When The Levee Breaks – 2/3 – halestrom

Title: When The Levee Breaks
Author: halestrom
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Genre: Drama, Episode Related
Relationship(s): Rodney McKay/John Sheppard
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: * No Mandatory Warnings Apply
Word Count: 83,540
Summary: Six months after the events of Doranda, John receives a wake-up call that changes the course of events in Atlantis for everyone involved, for better or for worse. While John deals with his rude awakening, some friendships are made stronger, and some are broken. He just hoped he woke up in time for him to fix mistakes before he loses the one thing he can finally admit he wants.
Artist: SpencnerTibbsLover



Five

John beamed back onto the city, smelling like ash, and so very fucking thankful to the Daedalus he wanted to kiss Caldwell. The Taranians were safe for the moment, and they were going to start getting them settled on whatever planet Elizabeth found for them. He hoped she had found a planet already. He wanted Norina as far away from Rodney as she could get. He noticed Rodney stop next to him, and he ignored the glare the other man was giving him. John had flirted with Norina more than he should have, and he found he didn’t feel super guilty about it.

Ever since Michael, the city had been dealing with the Cold War between the three of them. It had been three weeks, and things weren’t getting better. Elizabeth was mad at Rodney, and by association him. Kate and Carson still wouldn’t meet his eyes, and Rodney walked around with an attitude daring anyone to comment. So far, no one had dared. As a result, John was not in the best mood, mostly because he was doing more paperwork as he took back his responsibilities.

It had also left him with less time to go and bug Rodney in the labs, and the moments he did manage to carve out with Rodney were that much more special as a result. Seeing Rodney flirt with Norina had hurt, a stupid hurt since John didn’t know if Rodney was bisexual, but hurt nonetheless. John had fun flirting. He liked flirting. He enjoyed the banter and the back and forth. He always had. There had been times when he was fresh off deployment, and the act of picking someone up was almost more enjoyable than the sex. Almost.

“Asshole,” Rodney muttered again, and John shot him a grin.

“Don’t be sad, McKay,” he said, keeping his voice down and bumping his shoulder against the other man. “She only wanted you for your brain.”

Rodney rolled his eyes at John and leaned in a little bit. “So?”

Rodney smiled at John then, sly and a little dirty before winking at him, making John’s breath catch for a second. John raised his eyebrows, forcing himself to smile. “Fair,” he said finally, shrugging his shoulders. “She is pretty.”

“She’s gorgeous,” Rodney corrected.

Norina was gorgeous, but John had seen women just as beautiful who didn’t flirt with Rodney, which made them even more attractive to him.

“I’ve seen prettier,” he said, mostly to rile Rodney up. Flushed looked good on the man.

Rodney sputtered for a second before stopping, his smile dropping away and his eyes fixed on something beyond John. He knew what it would be before he turned, but he did so and caught sight of Elizabeth charging down the stairs.

“Wonder how we pissed her off this time,” Rodney muttered, and John didn’t have time to reply as Elizabeth stopped in front of them, looking smug.

“You’re due back on Earth by the end of the day,” she said without preamble. “Both of you. The IOA wants to debrief you on the Michael situation. You’ll gate there tonight and then return with the Apollo when they make their return trip.”

“So we’re going to be gone for four weeks?” Rodney demanded, grabbing John’s arm to check his watch. “And only have six hours?!”

Elizabeth just smiled wider. “Yes.”

“Motherfuckers,” Rodney snapped and left, already yelling at Radek on the radio.

John watched him go, feeling the lingering heat from Rodney’s grip before turning to look at Elizabeth, who looked satisfied before her face smoothed out.

“Did you find a place for the Taranians?” he asked, settling his hands on the butt of his gun and watching her.

John wanted things to work, and so he had forced himself to act the same around her, trying his best to bridge a gap that no one else seemed to want to, and John didn’t want to either, but he had to try. He still smarted from the Michael situation, but he also knew the city deserved better than the three of them sniping at each other.

She nodded. “I did.”

She didn’t give up any more information, and John just kept the same affable smile and nodded. “Well, best to go pack.”

Elizabeth didn’t say anything for a second before she smiled at him insincerely. “It was good working with you and Dr. McKay Colonel Sheppard.”

John’s eyes narrowed at her, and his smile dropped away for a second before he forced it back. “I’ll see you in four weeks, Dr. Weir.”

She tensed up but nodded. “I hope so,” she said simply before turning and going.

John watched her go for a moment before he turned and left, needing to shower and pack before talking to Lorne about what was happening. He needed his XO to keep a close eye on the city when they left. He had a bad feeling about all of this.

John could have sworn that the medical check after the first year wasn’t this invasive. He grimaced as the doctor stepped back around, dropping the needle onto the table, and John was finally able to pull his pants up and buckle his belt. “We can go to other galaxies, but we can’t find a way of delivering things besides a shot in the ass?” he asked the doctor, who chuckled.

“It works,” the Doctor said with a shrug, and John glared a little bit.

He could still faintly smell the smoke from the morning, and he could feel the exhaustion settling deep into his bones. It had been a long day, and he didn’t even know how many hours he had been up. Hell, he didn’t even know what time it was on Earth. A glance at his watch told him he had been awake for almost twenty hours, and he looked around as the Doc entered something into his chart.

“What time is it?” he asked, not seeing a clock.

“Just past 0930,” the doctor said, and John bit back a groan.

“Is there food anywhere?” he asked, looking around feeling hungry all of a sudden. “I can’t remember when I ate.”

“Is that a common problem for you?” The doctor asked, looking up and pinning him with a gaze that seemed too intense for this early. “Not eating?”

John blinked and then smiled at him, slow, sweet and dangerous, the same one he had been trying not to give Elizabeth lately. “It is when I spent the better part of the day trying not to die in a world-ending volcano explosion.”

The Doctor nodded his head, unperturbed, and he probably wasn’t if the SGC was anything like Atlantis. “You’re clear as long as your blood tests come back clean. Mess is two floors up.”

John grabbed his jacket and pulled it on as he stepped out from the small cubical, fighting back the groan when he saw O’Neill waiting for him. “General,” he said, glad for the lack of formality. “If you want to talk, I’m going to insist on food.”

“Good thing for you, it’s breakfast time,” O’Neill said and jerked his head for John to follow him.

John wanted nothing more than to eat, shower, sleep, and maybe when he woke up, jerk off to try and get rid of some of the lingering tension between his shoulders. The sudden unexpected change from Atlantis to Earth was more jarring than usual, and he felt out of sorts. He assumed it was because of how little time he had had to plan.

“Am I being fed breakfast?” he asked warily, following O’Neill.

“Yes, don’t worry. I know you’ve been up for a while and today is about to get even longer,” O’Neill said, leading him into an unused office where two trays sat, as well as a full carafe of coffee.

John fell onto it without another word, pouring himself a cup and taking a mouthful, collapsing into a chair at O’Neill’s insistence.

“Eat Sheppard. Then we’ll talk.”

John didn’t need to be told twice and grabbed the tray, beginning to shovel the food into his mouth, uncaring what it was. It was Earth, and it couldn’t be that bad. He finished quickly and sat back with a groan, wrapping his hands around the coffee cup and yawned.

“Maybe that wasn’t a good idea,” he muttered, feeling exhaustion wash over him. When he was younger, he could remember being able to go for days without sleep, and he suddenly felt twice as old, his bones aching.

“We need to talk, so finish the coffee and wake up,” O’Neill said, looking serious, leaning forward and bracing his elbows on the desk he was sitting behind.

The serious look was enough to unsettle him. John hid another yawn before sitting up, shaking himself to try and wake up more. “About what?”

“Weir.”

“What about her?” he asked warily, downing the coffee and pouring himself another cup.

The General rubbed a hand over his face. “This whole Wraith-Michael thing has a lot of people up in arms,” he said. “Between the failed experiment, the death of Sergeant Cole, both yours and McKay’s very vocal, and correct, opposition, some people are questioning her ability to lead.”

“Experiment wouldn’t have failed if the IOA hadn’t pushed for it too early,” John said. “Rodney and I wanted more testing done. That was it. Not to stop it, just to take more precautions.”

O’Neill leaned back in his chair and was silent for a long moment before he nodded once sharply. “And you and McKay were right.”

“We didn’t want to be,” John said, mirroring the General and leaning back, resting his cup on his chest. The Generals lack of ceremony would always be John’s favorite thing about the man. “I wanted it to work. Honestly, when he woke up without any memory, it was pretty awesome.”

O’Neill kept quiet and let John gather his thoughts, trying to put the whole situation in order in his mind. It felt like he had repeatedly been talking about the same thing but with different people, and things were starting to blur. “If the Wraith never remembered, it would be fine. But he did, and that’s the problem. I’ve fought in wars against humans, and that’s just on Earth. I don’t want to imagine what it would be like to fight the Wraith as humans. Or what they could be capable of when pushed to the sort of desperation I’ve seen humans reach.”

“Point, and not a good one.”

“No,” John agreed. “I did everything I could to make it as safe as I could, and, in the end, it was McKay who took the final step because my hands were tied by orders to keep the experiment going.”

“You’ve gone against orders before,” O’Neill said mildly. “It’s sort of the whole reason you stumbled into the program.”

John nodded. “I know, and that’s the kicker. I should have done what was right.”

John wanted to keep his command. He felt like he was fighting both Elizabeth and, in some ways, Lorne to keep it. He had people in his corner, but they weren’t the people he needed. It was a fine line to walk, between needing to defend his command and defend the people under his command from idiots who didn’t know jack from shit.

O’Neill tapped his fingers against the desk, pinning John with a stare. John never understood why some people looked at him and saw someone friendly. O’Neill had always been the most dangerous person in the SGC. He reminded him of the black ops teams he had spent time with on missions he officially had no memory of and didn’t exist. He might smile, but it rarely reached his eyes.

“So the orders I was given came from the Senate Committee because of the IOA. The IOA pushed, and the Senate was under-informed, and now that someone is dead, the IOA is scrambling to find a scapegoat,” he said.

“So? Wouldn’t be the first time someone had died.” John shrugged, thinking back to when Colonel Everett came onto the city and took over. “Look at Everett and that fuck up.”

“No one’s forgotten the mishandling of the Siege, and no one wants a repeat of that. Atlantis is different from the SGC, and the IOA is aware of that now. They give you more leeway due to the differences and how isolated it is.”

“So what?”

“So, Weir pushed the IOA to force you to go against what you recommended and against the Chief Science Officer’s advice. And when the situation you two were worried about happened, she filed another complaint against both of you for killing the Wraith.”

John snorted. “And I bet she didn’t mention Sergeant Cole at least once?”

“Oh, she did. Apparently ‘Sergeant Cole’s death was an unfortunate byproduct of Lt. Colonel Sheppard’s inability to protect the city properly.’”

John bristled at that. “Unfortunate byproduct? What the fuck?”

“That was my feeling as well. And trust me, no one is taking her seriously,” O’Neill said, looking as pissed off as John felt. “The thing is, I don’t like McKay. He rubs me the wrong way, probably always will. But he is good at his job, and he was chosen because he’s got an extensive background in multiple subjects and despite being a dick, he’s got a strong moral center. The IOA ignored his advice and listened to a diplomat instead.”

“What about Carson?”

“It was his experiment, he was supposed to be for it, and when McKay brought up his issues, he was fine with it, he didn’t like it, but he understood. At least according to his reports. But Weir kept pushing and eventually overrode the two of you, and someone died.”

John rubbed a hand over his eyes and sighed. “I understand that Cole died. I don’t get why the IOA is so up in arms about it when they didn’t care before. Everett was a bad decision, and no one said anything about those deaths.”

“One important reason. Cole’s death can be directly attributed to decisions they made when they went against your instincts. If you hadn’t argued against it we’d be having a different conversation, but you did, and someone died,” O’Neill said with a shrug. “They know that’s on them.”

“Most of them didn’t want me in charge, so why do they care so much about my instincts?”

“They didn’t, not at first. But between McKay, Beckett, and Weir vouching for you, the reports from the entire city, and what Colonel Everett told us, and incidentally showed us by returning old, they changed their tune very quickly. You’re more flexible than a lot of other Lt. Colonel’s and Colonels who were up for it, and what we’ve found is Atlantis needs that, the same way we need someone less rigid in their thinking for the SGC. Shit’s weird out there. So far you’re doing good work and I want to keep it that way.”

John snorted at the understatement. “So, why are you telling me all of this?”

“Because the IOA is about to rake you and McKay over the coals to try and shift some of the blame to you, but as far as I’m concerned, you didn’t do a damn thing wrong,” O’Neill said, leaning back in the chair. “You answer their questions, honestly, and not a single thing more.”

“And Rodney?”

“McKay’s had a No Fucks Given attitude since the shit show with Doranda,” O’Neill said.

“Not since then, just for the past couple of months when he got sick and tired of Weir spying on him,” John corrected, thinking back to Rodney yelling at him. It wasn’t something he was going to forget anytime soon.

“What?”

John glanced up at O’Neill, whose face had gone blank, and John sat up a bit straighter, fighting the urge to go to attention at that look. “McKay knows he fucked up with the Doranda mission by ignoring Radek and everyone’s insistence that he slow down. He’s apologized for that and made policy changes, so there shouldn’t be a repeat. He’s mad because Weir kept trying to get Zelenka to spy on him to try and catch him fucking up again. On his personal computer as well.”

“McKay does work for us that is above her clearance,” O’Neill snapped.

“I know, he told her that. Apparently, he does work for other countries as well, most of the IOA countries,” John said, rubbing the side of his neck. “It’s why things have been so bad lately. He finally called her on her shit, threatened to fire Radek for spying, and told her he was going to bring her up on international espionage charges.”

“What?”

O’Neill sat back, looking a little bit stunned, and John was mostly surprised Rodney hadn’t gone ahead and filed the charges. He nodded and sighed, leaning forward and bracing his elbows on his knees, cradling his cup, wishing it had some whiskey in it.

“After all of that, Dr. Weir insinuates that I agreed with her about Rodney needing to be monitored. I hadn’t. It was news to me when I found out, but it just pissed Rodney off more. He got it into his head that Weir and I were working to try and kick him off the city. I don’t know about Dr. Weir, but I am well aware of how much Rodney saves my ass and all of our asses regularly,” John explained.

“You were pissed at him. I did get reports about that.”

John winced and nodded. “I was, and I know why, and I apologized for it. After he came into my office and ripped me a new one about my actions.”

O’Neill snorted. “How did that go?”

“I think I got yelled at less when I crashed a helicopter while going against orders,” John admitted. “So he slams into my office, gives me a copy of his birth certificate to prove he’s not a kid and tells me to stop treating him like one. He still thought that I was in on some plan with Weir and informed me that unlike Dr. Weir, who bribed people into her job, and me, who stumbled into the job, he earned his job, and he would be damned if we kicked him off.”

O’Neill snorted and rubbed a hand over his face. “Well, hell, he’s not wrong.”

“No, sir, he is not. I know I got my job through a combination of good and bad luck.”

O’Neill hummed, looking thoughtful. “So then what?”

“He left as quick as he came before I could get a word in otherwise,” John said. “And then I sat down and thought about what he had said, as well as why I was so pissed off, and when I figured it out, I apologized, and we’ve been working on it since. I’ve been working on a lot since.”

O’Neill was silent, and John let it linger, not wanting to get anymore into it. He didn’t want to explain to his CO why he had been pissed off, still a little ashamed, nor did he want to talk about his feelings. The General was lax, but John didn’t know O’Neill enough to trust him like that. John wondered what Lorne had told the General but was too worried to ask.

Finally, O’Neill nodded, thankfully not pushing it. “So things are tense.”

John nodded. “The Wraith situation made it worse.”

“What do you think her problem is?”

John thought about it for a long moment. He remembered Elizabeth during the first year, so excited and full of life no matter what happened, standing firm and tall during the worst of it. He remembered how thin they all got towards the end of the first year, how worn she looked, trying to keep everyone’s hopes up. And he remembered when it changed, when they got back to Earth and the sense of safety that came from being under the Mountain, only to go back a few weeks later. John had been glad to be back on Atlantis, but looking back, he could see how worn Elizabeth had gotten, the stress lines around her eyes deepening.

