Area 52 HKH

Jean Pool 1

Crusade In Jeans (Part 2/2)

by Mystic

URL: http://www.area52hkh.net/asm/mystic/jeanpool012.php
Summary: Jack knew that stepping through the gate changed his life, but he didn't think one more time would make that much a difference; he was wrong. Now, Jack O'Neill, John Sheppard and Rodney McKay are intertwined in an adventure of a lifetime, starting with how the hell to get back to being a grownup
Info: The title and basic concept comes from a book I read back in High School: Crusade in Jeans by Thea Beckman. The book was out of print but the story stayed with me and remains as one of my favorites.

Teen Years Part 3

"So, that's how I learned to skate," Jack said as he was driving their wagon, John sitting behind him, Rodney lying down in the back.

"You ever go back up there again?" John asked.

"Yeah, my grandfather left me the cabin, not my parents, so yeah...still have it. Perhaps if you two ever get back to Earth for a spell, you can come visit?" Jack asked over his shoulder.

"Sounds great," John smiled, having been sold on the charms of a cabin in Minnesota.

"Perhaps a day, two at most, but then what would we do?" Rodney asked, not quite so hyped on the idea.

Jack chuckled. "I'm sure three intelligent men can find SOMETHING to do to entertain themselves." John chuckled with Jack and Rodney smiled and blushed, which was more amusing.

"So, John, tell us about your home town...California or Florida?" Jack asked.

"Good guess," John said, for if Jack knew for sure, he would have said.

"Not so much, you have a tan," Rodney added, sitting up and groaning. "I should invent shock absorbers, that or teach you how to avoid every bump in the damn road."

"You're welcome to drive if you think you can do better," Jack countered, not bothered by Rodney's bitching as he had come to know it was par for the course with him.

"I'm afraid they don't give out licenses for horse and buggy in Canada anymore," Rodney retorted.

"I'll drive," John said for he wanted something to do and not talk about himself. "Why don't you play something, Jack," he asked, for he knew what Rodney would say.

Jack and John switched seats, Jack moving to the back as Rodney handed him the guitar-like instrument that sounded and played just like one. "I'm not sure what to play...and you still didn't answer my question, John. California or Florida?"

John rolled his eyes, knowing Jack and Rodney couldn't see him with his back to them. He should have known Jack wouldn't let things go or be as easily sidetracked as Rodney or others proved to be. "Monterey...California," he said.

"I heard that's a nice place," Rodney spoke up. "Isn't that near the water?"

"Yes, Monterey has its bay, and I learned to surf there and along the California coast," John replied. "But as nice as it was...too many tourists," John said, feeling a mix of homesick and irritation as he spoke.

"Isn't that the home of Zorro?" Jack asked with a bit of excitement.

"I suppose it was, at least in the stories," John replied.

They were quiet for a bit, as it was clear that John was uncomfortable speaking about his home then Jack shifted closer. "It's okay to remember the good times," he said, hoping his words were correct and they would help.

John nodded and after another stretch of awkward silence. "When I was kid, me and my friends loved to go down to the wharf, not only because it was near a beach, but because they gave out free samples of clam chowder," he laughed. "We'd have to watch when they changed servers so we could go back again, after awhile they got wise to us, but still...new server...more chowder. And the guy who ran the glass bottom boat had a crush on my grandmother, so he would let me ride for free...he also owned his own plane and when he took me flying with him...I was hooked."

"Have you ever been back...I mean...since?" Rodney asked, curious to learn more about his friend, but not wanting to tread too much.

"No," John said. "After my grandmother passed, I saw no point," John sighed. Then after a moment he smiled and turned to look at both Jack and Rodney. "Perhaps a few days in sunny California after freezing our butts off in Minnesota?" He got smiles and nods from both men and felt something brighten inside. "So, you going to play or what?" he asked, hoping Jack would let the subject move on.

"What? Should we learn some more John Denver songs or find something else?" Jack asked.

"I knew about the Country music from the Johnny Cash poster you have, but I never took you for a folk music lover," Rodney said, shifting more to get comfortable.

"He's considered both, and well...this may sound strange, but I felt kind of obligated to learn his music...especially since he died in the Monterey Bay..." John replied.

"John Denver's dead?" Rodney asked, seriously shocked.

"Yeah, he died in October of 1997," Jack said, chuckling at Rodney's surprise.

"Plane crashed in the bay," John said, the remorse genuine.

"Hey, it's not like I've been working in underground complexes or on top-secret bases or in the middle of Russia for the last few years...oh wait, I HAVE," Rodney snapped back, feeling defensive.

"Take it easy, Rodney, it's not like you're the only one who's gotten behind in world events. I recall one time we came back from a mission, tired and ready for a week of sleep, only to be surprised the next day was Christmas..." Jack shook his head, for he had NOT been pleased when that happened, but knew it was because the Goa'uld had kept them so damn busy they didn't know if they were coming or going back then.

"I know a song you should learn, Jack," John, a huge smile on his face. "Be perfect for you...a Johnny Cash song."

"What would that be?" Jack asked, seeing the grin and was leery.

"It's called, A Boy Named Sue." John snickered.

***

Five days later, they had made it to the city late in the evening. It didn't take them long to find a place to stay and place to shelter their wagon, all for a fee of course, and then the three turned in for a good night's sleep. This of course meant to Rodney, once again out performing and exhausting his 'flyboys', much to everyone's pleasure. In typical Rodney fashion, he continued to point out that the film Revenge of the Nerds had it right, Nerds think only about sex when not thinking of being a genius...Jack kept saying, "Thank God."

John was warm and didn't really want to leave the 'puppy pile' as Jack put it, the three of them all tangled together on one bed, but he couldn't sleep and needed some space to think. He carefully slipped out of bed, grabbed an extra blanket and wrapped it around himself and moved to the large bay window on the opposite side of the large room they rented, for it was the only one capable of fitting the three of them. He opened the window and sat on the edge and stared up into the starry sky overhead. He gave a small smile, thinking how this could look romantic, but his thoughts were not really going in that direction...not that night.

They had been gone a bit over a month now, and he was worried for those back on Atlantis. He knew Major Lorne and sadly, Colonel Caldwell would do their best, but...and it was the 'but' that was killing him. He couldn't even console himself with knowing Rodney was there to pull their asses out of the proverbial fire, as he was here, and he felt torn on that as well. He was happy Rodney was here, but there he would be able to keep them safe. He knew Rodney spouted off about having to save the Marines butts all the time and rightly so, for he had. Doctor Radek Zelenka was good, damn good, but he was no Doctor Rodney McKay.

"They'll be all right, you know."

John should have been surprised that Jack was currently standing behind him wrapping his arms around his chest to offer support, but John wasn't, and again even that caused mixed emotions. "How do you know?" he asked in a very hushed voice, having noticed Rodney was still fast asleep and didn't want to wake him.

"You just have to believe," Jack replied, equally as low, nuzzling John's hair with his cheek. "You share your experience, you drill them, you try to think of every contingency, but in the end, it's up to them...and you have to believe they'll be okay. Otherwise..."

"You'll get an ulcer," John said with a small smile, trying to keep it light, but he didn't feel light, he was worried. "How did you do it?" he asked his eyes still on the strange stars that were becoming too familiar.

"I take it you're talking about being in command of a facility," Jack said, hoping he was understanding the man before him. He and John Sheppard shared a lot in common, but they were NOT the same. Jack sighed. "Well, between you, me, and the wall...I didn't...not really. I mean I did, not quite a year, then..." Jack thought about his words and wanting to make a joke or shrug it off, but he could tell John needed something and he felt deeply he wanted to try and offer it, if he could. "When Hammond said he was retiring, he asked if I was interested and I snatched that job so fast it made everyone's head spin...I ran," he confessed.

John sat up a bit, surprised to hear this from Jack O'Neill of all people and turned to look at him, not sure what to think. "I don't understand?"

"John, you're a hell of a lot stronger than I was. After being put in the position where I almost had to order the death of my team, and kept postponing it by precious seconds that really could have backfired on me and Earth, I knew I wasn't cut out to command the SGC...at least not with them still there," Jack sighed, looking away suddenly feeling ashamed.

"Because you cared for them...more than you should," John said knowingly.

Jack nodded. "Yeah, a hell of a lot more than I should." Jack then looked up into John's hazel eyes and reached up and caressed his youthful face. "You care for everyone in that city, John, it's obvious, and though I know the rules say put distance between you and them, it's that caring that makes you fight. It's that caring that pushes you to go that extra mile when all else tells you to quit..."

John shifted and once more settled his back to Jack's chest, who also was using a blanket to keep the chill way. "I figured you'd understand," John said with a small sigh of relief, truly glad someone did. Then he was silent for a bit, soaking in Jack's heat and strength and sighed again.

"Don't," Jack said knowingly. "Don't give into the voice that tells you this was wrong and that you should be alone to fulfill your duty...don't make the same mistakes I made, John, please?" Jack whispered, having seen the same battle in John's eyes he'd seen many times in his own, when looking in a mirror. "Life really IS too precious and there WON'T be a later..."

"What about now?" John asked turning and looking up at Jack, seeing so much in those dark expressive eyes. "What happens when we get back?"

"You go on...and you take care of Rodney, who, by the way, loves you," Jack smiled softly, his dark eyes clouding over to hide deeper emotions. "I think you love him too, by the way," Jack added quickly.

John felt exposed at hearing that and turned to face the outside as if that would protect him and make this go away. "I recall I hated being eighteen," he muttered, knowing he had mentioned it before, for this age was way too emotional.

"It's cold, get your assess back here," Rodney demanded from the bed. "And shut the damn window, what are you trying to do, give me pneumonia?"

"Yes, Rodney," both Jack and John said as one and chuckled.

"That's what I like to hear." Rodney smiled. "You two should practice that more often."

Sharing a look, John and Jack grinned. "Yes, Rodney."

"I'm cursed with two smart-ass flyboys," Rodney moaned, but that didn't stop him from letting Jack and John crowd him in the middle of the bed. "Damn, you're cold."

"I think we can find of a way of warming you up," Jack purred, and then looked at John. "Don't you?"

"Oh, yeah...unless you just want to sleep," John said, turning away as if to simply go back to sleep.

"Oh, no, you don't. You two woke me up, the least you can do is give me sex to make up for it," Rodney complained.

Once more John and Jack shared a look and grinned mischievously. "Yes, Rodney."

***

"I knew this was a bad idea," John said as he fidgeted near the corner where the three of them were to meet up.

"For the record, it was I who said it was a bad idea, you and Jack assured me I was just being paranoid," Rodney said, twisting his hands, for like John he was worried because Jack was late and the sun was beginning to set.

"Not now, Rodney," John said, his irritation showing, for he was angry with himself along with worried.

"Fine, I'll save it for when we find his sorry ass," Rodney snapped.

John sighed then saw a young woman across the street who had come out of the shop several times to dump waste water and trash...the city was too much like the middle ages, no sense of waste management. "Wait here," John said as he began to cross the street, but could tell moments later that Rodney wasn't going to listen.

"Excuse me, ma'am," John said with his most charming smile...his Captain Kirk smile, that Rodney called it. "I was wondering if you saw a young man, about my age, honey blond hair, brown eyes, greenish brown tunic, waiting here earlier today?"

"I might have, what's in it for me?" the young woman asked, her flirtatious smile not subtracting from her me-first attitude.

"Well, what would you want?" John asked, smiling a bit more, ignoring the snort of irritation from behind him.

"A sils would be good," the young woman replied firmly.

"What?" Rodney protested. In their time there, they had learned that gols were the gold coins, sils, the silver and of course the cops were not police but the copper coins, and a sils was no small amount of money for a bit of information.

"Rodney," John warned, but never lost his smile or eye contact with the young woman. "I'll tell you what, if you tell me what you know, if it's worth a sils, I'll give you one, but if not, two cops for your trouble," he countered, hoping his observations of Teyla during negotiations was going to pay off here.

The woman thinned her lips considering the offer, and must have realized something was better than nothing, "Alright. Yes, I saw a young man by that description; his name was Jack. Unusual name, but nice looking all the same," she smiled.

"Did you see where he went?" Rodney asked immediately, letting the woman know she had something they wanted.

"Yeah, he saw some monks, priests...what have you, talking to some of the runts that scurried their way into the alley. It seemed to upset him and next thing I know he followed them, that way," she pointed.

Rodney wiped his face in frustration. "He could be anywhere," he groaned.

John sighed, but kept the smile on his face as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a sils and handed it to her. "Thank you," he said, holding her hand for a few seconds longer than needed; seemed old habits were hard to break, and automatically flirting with beautiful women, was now second nature to him, in order to hide his other tendencies.

The young woman seemed pleased not only with the money but John's attention. "I heard rumor that the monks were down by the crossroads, south of here...your friend may be there," she offered. She looked like she was going to say more when a voice shouted and she excused herself to go back inside.

"Another thirty seconds, and she'd been offering to have your baby," Rodney sniped, wrapping his arms around his chest as a cool wind blew past.

"Well, good thing we're done here, as I'd have hated to turn her down," John said casually, knowing it would irritate Rodney. Sometimes he liked a wound up McKay, as it sometimes served as a distraction to the concern he was feeling. "Come on," John said and began walking in the direction the woman had pointed.

"You really think he's there?" Rodney asked as he followed.

John snorted with some amusement. "Bulldog stubbornness – just another thing you and he share in common," John said.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Rodney asked, sounding offended.

"It means, once you get an idea in your head, you don't let it go without a fight. Jack's was saving those kids. Seeing those men 'recruiting' more, was like a red flag in front of a bull...so yes, I believe he's there and most likely in trouble."

"You said he could take care of himself," Rodney rebutted, but continued to follow nonetheless.

"Then he would have been here, now wouldn't he?" John countered and continued his way south.

The sun had set by the time they reached the edge of the city and, according to one of the people they had passed they still had a bit of a ways to go to get to the crossroads. John was getting more impatient and Rodney, well he was getting quieter, which really wasn't sitting well with John. Rodney used his mouth as a tension release, all knew that, and when he cut it off, it meant he was not well or more upset than he would let on.

They traveled another ten minutes when John raised his fist in the military fashion of hold fast and Rodney froze. "What?" he asked, knowing full well he should remain silent.

After a long moment, the sound of crying filled the air, but it was light and sounded like a child. Not sure what it might be, and not able to ignore it, John moved to investigate it with Rodney right behind him. Slowly they moved through the shrubbery and trees that lined the dirt road leading out of the city getting even closer to the sound. When they parted, John was able to see three small children, crying over the body of someone older.

"Jack," Rodney gasped, having seen who it was and dashed forward, scaring the children, who only cringed as he approached.

"How is he?" John asked, holding his hands out in the I-am-not-going-to-hurt-you gesture, as he approached, seeing the eyes of the eight to ten year old girl, holding on to a small toddler and huddling into a smaller boy near her age.

"Hurt, but breathing," Rodney said with some relief.

"Hey," John said softly looking at the kids. "We're not going to hurt you, but can you tell me what happened?" he asked, kneeling down near the kids but still an arms length away.

"The...the men said they would...would give us a home," the girl said in between soft sobs.

"They tried to make us go with them when we wanted to go back," the boy added, his tears streaking his dirty face, but he was trying hard to sound brave.

"Jack made them leave us alone, but they hurt him," the girl cried. "We tried to help him, but..." she turned her face into her brother's shoulder and sobbed some more.

"It's okay, we're going to help him," John assured them and moved closer to Rodney, who was attempting to do an assessment of Jack's injuries. "Well?"

"I'm not doctor, but I can't feel anything broken, but he's got dried blood in his hair in the back and lots of cuts and bruises...I'd said at least a head injury..." Rodney shrugged, "Damn idiot, what is it with you flyboys and hero complexes," he snapped, as his hand shook while he used part of his tunic to wipe some of the blood from Jack's face.

"I'm going to see if there are any strong branches around. Between our shirts, we can make a stretcher, and then get him back to the inn," John said, moving off as quickly as he could in hopes of finding what he needed.

"Are you his friends?" the boy asked.

"Yes, I am. Shouldn't you three be home or something?" Rodney said, having not really paid much attention to them after spotting Jack unconscious.

"We don't have a home," the girl said, her sobs now under control. "It's what the men in the robes promised us, but when Toby said he wanted to go back and I agreed, they grabbed us, saying we were worth fifty gols each and not going anywhere...then Jack saved us...but they hurt him bad, while he was trying to protect us."

"They said they were coming back with others, so we tried to get away," Toby added. "Jack told us to hide here and he just needed to rest, then we couldn't wake him. Marnie didn't know what to do and we didn't want to just leave him..."

"Well, we're here now," Rodney said, not sure what else to said.

"Here," John said as he arrived, running with two thick branches in his hands.

Rodney and John worked in tandem, having done this before on a mission when Ford had been injured and Teyla hurried off to the Gate to call for help. They knew they looked odd in their Earth clothing, but the local tunics were all they had to use for the stretcher, and it was night, and couldn't afford to wait much longer.

"Come with us," John offered, after he and Rodney got Jack moved to the stretcher, a small moan letting them know he was still there. "We don't have much, but we can give you a warm place to stay for the night and a meal...if you want," John said, seeing the fear in the older two children, the toddler, only having eyes for Rodney, as she laid her head on her sister's shoulder.

The children followed as John and Rodney made the long trek back to the city, grateful that the Inn Keeper was still up, and would, for a fee, provide a meal and some hot water to be delivered to their room.

"You tend to them, I'll tend to Jack," Rodney said quietly, his discomfort showing, and now that John had a better understanding of why Rodney had trouble with kids, didn't argue the point.

Since Jack needed the bed, John used their extra stuff to provide a place on the floor for the kids, and once they got the hot water, separated some into the washing bowl for them to bathe as they were very dirty, especially the smaller ones. He was grateful to the innkeeper again, as she provided some towels and some bandages, and some milk for the little one. John had very little experience with kids, but Marnie was a natural mother, knowing what needed to be done and had no problem ordering Toby around.

John also watched Rodney taking care of Jack, and had he not had first-hand knowledge of how gentle those large hands could be, he would have thought he was pawing Jack's body, but he did know better. Rodney was being tender with his touches, as he felt for more damage, much like Carson would, from head to toe, down both sides and all four limbs, making sure he didn't miss anything. He knew then, that even if Rodney denied it, and he would, Rodney had a nurturing side as well, for John was witnessing it. "How bad?" he asked once the kids were settled, now cleaned up and eating a light hot meal on their pallet on the floor.

"Again, doctorate in physics, not medicine but...I think okay. Nothing broken, though I bet his ribs will hurt like a...well," he eyed the kids and curbed his tongue. "It's the head injury that has me worried. I know head injuries bleed a lot, but he's been unconscious for a while now."

"You think we should try waking him?" John asked, also not sure what to do, and he doubted any of the local doctors could do anything more then they were doing already.

"Why don't you two stop shouting?" Jack moaned.

John and Rodney shared a grin as John came to stand by the bed, Rodney already sitting on Jack's left. "Headache?" he asked with a small smile.

"Did you get the number of the truck that hit me?" Jack asked, only opening his eyes a little bit.

"It was fake monks not trucks, and the headache serves you right, going after them all by yourself," Rodney scolded.

"The kids?" Jack asked, his eyes opening with fear and concern.

"They're fine, and right here," John assured him, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Hey," he said to the kids, "Someone wants to know you're all right."

John took the pillows Rodney was offering to place under Jack's head, so he could see the three small kids as they came up to the bedside, Toby only inches taller than his sister, dressed in one of the tunics they had gotten when the three of them were kids.

"Hey," Jack smiled; glad to see they were safe.

"Thank you," Marnie smiled and reached out and touched Jack's bruised hand.

"No problem, kiddo. Now go eat and then get some sleep..." Jack yawned. "I'm going to do the same," he said and was pleased to see the kids move off to their pallet. "Thank you," he said softly to John and Rodney.

"We couldn't leave them there," John said, then looked more concerned, "But Rodney was right, that was not a good idea going after them by yourself."

"Duly noted," Jack said, his eyes showing he was in pain.

"Drink this," Rodney said, offering the small bottle that held some medicine they had gotten from a healer in the town, when Rodney had taken ill. "It might help," he offered, for he wasn't sure, but knew they had nothing else to offer Jack.

Again, John watched how tender and caring Rodney could be, regardless of his mouth, seeing that Rodney was a kind, loving person that hid behind so many walls. He felt humbled and privileged to see this side of the man who was his friend and becoming so much more with each day that passed.

John took a damp cloth and wiped some of the sweat off Jack's forehead. "Rest, we got this one," he smiled, feeling the tender affection for the man on the bed as well. The voice that told him to pull back, not to feel anything for Jack and Rodney rose it's ugly head, but John recalled Jack's words, and the pain in his eyes when he spoke of his mistakes...John told that voice to go stuff itself, and leaned down and kissed Jack tenderly on the forehead, seeing that Jack's lip were too swollen and split for a kiss.

Once Jack closed his eyes, he got up and tucked Jack in and then went to dump the dirty water. When he came back, he stopped short of fully opening the door, as he was stunned to see Rodney tucking in the children, the littlest one, whose name they still didn't know, was in his arms, her blondish brown curls like a halo around her sweet face, resting on his shoulder; asleep with her thumb in her mouth...it was priceless.

"I don't mean to bring up painful memories, but you really would make a great father," John said softly as he came in, the scene before him touching on levels he was far from ready to think about.

Rodney looked like a deer caught in the headlights, and then went to blabber, something, but John raised a finger to his lips, then moved across and kissed Rodney softly. "It's a good look on you," he whispered and then took the little angel and placed her on the bed with her brother and sister. "Let's get some sleep. I have a feeling we're going to have a long day tomorrow."

"We do have to do something," Rodney finally said just before they both settled on different sides of Jack.

"I'm not sure what that'll be, Rodney, but...we'll find something," John promised, and in his heart he hoped it was one he could keep, not only for Jack and Rodney's sake, but for the kids no one seemed to be looking after.

Teen Years Part 4

"This was a bad idea," Rodney said in a hushed voice.

"No, this was a good idea, so long as you keep your mouth shut and not insult anyone," John told Rodney in an equally hushed voice.

"I wish Elizabeth was here, Teyla...Doctor Jackson, I mean, the two of you would never be the poster boy for Diplomats 'R Us," Rodney replied, feeling really uncomfortable waiting in the lobby of City Hall, in order to see the Mayor.

"I think I was insulted," John said to Jack, who looked only slightly better, his face looking like he did half a round with Mohammad Ali.

"I KNOW I was insulted, and let us not forget who got this meeting in the first place," Jack smirked, and then winced at the pain in his split lip.

"Yeah, by saying the town's children were in danger," Rodney replied huffily.

"It's the truth," Jack replied sharply.

"Look, we know what's at stake, we just have to convince the Mayor to do something," John interjected.

Before more could be said, someone came out and let the three young men and their three young charges, Jack carrying Nissy, the little angel, with Toby and Marnie following close by his side.

