Series: Moments Sacred and Profane

Title: Interlude 2: A Strange and Ancient Voice

Author: Mice

Email: just_us_mice@yahoo.com

Category: Stargate: Atlantis, McKay/Beckett

Warnings: slash

Spoilers: Season One before The Brotherhood

Rating: NC17

Summary: Rodney and the Major are in trouble offworld and it's Wile E. McKay to the rescue.

Archive: If it's on your list, you can archive it. If it isn't and you'd like it, just let me know where you're putting it.

Feedback: Feed me, Seymour.

Website: Mice's Hole in the Wall https://www.squidge.org/mice

Mirror: http://mice.inkpress.org

Disclaimer: Not mine. They belong to many other people. But if they were mine, they'd be having very interesting adventures.

Author's Notes: This story is set between Meditations on the Abyss and To Dance at the Edge. Beta-age from kt4ever, Pas, Zortified, FaithsQueen and Lucia Tanaka with kibitzing from the rest of the Scribas Smutters.

 

~~~

 

Let me speak the mother tongue

and I will sing so loudly

newlyweds and old women

will dance to my singing

and sheep will cease from cropping and machines

will gather round to listen

in cities fallen silent

as a ring of standing stones

               ~~Ursula LeGuin -- from Invocation~~

 

"Why why why!" Rodney panted as he ran from the Naldoran soldiers. It never failed. Go through the Gate; get chased by a bunch of idiots waving weapons around.

 

Sheppard didn't bother turning his head. "Shut up and run, McKay."

 

They were nowhere near the Gate. It was easily ten kilometres from the city to the ring, and here they were, dodging down drab, grey brick alleys and trying to haul themselves over wrought iron fences. The Naldorans were about as technologically advanced as the Hoffans or the Genii, and Rodney had desperately hoped that they could point him to the nearest ZedPM, thank you, but of course it never turned out that way.

 

He finally found a door that opened. Reaching out, he grabbed Sheppard by the vest and dragged him inside, shutting the door and leaning on it, hoping that the armed men chasing them hadn't seen them duck out of the way. He tried to gasp quietly, but his breath thundered in his ears.

 

"Good idea," Sheppard hissed, leaning against the door beside him.

 

Rodney closed his eyes and let the back of his head rest against the cool wood. The Naldorans valued knowledge above all else, according to Halling. What the Athosian hadn't told them was that the Naldorans had a thing about anyone that might be on a higher tech level than themselves. Not like the Athosians had anything to worry about on that score.

 

"This is all your fault," Rodney grumbled. He could hear the Naldoran soldiers running past. One was shouting instructions to the others. They'd start a door to door search soon, Rodney suspected. Only the fact that it was the middle of the night had kept them from being seen by random people in the street.

 

Sheppard elbowed him. "This is so not my fault. It's Halling's fault. He didn't tell us not to flash the Ancient stuff. And did you have to ask for a ZPM as the first thing out of your mouth?"

 

Rodney opened his eyes and turned his head, glowering at Sheppard. "What do you bet they're already starting the ritual barbeque with Teyla and Ford as the guests of honor?"

 

"Hey, nobody said anything about cannibalism. They seem to be reasonably civilized."

 

"Yeah, and so did the Hoffans, but what did they do as soon as Carson helped them out? They murdered half of their own population."

 

Sheppard sighed. "Sounds perfectly civilized to me, considering."

 

Rodney snorted. "Americans. You're all lunatics."

 

"We have to do something to get them out." Sheppard put his ear to the door. "Sounds like the troops have moved on. We should see if we can get out of here."

 

"We are so screwed."

 

"You always say that."

 

Rodney gave Sheppard a chary look. "Because it's always true."

 

"Try to have a little optimism here, McKay."

 

"That's Carson's job."

 

Sheppard stepped away from the door. "Move so I can look outside."

 

Rodney refused to budge. "Oh no. You open that door and they'll find us."

 

"We can't stay here."

 

Rodney nodded vigorously. "Oh yes we can. For at least the next ten minutes. I want those gorillas as far away as possible before we expose ourselves again."

 

"And if they realize they missed us and come back, then we're really screwed." He glared at Rodney in the dim, empty room.

 

"Point." Rodney moved and opened the door a crack. He peered into the alley. Nothing was moving. He could hear the distant sound of the soldiers running. "It's clear. Let's get out of here."

 

They ran.

 

***

 

"What do you mean, they didn't report in?" Carson could feel his shoulders knotting as he listened to Elizabeth over his radio.

 

"We're not sure what's happening, Carson. Halling assured me that the Athosians have never had difficulties with the Naldorans before."

 

Carson couldn't help the blaze of anger he felt. "Aye, and they'd never had trouble with the bloody Genii either. Are you sending a team out after them?"

 

"Not yet," Elizabeth said. "They're only two hours overdue and, from what Halling said, the city is about ten miles from the Gate. It could be that they've simply been delayed."

 

"I hope you're right." Carson sighed. That was what he'd always hated worst about having Rodney offworld. Anything could happen. He always got a little chill down his spine when he had to say goodbye to his lover before a mission. For all he knew, each time Rodney stepped through the puddle might be the last. "If you hear anything, please let me know."

 

"Of course." Elizabeth sounded a wee bit concerned herself. Carson didn't blame her. It wasn't her fault that none of the team had checked in. There was nothing she could do to change that fact, and it was true that sometimes they dialed in late because they'd been delayed by weather or a miscalculation of some sort. He resigned himself to waiting.

 

***

 

"I really hoped you guys would get away," Ford said. His wrists were chained to one wall of their cell, and he sat, frustrated and forlorn, on the dank cement floor. "We were sorta counting on you to get us out of here."

 

Sheppard sighed, similarly bound. "Okay, so we fucked up. Now we have to figure out how to get ourselves out of this mess." He looked over at McKay. "Any ideas?"

 

McKay shook his head. "I got nothing." He raised his chained wrists from his lap. "This isn't my idea of a good time, I'll have you know."

 

"You think it's mine?" Sheppard glared at him.

 

"Who knows what kind of kinks--" McKay started.

 

"Gentlemen," Teyla interrupted, "I think we should be considering ways to escape. If you wish to argue, I would suggest you do it once we're out of this cell."

 

She would be the voice of reason. Sheppard sighed. "Yeah, yeah, you're right. Any ideas?" Teyla shook her head. "So. Nobody has anything we can use to pick the locks."

 

"Their search was quite thorough." Teyla had a look of distaste on her face. He hoped she hadn't been subjected to a body cavity search.

 

"Nope." Ford frowned. "They strip-searched us." They'd done that to him and McKay as well.

 

"You know, they don't tell you things like this can happen in Ph.D. programmes." McKay shifted uncomfortably. "And when we do get out of here, we're going to have to get all our stuff back too. I'm betting they have it locked away in some lab somewhere."

 

"I just hope they haven't taken everything apart," Ford said.

 

Sheppard watched as McKay shuddered. "At least they can't use the Ancient technology," McKay said.

 

"No," Sheppard said, "but that doesn't mean they won't be able to figure out how to reproduce a P90. Not something I'm looking forward to."

 

"Maybe they'll blow themselves up," McKay said, though he sounded doubtful.

 

Ford shook his head. "No way. These guys have guns a lot like the Genii's. They've got the whole light firearms thing down."

 

"Figures," McKay said.

 

There was a rattle in the hallway and the cell door opened. A pair of guards in stiff, high-necked grey uniforms stepped in. Why did all the baddies have to have lousy Nazi-era fashion sense? One took McKay by the shoulder. "You're to come with me."

 

"Hey! Wait a minute here!" Sheppard bolted to his feet and started for the guards, but the chain kept him too far from them to do any good. "I'm their leader. You want to question somebody, you take me."

 

McKay's eyes were wide with fear. "What he said!"

 

"No," the guard replied, leaving McKay's wrists manacled as he removed the chain from the wall. "Your scientist is the one we want." The other guard shoved Sheppard, one hand against his chest, and he fell back against the wall with a grunt.

 

"Oh, no no no," McKay said. "I'm allergic to everything, especially torture. I really, really hate torture."

 

Sheppard reached out for McKay, not able to get close. "We'll get you out of this," he swore, not knowing how.

 

McKay snorted as the guards took him away. "Tell that to Carson when you drag my bloody carcass back to Atlantis."

 

Sheppard could only watch.

 

***

 

 

Rodney looked around nervously when the soldiers escorted him into the brightly lit, well appointed office. There was an almost Victorian feel to it, with entirely too busy wallpaper in dark reds and browns. "What, you're gonna torture me here? I don't know why you want to get blood all over your best woodwork. Protein stains are so hard to get rid of."

 

"You will not be tortured, Dr. McKay." Rodney watched as a grey haired man entered the room through another door. He was dressed in a long, formal black coat that sported truly awful gold epaulets. The soldiers let him go and backed away to stand at rest on either side of the door he'd been brought in through. The man took a seat at the huge, dark wood desk, gesturing for Rodney to sit in the chair before him.

 

Rodney sat, still jittering. He wished he were back in Atlantis. He could use a little rest in his own nice, warm bed with his nice, warm Carson tucked around him. "So, no torture. Um... are we on the same page when it comes to torture? Because, you know, drugs and stuff."

 

"I assure you, you and your companions will not be harmed." The man leaned back in his chair, exuding confidence. "I am Minister Natazh, Chief of the Technology Bureau. The items you brought with you are most curious. We have something that we believe dates to a similar period, possibly of Lantean origin. It is a greatly revered treasure, but no one on Naldor can translate the inscriptions on it, nor make it function in any way."

 

"If that's all you wanted--"

 

Natazh interrupted Rodney. "Your people have a poor reputation among some of our allies. While I will not turn you or any of your people over to the Genii, our government cannot trust you. The technology you possess is a potential threat to us, and your commander's actions in the presence of the High Council were overbearing and threatening. You're lucky he's still alive."

 

Rodney's pulse skyrocketed. "The Athosians--"

 

"Obviously did not teach any of you manners." The expression on Natazh's face was menacing. "While I have no desire to harm you or your people, our military may not be in so generous a mood."

 

"Peachy," Rodney mumbled. So, it was a technological mess. And it looked like he was going to have to get them all out of it by solving some kind of Ancient puzzle. For all he knew, it could just be the gene and he could flip a mental switch and they could be on their way. They were hours late getting back and Carson was so going to kill him. "So what do you want from me?"

 

Natazh opened his desk drawer and Rodney tensed, expecting a bullet. Instead, the Minister pulled a sheet of paper out and handed it to him. "First, a translation of this. Our people have not been able to decipher its meaning."

 

Rodney reached out carefully and took the sheet, looking at it. The alphabet was Ancient. He could read some of it, but it he wasn't sure what most of it was. "This, um... it's going to take me a while. I need some context. Where did you find this? What's it written on? And can I see it for myself? How do I know this isn't a garbled copy?"

 

"Can you read it?" Natazh leaned forward, resting his forearms on the desk.

 

Rodney grumbled, annoyed. "Some of it, yes, but I'm a physicist, not a linguist. It's not like this is my specialty."

 

"My Genii colleagues were under the impression you knew -- what was it they said -- 'almost everything about almost everything.'" He raised one bushy grey eyebrow.

 

Oh great. Now his words were coming back to bite him on the ass. "Hey, if you want my help, you need to let me contact my people. I need to talk to Atlantis."

 

"I cannot allow that just yet," Natazh said. "No doubt your people would attempt to coerce us into releasing you before we're ready."

 

"You know, really, you people could just ask if you want our help. I mean we're here looking for trade, right? So let's trade." It wasn't like Rodney was any good with this negotiation stuff. Right about now he'd give his left nut for Elizabeth to be sitting in on the dickering, with nobody at all in chains. "And anyway," he raised his still manacled wrists, "could we maybe lose these things?"

 

Natazh regarded him with a look that made Rodney feel like a bug under a microscope. "You are not currently in a position to negotiate for anything, Dr. McKay."

 

