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Damned If You Do, and Damned If You Don't

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It is the most perfect week of his life. They rent a convertible and drive down the coast, first stopping at Santa Cruz to have lunch on the pier. By five they are in Carmel, where, surprise, surprise, a luxury suite at the Highland's Inn has been booked. The en suite Jacuzzi might as well have Rodney's name on it. His neck unknots for the first time in five years; his back actually feels good. They sleep until noon, eat croissants while emptying an entire pot of coffee, go for a walk on the beach, fuck, have cocktails on their private balcony, eat dinner at the hotel, feed each other blini and caviar, and then fuck again. When they exhaust the pleasures of Carmel, they head further down the coast, Jennifer driving, with Rodney glancing up from his laptop every now and then to enjoy some of the coastline around Big Sur. That even Rodney acknowledges is damn incredible. Which is saying something considering he's been in another goddamn galaxy. At Cambria they stay in a B&B so close to the surf he half expects to find their room flooded at high tide. They do the tourist thing and see Hearst Castle. During the garden tour, Rodney gets stung by a bee and Jennifer has the epi-pen at the ready so he doesn't go into anaphylactic shock and die.

It was so perfect that he will never ever forgive her.

Yes, there were signs, and if he hadn't been thinking with his dick he would have twigged to them immediately. When Jennifer first proposed using their week of leave to take a real vacation and head down the coast, Rodney was immediately torn. As lovely as it would be to spend a week with Jennifer, he'd already promised John they'd go shopping for surf boards. John wanted to hit the waves down in Santa Cruz with his time off, and would Rodney like to help him vet the boards; see which ones were the best, you know, physics wise? Rodney was simultaneously horrified, furious, and chuffed.

The horrified part: Rodney didn't trust the ocean, five years living on one notwithstanding. Things swam in the ocean. Things with tentacles and stingers and teeth. Rodney tried to keep his shark phobia well hidden because it wasn't like people didn't have enough material. Should they live so long, John could milk the citrus allergy alone into the twenty-fifth century. And lots of people were afraid of sharks, plenty of brave people! Plus, why would anyone in their right mind voluntarily wear something that screamed "I am a seal," and then swim in their hunting grounds. Shark Buffet! All You Can Eat! Of course this was the same man who hitched a ride on a nuclear weapon, so there you are.

The furious part: that John would--already having turned Baysian statistics on its head; Rodney had done the math--keep playing craps on the felt of death. Because even though Rodney knew the physics behind surfing, and John was damn near perfect in terms of height to friction to weight ratio and that swim like, well, a seal thing he did, how could he keep throwing those dice? See sharks, tentacles, stingers, and teeth.

Finally, the chuffed part: because John trusted him to pick out the most perfect board.

"Well, I promised Sheppard I'd do a Kervorkian and assist him in his suicide."

"Suicide?" Jennifer fairly choked on that, which was something of a tell, because normally her forehead got this cute June-Cleaver-Boys-Will-Be-Boys crunch to it whenever Rodney brought up John's name.

"The impaired call it surfing. I promised to go down to Santa Cruz with him during with our time off. Gosh, I'm sorry. Should I have asked you first?"

"Don't be silly, Rodney," she replied while studying the datapad in her hand. Rodney once again thought, "Thank you, whatever deity you are," because Jennifer rarely let Rodney's innate thoughtlessness or his complete inability to navigate the landmines of social and dating niceties bother her. "Besides, it's not an issue. Major Lorne told me that the Colonel had family business to attend to and has already left for the east coast."

If Rodney hadn't been so entranced by the idea of having sex without a radio in his ear, his radar would have immediately gone into red alert: John hadn't contacted him about this change in plans, which even assuming the guy thing, would have been a gross breach of, well, not etiquette, but certainly du-de-quette, not to mention John plus family equals a definite non-convergence. But as Rodney's balls had temporarily taken over his brain functions, he fired off a four-sentence email that said, "Asshole. Jennifer says you've gone back east. Want to do the surf board thing when you get back? Not that I should enable moronic behavior, but the one thing I've learned over the past five years is that you and completely insane behavior go hand in hand and why fight the eternally stupid?" He hit "Send" and then asked Jennifer about the rental car and was she sure it had air bags.

By day six he knew something was seriously wrong. Rodney's laptop was basically his third arm, and this was another reason why he loved Jennifer Keller. Because she never displayed any jealousy over his compulsive need to keep his fingers: on a keyboard; clutching a knife and/or fork; or feeling her up. But the keyboard came first and she knew that. She drove and he typed, running the usual diagnostics of Atlantis while sending John the usual insulting emails every fifteen minutes or so to break the monotony. He'd done it for five years and he didn't see any reason to stop now that they were on Earth. What was weird was that John responded every single time. Within ten minutes. Admittedly, this was standard procedure for several hours--especially as John welcomed any excuse to delay processing paperwork--but at some point John would fire off an email telling Rodney to shut up: "You are going to have to be an asshole all by your lonesome, McKay. I'm going to bed now." Or, "I'm rearranging my sock drawer." Or, "I'm reading my book." Or, Rodney's personal favorite, "John Sheppard has left the planet." It fooled him for a few days, but once doubt crept in, he realized this was standard macho flyboy posturing as opposed to Sheppard macho flyboy posturing. Oddly enough, there was a huge difference.

Rodney began getting up after Jennifer had gone to sleep and firing off emails at two, at three, at four in the morning, and every single time he'd get a ping back. The replies were sarcastic enough, so points to the poor saps imitating John, but it wasn't John. Aside from the special brand of snark, the person pretending to be John actually answered Rodney's questions about his brother and his ex-wife. An innocuous, "How's your brother?" would have been completely ignored if the real John had been at the other end. As it was, he got back, "Dave's okay. We're trying to deal with the aftermath of my father's death." Rodney's query about his ex-wife, "Have you had a chance to connect with your ex-wife?" got back an absolutely absurd, "Yeah, Nancy and I had drinks last night."

As if!

Rodney would have been rendered speechless if John didn't have the Mount Everest of emotional and financial baggage to deal with regarding his ex-wife and his father's death. Because it says volumes when you're roughly two hours away from have your chest cleaved open by a hungry Wraith and you don't say goodbye. Yes, yes, yes, John might have had drinks with his ex-wife and given his pathological sense of duty he'd have suffered through endless meetings with lawyers at his brother's behest. But he would have married a Wraith queen before admitting that he'd done so. Of course, the people imitating him wouldn't know what a twisted and damaged fuck John was--Rodney had hacked into John's confidential file and marveled at how well he'd manipulated the psych tests. Only Heightmeyer had had the smarts to call John on his fucked-uppedness, but that was one psychiatrist out of twenty, and it wasn't like they could call on her expertise, now could they?

To Jennifer's query whether they should take another four days and hit San Diego, Rodney managed to smile and clench his teeth, while muttering something about the flux capacitors needing adjusting and he couldn't trust Zelenka to do it right. There were so many things wrong with that sentence that it made Rodney's head spin. She gave him a worried nod and pointed the car north.

The second his feet touched the pier, he made a beeline for Lorne's office. Rodney had personally seen Evan Lorne face as many as ten Wraith without so much as a twitch, therefore, his furious blush and tortured grimace told Rodney all he needed to know. Well, there was no point in beating around the bush. They might as well get this farce over with.

"I understand Colonel Sheppard had family crap to deal with. I want to make some modifications to the jumpers and you know how proprietary he is about them. I so much as say the word 'jumper' and he gets that look on his face like he's a lion poised to annihilate whoever dares to threaten his cubs." Rodney realized he was beginning to babble; he should get to the point or he'd blow it. "Do you know when he'll be back?" Rodney assumed they were being watched, or, at the very least, miked, and while Rodney didn't do "subtle," he was going to do his damndest not to jeopardize Lorne's career and yet still fish for some answers as to what was going on.

"No, Dr. McKay. He's put in for family leave. Some nasty legal stuff that needed addressing ASAP."

No one watching them would have known.

"He's put in for family leave" easily translated to: "They've got him and I can't do a damn thing about it. It happened so fast that it caught all of us by surprise."

Rodney replied: "Is he going to recon with O'Neill since he's on the east coast?"

Which was Rodney speak for, "How far up does this go? Is O'Neill in on it?"

"No, Sir. I believe that General O'Neill is on a classified mission with Dr. Jackson."

Crap. A coup.

"I've tried to reach Teyla and Ronon, but their mikes don't answer. Did we change the frequency?"

At Lorne's slow shake of his head, Rodney began gripping his knees in a desperate attempt not to start screaming. For one split second Rodney's control vanished. If his face showed half the despair that he was feeling they were doomed.

"They returned to New Lantea. Torren is ill."

He looked down, got it together, and then faced Lorne again. "For crying out loud, these aliens," he sputtered. "You work with people for five years and they don't even have the basic courtesy to say, hey, it was nice working with you. Christ!"

"Yes, Sir. I couldn't agree more," Lorne said with a marked degree of approval in his voice, so at least in Lorne's eyes, the save was good.

Atlantis appeared intact, so he assumed that Ronon had accepted the excuse at face value. Or they used Torren as a hostage, which was the only other way to get Ronon and Teyla through the Gate more or less willingly. Rodney couldn't spare more than a few seconds to the fervent hope that they were only kicked out of Atlantis and nothing more. It was up to him. He hoped to god that John was still on Atlantis, because if they'd moved him to Cheyenne or somewhere else, he was totally fucked.

"Well, these modifications can wait until he comes back," Rodney said in a fake jovial voice that sounded fairly hysterical to his ears, but assuming they'd probably brought in a whole new crew that wasn't loyal to John, anyone listening would assume the reedy, wound-up tone in his voice was standard McKay, his reputation as being hysterical pretty much twenty-four seven rock solid in six continents and two galaxies.

He didn't know exactly how far he could push Lorne but he didn't have much choice.

"Woolsey wanted me to reverse engineer that Wraith stunner we picked up on MD5-689. Will you call the armory and tell them I'm on my way to pick it up?"

Without missing a beat, Lorne gave him a genuine smile. "Of course, Dr. McKay. I'd be happy to."

He pushed back his chair, his mind reeling with a million questions and, like, two answers--which was so not Rodney because he always had answers but he'd rarely had to deal with these sort of questions--when he noticed that Lorne had stuck his hand out for Rodney to shake. As if to say, "Good luck."

Rodney grabbed it and squeezed.

After picking up the stunner, he went directly to his quarters. Because he couldn't bear to be lied to and he knew that the lab staff would be forced to lie to him and he just didn't want to go there. His quarters smelled like a sock graveyard where moldy and filthy socks came to die, and he couldn't help but remember that suite in Carmel, which smelled of lavender, and that Jacuzzi, which took fifteen years off of his back, and, as if on cue, Jennifer miked him asking him if he was free for dinner. Rodney bit back a snarl and replied that he was busy cataloging the veritable mountain of stupid mistakes his staff had made in his absence and could he have a rain check for the next night? She chirped an enthusiastic yes, following it up with several salacious suggestions as to the next night's menu. Rodney knew he should have responded in kind with mutual horniness, but all he could muster was a hearty, "Can't wait!" before signing off.

Betrayal, thy name is Keller.

Making sure that the stunner was within reach--by this point he half-expected his quarters to be invaded by a platoon of Marines, an arsenal of P-90s aimed at his head--he fired up two laptops and got to work. He toyed with the idea of logging on as Elizabeth--just to fuck with their minds--but then common sense won out. He logged on as Sam. Like him, Sam was always logged to a minimum of six computers at the same time; he hoped that logging on to a seventh wouldn't attract any notice. She'd been logging onto the Atlantis mainframe fairly often since they'd landed, so her presence wouldn't have tipped anyone off. At least not for a while.

Then he logged on as himself. Then he started running standard diagnostics and compared the screens. Then he realized that he'd been completely locked out of the system. Whoever had orchestrated this was an idiot. Yes, they'd monkeyed with the clock so that it looked like Rodney was seeing fresh data, but even if Rodney hadn't been comparing the screens side by side, he would have eventually realized that he was seeing canned numbers; there weren't enough deviations.

Or maybe not an idiot.

Because this required a fairly sophisticated manipulation of the database, one that only someone who knew it inside and out could pull off. And it required an even more sophisticated and brilliant mind to make it seem like it'd been done right and yet the jerry-rigging obvious enough--so that Rodney would see the flaws--but subtle enough so that no one else would. While paying a silent mental homage to Radek Zelenka, he pressed a hand to his stomach to stop the dry heaves. Because if they'd gotten to Zelenka, then the entire city was under their control. Whoever they were.

While his laptop ran the fake data, he used Sam's account to search Atlantis, looking for groups of three stationary figures: two guards, one prisoner. It took a little longer than it should have because there was only one guard, but then they only needed one guard; they were holding John in the Wraith cell.

Rodney turned off the laptop, hid the stunner in his shower stall, filled all the pockets of his tac vest with epi-pens, and grabbed his fake passports out of their hiding places. Miking Lorne that he'd forgotten to buy a tee-shirt for his niece at Pier 39, he requested a Marine ferry him back to the mainland and then pick him up in the morning. Major Lorne said no problem.

Six weeks into Rodney's first U.S. military contract, he called in some favors and established a fake identity complete with a passport and a bank account under the name Roderick M. MacKinnon. Six months into this same contract, he'd established a second fake identity complete with passport and bank account under the name Robert M. McAvoy. Over the years he'd beefed up the fake identities by hacking into newspaper morgues to plant fake stories and the mainframes of several city governments to create an "official" paper trail for both men. MacKinnon owned a hardware store in Mississauga. McAvoy operated a chain of laundromats in California. Because Rodney spent a majority of his career in places like Siberia and McMurdo, he banked most of his salary. Over the years he would funnel five thousand here and five thousand there into the bank accounts of McAvoy and MacKinnon, more than enough to fund Operation Free Sheppard. Plus, once he'd owned up to his enormous jerkiness, he'd secretly taped a waterproof pouch containing one-hundred-thousand-Canadian dollars to the underside of Jeannie's porch.

