torch, flambeau@strangeplaces.net
Feb 8 - April 17

Disclaimer: Back to borrowing other people's pretty, pretty property once again. Whee! Contains very vague spoilers/references for episodes up to and including 1:15 (Before I Sleep). Many thanks to elynross and Merry. Do not archive without permission.

About a lamp

The first night, Rodney rolled over in bed, put his arm around the warm body next to him, and went on sleeping.

The second night, he stirred to near-consciousness when someone curled up behind him and breathed into his shoulder, and he had to shift around a bit and scrunch the pillow to get comfortable.

The third night, an elbow in the ribs made him blink, and when he did, he saw a shock of dark hair over sharp, pretty features. "You're not supposed to be here," Rodney said.

"I'm not," Sheppard said in a sleepy, annoyed, reasonable voice, tucked his head under Rodney's chin, and began to snore peacefully against Rodney's collarbone.

On the third day, Rodney found a new artifact in his room. It stood on his bedside table, a twist of metal and crystals, quite aesthetically appealing but also entirely inexplicable, unless Atlantis had for some reason decided to practise spontaneous generation of matter, specifically abstract art. This seemed unlikely, as Rodney said to Elizabeth when he brought the artifact with him into an early morning meeting about whether they could trade genetic analysis for food with the Yach'atra on M89-235.

"Are you sure it's just meant to be ornamental?" Elizabeth said, looking at it. "And if you're not sure, is the middle of the conference table really the best place for something that might decide to blow up in our faces?"

"Of course I'm not sure," Rodney said impatiently. "If I already knew everything about it, I wouldn't have brought it here to tell you all about the mysterious new object I've found."

"Doesn't look all that exciting to me," Ford said. "Maybe you should just take it down to the lab."

Teyla tipped her head to one side and regarded the artifact with solemn eyes. "It looks like a lamp."

"It is a lamp," Sheppard drawled, coming into the meeting late and looking as though he had just rolled out of bed, with a red pillow crease across his cheekbone. "It's the lamp that used to be on my desk until this morning. Would anyone like to explain to me why you're all staring at it like that?"

Rodney frowned. "It's just a lamp? Are you sure? Have you tried—"

"It's a lamp," Sheppard said. He waved a hand towards it, and one of the crystals began to glow. "Mind if I take it back to my room now, if you're done stealing it?"

"I haven't been stealing it," Rodney said. "And I hoped it would turn out to be something more interesting than a lamp. Why would a lamp suddenly appear in my room? I don't need a lamp. I have lamps."

"Probably just a prank," Ford said. "Things have been kind of quiet lately."

"A prank? Isn't it kind of pointless for a prank? And stupid? And not even funny, and did I mention pointless?"

"Maybe somebody just wanted to see the Dr. McKay aerobics class," Sheppard said, and Rodney realized that he was using both hands to point out, emphatically, how not funny this was. He glared at Sheppard and sat down, and the crystal stopped glowing.

Elizabeth cleared her throat. "Now, if we can all tear our attention away from the lamp."

The fourth night, Rodney turned over and reached for the warm body next to him, only there was no body there, and he kept reaching, and kept reaching, until he fell out of bed.

On the fourth day, Rodney had a large, tender bruise just above the elbow. He snapped at everyone in the lab for being late, for being wrong, and for being in his way, until Lyngby snapped back and Pinheiro burst out crying. Zelenka handed him a bag of Athosian trail mix and suggested that since nothing in the lab was literally or metaphorically on fire, this might be a good time for Rodney to take a nice long walk in one of the unexplored areas of the city that he always talked about wanting to get a better look at. Alone.

"Yes, and then I'll be horribly killed by a mutated nanovirus or an energy shark or Ancient falling masonry. Thank you." Rodney peered into the bag to see if there were any of those greenish nuts mixed in.

"And we will all cry a lot at your funeral," Zelenka assured him, patting his arm. "Flowers, singing. Take some marines with you."

"I don't think so." He pocketed the trail mix. "They'd just get my last words wrong."

Rodney spent four hours wandering around one of the segments of Atlantis that had flooded on their arrival, finding out very little apart from the fact that salt water was just as bad for Ancient machinery as it was for modern, and also that dried pepento fruit tasted rather like apricots. He found no labs, no human beings in suspended animation, and no useful technology. It was about as exciting as investigating a child-proofed kitchen. Whenever he passed a window, he could see a puddlejumper zooming through the bright blue sky, doing all kinds of fancy maneuvers that would probably have looked better on something with wings.

The bag of trail mix turned out to be nearly half greenish nuts. In retaliation, Rodney arranged for Zelenka to supervise Kavanagh's work on the waste processing system.

The fifth night, they were tangled so close together that Rodney woke sweating and gasping for air. He pushed Sheppard away a little, trying to cool down, and Sheppard made a complaining noise and wriggled in close again, rubbing his whole body against Rodney's. Rodney shifted, Sheppard pushed, and soon enough they were grinding together, both of them sweaty and out of breath now, until they'd made a very satisfying mess of each other and the sheets.

On the fifth day, they went to M3X-789, where the stargate stood on a tall hill in the center of a ring of flat raised stones about ten feet high. "Cool," Ford said. "It's like Stonehenge."

Teyla found the writing, carved into another, smaller stone outside the ring, and it was difficult to make out and impossible to read, so they documented it as best they could for Elizabeth and the linguistics crew to look at, and Ford told Teyla that it was probably runes because Vikings had built Stonehenge, and Rodney left Sheppard explaining to Teyla that Ford might have slept through most of his non-military-related education, and wandered down the hill, following a narrow path in the tall grass and some pretty interesting energy readings.

Halfway down the slope, in a direct line from the back of the stargate, he found a low stone passageway leading into the hill. It was very simple, just two flat slabs of stone for doorposts and a third laid across them as a lintel, but it looked sturdy enough, and the entrance was clear of grass. Rodney shone a light into the tunnel. The energy readings were clearly coming from inside the hill.

Rodney got down on his hands and knees and crawled into the passageway. The earth was packed smooth, with barely any gravel to dig into his palms. After about fifteen feet, he came out into a low-ceilinged stone chamber. Rodney sat back on his heels and shone his flashlight about. A skeleton was lying on a flat stone slab in the center of the chamber. Across its ribcage lay a sword that looked as though Old Father Time had used it for a toothpick, and between its feet stood a ZPM. Rodney grinned.

The radio crackled. "McKay! McKay, where are you?"

"The bronze age, I think," Rodney said, poking gingerly at the hilt of the sword. "I'll be right out."

He crawled out again with the ZPM clutched to his chest and scanned it as he walked back up the hill. Clouds had come up to cover the sun while he'd been visiting with the dead. Sheppard came striding down from the stone circle, scowling. "Where the hell have you been? Wait, is that a ZPM?"

"Yes," Rodney said, petting it. "Almost fully charged."

Sheppard narrowed his eyes. "And you just happened to find it lying around here in the grass right by the gate?"

Rodney scratched his chin with his free thumb. "Not exactly. Well, almost. The previous owner didn't seem to have any use for it."

Sheppard opened his mouth. Thunder rumbled in the distance, and Rodney turned his head to see a wall of silvery rain rush towards them. Within moments, they were drenched. "Let's head back!" Sheppard shouted. He gestured up the hill towards the stargate.

Ford and Teyla were already waiting by the DHD, and moments later, they stepped through to the Atlantis gateroom. Rodney wrung his sleeve out on the floor and patted the ZPM under his arm. "That was almost too easy."

"What, you wanted explosions and running and people shooting at us? I'll have to schedule that for next time."

Rodney glared. "Please don't go to any trouble." He tightened his grip on the ZPM as Elizabeth came to meet them and usher them into the conference room for a damp debriefing, and went on holding it as he described where he'd found it.

Elizabeth shook her head. "Grave-robbing?"

"I didn't know it was a grave when I crawled in," Rodney said. "It wasn't exactly signposted."

"And the dead guy wasn't a clue or anything," Ford said, sotto voce.

Rodney glared at him before looking at Elizabeth again. "Look, the ZPM wasn't doing anyone any good where it was. It wasn't doing anything, period."

"We didn't pick up any signs of human life anywhere near the gate," Sheppard said.

"My people have never met anyone on that planet," Teyla added. "We believe it to have been abandoned for a long time."

Elizabeth shook her head again, but now she was smiling. "In that case, good work," she said.

(Elizabeth, Lyngby, and Salvatierra eventually got enough pieces of the text copied from the stone translated to say that it concerned a horrible fate that would be visited upon anyone who disturbed the rest of some great leader or other. Rodney pointed out that he felt perfectly fine, and if that rain shower as the team had left was the best the curse could do, obviously it had worn down a bit over time. The ZPM was installed in one of the generator rooms without a hitch, although Lyngby claimed that there was a cranky-looking man with a bronze sword and long drooping mustaches sitting in a corner of the room, and refused to go in alone.)

The sixth night, Rodney muttered a sleepy complaint when his arm went numb. He poked Sheppard into rolling over, and settled against his back, his tingling arm draped over Sheppard's chest, hand tucked in by Sheppard's shoulder. Then he trailed his hand back down over Sheppard's chest again, skimmed across Sheppard's belly, and curved his fingers around Sheppard's cock, feeling it harden against his palm until Sheppard's hips began to move and Rodney shifted his grip, stroking and squeezing.

On the sixth day, Rodney came into the mess hall and spotted Sheppard and Ford at a table at the far end together with Bates and a number of food trays. Bates melted away when Rodney stomped over, but Sheppard looked up and gave him an insufferably pleased smile. "Morning."

Rodney put the lamp down on the table in a pointed manner. Two of the crystals were glowing, and he turned them off with an annoyed thought. "Not my favorite time of day."

"Some of us have been up for hours," Sheppard said. "Got a whole new schedule worked out with Bates about how to rotate personnel between offworld and security duty."

"How thrilling for you." Rodney sat down and picked up an untouched bread roll from one of the trays. "While you're sitting here being all military and self-congratulatory, how would it be if you imposed some military discipline and did something about this lamp thing?"

Sheppard handed Rodney a pot of honey with a sticky spoon in. "Yeah, I noticed it was gone when I woke up."

"I don't see why you think it's our problem," Ford said. "If someone's bugging you, doesn't it make more sense for it to be one of your people?"

Rodney glared. "Look. The people on my immediate team have at least rudimentary intelligence, they're extremely overworked, and half of them don't have a sense of humor at all, as far as I can tell." He got honey on his fingers, and licked them clean. "They make Kavanagh look like a one-man Mardi Gras krewe."

Sheppard snorted. "Sure, but what about the other half?"

"Well, to take a few not even remotely random examples, Papadopoulos writes lab reports in hexameter, Pinheiro is perfecting the art of sleeping with her eyes open, Zelenka's got a still set up somewhere and a plan for how to make moonshine taste like Becherovka, and Lyngby—"

There was a crash and a loud shout, and a very large man with butter-colored hair came running away from the kitchen, pursued by a small, wiry woman with an Angela Davis 'fro and an apron, wielding a cleaver that had been painted all over the blade with miniature Danish flags. "I'm sorry!" the man called, laughing and dodging chairs. "I didn't know it was your favorite!"

"—Lyngby is fully occupied with trying to get California Mae to notice him."

Sheppard raised a skeptical eyebrow. "So are you saying your people wouldn't play a prank on you?"

"Of course they would. My point is, they'd be embarrassed to do something as boring as this. If Ferguson carries through with her threat of painting my room with a mural of My Little Ponies being eaten by Cthulhu as an allegory of how I crush all independent thought among my subordinates, I will punish her mercilessly. In the meantime, do something about this lamp thing."

Ford looked thoughtful. "Maybe we should have a word with Zelenka. People shouldn't be making moonshine. Not when they could be making beer."

"Believe me," Rodney said, "if he could find a way to make Pilsner Urquell, he would."

The seventh night, he woke up because Sheppard was licking the inside of his thigh, higher and higher, then lipping gently at his balls. "That feels really nice," Rodney said dreamily, and spread his legs wider. "Keep doing — that—" Sheppard ran his tongue along Rodney's cock. "Or that. Or — oh my God — anything you like, really, don't let me — stop you — oh!"

On the seventh day, they went to M64-553, because Simpson and Grodin had unearthed something in the Ancient database that pointed to some kind of outpost of supplemental data storage hidden in something that Simpson called a lost temple and Grodin called a branch library. Also, according to Teyla, the locals might be willing to trade for food. Rodney packed a toolkit and every type of cable and interface device he could think of. Sheppard packed a few extra marines. "I thought the Tarwanish were friendly," Rodney said, stumbling over Leger's feet as he went into the jumper.

"They are," Teyla said, smiling up at him from her seat. "But they live some distance away from the stargate, and you are going in the opposite direction, where this — library? — is located."

"Apparently there's some wildlife," Sheppard said without turning around from the controls of the jumper. The rear hatch closed.