"I don't know, I think I'm in a reasonably good position for it myself. I can give you the information you want, and you can let me and my friends go, right? So why shouldn't I be comfortable when I'm doing your translation for you? These things are chafing on my wrists like crazy. I have sensitive skin. And really, did you have to take away my Epi-pen? What if I'm allergic to--"

 

"Shut up, Dr. McKay," Natazh snapped. "You try my patience."

 

"Do you want me to translate this for you or not? Because I can sit here indefinitely doing nothing, I assure you." Natazh wasn't the only one who was getting irritated and impatient. "Some food would be nice. You could feed me and my team."

 

"Dr. Mc--"

 

Rodney was on a roll now, anger rising. "You want me to cooperate? Get these damned chains off me, feed me, and let me see the damned artifact. You let me contact Atlantis so they don't assume you're murdering us and send a bunch of troops through to rescue us. And mostly? I need food and my Epi-pen, because if I'm allergic to something you feed me and I don't have it, I'm gonna drop dead and you'll be shit out of luck."

 

Natazh sighed and shook his head. "You are an exceedingly rude and irritating man." He looked up and gestured to one of the guards. "You're very lucky we aren't like the Genii." He pointed to Rodney. "Remove his shackles. Then see to it that his friends are fed. Bring food here, as well." He looked back at Rodney. "What is an Epi-pen?"

 

Relieved, Rodney explained. Natazh told the guard to get that as well, and Rodney nodded, pleased. "Right. That's a great start. Now, are you going to let me talk to Atlantis?"

 

"We will contact Atlantis and explain your delay."

 

"Dr. Weir's going to want to speak to me, or to Major Sheppard: she's unlikely to take your word for it that we're unharmed." He held his wrists out to the soldier then shook them and rubbed at them when the manacles came off. "Damn, look at this. I have bruises already. I'm all chafed." He held one arm across the desk, under Natazh's nose.

 

Natazh rolled his eyes and groaned.

 

***

 

"Oh, thank god," Carson said, sinking into a chair in Elizabeth's office. "And you're sure they're all right, then?"

 

"I spoke to Rodney as well as Minister Natazh. It seems there was something of a misunderstanding." She leaned back against her desk, hands resting on its surface. There were undercurrents in her voice that left Carson uneasy.

 

"Well whenever Rodney's involved, misunderstandings aren't far behind," he admitted. "But I'm still a wee bit worried."

 

"As am I," she said. "He didn't sound like he was hurt, but at the same time, it didn't seem as though he was able to say everything he wanted to."

 

"You're not going to send a team after them?" He leaned forward, anxious.

 

She shook her head and stood. "Not just yet. I want to give them some time, see what happens. They're supposed to report in every four hours and I'll talk to at least one of them each time."

 

Carson stood, his stomach churning. "I really don't like this, Elizabeth. It sounds suspicious to me."

 

She put a hand on his shoulder. "I know. To me, too. But right now, we have to trust Rodney and John to get them out of this situation."

 

Carson closed his eyes, wishing again that Rodney didn't have to go through the Gate. "I just want him home," he said quietly.

 

"He'll be here. You know how resourceful he is."

 

"I know how often he comes home injured." The chill was in his gut, tingling in his fingers and toes. He hated it when the fear did that to him.

 

"Trust him, Carson. He'd have said something if things were too bad."

 

Opening his eyes, he looked up and caught Elizabeth's gaze. "Only if he was able to." He turned and left.

 

***

 

"What the hell are you doing, McKay?" Sheppard stared at McKay, bent over a table, making notes in the fading light.

 

"Getting us out of here," McKay said, not looking up. He looked back at a large sheet of paper with a rubbing on it then made some more notes.

 

Sheppard moved to look over his shoulder. He and the rest of his team had been released from their cell a few minutes ago, after they'd been uncuffed and fed. They'd been brought here, but were really no more free than they had been before. There were four guards outside the door of the elegantly furnished room. "What is it?" He tapped the rubbing with one finger.

 

"Rubbing from an Ancient artifact. They want me to translate it, see if I can get the artifact working again." McKay didn't bother to take his eyes from his work. "And I'll get us home again faster if you'll shut up and let me work."

 

"Hey now, wait a minute. What kind of artifact? I mean, what if it's some kind of weapon?" Sheppard grabbed McKay's shoulder.

 

Ford nodded. "Yeah, and really, do you think they're gonna let us go just because you read something for them? What if you can't get the thing working again?"

 

McKay looked up. "It's not a weapon. I saw the artifact."

 

"How do you know it is not a weapon?" Teyla asked.

 

McKay snorted and turned his chair toward them. He leaned one elbow on the table, his voice filled with annoyance. "Because it's almost identical to the pedestal in the hologram room that Carson found when we first got to Atlantis. It's not a weapon. It's an archive."

 

Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "You sure that's all it is?"

 

McKay's eyes rolled. "Yes, Major, I'm quite sure that's all it is. It'll need some repairs. I'm not sure they have a power source for it, either, but think about it -- if I fix this for them, we may be able to negotiate access to a whole second Ancient database. What if it can tell us where there's a ZedPM? Or how to recharge one that's drained? Don't you think that's worth taking a chance that they're being less than honest with us?"

 

Sheppard considered it for a moment. "Yeah, okay Rodney, I can see your point. And we are out of that cell, though really, I don't think being here with guards outside the door is all that much better."

 

"I got you fed, didn't I?" McKay asked. He turned back to the rubbings.

 

***

 

"At least they're all right," Carson said, sighing. "I don't know what to think anymore when he goes through the Gate."

 

Radek patted his shoulder. "They will be fine. Trust them."

 

The Thursday crew was thin tonight. People were busy but a few of the usual crowd had come. Erin and Hiro were, as usual, sitting on the floor by the coffee table playing Go. Tanya Jones, one of the Air Force intelligence people, was sitting with them as she watched the game. Peter was on the couch, his back tucked against Geoff's side, one of Geoff's arms around him. 

 

"I wish I knew when they'll be home. I worry." Carson looked up at Radek, eyes clouded with his anxiety. Radek disliked seeing Carson like that.

 

"It depends on how long it takes McKay to do the translations," Peter said. "I don't know why they won't let one of the linguists go. You'd think they would be eager to have all the assistance they could get."

 

"I don't trust anyone outside of Atlantis these days," Carson said. "All they ever want to do is kill people, or lock them up."

 

"We must find a ZPM, Carson. This was one of the planets on the other Dr. Weir's list. Without the ZPM, there will be no going back to Earth." Radek shook his head.

 

Carson's eyes narrowed. "You think I don't know that? It's not like you or Geoff go through the Gate and get shot or beaten or chased about every week or so."

 

"Nobody has to go through the Gate to die around here," Geoff said. He looked at Radek, reaching out one hand. Radek took it and squeezed, knowing Geoff was thinking about the nanovirus.

 

Carson slumped slightly and nodded. "I know, I know. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said such a thing. I'm just worried."

 

"It is all right, Carson," Radek said. "We know."

 

Carson tucked his knees up under his chin in the big chair, arms about his legs. Eyes closed, he made a quiet, uneasy sound. "I wish he didn't have to go through the Gate all the time. I wish he were here."

 

"He'd kill things if he couldn't go through the Gate," Peter said. "Honestly, I wouldn't want him in that mood."

 

Carson gave a dry chuckle, one side of his mouth quirking in a humorless smile. "Oh, aye. It's nothing I don't know. I think he's picked that up from the Major. Back in Antarctica, he'd not have had such a taste for it."

 

"Sometimes I swear Sheppard has a suicide wish," Erin said, looking up from the game. "That man takes the stupidest risks."

 

Hiro shook his head. "Military, they are all like that."

 

"Hey," Tanya said. She glared at him.

 

Hiro looked at her. "Okay, maybe not you." He grinned. "But then, I have never seen you with a gun in your hand."

 

"I just don't want to see Rodney developing a similar streak," Carson said softly. He closed his eyes for a moment. "I really think I should go. I'm... I don't think I'm very good company tonight."

 

"There's nothing wrong with your company," Peter said, looking over at him.

 

Carson grimaced. "I'll only annoy everyone."

 

"Nonsense," Radek said. "If you are upset here, you'll only be more upset if you go off by yourself. Stay a while." He let go of Geoff's hand and patted Carson's knee. "This is what friends are for, yes?"

 

Uncurling, Carson put his feet back on the floor. "If you're sure?"

 

"Of course," Geoff said. "They'll be fine. Just try to relax, okay?"

 

"I'll believe they'll be fine when I see Rodney standing in front of me in one piece," Carson muttered.

 

"He's a stubborn bastard," Erin said. "If they haven't done horrible things to him already, he's gonna come home." She placed a stone with a sharp click. "Gotcha."

 

Hiro snorted. He clicked a stone down as well. "No. I've got you, ne?" He grinned as she made a strangled noise, and Tanya giggled when Hiro pulled Erin's captured stones from the board.

 

Erin said something that was evidently quite rude in Japanese and Hiro laughed. "Oh yeah, you got me," she said. "Man, I should know better than that by now. How many straight wins is that for you?"

 

"Seventeen. Another game?" he asked.

 

"Uh, no. I've suffered ignominious defeat twice tonight already. I think it's time for me to tuck my tail between my legs and get a late snack before I turn in."

 

Hiro shrugged and smiled at her. "Hai; sounds good to me. Shall we?"

 

"I'll go with you guys," Tanya said. She stood and turned to Carson. "Really, I'm sure they'll be okay. The Major's good at getting people out of tough situations. You know that."

 

Carson nodded. "Oh, aye, but this isn't one that calls for guns."

 

"So Rodney will be his usual brilliant but obnoxious self and solve the problem. He's not that bad with Ancient, you know," Erin said, standing with Hiro. "Didn't they have red jello tonight?" She went to Carson and hugged him. "I'm sure he'll be home soon. Try not to worry too much, okay? I know it's useless advice, but you know we're here for you."

 

Hiro patted his shoulder. "For all that McKay is annoying, he truly is a brilliant man. If anyone can bring them all home, it will be him."

 

"It's too bad they won't let one of the lingies go help out," Tanya said, rubbing Carson's back. "I bet Erin here could help crack it in no time."

 

"Such confidence," Erin said. The three left with a wave, chatting together.

 

Carson put his chin in his hands. "I'm not sure I should stay very much longer."

 

Radek got up and stood beside Carson, resting a hand on his shoulder. "Do not go, Carson. We're your friends. We know you worry."

 

Carson nodded and stood himself. "I know, but I think it's time I take my worrying home. I'll be fine, really."

 

"Liar," Geoff said. "You're not even good at it."

 

"Carson," Peter added, "there's no need for you to leave. Just talk with us."

 

Carson looked at each of them and Radek could see the moment in his eyes when he changed his mind about leaving. "All right then." Radek sat on the arm of the chair and rested a hand on Carson's shoulder.

 

"I am glad you will stay." He sighed. In all truth, he was nearly as worried for Rodney as Carson was. For all their arguments, he felt close to the man. Rodney was a friend and Radek hated the idea of seeing him hurt. The thought of what that would do to Carson made it even worse.

 

Carson shook his head and looked over at Peter and Geoff. "I'm sorry I fret so. I should know better, really."

 

"Well, it *is* Rodney," Peter said. "I can understand why."

 

"So not helping," Geoff said. He poked Peter with an elbow. Carson chuckled softly.

 

"Carson, would you like a drink?" Radek offered.

 

Geoff looked at him. "You still have vodka?"

 

"Not much anymore." Radek shrugged. "Was saving it for a moment of need. I think this qualifies."

 

Carson nodded. "Aye, I think I'd like that very much. I could use a wee dram."

 

Radek went into the bedroom and pulled out the little bottle from his bureau drawer. He gave it a gentle shake. There was less than half the bottle left, and this was a much smaller container than the one he'd smuggled to Atlantis in the beginning. He sighed. It was for a good cause, at least. There was really only enough left for a few sips for each of them. Closing the drawer, he returned to the main room. Opening the cap, he handed it to Carson. "This is all that is left," he said. "Take a sip, pass it around."

 

Carson nodded. "Slŕinte," he said, raising the small flask. He sipped and passed it back to Radek.

 

"He will come home," Radek said. He sipped and passed it to Geoff.

 

