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by shalott
tran·scen·den·tal (trăn'sĕn-dĕn'tl)
  1. Philosophy. Concerned with the a priori or intuitive basis of knowledge as independent of experience.
  2. Surpassing all others; superior.
  3. Beyond common thought or experience.
  4. Mathematics. Of or relating to a real or complex number that is not the root of any polynomial that has positive degree and rational coefficients.

The strangest thing about John's job wasn't actually the Wraith, because he'd seen the first two Alien movies about fifty times apiece, and he figured as long as they didn't have mandibles and lay eggs in you, he was still a few points up on Ripley. It also wasn't being in another galaxy; Atlantis, with its lights that turned on when he looked at them, the doors that swung open almost before he'd decided which way he wanted to go, welcomed him a hundred times a day. It was already more like home than Antarctica had ever been.

People could adapt to crazy situations; he'd been in enough to watch it happen from the inside, and he knew that it wasn't the really new things that were hard to get used to, it was the familiar ones gone wrong. So the part that actually kept tripping him up wasn't the spaceships or the ray guns, the giant storms or the alien civilizations; it was the meetings.

Not just the fact that they were fast, or even useful, though it would have been weird enough not to hate them. But he actively liked them. He woke up in time without an alarm even for the 0600 ones; he'd gotten to the conference room early about a half-dozen times before he noticed what he was doing, got embarrassed, and started making sure he wasn't the first one in. He couldn't help thinking there was something pathetic about being that eager for a meeting to start.

Maybe it was reporting to someone who actually listened to him; Elizabeth yelled at him plenty, but in the end she pretty much let him do things his way, and that was a tradeoff he could live with. Or maybe it was having a team of people that worked like none he'd ever seen. Ford was a damn good kid, solid as they came and not trying so hard to be tough he acted like a jerk. Teyla was just great, smart and funny, even if half the time he had the impression she was intensely amused by him; and even that was good, since otherwise he might've thought about asking her out. And Rodney could go all day without getting boring; annoying sometimes, yeah, but never stupid, and it was the first time John had ever known anybody he had to work to keep up with.

And the best days were the ones like this -- meeting in the 1100 slot, so there was plenty of time for a long hot shower and a real breakfast, coffee out on the mess hall balcony with morning sun pouring down over the city. Of course, that was also enough time for Rodney to start working on some project, so whenever they had a late meeting John had to go pry him out of the labs. Otherwise the rest of them wasted twenty minutes waiting for him.

But even that was fun, trying to find a topic distracting enough to get Rodney away from his desk; once John found it he could just wind Rodney up and watch him go, and if John came up with a good one fast enough, they usually had time left to walk the long way to the conference room through the stained-glass hallways, batting it back and forth.

"You really liked Contact?" John said. "That was the most boring movie ever."

"You've got to love Jodie Foster talking about prime numbers," Rodney said.

"But not Linda Hamilton doing pull-ups?"

"Oh, please," Rodney said. "Nothing could rescue that movie. If Skynet was created out of pieces of the Terminator that Skynet sent back -- "

"Okay, okay!" John said. They'd done Terminator 2 three weeks ago; he wasn't ready for another go around on that one, even if Rodney was. "Are you telling me Contact didn't get anything wrong?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Rodney said. "It got everything wrong. But at least they tried. I mean, Thorne actually did some useful work for the book."

"Who's Thorne? I thought it was by Carl Sagan," John said.

"Sagan just wrote the novel," Rodney said. "Kip Thorne was the astrophysicist he consulted."

"Right, of course," John said. "And that Sagan guy gets all the credit, huh?"

"I know, can you believe it?" Rodney said.

"I guess the idea of God hiding a message in pi is kind of neat," John said.

Rodney glared at him. "The idea of God hiding a message in pi is laughable, and also meaningless. Pi is random; if you go on long enough, you'll find anything you look for in there."

They came out into the ground floor of the control room, and headed up the stairs; Rodney paused at the sensor station and leaned over to poke at Anderson's laptop. "What did you do? What is that?"

"I didn't do anything," Anderson said. "Do you mind?"

"Well, you did something, because that doesn't make any sense." Rodney pulled the laptop closer and poked at it some more.

"Rodney," John said.

"Yeah, I'll be there in a second," Rodney said.

Teyla came up the stairs to join them. "Do we not have a briefing scheduled now?"

"Yes, we do," John said. "Rodney, you know how cranky Elizabeth gets if you keep her waiting. Do you want to get to do this mission or not?"

"Huh, this is something new." Rodney elbowed Anderson. "Up, up. Give me the chair." Anderson threw up his hands, got up and walked out of the control room. Rodney sat down and started typing faster.

John grinned and glanced over at Teyla. She raised an eyebrow, just as amused. "Perhaps we should reschedule."

"Okay, that's... bad," Rodney said.

John quit smiling and moved up to his side. "What's going on?"

"If I'm reading this right, the sensors are picking up something dangerous inside the city," Rodney said, still typing.

"I do not sense the presence of any Wraith," Teyla said.

"No, it's too small for that, and anyway, it's not something we've ever picked up before, or I wouldn't be saying 'something,' I'd be saying what it is!"

"Where is it?" John demanded.

"Trying to find that out, thank you." Rodney leaned over to the Ancient console and flipped some switches. "Touch that and try to think about the location of the danger."

John put his hand on the pad and felt the connection form, the electrical hum along his arm. Using the Ancient equipment was always a little eerie, like having someone creep up silently behind him and stand there looking over his shoulder, taking things out of his head.

"Peter," Rodney said to Grodin, over his shoulder, "You should be getting some readings over there."

"Hang on," Grodin said. "Yes, all right, I see it; it's fifty meters straight up from sensor A3, which would put it -- " His head jerked up. "-- in the conference room."

"Elizabeth." John turned and ran up the stairs two at a time, Rodney behind him yelling, "Wait, don't go in there!"

He was halfway up when the conference room doors opened and Elizabeth stuck her head out. "And you're all out here because -- " She looked back over her shoulder: there was a sudden rumble of rushing noise, like a fan. John ran the rest of the way, grabbed her and threw her down to the floor, covered her with his body, and tucked his head down.

Nothing happened. After another minute, the whirring fan noise shut off.

"Not that I'm not grateful for being protected from whatever it is I apparently needed protecting from, but can I get up now?" Elizabeth said.

"Sorry," John said, giving Rodney a glare as he stood up and helped her back on her feet. "Rodney said he found something."

"I did find something," Rodney said, coming up the stairs with one of the datapads, scanning the area. "It's gone now."

"I guess it was a dud?" John said.

"Oh shit," Rodney said. "Elizabeth, you have to come with me right now."

"What?" she said. "I need to know -- "

"No, you don't, you need to move!" Rodney yelled.

John grabbed her arm. "Go," he said, and took off after Rodney, pulling her along.

Elizabeth kept saying things he didn't pay any attention to, because Rodney sounded seriously freaked out, and lately that only happened when there was something really bad going on. On the whole, John missed the days when Rodney used to freak out over hypothetical bee stings and powerbars that tasted funny.

Rodney led them to the transporter and yanked open the access panel, crossed five or six wires, flipped a crystal. "Hang on," he said; for a second everything hurt like fucking hell, and then they were falling onto the floor someplace else.

John rolled over the pain and got up; Rodney was already there pulling Elizabeth up and towards the wall: they were in the stasis chamber room.

"Rodney," Elizabeth said, while he pushed her into the niche. "Listen to me -- "

"Not now, okay?" Rodney said, going to the controls.

"Rodney, wait," she said, and he paused. "The master access code on my system is 'hyderabad, lincoln, membrane.' Say it!"

"Hyderabad, lincoln, membrane," he repeated, and then he punched the buttons and she relaxed all at once, the lines of worry in her face going smooth as the lights came on in the stasis alcove.

Once the stasis field was active, Rodney leaned back against the wall and slid down to the floor in a heap, panting. "That hurt."

"Didn't feel a thing," John said. He limped over and sat down next to him. "How did you do that, anyway?"

"I broke the transporter and redirected the beam straight to this room instead of to a receiving transporter," Rodney said. "The failsafe redundancy system kicked in and rematerialized us anyway."

"If you can do that, why haven't you been doing that?"

"Notice how I said, 'I broke the transporter.' If the failsafe had failed, which in fact wasn't all that unlikely, no rematerializing, no more us."

John eyed him. "And you didn't bother mentioning this?"

"I'm sorry, did you have a better idea for getting down here in time?" Rodney said.

"Well, maybe I would have, if you'd shared what was going on," John said. "Speaking of which, what's going on?"

"Let's kill two birds here." Rodney tapped his radio. "Carson, we need you in the stasis room now. Medical emergency."

"What's the nature -- "

"Sarin gas exposure," Rodney said. "Shut up and come now, thanks, bye."

"If that was nerve gas, all of us would be dead by now," John said. "Probably everyone in the control room, too."

"Yes," Rodney said. "Except we're living in Atlantis, and the automated ventilation system neutralized the gas as soon as the sensors detected it. Elizabeth only got hit because she was standing right there." He looked over at John. "You don't feel a burning sensation in your nostrils, do you?"

John stared back at him. "Actually, my nose is kind of runny," he said evenly.

"Hm," Rodney said, and fiddled with the scanner at him. "Ah, okay. You absorbed less than .1 milligram. It would take forty times as much to kill you."

"I'm glad you're finding this out now," John said.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "It's not normally calibrated to pick up levels this low. If you'd gotten a fatal dose I'd have seen it upstairs."

"Okay, then," John said. He looked over at Elizabeth, pale and illuminated in the niche. "So now what?"

"We have time now she's in the stasis field. Standard treatment is a combination of atropine and oximes," Rodney said. "I just need to wait for Beckett and we'll figure out how to get it into her."

Bates was already up at the conference room with Marines posted around the door by the time John got back upstairs. "What've we got?"

"It was planted on the underside of the table, sir," Bates said. "Mason from the bomb squad's checking it out inside. Sir, I recommend we shut down Stargate operations and jumper flights until further notice."

"Do it," John said. He went in. "Talk to me, Mason."

"Yes, sir," the Marine said, straightening up from the dissassembled bomb. "It's not too complicated. Single canister of gas pressurized into liquid form, basic trigger with an IR beam on the doors. I'm pretty sure it was set to go off after it sensed the doors opening for a second time."

"Meaning it would get everybody in a meeting just letting out," John said.

"Yes, sir," Mason said.

"Any idea what it would take to put this kind of thing together?" John asked.

"It's not too hard to mix up sarin in a good chem lab, sir," Mason said. "And good chem labs are not something we're short on here. Everything else is peanuts. Anyone with access to the city could've done it, if they knew how."

"Wonderful," John said. There was some kind of noise going on outside the room. "Now what?" He went back out and found Kavanagh and Zelenka arguing with Bates. "What the hell's going on?"

Kavanagh wheeled on him. "You can't shut down jumper flights! We're in the middle of running the fuel decomposition tests."

"That's too bad," John said.

"Major," Zelenka said, "Please, you do not understand; if we stop now we'll lose weeks of work."

"No, I think you don't understand," John said. "We just had somebody try and kill Dr. Weir, Teyla, McKay, and not incidentally me, with a nerve gas bomb. Does that sound like a fun way to go? Because I'm thinking, no. And until we find out who planted it and get our hands on them, the city's locked down. End of story."

"That's just stupid," Kavanagh said. "What difference does it make if we go to the mainland and back? You think a bunch of farmers made a nerve gas bomb?"

"Right now we don't know a damn thing," John said. "So nobody gets in or out of the city until we've got some answers. It's that simple. You can start up the experiments again when we're done."

"That's not good enough!" Kavanagh said.

Zelenka shushed him. "Major, the experiments have to follow each other on a precise schedule. We have to leave in 53 minutes, or the data is useless, and all that we have already collected also. Well, not completely useless, we can make a few calculations that will give us the basic degradation curve -- "

"It is going to be useless," Kavanagh said. "We've been setting this up for three months, we had to juggle the jumper schedule around your stupid offworld missions, and now you're going to fuck it up for no good reason -- "

"Put a sock in it, Kavanagh," John said. "The answer's no. Sergeant, put a man in the jumper bay."

Bates was half-grinning. "Already did, sir."

"This is -- forget this!" Kavanagh said. "You know, you're not even in charge here."

"Excuse me?" John said, taking a step towards him.

Kavanagh didn't back down. "This is a civilian operation. If Weir goes down, you don't take over, the next civilian in line does. McKay's in command, not you."

"Kavanagh, right now, this city's under an imminent threat to its security, and believe me, I'm in charge. If you can't do something useful, get out of the way."

"Come on, get McKay up here," Kavanagh told Zelenka.

"Maybe let's just talk to him." Zelenka tapped his radio. "Rodney?"

"Busy!" Rodney yelled back.

"Rodney, Major Sheppard -- "

"Is somebody about to die where you are?"

"No, but -- "

"Then shut up and leave me alone!" Rodney cut the connection.

John smirked. Kavanagh turned, grabbed Zelenka by the arm, and dragged him out of the room. John turned away, only to find himself face to face with Teyla. Her arms were folded. "I would also like to know why my people are being cut off. Again."

Clearly his day wasn't going to be getting any better.

Fifteen minutes later, John was in the conference going over the list of chemical labs with Bates. "We're going to have to figure out who had access to any of these. Christ, there are a lot of the damn things." He looked up as Rodney came in. "Hey, I need to know -- "

"What are you doing?" Rodney demanded. "I'm trying to save Elizabeth's life and now I have Kavanagh and Zelenka yelling that you're destroying their research."

"Well, they're going to have to be patient for a while. The city is locked down until we know exactly who was behind this, and that's going to take a while," John said.

"It's going to take about three seconds," Rodney said. "It was the Genii. They must've had a spy in that mission from Mandros last week. I'm sorry, did you seriously think the Athosians went from using homemade neem-tree pesticides to whipping up sarin? Because that's really likely." He turned and started out the door.

John straightened up. "Wait a second, how do you know -- "

Rodney turned around again abruptly right at the door. "Hang on, having a thought," he said. "The spy could've planted more than one bomb. The sensors didn't pick the first one up until after it went into standby mode, when Elizabeth went into the conference room."

"Goddamnit," John said. "Sergeant, get all the men available into hazmat gear now and start a hard target search. Rodney, how do you know the Genii are -- "

"Did you miss the part where I said I'm trying to save Elizabeth's life?" Rodney said.

"I thought you said we had plenty of time now she was in stasis," John said.

"That's relative," Rodney said. "She's got five minutes to live in realtime, and we don't know exactly how much of a slowdown the stasis chamber gives us."

"Ten thousand years in stasis was fifty years of real aging, about 200 to 1, so that's -- sixteen hours," John said, working it out as he said it. "You only have sixteen hours?"

"Actually it's more complicated than that, and it's probably closer to twelve. Still want me standing here making explanations? It's the Genii, just go with that," Rodney said, and left.

John took a deep breath. Bates looked at him. "Okay. Let them take the damn jumper. At least it gets Kavanagh out of our hair. Tell everyone else to stay in their quarters and let's get started on that search."

"Sir, we don't know why McKay even thinks -- "

"I don't like being in the dark any more than you do, Sergeant, but McKay's not wrong all that often," John said. "Besides, this smells exactly like something the Genii would do."

Bates nodded. "Yes, sir. With all due respect, sir, we need to do something about those assholes."

"No kidding," John said grimly. "Let's get this search over with."

John dumped the hazmat helmet in a corner and sat down at the conference table, Bates and Teyla right behind him. "Well, it's always fun getting to see more of the city. Two more bombs, and we think that's it. What's your situation?"

"Well," Beckett said, glancing at Rodney, "The good news is, it looks like Elizabeth's going to be just fine."

"That is good news," John said. "When can I talk to her?"

"You can talk to her all you want right now," Rodney said, mumbling around the last of the powerbar he was wolfing down. "Do you want her to talk back?"

John eyed him. "That would be useful."

"Mm." Rodney took a gulp of coffee, swallowed. "Three months, give or take a week."


"The problem is," Beckett said, "we've managed to put an IV into her through the field, but as soon as the medicine hits her bloodstream, the stasis field is slowing it right down, like the rest of her system -- "

"Of course, we compensated for that," Rodney put in.

"Aye, I was just getting to that!" Beckett said. "We're injecting the antidote at higher pressure than normal, so it's got enough extra velocity to get ahead of the sarin. But we cannot raise that pressure beyond the limits of what her blood vessels can take -- "

"The point is," Rodney said, "the difference isn't enough for the antidote to circulate completely through her system before the sarin kills her, unless we slow down the progress of the sarin even further than the normal effects of the stasis field, which in turn means the edge in speed the antidote has becomes more significant."

"And can you do that?" John said.

"No," Rodney said. "We just thought we'd come here and tell you all this for fun."

"Sarcasm not helpful," John said. "Okay. We're going to have to think about how to handle the situation."

"What's with the 'we'?" Rodney said. "You don't have to do anything. I'm the one who's going to have to reshuffle the whole science division to cover for me. Can you believe Kavanagh was already asking if he could use my lab?"

"How about we start with an explanation instead," John said. "How do you know it's the Genii?"

"See, if certain people bothered to read my mission reports," Rodney said.


"On Earth, sarin was developed accidentally, as a result of pesticide research," Rodney said impatiently. "The Genii have been experimenting with similar chemicals to try and create explosives for their nuclear bomb. I specifically predicted in my report that they'd develop nerve gas in the near future, though I was betting on tabun first. No one else we've seen in this galaxy is even close."

"That doesn't rule out somebody making it here in the city," Bates said.

Rodney turned to stare at him. "And when they'd mixed up this nice batch of nerve gas in the middle of this nice Atlantis lab, what exactly do you think would've happened?"

"The ventilation system would've kicked in," John said abruptly.

"The only way someone could make sarin in Atlantis and hang on to it would be using that molecular synthesizer thing we found in the research section. And the only people who have even a vague idea of how that works are me and Zelenka, and I know I didn't do it." Rodney tapped his radio. "Radek, did you mix up any nerve gas with the molecular synthesizer last week?"

Zelenka's voice came through a second later, sleepy and annoyed. "I think this is trick question."

"Never mind," Rodney said, tapped it off.

"Fine. Point taken," John said. "The Genii."

"Q.E.D.," Rodney said. He drained his coffee cup. "Okay. I should get some practice in command. I'm calling this meeting done. We'll pick this up tomorrow."

"Hey," John said, going after him as they left the conference room. "We need to talk."

"Talking tomorrow, bed now. Oh, that's just wonderful." Rodney stopped in the transporter doorway, looking at the control panel with the wires still dangling. He turned around and went back upstairs.

John followed him into Elizabeth's office and closed the door. "Rodney, this is serious. You're the ranking civilian, but that doesn't mean you're ready to just jump in and take over."

"No, because I've been up for twenty-two hours killing mice with nerve gas treatments, which is why I'm trying to get some sleep first." Rodney lay down on the couch and put one of the cushions over his face. "Get the lights on the way out, would you?" his voice came, muffled.

"We're in a military situation here," John said.

Rodney lowered the pillow. "Whenever you say that, it just means it's a situation you want to be in charge of," he said. "Sadly for both of us, I am much too arrogant to let anybody else make my decisions for me. Stargate's shut down, long range sensors are quiet, nothing's happening tonight. We'll talk tomorrow." He rolled up onto his side and settled into the couch, facing away from the room.

"Great," John said, under his breath, and left to go find Bates. He wasn't ready to go to sleep.

John had to practically drag Rodney away from his desk and into the conference room the next morning. "Go ahead, Sergeant," he said, after he'd gotten Rodney into a chair.

Bates started the presentation with the map of the Stargate area. "We go in with four cloaked jumpers, take out whatever guard they have planted around the Stargate area, and lie low until nightfall. Strike team one lays down a perimeter of flash-bang mines to cover our withdrawal route. Once it gets dark, jumpers one, two, and three uncloak, blast the bunker entrance, then pull back along with strike team one and draw their fire and attention."

"This will be a dangerous assault, Major," Teyla said. "The Genii will be expecting us to respond. They will not be unprepared."

"That's why we show them three jumpers," John said. "That's as many as they've seen us use at a time, and three jumpers is more firepower than anything they've got anyway. Hopefully they won't suspect we've got something else going on."

He rolled out the partial schematic they'd made of the bunker area. "While strike team one and the uncloaked jumpers pound them on the surface, strike team two goes in through the entrance and takes this route to the research labs. We rig explosives throughout the entire bunker area, pull out, give them a five-minute warning and blow the place."

Teyla nodded sombrely.

"Wow," Rodney said.

John let the schematic roll up with a snap. "Thank you. Now do we have a go?"

"I'm sorry, let me translate," Rodney said. "That was wow, as in, wow, that's a really stupid plan. What exactly is the point of this?"

John stared at him, jaw tightening. "Rodney."

"No, I'm serious. Why do we want to blow up their bunker?"

"Because they're making bombs in it, and using them on us," John said, his voice rising. "I have a problem with that."

"I have a problem with it too," Rodney said. "I also have a problem with them shooting us, stabbing us, kidnapping us, trying to steal our city, and just generally being pains in the ass. Blowing up the bunker doesn't solve the underlying problem. It just slows them down for a while. Besides, they're the only civilization out here so far that's anywhere close to being able to contribute directly to the fight against the Wraith, and blowing up the infrastructure of our only potential allies strikes me as kind of a waste."

"We can't let them pull something like this without a response. We have to hit them, and we have to hit them hard. This is the right thing to do."

"What, because you say so? Your earth logic is truly astounding," Rodney said. "And yet I remain unconvinced by your bad plan. The answer is no."

"Have you got any better ideas?" John demanded.

"Not just yet," Rodney said. "But at least I can comfort myself with the knowledge I can't do much worse." He got up and left.

John waited until the room cleared out. "Sergeant, divide the men into the teams as planned and start prepping the jumpers," he told Bates. "We'll do a dry run on the mainland tonight."

"Yes, sir," Bates said, nodding, and left.

Rodney had somehow figured out a way to turn the glass walls of Elizabeth's office opaque, so it was more like the cave-like environment of the labs. He was sitting at her desk, but he'd brought two computers over to replace her smaller laptop, which was sitting on a back shelf looking forlorn with the bouncing-ball screensaver running. "Answer's still no," Rodney said, without looking up.

In less than a day, Rodney had blown past Elizabeth, Colonel Sumner, Colonel Markham, Colonel Escobar, and was rapidly coming up on Colonel Ryers as the absolute worst commanding officer John had ever had to report to. He was starting to have a new appreciation for why so many of the research staff went around looking cowed all the time.

"Look, I know this is a lot to deal with," he said.

"Yeah, Elizabeth's org charts are terrifying," Rodney said. "On the other hand, while I'm stuck doing this, I can at least prioritize the right areas. She's been letting the botanists work on adapting wheat first instead of coffee beans."

"Rodney, we need to do something," John said. "I have a responsibility to the security of this expedition. Now, if you have a suggestion or some kind of constructive criticism, I'm ready to hear it. But sitting around and waiting is not an option."

"Actually, for now, it's your only option," Rodney said. "I locked the door."

"What?" John looked at the office door, went over and tried it. It wasn't budging.

"Sir," Bates' voice came over the radio, "Can you come up here?"

"Also, I had Zelenka disable the jumpers' shields and weapon systems while we were in the meeting," Rodney added.

"Is this some kind of joke?" John said. "Open the damn door."

"Sorry to spoil your mutiny, but no," Rodney said.

John tapped the radio. "Bates, get a team to come to Dr. Weir's office and open the door, I'm locked in." He paused. "Sergeant, do you copy?"

Rodney hummed a little annoying tune. "Having trouble accessing the RF booster network?"

"You know, I have a gun," John said.

"I wouldn't try shooting the door," Rodney said. "That's not actually steel and glass, the tensile strength's a lot higher. You won't do any damage and you'll probably get hit by the ricochet."

"I'm starting to think about shooting you," John said. He came back and sat down across from the desk. "How long are you planning on keeping me in here, anyway? Lunchtime's only a couple of hours away."

"I'll share the powerbars if you'll make the coffee," Rodney said, waving one foil-wrapped bar at him out of the desk drawer. "Elizabeth's been holding out on us, she has a stash of Kona behind the photo."

This was way, way worse than Ryers. Rodney hadn't even quit typing the whole time. "Okay," John said flatly. "You've made your point. You're in command. The mission doesn't go ahead without a greenlight from you. Will you let me out now?"

"I'm strangely not feeling all that trusting," Rodney said. "I'm not going to be able to finish this today if I let you out and you get creative. Here." He pushed the other laptop over.

"What am I supposed to be doing with this?" John asked, but he could already see it was hooked into the wall like the one Rodney was working on. Maybe he could figure out how to unlock the door.

"Well, I assume you're going to spend a couple hours trying to unlock the door," Rodney said. "But when you get bored with failure, you could try coming up with a plan to take the Genii stargate and hold it for, oh, an hour."

"Rodney, how about you let me come up with the military goals, unless you've got some kind of experience I don't know about," John said.

"I've played a lot of Command and Conquer," Rodney said. "Now be quiet. You're not going to unlock that door by talking to me."

There had to at least be a chance that Rodney was bluffing to keep him from trying. John hit the touchpad and the screensaver flickered out. There was a file on the desktop called It started with about eight libraries linked in at the top of the page and then said:

# Have fun! -- R

He'd done a little coding in Perl before, and anyway this looked kind of obvious. John looked up. Rodney wasn't even looking out of the corner of his eye, totally focused on his own screen. John went in and changed Lock to Unlock, saved the file, went to the desktop, double-clicked on it.

A command window popped up: Can't locate AncientDBA/ in @INC (@INC contains: /usr/lib/perl5/5.8.5/cygwin-thread-multi-64int /usr/lib/perl5/5.8.5 /usr/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.8.5/cygwin-thread-multi-64int /usr/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.8.5 /usr/lib/perl5/site_perl /usr/lib/perl5/vendor_perl/5.8.5/cygwin-thread-multi-64int /usr/lib/perl5/vendor_perl/5.8.5 /usr/lib/perl5/vendor_perl /home/rodney/lib/perl5) at ./ line 2.
BEGIN failed--compilation aborted at ./ line 2.

Missing library. He started up the file search, but instead of the usual window a dialog box opened: No Cheating. John slouched down and kicked the second chair around so he could put his feet up. This was going to take a while.

Rodney's documents drive was a byzantine morass of folders named things like not a moon -- orbital space station plans -- and maxwell's silver hammer -- schematics for a gun that would kill Wraith with one shot. John got distracted for ten minutes with pure lust when he looked at the files in the xwing directory -- plans for building a two-man fighter based on the puddlejumper, which had pop-up notes scattered around saying things like "increase maneuverability" and "more guns?"

