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sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2005-07-05 11:40 am
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Angles Thus And So 3/4

In Antarctica -- hell, in most of the places he's lived -- it was really hard to get any privacy, and not just because it was an essentially military operation. You couldn't often go outside and all the buildings were designed to centralise heating, to make the most efficient use of any insulation that existed. Leisure rooms were small and often full of people, and the staff quarters had thin walls.

Atlantis is so different. Every few feet, it seems like, there's an alcove or a bench or a small platform up a flight of stairs where you can steal a few minutes' peace. In addition there are enormous unexplored areas of the city, dark hallways and rooms to discover, places to hide. With Senior Staff clearance and an ATA gene there's almost nowhere you can't go. It's been years, now, but he never gets tired of this.

John spelunks in Atlantis in his spare time, because it's quiet and cool and dark, and you never know what you might find. Twice in the past year alone he's returned from his explorations with toys for McKay -- one that they're still arguing over the function of, another that looks like a jeweler's glass but works like a high-quality, high-magnification microscope.

Also, it never hurts to know your way around the outskirts of Atlantis. You might have to break in or blow something up one day. It's been known to happen.

He's deep in one of the sub-levels, where the air is cold because the room is technically under water, when he stumbles across it. The floor is silty and filled with debris where the water drained, and under a heap of what looks like dried crustacean bones there's a jagged edge sticking out. He toes it with his shoe, curious; the bones crumble away and suddenly he's looking at the translucent dun-maroon of a ZPM.

He crouches and brushes the rest of the debris away, unearthing it, leaving jagged press-patterns in the dried dirt as he pulls it up. It flickers briefly in his hands, like a momentary heartbeat.

"I know how you feel," he murmurs, stroking it gently, trying to get it to flare again, but it's very clearly dead. If it weren't, McKay would have found it on the sensors long ago.

"Colonel?" his radio crackles in his ear, Elizabeth's voice crisp.

"Here," he replies.

"We just picked up a brief energy spike in an uninhabited area of the city. Are you down there?"

"Oh -- yeah," he says, making up his mind in an instant. They have several drained ZPMs; they hardly need one more, and it'd crush McKay to know there was just this stupid fucking shell. "Flicking some lightswitches, that's all."

"Be careful, John."

"Yes ma'am. Sheppard out," he says, and sighs, placing the ZPM's lifeless husk back in the silt. He crunches onwards over the bones of whatever-they-were.

He's always finding dead things.

He comes up through a distant access hatch an hour later, into the sun and the sharp-crisp-salt wind that always seems to be blowing this far from the heart of the city. Coming back is almost as good as going down in the first place. The ache when the sunlight hits his dilated pupils is pleasurable, like walking out of a matinee film.

He's read enough trash pop fiction and seen enough movies about the Alamo to have an idea in his mind of what it's like to live on an isolated garrison, in hostile territory and with constantly endangered resources. What the books couldn't convey was the wild freedom of it, how even loneliness is tinged with something sharper, a sense of pride and strength. He turns to look at his city from the pier, the barest echoes of his dreams in his mind, and lets the wind blow past and through him until he's shivering.

He has killed and shed blood and lost friends and comrades to the city, and he's proud. Something like this is worth it. Let Elizabeth make trades and treaties, let Rodney play pretty games with the universe; he's proud to be the watchdog. Dulce et decorum est: it is sweet and honourable to bleed in defence of Atlantis.

Mine, mine, mine, comes the chant. He isn't sure if he's saying it to Atlantis or Atlantis is saying it to him.

At dinner that night, McKay tosses his tablet across the table. There's an energy reading on the display, which means nothing to John but which McKay can no doubt read like a billboard, the signature of a dying ZPM.

"Flicking lightswitches, huh?" he says.

"It was dead," John answers dully.

"How do you -- "

"I think I know, McKay."

When he looks up there's an odd kindness in McKay's face, something not-often-seen but more common in the past year.

"Can I come with you next time?" McKay asks, which defeats the point -- escape -- but at the same time he can see them already, sifting through junk in the sub-levels, McKay chattering nonstop as two flashlight beams play over the walls.

"It's boring," he answers, and then offhandedly, "But, if you want to."


What happens next proves to John that he is an ordinary person unblessed by a special relationship with the vindictive forces of the universe, and Rodney McKay is in fact a self-propelled trouble magnet.

On their first spelunking expedition together, McKay bitches about the insanity of this activity in general and then about the inconvenience of all the sandy silt (once mud) they have to stumble over, which somehow segues into a monologue on Canadian beaches and the comparative quality of Toronto's waterfront and the Atlantean mainland, with side commentary regarding Centre Island and St. Lawrence Market, neither of which John has ever heard of. For once he lets McKay talk himself out, voice echoing where nobody's spoken in thousands of years, gradually slowing and eventually, to John's immense surprise, stopping. After that they pick their way over crunching dried sea-weed and more silt in companionable silence.

At least until the bats.

In three years of exploration in the belly of Atlantis he's never once encountered something alive, save for a brief glimpse of one of Rodney's "whales" through the curving glass wall of a large chamber. His first time out with McKay, giant angry carnivorous bats show up. If that isn't an indication of which one of them is cursed, he doesn't know what is.

McKay curses as they run, popping the back off a scanner, stumbling a little as John clears a miniature sandbar behind him. He catches McKay's elbow, steadies them both, and keeps going.

"How the hell did they get down here?" he hisses.

"Can't talk, saving our lives," McKay retorts, stripping a wire with his teeth, bolting left and, since John's still holding onto his arm, dragging John along.

"Save our lives faster!"

"No, I thought I'd take my fucking time!"

John shoves him forward and pulls his gun with one smooth move, turning to fire at the things. There are three of them, large but with narrow, long wings that make them naturals to dive and swoop through the passages.

"Sheppard!" McKay calls. "Bolt-door!"

John tumbles backwards, still firing, flips and runs as one of the bat-things crashes into a wall. He dives through the door and clutches the edge, helping McKay slide it shut and drive the bolts home. On the other side, there's the sound of claws on metal.

"Those are new," John observes, leaning against the door. McKay is still rewiring something in the guts of the scanner.

"Probably not," he grunts as he works. "They're emitting a low-frequency pulse that's apparently jamming the sensors on these levels."

"Like sonar?"

"Yes, except not at all. It's electromagnetic as well as sub-audible. They probably got in sometime after Atlantis rose. They might hunt on the mainland, but I bet the ones here are cannibals. I really love my imagination sometimes," McKay adds with a sigh. Something clicks in the scanner, and he holds it up. "Look! Instant bat-jammer."


"Just have to find the right frequency..." McKay's face tightens in concentration. "There."