Geoff nodded. "It's gonna be okay, Carson." Geoff sipped and made a face. "Oh, smooth." He handed it off to Peter.

 

Peter smiled. "Cheers." He sipped as well and passed it back to Carson. The flask went around one more time, and as Radek predicted, that was the end of it.

 

"Thanks lads," Carson said softly. "You're good friends. I really did need this. It's been a while since I've had anything stronger than that Athosian beer."

 

Radek nodded. "Yes. Perhaps it will help you sleep?"

 

"I think so. It's got me a wee bit lightheaded already."

 

"Who knew you were a lightweight?" Geoff said. He smiled.

 

"Don't be teasing him, Geoff," Peter admonished. "He's got enough of a rough patch without you messing with him."

 

Carson gave him a half-hearted smile. "Oh now, it's not so bad. I'll certainly make it back to my place without knocking into walls."

 

"If you want, I could walk with you," Radek offered.

 

"No lad." Carson's voice was soft. "I've done enough fretting. It's time I'm off. I really should try to sleep."

 

"If you are sure." Radek tilted his head, looking at Carson, wishing there was more he could do.

 

"Aye, I'm sure."

 

"Well then." Radek stood. Geoff and Peter both got up as well, and the three of them hugged Carson before he left.

 

"See you tomorrow," Geoff said.

 

"Breakfast," Peter added.

 

Radek nodded and patted Carson's back. "Try to sleep, yes?"

 

Carson smiled, this one a bit more genuine. "Right enough then. Good night, lads."

 

***

 

Rodney sighed quietly. He was only partway through the translation. He wished silently for Elizabeth or maybe Harold Natzen, because although he read Ancient passably well, it wasn't his specialty and this seemed to be some odd variant that the squishy people would just go nuts over.

 

He wasn't sure how long he'd been awake, but he was pretty sure it was nearing dawn on Naldor. He'd been fed and brought innocuous caffeine several times, which pleased him, but he hadn't been allowed out of the room for more than piss breaks. The same had been true of his teammates.

 

"McKay." Sheppard spoke softly.

 

Rodney looked over his shoulder. Teyla and Ford were asleep on cots across the room. Sheppard was lying on his side, head propped on one hand with his elbow braced on his pillow. "Why aren't you asleep?" Rodney asked.

 

"I could ask you the same question." Sheppard gestured at the fourth, empty cot in the corner next to his own.

 

Rodney stretched, hearing his shoulders pop as his muscles protested. "There was this little thing about translating some text to get us out of here?"

 

"You can't do that if your brain's leaking out your ears, Rodney."

 

"I'm caffeinated. I want to go home." He grimaced, trying to loosen the tightness in one shoulder by rotating it.

 

Sheppard nodded. "We'll get there."

 

"I know," Rodney snarked. "Because I'll be staying up until I get this project done." Sheppard sat, stretching, then got up and pulled up a chair next to Rodney. He stared at Rodney for a long moment. "What," Rodney growled.

 

"You're gonna burn out. You should rest."

 

Rodney shook his head. "No, I should finish this so we can go home. I have a problem with having to raise my hand to use the washroom. I thought I left that behind in primary school."

 

"McKay--"

 

Rodney huffed and stood. "Look Major, this is not something we can shoot our way out of, and if I do this, we may end up with a lot more information we can use. I'm the one that has to do this. I know you don't read Ancient and neither does Ford, and Teyla barely reads English yet. It's not like we've got a plethora of options here."

 

"I know." Sheppard took his sleeve and tugged for Rodney to sit again. "Look, I'm sorry about pissing off the Naldorans, okay? I had no idea they'd be all freaked about the shiny Ancient toys."

 

Rodney nodded and sat again. "Yeah. Well."

 

Sheppard looked up at him, eyes guarded. "You miss him, don't you?"

 

Rodney clamped down hard on himself, not wanting to show his loneliness. "I'm busy, Major. Do you have anything useful to say?"

 

"I'm not trying to imply anything," Sheppard said, "if that's what you're thinking."

 

"Then why are you asking?"

 

Sheppard sighed and lowered his eyes. "'Cuz if I had somebody to come home to, I think I'd be missing them a lot right now."

 

Rodney gave him a long, assessing glance. Eventually, Sheppard looked up again. "What is it with you? Always with the questions."

 

"Dunno. I guess maybe... well, maybe I'm a little jealous."

 

Rodney snorted quietly. "Captain Kirk? Jealous? Yeah, right."

 

"I don't have an alien in every port, you know." There was something in Sheppard's voice that stopped Rodney.

 

"You really are jealous? Of me?" Rodney couldn't help the astonishment in his voice. He'd never thought Sheppard would have anything but intellect to be jealous of, and the man was not nearly as dumb as he sometimes pretended.

 

"Yeah, maybe a little."

 

Rodney tilted his head, eyeing Sheppard suspiciously. "I thought you weren't into guys."

 

Sheppard's mouth twisted into an annoyed grimace. "I'm not, but it's the principle of the thing."

 

"Why are you talking about this?" Rodney leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on the desk where he'd been working. "Last time you started talking about this, you were flirting with me."

 

Sheppard's scowl deepened. "Not. Flirting."

 

Rodney grinned. "That remains to be seen. I know you can't resist my superior genius."

 

"You really are delusional, you know," Sheppard said casually. "Probably why Carson likes you. You're a great case study."

 

Rodney chuckled. "Carson loves me because I'm a great lay."

 

"Oh god. I so didn't wanna know that."

 

Rodney grinned, triumphant. "You started this, you know. And you're keeping me from working on the translation. Time's wasting here; tick tick." He waved one finger like a metronome.

 

"You really do need some rest." Sheppard's eyes caught him in the dim light. "Carson'll kick my ass if I don't take care of you."

 

"You make me sound like Carson's pet."

 

Sheppard grinned. "And you're not?"

 

It was Rodney's turn to grimace. "Certainly not!" He crossed his arms over his chest, but the sudden motion made him lose balance with his chair tipped back on two legs. "Whoaaa!" His arms windmilled and he'd have fallen on his head if Sheppard hadn't caught the back of the chair and set him upright again.

 

Sheppard laughed quietly. "You need a keeper, Rodney."

 

"And that would be -- Carson."

 

"Not here now."

 

"That's patently obvious, Major." Rodney's shoulders slumped. He really did miss Carson. It suddenly struck him exactly how exhausted he was.

 

"Get some sleep, McKay." Sheppard rubbed his shoulder.

 

Rodney sighed, letting some of his tiredness show. "After I save our posteriors, thanks."

 

"Why he isn't constantly drugging your ass to make you sleep is beyond me."

 

Rodney let a bit of a smile twist his mouth. "He has better ways of getting me into bed."

 

Sheppard rolled his eyes and leaned his head back to stare at the ceiling. "You keep saying shit like that, Rodney. It's putting totally unwanted pictures in my head."

 

"If you stare at the pictures long enough, you'll fall asleep," Rodney said, hoping that Sheppard might actually let him get a little more work done before he collapsed.

 

"Unh-unh. Time for all good little geeks to go to bed." Sheppard stood and tugged Rodney to his feet, pointing him to the cot in the corner. "Come on. Seriously. You'll think better in the morning."

 

Rodney sighed. He hated to admit it, but it was true. "Yeah, yeah. Okay. Point." He stumbled toward the cot. "This is me going to bed. Will you leave me alone now?"

 

Sheppard stood over him, watching until he got into the cot and covered up with the blanket. "Close your eyes. No peeking."

 

"Right, mother." Rodney rolled over onto his side, facing the wall. "Yenta," he muttered.

 

***

 

Carson poked at his pillow. It wasn't like Rodney was there every night, but he was used to having the man about. How was he supposed to sleep when Rodney might be in trouble? With a sigh, he settled in and thought the lights off.

 

He wasn't entirely sure when his bed had begun feeling so empty without Rodney in it. Rolling to one side, he pulled his pillow to him, tucking part of it against his chest. He wondered where Rodney was now and what was happening to him.

 

His fingers traced the pillow, wishing it were Rodney's skin beneath them. Carson missed his warmth and the firm bulk of his lover beside him. Rodney would be muttering about work and the annoyance of dealing with idiots and complaining about the most recent movie he'd seen with the Major.

 

Groaning quietly, Carson tossed again, rolling over. He just couldn't get comfortable, not without knowing if Rodney was actually safe. That said, it was very late and it wasn't like he could ask anyone. Going into the Gateroom to ask the duty tech if he'd heard anything would only be pathetic.

 

Staring at the ceiling wasn't doing much for him, nor was the view of his wall. It was too dark to see anything out the window but the dim light of stars. Eventually he buried his face in his pillow and sequenced Wraith DNA in his head until he fell asleep.

 

~

 

The emotions were so strong sometimes that Carson couldn't look away from Rodney. They had been together for years and while they had their fights and their moments of fear and separation due to their work, they were good together. When they held each other, it was with love and confidence in one another, and even in the worst of times there was trust and respect.

 

Atlantis was behind them now, a commute from Earth rather than a desperate bid for survival. The windows of their home looked out over the water from Portree. Rodney insisted that if they kept a place in Skye, they should have one in Vancouver as well, and Carson was content to shuttle back and forth every so often.

 

Carson finally had all he'd ever wanted and more: challenging work, two lovely homes, friends and relatives and safety. And he had Rodney. Wonderful, brilliant, obnoxious, aggravating Rodney McKay, who had also found some measure of contentment in what they shared.

 

Rodney walked with him on the shore, looking out across the harbour to the Isle of Raasay in the distance, holding his hand. He had less hair now, and what was left was going grey, but his blue eyes were still bright and clear, his mind sharp as razors. Carson looked at him and smiled, a warmth like he'd never known filling his chest. They'd fought and struggled and nearly died more times than Carson ever wanted to remember, but this -- it was worth every moment.

 

~

 

Sighing in his sleep, Carson curled around his pillow.

 

***

 

Minister Natazh sat uncomfortably across from McKay. "And your progress?" the Naldoran asked.

 

McKay shook his head, waving his pen as he spoke. "Not so much. I've only had one night to work on it, and this is a variant of Ancient I haven't seen before. I don't understand why you don't just let us bring a couple of linguists over. Really, this would go much faster." He tapped his pen on the table impatiently.

 

"The High Council is considering your request to work on the translations at the artifact itself," Natazh said.

 

McKay gave Natazh the hairy eyeball. "It's about time. How do you expect me to work under these conditions?" He waved both hands, encompassing the room, and probably the rest of the planet, with his gesture. "It's appalling. Guards breathing down our necks, having to be escorted to the damned washroom. Really, you could learn a few lessons from the Athosians about how to treat a guest."

 

"As long as they're not learning from the Genii and the Manarans," Sheppard muttered under his breath. "Backstabbing bastards."

 

McKay didn't pause in his tirade, and Sheppard stopped listening. He was doing a damned fine job of cowing the Minister, really. Far be it for one flyboy Major to interrupt a genius at work. Sheppard leaned back and grinned at one of the guards, who just glared.

 

Ford was leaned casually against the far wall, watching everything carefully without appearing to. Teyla sat quietly, her eyes on Natazh. She looked relaxed, but the glint in her eye said she was ready to spring, a panther in motion, if a threat presented itself.

 

Sheppard wished for his P90. He wondered if they'd have to fight to get their equipment back before they were released. Assuming they were at all. It wasn't like they could afford to lose anything at this point. Without a ZPM, there weren't going to be any restocking options. Nobody could just fill out a requisition form.

 

A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door, interrupting Rodney's rant. Sheppard wondered how Natazh managed to keep from running out of the room under the sheer speed and volume of it all. Not that Natazh had a prayer of understanding half of McKay's snark. There seemed to be an awful lot of Star Trek thrown in today. Sheppard felt it was more of a Monty Python situation, himself.

 

"Yes, yes, what?" Natazh snapped, gesturing to his bodyguard to open the door. A messenger stood in the hallway.

 

"Minister, the High Council has made its decision." He held out a sheet of paper. The bodyguard took it and handed it to Natazh.

 

Natazh read and then looked up. "Your request has been granted, Dr. McKay."

 

"Oh, good, because I was getting a little annoyed with the treatment here. By the way, I need to piss before we leave, so like give me ten minutes, okay?"

 

