The Goon's Guide to Psychoanalysis

with a chapter on dream interpretation because Geeks find phallic symbols amusing

by likethekoschka

a•nal•y•sis (u-nal'u-sis), noun 1. the abstract separation of a whole into its constituent parts in order to study the parts and their relations. 2. a branch of mathematics involving calculus and the theory of limits; sequences and series and integration and differentiation. 3. a set of techniques for exploring underlying motives and a method of treating various mental disorders; based on the theories of Sigmund Freud.

Goon's Addendum: You'll find, as a group, Geeks tend to analyze everything. And they don't just limit it to their work in the lab. From the lunch on their tray… Colonel, I think this meat is rancid. Do you think it's rancid? It smells rancid. Taste it and tell me if you think it's rancid. To things on their body… This bump is definitely not normal. Not that any bump is normal, but this one is particularly unusual. Although, given the Trail of Tears inspired death march you took us on last week in the blazing ultraviolet rays of the supernova that passed for a sun on that planet, I'm not surprised. I'm actually shocked that this is the only heinous growth that has shown up to date. Do you think I should have it looked at? To the movie you watch on Friday night… I don't care how hot Sharon Stone is, she cannot makeup for the atrocity against science and cinema that is 'Total Recall'. There is no way in hell that you can create an atmosphere for Mars in forty-five seconds. And don't even get me started on what would have happened if they really had vaporized the entire core of a planet, the tectonic implications alone would be staggering. Did you just eat the last of the popcorn? It can be enough to drive a Goon to the brink of insanity. If you take the time, however, you'll discover that the key to a successful Geek/Goon relationship is effective redirection. Point out that the cake for dessert is especially tasty and maybe he should just skip the meat. Tell him about the particularly nasty shrapnel wound you received back on Earth while you walk him to the dermatologist's office. Ask him if he thinks he could build you one of those really cool guns Schwarzenegger used to blow away the entire security force that was chasing him. If you can do that, you should have no problem avoiding the other type of analysis that involves lying on couches, interpreting the dream you had about the rocket launcher that wouldn't fire, and blaming everything on your mom.

X X X X X

Psychoanalysis can be fun.

Believe me, as a man who has logged exponentially more time on the couch than John has in the pilot's seat, I should know. There's entertainment value in trying to head shrink the shrink. There was nothing quite as satisfying as watching a supposed professional try to hide her look of boredom turned to bewilderment when my fourteen-year-old self was describing ink blots because my Terminator prototype blew up my science teacher's Yugo in the school parking lot… a dog, a butterfly, a dish of ice cream, my parents' dead bodies with the puddles of their life blood slowly cooling on the tiles of the bathroom floor… oh, wait, you have it upside down. Sorry, my mistake, it's a bunny.

Or the look of consternation when I was sixteen and spent an entire session talking about how many squares of toilet paper I thought were necessary to wipe my ass after going to the bathroom instead of why I allegedly planted a nuclear bomb under my sister's bed. It figures that would be the day my mother's maternal instincts kicked into overdrive and she decided she couldn't trust me not to reclaim the explosive paraphernalia she and my father had confiscated from my room the week before. And, of course, when she couldn't find it where they had hid it, she had to go look for it. So much for thinking Jeannie's room would pass under her radar. And when the psychiatrist finally asked why I did it for the twenty-third time in an hour, I told him it's because I needed an excuse to come see him again because I found his ear hair hotter than hell and I wanted the two of us to run away to Latin America and sell Chiclets chewing gum to the tourist together. Then followed that up with how I'd been practicing my Hispanic accent, but he needed to tell me which county in particular he wanted to go to because the inflections are slightly different and I really had to get this right if the two of us had any chance in hell of making a go of it. Well, it almost made the punishment of disassembling my fembot archetype that followed seem worthwhile. Besides, Dad just asked me to rebuild it the following week anyway.

I had two of them drop me themselves in one summer with that bit alone, one psychologist and one psychiatrist… actually three if you count the therapist that showed up on our doorstep with his car loaded down with suitcases and a map to Buenos Aries. For some reason, my parents decided he wasn't the best choice to manage my supposed mental health issues. Imagine that. If only mom and dad had taken the initiative to pay as much attention to me when pedophiles weren't trying to whisk me away to be their personal cabana boys as they did to screaming at each other, I wouldn't have needed to be lying on those couches in the first place. But when you're young, bright, and bored and no one you want to notice you seems to notice, you tend to skip notoriety and go straight to notorious. And when all that gets you is more tediousness in the form of weekly appointments in drab waiting rooms with bad Muzak, silk ficus trees, and year old golfing magazines, you find other ways to entertain yourself.

Yeah, psychoanalysis can be fun… as long as you really don't need it.

I stood in front of Kate Heightmeyer's door, steeling my resolve to ring the bell. At my hesitation, John placed a hand on both of my shoulders and squeezed gently. I looked back into a face that still had the faintest shadows of bruising from the F-302 crash. Almost a month later and the visible traces of the accident were fading… the stitches had been removed, the blistered burns were being replaced by new pink skin, the limp was improving daily. I'd like to be able to say that the images that had haunted me since I had first seen John's mangled body being pulled from an even more mangled craft were fading as well, and during the day they were. I could go about my business in the lab, only checking in with him several times a day…okay, an hour… and convince most people that I was a truly functional member of society. Then again, most people only saw me during the day; most people didn't sleep next to me at night, so most people didn't know about the nightmares. But John wasn't most people, not by a long shot, and he had been there for every damn one of them, both during the terrors and after. One minute he would be bleeding to death in my arms, the next he would be holding me close in his own, and the transition between the two was almost as horrific as the dreams themselves. Because I couldn't seem to shake the feeling of what if next time I don't wake up, what if next time the dream isn't a dream after all.

Forget about the boogey man under the bed, it was the one that had me thrashing on top of it that had us both sleep deprived. Forget about demons lurking in the shadows of the bedroom, the one that lurked in my mind was the one slowly sucking us dry from the inside. And John knew it and knew that as much as he wanted to fix me himself, he needed help, and as much as he hated shrinks, Kate was his best bet. And when he made the suggestion that we make an appointment to see her… together no less… I realized just how troubled he was.

He smiled encouragingly when he saw what I'm sure was a look of trapped-animal panic on my face. "I think we might be early," I stalled. "She may be with someone else right now."

The hands on my shoulder slid in and kneaded lightly on the nape of my neck. "There's no 'do not disturb' sign up. She's not with anyone else."

"You don't have to do this, you know. I can see her by myself." And I can be conveniently called away to the lab as soon as you turn your back, I added silently. "I know how much you hate this sort of thing."

The last time we had been here together was our first year on Atlantis. Back before the thought of matching silver bands was even a glimmer on the horizon. Well, maybe a glimmer, but not one either of us would have admitted to seeing. We'd been sent for a psych eval following the whole cloning incident and it had ended with John storming out and threatening to never speak to me again. Yeah, big threat there. Obviously I had ignored that, as well as several other half-hearted attempts to push me away. 'I don't want to be your friend anymore.' Snort. That plan had been a raging success on his part… not. But regardless of the many trials and tribulations that our friendship and the oh-so-much-more it eventually evolved into had survived, John had always made it very clear that he had no desire to go back to Kate Heightmeyer's office for a professional visit.

Until now.

He reached past me and rang the bell himself, murmuring in my ear as he did so, "I hate hearing you scream my name in the middle of the night even more."

"I thought you liked me screaming your name," I challenged as I turned my nose and nuzzled his jaw lightly but my deflection didn't work.

"In breathless ecstasy, yes." The brush of lips on my cheek was warm but fleeting. We were in public, after all, even though there was no public around us at the moment. "In strangled agony, not so much."

He straightened when the door began to slide open but the hands stayed on my shoulders, in moral support or to keep me from making a mad dash for freedom I couldn't be sure. Kate stood smiling on the other side, golden ringlets falling loosely around her shoulders in a very cover-of-'People'-magazine sort of way.

"John, Rodney, I've been expecting you, come on in." She indicated two chairs in the softly lit room. Mood lighting, I thought as I took my seat. Ironic how the same dim setting could be used to make it easier to get into someone's head or their pants. She busied herself pouring a cup of tea. "Can I offer you something to drink?"

"I'm good," I assured her as I ran hands nervously along my legs.

John reached over and gripped one, maybe tighter than he needed to, and managed an upturn of his mouth through his own discomfort. "No thanks," he told her with the forced smile. "We just had lunch."

"Ah, well, you're one up on me, then. I plan to grab some as soon as we're done here." She sipped her own drink and took her seat, looking a hell of a lot more at ease than either of us felt.

"Well, then maybe we should get started. So you can get to the chow hall before all the funky fish casserole is gone."

At John's suggestion, she nodded in agreement. "Good idea." Opening her notebook, she turned her attention to me. "So, Rodney, it's been a while since you've been here to see me. Several months actually, but for some rather similar issues if not under the same… conditions."

No, the last time I was here, the conditions were very different. For one, John hadn't been sitting next to me; he had been lying in a coma in the infirmary following being buried alive in an avalanche. For another, I hadn't been here voluntarily, but under extreme duress and violent protest. I had spent three days refusing to leave John's side. Three days of wandering no further than the small bathroom in the room, and even those trips were becoming less and less frequent… when you weren't putting much of anything in, nothing much tended to come out. Funny how that works. But Carson didn't find it funny at all. Carson was at his wits end as to what to do with me. I could see that now; see why he was so worried. But back then I couldn't see anything beyond John lying unresponsive in a hospital bed, couldn't give a damn about anything or anyone else, including myself.

So when Carson tried to get me to talk to him, I told him to politely take a flying fuck. When Teyla suggested I take a break and let her sit with John for a while I told her no way in hell. When Elizabeth threatened to send Heightmeyer to talk to me, I told her bring her on. And when Kate showed up, I told her nothing, simply stonewalled her with silence. Things had happened I didn't want to talk about, didn't want to even think about and it took a ZedPM on the verge of total overload to finally pull me away.

Radek had called me frantically on the radio when the alarms had started sounding. If they couldn't shut the system down in the next fifteen minutes they would have no choice but to begin evacuation of the city to the Alpha Site. Jumpers were already airborne to ferry the Athosians from the Mainland, because when this baby went the entire city and most of the planet was going with her.

It was a good ruse, I'll give them that. So good I didn't realize there was one until I headed back to the infirmary to find the door blocked by two of the biggest, burliest marines Lorne could round up per Carson's orders. Also the thickest skinned. Yelling at them did no good. Insults and coercion did little more than earn me an amused grin. When I threatened to go find Teyla and Ronon to come back and kick their asses, I was rewarded with nothing more than a nod of the head to indicate the hallway behind me. My teammates, along with Carson and Elizabeth, stood watching my fit with sympathy and concern. When Radek showed up a few seconds later, it was obvious I had walked right into a goddamn intervention.

The thing was, I had not desire to be intervened upon. I had no desire to do anything except get back in that infirmary and take up my post next to John. And I told them that… loudly, insistently, and with a flagrant disregard for their intentions, their feelings or their lineage. Elizabeth's calm explanation that I would be allowed to do just that as soon as I went and talked to Kate… and actually talked this time… did nothing to alleviate my anger. But after an entirely new round of degrading comments changed nothing, I realized that the best thing to do was just to get it over with so I could get back where I belonged.

So I had sat, angry red face burning and tired red eyes glaring, while Kate calmly asked me to talk. With crossed arms and tapping foot, I tilted my head and asked her, "So, how many squares of toilet paper do you use per wipe?"

She had simply smiled with understanding. "We can talk about that if you like, Rodney. But the less time we spend talking about why you're really here, the more time you'll be away from John."

There was a threat my parents could have never thrown my way. If they had, my high school might have avoided losing a wing for a week while the decontamination teams fumigated it my junior year. I slouched in my seat in weary defeat. "Fine, what do you want me to say so I can get out of here?"

She leaned forward in her own chair, arms resting casually on crossed legs. "I want you to talk about what happened out there when John was buried in the snow."

I couldn't stop the physical flinch that thought caused. "Can't we talk about something else? Work our way up to that?"

"All right, then. This must bring back memories of the ice cave for you."

"What?" I asked in shock. No one knew what that ice cave meant to me… meant to us. No one but me and John and that's the way it was supposed to remain. Mine and his. No one else's. Ours.

"John being trapped in all that ice and snow, seriously injured. It must cause some of those memories of you being trapped under similar circumstances to resurface. You weren't sure if you would ever walk again for a few days. That is a very traumatic experience for anyone to undergo once, and now to see someone you care for, someone you love, hurt in an analogous way… I wouldn't be surprised if you had been thinking about when you were trapped in that cave and worried for your own life."

I looked down at my ring that I had been subconsciously twisting on my finger and started laughing. It was the most ridiculous observation she had made, and yet she had been right for all the wrong reasons. I had been thinking about that cave, a lot. A whole hell of a lot. But not for the whys Kate had in mind. There had been a time when the thought of wearing a wedding ring, especially one shoved roughly on my finger by a shaking and smiling Sheppard while our closest friends watched, seemed a pipe dream, but that day in the cave we took our first unified step toward making it a reality.

