Thank you to everyone who has left review or faves on other stories in this series. It means a lot that you all are enjoying these stories so much.

Special thanks to Lyn for beta reading!

This story takes place immediately following events in The Defiant One.

UPDATE: August 17, 2023 This is the latest story to receive an upgrade, and this one needed it. This was the only story I wrote to a deadline, and there was a lot (A LOT) of passive exposition and handwaving to get it ready in time. All of that has been rewritten so the story is more active, and, hopefully, the dangling plot points are explained now. While the basic plot and character development remain unchanged, every scene has been reworked and expanded, and a few new scenes have been added. There has also been a general clean-up of grammar and a few POV mistakes. Think of this as the director's cut. :) As always, thank you for taking the time to read!

His arm ached, his chest hurt, and he had sand in places he didn't want to think about, but what was really bothering John was Rodney being quiet. McKay was never quiet. He had an opinion about everything and was more than happy to share it with whoever happened to be close by. Now, he stared at the Ancient life sign detector in his hand, changed a setting, and stared at the device again.


It was making John nervous.

He stood near the rear of the jumper, watching Rodney tinker with the Ancient device for a few more moments, then turned and walked over to a nearby rock. The vantage point let him give McKay a little space but kept Rodney in his line of sight. He leaned against the rock, cradling his sore ribs, and studied the surrounding landscape.

Not the trip he'd hoped for, John thought, rubbing his forehead.

He heard something buzz through the atmosphere, looked up, and saw Jumper Three pass overhead. John glanced at Rodney, still staring at the scanner, oblivious to the sound, and shook his head.

John stepped around the rock and keyed his radio to a private channel. "Ford, this is Sheppard. Come in."

"Ford here, sir. We see you and will land next to your jumper."

"Negative, Lieutenant," John said softly with another glance at Rodney. "There is a downed Wraith ship about three miles north of our position."

"We see it, sir," Ford confirmed after a short pause.

"You'll need to land over there and retrieve the bodies of Doctors Abrams and Gall."


"You heard me, Lieutenant. Retrieve the bodies and then come back here. Do not, repeat, do not, bring any of this up with McKay." John glanced back at Rodney fiddling with the Ancient scanner, ignoring John's side of the radio conversation.

"We understand, Major," Teyla replied. "Are you both all right?"

"I'm a bit banged up, but we're fine," John replied. "Rodney needs to do some work on the jumper before we can leave, so check back here before you head out. Just in case we need to hitch a ride home with you."

"Understood, sir. Ford out."

John tapped off the radio and returned to Rodney standing near the jumper.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Rodney asked. He looked up from the scanner and gave John a sideways glance as he rubbed the back of his head.

John sighed. They were still getting used to the mental link they shared and everything that entailed.

No more hiding things, John reminded himself. At least, not from Rodney.

He spotted a convenient rock and sat.

"I'm fine." John saw Rodney's skeptical expression and added, "Really. It's not that bad. Just a lot of bruises, and Carson will probably need to stitch up my arm." He glanced at the pressure bandage wrapped around his bicep. "Nothing serious, I promise."

He waved a hand at the jumper. "Don't worry about it. Ford's here. See what you can do to get the jumper fixed so we can go home."

Rodney gave him one last penetrating look before he reached a hand toward the edge of the shield.

"Don't!" John shouted, jumping to his feet with a groan as he grabbed his ribs.

Rodney let out a yelp of pain, dropped the scanner, and stumbled away from the jumper, shaking his hand and glaring at the ship.

"... Do that," John finished. "I already learned the hard way that it kind of stings."

"How did he manage to reroute power like that?" Rodney wondered out loud as he rubbed his hand.

"You all right?" John asked.

"Yes, yes," Rodney replied, sounding distracted. He picked up the scanner and went back to studying the readout, mumbling about power conversion theories.

A few seconds later, he sat on John's rock and alternated between studying the scanner screen and staring at the shuttle.