"Wildlife," Rodney said and sat down abruptly as the jumper lifted, dropping his toolbox on Leger's toes. "Are we talking look at the cute little Bambi over there type wildlife, or more of the run for your life before Godzilla eats you type?"

"You'll have Ford and Leger and Klepperman with you," Sheppard said as they hovered before the gate and the silvery circle of the event horizon. "You'll be perfectly safe."

"I want you to put that on my tombstone," Rodney said. "He was perfectly safe up until the moment when he was eaten by the—" The last word demolecularized in his throat.

The stargate on M64-553 stood in the middle of a prairie, with tall grass that waved in the wind and no sign of human habitation. Sheppard flew straight out across the grassland until they saw the first line of mountains in the distance, and Rodney pried Ford out of the shotgun seat so he could map Grodin and Simpson's instructions onto the sensor readings.

"I'm not seeing anything out there," Ford said, leaning over Rodney's shoulder. "Are you sure we're in the right place?"

"Twelve degrees, um, that way," Rodney said. "Do you see the—"

"I see it, I see it."

"I don't see anything, either," Teyla said, leaning over Rodney's other shoulder, and then the jumper banked and the cleft became visible, a deep slash in the flat, even ground, fringed with grass and a few wildflowers.

They landed where the cleft was at its widest, and Rodney looked in dismay at the jagged rock walls. "I'm starting to think we should make rope ladders part of the standard mission equipment."

"Have fun," Sheppard said with a wide grin. "Maintain radio contact. Green and Teyla and I will come back and pick you up when we've talked to the Tarwanish."

"I don't want a military funeral," Rodney said. "And do not under any circumstances let anyone sing Amazing Grace."

"I don't think you have to worry about that," Ford said, and picked up Rodney's toolbox. "Come on, now, let's get moving."

As it turned out, there were ledges on one side that made the descent easy even without a rope ladder. Rodney and Ford clambered down, leaving Leger and Klepperman to keep watch. "There should be an entrance here somewhere, on the other side— Is that a doorway?"

"I think so." Ford swung himself and the toolbox over a gap in the ledge. "Yup." He disappeared inside, and Rodney hurried after him to make sure he didn't touch anything.

The doorway led into a narrow corridor, hewn into the rock, that turned sharply left, then right, then left again. They moved slowly, flashlights playing over the walls and floor, until they came out into a small, square chamber. It seemed empty, and badly worn down, but in the far right corner there was a shallow alcove, with a bit of Ancient writing on the wall above that hadn't entirely been worn away by the passing millennia. Rodney went over and looked inside. "There's a control panel here."

"Yeah?" Ford came over. "You know how to make it work?"

"Yes." Rodney put a hand on the panel and thought really, really hard about making it work. Nothing happened. "Well, it was worth a try," he said out loud, and turned to hand his pencil flashlight to Ford. "Don't move unless I tell you to." He put his laptop down on the floor, straightened up, and leaned closer to the panel, trying to compare the setup with the workstations in the Atlantis control room, muttering directions to Ford over his shoulder and running commentary to himself under his breath.

"You know, you've been really cheerful lately," Ford said.

Rodney sighed. "When I asked you to move to the left and shine that light on the panel, I meant that I wanted you to move to the left and shine that light on the panel, not that I wanted you to stand behind my back and pretend you're a mood ring. Are you going to be of any assistance at all, or do I have to illuminate this piece of technology with the brilliance of my mind alone?"

"See?" Ford grinned. "Cheerful." He angled the flashlight over Rodney's shoulder. "You're not gonna do something that makes it rain again, are you?"

"Not unless I can make it extremely localized, right over your head." Rodney blew the dust and grit off the panel controls and studied them. Then he ran his fingertips over the edge of the panel. "Hand me a screwdriver."

Ford handed him a screwdriver. "I never knew being an assistant to a genius astrophysicist would be a lot like being a carpenter's apprentice."

Rodney pried the cover halfway off the panel. Then it stuck. "Well, this is a mess." He bent down and tried to see in under the cover. "Get me some light down here."

"Your head's in the way," Ford said, leaning over Rodney. "Is it broken?"

"I assume you're talking about the panel," Rodney said, scrabbling, "and it's just misaligned, but I can't quite get my fingers under the... Damn." He straightened up, narrowly avoiding Ford's elbow. "Let me see your hands." Ford stared at him. "Your hands. No. No good. Go up and get Leger, because I assume her hands are smaller than Klepperman's, and send her down here to help me."

"Okay." Ford handed one of the flashlights to Rodney and turned towards the exit, tapping his headset. "Leger? We're trading places. I'm coming up to the surface. I hope you're ready to—" His voice faded as he disappeared into the corridor.

Rodney bent over the panel again, managing to shift the cover another half an inch back. He tried to reach with his fingers, and then tried to poke with the flashlight instead.

The flashlight went out. There was a spark, a hiss, and a loud grating sound, and Rodney clutched at the edge of the panel as he realized he was moving. The rumble of stone against stone seemed to go on forever, and when it finally stopped, Rodney let go of the panel and staggered sideways, hitting his shoulder on something. "Ow. Ow. Oh, fuck." He slapped at his headset. "Ford! Ford!" No response. "Leger? Klepperman?" Rodney drew a deep breath. "Anyone?" He drew another deep breath. "Okay. Don't panic. Being buried alive under several tons of rock is not the same thing as certain doom. Oh my God, I'm going to die. I'm going to die and Halling is going to recite inspirational Athosian poetry over my empty coffin."

He stretched his hands out carefully and tried to find the panel again, and scraped his fingers against the wall. He'd lost the panel, he'd lost the flashlight, and he'd lost radio contact. Rodney closed his eyes, thought very hard about experimental gene therapy, opened his eyes again, and visualized the lights coming on.

Rather to his surprise, they did.

He was in another rock-cut chamber, about twice the size of the first one, standing next to an alcove with a panel in it. The same alcove, and the same broken panel, with his flashlight sticking out of it, so he hadn't actually lost either of them. The entire alcove must have rotated, with him in it.

The room was bare, with only a narrow stone bench on one side, or possibly a ledge that no one had bothered to hack away, but the entire far wall was floor to ceiling computer banks, panels, monitors, some of which had started to glow at the same time the lights came on. Rodney turned around and saw that yes, his laptop was still with him, although the toolbox had been left behind. That was okay, though, because he had a couple of cables in his pocket, and he recognized some of those controls, there should be an interface that... He picked up the laptop, went over to the wall, and started to work.

Some time later, he heard a muffled thump. Rodney straightened up, turned around, and realized it was coming from the wall with the revolving alcove. He went back across the room and tried to thump back, but the only thing he had to beat against the rock was his flashlight, which wouldn't come loose from under the panel cover, and his hands, which he thought would be rather more useful unbroken.

Pulling on the stuck flashlight didn't make the alcove rotate back again. Rodney looked around the room again. The wall opposite the stone bench wasn't quite blank; there was an inscription in the middle, at about door-lintel height, that looked a lot like the inscription above the alcove in the first room. Rodney nodded to himself, went over to his laptop, which had finished downloading and was bursting at its virtual seams, and unhooked it from the databank. He tried to get the system to give him room specs, but apparently these computers didn't know where they were. Tucking his laptop under his arm, Rodney stared hard at the wall and thought door. Nothing happened. He went over and ran his fingertips over the inscription, and then over the wall beneath it, feeling for joins, weak spots, trigger points. Nothing.

Rodney sighed to himself and sat down on the stone bench. "So," he said conversationally to the room, "I'd really like to get out of here before I run out of oxygen or Sh— somebody tries to blow up a wall. Any ideas?"

The stone bench started to sink beneath him. Rodney swung his legs to the side before his knees hit his chin and sprawled in a very undignified position, laptop held tight to his chest, as the bench slid down through several meters of rock before reaching another open space. Enough light filtered through from the room above for Rodney to see that he was in a passageway. One end sloped upwards; the other, right by the bench, sloped down for a few meters to where it was closed off with a sturdy door.

"Knowledge dungeon roll," Rodney muttered to himself and started walking up the passageway. The slope grew steeper and steeper and the light fainter and fainter, until he hit his toes on the first step of a narrow flight of stairs. Rodney went on climbing, one hand on the wall. He thought light again, but it didn't work. In complete darkness, he reached the top of the stairs and skinned his knuckles on something that turned out to be a metal ladder. His radio headset crackled, and he stopped blowing on his knuckles and tapped it. "Ford?"

"McKay!" Not Ford. "Don't worry, we'll get you out of there. Just sit tight."

"I'm not a damsel in distress, Major. I don't need to be rescued." Rodney looked around the passageway. Still dark. "I just need to figure out how to get out of here."

"We'll blow the wall if we have to."

"I knew it," Rodney said. "You'll damage the computer equipment. I'm not in that room any more, anyway. Just give me a little time here." He traced his hands over the wall on each side of the ladder. Something hit his shoulder, and he jumped, and hit his hand on the wall again. "Ow. Ow, ow, ow."

"McKay? McKay! Is everything all right?"

Rodney tugged on the chain and heard a grating sound. He tugged again, harder, and a thin beam of light fell in from above. When he looked up, little clods of dirt fell on his face.

He spat out the one that had ended up in his mouth. "Everything's fine. I'm about to get out of here, about two hundred meters away from where you are, so I suggest you get back to the surface." Rodney put the laptop down on his feet and pulled on the chain, getting covered in loose, dry earth as the thin line of light became a square opening and a small white flower drifted down through the shaft to land at his feet.

Climbing a perfectly vertical metal ladder with a laptop clutched under one arm was not easy. Rodney tried it twice, getting two and three rungs up, respectively. Then he stuck the laptop under his shirt, tucking one end into his pants, tied the cables around his waist, and climbed very, very carefully, leaning backwards out into the shaft, and stopping to tug his pants up every now and then.

Once he reached the top of the shaft, he crawled out into the grass and unwrapped himself from the laptop again before standing up. When he turned around, he could see the jumper, and if it was next to the cleft, he'd come quite a bit farther than he'd thought underground. He could see small figures coming up next to the jumper, and waved at them.

"Okay, McKay, get back here — shit! Get down!"

"What?" Rodney turned around and saw a shadow move very, very fast across the sunlit grass.

"Get down!"

Rodney took two steps, stumbled on something, and fell flat. Something swept past him, incredibly close, the wind of its passing stirring up the grass and the dirt and getting grit in his eyes once again. He blinked desperately and saw feathers, giant wings, a steep rising flight curve, banking—

"I take it back," Rodney said, hoping his headset was still on. "I really, really need to be rescued. Right now would be good. Feel free to hurry. Bring guns. Big ones."

"We're on our way," Sheppard snapped. "Just stay down."

"Oh, and I thought I'd jump up and down and say here, nice birdie— Oh, God." That giant shadow raced towards him again. "I'm going to die."

Golden lightning streaked across the sky, and there was a loud, angry squawk and a distant boom. Rodney rolled over to see something very large flying away towards the mountains. When he stood up, he saw a black scorch mark in the smooth line of the prairie, and moments later, the jumper touched down next to him. Rodney picked up the laptop and brushed the dirt off it and hoped it wasn't broken.

The rear hatch opened, and Teyla and Ford came out. "I hope we didn't injure it," Teyla said. "They're a protected species."

Rodney stared at her. "You were worried about the bird?"

"I am very happy to see that you are all right," she said, giving him a sincere, serious look and putting a hand on his arm. "Naturally I was concerned for you as well."

Rodney stared at her some more. Something about the faint curve of her lips was unsettling. "Naturally."

"Come on, get into the jumper before that thing comes back and brings the whole family," Ford said, ushering them both up the ramp.

Rodney ignored Leger, Klepperman and Green. He went up to the front of the jumper and glared at Sheppard. "Wildlife," he said. "Perfectly safe."

"If you'd stayed where you were instead of pretending to be Professor Liedenbrock—"

Rodney frowned. "Who?"

"Never mind. Sit down, we're taking off."

Rodney sat down and thought for a moment, chasing the elusive reference. The puddlejumper lifted and swung around, heading back towards the stargate. "He went down, not up, idiot."

"Yeah, but he had your charming personality." Sheppard didn't take his eyes from the jumper controls. "You okay?"

"Apart from nearly getting eaten by Big Bird? I'm fine," Rodney said, uncurled his cramping fingers from around the laptop, and dialed Atlantis.

The eighth night, he was pressed down into the mattress by Sheppard's full weight draped across his body, held fast by strong hands gripping his arms and by tiny biting kisses to his neck and throat, his chest, his nipples — Rodney grunted and pushed up against that warm strength — his ribs and his belly and then it wasn't the weight keeping him down any more, just that hot insistent mouth kissing and licking and sucking and he could feel his throat work but not hear the noise he was making and then his entire world whited out in a blinding rush, just went away.

Then he was back in his bed again, pressed down into the mattress by Sheppard's full weight, barely able to breathe, held fast by strong hands and little biting kisses that moved lower and lower, neck and throat and chest and nipples and oh, and oh God, and then it happened all over again.