Yeah, I had been thinking about our time in the cave and the days that followed almost exclusively. It was easier than thinking about what had happened on that snow covered mountain a few days before, easier to think about the potential we were just realizing than one that could be lost if John never woke up again. Kate's expression of confusion at my fit of giggles had me laughing all the harder. When I finally caught my breath and wiped my eyes, I apologized before telling her between diminishing chuckles, "You have no idea how right and how wrong you are about that."

"Then maybe you should tell me."

I wiped at wet eyes again, no longer sure if the tears were from the laughter or something a little less amusing. "Are you sure you don't want to talk about toilet paper?"

John's hand squeezed mine and I realized Kate was waiting for an answer from me. Once again she had found the common denominator in our death defying adventures. Last time it had been being buried in a frozen wasteland, this time it was burying my feelings about my fears of losing the only person that had ever loved me unconditionally in my life.

"Yes," I admitted, "very similar situations."

"So, let's talk about how you feel about almost losing John twice now in such a short amount of time."

"It sucks beyond all things," I told her succinctly.

"That's a rather high level statement. Maybe we can talk about some of the specifics."

"Like what?" I demanded more strongly than I meant to. "The crash details are in the accident investigation. If you want to know about them, read the damn report."

"I'd rather hear your perspective on the entire incident."

"I'd rather it never happened. How's that for a perspective?"

At my bristling tone, John chastised under his breath, "Rodney, you promised you would give this a try."

"And you promised you weren't going to leave me," I snapped back, the late night pledges of those early days together fresh in my mind thanks to the memories being in Kate's office had revived.

"I haven't yet," he countered.

"Yet being the key word in that statement." The words were out before I even realized they were leaving my mouth. And I cursed myself silently for letting them slip when John blinked at me and pulled his hand away from mine, the line of irritation already appearing between his eyebrows. This is what I had been afraid of as soon as he had suggested coming to see Kate. His plan to take the offensive against what was eating me up inside had ended up with him on the defensive. Before he could speak I held up a hand. "That was totally unfair of me. I never should have said that."

"Rodney," Kate offered, "this is a safe zone. You can say anything you want in here. There is never anything that shouldn't be said when you are talking about how you feel. You'll never get past your anxieties if you don't get them out in the open. Right, John?"

John shut his mouth on what he was going to say and leaned back in his seat with crossed arms. "Right," he begrudged, but I could see this heading for disaster.

I stood with a shake of my head. "This was a bad idea. Maybe we should wait a little while longer and see if the dreams go away on their own. It's already better than it was before. In a week or so I'll be back to normal, no damage done."

The expression on John's face transmuted the tiniest amount, his jaw relaxed slightly but the crease on his forehead remained and the angry fire in his eyes dulled down into the embers of worry that had been there for weeks now. And, honestly, at that moment, I didn't know which I hated seeing there more.

Afraid that I was going to walk out, Kate reached a hand to rest on my arm. "Wait. Let's slow down a little bit. Back up and reset the stage, so to speak. Let's let Colonel Sheppard talk for a little while."

When I didn't make a beeline for the door, Kate smiled serenely as she turned her attention to John. "I've heard Rodney's perspective about what happened the day of avalanche. I would really like to hear yours."

I almost laughed as the look of worry for me changed into one for himself. He had honestly thought he was just going to get away with sitting and holding my hand and giving sympathetic squeezes now and again. Sucker. And with his lack of experience with psychoanalysis, he was little more than a sirloin for the carnivorous therapist to slap on the grill. With a grin of vindication that I did my damnedest to hide, I sat back down and gave John my undivided attention, as well.

Pass the A-1 sauce, I thought, this is going to be good.

X X X X X

Rodney was proud as hell of his history at Freud's knee, so to speak. I'd heard it more than a couple of times, and to give him credit, it got funnier with every telling. Not that there wasn't a taint of sadness to it…thanks to the negligence of his goddamn criminally worthless parents. But Rodney didn't believe anyone could see that or he wouldn't have told the stories with such glee. He imagined he had a poker face; you'd think dropping a hundred at our monthly game would've taught him differently. Even Ronon could beat him and Ronon had all the gambling skill and cunning of Bigfoot. It was a patience thing or lack there of. He spent half of the game devising ways to kill Wraith with the Joker.

And speaking of Jokers, it seemed I was the one here for thinking I could stay in the background. Be supportive and caring as Rodney came to grip with things. No such luck. I hadn't had the extensive experience Rodney had had getting the old brain soaked, wrung out, and hung up to dry. But while it wasn't as extensive, I had both been there and done that. Well, I'd been there…and I hadn't cooperated for a second, same as Rodney. Yeah, you don't lose your entire team in Afghanistan and get to walk it off. The brass frowns on that. They want you to stop the drinking, stop the not sleeping for days thing, and definitely cut it out with the whole not flying. Getting cold sweats at the sight of a plane isn't conducive to getting you back to flying the friendly skies of Afghanistan. And wasn't that was what was really important?

I'd managed to come to terms…not cope, not process—none of that shit. I'd managed to pick myself up and get on with it, but I'd done it by myself. No pale eyed, cold, empty son of a bitch in his equally cold and empty office had done a damn thing for me. I had never put much faith in the science after that, but….

Here we were.

And Kate wasn't so bad. She wasn't cold or empty. Kind of hard to take seriously at first with that hair. My first girl friend had had Farrah hair and I was betting Kate had at one time too. Farrah had her talents, two of them to be exact, but psychoanalysis hadn't been one of them. And while Kate seemed to know what she was doing, immaculate hair and all, I still didn't want to be involved in it. I wanted Rodney fixed, God, did I want that, but why the hell was she aiming that sharp mind at me? I was fine, more or less, and when Rodney could sleep through the night instead of screaming himself hoarse, I'd be fucking hunky dory. And if I felt guilty about nearly getting myself killed…if…I'd deal with it in my tried and true method. Beer and ignore it until it crawled into the subconscious for a nice long nap. This was for Rodney and Rodney only. He came first. And if it would help to talk about the avalanche, though what that had to do with the damn man in the moon I didn't have a clue…

Then I would talk. For Rodney.

"Well…," I temporized, cold sweat beading under two pair of sharp blue eyes, and glared at Rodney who was resting his chin in his hand and eyeing me smugly. "It was cold," I drawled. "I know because Rodney told us so about a hundred times and he had on the most godawful hat."

"It keeps my ears warm," he'd said indignantly then. Funny how clearly I remembered that hat. He must have lost it when the mountain came down because I never saw it again. No, wait. I had. Ronon had worn it on the first mission I'd gone on after that. He'd said he could hide even more knives under it. Dreds and pompoms, it was one helluva mix.

Even through the snow goggles the sheer redness of the pompom hat nearly blinded me. The maple leaf on the side was white as was the pompom and the rest was as red as….hell. Nothing else in the world was that red.

"Feeling patriotic today, McKay?" I watched with amusement as some sort of ice gull squawked and dive-bombed his head trying for the pompom.

He flailed at the bird and glared. "No, I'm feeling cold. C-O-L-D. Maybe you didn't notice the subzero temperatures or maybe what little is between your ears has frozen solid. Perhaps that explains it. You're trying to think with a popsicle and you aren't comprehending the sheer lack of heat going on here!"

"You're from Canada," I snorted. "You worked in Siberia and Antarctica. Didn't you build up a tolerance for anything besides vodka and penguins?"

"Just because you reside in the depths of Hell doesn't mean you don't feel your ass burning," he shot back as he continued to stiff leg through the snow. We were headed up the mountain to locate whatever was putting out an energy field that had short-circuited everything on the jumper. Hence the walking instead of the flying. Hence the nonstop bitching instead of just frequent bitching in the comfort of a heated jumper. Hence the most hideous hat known to man.

"Nice of you to admit where you're ending up," I grinned. "Or maybe you'll reincarnate. I hear roaches are smarter than you think. Or a lab rat. Hell, you're three-fourths of the way there already, mouse gene and all."

Two seconds later I was down. Friendly fire, she is a bitch. I wiped the snow from my face, grabbed a handful myself and lunged to my feet.

"Seems like I learned something in Canada after all," he said smugly.

I growled, packed my snowball as his expression changed to wariness, and nailed him in the ass when he turned to run. And then it was on and to my chagrin, his aim was better than mine. He really had gotten an education in the Great White North that I hadn't in Texas. Throwing dirt balls isn't quite as fun.

Teyla watched the snowball fight with amusement and Ronon rolled his eyes and trudged on without us. A few minutes later I surrendered and glumly had to admit I was never going to live this down. "Pathetic," Rodney crowed. "You throw like a little girl." At Teyla's throat clearing and raised eyebrows, he hastily changed it, "Like a little boy. A three year old maybe…a near-sighted three year old with very slow reflexes."

"Yeah, yeah. You're the king," I rolled my eyes as he tried to scoop caked snow out from under his collar. Fishing a small towel out of the side pocket of my backpack, I mopped the back of his neck and grinned as the gulls began to dive again. "It's karma, McKay." One promptly dropped a load on his shoulder, proving my point. "Yep, karma. No one deserves it more."

Of course then the flailing and swearing started again. "Do you know how many diseases these filthy creatures can carry? Histoplasmosis, the bird flu…probably some alien kind that has blood exploding from every pore like a Quentin Tarantino martial arts movie." He grabbed the towel from my hand and wiped frantically at the bird shit. "Do you want blood exploding from every pore? Because I don't, okay. I so do not."

"Well, you're no Uma Thurman," I grinned and pretended to duck the scorching scowl he tossed my way…the 'you are so not getting any' look, "and don't you think you might be exaggerating just a…." And that's when I spotted it…the Bumble. Really. It was dead on the one out of Rudolph—minus the silly grin and rolling eyes. There was nothing silly about this one's Mako shark grin and the eyes were sheer molten madness. I didn't know if it was attracted by Rodney's swatting at the birds or the hat…could've been either, but it definitely had its predatory eye locked on him. "Holy shit," I breathed then shouted as it started to charge. "Run!"

Rodney turned to see the Yeti covering the ground with frightening speed, turned as white as the snow, and started staggering through the deep stuff at a slow motion run in his snowshoes. Teyla and Ronon flanked him and I brought up the rear, P90 in hand. Seconds later I was firing. I hit it squarely in the chest, blood blooming in the yellow-white fur instantly.

It kept coming.

I could see the teeth longer than my hand, the shoulders broader than that of any bear, and an implacable hunger in its eyes. I fired again, a longer burst and that did it. Not for the Bumble, but for the whole damn mountain. It all came down, a tidal wave of white. It was like being tumbled to the ocean floor when a big wave took you down, surfboard and all. Everything was white…everywhere was cold. They tell you in an avalanche to put your arms around your head to keep a pocket of air—so you could breathe, because, hey, breathing is a good thing. I took the training, I remembered. I also remembered how long the air would last. Not very fucking long at all. And how long until the hypothermia would set in.

Same answer.

I blinked and frowned defensively at both Rodney and Kate. "That's all I remember."

Of course, that wasn't true. I remembered more, a lot more. Before I lost consciousness while choking for air, during the big soap opera coma, and after when Rodney threatened to kick my ass up one side and down the other. But that wasn't what we were here for. We were supposed to be making Rodney better, not worse. We were supposed to be talking about him, not me. And why the hell were we even talking about this anyway?

"That's all I remember," I repeated. "Now why the hell don't we do what we came for? Help Rodney."

And that was my job and not just because I loved him, not just because I couldn't live without him, but because as much as I didn't want to admit it to myself, it was my fault. I said I could fly anything, land anything, and apparently….

That was a goddamn lie.

X X X X X

Kate looked to me and asked, "So, Rodney, is that how you remember it?"

"Oh, yeah," I grinned gleefully, "I kicked his ass big time with the snow balls." With a patronizing cock of my head, I asked John, "Was your high school baseball team dead last in its division? Regularly lose in scrimmages with the local little league?"

It was rare that I could ever keep up, much less excel, at anything physical compared to Sheppard. Well, except in one key area of our lives together… but I digress. After more than two years of jogging together, I still held firm to the position that running should not be a recreational undertaking but should instead be reserved exclusively for when you are being chased by something armed or predatory… or when a shipment of frozen pizzas comes in on the Daedalus. And the times he had tried to teach me hand-to-hand combat techniques? Well those had been an undertaking of futility if ever there was one. He gave up on boxing when he laid me out cold after one punch. He gave up on the stick fighting when I tripped over them walking into the gym and laid myself out cold after one step. He was pretty damn persistent with trying to teach me how to choke someone down, but when I absolutely refused to do it to him, justifying that I had seen him unconscious enough times without being responsible for it myself, I thought I was home free. No such luck. He simply ushered Ronon over and told me to do it to him. After several attempts to even get my arm around the Satedan's neck and repeated requests for a stool to stand on so I could at least reach it, John finally decided to concentrate on keeping me armed and keeping himself planted firmly between me and any threats so I wouldn't need to resort to such measures.

So when I pummeled him into submission with white balls of frozen death flung fast and furious, did I gloat? You better fucking believe I did. And the best part about it was that it had nothing to do with physical prowess and everything to do with general physics. Years of defending childhood snow forts had honed my ability to form a perfectly balanced snowball in a matter of seconds. It was all in the wrists, shaping the nearly flawless orbs, shaving off any blemishes with skilled, gloved hands. They couldn't help but fly true. And those misshapen abominations Sheppard was pitching at me? Well, I seriously doubt even Nolan Ryan could have lobbed one of those over home plate. But did I let him in on that little trade secret? Hell, no.