"Zelenka's still figuring out the coupling between the antigravity and the fuel delivery system, and Kavanagh's working on the alloys used in the frame," Rodney said. "It's at least a year away from a real plan. And we don't have the resources here to build it anyway. We'd just be sending the design back to Earth. Cool, though, huh?"

"Man, she's beautiful," John said. He could practically feel her under his hands already, see how she'd slice her way through a swarm of Wraith darts. With a profile like that, he'd be able to dogfight her through canyons.

He took a screenshot of the blueprints and made it the desktop background before he closed up the file. He poked around the folders some more, thought about it and then looked in the one called alexandria. There were six folders there, and bingo, one of them was called adb. It took him another few minutes to figure out where to move the AncientDBA library file, but then he tried the program again and the error message switched to the next library over.

He grinned and got up to make the coffee.

Three hours later he'd tracked down all eight libraries, plus the forty-two libraries that they included, which had also been missing and in different folders all over the system, and also the fifteen libraries that those libraries included. Getting each piece was like a high; not that he wasn't still pissed-off at Rodney, but it was hard not to get into this. He'd always weirdly liked debugging, but this was even better; everything Rodney had done made cracked-out sense, like finding the translation module in a folder called babelfish in a different hidden folder called aquarium, which he'd only found out existed by looking into the attack drone design files in the squid folder.

"Hey, give me another powerbar," he said, and Rodney tossed him one of the chocolate-walnut. "How long did it take you to set this up, anyway? Didn't you have anything better to do?"

"Elizabeth's ebooks on management say it's important to establish authority early on," Rodney said. "Anyway, I woke up around 4; it only took me an hour."

"You could've just suspended me from duty."

"First of all, I'm not stupid, and second of all, I need you," Rodney said. "Have you thought about that plan?"

"What, taking the Genii Stargate?" John said. "No." It wouldn't be too hard to hold it for an hour, anyway: with three jumpers they'd have full 360-degree coverage without even having to maneuver, and they could plant the flashbombs and set up a perimeter of guys with Wraith stunners and P-90s. The Genii could overwhelm them with bodies if they tried to hold it any longer than that, but they could make it expensive enough they'd take some time to think about it first.

He threw the empty powerbar wrapper on the desk and double-clicked the file again for the next missing library. Instead a window popped up:

Please enter password to unlock door:

John jerked up so fast he nearly knocked his mug onto the floor. He glanced over, but Rodney hadn't twitched: he'd spent the last twenty minutes not typing, not even moving the mouse, just staring at the screen with that half-frown on his face and his wide mouth open a little, turned down at the corners. John bet you could put a microphone near his head and pick up the sound of his brain working.

Okay. Rodney's password.

"You had a cat back home, didn't you?" John said, casually.

"Using names of pets and children as passwords is woefully insecure, and if systems catches you doing it on any of your government-issue equipment they'll take it away," Rodney said, still not looking over. "And my birthday is March 18, 1968, and that's not it either."

"So you're going to be forty pretty soon," John said.

Rodney looked slowly up from the computer. "In three years!"

John shrugged. "That's pretty soon." He waited a beat and added, "I'm only thirty-five."

"You don't act a day over six," Rodney said. "Do you mind? While you're over there wasting your time, I'm trying to actually get some work done."

"Don't be so touchy," John said, smirking. He thought about it, then put in the exponent of the largest known prime. No luck. He was about to start going down the list, and then for the hell of it took a wild guess, and put in the number of digits of the seventh-largest Mersenne prime.

The password box disappeared, and he heard a click. He stared across the desk at Rodney, who looked surprised for once. John shoved the laptop back onto the desk, lunged for the door -- and it didn't open.

"The hell?" he yelled at Rodney.

"Did I forget to mention there's a hardware lock too?" Rodney said.

John stared at him and then opened up the access panel next to the door. Something like twenty crystal plates blinked at him from a tangle of wires.

The door clicked.

"Also, the software lock re-engages after one minute if the hardware lock is still closed."

John turned around slowly. "The password?"

"Changes automatically," Rodney said.

"And the library files?" John said, very controlled.

"Get shuffled around the system into new locations."

John went flying around the desk, hauled Rodney out of his chair, and pinned him down on the desk. "Watch the laptops!" Rodney said, shoving the coffee mugs off onto the floor and out of the way.

"I don't believe you!" John yelled in his face. "Open the goddamn door!"

Rodney let his head fall back against the desk. "No, no, and also? No." He started ticking points off on the fingers of his hand. "No, I'm not going to let you out of this room, and no, you can't go blow up the bunker, and no, I'm not intimidated, because no, you're not going to beat me up, or shoot me, or even hurt me -- "

John kissed him, pushing up hard between his legs and spreading him out on the desk, and Rodney's hands scrabbled at him for about half a second, then dug right into his hair and pulled him down: closer, deeper, all the way in. He yanked crazily at Rodney's belt with one hand and held him down with the other, pulled his own dick out and folded Rodney's pants back. He got his knife out of his back pocket and unfolded the blade with his teeth.

"Oh my God, okay, that's," Rodney said, and John ripped his boxers open up the middle seam, threw the knife down on the floor and got them farther up onto the desk so he could climb on top. His dick slid right into the sweet spot between Rodney's thigh and his balls, Rodney's dick getting hard and wet against his belly. "Laptop, laptop," Rodney gasped into his mouth, then broke off and turned his head so he could push the computer to safety.

John got his knee planted on the desk and now, yeah, he could really thrust, and Rodney was just urging him on, one hand on his ass and one cupping the back of his neck, and god, Rodney's mouth was so open, so warm, so wide. "I want, I have to," John said, incoherently; he didn't even know what he meant, but he thought he was going to go crazy if he couldn't get there right now, right this second. Rodney somehow got it, said, "Yes, fine, what are you waiting for?" and slid his big broad hand down the back of John's pants, and John came groaning with Rodney gripping him, urging him on.

Rodney got his hand between them and jerked off the rest of the way while John was still climbing down off the walls. John slid off him and crumpled back into the big chair: his dick was hanging out, there was come all over his pants, and his hands were actually shaking.

"Huh," Rodney said. He lifted his head and looked at his messy hand. "I'm still not letting you out."

"Shut up," John said, still limp.

"Nice try, though," Rodney added after a minute, patronizingly.

John struggled up and started tucking his shirt back into his pants. "You know, nobody would blame me if I shot you."

"Yeah, good luck getting out of here then." Rodney propped himself up on an elbow and pulled his ripped boxers out of his pants. He used them to mop up his stomach, and leaned over and threw them in the trash. He climbed off the desk and started to zip up again too.

He paused. John looked up and saw Rodney was staring at the desk. "What?"

"We just had sex on Elizabeth's desk," Rodney said.

John half-levitated out of the desk chair and looked down, trying to see if he'd gotten any stains on it. "I'm never going to be able to have a meeting in here again."

"Maybe if we fumigate it," Rodney said.

"Maybe if we melt it down and replace it," John said.

"We could do that," Rodney said.

They stared at the desk some more.

"Seriously, can I go now?" John asked.

"No," Rodney said.

"For the love of God!" John yelled, sat down on the floor with a thump and dropped his head.

Rodney made a fresh pot of coffee and gave him another powerbar. John took it and started to eat morosely.

"How did you get the password that fast, anyway?" Rodney asked. He'd gotten one of the computers and was working with it on his lap now, sitting next to John on the floor. "That should've taken you at least twenty minutes."

"Figured the biggest one would be too easy, and digits instead of exponent, same reason," John said. "After that, I just had a gut feeling."

"Huh," Rodney said.

"Listen to me for a minute, okay?" John said. "You know Kolya, you know what these guys are like."

"And you're ruining the afterglow already," Rodney said. "Yes, we have to do something. Otherwise they'll think we're weak and they'll just step it up. I get it."

"Then why the hell won't you let -- " John stopped. Then he took a deep breath. "Rodney, why do you want to hold their Stargate for an hour?"

"I'm glad you asked," Rodney said. He turned the laptop he was working on around: the screen was showing a technical schematic of the Stargate, except with a weird horseshoe-shaped piece sitting on the very top. "So we can install this."

"What is that?"

"It's actually a modified version of the iris forcefield generator that we have here," Rodney said. "It sits on the gate itself so it can draw power through the DHD to generate the field."

John stared at him. "You want to give them an iris? Now that's a great plan."

Rodney had that mad scientist gleam in his eye again, the one where he looked like he was going to bounce like a kindergartener. "You may not be able to grasp its true beauty until I explain that this iris operates strictly by remote control."

John looked back at the diagram. "What, you mean from here?" he said. "We'll be in control of their gate?"

"No more vacations to scenic offworld tourist spots for the Genii," Rodney said. "Also they'll have some trouble delivering any more presents of nerve gas."

"How the hell can that work?" John said.

"It's a little complicated," Rodney said. "Short version: whenever they dial out, the iris goes up. If we want to let them go out anywhere, we dial them up, send the iris a code through the wormhole, disconnect, and then the next time they dial the iris won't activate."

"What about incoming?"

"No iris," Rodney said.

John grinned. "They can get in, but they can't get out?"

"The Genii homeworld as roach motel," Rodney said. "Has a certain poetic quality, doesn't it?"

"I really am going to shoot you," John said. "Why didn't you just tell me about your damn idea? This changes the whole picture."

"I didn't have the design done this morning when you started yelling about having a meeting, so I wasn't sure it was going to work yet," Rodney said. "Anyway, I figured we might as well get the mutiny phase of our relationship out of the way early."

"I can't believe you made me do all that for nothing," John said.

"Oh, please, you were having fun."

"I was not -- never mind," John said, when Rodney looked ready to argue. "Fine. I'm convinced, now can we go?"

Rodney looked at the door nervously. "Well, er, interestingly enough -- "

"What?" John said grimly.

"I expected to have another fifteen minutes at least before you got to the hardware lock," Rodney said. "By then I would've been done with this, and ready to leave -- "

"You can't unlock the door?" John said.

"Of course I can unlock the door," Rodney said. "Just, not without doing the game all over again."

"Well, at least you've got to know where the files are."

"Actually, it's rather ingenious," Rodney said. "I didn't want to move all the files by hand, so I wrote this AI routine, and then I trained it to build a database of relationships and choose randomly between -- " He trailed off, looking at John's face. "Um. Also, it, uh, renames some things."

"It took me three hours to find them all the first time!"

"I'll help this time, it'll be quicker," Rodney said, reaching for the second laptop.

"I don't think so." John yanked it away. "You go sit next to the door and wait for that hardware lock. And you had better figure out a way to actually build that X-Wing before Elizabeth is out and you're on a mission with me again."

It wasn't hard not to think about what had just happened. By the time he replayed the whole damn game and they finally got out, there was a crowd of people hanging outside. Bates and two of his men were trying to jimmy the door open in front of a bunch of the research staff, who were eating snacks and making comments in several different languages.

"Oh, good, people who don't have enough work to do," Rodney said. "Simpson, you're building me an iris field module and I want it done in a week. Tell me who you need and you'll get them. Go check your email; I just sent you the design. Chen, you're taking over the naquada generator maintenance for her. Borsakov, I've got something else for you, talk to me tomorrow. You, move," Rodney said, pushing the Marine away from the door. "Wow, that's amazing. You were as far from the door mechanism as you could possibly be. On the other hand, you were about three centimeters away from electrocuting yourself on the power conduit. Not that that would've been much of a loss, but it would also have cut power to the main control station for about six hours. Stay out of the engineering if you want to live." He straightened up and pointed at Bates. "You, in the office."

"Wait a second," John said. "I gave Sergeant Bates his orders. Whatever you've got to say to him -- "

"Is not actually any of your business, and you've got more important things to do anyway," Rodney said. "You have one week to have your team ready to go, and I want that plan by 0800 tomorrow." He turned on Bates. "I'm sorry, do you have a problem with your hearing? Because I can take you off duty and have Dr. Beckett run extensive tests on you for a few weeks. In fact, come to think of it, he's been looking for a case to try out that new scanner we found down in the labs. Probably it doesn't use any harmful radiation."

Bates looked at John, then eyed Rodney doubtfully. Rodney smiled, not in a nice way, and pointed. Bates went.

The scientists Rodney hadn't already jumped on had all prudently disappeared, and the Marines were standing there uncertainly with their equipment. "Put that gear away and get back on your regular patrol," John told them, and then it was just him and the science and systems staff on duty in the control room. They weren't even bothering to hide their smirks as he left. Clearly, misery loved company.

It was still easy to avoid thinking, even in the shower, just letting the water carry away the long-dry, milky trails from his stomach and his dick, running his hands absently down his belly to unmat the thin line of hair. The mission details were all falling into place in his head, clockwork gears locking together: this was going to work, and he thought maybe he wasn't even going to have to lose any guys to get it done.

The Genii were waiting, just like Teyla had said, and a week hadn't been enough time for them to start relaxing. But as far as John was concerned, it was as long as he could stand. The Athosians had built them a mock Stargate out of wood, and he'd taken turns running opposite sides of simulation runs against Stackhouse, Ford, and Teyla until he was seeing gun positions and casualty lists in his head at night.

But in the end it didn't work out anywhere near as bad as the worst-case scenarios: the Genii didn't commit any real manpower to taking back the Stargate area until about half an hour in, when they finally figured out that Simpson and Kavanagh were doing something to the gate itself. By then Stackhouse had already gotten gun emplacements and some portable armor set up on the ground around the gate, and Miller had one cloaked and shielded jumper parked in mid-air right in front of the scientists. When the Genii finally did get their guns to the front, they spent a good ten minutes firing all their ordnance at it uselessly before they even realized it was there.

After that, it got hot for about five minutes: they had brought up something that was a cross between a grenade launcher and a catapult, and it lobbed small bombs up and over their lines. Stackhouse went down with shrapnel in his legs from the first one; the second one didn't go off when it hit the ground, went rolling. Dworkin grabbed it, hands sizzling audibly, and lobbed it back over the armor before he started screaming.

But Simpson was already yelling, "We're done!" into the radio. John waited until jumper two had picked her and Kavanagh up, then signaled the pullout. The Genii started throwing everything they had, and a couple of fireballs chased him through the gate, but Bates had fire crews of civilians and Athosians standing by: John was barely out of the event horizon when they were smothering out the flames with a blanket.

The gate stayed open, and the iris wasn't turned on, but nothing else came through. John shrugged out of his smoldering flak jacket and ran up the stairs. Rodney was in Elizabeth's office with Simpson and Kavanagh, watching the stream from the video monitors planted in the trees. The Genii were milling around in front of the gate: still firing, but everything was splashing harmlessly against the iris field.

"All the diagnostics check out," Kavanagh said, looking up from the laptop.

"Good, let's give this a test run," Rodney said. "Raise our iris, then take theirs down and up again."

"Here goes," Simpson said, and on the screen, the iris went out and back on. "Yes! Beautiful."

"They've stopped firing," Kavanagh said. John leaned in for a better look: he thought that was Kolya, near the front, taking a team of people with heavy equipment towards the gate.

"We're taping this, right?" Rodney said.

Kavanagh actually grinned. "Oh, yeah. We have it going to a DVR."

"Don't delete it," Rodney said, and went out; John went after him. "Put me on citywide," he told Grodin. "Okay, people, this is McKay, listen up. The teams are back, Dr. Beckett says the injured are all going to be fine, and the Genii are -- yes, I am going to say it -- bottled up. Party in the mess hall at 2100 hours, and the drinks are on me."

"Drinks?" John said, over the cheering.

"I had Borsakov build a distillery on the mainland," Rodney said.

The liquor packed a kick like dynamite, even cut with vaguely cranberry-juice-flavored water, but that only made it funnier when the A/V systems people put up the video feed from earlier and they all got to watch the Genii trying to get at the iris module.

"Watch this, watch this, this is great," Rodney said, nudging John: one of the Genii technicians was fiddling with the module from something like a cherry-picker, Kolya and about ten others close around watching. Suddenly the module sparked and sent out a Wraith stunner pulse down the gate and along the ground that knocked them all flat exactly like bowling pins, except it only took out their legs, so they were still conscious and flailing about with their arms. Kolya was yelling something or other and pounding the dirt with his hand, trying to get back up.

"That was Radek's idea," Rodney said, crying with laughter.

John coughed out the not-quite-vodka that had gone into his sinuses. "Can they actually get it off?"

"No," Rodney said. "They'll be able to get off the outer casing after a lot of work, and then if they puncture the inner casing it sets off an explosive chain reaction in the naquada of the gate."

"You know they're going to try," John said.

"We left them a note on the inside with a schematic of the design," Rodney said. "If they're too stupid to have their scientists look at it before they start poking holes, they deserve to blow up their planet."

"Uh," John said.

"I'm exaggerating," Rodney said. "They'd only lose about a twenty-mile radius around the gate."

"Oh, well, if that's all," John said, and drank some more vodka. There was nothing like the rush of a mission gone right, and when you threw in some hundred-fifty-proof moonshine brewed by a crazy Russian and added gloating to the mix, you just got high; that was all it was, and he wasn't thinking about Rodney's mouth for any other reason.

The video finished; Rodney threw back the rest of his shot and then went to the front of the room and got up on a table. "Okay, people, before you all get too plastered to remember anything after this. First off -- nice work." He waited for the clapping and whistling to stop. "Second thing -- I need all division heads in the conference room at 0900 hours, so don't drink too much if that means you. Everybody else, you have the morning off. Sleep in."

He jumped down to more cheering. John thought about going over to him, except he was pretty sure if he did, he'd put his hand on Rodney's back, or maybe his arm, and he'd lean in and ask if Rodney was getting tired. And since Rodney had had about three drinks already, he'd probably say yes.

Their lives were complicated enough. John put away the last of his drink and left the room.

John came down early to catch Rodney, but he was already in the conference room with Zelenka. "You've got to be kidding me!" he was yelling. "That idiot can't even solve basic power estimate equations correctly. I could make more progress spending five minutes a week!"

"You don't have five minutes a week!" Zelenka said. "At present moment you have negative twenty hours a week, and that is only sleeping three nights."

"Sleep is overrated," Rodney said. "What about Zukow? At least he's not completely incompetent."

"Zukow I thought for the transporter maintenance," Zelenka said. "It is more critical to operations than the power transformer research he is doing now."

"Well of course it's more critical, that's why I've been doing it," Rodney snapped.

"Rodney -- "

"Fine, fine." He slumped back into his chair. "Graf gets circuitry analysis, Zukow gets transporters."

"Also," Zelenka said.

"Oh, no; no way," Rodney said.

"Svoboda can handle puddlejumper systems from now on," Zelenka went on inexorably. "I will take over ZPM and shield power research."

"You're trying to steal my Nobel Prize!"

"You are never going to win Nobel Prize for research you are not going to do because you do not have time."

"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" Rodney accused. "You're sitting there gloating."

"Yes, I am very happy to have suddenly twice as much work and to have to make sense of your shoddy research and cryptic notes, and also to now be division head with useless administrative tasks," Zelenka said.

"Don't even start complaining to me about useless administrative tasks," Rodney said. He looked over his shoulder and noticed John at the door for the first time. "Is it nine yet?"

"I'm a little early," John said, coming in and taking a chair. "You guys done?"


"No," Zelenka said.

"We are so done!"

"There is also your replacement for field duty," Zelenka said, which shouldn't have caught John by surprise and did anyway.

"Oh. Right," Rodney said, with a sigh. He looked over at John. "How'd Simpson do?"

For a single stupid instant John wanted to say no, wanted to say they'd manage until Weir was back. But they needed the team out there, and the team needed a science guy. "She handled herself pretty well," he said. "It got a little hot at the end, too."

"Lucky her, she wins," Rodney said.

"Then we will need to transfer some of Simpson's projects, also," Zelenka said. "The -- "

"Yes, yes. Give Graf her work on the neutron fuel cells, too. He might as well make no progress on more than one project at a time." Rodney glared at Zelenka. "Now are you happy? I can feel my brain cells atrophying already."

"No," Zelenka said. "This is going to be a month before we have anything like real productivity out of research again, and you are going to be blaming it all on me in the meantime."

"Of course I will, it's your job now," Rodney said, bitterly.

"So what's this meeting about?" John asked.

"Patience, grasshopper," Rodney said. "I don't want to explain it twice." The other department heads were filtering in and taking their seats, mostly looking red-eyed and saggy, Bates carrying a laptop.

"Okay, kids, here's the deal," Rodney said once everyone was sitting. "Our security detail is spread too thin. We need to retrench."

Grodin raised an eyebrow. "Where by retrench, you mean?"

"I mean it's time to get our priorities in line, axe a bunch of projects, and consolidate staff and resources on the ones that actually matter," Rodney said.

"Excuse me." That was Dr. Lindross from Operations. "As I understand it, we expect Dr. Weir to make a full recovery within three months. I see no reason we should be discussing a significant reorganization."

"Which would matter, if you were in charge," Rodney said. "In case it's escaped your notice, Dr. Weir is currently in a stasis pod with sarin doing its best to melt her brain into sludge. In her absence, we are going to do whatever is necessary to avoid that happening to anyone else, like, oh, say, me, seeing as how I've just become the most attractive target around here."

"I hardly see how throwing the entire expedition into chaos is going to help with a security failure in the control room," Lindross said, pale with a line of angry red along her cheekbones.

"Okay, let me connect the dots for you," Rodney said. "Sergeant, let's see the current map." Bates hit a few keys and the Atlantis layout came up onscreen, with an overlay of the patrol area in blue and green, dotted red lines marking the route. "Here's where we're patrolling. Living areas are blue, labs and work areas are green. As maybe you can work out from this diagram, barring color-blindness, the green part is the really big one."

Rodney swiveled back around from the screen. "Our security people have to walk the entire patrol 24 hours a day, even though the labs are mostly empty overnight and the living quarters are mostly empty during the day. That leaves fewer men for security posts in key locations like the control room, which is how assassins sneak into the conference room without anyone seeing them, which is how heads of expeditions wind up poisoned with nerve gas. Any more stupid questions, while I'm on a roll?"

Nobody said anything.

Rodney waved a hand at Bates. "Sergeant."

"Yes, sir," Bates said, standing up and moving to the front of the room. "To free up security personnel, we need to cut down the size of the patrol area, and that means we shut down as many work areas as we can and make better use of the ones we keep. We divide the day up into three 10-hour shifts, and assign everyone a slot in a work area, we can get down to something like this." He hit the laptop and the patrol area shrank by almost half. "Also, if we have personnel in all areas at all hours of the day, we can safely reduce patrol intervals to thirty minutes."

"You want to put a third of the staff on night shift?" Srinivasan said.

"People can choose their slots. There are plenty of people who'll want night shift anyway," Rodney said. "The bigger issue is sharing space. Three people working on different projects in the same location is asking for homicide. I don't want more than two projects in a room, and one anywhere we can manage it."

"Um," Trini said. "I really don't want to be yelled at, but then you're talking about three people handing off a project around the clock. I've never heard of that except for crunch times."

"We're in another galaxy under attack by life-sucking aliens," Rodney said. "How is this not crunch time?"

"Excuse me," Beckett said, raising his head from where he'd been whispering with Dr. Heightmeyer, "But I wanted to say, we both think this could be a very good thing."

"We're getting a lot of sleep disorders and associated problems because people are working excessive hours," Heightmeyer said. "Something that forces people to get out of their work areas for a while would likely increase productivity in the long run."

"And better yet, if we also make certain everyone gets some free time during daylight," Beckett added. "The spectrum of light here is a wee bit different. We have less UV, and that means less Vitamin D production. Everyone needs to be out there getting more sunlight and taking those supplements that get handed out in the mess hall."

There was a lot of paper-shuffling and throat-clearing around the table. "Let's see if we can solve the poison gas problem before we move on to general nutrition," Rodney said. "By the end of the week I want a 5-page memo from each of you on how you can cut your work areas down to a third and consolidate your projects. Do a bad job and I'll decide for you."

He paused and then said abruptly, "Look, you all know -- this isn't the situation we expected to be in. The plans we made back home all failed to take into account the threat of imminent death, and we've lost a lot of people. I know this isn't going to be easy. Get it done anyway. That's it."

People didn't look happy, leaving the room, but at least they didn't look pissed-off or rebellious. John had to admit McKay had managed to turn it around at the end. "Major, stick around," Rodney said, waving him back to his chair. "You too, Sergeant."

Teyla came in and sat down. "You wished to see me?"

"That thing you do with the sticks," Rodney said. "How many Athosians know how to do that? Or any kind of serious fighting?"

"Wait a second," Bates said.

"Shut up," Rodney said. "You said security is short-handed, we're going to fix it. Nobody's going to be able to cut more than half their projects, that's not going to be enough."

Teyla raised an eyebrow. "Do I take it you wish to ask my people for volunteers to assist with security?"

"I don't think this is a good idea," Bates said.

"Well, it sounds like a great idea to me," John said. "If the Athosians were doing some of the patrol, that would free up a lot of men for other work."

"I am sure many would be willing to help protect the city," Teyla said, "so long as they could return to their families easily."

"We'll set up three regular daily flights to and from the mainland, at the shift changes," Rodney said. "Radek tells me the fuel cores on the jumpers are good for at least another thousand years of heavy use, so that's not an issue."

Bates said, "Sir, with all due respect -- "

"By which you mean I'm acting like a moron," Rodney said. "And since I'm at least an order of magnitude smarter than you are, that's an incredibly stupid thing to suggest. Do I really need to lay out for you in detail the amount of time and energy you've wasted suspecting the Athosians over the last six months? Yes, it sucks you've had a population of eighty dumped on you without any background checks. Get over it."

He turned back to Teyla. "Ask and see who's interested. I'd like you and Sergeant Bates to put everyone through basic training before we have them start doing patrol."

Teyla inclined her head. "McKay, I would ask you something else. What do you mean to do with the Genii now?"

Rodney shrugged. "Nothing. They're not a threat anymore."

"That is not what I mean," Teyla said. "By sealing off their Stargate, you have cut them off from the rest of humanity. I do not dispute that they deserve punishment, nor that we have the right to defend ourselves -- "

"Well, that's good," Rodney said.

Teyla gave him a narrow, steady look. "As I have said. But you cannot simply keep them penned up forever."

"I don't see why not," Rodney said.

"You are denying them their birthright, the gift of the Ancestors," Teyla said. "And that is not something which is yours to give or take away."

"Except clearly it is, seeing how we just finished taking it away," Rodney said. "No, forget it; end of discussion. The Genii aren't getting off-planet again for the foreseeable future." He got up. "Let me know when you've got the list."

