to memorize every inch of it. Desperate and hungry and full of want, Rodney presses John hard against the bed and rocks his hips slowly into John's. John's arms are wrapped around Rodney's neck and he deepens the kiss as much as he can, not trying to take control from Rodney but enhancing it, making it stronger, until John has nothing left to do but lie back and take whatever Rodney gives him.

Rodney's fumbling on, hand searching behind the pillow for errant tube they stashed there the previous night. Frustrated, Rodney breaks the kiss again and John tries to follow his mouth as Rodney leans over him, throwing the pillow onto the floor and holding the tube of lube above his head in triumph.

"My hero," John swoons, voice high and tight like a southern belle in the movies.

"And don't you forget it," Rodney says, stripping John's pants and then his own with a quickness John hasn't seen since the last time things went south on a mission and they had to make a run for the gate.

Rodney's kissing him again, skin dragging rough against skin, and doesn't even slow up as he slicks his fingers with the cool liquid. Rodney runs his finger down behind John's legs, run the tip of his finger over John's hole. John's legs fall open immediately trying to encourage Rodney without breaking the kiss.

John's moaning into Rodney's mouth, the sound loud and embarrassing in the quiet room. But John can't stop, continues to arch up against Rodney's body and moaning his name into the other man's mouth as Rodney opens his mouth and swallows John's pleas, greedily.

He can feel Rodney's lube-coated hand as he takes himself into his own fist and pumps once, twice. He doesn't give John time to think about what Rodney looks like jerking himself off, or how he wants to ask Rodney if he can watch sometime, sitting in a chair beside the window as Rodney lays on the bed. He pushes John's knees up and out, almost painful, but muted by the anticipation that Rodney is about to take him and John wants it so very badly.

John tries to hold back at the first feel of Rodney against him, but he can't stop himself from pushing down as Rodney slips in. John bites down on Rodney's bottom lip at the familiar pain of being entered, before Rodney pushes through the resistance and then John's thrusting up against his belly, wrapping his legs around the other man's waist and using his strength to draw Rodney even deeper.

Rodney's arms are shaking from the effort to hold back, hold still, and John, cursing now, orders Rodney to move, damn it! and please, Rodney, please, but the other man doesn't move.

"Tell me you love me," Rodney says, voice strained and harsh. John thrusts up again, as hard as he can with Rodney's solid weight holding him down.

"Come on," John says, but it comes out as more of a plea.

"Tell me you love me," Rodney repeats and slowly licks the outer curve of John's ear. "Tell me."

John tries to hold back, bites his bottom lip until he tastes blood and scratches his nails down Rodney's back but the other man holds fast, teasing John's earlobe between his lips, alternating between biting and sucking until John is restless beneath him.

"I love you, asshole," he breathes out, not as harsh or angry as he wants it to sound.

John's expecting a sly remark or a smug expression but Rodney just smiles down at him, places a kiss to John's neck and finally starts to move.

Very slowly, Rodney pulls out and John's vibrating now, begging Rodney for harder and faster with his lips and his arms and the way he keeps pushing up against the other man. Rodney's breathing hard, deep breaths against the side of John's neck as he pushes back in, faster now than before. John arches again, mouthing the side of Rodney's neck, the taste of sweat and skin and Rodney on his lips.

John slides his hand between their bodies and wraps it tight around his dick thrusting into it in time with Rodney. He turns his wrist up and let the bare edges of his nails scrape against the soft curve of Rodney's belly. Rodney shivers, moving faster, panting words against John's neck too low for him to make out.

When he comes, John's body feels like it's on fire, every nerve ending excited and every muscle tense as he clutches the sheets between his fingers. Three thrusts later and Rodney is coming as well and John feels his heartbeat quicken with just the knowledge that he is the one to do that to Rodney.

Rodney's skin is slimy and sticky as he pulls out and collapses on his side beside John. John can feel the wetness of the sheets under him as he stretches his legs down and out, working sore tense muscles, but he doesn't have the energy to get cleaned up. Instead, he rests his head against Rodney's chest and closes his eyes to the feel of fingers combing through his hair.

