Chapter Three

Samantha snuggled into Daniel's arms, enjoying the afterglow of fantastic sex. It had been a month since their reconciliation, and things were terrific. She realised just how much she had missed him, now that she had him back in her life. For the two months they had been apart, she had forced herself to get on with life without him. Now that they were back together, she couldn't imagine how she'd ever thought that possible.

Daniel idly ran his fingers down her back. No-one knew her the way Daniel did. She hoped this never ended.

A thought occurred to her, reminding that it would have to end, at least for a little while. She had put of telling Daniel about Elizabeth Weir's request, knowing he would have an absolute shit fit over it. "Daniel?" she asked casually.

"Hmm-hmmm?" he answered, distracted by his fascination with the smooth skin on her back. But then, most things about her – especially her body – fascinated him. He hadn't been with anyone during their breakup, hadn't been interested in anyone, hadn't been able to bring himself to pursue anyone even as a revenge thing, and now that he was back with Samantha, he was glad he hadn't. And glad she hadn't been with anyone else either, even though he wouldn't have held that against her. It was kind of like they'd been faithful to each other even when they hadn't been together.

If she'd known what he was thinking, she may have put of telling Daniel for another time. "I got a message from Doctor Weir. She wants me to go to Atlantis."

Daniel stopping tracing patterns on her back. "Why?" he asked suspiciously.

Samantha squirmed. Here came the hard part. "Um… apparently Rodney's absolutely miserable without Katie, and making everyone else miserable, and Weir seems to think I can do something about it."

"And what did you tell her?"

Samantha squirmed some more. "I told her I'd be on the next run the Daedalus made," she admitted.

"You agreed to go without even telling me?" Daniel clarified.

"Um…yes," Samantha admitted.

"You agreed to interfere in the life of the man who broke us up?"

"Well, when you put it like that," Samantha said. This was why she hadn't wanted to say anything to Daniel. Unfortunately, it was going to be kind of hard to slip away to Pegasus without her absence being noticed.

"We agreed we wouldn't mention it anymore," Daniel reminded her.

"I know… I felt bad. I mean, we got back together and… she means the world to him, Daniel, he was absolutely hysterical with guilt over it." Not to mention the little detail that she had started it – she had kissed Rodney, not the other way around. She'd never mentioned that to Daniel and wasn't about to now. But she felt like, having instigated their night together, she should at least try and help them reconcile – especially since she and Daniel had.

"That's his problem," Daniel said. He didn't meant to be callous, it certainly wasn't his nature, but the idea of Samantha seeing McKay again…"I don't want you to go."

"It's my decision," Samantha reminded him.

"Maybe… but it's my decision whether or not I want to be your boyfriend when you get back," Daniel retorted.

Samantha's eyes widened in surprise. She had expected a negative response from Daniel, but not this. "Are you threatening me?" she asked.

"Not at all. I'm telling you what's going to happen if you see him again. Jesus Christ, Sam, the last time you were alone with him you slept with him. How do you think I'm going to feel, knowing the same thing could happen all over again? No, we agreed to put it behind us. I can't stop you from going, and I know you'll do what you think is best, but if you go, I'm not going to be here for you when you get back."

She realised he was deadly serious. She couldn't entirely blame him. After all, of the last three times she had seen Rodney, twice she had slept with him and the third she had tried to. That wasn't exactly a good foundation to plead good intentions from. But it was something she felt she had an obligation to do. Things had worked out for her and Daniel and if her input could help Rodney and Katie, well, she should give it. But then, Daniel was serious about leaving her if she went to Atlantis, and as obligated as she felt towards Rodney, she was going to put her own relationship first.

There was, however, a third alternative. "Why don't you come with me?" she suggested. "You didn't really get to check things out the last time you were there and it would give you peace of mind. And… I really feel like this is something I should do," she added, knowing Daniel had always been a sucker for the human conscience.

Daniel only had to think about it for a minute. He'd always been interested in Atlantis, but circumstances had meant he'd never gotten to fully check the place out. He would like to go again, and he could see Samantha genuinely felt guilty about McKay and Katie breaking up. He supposed he should admire that in her, despite the fact it was something he wanted to put behind them. "OK," he agreed, a little reluctantly, because he really wasn't comfortable with Samantha seeing McKay again. The man had been the only time Samantha had given into temptation, and Daniel had quite liked the idea that he was residing on the other side of the universe.

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With a week, they were on the Daedalus, headed for Atlantis. Daniel was surprised at how much he was looking forward to it, despite his obvious apprehensions. Atlantis had always fascinated him and if it wasn't for Samantha, he would seriously consider transferring there.

"I'm so glad you came," Elizabeth said when Daniel and Samantha arrived. She looked about ready to hug Samantha. She was at her wits' end with Rodney and Katie and although Samantha's involvement was a long shot, it was the only shot they had at the moment. Elizabeth glanced over and Daniel and wondered if the archaeologist had come simply to keep an eye on his girlfriend. Well, it couldn't hurt to have him here – both for his knowledge and interest in Atlantis, and the fact that Katie would be less suspicious of Samantha's motives with Daniel in tow.