John tapped on the office door and went in. Rodney was staring morosely at a stack of what looked like requisitions. "Why are people stupid?" he demanded, as John came in.

"What brought that on?"

"If I approved maybe a tenth of these, we'd be out of critical supplies for the naquada generators. You'd think people would get the idea that restricted means they can't have any. Pour me another cup, would you?" Rodney held out his empty mug, and John shook his head but took it to the coffeemaker anyway.

He handed it back to Rodney. "Look, I had an idea, and I need you to hear me out on this," John said. Rodney just made beckoning motions at him, drinking half the coffee down in one go. "What with our offworld missions, Stackhouse and Bates's scouting, stuff we've learned from other humans out there, we've got more intel right now than we can ever possibly use. Even if we free up some manpower, we don't have nearly enough to risk even a surgical strike on a Wraith position. But the Genii -- "

Rodney actually turned away and started typing. John stopped and clenched his jaw, looked at the door. He'd managed to convince himself that last time, Rodney had been laying down the law had just because he had a technical idea he knew was going to change the situation, and figured he could use the chance to snap John into line.

But this was -- it was Ryers all over again; he'd always done the same damn thing. He'd just stop listening and let John talk himself hoarse for hours, and it had never made so much as a scratch in his surface. The final answer always exactly the same as the first, no matter what that did to the people under his command, no matter what it meant for the mission. It was like walking back into a recurring nightmare.

Rodney said, "And? Keep going, I'm looking something up."

"If you're too busy, I'll just come back later," John said, tight and cold.

"What are you babbling about? I'm checking the firmware on the iris module. If we want to send the Genii out on missions, we'll need to upgrade it to check if the gate is open to a particular address before it drops the iris, or they can just go wherever the hell they want." Rodney stopped and looked up. "That is the idea, right?"

John stared at him. "Yes."

"So, keep going." Rodney went back to typing.

John felt like he'd just been turned upside down, and he'd had a mental list of about ten arguments lined up to talk Rodney into it that had to be skipped over. "Well -- we ruled M4X-831 out as an alpha site because the nights hit minus 20 degrees, but the days are in the seventies, so -- "

"-- we can still use it as a safe drop-point for going back and forth with them, got it," Rodney said, running his finger over the screen. "Good, this is doable. We'll have to write some new code, but then we can dial them up and download it right to the iris module. Why are the Genii going to play along?"

"You heard Teyla," John said. "Access through the Stargate is a pretty big deal for these guys. So I'm thinking, they run a mission for us, we let them take a personal trip on the side."

Rodney started up from his seat, snapping his fingers. "No, no, no. I mean, yes, but not one for one," he said.

John got what Rodney was aiming at, and it was like sunrise at 50,000 feet and climbing. "Points," he said.

"Yes, of course, points," Rodney said. "What kind of things did you have in mind?"

"We have a bunch of potential Wraith targets," John said. "Maybe we could start them off just with a -- with a bounty-hunting kind of thing -- "

"A hundred points for a dead Wraith?" Rodney said. He grabbed a pad and pen off the shelves behind him and came back to the desk. "Let's work this out."

"Maybe a hundred points for one of those drone guys, two hundred for the life-suckers," John said, leaning forward over the desk, and Rodney nodded, scribbling madly. "We could use more Wraith stunners, too."

"Five hundred for a functioning stunner," Rodney said. "Three hundred for a damaged one. Ditto for any other Wraith weapons or equipment. How about a thousand for a confirmed kill of a Wraith dart?"

"Hey, could you guys do something with one of those? I mean, fix one that's been shot down, get it flying again."

"Of course we can," Rodney said. "Let's make it two thousand for a mostly-intact dart, one thousand for one that's only good for parts. You know," he said, straightening up and wagging the pen. "The darts are significantly less sophisticated than the jumpers. It wouldn't be a major security risk to give them to the Genii, if we wanted them to run a mission that required air support or spaceflight."

"No, wait," John said. "We don't give them a dart -- "

"We make them buy it," Rodney finished. "Oh, that's beautiful. Five thousand points buys them a repaired dart."

"And we make those missions worth a lot more," John said.

"Ten thousand points for a successful rescue mission," Rodney said, "plus a thousand a head for each person they bring back alive."

"What about taking out a bigger Wraith ship?" John said. "Could they do that?"

"Not with their own equipment," Rodney said. "But there's no reason we can't let them buy other stuff from us too."

"You mean let them have C4?"

"Better yet -- ten thousand points plus the materials, and we build a nuke for them here and seal it before we send it back to them," Rodney said. "That way they can't keep back some of the C4 or reverse-engineer it."

"Okay -- thirty thousand for a cruiser, fifty thousand for a hive ship," John said. "And we charge them what per trip?"

"Twenty-five thousand for a trip someplace uninhabited, like a planet where they have a mine or supplies," Rodney said. "Fifty to visit someplace inhabited."

"We can pick mission targets so they won't be able to do much but what we want them to, if they want to get the mission done," John said. "But if we let them choose places to go on their trips, they're going to be able to move around from there. There's a chance they could set up something like the assassination again, plant some more spies."

"Yes, but it's going to take them a while to earn enough for a trip," Rodney said. "If they still haven't figured out by then that they're making a lot more progress against the Wraith working with us than against us, they're even more stupid than I think they are."

Finishing up the last line, he tore off the sheet and held it up. "Here we go, first draft of the Atlantis Frequent Flyer program," he said, his mouth curving into that lopsided smirk, and John reached across the desk and pulled him over, wanting to taste it so badly he couldn't even think.

Rodney scrabbled for balance, leaning awkwardly over the desk; coffee cups and computers in the way, again, and he kept trying to move things out of the way between kissing him back. The edge of the table was digging into John's stomach, and Rodney was stretching to shove John's jacket off his shoulders. John let it fall down, gripped Rodney's lapels and pulled him close enough he could kiss his neck, let his tongue run along the rough line of stubble to his mouth, with Rodney's hands groping him through his shirt, trying to get a grip on his shoulders.

They struggled over the desk, tug-of-war, both of them trying to pull the other over, still kissing: so good and not nearly good enough. John broke off just long enough to go around and Rodney met him halfway, backing him further out into the office, already tugging John's shirt up and over his head. John threw it aside, groped for Rodney's collar and unzipped his shirt, Rodney's hands at his belt.

His pants slid down off his hips as Rodney unzipped them, both of them still stumbling backwards, and they tripped and went down to the ground together. John tried to pin Rodney down, and then Rodney rolled them over again and ground down onto him, kissing him wildly, and John groaned and bucked against him, because oh God, that was good, even not skin to skin.

"Here, wait, yes," Rodney said, panting, and pushed himself up with a grunt; John shoved his own briefs down and got Rodney's pants and boxers out of the way too, and then Rodney lay back down onto him and started thrusting erratically, rocking back and forth.

John tried to roll them over again, but couldn't with Rodney's hands pinning his biceps to the ground and Rodney's weight on his hips. Rodney just groaned and thrust against him more, rhythm stuttering, and kissed him harder. John shifted his weight, and then Rodney was sliding right against him, everything lined up just perfectly, and John locked his hands into Rodney's hair and held his mouth in place until they came.

After a while, John said, "You notice how the floors aren't cold here?"

"There's working circuitry under just about every available surface in the city," Rodney said. "All the sensors and," he waved his hand aimlessly, "things."

"Oh," John said. At the moment, it just meant lying here was still a better option than trying to stand and pull up his pants from around his knees without looking like an idiot.

"I, uh, didn't think we were going to do this again," Rodney said eventually.

"Yeah, me neither," John said.

"Are we -- I mean, is this -- "

"Can we please not have this conversation?" John said.

"Well, excuse me, I thought a little clarification might be useful," Rodney said.

"How am I supposed to clarify? I have no idea what I'm doing," John said. "Do you?"

"No, but if I may point out, you are the one who's jumped me. Twice, now!"

"Okay, then clearly, what's going on is I'm losing my mind." John managed to yank his pants up, and got up to zip them closed.

"Oh, that's complimentary." Rodney put himself back together and went to make coffee.

"I didn't notice you complaining earlier," John added.

"I like sex," Rodney said. "Sex is good. And going by my limited sample so far, sex with you is exceptionally good, which means it gets a little difficult to keep in mind all the ways in which this is an incredibly bad idea."

John sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I know; you're right, it is a bad idea. I'm sorry."

"Still not complaining," Rodney said. "We just -- probably shouldn't do this again."

"Yeah," John said.

They stared at each other in uncomfortable silence for a while, then Rodney cleared his throat and turned back to the desk, starting to rummage around in the mess of papers and computers. John bent down and put the toppled chair back upright.

Rodney finally found the list and pulled it out from among the stacks. "Let's polish this up and go have a chat with Sora. We might as well have her take it through and save the personnel guarding the brig."

John nodded, shrugging his jacket back on. "Sounds like a plan."

Rodney said, "The Genii are still sulking over our offer, but I'm pretty sure they're going to call us and cave in another day or two. That means our job right now is to scout some more useful targets to aim them at. Teyla," he said, swiveling the chair around. "Any suggestions? We need planets where the Wraith would have a permanent presence."

Teyla was still looking pissed-off; she hadn't approved of the Frequent Flyer program, and she'd approved of Rodney calling her a sanctimonious killjoy even less. But after a moment, she said, "There are some worlds I know of by legend, where the Wraith deliberately exterminated all the humans. There would seem to be little cause for them to do so unless they desired the planet for themselves."

"Makes sense," John said. "We should check a few of those out."

"Just do it carefully," Rodney said. "I want radio contact with your position relative to the gate every hour. Actually going looking for the Wraith isn't the safest thing in the world."

"We'll be fine," John said. "I'll take an extra two-man team to monitor the gate and relay radio messages."

"Okay," Rodney said, getting up. "Have fun, kids; don't forget to call; and Major, don't get Simpson killed."

She looked a little palely at John as Rodney left. "Don't worry," John said. "He's just kidding. It's not really dangerous at all." He gave her his best smile. She didn't look particularly comforted.

Once they got out into the field she was fine, though: not much fun, really, too busy taking readings on everything in sight and too edgy to take kidding well. But she knew what she was doing, anyway. "Major, I'm getting something interesting this way," Simpson said, pointing, when they'd gotten a little distance away from the gate: no sign of any Wraith yet.

"Energy readings?"

"No, actually, that's what's interesting," she said. "It's an absence of energy readings, even the minimal low-level ones to be expected in a natural area. It's daytime, even rocks should be giving off a little heat."

"Okay, let's go check it out," John said. Teyla fell in next to Simpson and Ford brought up their tail: it was about a half-hour's walk through empty fields before they finally got to the source: a heavy stone door built right into the side of a hill. The door opened once they'd cleared away the overgrowth and put some gun oil on the hinges: a slab of rock maybe four feet thick, but balanced well enough that John could swing it open with one hand.

The interior was dark, but when he shone a light over the room he could see narrow bulbs along the walls, running down a sloping passageway into the dark.

"This does not look like Wraith construction to me," Teyla said, peering around the door way.

"Me either," John said.

"It isn't," Simpson said, looking up from her scanner excitedly. "It's Ancient. The alloys in the walls are very similar to those used in the construction of Atlantis. And Major, I'm getting significant power readings from somewhere below."

"Well, that sounds promising," John said. "Let's see what's downstairs."

"Wait," Simpson said, "there's some kind of shielding built into the walls here -- either it's just the materials used, or some kind of field being generated, I can't tell for sure. But our radios won't work if we go down there."

"Hang on," John said, and tapped his radio. "Jerome, Laslow, you guys reading this?"

"Yes, sir, loud and clear," Laslow said.

"Phone home, I want to check in early."

"You're all set, sir, go ahead."

"Atlantis, this is Major Sheppard. No Wraith anywhere yet, but we've just found what looks like some kind of abandoned Ancient bunker. We're going to be off-radio a while checking it out."

"That's a negative," Rodney's voice came over the connection. "We'll mark this planet down for further exploration later."

"We're already here," John said. "It's worth checking out now."

"Not while we've got other priorities, and not when it means you going off-radio when there's reason to believe there might be a Wraith presence on the planet," Rodney said.

John took a deep breath. "Rodney, we've been here an hour with no signs of any kind of Wraith activity. There are no people here for them to feed on, and if they did have a base, it would be somewhere near the gate. These readings are pretty unusual -- Simpson thinks there's a good chance there might be some kind of power source down there."

"If there is a Wraith presence, it's too dangerous, and if there isn't, then there's no point. In case I have to remind you, right now the job is to find targets for the Genii, and we've got another thirty planets on the A list to be checked out. Take a few more scans and come on home. McKay out."

"What the hell was that?" John demanded, walking into Rodney's office.

"What?" Rodney said, jerking up, rubbing his eyes; he'd been face-down on the desk. The laptops were apparently breeding, because there were now four planted around him.

"I was in the field, Rodney. I made an assessment of the situation on the ground, and you overruled me for no good reason," John said.

"Oh, stop whining," Rodney said. "You're just mad because I didn't let you waste time spelunking."

John planted his hands on the desk and leaned forward. "You just wasted a chance for us to find something potentially important. We're not going to go out on a second mission in the same day. A few hours more over there wouldn't have made a difference."

"It would have made a big difference if you walked into an abandoned Ancient lab and got yourselves infected or irradiated or something," Rodney said. "Now go away. I'm busy." He poked at a couple of the laptops until he found the one he wanted.

John reached out and pulled it away from his hands. "Those are the risks we have to take sometimes! All the readings looked good, and anyway, that's my call to make."

"Not when I give you orders otherwise, it isn't." Rodney stood up and grabbed back the laptop. "I just lost half an hour I didn't have, and I don't have any obligation to explain myself to you. Go have Teyla hit you with sticks or something and quit wasting my time."

"Go to hell," John said. "If you were there you'd have been the first one down the hole, and you know it; just because you're pissed-off that you're not out in the field anymore -- "

"End of discussion," Rodney said. John started to speak again, and Rodney cut him off. "You're dismissed, Major."

John blew out of the office, headed straight for the workout room and the makeshift hanging bag they'd put together out of scraps and gravel. He was panting with anger before he even started, and he hit it too hard, knuckles bruising, the chain squealing overhead. He left blood on the leather with both hands and it still wasn't helping, muscles knotted all along his shoulders and neck.

Teyla and Bates came in with four of the Athosian trainees to work on the weights. John grabbed a towel and wiped down the bag and his hands and left: the last thing he needed was for either of them to notice and make something out of it, even if they were both probably too busy glaring at each other to pay attention.

He wanted to go for a run, or better yet a flight; but not in a jumper. What he wanted right now was an F-15, an X-2, a Valkyrie; something where he'd feel the rattle and burn of the engines, the weight of the sky rushing by, instead of Rodney's voice replaying in his head on infinite loop, the ice-cold snap of the dismissal. Instead he went to his quarters and tried to pace it off. He wanted to fucking hit Rodney, wanted to go back up there and make him listen, wanted to -- and he stopped and leaned on the wall with one hand and got his pants open, got his hand on his dick and jerked himself hard, three, four times, and came on the wall.

"Let me guess," John said, peering down into the shaft. "Ancient?"

"Yes, I think so," Simpson said. "And it has the same kind of shielding we saw at the bunker, last time."

"That's kind of a coincidence," John said. "Have we seen anything like this before?"

"Not that I recall from mission reports," Simpson said.

"What are you thinking, Major?" Teyla asked.

"I'm thinking maybe the Wraith didn't exterminate these worlds because they wanted to settle down," John said. "Whatever's in these bunkers, they didn't want their prey to have. Ford, give me a light down there."

Ford nodded and dropped some glowsticks down the shaft: only about ten feet down, then they hit bottom, and putting his head into the hole John could see a tunnel running in either direction. "Can you pick up any lifesigns in there?"

"Not right here," Simpson said, holding the scanner down into the shaft. "But I'd expect the shielding to block out any that were separated from us by a wall."

"Okay." John straightened up and tapped his radio. "Laslow, do you copy?"

"Go ahead, sir."

"Give Atlantis a call on the hour and tell them everything's fine unless you hear from me otherwise. Expect to hear from us in three hours."

"Sir?But our orders -- "

"I just gave you your orders, Private," John said. "Sheppard out." He turned back to the team. "Let's go."

Teyla gave him a raised eyebrow. Simpson gave him more than that. "The last time we were in this situation, McKay said to come back!"

John turned around. "Simpson, when we're in the field, you take your orders from me. Lieutenant, let's rig up a climbing rope."

"Yes, sir," Ford said, woodenly.

Two and a half hours later, they straggled back to the gate, sweating and sticky from the oily phosphorescent algae that had invaded nearly all the corridors, but Simpson was carrying a weird twisty device that looked like a crystal-and-metal coil that she claimed could put out more power than one of their naquada reactors when operating properly.

Laslow and Jerome looked pale with relief to see them, running to meet them. "Sir -- " Laslow said.

"Save it, Private," John said, wiping his arm across his forehead. "We've got the goods. Let's go home."

Laslow shut his mouth and dialed without saying anything else. John punched in his IDC and tapped the radio. "Atlantis, this is Major Sheppard, we're ready to come home."

Bates's voice came over the radio. "Private Laslow, is everything okay there?"

Laslow glanced nervously at John. "Yes, sir, Major Sheppard and his team are fine. We're good to go."

"Shield is lowered, come on through."

There was a full team of Marines behind armor with P-90s waiting, and a medical team that came over to them. Bates lowered his gun and came up to them as John waved one of the nurses away and beckoned Simpson forward. "Where's McKay?" John asked. "He's going to like this."

"Dr. McKay is down at the fuel cell lab," Bates said. "Dr. Simpson, they need you there right now. There was a meltdown -- "

"Oh my God," she said, shoved her pack with the coil into Ford's arms, and ran out of the room.

"What the hell happened?" John said, dumping his pack off his shoulders. "Talk as we go."

Bates stepped into his way, put a hand up to stop him. "I can't do that, sir."

"Excuse me?" John said.

"Sir, my orders are to place you under arrest once your team was safely through. I need to ask you to surrender your weapons."

John stared at him. "Stand aside, Sergeant; that's an order. I need to go talk to McKay."

"You've been relieved, Major," Bates said. "And sir, I have been authorized to use non-lethal force. I hope you won't make that necessary."

Bates actually sounded more like he'd spent the last hour on his knees praying desperately for just that. John could feel Ford's eyes on his back, the rest of the team, the men in the gateroom; for one frozen moment, he almost said no, almost crossed the line, and then he gritted his teeth and unhooked his P-90 from his gunbelt, handed it over, then his sidearm, his boot knife, and even his swiss army knife.

They didn't stick him in the Wraith cell, at least, just a small bare room with a bunk and a tiny side bathroom with a sink and toilet. But the door was sealed, not even a grate to look out of, and Bates hadn't answered a single damn question on the way. Meltdown sounded bad and Simpson's reaction looked worse; and Rodney was probably right in the middle of the whole goddamn thing, because Bates sure as hell wasn't going to be keeping him out of it.

John paced the cell for an hour, then fatigue caught up with him: three miles out to the bunker and back, and god only knew how many miles underground, falling down in the muck every ten paces. He stripped down to the skin and washed up in the sink as well as he could, then lay down under the blanket and stared at the ceiling. Most of the city was beautiful to look at, even the parts people wouldn't normally see, but here the ceiling was completely blank, not even swirls in the surface of the metal.

He woke up at the sound of the door sliding open, and Rodney came in: black oily smudges on his hands and one on his face just above the right eyebrow, like he'd wiped his forehead without realizing. His shirt was zebra-streaked, black and grey smears more than red, one sleeve frayed open and the neck and armpits stained around with sweat.

The door slid shut again behind him. John sat up gripping the sheet around his waist, knots of worry in his neck working loose just a little to see him. "What the hell is going on?"

"Dr. Graf is dead, we just spent seven hours containing a fuel cell meltdown that could have blown away ten percent of the city, and you fucking lied to me," Rodney said. "How's that for a summary?"

John said, "Look, even if we had been on radio, we couldn't have gotten back here -- "

"That's so far beyond the point it might as well be in another galaxy." Rodney said. "I'm only going to say this once, so listen carefully. If you ever blow off my orders again? I'll strip your rank and ground you."

"Rodney, don't even go there," John said. "You're not going to put a twenty-five year old with three years' field experience in command. Ford is good and he's coming on fast, but he's not ready -- "

"I'm commissioning Bates as a captain," Rodney said, cutting him off. "And he and Ford are about to get a two-week crash course in running things without you. We'll manage."

And probably Rodney didn't have the right to do that, but it wasn't a stupid idea, it sounded plausible, and if Bates and Ford went along with it, so would the men. It even made sense to do anyway -- they needed another officer badly, and Bates had stepped up to the plate in a big way since they'd gotten here, even if he was a jerk.

"Fine," John said. "So you put Bates in charge. You think he's not going to expect the right to exercise discretion in the field? The situation was changed. When we found the second bunker, that meant the Wraith -- "

"Oh, just shut up right now," Rodney said. "Your chance to talk me into agreeing with you ended the second you decided to lie to me instead of trying."

He was standing over the bunk, mouth in a hard, knife-slash line that made John want to be on his feet to face him down: but standing up naked wasn't going to put them on equal ground, and maybe even full uniform wouldn't have made a difference. There was a smear of blood and black grime just along the underside of Rodney's jaw, two days' beard prickling through it; faint bruising under his eyes. He sounded more bitter than angry, and it was pissing John off, because he shouldn't be feeling guilty here.

"Yesterday you wouldn't listen to me for five minutes," John said. "Why was I supposed to believe you'd do it now?"

"I listened to you, I just said no," Rodney said. "Let me spell this out for you using small words. I am in command. You do not get to pick and choose what orders to follow. Do you get that?"

"Yes, sir," John said, drawling it out. This he was used to; he'd been chewed out plenty before, and he could probably have written Rodney's script for him. He knew how to take it, how not to let it get to you, how to let the insults slide off and not get pushed into giving them any more of an excuse.

"Stand up," Rodney said.


"Stand up and go to attention, or whatever the hell you call it," Rodney said.

John stared at him incredulously. "You've got to be -- "

"That's a fucking order, now do it," Rodney said.

John threw back the blanket and stood up, took two steps that put him right into Rodney's personal space, so close John could feel his body heat and his breathing, the smell of smoke and blood and sweat. He and snapped off a salute crisper than he'd managed since basic. "Yes, sir," he said.

John was used to this part too, the humiliation. Ryers hadn't even bothered to close the door to his office, so the airmen outside had heard everything: The only thing you're good for, Ryers had said, handing him the transfer orders to Antarctica, and you're lucky they didn't just kick you to the curb like I wanted them to; and he'd had to salute that fucking asshole too.

And Rodney made a small humorless huffing laugh and said, soft and quiet, "You know, I've worked with, oh, at least, a thousand military officers; some of the most incredibly brainless, incompetent morons -- "

Except it still hurt, still gnawed; because he'd never thought Rodney would do this, say something like this --

"-- and now here I have you, and you're brilliant, you're one of the best people I've ever worked with, and I have to put you in a fucking jail cell -- "

It wasn't just the words that jarred him loose, it was the way Rodney sounded: almost helpless, weirdly bewildered, and John forgot not to look at him: no kind of poker face, bright sharp frustration written out in block letters, and Rodney was still going. "And I don't even know if I can do this without you, but I can't fight the Genii and the Wraith and you too, and if I can't make you get this, if I can't get the fuck through to you, and I have to waste you like this -- "

John didn't know what the fuck he was going to say, but he had to say something. He opened his mouth and Rodney yelled, "Shut up, I'm not done!"

And that made it easy: John said, "Yes, sir," quietly, and straightened out his shoulders, going to real parade rest.

Rodney said, "Oh, God. Finally," and stopped, slumping a little. He blotted his forehead with the back of his hand and left more streaks on his face, a trail of sweat still running clear down his cheek, and John had to put his hands behind his back to keep from touching him.

Rodney straightened up again and started to say something, but then he looked at John and paused. John swallowed hard, trying not to stare at Rodney's mouth. Finally Rodney said, "At ease," with a rise at the end, as if he wasn't sure that was the right thing to say, and John said, "Rodney -- " and leaned towards him.

Rodney put a hand out to stop him and said, "Lie down."

John stared, then he turned around and lay down on the bunk, wrapped his arms around the thin pillow. Rodney put a hand on the back of his neck and pressed him down into the mattress. John shuddered all over, his panting breaths making the pillow cover damp, his hips already grinding against the bed, and Rodney started kissing him along the bunched muscles of his shoulders and one at a time down the curve of his spine. Light, dry kisses, barely a brush of the mouth, even though John tried to arch up as much as the steady pressure of Rodney's hand would let him. "Jesus, Rodney, please," he said, and Rodney just made a low smug sound against his skin and kept going, so fucking slowly.

"Hold still," Rodney said, and squeezed his neck lightly for emphasis. John shoved his face deeper into the pillow and tensed up all over to try and keep from moving. He could hear Rodney taking off his clothes, not fast or slow, just the ordinary sound of zippers and buttons, the rustle as he dropped them on the floor.

Then Rodney climbed on top of him and slid his dick between John's legs and nuzzled at his neck, arms sliding under John's. "Close around me," he said. John pressed his legs together and Rodney started sliding back and forth slowly, his dick leaking enough to leave trails on John's thighs, rubbing up against everything, sweet hot friction that wasn't enough. John couldn't get more, he couldn't move against the sheet without fucking up Rodney's rhythm, couldn't get his arms loose to jerk off. All he could do was lie there, but Rodney was saying, "Yes; God, this is so good, you're so good," brokenly, against his shoulders, and somehow that was better than anything else could possibly have been.

Rodney pulled up and came hot and spurting on his back, then he slid two fingers through the come, down along the curve of John's ass, and pushed inside him, put his wet slick hand around John's dick and started working him from both sides. John was coming apart, melting; he couldn't even breathe. Rodney said, "Okay, come now," and John managed to get out, "Yes, sir," before he spilled over and dissolved.

He was so limp afterwards Rodney had to use both hands to heave him up enough to pull the covers out from under. "Move over."

"Okay, okay," John said halfheartedly, and lumped himself over so Rodney could get in next to him; the bunk really wasn't meant for two, and his leg kept brushing against the cold wet spot on the blanket. He was mostly ready to pass out anyway.

"Rodney," he said, after a minute. "If we'd gotten Simpson back here sooner -- "

"No," Rodney said. "Graf was dead five minutes after he set off the reaction. We just needed Simpson to help with containment."

"Oh," John said, and let go of a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding onto.