“I think she’s scared,” John said softly, putting his cup down on the desk so he could clasp his hands together. “I mean, we all are, but ever since the Siege, it’s different. I think getting close to the Wraith like that changed everyone’s view. Doranda was a way to end the war, and it failed, and I think she took that failure hard. We all did. We all wanted it to work, and it was disheartening when it didn’t. I think that loss of hope was part of the reason for the animosity towards Rodney.”

“And Dr. Weir?”

“She got her hopes up more than the rest, and it failed. And then I was turned into a bug due to the retrovirus, Ford kidnapped us, Rodney almost died underwater, the Trust bomb, she was taken over by an alien consciousness, and then we thought Lorne was dead. Throughout all of this, Carson was getting closer and closer to finishing his retrovirus, and then he did. It was light in a dark place.”

John bit his lip, thinking back to the past few months and feeling exhausted. “The retrovirus didn’t work out the way she wanted, the Wraith was killed, and she wants to pin all of that shit on McKay.”

O’Neill sighed. “And what does McKay think? How are you two?”

John shrugged. “My actions hurt him, and so things between us aren’t great, but they’re getting better. I think he trusts me to an extent, but it’s not the same as it was before, and that’s something I’ve been working on.”

“Is that why you backed him?”

“No, I backed him because he made some good points,” John said before he snorted. “He told me science wasn’t perfect and that science failed more than it succeeded, and I had forgotten that. I wanted the virus to work, but I wasn’t surprised when there were issues. Hell, I was one of the early issues, and I don’t want there to be any more versions of whatever the hell I was.”

“No, neither do I,” O’Neill said. “Whatever you became was too dangerous and uncontrollable.”

“She’s scared,” John said, getting back to the original point, not wanting to rehash turning into a bug. “She’s scared, and she’s made Rodney her target for some reason, and now I think she’s going to be blaming me. She told me earlier that she was glad she got the chance to work with me.”

“Sounds like she expects you to be transferred.”

“She did try to remind me it was partially her influence that kept me here.”

“How did that go?”

“I told her that the moment I stepped back through the city with official orders as CO, her influence meant nothing, and it was my own merits that would let me keep my job.”

“That go over well?”

“Like a lead balloon.”

O’Neill suddenly looked as tired as John felt, and he let out a sigh of his own. “So she’s scared, and she can’t let go of that fear?”

“We’re all scared, sir, the Wraith are fucking terrifying, but she’s picking the fight with the wrong people. It’s going to piss off more people sooner rather than later.”

“Would removing her fix it?”

“Can you?” John asked, looking up. “I was under the impression that more than just the American IOA rep wanted her.”

O’Neill grimaced. “No, I don’t think we can. Professional disputes between members of the Expedition, unfortunately, are not enough to remove her. It’s worth noting, but I don’t think it’ll do anything. Especially since I think there’s something else going on between Weir and the IOA that I don’t like, but we can’t find any proof.”

“So what’s the point of us coming back?” John asked, frowning at the last comment. “And taken away from the city for four weeks assuming we go back.”

“I’ll be surprised if you don’t go back,” O’Neill said, leaning back in his seat and tilting his head back. “You’re here so the IOA can get an accurate read on the city. Weir has been sending more reports than necessary, as I’m sure you’ve found out.”

“Rodney’s pissed about the energy waste,” John said. “And so am I. We need all the power we can get for the shield.”

“Right. Well, she’s been sending a lot of reports, and none of them are favorable. But the reports from other people tell a different story, and so they want you two to report, in person, and they’re hoping they can pin the blame on one of you two.”

“They won’t,” John said, sounding sure of himself.

“No, they won’t. Not with all the other reports, as well as Colonel Ellis’s notes on the situation,” O’Neill said, beginning to rock in his seat. “We also have to account for the rest of the city. I know there are people on the city who are…frustrated with Dr. Weir’s attitude. Especially over trivial matters.”

“I think what you mean is Lorne is pissed, and Dr. Simpson is sick and tired of the melodrama,” John replied evenly.

O’Neill didn’t even bother to look ashamed, just shrugged. “Evan is concerned that you kept bowing to her demands, but he has noted that you stopped. He’s impressed. He doesn’t get impressed often.”

John fought against shifting under the gaze O’Neill leveled at him. He stayed quiet, he knew he had fucked up, and he wasn’t going to make excuses for it. O’Neill nodded after a moment. “Rachel is thoroughly enjoying watching Rodney yell at everyone.”

“I was uninformed regarding my position in the Charter,” John replied finally. “It was my mistake, and I’ve remedied that as best as I could, and I’m going to keep on remedying it. I still need to work with her, though, and she’s not going to be happy that I’m not blindly following along.”

O’Neill leaned back in his chair and rubbed a hand over his face. “You’re the CO we need in Atlantis. It’s isolated, dangerous, and you have almost no backup. You’re also smart, and you understand the science enough to know what’s happening, which is important. You work there because you have no issues disobeying orders and doing what is right. The men respect you because of that. You’re the sort of officer we need more of in the SGC.”

“But,” John said when O’Neill trailed off.

O’Neill steepled his hands and watched John long enough that he started to feel the need to squirm. “Major Lorne isn’t my spy,” he finally said.

John couldn’t keep the look of disbelief on his face. “Sir?”

“Well, not entirely,” O’Neill amended. “The thing is, Sheppard; I don’t dislike you. I think you’re a fantastic soldier, an even better pilot, and you’re willing to get your hands dirty. You put yourself in the line of fire first and never ask others to do what you wouldn’t do yourself. I appreciate all of that. I do. But you’re a shit leader.”

John felt the bottom of his stomach drop out, and he forced himself not to shrink back. “Sir?”

“You were a shit leader,” O’Neill amended, and John sat up a little straighter, forcing himself not to react. “You were lazy, uninformed, and while you always stepped up to the plate in times of crisis, you weren’t doing the rest of your job. You have over a hundred personnel who needed you to step up to the plate all the time, and you didn’t. That’s why Major Lorne is there. You worked well with McKay. Elizabeth and IOA wanted you, and so it was easier to keep you there and send Major Lorne to pick up your slack.”

John knew everything that O’Neill was saying was true, and hearing it bluntly laid out was hard. He felt like he had taken three rounds to the chest. He’d been kicked in the balls, and it had hurt less.

“I know,” he said when O’Neill stayed silent, clearly waiting for an answer. “I know all of this, and I’ve been trying to be better.”

O’Neill nodded. “I know, and I see that. Major Lorne has also seen that. And I appreciate it. It’s hard to look at your failings and take steps to be better. I’m glad for it, Colonel because I want to keep you on Atlantis.”

John nodded. “Was Lorne supposed to take my place?”

O’Neill shrugged. “He was my backup plan in case you got worse. But, you didn’t.”

John nodded again and stopped himself from rubbing a hand over his chest. He knew that O’Neill was right. It wasn’t anything that John didn’t know about himself. It just hurt to have it put so plainly out there.

“I want to be better, and I’m going to keep being better,” John said, looking down at the top of the desk, unable to meet O’Neill’s eyes. “I know I’ve been a fuck up, and I’m going to fuck up in the future, but the people on Atlantis deserve more from me.”

“Of course you’re going to fuck up, we all do,” O’Neill said, voice a little bit gentler than before. “It’s life. But you fucked up, realized you fucked up, and then fixed your fuck up.”

John nodded. “Fixed it so good my Chief Scientist had to be the one to pull the trigger on Michael.”

O’Neill said. “Sheppard…that’s not on you. You were under orders.”

John snorted. “Hasn’t stopped me before.”

“True, but…” O’Neill trailed off and tapped his fingers against the desk. “Every time I used to go into the field with Danny, and he ended up shooting someone, I felt so fucking guilty. He’s an archeologist, and he should be in some field in the middle of some desert, brushing bones with a toothbrush, not shooting bullets at other people. You’re going to feel like you failed every time they pick up the weapon, but you have to remember,” O’Neill leaned forward, pinning John with an intense gaze, “they chose it. They choose to wake up every day and stay and trust me, if McKay is anything like Jackson, you’ll get an earful if you try and take him out of the field.”

“McKay shouldn’t have been the on—”

“—McKay isn’t operating under the same orders you are. He’s a scientist, not military. And I think in the wake of Doranda, he is well aware of when an experiment has failed, and it needs to be terminated.”

“But he killed a…he shot a…” John trailed off with a groan, rubbing both hands over his face. “I know Michael was a Wraith, but he didn’t look like one, and it’s messing with my head.”

“it’s fucked up. Welcome to the Stargate Program.”

John sighed and slumped down in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. He managed to avoid huffing like a kid, but it was a close call. “I just don’t want to disappoint anyone else.”

“So don’t.”

John shot O’Neill an exasperated look, causing the General to smirk. “Look, Sheppard, in a perfect world after you got promoted, you would have trotted your ass off to Air War College and then served on a base where you had a Colonel or General above you to help mentor you. But this is the SGC, and we have to cut corners sometimes, so you’re learning as you go. Like I said before, you fucked up, but you’re picking up your slack now. If you have any questions, you can ask me. I know what it’s like to be thrown in the deep end. Most of us original SGC members do.”

“I feel like there’s a but there,” John said warily, shifting in his seat.

“But, you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. Fuck up, apologize, and get the fuck on with it.” O’Neill glanced at his watch. “Now. You’re due at the IOA in 30, and I would suggest a shower and a shave. You smell like ash.”

“Supervolcano,” John said, standing up with a sigh, feeling old as hell right then. “A lot more awesome in movies.”

“I’ve found that the movies make everything look awesome by comparison.”

John hated it when Rodney yelled at him, the man had a way with words, and he never seemed to need to breathe. However, watching him yell at other people was awe-inspiring, and it was no different as the IOA questioned them. Rodney hadn’t bothered to hold back from the moment he opened his mouth.

“I want to know why you continually ignored my advice as the CSO to postpone the trials until we knew more, and then after that, why you went around Colonel Sheppard to release the first experiment into the general public,” Rodney demanded finally, looking around the room.

John bit back a smile as the IOA members shifted in their seats, none of them looking at each other. Both Landry and O’Neill looked like they were also trying to fight back smiles, Landry with more success.

“You do not have the experience,” Chapman started to say, stopped by Rodney’s loud snort.

“I have more experience with biological science than Dr. Weir, and yet you listened to her. While not happy, Dr. Beckett understood my concerns and was fine with additional testing,” Rodney shot back, shutting the man up. “Furthermore, from my understanding, not a single person in this room, aside from Colonel Sheppard, holds a degree in any of the harder sciences. Most of you have degrees in History or English.”

“I have one in Physics,” O’Neill offered, and Rodney shot him a look.

“Congratulations, but that’s irrelevant. You were not the person responsible for allowing the IOA to listen to a diplomat over the concerns of the CSO,” Rodney snapped, looking back around the room. “I would honestly like to know why you chose to ignore my warnings.”

Rodney went silent again and sat back, crossing his arms over his chest and managing to not look like a spoiled teenager for once. Silence reigned, and Rodney looked around the room, one eyebrow raised. “Anyone?” he urged.

“I would like to know the answer as well,” Landry said, glancing around the room. “Dr. McKay’s advice regarding the situation wasn’t out of the ordinary, so why was it ignored?”

“Dr. Weir made some…interesting points,” Coolidge said, shifting in his seat.

“Which were?” O’Neill asked emotionlessly.

John hadn’t been part of many debriefs where he was being questioned but hadn’t had to talk yet. He had said nothing so far and was fine with it. Rodney was doing fine for both of them.

“She pointed out that Dr. McKay hadn’t had issues with the Hoffan virus and suggested that any issues he had with the retrovirus were unfounded based on his personal issues with her,” the Canadian IOA member, Bastarache, explained.

The room was silent for a long moment, and John wasn’t the only one who frowned.

Rodney let out a bark of laughter, slapping a hand on the table. “Oh, that is a load of bullshit.”

John was perversely glad when everyone else jumped.

“I did not have issues with the Hoffan drug because making us immune to Wraith feeding is a good short-term option,” Rodney snapped. “I had issues with the fact that they decided to mass-produce it and distribute it to the entire population when it had a fifty percent mortality rate.”

LaPierre tried to say something, but Rodney barreled on ahead.

“I never once had an issue with aiding them. I had some issues with the human experimentation, but I also understand that the way we do things on Earth is vastly different from other planets,” Rodney said, looking around at everyone, no one meeting his eyes. “The rules and regulations we act under were created in the wake of experiments gone wrong as a way to try and prevent unnecessary deaths. Those rules and regulations were not something the Hoffans had because their world and situation were different.”

“And what do the Hoffans think now?” Dixon-Smythe asked.

John glanced at Rodney and then back at the IOA member and cleared his throat. “Once the Wraith figured out they couldn’t feed on them anymore, the entire planet was destroyed, just like Sateda.”

Silence followed, and everyone looked uncomfortable.

“Did you have issues with the retrovirus because of your well-known personal issues with Dr. Weir?” Nechayev asked, getting to the point.

Rodney snorted. “How many times do I have to say this. I had an issue with the retrovirus because it was an untested experimental drug. Also, once it was tested on the Wraith, releasing him back into the general population against Colonel Sheppard’s wishes was dangerous, short-sighted, and frankly stupid.”

“And how long should we have waited?” Xiaoyi asked, shoulders back and head high.

Rodney rolled his eyes. “Oh, I don’t know, if we had waited another week, we would have found out that his full memory came back, and instead of being allowed to wander the city, per your command, he would have been somewhere that didn’t endanger the entire city.”

Silence followed for a long moment before Rodney sighed and leaned forward. “Listen, the fact of the matter is, you all ignored the advice of both myself, from a scientific perspective, and Colonel Sheppard, from a military and security perspective, to follow the advice of a diplomat who has no experience in either of them.”

“You have no military experience either,” Nechayev said.

“No shit, that’s why I listen to Sheppard when he tells me it’s time to run,” Rodney snapped back. “I know my limitations better than anyone here. But, my experience as a member of AR-1 puts me in a completely different situation than Dr. Weir. I’ve held a gun; I’ve been in the middle of battles. I might not be an official member of the military, but no one in this room can look me in the eye and tell me I do not have some of the same experiences as a soldier.”

Rodney stopped and looked around the room, waiting for anyone to speak up and nodding when no one did. “You followed the advice of a diplomat, and a good Sergeant died because of it.”

“And you killed Michael,” Coolidge snapped. “We could have studied him and seen what the long term effects of the retrovirus were.

“I killed the Wraith who was a danger to the city,” Rodney replied his shoulders one long line of tension. “And the fact that you call him Michael, the human name we gave him, and then proceed to talk about experimenting on sapient life is worrying.”

Coolidge sat back, eyes hard and anger in every line of his body. “You had no problem with the experiment before.”

“Oh, for fucks sake. Where was my lack of a problem?”

“The Hoffans.”

John rolled his eyes and cleared his throat, waiting for everyone’s attention. “How were we to stop that, Mr. Coolidge?” he asked calmly. “We aren’t Hoffan. We’re not part of their government, and we are not responsible for the actions they choose to take. Dr. Beckett voiced his objections, and as soon as it was obvious they didn’t listen, we left.”

“You could have…”

“Mr. Coolidge,” O’Neill broke in. “Neither the SGC nor the Atlantis expedition has any ability to force a different society to do something. We can suggest, and we can aid if needed, but we cannot force any of them to do anything. And you know that. Stop trying to look for fault where there is none over an old situation.”

Coolidge sat back, face white and John glanced over at O’Neill, who nodded, and John sat back, waiting for the next question.

John wasn’t surprised when the meeting broke up not much longer after that, the IOA reps leaving quickly, muttering to themselves. Rodney looked like he was about to blow up again. If they were on Atlantis, John would have dragged him to go and play their game, but instead, he stayed where he was, waiting for O’Neill or Landry to say anything.

“I don’t like you,” Landry said, looking at Rodney, who shrugged his shoulders, looking unconcerned. “You were a pain in my ass at Area 51, and you’re a pain in my ass now, but I must commend you on your actions regarding the Wraith.”

Rodney shrugged again. “Thanks, I guess.”

Landry sighed and stood up. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and make an annoying phone call.”

“Give me five, and I’ll join you,” O’Neill said. Landry nodded and left, and John looked towards O’Neill, content to wait until the man left.

“So?” Rodney said, not content to wait. “What now?”

