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Title: Where to Start Over and How to Begin
Author: lilyfarfalla
Recipient: goddess47
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard, background McKay/Keller, Teyla/Kanaan
Rating: PG-13 (for language more than anything)
Word count: ~15,200
Disclaimer: Not mine!
Warnings: None.
Author's Notes: Dear goddess47! Your prompt was amazingly inspiring, and while this story is not at all what I first set out to write ("Atlantis declaring independence is well beyond my scope," I said to myself early on), I really enjoyed writing it, and I hope you like it too! Many many many many thanks to my beta, who put up with me being constantly late on my own deadlines and kept saying "it could be better" while giving me amazing feedback and encouragement at every round. You are a seriously a star. Any remaining faults are totally mine. And given that this story was both much longer and far more ambitious than anything else I've written in fandom, concrit is totally welcome from any and all. (Title credit to David Berkeley.)
Beta: skaredykat
Summary: Post-Season 5, Atlantis is stuck on Earth. Teyla realizes she has to create the path to take Atlantis home. With the help of Woolsey, Ronon, John and Rodney, she's widely successful, but somewhere along the way, Rodney and John get a little lost.

Part One

John Sheppard was being a complete asshole.

Rodney had started a perfectly pleasant conversation with John and Ronon while they were waiting for Chuck to dial the Mularoan planet. A new material, caimis, might be able to shield small automated craft from Wraith scanning devices, making it a perfect spying vehicle.

But instead of getting the appreciative and excited response Rodney expected, John turned to Ronon to describe the early Russian space missions, and, at Ronon's skepticism at the idea of sending animals of any kind into space, tried to convince him that while dogs were loyal and hardworking animals, you could never send a cat into space.

Of course, Rodney had been obligated to respond to this grave insult, and by the time they were stepping through the gate he was loudly exclaiming, "And that is why I will always choose cats over dogs, Colonel! Case closed."

Fine. Sometimes Rodney knew he could stand to be a tad more patient, a little more considerate of others. There were a few instances in which he could (maybe) have stood to be a little less emphatic about the stupidity found in most of the human race. However, at other times, Rodney thought he could win prizes in "Acting Like a Human Being" if John was his only competition.

Teyla interceded before John could reply. "John. Rodney," she said.

They fell silent. Rodney looked sheepishly at the ground and just stopped himself from saying "He started it!" Point for McKay, he thought sarcastically.

Teyla took a moment to look them both in the eye. "You both know how important these first few Kincias are -- for Atlantis and for the entire galaxy." She glanced back at Ronon, who raised an eyebrow.

"Does everyone remember their role?" she asked.

"We promise, they promise. It's a big promising fest, we've got it." Rodney replied.

John suppressed a snort, and Rodney and Ronon grinned while Teyla's face relaxed.

"We're old hats at this Kincia thing by now, Teyla," John drawled.

This outing was AR-1's fifth Kincia, a ceremony designed to cement long-lasting partnerships between Atlantis and the peoples and worlds of the Pegasus Galaxy.

Today's Kincia would wrap up several weeks worth of negotiations with the Mularoans, who had hesitated at first to enter into a compact with Atlantis. The negotiations had dragged on for much longer than anticipated. Maybe John was just nervous about it turning out okay, Rodney thought to himself.

They had literally covered themselves in mud to make it happen, and Rodney didn't particularly want to have to repeat the experience.

*

Rodney was walking just behind Teyla, absently scanning for energy signatures, when they reached the hilltop where the ceremony would take place.

Teyla, Rodney, John, and Ronon formed a half circle on top of the hill. It was windy and a little cold, but for a moment Rodney felt a rush of warmth. He glanced over at John, who was keeping watch towards the village. So what if John was being combative and strangely standoffish lately; Rodney was impatient and enjoyed calling people idiots. This is where they fit -- wandering around alien planets as a team, working for something bigger than any of them alone.

The Mularo delegation crested the far side of the hill, and Teyla stepped forward to greet them.

"Good morning!" she called. "Wende, Ioman, I am glad to see you."

"And we you, Teyla," replied a dark-haired woman. "Meet Sirii and Melan." She gestured to a girl and a young man. They were chosen to complete our number for the Kincia and to represent our younger citizens."

Teyla nodded in greeting. "Shall we begin?" she asked.

Rodney moved to stand between the girl, who couldn't be much older than Madison, and Ioman, an older man with white-streaked hair. John stood across from him, studiously avoiding eye contact. Rodney sighed, trying not to show his irritation.

Teyla looked around the now complete circle with approval.

"Atlantis welcomes Mularo into Kincia," Teyla said. "We promise to call you brothers and sisters."

"We will call you brothers and sisters," said Ioman. "And we promise to always welcome you at our table."

"We will always welcome you at our table," said John. "And we promise to come to your aid when you call."

"We will come to your aid when you call," said Sirii. "And we promise to consider you among the first of our trading partners."

"We will consider you among the first of our trading partners," said Rodney. "And we promise to welcome you as students and teachers."

"We will welcome you as students and teachers," said Wende. "And we promise to speak of you in good faith."

"We will speak of you in good faith," said Ronon. "And we promise to listen when you speak."

"We will listen when you speak," said Melan. He paused and grinned at everyone in the circle. "The Mularoans welcome Atlantis into Kincia!"