John paced around the jumper a few times, dividing his attention between watching their surroundings and watching Rodney. There wasn't much to see other than a lot of sand. A few of the lightning bugs buzzed around some of the scrubby plant life on the hillock where McKay had hidden just before the drone hit, and that was it. He watched the shadows move across the sand and went back to pacing.

He walked around the ship a few more times before his brain caught up with what his eyes were seeing. The shadows weren't just moving, he realised with a start. They were lengthening.

John looked up and found the sun several degrees lower than during his fight with the Wraith. The lightning bugs had all disappeared, and the air felt distinctly cooler. He looked at McKay and saw Rodney absently rubbing at his bare arms.

They needed to get inside the jumper. Sooner rather than later, John decided.

"Rodney, you might want to move this along a little faster," John said, stopping beside McKay.

Rodney looked up from the scanner with a frown. "I have to figure out what the Wraith did before I can even start to fix it," he replied.

"I'm just saying you need to pick up the pace. The sun is starting to set. I don't think we want to be out here at night."

"What? Why?" Rodney asked, seemingly oblivious to the dropping temperature and John's concern as he studied the scanner. "I doubt there's anything still alive besides those glowing bugs, and Ford wiped out most of them with the drone."

"I'm not worried about animals," John told him with a tired sigh as he held his ribs with one arm. "Like I said before, I think it gets cold around here at night. We're going to want to be inside instead of outside when the sun goes down."

Rodney looked up from the scanner and glanced around. "Just how cold are we talking about?"

"Cold enough for a sort of icy snow to form," John told him.

Rodney swallowed and nodded. "All right, I have a theory about what the Wraith did, but I need to test it." He stood and held out his hand. "Give me your remote."

John shook his head even as he ripped open the top of one of his vest pockets and pulled out the little device. "You sure about this?" he asked. "Seems too simple to me."

Rodney shrugged and pushed the button that would normally deactivate the cloak. "Occam's Razor. The simple solution is usually the correct one. Besides, unless I try, there's no way to know for sure." He reached out a tentative hand and received another shock. "Ow!" he yelped and flapped his hand again. "Of course, it couldn't be that simple. Idiot," he berated himself.

John tried not to grin or let the 'I told you so' escape his mouth, but Rodney must have seen something in his expression anyway and snapped, "It's not funny! That hurts!"

"Sorry," John replied, sounding anything but apologetic.

Rodney flexed his hand a few more times, then sat in the deepening shade of the jumper and pried the cover off the remote control mumbling to himself.

"Major?" Ford called over the radio.

John glanced at Rodney before stepping to the back of the jumper.

"Go ahead."

"Sir? We found Doctor Abrams and Doctor Gall, sir, but …" John heard Ford take a deep breath. "Umm, sir? Doctor Gall didn't die from a Wraith attack. He was shot, sir, and … It looks self-inflicted."

John scrubbed a hand over his face as he glanced around the corner of the jumper, checking on Rodney. The number of 'sirs' Ford had used in his report gave John an idea of how bad it had to be. Ford had seen a lot during his tour in Iraq. If this was upsetting him …


"Sir?" Ford asked over the still-open radio channel.

"Nothing, Lieutenant," John replied. "Just get back here as soon as you can."

"Yes, sir. Ford out."

That explained a lot, John realised as he walked back to the corner of the jumper. Gall hadn't just died from the super Wraith feeding on him. He had committed suicide, and Rodney had probably seen the whole thing. No wonder McKay was acting so strange.

The sun had almost set when Jumper Three landed a short distance from the damaged jumper. Ford and Teyla walked down the rear ramp, their expressions a mixture of sadness and worry as they looked around.

John stepped away from the corner of the jumper and his silent observation of Rodney and raised a hand in greeting.

Teyla waved back, and she and Ford walked toward him.

"Steer clear of the jumper," John warned as he walked over to meet them. "We have a technical problem McKay is still working on."

"What sort of problem?" Ford asked as he stopped a few feet away from the corner of the jumper.

"The Wraith managed to put some sort of shield around the ship," John replied, and he couldn't hide the disgust in his tone. "Rodney is still trying to fix it."

