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Story of a Girl

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When Joanna Sheppard was six years old, she stepped into the cockpit of her very first plane and told her parents that she wanted to fly.

"Women don't go into combat," Major Sheppard said with a frown, eyes flickering to his wife, leaning casually against the seat.

Captain Sheppard just grinned and reached down, guiding her daughter's hands. "Joan will fly planes that haven't been invented yet." Leaning down, her mother's voice hummed low and gentle against her ear. "All you have to do is want it."


Joan's never really hated anyone like she hates the nurse right now.

"Breathe, sweetie" the woman says from somewhere near Joan's ankles, staring intently at places that honestly, Joan would prefer never be studied so intently for purposes other than recreational. When she looks up with an encouraging smile plastered across her face, Joan's hit her limit.

"Rodney, sidearm."

It probably says a lot about them both that Rodney goes for his gun, groping at the non-existent thigh holster for a minute before he stops and frowns, apparently remembering he's still in pajama bottoms and also, that Joan's been forbidden to carry weapons until they're all sure she won't start using them. He looks as exhausted as she feels, but honestly, all he's done is sit there and yell at people. She's the one in this mess. "Sheppard--"

"Don't. Sheppard. Me. Just find me a gun." Staring up at the ceiling, Joan counts to one thousand in Ancient; when she opens her eyes, the nurse is gone and Carson's giving Joan that look of incipient disappointment that usually heralds--

"Colonel, you cannot keep terrorizing my nurses."

A lecture.

Joan grits her teeth as the next contraction ripples through her, grabbing for Rodney's hand by instinct. It's been six hours and this is already getting very old, very fast. "I don't want strangers," she grits out, wondering why she has to explain this again. "So shut up."

"Don't stress her," Rodney hisses, face suddenly whitening. Joan eases her grip quickly. "And if you had competent medical staff--"

"My staff is competent!" Carson looks between them with a frown, then sighs, rubbing his face tiredly. "I'm sorry, Colonel. Teyla will be here soon."

Joan nods, closing her eyes as Rodney's lips brush against her forehead. Tilting her head up, she looks into red-rimmed blue eyes on the verge of outright panic. "Tell me I can shoot the nurse when this is over."

Rodney nods fervently. "I'll load the gun myself."


The first time they met, it was not what anyone sane would call--oh. Auspicious. But the second time was so much worse.

"If you touch me one more time--" is all Joan gets out before McKay is snatching his hand away from hers and looking injured, like she just ran over his puppy and spit on it afterward. A month of this shit should have inoculated her to it; McKay's oblivious, persistent, and terrifyingly focused. Carter pulled her aside before she left with a guilty look and an explanation that did a lot to curb the desire for homicide at first sight.

("He's really not--that bad. He has no idea how he sounds. He thinks he's being charming."

"Really?" Joan answered, appalled.

Carter sighed. "Yeah.")

So not kill. But it doesn't really affect her desire to seriously injure.

"I didn't--"

It's not enough her superior officer is dead and that the next ranking officer is--oh, her, and her new second in command and Jesus God, Marines, are sitting one table over and they're smirking their asses off--

The Chief Science Officer is trying to feel her up in public again.

This time, however, she's not in a post-Ancient-chair afterglow. "McKay, shut up," she says slowly, tapping her fork against the side of her tray and feeling the beginnings of a headache starting to form just behind her eyes. From the corner of her eye, she can see all the Marines watching eagerly--they don't like McKay, but on the scale, they dislike her a lot more, and saying it's because she's Air Force doesn't mean it's not because she's a woman, too.

Taking a breath, she leans back in her chair, staring at him for a second in thought, automatically evaluating the thick body, sharp blue eyes, and the fact that despite having the personality flaws of someone with an uncomfortable taste for harassment--incredibly intelligent. "Report to my office at 0800 tomorrow," she says finally, getting her tray and standing up, feeling the eyes watching her every move. "Bring a list of personnel for possible inclusion in gate missions."

Rodney blinks, shifting tracks. "How many teams?"

"Four, so I'll need three names," she says, turning away, feeling the sweep of her ponytail against the back of her neck, still wet from her evening shower. "And don't be late," she calls over her shoulder as she drops off her tray and goes to the door.

"But--you said four teams."

Joan turns briefly, taking two steps backwards. "You'll be the fourth. See you in the morning."


Teyla drops by after checking in with her people, currently in any room that will house them; letting her in, Joan watches her curl up neatly on the small, pristine bed that Joan has yet to sleep a single night in. "You seem tired," Teyla observes, giving her a penetrating look.

So far, as allies, Teyla's people aren't too bad. Considering their luck so far, Joanna's hourly waiting for a report that the Athosians have risen against them or turned into zombies or something. After space vampires--seriously, what the hell?--nothing can surprise Joan anymore.

"I am tired," Joan admits, pulling the chair from the desk and straddling it. Pushing the still-damp hair from the back of her neck, she tries not to think about how that's going to have to go as soon as she can make herself cut it. She motions toward her desk, currently covered in discs and more paper than she'd have thought they could get through the gate. "Paperwork. And more paperwork. And more after that." Ah, the joys of command. "How are your people settling in?"

"The children enjoyed your stories," Teyla answers with a quirk of her mouth, resting her chin on one knee. Then the smile fades. "You seemed tense during dinner tonight."

Joan shrugs. "I forgot what it's like being--" Around people, she wants to say, but hey, new alien alliance. "Around Marines." Crazy isn't what they should be going for. Joan misses Antarctica like an ache in her chest. "Interesting galaxy you have here." Smooth, Joan, very very smooth.

"Your people are also interesting," Teyla says finally. Something in her voice makes Joan straighten, studying Teyla as intently as Teyla has been studying her. "So you are now the--commander here?"

"Just of the military." Even thinking about it makes Joan want to do something hideously reckless, like try to attack another Wraith cruiser and this time, just take her handgun and her temper. "Dr. Weir has command of the expedition." Joan tries to remember how much she and Sumner had explained to Teyla about their structure, but everything's a blur from the second that Sumner was taken and apparently, Joan started a galactic war. "It's a split of powers to keep--um. A civilian operation civilian."

A civilian operation at war.

These things, she thinks morosely, never happen to officers in Star Trek.

"I see," Teyla says, looking anything but certain, then frowning slightly, presses on. "I overheard you speaking to Dr. McKay during our evening meal."

Huh. "About the touching me thing? Okay, the thing is, McKay can be--"

"Should he touch me without my permission, his hand will not return to him intact," Teyla says firmly. Joan blinks. "No. I was referring to your--gate teams."

Joan crosses her arms across the back of the chair. "Okay."

"I would like to join your team."

Huh. She considers the idea from all angles and can't find one she doesn't like. Teyla's leader of her people and from what Joan can tell, excellent in combat, but more than those two things, she's a Pegasus native. "We'd be glad to have you," Joan says, mentally shifting her morning; after McKay, talk to Dr. Weir before the staff meeting. "As soon as the teams are formed--"

"No, you misunderstand." Teyla drops her knee, leaning forward. "I wish to join your team."

"My team."

Teyla frowns. "You do not plan to form your own team?"

Actually, no. The brief meeting with Dr. Weir and Ford had brainstormed four possible team leaders, but for some reason, Joan hadn't really-- "Huh."

Teyla's still watching her. "I had expected...."

Joan stares at the far wall, rewinding the last three days of her life that she'll pretty much never get back. She was brought along as a human light switch, annoyed by scientists, harassed by Marines, condescended to by Dr. Weir, sneered at by Sumner, hit on by Dr. McKay, and that was before the world turned upside down. "I hadn't really thought about it."

When she looks down, she can still see the blood beneath the nails she cuts short, new blisters from the gun calluses she'd lost in Antarctica, and though the uniform is new, her old one is stuffed in the closet, still sprinkled in blood that isn't hers. Blinking slowly, she looks around the room, trying to see something of the person who flew across a world washed in white, but a field officer lives in this room, from the packs to the bed to the desk that faces the door, so her back is never vulnerable.

Oh.

"You have a knife?" she asks finally, one hand sliding down her thigh, finding the gun she put on when she got out of the shower, feeling the knife holsters against her inner thigh, her ankle, at the small of her back. Teyla's an ally, but Joan doesn't think she needs to know how the apparent military leader of Atlantis arms herself in her own quarters.

