What Dwells Within

Chapter One

The city was teeming with life again. Not that many people, really -- 254 to be exact, only 251 more than yesterday and 964,386 fewer than the city ever held at its most. But they were all squished together in a single pair of neighborhoods which created the false impression of population density. Plenty of room to work and live, but it made Carson feel like the entire city was full.

Full, unless he happened down an empty corridor, or glanced at the sensors for any other section of the city and saw it dark and cold. The overwhelming hugeness of Atlantis made 254 seem like a pile of crumbs, then.

Carson couldn't tell if he preferred it this way, or if he was already homesick for last week when it was he and John and Rodney with the run of the city to themselves. Not, unlike John, because John's poor list of 'sex in public places' had gone lacking the last couple weeks. Carson liked sex, enjoyed it in quite a variety of ways, but "public" was one kink he had never quite managed to acquire.

Having the city of Atlantis to yourself made it all seem very private, of course, and he'd rather enjoyed what they'd done. But now -- well, there was still the fear that Dr. Weir could tell what they'd done and would rake them over the coals for it.

She'd asked him to her office in fact, only two days after the expedition's return. Everyone was still settling in, giving tours and briefings to the newcomers, dusting off equipment and desks as though they'd been gone 10,000 years and not a mere thirty days.

He'd given his new nurses and Dr. Collin the full-tour of the infirmary and labs, showing them in particular each piece of Ancient technology they'd put into use. Dr. Collin had demonstrated herself an exceptionally intelligent woman, quick to grasp the importance of things as well as understand the workings of a half-human, half-alien facility.

At the moment she was borrowing his office to read through the personnel files, familiarising herself with the medical staff as well as all their potential patients. Dr. Weir had sent Carson an email that morning requesting a meeting, and as he walked through the busy hallways, Carson thought that maybe things were going smoothly for a change.

He reached Dr. Weir's office and the door swished open at his arrival. Weir, Murdoc, the door itself -- he hadn't a clue, but Dr. Weir didn't look surprised as he stepped inside.

"Carson, good." She smiled, sitting behind her desk surrounded by the familiar piles of paperwork and laptop. Carson tried very hard not to think about John sitting on her desk.

Dr. Weir waved him to a seat. He took it as she finished typing something on her keyboard before turning to him and folding her hands on top of the desk. A friendly, if serious meeting, he guessed.

"I want to say thank you again," she began. "All this translation work you did -- it's incredible! Everyone is practically frantic, trying to get through it and find out what new information we have. Dr. Silas asked me to ask if you would be willing to meet with some of the linguists at some point to do some more work on the database."

Carson nodded. "Sure, I suppose."

"Excellent." She smiled again, and the air of 'friendly' didn't waver, though it did even less now to hide Carson's suspicion that something was coming. He set a search on the list of repairs in the interface, quickly scrolling through to see if there was anything on it that Weir would have had called to her attention. There was nothing he could see that she'd be particularly interested in and nothing lit urgent-red, either.

"How are the new members of the staff settling in?" she asked.

"Oh, fine. They're all a bit overwhelmed, though who can blame them? But they all seem like good people and their records show they're all quite skilled, which of course you know."

"Yes, but it's encouraging to hear it confirmed," she said, still smiling, but finally it grew serious. "And Dr. Collin? What's your impression of her?"

Carson nodded, though he wasn't quite sure what he was agreeing with her about. "Oh, she's just lovely. Only had to explain things to her once and she was already figuring out one of the Ancient's diagnostic panels after I turned it on. She strikes me as quite competent, and the other staff seem quite taken with her as well."

She'd introduced herself to each nurse and doctor present, showing a sincere interest in each and every one of them. It was the way she listened, Carson knew. She looked at a person and asked intelligent questions, and looked for all the world like she was memorising every word that was said to her.

"Good. I'm glad to hear it." Dr. Weir sat back a little in her chair before changing her mind and leaning forward again. "She's actually why I called you down here."

Carson frowned. "Is there something wrong?"

"No, far from it. You know her specialty is in emergency medicine."

"Aye, because we needed someone with more experience. She's been in charge of hospital emergency rooms for the last fifteen years, according to her files."

"Yes. I think her experience, as well as her aptitude, make her the best choice."

Carson nodded. "Aye, I agree. Not that I've spoken to her for more than a few hours. But I have a good feeling about her."

Weir smiled. "Excellent. Then you don't object to her as your replacement as Chief Medical Officer?"

Carson blinked. It took a hurried effort, but he was able to keep his expression from changing. "Oh. I think she'd be quite good," he said, trying not to stumble. Replace him?

"You know it has nothing to do with the job you've done," she said quickly. "Everything you've done here has been excellent and I wouldn't dream of putting someone else in charge if it weren't for the fact that you already have two full-time jobs, now. It seemed unnecessary to make you continue having three."

She paused, looking uncomfortable for a moment.

"I saw that for the last couple of months before we left that you hadn't filed any progress reports on your research into the Wraith. Between that and the work you're doing on the Ancient technology, I think it's best if someone else were in charge of the medical department. It is in no way a reflection on how well you've done your job," she said again. "But...quite honestly, the maintenance work you're doing now is probably the most important thing we need you for. The translation work alone...!" She shook her head with an expression of amazement.

"I...I think Dr. Collin will do admirably," he managed. Dr. Collin hadn't said anything, and he didn't know...well, of course she'd have known. Dr. Weir would have selected her for the job and briefed her fully. "Was there anything else?"

"No. Not unless you had anything...?"

Carson shook his head. "Thank you, Dr. Weir," he said, the polite words coming by habit.

Dr. Weir nodded as he rose, then said nothing as he left.

He walked out of the control center, stepping around the people moving this way and that. He made his way down to the infirmary and to his -- old -- office. Dr. Collin was gone and he quietly took a small box from beneath a cabinet and filled it with his few belongings. Most of the items he left for her, but his files on the Wraith research he would need, and his stethoscope was lying on the counter. A small toolkit and a tin of tea -- the same one Dr. Collin had brought him. All into the box, then he slipped back out and left the infirmary.

There was no place to stash his things in the medical lab he used, but he knew he could commandeer an empty desk in any of the nearby offices. Instead he continued walking.

The chief maintenance office was in a section of the city not yet explored and still deemed unsafe. He'd taken over the local workshop simply because it was local and in good condition. Near enough to everything and it was there Carson went.

He dropped the box on a worktable to put away later.

~~~~~~~~

Rodney stormed into Dr. Weir's office later that evening, glaring at her when she looked up.

"Rodney?"

"That...how could you do that?" he demanded. They'd got the whole story from Carson when they'd come home, and he and John had argued over which of them should come yell at her. He'd won simply because he knew more big words.

Elizabeth scooted her chair back, looking defensive and confused at the same time. "I assume you mean about Carson?"

"Yes, I mean about demoting Carson."

She looked surprised. "You think it would be better for him to be over-worked?"

"That's what they make assistants for." Rodney had to stop himself from pacing, or marching around the desk and yanking Elizabeth out of her chair and shaking her. It was surprisingly easy not to mind that he kept seeing John sitting on her desk and Carson leaning back against him.

"Giving him an assistant wouldn't have decreased his workload significantly," she tried to say.

"Oh, so it was so much better to take away his job?"

He really wanted to smack something. God -- when they'd got back to their quarters, Carson had been there. Sitting in the living room staring at the wall. They'd thought he was reading about some maintenance thing until they'd noticed just how pale he was.

He'd told them what had happened. His voice had been steady, but his eyes had grown wider in shock as he'd spoken.

"One job," Elizabeth repeated. "He still has two -- his genetics research and working with Ancient technology -- which, if you ask me, is a lot more important than anything else."

Rodney folded his arms because he knew he couldn't hit her. "Oh yes, and thank you for that. Telling him he's more valuable as a repairman than a doctor."

She narrowed her eyes. "That's not what I said. That isn't what he does and you know it."

"From his point of view, that's what it is. He isn't discovering things or figuring out new stuff or..or...doing anything he's trained to do. He's reading a manual that tells him to insert tab A into slot B. Any untrained monkey could do it; it just so happens that he got stuck with it."

"That isn't what he's doing," she said again.

He waved her quiet. "I know that. You know that. Carson...." He didn't think he was getting his point across, so he tried again. "What's your specialty?"

She blinked at him. "Diplomacy," she said after a moment.

"Right, OK, so -- you're a leader, a diplomat, you speak a gazillion languages. It's what you're good at, right?"

"Are you saying I haven't been--"

"No, no, listen to me. What if I told you that it's been really great having you lead the expedition but what we really need is the way you can make everyone's clothing get really nice and clean."

She narrowed her eyes again, but in a way that said she was thinking, not setting up to argue with him. "That isn't really analogous, Rodney."

"Isn't it? You have how many degrees? Spent how many years before coming here and doing a fantastic job leading the mission. But -- really, we like the way you can put clothes in a washer and get the amount of soap just right so that everything's clean without smelling soapy."

"That's--"

"If I had access to the maintenance interface I could do exactly what Carson's doing. Hell, if Zelenka or Masterson or Pavil had access to it, they'd probably do it a thousand times better because they're trained engineers and don't think I haven't had to listen to Zelenka complain about it. And here you think it's better that he fix engines out of a book than help save lives."

He clenched his fist. He'd almost calmed down a little, trying to think of a way to explain it to her. But now -- god, the look in Carson's eyes. And he'd been too polite, too nice to want to complain about it.

But Elizabeth was staring at him now. She nodded. "Where is he?"

"At our place. Come on."

~~~~~~~~~~~

Carson was sitting on the couch, leaning against John. John had been trying to carry on a conversation with him ever since Rodney had stormed out to confront Dr. Weir. Carson had asked him not to, but between Rodney and John both steaming and practically bouncing off the walls, he thought it easier to just let them do as they would.

He didn't want to confront her, didn't want her to think he had to send his...whatever they were to defend him. But neither did he want to think about it at all, so he'd let John try to distract him.

Nothing had worked very well. John had tried talking about American football, then he'd complained about the new arrivals getting lost in the corridors and needing fetched back. Even the kissing and groping hadn't done much for him, and finally John had admitted defeat and let Carson settle where he was now, to sit and think in silence.

When the door opened he looked up in surprise. Rodney hadn't been gone very long to have said everything he'd been threatening to say. But it was Dr. Weir who walked in first and went directly to the chair nearest him. Carson hastily rubbed at his face, hoping he looked nothing like he felt.

"It's been pointed out how badly I handled this," she began.

"Dr. Weir, you don't--"

"Please," she interrupted. "Do you have any idea how vital it is, what you can do? And I don't just mean repairing the ZPM so we can return to Earth and run the shields. Although those two things alone are among the most important things any of us have done since we got here.

"But can you imagine what it would be like if we were still stumbling around without any idea what we were doing, what the technology we're finding does? What would have happened, for example, if we'd gone exploring the city and didn't know about the viral lab? Can you imagine what would have happened if we'd accidentally released any of those viruses? How many lives did you save right there, just by marking a room on a map?"

Carson frowned. It hadn't been that much, really. He'd just told them the lab had been labeled for the highest level security and should be checked with caution. Rodney's team had bypassed the hallway entirely, focusing their exploration on other sections. Later, a team in HAZMAT suits had checked the room again and discovered some of the containers were broken. They'd sealed the lab and left it.

"I know it may not seem like much," Weir continued. "And it certainly isn't anything like what you were prepared for. But you're in a unique position to help us explore the Ancients' technology safely. We need that much more than we need you signing off nursing schedules and keeping track of medical supplies."

Carson glanced at Rodney, who was just standing there staring at him without any clue on his face as to what he was thinking. John was sitting still beside him and Carson didn't want to look over to see what he was thinking. "I...hadn't thought about it like that," he confessed.

"I know it isn't what you might have chosen," Dr. Weir said. "I can only imagine how...difficult it must be."

Frightening, was what she didn't say. But Carson found himself nodding, and found himself believing her.

"I should have explained it better," she continued. "I thought you understood, that you agreed with me. You're still on the medical staff of course, and you can divide your time up however it works best for you between the genetics research and the maintenance work. I wasn't thinking of this as a demotion."

The word still stung, but Carson thought he understood what she was saying. He tried to think of something to say, to let her know he wasn't angry. Let her think he was already over being hurt. He couldn't think of anything, and she just sat there, waiting on him.

John nudged his arm and said, "Hey, at least you won't have to attend staff meetings anymore."

Dr. Weir looked surprised. "On the contrary, as head of the maintenance department he'll still be coming to every one of our meetings." She gave him a hesitant smile.

"I'm the entire bloody department, you mean," Carson pointed out.

"That's another thing I want to discuss with you," Dr. Weir began. "I know...if you wanted assistants, there are any number of people who are interested in volunteering. Several of the engineers in particular--"

"Me," Rodney said, clearly. "I'll do it."

"Yes, and any more assistance you want," Dr. Weir continued, giving Rodney a brief, amused smile. "Anyone you want, just let me know and I'll approve it."

