by Kass and Sihaya Black

Thanks to Lamardeuse and chickwriter for beta!


John watched Ronon and Jennifer in the lunch line. She smiled flirtatiously and he grinned back, bumping his shoulder against hers.

John couldn't help smiling down into his plate. It was nice, seeing Ronon happy. The guy deserved it, after all the crap he'd been through.

Of course, now that Ronon was with Jennifer and Teyla was spending most of her time with Kanaan and the kid, John was at loose ends more often than not. Fortunately, Rodney was still pretty much always up for watching a movie or drinking beer on the pier.

And now that Woolsey was mandating that they actually use their vacation days, John was looking forward to several days of exactly those things. A few of the marines had been talking about turning one of the unused rooms in the southwest quadrant into a sauna; maybe he could get Rodney to try it out with him. . .

"Hey," Rodney said, and John looked over at him guiltily. "Are you listening to me?"

"Um. . . yeah?" John tried, and Rodney snorted.

"Look," Rodney said, "I know we only get fourteen days on Earth a year, and you were there for the funeral not that long ago." Rodney was toying with his napkin now, which got John's attention; he generally only fidgeted when he was hiding something.

"But?" John prompted.

"There's this guy." Rodney looked perturbed; John tried not to show his amusement. "He was doing his doctorate the same time as I was -- he's giving a big presentation about some new thing he's working on, and anyone who's anyone in the physics community is going to be there. . ." He took a deep breath. "The thing is, there's this perception out there that, uh, I'm. . ." His voice trailed off. John waited. "A washout recluse," Rodney said, finally.

John winced. For a guy who generally thought pretty highly of himself, Rodney had a nasty self-deprecating streak sometimes. "Why?"

"Because I do this for a living. I mean, super double tip-top secret stuff."

John rolled his eyes. Who cared what those guys thought? Rodney's life was a billion times cooler than anything anyone on Earth could imagine.

"I mean, I haven't published a paper in nearly a decade -- not one that can be read by the general public," Rodney amended, "and I'm kind of hard to track down, what with living in another galaxy and all."

"Yeah, I know what that's like," John deadpanned, but Rodney didn't laugh.

"Exactly! They think I'm a shut-in. So I was thinking that, um, if I were to, say, show up with a friend. . ."

Years of practice maintaining a poker face in front of the brass stood John in good stead; he managed not to gape. Was Rodney inviting John to be his date? That was a serious step up from "we'll spend a few vacation days in Atlantis hanging out and playing video golf."

"Uh-huh," he said, gesturing as if to say: please, continue. His mind was zooming: Rodney. Date. Earth. Civilian clothes. God, Rodney in civvies: that was worth the return trip on the Daedalus right there.

Besides, Ronon was going to ask Jennifer to go camping on some remote beach somewhere. And as fun as it was to be Uncle John, he wasn't sure he could handle two weeks hanging out with Teyla and Torren if Rodney wasn't there too.

Rodney looked down for a second. Holy shit: he was being bashful. This was really not an ordinary day. "I mean, you're a -- good-looking guy, obviously--"

John glanced around from force of habit, making sure no one was in earshot, but Rodney didn't seem to notice, just kept talking.

"And, ah, they would maybe not think that I was. . . a complete loser? It'd be, like, one day -- the first night we'd spend there, and then you could be off to wherever you actually want to go. I mean, it could be fun."

Holy fucking shit: Rodney McKay was inviting him to be his date to some high-powered physics conference. Because apparently Rodney thought he was hot. John wasn't clear on whether this was exactly a proposition, or whether Rodney just wanted the other guys at the conference to think John was there on his arm, but still -- even if it were subterfuge, the fact that he was making the offer meant that maybe Rodney was interested in him after all.

John's mind was already made up, but he couldn't resist yanking Rodney's chain a little bit. "Hmm," he said. "A room full of physicists; a long-winded presentation I probably won't understand. Yeah, it doesn't really sound like fun."

Rodney looked crestfallen. "Well, there'll be drinks, probably, and maybe those little sandwiches. . ." Jesus: did Rodney really think the promise of a cocktail party was the appealing part of this invitation? The prospect of being around his old colleagues was really throwing him for a loop; John felt for the guy. "And. . . me," Rodney offered. "I'll be there."

That was more like it. "You don't have to make such a big deal out of it," John pointed out. "You could just ask me out on a date."

Rodney's deer-in-the-headlights look was pretty funny. "Hey, I didn't want to. . . I mean. . . I know. . . you. . ."

"I'll probably say yes," John said, breezily.

Rodney stared. "You. . . want to go to this thing with me?"

"Sure," John said. "Love to."

"What?" Rodney looked amazed, which was mildly insulting given that John had just told him that he was going to say yes. Did he think John was just messing with him? "I mean, that's good! Good, great, that's --"

"It's a date," John said.

"That's a date," Rodney said, his expression dazed.

"So, what's the presentation?"

"I don't know. He doesn't want to tell anyone until we get there, but if I know this guy, it'll be a first class presentation with second rate science."

John snorted. Okay, that sounded more like Rodney. (Had he really been that nervous about extending the invitation?) They picked up their trays and headed for the busing station.

"Probably some minor adjustment to someone else's work, but the food'll be good!"

"And the company," John pointed out, just to see the tips of Rodney's ears turn red. They didn't disappoint.

This? Was going to be fun.


Rodney sank deeper into the luxurious leather seat and tipped the rest of his champagne down his throat so fast he couldn't taste it. A shame, really, because it was probably exquisite. Not that he had a particularly discriminating palate when it came to champagne, but he was certain Malcolm would only provide the best, if for no other reason than to lord his success over Rodney. Rodney hated it just on principle.

The muted hum of the engines, the padded leather. . . everything. The champagne, the crystal bowl filled with strawberries -- strawberries, for Christ's sake -- all were calculated to provide the maximum insult with the maximum price tag.

He knew there was a good reason why he'd always despised Malcolm Tunney.

In the seat opposite, John turned from the window. He'd shifted in his seat as the plane dipped and rose, hands flexing on the chair arms, probably wanting to fly the thing himself. Now he lifted his champagne flute and an eyebrow.

"Well, this is exciting." He took a drink and eyed the plane like he wasn't impressed.

Actually, after flying planes that responded to his mind, maybe John wasn't impressed by vintage champagne and an ordinary private jet. Rodney's irritation eased, just a little, and he fingered his bow tie. John had helped him tie it before they left SGC, but waved away Rodney's offer to return the favor. Rodney's best suit -- the one which he fully expected to be wearing when he received his Nobel -- fit him well, but wasn't in the same league as John's tux. It looked as if it had been hand-tailored by some bespoke English firm. Even with his tie hanging loose and his collar open, John looked hot. Actually, the loose tie and open collar added to the hotness.

And they were on their way to a conference. Professional. Public. Well, more public than Rodney was used to for the past five years. It was time for Rodney to stop daydreaming about John, and hot tuxes, and even, possibly, getting John out of his hot tux. Rodney hooked a finger in his collar and tugged.

"It's just a plane."

"Yeah," John said agreeably. His mouth twisted. "Beats a military transport, though."

"Anything's better than a military transport." Rodney shuddered. Cold, noisy, uncomfortable. . . Some of the worst hours of his life had been aboard military transports, at least until he'd ended up in the Pegasus Galaxy, when the horrible possibilities of 'worst hours' had reached new heights.

John leaned back and stretched out his legs. "Want some strawberries?"

Rodney looked at the bowl and grimaced. "When I was ten I ate a bowlful of strawberries and threw up. Haven't been able to stomach them since."

"Only you, McKay." John grinned and took another drink of champagne. "How does this guy afford all this? Thought he was a physicist."

That was the crux of the matter, wasn't it? The familiar sense of bitterness swelled, filled him until all other considerations were pushed aside.

"He was always able to dupe guys with deep pockets into backing his research, you know? It's amazing what an ingratiating smile and a PowerPoint presentation'll get you."

"You're right." John nodded. "That impresses people with money."

"From the sound of things, you ought to know." Rodney froze, his face heating. "I didn't mean-- That is--" Oh, God, why had he been born without an internal censor? Or at least the ability to rewind and erase? He squeezed his eyes closed. A disaster. This entire date thing was a complete disaster. And then there was the upcoming lecture, with the egos and the hubris and the no doubt wrong, wrong, so very wrong science. . . He opened his eyes, grabbed the bottle and sloshed more champagne into his glass. Draining the glass, he set it down with a thump. "Yeah."

John didn't appear offended by Rodney's gaffe. He just smiled, chose a strawberry from the bowl and bit into it. "So," he said, chewing, "how long have you two been friends?"

"He's more of an acquaintance than a friend."

John looked at the champagne bottle, then at the strawberries, and finally glanced around the cabin.

"I got news for you, buddy. Acquaintances don't pick you up in private planes."

"Oh, for. . ." Rodney threw up his hands. John wasn't stupid; what was he thinking? Just another case of the damned unfairness of life. If there was any justice in the world, Rodney would be the one sending a private jet and giving a prestigious lecture to the leading minds in the field, not Malcolm bloody Tunney. "He didn't send the jet to be nice; he sent the jet to rub my nose in it!"

John appeared to consider Rodney's words. "I suppose that's possible."

"Look." Rodney parked his elbows on the table and leaned forward. "I was always one step ahead of this guy during school and now that we're in the real world he wants to show me that, as far as most of the planet is concerned, he's a lot more successful than I am!"

"As far as most of the planet is concerned," John pointed out, "Atlantis is a myth, the Pegasus Galaxy is far out of reach, and soul-sucking vampires don't exist."

"True." Rodney huffed, and rested his chin on his hand. "Not that we can enlighten them."

"Not yet." John looked as if he didn't quite believe his own words.

Rodney sighed. "Knowing the secretive nature of the United States military, we'll never be allowed to say anything."

John spread his hands, placating. "Guess we'll just have to wait and see."

But Rodney had no intention of waiting or seeing; he was just hitting his stride. "And what is with the evening attire? We're going to a science lecture, for God's sake! Who the hell does he think he is?"

"If you don't like the tux," John said, smoothing his hands down his legs, "maybe I should've worn my dress blues?"