Instantly, there's a blade between the long fingers. Flipping it, Teyla offers it hilt first, and Joan takes it, studying the simple leather covered hilt, the sharp edge of the blade. "When I was--on Earth, it was a little different," Joan says, standing up. The Ancients had mirrors, and she looks at the woman in the glass that she hasn't seen in years.

"It is not easy to bee a leader of men," Teyla says softly, experience layering her voice with something very old.

Joan glances at her sharply. "How long?"

Teyla shrugs. "Three years in name. Two in fact. It took me--much time to gain their trust."

Joan flips the knife slowly, watching the sharp blade glint. She's got Marines that don't trust her, a second in command who just may try to overrule her, and an expedition leader under the impression that Joan's just a very skilled flying monkey. There are civilians here with the common sense of wombats and an enemy that's showing signs of being kind of terrifying. It's about time to make a choice, and Joan thinks she must have made it already, when she flipped a coin for Carter, took a ship for Sumner, and never even knew it.

"I don't have that much time," she says finally. Reaching up, she slides the knife just below the rubber band and upward at a sharp angle, feeling the knife cut through the thick ponytail. The short ends brush the sides of her face; for dramatic gestures, it would probably have been more effective with an audience that isn't Teyla. Also, this is going to look like shit; Joan might be Air Force, but she also really liked being able to grow her hair out, what with Antarctica and not giving a good shit what regulations said.

She'd actually thought of dying it purple, and God, if she could articulate how much her life sucks right now, she would.

Sighing, she turns around, surprised when Teyla takes the knife and pushes on her shoulder. "It is uneven," Teyla says, herding her to a chair. Joan feels the knife cut through another strand. "Among my people," she says quietly, "there was once a tradition of ritual combat. Until my--until my father's death, we had not invoked it in five hundred years."

Joan takes a breath, blowing it out. She's seen Teyla fight. "How many?"

"Sixteen before they began to falter." Teyla makes another sharp cut. "Two days. At the end, they agreed because they could find no one else who wished to face me. Do your people--"

Joan bites back a laugh, because Jesus. "It doesn't work like that." Joan's not an idiot--she's a pilot for a reason. She's good on the ground because a long time ago, she had to be, but she's not a Marine either, and she sure as hell isn't Teyla. Her desk is a mess of personnel issues and assignments, and while Dr. Weir explained how she'd manage the expedition and Ford explained how he'd manage the teams, Joan wonders if she'd even thought to speak.

"You're a good fighter," Joanna says, watching Teyla's serious face in the mirror.

Teyla's mouth quirks; of course. That goes without saying.

"Hey, Teyla?" Joan asks, pushing the papers onto the side of the desk.

"Yes?"

"Wanna join my team?"


Dr. Weir blinks as she reads the short report. "Four teams." Lifting her head, she gives Joan a quizzical look. "I thought you had agreed that you wouldn't--"

Joan slouches into her chair and blinks at Weir guilelessly. "Re-evaluation of the situation," she drawls in a voice to make a thousand commanding officers get very red and very, very angry. Joan knows; she's been using it for years. "Our priorities are as follows: ZPM, allies, and resources. Possibly reversed, should the situation warrant."

Weir's eyes scan the page again. "You don't have Ford's gate experience."

"The only thing that can fix that is getting out there, Dr. Weir," Joan says lazily, watching Weir's frown. "And in this galaxy, Milky Way experience doesn't mean anything." Joan glances at her notes (blank, because she wants to at least look like she has some idea of what she's talking about), then looks at Weir. "Four teams, four people per team, one Athosian to act as guide and mentor. And Ford will be on my team, along with Teyla." Joan gives Weir a beat before adding, "And McKay."

Weir folds her arms, looking up with an expression that Joan's pretty used to seeing on commanding officers' faces. The difference is, Weir's her leader, but she's not her commander, not yet. Joan thinks if she has to prove herself, then Weir's damn well going to have to do the same. "That's a risk I'm not prepared to take."

Joan licks her lips quickly and hopes she looks like she knows what she's doing. "And we're dead unless we get more power. I've seen McKay's notes," stolen from the database last night, "and read the reports. Keeping sufficient personnel in the city to defend against an attack balanced against exploring a galaxy for a needle. McKay's the expert in identifying and using what we find; Teyla's a native and leader of her people; and as you said, Ford's the gate team expert. He's also a kid whose never been in command before. He's not ready to go out there alone."

Her palms are starting to sweat; Joan makes herself stay still, look bored and certain and completely at ease, because if she can't make Weir believe her, she'll never get anyone else to either. Weir looks uncertain, which is better than stubborn; Joan doesn't want this to turn into a battle, and not just because she's not sure she can win.

"And Dr. Weir--I am the ranking officer," she says, drawing out each word, eyebrow raised. "The disposition of gate teams is a military matter, and I expect your cooperation," careful, Jesus, she's got to be careful, but she's years out of practice, "just as you'll expect mine in civilian ones."

Weir blinks slowly, and Joan watches the point sink in as painlessly as a stiletto. "Major," Elizabeth says, and while she looks calm, there's a warning rippling beneath each word, "I hope you know what you're doing."

Joan's played poker all her life; she's never been afraid of risking everything on a single hand. "I think I do." Standing up, Joan gives her a sloppy salute. "With your permission, I'm going to brief my men before the staff meeting.

Elizabeth hesitates, then nods. "I'll see you there."


Joan stares blankly at the tests. "Birth control," she says finally, though honestly, she can't even be surprised at this point. This is Pegasus. There are Wraith, bugs, and fruit that declares sentience and starts its own nation in the pantry, and God, she'll never look at a banana in the same way again. "I'm going out on a limb and guess that it didn't work?"

"Well." Carson flushes, giving Teyla an appealing look, then sighs as she stares back, eyebrows raised. "We think it has something to do with--" He stops short, looking pained. "Your gene."

Joan blinks. "I've had the gene my entire life. I've been on birth control for half of it. And now you're saying--"

"Well." Twisting uncomfortably, Carson stares down at his clipboard, like it might just have the answers to ending the Wraith and universal peace. "It seems that--maybe--Atlantis--"

"Spit it out."

"It might have done something. To neutralize it."

Joan slow blinks her utter disbelief. "It wants me pregnant?"

"To reproduce," Carson says more firmly. Apparently, saying "The city wants you knocked up" is a little too hard for him. "You're the tenth female member of the expedition, Colonel. And all of the others have the gene as well."

Joan takes a deep breath, realizing suddenly why Teyla's on her right side. It's to stop her from going for a weapon. Which Joan really wants to do. In the worst way.

"I--I had Rodney do a system scan and he found out that--that the atmospheric controls had been altered." If possible, Carson reddens even more; Joan would feel a lot more sympathy if she wasn't, oh, pregnant. "It seems that there's a chemical being released that is reacting to your gene--to the Ancient gene. It--has--" Carson struggles for a second, then sighs. "After some preliminary study, I've come to the conclusion that it's--that it's the city."

The city. "The city is contaminating the environmental controls?"

"It's not dangerous--I mean, obviously, we only just--" Carson stumbles to a stop and looks helplessly at Teyla. "The compound is very--specific in its purpose. I think that the city is--that its residents are--that the city believes that those with the ATA need to reproduce."

Of course. This is Pegasus. These things-- "So the city wants me pregnant?"

--happen.

"All the female gene carriers, yes. I'm going to ask all the female expedition members to come in for testing, and Rodney has already filtered out the contaminant, but...." Carson looks at her helplessly. "From what Rodney has unearthed in the logs, it has been circulating for several months."

Jesus. There are seventy female expedition members, either natural or artificial carriers. Joan rubs her head, dismissing the personal. "I'll make it an order for all female personnel, not just the ATA." They'll need biology on this; probably get in touch with the SGC and find out if anything like this has ever happened to them before. Throw up somewhere in there, then call an emergency staff meeting; they need to find out now. Get every scientist on searching the database; if the city can do something like this without them knowing, God knows what else it can--

Then her mind does a fast rewind. Rodney.

"Wait. Rodney knows about this?" And she hopes to God her voice didn't just climb two octaves, but from the look on Carson's face, it so did. Fuck.