Then he holds it out to John. "Want to push the button?"

John doesn't take the scanner, just cups one hand over McKay's on the underside, hovers the other hand over the top, and taps the screen where indicated. The scrabbling abruptly stops. McKay is looking down at the scanner, but his head is cocked; he's listening for movement.

John's radio makes them both jump. "Colonel, this is Weir."

"Go ahead," he says, removing his hands and tapping his earpiece.

"We're suddenly picking up dozens of non-human life-signs in your area. What the hell are you doing down there?"

"Giant carnivorous bats!" McKay calls, working the bolts on the door. John stands at the edge, pushing the barrel of his pistol through the door as it opens. "Tell her about the giant bats!"

"All bats are carnivorous, they eat insects," John retorts.

"That makes them insectivores! These are carnivores! They eat meat! We're made of meat!"

"Did he just say carnivorous bats?" Weir asks, amusement and concern about equal in her tone.

"Carnivorous sensor-jamming bats," John confirms. "We've got it under control. McKay jammed them back."

They swing the door open wider; all three creatures are collapsed on the ground, unconscious, wings tucked over their heads.

"Uh, so, we're going to backtrack a little, seal off this level, and call it a day until I can come back with some Marines," he continues. "Sheppard out."

"This galaxy is trying to kill us," McKay mutters, carefully picking his way around the bodies.

"Nah," John says, keeping his gun trained on them as McKay starts up an access ladder.

"I'm sorry, giant bats were chasing me, may have affected my hearing. Do you not think Pegasus is out to get us?"

"Nope," John says cheerfully, starting up the ladder after him. "I think it's out to get you."

"Oh that's very comforting, thanks."

"Relax, McKay," John says, and it's the same pride he feels about guarding Atlantis when he adds, "I got you covered."


If you slather on some barbecue sauce and give it about half an hour on a hot grill, it turns out there's pretty good eating on a giant carnivorous potentially cannibalistic alien bat.

Rodney refuses to eat anything which once attempted to eat him, until the fifth or sixth time Sheppard distractingly licks sauce off his fingers. At this point he reluctantly takes the other half of Sheppard's GCBLT (Giant Carnivorous Bat, Lettuce, and Tomato) and then, much less reluctantly, goes for one of his own.


"So, you're dating Katie Brown, but not sleeping with her," Sheppard says.

"Well, for a given value of dating," Rodney replies, very aware that he sounds uncomfortable and awkward. Which he is, about this conversation, but he's also full of popcorn and beer and they're in orbit and just finished watching Fighter Pilot (only Sheppard could pick out a documentary that still involved that much engine noise) and he can't be bothered to change the subject. "And not yet."

"And you're sleeping with Elizabeth, but not dating her," Sheppard persists.

"Yeah, but that's, you know. I mean."

Sheppard makes a skeptical noise. "How long do you think you can keep this up?"

"Excuse me? I run Atlantis from a laptop, I can handle a little complication in my formerly nonexistent personal life. Besides, Elizabeth knows."

Sheppard raises an eyebrow. "Basically, you have a mistress."

"What? No! It's just an...extra facet of our professional and personal relationship. It's not any different from having lunch together."

"I don't know how you've been doing it, but -- "

Rodney rolls his eyes. "Spare me."

"What about Katie? Kinda unfair to her."

Rodney tips his head back. Yeah. What about Katie. Because he doesn't want to be alone in life, nobody does, and she's nice and almost as awkward about this as he is. Trying to make a go of it with, how big a mistake would that be. But he still needs it, somehow, what he and Elizabeth have, and she won't disengage first. Not because of Katie, anyway. Katie's not a good enough reason for her to step back, and he tries not to think about the implications of that.

"Rodney McKay has a mistress. There's something really wrong about that sentence," Sheppard muses.

Rodney snickers. "Not as wrong as Elizabeth Weir is my mistress."

Sheppard, to his delight, starts laughing. It's a slow build -- it always is with Sheppard -- but the grin slides into a chuckle and then to a full-on open laugh.

"Oh, man," he says, wiping his eyes and lifting his feet off the console, starting to turn the Jumper homewards. "How the hell do we get into this kind of thing, McKay?"

"I never really saw it coming," Rodney says, which for some reason sets Sheppard off again.


The end of the Atlantean month is rosters time for the teams, when new members get rotated in or bitch-and-moaners get rotated out. They used to sit down in the mess to work it all out, because at least in the mess there's easily accessible food and comfortable chairs, but after a while word got around and a growing crowd of silent, watchful scientists and Marines would assemble nearby. Now they do it in McKay's quarters, because McKay has a coffee machine and no other use for his living room. Additionally, even the Marines won't gather outside McKay's quarters.

The teams are all modeled on Sheppard's, with adjustments. Two Marines and a commanding officer, a scientist or two, an Athosian to act as cultural interpreter. At first, anyway; there are fewer Athosians now that the long-stay veterans of Atlantis are adjusted to dealing with The Locals. The meeting requires the presence of Colonel Sheppard, Chief of Science Doctor McKay, Mission Commander Doctor Weir, and sometimes Athosian Ambassador Emmagen, if there are Athosians being reshuffled. The rest of the teams, the non-exploratory research ones, are looser and change as necessary under the watchful eyes of Sheppard and McKay. Sheppard calls them the Ad Hocs, and McKay calls them the Fine Whatever Go To The Stupid Planet Alreadys.

Tonight Teyla hasn't got any changes she wants to make so it's just Elizabeth and the boys, some of McKay's good coffee and something not unlike General Tso's Chicken that Sheppard weaseled out of the kitchen, except it's not chicken and the vegetables involved are not quite of Earth and the rice is...unusual. Sheppard eats it like he was raised on it.

She has watched the teams rotate over the years, watched as Sheppard, the driving force behind offworld exploration, has tightened his standards and streamlined his people into something amazing. Given that the man seems nearly incapable of forming normal human attachments, he certainly knows how to work other people -- he shifts someone here and slots someone else into place and things just work, effortlessly.

She leans back as he and McKay bicker a little about how many scientists are necessary for a given team, waiting for them to appeal to her for mediation or sort it out on their own so she can approve it. She sips her coffee, letting McKay's acidic sarcasm and Sheppard's lazy taunting wash over her. It's almost exactly like listening to two extremely intelligent teenagers arguing about which superhero is coolest.

(Which they have been known to do, on occasion, but they always get bogged down when circumstances force them to come to a consensus about the definition of "cool". Sheppard insists that cool must be embodied and not defined; McKay believes anything that exists can be quantified objectively. If Bohr and the Buddha were going to argue about comic books...)