Rodney's gaze followed John's hands, the way they pulled the fine wool over John's thighs, showing off those lean muscles. His mouth grew dry.

"I like the tux. Very much, but. . ." Rodney studied the ceiling and cleared his throat.


"Well. . . Apparently our host doesn't want anyone from the military attending. That was made quite clear in his invitation." Rodney darted a glance at John, who sat there, his face blank. He appeared relaxed, but that didn't necessarily mean anything, not with John.


"And since you'd already agreed to come on this. . ." Rodney fidgeted with his bow tie. ". . . date, and I really wanted you to come on this. . . date, I just neglected to include your rank when I responded."

"You did?" John's voice was almost a growl.

Breathless, Rodney nodded.

John narrowed his eyes. "Good thing you mentioned it, McKay." The corners of his mouth suddenly turned up and he slouched in his seat. "Could've been awkward it I'd let that little fact slip."

Rodney slumped back in relief. "Well, yes, but I figured that as my assistant mathematician--"

"Your assistant mathematician?" John's smile broadened.

Rodney lifted his glass. "Well, I figured you could pull it off. You're not entirely deficient in mathematical knowledge and talent."

"Gee, thanks, Rodney." John laughed and lifted his own. "But if it's all the same to you, I'd rather be introduced as your date."

"You would?" Rodney stared, lowered his glass. "Really?"

"Told you that before, McKay. When are you going to start believing me?" He held out his glass in invitation.

"I. . . I do."

They clinked glasses and each took a sip. Rodney plucked a strawberry from the bowl and bit into it. Sweetness flooded his mouth. Maybe this wouldn't be as bad as he feared. John seemed to be enjoying himself so far.

Rodney looked across the cabin. On the far wall hung a framed photograph. Rodney squinted at the photo. Was that. . . He sat up, swallowed hard. The strawberry's sweetness turned to acid on his tongue. Yes, it was. A photo of that rat bastard Tunney laughing with the Dalai Lama.

Rodney grimaced and frowned at the bowl of strawberries. Nope, his first impulse was right: disaster all the way.

After another hour they landed in the middle of nowhere and took a short limousine ride to a building at the farthest reaches of nowhere. Rodney glanced around as they climbed out of the limo. Actually, they were beyond nowhere. Nowhere would've been a step up from this desolate hellhole.

Kramer Innovations Inc. was plastered across the top of the doorway, and Rodney took a moment to be grateful it didn't say "Tunney Innovations." Then they were escorted inside and walked over to the reception desk. Behind the desk, a flunky studied papers on a clipboard.

"McKay." The flunky ignored them. Rodney stuck out his jaw. Leave it to Malcolm to hire someone so completely incompetent. "Doctor Rodney McKay." He gestured at John. "Mr. John Sheppard."

John smiled and leaned against the reception desk.

"Yes, welcome," the flunky said, without looking up.

Rodney bristled, but before he could launch into his entirely justified complaint about rude employees, the flunky set down his clipboard and continued. "I'll just need you both to sign this non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement." Then he dropped two inch-thick bound documents in front of them.

"You're not serious," Rodney said, staring at the documents.

The flunky finally looked up. "Is there a problem, sir?"

"This whole thing is a confidentiality agreement?" Rodney poked one document with his forefinger.

"Yes, sir," the flunky snapped, sounding as if he'd answered this question many times already and had lost patience a while back.

"What could he possibly be talking about that needs two hundred pages to keep secret?"

The flunky leaned over the desk. "If you want to go inside, sir, you need to sign the agreement."

Rodney clenched his fists and opened his mouth, ready to flay the incompetent moron.

"Hey," John said, flipping through the agreement. "If you don't want to sign, we can blow off the lecture. Go do something else."


John lifted one shoulder. "Sure."

Rodney was tempted: really, really tempted. He could take the agreement and fling it back in the flunky's face. But. . .

But he'd never know what Malcolm's big announcement was. Or he'd only find out when the general public did, and that would be even worse.

He glanced at John. "Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt. . ." But he let John sign first.


John hadn't attended a cocktail party in. . . he wasn't sure how long, actually. He'd hated them in childhood, and he wasn't a much bigger fan of them now. Which begged the question of why, exactly, he was using some of his precious allotment of Earth vacation days to watch Rodney turn increasingly apoplectic at one.

Well, okay, that wasn't really a question. The answer was Rodney. His incandescent brain and his broad shoulders, his irascible temper and his crooked mouth. That mouth that John stared at way too often for his own good.

John had long practice at curtailing that train of thought. And even though he was starting to wrap his mind around the notion that the interest might be mutual, this was not the time or place to make a move. "Where do you think we are?" John asked.

"I don't know," Rodney admitted. "Arizona; Nevada? I didn't think people even built secret facilities any more. Seems so 1950s."

John nodded. But before he could say anything suitably disparaging about the joint, he caught sight of Bill Nye coming their way.

"Rodney McKay," Nye called. "Is that really you?"

Rodney's eyes widened and he turned around. Sure enough, the science guy was heading their way, Neil deGrasse Tyson in tow.

"We had it on good authority that you were dead," Nye said jovially.

Rodney's laugh was forced. John took a deep breath and reminded himself of all the reasons why he wasn't allowed to leap to Rodney's defense. Rodney was perfectly capable of defending his own honor, and it might be fun to watch him rip Nye a new one anyway. Meanwhile, Tyson was scoping John out with a barely-disguised look of surprise.

"And this would be. . ." Tyson said, his voice trailing off expectantly.

"This is John Sheppard," Rodney said, not explaining. "This is Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson," he added to John, as though John didn't know.

"You know, from television," Tyson said brightly.

Wow; what a dick. "Right," John said, and refrained from crushing the guy's hand. "Nice to meet you."

"Oh, the pleasure's mine," Tyson simpered.

Rodney's mouth was set in a tight line. "Neil likes to steal things from me -- things like women and theoretical physics ideas." From anyone else, it might have been a joke. John's insides twisted; whatever the story was, Rodney was obviously still carrying the wound.

"Yeah, but who hasn't stolen an idea from the great Rodney McKay?" Tyson shot back.

"Oh, so we admit it now!" Rodney sounded triumphant. John started wondering what kind of diversion he could cause to get them the hell out of this conversation. Tripping a waiter carrying a tray of cocktails was starting to sound tempting.

Nye piped up, "See, back in the day whenever any one of these people," gesturing at the room at large, "came up with a new idea or published a new paper, Doctor McKay here would swear that he was already working on something very similar; just hadn't gotten around to publishing it yet."

"He'd say things like, 'I was about to say that very same thing,' or 'I was just about to have that same idea!'" Tyson added with a sneer.

Jesus; with colleagues like these, no wonder Rodney had been eager to get offworld. What John couldn't quite figure out was what had moved him to come back.

"Hey, at least I didn't declassify Pluto from planet status," Rodney fired. "Way to make all the little kids cry, Neil. That make you feel like a big man?"

"See, thanks to Doctor Tyson, Pluto is now the first of the plutoids -- a new class of celestial object," Nye said to John conspiratorially. "It's cool! Come on, Rodney! It's the twenty-first century!"

"Yeah, actually, I've heard of plutoids," John said lightly. Rodney shot him a grateful look.

"Actually, come to think of it," Tyson said, "when was the last time you even published a paper? It was, like, the eighties!"

"Yeah, funny thing," John said smoothly. "When all the work you're doing is classified, it's generally not the kind of material you can publish where it can be read by people who don't have clearance."

Nye opened his mouth, then closed it again.

"Well, surely you can tell us something," Tyson hazarded.

"Sorry; if I told you, I'd have to kill you," Rodney said breezily. Attaboy, Rodney, John thought. "Actually, if I told you, he'd have to kill you."

Both men glanced at John, rapid eye movement betraying nervousness. John just smiled as politely as he could. Polite could be menacing. Nye blanched and Tyson looked vaguely alarmed.

"You know, it's been great seeing you, McKay," Nye said hurriedly. "But I think maybe we should get our seats. Right, Neil?"

"Yeah -- see you around," Tyson agreed, and the two departed.

Watching them go, John turned to Rodney and gave him a little grin.

Out of the corner of his eye, John caught sight of a guy in a dark blue suit with a wide tie, walking over to them with intent. John gestured with his head and Rodney turned just in time to avoid being clapped genially on the back.

"Max," Rodney said flatly. Then, to John, he added, "We used to be labmates."

"Heya, Rodney! Didn't expect to see you here," Max said, looking at John with undisguised interest.

"Yes, well," Rodney began.

"Given how much you and Ten-ton hated each others' guts at MIT." Max looked amused by his own wit.

John decided to cut in. "John Sheppard," he said, offering his hand. Max shook it a little bit too hard.

"Max Levinson. What's your field, Sheppard?"

"The physics of flight," John said blandly. Rodney coughed.

"Sure," Max said, stretching the word dubiously. "If you say so."

"So Max, what have you been up to all these years?" Rodney asked. "Teaching at some. . . little liberal arts college, right?"

Max barked out a laugh. "Come off it, McKay; you don't give a damn about my career. You're just trying to deflect me away from your friend here."

"I don't know what you're talking about." Rodney's voice lifted slightly.

Max ignored him, turning directly to John. "You know, we used to have a pool going on the odds of McKay ever showing up to one of these things with a date, but we never thought of this."

Rodney's hasty inbreath made John turn; he looked like he'd been suckerpunched.

"Honestly, now that I think about it, I don't know why it never occurred to anybody that he might be gay." Max was shaking his head. "Go figure."

John put a hand on Rodney's shoulderblade and Rodney straightened, his chin coming up in defiance. John's thumb smoothed back and forth across the broadcloth and Rodney leaned a little bit into the touch.

"Funny," John said to Max, "in all the years we've been together, I don't think Rodney's ever mentioned you."

He felt Rodney startle under his hand, but Rodney didn't say a word.

"Touché," Max said, laughing a little. "I guess that's fair. Well, hey: I don't know how you put up with him, but more power to you. Good seeing you, Rodney," and he walked away.

John reluctantly let his hand fall.