"I didn't tell him why," Carson says quickly. Maybe he just realized that she's wearing her gun now, and that while Teyla's really fast, Joan's extremely motivated. "Biology handled the initial testing and confirmation of my results, but--"

Joan waves a hand to cut him off. "Okay." Sliding off the bed, Joan grabs for her boots, glad Carson waited until she'd returned to uniform before he gave her the news; he probably knew she'd want to leave. "Don't tell him--"

"Of course not." Glancing at Teyla, he takes a deep breath. "I asked Teyla here because--"

"She's trained as a midwife, I kind of guessed." Sitting on the edge of the bed, Joan pulls on a boot. "It's not like we have any obstetricians out here."

"Not precisely." Joan looks up in surprise as Teyla stands up, coming to the bed. "I suspected on our last mission that you were with child, and I thought perhaps--that you would wish to talk." Her mouth quirks slightly and Joan has a vivid memory of throwing up all over the Bertani chief, who had luckily taken Rodney's frantic "She's allergic to sugar! It's very sad!" as fact and only overcharged them during negotiations. "And in my capacity as a midwife, yes."

Joan looks between Carson and Teyla. "You or Kate, huh?"

Teyla's smile widens as she takes Joan's other boot from the floor. "I thought you would prefer a friend."

Joan pauses, staring into the dark eyes; of everyone, Teyla would understand best. "Yeah, I--" Even thinking about food hurts, but apparently, she's going to need to eat anyway. "Dinner okay?"

Teyla's head tilts. "I will bring crackers." Leaning forward, she presses their foreheads together and Joan breathes in her calm. "Everything will be well, Joan," she whispers. "I promise."


Rodney shows up ten minutes after her order; she hadn't bothered to make it a request. He's more likely to come just to tell her she has no right to give him orders, civilian, not part of the evil of military discipline--

"Sit down," Joan says, pointing to the desk chair and attempting not to look like she just puked her guts out in the bathroom and more like her mother at her most commanding (God help them all). She's hideously aware that there's toothpaste on the collar of her shirt and that she had to turn down the lights or run the risk of Rodney noticing she's achieved a whiter shade of pale.

Rodney blinks, mouth half-open in protest, before he pauses. Joan puts the spirits of every drill sergeant she's ever met into her voice. "Now, McKay."

He sits.

Taking a seat on the edge of the bed, Joan takes a deep breath. Thing five million and five that she never thought she'd ever be talking about. "I talked to Carson today."

Rodney stares at her, stubbornness gathering behind his eyes like storm clouds, spelling out the longest conversation of her life. "And this monumental announcement is the reason I was ordered--not requested, but ordered--to leave my research and--"

"Carson," she continues, raising her voice; she's learned over the years how to deal with McKay, "has informed me that there's a contaminant in the air filters."

Rodney stops short. "Actually, I was going to mention that in the staff meeting." Frowning, he leans back in the chair. "We've isolated the compound and biology and medical are analyzing it. Preliminary investigation shows it's linked to the ATA gene, but how--"

"We think it might be." Rubbing her sweating palms against her knees, Joan takes another deep breath at the ripple of nausea that has nothing to do with pregnancy. "Carson told me today when he asked me to come in for a check-up."

Rodney tenses, blue eyes darkening. "It's done something to you." Before she can open her mouth to answer, he's on the bed, reaching for her, and Joan lets him pull her into his arms, because she can see he's shaking. "What did it do? Can he fix it? I'll start a database search--" One arm stays around her, fingers twisting into the back of her t-shirt, like she might make a run for it, while the other's going to his radio. "Son of a bitch, I should have--"

"Rodney," she says, then grabs his hand before he can send Zelenka down to do something crazy like pull the city's power and take apart the environmental computers by flashlight. "Look at me."

"--known that something like this could happen--hello, nanoviruses? The Ancients were nuts." Rodney stops short, eyes widening in horror. "Nanoviruses. Is it--"

"No! Breathe, Jesus, I'm not going to die!"

Rodney stares at her, then at her fingers, wrapped firmly around his wrist. "I need to--"

"You need to listen, okay?" But she can't do this while he's this close; pulling away, she gets to her feet, suddenly aware of her body in a completely different way. Pregnant. Six weeks, if Carson's right, and her hand drops to her stomach in curiosity.

She realizes she's just standing there when Rodney makes a soft sound. Turning, she looks into terrified blue eyes, hands locked into fists on the covers of their bed, and something in her chest tightens. "It only affects ATA genes--maybe both natural and artificial. Carson's running tests. I sent an email to Elizabeth to order all women in the city to report to Carson as soon as possible."

"Just women?"

"Yeah." And right now, God, could she use a drink. "It's--look Carson could be wrong, but he thinks that the city--" There's no way to say this; suddenly, Joan feels a lot more sympathy for Carson in the infirmary. "That it's--that it wants reproduction. For us to reproduce."

Rodney's mouth opens, then shuts abruptly; he looks intrigued. "Huh. That would explain some of the markers I saw before I sent it off. It had a very peculiar composition that I hadn't seen before. I wonder why now, though; I need to call--"

And right back for the radio. "Rodney, you try to leave this room and I'll shoot you in the foot."

Rodney's hand stops right before contact. "Joan--"

She can see the second it dawns on him, and thank you God, she doesn't have to say it.

"Joan, I understand the privacy issue involved, but this is a huge discovery," Rodney says, frowning. "If this is a program the Ancients instituted--God, this could be proof of Atlantis having a viable AI in the past. We could have--"

Or maybe she will; belatedly, Joan remembers this is Rodney she's talking to. "McKay--"

"I need to get Zelenka on this right away--"

"Reproduction. As in, pregnancy, it--" She's actually going to have to say it. "McKay. It affected female gene-carriers."

She'd been wrong before; this is what revelation looks like. Rodney freezes, eyes wide and blank, mouth half-open, not his most attractive look, and Joan wonders if maybe waiting for Teyla tonight would have been a better idea.

"Rodney?"

He doesn't move.

"McKay, I was pretty serious about shooting you." During her last trip to the bathroom, she'd spun out several expansive fantasies that involved Rodney and her gun, and none of them involved sex. "And I'm getting more serious by the second, husband or not."

"You're pregnant."

"Take a prize for winner of the most fucking obvious--"

"I need to lie down."

Rodney suits deed to word, stretching out on the bed with the look of a man who had a Wraith attached to his chest, and Joan feels her stomach roll again, nausea clear and bright. Turning to the bathroom, she makes the five steps before her head is in the Ancient toilet and her body gives up the crackers she'd managed to swallow before Rodney appeared in the apparently vain hope she'd get through this without humiliating herself.

And that had worked out really well. Leaning her forehead against the edge, she takes deep breaths, swallowing hard.

Almost instantly, there's something cool and wet against her face and a body sliding behind hers, bracing her gently. Joan wonders vaguely why she didn't hear Rodney come in. Probably the uncontrollable vomiting.

For a minute, there's just silence. Joan can't make herself relax back against him. "Pregnant," she confirms wearily, taking the cloth from his hand and wiping her face, and for good measure, her tongue as well.

One of Rodney's hands is resting limply on the toilet seat. For some reason, the stillness hurts her. "Rodney--"

"I didn't think--" Rodney's voice is strangely breathless. "After you know. Nukes and radiation and everything--Carson said that I probably--"

She's trying not to take that as some kind of roundabout way of asking her if she sleeps around, but she kind of wants to anyway. "Unless this is a holy Ancient birth to start a new religion? I'm pretty sure it's half yours."

Hot breath blows out against the back of her neck. Joan closes her eyes, forcing herself not to push him away and storm out to make Teyla give her a workout; even thinking of moving makes her stomach hurt. "This wasn't in the plan," she says to the toilet.

Jesus, so much not in the plan. She has a career--he has a career, and they can't--neither of them ever wanted--except maybe--

"The chances were slim," Rodney says doggedly, voice way too high and talking way too fast. "He said he was sorry and I thought that--" Arms slide around her so suddenly she almost jerks away by instinct, but it's Rodney and her body knows him too well. "I--and I never thought about it after, because hey, why want something you know you can't have--"

She feels dizzy in a whole new way now.

"--but hey, you--" He chokes off, and she pushes him back then, getting herself turned around and straddling his lap. The blue eyes are still huge and shocked but they're anything but blank. "But I got you and that was pretty fucking impossible, so hey, par for the course, right?"

She has no idea what to say to that. "I thought you hated golf."

