Veritas


Disclaimer: The author does not own any of NCIS or Stargate, only borrows them for the sake of this fanfiction.  No profit is made by the writing of this story.

Warnings: Anything one expects to see on Stargate or NCIS, expect it here; also, slash in the form of Jack/Daniel, and John/Rodney; het pairings include Tony/Ziva, Gibbs/Jenny.
If you dislike such things, or are underage, do not read!

Author’s Notes: For points of reference, this is taking place late season 04 of SGA, post “Ark of Truth” but pre-“Continuum” of SG-1, and the end of season 05 of NCIS.

I’m using the same spelling “Sheppard,” as in Lt. Col. John Sheppard, for Dir. Jenny Shepard’s character, the reasons for which will become obvious in the story.

Also, I’m playing with some – okay, a lot – of the canon plotlines from both series (this being a primarily SGA/NCIS crossover, with cameos by SG-1).  Therefore in this fic, from SGA, Teyla will not be pregnant nor kidnapped by Michael or any of that, and from NCIS, Vance will not split up Gibbs’ team and that whole thing with the mole is not part of my plan.

~*~*~*~*~*~

VERITAS

By FireKali Chaos
Big thanks to Rainy for the beta!

Chapter I

Pegasus Galaxy – M35-117
Atlantis base
1800 hrs. (Atlantis time)

          With its elegant ‘kerwoosh!’ of light and sound, the Gate lit up with the incoming wormhole, and through the event horizon SGA-1 walked into the Gateroom – for once all safe and sound, if a tad dusty and sweaty.  They’d been checking out a rare planet in the galaxy (for Pegasus, at least) – a desert planet – that was mentioned in the Atlantis database several times purporting to be an Ancient outpost during their war with the Wraith.  SGA-1 had gone to check it out first, and if they found anything then a research team would be assembled and sent to conduct further studies.  The team had gone on foot for once, rather than flying a puddlejumper, when the MALP and UAV had sent back initial reports of massive sand dunes and the worst flash-sandstorms any of the scientists had ever seen recorded.  The conditions prompted Lt. Col. John Sheppard (military commander of the base and SGA-1 team leader) to err on the side of caution and forgo flying in – just in case.

          The Gate shut down behind them as they paused to dust themselves off a little better – Dr. Rodney McKay (Chief Science Officer of the expedition) complaining vociferously about the probable sunburn and onset of melanoma, as well as the dust and sand that got into everything (his clothes and hair and his precious equipment) all the while.  Luckily, his teammates were all very used to him and had long ago learned the out of tuning him out when there was no true threat.

          “McKay, I’m pretty sure Dr. Keller will put your cancer worries to rest at your check-up.”  Sheppard said in his most genially reassuring voice, slapping the scientist on one back shoulder.  He coughed at the plume of dust that action raised and wafted it away.  “Geez!  I don’t know about you guys, but I’m gonna shower and drink a lot of water before debriefing Carter.”

          “That sounds wonderful.”  Teyla Emmagan agreed, looking very much like she had been rolling around in the sand dunes, she was so covered in grit.  “What time shall we meet?”

          Glancing at his watch, John shrugged.  “An hour?  Then at least we can grab supper, too.”

          “Thank god!  I’m starving!”  Rodney sighed, already heading for the transporters.  “See you then!” he called over his shoulder.

          Ronon Dex shook his head.  “Never thought I’d agree with McKay on anything but…” he nodded at Teyla and Sheppard, “I’m pretty hungry, too.  Later.”

          Teyla smiled at John and followed Ronon to the transporters, leaving Sheppard to check in with his people before he went to his own quarters to get cleaned up, change, and grab food and water.

          He was at the top of the grand staircase, going over the mission roster with Major Evan Lorne, when Col. Samantha Carter (of former SG-1 fame and now the Atlantis expedition’s IOA appointed leader) came over from her office next to the control room.

          “Col. Sheppard.”  She greeted him, then the Major.  “Lorne.”

          “Ma’am.”  Lorne glanced back and forth between the two, taking in Carter’s expression, and promptly excused himself.  “I can handle the rest, sir.  Just wanted your opinion on a few, that’s all.  Thank you, sir.”

          Sheppard watched him beat a hasty retreat bemusedly.  “What can I do for you, Colonel?  If it’s not too urgent, I’d really appreciate a shower and something to eat before the briefing.”  His voice, posture, and expression were deceptively laid-back and easy-going, for he, too, noted her expression and it automatically put him on edge, a subtle tension underlying everything else.

          Sam hesitated, then sighed.  It wouldn’t make much of a difference if she told him now or later.  “Alright.  But John, about the briefing?”

          “Yes?”

          “Is there anything that needs to be discussed?  Because if not, we’ll just skip it and I’ll get whatever is needed from your team’s mission reports.”

          Still tense, but somewhat more relaxed now that whatever it was that made Carter look so sad and grim wasn’t so urgent after all, John shook his head.  “No, not really.  Lots of sand, wind, and sun.  The ruins are there, but almost completely buried under the dunes.  Rodney couldn’t pin-point any significant energy readings, so there probably aren’t any ZPMs lying around.”

          “Very well.  Go have your shower and a meal, then report back to my office, John.  I have something personal we need to discuss.”

          Surprised – and a little concerned – John frowned.  “Yes, ma’am.  I’m not being reassigned or something, am I?”  It was a fear that always lived in the back of his mind, that someone up the chain of command would pull him away from the place that had become home to him, a place he finally belonged.

          Sam’s blue eyes widened, and she smiled reassuringly.  “No, John.  Nothing like that, don’t worry.”

          Warily, he shrugged and sketched a lazy salute before heading for the transporter, all the while wondering what Carter would possibly went to discuss.

~*~*~*~*~

          Happily clean and refreshed, Rodney emerged from his bathroom dressed in his usual on-base, on-duty science uniforms (minus the jacket), barefoot, and towelling his hair dry.  He’d decided – after much internal dialogue and debate – that taking more time for his shower was more worth it than taking more time for dinner.  After the briefing he could always stop by the mess and grab something else, eating just a small tidbit before the briefing, enough to stave off his hypoglycaemia.  That decision led to a twenty minute shower, which he savoured immensely after being on a planet that he was tempted to label the “Dune” planet.  Or something equally appropriate.  They weren’t lying when they said sand gets everywhere.  Whoever ‘they’ were.

          Humming thoughtfully to himself, Rodney tossed the towel in the laundry basket and picked up his headset, replacing it on this head – just in time to catch the radio squawking out his name impatiently.

          “McKay!  Damn it, answer me or I’m going to come bust down your door with every Marine in the city!”

          “Do that and not one of you will know what hot water is like ever again, Colonel!” he snapped back without even stopping to think about it, scowling even though no one would see it.  “I just got out of the shower!”

          “Finally!  We’ve all tried raising you on the radio for the last 10 minutes!”  Sheppard declared in an obviously exasperated voice…and maybe a hint of relief, too.  “We were starting to worry.”

          “Yes, well, like I said: shower.  And as nice as it is to know you care, what’s happened that you want me for so frantically, anyway?”  Rodney asked, sitting at his small desk and opening up his laptop, intending to check his emails and get started on the readings he’d taken on the mission.  “What’s broken, who broke it, and where do I go to fix it?”

          “Rodney,” the drawled reply came with the impression of rolling hazel eyes, “that’s not it.  I just wanted to tell you that Carter’s waiving the briefing, so there’s no rush.”

          “That’s it?”  the astrophysicist huffed, fingers tapping restlessly as he waited for the computer to boot up.  “That’s all you wanted?  Such a big fuss for nothing.”  Before Sheppard could retort, Rodney ploughed on with, “Why cancelled?  Is she busy with something else?”

          “I don’t know.  She wants to talk to me after we eat, though.”

          Frowning, Rodney looked up at his wall full of his degrees and awards.  “That sounds ominous.”

          “Yeah.  Well, I gotta go.  Mess in ten?”

          “Okay.”

          “Sheppard out.”

