The Goon's Guide to Mind Control

with a bonus chapter on Svengali because Geeks love party tricks

mind (m ī nd) noun, 1. The collective conscious and unconscious processes in a sentient organism that direct and influence mental and physical behavior. 2. A person of great mental ability. Verb, 1. To take notice; give heed. 2. To behave obediently. 3. To be concerned or troubled; care: 4. To be cautious or careful.

Goon's Addendum: When working with your assigned Geek, it helps to think of yourselves as a single unit with the Geek as the mind and you as the body. This is not to say that you won't be called upon to use your intellect from time to time and your Geek won't have to run for his life on occasion, but in the grand scheme of things, leaving the brains to him and the brawn to you will work out best for everyone involved. Because, let's face fact, the only thing that outnumbers the university degrees he can wave in your face is the number of pudding cups he carries in his pack (which, ironically enough, is typically equivalent to the number of miles you run on a daily basis). And the only thing higher than his I.Q. is the number of rounds you carry for your P90 at any given time. The problem with this division is that Geeks don't always realize that in order to protect their bodies, and in return their big old brains, they do have to listen to you now and again. And when push comes to shove, a little pushing them into the undergrowth and shoving them through the gate while you lay down suppressive fire may be called for. But don't despair, as this is all par for the course. You might mind having to mind some of the greatest minds of our time, especially when they don't always mind you, but forget minding your manners and just mind their backs, and in the end everyone will get home safe and sound… in both body and mind.

I've pointed a gun at a lot of people over the years, and I've been willing to pull the trigger every time. You have to have that in you. No one can ever see an exception in your eyes. Not that one, he seems so young. Not this one, he's only following orders. Not him, he has a wife…a kid. Because, while all those things are probably true, in the end it comes down to him and you. If you can't drop that hammer, he will. One of them will, and then you'll never have to worry about moral turpitude or any of that shit again, because your ass will be dead.

I've pointed the gun a lot of times, and I meant it this time the same as all the others.

"Rodney," I said, as I aimed the nine mil at him. "I can't let you go." While standing dripping wet in the gate room, I knew that was truer than anything. "I can't let you go through the gate." The humming gate, chevrons activating with a stunning speed.

"I know." His own nine millimeter was pointed at me with the same focus he'd shown when facing down a superwraith. "I'm sorry. Jesus, John, I'm so goddamn sorry." I could see his eyes flicker for a moment to catch the drip of water on the floor. He turned a shade paler if that were even possible. "Oh God." Then his eyes came back and I saw the sheer desperation in them as his grip tightened on the gun. "I don't want to shoot you. I don't, okay? I don't."

"I know," I said gently. "I do." Which is why I had to be the one to shoot. I had to be the one to pull the trigger like I was always prepared to do.

And I did.

x x x x x

Waking up in a Jumper wasn't a new experience for me, nor was waking up to John's voice. But waking up to his voice but not him was a little disconcerting. What was more disconcerting was the fact that instead of staring at a head full of unruly dark hair attached to an air force officer, I was staring at black combat boots attached to a marine…correction several marines, that were sitting on the back benches of the Jumper while I lay blinking in a stupor on the floor.

"Colonel, all I can tell you is that he appears to be breathing fine, his pulse rate is normal and there are no visible injuries." That would be Lorne, piloting the Jumper and trying to control the exasperation in his voice.

"But he's completely nonresponsive? Nothing since you busted him out?" And that would be John, trying to control the worry in his.

Busted out…busted out? Why…? Ah, yes, the Jaykos. Friendly bunch until they decided my brilliance was just too good to let slip through their hands. They had locked us up the night before then split us up this morning. Well, they had split me away from the others and taken me to what they referred to as their Ministry of Research facility. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We had seen it before in the Pegasus galaxy, civilizations on their way to technological advancement wiped out to the verge of total oblivion by the Wraith only to have successive generations rediscover the old works and try to reclaim the glory of past days. Some had been successful in maintaining the line of continuity, steadily building on the work of their forefathers… the Genii and the Hoffans to name a few. Others, like the Jaykos had let decades or centuries pass between living in the dark ages and returning to the ways of scientific enlightenment. And some of those weren't willing to take the time to rediscover the technology on their own in their rush to play catch up. And that's where I came in.

They had figured out parts of the catalog, had made advances in the areas of biochemistry and medicine but some of the basics of mechanical engineering and physics had them stumped. I spent the entire first day we were on the planet with one of their researchers and by the evening we had the schematics for the water distribution system updated. The Governor was thrilled with the progress, asking that I look over the power plant they were upgrading, and after that, the old designs for a transportation device that was something like a steam-powered golf cart, and after that, he broke out the weapons schematics. And that's when we suddenly found that as much as we would like to help, we really needed to get back to Atlantis.

It's a delicate balance being the smart kids on the block, walking that fine line between helping your supposed allies without unintentionally arming your potential foes. And we'd wiped enough of our own bloody noses while we picked ourselves up out of the woodchips of the cosmic playground to be wary about helping anyone develop weapons of mass destruction. And that's when the Jaykos decided we were too valuable to let go.

Yeah, the more things change, the more times I find myself at gunpoint up to my elbows in primitive atomic weaponry.

So this time when they took me back to the research facility and started demanding my help, I refused. A part of me had expected them to threaten the others. And really, it was just a stall tactic since we were overdue on Atlantis and Elizabeth would come looking for us soon enough. Because if it came right down to it, if they had waltzed John in there and pointed a gun at his head, I'd have had them a proven nuclear power by nightfall.

Not that John and I advertised our relationship off world. In fact, it was just the opposite. Sure we wore our rings, but marriage rituals and symbols varied throughout the galaxies. Some cultures didn't believe in marriage, others betrothed in childhood. Some societies marked the bond with the color of their clothes, others necklaces, one with where you wore your knife… Ronon was accused of keeping a harem on that planet… and another with a tattoo of your spouse on your forearm. So our rings usually went unnoticed or were assumed to be a signet of our rank or political station and nothing more. And that was fine by us. One less weakness for a potential enemy to exploit. But even the bonds of friendship are a weakness all their own and the Jaykos bypassed those completely.

No, they didn't threaten John, or Teyla or Ronon for that matter. Instead, they ushered me into a different room, strapped me to a bed and injected some nasty looking crap into my bloodstream while I folded and promised to help them do anything they wanted if they would just keep the needles and whatever the hell that green stuff was away from me. My pleas fell on deaf ears and after the burning sensation moved past my shoulder my own ears went deaf, as well. In fact, all of me pretty much shut down and I hadn't been aware of anything until I woke up in the Jumper.

"Colonel, I'm sorry, but I'm not a doctor," Lorne reasoned. "We'll all be back on Atlantis in a few minutes and you can see him for yourself."

"John," I croaked out, surprised by how hoarsely I spoke his name. Clearing my throat, I tried again. "John?"

At the sound of my voice, the marines above me shuffled and started asking after me, helping me to sit up and bringing on a full-blown headache that had only been hinted at previously. I waved an irritated hand to silence them and concentrated instead on the voice coming across the ship's radio. "Rodney…" The pause on the other end was filled with relief and exhaustion and several other emotions that I knew he was fighting to control. "Jesus Christ, are you all right?"

"As far as I know. Where are you?"

"In the second Jumper, right behind yours. Lorne's team went after you while Hallenberger's team busted us out and retook the Jumper."

"Teyla and Ronon?"

"They're here. We're all fine."

Before I could ask just what the hell had happened, Lorne cut across the frequency. "Atlantis this is Lorne, do you copy? Jumpers One and Two requesting permission to return."

Peeking out the front window I could see the gate and hear Elizabeth call back anxiously. "Major Lorne, were you successful?"

"Four wayward lambs being brought back into the flock, ma'am."

"Wonderful, Major. And your teams?"

"A few scrapes and bruises but nothing too serious."

"That's good to hear. You're clear to return."

The Jumpers passed through the gate and one of the marines offered me his seat on the bench as we docked in the hangar. I sat with my head in my hands, willing away the growing throbbing in my skull, barely noticing the men disembarking the craft. "Rodney!" At John's shout of my name I looked up to see him fighting against the bottleneck of people coming out of the Jumper and the medical team trying to check the wounded.

When he pushed past the last one I gave him my best smile through the pounding in my head, which he promptly ignored, opting instead to drop to a squat in front of me and look me over thoroughly. "What the hell did they do to you?" he demanded, hands moving over me searching for any injuries.

"They injected me with something this morning after they took me from our cell. After that, I don't remember."

He stopped scanning my body long enough to meet my eyes and blink in surprise. "This morning? Rodney, they took you two days ago."

I took in the dark shadow of beard on his face, the even darker eyes, hollow and a little haunted, and the lines of worry on his forehead that looked to have taken up permanent residence there. "Two days?" I asked dumbfounded.

"I want Carson in here, now!" John yelled out the back of the Jumper, his voice causing me to cringe at the spike in my head but his hand clinging tightly to the front of my shirt. "What did they give you? Did they say anything? What it was for? What it was supposed to do?"

I shook my head dazedly at the barrage of questions. "No, nothing, it looked like antifreeze and burned, just… two days?" I couldn't seem to wrap my mind around that concept. When I woke up I thought it had been a couple of hours, tops. But a couple of days?

Leaning in close, he rested his forehead against mine. "Two fucking days," he assured me quietly as he swallowed thickly. Two days that I had been blissfully unaware of what they were doing to me and two days John had been horrifically unaware of the same thing.

Reaching up I squeezed the back of his neck. "Christ."

"Rodney, how are you doing, lad?" With Carson's arrival, John straightened but stayed close, making room for the physician but holding tightly to my hand.

"Headache," I told him, still a little astonished by the news that I had been out for two days.

"They drugged him," John supplied tensely from his seat beside me.

"Did they now?" A penlight was suddenly shining in my eyes and I flinched back from the painful brightness. "Any nausea? Lightheadedness, disorientation?"

"How about the fact that I don't remember anything from the last two days? Does that count for something?"

Carson frowned deeply at my outburst and the growing panic that went along with it that was slowly cutting through the fuzz. "Two days?"

"That seems to be the consensus reaction to that little tidbit of information," I snapped.

"Let's get you to the infirmary and run the full gamut of tests on you, then. See if we can figure out what those buggers were up to."

John helped me stand, steadied me even though I really didn't need it, put me on a gurney even though I really didn't need that either, and held my hand possessively as we made our way to the infirmary, which I really did need at the moment. He continued to hold it through the blood draws and vitals checks, sneaking in a desperate kiss when the nurse left to run the samples to the lab. He had to let go when they ran me through the Ancient whole-body imager but he was back to reclaim it while we ate the food Carson had sent to us and drank the Gatorade he insisted we both finish off. He linked our fingers while we waited for Carson to come back with the results of what he had found and he nearly broke them when Carson showed us the picture of my brain.

"What's that?" John asked warily.

"That, is the region of Rodney's brain known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex," Carson explained academically.

"And what it that?" I asked, pointing to the small dark smudge that seemed to be lodged securely in said region of my brain.

"That," he told us with a grimace, "is not supposed to be there."

x x x x x

"That," I told them, unable to stop my grimace, "is not supposed to be there."

Two sets of eyes widened in alarm at my statement. Rodney's mouth opened and closed several times as he moved closer to the Colonel without even realizing he was doing it. And with that same instinctual reaction, Sheppard's arm went protectively around his shoulder. It was John that recovered his voice first.

"Then why the hell is it there? What is the damn thing? What's it doing to his brain?"

"How did it get there?" Rodney suddenly demanded.

"That's right, there're no scars or anything to indicate someone was tooling around in Rodney's head. Just how did it get in there?"

"And how are you going to get it out, Carson? It can't stay in there, I need my brain. You need my brain. This entire goddamn expedition needs my brain. So get that fucking thing out of my head!"

I held up my hands to hold off the panicked questions that were flying at me faster than the usual sheep insults from Rodney's mouth. "Okay, first things first, we need to calm down about this."

"Calm down? Easy for you to say, Carson, you don't have a… a…." Rodney's hands twirled in a frantic spiral as he searched for the right word. "A whatever-the-hell-it-is in your BRAIN!"

"Rodney, I assure you, I am as distressed about this as you are."

"I don't think so, Carson. If that was the case, you would already have me under and getting that thing out of my BRAIN." One index finger tapped rapidly at his forehead.

At Rodney's suggestion, John's eyes widened even more and his grip tightened further. "Now, just hold on a second…"

"Relax, Colonel, I have no intention of rooting around in Rodney's head. I don't suddenly fancy myself a brain surgeon. This is a very delicate area we're discussing here and I have no desire to be responsible for Rodney being even more socially inept than he already is." Ignoring the astrophysicist's glare, I continued. "If it comes to that, we'll be shipping him back to the experts on Earth."

Sheppard nodded tersely in understanding as Rodney chanted, "okay, okay" under his breath. Satisfied that I had them at least listening to what I was saying, I started again. "Now then, as to what it is, it definitely appears to be a foreign object." I clicked on the image on the screen and magnified the smudge until we could see it closer.

Rodney squinted, "It's mechanical, segmented."

"Aye, modular you could say even, which may go a long way in explaining how it got in there." At their confused expressions I continued. "We found traces of what appears to be immunosuppressant-type drugs in your system. The lowered T cell count in your blood seems to correlate with that, suggesting whoever put that there didn't want your body to reject it."

"Okay, so we know that they wanted it there, how did they get it there?" John asked cautiously.

With a bit of dread I clicked to a different image. "This could answer that question."

