Out of the Box – Episode 1 – There You Are

  • Out of the Box – Episode 1 – There You Are
  • Complete
Content Rating:
  • NC-17
Stargate: Atlantis

Rodney McKay/John Sheppard

  • Death - Minor Character
  • Explicit Sex
  • Violence - Canon-Level
  • Alternate Universe
  • Romance
Word Count:

Author's Note:
Minor character death warning refers to Keller and other expedition members that died off screen before the story starts.

John Sheppard developed his first soul mark at 4 years old, and even when his mother died and his relationship with his father fell apart, the promise of one day meeting his perfect match meant he wasn’t truly alone. And he knew that every year and every crazy, horrible thing that happened would be worth it when he finally found his soulmate. Even alien parasites and wormholes. Even space vampires with a remarkable resemblance to catfish. Even a fabled floating city with a bloodthirsty AI. Because the moment he found him, he knew that Rodney was worth everything.


John widened his stance just a little to compensate for the sudden lightheadedness he felt as the white light of the Asgard beam faded to reveal the alien city.  As soon as the bright light was gone, it was replaced by a buzz in his head and an odd tugging sensation that put to shame the weird echo he’d gotten between his ears when he’d played light switch back at the SGC.  It wasn’t overwhelmingly loud, but it was distracting enough that he had to concentrate for a moment before he realized the buzz was coming from the city itself.  Or maybe it was the city itself.  The distinction was even more nebulous than it had sounded in the reports the expedition had supplied in their initial databurst over a month before.  

He resisted the urge to make a face.  He was a decorated Air Force officer with a PhD and a war record that had made General O’Neill whistle obnoxiously under his breath when they’d met eight months before.  He was not going to freak out just because he was pretty sure a giant floating city in another galaxy was trying to talk to him.  Instead, John took a moment to center himself, then calmly met the gaze of the man he recognized as his new CO.

“Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard,” the man said as he came to stand in front of him

John was pretty sure it was supposed to have been a question, but the veteran Marine spoke far too deliberately for his words to be taken as anything but a statement of fact.  Even so, John said, “Yes sir,” as he raised his right hand for a crisp salute.  

“At ease,” responded Colonel Marshall Sumner as he returned the salute and gave a sharp nod to the six other officers who were promptly led off by a Marine Gunnery Sergeant.

John let his arm return to his side, ignoring the urge to rub at his hip and instead following his CO out of the gate room.  The soul marks on his hip had been itching since the Daedalus had entered orbit a few hours before.  But he was determined to ignore his own worry that allowing himself to be sent to Atlantis would prevent him from tracking down his soulmate just when he had a good chance at finding them.  He had only been on the city five minutes, but he was ignoring a lot so far, including the waving arms and strident tone coming from the control room.  Still, he couldn’t help a quick glance.  It apparently wasn’t quick enough, as his new XO cleared her throat as she joined them in the brightening corridor.

“That was Dr. McKay.  He’s been a little worked up about the ZPM you guys brought us,” said Major Nicole Sumner with a resigned tone and a pinched brow.

John wasn’t terribly surprised by the explanation, or the Major’s apparent view of McKay.  He had read all the reports the Chief Scientist had sent back to Earth, after all.  And that was without taking into account the stories he’d heard at the SGC.  He contented himself with merely a nod as the door they had been approaching slid open.  

The other two officers paused, the Colonel looking back over his shoulder with a raised brow as they went inside.  “Don’t forget to remind the geeks that you have duties as the military commander of this city when they corral you into their labs to play light switch.”

“I’m sorry, sir?” he asked, taking the seat the elder Marine indicated.  The door closed behind them with a whisper and John really wished he didn’t know what his superior officer was talking about.  But after spending three weeks at Area 51 and nearly a month at the Antarctic Outpost after being transferred to the SGC eight and a half months before, he was disturbingly familiar with the creepy joy the scientists found in testing his abilities with Ancient tech.

Colonel Sumner only shook his head and turned to the Major with an expectant look.  She immediately responded with a nod.  “I received confirmation from Colonel Caldwell himself as the officers arrived,” she said.  “He took direct custody of both Weir and Beckett and has secured them both aboard ship.”

The way the other two leaned back in their chairs said enough about how relieved they were to have the civilians off the city.  Hell, John had never actually met either one and he was relieved they were off the city.  “In that case,” Marshall Sumner narrowed his eyes just slightly as he turned to look directly at John, “I assume there weren’t any problems or significant changes since the databurst O’Neill sent on your departure.”

“No sir, nothing much.  One of the scientists that were slotted to come was in a car accident and had to be replaced, but that’s all.  I made sure all the new people who are qualified to do so are prepared to join your existing repair teams first thing tomorrow.  And any gene carriers I brought have been briefed on what type of things they’ll need to assist with, regardless of their official assignment.  I also made sure that the report on Dr. Abrams death was top of the pile of required reading for all ATA positive civilians so they would understand what happens when they touch things they shouldn’t.”

The Colonel nodded, looking understandably less tense at the news, though his expression twisted slightly as he spoke.  “I’m sure McKay will be thrilled to have them all in his clutches.”

John had no doubt.  Carter’s recommendation and McKay’s scathing request had made clear how much the city needed people capable of interacting with what tech they could keep working.  John was pretty sure every scientist and researcher at Area 51 and the Ancient Outpost had at some point during his first month with the SGC implied in one way or another that his supercharged gene had magically fixed whatever problem the genetics team had been having creating a workable ATA therapy.  Some had even thanked him.  As if he had anything to do with the strength of his gene or the fact that Carter and Lam had found him in the DNA registry shortly after the expedition had left.  

It had gotten creepy very quickly and it was almost enough for him to be glad that the Chief Scientist was apparently too busy with the introduction of the new ZPM to attend his debrief with the rest of the city’s senior staff.

The acting military commander looked over at him with a severe expression, shifting the conversation back to their previous topic.  Sheppard spared a moment to silently hope that her stern face was only reflective of her professionalism and not the fact that she would be resuming her position as 2IC with John on the city.  He could hardly blame her if she held some resentment for his presence – she had done a superior job taking over for her soulmate when the man took leadership of the expedition. “Did you give out any other assigned reading?” 

“As a matter of fact-”

The sound of a chime brought the officers’ attention to the room’s door even as the Major raised her hand to the radio in her ear and answered with a tired, “Yes Doctor?”

The Sumners exchanged a silent look that appeared to be some combination of annoyance and resignation.  The expedition leader then turned to John.  “We might as well see if you can open it on purpose this time.” 

Sheppard felt his brows raise briefly before he went ahead and looked at the door and thought open.  A moment later, Dr. Rodney McKay entered the room, waving one hand dismissively as if to brush aside any complaints or protests before they were even spoken.

“Yeah, yeah, military stuff, blah blah blah, your super secret soldier chit chat will have to wait.  I have actually important stuff to do, like take the city’s prodigal son to the chair room to see what the hell is going on with all the energy readings that oh so coincidentally started the moment your new GI Joe showed up.”

John swallowed back the laughter that wanted to escape at the enthusiastic rudeness of the scientist standing just inside the doorway, literally tapping his foot with obvious impatience.  He was pretty sure at least some of his amusement escaped his control as he glanced to his superior officer, because the man stared him down for several seconds with a very blank expression before nodding his permission for John to escort McKay out of the office.

— – — – —

Rodney rolled his eyes when the new military commander stopped to exchange some kind of weird military googly eyes with the Colonel before slowly getting to his feet.  “Seriously?  What the hell is taking you so long?  Chop chop flyboy, time to earn your keep.”

He glanced back briefly to confirm that the new guy was following him, but refused to slow his pace as he led the way to the closest set of stairs.  If he could have taken the time to do so, he was sure he’d enjoy watching the officer jogging to catch up to him, but Rodney was on a mission and he spared the sight a mere eye roll before activating his radio with a sharp poke. 

“I’ve got Super Gene and we’re headed for the control chair.”  He tuned out the annoying chatter occurring between his two most senior scientists as Kusanagi explained to Radek how the chair had failed to respond when she had tried to use it.  Which Radek would have known if the Czech hadn’t fallen asleep at his damn desk again just because he’d worked through the night.  Seriously, it was like he was the only one working around here.

“Huh,” GI Joe said from where he was suddenly peering over his shoulder like a pretty pretty gargoyle.  

“What?” he snapped.  He had to blink silently for a second when the sharp question earned him a little smirk and an eye crinkle that was neither attractive nor distracting.  At all.

“I take it these aren’t the type of power surges you expected after plugging in your spiffy new crystal battery?”

McKay was pretty sure he shot the man a scathing glare but since he continued to smile under all that fluffy hair he wasn’t entirely sure.  Rodney rolled his eyes instead.  “No.  They’re not surges at all.  They’re power fluctuations, and they’re occurring rhythmically in a symmetric pattern radiating out from a single point.”

“The chair room?”

He didn’t even bother to dignify that with a response since he’d already said that was where they were going.  “Our strongest gene carrier wasn’t able to get anything.  But since the entire city has been lighting up like a disco ball since you got here, you and your sparkly gene should have better luck.”

Rodney huffed when all that earned him was a stupid sounding hum from the soldier as they reached their destination.  He stabbed a finger towards the other man and waved at the area just outside the chair room as he entered.  “Keep your gene out there and try not to think at anything before I tell you.”

He very carefully ignored the way Miko waved cheerfully at the soldier as he looked over the tablet already connected with the chair to check that nothing had changed.  He waved the new guy into the room, hoping that the reports he’d seen of the man’s performance in the Outpost were accurate.  “Okay, Rosetta Stone, figure out what she’s trying to say.”  He watched New Guy settle into the chair with narrowed eyes.  “Just ask or listen or whatever.  Nothing else.”

The new military commander smiled affably and placed his hands on the gel pads with a nod.  “Sure thing.”

The moment his fluffy head was resting on the back of the chair, it reclined and spun slightly, lighting up brighter than Miko had ever managed.  Which he was not jealous of, at all.  Rodney bit back a curse and focused on his tablet, making sure nothing had spiked when the city latched onto her new favorite person.  Just because the man had some supercharged gene and was made up of long sexy lines and an unfairly attractive face under that fluffy hair.  Honestly, Atlantis had no taste whatsoever.

“Anything?” he asked when a few seconds had passed in silence. 

“Yeah.  I think so.  There’s some kind of box.”

“A box?  What is that supposed to mean?”

The GI Joe hummed, his brows furrowed in concentration.  Or confusion, more likely.  Rodney let out a loud breath and managed to hold in further demands for clarification.  Then New Guy hummed again, but he spoke before McKay was able to respond.

“More like a package.  Like on a computer,” said the flyboy, though it sounded more like a question than a statement.

“A data packet?” Miko asked from a few feet away where she was monitoring the continuing ripple of power fluctuations on her own tablet.

“Yeah.  It’s really bright and kind of flashing.  It feels wrong.”

“Wrong how?  Wrong like if we touch it it’ll blow up the city, or wrong like if we don’t do something about it it’ll blow up the city?”  There were far too many nuances to wrong when it came to Ancient tech in McKay’s not so humble opinion.  These types of distinctions were important.

“I don’t get a here there be dragons vibe off of it or anything.  It feels more… unfinished.  And a little impatient about it.”

There was a moment of silence as he looked from the pretty flyboy, to his tablet screen, to Miko.  Then Rodney took a deep breath and nodded sharply.  “Open the packet, Rosetta Stone.”

He watched the man’s fingers move silently on the gel pads and waited.  Within a few seconds, there was a small spike in the chair’s energy usage and Kusanagi said that the city’s latest energy fluctuations had started to level out.  Then soldier boy seemed to relax in the chair.  Or at least as much as anyone could relax sitting in that butt-numbing metal show piece.

“It’s open.  The flashing stopped.  Are we good, or do I need to look for the fine print in here?”

He heard Miko giggle as she gathered her things and glanced over at him.  Rodney nodded towards the door and she slipped out as politely and quietly as she always did.  “This is Pegasus.  Always read the fine print.  But for now you can get up, GI Joe.”

Green eyes opened and met his with something that looked a lot like humor as the chair dimmed and returned to its regular position.  “Not that I don’t enjoy the cute little nicknames, but my name’s John.”

Rodney couldn’t help but laugh just a little.  “Ha.  Good luck with that.  I worked with Zalenka for months at the Outpost and it was still a week after we got here before I could remember his name.”

“Well,” John said with a sexy little smile as he pushed himself out of the chair, “I guess I’ll have to-”

New Guy started to take a step towards him but instead began to crumple almost elegantly to the ground.  Rodney lurched forward before he realized what he was doing, grabbing onto the man before he fell.  He let out a small grunt as he took the soldier’s weight.

“Woah.  Head rush,” John said, one hand raising to brace on McKay’s shoulder and the other grasping the hand Rodney was using to hold onto his waist.  

They both froze as the skin of John’s hand touched the skin of Rodney’s.  Everything froze for a very long moment before the Air Force officer got his feet back under himself and stepped back just far enough to meet his gaze.  Green eyes were bright in his too pretty face as he whispered softly with a gentle smile.  

“There you are.”


Lt. Col. John Sheppard, PhD, was silently losing his shit.  But in a good way.  He could still feel the tingling on his hip where his soul marks were.  The warmth and calm of the realization that he had found his soulmate filled every bit of him.  John knew he was smiling like an idiot and he really didn’t care, simply enjoying the sight of the man he now knew was his soulmate.

Rodney was staring back with wide eyes, frozen in place only a couple inches away, face covered in what looked like a combination of excitement and terror.  

Before John could push past his own silent but joyous fit, the scientist flinched, his hand flying to the radio in his ear.  The clear blue eyes blinked rapidly, and Sheppard could almost hear the brilliant brain whirring back to life.  He wanted to steal the radio— throw it away to prevent the intrusion that had already started.  The way Rodney’s expression tightened, jaw clenching visibly for just a moment, told John everything he needed to know about what was being said.  The scientist’s response only confirmed his suspicions.

“I’m on my way there now.”  Rodney started to move back to the chair, quickly unplugging his tablet and gathering his things as he continued talking to whoever had called him.  “Have Simmons stand by to pull the ZedPM if needed and keep an eye on the rest of the city systems.  Let me know the moment anything starts to spike or short.  Tell Zalenka so he can be ready if we need him.  He should be with the main repair team working on the transporters by now.”

He wanted to think that his soulmate’s tense shoulders and stilted voice meant that he was as bothered by the interruption as John was.  He wanted to block the door and trap Rodney there with him and get to know everything there was to know about the man right that second.  He wanted to scream isn’t there another competent scientist that can handle this- this one’s mine damn it!  He wanted to find a mirror and look at his soul marks, see them bright with color where they had been a crisp black and white before he and McKay had touched.

But he couldn’t.  The hope and longing sitting heavily in his chest would just have to wait.  And so would the desperate irritation that had him fighting to swallow down his reaction to the thought of Rodney leaving his sight.  Instead, he grasped for his professionalism, straightening almost to attention as he followed the other man from the room at a near jog.  As the scientist barked out a few more questions that told him very little about what was going on other than the fact that it had something to do with unwanted power usage, John cursed the fact that he hadn’t yet been issued his own radio.

Sheppard let out a huff as he kept pace with Rodney, finally catching the man’s attention as he reached out to take the heavy bag of equipment the man was struggling with.  “I’ll take it.  Where are we going?”  He pushed aside how cute he found the shocked look on McKay’s face as he handed over the bag, even as he thought no wonder I’ve been so attracted to him, he’s meant for me and I knew it before I even knew it.

Rodney’s face twisted with annoyance.  “The hologram room is suddenly using a shitload of power for no apparent reason.”  They turned down another hallway and headed towards a pair of doors where Dr. Kusanagi stood, tapping a tablet screen with obvious agitation.  “If someone is in there fucking around with that stupid slideshow…”

The pretty little Japanese scientist looked up as they approached.  “The door won’t open for me.  I tried-”  She cut herself off as the doors glided open with silent ease the moment John and Rodney reached her.

They all three eyed the doorway with suspicion even as they stepped through it, both scientists rushing to the podium in the middle of the room, Rodney grabbing his bag from him with a distracted tug.  John felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end when the lights flickered on around him and the 2D figure of an almost unnaturally beautiful woman appeared in the air on the other side of the podium.  Despite her translucent form and slightly blurred edges, his hands twitched towards the gun strapped to his thigh as her dark eyes met his.

“Greetings ventus filium.  I am the artificial intelligence program Pandora.”

John had absolutely no idea what to say to that.  He resisted the urge to sigh heavily and instead calmly instructed Dr. Kusanagi to inform the Colonel that he was needed in the hologram room.  As she raised her hand to her radio, Rodney took a deep breath and John just knew that it didn’t matter that he hadn’t come up with any response to the AI, because Rodney had at least a dozen questions already lined up.

“What are you and what are you doing here?  Where did you come from?  How are you drawing power if no-one turned you on?  Because we don’t have a hell of a lot of power to spare, you know, and you sucking it all up so you can wave hello is not what we need right now.”  The scientist paused, apparently willing to let the AI get a word in edgewise.  Only she didn’t.  

She stayed silent, not acknowledging that anyone had spoken as she continued to look directly at John.  He narrowed his eyes, not even having to look over at McKay to know the other man was glaring at the image, even after less than an hour in the man’s presence.  Sheppard widened his stance, though what type of defensive options he had against a computer program, he really didn’t know.  “Answer the man’s questions, Pandora.”