Carson nodded, grateful for this, at least. It felt somewhat like being thrown a bone, far after the fact. But he could see things from her point of view. It was better for the expedition. There was nothing vital about being Chief Medical Officer and something very vital about being the only official repairman in the city.

It hit him, then. "Dr. Gallagher didn't return, did she?" Carson asked.

Dr. Weir looked quite suddenly composed. "She and I agreed it would be best if she remained on Earth."

"Why? I mean -- I'm not angry with her. It was a simple accident."

"She ignored established safety procedures," Dr. Weir said. "And she failed to get your permission before engaging the device."

"That's no reason to fire her." Carson frowned. The poor lass hadn't meant any harm by it.

Dr. Weir shook her head. "She wasn't fired, just transferred to the SGC in Colorado. She agreed that she'd been careless. Carson -- she didn't know what that device would do. What if it had been dangerous?"

"But it wasn't. It was perfectly safe." Carson tried to ignore the sudden look of alarm that appeared on Rodney's face.

"She didn't know that," Dr. Weir insisted. "You didn't know that. She might have killed you."

Carson hadn't ever really thought about it. He'd long since forgiven Dr. Gallagher for what she'd done and told her so, even. It had never occurred to him that the device could have been any number of other things. Or that it could have simply been a faulty interface.

And fried his brains the second she'd put it on him.

He shivered, looking at his wrist and pushing his arm away, half-reflexively trying to get it away from him. There was a schematic in front of his eyes, suddenly, of the device itself. He'd seen it before when he'd looked into removing it. But this time he saw, highlighted, the safety feature which prevented it from switching on at all if it weren't in perfect working order.

John took his arm, holding it above the device and rubbed the skin with his thumb.

"You can help us avoid that, now," Dr. Weir said quietly. "By helping us identify the technology we're working with, and helping us--"

"Not blow ourselves up," Rodney finished. "I never really thought about...what could have happened." He took a step towards them, then stopped.

John's grip tightened on his arm and he started to pull Carson towards him. He stopped and held still, tense. Dr. Weir stood up. "If there's anything I can do, please, just let me know."

Carson nodded, not really thinking about her offer. It was hard to, what with John looking at him with such a fierce expression in his eyes, and Rodney looking like his feet had got trapped in the floor. Wanting to rush over and unable to take another step.

Dr. Weir let herself out and when the door slid closed, Rodney was on him, kissing him hard enough that thinking of dying became impossible.

~~~~~

Chapter Two

For a change, Carson had woken up alone in the bed. Normally he only woke up alone the second time of the morning, after his lovers had forced him awake earlier than man was intended to be conscious. But that morning -- perhaps because they'd been awake late into the night, they'd let him sleep in.

He'd gone to the mess hall for breakfast, not seeing either of them and wondering how long he'd missed them by. The clock in his head told him the hour, but it couldn't tell him when John and Rodney had had their breakfasts.

He sat down at one of the outdoor tables, enjoying the morning sun. He stared at the bowl on his tray -- oatmeal. At least he wouldn't be wearing it, today. Carson smiled to himself as he thought that maybe they should stock the kitchenette in their quarters and have more meals there.

"Dr. Beckett? May I join you?"

He looked up at Dr. Collin. She was holding a cup of tea, and looked rather more subdued than she had previously. He waved to the seat.

"Of course." He gave her a smile; none of this was her doing.

She sat down and said, without preamble, "I'm sorry. I didn't realise... I was under the impression you'd asked to step down. When I was offered the job, I didn't think...I assumed you'd requested it."

He sighed and set his spoon down, not really hungry anymore. "It's all right, Dr. Collin. I...agree with Dr. Weir's assessment. Someone else does need to be doing the administrative work." And, had he been asked, he would have chosen exactly this portion of his jobs to give up. He loved genetics, despite not having focused much time on it recently. He loved medicine, as well, and he would still be on the infirmary's rotation.

And he'd realised he didn't actually want to give up the repair work, despite everything -- so the paperwork, meetings, and accompanying headaches were the only thing left to lose.

But Dr. Collin was frowning. "Unfortunately your staff doesn't agree. They're rather up in arms, actually." She smiled, ruefully.

Carson blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Maybe you can come down to the infirmary and we can figure something out? Because -- quite frankly, they're not going to work for me under the present circumstances."

Carson closed his mouth and pushed his tray away. "This sounds rather serious."

Dr. Collin nodded. "You bet your patootie it is."

~~~~

They went straight away to the infirmary; there they found most of the staff gathered in a large group, talking and arguing. As soon as they spotted he and Dr. Collin, they headed towards them, en masse.

Carson wasn't sure what to make of the angry expressions, but he asked, "What's going on, now?"

It was Dr. Chavez who answered. "We don't appreciate someone re-arranging our department without even asking. No offense, Dr. Collin, but we want you back as Chief Medical Officer," he said the last directly to Carson.

"But Dr. Weir--"

"We don't care what she says," Mariana put in. "Dr. Collin can help with the work -- we agree that you could use the help. But you have more experience with Atlantis than she does. Working here isn't like a hospital on Earth. There are things you just can't pick up in a couple days, or even a couple weeks."

"I agree with them," Dr. Collin put in, speaking as much to the staff as to him. Making it clear, he realised, that she wasn't trying to push him out of the way.

"But... I appreciate what you're saying," he began, as he tried to process what was happening. Tried to figure out what he wanted to do. "But Dr. Weir is correct. I haven't the time to do the job anymore. It isn't fair to leave the department at a loss, when someone else can take over."

The doctors and nurses frowned and grumbled at this. None of them were happy -- and Carson found himself quite touched. But he'd accepted the change and he was certain they would, as well, once they'd had some time to adjust. "Thank you, all of you. But Dr. Collin will learn what she needs to know quickly enough. When we got here, none of us knew what we were doing. If you give her a chance, she'll do an admirable job, I'm sure of it. I can't do the work anymore," he repeated. "Not and give fair shake to everything else."

"But we trust you," Dr. Chavez said. "When decisions have to be made -- we trust you to make the right ones." He glanced at Dr. Collin, but didn't say anything else.

"I'm sure Dr. Collin will be able--" he began.

"Why don't you just give me the work?" Dr. Collin said suddenly. "You keep the title, and the final say. But I can do the daily stuff, the paperwork and all the annoying things most doctors don't like doing anyhow. But you'd still be in charge." She sounded like she thought it a great idea -- despite the fact she was giving up the job she'd come here to do.

He frowned at her. "That's hardly fair to you."

But she grinned. "Dr. Beckett, I'm in Atlantis, in another galaxy. I could be here to wash test tubes and I'd be delighted."

"You...you really... it wouldn't..." He stopped, half-afraid that if he could say it, she would change her mind.

"Not at all. Call me your secretary, even. Or Deputy Chief. Or Debbie. I don't care. I just want to...." She looked around, and waved a hand. "This matters more than what my title is and which of us is making the big decisions."

"I...don't know what to say." Surely a person wasn't meant to take this many upheavals to his life in one day, Carson thought.

Though he couldn't honestly say his life had been routine for a great many years.

He looked at his staff, and Dr. Collin. They all seemed quite sincere.

"I suppose there'd be no reason not to," he began. Then he was interrupted by a barrage of cheers and thank yous. There were handshakes and claps on the back, and several minutes before the staff on duty wandered back to their work and he was free to speak to Dr. Collin.

"We should figure out exactly what we're doing, then," he said, and she nodded. "Should we...well. I dunno if it's your office or my office." He smiled.

Dr. Collin grinned. "Maybe we can call it 'the Final Resting Place'?"

Carson raised an eyebrow at her. "Oh, that's terrible." He laughed. "Whatever it is, let's go there and discuss matters."

~~~~~~~~

In the end, they came easily to an agreement. Carson simply handed over everything, as Dr. Weir had intended, except for the actual job title and the authority that went with it. In emergencies, Carson would be the one calling the shots but otherwise Dr. Collin would act as the CMO.

They sent off a message to Dr Weir, letting her know what they'd decided and asking her to make her position officially 'Deputy Chief Medical Officer'. Carson also sent a similar email to John and Rodney, just in case they were serious about doing any of the things they'd discussed doing the previous night.

Then he left Dr. Collin to get acquainted with her job. He set off towards the lab, thinking he might get around to filing at least one of the progress reports he'd failed to submit over the last two months. But as he walked, he found himself heading instead down the other corridor, past the labs and borrowed offices, to the maintainence workshop at the end of Cavenor's hall.

When he walked in, he saw the box of his belongings sitting on the table near the wall. That table was covered with odds and ends which he hadn't placed there -- left over from ten thousand years ago when other people had worked here. Carson felt no compunction to clean up after them; someday, maybe. When he had a fit of the tidys. But for now he used the larger table in the center of the room where the light seemed a bit better.

There was a charge-relay half open on the table at the moment; Carson didn't feel like working, though.

"That was unexpected," he said, looking around the room but thinking of his staff gathered around him. "I had no idea...."

Was it really that much of a surprise?

Carson shook his head and sat down on the workbench. He really hadn't thought they would care one way or the other who was in charge. True, he'd always got along with everyone in the medical department and he'd known enough to understand how unusual that could be and be grateful for it. But he'd laid claim to that on Dr. Weir's ability to choose personnel. Not him.

It made him wonder if he was doing the right thing.

He reached his hand over and touched the edge of the casing for the charge-relay. He could remember from the schematics what the interior of the device should look like, could identify the ways in which this did not look anything like what it ought. It was in a bad way, but easy enough to fix. Just a matter of putting in the time.

Once it was back in place it would help maintain the city's power center, allow them to power the ZPMs up or down rather than simply leave them going at full strength as they were now.

It didn't really matter; they had three thousand years before the ZPMs would run dry. But still, the power center was designed to work with the charge relays in place so Carson had it here, to be repaired.

He thought about the research waiting for him back at his lab. Not the reports, though he did feel a bit of guilt over that. But the work waiting for him, the things he could discover about the Wraith. Things which might help them understand, help them defeat their enemy.

It's all right if you want to go.

Carson shook his head. "I don't mind, really. I just.... It'll be easier, now. Dr. Collin's taking a good bit of the work and I'll be able to--"

It's all right, Murdoc said again. There was a pause, then-- I'm sorry.

"For what?" Carson was startled.

For this. You know you don't have to, right?

There came a small picture from the city's map, of the infirmary. It rotated, slowly. The suggestion was obvious even without the visual.

It's all right if you'd rather--

Carson shook his head. "I wouldn't rather do paperwork, thank you."

Be a doctor, Murdoc finished.

Carson smiled. "I still am, you know. Just because my patient is a large city, doesn't mean I'm not still doing what I love best." Even as he said it, he understood how true it was. In some ways what he was doing felt exactly the same as being a doctor to live, human patients.

There was silence and Carson had time to wonder if Murdoc was going to respond. Carson waited, still resting his fingers on the charge-relay casing. The metal was cool, felt more like ceramic. But he knew it was metal, could even call up the exact details for manufacturing the casing if he wanted. He made a mental note -- literally, scrawling the words on the notepad section of the screen in his eyes -- reminding himself to share the information for Dr. Zelenka and the other engineers.

He thought of John's positive reinforcement for remembering to do that sort of thing and flushed.

It isn't the same thing, Murdoc said, and Carson started before he realised Murdoc was responding to what he'd said about being a doctor, and not his thoughts of John and menthol-flavoured blowjobs in the corridors.

"No, it isn't the same thing. But my patient is getting better and I can fix what's wrong, instead of using surgery and drugs and hoping for the best." He looked around the workshop. "It isn't the same," he agreed. "But I don't mind."

He couldn't say, precisely, how much he liked it. He didn't hate it -- otherwise he wouldn't have bothered. It didn't give him the thrill that exploring genetics did, nor the warmth of connection that being a healer did.

But there was something in it. The fact his patient wouldn't die? The fact that there was no pain or suffering, just a broken body to repair?

He didn't know. What he did know was that sitting here in the workshop was where he wanted to be. The charge-relay would take days to fix, but he was growing eager to get started. When it was completed he would take it down and install it, and it would either work or he would come back and try again.

It was like medicine without all the danger, he realised. Cold, unfeeling machines and devices that didn't care if he took a week off, or his hands slipped and he had to try again, or if he failed three times in a row before finally making things work.

He wondered if he should be ashamed of wanting this. A coward's medicine, where nobody suffered and nobody died. But as Dr. Weir had said, what he was doing here was important. He'd already given more to the expedition as a repairman than he had as a doctor, after all.

That's not true, Murdoc whispered. Carson didn't want to listen, but Murdoc pulled up a file. His own personnel records, Carson realised. Reluctantly he opened them.

There was a list of all the patients he'd treated. All of them, from the lives he'd saved all the way to the ones he'd given band-aids and aspirin to.

Do you really think they'd appreciate knowing you think that the charge-relay is more important? Murdoc asked.

Carson didn't respond. He saw, and looked away from, John's name.

"All right," he said quietly. "You've made your point." He picked up the charge-relay and brought up its schematics. "They're both important."

The interface display flickered and the schemata for the charge-relay disappeared.

Why don't you go back to the lab? Murdoc suggested.

"It's all right," he said, sighing. "I actually do want to do this."

The scroll of repairs shifted to the bottom of the list, where the most trivial of repairs were found. Carson frowned and tried to move it, but the scroll didn't budge. The display screen showed a map of the nearby corridors, with the medical lab highlighted.

"I don't need to--" he began, trying to call up the repair screen for the charge-relay again.

He got a diagram of a grain cooker.

Carson sighed again, then smiled. "All right, all right. I'm going." He set the charge-relay down and stood up.

The interface remained frozen as he left the workshop. He poked at it experimentally a couple of times, but couldn't make it change until he was staring through the microscope at a slide of Wraith cells and the line of the repair scroll was in the way. Then it shifted to the edge of his vision and the display map dimmed as far as it would go, almost completely clearing his line of sight.

He stayed where he was, despite the sense of victory, because he thought maybe he was onto something with figuring out just what sort of creature the Wraith were. There was something about them and the samples from the venom he'd taken from John's neck after the bug had bitten him, that made him think they were related.

