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Title: Connection
Author: kassrachel
Pairing: John/Rodney
Rating: adult
Recipient: chase_acow
Spoilers: Set S4ish, so -- general character spoilers through S4 so far.
Summary: When the gate bridge goes down, what kinds of connections arise?

Author's Note: I hope this story makes you happy, chase_acow! Thanks for requesting a "cut off from Earth" story -- this was really fun to write. (Also: huge thanks to my crack team of beta-readers, who I will thank by name after the reveal!)

Connection Part 1

The sun had just risen when Colonel Carter's voice piped up in his ear, asking him to report to her office stat. "On my way," John said, and headed in. The sunrise had been beautiful; he was glad he'd gotten up early. He'd have to thank Ronon for the tip.

He took the fastest route he knew to the heart of the city, but when he climbed the steps to Carter's office he saw that Rodney had beaten him there. Rodney was leaning back in his chair, alone, contemplating existence. Or something. He turned when the door opened, and looked momentarily nonplussed to find John entering rather than Sam. "Oh. Hi," he said.

John could almost hear the cartoon poit! as Rodney's 'Sam calls me to her office early in the morning' fantasy evaporated.

"Good morning, sunshine," he said, and pulled up the chair next to Rodney's.

"Glad you're both awake early," Sam said, entering and closing the door behind her. "We've got a bit of a situation. The gate bridge is down."

"Down? What do you mean, it's -- how?" Rodney looked like he'd just realized he was on a rollercoaster and it wasn't entirely agreeing with him.

Sam glanced at John for an instant. John gave a little shrug, as if to say, 'You had to know McKay wasn't going to take that well.'

"Oh, very helpful," Rodney said.

"What? I didn't say anything." John put on his most innocent voice.

"You didn't have to."

"We're not actually clear on what's gone wrong," Sam said, breaking in. "Last night's databurst didn't arrive on schedule. For the last few hours we've been trying to get a ping back from the space station, but -- no dice."

"You really don't sleep, do you?" John empathized; Atlantis command wasn't exactly an easy post.

"Women need less sleep than men do," she said.

Rodney snapped his fingers. "Focus," he said. "Gate bridge? Hello? The inability to connect with Earth is a little bit problematic."

"The dialing sequence wouldn't initialize at all, which leads me to think the problem isn't hardware but rather --"

"Somewhere in the code?" Rodney bristled. "Oh, please. There's no way --"

"I hate to interrupt," John said, as sweetly as he could, "but how exactly am I supposed to be helpful here?"

"You're going to fly me as close as we can get to the midway station," Rodney said, as though it were obvious, "so I can fix whatever's gone wrong."

"Actually," Sam began.

"No way," John said.

"Excuse me?" Rodney, taken-aback.

"If something's wonky with the gate bridge, we can't gate to wherever the problem is, right? I don't know how far we'd have to fly to get there. A puddlejumper road trip of unknown duration isn't exactly my idea of a good time. " Actually, it could be kind of fun, though he couldn't really imagine Rodney going for it. Not to mention the part where the military commander of the city really wasn't supposed to pick up and abandon his command like that. "-- anyway, wouldn't that be a better task for the Daedalus?"

"The Daedalus is otherwise occupied," Sam said. "There have been signs of trouble brewing with the Fai'os. Colonel Ellis took the Daedalus to their homeworld about a week ago, and there's no way to reach them."

John didn't have any idea who the Fai'os were, but that didn't seem to matter. "When's their next scheduled visit to Pegasus?"

"Not for at least two months," Sam said.

"So you want me to debug the problem from here," Rodney said.

"That's about the size of it, yes."

"Fine," Rodney said. "I expect I'll have it fixed within a day or two." He sounded exasperated. John spared half an instant to wonder when exactly he'd learned to gauge the fine gradations of Rodney's annoyance, and whether the skill was worth anything on the open market. Probably not. "Anything else?"

"I just wanted to let you both know before I announced it to the city," Sam said. "People might be a little freaked-out."

"Thanks," John said, smiling. "If that's it...?" She nodded. "Want some coffee, McKay?"