“Now, you two go and get some rest for the next few days.”

“That’s it?” Rodney demanded. “We got dragged here for this?”

O’Neill shook his head and stood up. “A lot is moving behind the scenes, Dr. McKay. Those events need to finish before this conversation continues. I understand you still have a comfortable apartment.” O’Neill paused to wait for Rodney’s nod. “Good, go there. And take Sheppard if you can.”

“Why do we have to leave the mountain?” John asked, suddenly feeling nervous about sharing an apartment with Rodney. Things were better between them, but they weren’t that good yet.

“Because it helps the higher-ups feel like you’re not going native,” O’Neill said pleasantly.

“Going native sounds better than dealing with everyone here,” Rodney muttered but nodded with a glance at John. “Fine, I can put him up.”

Six

“So why do you still have this apartment?” John asked, stepping inside behind Rodney and looking around at the room.

It looked like it had a regular maid service, everything in its rightful place and not a speck of dust, but John knew that was probably only half of it. Rodney’s room had the same fastidious neatness, everything in its place, and woe to anyone who tried to move something.

“I bought it,” Rodney said absently, dropping his bag onto the counter and moving to look in the cupboards. “And I liked it, so I kept it. I’m not spending a lot of money right now, and real estate is always a good investment.”

John thought of the house in Hawaii that his Dad had given him when he turned 18 and the DC apartment that had been a divorce present from his Dad’s third wife and nodded. “Makes sense.”

Rodney glanced over at him. “Spare rooms the second door, the bathrooms across the hall.”

John felt awkward standing there. “Thanks,” he said as he walked to the door Rodney had indicated, looking in the room at the queen bed with relief. He was more excited than he should be at the sight of a bed where he could stretch out. He dropped his bag on the bed and rustled through it for a change of clothes, wanting to get out of his BDU’s immediately.

“Do you need a towel?” Rodney asked from behind him.

John stood and turned, watching as Rodney leaned against the doorframe with his arms crossed. The t-shirt he was wearing stretched around his biceps, and John forced himself not to look. John had to take their relationship slow and steady. Despite how much he wanted Rodney, he didn’t want the spook the other man, especially since he had no clue what was going on in his mind.

“If you have one, yeah,” he said. “I need another shower.”

Despite trying not to look, Rodney looked broader in the doorway and John couldn’t help himself. At some point, Rodney had kicked off his shoes, and it made him seem softer, more relaxed than he had in a long time. John wanted to hug him. Among other things. He swallowed around the lump in his throat. “I still smell like ash.”

“Me too,” Rodney said, blue eyes watching John intently.

John nodded and looked down at the clothes he had in his hands, trying not to twist them, not wanting to betray his nervousness. He felt pinned under that look, and he was unsure what Rodney was looking for.

“I don’t know if I’ve gotten a chance,” he said, looking back up. “But good job, with the Orion. On getting us out.”

Rodney blinked, looking surprised for a long moment and then pleased, a slight flush staining his cheeks. “Well, it’s my life as well, you know,” he said, glancing to the side. “I am my own favorite person, can’t let him down.”

John snorted. “Sounds like a normal day for you then.”

Rodney nodded, still looking to the side. “I’m not tired, well I am, but I don’t think I can sleep. Want to grab food and then go to the movies or something?”

John wanted nothing more than to crawl into his bed and sleep for a few hours, but he could stay up instead. Especially if it meant he got to hang out with Rodney. He nodded, feeling like he was about to go out on his first date as a teenager, and he didn’t know why. “That sounds good to me.”

“Okay, I need to shower as well, so an hour?” Rodney asked pushing away from the doorway.

John nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

“I don’t remember this much noise,” John admitted, looking around after they had placed their orders. It was apparently Friday, which didn’t help the rush at the sports bar they chose. The whole place was packed, and John felt the press of people around him like a physical sensation. He wished he had dressed in his BDUs. Somehow the jeans and button-down he was wearing didn’t seem enough.

“I hate it,” Rodney muttered, eyeing his water with a little bit of worry.

“Mine’s clean,” John said, handing his water over. “I’ve had a mouthful already. If you don’t mind.”

Rodney blinked and nodded in thanks, taking the water and drinking. “I forgot how sweet soda was,” he said, nodding his head towards the coke he had ordered. “I used to live on it.”

“Coke and Cheetos?” John asked, taking a sip of the water and glad that it seemed clean as well.

“And poptarts,” Rodney replied. “Love those things. I should get some while we’re here. They could be worth a fortune on Atlantis.”

“Don’t give them to Ronon. His sweet tooth is already legendary,” John said with a grin. “And it’s getting worse, I think. Especially since none of the marines bet against him anymore and he can’t get their stashes.”

“Is that what caused the chocolate drought?” Rodney asked. “I assumed it was a lady thing.”

John mouthed ‘a lady thing’ and then thought better of asking. “Yeah, the marines would bet he could take them down in x amount of time.”

“How long did it take?”

“Until they stopped betting?”

“Yeah, well, and how long for them to get taken down.”

“At least two weeks, and the shortest Ronon got was a minute.”

Rodney grinned. “That seems slow.”

John smiled back. “It was. Ronon was just trying to get more candy.”

“Now that he’s one of my scientists, I wonder if I could get him to give up some candy as a tribute,” Rodney mused, leaning back as the waitress brought out the first of their appetizers.

John looked at the plate filled with wings, nachos, and mozzarella sticks and swallowed, knowing his eyes had been bigger than his stomach and that he was going to pay the price because he was going to eat all of it. The food in Pegasus was better than some of the bases he had been on, but it was still food made for the masses, and there was only so much the chefs could do.

Rodney seemed unconcerned and leaned forward, beginning to eat with gusto, and John followed, grabbing one of the wings and biting in, enjoying it a lot more than he remembered enjoying wings before. “I don’t think so,” he said a few moments later, picking up the trail of the conversation. “Have you managed to make that work with anyone?”

Rodney shook his head. “No,” he said around a mouthful of cheese. “No one’s bitten yet.”

“So, how do you get your coffee?”

“Porn,” Rodney replied, and John choked on the mozzarella stick he was eating, coughing a little bit under the worried and amused gaze of his friend.

He managed to swallow without dying and took a drink of the beer the waitress delivered. “What?” he asked once he could talk again.

“Porn, everyone wants it, and I’ve got it,” Rodney said unperturbed, grabbing another wing. “I downloaded as much as I could get when we were on Earth earlier in the year.”

“And no one else thought to do it?” John asked, wondering why it was so shocking.

He didn’t know if it was Rodney’s casual nonchalance or the fact that that was how Rodney kept ahold of the ‘black market’ trades. He knew it was mostly unnecessary at this point with the supply runs, but everyone seemed to enjoy it. John did as well. It was nice living in a bartering economy, especially since an hour of his time was worth its weight in gold.

He made a mental note to get Miko’s books while he was here, and a few other things. He might as well take advantage of being Earthside. He was also running low on the wax bottle candy he liked, but he would admit to loving them over his dead body.

“Nope,” Rodney said with a smirk. “They’re all chocolate, chips, coffee, yadda yadda, but no one remembers what you need on a cold lonely night when you’re too worked up to sleep and too tired to go find someone.”

John grabbed a wing, ripping the meat off the bones with his teeth to try and mask his jealousy at the thought of Rodney going to find someone on a cold lonely night. “Makes sense,” he said, grimacing at the sticky feeling on his fingers and grabbed a napkin to clean them.

“I’m surprised you didn’t know about that,” Rodney said, and John glanced up. “You know about most of the other ones.”

John shrugged. “Coffee, chocolate, all of that is one thing. Most of the Enlisted aren’t going to suggest porn to their CO, and I guess the scientists won’t either.”

Rodney watched him for a long second, fingers picking at one of the wings. John wondered what Rodney was looking for, sometimes it was so easy to read his face, and other times like now, it was nigh on impossible.

“Or they just assume you don’t need it,” Rodney said finally, eating the wing with gusto, dropping the bone back onto his plate.

“What do you mean?”

Rodney waved a hand, encompassing all of John. “Don’t tell me you lack for company.”

John shrugged, looking down at his plate. Rodney wasn’t wrong, some nights were cold and lonely, and he wasn’t against warming up with someone else and had never had any trouble finding someone. “Doesn’t mean I’m always looking for company,” John said finally, looking back up at Rodney. “I would have been fine with a solo night once in a while…I just…”

“Didn’t bring anything?” Rodney asked with a half-smile.

John shook his head in exasperation. “Didn’t even think about it, and when I tried to imagine when I’m tired, I ended up thinking about the Wraith or something.”

Or he would think about Rodney, and that was a guilt trip he didn’t always want to give himself, lusting over his teammate.

Rodney shuddered. “I think I had a sex dream about one once. It was the worst.”

“Chaya,” he replied with a grimace, still feeling slimy over that whole situation. The number of tests Carson had run on him after had been staggering, but John hadn’t minded. His memories of the entire thing were hazy as best.

“I want to blow her up,” Rodney muttered, grabbing the last mozzarella stick just in time for their burgers to come.

John felt full, but the sight of a real hamburger was enough to make him feel hungry again.

“You had sex dreams about her? Really?” Rodney asked twenty minutes later, both of them leaning back in their chairs, plates empty, and John was half worried that he would throw up if he burped. He felt fuller than he had in a long time, and not in a good way.

He nodded his head, dropping his head back and closing his eyes, letting the sound wash over him for a second. “A couple times, right after. Heightmeyer said it was my way of dealing with the trauma.”

Rodney snorted. “Anything she says is officially suspect now, after the whole Wraith thing.”

For a moment, John wanted to agree, but he sighed and lifted his head back up, catching sight of Rodney watching him intently. He looked back at him evenly, taking in the rumpled blue shirt under the equally rumpled green striped overshirt. The clothing was old and too big, making Rodney looked like he should be making millions in Silicon Valley, not running for his life in another galaxy. John wondered what Rodney saw when he looked at him.

“She was doing her job as she knew how to do it,” John said finally. “We asked her the best way to move forward with him, and that was her recommendation based on the information.”

Rodney sniffed. “Whatever,” he said dismissively, waving a hand. “I don’t want to think about that whole situation.”

“Fair, we can worry about it when the IOA calls us in again.”

The waitress came then, and John paid before Rodney got a chance, waving him off. “You’re putting me up. It’s only fair,” he said, and Rodney subsided. They sat in silence for a few moments longer, and John finally stood up, unable to sit any longer.

“Want to go for a walk before the movies?” he asked, needing to move or do something before he fell asleep.

Rodney groaned and stood up. “Fuck yes, I feel like I’m about to throw up.”

John dropped onto the couch with a groan, feeling even worse than he had after lunch. “I think I’m 90% popcorn at this point,” he said, sinking into the couch with a groan of relief as he toed off his shoes. “Teyla would be jealous.”

Rodney dropped down on the other end and nodded. “Would it be weird if I only brought back popcorn for her, for when I need her to be not mad at me?”

“I’m bringing Ronon back those heath bars he likes, so he doesn’t head butt me when we spar,” John said, closing his eyes and letting his head drop back. “Even if he does claim it’s by accident.”

Rodney hummed. “We should go shopping first thing tomorrow, don’t know how long we’ll have.”

John nodded and relaxed more into the couch, feeling content between the large meal, the two movies, and the unreasonable amount of popcorn they had just had. “We should just get a popcorn maker for the movie room,” John mumbled. “Like the movie ones, and just make everyone bring in their own kernels if they want to use it.”

“With the fake butter?”

“Mmhmm.”

“Okay,” Rodney said, sounding sleepy, and John rolled his head to the side, forcing his eyes open to look at the other man.

Rodney looked exhausted, bags under his eyes, and despite the large meal, his cheekbones were more prominent than John remembered. He looked worn thin, and John could imagine why. The past few months had been hard, and John hadn’t made it any easier. Even with the kick in the ass he had gotten. He opened his mouth and closed it again, not sure if he should break the peace between them.

Things had been going well, and John didn’t want to say something that would cause them to slide backward. But it was a Catch-22. If he wanted to be friends with Rodney, and maybe more one day, he had to be someone Rodney could rely on. So he had to take the chance he might fuck it up.

But, it was hard to forget Rodney’s shock and happiness when he had thanked him for the Orion earlier. It was obvious Rodney wasn’t used to people thanking him for going above and beyond. It made John want to say it more often, and he realized with a little bit of shame that he hadn’t often thanked Rodney.

“You okay?” he forced himself to ask, glad when his voice came out normal.

“Hmm? Oh, yeah, fine. Just tired,” Rodney said, not opening his eyes.

The couch wasn’t big, and John could see the fan of his lashes against his cheek. Somehow it made Rodney look delicate, even though that was usually the last word John would use to describe him.

“Sure?” he asked softly. “You look tired. And not no-sleep tired.”

Rodney tensed for a second, and John cursed himself before Rodney relaxed and shrugged. The silence grew, and John wondered if he had pushed too much too soon.

“It’s been a long couple of months,” Rodney said finally, cautiously. He opened his eyes and turned bright blue eyes towards John. “And the past few weeks have not helped.”

John met his gaze and nodded. “It has,” he said softly, slumping down into the couch more. He crossed his arms over his chest and tried not to feel like he was preparing to defend himself. “I’m here if you need to, you know…”

“…talk?” Rodney finished for him, sounding amused. But John was sure he could detect a hint of fondness as well.

“Yeah, that thing,” John said, aiming for humor, glad when Rodney smiled softly. “I’ve got great hearing.”

“Thought pilots were supposed to have good eyesight?”

“I’m special. I have both.”

“You’re something alright,” Rodney muttered, but the smile cut the jab. John couldn’t help but grin, winking at his friend before turning his head back and getting settled.

He let the silence fall, not wanting to push too hard. Whatever was going to happen would happen. He had offered, and that was all he could do for the moment. It was up to Rodney to take the step. For the moment, John was full, comfortable, and enjoying the silence after the noise of being outside on Earth, almost more people in one restaurant than there were in all of Atlantis.

“Weir keeps pushing,” Rodney said finally, and John turned back to Rodney, shifting up so he could turn his whole body, wanting Rodney to know he was listening.

He pulled a leg up and leaned back against the arm of the couch. He wished he had changed into his track pants before he had sat down. The waistband on his jeans was digging in uncomfortably. Rodney let out a long sigh and sat up as well, turning slightly towards him, his arms crossed, and shoulders hunched.

“I know,” he said when the silence lingered for a little bit longer, not sure what Rodney wanted him to say.

“She’s going to keep pushing, and it’s going to backfire on her,” Rodney said. “And she can’t even see it coming.”

“And that’s got you stressed?”

Rodney nodded. “I have my…issues with her right now, but I think she is, was a good fit for the city. But she’s not anymore, and she needs to realize that, but I don’t think she will. It’s frustrating because I have all these memories of how she was, and they’re not matching up to what’s happening now.”

John knew exactly what Rodney wasn’t saying. “If she doesn’t, there’s nothing you can do about it. She makes her choices, the same as the rest of us. Good or bad.”

“I know that,” Rodney admitted. “She was…is?…my friend, and I miss her as a friend. But it seems like no matter what happens, she’s looking for a way to blame me.”

“You’re an easy target for whatever reason.”

“We should have her checked out if she thinks I’m an easy target.”

John snorted. “Maybe, but you’re not military, and you’re technically her sort of equal, and so it’s easier to yell at you than it is to yell at me. At least she’s not yelling at other people yet.”

“I just keep hoping she does what you did, but she’s not,” Rodney said softly, relaxing his crossed arms a little bit and letting himself sink into the couch. “I don’t expect her to apologize for yelling at me about Doranda. Even if it was public, she was mad, and I understand that. It’s everything else I want an apology for. What she did was uncalled for and so unprofessional it makes me mad just thinking about it. She shouldn’t have dragged Radek into this.”

“Between you yelling, Lorne’s disappointed Dad face, Teyla’s you can do better Mom look and Ronon’s don’t be a moron stare, I didn’t have a chance,” John admitted, not even bothering to defend Elizabeth, he knew that Rodney was right. “I’m good at holding a grudge.”

Rodney snorted. “I figured that out, but I think I can out grudge you.”

“I haven’t talked to my Dad in over ten years,” John admitted. “Since I got divorced.”