They entered the large chamber and were asked to stand at an unmarked spot, and said not to approach his Mayor-ship unless bid to do so, then they were announced. The Mayor looked like your typical pampered politician, and Jack gave a small groan. "You might want to try this," Jack said softly to John, for Jack knew his mouth was on seek-n-destroy, having spotted the gold goblet the man was using for his drink.

John stepped forward and tried his best to explain the situation about the false monks and the many children that were being gathered under false promises of homes and a better future, but instead they were going to be sold into slavery. No one was prepared when Father Parkell entered the room from a different door, and seemed to be on a first name basis with the Mayor.

"Such slander, sire," Parkell said as if truly offended.

"The good Father has come to me about his program for the many orphaned and homeless waifs..." the Mayor said, eyeing the three of them as if they had better come up with something better than their word for it and fast.

"And you consider slavery a viable alternative?" Rodney snapped.

"Shut up, Rodney," John hissed. "Look...sir, I don't know what this man has said, but he is no priest and his lies are just that," he tried but was cut off.

"Young man, you insult a holy man," the Mayor protested.

"Just because a man tosses on a robe and spouts a bit of ancient, which he spouts WRONG, I might add, doesn't make him a holy man," Rodney growled as he stepped forward.

"You DARE question me?" Father Parkell snapped back, also stepping forward.

"We brought a witness," Jack said quickly, not liking how things were going and with some quiet encouragement, Toby and Marnie stepped forward.

"Children," Parkell said in almost a disdainful tone.

"They are the victims, they should be heard," John insisted, and then nodded at them to speak.

"How much did you pay them to spout your lies," Parkell demanded, and then suddenly snarled in pain as Toby came forth and kicked him hard in the shin.

"My sister doesn't lie!" Toby shouted at the man.

Marnie, scared for her brother ran and grabbed him back. "Please...he did not mean to...but Jack saved us...they promised us a home, but when we wanted to leave they said we were worth fifty gols and grabbed us...Jack saved us, sire," she rambled quickly and then pulled her brother back to stand with Jack and the others.

"Sire, do I need to stand here and be insulted as well as assaulted by these...these ruffians?" Parkell asked, his anger being held in check, but barely as he turned to the Mayor to deal with the three familiar looking young men and the annoying children.

"No, I have had enough," the Mayor growled.

"As have I," came a different voice, a female voice from the wings.

Everyone turned and saw a well dressed women enter, the way she carried herself, showed she was someone of some importance, and by the way the Mayor winced, she held some power over him as well. "Osdell, I have asked over and over again for that wretched building to be used for something of importance, well now the opportunity has presented itself...renovate it and use it as a children's home," she stated firmly.

"But...Margetta, such a thing would cost the city..." the Mayor began to protest.

"Then sell that water cup you've got, you could feed dozens of kids for days off that alone," Rodney interjected, earning him a glare from the Mayor.

"Guards," Margetta called, and John and Jack feared for a second that Rodney had gone too far. "I want you to accompany these three young men, whose kind and noble hearts has propelled them to come here, to the crossroads where the children gather." She then looked at Parkell. "You WILL let them offer the option of remaining here in the city where they will be housed and given apprenticeships or to go with you. You will NOT interfere, or my guards will arrest you..."

"Margetta," the Mayor protested on behalf of the Father.

Margetta ignored him and turned to Jack, John and Rodney. "I take it, these three are not yours, is that correct?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am, they were on the streets and some men I KNOW work for him," Jack gestured toward Parkell, "tried to grab them."

"That would be how you got...those?" she asked, meaning Jack's cuts and bruises.

"Yes ma'am," Jack said with a smile, his eyes warm, as he knew this woman was going to do something for the children.

"Margetta," the Mayor tried once again.

The woman turned to face the Mayor, her role in the play of things not fully revealed, but her authority was clear as she narrowed her blue eyes at him. "These men have NOTHING to gain from what they present, Osdell. Besides, it has not sat well with me, that he was taking so many overseas..."

"Yeah, if his program were so legitimate, why not have it here," Rodney added.

"I can handle this young man," Margetta said in a motherly, shut up tone, her eyes never leaving the Mayor. "You will send the guards, you will set up the home for the children and hire GOOD people to take care of them," she stated firmly. She then turned to one of the guards. "You," she said as she stepped forward and picked up the golden goblet and dumped the water on the floor in front of the Mayor, "Sell this and all the rest of these, the funds will go to the children's home," she ordered, then moved back and looked at everyone as if they should be moving already. "Now," she ordered, and watched the guards move out.

Jack, John and Rodney were about to leave with the kids, when her voice once more filled the air. "Wait," she ordered. They turned to see her coming toward them and then bending down to look into the eyes of the children. "You look like you could use a good meal and it was an awfully long walk out to the crossroads only to come back. Perhaps you wouldn't mind waiting here in the kitchen with me and share some lunch?" she asked, and the iron maiden exterior Margetta had shown moments go, melted into a kind and gentle woman.

Jack saw the kids look at him and he nodded. He then carefully knelt down and hugged them and kissed the girls on the head. "Be good," he said, knowing he might not see them again.

"Yeah, stay out of trouble," John said, patting them all on the head, not as at ease with kids as Jack.

"What they said," Rodney muttered, not touching the kids at all. But like the others he watched the three go with Margetta and his eyes also looked a bit sad to see them go. "Come on, the sooner we get this done, the sooner we can attend to our business," he said and turned to leave, ready to move on.

"This was a good idea, John," Jack said as he placed a hand on John's shoulder, squeezing warmly.

"I have my moments," John smiled, feeling on top of the world suddenly.

***

When the doors flew open to the Mayor's audience chamber, everyone was too shocked to react, as Jack stormed in, his dark eyes blazing with fury as he moved in, then threw an object he had been carrying with deadly accuracy to the throne like chair the Mayor normally sat in; thankfully the Mayor was not sitting at the time.

"What is the meaning of this?" the Mayor shouted with anger and fear.

"You didn't have anyone keep watch and that son-of-a-bitch is gone," Jack snarled, just as John and Rodney entered the chamber, rushing to Jack's side, in desperate hope to prevent a bad situation from going to a much worse situation. "He force marched them to the dock and took them..."

"Enough!" the Mayor growled, still not pleased with how Jack had acted moments ago. He moved to his chair as Margetta entered, and picked up the object that had been tossed there, cracking the back of the thick chair. No one saw the swallow of fear he had, when he realized he could have been sitting there. "What is this?" he demanded.

"It's a shackle," Rodney snapped, and John shook his head, for both Rodney and Jack were running on anger, not that he was far from it himself, but someone had to keep a cool head here, since it wasn't going to be either of them. "You know the kind, slave traders put on slaves...?"

"They sailed this morning, if we hurry..." Jack began, but was interrupted by Margetta.

"We do not have any ships at our disposal, to request such, we would have to go to the Governor..." she shook her head, "by the time he even heard such a request it would be too late."

"You can't just sit here and do nothing!" Jack snapped his frustration at feeling helpless like a literal cloak wrapped around him.

"Get him out of here," John said quietly but firmly to Rodney, who glared at him for a moment. "Unless you want him in a jail cell, get him out of here...now!" John said, his voice low, but firm.

John stepped in front of Jack, hoping Rodney would be successful in his mission. "Mayor, ma'am..." John began, but the Mayor looked ready to interject with his own fury, but Margetta spoke first.

"Let the man speak Osdell," she said, and John was grateful for she must have realized what Rodney was trying to do.

John heard Rodney and Jack arguing, Jack refusing to go, then Rodney mentioned the kids at the warehouse, for that's what the building looked like where the children were being settled out, and how they needed Jack to help them get settled. Mentally he kissed Rodney for knowing just the right button to push to get Jack to leave, for Jack looked like he was ready to go to war with the Mayor, and that would accomplish nothing. He waited a few moments, his eyes making sure both Jack and Rodney were gone and out of earshot. He turned back to the Mayor and saw one of the guards that had ridden out with them the night before and this morning bowing as if going to speak so John let him.

"They speak true, sire," the guard reported. "We followed the tracks to the last port, and we found three young children along the way, too ill to make the walk...they have been taken to the children's home and a healer notified, as by your standing orders, my lady," the guard, said. "When we reached the port, the ship had sailed, but we did find a young man, wounded from his struggle...before he died, he spoke of how they boarded the children and once on board they began to shackle them. My lady, they left him for dead when they saw us on the horizon...it was from his wrist the shackle came from," the guard explained and then with a bow, stepped back.

John saw the Mayor pale, as did the lady, but the Mayor then sputtered, "That was no reason for such behavior..."

"If I may, Mayor," John said, and since Margetta already said he could speak, the Mayor allowed it. "You need to understand, Jack lost a son..." he saw all eyes upon him as he spoke and slow understanding begin to form. "Rodney did too, but where Rodney places distance between him and other children, preferring to do his good for them afar, Jack...Jack embraces them all. Wants to rescue them all, where he could not rescue his own son..."

"He looks awfully young to have had a child," the Mayor suddenly protested.

John narrowed his eyes. "Mayor, if you have learned anything from this tragedy, please learn that looks can be deceiving."

The Mayor was silent and Margetta stepped forward. "We understand," she said, her tone very solemn. "Your words are wise, beyond your years, and in light of this tragedy, I can only assure you we will do what we can to prevent such a thing from happening again."

"It is all we can ask, my lady," John said and gave a partial bow, then with permission departed to go check on Jack and Rodney, for he knew they were both going to be hurting over this. Hell, he was hurting over this, thirty children stolen away in the night, after Jack had talked himself hoarse, trying to sway them to come to the city last night...but they saved twenty-six last night and if the three from today make it, that would bring them close to half. But John knew how Jack would see it...thirty left behind.

***

The temple in question was outside the city, and the guys were heading there in their wagon, Rodney driving...well, holding the reigns, for they discovered their beast of burden would follow the grooves in the road, showing how trained it was, though they suspected that to be the case since it was old, and thus they'd gotten for so cheap. John sat next to Rodney, but his eyes were for the young man in the back, Jack, who sat quietly, a blanket over his shoulders and looking so lost and in pain.

Jack had argued so venomously about how they should go after the children, he even went so far as to try to pull rank. John didn't mind informing Jack, that rank went out the window the moment they'd had sex, and that this wasn't a military situation, but a personal one. John did regret telling Jack that he couldn't save every child he saw, for the pain in those dark eyes was poignant, but it needed to be said. Rodney had pointed out that they were near the temple and THAT had to be their next destination; that they didn't even know where the ship with the children had been sailing. John hated seeing the flame of determination die out in Jack's eyes, but in this case, it was necessary.

As John watched Jack, he knew that typically he should let Jack work it out, it was what most soldiers did, let the other guy work it out, tough it out...be a man! He then realized how much of that crap he had swallowed and felt it now rising like bile in his throat. With a pat on Rodney's shoulder, he nodded he was moving in, meaning going to go sit with Jack and saw Rodney nod he understood and kept driving the wagon...or keeping their real driver going straight.

"You know Rodney was right," John said as he sat next to Jack, his back to the wagon wall, just like Jack's. "There would never be a 'right time' to leave. They'd always need something..." Jack had taken his despair at losing the thirty kids into doing for the ones in the city, who had a never-ending list of needs. Again, he and Rodney had to be the voice of reason.

"They're just kids," Jack said in a low voice, his eyes distant and full of pain and anguish.

"Yes...yes, they are, and now they are the responsibility of the City folk. Short of you staying there forever, Jack, you did everything you could in the time..."

"Not everything," Jack said, and shifted slightly, facing away from John, trying to hide his face and bury the hurt, which was refusing to be buried.

"Yes, Jack, EVERYTHING," John told him. Unconsciously, John reached out and pulled Jack's chin and met the pained-filled amber eyes. "Everything you could in the time there, Jack. More...much more than anyone else had done or even TRIED to do."

"It wasn't enough," Jack said, holding back the hurt and distress he felt in his heart.

"Try telling that to the kids in the warehouse," Rodney said, having decided the old horse like creature didn't need him after all and was now turned to face them. "They're in a BETTER place then they would have been, if not for you and your persistent big heart!"

"But thirty kids..." Jack tried to reply, but was cut off as Rodney was not having it.

"Didn't listen and now they're suffering, I know...I KNOW. But almost thirty now have a chance and some say in what will happen to them...it HAS to count for something, Jack, it HAS TO."

"He's right," John agreed, placing an arm around Jack's shoulder and pulling him closer. "Remember that distance speech you gave me some time ago?" John asked and saw Jack nod. "Well, it's YOUR caring that made a difference here, Jack, but you're letting this eat you up...you have to..."

"How can I let it go, they're KIDS!" Jack said, a bit of pain seeping through, as a lone tear fell down his right cheek.

"You don't let it go, you refocus," Rodney said, turning to look over his shoulder to see where they were and that they were still on track. Then he looked back and carefully made his way to kneel before Jack, "You focus on the happy smiles and healthy faces you saw when we left...just like I focus on the annoying faces of my science team...alive and whole..."

"As I do with each face on Atlantis," John added. Then he hugged Jack one-handed and placed a kiss in his hair. "But I know this is nothing you didn't know," he said his cheek lying to rest on Jack's head.

"They were just kids," Jack muttered

John sighed; knowing that did make all the difference in the world, but there was nothing more they could do. "I know."

Rodney leaned in and kissed Jack's lips, then John's and before anything was said, moved back up front, and untied the reigns and surprised John with being able to get their driver to turn right as they needed to reach the temple, which came into view upon completing the turn. Like the other one, this too looked abandoned and overgrown.

John didn't get to see much more of it, for suddenly his eyes closed as his mouth was being pleasantly assaulted by Jack's, a man that knew the art of kissing very well. Distraction was another good technique when one couldn't deal with what one was feeling, and at the moment he was all for it.

"Oh, that was just so...hot," Rodney groaned as he managed to get the wagon stopped.

Jack and John laughed at Rodney's comment, and John felt his face flush a bit and was pleased to see Jack's did a little as well. "Yes...yes, it was," John grinned.

"We should take this inside," Jack said, he eyes growing a bit darker, and then he got up and leaped over the side, landing without a hint of pain, enjoying having his youth again. He was also trying to focus on their mission, and pushed aside the unwanted emotions, as that had helped him deal with them in the past.

"Show off," Rodney said as he got down, John following Jack's example leaping down as well.

The three of them headed into the abandoned temple, this time, John and Jack had swords along with proper torches and Rodney had a torch and a dagger, figuring he couldn't gut himself too badly on it, when compared to a sword. Like the last temple, there wasn't much to it, an altar plus the small alcove, a place for two triangle stones below two others, this time the opaque was bright lavender and the translucent was a bright red.

"Okay, give me a few minutes," Rodney said, and then noticed that Jack and John were still eyeing each other from the hot kiss they had shared earlier. Rodney got an idea and secured his torch along the wall and put his satchel with the stones down. "Go on," he encouraged.

"Go on what?" Jack asked, suddenly aware that Rodney was staring at him and John with a hungry look in his eyes.

"Kiss him," Rodney said, moving forward. "You know you want to," he smiled like a shark with its prey spread out on a silver platter. "I want to watch," he added as he went to open one of the blankets they carried in to pad his knees, when working on the machinery, and laid it spread out on the floor.

John felt a thrill and a shiver of desire spark through his body, especially as he saw Jack's eyes were now black with desire and Rodney looked positively beside himself with delight at the prospect. Slowly his lips turned up into an approving smile, and he was more than willing to turn his torch over to Rodney, who took Jack's as well, so they could touch, the swords dropping to the floor where they stood. Then once more his lips sizzled with the touch of Jack's and slim fingers slid around his waist pulled him closer and then he could feel all of Jack's hard muscle and his few slim curves, and his own body reveled in the feeling.

"Bring him over here," Rodney's voice ordered, for John's eyes were closed, once again lost in the warm sensation of a hot mouth devouring his. Then he was moving, trusting Jack to know what he wanted, for John had no qualms about letting him lead the show, feeling deep down Jack needed this a bit more then the rest of them did.

"That's it, bring him down here," Rodney's voice instructed once again, and John felt himself being lowered and then his back was on the ground and Jack's body was on top of him, every delicious square inch of him; if only the clothes were gone.

Slowly, button-by-button, John felt Jack begin to take care of that annoying situation, and as John mentally begged for faster, Rodney's voice could be heard calling for slower...the bastard!

"Do either of you know how fucking hot you are?" Rodney's voice moaned as Jack pressed his naked chest to John's, their nipples caressing the other.

Jack's lips then began a slow moist trail down his chest, suckling each nipple before moving farther south. John knew the moans were his as well as Rodney's. John opened his eyes and saw Rodney kneeling almost on top of them his own shirt open, his left hand caressing his own chest as his eyes were locked on Jack's mouth, Rodney's right hand clenching his pant leg, so not to move to the obvious bulge between his legs. The obvious bliss and heat coming from Rodney's face as he watched them, sent a bolt of lighting through John's body, for until now, he never knew he had an exhibitionist streak in him...but with Jack and Rodney, so many things that never were before, seemed to be blooming within him.

"Oh fuck," John gasped as Jack opened his pants and his harden cock was freed, not realizing how hard he was until it was touched with the cool air.

"Suck him," Rodney ordered, his eyes black with arousal as he watched Jack nuzzle John's thick cock, licking it before taking it all the way into his mouth.

John felt his back arch off the floor when Jack took him all the way in, it felt so damn good. He was breathing heavily now, but he wanted more. He saw Rodney had his pants open now, touching himself, rubbing pre-cum up and down his engorged cock. "Rodney," he said, reaching out, for he didn't like the idea of that gorgeous cock going to waste like that. "My mouth," he panted.

"Oh fuck," Rodney groaned, but he moved nonetheless, so he was at John's head, and let John take his cock into his hot mouth and suck it passionately.

Whether it was Jack or Rodney who made the move first, it didn't matter, but moments later, they lay in a daisy chain, Rodney sucking Jack's cock, as John sucked Rodney, and Jack sucked John's, all three moaning and all three close. John couldn't say if he had been the first or the last to come and he really didn't care, it had been fantastic and very satisfying. It was however, Rodney that moved first, getting the water canteen and a cloth so they could clean up, placing semen tasting kisses on their lips as he cleaned them both as well, then left them to recover, showing off his endurance when it came to sex, once again. John laughed and Jack seemed content, and that was a vast improvement from moments ago.

"You think our little EGB is every going to let us forget this?" Jack asked, shifting his head on John's lap, glad that Rodney had zipped them up afterwards.

John sat up, for they were not THAT tired, it was just a fast, wild burst of energy, but as always Rodney recovered first. "EGB?"

"Energizer Bunny," Jack smirked.

"Wouldn't that be EB?" John asked, seeing Rodney was ignoring them, or faking it very well.

"Wouldn't want anyone to mistake him for the Easter Bunny," Jack chuckled.

"I can see that, with those big blue eyes and that cute pink nose..." John smiled.

"My nose is NOT pink," Rodney growled out from behind the altar, already having it open and working on it.

"But your hair is soft and cuddly like a bunny's, especially your chest hairs," Jack said with such a straight face that John howled, especially at the outraged look Rodney gave him.

"Yuck it up, Cousin It wannabe," Rodney growled at John, which had both John and Jack laughing even more.

"It's soft as a kitten," John said, knowing he was only prolonging his eventual death at Rodney's hands.

"Oh yes, and he purrs like a kitten when you scratch him just behind the..." Jack started, but a satchel flying in his direction cut him off as he caught it. "Oh, come on, Kitten, I didn't mean it," Jack chuckled, trying to sound contrite but failed miserably. Seeing the death glare. "Tiger?"

"If not for the fact I can't stand whining two year olds, I'd turn you both into one...match your mental age," Rodney snapped as he went back to work.

"Rodney..." John said, and waited until Rodney was looking and then John kissed the air at him. John chuckled at the blush that filled Rodney's cheeks before going back to work.

Jack got to his feet first, helping John to his and they both got their game faces on and checked the area out again, but as they both suspected, before allowing themselves to indulge, the place was long abandoned and nothing or no one had been here for a while.

"Okay, I got it," Rodney said.

"You're not going to blow the system up again, are you?" Jack asked as he handed over the satchel with the rocks.

John removed the local clothing, as did Jack, "Yeah, I'd hate to think that if someone else did get tossed through that mirror thing, they'd get stuck as a kid here."

"Remember, they need you two to even operate it, so the odds of anyone getting 'tossed' through it is slim to none, but...no, I'm not going to blow it up. I know what I did wrong," Rodney said as he removed his native clothes, dressed in his jeans and T-shirt, like Jack and John.

"Oh, what was that?" Jack asked, simply for he knew Rodney was bluffing.

Rodney was caught off guard at being called on his bluff, for most just took for granted that he did know what he was doing, which normally he did, but he had no instruments here and was working blind, technologically speaking. "You...you want me to explain it to you?" he asked, not believing either really wanted to know.

"Yeah," John said, seeing what Jack was up to, and folded his arms over his chest, and looked at Rodney with a 'go on' look, as Jack matched John's stance.

Rodney stared at them for a few seconds. "The flex compositor wasn't attached tightly enough to the power distributor and caused an overload," Rodney said smugly.

Jack shared a look with John. "He made that up, didn't he?"

John shrugged. "Probably, but it was damn good, wasn't it?" he grinned, as if proud of Rodney for his first BS lie. Sadly it hadn't been, Rodney was becoming a pro at lying over the time he'd spent in the Pegasus Galaxy, having to for survival of not only himself but all of Atlantis.

Jack smiled as well and turned back to Rodney who was shaking was head and placing the stones in their corresponding locations. "Same drill as last time?" he asked.

"Yes," Rodney said. "On three," Rodney added, and then once more he counted down and all three touched the small triangular mirror in the center of the altar and once more all went dark.

Older Years Part 1

"Oh, this just never gets old," Rodney groaned as he slowly shifted to his side, his body aching and his head throbbing. He looked and saw there was still power in the unit and felt pleased with himself that he hadn't blown it up. He then looked at himself, and saw he was still wearing jeans, but they were more faded and worn, his shoes were Nikes, and his shirt was a dark blue T-shirt with a dark red button shirt over it, opened just enough to show he was wearing the T-shirt underneath. "I think it worked," he said as he got to his feet, feeling a tad dizzy as usual, and he felt more...solid, and his mind didn't feel so clouded with emotions and hormones. "Thank goodness," he sighed. "Whoever suggested going back to eighteen again would be fun, should be shot," he growled as he moved around to see if John and Jack were all right, for he could hear they were moving.

Rodney saw the two men get to their feet and couldn't help the smile, for Jack and John were gorgeous men and at present they were looking mighty fine. Jack's hair was military short, but still a rich dark blond, and his dark blue jeans were hugging firm hips and a nicely rounded butt, and his military green tank shirt was almost skin tight over his very nicely built chest...seeing the dog tags only clinched his theory that some how they mingled with a part of their actual past in order to rematerialize to the proper age, the goal to re-age them to who they were in full, scars and all. Rodney then saw John stretch and felt his mouth go even dryer, for John was lean and well built just like Jack, perhaps a bit slimmer, but just as muscular. He wore black jeans and black boots and a black T-shirt. "I see you started your Johnny Cash tribute early," Rodney commented.

