"Sam?" Daniel poked his head in the door to the lab, staring quizzically at the stacks of papers piled precariously on her desk. Sam looked up, and winced as she rubbed the back of her neck. "Jack wants us in the briefing room in ten."

Sam nodded and bent back to her work, only stopping to take small sips of coffee. The coffee wasn't much incentive to take a break. After fifteen minutes, Sam stood up, stretched, and spent a good five minutes longer trying to figure out the most efficient way of getting all her files to the briefing room without either taking five days to get it there, knock someone over in the process, or both. Eventually she shrugged, and just picked up the most important files at the moment, and wound her way through the base to the briefing room.

"Ah, Carter, thanks for deciding to join us, after only…" Jack glanced at his watch. "What, ten, fifteen minutes?" He looked back and forth between Daniel and Teal'c for support.

"Sorry, Sir," replied Sam as she sat down, distributing some files around the table. "But I think I have something."

Jack opened his file and didn't look inside it. "Another brilliant scheme, another way to save the world yet again, I hope?"

Sam smiled. "Not quite, Sir. It's actually pretty simple. What you're looking at," she said as the three of them peered into their files, "are the schematics for the Daedalus. It's ready to go, Sir."

"Right now?"

"Right now, Sir." Sam took the file back, and placed them neatly beside her as she pulled out a map. "As you can see here, the Daedalus has over 100 escape pods, a hyper-drive engine that could potentially decrease our time-travel velocity by 2.6, forming a wormhole in half the time we even thought necessary with the formation of the event horizon, two rear thrusters, sub-light engines -"

"I'll need that in General Dummy-Talk, Carter."

"Sorry, Sir."

Jack made a large, sweeping gesture with an arm. "Well?" Daniel looked at Sam curiously, while Teal'c merely sat there stoically.

"It's even cooler than the Prometheus, Sir."

"Thank you."

"Jack, if Sam's getting at what I think she's getting at, the Daedalus may be our only hope of bringing back one of the teams we thought we'd never see again." Daniel was barely managing to hold back his excitement.

"Ah, now I get it," said Jack, throwing up his hands, "we're going to rescue Atlantis from the Wraith and while saving them, risk bringing the Wraith back here? From what I've heard, these Wraith-folk aren't too friendly. Instead of shaking hands, they like to suck a couple of years from your life in greeting."

Silence.

"That's one of the problems, sir." Sam said slowly.

"You think?"

"Well, sir, if we could just find a way to -"

"No. I'm not risking you guys getting killed for a cause that might save a few, but bring back everyone on Earth impending Doom."

"Sir, if they're still alive -"

"Then they're probably very happily working out a way to keep the Wraith from destroying the Pegasus galaxy. No."

"Just hear me out."

Jack leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. Sam took a breath.

"Sir, it's not just about saving Atlantis, or the rest of the Pegasus galaxy. It's also about gathering potentially crucial information about the Wraith and whatever else is out there that could get back here."

"We already received that data from them."

Sam frowned. "Atlantis only had a limited amount of space available to send us information, sir. The wormhole was only open 1.3 seconds. It's possible some of the data were damaged or deleted in the process of sending such a large file in such a short amount of time, and considering how hastily they must have put it all together…"

"Ask them to send it again."

"The power surge they needed to keep the wormhole open for even that short amount of time could have drained their ZPM."

Daniel looked up from the equations on the paper, and rubbed his temples. "Didn't they have three?"

"Yes," replied Sam, "but the other two are fully depleted. Atlantis can't dial back to Earth, but the Daedalus can get there."

"How fast?" Asked Daniel.

"Well, about four days, give or take a few hours."

Jack leaned forward on the table. "So you want to go off to Atlantis, is what I'm getting out of this."

Daniel paused. "It's more of a need, Jack. They're already putting together a team, we just want to make sure…it's okay with you first."

"You know how stupid that sounds?"

"…Pretty stupid."

"Fine. Go. Be back before dark."

"Thanks, Jack."

"Teal'c?" Jack said. "I don't exactly see you jumping for joy at this opportunity."

"I wish to remain here in case the Jaffa are in need of immediate assistance should the Goa'uld begin forming another attack. I can not do this from Atlantis."