And then it was over. Rodney knew that in most cases the Kincia ceremony itself was more wrapping than substance. The real partnership-making happened before the ceremony took place, in the judging of Atlantis's behavior to people in the past, in promises for the future. Still, even by the fifth time round, he was surprised by how firmly a few words seemed to cement informal trade agreements into a civilization-long promise.

*

The Kincia with M7G-677 had been one of the more elaborate ceremonies, though the words used by AR-1 and Keras and his fellow "elders" were similar. The negotiation process had also been much more straightforward than with the Mularoans.

Over the years, Atlantis had remained in close contact with M7G-677 and Keras's slowly maturing group of children, and they were happy to cement a more formal relationship with the city. The terms of the Kincia partnership, established after their return to Pegasus, reinforced the informal give and take that had already been established between Atlantis and M7G-677.

In their first year on Atlantis, Elizabeth had sent Carson with Teyla to do a quick sex-education course, mostly focused on using birth control to help ease the ingrained worries of Keras and his people about population growth. Rodney had visited to the planet several times himself (after Radek had refused to ever return), studying the cloaking technology and rolling his eyes while small children stole chocolate out of his pockets. The continued delivery of birth control supplies in exchange for allowing Lantean scientists to study the cloaking technology was one of the terms of the Kincia with M7G-677.

More significantly, Atlantis invited Keras to send up to five of his people to participate in a knowledge-sharing program that Woolsey and the Athosians had set up. Eventually, Atlantis planned to invite participants from all of the worlds or peoples they established Kincia with, and together with the Athosians, Keras's people were one of the first invited to join.

The program worked like an internship on Earth, and participants could focus on working with existing Atlantis staff in a particular area or they could rotate through departments, military and scientific both.

Rodney was excited at the idea of more minions, but he gave administrative oversight to Zelenka. Radek had complained long and loudly to Rodney in public, but Rodney knew better; he'd been privy to Zelenka's drunken confession that he actually enjoyed teaching the younger scientists-to-be their way around Atlantis.

*

The actual Kincia between Atlantis and Keras's people took place on a bright spring morning.
The low platform where the representatives for M7G-677 met Rodney and his team to exchange promises was set up under a willow-like tree, and rows of rough benches for witnesses surrounded the platform. In his suit, Rodney was uncomfortably reminded of a wedding.

John wore his dress uniform and Teyla an incredible gown that Rodney tried to describe to Jeannie in an email as "tie-dyed, but beautiful." (Jeannie had replied, "Only Teyla.") Rodney stayed far away from Jennifer, who had come with a delegation of Lanteans and Athosians.

Still, despite the awkward connotations of marriage that Rodney tried to ignore, he couldn't help but feel a glow of pride and happiness when he looked at his team. John looked as happy as he'd ever seen him, and Rodney felt a deep sense of accomplishment at being on the path to doing something good for the Pegasus galaxy, something proactive for once.

*

Back on Atlantis after the Mularoan Kincia, Rodney stripped off his tac vest and gear, grateful yet again that costuming had been rejected as a component of the Kincia.

John was a few steps behind him, redistributing items from his pack and hanging his vest in his locker. Rodney hesitated at his own locker for a moment. A month ago, he'd have said, "Lunch, Colonel?" and John would have nodded or squinted at him or jabbed Rodney in the side with one of his pointy elbows and they would have gone to the mess hall for lunch. But recently --

"You waiting for something, McKay?" John asked, still facing his locker.

Rodney huffed. "Lunch, Colonel?" he asked pointedly, letting a little irritation into his voice.

John didn't even pause to make eye contact on his way out of the door. "Sorry, McKay, things to do," he said as he walked down the hall.

Yeah. Lately, John just walked away.

Rodney sighed again and turned in the opposite direction to head to the labs. Maybe Zelenka had figured out if the caimis could be processed more efficiently.

*

Eight Months Earlier

As far as Rodney could tell, Teyla had basically made up the whole Kincia thing as an excuse to get Atlantis back to the Pegasus galaxy. She hadn't ever mentioned trust-based partnerships as a common element in this galaxy's societies before Atlantis got stuck on Earth. But then again, maybe Rodney just hadn't been listening.

Three months after Carson had miraculously managed to land Atlantis just outside the San Francisco Bay, the city was still there, despite Rodney's daily emails to the SGC about the deleterious effects of the combination of pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxin, and other pollutants on the hull of the city.

Despite trying to keep together with a regular movie night, everyone on the team was starting to fall apart. John's face shut down a little more with every "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" and "Well, sir, I made the best decision I could at the time, sir" that panels of grim-faced Generals and bland suits forced out of him. He began to look more and more like the blank wall he'd resembled in Antarctica.

Ronon discovered movie theaters and Netflix at the same time. In between trying to convince Amelia and various marines to go see the latest car crash "film" or superhero travesty, Ronon decided to watch every action movie available on DVD, along with a bunch of others. Rodney wouldn't really have worried about this, except that when Ronon wasn't watching movies, he'd begun to vibrate with repressed energy. Rodney knew there were a lot of dumb action movies out there, but he couldn't predict where Ronon would turn his intense focus once he'd seen enough of them.

Rodney was doing...okay. He had plenty to keep him busy -- the trip through hyperspace and the entry through Earth's atmosphere had damaged a number of key systems and thrown the operations of even more out of whack.

But even with all the work, he started to feel a kind of listlessness -- Atlantis on Earth was not the same life he'd been living for the past five years. The wormhole was silent with the gate at the SGC taking priority, and without off-world missions, he spent too many hours in the lab and inevitably came back to his quarters at the end of the day with a blinding headache.