Rodney's hands rest uncertainly on her hips, but she can feel the near-vibration of his thoughts, running faster than anyone she's ever seen, ever met, that mind that amazes her every day, and her chest tightens in a whole new way.

"I--" He stops again, looking into her eyes like he's never seen them before, never seen her before, one hand reaching up to gently touch her face, wedding band warm against her cheek. Then he's shaking and she wraps an arm around his shoulders, shifting in his lap to get closer, close as she can, feeling dampness when he buries his head against her shoulder while his other arm goes around her waist, desperately tight. "Dammit."

"Jesus, McKay, you're such a girl." Though she doesn't sound any better. Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, she takes a breath, trying not to feel quite so-- "I really want it. The baby. I really want the baby and I think you need to--to let me go." Joan sucks in a breath when Rodney lifts his head, staring at her in outrage from red-rimmed eyes.

"Let you go? What the hell--"

"I mean--" Twisting around, she breaks his hold and gets her head into the toilet before she starts throwing up again. "To throw up." Leaning both elbows onto the edge, she gasps in a breath and feels her stomach start to roll again and hates the world. "This is all your fault. . I'm going to kill you. When I find my gun."


McKay looks like shit, and pretty much like he wishes he were dead. Joan wishes he were dead too, if only because that would mean she was dead and she wouldn't hurt so fucking much. "McKay," she says from her perch on one of the infirmary beds while a nurse does something arcane to her bruised back and shoulder. She's way too old to throw herself over balcony rails and chase terrorist soldiers.

McKay, sitting glumly across from her, lets one of the nurses take off his makeshift bandage without a sound, revealing a blood-soaked jacket, sleeve, and a glimpse of pale, bruised skin, the angry red wound created by a blade on vulnerable flesh.

Something in her blacks out all over again, like the second that Kolya had told her that Weir was dead. Suddenly, she doesn't hurt as much.

"I wish I'd killed him," she hears herself say; she's never meant it so much before now, never wanted it quite like this.

McKay looks at her tiredly. "Sheppard," he says, voice slurring from exhaustion and shock; Joan doesn't like the way he's looking at her.

Joan slides off the bed, absently pushing the nurse away as they lower Rodney down onto the gurney. She knows that look on his face like she knows it on her own. "Not your fault," she says when he looks away. Reaching out, she jerks his chin around, leaving smears of blood and dirt on his unshaven jaw. "Not your fault, McKay. Say it."

McKay's mouth goes crooked and unhappy in a way that has nothing to do with the bandages being pulled away. "He--I didn't--"

"Fucking say it."

"Sheppard--"

The nurse moves out of the way as Joan braces her hand on the gurney by McKay's head and bends down close enough that her lips are pressed against his ear. "Your only job," she whispers, "is to stay alive until I can get you. That's our only rule. That, and calling me baby. You. Stay. Alive. If they want you to talk, do it. If they want you to build them nukes, do it. If they want you to beg and cry and crawl, you fucking do it. If they want to fuck you, lie back, spread your legs, and think of fucking Atlantis and how I'll kill every damn one of them when I get there." She takes a deep breath. "Whatever it takes, whatever they want, you'll nod and say yes, because you know that I'm on my way. Not your fault. Say it, McKay."

McKay shivers slightly and she realizes she's leaning against his bad arm, fresh blood staining her uniform. Licking her lips, she pulls back, looks into his eyes. "Say it."

"Not--not my fault," he breathes painfully, and Joan steps back, letting Carson and the nurses swarm over McKay like locusts. Her head aches so badly she can barely see, but she goes just as far as the door, waving away a nurse while she pulls her jacket back on and drops into a chair, eyes on McKay's bed. Carson shoot her a hard look but she ignores him, keeping her focus on the man in the bed, because otherwise she'll have to remember that there's sixty-three less men in the world than there were ten hours ago, and looking at McKay's injured arm, and she just wishes it were sixty-four.


McKay's released to quarters after a stern lecture on care of wounds that Joan's pretty sure he'll ignore, followed by pain pills that he'll take the second he gets to his lab. He's bruised in ways that she knows he'll never admit. Joan calls for Ford, who's disturbingly perky and the only one of them she's willing to give watch of McKay; Ford's a good kid and knows when to call.

Joan gets halfway to her quarters before she stumbles, and somehow, Teyla is there. "I'm fine," Joan says irritably and she'd prove it, but her legs aren't responding and the entire hall's blurring out. She should have swiped some uppers from the infirmary. "Teyla--"

"You are off-duty," Teyla says, steering her in a direction that isn't the gate room and reports and-- "Your orders are being followed as we speak; you do not need to oversee it personally."

Joan tries to think of a response to that; of course she needs to oversee it personally. She's there for everything, from shift rotations to return missions to debriefings, discipline and calisthenics; she schedules trainings and works with them herself...

She doesn't have Teyla's year. Hell, Atlantis doesn't have a year. "Teyla," she says, jerking away, and ramming herself into the wall. Smart, very smart. That's something people need to see. "They need to--I have to--" Forcing herself upright, she stares at Teyla, trying to will her to understand. "I have to be there."

Teyla frowns, then finally nods, reluctantly, extending an arm of support that Joan can barely admit she needs.

It feels like miles to the gateroom, and the halls are frighteningly quiet; at least she knows that her lockdown of civilian personnel is being respected.

When they're at the door, Joan pulls abruptly away, forcing down the nausea rising slow and sweet in the back of her throat. Emerging only feet from Weir's office, she surveys the busy gateroom (and takes a slow breath so her vision doesn't go black again) before walking to the edge of the balcony that oversees the floor. It also has a useful side benefit of being something she can lean against before her knees go out.

"Major!"

Joan turns her head enough to see Bates. "Sergeant," she says, hoping to God her voice sounds more in the way of strong and tired and less in the way of please shoot me now. "How many are back?"

Bates blinks, then checks his notes. "Forty-five percent, sir." He pauses, eyeing her warily. "Sir, I think--"

"Have we--" she stops, swallowing hard. "Have we discovered how they got the gate code yet?"

Bates hesitates; she's been tired of that response for a while. "Doran," he says finally. "The Manarians--"

"Has he been returned to us?"

Below her, she can hear the gate floor has gone silent. "Yes."

"Open a channel to Smeadon," she says steadily, hands closed tightly over the rails. She half wishes her nails were longer; she needs to stay clear-headed for this.

"Joan?" Dr. Weir says softly; Joan closes her eyes for a second, then turns her head. "Major. The Manarians--"

"Have lost their credit." Abruptly, the channel goes static, then clears; Joan lowers her head like she's listening, but mostly its to hide the dizziness, aware of the silence in the gateroom. "This is Major Sheppard of Atlantis. Smeadon, are you running yet?"

Silence. Then, "Major Sheppard!" and the enthusiasm makes her teeth ache. She hates politicians, and she hates politics, but those pale before her hate for what she had to do today, what they would have done to her people. "I'm so glad to hear that your city has survived--"

"Consider all agreements null and void," she say steadily, not looking at Weir. "And a suggestion, Smeadon--don't ever leave your planet again."

Silence, then, "Major Sheppard--"

"The next time you put your pampered foot through a gate, there's a price on your head. And I don't think you can outbid the City of the Ancients." She looks at Grodin. "Close the channel and block their address. No one comes to this city through their gate again."

"Major!" Smeadon manages before Grodin cuts the channel. Beside her, Weir is watching her thoughtfully.

"There's no price on his head, Major."

Joan sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose before she does something stupid like pass out. "Trust me, he'll never leave the planet to figure that out." Turning away, she sees Stackhouse, hovering on the steps. "Get five men and retrieve the Genii casualties."

"Are we returning them to the Genii?" Stackhouse asks warily. Joan hesitates, then glances down, where the bodies of her Marines await cremation, for the hopeful day she'll be able to send them home.

There's a lot she can't think about right now; about stalking the Genii, setting traps with skills she'd almost forgotten, the feel of her finger on the trigger with a man in view that was nothing but a number. Pegasus may be changing her, may be changing them all, but this part isn't Pegasus; it's just her.

That's the part that sets a balance--eight men for my Marines; fifty-five for touching my people; McKay's scar and Weir's face and the hour I spent thinking they were dead. If we can't go home, the Genii won't either.

"No."