McKay's palm is warm on her thigh under the table, and she looks up from her coffee to see the pair of them, heads together, speech softer. His thumb twitches along the muscle of her leg. They must be near to finishing; once they're done, Sheppard will leave and she'll stay for one more cup of coffee, and perhaps stay the night. McKay's already anticipating Sheppard's departure.

Sheppard tilts his head slightly, pointing to something on the tablet between them, and McKay nods. She wonders if they realise that, for each other, "personal space" no longer exists.

It occurs to her that Sheppard wants McKay, and potentially would want her if he allowed himself to think that way about his superiors. She remembers Jeannie asking, "Him and Colonel Sheppard?"

She's a diplomat, she knows how people react. If she slid closer, invaded Sheppard's space, looked at Rodney in the right way, she could have them both, together, right here, tonight. Her crazier days are behind her but honestly, would it be so insane? She will never again be as close to anyone as she is to these two men. She can see in her head the way they would fit together, the way the equation Rodney used to talk about would close down into something complex and devastatingly pure, entirely non-linear, something they would never speak of outside of them.

But she cares about Sheppard, in a weird way he wouldn't ever be able to understand, and Sheppard cares for Rodney. And she isn't sure she should break in on whatever they have now, not like this. After all, Sheppard has respected what they have, too, never tried to change it or talk either of them out of it. If it all did collapse down there's no knowing, not with John, that the equation would even make sense.

"Well," Sheppard is saying, when she comes back to herself. "Not that the Military-Industrial Planning Committee isn't fun, but I have to go help Ronon beat up some leathernecks now. Doctor, Doctor," he says, giving them a short ironic bow.

"G'night, Sheppard," McKay calls, intent on something on his tablet.

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do, kids," Sheppard calls back, and McKay looks up, startled, but the Colonel is already gone.

"There's not much on that list," McKay mutters, and she laughs and leans over to see what he's working on, her hand resting on the broad warmth of his shoulder.


Except for that one time when he blew up a solar system, McKay's never really had any issues admitting he's wrong. It goes with the territory: as a scientist you will be wrong a lot of the time, and if you don't admit it your results will be faulty.

The problem is that he so rarely is wrong that it's always a little bit of a shock to his system.

"Listen, give it to me," John says, as McKay keeps turning and turning the rings, apparently certain that he's almost mastered it. The device itself is some kind of lockbox, with three nested rings that rotate and presumably form the combination. There are millions of possibles, but McKay has a Theory: the patterns of Ancient on each ring implicitly inform the user of the combination if the user is clever enough. A riddle and a combination lock. Irre-fucking-sistible. If John can ever get his goddamn hands on it.

"No," McKay answers, pulling it further away from John on the other side of the mess table. "I'm close."

"You're not close."

"I'm good with Rubik's Cubes," Zelenka pipes up.

"This is not a Rubik's Cube!"

"No, it's a rotary telephone," John says. "You'd think the Ancients would have discovered the wonders of touch-tone. We managed it."

"Is very beautiful, all concentric circles," Zelenka remarks, not nearly as annoyed that McKay is hogging the new toy. "It's hard to make circles in fabricated things, you know. Spheres, even more hard."

"And..." McKay clicks the smallest ring into place and lifts his hands in anticipation.

Nothing happens.

After about ten seconds of nothing happening, John narrows his eyes, offers McKay his sandwich, and grabs the lockbox when McKay automatically reaches for the food.

"You son of a -- " McKay tries to steal it back and John bats his hands away. "What are you going to do, try your old gym locker combination?"

"And that's less random?" John replies, both hands possessively protecting the box from McKay's futile grabs. "Come on, McKay, give me a shot. Bet I can get it open. Week's pay."

"I'm paid more than you."

"Week's pay and whatever's inside the box."

McKay flaps a hand, biting into the sandwich John sacrificed. "Whatever. It was boring anyway."

Sheppard studies the Ancient letters and numbers, cocks his head, and figures what the hell. He slides the rings around carefully.

The box whistles, low but loud enough for nearby diners to look up. Zelenka is staring, sandwich lifted halfway to his mouth, curious sharp eyes studying the machine over the rims of his glasses.

"How -- " McKay's voice rises sharply. "What did you do?"

John smiles at him. "My birthday."

"What?" McKay looks at Zelenka. "Did you see that?"

"Very clever," Zelenka says, putting his sandwich down. "Very clever!"

"Personally keyed!" McKay says, snapping his fingers. "It only opens to what you'd set it to if you were -- oh, birthday? Seriously? Do you use your birthday as a mainframe password?"

"Relax, I don't use my birthday. Here." He slams the lid shut and shoves it across the table. "Try yours."

McKay twists the rings, scowling, and the box whistles again and pops open.

"And because we would never try our own passwords -- " Zelenka continues.

"Yes yes yes," McKay waves a dismissive hand at him.

"Hey, I think someone owes me a week's pay," Sheppard says to the air.


When Rodney pitches his idea of sinking the city, Elizabeth can hear the desperation in his voice and she knows it is not a great plan, it is in fact a bad plan born of a set of bad options. Still, under attack from a giant space laser the Replicators have sent to destroy them, it's pretty much the only plan that anyone has put forth.

When Colonel Ellis gives him the order to go ahead with it, she can see what will happen: Rodney will pack up his computer, grab Zelenka, and get to work. Normally she wouldn't even notice, really, probably, if Ellis hadn't already tried to undermine her. If she wasn't oversensitized. She braces herself for the betrayal.

When Rodney immediately says to him, without knowing any of this, when he says with the utmost of condescention, "Yeah, I don't think that's your call," she thinks for the first time that it would be quite possible to fall in love with Rodney McKay.

When she watches him ride the mix as John launches their city into the air, the goddamn air, into space, the pair working in concert and on her command, she feels every pulse of power and every push of engines and she thinks, yes.

And even when the fire and light break through, all the beautiful glass shattering inwards, she thinks, yes, yesyesyes, and feels no pain as she dies.


Rodney remembers joking in bed once -- he thinks it was on Earth, yes, probably Earth -- that he would write Elizabeth a formula that would make their lives make sense. He often wants one. A formula that would factor in every part of them and always give the same results despite variables and fluctuations and new integrations.

He bends to the laptop and works faster, diving into Replicator code, talking himself through it or muttering a sequence because he'll need to know it later. The cuts on his face are small but deep, and he tries to ignore the pulsing burn as he types. If he can reprogram the nanites in Elizabeth's body she won't die, and she can't die, because he hasn't written her that formula yet and because she can't. They need her, he and Sheppard both.

She brought him to Atlantis, he remembers that, she picked him. There's never been anywhere he fit so well as he has on Atlantis, like he finally figured out that the reason Earth pretty much sucked was that he was born in the wrong galaxy.