"'All the years'?" Rodney repeated, looking at him quizzically. He was starting to smile, a small private just-between-us smile that made John's heart skip a beat.

John shrugged one shoulder. "We have been. . . together for a while," he pointed out.

"Yeah, but not like--" Rodney stopped himself, but John was pretty sure what the rest of that sentence was going to be.

John spread his palms. "Hey, it's not my fault you're a little slow on the uptake."

"Hey!" Rodney protested, but now he was grinning, the kind of big beautiful smile he usually reserved for ZPMs and occasionally Torren.

John was a hairsbreadth away from reaching out to touch him when a voice called, "If everyone could please take your seats, we're ready to begin."

John took a deep breath and aborted his momentary reach toward Rodney, gesturing toward the door of the auditorium instead. "After you."

"I think maybe this was a bad idea," Rodney murmured to John, leaning close.

"Oh? Why's that?" John asked, as though it weren't obvious.

"I just remembered I don't really like these people."

John chuckled. "Can't say that I blame you there."

Rodney snorted. "I mean, it's also possible I used to be a little. . . abrasive."

"Used to be?" John repeated, biting back a smile.

"My field is very competitive!" Rodney protested.

"Yeah -- lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force; I wouldn't know anything about that," John pointed out, sotto voce.

"Right." Rodney had the good graces to sound sheepish. John took pity on him; this was basically a high school reunion. These kinds of things didn't bring out anybody's best side.

"Look," John said, "the science you're doing is head and shoulders above anything that's happening on this planet."

"My life is a lot cooler than theirs, isn't it?" Rodney agreed, a trace of smugness appearing in his voice and his smile. God, the smugness was hot on him. John resisted the urge to loosen his collar.

"Too bad you can't actually tell them that," John said.

And then the lights dimmed and some kind of faux-Native American music began to play as a giant rotating image of Earth, as seen from space, appeared on the big screen at the front of the hall.

John leaned toward Rodney and whispered, "Space: the final frontier."

Rodney stifled a laugh.

"Earth: our home, our planet; the very vessel of life," the voiceover intoned. "Our world: unique, irreplaceable."

John resisted the urge to make a derisive noise.

"And yet, at times, it seems that we are unrelenting in our quest to drive our ecosystem into catastrophic failure. Friends, the stakes couldn't be higher -- the situation no more dire."

Rodney turned toward him and they rolled their eyes in unison.

"It's time to act," the voiceover said, and a blond guy walked out on stage. "Hello," he said. "I'm Malcolm Tunney."

"If he's so worried about global warming," Rodney muttered to John, "why'd he fly us here in a private jet? It spews out more CO2 than Sweden!"

John laughed.

"Thank you very much," Tunney simpered. "You're very kind. As many of you know, I am not an environmental scientist, nor do I pretend to be one. For instance, I shower regularly!"

The audience laughed. John let his attention drift; this guy was clearly an ass, not worth paying much attention to. Better to contemplate Rodney in his suit. The place where his collar met his throat was particularly tantalizing. John let himself imagine unfastening the tie and unbuttoning the collar --

But then Rodney sat forward in his seat, and John started listening again.

"It begins with a massive heat sink," Tunney said, "one of my own design -- which steadily draws heat from the surrounding environment."

"But where does the heat go?" John and Rodney each muttered to the other, simultaneously. John was tempted to whisper, "jinx!"

"'Where does the heat go?' you may ask," Tunney continued. "Well, my friends, that is the hard part."

A new image appeared on the screen, showing heat moving from "Our Space/Time" to "Alternate Space/Time." John gaped at it, his stomach sinking fast. Wasn't that a diagram of --

"I give you the Tunney Space/Time Matter Bridge," Tunney said, portentously.

"Wait. What?" Rodney said, apparently gobsmacked.

"Now this isn't just some theoretical math proof," Tunney continued. "This is a functioning piece of technology -- one that literally moves heat from our space/time and vents it out into another space/time."

"Yeah, but -- that's my bridge!" Rodney exclaimed. "My sister and I came up with it!"

The guy next to them glared at them, but John glared back. Because yeah, that was Rodney and Jeannie's bridge. "What are the odds," he whispered to Rodney, but the guy was still talking.

"And it works," Tunney said triumphantly. "We've been testing the system for a few months now and it has proved to be remarkably stable."

Rodney burst out, "It's my idea!"

"For the purposes of the demonstration today, I've surrounded this facility with an electrified plasma grid that will contain the reach of the heat sink. It will draw heat only from this facility," Tunney droned on.

"Wait," Rodney said, "he's going to turn it on with us here? I mean, that's -- this -- this is a bad idea."

"You're telling me," John said.

"And to prove the effectiveness of the system, I will lower the temperature within this facility by ten degrees," Tunney promised. Behind him, the screen showed the temperature dropping from 74 degrees to 64 degrees."Oh, and don't worry," he added, "I've turned off the air conditioning, so there'll be no cheating, I promise."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I cannot do this," Rodney said, standing up. "Excuse me! Malcolm!"

Tunney turned a patently plastic smile on him. "Doctor McKay! Thank you for coming!"

"This is a bad idea," Rodney said flatly.

"Well, we're not quite ready for the Q and A session yet, so if you could just wait 'til then," Tunney said, patronizing.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Let's just take a look at the data you've come up with and talk about this, because turning the device on with all these people here could be very dangerous."

"Respectfully, I disagree," Tunney said, not sounding respectful at all.

"You can't do something like this without our consent," Rodney protested. Someone yelled "sit down!"

Tunney raised an eyebrow. "You did sign the document when you entered, didn't you?"

Fuck: John knew he should have read the thing.

"Well, yeah," Rodney said. "I thought that was just. . ."

"Then I have your consent," Tunney said.

"Look, I've been doing work that is very, very similar to this," Rodney began.

Tunney effected an air of dramatic surprise. "Really? I don't think that possible."

"These bridges to other space/times can be very unpredictable!" Rodney said.

"Do you have any research you'd like to put forward right now? A paper, perhaps -- anything to back up your claim?" Tunney's eyes glittered.

John stood up beside him. "That material is classified," he said.

"Ah, how convenient," Tunney said curtly.

"Take my word for it: the bridge will do irreparable damage," Rodney insisted.

"He's not kidding," John added. "You really don't want to deal with the repercussions of this."

Tunney narrowed his eyes. "This kind of backtalk is most inappropriate. Do I need to call security, gentlemen?"

"We'll leave on our own, thanks," Rodney hissed back, and pushed past the people in their row to the aisle. John followed.

"Don't worry, everyone," Tunney assured the crowd. "This is completely safe. . ."

"This is bullshit!" Rodney sounded furious.

"How do you want to handle this?" They were back in the lobby, where a team of caterers was advancing toward them with cups of hot chocolate. John waved them away.

"Much as I'd like to get the hell out of here, I'm worried that if this goes wrong -- which it is practically destined to do -- it's going to create a situation Tunney doesn't know how to handle."

John nodded. "Thinking of Rod?"

"Yeah," Rodney admitted. "Not to mention all of the other possible alternate universes this could fuck up." He looked morose. "Wow, this is the worst first date in human history."

"Oh, so we're admitting it's a date, now?" John asked, grinning. Rodney looked flustered and John felt a wave of longing. Being here in civilian clothes was really messing with his mind. Or maybe it was knowing that Rodney actually was interested in him. One way or another, he really wanted to reach out and --

Later, John promised himself. As soon as this conference was over, he was going to make a move.


"Unbelievable." Rodney glanced at a cardboard cut-out of a life-sized photograph of Tunney holding an image of the Earth. In the center a thermometer reading dropped from 74 degrees to 73 degrees. He stared at the copy of Malcolm's brief he'd picked up from the pile in the corner. It wasn't possible.

Except it was happening. "This is. . . this is. . . How'd he even get hold of my work?"

"You sure it's yours?" John asked, leaning casually against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest. The look in his eyes was anything but casual.

Rodney scanned another ten pages. "Absolutely!" He frowned. Had he missed something? "You believe me, don't you?"

"Of course." John sounded offended that he had even asked.

The tightness in Rodney's chest loosened a little. "There's no way that he came up with this on his own. He must've gained access to one of my papers. . ."

"Probably." John pushed away from the wall. "But right now I'm more concerned about what's going on with the bridge."

"I realize that it's hard for a non-scientist to understand the absolute betrayal of trust when one scientist rips off the work of another, more brilliant mind--"


Rodney had learned the hard way to shut up when John used that tone.

"Fine, fine," he muttered.

John jerked his head toward a roped-off area in front of a closed door. "Let's see what they're up to," John said. "Come on." They slipped out of the room and turned a corner.

After sneaking through a Genii underground bunker and multiple hive ships, wandering through the corridors of Kramer Innovations was a piece of cake. The security was laughable -- even Rodney could see that -- but John put the kibosh on overpowering one of Malcolm's assistants and breaking into the locked lab that obviously housed the bridge.

"We don't want to piss them off. Yet," John said, leading Rodney away from the massive steel doors and ridiculously simple security. They'd be inside in less than thirty seconds if only Rodney had a laptop, or a tablet. Hell, even a BlackBerry would work.

"Maybe there's an auxiliary lab." Rodney shivered. The temperature was dropping fast.

"Good idea." John headed down another anonymous corridor, Rodney on his heels, glancing at the name plates beside the closed doors.


He turned the handle. Unlocked. Ha! Even the greenest of green scientists on Atlantis knew basic security protocols. . .

"What's up?" John looked at the name plate, raised an eyebrow. "He leaves his door unlocked?"

"If we can find a copy of my paper, I can prove I'm right. . ." Rodney pointed to the shelves. "You look there. I'll check his computer." Oh, of course Malcolm's desktop was a photo of himself. While John scanned the shelves, Rodney got to work, muttering. "If that son of a bitch thinks he can humiliate me in front of my peers and get away with it, he's got another thing coming."

"Glad you're taking this well, Rodney." John pulled down a bound manuscript, glanced at it, and returned it to the shelf.

"I'm going to destroy him," Rodney said, turning back to the computer. "There's got to be something in here I can use to discredit the pretentious tool."

John darted to the door, looked out. "Shit. Somebody's coming."