Joan thinks about getting up for an entire minute before she rolls onto her side. "You know," she tells the wall thoughtfully, "this could very possibly be a worse idea than waking up the Wraith."

From behind her, McKay makes a noise that's like a squawk but completely and hilariously different. The bed shifts unhappily and Joan rolls over in time to see McKay poke his head out from under the covers, brown hair a mess, and (she notes in interest) wearing two visible hickeys.

McKay gives her a withering look, but he just slumps back down, still exhausted, and she's not going to say that's not making her smug, because it really is. Grinning, she stretches out beside him, casually kicking the sheet and blanket aside, reaching one arm over her head while her other hand smooths down the "I'm with Genius" t-shirt she stole from the floor. From the corner of her eye, she notes McKay's eyes have glazed over and there's a pretty good chance he just stopped breathing. Good times. "I hate you," he mumbles into the pillow.

"I think," she drawls, "that's a little obnoxious considering what you were saying about five minutes--"

McKay burrows under his pillow. "I'm not responsible for what I say when you're doing--" He stops short, breathing loudly, and Joan watches in fascination as the back of his neck turns very red. One hand comes out, flapping in her general direction. "The thing with your tongue."

She has to admit it; she is really good at that. Grinning, she rolls onto her side, pressing herself against him, warm and solid: Rodney. "Rodney," she whispers against his shoulder, brushing her lips over the warm, slick skin. Closing her eyes, she rests her chin on his shoulderblade, running a hand over his strong back, wondering if sex is always supposed to be this good. "Almost a year." Tomorrow, actually. Yes, she's counting, too.

Rodney really tries to hold out, but he gives up, head ducking out from under the pillow to glare. "Sleeping together is a worse idea than the Wraith?"

Joan grins back and shifts away enough to see his face, one leg thrown over his thigh. She's never had a lover quite like McKay--like Rodney; not a fellow officer or a soldier, bulkier, warmer, with wide shoulders and thick biceps and a stomach that has never quite met a six-pack, thickly muscled thighs and calves and so utterly unself-conscious when he's comfortable, like he is now. "I'm just saying," she says patiently when an arm sullenly circles her waist; he still touches her like he's not sure it's allowed. She supposes almost three years of conditioning (and Teyla's sticks of death) are pretty hard to get over. She inches closer, trying not to grin like an idiot teenage girl in love, though honestly, she feels like that pretty much twenty-four-seven and it should be getting old, but it's just not.

It's not, and she doesn't think it ever will. "Let's get married."

Rodney goes still, every muscle tensed. "Huh?"

Joan winces. "Three doctorates and a city light years beyond our known grasp of science and you still can't quite command the English--"

One hand goes over her mouth. Joan reminds him with a look that she can have him on his back for reasons other than sex, and some will be intensely painful, but he just stares at her. "What?"

When he moves his hand, Joan swallows. Somehow, it's harder now when he's looking at her like that. "Married. Us. Let's get married."

When she'd first though about this (in the shower, after a mission, with Rodney holding her up against the wall while his mouth performed new and startlingly acrobatic acts of cunnilingus between her legs, God, that had been good), she'd figured there were three possible ways this could go:

1.) Yes (Rodney variations including dragging them in front of Elizabeth immediately for the service, vaguely happy hysterics while he considered how he'd have to share his room with her and his laptops, or possibly handwaving.)

2.) Maybe (She has this feeling that Rodney just might still be holding out for Sam Carter, and she'd be jealous, but after three years of training with Teyla and the Marines, Joan's fairly sure she could kill Sam and hide the body without too much trouble. Rodney would get over it. It's not like he isn't getting all the sex his body can safely perform already.)

3.) No. (She still hasn't worked out a response for that one. Teenage-girl-love had its downsides; for all she knows, she might end up dying her hair black and writing a lot of poetry comparing her pain to the Wraith. It could happen. Two of her Marines do it twice a year.)

Rodney just looks at her, and that was never on the list. "Should I take that as a no?" she says, as casually as she can, but she's not sure she sounds casual at all.

Then Rodney's suddenly going right over her, stumbling out of bed, and going for his pants. Gothic poetry, she thinks darkly. And I'm telling the Marines he steals my underwear, too. She opens her mouth to say something--God knows what--but Rodney's cute when he's fumbling and God, it's disturbing, he's trying to make a run for it, but she can't stop thinking that standing there, frantically dragging his pants on, hair a disaster area, with hickeys of all Godforsaken things, he's still mindbogglingly hot.

It's the oral sex, she thinks sadly. Stupid tongue.

Rodney's pants are tossed somewhere toward the door, and suddenly, he's on the floor and manhandling her to sit up and Joan gets about a second to process--huh, kneeling--before Rodney shoves something into her hand. "Right. Of course you'd ask first. You can't ever--" Rodney stops talking, but Joan's not sure what he was talking about anyway. There's a box in her hand, and she's fairly sure that a Tiffany label is something she should, on some level, recognize.

Flipping it open, she takes one look inside and blows out a breath. "Huh."

"I waited two weeks," Rodney says, looking aggrieved and flushed and mostly annoyed. "Two weeks, that's--and what, you throw it out there the day before--"

Joan checks the box again, just to be sure. Yes. Ring. Rings. Plural. Rodney and his uranium-class Visa went on an serious spending spree. After a second, Joan realizes his hands are shaking, then realizes that it's both of them.

So this is a moment, she thinks, lightheaded and nauseated and terrified. "I beat you," she manages to choke out. Rodney snatches the box away with a huff, but only to pry out the sparkling one that she assumes is Rodney's very subtle, understated way of staking his claim before they're both wearing rings that say "I own her for life, and if you look too long, I will destroy your soul."

Rodney will, too. She closes her eyes briefly when he takes her hand, as carefully and gently as if he's touching an Ancient artifact, sliding the ring onto her finger. She stares at it for a second, the large fingers slowly lacing between hers, and luckily, Rodney looks about as horrified as she does or she'd seriously not be able to get through this without saying something incredibly stupid.

"Let's get matching tattoos."

Or she'll say something stupid anyway. Rodney eases her knees apart with one hand, eyes fixed on her face as he licks a slow trail from her knee, tongue slick and silky and perfect, licking her open with long, careful strokes. She lies back on the bed, lazily pulling up her knee and spreading wider, but mostly, right now, she wants-- "Hey," she says, and God, her voice sounds good like this, low and broken, and Rodney jerks like someone just shoved a needle into his ass. "Fuck me."

He climbs up on the bed, sitting back on his heels between her legs as she sits up, and Joan looks at him for a second, because sometimes, she wonders how she got here; Atlantis, command, space vampires, her team and her family, and well, Rodney.

"When," she says, straddling his lap, shivering at the feel of his cock grazing between her legs, "do you want," she closes her eyes, tilting her head back when his hands cup her hips, and--yes, right there. "Oh yeah," she murmurs when he slides inside her, thick and heavy and perfect. He pulls her into a kiss that's supposed to be quick and isn't. "When--" she mumbles wetly, but for the life of her, she has no idea what she's saying. She starts moving slowly on him, feeling Rodney's hand on the back of her neck, between her shoulder blades, on her ass; she loves how he touches her, like he can't stop, when he's awake or sleeping or working, a brush of careful fingers or cradling her hip with one large palm, curled against her waist, resting gently on the small of her back when they're together. She's used to it, likes it, misses in when she doesn't get enough. "Tomorrow," she manages to gasp, pressing her forehead onto Rodney's shoulder, pleasure sparkling through her like light. "I want to--"

"...takes two weeks for a license," he gasps out, teeth closing delicately on her collarbone when he nuzzles his shirt aside. She can feel him starting to shake already. "Even if--" he stops short, grabbing for her hips and holding them still, which is going to drive her nuts really fast and she'd hate to use her extensive and expensive Air Force training to kill her fiancé, but what the fuck-- "But we could--"

"Mainland," Joan agrees, because Rodney's not really verbal right now, and-- "And if you don't move right the hell now Rodney--" she gasps out; who knew engagement was such a motivator? Rodney licks her throat and finally they're moving again, slow and steady and easy, driving her nuts, and she wants this not so--

She licks Rodney's ear, then whispers, "You know I love you, right?"

--fucking slow.