Some people might call him paranoid, others a genius.

He left the McKay passport in his room. He'd never need it again.

The launch dropped him off at a dock fairly close to the Hyatt Regency on the Embarcadero. Buying several rolls from a bakery in the Ferry Building, Rodney stuffed two down his throat and the rest in his pockets. He ordered a triple-shot large mocha from Peet's to wash down the bread. Rodney figured he had roughly twelve hours to get things in place and he couldn't have a caffeine slump or a blood sugar meltdown anytime soon.

San Francisco still had a few public docks down near China Basin. Heading east on foot, fairly quickly he found a thirty-six-foot Beneteau for sale. He needed a hiding place, and the Purlioned Letter approach was as good as any--the spires of Atlantis were visible from the deck. Assuming he was actually successful in freeing John--the odds were terrible and he forced himself to stop thinking math and start thinking Hail Mary otherwise his feet wouldn't move--there wasn't a highway, airport, bus station, taxi, or apartment for rent that wouldn't be targeted by Black Ops. But a sailboat. That was actually in view of Atlantis. John would appreciate the irony. Rodney knew squat about sailing, but John's family had probably summered in Martha's Vineyard with other American aristocrats, working on their tans, their backhands, and their connections. Besides, it was a ship. Even if John didn't know how to sail, Rodney would give him two hours from hoisting anchor before he'd be proficient enough to crew for the America Cup.

"Are you the owner?" Rodney bellowed to the tall guy hosing down the deck, wearing a faded windbreaker, ripped jeans, and flip flops so old and beat up that they looked welded to his feet.

In a drawl very reminiscent of John he said, "You know how to sail?" God, typical California slacker. He raised his aviators for a split second and gave Rodney the once over, not bothering to contain his skepticism. Apparently, Rodney didn't look like sailor material.

"No," he admitted. "But I plan on learning and my money doesn't need to know to sail. Why are you selling it? The engine better not suck or we can stop this conversation right now."

"That's what I do." The guy didn't out and out call him a dickhead, but he thought it. It took Rodney years to realize that the grim line that characterized people's mouths whenever they were around him was not a reflection on their dental work or lack thereof. "Buy boats and restore them. Engine's ten-years old, but I overhauled it."

"We'll see about that," sniffed Rodney. "Inboard? Outboard? Horsepower? Maximum speed?" He snapped his fingers four times. "Show it to me or no deal."

Save him from the world's incompetents.

"You call this an overhaul? Socket wrench. Screwdriver. No, the larger one. At least you didn't strip all of the nuts."

After spending a good thirty minutes doing an impromptu tune-up of the engine and deeming it a nightmare but a working nightmare, they moved on to the interior. The boat had two cabins; living quarters cum kitchen and a sleeping cabin at the fat end. There was also a pseudo-sleeping space at the pointy end, but only if you were five feet two. He and John would have to share the bed, but it wasn't like they hadn't shared a hell of a lot worse. As they shuffled their way through the cabin, the owner said something about the number and condition of the sails (which was all gobbledygook to Rodney) and then segued into a brief rundown on the specs of the navigation equipment (which Rodney was actually interested in hearing), but by then Rodney's claustrophobia had kicked in, and to stave off a panic attack, he began counting the number of windows. Which worked until he realized that half of them they didn't open. Fortunately by that time they were back on the dock. If he had to, he'd sleep on the deck.

"I'll buy it. Can you keep paying the whatever fees for the next three months? The charges to--" he flailed a hand. "You know, keep it here. I'll add it to the price."

The owner stepped back and eyed him more thoroughly. With a weathered hand he pushed his baseball cap back and mopped his forehead. "Pay the dock fees, you mean? You sure your money is good?"

"Yes, yes, yes," Rodney said, exasperated. "American greenbacks."

The bank manager gave him a hard time at removing that much money but Rodney went into his spiel about how he was retiring next week and planned on sailing around the world. Rodney loved loved loved computers. Robert McAvoy had been front page news in The Modesto Bee last week. At least as of this morning there was an article saying exactly that. There was more hemming and hawing and then Rodney reverted to type. He snapped his fingers six times in rapid succession, accompanied by an impatient, "Chop, chop, bank manager type. I'm going out with the tide." Fortunately, Bob McAvoy and the guy who owned the boat shared the same bank. "Transfer $178,000.00 into this nice man's account, pronto. And I'd like a hundred dollars worth of quarters while you are at it."

Despite five years worth of curve balls in Pegasus, Rodney could never compete with Teyla, John, or Ronon's spidey sense, but even he knew that the sailboat owner didn't buy his story. The guy kept studying him, trying to get a handle on what was going down. Rodney couldn't worry about it. The sale was done, papers signed, and Rodney now owned a sailboat he couldn't sail. Time to find a payphone.

Which was much harder than it sounded given that the world had now become cell phone heaven in the five years since he'd spent any significant time on Earth. He finally found one in the BART station. Armed with quarters, he called the lowliest person in Jeannie's office.

"Yes, yes, yes, I've tried her number and it doesn't work. Can you please interrupt her office hours and ask her to come to your phone. I'm sure the morons she's tutoring won't mind. Tell her it's her brother."

Ten minutes later Jeannie came on. "Meredith," she screeched--the McKays were excellent screechers--"there's something called a cell phone and I happen to own one. And I know you have the number, so the next time--"

The nice little loving speech he had practiced went out the window as a nerve in his thumb began to throb from feeding massive amounts of quarters into the slot to keep the connection alive.

"Look, I'm dead certain all your phones are tapped; I'm less sure about this one. Hopefully, I'm right. Listen to me and don't interrupt. Drive home, get your passports, remove the money I've taped in a bag underneath your back porch, and get out of the country. These people mean business. They'll use you and Maddie to get to me. Catch the first flight out to France; the French hate Americans on principal. Assuming they don't abduct you in the middle of the night, you might be able to fight extradition from there. I figure you've got twenty-four hours to get out of the country. One hour if this phone is tapped. I love you. Tell Mads I love her. Tell Caleb I sort of like him. I'm sorry, Jeannie. I'm so sorry."

He hung up. He shouldn't have called her, but he had to. He could sacrifice himself, but there was no way in hell he was sacrificing her and Mads.

After renting a twelve-passenger van, he drove to the first mall he could find. He bought the following:

A large screen HD television. For once the specs didn't matter. All Rodney cared about was how much it weighed and whether a man could fit inside the box.

Several packages of black tee-shirts, two down parkas, sweats, shorts, socks, shoes, and underwear. He made an educated guess on John's shoe size based on the way he rode a skateboard and the ratio of torque to balance. He figured a size twelve and a half.

Four laptops. Ignoring the clenching in his gut when they asked him if he wanted Windows Vista as an operating system, he nodded. God. What depths the U.S. military had sunk him to.

Six giant jars of peanut butter, five huge jars of jam, four boxes of power bars, three boxes of saltines, five jars of applesauce, ten cans each of canned pears and peaches, fifteen boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese, twenty cans of tomato soup, twenty cans of minestrone soup, ten cans of clam chowder, five cases of bottled water, seven cases of Gatorade, ten pounds of oatmeal, thirty pounds of coffee, and a cheap plastic coffee press. At the clerk's joking question if he was preparing for the Apocalypse, he replied, "I'm Mormon."

A bottle opener, five cases of Keiths, and a case of Jack Daniels. Rodney wasn't much of a drinker--beer usually did it for him--but John appreciated a couple of fingers now and then.

Five gigantic boxes of Motrin, a first-aid kit, six boxes of band-aids (the waterproof kind), three gigantic tubes of sunscreen (SF 50), and all the Benadryl off the shelf.

Every book that John Le Carre wrote, plus an assortment of mysteries, thrillers, and pop physics books--whose margins he would fill with the appropriate insults. A box of nice pens with the roller balls that actually rolled and a box of mechanical pencils with fine leads.

A heavy-duty dolly.

He'd been using McAvoy's bank card, and all that activity would definitely raise flags should someone be looking for it. With that in mind, he hit as many banks as he could. He managed to withdraw eighteen thousand in cash before they stopped his card. Hopefully that would be enough for now. He didn't want to break out the MacKinnon cards unless he absolutely had to.

By the time he got back to the boat it was dark. Unloading everything in a couple of trips, he collapsed on the bed, not bothering to change his out of his clothes. He murmured, "Hang on, Sheppard," right before he fell asleep.

For a hundred dollars, he could park the van behind some hamburger shack that was fairly close to the dock where the launch would pick him up. Normally, that type of highway robbery would have had him apoplectic with rage; now he handed over the five twenties without a second thought.

Another hundred went to two dishwashers from the hamburger shack to load the television onto the dolly. The faces of the Marines when they saw the size of the box was priceless. Normally, he would have enjoyed needling them about it all the way to Atlantis. Given that he was feeling less than generous toward the American military this morning (with a few exceptions), he snapped, "For heaven's sake, it's just a television. You have no trouble lifting all those stupid weights in the gym. Get a move on," and didn't say another word until they reached the pier.

"Shoo," he ordered when they'd lifted the box out of the launch and back onto the dolly. "I'll take it to my quarters myself. I can't stand to hear anymore whining." He ignored the whisper of "fucking asshole" that followed him as he pushed the television down the hallway.

It barely fit through the narrow Ancient doors, but Rodney gave the dolly a shove and it scraped by. In case someone reported that he was back on base, he sent a loving email to Jennifer, reminding her that they were on for tonight and that he couldn't wait. He didn't bother to reply to the ping that said she'd returned his email.

Unpacking the television, he gave a fleeting thought to how nice movie night would have been with this high-def baby. Oh well. Logging in as Sam one last time, he double checked to make sure that John was still being held in the Wraith cell. Changing of the guard would happen at 1200--the military were ridiculously predictable--and Operation Free Sheppard would kick off at 12:05. That gave him a couple of hours. First, although risky, the signal on their internal transmitters had to be permanently scrambled. He hoped they weren't tracking him just yet, but it was a given that they'd be keeping a constant bead on John. With luck, they wouldn't discover the dead transmitter until after they'd escaped. Next was coding in the energy fail. Ironic didn't quite cover it. Rodney had spent the majority of his waking hours over the last five years keeping Atlantis humming and online, and now he was deliberately sabotaging her. He didn't have the same sentient relationship with the city that John did, but his stomach couldn't help but rumble in protest.

Secreting a laptop and the stunner inside of the now-empty box, he wheeled the dolly to a transporter and gave the order for the same level where John was being held prisoner. Once he exited the transporter, he extracted the stunner, zapped the first person he saw in a uniform, hauled him onto the dolly, turned the corner, and stunned the Marine guarding John.

He gave the Wraith stunner a loving pat. Rodney usually obsessed on their claws--but this weapon? Take that, American military complex. Oh. John was curled into a tiny ball, naked, and ominously not moving. Even from twenty feet away, Rodney could see he was covered in bruises from head to foot and, Christ, were those taser burns? He fished for the small headlight he'd put in his tac vest, fitted it over his head, switched it on, removed the laptop from the box, hit "Enter," and killed the power. The lasers defining the cell powered down. Victory. Immediately, his mike went berserk, with eight voices screaming at him at once. As he wheeled the dolly into the cell, he yelled into his mike, "Radek, you idiot. What have you done to my city?"

Radek replied, as calm as could be--oh, Radek knew, that wily Czech bastard--"We are helpless without you, Rodney, I've checked--"

Rodney killed his mike and hissed, "Sheppard, if you're even remotely conscious, you're going to have to crawl up onto this dolly and get yourself into the box."

Rodney could count on two fingers the number of times he'd heard John ever vocalize his pain. Heaving himself up off the floor with Rodney's help, every movement brought forth a groan. They'd done everything short of killing him. Before John was even halfway in the box, Rodney wheeled the dolly out of the cell, dragged the stunned Marine to over where John had lain, took off his pants, and ran out of the cell.

By the time he'd done all this, John had managed to crawl into the box. Rodney threw the pants on top of him, taped the box shut, and wheeled John to the transporter. He turned back on his mike.

"Radek, as usual I've saved the day. Give me a second and I'll..." and he hit a button on the laptop and the power came back on. Just like he'd planned. Taking off the headlamp, he stashed it in his pocket. After wheeling the dolly onto the transporter, he programmed it to go to the dock, and then screamed into the mike, "You people couldn't find your way out of a paper bag. I'll be back in the lab when I've dealt with my television. Heads are going to roll, people. ROLL!"

Perhaps that was over the top.

He had a moment of mind-numbing terror when he saw at least twenty Marines guarding the dock, but they had a lazy hold on their weapons, their P-90s dangling at their sides. Obviously, the new recruits hadn't been debriefed about the McKay factor. Lucky for them that he wasn't returning, or he would have had them demoted to janitors. His initial request for help in loading the dolly and the television onto the launch was met with a chorus of yawns. It was only when he made to mike Lorne that they jumped to. At his, "Careful! That cost more than you make in a year, you Neanderthals," they dumped it on the floor of the launch. He hoped that John had passed out by this point; the last thing he needed right now was for the "television" to shriek in pain.

The trip to dock was surprisingly uneventful. They loaded it onto the dolly for him, but ignored Rodney's sputters help him to put it in the van, spraying him and the box with backwash as they pulled away from the dock.