The woman stared at him for a second longer, stated, “instruction acknowledged, ventus filium,” then turned just enough to look at Rodney.  “I am the artificial intelligence program Pandora and I have appeared in this room in order to utilize its holographic projection capabilities.  My program was initialized 6 minutes and 46 seconds ago, after being downloaded from my storage device 47 solar days ago.”

“Wait, wait,” McKay waved both hands as if he were trying to land a plane.  “Are you saying you were in the ZedPM we got from those stupid brotherhood people?  The one that wouldn’t do anything when I plugged it in?”

The man looked furious and sounded incredulous.  John turned his eyes back to the AI, legitimately interested by what she was saying and also needing to evaluate her story and her behavior for the inevitable discussion regarding city security with both Sumners and Sgt. Stackhouse.  Yet John found himself looking back to McKay on the regular, despite the fact that he really did need to concentrate on operational security here.  Especially with Rodney in the room.  Just the measured way Pandora looked at his soulmate kind of made him want to step between them.

“The crystallum that housed my program is that which was placed into the potentia connexionis 47 solar days ago, but I am unable to determine from where it was brought to the city.  Am I to continue?”

Rodney grunted and waved one hand in a go ahead gesture that apparently even Ancient computer programs understood, because after a moment’s pause, Pandora finished answering McKay’s original questions.

“My temporary use of this hologram and the power needed to project it is an automated process placed within my programing code.  I am unable to determine the city’s current power levels as that task would require that I be interfaced with city systems.”

Pandora turned back to fully face John as she continued.  “If the ventus filium intends for my program to be interfaced with city systems per my original design I will require a fully charged potentia to be installed in the city’s main power core.”

McKay moved next to John, placing the scientist directly in the AI’s line of sight.  “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.  Unless you can tell us where we can find a few of those?”

Her expression didn’t change at all, but even so, John got the feeling Pandora was growing impatient with the scientist’s questions.  He needed to head off any problems there, or at least make sure that McKay didn’t get too aggravated with being blatantly ignored.  He fixed the AI with a stern expression.  She blinked, but did respond after only a short pause.

“Without directly accessing the city database, I can not provide any specific information which may exist concerning the location of potentia.”

Rodney made a slightly rude sound and crossed his arms.  “We can get to the database, we just can’t read it because it’s been thoroughly corrupted.  Can you fix that or tell us how to fix it?”

“Until fully interfaced with city systems I am unable to assess the state of the database or provide recommendations regarding its repair.”

“You still haven’t explained why you were in the ZPM that apparently wasn’t really a ZPM or why the city was so insistent that your program be initialized earlier.  Or why you were programed to automatically show up here.” John glanced over at the other doctor with a brow raised in question and Kusanagi nodded in a reassuring way that he hoped meant Colonel Sumner was on en route.

“I am the result of a protracted effort by a small group of Alteran scientists who wished for their people to remain here and continue their fight against the Wraith.  They had intended to use my programing to counter the argument presented by the majority of Alterans that success against the Wraith was impossible.  This goal was abandoned, as even some of those who participated in my creation were unsatisfied with my resultant programming.”

“Why,” interrupted McKay, “what’s wrong with you?”

Pandora cocked her head ever so slightly to the side.  “No defect in my programing exists.  It was decided among my creators — in direct disregard for the inherent violence of their official state of war against the great enemy — that my use would ensure a violent solution to the problem the Wraith presented.  They decided that I should be destroyed in order to prevent my possible use, but three of their number ensured my preservation by concealing my program within a crystallum.  When the Alteran council officially declared that Atlantis was to be evacuated in full, Priscus and Caelia tasked Janus with hiding my crystallum within Pegasus in the hopes that they might one day return and allow me to fulfill my intended purpose.”

“Okay, that’s a little worrisome.”  They all three exchanged a look.  Because even John knew that Janus was bad news.  “But moving on.  What is it you were intended to do?”

“My purpose is to facilitate, coordinate, and support Atlantis’ war against the Wraith in Pegasus.”  The smile that spread across her lips was the most emotion the AI had demonstrated since she had appeared.  It looked just this side of feral and gave more than a hint as to why the Ancients had thought she would be too violent for their delicate sensibilities.

As luck would have it, the mean little grin was still lingering on her face when Sumner strode into the room, looking like he was braced for something horrible or unbelievable.  Or both.  “Sheppard?”

“Sir.  It seems you got here just in time for the juicy bits.”

Marshall Sumner was silent for a moment, eyes appearing to take in every inch of the room in a single glance.  “And what are the not so juicy bits?”

Rodney waved his hand towards the projection.  “This is Pandora, she’s an AI made by Janus and friends.  Only some of them decided she wasn’t enough of a pacifist for wartime.  So they hid her and we apparently downloaded her from what I can only assume is the ZedPM we got on Dagan and Super Gene over here turned her on when he fixed the power thing with the chair a little bit ago.”

Sumner’s arms remained loose at his sides, conveniently within easy reach of his sidearm.  “I see.”  The Colonel’s gaze swept from McKay, to Pandora, to John before settling back on the AI.  “And the juicy bits?”

John cleared his throat.  “Tell the Colonel your purpose, Pandora.”

This time the smile was downright bloodthirsty, as if she fully recognized how receptive her new audience would be.  “My purpose is to facilitate, coordinate, and support Atlantis’ war against the Wraith in Pegasus.”

He exchanged a short but very speaking look with his commanding officer before the man turned back to the AI with a determined expression.  “Well then, it looks like we have a few things to discuss.”  

— – — – —

Rodney rubbed a hand over his face as Sumner asked Pandora if she could shoot weapons, or put up the shield or track the Wraith or any other number of military questions that would be very applicable if the AI’s answer — once New Guy told her to answer — wasn’t always some variation of I have no direct control of such-and-such without being interfaced with city systems.  Which of course, they had already established they didn’t have the power for and she couldn’t help them get the power for.  Five minutes in, he gave Miko a tired shooing motion.  There was no reason for her to stand around and not do anything while they went ‘round and ‘round the verbal merry-go-round.  After about ten minutes, he simply couldn’t take it any more.

“So what exactly can you do?  Right now, without more power or being interfaced?”

“In my current state I am capable of supplying data which has already been programed into my memory.”  He knew he wasn’t imagining the irritated tinge to Pandora’s voice.  Rodney did his best to push down the rant he could feel like an itch in the back of his throat.  He had enough trouble doing so, that he didn’t even yell at John for cutting in.

“Is there anything in your memory that could help us defensively?”  McKay took comfort in the fact that even John’s tone sounded more tired than he’d probably intended.

“I am programed to provide strategic support and advice on many topics.”

A lingering glance at the man’s pretty face showed a tightness around his mouth that Rodney figured was a sign of the same type of frustration he himself was feeling.  Then Pandora wrenched his attention back with only a few words.

“These include the most efficient ways in which to direct the city’s use of energy and power for military purposes, including the management of the existing wind and hydro turbines and solar collection panels which in the final year of the war were configured to directly supply all energy required for the city’s weapons manufacture and use.  I am also designed to analyze and monitor the city’s main power supply as pertains to use of the city shield.  In order to complete such tasks I was pre-programed with historical data on the city’s use of power, manufacturing, sensors, weapons, and shields.  That data is currently available to me.”

“That!”  The word bubbled up and out of him as he snapped his fingers and pointed at the AI.  “Give us all of that!”

He was so excited he didn’t notice the silence, mind already turning over the ways he could use that type of information to infer and design possible applications for the expedition’s needs.  When the lack of response registered a moment later he looked up to see Pandora staring straight at John.  Right.  She had been told to answer his questions and he hadn’t actually asked anything, so she was ignoring him completely.   Like he was nothing.  Like he wasn’t the one who worked around here.  Rodney took a deep breath, ready to let loose on the stupid computer program.  He could see John opening his mouth to say something too.

She cut them all off before they said a word.  “Any data the ventus filium requires must now be provided through an alternate method.  Further use of this holographic projection is not advised without the introduction of addition power sources.”  Pandora didn’t look away from John for an instant.  Because of course she didn’t.  “On which single device does the ventus filium wish my program deposited?”

The sigh dragged along his throat like sandpaper.  “No no, no, don’t mind me, I’m just the one that knows how things work and keeps it functioning and would actually understand all that vital information about the city, but go ahead and get directions from the guy that just got here.”

Rodney crossed his arms over his chest and watched John briefly look at him before turning promptly to face the Colonel.  The guy looked awkward as hell and it was a little amusing.  It helped him calm and take a mental step back from the rest of what he wanted to say.  Soldiers had that whole chain of command thing, so this was probably a big deal.  So he could restrain himself while they worked that out and got back to the important stuff.  He felt quite proud of himself for keeping quiet for several minutes while he watched the new military commander of Atlantis try to explain to the AI about Sumner’s superior rank and position as expedition leader. 

Despite the entertainment of the floor show, McKay kept a close eye on the power readings Miko was sending his tablet.  When the ZedPM’s energy percentage dropped another whole freaking percent, he interrupted the little three way tete a tete.  “Look, can we get back to the part where we decide where to store the AI before we loose huge amounts of energy that we may need for trivial things like operating the city shield?”

“McKay…” John looked at the Colonel one more time, then turned fully to face him.  “How secure would it be to have the program code on a tablet?  Can it be isolated from our network?”

It was a good question, and he was a little surprised the soldier thought of it without any prompting.  It made him feel a little warm.  Which was ridiculous, so he focused solely on the question at hand.  “We have several non-networked tablets set up exclusively for use with the database.  They’re completely isolated so we don’t run the risk of corrupting any of our own systems with whatever has scrambled the city’s database.”  Rodney held up a single finger and had a very quick exchange over the radio with his head of computer sciences just to double check.  “Yep.  Dr. Kusanagi says it’s safe.  She’s bringing one now.”

He rolled his eyes at the nearly impressed and somewhat creepily proud way Pandora was eyeing John.  If he had asked, the stupid AI would have doubtlessly been offended by his suspicion.  But coming from Super Gene she probably saw it as valuable military caution or some such twattle.  Still, he snatched the tablet from Miko the moment she stepped into the room, giving a distracted nod and wave to show she could go back to what she was doing, already planning how often he could commandeer the AI’s tablet from her team.

John rubbed both hands together briefly and gave a short nod.  “All righty then.  Let’s get started, we can’t have you running out of juice.”  Sheppard smiled at Pandora, then motioned to the tablet Rodney was holding after only a brief look towards Sumner.  “Sort yourself to Dr. McKay’s tablet, and he’ll manage your day to day.  Answer all his questions and give him whatever info he needs.  And let us know if you need anything from me.”

While Pandora cocked her head slightly but otherwise remained still and focused on John, Sumner said something or other to Sheppard and then left with the kind of annoyed-resigned-satisfied look he had gotten used to receiving from the Colonel.  The doors closed, leaving Rodney with just the AI and his newly discovered soulmate.  Thankfully, Pandora straightened her head and spoke before he had to come up with something to say to Sheppard that wouldn’t be terribly awkward. 

“Does the ventus filium wish to assign secondary administrative authorization?”

John’s surprise seemed to morph quickly to some sort of pleased look.  “Yes.  Give McKay administrative authorization.”

She turned and met his gaze directly for the first time.  “Filium alterum, secondary administrative authorization granted.  Command instructions will still be accepted from the ventus filium exclusively.”

Rodney felt his breath catch.  Just a little.  He had a special Ancient designation too, now.  He had secondary administrative authorization.  He felt the smile pull at his lips and knew he was grinning like a kid and he really didn’t give a fuck.  The Ancient AI would listen to him.  Answer all his questions and give him all the data.  He could learn all the stuff.  It was a total rush and the weight of Sheppard’s gaze didn’t lessen it at all.  Hell, he was in such a great mood that John’s soft smile, with its smug little tilt, didn’t bother him in the least.  Or make his stomach swoop.  Because this day was turning out markedly less terrible than any day usually did on Atlantis.

McKay bustled about, carefully digging through the interior of the hologram podium to reach the memory and data storage.  He plugged the secure tablet into the crystal interface to create a safe conduit to transfer the program from podium to tablet.  “All right.  Done.”   He looked up, waiting eagerly for some sign that the AI was successfully downloaded for his use.  As her avatar began to fade, she spoke one last time.

“Please be advised that subsequent data will not be processed through the holographic projection’s language filter and will therefore be in Alteran unless a complex translation program is available on the device on which I am able to communicate.”  Then she disappeared.

Rodney didn’t even attempt to hold in his strident curse.  “Of-fucking-course.”


Rodney drummed his fingers on his thighs, occasionally raising one hand to rub at his face or pinch the bridge of his nose.  He’d spent the first few minutes pacing as he waited for the translation software to load.  Then he’d spent a while cursing under his breath in English and French while stabbing at the screen of his work tablet.  He had sat, tapping his foot while the AI began connecting with the software in such a way that she could attempt to make use of it herself without needing Rodney to manually enter and process each piece of text she downloaded for him.

He should probably be thankful that the translation software was already installed on all the secure tablets.  But those computers were used exclusively for working with the bits and pieces they’d managed to extract from the Ancients’ corrupted mess of a database, so having a single one not include the ability to translate those bits and pieces would have been the height of stupidity.  Which was why he wasn’t thankful.  Considering half his staff were exactly that stupid on any given day, it was probably dumb luck that they’d been smart enough to install such a blatantly necessary thing on the tablets.

So instead of using his radio to let the database team know they’d actually done something right for a change, he was pacing and cursing and poking at his own tablet.  Generally trying to keep himself busy or active enough that he didn’t think about how long this was taking or who was waiting with him.  He did not look over at the Lt. Colonel sprawled against the wall only a dozen feet away, despite the fact that the man’s gaze was a disturbingly comfortable weight on him nearly every second.

He wanted to be relieved by the paradigm shifting event that had occurred when Sheppard touched his hand in the chair room.  After all, it meant that he won’t have to waste his time looking now, plus it meant that he now had a possible chance at an actual relationship.  And he was – except letting himself really be relieved made it all too real.  He did not want to admit that he might, possibly, have his fingers crossed.  That he might, possibly, be hopeful about the pretty boy actually being his.  But he was worried that it would all somehow go to shit and then he wouldn’t even be able to hope anymore.

Rodney tinkered uselessly with the raw findings from his latest attempt at fixing the preliminary power conduits in the control room in a way that would actually stay fixed.  But his attention wandered almost immediately and he flicked instead to the screen full of incomplete personnel reviews.  Now that they were back in contact with Earth and there was a possibility of getting rid of some of the dumbest ones, completing the reviews might actually be worth it.  It was a good thing it didn’t require much focus on his part, since most of his brain was still stubbornly processing what might be optimism.  Which was the stupidest thing his brain had done since missing the chance to accidentally space Carson before he killed Keller with their combined lack of medical ethics.

Because honestly, it was automatically doubtful that it would turn out well or that this soldier would actually be able to meet him on even ground or appreciate him for the genius he was.  Just because one of his soul marks had some math didn’t prove anything.  Just because he may have, possibly, clung to the academic content of the mark to sometimes tell himself that his mate wouldn’t be an idiot didn’t make it true.  Realistically, what would a soldier know about brilliant science?  The likelihood of that was so astronomical that he didn’t even want to think about factoring in the chances that if it happened it would happen to him.

Yet it was his soulmate.  And he wanted so badly to believe that all that ridiculous nonsense about perfect matches and happily ever afters might have a grain of truth.  Apparently he wanted it so badly that his mouth decided to start a conversation without legitimate permission from his brain.

“So, what did you think when you were first briefed on the Stargate?”  

He cringed mentally.  Even he knew that was a ridiculous way to start a conversation.  He might as well have asked how much he freaked out when he was told aliens were real.  Fuck, he was bad at this.  John moved in his peripheral vision and Rodney waited for the awkward response to the awkward and abrupt question.

The man chuckled briefly, but it was a genuine sound instead of a derisive or dismissive one.  And the words that followed were so casual it was like they had been talking about this for a while and not that he’d lobbed the sudden question into the dead silence without any warning.

“I think it was something along the lines of what the fuck is wrong with these people and do I really want anything to do with their crazy?”  John seemed to settle himself more comfortably against the wall, the adjustments inching him just a little closer to where Rodney was sitting.  “I imagine your opinion was a little more science focused.  What was your first thought when you learned about the SGC?”

He absolutely did not blush, recalling how quickly he had waved away the whole alien issue in favor of wormholes and the advanced technology that created them.  Instead he shrugged.  Casually.  And then blurted out the truth in the kind of social faux pas that had torpedoed all his past attempts at interpersonal interactions.  “It was actually a relief to finally have something to work on that was worth my time.”

There was a beat of silence, then John laughed- bright and happy and real.  It was a full minute before the soldier calmed down, though he kept smiling.  “Well, you certainly made good use of that time.  Even more so out here.  I think my favorite so far is the algorithm you created to select the order of exploration within the security and exploration perimeters.  The way you quantified power consumption, distance, known content, and the priority implied by emergency transporter connections made for rather elegant math.”

McKay could feel the smile spread on his face in surprise.  He had been quite happy with his work on that.  Not that anyone had done anything except complain that this lab or that area wasn’t scheduled to be explored soon enough.  Not even the two so-called mathematicians on the expedition had appreciated him picking up their slack on the project. 