"When is the answer to that question ever not 'yes'?"

"Have a good morning, gentlemen," Sam said, as they headed out.

"Attention all personnel." Carter's voice rang through the early-morning halls of the city.

On some barely-conscious level John always expected to hear a crackle, but the Ancient comm system still worked like a charm. He watched as Rodney filled a travel coffee mug and headed for the table where John was already twirling a coffee stirrer idly around in his fingers.

"The intergalactic gate bridge is down for maintenance purposes," Carter's voice explained.

"Good luck getting anyone to believe that," Rodney muttered dismissively, yanking out his chair and sitting down.

"Travel to and from the Milky Way is suspended for at least the next two weeks, possibly longer. Please adjust your plans accordingly. Thanks, everyone; Carter out." Two weeks? Guess she didn't trust McKay's timeline of 'a day or two.'

The buzz of conversation rose back up around them.

"This is going to be interesting," John said, deadpan, and broke his muffin in half like a geode, revealing the chocolate chips inside. It released a little waft of fragrant steam.

"I doubt most people will even notice," Rodney said loftily, and stole half of John's muffin.

"Yes, you can have half my muffin," John said, putting on a long-suffering voice as Rodney stuffed the first bite into his mouth.

Rodney swallowed. "Oh, I'm sorry, did you want me to ask?"

"Nah," John said, and grinned. "Enjoy."

Watching Rodney savor food was one of John's secret atavistic pleasures. The look on his face, the little noises he made, the way he sometimes closed his eyes to focus more closely on texture and flavor: these were a few of John's favorite things.

And fortunately, when Rodney was in that kind of pleasure headspace, he was generally too lost in it to notice John watching him.

Getting a crush on one of your own team members was a one-way gate to disaster. John knew that.

In his own defense -- not that he'd ever had to defend himself on these grounds, but he thought about it a lot -- John hadn't yet developed the crush on Rodney when he asked him to join the gate team. Rodney was capable, that was all. Obviously good with Ancient tech, even without a natural ATA gene. Smarter than John, which frankly put him on a pretty short list. Not that John made a policy of letting most people figure that out.

The crush had started sometime around the time they boarded the downed Wraith transport ship, on the planet otherwise inhabited by little glowy bugs that liked Powerbars. Something in Rodney had shifted, and suddenly John found him unreasonably attractive.

Combat could do ugly things to people, especially people who weren't military. John had seen it before. Losing colleagues in some grisly way could tip a guy over into fear, or leave him marinating in bitterness until he basically imploded.

But not Rodney. Rodney responded to the deaths of two of his scientists by stepping up, even when he didn't know what the hell he was stepping up to. Rodney had fired his 9mm into that advancing Wraith until he ran out of ammo, and for a second there John had thought he was going to bean the guy in the face with the empty gun before John could yell at him to re-load.

That night in the shower had been the first time John caught himself thinking about Rodney, with hot water beating down on his bruised and aching ribs and his soap-slick hand tugging at his dick in a desultory way that became a lot more focsed when he got Rodney on his mind. Something about Rodney, dirt-smudged and afraid, coming over that hill anyway: not in self-defense, but to try to protect John...

John had a policy of not letting himself fantasize about men. He'd broken it occasionally over the years, usually in war zones and extreme crisis situations, but Wraith notwithstanding this was neither of those things. Sex with men was a different story; there had been a few anonymous one-night stands, though not in recent memory. But fantasy was a problem. It meant he was already more invested than was safe.

The obvious solution was to distance himself from the man in question until the crush went away. But that wasn't really possible. Rodney was already too an integral a part of his team to cut loose.

Fortunately, Rodney was not only straight but oblivious. As long as John took care not to let on that he was interested, they'd be fine. What Rodney didn't know wouldn't hurt him. If John could keep the goddamned Air Force from figuring out that he was attracted to men, he could keep it from Rodney McKay.

"Are you out of your mind?"