Sheppard choked back a laugh at the look on Natazh's face. Oh, this was going to be good.

 

***

 

"Do you even know if the thing is working?" Sheppard asked.

 

Rodney sighed and shook his head. "We went over this last night, Major. Something's broken or knocked loose or there's no power. Nothing I did got the pedestal to light up. It was hopeless, and they wouldn't let me examine it properly before they dragged me away and handed me the rubbings."

 

They were trudging through the woods about seven kilometres outside the city, both of them surrounded by guards. Teyla and Ford were back in the city, hostages for their good behavior. Rodney hoped Sheppard wasn't going to play hero and try to 'rescue' them before he got a good look at the pedestal again. He wanted the information in that potential database, and he'd stay here for weeks to do it if he had to. 

 

The Naldorans were heavily armed, but that had never stopped the Major's idiotic plans before. There were moments when Rodney would swear the man had a death wish. Certainly, he'd also got them out of some really hideous, nay, mind-bogglingly impossible situations before, but there were times that Rodney just wished that Kirk would keep his phaser in his pants.

 

They were being treated slightly more like guests and less like prisoners now, but it was a near thing. Sort of the difference between a roach motel and flypaper, he supposed.

 

Rodney had managed to talk Natazh into giving him back his spiffy Ancient scanner before they'd left the city. The man had no real backbone, Rodney thought. He'd been terribly eager to get rid of Rodney, upon further contemplation. Rodney humphed and shook his head. Had the man been slightly more reasonable, Rodney was sure they'd have had a great deal to talk about, nuclear weapons excluded.

 

Well, okay. Maybe not C4 either.

 

But really? They should have treated Rodney like a visiting dignitary, if they valued knowledge and technology so highly. Being the smartest man in two galaxies was more of a burden than anyone understood. When Halling had first described the place to them, he'd been looking forward to the visit. Surely people who valued technology would have some respect for his vast intellect.

 

This whole getting shot at and locked up and forced to do translations thing was so beneath his dignity. Granted, most of it happened far too often, but there had to be some people in this insane galaxy who weren't just looking for an excuse to knife you in the back. Or suck your life out of you through the palms of their hands. Whichever.

 

Rodney wondered if Daniel Jackson ever had to deal with losers like Natazh. Probably. Except they were far more megalomaniacal and entirely badly dressed. The Goa'uld were notorious for lousy wardrobes and melodrama.

 

Rodney chuckled.

 

"What?" Sheppard asked.

 

"Oh, nothing," Rodney said. "Badly dressed aliens, that's all."

 

Sheppard looked at him like his brains had just leaked out his ears. He shook his head. "McKay, are you on drugs or what?"

 

"I'd like to be on coffee," Rodney said. "But for that, we'd have to have a ZedPM and regular contact with Earth. Funny how that works, wouldn't you say?"

 

"You are on drugs." Sheppard's voice was low, but he was grinning.

 

A few more minutes of walking brought them to the small circular building that housed the pedestal. "Here," Jaron said. Natazh's supervising minion was a young man, maybe in his early 30s, with blond hair and a severe, high-collared grey uniform.

 

"Yes, thank you, I'm sure none of us would recognize this as the only building around," Rodney said.

 

Sheppard elbowed him. "McKay," he said quietly, "they do still have guns."

 

"True." Rodney sighed. He had about a third of the inscription translated, but he wasn't sure the rubbings were entirely accurate. He hoped that being able to examine the pedestal again more closely would result in a little more clarity. He pulled the scanner from his pocket and checked the readings. "Not that it really matters. They want to know what this says as much as I do."

 

"Yeah," Sheppard said, "but you don't have to be able to walk to do that."

 

Rodney blinked, not having really considered that option.

 

"I really think you should focus upon the task at hand," Jaron said.

 

"Yes, right, focusing." Rodney ignored everyone around him, putting his entire attention on reading the various scanner indications. "There's power here," he said after a few minutes. "It's underground, but here. That means there's something wrong with the pedestal itself."

 

"Where is this power source you're speaking of?" Jaron asked, peering over Rodney's shoulder.

 

Rodney poked him. "Don't crowd me. It's somewhere under the building, about a hundred metres down." He looked over at Sheppard. "Don't tell me we're dealing with more secret underground bunkers here, please." Turning back to Jaron he asked, "Are you sure the Genii aren't hanging around? I mean, they do the secret underground bunker thing really well."

 

"Not so much," Sheppard said.

 

"Well, okay," Rodney agreed. "They did sort of leave the secret entrance unlocked and everything."

 

Jaron was staring at them, his eyes wide with something that might have been astonishment, or perhaps just disbelief. "You have been inside the Genii sanctuary?"

 

Rodney and Sheppard stared at each other for a moment. "Um, what's the prize for the right answer?" Sheppard asked.

 

"Not much of a sanctuary, if you're looking at the whole radiation thing," Rodney muttered.

 

"Radiation?" Jaron sounded confused.

 

Rodney nodded. "Well, yeah. There's the whole thing about radiation sickness. You know -- hair falling out, nausea, skin lesions, that kind of thing. But of course if you manage to survive that, you're not gonna be popping out the kids anytime soon, or if you do, they're gonna be hideously deformed from radiation spawned mutations."

 

Jaron just blinked. "The Genii are not deformed. You are obviously lying."

 

Rodney shrugged. "Hey, it's their nads, not mine." Obviously, everyone in the Pegasus galaxy was brain damaged. There was no other explanation.

 

"I wonder how the power got down there?" Jaron muttered, ignoring Rodney. "There must be an entrance to the generators somewhere."

 

"Yeah, maybe," Rodney said, "but if there is, it's likely to be at least ten thousand years old. You guys would have found it by now if it was anything even close to obvious."

 

Jaron nodded. "Yes, yes. Of course. Which just means we must seek in more subtle ways." He looked up at Rodney. "So, you will do more work on the translations and on repairing the device."

 

"It's not like I have much of a choice, now, is it?" Rodney growled. "So open the damned door already."

 

Jaron produced a key and opened the building. He led Rodney and the others inside.

 

The readings changed once they entered the building. Rodney could see that power actually did run up into the pedestal, which meant something was disconnected or broken. He thought he'd check with Sheppard just in case. "You wanna touch that and see if anything happens?" Rodney asked, nudging Sheppard's elbow with his own.

 

The Major nodded. "Sure thing." He walked to the pedestal and stood behind it, laying his hands on it. Closing his eyes, he focused, but nothing happened. When he opened his eyes he shook his head. "Sorry, McKay. Dead as a doornail."

 

"That's what I figured." Rodney sighed. "That means I'm gonna have to get into its guts somehow."

 

"You might want to finish the translation first," Sheppard said. "Maybe there's some instructions or something."

 

Rodney glowered at the Major. "No, I thought I'd just stick my hands into it without taking any precautions. The concept of RTFM never crossed my mind."

 

Jaron gave him a puzzled look. "RTFM?"

 

"Read The Fucking Manual." Rodney snorted and turned to examine the writing on the pedestal.

 

"Just trying to help." Sheppard shook his head and took a seat nearby, under the watchful eyes of their guards.

 

"Yeah, well you can help by shutting up and not distracting me."

 

"Is he always like this?" Rodney heard Jaron ask Sheppard quietly.

 

"Yep, pretty much," Sheppard said.

 

"And you have not shot him?"

 

Rodney turned to them. "Oh please. Working here. Shut up."

 

Sheppard shrugged. "I did once."

 

Jaron's eyes widened. Rodney snorted. "Like it did any good. I was invulnerable at the time."

 

"In the leg," Sheppard added.

 

"Major!"

 

"Come on, Rodney, get on with it so we can go home or something." Sheppard grinned at him.

 

Rodney grumbled and turned back to his examination of the inscriptions. As he'd suspected, the rubbings were slightly blurred. It had created a few puzzles where none should have existed, though the variant of Ancient was still not what he knew. "Damn, I wish I had a linguist. Elizabeth would be able to do this with both eyes tied behind her back."

 

"So not going there," Sheppard said.

 

Rodney sighed, trying to ignore the distractions, and got down to work.

 

***

 

"So," Radek said, "it is a database, just as he suspected."

 

Dr. Weir nodded. "Yes, if his translations are correct. Unfortunately, he's not certain, but the evidence points that way. If the Naldorans would just let him send a copy of the inscription, we could have the linguistics department on it and know for sure, but they're being extremely guarded about everything."

 

Kavanagh cleared his throat and cleaned his glasses on his shirt, setting them back on his nose with a flourish. "If they'd let a few of us through, we could get it up and working in no time. I've been going over the schematics for the pedestal here, and I think I've got an idea of what's wrong with theirs."

 

"Please get a report for me by this afternoon, Dr. Kavanagh," Dr. Weir said. "I'll see if we can have it sent to Rodney."

"Are they still all right?" Carson asked anxiously, flipping idly through the report he'd given earlier. Radek patted his arm, concerned for his friend.

 

Dr. Weir nodded. "From what Lt. Ford said, yes. No one's been harmed. The Naldorans have been... uncooperative for the most part, but they did finally allow Rodney and the Major access to the artifact so that Rodney could finish the translations and examine the outer casing. He has yet to open the pedestal. They're still reluctant to allow him that."

 

Carson shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "How can he do what they want him to if they won't even let him get a look?"

 

"He probably believes he can fix it by the sheer power of his ego," Kavanagh muttered. Carson glared at him.

 

"Let's keep to the point at hand, Dr. Kavanagh," Dr. Weir said.

 

"Perhaps we should send a Jumper through the closest Gate and send them along to Naldor?" Carson suggested.

 

Radek shook his head, disappointed. "There is nothing within a week's flight of Naldor, príteli."

 

Dr Weir patted Carson's hand. "I had Peter check into it yesterday, Carson. I'm sorry."

 

"Ah," he said. "Well, then. I suppose we've nothing else to do at the moment."

 

"If anyone has any ideas, I'll be sure to let you know." Dr. Weir looked at the men around her. "Thank you for attending, gentlemen. Now let's get back to work."

 

Radek and Carson lagged back as the others left. "Elizabeth," Carson said, "do you really think they'll let Rodney and the others go when the thing's been fixed?"

 

Dr. Weir sighed, her shoulders slumping. "I don't know, Carson. I wish I did."

 

Radek laid a hand on Carson's shoulder. "They will come home, príteli," he said softly. "These Naldorans, they seem stubborn and secretive, but not cruel."

 

"They're allied with the Genii," Carson said, worry in his expressive eyes.

 

"I know," Dr. Weir said. "But from everything we've been able to discern, the Genii don't know that the Naldorans are holding our people. I think we have to take their assurances with at least a little faith."

 

Carson sighed. "Maybe Rodney's rubbing off on me a wee bit, but I'm not so sure I've got faith in anything anymore."

 

"You have faith in him," Radek said.

 

***

 

"Oh, whose notes are these anyway?" McKay grumbled, slapping the stack of papers against the side of the open pedestal.

 

Sheppard sighed. "Elizabeth said they were Kavanagh's. Why? Something wrong?"

 

McKay looked up. "Kav-- of *course* there's something wrong! These schematics are almost illegible! They look like they were drawn by a demented squirrel! I am so gonna hand that man his ass on a plate when I get home."

 

"Somehow I don't think he really wants you anywhere near his ass, Rodney. Can you use them at all?" Sheppard looked over McKay's shoulder, trying to read the scrawl.

 

"Oh, god, please don't make me think about actually touching Kavanagh's ass. Aside from that? Yeah, they're accurate. And miracle of miracles, it seems he was actually correct about what's wrong with the thing." McKay dropped the pile of notes. "Unfortunately, that means we're going to have to get into the power source."

 

"But that is buried deep underground," Jaron said, obviously agitated. "We've not found a way to access it at all."

 

McKay looked at him. "Major? Any ideas?"

 

Sheppard shrugged. "We could make a scan of the area. That would require letting us out of here, though," he said, giving Jaron a pointed look.

 

"I thought you said the power was getting into it," Jaron said.

 

