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Thank you all for your opinions and especially those who've been encouraging. It definitely has meant a lot to me.

Chapter 5

Sheppard barreled through the halls toward the position Mead and Burnes had specified, making a mental list of all the different ways he could punish Rodney for sticking his arrogant nose into military business again. How the hell could he expect his orders to be followed if McKay constantly underminedthem? He wondered if he could get away with confining Rodney to his quarters for a week or so,but figured the scientist would find a way around that. John was positive Elizabeth would never let him throw McKay in the brig either, but oh how he was tempted to try.

What had McKay been thinking,telling Mead and Burnes that Ronon couldjust 'go with him'? Yes, Sheppard kind of liked the Runner and felt for him, but that didn't change the fact that, for at least half a day, he and Teyla had been the man's hostages. There weren't a lot of protocols for this kind of situation, but John was doing his best with what he had. It infuriated him that McKay would so totally disregard him and his authority. He would have thought McKay'd think twice with dealing with the military...since Ford anyways. That's not fair, John reminded himself, still trying to come to grips with the fact that Aiden had really shot Rodney. What was Rodney doing wandering around Atlantis anyway? He'd told Elizabeth as soon as he'd arrived at the briefing that Beckett had ordered rest.

Coming around the corner,John saw Burnes and Mead standing on either side of the door to the balcony with Rodney and Ronon outside, clearly visible. Confused, he immediately slowed his step and told himself to calm down.

Burnes had insinuated that Rodney had managed to put them all into a volatile and potentially dangerous situation. What John could see looked simply like two men talking. It looked harmless.

He stopped in front of the soldiers and looked hard at each. "What's the deal?" he demanded in a low voice.

"Sir," Burnes spoke up. "We were following your orders and keepingthe prisoner contained when McKay interfered and demanded we all come with him." The young soldier sounded like a second grader tattling on his rival.

John glanced beyond Burnes and watched McKay awkwardly lean against the railing as he talked, favoring his injured leg. Another bolt of regret and disappointment shot through him but he shook it off and blocked all thoughts of Ford from his mind.

Neither Ronon norRodney were looking at each other, but everything appeared congenial and under control. "First of all," he redirected his gaze back to Burnes, "Ronon is not our prisoner. He's a guest who came here voluntarily and, until Dr. Weir confirms his security clearance, you are to accompany him around the city." He looked at Mead to make sure he was listening, too. "Secondly, next time just use your damn radio and check with me instead of stirring up conflict with McKay."

"Sir, he…" Burnes started to defend himself but a quick look from the Colonel cut his protest short.

"I," John emphasized, "will take care of McKay. Understood?"

"Yes sir," themarines agreed with obvious reluctance.

"Good." John pretended he didn't notice their demeanor and signaled for them to be quiet as he activated the balcony door. It slid open soundlessly and McKay and Ronon were too caught up in their conversations to hear him step out onto the balcony, or at least it seemed that way. John suspected that Ronon was aware of his presence but the Satedan gave no indication that he knew Sheppard had joined them.

"Sure soundsstupid to me."

John's eyes widened at McKay's caustic comment and he stood there unmoving as he listened to Rodney go on. He felt suddenly as if the scientist had been spying on his thoughts and inner turmoil. Would McKay accuse him of being afraid? Somehow he knew the answer. He listened, with Ronon, to Rodney's soft intonations and the stumbling emotion as McKay spoke of the lost and about Ford.

How could McKay sound so emotional about Ford? There didn't seem to be any animosity in his voice just... loss.

Would Rodney accuse him of not living? John wondered. He watched the two completely different men before and could see the emotion and exhaustion in both of them. Rodney's words burned at him, hitting his own deep emotion and it erupted in the form of anger.

"What the hell do you think you're doing out here, McKay?"

Rodney spun around with a startled gasp and swayed on his injured leg. John didn't miss the way Ronon naturally reached out and steadied the smaller man. With surprise, he recognized the gesture and the look that filled the Runner's eyes—protective.