"Close down and let's go!"

Rodney allowed John to push him ahead as they returned to the lobby. The lecture had finished -- the room was full of people reading Malcolm's brief -- the work he'd stolen from Rodney -- and it was easy to step back inside and pick up mugs of cocoa. Rodney sipped his, grateful for the warmth; there was a distinct chill in the air.

John scanned the room, nudged Rodney. Malcolm stood across the room, by that hideous cardboard cutout of himself. The thermometer dropped to 64 degrees, and everyone -- sheep, all of them -- burst into a round of applause.

"Thank you! Thank you!" Malcolm smiled and nodded as Rodney ground his teeth. He should be the one receiving the applause -- but he'd never be reckless enough to. . . Rodney pushed away memories of former recklessness. What was past was past.

Malcolm continued. "Thank you -- but I don't think that an achievement of this magnitude can truly be credited to one man."

But it could. Well, to one man and his sister. Rodney gaped, outraged.

An assistant pushed through the crowd and hurried up to Malcolm. As they spoke, Malcolm's smile faded. Rodney recognized the look in his eyes; he'd seen it often enough in the Pegasus Galaxy. Fear.

"Wonder what's up?" John said as Malcolm, obviously rattled but trying to keep up appearances, slipped through a side door.

"Nothing good, you can bet." Rodney shivered again as the temperature dropped to 63 degrees.

Nye bustled up to them, holding a mug in both hands. "That was out of line, man."

Rodney whirled around, jabbed a finger at him. "What do you mean? He stole my work!"

"Hey, come on. It was in the middle of his presentation." Nye, brown-noser that he was, was just pretending to be reasonable.

"He was about to start the thing up! It couldn't wait!"

John frowned, nodded. "Rodney knows what he's talking about."

Nye ignored John. "He brought you here as an olive branch. He wanted to bury the hatchet."

"Yeah, in my back!"

"Dr. McKay?"

Rodney whirled. It was the flunky from the front desk. Rodney's palm itched with the urge to smack that smug expression off his face.

"Mr. Sheppard?" the flunky continued. "Dr. Tunney would like a word."

That was more like it. Rodney clasped his hands behind his back and raised an eyebrow at Nye. "Ha! I'm guessing that that word is, 'I apologize.'"

As he and John followed the flunky out of the room, Nye called "That's two words, genius!"

"At least we know he can count," John muttered, his shoulder nudging Rodney's.

Rodney grinned. This day sucked beyond the telling, but being here with John made it suck slightly less. John always had his back.

The flunky led them to a small conference room, obviously intended for executives and important visitors if the mahogany table and plush swivel chairs were anything to go by. Rodney pulled out the chair at the head of the table, but John shook his head and herded Rodney to the far side of the table, facing the door.

They'd just gotten settled when the door opened. John tensed, then relaxed as an older guy walked in, Malcolm on his heels, a lapdog. They sat across from Rodney and John. Malcolm glowered in his seat like some kid who'd lost his favorite toy.

Rodney rubbed his hands together. Oh, this was going to be good.

Before Malcolm could open his mouth, Rodney began. "It takes a big man to admit that he's wrong and -- much as I appreciate it -- I really would prefer that this whole apology thing took place a little more publicly."

"Are you kidding?" Malcolm snarled. "You're the one who should be apologizing to me."

"What the hell for?"

"I invited you here as a courtesy; out of kindness," Malcolm said with the kind of look only given to pathetic losers, and Rodney was this close to leaping across the table and throttling him. Only John's hand on his forearm stopped him.

Smirking, Malcolm continued. "You know, most people think you've lost your mind -- that you've gone Howard Hughes."

He didn't just say. . . The lying, stealing bastard. "Just because I don't call any more doesn't mean I'm keeping my urine in jars! Look, I don't need you to. . ."

"Shut up," the old guy barked. "I don't have time for this. What have you two done?" He glared at Rodney and John.

Rodney gaped. What the hell. . .

"What have we done?" John said, his voice very quiet.

"We can't shut the device down," Malcolm said.

Rodney slammed his hands on the table. Malcolm and the other guy jumped.

"I told you not to turn it on. I practically begged you. But would you listen? No."

"Tell us what you did," said the old guy, "and how to undo it and I'll consider not pressing charges."

John shook his head. "We didn't do anything."

"Oh, really? Explain this, then." The old guy nodded to Malcolm, who turned on a computer. On the screen, Rodney and John entered Malcolm's office. Rodney headed for Malcolm's computer while John searched the shelves.

So, security wasn't quite as lax as they'd thought. Rodney shifted in his seat.

"Now look, I can see how -- out of context -- that could seem incriminating."

"'Out of context?'" Malcolm sneered.

"I was looking for a paper I published a little over two years ago -- a paper about a matter bridge."

"Rodney," Malcolm chuckled, "you haven't published a paper in a very long time."

John leaned forward, elbows on the table. "You probably didn't know it was his work."

Malcolm rolled his eyes at Rodney. "Oh, you're publishing under a nom de plume now?"

Rodney glanced at John, who nodded.

"Go ahead," said John. "We're running out of time."

Rodney took a deep breath. "Okay, here's how I think it went down." He met Malcolm's gaze. "You were working with the government. Someone there trusted you, a lot, and let you see something you weren't supposed to see. Or maybe you were sent something by accident."

Malcolm looked away, and Rodney felt the same sense of certainty he got from a perfect equation. He almost felt sorry for Malcolm. Almost.

"You saw a paper about a matter bridge -- a project that was shut down due to the adverse effects of exotic particles. You read it; you realized that if the bridge was used merely as a transfer of energy -- say, heat -- there would be no exotic particle creation and thus no adverse effects. So, you co-opted the science as your own, made a few changes to make yourself feel better and got to work, dismissing the original author's warnings about the inherent instability of time/space bridges." He paused. "How am I doing so far?"

"That's preposterous," the old guy blustered. "Dr. Tunney's been working on this for years."

Rodney ignored him, kept his gaze fixed on Malcolm. He should be used to this -- he'd worked on enough classified projects, been the victim of professional jealousy more than once -- but it still hurt like hell.

"That was my work, Malcolm." He couldn't help it when his voice wobbled a little. "I wrote that paper."

Looking shamefaced, Malcolm had the grace to meet his eyes. He cleared his throat.

"Terence," he said, "these people may be able to help us."

Malcolm and the old guy -- the Kramer of Kramer Innovations, apparently, although they were never formally introduced -- led the way through the heavy steel doors -- and yes, Rodney could've hacked them in a nanosecond -- to a lab filled with computers. John stuck close to his side. Just knowing he was there made Rodney feel better, even though John wasn't going to be any help shutting down the bridge.

Rodney darted from computer to computer, checking the readouts. His heart sank. "This is bad."

"Sabotage?" asked Kramer.

"'Sabotage.' Please!" Rodney shook his head as he crossed the room. The man really was an idiot.

Kramer turned to Malcolm. "You said there was. . ."

"I may have rushed to judgment," said Malcolm.

He sounded embarrassed, as well he should. Rodney checked another computer station and frowned. God, they were so hosed.

"The temperature's dropping rapidly. Can you shut it down, Dr. McKay?" Kramer didn't plead, but there was more than a hint of desperation in his voice.

"I don't know!" Rodney moved to another computer. The readouts on this one were even more depressing. "I'm still trying to figure out what the hell you've done. These matter bridges are the very definition of unpredictable." He turned to Malcolm. "Have you turned up the heat?"


Rodney returned to the first computer, the all-too-eloquent figures flashing by. Dear God, couldn't Malcolm do anything right?

"Have you noticed this?"

Malcolm peered at the screen, took a shaky breath. "Yes!"

Somehow, John appeared beside Rodney. "What is it?"

"The bridge isn't drawing a consistent load from the heat sink. Instead, it's wavering."

"Okay." John tilted his head. "Why is that bad?"

Clearing his throat as if he were going to address a lecture hall full of people, Malcolm stepped close to John. "Well, I wouldn't necessarily call it bad," he said, falling back into his physicist-to-the-stars persona. Rodney gritted his teeth as Malcolm continued with a superior smile. "It's definitely not good but I don't know that I'd go so far as to call it bad. . ."

John narrowed his eyes. "You're kidding me, right?"

Malcolm's smile disappeared.

"Listen." Rodney darted to another computer. "A regular bridge should draw the same amount of energy from the heat sink at all times. This one is fluctuating."

He glanced at John, who was giving him that look, expectant, confident; the look John always gave him before Rodney pulled their asses out of the fire. The one that warmed Rodney despite the freezing temperature.

Now he just had to come up with a way to fix this. Wait a sec. Rodney checked the figures. If he could just. . .

"Maybe we can use that. Wait for it to peak, then overload it and crash the whole system."

Malcolm perked up. "That's a good idea."

"Yeah, I thought you'd like it, what with it being my idea and all." He pulled up a chair and sat, then shivered. Damn, it was cold.

"You're freezing." John leaned over his shoulder, his breath warm on Rodney's cheek. "I'll go get you something hot," he murmured, with just the tiniest hint of eyebrow wiggle. Then he left.

Rodney shivered again, but not from the cold.


There was a catering table at the far end of the room, with urns of hot water and coffee and packets of tea and instant cocoa. Packs of scientists were milling around it, but it wasn't hard to push his way through. John grabbed himself a Styrofoam cup of watery coffee (black) and a cup of Lipton for Rodney (milk and sugar) and headed back across the hall.

"Hey," Bill Nye said, coming up from behind him and touching his arm tentatively.

John didn't bother to smile.

"We were a little hard on McKay earlier," Nye admitted. "You've got to understand, he's a difficult colleague."

"Oh?" John's voice was frosty; hearing himself like this reminded him of how he and Nancy had fought, toward the end. "I've found his work lives up to his ego." And also, he didn't add, I really doubt Rodney considers you a colleague, television guy.

"Yeah. Anyway. Look, I'm sorry," Nye offered.

"Tell that to Rodney," John said. "If you'll excuse me--"

Just then, a burst of some kind of white fire shot through the room, right past where John and Nye were standing. It hit one of the scientists, turning his left side white with what looked like frost. The glass he'd been holding in that hand fell and shattered.