“I haven’t talked to my sister in four years,” Rodney countered. “Why haven’t you talked?”

John bit the inside of his lip and looked down and away, shrugging and looking anywhere other than Rodney. “You know the story. Boy joins the military. Boy also likes boys. Boy realizes he can’t if he wants to keep flying. Boy finds a girl he likes enough to marry her. Girl thinks she’s pregnant, and the boy has a freakout and realizes he doesn’t want to be a Dad. Girl upset when it was a scare, boy more excited than he should be. He realizes he can’t make it work, divorces her, and takes full blame for it. Boy’s Dad is mad. Boy and Dad get into a stupid argument about making a marriage work and haven’t talked since. Last I heard, the Dad likes the ex-wife better and doesn’t mind that she kept the last name.”

John stopped talking into a stillness he didn’t think he could handle for much longer. He was sure people knew he was bisexual, but Rodney was the first person he had ever told, and he felt something heavy and cold sit in his gut as the silence stretched out. Eventually, Rodney let out a little huh, and John chanced a glance up at him, seeing Rodney watching him with an intense look John couldn’t name. It didn’t look like a bad look, John knew those intimately, and the heavy feeling lessened slightly.

“Boy should be glad he divorced,” Rodney said quietly. “Instead of bringing children into the world and spending the kid’s whole life-fighting in front of them and blaming all the problems on them.”

John had a sudden flash of insight into how life in the McKay household must have been when Rodney was a kid. He wondered why Rodney and his sister didn’t talk, but if Rodney didn’t want to share, then John wasn’t going to push it. “It’s also a bit rich considering my Dad’s on his fourth wife,” he said, instead. “I liked the third one the best, besides my Mom.”

“Why?”

“She bought me an apartment in DC,” he explained. “I left my wife, and she left my Dad the same month. She got me the apartment in commiseration, and as a little fuck you to Nancy who works in DC.”

“Does your ex rent the apartment?”

John shook his head. “I’m not that much of a dick. I rent it out to whoever pays for it. I don’t care.”

“Which one was your Mom?”

“The first,” John said. “She’s died when I was a kid.”

“I’m sorry.”

John shrugged his shoulders, not wanting to get into it too much, didn’t want to talk about the last few months when cancer ate her lungs and took her. None of them had truly survived her death.

“Your parents?” he asked instead.

“Dead. It’s best for everyone,” Rodney said.

“We make a fine pair,” John said, relaxing into the couch with a sigh. “Two sort of orphans.”

“Leading a city full of mostly orphans,” Rodney replied. “I checked before we left. The majority of the people on the city have no living family left, or if they are alive, they’re not close. At least for the First Wave”

“Same for the marines,” John said with a wince. “No one to miss them if they go missing.”

“That’s a bit dark,” Rodney replied softly. “But it fits.”

Silence fell between them, before Rodney let out a huff. “Sometimes I think it was a one-way mission, and sometimes I think that it wasn’t. I never know which one it is.”

“It wasn’t,” John replied. “O’Neill wouldn’t have let it happen.”

Rodney looked unconvinced but didn’t say anything else. John watched him, content to let the silence hang for the moment. John wondered if he had the same weary look that Rodney had right now, the weight of the world on his shoulders. It felt like it sometimes, especially in the last couple of weeks as he tried to get his feet under him again. The weight would last until he looked out a window, out across Atlantis, and a giddiness he hadn’t experienced since he was a teenager would wash over him, and everything would be fine for a moment. He wished he could look out a window right now, see her spires and the ocean stretching beyond and just relax.

“I miss my balcony,” he said suddenly, a little surprised that he had been the one to break the silence.

“I miss my bath,” Rodney admitted a second later. ”I looked through so many apartments once we opened up the tower until I found one I liked.”

“I did the same for the balcony,” John said. “I also managed to get one on the highest floor. It feels like I’m flying, the same as my office. I can only see the tops of the other towers aside from the main tower, and then nothing but ocean beyond.”

“Of course, you’d get one that makes you feel like you’re flying,” Rodney replied softly, his gaze on the wall, deep in thought.

John wanted to figure out what this moment was. It felt like there was something more to it that the surface conversation. Both of them were speaking softly, each word carefully chosen. John had had more than his fair share of lovers and had fallen in love more than once, but he had never felt the trepidation he did now, not even sure if Rodney felt the same. Hell, he didn’t even know if Rodney was bisexual. He wanted Rodney to feel the same as he did, but he also didn’t want to ask. Schrodinger’s Love.

He didn’t reply, not wanting to ruin the comfortable silence. Not when they needed to stand united in front of the IOA, and he was still wary of pissing Rodney off. He slumped to the side, resting against the back of the couch, still facing Rodney, and let his eyes slide half-closed. It was so easy to watch Rodney, even in stillness. John was endlessly fascinated by him, more so since he had admitted what he felt. Rodney watched him back, bright blue eyes intently looking for something John couldn’t name. He surprisingly didn’t feel judged right then.

It was peaceful. The room dark save for the light from the hallway, the rush of traffic outside acting like white noise for them. John found he didn’t even miss the steady presence of Atlantis in the back of his mind. John wasn’t on call, and he wasn’t someone the SGC would even think about if something went wrong. He could feel the tension leaking out of his shoulders with each passing moment.

“So,” Rodney said sometime later, the noise outside the window fading more as the night gave way to midnight. “Boy likes boy?”

John smiled; not surprised Rodney had picked up on it. “Or girl.”

“Or girl,” Rodney repeated, eyeing John. “Meaning?”

John shrugged. “Boys not picky, as long as they’re interesting.”

Rodney hummed and closed his eyes again. “Why’d you tell me? Aren’t you worried?”

“No.”

The smile Rodney tried to hide caused John to John smile as well. He shifted, stretching his legs out so he could poke Rodney with his foot. He waited until he had Rodney’s attention before speaking. “Things have been…difficult lately.”

John paused, knowing he was putting it too lightly, but Rodney looked at him with an expectant gaze, clearly content to wait and see what he had to say.

“But you’re still my best friend,” he said softly. “And I was a dick, and I am sorry for that. It’s a part of me that’s important to me, and you need to know so you, as my best friend, can wingman me appropriately.”

Rodney huffed in laughter. “I doubt you need a wingman.”

“Even I strikeout,” John muttered, trying not to look at Rodney too obviously. “Not that everyone believes me. I’m not everyone’s type.”

“They’re stupid then,” Rodney replied. John blinked and opened his mouth and closed it again, not wanting to get into that right then. “But, I can wingman you if you want. Got your eye on someone on Atlantis?”

John bit the inside of his cheek to stop from saying ‘you’ and shrugged, not bothering to give voice to a lie.

Rodney was watching him, gaze intense, and he let out a little hum in the back of his throat, the same one when he was working something out and was so close to finding it. “Lorne’s not bad looking,” Rodney said instead.

“Chain of command is a thing,” John replied dryly. “Also is reporting back to O’Neill.”

Rodney didn’t look surprised at that news. “Fair. He is mighty pretty though.”

John didn’t want to read too much into that comment, and he let it slide, ignoring the little bit of hope. The silence picked back up, and John looked down at his hands, beginning to feel sleepier as the night grew longer. He had gotten a second wind during the first movie, and it was finally starting to fade away, leaving the same bone-deep weariness that he had felt before. He was growing used to it these days.

“Teyla’s gorgeous,” Rodney said awhile later, looking at John expectantly. It was the same look Rodney had when he was working on a puzzle he wanted to crack. It should have made him nervous, but John just smiled.

“She is,” John admitted, before he grimaced, thinking back to the kiss he had forced on her when he was converting and the awkward conversation that happened after. “She’s turning into a sister, I think, or what I assume having a sister is like.”

“Bossy, constantly disappointed when you don’t read her mind and prone to hitting when she’s mad?” Rodney asked, and John grinned.

“Only with a stick.”

“Definitely a sister then,” Rodney murmured. “Miko?”

“Interested in Parrish, or dating Parrish? I’m not sure which one that is. All I know is that she was really grateful that he wasn’t dead with the rest of Lorne’s team.”

“Really?” Rodney asked, lifting his head, waiting for John’s nod. “Good for her. Simpson?”

“O’Neill’s other spy. My CO doesn’t need to know anything about me in that regards.”

“I wonder if she thinks she’s sneaky about it,” Rodney pondered, not looking surprised. “Ronon?”

“Always wanted a little brother.”

“Zelenka?”

“He’s smart, has pretty blue eyes, both are things I like. So maybe if he wasn’t also crushing hard on Marie,” John admitted, feeling pinned under Rodney’s gaze.

“The nurse?”

“Mmhmm.”

“How do you know all of that?” Rodney asked, lifting his head to stare at John.

“I pay attention,” John said, and it was true for the most part. “Also, Stackhouse is the worst gossip, and he tells me in exchange for patrol duty near the Anthropology labs, he’s got his eye on Dr. Song.”

Rodney snorted. “Of course.”

Silence descended, and John could feel himself drifting off. He crossed his arms and shoved his hands into his armpits, warding off the chill that was seeping in from outside.

“What month is it?” he muttered suddenly, looking over at Rodney, who frowned.

“Don’t remember,” Rodney admitted, causing John to chuckle, Rodney joining a second later. “One of the cold ones, I’m assuming.”

Rodney sighed and stood up, and John suddenly felt the chill even more fully, and he tilted his head back slightly so he could look at Rodney. “Tired?” he asked, stretching his legs out all the way now that he had the room.

“Yeah,” Rodney admitted. “The idea of just collapsing in bed sounds really appealing.”

John nodded. “As soon as I can force myself to stand up, I’m going to go crash.”

Rodney nodded, watching him for a long moment, and John raised an eyebrow at him. That seemed to shake Rodney out of his thoughts, and he stepped forward. Before John realized what he was doing, Rodney kissed him before pulling back, looking worried.

John gaped up at Rodney with wide eyes.

“What?” he asked, hearing the confusion in his voice. He felt tense, confused, but there was a part of him that was thrumming with excitement.

“I’m still…upset,” Rodney started, each word carefully spoken. “I liked you a lot more than a friend before all of this, and even with everything, I still do, and I sort of hate myself for it because I always told myself I wouldn’t be that person, but apparently I am. You apologized, and not many people do that to me, so it makes you stand out even more. I think you’re interested, and it might not be a good idea, but I’d like to add something more to us while we work on us. And I think you want too as well. I’m smarter than Zelenka and I have blue eyes.”

John blinked. And blinked again. And before he realized what he was doing, he reached up and grabbed the front of Rodney’s shirt and pulled him down into a kiss. Rodney flailed, dropping one knee to press into the couch next to John’s leg, his arms gripping the back and arm of the couch to steady himself. The kiss was chaste, and John was too tired and too full to do anything more, but it lingered until he pulled back and nodded. For a moment, he thought about making some speech about how much he wanted this, what Rodney meant to him, but words seemed too hard right then.

“Yes,” he said instead.

Rodney’s smile made the simplicity worth it.

Seven

John was surprised when the SGC summoned them the next day. They were in the middle of buying out the local grocery store of food they wanted to bring back and had to scramble to pay and race back to the apartment to grab their bags. They had an hour to get to the SGC, but John felt antsy at how quickly it happened. He had been anticipating them to have a few days, at the bare minimum.

Rodney seemed as out of sorts as he was, shooting him confused looks as they piled into the car. The looks continued through the drive, through handing off their bags, and only stopped when they were shoved unceremoniously to the same meeting room from the day before.

The group that they met was different from the day before. John hesitated in the door for half a second before he continued in, nodding to O’Neill, who looked content which helped John relax somewhat.

He sat down, and Rodney slid into the seat next to him. He did his best to keep his face blank, but Rodney didn’t bother as he frowned at the assembled group. Neither of them spoke, waiting for someone else to start talking.

“Colonel Sheppard, Dr. McKay, I am Dr. Elena Roth, and I am the United States’ new representative with the IOA. Thank you for coming back to talk to us again, especially on such short notice,” a pleasant-looking black woman in her mid-50’s said.

John nodded his head. “Ma’am,” he said for lack of anything else to say, wanting her to control the conversation.

“Starting from the right is Colonel Boris Yanovich of Russia, Dr. Liao Zexi of China, Esmee Howard of Great Britain, Dr. Côme Sartre of France, and Cohen Bondar of Canada.”

John nodded at each of them, frowning a little bit at all the new faces. He could feel Rodney tense next to him.

“Sirs, ma’ams,” he said, unsure if he should stand and salute. He glanced at O’Neill again, who shook his head slightly, and John stayed in the seat but sat up a little bit straighter. He had known the previous IOA and how to deal with them. The newcomers had him out of sorts.

“I’ll cut straight to the chase,” Roth said, the same pleasant expression on her face which hid everything and made John warier.

“As I am sure you can deduce, we have replaced the previous IOA board. We are still waiting on one more from the UK, but we felt it would be prudent to come and talk to you since the two of you and the situation on Atlantis was the catalyst for this decision.”

John still didn’t speak, but he nodded and was glad when Rodney chose to keep quiet and nod as well. Roth smiled and inclined her head, leaning back in the chair. Dr. Sartre, a middle-aged white man with white hair than gray, leaned forward, pushing up his glasses.

“We, and the varying Leaders of our countries, are concerned by our predecessor’s willingness to experiment on sapient life,” he said, his English almost flawless.

Rodney snorted. “Really?” he asked skeptically.

Sartre nodded his head. “I understand your skepticism, Dr. McKay, especially in light of the previous IOA’s decisions. However, as Earth plays a more powerful role in Galactic politics, it has come to our attention that such decisions could change people’s opinions of us, and we wish to avoid that.”

“You mean none of you want to become known as the Joseph Mengele of Space?” Rodney snapped.

John bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smirking, glancing over at O’Neill, who didn’t hide the grimace on his face but kept quiet.

Sartre merely nodded. “Correct.”

Yanovich, a tall thin man with heavy-set eyebrows and a hard expression, spoke up. “The Wraith are nightmares, but they have culture, yes?”

“As far as we can tell,” Rodney replied warily. “We don’t exactly sit down and chat.”

“No, I wouldn’t suggest it. Their teatime would be much different than ours,” Howard said, a short fair-skinned woman said.

“So…” Rodney said, trailing off and looking around the room.

“So,” Roth said, speaking back up again. “We do not want to have that reputation, not even for an enemy that cannot be reasoned with.”

“What does that mean for us?” John asked, looking around the room. He felt like a mouse in a trap, and his shoulders hurt from how tense he was feeling.

“It means that as far as we’re concerned, Dr. McKay acted appropriately in the face of danger to the city and should be commended,” Roth said evenly, smiling at the two of them. “The two of you had issues with the experiment, issues that were appropriate and should have been taken into account.”

Rodney leaned forward. “There’s more. Nothing is ever this easy.”

“Unfortunately, yes, there is more,” Howard agreed.

John noticed that the China IOA rep hadn’t spoken yet, neither had the Canadian rep, both of them watching the room with hard eyes. They seemed to be content to watch for the moment, and it made John’s hackles rise.

“The way the Charter is set up, there is little we can do without destabilizing what you currently have,” Howard explained. “It was created that way, and with the distance and power requirements, we are loathed to do anything to disturb the city.”

“Okay, well, that’s good,” Rodney said easily, still looking around. His shoulders seemed as tense as John felt, and he wanted to reach out and press a hand between his shoulder blades to calm him down. He curled his fingers into his pants instead. “Would you stop beating around the bush and get to it?”

“Dr. Weir is a problem. Her emotional reactions may be erratic, but she has done nothing to warrant her removal,” Howard said bluntly. “She pushed against you two, and she did so with the full backing of the IOA, and we cannot censor her for that.”

“Well, yay,” Rodney muttered, rubbing a hand over his face before pinching the bridge of his nose. “So nothing changes?”

“Yes and no,” Roth said with the same emotionless smile. “You and Colonel Sheppard will be going back to Atlantis with our full support. We don’t want anything to change because we want to see if Dr. Weir will return to who she was when she was chosen for this mission. She did well when she led the SGC, and we wish to see her do the same on Atlantis. However, we will be keeping a close eye on her, and you will be as well.”

John looked around at everyone, including O’Neill, who looked a little pinched around the mouth, but he didn’t seem surprised at the IOA asking them to spy. John felt disappointed but pushed it down. Even O’Neill had to answer to people. John sighed, fighting the urge to slump down in his seat, realizing that he and Rodney were on their own for this. “That is not going to help our working relationship.”