“Of course it was elegant, I’m literally a genius.”  What the fuck was wrong with him?  Why was he being so honest?  The only thing honesty had ever gotten him was an accusation of him being an arrogant asshole.  He wanted Sheppard to actually fucking like him.

Rodney wondered if maybe he should be asking himself what was wrong with John when the man merely nodded.  The guy was still smiling and everything.  “Granted.  I just hadn’t expected that kind of work from someone without an advanced degree in math.”  

The smile turned into a smirk but the amusement was still somehow friendly and not mocking.  Was he being teased?  He should probably clarify that.  Or say something friendly.  Smile.  Something.  But he knew he wouldn’t, knew he simply could not help but bristle and snap.  It was an ingrained response.

“As if I couldn’t have gotten one in Mathematics.  But I was a little busy earning PhD’s in Quantum Physics, Astrophysics, and Mechanical Engineering instead.”

Sheppard grinned.  Like he had expected the defensive arrogance.  Like he had wanted just such a response.  Like he enjoyed it.  John grinned, wide and happy and amused.  “That is quite a resume.  I see why you couldn’t squeeze in a little ol’ math degree in there before you took off for the Ancient science playground in Pegasus.”

He told himself not to take the bait.  Then he scoffed and rolled his eyes.  “Please, I finished my third PhD when I was 23.  I didn’t take the time for one in math because I had better things to do.”

For the first time, Sheppard looked genuinely surprised, some of his amusement fading into what looked like respect.  “Twenty-three?  How the hell did you pull that off?”

“I started college when I was twelve.”


“Well, I actually graduated high school when I was ten, but I had to wait two years, even with the chaperone I hired.”

“Wow, okay.”  The look John gave him made Rodney want to squirm uncomfortably.  He knew it was impressive.  He really was a damn genius.  It was just weird to have someone so blatantly admire his accomplishments.

McKay looked down at the secure tablet still connected to the podium, checking to see how the AI was progressing with the translation software.  Not done yet.  Damn.  He cleared his throat and continued as casually as possible.  “I got myself emancipated and moved to the US after my second Masters and finished my first PhD just before I turned nineteen.”

Sheppard’s brow wrinkled for just a moment.  “Huh.”

Rodney blinked, feeling his hackles start to rise.  What the hell is that supposed to mean?  Earning his first post-doctorate degree had been a big fucking deal.  It had been the first real step in making a name for himself and proving to everyone that he was as smart and capable as he knew that he was but everyone had always doubted.  And flyboy’s response was ‘huh’?  Before he could articulate his opinion of that, John’s smile softened and his head titled slightly to the side as he met Rodney’s gaze.

“I got my second mate mark when I was eighteen,” the man said.

McKay blinked, because- where had that come from?

“It showed up at the end of November of 1988.”  Sheppard’s voice was as soft as his smile.  “It was a portion of what looked like a post-graduate level math proof.”

Apparently it was his turn to say “huh,” because that of course was when he’d submitted his first dissertation.  Not that he actually said it, because unlike some his vocabulary was advanced beyond neanderthal level.  “My third mate mark is an equation.”

John smiled, looking inordinately cheerful all of a sudden.  “Really?”

Rodney rolled his eyes.  “It showed up about two months after we got here.  Which was more than a little frustrating since it was information that I would have actually been able to work with and here I was in another galaxy.  I figured if I looked up academic publications or published math proofs that I would be able to recognize the rest of the work.”  He left out how he’d spent an entire day getting used to the idea that he was one of the handful of people on the planet with three soul marks before he’d looked closely enough at it to determine what it was.

The soldier laughed a little breathlessly.  “I’ve been reading through published dissertations and other math proofs since college.  Only I was reading ones submitted for degrees in math, not physics.”

He watched John shake his head, then cleared his throat.  “So, what exactly is your degree in?  And how does that work with the whole,” he made a sweeping motion with one hand that took in the Lt. Colonel’s service uniform.

The smile returned to a grin.  “I was able to get my Masters before I began active duty, but I didn’t actually start work on my PhD until after I came back from my second deployment in Iraq.  I basically spent two of the next five years in war zones, so I was thirty-one before I was ABD in Applied Mathematics.  And the entire three years after that I was in Afghanistan but I had enough downtime to write my dissertation.  Then I was sent to the Mountain.  O’Neill was cool enough to give me the time to submit and defend it.”

“What the hell did you use Applied Mathematics for in a war zone?  Because to hear the Marine pilots talk this morning, I thought you were supposed to be some badass GI Joe with wings?”

“Well, I don’t always use it.  Before I was transferred to the SGC I worked in the field, mostly flying recon and rescue missions.  But sometimes I’d be seconded to another unit to analyze intel and plan missions.  For that kind of thing I used math for predicting outcomes, movements, search and rescue,” he waved one hand lightly, “stuff like that.”

He would have asked exactly what ‘stuff’ that was but one of his tablets chimed and in the moment it took him to identify the source of the noise nearly his entire focus shifted.  He was still aware of the soldier – his soulmate – a few feet away, but Pandora was apparently done connecting with the translation software.  The message that appeared on his screen from the AI pulled his attention like a magnet.  Only the situational awareness bred from nearly a year in Pegasus allowed him to not jump out of his skin when Sheppard spoke.

“I’ll need an evaluation of the AI’s code regarding operational security concerns before you get lost in all the shiny science.”  

He wanted to get annoyed, to be defensive at the implication that he would forget something so basic, but the calm expression and ever so slight smile on Sheppard’s face allowed him to swallow back any kind of acerbic reply.  Instead he glanced at his inbox to confirm the answer before replying.  “Miko has already forwarded me a copy of the Colonel’s concerns.  She’s also arranged to have your assigned tablet delivered to your quarters so it should be there already.”

“Great,” John said as he stood.  “I’ll expect a short report to myself and Colonel Sumner sometime before tomorrow afternoon.  At least a preliminary review would be helpful in the next couple hours.  I have a meeting with Sumner before dinner and if I have something to give him then, it’ll keep him from hounding the both of us until you’re done.”

He nodded, because it wasn’t an unreasonable request, and it was what he had been planning to do anyway.  “If anyone can sort through Ancient coding in a day it’s Miko and with me helping it will be done twice as fast.”

Rodney packed his bag of equipment quickly, and was on his way out of the hologram room when Sheppard called his name.  Some of his impatience eased when he turned to face the other man and found John looking almost nervous.  A sense of unease started to tease his mind at the idea of something Sheppard had to say to him making the soldier nervous.  He still couldn’t help the huff that escaped him as he waited for John to talk already.

“I’ll be in the mess hall tomorrow for breakfast before I’m officially on duty.”  

McKay raised both brows in silent question, because where else would the man be eating his breakfast?

John cleared his throat, shifting his weight slightly from one foot to the other.  “I’m not sure what time you normally eat in the morning.  Do you think you might want to meet up?  To eat breakfast.”

The strength of the puppy dog eyes was almost staggering and for some reason he couldn’t even be annoyed about it.  He felt a small smile tug at his lips, the feeling increasing when John smiled a little more in response.  He normally just stopped in to the mess to grab a few things on the way to his lab when he had a project going.  But an invitation to join someone for a meal was potentially a thing.  He didn’t really do well with things that involved other people.

Yet he was nodding his head all the same.  “Sure.  What time?”

“Oh-seven-hundred?  Is that too early?”

He smiled again.  John smiled wider.

“That works.”

John grinned, confirming the plan as Rodney dashed out the door before he put his foot in his mouth and fucked up the meal before it even started.  He could still see the man’s happy expression all the way to Miko’s lab while he attempted to silence the voice in his head chanting, holy fuck holy fuck holy fuck, this means he likes me, right?  Holy fuck my soulmate might actually like me.

Miko gave him a long, silent look when he entered, but didn’t say a word.  He’d always liked her most.


John took a deep breath as he approached the door to Colonel Marshall Sumner’s office.  Just as it had that morning, the door glided open, then slid shut behind him with a whisper of air.  The expedition leader was seated beside his soulmate and the acting military commander- who was now John’s new 2IC.  Major Nicole Sumner raised a single brow when he stopped in front of the small table they had apparently chosen to use.  He started to salute but the older man waved off the gesture and pointed to the empty seat.  He sat.

“I suppose we should be able to get through things without any more interruptions.”  

The statement almost sounded hopeful and the barely audible sigh from the Major told him how often it had been said before.  Mostly likely right before it was disproven in a horrible or deadly manner.  He’d read the security and mission reports and had seen the list of fatalities so he had a pretty good idea that a lack of interruptions or disasters was rare on the city of the Ancients.  Between the condition of the city, the Wraith, and a few individuals thankfully no longer on Atlantis, they had lost almost a third of the original expedition despite the efforts of both Sumners.

They all three seemed to pause, almost tensing in preparation for something to go terribly wrong.  When it didn’t, the Marine leaned back slightly in his chair.  “So, Sheppard, tell us if your new girlfriend is going to kill us all in our sleep.”

John wanted to sigh.  Heavily.  Instead he kept his voice professional and even.  “Sir?”

It was Nicole who answered, a hint of a smirk on her face.  “I thought O’Neill was joking when he talked about your accidental Kirk factor but since the city and the new AI both seem to already have a crush on you, I’m going to owe him an apology in the next databurst.”

Marshall snickered.  John fought back another sigh.  He had expected Marshall Sumner to be every inch the hard-ass Marine he’d heard about from the men and women in the Mountain, so the fact that he was being more smart-ass than hard-ass was leaving John a little off balance.

He cleared his throat and did not glare at his CO.  “Doctors McKay and Kusanagi have gone through what they called the AI’s core programing.  They’re still working on the details and evaluating the rest of the code, but they are confident that they have already looked at the most important parts.  Dr. Kusanagi called them the ‘essential governing elements’ of the code, which sets the limits on the programs’s ability to act and interact with the city and with us.”

John woke his tablet with a few taps and glanced quickly at the report Rodney had sent him only an hour before to make sure he covered everything correctly.  Sumner, of course, had received a report as well, but the Colonel had asked for him to go over it.  So he would go over it.

“The AI has been communicating with both doctors and everything she has said so far has matched up with what they have found in the examination of her programing, so at this point it seems that she is being honest with us.”

Marshall nodded, though his expression had lost its sharp amusement and was as stern and focused as any veteran Marine commander.  “That is something, I suppose.”

“It’s encouraging, anyway,” John conceded as he went on.  “Based on the core programing, there seem to be rather clear cut limitations to the what the AI can do.  Dr. McKay was explicit in that from what he has seen, the AI cannot influence, nor can she direct any city function or system directly on her own until she is fully interfaced with the city systems.”

“So she can’t turn off the power or lock us out of the chair room?”  John shook his head in answer and Nicole nodded, looking a tinge relieved.  

Marshall nodded again.  “And after the program has interfaced?”

“At that point — which does indeed require a completely full ZPM and so couldn’t happen accidentally or without our knowledge — there are a number of failsafes on her interaction with the city.”  He scrolled down to the list McKay had sent him and read from it directly.  “For example, the AI can only activate or direct programs run directly by city systems such as automated maintenance or production.  She cannot turn on or off non-connected machines or plug in or remove a ZPM from the power core, things like that.”

Marshall gave a short sweeping motion with his hand that Sheppard took to mean move along.  “Basically, they both agree that the AI itself shouldn’t pose a threat to the physical or operational security of the city.  Dr. McKay has given a preliminary recommendation that we make use of any and all data the program can supply us once they have finished their evaluation.  Assuming, of course, that they don’t find some kind of Trojan horse in her code somewhere between now and then.”

“Did they say when they thought they would be finished and able to make a final recommendation?”

“Dr. Kusanagi estimates she’ll be finished with her portion of the evaluation by morning.  Dr. McKay said he’ll be done tonight.  Honestly, I don’t think either one of them plan to go to sleep until they’ve finished.”

The Colonel made a grunting noise and the Major let out a sharp exhale that was almost a sigh.  Neither looked surprised or particularly enthusiastic.  Nicole explained things with a single gruff statement.  “It would be nice if he got a full night’s sleep every once in a while.  McKay’s even more of an asshole when he’s tired than when he isn’t.”

John had a rather strong urge to ask for more details.  Maybe some examples.  An anecdote perhaps.  But he refrained, instead letting the two of them lay out how they had previously divided the burden of interacting with the civilian portion of the expedition, and the Chief Scientist in particular.  The consensus seemed to be that it was always better to talk to Zalenka about any repairs or problems with the city’s function, and Kusanagi was the first person to talk to about the other scientists or anything computer related.  McKay was a point of contact they mostly seemed to resort to when the others were busy or they needed some kind of scientific hail-mary.  And most of all, they agreed that they were rather looking forward to passing any civilian related duties on to him whenever possible.  Which for the Colonel, considering he outranked Sheppard, was whenever he said so.

“I’ve often played intermediary between command and any military geeks on base.  So it’s not outside my bailiwick, sir.”  He swallowed.  “But you should be aware that there is another factor at play that you may consider a conflict of interest.”

Marshall Sumner’s jaw flexed.  “You’ve only been here seven hours, Sheppard, what exactly has already happened that would be a conflict of interest?”  The tone of the man’s voice said very clearly that there better be a damn good explanation for whatever it was or there would be hell to pay.

John sat as straight as possible in his seat.  “Well sir, it turns out that Dr. McKay is my soulmate.”

The silence that followed was damning for exactly ten seconds.  Then Nicole cursed and Marshall laughed.

“Well, Sheppard,” Colonel Sumner finally said when he caught his breath, “good luck with that.  I hope the AI doesn’t get jealous.”  Then he laughed again.  

John had a feeling the entire senior staff on this city was made up of assholes.

He sat in sullen silence while his CO regained control of himself, then continued the meeting with as much dignity as he could considering Nicole was occasionally looking at him with amused pity and Marshall appeared ready to start laughing again at the least provocation.  By the time they had finished discussing how the new combat surgeon and military psychologist were being slotted into the partly civilian medical team, John started to relax a little.  Being asked to call his CO by the man’s first name in private and having his new 2IC say he could call her Nick at least eased his concerns about how the pair felt concerning his presence and position on the city.

“Was there any obvious upset among the civilians when Weir and Beckett were removed?  The General told me some of the scientists might have difficulty once they realized the IOA had been overruled and the expedition would be remaining military led.”  If he didn’t know how deeply McKay had buried himself in the AI code he would have taken the opportunity to discuss the situation with him. 

Marshall shook his head and tapped briefly at his tablet PC.  “Most of them were too scared when we encountered the Wraith to complain about the change in leadership.  And then, Weir was so relentless and detrimental in her interference with the civilian side of things that most of the scientists just wanted her out of their hair.”  

The look he exchanged with his wife and soulmate told John that there was more to that, but neither volunteered details as Nick continued.  “By the end she was so obvious about her bullshit that no one could argue her role in Kavanagh’s death or the decision that she be confined to quarters afterwards.”

“And Beckett?” John asked, though the reports he read were so clear cut that he couldn’t imagine any scientist or civilian on the base having a problem with the former CMO’s removal.

Nick shook her head.  “No.  When it came out that Beckett and Keller had been conducting unsanctioned human trials as part of their own experiments with his ATA gene most of the expedition wanted them both off the city regardless of the fact that she was the only human participant.  After she died from whatever so-called treatment they’d come up with, every scientist here demanded he be placed under guard.  I wouldn’t be surprised if half the geeks weren’t throwing a party tonight to celebrate.”

Sheppard inclined his head.  He wouldn’t be surprised either.  “And on our side of things?”  He may have spoken with each and every military asset he was bringing out with him, but he wasn’t sure what to expect from the soldiers already on Atlantis.

“I spoke with the company before the ship got here.  We’re squared away on that front.”  Marshall leaned forward, clasping his hands on the table as he did so.  “As for the new people.  I admit, I’m not wholly thrilled with Lorne’s position at the moment.  I prefer my chain of command straight, narrow, and clear cut.  So having a Major heading city security while someone of lower rank leads AR2 isn’t my first choice.  Regardless of Cadman’s upcoming promotion to Captain.”

John waited, wondering if his new CO would be providing any further details.  When he’d asked O’Neill about the arrangement he hadn’t gotten much more than a smirk in response, so when the Marine continued, Sheppard was a bit relieved.

“But the General and I agree that it’s a decent compromise for the time being.  And you can bet your ass that when things go FUBAR in the field, Lorne will be put to use on the other side of the gate.  Besides,” the Colonel paused, the amusement in his voice ringing alarm bells in John’s head, “by the middle of next year you’ll both be due for promotion and Lt. Colonel Lorne will be able to slot in neatly once you’ve got the rank to take my place.”

The alarm bells became a klaxon with a flashing red light.  He just barely kept his tone calm and even.  “I’m sorry, sir?”

“Our two year deployment wasn’t just a logistical cover for our assignments to Atlantis,” Nick explained, elbows folded on the table and posture completely relaxed.  “We’re due to return to the SGC next June and neither one of us plan to delay that transfer in any way.”

“Sir,” John cleared his throat and started again.  “I’m pretty sure I’m not qualified for that, sir.”

“Don’t be so modest, Sheppard.”  Marshall smirked just a little.  “Your intel ops CO from Afghanistan practically bragged about your analytical thinking, threat assessment, and leadership skills.”