Elizabeth had to admit, it was a pretty weak plan. After all, the last time Samantha had come to Atlantis, she had tried to seduce Rodney – which, in turn, had only brought him and Katie closer together, so maybe there was hope yet. And besides, no-one had been able to think of anything better. The idea was that Samantha would talk to Katie personally. Elizabeth reasoned Katie would be more likely to believe that there was nothing between Samantha and Rodney other then drunken last if she heard it from Samantha, rather then hearing it from Rodney or Elizabeth, both of whom had ulterior motives.

And, Elizabeth consoled herself, if things didn't work out, then at least they had the loan of two brilliant minds for a little while.

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Katie looked none too happy to see Samantha. "I thought your being here was just a rumour," she said when she saw the blond woman. "Come to seduce Rodney again? He's all yours." She didn't stop fiddling with her samples, pretending as she was to be engrossed in her work.

Samantha immediately noticed how bitter Katie still sounded, even after over two months of being broken up with Rodney. Since Katie didn't seem the type to hold grudges because she got a kick out of being embittered, Samantha reasoned she remained bitter because she remained in love with Rodney. That could only be a good thing.

"I'm not here to seduce Rodney," she said. She added, "Daniel came as well to make sure of that."

"Then that makes two of us who don't trust you together," Katie remarked. "Not that I care. Rodney can screw who he likes."

"I got the distinct feeling from the misery he's wreaking that he only wants you," Samantha pointed out. She had been in Atlantis for all of a day and she could see what Elizabeth meant about a bad vibe. He yelled at everyone, lost his temper over the smallest mistake. When he'd recognised her, he'd scowled hatefully. She hadn't seen him since, so she figured he was making an effort to avoid her. May as well tell Katie that, too.

"I don't care, he had his chance," Katie said, although not nearly as convincing as she had sounded a minute ago – and she hadn't sounded too convincing even then. She had been secretly flattered that Elizabeth had decided Rodney was miserable enough to make such a desperate attempt at reconciliation. And pleased that Rodney was especially displeased to see Samantha, over and above his usual displeasure with having to deal with people these days.

"You know," Samantha said, deciding to go for broke. "He wanted to ask you to marry him."

Katie stopped fiddling with her samples and faced Samantha. Bingo! Samantha thought, pleased. "You made that up," she accused Samantha.

"Good thing I thought to go through his room, then," Samantha said. She had spoken to Jeannie McKay before she'd left Earth, and Rodney's sister had confirmed that he'd wanted to ask Katie to marry him, had retrieved their mother's engagement ring for the occasion. Although she hadn't heard anything further (Samantha decided not to enlighten her as to what had transpired between her and Rodney and Rodney and Katie), she assumed at the very least Rodney still had the ring. Samantha came to the same conclusion, and the obvious place it would be was in his room. In some place really obvious, like his chest of drawers, because no-one would dare go through Rodney's personal stuff, not in the ongoing mood he was in these days. She had felt a little bad going through his stuff but she justified it, telling herself it was for the much greater good.

She pulled a small box out of her pocket and handed it to Katie. She knew if Katie truly didn't care, she would have shown no interest in it. But she did. In fact, she seemed quite eager to see it. Inside with a beautiful ring, a white-and-yellow gold band with three diamonds and two sapphires set into it. It was beautiful and expensive looking without being gaudy. Whatever faults McKay Senior had been lacking as a parent, he couldn't be faulted for his taste in jewellery. "It was his mother's, you know," she told Katie, who couldn't take her eyes off the ring. "I got the impression he didn't want to give you a store-bought ring, too impersonal. Tell me – did he seem nervous at all when you got to Earth?"

Finally, Katie tore her eyes from the ring. "I thought it was because of you," she said, her voice wavering. Right now, she didn't know what to think. Her assumption that Rodney had been preoccupied with seeing Samantha had been based on his aloof behaviour in the days leading up to his being called to Cheyenne Mountain. And now Samantha was telling her he'd been working himself in knots because he'd wanted to ask her to marry him!

Samantha could see Katie was struggling with her thoughts. "He really loves you," she told the botanist. "What happened between us – we were both really drunk and on cloud nine because we'd done something huge with the Ancient weapon – we've been able to kill every Ori we've come across."

"I didn't know about that," Katie admitted.

Of course you wouldn't, Samantha agreed silently. You haven't given him the opportunity to say anything. But she figured it was best not to get Katie on the defensive so she let it go. "As I was saying – we were drunk and high and…" she trailled off, thinking about her part in the sorry debacle. "This is something I haven't told Daniel, so I'd appreciate it if you kept it to yourself, but I started it," she admitted. "I was feeling insecure and he was there, so I kissed him. I think he was really nervous about asking you to marry him and his nervousness manifested itself in a really bad way."

"Rodney had lots of women hitting on him, he didn't sleep with any of them," Katie pointed out, but she didn't sound too convinced, and she'd gone back to looking at the engagement ring. Had he really wanted to propose to her? Had he really gone all the way back to Earth to get exactly the ring he wanted? And not just any old ring, but one that had a personal history for him.

"I guess that's something you'll have to decide for yourself," Samantha conceded. "I'll leave you to get back to your work." And think about what I've just told you. She closed the ring box, and could see the disappointment in Katie's eyes. Well, Katie could be disappointed. Samantha had to get the ring back to its place before Rodney noticed it was gone.