"Sheppard?" he said in a low voice.

"Yeah," John replied a weak growl.

Rodney figured he had another thirty minutes to get John into the boat before they discovered the switch. After paying out another hundred to the same dishwashers to load the box back into the van, Rodney drove to back to the dock and cut open the box with his rental car keys.

Christ knows how he did it, but John actually had managed to slip on the pants by the time Rodney opened the box and somehow walk on his own two feet to the sailboat. No sooner did he get John into the cabin did Rodney hear the whoopwhoopwhoop of approaching helicopters. Twenty-three minutes. The visibility from the cabin windows was pretty poor, but he could see they were flying high in a straight line to Atlantis. They weren't on reconnaissance yet. Where had they come from? Vandenberg? Travis? He had time to get rid the van.

"You okay? I need to ditch the van."

Flaked out on a banquette and shivering slightly, John nodded and said in a faint whisper, "Go. You don't have much time."

"You cold?

John shook his head, which Rodney interpreted that he was freezing but wouldn't admit it.

"Funny, I only shiver when I'm cold."

Rodney tore off his jacket and draped it over John's torso. It would have to do. He dumped the van at a hotel near the top of Market Street, peeling off yet another hundred for the doorman, with a curt, "Take this back to Hertz." Then he walked back in the general direction of the boat, keeping close to groups of tourists, and waited in an alleyway near the Embarcadero for it to get dark before heading back to the dock.

His hands were shaking so badly it took him forever to unlock the cabin door. He shoved back the hatch and groped for the light. John had the stunner trained on him. He gave Rodney a faint smile, ghoulish against the backdrop of blackened eyes and a busted lip. "Rodney. You saved my ass once again."

Rodney started to sob, too weak and emotionally beaten to even bring his hands up to his face to hide his meltdown. A strong hand pulled Rodney down onto the banquette. With a hiss of pain, John threw an arm around him and held him while Rodney cried for what seemed like forever, whispering over and over, "You did good, Rodney. You did good."

Night and day, helicopters fanned over the city and the coastline. When the fog cleared at around eleven, Rodney could generally pirate the odd Internet signal. Local newspaper feeds reported that the Bay Area was suddenly carpeted with helicopters and troops because of a 9/11 simulation. To mollify the public, the Blue Angels made an appearance. John's jaw clenched tight every time the Hornets roared over their heads, cutting through the air.

Rodney kept John on a steady diet of crackers, Motrin, and Gatorade, constantly checking his forehead for signs of fever. It was inconceivable that they hadn't broken anything internal, considering how they'd wrecked him. John's piss ran pink for a few days, but then cleared. Rodney spent most of his day devising strategies on how to hack into the nearest hospital's mainframe to manufacture prescriptions for antibiotics and/or morphine. On day six, Rodney put the back of his hand to John's forehead as usual, and this time John wrenched his head away with a testy, "Jesus, Rodney, these guys are professionals. They didn't break me. They need me."

At which point Rodney snapped back, "Excuse me for being slightly concerned. Maybe it's the Doubting Thomas in me, and maybe it's the carpet of taser burns all over your body that led me to believe that whoever worked you over wasn't too particular. Here I thought it was torture, when it was just tough love. My mistake, Colonel."

At which, John actually laughed, which made Rodney laugh, which made both of them hysterical until they realized that they should keep it down.

Early on Rodney had suggested that they not use any power other than what they needed to feed the laptops and microwave the odd can of soup. They kept conversation down to an absolute minimum, using sign language most of the time or talking to each other on laptops.

Finally, Rodney got up the nerve to ask what in the hell was going on. John was sitting up in bed--the bruises mostly having bloomed to a charming blotchy yellow--gingerly sipping a tepid cup of soup. Rodney couldn't face him but focused at a spot just beyond his head. In the entire five years Rodney had known him, he'd never seen John's beautiful face so battered. It hurt to look at him, even in the dim light of the cabin.

"So why in the hell did they work you over?" Rodney whispered.

"Wanted me to fly Atlantis," he whispered back.

"So?" Rodney tried to keep the exasperation out of his voice, because it wasn't like John couldn't fly Atlantis--

"They wanted me to fly Atlantis back to Pegasus galaxy so they could use their new super-de-dooper weapon system to get rid of the entire galaxy. It would take care of the Wraith, and the Genii as a bonus kill. They already had it planned before we decided to E.T. it."

"What!" Rodney couldn't contain himself. "Are they insane?" he shouted. At John's pointed look, he brought it down a few hundred notches to a frantic whisper. "They'd sacrifice the entire galaxy?"

"Apparently, yeah. I said no, I wouldn't. They said yes, I didn't have a choice. I said no again, and then the fun started."

God, Doranda but done deliberately. All those people. Well, Rodney wouldn't care about those TRex things getting blown up, but the magnitude. Was there even a word for the genocide of an entire galaxy? That was probably why they didn't care that Ronon and Teyla went back through the Gate, because in their scheme of things, they were going to be toast anyway. Rodney couldn't help it; he bolted from the cabin to throw up over the side. When he finally returned, John had left his unfinished mug of soup on the sideboard and had lain back down. Rodney lay next to him, debating whether or not to continue, but curiosity won out.

"Do you know what happened to Teyla and Ronon? Lorne told me that there was some manufactured story about Torren being sick."

"I think they're okay. By that point I was at Camp Taser, but I'm pretty sure... Yeah, I think they got through the Gate okay."

That minute catch in John's voice told Rodney knew that Sheppard really didn't know and was hoping they weren't actually in body bags being shipped to Cheyenne for endless DNA studies.

"Do you think Jennifer knew?" Rodney wanted to know and he didn't want to know.

"Some. Maybe. Go to sleep, Rodney."

He didn't think he'd actually vocalized his despair, but he must have made some sort of sound because John said in that gentle growl of his when he wanted to say something comforting but didn't have a clue how, "Look, she probably got you out of there so they couldn't use you to get to me. Because if they had started in on you, I.... Go to sleep, Rodney," he repeated.

Maybe that was true. Or maybe John only said that to make him feel better. He found it really didn't matter because regardless of her motives, he'd chosen John over her without even thinking about it. He fell asleep listening to the thrum of helicopters overhead, tearing through the dark, searchlights raking across the city and the ocean in deliberate, methodical arcs. If John hadn't been lying right next to him, he'd have started crying again.

The nightmares started about four days in. Colonel Stoic would never have given them the satisfaction of hearing him beg while actually being tortured, but now that he was out of their clutches, John couldn't control his dreams. Rodney held him through two nights of "No, no, please, god, not... Oh, Jesus, please no..." and the accompanying sobs when Rodney was finally able to wake him.

"Maybe we should sleep during the day and stay up at night. Waking up while it's light? It might help with the..." Rodney flailed, his hands shaking so much from the previous night's horror show that he couldn't pick up his coffee cup.

John didn't look at him but nodded.

"How'd you know I was, you know, getting close and personal with the rubber hoses?"

"They had Zelenka mock up feeds for the diagnostics, but they were fake enough that I'd have realized eventually that they were off. Unfortunately, he had to be subtle about it, and by the time I'd have realized it, you'd probably be dead. Fortunately, they were too clever. The stooge they had pretending to be you kept answering my emails. He or she, this is an equal opportunity army after all, never once told me to fuck off."

"He or she probably wanted to."

"Excuse me? Plus, when I started to get suspicious, I began asking questions about your brother and ex-wife, and you, well, not the real you, but the stooge you, actually responded."

That got the skeptical raised eyebrow, an expression so normal that Rodney could help but grin.

"Well, it's not like you volunteer anything about your family, ever, so it was a dead giveaway."

"That was pretty dumb," John agreed.

"You, well, not the real you but the fake you, actually referred to them by name. Dave and Nancy, eh?"

Sheppard ignored him and reached for his coffee.

"See?" Rodney crowed, triumphant.

By the end of the second week the helicopter sweeps had abated somewhat.

"So that's a good thing?" Rodney asked as he tried to hack off two weeks worth of stubble. They decided to risk a two a.m. visit to the bathroom at the end of the dock. It was that or die from B.O. poisoning. As John mopped his pits at the other sink, Rodney noticed that the hair singed off by repeated taser hits was growing back. John had little circles of stubble all over his body.

"No, that's bad. It means that they are waiting for us to make a move. That's when mistakes happen."

"Don't you think they think we've escaped?"

That got one of those ridiculous Sheppard-esque laughs that sounded like donkeys on steroids.

"No, Rodney, it doesn't. It means that they have so blanketed the area with covert ops that they're convinced we're holed up some place close. Stocking up on the supplies was smart. I bet they're moving people in and out of grocery stores twenty-four seven, waiting for one of us to turn up."

"Well, I vote for sailing out of here. I don't care where. You can sail, can't you? That Brahmin upbringing must have been good for something."

John turned off the taps with a wrench and put his shirt back on. He said to the sink, "I can sail. I'll teach you enough so that at the very least you won't capsize. And the engine's good. If worse comes to worse, you can motor up the coast the whole way."

Rodney stopped mid-shave. Oh, that bastard.

Rodney waved a razor in his face. "You are not going anywhere without me, do you understand?"

John did even glance at him as he left the bathroom.

Rodney waited until they were back in the cabin, fired up both laptops, and began typing.


Rodney pointed an angry finger at the other laptop. John responded with his rapid hunt and peck. They spend millions of dollars on a single plane, but they couldn't pony-up for typing instructors? Typical.

You could sail up the coast. Or buy yourself a used car and head on up to Canada. Use the fake Canadian passport. Go stay with Jeannie. Ditch the capslock.

Rodney couldn't hit the keys fast or hard enough.




John fingers started flying.


Rodney slammed the top of John's laptop shut and began typing on his, upping the font yet again.


John returned the favor and slammed Rodney's laptop shut and glared at him. Rodney had stared down Nobel Prize winners, so John's angry scowl didn't intimidate him one iota. But then John decided to play really dirty. He grabbed Rodney by the shoulders and yanked him close and kissed him, taking the opportunity to give him lots of tongue when Rodney opened his mouth to utter a half-muffled, outraged, "What the-- "

Rodney yanked away absolutely furious.

"You utter asshole," he hissed. "You want to play the homo card? You think that matters to me? That it will scare me off? Listen, buster, you want homo, I'll give you homo," and he yanked John back.

Not that Rodney knew anything about kissing a guy, but kissing was nothing more than friction and motion through time and very little space, with some hormones on top. How different could it be?

Despite all expectations, Rodney was a superb kisser. It never failed. The oh my god, the geek can kiss reaction where the kissee's body stiffens, then melts, then starts kissing back. Not that Rodney expected John to do that. No. What he expected was a bone-crunching karate chop to the side of his neck and then his dead body being thrown over the side into the drink.

Rodney continued to work his magic on John's mouth while also cataloging that (a) John Sheppard was kissing him back; (b) John Sheppard not only was kissing him back but had more than a rudimentary grasp of the physics of kissing himself; and (c) holy fuck, this felt marvelous! It was different and yet not. Rougher and edgier, sort of how you kiss when drunk except there was the clarity of being sober. Which was so hot Rodney immediately got a hard-on. Which was not different at all. The beard was weird, but after a couple of minutes just part of the overall package, and who cared about the beard when there was that mouth!

John pulled away, and with a mumbled, "What the fuck, Rodney?" against the side of his neck, dragged him into the bulkhead where the bed was and they were kissing again and rubbing against each other, gently, because John was healing but still a bruised mess, and then the mopping down they'd just done in the bathroom was pointless because they both came in their pants.

Since they'd slept all day, neither one of them went into a narcoleptic post-orgasm stupor. They lay there breathing on each other until Rodney admitted, "I've never done that before. You know with a guy. I've done it lots of times with women, of course. Well, not lots of times, but there was this one Russian scientist in Siberia who had a clothes fetish and--"

"Me neither. With a guy. Chill, McKay."

The knots in Rodney's neck that had been tightening up with every post-sex second loosened. He had no hetero heebie-jeebies about this at all--in fact, he thought, wow, I just added to my potential sex partner pool by fifty percent--and it was a big relief to hear that John felt the same or close enough. Or at least he wasn't freaking out. Of course, he could be lying in an attempt to put Rodney at ease, and then sneaking off while Rodney hit the twenty-four-hour drug store to buy lube and condoms. Wait. He couldn't do that. They'd probably gun him down the minute the cameras caught sight of him, his bullet-ridden carcass having lube in one hand and condoms in the other.

John laughed a little and said, "That game plan didn't exactly work out the way I thought it would. You were supposed to go yuck."

"Go yuck? Go yuck? There is no way that you even have a high school education, never mind a B.S. from Stanford and an M.S. from M.I.T. Obviously you picked up those credentials from some shady, online diploma mill. Standferd and M.I.C., and then, armed with a case of white-out, you... Oh no! Just because we've humped against each other like horny teenagers does not mean you get to tickle me. Stop. Stop! I take... I take it back. Stanford! M.I.T.! Uncle!" After Rodney had gotten back his breath, he said, "You are so toast, later. When you're not covered in bruises. Should we? I mean, I wouldn't mind another bathroom run. You know to--"

"McKay, shut up," John murmured and began nibbling on his neck. Maybe not lying.

"Round two? Yes, there really is no sense in getting clean if we're going to get dirty all over again, and you are still a bastard and no amount of hot sex is going to change my mind. It's all for one and one for all, and there's a hot spot just below my... Over... I said over... Oh Christ, there."