Ford rubbed his hands together as twilight fell, and the temperature dropped. "I'm not sure we'll all fit in the other jumper, sir," he said in a low voice. "Not with …" He jerked his chin toward Jumper Three.

John nodded. "Rodney?" he called, walking back around the jumper. "You going to be able to get us inside any time soon?"

Rodney glared at him as he snapped the cover back on the remote control. "You do realise if you'd been stuck out here with anyone else, you'd be freezing to death, right?" he asked with a scowl as he stood. "This isn't as easy as it looks."

"Just tell me you've fixed it," John replied mildly.

"I've fixed it," Rodney told him and pushed the button on the remote again. This time there was a brief shimmer in the air, and when Rodney reached out a cautious hand, John was relieved when he didn't receive another shock.

"Good work," John said with a smile before he led the way inside the marginally warmer shuttle.

Supplies were strewn over the benches and the floor. Wires dangled from the control box, and a dozen or more control crystals were scattered over the bench seat under it. John entered the cockpit and found the panel under the front console propped open and more wires hanging loose.

Rodney followed him inside, shed his tac-vest, and glowered at the partially dismantled control box. He tapped a few control crystals with the stylus, but nothing changed.

This is not good, John thought, glancing around the dark interior and then out the windscreen at the other jumper. If they had to abandon the shuttle …

John tried to take a deep breath and winced. He'd sat vigil more than once over dead teammates after missions that went south in Afghanistan. It was not something he wanted McKay to experience.

He picked up the trail of wires hanging out of the console, glanced at the crystals scattered on the floor, and dropped the wires. "You better be able to fix this," he muttered under his breath and glanced at Rodney standing next to the control box in the rear section.

McKay held a tiny flashlight in one hand and ran the light stylus over a section of the crystals. Rodney tapped one set of crystals, grimaced, then touched a different crystal inside the box.

John heard the soft hum of hydraulics, and a moment later, the rear hatch closed.

"It's something, at least," Rodney muttered, turning back to the control box.

Ford picked up a pair of large flashlights from the bench behind McKay, handed one to Teyla, and wedged the other into the storage netting near the hatch. Teyla did the same with her flashlight. They turned on the flashlights, and John nodded as the bright beams lit the compartment.

"I'll start on this side," Ford said, pointing to the camping gear piled on the floor.

He found a large empty container under the bench seat, dropped the tents, sleeping bags, and portable stove into it, snapped the lid closed, and shoved the box back under the seat.

Teyla gathered up the crystals scattered on the other bench and placed them inside a small box. She left the box within McKay's reach and picked up the empty gun case.

"The weapons are missing," she said, glancing at the floor and turning from side to side.

"Here's one," Ford said, crawling under the bench seat. He scooted out from under the seat and handed the Beretta to Teyla.

"The other one is out there somewhere," John added, glancing at the bandage wrapped around his arm. "The Wraith figured out pretty quick how to use them."

John caught Rodney glancing at him from the corner of his eye and shook his head.

Rodney narrowed his eyes but thankfully said nothing. Instead, he focused on the control box, frowning and mumbling to himself as he poked at the crystals.

"Log anything else that's missing or damaged," John told Ford.

"Yes, sir," Ford replied, stuffing the gun case into the netting over the bench seat.

"So, how bad is it?" John asked, stepping over another empty cargo case and standing beside Rodney.

"It's a mess," Rodney grumbled. "It looks like the Wraith pulled crystals from three different systems in order to switch the cloak to a shield." He looked over at John. "It's going to take me a little while to get this all put back together again."

"But you can fix it, right?" John asked, glancing out the windscreen at the sun near the horizon. "Otherwise, I need to let Markham know he's going to have more passengers."

Rodney flinched, and John mentally kicked himself.

"Rodney -" John started to say but stopped when McKay hunched his shoulders.

"Yes," Rodney replied. He glanced at the rear hatch, then poked at a couple more crystals. "Nothing is really broken. It's just a matter of replacing crystals and reprogramming a few things."