          Glancing at his watch, Rodney decided to leave his emails for later and went to get a pair of socks and finish getting dressed.  Then he made his way to the mess hall to meet his team for dinner.

          Rodney was just polishing off his desert (blue-Jello) when Dr. Radek Zelenka stopped at their table as he passed by.

          “Good!  You are back!”  Radek stated, almost in relief.  “Now perhaps you will check the theorems I sent you, yes? Rodney?”

          “Yes, yes.”  McKay waved his free hand dismissively.  “Geez, Radek!  I only got those yesterday.  What’s the emergency?”

          The wild-haired Czech huffed and gave his friend and colleague a hard stare.  “You are one who demanded my proofs be done, McKay.  Is you with emergency!  You set time limit!”

          Swallowing his last bite of Jello, Rodney had the grace to acknowledge the truth of that – even if he remained wholly unapologetic.  “That’s true.  You know you’re more intelligent under pressure and deadlines, right?”

          Scowling, Radek made an exasperated sound.  “Do not be more of an ass than you are, Rodney.”  The scowl faded and Radek made to leave, saying over his shoulder, “The latest data-stream from Earth was received prior to your return.  You may wish to go over it, Rodney.”

          The Chief Scientist sighed and rolled his eyes.  “Great.  I suppose that’s his way of telling me that there’s a lot of stuff for me in it.”

          John made a sympathetic noise and pushed his own bowl of wiggly blue dessert toward Rodney, who lit up and dug in with appreciation.  John didn’t think the man had realized yet that John rarely ate his own dessert, he almost always gave it to Rodney.  “I take it you’ll be busy for the rest of the evening, then?  No time for a game?”

          Rodney waved his spoon in the air expressively, looking a little startled.  “Chess?  I always have time for that, Colonel.  Maybe this time you’ll actually challenge me.”

          “Rodney, I win two out of three games when we play.”  John leaned back in his seat and folded his arms over his chest, smug and relaxed.  “There aren’t many who can say that.”

          “Whatever.  We’ll see who’s ahead later, won’t we?”

          Teyla smiled, pleased they were sparring their usual friendly way rather than sniping at each other – an occurrence that happened much too often since the Doranda incident nearly three years ago, despite how hard Rodney worked at regaining Sheppard’s respect and trust.  Their friendship had been on a very rocky road, with many ups and downs, for many months.  She exchanged a quick glance with Ronon, and the two stood.

          “We will see you both in the morning.”  Teyla said in farewell as Ronon gathered their trays to dispose of them on the way out of the mess.  “Good luck with your chess match.”

          “Goodnight, Teyla.  Ronon.”  John returned.  Ronon nodded at him and Rodney as he passed by, and Rodney gave a little wave, his mouth full of Jello.

          Sighing, John waited until his coffee was gone before getting up with obvious reluctance.  “I guess I’d better go find out what Carter wants.”

          “You still don’t know what it could be about?”  Rodney asked, also rising and grabbing his tray to follow John.

          “Nope.  All she said was that it was a personal matter.”  Which puzzled the officer because he honestly couldn’t think of anything to evoke such a grim expression on her face – nothing that involved him, at least.

          “Personal?  Oh, well.”  Suddenly Rodney seemed to withdraw, his veneer of professionalism sliding down over whatever had come up in his mind at John’s words.  “if you need something, which I’m sure you don’t, from me…with personal things, I mean…you know where to find me.”  The scientist babbled on in that clipped Canadian tone of cool politeness he had (when he actually chose to be polite), before leaving a startled and confused John standing in front of the transporter alone.

          “What did I say?”  He wondered aloud, frowning at himself and Rodney’s strange behaviour.  Then it occurred to him that putting the concepts of himself, a “personal” matter, and Carter in the same thought probably equalled some sort of torrid affair in McKay’s mind, knowing how hard Rodney crushed on the brilliant, blonde Colonel since John had met Rodney.  Making his way to Carter’s office, John shook his head ruefully, not even annoyed by the probable presumption for some reason (where he normally would have been), and made a mental note to ease Rodney’s mind on that subject at their chess game tonight.

          In the meantime, he was about to find out what was so dire.

          Sam Carter looked up from her laptop on her desk as John strolled in, giving him a fleeting smile of welcome.  “Have a seat, John.”  She indicated the chairs in front of her desk as she got up.  Closing the computer, Sam walked around her desk and closed the office doors before taking the other chair herself.  “Did you get a meal?”

          “Yes, Colonel.  Look, whatever it is, just spit it out, okay?  The suspense is killing me.”  John cut through the pleasantries, even though he could tell she really didn’t want to say whatever it was.”

          “Very well.  Col. Sheppard, I regret to inform you of the death of Director Jenny Sheppard, NCIS.”  Sam informed him in a voice that was soft and sympathetic, despite the impersonal, military delivery of the statement.  Her heart hurt at the sudden paleness and absolute shock that came over his face for a moment before he abruptly clammed up, carefully concealing all emotion from her.

          “Jenny…” he murmured, and Sam didn’t think he realized he’d spoken aloud.  “How?”  Shadowed hazel eyes met her own sky blue ones, questioning.

          “The truth is that we aren’t entirely certain of the facts surrounding her death.  She was shot, John, in a shoot-out with unknown assailants, in an abandoned diner outside LA in the desert.  What’s known about it is very sketchy and vague in detail.”  Sam folded her hands in her lap and tried to explain as best she could, according to the information she’d been given.  “There’s evidence supporting the theory that it involved a mission she worked in the past in Europe, and there’s some speculation about some top-secret documents she may have known the whereabouts of.”

          “She was on a mission for NCIS at this diner?”  John asked, eyes dark and eerily hard.  Sam suppressed a shiver, even though she was quite familiar with the anger and darkness that came of losing a loved one so violently.

          “Not officially.  It’s part of the problem.”  Sam didn’t look very pleased about it, either.  “Whatever led her there, she didn’t leave a trail for anyone to follow – or at least that’s what NCIS is reporting via SEC-NAV.  Our people are having difficulty communicating with that agency when they try to find out anything because there’s no reason for us to be interested as far as they’re concerned.”  John understood what she meant; the Air Force was the primary force behind the programme, even with the large number of Marines assigned, and the USAF should have no reason to be poking around in the death of a Director of a Naval agency.  Not even if one of her remaining family members was a USAF Lt. Colonel who would want to know what happened.  God, he hated politics!

          “Wait…why does the SGC care?  I highly doubt they’re making inquiries on my behalf.” Sheppard scoffed darkly.  “I’m not that popular.”

          Sam nodded.  “The intel leads us to believe that the documents she may have known of could be some sensitive files that went missing early on in the SGC’s existence – files containing data on Goa’uld technologies, and other data from many of the SGC’s first off-world encounters with alien peoples and technologies.  A lot of information was copied and stolen by rogue NID agents back then, and we never really found out just how much they got or what, exactly, it was they stole.”

          “What, you don’t even know for certain that what she had was actually related to the programme?  And I thought the NID had been put down with Kinsey’s death.  That’s what I remember reading, at least.”

          “Well, that rogue operation was, yes.  But it didn’t matter because whatever they had likely ended up in the hands of the Trust – who I’m sure you also remember.”  Sam sighed, wishing she had all the answers.  “Ever since we found out about Baal and his clones, some of us have suspected that he may be the one behind the Trust, and likely was all along.  But that much is irrelevant at this point.  Right now the major concern is about a possible intel leak.”

          “Of course it is.  Never mind that an innocent woman got murdered – probably without even knowing what was in those documents.”  Sheppard growled, getting up and beginning to pace the small are between Carter’s desk and office door.

          “I’m sorry, John.  From your file, I know what she must mean to you, and I’m truly sorry for your loss.  Generals Landry and O’Neill both sent their condolences, too.”  Sam watched him pace like a caged animal – restless, angry, wild…and dangerous.  “You will, of course, have leave to return to Earth immediately for the memorial service, which is two days from now.  And if you want to take bereavement leave, also, just let General Landry know and he’ll relay it to me.  Don’t worry about things around here, either.  Major Lorne and I can handle whatever might come up.”