"Or maybe you really didn't get that letterman jacket playing shortstop but were the team manager instead," I continued to goad. "Handing out cups of Gatorade, picking up dirty uniforms and discarded jock straps. Demanding work, I'm sure you more than earned it."

He fixed me with an acidic smile. "No, I didn't start doing anything like that until I started cohabitating with you."

I opened my mouth to respond but was cut off by Kate. "Maybe we should save this conversation for another session." Yeah, good luck with that. From the stiff set of John's jaw and the perpetually increasing slouch he was sinking into, I seriously doubted he would come anywhere near this office again once he made his escape at the end of this session. "What I'd really like to hear now is Rodney telling us what happened after you were trapped in the snow."

All good humor and smug pride gone, I sat back in my seat. "You know what happened," I told her in a mumble.

"Yes, I do," she admitted, "but does John?"

"I'm sure he's picked up bits and pieces enough to put the story together," I prevaricated.

"But he hasn't heard it from you?"

When my only answer was to dart nervous eyes between the two of them, John stepped in with a wary frown. "No, I haven't."

"What's to tell? We dug you out, brought you back to Atlantis, you lingered on deaths doorstep for days unending, eventually you woke up and we returned to our perfect fairytale lives together where we've lived happily ever after. The end."

My breezy summary was met with more than a little skepticism. "Rodney." It was one word, but the warning tone John infused it with had me leaning in conspiratorially.

"Okay, I skimmed over the whole waking you with true love's first kiss part, but I didn't want to get mushy in front of Kate."

The exaggerated whisper had Kate giving me her best schoolmarm's puckered-lip frown of disapproval. "Rodney, I really think you should tell John what happened."

With a sigh I set out to tell him what she wanted me to, except not really. I knew what she wanted me to tell him, it was the one thing I hadn't wanted to tell anyone else and she'd dragged it out of me like a vet trying to pull teeth from a rabid lion. And in the end, she had come away with the incisor in hand. But I wasn't ready to tell John just yet, so I skipped ahead a little in the story.

"I had contacted Atlantis as soon as I had the Jumper close enough to open the gate," I started. "So, Carson's medical team was just a few seconds behind me setting down in the hangar."

From the pilot's seat I called back to my teammate once again. I only had to say her name; the actual question went unspoken as it was the same one I had asked repeatedly since we had started back down off the mountain. "Teyla?"

"He still breathes, Rodney." If she was becoming impatient with my repeated requests for reassurance, she didn't show it. "We are back on Atlantis; all will be well, now." And whether those words of faith were for me or her, I wasn't sure and didn't care. I sprang from the seat as soon as I had the ship docked and dropped to my knees beside her as she sat by John.

Ronon had the back hatch open before we had landed and was trotting out to meet the medics. As if they didn't know their way to Jumper One. Christ, I was surprised we didn't have a makeshift infirmary set up next to our normal parking space. But I was almost relieved to see him go, the scowl on my face obvious to anyone who looked and right then, with John unconscious on the floor beside my leg, Teyla was the only one that noticed.

The touch to my shoulder was light but caring. "The fault is as much mine as his, perhaps even more so." The brown eyes that had drawn mine away from John dropped their gaze to the floor. "If I hadn't lost his pulse…"

"There's enough blame for everyone to share," I told her briskly, my emotions as cold as the limp hand I clutched desperately in my bloodied and bandaged ones. "It's a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of guilt and remorse and we all just filled our plates."

The medical crew showed up then, Carson actually making an appearance with them, which just went to show how frantic my call from the other side of the wormhole had been. "Nice of you to grace us with your presence, Carson," I snapped. "Slow day in the National Sheepherders Association chat room?"

He ignored my jab, recognizing it for the nervous worry that it represented, and set to work on John. "How long had he actually stopped breathing before you revived him?"

I looked to see Ronon standing stiffly in the doorway behind the medics. He had evidently filled Carson in on at least part of what had happened. "Gee, Carson, I really wouldn't know, seeing as he was buried under a fucking mountain at the time."

"Rodney, for the Colonel's sake, you need to calm down and give me every piece of information you can to work with here."

"It took us nearly fifteen minutes to locate where he was buried after the avalanche occurred," Teyla offered from my side.

"But he had a pulse when we first found him." As I spoke, my hand tightened instinctively on the one that I held, the fingertips of which we had seen sticking up through the snow. The only way in hell that we'd found him.

"And how long to dig him out then?" Carson signaled the medics to move John to the waiting gurney. Ronon pointedly ignored my glare as he stepped in to assist.

"Another fifteen to twenty minutes until his upper body was exposed," I provided, maintaining my hold on his hand as they lifted him.

"Definitely less than twenty," the large warrior told him when John had been transferred to the stretcher. With a glance in my direction he added, "Another half hour or so before we had him out completely. By then he was breathing on his own again."

"But he wasn't breathing when you first reached him?"

"Not without some intervention on my part," I offered quietly.

"Very well," Carson sighed, "let's get him to the infirmary, then."

I gruffly shouldered Ronon out of the way when he started walking beside the gurney, challenging him silently when the muscles flinched in his jaw. I knew I didn't stand a chance in hell of beating him if he took up the gauntlet, but right then and there I would have given him a run for his money, even without a stool to stand on. As usual, it was Teyla who stepped in as the voice of reason, even without saying a word. A hand on his massive forearm was all it took for him to stand aside and follow with the Athosian at John's feet.

As we moved quickly down the hallway, the hand in mine twitched. "John?" I called anxiously.

"M'kay." My name was weak on lips that barely moved but I nearly choked on the relief of hearing it.

"I'm right here, John," I assured, squeezing his hand harder so he could feel it.

"You're…hand's…cold."

I looked down to the dressings stained red from my own seeping blood. Ice is sharper than glass when you're clawing at it in an all out panic. "Must be from the snowball fight," I offered in feeble fallacy, but it evidently fell on deaf ears, because he didn't respond. Open your eyes, John, I thought desperately. Just open your eyes and look at me. But that wasn't going to happen, not for days, no matter how many times I begged him to do it.

"I waited for you to say more," I told him as he sat watching me closely in Kate's office, "but you didn't, not for almost a day and a half. And even then it was just another nonsensical statement about my legs."

Not really nonsensical, but Kate didn't need to know that. It had taken me awhile, but I had finally figured out what he had really meant. That he wasn't really talking to me then but was talking to me in a past when I had been the one under ice and he had been the one worrying over me.

No, Kate didn't need to understand but John did and by the way his hand slipped back into mine and intertwined just as it had in that cave so long ago, I knew he did. And even if this wasn't what Kate had wanted me to tell him, it was a start in the right direction.

"Habit," he told me with a squeeze of his fingers. "I'm so used to you running your mouth nonstop that I can rarely get a word in edgewise. And when I do, you never listen anyway, so it doesn't really matter what I say."

I rolled my eyes in mock outrage. "I'm a busy man, Sheppard. Say something worth listening to and then I'll listen."

And when we had been trapped in that cave together, I listened to every unspoken word he said.

X X X X X

And then it was my turn again. Joy.

What happened when you came out of the coma, Colonel? How did you feel? How did Rodney react? Did you remember everything up to the avalanche?

Crap, all of it, and it had absolutely nothing to do with why we were even here. And I was just annoyed and defensive enough to say so. I think I probably squeezed Rodney's hand a little too hard as I did so because his thumb smoothed soothingly over the back of my hand. "Other than underlining that I'm accident prone as hell and a bad bet for anyone to hang around, what's the point to this?" All it could possibly accomplish was to have Rodney speed off to greener, safer pastures. "When are we going to talk about the accident?" And while I certainly didn't look forward to that, at least I could see the sense in it.

"Nothing that happens in our lives is a singular event, no matter how we might perceive otherwise. Everything is connected to what came before and what you anticipate to come after. And with something as life altering as the accident, it's instructive to explore around it before we discuss it specifically."

Have you ever heard such bullshit? Honestly? I remembered when I was a kid and I'd lose a tooth. For days I'd explore the empty socket with my tongue, getting a sharp sliver of pain every time. You think you'd learn, but I did it anyway. But the normal person outgrows that; the psychologists in life never do. Poke, prod and do it all over again.

And the avalanche, while, yeah, damn traumatic, hadn't been as bad as what had happened during the coma. I didn't think people dreamed then. I thought either they were out, dark and dreamless, or maybe they drifted, hearing voices of people talking to them or working over them. Dreams though…I just didn't see it. A coma is hardly a nap after all.

But dream I did, reliving one of the best and worst experiences of my life. The best of times, the worst of times and more fucking ice and cold. It was bad enough I had to live the worst of it once. Twice was hard as hell.

Sometimes I forgot why we were even there…in the cave. I mean, I knew of course, and I could get it if I bothered to think about it for a second, but mostly it was massively overshadowed by what happened when it all came down. A Wraith distress beacon…that was it. The same kind that had drawn us to a sandy planet and one pissed off Superwraith. We'd lost two good hearted, hobbity geeks and nearly lost ourselves to boot; you think we would've learned to avoid beacons in the future. But no. It was old. There could be Wraith technology. Could be an important find. The combo of the two was the only thing that could've lured Rodney into the cave. Not a fan of caves was our favorite astrophysicist.

Claustrophobia, acrophobia, entomophobia…I had to look that one up. Fear of bugs. I couldn't find a label for fear of exercise or fear of lack of pudding cups in the cafeteria or for fear of subordinates' stupidity, but I was sure he had those too. Some situations proved challenging for Rodney and consequently even more challenging for the rest of us. Usually I prodded, cajoled, and flat out pushed him into motion when these things came up, and he would shake it off and do his job. It was pretty amazing how he did that. Brave, braver than most people gave him credit for.

This time though, I hesitated. The entrance to the cave was small, too small for Ronon to hope to fit through and the thought of climbing through himself had Rodney in a cold sweat. Hell, I was a little uneasy myself. I'd put my head through the hole in the rock to see the dull gleam of ice, rock floor…and then I'd craned to look up.

Holy shit.

The entire ceiling was a frozen mass of stalactites, some as big as a man and as sharp as any Ginsu knife. And, yeah, they looked as if they'd been there thousands of years, but still…walking under that was something that would give anyone pause.

"Um," I withdrew my head. "I think I'll go this one alone. Ronon, you and McKay stay out here and watch for Wraith. The signal's old, but, hell, you never know." If Teyla were there, I would've taken her along, but she was on the mainland dealing with a cultural thing. Had to do with some sort of marriage negotiation ceremony or harvest banquet or…I had no idea. I'd zoned out halfway through Elizabeth's explanation. The bottom line was she wasn't there and it was solo into the cave. "If I find anything, I'll come back and report," I said to Rodney. "See if you think it's worth investigating further."

Rodney's pale face immediately flushed with color. "What happened to the never go alone rule? Didn't the great John Sheppard say and I quote, 'You never go swimming without a buddy and you never go Wraithing without one either or I'll kick your ass.' It's not exactly Shakespeare, but it does have a message and it's your message. So…what the hell?"

"What the hell is it's a small hole." I reached over and patted his stomach. "And Dr. Pudding Cup might have a time getting in. You and Ronon spend some quality bonding time out here and I'll be back in no time."

"Just because I maintain a healthy, nonskeletal weight," he said stiffly, "does not mean I can't fit, all right? Here. I'll show you. Prepare to eat your words, Colonel. Could be you'll even gain an ounce or two." He shoved his pack in my arms, squared shoulders and headed for the entrance.

"McKay, come on. It's not going to be a cakewalk in there," I said reluctantly. I wasn't going to get specific about the claustrophobia thing. Ronon already gave Rodney hell about so much. I wasn't going to give him any more ammunition. Of course, when I gave Rodney hell it was all in good fun, but when other people did…it was different. How it was different, I couldn't put my finger on, but it was.

"Cakewalk. Why does everyone assume a cakewalk is so pleasant anyway? You should've seen the one my Nana put together for the neighborhood fair. Cakes exploding, icing everywhere. It was Betty Crocker's worst nightmare. The police even came to question her. It was quite the family scandal." He was halfway through when he became stuck. "She loved every minute of it of course. Tried to fondle the Sergeant."

"And I'll bet you licked icing off the sidewalk," I sighed, giving in to his stubbornness. I also grabbed the material of his pants and gave him a push through.

"That is none of your business, Colonel," came the voice out of the cave. "Now do me the favor of getting your ass in here…now."

I snorted and pushed his pack in followed by mine. When I climbed through myself, it was to see Rodney with arms folded, ostensibly against the cold, and rapidly rocking back and forth on his heels. "Doing okay?" I said casually. There was no need to rub it in. Hell, I didn't have claustrophobia and this place was a bit much for me.

"Just hunky dory." He meant to snap it, but it came out as more of a question…a request for reassurance.

"Hunky dory," I confirmed strongly, slapping him on the back and handing him his pack. Putting mine on, I nudged him into motion. "Want to sing?" I grinned. "Take your mind off of it? One hundred bottles of Smurf piss on the wall?"

