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1.

"Some days it's just not worth gnawing through the straps, is it?" John Sheppard addressed the man before him as he opened the door. "Oops, sorry, I guess for you..." John trailed off with just a gesture in O'Neill's direction. The prisoner had a set of ropes holding him against the chair he'd no doubt have fallen from were the bindings not holding O'Neill upright. Certainly O'Neill wasn't capable of sitting upright at this point on his own.

Lifting his head slowly, gingerly, O'Neill's expression showed pain, exhaustion and confusion for a few seconds before he managed to find a mask of weary acceptance to don. John nodded in acknowledgement of the effort, recognizing that O'Neill just might be a little better at pulling it off than he was.

"Before you strain anything in wondering, General, I'm not here to pick up where Jock," and even now John had to shake his head at the name, "left off. He had personal issues to work out that everyone figured would be better to indulge in a controlled setting instead of letting him find you on his own. What do you suppose it is about clones that make them eventually become a science fiction/fantasy cliché with this burning need to destroy their progenitor?"

O'Neill mask slipped into a grimace that held frustration and maybe even a little guilt, but he didn't try to answer.

"Not that I blame the poor kid," John continued when O'Neill remained mute. "If I'd been forced to relive my high school days when I was really pushing what... fifty-five? Sixty? I'd have probably gone crazy and had it in for the guy who'd done that to me too. You certainly couldn't date, not without feeling like a perv, so then you'd have the whole fag thing to deal with from the school jocks. Is that why he picked that for his name do you think, General? Because of your overdeveloped sense of irony?"

"So who are you --" O'Neill was forced to stop, his words dissolving into coughing and hacking, blood spilling over his lips.

John scowled and hoped the blood was from bitten flesh or maybe a loose or missing tooth. It wasn't dark enough or simply enough, enough to be from serious internal bleeding. He hoped. Killing O'Neill had not been part of the deal, something that had been expressed to Jock more than once.

"You're The Man, then?" O'Neill finally managed to get out. "Jock's" -- and even he had difficulty with the name -- "boss?"

"Bite your tongue," John scolded, then offered a chuff of laughter at the slip of his own tongue. "Sorry, poor choice of words, I suppose." He pushed up from his lean against the doorsill and moved into the room. Jock had left a bottle of water on the table next to O'Neill, no doubt for taunting purposes. John twisted off its cap, making sure O'Neill could hear the snap of the plastic that proved it was new and untampered with, before he held it to O'Neill's swollen and bloodied lips.

O'Neill accepted, need outweighing pride. But then, from everything John knew about Jonathan "Jack" O'Neill, Major General, United States Air Force, the man had 'resigned practicality' practically engraved on his dog tags. O'Neill had the 'do whatever you have to, to survive until they find you' mentality, established not only from his too many years in special ops, but no doubt also his second career of serving in the SGC.

Again, John was caught comparing the two of them and not being sure if he'd come out the winner. Although O'Neill did have fifteen or so years of additional experience on him. And the support of the Air Force, whereas John's father had had the influence and anger to bully the entire American government on his own behalf while claiming it had been for John.

Even if John's natural inclination hadn't been to piss of COs, Patrick Sheppard had made it next to impossible for the Air Force to be comfortable about John being in their ranks.

When O'Neill pulled back from the water, he tilted his head, studying John intently. John stepped back to cock his hip on the edge of the table full of Jock's 'persuasion' implements, and let him look.

"I know you." O'Neill's voice was still pretty ragged; Jock, of course, was not only experienced in torture from both sides, but had also been highly motivated in getting O'Neill to scream for him.

John shrugged. "Our careers in the Air Force did overlap a few years back, so it's always possible." John remembered when that had been, as well as where. Even though he'd never served directly under then Major Jack O'Neill, they'd spent months in the same arenas and had actually shared action in three different missions. During the final one they'd had in common, John hadn't been the pilot that had pulled O'Neill out of the North Korean mess, but he had been the one that had gotten the rest of O'Neill's team out.

"John Sheppard," John offered, though he didn't bother to enlighten O'Neill about any of the rest of it.

"John Sheppard, Trust assassin?" O'Neill asked thickly. His expression was again more resigned or maybe even touched by relief, instead of showing anything resembling fear. Or an inclination to beg. Jock had been successful only in getting screams, never any pleading.

"Is my tattoo showing?" John made a production of looking down his arms and hands. "Oh, you're working off my having given you my real name, assuming, of course, that I did." John brought his head back up to meet O'Neill's frown and then the eye roll that called John on his bullshit.

"I've tried to tell the others you're not as dumb as you pretend to be, General." John grinned. "Even with Jock as an example, they've still bought into your Peter Principle act. That's why you've been so successful, why you're still alive, isn't it? A combination of sheer stubbornness, and by getting people who definitely should know better to underestimate you."

O'Neill raised his brow. "Takes one to know one, right? Call sign, Velvet, isn't it, Captain?"

"Not for a few years now." John kept his grin, this mask for him as much practiced as O'Neill's own bland affability. The last thing John felt was anything resembling glee, however, especially in being reminded that he no longer had the sky.

He must have given something away, since O'Neill lost the cutting expression and nodded as if he understood what John still felt. His expression turn sympathetic, but not cloyingly so. "Right. You're the one that that Afghan Warlord..." O'Neill trailed off and managed a full body shrug despite his injuries and the bindings. Managed too, to convey their similarity of circumstances then and now, maybe in sympathetic understanding, but no doubt also trying to invoke guilt and sympathy in return.

John let his smile turn feral. "That the Air Force decided had had enough, without bothering to ask me if I agreed."

"Well, you did take out a whole village getting yourself and your men free," O'Neill commented mildly.

"I killed eleven men and three women," John corrected. "Hardly an entire village."

O'Neill's brow rose and he gave John the kind of look John had gotten from his father, his teachers and his COs all of his life.

"Fine, and five children," John scowled back at him. "Only one of which was collateral damage. Believe me, the other four were enthusiastically firing on me even if they didn't have the skill to hit me." He raised his chin. "If I could live with having to shoot through a little girl to kill the bastard that had tortured half my flight crew to death, the Air Force damn well should have been able to, too."

O'Neill gave John a direct look this time, evaluating him, judging him, no doubt, but that was also nothing new to John. Finally O'Neill nodded, not necessarily agreeing with John's assessment about his own sanity and fitness during that time (or now), but at least with a look that might mean he agreed that the Air Force had rushed to their conclusions.

With John's father's help, of course.

"So what brings you here?" O'Neill then asked, with remarkable aplomb. "If you're not the Trust's hit man."

No wonder Jock hated this man. Hated what he had once been himself, but now forced to be someone else.

John let his grin become real again. "Oh, I never said I wasn't an assassin. For the Trust, even," he acknowledged, since the Trust's involvement wasn't exactly a secret here between them. "If you can believe it, though, in this instance I'm here to get you out."

Yeah, that look of skepticism wasn't unexpected. John still waited O'Neill out.

"Why?" the general finally asked with another roll of his eyes.

"Why should you believe me, or why am I going to let you go?"

"Sure," O'Neil was all smiles back.

John laughed. "As far as believing me, you have no reason to. I won't say I never lie, as we both received a lot of the same training, so you'd never believe me. But I have no reason to be lying right now, since we both know you're not the type to fall for the good cop bad cop routine."

O'Neill still looked skeptical. He wasn't giving in to hope, but he had unconsciously relaxed. A man like him was willing to die for a cause or for someone else, John knew. O'Neill wasn't especially suicidal or eager for it, though - not any more at least. It was also damn hard to stay accepting and resolute about dying when someone was offering a way out. While, theoretically, not asking you to compromise your duty or principles.

"As far as why we're not keeping or killing you..." John shrugged. "Jock, obviously, has become a sociopath. In all likelihood, little Jock/Jack is going to go too far and kill you if he's allowed to keep at it. And, at the moment, your death isn't in the Trust's best interests."

O'Neill frowned. "Why doesn't that sound encouraging?"

John shrugged again and adjusted his seat on the table. "Because you know the players and just because they don't want it now, doesn't mean they won't eagerly take you out in the future. If I were to make a guess about why now, I'd say that the Trust still doesn't have everyone in place to take control when they do get around to eliminating you. The SGC is under the aegis of the IOA, after all, not just the American government."

John watched O'Neill's eyes narrow at that little slip of information. If O'Neill really was a dumb as many of the Trust members had decided he must be, John's hint of the government operative would have been overlooked and innocuous, instead of O'Neill recognizing it as potentially useful information.

O'Neill would just have to decide if he could trust it.

"So what piece of my soul are you asking for in return for my freedom?" O'Neill seemed to have realized he'd given himself away and was back to showing only resignation and acceptance.

"No souls today, General," John shook his head. "As I've said, they don't want you dead yet -"

Jock suddenly burst into the room behind them, his face ugly with anger. "What the fuck, Sheppard!"

John had never been sure if the kid was really a double for how O'Neill had looked when he'd been that age. Whether or not, the swaths of purple and green streaking his blondish hair now was simply an attempt to piss off the stuffed suits who had played on the clone's resentment and anger when they'd recruited him into the Trust, as were the eyeliner, the nose ring and the multiple ear and an eyebrow piercing. He looked the part of a cliché, instead of just acting like one.

While John's own issues with authority figures were legion, O'Neill Point Two's were absolutely legendary; making it even harder to believe that Original O'Neill had even gone into the military, much less lasted long enough to attain two stars. In this moment, though, despite his physical appearance of an emo seventeen year old, it was definitely the fifty-something, special ops warrior looking murderously back at them. Had they not planned for this, John would probably be feeling a bit apprehensive right about now, under the glare of such angry menace.

Point Two rushed toward them, the gun he held coming up probably without conscious thought. When Point Two did become aware of its presence, the intent to use it followed. John had been counting on it, though he hadn't quite expected Point Two to gain control over his temper quite so fast, so he barely kick out from his position near the original O'Neill in time. Point Two fired just as John's boot just connected with the edge of O'Neill's chair. Probably also a knee from the sound of the pained shout O'Neill couldn't keep silent. O'Neill's chair tumbled backward, eliciting yet another noise from O'Neill that was then shouted down by Point Two's Goa'uld modulated roar, and the sound of more successive gunshots.

John had pushed off the table and the chair both, letting his momentum carry his body below the initial trajectory of Point Two's aim. He landed on his back only slightly more gracefully than O'Neill had, pulling his own gun and firing to keep Point Two's attention. John wasn't surprised when his bullets were repelled by the defense shield Point Two wore, but then, John's gun was just the distraction anyway.

While O'Neill was shouting out his pain and dismay in discovering his clone was not just crazy but also a Goa'uld, and the clone was screaming in rage at the both of them, screaming at the Asgard, and at life in general, John rolled and came up on his knees. Keeping his gun trained and firing on Point Two's face, John freed the knife he wore at his back with his other hand and lunged upward. The knife blade wasn't repelled by the personal shield (quite the flaw in Goa'uld shield technology in John's opinion), and the first thrust took Point Two mid sternum.