McKay sighed. "Yes, yes. The power is getting in, but apparently something's wrong with the generating device and it's under-powered. The real reason we're not getting the pedestal to start up is because there's not enough power flowing through it. That means I have to fix the generator somehow. Assuming we can find it."

 

"Oh, dear, dear. Minister Natazh is not going to like this." Jaron jittered slightly, his eyes flickering back and forth between Sheppard and McKay. "I shall have to discuss this with him. We should return to the city. I don't think we'll be able to do anything else until tomorrow." He gestured to the guards.

 

"I'm not done here!" McKay protested. He waved his hands at the pedestal. "There's a lot more to learn here. This one is slightly different than ours."

 

The guards stood and one walked over to McKay, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Assistant Jaron says it's time to go."

 

McKay glared at the guard. "Like he knows his--"

 

"McKay!" Sheppard snapped. Rodney looked at him and Sheppard shook his head. "Let's go. We can deal with this later."

 

McKay grumbled but gathered his notes and schematics and stood. "All right, but I expect a decent dinner out of this."

 

Jaron looked like he wanted to crawl into a hole as they were leaving. Sheppard had to admit that despite their semi-prisoner status, McKay appeared to have half the Technology Bureau cowed. It was really kind of impressive. The Naldorans maintained a forced politeness around them that puzzled Sheppard, but he could sympathize with people not wanting to rile Rodney up too much. The guy was truly annoying when he was upset. It was a good thing McKay was Sheppard's friend or he'd have strangled the man himself by now.

 

***

 

Carson paced uneasily in Radek and Geoff's living room. "So they have to find a way to the generator then?"

 

"So it would seem." Radek nodded, his eyes following Carson back and forth across the room. "Please, why don't you come sit?" He patted the chair beside him.

 

"What? Oh, sorry."  Carson sat, his fingers tapping the arm of his chair. "I'm glad that Kavanagh's theory was correct, but are the Naldoran's goin' to let the team come home if Rodney can't find the generator or they can't find a way to fix it?"

 

Radek sighed and leaned back on the couch. "Rodney says that the Naldorans have returned their equipment to them, though not their weapons."

 

Carson sighed. "I just want them all home again, and in one piece, thank you very much."

 

"As do we all, Carson," Radek replied gently. "I wish we could send another team to Naldor. If they do find the generator, Rodney will need help."

 

Carson snorted. "Not as he'd admit to it." Talking with Radek did sometimes have a bit of a soothing effect on him.

 

Radek smiled. "No, of course not. He would consider it a slight to his alleged brilliance."

 

Sagging back in his chair, Carson shook his head. "It's been too long a day for my taste. Sgt. Markham's team came back all battered again. Ran into the bloody Wraith, and we're lucky we got any of them back at all."

 

"So Peter said."

 

Carson's eyes lowered to the floor, fingers still tapping. "I hate this."

 

"I know. It is not to be helped right now. At least things on Naldor are improving. If they have given the team back their equipment, I doubt they intend to keep them prisoner."

 

"There's that, aye." Carson nodded. "I should go back to the infirmary. Dr. Simpson's a wee bit of a worry, what with the blood she lost before they got her home."

 

"You do not think Dr. Bentz is capable of caring for her?"

 

Carson looked up and met Radek's eyes. "Of course Carol's capable. Doesn't keep me from fretting."

 

"I think nothing would do that." Radek's mouth tilted in a crooked grin. "You should rest. You look like you have not slept since Rodney left."

 

"That's not true," Carson objected. "I get sleep."

 

"When?" Radek raised an eyebrow.

 

"Well, not lately, I'll admit."

 

"So go now. Trust me, you'll feel better in the morning."

 

Carson nodded and rose. "You're probably right. Thanks, Radek. Give my regards to Geoff, will you?"

 

"Of course. Now go." Radek stood and gestured to the door.

 

Carson walked slowly back go his quarters. Another night with Rodney offworld was not what he wanted, but he had no choice. There were moments when he wished he could go with the man, just to try keeping him out of trouble. Then, of course, he regained his sanity.

 

He wasn't sure which was worse, the uncertainty of waiting for his lover or the idea of being with him and risking his own life as well. But it really wasn't his call to make. Elizabeth most likely wouldn't approve of him going along with Rodney's team just to ease his mind.

 

Locking his door behind him, Carson stripped and stepped into his shower. The hot water coursing over his body relaxed him a wee bit, but nothing could take his mind from the danger Rodney found himself in far too often.

 

Sleep would be elusive.

 

***

 

"Seriously, Jaron, the scanner says there's something nearby. We must be getting close to some kind of entrance." McKay was looking distinctly uneasy. There were half a dozen Naldoran guards surrounding them.

 

The Naldoran guards were alert, watching the skies as well as the surroundings. The last thing they needed was for the Wraith to show up and complicate things. Sheppard peered over McKay's shoulder. "What's that?" he asked, pointing to a blip on the tiny screen.

 

"A very small power source. We're almost directly on--" McKay yelped as the ground moved and he and Sheppard fell. They landed hard, but there was blue sky above them. "Oh ow," McKay groaned. He rolled over onto his stomach. "I think I fractured at least three vertebrae."

 

Sheppard had to wait a moment to get his breath back. "It was only about ten feet, Rodney." He took a deep breath. "I think we found the entrance," he shouted up to the others. The light from the opening illuminated part of what seemed to be a large chamber, from the echos around them. He flicked on a flashlight.

 

Jaron's face appeared in the opening. "Are you hurt?"

 

"Dying here," McKay said, annoyed. "I want my doctor."

 

"You just wanna go home," Sheppard said.

 

"Master of the obvious," McKay snorted. "But really, I do want to find out what's with that pedestal. The information--" he grunted as he staggered to his feet, "would be immensely useful."

 

"We're fine," Sheppard shouted up to the group as Jaron stuck his head into the hole.

 

"I'll get a rope down to you," he said.

 

Sheppard waved a hand up at him. "No, secure it to a tree and come on down. This is probably exactly what we were looking for."

 

"Our people have explored in this area for thousands of years. Why did we not find anything before?" Jaron asked.

 

McKay was fiddling with a panel near where they'd fallen. A moment later, lights came up. "Because they need the gene," he said softly. "Without it, nothing here is going to work."

 

"Yeah, but I'm not so sure I wanna explain about that whole ATA thing. What if they decide they're going to keep us?" Sheppard shifted nervously, looking around.

 

The chamber was large, probably fifty feet square. There was dirt on the floor from where they'd fallen in, but he could see the outline of an opening in the floor. "Hey, check this out." He pointed to it and as he focused his attention on it a steep stairway rose from the floor and met the door above. "Oh, cool." He grinned. "Jaron, you don't need that rope anymore!"

 

A few minutes later, the entire group was in the room. "Don't touch anything," McKay snapped at them. "For all we know, something could blow up."

 

Jaron looked around, head moving like some bird. It was obvious the little guy was half terrified. "I don't understand why we have never found this chamber," he insisted. "We are less than two minas from the pedestal structure. This entire area has been scoured, generation after generation."

 

"You didn't have this," McKay said, holding the Ancient scanner up in one hand. "No way to detect the Ancient power signature without it, I'm guessing."

 

Jaron nodded miserably. Sheppard figured he was hating his job right about now, even though he hadn't been the one to fall into a hole in the ground. "No, we do not have ways of detecting such things. But now that we have this scanner--"

 

"Oh no," McKay said. He snatched it back and shoved it into his pocket. "Not yours. Definitely mine. You are so not keeping it." Jaron looked at him. "No. No way. You're not keeping me, either."

 

"I have no desire to keep you," Jaron growled. "Please. I wish you would go away and never come back."

 

"Like I have any choice about being here," McKay snapped. Sheppard struggled to choke back a laugh, and McKay glared at him. "Oh yeah, laugh it up, flyboy. Let's see how well you do at fixing the generator, eh?"

 

"I have faith in you, Rodney." Sheppard grinned.

 

McKay just shook his head, shoulders hunched as he skimmed the area with his eyes. It was fascinating watching him work. Sheppard knew he was taking in everything, looking for clues, trying to figure out what different things were for. If anyone could fix the generator, it would be Rodney McKay. He might have trouble reading the variant of Ancient everything here seemed to be written in, but he'd figure it out eventually.

 

Within five minutes, McKay had found and unlocked another doorway, this one in the wall, where it should be. Lights were coming on around them as they walked down the long corridor. The hall was taking them back in the direction of the pedestal. Sheppard figured this had to be a good thing. The generator was probably there. McKay muttered to himself the whole time, and Jaron and the guards stayed away from him.

 

"I think they don't much like us," McKay said softly in his ear as they walked.

 

"Ya think?" Sheppard answered.

 

***

 

The lights were too dim, Rodney realized as they walked. Probably yet another symptom of the trouble with the generator. He wondered if he'd be able to find anything to work with. His own tools were back in Atlantis and the Naldorans still weren't being terribly cooperative about anything but giving them back what they'd brought with them.

 

He kept his eyes on his scanner, wishing for proper diagnostic tools. His back still hurt from where he'd fallen. He'd have to demand some x rays from Carson when he got home. He'd probably have some kind of permanent disability from this, or at least maybe he could get a massage out of Carson if he complained enough.

 

"Finding anything?" Sheppard asked, startling him out of his focus.

 

"Huh? What? Oh, uh, not yet. It's still this way."

 

A few moments later, they came to another doorway. Rodney touched the controls and it opened for him. More ATA locked access, he thought. The sight beyond the door stunned him.

 

The hallway opened into an immense cavern, not unlike the Genii underground bunker. He took a quick, nervous breath and stepped back. "Uh, you guys check it out first. Make sure it's safe, okay?" Rodney gestured to the Naldoran guards.

 

Sheppard's hand was on Rodney's shoulder. "Wow," he said. "That's big."

 

Rodney looked at him. "Well, perhaps not on a cosmic scale, but as underground bunkers go? Yeah, pretty sizeable."

 

Jaron's eyes widened when he peered through the door. "This... this is immense. This... Our people could hide here from the Wraith cullings. Oh my, my. The High Council will be thrilled." The man was breathless, wringing his hands, almost bouncing on the balls of his feet.

 

"Yeah, that's pretty much what the Genii did," Rodney said. "Have at it, guys. Now, how about that potential alliance?"

 

 Jaron looked at Rodney and blinked. "I'm not empowered to make those decisions, Dr. McKay, but I do believe that in light of this discovery, the High Council may look favorably upon your negotiations."

 

Rodney beamed. "Oh, good. That's good. Favorable negotiations sound great. How about we find that generator now?"

 

He heard Jaron mutter, "As long as I never have to speak with you again," as they entered the cavern. Rodney chose to ignore it, being as Jaron was no more than a petty minion.

 

The echoing silence of the cavern was eerie and unnerving. Rodney stayed close to Sheppard, dogging the Major's heels as they moved. "I think the generator is down there," he said, pointing toward the center of the cavern, several hundred metres below. "I hope they have elevators because I am so not doing stairs for that."

 

"Buck up, Rodney," Sheppard said, grinning at him. "It's great for your cardiovascular system."

 

"But lousy for my knees," Rodney said. "Did I tell you I have a trick knee? Goes out on me all the time."

 

"I'm not carrying you," Sheppard said. He grabbed Rodney's wrist and tugged. "Come on, don't just stand there staring into the pit. We've got a ways to go yet if you're right."

 

"I am," Rodney said miserably. Stairs. God, he hated stairs. There had been thousands of them to climb in Atlantis before they'd figured out the transporters were also elevators.

 

After what felt like three hours, but his watch told him was only twenty minutes, they found themselves at the bottom of the cavern. There was a quiet thrumming in the air that grew slightly louder as they approached the power reading. "Oh, finally," Rodney said. "Let's stop here for a rest. I'm starving."

 

"You're always eating," Jaron said. He gave Rodney a pointed look. "I don't understand you. How can you be like this?"

 

Rodney ignored him. "Starving. And my feet ache. Major, do you have a spare MRE in your pack? Because, really, hypoglycemia here."

 