The short video that the whole-body imager captured showed the device that was sitting in Rodney's brain suddenly… shift, like a cat settling into a comfortable spot on a pillow. Their reaction was just as I had feared it would be, and honestly, much as my own had been. Both men scooted back away from the screen with an exclamation of distress

"What the fuck?" the Colonel demanded.

Rodney pointed frantically at the screen. "It moved! On its own! Holy shit, it moved on its own!"

"That it did." I confirmed. "It also grew."

"Grew? But I thought it's mechanical. How the hell did it grow?"

At John's question, the light bulb went off for Rodney. "Nanites."

With a nod of my head I concurred with his conclusion. "That's the best guess I have for what we're dealing with here. I think they injected the parts into you and the device is still growing, building itself so to speak. Which might explain why you were unconscious for so long. I think you probably would still be unconscious if not for the rescue, that you weren't supposed to wake up until the device finished its self-construction."

"Then simple, we stick you in front of the EMP generator and zap this piece of shit into oblivion."

I shook my head at the Colonel's idea. "I don't think it will be that easy. See these tendrils here?" I pointed out small wisps reaching out from the device and into the brain matter around it. "This suggests it has an organic component to it. Taking out the mechanical may not solve the problem, in fact, it might exacerbate it. For all we know, the mechanical is controlling the organic response. Without the control it could expand unregulated throughout the entire brain."

"Okay, I'm not liking the idea of a tiny little thing being in my head and I'm hating the idea of things expanding unregulated, so get it the hell out of there before it does."

"Rodney, I don't think it's finished assembling. If we take it out now, it could just reassemble with the parts that are still in your system."

My reasoning didn't please either man but Rodney was the one that said so. "So we just leave it in there? Let it do its thing, whatever that might be? I don't think so."

"The Daedalus is on its way back from Earth now. It's expected to be here in a week's time. I'm thinking Hermiod may be able to help us remove it, much like he helped remove the Goa'uld from Colonel Caldwell."

"And in the meantime I just sit and let this thing play erector set in my head?" Rodney shook his head in disgust and John squeezed the shoulder he still clung to tightly.

"What's it going to do when it finally finishes building itself?"

Leave it to Colonel Sheppard to ask the question that I had no bloody clue how to answer. With a frustrated shrug I admitted. "I honestly don't know. This region of the brain is what integrates our cognitive and emotional responses to a situation. It's what keeps us from reacting on a whim, from making a fool of ourselves, distinguish between right and wrong, and defines our morals. Given that, I would say that's an underutilized region in Rodney's brain, so no worries." My attempt at humor was met with a glower from Rodney. "But it's also what keeps us from taking too many dangerous risks and where we get those gut feelings we can't always define. So, if it were to disrupt that balance, he could be crying like a wee babe when they run out of chocolate cake in the cafeteria or literally trying to kill someone for the same reason. Or he could decide he's bullet proof and put himself in harms way."

"I don't really care for any of those options," John frowned at the prospect.

"Nor do I," I agreed.

Rodney suddenly perked up. "We need to go back to the planet."

"Rodney, you can't be serious," I insisted.

Colonel Sheppard's response was much more direct. "Not only no, but hell no."

"No, we really do need to go back," Rodney asserted earnestly. "They put this in me; they can take it out of me. We need to go back. Now, John, we need to go back now."

Rodney's anxiety had little effect. "There is no way in hell you are going anywhere near that planet, ever again."

"But, John, you don't understand, I know this is the only way to fix this…"

"No, you don't understand. I just spent two days not knowing what the fuck they had done to you. Not knowing if you were even still alive, McKay. Now, I will open you up myself and scoop that thing out with a goddamn melonballer before I let those sons of bitches touch you again. Do I make myself clear?"

Blue eyes blinked back in sudden understanding at determined hazel ones and Rodney simply ducked his head and bit his tongue with obvious restraint. Satisfied that he had made his point, Colonel Sheppard turned back to me. "So the Daedalus arrives in a week. What do we do until then?"

"We wait," I offered weakly. "We monitor the device and watch for any signs that it might have activated."

"And if it does activate?" Rodney asked.

"We reassess the situation then." At Rodney's rolled eyes I added hastily. "I'm sorry, but I don't know what else to do. Without the beaming technology of the Daedalus and without knowing exactly what we're up against, I'm at a loss."

"So does he have to stay here, or can we go home?"

At John's hopefully expression I sighed. "Colonel, I have no idea how he will react if it activates."

"I'll watch him like a hawk, I swear," he assured.

"He could turn violent, reckless..."

"I can handle him, Doc. And the first sign that anything is wrong we'll be right back down here."

The two of them sat waiting apprehensively for my answer. Finally, I relented. "Very well, you can go home." Without giving me a chance to change my mind they hopped down from the bed and headed for the door. "I want you in here first thing in the morning for more tests, though." I called after their retreating forms.

"We'll even bring the coffee," John promised with a smile as they passed into the hallway.

Of course, that cup of coffee never came.

x x x x x

Two days of hell, literal hell, and now a smudge in Rodney's brain. His fucking brain. What made Rodney Rodney. Brilliant, smug, impatient, megalomaniac…what made him like chocolate and butterscotch pudding, but hate vanilla. What made him the most exasperating son of a bitch in this particular galaxy and all of those things made him the love of my goddamn life. And all of it could be taken away by one small smudge. I rubbed at my dry, sleepless eyes with the heel of my hand.

"John?"

I blinked and looked over at him. I had my fingers looped around his wrist because I couldn't let go of him for a moment. Not yet. Not when I'd gotten him back after two days of wondering if he were even still alive. "You okay?" I asked automatically, although, Jesus, how could he be?

"I was actually wondering that about you," he said with pointed worry. I don't think he noticed he was rubbing the side of his head lightly with the knuckles of his free hand, as if he could rub that damn smudge out like a fingerprint on a lab beaker. "You look…well, not good. You don't look good."

"Just a little lack of sleep," I dismissed. Two days worth. It wasn't as if I was grabbing too many naps during the yelling through the bars—swearing, threatening, offering any damn thing they wanted. All I got was silence. Silence and no water or food, which led me to believe they weren't planning on keeping Teyla, Ronon, or me around too long. And if we were gone, who was going to keep asking for Rodney? Who was going to get him back?

Lorne as it turned out. Lorne who was getting promoted if I had anything to do with it.

"You haven't had any sleep and I've had too much. What a pair," he sighed. "And my ability to think and control my bowels lies in the hands of a sheep herder and ET. It doesn't promise to be a good week. Of course I could lose three fourths of my brain and still be able to blow up five-sixths of a galaxy. Yes, still the most brilliant person on this or any other planet."

"You'll be fine, okay?" I said firmly. "You'll be fine, and bug free in no time. And that's just the goddamn way it's going to be."

He gave me a crooked twitch of his lips. "They took your chip out with a scalpel. At least mine will be beamed out, hopefully before we even know what it's supposed to do. Pain-free and oblivious, I'm all for that."

It was funny how he'd brought up Chaya's chip. Just went to show none of us were as on the ball as we should've been. Not Carson, not Rodney, and definitely not me.

When we reached our room and the door closed behind us, I did what I'd wanted to do since he came off the jumper. I wrapped my arms around him, rested my forehead, and just held on. He did the same except for keeping his head up to kiss my stubbled jaw and murmur 'sorry' at my ear. "Sorry for what?" I said, the words muffled against his shoulder. "What the hell do you have to be sorry for?" Because I was the one who was supposed to take care of him, keep him safe…I was the team leader and when someone got taken, when someone got hurt, when someone…when Rodney got a goddamn chip planted in his brain, it was my fault.

"For sleeping through it." His hand rested on the back of my neck and I knew exactly what he meant. He felt just as I would if I'd slept through two days that he'd worried ceaselessly about me. Guilty as hell.

"The chip's already making you stupid." I pinched his ribs. "I'm grateful you slept through it. I doubt it was anything you'd want to be awake for." Scientists looming over him, measuring the success of their work…that work being that piece of shit infiltrating his brain.

He snorted fondly, "You'd have slept through it without medical intervention, lazy bastard. Speaking of, why don't we go to bed? You're dead on your feet, and whether I slept two days or not, I'm still tired." Wrinkling his nose, he added, "Maybe a shower first. You smell like Radek's locker in the lab. And that is not a good smell. A dead squark pickled in a barrel of rum for a decade would smell better than that."

He, on the other hand, smelled like a hospital…alcohol, medicine, bleached sheets, but I didn't say that. Neither of us needed the reminder. "Come with me and you have a deal. Maybe I'll even blow you, you know, if you don't have a chip there too."

"Way to twist my arm," he grinned. It wasn't the usual Rodney grin, all angles and glee, but it was still a grin and I'd take that. If I could manage to take his mind off the situation long enough for him to even summon a smile, then I was happy.

I tightened my arms around him, kissed his jaw, then swatted his ass. "Okay, chip-boy. Let's hit the showers."

"That's Mr. Chips to you, asshole. Or Dr. Chips. Hell," he sighed in weary annoyance as he yawned, "I'm a little beyond pithy pop culture references right now."

We were both a little beyond anything despite promises to the contrary. But hot water, clean soap, and a warm, slippery Rodney was enough for me. Was just goddamn perfect. Half toweled off and leaving dripping footprints on the floor, we both fell into bed and instantly curled into a tangle of arms and legs. And if I was still hanging onto him like a five-year old with separation anxiety, he didn't call me on it. In fact, he was doing the same, hands kneading over my naked ribs. I could feel the frown against the skin of my neck. "Those bastards didn't feed you, did they? You're more ridiculously bony than usual." He started to climb over me. "I have a power bar in the bedside…."

I hauled him back. "I'm fine. Christ. Not keeping me in milk and cookies is the least of what those bastards did." Way to go, John Sheppard. After all the times I'd seen Rodney nearly swallow his own foot, you'd think I'd be better at avoiding the same. Saying anything else would only make it worse and I rubbed a hand along his back, from nape to base of spine and back again.

"It's in my brain, John," he said quietly after a moment.

"I know," I said simply. "But we're getting it out. If Hermiod can get that worm-in-drag out of Caldwell, he can get this thing out of you. He actually likes you. You're Igor to his Dr. Frankenstein."

"Oh, the compliments don't come any higher than that, do they?" he grumped against my chest, giving a punishing nip to my collarbone followed by a sleepy snuffle. "You know…we should go back to the planet. If they have the technology to put this monstrosity in me, then they have it to take it out. Just pistol whip a few natives and pow…instant cure."

"Rodney, if you think I'd trust their technology to take it out, assuming Mother Teresa herself was giving it the okay in the truth department, you are nuts. Out-of-your-mind-shithouse-nuts. Like the song says, whatever they can do, you and Hermiod together can do a million times fucking better." And if I never have to see the godawful planet again, I could die happy. If I did go back, a whole lot of people were going to die…and I'd guarantee none of them would be happy.

"But…." He must've felt the tension in me, because he sighed in resignation, "Okay. It was just an idea. One of my usual brilliant ones, but never mind. I'm sure Dr. Frankenstein is even now picking out the appropriate boxer shorts for chip removal." With that, he laid his head on my chest and was dozing within seconds. No good night, nothing. The supergeek switch was flipped to off and there was the immediate feel of drool forming on my chest. He really was exhausted. God knew what that thing in him was doing…was changing. It was a long time before I slept. A long, long time.

And then it was one goddamn, huge mistake.

x x x x x

"Radek, cut it out," I insisted as the Czech bullied me away from the controls and the gate shut down before the third chevron could lock in place. With a frustrated growl I tried to wiggle in front of him only to receive an elbow to the ribs. The man was small but wiry and had pointy little bones to boot.

"No, Rodney, you are to cut it out. Okay? Colonel Sheppard is on his way. You are to sit and wait until he arrives and explain why it is so important that you leave Atlantis."

"You called John? Are you crazy?" I pushed back against Radek, trying to get to the DHD. He didn't understand. Elizabeth didn't understand. And John sure as hell didn't understand why it was so critical that I get back to Jayko. Radek simply dug in his heels and pushed against me with his shoulder as I tried to get around him. "Radek, get out of the way," I gritted as I tried to reach past him. He slapped my hand then leaned forward and sprawled across the controls with his arms spread so I couldn't reach them. "God dammit, I said, move!"

His only response was to lie flatter and a sharp, clipped, "No."

"Rodney, enough," Elizabeth called behind us in a huff. She stood with pajamas and bathrobe, the curls on one side of her head smashed flatter than the arms she had crossed across her chest and she looked as happy to be there as I was that she actually was there. "You are not going off world and you know it."

"And just why the hell not?"

"Well, for one thing you're dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt," she countered.

My chin rose defensively. "I don't see how my wardrobe should have any bearing on this argument."

"You aren't even wearing any shoes. But more importantly, you are trying to dial a known hostile planet."

I matched her crossed-arm stance and rocked back on bare heels. "Hostile is a little harsh, don't you think?" Elizabeth had evidently spent a day trying to negotiate for our release before sending in the troops and the Jaykos had found her arguments for why we should be sent back to Atlantis as reasonable as I was finding hers right now. The thing was, if she had just minded her own business and left us where we were, we could have avoided this whole elementary-schoolesque confrontation that was going on here in the control room and I could be back there right now doing what I needed to do.

"No, I think that is a perfect description for a people that implanted a chip in your head and left the rest of your team to waste away in a prison cell."

"Elizabeth, you are missing the bigger picture. I'm the only one that can help them. They need me back there if they stand any chance of surviving the next Wraith culling."

