Area 52 HKH

Wraith Killers (Part 1/2)

by Lady Ra

URL: http://www.area52hkh.net/asl/ladyra/wkillers001.php
Summary: Atlantis ends up with some unexpected new residents
Info: The timelines may not match, but this takes place while Jack is still head of the SGC, and sometime during the 3rd season for Atlantis. No Ori.

As usual, John Sheppard and Elizabeth Weir welcomed the newly arrived soldiers and scientists as they stepped off the Daedalus. John watched the faces, looking for people he knew. Elizabeth had a list of arriving passengers, of course, and John had access to it, but he'd barely glanced at it. He didn't request specific people the way Elizabeth did, and Lorne was the one who actually checked in the new military arrivals. He noticed someone vaguely familiar and nudged Elizabeth. "Don't we know that guy?" John searched his mind for a name.

She followed his pointing finger and her jaw dropped. "Oh, my God," she said in surprise. Moving quickly, she headed on an intercept path.

Whatever his name was, obviously Elizabeth thought it was a big deal. John got there just in time to watch them smile at each other, and then Elizabeth put out her hand. "Dr. Jackson. I didn't realize you were coming."

Dr. Jackson. Dr. Daniel Jackson. John remembered now. He'd seen the man in Antarctica, usually with General O'Neill circling around him. Even in the short time John had been at SGC, it was clear the guy was as much of a legend as General O'Neill.

"I wasn't sure if I'd be able to make it," Jackson explained. "But I had all the right papers signed, so Caldwell let me board."

"I should hope so," Elizabeth exclaimed. "I'm thrilled to have you here."

"Really?" Jackson asked, as if he hadn't been sure of his reception. "I hoped you wouldn't mind."

"Mind? Why would I possibly mind? I can't wait to sit down with you and show you the translations I've made. I'm sure you'll see all sorts of errors."

"I doubt that," he said kindly.

"I'm Lt. Colonel John Sheppard," John said, deciding it was time to be noticed.

Daniel shook his hand, smiling nicely. "Colonel. It's very nice to see you again. It sounds as if you've been able to pull one miracle after another out of your magic bag of tricks. Even Jack's been impressed."

"Jack?"

"General O'Neill," Jackson explained.

Oh. John should have guessed. He grinned. "Well, welcome to Atlantis, Dr. Jackson."

"Daniel, please," he said and then to Elizabeth, "And that goes for you, too, please."

"All right," she said with a grin. "I still can't believe you're here. I can't believe General O'Neill let you go."

John saw a small grimace cross Daniel's face and wondered what it meant.

Elizabeth kept talking. "The last time I saw the two of you, you were trying to talk him into letting you come with us, and he was saying no quite emphatically."

"Um." Daniel said. "He doesn't...um." He stopped whatever he was going to say and started to look around.

John wanted to know what Daniel had been about to say but then saw the starry-eyed look on Daniel's face and chose not to interrupt him. He knew that look. John was pretty sure he'd had it on his face last night when he stood out on the balcony and watched the sun go down casting its last golden rays on the spires of Atlantis.

Daniel was looking all around him, his eyes as large as saucers with a goofy grin on his face. "I'm here," he said reverently. "I'm in Atlantis."

John couldn't help but grin back, along with Elizabeth. "You're definitely here," John confirmed. He wasn't positive, but it almost looked like Daniel was glowing.

***

"This is so annoying," Rodney muttered as he raced along the hallway, glaring at the lights that were shining too brightly for no apparent reason--using power they couldn't afford to use.

He saw John and Elizabeth and headed straight toward them. He didn't know how, but somehow this was all John's fault. Rodney just knew it. They were talking to another person, but Rodney dismissed him as unessential. "What are you doing?" Rodney demanded of John.

"What are you talking about?" John asked, a line of contention drawn in his forehead.

"The city?" Rodney clarified as if John were the stupidest person alive. "What are you doing? Lights are shining, all the Ancient technology is working at a higher efficiency, and everything's blinking merrily. If this place were a Disney movie, there'd be little nauseating bluebirds zipping all over the place, probably landing on your shoulder. Did you get laid last night?"

"Rodney!" Elizabeth responded with a gasp that sounded suspiciously like a laugh, too.

Rodney rocked back on his heels. "Did I say that out loud?" he said to her. Then he shrugged, glared at John and said, "As long as the damage is done, answer the question. Did you?" Rodney wasn't sure why the thought infuriated him.

"That's none of your business, Rodney," John said in a pissy tone.

"Ah ha!" Rodney said with a pointing finger. "You did. You Kirk you," he said scathingly, a flash of disappointment, maybe even, God forbid, envy, washed through Rodney. He gestured at the city. "Well, try to turn off the afterglow. We're wasting power."

"I'm not doing anything," John protested. "It's probably him," he added.

"Him, who?" Rodney asked, finally taking a look at the third person. His eyebrows climbed up on his forehead. "Dr. Jackson? What are you doing here?" Rodney felt an acute sense of anxiety about the doctor's presence. He spun to John. "You're trying to get rid of me, aren't you?"

John sputtered at him.

Rodney spun back to Daniel. "What are you doing here?" he demanded again.

"Rodney," Elizabeth reproved again. "I hardly think..."

Rodney was back to John. "Don't even think about replacing me on your team with Dr. Jackson. Just because he's been on SG-1 for nine years, doesn't mean he can do the things I can do. You need me." Before John could even get his mouth open, Rodney took a step closer to him. "You try to replace me," Rodney threatened, "I'll make you rue the day you were born. Are we clear?"

"Clear as rue," John drawled.

"Dr. McKay," Daniel said placatingly, "no one even knew I was coming. I'm only here to study the Ancients. I know the work you do here is amazing, and I have no intention of taking anyone's place. Sam's already used a few of your ideas, and she sent some work with me for you to review."

"Really?" Rodney said, pleased, momentarily diverted from his quest.

"Really. In fact, she gave me some information to give to you. She thinks your idea about opening up a communication wormhole will work."

Rodney squinted at Daniel. "Hmm. Okay." He frowned again. "You're really not here to replace me?"

Daniel looked at him like he was crazy. "I'm an archeologist. I can't do any of the stuff you do."

Rodney wasn't sure about that. As far as he had read and seen, Daniel could do anything he put his mind to. But Daniel also hadn't struck him as the lying kind. "You ascended," he blurted out. It suddenly made sense that the city was doing figurative cartwheels.

"Um," Daniel said.

"You ascended," Rodney said aggressively, as if arguing with Daniel's 'um'. "Twice."

Daniel looked like he wanted to argue, but he just opened and closed his mouth.

"And you're sort of glowing right now," Rodney pointed out.

Daniel looked down at himself in some alarm.

"In fact, it's probably what's got the city all worked up." Rodney frowned at Daniel. "You need to stop it. We're using too much power."

Daniel looked at his hand, which was definitely glowing. "I'm not sure how."

"Just think off," John suggested.

"No!" Rodney yelled. "Don't do that," he said with a blistering look at John. "Given the city's response to you," he said to Daniel, "you might shut everything off."

"Oh," John said. "Good point."

"So what should I do?" Daniel asked.

Rodney had no idea. The city hadn't done this for Chaya. He sniffed. Not that that was surprising. He was more surprised the city hadn't found a way to throw her over a balcony. Hussy. "Try--"

"Uh, Rodney," John interrupted, looking nervously at Daniel.

"Shit," Rodney said, taking a step back. Daniel was really glowing now. And so were the lights. If the city was playing music it would be performing a resounding version of Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony, 1812 Overture, cannons thundering overhead. The city liked Daniel a little too much; Rodney's scanner was going nuts. "I changed my mind! Tell it to stop! Tell the city to calm down!" Rodney yelled.

Daniel closed his eyes, concentrating, his brow furrowed.

It took a few minutes, but the lights finally toned down, and Daniel's luminosity decreased with it. He was still glowing, but you had to really look to notice it. Rodney checked his scanner; power usage was back to normal. In fact...

"What was that about?" John asked.

"Was the city truly responding to your presence?" Elizabeth asked, fascinated.

Daniel winced a smile at her. "I don't know."

Rodney bounced on his toes. "Whatever you're doing now, keep doing it." He frowned crookedly at Daniel. "By the way, what did you do?"

"I told the city to do what you wanted it to," Daniel said cautiously. "Is that okay?"

Rodney's eyes opened wide. "You did?" He stared at his scanner then grinned maniacally at Daniel. "The city really, really likes you. It's working at a 10% higher efficiency." He glowered at John. "Why didn't you ever tell the city to do that?"

John frowned back. "Because I think telling anyone or anything to do what you want is intrinsically a bad idea."

Rodney sneered at him. But after looking at his scanner, he bounced again and was back to grinning. "This is excellent," Rodney said to Daniel. Then he smirked at John. "Sorry, Colonel, I guess you're no longer the teacher's pet." A bothersome thought crossed his mind and he scowled at John, pointing at Daniel. "I know you have a thing for ascended beings, but try to keep your hands to yourself."

"Actually," Daniel began after a startled look at John and Rodney. "I'm not sure I did ascend a second time, but I did sort of die and come back to life again." He sent a sour look to the universe at large. "Naked, again." He sighed. "Anyway, Hermiod told me that when my body was, well, when it rematerialized, or whatever it did, there were some genetic changes."

"If you're willing," Elizabeth said, looking a little dazed, "I'm sure Carson would love to take a look at you."

"Sure," Daniel said agreeably enough.

Rodney was still playing with his scanner, looking like a kid on Christmas morning. Quickly glancing at Daniel, he said, "Want to go get something to eat?"

Daniel nodded. "I could eat."

Rodney stared at the scanner again and bounced on his toes one more time. "Well, come on, come on." He headed off, not even bothering to check if Daniel was behind him. "Then you need to come to my lab," he told the space he was assuming Daniel would be. "I have some experiments I want to try."

With a quick 'save-me' smile toward John and Elizabeth, Daniel said to them, "I'll talk to you later." With that he bounded off after Rodney.

***

John stared as the two them walked off together, feeling very, very annoyed about everything. He was the one who usually ate with McKay, and he was the one McKay dragged down to his lab to play with Ancient stuff. And let's not even talk about being supplanted as Atlantis' fair- haired boy, and Rodney's accusation about his questionable 'thing' for ascended beings. And for damn sure he didn't get laid last night. "Oh, boy," he muttered under his breath.

"No kidding," Elizabeth added.

***

"What?" Jack yelled. "He's what?" He'd been in Washington for a whole freaking month. As soon as he'd gotten back, he'd gone looking for Daniel only to be told by Walter that he was probably in Atlantis by now.

"You approved his transfer," Walter said.

"And you didn't think I needed to know that?" Jack yelled some more.

"You signed the papers, sir," Walter said reasonably.

"What's your point?" Jack said as he stomped around the office. "I need to know these things. Damn it." He glared at Walter. "Get him back."

"I can't, sir," Walter informed him. "He's in Atlantis. The Daedalus won't be leaving there for a month, and it will take another two weeks after that before it's within communication range, at which point it would take them another two weeks to return to Atlantis and another month to return here."

Jack's eyes narrowed. "Walter, you're fired."

"Yes, sir," Walter said. "Your next meeting's in one hour."

Jack sighed and sat down, waving at Walter to get the hell out. Shit. He hated meetings. He hated being a General. He hated his job. The only good thing about it was Daniel, and now that rat bastard had tricked him into letting him go to Atlantis. "Shit." His anger ran out of steam, and he slumped in his chair, feeling old and lonely and wondering what the hell he'd done to make Daniel run so far away.

***

John stalked down the hallways. Fucking Rodney McKay. The man had to be the most exasperating person on the face of the planet. Galaxy. Universe.

He toyed with the idea of going to the gym and beating the crap out of a punching bag, or maybe a willing Marine or two, but then decided he'd rather give McKay shit, so he headed toward the cafeteria.

Rodney and Daniel were still together when he arrived, blabbing away, thick as thieves. He got in line, made his choices through monosyllabic grunts, and then stalked to the table where they were sitting. Slamming his tray down next to Daniel, he sat down.

Their conversation came to a screeching halt, much to John's pleasure. Without saying a word, he started to eat.

Rodney frowned at him. "What's got you in such a snit?"

The unfairness of the question made John seriously consider throwing the remains of his almost-meatloaf at Rodney. Only the fact that it was one of the few entrees he actually liked kept him from it. "What's got me in such a snit?" he asked in return, in that quiet voice that made most people back up.

"Something wrong with your hearing now?" Rodney asked around a mouthful of food.

Most people meant everyone but Rodney, something John just didn't get. Rodney totally fit in the category of people who should be wary of a man with a large gun, but for whatever reason, Rodney had never been afraid of John. Ever.

"Have I gotten laid? Not Atlantis' fair-haired boy? I tend to be attracted to ascended people? Any of that ring a bell?" John snapped out. He didn't mention that he and Rodney generally had lunch together if they weren't working to avoid imminent death. Despite the seemingly unending crises they experienced, they'd still managed to fit in a lot of lunches. And dinners. And evenings. John was taken aback at the realization that he spent a shitload of time with Rodney.

"And?" Rodney asked, unperturbed. "What's your point?"

John counted to ten.

Fortunately, Daniel interrupted the conversation before it could spiral into the depths of hell. "Are you really attracted to ascended people?" he asked John.

Rodney held up two fingers. Only a gargantuan mouthful of food kept him from speaking, for which John could only be grateful. He wasn't in the mood to have crumbs spewed all over him. John glared, silently warning him to keep his damn mouth shut. Again, unaffected, Rodney finally swallowed his food. "Glowy sex," Rodney announced.

Daniel's eyebrows shot up. "Glowy sex?"

"Once," John spit out. "I had glowy sex once," he said, shooting daggers at Rodney. "And that was none of your damn business," he bit out to his now very ex-best friend.

"Then you shouldn't have bragged about it, Colonel," Rodney said primly.

Okay, John mentally conceded. He had bragged about it, but it had only been to piss Rodney off.

"I was ascended for almost a year, and I never got the chance to have glowy sex," Daniel said with a hint of pout.

"You didn't run across John Kirk here," Rodney said acidly.

Daniel blinked at Rodney. "You held up two fingers," he pointed out.

John sat back with a disgusted sigh and pushed his tray away, his appetite lost. Figures it would happen on almost-meatloaf night. "She wasn't ascended," he explained through narrowed eyes, still glaring at Rodney. "And you left me there for six months. Six."

"I explained about the time dilation," Rodney said, chin up, looking affronted. "I worked as fast as I could. If I'd listened to Elizabeth, you'd have been in your grave by the time we showed up. And she wasn't ascended yet," he clarified spitefully with emphasis. "She was trying to become ascended, and after you had your way with her, poof, gone in a ray of light." His hands expressed the poof by fisting and then exploding open. If those fingers had come any closer to John's face he would have bitten one off.

"Really?" Daniel asked, fascinated. "She ascended after..." he delicately left off the second half of the sentence.

"Not right after," John said witheringly. "Her whole village was trying to ascend."

"Wow," Daniel said.

John decided it was time to get back at Rodney. Slouching back in his chair, John spread his legs a little, assuming the pose that always seemed to generate the most amount of attention at a party. He shot Daniel his best come-hither lopsided smile, and drawled, "I understand you've ascended twice." He raised one eyebrow.

Daniel blinked at him.

Rodney's jaw dropped open. "Hey!" he protested.

Stuttering, Daniel said, "Well, once for sure, maybe, um, twice."

John leaned forward. "I'd love to hear about it." It was true he never saw it coming when women walked into wherever he was and took their clothes off, but he'd always known how to go after what he wanted--at least until Rodney. Rodney was impervious to flirting unless you smacked him with a brick right between his eyes. John knew that for a fact, because he'd been giving it his best shot and gotten nowhere. He was stockpiling bricks in his quarters and was going to enjoy throwing them at the man. And while he didn't want Daniel, he so wanted to see that pole-axed expression on Rodney's face.

Daniel's eyebrows danced on his forehead as he first gave John a long stare from head to toe, and then looked between John and Rodney. "Um," was all he managed to say.

"Stop that," Rodney demanded.

"Stop what?" John asked, all innocence.

"The Kirk thing!" Rodney practically yelled.

"You're the one who said I had a thing for the ascended," John said. "Are you saying you were wrong?" Ha, thought John.

Almost incoherent with indignation, Rodney babbled out nonsense for a few moments before finally hissing, "Keep your hands to yourself."

"Why? Why do you care what I do with my hands?"

"Because you're m--" Rodney cut off mid-word. "Never mind. Forget it. Have fun," he added bitterly. He got up fast enough to topple over his chair. Without bothering to right it, he picked up his tray, tossed it in the dirty line, and stormed out of the room.

John debated the wisdom in going after him, finally decided he liked living too much.

"You two remind me of me and Jack," Daniel observed. "We can get under each other's skin better than anyone. We spend half our time hanging out together, and half our time furious with each other."

"Yeah," John said. "That about sums it up."

Daniel cocked his head to the side. "You don't really have a thing for ascended people, do you?"

John shook his head.

"But you did have glowy sex?"

Smirking, John nodded.

"I never get to do the fun stuff," Daniel said with a sigh.

John suddenly felt ashamed of himself for acting like this to Daniel. "Sorry," he said. "I wasn't really coming on to you, I just wanted Rodney- -" He cut off, frustrated.

"To make him jealous?" Daniel guessed.

"Maybe," John admitted. It was hard to lie to those sincere blue eyes.

"Think it worked?"

John shrugged, defeated. "I have no idea."

"How was it?" Daniel asked.

"How was what?" John said, confused.

"Glowy sex?"

John shrugged again. "Okay. Not as good as the real thing."

Daniel pursed his lips and studied John for a moment. "You could tell him how you feel, you know. You being in the military is the biggest obstacle. If you're willing, then you're only dealing with two people who either are or aren't attracted to each other." He paused. "I'm guessing are."

"You don't know Rodney if you think the only obstacle is me being in the military," John admitted with a rueful grin. "You haven't seen what Rodney can do when he's really pissed."

"I do know him," Daniel assured him. "It took a team of plumbers a week to figure out how to get the hot water turned back on at Stargate Command after Rodney was sent to Siberia."

John couldn't help but grin. "A week?"

"I've never seen General Hammond so angry," Daniel admitted. "Of course, when they found the problem, there was no way to prove Rodney had done it," he added with his own grin.

Snickering, John said, "That's Rodney." There was something so weirdly appealing about Rodney being so prickly and obnoxious, although John had no idea why. Maybe it was because he was the best entertainment to be had in a scary-ass world.

Daniel was studying him again.

"What?" John asked.

"Tell him," Daniel said in deadly seriousness. "Tell him how you feel. Don't wait until it's too late. Time goes by so fast, relentlessly fast. As you continue to fight your enemies here in the Pegasus Galaxy, at least you could be together."

This time it was John's turn to study Daniel. "Is it too late for you?"

"I don't know," Daniel said with a small sad smile. "Maybe it's always been too late. I've never been good at this sort of stuff."

"Yeah, me either," John confessed. "In fact, I usually can't talk about this shit at all. It's like pulling teeth."

That got a real smile from Daniel. "I don't know about that. You looked pretty good at it when you were putting on a show for me." He looked up at John through his eyelashes, his eyes huge and blue, and John thought maybe Daniel was better at this than he thought.

John smacked his hand over his face. "Pretend I didn't do that."

"It's forgotten. At least by me," Daniel added with a sly grin. "Something tells me Rodney's going to have a long, long memory."

Groaning, John shook his head. He needed to come up with the perfect peace offering if he ever wanted Rodney to talk to him again, let alone to keep him from cutting off his hot water, stopping up his toilet, or whatever other Machiavellian tortures the man could come up with.

His head set clicked. "Colonel Sheppard?" Zelenka's voice said.

"Go ahead," John responded.

"Can you come to jumper bay, please? It is necessary for you to activate a puddle jumper to check repairs."

"Be right there. Sheppard out." He looked at Daniel. "Duty calls."

"I understand," Daniel said graciously.

John stood, then with a rueful grin, apologized again. "Sorry, again. That was pretty high school of me."

Daniel's eyebrows rose. "No apologies necessary." He gave John a quick once-over. "I enjoyed the show."

With a short laugh, John decided he liked Daniel Jackson.

***

All the rumors about Daniel Jackson had made Ronon curious, so he waited for John to leave, and then got up to sit across from him. He gave Daniel a moment to notice him.

"Hey," Daniel said, his eyes friendly.

"I'm Ronon."

"I'm Daniel."

"You're new here," Ronon said unnecessarily.

"I am," Daniel agreed. "Are you new here, as well?"

"I've been here for about a year," Ronon informed him.

Daniel took a long moment to look at him. Ronon didn't think anyone had ever looked at him so intently before. "Not from Earth?" Daniel finally asked.

"Sateda," Ronon said. "My planet was attacked and most everyone died."

A genuine pain on his behalf crossed Daniel's face. "I'm sorry."

Ronon shrugged. "My home is here now." His chin pointed toward the direction John had left in. "With John Sheppard."

Daniel's eyebrows rose. "You and John--?"

It took Ronon a few seconds to figure out what Daniel was hinting at. "No. Me and Sheppard aren't sharing blankets."

"Sharing blankets," Daniel said with a soft grin. "I like that expression."

"I'd be willing," Ronon continued, grabbing Daniel's dessert and digging in. He'd given the man plenty of time to start eating it, but he hadn't made a move.

"With Sheppard?" Daniel hazarded a guess, making no move to steal his dessert back.

Ronon nodded. "But, he and McKay--" He stopped suddenly and leaned in, looking dangerous. "You're not military, are you?"

Daniel shook his head. "No, I'm not. And I think it's a stupid rule."

Ronon was glad Daniel had known what he was talking about. "Very stupid rule," he agreed.

This time Daniel leaned in to say softly, "So, do you think Rodney and John are sharing blankets?"

Ronon rolled his eyes. "No, but only because they can't get their heads out of their asses." He used his finger to scrape up the remaining dessert. "Idiots."

Snickering, Daniel drank a sip of coffee. "Are you in love with John Sheppard?"

"Nah," Ronon said easily. "But he's hot."

Daniel's mouth made a silent "oh," and he took another sip. It made Ronon think of all the things Daniel could be doing with that mouth.

"There's a betting pool on the two of them if you want in on it," Ronon offered.

"On John and Rodney?" Daniel asked, amused.

"Yeah. You want in on it?"

"No, thanks," Daniel said. "Though I appreciate you asking me."

Ronon grunted, nodded, and wished he had another dessert. It was good today. He thought about getting up and getting one, but he wasn't done with this conversation. "There are rumors that say you've been dead," he finally threw out.

"Really? There are rumors about me out here?" Daniel looked astonished.

"Have you?" Ronon asked, wanting to know the answer.

"Um, yes, actually. I have been dead. Three, maybe four times. Almost dead a few times, too."

"Dead dead?"

Daniel nodded. "Completely dead."

"How come you're not still dead, then?" Ronon asked, deciding that if anyone else had told him that, he wouldn't believe it. But, Daniel Jackson, Ronon somehow knew, wasn't a liar.