          John gave a grunt of acknowledgement, still stalking back and forth with a distinctly feline pace.  “Colonel, I have to go back and find these people myself.  Jenny…she would expect no less of me, and I’ve tried very hard all my life to never let her down.”

          Sam eyed him for a moment consideringly, then nodded and returned to the other side of her desk.  “I kind of figured you’d say that.  So did General O’Neill, actually.  He’s arranged for you to fly to DC the day before the memorial service so that you can be fully briefed.”  She had a faintly exasperated smile on her face as she spoke of her former team leader and friend.  Jack O’Neill always was a consummate and canny strategist.

          “Fly?”  That gave Sheppard pause, having gotten used to puddlejumpers and ships with Asgard beam technology.

          Chuckling, Sam shook her head.  “I’m afraid not.  Odyssey’s tasked with checking up on our allies around the galaxy now that Adria and the Priors are gone, and Apollo’s in for repairs.  Daedalus isn’t quite home yet, either, so you’ll have to get around the old fashioned way for a while.”

          Sheppard nodded, not really seriously mourning the loss.  He was a pilot, after all, and he missed flying and all that came with it.  “They could just give me a plane and I could fly myself around.”

          Sam grinned at that.  She, too, was a pilot.  “Ask.  Couldn’t hurt.”

          John nodded again, not that he really believed anyone was just going to give him a plane or jet to fly around on the USAF’s dime.  “When can I leave?” he asked, getting back on topic.

          “As soon as you’re ready.  Get together with Lorne to make arrangements to hand over command, and you can Gate home when you’re packed if you want – though it will be early evening by SGC’s clock.”  Sam said, glancing at her watch.  It was still difficult, even after all these years, to get used to the different time schedules of whatever planet she was on versus the Earth-time she was born to.  “You won’t be flying out for at least 24 hours.”

          “Right, well, I still want to get there ASAP, Colonel.  I’ll go talk to Lorne right now and let you know.”  Stopping at the door, Sheppard looked back over his shoulder.  “And um, thanks…for, you know…understanding.”

          Watching him walk away with purpose and determination, Sam smiled sadly to herself.  He’d had an especially hard few months, personally, on top of the usual Pegasus Galaxy chaos.  His father died, there was that business with the Replicators that got loose on Earth at the same time, and then there was having to help Rodney find his sister when Henry Wallace had kidnapped her (and later Rodney, himself).  Before all that, they’d lost Elizabeth, and then Kate Heightmeyer, the expedition’s resident psychologist.  Sam wondered if this would be the straw that broke the camel for him.

          She had only had a few months to get to know him personally, but from all she’d read in his file, she knew he was one of those poor souls who seemed to get shafted in every way possible no matter what he tried to do or say.  He was a genuine, good man – strong and steady.  He was loyal and reliable.  And he was a true warrior.  It was unfortunate that the military didn’t always think such traits translated into “good soldier.”  Sam knew he’d suffered for that, and she could only be grateful that he’d survived long enough to sit in that Ancient chair and make their technology live again.  It brought him here, to Atlantis, and she suspected that here he’d come to life as surely as he’d made the city wake from 10,000 years of slumber.

          Sighing, Sam had just opened her laptop again when Rodney’s voice sounded in her ear, full of purpose, concern, and impatience.  She still wasn’t used to how much he’d changed since the days at the SGC where he’d truly annoyed her and stepped on her academic toes without consideration.

          “Sam, come in.”

          “Yes, Rodney?”  She responded calmly, thinking some drama amongst the scientists was about to become her problem.

          “Does he know?”  Obviously he assumed she was telepathic.

          “What?  Who?”

          “Sheppard!  Have you spoken to him yet?”  Impatience again.  Trying not to snap the man’s head off, Sam closed her eyes and sighed loudly.

          “Yes, I have, and we’ll be having a discussion, McKay, at some point in the future about the meaning of ‘eyes only.’  Right now I’m going to assume you’re about to request leave to return to Earth to assist Sheppard?”  Sam called up the appropriate forms and began filling them in, giving her approval to each one – three, including Teyla and Ronon.

          “Uh, well, yes.  As a matter of fact.”  He responded sounding like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar.  Much more meekly, he continued, “Feel free to ream me out later.  I saw what’s in the files, but I wanted to know if there was more that’s relevant because he isn’t likely to tell me – us – himself.”

          Sam heard the words Rodney wasn’t saying and the emotion in his tone that spoke even louder.  He was worried, genuinely, for his friend – something he didn’t have many of and therefore carefully protected as even more precious to him than anything else.  If there was one thing she’d learned of the Canadian in the last few months, it was that the abrasive, annoying attitude was a thin shell around the real Rodney McKay.  He truly had a deeply loyal and big heart under the bluster.

          “Sam?  Oh god, there is, isn’t there?  What is it?  I can handle it!”

          Pulling her mind back to the conversation, Sam hastily replied, “No, Rodney.  There’s nothing I’m aware of.  The SGC didn’t send all the details, I’m sure, but you’ll find out when you get there.”

          “Okay, right.  Well, then, I’ll tell Teyla and Ronon to pack, and let Zelenka know he’s in charge for a while.”  There was a slightly gleeful tone to that, which made Sam bite back a grin.  Those two played off one another so completely – in the best of ways – that she’d never worried about any dramas from that direction.  Elizabeth had also pointed out how well they worked together many times in her reports and personal notes.  Zelenka was quick to temper, but equally quick to forgive and push forward, something Rodney really needed in both his friends and his second-in-command.  It didn’t hurt that the Czech scientist was intelligent enough to keep up with McKay, if not equal him.  And as friends and respected colleagues, a little good-natured ribbing was to be expected, so knowing how Radek liked being ‘in charge,’ Rodney was going to delight in making him be so while he was away.

          “You probably have half an hour, McKay.”  Sam cautioned, finishing the forms and emailing them directly to him.  “If you’re not in the Gateroom he’ll probably leave without you, and I can only stall for so long.”

          “Yes, yes, I know.  We’ll be there.”

          “Good.  I’ve sent you the forms, Rodney, so get Teyla and Ronon to sign theirs and send them back, and you’re all cleared to leave.  Oh, and Rodney?”

          “What?”

          “Take good care of Sheppard, alright?  I don’t know how he’s truly handling this situation, and he doesn’t have time to be made to see someone for grief counselling.”

          “Of course we will!  We always do.  Don’t worry, Sam, because he’ll be fine.  He always is.”  Rodney sounded so sure of that, but Sam as sceptical.  A person could only take so much before they either bent or broke.  Though she, too, had the weight of experience and loss on her shoulders, she had her team – her family – to support her and to lean on at the worst of times, and she’d allowed herself that comfort.  John Sheppard, however, was the lone wolf-type, rarely seeking out support from others when it came to his personal demons.

          “I hope you’re right, Rodney.  I’m just…being cautious.  Atlantis needs him.  The people, here, need him.  Even you.  So just…”

          “Sam.”  Rodney’s voice turned quiet and uncharacteristically reassuring.  “I know.  Probably better than you do.  And I’m saying don’t worry.  Okay?”

          “Okay.”

          “Gotta go.  McKay out.”

~*~*~*~*~

          John was packed and ready to go inside of twenty minutes. Passing command to Lorne was relatively simple since there didn’t need to be much paperwork for it – and even that was all electronic these days (at least it was here in Atlantis).  Tablet PCs and PDAs were the greatest inventions ever.

          Heading for the control room to get Chuck to dial Earth John felt a small twinge of regret and guilt for not telling his team what happened or saying goodbye before he left, but this was his problem.  Not theirs.  And they were needed here, couldn’t just leave for an unknown amount of time when all kinds of crises and emergencies could happen and they were needed to save the day.  Especially McKay.  If John dragged him back to Earth so soon after the incident with his sister and the nanites, Rodney would be unbearable with the bitching and the complaining about all the things that broke down, were broken, or left undone by his staff in his absence.  Let alone any of those aforementioned crises.