"OK. You do that." Jack stood up. "Well, go get ready." Teal'c and Daniel moved out of the room. "Carter, I'm going to have to ask you to sit this one out."

Sam whirled around. "What! Why? I have special permission from President…"

"Oh, screw the president!" Jack sat back down in his swivel chair, and swung back and forth agitatedly. "I need you here, Carter."

"Sir, the SGC has plenty of other qualified astrophysicists that can take care of things while I'm gone."

"Yeah, well, we need you. Send one of the 'other qualified astrophysicists' off to Atlantis."

"We can't, Sir. I'm already packed and set for this mission. Be it for better or worse, Sir, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm not going to let it fly by."

"Carter, dying is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Sam crossed her arms amusedly. Jack shrugged. "Okay, so maybe not so much. But if we lived normal lives, it would apply just fine."

There was a pause, in which Jack fiddled with a rubber band he just happened to have in his pocket.

"Sir," started Sam, "is there any particular reason you don't want me to go to Atlantis?"

Another pause, this one more uncomfortable and to the point.

"I have my orders, Sir."

"Doom!" He called after her retreating back. He banged his head on the table, just for good measure.

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Rodney turned around, agitated. "Elizabeth…"

"Rodney, this is probably our only chance at saving the city. If John fails…" She trailed off.

"I never thought I'd say this, but Colonel Everett's right." Rodney shook his head. "This is a suicide mission. There's no way he'll make it."

Elizabeth crossed her arms and turned to look out the window.

"Besides, even if he does make it up to the hive ships without being detected, Major Sheppard will have to detonate the nuclear device, and…"

"And you think I enjoy the thought of that?" Rodney closed his mouth, looking mildly ashamed. "Rodney, you do realize that if this works, we'll have to send someone else up there."

"Who? Carson?" Rodney laughed, a strained and stiff sound. "He's terrified of that chair; he'd flat-out refuse to pilot -"

"He may be the last choice, Rodney, but it may come down to that, and you know just as well as I do that none of us hopes we'll have to use our last resorts. He'd do it if worse came to worst. Maybe not willingly, and definitely not happily, but Carson has shown promise. He'll do all he can to help this city and its people." Elizabeth took a breath and turned back to Rodney. "And I know it's killing you to not be able to help more than you are. But you've done so much already, Rodney, more than you could know."

"Yeah, like helping reawaken the Wraith?" He asked sarcastically.

"I'm serious -" But Elizabeth wasn't given the chance to finish. An explosion shook the base, and the two of them whirled around to stare outside. There was silence as everyone watched the fiery spectacle that stood before them, a horrific victory come to life. There was only one hive ship left intact. The other had been shattered by the blast, leaving behind a trail of debris and other things which would be best left unrecognized.

Rodney looked to Elizabeth, an unreadable expression on his face. She nodded to him, and turned on her comlink, trying to keep her voice steady. Rodney left the room quickly.

"This is Dr. Weir." She paused. "John Sheppard was a brave man, an excellent leader, and a good friend to everyone aboard Atlantis. He left this world doing something for which we all would owe him our lives. Because of Major Sheppard, the second of the three hive ships coming toward Atlantis has been destroyed. Though this is a small victory, we all know that even one hive ship can do much damage, and all of our strengths now should not rest in mourning or in celebration, but in finding a way to destroy that last ship. I have faith in all of you. Any non-necessary personnel still left on the base, I suggest you evacuate to the Alpha Site at this time. There's already a group waiting for you in the gate room. We will not activate the self-destruct until absolutely necessary. We still have three days until the Daedalus is due to arrive. I believe if we all work together and manage to pull off a few things the Wraith aren't expecting, we will be able to hold the base until the ship arrives. Good luck."

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Sam set the controls of the Daedalus to autopilot after they'd entered hyperspace, and leaned back in her rather uncomfortable chair. The stars (some of which held Stargates in their systems) rushed past at speeds she didn't care to think about. She closed her eyes, hoping to get some rest before anything exciting happened.

This worked for about five minutes.