Sheppard looked in his pack and pulled out one of the familiar packages. "Here ya go, McKay. Don't spend it all in one place." He tossed it, spinning, across the gap between them and Rodney caught it gracelessly. Chicken a la King. Yes.

 

Rodney grinned. "Thanks." He tore it open and dug into it cold. It was almost heaven. The only thing better would be finding a ZedPM, or getting home and making Carson give him a foot rub.

 

Jaron blanched. "That smells... hideous. How can you eat that? You are... you're *disgusting.*"

 

"Yeah, he's quite the charmer," Sheppard said. "But he grows on you."

 

Rodney glared at him and continued eating.

 

"Come on, Rodney. Snap it up here. I'd kind of like to get home sometime this century."

 

"I'm resting," Rodney said through a mouthful of chicken and sauce. He glared and finished up his MRE as Jaron turned pale. Rodney grinned at the Naldoran.

 

"McKay," Sheppard said warningly. "You're done. Time to go."

 

Rodney licked his fingers and wiped them off with the little towelette from the MRE packet. "Okay, okay. Don't get your shorts in a bunch."

 

"Are you *ready* yet?" Sheppard was glowering now.

 

Rodney nodded and stood. "Yes, yes, ready. But if I fall over dead on the way back up those stairs? You are so hauling my body back to Carson." He checked the scanner and headed off toward the power signature.

 

"You're not gonna fall over dead, Rodney," Sheppard said, a slight tone of annoyance in his laconic drawl. "And if you do, I'll just make Jaron carry you."

 

The Naldorans just stared at them.

 

"Come on," Rodney said. "Let's get on with this." Soon they came to a large, domed chamber in the center of the deepest layer of the cavern. Rodney could almost feel the power vibrating in the air, a muted hum all around him. "It's got to be in there," he said, gesturing at the dark dome.

 

"Yeah, since it's not anywhere else." Sheppard nodded and advanced. "Gotta be a door here somewhere. Does it look radioactive or anything?"

 

Rodney shook his head. "No, or if it is, it's well shielded, unlike the Genii nuclear facilities." He gestured to Jaron. "You, Joro. Come over here."

 

One of the Naldoran guards looked at Jaron. "Are you sure the High Council won't just let me shoot him?"

 

Jaron shook his head vigorously. "No, no. It's already been discussed. No shooting."

 

"Well, that's a relief," Sheppard said, rolling his eyes. "Next they'll be telling us not to come back."

 

Rodney's heart skipped a beat. "Wait, wait a minute. You mean you actually *discussed* shooting me? It was an option on the table?"

 

Jaron gave him a pained look. "Yes. Unfortunately, the High Council decided you were too valuable to shoot." He took a deep breath. "Not even non-fatally."

 

"Oh, well that's just peachy," Rodney muttered.

 

"Take it easy, McKay. Nobody's dead here yet, and with any luck, nobody will be." Sheppard patted his back.

 

"Except me," Jaron muttered. "I swear I'll die of annoyance. Humiliation, perhaps."

 

"Ask for hazard pay," Sheppard suggested. He grinned.

 

Jaron eyed Sheppard. "Is that why you put up with him?"

 

Sheppard chuckled. "Nah, he's okay. You just have to get used to him."

 

"Well thank you for that vote of confidence!" Rodney snorted. "Major, can we get a little focus on the task at hand here?'

 

"Right," Sheppard said. "Finding doors. It's a high priority. Just watch for radhaz signs, okay?"

 

"Don't worry, Major. Your nads are in no danger at the moment." Rodney rolled his eyes and started around the outside of the dome as he watched the readings on the scanner. A door would show up, he was certain.

 

"I believe this may be what you're looking for," one of the guards said, gesturing to a place just around the dome's curve.

 

Rodney hurried over to him. Sure enough, it was very doorlike. There was an inscription there in the Ancient variant he'd found on the pedestal. Jaron and the others joined them. Jaron reached for the door. "Oh no! Don't *touch* anything!" Rodney snapped. "Didn't I already tell you that?" He slapped Jaron's hand. One of the guards growled, reaching for Rodney, but the others stopped him.

 

Jaron sighed and shook his head at the guard. "No. Honestly, Tal Pican, while I appreciate your enthusiasm, you are not to dismember the man."

 

Sheppard gave the guard a menacing look. "Right, Tal. Listen to your boss here. No dismembering any of my teammates."

 

"Right," Rodney said, feeling just a little jittery. "No dismembering. Very good. Keep that in mind -- and no shooting. No shooting either. In fact, any kind of physical mayhem--"

 

"McKay!" Sheppard snapped. "Get a grip."

 

"Oh, yeah. Gripping." He examined the writing. "It's a warning of some sort. I'll need some time to translate this."

 

"Okay then," Sheppard said. "Let's all just settle down now like good little allies and have a seat while McKay works on this." He sat and patted the ground next to him. "Come on guys. Let's just chill out, okay?" He looked at Rodney. "That means you too, Rodney. No annoying our hosts."

 

"I'm not--"

 

Sheppard glared at him. "Yes, you are. Now shut up and translate, or I'll strangle you myself."

 

"Right, right. Translating." Rodney kept his mouth shut and pulled his notebook from his pocket to consult the dictionary he'd been compiling. He wished again for a linguist.

 

***

 

Carson watched for a few moments while Corporal Glashaus slept. She'd got a concussion when Markham's team had been out yesterday. She was recovering well but still exhausted; a state that Carson could intimately sympathize with. He took her vitals and noted her chart, letting Shel know that Heidi could be released when she woke, so long as she wasn't showing any signs of complications. The concussion had been mild and masked by the fact that she'd taken a Wraith stunner blast full in the body.

 

Rodney still wasn't home, which worried Carson greatly, but reports from Naldor continued to indicate progress and no injuries had been mentioned. He sighed and went to his lab. There was a great deal still to be done in sorting out the Wraith DNA, as well as continuing work on improving the ATA gene therapy.

 

Carson got to work, multitasking on about half a dozen projects he had running. Between tests, analysis, and making notes, he lost himself in thought. The ATA therapy was his priority at the moment, and his mouse trials were showing some promise for raising the success rate, but he was months away from another round of human trials.

 

"Carson?"

 

Carson muttered, but didn't look up.

 

"Carson. It is time for shift change." Anand Chandrapurna stood in the doorway behind him.

 

Looking at his watch, Carson blinked. "Oh, aye, I suppose it is. No word on the team, then, I take it?"

 

"No, my friend, I'm sorry." Anand came into the lab and patted him on the shoulder. "Did you even stop for your lunch today?"

 

Upon thinking about it, Carson realized he was famished. "No. I suppose I should go and find myself some dinner, right enough."

 

Anand gave him a chastening look. "Yes. Yes, you should. Shall I send Shel along to make sure you eat?"

 

Carson shook his head. "No, that won't be necessary. My stomach's about to get up and strangle me if I don't put something in it."

 

Anand chuckled. "All right, then. You go. Get some sleep tonight."

 

"I'll try," Carson said. "Thanks." He took five minutes to wrap up the bits he'd been in the middle of and then headed out.

 

***

 

"Okay, okay," McKay said with a sigh. "I think I've got it now." They'd been waiting close to four hours while McKay translated the inscriptions on the door.

 

"So what does it say?" Sheppard asked.

 

"Oh, the usual. Really really dangerous, do not touch without proper authorization or the planet blows up. You know." He shrugged. Jaron's eyes widened.

 

"The planet blows up?" he asked with a squeak.

 

McKay snorted. "No, not really, but it does have kind of a ring to it, don't you think?"

 

Jaron glowered at him, his fingers twitching. Sheppard was sure if the High Council hadn't decided they needed McKay he'd be a dead man. "Okay, Rodney. Can we get the doors open? Any hope of fixing things?" He made a little rolling gesture with one hand, urging his errant astrophysicist on with the task.

 

"Definitely," McKay said, popping a panel open. He shuffled a couple of glowing crystalline panels and the door opened. Jaron and the Naldoran guards shrank back, startled. "You idiots stay out here. Major? I may need your help."

 

Sheppard blinked. "What? I do guns, Rodney."

 

McKay's eyes narrowed. "Yes, but even with your startling lack of good sense, you can still hold things for me." McKay entered the room then turned to look at Sheppard. "So, are you coming?"

 

"Yeah, I'm right behind you." Sheppard took a deep breath and followed. The room was big but crowded and suffused with a dim, blue glow. There was an almost subliminal thrum inside the walls that vibrated through his body like the sound of drums. "So what are we looking at here?"

 

"Dunno yet," McKay admitted. "I have to look around. I'm hoping it's something simple, but with our luck? Probably not so much. I can just hear Zelenka now. 'Is ten thousand year old equipment, Rodney! How can you expect something not to break in ten thousand years?'"

 

It was actually a pretty good imitation of the little Czech scientist, and Sheppard chuckled. "So maybe, like, rats ate the wiring or something?"

 

McKay sighed as he wandered the room, watching his scanner. "This could take hours."

 

"Might as well get on with it, then," Sheppard said with a smile. It was better than getting shot at, by a lot.

 

***

 

 

"Oh, I cannot *believe* this!" Rodney shouted. If he had more hair, he'd be tearing it out about now. He wondered if the Major would lend him some of his. Not like Sheppard was concerned with how it looked, after all. It did tend to venture off on its own late at night when Sheppard was asleep.

 

"What?" Sheppard asked. There may have been a twinge of uneasiness in his voice, but Rodney's annoyance was more than enough for any ten normal human beings right now.

 

Rodney pushed a button on the console before him and everything lit up. The subliminal thrumming around them started sounding more like the engine room in Next Gen than anything else. "Honestly, these people. How the fuck they managed to colonize two entire galaxies is beyond me." He looked up at Sheppard.

 

"What did you do?"

 

"I hit the reset button," Rodney growled. "It was in its 'sleep' setting to conserve energy."

 

"What?" Sheppard's eyes went wide. "You mean--"

 

"Yeah. We could have called tech support and been on hold all this time for all the good it did us." Rodney wanted to hit things, preferably things like Kavanagh, or maybe that Jaron guy. "This has been a spectacular waste of time."

 

"Pedestal, Rodney."

 

Rodney blinked. "Oh, right. We should get to that, shouldn't we?" He grinned.

 

"You really think the Ancients had tech support?"

 

Rodney snorted. "They've managed to mess up everything else they ever did. I can't imagine why they wouldn't indulge in that particular clusterfuck."

 

"The Stargates work pretty well."

 

"Yes, yes, but in general? Stupid mistakes." He really didn't want to think about that viral lab they'd found all too recently. "If they'd just learn to *label* things--"

 

"Come on, Rodney, they're expecting us." Sheppard tugged on his sleeve. "Maybe the kind people who decided not to shoot you will let you come back and play later if you make nice with them."

 

Rodney followed Sheppard back toward the door and their waiting entourage. "I'm only the most brilliant man in two galaxies. Why wouldn't they want me to examine all their Ancient technology?"

 

Sheppard chuckled. "It's not like you've made a great impression on them so far."

 

"What, are you kidding? They realize my value, or they'd have sh-- oh wait." Rodney paused, stopping in mid pace and raising a finger. "You could be right."

 

"About this stuff? I usually am." Sheppard kept right on walking and Rodney ran to catch up with him.

 

They hurried through the maze for several minutes, finally arriving back at the door they'd entered through. "What did you do?" Jaron asked as soon as they reappeared.

 

"It's fixed," Rodney said noncommittally. He noted the lights were on everywhere, and it was almost as bright here as it was in Atlantis. Quite the contrast to its earlier condition.

 

"How did you--"

 

Rodney stopped Jaron, not wanting to answer the question and reveal the pure idiocy of the situation. "I fixed it. It should be working now. If it's not, it's a fault in the pedestal, not the generator system, so really, let's get out of here, okay?"

 

"I thought you'd be trying to carry half the installation back home in your pack," Sheppard said. Rodney just glared, wishing for coffee, or maybe chocolate. It had really been far too long since he'd had any chocolate.

 

"Let's go," Rodney said, snapping his fingers. "You," he gestured to the guards, "get your overly muscled asses in gear. I have work to do."

 

Tal Pican glared at him. "We are not at your beck and call."

 

"Right, Pecans," Rodney said. "So listen to Joro here," Rodney patted Jaron on the shoulder, "and let's get this circus on the road, shall we?"

 