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Katie wasn't sure exactly what led her to Rodney's room later that day, but she ended up there. She let herself in and was immediately struck by the familiarity of it. How many nights had she spent in this room, how many hours? How many times had she and Rodney made love here? How many –

"Katie," Rodney said in surprise when he entered his room to find his ex-girlfriend there like she belonged. Which he wished every day, ever hour, every minute that she still did, but unfortunately, she didn't – she had made that very clear. "What are you doing here?"

"I, uh –" Katie stammered, at a loss for words. She didn't know what she was doing here. She didn't want to reconcile with Rodney, not yet, but she had wanted to see him. "I – I –"

Rodney rubbed the back of his neck tiredly. He hurt all the time these days, and his single attempt at seeing one of the professional masseurs that were on the Atlantis staff had ended as badly as his childhood experience. Seeing Katie was not helping matters, only making him sad and stressed out. "Spit it out or let me get some rest," he said shortly. He hadn't meant to sound so harsh, certainly not in front of Katie, but he was tired and sore and if she had come to have a go at him over something he was prepared to throw her out.

Katie noticed how stressed out he looked. Probably his back, she surmised, without her he'd just be letting it get more and more wound up. It had been three months since they had left Atlantis, three months since he'd been relaxed enough to let her give him a proper massage, which probably meant it had been three months since he'd been pain free. "Here, let me…" she murmured, slipping behind Rodney so she could feel his back. He winced when her fingers pressed into his aching muscles. She didn't know how he had let it get this bad. He'd probably just gotten used to the pain, after a fashion. Not very well, though, because he looked tired, he probably wasn't sleeping, and a light touch and made him wince. "Take your shirt off and lie face down," she instructed him briskly.

"I don't need your help," he said. It took all his willpower to turn her down. He had thought often about Katie's touch, even a platonic massage was sounding good about now.

She gave him a no-nonsense look. "You're in pain, and I bet you're not sleeping," she surmised. He didn't bother to hide it. "So it's settled . Take off your shirt and lie on the bed."

Well, who was he to argue with her when she was being like that? Obediently, he slipped off his shirt and she was reminded that he had a remarkably good physique for the fact he was a workaholic scientist. He lay on his bed face-down as Katie had instructed. She straddled him, and he was forced to tell himself it was not just like old times. If these were old times, he could look forward to her trailing kisses down his spine the way he liked after she was done until he was completely at her mercy… "OWWW!" he cried, loudly and hostilely, when her fingers dug into his aching muscles, dragging him back to the present. "You did that to get back at me!" he accused her.

"If I wanted to get back at you," she informed him sweetly as she dug into his back mercilessly, "I could think of much more painful ways." Come to think of it, Rodney was sure she could. "You're back's in terrible condition, I'm surprised you can even walk." She couldn't help but be a little impressed at his ability to function through that pain. Eat your heart out, John Sheppard.

"Got used to it," Rodney mumbled. "Ow-ow-ow," he cried. If she wasn't doing it deliberately, she sure must be taking some pleasure out of hurting him.

"Quite complaining," Katie said, but there wasn't much admonishment in her voice. "It'll feel better when I'm done. Why did you let it get this bad, anyway? There are masseurs on stuff precisely for this kind of thing."

"You know I have personal space issues," he mumbled. Then he admitted, "I already tried. They made it worse."

Despite herself, Katie smiled. She recalled Jeannie's words about Rodney's incredible dislike for having his personal space invaded. He must feel incredibly comfortable with her, even after two months, if he would let her do this to him. Especially when he was hurting. He grunted a few times, determined not to show just how painful Katie's massage was at first, but as she progressed and soothed his knotted back, he quietened and even engaged in casual conversation with her. He asked her about her work, the experiments she'd been working on before they'd left Atlantis that he'd never followed up on, on account that she always froze him out. She was flattered that he remembered, and that he seemed genuinely interested. She had made herself forget the excellent rapport they'd had when they'd broken up, and now it was all coming back to her.

Over an hour, Rodney's casual conversation petered out as he drifted off to sleep. Katie couldn't help but be pleased with herself. She was still the only person he could truly relax around. It made her feel… connected to him.

She got off him and draped his shirt over his back, not wanting to wake him. She couldn't resist a backward glance at him as she left his room. He looked so peaceful asleep, not like the cranky man Atlantis had known for the last two months. It reminded her of how happy they had been together.

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Radek found Katie the afternoon of the next day. She had little to do with the Czech scientist, especially now that she and Rodney had broken up, so she was surprised to see him. She greeted him warmly, though. She had always liked what little she had known of him. He was a friendly man who, despite his shyness with people he was unfamiliar with, had made an effort to get to know Katie because she made Rodney happy and he of all people knew the value of that.

"What happened between you and Rodney?" Radek asked, a little shyly, because he wasn't sure he wanted the answer. Rodney had seemed almost happy today, certainly far more relaxed then he had been since coming back to Atlantis minus his relationship with Katie.

"Why do you ask?" Katie asked innocently.

"He's nice," Radek said, with no hint of irony. Rodney being nice was something of an unusual event on Atlantis these days. "He said good morning. And he didn't yell at me, at all." He looked at her hopefully.

Katie smiled. "It's not what you want to hear," she warned him. "We talked and I rubbed his back the way he likes. He gets wound up and he can't sleep. I guess that's why he's being nice, he had a good nights sleep for once."