*

Jennifer had transferred to SGC headquarters for Atlantis's duration on Earth, citing a desire to work where she was needed. Rodney missed her, though he saw her whenever he visited the Mountain for briefings. Before she'd transferred, she and Rodney had spent a week with Jennifer's father in Wisconsin.

While Rodney was never fond of meet-the-parents days, seeing Jennifer in her home territory had been enlightening. Rodney had always thought Jennifer was a competent doctor -- the way she'd stepped up and tried to save Elizabeth had proven her worth to the senior staff, and no one doubted her ability to act in the operating chamber or to lead the medical team.

In her childhood home, Jennifer was just as confident as she was in the medical ward, but more relaxed. She teased both her Dad and Rodney in such a way that they ended up getting along with each other, much to Rodney's surprise. On the evening on the fourth night of Rodney's visit, he had abruptly realized that this was what having a home outside of Atlantis must mean.

*

Even missing Jennifer, Rodney was managing on Earth, though his daily and increasingly vitriolic emails to various SGC heads might have told a different story. Still, he was more worried about John and Ronon and Teyla.

Teyla was so anxious to get back to her son and people that even Rodney noticed she was upset. She might have been more patient if she'd only had to suffer through a separation from Kanaan and her people (again). But Torren's first birthday had come and gone while they were floating in the Pacific. Rodney knew that if he was starting to miss babysitting duty with John, Teyla had to be going out of her mind -- as much as Teyla could lose it anyway.

The initial debriefings after they'd landed in the Pacific had lasted for several weeks. Teyla had remained a rock of patience, while Rodney and John and Ronon became increasingly irritable and claustrophobic under the mountain. But after they returned to Atlantis and the weeks started to turn into months without any word from the SGC on when they'd be returning to Pegasus, Teyla's calm had withered. It had been completely terrifying to observe.

One day, when Rodney was trying to wheedle his way out of practicing stick fighting with John (who was really the worst sparring partner in the world, Rodney didn't understand why Teyla never saw that), Teyla had abruptly thrown her Bantos rods to the ground and told Rodney in a tight voice that if he wanted to be eaten by Wraith when they returned to Pegasus, he was welcome to leave the sparring room. Rodney had quickly shut up, and even John had avoided poking at Rodney that session.

Rodney'd also overheard Teyla use sarcasm when replying to something John had asked her. Rodney had heard her say, "No John, I always think silence and avoidance are the best way to deal with difficult topics." Which Rodney realized was his cue to turn around and walk away very quickly -- only stopping to intercept Zelenka and a couple of marines who had been headed towards Teyla.

Another time Ronon had told John and Rodney that Teyla had flat-out refused to meditate with him, because she "didn't have the patience to deal with someone uninterested in learning the art." John's mouth had literally dropped open in response, and Rodney had resolved to try to completely steer clear of Teyla for a while.

Finally, Teyla had scheduled a meeting.

*

Rodney had always thought of Teyla as a diplomat and a peacemaker. She always seemed to understand both sides of a conflict and sincerely wanted to resolve either a fight between friends or a dispute between nations.

So while Rodney hadn't spent much time thinking about it, if asked, he might have pointed to her diplomacy, her patience, her capacity to see both sides of a disagreement, and her ability to kick a little ass if necessary, as the qualities that made her a good leader.

"Ruthless politician" and "happy to lie for the greater good" would not have been on his list.

The group Teyla had called together was small, the team plus Woolsey.

At this point, Rodney would have done anything Teyla asked just on the off chance it would prevent an escalation. Rodney had made a point of collecting John and Ronon on his way to the conference room, intent on ensuring he wouldn't be the only one in a room with Teyla at any time. Teyla was in fact the last to arrive, and acknowledged their presence with a nod.

"Thank you all for coming today," she said. "You may have noticed my increasing impatience with the IOA and SGC's response to our requests to return Atlantis to its home galaxy."

Rodney and John shared a look.

Teyla continued. "I have long considered Atlantis my home, and I believe you all do as well. But it is not the same home unless it is in the Pegasus galaxy. I had hoped that the SGC would understand that Atlantis could not stay on Earth, but I now fear that their priorities are too narrowly focused to see the great harm that keeping the city on this planet is bringing and will continue to bring to all of the Pegasus galaxy."

And then she'd laid out a plan for how to get the IOA and SGC to approve Atlantis's return to Pegasus.

*

Teyla's plan to bring Atlantis home, laid out in sparse detail that day, subverted the "Gold, glory, god" -- or rather "Goa'uld, Ori, technology" -- reasons for exploration that still supported most SGC missions.

John sat up straight as Teyla spoke, eyes bright and more expression in his face than Rodney had seen in weeks. Ronon's tense spine had relaxed back into his seat, and Rodney had come up with ten more tech-based arguments for returning the city that he hadn't already shared with the SGC. However, it was Woolsey who, more than anyone, understood exactly what she was saying and how they could make it happen.

Teyla's plan was straightforward, if not simple. In the first phase, the IOA and SGC had to decide, seemingly for themselves, that Atlantis should return to Pegasus.

Woolsey and Rodney and John stopped directly appealing the SGC to send Atlantis back to Pegasus. Teyla's plan called for a more subtle approach. Instead, in the next set of required visits to the SGC and debriefings to the IOA, they talked about the materials yet to be mined, the technology yet to be discovered, and the Ancient knowledge yet to be deciphered.