          Or at least that was John’s excuse and he was going to stick to it.

          Chuck, the other Canadian on the expedition and their Gate-tech, appeared to be busily working on something in the control room at one of the consoles.  The other techs on duty also appeared industrious, and while John would normally be curious about it, he just wanted to go.

          “Dial Earth, Chuck, if you would.”  He requested politely as he passed by on his way to the stairs.

          “Oh!  Col. Sheppard.  It’ll be a few minutes, sir.  We’re just running a quick diagnosis.”  Chuck gave him a very apologetic glance.  “It shouldn’t take long.”

          Fighting off his impatience, John quirked an eyebrow.  “Problem?”

          “We don’t think so.  Just some noticeable fluctuations in the power output readings.  Col. Carter said to run a diagnostic to be certain before you attempted to go through.”

          “I see.  I’ll be down there.”  John pointed down at the Gateroom below.  “Let me know when you’re good to go.”  He hefted his bag and went down to the main floor.  As much as he wanted to get going, he wasn’t about to argue when there could be a problem that would jeopardize his chances at arriving at the SGC – alive and in one piece.  So he sat at the bottom of the grand staircase to wait as patiently as possible.

          Up in the control room, Carter came out of her office to join Chuck at the DHD console.  “You were able to stall him, Chuck?”

          “Yes, ma’am. But not for long, I don’t think.”  The tech replied, sadly.  Carter had informed him of the Lt. Colonel’s departure and part of the reason for it, and she had asked him to help her stall if McKay, Teyla, and Ronon were late.

          Sam nodded, patting him on the shoulder.  “Thanks.”  Reaching for her ear, she called Rodney urgently.  “McKay, come in.  What’s your status?”

          “Oh for…we’re on our way!  Radek!  I have to go!  Seriously, this isn’t your first time in charge!”  Rodney’s exasperation was palpable.  “Sorry…Sam.  Teyla, Ronan, and I are at the transporter and heading for the Gate.”

          “Good.  See you all when you get back.  And good luck, McKay.”

          “Yeah, thanks.”

          Sam sighed and gave it a couple extra minutes, until she could hear Rodney’s voice – still in argument with Radek – from the Gateroom below.  “Alright, Chuck, dial it.”

          “Yes, ma’am!”

          John looked up as the Gate started up. He could just see Chuck, who gave him a thumbs up to signal that he had a go.  Relieved, John stood and picked up his bag.

          To his surprise, his team suddenly walked into the room.  They were all carrying bags of their own, and Rodney was dressed in civilian clothes rather than his uniform.  The scientist was also waving off a more-harried-than-usual looking Radek.

          “Just carry on like I was here, Radek!  You’ll all be wonderfully productive and the city will remain intact by the time I return.  Now, shoo!”

          John watched them approach in consternation (he would never admit to relief), and pinned the likely culprit.  “McKay…”

          Rodney made a face at the unhappy growl of his name.  “Oh don’t even try and pretend you’re not happy to have us along, Sheppard.  And why, pray tell, were you intending to go running off on a potentially dangerous mission without your team?  You don’t expect us to let you.  Not without back-up!”

          “We will assist you, John.”  Teyla stated softly, but firmly, in that way she had that said she’d made a decision and that was final.  “We will be honoured to do so.”

          John looked coolly from one to the other, then up at Ronon.  The big guy shrugged, folding his arms over his chest and looking as immovable as the proverbial mountain.

          “What they said.”

          The Gate burst open behind them and John heaved a sigh of surrender.  “Alright, alright.  Fine.  Let’s go.”  He walked toward the shimmering event horizon, Rodney falling into step at his side, Teyla and Ronon just behind them.  Just before they stepped through, John said in a voice meant for Rodney, “However, you and I are going to have a chat about privacy, McKay.”

          To Rodney’s credit, he winced and didn’t refute that.

~*~*~*~*~

          On the other side, welcomed by the concrete grey walls of the SGC, they were met by General Hank Landry and Chief Master Sergeant Walter Harriman.  Landry whisked John off to his office to discuss all those obscure military things Rodney could care less about – after promising Rodney they weren’t going to talk about the current situation without the rest of the team (at Rodney’s vociferous insistence).  Walter – aka “Chief” – told Rodney that Dr. Jackson was in his lab waiting for them, so Rodney led Teyla and Ronon to the infamous and immanent archaeologist’s domain on Level 18.

          During the elevator trip, he noticed Teyla looking around with open curiosity at nearly everything she saw, while Ronon remained his silent, stoic self.  With that came the realization that this was the Athosian’s first journey to Earth and the Milky Way galaxy (the trip courtesy of that sentient mist of M5S-224 that they’d encountered during their first year in Pegasus didn’t count).

          “Oh!  Teyla, I’m so sorry!”  Rodney, not usually the type, blurted an apology to his teammate in the manner of a host who’d neglected his duties.  “I’ve dragged you here without any sort of background on what to expect!”  Oddly enough, he did feel bad about that, maybe because he’d long since come to trust and respect her, even care for her.

          Surprised, Teyla looked at him with a small, concerned smile.  “Rodney?  What do you mean?  You have nothing to apologize for.”

          “Yes, I do!  I should have…I don’t know…explained what sorts of things you’re likely to see and experience, and…” an expression of panic crossed McKay’s face as he babbled on, “Oh no!  We need to get you clothes!  I mean, not that what you’re wearing isn’t fine or that it looks bad, but…”

          “Rodney!”  Teyla cut him off as the elevator opened and they stepped out.  “It’s alright.  I understand what you meant.  Please.”  She laid a hand on his shoulder and patted him reassuringly.  “After the last few years I have spent in the company of yourself and John, as well as everyone else on Atlantis, I feel I know enough of your home not to appear too strange to those who do not know of the universe beyond.  I meant to ask about clothing at a more appropriate moment.”

          “Oh!  Right.  Yes, of course you do.”  Rodney relaxed, feeling a little embarrassed not to have thought of that.  “I just…you know, it’s up to me to look after you, here, and…”

          “Why?”  Ronon asked bluntly.  “Teyla’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself.”

          “Because!”  Rodney flushed, hands waving about expressively.  “I’m not saying she’s not capable – you’re not capable – at all!  It’s just that…”

          “…John would normally be the one to make sure we are prepared, that we have the knowledge of our surroundings and situations, but he is otherwise…occupied.  And as Rodney is also from this planet, he feels it is his responsibility to see to these things in the Colonel’s place.”  Teyla finished explaining, understanding the scientist completely.  “Thank you, Rodney.  I – and Ronon, also – appreciate what you’re trying to do.  Please do not worry.  We will follow your lead without fear on this mission.”  She gave Ronon a side-glance that Rodney missed.

          The Satedan grunted.  “This time.  And you know, McKay, you’re not the only one concerned about Sheppard, so stop trying so hard.”

          “Ronon.”  Teyla chided, patting Rodney again.  “He knows that.”

          Rodney stepped up to the big man, bravely raising his chin in defiance.  “I’m no John Sheppard, as I’ve had pointed out to me enough over the last few years.  I am acutely aware of that fact, even if I hadn’t already figured that out for myself a long time ago.  I’m not a diplomat, with the right words at the right moment.  I have little in the charm and good-looks department.  And I’m no soldier.  But I’m not stupid, and while it may be my only redeeming quality, I hope it’s enough for you to at least listen to me on occasion and maybe even take orders from me just this once.  Because I know John better than you or anyone else might believe I do.  And it may occur that he’ll give an order that I will contradict on this particular mission.  I just want to be ready for that possibility.”

          Teyla frowned.  “Do you mean that he would order us to do something he normally would not?”

          “Maybe.”  Rodney crossed his arms stubbornly.  “I’ve seen what happens when he stops thinking with his head and follows his heart alone.  It’s very probable that if he ends up in a situation where his emotion finally overtakes his reason, he won’t stop and think of the consequences.”  His eyes bored into Ronon’s unflinchingly.  “We’re all willing to follow him anywhere he leads, but this time…this time he may make decisions outside of his reason.”

