a/n Special thanks to Koschka for the final once over and continuing support and inspiration. Spoilers up to and including Trinity. This is part of my Point of View series and does make reference to some of those stories, but you should be fine if you haven't read them. However if you want to go back and read them, they are 'Tokens' through 'Fall from Grace' and are available here on fanficnet. And although it isn't in someone else's POV, I like to think of it as a spring board for the ones to follow for Season 2. Don't own them, if I did, they would be here in Vegas all the time!

Name, Rank, and Cereal Boxes

By liketheriver

The pain was intense and immediate sending a spike of alertness through his increasingly fuzzier thoughts.

"Wake up!"

John turned his eyes and anger toward an equally irate astrophysicist hovering over him, hand still raised from the sharp slap he had delivered across his alleged best friend's face. "Jesus H., Rodney, what the fuck?"

"You were drifting off again. Cut it out."

John raised a hand to his stinging cheek watching McKay warp and roll like the image in a funhouse mirror. "What happened to a simple shake of the shoulder? A 'hey, John, wake up'? Is that too much to ask? A little common courtesy instead of resorting to all out violence?" He giggled. He couldn't help it; McKay's forehead was HUGE at the moment.

"Oh, Christ, you're just getting worse, if that's at all possible. I can't believe you actually ate that ceremonial pizza they offered us."

Yeah, he really couldn't either, considering the raised eyebrow Teyla had given him after he went back for a third serving. But he just couldn't help it, he had been starving. He'd missed breakfast dragging Rodney out of the lab and to the gate for the mission and then the welcoming ceremony had taken way the hell too long, so that when they brought out the flat bread he had gobbled down three pieces before Ronon's amused snort even registered.

He began to realize his mistake when five minutes later his feet started tingling and five minutes after that he was standing with his arm slung around McKay's shoulder loudly comparing the appurtenances of the chieftain's daughter to those of one of the dancers at Olympic Gardens back on Earth. That's when Teyla had finally informed him that the bread was not meant to be the midday meal, but was instead a way to commune with the Ancestors, and only a small amount was meant to be eaten. Five minutes after that, he couldn't stand on his own and that's when Rodney had suggested Teyla and Dex should go back to Atlantis and get Beckett. Since then, things had gotten a little… hazy.

"Mmmmmm, pizza would be good right now. Real pizza, not that crap they gave us. It tasted like it had dirt sprinkled on top instead of cheese."

"Yes, well that would have been the dried narcotic mushrooms that you ate more than the normal human is supposed to ingest. That's why Carson says I have to keep you awake until he can get here."

"Carson's coming?" John asked brightly as he tried to push up from the wall he was leaning against only to find that he couldn't feel his legs. He really should be panicking at this point, he decided, but his brain just found it funnier than hell and he sputtered laughter. "Fuck, McKay, I can't walk!"

"Hence why Carson is coming to you," Rodney informed him as he slid down to sit shoulder to shoulder with him. "Bringing the sheep-laden mountain to Mohammad, so to speak."

He giggled again picturing a hill covered with hundreds of sheep with Beckett's face. Then something dawned on him. "Hey, why didn't the pizza affect you?"

"Simple, I didn't eat any."

John snorted. "You didn't eat any of the pizza? You put away most of that one we got in Vegas. I was lucky I even got a slice."

Rodney frowned at him and the act made his face swirl in on itself. "Four, Major, you ate four slices."

"Yeah, out of twelve and I had to fight you for the last one. And it's Lt. Colonel now, McKay. A little respect for the position if you don't mind." John sat a little straighter, or at least as straight as he could manage. Besides, as Rodney would tell him, straight is a relative term, especially when floating in space. And, man, was he ever.

Beside him Rodney let out a little irritated curse at himself for screwing his rank up once again, quickly recovered, then regarded John with a scowl. "And when was the last time you addressed me with my proper title? Hmmmm, let me think. Gee, that must have been way back never. Yes, never, as in never once have you addressed me as Dr. McKay."

"Lighten up, Rodney," he told him as his head slipped onto his friend's shoulder and came to rest with his nose pressed into a blood stained Canadian flag. "I took you to Vegas." He mumbled sleepily into the fabric of the sleeve. "That has to count for something."

"Oh, no you don't!" The shoulder bounced violently, "Sheppard, you wake the hell up!" But it really didn't matter. He was too tired to care and too excited about the trip to think of anything else.

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John made his way through the hallways of the SGC with a little more bounce than usual. It was odd, after almost a year, to be surrounded by more Air Force personnel than Marines. And odder still to not be the highest ranking person in sight, even with the new silver leafs. He grinned to himself at the thought, standing a little straighter and mentally ticking off the service men and women that he passed. Outrank him, outrank him, outrank her, outrank him.. whoa, don't outrank him.. quicksalute… outrank her, outrank him. Until he finally reached the destination of his trip.

The labs were smaller here in the SGC, darker without the natural light that so many of the rooms on Atlantis had. But there was one thing that was the same in both sets of facilities, the bossy voice of Rodney McKay.

"No. No, no, no, no, no. That can't be right. We're talking about an Asgard shield modulator here, not the battery in your Yugo. The output is way, way too low."

Walking into the lab John saw the scientist hunched over a computer readout with another scientist based out of the SGC. The second man, older and balding, sat back in the seat with a seething frustration that John had not only seen but felt himself on more than one occasion when dealing with McKay.

"Dr. McKay, you have been here a little more than two weeks. I've worked on the Asgard systems for over three years…"

"And what a colossal waste of time those years have been to the American tax payers. Once again, thank God I'm Canadian and supporting socialized medicine instead of your ineptitude."

The man turned red and opened his mouth to respond and John figured then would be a good time to step in. "McKay! Heads up."

"What?" Rodney turned just in time to receive a set of car keys in the middle of his chest. "Ow. Why the hell did you do that?"

The other scientist snickered then turned back to the computer with a frown when McKay glared at him.

John bent and retrieved the keys. "Well, you were supposed to catch them."

"And heads up it supposed to tell me that?"

"For most normal humans, yes, that would be sufficient warning."

"I'm not talking warning, I'm talking directions. Heads up means 'oh, look, be aware'." His hands and head bobbed and weaved with his words.

"And what would you have preferred? Attention Rodney McKay, I am about to throw a set of car keys to you." John's eyes widened in mock warning. "Be alert."

Rodney crossed his arms and raised his chin. "How about 'catch'?"

John tossed them again with a smug, "Catch," and watched as they once again bounced of the astrophysicist and tumbled to the floor.