He looked upward and shuddered at the sight. "How about we don't? If anything could bring the ceiling down it would be your atrocious singing. You imagine yourself to be Johnny Cash, but you're more like Alvin the Chipmunk with a mucousy cold and a little less helium."

"The love is just palpable, McKay," I said dryly.

He darted eyes towards me then gave his flashlight a wholly unnecessary smack with the heel of his hand. "I'm full of love I'll have you know. Absolutely full of it."

"You're full of it, all right." Grinning, I bumped his shoulder with mine and watched as he studied the energy detector with far more attention than he usually did. "Something wrong? You pick up anything?"

"Nothing but what we picked up before," he grunted. Sighing, he said, "Let's get this over with." He waved a hand. "After you, Colonel."

"So kind." I started into motion and Rodney moved up beside me. "Hey, why weren't you at the poker game last night? I checked your room and the lab for you. Nada. We missed kicking your ass for powerbars and twinkies."

He rolled his eyes. "So sorry to deny you the opportunity to mug me, steal everything I own, and dump me dazed and naked in the hall, but I was busy."

"Too busy for poker?" And oddly enough, I was a little put out, the same as I'd been a little disappointed last night. I was used to hanging with McKay. He was a helluva friend…smart—that went without saying, sarcastic, funny in a very specific and peculiar way. He kept me on my toes and he made me laugh even when he dragged my ass to the lab to be mildly singed by some new Ancient device.

"Miko and I had dinner." Ice particles crunched under his boots.

"Dinner?" My eyebrows went up. "With Miko? Miko from the lab? Miko with the big glasses?" Miko who had a massively huge crush on him. "Oh Christ, McKay, you're not going to break her heart, are you?" Because he couldn't end up with her. I just couldn't picture that. Worshipful Miko, domineering McKay. He'd eat her alive. Right? It just wouldn't work. "Well?" I snapped, suddenly rather annoyed.

"No, I'm not going to break her heart," he scowled. "And what crawled up your nonexistent ass and died? She's thinking of going back to Earth and I was trying to talk her into staying, which takes a few hours. Earth with its Starbucks and biscotti versus Atlantis with aliens who think you're the biscotti. But she's almost competent, one of the few among my so-called staff, and she doesn't mind massaging the cramp out of my foot."

"She's a gem all right," I grinned, inexplicably cheered. "Did you convince her?"

"Yeah." He frowned and a weary look swam across his face. "Pretty selfish of me. And the next time the Wraith attack Atlantis, it's going to be a hard decision to live with. Fucking hard as hell."

There was nothing to say to that; it was true. But we needed good people or we didn't have a chance of making it. "She's tougher than she seems. Don't underestimate her." It was getting colder the further into the cave we went. "And she's one helluva shot, better than a lot of the Marines."

"Really?" he perked up. "Better than me?"

"Depends on the day. Some days you're an amazing shot, and some days you couldn't hit the broadside of the barn. Some days the NRA would worship and grovel at your feet, and some you can't even keep a clip in your gun. I'm baffled. I've tried everything short of smacking your hand with a ruler nun-style."

"Geniuses are easily distracted when doing mundane activities," he said loftily. "Which is why I'm just a shade less than brilliant in poker."

"Yeah, that's it," I said skeptically. "Your genius. Not the fact you have no poker face and get all hopped up on sugar during the game. I'm surprised you don't hallucinate the Keebler elves. They're trying to fudge stripe me! Run, run for your life!"

"Oh ha, ha," he said sourly. "My spleen has split from the hilarity of it all." He shivered, made a face at the deepening cold, and went on diffidently, "So you really missed me at the game?" Hastily, he added, "All of you, I mean? There was much lamenting over my absence?"

"Much," I said gravely. "Ronon poured potato chips over his head in mourning, Teyla sang some hymn straight out of 'Lord of the Rings', Radek lifted a glass of Smurf piss to you, and Carson wept like a baby. And, yes, I missed you, too, you needy bastard."

"Hmph. I am not needy. I have never been needy in my life. I'm a rock, okay? A rock and…what the hell is that?"

That would be the cave…shaking. Shaking hard. "Shit." I grabbed his arm and started back the way we came, running as fast as I could. "Shit. Shit. Shit." And then I was saying it from the ground, knocked to my feet by the violence of the tremors. After that I wasn't saying much at all as the ceiling fell—a frozen waterfall of cascading chunks of ice. No, I wasn't able to get anything out except Rodney's name.

But he didn't answer at first. And when he finally did, I didn't like what he had to say.

Not at all.

X X X X X

I had a calculus professor in college that constantly screwed up the equations he would write on the chalkboard in class. He would reach the end of four lines of mathematical computations and the answer wouldn't be what he had expected it to be. Instead of just erasing it and starting over, he would spend several minutes of going over his work, find the mistake way up in line two and proceed to make the spot corrections throughout. I had no problem following the logic. Hell, I usually caught the mistake when he originally made it and finished the calculations correctly on my own. But there was an anthropology major that sat next to me who always ended up lost along the convoluted path the corrections took. Eventually, she dropped the class out of sheer frustration and it was a damn shame. First off, because she always wore these short little skirts that rode up well past her mid-thigh when she sat down and secondly because if the instructor had just taken the time to start over again instead of trying to fill in the gaps as he went, I think that anthropology major would have made it through the course.

The same can be said about psychotherapy. A lot of people don't realize that the whole point of psychotherapy is to break you down, strip out the problems and then put you back together minus the issues. Just like with those calculus problems, you have to find the mistake, erase it all and start with a fresh slate. If you try to short cut it and piecemeal the corrections, you end up losing the patient or the anthropology major as the case may be. Goodbye mini-skirts, hello hacky-sack guy that reeks of patchouli sitting next to you instead. And I had no intention of losing John. But if he stood up and walked out now…and I could see the threat of that written all over his face… well, no amount of leggy coeds would make up for what I would be losing then.

"I don't give a shit about exploring around any singular events. We're here to fix Rodney, so let's get the hell on with it already or get the hell out of here." John started to rise from his seat and I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind to keep him there.

"You know, Teyla kept trying to distract me during your coma. Well, actually everyone tried but she's the only one that actually came close to succeeding. Until, of course, Radek faked overloading the ZedPM."

John furrowed his brow in confusion at my statement but settled back into his seat. "What'd she do? Take off her top and recite Athosian love poetry?"

"Hardly," I snorted. "I think even Teyla has limits to how far she'll go for friendship. Actually, she brought me some work to do."

I had been sitting in the infirmary when Teyla came in yet again. It was, I don't know, the fourth or fifth time since the accident that she had been there. Time really didn't have much meaning any more. It was as much a blur as the stream of people that came in and out of John's room. Medical staff checking on John, friends checking on me almost as much as him, words of encouragement and reassurance and comfort and a million other things that I had no desire to hear.

"Hello, Rodney," she greeted from the door and I barely spared her a glance to see her holding a tray of food in the entrance.

"Lunch time already?" I asked listlessly, returning my attention to John.

"Dinner, actually," she informed me as she stepped closer.

"Just put it on the table over there. I'll get to it in a minute."

"Like you have the other two trays from breakfast and lunch that are still sitting untouched?"

I shrugged at her chastising tone. "Wasn't hungry."

"Rodney, you must eat. It will do no one any good if you end up in a hospital bed, as well."

"You know, I get this lecture from Carson enough as it is. And you can see how effective it's been. So, if that's the only reason you're here, you might as well save your breath and my hearing and go the hell away."

"I was hoping to visit with John for a while, if you don't mind. Perhaps… what was the term Aiden used when he was in stasis before… coma talk him for a while."

I snorted and met her eyes as she sat on the opposite side of the bed. "It's a good thing Ford's not here. I'd hate to listen to all those horrible jokes he was telling again."

She smiled softly and took John's other hand in hers. "I thought it was just nuances of Earth humor that kept me from understanding them. Evidently, they just were not funny."

I laughed quietly. "No, they weren't." My fingers ran lightly over the palm of John's hand. Occasionally his fingers would flinch when I did it, and every time they did, my heart would skip and I'd wait anxiously for him to open his eyes or speak again or wake the fuck up so we could get on with our lives. But at that moment, they just lay perfectly still. With a sigh, I admitted, "I miss Ford, bad jokes and all."

"As do I," Teyla confessed. "We have lost so many over the years, it seems selfish to miss some more than others, but I still do."

"Yeah, well, I'm one selfish bastard." Wake up, you son of a bitch. Just wake the fuck up.

"He will come back to us, Rodney." The reassurance, I knew, was no longer referring to Ford.

"Of course he'll come back," I bristled. "Why the hell wouldn't he come back? He's just being his usual lazy-ass self. Plus he knows the sex is phenomenal when he finally gets out of the infirmary. Forget makeup sex, near death sex blows it out of the water."

A faint blush spread across bronze cheeks. "Yes, well, I am sure that is the reason then."

I fluttered hands in a threadbare apology. "Sorry, my filter seems to be nonexistent right now."

"Perhaps some rest would help with that," she offered hopefully. "I will stay here while you sleep." She inclined her head toward the unused bed that Carson had moved in for me the day before.

"No!" I practically yelled the word. "He could wake up any minute now. He's going to wake up any minute now. I have to be here when he does."

"But you will be, right here in the bed…"

"I said no!"

"Very well," she appeased. "I will not mention it again." I nodded in acknowledgement and after a few second of silence she continued. "Actually, I had hoped you might be able to assist me with something."

I sighed, seeing where this was heading. "Teyla, I'm not leaving this room no matter…"

"Do not worry; you will not need to leave John's side. I believe you should be able to work on this from here." She pulled out a large leather sheet, worn soft by years of folding and unfolding.

Intrigued, I looked closer at the markings on it. "Are those constellations?"

"Yes," she smiled at how quickly I had recognized them. "It is a sky map from Athos. Charin kept it for years and years. I remember her pulling it out when I was a child, spreading it in an open field and pointing out the stars and telling the stories that went with them. I had not seen it in many years but going through some of her things after her death, I found it." She ran an affectionate finger across the patterns on the cloth. "I had hoped that I could remap the stars here on Atlantis, but I have been unable to do so. Do you think that, perhaps, you could help me?"

"Well, it shouldn't be too difficult if we can identify a few key stars. With a few calculations in the database, I should be able to find them here, although the patterns may not be the same here as they are on Athos." I pointed to a large dot on the sheet. "Like this one. It seems to indicate a very bright star on Athos. We might be able to use that as a starting point."

With a whimsical smile she told me, "Ah, that is Frellin the Star Chaser, my favorite legend of the skies."

"Star Chaser?"

She nodded happily as she walked around the bed to look over my shoulder. "He was a young man that fell in love with the star, Agerain." One slender finger indicated a star directly opposite the large one. "Frellin spent many nights by the river trying to woo Agerain from the sky. He sang songs, recited poetry, told tales of his bravery in battle, but to no avail. Agerain remained silent, seemingly unaware of the love-struck young man below."

I looked from Teyla to the unmoving face of the man in the bed. There was no pain there, no worry or fear; it was just blankly unaware, as if in sleep. Wake up. Enough of this shit, already. Just wake up. When I didn't turn back to her, Teyla resumed her story.

"Finally, reaching a point of desperation, Frellin decided that if Agerain would not come to him, he would go to Agerain. He climbed to the highest cliff above the village, one overlooking the river where he had spent so many nights proclaiming his affection, and jumped, believing his love alone would carry him to the sky above where Agerain dwelt."

I snorted without looking away from John's face. "Wasn't exactly the fastest electron in the atom, was he?"

"Why do you say that?" she asked in confusion.

"I mean, love can do a lot of things, but defy gravity and keep you from falling to your death isn't one of them."

She cleared her throat and I saw how she tilted her head pointedly toward the uneaten trays of food on the table. "No, it cannot."

With a frown at the implications of her statement I asked, "So what happened? He went splat on the ground and the star felt so guilty that it immortalized him in the cosmos for all eternity? Gee, Teyla, that's just what I needed, a story of heartbreak and remorse. Thanks, I feel infinitely cheered now."

"Actually, no, he did not fall to his death, although fall he did. But before he reached the ground, Agerain sped down and scooped him up to the heavens. And there they abide for all eternity, side by side."

I blinked at the unexpected ending. "So, they lived happily ever after?"

"Yes, they did. And Athosian legend has it that when you see a falling star in the night sky, it is the star racing down to rescue its lover from certain death."

"That's actually a nice story," I conceded. "Sappier than hell, but nice nonetheless."

She squeezed my shoulder gently. "Tell it to John when he wakes. And if you can locate the constellations here, you can show him, as well." A mischievous grin played across her lips. "Who knows, perhaps the sex will be even more phenomenal after the story."

I raised eyebrows at the revealing comment. "Is that part of the mythology, too?"

"No, based on my personal experience, that is pure fact." With a knowing smile and final pat to my shoulder she implored one last time, "Please, take care of yourself, Rodney. I will return in a few hours to see if you need anything more."

Then she was gone and it was just me and John again with the steady beat of his heart on the monitor filling the room and the folklore of the Athosians spread across my lap. I had resumed tracing lines along his palm, mimicking the patterns that I studied on the chart, when he flinched again. Actually, it was more of a shudder, a single tremor that passed through his body then stilled.

I was on my feet the instant that it happened, the sheet falling unnoticed to the floor. "John?" I squeezed his hand desperately tight. "Come on now, wake up."