          Teyla and Ronon exchanged glances.  “Rodney, do you believe he shouldn’t be taking on this investigation?”  She asked carefully in a low voice.  Thankfully, the hallways were empty at the moment.  “Is he unfit for duty?”

          Rodney sighed.  “I don’t know.  I don’t know enough of the background to the situation to be able to say one way or the other, only what I’ve gathered from the data in the files sent to Sam.  I don’t entirely know how this will affect him, but I would rather be prepared than caught with our pants down, so to speak.”  Suddenly feeling very tired, Rodney leaned back against the wall.  “If he is unfit for duty.  I don’t think General Landry or General O’Neill would have agreed to let him come back and investigate like this.”

          “Unless they think he’d go off on his own.”  Ronon pointed out.  “It’s better for them if he’s kept on a leash than to be let loose.”

          Rodney shuddered.  Ronon had a point.  And he knew Sheppard had a dark streak in him – ruthless, cold, efficient.  Adding grief and a burning anger to that and an unleashed John Sheppard was a scarier nightmare than even the Wraith.

          “What do we do, then?”  Teyla wondered.  “We cannot force him to talk about anything, nor can we forbid him to seek out these criminals.”

          “We do what we always do, Teyla.  And we keep an eye on him.  Should that possibility come up, then we do what’s best for him, whether he likes it or not.  Agreed?”

          “Yes.  I suppose you are correct that it is all we can do.”  Teyla nodded.  “Ronon?”

          “I agree.”

          Rodney nodded.  “Good.  And thanks.”

          “Should we not go?  Was Dr. Jackson waiting for us?”  Teyla reminded them.

          “Right!  This way.”  The astrophysicist pushed off the wall and led them through the corridors.

~*~*~*~*~

          The first thing they heard from Daniel Jackson’s lab through the open door was said scholar’s exasperated – yet fond – voice speaking to someone.

          “No, Jack, you may not name the newest ships after any of the Star Trek ones.  Why?  Because it’s cliché and we all know how much you like those.  No!  Not the Millennium Falcon, or any other Star Wars ships, either!  Okay, yes, I’m getting tired of the running ‘Greek myth’ theme, but there’s a lot of cultural references that could…no, not the Egyptian ones.  What are we?  Goa’uld?”

          Daniel looked up as he said that with heavy sarcasm and an eye-roll to match, just as the three walked in.  The archaeologist smiled in welcome and gestured for them to come in.

          “The Greek stuff is somewhat better than what some of the ones the Ancients came up with.”  Rodney muttered within Daniel’s hearing, thinking of the one they’d found on the Taranian’s super-volcano planet that was named for some Ancient General with an unpronounceable name.  Hippo…something or other.

          Daniel made a face, cutting of whatever O’Neill was saying, “Look, we have months to figure that out, Jack.  I’ll make a list of appropriate names and you can pick one, alright?”  He sighed.  “No, not after you.  Sam blew the last one up, remember?  So what if Thor liked you!  My namesake lived longer than yours.  Oh for…we’re not five and I’m not arguing with you about it.  Now, I have to go.  What?  Yes, they’re here.”  He covered the phone with his free hand and said to the group, “Jack says ‘hi, and welcome back.’”  Then he spoke into the handset again.  “Can I go now, or are you going to keep making me be rude?  Okay.  Yes, we will.  See you tomorrow.”  A faint flush highlighted his face and neck for a moment, before he squawked, “Jack!  Yeah, ditto, okay?  Ass!” before hanging up on what sounded suspiciously like laughter.

          Clearing his throat and trying to maintain his dignity, Daniel got up and came around his desk.  “So, hey, guys!  Sorry about that.  It’s good to see you all again.”  He shook hands with Rodney and Ronon, and – consummate scholar of culture and people that he was – remembered and offered Teyla the greeting of his people, lightly touching his forehead to hers.  She smiled at him, pleased.

          “It is very good to see you once more, Dr. Jackson.  We heard of your ultimate success with the Ori and their followers from Col. Carter.”

          “It’s ‘Daniel,’ please.  Yeah, we finally managed to put an end to all that.”

          “You wanted to see us?”  Rodney interjected, giving the scholar a questioning stare.

          “Sure.”  Daniel motioned for them to follow him.  “I figured you’d have nothing to do while you waited for Col. Sheppard to be done in General Landry’s office, so I thought I’d invite you to join me in the commissary for coffee, and catch up on life here and in Pegasus.”  He headed for the elevator, smiling wistfully as they waited.  “I bet you’ve made all kinds of new discoveries since we stopped by to use the database last year.”

          “Don’t you get the news-worthy stuff in the data-streams?”  Rodney asked, surprised.  He thought Daniel, of all people, would pour over the information exchanged daily, what with his acute interest in the Ancients.

          “Well, yes.  But it’s not the same as having face-to-face discussions.”

          “Ah.”  Okay. Rodney could understand that a little.

          Over desserts and coffee (and green tea for Teyla), they sat in the commissary sharing tales of adventures and new discoveries.  For Rodney, it was a bit of a relief to be able to not think about why they were there in the first place, and with Daniel he could discuss his theories and work and not be worried about criticism or having any of it ripped apart as he would with any of his colleagues.  The best part was that Daniel was actually smart enough to mostly understand it all, even if he wasn’t an astrophysicist and couldn’t calculate the complex mathematics behind it.  He understood the concepts, the theories, and Rodney’s explanations, and that was enough to endear Daniel to Rodney – someone who had great difficulty relating to people in general even without the gaping chasm between intellects.  Rodney couldn’t even discuss these things with Radek in this way.

          When Teyla asked Daniel how he’d come to figure out the significance of the eight-symbol address that ultimately led them to Atlantis and the Pegasus galaxy, Rodney had an epiphany.  The reason he got along so well with Daniel, and had little of the problems he normally had with interpersonal relationships, was because Daniel saw the universe in much the same way Rodney always had.  Despite their polar opposite fields of study and expertise, they both solved the universe’s mysteries from the same perspective: outside the proverbial box, whereas most others tried and struggled to do so by making the universe fit inside the box according to their understanding.  Daniel’s explanation of the eighth symbol was a case in point, and Rodney clearly remembered that day over four years ago when Daniel excitedly pointed out the mistake they’d been making all along to Rodney, Elizabeth, and later General O’Neill – that they were not mistaking a symbol in the address…they were missing a symbol.

          Right then and there, even if no one else could fully see the implications, Rodney did and he saw the mathematics fall neatly into place.  I backed Daniel’s discovery right from the start.  He congratulated himself smugly.  And he’d been right to, when even the golden girl of the SGC, Sam Carter, had wavered away from it at first.  For all the wisdom he still credited her with on top of her intelligence, he saw how unwilling she’d been to look outside the norm and just believe; this was why he got along better with Daniel then he ever did with Sam, and though it hurt to know she was his equal in every way but this, it had only hurt for a moment because it was that area that Rodney felt was probably the most important of all if he was to ever be in a relationship with someone.  Since that equality wasn’t there, it wasn’t so hard to finally set aside any serious intent to pursue such a relationship with Sam – not that he didn’t still daydream or anything.

          Getting up, Rodney went to have the coffee decanter refilled for himself and Daniel.  While waiting patiently, feeling oddly relaxed for the caffeine in his system, he glanced over at the doors as they swung open and Sheppard walked in.  Outwardly, the officer appeared to be his usual self, with no signs of his impatience or restlessness showing in his casual, pseudo-lazy stroll to where he spotted Teyla and Ronon, or in the oh-so-relaxed sprawl as he slouched in the seat Ronon pulled over for him to join them at the table.  But Rodney could see the tension in the hard set of his shoulders, the dark lights of his hazel eyes that seemed more green in this harsh lighting.  Rodney watched him a moment longer, startled when the kitchen staff-person said his name.