Official debriefings relied on facts, though they were often exaggerated. However, the real genius of Teyla's plan relied on the network of rumors and gossip that flowed through SGC headquarters, which Teyla planned to use to spread a series of positively misleading stories about Pegasus.

The SGC wants Earth safe, she pointed out. Therefore, we must show them that Atlantis can do the most to protect Earth from another galaxy.

In official debriefings, Teyla alluded to the many potential unexplored Ancient labs on worlds that could only be accessed from a Pegasus gate. She hinted that the Ancient spaceships AR-1 had previously encountered were only a few of the ones that were surely still hidden throughout the galaxy.

At lunches in the SCG mess, Ronon took on storytelling duty. He "recalled" fairy tales of children finding magical metal hills hidden beneath forests and under water. He recited lines from nonexistent epic poetry about the Satedan ancestors who had fought over Ancient relics, though few among them could light them up. He shared mythologies from travelers he claimed to have met while Running who told of vast caverns full of strange lanterns that burned orange and yellow and red and gold.

Rodney did his part by writing reports on new materials he had encountered in the Pegasus galaxy and noting how civilizations there were using them. Footnotes pointed out that while full testing had not been conducted due to a lack of time and staff resources, many of these materials contained the same basic chemical compounds as the elements that made up Atlantis herself. While working with Bill Lee one week, Rodney theorized that the materials the Ancients had used to create Atlantis had probably come from the galaxy in which it was built.

"Wow," Lee had said. "You guys should really go back there and find the planets where you can mine."

"Yeah," Rodney said, managing to temporarily suppress every sarcastic bone in his body. "Good idea."

In one informal conversation Teyla had with a medic she'd met during a round of debriefings, she told the story of the Hoffan planet and the Wraith-proof inoculation.

It was altered slightly from the truth, as Teyla left out the Wraith response to news of the inoculation and its likelihood of killing nearly a third of the people who received it. Instead, she wondered aloud to her new friend whether the people who had developed the Wraith inoculation could help develop a drug that could be used to somehow inoculate against the Ori or against Goa'uld symbiotes... and that notion took on a life of its own.

People talked, and finally, a General visiting SGC headquarters was overheard saying "Wouldn't that damn city do more good back where it came from, finding us a new fighting spaceship or a way to protect ourselves from those religious freaks? Instead, we have to sit here and argue about what to do when sailboats get too close to the damn thing."

While Rodney had ranted about sailboats being the least of the problems with Atlantis's location, Teyla and Woolsey had smiled at each other when hearing the news.

*

After Woolsey had heard unofficially that the IOA wanted Atlantis in Pegasus so the staff living in the city would be able to take advantage of the resources, etc. there, Woolsey and Teyla agreed that it was time to implement phase two.

In phase two, Teyla was responsible for selling the Kincia concept to the IOA and Woolsey was in charge of securing Atlantis's independence.

Ronon had been the one to point out that as long as Atlantis was considered an outpost, a research facility, or a war machine, the city and its leaders had no real power to make partnerships in Pegasus. Despite his not-so-secret desire to fly the city all around the universe, John acknowledged that Atlantis would do no good to Pegasus if it were constantly being recalled to the Milky Way whenever the SGC had the slightest notion the city might be needed to protect Earth.

Having hooked the IOA on what Pegasus had to offer Earth, convincing them that the way to access all of that tech and Ancient knowledge was to create formal partnerships with Pegasus societies was fairly easy.

*

As in phase one, official briefings and reports were fact-based, but they started strongly focusing on how long-lasting partnerships in Pegasus were formed instead of on the opportunities available in Pegasus.

Under the guise of giving a talk open to all SGC members interested in learning more about the Pegasus Galaxy (or, as Rodney referred to it, the "So You Want to Meet Some Vampires?" speech), Teyla described the ceremonies used across the Pegasus Galaxy and how trust exercises were used as a formally recognized agreement of alliance. This was somehow tied to the ostensible topic of the Wraith.

In Teyla's stories, peoples that were closely partnered would exchange representative families, "much like your diplomatic exchange," who would take on important roles in their new home.

The talk concluded on a melancholy note, as Teyla explained that some worlds had begun to explore this practice with Atlantis, but these representatives were not allowed full Lantean rights. Perceiving this lack of trust as the ultimate insult, Teyla mourned the opportunities lost when cultures took back their representatives and refused to further or renew trade negotiations. "Alas," she concluded, "If only Atlantis could form these partnerships, we could gain so much more from the Pegasus galaxy."

Rodney asked a few of his least stupid social scientists to write up reports on the formal bonds they had observed or heard of in Pegasus. Though they were submitted with several other unrelated reports, Teyla was able to reference them when she and Woolsey presented the idea of the Kincia to the heads of the IOA and SGC.

*

Woolsey had probably been the most pleasant surprise Atlantis had received in all the years of the expedition. Not only was the man a secret administrative genius, but he had a finely developed sense of right and wrong. Somehow, Woolsey had put "Atlantis returns to Pegasus" into the "right" column and was willing to do what was necessary to ensure that the city returned to its home.

In his utterly dry, utterly believable way, Woolsey had presented spreadsheet after spreadsheet of the expenses incurred by AR missions and the day-to-day upkeep of the city. He had submitted those just before sending in another, equally dry, set of spreadsheets on how these expenses could be covered by a series of trade agreements, both with worlds in the Pegasus Galaxy and with the SGC.