"No more than usual." Baiting Rodney was always fun, and today was no exception. There was a smudge of chocolate at the corner of his lips, left over from breakfast, which John really wanted to reach over and lick away. He kept his hands jammed in his pockets as they walked.

Temptation aside, John was in a good mood. The gate bridge being down didn't really impact him much; it wasn't as if he had any reason to want to return to Earth anyway.

"Why would Pegasans want to run marathons?"

"Marathonning is fun."

Rodney shuddered. "I'm not even going to have this conversation with you."

"You kind of already are," John said, though by then they were at Rodney's lab, where a handful of people were waiting to talk to Rodney the instant he put his laptop down. It seemed churlish to leave without giving Rodney the chance for a snappy last word, so John stuck around for a minute.

"Dr. McKay, I'm supposed to get next week off," a guy said, as soon as Rodney sat down at his desk.

"What?" Rodney sounded distracted.

"I filed for it months ago. My sister's daughter is having her First Communion." Szabo, John remembered. He was pretty sure that was the guy's last name. He was from Illinois.

"Bridge is down," Rodney said, waving a hand dismissively.

"But I told my sister --"

"Do you expect the bridge to fix itself while you're pestering me?"

Szabo looked startled. "Fix? I thought it was routine maintenance!"

Oops. Way to keep that secret, Rodney.

"Whatever," Rodney said. "If you want any chance at making it back there next week, shoo."

Szabo turned away and bumped into another one of Rodney's staff, Marja-Leena Virtanen. John secretly thought of her as the Ice Queen, because she was tall and blond and bitchy.

"Watch it," Virtanen hissed at him, and then she leaned on Rodney's desk.

"What," Rodney said, obviously irritated.

"I need to gate back to Earth," she said.

"No can do. You heard Colonel Carter."

"My father is sick."

"I'm sorry to hear it, but healing the sick? Not exactly part of my job description. And neither is dealing with your personal crises."

"Dr. McKay, you don't understand," Virtanen began.

Rodney stood up, ignoring her. "Listen up, people!" The low hum of chatter in the lab ceased. "Anyone wanting to discuss your intentions of returning to Earth, for any reason --" Was it John's imagination, or was resolve visible in the eyes of half of the new lab staff? "--talk to Dr. Zelenka." Rodney sat back down and the throng of scientists moved, like the pack animals they were, to the far end of the long Ancient laboratory.

The IM from Zelenka popped up on Rodney's screen not half a second later. "Thanks so much," the cursor spelled out slowly, followed by an ASCII raspberry. John bit back a snicker.

"I need to figure out what's up with the gate bridge," Rodney typed back. "Can't do that with everyone bugging me."

"You might want to apologize for deluging him with leave requests," John said cheerfully, right behind Rodney's ear.

Rodney jumped. "Are you still there? What are you doing here?"

"Just wanted to tell you to have a great day," John said. This was too much fun; Rodney glared.

"Go away," Rodney muttered, and turned to type "sorry" to Zelenka.

"Polib mi prdel," Zelenka replied, and signed out of chat.

Scrubbing a hand through his hair, Rodney pulled up a set of gate logs. Green glowing columns of characters started scrolling by.

"I'll leave you to it," John said, clapping him on the shoulder, and headed out.

"What a morning," Rodney said, sitting down at John's lunch table.

"Do not even talk to me." Zelenka joined them, scowling.

"I said I was sorry for foisting the science staff on you." Rodney didn't sound sorry.

"Two thirds of the science personnel on this base had requisitioned time on Earth!" Zelenka poked a spoon at his stew, morose. "And every one of them wanted to argue with me about it. As if there were anything I could do."

"I didn't think it would be that bad," Rodney said, digging in. He liked beef stew with dumplings, John knew. So did Ronon. Teyla always seemed kind of dubious when it came up in the mess hall meal rotation.

"You signed all of their paperwork in the first place!"

Rodney grimaced. "I don't actually pay a lot of attention to that kind of thing."

Zelenka muttered something in Czech that sounded like another curse. Then again, everything in Czech sounded like a curse as far as John was concerned.

"If it's any consolation," Rodney offered, "I've been going over the most recent patch to the gate bridge code and I'm not finding a damn thing."