"What did you talk about?"

Subtle, Radek, Katie thought. "Not our relationship," she cut straight to the chase. "Mostly work." Radek looked disappointed but decided that Rodney just being nice was a good start.

"Well… maybe you can do it more often?" Radek suggested, He was no matchmaker but he knew how much Rodney loved Katie. He didn't know what had gone wrong, other then the rumours flying around, but he very much wanted them back together, for his own sake as much as Rodney's.

Katie smiled. "Goodbye, Radek," she said affectionately. She was surprised at how happy she was herself, having spent time with Rodney that didn't involve her yelling at him. It didn't erase the deep pain she felt whenever she thought of Rodney's betrayal – but it took the edge of it.

She was pleasantly surprised when Rodney came to see her shortly after Radek had left. "Hey, I just wanted to, um, thankyou for last night," he said in a low voice. No-one else was around, but he still didn't want to risk someone overhearing them and getting the wrong impression about what 'last night' had been.

He had woken up feeling refreshed, and had agonised all day over whether or not to talk to Katie. On the one hand, every time he had tried, she had frozen him out. But on the other, that had been before she had come to his room and spent an hour rubbing his back and engaging in friendly conversation with him. That had to count for something, and he figured he'd look ungrateful if he didn't thank her.

She smiled. She had known Rodney was grateful, but that he had taken the time to seek her out and tell her so meant a lot. Rodney wasn't big on admitting someone had done him a favour. "It was nothing," she said magnanimously. "If you ever want –"

"I couldn't ask that of you," Rodney said.

"You're not asking, I'm offering," Katie corrected. "You were in a lot of pain, Rodney, and if I can help that I will."

Her offer was genuine, and she seemed so actually care whether he was in pain or not. It wasn't the same as forgiving him but it was a start. "Tomorrow night?" he asked hopefully. He really wanted to suggest tonight but he didn't want to look too greedy. He was sure she had plenty of other offers.

"Tomorrow night," she agreed. "I'll come by around nine?"

"Nine is great," he said. "Thankyou." Tentatively, he reached out to brush her upper arm gently in appreciation, unsure of what kind of reception he was going to receive for his contact. He looked relieved when she didn't pull back automatically and didn't push his luck by touching her any longer then was absolutely necessary. He left Katie's office feeling very happy with the way things had turned out. He was under no illusions that she was ready to forgive him. You didn't go from freezing a person out to forgiving them in a day. But she had shown she cared about his welfare, and that had to count for something.

He wondered of Samantha Carter had anything to do with that.

He went looking for her, and found her – in his office, no less. She had set up shop there like she had last time she'd been in Atlantis. "You know," he said, remarkably good naturedly given how touchy he was about being in his space, "I'd appreciate it if you didn't just commandeer my space for your use."

Samantha looked sheepish. "Sorry," she said. "I had my own office but everything cool was in here and it seemed like a waste of time to keep coming and getting it. That, and I've been told you're very territorial about your stuff."

"Damn straight," Rodney said in something that was almost friendly banter. If Samantha was the one who had gotten Katie to be nice to him, then he could be a little nice to her. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Doctor Jackson was sitting in the corner, amusing himself with whatever archaeologists amused themselves with. His almost-smile faded. Samantha he could tolerate, but not Daniel. He had no appreciation for Rodney's work, and as such, was liable to stuff something out. "You, out," he ordered.

Needless to say, Daniel was not taking well to being ordered around by the man who had slept with his girlfriend. "If Sam's here, then I'm here," he replied resolutely.

"Why, you don't trust us to be alone together?" Rodney jeered.

"Something like that," Daniel responded. The jeering smile on Rodney's face disappeared. If Daniel was going to insist on shadowing Samantha the whole time they were on Atlantis, that could be a problem, although Rodney couldn't help but be the teensiest bit smug that his presence rattled the archaeologists like that. Not that he had any interest in Samantha anymore but it did his ego good to know Daniel was insecure.

"Out," Rodney ordered. "I want to talk to Sam alone. Oh, for pete's sake, you can stand outside the door if you're that suspicious but what I have to say is none of your business." The astrophysicist glared at the archaeologist, who decided it was time to take his life. Outside the door. Samantha had showered him with reassurances, and he did believe her when she'd promised nothing would happen between them, but he still didn't like the thought of them being alone together.

Once Daniel was gone, Rodney turned to Samantha. "Did you talk to Katie?" he asked.

Samantha nodded. "Doctor Weir asked me to come. Said you were making everyone miserable."

"What did you tell her? Katie, I mean."

"I told her what happened between us was a mistake, a drunken mistake," Samantha said, her eyes clouding over when she thought about just what a mistake it had been and how close she had come to losing Daniel.

"I told her that!" Rodney said indignantly.

Samantha couldn't help but smile. "Women tend not to believe anything their boyfriends say in justification of cheating," she said, then she added wryly, "the other woman, on the other hand…"

"You came all this way to tell Katie it was a mistake?" Rodney asked.

Samantha nodded. "I felt bad," she admitted. "I mean, I instigated it, I kissed you – "

He cut her off. "That's no excuse for my behaviour, Sam," he said with maturity that she hadn't realised he had. Rodney McKay, facing up to his mistakes. Wonders would never cease.