The genius of Woolsey's spreadsheets was in how they showed that simply by adjusting the way the Atlantis expedition was classified, Earth could continue to benefit from the immense amount of research and raw materials that Pegasus could deliver while having to cover only half of the expedition's ongoing costs.

The adjustment also meant that, on paper, Atlantis would be an independent authority.

Of course, Woolsey explained, that would be on paper only, and in reality, everyone would understand that the city remained responsible to the IOA and SGC. But those organizations would only need to provide goods to Atlantis as items in trade, and not as automatic earmarks, which would help when their budgets were being reviewed.

The IOA ate it up, and when General Landry expressed some reservations about the idea, the IOA responded that Landry could see his budget cut by the amount necessary to retrofit Atlantis or he could fill out the paperwork. Landry filled out the paperwork.

And just like that, as an aside more than anything else, Atlantis became its own entity.

When they found out, Teyla and Woolsey called the rest of the immediate planning team into the conference room to share the news. Ronon grinned and slapped John and Rodney on their backs so hard they had to cling to each other to stay upright. Teyla was radiant. And Rodney told the team the various reasons why he'd already picked out M24-982 as the best choice for a new home planet for Atlantis.

Still reeling, both from the news and Ronon's manhandling, Rodney told John, "It'll be just like in Asimov! Atlantis with a backdrop of a ring of cosmic dust and ice particles -- can you imagine it?"

"Fucking beautiful," John had replied hoarsely.

*

It was about the time that phase two was ending, and phase three (Pack-Atlantis-Full-of-Supplies-and-Hire-Some-People-Who-Can-At-Least-Take-Instructions) was starting up that Rodney realized he had no idea if Jennifer was coming back to Pegasus.

They'd seen each other every time Rodney had come to the Mountain for debriefings, and Rodney, with Teyla's okay, had told Jennifer about the plan.

(Jennifer herself had started talking casually about the time she and Teyla had been hunted by the Bola Kai on the Athosian homeworld. By the time Rodney overheard some SGC Marines gossiping about it, Teyla had killed twenty of the Bola Kai singlehandedly and it was the Uralveans (a fictional Pegasus civilization who apparently considered Teyla family) who had come to the rescue and not Atlantis. "Thanks for that," Rodney had said grumpily. Jennifer had only smiled and kissed him.)

Still, as much as Jennifer talked about how important it was for Atlantis to return to Pegasus, she mentioned just as often how wonderful it was to be able to call her Dad whenever she felt like it. And how much she'd missed hamburgers and beer. At the time, Rodney had agreed wholeheartedly, and they'd all had a night out in San Francisco where they ate bar food and drank local beers while Rodney mocked John for his love of Budweiser.

Rodney tried to ask Teyla if she knew what Jennifer was planning, but Teyla rolled her eyes (she really had spent too much time on Earth) and told him that was a question only Jennifer could answer.

But he found that the thought of asking her that question outright terrified him.

Would Jennifer want him to stay on Earth, or would she think that staying was a kind way of ending things? If she wanted him to stay too, would he? He loved Jennifer, and it was the best relationship he'd been in, probably ever. She liked him, loved him even, and she put up with his personality flaws. Even Jeannie liked her, and Jeannie hadn't liked any of the girls Rodney had dated when he was younger.

No, Rodney thought a more subtle approach should be his first step in gauging which direction Jennifer was leaning.

He started talking even more about how great it was to be on Earth, and how important it was that the work they did and the knowledge they gained in Pegasus was to be used on Earth. Jennifer would agree, and they'd go out for more Earth food, and talk about how much they both loved it in Colorado Springs. This would be followed by Rodney waking up in a cold sweat after a nightmare about house shopping in the suburbs.

One night, they stopped for ice cream on the way back to the hotel near the Mountain where the SGC was putting up Atlantis staff. A bunch of kids were in line in front of them. Rodney rolled his eyes and was about to snidely comment about sticky fingers, but he glanced over at Jennifer first and saw her smiling at the juvenile antics.

Rodney sucked in a breath, suddenly seeing two futures stretch out before him: one where he was alone but in Atlantis, and one where he was with Jennifer on Earth.

Jennifer wanted kids; he knew that. And he wanted children too, but it was a very... abstract desire. But... Jennifer wanted kids, and she wouldn't want her kids on Atlantis. So eventually she would leave. Leave Rodney and find someone else and have some really smart babies. Rodney was devastated. Yet even as Jennifer slipped her arm through his and leaned her head on his shoulder, he realized he wouldn't leave Atlantis for her. He couldn't.

*

After that, Rodney saw children everywhere. Delegations from Milky Way planets streamed into the mountain, and somehow children seemed to be part of each one. Jennifer started giving him funny looks when they went out to dinner, and he never failed to point out the babies gurgling at nearby tables.

Finally, Jennifer sat him down in her hotel room one night. "Rodney," she said. "You know I love you."

"Oh god, Jennifer," he said. "I'm so sorry! I do love you, it's just, it's so important to me, the most important thing I'll ever do really, and -- "

"Rodney! Listen, I love you too. I thought maybe we might make it, you know?" She shrugged and sat down on the bed, a careful space between them.

Rodney was horrified to find he was tearing up. Jennifer sighed and turned to face him.

"I know you want children," she said. "And you think it's not safe to have them on Atlantis. But I can't just abandon my post, or my staff and the people there. I'm so sorry."

Rodney sighed and nodded. But then he jumped up and stared down at her. "Wait, what? YOU want children and don't want to stay on Atlantis. I'm the selfish one who can't give up Atlantis for you!"