"We need you here, McKay." I looked up at John's voice to see him striding irritably into the room. "Something wrong with our bathroom that you had to come all the way down to Control to find one?"

I felt the heat rise in my face at the blatant lie I had been caught in. "I… you know… I just couldn't tell… you don't understand. None of you can understand."

His hand clamped down on my bicep in a bear-trap grip. "I had Chaya's chip. I know what it's like not to be able to control your actions."

I shook my head in frustration. He didn't understand. He couldn't understand because he couldn't see what I was seeing. "You didn't want to go, John. I do. I really, really want to go. I've seen the cullings."

"We've all seen cullings, Rodney," he reasoned gently.

"Not the ones on Jayko." I tapped my head. "I've seen them, John. And I'm the only one that can help stop them from happening again."

The images had been what woke me in the first place. Way too vivid to be a dream, I had seen the chaos, heard the screams, felt the panic of the people around me as our friends, our families, our countrymen simply vanished as they ran beside us. I couldn't let that happen again. I wouldn't let that happen again. But the others just wouldn't listen to reason and let me go back where I could actually do something to help them, help my people.

"It's that nanite piece of shit in your brain that's doing this. You know that, right?"

I shook my head at his flawed logic. "It doesn't matter. All that matters is that I go back and help develop the weapons we need to fight the Wraith."

"It matters to me," he told me even as he started pulling me toward the door.

"No, John, please, I need to go." The dull ache that had been residing happily in my head since we came back to Atlantis spiked as we moved away from the gate. John glanced my way when I clenched my eyes shut and rubbed at my forehead with the heel of my free hand, but it only made him pick up his pace. Desperate not to leave, I reasoned, "Come with me. You can help, too."

"The only place I am going with you is to the infirmary." With eyes locked on the path ahead of us and his hand locked on my arm, he told Radek, "Lock down the gate then come join us. I don't think we can wait for the Daedalus to take care of this."

The walk to the infirmary wasn't exactly the best time I had spent with John. It consisted of me reasoning, pleading, begging and threatening him to let me go through the gate while my head throbbed and John simply stared straight ahead, jaw clenched in unwavering determination to keep me from doing anything but and not speaking until we reached Carson's door.

Carson answered with a yawn and a scrub of scruffy jaw and John informed him succinctly, "We have a problem."

"Already, then?" he sighed. "Very well, I'll meet you in the infirmary."

When Carson finally arrived, followed closely by Radek, I was sitting zip-tied to a chair, glaring at John who completely ignored my reaction in favor of sitting on the hospital bed directly across from me and pinching the bridge of his nose while I dreamed up new and inventive combination of derogatory names for him and the restraints.

"Get these motherpissing goatfucker's handcuffs off of me you minutia-brained piece of Ancient-reject shit!" I started to stand and take the chair with me but he simply put a foot to my chest and pushed me back into a sit.

"Love you, too, Rodney," he told me with exhausted dryness.

"This is love?" Radek observed from the doorway. "Would hate to see you two when actually fighting."

But for John, this was love, the only way he knew how. As misguided as he was, his intentions were good. He thought he was protecting me, keeping me from harm. But he just wasn't thinking clearly. Why would the Jaykos want to hurt me when they needed me? I was there salvation, a scientific god to lead them out of the woods and into the world of technological wonder and armed supremacy. They would be waiting to welcome me home with open arms. And if he would just let me go, get things set up and the weapons program up and running, I could send for him and we could be happy, both of us serving the higher purpose that we had been destined to fulfill.

But he just couldn't see it. Couldn't get past the shortsighted and somewhat selfish nature of his affection. "You need to figure out a way to get this thing out or shut it down or something," he told the two men who had just joined us. "He's trying to go back to the planet, thinks he's going to save the universe by building bombs for those sons of bitches."

"Hellloooo." If there was anything that infuriated me, it was being talked about like I wasn't even in the room. "I'm right here. And I'm not planning on saving the universe, just the Jaykos and most of the Pegasus Galaxy, Atlantis included. So really, I'm just going to continue my work on another planet with better facilities."

"Better facilities than Atlantis?" Carson asked dubiously.

"Atlantis is highly overrated," I sniffed. "It's ten thousand years old and barely standing. The Ancients' way of thinking is pretentious, their technology is little more than cheap parlor tricks, and their architecture reeks of bourgeois elitism. There is nothing here to promote a desire to achieve the incredible or stimulate my creativity. Except for John, here, but sex only goes so far in self fulfillment."

John's eyes widened in astonishment that I would be so brutally honest and he jabbed a finger in my direction. "Fix this, now."

Carson frowned and nodded his head. "We'll run him through the scanner again, see if we can see anything new. But I'm afraid that our only other option will be to send him back to Earth for surgery."

"Earth? Oh no no no no. I am not going back to Earth!" I fought harder against the restraints.

"Well, you sure as hell aren't going back to Jayko," John assured me with an unamused snort. As I continued to fight his eyes creased in concern. "Rodney, cut it out, you're going to hurt yourself."

"I'm not going back to Earth. It could be months before I got back to Pegasus."

"Fine by me. We'll go back to Hawaii for a few weeks. Go visit Nana. Make a pilgrimage to Einstein's tomb. Whatever you want. Just stop fighting the restraints or you're going to start bleeding."

"What I want is to go back to Jayko!" I screamed at him.

Hands clamped down over my wrists as he leaned in close to my face and bellowed, "And I want you back!" I blinked up at him and stopped struggling as he took a deep breath. "Now, I'll make a deal with you. You let them take this thing out of your head and if you still want to go back to that fucking planet, I will pack our bags myself and walk through the gate with you. Wouldn't you rather have that than going back there by yourself?"

That was exactly what I wanted. Me and John, together, finally freeing the galaxy of the Wraith scourge… I couldn't imagine anything more amazing than that. I smiled brightly at the thought. "That would be perfect."

"Then let Carson and Radek do their thing, see if they can shut it off, and when I'm convinced this is your decision and not some metallic tick in your brain, we'll go."

"Promise?" I asked eagerly. John didn't lie, not intentionally, and never to me.

"Swear to God," he told me solemnly.

So I ended up back in the imager lying flat on my back staring unseeing at the ceiling while Radek and Carson hunched over the read outs and mumbled to each other. The images were back and I physically flinched away from one of a Wraith feeding on a woman that I felt I had known my entire life but had never laid eyes on before.

"Rodney, you okay?" Blinking away the vision, I glanced over and saw John uncross his arms from where he stood in front of the door, the only exit out of the room, and look questioningly at Carson when I only answered him with a silent, unconvincing nod.

"Go ahead, Colonel. Just don't let him move his head about too much; we're collecting some readings from there now."

"What's up?" he asked as he bent into my view.

"You meant it, right? You'll come with me?" Because leaving him behind was the only thing that had me even hesitating to go. Saving the Jaykos from the Wraith would mean I could also save John and everyone else on Atlantis from the Wraith. And as long as he was safe, as long as I didn't have to see him withering away before my eyes, it would be worth all the headaches and confusion in the world.

"You aren't going anywhere without me," he smiled down at me, but there was something… a guarded stiffness in his shoulders, a reluctance to the curve of his lips, a wariness in his eyes… that said that although he meant that with every fiber of his being, he also had no intention of either one of us going back to Jayko.

I forced a smile of my own. "Okay, just checking." As long as he was safe, I resolved, it would be worth all the loneliness in the world, too.

He squeezed my hand. "You should probably not talk so they can get the readings they need."

I closed my eyes and squeezed his hand in return, almost afraid to let go, because I knew this may be the last time I ever had to hold it. He was everything to me. The absolute best thing that had ever happened to me. The love of my life. But some things were bigger than love, more important than life. We were at war and that meant sacrifice and as much as I didn't want to, I was the one that was going to have to make the sacrifice this time. But not now, not at this moment. For now I would just hold on to him and wait for the test to be over and wait for the right opportunity to present itself.

A few minutes later, we were done and back in the examination room while Radek and Carson explained what they had found. Elizabeth had dressed and joined us, watching the computer screen with the same intensity as we were. "It is transmitting on a frequency similar to his brain wave pattern," Radek told us as he pointed out the minute disruption that appeared like static around my EEG. "If we can isolate it and decode it, it is possible we could send simple commands to it on same frequency."

"And shut it off?" John asked eagerly.

"No, no, nothing that drastic. We still do not know what that might do. Might shut down Rodney all together. No, more like 'standby'. This will buy us time, maybe, until Daedalus arrives."

"And how long will that take?"

Radek pushed his glasses up at Elizabeth's question and shrugged. "I am not sure. I will assemble a team and start working immediately."

Elizabeth nodded. "Very well, it sounds like we have a plan."

"Wait a minute," I interjected. "This is my brain and ultimately your lives, not to mention mine, we are talking about here. I should be involved in this, too."

"Sorry, Rodney," Carson apologized, "but you are staying here in the infirmary in the isolation room until we can get this straightened out."

"You're locking me up?"

"They're locking us up," John corrected as he tightened his grip on my wrist when I started to stand in outrage. "I'm staying with you until I know you aren't going to try to run off again."

When my only response was to glare at the lot of them, Elizabeth added. "It's for your own protection. We just want to make sure any decision you make is your own and not being manipulated by an alien force."

"The only manipulation that is taking place here is of my human rights." Seeing that no one was going to budge on their ridiculous position, I sighed dramatically. "At least give me a radio so I can consult with my staff."

"I think we can arrange for that," Elizabeth agreed pleasantly and Carson offered up a spare he kept in his office. "Well then, Carson, I'll leave it to you to get them settled and Radek to get to work on the code. Keep me updated on your progress."

And then Elizabeth was gone, as was Radek. Carson led us to the isolation room and John called Ronon and Teyla to provide guard duty outside. A while later, slipping the earpiece of the borrowed radio in place I frowned as the Satedan peeked into the window of the door. "Going a little overboard, don't you think?" I grumped.

"No such thing," John countered as he plopped on the bed only to sit up abruptly as I headed toward the only other door in the room. "Where do you think you're going?"

"To the bathroom," I explained impatiently.

"I don't think so. You just went."

"Technically, I got dressed and went to the gateroom and bypassed the whole pissing part of that trip." I continued on toward the door only to have John spring from the bed and step in front of me. "Seriously, Sheppard, do you expect me to hold it until Radek figures this out? The Daedalus could arrive and actually fly me back to Earth before that happens."

"Oh, look, a bedpan," he grinned smugly and indicated the metal receptacle on the table by the bed.

"Absolutely not. I am not going to pee with all the world able to look in and see me."

"Ronon's keeping watch. No one is going to see."

"He could see. You can see."

"It's not like I've never seen those parts before, Rodney."

"I can't, okay?" I shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot. "I have… stage fright. I can't go with someone watching me, you know that."

"Well, then that should make holding it easier."

I thought of slapping the grin from his face but restrained myself at the last minute. "John, this is absolutely idiotic. There is one door to the bathroom, where am I going to go? Flush myself out to sea? You can stand right outside the door and I'll talk to you the entire time if you like." He regarded me, weighing his options, looked past me into the bathroom then back at me. I bounced on my toes. "Make up your mind, would you?"

"Fine," he relented, "I want you to talk nonstop."

I grinned sarcastically. "As you are so fond of telling me, that shouldn't be a problem." Without waiting for a response back I darted past him into the room and shut the door….and promptly locked it.

"Rodney, unlock the door," his muffled voice ordered from the other side.

"Give me a second," I called back as I popped open the control hatch on the other side and removed the control crystal. "Carson made us drink all that damn Gatorade, I'm surprised I'm not peeing neon blue." Studying the ceiling I spotted what I was looking for within seconds, climbing up onto the sink to reach it.

"What the hell did you do to the door, McKay?" A fist pounded angrily on the other side and I knew he had tried to access it mentally to no avail.

"John, you and the others just aren't thinking straight." I pulled down on the panel door and it dropped open revealing the crawlspace above the infirmary. From here it was a straight shot to the gateroom, although John wasn't an idiot. Nowhere near as brilliant as me, but then again who was? But it would be pretty obvious where I was going and what I planned to do as soon as I got there.

"Rodney, goddammit, open this door!" I hefted myself up with a grunt as I heard John yelling for Ronon then slamming into the door. "Rodney!"

"Sorry, John. Once things are settled, I'll be back for you. I promise." I started crawling and the banging and yelling went silent.

From below me I could hear John's exclamation. "Oh, fuck me, he's in the ceiling." Then, through the radio he called Radek. "Dr. Z, he's trying to get back to the gateroom through the ductwork. Can you find a way to stop him?"

"I can slow him, yes."

"Do it. And increase the security on the gate while you're at it. I don't want him able to dial out, no matter what."

That's my boy, I thought to myself. No John wasn't an idiot and Radek would be able to slow my progress to the gateroom, I had no doubt. Which was why I was heading for our quarters.

x x x x x

Rodney said things he didn't mean all the time; he also didn't always say the things he did actually mean, not verbally anyway. He said them with a quirk of his lips and the bright humor behind his wry blue eyes. I was usually amused by the first and blown away by the last.

What Rodney was saying now though was scary as hell. And what he wasn't saying was even worse. Rodney had lost his damn mind, and I was opening every door so he could run through. Sure, Rodney, take that big, brainwashed melon of yours and head for he hills. I like a good chase. Christ.