"Hey, never too early to emulate a legend," John smiled, and then tilted his head as he got his first good look at Rodney. "Why didn't you tell me?" he suddenly demanded, but the grin threw Rodney off.

"Tell you what?" Rodney asked, not sure what John was talking about. He then saw Jack's eyes light up and the mischievous grin that was mixed with desire. "What?"

"That you were a major hottie when you were younger," John said, folding his arms over his chest, as if scolding Rodney for holding back on him.

"Oh, please," Rodney growled, now knowing he was being messed with.

"He's right," Jack said then his eyes were looking him up and down again. "And the hair cut actually works for you...what did they call that, a...mullet?"

"WHAT?" Rodney asked and reached up and behind his neck and sure enough there was the long back of hair. "Oh no," he groaned. "Of all the years I had to pick from, I had to zap us to twenty-three," he moaned. "Just shoot me now."

"Why, it looks good on you," John said sincerely. "Out of fashion, but good."

"I take it that look didn't last very long," Jack said with a smile.

"Ah...no," Rodney said, feeling very embarrassed. "I had a..." he hesitated for only a moment, and then realized it was stupid to lie about it, after all, he was having sex with these men. "...a boyfriend that...ah...liked it like...ah, this," he said, waving his hand at his head.

"Boyfriend?" Jack asked, arching a brow in curiosity. "Do tell."

"Not much to tell, he was older than me, I had just gotten my first PhD and...well...needless to said, I thought it was love. Shows you know what I knew about it," Rodney said, sounding very depressed.

John moved and placed a comforting arm around Rodney's shoulder. "What happened?"

Rodney sighed, "I helped him with his dissertation, believing that's what partners do, and..."

"Once it was done and he got what he wanted, he no longer loved you or needed you," Jack said, also placing a comforting arm around Rodney, but at his waist.

"Yeah...that would be about right," Rodney sighed, not wanting to let the old feelings get the best of him.

"His loss is our gain," John said warmly and placed a small kiss on Rodney's cheek, followed by Jack doing the same on the other cheek...bookends! Rodney grinned, feeling, to hell with old boyfriends, I got flyboys!

"So, we're twenty-three and we need to go...?" Jack asked.

"Ah...yes, give me a moment," Rodney said, getting his head back on this plane of existence. "Baharan," Rodney said suddenly.

"Original," Jack quipped.

"You have to love those Ancients and their unique thinking," John chuckled.

"Regardless of the poor imagination of those who built the temples, that's where we have to go, and to do that we have to ask where it's located," Rodney pointed out.

"Which means back to the city," Jack nodded.

"You think anyone will recognize us?" John asked as he moved to gather their native tunics.

"Anything is possible, but if we stay away from where we were before, we should be okay," Jack said, sounding more like the military man he was than the child and teen he had been.

"I think they're going to be a bit..." Rodney tried to warn John that the tunic was for his lanky teen form and might not fit his more muscular one, but he was a few seconds too late as the rip of fabric echoed in the air. "...tight," Rodney finished.

"Ya think?" Jack asked as he moved and saw the large split up John's back in the tunic he had been trying to put on.

All three stood there for a long moment, staring at each other, and Rodney shrugged and looked at Jack, "clothing run?" Jack and John had 'confiscated' their last set of tunics, it looked like they might have to do it again if they were to re-enter the city.

John and Jack shared a look, a devilish grin appearing on both their faces and said as one, "Clothing run."

***

Rodney was not happy! Sure, he was glad he was an adult and that they'd discovered the exact location of the new temple. He wasn't even out of sorts that to get there they had to take an ocean voyage for about a week or so...well, not completely out of sorts. Even selling the instruments to help pay for passage, along with some light duties onboard to cover the rest, didn't upset him too badly. No, it had been the last three days that had him in a fury, and he wasn't sure what to do about it.

It seemed that being an adult the emotional roller coaster of youth was over, tempering everyone in their response to the obstacles before them. Which in itself wasn't a bad thing, until that tempering carried over to sex as in NO sex! For many nights Rodney had gone to bed to the comfort of Jack and John, their touch, their attention, their heat, their company, but not over the last three nights. It wasn't that the cabin was too small, it was just right. It wasn't that the bed was too narrow, it was just right. It wasn't that they didn't have time, it was just...crap, he was sounding like Goldilocks! Point, Jack and John had decided to pull back, WITHOUT discussing it with him...not a good idea.

The first night Rodney put it off as fatigue. The second night he was annoyed, and attributed it to the strange environment of being on a ship. But last night, he couldn't think of a damn good reason other then the two MILITARY MORONS had gotten caught up in the out of date American narrow-minded thinking.

So, as he lay there feeling the cold since Jack had decided to go on deck and John had decided to sleep on the floor with their extra blankets, he debated on what he should do if anything. He realized he really liked how they all got along and felt so comfortable with each other. He liked how Jack and John looked after him...hell, he had to admit, at least to himself, he loved it. He loved to see them smile and laugh like big kids. He loved their touch, the way they made him feel so...wanted and special. He thought about how Jack and John were similar, like bookends, as he liked to tease them, but also how different they were also. Rodney knew that had it not been for Jack, they wouldn't have even had as much closeness as they had...Jack LIKED to touch, and that was like carte blanche, to touch back. Rodney didn't realize how much he had needed to be touched...tenderly and affectionately, until he had it in stereo. Sure he'd had lovers in the past, but they'd been one-night stands or quick fixes, but nothing like what he had found with Jack and John.

It was a painful thought to realize that once this journey was over, all they had achieved would end. Rodney thought that perhaps Jack and John had the right idea to pull back now before it was too late. But as Rodney now stood on the deck, watching the golden sun dance over Jack and John as they were getting into some sort of mischief, Rodney knew...it was already too late, at least for him. He had fallen in love with both men and decided that if this was all the time he was going to get, by damn he was going to get it all! So, being the genius he was, he knew he had to take matters into his own hands and plot, plan, and pounce!

Rodney wandered out farther on deck, missing the inertia dampeners from the puddle jumpers, for this old rickety ship could have used a few. He moved closer and saw John and Jack had mops, but he was sure they were NOT mopping the deck. Then he saw the white marks on the deck and he gasped. "Shuffleboard?" he asked with disbelief.

"What's wrong with shuffleboard?" John asked, moving to take his turn and apparently doing well by the joy on his face.

Jack moved up to Rodney with his boyish grin in full swing. "I thought of hockey, but really, do you really want to deal with high sticking...with THIS bunch?" he asked, lowering his voice at the end.

Rodney looked around at the crew, and though they were not total asses, they were no choirboys. In fact, all of them could have been extras in the Pirates of the Caribbean. Some he thought could have scared even them off. "Ah...no," he finally said.

"Jack, your line!" one of the men shouted.

Rodney followed Jack and John who dropped their mops and dashed to the side of the ship where there was a makeshift fishing pole, secured to the railing. "Fishing?" Rodney asked, wondering why he wasn't all that surprised that Jack found a way.

"Can't pass up an opportunity like this," Jack shouted as he and John worked in tandem to undoing the rope, and pulled the pole back, Jack trying to wheel the thing in. Rodney made a mental note to ask Jack how he'd rigged that little device, but then whatever they were trying to catch, almost caught them, as they both got dragged to the railing.

Rodney grabbed John around the waist, who now had Jack around his waist and all three of them pulled. The three of them were not aware of the crowd that had gathered to watch, none of the other sailors helped, as the three pulled and slid back to the railing, only to be pulled some more. Rodney, one hand still around John's waist, desperately wanted to tell John and Jack to let the damn pole go, but didn't have the energy to do that and hold John. He reached for the bar railing on the cabin wall, and wrapped his right arm around it, and felt the strain as he held on. "Oh for crying out loud...forget the damn thing!" he finally shouted.

"Here it comes!" Jack shouted, and to his and everyone's amazement, something indeed arrived on board ship...something about five and half feet long, that resembled an Earth shark too much for Rodney's taste. He watched Jack and John jump back as the thing thrashed on the deck, snapping its mighty jaws at anything it could. By this point, Jack had dropped the pole, and the three of them were now pressed flat against the cabin wall, as the crew swooped down on the thing like starving vultures...not a pretty sight.

"You know..." Jack said, his eyes gaping at the way the crew was acting. "Fishing was always about the fishing..."

"Not the fish," John said, finishing Jack's thought.

"No...not so much," Jack said, feeling that at present he'd lost his desire to fish anymore.

The three quickly got out of there as more of the crew joined the slaughter. Rodney staggered, feeling green. "He's going to blow," John said, having seen how ill Rodney was looking.

Jack and John had just gotten Rodney to the other railing before he got ill, losing his breakfast and lunch. "That was...that was just..." but his stomach decided it wasn't done just yet.

Jack and John helped a green Rodney down to their cabin, got changed into a few clothes they'd 'picked up' and got ready for bed. There was nothing for seasickness, so the back up treatment was sleep.

"Worked for Sara when we made the mistake of going on a fishing trip with a group from one of the bases we were stationed at. She didn't want us turning the boat around just for her, so she got as comfortable as she could and I rubbed her back and she slept. When she woke up, she actually joined us towards the end," Jack said, as he rubbed Rodney's back soothingly.

John got Rodney some fresh water to rinse his mouth out and a bucket in case it was needed. Then he sat down and wiped Rodney's face with a cool cloth with one hand, and his hair with the other.

Rodney may have been ill, but he wasn't stupid...genius here. He shifted and placed his head on John's lap, making it easier for John to caress his hair, and kept him put for a while. Jack had to shift more on the bed, to rub Rodney's back, and Rodney mewed softly to let Jack know he liked it. He may have wanted to do more, but the treatment was working, especially since Rodney hadn't been sleeping well the past three nights.

"Missed you...both," Rodney said softly before he started snoring and soon was out like a light.

After a long quiet minute, "Missed you too," John whispered, not meeting anyone's eyes. Jack just shifted down on the bed, getting comfortable, and continued to rub Rodney's back, until he fell asleep, which was moments after John had shifted down, so Rodney's head was on his chest instead of lap, and fell asleep also. It seemed no one had slept well over the last three nights.

***

Okay, Plan A wasn't working, which shouldn't have surprised him as Plan A never really worked...ever! He'd woken that morning to find once again Jack and John were gone, back to being 'buddies' but Jack had toned his touching down to zero and John kept with the 'laid-back' persona, and it was driving Rodney insane. The plan was simple: make a pass in private and let things develop. But no, that was obviously too simple for his American military boys, who hemmed and hawed and then made some lame excuse to do something else, never coming out and saying that they shouldn't or that it was over. Easy to conclude that Jack and John were born action heroes so long as it had NOTHING to do with emotions and relationships, for in that department they were cowards!

Rodney sighed, he missed the younger versions of his companions, even though they had the sharp minds of their adult selves, they were more open to their feelings and less cautious about showing them. It also gave him an insight into to the two men that he would never had received otherwise, and as he stood watching once more, Jack and John being their charming and hard working selves with the rest of the crew, he had another decision to make. What should Plan B be?

The weather helped with his decision as a sudden storm hit and the Captain ordered his passengers, as there were a few others besides them, to remain in their cabins below. Having a captive audience, Rodney pulled out the deck of cards, as there was little else to do in their small room. "Cards?" he asked, shifting on the bed, as there were only two chairs and a small table, which he moved in front of him.

"Sure, gin?" Jack suggested.

"Poker?" Rodney asked, trying hard not to fidget.

"What would we use for chips?" John asked, for they didn't have that much, and whatever coins they had were for the mission.

"Strip poker?" Rodney asked with a sly grin. He saw Jack and John begin the hemming and hawing. "Unless you have something to hide...I mean, I have heard that some men change for the worst as they mature..." he tried and was pleased to see the insulted looks on Jack and John's face.

"It's you whose going to be sitting in your briefs," John said, grabbing a seat and joining Jack and Rodney at the table.

Rodney was pleased for that seemed enough for Jack to go with the flow, so Rodney took the deck and started shuffling and then dealt. In three minutes Jack and John had their over tunics off, in another three, their shirts lay on the floor.

"You can't bluff worth crap," John said, folding on his third hand.

"Aw crap!" Jack said with a touch of irritation. "I can't believe we fell for this," he said to John who looked at him puzzled. "Come on...he's DEALING," Jack said, wondering how long it would take for John to clue in, which apparently wasn't that long.

"Rodney 'Card Shark" McKay, strikes again," John said, then turned and threw an accusing glance at Rodney as did Jack.

Rodney shifted on the bed, hoping the guys were not that mad at him. "Hey, what did you expect?" he asked sheepishly.

"I'd like to know how you managed not to get lynched back in the other town?" Jack asked, laying his cards down, the game forgotten. "I mean, you really CAN'T bluff worth crap...?"

"Hey, I never said I could. In fact, I lost a lot in poker...unless I dealt..." Rodney shrugged. "We had a rule at the table that the winner dealt...I kept winning, then I lost on purpose, played a few more hands, bidding small and then quit early, if you recall." Rodney explained.

"How did you learn to deal like that?" John asked, getting up and moving to get their supplies and grabbed some of their dry rations for everyone to snack on along with the water canteen, not bothering about his shirt or tunic.

"I'd really like to know how you learned..." Jack wiggled his fingers. "I mean, it's not your everyday skill associated with your everyday geek...no offense," he added.

"Ah," Rodney said, not sure if he wanted to share, but saw the interest and realized that he'd need to shift Plan B a bit. "Okay, I'll spill, but you guys have to do some spilling on your own later on," he replied, and not even letting them think about it, continued. "I was in ninth grade, and I'm sure you can imagine I was very small for my age, being everyone was older than me..."

"How old were you?" John asked. "I remember you mentioned how you built a nuclear bomb in sixth grade; I assumed you were eleven or twelve then."

Rodney snorted. "Please," he said, shaking his head. "Genius here, remember?" he smirked. "I was nine when I did that, which made me twelve in ninth grade. I would have gone farther ahead but my parents wouldn't let me skip any more grades, but they couldn't really hold me back either, so by fourteen I challenge my senior exams so I could go to college, which was a good thing since by fifteen they were gone..."

"You built a...a...at NINE?" Jack asked, knowing Rodney was a genius, but even Carter admitted that she'd never tried anything like that until the Academy, but then it could have been having a military father, but somehow he didn't think so. He also knew he would have to take another look at Rodney's record when he got back.

"Yes," Rodney said as if it was a common occurrence. "So you can see, by ninth grade, I was a bit..." he hesitated, hating to discuss this part of himself. But if he wanted them to be open with him, he would have to brave it and be open also. "I was a bit desperate for friends," Rodney said, his eyes looking down at the table, as he rubbed his fingers, as he did whenever he got nervous.

"Probably not too much of a jump to say you probably didn't get along with kids your own age," Jack said knowingly.

"No...not much," Rodney admitted. "So, when Tommy Watts, one of the cooler kids in school approached me, wanting to be friends, well..." Rodney shrugged, hoping the others would understand.

"He taught you how to pick pockets?" John asked, sounding as shocked as Jack looked.

Rodney shifted back away from the table, until he had the wall of the cabin behind him, his legs straight in front of him, until he bent them, to lean on. "I guess you could say he was a regular Fagan and I became his Artful Dodger," Rodney said, a little mischievous smile crossing his face, as his eyes grew distant with mixed memories of that time. Then they grew sad. "He obviously figured that no one would accuse ME of being a thief, even if I couldn't lie worth crap, and he was right..." Rodney shrugged. "By tenth grade I was a pro, making him a nice little fortune...that was until Mr. Miller..." Rodney sighed.

"He caught you," Jack nodded as if that seemed the obvious result.

"Oh yeah and again, I couldn't lie worth squat, so...two days later, Tommy Watts hated my guts as he was suspended and his little ring of thieves rounded up and I was shipped off to another boarding school," Rodney sighed.

"Boarding school?" John asked, somehow finding that surprising.

"I mentioned my parents were well off, right?" Rodney asked, and then continued when he saw them both nod yes. "Well, when it soon became apparent that a regular nanny wasn't going to be enough to keep up with me, and THEY couldn't be expected to take time out of their...jet-setting lives, so private schools became the answer," Rodney explained the pain and anger lacing his voice as he recalled the many nannies and schools he had been through. The only person who remained even a bit rooted in his life was his sister Jeannie, and it was he, who had cut their ties for a long time...he was glad they had reconnected after they got back in contact with Earth, even if it was like starting over again. He made a private note to himself to put more effort into getting to know her more when he got back.

Rodney was brought out of his deep musing by the shifting of the bed, and was pleased to see Jack had come to join him on the bed, sitting next to him, his nurturing nature getting the best of him. Rodney looked and saw John remain where he was and that hurt Rodney, but he wasn't going to push his luck just yet. Rodney welcomed Jack's supporting arm around him. "Well...anyway, it came in handy having a delicate touch," Rodney said, wanting to wrap that conversation up and move onto other issues.

Rodney reached out and let his left hand caress Jack's thigh and felt the muscles under his hand stiffen, as did the arm behind him. "What?" he asked, tiring of this.

"Look, Rodney, I think...that perhaps..." Jack was trying to find the words to say what he wanted without making a mess of things and he was coming up empty.

"We're military Rodney, you know that," John said, knowing exactly how Jack felt.

"Yeah, so...that fact hasn't changed since we came here or last week...why does that matter now?" Rodney demanded, losing his patience.

"It's just a good idea to put some...distance between us before we get home," Jack tried to explain.

"Home...HOME?" Rodney said, leaping up off the bed, just missing knocking the table over. "We don't even have a fucking CLUE how to get home...or should I say 'I' don't have a clue how to get home and unless you've been holding out on me, who even said we ARE going home?" he snapped, folding his arms over his chest.

"We can't just give up," John said, getting to his feet.

"Who said anything about giving up?" Rodney growled. "All I said was I don't know how at this moment to get us home...hell, I don't even know where we are in the universe, do you?" he asked Jack and John and saw them look blank. "Didn't think so. We could be here for another week, two, a month, or six years...I DON'T KNOW! I do know that we had something special and because you're both acting like macho morons, thinking about a backwards military that hasn't done SQUAT for either of you, but suck your lives dry like the fucking Wraith...you're screwing it all up." Rodney snarled at them, his anger and hurt boiling to the surface.

"Rodney..." Jack tried, only to be cut off.

"I KNEW...this couldn't last forever...I wasn't ASKING for it too...but why...WHY, can't we have..." he was having trouble keeping his voice from cracking and he refused to cry in front of these two. Not O'Neill and Sheppard, never! He swallowed hard to keep it together. "Why can't we just keep on with what we had?" he finally asked, and then he turned, deciding to leave since he didn't like the looks he was getting and slammed the cabin door behind him.

The storm was bad, but not as bad as the one that had hit Atlantis that time, but he was still drenched within minutes as he stood just outside the entrance to the cabins and watched the few crewmen that were on duty fight the winds and ocean spray that was slamming against the ship. He was glad that the wetness would cover his tears.

Rodney lost track of time standing there, his arms wrapped around himself, not even caring if he was shivering, he was so angry and so determined not to go back into that cabin and face those two idiots...when one of the idiots came into view...Jack now fully dressed, asking him to come back inside. He just shook his head no.

"This is crazy Rodney," John said from right next to him, also fully dressed. "You're shivering."

"What does it matter to you?" Rodney snapped, not caring how childish it sounded.

"That's it...I'm ordering you to get back inside," Jack snapped, for he and John were also drenched in the short time they were out here and they could only imagine how cold Rodney was.

"You can't order me, JACK, I'm a civilian," Rodney replied smugly. Rodney hadn't known that his words smacked Jack harder than he imagined, and because of the rain and wind, didn't see Jack's face pale upon hearing them.

"Come on," John said, moving to grab Rodney by the arm, but Rodney pulled himself free.

"Get off me," he snarled and moved out toward the center of the deck when a large wave hit the ship, tilting it sideward, and Rodney began to lose his balance as he had nothing to grab on to and started to fall toward the railing and the ocean, when the boat righted itself just in time.

"That's it!" Jack snapped and without hesitation, stormed up to Rodney and grabbed him up into a fireman's carry and stormed back toward the cabin, signaling John to get the doors, ignoring Rodney's shouts and threats...he didn't give a damn what the man said, he was going down below where it was safe.

"What the hell do you think your doing?" Rodney shouted once he was placed on his feet in their cabin.

"My JOB!" Jack snarled. "It's MY JOB to keep you safe...BOTH OF YOU," Jack added seriously.

"And you think the only way you can do that is keeping an 'objective' distance, is that it?" Rodney challenged. "Do you really think THAT will make it hurt any less if something happens to one of us?" Rodney snarled. He then turned accusing eyes on John, "Do you really think it make it EASIER when the end comes?" Rodney asked, his body now shivering very hard from the cold.

"Crap, look at you," Jack said, moving to remove Rodney's wet things, but Rodney pushed him back.

"Answer me," Rodney demanded, eyeing both men with determined seriousness. "We might not even see morning and you're acting like a bunch of righteous military pricks..." he snarled and saw that neither Jack or John was going to respond, so he moved and just started stripping, tossing his wet tunic at John, wishing the bastard hadn't caught it. Then the shirt went at Jack's face, but he too caught it. "Fine..." he said over his shoulder. "Fuck you both," he growled and stripped down to nothing, moving to the corner where the extra blankets were set up as John was using them for his bed, and climbed under some of them.

"Rodney, you need to get warm and the bed would be much more..." John tried.

"I said FUCK YOU...that means," Rodney snarled, glaring death at them, "FUCK OFF!" he told them, and then pulled one of the blankets over his head, his back towards them.

Rodney heard Jack swear under his breath, but he really didn't give a damn. They had made their choice and he was done trying to figure it out for tonight. He may be a genius, but he was still human. He heard Jack tell John to come with him and Rodney heard them leave the cabin. Part of him wondered where they were going, but most of him was too tired and too damn cold to care. He closed his eyes and tried to think of some project he had going on back in Atlantis, hoping to take his mind off things, but he kept thinking of the last few weeks...great weeks, wonderful weeks. His mind bombarded him with images of two young boys laughing and smiling...boy, did Jack and John have great laughs and smiles. Rodney chided himself and once more tried to force his mind to the projects, but the images of their first time in the pond snuck past, and so Rodney just tried to think about nothing, hoping to just get some sleep...but he was cold.

Suddenly, Rodney gasped as he was being picked up. "What the hell!" he said, seeing it was Jack, who was carrying him to one of the chairs, on the floor were two large buckets of hot water by the chair, and next to the bed was a tray of hot food with three hot drinks and towels. Rodney figured he must have lost track of time again, but before he could say more, he was being put down on the chair, his feet placed into the water. "What do you think you are doing? I am quit capable of..." Rodney didn't get a chance to finish, as Jack didn't let him.