Rodney jerks up into her and she gasps, wrapping her arms around his shoulders when he pushes her into the mattress, tongue in her mouth hungry and seeking. Rodney's hand slips between her legs, rubbing sharply on her clit, making her moan, the slow stretch of pleasure finally snapping, and she bites Rodney's tongue and tries not to laugh, because this time tomorrow Halling is going to have just finished marrying them, and Rodney only thinks she was joking about the tattoos.


Joan had once made the mistake of correcting one of the chemists in McKay's presence, which was, in hindsight, pretty damn stupid, because McKay's been watching her for her to slip up since the first time she accidentally maybe hinted she could do a little more than shoot a gun and spit better than any Marine born. She's getting used to Mensa tests showing up in her email these days.

And just thinking about the backlog in her account right now is enough to make her want to run very, very far away.

She gets out of the infirmary post-bug about three hours before Carson was going to let her go by dint of getting up and leaving, because while they could take her clothes, they could never take her freedom; or rather, they didn't take her sheets and she's fourth-generation military. She's not afraid of being naked.

Being naked in front of a crowd, not so much. Joan closes her eyes and reaches the city, feeling it respond with slow enthusiasm, don't let them find me.

The city agrees.

She goes to her quarters first, grabbing a uniform from the closet and mourning the fact that she officially owns only one civilian outfit and it has Wraith blood on it. She has to move fast, because Carson's an ATA and can probably convince Atlantis to open the doors. Failing that, he'll call McKay and then she's kind of screwed.

In the bathroom, she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror. There's nothing remaining of blue skin or yellow eyes, but she doesn't look too long, brushing her teeth and spitting before getting her boots and the Athosian beer Halling sent her in her duffle. Checking the life sign detector, the halls are clear, and she feels a little like a deserter as she goes searching for somewhere--anywhere--that's not here.

Suddenly, her radio comes to brilliant static life. "Colonel Sheppard!"

Jesus on a cracker, she actually put on her radio.

Pulling it out, she drops it in a convenient corner and jogs down the hall, letting Atlantis guide her instincts. West, she tells it. I need to see the ocean.


Five Athosian beers of maximum alcoholic content and two hours later, McKay's staring down at her with a combination of disgusted worry and envy, because Halling never sends him beer.

"Carson's got the Marines looking for you."

Joan observes McKay upside down for a second before closing her eyes again. "Lorne wouldn't authorize that." She likes her new 2IC, and she hadn't expected that. Then again, Lorne's worked in the SGC and with Sam Carter a while. "Sam said hi in her last letter."

McKay's mouth tightens. "Lorne's your sex slave, isn't he?" She honestly can't tell if it's Lorne or Sam, if it's envy or jealousy, and some tiny part of her--the part that she will never willingly admit she has--is a little wistful.

"I put out for all my senior officers," she says, stretching. McKay's eyes go to her breasts and knee-jerk away before she can offer more stick practice. McKay has become very, very good with the sticks from many, many hours of practice. "Perk of being an Atlantean Marine. That's why we get so many volunteers."

Instead of leaving now that he's confirmed her continued existence, though, he sits down, poking into her bag and finding one of her beer. "So I guess--" he stops, frowning down at the floor of the balcony. "All better?"

Joan thinks about it. "Sure."

McKay huffs unhappily, hands wrapped around the plain brown bottle. Shifting, she sits up, bracing her back against the balcony while he drinks erratically, looking at anything but her. It's weird, even for McKay. "Were you--" she starts, then stops herself before she gets maudlin. She's a very maudlin drunk.

"Worried? Of course not." McKay's mouth twists unhappily as he drains the bottle with a kind of petty satisfaction and goes for another. Joan joins him because in the lexicon of alcohol, it is wrong to drink alone. Very wrong, she tells herself, twisting off the cap and taking a swallow. "I mean, they'll just send another one of you and you're all interchangeable and who would ever--" McKay stops short, eyes widening briefly, then opens his bottle. "Yes, I was worried. Asshole."

"Bitch," she offers. McKay gives her a narrow look. "McKay--"

"It's just--" and he's off, on his feet and pacing the balcony. She's never met anyone like him, no one even close. "You know. You almost get blown up, with my bomb, and hey, I'm calm--"

"You called me an Ancient-chasing slut. Notice how you didn't get stick-time for that one?"

He waves it off. "I was high and you were--" he stops, finishing the bottle. Joan remembers vaguely that Rodney has the alcohol tolerance of a kumquat. A tee-totalling kumquat. And for that matter, so does she; she just fakes it really well with the Marines. "And then you--"

"That's my job," she says gently.

Instantly, McKay's beside her, jerking her arm up, blunt fingers tracing down the length of her forearm, over the sensitive blue skin that's the last vestige of the creature she'd been. "This isn't your job," he says, voicing biting, fingers gentle. He's close enough to breathe, labs and burnt wires and way too much coffee and sweat, but there's something under it that's familiar, and Joan has a sudden, visceral memory of taste that hits her in the gut.

"Oh God." And also, fuck.

McKay drops her arm like he just discovered she's actually a Wraith. "Um, Colonel--"

"We had practice, didn't we?" Because she's looking right at his mouth and remembers--oh. Fucking. Hell. "McKay--"

"It wasn't you!" His ass hits the balcony hard enough to make her tailbone twitch, which would usually be worth a laugh, but God, she tried to hit that, and oh oh oh, so not good. "I mean, yes, it was you, and there was this moment in the practice room, but then you stopped and hey, no harm done--"

Joan stares at the collar of his shirt in horror. "Is that a hickey?"

McKay's hand goes up before he can stop himself.

It dawns on Joan that there are whole new depths of humiliation to reach, above and beyond being blue, unattractive, and deeply, deeply creepy, because she apparently sexually assaulted her sexually-harassing teammate while bug-possessed, and so much moral high ground just went down the drain. "I need to lie down," she says, and suits action to words, covering her face with both hands. "And I need more alcohol."

There's a second of appalled silence before Joan hears McKay get to his feet. Opening her eyes, she catches a glimpse of a tight, unhappy mouth and shadowed blue eyes, a familiar look of old hurt floating just below the surface, and something so close to resignation it makes her ache. "McKay, stop," she says, making herself look directly at him and not at his mouth, his hands, the parts of him she staked out a long time ago. "It's not--" You. Well, that's not true. Her life is far too complicated. It would be nice of the Genii if they could attack them right about now. "I'm sorry," she says finally. Genii attack. Please.

"Apology accepted," he says flatly. He waves toward the door stiffly, and right. She totally fucked this one up. "I'm--I have a simulation I need to get back to." Before she can get her thoughts together enough to explain--or at least, make it sound a little less like she'd rather be molesting Wraiths than him, which is totally untrue and also, no more alcohol, ever--he's out the door and she's staring up at the sky.

"You know," she tells Atlantis. "I miss Antarctica."

But it's a lie. Antarctica didn't have Atlantis, or her team, and it never had Rodney McKay. She doesn't miss it at all.


Rod gets two hours of stick time the day after he shows up, which Teyla graciously agrees to administer while Joan traps Rodney in her room and proceeds to explain, again, how golf is not a euphemism for wild affair on the balcony and also, seriously.

"You said I couldn't shoot him!" she says accusingly while Rodney sulks in the corner of her bed, her pillow clutched to his chest and looking so aggrieved that she'd usually be melting except for the fact, right, he accused her of cheating. "And did you not notice his shiny new black eye? Or did that escape your attention while you were doing a DNA analysis on my underwear?"

McKay--Rodney, she tells herself again, Rodney, you fuck someone twice a day, you use a personal goddamn name--just gets more sullen. Which means he knows he's wrong and has no idea how to admit it. "I wasn't doing DNA tests on your underwear."

"Only because Carson would kick your ass if he caught you." Joan knows intellectually that Jeanie Miller is a nice woman and extremely smart, but right now, Joan would give a lot if she'd just dug her heels in and stayed on earth, because then they wouldn't be in this mess. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Joan breathes like Teyla taught her and waits until Rodney looks up. "Okay. We seem to have a failure to communicate."

Rodney scowls. "You're talking to Heightmeyer again!"

"I have to go three times a week! Believe me, I can only stare at the wall so long before she starts making shit up. Now. Look. At. Me."

McKay--Rodney--looks at her sullenly, not giving an inch, but the blue eyes are huge and bruised. Sometimes, Joan wonders who did this to him, who set these insecurities so deeply, that he'd assume that given another choice, she'd pick anyone but him.