          “Dr. McKay…your coffee, sir.”

          “Ack!  What?  Oh.  Yes, thank you.  Um, could I get a clean mug and maybe a turkey sandwich for Col. Sheppard?”  He managed to ask politely, taking the coffee decanter from the woman.  He saw her look over his shoulder to Sheppard, then smile in a rather matronly way before nodding.

          “Give me a minute, son.  It won’t take but a moment.”

          True to her word, she was back in under five minutes with the sandwich, fries, and even garnished with pickles.  Handing Rodney the plate and a mug that was still warm from the dishwasher, she gave him a bright smile and sent him warily back to the table.

          Since it would never do to allow Sheppard to think he actually cared, Rodney schooled his features to reflect a vague annoyance, as if bringing the food was some great chore.

          “Here.”  He clunked the heavy plate down on the table in front of Sheppard, then the mug which he filled with coffee.  “Eat that.”  He commanded like Sheppard was the subordinate officer and it was an order.  John gave him a startled, strange look, which Rodney ignored as he moved to sit down again across from Daniel.  He was refilling their mugs when John finally thought of something to say.

          “Uh, Rodney, not that I don’t appreciate the gesture, but we just ate supper a couple of hours ago.”  Nonetheless, the man picked up a fry and nibbled on it, as if he just couldn’t resist.

          “Ha!  You hardly ate anything – don’t think I didn’t notice! – and you gave me your dessert.”  Rodney scowled at him.  “I heard Keller nagging you about your weight again, too.  Your metabolism is so freakishly fast, it’s revolting.  So shut up and eat that turkey sandwich. You’ll need all the calories you can get.”

          Teyla hid a smile behind her teacup while Ronon eyed-up the plate like he was considering eating it himself.  Daniel wisely kept silent and straight-faced, and merely reached for his coffee.  John, finding no help from any of them, scowled right back at Rodney, drawling in a deceptively friendly voice, “What?  You’re my mother now, McKay?  It’s just another thing you and I need to have a little chat about – eavesdropping and hacking personal files.”  The fact that he was obediently eating the fries and pickles (absentmindedly, no doubt) didn’t really help the threatening glare he sent Rodney’s way.

          “Whatever.  You’d have run off without us if I hadn’t, and then we would have had to come rescue you anyway from whatever mess you got yourself into.  And if you won’t look after yourself, then the rest of us will.  So deal with it.  Besides!”  Rodney exclaimed, sitting back in his chair and looking very pleased with himself, “I would think you’d be eager to eat whatever you can’t get back home while you’re here.”  He sighed and looked scarily dreamy for a moment.  “I really miss pizza for some reason…”

          John, who truthfully wasn’t that hungry, picked up half the sandwich and took a huge bite, chewing and glowering petulantly at his friend, as if to say, “There!  Are you happy now?”

          If anyone found the exchange strange, they wisely kept silent.

          “Have you concluded your business with the General, John?”  Teyla inquired, turning the topic away neatly.

          “Yeah.”  Sheppard swallowed and picked up a pickle, studying it while speaking.  “Nothing dire to be worried about, don’t worry.”

          “That is good.”

          “Like we need anything more.”  Rodney grumbled, stealing a fry off John’s plate – and receiving a glare from both John and Ronon.  “Hey, Daniel, what time are we flying to DC tomorrow, anyway?  Do you know?”  Internally, he winced and kicked himself as John’s expression shuttered into bland neutrality.  For a moment, however brief, he’d forgotten his grief and anger.

          “Fly?”  Daniel questioned, blinking rapidly behind his glasses.

          “As in airplane.”  Rodney raised an eyebrow, questioning Daniel’s intelligence.  “Sam said we’d fly to D.C. in the morning, get briefed, and then the funeral’s the day after tomorrow.”

          “Oh.  Well, we shouldn’t need to fly.  Last I heard, General Landry recalled Odyssey from her mission to assist us in the investigation.”  Daniel sipped his coffee with a shrug.  “Mitchell will push the engines to get back in time, so unless something goes wrong, they’ll be here in time.”

          “We?”  Sheppard echoed, the slouch straightening slightly as he tensed at the implication of interference in his investigation.  “And I thought Odyssey was tasked to be checking on our allies now that the Priors and all were gone.”

          “We – as in the four of you, myself, and Jack in the background gleefully pulling strings and kicking bureaucratic asses for us along the way.”  Daniel smiled, with both a hint of apology and reassurance.  “No NID on this one, thank god.  Or IOA.”

          “I was going to ask about that.”  Rodney said, looking pleased the two agencies weren’t getting involved.

          “NID is focused on the Trust and the Baal clones.  They’re so swamped and undermanned they have no one to spare to deal with this – especially as it’s unconfirmed that it even has anything to do with the programme – outside of the family connection to you, of course, Colonel.”  Daniel sighed at his now empty coffee mug.  “As for the IOA, they aren’t investigators.  At least, not this kind of criminal activity that we’re dealing with, so…not involved.”

          John relaxed fractionally.  Not that he had anything against the agent who had helped to find Rodney and his sister a few months back when Henry Wallace kidnapped them, but John would much rather rely on his own team – and the infamous SG-1 – than any outside entities.  And he wouldn’t even start on the IOA.

          “And Odyssey?”  Ronon reminded them.

          “Oh yeah.  The repairs were completed two weeks ago.  She was sent off on a test mission to check on some of our allies after the whole Ori thing.  Along the way they’re testing systems and the repairs, running drills, that sort of thing.”  Daniel grinned, his eyes crinkling at the corners.  “Mitchell has – more or less – been given command of her, and since she’s basically the ship SG-1 utilizes for our own missions, you could say the flagship team actually has a ship now.”  He chuckled to himself, thinking of how pained Cam’s face had been at the thought of the dreaded Chair (as in the Commander’s seat), even though the pilot looked like he was born in that chair whenever he occupied it.  “Anyway, Mitchell will help us out from the ship in orbit – Vala, too, if she’s still on board.  She may have decided to go with Teal’c to investigate leads on more Baal clones, or the snake himself.”

          “Well, we can’t complain about having that sort of backup.”  John nodded slowly.  “Thanks for that.”

          “Thank Jack.  He’s the one scheming and plotting.”  Daniel made a face, but his surreal blue eyes twinkled.  “It’s one of his favourite things to do.”

          “So why are you not out with your team?”  Ronon wanted to know.  “And why are you being asked to help us investigate?”

          “I’m supposed to be on leave, actually.”  Daniel shrugged, sounding as if it was a waste of time, really.  “Vacation time.  I was spending it in D.C. with Jack, since I really had nothing else to do and he gets lonely.”  He paused, suddenly realizing what he just said, and flushed.  “Ahhh…don’t ever tell him I said that.  Please.”

          “They pulled you off your leave?  They shouldn’t have done that.”  John frowned, feeling badly about that, since he knew how precious free time was in their jobs.

          “Oh no.  Don’t worry about it.  Really!”  Daniel assured him with a small smile.  “To be honest, I was going a little stir crazy.  I don’t do idle very well.  And to be honest, there’s no one better to help you with this since Sam’s in Atlantis and Jack can’t go out in the field – so to speak – anymore.  If we find those documents, I’ll be able to read most any language they’re written in, as well as know what they’re about, since the files in question were from our early days in the SGC.”

          “I see.”  Ronon nodded his understanding.

          Teyla tilted her head in agreement.  “It will be good to work with you, Daniel.  We have heard many wonderful things about you from Col. Carter, and from Rodney – though he likely will deny it.”  She gave a little grin and a side-glance at the scientist who sputtered and flushed and looked belligerently at them all, daring them to make a comment.

          “What?  I can’t state my appreciation for the work of others when it’s truly worthy of it?”

          “You can.  You just don’t.”  Ronon bared his teeth in something that was probably supposed to be a smile but seemed a little more…wild.  Rodney, unfazed – or maybe just used to it – glared darkly at him.