It occurs to him as he debugs and compiles and rewrites and compiles again that he is writing that formula for her now. Every programmer leaves a piece of themselves in the code and he is writing himself into the nanites, so that if they rebuild her out of themselves it will be out of him too and Sheppard doesn't understand. He doesn't understand how clean and pure the code can be.

He knows even before Elizabeth's body begins to fail her that whether Sheppard gives the word or not he will do what he can for Elizabeth, everything he can. She can hate him later, he doesn't care, she'll be alive to hate him. Sheppard won't hate him, Sheppard is incapable of hating him, this he knows though he has never used it against him until now.

Besides, the dry and half-amused little voice in the back of his head reminds him, it's not like you've never been hated before.


Elizabeth Weir has all but ceased to exist.

She moves and walks and talks, she reacts the way the subroutines tell her to, but deep inside her is the knowledge that something is irrevocably changed. Nobody else is real, and no emotion penetrates. She tells herself that this is perhaps some kind of psychological reaction, but other parts of her know better. She is part Replicator now, and that? That is...

Should be terrifying but isn't. Because fear ceases to exist. Even as her vocal cords modulate fear into her voice, no fear is in her heart. She would mourn, but she can't.

Only, when McKay patches into the Replicators and activates them inside her, finally, finally there is one feeling. Awe. This is what John and McKay feel, she thinks, this is how they see Atlantis. This is finally the last connection, the triad complete. The city below, a pale imitation of Atlantis, it hums to her. The code unfolds, all for her. The crystals sing.

She can feel McKay watching her with fear and longing, she can read the heat signature of John's body, flush with adrenaline, tightly controlled. Her body thrums to the sad little pulse of the laptop in McKay's hands, not enough, not nearly enough.

She dies for a second time, there on the planet, far from McKay's hands and John's guns. Protecting, yes, but also doing what she does best: commanding. Commanding her body not to betray her, commanding the Replicators to obey her, commanding John to leave her behind, commanding, commanding.


In their first days on Atlantis they were like children -- while the techs set up the labs and the Marines grunted and strained, moving everything into position, John and McKay dug their hands into the city and fucked around.

They were, after all, the nominal leaders, under Elizabeth but reporting only to her, McKay Of the Civilians, Sheppard Over (but not Of) the Marines. It wasn't that they didn't do their jobs, it was just that in their spare time, when others were poring over reports or sleeping exhaustedly, they had a whole new galaxy at their feet. They hardly slept; they wandered the halls, broke into the computers with McKay's tablet and John's gene, hacked the architecture itself like teenagers, because they could. They brought up systems, crashed 'em again trying to make them function, found others, made the city do tricks for them that it was never intended to do. They played Ancient games (and boy did that backfire) and popped panels and studied crystals and made the lights in the hallways flicker. Atlantis was theirs to take, but they treated her (more or less) like gentlemen. They loved her.

McKay knows now what it feels like to have the city kick against him when he's trying to push her past her limits, he knows what it feels like to hurt her in the course of saving her. McKay still carries pieces of her under his skin, a shard of glass lodged in his cheekbone, a few bits of metal in his thigh. John knows the despair when the city can't or won't respond to his commands, when she doesn't warm under his touch, and he has scars from where she has burned and bruised and cut him. They both of them count the cost of Atlantis in bodies and blood.

Atlantis belonged to them and they belonged to Elizabeth, and now Elizabeth is gone and they are tired, older than they were. They don't play anymore. The hallways are haunted with the dead and their beautiful glittering city is pocked with holes, aching under John's hands.

McKay saved Elizabeth and then lost her again, sacrificed for the city. It was McKay's plan from the start. Not that he planned it to happen as it did, but he got the city into space, he saved Elizabeth by reprogramming her, he put her where she would offer herself up to save them all. Perhaps she's still alive but John knows the odds are slim, and if he feels this yawning pit in his own gut, what must McKay feel?

Life in Atlantis was never simple or easy. But it used to be good, it used to be more than a mad scramble just to keep breathing. There was a time when they made the city live instead of using what they knew to pit two races against each other in the faint hope of mutual annihilation so that they themselves wouldn't be slaughtered. He once toasted Elizabeth for making peace; she died to start a holy war.

John turns his face up to the two visible moons of their new planet and lets the moonlight play on his skin until he's numb from the cold, until no part of him feels anything anymore.


Today: Sucked.

Today: Kinda sucked.

Today: Pretty much sucked.

Today: Sucked. But there were peanut-butter bars in the mess.

Today: Teyla beat the shit out of me at sticks. Many very manly wounds. Ow.

Kate Heightmeyer follows John with her eyes whenever they happen across each other in the halls. He looks tired, and also as if he sleeps in his clothes these days. He nods curtly where he used to smile, greets everyone with a mild, disaffected expression. His arms, below his rolled sleeves, are covered in green-yellow bruises, and his knuckles are usually scraped and split from sparring.

She notes down in her head -- clinical depression. She's tried reaching out to him before, only to be rebuffed; perhaps if she spoke to Teyla about things, sort of dropped some hints.

Then he stops at the end of the corridor, waylaid by Rodney. She watches with interest as Rodney shows him something on a display screen, bats his hand away from it, jerks his head down the hall. They take off walking, briskly.

Maybe she should speak to Rodney about it instead.

But for now, just a little more watchfulness; John was close to Elizabeth (some people say she was seeing one of the senior staff, so who knows; they'd have been a striking couple) and it's possible he's just grieving.

After her death, her successor finds only one open note in John Sheppard's file: Talk to Dr. McKay?

He wonders why; sure they're close, those two, but who wouldn't be? Of the original mission's senior staff, they're the only ones left who haven't died.


"Do you realise," John says one morning over breakfast, "I'm officially the guy who's been on Atlantis the longest?"

"Only if you're still counting offworld activity as on Atlantis," McKay replies immediately, while the others at the table just give him strange looks. "Quantitatively speaking, in terms of actual days in residence, I probably beat you."

"It's not a contest, McKay," he says.

"And if we're not talking quantitatively, then you're ahead by mere minutes, since I gated through right after you did," McKay continues.

"Do you want awards or something?" Ronon asks.

"It's not a contest!" John insists.

"Yeah, I survived Atlantis and all I got was this stupid t-shirt," Lorne grins. McKay suddenly looks away, smile fading. It's not fair to Lorne to make him feel like shit for reminding them who didn't survive, so John carefully grins.

"We could put And everyone else is a punk on the back," he says. Lorne cracks up.

"Way to ask for an asskicking, Colonel."

"Are you sure you're big enough to kick my ass? Must be at least this tall to take the Colonel down," John continues, holding his hand a few inches over Lorne's head.

"I'll pay him to do it," Lorne says, tipping his head at Ronon.