He'd climbed over me in the night. Just going to the bathroom. Pat on the shoulder. Be right back. And I hadn't noticed anything was wrong. Not in his voice, not in his touch. If it weren't for Radek's quick thinking, not to mention quick moving—throwing himself over the DHD, Rodney would be gone, and I had a feeling it would be a lot harder to get him back this time. With him on their side, the Jaykos could hold us off damn near forever.

It hadn't happened though. That fuck up had been staved off. We'd made it back to the infirmary, Rodney arguing the entire way. If I hadn't been so goddamn worried, I probably would've laughed at the whole sex only goes so far thing. I definitely would've held it over his head for weeks…months. What? Blow you? Now? Come on, McKay, I think you need more spiritual fulfillment than that can offer you. Try me again tomorrow. Yeah, it would've been good…if not for the worry.

And I was pretty fucking worried.

He had no clue what was coming out of his mouth. None. Although it was riding on the back of pure Rodney McKay. The worship me as the One True God of Science—yeah, that was Rodney. The giving up Atlantis and its stuffy architecture for the comparatively primitive Jayko? Not so much. Leave me if I refused to go with him? That…that…God, I couldn't wait to get that chip out so I could kick his ass.

And every time I looked at him, he had that incredibly earnest look on his face. Earnest and increasingly impatient. I wasn't sure we could blame that last bit on the chip. When Rodney gets his teeth in something, he's obsessed. He can't let go and he's always right…in McKay-land anyway. That sort of thing had led to one less solar system in the Pegasus galaxy. All the chip had to do was give Rodney a belief, an unshakable belief, and Rodney would do the rest. That sort of drive and faith in himself was what made him such an amazing scientist. And, on occasion, an amazing asshole.

I'd managed to lose both. Again.

That's when I went from worried to terrified. Rodney knew Atlantis better than anyone, including Radek. We had the gate and the jumper bay locked down. It should've been reassuring. It wasn't. Right now, nothing was. I headed for our room first. He couldn't takeover much of anything including the gate room in T-shirt, pants, and bare feet. Even MacGyver would have trouble pulling that one off. He needed tools, he needed clothes, and, unfortunately, he probably thought he needed a weapon. There were two places he could go for those things…the lab or our place. Our place was closer. I ran with Teyla and Ronon fast on my heels.

We would've made time if it weren't for the frozen transporter. "MacGyver," I muttered, kicking the side of it, before bolting out and heading the long way. By the time we reached the apartment, it was too late. The place was a mess…a little brainwashing wasn't going to change that about Rodney. It looked as if a cyclone had spun through. "Shit," I gritted, before hitting my com. "Dr. Z," I snapped. "Where is he? You've got sensors. Use them."

"Am trying, Colonel." The usually patient Czech was sounding a little frazzled. I was right there with him. "But sensors cannot differentiate between expedition members. Everyone is moving. Some towards gate, some not. I cannot tell which is Rodney."

Finally. Something that could be solved. Something I could do. I keyed the com to the city wide system and rapped, "This is Sheppard. No one move until I say otherwise. No one." I stopped moving as well and stood still in the hall flanked by Teyla and Ronon. Rodney would've heard me too, but he couldn't do the same. Not for long. He had the chip pushing him…keep moving, get back to Jayko, they need you. Go. Go. Go.

After several seconds, there was a triumphant exclamation. "Ha! I have him. Section B, by water recycling plant."

"Okay, I'm heading there now." I turned to the others. "Teyla, you take the gate room. Ronon, the jumper bay. Just in case. No one on security knows Rodney like you do…how devious he can be. How catastrophically, destructively devious." A lot of people had underestimated Rodney on that aspect. They'd never done it more than once. I didn't want our people making the same mistake. "Don't let him blow anyone up and don't…don't let him get away." It was good advice. I should've been giving it to myself.

"Rodney," I repeated for God knew how many times now. "Answer me, okay? I just want to talk." It was a lie, and I knew Rodney knew that as well, but I had to try. "Rodney, seriously, just talk to me." The life signs detector I'd grabbed while in our place was showing one nice, bright blip just ahead. I didn't get to the recycling plant much, but Rodney spent a helluva lot of time there. Squarks and various other things were always being sucked into it despite all his modifications. At least once a month, he came home cursing a blue streak, sloshing along in soaked shoes that stank of dead sea-life. It wasn't his favorite place to say the least, so what was he doing there now?

The blip stopped moving and I picked up the pace. I passed through one door, then another, and finally down a ladder to a large empty room…an empty room with one open door on the far side. Rodney stood in it, face transparent white and eyes stark and grim.

"Rodney?" I held up a hand reassuringly. "Let's just slow down, all right? Just talk to me and we'll figure something out. Maybe we could set a link up with Jayko. Let you talk to them from here."

He ignored it. I could see his knuckles blanch yellow-white from his grip on the edge of the doorway. "John, you've got to get out." Before I could say anything, he stepped through the door and closed it. Above me, I could also hear the locks engaging on the hatch I'd climbed through. "John," he said again through the com, his voice frantic in my ear. "It's time for the scheduled cycle. You've got to get out now!"

As water started to pour in around my feet, I stood frozen for a split second, stunned. Didn't this day keep getting better and better? "Shit," I breathed and splashed across the room to the door Rodney had just passed through. I slapped my hand on the locking component set beside it in the wall. Nothing. Take your little ATA gene and hit the bleachers, because you are done. "Shit," I repeated, this time with more venom. "You have got to be fucking kidding me."

"John."

Sucking in a breath, I said more calmly, "Yeah, Rodney, I know. Get out. But you locking the door has made it a little more difficult than usual. You have any hints for me?" I turned and headed back to the ladder to see if I'd have any better luck with the hatch.

"Fuck. I can't…I don't…Radek! Radek, you son of a bitch, you answer me now!"

"I am here, Rodney." There was a hesitation and Radek added with audible worry, "What have you done to Water Recycling Unit Five?"

"I've locked John in there to fucking drown, that's what I've done, okay?" It was a snap, but not a verbal one. It was the same sharp snap of rotten ice breaking under your feet…the one that would have a winter pond swallowing you whole. Rodney was being sucked down, in every bit as much trouble as I was. "You've got to fix it. You've got to get him out. I can't do it…I can't stop. I can't….why did I do that? They need my help, I know they need my help, but….why?" There was a harsh inhalation of breath. "John…."

"Dr. Z will get me out," I said immediately, climbing the ladder to push uselessly at the hatch. "Piece of cake. Right, Dr. Z?"

There was a pause and then smooth confirmation, "Of course, piece of cake. There is nothing overrated Dr. Rodney McKay can do that I cannot undo in matter of seconds. There is even time for massage and fruity health drink first."

I hung there on the ladder for a moment, hoping grimly that it would be that easy. "You could stay and talk to me though, Rodney…just until I get out." There was silence. I retrieved the life signs detector from my belt. He was still there, still outside the door. "Come on, Rodney. Stick around just that long, okay?"

"Radek, you get him out, you hear me?" Bleak and determined and a goodbye. "You get him the fuck out."

And then the blip moved away.

x x x x x

Get him the fuck out. Save Colonel from certain wet and sloshy doom. Why not? How difficult could it be?

Despite my confident words, very, very difficult.

Rodney was, in some ways, my inferior. Yes, it's true. Unfortunately, I am forced to admit that all those ways are invariably linked to his ego. When it came to sheer unadulterated non-ego-fed mental acrobatics, Rodney had no equal. Well, except for a certain naked alien who was starting to look good to me.

I really needed to get what Americans refer to as nookie. When genital free aliens are becoming attractive, one has been without a date for too long.

"Dr. Z, I'm not growing any gills in here, so could you hurry it up a little?"

"I am trying, Colonel," I said absently as my fingers flew over the keyboard. "It is slightly more difficult than ordering pizza. It will take some time."

"Well, I hate to break the news, but fifteen minutes or less isn't going to get you a free Colonel, only a…." He stopped before he said what I imagined would be 'a dead one.' Rodney was probably still listening, assuming his brain could now process anything but being the Second Coming to Jayko. Sadly, if he did make it to that prdele planet, he would probably be President-for-Life within matter of months. Kidnap the Colonel and make him official concubine. Annex Atlantis and force us to produce nothing but pudding cups for his insatiable appetite. Use me as especially handsome footstool.

Yes, future was looking very grim. For all of us and especially for the Colonel. Rodney had disabled the system in a very quick and dirty way. I suppose that was all he had the time for, but it was my bad luck that quick and dirty was the most difficult to fix. He hadn't disabled the system, he had apparently broken it and rerouting every system that operated the tank was a tricky business indeed.

"Radek."

"Yes, yes. Hurry, I know. Am going fast as I can," I said more than a little desperately, although I tried to hide it from my voice. I suspected I was not successful.

"It's not fast enough. I'm knee deep at the top of the ladder and there's a goddamn squark in here with me. He either loves me or wants a snack." I heard the sound of a shot then one more. "And apparently he think bullets tickle. Hurry the fuck up!"

Finally…finally I managed my way around Rodney's catastrophe and let out a triumphant, "Ha! He thinks he is so clever. Hatch is now unlocked, Colonel. You are free."

There was the sound of flesh hitting metal and then a voice even more desperate than mine had been. "No, it's fucking not! Do something! Rodney's getting away and I've got tentacles wrapped around my goddamn leg!"

Dear God. I tried the routine again, which was the equivalent of smacking the side of television. Again, from the sounds of the cursing in my ear, nothing.

"Zelenka, I'm in position."

Ah, Kavanagh. We are saved. If only I could open hatch, he could use ponytail like anglerfish to lure squark away from Colonel so he could escape and we could all celebrate with sushi for dinner. And yet, how desperate had I become that I was beyond relieved that he had finally reached the control panel and could report on what he saw? "Christ, it's a mess. Not that McKay ever takes the time to do things in a rational and logical manner, but this is impressive even for his careless standards."

Well, what could I say? It was at least an improvement from his initial reaction while I was trying to slow Rodney's progress through the ductwork. I would shut down one section and Rodney would simply override it. I would place double lockdown two sections over and he would simply jump down to another level. I was amazed that tiny mechanism in his brain could overcome his massive claustrophobia and have him moving through the crawlspaces of Atlantis like he was sneaky little hamster moving through giant tube habitat. But then again, it had overcome his absolute devotion to Colonel, which was even more impressive. So, I did what I could, worked to stay ahead of him, slow him down, give Colonel Sheppard and others a chance to catch him. All this while simultaneously trying to lock down gate so he could not get out of the city and Kavanagh offering me fifty bucks to just let him slip by.

It was tempting offer, because honestly, he was starting to put me in most unpleasant mood. When he shut down the transporters giving me just one more thing to counteract, I was even more tempted to take the additional three hundred dollars Kavanagh had managed to pool together from other members of the science staff. But when Rodney locked Colonel in what appeared to be a watery tomb, all humor left the situation.

The fact that Kavanah was now helping me instead of offering bribes to let Rodney escape was a testament alone to how serious the conditions had become. "Can you tell how he rerouted it?" I asked across the radio.

"It looks like a plate of fettuccini in here. There doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason to it at all."

"Rodney," I shouted. "What did you do? Colonel will drown in less than a minute and is being eaten or humped to death by squark. What did you do?"

"Rodney," the Colonel's suddenly calm voice followed mine. "It's okay now. You're far enough away I'll never catch you. It's all right to tell Radek. I promise." There was a moment of lost silence and then the words that must have hurt his throat to say and two more gunshots that hurt me to hear. "Anyone on Jayko would tell you the same."

There was beat of never-ending silence then Rodney. Finally. Rodney who could fix this if only he would. Rodney who would never let me live it down if we could only hold on to him. "Radek." If I thought the Colonel's voice had been desperate, if I thought I felt desperation, I realized I didn't have any concept of the emotion. "It's not a mechanical problem with the security system; it's a security problem with the mechanical one."

And that was it. So simple and so ridiculously complex at the same time, much like Rodney himself. "Dr. Weir, if you would please to override the security lockout Rodney has placed on the system." As head of science, he was one of handful of people that had authority to lockdown the systems, and since he was the one to have programmed it in the first place, he could do it through backdoor where no one could see it that wasn't looking for it expressly. Elizabeth quickly typed in her code, in effect shutting down all security protocol in the city. Not something I would normally want to do, but it was only choice we had given dire predicament of Colonel Sheppard.

"Pull the controls," I ordered Kavanagh.

"Which ones?"

Which ones? Which ones! The man was so particular with precision, so hung up in perfection, he managed to accomplish nothing. It put even my Type A obsessiveness with cleanliness around the computer systems to shame. Of course, seeing as he spent most of his professional life with head up his ass, it was no wonder he was such an anal-retentive slacker. Was most impressive he could be both moron and oxymoron all at same time, an underachieving overachiever.

"Pull them all!"

"But that will…"

"Yes, yes, floor will get wet and probably you, as well, but Colonel will breathe. Just pull the controls!" There was a grumble on the opposite end but finally I was told the deed was done and I shouted, "Go, Colonel. Go!"

But I heard nothing.

Nothing

Not one thing.

x x x x x

He never listened. John never fucking listened. If he would have just listened to me, done what I said and left that room when I told him to, this never would have happened. But nooooo. He had to stay and try to talk me out of going back to Jayko once again. Honestly, why was he so worried about me going back there? They wanted me, they needed me, they gotta gotta have me, good God in heaven they loved me… who sang that song? James Brown? Tom Jones? Didn't matter. What did matter was that I had finally found a way to occupy Radek so that he would stop trying to outwit me… as if… and shut down the security systems so that I could go through the stargate and back to Jayko.