Rodney grimaced. "Well, that time a little warning would have been nice."

With a disbelieving shake of his head, John picked up the keys once more and dangled them before McKay. "Ready?"

Rodney rolled his eyes and opened his hand.

"I'm going to drop the keys," John told him slowly and deliberately.

"Oh for the love of…" McKay snatched them away, looked at the key ring and furrowed his brow. "Classic Convertibles Rentals?"

John smiled and rocked on his heels. "Pack your bag; meet up top side in thirty minutes. We're going to Vegas."

The confusion turned to understanding and then an almost embarrassed denial. "Oh, no, no, no, Sheppard. Not now. I mean now's bad, really, really bad. I'm helping with the repairs to the Daedalus systems, I still have to pick the new staffers coming on board, I need to check up on my cat…"

John poked him once in the shoulder on the patch stained with John's own blood. The physicist silenced, and looked where the hand had contacted his arm.

"Pack your bag, McKay," John told him firmly. "We're going to Vegas."

Rodney sighed but nodded his head, gripping the keys a little tighter. John pushed his shoulder good-naturedly then headed toward the door. He turned as he entered the hallway. "Thirty minutes."

McKay jingled the key with a genuine smile. "See you topside."

With a nod of his head, he pivoted gleefully on his heels, making his way to his assigned quarters. Outrank him, outrank him, outrank him, outrank her… Vegas, here we come!

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"Sheppard, I swear to God I will slap you again if you don't wake the hell up!"

Rodney took the man's collar and shook him until he thought he could hear his teeth rattling in his head.

Why the hell did this shit always happen to them?

Seriously.

One minute he had been standing there trying not to doze off while that guy with the skirt made out of feathers that revealed way too much when he crossed his legs droned on and on about the Ancestors this and the Ancestors that, the next he was sitting with Sheppard as a narcotic slowly numbed the man from the feet up due to an accidental overdose of pizza toppings. And the most bizarre part was that he would have probably been in the exact same boat except that he hadn't been able to get a slice. Had had it slapped out of his hands by John himself due to Sheppard's rule that Rodney not eat anything on an alien planet until he had tasted it first to make sure if it didn't have some sort of citrus in it.

"They're Epi-pens not ballpoints, Rodney. Beckett doesn't get a bulk discount, you know," John would tell him as he would leisurely bite into the meal with a grin, roll the food on his tongue, look thoughtful, then say, "Hmmmm, hard to tell, better take another bite to be sure."

Annoying as fucking hell, and yet he had only had to use the self-injector off world once since the rule had been put in place. But Epi-pens weren't going to help John, and he just hoped to hell that Carson could.

Rodney released his hold on the black collar and prepared to deliver another slap when Sheppard's eyes popped open.

"Hey, Rodney, what say we stop for snacks before we hit the road?"

"What?"

"I've got a cooler in the back, we just need to stock it."

"John, we're not on Earth," he reminded him gently, "we're back in Pegasus."

"Oh," Sheppard said with mild disappointment. "Too bad, I could really go for some Cheetos right now."

Rodney snorted. "Yeah, me too."

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The car, a powder blue 1967 Mustang convertible, was a beauty, with just enough of a glub, glub, glub in the exhaust headers that Rodney could feel it vibrating through the steering column as he turned into the parking lot of the Safeway grocery store on the western edge of Colorado Springs.

Rodney looked over at Sheppard whose wide grin mirrored his own. "See? Isn't this better than doing paperwork and checking up on your cat?"

"I have a cat?" Rodney asked distractedly as he ran his hands reverently over the dash board of the classic automobile.

John slapped him lightly on the shoulder. "That's the spirit. Let's get the grub so you can get back to fondling your new girlfriend here and we can make Vegas before dawn."

Rodney slipped out of the leather seat with a certain amount of reluctance and followed Sheppard into the grocery store where they both stopped and stared. They had spent the past year scraping and bartering for every scrap of food they could get their hands on to keep the expedition members fed. And here they were surrounded by more food than they had seen in one place for months, with nothing more dangerous between them and it than bad muzak in their ears and a grey-hair pushing a wobbly-wheeled grocery cart in their path.

"Wow," Sheppard said simply.

"Yeah," Rodney agreed.

"Divide and conquer?" John suggested. "You get the drinks and I'll get the chips."

"Sure."

Rodney grabbed a basket and headed toward the drink aisle and skipped past the high octane Mt. Dew that was beloved of highly caffeinated labrats the scientific world over as orange juice concentrate and citric acid had kept him away from that little perk me up for his entire life. Instead he went straight for the Diet Dr. Pibb that had a higher caffeine content anyway, grabbed a six pack… then decided on a second as well. He then realized he had no idea what John would drink. He couldn't help but think that was odd. He knew the man loaded a bullet in the barrel of his M-9 so that he always had sixteen shots instead of the magazine-supplied fifteen, double tied his boot laces and tucked in the strings, and when given a preference would choose the peanut butter chocolate power bars over any others, which he kept in the upper right hand pocket of his vest, with his extra ammo clip in the left. But he had no idea what his soda of preference was.

Was he a Coke or Pepsi guy? Did he prefer a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder with Cheese? Or for that matter did he like McDonald's or Burger King the best? Wasn't that the sort of thing you were supposed to know about a best friend?

Maybe on Earth. Maybe if they had become friends grabbing fast food lunches instead of running for their lives and saving an expedition worth of people on a regular basis. Maybe if they spent their free time hanging out at the local bar on weekends instead of launching glowing water gloves off balconies on an alien planet. But standing here surrounded by sodas, Rodney couldn't help but wonder which one was the alien planet and which one was home.

He had abandoned the drinks and gone in search of John and answers, when he found it. He actually walked past, stopped, backed up, and stood in awe. And that's were Sheppard found him a few moments later, standing dead center of the aisle, an open-mouthed look of amazement on his face.

"Rodney?"

He drew his eyes away from the wonder before him, looked at Sheppard then back to the wall of cereal boxes that seemed to spread endlessly on either side of him.

"I'd forgotten," he said simply.

"Forgotten what?" John gave him an odd look with a hint of worry.

"How many choices there were for breakfast cereal."

"Yeah, it's kind of overwhelming, huh?"

Rodney nodded silently, then snatched a box from the shelf. "Do you know how long it's been since I've had a bowl of Lucky Charms?" He quickly grabbed two more boxes of the precious manna and pulled them to his chest protectively.

"I'm kind of partial to Apple Jacks myself."