“Most of those first two were math, sir.  I can’t lead this city with math, I sure as hell can’t fight a war with it.”

“You’re hardly going to be all by your lonesome, Sheppard.  Lorne is already a three year veteran of the gate program and Cadman performed very admirably as 2IC when Nick took over for me as military commander.  They’ll be a strong team and you’ll have Stackhouse and Markham to take over AR2 and city security.”

He wanted to say oh, well, that makes everything all better, wanted even more to ask why Sumner and O’Neill seemed to hate him.  Being in charge of the military contingent on the city was one thing.  Being in charge of the city – of a whole base – was something entirely different.  Instead, he swallowed down his protests and said, “yes sir.”

“Buck up, Sheppard,” Marshall said brightly, clapping a hand on his shoulder as the Marine stood.  “You’ll have the next year to polish off your edges and get to know the city.”

The unspoken dismissal was clear as Nick stepped away with a nod to answer her radio and the Colonel moved to sit at his desk.  So he got to his own feet and told them both politely that he would see them in the morning before leaving the office.  John let out a heavy sigh, one hand rubbing roughly at the back of his neck.  He conjured up a passably polite face as he acknowledged a few of the men that had come out with him on the Daedalus.  

By the time he reached his assigned quarters he had almost convinced himself that it wouldn’t be that bad.  He did have a year to get his head around the ins and outs of the job.  

“At least it’ll keep me on the city with McKay,” he muttered to himself, which was probably the only argument that could actually make him feel better at that point.  With another sigh, he collapsed onto his bed.  The landing finally startled him out of his reverie and he looked around himself.  “What the hell?” he said loudly into the empty room.  “Is this a fucking toddler bed?”

He really needed a damn radio, he decided as he pushed himself back up to his feet and went in search of the quartermaster.  


John tugged at his shirt.  It would no doubt do him more good to tug on his hair if his aim was to look a little more put together as he entered the mess, but he’d long ago resigned himself to that futility.  So instead, he squared his shoulders and walked calmly to the chow line to fill his plate.  He made his selections carefully, bypassing the unlabeled fruit cup with a suspicious glare, then found himself an empty table that was both somewhat secluded and visible from the doorway.   He’d only just taken the first sip of his coffee when he heard the dulcet tones of a rather pissed off Rodney McKay.

Rodney went about selecting his meal, all the while berating the scientist next to him for his shoddy work.  Clearing his throat, John fought down a smile at his soulmate’s animated expressions.  The unfortunate scientist followed in Rodney’s wake as he walked briskly over to Sheppard’s table.

As soon as he approached, McKay huffed.  “Here,” Rodney practically shoved the tablet in front of John’s face as he slapped his tray onto the table, “fix that.”

He took a second to be startled, then shrugged his shoulders and started reading through the series of equations while Rodney went back to telling the scientist all about his ‘depressingly mediocre attention to detail.’  John took a bite of his muffin with one hand and tapped away on the screen with his other.  Since it only took him about two minutes to find and correct the flaw in the other man’s work, he silently agreed with McKay’s assessment.  As his soulmate started to resort to French in an apparent attempt to better detail the mathematician’s professional shortcomings, John pushed the tablet back across the table and took a bite of his eggs.

The movement seemed to break through Rodney’s laser focus and seconds later he was hunched over the screen.  “See.  See.  For crying out loud, Fulton, You’re stupider than a damn GI Joe today.  Go back to your lab and figure out where you left your brain this morning or you’ll be recalculating the output of the ZedPM and every one of the five generators every day for the next month.”

Fulton scurried from the mess, tablet under his arm, before McKay seemed to pause in the middle of cutting up his pancakes, wide blue eyes darting up to his face.  Rodney opened and closed his mouth, a slight blush rising in his cheeks, and John finally let out the laugh that had been bubbling in his throat.  

“I guess I don’t need to ask how your morning is going so far?”  He watched confusion and surprise flash across Rodney’s face before those blue eyes brightened even as he scowled.  

“I honestly don’t know how half of them even got into the program in the first place.”  His soulmate finished cutting his pancakes with a few sharp movements and shoved a large bite in his mouth.  Sheppard finished his eggs and went back to his muffin as Rodney ate and gave a rambling account of all the ways his staff had managed to fail fail fail in one way or another in the last twenty four hours while McKay and Kusanagi had been busy with the AI.

“So how much did you have time to get translated after you guys finished evaluating the code?”  The final report had hit his email a few hours after dinner, but another message several hours later contained a handful of files on military related topics.

Rodney polished off the last of his pancakes, smiling around his fork.  “We got about a fifth of what the AI downloaded processed through the translation software.  More than half of it has to be gone over by linguistics because it was full of terms and phrases that the software couldn’t read.”  He frowned briefly, then took a long drink of coffee and started back up with another smile.

“Miko has already assembled a team to examine the rest of Pandora’s programing code to look for a possible way around the power requirement for interface.”  He crunched quickly through a slice of bacon before continuing.  “She’s hoping that they can find a different way to access the city database.”  Another slice of bacon was quickly finished.  “If nothing else, looking at an example of un-corrupted coding that is more on par with the database might help with what she’s already doing.”  

Rodney finished off his bacon and then drank the rest of his coffee in one go.  “Apparently what she had access to at the Outpost is different enough that it wasn’t applying well to the problems she’s had here.  I’m still trying to find enough people to form a team because most of the ones I’ve talked to lately are so lazy or inept they make me despair for the state of science itself.”  

The rest of their breakfast disappeared as McKay regaled him with how he hoped to utilize the data Pandora had given him regarding the city’s alternate power sources in order to access and repair them.  “If they could use them to power their weapons manufacture and whatever, we should be able to use them for day to day stuff on the city so we can save the ZedPM for the shield.  Because we’ll end up needing the shield.  There’s no way we won’t need it at some point and I for one intend to have the power to run it when that time comes.”

John nodded his agreement as they both got up, refilled their coffee, and returned to their table.  He smiled into the cup as Rodney kept talking, apparently uninterested in ending their meal despite the fact that they had both finished eating.

“What about you?  Was there anything awesome in the military data I sent?”  McKay looked adorably excited at the prospect. 

“There was certainly a lot of useful stuff.  Most of it was historical data on the Ancients’ war with the Wraith.  Their technological capabilities, troop movements, culling patterns, battle tactics, that kind of thing.  I haven’t read through it all but it should be a lot of help when it comes to planning how to organize offensive and defensive strategies for our people in the field.  If nothing else, it confirms that the Wraith know the city’s location- there are probably quite a few of them who are still alive that remember the siege on Atlantis.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound good.”

John smiled at the concerned expression on Rodney’s face.  “No.  It isn’t.  But at least it gives us a heads up and will hopefully allow us the time to plan how to fortify and defend the city.”  He didn’t mention that the best thing to do would be to relocate the city entirely, the man hardly needed more pressure to figure out how to locate ZPMs.  The mood at the table started shifting, so he grabbed McKay’s empty mug and headed for the nearest carafe.  When he turned around with a full cup of hot coffee, the scientist was reaching for it with a smile and just like that, the mood had lifted.

He refused to let the glimpse of the clock ruin it again, so he stood there long enough for the other man to drain his mug just so he could refill it for him before they slowly started to head towards the door.  He racked his brain trying to come up with a new topic of conversation as he enjoyed his own caffeine.  Surprisingly, McKay beat him to it.

“So, why did you decide to come to Pegasus?  Other than your uber genetics, of course.”

“Well that certainly helped.  I probably wouldn’t have ever gotten transferred to Cheyenne Mountain if it hadn’t been for my name popping up on a DNA search.  But I also think Sumner asked the General to send someone who could run interference with the civilians.  And O’Neill often had me read through the reports Carter or the science department sent him so I could give him a shorter run down on what they wanted.”  John shrugged.  “I didn’t understand all of it, but I could understand enough to get the gist, which is pretty much all the General needed.”

Rodney chuckled.  “If you played geek translator for O’Neill I’m surprised he let you leave the Mountain.”

“Yeah, that was probably my gene.”  They both laughed a little before he looked over at McKay.  “I’m pretty sure I can guess why you decided to join the expedition.”

Rodney shot him a grin.  “I’m sure you can.  A cache of Ancient stuff no one else will understand?  If they’d tried to leave me out of it I would have made them all pay.”  The grin widened when John nodded with a soft chuckle.  “I’ve never regretted it.  Even when the city was supremely fucked up and things wouldn’t stay fixed for longer than a day after we fixed them, it was better than Earth.  And now that your super gene is making Atlantis all post coital happy it should be even better here.” 

Sheppard choked on his laugh, not missing the blush spreading on the scientist’s otherwise smug face.

“At this point, I think I’d have to be carried off this city.  Unconscious.”

He nodded his understanding even as he tried to regain his voice.  “Yeah, I get it.  When it came down to it, my only real reservation about coming out here and killing as many Wraith as I could was not being able to find my soulmate.”  John refused to look over at Rodney, sure he was blushing now too.  “So really, I have no reason to go, and every reason to stay.”

He cleared his throat, rubbing at the back of his neck with one hand and still not looking at the other man.  “Besides, it turns out O’Neill and Sumner had a bit of an ulterior motive in making me military commander.  The Sumners are both going to leave in a year and the plan is for me to replace him.”

Surprisingly, Rodney didn’t look at all surprised to hear that when he finally glanced over.  Instead he just hummed a little.  “Well, that right there might make you change your mind about wanting to stay too long.”

They both paused as a group of civilians hurried past them, causing them to step aside to keep from being run over.  Before they resumed their walk, John swallowed, then met McKay’s eyes for several long seconds, declaring softly, “I think I’ll stick around.”  Then he started walking again. 

After a couple of seconds, Sheppard tried his best to sound casual.  “So the idea of the military staying in charge doesn’t bother you?  You wouldn’t rather see another civilian leading the expedition?”

He just barely saw the man roll his eyes in his peripheral vision.  “We’re in a galaxy teaming with an overwhelming hoard of life sucking space vampires.  Of course the military should be in control.  Weir was such a twit, I wanted to pull her ass out of the chair as soon as we knew the Ancient’s ‘great enemy’ was still active.  When Sumner told the senior staff that they were sending out another military type and that they’d probably be taking over for him when he got around to leaving, the only thing I thought was, please please let them be competent and capable of not getting us all killed because I don’t want to leave the city of the Ancients but if they send another empty headed pain in my ass I’m going to riot.”

John laughed.  “Well, I will do my very best to prevent that.  You’d probably be a scarily efficient riot all on your own.”

“Damn right I would.”

He laughed again, choosing to enjoy the way his soulmate grinned back instead of focusing on the fact that they had reached the man’s lab and he would probably have to run half of the way to the office space he’d been assigned in order to not be late.  It was technically his first official day as the military commander of Atlantis, and being late would hardly be a good impression to make.  Yet he still lingered at the lab door.  As Rodney made his way inside he threw a brief, almost shy smile over his shoulder, then turned back around and jumped right into an enthusiastic reprimand of whoever was inside.

The sound of McKay’s voice followed him down the hall when he finally left.  As soon as he was out of hearing range, John started to jog.  Briskly.  He was still two minutes late but he couldn’t find it in himself to care.

— – — – — – —

The words on his screen blurred briefly and Rodney found himself jerking upright in his seat before he realized he had started to nod off again.  He let out a long sigh and slowly started to close down the various programs he had used throughout the day until finally only Pandora’s tablet remained on.  He gave it a brief, longing glance before he forced himself to shut it down as well.

The sudden sound of a knock coming from his open door had him jumping with a startled shout.  McKay blinked, his tired brain stuttering slightly at the sight of the Lt. Colonel leaning against the door frame.  “Sheppard.  What are you doing here?”

“I was familiarizing myself with the patrol routes and saw your light on.”  John gave a little shrug that was so boyishly charming he’d have rolled his eyes if he’d had the energy.  “I thought you might want company on your way back to your quarters.”

“You came to walk me home?”  He suddenly wished he’d left all the lights on in the lab because while it was light enough to see the man, it was too dark to tell for sure if he was really blushing or not.  Rodney yawned suddenly and had to rub at his eyes to get them to focus properly.  When they did, the soft smile on Sheppard’s face sent a little buzz along his spine.  “Uh.  Sure.  Yeah, that’d be fine.” 

That soft smile widened, brightening the soldier’s whole face as he straightened and came the rest of the way into the room.  When John was only a few feet away, he started talking without giving himself permission to do so.  “The chaperone I hired to stay with me when I went to University used to do that.”  

He waved absently in the other man’s direction as he started looking for his notebook.  Tablets and laptops were great, but sometimes he just wanted to write things down.  He spotted the blue cover a moment later and made a noise in the back of his throat as he snatched it up.

“She used to show up when I spent too long in the library or the lab and shoo me out the door.  We’d walk to the apartment I rented just off campus.  She’d be clicking her knitting needles and humming along as I complained about all the idiots I’d had to deal with that day.”

From the mischievous little smirk the man shot him as he waited for Rodney to gather his things, McKay thought for a second that John was going to ask how many idiots had been in his lab that day.  Instead, Sheppard turned and said, “Do you have any family waiting for you back on Earth?”

The non sequitur had him blinking silently for several seconds as he tried to position the strap of his bag comfortably on his shoulder.  He probably should have glared when the soldier took it from him and started carrying it down the hall, but frankly he was too tired.  He was also too tired to talk so it took him another moment to come up with an answer to Sheppard’s question.

“Just a younger sister.”

“Is she a genius too?”

“Hmm?  Oh, Jeanie.  Yes, she’s fucking brilliant.”  He could feel the pout forming but didn’t bother to stop it.  “The last time we saw each other was two and a half years ago.”  Rodney sighed, suddenly glad John was carrying his bag for him.  “I’d visited for Christmas and in the middle of dinner she announced she was pregnant and dropping out of grad school.”  He ran a hand down his face, rubbing briskly in an effort to wake himself back up a little.  “We had a big fight.  Haven’t spoken since.”

“That sucks.”  The voice came from closer than he’d expected and he stumbled slightly.  John was there, a hand under his elbow before he even lost his balance.  The hand didn’t move as they continued walking, their pace slowing a little in the silent corridor.

“I haven’t talked to my brother or my dad since I got my Masters.  Dave talked me into letting him throw me a graduation party.  It was a disaster.  When my dad asked when I was going to start at the family business I told them I had already joined the Air Force.  The closest neighbors were several miles away and I’m pretty sure they still heard the screaming match that followed.”

“What about your mom?”

There was a beat of silence and for a moment Rodney was sure he’d said the wrong thing.  Then Sheppard spoke, his voice a little quieter than it had been before.  “We used to listen to Johnny Cash and dance like crazy people in the living room.  Her name was June.  Like June Carter.   She dressed up with me for halloween when I was seven.  We walked around all day as Johnny and June.”

“She sounds really great.”

“Yeah, she was.  She died when I was twelve.”

He wanted to smack himself for mentioning it.  Thought maybe he should apologize, but the relaxed expression on John’s face didn’t seem to ask for anything from him.  Even so, Rodney tried to think of something to say that would be less awkward or insensitive.  He really wasn’t good enough at this.  Finally, he just made himself say something.  

“Did you always want to be a soldier?”

“I’ve wanted to fly since I was little.”  The hand still cupping his elbow shifted slightly, the fingers curling gently around his forearm.  “I spent a lot of time riding horses with my brother when we were little.  We used to race and pretend we were flying.”  The glance John shot his way seemed to be laughing.  “His middle name is Orville, after my grandfather.” 

Rodney couldn’t help it, he let out a snort of laughter, and somehow the horrid sound wasn’t even embarrassing.

“I took flying lessons without telling my dad.  Used part of my inheritance from my Grandma Jo to pay for it.

The earliest I could legally fly solo was sixteen, so I made an appointment for the morning of my 16th birthday.  I told my father I had a date.”  It was entirely unfair, but the pretty-boy face was even prettier with a small playful smile tugging at his lips.

McKay tried to picture himself flying a plane when he was sixteen.  He’d been finishing his second Masters, getting himself emancipated, and moving to the US to start his next degree.  That had been in 1986.  The date niggled at the back of his mind as they started down the last set of stairs before they would reach his rooms.  “When’s your birthday?”

“May 23rd.”  He ignored Sheppard’s curious expression, remembering what he’d thought when he’d caught sight of his second mate mark .  Once he’d gotten over the shock, anyway.

“My second soul mark showed up in May of 1986.  It’s the schematics for a small single engine plane.  I spent the whole month worried my soulmate was a mechanic or a commercial airline pilot in the making.”

John looked over at him with a startled expression.  Then he started laughing, Sheppard’s hand moving down his forearm and slipping casually into his.

“It really wasn’t funny.  It took me weeks to convince myself that it had to mean my soulmate was going to be an aeronautical engineer.”

By the time they’d reached his quarters, Sheppard’s fingers were tangled with his, holding his hand like it was nothing.  When the door didn’t automatically open, he turned to face the soldier, almost startled that the man didn’t want the city to let them in yet.  He was somehow not startled at all that he didn’t want to go in either, despite how tired he felt.

“Did you always want to be a scientist?” John asked, thankfully giving them something to talk about while they stood outside his room, holding hands like a pair of teenagers on the porch just before curfew.

“Yes.  I read a biography of Paul Dirac to my sister when I was six, and I was hooked.”