"Sam?" She opened her eyes at the sound of Daniel's voice, and turned as he gestured behind them.

"This better be good, Daniel, you're interrupting my beauty sleep," she joked.

"Well, not to disrupt your undeniable vanity in any way, but…" Daniel pulled a half-sized piano from a spot on the loading platform, hiding behind some boxes. "I never knew you played." He grinned at her. "What's it for? I doubt we'll have much time for leisure in Atlantis."

"It's…a gift. To remind someone of home." Sam turned around again.

McKay sat on the bed in the infirmary across from the one Sam was sitting on. "Are you going to be okay?" He asked, looking down at his hands.

"At least until the gate explodes, yeah." Replied Sam, trying to make a joke. It didn't seem to have an effect on McKay.

He was still staring at the floor. "Look, I nev ... I never meant for anyone to get hurt ... much less you."

Sam was touched. "It's okay. We had to try something."

He took a deep breath, and seemed to relax. "I always wanted to be a pianist."

Sam looked up quickly, a vexed expression on her face. "Excuse me?"

"A concert pianist --- you know, a guy who plays the piano in front of lots of people?"

"Right." Sam smiled and tried to hide the blush creeping up her neck.

"What did you think I said?"

"Never mind."

There was a short pause, in which Sam pondered how in the universe McKay couldn't have caught that, and McKay sat there, looking thoughtful.

"I had a not-so- comfortable childhood. My Parents hated each other, blamed me. Music was my salvation. It had this ... perfect order for me."

"That's nice, really." Said Sam, wondering why McKay was telling her this, and if she should get Janet to take a look at him.

"When I was 12, my teacher told me to quit. A fine clinical player, he said, but no sense of the art whatsoever."

"Why are you telling me this?" Asked Sam, not really caring if it sounded rude.

McKay suddenly looked a little nervous. "I'm just ... trying to bond."

"Why?" This didn't make any sense whatsoever.

"Hospital gowns turn me on." He smiled. "I turned to science because I thought it would be different than music, but It isn't. It's just the same, it's just as much of an art as anything else."

Sam thought she understood then. "Look, it's not your fault that the EM pulse didn't work-"

"You're an artist, Major. Maybe the best I've ever seen. I'm just critical because I'm jealous."

Sam let this memory sink in. At the time, she'd been so shocked by the fact that McKay, of all people, was trying to be nice. Nay, trying to bond, as he put it. Sam never actually stopped to think about why he'd done it. Now, as she sat back and reflected on the rather stilted conversation they'd had, how McKay had acted so differently than she was used to, a thought posed itself in her mind. A ridiculous, half-formed theory that Sam could barely wrap her mind around. But it was starting to make sense, and that was probably the most frightening part.

Sam rubbed her temples and desperately wished she had brought some coffee. This was going to take a lot of energy to try and understand.

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Rodney and Carson hurried into the control room, Rodney looking grim, and Carson seeming anxious but determined. Carson stopped as they reached the dais, staring blankly out into the -- day? Night? They had all lost track by now -- sky, where pieces of the mutilated ship and the space it had last been was tinted brown. Everyone who had witnessed the explosion was carefully looking anywhere but out the window, usually at the floor or one of the stained-glass structures surrounding them.

Rodney impatiently beckoned Carson up the stairs to where he was standing, near Elizabeth and Colonel Everett.

"Elizabeth." Started Rodney. Then he saw Everett. "Wait. You're still alive? I thought -"

"Well, you thought wrong, Doctor." Replied Colonel Everett. "Us Marines have things we learned by way of escape techniques. Aren't you supposed to be working on something?"

Rodney glared at the Colonel. "That's what I'm here about, Colonel. Elizabeth. About the other jumper. Carson said -"

"No," interrupted Elizabeth. "That's not necessary quite yet. I've got an idea that may give us some time, and spare a few lives." She smiled at Carson, then turned to Everett. "Colonel, I know that I'm not as well educated in weaponry as you are, but do you have any miniature explosives?"

The Colonel gave her an appraising look. "What're you suggesting, doctor?"

Elizabeth paced back and forth a bit, playing absently with the ring on her finger. "I have no idea whether this would actually work or not, but what if we placed some of the smaller devices inside the launching compartment of the Ancient chair?"