Rodney took two steps down the aisle, grabbed a box of Apple Jacks and handed it to Sheppard. "I never knew that about you," he told him with a slightly dazed smile.

John grabbed two more boxes of Apple Jacks for himself and smiled back. "Well, now you do."

And maybe it wasn't the type of thing that would win him the Nobel, but at that moment, it seemed to be one of the most amazing discoveries Rodney had ever made in his life.

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John had finally come to the conclusion that he had really fucked up this time. The numbness that had claimed his lower body was now starting in his hands so that lifting his arms had become an act of mind over matter, and given the fuzzy nature of his mental ability at the moment, that wasn't a very promising prospect. But honestly, who would have thought that something as simple as a pizza of welcome would be potentially lethal?

He was still able to move his head and still able to speak, although both were done sloppily and with a great deal of effort on his part. He flopped his head in the direction of McKay, watching as the man sat with his head leaning back against the wall beside him, watching him in return with a quiet intensity that he usually reserved for complicated theoretical calculations and anything that combined chocolate and coffee.

"What?" he asked the man who was making him feel like a particularly difficult question on a physics final exam.

"You still in there?"

"Relax, McKay," he reassured, struggling to lift his arms to pat the other man's upraised knee. Instead he managed to bounce his hand awkwardly off the physicist's shin.

Rodney frowned at the action. "Oh, yeah, that really fills me with all sorts of confidence." He sighed. "It's getting worse isn't it? The paralysis?"

John tried for a shrug. "It's not getting better, that's for sure."

McKay looked at his watch yet again. "Ronon and Teyla should have Carson through the gate by now. I told Ronon to growl at him if he took too long gathering his gear."

With a snort, John conceded, "That should work."

"That is if it doesn't backfire on me and Carson doesn't decide to start training him for the sheepdog trials. Having him gather nurses into a circle, separating out the blondes, rewarding him an affectionate, 'That'll do, Dex. That'll do'."

John smiled at the image. "So what do you think of Ronon?"

McKay considered for a moment. "He's very… looming. What about you?"

"I think he's a hell of a fighter. And bad table manners and the need to improve his socialization skills aside, he's a real asset to the team… but he's not Ford."

"No," Rodney agreed a little wistfully, "he's not. For one, I can assure you I've never seen Ford's navel, a body part that Dex seems very proud of the way he shows it off with every shirt that he owns, and I doubt we would ever have to worry about PETA protesting around the gate regarding the Lieutenant's wardrobe."

"Yeah, he does have that whole Grizzly Adams meets North Shore vibe going, doesn't he?"

"Still, he's not nearly as openly psychotic as Ford was the last time I hung out with him."

"He was really that bad?" Not that he hadn't had his own doubts about his former L-T's mental condition, considering he had intentionally run into a Wraith culling beam the last time he had seen him.

McKay sighed heavily. "Yeah, he was really that bad."

"Do you think…?" John hesitated, almost afraid to ask the question. "Do you think we could get him back even if we got him back? I mean the real him."

Rodney ran a hand through his hair, sending the short wisps standing at a haphazard attention. "Do you really want to talk about this now?"

John looked toward the window, the sun setting outside the small hut they had been given casting a pink glow to the room. Maybe he didn't want to talk about it. There were several things he really didn't want to talk to McKay about, but then again, that hadn't stopped him before.

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The trouble with driving the I-70 from Colorado Springs to Vegas was that you were driving into the setting sun. And although there was nothing like the feel of wind in your hair and sun on your face when you were driving across the desert in a kick-ass convertible, the glare of the late afternoon sun was a real bitch.

John looked over from the driver's seat at McKay and grinned at the white streak of sunblock that was still smeared across Rodney's temple. The man had an obsession with protection from solar radiation that bordered on obsessive and, yet, John couldn't think of a time he had seen his friend look so… relaxed. Relaxed wasn't a word that usually came to mind with Rodney. Energetic, spastic, frantic, focused, even exhausted… but relaxed, not so often. He sat with an arm resting on the door of the car, wind ruffling his thin hair, giving it an almost blond cast compared to the usual light brown. The blue eyes were hidden behind the wrap-around sunglasses he had picked up at the grocery store along with the boxes of Lucky Charms, one of which was currently open, being eaten dry, one magically delicious handful at a time. With a grin of his own, he offered John the box with a small shake.

"No thanks, I'm good." And he really was. For the first time in a long time he really was.

"Would you rather have the Apple Jacks? I can open them for you, if you want."

"Nah, maybe later. I still have Cheetos breath. The two combined just doesn't sound too appetizing."

"Well, if you change your mind, Shep, just let me know."

John gave him a skeptical look. "Did you just call me, Shep?"

"Yeah."

"Why?"

"I'm trying something new." He closed up his box of cereal and stashed it back behind the driver's seat.

"Once again, why?"

"Well, I can't call you 'Major' anymore." He said it like that should clarify the entire matter.

"You could call me 'Colonel'."

"There're too many Colonels running around now, especially at the SGC," McKay explained with a shake of his head. "I call that out and half the people in the room turn around. Besides is it Colonel or Lieutenant Colonel?"

"I'm a Lt. Colonel, as you well know, Rodney." John smirked. "You were at the ceremony. But you simply call me Colonel."

"Then if we call Caldwell 'Colonel' and he's a full Colonel and you 'Colonel' even though in reality you are a Lt. Colonel, how do we know who outranks who in a simple conversation?"

John rolled his eyes, refusing to respond to his friend's goads. "McKay, you've been employed by the military almost as long as I have. You know how this works."

"Ah, yes, the military shuck and jive, one of my favorite shows. I have to admit that I really enjoy watching our newly appointed light Colonel, that would be you, clench his jaw every time he is given an order from our newly arrived bird Colonel, that would be Caldwell. Now explain to me again how you managed to be promoted and demoted practically on the same day."

John simply shrugged. "It's just the way life is in the military, especially during wartime. One minute you're running the show, the next you're following orders. Besides, I'm still ranking military on Atlantis... when he's not there to outrank me."

"Yes, well that line of crap may work for your Stars and Stripes interview, but I know you, Maj… Col…" Rodney threw up exasperated hands. "I can't do this, it's like you went and changed your name. This must be what it felt like when Gordon Sumner walked in one day and said, 'From now on I want you to call me Sting'."

"I do have a first name; you could just call me John."

McKay shook his head. "Too personal."

"After all we've been through together, Rodney, you're allowed to get personal."

"Not during work hours. There is a time and a place for everything, including first names. You know, not that I'm not happy for your promotion or that you don't deserve it, but my life would have been much easier if they had just left you as a Major."