Zelenka grunted, noncommittal.

"I didn't have any trouble with my staff," John offered, blithely. Both men turned to look at him, as though startled he was at their table. Strictly speaking they were at his table -- he'd been sitting there first -- though there didn't seem to be any merit in pointing that out.

"Oh?" Rodney asked.

"Yep. Nice thing about working with military -- they don't question this kind of thing."

Rodney rolled his eyes and ate more stew.

"Mind if I join you?" Keller stood over their table with her tray.

"Fine," Rodney said, through a mouthful of roll.

"What a morning," she said, settling into her chair wearily.

"Sorry to hear that," John said.

"Half my staff was freaking out over not being able to go back to Earth," she said, ruefully.

"You, too?" Rodney asked.

Zelenka shot him a look. "Do not pretend you've been dealing with this all day."

"I just don't see what the big deal is. So they can't gate back for a week or two; so what?"

"Most of my team is fairly new to the station," Keller pointed out.

"Science staff likewise," Zelenka said.

"Of course! They're all second-wavers," Rodney said. Realization lit his features. "That makes perfect sense, why didn't I notice the correlation? They've never been out here at a time when they couldn't easily go back again. It's a whole different mentality."

"I -- didn't realize people saw us like that." Keller's face had fallen.

"That's not -- I didn't mean it in a bad way." Rodney looked uncomfortable.

"It's a different expedition culture than it was when we first started out," John offered.

Rodney threw him a grateful look. "Yes. Thank you, Colonel."

"No sweat," John said, and smiled his most winning smile at Keller, who rolled her eyes.

"Well! I'd best be getting back to work," Rodney said. Somehow he even managed to stand up officiously.

"Good luck with that gate code," John said.

"Thanks so much, I'd almost forgotten I was working on something important."

"Anytime," John said easily, and grinned as Rodney walked away.

When John stopped by Rodney's lab late that evening, Rodney was sitting in his usual place at his desk, his largest coffee mug empty by his side and three laptops open all around him. Which could have been a good sign, but his body language didn't point to any kind of success.

"How's it going?"

"Terrible." Rodney leaned back in his chair with a sigh.

"Don't sugar-coat it," John chided him, which yielded a scant quarter of a smile.

"There is nothing -- nothing! -- in the logs that looks even remotely out of place to me. I've spent all day setting up a network that mimics the gate operating system, wiping anything of Terran origin from it, and installing the code I wrote. It takes six hours to compile, even on our fastest machines, but once it fully loads it works fine."

"It works fine," John repeated. "Wow, that...sucks."

Rodney all-but rolled his eyes. "When I'm trying to mimic a problem so I can figure out how to fix it, yes, it does."

There was a momentary silence.

"C'mon," John said, and jerked his head toward the door.

"What? Some of us don't get to leave work whenever we happen to feel like it," Rodney said, sourly.

"You're the last one here," John pointed out.

Rodney's look plainly said, so what?

"And as long as we're grounded, the team is having mandatory combat practice at 2100 hours."

"We are? Whose idea was that?"

Now it was John's turn to look at Rodney as if he'd dropped 20 IQ points. "Whose do you think? Mine, Rodney."

"Why, exactly?"

"I think it's good for us." Besides -- it felt weird not to have seen his team all day. The military contingent was made up of good people, on the whole. John liked most of them a lot. But he missed his team.

"Oh, come on, I have fifteen different things to do --"

"All of which can wait for tomorrow. You need to exercise something other than your mind. Get out of your chair. We'll stop by your quarters for your gear."

"Fine," Rodney grumbled, though he winced when he stood.

"You haven't moved since lunchtime, have you?"

"I was working!"

John stifled a smile. "Yeah, well, time to get that body loosened up."

"Not my favorite words," Rodney muttered, preceding John out the door.

More's the pity, John thought ruefully, and indulged himself -- just for a second! -- in admiring Rodney's ass.

"Okay, here's what I'm thinking," John said. "A few rounds of one-on-one, just some basic sparring; then maybe we can try some two-on-two."