"Do you mind?" Rodney got his bearing back quickly. "Sneaking up on people is rude."

John quirked an eyebrow. "Since when are you Miss Manners?"

McKay ignored the question. "How long have you been spying on me?" hedemanded.

Ronon almost smiled. Yup, the Runner had definitely known he was there, John thought. "Long enough," he answered. "Aren't you supposed to be resting?"

"I'm fine," McKay brushed him off. "I wanted some fresh air."

"Uh huh, because the last day and a half wasn't enough for you?" He met Ronon's gaze and the Runner nodded. Without a word, Dex went back inside. John watched a moment as Burnes and Mead followed at a respectful distance.

"How long are you gonna guard him like that?" Rodney demanded.

"'Til we're sure he's on our side," Sheppard answered automatically, turning to face McKay again. It was the first time in awhile he'd really looked at his friend.

Rodney was beyond exhaustion. Sheppard could see it in the dark circles under the man's eyes, in his slumping posture, everywhere.

"You shouldn't have interfered with Burnes and Mead." He tried not to sound as harsh as he had moments ago.

Rodney just scoffed and turned away from him, looking back out at the sea.

Sheppard stepped closer and leaned against the rail as McKay answered, "Yeah, well, they should have used their brains. Ronon just needed a little space."

"And talking to you gave him that?" John asked incredulously.

"Why is that so hard for you to believe?" Rodney bristled.

Sheppard shrugged. "Well, you are a horrible people person," he pointed out in repetition of Rodney's earlier words and instantly knew he'd given away too much. Rodney might be tired, but he was still brilliant and it didn't take a genius to figure out John had been eavesdropping on him and Ronon.

"No, I'm not," McKay admitted honestly. "But you know…" he paused to make sure Sheppardwas really listening now. "That doesn't make me wrong."

"Didn't say it did." He said it too quickly, defensively. He didn't want to have this conversation now and McKay must have realized it. John watched as a mix of hurt and hope flickered in Rodney's expression before the scientist looked away.

"I won't interfere with your men again," hesaid, clearing his throat and heading slowly for the door.

"Right." John shook his head, knowing full well it would happen again…soon.

Pausing as the door slid open for him, Rodney looked at John, waiting until their eyes met. "Running isn't living, John," hesaid softly then turned and limped inside.

John stared after him, feeling as if Rodney had looked straight through him and seen everything he was trying so hard to hide. He bit back an angry denial. "I'm not running," he muttered, wanting to shout it at McKay. He wanted to point out that he was still here, still doing the job, still giving the orders that no one else would give, still fulfilling his responsibilities and doing what needed doing. But even as he argued inwardly, his emotions overwhelmed him with the truth.

Pushing McKay and everyone else back to a distance he could handle…that was running. He was running from the potential pain, the hurt he'd feel if he lost one of them, too. He was closing himself off and the harder he pushed them away…the further he ran. All it left him was emptiness…and anger.

"Damn." John ran his hands over his face. He thought it would be easy. He'd had it all planned since the visit back to earth. It wasn't like he hadn't tried this before, after Afghanistan…that had worked for him, at least it had until he'd arrived in the Pegasus Galaxy. He'd had it all planned. Come back, do his job, be authoritative and just live his life. What he hadn't counted on this time was it being so hard. He hadn't counted on McKay figuring him out and reading him so easily. Since when had Rodney gotten so perceptive anyway?

John shivered, realizing suddenly that he was freezing. He turned and looked out at the darkness and then back to the warm light of Atlantis. It was up to him how to go from here and he knew, finally, what he really wanted. He didn't want to feel the pain of losing another friend to death…but he realized, honestly, that he didn't want to keep running from friendship anymore either. He didn't want to run, he wanted to live.

Rubbing his arms against the chill, John turned his back on the darkness and headed inside to warm up.

It only took a minute to catch up to McKay and ignoring the shocked look on Rodney's face, John slowed and fell into a slow easy step beside his friend.

The end!

Hope you enjoyed it..