"I'd do it for free," Ronon says.

"Hey!" John feels insulted. Ronon shrugs. McKay is still not quite looking at anyone. "Nobody's kicking my ass. And you can't make those t-shirts, don't ask, because now I have a record to keep and if the IOA gets me kicked out of Atlantis, McKay wins."

"I thought it wasn't a contest," Ronon points out.

"No. It's not," John agrees. "It's a non-contest...that he would win."

"Forgive me, I have a record of not-dying I'd like to keep," McKay says drily.

"Well we'll have to settle for a stalemate," John said. "In our non-contest. I won't get fired and he won't die and nobody's wearing any t-shirts."

"Besides," Lorne continues around a mouthful of food, "If the IOA reassigned you the Marines would riot."

"Really?" John asks, feeling pleased.

"Yup. Broken windows and everything."

"But not McKay's labs." John points a fork at him.

"Oh no, man, just the stuff that's already broken."

"Hey! If they're going to riot they should do it right," McKay points out. "You can riot in 3a and 22b. And 19b too, as long as you're quiet."

Lorne makes a great show of taking out an imaginary notebook and writing it down.

John's lived this conversation, or variants on it, several times in various combat zones; everyone at the table trying to be top at gallows-humour, because McKay probably is going to die in the field and if John doesn't die in the field he knows he can't command Atlantis forever and Lorne, Lorne will maybe die young and in the field. Many of the Marines will, certainly. And your options are to freak out about it or to turn it into something pointless and funny and casual.

McKay's never been really good at casual, but he looks less upset than he did a moment ago.

John taps McKay's shin with the toe of his boot, grinning when the other man glances at him. "Still winning."

"By minutes!"


"Hey, check this out," Sheppard says.

Nothing good ever comes of Sheppard saying that.

But before Rodney can answer, Sheppard has fired a drone from the Jumper, in high orbit around the planet. Before Rodney can ask what the hell he thinks he's doing, Sheppard has fired the new short-range energy-pulse cannon that Zelenka -- who shouldn't be allowed near weapons schematics anymore -- installed last week. At the drone.

The explosion is not in Rodney's top three (that would be the tac-nukes, the volcano, and the whole solar system thing) but it's definitely a close fourth. The shockwave lights their shields up like a flash-grenade.

"Holy crap," Rodney says, the afterimage of the explosion still burned on his retinas.

"Yup," Sheppard answers, insufferably smug.

"What kind of force do you think that was?" Rodney reaches for his tablet and begins inputting calculations.

"I was going more for 'big explosion pretty'," Sheppard replies.

"But -- "


"Listen, just a few -- "

"McKay, eye contact please."

Rodney looks up at him, and finds himself more than a little pinned by the intensity of John's stare. He really does have the thousand-yard thing down.

"Disengage your head for a minute," John says.

"I don't -- "

"McKay, disengage."

Rodney stops for breath, tries to get the equations out of his head, focuses on that stare.

"Now, was it, or was it not, an awesome explosion?"

It was, really. "Yeah."



"Do you, or do you not, want to watch Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure?"

"I can't believe you like that film, the total lack of even pseudoscience -- "

"Rodney! Disengage! Switch it off for a moment, okay?"

They are in space, in a spaceship, built by aliens who long ago died out, in a galaxy far from home. John Sheppard uses this spaceship, among other things, for awesome movie night.

And he has, Rodney notices, Junior Mints.

"Yes," he says.

"Okay then," John smiles, turning back to the screen, and props his feet on the console. Rodney leans back and thinks about things that aren't mathematical or physical, and lets the utter stupidity of John Sheppard's taste in movies wash over him.

This is a true fact: Junior Mints taste better in spaceships.


They've never talked about what Rodney was willing to do for his sister, or John's ruthless refusal to let him. They've never talked about the fact that John Sheppard essentially killed a man for Jeannie. Or maybe for Rodney. John isn't sure himself.

They've been back in Atlantis for weeks, and they're not about to start talking about it now. Instead, there's this, movies and games and bickering, which is all he knows how to offer. And always a gaping hole between them where Elizabeth used to be.

John has never wanted to touch him so badly, and never known a less appropriate time to do so.

Then they finally have word that Elizabeth is dead and while this is even less appropriate, John can't fucking deal anymore.


Rodney doesn't understand what he's feeling, what he's thinking, until he's back in Atlantis after nearly being killed by the Replicators yet again.

There was a moment, when he saw Elizabeth Weir's face on the MALP camera feed, Elizabeth, standing whole and unharmed when they'd left her for dead on an alien planet. There was a moment where his body said yes and his fingers twitched with want, but only a moment. By the time they'd reached her, by the time he was figuring out how he could tell her everything, how much he'd missed her and how sorry he was, there were others there. His own double, talking fast and excited, finishing his words. As much as he had felt for Elizabeth, to have a mind that connected on his level was rare and to know that the mind was his own was so actually mind-blowing --

And then she was gone again.

He knows for a fact that nobody knows about him and Elizabeth except for Sheppard. He's heard the rumours, though they've died down, that Elizabeth was in love with one of her Senior Staff. It's someone's wild conjecture, he supposes, and everyone assumes that if it's true it must have been Sheppard. Or, in the case of some of the lower-order of Marines who think fantasising about a dead woman's sex life is in any way appropriate, Teyla.

So when Radek turns to speak to him that night while they're working, in more silence than usual, he knows that Radek can't possibly understand.

"I know what you're trying to do," Radek says, which is stupid, because of course he knows what Rodney's doing, he's been working on the Replicator ship-locator with him all afternoo --


He doesn't mean the technology.

"Yeah, what's that?" Rodney asks, trying to keep his voice level.

"Lose yourself in your work to avoid thinking about Elizabeth."

And it's not Radek being cruel, it really isn't, he can't know that Rodney misses her and still feels that want for her sometimes -- especially after the missions, after the adrenaline drains from his system, and they could have brought her back, they could have. He can't know that Rodney doesn't know why he was more fascinated with meeting himself than with seeing Elizabeth again, and what kind of person does that make him?

"You must realise it's only a temporary distraction," Radek adds.

"That's one of the perks of the job," he replies, voice tight and restrained. "Something terrible happens, you don't have time to dwell on it because you're too busy trying to stop the next...terrible thing from happening." And the confession falls out of his mouth anyway, because he didn't really ever learn how to repress this, he's not used to it. "Seriously, if it wasn't for the Replicators and their plan to wipe out every human in the galaxy, I'd be in pretty bad shape right now. No, this is Carson all over again and I'm just not ready to deal. Not yet."