"Are you familiar with a sarcophagus?"

Ronon shook his head.

Frowning, Daniel thought for a moment. "It's a large box, a mechanism, that can heal almost anything, even death, if it's used quickly enough. The first time I died, someone put me in one, and it healed me. The second time I died, the Nox, another alien species with extraordinary powers, brought me back to life."

"Lucky," Ronon observed.

"Yeah, you could say that," Daniel said ruefully.

"What happened the third time?"

"Radiation poisoning."

"And the fourth?"

Grimacing, Daniel touched his chest. "Someone stabbed me."

"A killing wound?"

Daniel nodded. "Yes. But, then I was alive again, and I'm not sure if I died, or ascended, or what. I think maybe I ascended because Hermiod says my genetic structure is different, and that's what set off Atlantis when I arrived. I know it didn't happen the first time I ascended and descended, because the Ancient stuff that worked for Jack didn't work for me."

"You really ascended?" Ronon asked. He'd never even heard of an ascended being before he'd come to Atlantis. He, personally, didn't see the appeal. "Why?"

"As I said, I was dying of radiation poisoning," Daniel explained. "My skin was falling off and my organs were liquefying. One of the ascended I'd met earlier came to me and offered me the chance." Daniel shrugged. "So, I took it. Seemed to beat the alternative, and I was curious. I thought I could help."

"Could you?"

"Not as much as I wanted to."

"Is that why you came back?" Ronon asked, intrigued. While well familiar with death, Ronon had never met anyone who'd dealt with death so personally so many times.

"In a manner of speaking," Daniel said. "I broke some rules. Helped when I shouldn't."

"Good for you," Ronon said briskly, liking this Daniel Jackson.

That got a small smile.

"Do you miss it?" Ronon asked. "Being ascended?"

"No," Daniel said after a long moment's thought. "No, I don't. Living's better, I think. Harder in some ways, but better."

Ronon grunted again. "You want something else to eat?"

Daniel shook his head. "I'd love some more coffee, though," he countered.

"Just like McKay," Ronon said with a grin. He stood and moved to the food line, returning in a minute with another two desserts and a fresh cup of coffee.

"Is one of those for me?" Daniel asked politely.

"No," Ronon said. "You want me to get you one?"

Eyes amused, Daniel shook his head. "I'm good." He exchanged his old cup for the new one, and took a cautious sip.

"You're hot, too," Ronon observed casually, pulling the first of his two desserts closer and going after it with a spoon.

Daniel coughed on his sip of coffee. Putting the cup down, he coughed again, patting his chest. "Excuse me?"

"You're hot, too," Ronon said again.

Daniel just stared at him. Then, "Thanks?"

His uncertainty made Ronon smile. "You interested in sharing blankets?"

Daniel blinked. "Uh. With anyone or with you?"

"With me," Ronon said, finishing up his first dessert.

"Huh," Daniel said, his eyes wide. "No, but thanks. Really. I'm flattered."

"You sure?"

"Pretty sure," Daniel said.

"You got someone else?"

"Not really."

"Like Sheppard and McKay not really?" Ronon asked, disappointed that Daniel had said no, but okay with it. There were plenty of other willing people on Atlantis.

"No, not even that much," Daniel said regretfully.

"You want me to shoot him for you?" Ronon offered.

Daniel let out a surprised laugh. "I'll let you know," he said with a grin.

"Okay," Ronon said, standing. "Gotta go. See you around, Daniel Jackson."

"Yeah, you, too, Ronon. Thanks, for, um, saying hello."

With a nod, Ronon dropped his dishes off, then headed off to the gym. A part of him was wondering what was for dinner. The rest of him was wondering how in hell's name anyone could say no to someone that hot.

***

Daniel stared as Ronon passed through the door. Two propositions in one day. Maybe he should have found a way to come here a long time ago. Granted, John hadn't really been propositioning him, but it had felt real at the time. And Ronon's had been genuine enough.

Ronon was a handsome guy. Perhaps not the most scintillating of conversationalists, but he got his point across, and probably better than Daniel did with all his languages and education.

A small part of Daniel was tempted. It had been a long time, a really, really long time. But, Daniel had rarely been the sort of man who could have sex--no, share blankets--Daniel liked that phrase a lot, with someone he didn't truly care about. Every time he'd tried, it hadn't felt right. And seeing as the only person Daniel felt that way about was currently in another galaxy and had never given Daniel clue one that his advances would be welcome, Daniel didn't see himself getting lucky any time soon.

Besides, it wouldn't be long now before Jack found out that Daniel was gone, and he was no doubt going to be on Jack's shit list for a long time to come. Daniel wondered if Jack would even care after he got over his snit. Sometimes their friendship felt as strong as ever, and then, sometimes, Daniel wasn't even sure Jack liked him. Of course, that sort of defined what their relationship had been like for years, so it was nothing new. But, it had finally gotten to be too much for Daniel to deal with. If he couldn't have Jack, it was easier to be away from him. So here he was, in Atlantis.

Missing Jack.

Daniel sighed, took a last sip of coffee, then decided to go find Elizabeth. He needed some living quarters and then it was time to do some of the work that had pulled him here.

***

Jack had a respectable few feet of paper clips linked to each other. He was thinking of looking up the Guinness Book of World Records to see what it would take to beat the current record. He was a general, after all, so he could order as many goddamned paper clips as he wanted.

"General?"

Looking up, Jack saw Carter standing in his doorway. "What?" he groused, not really in the mood for technobabble.

"I thought you might want to get some lunch, sir," she said, trying her best not to notice the mound of paper clips, but Jack could see that her eyes kept dropping to his desk. "I thought you might need a break," she added, starting to smile, "from all your hard work."

"Ha ha," Jack said sarcastically. "Carter," he asked, leaning back and putting his feet up on his desk. "Am I that much of a bastard?"

"Sir?" she asked, looking surprised at the question.

"Sit," he said, pointing at the chair across from him. "Just answer the question."

"I need a little more than that to go on," Carter answered carefully, sitting down as directed.

"Why'd Daniel leave?"

Carter bit the inside of her cheek. "I'm not sure."

"But you knew he was leaving?"

She nodded.

"And you didn't think you should tell me?" Jack asked her, annoyed at her, at Daniel, at fucking everyone.

Her mouth dropped open. "You didn't know?" Then, "You signed the orders."

"He pulled a Radar O'Reilly on me," Jack pouted. "The bastard." He dropped his feet off the desk and leaned forward. "What I want to know is why?"

"He's wanted to go to Atlantis ever since we found it," she tried.

"And I told him he couldn't go," Jack protested, which, as far as he was concerned, should have been the end of it.

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why did you tell him he couldn't go?" she asked, perplexed.

"It was a one-way trip, Carter," Jack said, exasperated. "Of course I wasn't going to let him go. I wouldn't have let any of you guys go. I need you here."

"It hasn't been a one-way trip for a long time now, sir. You could have let him go. It's not like we wouldn't have seen him again, or been able to contact him if we needed to."

Jack scowled. "I want him here."

'Why?" she asked him again. "Why do you want him here?"

"Why do you think?" Jack snapped.

"I don't know, Jack," she said, using his name, letting him know this conversation was now off the record. She'd earned that right. He and Carter, hell, all of SG-1 had been through too much together to be anything but friends now, despite the difference in ranks. He focused back on her words as she said, "You and Daniel are like two peas in a pod one day, and like oil and water the next. If you weren't military, I'd-- " She suddenly stopped.

"You'd what?"

Carter tightened her lips, opened her mouth to speak then shut it again with a frown. Then, looking determined, she said, "It's a subject I'm not supposed to ask about, and you're not supposed to tell."

Jack's eyes widened. "Me and Daniel?" he asked faintly.

She shrugged. "It's crossed my mind. It's crossed a lot of people's minds. Surely, you've heard the rumors."

Jack had heard the rumors, but he'd also heard about him and Carter, him and Teal'c, even him and Hammond, for God's sakes. He ignored them, and sooner or later they all went away. He pushed his chair close enough to the desk to get his elbows planted and arms crossed in front of him. "You think that's why he left? Because he thought I--that I wanted him that way?"

"No," she said shortly.

He thought about it. Something was being said here, but he wasn't quite sure what. Jack thought about it some more. Then his eyes opened wider than before, floored at the possibility. "You think he felt that way about me?"

Carter only shrugged, which Jack took for probable confirmation.

"Did he tell you that?" Jack asked, dumbfounded, wondering how he could have been so blind not to see this, and astonished at how weirdly appealing the idea was.

"Not in so many words," Carter said, looking like she was sorry she'd brought the whole thing up, "but I've known Daniel for a long time. General ...Jack," she amended sincerely, "I don't want this to end up hurting Daniel, in any way."

"What did he do that made you think that?" Jack asked, captivated at the thought of Daniel crushing on him.

Carter rolled her eyes. "I can pass him a note when I see him next, if you want."

Okay. Jack guessed he deserved that. The question was sort of ninth grade. But, still, "Can you tell me anything?"

"No," Carter said firmly. "I can't. I don't want to abuse Daniel's trust more than I already have. I just, you just asked, and you sounded like you really needed to know." She stopped talking, looking stubborn.

"I'm old, Carter," Jack confessed, weary.

"You're not old," she protested.

"Yeah, I am. I'm old, and creaky, and I'm tired of going home to an empty house."

"That doesn't get easier, does it, sir?" she admitted.

"Why didn't you marry Pete, Sam? And don't tell me it was because you were in love with me, because that's horse shit."

She smiled tightly at him. "Because I'd rather face down a Goa'uld than face a commitment?"

"I've never met anyone more committed than you," Jack said.

"To my work. To a cause," Carter said definitely, like she'd given this a lot of thought. "Same as you, same as most of us here. We're consumed by what we do. It's important, and none of us want to dilute that with anything as undependable as love," she ended a little bitterly.

"But sooner or later the work's done, and then what do you have?" Jack asked her.

"An empty house to go home to at the end of the day," she said resignedly.

"Yeah," he said, rubbing at his chin with one hand. "An empty house." He eyed Carter a little nervously. "Did I ever really give you the impression that it'd be you and me in that house some day?"

She shook her head. "No, sir, you didn't. It was fun to think about every now and then, but no. I think we both knew we'd drive each other crazy and end up again in our own empty houses sooner or later. Probably sooner."

Relieved, Jack grinned. Yeah, it had been fun to think about every now and then, but it had never been anything more than that to him.

"Do you want Daniel in that house of yours?" she suddenly asked.

Applauding Carter for her temerity at asking, Jack gave the question its due. "Yeah," he said slowly. "I mean, not that way, the don't ask don't tell way, but yeah, I guess I always sort of saw him there. I don't know why. He hates to fish."

Carter laughed. "He does, doesn't he? He wouldn't even put bait on his hook."

Talking about him reminded Jack that Daniel was a galaxy away. He wouldn't even be coming over to Jack's for beer and pizza, let alone retiring with him. "I want to talk to him."

Carter looked at him.

"I mean it. Figure out how. I don't want to wait until the Daedalus comes back, or until Daniel gets tired of Atlantis. Weren't you babbling something about some work of McKay's, some kind of wormhole telephone thingy?"

She nodded, her eyes lit with excitement. "It's genius, actually, even though I have no intention of telling McKay that. I think it'll work."

"When?" Jack wanted it to be working tonight.

"Months if not longer," she said. "I need Rodney's input, and all our proofs will end up going back and forth on the Daedalus. He should have just gotten my latest work."

"Will it happen faster if you can talk to him?" Jack asked.

"Of course."

"Open a wormhole. Talk to him. Get it working."

"It'll take us dozens of conversations to work everything out, and I don't think we have the power for that." She hesitated, then, said, "Why don't you just open a wormhole and talk to Daniel?"

He slapped the table. "See, Carter? That's why I pay you the big bucks."

Grinning at him, she shook her head in a you're-hopeless sort of way. "Do you want me to arrange for some time tonight?"

Jack shook his head. "Nah. I gotta figure out what I have to say to get him to come back."

"He might not want to come back, sir," she cautioned him.

He scowled at her. "Then you better help me come up with some arguments to convince him."

Sighing, she stood. "Can we go get lunch first?"

Deciding he was hungry, Jack stood, too. "Good idea."

***

"Rodney," John said to his back as he worked at one of the laboratory consoles.

"Busy," Rodney said in that annoying sort of sing-songing way he had. "Too busy to talk."

"Rodney," John said again, just as determined to get the man's attention.

"Really, really busy." Rodney didn't even turn around, just sort of waved go-away fingers over his shoulders.

Resisting the urge to throttle the man, John finally snapped out, "We have a mission in ten minutes, assuming you can find time in your really, really busy schedule to gear up and get to the gate room."

"Oh." Rodney turned around. "I forgot." He winced a lopsided smile at John. "I'll go gear up."

Now that he had Rodney's attention, John thought maybe he could sneak in an apology. "Rodney," he began.

"Busy," Rodney said. "Can't talk now." He walked out of the lab, leaving John standing there realizing he was in even deeper shit with Rodney than he thought. He'd have to come up with something really cool to placate the man. As he headed to the gateroom, John decided when he got back he'd go explore the city and see if he could find some Ancient doo-dad that would make Rodney's day.

***

They were visiting one of the last planets on the list old Elizabeth had provided them to help them find a ZPM. Without waiting for John, Rodney had paired himself with Teyla, and the two of them had gone off to scour the ruins for the source of the energy signal Rodney had picked up. John thought about making a stink, but decided against it. It's not like Teyla couldn't handle anything that came up at least as well as John, and probably better in some cases.

But, still, John was planning on having a talk with Rodney about who was in charge on these missions, even if it meant he had to tie Rodney up to listen to him. One of John's eyebrows went up at that thought, his brain, and other parts of him, enthralled by the possibilities.

"Sheppard," Ronon called to him, his gun pointed in a purposeful way at the ground.

Chastising himself for letting his thoughts wander on a mission, John went over to see what Ronon was looking at. "What is it?"

"Blood," Ronon said in his usual succinct way.

John tapped his headset. "Teyla, you there?"

"I am here, Colonel Sheppard," Teyla said in response. "Is there something wrong?"

"I don't know," John said. "We found some traces of blood. We're gonna follow the trail and see where it leads. Stay frosty."

"Excuse me?" she said.

John could almost see her brow furrow. "It just means keep a close lookout. And keep an eye out for McKay."

"I see. In that case, I shall," there was a pause, "stay frosty."

Grinning, John clicked his headset off. "Let's go," he said to Ronon.

The trail went on for some time, sometimes easy to follow, sometimes more difficult. Twice, Ronon had to hunt for it when they lost it. He crouched down, his fingers touching a mark on the earth. "I found an animal track. It's big."

Now that he'd said it, John could see the print, too. It was scuffed, which made it difficult to recognize what kind of animal, but it obviously had large claws, and made John look around nervously. Large clawed animals and blood weren't a soothing combination.

Ronon stood and resumed tracking, John watching their six. They found the first dead carcass five minutes later. "Jesus," John said with a grimace. "It looks like a kitten. Or it looked like one anyway." It had been slashed open half a dozen times. He pointed ahead. "There's more blood."

They left the dead kitten behind and continued following the trail. They found a second and a third one about half a click away from the first; they weren't in any better shape than the first. Holding his P-90 firmly, John did a 360 turn, checking for danger. John was predisposed to hate anything that ripped kittens apart.

"There's more blood, Sheppard," Ronon called out.

Great. He decided to check in with Teyla again. "Teyla?"

"We are fine, Colonel," she assured him, as if knowing that was what he wanted to hear. "Have you found the source of the blood?"

"Yes and no," John answered. "We keep finding dead animals, but the trail of blood hasn't ended yet. What's McKay doing?"

"He is working on his laptop," Teyla said. "He has found the source of the energy reading and is investigating it."

"Good. Keep him inside," John counseled. Rodney was larger and a lot tougher than a kitten, but John wasn't taking chances. When Rodney freaked he was just as likely to run toward danger as away from it.

"Sheppard," Ronon hissed, peering around a large boulder.

"Gotta go," John said, tapping off his headset. He moved quietly to join Ronon, taking his own peek. His jaw dropped. "Holy shit, is that a pterodactyl?" It was huge. And, John saw, much to his dismay, that it had one dead kitten smushed under one of its feet, accounting for the blood trail they'd been following, and was doing its best to dismantle another kitten. It ripped into the kitten one more time and brought out a hunk of bleeding flesh. Its heart, maybe, or some kind of organ. It lifted its beak up and swallowed down its prize. John wondered why it wasn't just swallowing the damn thing whole, but decided maybe it didn't like all that fur.

"What's a pterodactyl?" Ronon asked. "You mean that big lizard thing with wings?"

John took another look and decided it did sort of look like a big lizard thing with wings, but that's sort of what pterodactyls looked like, too. It sat back on its haunches and, lifting its beak again, let out an ululating cry that sent shivers up and down John's back.

That was when John heard a plaintive mew. For a horrified moment he thought the dismembered kitten was still alive, but then he realized the mew was coming from slightly farther away.

Unfortunately, the creature heard the sound as well, and its body went on alert, head cocked as if listening. Right then and there, John determined that there was no fucking way that thing was tearing another kitten apart right in front of him.

"You go after the kitten," John told Ronon. "I'll distract the pterodactyl." Hoping Ronon would just obey orders and not give John any shit about it, John stepped out from around the rock. "Hey!" he yelled, waving his arms.

The creature spun around, its beady little eyes now ferociously focused on John. It was really, really big.

The kitten chose that moment to mew again.

The pterodactyl thing's head moved sharply, honing in on the mew, then back to John. John had no doubt that he was looking like a larger source of giblets than a little kitten. Like in a Looney Tunes cartoon, John could almost see himself in the thing's eyeballs, trussed up like a turkey.

In his peripheral vision he could see Ronon searching the bushes. The creature looked like it was taking an interest in Ronon, too, so John took a step closer to it. "Over here, Rodan," he yelled.

Deciding to take John seriously, the creature lunged at him, fast. Really, really fast. John saw his life flash before his eyes, even as he pressed against the trigger mechanism of his P90. Just as he got the first spray of bullets off, he heard Ronon's gun fire, and the thing's head blew off.

John barely got out of the way before it collapsed with a ground-shaking thump. "Shit," John said, staring at it. He threw an impressed look Ronon's way. "Nice shootin', Tex."

Ronon shrugged and casually put his gun away, as if shooting dinosaurs was all in a day's business, then reached down into the grass at his feet and lifted out a white kitten with black stripes. He walked to John and unceremoniously dumped it into John's arms. "Here," he grunted.

John scrambled not to let it fall, letting his P90 hang loosely, as he held the kitten in both hands. Its body wasn't much bigger than the area of his two hands together, its four paws and tail extending past. The thing kind of mrwwped, then yawned, revealing a pink mouth, a little pink tongue, and the start of tiny sharp teeth. "Where's your mom?" John asked it. It looked too little to be on its own.

"What'd it say?" Ronon asked John, eyes mocking.

John shot him his best sneering lip curl, and suggested, "Let's look for her."

They searched the area, but only turned up one more eviscerated kitten, no sign of a mother anywhere. John held the animal up, saying, "You are one lucky kitten."

"What are you gonna do with it?" Ronon asked, keeping a wary eye on the sky, as if expecting it to rain winged lizards.

And just like that, John had a great idea. "I'm taking it back with me," he said with a grin.

"For the kitchen?" Ronon said disparagingly. "It's not even enough for a sandwich."

"Ewww," John protested. "No, not to eat. As a pet. It's for Rodney." It was the perfect peace offering. Elizabeth would have a cow, but John could work around that.

"A pet?" Ronon asked, as if he'd never heard the word before.

"Yeah, you know, a small furry animal you keep around for company."

Ronon shot John one of his how-have-you-survived-this-long looks.

Grinning, John tapped his headset. "Teyla?"

"Yes, Colonel. What have you discovered?"

"A pterodactyl type thing," John said.

"You found a dinosaur?" Rodney's voice said in excitement.

His voice brought John back to the day he'd both shot Rodney and thrown him over the railing. Rodney was such a six-year-old when he got excited.

"Don't get too excited," John warned him. "Ronon blew its head off."

There was a disgusted snort. "Of course he did."

"You find anything worth staying for?" John asked Rodney.

"No." There was another sound of disgust. "The signal I was picking up was some sort of electronic buoy, no doubt left so someone could find their way here again, although I have no idea why. There's certainly no ZPM here."

"Let's go home, then," John said. It was disappointing that there wasn't a ZPM, but at least they could go now.

"Wait," Rodney complained. "Maybe there're more dinosaurs I could see before Rambo blows them apart."

"It was really big and mean, with a long pointy beak that it was using to tear animals apart and eat their insides like giblets," John pointed out.

There was a long moment of silence, then, "Right. Meet at the Stargate, then?"

"Yeah," John said, manfully biting back a laugh. "See you in fifteen or so. And Teyla?"

"Yes, Colonel."

"Keep an eye to the sky. There might be more of them."

"Understood," came her steady reply.

John clicked off his headset, tucked the kitten in the crook of one elbow like a football, and held his weapon with his free hand. "Let's go," he said to Ronon.

The return to the Stargate was uneventful, and as he approached, John could see Rodney and Teyla waiting for them. He gave some thought as to how to hide the kitten so he could surprise Rodney with it later. He didn't think it would fit in any of his pockets, besides, he'd be expected to give a report to Elizabeth. He stole a look at Ronon's outfit, wondering if he could hide the kitten in his vest.

The look Ronon shot him disabused him of that notion, quickly.

Moments later the question became moot, as two pterodactyl things suddenly shot into view above them. "Crap!" John yelled, running toward the gate. "Dial it up!" he hollered to Rodney. He unzipped his tac vest a couple of inches and rammed the kitten inside, ignoring its mrowling complaints.

After Rodney took a look at the sky, his eyes almost bugged out of his head, and he started slamming his hand down on the DHD keys. Teyla was already firing on one of the creatures as it tried to dive bomb her and Rodney. John ran faster, trusting Ronon to take care of the second one, and then he joined Teyla in firing on the one getting dangerously close to Rodney.

He heard the one behind him hit the ground with a bang, courtesy of Ronon's gun. One of these days, John had to get himself one of those. Between him and Teyla, the second pterodactyl was bleeding profusely, and was now keeping its distance, letting out a keening cry.

The wormhole kerwooshed into being just as several more of the creatures appeared in a heavy rush of wings. "Go, go!" John yelled, waving his hand at the wormhole. As Rodney stood there, John wondered what the fuck he was waiting for. When Rodney started firing his own weapon at the creatures, John realized with a start that Rodney was waiting for him.

He hit the dais, Ronon right behind him. "Go!" he yelled again.

This time Rodney obeyed his command, jumping through, Teyla right behind him. He and Ronon hit the circle at the same time, and John could swear he felt the wind of a large beak snapping shut centimeters from his body.

As he shot out the other side, he could already hear Rodney yelling, "Close the shield! Close it!"