"I had Radek give him the fuel cell project," Rodney said, after another minute. "They were one of Simpson's before she took over for me on the team."

"I'm sorry," John said.

"I mean, these are batteries," Rodney said. "How do you manage to blow yourself up with a pack of triple-As? I knew he was an idiot, I just didn't realize his incompetence had reached Darwinist proportions."

"Rodney," John said. "Stop it. People have accidents."

Rodney nodded and stopped talking, and let his head roll back limply. He relaxed into sleep almost instantly, and turned out to snore. Predictable. John tried prodding him onto his side, got nowhere, and gave up.

He woke up again alone, a neatly folded pile of fresh scrubs in the corner and black smears and fingerprints all over his skin where Rodney had touched him. He stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom for a while before he washed them off, his hands with the washcloth lingering on the back of his neck.

The floor was warm in here too, so he didn't bother putting his boots back on, just stacked them in the corner with his filthy clothes after he put on the scrubs. He washed the stain out of the blanket with the hot water and draped it over the sink to dry, flipped over the mattress, and then he sat down on the bed and looked around the empty room, already bored out of his mind. His watch read 0700.

He did some pushups and situps, walked around the cell for a while, then lay back down and started calculating pi in his head using the Machin algorithm. Around 0900, Peron opened the door and handed in a tray of food. "Sorry, sir, I'm not authorized to give you anything," he said apologetically, when John asked for a book.

John sighed and ate his cornflakes and banana, then went back to pi.

He was up to thirty digits by lunchtime, sixty by dinner, and Peron had been replaced by Laslow. "Sir, I just wanted to say," Laslow said nervously, handing in the tray. "I didn't rat you out or anything. It's just, Atlantis dialed up and Dr. McKay said to put Dr. Simpson on, and, when I couldn't reach you -- "

"Forget about it, Private," John said. "I made the call. It wasn't your responsibility to cover my ass. I'd've had to tell him about it when we got back anyway."

Laslow nodded, and saluted before he closed the door again. John had to bite down hard not to ask him to stay and talk: he'd already put the kid in one nasty spot, he wasn't going to do it again. But he was getting close to climbing the walls. The completely featureless walls.

At 2200, Rodney came in. "Having a nice rest?"

"Oh yeah," John said. "It's great here. Really relaxing. Hey, the hundredth digit of pi is 9, right?"

"Are you counting the leading 3?" Rodney asked.

"No," John said.

"Then -- I have no idea," Rodney said.

"Great." John sighed. "I'm going to have to start over. Seriously, when are you going to let me out of here?"

"Didn't I say? Two weeks. One week and six days, now, actually."

"I'm already going crazy," John said. "If you don't at least let me have a book, I'll be certifiable by then."

"I just want to ensure you have enough time to contemplate the error of your ways," Rodney said. "By the way, the Genii called. We're going to send them to M8B-317 to start with, that place where the Wraith had that gun emplacement."

John nodded. "Good choice. We should see something like eight kills from that, maybe a few stunners."

"I'll tell Bates and Ford what to expect," Rodney said. "Anything we should watch out for?"

"Well, eventually I'd bet on their trying an ambush at the drop point, or some kind of booby trap."

"We'll send the MALP to scan the area and poke at anything they've left before sending any people through," Rodney said.

"Good. We're still shut down to visitors, so other than that, I'd just make sure the offworld teams watch their backs more carefully, on all missions. No overnight stays, no leaving their packs unattended where someone could get at them, voice confirmation of all IDCs. Having some kind of code word for each mission wouldn't be a bad idea."

"I'll take care of it," Rodney said. "A full day's quarantine after getting back, too, probably."

"Yeah," John said. "Rodney, I really should be -- "

"No," Rodney said.

"Something could happen -- "

"If you want to keep arguing pointlessly, I could just leave," Rodney said.

"As opposed to?" John said, and then, "Oh," as Rodney stepped in closer and slid his hand around the back of John's neck, pulled him in. They stood just kissing in the middle of the room, Rodney's hands running slow and possessively over John's back, thumbs sliding just under the loose waistband of the scrubs, easing them low on his hips.

John pushed Rodney's jacket off his shoulders and let it hit the ground: soft thump as it landed, something in the pocket, and he knew what it was, what Rodney was going to -- John bent down and got the jar out, trying to keep his hands from shaking, and gave it to Rodney; then he stripped the shirt off over his head, pulled loose the drawstring and let the pants slide down, cotton brushing over his dick, pooling around his ankles, and he stepped out of them and turned to lean against the wall, already hard.

"A little farther," Rodney said, made John take a step back, then reached between his thighs to nudge his legs apart. John let his head drop, shivering, and took deep breaths while Rodney got him loose, opened him up; and then Rodney started pushing in: slick and hot and Jesus Christ, big, and John's breath stuttered and caught and choked. "Is this good? Say something here," Rodney said, sliding a warm hand over his hip and up along his side.

"Yes," John said. "Yes, it's good, of course it's good, keep going; what the hell do you want, don't make me talk for god's sake --" with Rodney sliding into him the whole time, and then John really couldn't talk anymore. He dragged in long breaths and held on, and Rodney moved and kept moving, slow and unstoppable.

"Oh. Oh, wow." Rodney stopped and just flopped down onto him, shuddering, made John bear his weight.

And stayed there, pressed all the way in deep, making small groaning noises against his back. Forget the fact that this was dangerous and insane, it was starting to be unbearable. "Rodney, I swear to god, if you don't do something," John said.

"Give me a second! Oh, god, this is good." Rodney started nuzzling along his shoulderblades, scraping the nape of his neck with stubble.


"Okay, okay!" Rodney said. John braced himself against the wall, and Rodney gripped him by the hips and started fucking him seriously: real back-of-the-throat thrusts, long and steady.

"Yeah, come on," he said, putting his head down, trying to make himself give way a little more, and Rodney slid in hard and stopped again.

"Don't move, a second, okay?" Rodney was leaning into him, panting in short gasping breaths.

"You had better not come yet," John said. Right now he was all on one page, however long that was going to last: no energy to waste on being confused or ashamed or freaked out, and all he wanted was more.

"Thank you, trying not to! You know, this isn't as easy as you might think."

"It's not exactly easy over here either!" John tried to shove back.

"Oh god," Rodney said, and slid his hand around John's hips and got hold of his dick. John groaned and arched up into him, and Rodney got in a few last stuttering strokes, but that was pretty much it for both of them, and they both slid down to the floor and collapsed.

"You know," John said eventually, "there's got to be something in the Geneva Convention against using prisoners for sex."

"Nice try," Rodney said.

The hundredth digit of pi really was 9, it turned out.

When Rodney came by the next night, John barely waited for the door to shut before pushing him up against the wall, scattering the stack of papers and diagrams Rodney was carrying. Rodney clutched tight to the laptop he was also holding and said, "Watch it! What are you -- oh," as John slid down him and took his pants along.

John licked over the head of his cock, then opened his mouth and took it in, warm and soft. "Oh, God," Rodney said. "Oh. Oh yes."

He gripped Rodney's hips and let his thumbs stroke in the pelvic hollows while Rodney hardened on his tongue and swelled out of his mouth, and then he wrapped a hand around the base and sucked harder, Rodney gone completely silent overhead now, just sort of staring dazedly into space with his mouth open, still with both arms wrapped around the laptop.

"Oh," Rodney said, suddenly, and then made some completely incoherent noises when John swallowed. John let his softening dick slip loose, wiped the corner of his mouth, and eased Rodney down to the floor in a controlled slide. "Will you please let me out now?" he said.

Rodney blinked at him, looking vaguely unfocused. "No."

"I said please!" John said.

"What is this, kindergarten? There is no magic word," Rodney said. "Anyway, I brought you a present." He stretched out and dragged the papers back into a messy pile. "Here, take a look at these."

John sat up and sorted through the stack: summaries of scouting missions to a few dozen worlds where they'd run into the Wraith, with topological maps and environmental scan information; also a single thick report on the Genii under Rodney's name. John flipped through it: lists of weapons and potential weapons for their technological level, assessment of the likely state of their infrastructure, personnel, raw materials collection.

"We picked up seven Wraith bodies and four stunners from the drop point this morning. No attempt at an ambush," Rodney said.

"Even if they're going to do something, they'd play along for a while," John said, already skimming the report. "We still need to keep an eye out for a double-cross."

Rodney nodded and handed him the laptop. "Make me a plan." Then he stood up, still a little wobbly, straightened himself out, and left. John pulled the mattress off the bunk down to the ground so he could use the surface as a desk, spread out the documents, and got to work.

"We want to ramp them up with another three minor outpost missions like the first one," John said, switching through the three files on screen. "After that, I think it'll be worth giving them a shot at a dart. We got attacked by three of them on M9X-G74, so that's a good place to try, and after that we can go for M7G-893. I've put together mission plans for all of these ops. And listen, I want to start getting evaluations from the strike team leaders on their side, too, with every drop."

"Make them give us mission reports?" Rodney said. "That's not a bad idea. We won't be able to trust the intel, though."

"They'll hide anything that seems useful, yeah, but it's hard to make up details out of nothing. It'll be easier for them to just tell us mostly the truth and skip a few things," John said.

"Especially if we dock them points for anything obviously made-up the first few times," Rodney said.

John nodded. "And anyway, at least it'll get them used to reporting to us."

"Kolya's going to love that," Rodney said, smirking.

"Oh yeah," John said, and Rodney leaned over and kissed him. John put the laptop on the floor and lay back on the bunk, pulling Rodney down with him.

He had another ten days left on the sentence and no more work to do, so right now all he wanted was to stretch things out as long as possible. Get out of all his clothes, get Rodney stripped down too, lie down skin to skin and spend an hour just necking, slow lazy sex that could keep going and going. He didn't think enough about what it would be like, what it would mean, until they were naked and curled into each other under the blanket, Rodney's hands running in broad warm strokes over his back, Rodney kissing him back slow and hungrily.

All the way past crazy and out the other side, where nothing made sense except this, where he couldn't figure out what had ever made him think this wasn't a good idea. "John," Rodney said, whispered, and cupped his neck, bringing their foreheads together, and John shared his breath and his body and forgot this wasn't what he'd always wanted.

The Genii handled the three ramp-up missions fine, if sullenly. Rodney wandered by his cell afterwards to show him the video feed from the drop point with the neatly laid out Wraith bodies and gear: morbid, but satisfying anyway, especially with Kolya walking along and visibly tallying up the count with an assistant trailing after him and making note of the points.

After the third one, Rodney also brought along a celebratory canteen of coffee spiked with Borsakov's liquor -- which tasted a lot better now the Athosians had been given free rein over the distillery process -- and schematics of a long-range gun the Genii had captured from the Wraith. They lay squeezed together in the bunk looking it over, with Rodney reaching over John's side to point out various bits and pieces of the design.

"Kavanagh's already got it set up out on the mainland for testing. It uses some kind of gravity field distortion technology to produce the energy. I have a feeling this is going to be important," he added, lying back and frowning at the ceiling. "It's got something in common with the vacuum energy that the ZPMs use."

"You think the Wraith developed it based on Ancient technology?" John asked, putting the schematics down on the floor and rolling over. He curled against Rodney's side, laid his thigh over Rodney's legs.

"No, no," Rodney said. He absently put his hand on top of John's and laced their fingers together. "I mean the underlying physics. It's the same thing from two different directions. Like seeing two angles of a complicated sculpture. I can tell it's the same thing, I just can't make out the overall design yet. I just need more time."

"Can't Zelenka work on it?" John asked.

"Radek might, and I emphasize might, be almost as good an engineer as I am, and if you tell him I said that, I will lock you in here for the rest of your life and tell Elizabeth you disappeared mysteriously when she wakes up," Rodney said. "But this is pretty much pure astrophysics, and it is possible that it's even beyond me. God, I wish Carter were here. I know we could nail it down together."

"Keep talking that way and I'm going to get jealous," John said. "You and she never really, though," he added, after a second. "Right?"

Rodney loftily said, "A gentleman does not kiss and tell."

"Turned you down, huh?" John said.

"It could never have worked out," Rodney said. "We're too good for both of us to be assigned to the same project long-term."

"Don't worry," John said. "I'm not as picky."

Rodney sat up. "What you are is lucky beyond your -- " and John pushed him back down, climbed on top of him and shut him up.

"Hey, wait a second," he said sleepily, later, as Rodney got up to go. "That gun, was it actually working? When the Genii handed it over?"

"Mm, mostly. A few loose wires, a little cosmetic damage."

"Something they could've fixed themselves?" John said. "It's hard to believe they'd just give it to us."

"You mean they're setting us up for something," Rodney said. "They want us to relax."

"Yeah, and I think they just overplayed their hand." He fumbled for the scrubs on the floor. "I'd bet on an ambush at the drop point. We should set up a camouflage perimeter before their next drop: put men and a couple of jumpers back from the likely Genii positions, and leave them there. After the ambush squad settles in, dial in from Atlantis to get them focused on the gate, then take them from behind."

"I'll tell Bates," Rodney said.

"I need to be there!" John said, sitting up.

"No," Rodney said, putting his jacket back on.

"Listen to me for a second," John said. "This is serious. I'm not just trying to get sprung early. Nothing against Bates or Ford, but if I'm there, our chances are better."

"I know," Rodney said. "The answer's still no."

"If you still don't trust me -- "

"Oh, please, don't be an idiot," Rodney said. "This is a relatively controlled situation. Atlantis itself isn't at risk and won't be, and we have a pretty good idea what to expect. It's a good opportunity to give Bates and Ford a chance to run things."

"Right, sure; perfect training mission," John said. "Rodney, the Genii aren't going to be playing around. Yeah, I've got a good guess at what they'll try, but that doesn't mean I'm right, and it definitely doesn't mean this is going to be easy. There's a damn good chance some of our people could get killed."

"Yes," Rodney said. "I know." He left John staring after him.

John spent the next two days walking around the room in circles, banging on the door every time he had another idea. Rodney came by once the second night, at 0500, kissed him in the dark and said, "The team's going out. Anything else?"

"I can still go," John said. "Rodney -- "

"Don't," Rodney said, kissed him again and left.

Once the Atlantis team was in place, Rodney would be letting the Genii dial out to M9X-G74 for the actual mission. The actual strike team would probably go out with a couple of squads for the ambush, maybe three. The squads would head straight back out the M9X-G74 Stargate to the drop point and start prepping. Then allow six hours for the strike team to complete the mission and get the goods through the Stargate to the drop point.

John watched the seconds flickering past on his wristwatch, glowing green, ticking off the milestones in his head. At 1300 hours, Peron opened the door and let Teyla in: she'd brought a laptop with wireless hooked up to the video feed. "The Genii have just dialed in from their homeworld to report they have completed the drop," she said. "We are about to connect to the drop point."

Time to find out if he'd guessed right; if they'd covered enough of the bases. They watched silently, waiting: the player flickered as the gate established and they got a signal from the feed: nobody in sight around the gate except the stack of corpses, and two still-smoking hulks of Wraith darts.

"They're there," John said. "This is happening."

"Where do you see them?" Teyla asked, looking closer. "This image is not very clear."

"I don't, but if they hadn't set up an ambush, Bates and our people would've come out by now," John said.

Twenty smoke grenades came flying out of the gate, already spewing; that part had been Bates's idea, and a good one, but John couldn't help but tense up when the volunteer team came through firing: they were still going to be sitting ducks no matter how much smoke there was.

It worked, though: the Genii probably couldn't see there were only three guys, and they came charging out of their positions, returning fire: Wraith stunners instead of guns. "They're going for hostages," John said, and Teyla nodded.

The jumpers uncloaked in the background, and a handful of drones blasted the ground ahead of the Genii; the volunteer squad were retreating beyond the Stargate as planned and heading for the underbrush: they'd circle around and join the rest of the troops. At least that was the idea: John couldn't tell for sure with the smoke, but he only saw two men standing and moving.

The Genii had caught on and dived back to their entrenched positions: they gave up on the stunners and switched to guns and grenades. There was some kind of struggle happening near the edge of the camera view, on the ground. "That resembles the gun which the Genii sent us," Teyla said, pointing to the vague shape on the screen.

"Goddamnit," John said. "They kept one, bastards," and he got up and pounded the wall. Bates would've had to put men on the ground for that: Rodney had said the gun had enough firepower to maybe even take down a jumper.

"Major, I believe we have overwhelmed them," Teyla said, and he came back: they'd taken the gun, and the Genii were coming out with arms over their heads.

Rodney came to let him out the next morning, a day early, and sat on the bunk while John washed his face and brushed his teeth and thought about flossing to put off the conversation: we shouldn't, we can't, we won't. It had been too easy to pretend the cell somehow hadn't counted.

In the end, though, it wasn't so much a conversation as a series of increasingly uncomfortable moments of silence and awkward glances, and then abruptly Rodney said, "This really is unbelievably stupid. It's a bad idea on so many levels it's not even worth counting them."

"I know," John said, or tried to; it didn't really come out audible.

It didn't matter; Rodney was still going. "However, clearly we are doing it anyway, so it's time to face reality and cut our losses."

"Oh. Okay," John said, trying not to notice he was feeling intensely, deeply relieved. "So from now on -- "

"We just keep it quiet," Rodney said.

"Very quiet," John agreed.

"And no more sex in the office," Rodney said.

"Right," John said. Then he looked at Rodney. "Well -- "

"All right, fine, but only when we have a good excuse for being in there for a long time."

John nodded.

"Okay. Good. Wonderful." Rodney sighed and slumped down a little. "You know, I've always thought of myself as a supremely rational person."

"You have?" John said.

"I'm just saying, normally I have more self-control than this!"

"You do?"

"I feel I should point out that I haven't actually let you out of the cell yet," Rodney said.

John went back to his quarters and showered, then tracked down Eila Larivaara, who had brought an iron in her personal luggage. He'd thought that was crazy when he heard about it, until she started lending it out in trade; she was probably up in the top ten of the Atlantis barter economy by now. It couldn't make machine-washed fatigues look like a dress uniform, but it helped.

He put himself together and went out to the main promenade, where they held the services. Bates was there already, out on the balcony. "Nice work, Captain," John said, joining him.

"We lost three men, sir," Bates said.

"You were outnumbered and they had anti-air weaponry. If you hadn't made a ground assault, you could've lost a dozen men and a jumper on top of it. You made the right call," John said. He turned to face out over the ocean, leaned against the railing. "Sorry I wasn't there."

The low murmur of conversation picked up in the room behind him, and John looked over his shoulder. Rodney had just come in and gotten double-teamed by some people from Operations and Systems. It was weird to see him in the red-paneled jacket instead of the blue.

"I didn't figure it out until the night before," Bates said. "I thought he was still pissed-off. But he kept you out on purpose, didn't he." It wasn't really a question.

"He knew you could handle it," John said.

Bates didn't say anything a moment. "Sir, would you have done -- "

"Don't go there, Bates," John said. "We never get to know. You got the job done, that's what matters."

Bates nodded, and they went inside for the service. Elizabeth usually made a speech, tried to say something about every one of the men; Rodney just let the chaplain give the service. But at the wake afterwards, he had Systems set up a microphone at the front of the room and made the guys' team leaders come up and talk about them. Ford and Bates went next, and by then the rest of the guys had done enough drinking that more of them started going up.

It was good, like a sharp clean knife, and even better when one of the scientists went up, a little timidly, and talked about Pohl coming by on her night shifts when she'd gotten freaked out. After that some of the other scientists and staff went up too, and a lot more mixing started happening between the tables.

John took his own turn at the podium; he hadn't seen that much of Pohl, but he'd taken Franklin on more than a couple missions, and Wrigley had gone after the Wraith hive ship with him. He talked to some of the guys from the teams and drank with Ford for a while; then he looked for Rodney and noticed he'd slipped out.

Grodin was a little drunk, but that was okay; he could still work the sensor controls and he didn't think to ask why John was trying to find Rodney, which saved him the hassle of coming up with a plausible excuse. "He's down in the stasis chamber."

John found Rodney sitting in the dark, slumped over the amber lights of one of the consoles with a large glass of water balanced precariously on the edge. He had a laptop in front of him, but he wasn't actually working on it, just poking at the console buttons with one finger. The stasis niche was illuminated, Elizabeth's face serene under the ghostly white light, a thin trickle of blood just starting to leak from her nose, luridly red; next to the niche a full-body monitor showed the yellow of the sarin still mingling with the blue of the antidote in her veins.

"Is that really a good idea?" John said.

"I'm drunk, not stupid," Rodney said, taking another gulp. "This is just a monitor. All the controls are over there."

"Okay, then," John said. He wandered over and looked at the readouts: he was starting to pick up enough Ancient to get by from working with the puddlejumpers. It looked like a countdown of some kind: 42 days, 18 hours, 52 minutes, and the seconds flickering away in tiny increments every time Rodney hit the button.

Rodney didn't say anything, just kept punching the button. "That was a good idea, up there, by the way," John said after a while.

"What was?"

"The whole open-mike thing," John said.

"What do I know about memorial services? I told Heightmeyer to come up with something, that was her idea." Rodney said, drinking some more. "What the hell do I know about any of this? Do you know what this is?" He jerked his hand with the glass at the laptop, water sloshing dangerously. "It's a sanitation plan! I have real work to do, and instead I'm reading about waste disposal and littering while you're just standing there bleeding!"

He was talking to Elizabeth now; yelling, actually, and John took the glass out of his hand and sniffed it. "Jesus! Is this straight? You drank this much?"

"My blood alcohol concentration is perfectly within safe limits," Rodney said. "I haven't lost the mental ability to do arithmetic yet. No thanks to you!" he added to Elizabeth.

"Okay, we're taking you away from the equipment now," John said, putting the glass down on the floor, near the door.

"Yesterday it took me ten minutes to figure out how to solve a basic thermodynamic equation," Rodney said. "I haven't done any real research in four weeks, my whole setup is already obsolete; Radek won't even let me look at the schematics for the darts! And it's all your fault!" he yelled back over his shoulder while John steered him out the door.

Rodney weaved back and forth as John towed him towards the transporter. "Do you know, that bastard hid the baby zed from me?" he said. "I could be on the verge of a breakthrough here, theory of relativity levels, and he won't let me work!"

"Who, Zelenka? What's a baby zed?" John said, punching the transporter for the living quarters. He hauled Rodney back out and down the hall towards his room.

"The thing," Rodney said, waving a hand. "The coil thing, the thing you brought back, from MGM-whatever, it's like a low-yield ZPM, only the subspace interface is simplified far beyond that of a full ZPM, so it's easier to figure out how it interacts with the vacuum energy field -- "

John leaned him against the wall and tried to get his door open. "Rodney, your lock isn't working."

"-- and the power distribution curve isn't half as complex, and the entropy slope is graduated, which minimizes the range of equations necessary to describe the system -- "

John gave up and pulled Rodney along to his own room; the hallways were still empty anyway. Rodney kept talking while John stripped his clothes and boots off, pushed him down onto the bed, turned off all the lights; he even kept talking after John started kissing him, words vibrating in his throat under John's fingers, but slower after a while, until finally he stilled and his breath started coming shallow and brokenly into John's mouth.

"Rodney," John said, touching his face; it was wet. "Rodney. It was the right thing to do."

"Of course it was the right thing to do; what difference does that make?" Rodney said, but he huddled close and let John hold him until he slept.

"I realize that this is much less exciting than screwing around with the Genii, seeing how guns and alien devices aren't involved, but you might find it difficult to get much accomplished around here if we haven't got anything to eat!" Lindross was yelling.

John flinched away from the office door and wandered casually back to the main Systems station instead. "Hey," he said to Grodin, and then noticed that there were a couple of Athosian kids sitting at the console next to him, fiddling with a laptop. "Should they be -- "

"Mina and Galen are studying while their parents are training with Captain Bates," Grodin said. "Rodney wants us to start the younger Athosians learning the equipment."

"Huh," John said. "What are they doing?"

"We are making a spreadsheet," Mina said, looking up.

"Cool," John said. "You should check if they have minesweeper on there."

Lindross came sailing out of Rodney's office with some kind of report crumpled up in her hands and stormed off to the transporter. John waited until she was well clear to go back to the office. Rodney was sitting with his head pillowed in his arms on his desk.

"Are we going to starve?" John asked.

"Don't even start," Rodney said, muffled. "She just talked to me for an hour about crop yields. Why can't people use their initiative?"

"You locked me up for two weeks because I used mine, maybe she's scared," John said, closing the door behind him.

"Did she look scared to you?" Rodney demanded, lifting his head.

"Not so much, really," John said.

"No," Rodney said. He leaned an elbow on the desk and pressed his knuckles into the bridge of his nose. "What do you need?"

"I wanted to talk to you about the prisoners," John said. "I know Bates wants to keep them for prisoner exchange -- "

"Yes, yes, I know; that doesn't make sense," Rodney said. "They have plenty of people, we don't. So?"

"I think we should just send them," John said. "Don't even bother holding out until they run another clean mission, throw them all back now."

"What, just to taunt them with how far beneath us they are?" Rodney said.

"It's a little more complicated than -- yeah, pretty much," John said.

"Yes, great, do it," Rodney said. "Lindross will be happy we have thirty less people to feed." He sighed and put his face back into his hands.

John went around behind him and started kneading his shoulders. "Oh, yes, yes, yes," Rodney said, pancaking flat over the desk under his hands. "Please don't stop doing that."

Rodney's hair was getting a little long, wispy ends curling over the back of his neck. John ran his thumbs up along the column of his spine and bent over to kiss him, Rodney already making encouraging noises. John pulled the chair away from the desk and stepped in front of Rodney, pushed him against the backrest and bent down to kiss him, unzipping his jacket; Rodney's hands were at his waist, unbuckling his belt.

The sound of the door mechanism engaging snapped John out of the zone, and he just managed to drop down behind the desk before the door slid open.

"McKay, I must speak with you," Teyla said.

"Sorry to disturb you, sir," Bates said, right behind her. John rolled and tucked himself into the leg room, cursing silently and buckling his belt up again.

"What now?" Rodney asked, scooting his chair up to the desk, blocking John in.

"I cannot ask my people to further endure this kind of treatment. This arrogant, stupid -- "

"You and your people don't understand the meaning of discipline -- "

"My people live in a stronger discipline than yours from the day they are born!"

"Sir, with all respect, I think it's clear by now this project is going to be a complete failure -- "

"Because you are intolerant and -- "

"Both of you shut up!" Rodney yelled.

"Sir -- "

"McKay -- "

"Shut! Up!" Rodney said. "What are the two of you, five? What actually happened? You, talk; you, quiet." John leaned against the side of the crawlspace and settled in. It was weirdly fun to hear Rodney snapping orders. Especially when they were at somebody else.