***

 

"All right," Rodney said once they'd arrived at the pedestal building, "let's try this." He took up a position behind the pedestal and placed his hands on it, thinking of where they were in the galaxy. The room darkened then lit with stars, one standing out from the rest. The Naldorans gasped and stepped back. Rodney just grinned. "Oh yeah. I am so godlike."

 

"So, you gonna be able to get information out of this puppy?" Sheppard asked.

 

"Oh yeah," Rodney whispered again, still grinning. He didn't care that he probably looked demented.

 

With a happy sigh, Rodney asked the thing to tell him the first thing it was programmed to do when reactivated. The stars vanished and the semi-transparent hologram of a woman appeared.

 

"Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi, you're my only hope," Sheppard whispered in his ear.

 

Rodney swatted Sheppard. "Shut up. This is probably important."

 

The woman straightened, spreading her hands and raising them in a gesture almost worshipful, and began to sing. Rodney recognized the language as the variant of Ancient he'd been struggling to read, but it was like nothing he'd heard in this galaxy before. The Naldorans all bowed their heads and fell to their knees, listening in rapture to the song.

 

Rodney looked at Sheppard and Sheppard looked back at him. They both shrugged. Rodney wished he had a recorder, because there was no way he was going to remember any of this. "Siwicki would cream her jeans if she heard this," Rodney whispered.

 

Sheppard gave him a withering look. "Oh god, I so do not wanna know what you and that psycho linguist are doing."

 

"Shut up," Rodney hissed, trying to figure out if he could understand what was being sung. The song continued, and Rodney had to admit it sounded incredibly beautiful. He caught words now and then, but the Naldorans looked like they were about to pass out in orgiastic bliss. For a moment, he sort of wished he felt the same, because really, right about now he could use a good moment of orgiastic bliss.

 

As the final words of the song faded, the entire room was cast into a long, stunned silence. Even Rodney was hesitant to break the moment.

 

Jaron looked up at him and whispered, "That was worth not killing you."

 

Rodney blinked. "Hey, wait a minute -- what?"

 

"It's the song the Priestesses sing," Tal Pican said, making a gesture in front of his face with one hand.

 

"Oh no, not more dippy Priestesses." He glared at Sheppard.

 

"I didn't say anything!" Sheppard objected, raising his hands in surrender. "What did she sing?"

 

Rodney sighed and shrugged. "As far as I could make out, it was the instructions for something. I think it was something about the underground installation. I can so see how somebody would turn a technical manual into a religion."

 

"Hey, people think Elvis is God," Sheppard said. "I always thought Johnny Cash was a better candidate."

 

"Oh, please. He just dressed better," Rodney snorted.

 

Jaron jolted to his feet. "Show some respect in this holy place! You may have brought forth the messenger of the Gods, but you still commit blasphemy!"

 

Rodney started to say something about the ludicrous nature of the very idea, but Sheppard slapped a hand over his mouth. "Shut up, Rodney," he hissed.

 

Rodney pulled Sheppard's hand away by the wrist. "I take it this means we can't have access to the database?" he asked.

 

"No," Jaron said. He gestured and the Tal and his goons surrounded them. "In fact, you will be escorted back to the Ring of the Ancestors now, where your companions will join you. We cannot have offworlders defiling this sacred ground."

 

"Now, just wait! I went through a lot of tro-" Rodney stopped when he and the Major were grabbed and hustled out the door.

 

"You have no right to request anything, Dr. McKay," Jaron snapped. "It was only the orders of the High Council that have kept you breathing until this moment. If you persist in your blasphemous behavior, even they will not be able to save you."

 

"Shut up, Rodney," Sheppard hissed. "I'd like to get back to Atlantis alive."

 

"Oh will you just-" Rodney yelped when one of the guards poked him. "Hey, I bruise easily!"

 

Sheppard and Rodney were hurried back to the city. They were left in a quiet, windowless room with Ford and Teyla as the Naldorans ran off to confer with their religious leaders, and Rodney spent the better part of two hours snarling under his breath about lost opportunities and the utter ignorance and stupidity of the religious.

 

"Not like they're gonna be able to do anything with most of what they've got," Sheppard said. "I mean, really. No ATA? No big Ancient juju."

 

"Oh and that so helps when they might have information we need," Rodney griped.

 

"May I remind you that we are still alive and whole," Teyla said.

 

Rodney rolled his eyes, ready to start a new diatribe when the door opened. Minister Natazh and a dozen guards entered.

 

"You will be escorted to the Ring of the Ancestors now," Natazh said.

 

"Are you sure we can't--"

 

Natazh interrupted him. "You can't. You will return to your home now." He glared and gestured.

 

"Hey, hey, it's okay, we'll go on our own," Sheppard said, getting to his feet. "No need to get rough here."

 

Natazh pointed at Rodney and shouted, "That man is a *curse*! Nothing in the building works now! The Ancestors have no doubt deserted us because *he* did something!"

 

"Leaving!" Sheppard said, grabbing Rodney by the shoulder. "Come on, McKay, before we have to carry you back in a bucket."

 

"Right, yes, leaving," Rodney agreed, nodding vigorously. He hurried out close on Sheppard's heels with Teyla and Ford right behind them. The guards escorted them all the way to the Gate.

 

Rodney dialed and, as the puddle billowed out, two of the guards grabbed him by the arms and legs. Pausing for the puddle to stabilize, they swung him back and flung him through the Gate. Rodney screamed and closed his eyes.

 

***

 

Elizabeth watched, astonished, as Rodney sailed headfirst through the Gate. They'd barely received the Major's IDC and opened the shield before Rodney came hurtling through.

 

"Rodney? Are you all right?" She hurried down the stairs as the rest of the team ran through after him, no weapons in evidence.

 

"Shut it down!" Sheppard shouted as he entered.

 

"What happened?" Elizabeth asked, taking a quick look around at all of them. Rodney groaned at her feet and she slapped her radio. "Medical team to the Gateroom," she snapped.

 

"The Naldorans decided Rodney was the antichrist," Sheppard said. He shrugged.

 

"Ow, ow, fuck," Rodney muttered. "Man down."

 

Elizabeth knelt next to Rodney. "The antichrist? That's a bit severe, even for you." She put a hand on his shoulder, suspecting he wasn't too badly injured.

 

"Oh, yes. Harass the wounded, why don't we?" Rodney rolled onto his back as a medical team came running in, headed by Carson Beckett.

 

"Rodney?" Carson looked worried, and Elizabeth was sure he had a right to be. The whole thing sounded very peculiar and she was wondering if the team hadn't been drugged or otherwise tampered with.

 

Rodney gestured weakly at Carson. "Just your friendly neighborhood antichrist," he muttered.

 

"All right then, let's get him up on the gurney." Carson gestured to his medics. They did a quick three count and smoothly slid Rodney onto the gurney. "No bleeding that I can see. Major, what happened?"

 

"Nothing, really, unless he hit his head when they threw him through the Gate." Sheppard shrugged. "Nobody got hurt, doc."

 

"We fell into a *pit*," Rodney whined. "I hurt my back. And then they *threw* me through the Gate." He grabbed at Carson's sleeve. "I probably have permanent spinal damage, Carson. I may be crippled for life. I am so expecting a back massage."

 

Carson shook his head and sighed. "We'll see, love. I'll want some x rays." He looked up at the rest of the team. "I want to see you all in the infirmary for your post-mission exam." With that, he turned and left, wheeling Rodney with him. Rodney's complaints and Carson's questions faded into the hallway.

 

Elizabeth couldn't help giggling.

 

***

 

Carson sighed and shook his head. "Rodney, love, you're really not more than bruised."

 

"I swear, Carson, I broke something. I can't move my back." Rodney rolled to one side, staring up at him from the infirmary bed.

 

"You're a lying sack, Rodney. You just moved it." He held out a hand to his lover. "Up with you, now, or nothing for you tonight."

 

Rodney glared at him. "Yeah, right. Threaten the wounded man." He took Carson's hand and got up from the bed. "I still want that back massage you promised."

 

"I didn't promise you any such thing. You demanded it and I never responded."

 

"Silence gives assent," Rodney insisted.

 

Carson glowered. "Perhaps, if you're very persuasive." He really didn't require all that much persuasion, as he'd missed Rodney a great deal while he was gone, but it wouldn't do to capitulate to his lover's demands quite so easily.

 

Rodney snuggled up to him and hugged him. "Is this persuasive enough?"

 

Carson gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Not bloody likely, and besides, I'm at work."

 

"Well yeah, but it's time for you to go home now. We need to have some dinner. Really." Rodney grinned, not letting go.

 

Carson peeked at his watch over Rodney's broad shoulder. "Oh. Well then, you're right. It is suppertime. I suppose we should sign your release papers and get you out of here."

 

"It's only a matter of time until you give me that back rub," Rodney said, self-satisfied. He grinned.

 

"You'll not be getting anything at all unless you let me go."

 

"Oh. Right. Sorry."

 

Carson chuckled. A few minutes later, they were in the mess hall. Geoff, Radek and Peter were sharing a table. Erin Siwicki was sitting with them. "Hey," she said, gesturing them over.

 

They joined their friends at the table, sitting side by side. Rodney looked at Radek. "Don't start," he said.

 

"What?" Radek asked. "I was not going to start anything." Rodney looked satisfied, until Radek muttered, "Antichrist, eh?"

 

"Hey! Those people were lunatics! Some singing Ancient hologram was apparently the basis for their religion." Rodney shook his head. "I just do not get the religion thing. There's no logic to it whatsoever."

 

Erin held up her fork, a piece of not-chicken on the end, gravy dripping back onto her plate. "There certainly is, it's just not quantifiable in terms of physics."

 

"Oh, leave it to the squishy person." Rodney snorted. Carson poked him under the table. Rodney looked at him. "What?"

 

"Human society is predicated on a search for meaning, McKay," Erin said. "Just because you find it in physics doesn't mean everyone does."

 

"That's because they're stupid," Rodney said. He dug into his meal. "And really, I so don't need to have this conversation. We were cheated out of that database."

 

"I thought human society was predicated on the search for food and nookie," Geoff said.

 

"Only for you," Radek said. He whacked Geoff on the arm. "You get more than enough of both, trust me."

 

"Obviously, one man isn't enough to keep him satisfied," Peter said. Erin smirked.

 

"So I hear," she said.

 

Rodney blinked. "Excuse me? Are we talking about people's sex lives at the table again? Because, really. WTMI."

 

Peter looked at Carson. "I really am so sorry you're saddled with him."

 

Carson chuckled. "He's not such a burden, really."

 

"I am *not* a burden," Rodney insisted. He turned to Carson, a startled look in his eyes. "I'm not, am I?"

 

"No, mo leannan, you're not."

 

"Because, really, I have a lot of very good qualities."

 

Radek snorted, barely managing to avoid spewing his Athosian tea on the table.

 

"If good qualities include arrogance, high-handedness and lack of housebreaking, sure," Geoff said.

 

"Oh yeah, and you're such a catch," Rodney grumbled.

 

"He is," Peter and Radek chorused.

 

"You make it sound like you're both doing him," Rodney said. The three of them smirked. Rodney's eyes widened. "Wait a minute. You two... all three of you...?" He looked back and forth between the men. Erin just grinned and nodded, tapping her nose as she ate.

 

"Oh my god. I so do not want to know about this. You two--" Rodney gestured at Radek and Peter, "--just keep it out of the lab."

 

"Yes, Rodney. Like you keep your relationship with Carson out of the lab." Radek shook his head and laughed.

 

"Hey!"

 

Carson grinned, suppressing his own urge to laugh. "Now, Rodney, there's nothing wrong with it at all."

 

"Well, I mean, I saw them swapping spit recently, but really. I so didn't want to know any of the rest of it." Rodney put his hands over his face. "What have I done to deserve this?"

 

"I heard something about you being the Antichrist," Erin said, giggling.

 

"He managed yet again to insult some locals,An exaggeration," Rodney said. "Seriously." Carson said. "Apparently they thought he was blaspheming when he suggested that an Ancient hologram wasn't a suitable basis for a system of religion."

 

"Rather like watery tarts lobbing scimitars?" Peter asked.


"Pretty much," Rodney said. He turned his attention to his food and started wolfing it down. "Get with the program, Carson. I want to go home. I haven't had a decent night's sleep in most of a week."

 

"You'll get one," Carson promised him. Rodney ignored the comment in favor of food.

 

***

 

Once they were at Carson's, he dropped into the couch and held out his arms. Rodney came over and joined him. "Missed you," Carson said softly. "I was so worried for you."

 