The second it went up, there was a huge thump against it, then another, then a third, fourth, and fifth thump. The wormhole disengaged, and the silence in the gateroom was momentarily deafening.

The silence was broken by an unhappy mew.

John had forgotten all about the kitten.

"What was that?" Elizabeth asked, one eyebrow up.

Deciding to surrender the kitten's fate to Rodney's protection, John unzipped his vest, pulled the kitten out, and said, "It's a present for Rodney. Here." He handed it over without ceremony.

Rodney took it with surprisingly gentle hands, considering the unexpectedness of the gift. "For me?" he said in surprise. "You got me a cat?" he added with incredulous delight, a lopsided smile on his face. He held the kitten in one hand, his other caressing its fur. The sight of Rodney's hands touching the kitten so gently did something funny to John's insides, sort of like how he felt when he was zipping around on a large Ferris wheel.

John couldn't help but grin back. The kitten was putty in Rodney's hands, legs dangling over his palm, its head resting on Rodney's wrist. Its purr could be heard all over the control room.

"You brought an alien animal to Atlantis?" Elizabeth asked in a disapproving tone.

"It's a kitten," John pointed out.

"It needs to be returned to its planet," she said. "It doesn't belong here."

"The rest of that kitten's family was torn apart by this big pterodactyl thing," John protested. "I saved this one."

At John's words, Rodney held the kitten close to his chest, glaring at Elizabeth through narrowed eyes.

"Until we decide what to do with it," Elizabeth said firmly, "it needs to be in quarantine."

John thought Elizabeth would have as much luck getting that cat away from Rodney as she would getting a slab of meat away from a pack of ravenous wild dogs.

"First of all," Rodney said in scathing tones, "Atlantis, remember? If this tiny defenseless kitten had any kind of contaminant dangerous to humans, the city would be containing it by closing down the control room. Do you see any doors closing? No? I didn't think so. Second," he added hotly, holding the kitten out for everyone's perusal, "Tiny. Defenseless. Kitten."

As if in full support, the kitten let out another piteous mew.

Rodney immediately brought it back close to his chest, speaking softly to it. "Did that mean old lady scare you?" he asked.

Elizabeth let out an unusual, for her, affronted noise. "Rodney," she protested.

"Don't you worry," Rodney continued in his cutesy voice, "I won't let her hurt you." He started to walk away. "I know this doctor with a very disturbing affinity for sheep," he told the kitten. "For once that might actually be a good thing, as I'm sure he'll know just what to feed you." He started walking away.

"Rodney," Elizabeth called. "Debriefing."

"Yes, yes," Rodney called back distractedly with a dismissive hand-wave over his shoulder. "Later. Saving a life now." With that, he walked through a set of doors, which then closed behind him.

Oh yeah, John thought to himself with a grin. The kitten was a stroke of genius. It was like getting a Get-Off-of-Rodney's-Shit-List-Free card. He'd be able to milk this for months.

"John," Elizabeth said in a less than pleased tone of voice.

John slowly spun in her direction. "Yes?" he asked, in his most innocent voice.

Her eyes narrowed at him. "Perhaps you might be willing to debrief me on your mission?" she asked him, dangerously polite. "In my office."

"Sure," he said genially. Getting reamed out by Elizabeth was a small price to pay for that look on Rodney's face.

***

Later that day, Elizabeth sat back in her office chair and watched Daniel Jackson at work. He occasionally spoke, but more, she thought, to think out loud versus actually communicating with her.

In two hours, he had deciphered more Ancient than she had in the well over two years that she'd been here. Granted, she'd had a few things on her mind, but still, she was gracious enough to know when she was in the presence of sheer genius.

It was easy to be gracious with Daniel. He was so unassuming about his genius, as opposed to Rodney, who liked to sledgehammer you with the fact whenever he had the opportunity. Not that he wasn't equally awesome to watch in action. The problem was that when she was watching Rodney in action, they were usually all about to die. She wasn't sitting in her office, drinking coffee, relaxed, like she was now.

Elizabeth observed Daniel scrolling down the computer page. It wasn't so much that he'd actually deciphered more than she had, it was that he'd understood it better. It gave her a glimpse into how his brain worked, how it could hold over twenty languages, why he had been SGC's best first contact representative for years.

Words on a page spoke to Daniel in a way they seldom spoke to anyone else. He saw within the spaces between the letters and words, a civilization, a way of being, a societal structure. It was a code he seemed to break effortlessly. He'd shown her how the Ancients thought, how their writing needed to be approached, and it all made so much more sense.

"You need to show Rodney what you've shown me," Elizabeth said. Rodney would be beside himself. With assistance from Daniel, Elizabeth suspected Rodney would finally be able to crack the databases that had been resistant to his efforts up to now. Perhaps there would be information regarding where to find ZPMs, perhaps even how to make them.

"Hm hmm," Daniel mumbled, eyes glued to the computer screen.

Grinning, Elizabeth asked, "How did you convince General O'Neill to let you go?" There hadn't been the slightest chance of Daniel going with the expedition back at the beginning, even though Elizabeth knew Daniel would have come if given the opportunity.

"I didn't," Daniel said absentmindedly.

"Didn't what?"

"Convince him," Daniel said. He grabbed a pad of paper and started jotting down a few notes.

"I don't understand," Elizabeth prompted.

"He doesn't know I'm here." As if suddenly realizing what he was saying, Daniel straightened up in the chair, adjusted his glasses, and glanced at the calendar on Elizabeth's desk. With a quick, wincing smile, he amended, "Well, he probably does now."

Elizabeth blinked at Daniel. "I thought you said your paperwork was in order." She couldn't imagine Steven Caldwell would have dared to take Daniel Jackson away without signed orders from O'Neill.

"Um," Daniel said, grimacing, "I did."

Elizabeth shot him a look. Working with John and Rodney over the years had provided an excellent opportunity to hone her bullshit meter. "Daniel."

Leaning back in his chair, Daniel threw the pencil onto the desk, and blew out a sigh. "He wouldn't let me go and never gave me a good reason why. He's not even around anymore. He's off to Washington for weeks at a time."

She let that all percolate for a few moments; there was a lot going on in those few short sentences. She waited for him to continue speaking.

As if realizing he wasn't getting off the hook, Daniel admitted, "I snuck the request into the middle of a bunch of requisitions. Jack hates signing those things so he usually doesn't even look at them."

"Daniel Jackson," she scolded, somehow amazed he had it in him. He came across as so mild-mannered. Like Superman, she thought to herself. He even had the glasses.

His face was set in a mulish expression. "I've been doing the same job for too long. I was losing myself." He gestured around the room, around Atlantis. "This is what I love to do. To explore, learn, meet new races, establish friendships." He leaned forward, adding vehemently, "In a civilian run expedition, not military."

"You won't get away from warfare here, Daniel," Elizabeth said seriously. "Even Rodney knows how to shoot a P90, and he's used it, often."

"I've read all the reports," Daniel said. "I know what you're up against."

She considered him for a long moment. "So what's this mean for us? Is the general going to expect me to return you? Will he order Colonel Caldwell to bring you back?"

Daniel shook his head, not in negation, but in sadness, or resignation. "I don't know. Maybe. Maybe he won't even notice I'm gone."

"This is a bit excessive as an act of rebellion," she pointed out.

"Is that what you think I'm doing?" he asked her seriously.

"I don't know. Are you rebelling?"

He did her the courtesy of giving her question some serious thought before answering. "I was ready to leave the program," he finally admitted. "If I hadn't come here, I think I might have left entirely. I didn't really like what I was becoming, or the direction the program was heading, and Jack couldn't understand that. I saw an opportunity to do something for me, knowing that Jack would be okay eventually. He'll miss me for a while, but he'll adjust."

Elizabeth could hear a taint of bitterness in Daniel's voice. "What about Colonel Carter and Teal'c?"

With a genuine grin, Daniel said, "Sam will be heading research at Area 51, and Teal'c is helping the Jaffa become a united nation." His love for his teammates came across strong and true. "Change is inevitable, Elizabeth. It was time for us all to move on. It's a bit of a miracle we stayed together as long as we did."

"I don't think anyone was willing to mess with a winning team," she said with an admiring grin. "From the reports I read, the four of you have saved Earth from certain destruction more times than I care to think about."

He stared at her for a few seconds, dropped his eyes, and said, "After all of that, is it selfish to want something for myself?"

The emotional tenor of the question startled her. "No, no it isn't," she reassured him.

"I want this," he stated. "I think I can do some good here. I want to be a part of this."

She reached for his hand and held it in hers. "Then, you're welcome here, Daniel Jackson. More than welcome. And if it's within my power, I'll keep you here. Now that I have you, I'm not any more eager than General O'Neill was to let you go."

"Thank you," he said simply.

Elizabeth hoped it was that simple. She'd taken on the general a few times already and had emerged victorious. But she hadn't been fighting with him over Daniel Jackson. Elizabeth wasn't sure O'Neill would give up so easily.

She had no idea what the relationship between the two men had truly been. Clearly, they'd been in a close working relationship for almost a decade, saving each other's lives on a regular basis. She knew what that did to bond people together. She'd seen it happen to Rodney and John, another mismatched pair if there ever was one. They were like an old married couple, much like what she had seen between O'Neill and Daniel in Antarctica.

There had been rumors about Daniel and O'Neill; there were rumors about Rodney and John. Up 'til now, she'd dismissed them as nothing more than rumors. But, the sadness in Daniel's eyes when he spoke of the general revealed a profound loss. It could have been the loss of a deep friendship, maybe a lover, or perhaps it was the loss of the possibility of more. Coming here was an irrefutable, and possibly, irrevocable message to O'Neill that Daniel was ready to move on, whatever that meant.

It made her wonder about Rodney and John, if anything else was going on between them besides a weird and unusual friendship. The idea stung a little, even as she scolded herself for not being able to let go of the romantic notion that John might want her. Not that she'd ever do anything about it, even if he did. They might work well together, but they'd be like oil and water in a relationship. Still, it was a fun fantasy to take out and admire every now and then.

In actuality, Daniel was much more her type. She'd have to wait and see what was truly going on between him and the general. She had a feeling that for all of Daniel's words and his journey across the universe, for all intents and purposes, he was a taken man.

***

Rodney was appalled that Carson insisted on drawing blood. "You sadist," he hissed, even as he held the kitten still.

"Aye, Rodney," Carson said in his dry resigned manner, "you've got me pegged. I love to torture kittens in my spare time. My true spots have finally been revealed."

The kitten didn't even seem to notice the needle, much to Rodney's vast relief. A kitten. John had gotten him a kitten. It was the best thing anyone had ever given him. Yes, he'd had cats before, but this was different. Lt. Colonel John Sheppard had given him a kitten. Him. Rodney McKay. He grinned.

Carson scooped the kitten right out of Rodney's hold.

"Hey," Rodney protested.

"Hush," Carson said. "I just need to give him, hmm," he added, lifting the kitten up and taking a look, "ah, the wee thing's a lassie," he said with a grin.

"Really?" Rodney frowned as he processed that new information. Then, he grinned. "A girl?" He liked that idea.

"What are ye going to name her?" Carson asked.

"I have no idea," Rodney said, frowning. He'd never been good at naming his cats, the process always vaguely traumatic, thinking he'd scar it for life, or be mocked by all and sundry if he gave it a stupid name. Deciding Carson had held her long enough, he carefully snatched the kitten back.

John chose that moment to stroll into sickbay. "How's the cat?"

"It's a wonder she's still alive considering the size of the needle Dr. Moreau used on her," Rodney said heatedly, glaring at Carson.

Carson rolled his eyes. "Aye, more's the pity I didn't have a reason to stick an even larger one in Rodney here."

"She?" John asked. "It's a girl kitten?" He reached out and scratched the kitten's head where it lay comfortably in Rodney's arms.

Rodney smiled proudly like he'd hatched her himself. "All 1.08 kilograms of her." Then, nervously, he asked Carson, "Speaking of weight, what should I feed her?"

"I've just the thing," Carson said with a happy grin. "I always wondered why they sent this, but now I'm glad they did." He entered a closet and rummaged around, finally bringing out a flat of Pedialyte. "You can mix this with a bit of milk, and see how she does." He then rummaged through a drawer and brought out a good sized dropper. "Use this for now. I'll see if I can hobble together some sort of bottle for her." He touched his nose. "If the solution starts bubbling out her nose, you've fed her too much. Keep track and adjust accordingly."

Rodney looked nervously at John. "Did you get all that?" Both of his previous cats had been old enough to eat on their own when he'd gotten them. This was the first time he'd have to take care of one so young.

"Me?" John asked, eyebrows up. "It's your cat."

"Yeah, but you're like its uncle," Rodney countered.

John grinned. "Uncle John?" He scratched the kitten's head again. "Hear that, little girl? I'm your Uncle John."

Carson, in the meantime, wrote some instructions out on a sheet of paper which he handed to John. "Here, Uncle John," he said with a teasing grin of his own. "Oh, and keep her warm, and you'll have to figure out some sort of litter box for her to use." He smiled at the kitten. "It'll be fine to have a cat around."

A cat. Rodney still couldn't believe it. He'd given some serious thought to trying to figure out how to bring his cat here, but had finally decided against it. It was a decision he'd regretted countless times. Knowing he was being a complete sentimental ass, and doing it in front of witnesses no less, Rodney brought the kitten up so he could kiss her on the top of her little kitten head, between her little kitten ears.

***

After keeping Rodney company through one successful kitten feeding, John took a jumper to the mainland and brought back a big bag of sand. He found a good strong box, cut it down, covered it with plastic wrap, and filled it with a small portion of sand. Then, he arrived at Rodney's quarters and knocked on the door.

When Rodney opened it, John showed him the kitty litter box with a flourish. "Ta dah!"

"You're a genius," Rodney said with a lopsided grin.

"High praise, coming from you," John drawled with a satisfied grin. He walked inside and put the kitty litter box inside the bathroom door. "You're on your own teaching her how to use it, though." He looked around. "Where is she?"

Rodney pointed to the foot of the bed where he'd built a small fortress out of pillows, with her in the middle. When John went to investigate, he saw she was sleeping on an Ancient's version of a heating pad. "Cozy," he observed.

"You think?" Rodney asked anxiously.

John found his nervousness endearing. Rodney was so seldom insecure. Actually, that wasn't quite true. Rodney was often insecure, but he hid it behind bluster and a scathing wit, so if you weren't paying attention, and weren't watching the eyes that revealed every emotion Rodney was feeling, you could miss it. "She looks happy, Rodney," John said. "She's warm, full, and sleeping. That translates into one happy kitten."

"What if she reacts to the formula?" Rodney asked. "Maybe she's allergic."

"Like father like daughter?" John asked with a lopsided grin.

"Ha ha," Rodney said nervously, without his usual bite. "Seriously."

"She's fine," John insisted. He sat down on the floor by the bed and carefully, not wanting to wake her, tore down two sides of the pillow fortress so he could see her better. Rodney sat next to him, their bodies turned so they could rest their chins on their forearms as they watched her breathe.

"I missed my cat," Rodney finally said. He shot John a sidelong glance. "Thanks. Really."

"You're welcome," John said, beyond pleased at how it had all worked out. "What are you going to name her?"

"I don't know. What do you think?"

"How about Tiger? She sort of looks like a tiger, you know, one of those white Bengal tigers, all white with black stripes."

"Oh, please," Rodney said disparagingly, "that's like naming a dog Rover. I'd like to think between the two of us we can come up with something a bit more clever."

John liked that it was between the two of them. It dawned on him that he was acting like a girl with a crush. He turned his head a little so he could watch Rodney watch the kitten. Definitely a crush. Maybe more than a crush. "How about Snowflake?" He waited for Rodney's reaction.

Rodney made a disgusted noise. "That's even worse than Tiger."

"You want to give her a real name? Like some famous woman physicist or mathematician?"

After thinking about it for a moment, Rodney shook his head. "I want her to have a name that has something to do with being here."

"We could name her M7F 332," John suggested. That was the planet they found her on.

"Very amusing, Colonel," Rodney said snidely.

"How about ATA?" John suggested. "It could stand for A Tiger Animal."

Rodney glared at John. "You're even worse at this than I am."

"What was your cat's name on Earth?"

Rodney looked slightly sheepish. "Cat," he finally confessed.

"Cat?" John asked, teasingly outraged. "And you think I'm worse than you?"

"It's not like he cared," Rodney defended himself.

John snickered, and went back to observing the kitten sleep, surreptitiously keeping an eye on Rodney.

They stayed like that for a long time. John couldn't ever remember seeing Rodney so still. It was like the kitten was some sort of meditation therapy. Rodney broke the silence, saying softly, "I had a cat when I was a kid, too."

"Yeah? I thought you had a dog."

"I got the cat after the dog ran away," Rodney said. "Stupid dog," he declared bitterly.

"What was that cat's name?"

Rodney let out a long exhale. "Cat," he reluctantly said.

"You named both your cats Cat?" John sent Rodney a warning glare. "You are not naming this kitten Cat. Tiger is a way better name than Cat."

Rodney reached out a hand and softly ran his finger down the kitten's flank. "I loved that cat. I loved both my cats. But that one I had as a kid was something special."

John would have shot anyone who interrupted them right now. Rodney never offered to share anything from his youth except as a throwaway line during some diatribe. And yes, this was coming uncomfortably close to a conversation about feelings, but he had complete faith in Rodney that he wouldn't let it come to that. "So what was so special about that cat?" John cajoled.

Rodney opened his mouth to speak but then shut it. "Never mind. It's pathetic."

"Hey, come on," John protested. "I got you this new cat, the least you can do is tell me about your old cat."

Giving John a sharp glance, Rodney said, "You're going to make me pay forever for this, aren't you?"

"Oh, yeah," John said with a wide grin.

Rodney sighed. "Okay. Typical story. Sucky childhood, parents who alternated between being completely weirded out by me, or arguing with each other so viciously they forgot Jeannie and I existed."

John made a keep going sound.

"I just never fit, you know?" Rodney said with a mirthless laugh, covering a world of hurt.

John could totally see it. "Were you as pleasant to be around then as you are now?"

"Worse," Rodney said definitively. "I was surrounded by idiots, including the teachers. Even the experts they brought in for me were ignoramuses. There wasn't anyone, as far as I could see, who was worth the air they were breathing."

"So, sort of like now," John drawled.

"There are maybe," Rodney said through narrowed eyes, "and I mean maybe, a few people I might, possibly, consider worthwhile."

John grinned.

Rodney rolled his eyes.

"Okay, so get to the cat part of the story."

"When I got to high school," Rodney continued, "I was ten."

"Ouch," John said in sympathy, imagining the shit a ten year old would have gone through.

"Yeah, ouch," Rodney agreed. "I went home at least twice a week with a black eye or bruises from being pushed around." He shot John one of his lopsided grins. "Being that smart? Not so much fun." He shrugged. "But I didn't know how to be any other way. I was smart. The world was full of interesting stuff. I just couldn't see the point of pretending I was stupid. So people kept annoying me, and I annoyed them right back."

"So, sort of like now," John said again.

"Shut up," Rodney said with a grin he was doing his best to bite back.

Snickering, John took his turn petting the kitten, smiling when it stretched, extending all its legs, even its claws, yawning. When it settled back down, it began to purr.

"Every day," Rodney started up again, "when I got home, and Jeannie patched up whatever injury I'd come home with that day with the supplies from her Doctor Barbie play set, I'd go up to my room." Rodney reached out to pet the kitten, too, his hand colliding with John's. It took them a few seconds to divide the kitten in half, with John scratching her head, and Rodney playing with the pads of her feet. Every now and then their hands would brush together.

John tried to make it happen as often as possible. "Where's the cat come into it?" he asked.

Rodney sent him a disgruntled sidelong glance. "Are you going to let me tell this story or not?"

"If you ever finish it," John prompted with mock impatience. "I'm an important man here in Atlantis. I've got things to do."

With an affronted scoff, Rodney let off touching the kitten to jab with his thumb over his shoulder. "Well, Mr. Important Man, don't let me keep you."

"Nah," John said, making a point of settling in more comfortably on the floor. "Elizabeth's already pissed at me, might as well take advantage of it before I need to get back in her good graces."

"Because of the cat?"

John nodded. Snickering again, he mimicked Rodney, "Tiny. Defenseless. Kitten. You should have seen her face." John let out a real laugh. The look on Elizabeth's face when Rodney had asked the kitten if the mean old lady had been scaring her was something John wished he had on video.

That got one of Rodney's very rare delighted grins. John loved those grins. He loved a lot of things about Rodney. He let that thought lie. "Okay, back to your cat story."

"Am I supposed to feel grateful that you're granting me the boon of your presence?" Rodney asked sarcastically.

"Ye-a-a-ah," John said slowly, making the word several syllables long.

Rodney rolled his eyes. But the next look he shot John was full of affection, another rare expression.

"So, you'd get home from work--" John prompted.

"School," Rodney interrupted.

"Right, school. Jeannie would patch you up with toy Band-Aids," John reiterated, both charmed and saddened by the image.

"And I'd hide in my room until dinnertime."

"Your family ate together?" John asked.

"The cook cooked. Jeannie and I ate in the kitchen with her."

"Did you like her?"

Rodney shrugged. "She fed me."

"Where is she now?" John asked.

"Dead," Rodney said. "She died about ten years ago." He let out a surprised hmph sound. "I haven't thought about her in years." Rodney got this faraway look in his eyes, and John wondered where he'd gone. He let him stay there for a minute, but finally poked him in the side. "Hey," Rodney protested.

"You're supposed to be telling me a story, not taking a trip down memory lane all by yourself," John stated.

This time, the smile Rodney shot John was sad and tight. "She was...she was sort of mean." He shrugged. "But, like I said, she fed me."

John could hear volumes in that sentence, and sort of wished the woman was still alive, so he could pay her a visit with something sharp and pointy. "So, cat."

"It was weird. My mom actually gave me that cat. I almost liked her that day," he said with a short laugh. "I don't know what possessed her. I came home one day from school, with a sprained ankle I got when some brainless Neanderthal tripped me, and without even looking at me, she pointed a finger toward a nylon bag by the door, saying, "I'm expecting company. Do something with that."

John's eyebrows went up. "Nice."

Rodney let his fingers run down the length of the kitten's tail. "Pretty typical," he said with a shrug. "The cat stayed in my room for the next two years until I went to college. Cook hated it, and I was afraid it would end up in some casserole, a la Glenn Close, so it lived in my room, being fed on--"

"Two years?" John asked, interrupting. "You were twelve when you went to college?" Twelve? A twelve-year-old in college? A lot about Rodney was suddenly making much more sense.

"Thirteen, actually," Rodney said. "Do you believe they made me stay in high school for three years?" His face made it clear what he'd thought about that.

"Thirteen?" John asked, no less incredulous. No wonder Rodney had the social graces of a bull in a china shop.

"You do get that I'm a genius, right?" Rodney asked, a pitying look on his face.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," John said, as if it wasn't a big deal. "Whatever." Thirteen? So, no friends probably. And probably no fun. "Cat?"