~~~~~~~~~

Chapter Three

It was usually Rodney who came sneaking in at oh my god in the morning. John was used to sitting up waiting -- though he knew he didn't have to, and had been told every single time it wasn't necessary. But usually it was Rodney, not Carson.

It was only because Carson was in his genetics lab that John didn't go out to find him and drag him home. Over the last few weeks Carson had been spending more time in his lab than in the repair workshop and John wanted to... well, not encourage it to the point he was working past midnight. But encourage it to at least midnight.

When John had called down an hour ago, Dr. Dennison informed him Carson was still working and not asleep at his microscope. John checked his watch again. It was almost time to go down there and drag him home. Then the door slid open and he looked up to find Carson tiptoeing in. He stopped when he saw John on the couch.

"Oh, hello. I didn't expect...." He smiled, shyly. "Haven't you read that thing through a dozen times by now?"

"I can always tell when it's time to go fetch my wayward scientist by what chapter I'm on." John set the book down. War and Peace, his by-now traditional late night reading material. He'd tried some of the books Carson had been given, but found that their tastes in books had nothing in common. How it was they liked the same movies he couldn't say.

"Find out anything interesting?" John asked, following as Carson headed for the bedroom. He kept his voice low -- not that he expected to wake Rodney up. He stood by the doorway as Carson headed for the dresser. There was enough light coming from the living room lamp for him to watch as Carson changed into a pair of pajama bottoms. "Why do you bother with those?"

Carson gave him a dry look. "I'm not sleeping in the nude, thank you."

"You're not welcome. You know we have to peel you out of those every single morning. You'd save us a step if you left them off."

The look got more dry. "When will you accept the fact that I prefer to sleep in pajamas?"

"When you stop wearing them?" John was glad -- highly appreciative, in fact -- that Rodney slept naked. Admittedly it wasn't helping him at the moment, since Rodney had all the blankets wrapped around him like he'd forgotten he shared the bed. It would take an archaeologist to excavate him, John thought. Or a very determined doctor; Carson somehow had a knack for rolling Rodney back out of the blankets without waking him.

John himself only slept naked when he slept with someone else, but that really hadn't been an issue for some time. He rather hoped it wouldn't become an issue any time soon, either. He walked over to Carson and put a hand on his hip. He felt the slight tremble under his fingertips and smiled. "I could practise now, you know."

He gave Carson a kiss, loving the way Carson leaned into him. Pajamas or not, he could feel the heat of Carson's body. He could also, unfortunately, feel the way Carson was leaning extra-heavily against him.

"I'm sorry, John, but I think I'm going to pass out." Carson smiled, then yawned hard enough that his body shook.

"It's all right. Next time I'll just come get you an hour earlier."

"Only an hour?" Carson raised an eyebrow, but the cheerful lechery was ruined by the second yawn and the way Carson couldn't quite get his eyes to open again afterwards.

"Go to bed. I'll get the lights and lock--"

The lights in the living room shut off. He gave Carson a stern look; Carson was already stumbling towards the bed. John shook his head and went over to the closet, dropping his clothes in the corner they'd dubbed the 'hamper.' Then he went -- naked -- back into the living room to double check the door. He knew Carson had probably locked it, but he found it easier to sleep if he knew for sure.

As he came back to the bedroom, he saw Carson just leaning away from Rodney. His goodnight kiss, John knew. He stepped back, just outside the doorway. He hadn't heard it, but he was pretty sure Carson had said it.

Carson only ever said it those rare times when Rodney was asleep first and Carson thought John couldn't hear. He never said it to Rodney's face -- and John wasn't exactly sure why. He couldn't ask, because he wasn't supposed to know that Carson was doing it.

He waited a few seconds, then walked into the bedroom like he hadn't been waiting outside. He crawled into the bed on Rodney's left; Carson was already motionless on his right. John laid down, and hesitated, propped up on one elbow.

Rodney was deeply asleep. There was no way he'd have heard Carson. John wondered if he ought to tell Rodney how often Carson told him he loved him, but he knew he wouldn't. It was up to Carson to say it if he wanted Rodney to hear. It wasn't like Rodney didn't know how he felt; so why Carson waited until times like these to say it, John didn't understand.

He thought that if you loved someone, you should tell them. But it wasn't really his business -- not his decision, at any rate. Rodney wasn't grumbling about never hearing it, so there wasn't any need for John to step in.

He laid down, shifting a bit to get comfortable. He looked at Rodney, his face just inches away. He'd got so used to sleeping with him over the last several months. He'd had live-in lovers before, both male and female. The longest one had been Charlene. They'd lived together nearly a year before she'd thrown all his belongings out the window, screaming that she never wanted to see his face again.

She hadn't known he was into guys as well, and she'd freaked. He hadn't had a chance to tell her that if she didn't want to share him, she didn't have to. John wasn't so sure he would have stayed with her much longer anyway, so it was probably for the best.

Not that it mattered anymore. He was here, in Atlantis, in bed with two men who didn't mind that he liked being with more than one person. And he liked them both well enough he could easily see staying with them for a long time.

He glanced over Rodney's shoulder at Carson, and thought about the words he whispered in the dark. He knew what Carson wanted: Rodney, for as long as he could have him. And even though Rodney hadn't ever said it back, John was pretty sure Rodney was just as much in love with Carson.

He could see the two of them being together, forever. John quashed the thought that followed. He knew it was inevitable. He also knew it wouldn't happen for a long, long time. Months. Maybe even years. When it did happen, it would probably be because he'd finally fallen head over heels with someone else and wanted to go.

But there was no point in thinking about it before it happened, John told himself. Not when he was happy. Not when his lovers still made him feel welcome and not like a third wheel they couldn't quite figure out how to get rid of.

John had been there before and knew how to read the signs. There weren't any yet, didn't look like there would be for awhile. So he was good, everything was fine, and he had time to enjoy himself. And when he started seeing those subtle hints that he'd overstayed -- he told himself he would be gracious and civil and friendly, because he had no intention of losing his friends over something as easy as no longer wanting to be lovers.

He closed his eyes, and let himself relax. Morning would come soon enough, even with the extra two hours the astronomy department had added to the clock after midnight to complete the full Atlantian day. When morning did come, Rodney would wake him up and they'd tagteam Carson and maybe they could accidentally tear those pajamas so he couldn't wear them any more.

~~~

There was something very good happening to his cock. John didn't have to open his eyes to know it was Rodney. First of all, it was pretty much always the way Rodney woke him up. Second -- the chance of Carson waking up before him was smaller than the chance of John deciding he wanted to marry Sergeant Bates and settle down.

John sighed and stretched, not moving enough to jostle the hand away. He heard a smug chuckle and opened his eyes.

"Morning."

"Good morning to you, too," Rodney said. Obviously he'd been awake for long enough to sneak out of bed and get some caffeine. John looked over to the bedside table and saw the cup. He reached for it, still not moving away from Rodney's hand. Hell, that was what multitasking was for, right?

"Oh, by all means, steal my coffee. I'll just sit here and entertain myself, shall I?" Rodney was running his hand very slowly up and down John's cock.

"You do that," John agreed. He took a long swallow of the coffee, then another. By the third one he felt like he could compete with a wide-awake Rodney.

Well, at this he could compete. If Rodney wanted to play chess, John was going to insist on cheating. He took a fourth swallow, leaving just a few drops in the bottom of the cup to annoy Rodney when he tried to take a drink. Then he put the cup back and rolled over, pushing Rodney onto his back.

He was pleased to notice that Rodney didn't lose his grip.

"Morning," he said again, and leaned down for a kiss. Coffee-flavored on both sides; a fair compromise over getting out of bed and going to brush his teeth, first.

"I believe you said that already," Rodney pointed out after the second kiss was finished.

"I still mean it," John told him. Rodney just rolled his eyes; John grinned. He pushed himself closer -- Rodney was really going slowly, but that was all right for now. John looked over and saw Carson, utterly dead to the world.

It was always a difficult choice at this point. Wake him now, so he didn't miss anything? Let him get fifteen more minutes of sleep? John could never decide which was better.

"We let him sleep yesterday," Rodney said.

"Good point." John nodded, then leaned down to start nibbling at Carson's neck and ear. It took a moment before Carson stirred, but he stilled again immediately. John pulled at an earlobe, sucking at it. When he was awake, it drove Carson insane. When he was asleep, it sometimes woke him up.

John sucked some more, then went back to his neck. Carson was barely moving. John scooted off Rodney and onto Carson, propping himself up with his hands and knees.

"What time did he come to bed?" Rodney asked.

"About as late as you usually come to bed." John kissed Carson's collarbone, and nudged Carson's hip with his own. Rodney's hand had slipped away when John had crawled onto Carson; John looked over at Rodney, expectantly.

"Don't mind me," Rodney said. "I'm happy to just watch."

"I thought you were doing more than that," John reminded him. There was plenty of room for Rodney to get his hand back where it was.

"I thought you wanted to wake Carson up, first."

"First? Hell, at this rate it'll take us half an hour to get him awake. I'm not waiting that long."

"Bitch, bitch, bitch." Rodney rolled onto his side, and put his hand in between John and Carson. He stuck his hand inside Carson's pajamas and grabbed onto Carson's cock.

"Hey!" John glared at him.

"You want him awake?"

"No, I want a handjob. Whether or not Carson wakes up is entirely beside the point."

Rodney grinned at him and kept rubbing -- Carson. Which, actually, wasn't all that bad a thing. Carson was moving a bit, now, Rodney's hand obviously entering into Carson's dream. He moaned, very softly, and John felt a stab of arousal. He pushed his hips down, rubbing his cock against the fabric stretched across the back of Rodney's hand.

"Come on, Carson, wake up." John leaned down again and went back to nibbling his ear.

There was more movement, then success in the form of a distinctly cranky mutter. John held still, let Rodney keep moving his hand up and down. Finally, Carson opened his eyes, his expression caught between arousal and irritation.

John grinned. "Morning. Wanna have sex?"

"The two of you...." Carson trailed off, then said something extremely long-suffering sounding, in Gaelic. But he reached down and pushed his pajamas out of the way.

"Told you it would save a step," John said, moving against now-bare skin.

"Oh? Because this was you, slowed down?" Carson was awake enough to be sarcastic -- that was a good sign. John kissed him and got kissed back. For all Carson's complaints, he hadn't ever actually asked them not to wake him up. He didn't even insist on going back to sleep after, but John and Rodney had agreed on that as part of their own peace of mind.

Not that John didn't secretly think that Carson, grumpy, was just as appealing as Carson in every other mood. But he was more fun to be around when he wasn't snapping at you in Gaelic. Like now, when he was moaning and beginning to writhe happily as Rodney jerked him off. John slid to one side and reached down, grabbing Rodney's cock in his hand. It took a moment, then Carson got his hand on John.

John leaned over to kiss Rodney again, pressing himself against harder Carson's hand. Rodney must have done something, because Carson moaned again and his hand tightened on John. That made John gasp and pull Rodney in for a deeper kiss.

Rodney moved closer as well, until they were pressed into a space barely big enough for one. But that was okay with John, because it meant more skin to skin contact, tighter grips on cocks, and more deeply-aroused moaning that threatened to push John over the edge.

Which was exactly what he wanted, so John pushed in even closer and kissed Rodney even harder, moving his hand even faster. He could feel Rodney beginning to come, shaking against Carson as he started losing control. John saw Carson look up at Rodney, watching. The look on his face nearly made John come, right there. But he held on, just for another minute, until Rodney pressed his mouth against Carson's shoulder and came.

Carson gasped, hips jolting off the mattress. He lifted his head and caught Rodney's mouth. John watched -- and it only took another second before he was coming, too. He kept his eyes on Carson and Rodney, watching as they kissed, barely even needing Carson's hand on his cock.

When he collapsed onto Carson, Rodney was right there with him. There was a moment of silence, then Carson said, rather clearly, "I'm not sleeping with the pair of you on me."

"Mmph," Rodney said. Then, "Yes, you are." Rodney didn't move away, so neither did John.

John peeked at Carson, who was rolling his eyes in exactly the way Rodney did. John realised he didn't know which of them might have got it from the other. But Carson closed his eyes, grinning like a mad fool. John didn't blame him. He closed his own eyes again and dropped his head onto Carson's shoulder. Rodney was half-plastered against him, as they somehow managed to share the mattress of Carson's body.

Pretty soon he'd get out of bed, anyway, and Rodney would follow and Carson would be able to sleep all morning if he wanted. But for now, he was going to stay right where he was -- at least until they suffocated Carson.

When he opened his eyes again, he was on his back with Carson snuggled up against him and Rodney glommed onto Carson from behind.

John hoped they hadn't slept through another staff meeting, or Elizabeth was seriously going to kill them.