Teyla said, "He has created an obstacle course which is completely impassable, and he refuses to begin training any of the volunteers on your weapons until they have gone through. Many of my people are growing disheartened. He is mocking their efforts, and it is clear he has no intention of actually allowing any of them to provide assistance."

"Save the interpretation," Rodney said. "So there's an obstacle course that nobody can get through, that's your issue?"

"One among many," Teyla said. "He has also -- "

"Well, we're going to start with this one, since you did. No, be quiet! Captain, your turn."

"Sir, I can't get these people trained with her interfering every step of the way. They know if they go running to her, she's going to go over my head to you, and I can't build any kind of disciplined team out of them under these conditions. Basic training is not about learning to fire a P-90, it's -- "

"Thank you, I'm familiar with the concept," Rodney said. "Are you just using the obstacle course to hold them back because you don't think they're ready, or is it doable?"

"Yes, sir, it most definitely is doable," Bates said. "They'd all be through by now if they didn't think they could get out of it by whining to her."

"That is a lie," Teyla said.

"Again with the shutting up," Rodney said. "Captain, can you get through it?" And damn, he was good; that was fucking brilliant, and John wanted to touch him so badly he couldn't help edging forward, sliding his hand up Rodney's thigh.

"What?" Bates said.

"I thought it was a pretty simple question," Rodney said, and under the desk he grabbed John's hand and pushed it away. "Can you get through the course?"

"Yes, sir, I can," Bates said. Teyla made a small snorting noise.

"Fine," Rodney said. "Go through it in front of them. Teyla, if he doesn't make it, you can come back to me, I'll put Stackhouse in charge of the training, and you can see if you can work with him instead."

"Sir -- " Bates said.

"Thank you," Teyla said.

"I'm not finished!" Rodney snapped. "If he does make it, you're going to train with him, under his orders, until you can do the course in front of your people too, so they can see it's not something magic about Earth training or equipment."

God. John shoved Rodney's legs apart and put his mouth on the inner seam, Rodney's dick still mostly hard and warm against his cheek. He breathed against Rodney's thigh and mouthed it through his pants, moving upwards.

Rodney's hand slid into his hair, gripped and pushed him back. "Any questions?" he demanded, and Jesus, his voice wasn't even wobbling. John tried to shake his head loose, tried to get his mouth on Rodney again. Rodney's hand tightened, and he moved his leg until he found John's thigh with the tip of his boot, slid it along to his crotch and pressed hard, warningly. It was just this side of painful. John swallowed a noise that wanted to crawl out of his throat and backed off, let his hands drop.

"No, sir," Bates said.

"Understood," Teyla said after a moment.

"Good," Rodney said. "And just in case you were wondering, I'm not all that impressed with either one of you right now."

They were both completely silent, and John braced himself on the floor and shifted until he was pressed up against Rodney's boot, rubbing himself off on it, leather smooth and just the right kind of hard. Rodney's hand was still in his hair, still tight.

Rodney gave it a beat and said, "We need this to work, and you need to stop yanking each other's pigtails and make it happen. I realize that you're having a hard time getting past this attraction to work together -- "

Bates made a strangled noise. Teyla said, "What?"

Rodney just steamrollered on. "-- but you're both at least theoretically adults, and I'm not going to be your referee. Now go away and let me get some work done."

They left in what John figured was stunned silence; he was somewhere between laughing and groaning himself. Rodney rolled back the chair when the door closed and let John crawl or really fall out from under the desk, but then he put his hand back into John's hair and kept him down on his knees. "Okay, now," Rodney said, and John put his head between Rodney's thighs and mouthed him through the pants again, still rubbing himself off against Rodney's boot.

"Open -- open my -- " Rodney said, and John scrabbled at his pants and got Rodney's dick out. Rodney held John's head with both hands and slid into his mouth slowly, getting harder, easing in, and John closed his eyes and breathed through his nose and let it happen, let Rodney fuck his throat in careful shallow strokes, Rodney's hands laced through his hair and never letting loose, Rodney's boot moving gently up and down along his crotch.

"Oh my. You are getting off on this, aren't you," Rodney said, breathless, and John tried to say, "No shit," around his dick, and only managed to make Rodney groan and slide himself in deeper, which actually was just fine, because John was too busy coming to have a conversation.

Rodney pulled out and shoved him the rest of the way to the floor and scrambled down on top of him, the chair rolling away and thumping up against the bookshelves, and John hooked his legs around Rodney's waist and arched himself up so Rodney could get into him. "In case I hadn't mentioned, you're getting really good at this," John said, hoarsely, groping at the floor to keep from skidding away with every thrust.

"Yeah?" Rodney panted.

"Oh yeah," John said. "Can we keep the door locked from now on, though?"

"So, what do you think, expand the potatoes or wheat?" Rodney was asking Elizabeth. "Lindross wants more wheat, but I don't know, it seems a lot more vulnerable to the weather. Of course, there's always soybeans, we could try those. But then food services would probably try to feed us tofu, and that just can't end well."

"Barley," John said, limping into the stasis room. He slumped down next to Rodney and held out the baby zed.

Rodney put aside his laptop and took it. "Oh, that is nice. Definitely more full than any of the others so far. Seventy-five, maybe eighty percent charged?"

"Yeah, that's what Simpson said. You can tell that by looking?"

"It's the color of the striations in the external casing along the lines of harmonic resonance," Rodney said. "Why barley?"

"Then we can make beer," John said. He pulled up his knees and let his head thump down against them.

"Ah, excellent point, yes," Rodney said. "Barley it is. Maybe we'll also plant a couple acres of hops. What is that smell?"

"There were these animals living in the bunker," John said.

"Animals like rats or animals like mountain lions?"

"More like skunks, really," John said.

"Maybe you should go shower," Rodney said.

"Did I mention they also crapped all over the floor?"

"Did I say 'maybe'?" Rodney asked. "Because on further consideration -- "

"Yeah, yeah," John said, without moving. "Anyway, we're three for three."

"Four for four," Rodney said, still turning the baby zed over greedily in his hands. "Stackhouse came back with another one while you were out."

"Good for him," John said.

"Not so much," Rodney said, looking up. "You know how I asked about the mountain lions?"

"You're kidding me," John said.

"The Athosians swear they're going to make great barbecue," Rodney said. "But Stackhouse has a broken arm, and Peters needed thirty stitches."

"Just how many planets are on this list Teyla made?"

"Not more than thirty?" Rodney said.

John groaned and heaved himself up. "Can't we get the Genii to do this, now they're playing along again?"

"Right, like we could trust them to hand these over," Rodney said. Then he looked up. "Well, actually -- "

John paused at the door. "Wait, we could?"

"We know the planets we're sending them to in advance," Rodney said. "The baby zeds have a specific energy signature; Radek could easily build a detector -- "

"Then we plant it at the Stargate, so we know if they got one or not, and if they don't hand it over -- " John finished. "Come on, let's go talk to Zelenka."

Rodney picked up his laptop in his free arm and got up. Then he got closer to John and paused. "Although, first, why don't you -- "

John looked down at himself. "Yeah."

"Have you ever seen anything this beautiful?" Rodney breathed. He had his elbows propped on the table and was staring at the nine baby zeds all lined up neatly in a row.

"I'm a little disturbed by how turned on you're getting here," John said.

"You won't be complaining tonight," Rodney said, without taking his eyes off them.

"Rodney!" John looked around; luckily Zelenka was only just coming into the room.

"No saliva on the Ancient technology, please," Zelenka said, shooing Rodney back from the table.

"Why haven't you figured out how to tie these together yet?" Rodney demanded, standing up. "If I was working on this we'd have the shield running by now."

"If you were hooking this up to the shield we would all be blown up by now!" Zelenka said. "Power flow regulation systems are incompatible with extended draw-down of energy, such as for city primary systems. Catastrophic blowback would occur almost immediately."

"Oh," Rodney said, glumly, and sat down. "I should have known that."

Zelenka looked a little sorry; he cleared his throat and said more calmly, "However, there are many secondary systems throughout the city, currently inactive, which they can be used to power. In particular, Yee and Kavanagh have found weapons systems we believe were intended to provide air cover for temporary lowering of shield during battle."

"Weapons systems, that sounds good," John said. "You mean like the chair?"

"Ah, no, I am afraid not," Zelenka said. "The drones and the chair interface to control them is primary system which also requires extended consistent power flow, like the shield. But there are many secondary defense systems which are not tied into the city's main power grid, and so do not have same problem."

"You should check with Beckett, too," Rodney said. "Some of those medical devices they've found might work." Zelenka nodded. "And you've checked the scanner results?"

"Yes, again," Zelenka said. "Five zed power signatures detected, five zeds with matching power signatures delivered. They are not cheating, Rodney."

"They've got to be kind of pissed-off at us by now, though," John said. "I'd be pissed off if you'd made me go through three more of those bunkers, and I wouldn't even have to hand these things over to my second-worst enemy when I was done."

"Perhaps they have learned their lesson," Zelenka said. "Also, the two darts we picked up after the ambush, they are not intact enough to repair, but if the Genii could get us another, I think we have learned enough we can perhaps do something with them."

Rodney was silent a minute. "Okay," he said. "They're at 21,000 points right now, and we still have that second planet where we ran into Wraith darts. Chances are good that will put them over the top for an offworld trip."

"Rodney," John said, "Are we really going to let them out? Yeah, they've been talking about going to this mining colony of theirs, but you really think they aren't going to try something? They can go anywhere they want from there."

"But what are they going to do, send a bomb?" Zelenka said. "Even if they manage to get an IDC and trick us into lowering the shield, if they blow us up, they are stuck behind their iris for good. The module is not as well-built as the Stargate, but so, it will only last ten thousand years instead of ten million."

"I don't mean they're going to try an attack, though we need to watch out for an attempt to take hostages," John said. "Stop me if I'm wrong here, but if they got their hands on whatever it is we use to send the unlocking code to their iris, they could use it themselves, right?"

"It is not so simple, actually -- " Zelenka said.

"Never mind, that's not the point," Rodney said. "The answer you're looking for is yes. If they got a spy in here, there's a chance they could figure out how to unlock their own iris."

John nodded. "They have enough intel from their takeover attempt to know a lot about the city and our equipment. Our rations aren't strictly controlled, and there's water available all over the place. A spy could hide out for months and we'd never even know he was here."

"You think they could pull it off?" Rodney asked.

"We've been keeping a close eye on the trade delegations we've let through, so getting a spy in will be tough. But we can't make it impossible if we're bringing large quantities of supplies in from outside, and we're a long way from being self-sufficient," John said. "Somebody could sneak in with a delegation, or even hide out inside a shipping container."

"But if you deny them the opportunity to go offworld when they have earned the points, they will stop cooperating," Zelenka said. "We are making real progress here -- it is not only the zeds and the darts, but with the steady flow of materiel, we do not have to spend so much time on repair and manufacturing."

"Yes, yes, we're going to have to take the chance," Rodney said. "We don't have to be stupid about it, though."

"How exactly is this not stupid, again?" John said. He didn't remember feeling this tense in his entire fucking life, and that included crawling around the belly of a hive ship for the first time. Two delegations had come in since they'd let the Genii have their offworld trip, with no problems, and the Genii had kept right on playing nice in the meantime, but the Atani were the first one they were pretty sure had dealt with the Genii.

"You were the one who wanted to use psych warfare on them in the first place!" Rodney said. He didn't look all that happy himself, and the railing around where he was gripping it was shiny with sweat.

"Sending back prisoners we can't feed anyway to cut their morale is one thing," John said. "Letting them walk in here so we can show off that they can't sneak past us is not the same damn thing! And you shouldn't be here."

"We've been through this," Rodney said. "Having the video feed is more important for security, and if they don't see me here they'll figure out we're on to them and grab our people over there instead as a backup plan."

"Well, I still don't like it," John said. "Are you even sure this is going to work?"

"Trust me, any Genii who have spent even a small fraction of their lives in those underground bunkers are going to light up on a radiation sweep like a torch," Rodney said. "And will you stop it already? I'm nervous enough."

The first chevron engaged on the Stargate. "Fuck," John said. He gripped the stunner hard and looked around to make sure Torrence and Peterson were behind him. They both nodded back.

"Receiving Sergeant Stackhouse's IDC," Grodin said. "Video feed signal coming in... now."

The delegation looked harmless enough on the screen, all fancy outfits and smiles, and Stackhouse and his men all still had their weapons. "Atlantis, we're good to go," Stackhouse said.

One of the Atani stepped forward and bowed to the camera. "Dr. McKay, we look forward to sharing the wisdom of our people, and to gaining that of yours."

"Oh, God," Rodney said under his breath. "Yeah, likewise! Have a nice trip. Lower the iris," he said to Grodin.

"You're all clear, Sergeant, come through," Grodin said.

The sensor panel flashed pretty much the second the Atani had stepped through the gate behind Stackhouse. "Infiltrator confirmed, security team move!" John shouted, grabbed Rodney and shoved him at Peterson.

"Hey!" Rodney was yelling, but thank God, Peterson and Torrence were doing their job and hustling him into the transporter. John ran down the steps and stopped halfway up to take a shot: one of the women in the back was pulling something out from under her robe. The stunner blast took her right in the top of the head and she went down hard.

Bates and his team got the other Atani flat on the ground, face-down with their hands clasped behind their heads. Simpson ran the scanner over them at close-range and looked up when John came down to join her. "These three," she said, pointing at the unconscious woman and two other men: Bates's people pinned them hard before they had done more than twitch.

"Good work," John said. "Dr. Beckett! I want these two under."

"What?" Beckett said, looking up from one of the Atani, who was bleeding from a bad scrape he'd taken from being shoved down. "You want me to just pump them full of tranquilizers in the middle of the floor? They could have allergies -- congenital conditions -- "

"Put them under or I'll just shoot them," John said.

"For all I know, that might be better for them!" Beckett said. "I don't know all the potential side effects of the stunners, but -- "

John fired twice, and Beckett stopped mid-sentence with his mouth open. John turned away.

"Room is secure, sir," Bates said.

"Good," John said. "We're keeping these three."

Bates nodded. "Coskey, get the three prisoners down to the max security brig stat, and strip them down, full high-risk prisoner protocol."

Beckett got up from checking their vitals, as the Marines carried the three away, and came over. "Major, those men were already helpless," he said angrily.

"Don't go there, Beckett," John said. "They didn't come here to play nice. Grodin, dial up the Atani homeworld. The rest of our guests are going home."

He bent over and hauled up the lead delegate, the one who'd bowed on the other side; the man was pasty white and sweating now, runnels through the ceremonial makeup he was wearing. "Just in case you haven't gotten the picture yet, let me make this clear. You just joined your good pals the Genii on our shit list. The next time you come onto our radar in a bad way, we'll lock you up like we have them. Keep it in mind."

The wormhole formed, and he shoved the minister or whatever he was through. Bates and his people collected up the rest of the Atani and sent them right after. The wormhole shut down and Simpson nodded an all-clear after she did another scan sweep of the room. "All right," John said. "Stand down the men, Captain. I'm heading to the brig."

Teyla and Beckett were already in Rodney's office when John got back upstairs, both of them pretty much lying in wait for him. The competition to see who could shout at him louder was escalating by the time Rodney walked into the room and ordered them both to shut up.

"Thank you," John said.

"Oh, don't thank me, I just want to yell at you first," Rodney said, sitting down at the desk. "What the hell was that?"

"We had to get you out of there as soon as they came through," John said. "The second they knew we were on to them, their best tactical move would've been to go straight for you."

"Really, you're kidding!" Rodney said. "That's an amazingly difficult concept to grasp, there's no chance I could have understood it if you'd bothered to mention it before I got grabbed and carried out the door. What did you think I was going to do, be stupidly heroic and insist on staying there the whole time? I'm not running for re-election."

"Oh," John said.

"Yes, oh," Rodney said. "Now why are you two yelling at him?"

Teyla inclined her head to Dr. Beckett, and he said, "Rodney, I am not going to go around drugging prisoners. The Genii spies were no threat to anyone anymore -- "

"You want to come down to the brig and see the arsenal we pulled off of them before you say that?" John said.

"They were pinned down to the ground by two people apiece!" Beckett said.

"Hold it," Rodney said. "Why didn't you just shoot them with the stunner?" he asked John.

"Well, that's exactly what I ended up doing," John said.

"So do that from the beginning next time," Rodney said. "It's not Beckett's job to secure prisoners."

"Wait a bloody minute, that's not the point!" Beckett said.

"Yes, it is. Major Sheppard thinks we need a prisoner unconscious for the safety of this city and our people, that's his call; what he doesn't get to do is ask you to violate your professional ethics to make it happen." Rodney turned back to John. "You've given Medical Services full access to give the prisoners medical treatment?"

"Yes, I have," John said. "A Marine goes in with them, and they stay immobilized, but that's standard high-risk procedure."

"Fine, we're done with this," Rodney said. "No, Carson, discussion's over; if you're worried about those men, go treat them. Teyla?"

"Before returning the Atani to their homeworld, Major Sheppard indicated that if they continued to support the Genii, we would lock their Stargate, as we have that of the Genii themselves," Teyla said.

"Okay, and?" Rodney said.

Her face set into cold lines. "So this is your official policy, then? May I ask how far you intend to go in this direction? Many people know the Genii. Will you imprison all of them? And why end matters there? Perhaps if a trade negotiation goes badly, the threat of such a lock would make our trading partners reconsider their position."

"Wow, you know, that never occurred to me," Rodney said. "Thanks, Teyla, that's a great idea. Because obviously, there's no moral difference between extortion and locking up people who are trying to kill us. No, no, forget it. This horse has been beaten to death ten times over. It is an ex-horse."

"I think it's just pining for the fjords, myself," John said.

"Shut up," Rodney said, and before Teyla could go on, shut her down too. "The Genii are going to be an unacceptable threat until we get it into their heads that they can't beat us, so they'd really better join us. The quicker we convince the Genii, the quicker we can take off the lock, and then everyone, including you, will be happy again. End of story, goodbye, leave now, thank you."

Teyla pressed her lips together hard, turned on her heel, and left.

"Oh, thank God, she's gone," Rodney said. "Go lock the door and take off your clothes."

John stared and cleared his throat. "Not that that's not turning me on, but -- " Rodney was already coming around the desk, stripping off his jacket, advancing on him. John took a couple of steps back and flipped the lock on the door just to be safe. "I actually need to talk to you -- "

"Then you shouldn't have quoted Monty Python at me," Rodney said, pinning him against the wall, kissing along his neck, working on his belt.

"Look, I had -- I had an idea -- " John said, tilting his head halfheartedly away from Rodney's mouth. Rodney just went for his collarbone instead, mouthing it through the t-shirt; it had gotten thin with rewashing, he could feel Rodney's tongue sliding along the bone. "-- about the Genii," John said, stumbling as Rodney grabbed him by the belt loops and dragged him towards the desk. "Rodney, this is important," he tried, but it came out mostly a whine.

"Later," Rodney said, pushing John over the desk and yanking at his pants.

"Wait, just listen," John said, except he was having a hard time remembering what he wanted to say, with Rodney's hands already on the bare skin of his hips. The familiar body-warm surface of the desk under him had a charge all its own by now; the smell of coffee, the papers crinkling under his hands, the humming of the laptops. He tried again. "We sent the message they can't win, now we still need to get them on board -- listen -- "

"I can multitask," Rodney said, somewhere behind him, pushing apart his legs; and his mouth touching lightly on John's inner thigh.

"We should -- we need -- something big," John said, struggling; Rodney's hands between his legs now, cupping him, stroking; Rodney's thumb rubbing in slow tormenting circles, pushing in just a little.

"Yes," Rodney said. "Keep talking."

And then Rodney put his mouth right there and licked at him experimentally, and John grabbed the edge of the desk and pressed his forehead against the surface, panting, shaking. "I can't," he said. "Rodney, that, I can't -- "

"Yes, you can; come on," Rodney said, and rubbed against his thigh again, smooth jaw, barely any stubble: he'd shaved that morning, for the video feed. Then he licked again, and rubbed him some more; and held him when John tried to grind his hips against the desk.

"The cruiser," John said, "the one -- god -- the -- " He stopped talking, stopped seeing, stopped breathing, except for short frantic gulps; Rodney's mouth and tongue and fingers unraveling him, taking him apart, and his eyes were watering, blind.

Afterwards, Rodney lowered him down to the floor and climbed on, rubbing off against him slowly and luxuriously, taking his time. "The cruiser Stackhouse sighted on the ground, in the culling at -- at -- "

"M6Y-something," John said, yawning, stroking the back of Rodney's neck. "Yeah." He rolled them over and got a hand on Rodney's dick.

"Oh. Oh, yes, that's -- " Rodney sighed, coming, and relaxed against the floor. "Mm." He closed his eyes and let his head tip back, for about thirty seconds, then he opened his eyes again. "We have no way of knowing if the cruiser's even still there."

"So we do the recon to check," John said. "And then we build them a nuke, like you talked about. A nuke will take out a cruiser, right?"

"Well, one the Genii built, probably not," Rodney said. "One we build, sure."

John said, "Well, that's the key. Our expertise and their manpower and infrastructure, and together we take out something the size of an active Wraith cruiser, that's how we really make the point."

Rodney nodded absently, staring off into space. "You realize, they've never seen even an ordinary nuclear explosion before? They haven't had a successful test. We refine their uranium and set them up with a naquada-enhanced warhead, say, 500 megatons -- "

"They'll probably be pretty impressed," John said.

"To say the least," Rodney said. "Okay. We'll give them a shot at this, provided you can get intel on that cruiser."

"Also, we need to think about what to do with the spies," John said. "This isn't like last time. We just send them back, they'll get into the mindset that there's no risk involved."

"Oh, I have an idea about that," Rodney said.

The video started out pointing up at the sky, went swooping around wildly, showed small bare feet standing in dirt, and then finally steadied looking out on a wide-open field, freshly-plowed.

"This is our new braley -- "

Mina cut in. "Barley! It's called barley!"

"Shut up! This is our new field." The camera panned around, and then zoomed shakily in on a handful of people in the distance, working with long-handled rakes and large buckets. "These are the dumb Genii spies who got caught. They're spreading the fertilizer to help the crops grow better, so we don't have to do it ourselves anymore, and now we have more time to study."

The video stuttered and interrupted, and then picked up again inside the city looking at a big chart, just an ordinary line graph, but done in purple and bright pink, with smiley faces and frowns drawn on it. Mina was standing next to the chart with a pointer. "This is how many points the Genii have so far. It isn't a lot because every time they do something stupid and mean, Dr. McKay takes away all their points."

Mina thwacked the pointer against the two zero marks on the line, or at least vaguely in their general area. "This is where they tried to ambush us, and this is where they tried to send spies to Atlantis. They have lost more than forty thousand points."

"Hey, why do you get to be in the picture?" Galen said offscreen.

"Because I made the chart!" Mina said.

"I want to be in it too!"

"You have to work the camera!"

There was some clattering and more swooping, and then the camera ended up focused on a wall with muffled voices going on in the background until it cut off. Rodney hit the power button on the remote, beaming, and settled back against the pillows. "See, I knew this training program was going to come in useful."

"Are you actually going to send that to them?" John said.

"Oh yeah," Rodney said. "Along with the chart. We've got it mounted on posterboard and everything."

"That's going to drive them nuts," John said.

"That's the general idea," Rodney said. "How are our prisoners doing?"

"Well, turns out they haven't spent much time aboveground, so they're not too good at farm work just yet," John said. "But I'm sure they'll get the hang of it eventually. They haven't given us any trouble since the escape attempt on Sunday."

"Good, good," Rodney said, and yawned, slouching down the bed until he was lying flat. "Get the light, would you?"

John looked over at the illuminated panel and it dimmed. Rodney was already breathing low and evenly. And hogging both the pillows, but that wouldn't matter if he went back to his own place, like he should, seeing how for once they didn't have to get up until 0700 hours, and a third of the base would be in the hallways by then for the morning shift changeover.

Rodney didn't twitch when the light from the hallway hit his face, and John didn't see anyone while he walked back to his room alone.

Rodney also sent the Genii a full two-way video uplink, supposedly so they'd be able to coordinate the assault on the cruiser with them more effectively, but really so the senior staff could watch Kolya and Cowen's faces as they watched the tape. The two of them didn't explode on screen, but they got incrementally grimmer the whole way through, and when it was over they turned the uplink off immediately.

There was a smattering of applause, and Rodney sent around a carafe of celebratory coffee. "Okay, back to work," he said. "Where are we on the cruiser?"

"Stackhouse reports it's still there, and looks like it's not moving anytime soon," John said. "They're building some kind of scaffolding around it."

"What, doing repairs?" Rodney said.

"We have been analyzing the data from the reconnaissance mission," Zelenka put in. "We believe, although this may not be correct, that they are expanding the ship. The aerial -- if you will permit -- " He got up and plugged his laptop into the front monitor, brought up a top-down view of the schematic. "You see, the pattern matches -- "

"-- the layout of a hive ship," Rodney said.

"Yes, precisely," Zelenka said. "From further analysis of what intelligence we have on hive ship design, we now believe this is how hive ships are routinely constructed, by expansion of cruiser."

"Well, that gives us an even better reason to take the thing out," John said. "Can we do it?"

"If we are correct, this will pose some difficulty," Zelenka said. "The primary vulnerable portions of the ship are in the rear sections, towards the hyperdrive generators. These are the sections presently under construction, and so most heavily protected by scaffolding and shield, and manned by Wraith."

"Why is this even an issue?" Rodney said. "At 500 megatons, you could plant it ten miles away and you'd still vaporize the damn thing."

"There are still people living on this world," Teyla said. "The Wraith culled many, but they have not harvested all. What effect will an explosion of this size have upon them?"

"Less of an effect than having the Wraith hanging out on their planet eating them for midnight snacks," Rodney snapped.

"The size of the explosion is not the only factor," Zelenka said. "In studying the darts, we have determined Wraith shielding technology does not operate on principles of brute-force." He held up his hands in a V-shape. "When energy strikes one point upon shield surface, a spike of the defensive field is created. From there, the energy is not absorbed, but is deflected, only slightly, to either side, and drawn through some kind of heat collectors into the deflection field itself. If initial force of the explosion is not sufficient to penetrate the defensive shield almost immediately, the subsequent energy will be converted into shield power, and be turned against itself."

Rodney sat up abruptly. "Wait, to do something like that, they'd have to be controlling variations in the gravity well on the quantum level. You can't have a control mechanism functioning at that level, it violates Heisenberg's uncertainty principle."