Rodney gave her a sharp look. "Elizabeth, I don't know if you've noticed, but the Wraith are right over us. We don't exactly have time to try and figure out a way to open that compartment, never mind try to find it. Besides, it hasn't been used in years, and I doubt if it'll even open manually."

"Anything will open manually, Dr. McKay, if you just have the right tools. Now let the lady finish." Everett smiled at Elizabeth. "Please, continue."

"Rodney is right about our time deficiency, Colonel," stated Elizabeth. "However, if there are enough smaller explosives available, we might be able to connect, say, two or three to each other, making it more powerful, and loading them into the guns?"

"Always thought you were a smart woman." Everett turned to Rodney. "If you don't mind, get any and all of your scientists ready and able to work with explosives to a spare room. I'll have them transported down to you immediately." Rodney glared at him but didn't put up a fight, and started towards the lab.

"Carson," said Elizabeth. "I'd suggest you head back to the infirmary. There will be many more arriving throughout the next couple of days, I fear." Carson nodded and left.

"Well, doctor, I suppose I'll get started searching the chair room, and see if I can't figure out where that compartment is."

"Colonel."

Everett turned around.

"We don't know what other technology the Ancients had in that room. Be careful."

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"Okay, set it down here."

"No, not there! Here."

"But we won't be able to get to it if it's over there."

"Yes, but I'd say that's a minor problem compared to the fact that there's a heat lamp here that could fry the wires."

"…"

"Exactly. Put it here."

Radek Zelenka rolled his eyes and watched as the marines placed the box of explosives -- not as carefully as they should have been -- on the floor next to a smirking Rodney.

"We could have just moved the lamp, Rodney."

"Yes, but then you would've been right, and we can't have that now, can we?" Rodney knelt down to examine the box and its contents. "And who organized this, the Marx Brothers? The bombs are deactivated, but the wires are all tangled up. An apocalypse waiting to happen."

Radek crossed his arms. "I'm surprised you even know who the Marx Brothers are, considering you spend all your time saving the world."

"Ha, ha," said Rodney sarcastically. "I happen to know a lot about pop culture, Mr. Zelenka, more than you'd think. Now get down here and help me sort these out."

"More than the rest of the world would think," muttered Radek, squatting beside Rodney and plunging his hands into the mess which was undoubtedly the fault of the US Marines.

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Twenty-three hours later, Rodney and Radek rushed into the main control room -- well, rushed as fast as they could while making certain that the bombs didn't hit a rut or ridge in the floor and cause the entire base to blow up.

Elizabeth gave them a grim smile as the Marines were directed to the launch sites. "Thank you; you two may have bought us some more desperately needed time. The other scientists can take it from here for the meantime."

She glanced to her left as Carson came into the room. "Now, I highly suggest you both take some time off -"

"Elizabeth, we can't -" Rodney cut her off, but was silenced by a stern look, to which he replied by pursing his lips unhappily.

"Rodney, you need to sleep. You've gone over five days without any sort of real rest. That goes for you too, Radek. Carson is going to escort you both to the infirmary. No excuses."

Rodney stubbornly stayed put while the doctor led Radek to the infirmary. He turned to Elizabeth, a fire in his eyes she'd never seen before.

"I can't go yet, the bombs are still unstable. I should stick around and make sure they don't…" He trailed off.

"Explode?" Elizabeth offered helpfully. "In case you've forgotten, dear doctor, that's what bombs are supposed to do."

"Yes, yes, of course that's what they're supposed to do. We just don't want them exploding our city or the people in it!" Rodney crossed his arms obstinately. "I'm staying."

"Fine. But as soon as we don't need you for anything scientifically important, it's off to bed with you."

Rodney rolled his eyes, as Selman beckoned Elizabeth over to the control panel. "We're still receiving a lot of blows from the Wraith ships, Dr. Weir," he stated, pointing to the screen, "but there seems to be a vessel approaching the third hive ship. It's not ours."