Ronon shrugged. "Fine by me." Teyla was already stretching, her long legs splayed on the floor.

"Just -- let me get warmed up," Rodney said.

"I'll wait," Ronon said. It sounded vaguely like a threat.

"John, when you are ready," Teyla offered.

So after a few desultory stretches, John took ready position opposite Teyla. They bowed to each other, and then paused, hands open, waiting to see who would move first.

Out of the corner of his eye John saw Rodney stand up, step onto the floor, bow to Ronon.

"Ready?" Ronon asked.

"As I'll ever be." Rodney sounded vaguely apprehensive.

As John parried an open-hand strike and a loose kick, he heard the sound of flesh connecting flesh, a laugh from Ronon, and then bam! Suddenly John was lying on his back on the floor.

Teyla reached a hand down to help him up. "Perhaps you were not paying attention," she said sweetly.

"Good," Ronon said to Rodney approvingly.

"I didn't think that would work," Rodney huffed.

"Go for the groin next time."

Good, John thought, teach him to fight dirty; he needs that.

John and Teyla bowed again. This time, he decided, he was going to go on the offensive. He threw a right-hand jab and a reverse-punch, which she parried. A side-blade kick toward the hip, which landed softly; she raised an eyebrow, impressed.

Then the sound of Rodney hitting the floor distracted him; he turned his head and Teyla moved in for the kill. Or what would have been the kill if they weren't going easy on each other. One of her hands was at his throat, the other brushed his abdomen. In a real fight he'd be wheezing for breath and his internal organs would be rearranged by now.

"Ow," Rodney said, breathing hard, lying on his back.

"You okay, McKay?"

"Fine," Rodney said, staring up at the ceiling like he really didn't want to move again.

"Perhaps we should trade partners," Teyla suggested.

"Sure," John said, and gave Rodney a hand up as Teyla and Ronon started their match.

She fought Ronon a lot harder than she fought John. Which maybe should have been insulting, but it wasn't. Ronon had several inches on him. He didn't have any illusions about being able to out-fight Ronon Dex.

John and Rodney faced off. John tried to ignore how Rodey's shirt clung to his chest, the droplet of sweat on his temple that made John want to reach out and taste.

"Can you teach me to do what Ronon just did to me?"

"What was that," John asked.

"How he got me on the floor so fast."

"I can teach you a basic take-down, sure," John said. "Okay, stand like this. No, facing me, hands at your sides. Good."

He paused. It had been so long since he'd learned it, he wasn't sure he could break it down. "Hang on -- let me do it to you once, slowly, so I can remember how the steps go."

Rodney waited.

John gripped his shirt with both hands. "You grab mine, too," he said, and Rodney fisted his shirt tight.

"Now -- see how my right leg is next to your right leg? I slip it just slightly to the side, so my heel is hooked behind your ankle." There. "And I push your left shoulder back, pull your right shoulder forward, and sweep."

Push and pull and sweep the leg and there, Rodney was off-balance, and John lowered him gently to the ground. "And it ends here, like this." From his kneeling position over Rodney's body, it was easy to mimic a punch to the face, to the groin.

"Hey, watch it," Rodney said, but it was perfunctory; he hadn't flinched. He trusted John implicitly.

John stood up, fast, and offered Rodney a hand. Thinking about bodies and trust felt way too dangerous here, when they were touching, when his own body might give him away.

John took him down one more time, and then it was Rodney's turn. They stood facing each other, hands clenched in each others' shirts. "Now the leg," John prompted, and felt Rodney's thigh slide alongside his.

"And push," Rodney muttered, "and pull, and -- " A sweep with his foot, slightly jerky but it worked, and John was heading fast for the ground.

"Don't forget to follow through," John said, and Rodney knelt over him, miming a blow to the belly.

"Way to sweep a guy off his feet," John said, quietly. Rodney's grin was so open, so proud, it took John's breath away. For an instant they stayed frozen there, Rodney kneeling over John's body, John warm every place there was contact.