On the eighth day, Rodney handed Sheppard his lamp without a word. When he got into his lab, someone had put up a still of a terrified-looking Tippi Hedren next to his desk. Rodney took it down, folded it into a plane and threw it at Zelenka, who was humming to himself in a pleased Czech kind of way. When the paper plane hit him he said, without looking up, "Wasn't me. I have better things to do."

"Dare I hope that they involve actual work?" Rodney came over to look over Zelenka's shoulder at whatever was causing the happy humming.

"Well. It will be good for morale." Zelenka tapped a finger against the screen. "This was in the Ancient database. All the equipment is still here, intact. If I can modify the process, work with grain from the mainland—"

"I can't let you use your time in this lab to make beer," Rodney said. He leaned closer, looking at the schematics. "You'd better set up in that place on the far side of the jumper bay, two levels down, you know the one?"

"Next to the storage room with all the empty glass bottles?" Zelenka grinned up at him. "Excellent idea, Dr. McKay. Genius at work."

"That's what I'm here for," Rodney said virtuously, and went back to his own workstation.

The ninth night, Rodney was fucking Sheppard with two fingers, quite slowly, and Sheppard was cursing and swearing, on a rising pitch, gasping for breath between each word, then between each syllable. He twisted and arched, and his eyes rolled back in his head when he came. He was beautiful.

On the ninth day, Rodney looked at the lamp on his bedside table, shook his head, and left it where it was. On his way to the gateroom, he ran into Kavanagh, who was looking smugger than usual and stuck a thick bundle of printouts under Rodney's nose. Rodney waved them away. "What?"

"We've found a monitoring system," Kavanagh said. "No thanks to Dr. Zelenka, since he claims he has been assigned to a different and more high-priority project—"

"He has," Rodney said. "Talk faster, I've got a meeting. Monitoring system?"

"On the second level, just past transporter four. It allows us to keep a close watch on the entire—"

"Faster than that."

"—waste processing maintenance system." Kavanagh adjusted his glasses. "Surveillance screens for the usual trouble spots, and there may be a way to shunt the energy generated by the recycling process into the environmental—"

"Great, fine, wonderful. Write me a report — oh, right." Rodney yanked the bundle of printouts from Kavanagh's hands and stuck a mental post-it to the back of his brain that said paper recycling. "I'll get back to you."

The meeting was a briefing for the team about to set out for M2S-824, where, according to the information Rodney had downloaded from the databanks on M64-553, there was a temple compound with a hidden sanctuary that might — "Or might not," Elizabeth pointed out — contain information about weapons against the Wraith — "Or even actual weapons," Sheppard said — provided they could access it and the locals were friendly — "No one has lived on that planet for as long as my people can remember," Teyla said — and the archaeology and linguistics crew was feeling up to the challenge — "And clearly they're in good shape, since Dr. Armadale beat me to the last cinnamon roll this morning," Rodney said. "Nice sprint."

"Thank you," Armadale said placidly, tucking her hair behind her ear and folding up her notepad. "Teyla has been kind enough to start an exercise program for the scientists. You should join us."

"I already have an exercise program," Rodney said. "It's called field work."

"Spelunking," Sheppard said. "Hard work."

"And bird-watching," Teyla put in, with a thoughtful air. Ford grinned. Rodney narrowed his eyes at them. They looked completely unintimidated.

Elizabeth straighted the pile of papers in front of her between her palms. "According to Peter Grodin's calculations, it will be dawn at the temple compound in approximately forty-five Earth minutes. Since daylight hours are short on M2S-824, I suggest you make the most of them."

They took two puddlejumpers, two archaeologists, one linguist, one radiologist masquerading as an anthropologist, five marines, two crates of tools, one crate of weapons, an extra first aid kit, and two picnic baskets. "And David Cassidy in a pear tree," Sheppard said under his breath. Rodney gave a snort of laughter and tried to pretend it was a cough.

The site was half an hour from the stargate. When they landed, dawn had barely broken, and they stepped out into the last milky dregs of a fading ground mist. Armadale set off towards the buildings, notebook clamped under her arm, and got five steps before she fell over. "Whoa!" She stood up again. "There's a line of stones here." She took another ten steps and stumbled again. "And here."

"Just stay right there and let us secure the area," Sheppard said, took six steps, and fell over. Rodney waited until he sat up and could see it before giving him a golf clap. Sheppard's return gesture was mostly obscured by the mist.

Once Sheppard was right side up and the marines had done their thing, Armadale and her crew disappeared into the central temple building, making happy noises. Rodney checked for energy readings, and found faint signs coming from inside the temple, so he went in, too, and stood over Armadale's shoulder until she started translating the inscriptions as long, detailed warnings about intestinal parasites and vomiting blood; then he took the subtle hint and moved away, and spent the next twenty minutes staring at some scuffed-looking mosaic tiles set in a perfect square into one wall, between high pillars with no inscriptions at all. Then he went to stand over Armadale's shoulder again.

A while later, Sheppard came in with Ford and a couple of others, and Rodney, who was developing a bruise on his ribs from Armadale's bony elbow, went over to meet them. "Anything outside?"

"No. Mist." Sheppard had more mud on his shins and elbows, so he must have tripped again. "Anything inside? Dr. Armadale come up with anything yet?"

"She says the inscriptions are all about something called the golden cut," Rodney said. "It could be that we've stumbled onto an Ancient cigarette factory."

Sheppard frowned. Then he frowned some more. Then he looked around the room. "Of course! I thought there was something about—" He grabbed McKay by the arm and dragged him back outside, jumping across the lines of raised stones until they stood at the center of the compound, taking him by the shoulders and rotating him jerkily to face all the buildings in turn. "Look at them. See? See?"

"No," Rodney said. "And you're making me dizzy." He picked Sheppard's hands off his shoulders and looked. A building. Another building. Nothing golden about them— Rodney slapped his forehead, incidentally squashing a mosquito. "I didn't know you were an architecture geek, Major."

"I'm not," Sheppard said instantly. "I didn't know you couldn't recognize 8:13 when you saw it."

"Actually," Rodney said, "1:φ is 1:1.61803—"

"—39 and so on and so on, and don't you think we should tell Armadale and see if the inscriptions make more sense now?"

They went back in and told Armadale, with Rodney doing most of the talking and Sheppard doing most of the interrupting.

"No." Armadale wiped her forehead, leaving a smear of dust and dirt. "I'm sorry, but this word doesn't mean mean, it means cut. It's the same word used for a surgical incision. The inscription says this golden or perfect cut is needed to access the sanctuary."

"I hope they don't mean that literally," Ford said. "Maybe we should've brought Dr. Beckett."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "I hardly think getting into the sanctuary would involve surgery. But it's possible that we could need to make an actual cut somewhere, in the right place..."

Sheppard already stood in front of the south wall, between the pillars, reaching up to count the tiles in the grid by touch. Rodney elbowed his way in to stand next to him, although it was a tight fit for two. "It can't be that simple."

"We've got to start somewhere. And it's 104 by 104. That sounds like a clue to me."

Rodney snorted. "That's ridiculous."

"You got any better ideas? If we start from the floor—"

"Don't be an idiot. Everything in here goes right to left, even the writing—"

"Not the buildings. Buildings usually start on the ground—"

"This isn't a building, it's a grid." Rodney poked one of the tiles with his fingers, and it sank into the wall, leaving a shallow depression. "Oh, great."

Sheppard poked the same tile, making it slide out to be level with the others again. "So we're not looking for a line, we're looking for a pattern."

"This whole place is full of lines," Rodney pointed out. "If this entire compound is on a 104 by 104 grid out there—"

"—we can map the buildings on the grid in here," Sheppard said. "Okay, you stay here and poke the tiles. Ford, Teyla, you're with me."

"And then what?" Rodney said, but Sheppard had already left. Rodney waited, the rest of the team counted lines and called in coordinates, and Rodney pushed the tiles in one by one. He pressed the last one with a bit of a flourish, stood back, and waited. Then he tapped his radio headset and said, "Any more?"

"No, that was the last one," Sheppard crackled back at him. "Anything happen?"

"No." Rodney looked around the temple hall. "Nothing that I can see." He wandered over to Armadale and the others. "Anything?"

"No." She glanced back at him. "I think this part here is saying that the only way you can find or locate or identify the sanctuary is by finding or locating or identifying the sanctuary. Which is not very helpful."

"The door to the sanctuary is at the door to the sanctuary," Salvatierra added without looking up from where he sat cross-legged on the floor, hunched over a notebook. "Or possibly, the sanctuary is the door to the sanctuary."

"Meaning what?" Sheppard came up behind them, followed by Teyla. Ford was over by the entrance, flirting with Iijima. "Maybe it's some kind of Zen koan, to put people in the right frame of mind."

"Yes, I feel enlightened already," Rodney said. He looked around. "Where is the sanctuary, anyway? The walls on the inside match the walls on the outside, don't they?"

"Not that one," Teyla said, pointing. "It is too thick, but if the sanctuary is hidden within, it must be very small."

"No reason why it can't be," Rodney said. "Somebody get me a tape measure or something."

As it turned out, the difference between the outside and the inside was the distance between two lines on the grid. Rodney started measuring off the length of the wall, and Sheppard walked past him and up to the wall and pressed the eighth and ninth tiles. They slid out again, and there was a rumble and a click. "It's stuck," Sheppard said.

"No." Rodney pushed his way in next to Sheppard between the pillars again. "We just haven't made the cut yet." He stretched a hand out. "Chisel."

Rodney wedged the chisel into the narrow gap between the tiles, Sheppard hit it, and the wall rumbled again and sank into the floor. Sheppard cocked his head to one side. "This is a really small sanctuary."

"Kind of empty, too," Ford put in, looking over their shoulders. "If this is where they kept their really small secret weapons, I think someone else got here first."

"Information about weapons," Sheppard said, and stepped inside the small room. "There might still be—"

There was another click and another rumble, and a beam of light shot down as the wall slid back up. The last thing Rodney saw was Sheppard standing in a pillar of incandescent white, and then the wall was back in place and all the little tiles slid back out.

"What the hell was that?" Ford stepped up next to Rodney as Armadale and Salvatierra and the others came running. "Did the lights just go on in there?"

Rodney stared at the grid of tiles. Starting from the lower right-hand corner, two up, four in, press six in a row, skip two, press four—

"And then ten solid rows of those four, up," Teyla said, putting a hand on his shoulder, "and those six there go up eight."

Rodney nodded, fingers moving faster. Then the wall rumbled again, and he yanked his hand back just before the grid section sank into the floor again. Dust motes whirled through the air, and Armadale sneezed.

The pillar of light was gone. Sheppard looked much the same as before, though he was grinning in a way that suggested he was high, or extremely drunk, or both. "Hey, sorry about that," he said. "Only one person allowed at a time, I guess." He took a step forward, swayed where he stood, and draped one arm around Rodney's neck and one around Ford's. "Whoa." The wall rumbled into place behind him.

Ford looked at Rodney. "I guess you're flying us back."

Rodney and Teyla tried the tile pattern to open the wall again, but nothing happened. Sheppard sat leaning against the wall and smiling to himself, and Ford kept an eye on him while Armadale and her crew wrapped up their work. Everyone piled back into the jumpers. Sheppard headed for the pilot seat, and Rodney, Ford, and Teyla all grabbed him and pushed him down on one of the benches in the back.

"I'm fine," Sheppard said with another of those big, toothy grins. "Let me up so I can fly us out of here."

"I do not believe that would be wise," Teyla said, keeping a firm grip on Sheppard's shoulder.

"Ah, c'mon. I can fly a puddlejumper in my sleep. Lieutenant, let me up."

"No, sir." Ford put one of the picnic baskets on Sheppard's lap. "I think you should have some coffee."

"I think I should have some coffee," Rodney said, settling in behind the jumper controls. "And do we have any more of those little cookies?"

"If he spills coffee on the jumper controls, you can shoot him," Sheppard said to Ford.

They made it back to the gate and back to Atlantis without anyone getting motion sickness, or at least without anyone actually getting sick, although Armadale made a sound like a misaligned shopping cart wheel a couple of times, and indicated that next time, given a choice, she'd be flying with Markham. Beckett met them in the jumper bay and walked in as soon as the rear hatch opened. "What have you been doing to yourself, then, Major?"

"Nothing," Sheppard said with a grin that was only marginally more sober than before.

"He was shut into a small room where there was a bright light," Teyla said.

Ford nodded. "And when he came back out he seemed kind of, uh. Loopy."

Beckett scratched his head. "I'm not at all certain loopiness is a recognized medical condition." He looked down at Sheppard. "How are you feeling? Honestly, now."

"I'm fine." Sheppard drank the last of his coffee. "I could use some more coffee, though. And those cookies McKay was talking about. Maybe a turkey sandwich."

"He's got the munchies," Rodney said, elbowing his way past Beckett to rummage in the picnic basket. "We went to all that trouble just to get Major Sheppard high. I'll mix something up in the lab next time, it will be cheaper." He fished out a cookie and started to eat. Sheppard kicked him, and he fished out a second one and handed it over. "As for the weapons information, God only knows where that's disappeared to."