And why would John be worried about something like that? Why? Why couldn't John just let me go do what I needed to do? Why couldn't he see how important this was? Why, couldn't I remember who sang that damn song? Why did my head hurt so bad? Why, why, why, why… why had I locked him in that tank to die? Holy shit, I locked him in a tank to die! I had to go back! I had to get him out! I had to…

People. People everywhere. Running. Pushing. Screaming. Searching. Hiding. The whine of a dart overhead. And I was just standing, looking up into a pale blue sky, as the culling beam activated and people started to disappear around me. Where was John? He should have been here. He was always here. Always. But where? Where, where, where? I was spinning, looking for him, and the people kept pushing, kept running, kept screaming, kept vanishing. I had to make it stop. I could make it stop. I could. I was the only one. Go. I had to go. I had to go and make it all stop. And now I was running with them, moving, searching. Searching for John. But where? Christ, where was he?

"John!"

The image disappeared and I was back in the crawl space, breathing heavily, shaking. In my ear I could hear Radek through my com link.

"Do you see, Colonel Sheppard?"

"I'm soaked to the bone," Kavanagh complained. "You flooded the entire section."

"Will send wet vac down later, but for now, do you see the Colonel?" The voice was tense and it took me a moment to remember why. Fuck, what had I done?

"No, I don't… Wait, yeah, I see him. Colonel Sheppard?"

Oh, God. Why wasn't he responding? Why wasn't he answering? Why didn't he just listen to me and get out of there?

"Oh, crap, he's not breathing!"

Well, really, it was his own damn fault that he wasn't breathing. He wasn't breathing. He wasn't breathing because I locked him in that room and filled it with water. Why did I do that? I tried to kill him. Why would I try to kill him? Because he was trying to stop me and nothing could stop me, nothing could keep me from going back. Nothing. Not even John. Not even John who wasn't breathing. He wasn't breathing, he wasn't and I was breathing too hard, too fast, my heart racing and my body telling me move, move, move. And I listened. I listened to that imperative shouting in my head and I listened for any sign that John was breathing again. He wasn't, he wasn't breathing and I couldn't stop to take a breath. But Kavanagh was there, and why the fuck wasn't he trying to do something about the fact that John wasn't breathing?

"For God's sake, get him breathing again!" I yelled, even as I made my way toward the lab sections located below the control room. Because they needed me. Jayko needed me. But John needed me, too. John needed… Jayko needed… Christ, my head hurt.

"How?" Kavanagh demanded, his voice jumping up an octave in the process.

"You must begin CPR."

Radek's suggestion had the voice rising even higher. "What?!?!"

CPR? Kavanagh putting his mouth on John's mouth? On my John's mouth? On my John that wasn't breathing? He wasn't breathing, he wasn't breathing, he wasn't… oh, fuck me! I'd killed him. I'd killed the only person that meant anything to me. The only person…

They were dying. All around me, the people were dying. Withering away as the Wraith fed with a hand on their chests and a look of ecstasy on their faces. And John was there somewhere. Somewhere there was a Wraith feeding on him, sucking his life away from him, away from me. And I couldn't stop it. I couldn't stop it from here; I had to be there to do it. I had to be on Jayko to save his life.

I curled into a ball, willing the images to just go the fuck away but that only made the pain increase. "Don't let him die," I pleaded. "Just…don't let him die." Because he was dying, somewhere he was dying. Here, there, it didn't matter because he was dying and it felt like a part of me was dying too. Move, move, move, I couldn't stay here or he'd die, they'd die, but I could stop it. I could stop it. I just wanted to stop it all.

"Well, maybe you should have thought of that before you locked him in the damn tank, McKay."

"Now is not time for blame!" Radek snapped. "Now is time to suck it up and be a man."

"That's the problem!"

But the argument was background noise to the sound of the death wails surrounding me. "Don't let him die, don't let him die, don't let him die…" I wasn't even sure if I was saying it aloud, I just wanted it to happen. I wanted him to breathe. I wanted him safe from the Wraith. And the only place I could make sure that happened was on Jayko. Jayko was waiting for me, so I started crawling again, even as I continued the mantra in my head.

"Fine. You so owe me for this, McKay." There was a pause and a grunt as I suspected Kavanagh rolled him over, then the sound of coughing and gagging. "Wait, he's breathing!"

"He's breathing?" I was afraid I hadn't heard right.

"And now he's puking… on my shoes."

Unable to stop my laugh of relief, Radek evidently felt the same way because between his chuckles he managed a heartfelt, "Thank God, Colonel is breathing."

"Thank God I didn't have to do CPR," was Kavanagh's response. "Hey, that's mi…"

Kavanagh's protest was cut short and John's coughing just became louder in my ear. "Rodney," he choked out on the confiscated radio, "where are you?"

And the relief was immediately replaced with guilt and I only moved faster through the crawlspace. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I did that. I just… I can't stop, okay? You can't stop me so stop trying. I don't want to hurt you, any of you."

"It's okay, Rodney." He had to stop talking to cough some more and I popped out into an abandoned lab to access another control station that glowed to life at my touch. "Dr. Z, where is he?"

"He is… oh, you little…he has shut down city scanners."

Radek's frustration just poured into John. "McKay…" he warned before another choking cough cut him off.

"You should go see Carson and make sure you're all right." My hands flew over the consol, looking for that way out, that way to empty the control room so that I could dial out. There. With the security controls down, it opened up a whole new realm of systems I could manipulate.

"Only if you come to the infirmary with me."

Another bout of coughing had me cringing and thinking that might be the best idea in the world. I could just go and curl up on a hospital bed with John, bitch at Carson, forget this entire plan to save the galaxy and just save myself the heartache of leaving John behind. But it was the headache and the accompanying images that had me rerouting the coolant systems from the labs to the control room ventilation system.

"I can't, John." I had to go. I was almost there, almost. And then the images would stop and the headaches would stop and all of it would just stop, stop, stop, because I sure as hell couldn't stop what I was doing.

"Yes, you can. Tell me where you are and I'll meet you. We'll go see Carson together."

"Rodney, you cannot do that," Radek warned across the radio.

"Sure he can, Dr. Z." John tried to keep his voice light, but he couldn't hide the warning tone.

"No, no, not infirmary. He has sent poisonous gas to the control room."

"You should probably evacuate, Radek," I informed him calmly, the visions fading away as I locked down the system. "I plan to release it through the air vents in about five minutes." And I would be through the gate and have the system shut down in less time than that if I had my way about it.

"Colonel Sheppard?" Elizabeth's tone was questioning, yet what could she or the others do?

"Radek, is the gate locked down?" John. So hopeful, so desperate, so out of luck. I almost felt bad for him. But it was for the best, it really was, and someday he'd see that.

"When we shut security down to open doors to recycling room, he was able to lock me out of system."

"Can you override it?"

"Yes, but it will take time." I was sure John could hear the unspoken, 'more time than we have' in the statement because he didn't answer immediately.

"John?' This time Elizabeth wasn't questioning so much as sounding their defeat.

"Go," he sighed bitterly. "Evacuate, but keep working that override remotely."

"We have established a perimeter around the control room," Teyla tried to offer encouragingly.

"Hold it." Not that it would do them any good, and John's tone said that as much as I knew it. "I'm on my way there, now."

"Sheppard, you want me to join you?"

"Negative," he told Ronon vehemently. "You make sure he doesn't get near a jumper."

The jumpers were a last resort. I could always dial out with one of them and bypass the DHD in control entirely. But I would have to get past Ronon and I doubted anything would draw him away from the hangar if John told him to stay. 'Anhydrous ammonia? Hmmm, what's that pleasant smell? I may not be able to breathe but I can still kick your ass while my lungs dissolve away inside me.' Christ. He was like the goddamn Black Knight on steroids.

I watched in satisfaction as the life signs disappeared from the room above me, secured the doors, then climbed up under the stargate and out into the room. I took the stairs up to the DHD two at a time. Almost. Almost there. Almost home to Jayko and the battle to come. The battle I was going to win for us all. Nothing could stop me now. Nothing. I put a hold on the chemical purge I had programmed into the system… almost done, almost home…dialed the gate…nothing could stop me, nothing… and that's when the doors exploded inward from the C-4 John had obviously planted on them.

But nothing could stop me. Nothing was going to stop me. I had to go, I had to go. And nothing would stop me.

Not even John.

"Rodney?"

My gun was pointing at him before he even appeared through the dust of the explosion. I couldn't stop. I couldn't stop myself. I had to get through that gate and back to Jayko. If I didn't… if I didn't go, then they would all die. Every last one of them. The people, all of them, running, pushing me in the crowd, pushing me to move. Run. Go. Don't stop. Now's your chance. GO! But when I started to move, John pulled his own gun on me.

"Rodney, I can't let you go." He was dripping wet. Why the hell was he so wet? But I didn't have time to figure that out. I had to go. Hands were pushing me, people were telling me to move, I was blocking the way. We had to go or we'd die. All of us. I had to go and nothing could stop us. Nothing. "I can't let you go through the gate." But John was there, pointing his gun at me, soaking wet. He didn't want me to go, and I understood, but I couldn't stop. Not now, not when I was so damn close.

"I know." My gun didn't waver. He wasn't going to stop me. Nothing could stop me. But he did deserve better than this. "I'm sorry. Jesus, John, I'm so goddamn sorry." Water dripped from that lanky frame and hit the floor and still he stood there blocking my path. He was soaked and it didn't seem to faze him. But there was something…something about that… something about the water… Oh, fuck. I'd done that. I'd tried to kill him. I would have killed him. And suddenly I realized, I still might have to kill him in order to get through that gate. Go, they were telling me. Now, here's your chance. Nothing can stop you, nothing. "Oh God." Nothing could stop me, not even John. Shoot. If he doesn't move, shoot. Because you have to go. If you don't it will be too late. Go, go, go… "I don't want to shoot you. I don't, okay? I don't."

"I know," he said gently. "I do."

But he was going to try to stop me and he wasn't moving and that only left me one choice. He saw that, too. At the same moment I felt my own finger tightening on the trigger to my nine millimeter, I saw his finger tightened on his own sidearm.

The sounds of the shots had me flinching away and it took me a second to realize he hadn't shot me, but had emptied his clip into the DHD and associated controls. The consol sparked violently beside me and the gate shut down instantly. And with the anger of the mob inside my head I turned that anger on him.

"You son of a bitch! Do you have any idea what you've done?"

By the somewhat satisfied smirk on his face, he evidently did. And it didn't fade when I raised my gun with every intention of making sure he never interfered with me making my way back to Jayko again. Because nothing could stop me. I had to go, I couldn't stop, I had to go. But before I could squeeze the trigger, I was encompassed in a field that paralyzed every muscle in my body. I'd been hit with a Wraith stunner before…several times, actually… and they sent a pins and needles tingle through you before dropping you into blackness with a staggering speed. This definitely wasn't a Wraith stunner. This burned down to the last nerve ending and my muscles spasmed once before giving out entirely, collapsing me in a heap on the floor.

"Nice shot," John called back over his shoulder. Ronon simply shrugged from where he hung upside down from the opening in the ceiling that led to the jumper bay above us. The motion caused his dreds to sway lazily around his head as he still held his stunner fixed on me. Then John was kneeling beside me, looking down on me with relief written all over his face. "I told you you weren't going anywhere without me."

I couldn't move, but the room didn't fade as I faded into unconsciousness because I didn't fade into unconsciousness like I fully expected to. Evidently John fully expected me to, as well. The smile transmuted to confusion as he glanced back at the Satedan. "Shouldn't he be out by now?"

No, my body might not be working, but my mind still could. And as I lay there on the floor unable to move, all I could think was, I have to go, I have to go, I have to go….

x x x x x

It had been a little over a day and a half since that bloody chip in Rodney's head had decided to send him traipsing about Atlantis leading everyone on a wild goose chase. And at the time he had been wheeled into my infirmary after a zap from Ronon's gun, I had thought we had gotten off rather easy, all things considered. Colonel Sheppard had ended up waterlogged, the doors to the control room had been the victims of C-4- as doors had a way of doing where Rodney and the Colonel were concerned, and the engineers had their work cut out for them rebuilding the DHD. But Rodney was safely in custody and under my care while Radek worked to break the code the chip was transmitting, so that had to be a good thing. Right?

Wrong.

The chip was evidently refusing to let Rodney rest until he had completed the task it had set for him, namely to leave Atlantis and return to Jayko. Our first clue that something was amiss was when he was brought to the infirmary, completely paralyzed from the stun blast Ronon had delivered but just as completely alert. It took almost a half an hour for his muscles to start responding again and by then we had his arms restrained to the bed to avoid another game of find the physicist, but that didn't stop him from trying… very, very hard.

Sheppard couldn't calm him, if anything the poor man seemed to anger him even more, and after a couple of hours in which Rodney yelled himself hoarse and accused me of doing rather disturbing things to a horse…and a goat…and a sheep… and just about any other barnyard animal he could think up, we decided to avoid the whole pornographic version of Old McDonald's Farm and sedate him.

And that's when we realized how devastatingly destructive the chip really was. The more sedative I prescribed, the more adrenaline the chip had Rodney's body producing. When I had reached the point where I had administered three times the amount of drugs that would normal have a man his size sleeping for a good twelve hours and he was still threatening to do unmentionable things to us if we didn't let him leave, although with a definite slur to his speech, I called a halt to that plan. His heart rate had sky rocketed, along with his blood pressure, and I had no desire to quiet him down by putting him into cardiac arrest. Besides, I was concerned about what would happen if Radek was successful and found a way to shut down the chip. If that happened and his body stopped counteracting the effects of the sedative, I might have just the opposite problem on my hands with Rodney's systems shutting down entirely.