Not repelled, but still an injury any Goa'uld could heal from, so John quickly found his feet and pulled the knife free to strike again. Point Two flailed, managing to clip John across the jaw with his gun, hard enough to break skin and maybe even bone from the burst of pain that followed. John shook it off and blocked a second wild swing, trapping Point Two's arm under his own and bringing them close enough together that he could draw his knife across Point Two's throat. As Point Two then collapsed against him, John drove the knife in a third time, now against the back of Point Two's neck where the Goa'uld symbiote had wrapped itself around Point Two's brainstem. This time when the flash of gold in Point Two's eyes went out, all traces of life followed.

John let the body drop. Any regret he might have felt over having to kill the kid had disappeared months ago. Finding out that Point Two had become a Goa'uld had meant the kid needed to be put down.

While John had never fully bought into the Trust's self righteous belief in their own manifest destiny, especially when being spouted out of the mouth of his father, he'd still been angry enough at the Air Force and his government five years back when he'd first been approached, to go along with the broadest of the Trust's tenets set around defending the Earth from alien influence as well as invasion. It wasn't as if the SGC wasn't heavy-handed themselves, especially when it came to making decisions that affected people who never had a clue.

However, given the utter hypocrisy of the Trust getting into bed with the very worst of the aliens they were castigating the SGC for suffering to live, John had decided the Trust was definitely unworthy of his loyalty. They needed to be taken out of the picture, their power at least broken, had been his conclusion. Unfortunately, that meant working with the SGC, at least for a little while.

Thus, saving O'Neill.

Pointless as it ultimately was, John tried to wipe the spray of arterial blood off his face with his shoulder, at least managing to clear his eyes and mouth of the worst of it. He would never be happy that he'd gotten used to the smell and feel of blood, but at least he wasn't puking to add to the mess around him.

Getting his gun back into its holster wasn't much easier, also because of the blood that saturated his shirt and jacket. He was tempted to leave the knife where it laid buried in Point Two's neck, only John would need it to free O'Neill. So he wiped his hand down the back of Point Two's shirt tails before giving the blade a tug. More than blood spurted this time and the smell of a dead Goa'uld was almost enough to get John to lose it. He didn't have the time, though, or the luxury. He and Point Two hadn't been the only Trust members occupying this facility.

"What the fuck, Sheppard!" O'Neill repeated his clone's arriving words in a croak. He wasn't looking at John, however, but instead toward the dead body, his face twisted in the guilt and regret John couldn't find within himself, as well as a duplication of John's disgust.

John frowned. "Let's just --" Damn. While he was pretty sure his jaw wasn't actually broken, it was still beginning to swell enough that his words came out slurred. "The SGC and the American government aren't the only ones who've been compromised," he forced out as he stumbled over to O'Neill's overturned chair. He didn't bother to try and right O'Neill when he crouched down, but simply started cutting through the bindings from where O'Neill was turtled on his back.

"He was a Goa'uld?" O'Neill, still looking at the kid, sounded absolutely horrified.

John laughed harshly. "Not just any Goa'uld, General, though I doubt you'll appreciate the irony." John swallowed a groan. Not only did talking hurt like a mother, but trying to saw through the leather and rope bindings that O'Neill's own blood had tightened caused his bicep to burn. He must have caught a ricochet from the kid's gun (or his own).

"You're not saying it was Ba'al?" O'Neill could barely choke the name out. Anything he might have added was lost in a long moan as John freed one of O'Neill's arms.

"One of the Ba'al clones, yeah. He thought it was just the funniest fucking thing, given your history. Probably safe to say that his presence helped contribute to your clone's psychoses."

O'Neill looked like he was going to hurl. John hurried through the rest of the bindings, practically shoving O'Neill onto his side away from him. He heard more swearing than gagging though, making note of a few words that had to be alien, then echoing a few of the others in his head as he climbed to his feet. Adrenalin crash was a bitch.

"As much as I shym -- sympathize," John carefully talked around his jaw, "there's a team of five due in the next few minutes with plans to take over your interrogation. Your own people won't be getting here for --" he paused and looked at his watch. "For at least twenty minutes by my calculations. Not unless one of your X-303s wasn't where it's reported to be. Can you walk?"

A glare was his only answer, along with a hand raised in his direction. John took it and tugged, not quite able to hide his grimace and groan as he needed to use his injured arm since he was keeping his gun in his other hand. O'Neill gave him a look which he just ignored; he had no need to get into a 'who's tougher' contest but he also wasn't going to let O'Neill think he'd be better off without John's help.

"You contacted the SGC?" O'Neill didn't sound so much skeptical as simply confused, his confusion expanding when John leaned down to pick up Point Two's gun and handed it over.

"I don't work with Goa'uld," John said flatly as he led the way from the room. He'd taken care of Point Two's back-up on his way in, but he hadn't been lying about a new team's arrival; he'd been supposed to be a part of it, before he decided to get here early.

"The Trust are a bunch of old men who've decided making a profit is more important than defending our country -- our world," he continued at O'Neill's snort. "Assuming we get out of here, General, I've got a list for you, as well as physical evidence to find some of them guilty of treason should your people dare to go to trial --"

"Fuck!" The corner John had just started to peer around suddenly flared with a bolt from a zat. He threw himself backward, sweeping O'Neill back too, and worked at turning them both around so he could push O'Neill further down the hall. "Run," he warned, moving ahead of O'Neill and not completely caring if he was followed. There could always be other plans.

O'Neill wasn't an idiot. He certainly didn't move gracefully, more in a lurch than a run, and no doubt with significant pain. Knowing that not moving meant death or worse was a great motivator, however; a new burst of adrenalin, a good compensator. He didn't even fire blindly off behind them as he followed John, thereby using up half of their very limited ammunition.

Temporarily limited; as John wasn't an idiot either. He'd studied the layout of the building and had memorized several potential escape routes. He just hadn't planned on Dave's interrogation team having a standard Ba'al clone there alongside his brother's personal thugs.

For a moment, John considered activating the device in his pocket. Rodney's plan called for O'Neill to be alive as a participant, but even more it needed John alive. And free.

No. John didn't think any of Dave's group had gotten a good enough look to identify him; they'd simply come across the dead bodies he'd left in his wake and were reacting to sound and movement; the zat would allow them to stun anyone and figure out who was on who's side afterward. So the plan was still viable, as long as he could keep himself and O'Neill a corner or room away from the others. Once the SGC did get here, from past experience he knew Dave, and more especially Ba'al, would definitely bail.

John signaled O'Neill to take the next door, which would lead to a series of rooms filled with some of the alien trinkets and defense contract results that the Trust had been siphoning away from the SGC for years. John had a small cache of his own weapons and tech in the second storage room, including something that he could use jam the entrance and some C4 to blast out one of the walls to give them a new escape route. Dave's team would need to retreat back to a corridor half a building away in order to get back on their trail.

O'Neill stumbled into one of the crate stacks in the first room, sending a box set on top of the pile over the edge and spilling its secrets onto the floor. More than one object began to light up as they rolled near to either of them, set to give away one of John's hole cards, but maybe that was for the best; the designated ATA gene that allowed O'Neill (and John) to use Ancient technology was damn rare, and highly sought after, therefore upping John's value to the SGC that much more.

O'Neill noticed John quieting one of the noisier pieces. "You're kidding me. You've got the Ancient gene, Sheppard?"

John nodded. "From my mother's side apparently, since neither Dave nor dear old dad can initialize squat." Recognizing one of the scarab shapes skidding to a rest at his feet, John carefully thought 'off' at it before he scooped it up. "Here, General. Think 'on'," he ordered as he tossed it O'Neill's direction. "The Ancient's personal shields operate on a steady state, without having to modulate against kinetic energy like the Goa'uld ones do."

Even if O'Neill had been inclined at this point to actively distrust John, he'd been primed with John's words. The scarab flickered in O'Neill's hands as he instinctively caught it, a green glow then spreading out from it to encompass O'Neill's body, even as he looked prepared to command off. The first box wasn't the only one destabilized, however, and the next one was both larger and sturdier. It also tumbled from the stack, directly toward O'Neill this time and falling much faster than O'Neill was able to move. The edge of the container headed straight for an impact against O'Neill's head, only to be stopped and repelled by the shield in a shimmer and crackle.

Good call then. Yet when the door behind them opened before they reached the second room and John's cache, John had reason to wish he'd kept it for himself. Two of Dave's men rushed in with weapons firing - only one of which was the zat -- forcing John to dive behind another set of packing crates. He had no cause to worry about shooting back and killing his brother's men, other than his limited ammunition. In truth he'd be just as happy taking aim at Dave, too.

The one with the hand gun went down. And stayed down, his eyes open yet sightless; there was a reason John had become the Trust's de facto assassin after Kinsey's man had so badly botched things up. The gunman with the zat was smarter, however, and had taken up his own position behind cover, with too clear a field of fire against anyone going for the second door, as John found out quickly, only just missing blowing the whole deal by trying for it.

O'Neill's own position behind cover was within John's line of sight and he wasn't surprised to see O'Neill hand signal that he'd go for the end around if John drew the fire again. John hesitated for only a breath before signaling back his agreement. He would have preferred things to go the other way, with O'Neill providing the distraction since he had the fucking personal shield, but O'Neill had the better position to get the drop on the second man, and it wasn't like they had the time to debate. These two had raced ahead of their companions, but Dave, Ba'al, and the rest wouldn't be that far behind.

No matter how much of a hard-on Ba'al had to get his hands on O'Neill, John might not be the only one pissed off about the Trust's arrangement with a Goa'uld. Only one of the others would be more likely willing to just kill O'Neill during this dust-up in order to screw with Ba'al than help O'Neill get free, not knowing that John had made O'Neill invulnerable. John's own chances of getting shot during the firefight were even more likely, only getting zatted would be the rawer end of the deal than getting hit by a bullet. John had no desire to die, yet getting killed would definitely be the better option over getting caught. And not just for his own sake.

Putting all of his money on getting away instead, John broke from his cover, used his cover as part of the distraction by kicking out against them as he had O'Neill's chair, and then launching his body in a horizontal shove backward, with his gun blazing like something straight out of a Hollywood movie. The crates wobbled and one fell, not particularly in a useful direction, but it still drew the eye and the first zat discharge took it square, exploding the box into splinters and shrapnel.

Fortunately, John's Angelina Jolie move had him under the next discharge as well as moving away from the debris. Unfortunately, something in his shoulder crunched as he landed and skidded across the floor toward the next set of cover, causing him to lose his hold on his gun. His empty gun, however, so not a huge loss, and O'Neill had started moving when John had, which caused Dave's gunman to hesitate over who to shoot at next -

Until O'Neill disappeared. Not behind another set of crates, but in a vertical burst of light.

Son of a bitch!

So the Daedalus or the Apollo had been on station despite contrary intel, had at least been near enough for a recall to come in and find O'Neill, something possible now that John had turned off the jamming field that had kept O'Neill's subcutaneous transmitter from being picked up.

Nice move, John, giving O'Neill the shield and the second gun, he berated himself as he scrambled upright, then scrambled for the failsafe device in his pocket while trying to ignore the blaze of agony from his dislocated shoulder.