"Like fucking hell you can," Jack snapped. "You're fucking shivering under those blankets on the verge of hypothermia, and I've heard all this bullshit before, so don't EVEN try to pull it on me," Jack snarled. "You WILL keep your feet in that water. You WILL let me and John wash you down and get you dressed in warm clothes, then you WILL eat a hot meal, and you WILL get in that damn bed...do I make myself clear?" Jack said, his eyes and tone brooking no arguments or debates.

Rodney opened his mouth as if to protest anyway, but it was John now who stepped in front of him. "We're serious, Rodney. If that means sitting on you and force feeding you, we WILL do it," John added, looking just as serious and determined as Jack.

Rodney was stunned by their reactions, and though a part of him wanted to fight and shout and protest, it was the pain in Jack's eyes, for something he'd have to ask Jack about later and the concern in John's that won him over. He just nodded his consent, not sure what to say. He sat there as John and Jack gave him a quick warm sponge bath, then dressed him in one of the nightshirts they had, and Jack moved the table for him to eat, as Jack and John washed up. That sight alone warmed him up inside, though he didn't say anything, as they finished and got changed into something dry as well. Then they ate the hot food and drinks and put Rodney in bed, his feet dried by John, his hair being dried by Jack, and then with one on each side of him, settled in for the night, as Jack put the lantern out. "Now sleep," Jack said firmly, sounding angry, but his actions were caring so Rodney couldn't be mad at him. He felt John snuggle closer to him, placing an arm over his waist, as if making sure he was there, and Rodney felt that warm special feeling again, and closed his eyes, feeling that on some level this HAD to be a victory.

Older Years Part 2

Plan C or any plan was not supposed to include him being sick, but he had to admit, it was nice to be pampered and Jack, more than John, seemed to like taking care of him. Not that John didn't care, but John liked to keep Rodney's mind more engaged, and thus the two men worked well helping him through the four days he'd been sick because of his 'stunt' as Jack liked to call it. But Rodney felt it was well worth it, for they were touching him again, sleeping with him again. Perhaps the sex had not returned, but the closeness had, and there were small kisses on the temple or cheek as John and Jack came and went or at night before lights out. Overall it was worth the cold; but Rodney was thankful it hadn't turned into pneumonia with the level of medicine on this world, that could have been fatal, but Jack's 'Mother Hen' regimen, and John's ability for scrounging whatever Jack needed for Rodney's care, had made the difference, he was sure of it.

Sometimes the two men worked so well together it was downright scary, but there were times they clashed in their thinking, and as John pointed out to Jack...again, that they'd done away with rank, when it came to personal things. Meaning he'd follow orders in a critical situation or pertaining to their mission in getting home, but that was it, and they would have to work it out other ways. Rodney smirked to himself at their solution of Rock-Paper-Scissors...it was so...them.

Now that he was feeling better and word was they'd be reaching shore in a day, two at most, Rodney felt the need to try one more time to reach the two men he knew he was in love with, and if he failed...he'd let them go. Part of being a genius was knowing when to move onto other projects when the answer came up a definite no...well, that's what he was telling himself, for he knew that by pushing it further, he'd lose what they already had, and he didn't want that, so...tonight, he would try once last time.

Rodney had been up on deck, enjoying the warmth of the sun, with just enough shade not to worry about sunburn, and was teaching the Captain of the ship the simple challenges of checkers. He would have preferred chess, but they didn't have anything that even came close to resembling the pieces needed, and Jack said he was good with his hands, but not that good. John had scrambled up a board that resembled a checker board, and Jack came up with some caps that could be used as checker pieces and thus they played and the crew was once more intrigued with what the 'strange trio' as they were referred to, could teach them now. John whispered in Rodney's ear that he should let the Captain win once in a while, as Jack distracted the Captain, for the man was getting frustrated in losing over and over again in front of his crew. So, Rodney threw a few games, but the smiles in Jack and John's eyes made it worth it, for he cared nothing for the pleasure on the Captain's face. The man may know sailing, but knew NOTHING about strategy.

By evening, the three of them prepared for bed. As Jack turned the lantern off he said, "The Captain said probably by tomorrow afternoon, we should hit shore."

"Did you get any information on the city where we're going to?" Rodney asked, for it would be nice to have some idea of their destination.

"Some," Jack replied. "He said it was a pretty strict country, but that the people were pretty honest in their dealings. He also said he'd have one of his men take us to a decent inn he knows of and they'll probably give us directions to where we want to go from there."

"He also mentioned the women were pretty exotic looking," John said, the smirk heard in his voice.

"Captain Kirk raising his ugly head again?" Rodney asked, not meaning to sound jealous, but he was.

John laughed. "No, Rodney, the Captain mentioned it because the laws about women are pretty strict and unless we're in...what did he call the places?" he asked Jack.

"Herdershick, or something like that...whorehouses I'm thinking," Jack replied.

"Yeah, if we're not actively in one of those places, to keep our hands to ourselves," John explained.

"We're not planning on...visiting one of those...places are we?" Rodney heard himself asking.

"I don't know...I heard the sailors say the women there were pretty talented with their hands," Jack joked.

"What did one say, like magic?" John added, smirking at what he was assuming was the look on Rodney's face right about now.

Rodney was about to snap at them, and then his brain fired another plan at him. Reaching out with both hands, one to John, the other to Jack, he caressed their thighs, slowly inching his way to their groins. "Talented fingers huh?" he asked, hearing both men gasp at his touch. "Have you heard if they're ambidextrous?" he asked, finding his targets and grinned with smug pride, though neither man could see him in the dark.

"Ah...Rodney..." Jack stuttered.

Rodney could feel both Jack and John were responding to his touch. "You didn't answer me...Jack," he said, lowering his voice to a husky tone. "What about you...John?" he said, giving both men a light squeeze and heard responses of hitched breaths that were coming faster.

Slowly sitting up in the middle of the bed, which had become his favorite spot, not that he cared where he was, so long as both men were in it with him, he pressed a little harder feeling their cocks respond in his hands. "What else did you hear they could do so...well?" he asked, his voice low and seductive. He slipped his hands up and under the bands of their boxers, which was the preference of their older versions when it came to Earth underwear, and his hand touched hot and heavy flesh and his own cock thickened with arousal.

"Rodney," John gasped

Rodney felt his heart skip as John's voice wasn't subtly asking him to stop, but was saying his name in pleasure. Then his heart raced as he felt Jack's hand caress his thigh.

"I heard their mouths were like an oasis in the dessert, sweet and pure when you drink from them," Jack said, his own voice low and husky, as he sat up, his left hand shifting from Rodney's thigh to his hip and up his back to his neck.

"Really," Rodney purred and without losing rhythm, he leaned toward Jack, who had felt him shift, and in the dark their lips met and Rodney opened his mouth to let Jack drink from him as deeply as he wanted, and moaned in delight, as it felt more like Jack was filling and giving to him, rather than taking.

"Oh yes," Jack whispered when the need for air arrived and shifted, to his hip, breaking Rodney's rhythm on his cock, but Jack needed to touch more, and let his hands caress the firm body next to him, his right, finding Rodney's thick cock under his boxers.

Rodney had just caught his breath when John's lips found his mouth. Even in the dark he could tell who was who, not just by what side of his body they were on, but their taste, touch and smell. John was just as affectionate and talented in the kissing department as Jack and soon Rodney's brain was on overload and his hands stopped caressing and went to random touching, for to do more, required thought and he had none left...he just had instinct and the deep seeded need to show his love to his lovers.

Before he knew it, Rodney was on his back, his bookends touching and licking him all over and he was quivering with need. "I want you," he gasped, feeling Jack's fingers near his cock as John's mouth sucked on his left nipple, as his right hand playing with the other.

"Who?" Jack asked, his voice raspy with need.

"Both of you," Rodney said, for it was true. He wanted both Jack and John inside him. "I want you both to come inside me," Rodney gasped out with need. "Please," he begged, spreading his legs, uncaring if he was being sluttish, he wanted them to fuck him...no...this wasn't fucking, it was making love, and he could feel the difference with the revered way both Jack and John were touching him.

Rodney didn't know or care how Jack and John worked it out, but soon he had John's fingers inside him and John's mouth on his cock, as Jack worked his mouth and nipples. "We want you to come for us, Rodney" Jack whispered. "We're going to use your cum as lube, so we can fuck you."

Again, Rodney knew it was more than that, but hearing Jack's voice and his words excited him and made him shiver with desire and pleasure and his body more than wanted to listen to his orders now. A few talented licks and sucks from John's mouth and Rodney gasped his warning and then came his brains out.

Rodney had lost track of time again, for he realized his legs were bent and John had just finished working his body open. Rodney shivered with delight as John slowly began to enter him, Jack guiding John's cock...oh, he so wanted to see that, for just imagining what that looked like was hot enough to get him aroused again.

"Oh, Rodney...you're so...fucking tight," John groaned with pleasure.

"Easy," Jack soothed, and Rodney imagined that Jack was probably caressing John's body as he was caressing his own with his hand, to keep them from losing it too soon. "Take him slow," Jack whispered.

"Oh fuck," Rodney gasped for all of it, the sound of Jack's voice, John's pants, and the feel of both of them, especially of John's cock inside him was overwhelming and it was so fucking good.

What was happening between them was intense, and John couldn't keep the slow rhythm up for long but he tried. "Come in me," Rodney demanded, and that was all it took as John lost it and thrust in harder and harder until his body exploded. By silent agreement, neither Jack, nor John, nor Rodney touched Rodney's now painfully hard cock, so Rodney whimpered when John left Rodney still very aroused. "Please, Jack," he said, needing more.

"This won't last long...I'm sorry," Jack said, for just hearing and feeling John and Rodney together had excited him. He was glad his eyesight had adjusted to the little bit of moonlight that spilled into their cabin so he could see some of it as well. "John," he said softly, and without a word, John who was snuggled up next to Rodney, reached and took Rodney's cock in his hand and worked him as Jack slipped inside Rodney and together found a rhythm, which was soon broken as Jack's desire exploded around him as did Rodney.

Soon, all three of them were in the puppy pile tangled with one another, and Rodney was pleased as punch to have this back again...even if until they got back home...IF they got back home. With the last bit of energy he had, he snagged the blankets with his feet, and shifted them over their bodies, knowing they'd be sticking together in the morning...again. He couldn't wait, for sticky pains equaled kisses and caresses, which led to more. Rodney fell asleep thinking Plan D, which was a revised Plan B, was the best idea he ever had.

***

Rodney wasn't sure what was wrong, but he knew something was by how John and Jack seemed more 'stiff' and military like as they made their way through the city of Tahal to the inn the Captain had suggested would be a good place for them to stay. "What's wrong?" he finally asked once they reached their room, since that was cheaper on their limited budget at present, not that Rodney was complaining, but it was what Jack told the innkeeper.

"Nothing," Jack said as did John seconds after him, which was more than enough for Rodney not to believe either of them.

"Yes, and I was born yesterday, now spill," Rodney demanded, looking at the two men who obviously seemed on edge about something.

"Let's just say, the fact that this place looks like a scene taken from Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves doesn't exactly set well with my 'lovely' memories of the Middle East," Jack said from over his shoulder, as he stood near the window, scooping out the area below.

"Afghanistan," John said, standing near the door as if too wired to relax.

Rodney heard the tiny sigh Jack made before he spoke, but barely. "Iraq," Jack said, and Rodney knew he was missing something, but the unspoken look the two men shared showed it was probably for the best he didn't know, for they were very dark looks indeed. He didn't even have to guess that none of those memories for either were far from pleasant. "Well, the inn keeper said we have to cross the river to get to the temple of Baharan. We can simply pick up some supplies and go catch the boat, if you prefer," Rodney suggested.

"Yeah, probably a good idea," Jack agreed.

Rodney was far from keen on losing the comforts of a bed, but he much preferred to have his companions at ease and that didn't appear to be anytime soon if they remained here. He didn't know if moving would help, but Jack and John were all for the idea, so, with a sigh and a few well placed complaints, so he didn't have to carry anything too heavy and mess up his back, they left, much to the inn keeper's puzzlement.

It didn't take them long to find the river and one could see why they needed a boat to cross it, it was possibly twice the size of the English channel, though judging by the crowds waiting to cross, that fact didn't slow anyone down. They found the boat, which looked like a huge barge with an even longer rope, which worked on a pulley system, operated by several men...large men, for not just anyone would be able to pull a boat load of people and cargo across. They quickly made the arrangements for their crossing.

Rodney knew it was his fault what happened next, having informed his shadows he was more than capable of using the restroom on his own, for they had been sticking to him like glue. The Captain or person in charge of the barge said he'd be back in an hour, so Rodney felt he had more than a sufficient amount of time to do his business at the tavern that was within sight of the barge, and return. He never guessed that one man's hour was another man's 'when I get back', so he exited the tavern in time to see the overcrowded barge already taken off, and Jack and John desperately trying to get off and back to him.

He shouted to them, "No!" for the river was icy cold just by the looks of it and was probably very deep as well. As much as he wanted them with him, he couldn't purposefully let them possibly drown or get hurt because of him. He shouted he'd meet them on the other side. They had been told the boat ran every few hours, so Rodney made a point of staying on the dock and watching Jack and John fade into the mist of the river, which seemed at odds with the Middle Eastern terrain.

"When Jack and John want to stick to you like glue in a foreign land...world...you let them," he muttered himself, four hours later as the barge finally reappeared. He was half hoping that Jack and John were onboard, even if it cost them passage again, so he was a little disappointed when they were not. The man in charge, having had an earful from both John and Jack, didn't charge him passage, and said they were going to be waiting for him on the dock.

Rodney found a seat, which he refused to give up just because some older folks were looking at him funny...he'd gotten there first. Hell, he'd waited over four hours for this seat, most of it standing; he'd earned a seat. It was when the pregnant woman came into view, covered in her dark veils, but still very obvious she was with child, that Rodney groaned and grudgingly gave up his seat, to which he didn't even get a thank you.

By the time the shore came into view, approximately two hours later, Rodney was tired, cold and hungry. To make matters worse was when he disembarked from the tub; John and Jack were nowhere in sight. "Great," he muttered and wandered down the wharf-like area hoping to spot them, but to no luck. He did see some people that worked stalls that might have seen them, so he decided to go ask if any of them had seen his wayward flyboys. Rodney grinned at the idea of them being his and the thought gave him courage to press on and deal with the locals.

***

"I demand you set them free," Rodney snapped at the man, who seemed to be in charge of this...place.

"You can demand all you like, but it will only serve to get you placed in the cell with them," the man dressed like a guard from Ancient Babylon or something like that, Rodney thought, yelled back at him.

"You...you...but that's preposterous, I haven't done anything wrong," Rodney replied, feeling angry and scared. "And neither have they, they haven't been here that long," he protested again.

"Then go see an arbitrator," the man stated as if that should be enough for Rodney to leave him alone.

"Can I at least see them?" Rodney asked, worried about his friends, lovers.

"I will take him," an older man, dressed like a tall refrigerator, which Rodney was beginning to think the norm for the men of this country, said.

Rodney was filled with dread as he followed the older man through the various twists and turns of the building but then was relieved to see Jack and John were all right. "What the HELL did you two do?" he snapped, furious that they put him in this position.

"It was my fault," Jack began.

"You're damn right it was," Rodney growled, and then looked at John. "And yours. You were supposed to stay PUT on the dock and wait for me, not go around assaulting people...and stealing?"

"Rodney, it's not what you think..." John tried to explain.

"Then tell me, what SHOULD I think?" Rodney growled, folding his arms, inside filled with worry that he wouldn't be able to help them.

"We saw Lijia and Merrik, some old man was beating them," John said, but it was enough for Rodney to get the picture. "You remember them from the children's camp."

"And you went to their rescue," Rodney said, no anger in his words. "Of course you did," he said catching the look of anguish in Jack's eyes. "So, I take it the assault was to the man and the theft?"

"The kids," Jack said in a tight voice. "Slaves," Jack said with dark distain.

Rodney wiped his eyes with his right hand, "Look, they said I have to find an arbitrator, I guess it's their version of a lawyer..."

"I'm not sure how we'll get out of this mess, but you should..." Jack began, only to be once more cut of by Rodney.

"Don't tell me not to get involved. Col...O'Neill, I'm already INVOLVED," Rodney snapped again. He then glared at Sheppard. "I understand why you did what you did, but somehow I don't think they will. Now, if you two think you can keep from getting into anymore trouble, I'll go see how I can save your butts from this mess," he snapped.

Rodney watched Jack glare back at him, then go take a seat on the large bench, the only place to sit other than the floor, his back to the wall, his legs out before him on the bench, arms wrapped around his chest. Rodney knew Jack was kicking himself over this, and he wasn't helping matters. He stepped closer to John, careful not to touch, as he was told to do so would get him inside the cell with no exit pass. "Do me a favor," he whispered low to John, not caring if the guard listened or not. "Jack's going to be taking this rather hard, and it might be a while before I can get you out of here...so...look after him, be there for him. I mean, I know you both can take care of yourselves..." Rodney's snort didn't exactly make him sound sincere at that moment. "But it would make me feel better knowing you two had each other instead of staking claim to individual corners, if you know what I mean?"

Sadly, John did know what Rodney was talking about, for that was exactly what they had been doing, since being put in this cell. Jack on one side, him on the other, each kicking himself for what had happened, leaving Rodney on his own. "I'll...see what I can do," John promised.

Rodney was about to leave, when he realized his job wasn't fully done here. "Jack," Rodney said, trying to sound calm, for he was far from it. He was glad Jack moved and came to stand by the bars, and a look at John, let him know this was private, so it was John that now warmed the bench. "I'd like you to do me a favor?" Rodney asked. "I'd like you to be there for John...I know, I know, you both can take care of yourselves..." Again, the snort of 'yeah right' made an appearance. "But I know John's going to be taking this rather hard and I would feel better knowing you were there for him..." Rodney said, but felt he would need to go one inch farther with Jack. "Hug him once in awhile, I know he won't admit it, but I know it helps," he added quietly.

"I'll do what I can," Jack promised.

"It's all I ask," Rodney said, and then looked at the older guard. "You wouldn't by any chance know of an arbitrator...that I could afford?" Rodney asked, for though he had some coins, their money had been split into three portions for each to carry a part, and two-thirds of it was now locked away with no guarantee of being returned.

"Yes, by some chance I do," the older guard said with a fatherly smile, which made Rodney wince inside, but knew he had no choice in the matter.

***

Rodney didn't know how Jack and John were doing; he only knew he was cold in the tiny hovel he got for himself to sleep in, though sleep was the farthest from his mind. Yes, he had blankets and there was no wind blowing through the walls, but he felt adrift in a large sea of emptiness without them. He moaned for he knew he loved them, but this wasn't good. How was he to cope without them in his life when they got back to Atlantis...him and John back to Atlantis and Jack back on Earth?

"Good question," he muttered to himself and snuggled under the covers, thinking of his day tomorrow. He met with the arbitrator, who, of course, was the prominent son of the guard...go figure. The man seemed knowledgably, but for all Rodney knew the man could be a complete idiot, but what choice did he have? The man said Rodney's only chance was to make a personal appeal to the Magistrate, since Rodney couldn't afford the arbitrator to do it...it cost him a lot just to get this advice; boy was talk expensive in this place.

But the arbitrator took some pity or so it seemed and helped Rodney make an appointment and gave him some advice on what to say, which Rodney didn't think should have cost him nearly as much as it had, but he bit his tongue and went to find a place near the jail to stay and get some food.

The sun rose early in Rodney's judgment, but he got up, dressed and got some breakfast...he didn't think begging on an empty stomach would be wise. Then he made his way to the Magistrate's and felt he should have been surprised to see the very man, who he'd paid to give him advice to free his lovers acting as the prosecution...but he wasn't...it all just figured.

Rodney knew he was the last person to be doing this, but again, there was no one else to do it. He desperately wished Teyla or Elizabeth would suddenly pop up, but to no avail did his prayers come when it was his turn to speak. "Look," he said, trying to remember his manners. "Your...honor," Rodney said, feeling very nervous indeed. "There's obviously been some mistake, Jack and John..." he began, but saw the Magistrate look at the arbitrator with a puzzled look.

"The accused," the man said with an all too knowing smirk.

"Yes...the accused...and don't you think it's illegal to take money in offering assistance to the accused then stand here trying to prosecute them the next day?" Rodney snapped at the man.

"My advice was sound," the arbitrator replied evenly.

"Yes, if not bias I'm sure," Rodney growled.

"Speak," the Magistrate said from atop his pillowed chair, looking more like a sultan than a Western-style judge.

"Look...as I was saying, there's been a misunderstanding. Where we come from slavery is illegal, especially of children..." Rodney began.

"But you are not in your land, you are here," the arbitrator said, again with the knowing smirk.

"Yes, I KNOW we're here, thus the mistake," Rodney replied, not liking being interrupted. "But we know those children and Jack and John by nature couldn't idly stand by and watch them being abused," he snapped.

"How do you know those slaves?" the Magistrate demanded.

"They were among thirty children stolen..." Rodney began, when another voice rang out, one he hated the minute he heard it.

"They were NOT stolen, they were captured like all the rest," Parkell stated, having apparently been in the room in some shadow somewhere, no longer posing as a monk, but the slime bag he was.

"You are a filthy liar," Rodney snarled. "You posed as a monk...a holy man, along with your henchmen and spread your lies and false promises of families in want of children and work for the older ones...PAID work...not this..."

"Enough," the Magistrate demanded, and then looked at Parkell. "Is this true? The children were not captured or conquered in the acceptable lands?" he asked.

"You know me better than that." Parkell replied, trying to use charm he did not possess.

"Do I?" the Magistrate asked, with a slight knowing to his words. He then eyed Rodney, and then turned to one of his guards. Within moments both Lijia and Merrik were brought in, tied like beasts to wooden poles over their shoulders, and made to kneel before the Magistrate.

Rodney found a guard at his side, a heavy hand on his shoulder, when he had attempted to stand at seeing how bad off the boys were, Lijia being only eight and Merrik close to ten. He didn't think the boys would recognize him, but for some reason, Merrik's eyes gave off some hope upon seeing him, before being made to kneel.

"Tell me," the Magistrate said. "How did you become slaves?" he asked the children.

Rodney watched as Lijia turned his head with fright at seeing Parkell and feared more that the bastard had threatened them beforehand to lie, or else.... "Just tell the truth," Rodney said, only to get a sword at his throat, which silenced him immediately.

"Yes, tell me the truth," the Magistrate said, not even bothering to look at Rodney or Parkell, just the children on their knees.

"We...we..." Lijia began, but was too scared to speak.

"He lied to us!" Merrik finally shouted out, anger overriding his fear. "He promised us families, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters...he took my brother away from me!" Merrick cried. "I want to go home," he sobbed.

"Did he dress as a holy man when he made these promises?" the Magistrate asked.

Rodney already saw guards on both sides of Parkell, and was pleased, though he would have been more pleased to not have the sword at his throat anymore.