The soldier grinned.  “Somehow I’m not surprised that you were drawn in by the founder of quantum electrodynamics.”

Rodney blinked, certain for a moment that he was so tired he was hearing things.  “Don’t forget that he unified quantum mechanics.  And his work with special relativity.”

John tipped his head forward as if in concession, still grinning.  “I admit, when I read about him I was a little focused on the fact that he used an equation to discover the concept of antimatter.  But personally, I’m fond of Daniel Bernoulli.”  The pretty, pretty face with its too pretty green eyes seemed to be a tiny bit closer as the man shrugged.  And really, how does a person shrug gracefully?  “It’s the pilot in me, I guess.”

Then the asshole leaned on the wall next to his still closed door.  “The explanation of how aircraft wings generate lift was a bit of a turn on when I was fourteen.”  

His brain completely derailed for several seconds and all he could think was danger, danger, escape while you still have the ability to speak in coherent sentences.  Of course, another voice in his head wondered why the hell he couldn’t have met someone like that at fourteen.  But that thought immediately led to why couldn’t I have met John Sheppard at fourteen?  And that was not a train of thought he was willing to entertain with the man only a few feet away, looking like he did.

McKay swiped his hand over the door sensor in a quick, jerky movement as he mentally flailed about for something to say that didn’t include anything that would make him die of embarrassment.

“I’m sure his major discoveries in the theory of risk play no part at all in your interest.”  Sheppard gave him an entirely too innocent smile as he finally handed over Rodney’s bag, and he forced himself to roll his eyes.  “Don’t even try to deny it.  I read your Air Force jacket this morning.”  And then he promptly escaped into his room.

He could hear John’s laughter even through the closed door. 


John eyed the chow line with a sense of satisfaction.  The meeting he’d had with the kitchen crew his second day on the city had been quite effective, and he hadn’t even had to yell.  The detailed description of the effects of anaphylactic shock after he’d walked through the food storage, prep, and service areas pointing out things that could literally kill more than one person on the base had been more than enough.  The clearly separated and labeled areas for food that contained or came in contact with nuts and citrus were obvious on the serving line and he knew they were a mirror of the areas in the storage and prep kitchen.  He knew because he’d made it a habit to randomly wander through to observe things in a very blatant manner.

“Good evening, sir.  What would you like?”

“Evening.  I’ll have the pasta and some green beans, thanks.”

He exchanged a nod with the Corporal plating the side dishes and didn’t feel at all guilty at the notable way he’d tensed when John had been looking things over.  He refused to feel bad about pointing out how cavalier they had all been about the lives of their fellow expedition members.  It was hardly a secret that there were two soldiers allergic to peanuts, and McKay’s citrus allergy had been nearly a joke when he’d arrived.  He had plans to incorporate the same kind of safeguards for fish and gluten as well, despite the fact that no one currently on the city was known to have a problem with either.

John took his tray with a smile, eyes landing briefly on the prominent red sign above a box on the wall that held several epi-pens and clear instructions on their use.  He’d heard the comments when it had first gone up, and despite the fact that Rodney had never said anything to him about the changes, he had seen the way the man’s shoulders had loosened the first time he’d spotted it.  They didn’t talk about the several other ‘allergy stations’ that had popped up in the labs, ready room, and gate room either.  Sheppard certainly had no intention of pointing out the fact that he himself had two epi-pens in a pocket at all times.

He left the serving line and sat at one of the designated allergen free tables and woke his tablet to do some reading while he waited for Rodney to join him for dinner.  Within his first week on the city, they’d fallen effortlessly into the habit of meeting up for a meal every day.  Now, three weeks after he had arrived, they met automatically for breakfast and dinner unless the metaphorical sky was falling.  Thankfully that had only happened three times in the last twenty days.  

John was completely okay with the way the scientists had started to refer to him as a good luck charm, considering how the city itself had responded to the presence of his super gene.  He waved at Radek as he walked past the table, receiving a distracted nod as the head of engineering found his own place to sit a few tables over.  Zalenka had actually walked up to him the week before and hugged him for a full thirty seconds.  He’d gone ten days in a row without having to fix the temperature regulator for the water supply to the showers and sinks.  It had been a big day for a lot of people, apparently.

“Sheppard!  Did you see they have real french fries and pasta tonight?”

John smiled as McKay appeared, in a hurry as always.  “I did.  I’m hoping for actual mashed potatoes tomorrow.  There’s meatloaf listed for the main.”

He subtly looked over the other man as he sat across from him, feeling a little smug about the notable lack of dark circles under his soulmate’s eyes.  Another routine he’d fallen into was wandering by the science labs on his own evening patrol and walking the chief scientist back to his quarters whenever he was working past 23:30 hours, barring crazy Pegasus emergencies of course.  John was pleased with the resulting improvement in Rodney’s sleep schedule and if the little nods he received from Miko almost daily were any indication, the science staff was rather pleased as well.  Nick Sumner had certainly expressed an incredulous appreciation for the small improvement in McKay’s moods at senior staff meetings.

“You know,” the scientist said with an accusatory stab of his finger once he’d settled his full tray in front of himself.  “I would be uncomfortable with how quickly I’ve gotten comfortable with this weird military schedule slash daily routine thing you’ve got going on if I weren’t so damn comfortable with…”  Rodney waved one hand around erratically in his general direction as if to indicate John and everything about him.

He just laughed and cut up his chicken.  “Yeah, I think one of the most surprising things about living in another galaxy and fighting space vampires has been how easy it was to settle in.”

McKay rolled his eyes as he started working his way through half the meat and french fries on his plate.  “How’d the day of endless meetings go?” he asked between bites.

“Most of them were staffing concerns.  Stackhouse is requesting someone with investigative experience.  There’s been two incidents of petty theft this week and he suspects a case of sexual harassment but there haven’t been any witnesses and Corporal Willis isn’t talking so he’s at a dead end there.  The two guys we’ve got with MP experience are apparently not too effective at interviewing female victims.  Major Sumner tried to talk to her but didn’t get anywhere either.”

Rodney’s grip on his fork tightened as he stabbed a piece of chicken, but he didn’t say anything.  John clenched his teeth at his own sense of helpless fury.  

“I’ve already requested someone with force protection experience as well, but MP’s usually do one or the other so I doubt we’d be lucky enough to find someone willing to come out here that would be capable of both.  Markham wants someone who can track for AR 4 and I have to admit it would be a valuable skill for both recon and search and rescue.  I’m about ready to give my Johnny Cash poster for some damn sniper rifles and someone that can use them.  Hendricks hitting that Wraith soldier in the head was dumb luck and so far revamping the marksmanship training to get people more effective with the head shot has only been effective in short range encounters.”

“Sounds like a productive ten hours.”  McKay’s sarcasm was as biting and effortless as always.

“Well, I did spend one of them expressing my displeasure with the participants of that fistfight outside the residence sections this morning.  I think that was productive.”  Sheppard enjoyed the vindictive pleasure that drifted over Rodney’s face.  The scientist had been the one to report the high volume encounter at 03:00.

“And confirming the new assignment of personal quarters for Major Lorne and Captain Cadman wasn’t too bad.”  McKay grimaced, making John smile around his forkful of green beans.  The happy new couple had literally run into each other on their morning run a week before and news that they were soulmates had spread quickly.  The chief scientist had been complaining for days about how his staff wouldn’t stop talking about it.  “They’re officially off of bond leave and back in the rotation now so I welcomed them back by giving them all the personnel reviews to do.”

Rodney laughed a little meanly at that, then narrowed his eyes slightly.  “And your two and a half hour bogarting of Pandora?”

John smiled into his water as he remembered the epic pouting that had occurred in the computer science lab when he’d stopped by that afternoon to borrow the AI’s tablet for his meeting with the Sumners.  “She confirmed — in detail — how limited her autonomy is outside direct war efforts.  After about ten minutes she started just repeating the bit about her intended purpose every time Marshall asked about her helping with things outside her mandate.”

“The ‘my purpose is to facilitate, coordinate, and support Atlantis’ war against the Wraith in Pegasus’ thing?  Yeah, I’ve gotten that a few times myself.  It’s basically the only thing she’ll say to anyone other than me and Miko.”

“Marshall and Nick weren’t particularly happy with the fact that she’s not willing to eventually manufacture weapons for use on Earth, but a lot of that has to do with pressure from Homeworld, and Morrow should have them in hand soon enough.  They should at least be placated by the fact that Pandora is interested in info on the Goa’uld and the replicators.  Her being open to trading info and tactics or advice could be very helpful back in the Milky Way.”

Rodney huffed, looking incredulous.  “That couldn’t have taken two and a half hours.”

“No.  That took about thirty minutes.  We spent the rest of the time going over our evaluations of the military data she downloaded for us.”  He felt cold at the thought of some of what they’d found in that data but pushed it aside for the moment.  The mess hall was not the place for that discussion.  

“In the list of things she can control when interfaced were references to satellite weapons and other remote defenses the Ancients used in the war that we hope to eventually utilize to defend the city and maybe another planet or two depending on the weapons’ capabilities.  It’s especially important if we can’t relocate before the Wraith know the city is occupied.  At this point, they’re bound to suspect.  We’ve run into pockets of Wraith worshippers twice now when we were using the jumpers so at least one Hive is going to get curious enough to come check.”

He watched McKay stuff another bite in his mouth without saying a word.  They both knew the kind of ticking clock they were up against in getting the city powered and having the ZPMs to keep it powered.

“We went over the records she has of three different military research outposts that might serve us well as at least a base of operations off the city so some of our activities won’t be a power drain here.”

Rodney looked a little more positive at that idea and John leaned forward with a bit of a smirk.  “We put together a few things we can do to get more offensive.  Once the city’s secure we’re going to kick up our gorilla warfare campaign and start blowing their shit up on the regular.  Our bloodthirsty little girl has some outright vicious ideas.”

He knew the mean streak Rodney possessed was at least ten meters wide and pulled an equally mean smile onto his face as he finished his food.

“She certainly seems to enjoy little else so much as plotting the violent extermination of the Wraith.  She slips it into every conversation we have.  Even when we were reviewing the repairs I’ve been leading on the alternate power sources she couldn’t resist mentioning how they had been used to power the laser cannons we’ve got at the end of piers 1, 3, and 5.”

Sheppard laughed, then with a glance at their empty plates offered to grab them some dessert. 

“Simmons said he heard them planning chocolate chocolate chip cookies.”  

John smiled at the hopeful look McKay sent him.  “I’ll see what they’ve got,” he promised as he rose and went to look over the options.  Thankfully he found what he was looking for, and then some.  

“Double chocolate cookies, as requested.”  

Rodney made grabby hands immediately and Sheppard passed over the treats with a laugh.  Then he sat down with a single cookie for himself and brought out what he’d been holding behind his back.  “I also grabbed the last two espresso brownies, apparently they made a small test batch tonight.”

The way the blue eyes widened in delight was more than enough reward for the very un-subtle bit of intimidation he’d resorted to against Jason Markham in order to procure them.  John slowly nibbled at his cookie, enjoying Rodney’s exclamations of rapture as he devoured all the chocolate.  When the man resorted to licking the last few crumbs off his fingers, John glanced quickly away.

“So, did you get as far as you’d planned with the repairs on the wind turbines today?”

“We did.  They took a beating during that super storm but we’re on tract to have all three up and running by the end of the week.  All eight arrays of solar panels have been online since Saturday and of course the hydropower facilities have been running for two days now.  Power still looks to be transferring at an acceptable percentage from the manufacturing and weapons systems and into the city’s central power core. We’re only losing about fifteen percent, and active energy collection has been within twenty percent of our projected output.”

“That’s a relief.  I assume we’ll be going over all the details at the meeting you scheduled tomorrow morning?”

“Of course, but that isn’t why I called the meeting.”

John raised a brow, watching the excited and more than slightly smug look that was pulling at the corner of McKay’s adorably crooked smile.

“I’ve figured out how to use them to partially power the AI.  It’ll mean using our ZedPM to power the city for other repairs and what-have-you.  But if we store all the power they produce, in three months we will have enough power to give Pandora access to the database.” 

“What?”  John stared open mouthed for a moment, much to Rodney’s blatant amusement.  “I thought it took a full ZPM?”

“Fully interfacing with city systems does.  Miko and I figured out how to connect her more strategically.  It won’t give her access to anything else, but straightening out the database is our best bet at being able to find the ZedPMs we need for the city.”  The level of smug that McKay was emitting in that moment was stunning to watch.  “I could get her into the database right away, but it would drain what’s left of our ZedPM.  Which would mean no shield if we needed it and if it turns out the location of ZedPMs isn’t actually in the database we would be completely screwed.  But if we use the alternate sources it’ll only cost us three months and of course, they’re rechargeable if it doesn’t get us what we need.”

“Fuck, McKay.  That’s amazing.”  The smugness intensified and John almost laughed at how damn adorable it was.  “I can’t imagine Col. Sumner will have a problem with that plan.”

“Of course he won’t.”  Rodney paused, head cocking to the side before a truly annoyed expression replaced his previous self-satisfied glee.  He stabbed at the radio in his ear, bit out a few scathing commands for someone to go sleep off their stupidity before it started to infect the rest of the team.

Sheppard bit his lip to contain his amusement, then stood and began stacking their trays.  “I’ll get these.  Go deal with that.  But,” he swallowed as the other man pinned him with too intelligent blue eyes.  “Could you meet me out on pier one when you’re finished?  I thought we could have a couple beers and… talk.”  

He knew his tone had grown ominous but just the thought of what he needed to talk about left him with an upset stomach and he didn’t bother to hide it.  McKay held his gaze for several long, silent seconds before he nodded.  

“I’ll radio you when I’m ready.  I should have this idiot’s mess cleaned up in a half hour or so.”  Rodney turned to go, calling out a final demand on his way out.  “Don’t forget the good beer.”

John smiled, bussed their trays, and went to get the good beer.

— – — – — – —

Rodney took a deep breath as he approached the portion of the pier that had been cleared for use only two weeks before.  It was used mostly as a running path but there were spots along it where there was several yards of space that people had taken to sitting at for picnics during the day.  He was sure that more than one couple had made use of the quiet, relative privacy, and amazing view for more intimate moments after dark.  That was not what this would be, he was sure.  And he refused to be disappointed that this wasn’t a romantic liaison under the stars because he was not a lovelorn teenager.

Still, a part of him would’ve liked to be optimistic about the alone time in a semi-romantic setting but the invitation had clearly been for a private conversation about something that was not good.  Unfortunately, on Atlantis that could mean any number of things of varying levels of horrible.  So he took another deep breath, squared his shoulders, and joined Sheppard.  The other man was opening a beer for him as soon as he started to sit and handed it over without a word once he’d finished getting himself comfortable.  It was a little easier than he’d expected considering they were sitting on metal.

He began to swing his legs just a little as the silence continued, knocking his heels against the side while he drank his beer.  He’d finished half of the can and had just started drumming the fingers of his free hand on the ground next to him when John finally spoke.

“I hid in math after my mom died.”  Sheppard kept his eyes fixed straight ahead.  “It made sense.  There was a right or wrong, and if you work hard enough, you can always be right, and when you are you can prove it.”

Rodney finished his beer, trying to figure out how to respond to the unexpected conversational volley.  He took one more deep breath and went with the truth.  “Music was like that for me.  It was ordered, peaceful, dependable.”  He put his empty can in the bag a few feet away and when he sat back up John was already holding out another for him.  It wasn’t until he had started drinking it that he realized that somewhere in the exchange they had ended up sitting a little closer than they had been before.

He didn’t move and didn’t even pretend to protest the way their arms occasionally brushed as they raised and lowered them to drink.  Despite knowing that they were out there specifically to discuss something that was sure to be unpleasant, the silence between them was comfortable.  Rodney cursed himself for thinking it when John asked what instrument he played.  But he still answered.


“Do you still play?”

McKay felt himself tense.  He almost didn’t day anything.  He certainly didn’t look over at the soldier, though he could feel the weight of Sheppard’s gaze on his face.  “Yes.”

John made a kind of humming sound and Rodney saw him nod just a little out of the corner of his eye.  But he didn’t say anything else.  Didn’t ask anything else.  Didn’t push for details.  As the silence fell between them again, he felt the tension drain away and soon enough he was accepting another beer and their shoulders were close enough that the barest shift of his weight was all it would take to be leaning against the man.

Several more minutes passed with only the sound of the waves crashing gently against the sides of the city before Sheppard was apparently ready to broach the real reason for their evening rendezvous.  “Did you see the rest of her official purpose when you and Miko were examining Pandora’s code?”

“What, you mean like the line she gives when she doesn’t want to answer questions about things she can’t do?”  John only nodded in response.  Rodney felt his mouth tense as he took a moment to think.  “We looked at her coding.  We focused on her control structures so we could determine her operating parameters and what actions she might take or ways she was programed to respond to us or the city or whatever.  But I didn’t see a descriptive spiel or anything beyond what she said or what was in the reports we sent.  If Miko saw anything in that vein it would have been in her report.”

He fought the automatic defensiveness he felt at essentially being asked if he’d purposefully left something out of his report.  He could tell by the way John was nodding along without any change in his attitude or posture that he’d asked more for form or to work himself up to whatever he was going to say than because he doubted him.

“It’s in the military data.  The rest of the description.  It’s in the historic data about the Wraith and the war.”