He was screwed. Sure that the zat gunman had made his identity, he could only teleport out himself now; he'd lost the ability to charm or cajole his brother too many years ago, and no amount of dissembling would cover what he'd been doing with O'Neill. Rodney was going to have his ass -

It was a ribbon device's energy that hit him, not the zat's, though the result was more or less the same, only with a shit load more pain, that dropped him to his knees, and dropped the recall device from his fingers. This wasn't John's first time at this particular rodeo, however, and the Ba'al clone wasn't the only one who could activate an alien device by using his mind.

John had no idea of what a tenth of the items in this storage room could do, but he could still sense which ones were Ancient, and that was enough to get a few of them jumping to do his bidding.

Lights, noise, vibration... Most of it was likely the ribbon device, as Ba'al set fire to John's nerves, yet the shout John heard had come from someone other than himself. The blinding flare that threatened his eyes, even with them closed, was also something more. For a moment Ba'al's hold on him stuttered, then cut off completely. John collapsed all the way to the floor, his breaths now what was stuttering, the pain from hitting his shoulder again almost pleasurable compared to what he had been feeling. He'd fallen over the recall device, was shouting silently at his own brain for his body to move enough that he could grab and use it, but in the next moment he had other hands on his uncooperative arms, and while he was reasonably sure the dissociative feeling he was abruptly experiencing was indeed some form of teleportation, it was his first flight commander's face hovering over him when his mind reconnected to his body and his body reconnected to gravity, not Rodney's.

Good old Cam's open face, and then nothing.

*********

Despite Rodney's bitching to the contrary, John really didn't have a wealth of experience in waking up in strange places. Sure he used all of his abilities and assets to achieve his goals, including seduction when necessary, but it wasn't like he went looking for the opportunity to have sex with strangers. In many ways, doing that had been even more dangerous when he'd still been a part of the United States Air Force, considering his preference had always been for sex with men. Nor did he normally stay the night or even fall asleep in such situations, especially now, since sleeping with the enemy could just as easily get you dead as get you the needed information or assistance.

The other thing Rodney didn't really understand about strange awakenings, was that you only needed to wake up once after being shot (or tortured) to pretty much have the experience engraved in your brain, no repetitions needed to know right down to the fundamental level when you were in a hospital - and when you weren't. Antiseptic smells and beeps and bustle were all simply window dressing, especially when muted by morphine or some other form of pain relief or sedative. Just as were the smells of blood and feces and death, and the mishmash sounds of foreign words, shouts and groans only peripherals to the misfiring or broken circuits of your own agonized body.

In this instance John knew immediately he was being cared for in some form of a hospital, that he'd actually been cared for, as in his injuries treated instead of being exacerbated. While that didn't preclude that he wasn't in enemy hands, he wasn't excessively worried when an attempt to recall how he'd gotten his injuries came up empty. He knew who he was, who Rodney was and, frankly, that was really all that mattered. Rodney would be coming for him, no matter where - or with whom - John was now their guest.

Not that he planned on waiting for Rodney to have to take that risk. Not if he didn't have to.

John took stock of his body, feeling deep muscle aches as well as an overall lethargy, along with the telltale remnant of drugs that were no doubt intended to keep him docile if not happy. He'd always metabolized things quickly, however, so he doubted he was in quite the state he figured his hosts were expecting. He could move, which meant he could escape.

The burn of a cut, stitches and bandages across his arm, then the ache of his shoulder as he manipulated said arm, brought back his missing memories. Of O'Neill and the warehouse, and then in being teleported before Ba'al had gotten more than started.

Right. Shit. Not even his father's position and influence was going to get John back in the Trust's good graces, not that he could expect his father to even try, after working so directly against favored son Dave's operation. Plus John had made it personal between him and Ba'al, not just in turning the bastard down the night(?) before, but in freeing Ba'al's favorite pet. Who had, apparently, been grateful enough to send a team back down in time to extract John, instead of waiting to see what the SGC could recover from the Trust, after the Trust had cleared out.

Not exactly the plan, John's life one-to-one for O'Neill's, but maybe he could work it. He still had a few cards left to play in the game, plus he did have the advantage of knowing that with O'Neill having recognized him, O'Neill would also know that the stick approach just wasn't going to work. No matter how big or mean that stick turned out to be.

"Before you think or do anything too stupid, you should know that I don't subscribe to the 'enemy of my enemy is my friend' philosophy," a voice from long ago abruptly spoke up from somewhere down near John's feet.

John blinked open his eyes, squinting and tearing from the brightness of the room he was being held in, but still able to make out the current leader of SG-1 standing at the end of his bed. And the two marine guards on duty outside John's open door.

"That being said," Mitchell continued, his voice falling into something a bit more down-home southern --

True, John knew, even if it was also an act right now,

"-- I am a compulsive believer of paying off debts, as one of my favorite characters is wont to claim."

"Modesty Blaise is one of your role models, Buck? A thief? Does the general know? Of course, that does explain your ready acceptance of Vala Mal Doran."

Cameron 'Buck' Mitchell snorted and threw a pair of pants at John's head. "Get dressed, Nugget. You've got two generals who've been waiting for you to wake up, and neither one of them are in a good mood."

John shrugged and levered himself into a sitting position, maybe playing it up a little when Cam came over to help. But then, maybe not, he discovered as he would have fallen right back down when he moved to stand. That earned him another snort and an exasperated sigh, but also Cam's help in skinning down the scrubs and pulling on the pants. And a laugh at John's striped boxers.

The pants were BDUs, of course, although Cam then produced a black t-shirt instead of the matching uniform blouse. No socks or boots, though. John gave Cam a look at that, but Cam just shrugged and started for the door. Petty, but that was definitely Hank Landry's style, as well as part of the reputations of Landry's ship captains, Caldwell, Emerson and Ellis.

And it wasn't as if John couldn't kill someone with just a shoe lace.

One of the Marines' P-90s would make things a lot easier, and for a moment John was tempted to acquire one, was extremely tempted to show Cam and the rest of the SGC that old friendships meant nothing after Afghanistan, and that only providing two Marines as a guarded escort was an insult. There was the off chance that O'Neill had only set two guards on him as a sign of trust, however, plus John was supposed to be fostering more trust, not eliminating all of it. He was also on a spaceship he could sense, one hopefully still in orbit around Earth, but even so, where would he go without his recall device? Even with a P-90 over a shoe lace, he wouldn't be able to take out the whole crew -

Especially not with the alien, Teal'c, currently a part of it.

John wasn't sure why he was surprised that the rest of SG-1 had come along on the O'Neill rescue; the three other than Cam and Vala had, after all, been O'Neill's teammates much longer than they'd been Cam's. John would have paid good money to see Teal'c throw down against the Ba'al clone down there. Only Teal'c was looking placid alongside his normal alien menace, not homicidal, leaving John to conclude that Ba'al had split the minute the SGC team had beamed back in.

Placid, but still willing to hurt John if he tried anything, so John meekly took the place where he was directed, next to Cam and in front of the Jaffa warrior.

Another trip through an Asgard transport beam brought John not to the SGC headquarters in Cheyenne Mountain as he'd expected, and not even to O'Neill's Homeworld Security office in the Pentagon. Instead they'd been put back down in the Trust's warehouse. Not in the storage room, but in the room where O'Neill had been held. The one that still held O'Neill Point Two's body, though it had been placed in a body bag.

From the smells still prevalent, John hadn't actually been unconscious and on board the Apollo or whatever X-303, for more than a couple of hours. O'Neill looked like he'd stayed long enough to get his more serious injuries treated, but not long enough to gain back any of his color or general robustness.

Or maybe O'Neill was still feeling melancholy about his clone's betrayal and death.

Hank Landry simply looked disgusted and pissed off, his constipated look growing when he turned his gaze John's direction. John gave him a brilliant smile in return, then gingerly made his way across the floor to the table that had be righted at some point. He climbed atop it this time instead of just hitching a hip. Landry scowled and began to say something, but John simply pointed to the blood and debris littered floor, then to his bare feet, daring the head of the SGC to continue.

Landry obviously bit back whatever he'd been about to say, and gestured instead to O'Neill to take the lead.

Only Jackson was the one who spoke. "How long was Junior - Jock -"

"I always called him Point Two in my head," John offered Jackson the out, ignoring Carter's choked gasp and Vala's not quite stifled chuckle. The remaining SG-1 men stayed stoic, or further disgusted like Landry, not that John turned around to look at Cam or the others. O'Neill's expression was mostly unreadable, but John thought he saw a glimmer of something not completely negative. The ability to remain calm, to joke even, in the face of your enemy was yet one more thing the two of them had in common and O'Neill, no matter what else he might be, wasn't a hypocrite.

"The Trust made contact with him pretty much right after you guys stopped," John continued, letting his tone become slightly pedantic and scolding. "He was given over to one of the Ba'al clones three months ago."

Gasps, again from Carter and this time from Jackson too, told John that O'Neill hadn't been completely forthcoming with his friends. Or O'Neill hadn't completely believed what he'd seen.

John shrugged. "While the Ba'al clone was vain enough to lament over giving up the body he'd been used to for so long, the irony of taking your body as a host, even if it was only a pint-sized clone body, appealed to him more."

More movement from behind John, and then Teal'c moved into his peripheral vision, heading to the body bag and kneeling down to unzip it. John didn't know enough about the Goa'uld and their Jaffa to know if Teal'c could actually identify which Goa'uld had been killed, but there was no mistaking from his look that a Goa'uld had had possession of the O'Neill clone.

John again smiled Landry's direction. "Sorry, Hank. Not a hallucination, nor a special effects set up. I suppose he could have been a Tok'ra, that I then killed, but that would mean you have a lot more problems than little old me, given what he did to the general here," with a nod O'Neill's direction.

"We still have you on plenty of other charges -"

"What, guilty of freeing a kidnapped victim and shooting back at the ones who'd held him? Of warning the Director of Homeworld Security that my own father is a member of an organization operating outside of the government and engaging in treasonous activities? Warning that Colonel Paul Emerson is not only also a member of said organization, but is another Goa'uld?"

That last piece of information got heads lifting and turning, then shouts and more marines coming through the door, before Landry and those marines suddenly disappeared in another vertical flash.

"He left early," John remarked coolly when it was just him, O'Neill, and SG-1 left. "I was prepared to give him more."

"You are such a fucking asshole, Shep," Cam exploded behind him.

"Actually, I'm a man with limited options, playing the cards I've been dealt, Cam," John shot back, then stopped and took a deep breath. Letting Cam - letting any of them -- get to him wasn't a good play.

"I think you've exchanged one or two of those dealt for a card you've had up your sleeve," came from Jackson as he moved from behind John and over to O'Neill. O'Neill's there-and-then-gone smile was probably more for Jackson's cleverness than for John's, but the mood in the room did lighten from instantaneous murder to 'let's play with him first'.

John met O'Neill's judgmental gaze. "I offered you the greatest hits list before things got messy, General. My offer still stands. Surely after your experiences with Simmons and Kinsey, after Maybourne and Makepeace, you can't be surprised that the SGC and the American government are still compromised? That the Trust has in turn been compromised by the Goa'uld? Or that there are even higher placed traitors you're going to want to know about than Emerson and Jay Felger?"