"Yes...monks, they all were dressed like monks," Merrik said, sniffling, as he couldn't even wipe his face. "Some people from the town tried to warn us, but...but HE said, he would prove to us there were families waiting for us, so he marched us to a ship, where we were put in chains...beaten...brought here...I want my brother, please?"

"The kids are lying, they obviously put them up to this," Parkell insisted.

"A matter in which we shall investigate to see if true or false," the Magistrate said. "In the meantime, you shall enjoy the comfort of one of our cells," he said and with a wave of his hands, two guards apprehended Parkell. "Have someone locate the sales from his boat and bring them here to be questioned," he ordered a guard. Then he looked at Rodney. "If your words are true, your friends shall be forgiven their crimes...this ONCE, and will be sent free..."

"What about the children?" Rodney asked, for he couldn't just walk away.

"Do you know where these children came from?" the Magistrate inquired.

"They came across the ocean like we did. The town we came from has opened a home for them to live in and be educated or apprenticeships arranged...they should go there," he stated firmly. "Children should not be..."

"Careful my friend," the Magistrate warned. "Our laws are our laws. While you are in our country it would be wise to learn them and not break them. On this, I ask you, why are you here?"

"We're...we're traveling to the temple of Baharan," Rodney said, seeing no point in even trying to lie on this.

"A pilgrimage...are you holy men?" the Magistrate asked, his voice even and almost soothing.

Rodney snorted, "Not hardly."

"Then why do you go to a holy place?" the Magistrate asked.

"Ah...well...answers...pilgrimage...." Rodney stuttered, for he couldn't exactly tell the man they were looking to get back to their own age and perhaps to their own planets, now could he. Thankfully, what he said seemed to be enough for the man as he nodded and with a wave, the sword was removed from Rodney's throat, which he rubbed just to be sure he wasn't nicked. He thought of telling that baboon just who he was to hold a sword on him, but squashed that idea quickly as he was no one here, and he doubted anyone here would believe him when he said he was the smartest man in two...perhaps three galaxies, depending on where they were now.

"May I tell my friends what happened?" he asked, for he had not been able to see Jack or John since that one time yesterday.

"You may tell them, that if your words are true, then they will be set free...if they are false, then you will join them not only in their cell but their punishment, which would be to become slaves yourselves, the brand of which placed on your faces for all to know," the Magistrate said, then rose, which meant everyone else got down on knees, and left, leaving Rodney wondering if the other children would have the courage to speak the truth as Merrik did or would they spout the lies that Parkell told them to say.

Rodney watched Lijia and Merrik being led away, and recalled the game of mock football he played with them, not that many weeks ago, which now seemed like a lifetime ago. He saw Merrik mouth thank you to him, and for that Rodney gave a weak smile, and then headed out to the jail where he had to wait for an hour before he got to see Jack and John.

The older guard once more led him down the twisted halls and when Rodney came around the corner to the cell, he was pleased to see Jack holding John, taking comfort in one another. "I've got good news and not so good news," he said, not sure how to put all that happened.

"Rodney," Jack and John said as one and their smiles and concern at seeing him filled his heart.

"I'm fine, and you both look well, so...that's good," Rodney said, so wanting to reach out and hug them both.

"What's the good news?" John asked.

"I may have gotten you out of here," Rodney said, with a bit of pride.

"And the bad news?" Jack asked, concern in his lovely dark eyes.

"I ah...may be joining you if things go wrong," Rodney replied, the pride slipping from his face.

"What? Rodney..." Jack began.

"Hear me out," Rodney said and explained what happened and what was going on, including his concerns that the others might not speak up, in fear of Parkell. "But it's the only chance we have so...." he shrugged. "So unless you have a Plan B or C that I don't know about, we'll have to go with Plan A as much as I dread it," Rodney sighed.

"No, this place is pretty solid," Jack sighed; he and John had gone over every possible and some impossible angles of escape during the night.

"Have you eaten?" John asked, eyeing Rodney with a critical eye.

"Some," Rodney confessed. "I got a small room near here, so I didn't have to go far. It's just a waiting game now..."

"Why don't you find out where the temple is and how we get there?" Jack suggested. "So we don't have to stick around here that long once we get out," he added, trying to be optimistic.

"Yeah, a little recon couldn't hurt," John agreed.

Rodney knew what they were doing, offering him something to keep busy so not to worry sick about what was going to happen. He wanted to tell them to knock it off, but saw the caring and worry and decided to go along with it. "Yeah...sure...recon...I can do that," Rodney nodded.

"Did they say how long it'll be?" Jack asked, wondering how long they'd be left hanging on this matter.

"You will know one way or the other by sunset tomorrow," the guard spoke up.

"Ah, good, nice to know some justice systems run fast...if not so smooth," John said, trying to offer Rodney a smirk.

"Your time's up," the guard announced.

"But I just got here," Rodney protested, having spent longer the last time.

"Don't argue with the nice guard, Rodney," John advised. "We'll see you tomorrow."

"Yes, he will...to either join you or to take you from this place," the guard replied, not sounding nearly as nice as he did yesterday.

"You're all heart," Jack added, then looked sternly at Rodney. "Do what you must," he said, hoping deep down that Rodney would understand the meaning of his words, but even deeper he knew Rodney wouldn't abandon them, no matter the fate laid out before them if things went south.

Rodney nodded, and allowed himself to be ushered outside; the dry air felt cool on his skin, as the late sun was moving farther west. He didn't feel like doing 'recon' for the temple, but wanted to go back to his hovel and wait for tomorrow. But, he knew Jack and John would be disappointed if their ruse didn't work, so he set off do find out what he could, then he would get a light dinner and wait to find out what his fate would be tomorrow.

Older Years Part 3

The sun had only been up for four hours when they heard the guards arriving and Jack and John snapped awake and up on their feet, standing near each other for silent support. When they saw the door cell open and Rodney show, they both swallowed hard with fear, it was the smile on Rodney's face that relieved their concerns.

"I've got good news...and some better news," Rodney said, practically bouncing on his feet. He held his hands behind his back, otherwise he would have grabbed them both and smothered them with kisses, which he thought would NOT be a good idea, as such relationships were seriously frowned on here. "The good news is...you're FREE!" he grinned ear to ear.

"Way to go, Rodney," Jack praised moving over and placing a hand on Rodney's shoulder, and felt it tense, and saw Rodney's eyes shoot a quick glance at the guards. Jack patted it and then removed his hand.

"I knew you could do it," John added, having seen Rodney's response to Jack so he held back. "What's the better news?"

"Well, the kids..." Some of the smile faded from Rodney's face. "Those they could find, about twelve so far, are being sent back to the town across the ocean, with some financial compensation for the transgression and Parkell is in jail...apparently the laws for slave trading are also very strict," Rodney grinned, knowing the bastard would be getting a serious taste of his own medicine, by being branded a slave himself, or so he hoped "But I'll tell you all about that later, let's get out of here," Rodney said and backed off, letting Jack and John out of the cell first.

It didn't take very long before they got their belongings, and to Rodney's surprise, all their monies back as well, considering the looks the guards had been giving them and the many rumors he'd heard about prison guards, before he led them to the inn where he was staying. "I got a bigger room so you could wash up and rest. It'll be another day or so before we get to the temple, but I did get directions," Rodney explained as he led them up to the room.

Once the door was closed behind, Rodney pulled on Jack and John's sleeve and nothing more needed to be said as they all hugged each other, their desperation to hold and touch one another shared by them all. "I missed you," Rodney confessed.

"I'm sorry," Jack whispered in Rodney's hair, as one hand rubbed his back, the other held John tightly to him as well. "I let my personal feelings get in the way...I shouldn't have let you go..."

"One of us should have come back on the boat for you," John added. "We had a responsibility to you..."

"Stop," Rodney said, leaning back, but not breaking the hold. "Things went wrong, and if we've learned anything, they always WILL go wrong, but we made it out, and twelve more kids are going to be safe tonight...so stop," Rodney said, then he kissed Jack, then John as soundly as he could. "I don't want to talk," he whispered and buried himself in their arms, breathing them in, soaking up their heat, for he had felt so cold without them. "Touch me," he muttered, his lips on John's shoulder, his cheek on Jack's as he pulled them close.

"We're here," Jack whispered as he felt how badly Rodney was trembling and it wasn't all from desire, but from fear of being left alone. He placed soft kisses on Rodney's hair and rubbed his back. He could also feel the fear and concern from John, having held him last night in his arms, he knew how much John loved Rodney...he also knew he was falling for both of them as well. Jack knew he should probably pull back, but he couldn't. John and Rodney needed him and he had to admit, he needed them at the moment too. "We're here," he said again, pulling John closer as well, letting the heat of their bodies warm the other.

John felt like he was fully home being in the arms of both men; Rodney with his strange way of pointing them out of the darkness and Jack with his never ending strength, made John feel stronger and whole. Jack had kept him sane last night when he was worried about Rodney being alone and on his own. Sure he knew Rodney was smart and a capable man, but that didn't subtract from the worry he felt for the man he loved. He also knew Jack felt the same way, but thought of him first before himself. Jack thought of himself as a selfish man, but John knew better, had seen better, and had to admit, fell in love with the soul of the man he'd come to know. John never thought it was possible for him to fall in love with one person much less with two men...two men that made him feel more whole then he ever knew was possible. "It's going to be okay," he promised, for deep down it had to be okay, they were together, as he held both Jack and Rodney close.

Rodney's need to touch and connect with these two men began to overwhelm him, as he sought to touch them, caress them with his hands and taste them both with his mouth, gaining little whimpers of pleasure from both men, which only fueled his need more. "I want to make love," he said, giving no thought or pause to his words, only recognition of his desperate need.

Rodney whimpered at the loss as Jack broke the embrace, but then Jack was soon standing behind him, pressing up against him, with John in front, also pressing against him, making him melt from the heat of both their bodies. "Yes," he panted, feeling capable hands begin to remove his clothes. He wanted to give back the sweet caresses he was getting, but his body was like butter, so all he could give was his surrender, which he did willingly and with great delight.

Jack took the high road, removing Rodney's tunic and shirt while placing nips and kisses along Rodney's neck and collarbone. John took the low road, removing shoes, socks, pants and boxers, leaving Rodney naked, his erect cock standing proud and leaking with need. John removed his own tunic and shirt quickly before he leaned in, still on his knees, and began to suckle on Rodney's dick.

"Skin," Rodney panted, as Jack's nimble fingers played with his nipples, making them impossibly hard, while Jack's hardness pressed into his cheeks.

Rodney felt helpless to help Jack disrobe at the moment, as Jack's mouth was stealing the very breath from his body, as his tongue delved deep within giving such pleasure. Rodney knew he must have blanked out for a second, for he didn't recall Jack breaking the kiss, but somehow he must have, as the tunic and shirt were gone, and the hot skin of Jack's lightly hairy chest, pressed at his back, while John's talented mouth moved down to his balls, licking him like they were ice cream...his favorite flavor...oh, he was in heaven.

"Bed," Jack then said, a suggestion, a command, a damn good idea!

Rodney knew John was strong, but damn, he didn't think the man could carry him like this, secure in his arms, having gotten to his feet, kissed him senseless and then literally swept him up in his arms. Of course, Rodney wasn't remembering that he didn't weigh anywhere near his old weight when he was back at Atlantis.

John put him down in the center of the bed...his favorite place in the whole universe Rodney was thinking at that moment, as Jack and John began to kiss and caress him, leaving no spot on his body untouched, like sweet torture, their hands and mouths worked his body, always taking him close to the edge, but never letting him fall over, was pure bliss. When he was close and their passions were running high, Rodney watched as they would kiss and touch each other, and that shook Rodney even deeper with arousal, but he needed to touch to come, and they all knew it, so they didn't touch just then.

"Take him," Rodney suddenly commanded, wanting to see Jack and John going for it. He didn't even care who did whom, for he was doing the other. He watched as Jack pounced on John, who put up only enough struggle to make it interesting, then went willing to his back, letting Jack touch and caress him everywhere. For a brief moment, Rodney almost felt jealous of the sweet touches, but then he realized two things, one he didn't know who he was jealous of, and second that he didn't need to feel that way at all, for at the moment, all those touches were his for the asking.

Rodney shifted on the bed to kneel behind Jack, who was kissing his way down John's hairy chest, the rich black hair moist and sweaty upon his chest, making him more desirable to the naked eye. Rodney ran his hands over Jack's muscular back, the sweat on his body, allowing his fingers to glide across his mostly smooth tan skin, his fingers finding a few scars, what only made Rodney desire Jack more. He knew John had a few scars as well, knowing that both men had seen battle even at this early age, and survived. That thought fueled his need to love them even more, for both men were heroes, though neither saw it that way, which made them more desirable.

Having found a native equivalent of lubrication during their teen years, Rodney had placed it on the small table near the bed, so it would be present if and when needed, like now. Jack moved and grabbed some with his left hand, coating two fingers, his eyes heavy with desire, as Rodney's hand's wrapped around his waist, one hand caressing his nipples, the other, stroking his heavy cock. "John," was all he could get out, needing to see that John wanted this, and when those dark hazel eyes opened up and looked at him with such open need and desire, Jack had his answer. He splayed his right hand on John's stomach and caressed slowly upward, while Jack's left moved to John's entrance and began to work it open. "Tight," Jack panted.

Rodney's right hand stopped stroking Jack's cock and reached for John's, his left, still playing with Jack's chest, as Rodney sucked on Jack's neck, enjoying the tangy taste under his lips and tongue.

"Rodney was right," John panted. "Voyeurism's fucking hot," he gasped, seeing Rodney and Jack making out, as Jack's fingers continued to work his entrance to get it ready to be penetrated.

When John was open, Jack moved into position and began to enter John slowly, as Rodney moved and placed a few pillows under John's hips to make it easier on both men. Then Rodney returned to behind Jack and saw him tremble. By the crest of his skin, Rodney could feel the control Jack was maintaining to go slow, to fight the urge to rush in, to NOT hurt John with their lovemaking. Once Jack was fully in, "Hold still," Rodney said, and reached for the bowl and began to work Jack's body open for his entrance. "Do either of you know how fucking hot you look at this moment?" Rodney panted. "Rodney," Jack cried out as Rodney's fingers found his sweet spot.

"Almost there," Rodney said, knowing that Jack was demonstrating serious control, and the shaking need in both men was visible proof of the fire that was building between them.

Soon, Rodney was done and he entered Jack as quickly as he could without hurting him, and then waited a few moments longer. "Soon," he promised, knowing Jack needed to move, and John was fidgeting with need. Once he was sure Jack had enough time to get used to his cock deep within him, he kissed Jack's neck. "Now," he said and let Jack set the pace and the rhythm. It took them a few tries to get coordinated, but once they were, the sheer pleasure was heard from all three of them, as a chorus of "Yes, fuck, more," filled the room. Rodney knew this level of intensity couldn't last, so he had one hand wrapped tightly around Jack's waist to hold on, for Jack was one hell of a bronco, thrashing back and forth between them with deep thrusts pleasuring all concerned, and his other hand was on John's cock, stroking it as best he could in time with their fucking. But soon, the rhythm couldn't be maintained as the heat became too much and John was the first to come, his cries of pleasure along with Jack and Rodney's name, lit Jack's last fuse and he too exploded shortly afterwards, all he managed was a "Fuck, yes!" but feeling both John's and Jack's bodies come, seeing the bliss upon their faces, and feeling Jack's tight, hot hole squeeze around his cock, Rodney lost it seconds after Jack, managing not a single coherent word.

Once again, the three lay in their messy sticky puppy pile, and Rodney felt blissfully warm. He felt Jack shift, so he did reluctantly, and then once more he was in his favorite position, between his bookends, deliriously sated. "Don't do that again," he said, meaning don't leave him, don't get placed in jail, and don't scare the hell out of him.

"Are you sure? I thought we did rather well, myself," John said, a light chuckle heard between pants of breath.

"I meant...you know," Rodney said, too sated and too happy to be really annoyed by John's comment. "Just don't do it again."

"Sorry," Jack said, snuggling up behind Rodney, pulling John close on Rodney's other side.

"Well, as much as I enjoy make-up sex, how about we stick to regular morning, evening...and the occasional afternoon quickie?" Rodney muttered, feeling sleepy, the weight of the last couple of days lifting from him.

No one said anything about what passed between them just then was anything but sex, though they did laugh at Rodney's words, as was intended. Jack got up and got some water that was still closer to hot than warm, Rodney having arranged it earlier, and began to clean his lovers, slapping John's hand, when he tried to help. "I want to," Jack said, his eyes saying so much more.

"He wants to," Rodney said, pulling John close like a teddy bear, as Jack washed them both with tender loving care, his touches meant to soothe not arouse, and they did.

"Alright, but next time," John said, meaning he wanted to clean Jack off with just as much care as Jack had done for him.

"Next time," Jack smiled, as he dried them then quickly washed himself, and then snuggled back in bed with his lovers, where the three of them fell into a sound sleep.

***

The nap had been refreshing and the meal Rodney arranged to be brought to their room was not only filling but large. Jack questioned Rodney on where he'd gotten the money for it, and Rodney explained that the Magistrate had felt that they should be compensated for their troubles, having brought such an injustice to light. "So, the tab was on them, and we got a few gols...or whatever they call it here," Rodney replied, as he sat at the table, enjoying what looked and tasted like roasted chicken.

"The foods not half bad," John said, having made a roasted chicken sandwich out of some thick bread slices and some of the other items. "Though mayo would go great right about now, but I'm not complaining."

"Me either, but I really could go for a steak right about now," Jack added. "We should probably save some of the bread and cheese for the journey, you said a day or two?" he asked Rodney.

Rodney nodded, since his mouth was full. Then he washed it down with some juice that John and Jack said was safe. "Yeah. I made a list of what we would need and though I'm no Teyla, when it comes to open market places, I do think I know where we can go to get most of the items."

"You did good, Rodney, real good," John smiled warmly.

"Yeah...ah...thanks, but I think we covered the, don't let it happen again bit, right?" Rodney asked, eyeing his lovers.

"We stick together, no more breaking up the team," Jack said, his tone light, but the meaning serious. "Especially here...I don't think we'll get such a good reception the further we go..."

"Why do you say that?" Rodney asked, for though the people were closed off, they didn't appear to be offensive.

"Gut feeling," Jack said, sipping his drink. "I could use a beer about now too," he sighed.

"Okay, what is it with you two? I know this place reminds you of the Middle East, but I have a feeling there's more," Rodney pushed.

"I know you, Rodney, I have no doubt you've read my record, even if you're not supposed to," John said, a small smile on his face, his eyes a bit distant as he spoke. "We were on a mission, the details unimportant now," John said, knowing that Jack probably knew and Rodney probably had high enough security, but saw no reason to drag it all up, as they really weren't important. "We were in Afghanistan, things went wrong...horribly wrong and some of my men were left behind...that didn't sit well with me. I tried to go back for them..."

"Against orders, I know," Rodney said, admitting he had read John's file.

"Yes, then you know how that turned out," John said, no longer interested in his food. "I lost more than good men that day...I lost two good friends who had joined me in trying to rescue the others...had I listened..."

"Second guessing won't change things," Jack said, having lost interest in his food as well, and sat back in his chair. "I know what happened. I also know as a General I'm supposed to tow the party line at how you disobeyed...did actually back in Antarctica when Weir asked for you...only to be reminded that I'm no better when it comes to my men and not wanting to leave people behind. I've done the same thing," Jack said seriously, meeting John's gaze evenly.

"I can't but help wonder if it was worth it..." John replied, seeing understanding in Jack's eyes. "Had things gone well, they would have lived, but then I wouldn't have been there in Antarctica, which means I wouldn't have been on Atlantis..."

"Don't do that to yourself, John," Rodney said, reaching out and clasping his hand. "We need you in Atlantis; I don't think we would have survived half as well as we did without you..."

"Please, I woke up the Wraith," John sneered, knowing that weight would never be lifted from his soul.

"Rodney's right, you need to stop. There are a thousand things I'd like to change in my dealings with the Goa'uld, and I've been fortunate to see that compared to other universes, I'm in the good one...you need to believe that too," Jack informed John.

"The quantum mirror," Rodney said with a nod. "That's what I first thought we found on Atlantis, but obviously...it isn't."

"What's this quantum mirror?" John asked, having heard Rodney mention it, but didn't really know what it was.

"Ah..." Jack said, seeing Rodney about to give John a scientific explanation and wasn't up to it. "The short version is, it's a mirror created we THINK by the Ancients, which mirror other realities. What would have happened if you went right down a street instead of left, gone to college instead of the Air Force...those kinds of things. In the few we had contact with, their Earths were taken over by the Goa'uld."

"Wow, guess I AM glad we're in this one," John said, not realizing how much things could have been different.

"Yes, and there could be others where you didn't wake the Wraith, but more likely, if you ask me, they did wake and they got to Earth because you weren't there to stop them...both of you," Jack told them. "Ah," he held his hand up to stop any protests. "I've read the reports and I've seen how you BOTH worked miracles together to save Atlantis and the people around you, so save the false modesty," he said, mainly looking at John.

"Well, yes, I have been extremely brilliant, but..." Rodney looked away, not used to sharing his thoughts like this. "It really was a team effort...I doubt I could have done it all by myself. Though if you tell anyone I said that..."

John laughed, "Don't worry, Rodney, no one would believe me even if I did."

"So, you and Iraq?" Rodney asked, having heard John's story.

John saw Jack sigh; knowing he had hoped Rodney had let that question go. "Like a bulldog with bone," he said, knowing that Rodney didn't let things go until he was satisfied; whether or not it was healthier for him to leave things alone...he wouldn't be Rodney McKay if he did.

"Let's just say, that like John I was on a mission, our informant turned out to be an agent for the enemy, and we walked into a trap...I got left behind," Jack said, his eyes growing a bit distant, but he forced himself not to go back there again and pulled himself back to the present. "I spent four months in hell before I managed to escape and get myself out of there...and for the record between us, the SOB was a Russian who was supposed to be working for us, so...I have trust issues..." Jack shrugged.

"I'd say," John said knowingly. "How the hell did you get out? If you don't mind me asking."

"I'll tell you another time...perhaps. Just know it wasn't easy. I had a broken leg and a concussion for most of the trip..." Jack shook his head. "Nobody even tried to come back for me, John..." he said, perhaps wanting to say more, but he couldn't. He couldn't find the words, yet he hoped John understood, as he looked into his eyes, willing John to understand.

John reached out with his free hand and took Jack's. "I'd have come back," John said, knowing it was the truth.

Rodney knew he had brought this emotionally charged moment to a rise, and felt it was his job to diffuse it as well. Rodney took Jack's hand in his free hand, "Now we're all holding hands, someone say grace so we can keep eating before the food gets cold."

Jack and John laughed. "Grace," they said together and let Rodney eat, both men silently sharing another moment of understanding, giving peace and comfort to the other, that was long overdue, before also returning to their meal.