Sheppard grinned up at Rodney. "Actually," he said and tapped his temple with the hand holding the cookie, "I've got it. I think the light kind of downloaded it into my brain."

"Oh, great." Rodney yanked Sheppard upright and pushed him at Beckett. "Here. Take him, scan him, run some tests, see how many brain cells he's fried. And get the cookie crumbs out of his hair while you're at it."

As it turned out, Sheppard's test results after his experiments with Ancient light therapy showed elevated cortisol and adrenaline levels, but no signs of brain damage, as Beckett pointed out four times while elbowing Rodney out of the way. "And there is nothing to suggest that he's been cognitively affected, either."

"Oh. Good."

Sheppard badgered Beckett and Rodney and Elizabeth and anyone else who came into the room until he got a laptop, access to the Ancient mainframe, and Rodney sitting on one side and Bates on the other, and they spent a couple of hours working on correlating the information in Sheppard's head with that on the mainframe and with Bates's plans for security, until Sheppard said, "You know, I feel a little tired," flopped over, and fell asleep with his head on Rodney's shoulder.

The tenth night, Beckett kept Sheppard overnight for observation.

On the tenth day, Bates went with a team to M89-235 and came back with grain, root vegetables, eggs, and frozen meat. Pinheiro told everyone in the lab what was going on, and Rodney made it to the mess hall in time to try California Mae's giant celebratory omelet, which was really pretty good, even though it had weird Athosian herbs in it. On his way back to work, he took a detour and stuck his head into a room he usually avoided. "Kavanagh? I looked at your report, and if that energy transfer works—"

"It works," Kavanagh said, looking up from his laptop screen. "We tested it this afternoon. With my new protocols, we've been able to boost environmental controls by 120%."

"Well, good. Good work." Kavanagh looked a bit taken aback, and a little pleased. Rodney grinned. "I guess you really do know your shit after all." He ducked out and went on his way, humming to himself.

The eleventh night, Rodney kissed Sheppard's chest, the curve of his ribcage, the point of his hipbone, and rolled him over to lick his shoulderblades. Sheppard mumbled something approving into the pillow and spread his legs, and Rodney kissed all the way along his spine, soft, soft.

On the eleventh day, Klepperman managed to jam three buttons in one of the transporters and ended up at the far end of pier four in a room full of "stuff that looks really interesting, so I think someone should come out here and find out what it is."

"Don't touch anything," Rodney said, packing useful tools as fast as Zelenka could hand them to him. "Just stand in the middle of the room with your hands behind your back." He thought for a moment. "Don't breathe on anything. Don't think at anything." He looked around to see if he'd forgotten anything. "Major Sheppard?"

"We're here," Sheppard said, and Rodney turned to see Sheppard and Teyla and Ford and Leger and Majeed waiting by the door. "Ready whenever you are."

Rodney cocked an eyebrow at Zelenka, Zelenka pushed up his glasses and nodded, and off they went. No one knew exactly which buttons Klepperman had pushed, so Sheppard flew them out in one of the jumpers, putting them down right on top of Klepperman's location, two floors up. They went down a maintenance access hatch and came down in a dark grey corridor with a blue floor. As soon as Sheppard set his feet on the floor, narrow panels along the top of the walls lit up with white Ancient lettering and a few decorative flourishes in orange. "Nice place," Sheppard said.

Rodney snorted. "You're only saying that because it likes you."

"Can I help it if Atlantis has good taste?" Sheppard smiled at the corridor, and the doors at the far end began to glow with shadowy reds and blues and opened silently.

"Show-off." Rodney tapped his headset. "Klepperman? You haven't touched anything, have you?"

"No, but something at the back of the room just started humming." Klepperman sounded nervous. "I didn't touch anything, I swear."

"It's probably just the Sheppard effect." Rodney saw that Zelenka was already halfway to the open doors and hurried to catch up. "Keep on not touching anything. Or thinking at it, or breathing on it, or whatever else you might be doing." The stairwell was lit from above through a skylight, and the steps clanged reassuringly from the tread of military-issue boots. Sheppard and Majeed led the way into the corridor on the floor below.

"This place doesn't have any doors," Ford said from behind Rodney. The corridor walls were just bare metal plating, with the same illuminated panels as on the floor above. "Maybe the only way into that room Klepperman found is through the transporters."

"That would be very unfortunate for Klepperman," Zelenka said, "but considering the exceptional redundancy in most Ancient technology, not likely."

Rodney nodded. "Major Sheppard, I suggest you flirt some more with the corridor and see if you can get it to show you its secret doors."

"There's something over here." Sheppard sounded preoccupied, and Rodney, interpreting that tone of voice as a warning bell, walked towards him. "It seems to need an additional—" Rodney came up to Sheppard, and the section of the floor they were standing on tilted beneath their feet and sent them sliding down, down, down until they landed on a white floor. "—component," Sheppard said a bit breathlessly, pushing Rodney's elbow away from his stomach. "This is not exactly what I meant to do."

Rodney looked up to see that the plate had tilted back into place. They were in a large, empty room with metal walls and a white floor and ceiling; the room was lit by the same lettered panels as in the corridors, and at the top of one corner was a small opening, about a foot square, with metal bars set across it. "Like a prison window," Rodney said, frowning.

"What?" Sheppard stood up and looked around. "Okay, I guess that was the wrong secret door." He tapped his headset. "Ford? We're all right. We're in an empty room, another level down."

"Another room that doesn't have a door." Rodney frowned some more as he got to his feet a bit more slowly. "I'm going to assume the Ancients weren't completely incompetent as architects, so there has to be a way out." He looked sideways at Sheppard. "Other than turning into a glowy white ball of energy, I mean."

Sheppard looked sideways at him right back. "Yeah, some of us probably won't be ascending to a higher plane any time soon." His eyebrows drew together. "Maybe that is a prison window. Maybe there is no other way out than the way we came in. If we can get someone to rig a ladder—"

"Oh, please," Rodney said, with more conviction than he felt. "Nobody builds an oubliette big enough to stage the Ring cycle in." He looked around. "Well, maybe not the Götterdämmerung."

"Dr. McKay! Major Sheppard!" They both looked up at the sound of Teyla's voice to find her crouched by the barred window, looking down into their not-a-prison. "Are you all right?"

"Fine," Sheppard said.

"Hungry," Rodney said. "But yes, fine."

"Majeed and I will try to find a door into this room. Dr. Zelenka is working on getting Klepperman out. Do not worry." Teyla stood up.

"Zelenka has some very odd priorities," Rodney said to Teyla's feet before they disappeared. He turned to Sheppard. "It seems we're left to our own devices."

"Do we have any devices?" Sheppard looked around. "I mean, I'm ready to find the door— Whoa." A section of the wall lit up. Three graceful black and white shapes grouped together, three others lined up next to them. "Did I do that?"

Rodney walked over and looked more closely. "Yes, you did. I assume this is a form of lock, and since you found it, you might as well open it."

Sheppard looked confused. He came over to study the panel, and then his face cleared. "That's an easy one," he said, reached out, and touched his fingertips to the symbol that completed the sequence.

"I agree," Rodney said. "It hardly seems worth the trouble to have a locking sequence that a small child could—"

The symbols on the wall faded, a soft chime sounded, and another set of symbols lit up — three grouped together, three more lined up next to them, waiting. Rodney looked at Sheppard. Sheppard looked back at him and grinned. "It's your turn."

They'd solved eleven progressive matrices by the time Teyla came back. "I brought you some food," she called down, and reached in through the bars to drop some powerbars and a small cloth bag of dried fruit to the floor. She took more care with the water bottle, lowering it as far as she could along the wall before dropping it into Sheppard's waiting hands. "I'm afraid we still have not found the door."

"We found it ourselves," Sheppard said, gesturing at the section of the wall with the glowing symbols on. "Not that we can get it to open, but it's definitely there."

"Of course we can get it to open," Rodney said. "Sooner or later. Did Ford bring any C4?"

"I do not believe he did." Teyla looked at the wall. "Perhaps we can get around to the outside of that door."

"Great." Sheppard grinned up at her. "Maybe there's a sequence you have to put in on the other side, as well. You and Ford could get started on that."

"Then we'll never get out of here," Rodney muttered and bit into a powerbar. He walked back to the wall and considered the symbols for a while, then touched the one where the loop and star mirrored that of the second symbol in the group. The panel chimed, and a new set came up.

"It was my turn," Sheppard said, coming over. "You want some of this fruit?"

"Yes." Rodney grabbed the piece of dried pepento out of Sheppard's hand and took a bite. "You can have your turn now instead."

"You're messing with the system." Sheppard took the piece of fruit back. "And that was mine."

"I'm messing with the system? We have a system now?" Rodney tapped his headset. "Radek? You have to get us out of here."

It took a few moments, and then a loud click almost deafened him. "Are you locked in a room with a mysterious humming and ticking machine? Do you have almost no knowledge of Ancient technology? No? Please shut up, Rodney, I am working."

"Don't bother the man, Rodney." Sheppard turned from the wall and held out another piece of dried fruit. "It's your turn now."

They went through another six sets separately, then started to solve them together when the matrices became more difficult. They argued for ten minutes about the twenty-fourth one, and then Rodney touched what was clearly the correct symbol, and the next set lit up. They argued for another ten minutes about the twenty-seventh one, and then Rodney touched what was clearly the correct symbol, and the wall beeped in a disapproving manner, blinked, and went back to the first set. "Oh, great."

"See? I was right." Sheppard grabbed the last piece of pepento fruit.

"We have to start over." Rodney paced in front of the panel. "I can't believe it resets back to the beginning. It couldn't go back just one step? This is going to take hours."

"Yes, it is. Hours and hours. And also, I was right." Sheppard bit the piece of fruit in half.

Rodney glared at him. "Yes. You were right. Give me that." He took the other half out of Sheppard's hand and chewed it in a pointed manner. "You. Were. Right. Happy now?"

"Well, it's the most fun I've had since I got stuck in this room, anyway." Sheppard drank some water, handed the bottle to Rodney, and turned back to the wall. "Here we go again."

This time, they worked faster, both of them standing by the panel without bothering to talk about taking turns. The symbols moved at the same measured pace as before. When they finally got back to the twenty-seventh sequence, Rodney gestured for Sheppard to do it his way, and the panel rang its approving little chime and lit up sequence twenty-eight. Sheppard smiled a pleased little see-what-I-did smile, and Rodney fought the urge to smack him on the back of the head, or possibly somewhere rather more inappropriate. They agreed on twenty-eight, and they agreed on twenty-nine, and then they hit thirty.

"This one," Rodney said.

Sheppard shook his head. "No, that one. With the fishhook loop here, see?"

"Yes, I see, but it's still this one, with the black on white dots and the white on black star." Rodney smacked Sheppard's hand away from the panel. "I'm not doing the whole thing over again."

"I was right last time."

"Good for you." Rodney touched the symbol with the white on black star. The panel chimed three times, then began to swing open. "And I was right this time."

"Wow," Sheppard said, staring into the room on the other side of the wall.

"Yes. I was completely right. Not that I require constant validation, unlike some people."

Sheppard looked at him, then smiled, a slow, pleased smile. "You were right, Rodney. Happy now?"

"Ecstatic. I just think—" Rodney got a good look at the room on the other side of the wall, himself. "Wow." He picked his jacket up off the floor and moved forward. "This is incredible."

"Beckett is going to love this," Sheppard said. He came up next to Rodney, and half the equipment in the room hummed to life. "We just have to figure out a way to move this stuff to the infirmary."

"Starting with finding the door out of this room." Rodney looked around. "Which is... right over there." He paused. "Behind all those crates and that thing that looks like a salon hair-dryer from the Middle Ages."

Sheppard took his jacket off and started whistling Back on the Chain Gang. Rodney sighed.

The crates were heavy, and probably full of fragile medical equipment. The not-a-hair-dryer lit up the moment Sheppard touched it, and the chair beneath it tilted invitingly; Rodney could almost have fancied he heard a disappointed little sigh as they dragged the whole apparatus aside. They shifted the crates carefully, one by one, pushing and dragging. "Put your back into it," Sheppard said.

"This may come as a surprise to you," Rodney panted, "but I came to this galaxy to use my brain. We brought marines to do the heavy lifting."

"You see any marines in here? Healthy mind, healthy body, Rodney. On three."

Behind the crates was something that looked like a massage table for giant squid, and when they'd moved that out of the way, the door came alight, glowed red and blue at them, and opened. "Oh, good," Rodney said, leaning on one hand against the wall. "I was starting to think this one would make us solve crossword puzzles in Ancient or something."

"I think we did pretty good here." Sheppard wiped the back of his hand across his forehead and grinned, then slung his arm around Rodney's shoulders. "As a matter of fact, I think—"

"Major!" Ford came running down the hallway towards them with Majeed in tow. "Glad to see you made it out. We need you to fly Klepperman back. Dr. Zelenka got the door open and Klepperman was lying unconscious in the middle of the floor."