On the other hand, he has an hour of stick time coming up for that shit with the cheating, too. "Rodney. I don't. Like. Rod."

And it's true, but she'd never be able to explain why, not in a way that wouldn't make both of them delve into things like feelings and sharing and Jesus, no. They can get drunk for that. But. "He's a lot like the guys I used to work with," she says finally, because that's as close to the truth as she can get.

Of course, Rodney doesn't read subtext. "What?"

Crawling across the bed, Joan pulls away the pillow and straddles his lap, leaning her elbows onto his shoulders. They do their best communication with sex, but she's still got the memory of Rod's hands on her ass and she wants a shower badly. So talking it is. "Look. I'm career Air Force, an officer, and I have breasts. What do you think I'm used to in terms of men hitting on me?"

Rodney frowns slightly. "But--"

"But nothing. I walk into a room, the first thing I do is evaluate the men. In a one on one, most of the Marines can take me if they really want to if I'm not prepared, so I always am. I wear three knives when I go off-world because I'm never going to be as strong as half the men I meet. Or as Telya," she adds in an afterthought. "I have to be ready, every minute of every day. I learned what to watch for before I finished officer training."

Rodney's hands close on her hips. "Joan," he says, and she tries not to melt when he says her name; just in the privacy of her quarters, of his quarters, murmured into her ear, against her skin like a secret. He really does love her, and she hadn't expected that, not even when he told her. "You--you haven't been...."

She'd lie for him, if she could. "I'm career Air Force," she says finally, as gently as she knows how. "I've served on seven continents and in two galaxies, and I served with men who respected me and men who thought my value was determined by what I had between my legs. I knew what I'd face when I put on the uniform."

And she got through it, because a long time ago, a woman like herself told her that she'd fly planes that hadn't even been invented, breathe air at forty thousand feet, and that she could, she could have it, if she wanted it. And she had. She did. And she still does. Nothing could ever change that.

Rodney's arms go around her so fast she almost pulls away, and it's odd, strange, that he's comforting her for something she's had to face all her life, odd that--she lets him pull her in, shaking hands smoothing down her back, her shoulders, breathing thickly in her ear. "I didn't--I never thought...."

She realizes she's holding on as tightly as he is.

After a few seconds, she pulls back and grins down at him, wondering again what the hell Rodney sees when he looks at her like that. She doesn't get it, and she doesn't understand it, but she doesn't think she can live without it, either.

"Teyla's kicking Rod's ass," she murmurs, leaning down for a brief, friendly kiss. "Get your laptop and we'll hack security."

Rodney blinks up at her, one hand coming up to touch her face. "You know I love you, right?"

Joan swallows hard. She's going to say it someday. She will. She knows it. "I know."


Teyla holds her hand through the vomiting while Carson runs test after test after test, checking the not obvious because the obvious isn't possible.

Though God, does this explain the Wraith-worshippers.

"You're fine, Colonel," Carson says finally, coming back just as Teyla helps her straighten. She's shot through with adrenaline and energy that Carson's sedatives are doing jack shit to suppress; she wants to run and fly and scream and a lot of things that will not engender the confidence of her Marines in the least. "It looks like you've been regressed about three years--"

Teyla gets the basin to her just in time, and over her head, there are voices that sound loud and very unhappy. One of them, she's thinks from volume, has to be McKay.

A while later--she doesn't bother trying to tell time, her body's pounding on a rhythm that makes everything slow and annoying--she looks up again, and Rodney's in the seat beside her bed, staring at her from black-ringed eyes. "Hey," she says. Her mouth tastes terrible. "I'm starving. Wanna make a run for it?"

McKay takes a second to consider, but it's not like he won't agree. They've been breaking each other out of the infirmary for years. "I'll disable the cameras," he says, and she gets out of bed, stripping the pajamas away from the new skin that's not hers anymore. Even the air feels electric, slipping over her flesh and waking up every nerve, and she feels--God.

McKay left her a uniform, and after a quick detour to brush her teeth, she jerks on the shirt and pants, almost vibrating before McKay comes back and motions her out.

They go to the mess first, where she abuses her power of command and breaks into the pantry, sitting cross-legged on the floor while McKay feeds her fruit and cheese and tiny silver vegetables that taste like cucumber salad, bottles of juice and water and finally coffee, because she died by inches today and she's going to be selfish, just this once.

McKay doesn't say anything, just goes where she points and fetches what she wants to eat, staring at her like she'll vanish. "McKay," she says through a mouthful of pickled jthen beans, sweetly tart, almost overloading her senses. "You okay?"

He nods stiffly and she gives up, letting the sheer pleasure of food overwhelm her.

Everything's like this, though; she wonders if this is how Ronon and Rodney and Teyla had felt on the enzyme, wonders if she can ask and this time, that McKay will tell her.

He follows her, after, while she walks the city, seeking Atlantis out in walls and windows, tracing her hands over consoles that light for her touch, that still know her even if she almost feels as if she doesn't know herself. The jumpers hum for her, recognizing her hands and her mind, and finally, the frantic edge is blunted and she drops into the pilot's seat, sucking in a breath that feels like a sob.

"I died," she says, finally, and when she looks up, McKay's standing over her, close enough to touch. She wonders vaguely when she got so used to him that she didn't notice him stand so close. "McKay?"

"We watched," he says, voice flat, and Joan closes her eyes.

"I--I thought Weir might--" Not show you, but she knows her team. There's no way they wouldn't watch. "I'm sorry, McKay. You shouldn't--"

"Are you--" McKay's voice breaks. "Are you apologizing for your own torture?"

Joan blinks, trying to clear her head; it's like being drunk, but with better reflexes. "Maybe?" she hedges, and McKay grabs her arm and jerks her to her feet before she can figure out what the hell she means, and then he's kissing her and right.

Right. She might never see it coming, but she's never not felt it.

He kisses her like he's searching for ZPMs, like he's building a nuke, like he's writing a theory; she's watched him for hours while he explained the world in math she pretends she doesn't understand, listened to him whiny and bitchy and smug and lost, brilliant and petty and as transparent as glass. He's utterly unlike any man she's ever met, any person, and she thinks of him like she thinks of the sky; this is something she wants, huge and wondrous and dizzying. That she can have.

So she kisses him back.

Abruptly back in the pilot's chair, Joan frowns. Somehow, McKay got to the back of the jumper. "Did I hallucinate that?" Wait, is this the infamous jumper of hallucination Sam? She licks her lips and tastes coffee. Maybe?

"I--" McKay tries to pace, but there's just not enough space. "Look, I--shouldn't have done that. You're--" he swallows hard, then lifts his chin. "Two hours of stick time?"

Uh. Joan touches her mouth. "No, I kind of wanted that. You'll notice by the fact you can still walk."

McKay waves it aside, but he's definitely flushed, and she can see he's hard beneath his cream colored science division pants. So. Not a hallucination. "You're--" he makes some kind of gesture that, if she squints, looks kind of like he's trying to do a shadow puppet of a dove in flight. "Vulnerable," he says finally, staring at the wall. "You're still--getting over--I mean, not getting over, obviously that will take years of therapy, but--"

Joan pulls off her t-shirt and tosses it on the copilot's seat. "I've never had sex in a jumper," she says thoughtfully. McKay turns around so fast she thinks he might have sprained something in his back. "McKay. Rodney. I'm thinking clearly. Carson cleared me. Get the hell back over here."

"You're not thinking clearly," he says desperately. In about a minute, he'll remember he has the gene and get the back of the jumper down, go jerk off in his room thinking about her, because it's not like she doesn't know he does that already. And she'll be here, and possibly getting herself off with Ancient tech humming in the background, which can't be healthy. "You'll--you'll wake up tomorrow and kill me in my sleep and I might even deserve it--but only a little, because my mind's important to humanity, but--"

"Rodney," she says. She wonders if taking off the pants would help. "I want to have sex. You want to have sex. If the way you're standing right now is any indication, now is a very good time. What. The. Hell?"

"I can't," he yells directly at the back of the jumper, sounding panicked. "Look, the thing is--I can't just--I can't just do it and then not--I mean. I could, but not with you."