“Non,” Sartre said and shrugged. “But we cannot help it. We do not wish to perpetuate the idea that one of you three needs to be spied on, and she will be reprimanded for her actions regarding Dr. McKay. However, there is nothing against the three of you maintaining a series of internal checks and balances. For the good of the City.”

There had been a brief moment when John had hoped that things would get better with the new IOA, but looking around at them, he felt that hope die.

“That’s the stupidest fucking idea I’ve ever heard.”

Thank fucking God for Rodney.

John saw everyone in the room tense up, except for O’Neill, who smiled and leaned back as if that was precisely what he had been expecting. O’Neill looked at him and winked, and John suddenly felt like a pawn in one of his and Rodney’s chess games, powerful sometimes but also easy to use when needed. He fought the urge to narrow his eyes at his CO and instead turned and looked at Rodney, who looked pissed off. John tried to ignore how good the man looked when he was mad at other people.

“Do explain, Dr. McKay,” Roth said, her voice and smile less pleasant now.

Rodney leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table, and linked his fingers together, taking a moment to gather his thoughts. The calm before the storm.

“Dr. Weir is terrified, and I can only assume that’s what’s making her act irrationally. I don’t like it, especially since it’s directed towards me for some reason, but I can understand because our situation is terrifying. Every day is something new, and this past year and a half have been terrifying and amazing in equal measures. It is hard where we live, harder than any of you will ever be able to imagine.”

Rodney paused and looked right at O’Neill. “And that includes you. For you, Earth has always been a gate trip away, and you don’t have to worry about the power requirements. We don’t have that luxury. We still don’t have that luxury if something urgent happened. You can’t guarantee us a ship if we need help in time.”

O’Neill seemed taken aback for half a second before he inclined his head, and Rodney’s lip curled up before he looked back around at the group.

“She’s terrified, and she’s decided we’re her enemy. We’re going back, and that’s not going to help. The change in the IOA is not going to help. She is going to be thrown off balance in more ways than one, and you want us to spy on her?

Here, Rodney’s voice rose finally, thunderous and angry, and it made more than one of the IOA members blink in shock. John had a feeling that whatever warnings were in Rodney’s file never captured the scope of his rage, nor how it was face to face.

“It’s only going to make her more paranoid and consider Sheppard and me to be her enemies,” Rodney continued, his shoulders tense. “And what you morons fail to consider is that we’re not the only three people on the City. We are the three leaders, and you want to send us there and create a situation between us that will only lead to more problems.”

Rodney’s tone was hard and clipped, each word like a shot, and from the shifting, some of them were starting to hit.

“You replaced the old members of the IOA because their actions led to the preventable death of a member of the Atlantis Expedition, and now you want us to create a situation that will lead to more deaths? If you dislike this job so much, turn it down and bring in someone willing to do it,” Rodney finished sharply.

The room was silent for a moment before Roth exhaled in irritation. “I think you are a being bit pessimistic, Dr. McKay.”

Rodney snorted. “I think you’re a fucking idiot if you don’t see how spying on Dr. Weir will make her more paranoid and more prone to picking fights with both myself and Colonel Sheppard about things she has no business and no experience picking a fight about. And eventually? It will happen when time is the one thing we don’t have and seconds count, and those seconds we waste because of your decisions will cost lives.”

Yanovich inclined his head. “Important seconds are not only SGC trait. Is in all military.”

“Exactly,” Rodney replied before looking back at Roth. “Is that what your intention is?”

Roth leaned back and exhaled, face impassive and all trace of geniality gone. “No,” she admitted after a few seconds.

“Dr. Weir is irrational,” Bondar said, speaking up for the first time. “She needs to be watched.”

“So monitor her outgoing emails like you already do, and keep an eye out for reports, don’t expect us to spy on her because you’re too lazy to do your job,” Rodney snapped.

“Colonel Sheppard,” Howard said, smiling at him with a smile John had seen on most of his step-mothers. Cold, emotionless, and fully aware of the power they held. “Do you agree with Dr. McKay?”

John shifted in his seat, forcing himself to look thoughtful for a second before he nodded.

“I do, ma’am,” he said, meeting her gaze evenly. “I think if we want Atlantis to succeed, we need to have the three of us working in harmony like we were able to in our first year and the beginning of this year. I feel if we don’t, what Dr. McKay is worried about will come true.”

Howard hummed, reminding John of the nuns at the private schools he had attended. “Dr. Weir has often been vocal in her trust in your leadership of the military, but I am worried that this irrationality may have started happening earlier than we assume.”

As far as threats went, it was by far the least subtle. He waited for a second to see if O’Neill would speak, but when nothing happened, he just shrugged. “Maybe, but I like to think that my record while the acting Military Commander of Atlantis speaks more than someone’s words do. After all, we are all here because we are good at our jobs, not because we knew the right person, correct?”

He looked around the table, looking at each person evenly, seeing people shifting. He knew as well as they did that backroom deals to advance in life were common, but no one spoke of them. It wasn’t polite, and it would be admitting to the dirty laundry no one wanted aired, especially from a council that was so new.

John looked back at Howard and shrugged, giving her a smile his Dad had taught him. “If you feel that Dr. Weir was incorrect in recommending my appointment as the Military CO, I am sure General O’Neill would be happy to give you a copy of my unredacted SGC file. Unfortunately, I do not think his clearance extends to my military career pre-SGC, so you would need to talk to Dr. Roth about that.”

“I wasn’t allowed to look at it,” O’Neill said, speaking up for the first time. “Which makes me very interested in what was in it.”

John smiled blandly and shrugged. “I don’t know, sir. I just go where they point. I’ve forgotten most of it.”

O’Neill snorted, and John wondered if the man had a copy of it somewhere, without the black lines. Probably gotten after the drone attack the first day John had flown him to the Antarctica base. John had always prided himself on his skills as a pilot, and despite the black mark, few disagreed with him.

“It has been made very clear to me by the Air Force Chief of Staff that I am not allowed to see those parts of your file,” Roth said, her voice tight. “And to forget anything I do hear.”

John shrugged. “Then I guess you’ll have to decide my posting from my SGC file and what you can see from my main file.”

John felt Rodney’s knee knock against his, and he knocked back, appreciating the show of support Rodney gave him. He kept his eyes on the IOA members, knowing if he looked at Rodney, then he wouldn’t be able to hold back his amusement, and he needed to keep it up for the moment. Rodney might be willing to yell and call people idiots and use logic to get his way, but John had always preferred to go the nice route. Smile and be as polite as possible, so the other person looked like an asshole.

Roth leaned back and tapped her fingers against the table, glancing around at the other members who had tight looks on their faces. Howard, in particular, looked like she had swallowed a lemon. John knew that this IOA might have new faces and new shiny words, but they were just the same as the old one.

“This is useless,” Dr. Liao spoke up finally, looking around the room with hard eyes. “We will not be removing Colonel Sheppard. We know this. He is the best candidate, at this time, and discussing anything otherwise right now would be foolish. He is not the problem at hand, nor is Dr. McKay.”

Liao looked back towards the two of them. “Dr. Weir is a problem. However, as we stated, she has not given us proper grounds to remove her. If Dr. McKay had fired Dr. Zelenka, this would be a different conversation, but since he is not pressing charges, we cannot follow up with that.”

“So you want us to do it for you?” Rodney demanded. “No.”

John shook his head. “I’m not comfortable with this.”

“It’s a witch hunt,” Rodney snapped. “And I am not going to throw her in a lake and call her a witch if she floats.”

Sartre sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Dr. McKay, that is not—”

“That is exactly what you’re doing,” Rodney interrupted. “As soon as you asked us to spy on Dr. Weir, it turned into a witch hunt. Trust me, she is not my favorite person right now and hasn’t been for a while and probably never will be again, but I won’t sink to her level. She either does her job, or she doesn’t, and I’m not going to create a situation where she will fail.”

“It would make your life easier,” Bondar attempted. “According to the charter, you would take over the expedition if something were to happen to Dr. Weir since you are the next ranking civilian.”

“And I don’t want the job,” Rodney replied. “I can and will do it if I have to, but I will do everything in my power to make sure that that situation never happens. As for making my life easier, what would make my life easier was if I didn’t get pulled from my job in another galaxy to come here and trade hidden barbs back and forth with you idiots.”

Rodney held up a hand to forestall Roth from speaking. “Look, like I said, I don’t like Dr. Weir. But I’ve always prided myself on getting to where I am based on my merits and not by finding ways to throw people under the bus. I am not going to start now. If you don’t like that, tough shit.”

With that, he leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest, a mulish expression on his face John was all too familiar with.

“I agree with Dr. McKay,” John said, not looking at O’Neill. The General made him feel like a pawn in a hidden war where hopes and wishes were his only weapons, and he had no clue what O’Neill wanted out of all of this.

The silence stretched between them, John and Rodney sitting under their gaze easily. John wanted to remind them that they had come up against Wraith Queens before. This IOA had nothing on a Queen. They might wish they could, but they couldn’t suck the life out of him with a touch.

“I told you,” Liao said, speaking up again, looking smugly around the room. He stood up and nodded towards the two of them. “As I told everyone. Many of the problems you two now face were due to your inability to break under pressure. I didn’t think you would cave, and I am glad I was right.”

He fell silent for a second, and no one else spoke before he nodded his head again. “You two will be heading back to Pegasus tomorrow. Nothing changes as long as you continue to do your jobs. We will have Colonel Ellis deliver our wishes to Dr. Weir in person before he leaves so that you may try and regain your working relationship.”

Roth huffed at that but stood up as well, looking irritated at the whole situation, but almost oddly as if she respected them. “Do your jobs, and hopefully Dr. Weir will do hers, and we will be done with this. But we are watching, Colonel Sheppard, Dr. McKay, and if the situation is untenable, then we will take action.”

John stood up when everyone else did, nodding as they left without another word, sitting only when the door closed behind them. He dropped his head back with a long sigh. “That was fun.”

Rodney patted his leg, and oddly enough, that helped John settle enough to lift his head and look at O’Neill. The General had been quiet for most of the meeting, and John couldn’t help but feel nervous. He was basically new to the SGC, and unlike everyone else, he had never actually served in the mountain. Everything he knew, he knew from second-hand accounts and what he could figure out from the after-action reports.

Rodney however…

“So what the fuck are you up to?”

John really appreciated Rodney.

“What do you mean?” O’Neill asked, leaning back and smiling at the two of them. Somewhere along the way, he had lost his jacket, his collar a little askew, giving him an absent look. John wanted to know who believed that. “I’m just here for the show.”

Rodney snorted. “And I’m the fucking Prime Minister. Try again.”

O’Neill shrugged. “I wanted to make sure the IOA didn’t try and fire Sheppard. I like him in Atlantis.”

“Mmhmm.”

“Don’t believe me?”

“Try again, Grandpa,” Rodney snapped. “I’m tired, and my patience is running thin.”

“This is you patient?” O’Neill asked, shooting John a look. John nodded, causing O’Neill’s eyebrows to rise.

“Everyone here has got an agenda,” Rodney said bitterly, rubbing both hands over his face with a long sigh. “What’s yours?”

There was a wealth of history in that sentence that John suddenly had a thousand questions for, and he wondered if one of them would answer why Rodney wasn’t backing down. Especially when he saw the shadow of a grimace on O’Neill’s face. The General leaned back in his chair, fingers tapping on the table before he shrugged his shoulders and stood up.

“I want Atlantis to succeed. The City deserves to have a population that treats it well,” he said, smiling at the two of them. John didn’t believe it for a second. “Which is why I’m going to be allowing you two to go back by the gate, not by ship. The City needs you, and the IOA shouldn’t have brought you here.”

Both John and Rodney frowned at that, glancing at each other before looking back at O’Neill. “You have three hours. I’d suggest going and getting some more food to share. Or whatever it is that is needed on the black market there.”

With that, O’Neill left, and John glanced at Rodney, who looked as confused as he felt. He didn’t know what to make of everything. He didn’t know what was important and what wasn’t because he didn’t know the political landscape of the SGC, and he knew Rodney didn’t either. He wondered if asking Lorne would yield any useful information or not. He figured he might as well try when he got back.

He stood up, feeling weary and wanting to go back to the night before, to the kiss and the couch and a good night of sleep. It sounded amazing to him. “Come on, let’s go shopping. Get out of the mountain,” he said, wondering if the sensation of everything pressing down on him was in his mind or not.

Rodney nodded his head after a few moments and stood up as well, stretching. “Might as well do something useful on this trip,” he said bitterly.

John knocked his shoulder against Rodney’s. “C’mon, we can get coffee. At a Starbucks.”

At least that got him a smile.

“So what’s up with O’Neill,” John asked as soon as they were safely in the nosiest part of the mall they could find.

“Fuck if I know,” Rodney replied, keeping his voice down as they sat down, bags filled with random things that had caught their eyes held between their legs.

John didn’t think the SGC was spying on them, but he knew nothing about the new IOA, making him nervous. He didn’t know their game or what they wanted, and he didn’t trust them. It had been by unspoken agreement they needed to go somewhere noisy just in case. The mall on a Saturday afternoon was perfect.

“I don’t know anything about the SGC, not really,” John muttered as they sat, each of them holding large coffees, trying to stay awake. “Only what I learned from the brief time I was on Earth after the first year. I’ve never even served there.”

Rodney hummed and took a mouthful of his coffee. “I forget that sometimes,” he said after a few moments, switching the cup from hand to hand in a nervous gesture. “You just accept stuff and move on without worrying about it. Honesty, you roll with this stuff better than most in the SGC.”

John shrugged. “I spent the first month talking myself out of a panic attack most nights,” he admitted softly. “I think if Sumner hadn’t died, then it wouldn’t have been as bad. Well, it would have, but not like this. Instead, I was in charge of a city that I knew nothing about and in a situation, I knew nothing about, leading a bunch of marines.”

“Who you knew nothing about?” Rodney finished with a half-smile.

John snorted and shook his head. “I’d been on missions with varying branches before, so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. I was the only Air Force officer on the whole City until Lorne and Rutherford came in. That’s fucking weird. Especially since O’Neill and Landry are both Air Force. I don’t get it. All the people in charge are Air Force, and then everyone else is Marines?”

“All of them?” Rodney asked with a frown, and John nodded.

“With the notable exception of Sumner, everyone who has been the ranking CO of an SGC base has been Air Force. And most of the officers are Air Force anyway. Me, Landry, O’Neill, Mitchell, Carter, Davis,” John said, rubbing his chin. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, if it works, it works, especially since we’re not ground combat like the Marines are, and it’s not like there was a lot of flying initially, but you’d expect to see some higher ranking marines. Aside from Colonel’s Sumner and Everett, I don’t think I’ve seen a single other Marine higher than possibly Major. “

“What about other countries.”

John shook his head. “Same thing, mostly ground combat, nothing Air Force or their version of it.”

“Is that relevant?” Rodney asked, still looking confused.

John sighed and took a mouthful of his drink. “No, I just don’t understand it. I understand at the beginning, it was an Air Force project, and they wanted to keep it in-house. But now? I don’t know. The whole makeup is off. Maybe I would understand it more if I had spent time in the SGC.”

Rodney sighed. “I can’t help either,” he said with a grimace. “I mean, aside from it being military, I spent most of my time at Area 51 or Serbia. I hated Serbia, but I made a lot of money there, so it wasn’t the worst thing that happened to me.”

“Right,” John said, leaning forward. “So we can assume a lot is going on that we don’t know about because no one told us, or we weren’t part of the SGC, not the way everyone else was. And I mean literally everyone else.”

“Even Radek spent more time in the SGC than I did,” Rodney admitted. “He spent six months there when I was in Serbia.”

“Right, so cool. We’re the odd kids out,” John muttered, rolling his cup between his hands.

They fell silent, watching the people around them. John’s mind was spinning. So much happened in the past 48 hours that he didn’t know how to process everything. Between the volcano, coming back to Earth, talking with O’Neill, the first IOA meeting, everything with Rodney, and now this? He wanted to crawl back into bed and go to sleep and ignore everything but the thing with Rodney. Because right then, as small and fragile as it was, it was the only good thing he had.