"What the hell was that?" Nye asked, stricken.

But John was already pushing his way through the crowd to reach Rodney.

"A sudden dramatic cooling beam," Rodney said, snapping his fingers. "The irregular power from the bridge."

"So when the bridge makes a sudden demand on the heat sink," Tunney said, starting to follow.

"The heat sink reacts by drawing power from a single localized place inside the containment field," Rodney agreed.

"And that beam would freeze anything in its path. Oh, I did not see this coming," Tunney admitted. He looked chagrined.

"It's freeze lightning," Rodney said. John smirked, "Greased Lightning" already running through his head.

"'Freeze lightning!' I like that!" Tunney sounded way too excited about that, given the circumstances.

"Well, you can't have it. It's mine. It -- it's copywritten," Rodney added.

John resisted the urge to snicker.

The guy who'd been examining the guy who got hit came over to them, shaking his head. "He's in bad shape," he said without preamble. "It's like his whole left side has been flash-frozen. I have never seen anything like this before."

Tunney shook his head sadly. "Oh, man."

Rodney looked uncomfortable. "Look, this isn't entirely your fault. . ."

"I really hope he signed his waiver," Tunney said.

Rodney turned to stare at John; his eyes said, 'can you fucking believe this guy?' John shrugged.

"Do you think this is the first time this has happened?" John asked.

Tunney's face fell. "Or maybe just the first time anyone's been around to notice it."

"What?" Rodney blustered. "So this thing could be wreaking havoc all over the facility?"

"This is going to keep happening," John said grimly.

"Yes, and probably with greater frequency," Tunney agreed.

"Okay, this little side effect? Is going to really hamper our attempts to shut this thing down," Rodney said, his mouth tight with restrained fury.

"And by 'hamper,'" John added, "you mean 'get us all killed.'"

"Yeah. Something like that," Rodney agreed.

Well, it wasn't like this was the first time they'd been in an unbelievably bad situation. Weird as it was, John found a kind of comfort in that. Rodney would figure out a way out of this. He always did.

"We need to call in the military," Rodney insisted. They were standing with Tunney and Kramer in the computer room, lights blinking and screens showing readouts John wished like hell he understood.

"I prefer not to do that just yet," Kramer said.

Did he not understand how serious this was? "You're lucky that guy out there isn't dead," John snapped.

"Oh, I'm sure these two can get the device back into its proper operating mode." Kramer's obsequiousness was making John's teeth hurt.

"It's a little late for that," Rodney burst out.

Even Tunney seemed to get it. "Terence, things have gotten out of hand. We need to make that call."

But Kramer was shaking his head. "You make that call and the government shuts us down."

"Yeah," Rodney said, "That's the idea!"

"Absolutely not," Kramer said. "No military. Find another way."

John took a deep breath and looked a question at Rodney. Rodney gave a little shrug and nodded.

"What," Tunney said, eyes narrowing.

"Here's the thing," John said. "The military's already here."

The look of astonished horror on Kramer and Tunney's faces was almost worth this whole ridiculous situation.

"Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard," John said, offering his hand to Kramer, who didn't take it.

"I thought I was clear--" Tunney blustered.

"You've got a lot of nerve," John said quietly, and Tunney shut up. "Now. This is a bad situation and it's going to get worse. What kind of security forces do you have in this place?"

"About a dozen security guards," Kramer said.

"What? That's it?" Rodney sounded outraged.

"We didn't exactly expect this situation," Tunney said haughtily.

"No, you didn't, did you," Rodney bit back.

"Get all your security guys together," John said. "I want to set up a patrol system, and we need to figure out what kind of damage the freeze lightning may already have done."

Tight-lipped, Kramer nodded and walked out.

"And I'm going to call Landry," John said. Rodney nodded. "Where's the nearest phone?"

"Right through here," Tunney said, and they followed him into the small office adjacent to the computer room.

John was mentally composing his report to Landry in his head when he lifted the receiver. The first priority was to get all of these people out of here safely; beyond that, it wouldn't hurt to get a few more SGC scientists in here--

But there was no dial tone.

"Shit," John said, replacing the phone on its cradle.

Rodney looked over at him, wide-eyed. "Oh, now what," he said, his voice dripping with despair.

John gave him a tight smile. "Our day just got worse."


"Can we use a cell phone?" John asked, looking as glum as Rodney felt.

Rodney shook his head. "The containment field's too strong. The signal will never get through."

"So we need the landline. Maybe it's an internal problem we can bypass." John didn't sound hopeful.

"Yeah. Maybe," said Rodney. And maybe pigs will fly. But they'd have to check it out, just in case.

A subdued Kramer poked his head into the office. "My security staff will assemble here in five," he said.

"Good," John nodded. "In the meantime, can you show me the phone switch box?"

They disappeared down the corridor. Rodney looked around. Malcolm wasn't in the computer room, and one of his assistants waved toward the lobby when asked about his whereabouts. He hurried down the corridor and reached the lobby door in time to hear Malcolm speaking to the other guests.

"The result is what I'm calling "freeze lighting.'"

"Unbelievable," muttered Rodney. Could his life get any more unfair?

Meanwhile, Malcolm sounded like a high school science teacher -- one of the boring ones. "It's the sudden and immediate transfer feed from a localized area and it's potentially very lethal."

Time to cut through the bullshit. Rodney stepped into the lobby. "Look, we're going to try to collapse the matter bridge by allowing it to peak and then overwhelming it, otherwise it's going to get unbearably cold in here."

"Why don't we just turn this containment field off and get out of here?" asked one of the scientists. As if they hadn't already thought of that and tried it. Rodney was glad he didn't know her.

"Well, for one thing," said Malcolm, "it's tied into the basic function of the matter bridge, so we can't just shut it off."

"Even if we could," Rodney added, "it houses so much cool air now that it would create a sudden massive cold front as soon as it drops. I mean, we're talking high-speed winds, tornadoes. . . an instant mega-storm."

"Not to mention the fact," Malcolm jumped in, "that the heat sink would start to draw heat not just from this facility but from the entire planet. We can't allow that to happen."

That idiot Nye raised his hand. "Why don't we just destroy it, just bash it apart?"

Dear God, children were learning science from this moron. Rodney crossed his arms over his chest and cocked an eyebrow. "Because that could create a tear in our space time?"

Nye winced. "Never mind, then."

"Yeah," said Rodney. "Anyone else have any brilliant ideas?"

The silence was deafening.

Rodney sighed and turned to Malcolm. "There's nothing I can do here. I'm going back to the lab."

A loud crack -- everyone jumped, then ducked as a bolt of freeze lightning crossed the far side of the lobby.

Rodney frowned at the photo of Malcolm -- the thermometer had dipped below 40 degrees -- and headed back to the lab, Malcolm following at his heels.

They passed a couple of uniformed security guards on their way to the lab. Rodney was relieved to see John standing outside the door, talking to Kramer and a security guy whose uniform had extra patches -- probably the chief.

"Did you get through to Landry?" he called.

John shook his head. "The switches are frozen," he reported when they reached him. "The line goes directly outside from the box, so there's no way to tap into it."

"Damn." Rodney rubbed the bridge of his nose. He was getting a headache.

"It's my fault," said Kramer, grimacing. "I should have--"

"Yes," Rodney snapped. "You should have."

"Rodney," Malcolm called from the other side of the room, "you need to see this."

What now? Rodney thought about ignoring Malcolm, but. . . Oh, hell, why not? He leaned over Malcolm's shoulder, absorbed the data in one glance.

"The cold temperatures are affecting the containment field emitters. They're weak and on the verge of failing."

"Failing?" John moved to Rodney's side, his warmth almost searing in contrast to the frigid air. "Can we evacuate?"

"Unfortunately, no." Rodney hitched his shoulder a little closer to John. Just for the warmth, he told himself. "We're surrounded by desert air. The temperatures inside the containment field have become very, very cold. Introducing a sudden and immediate blast of icy air is going to create one hell of a vortex. There's no way troops could make it through, let alone get civilians out safely."

"We can ride out the storm," said Kramer, looking around at the room.

Rodney shook his head. The room was windowless and from what he'd seen, the installation was built like a bunker, but it wouldn't be enough.

"No," said Malcolm. "If we can't shut down the device, the heat sink's going to keep feeding cold air into that weather system. It'll. . . it'll never stop."

John squeezed his eyes shut. "Shit."

"Yeah," agreed Malcolm.

But the containment fields. . . That meant. . . Rodney held up a finger.

"No, no, this might be a good thing."

John's eyes met his, a spark of hope in their hazel depths. "Explain, McKay."

"The containment field is dying a slow but consistent death. It might be weak enough to punch a cell phone signal through now."

"Oh." Malcolm glanced at the readout again. "You know, you might be right."

"'Course he's right," John murmured so low Rodney was sure he was the only one who heard.

Malcolm picked up a tablet, pulled up a schematic. "This is probably our best bet." He pointed to a spot in the building. "These two emitters are the weakest. It's a bit of a run from here, so I'd better get going."

With a shake of his head, John held out his hand. "Hang on. You need to help Rodney dismantle the bridge. I'll go."

Malcolm hesitated. "Fine." He handed over the tablet, then reached into his jacket pocket and held out the phone.

John slipped the phone into his trouser pocket as he studied the schematic. After a moment, he nodded and picked up a radio from a shelf.

"I'll radio once I get through."

Rodney took a deep breath. He had a bad feeling about this. "Good luck."

John flashed a grin. "You, too."

After John left, Rodney turned back to the consoles. "All right. Where were we?"


Rodney whirled. Nye stood in the doorway, a pad of paper in his hand.

"Back in the. . ." Nye waved toward the lobby. "We've all been working on figuring out how to disable the bridge, and we've come to the conclusion that your idea of overwhelming the bridge until it collapses is a good one," Nye said. "It's right on track."

Nothing like hearing from the peanut gallery. Rodney glared at Nye. "Tell me something I don't know."

"But everybody thinks it means we've got to dial up the heat sink. It's going to get even colder."

Malcolm frowned. "And that could result in an unpredictable amount of freeze lightning."