After round two, John fell asleep. The second time wasn't as fast or furious; it had more of a "gee, we're guys and we're having sex together" feel about it. Not like brush off the queer, but tentative and remarkably like Rodney's first time where his nerves overwhelmed the hormones. It was lots of elbows in the ribs and knees where they shouldn't go until finally Rodney ordered, "Don't move. I have this strange fetish for sight, and if we keep this up, one of us is going to end up blind, and with my luck it will be me."

Rodney's standard operating mode--arrogance, impatience, irritation, frustration, and just plain orneriness--were completely justified in his opinion. He had a right to be like that. It wasn't his fault that everyone was stupid. Physically unable to turn off the "I am a genius hear me roar" persona, he realized fairly early on that if he didn't counteract that somehow, he'd be reduced to jerking off as his only sexual outlet. One is the loneliest number. Especially as far as one's dick is concerned.

Luckily, Rodney McKay was pretty phenomenal in the sack. Some of his sexual prowess was due to his uber curious intellect--what would happen if I did this with my mouth or that with my hands--but if he was being honest with himself, it was more a by-product of his affair with Susan Metcalf. If they had been giving out Nobel Prizes for the most brilliant Mrs. Robinson of her age? Dingdingding, we have a winner! Susan Metcalf, please come to the podium and claim your prize. One of those cool, glacier-type blonds, she liked them young and she liked them smart. Out of curiosity, Rodney paid for far too drinks at various physics conventions throughout the years to find out exactly how many notches she had on her metaphorical belt. He rapidly came to the conclusion that there wasn't a physics Ph.D. candidate on the eastern seaboard she hadn't seduced or at least tried to make.

Rodney lasted longer than most of her other pick-ups, but then again, he was very young--only eighteen when he began work on his first Ph.D.--and clearly they didn't get any smarter. She'd graduated with a B.S. in physics from Berkeley, and then spent the next five years typing her husband through graduate school. Her husband wasn't that smart, just fair to middling, but he was extremely lucky in his choice of thesis topics, which Rodney was convinced she'd chosen. As her and Rodney's post-coital conversation centered exclusively on wormhole theory, it didn't take a genius to figure out that every time she spread her legs she was saying fuck you to her husband. Not that Rodney cared. Because her husband was a first-class weeny--typical of academics who know their wife is smarter than they are--and Susan Metcalf was awesome in bed.

Initially, Rodney didn't know how awesome. Being ridiculously brilliant like Rodney meant he was far too geeky to pull girls his own age--not to mention they were mentally like infants and even Rodney's rampaging hormones had an intelligence threshold, much to his annoyance. The girls who were his classmates? Strikeout again. They weren't going to go out with boys who were the same age as their much younger brothers. But for Susan Metcalf, Rodney figured he probably would have been a virgin until the Siberia stint. Where if you had a pulse, it was a go. Rodney often felt like a Georgia sharecropper in the direct path of Sherman's march to the sea when in bed with Susan--Softer! Harder! To the left. Not my left. Yours!--but by the end of their six-month affair what Rodney didn't know about sex wasn't worth knowing.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite translate as well as Rodney would have liked. If you're an asshole who performs oral sex that makes someone's toes curl, you're still an asshole. His skill set in bed did usually buy him a little time. Instead of getting dumped two weeks into a relationship, he could usually milk it to four. Heightmeyer had told him once that he had had the longest adolescence of any man she'd even seen, which she attributed largely to his mind being so completely out of sync with his body. He'd been playing catch-up for years.

"So I have a legitimate excuse for being a--"

Heightmeyer didn't even let him finish the sentence before cutting him off with an "Absolutely not, Rodney."

Bottom line? Most of his adult sexual life was about seizing opportunity because the chances of completely alienating the person opposite him within the next twenty minutes was a real possibility. He was totally going to take advantage of John's momentary self-professed amnesia about being straight and work as much of his sexual mojo as he could before John stopped him. He never thought his sexual orientation was up for negotiation, but then again, he'd never been mauled by John Sheppard.

First though.

Rodney kissed each and every one of those taser burns with the gentlest mouth possible in a pointless gesture to erase them all, or at least acknowledge the depth of Sheppard's bravery and integrity. Every kiss said: "I'm sorry." Every touch of his lips said: "They had no right." Every minute flick of his tongue was a declaration: "John." He wasn't even sure he'd earned the right to say that even yet, so he said it to himself in the deepest mental whisper. And when he'd kissed them all, he put a hand over John's heart and said out loud, "You did good. I've got your six," then kissed the top of John's chest right at the spot where that ridiculous chest hair began. By this point John's impressive erection had faded, and Rodney could feel but not hear repressed whimpers shivering up and down John's entire torso.

"You okay?" Rodney said in a low voice and then sucked on the tip of one of those strange ears; which didn't get a response, negative or positive. What the hell. He went with positive, sucking harder, and hmmmed in delight when John arched his neck, begging for more. Trailing a slow fingertip down John's chest, he swiped a thumb over the head of John's still soft penis. Instead of being insulted, Rodney was actually relieved. A soft dick wasn't threatening in the least, and Rodney's first deliberate homo out of the gate experience could definitely get behind non-threatening.

A series of soft kisses and sucks on the head of John's dick was followed by some truly obscene and slurpy licks to the crease separating John's groin from his legs and then, oh yes.

He applied the number one rule of Susan Metcalf's primer on oral sex: take it slow, tease the hell out of the person on the other end, and never underestimate the power of the tongue. Huh. Dick tasted like stale Cheetos with extra salt. Rodney had consumed probably six metric tons of stale Cheetos in his lifetime, so he wasn't grossed out by the taste, and he was always down for lots of salt on anything. Being a guy, he knew when John was going to shoot his load; he pulled away just in time and finished John off with his hand, who promptly went to sleep.

With his hand still gooey from John's come, Rodney was so close it didn't take more than a couple of pulls. Which was so hot and, Christ, how gay was that? He sighed "John" as he came, inhaling the scent of cheap soap and fresh sex off of John's skin. Then he waited for John to wake-up.

"Are we going to talk about this?" Rodney said when John opened one eye.

"No," John growled and burrowed down into his pillow. It was more of a I've-been-napping sort of growl, not a OH-MY-GOD-I DID-QUEER-THINGS-WITH-RODNEY sort of growl.

"I just want to make--"

"Shut-up, McKay."

"Okay, but just so we're--"

Sheppard was such a bastard. He resorted to tickling. AGAIN.

Peanut butter and jelly on crackers or mac and cheese? Rodney reached for the peanut butter with a scowl.

"Are you going to let me in on the plan at some point? Based on your improved mobility and your fascination with that stunner, I'd say we're about two days out. Because we both know there is a plan, and silly me, I'd like to have some inkling as to what it is."

"Want another cup of coffee?"

"Telling me now would be good."

"You're not gonna like it, Rodney."

"Are you serious? I'm going to hate it. That's a given. But we can't live on this boat forever. For one thing, we're running out of clean clothes, we both stink like goats--the bathroom sink just isn't cutting it anymore--and I've come to loathe peanut butter and jelly so much that I'm seriously considering committing suicide by lemon. Now tell me so that I can get my heart attack out of the way."

"You're really not going to like it."

After his initial fury over the dueling laptops scenario had abated, he saw John's point; becoming fugitives wasn't viable. They would last longer with John's survival skills--thank you, American military--but at some point they would be found. And then they'd torture Rodney to get John to fly Atlantis, which John would refuse to do. And then they'd turned the screws on Rodney to convince John to fly the city by having Rodney watch them torture John. And this lovely daisy chain would continue until their torturers went too far and killed them.

Plan A was definitely a total bust.

That left Plan B.

"Let me guess. We return to Atlantis, steal a puddlejumper, dial the Gate, and escape."

He didn't often surprise John and was gratified to see him spit his coffee a good three feet across the cabin.

After mopping up the coffee, he noted, "You do know the technology on Atlantis is sophisticated enough to detect a butterfly invading its airspace--I should know, I designed half of it--so we can't parachute in, sail up to it, or swim up to the dock. Which is moot because I can't swim more than a total of ten feet, and that's in a pool with eighty-degree water, not in an ocean that's probably forty degrees and teeming with sharks."

"Yeah, I know."

"And you also know that should we actually succeed and get onto Atlantis undetected, and miracle of miracles we reach the jumper bay, steal a puddlejumper, and then cloak it, we still have to maneuver out of the jumper bay, have someone dial the Gate, then fly it out the Gate. Assuming the Gate is still open.


"Piece of cake."


"And assuming we make it through the Gate, where are we going?"

Even though Rodney knew the answer, he still felt sick to his stomach when John said, "Proculus."

Because it was the only place in the entire universe where John Sheppard and his perfect ATA gene would be safe from them.

Rodney got up and made his way to the sleeping cabin, crawled into bed, and pulled the covers over his head.

John crawled in next to him.

"Rodney, come on. It's going to be okay."

No, it wasn't, even though he knew they had no choice. If by some miracle they made it through the Gate, it would be lust at second sight, and then John would fuck or mind fuck or mind meld or do whatever he and that Chaya creature had done before, and Rodney would be alone for the rest of his life, hobnobbing with the villagers. Who had a technological threshold of about 400 B.C.

At first, he resisted John trying to roll him over, but then gave in.

"Come on," John coaxed.

Rodney opened him mouth to sputter, because what in the hell did that mean, when John began to kiss him, very slowly. When Rodney tried to ramp it up, John wouldn't let him, just kept that slow, easy kissing until Rodney thought, "Yes, but it's a nice way to go crazy." And then, that lying motherfucker. Yes, despite all of his denials, John hadn't been sure about the gay. Because he'd been holding back big time. Because right about at the point Rodney wondered if you could come from just kissing, John went into fucking overdrive. Those long beautiful hands hunted for Rodney's hot spots, found them, caressed and teased, then used his mouth to lay some awesome-feeling hickeys all over Rodney's chest, and then when his torso was basically was gigantic welt, he worked Rodney's nipples until Rodney was begging for mercy. At which point, John thumbed the crease of his ass, which caused Rodney to bellow like a moose in heat, and somehow fingers were fucking him--what in the hell...was that sunscreen--and then it didn't matter what it was because every cell in his body was screaming, happy, wow, I'm so happy, and then John began to work their dicks together and then it was REAL happy times.

"You asshole," Rodney wheezed. "Holding out on me. And here I thought you were just a lousy lay."

"Hey," John protested. "It's just weird, you know? Thinking you're straight and then finding out not so much. I'm getting there."

Rodney brought a hand up and ran his hand through John's hair. Ugh. It was dirty. They desperately needed showers. It was time. Plus, the longer they stayed here, the more chance they had of getting caught.

"You don't need to worry about Chaya, Rodney."

If his brain wasn't currently a pile of fucked-out goo, Rodney would have called bullshit on that--John had lit up like a Christmas tree around that woman (for lack of a better word), so-- Oh fuck it. Carpe diem. What did it matter? They were going to die anyway.

"May I call you John?"

That got the Sheppard patented eye roll. "You're such a dork. Of course--"

"No," Rodney said a little louder than he should have. "It means something to me. To call you John. To really call you John. May I?"

"Sure." And then because this was John, he drawled, "Can I call you Dr. McKay?"

And because this was Rodney, he replied, "No, dickhead, you may not. 157,849,153. Prime or not prime?"

As much as they agreed that Plan A wasn't going to work, the details of "Plan B" remained elusive. Atlantis was impregnable. It went without saying that they couldn't co-opt anyone on the city because the ramifications would be too horrendous if they were discovered helping them. After a particular frustrating night, when they were no closer to solving their dilemma than they were six hours earlier, with the font size on the screens getting bigger and bigger and the use of exclamation points increasing by the minute, Rodney typed in forty-eight point type, "Too bad Kavanagh's not around! We could blackmail him into helping us and then--" At which John replied in sixty-point font. "RODNEY!" "Kidding!" Rodney typed back. "Sort of!" John sighed and typed slowly, exhausted, "We're done for the night. Want a blow job?"

Considering it was John's first time, it wasn't half bad. Not up to Metcalf standards, but good enough. Besides, like there's ever a bad blow job? Really, the only way to go is up.

Around a series of yawns, he murmured, "You're really getting the hang of this gay business, John."

He was about to drop off when John whispered, "Rodney."

For crying out loud.

"Look, I am all fucked out. You air force colonels might have a refractory period that is--"

"McKay," he hissed. It wasn't a good type of hiss. It was a "WRAITH!" type hiss.

Rodney opened his eyes. The former boat owner had a Glock in one hand and the stunner in his other. And he was wearing dog tags, the links just visible above the collar of his tee-shirt.

"Air force colonel, huh?"

"Look, buddy, do you mind if we put on some pants?"

"No pants. Bring your hands out from under the covers. You try to blind me with the quilt and your friend who can't sail is going to get it."

Taking his cue from John, he, too, brought his hands out from under the covers. Just his luck. He bought a boat from an ex-military drone. Rodney's twenty years working for the U.S. military had given him a homing device for these clowns and now was the time for his radar to go AWOL? All he could think about was getting a boat so that he'd have a place to hide John and he completely missed that this guy moved like he was military; tight and controlled, like his body would do what he wanted it to. Somewhere around forty-five, maybe younger--it was hard to tell from the sailing tan--he had that same confidence Ronon and John had with a weapon; like it was an extension of his hand. He wasn't waving the gun around like it was a toy and his stance was picture perfect.

"I'm going to pull this quilt off you boys nice and slow. You so much as blink funny and I'll shoot." At this range only a blind man would miss.

He put the stunner down and pinched one corner of the quilt between two fingers and pulled, careful to keep out of range of John's feet.