"Gee, I'm sorry that my career development has interfered with your comfort level, McKay."

"Eh, not like you had much say in the matter." Rodney flicked his hand dismissively. "I mean, one day you were just sitting there a lowly yet powerful Major preparing to defend Atlantis against the Wraith, the next the gate opens up and starts spitting out Marines like some army man machine at a Taiwanese toy factory had gone into overdrive. A few days later, they're slapping silver leafs on you. I mean, really, you were still reeling from your brush with death, I know I was. What were you going to do, turn it down?"

John smiled in dawning realization. "You know, I just figured this all out. You're jealous. You're jealous that I got some recognition for everything that came about and you didn't."

John could picture the eyes rolling behind the sunglasses as the mouth tightened crookedly. "Please, not all of us are glory-mongers. Some of us are just content to serve as best we can, regardless of the sacrifices we make on a daily basis, without so much as a thank you for saving the collective asses of the city once again."

"I knew it!"

"Well, would it kill someone just to give a little recognition; a party, a banner, a cake even?"

"McKay, you are already the highest ranking scientist on Atlantis. What do you want them to do, declare you supreme ruler? You've already surpassed most of the countries on Earth with your nuclear weapons capabilities."

Rodney glowered from the passenger seat. "Not funny, John, not funny at all."

"I thought 'John' was too personal."

"This is personal."

Yeah, maybe it was. John sighed. They had avoided talking about this for a couple of weeks now; he had hoped he would get to gloss right over it. He should have known that would never happen with McKay. "Rodney, what I started to do with that bomb…."

"What you did. Not started, not tried, did. You got in a jumper and flew off with every intention of blowing up yourself and a Hive ship with an armed nuclear bomb that I built."

"Well, technically the Genii built it."

"Please, all they had were glorified Weber barbeques filled with bailing wire and uranium. They were little more than tripping hazards until Radek and I got our hands on them."

"What was I supposed to do? Let the Wraith wipe us all out, take the city, and head off to Earth?"

Rodney turned and regarded the passing desert, the red rocks of Utah reflecting the glow of the late afternoon sun. "No, you did what you had to do," he admitted quietly. "And I had already decided I would be the one piloting the second jumper if the Daedalus hadn't shown up when she did."

"What?" John was honestly shocked, almost running onto the shoulder of the highway as he stared at his traveling companion.

"Couldn't let you hog all the glory," Rodney told him simply with a shrug.

"Rodney, that would have been absolutely insane."

"Probably, but I don't think I would have kept a tight rein on my sanity for much longer, seeing as I had become Georgie Hibbert on a much grander scale."

"Who the hell is Georgie Hibbert?" Sometimes Rodney's train of thought veered off course worse than his flying did.

"Kid in my neighborhood growing up. He used to spend all of his allowance on feeder goldfish and bottle rockets. Every Friday he would launch about a dozen of them into the woods behind our housing development. Have you ever seen a goldfish that has been strapped to a bottle rocket and fired into the trees?"

"No, can't say that I have."

"Well, neither have I because there isn't anything left. I have a feeling there is even less to see when you're talking human flesh going critical in space. I've witnessed some horrible things since arriving in the Pegasus Galaxy; I watched the Wraith destroy the weapon satellite with Peter on board, I watched Brendan kill himself, I've watched people just disappear during a culling and somehow I've managed to maintain my sanity. I don't think I would have been so fortunate after strapping my best friend to a nuclear bomb and watching him detonate in the upper atmosphere of Atlantis, no matter how noble or necessary the cause."

John hadn't really thought about that when he had told Rodney, 'so long'. Hadn't really thought about anything except that the chair wasn't working, the Hive ships were getting closer and Vegas was getting farther and farther away. He was a goner no matter what. But by going, maybe most of the others wouldn't have to follow. He had thought that someone else would have had to make that same trip but he never would have thought Rodney would be the one to make it.

"Weir wouldn't have let you go," John told him matter-of-factly, pushing that thought firmly out of mind. "You're too vital to the expedition."

"Yes, well, they would have just had to lock me in my quarters, then. Put someone in there to wipe my drool and record my thoughts, like a mad prophet. I can see it now, Kavanagh sitting with a pen and paper writing all my rambling dialogue so that Radek could take them and try to decipher through what was valuable scientific information and what were the delusions of a madman."

"So, aside from the drool, not much would change." John grinned, hoping to deflect the subject away from near death and near madness.

"You may think it was funny, Major," Rodney scowled. "But I for one don't."

"I don't think it was funny, Rodney," he told him honestly, then he smiled. "But you still calling me 'Major' is. I thought you were supposed to be a goddamn genius, McKay."

Rodney let out a frustrated growl and crossed his arms. "That's it! From now on you're Shep, end of discussion."

John grimaced internally. He'd been called Shep before, many times. Most of the guys he had been stationed with in Afghanistan had called him that. Most of those guys were dead now, too. It had almost taken on a jinxed quality and he had no desire for that curse to carry over to McKay.

John raised his eyebrows behind his own sunglasses and stared straight ahead at the road leading to a destination that a few weeks before had seemed further than the actual expanse of space that separated them from it. "Whatever you say, Mac."

Out of the corner of his eye he could see Rodney turn and regard him with a somewhat stunned expression that dissolved into simple annoyance. With a small frown McKay admitted, "You know, Colonel has a nice ring to it after all."

Yes, John thought to himself, it certainly does. But having the two of them still drawing breath to say it was even better.

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"Colonel?"

John turned his head back from the window and Rodney let out a relieved sigh. He had fallen silent after his question about Ford and Rodney's avoidance of it. And as happy as Rodney was not to have to talk about that anymore, he had feared the man had drifted off and he would have to go back to slapping and shaking again.

Sheppard gave him a drowsy smile. "You got it right, McKay."

"Got what right?"

"My rank."

"Oh, well, practice makes perfect I guess."

"Didn't know you had to practice anything. Thought you just knew it all from the moment you were spawned or hatched or whatever it is that geniuses do."

"Spontaneously manifest ourselves in a bizarre Newtonian form of immaculate conception."

John snorted weakly. "I knew it had to be something like that, implanted with the knowledge of all the geniuses before you."

"Well, evidently I didn't get all my genetic memories or I wouldn't be trying to regain your trust right now."

"I trust you in some things."

Rodney shook his head. Now was not the time to rehash this. Of course, no time seemed to be the time to rehash this. He had tried, he honestly had, but Sheppard's reassurance that he would be able to regain his trust over time just weren't all that reassuring as the days had turned into weeks and not much had changed. Not that he hadn't had a few trust issues of his own. "Forget I said anything."