"Which," Rodney agreed, his heart sinking, "could kill us all."

"Right." Malcolm's shoulders slumped and Nye nodded.

Kramer turned away from a guy dressed in greasy overalls. "The furnace just went down." He sounded apologetic.

"What?" Rodney snapped. "How did that happen?"

"We've been running at a hundred and twenty per cent for the last hour to compensate for falling temperatures," Kramer said. "We're in the middle of a desert -- the facility's not meant to be heated like this."

Rodney scrubbed his hands through his hair. This was becoming absurd. Weren't they due for some good luck soon?

"Well, we're going to get below freezing pretty damned quick now!"

"All right," Malcolm said, his voice flat, defeated. "We can't power down because it generates its own power. . ."

"And we can't wait for the containment field to collapse," chimed in Nye, "because the storm'll probably kill us."

Everyone was silent for a moment.

Rodney narrowed his eyes. He'd been in worse positions before and still managed to save the day. He wasn't going to let Malcolm bloody Tunney kill John or him or anyone else. Time for him to prove that he was the most intelligent man in two galaxies.

"All right," he said, "we don't have a choice, okay? We've got to wait for the bridge to peak, dial up the heat sink, see if we can overwhelm it." A soft murmur traveled around the room. Rodney shrugged. "I know it's dangerous but that's all we've got."


"Colonel, things are getting--shhhhkkkh," the radio in John's hand said.

"Repeat that, over," John said, but there was no answer. "I missed the end of that last transmission; repeat, over?"

Still nothing. John swore and kept walking, checking for phone signal on the BlackBerry he had borrowed from Tunney. One measly bar: not enough to get a call through. Being in a concrete bunker had some serious disadvantages.

His watch beeped the hour and he stopped walking. "This is Colonel Sheppard," he said into the radio. "What's your status, unit one?"

"Everything seems okay here," the tinny voice replied. Unit one was patrolling the northern end of the complex: mostly classrooms and labs.

"Unit two, report," John said.

There was nothing but static.

"Unit two," he repeated. "Report?" Nothing. He sighed. "Unit three?"

Between the fuzz of static he could make out "cranky" and "cold" and something else that might have been "scientists." Unit three was in the main lobby where the physicists had gathered; John couldn't resist the smile. "Tell McKay I'm almost at the end of the hall; there should be a cellphone signal somewhere out here. Over."

"Copy that," unit three replied, and John started walking again, holding the BlackBerry in front of him and staring at its screen as if he could will it to change.

At last the bars flickered and grew. "Finally," John muttered, dialing.

The phone rang in his ear. And rang.

"General Landry's office," Harriman said crisply.

Relief washed through John.

"This is Colonel John Sheppard; I need to speak to the General immediately. It's an emergency."

A burst of static made John wince.

"Hello?" Harriman said.

John's heart sank. "Harriman," he pleaded. "I'm at Kramer Innovations with McKay; an experiment's gone wrong. We need to evacuate a bunch of civilians stat."

"Is someone there?" Harriman said. "Hello?"

And then the line went dead.

John jogged halfway back down the corridor he'd been walking; now the BlackBerry didn't get any reception at all, but the radio ought to work. He hoped. "Sheppard here; McKay, do you read?"

"Colonel," Rodney said. "Did you reach--"

"The call didn't go through," John said, scrubbing a hand through his hair.

"Oh," Rodney said quietly.


There was a pause; John just leaned against the wall holding on to the radio.

"Listen, we're going to try something -- it's a long shot, but it just might work. The bad news is, things may get worse before they get better."

"Isn't that always the way," John muttered.

"There may be more freeze lightning than before, so -- be careful." The note of concern in Rodney's voice warmed John.

"I'm always careful, McKay," John drawled, just to hear Rodney's snort. Rodney didn't disappoint.

"I mean it," Rodney said, and John could hear him smiling. "Okay, McKay out."

Just then the bolt of freeze lightning whizzed past him. John ducked and it missed him, hitting a pipe running along the top of the corridor.

"Crap," John said, as water started to spray.

He turned to go back through the door, but it had blown shut and was already encrusted with a thick mess of ice.

Shivering was a waste of energy. Too bad knowing that intellectually didn't mean he could stop his body from doing it.

An ominous rumbling from outside made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. High winds, maybe a tornado. Things were getting worse, all right.

"Sheppard to McKay," John said.

"McKay here."

"There's a little bit of a. . . situation," John admitted.

"Please tell me you got through to the SGC."

"Not exactly."

"Well, keep trying!" Rodney sounded exasperated.

"Can't," John said. "My hallway got hit by freeze lightning. I'm frozen in and there's a pipe busted open."

"Fuck," Rodney said fervently. "Are you--"

"I'm fine," John lied. "Just didn't want you to worry if I didn't report back on time; it could take me a little while to get out of this one."

"Is that water I hear?" Rodney asked.

John grimaced. "Yeah. Look -- keep doing what you're doing. Don't worry about me."

"John--" Rodney's voice cracked.

"Sheppard out," John said. Once the connection was broken, he started to shiver for real.

The first thing he tried was chipping the ice off of the door so he could pry it open. But he didn't have anything sharp to work with, and there was nothing in the hallway he could use. After a minute or two his hands were aching with the cold and the ice hadn't budged.

If he could tie off the pipe somehow and slow the flow of water. . . John whipped off his jacket and unbuttoned his suspenders. He tossed the jacket up over the pipe and threw one end of the suspenders over the top, trying to pull it secure to hold the jacket in place. Maybe the cloth would freeze and dam the iceflow.

Though if it got cold enough in here to freeze a steady stream of water. . . okay, John wasn't going to think about the implications of that. Rescue would come soon. He was just trying to stave off hypothermia until security came.

But a small eternity of fussing with the suspenders left John drenched with icy water and no closer to a solution. He rubbed his arms briskly, trying to restore circulation. Did a bunch of cold, soggy jumping jacks. Getting his heart rate up would help; he remembered that from survival training in Antarctica a lifetime ago.

And so would blood sugar. Fuck: he should have thought of that from the start. He wasn't thinking clearly. With shaking fingers John fished the Powerbar out of his pocket and managed to tear the wrapper open with his teeth, cramming the whole thing into his mouth and eating it as fast as he could swallow. He'd tucked the Powerbar into his pocket early that morning, just in case they were forced to listen to too many speeches without sufficient hors d'oeuvres on hand. Thank God for Rodney's hypoglycemia.

John was dimly aware that he wasn't shivering anymore, which was not a good sign. The water was a few inches deep on the floor and he couldn't feel his feet. At least freezing to death was a calm way to go. It beat getting the life sucked out of you by a Wraith. . .

He pushed that train of thought out of his mind; he was not going to go down quietly. John glanced around the corridor again, looking for something -- anything -- that would get him out. The ceiling tiles caught his eye: could he make his way past the frozen door to safety if he were above the ceiling? It was worth a try. It was probably the only shot he was going to get.

There was a pipe in the corner. John grabbed it to test its strength, then started inching his body up, painstakingly. His cold fingers burned when they touched the even colder metal.

He was almost within reach of the ceiling tiles when his hand brushed a metal strut. He was dimly aware of a burst of sparks and of the sensation of falling. He never felt himself hit the floor.


Rodney set down the radio, gaze fixed on the small unit -- the only way he could contact John. John was cut off in that remote corridor, and he'd heard the sound of water spraying. "Don't worry about me," John had said, as if he'd be fine in a freezing corridor rapidly filling with water. Pure Sheppard, pretending he didn't have a deathwish. Rodney's heart clenched.

Rodney sighed and turned back to the keyboard. He'd fix Malcolm's problem and then contact John again. In the meantime, surely John would find a way out of there. He always did. Rodney had gotten good at believing that.

"'Freeze lightning,'" said Nye, leaning over Rodney's shoulder. "You know, that's a bad name."

"Well, don't look at me." Rodney jerked his head toward Malcolm. "It was his idea."

"What?" Malcolm spluttered. "Hey, I. . ."

Ignoring Malcolm, Rodney finished his program modifications. "Okay, here we go," he said.

Several screams -- male and female -- came from the lobby, followed by a loud bang. Nye threw himself on the floor as a bolt of freeze lightning crossed the room, leaving large plates of ice on each wall.

"All right," shouted Malcolm, ducking under a console, "shut it off!"

"I can't," Rodney yelled over his shoulder. "It hasn't collapsed the bridge yet."

"It's not working!" Malcolm insisted.

Rodney shook his head. "We just need a little more time."

With a crack, another bolt of lightning crossed the room and everyone ducked, cursing. The door on the far side was instantly covered with a sheet of ice.

Malcolm peered over the console. "The lightning strikes are freezing up whole sections of the facility. Everyone's getting isolated."

"Look, it doesn't matter." Rodney checked the readouts. "They'll melt eventually. We can shut this thing down."

"You're going to kill us all!" shrieked Nye from under a table.

"Look, I just need to keep doing what I'm. . ." Rodney blinked. The numbers on the primary thermal output monitor began to drop. He looked around: Malcolm finished typing into another console. "What did you do?"

Malcolm stuck out his chin. "I turned it down."

"What?" Rodney stared at Malcolm. He couldn't be serious. "Why?"

"It was too dangerous." Malcolm folded his arms across his chest.

"But we were almost there," Rodney said. He really couldn't believe this was happening, except that he could, with someone as idiotic as Malcolm. "It was peaking out. It was going to work!"

"Yeah, and we'd all be dead." Malcolm's voice was flat. "Look, we just have to come up with something else."

"It better be something fast," Rodney said, "because the containment field's about to fail!" He glared at Malcolm. Rodney had yet to save the day, and he hadn't heard from John. If he was still in that cold, wet corridor. . .

"Malcolm! Radio Security and make sure someone's on the way to help Sheppard."

Thankfully, Malcolm just nodded and picked up a radio.

"McKay!" called Nye from one of the computer consoles.

"What is it?"

"Containment failure in three, two, one. . ."

Even inside the heavy, reinforced concrete walls, they could hear the wind howling.

"Winds awaft," said Nye, his voice wavering. "Reaching dangerous levels."