"… move your legs?" The furrow of worry that creased his brow vanished almost as quickly as the mumbled words, and once again I was left with nothing more than the steady beep, beep, beep of his heart. For a second I had to wonder if he had even said anything at all, that maybe the lack of sleep had me hallucinating. Because why the hell would he ask me to move my legs? First my hands, now my legs? Then, like a ceiling of ice and rock the memories came crashing down on me.

I ignored Kate as she sat across from us and focused completely on John, just as I had all that time in the infirmary. "A day and a half I waited and all you could say was 'move your legs'?"

Hazel eyes held my own and I saw the minute tremor as his breath stuttered in his chest. It was so subtle I'm sure Kate missed it completely. But not me, I caught all of John's nuances. I had since the moment I had opened my eyes to cold darkness and icy numbness and John's voice calling frantic directions to Ronon through the radio as his hand rested on my chest. I could feel them trembling, those long fingers that had unzipped my coat far enough to splay across my heart so he could feel it beating in the dark. I could feel the way they fisted up my shirt in utter relief when he realized I was awake. I could even feel the way his muscles relaxed when I responded to him calling my name. What I couldn't feel were my legs buried beneath what had been the roof of the cave, and that's when I got a whole new lesson in how to read John.

X X X X X

The first time I'd met Rodney he'd been annoyed. Big surprise. Annoyed might be a singular emotion to some, but just as the Inuit had a hundred words for snow, Rodney had a hundred variations of annoyed…a hundred at the very least.

That time it had been the why-is-the-world-against-me annoyed. I'd sat in a chair I hadn't had a clue would do anything and pretty much ruined Rodney's day. Fine, it helped him out from a research standpoint, and it helped Atlantis out with one more pilot…because in the beginning there were damn few, but I don't think that made up for it all to Rodney.

Carson had the gene, I had the gene, various underlings (Rodney's word, not mine) had the gene, and he was left out in the evolutionary cold.

It pissed him the hell off.

Oddly, despite all that, we hit it off the moment we passed through the gate…minus the episode when he told me to carry his scientific version of luggage. After that was straightened out via a few snarks and glares, we just…clicked. We marveled over Ancient devices together and sniped like old acquaintances. It was weird—liking someone who was nothing like you, not to mention smug as hell and puffed up with self-importance. But like him I did. And later I grew to respect him, depend on him, and generally be damn impressed by him.

By then he was my best friend, and it made me realize I hadn't had one of those since I was a kid. When I grew up…abandonment issues and all, thanks, Mom…I always held something of myself back. I had friends, good ones, but….

But.

There wasn't that 'but' with Rodney. He weaseled past it without even trying, maybe because I didn't expect it with someone who was so completely different. Maybe because…hell, I didn't know and I didn't care; I just enjoyed the ride.

I wasn't enjoying it now.

At first he was silent. My flashlight was shattered and I had to find him by crawling and feeling for him. And it took a while. There was so much ice…so much. It was easy to believe someone could be completely swallowed up by it. That they could disappear into an icy grave and the only way to find them would be to eventually dig them out of that icy grave, bag and tag them, and send them home to their family. So long. Bye bye. Thanks for playing.

But that wasn't Rodney, I thought fiercely. Rodney was too stubborn to die like this. Too sure of his own importance to go out in a way that didn't include a massive explosion and the destruction of several suns along with a few hundred Wraith cruisers. He wouldn't go gently into that good night…no, he'd go kicking and screaming, bitching and howling. I knew it. I just knew it.

And when my hand touched the cold skin of his face I didn't believe any different. I wouldn't. Couldn't. Maybe my hands shook when I desperately dragged down the zipper of his parka to feel for his heartbeat, but it was just the cold, right?

Right.

When the rest of me shook on feeling the beat against my palm, that was the cold too. As I shouted instructions into the com, telling Ronon to go for help, I felt Rodney stir under my hand. Heard his incoherent mumble. I gave in then. The cold doesn't make your heart stutter in your chest, it doesn't make your throat close against scorching bile, and it doesn't make you want to fall on your ass and bury your face in your knees.

Not that I did the latter. There was no time. My fist clenched in Rodney's shirt in a spasm of relief and I said with a calm so steady and sure that even I was amazed by it. "Rodney? How you doing, buddy? Can you hear me?"

There was another mumble, a shifting under my hand, and then, "'ohn?"

"Right here," I reassured. "I'm right here."

I heard a scrabbling on the ground and then his hand hit my arm and crept down to latch onto my wrist. "Wha'…what…happened?"

"The sky fell, Chicken Little." I tried for a grin, not that he could see it, but I hoped he could hear it in my voice. "It fell and kicked our asses but good."

"Not…surprised," he said in a faint and aggrieved tone. He shifted again and his voice changed. "John…I can't feel my legs."

Couldn't feel his legs. Never in the entirety of human history has any good come after the words 'I can't feel my…' anything. Just fill in the blank. Legs, arms, body. Whatever. Nothing good. Not to mention I'd fucked up. Even a kid in high school could've done better than I had. I'd found Rodney, nearly lost it in sheer relief and hadn't bothered to check out the situation thoroughly. I did it now and almost wished I'd been allowed to go on in blissful ignorance.

From the waist down, Rodney was buried in ice and stone. I patted my way down until I touched the mound covering him. The pieces weren't too large for me to lift, but there were far too many. With just me it would take hours and hours and…fuck. It would take them at least that long to find us. "Okay." I rubbed my forehead. Sweating in below freezing temperatures, what kind of shit was that? "You're a little…pinned. But I've called for help and until they come I'll try to clear some of it."

"Pinned." It wasn't a question. "John, I didn't say I couldn't move my legs, I said I can't feel them."

There was a thread of panic in his voice, but it was deeply buried…God, like the rest of him. He was holding it together, reminding me all over again of how people underestimated him. He could panic with the best of them, no doubt, but when it came down to the wire, he got his shit together and he performed. And that's what it's all about. If I'd learned anything in the military, it was that.

I started moving ice and rock. "That's probably the cold. I can't feel my feet and my legs are probably next." Not a complete lie. Almost, but not quite. "Okay, then, can you try to move your legs for me? No big movements. Just try to move them a little."

There was silence in the darkness, then, "No." Not shit or fuck or oh God, just…no.

"There's too much ice," I countered immediately. "Once I clear it off you'll be able to move them fine."

More silence and finally he said simply, "Okay." And it wasn't an okay-I-believe-you. It was the other kind—the kind that says don't worry, John. I have it together. I'm not going to lose it. I won't make things worse than they are.

As if they could get much fucking worse. I continued to clear the ice, talking the entire time. I don't know what I said, couldn't have remembered it even a minute after saying it, but I talked all the same. Tried to make things more normal, more…hopeful. But after nearly a half hour I couldn't tell I'd even made a dent in the pile on top of Rodney. So when he said quietly, "I'm not feeling too well," I gave up and took care of more important things.

I raised him up a bit from the ground so that I could slide under him, keep him from the cold ground. I unwrapped a candy bar from my pocket and felt for his hand. Wrapping his gloved fingers around it, I said firmly, "Eat. Your blood sugar's probably dropping like a rock." Even through the thickness of his gloves I could feel the chill of his hand. When he finished and I heard the crumple of an empty wrapper, I reached for his hand again and pulled off the glove. Pulling off mine as well, I rubbed his hand briskly, trying to warm it as best I could.

"First you skip poker and now you're going to miss your evening pudding cup jog to the docks. You're one sneaky bastard, you know that?" I said lightly.

He gave a feeble snort. "Evil mastermind, that's me."

"If not you, then who?" I rubbed some more. "Bet you were voted that in high school. Most likely to take over the world."

"Actually, it was most likely to blow it up, but the pride of recognition is the same." His head rested against my chest and I knew even without seeing it that his eyes were closed. "Of course that was my junior year. I skipped a grade. I wanted to skip two or three but the school psychologist felt it would inhibit my psychosocial and peer relationship development."

"Really?" I said gravely. "So glad to see you dodged that bullet."

"Bastard," he mumbled without heat. "I socialize with your smart-ass just fine, don't I?"

"You do," I confirmed. "How I made the evil mastermind entourage grade I don't know, but it's heady stuff." I moved to his other hand and massaged it. "Hey, since you're not chasing after Miko, you gonna give Brunhilde a chance? She's pining after you something fierce."

"Oh Jesus. Don't start that again." He was shivering against me. It didn't seem like the body heat was doing much good, but how could it? With his lower body buried under ice, there just wasn't much that would help right now. I scowled to myself for that dark and completely useless thought and kept doing what I could to warm his hands. "Asgards have no genitals, which you so frequently point out, and are asexual, what would be the point of dating? Besides all she said was that I was an interesting human specimen and candidate for further study."

"Hey, for an Asgard that's practically 1-900 talk. Hot and heavy. She's warm for your genital-ridden form. And she asked you out last time we were on the Daedalus, I heard her."

"She asked," he said slowly between gritted teeth, "for a core sample of my primitive brain. True love that's not. And it's definitely not a date unless they've changed considerably from my last one."

"If it were over wine and pasta." I used one hand to pat his chest. "And things have changed since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Maybe I could give you some pointers."

"Lessons from Captain Kirk. Why not? I haven't had a STD since college. If I listen to you, that's bound to change."

I was about to press him on the college story. It was way too good to pass up. I wanted the story to match up with my mental picture of Rodney standing in the Free Clinic snapping his fingers and saying impatiently, 'Yes, yes. Burning with urination. Unprotected sex, shame on me. Blah blah. Give me the damn shot.' But before I could ask, he moved against me. "Tired," he murmured. I heard what came after that even though he didn't say it. Scared. And he wasn't alone. I was scared too. Terrified in fact and I couldn't show it, not for a moment.

"Then sleep. I'll wake you up if any dancing girls happen to wander by." His heart still beat under my hand and I concentrated on that. That was good. What had happened under the mound of ice, I couldn't know, but I could feel proof that he was alive. And that was better than good. That was the only fucking thing keeping me going. My other hand was still trying in vain to warm his. Now I swept my thumb across the back of his hand to reassure that it was okay to let go for a while, to retreat into sleep.

He hesitated, I heard the intake of breath, but it was seconds before he spoke reluctantly, "What if I don't wake up?"

It was like a hard shot to the gut. I'd taken enough from Ronon to know the feeling, the exact feeling. "You'll wake up," I said with absolute faith in my voice and an ache in my stomach that wouldn't fade.

"What if I can't walk?"

That's when my hand slid of its own volition to link fingers with his, and that….

That's when the whole world changed.

X X X X X

You tend to do a lot of running in the Pegasus Galaxy. Running from Wraith, running from Genii, running to stop a full system overload in the City's mainframe, running to the cafeteria when a shipment of fudgsicles arrived from Earth. Lots and lots of running. But you can't run if you can't walk, and if you can't walk then Pegasus isn't the place for you.

I knew that as I lay there in that cave leaning back against Sheppard's chest. And, yeah, while the thought of never walking again was absolutely horrifying, the thought of being sent back to Earth as a result was coming in a close second on the sheer terror scale. Atlantis was… hell, it was the most amazing place I had ever been. The science, the technology, the information we were uncovering in the Ancient database, all of it just blew away everything that had come before. And then there were the people that I had met. Coworkers that had become colleagues, acquaintances that had become friends, friends that had become family, a best friend that had become…

Christ.

I curled my fingers around John's in a combination of relief, fear, and regret. Why now? Why the fuck did this have to happen now? Why did this finally have to happen when I would get shipped back through the gate and he would stay on Atlantis and I'd probably never see him again?

"You'll walk," he told me simply, but it was quieter than before.

I snorted against the emotions that were clawing to break free. "I mean, it's not like my genius is going to be any less if I can't. Lots of brilliant people can't walk… Stephen Hawking, Charles Xavier, Dr. Strangelove."

"Rodney…"

I blundered on, afraid of the alternative if I stopped talking. "Of course, two of them are fictional and one of those insane, but still, I don't think they should be overlooked entirely. I mean they already have one strike against them being handicapped and all; we shouldn't hold the fact that they aren't real against them on top of everything else."

"Rodney, stop, okay?" His cheek rested on top of my head and I closed my eyes against how absolutely wonderful that felt.

"You're right, that's not the acceptable thing to say these days, is it? Physically challenged is the politically correct term, I think. I guess that would make Xavier and Strangelove reality challenged, then, as well. Or fantasy-dependent, maybe. Not that I stay on top of those sorts of things." I laughed bitterly. "Suppose that will change now."

The hand laced with mine squeezed firmly and the arm that was wrapped so that Sheppard's other hand could rest on my chest tightened around me. "Rodney," he told me resolutely, "you'll walk."

I slumped back into him further, giving in momentarily to the feel of him against me. I could almost pretend I felt a little warmer if I let myself. And right then, I was so desperate I was willing to do just that. "How do you know?"

"Because if you can't, I plan to kick your ass until you do." The grip on my hand lost a little of its own desperation but none of its meaning as he wise-cracked, "I'd start now if I could reach it."