Sheppard straightened up, pulling away from Rodney. "Is he all right?" Ford turned around, and Sheppard fell into step beside him.

"We don't know, sir. Dr. Beckett says he wants to see him as fast as possible."

Rodney straightened up, picked up both his own jacket and Sheppard's, and went after them.

As it turned out, Klepperman had passed out from trying too hard not to breathe on anything, as per Rodney's orders, and in order to stop Beckett's lecture on what not to say to impressionable young ensigns, Rodney told him about the Ancient medlab. "And the other room is full of supplies," Zelenka put in. "Bandages and, hmm. Other things. Some machines."

"That's all very well," Beckett said, narrowing his eyes at Rodney, "but you cannae go around telling people not to breathe."

"I didn't tell him not to breathe, I told him not to breathe on the Ancient technology. Can I help it if he overinterpreted?"

Sheppard nodded next to him, very serious. "It's that natural authority you've got. People can't resist it. You have to be careful to only use your powers for good."

"I assume you mean for my own personal good." Rodney snapped his fingers. "Somebody bring me something to eat."

Sheppard dug into his pockets and came up with half a powerbar covered in lint, which he held out with a flourish. Rodney made a face. Zelenka looked at the powerbar over the tops of his glasses, and then at Rodney. "I think perhaps your powers need some fine-tuning."

The twelfth night, Rodney nestled close, pressed his face against the back of Sheppard's neck, and breathed in deep. "You didn't shower," he said, licking and then biting down.

Sheppard moaned and pressed back against Rodney. "Fuck me." He was hot to the touch, and the skin on his shoulders and back was silky where it wasn't scarred.

Rodney drew a deep breath that he could feel all the way down to his toes. "Yeah, okay," he said unsteadily. He pressed a kiss behind Sheppard's ear, slicked up his fingers and worked his hand in between them. One finger went in easy, and Sheppard made a hungry sound, rocking back in an impatient rhythm. Rodney sank his teeth into Sheppard's shoulder to keep them both distracted, and when he finally eased inside with short, firm thrusts, he couldn't tell which one of them was groaning.

On the twelfth day, Rodney woke up and lay staring for a while at the lamp on his bedside table. Four of the crystals were glowing with a soft but steady light. When he came into the mess hall for breakfast, he ran into Grodin, who was pleased about a new set of scanners and supervisory protocols he'd discovered, or at least Rodney assumed he was pleased, since he was almost smiling and didn't even object when Rodney took a piece of toast off his tray.

"This will give us a new level of control over all systems and ongoing processes," Grodin said, putting more honey in his tea. "I really think we've learned a great deal about Atlantis in the past few days."

"Yes, yes, it's great that things are going so well for everybody. Zelenka gets the secret brewing techniques of the Ancients, Kavanagh gets a personalized entertainment system, and I get somebody else's lamp that I don't even want." Rodney paused, about to pursue that line of thought. Then his stomach rumbled and he sniffed at the toast. Athosian-baked, whole-grain, disgustingly healthy, but with enough butter on, it wasn't bad.

"Don't forget Dr. Beckett's new medlab. Aren't you going back there today?"

Rodney nodded. He checked the time and brought his second piece of toast along to the jumper bay, where he met up with Beckett, Sheppard, Majeed, Leger, and a taciturn medtech who unbent enough to say his name was Djehiche. Klepperman hadn't been able to say which combination of transporter buttons had landed him in the medical supply storage room, and Elizabeth had suggested rather firmly that they not experiment. "Okay, kids," Sheppard said, bouncing imaginary car keys on his palm, "who gets to drive?"

"I'd rather not," Beckett said, and then went on, before Rodney could open his mouth, "but if it's Rodney or myself, I'll do it."

"Great, you take us out there, McKay takes us back. Come on, all aboard!" Sheppard spent the entire flight standing behind Beckett's shoulder, encouraging him with cheerful comments that eventually led to Beckett overshooting their landing place. Twice.

"Major, for the love of God, will you just be quiet for a minute?" Beckett scowled in concentration, Sheppard stepped back with an innocent who, me? face, and they landed with only a slight bounce.

Beckett set Leger and Majeed to carrying boxes of basic supplies from the storage room Klepperman had found and up to the jumper. Djehiche looked at Klepperman's humming and clicking machine and said it was very similar to the x-ray equipment they already had, so then Sheppard, Beckett, Djehiche and Rodney went down to the other room. Djehiche went straight for the medieval hairdryer and started making crooning noises over it, with Beckett a close second. Rodney started taking inventory of the crates, hoping he'd never actually need whatever kind of brain scan the Ancients had felt required big metal spikes and flashing pink and orange lights.

It was possible to follow Sheppard's path through the room by watching the trail of machines lighting up and beeping happily. At least, most of them beeped happily. Rodney had already put his inventory list aside and was checking his toolbox when Sheppard called out, "McKay, this one's not working, can you take a look at it?"

Rodney took several looks, and ended up crawling under the machine while Djehiche climbed up on top of it as they tried to pry off the panel on the back without damaging the misaligned coils inside. The floor smelled as though no one had cleaned it for about ten thousand years. Rodney sneezed and hit his head on a metal bar just as the radio crackled.

"Major Sheppard, Dr. McKay." Elizabeth sounded terse. "I need you to return here immediately. We have a bit of a situation."

"We're on our way," Sheppard said and started to haul Rodney out from under the machine by the sleeve of his shirt. Rodney narrowly avoided hitting his head again on the same protruding metal bar. "What's going on?"

"The new protocols that monitor energy use and fluctuations are showing unexpected distribution patterns," Grodin said, not sounding nearly as pleased with life any more. "I can't account for them in any way."

Elizabeth was more straightforward. "Something is drawing a lot of power, and we can't tell what it is."

Rodney stood up and dusted himself off. He felt his head, which was a little tender. "Are you sure it's not the new medical equipment? We've been switching things on out here for a couple of hours now, and there's no telling how much—"

"No," Grodin cut him off, "we can see the work you've been doing, and all the new machines are showing up on the access grid one by one. This is an inexplicable drain on the system, and we can't discover that it's caused by anything that's actually hooked up anywhere."

"If it's not hooked up anywhere, how can it draw any energy?" Sheppard asked as they went out the door.

"That's what we need to find out," Elizabeth said. "Dr. Zelenka is already working on a way to shield our naquada generators from outside interference."

Beckett and Djehiche made it clear that they did not want to be left at the far end of pier four in the middle of a potential emergency, with or without marines, so everyone went back. Ten steps out of the jumper bay, Rodney was struck by an unpleasant suspicion, and broke into a run. He came into the control room, Sheppard at his heels, to find Zelenka, Grodin and Elizabeth all tensely huddled around a workstation. "ZPM," Rodney said, leaning on the back of the workstation and trying to read upside down and get enough air at the same time. "Is it drawing on the ZPM?"

"Yes," Zelenka said without looking up, fingers flying over the keyboard. "Naquada generators I can keep untouched, but the ZPM—"

"Why don't we just take it offline?" Sheppard wasn't even trying to see the screen. "I mean, not permanently. Just while we try to figure this out. We didn't even have it two weeks ago, surely we can get along without it for a few hours."

Zelenka did look up at that. "You believe we can solve this in a few hours?"

Sheppard shrugged. "Hey, I have faith in you and McKay."

"He's got a point," Rodney said. Zelenka shot him a look. "Not just about that. If we take the ZPM out of the equation—"

"Then we have no equation." Zelenka frowned. "We cannot see what is draining power from the ZPM. But if we stop it from draining power from the ZPM—"

"—then we can't see it at all. Okay. What kind of power levels are we talking about, anyway? If the ZPM is going to be depleted before we solve the problem, uninstalling it still seems like a much better choice."

"Fairly high," Grodin said, leaning over Zelenka's shoulder to call up another display. "Certainly more than most of our regular equipment. And it's been going on for a few days at least, perhaps more."

Rodney went around the workstation and leaned over Zelenka's other shoulder. "This is not good, this is not good, this is not good."

"It's as though power is disappearing into thin air." Elizabeth crossed her arms. "Just leaking out and... vanishing."

"Like magic," Grodin said.

"Bad magic," Zelenka added.

Rodney sighed. "Can we try to keep our theories out of the Dark Ages? Of course it's not magic. The Ancients didn't use magic. Everything we've come across so far has had a perfectly sound scientific explanation."

When he looked up, he met Sheppard's eyes, dark and a little troubled. "Yeah, well, you know what the man said, any sufficiently advanced technology..."

They stared at each other for a moment that grew longer and longer. Then Rodney straightened up and they both ran towards the nearest transporter, nearly getting stuck side by side in the door. The slight delay meant that Zelenka, who was faster on his feet in a scientific emergency than one might think, managed to sneak in before the door closed. "Where are we going?"

"My room," Sheppard said.

Rodney shook his head. "My room." He punched in coordinates for the living quarters. "Unless it's moved again."

"Unless your room has moved?" Zelenka looked at Rodney, then at Sheppard, and shook his head, too. "This air of mystery, it is not becoming." The transporter hummed around them.

"Rodney!" Elizabeth could make her eyes flash over the radio. "Where do you think you're going?"

"Meet us in the lab in five minutes," Rodney said. "We'll have something to show you."

They started with Sheppard's room, because it was closer to the transporters, but the desk was empty, so they went on to Rodney's quarters. The lamp stood on the bedside table where he'd seen it that morning. All of the crystals were glowing now, with a light that seemed brighter than before. Sheppard reached out to pick the lamp up, and Rodney snatched it away before his fingers could make contact. Sheppard looked at him. "You think I'm going to break it?"

"I don't think you should touch it. In fact," Rodney handed the lamp to Zelenka, "I think it's probably safer in the hands of someone who doesn't have the ATA gene."

"I am not entirely reassured by that," Zelenka said, but he tucked the lamp under his arm and led the way back to the transporter. The lamp kept shining with the same steady glow.

Elizabeth and Grodin were waiting in the lab, and Teyla and Ford had turned up, too. Rodney cleared a space for the lamp close to his own workstation and glared at it as Zelenka put it down. "Well, here it is."

Elizabeth eyed the lamp and raised one eyebrow. "Isn't that Major Sheppard's lamp that you brought into a meeting two weeks ago?"

"No. I mean, yes, but I was right. It's not a lamp." Rodney found himself reaching out towards it, and put his hands behind his back. "It's probably better if no one touches it."

"It looks like a lamp," Teyla said in the same thoughtful voice as back then. "Is it not made by the Ancestors? Would they truly make something harmful and disguise it as something harmless?"

"I don't know how harmful it is, exactly, but it's not using more power than all the transporters combined just so the major can read himself to sleep. Especially given how much the major actually reads."

"But what is it?" Elizabeth said. "How do you know this is what's using all the power? What does it do?"

Sheppard shrugged. "I don't know what it does, or how it does it, but it's definitely doing something. The lights have been coming on by themselves, and there's something funny about the way it keeps moving around."

"I thought we agreed that was just a prank." Ford eyed Sheppard and the lamp with the same polite air of skepticism. "And if all it's doing is glowing a bit, that doesn't sound very dangerous."

"I don't think that's all it's doing," Sheppard said.

Elizabeth crossed her arms. "But we don't actually know what it does do. Rodney, are you sure—"

"Oh, I think we know," Rodney said, feeling more and more incensed. "Haven't you noticed all the useful things that have happened, all the new technology we've discovered? Improved environmental control, waste disposal, a whole new medlab. I think Major Sheppard made it all happen with his new toy here."

"Come on, Rodney." Sheppard looked less convinced all of a sudden. "I agree that this... lamp... is doing something funny, but why do you think it's all my fault? Things don't happen just because I want them to."

"That's exactly what they do. That's why you're here, Major." Rodney gestured at the city around them, nearly hitting Elizabeth. "Here in Atlantis, things happen just because you want them to, every day. You will the technology to respond, and it does."

"When I tell it to! What I tell it to!" Sheppard put his hands on the workbench and leaned forward, until the glow from the lamp reflected in his eyes. "Maybe we're wrong. Maybe this isn't what's using the power after all."

"It is glowing," Teyla pointed out. "It must be using some source of power for light, if nothing else."

"I never told it to do anything else." Sheppard appeared to be locked in a staring contest with the lamp. "Nothing except give me a little light to read by. Which I do more than some people think."

Rodney snorted. "Right. In any case, you got a lot more than you bargained for. And there's an easy way to prove this is what's causing the power drain. Turn it off."

"I don't know how to turn it off! I don't even know how I turned it on. I thought it was a lamp." Sheppard bent closer again and squinted at the glowing crystals. "Maybe we're wrong."

"And maybe that thing is messing with your head." Rodney frowned. "Maybe the influence goes both ways. Maybe I shouldn't have let you come near it, but I think we need you to shut it down, since you're the one who initialized it."

"I'm not sure I understand," Elizabeth said. "What exactly is it you suspect this lamp of doing?"