So, we let him scream, and beg for us to let him go and the images to stop, and even once sob uncontrollably. And through it all, Colonel Sheppard was there, usually suffering the brunt of the abuse. For a day and a half Rodney didn't sleep, and if Rodney didn't sleep then neither did the Colonel. That was almost as worrisome for me as Rodney's condition. It had been almost four days since they had been taken captive on that miserable planet, and if Sheppard had slept four hours during that time, I would be amazed. Rodney had the chip keeping him going, the Colonel had only his devotion to the other man keeping him on his feet and often times he seemed like he couldn't even manage that. When Rodney would let him, he would hold the scientist's hand, speak to him softly and futilely try to calm him. When McKay was at his most vocal and violent, Sheppard simply slumped quietly in the corner, watching with dark rimmed eyes, waiting for his opportunity to approach Rodney once again. And when Rodney had started to cry, it was probably the hardest for him of all the emotional outburst we had endured. The dichotomy of finally being able to hold the man that he had married while obviously being shaken to the core by the very un-Rodney-like behavior left him so frazzled that when Rodney finally started yelling again he retreated into the bathroom, not to be seen for a good fifteen minutes only to reappear looking even more bedraggled than he had when he went in there.

I had secretly hoped that he had gone in the room and fallen asleep, but there was no such luck. And I was on the verge of taking matters into my own hands and sedating him myself when Radek appeared with the news that they had finally broken the code and he was ready to attempt to override the chip in Rodney's head.

When Dr. Zelenka and I approached Sheppard, Rodney was in the middle of a rant on what he planned to do to each individual member of his staff if he wasn't released immediately, occasionally breaking into bit of 'Oh, Canada!' sung in a scratchy, off-key voice, before resuming his catalog of personnel and their imminent and rather gory doom.

"Colonel, could we speak to you for a bit?"

Red eyes looked through me for a second before he seemed to recognize who was talking to him. "Oh, Carson." He sat straighter, rolling his neck before standing and steadying himself with his hand gripping the back of his chair. "Sure, what's up?"

Rodney's eyes narrowed in calculation when Sheppard started to leave the room. "Wait a minute. What's going on here? Don't tell me Radek thinks he has finally figured out how to hack my brain. John, you cannot seriously be considering letting them do that to me. The most brilliant mind in the galaxy is not a computer with a reset button. John? John!"

"I'll be right back, Rodney," he assured through the continued raving about the astrophysicist's unfathomable genius and followed us out of the room, stopping long enough in the waiting area to have Teyla step in and keep an eye on Rodney in his stead. She and Ronon had been taking shifts as unofficial infirmary guards… the assigned Marine guards were stationed outside the main entrance… and I wasn't sure if the Colonel had asked them or if they had just taken it upon themselves to watch over their compromised teammates.

"So, was he right?" Sheppard dropped heavily into the chair in my office as soon as he saw it. "Do you think you can shut this thing down, Dr. Z?"

The Czech pushed at his glasses with one hand while he gripped his electronic tablet with the other. "Well, we have been able to decipher the code that is being used, yes."

"And you think this will work?" The look of exhaustion on the Colonel's face was overwritten by one of hope as he leaned forward and fixed Radek intently.

"In simulations we have been successful in sending simple orders to the computer that have been accepted."

"But?"

Radek's sigh was accompanied by a shake of his head. "But that is not Rodney."

"No, Rodney isn't a machine." Sheppard snorted affectionately then scrubbed his face before turning his attention to me. "So, are we going to try this or not, Carson?"

"Colonel, that's why we brought you out here," I explained patiently. "That decision is yours."

"Mine?"

When his brow furrowed in confusion, I continued to clarify. "Aye. Rodney is obviously incapable of making rational decisions for himself. Therefore, that duty falls to you."

"But you're the doctor."

"And you're the one Rodney left with the responsibility to make these sorts of decision regarding his medical care if he were incapacitated."

He sat back and rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands. "Great. Just one more perk of married life that falls into that damn sickness and health clause. Not only do I get to sit and watch him lose his mind before my eyes, I get the added bonus of having to decide if I let someone else fry that mind while I watch. No offense, Dr. Z."

"Oh, no," Radek admitted with a nervous shake of his head. "The sentiment is quite understandable."

"Actually," I informed him, "Rodney had you as his proxy in his living will back before the initial Wraith attack on Atlantis." The surprised expression let me know Rodney had never shared the fact that then Major John Sheppard had been given power of attorney over all his medical decisions should he be unfit to make them himself. And wasn't that just like the man to put that sort of confidence in a person without ever confiding the truth of the matter. "He obviously trusts you with his life, John. He always has. And I think it was a very wise choice on his part."

He ducked his head again, his question to me directed to the floor tiles. "Then, what's your opinion, as his doctor?"

"We will monitor him closely and at the first signs of complications we'll stop. But once we send a command, we might not be able to rescind it."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning," Radek took up the discussion at this point, "that if we tell the chip to standby, all of Rodney may standby, permanently."

"Until it can be beamed out with the Asgard technology," Sheppard justified to himself. "Right?"

"Hopefully, yes, but we cannot be sure about this assumption."

Radek's conclusion obviously didn't please John very much. "So, what, we may be turning him into a vegetable?"

"Or he could be fine when the chip is removed," I countered. "We just don't know, but we want you to be aware of the risks involved."

"Well, I don't like them. What about sending him back to Earth? Let them do surgery like we talked about when we first found the chip?"

"We could," I conceded, "but, you've seen the success we've had with sedating him…none at all. They couldn't anesthetize him without risking killing him during the surgery."

"And if we let him continue on… the way he is now?" His voice nearly disappeared and he swallowed down the emotion.

"I honestly don't know how long his body can stand the strain. You've been there, John. The heart monitor has already gone off twice because of irregular cardiac rhythms. And it's only going to get worse. The longer he's in this state, the greater his risk of permanent damage to his heart."

If possible, he slumped even further, shoulders and head dropping so low that they nearly reached his knees. And with his hands threaded together behind his neck, he gave the impression of a man assuming the crash position on an airplane. And in a way, that was exactly what he was doing against the emotional collision he was facing.

We let him sit this way, pondering his choices for a long moment, eventually exchanging concerned glances when he didn't respond. "Colonel Sheppard?" I called warily.

With a deep inhalation of breath he sat straight, squaring his shoulder with the same resolution he had shown during numerous other tactical decisions he had been forced to make during his time in the Pegasus galaxy. And with the same authority he showed the men under his command, he gave a quick, decisive nod of his head. "All right, we do it. But the first millisecond you think there is problem, Carson, you have Radek send a resume command. Do I make myself clear?"

Radek blinked under the steely glare and nodded rapidly, "Yes…sir?"

"Then I guess I have some news to deliver and you preparations to make."

When we arrived back at the room, Sheppard asked Teyla quietly, "How'd he do?"

"He attempted to… bargain with me for his release." Her expression wavered somewhere between amusement, worry, and revulsion. "He offered you to me in exchange for safe passage to the stargate. Although, I am unsure what a 'minx' is or exactly how nimble it is relative to you."

The Colonel simply smiled, although I blushed enough for the both of us. "Don't worry; he made the same proposal to Ronon last night." He squeezed her shoulder and murmured, "Stay close, we're going to attempt this now."

She nodded her head in understanding. "Then, I shall call Ronon." Raising her voice with a smile she addressed Rodney. "I will see again in a while."

"That… offer still stands, if you change your mind." Eyebrows lifted knowingly as he tilted his head toward his spouse and mouthed exaggeratedly, 'he's amazing.'

"I will keep that in mind, Rodney." And then she was gone and John approached the bed with a frown.

"If I'm so amazing, why do you keep trying to give me away?"

"Not give, trade. There's a difference. Just as you claim there's a difference between restraining me for my own safety and holding me against my will." Clenched fists tugged at the leather restraints around his wrists in angry demonstration.

"Well, hopefully those won't be necessary much longer."

Blue eyes widened in understanding and he shook his head vehemently. "Oh, no, no, no, no, no. You are not going to let a nearsighted, dust bunny with a Ph.D. tinker around with my brain like it's a ham radio are you? Are you?"

"Rodney, just stop and think about it for a minute. All this could be over. You won't need the restraints, we could go home, just you and me and my minx-like ways." His smile was exhausted and desperate and heartbreakingly hopeful. "Don't you want to go home?"

"That's exactly where I'm trying to go but you won't let me."

Sheppard froze at the words, his smile as stiff as the rest of him, before he finally continued on as if he had never heard them, had never even mentioned anything about the work Radek was setting up his equipment to perform. "Hey, you know what? We should go back to Hawaii. Take a few weeks this time, do it right."

"I don't have time for Hawaii, Sheppard. I have work to do. Do you know how long it's going to take just to design a weapon based on the available materials on Jayko? The mining process alone could take well over a year…"

"Remember how we talked about retiring there? I know that's a few years off still, but it wouldn't hurt to maybe check out some real estate flyers while we're there. Maybe talk to an agent to keep an eye out for something promising that might open up."

"I'm sure they'll give me a very nice place to stay on Jayko."

The haughty sniff was met with a wounded grimace. "Yeah, that's the problem, McKay. They'll give you a very nice place to stay."

"Well… that is…" Rodney stammered at the implications of what he had inferred by using the singular. "I'm sure it will be big enough for the both of us."

Radek clicked through several screens on his tablet before finally opening the program he wanted. "Colonel, I am ready to begin."

"What?" Rodney's eyes darted wildly between John and Radek and back to John. "No, wait! You can't do this. You have no idea what it's going to do to me. Radek, you can't do this! You can't let them, John, you can't. Please, John, please, don't let them. Okay? You can stop this, you can, don't let them hurt me, don't let them… please, John, please make them stop."

Sheppard sat on the edge of the bed, trapping the hand that was flailing wildly in an attempt to break free of the restraints. "I'm thinking some place on the beach. I'm sure we can't afford anything too big on the beach in Hawaii, even with your exorbitant paycheck, but we don't really need that much room, do we?"

"No! Don't!" Rodney tugged harder on the cuffs, his face turning red with the exertion, but the Colonel held tight to the hand in his. "I have to go! I can't stay here! I can't stay… I can't…" His eyes went out of focus like they did when he was seeing the implanted visions, widening in horror at images we couldn't see, but he was evidently experiencing in person. "Go! We can't stand here, we have to move! Go! They'll take us!"

"I could try to teach you to surf again." Sheppard let out a small chuckle, never taking his eyes from their joined hands. "Although given the results from last time, I'm thinking maybe you would be better off watching from the shore."

Looking over Radek's shoulder, I tried to concentrate on the calm tone of Colonel Sheppard's voice that was in sharp contrast to the all out panic taking over Rodney. "Why isn't this working?"

"I am having trouble locking onto the frequency. Evidently it is changing with Rodney's emotional state. I will need to recalibrate to match it."

"Well, my God, man, do it and be quick about it before he suffers a bloody stroke."

Fingers danced across the pad in response to my demand. "Yes, yes, is underway now."

"Run! I can't… I can't move… I can't… oh, God, I have to go! Let me go! LET ME GO!"

"A hammock would be nice. You, me, a hammock between a couple of palm trees, an ocean breeze… yeah, we definitely need a hammock."

"There! I have it!" Radek's triumph was followed by a tense glance in my direction. "Okay, here we go."

I nodded back and he pushed the button and a new pattern appeared on top of the existing interference showing over Rodney's brainwaves. As soon as the transmission reached Rodney, the scientist gasped, his back arching him up off the bed to suspend him rigidly above the mattress. And the calm demeanor the Colonel had been exhibiting vanished just as abruptly.

"Carson." He was standing, looking back at me and Radek with the same terrified expression Rodney had been exhibiting when he was imagining the Wraith cullings.

"His vitals haven't changed, Colonel," I assured quickly, "In fact they're…" With a rough exhalation of air, Rodney deflated like an untied balloon, collapsing limply back on the bed.

And all of Sheppard's attention instantly went back to the man lying still before him. "Rodney? Rodney?"

"It's all right. He's stable." The EEG pattern was also stable; the static pattern from the chip was now perfectly in synch with the transmission Radek was broadcasting to his brain. "I think it worked," I added warily with a quick look to the Czech beside me for confirmation.

"Yes, the chip is now in standby and transmitting that same direction to Rodney."

"So, he's asleep?" Sinking slowly back onto the bed, he didn't take his eyes from the still form beside him watching carefully as the chest rose and fell evenly in normal respiration.

"More like he's in a deep coma, Colonel."

"And the images he was seeing? He's not seeing them anymore, right?"

"No, his brain activity is very minimal at this point."

I could see him nod wordlessly in understanding before he asked one final question. "When does the Daedalus arrive?"

"Five days," I informed him and was answered by another nod and continued silence, which was something we hadn't had around here for days. When it was obvious he wasn't going to break that stillness, I spoke up meaningfully. "Well, Radek, why don't you show me what I need to know about maintaining the transmission for the next several days?"

"Ah, yes, of course. I will be by to check on it periodically and can monitor it from various locations in the city, but it is quite simple. I can show you… in your office, yes?"

"Aye, I think that is a good idea."