"Maybe not… but I felt bad that you were so miserable, especially when Daniel and I got back together. And believe me, I think it sounded much better coming from me then it did you. "

Rodney smiled. "Thankyou," he said gratefully. Daniel, he thought, must be good for her if she had come all the way out here because her conscience had dictated it. Without thinking, he leaned in to plant a quick, grateful kiss on Samantha's kiss. It felt too natural for either of them to think that it could be misconstrued, and when his lips connected with her skin, they were both made aware of how little chemistry there was between them now. The thought of losing the ones they truly loved had killed any attraction they had once had for one another.

"So, why happened to put you in such a good mood?" Samantha asked, and her playful tone was more of a sister then anything else.

"Get your mind out of the gutter," Rodney said. "Nothing happened. We just talked, and she rubbed my back for me."

Samantha smirked. Sounded pretty gutter-worthy to her. "As in, you were half-naked?" she asked.

Rodney glared at her. "It wasn't like that," he said huffily. It was kind of endearing. Time spent with Katie must mean a lot to him if he was getting on the defensive so quickly.

Daniel knocked on the door. "Can I come back in?" he asked, wondering what exactly they needed to talk about that he couldn't witness.

"Just a minute," Samantha called through the door. She looked at Rodney sheepishly. "Sorry," she said.

"Is he always like this or is it just me being here?" Rodney asked.

"You, mostly," Samantha admitted. "He didn't want me to come to Atlantis." She sighed. "I don't think he'll ever feel comfortable with you being around. That's the price we pay, I guess. He's going to get a little annoying, I'm warning you upfront."

Rodney smiled wryly. "At least Katie will have nothing to worry about," he said.

Daniel looked suspiciously at them when he re-entered the office. He knew nothing had happened, but he just didn't like the idea of them being alone together, he never would.

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"You look happy."

"Don't start, Liz, I've had everyone on Atlantis comment about it," Rodney complained.

"That's because everyone on Atlantis is used to be a grumpy shit," Elizabeth countered, not mincing words. "Does this have anything to do with Katie?"

"That's none of your business," Rodney said bluntly.

"This whole expedition is my business," Elizabeth countered. She was tempted to order Rodney to talk, but knowing that wouldn't be very effective, she tried to friendly route. "You know I'll keep quiet – and besides, I was the one who called Colonel Carter here. I figure that means you owe me."

Rodney couldn't help but smile; Elizabeth certainly had a way of convincing people to talk. "It was nothing," he admitted. "When I went to my room last night she was already there – I don't know why, come to think – and she rubbed my back for me, it helped me get to sleep."

"But she was talking to you?" Elizabeth asked. Rodney nodded his confirmation. "Which is much better then her cutting you off every time you tried to talk to her." Unlike Samantha and Radek, whose minds were in the gutter, Elizabeth knew the value of a therapeutic massage as far as Rodney was concerned. And so did Katie. For Katie to have made such a concession spoke volumes about how much she still cared about Rodney – and how effective whatever Samantha had said to her must have been.

Encouraged by Elizabeth's words, Rodney said, "I thanked her for it before, and she said that was in no problem, and that if I wanted it again – she said she'd come by tomorrow night," he said, his eyes sparkling despite himself. He'd promised he wouldn't make a big deal about it, especially not himself, but it was hard not to. Two days ago she hadn't been speaking to him, and yesterday – it had felt so comfortable. Maybe not sexual or romantic, he realised they had a long way to go, but definitely comfortable. It relieved him to no end that they still had a rapport with which to build a relationship.

Elizabeth was relieved to see Rodney smiling. Which brought her to another thing. "If you fuck this up again –" she began bluntly.

Rodney immediately looked contrite. He was all too aware of how much he had to make up to Katie. "I know," he said.

" –I'll have John throw you off the balcony and put all of Atlantis out of its misery," Elizabeth said, looking deadly serious. "I mean it, Rodney. You've put everyone through hell with your snarkiness and tantrums – and it was your own fault that she left you. If she sees fit to forgive you, you'd better be damn grateful and make sure it never happens again." Now that Rodney wasn't likely to snarl at the slightest criticism, Elizabeth saw fit to call it as she saw it.

Rodney looked even more contrite. "I know it was my fault," he admitted freely. "Believe me, if Katie will take me back, I'm not going to be so stupid ever again. I miss her so much, Liz," he whispered.

He looked like he was on the verge of tears. He really loved her, Elizabeth realised, and had been beating himself up over his mistake ever since he'd made it. It was hard to give someone a thorough ass-kicking when they were doing such a good job of it himself. There was no denying, Rodney had been stupid in sleeping with Samantha. But if Katie couldn't see how remorseful he was, she wasn't too bright herself.

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"Doctor Jackson," Katie said when she poked her head around the door of the room Daniel and Samantha were sharing. She was relieved to find the archaeologist alone ; as enlightened as her talk with Samantha yesterday had been, she really wanted to talk to Daniel, one-on-one.

Daniel smiled when he saw Katie. He'd had a feeling the woman was going to approach him soon enough. Samantha was off with Rodney doing some sciencey thing – it bored him out of his brains, so he'd gotten Radek to supervise them and the three of them were happy as larks. "Come in," he said warmly. "I need a break anyway."