Zelenka cleared his throat. "If Rodney is right—"

"Of course I'm right."

"—this device responds to unconscious wishes." Zelenka tapped a finger on the workbench in a meditative manner. "I think we are all very fortunate that you are an easy-going person, Major."

"Huh?" Sheppard broke eye-contact with the lamp to give Zelenka a bewildered stare.

Elizabeth, quick to catch the implications, looked grave. "Yes, indeed. You have to turn it off immediately, John. If it's responding to unconscious desires, it's only a matter of time before something goes very, very wrong. If you were angry at someone, maybe even if you had a bad dream—"

"Are we really sure it's me doing all of this? I wanted a lamp, but I'm pretty sure I've never wished for a waste disposal management system."

"No, but you weren't happy when the plumbing backed up," Ford said.

"I don't think anyone was. Doesn't mean it's me making everything happen."

"Major Sheppard is right." Zelenka cleared his throat again. Sheppard looked gratified, but then Zelenka turned to him and went on, "And wrong. It must have started with you, Major, when you found the device and turned it on. You want things to go well, people to be happy in Atlantis, and this is what starts the process. What we see is the results of the device interpreting your neurological patterns. Once it had access to a nearly unlimited power source—"

"And wasn't that suspiciously easy," Rodney said, palms remembering dry earth as he crawled in to the sleeping king under the hill. "Wait. Can't he focus just on that, try to send a conscious command to the lamp? We need more ZPMs, and if this thing can find them for us— "

"No, Rodney." Zelenka grasped Rodney's arm and pulled it back; he hadn't even noticed that he was reaching out to the lamp again. "This device is not just interpreting the major's wishes now, but picking up on thoughts from other people. I believe possession of the ATA gene is not even necessary at this point." He glanced quickly towards his own workstation, where a glass bottle had been left next to a pile of notebooks. "Selection seems to be random. The next response could be anything at all. Triggered by the wishes of anyone in Atlantis."

Elizabeth nodded. "And we can't assume that everyone's secret desires are for things that will make life better in Atlantis, or even for things that are relatively harmless. We cannot risk trying to use the device deliberately, at least not until we find out if there's a way to control it."

"You're right," Rodney said reluctantly, "and we're wasting time and power, talking about it." He turned to Sheppard. "Turn it off."

Sheppard frowned and stared at the lamp, squint-eyed with concentration, looking as though he'd never seen a piece of alien technology in his entire life and was being forced to decide which end was up. Just as Rodney was about to poke him and remind him to breathe, the crystals flickered and then the light faded out of them. Rodney had the momentary idea that his ears had just popped.

"That was it?" Teyla said. "That was all? It seems too easy."

Rodney shrugged. "Everything seems too easy with this thing. We'll have to check that it's really off."

Grodin flipped his laptop up over at Zelenka's workstation and began typing. After a little while, he looked up at them and nodded. "The power drain has stopped."

"Good." Elizabeth gestured at the device. "Can we put it away somewhere and make sure no one else mistakes it for a lamp? I'm not comfortable with the idea of something that powerful just sitting around."

Rodney and Zelenka locked the device away in one of the storage rooms leading off the lab, and then crowded around Grodin, rechecking the power flows several times. Everything looked normal.

The thirteenth night, Rodney was dragged out of a deep, comfortable sleep by what he eventually realized was his radio. "What?" he said, eyes still closed.

"Rodney, we have a problem." Zelenka sounded very tired and very concerned. "The ZPM is losing power again. Somehow the lamp device must have reactivated itself."

Rodney frowned. "Turn it off."

"I do not have the gene—"

"No, the ZPM, turn it off. It's not doing anything important. I'll deal with it tomorrow." He turned the radio off and settled back down, and Sheppard rolled over and tucked his hand under Rodney's hip and breathed into his neck. Rodney was just about to fall asleep again when the breathing turned into licking, and Sheppard's hand moved up over his hip again, stroked his thigh and curved warmly around his balls, fingertips pressing firmly and rhythmically against the sensitive skin just beneath. "Mm," Rodney said, with heartfelt approval. "Do that some more."

On the thirteenth day, Rodney woke up, yawned, stretched, blinked his eyes open, jerked back in disbelief, and fell out of bed.

"Ow." Sunshine cut in brisk stripes through the windows and across the floor, dust motes swirled around his fingers as he sat up, and he was abruptly more awake than he'd been in a long time. "Ow, ow, oh shit, ow."

From above came a bewildered, "What?"

Rodney looked up over the edge of the bed. "You're not a lamp."

Sheppard's eyes were still thick-lidded with sleep, and his hair stood up every which way; he looked like a hedgehog reluctant to leave its pile of leaves in the spring. "Are you always this smart first thing in the morning?"

"I'm just saying that the only unexpected thing I usually find when I wake up..." Rodney trailed off as his memory finally caught up with him. "Oh, God, Zelenka woke me up with a problem in the middle of the night and I blew him off." He stared at Sheppard. "The lamp device turned itself back on."

Sheppard sat up in a tangle of sheets and scrubbed at his face and hair with both hands. Rodney could smell him, sweat and spice and sex and sleep, and that smell nearly shorted out all his higher brain functions. Fortunately, the expression on Sheppard's face acted as a counteragent. "And you, what? You told him to leave it on?"

"No, of course not!" Rodney considered. "Well, essentially, yes, since he can't operate it. I told him to turn the ZPM off and stop bothering me." He felt cold and uncomfortable, and suspected it might not all be from sitting naked on the floor. Rodney pulled a sheet from the bed and wrapped around himself as he stood up. "Hurry, Major. We have to fix this."

Sheppard rolled out of bed and stood, disdainfully naked, in a patch of white-gold sunshine. The bright light gilded him and made even his bony knees look good. "Mind if I get dressed first?" He looked around. "Though I don't see my clothes anywhere."

Neither did Rodney, and he ended up having to go over to Sheppard's quarters, feeling wrinkled and sweaty and annoyed and well aware that Sheppard was using those extra five minutes to take a shower. At least that would take care of the smell problem. "And of course that's the only real problem we have," he muttered, stomping back into his room and throwing shirt and pants at Sheppard, who was standing naked in the middle of his room again, now with a few stray drops of water catching the sunlight. "Hurry up, will you?"

Sheppard looked closed off and distant, which was probably not all that strange, all things considered, but he hurried.

Five steps out of Rodney's room, they met Bates, who had an alert, wary look on his face that Rodney associated with city-wide emergencies. He eyed them both closely, one casual hand close to his gun. "There you are. Dr. Zelenka sent me to get you."

Sheppard raised his brows. "What's wrong with the radio?"

Bates shook his head. "He said there might be a problem." Rodney winced. That explained the gun thing. "He said it would be better to go find you in person."

"Yes, fine, and now you've found us, so let's go." Rodney headed for the transporter without looking too closely at either Sheppard or Bates. He barely waited for them to enter the transporter before he set the coordinates, and while the transporter hummed and glowed, he stared at the wall. Out of the corner of his eye he could see that Bates was staring at Sheppard, and he really wasn't going to investigate or even think about what Sheppard was staring at.

In the lab, they found Zelenka sitting on a chair in front of the door to the storage room, carrying on a desultory conversation with Teyla, who was leaning against one of the tables. A low-tech, Earth-style bar and padlock had been fastened across the door. When they approached, Zelenka looked up at them with red-rimmed eyes. "It's good that you are here," he said. "Already five people have very casually said they have an errand to this room. Dr. Pinheiro was most insistent that she needed something in here. Sometimes I think I do, too."

"About last night," Rodney said, and then his mind switched gears as he remembered the really important thing about last night. "The ZPM, is anyone—"

"Dr. Simpson is watching it, with Ford and Stackhouse. Also Dr. Grodin is monitoring energy flows." Zelenka smothered a yawn.

"You've been busy," Sheppard said. "Good work. I think. Did you tell Bates to get us even if we weren't being cooperative?"

"I am... concerned," Zelenka said, very carefully, "about the effects of this device on you, on all the people in Atlantis. I am concerned about Rodney's reaction last night. And you must turn the device off again, Major, and I hope we can trust you to really do it."

"I'll certainly do my best." Sheppard's mouth thinned out for a moment, and he set his jaw. "I'm pretty damn concerned about the effects, too." Rodney tried not to wince, this time. "Somebody open up that door?"

Zelenka got to his feet and shoved the chair out of the way. Teyla moved up and unfastened the padlock, dragging the bar aside. She reached inside and brought out the lamp. The crystal glow was barely visible against her skin. When she put the lamp down on the workstation next to Sheppard, there was a faint ringing sound.

Teyla jerked her hands back. "It's hot," she said, surprise in her voice, and then the lamp lit up like a klieg light, throwing sharp black shadows across the lab, all the crystals shining blindingly bright.

Rodney flung a hand up to shield his watering eyes. "Major!"

"...reading a massive energy surge!" That was Grodin, though the radio kept cutting out. "It's draining... ZPM..."

"Major!"

"Yeah." Sheppard leaned forward over the lamp, into the bright light, and fixed it with a dark, angry look. "Off," he snarled.

The light in the crystals went out. So did all the lights in the room. Atlantis shuddered faintly around them. Rodney blinked, seeing colorful afterimages all over the darkness. "That might have been... a little too emphatic."

"You turn everything back on," Sheppard said, his voice taut. "Get Markham and some other people on it. I'm gonna keep thinking off at this thing until we can put it somewhere safe. What was the name of that planet with the active volcanoes?"

"We could sink it to the bottom of the ocean," Zelenka suggested from somewhere over to the right. "That is traditional, after all."

Sheppard muttered something about not trusting the fish. Rodney concentrated very carefully on turning the lights, and nothing but the lights, back on. The first thing he saw was Bates glaring suspiciously at Teyla. The second thing he saw was Zelenka looking at a blank computer screen. He sighed and tapped his radio headset. "Elizabeth? Do you still have power?"

To Rodney's relief, Sheppard had mostly managed to shut down the secondary systems, and primary systems were still up and running, except for a few exceptions in the area immediately surrounding the lab. He left the business of working out where to send what people with the gene in which order to Elizabeth and Grodin, and went outside to get the lights back on in the corridors.

"Dr. McKay!" Ford sounded tense. "I've been trying to get hold of Major Sheppard. Is his radio off?"

Rodney frowned. The radios were plain old Earth technology. On the other hand, Ancient technology interfaced with Earth technology in unexpected ways, and Major Sheppard interfaced with most things in unexpected ways. "It might be," he said. "He's kind of busy right now."

Ford continued unamused. "We've got a problem."

"Let me guess." Rodney concentrated on coaxing the doors into opening. "The lights went out." The familiar colors and sounds of Atlantis came back, all around him, responding just as they ought. At least something was working right.

"The ZPM lit up like crazy and the lights went out and now all that's left is a puddle of melted glass."

"It's not glass," Rodney said automatically. "It's a type of—"

"Well, melted something. Dr. Simpson burned two fingers and she's on her way to the infirmary with Stackhouse."

Rodney came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the corridor. "Wait, wait. The ZPM's gone?"

It was. Rodney went back to the lab and got Zelenka and Teyla, leaving Bates with Sheppard, and they got power back to the nearest transporter, after a bit of coaxing and a little rewiring, and went to the generator room. It was still dark, and Ford was waiting, with a flashlight, next to a sad little mess of orange-grey goop and still-sparking wires. "I haven't touched anything," Ford said as the lights came back on. "I saw what happened to Dr. Simpson."

Rodney just stared. "It's gone."

"Perhaps overload of the ZPM is the reason why Major Sheppard was able to shut down so many systems," Zelenka theorized, holding his hand palm down over the remains to gauge the temperature. "Between the power failure and the, ah, extraordinary force of the command..."

"Melted. Gone."

Ford nodded, putting his flashlight away. "I've talked to Dr. Weir, and she'd like you to take a look at it and try to figure out what happened."

"Gone."

Teyla stepped forward. "Is a military presence required in this room at the moment?"

"No?" Zelenka turned towards Rodney, who couldn't tear his eyes away from the remains. "No, I do not believe so."

"Then I will accompany the lieutenant to the infirmary," she said, putting a hand on Ford's elbow.

Ford shook his head. "I don't need to go to the infirmary. I'm fine."

"You are not. You have blisters on your hands and face, and your eyes are causing you pain."

Rodney looked up to see that Ford's eyes were, in fact, redder than Zelenka's, which was saying something. "Teyla's right. Go. Leave us to our misery." He sighed. "Oh, and get someone to bring us something to eat."

Teyla took Ford away over his half-hearted protests, and Rodney and Zelenka were left to the sad business of doing a post-mortem on the ZPM and assessing the damage to everything that had been linked up to it. They were interrupted periodically by Grodin, who was running all the checks he could think of through the Ancient mainframe, and by Elizabeth, who reported that most of the systems Sheppard had managed to shut down were being turned back on without any trouble.

Eventually, they got food — sandwiches and fruit and powerbars and a thermos full of something hot that tasted a bit like ginger. Zelenka took his glasses off and rubbed at his eyes. "Is that salted meat?"