~~~

Chapter Four

"OK, people, let's make this short and sweet." John looked around the planet they'd just walked onto. Teyla and Ford were already walking ahead and Rodney was standing on the stone steps, doing something to his harness. "Rodney?" He walked over to check Rodney's gear -- not that they hadn't all checked each other's gear before they left Atlantis, with Bates doubling checking all of them.

"Yes?" Rodney looked up with that clueless, scientist-in-the-field expression. John had to stop himself from giving him a quick kiss. Not that Teyla or Ford would care, but John had a strict policy about not fooling around when they were on duty.

When he was on duty, anyway. When Rodney was working in the lab, all bets were off. Unless there were big cardboard signs telling him what would blow up if he distracted the man working on something.

"Are you coming?"

Rodney's mouth twitched. "Not at the moment, thank you."

There was a muffled cough from Ford's direction. John just gave Rodney a smug grin. "Then let's go meet the locals, shall we?"

"Oh, definitely. I just...who designed these things, anyway?"

"It's supposed to do that," John told him for the millionth time. "So you don't lose your stuff when you're running through the bushes being chased by people with guns."

"Oh, now I feel so much better. Teyla, I thought you said these people were peaceful and didn't have technology much advanced past making farming tools."

"They are peaceful," Teyla confirmed. "And they do not have guns. But they are not defenseless."

"So you're saying we might get shot at? By arrows or spears or something?" Rodney asked as though seriously expecting them to say yes.

John just shook his head and shared a grin with Teyla.

"Looks like we go this way?" Ford said, pointing towards the edge of the forest. There was a small break there, which hinted at a path. The rest of the clearing was just grass, surrounded by an unbroken line of trees.

"We do," Teyla said, nodding. "We will get partway there, then the scouts will have alerted the village to our arrival. We will be met at the edge of the village's fields."

'So don't do anything threatening," John told Rodney. "We're being watched."

Rodney frowned, worried. "Like what? What would they consider threatening?"

John didn't answer. He started walking towards the path, following Ford and Teyla. After a second, he heard Rodney scrambling to catch up.

"You're kidding, right? We're not going to get shot because we accidentally insult their grandmothers or holy farm animals?" Rodney kept pace beside him, half turned towards him as though ready at a moment's notice to leap behind John and use him as a shield.

"I don't know, Rodney," he said patiently. "I've never met them before. Maybe you should ask Teyla."

Not that Teyla hadn't told them everything she knew, before they'd decided to visit. The Malconians seemed like a good choice for trading partners -- the usual services of advanced farming techniques and metal tools, as well as medical assistance, in exchange for food, clothing, and allies. Teyla had visited the planet before, though the Athosians did not often trade with them. Both people had had basically the same resources and little trade had been necessary except when one or the other suffered something like a drought.

But Rodney had sat in on the briefings just as John and Ford had, so he knew everything John knew about what to expect. Which made it all the more fun to be able to tease him this way.

"But you made it sound like I'm likely to do something to piss them off," Rodney continued. "The incident on Garthis wasn't my fault, you know. And really, no one got hurt."

John smirked. "Not for lack of trying. It's a good thing they have lousy aim, or Carson wouldn't have let you go on any more offworld missions."

Rodney frowned, no doubt remembering the way Carson had reacted when they'd come back from Garthis. No one had been hurt, but Rodney had told him in great detail how close he'd come to getting his head chopped off.

John had spent a week reassuring Carson that it hadn't been anywhere near as close as Rodney had made it sound, before Carson calmed down enough to agree that locking Rodney in a storage room was probably overdoing it.

"He really is a bit...overprotective," Rodney said, smiling ever so slightly.

"He's the one who has to patch us up," John reminded him.

"Oh, I don't mind that part of it," Rodney said, making a leap in logic that John didn't try to follow. "It's the way he looks at you, right before he delivers those blistering lectures. He's worse than my grandmother when she'd get after me for destroying her kitchen with the chemistry set she gave me. Why she gave it to me if she didn't want me using it I'll never know."

John stifled a laugh at the comparison -- especially since he agreed completely. But he knew Carson wouldn't take kindly to being compared to a 70 year old biddy, even if he did occasionally act like one.

"Although I have to admit," Rodney continued, falling half a step back as they entered the woods. The path was wide enough for one, but not quite enough for two. John paused and waved Rodney past him -- he didn't want Rodney to be the one bringing up the rear. Rodney gave him a briefly confused look, then he sighed in consternation. John didn't respond, because they'd had this conversation before. Trained soldier versus scientist who still didn't remember to reload his gun? No real contest who brought up the rear.

"Admit what?" John asked.

"Well...and don't tell him I said this. But I don't really mind the lectures."

John smirked. As though this was news? But aloud he said, "Because his accent gets stronger?"

"No." Rodney glanced over his shoulder and gave him a quelling look. "Well, not just that, because yes, that's an excellent reason to get him annoyed. Have you noticed that if you piss him off enough, he becomes nearly impossible to understand? God, it's really hard not to just throw him down and--" He stopped as he realised, no doubt, that Teyla and Ford were only a few feet ahead of him. "Kiss him," he finished.

Fuck him, John amended. "Really?" he asked, innocently. "You like the accent?"

He got another quelling look, but John didn't feel particularly quelled. It wasn't like he didn't enjoy the fact that Rodney loved hearing Carson speak. It was the fact that Rodney thought it was all about lust, that amused him the most.

"So you want to get shot with an arrow, so we can go back and let him patch you up?" John asked.

"I think you should get shot," Rodney countered. "That way I can listen to him yell at you."

"You like the way he tells me not to get shot, huh?"

Rodney sighed, and there was a definite tone of happiness there. "It's nice, you know? Having someone fuss over you."

"You don't have to get yourself shot, to get him to fuss," John felt compelled to point out. His luck, Rodney would get shot and blame it on him. Carson would go straight to yelling in Gaelic and bypass the incoherent brogue.

"Believe me, I'm not planning on getting shot. I don't actually enjoy pain." He gave John another look, which John interpreted as referring to the things other than being attacked by unfriendly natives. John didn't mind -- he and Carson had enough fun, even with Rodney hiding in the other room pretending he didn't know what they were doing.

"So, maybe a bruise?" John suggested. "A sprained ankle?"

"I thought you were saying I didn't have to get injured to get Carson to fuss?"

"You don't. I'm just saying...a little boo-boo would be sufficient."

Rodney stopped and looked at him. "I can't believe you just used the word 'boo-boo'."

John grinned. "Does'ems want'em boo-boo?"

Rodney rolled his eyes -- definitely some cross-pollination going on. Maybe they both did it before they met, and now Carson and Rodney just reinforced each other's gestures. "I think I'm going to go have my conversation with Ford."

"I can't help you with Dr. Beckett," Ford called back hastily. "If you want him to...fuss over you, I think the Major would be the better one to ask."

"I don't want him to fuss," Rodney insisted. "I'm just saying it's nice."

"Because his accent gets stronger," John prompted, wondering if he could get Rodney to actually say it.

"No. Yes, but mostly because -- look, it's just..." He shook his head.

"It's nice," John said, taking pity on him.

"Yeah." Rodney nodded, and they walked for a ways in silence.

John couldn't tell if Rodney really didn't get it, or if he just didn't want to say anything in front of the others. But John knew exactly what Rodney meant. Carson cared enough to lecture, to get sincerely angry when Rodney got hurt. He loved Rodney -- even if he didn't say so it out loud when Rodney could hear.

Of course, Carson also tended to lecture a little when John got hurt, but that was because the only time he'd come back from a mission injured since they'd got together, he'd had a dislocated shoulder and lost all the skin off his right hand. Rodney tended to come back with scrapes, bruises, and almost-but-not-quite decapitations.

But no matter how slight the injury, Carson would always react like Rodney had gone off to an alien planet and nearly got himself killed. Which, from Carson's point of view -- was probably exactly what Rodney was doing. John watched Rodney walking along, following after Teyla. He wasn't nearly as incompetent in the field as John had first thought when he'd found out he needed to take the physicist along with them. He did have excellent aim with his sidearm even if he didn't really have the instincts of a military man. He'd got a lot more confident, as well, and had almost totally given up the idea that he was a coward.

Unfortunately, it made him more likely to get himself shot, John realised. Running around on other planets feeling confident and skilled enough to run towards dangerous situations, unlike Carson who was back in Atlantis, safe from pretty much everything except overwork and worry. Worry about Rodney going off to another world and coming back with stories about nearly getting his head chopped off.