"It's just… Christ, Rodney, you blew up a fucking solar system. Setting off the smoke alarms in the lab kind of pales in comparison to that."

"I'm well aware of what I did, Sheppard. Killing a man and destroying planets isn't exactly on my normal to do list. It kind of sticks out on the daily log."

Sheppard frowned defensively. "You know I really went out on a limb for you…"

Rodney rolled his eyes at the nerve of him. He was worried about his standing with Elizabeth. Since when had that mattered in the past? "Yes, and you also left me dangling from one, upside down I might add, during a Wraith culling. Too bad Dex cut me down or you might have had a chance to shoot the Dart I was in again."

"Hey, I apologized for that…"

"No, you took responsibility for it, which is exactly what I did for my actions on Doranda, but evidently that isn't good enough for you."

"Besides, Ford…"

"Is gone, Major," Rodney snapped at him. "Ford is gone and the chances of us ever getting him back are slim to none."

"I'll get him back, McKay," Sheppard told him firmly. "And it's Colonel, for God's sake."

With a small mumbling fit, Rodney stood. "Fuck!" He kicked the wall where he had been sitting. "Why? Why, why, why did it all have to change? You go on one lousy suicide run and the next thing I know everything is different."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Ford is supposed to be here, not Dex. You're supposed to trust me to save the day and I'm supposed to trust you to watch my back. That's the way it's supposed to work, only for some reason it's not working that way anymore."

"You don't trust me… to watch your back?" Rodney could hear the disbelief, the hurt, but there was something more… a certain amount of breathlessness.

"John? What's wrong?" He dropped to his knees beside him, the anger and frustration slipping away to be replaced by concern.

"You don't trust me… to watch your back?"

"John, you're not breathing right." And that's when he realized Sheppard wasn't moving his arms at all. And nothing else really mattered at all.

"It's all… tingly around my chest… Christ, Rodney, you… don't trust me?"

"Let's not talk about this right now, okay?"

"Why didn't… you say… anything?"

"In fact, maybe you shouldn't talk at all."

"If not now… when?" He pulled in a shallow breath. "May not get… another chance …I'm sorry."

"Well, too bad, apology not accepted. I'm not taking a perceived death bed act of contrition. You do it in full health or not at all."

"Rodney…"

"Enough, all right? Carson will be here any minute. You just concentrate on breathing and we'll work it all out back on Atlantis."

"Sorry…"

"John, shut up and breathe. You are so goddamn annoying sometimes. Everything has to be your way, your rules, even Vegas."

Sheppard managed a little smirk. "Yeah… but they're… good rules."

Rodney forced a smile in return. "Well, sometimes they definitely have their merits."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Sheppard dropped his bag and flopped across the end of his bed in the Treasure Island Resort Hotel and Casino located in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip. Rodney dropped his own duffle on top of the other bed and crinkled up his nose.

"You do know that hotel bedspreads are one of the most disease ridden items you will ever come across, don't you?"

John closed his eyes and smiled. "It's Vegas, Rodney. This is probably the least disease ridden thing you will run across while we're here."

Rodney pulled back the bedding and sat on the sheets. "So, what's the plan?"

"Well, it's three in the morning." John rubbed at his eyes as he regarded his watch. "We could eat a two buck steak and eggs, hit the tables until dawn, and then crash until the lunch buffet opens."

Steaks… from real cows. The thought alone had Rodney's mouth watering. "Well, what are we waiting for?"

John pushed himself up from the bed and blinked thickly. "Right. Just let me hit the head and we're out of here."

Sheppard disappeared into the bathroom while Rodney looked out the window and onto Las Vegas Blvd below, watching the people and cars moving even at this late hour.. early hour.. whatever you called it in the city that never sleeps… or was that New York? Rodney shook his head to clear the fuzzy thoughts then called out when he heard the water running in the bathroom.

"So, I was thinking, maybe we should come up with some sort of signal in case one of us brings someone back to the room and needs some privacy."

John raised eyebrows and leaned out the bathroom door, toweling away the water he had splashed on his face. "You do realize we are planning to go to strip clubs, don't you, Rodney?"

"Yeah, so?"

"Soooo, you don't pick up women at strip clubs. That's rule number one in Sin City; its too expensive and that whole 'what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas' really doesn't apply to STD-induced cold sores and incontinence. Besides, I don't think you want to give Beckett that kind of ammunition to use against you."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "There are other women besides strippers and prostitutes in Las Vegas, Sheppard."

"True, but I've seen your flirting skills, or your sad representation of such, in action. I have better odds of hitting Megabucks on the slots than accidentally walking in on you and a drunken bachelorette looking for a last fling before her wedding day. "

Rodney crossed his arms and raised his chin defensively. "It could happen."

"Fine," Sheppard conceded as he leaned casually against the doorframe. "On the off chance that there is a Women in Mathematics convention going on here and you manage to impress the hell out of one of them with your Rainman-esque card counting abilities, all you have to do is tell me and I'll be sure to give you the ten minutes of privacy you'll need."

Rodney just glared and John held up placating hands. "Okay, that wasn't fair. Fifteen. After all it's probably been a while and you'll need the extra time to figure out how to unhook her bra."

"You are such a fucking asshole. I don't know why the hell I even came on this trip with you in the first place."

John grinned as he walked across the room and slung an arm around Rodney's shoulder. "Because we managed to stay alive during a really shitty year and I for one think we deserve to have a little fun. Besides, the way we beat the odds in Pegasus, the house doesn't stand a chance against us." Rodney bobbled his head in reluctant agreement, so Sheppard continued. "In fact, given the way our luck has been running, I bet you do get laid this weekend, so just let me know and you can have the room for as long as you need it. Hell, take a full hour and romance her a little bit before."

"Gee, a whole hour, thanks. You know, not everyone considers the elevator ride to the room as a form of foreplay, Colonel."

"It can be if done properly," John told him with a slap to his back.

"Still, it seems like we should have some sort of code. It just doesn't seem right to walk up and say 'Hey, John, I'm heading up to the room to have sex. Back in a bit'."

Sheppard looked at him like he had grown a second head. "Damn straight you would never say that. You just called me John."

"In the car you told me to call you John."

John shook his head as if talking to a slow child. "Rule number two for Vegas: Never use your real name."

"In a couple of weeks we'll be on the other side of the universe as part of a top secret project. I seriously doubt anyone would be able to find us."