John blew out a silent breath of relief. While he wasn't looking forward to a fifteen-hour flight back to Atlantis with McKay's two dead scientists, he also didn't want to lose the shuttle. They didn't have many of the ships, and John didn't want to risk losing one.

"Good to hear," he said to Rodney, tapping his earpiece. "Sergeant Markham, come in."

"Markham here, sir."

"Rodney thinks he can get us up and running again. It's just going to take a little more time. Go ahead and head back to Atlantis. We'll follow as soon as we can."

"Copy that, Major. We'll see you when you get back. Markham out."

John heard the rattle of sand against the skin of the jumper a few minutes later, then sat heavily on the bench opposite Rodney.

"Major Sheppard," Teyla said. "Perhaps now would be a good time for one of us to look at your arm." She found the first aid kit tossed under the other bench near Rodney's feet and held it out to Ford.

"And his ribs," Rodney said as an aside as he tested various crystals in the control box. "Don't forget his ribs."

John glared at Rodney's back.

"Sir?" Ford asked as he held up the kit.

"Fine," John told him.

Ford pulled on a pair of latex gloves, untied the pressure bandage, and found an antiseptic wipe in the first aid kit. John hissed in a breath and watched Rodney poke at the crystals inside the control box as a distraction from Ford poking at his arm.

"Okay, yes, that's …" Rodney paused for a moment as he touched a few of the crystals with the light stylus. "... That's pretty ingenious, actually," he finished in grudging admiration.

John watched as he pulled several crystals out of the control box and replaced them from the stash of crystals Teyla had left for him.

"Care to share with the class?" John asked and winced when Ford hit a tender spot with the wipe. He glanced at his bicep once Ford had cleaned off the blood and saw it was longer and deeper than he first thought. Okay, so maybe a little more than just a flesh wound, he thought as Ford tossed the wipe, dug through the first aid kit, and pulled out a large sterile pad and a roll of gauze.

John caught Rodney rubbing the back of his head more than once as Ford worked. Stress headache from the loss of Abrams and Gall? he wondered. The adrenaline crash from fighting the Wraith? Or was it just Rodney reacting to the link? Probably a combination of all three, John decided as he pawed through the first aid kit on the bench beside him.

"Sir?" Ford asked, wrapping the gauze around John's arm. "What are you doing?"

"Looking for … Aha!" John held up the bottle of ibuprofen. He shook three pills into his palm, and Ford handed him a water bottle from the case holding their rations.

"Guess I should have thought of that before I started," Ford said with a sheepish expression.

John started to argue the pills weren't for him, then changed his mind. He swallowed the pills with a gulp of water and gave the medication bottle to Teyla.

Teyla took the bottle, and John jerked his chin at Rodney's back. Teyla nodded and tapped Rodney's arm.

Rodney twitched at her touch, glanced at the pill bottle, and gave John a withering look.

John stared back, one eyebrow cocked, not backing down.

Rodney glowered but accepted the pills Teyla offered.

"Thanks," Rodney muttered, taking the pills and the water bottle Ford dug out of the crate at his feet.

"You were saying about the ship?" John asked once McKay swallowed the pills.

"It looks like the Wraith wired one of the power recyclers into the cloaking field. That's what gave it the charge," Rodney replied, sorting through the crystals in the box on the bench.

He picked one up and slotted it back in the control box. "Then it used the existing cloaking system and redirected the inertial dampeners to create a bubble around the ship." He glanced back at John. "That way, the ship remained invisible but could still repel anything that touched it."

John nodded. "But you can put it all back the way it was, right?"

"Yes, of course I can," Rodney snapped. "It's just going to take a while," he added under his breath. He picked up another crystal from the box, studied it for a moment, then slotted it into the control box. "Though, you know, a shield like this might be something we want to consider in future." He glanced at John. "It could come in handy."

"That's something you can play with once we're back in Atlantis," John told him. "Just get my ship put back together so we can go home."

"Yes, yes, fine," Rodney replied and went back to examining the control box.