          “Okay, children.  Don’t make me put you in the corner.”  Sheppard nudged Rodney in the ribs and gave Ronon a look.  “Quit baiting each other.  Rodney can be nice.  When he wants to be.”

          “Oh thank you so much for the support.”  Rodney’s voice was at its sarcastic best.  “Anyway…it’s great we don’t have to worry about flight times, because now we’ll have time to go shopping!”  Rodney pushed his mug aside, deciding he’d had enough coffee for now.  At Daniel’s inquisitive stare, he elaborated, “Teyla needs a few new changes of wardrobe.  Unfortunately, the Athosian-wear isn’t ‘in’ for covert alien agents this year.”

          “Oh!  Of course.  I hadn’t even thought…okay, I know someone who can help.  I hope.”  Daniel got up abruptly, waving and talking over his shoulder.  “Stay!  I’ll be right back.”

          John sighed.  “I’m sorry, Teyla.  I should have thought of it, myself.  Ronon’s got his Earth clothes from the last couple trips, but this is your first time here.”

          “It is.  But there is no reason for you to apologize, John.  It would be taken care of, I’m sure.”  She reached across the table and patted his arm.  “Besides, Rodney was kind enough to assure me he would see to the problem, and he has.  You have more pressing concerns than my clothing.”

          “Still…” the officer protested, feeling guilty about neglecting his responsibilities.

          “Let it go, Sheppard.”  Ronon advised, “You’ll never win the argument, anyway.”

          After some time spent in companionable silence, Daniel returned with a pretty young woman in tow.  He introduced her as Dr. Carolyn Lam, the SGC’s CMO and General Landry’s own daughter.  Once he’d made the introduction of the Atlantean team, Daniel pulled up another chair for the doctor to join them.  She was dressed in her civilian clothes and jacket, as if she’d just been leaving after her shift.

          “It’s a pleasure to meet all of you.  I’m sorry I wasn’t available when you arrived for your medical checks.”  Carolyn looked around at each of them, and noticed their surprised and sheepish expressions.  “Oh dear…you didn’t get them?”

          “Ah…I’ll take them as soon as we’re done here.”  Daniel hastily offered.

          “The General sort of pounced on me as soon as we got here, so…” John explained, kicking himself for another missed responsibility.  It was protocol for anyone coming or going through the Gate to pass a medical exam, and he’d forgotten.  On the other hand, so had General Landry, apparently.

          Carolyn rolled her eyes at that, but nodded.  “It’s alright.  I doubt any of you are bringing anything nasty with you from Pegasus, but do get checked before you leave the base.”  She looked at Daniel.  “Dr. Warner is on duty tonight, so he’ll take care of it.”

          “Sure.”

          “Anyway, Daniel explained that you’re in need of some appropriate Earth clothes to wear during your stay here, Ms. Emmagan”

          “Teyla, please.”

          “Teyla…  Since all these boys are so clueless when it comes to selecting and buying women’s attire…” Carolyn grinned when none of the men refuted the statement, “I’d be happy to help.  Just one thing: who’s footing the bill?”

          “I will.”  Both John and Rodney stated firmly.  They looked at each other in surprise.

          “Rodney?”

          “What?  It’s not like they haven’t been paying me all this time.  And all I’ve purchased in the last four years was the Prius for Jeannie.”  He crossed his arms defensively, scowling at everyone in general.  “Anyway, it’s a necessary expenditure that will not go to waste – and you already outfitted Ronon.”

          Teyla smiled fondly at him.  “Thank you, Rodney.  It is most generous of you to offer.”

          Ronon grunted, frowning.  He wasn’t looking forward to being in his Earth clothes again.  He’d found the clothing to be quite restrictive to his movements – a bad thing in a fight (even though the materials were very fine and the clothes well made).  And he couldn’t hide as many of his knives as he would prefer.

          John was still looking surprised at Rodney’s apparent generosity.  “We’ll compromise, McKay.  One of us can buy the clothing items, the other can buy the accessories.”

          “Accessories?”  Rodney’s puzzlement was strangely endearing.  He really was clueless when it came to women, poor guy.

          “Women have accessories, Rodney.”  John pointed at Carolyn’s ears and neckline.  “Earrings, necklaces, maybe a watch, pendants, rings, bracelets…”

          “Okay, okay, I get it.  Sheesh.  Fine!  I’ll get the clothes, you get the extras.”  Rodney decided, waving it aside dismissively.  “Either way, we have to go tomorrow morning, Dr. Lam, so I hope that is acceptable for you.”

          “It should be.  They’ll call if an emergency pops up and I’m needed.”  Carolyn agreed, amused by their banter.  She gave Daniel a side-glance.  It reminded her of his usual by-play with a certain General…  “Stores don’t open until 0900-0930, so shall we meet up on the surface at 0900 hours?”

          “I will be there.”

          “We will be there.”  Rodney corrected, pushing away from the table.  “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m really tired.”

          “It has been a long day.”  Teyla agreed, also rising from her seat.

          “I’ll show you all to the quarters we managed to find for your tonight.”  Daniel said.  “And thanks, Carolyn, for taking the time to help these guys out.”

          “My pleasure!  See you in the morning, and don’t forget to stop by the infirmary!”  Dr. Lam split away from the group, leaving Daniel to show them where they were ensconced within the SGC – right after following the doctor’s orders and getting them their medical checks.

~*~*~*~*~

          They ended up sharing close quarters that night.  Daniel had apologized profusely for the lack of available places to sleep.  He explained that not only was all the base housing full because of the most recent wave of new SGC recruits, but there were also most of the team leaders and their teams on base, also, because of the recruits.  Then, too, some of the new personnel being sent to Atlantis on the next trip via the Daedalus when it returned were beginning to trickle in, needing some minimal training of their own before they ended up in another galaxy.  All in all, the senior housing, civilian housing, and even the VIP suites were crammed to capacity.  Even Daniel, if he hadn’t already had his own personal living quarters in the Mountain (as did Teal’c and Vala MalDoran, his two alien teammates), would have been out of luck and in town at a hotel somewhere.

          As it was, Daniel put Teyla in Vala’s quarters (knowing the feisty ex-thief wouldn’t mind), Ronon in Mitchell’s (Cam’s, luckily, hadn’t yet been loaned out to one of the other officers in his absence), and John and Rodney in the only VIP room left unoccupied on base – and then only because they both refused to take Daniel up on his offer of his own quarters, stating that he’d sleep on the cot set up in the little room off his lab where he normally crashed when he was working too frantically on something and didn’t want to even go as far as his quarters.

          “We’re not kicking you out of your own bed.”  John protested adamantly.  “It’s only for a night, and it isn’t like we haven’t shared a tent or bed off-world before.  Right, McKay?” he nudged Rodney none-too-gently in the side, prompting his agreement.

          “Yes, that’s right.”  Rodney said after a moment’s hesitation.  It wasn’t that he minded sharing with Sheppard, it was that he was unsure of his welcome in close proximity when he thought the officer would prefer some time alone with his grief.  But Rodney didn’t know how to say that without it coming out wrong and probably totally screwing everything up with John.  “We’ll be fine, Daniel.  Thanks for the offer, though.”

          “Well..if you’re sure.”  The linguist scratched at his nose and shrugged.  “Okay, then I’ll see you all in the morning.  0830 for breakfast in the commissary?”

          “Sounds good.”  Rodney agreed for them both as John just nodded and went into the room without another word.  “Um…see you then.”

          “Good night, Rodney.”

          Closing the door behind himself, Rodney hesitated, watching Sheppard pull out his shaving kit from his bag.  “Listen, if you’d rather be alone, I can go get a hotel room or something.  I mean, I’m…”

          “Rodney,” John sighed wearily, locking tired hazel eyes on Rodney’s sky blue ones with a slight smile. “It really is fine.  Though I appreciate the sentiment, the truth is…” he looked away, fussing with his things self-consciously.  It was so uncharacteristic of him that Rodney felt a pang in his chest.  “…I don’t really want to be alone.  I already feel like I am, and that’s bad enough.”