***

Rodney knew Jack and John had dark sides, hell they were military, they had to have dark sides, in his opinion; not saying he himself didn't, but he always thought more mad scientist than dark, he just didn't expect to see it...not here anyway. Sure he knew what John had done when the Genii had tried to take over Atlantis, putting up the shield instantly killing fifty some men, but he hadn't seen it, seen the darkness in John's eyes. Rodney also knew Jack had probably done similar things while leading SG-1, having been privy to some of the reports, but again, never thought to see that dark satisfaction in his eyes either.

When the messenger arrived notifying them that Parkell was going to be sentenced with the punishment to be carried out immediately afterwards, asking if they wanted to attend. Rodney thought both men would decline, but instead they got front row seats...with Rodney sitting right next to them.

All of them were there, not just Parkell and his men, but all the men from the slave ship, all shackled and bound in chains. Some were pleading for mercy, others just glaring at the Magistrate as he pronounced sentence on them for their crimes, which was more than picking potential slaves from 'protected' areas...meaning it was part of their treaty with the other country not to do so, but also treason for knowingly violating said treaty. When asked who was behind the plan to steal the children from the other land, most pointed to Parkell, who denied it, saying it was a group decision...but his words fell on deaf ears.

When the Magistrate announced his decision on what the punishment should be, he then asked if anyone had any thing to say first, before it would be carried out. Rodney didn't feel any compulsion to speak, but was surprised to see Jack stand.

"I recognize you as one of the ones past accused because of these men...you may speak," the Magistrate said.

"You've sentenced the four men and their leader to death," Jack said, his voice even but with a chilling coldness that Rodney had never heard before.

"Yes, I have, do you not think it fitting for their crimes?" the Magistrate asked.

"No, I do not," Jack said evenly, his eyes dark with anger. "The children these men have enslaved, which could total more than the ones that you are searching for, will suffer for many years because of what they did...so no, I do NOT think a quick death is fitting for them."

"You think they should know the pains and sufferings they have ensnared others into?" the Magistrate asked knowingly.

"I do," Jack said.

"I do too," John said, also standing up next to Jack. "The others were greedy and for that they should be punished, but those," he nodded to the former monks, "they looked into innocent and hopeful faces and lied daily with their false promises. They never cared if the children got ill or became sick. If not for..." John bit his tongue, almost saying too much, but moved onward a moment later. "They almost denied a little girl a proper burial if not for the overwhelming protest of the other children. Those are the acts of heartless men, your...a...Magistrate."

Rodney saw Parkell take a new interest in them, and could see his eyes growing wide as he probably mentally swore he knew them, which he did, but had no idea how. "Demons," he swore at them. "You're demons sent from Hell to spout your evil lies," Parkell shouted, jumping to his feet, but the guards pushed him back to his knees. "You've been following me...don't think I haven't noticed...three...always three of you, one dark haired, one light, one in-between..."

"Silence him," the Magistrate ordered, and the guards grabbed Parkell and one shoved a rag cloth in his mouth. "Do not think your attempt at insanity will aid you now," the Magistrate snarled. He then took a calming breath and turned his head to face Jack, John and Rodney still sitting. "I think you are right, death would not be a fitting punishment for them..." he turned to his guards. "Brand the five of them with the mark of a slave upon their face, as initially their fate would have been, but instead of selling them on the open market, they will be 'given' to Anesh, a man who will not tolerate disobedience from any slave under his charge."

Rodney saw the eyes of the other four men, open wide with fear, probably knowing this Anesh personally and how he treated his slaves as two of them began to beg for mercy. "How much mercy did you show the children you bullied and beat to bring them here?" he found himself saying, standing next to Jack. "How much mercy did you show the young boy who fought to free his little brother...you left him for dead when you saw us coming...how much mercy did you have when those kids were taken from you by slave owners, screaming and crying to be set free, for profit..." Rodney stopped when he felt a supportive arm around his shoulder, and saw Jack holding him. Rodney didn't even know he was shaking with anger or that a few tears had fallen down his face, his emotions having gotten away from him. John handed him a cloth, and he nodded and used it to gather himself, then faced the five men, now being dragged to the guard who would wield the branding iron. "You can have as much mercy as you showed them," he said, hearing his own dark side coming forth in a chilling coldness he didn't even know he was capable of, until that moment, as he watched the men scream in pain from the fiery iron placed upon their face, forever sealing their fate in this land.

"A bargain," Rodney heard himself say moments after the deed was done with the five bastards that had begun this horrid nightmare. Rodney felt the eyes of everyone upon him, and with a boldness he didn't really feel he took a step forward, needing to lift some of the darkness that was weighting heavily on his soul. He wondered for a moment if this was what John and Jack had to fight so often, being soldiers. If so, he believed he knew why they were such strong men, for it was an almost overwhelming feeling. "For the others," he added, nodding to the sixteen other men that manned the ship that had been caught. "For every one they help you recover, you lessen their sentence," he offered, seeing it as way to still help those still lost out there in this vast land.

"But only those that actually help," John added, seeing what Rodney was doing and gave him a smile, proud that Rodney had thought of it.

"Is this acceptable to you?" the Magistrate asked, seemingly knowing that Jack by nature if not by any other means, was in charge of their trio.

Jack looked at John, then Rodney, both men looking back at him, leaving it up to him, and then Jack turned and nodded at the Magistrate. "It is. But they should first begin with confessing how many children there have been, so you know how to fairly reduce their sentence, and they should still serve a minimum."

"You are harsh judges indeed," the Magistrate said, a touch of respect in his voice. "Agreed. Guards take them to their cells; in the morning they will provide us with what they know to OUR satisfaction. Then I will consider the rest of their fate from then on." The Magistrate then stood up, again, indicating the rest drop down, Jack and John did so reluctantly, but they followed suit. "We are done here...may justice prevail," he said and then left.

"I'll get you for this!" Parkell shouted, having found a way to dislodge the rag from his mouth, as he was being dragged from the hall. "There is no place you can hide...I'll find you!"

"Oh, I can think of a few places we can go," John drawled, smiling smugly back.

"I will send you to hell...demons!" Parkell screamed, fighting with his guard, which meant two more moved in to grab him and take him to his fate.

"Been there, got the T-shirt, yadda, yadda," Jack smirked.

"Well, that was unpleasant," Rodney sighed, more than willing to be gone from this place.

"That was good thinking on the bargaining," Jack said, clamping a warm hand on Rodney's shoulder.

"Yeah, well..." Rodney found he didn't know what to say to that. How did one explain that he did it more to lift the soul sucking leech from his spirit, than simply for the children as it should be. "Can we go now?"

"Yeah," Jack said, placing a hand on John's shoulder and headed out. "Next stop Baharan temple."

Older Years Part 4

This was entirely his fault. He didn't know how, but somehow he knew this was his fault. They had been walking the rocky, grassy plains that made up the countryside in the direction of the Baharan temple, the three of them talking, enjoying each others company, when he became hungry. John had said he wanted a chance at hunting with the bow Jack had fashioned weeks ago, and of course Jack didn't see a problem with it...no one did. They were going to make camp as John took off to the east, when suddenly he was gone! Moments later after Jack followed John's tracks, he and Jack determined that John had fallen through what once must have been a well, now abandoned, the boards having been covered up by sand and dirt over the years. "John!" Rodney shouted, but there was no answer. "I...I think..." Rodney said, feeling panic crawl up his throat.

"No, don't go there," Jack ordered, running back to get their things, only a few yards away, and grabbed some rope and the lantern, with the flint and steel and ran back. "Light the lamp," Jack ordered as he unfolded the rope, glad that even panicked that Rodney was able to do what was needed. Jack then shuffled around the outer area until he found a good sturdy rock he could brace his foot on. "Okay, this is what we're going to do. I'm going to tie the rope to you and lower you down with the lantern...I don't know if it'll take you to the bottom, but it'll give us some idea what we have..."

"Why not just the light to see first?" Rodney suggested. "I mean if it's too far down..."

"Good point," Jack said, knowing it would be easier to do a quick look, and tied the lantern on the other end and began to lower it. The sight that greeted them scared them deeply. Though the well was only ten feet deep, John was lying on his back, his leg bent in the wrong direction, there was blood around his head and he appeared to be unconscious.

Jack and Rodney pulled the rope up quickly. "Okay, you go down, begin an assessment, I'll drop you what we have for first aid..."

"You...you don't think he's..." Rodney felt himself feel nauseated and dizzy as he wrapped the rope around his waist.

"Can't think that way, Rodney...you just...can't," Jack said, feeling the edge of panic inside him as well, but he drew on his experience and discipline and clamped down on it.

Rodney nodded, looping the lantern handle over his wrist as he watched Jack back up to the stone he had searched out. Then he wrapped some of the rope around himself, and then braced himself, one foot on the solid rock in front of him. "Okay, lower yourself down and holler if you need up or down, okay?"

Rodney nodded and got down on his knees then slowly edged himself over, not placing all his weight on Jack too quickly. Then he was slowly being lowered, and the closer he got the more frightened he became. He wished Carson was there with them...better yet, Atlantis and a rescue team, but that wasn't the case, it was he and Jack, and Rodney prayed it would be enough.

"I'm down!" Rodney shouted once his feet touched the stone and felt the rope slacken. He untied it and knelt next to John and felt for a pulse, it was there but weak...or was that thready...he didn't know. "He's alive!" he shouted back up and did what he had seen Carson do a thousand times, feel gently for injuries, hoping he would know if he found any.

"Definite head injury," Rodney said as he reached behind John's head and felt the sticky mess, but the blood was clotting in his hair, so that could be a good sign, he wasn't sure. Rodney then wiped his hands on his pants, not caring about stains, and slowly felt down John's neck and shoulders, knowing that unless it jumped out at him, he probably wouldn't find it, but...he could try. John's right wrist felt off as did John's right leg...probably took the brunt of the fall, but that was all he could tell.

"Here," Jack shouted down and lowered a bag of what they could use for medical supplies. "How is he...and YES...I know you're not a medical doctor, Rodney...but...how is he?"

"Hurt...unconscious, alive," Rodney said as he untied the bag. "The head injury's a given, I think...THINK mind you, his right wrist and leg are broken. If there's more...Jack what are we going to do?"

"You know how to splint?" Jack asked, for it wasn't as easy as it sounded.

"Yes, Carson made sure we all had training in basic and advanced first aid...he'd have us all doctors if he could...crap, perhaps I should have..." Rodney said, beginning to ramble.

"Focus, Rodney," Jack shouted down. "I'll get you some items to make a splint. Then I'm going to see if I can find something to make a stretcher..."

"Yeah and we can load in him the ambulance once it arrives," Rodney snapped, thinking that a stretcher was ridiculous. They were in a damn well...how the hell could they get it out with John on it anyway.

Jack didn't give Rodney's comment a second thought. "We're not that far from the city, we need to get him back there...I'll be back, do what you can," Jack said and was gone.

"Do what I can...I do miracles with physics, not medicine..." Rodney griped as he knelt down next to John and slowly began to clean John's face and started bandaging John's head. He knew all about neck and back injuries, but the basic fact was, there was nothing here to immobilize John's neck or back. He did his best not to move John's head very much, and wished he could do more than just bandage his head, wipe his face, and lay a blanket over him to keep him warm.

"Tie the empty bag to the rope," Jack shouted, sounding out of breath.

Rodney did as he was told and within moments, Jack lowered the bag, which had short and long tree branches. "See if any of them work for you. Do you need anything else?"

"Besides a transporter or real doctor...." Rodney began, and then snapped his fingers. "Yes, the rest of the blankets, and our clothes. I need to immobilize his neck...."

"Okay, hang on," Jack said and again he was gone.

Rodney sized up the branches with the leg, thankful it was the lower leg and not the femur bone, for that could have been a real mess if the thigh bone fractured. He then had to break the smaller of the branches to use for John's wrist.

"Here," Jack said, again, sounding out of breath, and Rodney realized Jack was running and rushing, knowing time was a critical factor. Once Rodney had the bundle of blankets and clothes Jack yelled down to him again, "I'll be back...I held back a couple blankets for the stretcher..."

Rodney did what he could, recalling a bit of rambling Carson had said about sandbags being used instead of the specialized collars, and so, he carefully made two, and with strips of cloth, did his best to immobilize John's neck the way Carson had showed him, grateful that he hadn't blown off the class as he had been intending to do. Then he went about splinting John's leg and wrist. Rodney winced inside when John moaned in pain, for they had nothing for it. He prayed John would stay unconscious, simply so he didn't have to deal with the pain, though he wished John was awake so he knew how badly John was hurt...a no win situation he figured.

Once all was said and done, Rodney called out to Jack, but there was no answer, and he became worried, for there was no real sense of time down here. Seeing John was cold, Rodney used the extra wood Jack had provided, recalling Jack's tips on making a fire...there were plenty of rocks down here to make a fire ring, and made a fire to help keep John warm.

"You've got to be okay, John," Rodney said, as he dampened a cloth from his canteen and wiped the beads of sweat off John's forehead, which meant he probably had a fever, which meant infection...something. Seeing his hand shaking, he debated with himself if it was just nerves or if he should eat something. Not wanting to make matters worse, Rodney nibbled on some of the food Jack had thought to send down with the blankets. "He must have known we were going to be down here a while," Rodney said to an unconscious John Sheppard. "I have no idea what he's going to do, but short of pulling a rabbit out of his hat, I don't see how we're going to get you out of this one," Rodney sighed, desperately wishing he'd never opened his big mouth about being hungry...he stopped and looked at the bread and then put it away, trying not to throw up.

Rodney was sure that time hadn't passed as long as it felt, but he couldn't help but feel relieved when he heard Jack's voice again. "How's he doing?" Jack panted.

"About the same...where the hell have you been?" Rodney snapped, the fear and worry getting the better of him.

"Finding a way to get you both out of there," Jack panted. "Look, I don't have time to explain, but there's going to be dirt dropping down...can't be helped. Cover John's face and I'll work as fast as I can. Do you think you can get John on the stretcher by yourself or will you need me?"

Rodney sighed, "Typically I'd need you, but we both can't be down here, there isn't anyone to life us all up again..."

"Okay," Jack said, as if that was all he needed to know. "You let me worry about that, just keep his face covered...good idea on the fire," Jack said, seeing it, then was gone again.

"If he has a way to get us out of here, he's better than I thought," Rodney confessed to John, who moaned a bit in pain, but was still unconscious. The head injury wasn't bleeding anymore, and John's pulse seemed the same, as was his breathing, not that he knew much about that, but so long as John was alive, there was hope.

After a few minutes, Rodney heard the grunting and activity above, and then saw the dirt, just in time to cover John's face with his body. Rodney then grabbed one of the blankets to cover them both as it continued. "What the hell is Jack trying to do, bury us alive, so he doesn't even have to bother?" Rodney growled, feeling the bits of sand and dirt pelt off his back.

Rodney wasn't sure how long that lasted, but it felt like ten minutes or so, then it stopped. He waited for a bit to be sure, then slowly he lifted up, letting the dirt roll off his back, glad to see it wasn't as much as he thought it had been. "What are you doing up there?" he shouted. He looked up to see a homemade stretcher being lowered down to him and something covering the exit, but not really blocking it...but he couldn't see what it was.

"You okay?" Jack shouted down.

"Yeah," Rodney repeated as he worked the stretcher outward, so he could untie it. "Got it," Rodney shouted back. To his surprise, he looked up and saw Jack lowering himself down, using the rope that lowered the stretcher to control his decent. "How the...?"

"We can discuss it later," Jack said, knowing Rodney was curious, but there wasn't time for that. "Any change?" Jack asked, moving and taking a swig of water from the canteen, his body drenched in sweat, his body dirty and his hands looked red and sore.

"I think stable, but..." Rodney shrugged.

"Okay, let's get him on the stretcher and secured," Jack said after catching his breath.

It wasn't easy, even with the two of them, to get John loaded on the stretcher, without jostling him around too much, keeping a sharp eye on his injuries known and unknown. Jack used some of the items they had to secure John to the stretcher, so that even when tilted, he wouldn't go slipping down or around. Then Jack explained how they were going to get John up and how to use to ropes to keep John from getting banged around as they raised him up.

Rodney gathered their things up, put out the small fire, leaving only the lantern for light, as Jack climbed back up the rope, and then as discussed, they worked and got John raised up, slowly and carefully. Jack would have to get John moved out of the way before Rodney could come up, but seeing John exiting the narrow well entrance, as it wasn't as wide as down here, amazed him. "Okay, you're turn," Jack shouted down.

When the sun hit Rodney's face, he was relieved, and then felt better at Jack 's hands, that helped him up and out of the well, and to his feet. It took him a moment to take in his surroundings, but he noticed the tripod like creation over the well and had to take a closer look. He saw what looked like a piece of wood that had been carved and coated in grease and used as a wench...it was pure genius.

"I split everything in two," Jack said, moving to gather his pack, and Rodney knew without a doubt that Jack wasn't being honest on just how even he split their supplies, but decided to deal with that later, as he moved to get the other one and then together they lifted John up, looking pale and bruised...but alive. He was still alive, and for that, Rodney was grateful, and by the look in Jack's eyes...he was too.

***

They had been lucky, and they both knew it. As they reached the main road, a man driving a wagon was passing and spotted them and offered to help. Jack explained how John had gotten hurt and that they needed a healer. Thank God the man said he was heading over to his son's house where the midwife/local healer was helping his daughter-in-law who was about to give birth. Without even having to be asked, the older man helped them load John in the back of his wagon and headed as quickly, but as carefully as he could to his destination.

Jack had privately confessed that he was glad he was wrong about the locals, for the folks at what looked like a farm, even though it was a mix of Middle Eastern and Western, were quick to respond to their needs. The older man's son offered them a small cabin he had on his property that was used when they had visitors. Jack and Rodney were eternally grateful that John had a comfortable bed to rest in and the healer woman said in her opinion he would be all right in a few days. She also said the bones were indeed broken and provided medicines, which Jack took care of paying for; glad they had conserved their funds.

Rodney knew the older woman thought them mad when she saw how immobile John had been, but when Rodney explained it to her...after Jack reminded him that she was here to HELP John, so he was more patient...than normal, she seemed to think it was a good idea. Though according to her 'touch' she didn't feel anything wrong, so they made John as comfortable in the bed as possible, as the older woman went about bandaging John's leg and wrist. Rodney was sad to see John's black jeans cut up so they could be removed, but it was almost worth it to see the woman's face seeing the strange material of his clothes and unusual footwear, because runners were not something ever seen in their world. Rodney knew he'd give anything for John to not have been hurt in the first place.

Once she was done, she showed Jack and Rodney how to tend to John's needs, not that they needed it, but she obviously assumed because they were guys they were idiots in the caring process. Rodney was about to correct her mistake verbally, when Jack's hand on his shoulder quieted him. Jack thanked the woman and then went to deal with the son or owner of the place they were staying in. Rodney stayed back to keep watch as John continued to lie too still for Rodney's liking. He'd seen John like this before, hurt and unconscious, and he never cared for it but now he downright hated it, and worse, they didn't have Carson and his miracle voodoo to help John along.

When Jack came back in, door closed and it was just they, he crossed over without a word and started rubbing the stress from Rodney's shoulders. Rodney reached up and took hold of Jack's left hand in his right gently, and turned it over, seeing the red sores and blisters that went unattended. "Why didn't you have her look at your hands?" Rodney asked, turning to look Jack in the eye. He saw Jack's his concern for John and himself, even if he wasn't injured, Jack was worried about him. "You're hurt," Rodney said tenderly.

"Nothing that a bit of soap, water and time can't fix," Jack said evenly, his face calm, but his dark eyes showed all the emotions his face and voice wouldn't, and Rodney was glad he had found the key to reading those amazing eyes. "And it was to be expected, swords make LOUSY axes," Jack grinned, some of the anguish lifting a bit from his eyes.

"Thank you," Rodney said, not knowing how else to express his gratitude that Jack had been with them and had kept his head about him, and found a way to rescue them.

"Thank you," Jack said in reply, his eyes showing it was more than mere words, but a gratitude that Rodney didn't really understand, but felt nonetheless, then he felt Jack's tender kiss, which eased his own fears even more.

John's soft moan brought them out of their little moment, as they moved to John's side. John wasn't showing any signs of waking, just reacting to pain. Rodney watched Jack get the medication the healer had left and saw as Jack poured only half the amount she had prescribed into a small cup. "She said double that amount," Rodney stated.

"I know," Jack said as he moved to sit on John's other side. "But it's a narcotic, and trust ME, John does NOT want to get hooked on this stuff," Jack explained as he slowly and carefully dribbled some of the medication into John's mouth, with a patience Rodney had never associated with the ever busy humming bird, that Jack O'Neill reminded him of.

After a few minutes, John calmed down, the moaning stopped and he was fully asleep, or so Rodney hoped, as he and Jack got themselves cleaned up. Rodney attended to the other bed, as there were three in there. He knew he didn't want to sleep alone and thankfully Jack didn't want that either. Jack tended to a fire, for surprising as it was, it was chilly in the room...alien planets and alien cultures were always confusing. The people around them looked like a mixture of desert folk and cowboys, and it was a mix of temperatures as opposed to their surroundings, a mix of dessert and grassy plains.

They both woke up in the middle of the night to John's moans of pain, and both Jack and Rodney got up without question and attended to John's needs, which meant a change of sheets and a sponge bath. "He's hurting," Rodney said, almost feeling John's pain by the expression on his face, even if he still was not fully conscious.

"It's too soon," Jack said, again, only his eyes showing that it hurt him to see John in such pain.

Rodney didn't argue, though he wanted to, he realized Jack knew what he was doing and knowing that Jack was hurting like him over this, helped him to understand that if Jack said no, it was for a damn good reason. But Rodney couldn't help staring at that face and it caused him such anguish that he forced himself to look for something to do to distract himself. He took the sheets outside, washed them and then hung them up on the fence nearby to dry. He came back in and saw Jack wiping John's forehead with a cool cloth. "Fever?"

"Yeah," Jack said, his tone sad, as John was restless and in pain and he couldn't think of what more he could do.

"Would it be so bad to give him more?" Rodney felt he had to ask.

Jack looked at Rodney and Rodney could see the debate in Jack's eyes. "Yes, it would," Jack finally said, wanting to say more, but he couldn't it seemed. So instead he said, "I've been hooked on pain meds and...it's a bitch...so, trust me, if I thought..."

Rodney moved and began to rub Jack's shoulders, offering him comfort, and wishing he could think of something to help, but he couldn't think of anything. "I remember once, when I was young, sick from something...the doctors couldn't give me anything right away...my grandmother was there...she sang to me, some silly song, but...it helped," Rodney said, smiling at the warm thought of the older woman he missed terribly.

"I did that for Charlie a few times," Jack said in a hushed voice, then after a minute, shifted so he could pull Rodney around and pulled him to sit between his legs, curled facing John, as Jack's right hand continued to caress John's forehead with the cool cloth, his left arm hugging Rodney to him, his cheek nuzzled in Rodney's soft hair.