"You're not the only one who misses him, Rodney," Radek adds. Thank Christ; he thinks this is about Carson, and it is in part, it's about how much they've lost in such a short amount of time. It's a little bit about how Rodney thinks if he stops moving, if he can't find some other way of dealing with all this, he will go out of his fucking mind.

"I don't suppose you want to talk about it."

Fuck, no, he doesn't want to talk about it. Except, what comes out of his mouth is "Eventually, but not now."

Radek leaves him to his work, which is at least something, and he's grateful. He goes back to work and doesn't think about Elizabeth's hands, where he kissed her palm and wrist, or Elizabeth's cheek under his.

John comes not long after -- maybe sent by Radek -- and he's grieving too. They are missing a part of themselves and only the two of them know how that part fit in, and neither knows how the other's did. They should be closer than they are, but they're alone in this shock. John perhaps more so, because John never really gave up.

Under his hands, even as John's leaving, the machine begins to work. A faint rush -- a small beep -- and they're bent over the screen watching as Replicator ships begin to appear on the screen.

First six, then eight, then fifteen, then more and more and more.

"Oh, crap," Rodney says. John's tense next to him, one hand gripping his shoulder tightly, breath shallow and loud. "Jesus, we're fucked."

"We have to start evacuating," John answers, eyes still on the screen. "Can you -- "

" -- I'll call Sam -- "

"Tell her, evacuation, I'm going to get -- "

" -- the Marines, yes, of course, but -- "

"-- I know, Lorne will know who, can you get the -- "

" -- it's on in the gateroom, I'll get science teams and -- "

" -- call everyone back from offworld now, your people can clear out the -- "

" -- we'll need more room than the mess, there's that hangar -- "

" -- and Jumpers, we can load them directly into -- "

" -- there's a planet nearby -- "

" -- got it," Sheppard says, shoving away from the desk and bolting down the hallway. Rodney's already calling Sam when the orders come over the loudspeaker.

"Attention all military personnel," Sheppard's voice. "Muster to the gateroom. All military personnel to the gateroom. Any able Jumper pilots to the bay."

What the hell's going on? Sam's voice in his ear.

"The Replicators, check your screen," Rodney says, and hears her, Oh my god. Sheppard --
"He's handling it, but you need to know we're going to have a lot of offworlders coming through the gate."

I'll secure the gateroom, do you boys know what you're doing?

"No," he answers, and there's a hysterical bark of laughter. "We'll get there. Work with Sheppard, I have things to do." He ports over to the public address and comms on. "Attention all science personnel and civilians, we are expecting a mass evacuation into Atlantis. All able hands report to the mess. Staff heads to the gateroom. All science and civilian personnel to the mess, staff heads to the gateroom. Tell your friends, people, let's go."

The next few hours are a blur of hasty briefings and the Stargate constantly opening, first to send out teams of Marines, then Marines with scientists who know the people of the various planets, then to allow evacuees to begin pouring in. There are Marines in the mess, supervising the clearing of tables and the marking out of floors, and there are pilots in the Jumper bays loading people directly into Jumpers to get them safely cleared so that more can arrive. He is aware throughout that he and Sheppard are running the gateroom, shouting information and orders to and through and across each other.

At some point there is Sam's hand on his shoulder, Sam's voice in his ear telling him the new shift is coming on and we've got it, Rodney, go get some sleep. He looks up to see Sheppard already at the doorway, swaying slightly from exhaustion, and if Sheppard's going then everything must really be okay, and they must really be tired.

"I'll take him," John says, hand on the back of his neck again, pulling him away from the laptop. Zelenka, looking at least a little more well-rested, slides smoothly into his place. He gives, because sleep sounds so good, and walks with John's hand guiding him, through the door as the Stargate activates again.

The halls are dark and quiet here; everyone who isn't sleeping is working. He lets John move him along silently, focuses on the hand on his neck to keep from wondering if Zelenka can do this, if they're really as organised as Sam thinks they are. The pad of John's thumb shifts slightly under his ear, and John's other hand waves open the door to his quarters.

"Thank you," he says quietly, stepping inside, but John doesn't release him and he doesn't leave. Instead he swings around in front of him and Rodney can see how he's still breathing fast and loud. How on earth has he gotten enough air into that brain of his to --

John shoves him against the wall, so hard he almost loses his wind, and then there's a warm body pressed up tight against him and John's lips on his, John's hands on his ribcage holding him in place.

It's a dirty, heaving sort of kiss. John's desperate and frightened and he gets that, he really does. It's silent except for the gasps of breath they both draw and after a second Rodney raises his hands to hold John's head in place for better access.

"Oh my god," John mumbles, chest hitching, "Oh my god," and he's panicking, John Sheppard is freaking out. Rodney slides one hand down to his throat to pin his mouth shut, thumb on jaw, and John makes a low desperate noise and bucks against him.

They're crashing from the night they've just spent and the triumph of a well-executed start to the evacuation. They're frightened because Jesus Christ, that's a lot of firepower, and because it's their fault, they did this, and because this is Elizabeth's last gift to them and it's equal parts incredible luck and a reminder of their own colossal fuck-up. John's body is wiry and brutal and his hands are going to leave bruises. Rodney kisses his jaw, sucks in a breath of air against his throat, lets John crack and break against him.

It's like that first desperate time with Elizabeth, he thinks, but different somehow. The air of desperation is certainly there but it's not for or about them, it's a leftover ebb from the last two days. It isn't I need someone, oh, you? as much as it is I need you, please.

As suddenly as it started it's over, John stepping back, not much more than a shadow and the gleam of teeth in the dark. Rodney cautiously moves forward because he knows John isn't done and he's barely started, but then John surges back, kisses him one more time, whispers "You're a genius, Rodney," in his ear, and runs through the door that opens without even waiting for him to wave the command.

"Well, that was new," he breathes after a moment. He strips off his jacket, crashes onto the bed, and is asleep before the pain in his ribs has time to fade.


This? This they also don't talk about.

McKay locks himself up with a Wraith in his lab and John goes on kill-runs against the Replicators. Thirty-seven ships drops to thirty, but the Replicators are still out there. It's not that they're hiding from each other, it's just that, you know, there's a big fucking war going on.

And maybe that he's hiding a little, but he did molest McKay and then bolt. Plus McKay's got a girlfriend and also, hi there, a track record of sleeping with senior staff that he isn't emotionally attached to.

Suddenly, McKay's proposing to Katie.


Maybe they should have talked or something.


"So I did not ask," Zelenka says, bent over his workstation. They're perched on stools, almost back-to-back, trying to debug Atlantis so it won't try to blow them up again. "Did she say yes?"

"Huh?" Rodney grunts, hip-deep in code.