Jennifer looked at him blankly for a moment. "But -- but you've been pointing out every baby we walk by! There has been LONGING in your eyes, Rodney McKay!"

"That's because I thought YOU wanted babies! I was longing for Atlantis!" Rodney yelped.

"Huh," Jennifer said.

"Yes, well," said Rodney, sitting back down.

They sat silently for a few minutes, until Rodney built up the courage to look over at Jennifer again.

"So," she said. "We've both been waiting to dump each other the minute one of us asks the other to stay on Earth?"

Rodney grimaced. "That does appear to be the case. But, but, we do both want the same thing! That's something right?!"

Jennifer sighed. "Oh Rodney. We were both willing to give each other up. I just... that doesn't sound like the foundation for a stable relationship to me."

Rodney turned and looked at her. She was so beautiful and smart and funny.

"Well," he said brightly. "On the upside, this is by far the best breakup I've ever had!"

Jennifer snorted. "Yeah, me too, I guess. She sat up straight and reached over to cup his face in her hands. "I do love you Rodney. And I'm really, really glad that we'll both be going back to Pegasus, even if we won't be together."

She kissed him, just as gently as the first time, and he closed his eyes as she pulled away.

"Well," he said, awkwardly standing up and straightening his shirt. "I'll be going to my room now."

"Goodnight, Rodney." Jennifer's eyes were starting to fill with tears, and Rodney found he didn't have it in him to comfort the girl he'd thought he was going to marry.

"Yes yes, night." He gently pulled the door shut behind him.

*

The news had spread to Atlantis by the time he got back.

No one was foolish enough to actually try and talk to him about it, but John took him for beers on the pier. ("It's just not the same with barges in the background," Rodney had said. John had only nodded in response.) Ronon, meanwhile, found some free time from beating up new recruits -- the movie watching had ended with the implementation of Teyla's Plan -- to introduce Rodney to some bizarre Satedan torture ritual. ("It's a game, Rodney," John had said when he'd complained. "A bizarre Satedan torture game," Rodney had replied.)

Teyla merely spent more time with him outlining the resources the science staff would need and brainstorming on where in Pegasus they might be able to find manufacturing facilities that would meet Rodney's standards.

By the time Atlantis was prepping for takeoff and the last of the crew that would be traveling with them through hyperspace had come aboard -- most of the new staff would travel through the stargate once Atlantis had hooked back into the gate network -- Rodney had come to a kind of equilibrium about the whole breakup.

He would miss having Jennifer as his girlfriend, would miss the sex and the companionship. He would miss the idea of her as well, a girlfriend, a romantic partner. But Rodney realized that he wasn't heartbroken. In some ways, he was glad he could go back to just being himself -- a little prickly, perhaps, but brilliant and (almost) always right.

Rodney had never really tried to change himself for anyone before. He'd never seen the value in it. Plus people had always wanted such massive changes, and changing himself in some fundamental way hadn't seemed possible.

But being in Atlantis, being a part of something so much bigger than himself, being part of a team -- all those things had changed Rodney, despite himself. He'd come to see the value in that change, in having friends like John and Carson, Ronon and Teyla, Elizabeth and Radek. Changing just a little more for a wife had seemed like a good idea.

Jennifer had come aboard for the hyperspace journey, along with most of the medical crew. The expectation was that the trip back to Pegasus would be a smoother ride than the one to Earth, but Woolsey wanted medical staff on hand just in case. Rodney tried to stay out of Jennifer's orbit, though he exchanged a nod and smile with her from across the gateroom where the skeleton crew met before the trip back to Pegasus.

Woolsey gave a surprisingly rousing speech, and then John went down to sit in the chair and together he and Rodney brought Atlantis back to Pegasus.

The evening they touched down on M24-982, after reestablishing wormhole contact with Earth and raising many glasses of champagne at the welcoming party for the new and old faces that came back through the stargate, Rodney lay awake, thinking.

He stared out the window at the brightly lit ring of rocks and dust that circled their new planet. ("New New Lantea," Rodney had whispered to John during the welcome speech, and John had whispered back, "It's gotta be more "New"s than that by now, Rodney.") Half-asleep, he thought that maybe you couldn't purposefully, consciously change yourself for other people. But maybe some people, the ones with the right gravitational pull, or the right combination of elements, could catalyze a change in you. And maybe that was okay.

*

Once they were back in Pegasus, Teyla and Woolsey organized teams to begin Kincia negotiations almost immediately.

Atlantis offered Kincia to the Athosians before any other Pegasus nation -- only preceded by a small private gathering in Woolsey's office where the team witnessed Ronon signing his official Lantean citizenship papers -- and the Athosian-Lantean Kincia ceremony was a very celebratory one. Even Rodney found himself surreptitiously wiping away a few tears after Halling boomed: "The Athosians welcome Atlantis into Kincia!"

Teyla stepped aside during the negotiations, insisting that she could not fairly act as an Athosian or Lantean representative. Instead, Halling and Anika stood for the Athosians, and Woolsey and John for Atlantis. Still, it was clear in the terms of the Kincia that much of Teyla's work to secure Atlantis's independence and the ability to offer Lantean citizenship to its most treasured partners had been done with her native people in mind.

The Kincia between the Athosians and Atlantis bound the two groups into one people; every Lantean and Athosian became a full citizen in both societies.