"A lot can happen in two weeks, McKay. No, we need to come up with aliases."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Fine. Han and Luke?"

Sheppard shook his head. "Han isn't common enough, unless I decide to speak with a fake German accent the whole time and that's too much work."

"So why do you automatically get to be Han?"

"You're kidding, right? Han would know you need to have a fake name in Vegas. Luke, not so much."

"Okay, Bo and Luke, then."

Sheppard grimaced at the proposal. "Maybe we should think a little closer to home," John suggested. "Jack and Daniel?"

Rodney cringed. "I can't pretend to be an archeologist for the entire time."

"You don't have to take the occupation, just the name."

"No, the taint would still be there."

Sheppard sighed. "How about Sam, then. Jack and Sam would work and you could still be an astrophysicist."

"No, too much implied sexual tension."

"Then I give up, you come up with something," John told him with exasperation.

"Okay, well, James T. is an obvious choice for you. But there is no way in hell you are calling me Spock for the entire trip."

"I don't know, with all your talk about having sex, I'm starting to think you may have entered into the Pon Farr." Rodney glared and John just grinned at him, then his eyes widened with an idea. "I've got it… Albert. You cannot complain about Albert."

Rodney seemed to consider that name. "Albert could work. Can I claim the Nobel as well?"

"It's Vegas, you can do anything you want… except sleep with strippers and use your real name… and hit on women with Adam's Apples and broad shoulders, but we'll get to that rule in a little bit."

"Albert it is," Rodney agreed with a smile.

Sheppard smiled in return. "Okay, then, I think it's time for Jim and Al to hit the floors."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Waking up in the infirmary wasn't that unusual. Waking up without McKay or at least one of his teammates present was. John scanned the room with bleary eyes until they came to rest on Beckett conversing with one of the nurses at the corner of his curtained area. But the chair next to his bed was empty, and that just felt… wrong. Unless, something had happened to the others as well.

In a small moment of panic he thought back over what had occurred to land him once again in the care of the good doctor. Pizza, paralysis, and Rodney yelling at him to just shut up and breathe. Only that wasn't the only thing Rodney had been yelling at him about. And even with Beckett's arrival on the planet and the last recollection of a needle going into his arm just as the light were going out, the fact that McKay didn't trust him anymore was what he remembered most.

So, evidently this was how he was being punished, deserted in the infirmary to wake up and sort these things out for himself. It sucked. It really did. And it just made him regret his decision to avoid waiting with Rodney after the whole Dart incident even more, because he could only imagine the level of suckage to wake by yourself only to find out you weren't really by yourself at all but sharing your body with another consciousness.

But how the hell were you supposed to face your best friend after you had personally given the orders to shoot him out of the sky? You could rationalize it to yourself all day long as you hovered outside the door to the infirmary waiting to see if he was okay, tell yourself that you were saving Atlantis once again, that Rodney would have done the same if the roles were reversed, that if the Dart had made it through the gate he would have been gone forever anyway But unsentimental professionalism only offers so much comfort to a guilty conscience in a empty hallway.

Combine that with his halfhearted apology because it's damn hard to have a heart to heart when you're being overheard by a subordinate that has taken up temporary residence in your buddy's head, and in hind sight he could see the cracks forming in what had become a strong foundation of support. A support he really hadn't realized how dependent he had become on until just now.

Beckett finished up his conversation with the nurse and turned to see him awake. He smiled in his friendliest bedside manner. "You're awake, then, are you? How are you feeling?"

"Like my magic carpet took a header into a mountain side." He hadn't realized how raw his throat was until he actually tried to speak. Carson held a glass of water for him while he sipped from the straw. Once finished, he leaned back against the pillow of his bed.

"Yes, well, crashing is such sweet sorrow, to paraphrase the Bard." The physician shined a penlight in his eyes as he told him. "You're blood chemistries indicate that the narcotic has just about left your system. But I'm going to keep you as my guest for at least another day. The soreness in your throat is from the tube, but it should pass soon enough. Just let the nurse know if you need a little something for it."

"The tube?" That didn't sound like a good thing.

"You're lungs stopped working due to the drugs, Colonel. I had to intervene on your behalf until they were up and running again."

John nodded his understanding then looked up at a familiar, irritated voice. "What the hell, Carson? You said you would call me if he woke up."

"He did just this minute, Rodney. My Hippocratic Oath is to my patients, not annoying looky loos that won't give me a moment's peace."

McKay pushed his way past Beckett with a mumbled, "I knew I shouldn't have left."

Carson made some notes in John's file without looking up. "You hadn't eaten in over ten hours, Rodney. It's bad enough having you underfoot the entire time. The last thing I want to do is have you as a patient as well."

"No, the last thing you want me to do is give my opinion to all the single women on Atlantis of your kissing skills or lack thereof. Evidently sheep like a lot of tongue." Rodney shuddered at the memory and John couldn't help but grimace himself.

Beckett simply finished up his notes. "That reminds me, Rodney, severe halitosis can be a sign of a serious problem. You need to come see me for a full physical and blood work up. I'll have the nurse put you on my schedule for next week."

He closed the file and patted John's arm. "Call if you need anything, including noise abatement. I'll be more than happy to have him removed bodily if he becomes more of a nuisance than he already is."

Rodney frowned after the doctor then turned back to John. "So how are you feeling? Any overwhelming desires to listen to Jefferson Airplane while writing poetry about ice caves and Kubla Kahn?"

John snorted, feeling better already. "No, at least not yet. Although Cheetos would be pretty tasty right about now."

"Ah, nothing tops off a day and a half of intubation and ventilators like a raging case of the munchies."

John watched as Rodney dropped heavily into the chair, noting the dark shadow of stubble on his jaw and the darker circles under his eyes. "Have you been here the entire time?"

"Well, aside from an occasional bathroom break and forced meal times, yes. Why?"

As if he hadn't felt guilty enough. John shook his head. "It's nothing. I just thought after… never mind."

McKay gave him a tired, confused look that transformed into one of surprise. "Oh. You mean after what I said back on the planet. You really thought I wouldn't be here because of that?"

Talking about crap like this was the last thing in the world he wanted to do. No, that wasn't really the truth. Waking up to the feeling of abandonment he had experienced when he first opened his eyes, that was the last thing he ever wanted to do again.

He laughed awkwardly. "Hell, McKay, I've been tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. I'm not sure what to think anymore."

Rodney suddenly became fascinated with his shoes. "I didn't mean it… what I said."

"Yes, you did."

With a shrug, McKay admitted, "Yeah, you're right, I did. I just wish that I hadn't."