John determined that he'd just keep a closer eye on Rodney and make sure he got back without any dents at all.

~~~

It really wasn't going to work. Carson sighed and sat back, letting the broken capacitor roll onto its side.

The diagram was perfectly clear. The schematics, when he turned them every which way including inside and out, showed him in great detail how the thing should look. The one in front of him matched those schematics in every single way that he could detect. And it didn't work.

Neither he nor Murdoc could figure out why, and everything they'd tried resulted in a capacitor that to all appearances ought to be working perfectly. Only it didn't.

Perhaps Murdoc was right, and he ought to hand the thing over to one of the engineers and let them play with the stupid thing. They liked fiddling with tools and machines that didn't work no matter how many times you made it look like the original. Weir had told him to recruit assistants; perhaps it was time to take her up on that offer.

Rodney had given him a short list of names, culled from the long list of volunteers. Rodney had said that the names he passed along were those who were actually competent as well as people it wasn't impossible to work with. Rodney had made it clear that he expected to be there, regardless of whether Carson decided to ask for actual assistants.

Setting the capacitor aside, Carson decided to head up to talk to Weir now. He left his tools scattered on the table, knowing that no one would be in to bother them.

As he walked up to the control center, he reviewed the list of names. All of them had been among those following him around that first month. A few of them he knew personally and had no hesitation about working with them on a regular basis. Drs Zelenka and St. Arnaud in particular were engineers who Carson thought would be perfect -- possibly better choices than he for the job in the first place. Dr. Raderson was also on Rodney's list, but Carson wasn't as certain about her.

She had an excellent record, of course -- else she wouldn't have been in Atlantis in the first place. But she was among the new personnel, and Carson found himself preferring to choose among those who had already been here. Being able to do the work was one thing, but being able to deal with Atlantis was entirely another.

You think she will not adapt? Murdoc asked.

Carson started to shake his head, then stopped himself as he remembered he was not alone in the hallway. "Too early to tell," he thought. "And simple enough to wait a bit, and see." Granted, it had been nearly three months since the new personnel had arrived. But Carson still felt as though it was too soon to hand something like this over to one of the new arrivals.

Her record suggests she would be an ideal candidate, however.

"Aye, but...I just don't feel comfortable throwing her into this. Bad enough we hale people away from their home, we don't need to put things in their hands which could blow us all to kingdom come."

You know we wouldn't-- Murdoc began.

"I know, I know. I'm just saying, I'd rather not risk it when there's experienced personnel to choose from. I trust Radek and Jean-Paul; they've both seen enough to know the risks." Carson couldn't keep the grim expression off his face; he gave up trying to keep his face impassive as he walked. The others would just have to deal, as Rodney and John had learned to do when Carson had conversations they couldn't hear.

When he reached Dr. Weir's office, he and Murdoc had agreed on five names. The rest they'd keep in mind and review at some future point. Carson went to the door to Dr. Weir's office; a moment later it opened.

Dr. Weir looked up. "I got your email that you wanted to see me?" She looked caught between being worried and being diplomatically supportive -- waiting to find out what this was about.

"Aye, it's about those technical assistants. I think I'd like to get a few, if you don't mind."

"Not at all!" she said, beaming at him. It made him feel like he'd done exactly the right thing, and he wondered how long she'd been waiting for him to ask. Well, since she'd first made the offer, of course. She nodded him towards the chair and he sat down. "Who did you have in mind? Other than Rodney." She grinned, and Carson smiled back.

"I think there'd be a great deal of trouble if I didn't include him. Lord knows why he didn't become an engineer rather than an astrophysicist."

Maybe he just doesn't like to be left out of the fun, Murdoc whispered.

Didn't like to share his toys, was probably more accurate, Carson thought. Out loud, he said, "If they're still willing, I'd like Drs Zelenka, St. Arnaud, Masterson, O'Riley, and Grodin."

"Of course." Weir nodded again and turned to her laptop. "If they agree, I'm happy to approve any change of their duty which you and they see fit. We're not nearly as short-handed as we were, so there's no problem if any of them want to take this on full-time."

"Oh." That surprised Carson. "Yes, if they want to. I'm afraid I haven't quite figured out how this is going to work, but I wanted to let you know I needed some help."

"I understand." She paused, looking concerned. "Have you decided to go back to working in the infirmary? Is your and Dr. Collin's arrangement working out?"

"Oh, it is. It's working quite well. I never actually thanked you, did I, for letting us do it."

Dr. Weir nodded. "I think it's an excellent compromise but...why didn't you say something before I hired her?"

Carson blinked at her. "Before you hired her?"

"Before I told her I needed a new Chief Medical Officer."

Carson stared at her. "I didn't know about it until you told me."

Dr. Weir nodded. "And you had three weeks to let me know you only wanted an assistant, not a replacement."

"Three weeks?"

"Three weeks, after I sent the first message. When we went back to Earth--" She stopped, and frowned. "Carson, you did get my message, right?"

Carson shook his head, not following her at all. "What message?"

Dr. Weir sighed. "I think that explains a great deal. While we were on Earth, I sent messages back once a week. Major Sheppard responded to each one to let me know things were going well, that there wasn't any trouble. The first week I included a message to you, asking you about getting you some administrative help for the Medical Department. John said he'd let you know. When you didn't reply, I asked if you minded if I hired someone to be the new head of the department, because I'd met Dr. Collin and she seemed perfect for it, and I thought you'd prefer to be freed up to do your own work. Your genetics research, as well as the maintenance work."

Carson shook his head, slowly. He didn't remember John saying anything....Oh. Yes, he did. He felt himself blushing furiously. "Aye, he...mentioned I had mail. Not the content, but then...I...." He cleared his throat and tried not to look at Dr. Weir, or her desk. John had been here, listening to Dr. Weir's first message when he and Rodney had come in.

Carson had ended up on his knees right where Dr. Weir was sitting, now.

Dr. Weir, who was looking at him with a raised eyebrow. Carson coughed. "I forgot he told me."

And wasn't John going to be in a shitload of trouble, when they got back from offworld.

Weir seemed to be holding back a smile. "I had wondered why you didn't seem to care. My second message said that if you didn't have an opinion either way, I'd go ahead and hire her as CMO. When you didn't respond...."

"When I didn't respond, you thought I was agreeing." Carson sighed. "I'm sorry. I had no idea."

"Well, I'm glad to finally know what happened." She paused and blushed a bit, herself, which made Carson blush harder as he realised she must have guessed what, at least in general, had happened to make him forget. She cleared her throat and continued, "I really hadn't meant to...upset you by surprising you with Dr. Collin. When Rodney told me how you'd reacted, I thought maybe I'd missed your response telling me how you felt."

"Ah. No." Carson shook his head and frantically tried to think of a way to move the conversation onto something else -- something that didn't make him think about giving John a blowjob. "So, ah, the engineers..."

Dr. Weir nodded quickly. "That's fine. Did you want to train them to take over, so you can focus on your research? Thank you, by the way, for getting those reports to me." She grinned.

"Sorry. Paperwork really isn't my strong suit." It never had been, and he'd spent most of his adult life being asked by his supervisors if he wouldn't mind please getting it done. Carson shook his head. "It's just there's simply too much work to do -- and I think trained engineers will be better at some of it than I am. Even with Murdoc's direction."

Weir frowned. "Who's Murdoc?"

"Huh? Oh. The interface."

Her frown grew deeper. "You've named it?"

Carson shrugged. "It seemed odd to be having conversations with something that didn't have a name. It means 'protector of the sea' -- I thought it appropriate."

"I see." She nodded, very slowly. "By conversations, you mean the automated responses?"

"Yes. Does it bother you I named it?" Carson frowned.

"No, no. I just...was surprised, is all." She smiled, obviously trying to force herself to relax. "I suppose it's human nature to name things."

Carson nodded, relieved she wasn't over-reacting. He didn't fancy going through the entire brain-scan rigmarole again. "Oh, aye. It suits him. And he seems to like it."

Suddenly Weir was staring at him again, no longer looking relaxed at all.

Carson frowned.

I think you're going to be getting another brain-scan, Murdoc said.

~~~

Chapter Five

Carson was not that fond of the infirmary ceiling. It was a view he'd not had very often, granted. But it still wasn't a sight he cared for.

He wished Rodney and John were back from their mission, if only for the distraction. They'd both be frantic and shouting, of course -- even though Carson knew there was nothing to be alarmed about.

'Right?' he thought at Murdoc, knowing that the interface would respond appropriately.

Correct, Murdoc replied.

The timbre of the interface's voice was flat, as it always was. The only hint of intonation was from Carson's own perception -- projecting his own feelings and expectations onto the computer's words. It was only anthropomorphism, was all. The same thing that made people talk to their pets and plants and stuffed animals as though they could understand everything.

It wasn't that he didn't understand Dr. Weir's concern. He hadn't objected to the scans, either, knowing that the only way to reassure them was to let them discover for themselves that there was nothing wrong. From their point of view he might well have been taken over by an alien life-form, brainwashed and suborned. Refusing to cooperate would only convince them there was something seriously wrong. So Carson lay on the table, let them run each scanner over the length of his body, and answered all their questions as thoroughly as he could.

Now, Debbie and Dr. Weir were discussing the preliminary results, either unaware he could hear their every word -- or not caring.

"Can we be sure he isn't...under the influence of this thing?" Dr. Weir was asking, again.

"We can't be sure of anything," Debbie replied. "We'll study these results with the initial scans that were made five months ago, when the interface was first introduced. It looks as though there's no difference, but we'll take a closer look."

"Which may mean that this..thing has been alive, and aware, the whole time," Weir said, her voice worried.

"Maybe. Or it may be that Carson is correct, and it isn't alive at all. Elizabeth, just because it has a name doesn't mean anything."

Tricia, one of the nurses, came over, and let him know the last of the scans were done. He sat up, rubbing the back of his neck, but didn't get down from the table just yet. Carson glanced over and saw Debbie's hand on Dr. Weir's arm. Debbie looked earnest and professional -- as reassuring as any doctor could hope to be. It seemed to be having the desired effect on Dr. Weir. Slowly, Weir nodded. "You'll keep me informed. The moment you find anything, I wish to be informed."

"Of course."

"Then in the meantime," Weir paused and looked over at him. "We'll keep you off duty until we know for sure."

Carson nodded. He could hardly object to a course of action he'd have prescribed, himself, if it were anyone but him as the patient. He waited to see if she wanted to confine him to quarters or the infirmary -- not speaking up to suggest either.

Then Peter called Weir on the radio to tell her there was a Wraith Dart approaching the city.

Carson leapt down and ran after Weir to the control room. He said nothing, watching from the sidelines, both the activity before him and the flashing cascade of screens in his mind. The maintenance interface wasn't hooked into the main controls, of course, and the sensors behind Peter's station showed him more about the Dart's approach.

But the various weapons systems that were half-functional, barely functional, and completely dead were all suddenly shooting up to the "urgent" end of the repair scroll.

'Thanks, Murdoc,' he thought, sarcastically. As though he had time, now, to do anything. There was no reply from the interface, but Carson hadn't really expected one. He heard Weir ask how soon they could get Major Sheppard back to Atlantis.

"The Major's team is out of communication," Peter answered, his voice calm and steady as though the situation were completely normal.

"Do we have any defensive weapons?" Weir asked. Peter shook his head, then they both looked over at him.

"Nothing working,." Carson said, and he felt a stab of guilt. He should have done something. All this time, working on the ZPMs and the life support and dozens of pointless, trivial things around the city. He'd never once thought of finding out if there were weapons, and whether they were working. "The shield--" he began, and was cut off.

"The shield is working fine," Peter reported, though Carson had been about to say the same thing. "But it only protects us. If the Wraith Dart heads for the mainland...."

"It can destroy the entire Athosian settlement. Okay, we need options. The puddlejumpers are armed, yes?" Weir looked at each of them for answers.

"Yes, ma'am," Bates said. "We have pilots for three jumpers. We can take it out."

There was a long pause -- with a long, serious look from Weir to Carson, before Weir nodded. "Then do it." Weir nodded. Carson tried to remember who the three pilots were -- Miller, Markham...and himself?

He stared in disbelief as Bates waved him towards the stairs leading to the jumper bay. "This is.. I can't... I can barely fly! How am I supposed to shoot down another ship?" He didn't move, even when Bates' eyes narrowed.

"You're the only other one with the gene. Unless you're telling me you can't leave the city?" Bates asked. "I thought you could go anywhere on the planet."

"No, I... it isn't that. I just... you know how badly I pilot those things. And you want me to--"

"Carson," Weir's voice was sharp, and loud. He looked at her, afraid of what she was going to say. "Much as I would love an excuse to keep you here, the Dart is a real, immediate threat." She hesitated, clearly re-thinking her decision. But she only said, "We need you up there. Go."