I shifted against him slightly, settling so I could rest my head more comfortably against his chest and I could hear it, his heart thrumming urgently against my ear. He was as scared as I was, and by the way his thumb ran repeatedly along my own, I knew it was for the exact same reasons. "Fat lot of good it would do you," I grumped back at him. "I think it's gone numb from the ice." If he could keep the conversation easygoing then so could I. As long as his hand stayed intertwined with mine I thought I could do just about anything… maybe even walk again.

Of course, I did. And John definitely did his fair share of ass kicking to make it happen. During the rehab, he pushed me harder than the physical therapist, pushed me harder than Carson, even. And believe me, Carson can push. During John's coma, he even pushed physically… well, pulled actually.

The chair that I had been sitting in suddenly started moving backward, pulling me away from John's side. Looking back in confusion I saw Carson, face screwed against the strain of moving me. He budged me just enough to slide the side table complete with lunch tray in between me and the bed. With an angry finger jabbing at the plate, he told me, "Eat your damnable food."

Slumping back in the chair in a funk, I started to complain. "Carson, I've told you I don't…"

Carson held up a silencing hand. "You're a grown man, Rodney McKay, not a petulant two year old. I shouldn't have to threaten to send you to your room if you don't eat your supper. But, by God, I will have you bodily removed and confined to your quarters if you don't eat everything on that plate."

I glared up at the physician. "You wouldn't dare."

He simply crossed arms and glared back. "Try me." When I just continued to glower stubbornly, he threatened, "It's been three days, Rodney. I am not above putting my sheep herding talents that you are so fond of blabbering about to task if you don't eat."

I'd seen that gleam in Carson's eyes before, the one that would have sent a blue-faced Mel Gibson gripping the hem of his kilt and running for his mother. With a glance over at where John still lay way too still, I picked up the fork and took a bite.

With a self-satisfied smile, Carson pulled up a chair and sat, as well. "I thought you might come to my way of thinking, lad." I didn't respond, just chewed my food and swallowed it down, taking another sullen bite when he pointed meaningfully at the meal. When it became obvious I wasn't going to provide the dinner conversation, Carson spoke again. "I hear Kate dropped by to pay you a visit today." My eyes narrowed dangerously but still I didn't speak, only obediently ate my food. "You should really consider talking about what happened, Rodney."

"I don't need a shrink, Carson," I informed him with false pleasantry as I cut my meat. "I just need for all of you to leave me the fuck alone."

Leaning back in his seat with a compassionate sigh, he considered for a moment before admitting. "I had a chat with Teyla and Ronon about your hands." My knife clattered on my plate as it slipped from my grip. I couldn't help but study the bandages that I still wore on my fingers. "If you won't talk to Kate, you can always talk to me."

I retrieved my silverware and busied myself slicing my meat into even smaller pieces. "There's nothing to talk about, really. I took my gloves off when we found John's hand sticking out of the snow so I could feel for a pulse. I never put them back on when I started digging." I choked down another piece of food, not because I was hungry, hell, I couldn't even taste it, but because if my mouth was full I couldn't talk about it anymore.

Carson, however, filled the silence. "And Ronon grew concerned when your hands started bleeding?"

I flicked my eyes up to see Carson waiting expectantly and I turned my attention back to my plate. "He may have told me to slow down."

Glancing up again I saw the confused frown on Carson's face. "That's all? Just told you to slow down?"

Taking another bite, I nodded briskly, "Yes, that's all."

"Rodney…" The frown was now a look of pure sympathy, and that was one emotion I just couldn't take at that moment. Because it went hand in hand with grief and grief went hand in hand with something I just wouldn't accept. I had made that mistake once already; I refused to make it again.

With a sweep of my arm that sent the plate flying to the floor I pushed back and stood. "That's all, Carson. Okay? He told me to slow down and when I didn't we got into an argument about it. But in the end, we managed to dig John out and bring him back here. End of story. So, just back the fuck off."

I hadn't realized I had been yelling until I stopped and saw that Carson was standing, as well. "Rodney, it's all right. If you don't want to talk about it anymore, we don't have to."

"Good, because I'm not going to talk about it… ever again."

Of course, I did talk about it again. About ten minutes after Carson left the room under the guise of retrieving a broom for my plate and instead called Radek to institute Operation: Critical ZedPM, the alarms started sounding. And it wasn't long after that that I found myself in Kate's office.

It seems I have a tendency to do things I swore I would never do again… drinking an entire vat of Smurf Piss ™, kissing another man after Carson, and opening a gift from Nana without running it through the explosives detector first, being just a few. Refusing to believe John had died, being the foremost.

It was why I had ended up in Kate's office months before and it was why I was currently sitting there with John.

"A word to the wise, Carson gets a little irritated when you throw food on his infirmary floor."

John ignored the comment and instead asked me, "What really happened up on the mountain?"

I laughed weakly, dropping his hand and my eyes. "I left you for dead."

"Seriously, Rodney, what happened?" The nervous smile he was wearing faded when I looked up at him again and he saw that I was being serious.

I took a deep breath and started to tell him what he asked. "When the mountain came down, Teyla, Ronon, and I missed the brunt of the avalanche. We were in the trees by then, and the edge of the flow was buffered by the grove we had entered."

John, however, had no buffer. He had held back and held off the polar bear on steroids, but nothing could hold back the pile of snow and ice that washed him away in a sea of white.

Where we had been standing moments before was gone. All evidence that anything or anyone had even been there was wiped clean. No tracks, no snowballs, no creatures, no John. Just…white. Ronon started out toward the nonexistent where-we-had-been and I yelled at him to move down slope even as I had the life signs detector out and scanning. It was faint…faint and muffled by snow, but it at least gave us a starting point for the search. And then it was just a matter of looking.

Teyla was the one that saw them, the black tips of his glove poking out of the snow. It had been pulled from his hand so that we had to dig down a few inches to find it. And when we did, I had pulled off my own gloves and felt how damn cold that hand was, but there was a pulse… weak but there.

"Oh, fuck me, he's alive!" At my words Ronon and Teyla both started digging along with me.

Digging in snow isn't as easy as you might think, it tends to pack tightly and this was a wet snow, it probably would have stayed in place if not for the sound of gunfire echoing off the walls, and I'd seen enough wilderness shows about the Canadian Rockies to know what that meant. It had probably originally been big fluffy flakes, perfect for snowmen and snow forts and suffocating a man in minutes. It meant less air in the interstitial areas of the pack and colder conditions for anyone trapped inside. John was relying on what pocket of air was around his body to sustain him. What little air was coming through the snow to him was probably being sealed off by a crust that tended to form when the layer of snow in the pocket melts from the initial body heat then refreezes as that body heat is lost. At that point his body was in a race to see if would asphyxiate or go hypothermic first.

These are not the most reassuring thoughts to have rushing through your mind as you dig someone out, but I just couldn't seem to stop them from coming. I also couldn't stop the red stains that were appearing in the snow where I was digging. Those same soft flakes that could form perfect snowballs had frozen into jagged ice crystals when the temperatures fell at the higher elevations and I might as well have been digging through shards of glass.

"McKay, you're hands are bleeding," Ronon pointed out even as he clawed at the snow. "You should put your gloves back on."

"No time," I huffed out, my breath a constant white cloud by then. "He only has a few minutes."

"Rodney, Ronon is right, you should put them back on. You could dig faster with them anyway." At Teyla's suggestion, I looked behind me and saw where they lay, stopping long enough to reach around and grab them. But before I put them back on, I decided to check his pulse once again. I desperately needed that reassurance. Unfortunately, I didn't get it.

There was no pulse.

What had been thready under my fingers before was simply gone. Holding the panic at bay that had me struggling to breathe myself, I rationalized that my hands were numb, bloody even, I could barely feel the pain from the cuts much less a pulse. With every reserve of calm I had, I croaked out, "Teyla, check his pulse."

The split second of confusion at my request turned to understanding as she realized exactly why I needed her to redo what I just had. Quickly peeling off her own gloves, she placed her fingers over his pulse point.

The look in her eyes was as wild as mine must have been because she blinked rapidly as she told me, "Rodney, I do not feel anything."

"Ronon, stop digging a second so she can feel for sure." When he sat back on his haunches gulping air, I turned by to Teyla. "Check it again."

This time she didn't speak, only shook her head.

Oh God, oh God, oh God… No pulse, no pulse meant no heartbeat, no heartbeat meant… something I just couldn't wrap my mind around.

Pushing that thought away I started digging again, not even looking at the other two members of my team because there was only one member of my team that I really cared about at that moment. Only one person in the entire fucking universe that mattered. He was my best friend, my family, my world, my goddamn life, and he was buried under all that snow and there was no way in hell that he wasn't coming back to Atlantis with me.

"McKay, stop," Ronon's voice barely penetrated the pinhole that my existence had narrowed down to.

"There's still a reading on the life signs detector," I insisted.

"It could be the animal that was attacking," Ronon reasoned. When I didn't stop he asked Teyla, "Do you feel a pulse?"

"No, there is none."

"McKay, you're bleeding, you need to stop." This time it was a louder but I still didn't stop, didn't even slow until I was being pulled physically away from what I was doing.

Fighting against the large hands holding me down, I screamed up at him, "You son of a bitch, we have to get him out!"

"Not like this," Ronon told me from where he had me pinned.

I continued to flail under him, "Get the hell off of me! What gives you the fucking right to keep me…"

"He did!" he bellowed back. "Sheppard gave me the right. He gave me the responsibility."

"What?" All the fight drained from me then. "What are you talking about?"

"Sheppard made me promise that if he ever didn't come back from a mission, I was to make sure you did." Releasing me, he sat back heavily and hung his head. "He's not coming back from this one, McKay. But I'm keeping my promise and making sure you do."

He's not coming back. That's what he had said, he's not coming back. I lay there in the snow with those words echoing in my head. I lay there panting, aching, hurting all over. It hurts when your heart breaks. It really truly physically hurts. "Son of a bitch," I whispered hoarsely as I curled onto my side. "That goddamn son of bitch never told me."

"If it makes any difference, I only promised to do it if I also swore to do the same with him if the situation was reversed."

I choked out an acidic snort. "Well, there's one promise you'll never have to keep, now." Turning my face into the snow I sucked in a harsh breath through the constriction in my throat, clawing into the ice with bloody hands when the sob finally forced its way out. "Goddamn bastard, how could you leave me alone like this?"

Because that's where I was… all alone. Back at square one, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars, just go straight to motherfucking hell and sit there all by your goddamn self. And just when I had resigned myself to doing just that, Teyla spoke.

"I feel a pulse!"

At first I thought that maybe I had just imagined it. That I had gone completely off the deep end from grief and that my brain was just making up what I wanted to hear. But when Ronon tossed my gloves to me without a word and started digging again, I yanked them on and joined him. Within a few minutes more I had found John's shoulder and the telltale signs of an air pocket. Worming my hand in, I placed it on the upper portion of his chest. "I don't think he's breathing." We simply redoubled our efforts and concentrated on exposing his head and chest.

"As soon as we had his face cleared, I started rescue breathing while Ronon and Teyla continued to clear his body. By the time he was uncovered, he was breathing again." I realized I had been retelling the story to Kate, even though she had already heard it.

Finally gaining the courage to look at John once more, I told him, "I think the weight of the snow on your chest was one of the main reasons you had stopped breathing. Pretty soon after we removed that, you started breathing on your own again. Didn't wake up for five days, but you were alive. And that's all that mattered at that point." I winced in renewed frustration. "If we hadn't stopped digging when we did, we might have reached you before you did stop breathing. If I hadn't thought you were de…, but that seems to be a recurring theme with me lately."

I stopped and took a deep breath. "You've always been better at maintaining the faith than me, John. Since day one, even when they dug us out of that cave and I still couldn't move my legs, you never stopped believing that I would walk again. I don't know how the hell you do it."

Now it was his turn to look away. "Just because I said it doesn't mean I really believed it."

X X X X X

He'd given up on me, hadn't had the faith I had, that's what he said. But I hadn't always had faith…it was rattled a few times and one time in particular…the time I'd dreamed of when I'd been unresponsive in the infirmary…I'd lost it altogether. "You'll walk," I'd said.

But I hadn't believed it. Not entirely. All that rock and ice. He couldn't feel his legs. I should've known better, should've known Rodney could do anything he set his mind to, but at that moment I'd had doubts. Big, bad-ass doubts. And that was hard to forgive. It's easy to say it's only natural considering the facts, but facts are something that should be last on the list when you're pulling for a friend…or someone who's more. I could understand the look in his eyes…black guilt and self-recrimination. On some things, Rodney simply couldn't admit he was only human. Hell, on all things. And he couldn't believe he'd done something so very human. Couldn't believe that he'd lost faith.

I'd done the same.

"You'll walk," I said firmly, just as I'd been saying for hours now. And for hours Rodney had been grimly skeptical at best.

"You don't know that." He shook his head against my chest. "And I know you're not stupid." Waving a hand at what covered his lower body, he finished grimly, "Even Ronon could figure this out. Fuck. He'd probably shoot me like a lame horse. 'Well, he's no good to the team, be the kindest thing.' Bam."

"Ronon's not really into doing the kindest thing," I snorted. His hands were still cold…so damn cold and I pulled his gloves back on and with a move that felt beyond natural, linked fingers again. Maybe the gloves would do a better job than I had. "And I see it, but I know you, Rodney." Suddenly McKay just didn't seem right for the situation. "No goddamn pile of ice is going to be able to break the mass of pure evil that flows through you. I don't know who you sold your soul to…the ghost of Einstein or the lesser power in the universe, Satan, but you're one tough son of a bitch." And it sounded good. Sounded like I believed it wholeheartedly, but nothing felt whole to me right now. Not a damn thing.