"Yeah, me too." John took a deep breath and continued. "When I ran past you strung up there… Fuck, I didn't even see you."

"Hello, I was dressed in a red radiation suit swinging in your face. How could you not see me?"

"I mean I saw you, but it just didn't register. All I could think was, 'I have to get Ford. If I don't do it now, I never will'." John smiled sadly and picked at the blanket over his legs. "I guess I never will."

"You will," Rodney assured him, but by the look on his face, even the scientist knew it was only half hearted.

John shook his head. "You were right, McKay. He's gone. He was my responsibility and I let him down."

"You can't be responsible for everyone."

"You didn't talk to his family, Rodney. I did. If I don't get him back, I'm letting them down, too."

Rodney sighed heavily then pinned him with blue eyes. "John, do you remember what you told me when I kept trying to get the weapon system to shut down? About the pilots that just kept trying to fix their planes up until the moment they crashed into the ground? Well, that's what you're doing with Ford. You can't fix everything, and I honestly don't know if he can be fixed."

He couldn't deny what Rodney was saying, but to give up on Ford at this point… he couldn't do that just yet either. Still, he could try to keep it from driving him into a tailspin straight into the ground.

"Ford and his family evidently aren't the only ones I've let down lately," John told him meaningfully. "Do you think that can be fixed?"

"Depends. Do you think you will ever really be able to trust me again?"

And there it was. How could he be upset that Rodney didn't trust him, when he didn't trust Rodney in return? Well, it was pretty damn easy actually. Not fair, but easy nonetheless. And selfish, and hurtful, and a completely shitty way to be.

"When I said I didn't trust you, I didn't mean… us, our friendship. Okay?"

Rodney snorted. "Really? Then why were you surprised I had been here all along?"

Jesus, he could get right to the heart of the fucking matter. "Because…" He sighed heavily then blurted. "Because I wasn't here with you after you were in the Dart crash."

"Oh, the crash, huh? Well, technically I guess catastrophic engine failure was the reason it plummeted from the sky. Of course there was the small matter of a mortar passing through it, but that's just a technicality."

"Fuck, McKay, do you think I don't know what I did? Do you think that doesn't eat at me? Why the hell do you think I wasn't in the infirmary with you? Because I wanted to give Dex charm school lessons? Yeah, that's loads of fun. I figured the last person you would want to see was me."

"Did you become psychic when I wasn't looking? Start having premonitions? Take up reading tarot cards and practicing divination?" John just regarded him with a scowl, so Rodney demanded, "Did you?"

"No."

"Then where the hell do you get off trying to read my mind? I swear to God, Sheppard, you are the most infuriating person I have ever met."

"I tired to apologize," John told him defensively. "You said we were okay."

"Well, gee, I kind of had Cadman in my head at the time, so telling you that it was really shitty waking up in the infirmary with just Carson hovering over me looking like he was trying to decide whether to sheer me or castrate me was pretty much out of the question."

"Yeah, I know, which is why I couldn't really say much either. Ever heard the phrase 'two's company, three's a crowd'?"

"Ever heard the phrase 'actions speak louder than words'? And believe me two can be pretty fucking crowded as well."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that I could have really used a little friendly support during that whole ordeal and instead I had you and most everyone else treating me like I was insane. I was practically relieved of duty, for Christ's sake." Rodney slumped back in his chair in a sort of weary defeat. "And then I had the pleasure of spending a really fun packed day with Ford… laughing, swapping tales, shooting at each other… you know your normal catching up sort of stuff. Then there was Doranda, the fucking cherry on the sundae."

"Rodney…" John started but he never got to finish.

"You know, before everything went south.. and north and pretty much every direction in a several million mile radius… before that, it really started to feel like old times again." He laughed dejectedly. "Sheppard and McKay beating the odds. Jim and Al beating the house. It was nice, you know?"

"Yeah, it was," John agreed.

They sat silently for a minute. The sounds of the infirmary rolling around, insulating them in their small little curtained enclosure, reminding John that there was a world outside that they would eventually have to get back to, and gee wouldn't be great if he could face it with a friend. Finally John took a deep breath and plunged ahead.

"I'm sorry," John told him honestly. "And you can't refuse to accept it this time because aside from a headache and an overwhelming desire for salty snacks, I'm pretty close to healthy at this point."

McKay gave him a small but genuine smile. "Apology accepted. And thanks… for going out on that limb for me to begin with and watching my back when I needed it from my own worst enemy on Doranda."

"Thanks for returning the favor just now. You're right about Ford. I'm not ready to give up just yet, but…"

"If anyone can bring him back, it's you." And this time, he didn't look so hopeless about the whole idea.

"Maybe," John conceded. "So are we okay now, really?"

"We're close."

John tried not to show his disappointment, but if he was as honest with himself as McKay was being, he couldn't argue with the assessment. "So how far along are we?"

Rodney gave a small smile with a shrug, the tinge of sadness barely discernable in the crooks of his mouth. "Oh, I'd say 60-40 in favor."

John gave his own small grin, hearing his own words from so long ago coming back to haunt him. Then he had been talking about friendship, now it was trust, but could you really have one without the other? "Really? Only 60-40?"

"Well, if things go well we could be up to 70-30 by the time you get out of the infirmary."

"Yeah, that sounds about right. Tell you what," John offered, "You promise not to blow up anymore solar systems, and I promise not to leave you hanging like a nitrile-encased piñata for the Wraith. Deal?"

Rodney studied the extended hand for a few seconds before finally taking it in a firm shake. "Deal."

John squeezed the hand a little tighter and Rodney enclosed the grasp with his other hand for a split second before releasing it. They had made it to 100 before. He had no doubt that in time they could make it again.

"Besides," John told him, "we have another road trip to plan."

"Decide where you want to go, yet?" Rodney asked him.

"You decide," John told him with a smirk. "I'll trust you to come up with someplace good."

Rodney opened his mouth to speak, but John overrode him before he could. "As long as it's not Niagara Falls."

McKay closed his mouth and leaned back in his seat in a sulk. "Fine, how do you feel about Elvis?"

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

There was nothing quite like the smell of the desert after a rainstorm, sweet sage blending with the pungent bite of creosote and mesquite. The air fragrant and cool, clean and crisp, so that when they had lowered the top on the Mustang once the last few drizzles had died away, the clouds had parted to reveal a night sky crystalline with stars.