"Nice," Ronon said, approving, and that broke the spell: Rodney was up on his feet in a flash.

"Let's try some attacks," John said. Something group-oriented that would take his mind off of Rodney. "How's this: two attackers, one defends."

"I'll watch this round," Rodney said, fast.

So John and Teyla ganged up on Ronon and tried to take him down. It was a challenge, even with Ronon pulling punches.

Knowing Rodney was watching him, staying focused beneath Rodney's regard, was a different kind of challenge.


Whatever was wrong with the gate bridge code, it turned out not to be something Rodney could easily fix.

Within 24 hours it became obvious to everyone on base that the gate bridge wasn't just under maintenance, it was down. It still worked for local travel; they weren't isolated within Pegasus. But the Milky Way was beyond the pale. Entirely out of reach.

Sam and John met to draw up new duty rosters for the military contingent and the gate teams. Rodney was working full-time on the gate bridge problem, and John didn't even want to consider temporarily replacing him, which meant SGA-1 was grounded. For the time being, Lorne and his team were at the top of the totem pole.

"Thank you, sir." Lorne said when John told him the news.

"It's good experience for you, Major," John said, a little stiffly. Which was true. He was just...envious. Which Lorne obviously knew. Wow; this was awkward. "If you'll excuse me --"

"Sure," Lorne said, too fast, and John made his escape.

Reluctantly, John let his days take on a new shape. He thought about asking to go offworld with Lorne and his guys, but that didn't seem right; they had a rhythm, a way of working together, and the CO joining them would screw that up.

In the absence of gate travel, he had to find other ways of keeping busy. There was plenty of time for fleshing out the details of old mission reports and taking long runs along the piers.

John ramped up his physical activity in general, because it gave him something to do. He was on his way back to his quarters after a late-night extra sparring match with Ronon when he stumbled across Kate Brown kissing Sergeant Kuofor on a balcony, in the light of the second moon.

John backed away quickly. He didn't think they'd seen him. Which was good.

The fact of the kiss was arguably not so good. Though if John were honest with himself...well, he had mixed feelings there. Rodney's relationship with Katie had never quite seemed to work, and John was tired of watching Rodney tie himself in knots over it. They'd been on-again, off-again for more than a year. John was pretty sure they were ostensibly "on" at the moment, but the fact that Katie was sucking face with one of the Air Force guys would presumably put an end to that.

Of course, the fact that John had witnessed it meant he was obligated to tell Rodney what he'd seen. Which wasn't going to be a whole lot of fun, but it was the honorable thing to do. (John ruthlessly quashed the fantasy that Rodney might respond to the news by tumbling directly into his arms. Not only wasn't it likely, it also wasn't helpful.)

While he was thinking about that, his feet took him to Rodney's quarters; next thing he knew he was standing in front of Rodney's door. "Sheppard to McKay," he said.

"What is it?" Rodney answered instantly; good, he was awake.

"I'm outside your quarters. Can I --"

The door slid open; Rodney stood in front of him in plaid pyjama pants and a faded T-shirt that read "Why Yes, I Am A Rocket Scientist." John couldn't help grinning at that.

"Come in," Rodney said, looking slightly dubious as he stepped out of John's way. There was a paperback book face-down on the bed (Robinson's Mars trilogy, which Rodney dismissed as "bunk" but obviously still enjoyed rereading) and the blankets were mussed. Rodney sat down at the far end of the bed, leaning against the wall.

"I, ah --" Hell. There was no good way to say this. John sat down on Rodney's desk chair, turning it around to face the bed.

"What's the matter?"

"There's something I have to tell you," John said, not meeting Rodney's eyes.

"Oh," Rodney said, his voice gentler than John was used to, and there was a rustling of blankets. When John looked up, Rodney had moved to the edge of the bed nearest to the desk chair where John was awkwardly sitting. His face was open, and he just sat there in silence, waiting. He looked -- hopeful?

God, it made John feel like a total heel. "I saw your girlfriend kissing Kuofor," John said, in a rush. No clever phrasing, no finesse, just the naked fact.