"Well, if insulting can knit a spine back together, you're the master." I heard the huff of breath and gave a faint smile. Smug, domineering, whiny, food-thieving, and indomitable. What a mix…a mix I'd gotten used to faster than I would've thought possible. I exhaled and without thinking rested my chin on the top of his head. The short hair tickled my chin and I thought fleetingly that he'd lost his hat. Actually my hat…knit and warm as toast, and he'd stolen it. Didn't it just fi…

The com buzzed in my ear and I straightened as Ronon's voice came through in fits and starts, "We're in…about half-way…through."

"Copy that." I patted Rodney's chest. "Hear that? They're almost here."

"Halfway is not almost and I think you know that." He shifted again and didn't wince. I kept hoping he would. At least he would be feeling something then. "I'm tired…think I could sleep for days."

"No sleeping," I said instantly. "I don't know exactly how cold it is in here, but let's not take any chances."

"I grew up in Canada, remember?" he mumbled. "I'm impervious."

"Yeah, right. You moan if the temperature in Atlantis dips below seventy-two. Dr. Rodney McKay, hot house flower. When you retire you're ass is in Florida in a heartbeat. I can see it now…white belt and shoes, the best rug money can buy, and a Lincoln the size of the Titanic."

He ignored the toupee remark and that worried me almost as much as him not being able to feel his legs. "Sounds nice." Was his voice a little slurred? "Sun. Could lie out by the pool and just bake for hours. Warm. Want to be warm again."

"Without your SPF one thousand, you would spontaneously combust in ten minutes." I patted his chest briskly. "Enough of the dozing. Get with it, Rodney, or I'll twist portions of you that haven't been touched since your last date. Now come on."

"Those portions didn't get touched on that date," he said aggrieved, a little more alert. "Thanks to that female body snatcher, Cadman. Once Katie found out it was her using me as a kissing puppet, she lost interest…at least in me. Now she's waiting out Cadman's relationship with Carson for a shot at her herself."

"Damn good kisser, huh?" I grinned.

"Apparently," he grumbled. "And I'm not bad myself, if I had a chance to use my own goddamn lips."

"I'll bet you are." I patted his chest again consolingly.

"Okay," he cleared his throat and said after a moment, "it's a little warmer in here now."

I tightened my arm around him and this time it was in more than reassurance and an effort at body heat. "You know what," I said softly, "it is."

It was another two hours before the rescue party showed up. We talked most of the time and not always with words. Silence and a squeeze of the hand can say a lot. More than I would've guessed. By the time Ronon's Wookie head showed up in the reflected illumination of his flashlight, Rodney's voice was getting thicker and more slurred and I was getting more and more panicked along with it. It didn't stop my heart from spasming with relief. I released Rodney's hand gently, rubbed a knuckle lightly along his cheek, and carefully eased him to the ground as I staggered up and moved to the hole that was being cleared.

After that, everything went faster than I could follow, making me think maybe my speech and thoughts were a little slurred as well. With twelve men, they cleared the ice and rock quickly, put Rodney on a rescue litter and moved off with him. I moved as well, my hand on his shoulder and ignoring anyone who tried to get me on a litter as well. I wanted my fingers back intertwined with his, but there were more goddamn marines than you could shake a stick at and if we had any chance…any at all…we couldn't be sniffed out this soon. Before things had even begun. It sucked…God did it, but that was life in the military. That was the way things were, no matter what you thought of it. And I didn't think a whole goddamn lot of it.

By the time we got to the gate, Rodney's eyes were shut and he was either asleep or unconscious, but he mumbled my name once or twice and I gripped his shoulder more tightly to let him know I was there. And when he woke up in the infirmary my hand was still there. That didn't change throughout his recovery. Hand on the shoulder or back, under the elbow to help him up to the walker, because, yeah, he did walk again. Carson pushed, the PT people, Teyla and Ronon pushed, I pushed like motherfucking hell, but most of all, Rodney pushed himself. Just like he always did. And as his friend, I was there to watch with awe and amazement as he did.

Not that I didn't want it to be more, I did. Friend was so far from where we were now, but….always with the goddamn buts. Life was that fucking way. But Atlantis was fifty percent military and some of them thought we'd be better off with the more battle-experienced Caldwell. But Rodney had so much on his plate now…worrying if he'd be sent home, worrying if his legs would ever move again, and then when they did, worrying if it was enough to get him back to full mobility. Worrying about if we could actually slide a relationship under the radar was one worry he didn't need right now, not on top of the others. So in that one thing, I didn't push. And I didn't tell him I was trying to work out a transfer back to Earth if he couldn't walk again. I told Liz he was my friend and I couldn't let him face coming to grips with that on his own. I asked Carson and the therapists to teach me what I'd have to know…for my friend.

The one person I didn't tell this to was Rodney. I didn't want him to think that was even an option…not walking. He would still have his life, his career, maybe even Atlantis…but he wouldn't have gating to other planets, missions, exploration. He didn't need to know my plans, because my plans meant life as he knew it would be drastically changed—something he didn't need to hear, not yet.

As it turned out…not ever. The stubborn bastard walked.

"John?"

I blinked and the past melted and left me with Kate's office and a shocked Rodney.

"You were going to get a transfer?" he said in disbelief. "You were going to give up Atlantis for me?"

"Wouldn't you for me?" I asked quietly, not that I needed to. I already knew the answer.

X X X X X

Of course I would give up Atlantis for him. In a heartbeat. Without a second's worth of regret. But the fact that he would have, back then… for a moment I couldn't speak, so overwhelmed by emotion that my voice just disappeared. Finally I found it again.

"You son of bitch. You would have left Atlantis and gone back to Earth with me if I hadn't walked again? What the fuck were you thinking?"

Both John and Kate blinked at my outburst. John was the one that finally recovered from the shock and spoke. "You wouldn't have wanted me to go with you?"

"Wouldn't have wanted…" I shook my head in awe that he would ask something so ridiculous. "You stupid heartless bastard. Do you have any idea what I was going through when we came out of that cave and you went back into friend mode? What I thought? That I had either imagined it or wished it or worse, that you had taken pity on me and just did it because you knew I would be going through the gate to Earth and you wouldn't have to follow through with anything. I spent weeks, weeks, wondering what I did wrong or if I was just an absolute idiot for letting myself fall so hard for you."

"I didn't want you to get your hopes up and then not be able to go with you," he defended.

"No, you wouldn't want to do that because it's oh so much better to be hopeless than overly hopeful."

He frowned at my comment and crossed his arms. "Rodney, I did it to protect you…"

I rolled eyes at that old standby. "Oh, for God's sake, John, if you had your way, you'd put me in a hamster ball like the one Ronon has for Mikimoto to run around in."

"If I could find one that was bullet proof and big enough for you but small enough to fit through the gate, yes, I would."

Seeing that we were escalating out of control in the middle of her session, Kate tried to intervene. "John, Rodney, let's try to talk about this a little less…"

Of course I completely ignored her attempts at mediation. "You know, Sheppard, I've been angry at Ronon, I've been angry at Caldwell, I've been angry at Carson and Wraith and kidnappers and avalanches and even myself. When all along, I should have been angry at you."

The frown deepened into a scowl. "Be angry all you want, McKay. You're still alive and that's all I give a fuck about."

"Being alive doesn't do me a damn bit of good if you're dead," I countered with a glower of my own.

"I'm not dead!" John roared in my face.

"John," Kate tried again, "if you could just try to calm…"

"Well, neither am I!" I yelled back.

"Rodney," Kate called my name.

And then Radek called my name, as well. "Rodney, come in please."

Hearing the Czech I stammered in surprise, glancing around the room for him before I realized it was my radio. "Radek, now is not a good time," I informed him tensely. John's jaw was doing that twitching thing it does when he's about to empty his clip into a newly named Wraith and unfortunately, there were no Wraith in the room. The last thing I needed to be doing was dealing with some little problem in the lab when I had a giant one to deal with in my marriage.

"No, now is not good time," Radek agreed. "Is never good time when faction of science staff launches environmental terrorism attack on biology lab."

The fight with John moved to the back burner as I demanded across the com, "What?"

"Annie Granola has instigated a coup of the biology department."

I pinched the bridge of my nose and shook my head. Ann Gargangola was a biochemist that had joined the expedition two months prior. She was a very talented woman by her resume and references; she was also a former member of Earth First. She claimed she had joined the organization on a whim in college and hadn't been active in it for decades. Radek believed she had been booted because she was too radical for even them. Of course, he thought anyone that didn't eat meat was secretly plotting the overthrow of the free world, hence his nickname for her. But if Ann and Radek weren't going to be sharing a meal of tofurky and bean sprouts anytime soon, they could at least work in the same room without coming to blows. Ann and Pyonng, however, was a different story. They had been at odds since the first day Ann saw the xenobiology lab with its tanks and cages of alien critters and I personally had broken up more than one confrontation between the two by physically dragging them away from each other

"What now?" I sighed.

"She is trying to free the squarks that Pyonng keeps in tank for study and locked herself in lab when he showed up to stop her."

"Then override the locks and get her the hell out of there," I grit out at him. "I'm a little busy right now." A small glimmer of amusement shown in John's eyes at the thought of the quiet and rather reticent Pyonng going head to head with the brash and outspoken Gargangola, but the line of irritation on his forehead was still visible for anyone to see.

"I cannot override locks, Rodney. I have tried."

I sighed in exasperation. "Radek, you're an engineer and one of the most knowledgeable people here when it comes to the city. You're telling me that a biochemist that has been here a couple of months has managed to lock you out of the system?"

"She has Miko," he mumbled in my earpiece.

At his statement John sat a little straighter. "What do you mean she has Miko? She kidnapped her?"

"No, no, Colonel. Miko, she joins cause on her own. Annie shows her 'Free Willy' DVD and poof! Miko swears off sushi and is suddenly Yoko Ono with astigmatism."

"Radek, as disturbing as the image of Miko standing hand in hand with Ann and her posse singing 'Imagine' around the squark tank may be, does this really constitute an emergency?"

"It is now that Pyonng is on his way to armory to get C-4."

Well, so much for the rest of my day, not to mention saving my sanity and my marriage.

"Oh, hell," John exclaimed beside me. At my anxiously questioning glance, he waved a hand. "Go. If anyone can talk Miko out, it's you. I'll make sure no one gets their hands on any explosives."

We stood to leave and Kate called behind us, "What about the session? I think we were making very good progress."

I glanced at John who still had the same angry look on his face that he had earlier and I knew mine wasn't much better. "We'll reschedule later," I promised and whether that was a truth or lie, I honestly had no idea.

We exited the office side-by-side, silently stalking down the hallway on our respective missions. When we reached the turn off for the armory, I stopped and looked uncertainly to John. "So, I'll see you at home when all this is over?"

After the screaming match we had just had, I couldn't stop the questioning tone. "Yeah," he told me with a simple duck of his head, "see you at home." And he was gone down the hall without a glance back.

I continued on to the labs, trying to focus on the task at hand and not the session we had just left. But how the hell was I supposed to do that after what he had just told me? I wasn't sorry for what I had said; every bit of it was the truth. But maybe I was sorry for how I had said it… a little… possibly. But dammit, he had pissed me off. Not that that was a huge feat for anyone to accomplish, but with John I was willing to overlook a lot… a hell of a lot… and it was easy to push the blame on someone else.

I had done it with Ronon, blamed him for keeping a promise when John was the one who had made him take the oath in the first place. I'd realized that even then. It's one of the reasons I gave Ronon my Canadian stocking cap, a kind of peace offering. That and the fact that he looked goofier than hell when he wore it. But I preferred to think in terms of my nobler motivations and after my compulsory talk with Kate I realized that he was just doing what John had asked him to do.

Back then I didn't have time to brood on the fact that he had kept that little secret from me. John didn't wake up from his coma like waking up from an extra long nap; bright and chipper and raring to go. There were moments of lucidness followed by even longer moments of silence. But there was also steady improvement as the periods of awareness lengthened and by Carson's account there was a ticker tape parade when I finally felt confident enough in his recovery to leave the infirmary and shower for the first time in five days.

When John finally opened his eyes and looked at me that first time, really looked and saw me, his lips had curled into the slightest of smiles and he managed to slur, "I really hate the snow."

"Told you," I responded, fighting to control my voice.

"Always have to prove your point, don't you, McKay?"

"Only when you insist on scaring the hell out of me."

"Get some sleep, Rodney," he ordered weakly even as his eyes slid shut again, "you look like shit."

It wasn't much, but at least he was there with me and not dreaming about our time in the ice cave. And that was more than I had had for days. And the next time he woke, he stayed longer and longer still the time after that until I was finally able to take him home. By then, sheer relief had won out over annoyance over the fact that he had been keeping secrets from me.

But this time… this time I had the entire walk to the xenobiology lab to think about it. And it just made me wonder what other little tidbits he had been keeping from me, all in the interest of my well-being. Well, I thought darkly, at least we had one thing in common; I had little faith that he would survive until we could reach retirement age and evidently so did he. And I had a few things to say about that when I saw him next.