Rodney couldn't help it; he blushed. Because the hickeys were now visible and the smell of stale sex permeated the cabin. Not that he wouldn't have been embarrassed if he'd been with a woman and the same thing was happening, and it was on the tip of his tongue to say just that when the boat owner's jaw dropped. John was healing, but he was at the stage where it looked worse than it was and there was no disguising those taser burns. He brought his jaw together with a snap. Clearly, it wasn't the ball game he expected. He picked up the stunner and gestured with it towards John's dog tags.

Rodney waited for the snide remark, John's usual M.O. when guns were trained on him, but he said in a friendly voice, "Colonel John Sheppard. United States Air Force."

There wasn't anything that Rodney could point to, but the tension in the cabin eased up a fraction. Maybe the lines in the guy's forehead uncrinkled. Just a little. Although the gun looked just as menacing.

"The chopper sweeps. All the presence. Why would a guy who can't sail buy a boat? I watched you load up with supplies and then disappear. Every now and then I'd hear voices but never any sign of the second person. Then it hit me. The choppers. The maneuvers in the Bay. They're looking for you guys."

Rodney sighed an internal sigh. The guy even sounded military. The half-assed sentences. The get-to-the-point jargon. The lack of verbs. Or pronouns. Like the two couldn't exist in the same sentence. Goddammit.

"You think?" snarled Rodney.

"Don't piss off the man with the gun, sweetheart," John warned him.

"John, he might as well shoot us right now." Some truths are self-evident and what the jerks in charge had in mind for the two of them didn't bear thinking about. "I'd rather die in three minutes from a gunshot wound to the chest than in three years from heart failure from repeated bouts of torture."

John did that little cough that said, "Rodney, shut the fuck up."

"I will not shut up. You know it's true. Man with the gun. You think his front is taser town? Try his back. Turn around. Show him your back."

John didn't say anything, just leveled a glare at Rodney, but as Rodney had hoped, it piqued the interest of the boat owner.

"Turn around, Colonel," he ordered.

Under his breath, John said, "Will you let me handle this?" and then turned over. Rodney saw him swipe a coffee cup off the sideboard and hide as much of it in his hand as he could. Maybe if Rodney could distract this guy, John could clonk him with the mug.

"See!" Rodney pointed to the healing burns peppering John's back.

"Black Ops? And put the coffee mug back." The gun was still leveled at Rodney but the guy's voice had backed off a lot. It wasn't friendly but it wasn't flat anymore.

"Yeah and no," Sheppard shrugged and did as he was told. The mug hit the shelf with a thunk.

"A real special group of people. We can't tell you because if we do, they'll kill you," Rodney added.

"He's a little excitable, isn't he?"

"You get used to him. Marine?"

The guy shook his head. "Navy seal. Cashed out in 2005. After Kunar." Sheppard's shoulders balled up into its usual gigantic knot at the mere mention of Afghanistan. This guy was good; his eyes narrowed, focusing on the tight line of John's shoulders. "You were there?"

"Yeah, flew Chinooks, until they reassigned me." No one did laid-back scorn quite like John and that made even more points; the gun lowered just a fraction. Which was the opening John was looking for.

"Clusterfuck went down. Was ordered to return to base. I ignored orders to get some of my guys out."

Not that Rodney had ever heard John tell this story, but he'd hacked into everyone's confidential personnel file within two weeks of his arrival in Atlantis, so he knew enough. John obviously had a deep-seated self-destructive streak that manifested itself in defying authority figures and volunteering for suicide missions. His file was reprimand after reprimand cataloguing stupid, death-defying stunts he pulled in flagrant disregard of orders. Which was balanced out by commendation after commendation cataloguing stupid, death-defying stunts he pulled off under orders. Keyword here was stupid, death-defying stunts. It took Rodney no more than a nanosecond to decide that John Sheppard was a man to avoid.

"You don't leave people behind." John looked at Rodney when he said that, and there was the briefest smile. Just for him. A smile that said, I knew you'd come for me, buddy. I hadn't given up hope.

Rodney smiled back.

Between John's ATA gene and Rodney's research on wormholes, it was inevitable that they would cross paths at some point. Yes, there were key people in his life that had meant something to him. Elizabeth? The only woman he had loved and not wanted to fuck. Carson was, perhaps, the only friend he'd ever had. Teyla he admired, loved, and wanted to fuck. Sam? He admired her and lusted after her, surprisingly in that order. He'd been very fond of Katie; Susan Metcalf, too--he was a sucker for intelligence. He loved Radek and Ronon in completely different ways but in equal measure. (He might, given a chance, want to fuck Ronon now that his hetero credentials were dubious). He flat out loved Jeannie and Mads. Jennifer? He thought he was in love or definitely heading in that direction. If the military hadn't decided to get all Strangelove on John, they probably would have forged some sort of permanent relationship. The bones were there.

Not one of them had changed him though.

Between the time they went through the wormhole and the time they landed here in San Francisco, Rodney finally grew up. But for John Sheppard and Atlantis--and they were indecipherable in his mind, a one, and he was pretty damn sure that John saw them that way as well--he probably never would have grown up, found his humanity.

John was the nucleus of this humanity. Sure, the Teyla and Ronon electrons were circling around in a close, tight orbit, with the Elizabeth, Carson, and Radek electrons looser and slower, but fairly protective. No question though, John was at the center. Heightmeyer knew. Looking back on those hours spent in her office, it was nearly always about John. What stupid thing he did this week. Do you think that Sheppard has a death wish? Were they going to find him? Why haven't they found him? So little of it about his parents or even Jeannie. And really? His parents qualified as having an entire branch of psychology devoted to them. She let him talk away--Sheppard this, Sheppard that--his anxiety initially circling around his own mortality until gradually it became completely indistinguishable from John's.

At one point she said to him, "Rodney, do you realize that lately, when you speak of your own death, half the time you say, 'John's death' instead of 'my death'?"

He squawked, protested, and claimed he did nothing of the sort and did she get her degree from one of those medical schools in the Caribbean where it was nothing but volleyball camp in scrubs and where M.D. was short for mentally deficient? Yes, denial is a river in Egypt.

It was all beginning to make sense. Sadly. Because as painful this was to admit, Jennifer Keller wasn't part of the orbit hierarchy and she never would be. And not because he suspected her of whisking him away to save him, even though she must have known that he would despise her once he discovered John had been commandeered; she just wasn't. How absolutely crazy was it that you could love a person and yet they weren't in your orbit. At least he thought he loved her. And yet when it came down to choosing between her and John, he didn't give it a second thought.

His genius told him this entire endeavor was foolhardy, that at some point they'd be caught, and John forced to fly Atlantis, most likely by torturing him to break John's resolve. They either successfully hijacked a puddlejumper or it was an immediate segue to Plan C, trading in stupid and death-defying for a Butch and Sundance scenario. Unfortunately, there weren't any cliffs in Atlantis, but they'd have to make do.

Statistically, Plan C had the greatest chance of succeeding.

And yet.

His heart said fuck statistics, fuck the inevitable, fuck you. You hang around a man who has a success rate up the wazoo for committing stupid, death-defying stunts in the name of what's right, and it's not long before you're following suit, despite the statistics confirming your worst suspicions that the odds of surviving were 1,500,343 to one. Because Rodney had come to the enviable and unenviable place where his humanity had finally trumped his genius.

Heightmeyer would have been proud of him.

"Navy seal person. I'm going to hold the Colonel's hand now." Because he needed to anchor himself. Because maybe the person he'd been in love with all along was John Sheppard, and why now with the goddamn epiphanies?

John gave him the puzzled eyebrow crunch, which Rodney ignored.

Navy seal guy gave him a ghost of a grin and said, "Okay, obnoxious no-sail person. Reach for a coffee mug or a lamp and I'll shoot your hand off. Assuming you guys are part of that bunch that landed the city in the water?"

"Classified," Sheppard replied with a wistful tone in his voice, as if he regretted it, but sorry, bud, the rules.

Navy seal nodded again.

Never, never, never would he get this. Intelligent, honorable men and women handing over their souls, knowing they were going to get kicked in the metaphorical balls and yet loving enough about it, or the ideal, anyway, that they spread their legs and said, have a go. Rodney had worked with these jerks because they had the money to fund wormhole technology. Unfortunately, they were the only ones with the money to fund wormhole research. He never respected them and kept one hand over his nuts at all times. Sheppard was the first man in a uniform he didn't despise. Okay, O'Neill wasn't that bad. Ditto Landry. So he held his nose and thanked his stars he was Canadian because they had limited control over him. Plus, when you're as smart as Rodney, then the usual "be a physics major build better bombs" career trajectory was never an issue. Immediately fast-tracked to a level of physics that made bomb building look like Einstein kindergarten, he'd been lucky he'd never had to make those moral choices. Until now. If they succeeded in stealing the puddlejumper and getting back to Pegasus, then the most challenging problem he'd ever tackle again was devising an irrigation system for the crops or math algorithms for designing fishing nets, how close are the knots to catch the most optimum amount of fish deals. Although really? There wasn't a choice. As John's back proved.

Whatever was happening between John and Navy Seal had moved to the telepathic; there was some sort of tacit semaphore going on. Normally one long slouchy mess, even buck naked, John looked, well, Colonel-esque; dignified and in charge.

Navy Seal lowered the gun and placed the stunner on the bed.

Rodney had had enough. "We've now established that we all have balls the size of grapefruits. Not that you know I do, but trust me. You. Navy seal. Do you want a cup of coffee or a couple of fingers of that second-rate American whiskey, Jack Daniels, I believe it's called? And what's with you people that you can put a man on the moon but fail at making decent booze? We also have cold Keiths, the only beer worth drinking as far as I am concerned--Canadian, of course. What's so funny?" Rodney asked, as the other two men started laughing.

"Jake Harper." He shook Rodney's hand. "I'm up for some Jack if you have it. Lieutenant Jake Harper. Colonel Sheppard, can you sail?"

"Of course he can sail. Dr. Rodney McKay. Here. I've been rather generous. You're going to need it. Damn, you probably shouldn't know my name. Any information is just another nail in your coffin."

Jake gestured with his cup at Rodney before taking a sizeable gulp and wriggling his eyebrows at Sheppard. "He a bucketload of cheer. That weapon," he pointed at the stunner, "isn't like anything I've ever seen, so I think we're talking top secret as all fuck."

Sheppard nodded.


Rodney could see the wheels turning, John debating how much to tell.

"None of this is going to make any sense, so I'm going to give you the short version and you'll have to trust me on the rest. They've got a weapon on that floating city that is coded to me. They need me and only me to detonate it. I said no, I wouldn't do it. The casualty rate was unacceptable. We're talking hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. Men, woman, and children annihilated. I..." John swallowed. "I can't."

Harper's eyes narrowed. "They plan on blowing up all of Iraq?"

"Worse," Sheppard admitted.

"Exponentially worse," Rodney added.

"So, you two sailing out of here?"

"Not exactly."

Apparently this Jake was cast in the same self-destructive martyr mold as John. He wanted to help. John said no. Jake said yes. John said no. And on and on, until Jake said in a small voice, "I didn't go back. Okay. They told me no and I said okay. I owe some people."

Which was the only thing this guy could have said that would shut John up.

"Minimum. You're participation in this is minimum. You got me?"

"Ignore him." Usually, Ronon dove-tailed with whatever hare-brained scheme John had in mind--the more boom the better--and no one was stupid enough to challenge Teyla, so it was nice to have someone to gang up on John with. At John's glare, Rodney amended, "Of course, we'll do our damndest to make sure you're not hauled in front of some firing squad. Do they still do that these days? I doubt the Canadian military does anything so barbaric."

"No, they probably feed traitors to the polar bears. How did you get off the city? Catsup? " Jake had done a burger run and they were wolfing their way through the food. All of it was hot, greasy, salty, and practically better than sex. "Does he always eat like this? With the sound effects and everything?"

"Mjdsiogy?" Rodney mumbled around a full mouthful of bun, meat, and condiments.

"You get used to it. Trojan horse thing. He got on, then got me off."

"No a Tro-o horse thin a all," Rodney protested, now dabbing at a mustard stain on his last clean shirt. He swallowed. That was so good. "Look, if he's going to help us, we have to tell him the basics."

He waited for the minute nod, because as much as he thought that Jake might be a partial solution, he had no intention of cock-blocking John on this issue. They needed to be on the same page. A shrug so tiny that no one but Rodney, Teyla, or Ronon would have seen it twitched the end of John's right shoulder.

"There's a ridiculous amount of backstory that I can't and won't go into, but I figured out from an email exchange that whoever was responding to my emails wasn't John. I hacked into the system and discovered that they were holding him in a brig. A sort of brig. Powered by--" At John's loud cough, he rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Anyway, what type of brig aside, however, it is relevant because it has to do with the power, thank you, very much, Mr. Engineer. Oh wait. You're not an engineer. Perhaps the engineer in the--"


"Okay, okay, what a grouch. Normally when you're plied with burgers and fries and chocolate shakes, you're in a much better mood. Anyway. I played along, conducting a perfectly cordial email exchange with this fake John--unusual, let me tell you--so that I could get on the base without suspicion. I bought this boat, supplies, and a big television in a big box, one large enough for a lanky air force colonel to hide in. I got on the base, ditched the television, killed the power, to the brig"--this was accompanied by a pointed glare at John--"broke him out, hid him in the box, had a couple of Marines load the box onto a launch, power us to a dock, and we've been camping out here for three weeks waiting for him to heal."

"Pretty damn smart," Jake noted.