"So what do you want in return for that list?" Carter was the one to actually ask, her eyes wide to learn that one of her precious scientists had also been compromised. She'd moved over toward Teal'c and the clone's body, when it became obvious there wasn't any place for her near O'Neill, from Jackson's hovering.

"At this point, I'm thinking asylum. For myself and one other."

O'Neill cocked his head, but again let one of his people, Jackson again, ask again. "Off world?"

"Preferably. The Trust's reach is long."

"Ba'al's reach is longer," Vala spoke up. "And the Ori are doing their best to eliminate any bolt holes from the other side."

John shrugged. True, but there were a lot of planets outside Ori domination or destruction too, if it came to that. Some Vala herself might be willing to mention for a few of the trinkets John had, ones much better than those she was pocketing right now.

"I'm not sure I'd be all that comfortable knowing you were out there, stirring up trouble or making nice with folk like the Lucien Alliance," was Cam's contribution. "You're little more than a mercenary and an assassin, these days, Shep."

John made sure to turn his gaze on Vala first, before he looked over his shoulder to give Cam the same type of smile that had nearly had Landry stroking before the old man had left.

Cam's flush said he got John's point, as apparently did Jackson, from his own look at Vala when John returned his glance O'Neill's direction. Most definitely not 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' philosophy around here, but more the 'keep your friends close, and your enemies closer'. Though John suspected the rest of SG-1 and probably even O'Neill had developed a soft spot for the ex-Goa'uld, ex-Ori host. From everything John had read about and seen of Vala Mal Doran, it was impossible not to succumb to her outrageous charms.

"Who else?" Carter suddenly asked. "You said you wanted asylum for yourself and one other. Not your father?" She sounded scornful and accusatory.

"Not my father," John agreed pointedly, getting her to back down too. "Nor my brother, because he's the real asshole," he said more evenly, with a nod to the clone's body bag. "Dave was Point Two's handler, by the way."

Teal'c's growl was satisfying as well as intimidating. The look O'Neill shot John was just as intimidating. More intimidating. John offered them both a smile filled with teeth.

"Doctor Rodney McKay," John finally answered after another long beat, where even Carter and Jackson started to look dangerous, and Cam simply looked like he was going to slug or shoot John.

"McKay's dead," Carter protested automatically. "He died in an accident while serving in Russia."

John let his own expression turn lethal as he stared her down again. "Doctor McKay survived an assassination attempt after you threw him to the Russians out of pettiness and jealousy. After yousent him back," he turned that gaze now on O'Neill, "despite him saving your fucking life, not to mention the Earth. Sent him back and kept him there even after you knew about Kiselev and Vallarin."

Any defense Carter might have tried stayed stillborn in her throat when even O'Neill deflated just a hair under John's accusation.

"You have a habit of throwing people away that make you uncomfortable, General, or at least of allowing them to be thrown away," John pointed out more calmly. "You've done half the Trust's job for them."

"McKay's part of the Trust?" Now Carter simply looked sick.

"It would serve you right, but no, he's never worked for them willingly. Of course, willing hasn't ever been a big sticking point for the Trust. They implanted him, not with a Goa'uld," he waived away Carter and Jackson's horrified interruptions, "but with an alien device that was supposed to make him malleable to suggestion. As far as they know, it also made him stupid, and a stupid Rodney McKay does no one any good. So they sent a sweeper in to stage the accident that did actually take Svetlana Markov's life along with those of a handful of unfortunate techs. Oh, don't mourn her; she's the one who turned Rodney over to the Trust in the first place."

John laughed at the surprise on their faces. "Oh, my god, you didn't really think the Trust was only homegrown to the US, did you? Its members were global long before another one of your Goa'uld friends made its home in Shen Xiaoyi's body."

He watched as Cam's hand twitched toward his radio, as yet one more Goa'uld infiltrator was handed over to them on a silver platter. A look from O'Neill kept Cam silent.

"Instead of killing McKay, you got him away from the Russians and the Trust? So you're a rogue, rogue assassin?" Jackson asked, surprisingly non judgmental given the level of antagonism now permeating the room.

John adjusted his cross legged position on the table top. His various aches and pains were active again; ego and righteous anger only worked to stave things off for so long. The drugs he'd been given had either worn off or had been made intentionally weak. "I suppose," he inclined his head in acknowledgement. "That's the trouble with evil organizations; they have an unfortunate habit of attracting the type of people who think they're better qualified to make the decisions, and who aren't afraid to buck the status quo."

"Whose loyalty shifts with the wind," Cam commented bitterly.

John cocked his brow. "Loyalty, like respect, is something to be earned, not assumed as a god-given right. But don't worry, Cam, my father and brother never understood that either. Both also mean a lot more if they're reciprocal. Rodney and I owe nothing to the Air Force or the SGC, yet here we are, putting our lives and future in your hands. Not too much of a risk for me, since if I don't make it back to him, he'll bring the Mountain down around your ears, literally -- and by disclosing the program to the world." He smiled sweetly at Carter and Cam before turning back with a more sober mien to O'Neill.

O'Neill let the silence, the discomfort, build up. He'd said nothing yet, and nothing now, simply sweeping his look over the room, lingering on the body bag and the chair he'd spent over a day strapped to, on the blood spray still puddled on the floor, on the wall and under John's fingernails. Finally O'Neill turned his gaze back on John, holding onto the best mask that John had ever seen.

"The kid got a raw deal, Jack," John ignored the mask - ignored the rest of them in the room, too. He knew what O'Neill was really wondering, saying, just as John also knew what his answer needed to be. The full truth, for once. "Even if there is some way to involuntarily remove a Goa'uld without killing the host, we both know that Ba'al made sure that the kid was aware of what he was being forced to do. He wouldn't have been able to live with that."

"You killed him to save him?" Carter spat out.

His brittleness buried too deeply for her to see, John gave her the insouciant smile she was expecting, knowing she didn't understand, that she might never understand, yet praying for her hypothetical men's sake, that she wouldn't be given any command over them until she did. Even if that knowledge would strip away the last of her innocence. "It's been known to happen."

"Fuck you -"

"Carter!"

And so the man speaketh, with reprimand not to his enemy but to his friend. Carter took it badly of course; as did Cam. Yet Teal'c and Jackson just looked thoughtful, just turned their thoughtful and assessing looks back John's direction.

John straightened his legs and leaned back on his elbows in a show of nonchalance under their regard.

"What does McKay's implant really do?" O'Neill finally asked, proving he'd been listening to all of the undercurrents.

John straightened up to put his weight on his hands over his elbows, but remained partially recumbent as his body was screaming at him now. "It's an interface to an absent AI. If he lets down his guard, it becomes extremely distracting as it's all but desperate to make the connection. He's in constant pain and had it been forced on anyone else, it would have made them stupid." John couldn't help his gaze turning to Carter there, though he brought it back right away under Vala's cough and O'Neill's scowl. "Not to mention suicidal," he scowled right back. "Phantom pain's a bitch, especially when your body feels like the limb it is missing is half its brain."

"Do you know the type of tech? Where it came from?" Vala sounded not only sympathetic and interested, but also willing to help. But then, more than the rest of them, she no doubt understood about phantom pain, even if she, too, had been an unwilling host.

John started to shake his head, but O'Neill interrupted him.

"It's Ancient," the general said with full conviction, his gaze holding John from shaking his head again. "This thing -" O'Neill waved his hand around the room "-- this whole contrived business was a goddamn audition. You're hoping for asylum in Atlantis."

Once more John tuned out the assorted gasps and exclamations of shock (and awe), to look steadily back at O'Neill. "So do we get the part?"

Predictably, the room exploded after that, even Jackson leaving his spot at O'Neill's side to take part in the cacophony of shouts, recriminations and accusations. John didn't bother trying to sort out any individual thread, noting only that not everyone was calling for his death, and that Teal'c wasn't saying anything. Neither, of course, was O'Neill though, again, John had no doubt that the general was paying attention to everything his people were saying. And not saying.


***

Once it became obvious that the... discussion was going to go on for a while, that it was going to be allowed to continue, John gave in to his body's own clamoring and allowed himself to lay back completely. The table, like the room, was too damn cold for it to be truly comfortable, but at least the cold numbed overtaxed muscles, and actually felt good against his aching head. He didn't worry about appearing vulnerable; when he'd said he'd put his and Rodney's fate in O'Neill's hands, that hadn't been hyperbole. John had no doubt he could protect Rodney, keep the two of them alive at least long enough to get them off world somewhere, but just escaping Earth and the Trust wouldn't solve the real problem, namely that damn implant.

In many ways, it might have been better if Rodney had been snaked with a Goa'uld instead of being chained to a piece of faulty tech. The interface had insinuated itself into Rodney's brain stem just as thoroughly as would one of the alien parasites, making it impossible to operate and remove. At least as a Goa'uld, Rodney wouldn't be in constant pain, nor be aware of what his body was doing. Undoubtedly, no Goa'uld, not even Ba'al, would have taken the chance of temporarily relinquishing control over Rodney's brain, not even to taunt or torture him as Ba'al had done with Point Two. Not if they'd ever expected to be able to regain control again.

If somehow Rodney did manage to maintain his sense of self while snaked, he'd then either figure out how to get the parasite removed, or he wouldn't care. In turn, that would mean that John wouldn't care, wouldn't hesitate in pulling the trigger, having already once faced the necessity of killing his best friend and lover, on the desert sands of Afghanistan to release Holland from the deprivations Holland could never have recovered from. Then John would take out all of the fuckers who'd done that to Rodney, including the ones in this room, and -

It took John longer than was prudent to notice that the shouting had stopped, that there were a few whispers coming from somewhere below him, but mostly silence around him. The room was quiet enough now that he could almost make out the words of the SGC teams of scientist and soldiers out beyond, taking inventory and charge of this Trust cache. John forced his eyes open, not too surprised to see he was being watched, only surprised that it was by Vala and Cam, and that neither of them looked quite so outraged any longer. The rest of SG-1 was clustered around O'Neill, who was sitting on the floor, leaning against the nearest wall, thought it looked like Carter was trying to convince him to move to the chair.

Ha, Carter really was as dumb about some things as Rodney claimed, as oblivious or uncaring as to why O'Neill wasn't willing to sit back down where he'd been tortured for hours on end, as she was to why O'Neill was turning to Jackson and Teal'c for the only type of comfort he'd be willing to accept. O'Neill looked done in, looked worse than even John felt, and that more than anything else he had going had to be why John was rising back up, waving off any assistance from his two keepers.

"There should be something here, that can help you with that," John offered to O'Neill. "If you trust me to collect it and use it on you."

O'Neill cracked one eye open and gave him a searching look, then nodded despite Carter's obvious objections.

"I will come with you, John Sheppard," Teal'c offered - commanded - but John didn't care, as he might need some help, if not in walking then in getting the Ancient tech out of its crate and back into the room.

Having an escort of Teal'c stature when he needed to take something away from the giddy scientists was also a good idea, even if the rank and file here didn't know John was one of the bad guys.

"You will find that General O'Neill is reasonable man, John Sheppard."

Oh, god, he'd gotten the chatty Teal'c, the grateful penitent beholden to O'Neill for his freedom and enlightenment. The acolyte preaching to find more converts.