Ford dropped the rest of the gauze back into the first aid kit and gave John an awkward glance.

"Something you want to add, Lieutenant?" John asked.

"I really should take a look at your ribs, sir. Just in case."

John shot another glare at Rodney's back. "I'm sure my ribs are fine," John said with a huff of impatience. He had just about reached his limit for the fussing by his well-meaning team.

Rodney must have sensed the gaze drilling into his back since he turned around, gave John a tired but concerned look, and headed for the cockpit.

Ford stood, patiently waiting, and John relented. "Fine."

He removed his tac-vest, then lifted his t-shirt.

Teyla hissed in a breath, and John glanced at his bruised chest, checking the damage for himself. His entire left side was a mass of purple-black bruising.

Explains why breathing hurts so much, he thought as Ford ran practised hands over his ribs, then winced when Ford's careful fingers found a particularly tender spot.

"Sorry, sir," Ford said, standing back. "The good news is, I didn't feel any bones shift. I think it's just bruises."

John nodded and lowered his shirt.

"There should be some chemical ice packs in the kit," Ford continued. "That should help." He dug through the first aid kit and came up with a large ice pack. He squeezed the pack to mix the chemicals, then handed it to John.

John took the ice pack with a nod of thanks and flinched as the cold leached through his t-shirt. He closed his eyes and sat with the pack resting against his sore ribs, letting the ice ease the ache in his chest.

He heard Teyla and Ford moving around the rear section and felt himself starting to doze.

"Why did you do it like that?" Rodney exclaimed from the cockpit, and John's eyes popped open. "It would have been easier, not to mention logical, to make the power cross over …" The grumbling faded, and John shifted on the bench seat.

"Rodney?" John called.

"What?" came the terse reply.

John glanced at Teyla and stood. "Everything all right up there?"

"Just peachy," McKay grumbled.

John shifted the ice pack and stepped toward the cockpit. "I'm going to check on McKay," he said to Ford and glanced at Teyla. "Do what you can to clean up back here."

"Yes, sir," Ford replied. He picked up the first aid kit and shoved it into the overhead netting.

John walked into the cockpit and nearly tripped on Rodney's outstretched legs. The rest of him was hidden under the central console. Control crystals, bits of wire, and a few tools littered the floor around McKay's hips. A few more crystals lay on his stomach.

John eased into the pilot's chair, adjusted the ice pack, and listened as Rodney puttered underneath the console.

"Right, yes," Rodney muttered. "I see why you did that, but why didn't you just reconnect it at the exchange port?"

John saw McKay's arm jerk, and a moment later, another crystal joined the ones on the floor. Rodney felt around his stomach, picked up one of the crystals, and grunted.

"How's it going up here?" John asked.

Rodney closed the panel, brushed the remaining crystals off his stomach, and crawled from under the console. He checked over the co-pilot's console and pressed a series of tiles. Lights bloomed to life throughout the jumper, and Rodney smiled faintly.

"I fixed the power recyclers," Rodney reported. He sat in the co-pilot's chair and checked over the board in front of him. "And dismantled the shield, so the inertial dampeners are flight ready. The cloak isn't fixed. If you want that done too, it will take another half hour."

John grinned. "Good job," he said. "Never doubted you for a moment."

Rodney gave John a skeptical glance and pressed two more tiles on his board. "Environmental systems are back online. We should have heat soon."

John looked out at the darkening landscape and nodded. And not a moment too soon, he thought. "I think we can do without the cloak," he said but stopped and frowned when he saw Rodney's hands shaking.

Yet another reason for him to have a headache, John thought as he studied McKay. "When's the last time you ate?"

Rodney rubbed his forehead as he re-checked the co-pilot's panel. "What?"

"Food, Rodney," John patiently explained. "When did you last have some?"

"Oh. Umm, before the flying lesson, I guess."

John glanced at his watch. "That was almost fourteen hours ago."

"Really? It's been a, umm, busy day." McKay refused to look at him.