"Where's Colonel Carter?" she asked.

"With McKay. And Zelenka. Being science geeks," Daniel said ruefully, well aware that he could be just as much of a geek in his chosen field.

Katie smiled ruefully. "You don't trust them alone together, do you?" she asked.

Daniel thought carefully. "It's not that I don't trust them, I do – or at least, I trust her, I don't know him well enough. I just don't like them being alone together. They don't exactly how the best record."

"That's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about," Katie said. "How do you – I mean, don't you ever – how –?"

"How can I put it behind us?" Daniel offered. Katie nodded. "Sometimes it's hard, especially now. I much preferred it when we were in different galaxies. But I just have to think about the alternative… I love her, and I don't want to live without her. I believe that it was a mistake, I believe it won't happen again – not with McKay, not with anyone."

Katie bit her lip. "I'm scared that if I forgive him, he'll take advantage of that," she admitted. "He did it once, what's to stop him doing it again?"

"That's up to you," Daniel said. "Sam knows that I won't forgive him again. And for what it's worth, she seems pretty convinced that he won't jeopardise your relationship like that again. She came all the way out here convinced of that, so maybe her opinion's worth something."

Daniel wasn't sure if his words had any impact on Katie. It was patently obvious that she still loved him, but he of all people knew what it was like to be in that head space. Whether or not she could trust him was going to be up to her and no-one else.

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She noticed after fifteen minutes that Rodney was happy to talk about her work – took a lot of interest in it – but wouldn't talk about his. And he was really unsubtle about it, too, changing the subject to something completely random whenever he asked him what he was working on. Rodney McKay was an arrogant man who thought he was the Saviour of Atlantis, he needed no encouragement to talk about his work, so that he wasn't jumping on an invitation to do so was a minor sign of insanity.

"Rodney," she said in that voice he knew to well – it was always a preface to an admonishment. He tried to think of what he'd done. "Why don't you want to talk about your work?"

"My work's boring," he insisted. That was a major sign in insanity. She dug her fingers into his back a little deeper then necessary. He yelped. "Alright, alright," he muttered. The so-called 'gentler sex' sure knew how to inflict pain. He figured since they weren't actually together, she had no right to complain. "Sam and I did lots of cool stuff and I figured you didn't want to hear it. OW!" he yelled when she dug her fingers in even deeper then before. "Hey, that's not fair," he complained. "We aren't together anymore and it was just astrophysics stuff. And Radek was there the whole time."

Katie released her grip, an automatic response to hearing him talk about Colonel Carter rather then a deliberate infliction of pain. "Sorry," she said. He could hear the smile in her voice. Of course she had known Radek had been babysitting the two of them, Daniel had put the Czech up to it. Katie wondered if any goods had changed hands. She figured it was a good angle to ease into relationship talk from. Just to get a few hints about where they stood. "Doctor Jackson seems to think you and Colonel Carter need a baby-sitter," she remarked casually.

Rodney squirmed. It wasn't something he really wanted to talk about, but since she had brought it up, clearly she did. "We don't," he said resolutely, thinking about their sibling-esque kiss yesterday. If there had ever been a moment to see where they stood with attraction, that had been it. And there was none, not anymore. The more he thought about it, the more of a relief it became. He was totally clear of his infatuation with her! "But we haven't exactly given Daniel reason to trust us," he said ruefully, "so we kind of deserve it."

She sniggered. "I'm sorry, did I just hear you say you deserve to have your ass kicked for making a mistake?" she asked.

"Yeah, you have a good laugh at my expense, just don't keep doing what you're doing," Rodney said good-naturedly. He was prepared to take all sorts of crap from her if she kept rubbing his back. He was prepared to take all sorts of crap from her if she took him back, but that was another story. Besides, it was good to be on speaking terms with her again. And to hear her laugh and know she was smiling, even if it was at his expense.

"How long does the offer stand?" she asked, thinking she could get some really good dirt to tease him about from Radek or John. Hmm, that reminded her of his stupid 'passing out from manly hunger' comment – she hadn't been around when he'd said it but it had been brought up over their first kiss. She was suddenly reminded of the fact it really turned Rodney on when she trailled kisses down his spine.

Rodney was aware of the sudden crackling chemistry in the room and as much as he wanted to continuing bantering with Katie, he knew the decision had to come from her and not their mutual attraction – which, he was relieved to know, was still mutual. "Katie," he said, trying to sound as sleepy as he could manage, "I'm tired. I think I'll go to sleep now."

Katie was relieved for the request to leave. Things were starting to feel a little too familiar for comfort, and she didn't want that just yet. She got off Rodney and averted his eyes when he put his shirt on so she wouldn't have to look at his bare chest. "Good night, then," she said. "Do you want me to do this again?"

"Two days?" Rodney asked hopefully. Katie nodded. She was glad to leave, as nice as it had felt to be with Rodney. She wasn't ready to slip into that old routine.

Halfway down the hall, she realised that she had never known Rodney to ask her to stop before he'd fallen asleep or they'd had sex. She wondered if he'd been aware of the chemistry they had been generating, and decided that he had to have been. Was that the reason he'd asked her to stop, he didn't want to do something she would regret? He had broken her heart over Colonel Carter, but Katie couldn't deny, he had known her well and done a damn good job of anticipating her needs and catering to them. Had he done so again? She smiled at the thought.