"I am very sorry to disappoint you and Heisenberg, Rodney, but Wraith shielding does work," Zelenka said. "We have not yet determined how the field is controlled, but -- "

"What kind of ion flow readings are you getting from the, the, what did we name those, the aleicron channels, when it's active?" Rodney asked. "Do you see any kind of a spike in the quantity of deuterium -- "

"Hey," John said. "Not that this isn't fascinating for the rest of us, but can we get back to blowing up the ship?"

"Yes, of course, I am sorry," Zelenka said.

Rodney said, "In a second, this is important -- "

"I am not telling you anything about our readings!" Zelenka said. "You are not on this project. Mind your own business."

"But this is -- "


"Goddamnit!" Rodney yelled, and slumped down in his chair. He stewed for a second, then said shortly, "Fine. What's the workaround?"

"At present, our only solution is tried and true method," Zelenka said. "Detonation in midair slightly above target to direct maximum downward force onto the vulnerable points. Our equations show that even a 50 kiloton explosion will be sufficient at this angle to have the desired effect."

"That means a bombing run," John said. "Do the Genii even have aircraft?"

"Not that we know of, and unlikely, given that their entire operation is based underground," Rodney said. "Is the dart usable yet?"

Zelenka shook his head. "Primary systems are functional, but the interface is not designed for human use," he said. "We have much work to do still before we can even begin to attempt a test flight."

"We can't give them a jumper," John said. "Not after what they just pulled, not even for this."

"They wouldn't be able to fly it anyway," Rodney said. "What kind of ground support is this going to take?"

"Significant," John said. "We've positively identified about a dozen gun emplacements on the ground already, all of which are capable of anti-aircraft fire, and that cruiser could be carrying as many as twenty darts. That's not counting the Wraith on the ground themselves. I'd say we're looking at a thousand men on the ground at least to ensure the success of the bombing run."

Rodney leaned back from the table and tapped his fingers against the armrests of his chair. "Well, we wanted a joint operation," he said finally. "Looks like we're getting one."

Kolya stepped out of the gate slowly, with his hands held loosely at his sides. No guns, no knives, at least not visible; John gave the signal, and a couple of Marines frisked him thoroughly before they let him come over to the video feed terminal. "Major Sheppard," Kolya said, a sardonic twist to his mouth. "We meet again."

"Let's hope the circumstances stay better this time," John said. He turned the camera around. "Say hi to the folks back home."

"Is all well, Commander Kolya?"

"So far all proceeds as expected, Minister Cowen," Kolya said. "We will communicate again tomorrow at the appointed time."

"Understood, Commander. Good fortune to you."

"And to our cause."

The wormhole shut down as the transmission ended. "Okay," John said. "Let's get this show on the road."

There was nothing that spiced up a mission like having a guy at your back who had held a gun to your head, and vice versa. But Kolya really did know what he was doing, John had to give him that. He made some good points about the ground assault plan, and asked all the right questions about the bombing run, and the next day, after they made the changes he'd asked for, he looked over the plan from start to finish, gave one nod, and told Cowen he approved.

John still didn't find it a whole lot of fun, sitting down in the pilot's seat with Kolya out of the corner of his eye. Simpson and Zelenka were in back doing the final check of the A-bomb, and that wasn't all that comfortable a cargo either. "Major, I still think I should come," Zelenka said, coming forward.

"No," John said. "If this doesn't work the first time, we're not going to have a second chance. Once they take out the guns, the combat troops on the ground are going to be playing target practice to lure the darts far enough away for us to make our bombing run. This takes any longer than planned, the losses become unacceptable."

Zelenka nodded unhappily. "You remember the launch sequence we have discussed?"

"Yeah, backwards and forwards," John said.

Zelenka hesitated and said quietly, "Good luck." He turned and left with Simpson.

Pre-flight went fast: Miller, there as backup pilot, strapped himself in, and the team of three Marines took up station in the rear compartment around the bomb. "Flight, this is jumper one, we are standing by," John said.

"You're cleared, Major," Rodney's voice came over the radio, and the jumper backed out smoothly and slid down through the hatch.

Rodney was standing on the promenade, gripping the railing; he straightened up as the jumper came down and put his hands behind his back, face set and grim. It wasn't a good look for him, it made his mouth look more lopsided, John thought, and then noticed that his own hands were sweating. He'd never left anyone behind like this, watching him go to war. He'd never had anyone to leave.

He flipped the radio, making sure his hand stayed steady. "See you all tomorrow."

"Be careful," Rodney said.

John took the jumper through and cloaked the second they broke the event horizon on the other side. Middle of the night, local time, and no signs of activity around the gate: a few houses on the ground, but no lights, and the Wraith ship was forty miles away. He flew them past the site for one last piece of recon: even in the dark, the cruiser looked like it had spawned, thick ropy coils of tunnel-like passages twisting away into the growing skeletal framework, pale watery lights glimmering from inside.

Kolya leaned forward to look, fixed on the sight with rigid intensity. "You're certain this one bomb will be sufficient?"

John looked over his shoulder at the bomb. Rodney had split the difference unevenly and told Zelenka to make it 10 megatons: if there were humans still alive within a ten-mile radius of the site, the recon hadn't seen any signs of them, and they needed to be sure to take out all the Wraith around the cruiser. "Believe me, it'll do the job."

Kolya only nodded and sat back.

John parked the jumper about ten klicks from the ship and locked it down for the night. The Genii would be starting their assault at dawn. "I'll take watch," he told Miller. "Go get some sleep."

"Yes, sir." Miller went into the rear compartment, and John looked at Kolya.

"I don't sleep the night before a battle," Kolya said. "A bad habit, I know."

"Yeah," John said, and offered him a powerbar.

They sat in silence for a while, occasionally trading off the night-vision binoculars to look outside. He'd set down the jumper on elevated ground, high above the valley where the cruiser sprawled now; they could see the flicker of moving lights, and through the green haze of the binoculars John thought he could make out Wraith walking around in the framework corridors of their growing ship.

"It must make things complicated," Kolya said abruptly.

John slanted a look at him sideways.

"Having to report to civilians," Kolya said. "People who don't understand the exigencies of war."

"You've got to answer to Cowen, don't you?"

"Minister Cowen is himself a veteran of our armed forces, and one of our finest strategists and tacticians both," Kolya said. "No one could become a senior minister without such qualifications. Our scientists and our diplomats advise us, Major, but they never govern us."

"Then you probably don't end up with very good scientists or diplomats," John said.

Kolya gave a small snort. "I admit, we don't have anyone like Dr. McKay."

"Not too many people do," John said, fighting off a smirk.

"Though we were still surprised to learn that he was in command after Dr. Weir, rather than yourself," Kolya said. "An awkward arrangement, seeing how he reported to you formerly."

"We managed to work things out," John said, still struggling; thinking about just how they'd worked things out was really not the best thing he could be doing right now.

Kolya's mouth twitched. "Yes, so we noticed. Your tactics have been highly effective."

He stressed the your, and John gave him a smile. "Thanks. Glad you've been appreciating them." If Kolya wanted to believe civilian command was just lip service, John was fine with that. As long as they were underestimating Rodney, they weren't going to be putting any effort into taking him out.

The guys in back started stirring around 0500, before light, and the radio crackled to life about half an hour later. "Commander Kolya, this is Tybel. Do you copy?"

"I do, Subcommander," Kolya said. "Proceed."

"We have secured the gate and await your orders. My men are ready."

"Good," Kolya said. "Begin your assault. We will wait for your signal to begin the bombing run. Kolya out." He tapped out and said to John, "An hour to move into position, then another hour to the signal, or something has gone wrong." John nodded, and a timer flashed onto the viewscreen, counting down.

The Genii hit the Wraith guns at just the right time: the grey in-between light just before dawn, when visibility was at its worst and the billowing smoke grenades turned them into shadows as effectively as any Wraith illusions. Zelenka and his people had built the Genii a bunch of smaller conventional bombs to use against the guns, and the explosions billowed luridly blue-white out of the haze, almost balletic from behind the perfect soundproofing of the jumper's hull.

"I make ten hits," Kolya said. "Major?"

"Hang on," John said, and put his hands on the console; the screen wavered, and a terrain map took shape, laying out the battlefield in perspective view: ten glowing red points -- eleven, as another burst went off on the southern ridge, and one steady blue still in place on the eastern embankment, right behind the scaffolding.

"Come on," Kolya muttered, staring, but no explosion came: the gun was still active. The sun was rising now, faster than they wanted it to, burning off the smoke, and past the transparent display, Wraith were boiling out of the interior of the cruiser like a swarm.

Panels slid open along the cruiser's sides, and a dozen wicked needle-shaped darts peeled off, their red underbellies pulsing. The men on the ground were starting to pull out in orderly squares, firing bazookas and grenades up at the darts, but not fast enough, and not all of them: at least a battalion, maybe three hundred men, were still holding position too close to the ship.

"They need to get out of there now!" John said sharply. "Why the hell aren't they moving?"

"They need to take out that last gun," Kolya said.

"They're about to get slaughtered!" John grabbed the radio and shoved it at him. "Tell them to get their asses out of there now."

Kolya took the radio and ignored it. "If all the guns aren't taken down, we can't make our run, Major."

"We can take out the gun from the air with the jumper's weapons."

"You are going to have enough to deal with in the air," Kolya said. "Unless the Wraith display greater stupidity than I have ever seen from them, not all the darts will be drawn away by our retreat. The guns must be taken down."

"Look, Kolya, this isn't just about avoiding some extra casualties," John said. "If those men stay there much longer, they won't have time to get clear of the blast radius before we have to drop the bomb. Move them out."

"They understood the risks when they came, Major." Kolya smiled thinly, mirthless. "The myth of unacceptable losses is a luxury we of the Genii have long since forgone."

Outside, the darts were going in pursuit. A handful, maybe two or three, were still hovering in the air above the cruiser and launching attacks on the lingering battalion. The rest were chasing the retreating Genii back, or leapfrogging them and blocking the way towards the Stargate. The silvery white distortions of the harvesting beams were already playing like searchlights on the ground.

The radio crackled. "Commander, you are clear for your run!" Tybel's voice came. "We have secured the final gun and are holding our position; we will cover your approach."

"The hell? Tell them to blow the damn thing and go!" John said.

"Tybel has made the proper decision," Kolya said. "If he and his men destroy the gun now and withdraw, you cannot give them enough time to get safely clear without jeopardizing the mission and ensuring the deaths of the men luring away the darts. By remaining in their position, they can turn the gun against the remaining darts and ensure our success."

"Goddamnit, Kolya! This isn't a no-win scenario," John said. "There is enough time, and I'm not taking this thing up until those men get out of there!"

"Then they will die feeding the hunger of the Wraith, holding the gun to the last, for no purpose," Kolya said.

"Fuck," John said, savagely, and turned away so he wouldn't slug the guy. The darts were mostly lost in the distance now, and even as he thought that, the map swiveled to aerial perspective and zoomed back out, showing the black shapes clustered near the gate. A couple of them were turning around already, though, and starting to head back towards the cruiser; the rest were slowing down, probably figuring they could take their time with a leisurely harvest of the rest of the troops.

There wasn't a choice: now or never, and the one final gun still that steady shining blue. "Stand by for attack run," John said, through his teeth. "Miller, are you guys ready back there?"

"Yes, sir, standing by to arm on your mark."

The jumper took off jerkily: turbulence in his own head instead of outside. He could still see the men holding the gun, firing the green-shimmer bursts at the few hovering darts and shooting steadily at the crowd of Wraith grunts converging on their position.

But he was in the air, now, and the jumper smoothed out, rising through the spiraling twisted columns of smoke. There were four darts left in the valley, all taking turns flying at speed over the gun position, snatching away men two and three at a time, whittling away: the Wraith on the ground weren't even trying that hard to take the gun back from them -- no reason for them to waste a perfectly good dinner, when the men were pretty clearly doomed.

John banked hard downward, narrowed his eyes and focused, and a targeting system rolled itself out over the screen like an overlay. Four darts, moving in sweeps; regular as clockwork, predictable; then the deep unsettling twitch at the base of his skull as everything came together in his head and the Ancient systems picked it up from there.

The cloak dropped and the four drones shot out all at once, blazing with that incongruous golden glow, like sunlight or fireflies. The darts noticed too late, whipped away in opposite directions and tried to evade, and one by one the drones hunted them down and blew them out of the sky, raining black fragments.

"Kolya!" John yelled, never looking away from the screen; there was a strange pulsing sensation at the edges of his brain, an itch that couldn't be scratched, and he somehow knew that the darts at the Stargate were heading back, even though the targeting system was still filling the display.

He pulled her up hard, and the jumper answered him like a dream, climbing again: five thousand feet blown away in three heartbeats. Kolya was shouting into the radio, "Destroy the gun and clear the area, subcommander!"

"Tell them," John said, distantly, barely able to get his mouth to form the words; everything was increasingly far away except the numbers in his head, all the jumper's systems clamoring for pieces of his brain as he pushed her harder, faster, higher. "Tell them to get behind solid rock." He pointed at the screen even before the display popped up: a ridge of granite a mile and a half away.

"Withdraw as far as you can, and take shelter," Kolya said. "There is an outcropping of rock due northeast; go now!"

"Affirmed, Commander. The gun is destroyed and we are on the move."

"Miller!" John yelled.

"Armed and ready, sir!" Miller yelled back. "Standing by for release."

Thirty thousand feet, eight darts already visible to the naked eye on the fringes of the screen and closing fast, and John asked her for more and got it. The jumper looped up and over and dove: quicker than the inertial dampeners could catch up, so far a moment he felt just the edge of the g-force, enough to drive the air out of his lungs and slam him back into the chair.

His hands never left the controls, though, and she never wavered for a second; all the way down and the counter suddenly flashing red on his screen. "Opening hatch -- let her go!"

It felt like a weight off his shoulders, the bomb going out the rear: ten warning systems he hadn't even known were there suddenly shutting down. The rear hatch slammed and he put her on a sharp line straight northeast, after the subcommander and his fleeing men, some vague idea of maybe picking them up, or trying to shield them with the jumper. They were going to be too close to the blast, but he couldn't see them; if he accelerated at full speed he'd blow past them too quickly; if he tried to take some altitude, he'd be too far away to do them any good.

The light came first: the whole world outside the viewscreen scorched to a featureless blinding white, afterimages of trees black against his retinas. Utter silence for an instant, then the sound and shockwave hit them together, and he had no time to even think about anything but trying to surf the blast, a howling shriek outside against the hull like the Wraith ship itself was screaming.

The jumper's systems flickered in and out as the electromagnetic pulse blew past them too, like stuttering in his brain. He held on, blind, deaf, muscles clenched, hoping; but he'd asked too much this time, and she wasn't coming back online. "Hang on, we're going down," he shouted, and hauled back on the suddenly unresponsive controls; without the power, it was like trying to steer an elephant.

They hit the ground like a rock, black dirt exploding over the front viewscreen, and she shuddered all over and gave one last gasp, metal groaning softly into stillness. John sat panting for a while, hands clenched on the dead flightsticks. He looked over; Kolya had a hand braced against the console and was leaning back, breathing hard.

"Everybody okay back there?" he said, trying to make his hands work on the security straps.

"Yes, sir," Miller called back, a little shakily. "That, uh, how they always land 'em in the Air Force, sir?"

John started laughing, and had to bite the inside of his cheek hard to make himself stop. "Tell you what, Miller; next time, you can fly us out of the nuclear explosion."

"Next time, sir?"

The jumper was buried nose-down, so the Marines rigged a line hanging down from the rear so John and Kolya could climb up. They struggled into the radiation suits and all pushed against the rear hatch together: fortunately not enough dirt had landed on top, and they were able to get the hatch open just with their hands.

They staggered out into a cloudy twilight, grey and thick and coughing with ash, no sign of the morning sun. Kolya stood silently when he finally got out, looking around: hills, trees, grass, all gone; and behind them the blackened orange stem of the mushroom cloud still billowing up like a burning tower.

"How far out are we?" he asked.

"I'd say about a mile," John said, bending to get the packs being handed up by Peron. "Grab that first-aid kit, too." He looked around, trying to get his bearings, blinking away the snowing ash, and spotted the granite ridge: scraped bare now, and blackened, but still standing. "Okay. We should head over to the ridge and look for survivors. Miller, you take Leeson and head back towards the gate; see if you can get some more help out here. Garvey and Peron, you're with me."

They hiked towards the ridge, stumbling over the heaps of splinters matting the ground. They passed the first bodies a hundred yards out: blackened, still smoldering, hands frozen into claws. Kolya bent down, and John grabbed his arm. "The body's still radioactive."

They got around the ridge and found them: thirty men, out of three hundred, most of them burned, bleeding, dazed. A man stood up as they got close and saluted.

"Subcommander Tybel," Kolya said.

"Sir," he said. "Is the mission a success?"

"The jumper's dead, so we won't be able to check for sure until we can get back to do another fly-by," John said, and turned to look for the Marine medic. "Garvey, where's that scanner? Tybel, are your men having any kind of symptoms? Nausea, fatigue?"

Tybel glanced at Kolya, who gave him a short nod. "Fatigue? Of course, but nothing unexpected. The ridge sheltered us from the blast, though we have several burns. Most of our injuries were dealt by the Wraith."

"Sir, I'm getting readings in the 200 to 300 rad range," Garvey said, straightening up from some of the men lying against the ridge.

"Okay, that's bad," John said. "We need to get you all back to Atlantis. Beckett's got some kind of experimental treatment for radiation poisoning."

"We are hardly poisoned," Tybel said. "Commander, my men are tired, but I assure you, we stand ready to do whatever is required of us."

"Yeah, for the next three to six hours," John said. "After that, standing's going to become an issue. We need to head back to the gate now, while most of your men can still walk."

"I agree that we must return to the Stargate," Kolya said. "Subcommander, get the men on their feet. We will proceed with phase two."

"Phase two?" John said, reaching for his gun before he even finished asking the question, yelling, "Garvey, Peron!" Then his legs and arms gave out like marionette limbs, and he went down sprawling into the dimness of the stun blast, automatic rifle fire stuttering behind him somewhere, and Kolya's face the last thing he saw, looming overhead, in silhouette.

Three days and counting in the dark, leg-irons too short for his height so he couldn't even stand up straight, and his head was going around in circles. He hadn't seen anyone, only the hands that pushed his food and water through the panel in the bottom of the door. He kept losing track of pi just short of two hundred places.

Garvey and Peron wouldn't have had much of a chance, but he was still hoping Miller had gotten away with Leeson. If he'd made it back to the gate, if he'd made it back to Atlantis, at least they'd know that the jumper had survived the blast. John tried not to think about rescue plans; every time he started sketching one out, he heard Rodney's voice in his head poking sarcastic holes into every step.

Just another thing not to think about: Rodney's voice, Rodney's hands, Rodney's mouth, and John lost track again and went back to the beginning, trying Euler's formula this time. The door rattled twelve calculations in and swung open; he flinched back from the light, the grease of his sweat stinging his eyes as they watered. Four guards came in and hauled him up staggering into the corridor. "I don't suppose you guys would like to tell me anything about where we're going," he said, glad to have an excuse to hear his own voice.

The guards didn't bother to respond, just picked up the pace a little more; they were pretty much carrying him anyway, and moving steadily upwards through corridors and stairs. He counted paces in his head, trying to get some sense of the layout of the place. Upwards was good, closer to an exit; the ten armed guards might be a problem, but hey, thinking positive.

They brought him into a long conference room -- maybe the same one they'd been in before, he couldn't tell; it didn't really matter. Cowen was there, Kolya, and some other older Genii men and women. The guards pushed John into a high-backed chair facing them, unhooked the wrist-to-ankle chain and unstrapped his arms and legs from the leather cuffs. That felt great for about five seconds, then they pinned his wrists down against the armrests, his ankles against the thick metal legs, and locked him into iron restraints that screwed tight: cold bands around his forearms and biceps and neck, around his thighs and calves.

He couldn't even turn his head, but that was probably the point, given the equipment they had laid out on the table directly in his line of sight. There was a kind of theatrical B-movie feel to the whole scene, bad drama and cheap props, except the iron was real, and so were the knives.

"Okay," John said. "Before the fun gets started, I've just got one question. Where are my men?"

Kolya said, "Regrettably, they offered too much resistance." Several of the other Genii looked at him sharply, but he ignored the looks. "We were forced to kill them."

"Goddamn you, Kolya, you miserable son of a bitch," John said, swallowing: Garvey, that poor skinny half-grown kid, who'd thought it would be cool to go to another galaxy to get the money for college and med school; and Peron, who'd go ten thousand miles without a word and have your back every step of the way. "They were trying to save your men's lives. How many of them are dead so far because you couldn't pass up a chance at another fucking double-cross?"

"Five," Kolya said. "Including subcommander Tybel."

"Enough, Commander," Cowen said. "We have not brought you here to discuss the situation of our soldiers, Major."

"No," John said. "Somehow I didn't think you had."

"I will only give you one opportunity to answer this question," Cowen said, leaning forward. "So consider well before you do. How do we unlock the shield device from our Stargate?"

"I don't need to consider, Cowen," John said. "I don't know a damn thing about how the iris works, and I won't, even if you torture me to the point where I make something up and you try it and blow yourselves up."

"That's not a chance we intend to take," Cowen said. He sat back. "Commander, have our men at the gate dial Atlantis. Scientist Liska, open the connection."

One of the women leaned forward over the video terminal as Kolya murmured orders over the radio. The screen showed only static for a few minutes, and then it flickered, twice, and then firmed up on a shot of the empty conference room.

There was some noise and rattling on the other side, and then Rodney walked into the scene and sat down in one of the conference table chairs. "Dr. McKay," Cowen said. "I apologize for the delay in contacting you."

"Oh, please," Rodney said. "Next you're going to tell me you were busy washing your hair. What, were we supposed to think you weren't going to call? Let me see them."

"Excuse me?" Cowen said.

"My men, Cowen," Rodney said. "Because if you don't actually have them, this conversation is about to be over really quick."

Cowen smiled thinly. "I think we can satisfy you." He stood up and walked around the table until he was standing next to John, with the scientist, Liska, turning the camera to follow him. "Unfortunately, your other two soldiers were lost, but as you can see, Major Sheppard is very much with us."

"Hey," Rodney said. "How's the food?"

"I've had worse," John said, his throat tight. "In Afghanistan." He wanted to say I'm sorry, and also, get me the hell out of here; instead he kept his mouth shut. Rodney was doing everything right. John knew damn well he couldn't help; he could only make it harder.

"I'm sure you need Major Sheppard back as soon as possible," Cowen said.

"Not really," Rodney said.

"Hey!" John said.

Cowen paused, mouth hardening.

"He can only calculate pi to one hundred digits," Rodney said. "And we just found a quantum calculator in one of the labs here."

Cowen smiled, if you wanted to call it that; just a twist in one corner of his mouth, and John had enough warning to clamp his jaw tight. Cowen picked up a kind of spiked fork, with barbed edges, and slammed it straight down through John's wrist.

He could feel small bones breaking, and then Cowen gave it a quarter twist, and the barbs tore against tendons; trickles of blood spilling over the armrest from under his wrist, dripping down onto his leg, and he couldn't help the scream, but he managed to keep it short. Three point one four one five nine two six five three five eight nine seven nine, and he could breathe again, barely.

Cowen gripped him by the hair and pulled his head back, so John had to look at Rodney's face on the screen; his mouth was looking lopsided again.

"Now, then," Cowen said. "Would you care to make some more jokes, Dr. McKay?"

"If he's not at the drop point in an hour, I'm blowing up your planet," Rodney said, and the connection went dark.

John was sick to his stomach from the pain and getting scared, because the Genii were all doing a great job of convincing each other that Rodney was bluffing: he couldn't do it, or he wouldn't do it, and in an hour he'd be crawling back ready to deal. The scientist Liska was the only one anywhere near as terrified as she ought to be.

"This substance, this naquada, which they used, it magnifies the explosive power beyond -- beyond anything which our equations could have predicted," she was saying, desperately, trying to convince them. "If they were to send another bomb and detonate it directly at our Stargate, which itself is made almost entirely from this element -- "

"Enough," Cowen said. "We are not children. The theoretical possibility may exist, Liska, but the Atlanteans required us to provide them with the materials for the first weapon. They have no way of acquiring more. McKay's threat is empty."

"Oh, that's a smart assumption to make," John managed, talking through his teeth so he wouldn't throw up. "Not that I care so much if you all get blown to hell, except for how I'm still here myself."

Cowen snorted. "Take him back to his cell," he told the guards. "We'll need him back here in an hour. We'll reconvene then," he added, to the other Genii elders. "Once we have called McKay's bluff, their position will be considerably weakened."

"Not as much as yours will be once you've been blown into molecules," John said, and bit back another scream as the guards roughly pulled him up and out of the chair, and put the cuffs back on around his arms. He passed out along the way back to his cell, which was a blessing, and when he came to a few minutes later he managed to tear a strip off his bedsheet with his teeth to wrap around his bloody wrist. They hadn't hit a vein; the damn thing had probably been designed to do as much non-fatal damage as possible. It felt bad, though, and his fingers didn't want to do what he told them.

He let his head fall back against the wall, breathing too quick, even though he tried to slow it down. It wouldn't matter in an hour. He was starting to feel loopy and vague: shock, he thought, and he pulled up the rest of the sheet and draped it over his shoulders, trying to get a little warmer. He couldn't control his thoughts anymore, calculations sliding away like water, and he closed his eyes and let himself imagine the warm hand on the back of his neck, holding him.

John was drifting, nowhere near sleep but somewhere beyond the pain, when the door to his cell opened and Kolya came in. He didn't say anything at first, only stood there looking down at him, face drawn, and John tilted his head up. "You know, the only good thing about this mess is that your day is about to get a whole lot worse than mine."

"How would he do it?" Kolya said. "He doesn't have another atomic bomb. How would he be able to set off an explosion of this magnitude?"

"How should I know?" John said. "But betting against McKay being able to do something technical is beyond stupid, and you know it." He closed his eyes again and tried to drift away.

"You were enraged when I wouldn't endanger the mission for the lives of three hundred of my own men," Kolya said. "And McKay's going to blow up a planet?"

"He's a scientist, Kolya," John said. "You just gave him conclusive evidence we're not going to be able to bring you guys around. What do you think the logical thing for him to do now is?"