We left John and Rodney alone and withdrew to my office with an order to my staff to leave them be unless something went amiss with the monitors. When I returned about fifteen minutes later, I found Teyla coming out of the room and closing the door quietly behind her.

Frowning in worry, I asked quickly, "Is there a problem? Where's Colonel Sheppard?"

But all worry disappeared when she smiled serenely with a small hitch of her head, "He is sleeping."

Peeking into the window I could just make out Sheppard curled up beside Rodney on the bed, his head resting on the physicist's shoulder and the sound of snoring barely emanating through the door. Well, it was about bloody time. But my relief at the sight was quickly jarred back into the reality of the situation at hand when Teyla returned with a chair that she sat just outside the closed door to resume her watch over the two men. We still had five days before the Daedalus arrived and then…

Well, we'd just have to wait and see.

x x x x x

Hawaii.

It was our safe place. No matter what happened on Atlantis, no matter the Wraith, the Genii, or any other crazed military cults, Hawaii was the same. Green-blue waters, perfect beaches, amazing sunsets, warm breezes, great surfing.

I was trying to teach Rodney to surf and he sucked at it. He had all the balance of a drunken Weeble and spent ninety-nine percent of the time off the board and in the water. But that was okay, that was half the fun. That and the cursing every time I pointed out it was all physics and should be a piece of cake for a genius like him.

But then he disappeared. He vanished under the water. I looked. I dived, I splashed panic stricken and then I saw him. He was on the beach, walking away. I yelled his name, swam to shore and ran after him. He kept walking, methodical and brisk. He never looked around and although I ran my guts out, I couldn't catch up.

He just kept moving further and further away until I couldn't see him anymore.

And he was gone. I screamed his name until I lost my voice, but he was gone.

I woke up in the infirmary and not for a moment was I confused. I knew exactly what had happened, in detail so sharp it cut like a razor. Rodney's shoulder was warm under my head and he smelled a little ripe, but not as ripe as I did. I smelled like squark and seawood and sweat. It was a potent combo. It didn't bother Rodney though. Rodney was gone. On stand by like a good little laptop. And maybe he'd get rebooted and maybe he wouldn't and maybe I couldn't think about that right now.

Instead I looked at him and pretended he was just asleep. He looked like it. Eyes closed, mouth a little slack, his breathing deep and easy. It was only a nap. Rodney hadn't napped much before me. I taught him the value, the true joy of an afternoon nap. The sun a little lower in the sky and shining orange through the window, the sound of the water through the open balcony doors, cool sheets. It was hard at first to drag Rodney from the lab for a break even on our supposed day off, but slowly he came around.

That's what this was. A nap. A five day nap.

I sat up and rubbed a hand over my face, felt the heavy bristle, and checked my watch. A four day nap then. I'd lost an entire day. Bending down, I kissed Rodney's jaw and climbed out of bed. Teyla was on duty…again, I was guessing. She and Ronon must have been switching off. From her position in the open door, she smiled gently. "You both rested well."

"I guess we did." I ran a hand over my hair. "I appreciate you watching over us and not spraying us with disinfectant."

The smile widened. "I will continue to keep watch over him while you shower."

I looked back at Rodney's peaceful face. A nap, just a nap. "Okay," I said reluctantly. "Thanks." I gave the lax hand a squeeze and headed off for our quarters. The shower was long and hot. I leaned until my forehead rested on the smooth side, let the water wash over me, and felt the lack—the lack of hands scrubbing my back, the lack of voice calling querulously from the main room saying there was only so much hot water in the whole of Atlantis and did I plan on using the entire supply, the lack of warm hands pulling me back in bed proving the shower all but pointless. A gut binding lack of it all.

Afterwards, I put on new clothes, fed the cat, endured a bitten calf, and made my way back to the infirmary.

"Colonel." Carson was by Rodney's bedside with a faint smile and smudges under his eyes. While I'd slept apparently no one else had. "He's doing well. Vital signs are still stable."

"Good." I tried to look encouraged. Had to keep morale up. Up. Up. "Think I can get a basin and some soap and water, get Rodney cleaned up?"

"Of course, lad. We already put a catheter in while you were gone. As much as I'd love to see Rodney's expression if he woke up in a diaper, his revenge would be fiercesome to experience." His lips twitched. "Let me have the nurse set up some supplies for you."

Before he could step away, I asked something that had been on my mind since I'd been locked in the tank. "Will he remember, do you think?" I asked hesitantly. "The things the chip made him do?" Because if the situation was reversed, if I'd done those things to Rodney, I didn't know that I could survive it…not whole. I'd be in Heightmeyer's office twenty-four seven. And Rodney was as hard on himself as I ever dreamed of being. Not that anyone else knew that. No one saw the pacing and self-recrimination I saw when we were home alone. If anything, Rodney was harder on himself than on those who suffered his wrath in the lab. The buck stopped with Rodney and he knew it. This particular buck would hit him like an avalanche.

"I'm not sure." Carson replaced Rodney's chart on the foot of his bed. "There's no way to know, but I'm hoping…." He sighed, "Well, I'm hoping what you're hoping. It would be the better thing."

Hope, that's what it all came down to at this point. Easier said than done.

When I finished Rodney's bed bath, washing slack limbs, shaving him, and putting him in a new hospital gown, I opened up the curtain to see Ronon had taken Teyla's place. "I do not feel that way about you, Sheppard," he said immediately. He'd said it three times during the day Rodney had spent screaming his lungs out and trying to trade me like a baseball card. This was the fourth time—apparently he wanted to emphasize it.

"Yeah, Ronon. I got that," I said absently as I pulled the blanket back up to Rodney's chest.

"I don't know where McKay would get an idea like that."

I rolled my eyes and wished Rodney could've been awake and himself for this moment. "Nowhere I'm sure. He was just grasping at straws."

"I mean, yeah, there was Lucius, but I was drugged. I can't be held responsible."

I looked over my shoulder, surprised. "Yeah? You really…." Rodney's arm twitched under my hand and the thought was lost. I froze. God, don't let him wake up, not now. We're not ready.

He didn't. Only twitched once more, eyes moving behind closed lids. Dreaming, he was dreaming. Could you dream when you were on standby? Dr. Z said no, but who really knew. If so, I hoped it was a good one, not a goddamn Jayko dream. I hoped he was in Hawaii in the hammock watching the tide come in. I hoped I was with him.

"You can go, Ronon. I'll take this watch," I said, sitting in the chair beside the bed.

Brows beetled. "You're sure? I can stay. You never know what might happen," he countered stubbornly.

I wanted alone time with Rodney. That's what was going to happen. "If you stay," I drawled, "I'll tell you what a minx is and what it means to be nimble as one." There was a flash of swinging dreds and he was gone.

Taking Rodney's hand, I tucked the moment away to tell him about later. Once Rodney got his teeth in this, Ronon would never have a moment's peace. I couldn't wait for that. I honestly couldn't. Rodney's gleeful smirk, Ronon's dark temper…there was no better combination for entertainment.

I rubbed my thumb along the back of his hand. Dr Z. had assured me Rodney wasn't aware. I could talk myself blue and he wouldn't hear a word. It would be futile. "I'm not going to coma talk you like some bad movie, McKay," I said aloud. "It's not going to happen."

Four more days. Four more goddamn days. Maybe he couldn't hear me like Radek said, but I could pretend, couldn't I? So what if the talking was for me. So damn what?

"Remember that one beach in Hawaii, the one that had that house for sale." I linked fingers with his and squeezed. "I liked that house. Okay, it was that funky mint green color, but we could paint it. What do you think? Blue? Cream? Canadian red…."

And the days trudged on.

x x x x x

Up close the Asgard weren't quite as attractive as my dateless status may have imagined them to be. I took off my glasses, squinted my eyes and tried to imagine hair and a large pink bow atop the smooth oversized head. Alas, it did not work. It did not, as the Americans say, do the job.

"Are you having some form of seizure, Dr Zelenka?" There was a slow blink of lids over large eyes and the resigned expectation in his voice that I was having a seizure. One of sheer stupidity that would leave him, Hermiod, once again solely bearing the brunt of all that was wrong with our inconvenient human existence.

It was quite well done. McKay himself would've applauded, but Rodney was not awake to applaud and that's why we were here, was it not?

"No. No seizure." I shoved my glasses back on and pushed my hair behind my ears. "So you see problem then."

Came the slow blink again. "Nanites, a behavior modification chip, a moderately insane human running here and there. Yes, Dr Zelenka. I understand the situation. I was not cloned yesterday."

I straightened my spine. I had only asked. Hmph. "Then you can remove it? You can restore Rodney as he was?"

"As he was?" Long spindly fingers danced over a keyboard as he skimmed the information I had brought up to the Daedalus with me. "Are you sure you would not like to request an upgrade?"

I narrowed my eyes. Perhaps the Asgard could download into new bodies and not miss a step or perhaps they didn't get attached to each other so when a new version showed up it did not matter to them. I did not know which it was. I did know Hermiod was lucky the Colonel was still down in Atlantis and not here to hear that comment. If he had, Colonel Caldwell would be ordering a new Hermiod from the Asgard catalogue at that very moment. "As he was," I said stiffly. "We like him as he is." And if I might have the smallest desire to request a new shout-free Rodney, I only had to remember Colonel Sheppard's haggard face. He slept and ate in the infirmary. He never left and he never let go of Rodney's hand. And as far as anyone could tell, Rodney was utterly unaware he was there. Utterly unaware of anything. "As he is," I repeated firmly.

The large head wobbled slightly in disbelief, but he moved on to the data without further comment. "Crude. Very, very crude."

"Crude or not, it had profound effect," I pointed out.

"As would a pointed stick shoved through your ear into your brain." A gray finger touched the side of my head and made a small swirling motion. "In just the right location it would have much the same effect." The small mouth pursed. "Perhaps with the addition of copious salivation and loss of various other…ah…functions. But my point stands. It is as crude as a simian with a sharp stick."

"Yes, fascinating. Ape with pointy thing. Can you take it out?" I demanded.

"I can," he announced, folding hands on the console. "And without the loss of a single brain cell. I know how Dr McKay prizes each and every one."

He could remove it and without the slightest damage to Rodney. I felt my knees weaken a bit. "That is amazing," I gasped.

The head tilted. "Yes, I assure you that it is."

Fifteen minutes later we'd beamed Colonel Sheppard, Dr. Beckett, and Rodney, bed and all, up to the Daedalus' medbay. The Colonel looked as if he may have shaved yesterday and the only comb he'd used had been his fingers. He stood beside the bed with his fingers looped around Rodney's wrist. "So this is going to work?" He tried to keep an even, professional tone. He was not too successful.

"Yes, Hermiod assures can be done and with no harm whatsoever to Rodney," I said in a hurry to deliver the good news.

I saw his shoulders sag as his hand tightened on Rodney's wrist. He opened his mouth to say something, but turned when Hermiod entered the room. What he did say surprised me. I had read all the SG-1 mission reports, but Rodney constantly gave the Colonel a difficult time, saying he wouldn't know a Nox from a fox in a box. I wasn't sure what that meant, but apparently he was referring to the Colonel's lackadaisical pace through the files. But the Colonel must have caught up on reading because he mentioned a name only the SG and the Asgard knew.

"Loki," he said abruptly.

For the first time I saw an Asgard change colors. He turned a pale green. I think it was a blush of mortification. Loki was definitely the black sheep in their closet. Or was it skeleton in closet? It did not matter. Hermiod was obviously not pleased to hear the name.

"I've seen a few X-files," the Colonel went on. "Little gray men, Loki, abducting humans. Probes. Whatever you kinky cousin was up to, I don't care." Hermiod turned a deeper green and blinked eyes rapidly. Colonel Sheppard didn't give him a chance to respond. "I also know there was some memory loss. What Loki knew I'm sure all the Asgard know," he said grimly. "I want you to make Rodney forget. All the way back before we went to Jayko. And you're going to do it."

"But…I cannot…it is forbidden."

I'd never seen an Asgard stutter before either. Rodney would be sorry to have missed it. The Colonel didn't seem to notice. He let go of Rodney long enough to lean over Hermiod and say with an eerie calm, "You will do it. Because I'm a savage, barely civilized human and there's no telling what I might do if you don't. Are we clear?"

The spindly shoulders straightened. "I will inform Thor of this."

"Yeah, you go right ahead, right after you wipe Rodney's memory."

Hermiod hesitated then made a distinctly alien sound in his throat. It might have been a sigh or a grunt of disgust. Whichever it was, he inclined his head, "Very well. But you have set Asgard human relations back years."

"Yeah, I'm torn up about it." The Colonel turned back to Rodney and latched onto him again.

I thought I heard Hermiod mutter, "Simian with stick," but I was not sure. Within seconds he was scanning Rodney with a hand held Asgard device of some sort. It took some time before he was satisfied with the readings. Standing back, he punched in a code. "There has to be some part of the specimen…ah…patient that desires to forget the experience for it to work fully."

"I don't think that'll be a problem," Dr. Beckett said fervently as he monitored Rodney's life signs.

"Very well." Hermiod said something incomprehensible in Asgard and a light appeared, bathing Rodney's head. It lasted barely a few seconds and it was gone. "It is done. You may thank me later as Thor certainly will not. And if you can be bothered, which I highly doubt."

No one was paying him any attention as Rodney's eyelashes fluttered slightly. Carson hurriedly shoved a chair under the Colonel as he nearly sat on the floor. "Rodney?"

Rodney's eyes opened. He yawned, cleared his throat and said the most curious thing.

"I want to buy a house."

x x x x x

"Rodney, I can't let you go."