Rodney sniffed at his sandwich. "Smoked, I think. And some kind of cheese. Pass the pepento fruit." He stared at the dead ZPM. "I didn't think it was even possible for something like that to happen."

"I am thinking." Zelenka opened his sandwich and picked out the cheese. "I am thinking that the device used all that power for something, and it concerns me that we do not know what."

Rodney paused with a piece of pepento fruit halfway to his mouth. "I don't like that thought."

Zelenka nodded. "This is why I share. I refuse to be the only one worried."

They finished their sandwiches and went on with their work, briefly interrupted by Kavanagh, who contacted Rodney to say that some of his new protocols were no longer working and Pinheiro, whose day it was to work with him on environmental controls, hadn't shown up. Rodney told Kavanagh that with the power loss, it was a wonder anything was working, and if he couldn't run the protocols he might as well spend his time finding Pinheiro, who if she was running true to form had probably overslept, or was off trying to persuade California Mae to make another omelet.

"This whole panel is ruined," Rodney said after a while, standing back. "When we find another ZPM, we won't be able to install it here unless we can replace all of the—"

"Rodney!" Beckett's voice was sudden enough, loud enough, and upset enough that Rodney jumped and dropped his needle-nosed pliers. "Did you do something to the door?"

"No, I did not do something to the door. What door are you talking about, and why are you shouting at me about it?" Rodney bent to pick up the pliers again and wondered if he should do something about the volume on his radio headset. "There are plenty of people in Atlantis who can repair a door, and I'm working on something far more important than—"

"The door to the room with the new medical equipment," Beckett said. "Out on pier four, we were here yesterday, if perhaps you remember that, or is it not important enough for you?"

"There's no need to be sarcastic." Rodney thought about that for a second and revised his statement. "There's no need for you to be sarcastic. You can't get the door open?"

"We can't find the door at all. Or that part of the floor that you and the major fell through."

"Could be you need Major Sheppard to get the floor panel to work," Rodney said. "But the door worked fine yesterday. Djehiche was the first to open it, and he doesn't even have the gene. Are you sure you're in the right place? All these corridors look the same, you'd think the Ancients would have put up signs or some kind of color-coordinated—"

"We are sure." That was Teyla, and if she said she was sure, then she was sure. "And the small window I used to communicate with you and Major Sheppard is also gone."

"Gone." Rodney echoed the word slowly as he looked at the wreck of the ZPM. "ZPM's gone. Medlab's gone."

"Kavanagh's protocols are gone," Zelenka added. "Perhaps we should find out what else is missing."

Rodney and Zelenka put their tools away and went to the transporter, while Rodney explained to a very unhappy Carson Beckett that there really was no telling quite what might have happened to the missing room, or the missing medical equipment in the room. The shadows seemed sharper this day, the sunlight clearer, and there were scratches on the floor and smudgy prints on the transporter controls. Zelenka got hold of Grodin, who said after a while that he still had the scanners and the new protocols, but they seemed to be missing a number of functions and subroutines.

(Lyngby felt comfortable about going into the generator room on his own again after the destruction of the ZPM, saying that the cranky-looking man with the sword was gone, too. He also said that Rodney was presumably no longer cursed, but it might be safer not to stand too close to him in a thunderstorm, all the same.)

They got out of the transporter and went three corridors over and two flights down and around a corner, and Zelenka palmed the door open, and Rodney thought the lights on.

"Well," Zelenka said, sniffing the yeasty air.

"Well," Rodney agreed.

"At least we still have beer." Zelenka pushed up his glasses with a philosophical air. "So we have not lost everything."

"Mm," Rodney said. "I mean, no." His radio gave a loud squawk, and he considered just pulling his headset off and filtering the rest of the day through Zelenka. "What!"

"Still no Pinheiro," Kavanagh said. "I know things are a bit confused today, but I don't see that that's an excuse not to come in to work. I'm pulling Ferguson off—"

"Wait." Rodney could feel a headache start behind his left eye. "Have you actually looked for Pinheiro?"

"No, I've been sitting here for two hours watching shit dry. Look, Dr. McKay, the woman's not in her quarters, she's not in the messhall, and she's not answering her radio, and I can't spend the whole day chasing down my staff. So I'm pulling Ferguson off the—"

"Oh, great." Rodney toggled his radio headset off and stared bleakly at Zelenka. "Pinheiro's missing."

Zelenka locked the lab door carefully, and Rodney added a little extra security twist that would probably stand up to most things short of explosives or Major Sheppard, and they went to the gateroom. Elizabeth was standing by the railing, looking down at the gate. When she saw them, her face sharpened into concern, and she came towards them. "Something tells me you don't have good news."

"One of my people is missing," Rodney said. He looked around for Grodin. "We need to check if she's still here in Atlantis."

"Dr. Pinheiro has not turned up for her work duties." Zelenka bounced on the balls of his feet. "We must immediately—"

"Isn't that what I just said?" Rodney caught sight of Grodin and went in that direction, leaving Zelenka to explain to Elizabeth. "Can we get some playback on the internal lifesign sensors, like with security camera tapes?"

Grodin stared at him. "What? Why?"

Rodney sighed. There had to be a faster way of communicating than starting every conversation from the beginning instead of at the relevant part. "Dr. Pinheiro is missing, we need to find her, it's probably something to do with the lamp device, she was last seen—" He turned around. "Radek! When did you see Pinheiro this morning?"

"About a quarter to five, Atlantean standard time." Zelenka tore himself away from Elizabeth. "Earliest I have ever seen her."

"Did she come into the lab?" Rodney asked. Zelenka nodded. "Then we have a where and a when. We just have to get the monitoring system to show us where she went when she left."

"I'll see what I can do," Grodin said, hands already moving over the controls. "It might be possible to—" He broke off, and Rodney turned around to see what Grodin was staring at.

Sheppard came walking onto the upper level of the gateroom, carrying the lamp device cradled in his arms. Bates walked next to him with a gun pointed steadily at his chest. Everyone else became very silent and still.

"Is this really necessary?" Elizabeth asked. She sounded so calm about it that Rodney felt his back muscles relax a fraction.

Bates didn't take his eyes off Sheppard, but he looked as calm as Elizabeth sounded. "Just following orders, ma'am."

"I've told him to shoot if he sees the crystals light up. A few bullets might not do enough damage to this thing, but I don't know how much longer I can keep it contained." Sheppard sounded strained, his mouth tight and his eyebrows slanting down in concentration. "Markham's getting jumper one and picking us up here," he nodded at the floor in front of the gate, "to minimize the time the device or I have to screw with the controls before we go through to M3R-557. Even if the lava doesn't destroy it, at least no one will be able to get at it there."

"Wait." Rodney stared at the lamp device and Sheppard's white-knuckled hands. "Maybe you shouldn't destroy it, I mean, not just yet. What if it has a control-Z function?"

Sheppard shook his head, his eyes hard. "Can't risk it. I can't play around with this damn thing, McKay. And I don't think it can unmelt that ZPM for you, anyway. Not without using up more power than we'd get out of it, so just let it go."

Rodney scowled. "Pinheiro is missing. If that thing took her, I thought it might be possible to get it to bring her back."

"Do you really think — would the device actually have physically relocated Dr. Pinheiro somehow?" Elizabeth looked skeptical. "Is that even possible?"

"We know it can move matter," Rodney said, not looking directly at Sheppard. "But hopefully not all that far. All I'm saying is, it could be the lamp is our best chance of finding her as fast as possible."

Sheppard's face changed a bit, but he still shook his head again. "I can't do it. I'm just trying to keep my mental switch in the off position, at this point. I've discussed it with Dr. Weir and we agreed that this is the best option. And honestly, the sooner we go, the better. There's no telling what else might happen if we don't get this thing away from Atlantis."

Elizabeth's look at Rodney was apologetic, and he wanted to tell her that there was no need. He nodded, and she turned to Zelenka. "Dial M3R-557." The chevrons lit up, and the wormhole flared to life. Elizabeth looked at Sheppard. "Go." Her eyes moved to Bates. "If you have to shoot, try not to hit anything vital."

The jumper dropped down, hovered for a moment, and touched down on the floor with a small thump. The rear hatch opened.

"Your concern overwhelms me," Sheppard muttered, and went down the stairs and into the jumper. Bates trailed him closely, the faintest trace of a smile on his face, though his hands on the gun were as steady as always.

Rodney kept watching until the jumper had gone through and the wormhole closed down, and all he could see was the back wall. Then he turned back to Grodin and tapped his fingers impatiently on the nearest flat surface. "Are you getting anything?"

"Hold on." Grodin actually held up a hand for a second before he went on working. "I think I may have something — there, see?" He nodded at the wall screen. "It looks as though she must have gone out to pier five."

"And?"

"And the sensors are still non-functional for most of that area, so we can't track her any further. Doesn't look as though she's come back, though. I can pinpoint the exact location where she disappeared."

"Yes, do," Elizabeth said. "We'll start to assemble a search team." She looked at Rodney. "We'll find her."

Beckett wanted to keep Ford in the infirmary, but Ford discharged himself against a fair amount of progressively more and more Scottish medical advice, put on sunglasses, and put together a team of marines. Papadopoulos and Lyngby pointed out that they weren't getting anything done without Pinheiro anyway, and Ferguson said very earnestly that she felt finding Pinheiro was far more important than her work, unless of course Rodney thought it was vital for her to assist Kavanagh in supervising the waste disposal process, which she knew was deeply important to Atlantis, though perhaps not quite as important as missing personnel. He told her to put a sock in it and to meet up with everybody else at the entrance to the corridor where Pinheiro had vanished off the sensors.

Rodney told Kavanagh that he wasn't getting Ferguson, and Kavanagh looked displeased until Rodney explained why, and then he closed his laptop and said he might as well come along since clearly he wasn't going to get anything done, either, and he might as well round up Simpson and Salvatierra, who never seemed to get anything done. At least Pinheiro worked hard, when she was awake.

Zelenka turned up, too, looking more than half asleep and clutching a giant mug of that ginger-ish hot drink. Ford eyed him. "Maybe you should be in bed."

"Maybe you should be in the infirmary." Zelenka shrugged. "If I go to bed now, I will wake up in the middle of the night. Better to keep going. What is our plan?"

They split up in pairs and divided up the corridors and levels between them. Rodney found himself paired with Leger, who just nodded and said "Hmm" to whatever he said, checking the rooms opening to the left off the corridor as Rodney checked the ones that opened to the right. When they reached the next set of doors they checked in with Ford before continuing.

The first corridor was all living quarters, on the smallish side. The second corridor had fewer doors and larger quarters, a few suites on the side with windows. "No kitchens, though," Rodney said. "Didn't these people ever cook?" He checked the bathrooms, the closet space, the balconies, and the water damage, and moved on.

After the third corridor, storage rooms with empty shelves and bins, small windows and bare bleak walls, they came out into a large stairwell. Rodney looked down through the open metal steps and caught a glimpse of Kavanagh with his hands wrapped around a mug, of Ford talking to someone, and then Leger moved ahead into the next section, which was all large, rectangular rooms with doors at each end and tall windows with deep windowsills. "Looks like a classroom," Leger said, pointing at something that might be a large whiteboard.

Coming out into the next stairwell, they went down one level and met up with Ford and Salvatierra and Majeed and Zelenka. "Haven't seen any sign that she's been through," Ford said. "How about you?"

Leger shook her head. Rodney shook his head, too, and raised an eyebrow in as pointed a manner as he could manage. "What kind of sign are we talking about? Footprints? Spray-painting Pinheiro was here on the walls?" He looked around. "Where are the other teams?"

"Most of them have moved on ahead," Ford said. "Klepperman and Ferguson had just gone through and checked the lifesign detector, so I sent them back to start over."

Rodney met Ford's eyes and nodded. "Yeah. Good." He rubbed at his forehead. "Ferguson tends to be a bit too optimistic in her thinking. I've had to speak to her about that."

"Next stairwell, go up," Ford said. "I called out for pizza. We're probably getting fried-egg sandwiches or something, but you can't say I didn't try."

The next corridors were stripped-down and utilitarian, with no decor and very little light. Half the rooms were empty, half held stacked metal tables and uncomfortable-looking folding chairs. Leger came too close to one stack and unbalanced it, chairs spilling with a loud clatter across the floor. Rodney jumped. "Joy of discovery," he muttered.

Leger started to pick the chairs up again. She said something that sounded suspiciously like "We shall not cease from exploring," but when she turned around again, her face was as expressionless as before, and they moved on. More chairs, a room full of small, narrow children's beds, and two rooms with spare parts for the bathrooms, which Rodney made careful note of. No sign that anyone had come through here for the past ten millennia, though.