"Bring us around!" Kolya walked around the cell twice, back and forth, stopped to glare at him again. "You arrogant bastards come in here and seize the legacy of our ancestors for your own, you wake the Wraith in your incompetence and then try to tell us how to fight them, you lock us in behind our Stargate like children and demand that our soldiers go to die for you -- "

"Oh, go to hell," John said. "You've had plenty of chances to just back off and leave us alone. Your problem is you know deep down that we're smarter than you and we're more powerful than you, and you can't fucking stand it. You'd rather let the Wraith win than accept the fact that you're not nearly as hot shit as you think you are."

Kolya's fist cracked against his cheekbone, and John's head slammed back into the wall, ears ringing. He bent over and threw up onto the floor, heaving; but at least there wasn't much to come up.

"Get up," Kolya said.

"So you can knock me down again?" John said, coughing. "I'll stay here."

Kolya grabbed his good arm and hauled him up and to the door. "Commander?" one of the guards outside said, uncertainly, looking from him to Sheppard.

"I'm taking the prisoner to have a little private conversation about the shield on our gate," Kolya said. "If anyone asks, he's still in here."

"Understood, sir," the young man said.

Around the first dark corner, Kolya stopped and took the cuffs off John's wrists and ankles. It hurt like fucking hell to have his arm handled, but once he'd straightened out his back, he nodded to Kolya and they started moving faster. The back of his head was throbbing, and tacky with drying blood when he put his hand up to touch, but he didn't care; he was in motion, he was doing something, and he didn't have to think about anything else.

Kolya led him through corridors that were thick with dust, obviously long-unused: rooms full of things he glimpsed as they hurried past their open doors, stacks of paintings and books and sculptures, and weird-looking hanging towers of fabric, like mobiles. There were paintings on the walls here, too: smiling people in sunlight, tall graceful buildings, a city on a riverbank, sleek bullet-shaped craft in mid-air. "This is what you used to be?" John said, to Kolya's back.

"Don't ask about things you couldn't even begin to comprehend," Kolya said, and pushed open a door at the end of the hall, onto a long narrow rising flight of stairs, with thin shafts of light trickling down from a grating overhead.

"You know," John said, struggling up the stairs one-handed behind him, "we didn't come to Atlantis just for the hell of it. Back on Earth, we've been fighting these guys called the Goa'uld for eight years now, ever since we opened our own Stargate, and we've come pretty damn close to losing more than once."

"We did lose," Kolya said, and climbed out the grating.

They made good time back towards the gate, and then hit the serious snag: there was a full troop of soldiers on guard around it now, and maybe ten of them stationed right at the DHD. John leaned against a tree, breathing hard, and didn't let himself think about failure. "Okay. Now what?"

"Now we bluff," Kolya said, and brought out the leg-irons again.

John clenched his teeth while they went back on: not even the pain as much as the weight, the leather drawing tight, the chain bowing his shoulders down. He tried not to look at his wrist while Kolya worked; he could still see flashes of white through the bloody meat.

Kolya dragged him down the hill to the stationed men roughly, but managed to keep him mostly on his feet anyway. The men saluted him -- boys, really, looking nervous, and they were all eyeing John with some confusion.

"Dial up the drop-point, subcommander," Kolya said.


"Did you have trouble hearing my order?" Kolya said, ice-cold, and the young man flushed up.

"No, sir, but -- "

"But he has other orders," Cowen said, behind them, and at the jerk of his hand another squadron of soldiers ran out from the bushes and into position around them, rifles leveled. John stared at them, numb more than anything, the last of the adrenaline draining away; and only Kolya's grip on his arm kept him balanced on his feet.

Cowen stepped right up to Kolya. "Never would I have imagined I would see the day when you betrayed the Genii, Acastus."

"You should know better than to imagine it now," Kolya said.

Cowen turned away from him, spoke to the soldiers. "Take them both -- "

"Cowen, hear me out -- " Kolya said, trying to speak over him, but whatever either one of them was about to say was abruptly drowned out by the heavy thumping sound of the chevrons engaging, one after another.

The soldiers took up hasty positions around the gate as the wormhole formed. Nothing came through right away, though, but in a moment Cowen's radio crackled. "Minister, it is Atlantis; they are sending a video signal."

There was a relay station for the video feed planted near the gate, under the cover of a half-dozen shrubs; no camera, but a radio transmitter, and a screen. The soldiers lifted it out and carried it over, set it down in front of Cowen. On the screen, Rodney was standing in the control room, just in front of the gate, and Zelenka and Kavanagh and Simpson were all working frantically over something on a cart.

Cowen covered the microphone on the transmitter, and spoke into his Genii communicator. "Have our scientists examine whatever it is they are working on, there; I want an analysis immediately."

"You already know what it is, Cowen," John said, hating him: twenty feet away from the Stargate, and the son of a bitch still wanted to delude himself Rodney was bluffing; Cowen was going to make Rodney do this, and John really didn't want to die.

"Keep him quiet," Cowen said, and uncovered the mike. "Doctor McKay. I'm afraid we haven't found your threats convincing," he said, bending to speak into it. "I believe we have fifteen minutes left on your original time, however. Or have you decided to negotiate?"

"You have sixteen minutes and forty-two seconds," Rodney said. He looked at Zelenka. "Be finished now."

"Yes, yes, this is not like riding a bicycle," Zelenka said, connecting a last cable of three twisted wires. He stepped back from the cart: it was carrying a flat metal pallet with three baby zeds lying on it in a row, socketed into some kind of electrical framework and tied together by exposed wires and cabling. There were three bars of solid black naquada standing underneath the zeds, also hooked in, and a long grey box at the bottom with a red-handled key poking out of either side.

Zelenka looked at Rodney anxiously. "Set the timer to fifteen minutes," Rodney said.

"Rodney -- " Zelenka said.

"Do it or tell me how."

Zelenka hesitated, and then he leaned over and moved around a couple of tiny metal bits on the exposed circuit board. "The timer will be activated when the keys are turned simultaneously."

Rodney looked at his watch. "Captain Bates," he said, "take the other key."

"Yes, sir," Bates said, and stepped to the other end of the bomb.

"Ready to turn on my mark," Rodney said, still looking at his watch, one hand on the key.

Cowen wasn't smiling anymore, even coldly; Kolya had shaken off the guards and gone to his side, staring intently into the screen, and none of the soldiers were making any attempt to interfere.

John felt strangely broken apart; the part of him that could lay out a military operation and do arctangent calculations in his head was nodding approval, so fucking proud of Rodney. It was the only possible way out, the only way to do this that wouldn't put the Genii right on their backs for the next century, the only way that didn't end up with him spending the rest of his life half a mile underground in the dark, and knowing that still didn't stop the five-year-old part of him from looking at the bomb and yelling, what about me? I'm here too, he won't do this, he won't take the chance, not with me, he won't be able to.

Liska, the scientist from the conference room, came running towards them through the field, still in military dress and gasping. "It could work," she said, staggering, coughing for air; a couple of the soldiers caught her arms and supported her. "The power readings we took on the zed devices -- the amplification factor of the naquada -- "

Cowen stared at her, then shouted into the microphone, "You can't seriously intend to do this. There are seventeen million people living on this planet!"

"You should have thought about that before you started threatening the ones living on mine," Rodney said. "Captain, on three. One, two -- "

"McKay!" Cowen said.

"--three." The keys turned, and an array of LEDs along the edge of the circuit board all lit up and went straight to red.

The scientists in the control room stepped back, involuntarily. Zelenka said, barely audible over the feed, "Rodney -- Rodney -- wait -- "

Rodney ignored him, waved Bates and the Marines back, and pushed the cart through himself; a single gentle shove. It rolled right into the wormhole on the screen and out again onto the platform twenty feet away. John noticed almost calmly that it looked smaller than it had on-screen: the cart was just one of the wheeled serving trays from the mess hall.

"Your gate is unlocked to dial the drop site. When I get confirmation that Major Sheppard is there and safe, I'll send you the keys," Rodney said. "You have fifteen minutes on the clock."

"McKay!" Cowen said, "McKay, Sheppard's not here; we can't bring him to the gate in time -- " and the wormhole shut down.

Liska had already run up the steps, scanning the bomb. "Don't touch it!" she screamed, when one of the soldiers reached out a hand. "Everything is rigged to set it off, the least movement -- "

"Dial the drop site now!" Cowen said to the subcommander, who ran to the DHD and started dialing. "We'll send the bomb through to there, and see how they like the taste of their own medicine."

"And when they send the next one, without unlocking our gate first?" Kolya said. He grabbed Cowen's arm, turned him roughly around. "We cannot defend ourselves against this weapon, Cowen, and he has proven he has the will to use it. That means he's won."

Cowen glared and shook him off. "We'll bury the gate as soon as the wormhole disengages. They will no longer be able to dial us. There will be no second bomb."

"And that's what you want," John said. "You'd rather cut yourselves off from the entire galaxy, bury yourselves alive and forget about defeating the Wraith, instead of working with us."

"After this, you can still speak of working together?" Cowen spat at him. "Do you think we're fools? Atlantis will never open our gate again, if we send you through. It might as well be buried."

"Well, one way you've got a chance, and the other way all you get is to kill me and a couple of guys at the drop site," John said. "If that's what you are, if that's what the Genii really are, go ahead. McKay and Atlantis will find a way to stop the Wraith without you."

The iris flashed into a shimmering disk, and the wormhole engaged behind it, the whoosh of the formation penned behind the shield; the iris flickered for a moment and then went down, leaving the event horizon open.

Cowen stared at John, at the wormhole; his face clenched, muscles along his jaw twitching, and said nothing.

Liska, still standing at the top of the stairs by the bomb, said, "This is insane! We won't have time to disarm the bomb if we don't send him through now! The gate will close."

"Cowen!" Kolya said harshly. "Cowen!"

"Send him!" Cowen snapped.

Kolya turned away from Cowen and grabbed John by the waist, heaved him over his shoulder and carried him up the steps to the event horizon.

John hit the ground on the other side and tucked his wrist as close as he could while he tumbled down the steps, rolling to a stop on his back. Ford and Teyla were bending over him, and he thought he'd never seen anyone look better in his life. "I'm fine, dial Atlantis now, hurry," he said, panting, and Teyla ran for the DHD while Ford pulled him up and helped him shuffle away from the gate.

They only dialed in long enough to let Atlantis know he was through, then disconnected to let them dial the Genii right away. Ford took the leg irons off and got John's wrist wrapped while they waited. "You want a morphine shot?" Ford asked quietly.

"God, yes," John said. "How bad is it?"

Ford hesitated and shook his head. "I don't know enough to say, sir. You'd better wait for Doc Beckett to see it."


"It's bad."

"Yeah," John said and closed his eyes while Ford slipped the needle into his arm. "I figured." It had been more than fifteen minutes by now; his wrist seemed small to be worrying about.

The gate connected, and Grodin's familiar voice came over the radio. "Drop site, this is Atlantis. The bomb has been disarmed. Come on home."

John walked through on his own power, to cheering a lot wilder than he'd expected: it had a hysterical edge. Nearly all of his men were there, and Bates, and a lot of the staff; Zelenka was sitting on the steps with his head leaning heavily on his hand, his eyes covered, and Simpson was in the corner actually crying.

Beckett and his medical team were waiting, with a stretcher. "Wait, I need a minute," John said, holding him off: Rodney was standing in the middle of the room with his hands at his sides, fingers curled up, looking at him; there was something lost and wide-open in his face, bruised. John walked to him and put his good arm around him. For a moment Rodney didn't move; then his hands uncurled and his arms came up; one around John's waist, the other cupping the back of his neck, careful but sure, and John closed his eyes and let Rodney take all his weight for a while.

He woke up dim and groggy in the infirmary, tense without knowing why, until he looked down and saw that his arm was in restraints. He could feel it, but the pain and most of his thoughts were all cushioned away with thick layers of morphine. He'd been awake for the surgery, if not all there; he had vague memories of thinking it was cool to watch them poke carefully around the exposed bones and tendons and pulsing blood vessels.

Rodney was in a chair next to the bed sleeping with his head tilted back and his mouth open, feet propped up on another chair. He looked like hell, the hair over his forehead wispy in the way it got when he hadn't showered in a few days, computer sitting in his lap and humming quietly. He would've been in arm's reach, but he was on the right side of the bed.

"Hey," John said instead.

"Hey," Rodney said, still asleep, and then he opened his eyes and sat up with a jerk. "Are you all right? Do you need something?"

"You got them the keys in time?" John asked; he couldn't quite remember.

"Yes," Rodney said. "Let me get you some water."

John's stomach unclenched. He didn't really want anything, but Rodney was already going, and John realized, swallowing, that his mouth was pretty dry. He drank the water and fell asleep again, only dimly aware of Rodney taking the glass out of his hand.

His wrist woke him up again hours later, a sharp flare of pain, and Rodney was still there. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, when John focused on him. "I had them stop the morphine. Can you stand it for a while? I need to know a few things."

For a second John hated him; hated that Rodney could do this to him, ask this of him, after everything. Then he said, "I'm fine. What do you need?"

Rodney said, "I need to know if I'm locking them up for good or not."

And yes was the easiest answer in the world, sitting ready in John's mouth, with the pain in his wrist spiking up his forearm as though the knife was still in the flesh. He wondered for a second if that was why Rodney had asked them to turn off the morphine; if maybe he wanted the pain to answer.

John said roughly, "You reached Kolya, some of their other senior people. Maybe Cowen too. Is that enough?"

Rodney's head slumped; it wasn't the easy answer for him either. "Maybe. We'll see." He rubbed his face, then he waved the nurse over, and John slid back into the morphine gratefully.

The next time he woke up, Beckett and the surgeon Kolsky were doing something to his arm, murmuring to each other in medical language. "Ow," he said.

"Sorry, Major," Beckett said. "Just another minute, then it'll be back to sleep for you. Nurse, a touch more for our patient, I think."

"Is it okay?" John said.

"The surgery, it goes well," Kolsky said, in his thick Russian accent. "Also the healing. No movement, spasebo." John was under again before they finished putting his hand back into the restraint.

The next afternoon, he woke up cotton-mouthed and floaty: no pain, only a mild throbbing in time with his pulse that didn't seem to hurt at all, and an unnatural, happy glow. Rodney was at his bedside again, tapping away at a laptop. John watched him through a haze of contentment until Rodney looked up and noticed him awake. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm great," John said. "How are you doing?"

"Oh, the usual," Rodney said. "Haven't eaten, haven't slept, nearly killed seventeen million people. Also, my boyfriend outed me."

"Then you might as well come here," John said, hopefully. Rodney put the laptop down on the floor and leaned over the bed, planting his hands carefully, and John kissed him long and slow, Rodney's mouth bitter with coffee dregs and fatigue, scrape of stubble on his upper lip, licking at the corners of his mouth, then deeper in, cool slide of his teeth under John's tongue, and the shiny soft gloss of the morphine over everything like sunlight coming through a translucent window.

"I think we ran off the nurse," Rodney said, panting as he straightened up.

"So you could -- " John said, flipping back the covers with his free hand.

"No, I could not!" Rodney said, grabbing the blankets and tucking them back in around John. "We're going to have to talk about this thing you're developing with inappropriate public displays of affection; I'm trying to establish a reputation as an evil overlord here."

Rodney went off and got a nurse to check John's vitals; then Beckett came by and peered at the wrist again. "Are we doing all right, then, Major?"

"Oh yeah," John said expansively. "I'm feeling no pain."

"Well, that means we'd best be stopping the morphine, so enjoy it while it lasts," Beckett said, cheerily, and patted him on the shoulder as he left.

"That's not fair," John muttered.

Rodney helped him settle back down against the pillows. "I need to get back upstairs," he said. "The Genii are supposed to call. I dropped them to about a million negative points, and now they're trying to come up with ways to make it up."

"Oh," John said, uninterested; he couldn't really bring himself to care right now. "Is the nurse gone?"

"Yes; you need something?"

John caught Rodney's wrist in his good hand and stroked the inner palm with his thumb. "You really could -- "

"No!" Rodney said, yanking his hand away.

John missed the morphine intensely for about a day, but after that the ibuprofen was good enough that boredom became worse than the pain. When he started making too much noise about it, Beckett put his arm in a temporary brace and sent him back to his quarters with orders to rest. John waited for about five minutes after the nurse dropped him off, and then headed straight towards the mess hall: his legs and back needed to stretch, and he wanted a sandwich.

"Good to see you up, sir," Laslow said, saluting, when they passed in the halls; he was walking the standard patrol, but with one of the Athosians instead of another Marine.

"Good to be up, Private," John said, and waved them on.

The food services staff were all happy to see him, and he managed to parlay that into a turkey sandwich. They even threw on a couple slices of fresh tomatoes from the mainland, though those were all supposed to be being canned for the winter.

He spotted Teyla and carried the tray over one-handed. "Hey, I saw Peltar out in the hall," he said, sitting down. "That's a good idea, the joint patrol thing. You come up with that?"

Teyla smiled, a little stiffly. "Captain Bates, as it happens," she said. "I am glad to see you, Major, but should you not be resting?"

"I've rested," John said, through a mouthful of sandwich. God, tomatoes. "Believe me, I've rested."

Teyla's smile turned warm and mirthful for a moment, then dropped off her face entirely; Bates was coming over to the table. "Hey, Captain. Yeah, I know, good to see me," John said. "Pull up a chair."

Bates sat down, eyeing Teyla dubiously. "Sir, should you be -- "

"Yes, I most definitely should," John said, still eating. "Good work with the trainees, by the way. Teyla and I were just saying that the joint patrols were a really good idea. Let our people get to know each other, give the new people some experience. Right, Teyla?"

Bates darted a look at Teyla, who glared at John and then gave Bates the stiff smile again. "It was indeed a wise decision," she said.

"Uh," Bates said, sounding confused. "Thank you?" He hesitated and added, "They've all come along fast. Finished basic in ten weeks, actually."

"Is that less than usual?" Teyla asked.

"Marine Corps standard is thirteen, including processing," Bates said. He eyed John and added casually, "Of course, the Air Force only does six."

John looked up slowly from his sandwich and gave him a narrow look.

Teyla raised an eyebrow. "Are you not all trained the same?"

"The Marines are the guys who do the grunt work, and Air Force are the guys who fly the really cool planes," John said. "Captain, wouldn't you agree?"

Bates was trying not to grin. "I'd have to say the Marines do the heavy lifting, yes, sir."

John glared.

"I see," Teyla said, fighting back a smile of her own. "And my people combine the strength of the Marines, with the swiftness of your Air Force."

She bit into an apple, smiling serenely, while John and Bates both glared at her instead.

"What are you doing?" John winced and looked over his shoulder. Rodney was standing behind him, arms folded. "Beckett said bed rest, not wandering the halls."

"I was hungry," John said. "Want a french fry?"

Rodney hesitated, but food won, and he sat down and started eating off John's plate.

John watched the fries disappear. "I didn't mean all of them."

"I'm the master of the universe, I'll get you more fries," Rodney said. "Are you going to finish that?"

"Yes!" John picked up the rest of the sandwich to keep it safe, and took another big bite.

Teyla looked indulgent. "I am glad you are recovering, Major," she said, rising from her seat. "I should return to the training rooms now. Several more of my people have decided to join the patrols, and are only now beginning."

"I should head there too," Bates said, getting up also, hastily; but all things considered he was doing a decent job of hiding how freaked he was. The best John had hoped for was that Bates wouldn't try to convene a court-martial.

"Mm," Rodney said, knowingly, and both Teyla and Bates traded annoyed looks before leaving.

John waved his goodbye, still swallowing. "You don't seriously think the two of them, though?" he said to Rodney, after they were gone.

Rodney shrugged around the last of the fries. "Worth a try."

"Since when are you the city matchmaker?" John said.

"Why not?" Rodney said. "It would do a lot of good for relations with the Athosians."

"You're trying to get them together for the sake of the project?"

"What?" Rodney said. "It's not like I'm going to tie them together or anything. I'm just giving them a little help."

"By telling them they're hot for each other when they really want to rip out each other's lungs?" John said. "Apparently you're a true believer in the power of suggestion."

"Most people need a little encouragement before they jump the nearest attractive person," Rodney said, and smirked. "Unlike you."

"Hey!" John said. "I had plenty of encouragement. You locked me in a room with you and wouldn't let me out until after I had sex with you."

"I didn't let you out after you had sex with me either!"

"See, exactly," John said. "It was so good, you wanted me to do it again."

"Clearly the drugs are affecting your memory," Rodney said. "I think it's time to put you back to bed."

His wrist was starting to ache again, so John didn't put up much of a fight, other than making Rodney go get him another plate of fries and a slice of pie to take back to the room. It was weird to walk down the hallways together, seeing people, without the automatic layer of caution going in the back of his head. The awkward reactions didn't even really bother him, though if Dr. Jedda kept walking into walls every time she passed them, she was going to give herself a concussion.

"Hey," John said, outside his apartment, as Rodney was opening the door, "You ever seen that place in the north tower, the one with the wraparound balcony?"

Rodney turned too quick, fumbled the plates, and dropped them on the floor with a clatter. John looked down at the remains of the key lime and the scattered fries. "Lucky those were plastic," he said.

"You want to move in together?" Rodney said.

"Well," John said, awkwardly. "I was just -- "

"Okay," Rodney interrupted him.

"Yes?" John said.

"What, are you stupid? Of course, yes," Rodney said. He paused. "You do realize I'm kind of a slob, though, right?"

"I've spent more than thirty seconds in your place, so," John said.

"It's the whole genius thing, it doesn't leave a lot of time for cleaning up -- "

"We can work out the details later," John said.

"I just want to make sure -- "

"I know what I'm getting into," John said. "Can we go inside and have sex now? I could use some endorphins."

"Oh, that's sweet," Rodney said. "So much for romance."

"I'll still respect you in the morning," John said.

"You don't have to do this," Rodney said.

"I know," John said.

"I mean, you really don't have to," Rodney said.

"Rodney, it's okay. I'm fine with it."

"I'm not!" Rodney yelled.

In the back of the jumper, Zelenka did his best to turn the sound he was making into a cough. Ford, sitting in the co-pilot's seat, just kept looking straight ahead into space, saying absolutely nothing, and grinning from ear to ear.

"Rodney," John hissed into the radio, "you're embarrassing me in front of the kids."

"Ask me if I care," Rodney said.

John cleared his throat loudly and said, "Flight, puddlejumper 1 is set to launch."

"Puddlejumper 1, this is Flight. The Stargate is open. Standing by for confirmation from the Genii," Grodin said.

"Atlantis, we await your arrival," Kolya said, from the other side.

Rodney's voice came over the radio again. "Kolya, I have made it clear this is your one and only final chance, right?"

"Yes, Dr. McKay," Kolya said, dryly. "I believe you've conveyed that message more than once."

"Good, good; just checking," Rodney said. "Puddlejumper 1, you have a go. Come back safe."

John switched over to the encrypted band. "Puddlejumper 2, you boys ready?"

"Yes, sir; cloaked and ready to launch," Miller said. "We'll be right on your tail the whole way through."

"Good," John said. "Let's hope they never even find out you're there."

He put the jumper down in the field next to the gate, near the squadron of waiting Genii soldiers. "Okay," John said, "let's do this."

The rear hatch stayed closed. John looked down at the console and tried again; still nothing. Ford looked at the hatch and then back at him, puzzled. Zelenka cleared his throat. "Perhaps there is temporary power surge in the rear hatch control systems, from passing through the gate with the second jumper so close behind us. I can manually override from here, Major."

"Yeah, go ahead," John said. "Thanks." He took his hands off the controls, feeling obscurely betrayed; he'd been doing a good job convincing himself he really was fine with this.

The deactivated baby-zed bomb was in a crate and swathed in heaps of something that looked like metallic silk. The Genii loaded it aboard with paranoid care, Liska and their team of scientists nervously hovering while Zelenka bent over the bomb, checking the circuitry.

John asked, "Are we good, Dr. Zelenka?"

"Hm, yes; that -- yes, also; and yes," Zelenka said, and stood up. "However, Major, I will only be able to set the timer for half an hour at the most, or we will risk burnout. We did not design the circuit board for long-term operation."

"Good enough," John said. "If we're not out by then, we're screwed anyway."

Ford got up to let Kolya have the front seat as the Genii scientists stepped off, leaving only the six-man strike team aboard. "Last chance to get off the bus," John said, and put his hands on the controls, silently begging the jumper not to make him look like an idiot, and thankfully the hatch slid closed right off. Although, considering where they were headed, that didn't necessarily say much about his sense of self-preservation.

They came out of the Stargate into darkness; not natural night, but the smoke of burning houses and trees, the blasted aftermath of another Wraith culling. John cloaked the jumper and took it up, breaking through the smoke into clear sky and then past the atmosphere entirely, ten thousand stars coming out all at once.

The hive ship was on the move out of the system, just as they'd expected; far enough away into the shadow of the planet by now that it was visible only a dark patch against the stars. John reached out to the console to bring up the long-range sensors as he sent the jumper in pursuit, and looked over sharply as he caught a movement. Kolya was looking down at his wrist, studying the scar on the back of his hand: still red around the edges of the incision, though the staples had come out a few days ago.

John made himself keep his hand outstretched for a couple of extra moments, even after the sensor display jumped instantly onto the screen, and then he left his hand on the controls deliberately at an angle, so his sleeve didn't slide back down. Beckett said he'd get full range of movement back with PT, and he hadn't lost that much sensation; but it was a little like wearing a glove all the time, except when he was flying the jumper and the Ancient systems somehow bridged the gap to let him feel the ship all the way through.

Kolya didn't say anything at all, which was suspiciously friendly of him; but maybe he was just preoccupied with the hive ship, growing slowly on the screen, outlined now by the internal fire of its engines. Small clusters of darts were still coming back from the planet, bringing their harvest, and four cruisers flanked the hive ship also, not in any kind of protective formation: they weren't worried.

"What are the chances that the cruisers will be taken out along with the hive ship?" Kolya asked, watching. "Provided this actually works, of course."

"The little zeds themselves do not access significant amounts of vacuum energy, so the radius of the blast will be limited to 5,000 kilometer range," Zelenka said. "But I hope that should be sufficient. Major, can you activate tri-dimensional schematic of ships?"

A boxy diagram opened up in perspective on the screen, and John said, "Looks like they're staying in two hundred kilometer range. Just how big is 5,000 kilometers, anyway?"

"A little less than the radius of the Earth," Zelenka said.

John and Kolya both turned slowly to look at him. "And this is an insignificant amount of vacuum energy?" Kolya said.

Zelenka blinked back at them owlishly. "By comparison to full ZPM? Yes."

"Okay, then," John said. "Are we going to blow away the Stargate with this? Because it's kind of a long way home by puddlejumper."