"Well, I'm a genius. That's not hyperbole. In fact--"

"Yeah, Rodney, we get it. For reasons we can't divulge, we need to get back on the city. But Mr. Genius here has spent the last five years configuring the defense system so that we so much as sneeze within a mile and they'll be able to detect us."

"He's really a genius?" Jake sounded skeptical.

Rodney opened his mouth to give his standard "Do we not bleed" speech, which John probably guessed and cut off his tirade before he could get started.

"You know. It worked once. It might work again."

Rodney and Jake raised their eyebrows in question at the same time.

"Plan B," John said with satisfaction.

After twenty minutes of him repeatedly saying, "Are you insane?" and getting nowhere, Rodney gave in and decided to listen to John's ludicrous idea. Ten minutes in he was making suggestions, fifteen minutes in, he hijacked the entire idea and told everyone to shut up he was thinking.

It would take a two days of computer time on Rodney's part while Jake scouted out two boxes large enough to fit a man (probably a local storage place would sell them) and other supplies, a drive back and forth across the Golden Gate Bridge, a good three hours spent at Kinko's having Jake print out the appropriate fake paperwork, and a whole lot of luck.

"We can do this in three days if I'm able to make a connection from the bridge to Atlantis. If I can't, we might as well hoist anchor. Jake, please tell me you have access to a van?" At Jake's nod, he went into the rear cabin to fetch the MacKinnon passport and credit cards.

John was so professional. Rodney swore he wouldn't have known that John had rifled through his things except for the little note written on the back of a napkin that said, "Two passports, McKay?" Neither Plan B or Plan C required a passport, and Jake was going to need an escape hatch regardless what went down.

Taking a moment to write down some important numbers on the inside flap of the stupidest physics primer, he heard Jake ask in a low voice, "You two been together long? I mean..." John replied. "Yeah. Years."

"Here," he slammed the book down on the table. Wrapped in a rubber band, tucked into the inside cover was the passport, was the bill of sale for the boat torn in half, ten thousand dollars, and the credit card under MacKinnon's name. "There are two phone numbers written on the inside back flap of this god-awful book that isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Either number is good. Mention my name. They are terrified of me, appropriately so, and if they quote you anything over a thousand dollars tell them that their credit ratings will be destroyed for all time. They will doctor up the passport and put your picture on it. Robert MacKinnon lives in Mississauga--that's near Toronto--and he runs a hardware store. The other number is the pin to the credit card. I slipped some extra money in there as well so that you have some cash, but MacKinnon has lots of money in his bank account. I've torn up the bill of sale for the boat. As far as I'm concerned it's yours again. I would advise sailing out of here the minute you dump us at the dock. But that's just my two cents."

Jake didn't take the book right away. He looked at Rodney, then John. "Don't you need this stuff?"

"Not where we're going," replied John.

One way or another. Not that Rodney said that out loud. Jake reached for the book.

"Is this going to work?" John's voice didn't betray any of his anxiety; in fact, it was positively surferesque in its nonchalance, but Rodney had learned to ignore John's voice and even his face. It was the hands that were a dead giveaway; clutching the stunner, John's knuckles gleamed white in the gloom of the van interior.

It was nice to know that Rodney's pending stroke had some company, but it certainly didn't stop him from giving John an exasperated huff. "Does it look like it's working? Do you see any happy green bars? I don't!"

"What if they've got the signal blocked so you can't get in?"

"They can't block it. If it had been up to me, I would have taken the city much farther out. I blame the pilot." At John's eye roll, Rodney gave him an evil little smile. "They can block me from getting in, naturally. Unfortunately for them, I established stealth administrative protocols six days after arriving in Atlantis. Probably the only other person who could find them is Sam, and I have a sneaking feeling that she isn't trying very hard if the half-assed financial sweeps are any indication. If I'd been running the scripts, I'd have tracked us to that boat in four days. Signal, dammit, please????? Unfortunately, I don't know who else they have monitoring the system. As it is, I'll have to get in and out. It's more of question of whether we are close enough. We might have to do the sail as close as possible without getting torpedoed thing we talked about."

Which John was vehemently against. That would place Jake too close to the operation. Approximately five hundred and sixty-three light blue Plymouth Voyager vans crossed the Golden Gate in a given day. A thirty-six-foot Beneteau that happened to belong to a man who went on a shopping spree and withdrew large amounts of cash on the day before John Sheppard escaped wasn't that typical. If Rodney had devised the algorithm to run through the financial databases, they would have been caught two weeks ago. Maybe they had Sam on it. Maybe they had more people rooting for them than they knew.

They were halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge and still no signal. Rodney and John were seated on the floor of the van, with all four laptops open, searching for Atlantis's signal. Rodney kept rotating them, moving them five inches this way, five inches that, and still no go.

"Jake, slow down this hunk of junk. I'm not getting anything," Rodney yelled from the back.

"Can't. I'm going the speed limit, and cars are whizzing by me as it is."

"Goddamit. Goddamit," muttered Rodney. They were nearly at the end of the bridge and still nothing.

"Going to pull over at this lookout, okay?" and without waiting for an answer, Jake pulled off the bridge and parked. It was early enough so that the tourists hadn't overwhelmed the lot yet.

Rodney pointed all the laptops in the direction of Atlantis and refreshed, refreshed, and kept refreshing, and if this didn't work they were goddamn toast, just...

"Oh my god! YES! WHAT! Not so fast, morons!" They had changed the administrative protocols, however, Rodney's stealth protocols were still in place. And operational.

He logged is as Sam again, hacked into the system, planted all the fake emails and purchasing orders he'd spent all night creating, uploaded a bunch of forms, logged out, told Jake to hit the gas, and then sent an email from Richard M. Mathews, Purchasing Director, of ENERGYmart, Inc., the fake company he'd devised. Fortunately, he had a long and varied history with suppliers. The night before he hacked into the website with the most reliable equipment, hijacked their site, made some minor modifications, and ENERGYmart was born. Hacking into Dun and Broadstreet to create a decade's old DUNS number had been much harder than he anticipated (taking the better part of three precious hours), while hacking into the ORCA system to become a registered contractor with the U.S. government pathetically easy. If they bothered to check the I.P. address they were toast, but that was assuming a level of intelligence that Rodney didn't credit them with. Rodney didn't think his fingers could move so fast.

DATE: June 15, 2009, 8:58 am
TO: Dr. R. Zelenka
RE: Order for Air Purifiers
CC: Major Evan Lorne, Dr. R. McKay

Dear Dr. Zelenka:

I have been unable to contact Dr. R. McKay despite repeated emails. The specs on these air purifiers that he ordered last month were extremely specific and built to order. They have been ready to deliver for over a week, but as yet, I haven't received a response from Dr. McKay, despite his admonition that your facility needed these components stat, and I quote: "If the system fails because of contaminants, I have one hundred and forty Marines at my beck and call who will hunt you down and hurt you. I will instruct them to break every single bone in your body."

We are a local company and can arrange for deliver tomorrow or the next day. Please advise. Below is my cell phone number, but email is preferable as I am often tied up on the phone.

Rich Mathews

Richard M. Mathews
Director of Purchasing
ENERGYmart, Inc.
343 Minna Street
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 665-3433

While Jake cased out a boat for sale, John and Rodney waited in the back of the van, munching on power bars and sipping Gatorade, their eyes glued to the screen. Radek would know that the purifiers were a blind, but he wasn't sure about Lorne. Jake purchased one of those disposable cell phones with something like two hundred minutes in case Lorne called.

"Assuming all goes well and they actually read the instructions, the boxes will be delivered to my old lab"--Rodney kept his voice neutral but it was an effort--"at which point Radek will be too busy to open them right away."

"You don't think we're being too subtle?"

Rodney snorted. "Radek spent twenty years under the Soviets. It's almost impossible to convince him that most of the time there is no subtext to my emails. He's not whom I'm worried about. Our biggest worry is some zealous quartermaster who has to open the box to check the specs. If that--"

The email alert pinged.

FROM: Dr. R. Zelenka
RE: RE: Order for Air Purifiers
CC: Colonel Evan Lorne, Dr. R. McKay

Mr. Mathews:

Thank you for your email. Yes, we've been wondering what happened to that order. Dr. McKay is on leave. Please deliver the air purifiers tomorrow morning at Pier 23 by 2:00 pm. Bring the appropriate paperwork. A military launch will be there to there to pick up the purifiers. I have impressed upon Colonel Evan Lorne, military commander of this base, how time critical these components are, and he agrees that we shall bypass the normal procurement process. He is supervising the delivery of the purifiers himself. We apologize for the delay in responding to your request. Colonel Lorne would like to assure you that Dr. McKay has no authority over the Marines under his command and asks that you ignore his outlandish, childish threats.


R. C. Zelenka

Radek C. Zelenka
Chief, Science Division

"That little Czech weeny! Wait until I get my hands on him!"

"See Lorne and Radek got promoted. I guess that takes care of the quartermaster issue."

"Outlandish? Childish?" Rodney hissed.

John raised the eyebrow.

"If we actually needed those purifiers and there was a three-week delay, I'd be perfectly justified in--"

John started typing, not bothering to hide the grin.

"What? What are you--"

DATE: June 15, 2009, 9:16 am
TO: Dr. R. Zelenka
RE: Re: Re: Air Purifiers
CC: Colonel Evan Lorne, Dr. R. McKay

Dear Dr. Zelenka:

We shall be there tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 pm. Please tell Colonel Lorne that the delivery person's name is Ron. I didn't take Dr. McKay's threats seriously. Based on my limited encounters with Dr. McKay, it's obvious that while he knows air purifiers, he's clearly something of a blowhard.


Rich Mathews

Richard M. Mathews
Director of Purchasing
ENERGYmart, Inc.
343 Minna Street
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 665-3433

"You can't send that! I am not a--"

John clicked on "Send."


Before Rodney could express more outrage, John grabbed him and kissed him. It was a sloppy kiss with lots of tongue that promised good times when they got some privacy. Leaning their foreheads against each other, Rodney murmured, "Just think. All those years you could have shut me up just by kissing me."

He leaned forward to kiss John gently and then pulled away just enough so he could see John's face. Only traces of bruises tinged the top of his cheekbones by this point. "This might actually work."

"Once we break out of the boxes, we go to the armory first. Get some guns. Maybe some C4."

"You can take the boy out of the military, but not the military out of the boy." That got a simultaneously bashful and impish grin out of John. No one could do coy like John Sheppard. "John?"


"If it goes south, kill me. I am serious. Pump me full of bullets."

John's pupils blew, blotting out the green. He nodded once and then angled his face in for another kiss.

If Rodney hadn't basically been preparing for certain death, he would have relished all the mental activity after three weeks of doing nothing more strenuous than reading John Le Carre novels and composing three-hundred-page critiques on those completely inaccurate physics primers he'd bought. For the upload to Atlantis's email database, he manufactured correspondence between him and Mathews that allegedly went back at least a month, in addition to backdating and uploading numerous emails between him and Radek over a period of months on the need to purchase more air purifiers for the mainframe room in the east tower. He also devised fake purchase orders, authorization forms, and packing slips. He sent Jake off to the nearest Kinko's to print it all out, with a laundry list of other items they needed.



At Office Depot buy:

  • The best color printer they have.

  • 1 box of 8-1/2 X 11 full sheet adhesive labels

  • Top-of-the-line paper cutter

  • Clipboard

  • Super-strong packing tape

  • 2 utility knives

At Kinko's

  • Print off all files in directory C://Forms/

  • Steal a bunch of those FedEx plastic sleeves with stick on the back so we can attach them to the boxes for the packing slips.

  • Buy one copy of the S.F. Chronicle so that we can crinkle up newsprint to hide the tops of our heads.

  • Buy two cartons of milk.

  • Go anywhere and buy a gray polo shirt. Then to go some sweatshop in Chinatown and have some down-trodden, poorly paid seamstress embroider in red "Ron" on the right front shoulder with "ENERGYmart, Inc." above that.

  • Ditch the dog tags for a couple of days.

  • Buy pizza for dinner.


  • Deliver us to Pier 23 by 1:30 pm.

  • Hoist anchor or hoist a sail or hoist whatever and get your ass out of town.

There was really nothing left to do but worry and endlessly replay in his head the computer code that he'd used to cover his hacking tracks. So when John ordered him to take a nap he didn't fuss too much--he'd been up two days straight--and when pulled into bed and the covers tucked over his shoulders, he only to get out a "John, I..." before conking out.

When he woke-up it was still light out, although it was a tired light. Jake should be back soon. Pizza. The last pizza he'd ever eat. He snuggled up to John, who was napping next to him. Still not sure of how far he could push this thing, he debated for a minute before snaking his hand under John's shirt so Rodney could feel his heart beating.

"Go back to sleep," ordered John, his voice sleepy and gruff.

John's pulse beat under his hand, strong, and Rodney had to say it because he might not have the opportunity later.

"Look at me." John opened his eyes slowly and ducked his chin a little as if he was bracing himself to hear something he didn't want to hear, and probably what Rodney was going to say John didn't want to hear. Tough. "I know this is going to embarrass you and possibly freak you out, but I'm going to say it once and then I'm done. You don't have to say it back. I don't need you to say it back. So. I'd say this even if we weren't touching each other's dicks; which is a bonus you understand, a very nice bonus--I'm not complaining--but just a bonus. I love you. You're a fine person and there isn't anyone in this entire universe I'd rather spend my last twenty-four hours with. I wish it hadn't come down to this, but I suspect it was always going to. I'm glad that at least I can give you a fighting chance. Even if it means that my body parts get sent back to Canada in baggies."