Elizabeth finally gives in, either because John has asked politely five (or eleven) times to be allowed to search for the ZPM, or because Rodney has taken to using torture, whining in her office after every staff meeting and before and after every meal. By the end of the week, Elizabeth's eye has started to twitch and John's starting to worry that if they don't get out of the city soon, Lorne taking over the flagship team is going to be the least of John's problems.

They send a MALP through first and the video it sends back is less than encouraging. The sky is dark and gray, lightning in the distance and the sensor readings inform them that using a jumper to get to the building in the far corner of the screen is not an option.

"Looks like we're walking," John says, as the rest of his team stares at the monitor with skeptical looks. The trees are dead and bare, the soil hard and dusty. The planet smells like sulfur as volcanic ash covers them.

"This does not feel safe," Teyla says, trying to wipe the black soot from her face with the back of her hand and manages to do nothing but make more of a mess.

"There better be a ZedPM there, or I'm going back to the planet of the honey and killing everyone with my bare hands." Rodney is choking now, a shallow wheeze evident every time he breathes in.

"I'd like to see that," John teases, clutching his rifle closer to his body, the soot making his fingers slippery on the surface of the weapon.

The building, Ancient looking in material and design, was built atop a rocky cliff and after thirty minutes of searching the only stairs they can find go straight up. John goes first, one hand over the other, feet slipping from the small holes in the side of the rock face, fingers torn and bloody as they dig into the rock for balance and stability. Teyla goes next, slipping once, but saving herself from the seven-story fall. Rodney follows, Ronon right behind him, one hand holding the side of the wall and the other hovering near Rodney's backside, ready to catch him if he were to fall.

They collapse at the top, eying the short road that leads to the door of the building with tired, bloodshot eyes.

"This had better be worth it," Rodney says again as John helps him to stand. He tries brushing the soot from McKay's uniform, rubbing his hand over Rodney's ass and shrugging when the other man gives him a questioning eyebrow in return.

"Is that flirting?" Ronon asks and Teyla shrugs.

"Who have you been talking to?" John says as Rodney shakes his head "no, this is not flirting."

"Whatever." Ronon is giving Teyla the eye and she's nodding her head like they've just had an entire conversation that consisted of one shaggy eyebrow and a chin lift.

"Major Lorne explained the mating rituals of Earth culture to us," Teyla explains in a voice that says don't lie to me.

"Of course he did."

"Lorne says it's against the rules to flirt on missions. That we're supposed to report you to Doctor Weir."

"Lorne's just jealous no one wants to flirt with him on missions," Rodney points out and John catches himself nodding.

"Bylaw 10.2a says 'that all flirting by team members must be reported to their supervisor within three to five business days', whatever that is."

"Alright, firstly, you," Rodney says waving his pointer finger back and forth between Teyla and Ronon, "are not allowed to talk to Lorne anymore. Ever. Secondly, I am my own supervisor and I say who touches my ass. Thirdly...thirdly..." Rodney trails off looking at John for help.

"What do rats have to do with flirting?" John finishes for him and then asks "what?" when Rodney makes a remark about being surrounded by idiots.

"Lorne said you'd say that," Ronon says and starts heading up the path to the front door.

"Lorne said the colonel would say something stupid about rats?" Rodney asks as he brushes past John to follow after Ronon.

John hears, "seriously, what else has Major Hot Lips said about me?" but it fades off into the distance as the two walk away.

"You do this to torture me, don't you?" John asks, as he and Teyla follow at a slower pace. "You hate me, right."

"I do not know what you mean, John."

"Sure you don't," he says and follows her into the Ancient outpost.

A long narrow hallway greets them, three doors on each side and one at the end. With every step John takes the floor and the walls light a dull blue that casts an eerie glow across their blackened faces.

"The Ancients didn't by any chance mention which door we're supposed to look behind, did they?"