"What is it with you and this cat story?" Rodney asked with a puzzled frown.

"I just want you to finish it," John protested. "You suck as a storyteller."

"Fuck you very much," Rodney said snidely.

The kitten chose that moment to wake up with an inquisitive trill. Beating Rodney to the punch, John scooped her up, heating pad and all, and blew a raspberry on her soft belly. Then, spitting out hair, he pretended to be annoyed when Rodney laughed at him.

When she mewed again, Rodney's laugh stopped and he grew anxious. "Do you think she needs to be fed again?"

John shrugged. "Try it. If she's not interested, she'll let you know." He'd nursed a couple baby squirrels in his youth. He held the kitten, rocking her, as Rodney fussed over the formula, pulling it up into the dropper Carson had supplied. John held out his hand and, with a frown, Rodney gave him the dropper. John put the end by her mouth, letting her taste it. She appeared to mull it over, and then happily started feeding.

"You know we have a mission tomorrow," John said, using his index finger to catch a drop that was missed.

"I know," Rodney said unhappily. "Carson said he'd watch her."

"He'll do a good job," John consoled him, handing the dropper to Rodney to refill.

"I just don't want her to bond with anyone but us," Rodney said. "Me," he hastily corrected himself.

"Too late," John crowed. "You said us." He held the cat up eye height. "You hear that, Tiger? That makes you half mine." He grinned at Rodney. "I feel like I should move in."

Rolling his eyes, Rodney handed the dropper back. He did his best to look thoroughly annoyed, but John didn't believe it for a minute. "Just shut up and feed my cat," Rodney said.

"Our cat," John corrected him.

"And her name's not Tiger," Rodney added with a dark, dire look.

"It so is," John argued. "And you so like me."

There was a pause. "So?" Rodney finally asked defiantly, almost pugnaciously, like maybe liking other people hadn't worked out so well for him in the past.

John felt another uncomfortable twinge of sadness. "Relax, Rodney," he said, taking the now filled dropper, and resuming the feeding. "I like you, too."

Rodney kept eye-contact for a second or two, but then his eyes dropped, and he looked away, a shy smile on his face, actually blushing.

John wanted to give him shit about it, but decided to do it later. The kitten looked like she was falling asleep. "Feeding time's over at the zoo," he said, handing Rodney the dropper. "Finish the damn cat story."

Rodney got to his knees, and then moved onto the bed, lying down. "Give me the kitten."

Curious, John handed her over, heating pad and all.

Rodney put her on his chest, rubbing her back. She began to purr loudly in contentment. "This is the damn cat story," Rodney said softly. "Every day I'd come home, and I'd lie in bed, and Cat would get on my chest and purr at me." His voice had gotten thick and he cleared his throat. "It was the best part of my day." He shot John an embarrassed smile. "Stupid, huh?"

"Not even a little bit," John told him. Acting on an impulse that was composed of half craziness and half inevitability, John added, "Shove over."

"What?" Rodney asked, startled at the order.

"Shove over," John said again. "I want to experience the Cat story for myself."

Hesitating, and then moving carefully so as to not jar the kitten, Rodney shoved over.

John lay down next to him. "Okay, hand her over."

"Bear in mind that she's staying here with me, in my quarters," Rodney said with a frown. "You gave her to me. I'm not arranging visitation rights for you."

"I already told you I was moving in," John teased, working the heating pad from Rodney's chest to his own. Rodney kept caressing her, keeping the purr going. Even through the heating pad, and with how small she was, John could still feel the reverberation of her purr through his chest. "Oh, yeah," he said. "This is nice. I get this." He inched closer to Rodney until their sides were pressed together. "Here, we can share." He arranged the heating pad until it was half on him and half on Rodney.

"We're in bed together," Rodney observed, sounding perplexed.

John noticed that while Rodney certainly sounded confused, it didn't seem like he was protesting.

"Why are we in bed together?" Rodney persisted.

"I told you," John said, "I wanted to experience the full sense-surround cat thing." He listened to the contented rumble, ignoring the fact, for the moment, that Rodney was staring at him as if he'd lost his mind. "So, you and the cat?"

"Yeah," Rodney said slowly. "It was Cat and me."

"And now you have me. And that makes three," John added ridiculously.

There was a long moment of silence. "Colonel. John. What--?" Another pause. "Are you channeling Dr. Seuss, or are we--?" Another pause.

John kept quiet, sort of hoping that Rodney would find a good name for what was happening between them.

"Are we, is this, sort of a, um, a moment?" Rodney asked, voice half- hopeful, half-horrified.

"God, no," John said quickly. "No moments. I hate moments."

"Oh, thank God," Rodney said just as quickly in return. "Me, too. I never know what to do with them. I always screw them up."

They lay there in silence for a minute or two.

"But, uh," Rodney said, breaking the silence, "if this was, you know, sort of a moment, just out of curiosity, would it be the sort of moment that might actually lead to sex? I mean, with the whole being in bed together thing."

"It might," John said. "If it were a moment." He was enjoying the hell out of himself.

"Right, right," Rodney said, lapsing into a contemplative silence. "But, don't you think," he finally said, "even if it's not strictly a moment, that it sort of has moment overtones?"

John turned his head to look at Rodney and found himself almost nose- to-nose with him. A quicksilver flash of desire made his stomach flip.

"What's that?" Rodney asked, all his attention suddenly gone from John, and back on the kitten. Then, with a grimace, he said, "Ew, cat pee." He was off the bed so fast, it was like he levitated.

That was when John felt it, too. The pee had dripped over the edge of the heating pad and was soaking into John's shirt.

Rodney scooped up the kitten and plopped her in the makeshift kitty litter box. "Go there," he directed.

John rolled his eyes. "Yeah, that'll work," he said dryly. Holding the heating pad carefully, so more of the pee wouldn't drip off, he got to his feet. Fortunately, the heating pads were waterproof, so John took it into the bathroom and rinsed it off. He came back to find Rodney patting the sheets, to see if they were wet. John pulled his shirt away from his body. "I think it all got on me."

Rodney pointed at the wet spot on his own shirt. "And me."

John grinned. "Aww. She peed on us both. I guess it was a moment."

Rodney shot him a look that was mostly exasperation but held a hint of grin. "Do you want a dry shirt?"

"Nah," John said. "I'll go back to my quarters. I need to take a shower."

For a dizzying moment, John thought Rodney might invite him to stay, maybe to take a shower together, but instead, he could see Rodney sort of shut down, like he was deciding any positive spin he'd put on the whole moment-not-moment thing had been his imagination.

"Hey," John protested, hating that look on Rodney's face, especially when it didn't need to be there.

"What?" Rodney asked, arms crossed defensively over his chest.

"There were definitely moment overtones," John said. "Definitely."

Rodney's eyes narrowed as he looked at John, as if trying to decide if he could trust him. "What kind of overtones?" he asked suspiciously.

"The kind that could possibly lead to sex," John said cautiously, watching Rodney closely for his reaction.

Now, Rodney's eyes opened wide. "Really?" he asked hopefully.

John nodded.

"I, um, I have a shower here, you know," Rodney offered hesitantly.

John took a step in Rodney's direction. Before he could take another one, he heard Elizabeth's voice, very faintly. "Do you hear that?" John asked, head cocked. He heard it again which was when he remembered that he'd taken his head set off before lying down on the bed. Putting it back on, he tapped it. "Elizabeth?"

"John," she said. "Do you have a moment? I'd like to discuss something with you."

"I'll be there in twenty," John said. He tapped off the connection and gave Rodney a wry grin. "Gotta go."

"What?" Rodney yelped indignantly. "You're leaving?"

"Yeah," John said. "You heard Elizabeth call."

"But, but," Rodney stuttered, "we were having a moment--I mean a non- moment with overtones. Whatever," Rodney finished impatiently. "You can't just leave."

John grabbed Rodney by the lapels of his science jacket, yanked him in and landed a quick smack right on his lips. "We'll finish our non- moment later. I gotta go. I stink of cat pee."

"But, but, but," Rodney started. John left, and as the door slid shut, he could still hear Rodney putting like a motor boat. Grinning, John trotted toward his quarters.

***

"So General O'Neill didn't mean to send him?" John asked Elizabeth.

"According to Daniel," she answered, "the general had no idea what he was signing."

John didn't understand the need for subterfuge. "Why all the sneaking around?"

"I'm not really sure," Elizabeth said. "But what I do know is that he wants to stay, and I could use his help."

"And you're expecting O'Neill to insist on us sending him back?"

She nodded.

"Does Caldwell know he had a stowaway yet?"

A small grin graced Elizabeth's face. "He will shortly. I thought I'd fill you in first."

"Well, good luck with that," John drawled. "He's the one who's going to have to disobey a direct order if O'Neill wants Daniel back."

"I can't see him hogtying Daniel if Daniel wants to stay," Elizabeth said firmly. "After all, he's a civilian."

No, John couldn't see Caldwell doing that. Not that Daniel, at least from the stories John had heard, was one to just let anyone hogtie him, except maybe for Jack O'Neill. Although, even Jack O'Neill this time, had let Daniel slip through his fingers.

***

"You drink a lot of coffee," Ronon observed the next day, as he watched Daniel sit down after refilling his cup for the third time. He'd discovered Daniel in the cafeteria again when Ronon had decided it was time for another meal.

"Yes, I do," Daniel admitted.

"McKay drinks a lot of coffee," Ronon said. "But you don't seem as nervous as he does."

"No, caffeine has never really made me jittery," Daniel said, taking a sip. He leaned back and looked at Ronon. "What do you do all day when you're not on a mission?"

Ronon shrugged. "Work out. Firearms practice. Hang with my team."

"So, you have free time?" Daniel asked.

"Why?" Ronon asked with sudden interest. "You change your mind?"

"No," Daniel said kindly. "But I would like to explore the city a little. I've been told not to wander around unescorted. Would you be willing to play escort for a few hours?"

Ronon shrugged. "Sure. You gonna freak like McKay does?"

Daniel grinned a little. "I don't think so. Does Rodney freak a lot?"

Ronon chuffed out a laugh. "He freaks all the time." He shrugged again. "But then he gets over it and fixes whatever's wrong, so that's okay."

"So you like having him on your team?" Daniel asked.

"Yeah," Ronon said without reservation. "He's noisy, but he's handy to have around. There's not much he can't figure out." Ronon's opinion about Rodney had changed so much in the time he'd known him. The man could still drive him crazy, but Ronon trusted him as much as he trusted Sheppard to get things done and bring them back alive.

"I've heard that," Daniel said with a kind smile. "The people here have survived against some insurmountable odds."

Ronon stood, waited for Daniel to stand as well. "Any place in particular you wanna go?" Ronon asked.

Daniel shook his head. "I just want to see her. See Atlantis. Get to know her better."

Frowning a little, Ronon thought for a minute. "You got the gene, right?" Someone would need to be able to open up some of the tougher doors.

"More or less," Daniel said as they both strode out the cafeteria door.

***

Jack finished signing the last piece of paper in the stack in front of him. He recapped his pen, then gathered up the stack, tapped the edges to line them up, and slid them inside a manila envelope. Sealing it, he placed it on top of several other inches of paper in his out box. A glorified paper pusher, that's all he was these days.

He checked the list that he and Carter had come up with of all the reasons why Daniel needed to come back. The most important reason wasn't on the list: the fact that Jack wasn't really interested in living his life without Daniel in it. Jack had no intention of telling Daniel that, mostly because he didn't think he could take it if he lay that one on the table, and it failed to sway his friend.

He stared at the two large duffel bags he had stashed against the side wall of his office. Jack had a few boxes already down in the gate room, ready to shove through the gate for Daniel when he called him in a little while. If Daniel wasn't coming back, then he at least deserved to have a few comforts of home go to him.

He glanced at his watch and saw it was time. It would be early evening in Atlantis, so personnel would be at a minimum, which suited Jack just fine. If he was going to make a fool of himself, he'd just as soon do it in front of as few people as possible.

Grabbing up the two duffel bags, slinging the strap of one over his shoulder, he headed down to the gate room, dropping them at the bottom of the ramp by the boxes. Then he went back up to the control room. "Dial it up," he told Walter.

"Yes, sir," Walter said.

The door opened and Jack saw Carter enter the small room. Down in the gate room were the usual two SFs, armed to the teeth. In a matter of moments, the gate opened with a kerwhoosh. As long as Carter was there, Jack had her enter their ID code.

Leaning over so he could speak into the microphone, Jack called, "Hey, anyone home?"

There was a long pause, some frantic whisperings, then Elizabeth's voice came over the speaker. "General O'Neill?"

"Yeah," he said. "How ya doin'?"

"Fine," she said cautiously. "To what do we owe the honor of this call? Is something wrong?"

Jack smiled tightly. You bet your sweet bippie something's wrong, he said to himself. "You have something that belongs to me," he said out loud.

"I assume you're talking about Dr. Jackson?" she said as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. "We're thrilled to have him here."

"I bet you are," Jack said sarcastically. Her tone told him everything he needed to know. She knew Daniel had fooled him and she was planning on taking full advantage of the situation by keeping him. Not that Jack could blame her. "I don't suppose Daniel is around anywhere, is he? I'd like to talk to him."

"If you give me a minute, I'll see if I can track him down." Jack heard her issue a few orders. Then, "Was there anything else, General?"

"No," he said casually. "I just wanted to talk to Daniel."

There was another long pause. "You dialed Atlantis to talk to Daniel?" she asked, her astonishment clear in her voice.

Yeah, Jack got that it was a honking waste of power. "Hey," he said, "I gotta get some perks out of being a general."

Someone was speaking to Elizabeth and Jack frowned. He could have sworn he heard the word--

"Apparently," Elizabeth said, cutting into his thoughts, "Daniel's in the infirmary. I'm getting Carson on the line now."

Yup, that was the word. "For cryin' out loud," Jack complained. "He's been there, what, a couple of days? And he's already in the infirmary?" Inside, Jack's heart was racing, waiting to hear what was wrong.

"Daniel's fine, Jack," Elizabeth finally said soothingly. "He's on his way to the control room right now."

Jack sat down. This long distance shit was for the birds.

***

Daniel's brow was furrowed as he headed toward the control room, Ronon by his side. He eyed the bandage on his right hand. It was just as well Jack wasn't here because he'd give Daniel hell for not paying attention. Daniel had been running his hand along the wall and a sharp edge had caught his hand unexpectedly, slicing into the side.

When it had happened, Ronon had watched him for a second, expectantly, as if hoping for a tantrum a la Rodney McKay. Daniel supposed that Rodney was, in general, probably much more entertaining than he was. When it was clear that Daniel wasn't going to freak, Ronon had escorted him to the infirmary.

Carson washed the wound, applied a few steri-strips, and was in the process of bandaging it when a Marine burst into the room. He took one look at Daniel, then spoke into his headset. "I found him, ma'am, he's in the infirmary."

Daniel shot a puzzled look at Carson who shrugged and continued wrapping some gauze around Daniel's hand.

"She'd like to speak with you, Dr. Beckett," the Marine said.

Carson engaged his headset. "Yes, Elizabeth. Yes, he's here. He's fine. Just a cut on his hand. What? General O'Neill?"

That got Daniel's attention.

"Yes, I'll tell him. Yes, I'll send him on his way. Goodbye." He tapped his headset, disconnecting.

"General O'Neill?" Daniel prompted, his heart pounding, worried something had happened to Jack.

"Apparently, he's dialed the gate and wants to have a wee chat with you," Carson informed him.

Daniel blinked. "He dialed Atlantis to talk to me?"

"Aye," Carson said. "So, you best be off."

Ronon pushed away from the wall he'd been slouched against, clearly ready to continue his escort duties.

"You sure I don't need to stay here for observation?" Daniel asked Carson hopefully.

Carson grinned at him. "Now, that's a switch. Most of the time the lot of you can't wait to get out of here. Now, run along, you shouldn't keep the general waiting."

Daniel was actually quite comfortable with the idea of keeping the general waiting. He was sure Jack hadn't called to be friendly. Sighing, he slid off the gurney. "Thank you, Carson." Daniel liked Carson. He liked everyone here. Granted, he'd only been here two days, but he'd genuinely liked everyone he met so far.

He and Ronon started walking down a hallway. "I've heard rumors about this guy," Ronon said.

Daniel snorted. "They're probably all true."

"I heard the two of you share blankets," Ronon said casually.

"Except that one," Daniel said.

They finished their walk in silence. When they got to the gateroom, he heard Elizabeth doing her best to keep a conversation going. When she saw him, she smiled in relief. "Ah, Daniel," she said, throwing him to the wolves. "General O'Neill wants to speak with you. He's on speaker."

"Jack?" Daniel said.

"Daniel?" Jack's voice said loud and clear.

"Whatcha' doin'?" Daniel asked.

"Just thought I'd check in," Jack said nonchalantly.

"That was nice of you," Daniel said, waiting for it.

There was a longish pause. "You tricked me," Jack suddenly yelled.

Daniel heard the sound of running feet, and looked to see both John and Rodney entering the gateroom at a fast pace. Apparently word had gone out there was a free show. He noticed that Rodney seemed to be holding a kitten. Ronon had mentioned something about a cat while they'd been exploring.

"I can't help it if you don't pay attention to what you sign," Daniel said casually.

"Daniel," Jack ground out.

"You only have thirty-eight minutes, Jack. Why don't you say what you wanted to say?"

"I want you to come back," Jack said sharply.

"No, I don't think so," Daniel said firmly.

"You knew I didn't want you to go," Jack said, sounding suspiciously like he was pouting. Daniel noticed Elizabeth, John and Rodney all exchanging amused glances.

"And you knew I wanted to go," Daniel countered. Daniel could hear someone whispering, figured it must be Sam. "Hey, Sam," he said warmly.

"Hey, Daniel," she said back, her own affection clear in her voice. "I miss you."

"I miss you, too," Daniel said.

"So why don't you come back?" Jack said, interrupting. "We can have a welcome back barbeque at my house."

"Tempting," Daniel said, "but, no."

A frustrated sigh came clearly over the speaker. "Daniel, I'm ordering you to come back," Jack finally said.

Daniel rolled his eyes. "Is that the best you can do?" He caught another look between the Atlantis personnel.

"Most people do what I tell them to," Jack complained.

"How long have you known me?" Daniel asked.

"Way too long," Jack said huffily.

"And how many times have I done what you've ordered me to do?"

"Isn't this O'Neill guy the head of everything?" Ronon asked in an aside to John.

Unfortunately, Jack heard him. "Yes, yes, I am," he happily agreed. "So, Daniel, pack your stuff, get on the Daedalus, and come home."

"No," Daniel said.

"He can say that?" Ronon asked.

"Yes, I can," Daniel said at the exact same time that Jack said, "No, he can't.

Jack continued, "Elizabeth, I want him on the Daedalus when it comes back."

"General," Elizabeth said in her best treaty negotiating voice. "Daniel is a civilian, and as such, is not under military command."

"If he's a part of the SGC," Jack groused, "he is too under military command. He's under my command. Shit, I run the whole damn thing."

"I just don't see how you expect me to force Dr. Jackson to leave," Elizabeth said, and Daniel grinned at her.

She grinned back.

"It's easy," Jack said. "Zat him, hogtie him, throw him on the Daedalus, and have Caldwell leave before he wakes up."

Daniel rolled his eyes as he listened to the snickering around him.

Rodney was taking in the entire debate with vast amusement, blue eyes twinkling.

"Read him the list, sir," Sam's voice said.

"Oh, yes, Jack," Daniel said in return. "Please, read me the list. Did you write it, Sam?"

Laughing, Sam said, "We wrote it together."

"Right," Daniel said. "That means you came up with everything, while he nodded, right? Was he juggling?"

"No, but he's made this really, really long chain of paperclips."

"Hey," Jack bitched. "Don't knock the paperclips. I'm only twenty feet from beating the world record."

He sounded so close, it made Daniel miss him fiercely. It was like he was around the corner, and he'd show up any minute with a shit eating grin on his face, saying something ridiculous, then making Daniel go have something to eat with him. "Jack. Forget Sam's list. Why do you want me back there? The team's breaking up. Teal'c's gone more than he's around. Sam's going to head up R&D at Area 51, you're in line for a job in Washington. So, tell me. Why do you want me back?"

Daniel listened to the long ensuing silence. He knew Jack would never say it. And not only because he sucked at expressing his feelings, but also because he didn't feel the same way Daniel did. The only words that would make Daniel get back on the Daedalus would never come out of Jack's mouth.

***

Jack stared at the wormhole, feeling the paradox of having a conversation with someone clear enough to bring tears to any phone company executive's eyes, and yet having that someone be an entire galaxy away. Daniel wasn't coming back; Jack could hear it in his voice.

There was a remote chance he might return if Jack started spouting feelings, telling Daniel how much he missed him, how empty his life felt knowing he couldn't call Daniel up and make him come over for pizza and beer, and how the future of his job at Stargate Command seemed so futile without a Daniel Jackson to harass. But, Jack couldn't do it. It wasn't that he didn't have all those feelings, but he sure as hell wasn't about to blab them out loud in front of two audiences across two galaxies. There were limits, Jack thought.

Jack had been giving his limits some serious thought over the last two days, since he found out Daniel had left, and he'd decided that he'd reached a few of his. "Daniel, I have some stuff for you." He put on a headset, left the small control room and headed down to the gate. When there was no answer, he continued. "I figure you took pretty much nothing except for books, so I thought you might need some supplies."

He climbed up the ramp and grabbed one of the boxes. One of the soldiers joined him, picking up another. "I packed some stuff I thought you might want, and I'm sending it through now." He walked up to the event horizon and pushed the first box through. He gestured for the SF to send the next one, while Jack retrieved a third.

There were eight cartons in all and they sent them through one by one. "Daniel? Are they showing up at your end?"

"Yeah," Daniel said slowly. "They're coming through." He sounded sad, maybe disappointed. He probably was; he'd probably been hoping Jack would say something meaningful. But Daniel should know better. After all, all Jack could come up with when Daniel lay fucking dying was that he'd come to admire him a little. Jack still hadn't forgiven himself for that.

"Couple more things, Daniel." He threw the first duffel bag through. He'd gone to Daniel's apartment, only to find it closed up. Daniel had obviously been planning this for a while. So, Jack had gone shopping. After all those years together, Jack knew Daniel's sizes, and this had been his chance to get Daniel out of his geek clothes. Jack had spent last evening at the mall, and Atlantis wasn't going to know what hit it.

He picked up the last bag. "Thanks," he said to the SF, who saluted, and walked back down the ramp, assuming his position by the back blast door.

"Carter?" Jack said.

She leaned down to the microphone. "Yes, sir."

"There's a packet on my desk in my out box, in a manila envelope. It's for Hammond. Tell him I'm sorry to be giving him such short notice."

He could see a look of consternation cross Carter's face. "Sir?"

"Jack?" came Daniel's voice. "What are you doing?"

"I'm leaving you in charge for the time being," Jack said to Carter. "It may hold up your research job for a while. Sorry about that."