"Oh," Rodney said. "I was expecting you to -- oh." His mouth snapped shut, face shifting from anticipatory to miserable.

Wow. So that was what heartbroken looked like on Rodney McKay. Not something John had ever in a million years wanted to see.

John hadn't expected the news about Katie to hit him so hard. "I'm sorry," John offered.

"Not your fault." Rodney bit off the words. His expression was already shuttered, like he hadn't meant to show even as much emotion as he already had.

"I know it's not my fault," John said. "I just -- you deserve better." He wanted to say so much more than that -- you deserve someone who's really into you; ever considered, oh, me? -- but that was a bad idea, a risk he couldn't take.

"Thanks for the pep talk, Colonel." The bitterness in Rodney's tone was painful to hear.

"Look, I --" He wasn't even sure what to say, but he wanted so badly to say something. Anything that would make Rodney look less like his heart had been ripped out and pulped.

"Good night," Rodney said, and stood up.

There was nothing John could do but stand up too. He wanted to reach out somehow -- a manly squeeze of Rodney's arm, maybe -- but it was pretty obvious Rodney didn't want to be anywhere near him. Which made sense; he'd just brought Rodney really shitty news.

Having an unrequited interest in someone really sucked sometimes.

"Yeah," John said, "g'night," and let himself out.

He barely saw Rodney the next day. Or the day after that. When they did interact, Rodney was subdued, which made John's heart ache. Rodney got the crap kicked out of him during their nightly combat drills, and didn't even complain. Teyla tried once to help him up from the mat, and he brushed her hand away as though accepting help were a sign of weakness. After that, she just took him down like she would any opponent.

Clearly the relationship with Katie, however flawed it might have looked, had meant more to him than John had realized. Rodney was acting like somebody'd shot his cat, and John couldn't escape the recognition that he was the one who'd done the shooting. Or at least the one who'd delivered the news, which was bad enough. Still made him the bad guy.

John kept thinking about the moment just before he'd blurted out what he'd seen. For a second there, before John had told him what was on his mind, Rodney had seemed eager to hear whatever John was going to say. Obviously he hadn't figured it was going to break his heart.

Maybe there was some better way he could have said it. Maybe he should have asked Teyla's advice, or something.

But he hadn't asked Teyla, and now he'd put his foot in it. Rodney couldn't even look at him without shutting down, shutting him out.

Fine; if Rodney needed space, John could give it to him. He was a little out of practice, but he'd spent plenty of his life as a loner. And he wouldn't even be alone here, not really. He had Ronon and Teyla, and Lorne, and maybe Keller too. Spending a few days apart from Rodney was no big deal. Really. It wasn't. He was fine. He had books to read anyway.

"I just don't understand why the diagnostics aren't telling me anything useful." Rodney's mouth was pressed into a tight line.

John fiddled with his pen. He was in the meeting for form's sake, but he didn't have anything to offer, and watching Rodney be cranky didn't seem like a great use of his time.

"Would it be helpful to have some standard for comparison?" Sam asked.

"Ah, yes, we should compare our gate bridge with all of the other gate bridges out there in the galaxy. Why didn't I think of that."

When Rodney was getting that snippy with Sam Carter? Things were really not going well.

"We could send a team to check out other gates in Pegasus," Sam offered. "There might be something useful we can glean from the ways different gates are configured."

"Send us," John said, automatically. Hope rose in his chest. This was what they needed; go on a mission, be a team again.

"No can do," Rodney said, dismissively. "I need to be here to run the diagnostics at this end."

"Oh." So much for that idea. "We can send Lorne and his team, I guess."

"Excuse me if I don't think the average trained military monkey would be capable of the kind of work --" Rodney began.

"Wait just one second," John said, starting to get angry, because this was Lorne they were talking about, Rodney liked Lorne, so what the hell --

"We'll send Lorne's team plus you, John," Sam said. That shut them both up. "Rodney, you can fill John in on what needs to be done in order to run the tests that would be useful to you."

"Right," Rodney said. He looked a little embarrassed.