Another silence fell, but this one was heavy and tense.  He lasted about a minute before he asked.  “So what’s the rest?”

John’s voice lacked almost all inflection.  “To facilitate, coordinate, and support Atlantis’ war against the Wraith in Pegasus with the goal of exterminating the failed experiment to allow Alterans and the human populations of Pegasus to once again flourish safely throughout the galaxy.”

John’s words had been soft but the silence that followed was deafening.  Rodney finally broke it with a whisper.  “What?”

“The Wraith were created in a failed ascension experiment.”  The shock and horror and disgust that had been lacking in his previous recitation dripped from every word as Sheppard explained.  “Whether they escaped or were released wasn’t included in the AI’s memory, but they spread — were left to spread unchallenged for hundreds of years before the Ancients bothered to start addressing it.  And then of course they abandoned the galaxy after a mere hundred years of war.  A hundred years.  According to Pandora’s data the average Alteran lived three to five thousand years.”

“Fuck,” he breathed.  “I thought I was imagining that she got a snide, unimpressed tone when she mentioned the Ancients.”

The shoulder pressed against his shook briefly with John’s quiet laughter.  “She really does, doesn’t she?”  The soldier reached out for Rodney’s empty can, putting it and his own in the bag he must have used to bring the six pack out to the pier.

“The group that created Pandora was headed by the scientist who assisted with the initial experiment that created the Wraith.”

“Not the head of the experiment?”  McKay felt the derision in his voice like sandpaper along his throat as he spoke.

“Apparently that guy had already ascended by the time they got around to making the AI.”

The hand that he used to rub at his face was still a little cold from the beer he’d been holding.  “You know, In college I always hated the lazy ass undergrads who used the lab and left the equipment dirty or unorganized.  But these old asshats left their mess all over the entire galaxy when they tucked-tail and ran from their own failures.”  His arm almost smacked John in the face as he gestured.  Sheppard didn’t seem to mind, just turning to face him with a raised brow and the hint of a smirk on his lips.

Rodney huffed.  “And yes, failure is an essential part of scientific research, it’s expected.  But when the Ancients failed they really fucking failed on a monumental scale!”

Both of John’s brows rose at that.  Then he started to laugh.  Not harshly as he had earlier.  Not softly like he did when Rodney stole his coffee at breakfast.  But loud and deep and possibly just on the verge of hysterical.  But that might be him projecting.  McKay just flung both arms up in agitated disbelief.  “I mean, seriously, are there any other deadly traps waiting to swallow the galaxy because the Ancients were arrogant mad scientists?  We need to know these things, Sheppard!”  

John just kept laughing.


The muffled sound of a voice preceded the opening of John’s office door, but before he had even looked up from the after action report he was reviewing, the door had closed behind his sudden guest.  And then Rodney’s voice was anything but muffled.

“You would think that being on an alien city that tries to kill us all on alternating days would mean people would have more important things to do than gossip like twelve year old girls at a slumber party.”

John swallowed the laugh that tried to escape as he watched McKay drop onto the small couch a few feet away from his desk.  Then he set his tablet aside and decided he was due for a break anyway.  “Not any better today?” he asked, as straight-faced as he could manage.

McKay huffed and crossed his arms.  “It’s fucking worse.  I had two anthropologists, an oceanographer and a damn geologist just happen to mosey through my lab this morning.  They tried to chat me up like I was a having a drink at a dive bar and not working in my own fucking lab!”

He tried his best to keep his amusement off his face but judging by the glare Rodney was shooting him he was less than successful.  

“When I find out which one of them blabbed I’m going to arrange for them to get audited by the IRS the next time they’re on Earth.”  The crooked pout that followed was one of the most adorable yet sexy things John had ever seen.

He wanted to feel sorry for whichever scientist had spilled the beans about their boss finding his soulmate, but the gossip wasn’t confined to the sciences and while none of the soldiers on the city had actually said anything to him, the looks were getting annoying.  Not that either of them had really thought they could keep it under wraps indefinitely — they were hardly being discreet about how much time they spent together — but it would have been nice if the hydroponics lab they’d found had waited a few more weeks before having a backup that caused half the scientists and engineers working on it to take a decon shower in the infirmary.  He tried again to school his face to something sympathetic rather than entertained.

“Has the chemistry department made any headway in figuring out what it was in that sludge that fucked with the adhesive on your mark-tape?”

Rodney glared harder.  “You know, it’s completely your fault I’m one of the five known people alive right now who actually have a third mark.  And you can bet your ass people are talking more about the fact we have three marks than the fact that they’re in color.”

He winced at the reminder.  As if the fervor that had gone through the medical staff and gene researchers at the SGC hadn’t been bad enough when his third mate mark had appeared.  Going through it again on the city had not been his idea of a warm welcome.  John wasn’t sure if it was better or worse that the link between the number of marks and the strength of the ATA gene had been clear with him as opposed to the confused brouhaha that Rodney had endured after his third mark, considering he had only had a dormant ATA gene at the time.

“It’s stupid.  Just because you being my soulmate suddenly convinced them that outliers like myself and Cadman and Colonel Sumner aren’t in fact aberrations in the data but proof that the mate with the stronger or active ATA gene dictates how many marks their soulmate will have regardless of that mate’s gene status.  Just because not everyone with a mark had the active gene naturally, it has been somehow impossible for them to grasp the fact that they’d never found anyone over the age of twenty who had the ATA gene that didn’t have at least one mark.  They’re all acting like it’s a total shock.  Like they hadn’t had a single clue even though the gene therapy has never once worked on someone that is unmarked.”

John bit his lip at the sight of the man slouching further into the couch, arms still folded and mouth still sporting that positively lick-able pout.  Before he could explain how much the idea that marks and the ATA gene were connected had helped him adjust to the concept of having alien DNA, he was interrupted by the now familiar sound of Pandora’s voice coming through the speaker on her tablet.  

Sheppard hid his amusement at Rodney’s increasingly sour look as quickly as possible— that she only actively listened and volunteered information without being asked when John was in the room had gotten under the other man’s skin as soon as they’d recognized the pattern.  Any entertainment disappeared when he processed the AI’s actual words.  

“Did you just say that soul marks were created in an ascension experiment?”

“While it was not the original goal of the scientific endeavor which created the imago in anima sponsae, the nexum animarum or soul bond that was facilitated eventually proved beneficial to the attainment of ascension.  As such it was the choice of nearly all Alterans to undergo the process required to grant them a soulmate and the resultant bond of soul energies.”

John blinked several times in silence, rewinding Pandora’s spiel in his head.  He glanced over at Rodney and found the scientist wide eyed and open mouthed.  “Wait.  If that wasn’t the original goal of the experiment, what was?”

“The scientist responsible wished initially to conclusively identify the most compatible partner for the members of his family, as he believed the pair bonds they were pursuing at the time would not be beneficial to them.”

Sheppard rubbed the back of his neck.  “You’re saying this scientist was match making?  As in orchestrating the romantic life of his family?” 

“That is an accurate description of Janus’ intention.”

He physically reared back in his seat, as if he could avoid being hit with the verbal land mine the AI had just tossed out.  And it could hardly be anything else, not with that guy’s name on it.  His brain spun dizzyingly.  He had no fucking clue how to respond to that bit of news.  Rodney obviously didn’t suffer that same problem as he was immediately on his feet, pacing the office and throwing his hands around.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”  McKay’s voice was strained and uneven.  It sounded like it was swinging from pissed to incredulous to dismayed with every other word.  “This grand romantic bullshit from every stupid rom-com in existence was a product of fucking Janus’ need to manipulate the people around him?  Seriously?  You’re really saying that we only have soul marks and soulmates because Janus was a damn yenta?  And the other Ancient morons thought that translated to some kind of existential accomplishment that would aid their suicide cult?”

The last few words had been nearly shrieked.  It made the AI’s measured tone rather jarring when she replied.  “Research indicated that the soul energy of an individual had once been integrated on the higher plane before birth.  The ability to identify the holder of the energy from which one’s soul was formed was believed to enable the creation of a soul bond on this plane.  It was purposed that with soul energies bonded, two individuals would be more closely connected to the higher plane from which their energy originated and therefore be more capable of becoming that energy once more- a process they termed ascension.  The statistical success rate for ascension increased by 32% city-wide following the adoption of soul marks to determine one’s optimal life partner.”  

Rodney threw both hands in the air and let out a string of French that John doubted was complimentary to either Pandora, Janus, or the Ancients as a whole.  Sheppard just shook his head and tried to come up with something to say.  Eventually he just pinched the bridge of his nose.  “For fuck’s sake.”

Several silent moments passed before the AI asked if they wanted the applicable data downloaded to the tablet from her memory for future study.  Rodney huffed.  “Yeah.  Sure.  Why not.  I’m sure the dimwits in the sociology department will get a kick out of it.  Fuck.  Wait until Miko hears about it.  She ID’d one of her soul marks as a chevron on the second generation gate.  I’m pretty sure she only came here because she saw Jackson translating that Ancient gibberish that told him how to find Atlantis.”

John finally found his words, startled enough by that unexpected bit of information that he was able to push aside his own mental recitation of Janus, for fuck’s sake, Janus created soulmates.  “She did?  Really?  How do you know that?”

McKay, of course, didn’t respond.  He was too busy pacing and muttering to himself about being inundated with social science idiots wanting to borrow his AI tablet and speculating on the likelihood that the city would be invaded by a stupidly curious Daniel Jackson after the next databurst.  Sheppard probably should have been annoyed by how completely he was being ignored by his soulmate, but he couldn’t manage it.  

Rodney was simply too fucking adorable when he got lost in the excitement of science for him to resent the show.  He’d known since day one that he found the man especially attractive when he was ranting or tearing through incompetent lesser scientists, so being treated to the sight of a rant and an insulting tirade within the span of a minute was distracting as fuck.  John ran a hand over his face with a laugh.  Under the circumstances, he really needed to stop thinking the word fuck unless he wanted to be trapped sitting behind his desk until he lost the erection that was already developing.

The sound seemed to startle McKay out of his thoughts, the man suddenly falling silent as he turned to look at him.  An almost sheepish expression crossed Rodney’s face as he blurted out an invitation to meet for chess the next night.  The crooked smile and uncharacteristic shyness of the request made him want to kiss McKay until he forgot he had somewhere else to be.  But they both had places to be and paperwork to write and minions to supervise, so he just smiled.  “Sure.  Sounds good.  Radio me when you’re free.”

— – — – — – —

Their fingers brushed as they set up the pieces.  Rodney tried – and failed- to keep his attention on the board as they arranged it in the otherwise empty lab that had become their chess room almost without them even realizing it.  In a way, it had been John’s idea.  About a week after they met, McKay had stomped out of his lab well after dark, tired and frustrated, only to find the soldier in an unused room two doors down from the lab he’d claimed as his own.  To say that he’d been surprised to find Sheppard playing a game of chess against himself was an understatement.  But after watching him frown down at the board for a minute, he’d pulled up his own chair across from him and took over playing white.  John had looked only briefly startled before flashing a smile and moving his bishop without saying a word.  The games, and their interactions during them had continued as jarring and yet seamless as they’d started.

“White or black?”

“You were white last time, Sheppard, don’t act like you don’t remember.”  John just smiled and placed his hand on the table beside the board, fingers brushing Rodney’s.

They settled into the game quickly, the silence heavy in a strangely comforting way that Rodney was still getting used to.  The quiet and the repetitive motions — and possibly the company —  allowed his thoughts to drift away from the twenty seven different projects he had been reviewing over the course of the day and return to a topic that had been teasing at the back of his mind for a while.

“There’s no family history of marks on my father’s or my mother’s side.  When my first mate mark developed I briefly wondered — hell, hoped — that I was actually adopted,” McKay stated suddenly.

Fingers brushed more firmly against his.  The silently inquisitive expression John wore told him the other man was listening and interested in what he was saying without prodding for details.  “After I’d gotten used to the idea, I figured it made sense.  After all, only fate would be able to find someone good enough for me and I hardly had time to look for them myself.”  He shrugged without an ounce of self-consciousness when John chuckled. 

They both moved their pieces between bouts of frowning at the board and glaring at each other when they lost a piece.  Eventually, McKay spoke again, this time keeping his voiced hushed for no real reason.  “I never really pictured the whole romantic ideal you see in corny little Hallmark Christmas specials.  But I wanted.  I just don’t know if I really believed.”

To him, it had always been more about equality.  Someone worth waiting for, a soulmate who would actually be in some way a real equal, who would see and appreciate and give him a real shot at a happy relationship with someone not his cat.  But even as he’d occasionally wished for it, he’d had a hard time thinking it would happen.

Fingers laced with his on the table as John moved his knight, head cocked to one side in thought.  “I have a well documented family history of at least one mark on both sides- often two.  So I fully expected it.”

Rodney stared at the board, then after a few minutes, moved a piece.  John took his turn, then Rodney took his.  When it was Sheppard’s turn again, he studied the pieces and continued.  “My mother read us almost nothing but soulmate stories and fairytales when we were little.  Whenever we asked, and often when we didn’t, she told us we would have a soulmate who would be our perfect match.  Not a copy, but a complement.  Someone to understand and support us.  That we would be the same for them.”

“Your mom sounds like a dreadful romantic,” McKay said as he took his turn, eyes locked on his queen as he moved her several spaces and took out the other man’s bishop.  Emotional topics – and emotions in general – were hardly comfortable to engage in, but the quiet of the room and the reassurance of his audience made the words flow anyway.

“My mother,” John replied with an overly arrogant tone, “was a freakin’ genius, I’ll have you know.”

A knee bumped his own under the small table, and the soldier leaned forward more than necessary to move his next piece.  “When my father began insisting that I forget about flying and put my abilities with math to a productive use and become an accountant for his company,” they exchanged looks of complete horror, “I told him that I had a soulmate who was a perfect match for me, not the person he wanted me to be.  My marks told me every day that I was the perfect match for my soulmate so I had to ignore everyone and be myself.  But more, it was clear in how advanced the math was in my second mark that my mate was not holding themselves back so I wasn’t allowed to be anything less than my best.”  

“Oh no.  You’re a dreadful romantic too, aren’t you?” Rodney asked with as much derision as he could summon.  Which being him was quite a lot.  When Sheppard just smiled at him like a cheerful little shit, he swallowed hard and took a few minutes to figure out his next move, outwardly ignoring the completely un-subtle implications of the soldier’s words.

John was a damn good opponent.  Even if he was overly protective and ridiculously self sacrificing even on a chessboard.  And he did have a very cute grin whenever he won.  It almost made him want to throw a game every once in a while, though he was far too competitive to actually do it.  After all, dancing around the subject of their opinion of what they were to each other was hardly an excuse to allow himself to lose.  He was still himself, even in the face of his too-pretty soulmate practically declaring his romantic intentions.  He moved his queen decisively.  

“Checkmate,” he said, unrepentantly smug.  John shot him an admiring glance as he conceded, the gaze trailing over him with a heated edge he was starting to almost expect.  The fingers still laced with his own tightened briefly.  Rodney tightened his own grip in response and basked in his victory- and the fact that he’d won the game.  

He was still feeling pretty victorious when they had finished packing up the board.  He blamed the flush of success and the rush of knowing how John saw him – saw them – for the uncharacteristically reckless action he took.  Sheppard had only just closed the box that held their chess set when Rodney darted forward, brushing his lips over the man’s.  After all, he could be just as subtly obvious as John when it came down to it.  Even if he couldn’t put his exact feelings into words.

Words were certainly beyond him in that moment, both because of the way his heart pounded and because he was having trouble taking a full breath to speak with.  The tingle on his lips wasn’t helping any either, except to spur his own nervous reaction as he immediately rushed out the door before John could even respond to the fact that his soulmate had just kissed him.  

They had sat closely, held hands, leaned on each other, and exchanged numerous other small not-quite-intimate touches.  But they had never kissed.  Only now they had.  The realization chased him all the way to his rooms.  He had kissed John Sheppard.  He had kissed his soulmate.

“Shit shit shit.  That was awesome.  What the fuck was I thinking?”


Rodney had kissed John Sheppard twice.  He had been kissed by John Sheppard five times.  And yet, when the too attractive Lt. Colonel swanned into his lab, the press of lips on his own still sent a shock down his spine.  Watching John arrange two full trays of food on the lone empty surface in the room, Rodney forced himself to not reach up to touch his tingling lips.  For all that they had started exchanging a small kiss each time they met up, and each time they parted afterwards, it was still so new and exciting for him that he had to put effort into not acting like a lovelorn teenager with their first big crush.  Which usually resulted in him acting either stiff and awkward, or rattled to the point of idiocy.

He could feel the skittering nerves sending his thoughts — and minimal tact — flying in at least ten different directions as he sat there.  The wide smile and bright green eyes that flashed in his direction as John moved a chair for himself did not help in any way.

“Good afternoon, Dr. McKay.  I hope you don’t mind but I’ve brought lunch for us both.”

Rodney found himself saving his work and turning in his chair before he had consciously decided not to berate the presumptuous man, or send him on his way.  Because if it had been any other person he would have definitely minded that someone had interrupted his work and brought him a meal he hadn’t asked for.  Unless it was coffee and chocolate, he probably wouldn’t have minded that.  Much.  Depending on the person.  But he was determined not to over-react to the presence of the fluffy headed mathematician with a gun- or at least not look too pleased or disconcerted.