What is going on here? John wondered. This is more than just the shock of losing Abrams and witnessing Gall commit suicide.

"Before we do anything else, You need to eat," John said and stood. "Come on." He stifled a groan as he tugged Rodney out of his chair and led the way into the rear section. "I say we break out the MREs, have some dinner, and then head back to Atlantis."

Rodney shook his head and turned to the control box over the bench seat. "I'm, umm, not hungry."

Teyla and Ford exchanged surprised glances, and John saw Ford was about to make a sarcastic comment. John held up a hand and gave Ford a pointed look.

Ford snapped his mouth shut and pulled a large plastic container out from under the other bench seat. "We have plenty of MREs and water," he said, holding up one of the tan MRE packages.

John took the bag, glanced at the label, and pushed it into Rodney's hands. "Meatloaf," he said, gently pushing Rodney down on the bench seat. Ford handed him another kit, and John sat on the bench next to McKay.

Teyla and Ford made a makeshift table out of the stretcher stored under the bench seat and a couple of the storage bins, and they set about heating and eating their dinner.

"How are things on the mainland?" John asked a few minutes later.

"The village is recovering after the storm," Teyla replied. She speared a few tortellini with her fork. "Halling and the others have cleared the remaining downed trees, and the seed we brought back from Rowland's village is growing well. I was hoping to visit once we were back in the city."

John swallowed his bite of beef stew. "Shouldn't be a problem." He glanced at Rodney and frowned when he saw McKay picking at the meatloaf. "Hey."

"Hmm," Rodney replied.

"Eat," John ordered.

Rodney ate a few more bites of meatloaf and about half of the mashed potatoes, then dropped his fork and stood.

"I should double-check the systems back here. Make sure I didn't miss anything." Rodney grabbed the stylus dangling next to the control box and poked at one of the lit crystals inside the box.

Teyla started to say something, but John shook his head. She nodded in reply and drank a swallow of water.

Twenty minutes later, John tossed the remains of his MRE in an empty bag Ford found and stood. "I think we're all about ready to get off this planet."

Ford nodded as he stowed the stretched under the bench seat.

John glanced at McKay, still fiddling with the control box. "I'll head up front and get us headed back to Atlantis." He tapped Rodney's arm. "You need to get some sleep. It's fifteen hours back to Atlantis. You'll need to take over the flying in a few hours."

Rodney made a noncommittal noise, and John turned to Ford and Teyla. "Get some sleep," he told them, walking into the cockpit.

He sat in the pilot's chair and started his pre-flight checks. He wasn't surprised when Rodney followed him and settled in the co-pilot's seat a few minutes later.

"I thought I said to get some sleep," John said as he powered up the jumper's engines.

"I want to make sure everything is working the way it should first," Rodney replied.

John heard the exhaustion in McKay's voice and knew he probably wasn't in much better shape. His arm hurt, and his ribs were aching again.

"I thought you said you fixed everything."

"I did!" Rodney snapped tiredly. "I just want to make sure it all stays fixed."

John glanced through the open hatch into the back of the jumper and saw Ford stretched out on one of the benches. He assumed Teyla was asleep on the other bench. John closed the bulkhead door between the two compartments, turned back to Rodney, and asked carefully, "You sure you're all right?"

Rodney gave him a fleeting look, then turned to look out the side window.


"I thought you wanted to head back to Atlantis," McKay said, never turning from the window.

John took in Rodney's stiff posture and let the matter drop.

For now, he silently promised.

He pulled back on the control sticks, and the shuttle lifted off.

The planet's surface quickly dwindled below them, and John orbited once to get them pointed in the right direction for home. He blew out a breath of relief when the planet disappeared behind them and heard an answering sigh from Rodney's side of the cockpit.

What aren't you telling me? he wondered with a worried glance at McKay.

His concern ratcheted up another notch when they passed the Ancient satellite that had started this whole mess an hour later. John noticed Rodney refused to even look at it. He watched Rodney fiddle with the controls on the co-pilot panel for a moment, then focused on the endless night outside the windscreen.