It takes a second to parse that into comprehensibility, and a second more to work out the implications, but-- "Oh," she says slowly. Reaching over, she grabs her shirt, pulling it back over her head and gets to her feet. "You can let him out now," she tells the jumper, and the back opens with a disappointed sound. She hopes she's imagining that.

Reaching for McKay's belt as she passes, she pulls him behind her to the door. "Colonel?" he says, sounding bewildered and kind of pissy. "Where--"

"Just shut up, okay?" Pushing him into the transporter, she goes in and types in their level. "Just--" God, she wants to kiss him again; she remembers how he tastes, remembers a morning in a practice room and pinning him against the wall, warm, hard body and clever hands, remembers hating Sam a little and Katie Brown a lot.

But mostly, she remembers McKay in the infirmary a few short hours ago, looking at her with a hunger that had nothing to do with sex at all.

She feels high and terrified and thinks that if she starts running now, she'll never be able to stop. When she reaches for his hand, he takes it, fingers tight in hers, and he doesn't say a word when the door closes behind them in her room.

She's bad at this, but she figures McKay's worse, so it balances. Licking her lips, she wishes she could just get him drunk, make it easier on them both. She opens her mouth, but for the life of her, she has no idea what she wants to say.

"I'm in love with you," Rodney says, sounding like he would rather be doing sanitation night shift than living through one more second of this. She'd rather be doing it, too. "I just--you're all--" he makes a gesture that's mercifully hidden by the low lights. "And I can't--" Rodney has room to pace, so she lets him, sitting on the foot of the bed, fascinated all over again, like the first time she met him, right before he propositioned her and she almost gave him a black eye and Sam said "He's not that bad. He's just--himself."

It took her a while, but she figured that out. Well, a while and a lot of stick practice.

"--teammates!" he says desperately, and she nods, because he's looking at her. "And you're--" he stops, taking a breath to give her one of those once overs that she kind of still wants to hit him for, but he's under stress, and also, pre-sex, so she figures it's allowed. "Jesus," he breathes, losing his train of thought. "I cannot believe I'm turning this down."

"I can't either," she answers honestly.

"Friends!" he says, sounding a little panicked. "Colleagues. We can't just--just fuck around with that."

"Like with Katie?"

Rodney turns on her with a scowl. "I was dating Katie!"

She gives him a second to absorb that, then waits a few more. Then she gives up. "Do you want me to ask you to the prom first?" There's an annual dance thing that Weir makes them all go to. It's possible Rodney's the type to want to do it just like that.

He stops mid-stride, turning to face her with an incredulous look, hurt transparent in bright blue eyes. "This isn't a joke, Colonel. And I can't--"

"God," she says, feeling nauseated and like she wants to shoot something. Preferably Rodney right in the leg, sans shield. "Can you just--I want to have sex with you," she says, forcing every word out from behind the block in her throat. "I want to--to--" Jesus God. "I want to--to--to date. Okay? Date. God, McKay, is this payback for all that stick practice?"

Rodney stares at her, and for once, she thinks she might have left him speechless. Standing up warily, she crosses the space between them, watching him flush, pink to red, sweat at his hairline in the hollow of his throat, hands closed into hopeless fists at his sides.

I want this, she tells herself, and thinks of the first time she touched a jumper, the electric spark of recognition, welcome home humming through every nerve, the sky she'd sought since the day she was born wrapped in a city older than humans have measured time. She thinks of Rodney being stupid and brave, brilliant like the birth of a new star, and she wants to tell him--

--you're like flying and like the sky when it's wide and blue, and I think I've been looking for you all my life.

She can't say it; she's not sure what it even means. But she can show him, reaching to cup his face, terrified and disbelieving, slashed with hope like an Atlantean dawn burning white and gold across the world. She kisses him closed mouth and slow, their bodies less than a breath apart, and she's never been so terrified in her life.

When he kisses her back, just as slow, sweet and soft, the world opens up like the first time she took a jumper into the sky. "Rodney," she says, and "I want you," and "take off the fucking pants already or I'll cut them off," and he starts to laugh when she pushes him onto her bed like maybe he understands a little of what she can't say.

But she will. One day she'll say it, She knows it.


"You shouldn't hold it in like that," Carson says from her ankles, head ducked beneath the sheet. Joan opens her eyes incredulously. "I know your pain tolerance is unusually high, but Colonel, let it out a little."

Ronon, sitting just behind Rodney, gives her a sardonic look. "Ronon," she grits out. "Next two Genii we run across are yours, no questions asked. If my gun. Is in my hand. In the next five minutes."

Teyla, hand firmly wrapped around hers, shakes her head. "You would regret it when you feel better," and while Joan doesn't think so, she's willing to defer to Teyla's judgment.

Outside the infirmary, she knows most of Atlantis is gathered, filling the waiting room and spilling down the halls, waiting in breathless anticipation while the Athosians do the same on the mainland beside the comm, because it's been ten thousand years since a baby was born on Atlantis.

The next contraction ripples through her and steals her breath; she's glad she cuts her nails short or there would be bloodshed. Teeth locked, she breathes like Teyla taught her. Rodney's hyperventilating enough for them both.

"Almost there," Carson says, and steps back for Teyla as gives up her place to Ronon. Joan watches Teyla duck out of her line of sight, then a delicate touch that sends a shock of pain rippling up her spine. When Teyla emerges, there's a smile on her face. "The next contraction, push. Dr. McKay, please sit behind Colonel Sheppard and assist her--"

"And if you pass out," Joan says venomously, "you will never walk again, I swear to God."

Rodney, pale and vaguely green, lets Ronon help him into place as Joan slides to the edge of the bed and sits up, finally feeling like she's got some kind of traction. Pushing her feet down into the stirrups, she leans against Rodney as the next contraction hits her like a tank and thinks of her mother, in a quiet grave on a planet Joan hasn't seen in three years, who said she had to want it.

"I see the head," Teyla says, voice hypnotically calm. "You are doing well, Colonel."

Joan gasps out an affirmative, slumping against Rodney between contractions, vaguely aware of the arm wrapped tightly around her, the low voice in her ear that she can almost--

"--I don't know how to--"

"Rodney," she says, tilting her head enough to see him. "Rodney, what--"

"I think about it," he says, voice low and fast and hard. "I mean, I didn't think you'd say yes, and I didn't think you'd stay, and I didn't--I never told you--"

"Rodney," she says urgently; the next contraction is close. "Rodney, sweetie, baby, you flake out on me now--"

"I never told you when I fell in love with you."


The world ends for Rodney when the light goes out.

It's a single blip, dark red surrounded in a sea of Wraith. His hand can still shape the parts of a nuclear bomb built from memory, and he sees her stand up from the chair in a loop that he thinks he might see until the day he dies.

So long, Rodney, she says with a grin and a flick of her head.

Sheppard, he says, and closes his eyes and remembers her shooting him when he tested the cloak and at the foot of his bed after the invasion while he slept, Not your fault. Say it, McKay, woke him from Kolya's never ending knife, I'll always come for you, she said, and he believed her.

The world began again in a shimmer of light.

Teyla ran down the steps that Rodney couldn't walk, touched her the way Rodney never could, and she looked up at him for a second that would last the rest of his life, wide hazel eyes the green of the Atlantean ocean, filled with all the light in the room, all the light in the world.

Oh, he thinks, of course. Of course.

She's the universe with the first break of light when time began, the answer to every question he's ever asked and some he never knew he could. She wears a gun and a grin and walks like she's never understood how to be afraid.

He never knew he was waiting, not until now.

One day he'll tell her. He knows it.


Joan almost breaks two of Ronon's fingers when Meredith Sheppard finally condescends to appear, born into Teyla's hands while Halling murmurs prayers to the Ancients, blessings on the child that Atlantis welcomes with a surge of power that made the city light up like a bonfire; even those on the mainland could see it.

There's going to be one hell of a party tonight. Joan wonders if there's any chance she can slip downstairs to join in.

Joan takes her daughter with a grin and sigh, touching the tiny nose with the tip of one finger, and hears a woman's voice somewhere far away, telling her that one day she'd fly.

"You will, too," Joan says softly, looking into a face with her mother's mouth and Joan's nose and her husband's bright blue eyes. Rodney's leaning over her shoulder, chin sharp against the bone while he fights the urge to pass out, and she's impressed with him and will tell him so. Later. "I'll show you everything. You're going to light up the sky."