"General. Jack," Carter said. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Jack," Daniel said again. "What's going on?"

Jack crossed his fingers he wasn't imagining the hope he heard in Daniel's voice. He could see the SFs start to realize things weren't as copasetic as they'd thought, and they were looking between him and Carter in the control room, looking for orders. It was time.

"Come visit if you're in the neighborhood," he said to Carter, and with a last wave to her and to Walter, he stepped into the event horizon.

***

When John saw General Jack O'Neill walk through the Stargate into Atlantis, his first shallow thought, which he was vaguely ashamed about, was "Thank God, someone else can be in command now." His second, much more visceral response was to fist his hands, prepared, at any cost, to keep his command.

He and the rest of the soldiers in the room saluted as the wormhole shut down behind him.

"Oh, please," the general said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I never stood on ceremony before, and I'm sure as hell not going to start now when I'm an ex-general. At ease."

Something inside of John began to relax. "Ex-general?" he asked, walking toward O'Neill.

O'Neill nodded, although he wasn't looking at anyone but Daniel.

Daniel's mouth was hanging open, and his eyebrows were almost off his head.

Finally, Jack turned to Elizabeth. "Hey," he said.

"Hey," she said faintly in return.

O'Neill opened his arms wide as if to say "I'm all yours", and then he grinned wryly. "I don't suppose you could use an ex-general around here, could you?"

She blinked at him. Then she looked at John and blinked at him. John knew just how she felt.

"Cat got all of your tongues?" O'Neill asked. He pointed at Rodney, "Nice cat, by the way."

"Thanks," Rodney said faintly, looking speechless for once in his life, clutching the kitten tightly, as if O'Neill had maybe come through the Stargate to confiscate her.

"Jack," Daniel said.

O'Neill spun neatly around to face Daniel again. "Daniel."

"Why, um, why are you--" Daniel's hands flailed around taking in the control room, the city, the galaxy, maybe even the universe, "here?"

O'Neill bit his bottom lip for a moment as he considered Daniel. Then, he turned to Elizabeth. "I can do lists. I'm great with lists." To John, he said, "I've sort of dealt with the whole fighting aliens thing for a while. Maybe you could stand to have a civilian military advisor on retainer." To Rodney, he said, "And hey, I've got the gene and I'm used to hanging out in labs." With that he turned back to Daniel. "And I was thinking that maybe you could stand to have a friend around, even if you were sort of willing to give me up."

Daniel shook his head. "Not willingly, Jack. Not ever." Then Daniel smiled at him.

John watched as O'Neill's shoulders relaxed, as if all he'd been waiting for was a signal from Daniel that he was glad to see him.

"You hungry?" O'Neill asked Daniel.

"I could eat," Daniel said, still smiling.

"Good," O'Neill said, rubbing his hands together as if to say he could hardly wait. "Chow here any good?"

"There's coffee," Daniel said.

O'Neill frowned slightly at Daniel. "Food, Daniel. You know the solid stuff that most of us actually need to survive."

"Yeah, there's that, too," Daniel offered.

John noticed that he hadn't taken his eyes off of O'Neill.

"They got pie?"

Daniel nodded.

"Great." He grabbed Daniel's arm. "Let's go." He glanced at Elizabeth, John and Rodney, noticed Ronon with a bit of a double-take, grinned, and said, "I'll catch you all later." With that, he and Daniel left the control room.

John looked at Elizabeth. Elizabeth looked back at him.

"Huh," Rodney said.

***

Daniel led Jack to the cafeteria, the entire journey feeling surreal. Jack was here. In Atlantis. Daniel couldn't find any words to say, his thoughts tumbling, not knowing where to start. Jack also kept silent, simply walking by Daniel's side. It made Daniel realize how much he'd missed this simple thing, walking with Jack.

They made it to the cafeteria and retrieved cups of coffee, Jack a piece of pie, and sat down. Daniel gave himself permission to really look at Jack, and apparently Jack took that as permission to look his fill as well. Jack appeared tired; there were circles under his eyes. It gave Daniel a pang to think that he was responsible for some of that.

"Will you tell me why?" Daniel finally asked him. "Why you came?"

Jack pursed his lips, then countered with, "Will you tell me why you left?"

For a startling moment, Daniel wondered if their reasons were the same, if Jack had come for him because his feelings for Daniel echoed Daniel's feelings for Jack. The thought made his heart race. He wasn't ready to answer Jack's question, but his hope made him brave enough to say, "I'm glad you came. I'm glad you're here. I've missed you."

He was rewarded by Jack's face lighting up with pleasure. It was an expression he hadn't seen on Jack for a long while. Daniel didn't expect a similar sentiment in return. He'd never met anyone worse at expressing his feelings than Jack.

But, then, Jack frowned. "If you missed me so much, why'd you leave?"

Daniel could see this conversation going in circles for hours. "Jack, they were grooming you for a job in Washington. Can you honestly say you wouldn't have taken it if they'd offered it to you?"

Jack looked like he wanted to say yes, but he couldn't. "No," he grumped.

"So you were planning to take a job across the country from me," Daniel said reasonably.

"At least we'd have been on the same planet," Jack sniped.

"Would you have wanted that job?" Daniel asked. It was something he'd wanted to ask, but hadn't quite figured out how without revealing the reason why he was asking. Jack hadn't been the same since he'd been taken out of the field. There'd been a streak of unhappiness in his countenance that had always pulled at Daniel's heart.

Jack scowled. "No. Not really. But, when the President asks you to take a job, it's not like you can really say no."

Daniel couldn't help grinning. "Unless you're in a different galaxy."

Jack smirked. "Or unless you're retired. And both is even better."

"Did you really retire?" Daniel found that hard to believe. He always sort of assumed, as unappealing as the image was, that Jack would drop in the traces.

"Signed and sealed," Jack said. "The only thing missing was the two weeks notice."

"Do you think they'll accept it? I can't imagine Hammond will be thrilled, let alone the President. Can't they refuse it?"

Jack shrugged. "Maybe. But, they can't exactly send MPs after me. Besides, I'm sure if they put their minds to it, they can figure out something they want me to do out here."

"Yeah, like take charge," Daniel warned. It was true that most of his attention had been on Jack when he'd arrived through the wormhole, but he hadn't missed the looks exchanged between John and Elizabeth.

"Not interested," Jack said firmly. "This is a civilian operation, and Sheppard's the military commander."

"If you've retired, you can take over as the civilian lead," Daniel said, playing devil's advocate.

"Elizabeth would disembowel me if I tried," Jack admitted. "Not that I want to try. I'm sick of paperwork, Daniel. I wanna be doing stuff."

"Stuff?" Daniel teased.

"Yeah," Jack defended himself. "Stuff. Going through the gate, shooting at things. Bitching at you while you bore me to death."

"Be still my heart," Daniel said sarcastically.

"See?" Jack said, with a slap on the table. "This is what I miss. The mocking."

And just that fast, Daniel got why Jack was there. It really was because of him. And maybe Jack didn't exactly understand what was truly motivating him, but Daniel was willing to take a leap of faith that Jack's feelings weren't that different from his. All Jack needed was for someone to point out that fact, and Daniel was just the man for the job. He found himself grinning.

"What are you grinning about?" Jack asked suspiciously.

"Nothing," Daniel lied. "I think the quarters next to me are empty," he said. "Should we get them assigned to you?" He waggled his eyebrows. "Ocean view," he tempted.

"Ocean view and my best bud as my next door neighbor?" Jack enthused. "Sweet."

Sweet indeed, Daniel thought to himself. "Let's go."

Jack hastily crammed the last few bites of pie in his mouth and stood. Coffee cup in Daniel's hand and other dishes disposed of, they headed toward the exit. On the way out, Daniel noticed Ronan. He stopped by the man's table, saying, "Jack, this is Ronon Dex. Ronon, this is Jack O'Neill."

Ronon sort of grunted.

"Handy how you've just dispensed with silverware," Jack said.

"Eating is about getting food in your mouth," Ronon said. "Silverware just makes that harder."

"I think I like him," Jack said to Daniel.

Daniel wasn't the least bit surprised. He saw Ronon and Jack bonding in the future over big guns and pie. "Come on," he said, tugging at Jack's sleeve.

"See ya," Jack said to Ronon.

Ronon sort of waved, his mouth full of food.

When they reached the corridor, Jack hissed out of the corner of his mouth, "Who the hell is he?"

"He's sort of their version of Teal'c."

"Complete with gross alien slug?" Jack grimaced.

"No. He's from a warrior race, excellent with hand-to-hand combat and weapons. And," Daniel added, not sure what imp had control of his tongue, "he asked me to have sex with him."

Jack came to an abrupt halt. "Teal'c asked you to have sex with him?" he asked, astonished.

"No," Daniel said. "Ronon did."

Jack frowned at him. Deeply.

Daniel put on his best innocent face, fighting back a grin.

"You said no, of course," Jack said, with an unspoken "or else there'll be hell to pay" tagged on at the end.

"I don't know," Daniel said contemplatively. "He's sort of hot." He shot Jack a sidelong look to see how that was going down. The muscle clenching and unclenching in Jack's jaw was sort of a giveaway that it wasn't going down well. Relenting, Daniel said, "I said no."

Jack shot him a narrow-eyed glare. "You're just yanking my chain, aren't you?"

"No," Daniel said sincerely. "In fact, I got propositioned twice." He held up two fingers, to make sure Jack got it. "Twice."

"Did you say no twice?" Jack growled, looking around as if danger lurked everywhere. He made an aborted grab for a weapon he wasn't carrying.

Daniel fought back another grin, but didn't answer.

"Daniel," Jack said warningly.

"Jack," Daniel said in return. "Oh, look, here we are." They were at Elizabeth's office.

She looked up and smiled at them. "Our two stowaways. Come on in."

Still glowering, Jack followed Daniel into her office. "Jack needs quarters," Daniel said. "I think the one next to me is empty."

Elizabeth pulled up an Excel file and entered Jack's name. "Okay, you're all set," she said with another smile. Then, smile faltering a little, she asked Jack, "Should I expect a call from General Hammond or someone even higher up the chain of command, demanding I send you back? Or," she added, with a small frown, "orders for you to take over this command?"

"That's not going to happen," Jack assured her. "I can promise you that. As far as the other?" Jack shrugged. "We've essentially defeated the Goa'uld. There's no major enemy on the horizon threatening Earth. In some ways, me retiring and moving here will solve some problems for them. I know it'll come as a surprise to both of you," Jack added dryly, "but I don't always obey orders very well."

"No," Daniel mock gasped.

Elizabeth grinned, but said, "Maybe not, but you do tend to save the Earth on a regular basis."

Jack waved a dismissive hand. "Let someone younger do it. My knees can't take it anymore."

"Well, I'll tell you the same thing I told Daniel. You're welcome here, and I have no doubt we'll find you plenty to do. Why don't you take a day or two to settle in, and then we can pull the leadership team together and come up with a plan." To Daniel she added, "Rodney's already suggested you take over as head of what he considers the soft sciences. Maybe you could give that some thought."

"Oh," Daniel said, surprised. Not that he couldn't do it, after all, he'd held that position at SGC for years, but he hadn't expected to be offered it here. At least not so quickly. Somehow he suspected that Rodney wouldn't weep any tears over the loss. "I will. Think about it."

"Good," Elizabeth said. She stared at them for a moment. "It's seems so odd to have you both here."

"Pretty soon we'll just be part of the woodwork," Jack said.

"Somehow I doubt that," she said dryly. "Oh, by the way, I had all the boxes and duffel bags put in your quarters, Daniel."

"Thanks," Daniel said with a smile. "Jack will probably need weapons," he added with a smirk. "I don't think he'll be able to sleep without one in close proximity. Sort of like a blankie."

Elizabeth chuckled softly. "I'm sure Colonel Sheppard can arrange something for you."

"Actually, I brought a few of my own," Jack admitted. "Just in case."

Daniel rolled his eyes, said his goodbyes to Elizabeth and yanked Jack out of the office. "You brought weapons with you?"

"Hey," Jack protested, "I like my pistol. I'm used to it. And you can never have enough C4. I mean that."

"I'm sure you do," Daniel said, pulling Jack into one of the transporters and looking over the controls, trying to remember how they worked.

Jack reached over his shoulder and touched something. A second later the door opened and they were in the right corridor. "How did you do that?" Daniel asked.

Jack shrugged. "Seemed the thing to do." They stepped out of the transporter. "So, you never did answer my question. You said no twice, right?"

Pretending innocence, Daniel said, "No to what?"

Snorting, Jack said, "You know exactly what I'm talking about. Ronon and who else?"

Daniel lowered his face a little and then looked back up at Jack through his eyelashes. It made Daniel feel like a complete idiot, but Sam and Janet had assured him countless times that when he did that, it made him--what was the word Sam had used?--right, swoon-worthy. Daniel was curious to see if it would work on Jack. "Does it bother you?" he inquired in as flirty a tone as he thought he could get away with. If he pushed it too hard, Jack would just laugh at him. It still made him feel like a strumpet.

Jack blinked at him. Then, he cleared his throat.

Deciding that was enough for right now, Daniel gestured toward his door. "This is me." He pointed to the left. "And that's you." Daniel's door obediently opened and he stepped inside. "Is any of this stuff for me?"

"Half of it," Jack said. He looked around Daniel's apartment, even opened up the closet door. Pointing at the stack of books by Daniel's bed, he grinned. "See? I knew it. Did you even bring a change of underwear?"

"And a toothbrush," Daniel said primly.

Snickering, Jack moved to the first box and ripped it open. He pulled out a sweater, then stood, frowning at Daniel. "Wait. You're distracting me. You still haven't answered my question."

"I didn't need to say no, Jack. John was just trying to--"

"John?" Jack asked, his eyes narrowed. "John as in John Sheppard? John Sheppard came on to you?"

"No," Daniel tried to explain. "He was just trying to make Rodney jealous. Rodney was accusing him of having a thing for ascended--"

Again, Jack interrupted him. "John has a thing for people who've ascended?" he demanded.

"No," Daniel said, exasperated, "of course not. He was just--"

"Are you trying to tell me that he has a thing for Rodney McKay?" Jack asked in sheer disbelief.

Daniel nodded, relieved they were getting to the same page. "Yes."

"So, he was coming on to you, but told you he was just trying to make Rodney McKay jealous?" Jack said, still in a disbelieving tone.

"Yes," Daniel said again.

"And you believed him?" Jack hollered. "Are you really that clueless?"

"What?" Daniel had somehow lost track of the conversation.

"Where're his quarters?"

"Who?"

"Sheppard."

"I don't know," Daniel said.

"Oh, you mean he hasn't tried to lure you there so he can cry on your shoulder about his unrequited love affair with Rodney McKay," Jack said snidely. "Rodney McKay?" Growling, Jack headed for the door and it opened for him.

"Um," Daniel said, as the door shut behind Jack. Too bad he didn't have a headset yet, or he could have called John and warned him what was heading his way. Then, grateful that at least Jack hadn't unpacked his weapons, Daniel decided he better follow Jack.

***

Back in Rodney's quarters, John pointed to the kitten. "You know, you can't take her with you everywhere."

"I know, I know," Rodney said, putting the kitten down in her kitty litter box, just in case. "But, you called, and it sounded urgent."

"What if the Wraith were attacking?" John pressed with a teasing grin. "Would you have expected her to tear them limb from limb with her vicious kitty claws?" He swiped his hands through the air, hissing, fingers extended like talons.

Standing tall, arms crossed over his chest, Rodney said defensively, "Well, I could hardly leave her here all alone."

John finally relented, deciding he'd given Rodney enough shit. "You need something you can keep her in, so she won't get into trouble if you have to leave her alone. Like a kitty play-pen or something."

"Right," Rodney said. "A kitty play-pen. Right." Rodney looked around the room, weirdly desperate, as if, by some miracle, a kitty play-pen kit might be leaning against a wall somewhere.

John found it bizarrely endearing that Rodney was so undone by something so simple. His brain going tangential on him all of a sudden, he asked, "You ever want kids, Rodney?"

Rodney shot him an incredulous look. "Kids? Are you nuts? Look at me. I can build a nuclear weapon out of rubber bands and spit, but I'm a nervous wreck about a kitten. What if I screw up and something happens to her? What if she gets sick? What if something happens to me? What if she's really some alien creature that needs human blood to survive like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors? What were you thinking?" Rodney was almost shrieking at this point.

"I think you're cute when you're panicking," John drawled with a lopsided grin.

"What?" Rodney yelped. "Oh, yes, very funny," Rodney added with a contentious glare. "Mock the astrophysicist."

John scooped up Tiger and held her in front of Rodney. "Tiny defenseless kitten. Remember?"

"So was that plant at first," Rodney countered. "And that dog. Oh my God, that dog from The Thing. They saved its life and then it ate them." He stared at the kitten in horror.

John fought to keep the wince off his face. He'd be lying if he said that the same thought hadn't crossed his mind. Instead he put the kitten right up to his face and asked it, "Are you a human-eating monster, kitty?"

The kitten mrrrpped and licked John's nose. Then she peed all over his hand.

John rolled his eyes when Rodney snorted with glee. He put the cat back down in the kitty litter, grabbed one of Rodney's t-shirts that was lying around and cleaned up the floor.

"Hey," Rodney protested.

Ignoring him, John went to wash his hands. When he came back out, Rodney was sitting on the floor by the litter box, now watching the kitten with affectionate eyes, all his fears of her being a blood-sucking creature apparently put at ease by having her pee all over John.

John decided it was worth it. He sat down by Rodney, and still not done annoying the man, asked him, "So, no kids?"

Rodney grimaced. "No kids. Although, I do feel a certain responsibility to pass my genes on."

"Yeah, the world totally needs more cranky astrophysicists," John said, not liking the idea of what Rodney would need to do to pass his genes on.

"Exactly," Rodney replied. "And for that very reason, I'll have you know I deposited sperm in a reputable sperm bank before I went to Antarctica, and there've been three withdrawals." With a lopsided grin, he added, "Apparently women find large IQs very appealing when it comes to their offspring."

"How do you know there've been three withdrawals?" John asked, relieved at how Rodney chose to pass his genes on. "I thought that stuff was confidential."

"Hello?" Rodney said in a pitying tone. "Computer genius here?"

Stupid question. "So there are three little yous running around the United States?"

"Canada, actually," Rodney said smugly. "It seemed the least I could do to support my own country."

"How big of you," John said sarcastically.

"I know," Rodney said proudly, the sarcasm missing him by a mile.

"Aren't you curious about them? I mean, they're your kids."

"Nope," Rodney said definitively. "A woman who goes to a sperm bank, and specifically chooses a donor with a large IQ, obviously wants a kid and is prepared for them to be smart. That's good enough for me. Better than repopulating the species with who knows what because you forgot to bring condoms." He ran a finger down the kitten's back, now fast asleep, sprawled in the kitty litter. "What were we talking about?"

"When?" John asked.

"Before."

"Before what?"

"I don't know," Rodney said, exasperated. "Before we got on the kid subject."

"Oh," John said. "A kitty play-pen."

"Right," Rodney said anxiously. "That's right. Oh, God."

"Relax, Rodney. I'll build one for you," John offered. "It's not like it's rocket science," he teased.

That got him yet another glare, but then it turned into a smile. "You will?" Then, "Of course, you will. After all, you're her uncle. That's the sort of thing uncles do."

"I think I'm more than an uncle," John protested. "I'm thinking I'm more like a step-dad."

Rodney frowned at him. "A step-dad?"

John liked the sound of that. "Yeah, a step-dad."

"But a step-dad would imply that you and I--" Rodney stopped and waved an energetic hand between him and John.

"Why, yes it would," John agreed amiably.

Rodney blinked at him. "Do you, um, do you remember what you, uh, we, no, actually you, did, right before you left?"

"Argue with you?"

"No, no, I mean yes, of course we were arguing, that goes without saying, but I mean the other thing."

"Oh. The kissing thing?" John asked blithely.

Rodney did that finger snapping, fist tapping, finger pointing thing he did. "Yes. Yes. That."

"Yeah, I remember," John said. "What about it?"

"Uh, well, you sort of implied, no, no, you said, that there was a possibility of sex that went along with the kissing thing," Rodney said in a brave rush, chin up.

John saw his life stretching out in front of him with he and Rodney arguing on a daily basis, and Rodney getting all defensive and prickly and crossing his arms over his chest and sticking his chin out, and for some unearthly reason, John wanted that future, badly. "I did?" he asked, absolutely constitutionally unable to not annoy Rodney when the opportunity availed itself.

There went the arms crossed over the chest. And there went the mutinous glare. Oh, yeah, and there went the chin.

"Hmm," John said, "I vaguely remember something like that."

Now Rodney's eyes were narrowing, as if it was starting to cross his mind that John was fucking with him.

"You mean this kissing thing?" John asked, grabbing Rodney just like he had before, and meeting Rodney's lips with his own.

In answer, Rodney wrapped his arms around John as if to keep him from escaping, and John found himself pushed to the floor with Rodney lying on top of him, doing his best to excavate John's tonsils.

John put his hands on Rodney's ass and shoved up, enjoying the snarled groan Rodney found the time to gasp out between frantic kisses.

***

Jack continued stalking down the hall as if he knew where he was going. He heard a noise that sounded just like Rodney McKay and thought 'open' at the door. He spared a moment for thinking, as the door slid open, just how cool that was.

He stepped into the room and saw Rodney and Sheppard in a clinch on the floor. For a second he thought they were fighting, but then he saw that they weren't. "Oh," he said, before he could think about keeping his damn mouth shut and leaving, "I guess it worked." Just as Sheppard looked up to see who was talking, and as his eyes opened comically wide, Jack stepped back into the corridor and let the door slide shut. "Okay," he said to Daniel. "That was really embarrassing."

"What was?" Daniel asked. "Were they in there?" Then, his eyes widened. "They were in there, together?"

Jack held up a finger to indicate that Daniel should hold onto that thought for a second and reopened the door. He poked his head in and found both men now sitting with a couple of feet between them, whispering furiously. "Don't, uh, worry about me, gentlemen," Jack said. "I didn't see a thing." He gave them a closed-lipped grin, waved his hand goodbye and left again. He turned around in time to see Daniel rolling his eyes at him. "What?" Jack asked.

"Are you done playing the jealous boyfriend now, Jack?"

Jack frowned at Daniel. "What are you talking about?"

Instead of answering, Daniel just blew out a dramatic, way overdone in Jack's estimation, beleaguered breath. "Can we go unpack now?" Daniel begged.

"You betcha," Jack said cheerily. "It was back this way, right?"

Shaking his head, Daniel led the way back to their quarters.

***

"Holy shit," John said as he took his first breath since he'd looked up over Rodney's shoulder and seen General O'Neill standing in Rodney's doorway. The panic was starting to recede. "Holy fucking shit."

"He's not a general anymore, John," Rodney reminded him tightly.

"Right. Right. I forgot." He ran a hand through his hair, amazed his hand wasn't shaking.