"Not that I don't appreciate the pep talk, big guy, but I'm not here looking for redemption. I know what I've done and can live with it. My motivations are indeed selfish, but they are also honest, as a friend of mine got royally screwed by a bunch of people including a couple of your friends. If it makes you feel better to think of it as me allowing them their own chance at redemption for doing Rodney wrong, fine, but one way or the other, they're going to make good. You can tell O'Neill that I'll step aside if my own clemency isn't on the table, but he'd better kill me outright if he has any intention of promising something and then screwing Rodney again, otherwise I will make him and Carter pay in blood."

When he'd tried to discuss this deviation to the plan with Rodney they hadn't gotten far, as Rodney wouldn't accept what he saw as too much willingness for self sacrifice on John's part. So John had relented, had promised it was either the both of them, or they'd take their chances elsewhere, together. And Rodney had believed him, or had at least stopped arguing when John had. John had stopped arguing, in part because doing so was only causing Rodney more pain, and because he knew he'd eventually catch up to Rodney if O'Neill took care of things, even in the Pegasus Galaxy. Though the ship they had right now would only get them through a gate to another planet here within the Milky Way, that would be enough to give John the opportunity to buy, charm or steal a new one, one that would then take him farther, no matter how many ships, gates, planets or months it ultimately took.

The reality was that Rodney was the only real victim here. And John was entirely too cynical to believe in second chances even if he'd truly thought O'Neill was the kind of man who granted them. Both Teal'c and Vala had been victims too, forced to do things against their will - having their will actually co-opted - but John had made his choices all by himself. And with few regrets. John knew he was a sociopath - hell, so had the Air Force, which is why they'd been so eager to have him at first, when they thought they could direct and control it. John hadn't minded some of those who'd given him direction, the trouble had come then, as now, because of the desire to control.

Teal'c looked disapproving (disappointed?) at John's answer, but not particularly threatening, so given that and Teal'c's statement in the first place, John figured he could put Teal'c on the Vala side of the equation. By performing some Ancient healing on O'Neill, he hoped that would more or less get Jackson on his side, and John knew that Cam really was the Mom-and-apple-pie kind of guy he appeared to be. Knew that even amidst his current anger, Cam was looking for a way to believe that John was still the rookie Cam had trained all those years ago.

Sure, Carter vehemently opposed cooperating with him, yet even she should ultimately capitulate; her sense of guilt had to be stronger than her moral outrage, if not for sending Rodney off to his alleged death, then from being glad about it. As far as Landry was concerned, John wasn't worrying about his opinion. If it came to a throw down between O'Neill and Landry, the SGC rank and file would back O'Neill, no matter Landry's reasoning or objections.

Leaving only O'Neill. Rodney was counting on O'Neill's sense of fair play, while John was putting his money on O'Neill's pragmatism (maybe tempered by Jackson's empathy). Rodney's addition to the Atlantis mission was just as necessary on their side as Rodney's - especially with the expedition's recent loss of the CSO, Ben Kavanagh., due to a series of mistakes that Rodney's genius would have prevented, even if he didn't have the fucking implant. With the implant, hell, even if the head of the expedition, one Elizabeth Weir, didn't think she needed Rodney, Atlantis did, which would be the game changer regardless.

As for himself, well, maybe Teal'c was right about O'Neill.

As they finally arrived at the storage area, John automatically started cataloging the faces he recognized in the recovery teams. A surprising number of them were from the higher ranks according to the Trust's files on the SGC. So many, in fact, that John had to wonder who was left minding the store. Bill Lee was one, along with Simon Coombs. Oh, so was Jay Felger, out from Area 51, and John suddenly wasn't the only one honing in on him; Teal'c time spent as a Jaffa host allowing him to pinpoint the Goa'uld's presence even better than dogs picked up on Terminators.

Felger recognized Teal'c, of course, and John, and knew immediately that he'd been made. Unfortunately for John, Felger had maneuvered himself into a position of cataloging some of the weapons that had been stored here, and the Goa'uld in him didn't succumb to the very human reactions of hesitation and panic. They were lucky, John supposed that Felger was currently inventorying a couple of the Wraith stunners that the Trust had stolen from an Atlantis shipment, instead of the brace of Jaffa staff weapons also somewhere in the room.

Felger's first shot hit Teal'c with a field that even John felt in their close proximity, giving him severe pins and needles along the left side of his body, his left arm becoming leaden and clumsy to use. From what John had read about them, like the zats, the stunners affected a body's somatic nervous system without taking out autonomic system, so the victim's lungs and heart still functioned. It appeared to be true, given Teal's body in John's hands was in essence a manikin, malleable as John lowered it, but completely unresponsive going by the frustration John could read in Teal'c's eyes.

John had caught Teal'c less to keep him from braining himself on one of the scattered crates or the floor, than to check whether Teal'c was carrying. Unfortunately it appeared the answer to that was no, even as Cam and Carter had both worn thigh holsters with 9mms. Again John wasn't sure if he should be insulted that O'Neill and company didn't think he warranted a guard with a gun, to be pleased that at least someone had trusted him enough, or to be worried in their confidence that Teal'c wouldn't have needed a gun to deal with him. For the moment he elected to be pissed, since it meant he didn't have access to a weapon, and Felger was still firing.

Not at him, it turned out, at least not yet. Two of the four marine guards were also down, and maybe one of Felger's fellow scientists, though it was just as likely that Coombs had fainted than been shot. Whereas it seemed that Landry had sent the cream of the crop with regard to his eggheads here, he'd also sent along the bottom of the barrel in respect of the military, or at least the inexperienced ones. None of them had fired back at Felger, caught off guard when one of their own had turned on them, or caught without any covering rules of engagement and not enough initiative to deal with it on their own. The third guard also fell to Felger's Goa'uld, but at least he'd been providing cover for his buddy, who bugged out of the room. Hopefully to call for reinforcements, but John wasn't counting on it. The rest of SG-1 were also too far away to have heard the altercation.

"Sheppard, do you have a way out?" Felger suddenly shouted.

John couldn't stop the grin from taking over his expression. He patted Teal'c's arm and crab walked away, staying behind the now bountiful cover of the crates; the scientists having acted like children on Christmas in having to peek into them all instead of leaving them orderly to be opened one by one. Felger had seen only that Teal'c had had his grip around John's arm and probably John's bare feet, was now assuming that John had been Teal'c's prisoner with no clue that Teal'c had actually been helping support John in his body's sluggishness after earlier events.

"Yeah, give me a minute," John called back, slowly making his way toward the back wall. His own cache was likely still in the second storage room, with all of its toys (and a backup weapon), but John was actually hoping that his recall device was still here, having been thought of as just one of the randomly spilled pieces of small tech still strewn across the floor from the initial shoot out, as the recover team was looking first to the big things, like the two purloined naquadah generators, the Goa'uld sarcophagus, the pieces of Orlin's makeshift stargate and, of course, all of the alien weapons.

"How many more marines can we be expecting?"

"We came here with twenty, along with fifteen scientists and lab techs," Felger responded.

Four of which had been transported away with Landry, which left twelve still scattered throughout the complex, thirteen counting the one who'd just fled to find a few of the other twelve. No doubt they all had radios, too, which meant they were coming, along with the rest of SG-1, the arrival just dependent on how far away they'd spread. John suspected the X-303 ship that had been overhead had also been redirected by Landry, but he couldn't count on that, or that it wouldn't have been sent back on station after getting Landry back to Cheyenne or wherever he'd determined to make his base as he started his witch hunt. Reinforcements were no doubt imminent if not already on the ground.

"Felger - Jay - what in the blazes are you doing?" Bill Lee suddenly popped his head up from where he'd been checking on Coombs' condition. "Whatever you've picked up, we can help you. Just put the weapon down." Lee rose to his feet then, his arms spread wide and unthreatening.

Oh, great, Lee hadn't seen Felger's Goa'uld eye flash when Felger had spotted Teal'c, was obviously thinking that Felger had picked up a piece of tech that was making him crazy. And that he could talk Felger down.

John had made it across the room to a position behind both scientists, and saw with relief that his recall device was still just laying on the floor, no more than twenty feet away. Unfortunately, he could also see Felger now turning toward Lee, an expression of contempt and sadistic glee taking over before he dropped the stunner and lunged for one of the staff weapons.

Son of a bitch!

Lee, surprisingly, showed a remarkable amount of intelligence - and prudence - losing his deer-in-the-headlights freeze quickly enough to throw himself sideways and down so that the first discharge from the staff weapon hit the crate Lee had been standing in front of instead. The crate side blew apart like wet paper, but nothing inside exploded, instead apparently melting to send colorful ooze flowing outward.

The second discharge exploded against the lower crate, still missing Lee as the staff weapons were a bitch to actually aim. Something toxic or at least toxic smelling started to burn this time, proving that aim might not be all that necessary.

"Sheppard!"

If asked, John was fully prepared to say he hesitated, that he seriously considered going for the recall device and leaving, that the only reason he didn't was for Rodney and the salvation of the plan. Because Felger was Goa'uld. All of that was even true, other than the actual hesitation. But the reality was that he was moving instinctively, without that hesitation, solely because John wasn't so far gone from his training or his humanity to countenance senseless murder.

The additional problem with Jaffa staff weapons beyond their accuracy was their recharge rate. The wielder could fire near continuously, only each successive plasma burst dropped off in strength, distance and intensity, exponentially. And Felger, or his Goa'uld really wanted to kill Bill Lee, who was scuttling backward, because he knew about the same limitations.

John wasn't even on Felger's radar. While the Goa'uld clocked the time needed to achieve his goal and tracked Lee's movements, John charged from his own position. He had no idea if Felger had a Goa'uld shield, or whether a Wraith stunner could even affect a Goa'uld. Didn't matter, as the stunner was nearly as long as a staff weapon, with a very pointy end that pierced host flesh, shield or not.

Felger turned shattered eyes on John. The Goa'uld tried to raise the staff weapon, to bat it feebly at John when he couldn't coordinate his fingers to actually fire it. In the end it spilled from lifeless fingers, as invective, along with a few gouts of blood spilled from Felger's lips. John knew he hadn't killed the Goa'uld, that the parasite could heal his host's body from even this. Not while the stunner still pinned him to the metal container, however.

"This one's not a Ba'al clone," John offered over his shoulder in Lee's direction as the scientist rose on shaky feet. John started to pat down Felger's twitching body to make sure he wasn't holding onto something in a pocket that could come back and bite someone. "You should probably let O'Neill know that before he makes up his mind whether to kill him or keep him for questioning."

John didn't find a ribbon device (though there was one packed away somewhere in this room), nor a personal shield or any other kind of weapon; Felger having long played the part of a harmless scientist after all. What he did find was a pocket full of gemstones and jewelry whose value would make Vala blush, that he in turn pocketed himself. Along with something that looked Asgardian, and another item from Kelowna, if he wasn't mistaken. If he and Rodney were going to have to make their way and future off world, these would provide much better currency than his portion of the Sheppard Utilities fortune.

Deciding that discretion was definitely the better part of valor for the moment, now that he could hear pounding boot steps from beyond the room (what had taken them so fucking long?), John headed back toward his recall device. "Let O'Neill know that I'll be in touch."