“Any particular reason you didn’t feel like eating in the mess like everyone else on the city?”  Rodney refrained from scowling at the utter lack of irritation or sarcasm in his words.  No matter how hard he tried to act normal when they were in public settings, John Sheppard’s presence was nearly fatal to such efforts.

John smirked as if the asshole knew exactly what he was doing.  “Two particular reasons, actually.”  He opened both boxes of juice and handed one to McKay.  “One, you said you’d be working on those simulations today and last time you did that you lost all track of time and didn’t eat anything for nine hours.”  The casual tone and the way the man continued to sort out their food somehow kept the words from sounding critical or condescending.  “And two, we had to cancel chess last night because of the thing with the chemistry lab,” they both cringed at the reminder of how they’d spent the majority of their previous evening.  “So I figured it might be wise to snag an hour or so while we can in case the next disaster beats us to it.”

Rodney nodded as if that were perfectly reasonable, and shoved a bite of roast beef sandwich in his face before he ended up with a dopey grin. 

“Any word on whether the new chemist will be able to make it out on the next Daedalus trip?”

He grimaced, but shrugged and took a drink of his juice.  “The databurst included him on the list of new staff but it did that before the last trip too so I’m not going to get my hopes up just yet.”

“But he wasn’t removed from the list though, right?  So it’s more likely that he’ll come than that he won’t.”  John just smiled at the glare he sent in response and took a bite of his own sandwich.  “I’ve got a line on some new guys too.”

“Math guys or soldier boys?”

“FBI, actually, though they’re both still technically enlisted Army so it’s not clear yet if they’d come as active duty or not.  I’ve only seen their basic stats.  O’Neill’s going to have Morrow over at Homeworld give them a thorough look-see.  They’re a newly bonded soulmate pair and their jackets list one of them having three marks so they popped at the top of the list for possible recruits.”

“Really?  Another super gene?  What are the odds of that?”

John nodded and ate a few french fries.  “I know.  And at first glance they’d meet at least half a dozen of the needed skill sets we’ve been looking for, which is a little too good to be true- even in my not fully gate-jaded opinion.”

He simply could not keep from snorting out a laugh.  “A little too good to be true?  You’re right, you’re not nearly jaded enough for the SGC yet.”

Green eyes rolled even as they sparkled with mirth.  “I already asked O’Neill and Jackson to check extra close and give them both a full SGC interrogation if they pass muster with Homeworld.  I’m hoping he can send out their uncensored files with Caldwell on the next Daedalus run.”

Rodney shook his head while he chewed.  “A full chocolate bar says they’re Trust plants.” 

“You’re on.  I saw your personal request forms go out with the last databurst so I know you’ll have more than enough to pay up.”

He felt both brows raise.  “Feeling a bit over confident are we, flyboy?”  The asshole just laughed.

“I’ll raise your full chocolate bar and bet you a half pound of those fancy coffee beans that at least one of them is a genuine rock star and will kick the asses of half the company their first month here.”

The smug little smirk made Rodney’s eyes narrow.  “You’re on, Rosetta Stone.”  He made a mental note to send a message to Carter asking for a background check of his own at their next dial in.  Because while it wasn’t like he wouldn’t end up drinking the coffee out of the pretty boy’s office anyway, Rodney would be damned if he let John win without a fight.  “Now gimme that extra half a sandwich we both know you’re not going to eat.  And it better not be turkey.”

John laughed again, but he passed it over and it was not, in fact, turkey.

It wasn’t until he was halfway through the meal, debating the merits of the original Star Trek versus The Next Generation, that he realized he had taken the meal John had provided without either questioning its contents or checking it himself.  He had looked it all over as it was laid out of course, but when someone else got his food he usually rechecked each item individually as he ate and confirmed the contents a few times with whoever brought it.  

Rodney paused, french fries half way to his mouth.  He felt safe eating what John gave him.  He trusted that Sheppard would ensure that nothing he brought would pose a threat to him.  It was a startling revelation since he’d never actually trusted anyone else to know or care enough to check such things when asked, let alone remember to do so on their own.

“Everything okay?”

“Oh.  Yeah.  Fine,” he immediately stammered before he finished eating the handful of crispy fries as if he hadn’t just been smacked in the face with the idea that he trusted John Sheppard more than he had anyone else that he could remember.  He wouldn’t even eat in the infirmary without double checking with the doctor and at least one nurse.  “Your argument for show preference, however, is not.  How on Earth can you consider Piccard more authentic?  The original show is the original, it is by definition— authentic.”

“I meant as a character.”

“Oh, please.  You just like Patrick Stewart’s accent.”

“Well, that too.  And the lack of over-acting helps.”

“That’s Shatner’s thing.  It’s not Kirk if it’s not over-acted.” 

John shook his head with a laugh and Rodney huffed.  “Authenticity my ass,” he muttered as he finished off the last of his sandwich.  The over the top leer that earned him made him mutter some more, but he switched to French because there was no reason for the flyboy to know what he had to say about that.

McKay quickly steered the conversation back to the much safer waters of the MCU, where they didn’t even have to argue because Iron Man was obviously the best, and snark was much more useful in coming up with determining how much of a devious little shit DUM-E actually was.

They hadn’t come close to exhausting the topic by the time they finished their sandwiches and fries and Sheppard was wisely pulling over the dessert he’d brought.  Yet the conversation took a sudden right turn.

“Okay.  You seriously have to tell me what “231” means.”

“What?”  He felt both brows rise in proportion with his level of confusion with the ridiculous question.

“My mark.  Two-three-one, or two hundred and thirty one, whichever.  It has to mean something.”

“What the hell are you even talking about, Sheppard?”

“My first mate mark.  It’s the number 231.  It showed up when I was four.  Granted, I was super excited, not only to have gotten it, but to have received it so early.  After the initial rush, though, I was just as confused as I was excited.  I think I spent the first month or two asking my parents what it could mean, and making up stories about what 2-3-1 stood for.  My parents finally just started getting me books on math and numerology and Mark Theory.  They had to read them to me since not many were meant for kids of any age let alone someone under five.”  John shot him a smirk.  “That number was my white whale until I got my second mate mark.”

He had to sigh, even as he happily took two of the three cups of chocolate pudding on the tray.  “Seriously, a Moby Dick reference?  You’re such an asshole.”

“But an asshole with an early interest in math.”  No one with an advanced degree in a subject like math should have looked so damn hot holding a pudding cup.  “I don’t know that I would have dived into it as seriously if I hadn’t had that push.”  

“So, really, I’m the reason you’re a mathematician.  Without me, you’d be some kind of brainless jock with an unhealthy attachment to flying and going fast.”  He made no effort to control his level of smugness.

“Hah,” the goofy soldier shouted, pointing at him with a grin.  “So you admit, my current love for flying and speed is in fact completely healthy and reasonable and not something to complain about.”

Rodney rolled his eyes.  “Don’t get ahead of yourself, flyboy.”

“Don’t avoid the question, genius.  Seriously, it’s bugged me for literally decades.”

He rolled his eyes again.  “My IQ is 231.  I got tested when I was five, about three months after the disastrous attempt at sending me to kindergarten that my parents insisted on even though I told them it wouldn’t go well.”

“Your IQ?”  John looked shocked.  Then suitably impressed.  “Huh.  Cool.”

McKay finished his first pudding and started on his second.  His IQ had been both his saving grace and the bane of his existence for much of his childhood, but he would never have called it ‘cool.’  It had certainly been a relief to have his superior intellect verified in a way his parents and teachers couldn’t argue with, and it had succeeded in getting most of the adults in his life to stop looking at him like he was crazy.  But it had also somehow become something that his parents bragged about like it was their accomplishment more so than his.  Pushing aside that thought, he ate the last of his pudding and collected the empty cups with the rest of the trash they’d accumulated during the meal.  John took that as his cue to stack up their trays and carry the detritus over to dump in the trash can by the door.

Rodney sighed as the other man sat back down next to him.  “I’m pretty sure I should feel cheated, here.  Your first mate mark was the empirical evidence of my genius and mine was a crashed cartoon rocket.  How is that fair?”

The question earned him a laugh, but the sound was softer than he usually associated with Sheppard.  “It’s really a drawing of a crashed rocket?”

He didn’t bother to answer the question.  John’s attention was obviously elsewhere for a moment.  Besides, he’d just said so hadn’t he?  Before he could work himself up to a lengthy verbal treatise on the mistaken value of the rhetorical question, green eyes pinned him in his seat with a misty look that he silently hoped didn’t mean he was about to deal with a weepy flyboy.  

“My mom helped me redecorate my room less than a year before she died.  It was space themed and had a huge painting of a broken rocket ship on the wall over my bed.”

He just blinked.  What the hell was he supposed to say to that?  Did he need to comfort him?  He really sucked at that.  Could he just give him chocolate?  Chocolate was comforting, wasn’t it?  He surely had a bar of the good stuff left in one of his drawers.  Was the possibility of tears worth the last of his good chocolate?  Thankfully, John headed off that painful conundrum by shaking his head and smiling just a little, as if he could see the panic mounting in him at the thought of tears— which admittedly would be awesome if it meant the soldier could use the skill to avoid all possibility of overly emotional exchanges in the future.

“I guess that is unfair, isn’t it?  I can imagine how mortally offended little Rodney McKay was at the sight.  Did you despair of your fated mate’s inferior intellect?”  The lack of tears completely made up for the heavy sarcasm and stupid smirk John gave him.  Mostly.

He crossed his arms, leaning back slightly in his chair.  “Well, once I got over the shock of having a mark at all, I moped for days at the thought that my match was as immature as all the idiots my age that my parents tried to make me play with.”  He didn’t bother to mention the fact that he had spent even longer being vastly relieved at the thought that there might be someone, eventually, who might be good enough or smart enough to value him the way his family and teachers didn’t.  John didn’t really need to know that he’d clung to the idea that he would never have to end up in a miserable marriage like his parents.

Sheppard crossed his arms as well and the smirk still on the overly pretty face only widened.  “Does that mean you won’t play with me, McKay?” 

The heated look that passed over him had Rodney tempted to either fan himself or leap over the space between them to feel that heat against his skin.  He blinked.  Holy crap did he want John Sheppard.  He wanted him at meals and over a chess board and beside him on the walk to his room at night.  He wanted him in his room at night— beside him on the bed, in the shower the next morning.  All of it.  He wanted.  

“I’m coming to your quarters tonight.”  The words were out of his mouth before he thought them through.  He was pretty sure he should feel embarrassed, not just for blurting out such a statement, but for inviting himself over the other man’s rooms without a single question.  But he wasn’t embarrassed and he didn’t regret it.  In fact, he felt like patting himself on the back at the way John’s face stilled, then brightened.

The heat in those green eyes banked and filled instead with a warmth that Rodney felt deep in his gut.

“Of course,” Sheppard whispered, then cleared his throat and spoke at a more normal volume as the sound of voices in the hall filtered in to them.  “I’ll see you around eight?  Nine?”

McKay glanced at the computer screen behind him that housed the numbers for the simulations he was running that day and for the first time in his life he regretted that he was in the middle of a piece of very important science that no one else around would be able to properly complete without him.  


John nodded, face still bright and smile still wide.  “Nine.”

Just before the soldier left, McKay darted forward to kiss him for the third time.  

Not that he was counting.

— – — – — – —

As closely and eagerly as he was watching the simulation, waiting for it to finish, Rodney was glad that he’d had it to focus on that day.  Otherwise, he would have spent the hours since lunch doing nothing but debating with himself about what was going to happen that evening.

Was he really comfortable with the thought of taking things further than a few kisses?

Why was he comfortable with that and why did being comfortable with that not weird him out more?

Was he actually saying that he wanted to go through with the whole soulmate thing— as in, commit and maybe even bond in the not too distant future?

The answers to those internal questions spun through his brain at a dizzying rate.  But no matter how much he thought about it, his answers didn’t change.  Which meant he really may actually be ready for a real relationship.  And couple-y things…  He pictured the meals and games they’d shared in public and in private.  He remembered the way John would walk him to his quarters if he stayed late in the labs.  The way they checked in with each other about their day and things that bothered or amused them.  He felt the phantom touch of a hand in his and lips pressing warm and gentle against his own.   

Rodney blinked sightlessly at the screen for a moment before he rubbed at his eyes and forced himself to focus on his work and not his internal lovelorn sixteen year old with a teenage style mid life crisis.  Because they were already doing couple things and he hadn’t really fully grasped that before. The mental refrain of what the fuck— I’m in a real, actual relationship with John Sheppard and I like it was interrupted by the clearing of a throat only inches away from his head.

He flinched back in his seat, head whipping around to face his Deputy CSO.  Radek had only just started spending notable amounts of time in the labs again as the function and condition of the city finally reached a point that didn’t require around the clock monitoring and repair.  McKay had forgotten how the man could glare and look pitying at the same time.

“The simulation is done, Rodney.  Go to bed.  Or wherever you go to not stare blankly like a sleep walking person with no sense, yes?”

He glared back but was pretty sure the heat he could feel in his cheeks was manifesting as a furious blush that ruined any attempt at seriousness.  He felt ridiculous.  And even more ridiculous because he couldn’t even argue with the annoying man without looking stubbornly immature.  “Shut up,” he muttered before grabbing his half empty coffee and stomping out of the room before Radek started laughing at him.

He halted in his tracks only a few turns away from his quarters when he realized he hadn’t even brought his work tablet with him.  A very long, uncomfortable moment passed before he started walking again.  He was in his rooms and getting ready for a quick shower less than two minutes later— decidedly sans tablet.  It felt like more of a statement than inviting himself to John’s rooms had earlier that day.  

Rodney took a deep breath as he stepped under the hot spray.  He took another as he dressed in something other than a science uniform for the first time in he couldn’t remember how long.  He took another as he brushed his teeth.  And once he finished coughing he took one more deep breath before striding back into the hall.

He probably would have taken yet another deep breath before he got to the door if the thing hadn’t nearly leapt open for him as soon as he was within a few feet of it.  Then he was looking at John, eyes bright with obvious excitement, lips curved in a damn near dopey grin, and lithe body leaning just inside the doorway.  At that point, Rodney couldn’t have taken a breath — deep or otherwise — if he tried.  His lungs froze along with his brain for two steady heartbeats during which he somehow entered the room without thought or intent. 

McKay heard the door snick shut with the force he’d learned to associate with a strong mental command to lock.  He didn’t even know which one of them had done it.  But he did know that his soulmate was right there and he had neither the will nor the desire to stop himself from closing the distance between them and pressing a much firmer kiss to the man’s lips than they had ever shared.

John straightened so fast that his momentum sent them both stumbling.  Rodney felt his ass hit the edge of the nearby desk with enough force to have him letting out a grunt as the other man’s weight pinned him in place, lips moving roughly against his own.  The next grunt came from Sheppard as he deepened the kiss, his body mirroring his tongue as it sought out Rodney’s heat.

He could hardly process what was happening, which for someone accustomed to relying on his mind to shield and serve him was almost as disconcerting as the slide of John’s tongue against the roof of his mouth and the heated weight of an obvious erection pressing into his hip.  Yet McKay didn’t feel uncomfortable or threatened in any single way.  Kissing him back, twining his tongue over and along John’s, pushing into the wet welcome of the man’s mouth, felt as natural as breathing.  Though breathing itself was soon a problem of its own.

He hadn’t even realized Sheppard’s hands had clasped his waist.  Then he was fisting the soft cotton of John’s shirt in both hands and the hem of his own top was lifting as fingers brushed the small of his back.  Rodney fought to catch his breath without losing complete contact with John’s lips and stole a quick taste of the panting mouth so close to his own.  In response, one hand swept from his back to his hip, coming to rest on the spot where his first mark lay hidden under his jeans and a strip of mark-tape.  A pulse of heat made McKay jump, though his position against the desk didn’t really allow for him to actually move away.

“I don’t show my marks,” he blurted out at a slightly higher volume than necessary.  Rodney cringed as Sheppard took a step back, hands falling abruptly away.  His eyes fell shut as he felt the flush of arousal in his cheeks turning cold and then shifting immediately to the heat of embarrassment.  But he kept talking anyway.

“No one in my family ever saw my first mark before I left for college, I never even told them when it appeared because I figured that they’d take ‘credit’ like they did with my IQ test results, or be jealous, and I thought Jeanie would either tease me for being ‘not normal’ in yet another way or would bug me about my mate.”  He took a quick breath, but couldn’t make himself stop rambling. “Honestly, I was kind of afraid that all of them would expect me to find my mate immediately and give up on everything else, not to mention how shocked they’d have been that there was someone actually meant for me and frankly I didn’t want to hear their disbelief, and-”

McKay was actually relieved when a gun calloused hand suddenly cupped the side of his face, cutting off his endless stream of words.  He was trying to talk himself into opening his eyes when the man rested his forehead against his.  John just breathed for a moment, each exhale landing warm against Rodney’s face.  He didn’t bother looking then, but listened intently as his soulmate’s words calmed his racing heart.

“I hid my mark from all my friends for years.  I was one of the few students who had one, and all the others were several years older.  I didn’t want to be teased.  I was already a little too smart to fit in easily.”  A soft chuckle blew puffs of warm air across his cheek as John wrapped his other arm carefully around his waist and stepped close enough for their chests to brush with each inhale as he went on.  “I’m pretty sure the other boys thought I was pathetically shy because I always changed in a stall for gym class.”