"So, I guess this is probably the fastest relationship you've ever had, right?" Rodney said in his isn't-this-all-so-so-amusing-please-kill-me- now voice. He glanced at his watch. "From first kiss to last kiss in less than five minutes. That's a record, even for me."

John lunged at Rodney, pushing him down on the floor so this time John lay on top. "That wasn't a last kiss, Rodney," he explained in his best you-are-an-idiot voice. "That was a reminder to lock the door before I do it again kiss."

"Oh," Rodney said a little breathlessly. "So, does that mean that you'll be locking the door and there'll be post-door-locking kissing going on?"

"Absolutely," John said with conviction. "As soon as you've fed Tiger," he amended, as it dawned on him that there were some hungry mews coming from that corner of the room.

Rodney sighed. "A parent's work is never done," he said piteously.

"Well, now there are two of us," John said comfortingly.

Rodney's face brightened. "Yes, yes, there are." There was a pause. "Really?" There was a slight edge of anxiety in Rodney's question.

"Really," John agreed, sealing the vow with a kiss. Then he scooted over to the kitty box and picked Tiger up. "Get some formula ready before she starts putting out some of those blood sucking tendrils."

"Oh, you are a riot," Rodney said cuttingly, as he got up and marched over to his small kitchen area.

Chuckling, John went nose-to-nose with the cat. "No more peeing on me, got it? Twice is enough."

"Cats poop, too, you know," Rodney said with a smirk.

Quickly, John held Tiger over the kitty litter box.

Grabbing a towel and one of the waterproof heating pads, Rodney sat down, arranged the towel over the heating pad, and said, "Give her to me, you big chicken."

John handed her over. "I hope she shits all over you," he said darkly.

"If she does," Rodney said, remarkably calmly, "I'll just have to take a shower. Have you noticed," he added, as if he were talking about the weather, "just how big the showers are here on Atlantis?"

John had noticed that. And now he really did wish Tiger would poop all over Rodney so they'd have a reason to try out that shower. "It would be a shame wasting all that space," John said righteously.

"And all that water," Rodney added.

"I'm a big believer in water conservation," John said earnestly.

"I've always liked that about you," Rodney said, grinning.

John grinned back.

***

The next morning, Jack lay in bed staring up at the ceiling finding it hard to believe that he'd actually done what he'd done yesterday. He'd resigned. More than that, he'd left Earth, with no intention of going back, unless, of course, Daniel did.

Maybe that was the hardest thing to believe, that he'd done all of this because he'd been missing Daniel.

He hadn't had a single doubt about it when he'd been packing his clothes, or when he'd filled out those resignation papers, or when he'd been talking to Daniel through the wormhole, or when he'd been tossing boxes and duffel bags, or saying goodbye to Carter. His goal had been crystal clear. If Mohammed wasn't coming to the mountain, then the mountain was damn well going to Mohammed.

So, he'd stepped through, seen Daniel smile at him, and Jack had known he'd made the right decision.

Then, Daniel had told him he'd been hit on twice. Granted, Jack could disregard John Sheppard as competition. Maybe. Jack frowned. But that Ronon guy. Jack scowled. It was like a goddamn monkey wrench had been thrown in the works and now it all felt muddy.

Jack could count on one hand the number of times he'd seen Daniel get worked up over someone, and that wasn't even counting his thumb, and they'd all been women. Jack had seen all sorts of looks come Daniel's way from men, on base, off base, off planet, Daniel got looks all the time, but they just went right over his head. Of course, most of the looks from women went right over his head, too. In fact, the four times Daniel had actually gotten involved with someone, Jack was pretty sure it was because they all sort of jumped him.

Ronon was a jumper, no doubt about it. The fact that Daniel had said no was small consolation. Ronon could, and probably would, jump again, and Daniel might not say no the next time.

Jack had to admit that he'd never liked it when someone jumped Daniel, from Sha're on up, and he hadn't been crazy about Sarah Gardiner, either. As much as Jack liked to pretend he was about as evolved as Homer Simpson, it was disconcerting to find out that occasionally it was true. From day one, Daniel, well, basically, had been Jack's. That whole year Daniel had lived on Abydos had sucked. And the year that Daniel had been ascended sucked beyond the telling of it.

So, rather than live without him any more, Jack had abandoned his entire life and stepped through a wormhole. And his plan had been going perfectly until Daniel just happened to mention that Ronon wanted to have sex with him. Jack snorted. Over his dead body.

With that settled to his satisfaction, Jack got up, took a shower, and got dressed. Then, mentally following their trail from last night, Jack headed for the cafeteria and a cup of coffee, and that was where he found Daniel and Ronon having breakfast together.

***

John let out a sound of dismay when he realized he was waking up before his wonderful, warm, wet dream had reached its satisfactory conclusion. But when he opened his eyes and the wonderful, warm, wet dream was still going on, he realized it wasn't a dream. Rodney was under the sheets, lying between John's legs, giving him a toe-curling, back-arching blow job.

He let out a moan, thrusting up into Rodney's mouth, reaching down so he could feel himself slipping in and out of Rodney's lips. Rodney licked John's fingers and sucked one into his mouth. With another moan, John came hard enough to see stars. His body melted into the sheets, and he concentrated on breathing for a few moments.

Rodney popped out from under the sheets, gave John a lopsided grin, and crawled up his body until he was lying full against him. He started doing his own thrusting in the hollow of John's hip. John helped as much as he could, which wasn't much considering what a wet noodle he was, but he held Rodney's ass, and nibbled at his neck and, apparently, that was enough, because with a low groan, Rodney came between their bodies, a sense of heat spreading over John's hip and lower abdomen.

Now it was Rodney's turn to collapse which he, thankfully, did by shifting off of John and sagging against his side. "That's a great way to start the day," John drawled, grinning.

"Hmm," said the other wet noodle. "I just wanted to make sure that last night had actually happened."

"Suppose it hadn't happened?" John asked. "Suppose it had all been a dream?"

Rodney rolled a little until he was on his side facing John, his head now supported by his hand that was held up by his elbow planted into the mattress. "And you being naked in my bed was just some weird coincidence that falsely supported my ultimate wet dream?"

John smiled smugly at being considered someone's ultimate wet dream. "Yeah," he said.

"Then giving you a blow job would get things going in the right direction," Rodney said reasonably. "I figured I couldn't really lose, unless you being in my bed naked was only some sort of military revolt--"

John slapped a hand over his face. "O'Neill. Shit."

"Oh, stop being such a drama queen," Rodney snapped. "First of all, he's not a general anymore. Second, he's not your boss, or mine. And third, he said it didn't matter. In fact, he probably took Daniel back to his quarters and did the same thing to him."

John moved his hand and stared at Rodney. "O'Neill and Jackson?"

"According to the rumors," Rodney answered with a shrug. "Granted, those same rumors had Daniel with just about everyone, including me, so they could all be vicious lies."

"You and Daniel?" John asked with a frown.

"Vicious lies," Rodney said again. He sat up, looking over toward the makeshift bed they'd made for Tiger with the Atlantis heating pad and some towels. "How's Tiger?"

"Ha!" John said victoriously, "You called her Tiger. That is so her name."

"Only because you're impossible to argue with," Rodney said sulkily.

"Me?" John crowed. "I'm impossible to argue with?"

"When it comes to naming things, yes," Rodney said, continuing to pout. "You haven't let me name anything."

John shot him a narrowed-eyed look. "You're just expecting me to make it up to you with blow jobs, aren't you?"

"Absolutely," Rodney said with his lopsided grin.

John couldn't help but grin back.

"She's awfully quiet," Rodney observed. "Shouldn't she have woken up sometime during the night wanting to be fed? God, do you think we slept through it and she's dead?" He crawled over John, narrowly missing his balls, to get to the floor.

John rolled his eyes but couldn't help a twinge of concern as Rodney hunkered down next to the towels. "She's fine, Rodney," John said. "Right? I mean, she's fine, right?" He couldn't imagine them sleeping through her hungry screeches. For something so little, she had a set of lungs on her.

"She's fine," Rodney said.

John took in a breath, realizing he'd forgotten to breathe there for a second. Then, seeing that Rodney was just staring at the kitten, said, "But?"

"Doesn't she look bigger?"

John rolled out of bed and joined Rodney by Tiger's bed. She did look a little bigger. "She's a growing kitten. Why wouldn't she look bigger?"

Doubtfully, Rodney nodded. "I suppose."

"If you're worried about her, take her to see Carson."

Nodding again, Rodney said, "Yeah, good idea. What are you doing today?"

John had to think about it, but when he remembered, he dropped his head and groaned.

"What, what is it?" Rodney asked worriedly.

"I'm orienting Jack O'Neill to Atlantis," John said in dread.

Like a complete bastard, Rodney grinned at John. "Good luck with that," he teased.

"Asshole," John said.

***

Jack grabbed some coffee and sat down at the table with Daniel and Ronon. He bared his teeth at both of them in a mock semblance of a grin, making his displeasure known.

Ronon, fortunately, got the hint. "Remember what I said, Daniel," he said as he stood.

"I will," promised Daniel faithfully.

Jack was tempted to toss his coffee all over Daniel.

Ronon picked up his tray and joined another table where Major Lorne sat with a few Marines. When Lorne looked up to welcome Ronon, he noticed Jack and Daniel. Lorne got up to walk over to their table. "Sir," he said respectfully. "Dr. Jackson," he said cautiously.

Jack grinned. "Probably thought you'd seen the last of Daniel when you came to the Pegasus galaxy," he teased.

Daniel rolled his eyes. "It's Daniel. And I don't bite."

"All evidence to the contrary," Jack said, remembering Daniel going ape- shit at Lorne for moving his precious artifacts.

That got a grin out of Lorne. "I think I've toughened up, some," he said, grinning more broadly. "I have to deal with Dr. McKay now." Jack noticed he glanced around quickly as he said that, no doubt making sure the good doctor wasn't in hearing range.

"That's true," Jack said. He'd deal with Daniel in one of his pissy moods any day over McKay. He pointed back to Lorne's table. "You better get back. Ronon's eyeing your dessert."

Lorne started a half-salute which turned into a sort of wave, and with a "Welcome to Atlantis, both of you," he headed back to his table.

"Where were we?" Jack said to Daniel

Daniel shrugged casually.

Thinking back, Jack narrowed his eyes, remembering. "You will, what?" Jack asked, danger in his voice that he just knew Daniel would completely ignore.

"I will what what?" Daniel inquired, taking a sip of his coffee, eyebrows up as if he just couldn't imagine what Jack was talking about.

"Daniel," Jack said menacingly.

"Jack," Daniel said mischievously. Then, with a dismissive wave of his hand, asked, "What are you doing today?"

"Following you around everywhere," Jack said sternly.

"Promise?" Daniel asked, his voice husky.

Jack stopped with his coffee an inch from his lips. That had sounded flirty, and, and, well, flirty. He couldn't think of a thing to say to save his life. Him, Jack O'Neill who snarked with system lords on a weekly basis, was completely flummoxed by Daniel Jackson saying one word to him.

That was when McKay walked in, followed by Sheppard. McKay walked right to their table and smiled that smile that boded nothing good for anyone blond within a five mile radius. "Jack, Daniel," McKay said, still smiling.

"McKay, Sheppard," Jack said guardedly. He almost had to shut his eyes against the vision of the two of them grappling on the floor. Some things should never, ever be seen.

"Rodney," Sheppard said with a hint of warning, distressingly similar to how Jack said Daniel's name several times a day, especially on a mission.

"John," Rodney said with an irrepressible grin. Then, actually bouncing on his toes, he added, "I'll just let you and Jack get going, while I steal Daniel." To Daniel, he added, "I thought we could see what that ascended-manufactured ATA-gene of yours actually does."

That was when Jack remembered that Sheppard was supposed to be orienting him to Atlantis today. Great.

"I thought we'd start with the puddle jumpers," Sheppard said, looking almost as thrilled at the thought of spending time with Jack as he was with him. "Thought we could take one out for a flight."

For a goodwill gesture, Jack decided it was a great one. There wasn't anything that couldn't be made better by flying. "Good idea," he said, standing. He sent a quelling glance to Daniel through narrow eyes, hoping it was clearly communicating to Daniel that whatever it was he had told Ronon he would do, it better not have anything to do with getting naked.

Daniel, as usual, ignored him. He had the nerve to smirk at Jack, and say, "Have fun. Try not to shoot anything."

"Unless it's a Wraith," Rodney added. "Or dinner."

John rolled his eyes at the same time Jack did, and Jack decided that taste in sex partners aside, John Sheppard might be all right. They all said their goodbyes and headed off in separate directions, Rodney and Daniel to the lab, and John and Jack to the jumper bay.

***

"So," Jack asked as they flew over the mainland, "Rodney McKay?"

"You don't seriously expect me to discuss my love life with you, do you, sir?" John asked, not quite comfortable calling Jack Jack.

"Hell, no," Jack said vehemently.

"Exactly," John said smoothly. He pointed to the read out. "Just think weapons at it," he instructed. It was no surprise that Jack had taken to flying the jumpers like a duck to water. He had flown one of the time travel versions for some mission that still, apparently, weirded Jack out enough that he hadn't said much except muttering something about there being fish in his pond, now. John was perfectly happy to leave it at that.

Jack obediently brought up the weapons control. "Sweet," he said with a grin. They flew in silence for a few minutes while Jack did some banks and rolls getting used to the inertial dampeners. "But," he suddenly said, "Rodney McKay?"

"Daniel Jackson?" John said in retaliation.

"Completely different thing," Jack said firmly. "First of all, there isn't a me and Daniel. Second of all, everyone likes Daniel. Everyone," he added sulkily.

John's eyebrows went up. "There's no you and Daniel?"

"No," Jack said, still pouting. "Maybe, but no."

"Maybe but no?" John asked. "Usually with stuff like that you either are or you aren't."

Jack frowned, then asked, "So what's with this Ronon guy?"

John was perfectly happy to change the subject. "His planet was destroyed, and the Wraith made him a runner. Put this thing in his back so they could track him and hunt him. He kept them on the run for seven years." John still couldn't believe that. He wasn't sure he'd have lasted a month. Ronon was one tough son of a bitch. Jack didn't look particularly impressed. "Wait until you meet the Wraith, sir-"

"Jack," Jack interrupted.

"Jack," John said reluctantly. "Then you'll be impressed." Not that he wanted Jack to meet the Wraith. If none of them ever saw a Wraith again, that would be fine with John. "If you think location and Stargates," he said, "a display will show you where all the nearest ones are."

The indicated screen came up and Jack studied it for a moment. "A portable version of this would have come in handy a time or two," he noted.

"Rodney figured out how to download this program into the lifesign detectors," John said. In response to his thought, a detector popped up and he pointed it out to Jack. Jack reached for it, and gave it a good look. "Sweet," he said again.

As they flew over the Athosian settlement, John pointed it out.

Jack sat up a little to give it a good look. "Why don't they live on Atlantis?"

"They're farmers," John said. "They lived on Atlantis for a while, but it didn't really work. This way we can offer them protection from the Wraith, and they share their food with us."

"Why doesn't that Teyla person live with them, if she's their leader?"

"She believes she can better help her people by helping us fight the Wraith. Halling, this guy who's sort of her second in command, keeps an eye on things."

They flew along for a few more minutes. Then, Jack glanced at John. "Rodney McKay?"

"What about him?" John snapped out.

"I don't get the appeal. He drove us all nuts at the SGC. He managed to totally piss Carter off, and that's not easy to do. Trust me, I've given it my best shot, and the most I get from her is an eye roll."

John had no idea how to explain Rodney to someone who didn't really know him. He knew that a lot of people would agree with Jack's assessment, even a few people on Atlantis. Although, most of the people there knew they owed their lives to Rodney a dozen times over, and were more than willing to overlook his arrogance. And Rodney had more friends than he knew. John wasn't the only one who had seen what lay underneath Rodney's ego. He was just the lucky one who got to see it most of the time.

He could see that Jack was still waiting for an answer, so he shrugged.

"That's it?" Jack demanded.

"Why do you like Daniel?" John countered.

"That's easy," Jack said. "He's brilliant--"

"Check," John said, interrupting.

"Nice," Jack added strongly.

"Check," John said, then added honestly, "sometimes. To me," he finished with a wince.

"Good looking," Jack said next.

"Check," John said.

"What?" Jack asked skeptically.

"I think he's good looking," John defended himself. Then, taking the lead, said, "He's a genius."

"Check," Jack said. "But that's sort of like brilliant, so that doesn't really count."

"He's funny," John added. "He's really good at insulting people."

"Okay, you got me there," Jack said reluctantly. "Daniel's too nice most of the time to insult people. Although," he added, "he can be a sarcastic bastard when he wants to be."

"He's never boring," John said with a grin. Say what you want about Rodney, but things were never dull when he was around.

"Crap, you got me there, too," Jack griped. "Daniel can put me to sleep in a heartbeat when he gets excited about potholes and artifacts in situ."

"He saves my life all the time," John pointed out.

"Ditto," Jack said.

"He's scared shitless all the time, but he never lets it stop him," John said. That was one of the things he admired most about Rodney.

"Hm," Jack said. "I'm not sure Daniel's got the sense to be scared shitless. He's too busy baiting Goa'uld to be scared."

"He lives on powerbars and coffee," John said with a grin. He was actually starting to enjoy himself.

"That's one more food group than Daniel lives on," Jack said. "If I didn't go get him out of his office, he'd never eat or sleep."

"Half the time I find him asleep on his keyboard," John said with a grin. He touched his face, "With little box shaped imprints all over his cheek."

Jack snorted. "Books."

"Laptops."

"The Discovery Channel," Jack said in a tone of voice that suggested he'd watched hours and hours of educational television against his will.

John grinned. "Mocking the Back to the Future trilogy."

"That doesn't sound so bad," Jack said.

"Over and over and over again."

"Got it," Jack consoled. "If I have to see one more National Geographic special on Egypt, my television goes out the window."

"Unless he brought DVDs with him, you probably don't need to worry about it anymore," John said.

"Excellent point," Jack said in a very pleased voice. "I like the way you think, even if I still totally don't get the McKay thing."

The memory of how he got woken up this morning still fresh in his mind and body, and deciding Jack so deserved it, he said, "He gives truly excellent blow jobs."

Jack looked both intrigued and horrified. "TMI, Sheppard!" Then for good measure, he added, "Ack."

Smiling smugly, John sat back comfortably in his chair.

Scowling, Jack paid attention to his flying for a few minutes.

"So why not with Daniel?" John asked, deciding if he and Rodney were Jack's business, then he could be equally nosy. "He seems nice enough, and, you know, all that other stuff."

"Welcome to Gay Atlantis?" Jack asked sardonically.

"I am the head of the military," John said self-righteously. "And you came all this way for him, didn't you?"

This time it was Jack's turn to shrug. Then he pointed. "What's that?"

John peered through the windshield. "Huh. I don't know. They look like ruins of some kind."

They both asked at the same time: "Should we go look?"

Then, at the same time John said, "Rodney'd kill me if I didn't go get him first," Jack said, "Daniel would skin me alive if I didn't take him with."

They stared at each other, then scowled, neither of them willing to admit how whipped they were. John sighed and Jack turned the jumper around. About half way back to Atlantis, John, as nonchalantly as he could, although he could hear the smugness in his voice, said, "If you're putting up with the rest of the crap, it seems to me you might as well be getting blow jobs out of it."

***

It wasn't until the next day that they went back to explore what John and Jack had discovered from the air. Teyla and Ronon had been co- opted by another team, so it was just the four of them.

Rodney stood, tapping his toe, arms crossed over his chest, as he watched and waited while the testosterone-laden Boy Scout twins grunted as they poked their P90s into every nook and crevice on the off- off chance that this very abandoned site might--might--contain some here-to-fore undiscovered invisible menace.

"Are you done?" he asked, gesturing at the very empty clearing if you didn't count the rock formations and the altar looking thing in the middle.

He got a set of twin glares, reminding him of the twin complaints that had shot both his and Daniel's way as they very reasonably followed the readings on Rodney's hand-held and entered the ruins without, apparently, permission and sufficient hand-holding. John had snapped out a "Rodney" precisely at the same time that Jack had snapped out a "Daniel" and they'd both been shunted aside.

He and Daniel had exchanged eye rolls, and Rodney had been patient, exceedingly so. The Hardy boys had been at this for at least an hour. "How long are you going to take?" he snapped out.

"We've been here for less than a minute, Rodney," John drawled in that infuriatingly sexy way he had, that made Rodney want to take him behind the nearest boulder and rip his clothes off.

"Whatever," Rodney said.

"Okay, I think it's safe," Jack said.

Rodney rolled his eyes again. "Finally." He shooed his hands at John and Jack. "Go away now. Go hunt wooly mammoths or build a fire and stare at it while you scratch yourselves."

"Charming," Jack said sarcastically, although he agreeably enough turned and headed off, John behind him.

Ignoring them, Rodney collected up Daniel and proceeded to check out the altar that was in the center of the circle of stones. Rodney took some readings then glanced at Daniel. "What are you doing?"

"I'm trying to see if this decoration is some sort of writing or means of communication," Daniel said, his finger tracing a spiral looking thing.

Rodney looked at him, the altar, him, the altar. "Hm," he finally said, going back to his readings. As long as Daniel didn't get in his way, he could draw on the altar in crayons as far as Rodney was concerned.

"Do you always talk that way to him?"

"What?" Rodney said, pulling his eyes away from his readings.

"John. Do you always talk that way to him?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know, sort of mean," Daniel said with an apologetic smile.

Rodney let out an outraged scoff. "I am not mean," he protested. Then, he furrowed his brow, and said anxiously, "You think I'm mean?" Then, definitively, "I'm not mean. I just tell the truth." He waved at Daniel in a you-can't-help-being-the-way-you-are sort of way. "I was raised by parents who couldn't possibly appreciate the raw talent I was born with, so it's a minor, no, actually a major miracle that my genius wasn't stifled, but at least they never attempted to foist societal niceties on me, as they're a complete waste of time. The truth never hurt anyone," he finished defiantly.

"I think the truth can hurt more than anything, sometimes," Daniel said a little sadly.

Rodney thought about that, almost dismissed it, but then, nervously, asked, "Do you think I hurt him with what I said?" Rodney didn't want to hurt John. John was probably one of the only people Rodney might actually consider going out of his way to be nice to. And maybe Elizabeth. Teyla. Ronon. Carson. Daniel. He scowled. As if Wraith weren't bad enough, now he might have to start keeping a list of people he maybe sort of actually liked and might have to be nice to.

"No," Daniel said. "I was just wondering if maybe I should be meaner to Jack."

"Why?" Rodney asked through furrowed brows. Mean and Daniel just didn't go together in his brain. Sarcastic, yes, foolhardy, yes, annoying in that soft science sort of way, yes. But, mean?

Daniel shrugged, but then, his eyes darting to Rodney's, then away, said, "Maybe I thought it might--." He stopped, frustrated. "John obviously doesn't mind it, if he's sleeping with you," he finally said.