****

After living in boarding schools, dorms, military bases and then Siberia for most of his life, adjusting to living on a space ship hadn't turned out to be difficult for Rodney McKay. It wasn't like he missed polluted air and the caterwauling of crowds. On board he'd had recycled air that held no pollens or other allergens, food that was always citrus free, and no contact with the idiots that comprised ninety-nine point nine percent of the population. He also had the backdrop of the moon and the Earth out his 'window', which the astrophysicist in him had never tired of.

It had been near perfect.

Only John worried. Not just about the implant and the bounty on Rodney's head by the Trust, but also about the lack of outside contact and Rodney's obvious dependence on John -- both literally and emotionally. Had something ever happened to John, which had been only a matter of time considering what John more or less did for a living...

While Rodney could fly the ship too, the only places he would then be able to go for food, for entertainment, for really anything, would have been outside of the solar system. And even then with the coming of the Ori, and the growing power of the Lucien Alliance, it wasn't like Rodney would be safe there either. Safe anywhere else, actually.

Except, maybe, for the Pegasus Galaxy. Where there were only aliens that wanted to eat people; people that wanted to control everything; sentient, homicidal robots with daddy issues; and ninety-nine percent of the inhabitants not only idiots, but idiots living in the equivalent of Earth's Dark Ages - if they were lucky.

Oh, and also Atlantis herself, another sentient machine/city/spaceship, that was apparently now sharing Rodney's brain.

Or at least trying to, trying being the very operative word. If it hadn't been for John and the bits of Ancient tech he kept stealing for Rodney, the little and not so little devices that littered their cozy little Goa'uld Tel'tac and that Rodney always carried on his person - if not for John himself and his strong genetic marker that allowed him to activate all of these Ancient devices - Rodney was pretty sure he have been one of the drooling idiots himself by now. Insane; not that his current level of sanity wasn't already debatable.

So they'd developed 'The Plan.'

At least he still could plan; still had full command of his thoughts, memories and intellect, all contrary to what he'd convinced Svetlana. Which had been his first plan, before he'd found out how unforgiving the Trust was. How scorched earth they were. Except for John, although even now Rodney wasn't fully convinced he hadn't been spared because of John's Ancient gene and the fractured AI in his own head that had called out to his would be assassin.

John had assured him it wasn't that - wasn't only that - and yes, John did have a surprising sense of fair play for a would be assassin. John also had a thing about being given orders, especially the short-sighted or stupid ones, and as it all had proven to be in Rodney's favor, he really shouldn't still be questioning it.

Because he knew how John felt about him now, was shown it every day, and most especially now after John had walked into the Lion's Den for him.

So that meant this was simply nerves, from having to leave his cozy little nest. And having his brain scanned.

Rodney didn't need to be told that everything wasn't completely right up there. His sanity had always been his biggest concern, even before the implant. And after?

Over these last few months, he'd had practically a limitless amount of time and resources to conduct research and experiments. He'd solved unsolvable equations and created entire new branches of science and math, yet he didn't know if it was his own brain or the implant, and he didn't know when all of that was going to be taken from him. The most terrifying thing Rodney had ever seen in a life that included sadistic Goa'uld, mad Russians and homicidal assassins, was that old Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith as the man left alone in the world finally able to read all of the books in existence, only to break the glasses that allowed him to see.

He'd made John promise that if his mind did start to deteriorate or regress ala Flowers for Algernon, that John would take care of things - really take care of him, and although John was pissed, he had promised. Then John suggested they ensure that never happened.

Thus the plan to endear themselves to the SGC so they'd be given the chance of Atlantis.

Like most of John's schemes, things hadn't gone completely to plan. They'd still ended up where they needed to be for the next bit, only slightly worse for the wear on John's part. They were here under Cheyenne Mountain, with O'Neill's promise that they'd be able to leave without being under arrest or hunted for past incidents should the final outcome not go in their favor. And, if nothing else, being here was a hell of an 'I told you so' to one Samantha Carter.

John was nearly as smart - and was much hotter - than she was anyway.

Ignoring the newest arrival into the commissary as he had all of the others, it wasn't until the cup of blue jell-o appeared on the table in front of him that Rodney looked up from the proof he'd been dumbing down. Carter. Rodney wasn't particularly surprised, he knew they'd be talking at some point. He was surprised she'd remembered about the jell-o, though, that she'd cared, as it had been... wow, almost five years.

He started to gather his papers.

"Is that my notes on upgrades to the Mark Two generators?" Carter sounded upset and started to grab for the sheets.

Rodney lifted his chin in challenge and scorn. "My notes on something more like a Mark Four." He let her take them to look over; he'd already intended to offer the proof as one more example of his and John's value. "I've only been able to increase the output by five hundred percent, but I've increased the load capability by nearly eight hundred. It won't power a stargate between galaxies, but I think you'll find a few of them would handle all of Atlantis' other needs except, maybe, the stardrive."

Carter more collapsed into the chair across from him than sat down voluntarily. She looked stunned as well as intrigued. "How did you even find out about the star - These papers -" She looked up at him abruptly. "Jesus, McKay, who else do you guys have here on the inside?"

He smirked. "That's quite an assumption, Colonel. You know what that makes you."

She scowled in return. "Fuck you, McKay. You're not going to convince me this data just came to you in a dream. These are my notes, or were before you started messing with them. And no one outside of Atlantis' command staff, and a very few select people here know that Atlantis was once a starship. If you want any cooperation, you'll give me your source."

"Ah, Samantha, poor Samantha. Still asking the wrong questions and then blaming someone else when the data is wrong. I never said I didn't have a mole," he stopped her explosion with a wave. "All I said was that I didn't have one here."

Her scowl turned outright nasty. "Cut the crap. Felger did not have this information out at Area 51. No one had my upgrade suggestions for the Mark Three outside of -- "

He grinned when he saw that she got it, picking up the jell-o cup and opening it, then taking a bite just as she started again.

"You have someone in Atlantis."

He nodded around his spoon.

"Jesus, McKay. Spill." She just looked sick now. "Please don't tell me we have a Goa'uld on Atlantis."

That concern even made Rodney feel a little ill. If he never met another Goa'uld again...

"Abrams is not a Goa'uld. He's just a desperate idiot pretending to be a scientist. One not just selling secrets, but he's been passing off Brendan Gaul's work as his own ever since Brendan died."

If he had to guess, Rodney really wasn't sure which had surprised Carter more to hear.

"I... how... you... Jesus, McKay," she repeated, falling back in her seat. "We might as well send you out to Atlantis, since it seems you've been following all of the research regardless."

Rodney knew his smile was smug. "Now that's the most intelligent thing I think I've ever heard you say, Samantha."

"God, you are still such a bastard, McKay," Carter growled. "Petty, arrogant -"

"Clever, brilliant...right -" he interrupted her with a huge grin.

"- condescending, insufferable," she talked right back over him. "I came here to say I was sorry to hear what happened to you, you ass."

Not that she was sorry about her part in it, Rodney, noted, but Samantha Carter had her own arrogance and that streak of jealousy/attraction over him that she'd probably always refuse to acknowledge.

"I accept your apology and, before you say you don't believe me -" He held his spoon up in her face to stop her from interrupted again. "Before you say I'm incapable, you can keep those notes if you'd like," he gestured now to the naquadah generator improvements. "My peace offering."

He smirked at her discomfort. To further rag on him now would only highlight her own pettiness, what with him being the bigger man and all. In public, as everyone else in the room had been watching them from the moment Carter had come up to his table. It was also obvious that, despite how hard she was trying to hide it, Carter really wanted to get her hands on his specs. Even if she did suspect he was playing her.

He so was, of course.

"Ah, good... thanks," she finally said, still looking shell-shocked and constipated. "If you're ready," with a gesture toward his nearly finished jell-o, "I'm supposed to take you to the conference room. General O'Neill has received the IOA's decision."

Rodney let his smile fade. "John too?"

He'd never agreed with John's willingness to sacrifice his own future for Rodney's, something he'd made perfectly clear to O'Neill in private after John had brought them in. Neither of them were saints, but then neither was O'Neill - or Carter, Mitchell...

Hell, even Landry had been caught with his pants down, stepping out on his wife with someone his own daughter's age back before the divorce.

And, okay, maybe an having an affair with someone half your age wasn't the same as engineering the destruction of a lab belonging to so called allies that resulted in a few deaths, but neither he nor John had blown up a bunch of civilians (accident or not) - or blown up a fucking sun. O'Neill certainly had more deaths on his hands than John had, justified and not, nor had John ever killed someone who hadn't deserved it or had simply been unfortunate collateral damage in taking out a significant threat.

"Mister Sheppard is..." she paused and made a face as if she swallowed something bitter. "Cam's bringing him along. Doctor Weir wants to meet the both of you."

Rodney grinned. From all accounts they'd gotten from Abrams directly and from hacking into the SGC's files to read Weir's own reports, she was nobody's push over, but she was also a very practical woman.

After spending half of her life negotiating with terrorists, despots and other such lofty heads of state on Earth on behalf of the UN, Elizabeth Weir had then been hand picked by the US president to take over the SGC when Hammond retired, before turning it over to Landry when she'd accepted the Atlantis post's governorship. Once there she'd stood up to petty dictators, aliens who saw humans as food, and a series of egotistical military commanders, most of whom had tried to impose martial law every time even one of their allies had come through the gate.

Elizabeth Weir was not a woman to be marginalized, and Atlantis had stayed under civilian control - under her control despite sieges and IOA inquiries, despite the expedition not yet fulfilling the tasks they been sent for, in finding new technology to send back to Earth to be used in the wars against the Goa'uld and then the Ori.

Since so many of the expedition's problems could be laid at the feet of incompetent scientists and their woeful lack of ATA gene carriers, Rodney just couldn't see her turning down the opportunity for someone of his immense intelligence and experience with Ancient tech, or John, who's affinity in using the Ancient tech might actually be greater than O'Neill's.

"Then 'Lay on, McDuff'." Rodney let his head nod to her graciously as he rose to his feet and offered his arm. "Let's let slip these hounds of war and salve the conscience of your king."

"Total and utter ass," Carter mumbled in return, not taking his hand, but also not jerking away or making a production of her refusal when she gained her own feet and started toward the door.

Rodney make sure his smirk remained bright and mocking as he followed, turning it on all of those who scowled or simply looked puzzled in their direction. While he'd been recognized upon his arrival by soldiers and scientist alike from his time at Area 51 (and the nonsense with Teal'c and then the Abydos crisis), there were many more who didn't know him, and very, very few who knew why he and John were here. So the scowls were likely from past impressions or from taking their cues from Carter, the rest simple curiosity or hope for an ally against their current failures beyond the gate, and against the depth in which the Trust had compromised them, as rumors were still flying a week after Emerson's arrest, Felger's death and Xiaoyi's removal from the IOA and the Chinese subsequently executing her for treason.

It made Rodney glad to know he wasn't going to be here for the fallout when John eventually told them about Vice President Starke; everyone had been so proud after Kinsey's exposure, when Kinsey had always only been a tool, set up and sacrificed for the resultant relief and back-patting that the rats had been identified, while the real monster moved into place. That piece of knowledge was their final trump card to get them off world somewhere. Forget the SGC and the IOA, the American government would have too many fires to put out for months to worry about an ex-pat Canadian, and his former US Air Force lover.