John. Dripping wet and with an expression of such desperation on his face that I had to look past him, look beyond the lean frame leaning against the surfboard, swim trunks slung low on his hips and clinging to long legs with the same tenacity that he was clinging to the idea that I would come back to him. But how? After all I had done, how was I supposed to come back and pretend that everything was fine? I'd tried to kill him. How could he forgive me for that? How could I forgive myself for that? So, I looked away from John and out onto the oncoming waves.

"I'm not going anywhere, Sheppard. In fact, I'm not moving from this hammock ever again."

He dropped the board to the sand before sitting on it and shaking the seawater from his hair in a distinctly canine manner. My own Sheppard, John not German, but as loyal and aggressively stubborn as any guard dog could be. "This isn't real, Rodney. This isn't really us. You know that, right?"

With a shrug I pushed off with my foot and started the hammock swaying. "It's close enough. It's as close as I deserve. It's a hell of a lot more than I deserve, actually. But at least here, I can't hurt you."

"If you believe that then you're a goddamn idiot, McKay. And I know that's not the case; you've told me you're a genius more times than you've proven it in the field."

"I guess you're right. I suppose I could kill you off here just as easily as I could there. Just imagine you going out on that board and never coming back. Turn Paradise into Purgatory with a simple thought. Is that genius enough for you?"

He snorted and lay back on the board, closing his eyes and soaking up the sun. "Actually it's pretty damn selfish of you."

"Selfish? Spending eternity here, alone, without you is selfish?" I craned my neck in annoyance to see him where he lay with a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

"See, there you go again, only thinking about how this will affect you."

"You aren't real, John. You're a figment of my imagination. The only reason you're here is because I want you here."

"And you want to be having this argument?" Hands folded behind his neck and he cracked an eye to judge my reaction.

"You're nothing more than a delusion of my guilt ridden conscious that won't let me forget what I've done. That's the only reason you're here. And when I decide that I'll be guiltier without you, then you'll just go away."

"Uh huh. You just keep telling yourself that, McKay."

"You are not a sentient being. You do exactly what I want you to do."

"If you say so, Rodney," he patronized around a yawn.

"Oh, you want me to prove it? Fine, I'll prove it. Kiss me."

His head rose with a disbelieving scowl. "What, now? But I was just getting comfortable."

"Yes, now. I said kiss me and I expect your lips to be on mine. Now."

Hazel eyes rolled as I snapped impatient fingers, but he hefted himself up and walked the short distance between us with a barely contained sultry grin before nearly overturning the hammock as he settled on top of me. His skin was damp but the rivulets of water running over it were sun-warm to the touch and his mouth tasted of the Pacific, briny and a little wild as it rolled wave-like across my own, tugging at my lower lip and leaving me just as breathless as the deadly pull of a rip current.

Breaking the kiss, he lifted his head just enough to look down on me and asserted, "I only did that because I wanted to."

"Liar," I accused as I traced a droplet of water along his back.

Tanned shoulders shrugged in my arms. "Okay, then you wanted it. Just like you want me here. Just like you want me to talk you into coming home to me."

With a sigh, I shook my head. "I did…some really, really bad things."

"The chip made you do some really bad things."

"But I remember." Closing my eyes because I suddenly couldn't meet his, I was greeted instead by the memory of pointing my gun at him, but worse than the image was the feelings that went along with them. "I remember wanting to hurt you, wanting to kill you."

"Do you want to kill me now?" It was such a simple question and my answer was automatic even as my stomach twisted at what that same answer would have been a few days ago.

"No! Of course not."

"Hmmm. So you did want to kill me when you had the chip and now that the chip is gone, you don't want to kill me. I know two plus two is simple math, McKay, but I think even you could put the complexities aside long enough to figure out the answer."

But it wasn't that simple. I loved this man and I had tried to drown him, would have shot him if I had been given a split second more to respond. And how the hell could I forgive that? How the hell could John, the real John, not some hot manifestation in my tropical fantasy, forgive that? I couldn't face him, not really. I couldn't risk him trying to cover his resentment, his blame; because he would I had no doubt. He'd try to go on as if nothing had changed when I knew it had. How could it not? How the fuck could it not?

"It's not that simple and you know it."

"Only because you won't let it be."

"I can't… I can't forget what I did to you."

He smiled then. That smile that caught me off-guard every time I saw it because it still shocked me to my very core that someone felt that way about me. "Sure you can."

"What?" My questioning frown was answered with another kiss, this one quick and teasing.

"Just forget, Rodney. You don't need to remember this, any of it. Believe me, if I could forget I would."

"I can't just forget about everything I did to you."

"Why not?"

"Because I… that is…" I floundered for a response to such a ludicrous suggestion. "Because I locked you in a room to drown, because I almost shot you, because I almost killed you. That's why not."

"Bullets and rising water aren't the only ways to kill a person. What do you think you staying in here will do to me out there?"

"I can't." But damn if it wasn't the most tempting offer I'd had in a long time.

"I want you to," he told me with a nuzzle to my jaw.

"You're not really John."

"Doesn't matter. You know me better than anyone. You know I would want this for you."

"But I don't want to forget."

"Stop thinking of yourself, Rodney." Lips trailed lazily along my neck. "You want to make this up to me, then forget all about it."

Stifling a moan when he sucked lightly, I fought to concentrate on my argument. "I can't think when you're doing that."

"I don't want you to think, I want you to forget." When he sucked harder I gripped his hips and raised my own sending the hammock rocking and a jolt of pleasure to the base of my spine. "I want you to forget and come back to me so we can do this for real."

"For real?" I gasped when he shifted against me.

"You, me, a hammock in Hawaii… a place of our own, Rodney. A place we can just forget our troubles."

"Forget our troubles," I repeated dazedly into his shoulder.

"Just forget," he whispered huskily in my ear, damp hair brushing against my temple, warm lips on my skin, hard body pressed against me and it seemed like the perfect idea given to me by the perfect person.

"Forget?" I questioned one last time.

"Forget."

So I did.

Then I opened my eyes just enough to see John looking down on me, felt his grip on my hand that he held tighten, saw the lines of worry ease slightly when I cleared my throat and spoke, "I want to buy a house."

His forehead furrowed again and he asked warily, "Not on Jayko, right?"

Jayko? Where the hell was Jayko? It sounded familiar but I couldn't quite place it through the grogginess. "Is that on Maui or Oahu?"

He sputtered laughter, sniffling back the emotions he was covering with the outburst, before leaning in and kissing me in relief. There wasn't an ocean or a sandy beach or palm trees or even a hammock. But it was John and warmth and acceptance and everything I had ever wanted and everything he had ever given me.

It was home.

x x x x x

I wasn't one for making lists. Rodney loved lists, not that he wrote them down. He kept them in his oversized brain, but he kept them. So while I was making my first one, I was torn between writing it down or keeping it in my head. If I did the latter there was no telling what I'd forget. If I did the former…well, there was the evidence aspect to think of.

I went with writing it down. There was arranging leave, packing, apologizing to the Asgard…check, check, check. And when the time came to cross Kavanagh off my list, I did it with a particularly ferocious stroke of my pen.

I'd cornered him by his quarters and fisting his shirt in my hands, I told him precisely what I'd do to him if he ever…ever told Rodney what had happened when he'd had the chip in his head. And then I told him when they dragged me off his half-dead body and sent me to Leavenworth, Ronon, who had no affiliation with the United States Air Force, would finish the job. From the spreading wet patch on his pants, I was pretty sure he believed me.

The last item on my list involved paperwork. A whole shitload of paperwork. There were two types, the easy but not particular fun type. And the difficult but far more enjoyable sort. The easy paperwork was writing up my report on the chip incident…otherwise known as a complete and utter pack of lies. Well, not so much lies as leaving a lot of things out. Rodney's razor sharp rants and ravings was summed up as 'angry and vocal.' And the tank episode was completely left out….that and the fact that Rodney had been ready to shoot me at the gate. He'd been shot by a teammate himself before. Hell, he'd been shot by me, but there still was no need to go there if we didn't have to. And, by God, in my mind we didn't have to.

Everyone else's reports matched mine, so when Rodney went snooping, as he invariably, would, he would find the same thing. There was a chip, he tried to run, there had been much cursing, the end. Nothing would read any different, no one would say any different and that's the way things were going to be.

After I finished the report, I only had one thing left on my list, so I wadded it up and tossed it in the trash can. In the nick of time, it turned out. Without a knock, the door opened and Rodney stuck his head in. "What are you doing? We're supposed to be going through the paperwork for the house, not lying about doing whatever goons do when they have an office. Nap probably." He narrowed his eyes. "Not that a nap would hurt you."

True enough. I hadn't been sleeping so hot, bolting upright at least once a night absolutely sure Rodney was gone…just gone. It was something that probably wasn't going to change for a while. It would have to work its way through the swamp of my subconscious and that could take a few weeks. Rodney on the other hand was sleeping like a baby and that made it all worthwhile.

I closed my laptop and drawled, "Maybe I'm upset because you tried to trade my sexual favors to Teyla and Ronon if they let you escape."

The eyes widened. "I didn't…did I?" His quirky mouth grinned then seconds later scowled, "Wait a minute. Neither of them took me up on it, did they? I'll kick Xena and Conan's asses so fast they won't know what hit them."

"Don't worry. Neither was even tempted." Now I frowned. "Which when I think about it, doesn't say much for me."

"It says plenty." He sat on the edge of the desk and kissed me warmly. "It says you belong to me and vice versa."

"Yeah?" I grinned and kissed him back. "You told them I was nimble as a minx."

"Oh Jesus, I did not," he groaned and rested his forehead on the top of my shoulder.

I rested my hand on the back of his neck, the skin warm under my hand. I'd missed this. I'd almost lost this. A little hoarsely, I added, "I'm just glad you didn't go into size and girth…at least not that I'm aware of."

Actually, wounded pride aside, it was a good topic of conversation. Rodney had to have seen the looks of sympathy and worry people were trying so desperately not to give him. This would give him something to think about, to turn that sharp, suspicious mind to. 'I tried to trade John's sexual favors away. I get it now.' He might feel a twinge, but it would be more of embarrassment and humor. All those looks suddenly made sense and let's think about less humiliating things now…like browbeating lab minions and gloating over our new house in Hawaii.

He straightened, mortification and amusement passing over his face. "I'm sorry I tried to…er…pimp you out, so to speak. It was the chip talking. I wouldn't give up your nimble and minx-like ways for anything."

I snorted. "Yeah, yeah. Just don't mention it to Ronon. He took it…," I swallowed a grin, "let's just see you hit a sensitive spot there." I laid my hand on a stack of paperwork nearly as thick as a phonebook on my desk. "Ready to sign our lives away?"

It was the same mint green house I'd talked to Rodney about when he'd been all but gone. Dr. Z had been wrong about him not hearing me, it seemed. Rodney had woken up wanting to buy a house right then and there. It had been a sleepy demand, but a demand all the same. He wanted a house in Hawaii and he would have a house in Hawaii and that was that. The moment he'd cleared medical back on Atlantis and we'd been released back to our room, he'd been on the laptop surfing real estate sites. Luckily the gate was back up for communication or he would've been in the control room working like a fiend until he had every real estate agent in the islands in living color. I'd simply curled around him with gratitude and slept like the dead. When I'd finally woken up, I'd been greeted with square footage, virtual tours, ocean frontage and a mortgage large enough to choke an elephant.

"It's that same house," he'd said triumphantly. "Next to the one we rented last time, remember?" He'd poked me in the ribs as I mumbled incoherently. "The one for sale? We looked in the windows. It had that great hammock between the palms trees." He'd waggled his eyebrows. "The one we 'christened' because the house was empty. Remember?" Poke. Poke. Poke.

I'd cleared my throat, yawned, and said the only thing I could say, "It's a good thing the government pays you more than it does me."

Now Rodney beamed at the stack of papers on my desk as proudly as if it were his first nuclear bomb. "I'm actually getting rather fond of mint green. I might not even make you paint it."

"What would I do without you?" I said dryly. It wasn't the brightest thing I could've said and I felt the truth of it in my gut. What would I have done?

" John," there was a hand on my shoulder, " are you all right?"

I blinked and looked up at the concerned tone. I'd crumpled the top few papers on the stack. Smoothing them carefully, I curved my lips. "I'm fine."

And I would be. Rodney was still here and he was himself. The memories that kept me awake or the nightmares that woke me from sleep had nothing to do with a rapidly filling tank of water or a gun aimed at me. I didn't give a shit about those. That hadn't been Rodney. It had been the chip. Never him. No, my nightmares were of Rodney making it through the gate and never finding him again. They would fade eventually…nightmares do. I just needed time and a week in Hawaii at our new house would be a good chunk of that time.

"I wish I could remember," Rodney said with frustration. "It doesn't seem fair you have to remember and I don't. If you'd tried to get through the gate and leave me behind…."

"While cleverly deceiving Dr Z at every turn," I added affectionately.

"There is that." He grinned, but the grin faded and he continued seriously, "I just wish I could remember and not have to rely on reports written by barely literate monkeys." As I raised an eyebrow, he said, "Er…not you of course."

I snorted. "You can't remember to put your shorts in the hamper, Supergeek. Why do you care if you remember this?" I didn't give him a chance to reply. Taking his shirt, I pulled him towards me and kissed him again. It was a distraction at first and then it was something else.

It was warmth and relief and love. It lasted for several long moments and if it had a color, I'd say it was….

Mint green.

The End