Rodney thought that one through. "Hmm. I thought you and Jack were already, you know?" He made a brief pumping motion with his hand. Vulgar, yes, but it got the point across.

Shaking his head, Daniel said, "No, we're not."

"Why do you think that John and I--?" he started, finishing with the same hand motion.

"You mean besides Jack walking in on you the other night?" Daniel asked.

"Right. Good point," Rodney said, feeling the blood rush to his face. "So you two really aren't?"

Daniel shook his head again.

"And you think if maybe you're mean to him that he'll want you?" Rodney asked incredulously.

"Well, how did you know?" Daniel asked a little defensively. "I'm so bad at this stuff," he confided honestly.

"God, me, too," Rodney agreed, glad to have that on the table.

"So, how did you know?"

"He crawled into bed with me," Rodney said, remembering the moment fondly. On the whole, the last two days had been two of the best days of his life. "I mean, not to actually have sex, but still, in bed, with me. It made me think."

"I can see how it would."

"He gave me a cat," Rodney said, hoping it would help. "Cute little thing." He frowned. "Although her weight's doubled in four days. I don't think that's normal. Do you think that's normal?"

"I don't know much about cats," Daniel admitted.

"She looks like a cat. Cat ears, and a cat tail, cute little cat teeth, and a cat tongue." Rodney wasn't sure if he was trying to convince Daniel or himself. "She purrs like a cat."

"If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck," Daniel offered.

"Yes, yes," Rodney muttered. "I keep telling myself that."

"I don't really see myself just getting into bed with Jack," Daniel said.

This was one of the weirder conversations Rodney had had in a long time, and considering the people he worked with, that was saying a lot. He wasn't the most likely candidate for Atlantis' Advice-to-the-Lovelorn columnist. But, on the other hand, Rodney had somehow scored the hottest guy in Atlantis, so maybe that did make him somewhat of an expert.

"Maybe a picnic?" Daniel suggested hopefully when the silence had gone on a little too long.

Rodney snorted. "Right." He held few fond memories of picnics, the vision of John and Chaya and a picnic basket still painfully burned on his retinas. "Why don't you just tell him the truth?" Rodney countered. Mean or no, Rodney always found the truth to be the most direct path to getting him what he wanted, or getting the pain of not getting what he wanted over as quickly as possible.

Daniel looked wistful all of a sudden. "I sort of want to, I don't know, woo him."

"Woo?" Rodney said. He wasn't sure he'd ever said that word before except as someone's last name. He thought he used to have a lab technician named Woo. Or maybe it was Lee, or Chin. "Woo?" he said again, deciding it was kind of a stupid word.

"Yeah," Daniel said with a hint of glare. "What's wrong with wooing?"

"Nothing," Rodney said. "Woo away." He thought of the cat, wondered if John had been wooing him and found himself somewhat charmed by the thought. "I'd suggest you get him a cat, too, but the planet John found her on is filled with really big giblet-eating pterodactyl things."

"I'll pass, then," Daniel said reasonably.

Rodney looked at the gadget in his hand, felt the lure of the numbers scrolling across the screen. He manfully resisted and said, "How about a late night stroll around Atlantis? She's beautiful at night. John's taken me all over the city. Huh," he added. Maybe John really had been wooing him. Or maybe they'd been wooing each other, both completely clueless. Typical. "I could show you some places to go."

Daniel smiled. "Thank you. I like that idea."

Pushing aside his personal distaste for picnics, Rodney confided, "One of the cooks, I think her name is Della, is a romantic at heart, or so I've been told ad nauseum by Lt. Cadman." He shuddered. "Long story. Anyway, I understand she'll cook private dinners for two."

Daniel's eyes lit up. "I remember her. She makes excellent coffee."

"That she does," Rodney agreed dreamily. "Oh, oh, and I've downloaded a huge amount of music into Atlantis' databanks, so you can play a wide choice of musical selections in your quarters." In fact, maybe he'd surprise John one night with dinner and music. He got lost for a moment in anticipation of the evening's probable end. Then, deciding he'd played cupid long enough, he sighed, "Can I get some work done now? Any other personal problems I need to solve for you?"

"No, I'm good," Daniel said.

***

"What do you think they're talking about?" Jack asked, watching Daniel and Rodney chatting.

"Some geeky thing they found," John said.

"Yeah, probably," Jack admitted. He patted his P90, adjusted his baseball cap, and leaned against the puddle jumper. For only being there one day, he felt remarkably at home. "At least they're getting along," he observed. "McKay and Carter were like two spitting tomcats. Course," he added, a glint in his eye, "sexual tension can do that."

John glared at him.

Jack grinned.

"So," John began, clearly in retaliation, "had any good blow jobs lately?"

Jack scowled.

"Just go for it," John advised.

"Right," Jack said. "And blow the best friendship I have? No pun intended."

"Do you really think he'd say no?"

Jack shrugged. He'd never really even thought about it until that conversation with Carter. It was hard to believe that Daniel had left Earth because he had the hots for Jack. And, okay, yes, there had been that weird little bit of flirting, but for all he knew it was some strange Daniel blip that didn't mean anything. "He tricked me into signing some papers that would take him to a different galaxy," Jack reminded John. "Not exactly a proposal."

This time John shrugged, and then his eyes moved back to Rodney and Daniel. "They're really talking up a storm, aren't they?"

"Which just goes to prove my point that Daniel gets along with everyone," Jack said pointedly.

"Maybe," John said snidely, "but my boyfriend's smarter than yours."

Jack snorted. "Yeah, well, my boyfriend's better looking than yours. And Daniel's no lightweight in the brains department."

"My boyfriend can build a nuclear bomb," John taunted.

"My boyfriend can speak twenty-three languages," Jack boasted.

"Okay, that's pretty cool," John admitted.

"You betcha," Jack said. "Now if I could only understand him when he spoke English, we'd be on to something."

Snickering, John said, "My boyfriend can fix anything."

"Daniel, not so much," Jack said with a sigh. Daniel might spend hours, days, weeks, gluing together pottery shards, but his overall philosophy was, essentially, if it was broken and replaceable, throw it out and buy a new one. Even if it was only sort of broken, like he couldn't figure out how to turn the damn thing on. Jack had fished several cell phones out of Daniel's trash can that went on to live fruitful lives in someone else's hands.

"He was glowing the other day, you know," John said, out of the blue.

"What do you mean?" Jack asked apprehensively. Daniel and glowing were a bad combination.

"When he first got here, he started to glow, and then he really got glowy. Rodney helped him get it under control."

Jack screwed his face up, wondering what the hell that meant. No way was Daniel going all the way glowy. Once was already one time way too many. He hadn't noticed Daniel glowing since he'd arrived; maybe it had been a one time deal. "There is no way in hell Daniel's doing the ascended thing again," Jack growled. He could only hope that Daniel had a better track record at staying alive in Atlantis than he did on Earth.

"I watched a whole village ascend once," John offered. "It seemed sort of peaceful," he ended on a questioning note.

"Bullshit," Jack snarled. "Try watching your best friend, as he slowly liquefies to death from radiation poisoning, who somehow manages to tap you on the shoulder so you can have some mumbo jumbo conversation with him so he can get you to give him permission to move on, and watch him walk away from you after six goddamn years, never knowing if you'll ever see him again. There isn't anything goddamn peaceful about it."

John pursed his lips as he studied Jack but didn't say anything.

"Second worst day of my life," Jack muttered.

"What was your worst day?" John asked.

Jack gave him a look, decided John wasn't asking out of idle curiosity. He knew John had had a few sucky days of his own. "When my son blew his brains out with my gun," Jack said softly.

"Jesus," John said, physically recoiling.

"How about you?" Jack asked, wanting the attention off of him.

"My worst day?" John asked reluctantly.

Jack nodded.

"You've read my file," John offered by way of an answer.

Jack nodded again.

"So, going to rescue my friends and having them die, and then getting almost court-martialed when I got back sort of sucked." He thought for a minute. "Waking up the Wraith sucked," John said. "Watching all these planets get culled knowing it's my fault. That totally sucks."

"Yeah, I'll bet it does," Jack agreed, "but it's not your fault."

"I picked up that damn amulet and activated it, and then I killed the queen."

"Not your fault," Jack insisted. "Fucking bad luck. That's all. Shit, half the stuff SG-1 did was all about luck. It's a wonder we didn't blow up the universe. We damn near tried a few times." He shrugged. "Whatever happens, you just deal with it the best you can. That's all you can ever do."

Jack didn't miss the quick flash of gratitude that crossed John's face. Figuring they'd never end up having this conversation again, Jack added, "John, I know you weren't prepared in any way to become base commander after Sumner died, but you've done all right. It wasn't just Elizabeth rooting for you that kept you here. Trust me, if I didn't think you could do the job, I'd have sent someone else."

John looked away for a moment, but then he nodded, and said, "Thanks. I appreciate that."

Deciding it was past time for this conversation to be over, Jack yelled, "Daniel, are we done here?"

To his immense and staggering surprise, Daniel yelled back, "Yes." Then, he and Rodney strode over to where Jack and John were hanging out.

"There's nothing here," Rodney said unhappily. "The altar's not putting out any kind of energy reading to speak of, and Daniel can't make heads or tails out of the scribbles all over it. Might as well be covered with John's doodles of jets and puddle jumpers."

Daniel looked like he might take offense at the use of the word scribbles, but apparently even he wasn't interested enough in the site to get worked up about it.

"Great," Jack said, deciding they were getting off easy and should get out of there while the getting was good. "Let's go."

There was no argument as all four men got in the puddle jumper, Jack gesturing for John to pilot, and they headed back to Atlantis.

***

Still gasping for breath, John stared up at the ceiling, Rodney half sprawled on top of him. Even after two weeks, it kept getting better and better. "You know," he said sleepily, "I think it's good Jack is here."

Rodney squinted at John. "We just had mind-blowing sex and you're talking about Jack O'Neill? Why, exactly?"

Okay, that was a fair question. He shrugged.

Instead of doing his usual impersonation of a limp jelly fish after they'd had sex, Rodney hoisted himself up on one elbow and stared at John, eyebrows up.

John shrugged again, sort of sorry he'd brought the subject up.

"I get it," Rodney suddenly said. "Now you have someone you can go running to when everything's falling apart."

"Hey!" John protested, although there was some truth to Rodney's statement. Jack knew a lot. He'd been a military commander for years. Decades. He totally got John's job and his responsibility. And in the two weeks Jack had been in Atlantis, the advice he'd given John had been low-key, non-intrusive without an I-know-better-than-you tone, and was mostly pretty damn funny. It was an added layer of comfort for John that he'd never expected.

"Seriously," Rodney said, his lopsided grin belying his word. "Now you have someone to bond with over the horrors of inventory or when you run out of target paper."

"Shut up," John said, even though he couldn't stop a returning grin.

"You're more relaxed," Rodney said quietly, all humor now gone from his face. "You smile more. Your shoulders aren't as tense."

John realized it was true. He was more relaxed. "Could be the sex," he offered. That was new, too, and started at the same time Jack arrived.

"Of course it's the sex," Rodney said smugly. "But I also think it's O'Neill."

"You've been more relaxed, too," John said, sort of ashamed he'd just noticed. Maybe he hadn't seen it because he'd been slowly relaxing right along with Rodney and they always tended to be at the same level of vigilance, even if they expressed it differently.

"Well, sex," Rodney said. "And then giving half my departments away helped." He let out a happy sigh. "No more botany, no more zoology or sociology. Thank God."

"They're all looking a little more relaxed," John teased. Simpson had been glowing from Daniel's praise the other day when John had seen them in the hallway.

"Of course they're more relaxed," Rodney scoffed. "They don't have to deal with their inadequacy anymore by coming face-to-face with my genius every day."

"Right," John drawled. "That must be it."

Rodney slugged him not-quite painfully in the arm.

"Ow," John complained. "So, how goes the wooing?" Rodney had related the conversation he'd had with Daniel, much as John had shared his conversation with Jack.

"Daniel hasn't had a lot of time since I dumped all my work on him," Rodney said a little too gleefully. "But I know they've been going for walks."

"Walks?"

"Yeah, romantic walks, around Atlantis. Like we used to do. Still do."

"Those were romantic walks?" John asked. "I thought they were planning sessions on how not to be destroyed by the Wraith."

"That too," Rodney agreed. "But they were sort of romantic, in a Wraith barraging the shield in a fireworks display kind of way."

"Very romantic," John said, rolling his eyes.

"You mean you weren't wooing me?" Rodney asked, disappointed.

"Not consciously, no," John said honestly. "But, unconsciously? Probably since the day we met."

Rodney grinned at him before narrowing his eyes. "And all your floozies?"

John huffed out an annoyed breath. "All my floozies? Rodney, there were maybe three floozies. That's all. Time to move on."

"Not in my lifetime," Rodney said derisively. "If I don't keep reminding you of the errors of your ways, you might have a relapse."

The bed dipped accompanied by a thump and an inquisitive mew. John looked at Tiger speculatively; she was growing every day.

Rodney reached out and pulled her close. "John," he said guardedly. "Two weeks ago she fit in my hand. Now she's as big as a house cat and she's still a kitten. She's barely eating on her own, and she still trips over her own feet."

"Yeah, I sort of noticed the growing bigger thing." John wished he'd found the kitten's mother so they had some idea of what they were in for.

"That planet had pterodactyl things," Rodney continued. "Really big pterodactyl things. What if it really is a dinosaur planet? What if she's like this saber tooth tiger that's going to eat all of us," he finished nervously.

To punctuate his words, Tiger mashed her face into Rodney's, licked his cheek, and then settled back down to gnaw on Rodney's thumb.

"See?" Rodney squawked. "She's tasting me."

John noticed it didn't stop Rodney from petting her. "Yeah, she's a real man-eater," he said. Fortunately, John hadn't seen any aggressive behavior out of her at all other than an occasional accidental scratch when John was tickling her. She was also still drinking milk mixed with Pedialyte, turning her nose up at more solid food. It was only a matter of time, though, because between her teeth and claws, there was no doubt that she was a carnivore. "Maybe we should let her roam around the city, get used to everyone here."

"So she can scope out her dinner?" Rodney asked skeptically.

"No," John said slowly, "so she'll know who not to eat."

"Oh," Rodney said. "That's a good idea." He pointed a warning finger at Tiger. "No eating any of the scientists. Except Kavanaugh. Him you can eat. And the occasional Marine."

"Hey," John complained.

***

"So, have you met them?" Ronon asked Teyla, gesturing to where Jack and Daniel were sitting across the cafeteria.

"I have," Teyla said. "I accompanied Daniel to the Athosian settlement the other day. I found him to be soothing company, although he is very curious."

"And Jack?" Ronon liked Jack, even if Jack still gave him funny looks. It hadn't taken long for Ronon to figure out it was Jack's way of telling him to keep his hands off Daniel, which Ronon took as invitation to get in Daniel's space as often as possible.

"He reminds me much of the colonel," Teyla said. "He is a warrior at heart."

"Yeah," Ronon said. "Daniel's not much like Rodney, though," he added with a grin.

"No," she said with an answering grin. "He is not."

"You think they're doing it?" Ronon asked, as he took another large bite of his sandwich.

"Sharing blankets?" Teyla inquired.

"Yeah," Ronon said.

"I believe they are very much in love," she observed, by way of an answer. A soft smile was on her face. It made Ronon wonder what she'd look like if she was in love with someone.

"They look good together," he said.

Her gaze was admiring as she nodded. "I agree."

He grinned again. "Sheppard and McKay?" he tossed out as if in comparison. "Not sure that'd be so nice to look at."

Teyla sent him one of her disapproving looks. "Dr. McKay has much to commend him," she said kindly.

"Like what?" Ronon asked, enjoying getting Teyla riled, and noticing she hadn't felt the need to argue on Sheppard's behalf.

This time the look promised retribution, probably with her sticks. "I do not believe I need to convince you of anything," she said sternly.

"Nah," he agreed with another grin. "McKay's all right." Not that Ronon was interested in having sex with him. Ronon had thought about it a couple of times; there was something weirdly attractive about the guy, but then he'd open his damn mouth, and Ronon always decided there was easier and quieter game afoot. Sheppard was the only one who didn't seem to mind Rodney's non-stop talking. Ronon wondered if McKay talked as much in bed.

Daniel and Jack got up and walked by the table where Teyla and Ronon were sitting and Daniel gave both of them a warm smile. Jack was a little more reserved, and Ronon noticed that Jack did his best to unobtrusively inch Daniel away from passing too near to Ronon. Ronon would have bet money on it that Jack wasn't even aware of how territorial he was.

Then they were out the door and gone.

"Where are McKay and Sheppard?" Ronon asked, stealing Teyla's dessert.

Teyla glared at Ronon and Ronon gave the dessert back. Teyla might be short but she was vicious.

"I believe Rodney is in the lab, and John is with Elizabeth," Teyla answered his question, enjoying her first spoonful of her dessert with a taunting "Mmmm."

"Where's the cat?" Ronon asked.

"Either in Rodney's quarters, or with Carson," Teyla answered with a small grin.

"It's growing fast," Ronon commented, thinking about how much the damn thing had grown in the last couple of weeks.

"It is, indeed," Teyla agreed, pushing the uneaten half of her dessert at Ronon.

Not waiting for her to change her mind, Ronon picked it up and shoved it in his mouth.

***

Two weeks later, Elizabeth called John into her office. "John," Elizabeth started off sternly. "We need to talk about the kitten."

John managed to keep a grimace off his face as he sat down in one of Elizabeth's chairs. "Shouldn't you be having this conversation with Rodney?" he suggested, perfectly happy to deflect Elizabeth's wrath Rodney's way.

"You brought it here."

"Her," John corrected Elizabeth. "I brought her here."

"She's only been here four weeks and she's as large as a bobcat. How much larger is she going to grow?" Elizabeth said with a frown, crossing her arms over her chest.

John always felt about twelve years old when she did that. Twelve hadn't been a particularly good year for him. He could have used Rodney's cat on a regular basis as therapy. "I don't know," John answered honestly. "But, she's completely tame."

"She probably is," Elizabeth conceded, "but at some point she'll need to start eating solid food, and if she grows as large as Carson suspects she will, she'll need the equivalent of a deer a week. We can't spare the food, John."

Frowning, John thought fast. "Um, we'll take her to the mainland and teach her to hunt." His mind was full of Rodney on his hands and knees showing Tiger how to pounce on dinner. Then, his mind was full of Rodney on his hands and knees for entirely other reasons. He shifted in his chair.

"And if she can't find dinner one night?" Elizabeth challenged. "Will she decide that one of the Athosians would do?"

"No," John protested, even though it was entirely possible.

"She's too young to be let loose, now," Elizabeth said, "but as soon as she's eating solid food, she needs to go."

John lifted his eyebrow at her. "I'll let you tell Rodney."

"No," she countered. "You will tell Rodney. You brought her here, as far as I'm concerned, you're responsible for her."

John scowled, thinking Elizabeth really was a mean old lady.

***

It was hard to believe he'd been here a month already. "It's beautiful here," Jack admitted, leaning over a balcony, watching the sun go down. He wished he'd brought his fishing gear.

"Too bad you didn't bring your fishing gear," Daniel said, echoing his thoughts.

"I was just thinking that."

"You could have them send something on Daedalus' next run."

"I could," Jack said agreeably. The Daedalus was leaving tomorrow, its month long stay coming to an end. Colonel Caldwell had politely asked him if he was coming back with them and Jack had just as politely told him no.

"Are they going to let you stay here?" Daniel asked anxiously.

There were a lot of ways to answer that question, and none of them would quite say what Jack wanted to say. He turned toward his friend, gave him a long look. "If you're here," Jack finally said, "so am I."

That got a small smile out of Daniel, but then he asked, "Suppose the President insists you go back to Earth?"

"He can come and get me," Jack said with a shrug.

"Jack."

"Daniel." When he caught Daniel's glare, Jack relented, saying, "You want my best guess?"

Daniel nodded.

"I think they're glad to have me here. Ever since the Wraith showed up, no one back on Earth has been thrilled to have this base under civilian control, and Sheppard wasn't most people's first choice for ranking military." When it looked like Daniel was about to interrupt, Jack continued right over him. "I don't have any intention of being in charge of anything, but if things go bad, I think Elizabeth and Sheppard would listen to me."

"They'd be foolish not to," Daniel said loyally.

"Even though you've hardly listened to me in eight years?" Jack said disparagingly.

"I listened, Jack. I always listened."

"And then you did whatever the hell you wanted."

Daniel shrugged. "Not all the time. Whenever you'd get that certain tone in your voice, I almost always did what you said."

"Almost always," Jack said disparagingly. "Words every team leader lives by." He tugged at his gray hair. "Your almost always, Daniel, gave me each and every one of these."

"It makes you look distinguished," Daniel commented.

Jack couldn't help but grin at that. "Distinguished?"

"Very," Daniel agreed. His eyes took a quick roam over Jack from his toes up to his gray hair.

Despite the passage of four weeks, they weren't any closer to whatever Jack suspected they'd end up being than when he'd arrived. They spent every free moment together, hanging out late into the night in one of their quarters, even falling asleep and ending up in a puppy pile come morning.

Daniel had shown him some breath-taking scenery, had shared his popcorn on movie night, had taken him to a couple of Athosian festivals where Daniel had pulled Jack into the celebratory dancing, and he'd even treated Jack to a couple of dinner picnics. In fact, Jack thought, turning back to the food set up behind them, he was getting hungry. "Let's eat."

"Okay," Daniel said agreeably.

They settled down onto the blanket Daniel had provided, and proceeded to make their way through an astonishing amount of finger food that required Daniel to continually suck on his fingers.

Jack found himself disconcertingly aroused. Now that he was admitting it, he realized there'd been a lot of that going on for a long time, but Jack had been quick to repress it or blame it on the situation or, he was embarrassed to admit, on Carter.

He knew better now.

Daniel was the pick of the litter, no doubt about it. Inside and out, he was a beautiful man, and Jack found his eyes focused on Daniel as he, yet again, put two fingers in his mouth to suck off whatever sauce had been left on them.

Jack had to look away, or he was going to be hard enough that Daniel couldn't fail to notice. Last night, for the first time, Jack had jerked off to thoughts of Daniel. He'd been tempted many times during the last couple of weeks, but last night he'd succumbed to the temptation. Now he was ready for the real thing.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Daniel lean forward. Jack turned his body in time to have Daniel wipe something off Jack's face, near his top lip. Before Jack could do anything, like suck Daniel's finger into his mouth, or at least get a lick in, it was gone.

"You had something on your face," Daniel explained, like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Jack might have bought it, but then Daniel put the same finger in his mouth and sucked on it.

Jack needed some ice cubes, fast. "Thanks," he managed to squeak out.

Daniel grinned at him.

Jack wanted to jump him.

Daniel leaned back until he was resting on his elbows, his body on display in khaki pants and a form-fitting t-shirt, his feet bare.