Elizabeth let out a wearied sigh of relief. Help had come at last. "The Daedalus." They watched as the Prometheus' sister neared the hive ship, and there was a long, tension-filled pause that could be felt all around the base as most personnel stared, entranced, at the scene unfolding in front of their very eyes. The Daedalus had just removed its cloaking device seconds before; it now stood in all its glory before the Wraith ship that had threatened Atlantis' very existence. The Daedalus seemed still to be no match for the ship, but looks could be deceiving, as they soon learned. Time seemed to stand still as every breath was held in unison, every heartbeat seeming to occur in syncopation, while everyone was caught in the illusion of a time loop of seeing their greatest hope finally arrive to Atlantis' aid after five long, painful days.

A thin red beam shot from the Daedalus' aft end, aimed directly for the hive ship. The Wraith ship was cut cleanly in half by the beam, then soon exploded in a burst of color from a high-powered bomb that must have been sent with the beam.

It was a sight well worth seeing.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Samantha Carter stepped up behind Elizabeth and Rodney, joining them in being held, captivated, by the amazing view of their greatest enemy being destroyed. For now.

After staring at the spectacle for a good while longer, something seemed to hit Rodney. He spun around. "You…you're here?"

Sam raised her eyebrows. "Yeah, I am. Gotta love the Asgard technology. I was kind of the one who set up that little piece of work. The beam and bomb part, that is."

"Well, your little shenanigan most likely had several problems that could've cause the ultimate destruction of this city."

"But it would've destroyed the Wraith ships along with it, had that been the case. So we would've gotten something out of it. But there wasn't anything wrong with the design. It worked perfectly."

"You're wrong about being right about the design. I'm right about that. But you are right about the Wraith ships, to an extent."

"What do you mean, 'to an extent'?" Sam put her hands on her hips.

Rodney started walking towards the direction of the infirmary as Elizabeth warned the rest of the base that they still had smaller ships attacking them, and not to let their guard down. Sam followed Rodney. "I mean, that even though the hive ships are all nice and blown up and happy now, there are still more of them out there. Countless, life-sucking aliens that are awake because of us. Now they're coming after everyone else, and every time some are killed, the others know about it -"

"Because of their telepathy," cut in Sam.

"Yes, because of their telepathy," Rodney replied irritably. "So they just get more and more upset because we killed a mother, or a cousin, or a mother and a cousin. And there's nothing we can do about it."

"You could not give up," suggested Sam. "You guys held out here against formidable forces for five days, against enemies we, back on Earth, couldn't have even imagined. I'd say that's worth something." They reached the infirmary, where Rodney stepped inside.

"It may be worth something," he said, "but it's never going to be enough."

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A few hours and many physics equations later, Sam knocked lightly on the infirmary door. Carson opened it cautiously. There were still a few Wraith unaccounted for on the base. He opened the door wider when he saw Sam's face.

"Ah, Colonel Carter -"

"Please, call me Sam, doctor." She smiled at him.

"Alright. Then you'll have to call me Carson."

"Fair enough. How are they?" Sam asked, looking to Rodney and Radek's beds in turn.

"Exhausted, sleeping. After what they've been, who wouldn't be? I tried to get them to sleep two days ago, but they just kept at it. I have the both of them on a light sedative. Should wake up in a few minutes. I have a few tests to run, but after that, feel free to talk to him." He gave her a knowing look, which left Sam with a confused expression on her face as Carson ran off to fill out (probably long overdue) paperwork.

After Carson had finished his tests on Rodney, Sam pulled up a chair next to his bed. Rodney yawned something terrible, and Sam held back a smile. "How do you feel?" Asked Sam.

"Peachy," said Rodney, reaching for the glass of water on the table. Sam handed it to him.

"Well enough to walk?"

Rodney quirked an eyebrow. "I'm tired, Major. I'm not mortally impaired."

"Actually, it's Colonel now. Shall we?" She looked over to Carson, who was writing something on the papers at the end of Radek's bed. He nodded.

"It'd probably do him some good," said Carson. He gestured towards the door as Rodney climbed out of bed and slipped on some pants under his gown. "Just don't wander too far. There are still things to be taken care of out there."

Rodney rolled his eyes and Sam nodded as they strode slowly out the door.