The two men stayed that way for a long few moments, when Jack's voice penetrated the evening silence. "Christopher Robin and I walked along. Under branches lit up by the moon. Posing our questions to Owl and Eeyore. As our days disappeared all too soon. But I've wandered much further today than I should. And I can't seem to find my way back to the Wood." Jack rubbed Rodney's back, while his other hand caressed John's fever soaked hair. "So help me if you can. I've got to get back. To the House at Pooh Corner by one. You'd be surprised. There's so much to be done. Count all the bees in the hive. Chase all the clouds from the sky. Back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh..."

Rodney noticed only two things before sleep overtook him, one was that John had not only stopped fussing, but also had a little smile on his lips while sleeping. The other was that he himself had not felt so secure in a long time as he snuggled deeper into Jack's arms, John's good hand enclosed in his own.

***

The son, whose name was Janal, was a gracious man, only asking small compensation for their stay. It had been three days and John was in and out of consciousness, but was getting stronger. Jack and Rodney were sure that with some more time he'd be awake and well on his road to recovery. The healer had come out again to check on Janal's new baby son and wife, and John, who agreed that he was doing much better, though Jack and Rodney didn't mention how they'd cut the pain meds in half.

Each night had been a small repeat of the first, taking care of John's needs, a bath, clean the sheets, and Rodney would curl in Jack's arms, as he caressed John's hair and sang to him...the same song, which seemed to be John's favorite. The two John Denver songs that John had taught them didn't seem to have the same soothing effect, and Jack confessed he didn't really know that many songs. Rodney didn't care, Jack's voice was soothing, not as lovely as John's but still very good, and it healed his soul as it helped John sleep through the pain of two broken bones and numerous bruises that had shown up in spectacular colors.

It was noon on the fourth day when John opened his eyes enough to show he was really awake finally. "Thirsty," he muttered, as his throat was dry. Except for the dribbles of medicine, he hadn't had anything to eat or drink really in days, except what Rodney and Jack had been able to foster into his mouth.

"Here," Jack said, offering a sip of water as Rodney placed pillows under John's head so he could sit up.

"Thanks," John said, then looked around and realized he was hurt and they were someplace else. "What happened?"

"What do you last recall?" Jack asked, evaluating John's memory.

"You two were going to set up camp, and I was going to go hunting...then not much else, I'm afraid..." John winced in pain as he tried to move.

"Well, you went hunting and the old abandoned well caught you," Rodney replied.

"Huh?" John asked looking puzzled.

Jack chuckled, "You fell down an abandoned well, broken your leg and wrist...few bruises and quite the smack to that hard head of yours. We got you out and found some nice folks to put us up for a while, while you heal," Jack said as he moved across the room to the fire to get some broth from the stew he was making for him and Rodney, trying to keep from imposing on their host family.

"Proof positive that your head is the strongest bone in your body," Rodney said, once more adjusting the pillows and blankets so John could sit more comfortably. "You gave us quite a scare," he finally admitted.

"Sorry," was all John could say, then he smirked a little when his stomach growled.

"Here," Jack said, sitting on John's other side, holding a small cup. "Sip," he ordered and helped John do just that. Then John winced in pain again. "I guess we couldn't get the good stuff huh?" he joked, but his eyes showed he was hurting.

"You are getting some, but...it's a narcotic..." Jack told him.

"Ah...well...never mind," John said.

"I've cut the dosage in half of what the healer said and added an hour in between doses," Jack explained. "You have another hour before you can have more," Jack told him, an apology in his eyes.

"What's wrong with the pain meds?" Rodney asked, feeling left out of something and he didn't like it.

"I didn't exactly get out of Afghanistan without a scratch and...well, let's just say that some military hospitals don't have a problem giving pain meds when you're injured..."

"But also don't have a problem leaving you hanging afterwards, already hooked on the crap," Jack said knowingly. "Well, some don't, thankfully most do and take precautions...that's why I've been keeping you on a low doses...but you DID need something. The rest of the stuff I'm guessing was some kind of antibiotic as you had a fever."

John nodded with his understanding and gave a shy smile. "Thanks."

"No problem," Jack said, and brushed away dark bangs and kissed John's temple. "Think you can drink some more broth...I don't think you should eat solid food today, being you just woke up...and it's been over three days."

"Yeah," John said, but a yawn disagreed with him.

"Perhaps after your nap," Rodney said, placing a tender kiss on John's unshaven face, and removed some of the pillows so John could sleep.

"Hmmm, okay," John said, wondering if he really was this sleepy or if Jack had slipped him something. "Was it me or my head, or was there singing?" John asked in between a yawn.

"It was you," Jack smirked, caressing John's hair, watching him fall back asleep.

"Did you have to doctor the broth?" Rodney asked eyeing Jack.

"He'd have been in more pain and he needed the sleep," Jack said. "Plus that stuff isn't addictive," Jack replied. "So, are you going to tell me what you've been working on since yesterday and the ink and paper you purchased...which isn't cheap, you know."

"Well, if you must know, they're grinding their wheat by stone, and you saw what hard work that is...since they're close to a creek with a strong current...."

"You're industrializing?" Jack asked, moving to dish out some of the stew for him and Rodney.

"Yes...ah...well, ah..." Rodney stumbled, not liking having to explain his actions at times.

"A thank you for all they've done for us and John," Jack said with a smile. "So, how's it going?"

"Not well," Rodney sighed, sitting at the table with Jack and pulled out the drawing for the waterwheel he wanted to propose to Janal's family and showed it to Jack.

"Hmm," Jack said, looking it over. "The idea is sound...of course," he smiled at Rodney, "but your schematics..."

"Suck, I know," Rodney sighed. "I've gotten spoiled doing most of it on my laptop with the programs I've got...but they don't have any of those things here and I want to be able to present them with something they can follow, since I don't anticipate us being here that long." Rodney then stopped and looked at Jack carefully. "Are we going to be here that long?" he asked.

"I'm not sure," Jack replied after a moment. "It'll depend on John and what the healer says. It will also depend on what kind of transportation we can arrange to get to the temple. John's not going to be able to walk on that leg or use that wrist for about six weeks and believe me I know all about broken bones," Jack smiled sadly.

"I could always see about getting someone to take me out there to take a look..." Rodney began.

"We agreed, we stick together," Jack said, his tone even, but his eyes firm as he looked up at Rodney. He had been staring at the paper before him. "It's also not fair to let John worry about us if we went and he remained behind...no, we'll go together...but it won't be for a few days, which means I can help you with this, if you like?"

"You know about waterwheels?" Rodney asked, a tad surprised, but he was learning that between Jack and John, he shouldn't be.

"Not really no, but I can draw this out for you...I'd suggest other drawings for the more complex areas...like enlargements."

"Good idea," Rodney grinned, "You're full of surprises...anything else you'd like to tell me?"

"And ruin the surprise...never," Jack grinned and got up and went to get the ink and paper to begin on the schematics for Janal's family. Rodney sat and pondered about the two men that he loved, so open and yet so mysterious, but Jack was right, learning was half the fun in a relationship.

***

"The wonderful thing about Rodneys are Rodneys are wonderful things Their tops are made out of rubber Their bottoms are made out of springs..."

"You EVER mix the pain meds and sleeping meds again, I'm going to kill you," Rodney told Jack as he listened to John sing the Tigger song...about him!

"They're bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy..." John stopped and giggled. "Come on Rodney, do it again?" he asked, looking up, since he was in the back of an open wagon, which had been padded nicely to double as a bed, as the three of them traveled to check out the temple; thanks to Janal's family. Rodney had a theory that if they 'aged' again, then John's injuries would be gone, but it was a theory and John had been wanting to get outside, as had Jack...so they compromised and decided to go check things out together.

"No," Rodney flat out refused. He then looked at Jack who was laughing. "It's not funny!"

"It's hilarious and you know it," Jack laughed harder.

"Why do I get the Tigger song?" Rodney whined.

John sang the answer, "Because the most wonderful thing about Rodneys are HE'S the only one!"

Jack laughed, barely holding the reigns of the horse creature, called a 'mount' by the locals. "You...you started it, with the whole eyebrow thing..."

Rodney look offended, but his eyes were twinkling with merriment, for John was so cute and the song wasn't really offensive...he was the only one. "Well, he can stop now," he said.

"Please, Rodney, do it again," John asked, reaching up with his left hand, and pulling on Rodney's tunic, since his head was to the front of the wagon and Jack and Rodney were within reach. "I'll sing it again..." he threatened.

"You might want to do as he asked," Jack advised, trying not to laugh, but failing miserably.

"He's higher than a kite in March, and you want me to indulge him?" Rodney snapped.

"It's either that or go back there and shut him up," Jack said, waggling his own eyebrows.

"See, he did it...but not as good as you, please, Rodney," John begged nicely.

"I may enjoy voyeurism and a bit of exhibitionism, but I do NOT take advantage of the mentally deficient," Rodney growled, folding his arms around his chest, refusing to give into that boyish smile on both John and Jack's face.

"He's going to sing again," Jack chuckled.

"Oh...." John started.

"Okay, okay, just stop with THAT song," Rodney caved immediately. He turned to face John and wiggled his brows up and down and then growled before he said, "ooOOoooOOooooOOOO," much like Tigger did. "There, satisfied?" he snapped. "Don't you know any OTHER songs?" he challenged.

"Sure," John said with a childish excitement. "Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh. Tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff. He's Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh. Willy nilly silly old bear..." his voice drifted off.

"That's not fair," Rodney pouted, seeing John had fallen asleep. "I got three choruses of the Tigger song and you don't even get one of Pooh."

Jack chuckled, "How do you know I'm Pooh? He could just be stuck on a theme..."

"Oh no, if I'm Tigger, you're Winnie the Pooh, the so called dim witted bear which was much wiser than people give him credit for...fits actually when you think about it," Rodney smirked.

"So, what does that make John, Piglet?" Jack chuckled, refusing to be insulted by Rodney's comment, as Pooh behavior had been associated with him from time to time.

"Christopher Robin," John suddenly shouted, startling both men, as he had appeared to be sleeping just minutes earlier. "John Christopher Sheppard, rank...Admiral," John chuckled, and then drifted off to sleep again.

"Great, now he's having Star Trek IV delusions...this is all YOUR fault," Rodney snapped at Jack, but failed to keep the straight face at the end, as he and Jack laughed.

"At least he's not in pain," Jack said, grateful for that little bit. It had been over a week and a half since John had gotten hurt, and though the little bit of pain medication he gave John took the edge off, it didn't take the pain away completely. When John practically begged to get outside, and Rodney insisted on at least checking out the temple, hoping to get the name of their next destination so they could plan, Jack caved. He hadn't meant to give John the sleeping medication less then an hour after the pain medication, he was just following the timetable in his head, and didn't realize they had fallen so close to one another...something he wouldn't let happen again, for things could have been much worse than John being high.

"Yeah, and if we're lucky, he'll sleep the rest of the way," Rodney said, lowering his voice so not to disturb John behind them.

Jack chuckled, then reached out and mussed Rodney's hair, which to his and John's disappointment, Rodney had cut in the back so it looked short like theirs. Then Jack leaned over and placed a kiss on Rodney's cheek. "Marshmallow," he teased, knowing all too well that Rodney's gruffness was just a façade.

Rodney looked around, for he had explained that showing such affection between men was not acceptable in this country, but noticed there was no one around for miles. He then reached out and cupped Jack's face with both hands and kissed him soundly. "I'm not the only one," Rodney said firmly after breaking the kiss and sitting back.

Jack grinned from ear to ear as he focused on driving their 'mount' as it needed to be guided, unlike their old one, they had sold for funds for taking the ship. "Nope, guess not," he admitted.

The rest of the journey was spent with Jack and Rodney discussing the waterwheel they had given Janal's family, which John's gift for mathematics and an uncanny eye for measurements, helped both of them in creating the thing. Janal was puzzled by the gift at first, but after Rodney explained how he could increase production without the extra labor, the man was excited. Getting it built was another matter, but Janal had a large family, so labor wasn't a problem. Rodney made a lousy foreman so Jack sent him to baby-sit John. They would let John come sit outside for an hour or so, where he was able to quickly size up what was going on and pointed out to Jack where things were going to be too big or too small, usually being right...Jack quietly admitted he was impressed, but John just dismissed it as a knack, nothing more.

Now the waterwheel was up and running, Janal was so grateful that he no longer charged them for their stay and offered them free use of anything they needed...the man was going to be rich and he knew it. They borrowed Janal's wagon, a couple of mattresses, blankets for John, and food for their journey. They headed out, glad that the wagon would cut down their travel time in half. It was still daylight when they arrived and saw that this temple was larger than the last two.

"It's almost as large as the first one," Rodney observed.

"What's almost as large," came a sleepy voice from behind them.

"Oh, sleeping beauty is awake and without a kiss I might add," Jack teased.

"You could rectify that you know," John yawned, but it was a yawn one needed to wake up, as he propped himself up with his left hand and looked around. "We're at the temple already?"

"Already...you've been asleep for hours... thank goodness." Rodney said, getting down, once Jack pulled the wagon to a stop.

John looked at Rodney puzzled, and then his face flushed. "Ah..." he said, recalling some of his silly antics. "Sorry about that," he said, and then smirked, "Tigger."

"Enough of that," Rodney scolded, moving to go to the temple.

"Hey...hold up Tigger...er...Rodney," Jack said, correcting himself after seeing the glare Rodney gave him. "Together remember?"

"Not that I'm complaining, but how do you expect to protect me...if you're carrying Prince Charming there?" Rodney challenged, nodding to John in the back of the wagon.

"I can stand...sort of," John protested.

"He can stand...sort of," Jack said with a slight smile, knowing that sort of was only a few minutes and if John was propped against something. However, Jack couldn't stand the idea of leaving John out here by himself, or letting Rodney go inside the temple by himself, and neither of them could stand the idea of leaving John behind at the cabin by himself, so, it was a no win situation all around. Jack got down, and then reached over, and carefully, with some help from John, him using his left leg and arm, Jack was able to lift him out of the wagon and hold him in his arms. "Besides, we agreed together," Jack said once he had John in his arms.

"Yes we did," John agreed, and then leaned in and kissed Jack sweetly. Then he turned to look at Rodney who looked miffed. "Rodney," he said with a knowing smile.

"Fine," Rodney huffed, stomping over to John, kissing him. "Together, so let's go already," he then said, and turned to head to the temple.

It was quickly discovered that this temple was larger than the first temple and it had two rooms, similar to the ones at the first temple, with large triangular mirrors on the walls, but it was the third room that captured Rodney's attention, holding it for hours, as Jack moved the mattresses from the wagon inside for John to lay down in the corner, as they both knew they were going to be staying for a while.

"You better go fetch him or he won't eat," John said to Jack, as Jack was making dinner.

Jack snorted in amusement. "I know the type, believe me," he chuckled. He then looked up and saw the frustration in John's face. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"Nothing," John said too quickly.

"John..." Jack said, knowing better.

John debated for a moment, and then sighed, "I feel helpless here. I should be doing something."

"You are doing something...you're healing," Jack told him, as he moved to bring John something to drink. "And yes, I know that doesn't count from where you're sitting...the toughest thing I had to learn was trusting others to do for me, especially as I got older."

John chuckled, "Jack, for a man in his fifties, you were in incredible shape, most men would have taken a desk job years before you did..."

"Little choice in the end, really. Knees were shot, back almost gone...I paid for remaining out in the field as long as I did, I'm just glad my team didn't..." Jack shook his head. "I was slower than I used to be, my eyesight was going and I flat out refused to wear glasses..." Jack sighed. "Look, you have good people around you, and I'm not just talking now...TRUST them to help you out once in awhile...no one person can do it all," Jack snorted in amusement again. "Not even Teal'c could...and he's over a hundred and eight."

"I smell food," Rodney said, coming out of the hall, wiping his hands on his tunic, which was covered in some sort of grime.

"Well, look who showed up," John teased, surprised to see Rodney here at all, as he usually got so wrapped up in his work it was near impossible to get him to leave.

"I was hungry," Rodney protested, and accepted the wet cloth from Jack, to wash his hands with, without comment, since his focus was on John at that second.

"Well, you should be, you've been in there for hours," Jack told him.

"There's a good reason for that," Rodney snapped, and then smiled, "I think I can reverse the mirrors," he beamed.

"You mean...send us back?" John asked, pushing himself to sit up more with his left hand.

"Yes," Rodney said, accepting the bowl of soup Jack had made, proving the man did know how to cook more than steak, as it was very good.

"Are you sure?" Jack asked, suddenly filled with mixed emotions on hearing the news.

"As sure as I'm going to get without any equipment here. The chamber talked about lessons learned early...etc...etc. Meaning that it's possible to send the 'rehabilitated' back. I think I've discovered how it's done...I just need more time to go over it, before we try...since...well..."

"We have no way of knowing if it'll send us back or what," John finished for Rodney.

"The likelihood is either we go back or nothing will happen," Rodney replied.

"What if they have some precaution to keep others from trying to get back sooner?" Jack asked.

"I thought of that, and I realized that typically, those sent here have no idea of who they are and are most likely still young when they get here, but even if older, they don't really know what's going on...so..."

"We might have a way back," Jack nodded. "To Atlantis or whatever that planet I was on," Jack said, realizing he didn't even know its designation, having not cared at the time.

"Ah...well..." Rodney suddenly didn't look happy. "Probably, most likely, you'll have to go back there and we'll go back to Atlantis," Rodney explained. "Reversing the initial process...ah...timing would be important of course, touching the mirror at the same time," he began to ramble.

There was quiet for a while, and Jack stood up, moving to get himself something to drink. "How long before you're ready for us to try?" he asked, his back to both John and Rodney, sipping the water slowly.

"Ah...." Rodney didn't know how to answer that. It could be a few hours, but suddenly he wasn't in such a rush to get back, but he wasn't sure how long to drag out the inevitable. "I'm...I'm not sure," he said instead.

"Well, it's late and the torches aren't going to last that much longer tonight. We should turn in, then in the morning I'll take the wagon back..." Jack said.

"You can't go by yourself," Rodney protested.

"Fact," Jack said, sounding very much the General. "If we do leave, we have no one to return Janal's things and they will come searching for us when we don't come back and continue to search not understanding what's happening...we can't leave a note, and it's wrong to make them worry. Fact, if we go back TOGETHER, we're going to have to carry John BACK, which is ridiculous as he's here already. Fact, I'm the only one capable of doing it as you'll be here figuring how to reverse things."

"But..." Rodney began.

"Rodney," John said, knowing it was best if Rodney let it go for now. He saw the anguish on Rodney's face and the wall Jack was throwing up, and understood both. "You SURE, you can get us back?" he asked, knowing this was the key importance in this conversation at the moment.

Rodney was tempted to lie, but he knew they were needed back at Atlantis, heaven knew what Zelenka and the others were doing to his lab and his city. He sighed in defeat, "I'm pretty sure, yes."

John nodded, for Rodney's pretty sure was a whole hell of a lot more of a sure thing than most people's positives. "Then Jack's right, he needs to take the wagon back in the morning. This way he'll be back before evening and we can try then."

"Good, it's settled," Jack said, moving to put out the small fire he'd made inside the temple that he'd used to cook over. "You should get some rest, I'll take first watch," Jack said moving to put out some of the torches so they could be used later, darkening the area so John and Rodney could sleep.

"We don't need watches," Rodney protested.

"Rodney, I'm cold," John said, hoping Rodney would come lay with him. He knew what Jack was doing, understood what he was doing, hated it, but didn't know what else to do, but keep Rodney at bay and let the man deal with what was going to happen...they were going back. John couldn't help but think that Jack was getting the short end of the stick in all this. He was glad that Rodney seemed to understand his subtle message and came to lie next to him on his left side as Jack went outside to keep 'watch'.

"It's not fair," Rodney said quietly, pulling a blanket over him and John, as he rested his head on John's chest, feeling Jack's lacking presence deeply.

"I never met anyone that said life was fair," John replied, knowing what Rodney meant. "We can't stay, Rodney..."

"I know," Rodney said and he did, he knew. He just didn't have to like it.

"He needs space," John said, knowing Rodney would understand why. "And for the record, I hate it too," he whispered.

Sleep came grudgingly for all three of them but Jack did not join them that night He did wake them with breakfast before departing to take the wagon back. He took only a few supplies for his journey back. He moved John and their supplies to the third room where Rodney was going to be working.

The day moved slowly, as Rodney stopped to help John take care of some basic needs, then went back to work, figuring out how to reverse the mirrors. Both men waited impatiently for Jack to return safely. It was near dark when Jack returned, looking exhausted from the long walk.

"You got it worked out?" Jack asked, sounding distant and cold, having shut his heart off during the trip.

"Yeah," Rodney said, hating to see the iron curtain that was in Jack's eyes, whereas before they'd been so open and affectionate. "But we can do it in the morning, no rush..."

"No reason to put it off," Jack said, wanting to get it over with.

"No, I guess not," Rodney said, swallowing the pain he felt. "We need to get John into the other room," he said over his shoulder as he moved back to the third room, where John was waiting.

"How was the trip?" John asked, seeing Jack.

"Long," was all Jack said, lifting John up in his arms, trying to keep a distance even with John being so close. Rodney grabbed the mattress and they moved it to the mirror room that was on the same side as was the one they first appeared in, in the other temple.

"You know, Atlantis could always use someone with your experience," John said quietly as Rodney placed the mattress near the left corner of the mirror, where John would be able to reach out and touch it when the time came. "Think about it," John added before Jack placed him down very gently.

"Okay, give me a couple of minutes," Rodney said, grabbing up the satchel with the two stones from the last temple and headed out of the room. He stopped when he heard John's voice and listened.

"Please think about it, Jack?" was all John said, and Rodney was unsure of what he meant, but knew he had missed something. He began to move down the hall and turned in time to see Jack head to the other room. Wall or not, Rodney knew this was hurting Jack as much as it was hurting him and John, which meant he loved them as much as they loved him...life really sucked at times!

Rodney had already preset the machine up to what he was confident would reverse the mirrors at least one time, which was another reason they would have to do it together. He then pulled out the stones, knowing which was the power stone and which was probably the 'aging' stone, though he wasn't totally confident on the purpose of the second stone. He placed in the one that turned the power on, and then fiddled with the second stone, flipping it over and over in his hands, before making his decision...he placed it back in the satchel and left the bag on the floor, and headed to the back.

Rodney saw Jack had his arms folded over his chest, staring at the large mirror, and saw him notice him, and only partly turned to face him. "We have to coordinate it so we do it at the same time...I'll shout, you let me know if you can hear me...then we'll do a three count."

"Sounds good," Jack said, then faced the mirror again as if it was his opponent.

Rodney moved up behind Jack, knowing John was right, Jack probably wanted distance to deal with the separation, but Rodney just couldn't let it go that easily. "Come to Atlantis," Rodney whispered, fighting the urge to grab Jack and kiss him senseless until he agreed.

"Rodney..."

"I think you'd like it there...John LOVES the puddle jumpers, though I think that's a stupid name, but it's caught on..." Rodney began to ramble.