He nodded, swallowing nervously. But he went.

~~~

"I can't--" Carson began again, despite the fact he was already taking the jumper up and out of the jumper bay. Bates was sitting beside him as co-pilot -- a concession to what, he wasn't quite sure.

Possibly just to escape John's and Rodney's anger when Carson blew himself up.

"You can do this," Bates said, calmly. "Just concentrate."

"I can't," Carson said again, but his voice was half-swallowed in his throat. Right along with his heart and his stomach. God, he'd never felt this much fear before in his life. Stepping through the stargate, seeing the Wraith for the first time, discovering that his brain was wired into an ancient, alien computer system -- it all faded into nothing, compared to this.

He wanted to cry, wanted to throw up, wanted to let go the controls and let gravity take the responsibility from him.

The Dart sped past them and he froze. There was a display panel on the screen of the jumper, dizzying to look at with now three levels of reality to focus on. The repair screens could only dim so far, and the blue sky outside was fuzzy with clouds which made both of them look not-quite-real. The only thing clear and sharp in his vision was the display from the ship, which told him exactly where the Dart was and how easy it would be to fire at it.

Carson swallowed against the urge to vomit, again. His hands were shaking, and he wanted to protest this, even though he knew it would be futile. Bates would only tell him to shut up and fly, and take out the Wraith.

'Take out', as though it were a game, a sporting event the likes at which Carson had never been any good. Why wasn't John here to do this instead? He was the pilot, natural born to it and willing and able to be a soldier. Not him. Not--

There was a flash and the explosion blinded him temporarily.

"Markham's gone." Bates whispered. "Fire, damn it!"

"I don't have a clear shot!" Carson snapped, reading the display again and seeing the city's spires in the way, seeing what was in each section nearby that would be struck by falling debris. Personnel quarters, there, and at least a dozen people in them. The astronomy labs over there, with over a dozen more. Lights flashed in his innermost eye, telling him what was in danger if he fired now.

He realised, belatedly and with a sickening revelation, that the city's shields had gone down when the jumpers launched -- and never gone back up because they'd never got far enough away. They should have led the Dart out of range, should have-- he cut his thoughts off. There was no time.

He sent the jumper after the Dart, aware somehow of Miller's ship pacing his. There was a second in which he had a shot and he prayed that Miller would take it. Then he thought about firing, and the clepier seeker went flying from his ship and off into the sky. Seconds later, the Dart exploded.

Carson closed his eyes for a second, as Bates cheered. "We have a kill!" Bates said, his voice triumphant.

"We read you," came Weir's voice, and Carson could hear the echo of triumph in her voice as well.

He opened his eyes for a moment and saw that the triple fields were all still there. He focused on the blue sky and distant, peaceful clouds.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

John stepped through the stargate and walked into the control room -- and knew instantly that something was wrong. There was far too much activity going on. Dr. Weir hurried towards them, looking grim.

"What's up?" he asked, frowning.

"A Wraith Dart showed up," Weir said, and John had to stop himself from running towards the jumper bay. "It was destroyed, but not before Markham and Smith were killed. I'm sorry."

John blinked, and he felt a sudden silence at his back, where Rodney and Ford were standing. "What happened?"

"We sent three jumpers up; even though Atlantis has a shield, we couldn't risk the Athosian settlement coming under attack." She glanced towards Teyla, exchanging a nod. Teyla looked grateful.

John narrowed his eyes. "There's something you aren't telling me."

Weir took a deep breath. "Carson was the one who shot the Wratih down. And--"

"WHAT?" Rodney shouted, stepping forward. "You sent Carson up into a dogfight with a Wraith?"

John grabbed Rodney's arm and held him back; Weir stood her ground. "We had no choice. You know how few trained pilots we have."

"But Carson isn't military. He's a scientist, like me! He isn't trained for this sort of thing!"

"And you are?" Weir interrupted, looking Rodney from head to toe. Rodney paused, confused, and looked down at himself.

Dressed identically to John, complete with sidearm and flak vest.

"That's not the point," Rodney said, but his voice had lost its strength. "Carson.... where is he?" He looked around, as though expecting to find him in the control center.

Weir frowned, and the worry didn't make John feel any better. "He went back to your quarters." She opened her mouth to say more, then stopped.

"So the Dart's destroyed?" John repeated. "There was only one?"

She nodded. "It sent a signal, which we're tracing now. Rodney, when you have a chance Dr. Zelenka will no doubt want your assistance with that."

Rodney acknowledged this absently. John knew it was because he was barely listening: thinking instead about how soon he could go find Carson. "Is there anything else?" John asked, hoping there wasn't.

Dr. Weir took a deep breath. "You should know that Carson is temporarily off duty. Not because of the Dart -- but because apparently this maintenance interface might be more that we realised."

"What is that supposed to mean?" John fought back the urge to yell at her, to demand to know why she hadn't started with that piece of information.

"It's...complicated. Dr. Collin has already run all the scans to determine...if there's any sort of threat. If... 'Murdoc' is sentient."

"Murdoc?"

Weir looked decidedly unhappy. "The maintenance interface."

John shook his head. He knew Carson had named the thing; it hadn't seemed any more alarming than the fact Carson talked to it in the first place. He didn't want to tell Weir they'd known about that all along -- her distrust of the interface was jibbing nicely with the few paranoid suspicions he'd been having for weeks. The only trouble was, he'd never found any concrete excuse to hang his suspicions on.

"Why do you think it's sentient?" Rodney said, still in that distracted tone. John wondered if he'd missed the part where Carson might have been compromised by an alien computer.

Weir shrugged. "We don't. We don't know it isn't. But...he named it, and talked about it as though it were real. I thought it best to be certain."

At this, Rodney nodded like it made perfect sense and that there was nothing to be worried about. John wasn't so sure --- but he could tell Weir wasn't, either. He could probably trust her not to let it go until they were certain there was nothing to be worried about.

"Do you mind if we go check on him?" John asked, realising he still had a tight grip on Rodney's elbow. For the second time he ignored Rodney's brief tug to free himself.

"Not at all." Weir nodded. "But we do need you back up here, as soon as you can." She said the last to Rodney, who nodded.

Taking their dismissal before Weir could demand a debriefing from their mission, John pulled Rodney after him and nearly ran out of the control room.

They didn't talk on their way down to their quarters. He thought maybe he should say something, but Rodney seemed lost in thought and he'd learned that sometimes it was better to leave him there. When they reached their front door, John had the weird thought yet again that they needed a doormat, and maybe something hanging on the wall that said 'Casa Del Sexo' or something.

Rodney entered ahead of him and they both looked around. There was no sign of Carson, so they split up. John headed for the room they'd designated as the library. Rodney headed to the bedroom.

When he didn't find Carson there, or in Rodney's office, he went after Rodney. As soon as he stepped into the room he saw the door to the balcony was open, and heard the drift of voices. Rodney was talking quietly and very, very calmly; John felt his stomach jolt and he hurried forward.

He stopped when he saw Rodney kneeling beside Carson, who was huddled against the wall, knees up and arms wrapped tightly around them. His head was down and John couldn't tell if he was even hearing what Rodney was saying.

"Come on, Carson," Rodney said again, rubbing his hand along Carson's arm. "It's all right. It's over, now."

John clenched his jaw. How dare they send Carson up? It was like they didn't have a clue.

"Carson? Can you hear me?" There was a catch in Rodney's voice that John hated to hear. Carson wasn't responding at all. Rodney moved closer, pressing his head against Carson's. For a moment no one moved.

"Rodney?" His voice was broken, and John was surprised he'd heard it at all.

"Yes, that's right. I'm right here. Carson, look at me."

John watched as Rodney coaxed him -- finally Carson's head lifted and Rodney reached out and placed his fingers underneath Carson's chin. Carson didn't seem to be focusing on Rodney at first.

"Rodney?" Carson said again, as though he wasn't convinced that Rodney was right in front of him.

"Yes, Carson. It's all right," Rodney repeated.

"I killed--" Carson stopped, and the anguish in his voice made John want to hit something really, really hard.

"You had to," Rodney said. "The Wraith are monsters -- they would have--"

"No!" Carson shouted, and he started crying. John had to clench his hands into fists. "Not.. I killed... Markham and Smith... they.. I should have... The city has weapons. But they're not working."

He dropped his head again, and Rodney moved forward to embrace him.

"It isn't your fault," Rodney said, and he whispered something John couldn't hear. He pressed a kiss to Carson's temple and John had the sudden, bizarre sensation that he was intruding.

"I should have," Carson said.

"Why? Because you're the only one here who has a brain? Did anyone else think to ask about defensive weapons?"

Rodney's sarcasm brought Carson's head back up. "But I should have... I didn't.... If I'd fired sooner, or.. not argued, or got the weapons working they wouldn't be...." He choked for a second, then it was as though his entire being crumbled, even though the only movement was his head lowering again.

John couldn't hear what he said, but Rodney reacted instantly.

"You did not. You can't murder something that deserves to die! They are monsters and they have killed thousands of humans. Killing one of them is hardly wrong!"

"But..." Carson shook his head.

John knew he should step forward. He'd killed, before. Hell, he'd killed humans, before. Enemies, sure, but not even the excuse of destroying monsters. He could offer some kind of...insight to what it was like. How you moved on, afterwards.

But he couldn't take a step forward; Rodney and Carson so focused on each other that he was afraid, somehow, that if he interrupted them that something would get lost.

Rodney was still talking. "I know. God, believe me, I know. This isn't what we signed up for. I was supposed to be brilliant and discover the mysteries of the universe and go back to Earth to win three or four Nobel prizes. Generations of future scientists would know my name and misspell it on their essay exams."

There was a pause, and an audible sniff, from Carson. Then he frowned, slightly. "How do you misspell 'Rodney McKay'?"

"Oh, believe me, they would. Students can be very creative when they're screwing things up."

There was a twitch at the corner of Carson's mouth. Rodney must have seen it as well, because he leaned back and smiled. "And you'd probably write a few papers as well, for your voodoo journals. For...discovering the cure to cancer, or dementia, or stuttering or something."

Carson leaned his head back and John could see him beginning to relax. "You don't stutter anymore, Rodney."

"I never did! It was only a perfectly reasonable reaction to stress. You could hardly expect an eight year old to address his entire class without stumbling over a few words."

John grinned briefly, remembering the story Rodney had told them. He still sounded righteously indignant about it.

"So, I get a Nobel for curing stuttering?" Carson asked, mildly. He sounded exhausted, but no longer trapped by anguish.

Rodney shook his head. "Well, no, not a Nobel. But I'm sure you'll be famous for being married to me."

There was a moment of utter silence and John was pretty sure neither he nor Carson were breathing. Then, "Married?" Carson sounded like he was trying to tease, but his voice was too flat to be anything but stunned.

"Er, well," Rodney began, and John thought that if he tried to deny it, he'd go over and hit Rodney on the head so hard his teeth would rattle. But then he said, "You don't mind, do you? Being known as...well, not 'Mrs. Rodney McKay' but you can't be 'Mr. Rodney McKay' because that's me, except I'm Dr. McKay so maybe--"

"Rodney." Carson was looking at him, steadily now.

"Yes?"

"You...." Carson took a deep breath and finally seemed to be calm, again. John had a feeling that Carson was about to let Rodney off the hook and not insist he say the words out loud. Maybe he'd have to thump Carson, instead?

But then Rodney said, "Well, yeah. I love you."

They froze, again, and this time Carson broke it by moving forward and kissing Rodney, hard.

John took a slow step backwards, then another through the doorway, then he turned and walked away. He got as far as the living room, where he began pacing. He had to... well, no, Rodney had to get to the control room. All he had to do was stand around and make sure everyone did their jobs. Maybe pack up Markham's and Smith's things and compose letters. Talk to Bates. Find out if the Wraith were an immediate threat.

Pack up his own things.

It had happened a lot faster than he'd expected. He'd known, all along, that Rodney loved Carson. Had known since that first day that Carson loved Rodney as well. But since then, none of them had ever said anything. Not while anyone was awake to hear it, he corrected. They'd all been content to just let that whole part of it go.

But that wouldn't be possible, anymore. Hell, even if Rodney had meant to joke about that 'marriage' stuff, he could tell that both Carson and Rodney meant it.

This was exactly what he'd been waiting for. John sat down heavily on the couch. He'd just been hoping for a little more time before they realised they wanted each other that much.

Even if they tried to act like nothing had changed, John knew that it had.

He could hear Rodney and Carson, now, moving inside. Into the bedroom, then the sounds he was hearing became extremely familiar.

He jumped up, knowing there was no way he could sit hear and listen while they made love. He ran for the door, and stopped only long enough to ask himself if he didn't want one last time. But it wouldn't be fair to them, he knew. They deserved to be alone, together.

John opened the door and left, walking down a long corridor that seemed suddenly to be cold and empty.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chapter Six

Breaking off the kiss, finally, Rodney hardly had to push to get Carson tumbling backwards on the bed. Rodney wanted him naked already, and really thought that clothes had been one of the worst inventions ever.

Carson's face was flushed -- still red and marked with tear tracks, but Rodney intended to get rid of those completely soon enough. Carson was looking up at him like he was astounded, as though he'd never had sex with Rodney before.

God, he loved this man. Rodney stopped and looked at him. He ought to say so, again. He tried to make his mouth work, and thought about how much it was true, but he couldn't get the words to come out.

"I love you, too," Carson said, his voice lilting softly. Rodney felt his insides turn into something distinctly liquid.

"I love you," he said, firmly. There. That was good, right? He could say it like that and mean it, and next time he thought the words he could maybe say them out loud rather than stammer and pretend he wasn't able to speak English at all.

He watched as Carson's face lit up again. It was like every inch of his body was shining, and Rodney could hardly believe that it was just from this. He thought maybe he wouldn't have believed it, except he felt the same way every time Carson looked at him like he was thinking the same thing.

"I--" He stopped as he heard the front door. Rodney frowned, looking back towards the living room. "John?" he called out.

"John's here?" Carson sat up and scooted towards the edge of the bed.

"He was. He was right behind me when I...." Rodney stepped away, pausing only long enough to take Carson's hand and pull him to his feet. They headed into the living room, but there was no sign of John. The front door had been closing as he left? Rodney shook his head. That didn't make sense.

Rodney headed for the door, Carson right behind him. "Where's he gone?" Carson asked.

"I don't know. Maybe Weir called him back to the control room?"

"Then why didn't he tell us?"

"Obviously he didn't want to disturb us." Rodney gave him a lecherous grin, the one he'd stolen from John originally. Carson rolled his eyes, blushing faintly.

There was no sign of John in the corridor, which meant he could have gone in either direction -- towards the transporter, or wandering off down the corridor past uninhabited rooms. Except Carson pointed, and said, "That way."

"How do you know?" Rodney headed that way anyhow, not having any reason to disbelieve him.

"His life sign shows up on the monitor and no, I don't know it's him but it's the only human in that hallway, so who else would it be?"

"Ah, yes. Good point."

They hurried down the corridor, rounding the first corner to find no sign of John. The next intersection was only a few feet ahead, and Carson just pointed again.

"John!" Rodney called out, as they hurried along. They came round the next corner and Rodney stopped. John was standing several meters down the corridor. He'd stopped with his back to them, and Rodney could tell that something was seriously wrong.

They jogged up and Rodney stopped just behind him, worried that John still wasn't facing them. Rodney reached out, then saw how tense he was. He hesitated, hand hovering over John's shoulder. He swallowed once, thinking about the Wraith Dart, then asked, "What's wrong? Did Weir call?"

"What?" John sounded startled. "No. She didn't. But she did ask that we...I thought I should get back up there."

"John, what's wrong?" Carson asked. He didn't sound confused, just concerned -- that gentle doctor voice that Rodney loved so much when he was fussing.

John shrugged, and Rodney could hear the forced lightness as he said, "Nothing. Other than the usual, of course: Wraith not making things easy."

Rodney froze for a second, and wanted to kick himself. John had just lost two of his men, and all Rodney had wanted to do was celebrate. Well -- to be fair, he thought it was a reasonable reaction to getting Carson to finally stop looking like he'd been one of the ones killed.

Rodney let his hand fall onto John's back, and wished John would turn the fuck around. "I'm sorry," he said, quietly.

"Yeah," John replied, in a harsh, bitter tone. "Me, too."

"Markham and Smith were...good men." Rodney felt lame, and incredibly awkward. But he did mean it, at least.

But John started, and half-looked back towards him. "What-- oh. Oh, yeah. They were."

Rodney narrowed his eyes, glancing at Carson. But Carson didn't look like he had any idea, either. "This isn't about them?" Rodney stopped himself from saying 'being killed.' "Then what's wrong?"

John shrugged again, but he didn't turn away. Rodney couldn't see much in his face, in profile. He tried to rub John's shoulder, hoping it felt comforting and supportive and not like Rodney didn't have a clue what he was doing.

"John, just tell us," Carson said.

"What's to tell?" John turned, suddenly, and faced them. His expression was masked -- something Rodney hadn't seen since long before they'd ever become lovers. "You two shouldn't be running after me, anyway. You have--" John looked away.

"Better things to do?" Rodney finished, not sure why he thought that was exactly what John was thinking. From the cold glint that appeared in John's eyes when he looked back up, Rodney realised he was absolutely correct.

Except it wasn't like two of them never paired off before. None of them had ever made a single noise about having a problem with that beyond good-natured whining about not waiting five minutes for someone to get home and join in. "You've never minded, before," Rodney pointed out.

"Yeah, well, it was never--" John cut himself off again, and Rodney was starting to think about shaking him, hard.

"Never what?" Carson prompted. "John, what's changed?"

John glared at Carson, and Rodney had to squelch the urge to step in between them. But John said, "I suppose I should just offer congratulations, and be grateful."

Rodney blinked. "Grateful?"

"Congratulations?" Carson was asking. Then his face cleared and he shook his head. "John, he was...well, mostly teasing." He frowned at Rodney, and Rodney knew Carson knew that he hadn't been, not really. Even if it was too soon to start planning an actual--

Oh.

Sometimes, very extremely rarely, Rodney felt stupid. Luckily for him, he wasn't the only one who got to be stupid right now. He glared at John. "So, you thought we were dumping you? Just because it'd be easier than arguing over whose name goes first when we hyphenate?"

Carson frowned at him, and John was just looking stubborn and angry -- and hurt, Rodney realised. Hurt enough to leave rather than stick around and bitch.

"Yeah, well, it isn't every day Rodney McKay tells someone he loves them."

"Well, I'm not very good at it," Rodney retorted. "It makes me feel sappy and self-conscious, unlike arguing in a hallway about my relationship. And it was only the second time Carson ever said it; I don't see you freaking out about that."

"He says it all the time," John snapped. Then he stopped, looking guilty.

"You what?" Rodney looked at Carson, who was looking at John.

Carson didn't answer, though, and John said, "When you're asleep. He says it -- whenever you manage to fall asleep before he does, pretty much. So I've had a chance to get used to it." His tone was bitter and -- oddly, defeated.

There was silence, then, as Rodney tried to process what he was hearing. Carson had been saying that he loved him, this whole time? Rodney stared at Carson, but Carson was still watching John.

"I didn't realise you heard me," Carson said, not sounding upset at being caught out. John just shrugged one shoulder in response.

"Why..." Rodney began.

Carson gave him a smile -- a sad, worried smile. "I didn't think you were ready to hear me say it as often as I wanted to. I didn't want to make you feel like you had to say it back."

"So you...said it when I was asleep?" Rodney found himself trying to remember if he'd ever heard it and not realised. All those times he'd fallen asleep when Carson wasn't already there.... He shook his head. "All this time?"

He'd known Carson loved him. Known since that first day when they'd seduced him -- finally -- in the hallway.

"All this time," John said, and he just sounded tired.

Rodney wanted to say something, but his brain was giving him nothing other than 'shake him, hard'. But Carson was looking at John with a rather odd sort of bemused smile on his face.

"What?" John demanded, when Carson just kept staring at him.

"So, you knew I was saying it to Rodney," Carson said. "When he was asleep, and couldn't hear me."

"Yeah," John said, nodding. Then he stopped, and his eyes grew wide.

"I love you, too, you daft git," Carson said, and he moved forward and gave John a brief kiss. Brief, Rodney thought, because John was standing there frozen, and it was difficult to kiss a person who didn't kiss you back.

When Carson moved away, he was still smiling. John just looked stunned. "You...what?"

"I think he said 'I love you,'" Rodney said. "God knows why; you're the most confounding boyfriend I've ever had. Stubborn, clueless, and really prone to making erroneous assumptions."

John narrowed his eyes at Rodney, though Rodney couldn't tell how much of his anger was sincere. "Thanks a lot," John said. "That's the most touching thing anyone has ever said to me."

Rodney waved him off. "Oh, please. I was in love with Carson for months before I actually said it out loud. I have at least two more weeks before I have to say it to you."

"Have to--" John began, then he stopped. He looked torn between arguing, and looking happy.

Embarrassed, Rodney just said, "Well, yeah. I told you, I'm not any good at this. People tend to back away and mutter when I try to make romantic declarations. So, you know." Rodney paused, glanced upwards, and said, "You have stupid hair."

John looked at him in surprise; beside him, Carson was grinning. After a second, when Rodney thought he was going to have to actually hit him, John said, "And you dress funny."

"Right now, I'm dressed like you," Rodney said. "Which, for a brilliant scientist, is rather amusing. So, point to you. Are we done with this? Radek has a Wraith signal to trace and he's going to find it without me if I don't get back up there."

"Um, I guess so." John looked from him to Carson. "Are we... I mean, we're not done, right?"

"If by that you mean, are we kicking you out, then no, we are not done," Carson said. "We love you, and you aren't going anywhere."

"Except back to the control room," Rodney pointed out. He glanced at his watch. "Elizabeth probably thinks we're having sex right now, but we really should be getting back to work."

John frowned, very slightly, at Carson. But he nodded. "Yeah, we should--"

He stopped as Rodney grabbed his jacket and pulled him in for a kiss. When Rodney let him go, he said quietly, "I do, you know."

"I...." John looked down, but didn't try to move out of Rodney's grip. "I...think I...do, too."