“Not that big of a change for me,” Rodney finally said. “Being the odd man out.”

John glanced over at him and saw the pained look on his face, raising his eyebrow in question. Rodney shook his head and looked to the side, and John filed it away for another day, another time and place when they had the time and the absolute privacy of being back on Atlantis.

“I’m surprised they left us in charge,” Rodney said instead. “Of course, if we don’t know what to look for, then they can slide things past us.”

“Question is, how paranoid do we become?”

John wondered if Rodney was as uncomfortable as he felt with so many unknown people around him. He was so used to knowing everyone that seeing the strange faces made him itch and want to run. John suddenly missed the pier at sunset more than he had thought he would, of the peacefulness of it. Even though the conversation had been hard, talking with Ronon and Teyla as the sunset had been relaxing. He had no doubt it would have been better if Rodney had been there.

“I don’t know,” Rodney said finally. “I don’t know how to come to the right answer. Do we become paranoid about a feeling? We don’t have a basis for that feeling, and while O’Neill is a good person, I know that he puts Earth’s safety above everything else. We also have to deal with the new IOA, and we don’t know anything about them. Do we let it go because Earth is so far away and what happens there won’t affect us for a little bit?”

“Not far enough away that the Trust didn’t try and bomb and implant Caldwell to do it,” John muttered. “So clearly, Atlantis is important to everyone. For better or for worse.”

“What else is new?” Rodney said, bumping his shoulder again John’s. “People always want the city.”

“Bringing us back to, why the fuck are we in charge? If they pulled me for Lorne, it would be fine. He’s got a strong expression of the gene, and he’s obviously loyal to O’Neill. I don’t know who could replace you, though,” John said.

Rodney let out an exasperated huff. “I don’t know. Carter could replace me well enough, I suppose, especially since it’s not a potential one-way trip this time.”

They lapsed into silence for a moment before Rodney bumped his shoulder. “You’re needed, more than you think you are. The City isn’t coded to Lorne the way it is to you, and everyone knows that. You woke her up, not us.”

“You…”

“She didn’t start responding until you moved off the gate room floor. I don’t think there are sensors in the gate room for a reason,” Rodney said, looking at him. “John, if you weren’t there. We would be dead.”

“You…” he tried again.

“Elizabeth was able to visit the past because of your gene and your flying abilities. If you hadn’t come, we all would have drowned, Elizabeth wouldn’t have gone back, and Janus wouldn’t have helped her raise the City. There would be no split timeline. As it is, that alternate timeline will never hear from that version of us, and if they try and dial the gate, they won’t be able to connect. It’ll fade back into myth, and we’ll be written off. KIA,” Rodney said solemnly, and John swallowed, looking to the side and away from the intense look.

He sometimes forgot how immense everything could be with the SGC, just how big and broad the universe was, and it made him feel small. John put his drink down and dropped his head into his hands, taking a couple of deep breaths and wondering if going back to the nightly breathing exercises was something he should consider. “Looks like we’re going paranoid.”

“So now we have to worry about Weir and the SGC?” Rodney asked.

“No, yes, I don’t fucking know, but something was up at that meeting, and I don’t know what,” John said, grabbing the bags and his drink to stand when one of the parents started looking at the two of them a little too warily. “He looked pleased when you started arguing, and there were multiple times he could have spoken up, but he didn’t, and I want to know why. I don’t expect him to fight my battles, but it just felt off.”

“Right,” Rodney said and shook his head, copying him and falling into step next to him. “We’re going to keep talking this in circles, and it’s not going to solve anything.”

“So what?”

“So we don’t have enough information, so we find that out and then make a decision,” Rodney said, steering them towards the candy store with a smug smile. “You going to ask Lorne?”

John followed, heading towards the chocolate and grabbing whatever looked the nicest and shrugged. “I want to, and I might. It depends on how I go about it,” he admitted. “I do want to know how the SGC works, and I can use this as a reason. You gonna ask Simpson?”

“Nah,” Rodney said. “I’m not worried. I think she likes working under me better than Lee.”

“Really?” John asked skeptically, and Rodney nodded.

“Yeah, I don’t stare at her tits all day, it automatically makes me better, or so I overheard,” Rodney replied. “The Atlantis knitting group is really loud and meets right below under my balcony. I don’t have the heart to tell them. Nor do I want to. The gossip is amazing.”

“High praise,” John said, grabbing a few more bars and following Rodney around the store with a basket.

John glanced over to where Rodney was looking at a chocolate display before stepping to the side and grabbing the one candy he had loved since he was a kid.

“You like those?”

John looked up and saw Rodney looking at the packet of wax bottles in his hand, and he shrugged. “Honestly, yeah.”

“Why?”

“I uh…I like the way the wax feels when you chew it.”

Rodney looked at him, his mouth opening and closing a few times before he frowned. John dropped the packet into the basket.

“So what, we go back, we talk to Lorne, and then we figure it out from there,” he said, desperate to change the conversation.

Rodney watched him for a second longer before making his way to the counter without saying anything. John followed, almost running into him when Rodney paused and dropped the entire stock of wax bottles into the cart before going to pay. John ducked his head and smiled, rubbing a hand over the back of his head.

“What else can we do? Scream and run away?” Rodney asked once they were out of the store.

John snorted. “Weir might like that, but I’ve got a feeling Teyla would take over and then send Ronon to hunt for us.”

“Really?” Rodney asked, looking pleased. “She would?”

John nodded. “She’s team, McKay, she knows how vital you and I are to running the place, others be damned. People in Pegasus know us, know you, me, and Teyla. We get asked after more than any other team. For better or for worse, we’re famous.”

Rodney smiled and ducked his chin, staying silent as they made their way out of the mall and back to the car. He kept quiet until they were on the road back to the base before he spoke again, looking out the window.

“It’s nice, having friends,” he said softly. “People who I can count on and who count on me.”

“We know we can count on you,” John said.

“Until I fail,” Rodney said. “That’s always how it goes. I’m as good as my work, and as soon as I fuck up, that’s it, gone. It’s happened more times than it hasn’t. I learned the hard way not to trust people, and they would always leave when I didn’t do what they wanted. Learned really quickly to fuck them back harder.”

John’s understanding of the past few months suddenly changed drastically, seeing it in a new light. He felt guilt course through him, wondering if McKay had thought that about him, that he was just willing to leave him behind without looking back. And John couldn’t deny that part of him had, in his own way.

“I’m sorry,” he said softly into the silence.

He kept his eyes on the road, finding it more comfortable to talk when he wasn’t looking at Rodney, not that it helped his imagination at all. He could easily picture Rodney’s blank face in his mind. He hated seeing it. Rodney was full of passion; his face was expressive and hiding everything behind an expressionless mask looked wrong. He preferred the yelling, by far.

“You know, you’re the first person to apologize and stick around after,” Rodney said, his tone full of wonder and amazement. “No one else has done that. Ever.”

John swallowed and shrugged. “You’re my best friend,” he said, turning into the complex for Cheyenne mountain and holding out his pass. Rodney leaned over and held his out as well, both of them waved through a second later. “I just needed to get my head out of my ass, so thank you for that.”

Rodney sorted next to him, and John glanced over, seeing the same thoughtful expression John had seen the night before when Rodney had kissed him. He swallowed and parked the car, turning it off and gripping the wheel in both hands. “That’s…that’s not the reason you uh, did what you did?”

He rubbed a hand over his mouth, hoping Rodney got it. They were on the base now, and he had his career to think about, and he was even more aware of it than he had before. So many unknowns and he didn’t want to give anyone fodder to throw at him.

Rodney let out a disgusted noise. “Pretty but dumb as a rock,” he muttered, reaching over to punch him in the shoulder, lightly.

“What does that mean?”

“It means that…that it isn’t new, okay? I told you I had had feelings, and I meant it,” Rodney said, cheeks heating. “You being mad at me hurt a fuck ton worse than anyone else, for more than one reason.”

John nodded, not having any reason to disbelieve Rodney, not about this. “Okay.”

Rodney eyed him but nodded his head before getting out.

O’Neill met them in front of the gate, jacket back on and collar tidied up, looking every inch the Homeworld Director he was. John dropped the two bags he was now carrying, glad he had bought the second, nodding towards O’Neill and wondering what else he was going to say. Rodney was talking to Lee about something, both of their arms waving as they waited for Walter to get the go-ahead to dial Atlantis. John was content to keep quiet, to let O’Neill talk first, and he let the silence stretch before O’Neill quirked a smile at him.

“You remind me a lot of myself,” O’Neill said. “Good and bad. At least from what little I was able to find out until the Joint Chief’s told me to fuck off.”

“Thanks?” John said, not sure if that was a good thing or not. He didn’t know anything about O’Neill. He didn’t have the clearance or the pull to find out, not unless he wanted to open doors he didn’t want to go near again.

That got him another smile. “The good thing is that, like me, you’ve got good people on your team.”

O’Neill said that with a glance towards McKay that seemed a little skeptical, and John nodded, staying silent. He knew that he did. The three teammates he had were his family and his best friends. Even Ronon, who was new but had slipped in seamlessly.

“Remember that and always have their backs,” O’Neill said, looking up at the gate as they dialed. “Things will get bumpy, but if you’ve got a good team, things will be good.”

John nodded again, feeling his cheeks heat with a little bit of shame. “I learned that lesson, sir,” he said a little dryly.

“Right. Good.”

The silence continued as the gate finished dialing, and Rodney came and stood with them. O’Neill reached over and slapped his back once they had the go-ahead, and John had grabbed his bags. “Also, remember to trust your second in command. They tend to know more than you realize.”

John raised an eyebrow at O’Neill. “Is that so?”

O’Neill nodded. “From now on, I’ll be sending you the same information I’m sending Lorne.”

“How come both of us?”

“So Lorne can act as your go-between until you understand more about the SGC,” O’Neill explained. “Now go home.”

Eight

John felt Atlantis settle over him like a favorite blanket as he stepped back through the gate, the tension leaving his shoulders almost instantly. He nodded to the marines on duty and handed his bags off with thanks. He turned to see Elizabeth appear at the top of the stairs, a second too late to hide her look of shock and disappointment. It was gone by the time she made her way down the stairs to them.

“Colonel Sheppard, Dr. McKay,” she said smoothly, nodding to both of them. A glance at Rodney told him that his friend wouldn’t be speaking anytime soon. “Welcome back.”

“Elizabeth,” he said with a forced smile, nodding his head to her. She might not be willing to make this work, but he was damned if he was the one that dropped the ball. “Happy to be back. It’s amazing how much you can miss home in such a short time.”

Elizabeth hummed in agreement before glancing at Rodney, who managed to nod. She nodded back before looking back at John. “It’s late. Debrief in the morning?”

John nodded, checking his watch. It was after midnight Atlantis time, and the city was mostly asleep. “Of course, there should have been a data dump with the dial-in with everything that happened if you want to get caught up.”

Elizabeth nodded tightly, turned, and left quickly without another word. John waited until she was gone before rubbing a hand over his face, looking around the room.

“Valdez,” he called, the short woman jogging over to him, saluting when she got closer.

“Sir?”

“Is Major Lorne on the city?” he asked tiredly, saluting back and trying to look more awake than he felt.

“Yes, sir,” she replied. “He got back in a few hours ago.”

John nodded his head, dismissing her with and jerked his head to Rodney, the two of them starting to walk. He knew it was late, but he made a call for someone to deliver some food to his office.

“I need to talk to Lorne,” John admitted when Rodney looked at him. “Before tomorrow. O’Neill said to trust him. He’s going to be sending me all the information he sends Lorne, but Lorne will have supplemental information.”

“Do you trust him?”

John thought for a moment before he shrugged. “To do his job, yes. To have my back? Not yet, but I have to start somewhere.”

Rodney sighed. “That might be for the best. Maybe. I don’t know. I can’t tell if I’m too good at this paranoid thing or terrible at it.”

“Fucked if I know, that’s what I’m hoping to find from Lorne, something to start pushing me in the right direction,” John said before he rubbed his chin, the two of them walking in silence. John let it linger, and Rodney didn’t seem inclined to speak either.

They stopped in front of the transporters, and John glanced around to make sure they were alone before stepping closer. Rodney didn’t take a step back, which John was glad for, but he did notice the wary look shot his way. John wanted to make that look go away, but he knew that it would take time. He watched Rodney, wanting to see him in Atlantis’s lighting while remembered their kiss. Some romantic part of him wished that it had been on Atlantis, but he was happy that Rodney had initiated the kiss.

“I feel like I’ve let a lot of people down because I didn’t educate myself when I should have,” he admitted finally. “And that’s on me, and you’re not the only one I’ve let down because of that. And it ends now.”

Rodney nodded his head, eyes narrowing slightly. “So what are you going to do?”

John managed a smile, even though he felt like he could feel the weight of his stupidity on his shoulders. He knew he was a better Commander than he had been, but he could be better. “I’m going to go and dig all the dirt I can out of Lorne and then call it a night. In the morning, we’ll deal with Elizabeth, and we’ll go from there. I’m hoping she gets a wake-up call and likes us again.”

“Don’t hold your breath,” Rodney muttered. “She’s dug into the trenches and can’t see the sky anymore.”

John nodded and glanced around again, double-checking they were alone. “I can hope.”

Rodney scoffed and shook his head but didn’t say anything, which John appreciated. He knew that he was holding onto that hope more than he should, but he had liked Elizabeth. He wanted them to be able to work through this and work together again.

John smiled at Rodney and stepped in a little bit closer, making his intentions clear. He raised his eyebrows and waited for Rodney to nod before John leaned in, kissing him chastely. It was a mirror to the one on the couch, a soft kiss that spoke to more in the future.

He wanted to deepen it, but he stopped himself and stepped back. This wasn’t the time, and John didn’t want to rush Rodney. He wanted them to be on the same page, and he wanted this to work. He loved Rodney, and he was going to do his best to make sure Rodney was comfortable with him. Rodney deserved to have something good, and John wanted to be the one who gave it to him. Rodney smiled softly, some of the tension gone from the corner of his eyes, and John knew he had made the right choice.

“Night,” he said softly, reaching out a hand to squeeze Rodney’s.

“Night,” Rodney replied before stepping into the transporter and hitting the button. Right before the door closed, John caught a glance of Rodney’s fingers pressing against his lips, smiling widely. It made him grin before heading to a different transporter to get to his office.

John radioed Lorne as soon as he got to his office, letting his XO know he wanted to talk ASAP. He settled in, wolfing down the sandwiches someone had brought him. He felt out of sorts, his body clock all over the place, and exhausted from everything that had happened. He settled back in his seat and looked out the window, sipping at the Athosian tea he preferred to coffee. Lorne wandered in a while later, looking tired and hair still wet from a shower. He nodded and stood a seat, back straight and eyeing John warily.

John took another sip, savoring the sweetness from a local fruit as he watched Lorne, who watched him back. John let the silence hang, trying to figure out how he should start this conversation. He liked Lorne, and he knew a lot of the city did as well. Lorne was easy-going and made friends a lot easier than John did. But he reported to O’Neill, which made John wary.

It went back to what Rodney had said. How paranoid did he have to become?

“Do you know anything about my record before the SGC?” he asked finally, cupping the tea between his hands, taking comfort in the warmth, knowing he needed to take the steps and start trusting Lorne. Regardless of everything else, he and his XO needed to be on the same page.

Lorne shook his head. “No sir, I just know that you took over for Colonel Sumner after the Incident.”

John bit back the smile at how Lorne phrased him shooting Sumner, but he nodded unsurprised. “Do you know what happened the first time I stepped through the gate?” he asked instead.

“I’d imagine the same as everyone else. A new planet that looked like Canada.”

John snorted, wondering why people kept forgetting that he hadn’t been at the SGC before Atlantis. “I woke the city.”

Lorne blinked at him, mouth parting slightly before he closed it with a frown, looking confused. “Sir?”

“The first time I stepped through the gate, it was to Atlantis, the second time to Athos, the third back to Atlantis, and the fourth time to the planet with the Wraith hive. All within a day,” John explained before letting out a sign. “It was a hell of a first day.”

Lorne looked more confused. “Sir?”

“I found out about all of this about three months before we left Earth,” John said after a moment, glancing out the window and wishing the sun were up so he could see the city better. “I’ve never served in the Mountain. I’ve never done time on the SG teams until I found myself here in charge of men I wasn’t supposed to lead.”