"Rodney..."

"There's a lot that hasn't been discovered yet...and...and..." Rodney stuttered. Then Rodney decided to hell with space, and grabbed Jack turned him and kissed him with everything he had, hoping Jack could feel how much he was loved and wanted. But with all good things, the kiss had to end.

"Rodney," Jack said, leaning his forehead on Rodney's, making Rodney look at him. "It's time," Jack said after a long moment of silence between them, and then Jack pulled away.

Rodney nodded, feeling defeated. "I'll...I'll shout..."

"Three count...got it," Jack said, his eyes not hiding as much of the anguish as he would have hoped. "Take care of John," he said as Rodney turned to leave.

"I will," Rodney whispered and moved to the exit and stopped. "We love you, Jack," he said, never turning around, then hurried back to the other room.

The echo was perfect, they could shout and understand each other clearly. Rodney helped John to stand on his left leg and gave the three count, on which both Jack, and John touched the mirror and then silence filled the temple, as its occupants were gone.

Epilogue

Earth

It had been two weeks since he'd come back from wherever it was he had been with John and Rodney. Two weeks of being poked and prodded, debriefed and politely interrogated on the events that had led to his disappearance, but more importantly how he'd returned in the body of a twenty-three-year-old, with all his knowledge intact. His main answer was: 'ancient technology that went haywire' and 'ask Doctor McKay'. It seemed that many folks forgot his background, which was perfectly fine by him. It meant that they let him out of the Mountain after two weeks, for some time off to get 'caught up' as he told people, but in reality, he needed time to get refocused.

So here he sat on the little pier by his pond, fishing rod in one hand, beer in the other, wondering who had the nerve to intrude upon his silence, as he heard the very soft footsteps approach. "What do you want?" he called out over his shoulder, letting whoever it was know, that he knew they were there.

"Good to see you too, Jack," Daniel greeted.

Jack was surprised to see Daniel here of all places, for they had barely spoken before and since his return, even if it was by his own choice. "Daniel," Jack said, his voice a bit warmer than it had been moments ago. Jack watched Daniel move and shift the cooler Jack was using over, and sat down on it, making himself comfortable. "So, what's so important to drag you away from the Mountain and up to my tiny hovel in the woods?" Jack asked, trying to keep it light.

Daniel bowed his head for a moment, and then with a small smile, looked back up at Jack. "Well, seems a friend of mine...a GOOD friend of mine, seems to be hurting, and my best friend taught me long ago, that when a friend was hurting you do something, even if it's just hanging out and sharing a beer."

Jack nodded. "If you want a beer, you're going to have to get up, as you're sitting on them." He then turned back to face his pond, sipping his own beer.

Daniel sighed. "Jack..." he said, hoping to get Jack to open up, but he knew the momentous task before him and so, he sat up straighter, prepared to tackle the stubbornness of Jack O'Neill. "What really happened out there, Jack?" he asked directly for he knew anything other than direct got avoidance and runarounds, which he didn't want to deal with.

"I'm sure you read the report," Jack replied, gulping down the rest of his beer and then looking at the bottle as if it betrayed him by daring to be empty at a time like this. Well, since he wasn't going to ask Daniel to move, it was a good reason to get up and go to the cabin, so up he got and took a few steps toward the house, where Daniel intercepted him, by moving fast and standing in his way. "Daniel."

"Jack," Daniel said, his eyes meeting Jack's, letting him know he wasn't going to let this go. "What happened?" Daniel asked again, folding his arms over his chest, staring at Jack with the same look he'd received many times over their ten-year friendship, indicating this wasn't going away until you open up.

"Let it go, Daniel," Jack said, turning around and going to the cooler to grab another beer and then plopped back down into his chair Daniel grabbed a beer and then closed the cooler and sat down on it again.

"You're hurting, Jack and not just because of what happened between us," Daniel said, again knowing only being direct would get anywhere.

"And how the hell did you come to that conclusion?" Jack challenged.

"You forget, Jack...I KNOW you," Daniel replied evenly.

Jack snorted, "Obviously not that well." Then Jack opened what was actually only his second beer of the day.

Daniel knew Jack was referring to Daniel's words of not knowing how Jack felt most of the time. "Okay, I'll give you that. I DON'T know what's going on inside your head, but I DO know, you're hurting, and it has something to do with what happened when you were away..." Daniel replied, and then saw Jack was shutting him out. "Jack, we will ALWAYS be best friends, Jack...that hasn't changed...at least not for me..." Daniel sighed and rested his face in his hands, as he saw the barrier that was pure Jack O'Neill and wondered if he really was wasting his time.

"It became personal," Jack whispered.

Daniel's head snapped up, surprised that Jack spoke at all, much less revealed so much, even if in so few words. "How personal?" Daniel asked, watching his friend closely. He saw the narrowing of the eyes, the slight clenching of Jack's hand around his beer, and the legs crossing at the ankles, trying to appear casual, which meant Jack was anything but relaxed. "That personal, huh?" he said knowingly. He couldn't help the smile at seeing the slightly stunned look on Jack's face at his words. It was a bit of a guess, but he seemed to have hit the target, and he didn't have to let Jack know it was just a guess. "So...you and John Sheppard?" Daniel asked, feeling that was the most obvious bet. Seeing Jack fidget, the eyes drifting away, and a deep gulp of beer, made Daniel pause in his conclusion. "McKay?" he asked, for that seemed truly unlikely, as there didn't appear to be ANYTHING between Jack and Rodney McKay other than air, the last few times they came into contact with each other. Seeing Jack gulp down the rest of the beer like water really had him confused. "Jack?"

Jack got up and almost pushed Daniel off his seat to get another beer. "Come on, Danny, move," he whined slightly reaching in and grabbing his third beer of the day, as he wasn't sure he could deal with all this sober. Jack was really annoyed when Daniel snatched the beer out of his hands. "Hey!"

"Spill," Daniel demanded. "Which one, Sheppard or McKay? Or was there someone else?" for Daniel was pretty sure it was a guy, as Jack never had that much of a problem hiding his interest in the few women that crossed his path.

"Both, are you happy, now give me the damn beer," Jack snapped, kicking himself for only bringing four instead of the whole six-pack.

Daniel's eyes went wide open. "Both?"

"Yes, yes, yes, I fell in love with both of them, now give me my damn beer!" Jack snapped, snatching his beer from Daniel and popped the top and took a large gulp, before storming back towards his cabin. He could collect his stuff later, AFTER Daniel left.

"Wait, a second, wait a second," Daniel said, moving behind Jack. "You can't just drop a bomb like that and just walk off. Both of them?" Daniel asked, his mind really trying to wrap his mind around that image, and failing.

"Watch me," Jack said, as he stormed inside, but not fast enough to shut Daniel out, the man having learned too many sneaky tricks from him over the years, as Daniel pushed his way past and now stood in the living room of his cabin. "Go away, Daniel," Jack growled.

"No, Jack I most certainly will NOT go away," Daniel glared back at Jack. "How...?" Daniel shook his head. He knew he had to move past the idea of both men being involved with Jack if he was going to accomplish what he came here for. "Love, Jack?" he asked, wanting to get to the heart of the matter, which seemed to be the matter, Jack's heart was broken again.

Jack realized at that moment he had two choices, freeze Daniel out, which he normally would do, or he could 'try' to talk to him. It was so much easier to freeze things and people out, but as he stood there in the middle of his cabin, he recalled his time with John and Rodney and his advice to John. Perhaps John was right, he should listen more to his own advice. With a heavy sigh, Jack flopped down on his couch. "It...it just sort of happened. I mean, I know you know how close people get when they struggle to survive, but..." Jack was at a loss for words. Things had been so much easier for him to express when he was younger, the hormones or whatever it was, had seemed to help. But he knew he had to find away, as he was choking inside, and if he didn't do something soon, he probably would die inside too. "It started as just some release, as we were eighteen and full of hormones...but somewhere along the way...it changed."

"Was it worth it?" Daniel asked flat out. He watched as Jack's eyes lit up, and a tiny smile curl his lips and had his answer long before Jack said anything. "Then why are you here?" he asked, before Jack even formed the words to his first question.

"Hello, military here!" Jack snapped.

"Yeah, and, so, therefore, but?" Daniel snapped back.

"I'm twenty-three years old, the age most men in the military are just getting on their feet in the military, and I hold the rank of a Major General, which many men don't get at the END of their career, with all the experience in-between, you really THINK they'll let me go...ANYWHERE?" Jack shouted back, frustrated

Daniel understood what Jack was saying, he'd been dealing with their government for the last ten years and knew how greedy politicians and the American military could be, especially with what they saw as a unique resource, and Jack O'Neill definitely fell under that category. He not only had ten years experience of going through the Stargate, but keeping his team alive during all that time. He was adored by the Asgard, the only advanced race to date that was willing to provide aid to Earth in their growth, as Earth expanded its reach throughout the Galaxy. He was the ONLY human to have had an Ancient archive downloaded into his brain TWICE and survived, thanks to the Asgard, and one of the strongest if not THE strongest known individual on Earth with the ATA gene. But he also knew one other thing about Jack O'Neill that many seemed to forget. "Just tell me one thing, Jack," Daniel said moving to stand before his friend.

"What's that?" Jack asked, looking up, seeing that Daniel wasn't going to accept anything short of the truth to whatever his question was.

"Do you REALLY love them?" Daniel asked, staring deep into Jack's eyes, really needing to see the truth, not sure if he would really hear it.

Jack could feel the weight and importance his answer had, and knew it without hesitation. "Yes."

"Then why are you here, Jack?" Daniel asked, for that was the bottom line. If Jack O'Neill REALLY wanted something, he was more than capable of making it happen. "I think we ALL deserve to have some happiness, Jack. We've more than earned it. You've been given a second shot at life...so I'll leave you with that thought," Daniel said as he got up and headed to the door, as he had to get back to the Mountain. "If you really love them, then WHY are you HERE?"

Atlantis

It had been close to two months since they'd returned to Atlantis, stating something must have gone wrong, because he and John still looked twenty-three upon their return. After plenty of poking and prodding from Carson Beckett, they were pronounced healthy and THEN and allowed to return back to work and their duties, John's broken bones having healed during the transport. Word had reached them by the end of the week that Jack had returned safely to the plant where the other mirror had been found, also a healthy twenty-three years old.

Rodney also noticed the request for the Atlantis mirror to be sent back on the Daedelus that same week, seeing that the other mirror had been broken after O'Neill's return. Rodney wasn't a genius for nothing; he knew Jack had probably broken it when he realized he had remained the same age, and that others would want to see if they could turn it into some fountain of youth, since even his own staff held such an interest in the object. Rodney had tried to explain what was supposed to happen and what had happened to them was a fluke, but now he was sure it was all falling on deaf ears, so he was terribly distraught...terribly...to report the next day that some IDIOT had not been careful with the energy recorder while trying to determine how the mirror was powered, and it overloaded the mirror and blew it up. He was TERRIBLY distraught. John said if Rodney kept it up, he might be able to pull off a bluff or two during a real poker game after all.

John was actually surprised to find Rodney out on the balcony while it was still daylight, instead of his lab, but kind of understood why Rodney was depressed. "Hey," he greeted, moving to stand next to Rodney, leaning on the railing, enjoying the warm ocean breeze on his face.

The silence dragged on for a while, then Rodney sighed, as if he finally decided to just talk about it. "I miss him," Rodney said.

"Me too," John confessed. He and Rodney had continued their relationship, both needing the connection, but it really did feel as if something was missing between them, and with every day it was like a wedge was growing. John feared that it might grow too big and he and Rodney would be pulled apart by it.

"At least we have each other, but..." Rodney bowed his head; he hated the way he felt. He was lousy with relationships, but it had been so easy, so very easy to be with Jack and John. John was wonderful, and Rodney loved him, but Jack seemed to add a balance Rodney didn't even know was there until it was gone.

"I know," John said, sensing what Rodney was probably thinking and felt the same way.

Again silence returned to the balcony, and then Rodney stood up straight, his posture screaming determination. "We should go and get him...bring him back," he told John.

"Doesn't mean he'll come...after all, he's a General..." seeing some of Rodney's determined posture slipping, John added, "but we could still ask him to visit?" John realized then how much he liked Rodney's genuine smile; it had been lacking the last few weeks. "Come on, Elizabeth wants us in the briefing room, the Daedelus should be here soon, if not already in orbit, then it'll be landing," John said, turning and placing a supportive arm around his lover and friend.

"Do you think Jack would come?" Rodney asked, shifting and placing his head on John's shoulder, knowing it was daring out here on the balcony where some idiot might report back to Caldwell, but he and John had talked and decided it was worth the risk and not to deny themselves in private areas; other than their room, this was as private as it got lately.

"Oh, I think that's a good bet," a familiar voice said from behind them.

John and Rodney turned and smiles beamed from their faces as they saw Jack standing there in civilian dress, blue jeans, white dress shirt, his black leather jacket, and black leather boots. He looked very hot holding a large duffle bag. "Jack!" they both said as one.

Jack held out his arms. "Surprise!" he said, and was more than pleased by the fact he was almost bowled over by John and Rodney as they moved in and hugged the stuffing out of him, which he returned with equal measure. "Missed you guys," Jack whispered as they continued to hug. Jack was going to say more, but Rodney pulled back and tapped his earpiece.

"Not now..." Rodney snapped, "...what do you mean there are power surges..." Rodney said and though he was still holding on to Jack with one hand, he turned to look around. Though the view presented the ocean, you also could see major parts of the city and some of the spires, and it seemed as if someone hit a switch as light after light came on, making Atlantis look like Las Vegas and New York combined, but without the neon aspect to the lighting...it was like Atlantis was waking up. "What the...?"

"What's going on?" John asked, and then tapped his earpiece, "I'm with Rodney now, and we see..." he said, then looked at Jack and Rodney. "Weir's getting reports of systems we didn't even know about coming on line."

"Yes, Zelenka said it started about a minute ago...about the time..." Rodney stopped and looked at Jack.

"Don't look at me, I've been standing there for a few minutes listening," Jack confessed. "Nothing happened until we hugged...huh," he said, wondering.

"Well, that doesn't make sense," Rodney said, then tapped his earpiece again. "I'm coming, keep your shorts on," he snapped then closed his radio off. "Not quite the welcome I had in mind," Rodney confessed, but leaned in and kissed Jack soundly.

"How much trouble do you think I'll get in for kissing a General?" John teased before he kissed Jack as well.

Jack took a moment to breathe, as both kisses sent his senses soaring and the sense of coming home was twofold, not only being in John and Rodney's arms again, but being here at Atlantis, which was weird since he'd never been here before. "That's okay, I'm not a General anymore...I retired," Jack told them, moving to grab the duffle bag he'd dropped upon being lovingly assaulted by his lovers.

"Retired?" John asked with surprise.

"They'd never let me leave and come here as a General, in fact they outright refused, so, I pulled a LOT of strings and favors, and got me a first class ticket on the Daedelus, then resigned. So...tada," he grinned, hoping they really were happy he was staying; he didn't have long to wait as both John and Rodney kissed him senseless again.

"Yeah, yeah, didn't I say keep your shorts on," Rodney snapped, tapping his earpiece again, then closed it again and sighed. "Come on," he said, pulling Jack with him, knowing John would be following as well. "Zelenka's having a cow with all the new systems coming on..."

"Zelenka...that's the guy I'm supposed to be working with," Jack said as he followed Rodney and John.

"Why?" John asked, reaching over and taking Jack's bag, regardless of his protests.

"It's part of my job description, as the new aeronautical engineer assigned to help you backwards engineer the Puddle Jumpers so we can possibly filter some the technology into our planes back home, or at least make new Jumpers after you use them all as bombers for hive ships," Jack smirked at John.

"Wait..." Rodney said, forcing Jack to stop, as Rodney had his arm, and John stopped just because. "You're no longer military...but a...a..."

"The word you're looking for is scientist," Jack smirked.

"But I thought you HATED scientists?" Rodney asked, having heard the rumors and the reputation of then Colonel Jack O'Neill.

Jack chuckled. "What can I said, if you can't beat them join them," Jack shrugged.

"So...Masters?" John asked, a slight grin on his face, though he was a bit sadden inside that Jack had stepped away from the military, though deep down he could understand.

"Ah...no...PhD," Jack confessed.

"DOCTOR O'NEILL?" Rodney choked, then burst out laughing. "Oh, this is rich," he said, beginning to move forward with more momentum. "I don't think anyone will believe that...does Elizabeth know?"

"Of course," Jack said, trying to free his arm from Rodney as the man was practically dragging him down the hall. "But I asked her to not mention my arrival and my duties here," Jack said, just managing to free himself, and keep pace with Rodney.

"Duties?" John asked, confused.

Jack sighed, "I had hoped to discuss this with you..." He looked around indicating the hall, as they approached what Jack presumed was an elevator or transporter from what he had read in the reports. "Some place more private, but Doctor Weir asked me to be her civilian military consultant..."

This time it was John's turn to stop. "Civilian military consultant...isn't that an oxymoron or something like that?" he asked, but John's eyes were showing he was bothered by the idea.

"John, she feels out of her league when it comes to military situations, and you have to admit, she's never gotten over that time you pulled rank over her, and though she told me she trusts you, she wanted someone...outside the ranks, to help advise her," Jack explained.

"I see," John said coolly.

"No, I don't think you do," Jack said calmly. "I told her I'd take the job, but for her to understand I was not going to be undermining your authority as Military Commander of Atlantis...I'm NOT here to take that away from you, John," Jack said, laying a hand gently on John's shoulder. "I resigned from the military to start over...a new life...with two amazing men and a path untaken. So...I might have experience and you can ask if you feel the need, but I trust YOU to do what's right. If Elizabeth Weir needs me to tell her you're right I will..."

"And if you think I'm wrong?" John asked, his eyes a bit guarded.

"Then I'll tell you, you're wrong, but then it's between you and her to decide what happens...that's it...I'm NOT going to be the General here, I don't want to be. Remember, Weir had a chance to get rid of you if she wanted that...she didn't, she went to bat for you and still is, plus it doubles my pay," Jack grinned charmingly then he looked John seriously in the eye. "I'm here as Doctor O'Neill and I've come to build me a puddle Jumper...along with having a VERY interesting night life...that is...if..." Jack was suddenly unsure what John and Rodney might want, though he had been so sure up until moments ago.

"Come on," Rodney said, pulling both Jack and John into the transporter. "Look, it's clear, John's in charge, Jack holds Elizabeth's hand during military crisis, I pull the rabbits out of the hat, and we get to make love every night...I DON'T see the problem here?" Rodney said, looking at John.

John was quiet for a long moment, and then his eyes showed before his face, that he did understand that things would be all right, as he smiled warmly. "No problem, and I LIKE that idea myself," he said looking affectionately at Jack.

"Good...ah...I hit the button to the control room, but this shows were moving in another direction," Rodney said, indicating the screen behind them.

Just then the transport stopped and they stepped into what could only be considered the Penthouse suite, a huge circular living room, with automatic windows that lightened up, letting in the sunshine, instead of curtains, showing how large the room was. The staircase near the back led up to a second floor, the walk area hugging the walls, providing a high ceiling in what was the living room area, and there were several doors on the lower floor and several rooms up top. It was the furnishings that clued them in that it was a living room, as it had two semi-circular sofas, three plush chairs and glass looking tables in between.

"Wow!" John said as he stepped inside, followed by the others. "Where are we?"

"According to the transport, the Western tower...but we've never been able to access that area before," Rodney said, as he too gawked at the large living quarters.

"Seems you can now," Jack said, moving to the center, nodding. "I think this will do just fine," Jack nodded, really liking the feel of the place.

"You...you...but...we've been here in cramped quarters...how...why..." Rodney stuttered, not overly pleased with the turn of events.

"You know, you're right," Jack nodded calmly. "You two have been here longer than I and you two deserve bigger quarters..." he turned to look at them with an affectionate leer. "So, why don't you two move in here with me? Sure seems big enough, doesn't it?" he grinned.

John reached up to his earpiece just then. "I'm here. I'm with Jack and Rodney...we seem to have been hijacked by Atlantis and brought to the Western Tower...top of the tower...a Penthouse suite actually," John grinned. "No, don't know why...no, Rodney doesn't know why either, I asked..." John sighed. "Okay, we'll be there soon, but you should know Jack's laid dibs on the Penthouse...yes, he did, and since it's really large, Rodney and I are going to take the extra rooms," John smirked at Rodney and Jack. "Sure we can discuss it, we could always use decorating tips..." John quietly chuckled. "Okay, we're on our way, Sheppard out." John closed the channel. "Elizabeth wants to 'talk' to us," he smiled.

Jack looked around the warm cozy living area he was standing in, and got a boyish grin on his face. "Here, give me that thing," Jack said and John handed over his radio, with a brief explanation on how it worked. Jack placed it on and opened a channel. "Doctor Weir...yes, but drop the, sir...I'm a civilian, remember?" Jack grinned. "I'm fine. I just wanted to let you know, Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay are going to be delayed..." Jack held up a hand to Rodney who was about to protest and ask what he meant. "They're going to help me unpack...yes, yes...we'll be there...in about an hour...yeah, better make that two," Jack said and then turned the radio off and tossed it on the glass table.

"Ah...why did you do that?" Rodney asked, just as John moved to stand next to Jack, looking as if he caught on to what the program was.

"Because, Jack...needs some help getting settled in," John said as he cupped Jack's cheek in his right hand and leaned in and kissed him.

"Oh, that was just fatally...hot," Rodney whimpered as he saw the two men kissing.

Jack cleared his throat then swallowed hard, as John Sheppard really did know how to kiss. "So, ah...which door do you think leads to the bedroom?" Jack leered at his lovers.

"Why don't we check them all?" Rodney purred as he wrapped Jack in his arms, having figured out the plan, then kissed Jack just as passionately as John had moments ago. "But let's check out how comfortable the sofa is first," Rodney panted after he broke the kiss.

John and Rodney shared a look and then gently but firmly gave Jack a slight push and he stumbled back and flopped down on the plush sofa, John on Jack's left, Rodney on Jack's right.

"Welcome to Atlantis, Jack," John and Rodney said as one, leaning in and kissing Jack on the cheek just before they silenced Jack completely with their own private welcome home party.

As the three rejoiced in their reunion, the city itself stretched out its power, like fingers, shaking off the dust of a long sleep, as another of its owners had returned; finally. Its inner core was programmed to awaken when more than two Ancients walked her halls, and though such an event occurred before, it had been told it was too soon to awaken, and went back to sleep. But upon feeling the three embrace, it was a powerful jolt, and Atlantis sprang into motion, awakening fully, enlisting the aide of backup power units only it knew about, and not allowed to use until this moment. No more half measure in protecting its charges, now that it was fully awake and aware again. Atlantis' people had come home, even if only a handful, though the others were important too they didn't register fully on her sensors, but now it was ready to take care of them as it had been wanting to from the beginning. It was a glorious day for Atlantis, for she was awake and her people were finally home!

THE END (for now)

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