As was his current wont and habit, Rodney kept his left hand in his jacket pocket, wrapped around a small sphere whose purpose seemed solely to glow, like a child's night light or something. Both he and John thought there was something additionally comforting about it, but couldn't be certain that wasn't just selfish interpretation and not something the globe actually put out along with the light. Interacting with Ancient tech made the implant in Rodney's head quieter, which meant less pain and less distraction, which in turn made both him and John... comforted. The scientist in Rodney wanted to quantify the device, but so far he'd had no contact with someone other than John who had the gene, and John was just as biased has he was in wanting this one to work as it seemed to.

He was tempted to hand it to O'Neill and ask at his first chance, but no doubt the goons watching after their general would assume it was some kind of bomb. The ones at the initial introduction had already tried to confiscate it, until John pointed out that Carter had just given Rodney something she couldn't figure out, to allegedly check that he was the real McKay and still smarter than she was, that could blow up in their faces should he want it to. Then John disarmed their four man marine escort just to prove the point that he didn't need a bomb to do damage either. While the Gary Mitchell guy and Carter had just shaken their heads in disgust and embarrassment, that alien woman, Vina, had oozed herself all over John. As she'd incidentally prevented any of those goons from shooting John once Mitchell got their weapons back, Rodney had decided not to end her.

Rodney had still pulled John away from her, excusing them to finish packing when they'd actually been packed and ready two days previous, because Vina had been right in how hot John had been doing it.

Because Rodney still wasn't sure some of their mutual attraction wasn't from the implant and that once the two of them were around others with the ATA gene, some of the allure might be diluted. He was a petty man, selfish too, and John was a fantastic lay; generous, fun, experimental...

Rodney wasn't as worried on his own part, since John Sheppard was exactly the type of man he looked for when he wasn't lusting after women like Carter. Nor did he have too many concerns about the Stockholm syndrome or whatever it was called when a victim fell in love with their rescuer. Yes it was a tremendous turn on to find out that the man who'd been sent to kill you decided instead to save you; Rodney loved himself before all others and anyone who was willing to keep him alive was at least someone worth cultivating in one manner or the other. Then there had been the scary competence that John had shown when he'd eliminated Rodney's jailors, along with John's willingness to help Rodney with a little bit of payback - the ingenuity John had shown in making a couple of suggestions so that not only had Svetlana and the Russian members of the Trust gotten theirs, but insuring that all of Rodney's research did not stay in the hands of the enemy. And then stealing their fucking spaceship -

In their four months together, John had assured him over and over that his attraction in return was real and had nothing to do with the implant. That he liked getting fucked by men more than he liked fucking women, and that he preferred a good friend and a decent conversation over sex with anybody. Rodney had supposed if any of that was true, it probably all was, since a career military officer wouldn't have had too many non-risky opportunities to fuck or be fucked in special ops warzones. So John might really have been as celibate as he'd implied before his resignation. And afterward, moving in the realm of spies and assassins, Rodney supposed it would be hard to trust anyone enough to have anything other than meaningless sex.

None of that actually explained the two of them, whereas the implant did. Only John had been the one practically rolling over and begging, instead of the way Ancient tech practically whored itself to get John's attention. And when a man like John Sheppard offered himself to you, well, it would take a much better man than Rodney to turn that down.

By the time he and Carter reached her conference room, Rodney was having trouble walking. He wore baggy enough clothing (the better to hide and play with his Ancient devises) that he was confident nothing was showing, and John had already prepped them for the otherwise debilitating pain Rodney experienced when he didn't have his tech on hand. In fact, Carolyn Lamb had found that out for herself when the SGC had insisted on medicals for the both of them and had had Rodney strip away his devices and his clothes. It had only been John's barging into Rodney's private room (gloriously naked saved for a few bandages still himself and not remotely self conscious about it or the stares), that had kept Rodney from screaming and hurting the stupid doctor (not so inadvertently), then the hurried inclusion of one of the doctors from Atlantis that also had the gene, that enabled the tests and scans to get completed.

So Rodney was pretty sure Carter and the others would just chalk up his discomfort and awkwardness to pain instead of a case of accidental (though self inflicted) blue balls.

The nearness of Carson Beckett in the infirmary hadn't aided Rodney all that much, only enough to keep his pulse in the low hundreds and his blood pressure from spiking into another of the mini strokes and seizures that had led the Russians to believe he was worthless. At the time, they passed it off as a reflection of Beckett's gene strength, or more so its lack of strength, and both Beckett and Rodney had been interested in seeing how Rodney and the implant would react to O'Neill. Or Daniel Jackson, who'd died and ascended a couple of times and so was the closest thing to an Ancient they had hanging around Earth, now that the Oma chick and the Orlin kid had been taken out of the picture. John had been curious too, possibly even jealous, which was yet another turn on and somewhat reassuring in someone so otherwise put together and confident. That John's occasional little bouts of jealousy wasn't about possession but instead from his own feelings of self doubt was probably the real reason Rodney could convince himself that at least John thought his feelings for Rodney were real.

John needn't have worried. While Rodney could indeed sense that O'Neill had the gene, like Beckett and the tiny Asian woman sitting alongside the woman he knew was Weir from the Trust's dossier on her, his awareness of them was nothing like he had with John. And of Jackson, he didn't even blip on the implant's radar. Rodney blinked. For a moment he thought that somehow he (the implant) had therefore imprinted on John. But Svetlana had had a reasonably strong expression of the ATA gene herself, and Rodney had been all but her puppet for the first couple of weeks after her people had tried to butcher his brain. If it was simply a matter of imprinting on the first gene carrier - or even the first nice gene carrier - that would have been young Sergei, who hadn't agreed with his superiors methods and had been the first one to figure out Rodney felt better when he was being touched by a gene carrier. So not the first, or the first that Rodney hadn't feared, and not the most/biggest/largest or however the voodoo practitioners tried to quantify the strength of a gene. Not the one least regressive? The one with the least amount of garbled alleles?

"Rodney?"

Rodney didn't care why he felt John more, was just glad and comforted a whole lot more than from a stupid glow ball when John was abruptly edging Carter away from him and leading Rodney toward one of the chairs across from Weir. Without thinking about how it might look to anyone, John had his hand across the back of Rodney's neck while they moved, his palm hovering directly over the implant and for the first time since they'd left the protection of their private spaceship, Rodney found himself able to relax.

The reactions around the room were mixed: amused (Vala, Jackson and, huh, Carter's); embarrassed (Beckett, Mitchell and the Asian woman's); bored (O'Neill's); and unreadable (Teal'c and Elizabeth Weir's). The look Weir then gave O'Neill was not, however, and he gave her a nod and an unpleasant smile in return; not pleased, but not unpleased either. More like he was almost laughing at her.

"Come on, kids," O'Neill then directed to, presumably, SG-1, "Liz has a few things to go over with her newest recruits. And I was promised pie before I headed back to Washington."

Rodney feared he wasn't as circumspect in his reaction to that announcement as he should have been, while John simply looked stunned. It made sense, though, that while the decision to allow them on Atlantis would start as O'Neill's, the ultimate authority - and the one who'd have to live with the consequences - was Elizabeth Weir.

"Thank you, Jack," she said with a bit of a thaw in her ice queen poise. "Have a second piece on me."

O'Neill nodded again, then collected his ducklings. Only Jackson looked like he wanted to stay, but then even Rodney had considered a couple of times while in Russia, in coming back on his hands and knees to beg for a chance at Atlantis once the word had gotten out. For someone like Jackson, who'd found the damn thing, being constantly denied to be able to even visit had to grate.

Weir turned on them once the door had shut firmly behind O'Neill. "Gentlemen, please rest assured that Generals O'Neill and Landry have told me about the two of you. I know all about your propensity to manipulate and arrange people and situations to your liking, your ways with sticks and carrots."

She held up a slim hand to forestall any protests, not that Rodney had figured out what to say, since she was basically right. John had the look that he simply wanted to hear her out, to hear and judge what she was really made of before he weighed in on anything.

"I also believe I understand why you have been driven to acting like this and I am prepared to accept your parole that you will not engage in such behavior while on Atlantis." She let her lips form a rueful smile. "I also realize it will probably be impossible for either of you to actually live up to your parole, but I believe I have found a way to insure your good behavior. One that does not involve exiling or spacing you, as were the generals' suggestions should you act out." Although she was smiling when she said that, her eyes held the steel that had gotten despots the world over to back down.

"Believe me, however, that I will do exactly that, should you actively work again me or the expedition," she promised, then turned her implacable gaze directly on John. "General O'Neill believes that you are sincere in that you've cut your ties to the Trust, Mister Sheppard. In truth, I'm not sure he believes you were ever actually working for them, merely going along with things when their agenda and yours happened to agree. Most of the evidence to make a case against you is speculation and circumstantial, which the SGC is currently prepared to overlook in lieu of the intel you provided about the infiltration by the Trust and Goa'uld. The IOA has decided to classify and sell you as a double agent having been working on their behalf all along to their own governments."

John looked more spooked than smug at that, once again reaffirming Rodney's belief that John might be amoral with sociopathic tendencies (totally understandable - and forgivable - given who'd raised him), but he wasn't an actual traitor to the Earth or even, much, to his country.

"Doctor McKay." Now Weir turned on him. "Your situation is both easier and harder. Everyone is agreed that your involvement with the Trust was completely involuntary. Most have also agreed that you would be a valuable asset to Atlantis or anywhere within the SGC's purview. It was also unanimously determined that we do not want you working against us any longer, so your insistence that you will only cooperate if Mister Sheppard stays with you does not have to become a threat."

If anything, her expression got even scarier, which distracted Rodney from John's murmured protests and the vicious pinch John executed on Rodney's thigh.

"All that being said, Doctor, everyone has also put forth that it would be untenable to work with you and that I would lose half of my staff should I allow you on Atlantis."

Again she held up a hand, when John's protests turned to be on Rodney's behalf instead of castigating him.

"I do realize that in some it is jealousy talking, Mister Sheppard, that, obviously, the two of you have found your way to an equitable... working relationship."

At her hesitation, just for that moment, there was a crack in her armor to show someone who was a real person instead who only donned her diplomat's mask, someone with a sense of humor or at least of irony. There might also have been a hint of desperation which, normally, Rodney would have been all over, only he and John were between their own rock and a hard place. This was the woman they would have to answer to... live with since it wasn't like they were going to be able to go home at the end of a work day on Atlantis - or go back to Earth if things didn't work out. No one had said, but it was obvious that this would be a one time thing for him and John, a one-way trip, at least until (if) they proved themselves.

She seemed to realize she had given something away, but instead of stiffening back into her ice queen persona, she actually sat back and let a little of the struggle she was going through show.

"The reality of things, gentlemen, is that we need each other and if you are not willing to become team players, Pegasus will kill you long before any of us has to. I've lost thirty percent of the people who've come to Atlantis, and half of those to hubris and ego, including my first two military commanders and my most recent CSO. So here's the deal. I'm giving you two those positions, with all of the inherent responsibilities that entails, not just to the mission and to research, but for the people in those departments under you. The expedition and entire worlds, maybe even Earth, will live or die based on my decision here today, and on our decisions in the future."