The trip was supposed to be relaxing and maybe a bit fun for a change, John thought with a mental grimace. Bring a couple of McKay's scientists out to see the satellite and, at the same time, let Rodney play with the jumper a little bit. Instead, he was injured, McKay's two scientists were dead, and he suspected Rodney had witnessed Gall kill himself.

Maybe their vacations really were jinxed, John thought, making a minute adjustment to their course.

They were another hour into their return flight when John noticed Rodney's tapping on the other panel had stopped. He glanced over and saw McKay was finally asleep, his head cocked to one side, snoring softly as he slumped in the chair next to John.

"Finally," John muttered to himself. "Long may it last." If what he suspected was true, he knew it wouldn't be long before the nightmares started.

He checked their position on the HUD and nodded at the straight line guiding him back to Atlantis. John goosed the engines a bit, hoping to get them back to Atlantis as soon as possible.

Rodney twisted position in his chair, and John saw a frown line pucker McKay's forehead as he started murmuring under his breath.

What would happen once they were back? John wondered. He knew there would be questions regarding what had happened to Abrams and Gall. As the leader of their ill-fated excursion, John knew the brunt of the scrutiny would be on him and his actions with the super-Wraith.

"Doctor Gall didn't die from a Wraith attack, sir. He was shot, sir, and … It looks self-inflicted."

John had no reason to doubt Ford's assessment of Gall's injuries, but what about the rest of the base? What would happen when word got out that Rodney and Gall had been alone in the Wraith ship?

As the military leader of the expedition, there wasn't anyone above him in the chain of command to reprimand him. But he suspected Elizabeth would have a few choice things to say once she learned he had left two civilians alone on a planet with at least one active Wraith.

Then there was the fallout in the science division to worry about. John wouldn't put it past someone like Kavanagh to try and use Gall's death as a way to prove McKay was unfit to lead and demand Rodney be removed as head of the science department.

John pushed the engines to their limit and nodded when he saw a blip at the edge of the scanner's range showing the position of Markham's jumper. The sooner they were back, the less time the rumor mill would have to twist what happened, John reasoned.

Rodney's breathing hitched, and he shuddered in his sleep.

"Damn," John muttered, pursing his lips into a frown. "I was hoping he'd get more sleep before the nightmares started."

Rodney's mutterings grew louder, and John could make out a few words as McKay twisted in the chair. "Changed … Go on … Save the day …"

Rodney jerked awake, his right arm hitting the bulkhead beside the co-pilot's chair and his eyes a little wild as he looked around the cockpit.

John reached out and laid his hand on Rodney's arm, hoping to ground him.

McKay jerked his arm free and stared at John in confusion.

"You're all right," John said, taking back control of the jumper with both hands. He glanced at Rodney and added. "You back with me?"

Rodney scrubbed a hand over his face and nodded.

"Wanna talk about it?" John asked. "Everyone else is asleep." He nodded at the closed door between the cockpit and the rear compartment. "No one to hear except me."

Rodney took a deep, shuddering breath, held it for a moment, then let it out. "No," he replied bluntly. "He killed himself. What else is there to say?"

John frowned, but when Rodney only glared back at him, he dropped the subject. They sat in awkward silence for another thirty minutes before John gave up. "If you aren't going to sleep, I will," he said. "Switch places with me."

Rodney startled out of his contemplation of the darkness outside and gave John a surprised look. "You mean it?"

John nodded as he stood up and traded places with Rodney. "It's still another twelve hours before we get back." He settled as best he could in the co-pilot chair. "Try to keep it in a straight line this time and wake me up in a few hours to take over."

Rodney grasped the controls tightly as he stared up at the HUD, then out the windscreen.

John glanced at the display long enough to ensure Rodney kept to a reasonably straight course, then closed his eyes and tried to sleep. McKay's issues wouldn't be solved in the few hours they had before their return to Atlantis, he reasoned, but John promised himself he wouldn't let those issues fester for very long. He just hoped Rodney would accept the help.