But talking down an over stimulated Japanese woman chanting "free the squark" until she was going hoarse can take a lot of the fight out of a man and evidently several hours to accomplish, as well. It was closing in on dinnertime by the time Miko finally lost her voice and her protest high and she would focus on what I was telling her.

With the door access panel open so that I could disable the locking mechanism, I asked the rebel leader standing defiantly on the other side, "What the hell, Ann? Did you slip amphetamines in her tofu, speed in her green tea, what?"

I had finally convinced Miko to stop overriding the locking mechanism every time I disabled it. I hated to resort to threats of corporal punishment, but Kavanagh needed an engineer to help with some upgrades he was planning with the hydroponics system and I eventually informed Miko that my short list of who to assign was growing shorter every time she relocked the door.

"I make a killer espresso," the biochemist retorted smugly to my question. "I'd be willing to share my stash of beans and the espresso maker if you helped transfer the squark."

I snorted as the door slid open. "If I need a buzz that badly I'll just suck on the grounds like I usually do. The contact high last longer anyway."

Seeing as bribery wasn't going to work, she turned to righteous fury instead, waving an angry arm at the tank behind her. "This is a living creature, McKay. It should be swimming free, not a test subject for study at the hands of a Korean megalomaniac who thinks he can oppress the animals of the Pegasus Galaxy for his own sick and twisted pleasure." The poor oppressed creature in question evidently hadn't read the newsletter regarding its sad state of affairs or the outrage it should be demonstrating. It simply fluttered its tentacles and bumped playfully against the glass where Ann's hand rested before swimming off and entertaining itself by chasing bubbles from the aerator. The squark's lack if indignation only seemed to agitate its defender more.

"Okay, first, his bizarre fascination with aquatic reproductive organs aside, Pyonng is not into bestiality, and if he is, I wish to remain blissfully ignorant of such knowledge. Second, Kim Jong-Il he is not. I mean, look at him." I waved a hand at the man Radek was holding back from the woman standing protectively in front of the squark tank. "Does he look like an Asian Elvis impersonator? Is he piping propaganda messages over the PA system claiming a giant alien mollusk has proclaimed him the ruler of Atlantis as part of his manifest destiny? I think not."

"I plan to report the treatment of these animals to the SGC during the next data burst," she threatened.

I gave her my best sympathetic look. "Oh, Annie, you don't need to do that. You can tell them all about it in person when you get off the Daedalus in three weeks. You should have plenty of time to write up your report by then. Hell, you can write your own goddamn manifesto in that amount of time."

"What?" she demanded in outrage. "You can't just send me back to Earth."

Crossing my arms, I rocked back on my heels. "Yes, I can. You see, I've dealt with Genii, with Wraith, with drug king pins and various other mad men and psychotics throughout this galaxy. One squark-hugging biochemist who read the 'Monkey Wrench Gang' one too many times is barely a pothole in the cosmic highway of my life."

"I'm right about these animals, McKay, and you know it."

"You being right or wrong has nothing to do with it. My responsibility is first and foremost to the expedition and the humans working on it and your actions are disruptive to both of those."

"And what if I don't believe the humans automatically rate higher than the animals?"

I waved a dismissive hand. "You'll have to talk to Darwin about that."

"That's not exactly a fair argument. Humans are far from perfect."

"Well, evolution's a bitch, eh?" I turned on my heels having had enough fun for one day, leaving a red-faced PETA poster child glaring at my back. "Radek, you're in charge here. Call Lorne if she gives you any more trouble. I'd be more than willing to let her spend the evening in the holding cell in a gesture of solidarity with the downtrodden and demoralized ravenous frogs in the back."

"I don't know how you sleep at night, McKay," Ann called after me.

"I don't, actually," I responded without slowing, "but it has nothing to do with being human."

But standing in line to pick up two dinners to go from the cafeteria, I started thinking that maybe it did have something to do with being human after all. Fears, doubts, regrets, all of those things and more that make us frail and weak; they make us human, as well. As annoying as John worrying and fretting over me was, it was also comforting to know there was someone out there doing it for me. Someone as humanly flawed as I was. And maybe being flawed wasn't such a bad thing after all. He'd had his doubts, and if he could have them, then why the hell couldn't I?

When I arrived back at our quarters, John had his Star Wars toys I had given him for Christmas out on the coffee table and he was replacing the batteries in the X-Wing fighter. He gave me a lackluster, "Hey," when I walked in, continuing with his task at hand.

"Hey, yourself. You hungry? I picked up dinner." I hefted the two containers for him to see and he used the screwdriver in his hand to indicate the matching two sitting on the desk in the corner.

"So did I. Didn't know how long it would take to break up the animal rights rally."

"Longer than you would think. Miko and caffeine really is a deadly combination. More than once tonight I wished I had let her go back to Earth when she was talking about it a few years ago."

A faint wistful expression passed across John's face, "Guess she didn't have to go back to Earth for the Starbucks after all."

I couldn't help a small sad grin myself at the memory of John being jealous of Miko. The fact that I came to that realization half buried in ice hadn't dulled the warmth of realizing that John felt more for me than he had ever admitted. And the fact that he had waiting so long to admit it outside that cave didn't dull the love I had for him now. "We all seem to find a way to adapt to the situation at hand."

"Adapt, adopt, improve." He popped the new batteries into place. "Survival of the fittest at its best."

Sitting next to him on the couch I picked up the Chewbacca from where he had Boba Fett in a headlock. "We're pretty good at that, aren't we?"

"Adapting?"

"Surviving," I corrected.

"We always seem to find a way," he agreed retrieving the screwdriver once again.

"Think we can keep doing that?" I asked hopefully.

"I plan to do my damnedest. How about you?"

"Top of my 'to do' list," I assured him.

He tilted his head in contemplation as he worked on the tiny screws. "Don't see how we can fail then."

"Me either." His only response was to move a little closer to me on the couch and bump his knee against mine. Returning Chewie to his spot, I quickly inventoried the action figures spread across the table, and asked curiously, "Where're Luke and Han Solo?"

With a small smirk he cocked his head toward the large ship to the side. "Making out in the Millennium Falcon."

Lifting the top off the craft I lifted my eyebrows as well. "Looks like they may be doing more than making out."

He shrugged lightly. "It was a long time coming. Lots of pent up sexual tension."

I replaced the plastic lid to give them their privacy. "So, what? Han finally get Luke to see past his whole, 'Dude, you're dating my sister,' defense."

"I think Han just finally told Luke he couldn't live without him. That flying spaceships and kicking bad guy ass didn't mean anything if he didn't have him to come home to at night." Hazel eyes flicked up from the tiny screws he was replacing then back to the plastic ship.

"That Luke is one lucky bastard." I cleared my throat against the hoarseness in my voice.

John's hand slid into mine and just like every time he had ever done that, back to the very first time, I never got over how right that felt. "He's not the only one."

Taking the X-Wing out of his other hand and placing it aside I pulled him in and felt the residual anger melt away from the warmth of the kiss. Staying in close, he added with a sly grin, "I mean, Jedis can move things with their minds. How kinky are the possibilities for Han with that?"

I grinned in return and kissed him again. "And don't forget about the light saber."

"One of the all time great phallic symbols of science fiction cinema, how could I ever forget that?"

Another kiss and it was time to move on to the important part of this conversation. "So, about all the yelling and stuff in Kate's office…" Apologies, not exactly my strong suit. "All those things I said… you shouldn't have to be yelled at when you have my best interest at heart."

"No, I shouldn't, but I also know the day you don't yell will be the day they write your obituary."

I bobbled my head in concession. "You know I didn't really mean what I said, right?"

"Yes, you did." He stated it as simple fact with no malice. "And you deserve to be pissed. But it doesn't change the fact that I would do the same again given the same circumstances. And it won't keep me from doing everything in my power to keep you safe, no matter how much it pisses you off. It just sucks that I keep hurting you in the end."

I shook my head. "You don't hurt me in the end. It's the beginnings and middles that tend to be hard with you, but you always manage to swoop in and save me at the last minute. As long as you keep doing that, I can take anything else along the way." And suddenly, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. "Hey, you up for a little dinner under the stars?"

He smiled at the suggestion, that heart-stopping smile that brought an ache to my chest every time I saw it. And I knew we were going to be all right. "I could go for that."

The first stars were just starting to blink into view and half the bottle of Athosian wine gone when we finished our meals and spread the blanket on the balcony. I lay down with John lying perpendicular and his head pillowed on my chest, my fingers running lazily through his hair as we stared into the heavens above us. So many worlds out there that we had traveled to. Hundreds more that we had yet to step foot on, but each with a story to tell. John took my hand that rested on his chest and intertwined our fingers with a contended sigh. I couldn't help but think that my favorite story started once upon a time two men went into a cave of ice as friends and came out as so much more. But I didn't know how that one was going to end, so I decided to go with one that I did.

"Did I ever tell you about Frellin the Star Chaser?"

Hours later, when the story had been told and the bottle of Athosian wine had been drunk and we had staggered drunkenly from the balcony and into our bed, the whole trip and beyond wrapped in each other's arms; I couldn't help but think that Teyla had been right about the aphrodisiacal qualities of the legend. Maybe it was the story, maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the fight we had had earlier, maybe it was the memories that the day had brought, or maybe it was something more. Maybe it was the fact that we really were just human after all and all the fears and doubts and worries that we faced on a daily basis made these times when we discovered each other all over again that much more special. Then again, maybe credit should be given to my Jedi mind powers and my phenomenal light saber tricks.

But when all was said and done, it really didn't matter. I had meant what I said earlier, as long as John came back to me in the end, I'd be fine. Human foibles and guilt be damned. No I didn't know how our story would end, but I had my hopes for a happily ever after. In the meantime, I'd just enjoy living it… together. Drifting off to sleep curled around John, that hope was enough. And for the first time in weeks, I slept the entire night without waking once.

X X X X X

I woke up the best way to wake up. Post sex, post a great night's sleep, and post some seriously hot light saber dreams. All three of those things conspired to fog my mind and it took me a few minutes to realize what had happened…or rather, what hadn't happened.

Rodney was sleeping sprawled half on top of me, face against my neck with only a faint amount of drool on my skin. He was sleeping and had slept the entire night. No nightmares. Not a one. No thrashing, no screaming, no calling my name with despair and desperation—just sleep. And that…that was better than winning the lottery, better than meeting the late great Johnny Cash, and even better than flying.

And he'd done it by himself. Well, mostly. Kate had given him a nudge; you had to give her credit for that. Maybe he hadn't said it out loud and maybe he hadn't even realized it consciously, but Rodney had figured it out. The nightmares weren't caused by what had happened to me, at least the majority of them weren't. They'd been caused by a loss of faith. He thought he'd given up on me and he also thought that unforgivable, no matter how human it was. Hell, they'd lost my heartbeat and I'd stopped breathing. How can you have faith in the face of that? And from the description Carson had given me of my injuries and the way I'd looked after the F302 crash, it was reasonable, if not inevitable, that Rodney would think I wouldn't make it.

Human, but still not forgivable in his eyes. At least until he found out I was human too. And that let him ease up on himself, to give himself permission to have doubts in catastrophic situations. And that had let him sleep. There'd still be the occasional nightmare I was sure, but even those would fade eventually. I doubted even a follow-up with Kate would be necessary, thank God, but I'd leave that up to Rodney.

There was a shifting on top of me as eyes slowly crept open and dazed and foggy blue took me in. "Mmphaml," or something equally incomprehensible came out around his yawn. Clearing his throat, he clarified, "Morning."

It reminded me, so clearly. Our first time. Rodney was still in rehab and we were in his room watching a movie. I didn't remember which one, but I did remember the brush of his finger against mine, the desperate hooking of mine with his, and then a night that put all space bimbos to shame. For the first time, I discovered what a difference it made to actually care about the one you're with. A sad commentary on my previous relationships, but I didn't mind. Rodney was worth waiting for.

The next morning I'd woken up sprawled on him as he was sprawled on me now. I'd smiled, full of a light and a warmth I could barely believe, and said sleepily, "Morning." And wary blue eyes had cleared instantly and a crooked smile met mine with the same warmth. He'd been worried it had been a fluke, and if I'd woken up first, I might have worried about the same thing. But in the haze of lingering sleep I'd responded without thought. Showed him how I felt without holding back or overanalyzing. I'd showed him it was amazing and that he was amazing.

After that we'd never looked back.

Now he was saying morning and running an itchy nose along my stubbled jaw with a long familiarity and I wouldn't have had it any other way. "Sleep good?" I asked affectionately, already knowing the answer.

He blinked in surprise and then relief. "Nothing but Wookies, bounty hunters, and wild furry sex." Grinning, he kissed me firmly. "I never thought I'd actually want to thank a shrink, especially not one with Farrah hair, but against the will and logic of the known universe, she managed to help."

"Maybe," I said. "But I think you did all the heavy lifting yourself."

"Well, that's a given," he said smugly. "I always do." He kissed me again, this time meandering…taking his time. "You want to get on the couch? Dr. Freud is ready to talk all about phallic symbols. Really specific-in-their-ownership phallic symbols."

Rodney had once said to me that psychoanalysis could be fun.

He was right.

The End.