"If it continues like this," said Malcolm, "we're going to have a mess of tornadoes on our hands."

"Great." Rodney threw up his hands. "Even less time before we die."

The sound of the wind grew, along with the shriek of metal -- a sign or siding from the building, perhaps. Rodney scanned the readouts, mind sorting through possibilities. . .

Of course.

"We've been approaching this the wrong way. We've been trying to force so much power through the bridge that it overloads it. Instead, we should be trying to starve it: suck so much power from its generator that it stalls out."

"Well, technically we could do that," said Malcolm, over-enunciating every word, as if Rodney was a moronic child, "but you'd have to draw an insane amount of power. The heat sink could never do that."

"No," Rodney agreed, "but another bridge could."

"You want to open another bridge?" Malcolm's voice soared like that of a lyric soprano.

"The device was rigged to power a single bridge." Rodney could see how it would work -- this was the solution. Absolutely without doubt. He nodded. "We open another one. . ."

". . .and it overwhelms the system and it fails," finished Malcolm, practically bouncing in his seat.

"It'll work!" Rodney turned to the keyboard.

Malcolm followed him. "Yeah, but do you have any idea how difficult it's going to be to configure the system to open two concurrent bridges?"

Rodney snorted. "I never said it was going to be easy."

"It's impossible." Malcolm shook his head.

"Hey, I'm Doctor Rodney McKay, all right? Difficult takes a few seconds; impossible a few minutes." He grinned and looked around the room. Where was--

The roaring of the wind increased, followed by a series of crashes, as if large, metal objects were being tossed around outside.

Shit. Rodney dropped onto a seat in front of a console and snapped his fingers at Nye.

"Feed me those figures." He ignored Nye's muttered complaints. With the ease of long practice, Rodney blocked out the howls of the wind and the voice of anyone who wasn't giving him essential data as he carefully pieced together the second bridge. It took shape under his hands, strengthening with every passing second.

"Tunney!" he called. "What's the status of the original bridge?"

"It's fluctuating. Power drain is reaching critical levels!"

"Okay, okay, just a little more. . ."

With a crash that threatened to rupture his eardrums, the containment field buckled, the bridge generator collapsed, sweeping away both bridges. Rodney leaned back and took a shaky breath. That was too damned close.

"It worked!" yelled Nye, grabbing one of the assistants -- the pretty one -- and hugging her. Malcolm whooped.

The roar of the wind diminished. Still too dangerous to go outside, but it wouldn't be long before the temperature stabilized, and they could leave this damned place and never look back.

Rodney looked around the room full of cheering people and his mouth went dry.

Where was John?

He turned to Malcolm. "Where's Sheppard? I thought you sent Security."

Malcolm's gaze slid away. "They can't get to him."

"What? Why not?"

"That last round of freeze lightning sealed off more corridors. Security's trying to get through, but until the ice melts, he's cut off."

Rodney grabbed the radio. "Sheppard, come in." He waited, heart thudding in his chest. "Sheppard!"

Oh, God, when John didn't respond? So very not good. Fighting a rising tide of panic, Rodney grabbed the tablet with the facility schematic and studied it.

"It's a straight shot from here. Damn it, security should have come this way, through the lab!"

"They're cut off from us, too," said Malcolm.

"Right." Rodney headed for the door. Once again, it was up to him.

Rodney tore down the hallway. How the hell was he going to get through the frozen-shut door? After a few turns, he passed an emergency equipment cabinet and stumbled to a halt. He ran back and jerked open the cabinet door, sending up a silent prayer of thanks for the fire ax inside. Pulling it free, he hefted it in his hand before dashing down the corridor. Now he just had to hope that the door wasn't a steel-core security door.

"Thank God," he gasped when he reached the frozen door -- a plain, wooden, hollow core variety that Ronon probably could have crashed through without a thought. Water poured over the threshold.

"John!" he called, sloshing as he moved into position. Jesus! His feet grew numb almost immediately, and John had been in the water for over twenty minutes. "John, I'm coming! Hang in there!" Rodney lifted the ax and brought it down with strength borne of desperation. After three blows, he peered through the ragged hole he'd made. His heart sank. Lying in a pool of frigid water, John sprawled on the floor, unmoving.


He didn't even twitch. Rodney tightened his grip and swung the ax again and again. The building shook and the lights flickered, but Rodney never paused. He had to get to John.

As soon as the hole in the door looked big enough, he tossed the ax aside and shoved his way through the splintered boards.

"Oh, Christ!" Rodney grabbed John's sodden shoulders, tugged him toward the door.

With a lot of cursing and grunting, he finally pulled John out of the water-logged hall and down the cold, but thankfully dry corridor. He knelt down, his hands cupping John's face, his fingers searching for a pulse. He gulped, blinking hard, his eyes burning.


Handing shaking, he ran them down John's chest, over his heart. John didn't move.

"Please don't be dead," he whispered.

Folding his hands over John's still chest, Rodney pumped, once, twice. Three times. Four.

"Don't you dare die on me, John Sheppard. Don't you fucking dare," he gasped, speaking in time with his compressions. John lay still, only moving because Rodney made him move, forced him not to leave Rodney alone in that cold hallway. . .

Finally, after at least ten lifetimes, John's chest rose and he sucked in a lungful of air, exhaled hard, coughing.

Rodney sat back on his heels, shaking, as John rolled onto his side, his coughs subsiding into a groan.

"Oh, thank God." Rodney grabbed John's biceps and pulled him into a sitting position. Wrapping an arm around his shoulders, Rodney settled John against him, his free hand chafing John's freezing fingers.

"Rodney." John shivered and leaned back, his head drooping. "Thanks for the rescue."

"No problem." Rodney's arm tightened around John's shoulders.

John closed his eyes, his face drawn and as pale as a Wraith. Help was on the way, but in the meantime, Rodney needed to make sure John stayed awake and alert.

"Hey." What could he say that would keep John's attention? "I used an ax -- a big ax! I really wish you'd been conscious, because I think it's the coolest thing I've ever done in my. . ."

"An ax?" Eyelids fluttering open, John chuckled and turned his head. "Cool." He lifted his hand and nudged Rodney's face to his, their lips meeting in a brief, soft kiss.

Heart pounding wildly, Rodney closed his eyes and made sure their next kiss was anything but brief and soft. When they parted, he leaned his head against John's.

"You moron, Sheppard. You had me worried."

John sighed and leaned more heavily against Rodney. "Love you, too, McKay."

Rodney gaped. He'd never. . . Had John actually said what he thought he'd said? Before he could ask John to repeat his words, John was suddenly shaken by a galvanic shiver.

"Okay." Rodney gave John a squeeze. "Before you catch pneumonia, how about we get you warm and dry?"

Rodney wrapped the heavy blanket closer around his shoulders and stared out the jet's window at the expanse of desert below. He was exhausted; it had been a hell of a day. The hum of the engines would normally have proved soporific, but John's earlier, unexpected words echoed, and Rodney couldn't relax until he'd asked. . . until he'd checked. . .

"Well," across the table, wrapped in a matching blanket, John leaned back in his seat and grinned, "at least your friends don't think you're a washout anymore."

Rodney grinned. "Yeah. Malcolm publicly admitted that I'm smarter than he is."

John grinned. "Tell me something I don't know."

"And both Nye and Tyson want me to guest star on their shows -- they even got into a fight about who would co-publish with me. . ." Rodney sat forward, the blanket falling from his shoulders, and sighed happily. "More of a bitch-slap, really. Tyson screamed like a girl."

"I wouldn't let Teyla hear you say that." John's tone was as dry as dust.

"Not in a thousand years," Rodney replied fervently.

"So." John hesitated. "You going to take them up on it?"

"On what?"

"You know. The shows. Publishing papers." John squinted, as if blinded by glare. "Staying on Earth."

Rodney blinked. Stay on Earth? What was John talking about? Why would Rodney give up his job and return to Earth? Unless that was some sort of Sheppard-shorthand for 'I think you should leave Atlantis.' He glanced at John, recognizing the tension John was trying to hide under that boneless sprawl.

Did John think he'd leave Atlantis, leave the team, leave John, just so he could be recognized on the street by a bunch of smart-ass kids and ivory-tower academics?

Of all the. . . Okay, maybe the man Rodney had been five years ago would have made that choice, but now? Did John really think he was a superficial publicity-hound? Hurt and anger warred, and as usual, anger won.

"Are you sure you didn't get a concussion?" Rodney snapped. "Maybe you should have stayed in hospital overnight for observation. Because I can't think of any other reason why you'd suggest that I leave a job where I'm vitally needed, where I regularly save your skinny ass along with everybody else's, just so I can enjoy my fifteen minutes of fame--"

"Rodney." John's gaze flickered away. "That's not what I meant."

Rodney's anger stopped as suddenly as if it had slammed into a brick wall. "It's not?"


"Oh." He fingered the edge of his blanket.

"I just thought there might be something tempting about sticking around."

"There isn't," Rodney said firmly.

John cleared his throat. "I knew you'd figure out a way to save us."

"You did?"

John nodded, his expression solemn. "You always do."

Heat flared in Rodney's cheeks, flowed down his neck and lodged in the center of his chest. He didn't need to ask John to repeat what he'd said in that icy hallway. Not anymore.

A smile broke across John's face. "So, we've got two hours before we land." His gaze traveled over Rodney, lingering on Rodney's mouth.

"Do we?" Rodney mirrored his smile, licked his lips. Surely John didn't mean. . .

"You just going to sit there?" John's lower lip jutted out in a pout.

Tossing his blanket on the floor, Rodney stumbled around the table and sat beside John. John's smile broadened, and he dragged a finger across Rodney's cheek before leaning close.

"Can't wait to see what you've got lined up for our second date," he murmured, and then they were kissing.

Rodney held on for dear life. Maybe this wasn't such a bad first date after all.


John felt pleasantly warm and tingly all the way through the cab ride to Rodney's apartment building. They didn't touch in the taxi, but they didn't need to; just sitting next to each other in the back seat felt like foreplay.

"I asked the post office to hold everything, so there shouldn't be any mail." Rodney fumbled for his keys; the babbling was pretty endearing. "Last time I almost broke my neck when I stepped inside. Mail all over the floor. It wasn't pretty."