They walked out of her office in silence. "Look," Rodney said finally. "I know Lorne's a smart guy."

"Yeah, he is." John did not feel inclined to accept that kind of half-assed apology, especially since Rodney hadn't said a word that indicated contrition yet.

"I'm just -- having a hard time not being able to fix this," Rodney said.

John didn't reply.

"It's been kind of a shitty few weeks," Rodney added. His posture was slightly hunched, as if he was unconsciously trying to protect himself from anything else going wrong. When John spared a glance at his face, he noticed the dark circles under his eyes, the exhausted slant of his mouth.

Despite his resolve, John's anger melted. "Yeah," he said. "I know. Get me whatever specs you can on what you need me to do."

Rodney nodded and they parted ways.

Gearing up in the locker room with Lorne and his men felt weird. Standing in the gateroom with the wrong team felt even weirder. John had wondered whether Ronon or Teyla might show up to wish him luck, but they didn't. Rodney was there when they dialed out, but he didn't look happy about it.

They stepped out of the gate on L95-RS3, a planet they'd never been to before. The air was chill and a wind was blowing across the sand-colored stone and the desert scrub. There was no sign of habitation.

"Simmons and Weinberger, take point," John said, just as Lorne barked out "Frith and Simmons, perimeter!" All three of the men started to move, then caught themselves and turned back to the two of them, waiting.

"Belay that," John said, as quickly as he could. Frith and Simmons went to scope the perimeter, Weinberger stayed by the gate with his gun raised, and John followed Lorne to the edge of the ravine beside where the gate stood. "Major," he said. "I'm sorry about that."

"No problem," Lorne said, looking around as if he were inspecting their surroundings. John suspected he just didn't want to meet John's eye.

"I didn't mean to disrespect your command. Giving the order was just force of habit," John said.

"I know."

There was a pause. "Okay, I'd better get to it," John said, and made a beeline for the pillar where he knew the control crystals would be.

Taking the front panel off was easy. Figuring out which crystals Rodney wanted him to test was harder, since the configuration didn't quite match the diagram Rodney had sent him with. John kept turning his head to ask Rodney for help before remembering that Rodney wasn't there. As far as this mission was concerned, he was Rodney. That didn't make him feel any better.

Being offworld without Rodney and Ronon and Teyla was disconcerting. John kept expecting to hear their voices. Man, it was a good thing he hadn't tried to come out with Lorne and his guys before now; he felt like a fifth wheel.

The diagnostic work took almost three hours. By the time they stepped back through the wormhole, all of them were shivering, and John's hands were numb. The warmth and light of Atlantis were a relief.

"What the hell took you so long?" Rodney's voice was irritable.

"Thanks, it's nice to be back," John said, curt, and handed Rodney the datapad.

"How'd it go?" Sam asked, coming down the stairs to greet them.

John kept his mouth shut and gestured to Lorne, deferring.

"We didn't meet up with anyone planetside," Lorne said. "Quiet. Nice and easy."

"Right," John muttered.

Rodney was scrolling through data, frowning. "You didn't try the test with the fourth and eleventh crystals swapped?"

"The layout didn't exactly match," John began.

"Never mind," Rodney said, and stowed the tablet under one arm. "I'm off to the labs. Don't expect me at combat practice tonight, this could take a while."

"Okay," John said, feeling suddenly weary, and watched Rodney walking quickly away.

If the away mission yielded them any useful data, John didn't hear about it the next day, or the day after that. When he caught himself starting to feel glum about it, he told himself it was because the gate bridge investigation was screwing everything up. It didn't have anything to do with Rodney avoiding him, at all.

Part 2


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 19th, 2007 12:56 pm (UTC)
Sorry to be kill joy - there's a tag for Lorne/Sheppard/Mckay on here that should be there (unless there's a hidden threesome - which would be cool!)
Dec. 25th, 2007 11:41 pm (UTC)
I like the look at Lorne and Sheppard in the field. The show and most fics don't give us the more mundane and possibly less congenial side of those relations.
Jan. 2nd, 2008 07:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm really glad that worked for you. :-)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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