"Chocolate?" Asked Sam, pulling a bar out of her pocket.

"No," replied Rodney, "Hypoglycemia and all that. Too much sugar. Radek'll take it."

Sam shrugged and put it back in her pocket, but not before taking a small bite out of it herself. They walked in silence for a while.

"It was your father, wasn't it?" Sam asked quietly.

This caused Rodney to glance at her sharply. "What was that?"

"Your piano teacher. It was your dad."

"How did you know that?" Rodney didn't like where this conversation was going. Or where they themselves were going. He turned a corner.

"You were talking about him in your sleep," said Sam, blushing slightly. "And I just…put two and two together."

"Being the genius scientist that you are. Congratulations on the difficult math work. You get an A for the day." Rodney was silent again. A few minutes later he spoke.

"So, how's Pete?" He asked conversationally. Almost too conversationally.

"Who told you about Pete?" Sam asked incredulously.

"You did. In an email once. Last year. To say you were engaged."

Sam winced. Now that she thought back on it, it probably wasn't a very nice thing to do.

"I broke it off. It wasn't working." She watched Rodney's face carefully as she said this. He seemed not to have any change in expression.

"Well, I'm sorry to hear that." Well, he didn't sound in the least bit sincere, and Sam thought he meant to make it sound that way. "So, what? Did daddy and his snake not approve of him or something?"

That struck a chord. Sam frowned and turned her head away from him. Rodney seemed to realize he'd said something worse than usual and sat her down on a bench by a stained-glass window. You couldn't see the battle still raging on outside.

"What?" Rodney asked. "Look at me." He said it firmly, and Sam looked him in the eye.

"You heard about the Replicators?" Sam said.

Rodney wrinkled his brow in concentration. "Yeah, little spidery electronic things? Probably tried to take over the world or something while I've been gone."

"Well, when we used this Ancient weapon against them a few months ago, it…triggered something in Selmak. Made him not well. Two weeks ago." Sam tried to look away again. Rodney wouldn't let her.

"I'm sorry." Sam chuckled weakly. "No, really, I am. I can't imagine…"

"It's okay. I'll be okay. Really."

"You sure?"

"Yeah." Sam swiped at her eyes to catch any tears that might have escaped. "What's with you, Rodney? You're not usually this nice."

"Fighting the Big Evil and all that can change -" he stopped. "You called me Rodney."

Sam shrugged. "Guess that means we're on a first-name basis, then."

"So you're working back up to despising me?" Rodney smirked.

"Maybe. Maybe something not quite so harsh. Just hate." She smiled back at him.

"And my designs didn't have any flaws. I had it checked and double-checked by the SGC's highest ranking officials and scientists."

"How many times do I have to remind you that the scientists at the SGC are all idiots? Completely incompetent, know absolutely nothing about physics, and don't even -"

Sam interrupted him. But not by the usual means of by speaking. She still used her lips for it, though. Rodney coughed, blinked a few times.

"What was that for?"

"You wouldn't shut up. So I had to make you." She gave him a sweet smile.

"Oh." He sat in thought for a while. "Bumbling morons that can't even keep their heads on straight, undoubtedly wouldn't be able to -"

Sam kissed him again. This time Rodney smirked.

"That won't work every time, you know." Said Sam.

"I'm perfectly aware of that. And I've figured out the glitch in your design for the beam."

Sam's eyes widened. "How could you? You haven't even seen the schematics yet, and even if you had, you haven't seen this kind of -"

Rodney caught her lips in the middle of her sentence, and had no intention of giving them back anytime soon. Sam, after protesting mildly, finally leaned into Rodney, wrapping her arms about his neck.

The fire, perhaps even love, he felt for Sam shocked even himself. He eventually pulled away after a while, in desperate need of air.

"Wow," breathed Sam.

"I agree," replied Rodney, running a hand through his hair.

"You don't have mono, do you?" She asked.

Rodney gave a crooked grin as he leaned in to kiss her once more. "I'm going to kill Ford if they ever find him," he mumbled against her mouth.

This was the first time Rodney had ever trusted anything so intangible as an emotion to be real, more real than he could have possibly imagined.