          “Okay.”  What, really, could he say to that?  Nothing.  So Rodney dropped his bag of clothes on one chair at the table in one corner and set his laptop case on top of the table.  “I can’t promise to be Mr. Sensitive; I mean, you know me, right?  But I’ll stay.”

          A fleeting, unexpectedly fond expression passed over John’s face, and he nodded.

          They took turns in the adjacent washroom, getting ready for bed.  When Rodney came out dressed in his warmest pyjama pants and an old university t-shirt that was so faded one couldn’t even read it anymore, John was already in bed under the covers, turned on his side with his back to the rest of the room and to Rodney.  A small lamp was still on next to the bed, but otherwise it was quite dark and quiet.  Not surprising, considering they were inside a mountain, with thick concrete walls meant to survive explosions and even earthquakes.  Still, it kind of gave Rodney the creeps because he’d gotten very used to the almost subliminal hum of the city around him and in his mind, and the soothing sounds of the sea lapping against Atlantis as she floated calmly on its surface.

          Trying to ignore it, Rodney shrugged and crawled into bed next to John, reaching for the lamp.  “Need the light?” he asked in a moment of consideration.

          “No.  Go ahead.”  John’s reply was sort of muffled, but Rodney got the gist of it.  He switched off the lamp, plunging them into near total darkness, and wiggled down until he was comfortable.

          For a few minutes there was silence, but of their soft breathing, and Rodney thought John had fallen asleep already.  Then the bed quaked a bit as John moved, rolling onto his back, and a soft, “Hey,” asked for his attention.

          “Yeah?”

          John’s voice held a note of something incredibly vulnerable, an unnatural occurrence as far as Rodney was concerned.  “Thanks.  I’m…sorry I gave you a hard time about reading that email.”

          Rodney flipped over to face him, and kept his own voice low and soft.  Maybe it was the darkness that allowed Sheppard to open up, but whatever it was, Rodney wasn’t about to ruin it.

          “There’s nothing to thank me for, John.  And…you’re right about the email thing.  I shouldn’t have.  You and Sam can ream me out about it all you like, and I won’t complain.”  He paused.  “Well, not too much.”

          “Don’t ever change, buddy.”  The chuckle John gave sounded suspiciously wet.

          “Why would I?”

          There was another moment of silence, then, “I’ve never felt so alone before.”

          The admission made Rodney’s chest ache.  “You’re not, though.  You know that, right?”

          “I thought so, but…why does it feel like this then?”

          Rodney thought very carefully about what he said next, not wanting to just blurt out something that would completely shatter this moment.  “I’m not exactly someone who can claim to understand the hows and whys behind our emotions, but…grief is something I’ve become more acquainted with in recent years.”  For a moment, he allowed himself to remember Carson Beckett, and Elizabeth Weir, and all the others he’d come to know and lose over the years in Atlantis so suddenly and tragically.  “I’ve never cared for as many other people as I have since going to Atlantis, and those I’ve lost in the past were never…I mean, I didn’t really…  They didn’t hold the same importance to me as our people do now.  Not even my parents.  In fact, the only relative I had that I actually liked was my sister – at least until she went and married an English professor.”  He still couldn’t help the scoff in his tone at Kaleb Miller’s chosen area of scholarship, though it didn’t hold the same dislike and total scorn it once did.  “My point is…I know what it is to feel alone.  I’ve spent most of my life very much alone.  And then we’re in another galaxy, with people who not only seem to actually want me around but that I actually want to be around.  Needless to say, I got used to not being so alone anymore.  But losing even one person brought that sense of aloneness back again, and even though I knew up in my head that it wasn’t so, it didn’t stop the rest of me from feeling that way.

          “I guess what I’m not saying so well is that you feel like this because…maybe Jenny was just that much more important to you than people you’ve only known for a couple years?  Not to say that we all aren’t equally important to you in different ways, just that…well, she’s family.  And from what I read in the file, she was kind of like your champion or benefactor, too.  Grief just is, John.  There’s no degree of more or less about it.”  Rodney decided he’d babbled enough and clunked his mouth shut.  He waited, hoping John was just absorbing all that and not taking offense somehow, by his silence.

          “Is it…is it kind of like how you were feeling when Jeannie was infected with those nanites?” the other man asked tentatively, as if he wasn’t sure he was allowed to ask such a personal question.

          “Well…yeah.  When I made the decision to offer myself to the Wraith to feed on so we could save her, I figured it was better me than her, and that if she died I probably would go a little crazy with grief.  I mean, I was already crazy, ‘cause what the hell was I thinking?  Offering myself as a Wraith to-go special?  But if Jeannie died, then I’d probably have lost whatever was left of my superior intellect.”  Rodney frowned into the darkness, shivering at the memory of that.  “Did I ever thank you properly for not letting me do that?”

          “In your own way, yes.”  John reassured him, and there was a little bit of a smile in his voice now.  Rodney silently congratulated himself for that.  “And…I know you’re not diminishing anyone’s importance with what you said.  I think I get what you’re trying to say.”

          “Really?  Good, because I wasn’t too sure even I was following myself for a while.”  Now it was Rodney’s turn to stay quiet for a little while, before tentatively asking, “Will you tell me about her?  Not, you know, right this second, if you don’t want, but whenever you feel like it?  You…you don’t really let people into your life so easily, and from what I read, she seemed to be someone who helped to make you you, if you know what I mean, and I’d…I guess I’d like to know someone who was capable of that.”

          He nearly jumped out of his skin at the touch of a large, heavy hand dropping onto his shoulder clumsily in the dark.  John patted him lightly before withdrawing his hand and sighed.  “That’s…really nice, Rodney.  Maybe, yeah, but…not tonight.  I’m just…it’s too soon.”

          “Of course!  Of course!”  Rodney was quick to assure him.  “You know, whenever you’re ready.  I just want you to know you can talk to me, if you need it, and that I want to hear whatever you need to say.”

          John made a humming noise and turned back over onto his side.  Rodney took that to mean ‘good night’ so he closed his eyes and snuggled down under the covers a little more completely.

          Just as he was dozing off, he heard John say, “Hey, Rodney?”

          “Hm?”

          “I know I don’t let people in easily, and for that I’m sorry.  I should be telling the people who mean something to me that…I care.  I just don’t because…”

          “You’re trying to protect yourself.  I know.”  And Rodney did.  He’d been there, too.

          “Right.”  A deep breath, then, “So, Rodney, in the spirit of telling people…you know you’re my best friend, right?  That there’s no one else as close to me as you?”

          Shocked, Rodney very nearly sat bolt upright.  Instead he stammered, “Y-you…really?  Best friend?  I mean…yeah.  Other than Carson, I didn’t have a good friend like you before, so…”  He was pretty sure he was blushing furiously, because he could feel the heat in his face and the roar of blood in his ears.  He wasn’t about to add that his thoughts of John were way beyond the platonic friendship he had with Carson for very nearly as long as he’d known John.  The good Scottish doctor had known of his infatuation – and the reasons Rodney had never pursued it – and he’d always been the one Rodney ran to when things went bad.  Only now, of course, Carson was gone, and Rodney had no other buffer against the roiling, romantic inclinations that frequently got the better of him when it came to John Sheppard.  He dealt with it as best he could, but every so often it would get to be too much and he had to lock himself in his quarters to explode and put himself back together again.  Anything to avoid taking it out on John, or worse: telling him the truth and losing John altogether.

          “Just so you know.  Even when we’re butting heads, and we’re completely pissed off at each other.”

          “Yeah.  Me too.”

          “Okay.”  John seemed to be satisfied with that, and the shakiness in his tone disappeared.  “Good.  ‘Night, Rodney.”

          “Night, John.”

          Strangely enough, Rodney fell asleep and slept better that night than he had in weeks, even as his mind absorbed the revelation and his heart hoarded the warmth of it greedily.

~*~*~*~*~

Next Chapter: https://kalichaos.wordpress.com/stargate/veritas/chapter-02/

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