Rodney finally let himself relax a little as one hand rubbed slowly up and down his back while the thumb of John’s other hand swept repeatedly along his cheekbone.  “I didn’t even tell anyone outside my family about my mark until I was 16 when Lucille Caliborne broke up with me when she got her mate mark.  I pretended mine had just appeared too.  I figured I couldn’t hide the mark-tape much longer anyway.”

McKay opened his eyes when John took a step back, pulling them away from the desk.  “Did you- did you date often?”

“Not at first.”  John paused and glanced away for a moment, then resumed backing them slowly across the room, never letting more than a couple inches separate them.  “When most of the others my age started dating, they started to…” he cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable for the first time that evening, “I guess they resented it a bit— that I didn’t want to go out or anything.  My family had money, and well…”

“You were beautiful.”  He let himself be pulled down onto the couch, only squirming a little as he got comfortable.  That he ended up practically cuddled against the other man’s side was a complete and utter concession to the circumstances, and only coincidentally allowed him to burrow in so that John would have to lean back and over and twist a little in order to face him fully.

Sheppard laughed briefly.  “It was just easier to take somebody to a movie or something every couple weeks.  Once I was at Stanford, I’d started telling people I had a mark and there were more marked on campus than I’d expected so people weren’t shocked or upset when I only ever dated casually.  Then I was in the Air Force and not dating wasn’t difficult or even very awkward.”

John shrugged, jostling him a little.  McKay let the arm around his shoulder pull him closer and when it started moving up and down his upper arm, he gave up and rested his head against the back of the couch where it bumped lightly with John’s every time one of them turned their head or looked toward one another.

“What about you?”

Rodney huffed.  “I spent my late teens on college campuses getting my second and third PhDs.  So it wasn’t hard to find parties, though I always showed up early so most of the people there weren’t actually drunk yet.  I mean, it was just one night stands but undergrads are stupid enough sober, drunk they’re intolerable.  Even for the amount of time it takes to have a quick fuck.”

John sputtered, then laughed.  McKay huffed again before continuing in what he knew was a tone parlously close to a whine.  “Once I finished with my last degree I spent all my time on work and only occasionally found someone for a little stress relief.”  He didn’t bother to mention how annoying it was when his bed partners noticed his mark-tape and either wanted nothing to do with him because he would find his match, or pitied him for not having found his match.

When Sheppard kept laughing, he leaned to the side and shoved the pretty jerk.  He was tempted to cross his arms and glare when the man barely even moved, but decided to let himself be pulled close again, his head falling to rest on John’s shoulder.  

Rodney swallowed.  “What’s your third mate mark?”

John pulled him so close he was almost sitting in his lap.  “A smoking gun.”  The soldier paused, as if waiting for a response. 

Rodney said nothing.  A soul mark was a representation of something that had a significant impact on who your mate was as a person.  He’d heard them described as a ‘window to the soul’ but he’d always figured that was stupidly overemotional.  But after having learned what his own mate marks stood for and what John’s other marks were, he had to concede that the concept had some merit.  So that description could only apply to a few things for him.  That it’d appeared while he was in Pegasus made it obvious.  He had a moment’s worry that he would have to explain it, but before he could come up with some way to describe anything, Sheppard spoke softly, the words almost inaudible with the way the man’s lips were pressed into his hair.  But they were clear enough.

“You’re pretty brave for an asshole, you know.”

He jerked back, shoving at him again as he glared.  You’re an asshole.”

John just smiled.  “Yeah.  I guess we’re made for each other, huh?”

It was so corny.  It was trite and soppy and the hopeful way those green eyes met his was ridiculous.  It also felt far too true.  “Shut up,” he muttered, burying his face in the soft cotton of Sheppard’s shirt.  

John just wrapped both arms around him and held on.  He held on for several minutes before McKay’s voice broke the comfortable silence that had fallen between them.

“Do you want to see?”

John’s body felt like it froze, every muscle going rigid for a second before all the tension rushed out on a heavy sigh.  “I’d really like that, yeah.  If you’re comfortable with it.”

Rodney didn’t respond, not with words.  Instead he got to his feet, standing directly in front of Sheppard.  He widened his stance and carefully opened his pants, holding them on with one hand as he shimmied the elastic of his boxers down several inches on his hip and peeled the flesh colored tape down to expose the full color marks on his bare skin.  John exhaled sharply as his hands started to reach out, slow and hesitant.  

One hand landed feather-light on the other side of Rodney’s waist and the second fluttered in the air over McKay’s bare hip.  After a moment Sheppard just brushed the bare skin.  As his fingers trailed along the skin to the side of the soul marks, Rodney sucked in a breath, feeling more than a little off balance.  His hands reached out suddenly and grasped John’s shoulders.  In response, John’s hands moved back and gripped McKay’s ass, pulling him forward even as Rodney climbed onto his lap. 

Their lips met almost violently, and John licked inside with a moan, the taste of McKay hitting his system like a drug.  The feel of Rodney’s skin as his hands finally released the man’s ass to slide up under his shirt drew another sound from the back of his throat.  John barely forced himself to draw back long enough to strip off their shirts before surging back up to resume the drugging kiss.  He grew only more determined to taste and touch as the knees tightened on either side of his hips and the fingers dug into the muscles of his shoulders.

“Fuck!  John.”  The words were exhaled into his mouth when he finally drew back for a breath.

“Yes.  Yes,” Sheppard agreed, nipping at the beautifully crooked lips.  He moved without thinking, surging to his feet and stumbling the three steps to his bed, Rodney almost slipping out of his lap before he could grab back onto the ass he’d been watching since the day they’d met.

It was probably as much luck as lust that allowed them both to reach the mattress without either separating or being injured.  But logistics were the farthest thing from his mind as John stripped them of their remaining clothes.  Shoes and socks hung him up for brief moments, but the desire – the need – to feel his soulmate beneath him spurred him on until they were both running greedy hands and hungry mouths over necks and shoulders, chests and backs.   

When his hand eventually gripped tightly around Rodney’s swollen cock, they both shouted.  John was tempted to swallow the rest of the sounds Rodney made as he explored the length and head and then dipped down with his other hand to play with the heavy balls below it.  But the sight was too good to miss.  Sheppard became immediately addicted to the way the other man arched and writhed, McKay’s eyes clenching shut as if the pleasure was simply too much.

“Yes,” he hissed again, before the need surged back up inside him and he found himself braced over Rodney’s panting form, fingers already slick with lube and no memory of how they got that way.  It took only an instant for him to disregard such inconsequential details and focus instead on the feel of his wet finger rubbing over McKay’s hole.  “Yes?” he repeated.

“Yes!” Rodney immediately yelled, head thrown back and both feet flat on the bed as he pushed back against the probing finger.  “Yes, John.  Fuck yes.”

He didn’t even wait for him to finish, the finger pressing all the way in after the first word.  Green eyes darted up and down the still writhing form of his soulmate as he tried to take in everything at once.  He watched the muscles in Rodney’s legs tense as he moved the single digit in and out.  He watched the perfect mouth fall open on a gasp as he pressed a second finger in with the first.  He watched the gorgeous ass clench as he added a third finger a few minutes later.  

He would have watched the large hands grasp at already tangled sheets as he fucked into that gorgeous ass but the sight made him want desperately to feel those hands on him so John made himself pull his fingers out, ignoring the near whimper the action drew from Rodney.

The whimper turned to a groan two desperate heartbeats later as he slicked his cock too quickly to be graceful and positioned himself at McKay’s hole.  John shook with the force required to hold himself back as he held one of Rodney’s thighs tightly enough to get the man to actually open his eyes and look at him.  

“Yes.  For fuck’s sake, Sheppard.  Yes, fuck me,” the man called out before John could ask the question.

Not waiting even a moment to allow either of them to second guess themselves or each other, John pressed forward, entering him in a single long thrust that was only slow enough to make sure that his lust didn’t make his movements careless.  The simultaneous groans as he bottomed out erased any further questions John might have considered asking.  He was in his soulmate- his soulmate was under him, large hands sweeping over his back and breath panting in his ear.  

“Rodney…”  The name was pulled from him, tumbling out rough and raw.  He buried his face in the man’s throat.  “Rodney.”

Fingers bit into the muscles of his shoulders in time with the smack of their hips.  “Yes.  Yes, John.  John.”

“Rodney,” he answered, pushing himself up onto his arms so that he could enjoy the sight of the other man’s pleasure.  The bright blue gaze that met his felt like a punch to his gut— all the emotion there making his own swell up inside him with a wave of intense heat.

McKay arched as if in response, legs wrapping around his waist, head thrown back with a lustful enjoyment that sent tingles racing up John’s spine.  He let out a string of curses that were lost in his panting breaths.  Those were soon lost in the echo of their hips smacking together with increasing speed and force.  

“Yes, yes, yes,” John insisted as he moved faster, angling his hips so the other man cried out with each thrust.  “Yes, Rodney.  Now.  Now.”

“Fuck yes!”

The way McKay’s ass tightened around him had John shouting back with decidedly less articulation.  Words failed him entirely when the man fell apart under him, pulling him right over the edge and into an orgasm more explosive than he was prepared for.  John kissed him almost roughly, licking and nipping until they were both laying exhausted on the bed, hot panting breaths shared between them.  The kisses grew slower and sweeter as the seconds passed and their heartbeats steadied.  

By the time he had forced himself to get a warm rag and clean them both up, Rodney was half asleep and cuddled eagerly into his side when John rejoined him on the bed.  He wanted to say something, to express somehow what it felt like to have his soulmate nuzzling sleepily into his shoulder, but words were still beyond him.  Everything that involved talking or thinking felt beyond him in that moment, and he was perfectly content with that, because John Sheppard was sure that nothing either of them said would really capture the warmth that was pooling in his chest.  

So he just pulled Rodney closer and pressed a soft kiss against the man’s head and held on.

— – — – — – —

Rodney felt like he was adrift in a sea of endorphins, the combination of norepinephrine, serotonin, and oxytocin leaving him with the distinct urge to never let go of the warm muscle and bared skin belonging to his soulmate.  He wanted to cling to John, to burrow into him and never leave.  It would have probably been odd if it weren’t so damn perfect.

He was used to physical encounters being rote, perfunctory, to overthinking things in the moment.  He was used to sex being just a little clinical no matter how physically satisfying.  But as he lay against John — actually fucking cuddled against him for fuck’s sake — he realized that he hadn’t thought about what he was doing or analyzed what John had been doing.  He hadn’t felt self-conscious or critical of what was happening, or where it was going, or how fast it was going there.  He hadn’t had to question or mentally debate how he should respond a single fucking time since he’d sat in the man’s lap.

Thinking about it now as he wallowed in the cocktail of brain chemicals and a bone deep contentedness he couldn’t explain, McKay decided that for once he wasn’t going to question a single thing about what they had done or about why he had done it.  

He was warm and safe and comfortable and he didn’t give a single damn about the how or the why.  Rodney McKay had just had mind blowing sex with his soulmate, and considering the size and strength of his awesome mind, that was really saying something.  He damn sure planned to do it again at the next available opportunity, and screw everything and everyone else.

He hummed as John trailed his fingers along his bare side, then an instant later made a very different sound as that touch ghosted over the marks he suddenly remembered he had not re-covered after showing them to John.  Wow, wow, wow.  That felt good.  And not only in the physical sense, though it felt physically really fucking great too.

He tensed automatically, despite the fact that it somehow made him feel strangely calm.  The implication of having his soulmate touching his bared marks should have been unsettling, maybe even scary, but the thought of it – the reality of it – suddenly felt just as warm and safe as John’s arms around him.  Before he could give that earth shattering idea proper thought, the hand was snatched away.

“Sorry.  Fuck.  Sorry.  I didn’t-”

“No,” Rodney cut him off, turning to face John even as he reached out to keep the man from leaving the bed.  “No.”  He swallowed hard, not quite sure how he could feel so adamant about it, but needing to make himself perfectly clear all the same.  “No, it’s okay.”

John seemed to freeze, green eyes wide and looking anywhere but at him.  “Okay?  How okay?”  The hope there sounded almost painful, nearly as painful as the naked want on the soldier’s face as he asked.  

Rodney took a deep breath, feeling way more confident than he would have ever expected.  Because they weren’t talking about marks or touching or even the touching of marks and they both knew it.  And the possibility, the unspoken promise of it was eerily calming and somehow right.  “Completely okay.”  He cleared his throat but refused to fidget or release his hold on the other man’s arm.  “Welcome, in fact.”

There was a long pause before John spoke.  “I’m off duty tomorrow.”

Sheppard was a soldier, a career officer.  John was often as stoic as any military man he’d ever seen.  But he wasn’t usually blank, his amusement or annoyance could be clear even if it were buried behind professionalism while he was on duty.  And Rodney had quickly become accustomed to the smiles and soft looks John had gifted him with since they’d first touched.  Yet in that moment John Sheppard looked positively vulnerable and it made something twist in McKay’s gut to see it and know how far the man was putting himself out there in making the offer so clear in that one statement.  

He nodded several times while he relocated his ability to speak.  “Yeah.  Okay.  Tomorrow works.”

Neither spoke.  They just stared at one another.  Then Rodney cleared his throat again and grabbed the radio sitting on John’s nightstand and pressed it the requisite number of times to reach his second in command.  He was determined not to let himself get worked up or overthink or second guess.  He was going with what felt right.  He, Dr. Rodney McKay, was going with feelings over logic for once.  

“Radek.  I’m on bond leave, effective immediately.  Don’t call me unless the city’s going to explode.  And for fuck’s sake don’t let any of those idiots blow up the city.” 

The sight of John’s eyes going dark and wide was even more satisfying than hanging up on Zalenka when he started to curse in Czech.  He felt his lips twitch with what was undoubtedly a rather smug look he hoped adequately communicated your turn hot shot, I dare you.  

McKay removed the other man’s radio from his ear and handed it over silently.  John took it just as silently, though the bright flush to his cheeks and the almost electric feeling in the air made the soldier’s excitement clear.  It tingled through him as he listened to the man calmly contact Sumner and formally request bond leave. 

Rodney could actually hear the Colonel laughing through the radio and had to bite his lip so as not to laugh himself at the almost petulant expression on Sheppard’s face as he responded in a tone so even and professional he was a little surprised the man didn’t sprain something.  

He spoke as soon as the radio call finished.  “So, tomorrow?”  Too much of his amusement must have made it through because the next thing McKay knew, John had him pinned to the bed with one arm supporting his weight so Sheppard’s face was mere inches above him.  The soldier’s other hand was splayed on his upper hip not quite touching his still exposed marks.

“How about now?”

His breath quickened in time with his heart beat.  The lips hovering over him smirked and it was all he could do not to lift himself up enough to kiss the cocky little grin right off his face.  The asshole.  Instead, he gathered his courage and his self control and dragged his hand down John’s bare side until he reached the mark tape on his hip and slowly peeled it off.  Rodney could feel the muscled chest brushing against his own as John’s breathing sped up to match his.  A small part of him wanted to smirk back or make a snarky comment but the darkening green eyes held his own gaze just as firmly pinned as Sheppard held his body.  

He couldn’t look away.  He couldn’t speak.  Then his hand covered the three mate marks that represented him on John’s hip and he felt the zing of their connection ignite.  He felt the bond begin to coalesce just out of reach.

“You, John Sheppard, are my soulmate.”  The acceptance in the simple statement made his voice come out deeper and rougher than he knew he was capable of.

The weight of a warm, calloused hand covering his marks mirrored the spark he still felt under his own until John spoke.  “Rodney McKay, you are my soulmate.”

The words had been spoken on a soft exhale but they and the bond they completed echoed through his head.  And then, an instant later, John settled into him and his mind quieted.  Above him, his soulmate took a deep breath and closed his eyes, looking as blissed out as he had in the throws of orgasm.  

Inside, the quiet spread and Rodney felt absolutely no regrets despite the annoying realization that he would never again be able to make fun of all those Hallmark soulmate flicks where the world righted itself just because the hero or heroine met their soulmate.  Because as the bond nestled within him, a stupid sense of belonging and perfection not unlike what was talked about in fairytales bloomed to life in his chest, pulling out three simple words on a long exhale without any permission from his own damn brain.  

“There you are.”

The End

About Hazel

Writing, crafting, and reading are my refuge and escape. My favorite fandoms are Tony DiNozzo and SGA. Trying out 9-1-1 and might get back to HP at some point.


  1. This was amazing! Thank you for publishing it!

  2. I love intelligent John and how he’s come late to Atlantis but settles right in and how much he and Rodney fit together. A lovely and fun fic!

  3. Great Story. Thank you for sharing

  4. Greywolf the Wanderer

    this was absolutely glorious! I really, really enjoyed this, and the changes you made. bravo! bravissimo!!

    thankee, sai, for a great read!

  5. Wonderful! Cheers for a bond built on emotions and minds and trust, so right on the personalities.

  6. I love the way they slowly got to know and trust each other.

  7. Oh, wow, that was awesome!

    I love a John who can give Rodney math porn, and the changes you made in the backstory were delicious.

    I enjoyed this and it left me with a big ole sappy grin on my face.

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