~~~~~

Chapter Seven

Carson groaned as he collapsed on the sofa. Ancient furniture was really quite extraordinary, he thought, and he brushed away the reflexive display that appeared in his vision. He needed to figure out how to stop the interface from giving him information he didn't really want -- and why furniture construction was under his purview in the first place, he didn't have a clue.

Whatever the reason, after a moment the display changed back to its default list. While the entries were often different, the overall shape of the repair scroll was familiar enough that Carson found it relatively easy to ignore. He rubbed his eyes, disconcerted as always at how closing his eyes made the interface display more vivid. But he was too tired to leave his eyes open.

He felt someone sit down on the couch beside him, then feet landed in his lap. Carson reached down at patted them, not taking the hint that someone wanted a footrub.

"I don't think I've ever put in this many hours in one stretch," Rodney said. "Oh, wait, yes I do. Last week."

Carson grinned. "Aye, it's been a lot of work." He pried open his eyes and glanced over. Rodney was lying back against the arm of the sofa, head back and looking like he was sound asleep already. "But the defensive systems are almost fully online, and the satellites--"

"Yes, yes, I was there. I do recall the status report we gave everyone before Teyla let us come home."

"Ordered us, you mean," Carson corrected. Rodney waved a hand as though the distinction didn't matter. Carson let his head fall back, and wondered if he shouldn't have gone directly for the bed instead of stopping here.

Then again, did it matter if he fell asleep on the sofa?

They both looked up as the door opened, and John walked in. Carson saw the bright, if exhausted, smile that appeared on Rodney's face and wondered yet again how John could have been missing that, all this time. Or had he simply not recognised it for what it most clearly was?

"How did it go?" Rodney asked. Then he sat up, looking significantly more awake. "Hey. That's new rank."

John stood just inside the door, grinning. Posing, Carson realised, and he tried to focus on the insignia on John's uniform and decipher it. His years working for the US government hadn't taught him anything more than what he'd ever known about the Scottish military ranks, and that was there were several of them.

Rodney stood up and walked over, and Carson watched with amusement as John preened. "That is a new rank!" Rodney exclaimed. "Why didn't you tell us you were getting promoted?"

"Because I didn't know?" John said. "It isn't like they told me beforehand."

"Congratulations, John," Carson said, and he gathered his strength to try to stand, as well.

John shrugged as though it was nothing. The grin on his face told another story, of course. "They said if I'm going to stay on as Atlantis' military leader, I needed to rank to back it up."

"And corresponding pay raise," Rodney put in. "Not that Carson and I can't afford to keep you, but when we do retire I'd like to buy an island to live on. Away from people who say stupid things like 'what do you mean this will blow up in our faces?'"

John raised an eyebrow. "Tough day?"

"You have no idea." Rodney shook his head. "What did the SGC say? Other than 'congratulations, Lieutenant Colonel'?"

John's grin widened for a moment before he answered. "They're sending us some backup, another unit of Marines. Also, the Daedalus is on her way; should arrive in three weeks. Hopefully they'll get here before the Wraith do."

"Oh, excellent," Rodney nodded. "Nothing like the cavalry coming right after the nick of time."

"What do you mean? The Daedalus should only take about 18 days to get here," John said, frowning slightly.

"Yes, and the Wraith will be here in two weeks. We picked them up on the long range sensors," Rodney said. "Didn't anyone tell you, when you and Dr. Weir got back?"

"I might have skipped the welcome-home briefing," John said. "Since at least two department heads were absent."

"There's nothing I could have said that Radek can't say just as well," Rodney said, waving a hand dismissively. "And if either of you tell him I said that, they will never find your bodies."

"So...should we be...doing something?" John asked, looking from Rodney to Carson.

Carson had given up trying to stand, and was leaning back on the sofa. "We've been doing something, round the clock, since you left." Carson yawned, widely. "We'll be ready for them when they show up. But backup is always nice," he added. "We only found the Hive ships on the sensors this morning," he added. "I imagine the SGC got informed about the same time you were heading back through the Gate."

"Ah." John nodded. "So...anything else I should know about?"

"Maggie hit Susan in the mess hall," Rodney said. "We think they're going to start dating after this Wraith attack is over."

John blinked. "Um. OK. I actually meant, anything I should know about-- wait, why did Maggie hit her?"

"Because she isn't any better than I am, about saying how she feels." Rodney walked over to John and thumped him on the shoulder. Carson laughed at the stupefied expression that appeared on John's face.

"I love you, too," John said.

Rodney gaped for just a second. Then he grinned. "Really?"

"Yes, really. And I'll love you more if you tell me if there's anything else I should know about the Wraith."

Rodney frowned, and Carson could see that he was trying to think. If he felt anything like Carson did, it was probably difficult going. Finally Rodney shook his head. "Weapons systems are going to be fully operational by the end of the week, unless our Chief Maintenance Officer makes good on his threat to sleep for five days solid. We're sending out a couple of crews by puddle jumper to the satellites we found throughout the solar system, to check them out for repairs. That's tomorrow -- Carson's going to be talking them through whatever repairs they need because we can't be certain he can go that far without, you know." Rodney mimed his head exploding.

"Right, we were planning to do that before we left," John nodded. "Anything I don't know about?"

"Did I tell you about Maggie?" Rodney asked.

"The Wraith, Rodney."

"Right, right. Um, I've got nothing. The Wraith are coming, we're going to be ready to blow them up, I hope, and did I mention the part where a lot of us haven't slept at all in about three days?"

"Come on," John said, and he took Rodney by the arm.

"Where are we going-- oh, the bedroom. Are we going to bed? That would be really excellent. Don't forget Carson," Rodney said, as they headed through the doorway.

"I'll go back for him," John said. "The two of you can get some sleep while I head back to the control room and get that briefing."

Carson waited on the sofa -- no point in getting up before John got back to help him. It felt like only a few moments before he felt someone tug on his arm; Carson opened his eyes with a start.

"Sorry," John said quietly. "I didn't think you'd fallen asleep yet."

"I'm awake," Carson said, though he wasn't sure he wasn't lying. He let John pull him to his feet, then he stood there, swaying, for a moment. John held him upright, and Carson gave him a smile. "Good to have you back, Colonel Sheppard."

Carson loved the grin that appeared on John's face. It worried him as it vanished quickly, though. "What's wrong?"

John shook his head. "I just....I ought to...tell you something."

"Do I need to be awake for it?"

John laughed. "Actually, tradition holds that you shouldn't be. But...I did a lot of thinking, when I was lying awake in bed, back on Earth. It's weird how hard it is to sleep without people making the bed feel cramped."

"We can get a larger bed," Carson said, frowning. He didn't have any trouble, himself, and neither Rodney nor John had said anything about there not being enough room.

But John shook his head. "It's fine. Just...I missed you guys. And...I thought you should know--"

Carson reached up, and tried to pat him on the cheek. His hand nearly missed, so he left it resting on John's cheek. "We missed you, too. Or would have, if we'd ever been home before today."

"I thought you should know," John repeated determinedly, then said, "I love you, too."

Carson felt himself swaying, again. "Oh god, we're going to die, aren't we?"

"What? No, no we-- at least, I hope not." John grinned. "I just...had an epiphany, I guess. I missed you, and I missed Rodney, and...I realised it didn't feel any different. And I hadn't told you so I figured I should."

"Say it back and come to bed," Rodney said from the doorway. "I'm tired."

"What?" Carson looked over at him, distracted as always by the sight of Rodney, ready for bed. Naked and half-awake, so utterly unselfconscious that Carson wondered if he was really the same man who still couldn't talk about sex without babbling.

"Bed. Now." Rodney gestured behind him.