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They slipped into a comfortable routine, seeing each other once every few days, ostensibly for therapeutic reasons, which no-one really bought, but it didn't hurt their burgeoning new friendship. He was respectful of the boundaries, grateful to have her back in his life even just as a friend. He had promised himself if that was all she was willing to give, then it was all he would ask for.

She was impressed with his new sense of maturity. The truth was, he had done a lot of thinking since they had broken up, and more since they had started this – whatever it was they were doing. He had fucked up, pure and simple. Maybe he had been drunk, maybe he had been wound up, but he could have stopped it if he'd really wanted to. He hadn't wanted to, or maybe he just hadn't been truly aware of the consequences, maybe he had started to take her for granted. No, he had started to take her for granted. He had become used to her soothing, loving presence in his life to a point that she had become as much of a permeance in his life as he was. When Samantha had crossed his path, she had been new and exciting. He had thought with his dick instead of his heart. He had been an idiot and he had deserved to lose her.

Self-reflection did not come easy to Rodney. He considered himself to always be in the right, no matter what. So to come to the conclusion that his sleeping with Samantha was entirely his fault was a hard one. But he came to it. He having come to it, he realised that the only right thing to do was accept whatever Katie was willing to give. If she only wanted to be friends, he could handle that. He would handle it, for her sake.

"Katie," he mumbled one day, because admitting he was wrong just to himself was hard enough, admitting it to the target of his wrongdoings was agonising, "I'm sorry. For everything. Not just about Sam. I could have been much nicer to you, I was a real shit sometimes."

She had never heard that one in his voice, and she doubted anyone else had, ever. It was true remorse from someone who was sorry they'd hurt someone else – and not because they'd been caught. It was what she been longing to hear from him. "You were fine," she murmured. Without thinking, her fingers became much more caressing.

"No, I wasn't," he insisted. "I could have been there more then I was, I could have been less involved in my work. I should have let you know how much you meant to me."

He was starting to get teary, and Katie took that as her cue to leave. Instinct told her he didn't want her to witness him feeling sorry for himself. But before she left she asked, "What makes you think I didn't already know?"

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For another month, things continued as they were. Katie and Rodney saw each other several times a week, much to the amusement of everyone on the expedition, who didn't believe for a second that all she was doing for him was rubbing his back. After his heartfelt apology, they had made and built on an emotional connection that was stronger then anything they'd had before they'd broken up. They hadn't been friends before they had gotten together – that had come after – so they had never connected just as friends. Now they were. And it was empowering, if a little frustrating.

Katie kept expecting Rodney to make the first move, not realising he had accepted her friendship and figured if she wanted anything more, she would make that move. He had ample opportunity, and she tried helping the situation by flirting with him. He was completely oblivious to it, or rather, he just chose to ignore it. He vowed he would not make a move on her, as tempting as it was sometimes, especially when her massaging became more caressing then anything else.

Eventually, she started to wonder if he was still interested in her in that way. He was attracted to her, that was obvious enough, but did he still want a relationship with her? He had expressed genuine remorse about screwing up their relationship – was he afraid of screwing up their friendship by pushing the issue? Or was he just not interested in being in a relationship anymore? He certainly didn't beg for her forgiveness and to be taken back like he did in the first few weeks after their breakup. Was he trying to give her space or did he just not care?

She decided to be proactive. Maybe a little jealousy would go help. She started spending a lot of time with Kavanagh, who cottoned on immediately to the fact that she couldn't possibly be interested in him as a scientist, so she had to be interested in him as a man. Ha, he'd never understood what she'd seen in McKay. He was only too happy to have her hanging around, spending lunch with him, basking in his glory.

Katie felt a little bad using the man like that, but her conscience was eased somewhat by the fact Kavanagh had no redeeming qualities. He was arrogant and pompous and more then a little chauvinistic. His only redeeming quality that he was far too arrogant to suspect a woman might want him for anything other then his charming self.

It took four meetings together – two in the gateroom and two in the mess hall, always with Rodney able to see them – before Kavanagh thought to kiss her. And when he did, she was a little grateful that he'd taken his time. He was the single worst kisser she'd ever had the misfortune to deal with. He pressed his mouth against hers hard and forced his tongue down her throat. She stifled the urge to push him off and throw up. She really hoped Rodney had seen this, because she didn't want to do this again.

Rodney had been watching her with Kavanagh every minute they'd been together, his heart filled with jealousy. He kept telling himself that he had no right to interfere with her life. But maybe, when he got her alone, he'd mention that she had appalling taste in men – as a friend, of course, not as a jealous ex-boyfriend.

But when Kavanagh kissed her – and she kissed him back! – his restraint abandoned him and he bounded over to where they were sitting and roughly pulled Kavanagh away from Katie. "You son of a bitch!" he yelled at the wiry scientist. He was ready to punch Kavanagh's daylights out, but then he caught a glimpse of Katie's face and he realised what he'd done. Back off immediately, he looked contrite. "I'm so sorry," he said. "I'm sorry. I'm –" he fled the mess hall, leaving a very angry Kavanagh and Katie with a smile on her face.