"No, of course not," Zelenka said. "Hive ship is already more than 60,000 kilometers away from the planet." He hesitated. "Unless I am miscalculating potential size of explosion."

"That's not very likely, though, right?"

"If I am significantly wrong, we will also be destroyed anyway," Zelenka offered.

"Oh, good. That's just what I wanted to hear," John said.

The docking worked, which was one small miracle; Zelenka had to hotwire makeshift connections with the dart pod while John struggled to match velocities exactly with the hive ship. "Well," Zelenka said, stepping back. "We are within their shielding, and we have atmospheric seal, also gravity."

"Zelenka, the jumper's not locked in," John said sharply, still concentrating; the hive ship's speed went in strange cycles: a series of slow hitching accelerations, not exactly at random intervals; a single sharper slowdown, then back to the beginning again, all within a five minute time frame, and more than a second behind and they'd lose the coupling.

"I am sorry, Major," Zelenka said. "That is all I can do. Our basic design is too incompatible. Should I disengage?"

John darted a split-second look at Kolya. "I'm not going to be able to leave the ship, and if I miss a velocity change even once, the docking could break before you get back. It's your call. Do we abort?"

"We didn't come all this way for nothing," Kolya said, and stood up.

John had to tune out the sounds of the strike team going without him. The jumper had figured out what he was trying to do and was alerting him to velocity changes now; but it was still like listening to a low whisper in a crowded room, even after they'd disembarked and he was alone.

He thought the time would stretch, unbearable, but it was the other way around; the silence didn't seem to last a minute before the men came racing back in, Kolya bringing up the rear with Zelenka draped over his shoulder. Kolya hit the rear hatch door and shouted, "Go! Go now!"

"How bad is Zelenka?" John yelled back, still fighting loose from his connection with the jumper systems.

"He's just stunned, sir," Ford said, dropping into the co-pilot's seat. "We've got nineteen minutes left."

"I don't know what it's going to screw up if I just go, but I guess we don't have too many options," John said. "Hang on back there!"

The jumper squealed angrily as he pulled out, white static sparks raining out of the open panel Zelenka had been working on. John put the jumper on a heading straight back for the planet at top speed, but darts were disengaging from their docking pods even as he raced past, and the hive ship and the cruisers were changing speed, coming around.

"Fuck," John said. "I think we just lost the cloak." He dived just in time, and a fireball went skittering past their hull. "Okay, yeah, this is not so good. Is Zelenka awake yet?" he yelled back, weaving wildly.

"Terys, the coltrapine," Kolya said, and one of his men nodded and took a padded leather packet out of their gear, unfolding it to reveal glass syringes.

"What the hell is that?" John said.

"Shut up and keep flying," Kolya said. "And don't lead them back towards the planet!"

"Thanks, I figured that part out on my own!" John snapped, banking hard and driving between three darts; the jumper rocked as the six right on their tail collided with the forward cluster of darts and exploded.

"Nice," Ford said, gripping the console.

"There're another five million where those came from," John said grimly.

"Bože moje," Zelenka said, trying to jerk up: three of the Genii were holding him down, and the other was pulling a syringe out of his chest.

"Get him on his feet," Kolya said. "We need the cloak back now, Doctor."

"Vlez na hřb," Zelenka spat at Kolya, as the Genii soldiers bodily lifted him back onto his feet.

"Dr. Zelenka, are you okay?" Ford called.

"No!" Zelenka said, and then he staggered over to the access panel and pulled three crystal panels out of their slots. The jumper stopped dead, right under John's hands. The four pursuing darts overshot them at top speed, turned around and started heading back, and they were dead in the water.

"Shit!" John yelled. "Radek! That did not work!"

"Shut up!" Zelenka yelled back, rearranging frantically. "Now, now!"

The engines jumped back online, and John had to loop straight up to avoid the onrushing darts. But this time when they turned around, they didn't come in pursuit, just started firing random bursts all over. "Okay, that's good," John said.

"Sir, we have four minutes left!" Ford said, and John whipped the jumper around and headed straight away from the hive ship. It had turned around, sluggishly, and even though they were cloaked now, it was starting to move towards the planet anyway -- the Wraith didn't have to be geniuses to figure the jumper had come through the Stargate.

"I'm not getting a lot of speed here!" John said, watching the distance between them and the hive ship growing, not nearly fast enough. Five hundred kilometers. Eleven hundred. Two thousand.

"Whose fault is that?" Zelenka yelled, still working. "Next time you wake me up first, before you go overloading all jumper systems!"

"Great, you're starting to sound like Rodney," John said.

"I have sympathy for him now I know what he has been putting up with!" Zelenka said, and then the jumper gave a kind of hiccup and the engines hummed: three thousand, five thousand, seven thousand, ten, and suddenly John was blind, flying on nothing but gut instinct with a pattering like rainfall against the jumper hull.

"Jesus!" John yelled, squeezing his watering eyes shut: and then suddenly diagrams were blooming across the back of his eyelids. His head was pounding like someone was shoving a single white-hot needle right into his temple, but he could see chunks of debris, and a few dozen darts spiraling crazily out of control all around them. A couple disappeared from the display even as he watched, smashed by debris.

The jumper was tumbling end over end, only the inertial dampeners keeping them from flying around like rag dolls on the inside. He managed to pull them out of the spin and level out: the engine speed had been cut back down again, but nobody was chasing them for the moment.

"Everybody okay back there?" he asked, opening his eyes a crack; the dim glow from the console still hurt, but not as badly as the direct-to-brain display. Out in front of the jumper, tiny particles of space debris were shining like dust motes in sunlight: a fading radiance was still shining from behind them.

Kolya groped his way to the front, his own eyes streaming tears down his scarred face; he was ignoring them so entirely he didn't even bother to wipe them away. "Did it work?"

The light was slowly fading, and John could at least keep his eyes open again, though there was still a soft blur overlaying his vision. "Hang on," he said, and cautiously turned the puddlejumper around. Stupid, maybe, because he could bring up the radar screen with a thought, but he wanted to see it. And when at last the field of still-glowing debris was filling the viewscreen, a cloud of fragments whirling around a single blazing point like a miniature star, Kolya's hand came down on his shoulder, gripping painfully hard, and John glanced up to see him smiling.

Rodney was bouncing up and down on his feet, so much so that Beckett finally yelled at him. "This isn't like bloody flipping a switch! If you can't be still, go stand in the hall and keep out of the way."

"I'm not doing anything!" Rodney said. "I'm just observing."

"You're distracting me!" Beckett said. "Do you want me to make a mistake here? If I slip up and we do some damage, she could end up needing another month of recovery."

"I'll go stand in the hall," Rodney said, and disappeared.

"Well, thank God for that," Beckett said, huffing an annoyed sigh. "No, Major, you can stay," he added. "In fact, come stand here by the bedside; it'll be as well for her to see a familiar face as she comes out, and I'll need to be keeping an eye on the monitors here."

"Right, okay," John said, obscurely guilty for wishing he could go; Elizabeth's face, still serene in the white mask of the stasis field, seemed mutely accusing.

The pale light faded slowly away from around her; the four waiting nurses carefully supported her out of the niche and got her onto the waiting bed without dislodging the IV drip. Blood was running freely from her nose now, but Beckett shook his head at John. "No worries, it's to be expected." The nurses mopped away the blood, and she blinked her eyes open, her hand reaching vaguely towards her face before they gently caught it.

"Hey," John said, leaning over her and taking her hand. "Relax a second, we're just getting you out."

"John," she said, whispery, then cleared her throat, already starting to look more awake. "How long have I -- ?"

"Three months," John said.

"Blood pressure looks good, all vitals normal," Beckett said, and stepped over to smile down at her. "Well now, you gave us all a bit of a scare, love. But you're going to be just fine."

"Can I come in yet?" Rodney yelled from outside.

"Oh, God," Beckett said under his breath. "All right, then," he called.

Rodney bounded into the room, then crept the last few feet to Elizabeth's side with exaggerated care. "How are you feeling? Not too tired?" he said hopefully.

Elizabeth smiled up at him. "Hello, Rodney," she said. "So, who wants to fill me in?"

"I don't believe this," Elizabeth said. "Did you both lose your minds at once?"

Rodney looked at John. John shrugged back with one shoulder. He couldn't stop staring at the desk. It looked a lot neater now: bare except for Elizabeth's one small laptop, and almost sterile.

Elizabeth sighed. "And none of the senior staff had anything to say about this?"

"Teyla was pretty pissed-off about the whole thing," Rodney offered.

"Well, I'm glad at least one person was able to spot the flaws in this beautiful scheme," Elizabeth said. "Did you ever stop congratulating yourself on how clever this all was to realize you were exploiting them? Using them for slave labor, sending them on missions too dangerous for our own people -- "

"Oh, please," Rodney said. "They didn't have to go. It's not like they were going to starve on their own planet."

"Which you nearly blew up!" Elizabeth said. "No -- " she stopped herself and held up a hand, when John would have spoken: Rodney had clammed up tight. "That's not fair. I wasn't there, and I have no idea how I would have handled it. But we should never have been in that situation in the first place."

"Right," Rodney snapped. "Don't get personnel taken hostage and tortured, check."

"You can't work with allies you don't trust!" Elizabeth said. "And the Genii can't be trusted as long as they're working under duress. Yes, Rodney, it is duress. You know damn well that the people in this galaxy depend on the Stargate network."

"The Genii couldn't be trusted anyway," Rodney said. "In case you've already forgotten your exciting stay in stasis, they tried to blow away our entire senior staff with nerve gas."

"Which would have been an excellent reason to lock them up for a specified period of time, as a punishment," Elizabeth said.

"I'm more a rehabilitation kind of guy myself," Rodney said.

"Look," John said, leaning forward, "The point is, it worked. Elizabeth, we took out a damn hive ship together. Tell me that wasn't worth taking a few risks."

"The only reason it worked is because they're apparently just as crazy as both of you!" Elizabeth said.

"There you go!" John said. "We were communicating on their level!"

Rodney turned to look at him. "Please don't be on my side anymore."

"I came out of stasis for this?" Elizabeth said, rubbing her forehead. "Okay. This ends now. Rodney, can you put together instructions for them on how to remove the iris from their gate, or will we have to send a team to do it for them?"

"What?" Rodney said. "No! We can't take it off yet. We'd send the completely wrong message."

"You mean the message that this isn't how we normally do business?" Elizabeth said.

"We should give it a couple more months at least," Rodney said. "They just got their second offworld trip. Let's wait and make sure they didn't try anything again -- "

"As long as that lock is on their gate, they're going to want to try something," Elizabeth said. "If they don't, it'll only be because they don't think they can succeed."

"I'm sorry, I'm failing to see how exactly that's a bad thing," Rodney said.

"How about this: it's unreliable," Elizabeth said.

"As opposed to the previous situation?" Rodney demanded.

The sound of the Stargate interrupted them: an unscheduled offworld activation. They ran out of the office together into the control room to watch the chevrons encoding, one after another. The muscles in John's neck were tight and knotted. Some hard, cold part of him had been sitting in that office, wanting Rodney to push even harder, wanting Rodney to do -- what exactly? Challenge Elizabeth's command? Rip apart the whole fucking expedition?

"We're getting a transmission from the Genii," Grodin said, looking at Rodney. "Should I put it through to the conference room?"

"Yes, Peter; thank you," Elizabeth said, and Grodin jerked a little in surprise and then tried to act as though he'd been looking at her all along.

"Elizabeth," John said, following her and Rodney into the conference room, "We should hold off on this. You just got back, there are a lot of details to catch you up on -- "

"In other words, you want more time to talk me out of this," Elizabeth said.

"If you'd stop and think for five minutes you wouldn't need to be talked out of this!" Rodney said.

Elizabeth stepped in front of the camera and turned on the feed. "This is Dr. Weir speaking."

Kolya's face appeared on the screen. "Dr. Weir?" He stared at Elizabeth blankly for a minute, then he said, "I hope you are completely recovered?"

"I'm just fine, thank you for the concern," Elizabeth said dryly.

"Allow me to offer our apologies," Kolya said, "and our hopes for your continued health. I assure you that we deeply regret any injury we may have caused." He sounded intensely sincere.

"Thank you," Elizabeth said, doubtfully. "Now, I assume you are calling about the next proposed mission -- "

"On this occasion, no," Kolya said. "We wish to negotiate the removal of the iris from our Stargate."

"Oh," Elizabeth said. "Well, as it happens -- "

Rodney, standing behind the camera, waved his arms at her wildly, drawing a line across his throat, no no no! "Elizabeth!" John hissed. She glared at them both.

"In exchange, we propose to offer this," Kolya said, and gestured the camera downward to the table: to a full ZPM, glowing carmine and gold.

Rodney made a sound John hadn't ever heard him make in public before.

"The device was in an abandoned facility many thousands of years old. Our scientists assure me that it is fully charged," Kolya said. "We retrieved it on our recent offworld journey. I trust this is sufficient inducement?"

Rodney started nodding at Elizabeth just as frantically as he had been shaking his head before. But she bit her lip, staring at the ZPM, as if she actually had to think about it.

"Kolya," she said finally, "If you just want the iris taken off your Stargate, we'll do that in exchange for a basic treaty of non-aggression. You don't have to give us the ZPM for that."

John stared at her and turned to Rodney; you can't let her do this, he wanted to say; it was on the tip of his tongue. Stop her; order me to stop her; tell me to do something.

But Rodney wasn't looking at him; instead he was watching Elizabeth, frowning, but thoughtfully. On the screen, Kolya was looking skeptical. "That's remarkably generous of you, Dr. Weir."

"Not really," Elizabeth said. "It's perfectly straightforward. You leave us alone, and we, of course, will leave you alone. No reason we should ever have to speak again." She smiled.

Kolya frowned.

"On the other hand," Elizabeth added, casually, "we would gratefully accept the ZPM to mark a formal treaty of alliance between our two peoples against the Wraith. As I'm sure you realize, with such a resource available, we would be able to do a great deal more here in Atlantis."

"I'm sure," Kolya said. "I will pass on your offer to the Genii high council." He eyed her with unwilling respect and snorted. "Scientists and diplomats," he muttered, and cut the connection.

"Look, the density of the atmosphere around the shield itself is increased. A minor amount, I grant you, but it's past the margin of error, so the shield is doing something that accounts for it," Rodney said.

"Could be consumption of lighter elements?" Zelenka said. "Perhaps utilization of hydrogen as secondary fuel source?"

"No, no, no, don't be ridiculous," Rodney said. "There is no heat being generated by the shield itself, and anyway," he said louder, talking over whatever Zelenka was trying to say, "anyway, all the shield's power consumption equations are fully satisfied by the flow from the ZPM. It's something else." He turned and leaned back against the lab bench again and crossed his arms, frowning at the display monitor.

John cleared his throat from the doorway. "Do you have a minute?"

"Yeah, come on in," Rodney said, distractedly, and waved at the screen as John came in. "We're just trying to figure out how the shield works. It's, just, it's amazing, we don't even have a clue -- "

Zelenka said, "I still think it must operate on same reflective principles as Wraith shielding -- "

"Forget it! This makes Wraith shielding look like plastic wrap, and by that I mean the cheap kind that doesn't stick," Rodney said. "We're not looking at a refinement of a relatively simple technology. This is on a completely different level."

"You have no evidence for such an argument!" Zelenka said. "You are just making up imaginary science now for fun."

"Oh, yeah, because staring at this and making no progress whatsoever, this is fun," Rodney said, except apparently it was, lots, since he pretty much hadn't left the labs since the Genii had come for the treaty signing. Rodney had done a good job pretending to be calm and rational all the way through the ceremony, until they handed the ZPM over, and then he'd snatched it out of Elizabeth's hands and vanished out the door, leaving her standing open-mouthed and indignant in front of Kolya and the official Genii ambassador. Not that the Genii had objected: John thought they'd been just as happy to see Rodney go.

"I just wanted you to take a look at this," John said. "I've put together a new tactical plan for the next hive ship attack." Along with the ZPM, the Genii had also brought them a swath of new intelligence: a pattern of cullings, gathered by their spies and contacts on other worlds, that predicted the next stop of another hive ship.

"Oh, right, that's when, week after next?" Rodney said, glancing at the binder John was holding out to him. "That reminds me, actually -- " and he turned to Zelenka. "The darts, the docking pods -- you said it fed power in the 87.6 Hertz frequency range?"

"Yes, and output is generated along sinusoidal curve," Zelenka said, slowly, and already nodding. "Yes, we can do it, certainly -- "

"Do what?" John said.

Rodney turned to him. "Instead of trying to dock the jumper into the dart pod, and then manually planting the bomb inside the hive ship, I think we can modify the captured darts themselves to be our delivery mechanism. The docking pods have a distinct power signature, so it shouldn't be too hard to modify the darts to automatically target towards it."

"You mean, pack the bomb into the dart, use it like a missile?" John said, getting excited. "Will that be powerful enough, now that we're only going to use one baby zed in the bomb?"

"Probably, yes," Zelenka said.

"It'll be fine," Rodney said at the same time. He glared at Zelenka. "It's inside the shielding! Even if it only blows half the hull it'll still cause a catastrophic failure in the engine core -- "

"That will only be guaranteed if the catalytic reaction continues through a full power-transfer cycle of the hive ship systems!"

"So we make sure the bomb is timed to go off only at the start of the cycle," Rodney said.

"We will still need to find a way to divert the flow of sigma baryons away from the ship in order to avoid premature collapse of the energy circuit. Yes, I know!" Zelenka made pacifying gestures at Rodney. "But proton magnetism is almost entirely theoretical -- "

"Yee generated a stable field for thirty-six microseconds in the particle lab two weeks ago!" Rodney said.

"Okay!" John said, interrupting. "Sounds good enough to me. How soon can you get this done?"

"Hm, what do you think?" Rodney said, looking at Zelenka. "Programming the automation will be the real challenge, I assume, I'm not caught up on the darts yet."

Zelenka nodded. "We will have to route through the manual controls. Perhaps using robotics? It would be more reliable than attempting to interface directly with the underlying computer systems."

"Yes, good thought," Rodney said. "There are those components we found down in the storage levels in the west pier, Simpson's been having some luck working with them."

"Yes, very good," Zelenka said. "So: three, maybe four months?"

"Yeah, at least," Rodney agreed.

"What? Wait a second," John said. "This hive ship is headed straight for another dozen inhabited worlds. We don't have three months."

"You think developing something like this happens overnight?" Rodney said. "We're only geniuses here, not superhuman."

"So then why are you telling me about this?" John said.

"You asked!" Rodney said.

"I did not!" John said. "I wanted you to look at the damn plan. The hive ship's going to be coming out of warp in two weeks, we're going to hit it then; you know that."

"Yes, so?" Rodney said. "We're not going to have anything new for you by then; we'll have to do it the same way as last time."

"They'll be watching out for us now," John said. "We're going to have to adjust our tactics to compensate."

Rodney looked faintly impatient. "Okay? And? What do you want from me?"

"You know what, forget I asked," John said, and walked out.

John barely spared a glance from the computer screen when Rodney came into the apartment. "What the hell is up with you?" Rodney demanded.

"Excuse me, I'm sorry for interrupting your good time to suggest that maybe you could take a look at something important!" John snapped. "I realize this isn't as much fun as playing with all the new toys -- "

"Stop there, before you piss me off even more," Rodney said. "What exactly is it you want me to look at?"

"The goddamn tactical report!" John said, shoving the binder at him. "It's fifteen fucking pages, just -- "

Rodney didn't take it. "And you're trying to get Elizabeth to sign off on this, is that it?"

"She already has!" John said.

"So why are you bothering me?" Rodney said.

"For Christ's sake, would it kill you to take a look?"

"I don't know anything about tactical military operations, and this isn't my job!" Rodney said. "I'm not in command anymore!"

"You should be!" John yelled, and threw the binder down on the desk hard enough to knock the desk lamp over, rattling the perched laptops. A stylus rolled off the side and clattered to the ground.

"So, I'm guessing that I've missed something here," Rodney said after a moment, watching the stylus roll slowly to a wobbling stop between them.

"You're the best fucking commander I've ever had, all right?" John said. "I realize this is the last thing you need to hear -- "

"No, no, I'm good, you can keep going," Rodney said, leaning back against the doorframe. "Best ever, huh?"

"Oh, shut up," John said.

"Not that I'm not flattered, but I still can't check your work," Rodney said. "If you make a mistake on the tactical level, I'm not going to catch it, and neither is anyone else."

"You locked me in the office for six hours the first day you were in charge because you caught a mistake I made," John said.

"I was working on a technical advantage you didn't know about yet," Rodney said. "There wasn't anything wrong with your tactics. As far as I know, anyway; I wasn't really paying attention in the briefing."

"You weren't paying attention?"

Rodney rolled his eyes. "I didn't have to! That's what makes you the best officer I've ever had."

"I'm the only officer you've ever had!" John said, trying not to really like hearing that.

"Actually, there was this cute blond lieutenant, back in the Pentagon -- " Rodney said.

John glared at him.

"You're the best officer ever in the history of the universe, okay?" Rodney said. "If I had only one officer to take to a deserted island, say in the middle of another galaxy -- "

"All right, fine!" John said, fighting like hell not to start glowing. "I get the point. You can go back to Zelenka and your damn shield now."

"You're not jealous of Radek, are you? Because I swear, he's nothing to me," Rodney said.

"Very funny," John said.

"Though, man, that sexy Czech lilt never gets old."

"Well, now I'm jealous."

"And have I mentioned the way he can reconfigure a power conduit in less than thirty seconds?"

"Okay, just go back to the lab already," John said.

"No, no, really," Rodney said. "I understand. You just get off on me giving you orders. Don't worry, I'll still do it in private."

"Well, maybe I won't listen!" John said.

"Oh, just give up," Rodney said, rolling his eyes. "You know you want it."

"No!" John said, folding his arms. "You're not in command anymore, remember? In fact, now you're back on the offworld team, you report to me."

"Okay, fine," Rodney said. "So give me an order."

John paused. "What?"

"Give me an order, Major," Rodney said, low and rough, his voice like a trigger, and John swallowed on a rush of heat that went all the way down, because god, he could, and Rodney was going to let him --

"Yes," Rodney said. "Yes, exactly, come on, now, now," and John crossed the room and shoved him back, hands fisting into the front of Rodney's jacket, leaning hard into Rodney's warm, solid body, pressing him up against the wall; and it felt so damn good to just use his strength on Rodney, to handle him, and Rodney was grinning, saying breathlessly, "Well, you're a little slow, but once you get the picture -- "

"You son of a bitch," John said, panting already. "Take -- take my shirt off."

Rodney's hands slid underneath his shirt, pushed it up over his head and drew it down his arms, slowly. "Keep touching me," John said, because Rodney was about to stop, and he wanted them on him, on his skin, and Rodney spread his hands out over John's chest and ran them up and over his shoulders, broad warm open-hand strokes, just firm enough for friction, over his back, his sides, thumbs just brushing his nipples.

"God, you're -- " Rodney said, leaning in.

"No, shut up, hold still," John said, and dragged him back towards the bed and pushed him down onto it, flat on his back, still dressed. He leaned forward over the bed, knee planted between Rodney's legs, and grabbed Rodney's shirt at the collar: he was back to wearing blue again, the zippered kind, and John peeled it down and open, away from Rodney's neck, bending over to lick at the hollow. And the whole time Rodney didn't say anything, his chest rising heartbeat-quick under John's hands, shallow gasping breaths, shivering now and again. He moved only where John needed him to, let John strip him naked and spread him out on the covers on his back, watching John hungrily.

John abruptly figured out that Rodney was still obeying, Rodney wasn't going to move, to speak, and John leaned in and kissed him hard, shoving Rodney farther up the bed, sprawling him against the pillows. He drew Rodney's hands up to the headboard and made him hold on, Rodney kissing him back frantically even as he moved obediently under John's hands: wide, open-mouthed, devouring kisses, still not touching him, never moving his hands away.

John was shaking as he stood up over the bed and unbuckled his belt, took the rest of his clothes off, Rodney's eyes on him always, tracing the lines of his skin as he stripped, like a caress. "Give me the -- " John said, and Rodney was already reaching into the drawer, sitting up to hand him the lubricant.

John climbed onto the bed and took it, slid a hand deep into Rodney's hair, cupping the back of his head, and kissed him hard and deep, lowering him back down, leaving him panting against the sheets. John twisted off the lid and knelt up over him; Rodney staring up at him dazed and heavy-lidded, hands restless and grasping and twisting in the covers.

And Rodney groaned wordless and brokenly as John slicked himself, stroked himself hard, and just the sound of him was so good John wanted it to last, wanted to keep going forever. He slowed all the way down, barely sliding his hand up and down, just enough to keep himself on the edge, and Rodney made another small desperate noise, writhing on the sheets, barely restrained, and another, and John panted, "Say something -- "

"God, are you trying to drive me crazy, come here, come here," Rodney said, and John nearly flung himself forward into Rodney's arms, Rodney curling around him, kissing him wildly, touching him everywhere, urging him, low murmur of yes yes yes. John slid into him as slow as he could bear, Rodney gasping and shuddering and falling back against the pillows, Rodney's hands clenching so hard on his arms John thought he could feel the bruises shaping, Rodney's thighs warm and tight around him.

And then they were together and he was moving, hitting that perfect rhythm, and Rodney was drunkenly sprawled back under him, blissed-out smile on his face, sighing, "Oh, yeah."

Pausing for a moment to stretch things out, John grinned down at him. "Okay, the command thing's not too bad from this side either."

Rodney laughed, with a breathless catch, took John's face in his hands and drew him down for a kiss. "I'm so glad you're with me on this."

= End =

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There are many people to blame for this story besides me, and believe me, I have blamed them. Julad started off by saying, "no, no, you shouldn't blow up the Genii stargate, you should put a wheel clamp on it," and insisting until I was forced to give in, and then after that continued throwing plot ideas at my head, usually something like, "and there should be a scene where [insert impossibly hot thing] happens," and I would cry and gnash my teeth, and point at the word count, and then trudge off and write it.

Mia aided and abetted her the whole damn way, nodding enthusiastically at my suffering, and delivered the coup de grace final beta. Cesca kicked my ass over the end (all three! fucking! versions!), fixed all the parts that were broken and made me leave alone the parts that weren't. Resonant pitched in despite not ever having seen the show (soon to change, she said smugly) and helped Ces push the struggling and recalcitrant me into fixing the end; and that loser Merry got me into this whole mess in the first place with the YOU KNOW WHAT that she had better finish soon! Before I come to Chicago and beat her to death! (With this story! It's big enough!)

And now I am going to go write some flashfic take some aspirin.