More practically, the Kincia formalized the previously casual staffing of Atlantean posts with Athosians and invited an Athosian representative (in addition to Teyla) to sit with the Senior Board -- formerly the senior staff committee -- in all decision-making regarding Atlantis. Halling reciprocally extended an invitation for a Lantean to sit on the Athosian Council, and Nadira Simon, the most senior of Rodney's faux-scientists and one who had submitted several papers describing partnership ceremonies in Pegasus, requested the position.

In the initial Return-Atlantis-to-Pegasus planning meetings, Teyla had repeated again and again how important it was for Atlantis to being able to form such a tight-knit bond with another people. To the IOA, Teyla and Woolsey had implied that few if any Pegasus civilizations would be eligible for this type of Kincia. While Rodney knew that was true for the time being, a crucial element in several of the Kincia negotiations he had participated in was the possibility that Pegasus worlds might one day create deeper partnerships with Atlantis, after both sides had proven themselves as worthy allies.

*

For the Kincia ceremony, almost all of Atlantis and all of the Athosians gathered in the jumper bay. The promises stated in the ceremony were simple, but more concrete than those in most Kincias. For Atlantis, Woolsey, John, Rodney, and Ronon welcomed the Athosians as citizens of Atlantis and promised to treat them as such for all the days of their future. The Athosian representatives, Halling, Anika, Wex (nearly an adult, Rodney was startled to see), and Teyla promised the same for Atlantis.

This particular Kincia ceremony also made an accounting of the history the Atlantis expedition had shared with the Athosians, acknowledging the help both peoples had provided to each other as well as the times that Atlantis had marginalized the Athosians. The ceremony recognized the individuals who had contributed to both societies, marines who had fallen during assaults on Michael's facility, Athosians who'd joined Lantean gate teams, Lantean scientists who had spent free hours helping rebuild Athosian homes, Athosian fighters who had taught self-defense to frightened Lantean civilians; the list went on and on, honoring those who had been lost and celebrating those who remained.

Rodney had been skeptical when Ronon had first volunteered to write the content of the ceremony. But afterwards, seeing Teyla with tears streaking down her face and more than one of the remaining first-wavers pretending to have something in their eye, Rodney thought realized Ronon had real flair for the understated-yet-dramatic. In retrospect, Ronon's ability to spin those tales at the SGC should have been a hint.

Both Ronon and John abandoned the crying Teyla to Rodney, who awkwardly patted her back until she laughed at the three of them and went to dance with Kanaan and Torren.

*

Choosing planets and Pegasus peoples to form Kincias with was not always so straightforward as it was with the Athosians.

Teyla and Woolsey had spent many long hours debating whether to include members of the Coalition in the first Kincias.

The Coalition had lost some of its might when Rodney's team had been found not guilty. The Genii saw Atlantis's victory for what it was and had dropped their subtle support of the Coalition. Still, Woolsey had been against reaching out to the Coalition at all -- fair enough, thought Rodney, given how the two-faced Coalition had wanted to abandon his team on some desert planet.

But Teyla argued that the Coalition was a model, if an imperfect one, for how the Pegasus galaxy could come together and elevate itself into a new position of "strength and harmony." The way she put it, "Atlantis must serve the people of Pegasus, but we cannot be the main conveners. That task they have already set themselves to, and it must continue that way. Even if we think we know best, we cannot impose our ways and knowledge onto an entire galaxy. That is no way to build trust, or long-standing stability."

Eventually, Woolsey agreed to reach out to the only neutral member of the panel judging Atlantis: Dimas of the Free Peoples of Riva. Both sides agreed that a Kincia would be premature but held out hope of building up to it in the future. Teams had been to visit some of the other planets in the Coalition as well, ostensibly to resume the limited trading they'd engaged in before Atlantis's sojourn on Earth, but more to remind them that Atlantis had returned to the Pegasus galaxy and intended to stay there.

Ronon's knowledge of planets that had contributed to Sateda's fight against the Wraith with weapons, raw materials, or scientific knowledge -- as well as his observations during the years he was a Runner -- had led to the decision to actively explore Kincia with planets that Atlantis had had only a minimal relationship with before the city's trip to Earth.

Mularo had been one of these planets. Its people had been occasional trading partners with Atlantis, though Ronon said they'd been good friends to Sateda before its fall. They were also owners of mines rich in certain types of metals -- one of which Zelenka thought might be refined into something similar to the trinium used in building the Daedalus.

However, the Mularoans were hesitant to formalize a partnership with Atlantis. Their planet had been lucky and had escaped the notice of both the Wraith and the Asurans, and they were leery of inviting more attention to themselves. Despite Ronon's stories of Atlantis successfully fighting the Wraith, the Mularoans didn't believe Atlantis could truly protect them from future attacks.

Teyla and Ronon had visited the Mularo homeworld to bolster Atlantis's reputation as a force for good in the galaxy. Rodney talked about the advances in science and technology he had made in Pegasus, and John chimed in with how they'd used that knowledge to kill Wraith. Woolsey led Mularoan representatives on tours of Atlantis, highlighting the new partnerships with the Athosians and Keras's people and with the planets Kincia-bonded to Atlantis through AR-2 and AR-3. And they went to many, many ceremonial feasts.

*

"Remind me again why we're visiting for yet another interminably long meal that won't even include coffee?" Rodney asked as they stepped through the gate onto M68-942.

"Because the Mularo make the best Timini dumplings in Pegasus?" Ronon offered.

Rodney glared at him. Ronon grinned back and flipped on his sunglasses. John had bought him a pair back on Earth, and Ronon hadn't been without them since.