"We're lucky they gave us this much, Colonel. You've seen the Ancient database. It isn't exactly user friendly. And, may I remind you, that we found this address on the side of a rock on some primitive backwoods planet."

"Thanks for the reminder," John says rolling his eyes.

"No problem." Rodney steps in front of the first door and points toward John. "After you."

Door number 1: As soon as John opens the door the team is hit in the face by a cloud of dust so thick it covers their clothing and turns the previously black with soot material completely gray. John's eyes are starting to sting, the ash and dirt too much for him. He tries to wipe them on the inside cuff of his uniform jacket but only manages to spread the mess further into his eyes. Rodney is standing behind Ronon, coughing up a lung and sneezing into the other man's hair as John peers around the door to squint inside. There's nothing there but one table, two chairs and a handful of dust bunnies.

Door number 2: There are three empty stasis pods in the next room. According to Ronon, the one on the left once held a Wraith soldiers and the two on the right humans.

"How can you tell?" John asks, wrinkling his nose that still itches with dust.

"Smells," Ronon explains and leaves it at that.

"How can you smell anything?" Rodney asks, blowing his nose in a pair of briefs he's confiscated from John's pack. "I can barely breathe."

"Muck," Ronon replies and sticks his hand into one of the stasis pods and when he pulls it back out it's cover in a sticky black goo. "Wraith blood," he says and shoves it mere inches from Rodney's face. As Rodney runs from the room, gagging the entire way, Ronon just shrugs and wipes his hand on the discarded briefs.

Door number 3: John does not scream when they enter the third door and he turns the lights on to see a room full of jars holding various alien body parts.

"Fuck," John says leaning down over one of the shelves that looks like a pickled dinosaur leg. "The Ancients were sick bastards."

"The Wraith, the Asurans, the nanovirus. The time-dilation field. Do I really need to continue?"

John shakes his head and shivers at he walks quickly past what looks to be a fetal pig to watch Ronon tap aimlessly against a glass jaw holding bugs.

"This looks familiar," Rodney calls out and John abandons the bugs to join him.

It's a head, but of what John can't tell. It has a strong boney forehead, angled and ridged. Its eyes are small, dark and beady. Its teeth are sharp and it's reptilian although it doesn't appear to have scales.

"I've seen one of these before," Rodney says, staring at the creature. "Back when SGC came to me for help."

Door number 4: Rodney has his head buried in the remains of a broken DHD, nothing visible but his ass and legs sticking straight up in the air. John has a strong desire to kick him, but he is afraid Ronon and Teyla won't cover for him.

The room was definitely a lab at one time and looks very similar to the one Rodney has claimed for his department. There are a couple of busted scanners on the lab bench, a box of cracked control crystals under the table and a personal shield. John rolls the shield around in his hand, fingers tracing over the sharp edges, but no matter how many times he thinks on nothing happens.

"I think I have found something, Colonel," Teyla calls from the other side of the room and John abandons the deactivated shield to join her.

On the table in the back there is a large red button with the word 'easy' written on the top in white. It looks to be made out of plastic, the paint fake and too shiny. John reaches out to touch it but Rodney slaps his hand away at the last second.

"Just 'cause it has your name on it doesn't mean it can't kill us all," Rodney says, and runs his scanner over it. "I've got nothing," he adds a few minutes later. "It's kaput."

"Kaput," John smirks as they walk back into the hallway, leaving the red button on the table. "Is that a scientific term?"

"According to Zelenka it is," Rodney says with a laugh.

Door number 5: The only good thing that comes from opening a door to a room completely under water is that they are no longer covered in dust or ash. Granted, they stink like day old fish and pond scum, but they are clean.

"There was a leak in one of the drainage pipes," John says, climbing down from the chair he had been standing on while trying to get a better look at the crack that allowed the room to fill with water.

"What kind of pipe?"

"I don't know. A pipe. What does it matter?"