"Yesterday, with the lockdown. You, Katie, alone in a romantic botany lab, end of the world approaching. Very appropriate, sets the mood," Zelenka continues, and Rodney winces. "She said yes, yes?"

"I think we kind of broke up," Rodney answers, because Katie's promise of a rain-check on lunch was okay but then she said goodbye, and that seemed pretty final. Behind him he can hear the thunk of Zelenka's head on the metal worktable.


"What? Tell your cousin I'm still going to pay for the ring."

"It is not the ring!"

"I don't see how it's your business anyway -- "

"Is not healthy," Zelenka answers. "Life is short and dangerous. We should try not to be alone. We should find happiness where we can in this place."

"Yeah, well, that wasn't happiness. Hysteria, maybe," Rodney says, thinking of John and You're a genius, Rodney.

"And now you will be hysterical here, which is not good for me because I am chained to you all the time and not good for the science department because you will yell and wave your hands a lot."

"And that's different from me normally how?"

"God save me!" Zelenka says, and mutters something foul in Czech which Rodney totally has a comeback for, except that the doors are hissing open and both of them look up sharply. Sheppard does a stutter-step backwards.

"Lasers down, kids," he says, and comes into the room again. "How's the coding -- hey, coffee!"

"It's not working," Rodney says, as Sheppard makes a beeline for the coffeepot in the corner of the lab. "The power outlets on that side are -- "

He stops, because Sheppard has touched the wall and put his other hand on the coffee machine and while it's an Earth coffee machine it's plugged into an Atlantean wall, and it rumbles on under his hands. Atlantis is a whore.

"I hate you so much," he says with feeling.

"You don't hate me."

"I do hate you."

"Well, I could tell it to just make one cup," Sheppard says, checking the basin and then stuffing a filter and some grounds into the basket.

"Colonel Sheppard," Zelenka says, "I do not think I have properly expressed my gratitude for -- "

"It's okay, Radek, you can have some," Sheppard grins over his shoulder. Coffee begins to drip down into the carafe. "Gotta keep the Hero of Atlantis happy -- "

"Yes yes, we're all very proud that Radek Zelenka is tiny from obvious childhood malnourishment," Rodney snaps. Something beeps on Zelenka's laptop and he cranes his neck to see.

"Ah. Power fluctuations," Zelenka murmurs.

"Yeah, someone's been rearranging the crystals. Probably from yesterday. I'll get on it," Rodney starts to slip off his stool, but Zelenka's already standing and gathering up his tablet.

"I will go," he says, as Sheppard pulls the carafe out, dumps a bare inch of coffee into a mug nearby, and passes it to him. He downs it in a gulp and looks grateful. "Should not take long!"

And there they are, alone in the lab and the silence except for the hissing of coffee being born.

"So," Sheppard says, circling to lean against Rodney's workstation, hands in his pockets. "Botanists are apparently huge gossips. Marines are too, but I knew that already."

Rodney rubs a hand over his face. "Did I dump her or did she dump me?"

"You dumped her."

"That's my Katie," Rodney murmurs. He can't blame her; that was a pretty asshole move, what he did.

"Never got to help you drown your sorrows," Sheppard says. "I have a secret stash of 312 if you're interested."

"What the hell is 312?"


Rodney gives him a look. They've had this discussion about American beer.

"Hey, it's good stuff."

"Yeah, well, I'm not sure I have the brain cells to spare for drinking American lighter fluid."

Seated on the work-stool he's not that much shorter than Sheppard, but the stool has no back and so when Sheppard leans down and kisses him, he can't back away. The best he can do is tilt his head up, but John's hands are cupping his neck and even if he leaned now, he wouldn't fall.

"This again?" he asks, when John leans back, hands still warm and steady on his neck.

"Yeah, as reactions go, that wasn't the one I was hoping for," John replies.

"I'm sorry, I just dumped my would-be fiancee in a fit of insanity that may actually have lasted a year and a half, what reaction would you like? Hey, wanna be my rebound?" Rodney asks, because he can't ever fucking shut up, what the hell is up with that?

"How about, John, that was nice, do it again?" John suggests, and kisses him again before he can retort.

"What is -- what is wrong with you?" Rodney asks. John sighs.

"Again, I've had better -- "

"No, I mean, what is, is this a thing? Are we going to start doing this every time we nearly die? Because I've been there before and it's nice, don't get me wrong -- "

"Nice, huh?" John asks, and he's grinning.

" -- don't be an asshole. You gave me half a handjob weeks ago and told me I was a genius and then walked out, so what's up with that?"

"Get with the program, Rodney. I'm trying to seduce you, here, and Zelenka's not going to stay away forever."

"Se -- are you out of your mind?" No, really, why can't he shut up? "When the hell did you start seducing me?"

John leans back, takes his hands away. Crosses his arms, hitches his hip on the desk again. "I'm sorry, was me following you around and bringing you shiny things and giving you my food not sufficient notice? Because I could have put up billboards but, you know, that seemed a little unsubtle."

"And I do subtlety so well," Rodney replies.

"Someone has to. I'm an officer of the United States Air Force -- "

"Bullshit! Bullshit!" Rodney shouts. "And also? Bullshit! We're in another galaxy and oh by the way if committing treason and mutiny to get the city back didn't get you court-martialed I don't think they're going to care where you put your dick in your spare time! Not that you seem to either!"

"What the hell, Rodney? Are we going to get into who fucks inappropriate people? I'm not sure you can win that one."

"Seriously? You're going to throw Elizabeth in my face?" Rodney demands, and this is the kind of fight he can really dig into, this is way more normal than John kissing him in the lab. "The fact that she's dead makes it very hard for me to point out that I wouldn't have been with her if I thought I had a snowball's chance in hell of being with you!"

"It's not my fault you couldn't take a hint if it fell on you!"

"You knew that about me when we met!"

"I can't believe -- "

"Well, try!" Rodney says, not breaking eye-contact.

"Listen, if you don't throw me out of this lab right now," John threatens, pointing at the door, "I am going to do something really regrettable."


"Fine what?" John shouts, actually shouts. Wow.

"Go! Stay! Whatever! Fine!"

They stare at each other. The coffeemaker grumbles.

"Well?" Rodney demands.

John exhales. "Did you just say that if you thought you had a chance with me you wouldn't have been with Elizabeth?"

Rodney thinks back. "Yeah."

"And the shouting just now, that was us freaking out about this, right?" John's finger indicates him, them, the lab, the coffee in a circular motion. "Are we done freaking out now?"

"Um, I'm pretty good," Rodney says. "Are you good?"

"I'm good." John nods. "Just to be crystal clear, the fight's over?"

"Did I tell you the US government doesn't care where you put your dick?" Rodney asks, feeling small and stupid.

"It's very reassuring."