Lorne was quiet as he watched John, his eyebrows furrowed. John let him look, not sure where this conversation would take him, but he had always trusted his gut, and his gut was telling him to lay it all out on the line. He needed to extend the olive branch to Lorne before he asked for the same back.

“I was the only member of the Air Force on the city and wasn’t in the chain of command. Hell, I wasn’t anywhere near it. I got command because we had two Lt’s, no Captains, and I was the only Major, and Ford was not ready to lead,” John explained.

Sumner was taken, and John had fallen back on his experience, and no one had questioned it even though he was technically outside the chain of command. “I had the experience to lead because I had done it before on Earth, at least with small groups for missions, but I had absolutely no experience with the SGC or how anything worked. From my understanding, it’s worked in my favor because Pegasus is different than the Milky Way. Or so I’m told.”

Lorne nodded. “So why tell me this?”

“We’ll get to that in a bit,” John said, trying to figure out how to explain his career without actually offering up any information. “Do you know why I was in Antarctica?”

“I heard rumors about a black mark, but nothing official, aside from what O’Neill told me before I came here.”

John nodded. “Essentially, I ignored orders, stole a helicopter, and then flew to rescue a few of my team who had gone out on a mission while I was on another mission. Got hit by an RPG, crashed the helicopter, found all of them, and they were dead except for two, and when we tried to escape, Insurgents took us hostage. One of the men I rescued died the first week we were POWs.”

Lorne blinked. “How long?”

“Four weeks, not that long, but also long enough,” John admitted. “We got lucky, and the place got raided by some SEAL’s on a different mission. They brought us back, and if I had had the support needed and if I had been able to go when I asked, it was obvious that those men would still be alive, and everyone knew it.”

“The one you brought back?”

“Dead, infection they couldn’t control due to his injuries. Too little and too late,” John said softly, taking another sip, trying to push back the memories of Holland’s last breaths, John begging him to hold on. Of Dex’s feverish cries as fever raged through his body, asking for anyone to help him. Of Mitch’s glassy eyes staring at the sun through the roof of the helicopter. He shook his head and set his cup down, trying to ignore the slight tremble in his hands.

“So I got in trouble for stealing a helicopter, given a black mark instead of a court-martial, and sent down South to cool off before I’d be sent back to do what I do best. Or what I did best.”

“Which is?”

“Special Reconnaissance,” John explained, hiding a smile at Lorne’s surprise. “I’m a hell of a good pilot, but I’m also a fucking good soldier. The SR was a good fit for me.”

Lorne sat back, watching John warily. “So once again, why tell me.”

“Because every single bit of experience I’ve ever had before Atlantis was for Earth and Earth only. Most of the time, I led small teams on very classified missions that no one can talk about. Not even General O’Neill has access to my full file, and he damn well tried,” John said to Lorne’s growing shock. “Nothing I’ve done has in any way prepared me for this, except for the killing. To date, I’ve made it because I’ve gotten lucky, and that ends now.”

“Sir?”

John leaned forward, clasping his hands together and pinning Lorne with a gaze. “I haven’t been a bad Commander, but I could be better, and the people here deserve it. It’s come to my attention that there is a lot I don’t know. Some because there was no way for me to know, some because I didn’t educate myself, and some because I’m a stubborn bastard.”

“So, what do you want from me?” Lorne asked, sitting up a little bit straighter, his face smoothing out.

“O’Neill informed me he’s going to be sending me the same information that he sends you, but you’re going to need to help. I need to know everything going on at the SGC. How it works, the major players, what’s going on behind the scenes. I’ve read the reports, but you know as well as I do, there is much more happening. I know Atlantis because that’s all I’ve known, but a lot is moving behind the scenes at the SGC that I don’t know about because I never served there, and I am sick and tired of being a pawn in a game I didn’t realize was playing.”

John knew he sounded angry, and he didn’t care. He was pissed off that people were using him in a game where he didn’t understand the rules. He leaned forward a little bit more, knowing the tension in his shoulders was obvious. “O’Neill told me I could trust you, but right now, I don’t trust him to have my back. However, Teyla likes you, and that’s good enough for me.”

Lorne leaned back in his chair, letting out a long breath. John wondered what sort of picture he made and what Lorne thought of him. John had years of experience in the military, as a soldier, as a pilot, and he had excelled. His career had almost been textbook perfect until the one incident, and now that was all anyone saw, and John had let it define him. He had gotten lazy and complacent. John could be better, he had been better, and he knew the people around him deserved him at his best.

He hadn’t failed, but he hadn’t excelled, and that was over. John Sheppard did not leave men behind.

Lorne exhaled sharply and nodded. “Well, the first thing you should know is you were on General O’Neill’s radar before the incident at the Ancient outpost. He sees the records of every soldier that serves at McMurdo for obvious reasons. It’s my understanding that you might have stumbled into the program, but he wanted to invite you to join the SGC when you finished your time at McMurdo. We don’t have special forces in the SGC. We’re sort of our own special forces, but we haven’t got any SEALs, Rangers, Delta Force, and so on. Hell, I think Sumner was the only Force Recon Marine we had.”

“That’s really fucking stupid,” John snapped. “The Stargate is exactly the sort of thing those men trained for. Not brand new babies.”

“I know, but unfortunately, the SGC does have a high causality rate. You might be interested to know that Atlantis is actually losing fewer people than the SGC, but it’s also newer, and we do have some benefit from their fuck ups, so it’s hard to tell,” Lorne continued. “But there’s not a lot we can do to mitigate it. You know as well as I do, sometimes brand new societies don’t take strangers well, and they will shoot first.”

“So let me guess,” John said with a groan. “They would rather not send out the very well trained and expensive assets into a situation where they could lose money.”

“That’s the short of it,” Lorne explained. “You surprised?”

“No, SEAL’s are expensive,” John muttered.

“So Special Reconnaissance.”

John grinned. “We’re a little less crazy, or more depending on who you talk to.”

Lorne snorted and shook his head. “The General’s been trying to recruit people from Special Forces, regardless of the branch.”

“How’s that going for him?”

“Not well.”

John nodded, unsurprised, and leaned back in the chair, waving a hand for Lorne to continue, trying to look relaxed so his XO would relax as well.

“I spent a year as the General’s XO while he was in charge of the SGC,” Lorne explained, watching John as warily as John watched him. “I worked mostly in Intelligence when I was stationed overseas, my old CO knew General O’Neill and recommended me when the General was looking for people with those skills.”

“Why?” John asked, a little surprised at the information he was getting.

“The Galaxy is a big place. The SGC needed a dedicated intelligence group, especially since the NID is useless,” Lorne said. “And since I was his XO, I had access to a lot of the same data. He transferred me to Atlantis once we knew that you’d keep command.”

“To keep an eye on me.”

Lorne grimaced. “And to help. The Wraith is a whole lot of ugly none of us were prepared for.”

John nodded his head. He couldn’t argue with that.

“You’ve heard about the Trust,” Lorne explained. “The Trust is becoming a bigger problem than we thought it would be. They keep getting funding from somewhere, and they always seem to have the information we need. Colonel Caldwell was just a drop in the pond as far as the General is concerned. We have ways of checking for a symbiote, but it’s also not the hardest to circumvent as you saw, especially if you know how we work.”

John grimaced and nodding his head. Not even Atlantis’s life signs detectors had been able to tell them apart until Rodney had fixed them, and he had been very glad when it had turned out that no one else was implanted on the city. Now they checked every single person who came onto the city from the Milky Way, both with the detector and a full-body scan. John wasn’t taking any chances, and neither was Rodney.

“So what’s that got to do with McKay and me?”

“Well, sir,” Lorne said, stilling as his eyes darting to the side. “You two are outsiders.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” John said evenly, not surprised in the slightest. “Please.”

Lorne looked a little bit guilty before he continued. “Dr. McKay doesn’t have the best record with the SGC, and a lot of people were thankful he went to Atlantis. He did a lot of work for Russia until he got brought back because he was advancing Russian’s program more than the US wanted him to, without even realizing it. He just kept going and going.”

“Sounds like McKay,” John said.

Lorne smiled at that. “Pretty much his MO.”

“And I came in last minute, no ties or anything,” John said. “That’s what you’re getting at, no ties?”

Lorne nodded. “As far as anyone knows, neither of you have a family you’re close to. I know you have a Dad and a brother but haven’t spoken to them in ten years for unknown reasons, and McKay hasn’t spoken to his sister in a while either. Neither of you is wealthy, but financially you’re secure, especially since you both have property, better now that you’re not spending money. No children, no partners. No gambling, drug, drinking, prostitute, or other habits that anyone can exploit. Neither of you quests for more power, but you’re both comfortable being in charge. McKay is difficult to work with and he is smart enough that if he’s given technology, he will find a way to use it against whoever takes him. Not to mention the added training you gave him for field work makes him a much harder target. You have a lot of military training, and we know from the Genii invasion just what you’re capable of when you’re alone. Both of you are hard targets. ”

John was starting to see the picture, and he rubbed his forehead and let out a long slow groan. “So no one can blackmail us, kidnapping is an option but not the best, and neither of us can be threatened with our families because we essentially don’t have one.”

Lorne nodded. “Basically, yes.”

“So why is this a good thing?” John asked. “And what does it have to do with the Trust.”

“Well, it didn’t, not at first,” Lorne said. “You two were a good choice for Atlantis because you were the sort of loners this Expedition needed. McKay can run a whole science department by himself without issues, and you’re known to make friends easily, but neither of you has problems being alone. You could run the city without much supervision, and you’re both morally upright enough that the General doesn’t need to worry about anything on that front. Neither of you is going to try and become a new god, not even McKay.”

John suddenly felt very tired. “Okay.”

“And then Caldwell happened, and the two of you made it, so it is near on impossible to infiltrate Atlantis with the Goa’uld.”

“So now we’re a refuge?”

“Yes,” Lorne said. “The General has Atlantis as a possible backup should everything else be lost.”

“I’m glad I knew this. It really makes my job easier,” John muttered sarcastically.

Lorne winced.

John dropped his head onto the desk, giving up on the pretense of decent posture for the moment. He took a deep breath, wondering if it was possible for his bones to be tired. He took a couple of deep breaths as he tried to reconcile everything Lorne had told him. A lot of it was things he did know. John had never been one to spend his money on stuff, preferring to squirrel it away or not spend it. He didn’t need things, and he had retirement plans once upon a time, but now he had no clue what his future would hold. He couldn’t see himself living anywhere but Atlantis.

“That’s not all,” he finally said, lifting his head and pinning Lorne with a glance. “Why is he so smug about the IOA.”

“Well, that’s because you and McKay managed to do what he needed without even trying.”

“Which was?”

“Replace the IOA.”

John could feel a headache forming. “Why?”

“We were never able to prove it, but as time went on, the IOA started to become more argumentative over things that hadn’t previously been an issue. The General is increasingly worried that they’re Trust.”

“Not Snaked?”

Lorne shook his head. “No, the IOA is a little bit high risk for that.”

“And the Captain of one of only two working spaceships isn’t?” John demanded.

“Not the same way. From my understanding Colonel Caldwell was able to get away with it because he was gone from Earth so much,” Lorne explained. “He was able to stay on his ship most of the time and wasn’t subject to a lot of the scans, nor did he spend much time around Teal’c.”

“Is that important?”

“Teal’c can sense the symbiotes since he used to carry one himself,” Lorne explained.

“That’s not creepy at all.”

John hated the Wraith, but the more he heard about the Goa’uld, the more he would take the Wraith any day. The Wraith would eat you, but they couldn’t take over your body and pretend to be you. He felt violated just thinking about it.

“So, we got him a new council,” John finally asked into the silence. “He didn’t look smug until we kept fighting with them.”

“Because of Weir.”

John regretted not going to sleep. “What about her?”

“O’Neill doesn’t like her, never has. He doesn’t hate her, but he thinks she rushes into things without proper planning because she gets excited and ignores a lot of procedures. And the old IOA backed her because of reasons we can’t figure out,” Lorne explained.

John thought about how much she could push when she was into something, and he nodded. “Okay.”

Lorne shifted in his seat, suddenly looking more uncomfortable than he had been throughout this whole meeting, and it made John sit up, something in his gut telling him he wouldn’t like whatever came next. “What,” he asked when the silence stretched longer, and Lorne shifted again.

“He doesn’t want her in charge,” Lorne finally said.

“Weir?”

Lorne nodded. “Yes.”

John frowned and leaned back, rocking in his chair and fighting the urge to pace. “Rodney and I fought against spying on her. Why would he be happy about that?”

“I haven’t read the file he sent me about what happened,” Lorne started slowly. “But from what I know about the General and the situation we’re in, all I can guess is that she hasn’t fucked up badly enough for outright removal, but he does want her gone. And he wants her gone in a way no one can question it, and she can’t get her job back.”

“He doesn’t want it traced back to him.”

“No.”

John wanted to throw both O’Neill and Weir off the pier and let them duke it out as they fell instead of dragging him and Rodney into the middle of it. He rubbed both hands over his face. “So, because of Rodney and I, he has a new IOA that isn’t kissing her ass, which means she’s walking on thin ice. Which is even thinner because she is responding to a lot of trauma with a bunker down mentality, and she’ll see McKay and me as adversaries instead of friends.”

“Yes.”

“You know,” John said conversationally, his voice a sudden muted blank that had Lorne stiffen slightly. “Usually, when I’ve been ordered to kill someone, I do it quickly.”

“Sir?”

John suddenly reached for his laptop and typed quickly, fingers flying like he was Rodney. He could see Lorne looking at him in confusion out of the corner of his eyes and then consternation as John finished. Before John could press send, Lorne’s hand shot out and grabbed his wrist, both of them stilling.

“Sir,” Lorne said, licking his bottom lip, not letting go of John’s wrist. “Maybe sleep on it?”

John watched him for a long moment before pulling his hand back and letting out a sigh, knowing that despite how much he hated it, Lorne was right. He really shouldn’t send his CO the email he was about to send. Not if he wanted to keep his commission.

John stood up, suddenly and completely done with the conversation for the day. “When you contact the General again, can you tell him I’m glad he’s working in DC now because he fits right in with all the politicians.”

“The General is just doing his best,” Lorne said neutrally.

John smiled humorlessly. “Lorne, he maneuvered me and McKay into position to help him remove someone from power that he doesn’t like. If that’s not political, I don’t know what is. He might not even realize it. His hands might be clean, but mine won’t be, and I’m not going to forget that. Frankly, right now, I don’t give a flying fuck if he likes it or not, I’m pissed off, and he can kiss my ass.”

“Well shit,” Rodney said, slumping back after John finished recounting what he had learned.

They had met for an early breakfast before the sun was up in Rodney’s room. John hadn’t slept a lot due to what Lorne had told him. He had tossed and turned, waking up between dreams more pissed off than before. More than once, he had reached for his laptop, wanting to send the General the email he had written. Eventually, he deleted it to avoid temptation, shut his computer down, and forced himself to try to sleep. For all the good it did him lying in bed and staring at the ceiling.

“I know,” he said, slouching down on the couch in Rodney’s room, feeling exhausted and out of sorts. All he wanted to do was crawl back into bed and have a moment. Just one little moment where he could relax. The last few days felt like they had stretched into infinity and not in a good way.

“So what, O’Neill is making us do his dirty work?” Rodney said, his voice somewhere between outraged and exhausted.

“Not that anyone would say it like that, but yeah,” John said softly, dropping his head back with a groan.

Rodney sighed. “Of course.”

The amount of resignation in his voice made John even more tired, and he looked over at his best friend and reached for his hand. “Are you surprised?” John asked, squeezing Rodney’s hand carefully.

He had come to the realization somewhere between dream two and three that what annoyed him the most was the complete and utter lack of surprise. Another CO threw him under the bus. At least this time, O’Neill was doing in a way that he wouldn’t be thrown to the ass-end of nowhere when it ended. He was already there.

“No,” Rodney replied. “You?”

“No,” John admitted. “I’m just hurt.”

Rodney shrugged. “I’m not…look, I know he doesn’t like me, but he does think I’m useful. I don’t even blame him. He’s got the whole planet riding on his shoulders some days. It’s easy to forget, and it’s not exactly like we’re good friends.”