"We have no idea what kind of microbes and bacteria could have been stored in that pipe. With 10,000 years to divide and multiply, we probably just took a shower in what could amount to hazardous waste. When I start growing a hump and a set of gills, I'm blaming you."

"You opened the door," John points out, wringing the water from his shirt.

"Doesn't matter!" Rodney yells as another pipe bursts and sludgy green water rains down on him from above.

Door number 6: "Jesus Christ!" John yells jumping back into the hallway and half hiding behind Ronon, gun up and ready to shoot the damn thing.

"Who, in their right mind, would keep that as a pet?"

"What is it?" Ronon asks, leaning down for a better look.

"It's a replicator," Rodney explains. "Our friends the Asurans in bug form."

In the center of the sixth room is a single replicator still in bug shape. There is one end of a leash tied around its middle and the other end to a post about four feet away.

"It's kind of cute," Teyla says, trying to pet its head and the bug snaps his feet together and tries to rip off her arm.

"This is sick," Rodney says, and John agrees backing slowly from the room, one hand tight on Teyla's arm and the other buried in Ronon's hair. John's read enough mission reports to know trouble when he sees it.

Door number 7: They approach the final door with caution, guns raised and safeties off.

"I have a really bad feeling about this," Rodney says, ear placed firmly on the door as if he could actually hear something through the soundproofing.

"You always have a bad feeling." John motions with his hand for Rodney to take a step back and is thankful when the other man does without a fight.

"When have we ever been off-world where we didn't come across something that was trying to kill us?"

John trades shrugs with Teyla and Ronon, who can't think of a single mission that had ever gone right.

"So far we've been suffocated by volcanic ash, attacked by dust bunnies, drowned by ten-thousand-year-old nuclear waste and almost eaten by a metal bug. We are well under par when it comes to the amount of danger and possibility for a horrible death on this mission."

"So what you're saying is...?"

"We can't open that door."

"What about the ZPM, Doctor McKay? This is the only room we have not checked."

"Screw the ZedPM. Who knows what horrors lurk behind that door."

"Listen, buddy, stop worrying. Everything is going to be fine. We're going to go in there and find a fully charged and still working ZPM. You're going to embarrass yourself by screeching like a teenage girl and almost coming in your pants when you touch it. Then we're going to pack it in and head back to Atlantis where you'll present it to Elizabeth, probably get a party in your honor and eat lots of cake."

"I like cake," Rodney says, shoulders slumped in defeat.

"I know you do."

"I still have a bad feeling about this."

"There is nothing to worry about, Rodney. Trust me, what could possibly go wrong?" John asks, palming the control panel and taking a single step back as it opens.

When nothing happens John grins and extends his hand in a gesture for Rodney to go first. Rodney shakes his head and steps over the threshold into the lab. John goes to follow him, but is stopped short when he walks into the back of Rodney's still form and stumbles sideways into the wall.

"Thanks for the warning, Rodney," John starts, brushing imaginary dirt and wrinkles from his uniform, until a female throat clearing on the other side of the room causes John to stop fidgeting and look up.

"That's mine," Rodney says, outraged, "you can't have it," while John is still trying to figure out what he could have possibly done in a past life that makes the universe hate him this much.

"It's nice to see you too, McKay," Major Samantha Carter smirks at the same time Colonel O'Neill yells, "Damn it, Daniel," turning around and waving his hands in the face of a very stunned looking Doctor Jackson, who is holding Rodney's ("Mine! Mine! It's mine!") ZPM. "I told you not to touch anything!"

The End
1. The title is from "Smile And Wave" by The Headstones.

2. I need to give a big thanks to redjacket who pointed out some character flaws in the first draft. To oriolegirl, who not only betaed the first draft, which had more 'insert blah blah blahs here' than it did actual words, but also read the final draft while on vacation. And a HUGE thanks to celtic_tigress, who taught me to hate parentheses, fixed my verb tenses, answered all my stupid questions and agreed to beta my story even though she already had two others to look at. Thanks!