Jack decided if Daniel was putting it on display then he ought to get to look, so he did, from the top of Daniel's head down to his bare feet. Jack had no idea why a Daniel without socks or shoes sort of felt like a naked Daniel, but it did.

This wasn't the first time Daniel had been around him with naked feet. In fact, on a couple of memorable occasions, Daniel had even had his shirt off when he'd come to the door. Once, two days ago, he'd answered the door in nothing but a towel. Jack had still been gaping when Daniel had smirked at him while walking back into the bathroom. The towel had come off as the door shut letting Jack see a tantalizing glance of a naked hip.

He glanced down at the food, at the sunset, at Daniel on display, and suddenly realized that Daniel was seducing him. Slowly but surely, he was driving Jack insane. Bringing him over to the dark side, although in this case it was the Daniel side. Letting him get accustomed to the idea of Daniel as something more than a friend. Way more.

"Huh," Jack said.

Daniel lifted his eyebrows in question.

"You're a very sneaky man, Daniel Jackson," Jack admitted.

Now the eyebrows danced in confusion. "Where did that come from?"

Jack rolled his eyes, not deigning to answer. Let Daniel stew on that for a while. He was aggravated at being played so phenomenally well, but he was equally flattered. Actually, more flattered than aggravated.

"Jack," Daniel complained.

"Yeah?" Jack said, deciding two could play at this game. He kicked his own shoes off, stripped off his socks, and lay back on the blanket, his hands behind his head. There was silence. Like what you see, Dr. Jackson? he thought to himself, barely keeping a grin off his face.

Daniel cleared his throat.

Jack stretched.

Daniel cleared his throat again.

Jack reached over and stuck his finger in the cheesecake Daniel had included in their picnic, and then stuck his finger in his mouth, making sure to hollow his cheeks as he sucked. Ha!, he thought as he heard Daniel shift. Jack decided this was a fun game and wondered how long it would take before Daniel realized this was his invitation to pounce.

Unfortunately, his headset chose that moment to click at him. "Jack?" Sheppard's voice came over.

"Right here," Jack said, sitting up, glancing at Daniel who was a lovely shade of pink, sitting in a way that conveniently hid his groin.

"You told me last week you wanted to help out if a rescue mission came along. Well, we just got a distress call from one of our allies, and we're gearing up."

Jack looked at Daniel and sighed. Games were over for the evening, apparently. "Can you give me fifteen minutes?"

"See you at the gate," was the affirmative response.

Jumping to his feet, Jack opened his mouth to speak, but Daniel beat him to it. "We'll come back for this later," Daniel said, as he stood.

Obviously he'd heard the message, or caught enough as made no difference. "You don't have to go," Jack pointed out.

"If you're going, I'm going," Daniel said firmly.

That worked for Jack, actually. "Okay, let's go. We've got less than fifteen minutes now to get geared up."

Jack stared down at the food; thinking of where the evening had looked like it was heading and smiled ruefully as he followed Daniel off the balcony and into the hallways of Atlantis.

***

"Holy shit!" Jack yelled as the Wraith holding him down drew back his hand to ram it into his chest. These fuckers were strong, and while Goa'uld were strong, too, they couldn't suck your life away through their fingers. Jack had seen too many dried out husks in the last hour to want this to be how he bought it.

He grimaced as the hand descended, deciding it was just his fucking luck that this was going to be how it all ended, in another galaxy, after years of fighting aliens--and surviving--in his own, and before he'd even fucking kissed Daniel.

"Jack!" he heard yelled from too far away, and Jack tried to buck the Wraith off again, even as he felt the first pain of contact.

Then the Wraith was flying off of him, and Teyla was standing there handing him the P90 that had gone flying when the Wraith had attacked. She reached down to pull him up with a surprisingly strong grip and display of strength. A Wraith ray from a dart flying overhead flashed down in front of them, and Teyla pushed Jack out of its path, landing on top of him.

Cursing loudly, Jack let Teyla help him up again. He was already sick to death of the Wraith after meeting them up close and personal for only a couple of hours. How the fuck had Sheppard been doing this for two years, let alone Teyla and Ronon who'd lived their entire lives with this threat hanging over them? Now he got why Sheppard was so damn impressed with Ronon having given the Wraith a good run for seven years.

He glanced around frantically for Daniel and saw him shooting at the Wraith who was advancing on his position where he stood over Rodney. Rodney was keeping up a running panicked monologue, trying to repair the DHD. When the Wraith first appeared, Sheppard had shot down a dart that, in its death throes, had blasted the DHD.

Jack started running toward Daniel, but Ronon got there first and shot a hole in the Wraith's head. Daniel sagged in relief and then looked frantically for Jack.

Jack waved at him, letting him know he was okay, at least for the moment. The last thirty minutes they'd all just been trying to stay alive as Rodney did his best to pull a miracle out of his ass. Daniel was pulling double duty, protecting Rodney while also being a second set of hands if Rodney needed them.

Sheppard was shooting at another dart, and Jack lent his P90 to the cause. He was gratified to see it start to spin and then crash into the foothills a thousand yards to the east of them. Ronon continued to take care of the Wraith on the ground, that gun of his blowing satisfyingly large holes in the ones that wandered too close.

They'd lost two Marines to the Wraith, victim to a surprise attack that had them dead before the team could muster a defense. Another two were down due to being stunned, currently being watched over by a third Marine in the cloaked jumper.

The village had been in the process of being culled when they'd arrived. In addition to the three Marines, the jumper was also crammed to the gills with what women and children Sheppard and his team could round up. In a stroke of amazingly bad luck, one of the kids had decided the DHD in the jumper was a fun toy and had broken something vital, leaving them stranded unless McKay got the planet's DHD working.

A team of four Marines were doing their best to lay low with another group of villagers. Jack sincerely hoped there were more people hiding somewhere else; otherwise the population of this town was all but decimated.

Jack heard the unsettling whine of another dart and he spun and started to shoot, hearing Sheppard's weapon join his. This time it was Ronon pushing Sheppard out of the way of a culling ray.

Like music to his ears, Jack heard the sound of a DHD address being punched in and a wormhole kerwhooshing into existence.

"Go, go!" Sheppard yelled.

Easier said than done as another dart flew into view. Several ground Wraith chose that moment to attack as well, seeing their quarry attempting to escape. Ronon and Teyla focused on them, while Sheppard and Jack kept shooting at the dart.

"Colonel!" McKay yelled, "Move it."

It was one of the disadvantages of working with a team that cared so much for each other. Jack was very familiar with the situation--no one wanted to leave when their teammates were in danger. Jack watched as Daniel moved to help Teyla.

McKay was yelling at someone else, and out of the corner of his eye, Jack saw the four Marines bringing their chicks out of the woods and into the wormhole. The Marine on the jumper decided that was a good plan, and he had the women and children out of the jumper and running for the Stargate as well.

A dart made a run for the Stargate, but between Jack, Sheppard and Ronon, the thing didn't have a prayer, although it exploded uncomfortably close, spraying the area with shrapnel.

He saw a Marine go down. McKay, even though he was screaming bloody murder, ran to him, checking him out within seconds. Jack thought he saw the Marine grin, so he put him out of his mind.

There was a moment's respite, and Sheppard yelled again, "Go, now!"

This time, everyone scrambled. Ronon picked up the injured Marine and he and Teyla jumped through the gate. Sheppard and McKay ran for the jumper, Jack and Daniel right behind them.

The two stunned Marines were on the floor, and the third Marine who had returned once he'd gotten his villagers to the Stargate, got out of the way as the four of them ran onto the jumper. Sheppard took the pilot seat, Jack the co-pilot, McKay and Daniel behind them.

"Are there more?" Sheppard asked.

"More what?" Jack snapped, looking out the window for darts. He knew the jumper was cloaked, but it was still hard to relax.

"Rodney, are there more villagers?" Sheppard clarified as the jumper began to rise.

"Yes," McKay said, "assuming they're still alive. Stackhouse said there were pockets of them still in the village."

"Shit," Sheppard said with feeling, then added, "We gotta go find them." The jumper took off in the direction opposite the Stargate. Into his headset, Sheppard said, "Atlantis, this is Sheppard. Put the shield up. We're going after more survivors."

"Understood," came Elizabeth's calm but anxious voice. "Be careful."

"Always," Sheppard said with a smirk.

Jack stared at him in disbelief and then turned to look at McKay. "You've been on this team for two years? Fighting the Wraith?"

McKay nodded, his face white and pinched.

"Rodney shot a 10,000 year old Wraith that was about to feed on me," Sheppard said proudly.

"I take back anything bad I've ever said about you," Jack said fervently, astonished that a scientist like McKay had stuck it out so long. Not that Daniel wasn't just as astonishing, but Jack hadn't expected it from McKay, despite the mission reports he'd read.

McKay glared at him but then, unexpectedly, shot him a lopsided smile, and for a second Jack could totally see his appeal. To Daniel, Jack said, "You all right?"

Daniel nodded, although he was doing something with his jacket or under his jacket. When he pulled his hand out it was bloody. "Then, again, maybe not so much," he said to Jack.

"Jesus," McKay snarled, moving to Daniel, helping him strip off his jacket. "Get me the first-aid kit," he ordered the Marine.

Jack started to get up as well, but Sheppard pointed out the front windshield. "Incoming," he said tensely.

Reluctantly settling back down, Jack lit up the weapons console. There were two darts heading right for them. Sheppard started flying defensively, while Jack did his best to blow them out of the sky. "How is he?" he called back to McKay, who was barking out orders to the hapless Marine.

"He'll live," McKay snapped. There were paper tearing noises, and Daniel saying, "Ow," and McKay telling him to shut up, and that this was nothing more than he deserved for not knowing how to duck.

Jack was always glad to see someone with a bedside manner that sucked worse than his.

"Where the fuck are they coming from?" Sheppard gritted through his teeth as two more darts appeared. "Rodney, where's the hive ship?"

"And you're asking me that because I can suddenly sense the locations of Wraith hive ships with my mind?" Rodney said acerbically.

"No, Rodney," Sheppard drawled, "I'm asking you because you're the only one who can make the sensors work who isn't currently trying to keep you alive," he finished with a tad of sarcasm and a lot of so-figure-it-out- now-McKay-so-I-won't-have-to-kill- you.

"Perhaps it's escaped your attention that I'm trying to keep Daniel from bleeding to death," Rodney griped.

"I thought you said he was fine," Jack complained, his heart rate soaring along with the jumper.

"I am fine, Jack," Daniel insisted tightly. "I'm just bleeding a little."

"A lot," McKay sniped.

Knowing Daniel, Jack was more inclined to believe McKay. "All his body parts where they're supposed to be?" he asked. To Sheppard, he asked, "We got drones?" At Sheppard's nod, Jack thought drones at the darts, giving them the silent order to search out and destroy. He smiled smugly as first one, and then the second dart blew up in a fiery explosion.

"Ten fingers and ten toes," Daniel said reassuringly, despite the slight hitch in his voice as Rodney attended to him. "I just got hit in the side."

"By a jagged shard of metal," Rodney bitched.

There was the sound of tape being ripped as Jack peered out the windshield, wondering if they were finally done, at least for the moment. He could see the village below them looking eerily abandoned.

Jack couldn't help but think of the Goa'uld again. They conquered planets all the time, but they left most of the people alive. Sure, they were slaves, but they were alive, and they weren't being culled and cocooned so they could be eaten. "I hate the Wraith," Jack said.

"Welcome to the Pegasus Galaxy," Sheppard said dryly as he slowly landed the jumper. "See anything?"

Taking a break from treating Daniel, Rodney looked at his lifesigns detector. "I'm getting several readings," he said, "mostly that way," he added with a jerked thumb over his shoulder to the rear of the jumper. "And I'm picking up one Wraith cruiser."

"Great," John muttered darkly.

Jack peered out the windshield again, seeing nothing threatening. "Lower the hatch," John said. Jack did as requested and both of them walked to the back. Staying on the ramp to remain cloaked, they took a good look around.

"I think we're clear," Jack said. He heard a couple of groans and turned to see that the stunned Marines were beginning to come around. Those stunners sucked, too. The hit lasted much longer than a zat blast; plenty of time for the Wraith to get their claws into you and suck you dry while you were paralyzed and helpless to resist.

"Rodney," John said over his shoulder, "you stay here. I'm going with O'Neill to see if we can find any other survivors."

McKay didn't look like he was too happy with the idea but nodded. He was back to wrapping a long gauzy type of bandage around Daniel's torso. Daniel looked up and caught Jack's eyes, and Jack wished like hell they were still having their picnic.

***

Rodney finished taping up Daniel's wound, hoping the bandage would stay in place. "There," he said, "that should hold as long as you don't do anything too stupid."

Daniel looked down at himself and then smiled at Rodney. "Thanks."

Rooting through the first aid box, Rodney held up a bottle of pills. "Want anything for pain?"

Shaking his head, Daniel just closed his eyes, letting his head sag back on the headrest of the chair.

Rodney shoved everything back in the first aid box and shut it. "Hey, you, with the gun."

The Marine shot him an aggravated look. "Me?"

"You see anyone else around here with a gun?" Rodney asked, exasperated.

The Marine's eyes went to Rodney's thigh holster, and then to Daniel's.

"Never mind," Rodney said sharply. "Come off the ramp, I need to close it up."

The Marine shook his head. "We need to keep it open so the Colonel and General O'Neill can get back inside."

"First of all," McKay said without a semblance of patience, "that's what the radios are for." He tapped his. "Remember these? Yes? Good. Get off the ramp."

"You said first of all," Daniel prompted him, his eyes still closed.

"What?" Rodney griped.

Opening his eyes, Daniel said, "You said first of all. Usually that means there's a second and a third."

"What are you babbling about? You must have lost more blood than I thought."

Daniel's eyes looked heavenwards as if looking for strength. "Rodney, you said, 'First of all', when you were talking to Marvin."

"Marvin?" Rodney snorted. "Your name is Marvin?" he said to the Marine. "Not that it matters, because you're still not off the ramp."

"The Colonel didn't tell me to shut it," Marvin argued.

"First of all," Rodney began, then glared at Daniel only to find Daniel grinning at him. "Shut up," he said to both of them.

Daniel snickered.

Deciding the best way to win this argument was just to win it, Rodney walked toward the back of the jumper and pushed the panel to shut the hatch, smirking as Marvin essentially slid into the jumper.

"Hey," Marvin protested. "The Colonel left me in charge."

"As if," Rodney snorted. "You couldn't find your ass if your hands were tied behind your back."

Marvin glared at him.

Rodney ignored him, sitting down in the pilot's seat, taking a good look around. He saw a shadow in between two of the buildings. He clicked his radio. "Colonel?"

"Sheppard here." John answered back. "What is it?"

"I saw something moving out there," Rodney reported anxiously.

"Is the jumper still cloaked?"

"Do you think I'm an idiot?" Rodney asked indignantly.

"Is the ramp shut?"

Rodney sneered at Marvin. "And again, do you think--"

"Yeah, yeah, I hear you. Just sit tight, we're on our way. Sheppard out."

"Maybe I should go take a look," Marvin suggested.

"Oh, my God!" Rodney said in disgust. "What is it with you military types? Do you all have a death wish?"

"It could be villagers out there," Marvin said.

"Or it could be a Wraith just hoping we're stupid enough to go out and look around," Rodney snapped.

"If it's a Wraith, I should find out so I can warn the Colonel."

"If it's a Wraith," Rodney pointed out, positive the man was with the last group of soldiers disgorged from the Daedalus, in other words too stupid to live long if they didn't lose the gung-ho attitude, "then you should stay here and protect me." There was a pause when Rodney just knew Daniel was staring at him. "And Daniel," Rodney added generously. He turned to see, and yes, he'd been right, Daniel was staring at him, chin pointing toward the other Marines. "Okay, fine, them, too," Rodney huffed.

The Marine didn't look too impressed with Rodney's plan and Rodney couldn't imagine how the fact of his importance hadn't already been hammered into Marvin's psyche seeing as he'd been in Atlantis for a month. All the more reason to send him back.

Then something about the way Daniel looked seeped into Rodney's brain and he turned back to him. Daniel was sweating, panting a little, and his eyes were glassy. "Crap," Rodney yelped, moving back over to the man, lifting his shirt only to find that he was bleeding again, badly. He tapped his radio, "Sheppard, Daniel's in trouble. We need to get him back to Atlantis."

"What do you mean, trouble?" O'Neill snapped back over the radio.

"You don't know what trouble means?" Rodney snapped right back. "He's bleeding again, a lot, he's having trouble breathing, and he's sweating. Is that enough for you?"

Marvin muttered something about being right back.

"No," Rodney shouted, but to no avail as Marvin slapped the hatch control opening the door and headed down the ramp. "Sheppard, I'm firing your Marine. Get your ass back here," he demanded of John.

"Idiot," he said to the world at large before moving to Daniel. "You need to lie down," he said, helping him up off the chair. He got Daniel situated in the back with the other Marines who were starting to be able to twitch limbs but not much more. "It's like naptime at the kindergarten," Rodney sniped to the three of them. Pulling one of the large cushions off the bench in the back, he folded it and put it under Daniel's knees, then covered him with a blanket.

He was just starting to look for something to use to put serious pressure on Daniel's wound when he heard a scream and saw Marvin being yanked off the ramp by a maniacally grinning Wraith. "Crap, crap, crap, crap," Rodney said, lunging for the hatch control, only to end up face to face with the same Wraith, fingers bloody from draining Marvin, and looking more than ready for the main course. The gleam in his eyes as he looked at Rodney, then the three sitting ducks lying on the floor, said he wouldn't mind dessert, either.

Rodney backed away, scrabbling for his pistol, knowing he was not going to be able to fumble it out before the Wraith was on him. Further retreat wasn't an option because that would put him behind the three on the floor, and while Rodney's quest for ongoing living was high, it wasn't high enough to sacrifice three helpless people to the cause.

He heard a noise behind him, and hoped like hell that Daniel or one of the Marines was grabbing a weapon. Fortunately, and maybe because the Wraith had just fed on Marvin--which was a little bit convenient, Rodney couldn't help thinking, because now he wouldn't have to spend his valuable time, on the off-chance he didn't die right now, on how to endlessly torture the idiot. Not that he'd wish being fed on by a Wraith on anyone no matter how much he loathed them, except maybe Kolya-- but in any case, because he had fed, the Wraith was enjoying himself contemplating the feast ahead versus just plunging in, so to speak. Rodney winced at that too-graphic thought.

"Rodney, get out of the way," Daniel said weakly behind him.

But before Rodney could move, the Wraith was heading in his direction, saliva dripping off his desperately-in-need-of-orthodontia teeth, and Rodney's heels were against the shins of the first Marine. He finally got his pistol out and managed to flick the safety off without ejecting the bullets which was a plus, and he got one shot off before the Wraith's hand was around his neck, and he was being lifted off the floor.

Panicked, Rodney grabbed at the Wraith and lost his grip on his pistol which clattered to the ground. He stared his death in the eyes and wanted to rail at the unfairness of it all.

"Shit!" he heard from outside the jumper. A loud worried "Rodney?" came next, along with a "Daniel?" from Jack.

Rodney had never in his entire life been so glad to hear John curse and found himself thinking loving thoughts about John's very big gun. Then, Rodney realized the jumper was still cloaked and they wouldn't be able to tell what was happening unless they got on the ramp. Despite the grip around his neck, and the fact that he was finding it increasingly hard to breathe, Rodney thought 'off' as hard as he could at the jumper, hoping asphyxiation didn't diminish the power of his ATA gene.

Whether John had stepped onto the ramp or whether Rodney had managed to decloak the jumper didn't really matter because Sheppard was there and yelling, "Rodney, get down!"

Imminent death or no, that deserved an eye roll and a frantic hand movement pointing out the fact that getting down wasn't an option. The Wraith seemed unconcerned that there was someone behind him and by the vicious grin on his face, obviously thought that the after dinner aperitif had just thoughtfully shown up.

There was a second or two of frantic whispering, then over the Wraith's shoulder Rodney could see John aiming carefully. Rodney's heart started beating even faster and he knew a stroke was just around the corner, assuming he didn't suffocate or get fed on first. He tried to stay as still as he could, waiting for the additional pain of bullets ripping through his vulnerable flesh.

There was a deafening bang, and he was summarily dropped to the ground as the Wraith spun around. That was when all hell broke loose as both Jack and John sprayed the Wraith with bullets from their P90s. Rodney cowered on the ground, waiting for the Wraith to land right on him, because wouldn't it figure that he'd be saved from being eaten, only to die of a broken back.

Then the Wraith was dead and falling forward to land with a loud metallic thump, and John and Jack were racing into the shuttle, dragging the Wraith outside and pumping about a million more bullets into him to make sure he stayed down. Then they were racing back in, John yelling, "Rodney," again, while Jack yelled, "Daniel," and Rodney gave a passing thought to passing out in a manly fashion.

"Get down?" Rodney asked John sarcastically, instead, hating to let an opportunity for mocking pass him by.

But then John was crouching by his side, checking his neck and his chest, and looking awful, and Jack was doing the same for Daniel who was holding his Beretta in lax fingers, and both of them were glaring at the Marines who were still partially stunned as if they should have managed to somehow work through the paralysis and save the civilians. Rodney saw lots of KP and latrine duty for the two of them and that was okay with Rodney because they should have managed to work through the paralysis even though Rodney had been drooling in an infirmary bed for hours after he'd been stunned.

Jack went out to get Marvin's dog tags, muttering about coming back with a body bag. He shut the hatch and returned to Daniel who was rallying a little under Jack's attention, and who asked grimly, "No villagers?"

Looking equally grim, Jack shook his head no. "We didn't get very far before McKay called us back." He sat on the floor by Daniel, while John moved to the pilot's seat and started up the jumper.

"It needs pressure," Rodney managed to squeak out through his increasingly painful and no doubt crushed esophagus.

Nodding, Jack rolled Daniel a little so he could apply pressure from a better vantage point. Jack lifted his hand for a second to reposition himself, and Rodney could see it was already covered in blood. Blanching, Jack put his hand back down. "Daniel?" Jack said.

"Jack," Daniel said back but without his usual panache.

"Don't you fucking die," Jack warned him.

"Not planning on it."

"You always say that, and you always fucking die," Jack hissed. "And if I see you glowing, I won't be responsible for my actions."

Rodney glanced up at John, thinking it was bad enough John threw himself under a speeding bus on a regular basis. It would truly suck if John actually periodically died. He started crawling to the front, deciding he wanted to be near John, allowing Jack and Daniel to have as much privacy as a jumper filled with six people, including two Marines about a foot away, could provide.

"We have a picnic to finish," Jack said.

"And breakfast," Daniel said back with a weak grin. "And I'm not glowing, Jack. I promise."

Rodney found himself grinning as he pulled himself into the seat next to John. When they arrived at the Stargate, Jack ran out to punch in the address on the DHD. There were no darts, thank God, and after sending their IDC, and John telling Elizabeth to have a medical team standing by with three stretchers, they were through and on their way home.