He got the door to open and John followed him inside. The place smelled faintly like Pine-Sol, and John felt a wash of affection at the sight of Rodney's things. Leather couch, overstuffed bookshelves, pile of battered paperbacks on the coffee table.

"Are you hungry? Do you want a hot shower? Is there anything I can--"

John stepped closer, right into his space, and Rodney squared his shoulders and fell silent, looking at him with tenderness and wonder. "All I want is this," John said, his voice low, and Rodney kissed him again.

He couldn't get enough of Rodney's body. All his plans of revealing it bit by bit -- dedicating long minutes to Rodney's neck, slowly unbuttoning the dress shirt and letting it hang open for a while -- went right out the window the second Rodney unfastened his own tie. Clothes went everywhere.

"Jesus, John, slow down," Rodney managed, laughing as John pushed him flat on his back on his still-made bed. He wasn't completely naked yet, but it was close enough.

"Can't," John said, and bent to press his lips against Rodney's jaw, his ear, his neck. Rodney's laughter turned to a gasp.

So much skin to explore. He went for Rodney's nipples next, tiny hard points he couldn't resist licking, then biting. Rodney jerked beneath him.

And then John reached for Rodney's dick, molding his hand to Rodney's shape through the soft cotton of his black boxer briefs. Rodney hissed in a breath and thrust up into John's hand. John's own dick throbbed in sympathy.

Sliding the cloth back and forth across Rodney's skin produced excellent results. Rodney gasped and arched to meet him, and the next time John looked up he saw high spots of color on Rodney's cheeks. John grinned and tugged at his waistband. Rodney obligingly lifted his hips and John pulled the soft cotton down just far enough to expose his cock and balls. John's mouth watered; he had to taste.

Rodney's sex noises were the hottest thing John had ever heard. When he pulled back to brush his lips over the head Rodney whimpered; when he slid back down Rodney groaned.

"John," Rodney managed. "You don't -- it's been -- fuck," he swore as John tried to take him deeper, coughing a little. Okay, so deep-throating was out. It had been a while. He settled for wrapping his fist around the base of Rodney's dick and swirling his tongue around the head, which made Rodney stutter up to meet him. "God. I'm not--"

And then John had the genius idea of using his other hand to cup Rodney's balls, rubbing the length of the vein, and that was the end of that.

John flopped on the bed beside Rodney, grinning stupidly at the ceiling. God: he'd forgotten how much fun that was. And now his own erection was aching, which felt great, because he was lying next to a blissed-out and sated Rodney McKay who John knew from experience was very, very good with his hands.

But Rodney pushed himself to sitting and kicked his boxers the rest of the way off, and then leaned over John to rummage in the bedside drawer, which was not what John was expecting.

"Ha! Still here," he said triumphantly, brandishing a little bottle.

"How old is that stuff?" John asked, mostly just to get a rise out of Rodney (because it wasn't like lube went bad), but Rodney wisely ignored the question. He lay down beside John, who had closed his eyes in anticipation; a handjob with lube was never a bad idea. And oh, Rodney's strong square fingers. . .

But he felt the bed shifting, felt Rodney moving, and when he opened his eyes Rodney had one knee up and had arched his back to reach around behind himself. His face was flushed and his arm was moving and oh, Jesus.

"Give me that," John rasped, and Rodney handed him the lube, wiping his other hand on the bedspread.

"I hope that's a yes," Rodney said, raising his chin in a gesture John had learned to interpret as the bluster that hid something Rodney really wanted.

"You have no idea." John sat up and poured some of the slick into his own hand, gasping as the cold touched his cock. "How do you want--"

Rodney climbed onto hands and knees, and John lined himself up. "No idea what?" Rodney asked.

"No idea how good you look like this," John managed as he slid home. "Oh, fuck." Slow, he told himself desperately, take it slow.

"Yeah?" Rodney's voice was shaky but he wasn't pulling away; John took a deep breath and started to move. "You think I look good?"

"Now you're just -- fishing," John gasped, and oh, God, Rodney whimpered and pushed back against him and he was seriously going to combust.

If sex had been this good before he never would have given it up. Rodney arched beneath him, grinding back against him, and John tensed, trying desperately not to come.

"Oh," Rodney gasped, and clenched around John. "I didn't think I could--"

It was too much; it wasn't enough; John came so hard he wasn't sure he would ever stop.


"Good night, Dr. McKay!"

"Night." Gaze fixed on his tablet, Rodney flapped a hand at. . . whatever his name was, and continued down the corridor toward his quarters. The Daedalus hummed softly around him. The engineering team wasn't completely composed of idiots, but that didn't mean that a little McKay expertise wouldn't come amiss here and there.

And with John -- fuck, remember to call him Colonel Sheppard -- involved with briefings and meetings all day and half the night, Rodney needed to keep his mind occupied until they returned to Atlantis.

He sighed. He was used to dealing with the demands of his mind, but what the hell was he supposed to do after five days with John, succumbing to the demands of his body? Starving, that's what it felt like. His body was starving for touch -- John's touch -- and as far as Rodney could see, there was nothing but famine ahead of him.

Once they were back in Atlantis, they might be able to meet up occasionally, but here on the Daedalus. . .

He sighed again, and opened the door to his quarters.

And almost dropped the tablet.

"Hey, McKay." John was sitting -- lounging -- on the desk chair, his feet propped up, reading a. . . Was that the most recent Batman comic? "Wondered when you'd drop by."

"Drop by?" He closed the door and set down his tablet, rattled and irritated. He wanted. . . He wanted, that was the problem. "This is my room, Colonel."

The light left John's expression. He swung his feet off the desk and stood.


He tried to brush past Rodney, but oh, God, the feel of him, his nearness--

Rodney grabbed John's shoulder, pushed him against the wall, crowded close.

"What the--" John began, but Rodney leaned forward, let John take his weight.

"Shut up," he murmured into John's neck, wrapping his arms around John's shoulders, letting John's warmth and scent soak into his bones. "Shut up." This was what he wanted, what he'd missed.

"Ooookay." John's hands slid up his back, then down, soothing.

Soothing was not what Rodney had in mind.

He pulled away, just a little, his hands scrabbling at John's shirtfront, fingers fumbling. Open, open.

John chuckled. "Take it easy, Rodney. We've got all night."

All night? He raised his gaze to John's face, saw the truth in his eyes, in the soft smile curving his lips.

"My quarters are right next door, and there's no one else on this hallway; we're. . . safe."

Rodney inhaled, fought the frantic rhythm of his pounding heart. Calmed enough to speak.

"Why didn't you say so?"

Before John could answer, he slipped his hands over John's shoulders and leaned forward, pressing his lips to John's. With a sigh, John responded, teasing his lips and tongue until Rodney's calm had evaporated like water in the sun.

He broke away, hustled John toward the bunk. Didn't even mind John's bark of laughter as they both kicked off boots, peeled out of shirts and trousers and underwear, finally standing naked beside the bed.

Eyeing John's erection, Rodney swayed, dizzy with possibilities. Hands, skin, mouth, ass. . .

Expression intent, John caught him, tugged him onto the bed. He seemed to have something in mind, which was a damned good thing because Rodney's brain whirled, he couldn't decide. . .

He landed on his back with a grunt, John's weight pinning him to the mattress. Oh, yes. He closed his eyes. Whatever John had in mind, yes.

John mouthed his jaw, kissed his throat, then slid down Rodney's body, the prickle of his chest hair making Rodney shiver. A wet tongue dipped into his navel and Rodney shouted. Then John licked the crown of Rodney's dick.

Rodney almost levitated off the bed.

He reached for John, who eluded him and moved farther down the bed. Frustrated, Rodney stretched out his hands and blinked when John kissed Rodney's fingers and planted a hand in his chest, pushing him flat.

"Give me a sec," John said, breathless, then he scrambled up Rodney's legs, straddling his hips.

"Oh, God," Rodney groaned, as John grabbed Rodney's dick and sat back, slowly -- Rodney was going to go mad with the slowness -- so slowly opening up around Rodney, engulfing him, surrounding him with heat. . .

With an effort, Rodney focused on John's tight face, John's expression remote as he settled heavily on Rodney's hips. Rodney didn't move, waited for John to relax around him. When John took a shuddering breath, when he didn't appear as brittle as cold iron, Rodney palmed John's knees, let his hands wander over John's damp thighs and chest for a few moments before clasping John's dick.

Rodney wasn't going to last long; he would make damned sure John didn't get left behind.

Rising a scant couple of inches, John sank back, his eyelids fluttering as Rodney thrust up to meet him at the same time as he stroked John's dick.

"Fuck," John breathed.

Rodney didn't have the energy to reply. He thrust and stroked and bit his lip to hold himself back until John's head tilted back and he groaned, coming over Rodney's chest. With an echoing groan Rodney tensed and then climaxed, his hips stuttering as he filled John.

John sagged forward, grunting as he pulled free. Rodney smiled as he held John tightly against his chest, shifting and prodding John until they lay comfortably stretched out against each other. He kissed John's temple, stroked his back as John relaxed into sleep.

Rodney smiled. They'd saved the universe; they would figure out how to do this.

Rodney watched Jennifer and Ronon in the lunch line. Whatever he was saying made her blush and duck her head, laughing. They looked. . . happy. Handing Torren to Kanaan, Teyla waved to them and they approached the table. Rodney scooted his chair and tray over to make room for them both.

"Hey," Jennifer said, setting down her tray on Rodney's left. "How was the lecture?"

Rodney opened his mouth, but John got in ahead of him.

"Oh, you know, pretty dry stuff." He nudged Rodney.

"Yeah," Rodney agreed, pressing his foot against John's. "Dry as dust."

"And did you enjoy your camping trip?" asked Teyla, her smile encompassing both Ronon and Jennifer.

"Yeah." Ronon's eyes sparkled as Jennifer blushed and nodded.

John leaned back. "Great."

Under the table, his hand rested on Rodney's thigh.

Rodney beamed. He wouldn't trade this for all the academic papers and television shows in the universe.

Any universe.


The End