As Rodney expected, John only nodded. It was inevitable that John's ATA gene would be too valuable not to use, to corral and harness. That some general or official would do an end run on Landry or O'Neill, would understand the power held in that DNA and not be afraid to abuse it. Had John had been waiting for this to happen from the moment he sat in the chair and it went berserk with happiness? Probably. John was much more savvy than anyone, even Rodney, gave him credit for. No doubt, he'd knew he'd say no and had been waiting for this to happen for years, or at least since Elizabeth died.

"You don't deserve this."

"Not much I can do about it." That sounded uncharacteristically bitter. "And it goes both ways. I'll kill you, if you kill me. Because, honest to god, Rodney, if they start to tear you apart to get to me, I won't make it."

This conversation was only seconds away from pinky swearing to annihilate each other.

"Yes. Of course. But we need a safe word. Christ, I hope that whatever five-star idiot came up with this plan rots in hell. It says something about how sad and pathetic this whole situation is that we're discussing safe words and not in reference to bondage games--yes, a kink--but about killing each other. So?"

John hoisted himself up onto an elbow and with a perfectly straight face said, "How about flux capacitor?"

"You S.O.B.! No way! That is two words, flux and capacitor, and those are not the last words I'm going to hear. That is non-negotiable!"

"Jeez, McKay." John poked him in the stomach with one of those long fingers. "You're a complete pushover. How about Elizabeth?"

Rodney thought he was past tears--if you stare into the face of your own mortality long enough you can't help but get numb--but he wasn't quite "dry" apparently. He could only nod. That was a good word. A word in tribute. A word telling those who knew her that she never would have let this come to pass without a hell of a fight.

"And, you know. Back at you," John mumbled. "You were a real asshole at first, but you get better over time. You kinda grow on people."

"Like a wart?"

"Yeah, but a cute wart."

"FYI, dickhead. Warts don't give blow jobs."

John's jaw dropped in mock horror and then went all smiles. "But genius warts that are hell of cute can."

"No, afraid not. Not in our labor contract. The cute genius warts only do cute. It's the ugly, misshapen warts that have blow job duty. Sorry. I would if I could. Really," Rodney said with as much insincerity as he could muster.

A voice from the behind the bi-fold door said, "Pizza man's here."

Rodney stuck two fingers in his mouth and sucked, slowly, pulling his fingers out millimeter by millimeter so John could see them covered in spit and notice the hollow of his cheeks.

"Asshole," John muttered under his breath and cupped his crotch as they made their way to the outer cabin.

"What if I'm allergic to the ink on the newsprint?"

"Then you die in the box, I guess."

"Not helping, Sheppard!" His lungs began to make ominous rattling sounds. They hit a pothole, and Rodney's nerves were stretched so thin that he let out high-pitched squeal that would have made any ten-year old girl proud.

"McKay, would you please breathe? You're not allergic to newsprint. I've seen you read a newspaper with no problem. So chill."

"Okay. Okay. Chill. I'm chilling. Chilling here. YOU KNOW I FAIL AT CHILL!"

"We're here." Jake yelled from the front. "Time to rock and roll. McKay, you good to get into the box?"

John didn't even bother to let Rodney answer, clapped him on the back, and said in a chirpy voice, "He's fine."

Jake snaked his way around the front seat to the back of the van. The boxes were on their sides. All Rodney and John needed to do was back into them, Jake would tip them upright, piled wadded newspaper on top, and seal them. Slapped all over four sides and the top were the labels they'd made with their new printer: "THIS SIDE UP!" "FRAGILE!" Rodney's box had a laptop, John's box the stunner, and they both had a utility knife, a quart of Gatorade, six power bars, and an empty milk carton in case they had to pee since they were going to be trapped in those boxes a minimum of ten hours and not even John's bladder--which Rodney suspected was made out of rocks--could last that long.

"Rodney, got my fingers cross for you, and thanks for the modifications on the engine." Jake lifted his aviators for a second to make eye-contact--the washed-out blue of his eyes against his deep tan gave him a sleepy, worn look--and held out his hand. Rodney had never believed in God because who could, with people like Hitler, Idi Amin, and Rush Limbaugh as irrefutable evidence of the absence of God, but he'd never really considered the concept of angels before. Jake might be an angel. Maybe an Ancient angel. Rodney had a feeling, a tickle in his gut, that if he handed Jake an Ancient gizmo it would like up like Time Square on New Year's Eve. Rodney took Jake's hand in two of his and squeezed hard. When he'd let go Jake shifted on his knees to face John and said in a different voice, not that California drawl he'd used with Rodney, "Colonel, good luck. Sir." Despite the fact that all of them were on their knees, this was accompanied by a salute. In the most formal tone Rodney had ever heard John use, he replied, "Thank you for all your help, Lieutenant," and saluted back.

Rodney refrained from rolling his eyes. For the first couple of years in Atlantis, Rodney thought it was all about the flying. That John would have endured pretty much anything just to get his hands on a throttle. But it wasn't. Rodney realized that John had his own "Private Idaho" within the military "Idaho." That it was about duty and love of one's country and embracing all that was honor-worthy in the American ethos and doing it in a plane and a uniform, even when that uniform betrayed him. So as much as Rodney was dying to shout, "Now that we've had our wee little military moment, can we get a move on!" he didn't. Which also said something, because three years ago he wouldn't have had a qualm about shouting just that. He still didn't understand it--here were two men who'd been used up and spit out by the system they were hell-bent on honoring--but at this point it was moot. John was first and foremost a soldier as much as Rodney was first and foremost a scientist. And you could no more beat the scientist out of Rodney than you could, apparently, beat the soldier out of John.

He crawled into his box and heard John's low, "At ease." Shutting his eyes, he rationalized that he wouldn't panic when it went dark because it was already dark. He still wasn't convinced that he wouldn't start sneezing at some point, his craptastic immune system deciding that it might not be allergic to newsprint but it was definitely allergic to cardboard. He'd hate himself for the rest of his life (three seconds, approximately) if he ended up getting both of them killed because he went into a sneezing jag. To distract himself, he decided it was as good a time as any to finally put to rest whether or not the Euler-Mascheroni constant was irrational.

The previous evening had been uncharacteristically silent. They didn't want to know Jake's plans, because if things went bad they didn't want to implicate him any more than they had, and they sure as hell weren't telling Jake their plans for the same reason--plus that little bit about Atlantis being so classified that it was pretty much the Olympics of classified materials--plus that little matter of Rodney coming this close to punching John's lights out. Like seriously breaking some bones. Incandescent rage tended to cut down on the chit-chat.

After they'd finished their beers, Jake gave them a nod, scooped up the empty pizza box, and headed out the hatch without a word. Rodney was waiting for John to get all martyr-ish and sure enough Jake hadn't been gone more than ten seconds before John said, "I want you to sail out of here. With Jake. I can do this by myself."

"You are so goddamn predictable. Although I think all that beating did something to your brain because I expected this about ten hours ago." John opened his mouth and Rodney cut him off. "First of all, may I remind you: team. Second, not even you can operate a puddlejumper and dial the gate. This is a two-person job."

John's mouth shut.

"When we get to Chaya's planet, we'll somehow get word to Teyla and Ronon. I don't think it wise to go there ourselves, but we need to warn them. Because either the assholes orchestrating this are really stupid and have no concept of what's been going on up there for the last five years--which we can only hope is true--or they have Ronan and Teyla in a Wraith cell somewhere as additional leverage."

John didn't say anything, but got that "kill" grimace on his face. It'd only been directed at him a few times in all the years they worked together, but it still frightened the shit out of him. Rodney was selfish, cowardly on occasion, obtuse to near sociopathic levels, blunt, obnoxious, and pretty much the most arrogant person ever born, but he didn't have that dark thread that ran through John's veins.

Rodney's anger manifested itself in yelling and the stomping of feet and, on occasion, the throwing of sharp objects like screwdrivers. John's rage was cool and purposeful. Like methodically pulling the pin on a grenade and throwing it with precision at the Wraith who'd just mowed down a couple of his Marines. Ronon had the same thread in his veins, and maybe if you see enough death that happens. And maybe part of what made John John was that struggle to keep the dark in check, his humanity intact.

"I'm banking on stupid, but even if they are complete lizard brains, at some point they are going to realize that Teyla and Ronon are potential collateral. So we need to get to them first."

"We could--"

"No, we can't to New Lantea first." Why in the hell was John making him say all the ugly truths? "John, I'd really appreciate not being the supreme asshole here. Most of the time it doesn't bother me. In fact, I actually enjoy it. This is not one of those times! We can't risk it. First, we go to that horrible woman's planet where we know they can't get you, because we cannot count on them being lizard brains, we just can't! Then. Well. We see."

John reached for the chain that operated the light and pulled. They sat in the darkness for a minute or two before John mumbled, "Jake could get me... Maybe, I should just, you know, remove the temptation--"

Rodney reared up out of his seat and yanked on the chain. The sudden flood of light in the cabin made both of them blink.

"Please do not tell me that you are contemplating suicide because if you hadn't just been beaten within an inch of your life I'd haul off and smash your fucking jaw. And then stomp on you. How dare you say such a thing. How dare you think it? If it was me? If I was the person with the jumped up mega-ATA gene, how would you feel if I talked about blowing my brains all over this cabin? How would you--"

John flushed and then went the whitest of whites. Reaching across the table to grab one of Rodney hand he whispered. "Sorry."

Rodney wasn't having any of it. He yanked on his hand, but John held tight and began kissing his knuckles. Small tiny apologies. When he'd finished with the knuckles, he moved on sucking on the soft inner part of Rodney's wrist.


Rodney stopped resisting but didn't answer, because while he knew he should just let it slide--Christ, it was their last night--he was still pissed. Yes, he knew that John was a raging martyr, but it's one thing to anticipate him suggesting Rodney take his chances with Jake, it was quite an unacceptable other to even voice the idea of killing himself.

"Really, really sorry."

With his free hand, Rodney gestured with a tired flapflap in an acknowledgment of the apology but still didn't answer.

"Come on," John gave a brief glance in the direction of the sleeping cabin. "Last night on the boat." John had to tug him, half drag him a little into the cabin, because, goddammit, John Sheppard, just goddammit.

Up until this point they'd been test driving their bi, Rodney more than John, but then Rodney was a much greedier person by nature than John. It had been mostly bonus sex, but considering that they were about to go into permanent exile on a planet where technology was spelled with a small "tee" as in teepee (more or less--those huts were no more than a step up, literally) and the big news of the day was how many ears of corn one harvested, bonus sex for the next twenty years was nothing to sneer at, especially when it was bonus sex with John Sheppard. Make-up sex though--with hands and a mouth spelling out apologies--jumped things up to a whole other level. Where it was no longer "gosh, this feels good and it's a guy; whoa!" but real, actual relationship sex, and why this was happening on the eve of the biggest craps game on the felt of death sucked major hairy donkey balls.

Normally more of the instigator, the aggressor, Rodney remained uncharacteristically passive. He didn't know exactly what he wanted. John had already apologized and Rodney wasn't one to hold grudges--okay, he did have a reputation as something of a legendary grudge holder, as Marvin Kowalsky would attest--but he didn't hold them with John. They were way past the point where he indulged in that sort of pettiness. Or, even more importantly, he didn't want to indulge in it. Which was a first for him.

Nevertheless, he lay there while John undressed him and swabbed him relatively clean with baby wipes. In addition to balancing two extra-large combination pizzas in one hand--one with anchovies and one without--and a six pack of Negro Modelo, Jake had a box of baby wipes under his arm. He said it would be a crying shame if Plan B went FUBAR because they had B.O. strong enough to penetrate cardboard; they were beyond ripe and this would take care of the first couple of layers of moss. While Rodney watched, John swiped himself down, always so casual about his body.

Rodney so envied him that, because Rodney's body had done its best to betray him throughout the majority of his life. To compensate for bestowing genius, nature took that abhorred a vacuum business to truly evil heights. It was as if a bunch of nature's minions were having a board meeting, negotiating people's genetic fate, and the CEO of genetics says, "Okay, we'll give him the genius, but we can't make it too easy. Let's make him allergic to forty-three known allergens, thirty-two molds, wool, and bees." Then the jealous fucktard in the room, the Kavanagh equivalent of nature's minions, pipes up and says, "How about a fatal allergy to citrus?" Done. It's a wrap. Heads desk and don't pass the lime.

To be that cavalier, to have such confidence would be heavenly. Of course, he wouldn't trade it for genius, but it would be nice to have a day where the sight of a bee didn't send him into hysterics and he didn't have to inspect every single goddamn thing about his person for citrus or citrus-based additives. Of course now he had John watching his citrus-hating back, who had immediately grabbed the box of baby wipes from Jake and read the ingredients. "It's cool," he told Rodney. Which, yes, John as Rodney's self-appointed citrus blood-hound was very cool.

Even though he was still in a mother of a snit, Rodney couldn't help but get hard, watching John's elegant hands pass over his flat stomach, narrow hips, the firm round of his thighs. Catching sight of Rodney's growing erection, John's dick started to swell as well.

Throwing the used baby wipes out the door to the sleeping cabin, he crawled in next to Rodney and kissed him, tentatively, on one side of his mouth, then the other, all soft, plump lip and no tongue. Rodney made John work for it a little, held back a smidgen. Not enough so that John would stop but enough to say, hey, you're still an asshole. And every sweet kiss said, yeah, I know. As they lay there, naked, their feet tangled up, erections pressing against each other's stomachs, even as his pleasure began to spike he couldn't stop pouting. Which was, god, how stupid? Possibly the last sex of his life and he was hell bent on having a hissy fit.

Then John whispered, "Please. Rodney."