"You have no idea how much I missed you there," Rodney agreed. "It was miserable."

 

"At least none of you were hurt."

 

"Bruises, Carson."

 

Carson sighed and pulled Rodney into his arms. "And you'll be over them in a few days."

 

"So do I get my back massage?" Rodney poked Carson in the ribs.

 

"I told you you'd have to be very persuasive." Carson grinned and kissed Rodney's neck.

 

"How about if I let you fuck me through the mattress?" Rodney gave him a winning smile.

 

Carson snorted. "I was planning on that anyway. You'll have to do better."

 

"Better than letting you fuck me through the mattress? Oh come on. You're such a hard sell here."

 

"I think hard is the operative word," Carson said. He was, and it was a bit uncomfortable. "Perhaps I'll just go take a shower, love. I'm really quite tired."

 

"Shower? Oh, that sounds like a great idea. Have I mentioned recently that you're brilliant?"

 

"So you're resorting to flattery now, are you?"

 

"Is it working?"

 

Carson grinned. "No."

 

"Damn."

 

"But perhaps if you washed my back..." Carson started shedding his clothing. Rodney nodded and pulled his own clothes off only slightly more slowly but with a wee bit more drama and more than a few moans and groans.

 

"I make such sacrifices for you," Rodney muttered.

 

"Oh, and you love it." Carson smiled at Rodney, who smiled back.

 

"Okay, you got me there."

 

"I'll get you in the shower and the bed as well," Carson said. "Just you wait."

 

"God, I hope so," Rodney said. "Do you know how long it's been?"

 

Carson snorted. "I know precisely how long it's been, unless you were messing about with glowy alien priestesses while my back was turned."

 

"Oh, right." Rodney glared at him. "Like I'd stick my dick in something that glows."

 

"If you thought it was an Ancient sex toy, you probably would, mo chridhe."

 

Rodney sputtered. "Do you really have so little faith in me?"

 

"When it comes to Ancient technology, yes. You're a sod. A pervert even." Carson chortled gleefully when Rodney sputtered even more.

 

"I am *not* a pervert, and as for sodomy, may I remind you who you're sleeping with?"

 

Carson made his way to the shower, getting the water just so, and stepped in. "Will you be joining me, then, or are you going to keep talking?"

 

Rodney was there a moment later, wrapped around him, wet and naked. "Not talking. Kiss me."

 

Carson slipped around in Rodney's arms, hard and wet and wanting his lover badly. He took Rodney's face between his hands and kissed him until the man was breathless. "That's better," Carson whispered.

 

"Oh yeah," Rodney agreed softly. "So much better."

 

"God, I missed you," Carson moaned as he tugged Rodney tight to his body. "Why can't you stay out of trouble? Do you know how I worry?"

 

"You think I never worry about you?" Rodney slipped his fingers into Carson's hair and kissed him.

 

"And what do you have to worry about with me?" Carson asked when he came up for breath. He was genuinely puzzled.

 

Rodney shifted uneasily. "Fires. Homophobes. The Wraith. Rivers." He shivered. "Definitely rivers."

 

"Oh, love." They held onto each other under the water, just breathing each other in. "And you, always through the Gate. I'm lucky when you come back with only bruises."

 

"I'm home, okay? You said yourself it's just bruises." Rodney looked him in the eyes, serious and intense.

 

"I know." He handed Rodney a cloth. "You were goin' to wash my back?" He didn't want to think about the next time Rodney would leave, or when he might never come back.

 

Rodney took it and Carson closed his eyes, just feeling Rodney's hands on him and the soft brush of the soapy cloth on his skin. He leaned against the wall of the shower to let Rodney scrub. "I still want my back massage," Rodney whispered into his ear.

 

"Right enough," Carson said, smiling. He'd only been objecting to tease his lover. The idea of being that close again, of touching Rodney with that intimacy was deeply appealing and he knew they both needed it. "Soon as we're clean, then."

 

They spent a few more minutes under the water, quiet. Their hands moved on each other's bodies and Carson just let Rodney's presence soak into him. He'd missed this; missed touching his lover, the sound of his breathing, the taste of his skin and the blue of his eyes. Sometimes it was like an ache when he was away, though he never wanted to admit it aloud.

 

"You left a clean uniform last time you were over," Carson said finally. "You don't have to go back home tonight. Will you stay?"

 

"Will I stay?" Rodney chuckled. "Were you planning on throwing me out? Because that's the only way you're gonna get me out of here before morning."

 

"Good."

 

"So about that back massage."

 

Carson batted Rodney's shoulder. "Out of the shower, then, and get me a towel while you're at it."

 

"Pushy, aren't you?"

 

Carson rolled his eyes. "Do you want that massage or no?"

 

Rodney got out and dried himself, then handed Carson the towel.

 

"Not that one, you daft git. I want a dry one!"

 

"You're awfully picky for a guy who's about to get laid."

 

Carson whipped the wet towel around and snapped it against Rodney's ass cheek.

 

"Hey!"

 

"Aren't you the smart one?" Carson said, grinning. "You do realize it's much harder to do that with a dry towel, right?"

 

"No more bruises!" Rodney yelped. "All right all ready! You get a dry towel!"

 

"Just be glad I have no interest in damaging your family jewels, love."

 

"You'd better not!" Rodney tossed Carson the dry towel from a safe distance away. "Now put that thing down!"

 

"You really should be a wee bit more respectful, don't you think?"

 

Rodney glowered. "I'll give it some thought once you put down the heavy weaponry."

 

Carson tossed the wet towel aside and dried himself on the other one. He knew Rodney was watching as he rubbed the towel over his body. He could hear Rodney's breath hitch, and turned to look at him. "So, you want that back massage then."

 

"Yes. Yes, I do. And it's really about time, don't you think? I've been gone for days now and--"

 

Carson stopped the rant with a kiss. "Now then, on the bed with you."

 

Rodney dashed into the bedroom, Carson following, and tossed himself down on his stomach. "Oh yeah."

 

Carson grinned to himself and pulled a bottle of mildly scented oil from the drawer beside his bed. It tasted faintly of something like pecans, and the Athosians used it for cooking. Carson had decided it could be put to infinitely more pleasant use. He poured a little into his hand, warming it between his palms before he straddled Rodney's hips and laid them on his lover's shoulders. Rodney sighed and relaxed under him.

 

"Easy on the bruises," Rodney mumbled, his eyes closed. There was already an expression on his face that was close to bliss. It warmed Carson far more than the shower had.

 

"Don't worry, mo leannan. I know where they are."

 

Rodney just nodded, his chin resting on his hands. Carson worked on him slowly, with long strokes, building pressure slowly until Rodney made soft, pleased sounds beneath him. "Feels good." Carson could barely hear the words Rodney spoke.

 

"I'll take care of you," Carson whispered, leaning down to kiss the arc of Rodney's shoulder. The taste of almost-pecans clung to his lips and Rodney made a quiet rumble in his chest. "I missed you terribly. I was so afraid you weren't coming home."

 

Rodney turned his head and opened one blue eye, looking up at him. "I'm fine Carson. Well, except the crick in my back. Massage."

 

Carson snorted. "Wanker." He slapped Rodney's thigh. "Have a little gratitude, why don't you?"

 

Rodney grinned and reached up, grabbing Carson's wrist, then pulled him down into a deep kiss. A few moments later, breathless, he asked, "How's that for gratitude?"

 

"It's getting there," Carson admitted. He smiled and resumed the massage, enjoying the feel of his lover's skin and muscle and bone beneath his fingers. He needed this at least as much as Rodney did, perhaps more.

 

Carson loved the way Rodney felt under him, his lover's body between his legs. He had been half hard already in the shower, and now as he touched Rodney, his arousal grew. His own breathing was becoming ragged with it and he used his arms and his chest to caress Rodney's back and shoulders, rubbing his body sensuously against Rodney's.

 

"Oh, god, that's good," Rodney whispered. "I love what you do to me."

 

Rodney shivered under him and Carson stroked his hard shaft slowly between Rodney's cheeks. Both their bodies were slick now with sweat and the oil from the massage. "I'm going to take you soon," Carson said softly, his voice barely controlled. He ached to be inside Rodney, but wasn't quite ready yet. He wanted to take his time, to savor the feeling of their bodies moving together before he let them be consumed in their mutual passion.

 

"Please." Rodney's voice was a moan, and he was writhing slowly under Carson, his movement matched to Carson's own. "I need you."

 

"That's right, love, talk to me," Carson asked. "Tell me what you want."

 

Rodney groaned. "In me," he panted. "God, please. I want you to fuck me."

 

Carson's hand slipped between them, one finger tracing the pucker of Rodney's opening. "Tell me how you feel, mo leannan. Tell me how you want me to take you."

 

"Want it deep," Rodney gasped as Carson's finger slipped inside him. "Oh god, slow. Hard."

 

"Oh aye, love, I'll give you what you need." Carson was gasping too, now. He was so hard he was leaking, desperate to be inside his lover.

 

"Please, Carson, now," Rodney begged. Carson pressed up against him but didn't enter him yet. He wanted to hear Rodney beg for a bit first, knowing it would just make things sweeter when he finally thrust into him.

 

"Patience, love," Carson hissed, pressing the length of his body against Rodney. He sucked at Rodney's neck, drawing deep, needy sounds from his lover. Slow and deliberate, he raised a mark on Rodney, needing to make that claim on the man in a way he rarely did.

 

"Yes," Rodney whimpered. "God, Carson, please. Need this; need you."

 

"Yes, love." Carson took a deep breath and slipped slowly inside Rodney. Rodney cried out, his back arching under Carson, and Carson groaned at the tight heat of their joining. It was intense, both of them incoherent in their desire and their need.

 

"More," Rodney begged. "Deeper." His breath came in ragged, shuddering gasps as Carson moved inside bare centimetres at a time.

 

"Let me hear you," Carson gasped. "Need to hear you."

 

God, it was good and Rodney rocked under him, moaning, "Fuck me, god Carson, please." Carson thrust deeper, biting the back of Rodney's neck, and Rodney howled under him.

 

Pushing his arms under Rodney, he held him down, thrusting deep and slow, taking complete control of the situation and his lover. Rodney's hips shifted under him and Carson gasped, making one sharp, fast thrust that tore the breath from Rodney. "I'll fuck you, mo leannan," Carson gasped, "take you hard... like you want, like you need."

 

Rodney couldn't speak now, and Carson knew he was losing himself in it. This was what he'd wanted and he started grinding into Rodney's body, his own eyes squeezed shut. It was all muscle and heat and force between them now, and love vibrating between them as they moaned together, sweat-slick and needy.

 

It was a wild, powerful feeling, and Carson embraced his own need for something this primal with the man he loved. Passion and desperate desire mixed in him, tightening his balls and pushing him relentlessly toward the edge. He could feel Rodney under him, thrusting into the mattress, desperate for his own release. They were close, he knew, but he held back with what little control he still had, wanting to draw it out for every last moment of pleasure.

 

"Come, love," he gasped, "come for me." Carson slammed into Rodney, thrusting hard and fast, clinging to his lover. Rodney shouted under him, his body stiffening as he came, and Carson felt it in every muscle in his body. He held on, riding out Rodney's climax, panting as his lover bucked and spasmed under him. "Yes," he hissed, "oh god, yes."

 

Rodney was still incoherent as Carson finally fell himself. He gave one last, hard grunt as he came inside his lover, losing himself entirely in the sensation. He was floating, clinging hard to Rodney's solid, sweating form. Rodney was all that kept him in his body.

 

"Carson..."

 

Carson wasn't able to speak. It was all he could do to gasp for breath.

 

"Oh god, Carson." Rodney's voice was soft and rough. A moment later, Carson managed to open his eyes. Rodney pulled him in for a kiss, as tender as his voice had been ragged.

 

Something inside Carson melted, or maybe broke. He wasn't sure which, but it didn't seem to matter. He held Rodney, shuddering. "I love you," he whispered. "I don't want to lose you."

 

Rodney looked at him for a moment then carefully rolled over. Carson had to pull out of him as they moved, but Rodney took him in his arms. "I'm not going anywhere," he said softly. "I promise."

 

Carson held on as though his life depended on it. He nodded and let Rodney hold him. "Good."

 

~~pau~~

 

Gaelic in the story:

 

Mo leannan -- my love

Mo chridhe -- my heart

Slŕinte -- a toast, literally "health"

 

Japanese in the story:

 

Ne -- catch all phrase, like "right?" or "isn't it?" -- often softens a sentence to take the sting out of something.

Hai -- yes