Rodney drove with one hand on the wheel and the other tapping out the rhythm to 'Folsom Prison Blues' on the side of the door. Sheppard slouched in the bucket seat beside him, his head resting on the seatback so that he was looking up into the starlit sky. He was singing along softly with the lyrics, his lips quirking faintly as the prisoners on the live recording let out a cheer when Johnny Cash sang the line about shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die. Rodney had never really listened to The Man in Black before. Sure he had heard him, but listened, really listened to one of his recordings, never. At least not until now. He was starting to understand why John liked the musician so much.

"Where is Folsom Prison, anyway?"

John rolled his head to the side so that he could look at Rodney. "What? Oh, the prison? Somewhere in California. Near Sacramento, I think."

"So you've never been there?"

"Noooo. Why would you think I would have been to a prison?"

Rodney shrugged. "I don't know, a lot of people make trips to famous places. Little pilgrimages to places that have special meaning for them. Just thought you might have gone seeing as you're such a Johnny Cash fan, that's all."

John rolled his head back so that he was once again looking up into the night sky. "Nope, never been."

"Would you want to? I mean, given the chance?"

"And do what? Take my picture at the front gates and visit the gift shop for a Property of Folsom Prison T-shirt?"

"Maybe."

John rolled his head back once again. "Rodney, what are you getting at with this line of questioning?"

"I was just thinking that we might want to do something like this again. Another road trip the next time we're back on Earth."

"Really?" Sheppard asked with a grin. "You'd want to take another trip?"

"Yeah. I actually had a good time."

"You didn't get laid," John pointed out with a sympathetic frown.

Rodney grinned smugly. "No, but I got a lap dance from a stripper wearing nothing but a g-string and a lab coat."

"You liked that?" John shot his own grin at his friend. "I had to pay extra for that, you know."

"Well isn't that ironic; paying extra for the dancer to wear more clothes."

"Eh, that's Lost Wages for you." John turned back to the stars. "Hey, McKay, where's Atlantis?"

"Oh, well, it's kind of hard to see." Rodney oriented himself then pointed out a bright star. "See that one there? Well, Pegasus is that smear of blue sitting behind it."

"It's going to be pretty cool traveling back there on the Daedalus."

"Yes, well, cool for those of us who have nothing more to do than play tourist. Work for those of us with responsibilities beyond shooting guns and glowering at nasty aliens."

"Speaking of aliens, is there going to be another one of those naked little guys running around?"

"What the Asgard? Well, yes, there is at least one advisor assigned to both ships. Why?"

"I don't know, they just kind of weird me out."

"Sheppard, you have encountered numerous alien species since we've been in Atlantis and I've never seen you seriously weirded out by any them. Not even the Wraith."

"Yeah, but even the Wraith wear clothes."

"None of the women at the Olympic Gardens were wearing clothes, but you didn't seem to have a problem with that."

"If the Asgards had breasts and gave lap dances then maybe I wouldn't mind the fact that they don't wear clothes."

"So, what, if Hermiod were to give you a lap dance, you'd be okay with his nudity."

"Christ, Rodney, now I'm going to have that image in my head every time I see him."

"Just don't stare; they hate it when you stare."

"Well, now there's no way I'll be able not to stare."

"All I'm saying is they really don't like it when you stare."

"Can we please talk about something else?"

"Fine. So what are you going to do on the return trip?"

"Well, I get to fly the F-302s."

"Really?"

"Yep."

"Do you think you could maybe take me up in one of them?"

"Nope."

"Why the hell not?"

"The 302 is a fighter, Rodney, not a passenger craft. Strictly military. No civilians allowed."

"There have to be exceptions to the rule."

"No, sorry."

"Even in an emergency situation?"

"Not going to happen, McKay, so you might as well just let it go."

"Fine, now I want to talk about something else."

"But I didn't get to finish telling you all about the wonders of the 302."

"Did you know, Sheppard, that the Asgard have no genitalia whatsoever? Absolutely none."

"Okay, fine, we'll talk about something else. Where do you want to go on our next trip?"

"Hmmmm. I've never been to Niagara Falls."

"You've never been in an F-302 either, but you probably have a better chance at flying through space in one of those than getting me to take a trip with you to the Honeymoon Capital of the world."

"How about the Asgard home world, then? Little naked, genitalia-free creatures as far as the eye can see."

"Goddamnit, McKay, cut it out!"

"How about we just think it over for a few days. Not like we're going to be back on Earth anytime soon."

"No, no time soon." John sighed. "Hey, we have any cereal left?"

"No, finished off the last of it last night."

"Pull off at the next exit, would you? We need to restock for the year ahead."

"Good idea," Rodney agreed. Maybe he would buy an entire case to take back with him. With a year's supply of cereal stashed away, what could possibly happen to make the coming year as bad as the last? "But we're pretty much in the middle of nowhere, it may be a while."

"No rush." John turned his head toward him once again and gave him a sleepy smile. "You know, McKay, I actually had a good time, too." He let out yawn. "You want me to drive for a while?"

"Nah, I'm good." And he was. He really, really was.

"In that case, do you mind if I catch a little shut eye?"

"Be my guest, Major."

Sheppard snorted. "Colonel, McKay, Colonel."

"Damnit!"

John settled deeper into his slouch and shut his eyes. "Don't worry, Rodney, you'll get it… eventually."

"Gee, good to know you have faith in me, Colonel."

"See, there you go. I knew you could do it."

Rodney started to respond but the other man was already gone, the mumbled comment trailing off into a light snore even as his head tilted uncomfortably toward his shoulder. It must be a military thing, the ability to not so much drift peacefully into to sleep as slam forcefully into it. The song on the player had moved on to 'Dark as the Dungeon', not exactly a happy song by any means, but after the constant bombardment of flashing lights and flashy tourists in Las Vegas, it was as welcome as the star-filled night hanging heavy with the phantom smell of desert rain.

Rodney turned back to the road stretching out before him, leading them back to Colorado, back to Pegasus, back to the headaches and the sleepless nights and the long missions and the short tempers and everything else that was quickly coming to define home. And as much he had enjoyed the Lady Luck and Lucky Charms of Earth, he couldn't imagine being anyplace but Atlantis for the long haul.

Sheppard snorted, shifted, and settled again, Johnny Cash sang about dark mines and darker hearts, and Rodney drove a powder blue 1968 Mustang convertible, in a straight line, he might add, across the Colorado Plateau and thought about home and road trips and what was coming next and where they had been and where they were yet to go.

He couldn't believe that John didn't want to see Niagara Falls. It was a natural wonder for Pete's sake.

Absently he wondered how he might feel about Graceland.

The End.