"Oh. Right." Carson cleared his throat and looked at John. He could tell that John was about to say he didn't have to bother. He grinned. "You have silly hair."

"Beautiful," Rodney said. "Get undressed and get in here."

~~~

Carson yawned again and tried to focus. It was odd how focusing his eyes didn't help his vision at all, but thinking about focusing his eyes did. The blueprints for the satellite rotated a bit at his mental nudge. "You're looking for a series of green lights," he tried again.

"That, we have found," Radek's voice came over the radio.

"You could have said that in the first place," Peter's voice could be heard, but barely -- as though perhaps he hadn't meant to say it for Carson's benefit.

"They're called rogeinitti circuits," Carson replied, holding back a snap of temper. "It isn't my fault you don't speak Ancient." He didn't actually mean to be angry, and he knew that Radek and Peter would take his words for the teasing he meant them to be. But he was tired, and he was frustrated with those around him asking him what the hell he was talking about every time he used a word he didn't realise they didn't know.

As he'd hoped, there was a double laugh -- from behind him, and over the radio. Carson didn't bother telling Rodney that he and Radek sounded eerily alike. Radek would purport to be insulted, and Rodney would....well, purport to be insulted.

"How's it coming?" Dr. Weir asked, walking up to the control station where Carson was seated.

"They've found the spot where there damage appears to be centralised," Carson explained, double-checking the displays he was getting through the interface. He didn't have direct access to the satellites, but he and Murdoc had cribbed together a quick relay as soon as the team had docked with the satellite.

He wished, not for the first time, that some of the others, the actual engineers, were connected to the interface. It would save time, and reduce the chance for error if the personnel who were trained for this sort of thing could simply look for what they needed to know, instead of waiting for him to look things up and translate.

"We have found the damage," Radek interrupted. "Also, I believe I can fix it. It will take perhaps half an hour before we can re-test the satellite's diagnostic systems."

"Understood, Radek," Carson said. It was, he tried telling himself, not unlike performing surgery over a shortwave.

Of course he hadn't specialised in surgery, but that was neither here nor there.

"David, how is it going on your end?" Carson asked.

There was a pause, then David St. Arnaud responded. "Looks real good, Dr. Beckett. We got us a whole lotta fried circuits, ripped off panels, and dead hatchways between us and the rest of the satellite."

Carson couldn't help but grin. He'd never worked closely with any of the engineers before asking them to assist with the repair work. David had leapt at the chance, asking to be reassigned full-time to the maintenance department. Carson knew several of the others had made the same request, Radek included. But Rodney had dug in his heels at losing Radek from the physics department.

John had mediated that particular discussion in private, which had ended when Rodney pouted and told Carson that if he had to work all day surrounded by morons, he was going to be too pissed off to want to ever have sex again. Carson hadn't believed him, but John had over-ruled and told Carson he had to share.

It had turned out well enough; working with David had proved to be enjoyable, and the shared labor had gone a long way towards making Carson feel like he wasn't completely in over his head.

Normally, at any rate. Now, talking two teams of engineers through the repair of weapons satellites on the edge of the solar system, Carson felt like perhaps fate had made the wrong choice when it had picked him.

"Do you think you can repair it, David?"

"We'll see what we can do, but I ain't making any promises."

"Understood," Carson said. He sat back to let them do their work, and glanced up at Dr. Weir. "We believe the first satellite will be back online soon. It should be able to destroy a handful of Hive ships with its available power. If we get the other two working again, we'll have enough to protect ourselves from the Wraith for some time -- unless they destroy the satellites, of course."

Dr. Weir nodded. "We won't assume they'll protect us completely," she said. "Though the shield should do that."

"Aye." Carson nodded, glancing at the readout from the shield that appeared. "It'll hold indefinitely. Though it won't stop the Wraith from coming at us."

"We can't rely on the same tactics the Ancients used," John put in. "They eventually lost -- Atlantis wasn't destroyed, but they didn't get to stay here and live large, either. We'll have to come up with something new if we want to defeat the Wraith instead of just withstand their attacks."

"Once the Daedalus gets here, we'll have something the Ancients didn't have," Weir said, giving him a nod. "They didn't have war ships, just the puddle jumpers. We can take the fight to the Wraith." She paused, giving them all a look that was intended to be purely encouraging, but Carson thought they could all see the real worry in her eyes. "Hopefully it will be enough."

"They won't know what hit 'em," John said, giving her a cocky smile.

"If they get here in time, of course," Rodney put in.

"We can hold out for a week," John said. "Between the shields and the weapons systems here in Atlantis and on the satellites -- the Wraith won't stand a chance. The Daedalus will get here in time for the victory party."

Weir smiled, amused, as she looked at Carson. "And we owe it all to you, Dr. Beckett."

Carson felt himself blush. "All in a day's work," he said. Then, more seriously, he said, "It isn't me doing all the work. I couldn't have got the satellites working in time even with Murdoc telling me what to do."

He knew it was a mistake as soon as the words left his mouth. Weir's face froze, then very slowly her smile melted into an upset frown. "I know Dr. Collin said there is no evidence that this thing is alive, or influencing you in any way."

With a sigh, Carson nodded. "She sent the scans back to the SGC and Dr. Lee concurs with her assessment. As do I -- it isn't alive, Dr. Weir."

"I still don't like it," she said, shaking her head.

"You think I do?" Carson snapped. "Having this bloody thing--" He caught himself, too late. He was just too tired and worried to control a loose tongue.

He felt hands on his shoulders, squeezing briefly, then simply laying there in support. He couldn't tell if it was Rodney or John, and found, with a flash of surprise, that he didn't care. It was one of them, and he leaned back against whichever of them was standing behind him. From the lack of flak vest, he decided it was probably Rodney.

"Once the Wraith are taken care of, maybe we can get back to trying to figure out a way to remove the interface." Weir gave him a reassuring smile, though he knew she didn't believe it any more than he did. But he appreciated her words, regardless.

The maintenance display shifted, then, away from the satellite blueprints. Carson didn't recognise the equipment it was showing, and the specs didn't make any sense. He tagged it for later, and the satellite systems returned.

"I think we may have it," Radek said, his voice subdued, despite his obvious excitement. "We are going to run diagnostic again. Carson, please let us know if there are any problems."

"Aye, I will." Carson started to sit up, then realised it didn't really matter if he sat up, leaned back, or lay down on the floor. He felt Rodney's hand ruffle his hair as he settled back against him.

He brought up the real-time display for the satellite's systems, and watched as Radek powered it up. Circuitry lit up one by one, and he could trace the flow of power through the relay.

"It appears we have power," Radek said, no longer subdued.

"Everything's active," Peter added. "As far as we can tell, the satellite is in working order."

Carson saw Weir looking at him, and he looked over the display one more time. It looked fine to him.

Everything is functioning properly, Murdoc reported.

Carson repeated the words, and a cheer went up through the control room. "Excellent," Dr. Weir said. "Maybe Dr. Zelenka and his team can go lend Dr. St. Arnaud a hand?"

"Since they got the easy one," David replied, "That seems only fair."

"You chose satellite," Radek's voice returned.

"I didn't know it'd be so busted up!" David retorted.

Weir grinned, and said, "Report back when you're ready to leave, Dr. Zelenka. Weir out." She turned off her radio; Carson left his on.

David and Radek's voices drifted into the background and the satellite display switched over to the one David's team was working on. Carson could see the extent of the damage as David uncovered it and the information was relayed through Murdoc's link. It was severe, but it appeared repairable, It might take a few days, but they still had time.

Carson closed his eyes and let his head fall back. He'd slept last night, but it was only the second night that week he'd done so. John and Rodney hadn't fared much better, and Carson was hoping the Wraith would come and go, already, just so he could get some decent sleep.

Rodney rubbed his shoulders, and Carson bit back a groan. There was still so much to do, to get ready. The new Marines had arrived two days ago, and John was still getting the new pilots trained and all the Marines familiarised with Wraith fighting techniques and the outlay of the city. Rodney was coordinating the personnel checking the city's power systems, making sure the shield would hold and the internal systems wouldn't be affected by any attack. Carson felt like he was everywhere, selecting which ancient systems could be brought online before the Wraith arrived and getting them repaired and installed.

They would probably be ready when the Hive ships came. But there was so much more they could do, so many things listed on the repair scrolls that Carson could see might make a difference. Obvious things as well as the minor, seemingly inconsequential ones, might fail, or be needed and not available.

Carson felt himself tensing up again as the repair scroll began to move. Items highlighted in response to his queries until it seemed like more of them were red, than not.

"Carson, come on," Rodney said.

"Hmm? What?" Carson opened his eyes.

"We need a break." He nudged Carson's shoulder.

Carson stared. "You are telling me we need a break? God, what happened? Did I fall into a mirror universe while I wasn't looking?"

Rodney scowled. "No. I'm merely repeating what John said. But I happen to agree with him, because generally 'breaks' involve going back to our quarters and not being disturbed for an hour. Or possibly they involve food." He looked over at John. "Which did you mean?"

"He meant both," Weir said, quickly. "And two hours, unless Dr. St. Arnaud needs Carson." She looked stern, as though Carson would have any control over whether David called.

"He will have me," Radek said. "We will not need Carson. Go, take him home, make him sleep. He speaks in tongues when he is tired."

"I do not!" Carson protested. Even he could hear how deep his brogue had got, though, and didn't need Rodney's sudden delighted grin to tell him he'd been nearly unintelligible. Carson scowled. Carson felt Rodney tugging at his arm again, and John stepped forward to help. "All right, all right. I'm going. You don't need to drag me."

Rodney looked at John, and asked, "He wants to milk a cow?"

"I thought he said he wanted to dance under a boat."

Carson glared at them both, and stood up. He opened his mouth to tell them off, then stopped. He knew perfectly well what they really thought of his brogue -- and the best punishment was to say nothing at all. He clamped his mouth shut and walked away, Rodney and John falling in beside him with equally disappointed expressions.

It will be fine. The maintenance display faded to its barest minimum. Carson wasn't sure he believed him, but it was nice to hear.

~~~~

Epilogue

Carson stood in the gate room, along with Rodney, John, Radek, and Peter. They were in a slight semi-circle around Dr. Weir who was facing the Colonel.

"So let me get this straight," Colonel Caldwell said. His ship was parked on the city's East Pier, and he and his command crew had come directly to the control center. Caldwell was staring at Dr. Weir in something that looked like disbelief. "The first three Hive ships showed up, and you destroyed them."

"The satellites' automated systems did, yes," Weir corrected.

"Then the two Hive ships that showed up the next day destroyed the first satellite and were in turn destroyed by the second satellite."

Weir nodded, as though she hadn't just told Caldwell this very thing an hour ago when the Daedalus had arrived in the sytem.

"The next Hive ship destroyed the satellite, got blown up by the third satellite, which was then destroyed by the fourth Hive ship," Caldwell continued.

"Technically it was the seventh Hive ship," Rodney interjected.

Caldwell spared him a sharp glance before turning back to Weir. "Then, when the next group of Hive ships arrived, your shields and ground-based systems worked perfectly."

"We could have held them off, well, for centuries," Weir said.

Caldwell frowned. "So why the hell did you blow up Atlantis?"

"We thought it would be better to get rid of the Wraith, than simply wait them out." Weir grinned, and looked back at her gathered personnel. "It was Drs. McKay and Zelenka who pulled it off, using the cloaking devices from the puddle jumpers to disguise the city while we detonated a bomb in the stratosphere."

"The Wraith thought we'd destroyed ourselves before letting Atlantis fall into their hands," John said. He added, with a smug grin, "It was my idea."

"And there'll be no living with you after this," Carson muttered, but he gave John a fond smile.

"Someone has to have an ego to match Rodney's," John replied.

"Your ego will never match mine," Rodney said. "My ego can defeat yours with one synapse tied behind its back."

"There's one more thing I don't understand," Caldwell said, interrupting them as though he had pre-teen sons at home.

"What's that, Colonel?" Dr. Weir asked.

There was a slight grin on his face when he asked, "Why did you need us?"

"We wanted to play with the Daedalus' hyper drive," Rodney said. "I think we can install a miniature one in the puddle jumpers."

Weir turned slowly and looked at him. "You never said that."

"I just thought of it. Can we take at look at your engines?" Rodney asked.

Caldwell turned a frown on Dr. Weir. She shrugged. "I find that mostly, it's easiest to just nod and get out of their way."

"Dibs on primary propulsion!" Radek said, the moment Caldwell began to nod.

"Cheater!" Rodney retorted, and followed Radek out of the control room and, Carson guessed, towards the East Pier.

Carson turned to John, and asked, "Well, he's going to be gone for a few weeks."

"It'll be nice and quiet," John said, nodding. They looked at each other for a short moment.

"Want to go after him?" Carson asked.

John grinned. "If he's going to be modifying my puddle jumpers, hell yeah."

"Try not to let them blow themselves up," Dr. Weir called after them, as they headed off after Rodney.

Carson stopped, and turned around. "Elizabeth, I'm a doctor, not a miracle worker."

Then he turned back and ran.


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