“I just thought O’Neill was better,” John said bitterly. “I thought I could trust him to have my back.”

“For what it’s worth, I think he does.”

John shook his head. “He might for some things. But asking me to do this is shitty, and there is no fucking way that he doesn’t understand that. He knows exactly what he’s using you and me for, and sure he might care, but he sure as hell isn’t going to stop it.”

Rodney was silent, and John let it sit, not wanting to try and figure out the General’s intentions. John had always found a certain amount of pride each time he was promoted, but as he was inching towards stars and saw more and more of what people thought they could get away with, the less he wanted it. He didn’t want to sit behind a desk and make decisions for others. He wanted to be in the field, leading people into the fray.

“I’m going to retire,” he said softly, looking up at the ceiling.

“What!” Rodney demanded, sitting up and glaring at him.

“What?”

“You’re not fucking retiring. You’re not leaving me here with them!. Don’t get me wrong, I love Teyla and Ronon, but there is no way in hell the rest of them are worth it,” Rodney said, pointing a finger at John and glaring.

John opened and closed his mouth before shaking his head. “Not now,” he managed to get out before Rodney worked himself up into another rant. “I mean before I become General. I don’t know what happens when someone pins the stars on your collar, but I don’t want any part of it.”

Rodney pinned him with a glare before he subsided. “Good,” he said before he sighed. “I don’t…I feel like there is more than Lorne doesn’t know, or we’re missing. There had to be.”

“Why?”

“Because O’Neill might be a General now, but he’s just as done with the bullshit as everyone else is, I don’t think he’s changed that much. There has to be something we’re missing,” Rodney said softly. “There has to be.”

“No, there doesn’t,” John muttered as he stood up and began to grab the plates. “We’re just caught in the middle of O’Neill and whatever bullshit he has with Elizabeth.”

Rodney stood up and started to help, shaking his head. “I think there’s more. There has to be. We don’t know what happens at the SGC. It just seems like a whole lot of bullshit to remove the IOA and Elizabeth. Maybe something to do with the Trust?”

John could feel the same stupid stubbornness that made him ignore Rodney for months beginning to take ahold of him. It wasn’t a road he wanted to go down, and it wasn’t a road he could afford to. He forced himself to settle down and finish stacking the plates so he could calm down. He looked up at Rodney when he felt he had his temper under control and found him staring at his plate with a frown.

“What could it be?” he asked after a moment of just watching. “It’s not like Elizabeth is Trust. She’s not snaked. We doubled checked everyone. And even if they had snaked her, you’d think a Goa’uld would love a Wraith, more than a human.”

Rodney hummed. “Reason the Goa’uld love humans is because we’re more compatible for some reason. They burn up a lot of other people.”

“Wraith are human/Iratus hybrids. I think it could work. Could you imagine a Wraith Queen with a Goa’uld?” John asked, shuddering.

Rodney shivered and looked down at the plate he was holding before handing it to John. “I don’t know. Maybe he’s worried she’s Trust.”

“I just think she’s scared, and she can’t move past it,” John said, part of him still wanting to believe the best of Elizabeth. They had been through a lot together in the past years, and he would be damned if he let some General try and force him to make it worse for her. “It’s making her paranoid, and she’s looking at everyone like we’re enemies.”

“She needs to figure it out or go,” Rodney snapped, grabbing his jacket and pulling it on. “I’m scared as well, but I’m not letting it ruin my career.”

John watched as Rodney finished getting ready as he shoved his feet into his boots. “You’re not going to back down, are you?”

Rodney paused in the middle of zipping up his jacket, watching John for a second before he shook his head. “No,” he said. “I’m not doing that again. She can ask me; she can make suggestions, but she doesn’t get to bowl over me like my opinion means nothing.”

“Why did you?” John asked. “Not the Michael thing, but other times. We both looked to her as the leader instead of a peer, and I know why I did it, but why did you?”

Rodney shoved his hands into his pockets and sighed. “I know exactly how much work I can be, and sometimes it was easier to let Elizabeth run roughshod over me to keep the peace, but I didn’t expect her to keep being so,” Rodney trailed off with a groan of frustration. “I didn’t realize it would set this precedence that I was a pushover.”

John nodded. “And now?”

“Now, if she makes an argument that makes sense, I’ll listen. But I’ll be damned if I let another Michael situation happen, and I’ll be damned if I let her continue to treat me like I’m some school child. I deserve more than that,” Rodney snapped, setting his jaw in a way John knew meant war. “And you?”

John blinked at the snapped question. “And me?”

“Are you going to keep letting her dictate military actions?” Rodney demanded.

John could see the muscle in Rodney’s jaw twitch as he clenched his teeth. “No, I meant what I said. I want to be a better commander, and I’ve been trying, and I think I’m doing better.”

Rodney watched him for a second before he nodded. “Good. Let’s go, the meetings in 10, and I need coffee to deal with this.”

“You think it’s going to be bad?”

“You don’t?”

John wanted to argue that it wasn’t, but he shook his head with a sigh, knowing he would need coffee as well. Whatever power Elizabeth thought she had had with the IOA was gone, John had no clue how she would react, and he knew he needed to prepare. He hoped, he hoped above hope, that she would do something sensible, but he had a feeling that it wasn’t going to be that easy.

The meeting went as well as Rodney had expected it to go. Elizabeth looked drawn, almost vibrating out of her seat with poorly concealed anger. There were more lines around her eyes and mouth, and she looked exhausted. She had been quiet as Rodney explained what had happened to everyone else. Teyla, Ronon, and Lorne looked relieved, but Carson had looked outraged.

“All experimentation of the Wraith retrovirus is going to stop,” Rodney said, looking directly at Carson, whose face flushed red with anger. Rodney shook his head before Carson could open his mouth to argue. “For fucks sake, Carson, the Wraith are living, breathing creatures. They have culture, they have words, they have a society, and you want to experiment on them. How does that make you any different than the Asgard that cloned O’Neill?”

“They eat us!” Carson said, his voice an octave higher than it had been, his face red.

John had hoped that Carson had changed his mind. He had seemed wary when they had talked in the aftermath, but now it felt like he had backslid into anger over his experiment.

“Carson,” Rodney interrupted both of them before they could speak again. “That doesn’t change the facts. The SGC has had a long-standing policy to not experiment on sapient life without permission, and the Wraith, if we like it or not, are sapient.”

Elizabeth finally spoke. “If you hadn’t murdered the only proof we have that Carson’s retrovirus works, then we wouldn’t be having this argument again.”

Rodney groaned and shook his head. “I didn’t murder him.”

“You killed him!”

“Which is not the same as murder, a distinction I’d like you to remember,” Rodney snapped.

“This is my city, and I am in command, and you had no right to do what you did. I don’t care what the IOA says.”

“As soon as Michael picked up a gun, it was a military situation, so you had no say.”

“You don’t get to decide what is and what isn’t a military situation,” Elizabeth snapped.

John dropped his head back with a long sigh he didn’t bother to hide, trying to think of a new way to explain how wrong she was without making it worse.

Rodney spoke before John had a chance. “Where did you serve?”

Elizabeth looked confused. “What?”

Rodney smiled thinly. “I asked, where did you serve?”

“You know I didn’t serve,” Elizabeth snapped, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Then what the fuck, pray tell, makes you an expert on what is and what isn’t a military situation? I’ve gone out on more missions than you ever have and have been in actual space battles and on a battlefront, and I wouldn’t know how to decide if it was a military situation or not. That isn’t my job, it’s Colonel Sheppard’s job, and you keep trying to do his job for him. Stop it!”

The room’s silence felt oppressive, and Elizabeth wasn’t the only one shifting in their seat as Rodney continued.

“It was a clear military situation; it became one once the second we lost control. It should have been one the entire time. Colonel Sheppard decides the military situation because he has the training and the experience to do that. I decide when it is scientific because I have the training and the experience to do so. You have neither,” Rodney said, staring straight at Elizabeth, who flushed red with anger.

John could swear she looked ashamed for a second, and he wondered if they were finally getting to her.

“He was confused!” Elizabeth yelled, standing up and glaring at Rodney, the shame fading to anger

John tensed, wondering if he was about to break up a fight, but Rodney stayed where he was, glaring at Elizabeth, who glared back. Rodney stayed quiet, not needing to say anything. Michael hadn’t been confused, he had been remembering, and no one could argue against that, not even Carson, who was watching the interaction with a look that spoke of both confusion and anger.

“I am in charge of this city,” Elizabeth began, only for Rodney to cut her off.

“Then act like it.”

Rodney was quiet, but his words echoed around the room, and Elizabeth reeled back as if struck, her eyes narrowing. John knew that whatever the relationship between Rodney and Elizabeth had been, it was gone, and it was never returning. Elizabeth kept glaring at Rodney, not backing down and not sitting down either.

“Homeworld Command and the IOA are worried,” Rodney said, finally breaking the gaze and looking around. “They’ll be reviewing all files we have for currently active projects to make sure nothing else like this is happening.”

“Who did you bribe to do that? Are they going to give you favorable reviews?” Elizabeth asked snidely.

“I don’t need to bribe people for my job. I earned it and kept it because of how good I am at it,” Rodney replied evenly.

“Doranda.”

Once, the word would have been a gunshot in a quiet room, but now it was just a word. The anger and the disappointment were long gone, replaced with other disappointment. Even Rodney didn’t reel back from it anymore, just watching Elizabeth with narrowed eyes that were beginning to fill with pity. “Science fails Dr. Weir, more than it succeeds. The fact that that is the only thing you can bring up says a lot more about you than me.”

Elizabeth snarled, and John blinked in surprise, sitting up and wondering if she was going to lunge over the table at Rodney. Lorne looked worried as well, body tensed next to John, and he could see Carson lean back as if he wanted to be far away from Elizabeth.

“Elizabeth,” Teyla said softly, breaking the tension in the room. She didn’t say any more, and she didn’t need to. The admonishment was obvious even to Elizabeth, who left without another word.

The doors closed behind her, and John let out a long sigh, rubbing a hand over his jaw. He watched as Rodney sat down and dropped his head into his hands, looking as worn out as John felt.

“She won’t back down,” Radek said, speaking up. “The stubbornness is good sometimes, but not now.”

“You did destroy the bloody solar system,” Carson muttered.

“And you helped kill half a world’s population,” Rodney replied, lifting his head and looking at Carson. “ At least mine was uninhabited.”

Everyone winced at that, and Carson went pale, spluttering, but Rodney barreled on. “Fact of the matter is, out here, sometimes intention matters a lot more than results. I didn’t intend for it to happen any more than you intended the Hoffan situation, and holding it against me is just a petty attempt to try and get me to cave in to something else dangerous. And I will not. No more Wraith experimentation and I’m not going to change my mind, Dr. Beckett.”

John watched as Rodney dropped down onto the couch next to him, dropping his head back and relaxing, some of the tension leaving his body. But not enough, he still looked strung out, and John felt the same way.

“She’s not…” Rodney started to say, only to trail off with a groan.

“Yeah,” John said, allowing himself to slump to the side, pressing up against Rodney.

Rodney tensed for a moment before he relaxed with a sigh, leaning against John. “She’s…I don’t know what she is, but she needs some help.”

John hummed and relaxed more against Rodney. “Do we need to talk about it?” he asked softly. “I haven’t slept properly in a week, I feel gate lagged, I’m a bit hungry, and I am tired of talking about Weir. Also, I’m pretty comfortable right now.”

“How can we not?” Rodney asked, but John could see the flush of happiness on his cheeks. “She’s the main problem right now.”

“I know,” John said, turning his head and looking at Rodney. “I just think I’m more interesting.”

He grinned up at Rodney, who rolled his eyes and let out a disgusted noise. “I can’t even deny it.”

That made John grin, and he looked at Rodney, who was looking to the side, towards the window. “This whole thing feels like I’m back in high school,” he admitted.

“I wish I had someone as hot as you pressing up against me in high school,” Rodney muttered. “I mean, at least when I got to the right age for high school. Which would have been when I was in college and a little weird.”

John knew Rodney had gone to college early, but he had never asked. “That young?” he asked.

Rodney nodded. “Yeah, had a nanny living with me until I turned 18, which was also when I was working on my first Ph.D. They put me in the dorms to help with my social abilities.”

“Did it help?”

“What do you think?”

“I think I’ve known a lot of smart people over the years who don’t know how to talk to people,” John admitted. “So I think it did.”

“How did you know so many?”

John shrugged. “Not as bad as you, but I skipped freshman year of high school and had enough AP credits to skip freshman year of college. So I was always a little ahead. And at that age, it does make a difference.”

Rodney hummed and shifted so he could turn and watch John, blue eyes looking for something. John didn’t know what but leaned back, letting Rodney have his fill.

“I don’t want to be mad at you,” Rodney finally said.

“There’s an easy answer there.”

Rodney snorted. “I know,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck and glancing away. “I forgive you. I have. I don’t know if I’ve told you that. But I do, I’m just still a bit mad, and I don’t know if it means something or not.”

“It can mean whatever you want it to mean,” John replied. “Your feelings, your rules.”

“Really?”

John shrugged. “It’s what my Mom told me when I was younger.”

Rodney nodded and pulled his knee up, turning fully sideways on the couch. John watched him for a second, thinking about staying where he was, before letting himself slump to the side again between Rodney’s legs, who took his weight with a grunt and a smile. “Comfortable?” he asked dryly.

There was a knee in his side, his back was twisted, and his hips were pulling, but John nodded. “Yeah.”

Rodney rolled his eyes and wrapped an arm around him, hauling him with surprising strength. “Better?”

There was still a knee in his side, but it was better, and he shifted and twisted until he got comfortable before nodding. “Now I am.”

Rodney was still for a moment before he wrapped his arms around John’s middle. “Never took you for a cuddler.”

“Only with people I like,” John said. “And are dating.”

“Are we dating?”

“If you forgive me, I’d like to be,” he said, glad he couldn’t see Rodney’s face right then.

This whole thing felt like it meant something more than John had anticipated, and he knew that was on him. It was Rodney, his best friend since the day they had stepped onto the city. John hadn’t anticipated Rodney, but he couldn’t imagine anyone else next to him during the past two years.

“I see what you mean by high school,” Rodney said dryly. “I would uh…I would like to be as well. Dating that is.”

“Want my class ring?” John asked, trying to break some of the tension.

“Do you have one?”

“I have one from high school, somewhere. Probably back home,” John replied.

“With the Dad, you don’t talk to?”

“That’s the one.”

John felt Rodney’s chuckle more than he heard it, and he smiled. “I never wanted it, but my Dad has a whole thing about getting them. He got me one for college as well. I’ve never worn it.”

“Where?”

“MIT.”

Rodney stilled. “Really?”

“You sound surprised.”

Rodney snorted and shifted a little bit. “A bit yeah, not because you’re not smart enough because you are, but I did my undergrad there and my first Ph.D. We overlapped.”

“Small world,” John murmured, trying to think back to his college years to see if there was anything of Rodney he could remember. He stilled after a moment. “You were the Physics lab TA everyone hated, weren’t you?”

“Yep.”

“Yeah, I took a 7 am lab class to avoid that one,” John said with a grin, turning his head so he could look at Rodney. “I didn’t want to take it, but I had to, so I went with the easier choice.”

“Bauest?”

John nodded. “That’s the one.”

“Hack, I’m surprised you kept planes in the air with him as your TA,” Rodney groused before letting out a long sigh. “We could’ve been friends.”

“You think so?”

“No. I made sure everyone knew I was a Ph.D. student and so I didn’t have friends. But it’s a nice dream, right?”

“We’re here now,” John replied, turning and leaning back against Rodney further, smiling when the arms wrapped around him and a kiss pressed against the side of his neck. “Cuddling on a couch, on a city that’s millions of years old, in a brand new galaxy.”

“I like this dream better.”


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2 Comments:

  1. I ADORE when Rodney goes nuclear. There’s something about him on a war path that makes me so giddy, especially since he’s in the right.
    John taking responsibility is awesome. The O’Neill situation is troubling, but John has never worked with Jack so it makes sense that he’s not feeling the same type of faith in him like the others. Love this story!!!

  2. greywolfthewanderer

    w00t!! oh man, this is grrrreat!

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