"You fucker," Rodney groaned, because John never asked, never begged, and Rodney was completely defenseless against a defenseless John Sheppard.

After that it was a blur of body parts, mouths, dicks. They should have taken it slow but they couldn't, and Rodney cursed himself because he'd bought enough peanut butter to last six months but hadn't thought to buy a single tube of lube. Even as he groaned out a mother of an orgasm, he wished for one more night--a night when he wasn't convinced he was going to die the next day would be nice--so he could fuck John cross-eyed. Or be fucked cross-eyed, he really didn't care. He just wanted to feel that inner pressure or heat, that final act that said "mine." He wasn't going to get it and he might as well just deal.

Not that he could stay silent about it.

"I wish, yes, since I've now completely embraced my ever-growing gay sentiment, but I really wish we could have fucked each other. I don't know about your previous sexual experiences but there's nothing I haven't tried once, thank you, Susan Metcalf, so it's not like I'd be a novice ass fucker. Plus she had something of a kink that way, so, in fact, I can ass fuck with the best of them."

John's huff of a laugh warmed his face.

"Glad to hear it, McKay."

"I mean, I would like to. Or you me. Not picky. Apparently. Just..." He stroked John's beard, which was soft and much grayer than the last time John had grown it out.

He leaned forward and took John's bottom lip in his mouth and sucked, the curve of that mouth, even in rest, too delicious looking not to want to taste. Even though he knew he should shut-up, just let it go, he was basking in a post-orgasmic euphoria that was the result of decent sex, but largely the result of decent sex with John.

"This isn't just a last ditch, sex at any cost thing. It's ninety percent you and ten percent your dick."

"Okay, now I'm insulted."

Rodney cuffed his head. "Don't pretend to be obtuse. I just wish we had more time. Without that pending death thing. Which is really old by now, I just want you to know."

"I know, Rodney."

"Good. But you're still an asshole and I haven't forgiven you yet."


"Cute wart."

That got a honk of a laugh and a kiss to the forehead. "Get some sleep. We've got a big day."

"Do tell! As usual, you're exaggerating and indulging in your typical hysterical--"

"Mckay," growled John in warning.

"Sleeping. Sleeping now. Sleeping like you wouldn't believe. So sleeping that-- OH MY GOD, WHAT'S WITH YOU AND THE TICKLING!"

If Rodney thought that riding on a launch was hell, then a riding on a launch trapped in a cardboard box that smelled like ink, sweat, and Gatorade was hell squared. They had debated feeding Rodney Dramamine to quell the queasiness, but there were no guarantees he wouldn't be stupid and groggy ten hours later when he needed to be genius and sharp. His stomach did lurch around a bit, but it helped that he spent the entire trip furious, because even above the roar of the engine and the wind he could hear a couple of Marines shouting "McKay" horror stories back and forth to each other. The fact that the majority of them were true was immaterial. The sum of their I.Q.s was probably a single digit, but it was still an indignity to be referred to as "Dr. RAM," which was short for Dr. Raging Asshole McKay.

Catching Loren's voice through the confines of the box every now and then did a lot to dampen down the hysteria, even as his hatred of boats quadrupled. He knew Atlantis so well that he could chart their progress from the east dock to the transporter to his lab--now Radek's lab; that hurt a bit--to the wall near the white board. He could hear Miko's giggle, Simpson asking Radek a question about the boxes, a couple of whiny botanists complaining about their new budget--hello, you don't have to grow food anymore, idiots, of course your budget is being slashed to shit--the general hum and business of a lab that had been his world, no, his fiefdom for five years. He'd better do something or he'd start crying. He fired up the laptop, hacked into the administrative controls, logged in as Radek and discovered that there were shoot to kill orders on his sorry hide (Operation Neutralize Brain) but only wound Sheppard (Operation Walking Patient). Which was comforting on the global level, because it meant that they hadn't found someone with a comparable ATA gene with the skill set to fly the city, but on the personal level not so much, because there's no other way to misinterpret "Shoot to Kill."

Security had been significantly beefed up, therefore, getting into the armory was going to prove impossible. The jumper bay had only one guard; he assumed that was Lorne's handiwork. They had the stunner, but some actual firepower plus a few handfuls of stun grenades and a bunch of C4 would have been nice. And Teyla and Ronon on their six. Crap. The stunner would have to do.

He double, triple, and quadrupled checked the worm he'd devised. The universe really didn't know how lucky it was that Rodney had decided to use his brain for the good of mankind instead of becoming a criminal mastermind. No one could have stopped him had he embarked on a life of crime. He had the smarts, savvy, and a healthy dose of vindictiveness that made him potentially lethal.

The Kerplooey virus was relatively simple and a delicious form of payback. It replayed all of Atlantis' readouts, even down to the location of personnel, to the loop that happened one week prior; groundhog day but Atlantis style. Hacking into Lorne's files, they discovered that while the number of Marines had increased, the duty roster was basically the same. Guard changed at 0600. Now all they had to do was get a jumper, cloak it, maneuver it into the Gate, dial, have Rodney dial the Gate address, and they'd be on their way.

Naturally they'd argued about the name, John insisting it be called the Kerplooey virus. Finally Rodney chunnered, "Do we need any more proof that your emotional development came to a screeching halt at age twelve?" John's response was to sing-burp, "I Walk the Line." At which point Jake went into hysterical laughter.

"Don't encourage him!" Rodney hissed.

Jake's response was to underarm fart, "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Rodney threw up his hands in defeat. The Kerplooey Virus it was.

It didn't go down at all like they planned. But then again, this was Atlantis.

If there were any doubts that Radek wasn't in on the sham, they were immediately erased when he shooed everyone out of the lab around ten o'clock, saying in a loud voice, "Out. Out. I'm not a slave driver like that horrible Rodney McKay. Thank you for your efforts today. Not that Rodney would have thanked you, but I appreciate it."

At precisely 11:02 the tip of a knife sliced through the cardboard, up, across, and down. Rodney pushed out the cut flap and there was John bent over, a grin on his face. "Howdy." He held out a hand and pulled Rodney out and up.

"Did you lock the doors?"

That got the eye roll. Rodney's relationship with Atlantis was largely technological, his gene merely facilitating his genius. John's pure gene elicited a response in the city that was, frankly, creepy. Rodney imagined that the city probably cooed in delight when she realized John had returned.

"Now for the easy part." John's smile was casual but it didn't reach his eyes, which had that combat-ready chill to them.

After twisting his back a few times in a pointless effort to unkink what he was now convinced were permanent knots, he held up the laptop. "Ready?"

"Let's rock and kerplooey."

"I hate you. You know that? With the strength of a thousand--"

With one hand--the other was cradling the stunner--John grabbed Rodney's chin and gave him a kiss. The lewdest, wettest, dirtiest kiss imaginable.

When Rodney opened his eyes--one half of his mind thinking, "Ooooh, more," and the other half thinking, "This is not the time to be thinking about my dick!"--he saw John slouching against Rodney's desk chair. With his trademark smirk, that insane hair poking in a million different directions, and his eyes extremely green, Rodney's heart gave a lurch. Immediately, he took a mental snapshot. Because how many times had John's eyes been that very color, with that snarky expression and lazy cast to his body, lobbing insults at him while Rodney was trying to work, and generally being a first-class pest. Foreplay. Who knew?

"My secret weapon. Kiss the ever-loving fuck out of you and, wow, you shut-up."

"Hello? I might be a genius, but I still have a dick. Do that again and I won't be able to run from the bad guys."

The smirk vanished. "Yeah. Well, you know. I just wanted to..." John shrugged.

"Colonel Articulate strikes again. For waking up my dick like that, you're first in line for blow job duty, and I don't mean receiving. But for now..." Then he saw it. Taped to his monitor was a piece of paper folded in half, with "Fuck the bastards" written across it. In Czech.

Shortly after they had arrived in Atlantis, Rodney took a crash course in Czech slang, because while he had no intention of acknowledging Radek's mutterings, he wanted to know what exactly Radek was muttering. Most of the time he was calling Rodney an insufferable chicken. Or at least that's what Rodney thought. Obviously the slang program he'd used wasn't up-to-date, because based on that note, Radek had been calling him an insufferable bastard on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.

"Wait until I get my hands... He's been calling me--"

John grabbed the note and opened it up. "Whoa," was all he said. It wasn't a bad "whoa," but it wasn't a good "whoa" either. He handed it to Rodney.



This was John's call. He was sure it wasn't a trap. Why not just rip the boxes open, drill Rodney's body with a few thousand bullets, and then get the Wraith cell nice and comfy for John's return? It wasn't a trap, but he wasn't sure what it was.

John reached for the stunner and obviously thought "Open" as the door to the lab shushed back. "Get the scanner, Rodney. Change of plan."

It took them four times as long as it should have to get to the Gate room. With the scanner in one hand and his laptop cradled in his other arm, they could easily avoid the patrols, but it still meant a fair amount of looping around and back. By the time they'd reached the door to the Gate room, John's cheeks had a green tinge to them.

Rodney wasn't sure how much of a percent John was operating on, but it didn't matter by that point. It was what it was. Before John opened the door, Rodney grabbed his arm to say the one thing that needed to be said above all others, no matter what happened. To banish, if only for a few seconds, all the ghosts of those John didn't save.

"You're one hell of a soldier. Thank you, Colonel Sheppard."

John pulled himself up, the slouch gone, the shoulders back, his stance shouting out the soldier that he was, for one moment taking pride in his rank that he'd earned, even as the brass above begrudged him that honor. Rodney, who at this point only hated the Wraith more than he hated the U.S. military, didn't think he had ever loved John more than he did at that moment.

"Cover my six, McKay."

They were waiting for them.

Radek, Miko, Simpson, Lorne, that biology whosis, and Jennifer, all them of surrounded by bags and crates. A pile of bodies--the Gate room crew--lay in one corner, asleep, their heads on pillows and covered in blankets.

"You are late, Rodney," Radek chided as he typed on his keyboard. "Colonel Sheppard, we need a jumper if you please. We don't have much time. Sam Carter will be able to override my code in a couple of hours."

The shields to the jumper bay opened. John looked at Rodney, the question there. Although John could never voice it, if they came, he would be responsible for them. That's just the way he was built. Rodney knew it wasn't cowardice in that question. John Sheppard didn't have a cowardly molecule in his entire body. It was the uncertainty that he could keep them safe.

Really? It was moot by this point. Radek was also a genius. Not as smart as Rodney, but close. He saw John's minute hesitation.

"Colonel, they will first use me. Then if I refuse, they will use Simpson and Miko. They will ask of Colonel Lorne the same that they asked of you, and he will also say no. I spent fifteen years under the Russians. I know this mentality. They do not know the meaning of the word 'no.' They will keep asking. If they cannot ask us, then there is a chance that their plans will have to be abandoned. That is our only hope. We are only human. Some of us will say yes, maybe me. Not all of us are like you. If you want to save the Pegasus Galaxy, then you need to take us. We understand the risks."

Before John could protest and segue into martyr mode, Rodney said, "He's right. We have to take them." The people orchestrating this would just keep on going down the line, cutting a determined swath through the science team until they found those scientists they could break. With him, Radek, Miko, and Simpson out of the running, they were completely dependent on Sam Carter. He was genuinely curious what she would do. He'd guess he'd find out. One way or another. "Get the jumper, John."

John nodded and made his way up the stairs.

"Rodney," a quiet voice called. "There's a crate here with medical supplies." Jennifer pointed to a wooden box with a red cross on it. "I've packed epi-pens and ephedrine should you have an allergic reaction, plus plenty of antibiotics in case of infection and opiates for pain."

"You're not going?" Rodney sputtered. "You have to go. You can't stay here. They'll crucify you."

She squeezed her eyes shut and when they opened there were tears hovering on the edges. Too late Rodney realized he should have insisted she come because he wanted her to come.

"Colonel Lorne marched me in here with a P-90 pointed at my back so the Gate room crew wouldn't know I am complicit. He ordered me to load them up with sedatives, which I did. They will tell General Landry exactly that. The worst they can do is fire me, which is impossible as I've already sent in my resignation. And even..."

John landed the jumper, opened the back, and everyone began loading up supplies.

"And even if my father weren't here, on Earth, there's..." she hitched her head in the direction of John, who caught her eye. His face grim and his mouth pinched, Rodney suspected he was in pain, but John took a moment to give her a tiny salute and mouth a "thank you" before getting back to loading up the jumper. Rodney hadn't known and he didn't think John had known, but obviously Jennifer was well aware that if it came down to a choice, he'd choose John.

He reached out to her, to give her a final goodbye, when John yelled, "We're good to go. Rodney, dial the Gate!"

Rodney dialed the Gate for New Lantea. Radek had given them some time. As he made for the jumper, Jennifer's voice stopped him.

"Rodney, stun me. Otherwise I won't be able to explain why I didn't sound an alarm."

He stopped for one second and closed his eyes, because, god, he couldn't, and then he heard the whiz of the stunner and the thud as she hit the floor. John knelt beside her and put her hand under her ear to give it a little cushion.


God, he was so tired. He gave her one last look, her beautiful face slack from the effects of the stunner.

"Yes. I've dialed for New Lantea. We have time to pick them up." No need to say who "them" was. "From there we'll head for Proculus."

John's smile was a thing of beauty. As they walked to the jumper together, John ran a hand over the consoles and gave the Gate room a swift once over, as if saying good-bye.

When they were finally through the Gate, the stars of Pegasus lighting their way, Rodney was convinced he heard the low sound of someone or something keening, as if in mourning.

"Do you hear that?"

John shook his head, his eyes straight ahead.