"Rodney, these negotiations take time, you know that," Teyla started.

John cut her off. "Usually I'd tell Rodney to stop his whining too, Teyla," he said. "But I'm starting to feel like the Mularoans are just leading us on. If they don't want to partner, we should move on."

Teyla sighed. "I understand your frustrations, and I share them, but our partnership with these people has been purely superficial. They are happy to share in trade agreements with us, but the Kincia is a special arrangement."

"They don't trust us," Ronon said briefly.

"And they have no reason to," said Teyla. "I have told you, and the IOA, trust ceremonies like the Kincia are taken very seriously in this galaxy. While we have brought no harm to the Mularoans, many stories have been spread about Atlantis since you first arrived in this galaxy. Though we fought the charges laid against us by the Coalition, they were not all wrong. We Lanteans have helped to bring about much harm for these worlds, and they have only our word that Atlantis will operate in a more collaborative way in the future."

John grimaced and glanced away, but, startled, Rodney said, "Wait, I thought everything we told the IOA about partnerships in Pegasus was a lie?!"

Teyla laughed. "The best lies contain a kernel of truth, do they not, Rodney?"

"You are devious," Rodney said, making John and Ronon grin.

*

The dinner was like many others they'd attended. It was just a small group, the four of them and families of the two Mularoans who had been heading the negotiations: Wende and Ioman. In the middle of the dumpling course, John abruptly stood up, pushing his chair back. Rodney had half-ducked down into his chair and was reaching for his gun when he realized that John was making a speech -- an event even more shocking than a surprise attack.

"Tell us what we can do," John said urgently. He leaned towards the Mularoans seated opposite him, both hands on the table. "Not what Atlantis can do, not a term of the Kincia. What can the four of us here do, today, now, to convince you we're serious?"

The room was silent as the Mularoans' somewhat shocked gazes turned contemplative. Finally, Wende spoke up. "Will you dig a well?" She looked at each of the team in turn. "No special machines, no fancy weapons. We have a group set to start digging tomorrow." She turned back to John. "Will you join them?"

John straightened up for a minute, before his posture relaxed back into his slacker pose. "Yeah, we're always up for a little well-digging."

That night Rodney took plenty of time to complain to John about how unreasonable it was for him to use his valuable time to dig a hole in the ground, but the actual digging was a swift, if extremely messy process. At the end of the day, covered in mud, muscles aching from hauling bricks and throat sore from yelling about caulking, Rodney was ready for a hot shower and some real beer.

Wende walked them back to the gate. "I believe the final negotiations will take a few more weeks, but I hope I will see all of you back for the Kincia ceremony soon."

John gave a tired smirk and a wave, and they stepped back through the gate into Atlantis.

After the bliss of a long shower and clean clothes, Rodney and John wandered out to the pier to drink some of the last of the snooty microbrews they'd gotten used to while stationed near San Francisco.

"Not a bad day, huh, Rodney?" John was lying back on his elbows and kicking his legs out over the ocean like a kid.

Rodney snorted and took another swig of his beer. "Oh yes, when I was working my way through my second PhD, I hoped that I might one day dig a well with a stone-age shovel. A dream come true."

John guffawed and Rodney tried to suppress a smile of his own. Perverse as it was, Rodney suspected he'd always relish the sound of John's crazy donkey laugh.

"You know you wouldn't give it up for anything," John said.

Rodney sat up a bit, peering into the distance. "No, I really wouldn't." He paused. "S'why I broke up with Jennifer. Or she broke up with me, it was never really clear."

John went still beside him. "She wanted you to stay on Earth?" He didn't look up, but Rodney could imagine John's face. All closed off, the same look it got whenever there was any mention of "staying" and "Earth" in the same sentence.

"Nope, actually," Rodney said. He opened another beer. "I thought she wanted me to stay, and she thought I wanted her to stay, and in the end, it turns out, neither of us was willing to give up all this," Rodney waved towards the sky, the city, and the ring of light encompassing it all. "Or at least, we weren't willing to give it up for each other."

There was a long pause, and then John started kicking his legs out again, a little stiltedly. "Sorry, buddy."

"Oh, no big deal! I'll likely die alone, unloved, but I guess if it's a choice between dying alone and dying in Pegasus, I'll take Pegasus. Even if it means I get trapped in between you and Ronon when you decide mudfights are the way to really show people we're trustworthy."

"Hey, it worked, didn't it?"

"No no no!" Rodney said. "Digging the well won their trust. The fact that we were willing to get muddy and work as a team with strangers, that's all the crap that mattered to the Mularoans. Don't start thinking you can just throw mud at people and we'll all be best friends. We aren't five, Sheppard."

John gave him a funny grin. "Yeah, I guess we're past pulling on pigtails."

( Where to Start Over and How to Begin - Part 2 of 2 )

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Dec. 20th, 2010 11:52 pm (UTC)
Just want to say I laughed out loud at the "acting like a human being" in comparison to John comment! And Teyla is marvelous in this! Especially when she got really pissed off!
lilyfarfalla
Jan. 5th, 2011 04:08 am (UTC)
That's AWESOME, thank you for letting me know I got a laugh!
livejournal
Oct. 30th, 2013 05:07 pm (UTC)
Richard Woolsey: Corrupted
User janeaverage referenced to your post from Richard Woolsey: Corrupted saying: [...] Woolsey's campaign of manipulation on Atlantis's behalf in 's Where to Start Over and How to Begin [...]
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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