"Oh. That's good."

John moves slowly this time, apparently so Rodney has time to either run away or brace himself, and kisses the corner of his mouth. Rodney tilts his head and kisses back, muttering, "All right, much better," which is apparently the reaction John was looking for, because he licks into Rodney's mouth, warm and agile.

He leans back after a moment, lowers his head so he can look in Rodney's eyes.

"Okay," he says, one hand on Rodney's chest, the other somewhat disconcertingly on the outside of his thigh.

"So that's settled," Rodney says, and gently disengages, lifting his wrists and then threading his fingers through John's to sort of show that no, it's not that he objects, just, they're in the lab. After a second he lets go. "Now, get the hell out of here and let me work."


"I'll see you at lunch, go on, go," he says, and John stands there looking stunned for once in his life. "What? I'm not going to blow you in the middle of the lab, and no, you can't blow me in the middle of the lab either. Go, do your stompy Air Force thing, get out, go."

"Well," John says, tilting his chin, straightening his shoulders. "I'm going to go to the firing range."

"Yes, do that," Rodney waves him off. "Hey!"


"Bring me some of that coffee."

Their fingers touch when he hands over the mug, and John grins at him. Radek, returning as John leaves, edges around him with a smile.

"All repaired. People should not play with what they do not understand," Radek says.

"You have no idea," Rodney mumbles into his coffee.

Lunch that afternoon is strange, full of grins he isn't sure how to interpret (some of them his own) and light talk about Atlantis and John sharing his potato chips.

"They are not potato chips," Teyla says with some authority.

"Walks like a chip, talks like a chip, tastes like a chip," John replies, biting into one.

"They are made from the fried shavings of the Nisu tree. We negotiated for the tree-branches ourselves," Teyla insists.

"Yeah, but Nisu Chips doesn't have the same ring, you know?"

"But it is incorrect. What if, for example, someone could not eat Nisu shavings? I am certain you would not want a strange cook on some other world to call her dish Jarda, because she has always made it with Jarda fruits, when it is in fact lemon pie."

"But this isn't some other world, this is the mess. They always post what it is on the menu," John says, pointing to a chalk slate with a listing of the day's food. "It's just easier when we're talking to call them potato chips."

"Delicious, delicious potato chips," Rodney agrees, joining in the teasing.

"I am not certain if it is the people of Earth or merely immature men in general whom I do not understand," Teyla sighs.

John is just teaching her the varied connotations of the term "cultural imperialism" when Sam and Ronon join them. Elizabeth was never comfortable around Ronon, and Rodney can guess why; he might not be a shrewd judge of some social situations, but he'd known Elizabeth well. She made her way through the world by talking, by negotiating. He doubted very much that a woman unafraid of the Genii's guns and bombs would be unnerved by Ronon's imposing physical strength, but Ronon was a master of when to be silent, and the fact that he couldn't be negotiated with -- not by her -- was intimidating. Sam, who balances the cerebral and the physical better than Elizabeth, seems fond of Ronon in her own way.

Even as he's considering this he's noticed that John has leaned back, has stopped eating, and is flicking his eyes back and forth between Rodney and Sam, seated next to him. There's a slight chill in his smile, and Rodney wonders if it's new or if it's just that he never noticed it before. Nobody who doesn't know John would think twice about it, he supposes, but he can tell the difference between arms-length politeness and real friendship (only through three and a half years of study, mind you). It occurs to him that John is jealous of his regard -- okay, maybe, once, more than regard, but whatever, he's over it -- for Sam Carter.

He thinks about triangles that afternoon, about how he and John and Elizabeth all fit together to form one thing, even when they were fighting. They don't do that with Sam; she's new and he has a history with her, and both of those things make for an incomplete structure.

They belonged to Elizabeth, once. Elizabeth and the city. Sam they don't belong to; she's just someone who gives the orders.


John expects to find Rodney in his lab, or in the mess-hall eating an early dinner; he wants to find him and get him alone and do obscene things to him, because while he is a patient man it was only up to a point and only when vitally necessary.

In the end he does find Rodney alone.

He's sitting on a bench next to the railing on a balcony off one of the common-rooms in the Senior Staff quarters; he has his tablet with him, resting unused on one knee, and the look that says he's deep in thought. John clears his throat, trying not to startle him.

"Room for me?" he asks. Rodney nods without looking around, so John sits, leans forward, rests his arms on the railing. "Thought you'd be at dinner."

"I will, in a while."

John glances sidelong at him. Rodney isn't ever quiet and only rarely contemplative. This is weird.

"It feels like something's missing," Rodney says.

"Yeah, you're not talking."

"Ha very ha," he answers, chewing on his bottom lip. "There's this gap where Elizabeth used to be. I thought Sam would fill it, but she doesn't."

"Yeah, I noticed that."

"I don't really know how to fix it."

"Even with your big genius brain?" John leans back, looks at him. "It's not your job to fix everything in Atlantis."

"No, just everything mechanical. That's what I'm good at, mechanical, and this..." he gestures to them and then to the city as if that somehow explains anything. "Not mechanical."

"And you're asking me how to fix it? Have you met me?" John asks.

"I'm not asking you how to fix it. You came looking for me."

John studies him and then rests a hand on his leg, carefully non-suggestive. Rodney still looks down at it, then up with an oddly hunted expression.

"So, we keep doing what we're doing," John says with a careless shrug, ignoring Rodney's denial that he wants John to make this somehow right. "We find a way to fill the gap ourselves, maybe. I don't know, McKay, things like that, you don't find them too often in life. We're still here, Atlantis is still here. That's got to be enough."

"I'm not sure I want it to be enough. I don't want -- " Rodney hesitates. "I don't want this to be what I had with Elizabeth. It should be more than that."

He gets the message after a minute, and it startles him; Rodney's usually all about snatching pleasure where he can get it on Atlantis, whether it's food or Elizabeth or movies in the Jumper. A distant part of him thinks that Rodney's appreciation for material pleasures is a good indication of things to come.

"Well, I've been..." he gropes for a good word, "patient for a long time. I think you have, too."

"That's good, I think," Rodney agrees.

John isn't sure if he's being promised something or being dumped. It's hard enough to tell these things with ordinary people, and Rodney isn't ordinary by any imaginable definition of the word.

Then Rodney turns slightly and slides his hand up John's arm and kisses him, startling the hell out of John for about a tenth of a second before he returns the sentiment, as if they are ordinary people and this is something ordinary people do. It certainly isn't chaste, but it isn't passionate either; affectionate, maybe. As if they have all the time in the world.

Oh. So. Promise, then.

"Dinner," he says, when the kiss is done.

"Yeah, think so," Rodney replies.

Link to Chapter 4