Kavanagh got up from where he'd landed on the floor. He was furious. He was going to demand Elizabeth discipline. Haha, that would teach him. And all the while, he'd have McKay's girl.

"Not now," Katie said disinterestedly when Kavanagh tried to kiss her again. Now that Rodney's actions had confirmed he still wanted to be with her, she was more repulsed then ever by Kavanagh. A shower, a change of clothes and a good teeth-brushing was what she needed right now, she decided. And then to see Rodney.

Half an hour later, she let herself into Rodney's room. He was sitting on his bed, looking very distressed – and holding something small. And box-shaped. Her heart leapt.

When he saw her, he quickly hid the box behind his back. He considered having it sent back to Earth to Jeannie, no way would Katie have anything to do with him now. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I was an ass. I had no right to do that."

"Why did you do it?" Katie asked, wanting to hear Rodney say the words.

"Don't drag it out, Katie. Just leave me alone."

She stepped closer to him. "I want to know why you did it," she pressed.

"Because I want to be with you!" he cried, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Because seeing you with him made me so jealous I wanted to kill him. But I was wrong and I'm sorry." He stared at his lap, willing her to leave so he wouldn't have to deal with a lecture about what his place was. He knew what his damn place was – as a friend.

"Hey…" Katie gently tilted his head up so he was looking at her. "I wanted to know if you still wanted to be with me," she admitted.

He looked at her in surprise. "You did?" he asked. She nodded. "Why?"

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. This was the Rodney she knew and loved, no good with women unless it was spelled out for him. "Because," she said, moving in to straddle him, "I wanted to know if my feelings were unrequited before I made an ass of myself."

Rodney's eyes widened. "You wanna give it another go?" he asked, his heart racing.

She wrapped one arm around his neck and used her free hand to slip over his heart. She grinned. It was racing. "Yes," she said.

"Oh, God," he whispered. This was what he'd been hoping for. Before she changed her mind, he kissed her quickly, closed-mouth.

She smirked. "I know you can do much better then that," she said, and he took that as a challenge and kissed her deeply.

Sparks flew. He thought he'd never get enough of her again. Keeping one arm around her waist, he touched her body with his free hand, revisiting all the places she liked. "Katie, Katie," he murmured tearfully. "I've missed you so much." He began kissing her neck, sending shivers down her spine.

"Never again, though," she warned him.

"Believe me, I've been in hell without you," Rodney admitted. "I would never jeopardise us like that again. I love you." And she believed him. Using her legs as leverage, she pushed him down onto the bed. His hastily-hidden ring box dug into his back and he squirmed uncomfortably.

Katie saw it as a good opportunity to bring it up. "What's that?" she asked innocently, pretending she didn't know exactly what it was.

Rodney reached under him and extracted the box. "Nothing," he lied. He was a terrible liar and they both knew it.

She reached for it. "Let me see."

"No."

"Are you hiding something?"

"No. It's just none of your business."

She kissed him gently. "If you want to spend the rest of your life with me," she said, choosing her words carefully, "everything's pretty much my business."

He looked at her hopefully. "You mean that? About spending our lives together?" he asked.

She nodded. "I do," she said, her voice full of love and commitment. "Just so long as you don't fuck it up," she added, reminding him that she was no pushover. She might forgive him once, but not a second time. Well, once was plenty for Rodney, he wouldn't make that mistake again.

Reluctantly, because he didn't know what reaction he would get, he handed over the box. "It's my mother's engagement ring," he admitted. "I wanted to ask you to marry me but, well, you weren't exactly talking to me."

She looked at it, pretending that she hadn't seen it before. It was a beautiful ring. For a moment, she was lost in its dazzle, and the fact she meant so much to Rodney that only a family heirloom would do.

"Um, Katie?" Rodney prompted. She glanced up at him ; his face was stricken was panic and anxiety. He tried to swallow, but his mouth was completely dry. Oh, God, if she turned him down he didn't know what he would do. He had rushed things, he was certain. No way would she accept his proposal when they'd just gotten back together.

"What?" she asked playfully, enjoying watching Rodney squirm. It wasn't like he didn't deserve it.

"Don't tease," he begged in a whisper. "If you don't want to marry me then please… just go away."

"Of course I want to marry you," Katie blurted out. She'd meant to play it cool, make him sweat for a few minutes, but she found she couldn't.

His face lit up and he buried his head in her shoulder. "Oh, thank God," he whispered, holding her tightly. "I didn't know what I was going to do if you said no." He pulled his head away and pulled the ring out of the box. Holding out her left hand, he slipped the ring onto the ring finger. It fit perfectly. "I love you, Katie," he whispered.

"I love you too."

And with that, all restraint was abandoned as their chemistry quickly translated into sex. For two whole minutes he managed no keep his emotions in check before bursting into tears. He climaxed quickly and buried his head in her shoulder, his body heaving with sobs. "I'm sorry," he cried into her skin.

She stroked his hair gently. "For being a bad boyfriend or being a bad lay?" she asked lightly. She didn't bother to tell hi that he'd lasted longer then she'd expected him too ; it had been a while for both of them, but it was different for men.

She had meant her comment to be light, but he took it seriously. "Both," he said. "I'll make it up to you, I promise."

She kissed him. "I know you will," she said. And she knew he would – on every count.

THE END