She didn't even let them react, just kept on speaking, railroading - no, not railroading exactly, but the pressure was still there, in something that was an appeal to their egos yet also their basic humanity. She was fucking evil.

And fucking brilliant in her own way.

"Rodney, you will have the day to day responsibilities over the projects and scientists. Each division will report to you and you will, in turn, have to justify everything to Doctor Peter Grodin, out of the UK. While he is currently acting as CSO, he is far too valuable to me as my second and if we've learned nothing in our three years out there, redundancy is the name of the game. Doctor Miko Kusanagi here," pointing to the Asian woman seated next to her - who still looked embarrassed, so maybe it was just a cultural thing, "is our expert on Ancient technology, so I would like you to work with her over the next couple of days to figure out what you're going to need to brush up on, and what you might need to bring to your position. General Landry is allowing us first crack on any of the Ancient devices we've just recovered from the Trust, so I expect you'll want to review your inventory of them and maybe let us know if anything's missing that we need to worry about."

She made it sound like she knew exactly how much information John had been siphoning out Rodney's direction. She probably did know about the various items currently in his possession, since Rodney was under no delusion that his clothing hadn't been searched while he'd been poked at and prodded in the infirmary. It also appeared she was prepared to overlook certain things, as long as it wasn't going to come back and bite her or the SGC (IOA?) in the ass.

Wow, smart, ruthless and pragmatic. Had she been blonde (and he didn't have John), Rodney could very easily see himself falling a little in love with her.

"Miko and Daniel Jackson have also been working on trying to find out anything on your implant these past couple of days while we waited on the IOA," Elizabeth continued. "I'll leave it to the two of you to continue working on that here and on Atlantis if we don't have answers before we leave. Rest assured, Rodney, we're going to do everything we can to either get that out of you, or find some way of helping you better live with it. I think Carson would like to talk to you about it too. He'd like to talk to the both of you about the implant and about your interaction with it, Mister Sheppard," she added, with a fond look the medical doctor's way.

"Actually it's now Colonel Sheppard," Elizabeth suddenly laughed and turned her evil smile John's way. "Lieutenant Colonel only, given your previous parting with the Air Force, but who knows, even Jack O'Neill eventually made it to General. Yes, you've been recalled and reinstated, John. General O'Neill has specifically asked me to make sure that you check in with him when we're done, to receive your silver oak leaves and sign your paperwork."

Once more John looked gob-smacked, as if he'd only heard what she'd said before, about them being part of the command staff, had really only applied to Rodney.

"The military on Atlantis aren't going to answer to someone who isn't one of them, and fortunately you didn't leave under a dishonorable discharge, so this is our work around. You're replacing three very... inimitable men, John. Colonels Sumner, Caldwell and Everett. Like you and Steven Caldwell, your XO is Air Force, as are a handful of the others, but the bulk of your command will be hard ass marines, who've been through combat situations you can't even imagine. Marshall Sumner was well respected and the men did not take his death well, despite its circumstances. Steven jumped at the chance to transfer his command to the Daedalus after the Sec Nav decided one of his men had to be back in charge of Atlantis' military since the Air Force has not only the X-303 fleet, but command of the SGC. Unfortunately, Marine Colonel Everett has also recently become a casualty of our struggle in Atlantis, a victim of the Wraith. While he survived, he was aged almost unto death. Quite of few of our current crop of Marines came through with him. The fact that they too have become victims, losing yet another round in command brinkmanship, is going to make your job handling them a stone cold bitch. Fortunately, I suspect that part of your... maverickness has come from never being given a challenge you feel you're worthy of, John," she added shrewdly. "Trust me, that won't be a problem on Atlantis."

"Now, with regard to your XO," Elizabeth tossed John one of the few folders she'd had on the table before her, "Major Evan Lorne came with Steven Caldwell, so he's been on Atlantis for two years. Previous to joining us, he was the XO for SG-8. I had actually intended to put him in for taking over command this time instead of getting yet another officer coming in over him, but he asked me not to, and says he is much happier where he is. Rest assured, he can make the big decisions when he has to, and until you and I get a feel for each other, I'm going to want him sitting in on all our mission evaluation sessions, and during the command staff meetings. Assuming we reach a point of trust, you can eventually phase him out although, again, we have found it prudent so far that we have multi-layered involvement, since we've lost almost as many senior staff as we have from the lower ranks and our support people."

It was Rodney's turn again, the rest of the folders being slid across to him.

"Rodney, here are the files on your direct reports. It's my understanding that Paul Abrams has... been recalled, so if you have any suggestions for recruiting a new head of Engineering, please give me a list of names before the morning and I'll see what I can do. We're limited right now against poaching from the SGC, but you had contacts prior to your recruitment here, or even while you were in Russia?"

"Radek Zelenka," Rodney offered without having to even think about it. "He's been part of the Russian stargate program from before we knew they even had their own program. He and Svetlana didn't get along, and she exiled him like Carter did me, only to Minsk instead of Siberia. He's also Czech, not Russian, and is being absolutely wasted by them."

"He, ah, has no ties to the Trust?" Elizabeth tried to ask delicately.

"He'll pass any vetting you can think of. Of course, he's crazy, he raises pigeons. But he's no revolutionary or Marxist, nor a member of the Trust," Rodney spelled out under the look she gave him; his last University adviser had perfected that look too, delighting in forcing Rodney to forever state the obvious.

"Radek might be a closet anarchist, but he's also the best mechanical and systems engineer I've ever met, including Alec Colson. No where near my intelligence, of course, but maybe close to Carter's, and I suspect the reason he has only one doctorate was because of lack of family money, and then because the Russians decided they didn't want to dilute his value to them by becoming multi-disciplined. He probably could qualify for at least a Masters in cybernetics and analytical dynamics just out of his own interests and initiative. After he was reallocated from the Russians' gate experiments, he began working on their answer to the X-303. Which is a lot farther along than any of you probably want to know about," Rodney added as an aside.

Elizabeth took a deep breath at that, then started writing something with a stylus on her PDA. "I'll support you on this, Rodney, but it might be good to have a couple of candidates just in case. Yes, we have enough on the Russians because of your situation to get him out from under them, but it also must be Doctor Zelenka's decision. Not everyone is always keen to go to another galaxy, even now that we have ways of getting back. I am not in the habit of reallocating anyone myself, just because they might have the talent or experience Atlantis needs. The expedition needs commitment, too."

Oh, she was talking in subtext there. Only Rodney couldn't decide if she was accusing him of something or just the Russians, or perhaps she'd been championing him.

Evil, smart, ruthless, pragmatic, pretty, and confusing.

"We were the ones asking to be drafted," John suddenly spoke up, sounding (and looking) like he'd finally gotten his equilibrium back as he pointed out the third option to Elizabeth's subtext.

"You're a pretty good manipulator yourself, Doctor Weir. You and O'Neill have played it almost perfectly."

Elizabeth raised a brow with a grace that put Spock to shame. "Almost?"

John didn't take the bait. "So in favor of detente, in fostering good will and the cooperative spirit, I'll give you the rest of the people involved with the Trust on Atlantis. You've made it sound like I'll have enough trouble with the Marines' loyalty without having to worry about the two who would actively be working against me."

It was Elizabeth's turn to look stunned, and it was all Rodney could do not to laugh at her. The Kinsey effect, all over again; the refusal to first believe that anyone of their people could be traitors, and then the arrogance in assuming it would only ever be one person.

"Yours are a little more problematical," John looked over to Beckett before returning his attention to Elizabeth. "Doctor Keller is basically being bull...dozed. She thinks she's just working with her father's doctor, trying to cure him of some rare, possibly alien genetic disease that she brought back with her on her first trip home. More lately she's been bringing back classified research and the odd pieces of tech, all without realizing she's being manipulated by the other doctor, or that her father's actually being poisoned."

Beckett looked suitably shocked and stricken.

As did Elizabeth, though she recovered her neutral mask quickly. "You said are problematical, Colonel Sheppard. So there are more?"

For a moment John hesitated, not to hold her up, Rodney was pretty sure, but from trying out his new rank in his mind. John's leaving the Air Force had never been his own idea.

"You've got three more, that I know of, of course," he then conceded. "My brother was in charge of the SGC infiltration after Simmons was spaced, though, so I think my information is accurate and up to date."

"Your brother?" tiny Micki spoke up, her discomfort obvious despite her heavy Japanese accent.

"Shitsurei shimashita, Doctor Kusanagi," John bowed his head in Kiki's direction. "As you are probably aware, most Westerners do not believe or understand giri, most especially in my family. Some of us are scoundrels, rônin -"

Oh, Rodney recognized that look. And Milla's goddamn response.

"-- and some are honorless bastards who don't even deserve a dog's death."

Now Miki actually giggled, while Beckett grinned and even Elizabeth cracked enough to almost smile. Until she caught sight of Rodney's glare. He still wasn't sure if she'd responded so quickly because of his jealousy, or for falling for John's well-practiced charm.

"None of the last three are in high enough positions to have had access to overly sensitive data," John then continued, turning back to Elizabeth as if he had no idea of what he'd done. "Two of them are also being blackmailed, one in a scheme similar to Doctor Keller's, only the Trust isn't being subtle about their threats to his younger brother, while the second has a drug problem, and had pretty much agreed to do anything to keep his supply coming, especially in those first weeks after contact was restored. As far as the third..." John shrugged. "He's just a stupid, greedy son of a bitch who did his own searching for the Trust; he was not approached and recruited."

John let a hint of the scoundrel back into his expression. "I'll give you their names and those for the two marines as soon as General O'Neill lets Rodney and I out of the Mountain to take care of those little, last minute details that always come up when you're taking an extended trip."

Rodney was pretty sure John knew at least a couple of the names; John was good with stuff like names, along with numbers. In his line of business, being able to identify allies and enemies was often a case of life and death. Conversely, John wouldn't have the evidence against these other Trust foils. And no matter how pragmatic Elizabeth Weir was, Rodney (and John) knew she'd require proof before she cast any of her people out.

Elizabeth still called John on it. "Nice touch, Colonel, keeping a few more things to yourself to ensure one last walk on Earth."

John grinned, taking no offense. "I will always protect my own, Doctor Weir. Isn't that what you're counting on?"

She held John's gaze for a long beat, then finally nodded in concession to his point. "Respect works better when it goes both ways."

John's grin turned incandescent. "I totally agree, Ma'am - Doctor -"

"Elizabeth is fine. Doctor Weir always seems to get buried in paperwork and bureaucrats."

For fuck's sake, John was flirting with her. And Elizabeth was flirting back!

John suddenly squeezed Rodney's knee, as if picking up on what Rodney was thinking. "Leave it to the IOA to make living in another galaxy while fighting for your lives, boring. Doctor Weir sounds pretty tough, as well as stuffy. I think Rodney and I will have to help you avoid that whenever we can, then, Elizabeth."

"I'm looking forward to it, John. Rodney." She extended her hand. "Welcome to the Atlantis expedition.

-- finis --