Coming out in the next stairwell, they met Zelenka and Kavanagh, and went up into the fresh air and late-afternoon sun. California Mae and Dr. Tanaka were handing out cheese bread and mugs of vegetable soup from the back of a puddlejumper, and Sheppard stood leaning against the side of the jumper, in the sun, sunglasses covering his eyes, deep in conversation with Ford. Apparently he hadn't fallen into a volcano. Rodney shifted around to the other side of Kavanagh and got ahead of the others in the food line.

"I hope we find Dr. Pinheiro soon," Zelenka said, drooping where he stood. "How far can she have walked?"

"She's got a nine-hour head start." Rodney sniffed the soup. "If she even walked at all." He took a bite of the still-warm cheese bread. When he looked up, Sheppard was staring in his direction, or at least Sheppard's sunglasses were staring in his direction. Rodney looked down again. "For all we know, she's not even on Atlantis any more. Anything could have happened to her. For all we know—"

"Eat," Zelenka said firmly, and turned away to discuss weather patterns with Leger.

Rodney ate his cheese bread, which was not quite pizza, but not bad at all, and watched over the rim of his soup mug as Sheppard nodded and made short, tense answers to whatever Ford was saying. After a while Ford nodded and moved away, calling for everyone to get back to the search, and Sheppard pushed away from the jumper and seemed about to go the long way around it, but then he squared his shoulders and pushed through the crowd, passing so close that Rodney could have reached out and touched him.

Dr. Tanaka darted out and handed Rodney another piece of cheese bread, Kavanagh pulled Zelenka to his feet from where he'd been lying stretched out on the sun-warmed plates of the pier, and the search team went back down as the jumper lifted off.

"New search pattern," Ford said, and that was probably what he'd been discussing with Sheppard. Rodney and Leger were assigned to a lower level and walked through a long series of maintenance rooms and hallways, seeing a lot of ventilation shafts, water pipes, and broken climate control panels. Leger firmly refused to play prime not prime. One of the pipes running along the ceiling was leaking in a steady drip drip drip, chilly drops hitting the back of Rodney's neck every time he checked into a room or opening on that side of the hallway.

Leger began to whistle very quietly as she walked. She'd gone through what Rodney thought was about half of the top forty when they'd left Earth and seemed about to start on the other half when they reached a dead end. Rodney looked for a door, thought door at the metal wall, and tapped it here and there with the handle of his screwdriver, then radioed Ford and explained. They trudged back to the last stairwell they'd passed and went down another level.

Leger turned on her flashlight. "This doesn't look good." There was about half a foot of water in the hallway. Doors were stuck halfway shut. A couple of the lighting panels that ran along the top of the walls had fallen off and lay in the water; one of them glowed intermittently, on and off.

"No, it doesn't. Electrocution isn't high on my list of fun ways to spend an afternoon." Rodney turned back to the stairwell as Ford and Kavanagh came out of the doors on the other side. "We can't get through here, either."

Ford frowned. "Damn."

They went down another level, although Kavanagh said the flooding was bound to be worse the lower they went and they'd just have the same problem, and Ford said they wouldn't know until they saw it, and Rodney said he hated to agree with Kavanagh, but actually he agreed with Kavanagh, and Leger whistled My Immortal until Ford told her to stop. The floor was just damp here, and the lighting panels still in place, and apparently dead. Very little light came in through the windows. Ford took off his sunglasses and moved ahead; Rodney and Kavanagh followed, arguing about the most likely power sources for the panels and whether it would be possible to shut down the unused sections completely and get improved functionality in other areas; Leger brought up the rear, no longer whistling.

"—complete waste of time," Rodney said, "since our list of emergency priority do this now items is longer than War and Peace and gets completely reshuffled every time a certain someone with a serious skewed perspective, naming no names, gets to be anywhere near it, not to mention every time some away team or other finds a new and exciting way to get us into trouble—"

"Some team or other?" Kavanagh snorted. "We all know what that means, and you know my opinion of the totally irresponsible—"

"In here," Ford said, and the tone of his voice made them fall instantly silent. "Lieutenant Ford to Dr. Beckett, Ford to Dr. Beckett, we have a medical emergency, pier four, level minus five, section C-47."

Rodney got to the doorway an elbow ahead of Kavanagh, and froze. The room was poorly lit, with a faint glow from the light panels just below the ceiling and an even fainter one from the workstation in the middle of the floor, but he could see the glint of glass on the far wall, and Pinheiro's still, bleached-out face and sweep of black hair, caught in suspended animation like Snow White in an upright coffin. He crossed the room slowly and raised a hand to the glass, but didn't touch it.

The fourteenth night, Rodney sat in the infirmary, waiting for Pinheiro to wake up. Beckett told him to go to bed and get some sleep, that he'd call and wake him when something happened, but Rodney shook his head. There was no point in him being anywhere else. He put his feet up on a second chair and read all the latest project reports, played seventeen games of spider harp, planned out three ways to improve Kavanagh's new protocols for the environmental controls, drank three mugs of coffee and four mugs of the stuff that tasted vaguely like ginger, and was pushed out of the way by the nurses six times. Elizabeth came by before she went to bed and did not, Rodney was relieved to find, put her hand on his shoulder; she did stroke Pinheiro's hair, but Pinheiro wasn't exactly in a state to object to it. Someone walked past the door six times during the night and didn't come in.

Beckett was in and out, and eventually settled into a chair on the other side of Pinheiro's bed, checking the screens and looking thoughtfully at Rodney, who considered making a Do Not Disturb sign to hang on the back of his laptop.

Around four in the morning, Atlantean standard time, Pinheiro moved her right hand a little. Beckett called in two nurses and changed the IV drip and adjusted the elevation of the bed and pushed Rodney out of the way. At six, Pinheiro opened her eyes.

On the fourteenth day, Rodney fell asleep in his chair next to Pinheiro's bed and woke up when Elizabeth came by again. She and Beckett stood by the bed, looking gravely down, and Rodney nearly strained a neck muscle turning his head as fast as he could to see Pinheiro and the monitors. "Stop looming," he said. "It's bad enough to have to be in here without having people loom at you."

"It's okay." Pinheiro sounded a bit thready, though. "I'm so glad you found me."

"Ford found you." Rodney shifted his chair around. "I'm sure he'll be by to tell you the whole heroic story. And just for the record, the next time you want to get out of working with Kavanagh, just fake a stomach virus like the rest of us."

"Rodney." Elizabeth shot him a reproving glance and then leaned forward. "Dr. Pinheiro, do you remember how you got there?"

"No." Pinheiro closed her eyes. "I remember being awake, very early in the morning, and it was like something was calling to me. I just wanted to be left alone for a while so I could get enough sleep," she said, with a hitch in her voice.

"You'll be fine," Beckett said, patting her hand. "I'll not let you out of here until you're well rested."

"And once he does, I want you to come see me immediately." Rodney shifted his laptop so he could lean forward, too. "If you can sense Ancient technology on that level, it could be that the gene therapy had a stronger effect on you than we've documented so far, and I'd like to test—"

"Rodney!"

Both Elizabeth and Beckett, this time, but Pinheiro actually smiled a little. "You know, I was so scared, just for a moment," she said, her voice drifting towards sleep, "I even missed you yelling at me. Probably won't last, though." Her eyes closed.

Rodney went to the commissary and talked California Mae into giving him a whole thermos of coffee and fresh rolls with some of the good cheese. He had to promise her that he'd keep Lyngby chained in a dungeon on the lowest level on her next afternoon off. On the way to the lab, he collared Zelenka and put him in charge of finishing the work on the dead ZPM and the repercussions of the meltdown on primary and secondary systems.

The lab was a mess. Rodney cleared away everything that looked irrelevant and started to investigate what, exactly, had been discovered over the past two weeks and how much of it was still in place. Everyone who came through the door was sent back out with strict instructions. As the preliminary reports began to trickle in, Rodney wished he'd taken the opportunity to ask Beckett for something stronger than coffee. And he still couldn't quite account for the final massive energy surge, even if getting the stasis equipment operational might have required a much greater charge than expected due to the not entirely functional systems on pier four.

Beckett stopped by to say that Pinheiro was still doing fine so he was going to the mainland with Teyla for Athosian health checks and a situation evaluation. He stole one of the rolls before he left.

Someone walked past the door to the lab eleven times during the day and didn't come in.

The fifteenth night, Rodney stayed in the lab, collating the incoming reports and trying to estimate the total damage. Lyngby stopped by and told him to go to bed, and Rodney sent him to the commissary to scare some more coffee out of whoever was there.

No one walked past the door to the lab.

Kavanagh stopped by and told him to go to bed, and Rodney ignored him. Elizabeth stopped by and told him to go to bed, and Rodney ignored her. Zelenka stopped by and told him to go to bed, and Rodney went to bed, because in some matters Zelenka was rather like a small, scruffy, uncombed force of nature, and besides, there was no more coffee.

Someone walked past the door to his room six times and didn't knock.

On the fifteenth day, Rodney got up, showered and shaved, stared gloomily at himself in the mirror, dressed, took a deep breath, and headed out the door. Fortunately, he didn't meet anyone who tried to talk to him. When he got close to Sheppard's quarters he started to concentrate on his breathing, and then the door opened and Sheppard came out, stood for a moment with his hand on the locking panel, squared his shoulders and started to walk up the hallway. He caught sight of Rodney, and they both stopped and looked at each other. Sheppard looked about as happy as Rodney felt.

"Look," Rodney said. "I hate to say this, but—"

"Yeah, I know. I was coming to— You wanna come back here," Sheppard somehow managed to shrug an uncomfortable shoulder to indicate his quarters, "or we can go out on the balcony here."

"Balcony," Rodney said immediately, and Sheppard nodded with no surprise at all in his face. They went outside and leaned on the railing, a bit more than an arm's length apart, and watched the perfect blue sky and the sunshine and the glittering waves. A soft breeze was blowing. It was going to be a warm day.

"So," Sheppard said about two ice ages later. "I just wanna say, first off, that I know I shouldn't have taken that thing and powered it up without having it vetted. But I really thought it was a lamp. Hell, it looked like a lamp, how was I supposed to know?"

Rodney blinked, squinting against the sunlight. "You know, considering the circumstances, that really is not what I would have expected you to start talking about."

"Yeah, yeah, I know." Sheppard stared at the waves. "This isn't easy, you know."

"Believe me, I'm well aware of that," Rodney snapped, then winced. "Sorry."

Sheppard looked down at his hands, and his mouth tightened. "No, you don't have to, don't say that."

"I think I do. Have to." Rodney made a face. "Look, I'm really, really sorry. No, you shouldn't have taken that lamp and started playing around with it and under normal circumstances I'd tell you exactly what I think about that, but I think we left anything resembling normal circumstances behind a couple of weeks ago, and this whole screwed-up situation is all my fault, well, except for the bits that are your fault, but it's not like you could have known this would happen, so. I'm really sorry, and I don't think that even covers it."

"No, but. Hey. Wait." Sheppard's brows drew together, and Rodney braced himself against the railing and reminded himself that one member of Beckett's staff was a dentist. "Wait, you mean you think this happened because you wanted it?"

Rodney took his hand off the railing again to shield his eyes so he could get a better look at Sheppard's face, because clearly he'd misjudged that eyebrow-drawing-together thing. "Yes, to make things excruciatingly clear, I think I'm responsible for what happened to us. I believe that is the usual meaning of 'this is my fault.'"

As clear as anything in the bright sunshine, Sheppard grinned. "Cool."

"You think that's cool? Major, how can you possibly—" Rodney broke off and looked more closely at Sheppard, at the warm, relieved, teasing look in his eyes and the suddenly relaxed set of his shoulders. "Oh. You mean you — you mean you were—"

"Slowest genius in the Pegasus galaxy," Sheppard said, looking very pleased with himself. "Yes, that is exactly what I mean. And now that we've got that cleared up, would you just call me John?"

Rodney had to steady himself against the railing again. "I'll think about it."

"Good." Sheppard looked at him with cross-eyed earnestness. "And while you're taking requests, would you come over here?"

"I could do that," Rodney said, suddenly giddy, and then his radio headset nearly deafened him.

"Rodney, you're late for the meeting." Elizabeth sounded inexorable. "And I don't suppose you know where Major Sheppard is?"

"Uh, yes. We'll be right there." Rodney met Sheppard's eyes. "Meeting. Move. Now. Stop looking at me like that."

Sheppard looked at him like that for another two seconds, and then he scrubbed at his hair and straightened his back and looked like Major Sheppard again, and they went to the meeting, standing on opposite sides of the transporter, sitting at opposite sides of the table.

Sheppard confirmed that the lamp device had been destroyed, or at least dropped into the crater of a volcano on a planet that barely supported microbial life. Zelenka talked about the melted ZPM, and side effects thereof, such as fried circuitry, rerouting of secondary systems, and proposed power-use cut-downs, and Rodney only interrupted him once or twice. Rodney summarized all the various reports he'd gathered the previous day about all the changes the lamp device had made and which upgrades had been lost when it had been turned off and destroyed.

"So it could be a lot worse," Elizabeth said when he'd finished. "That's good to hear."

Rodney nodded. "We aren't that much worse off than we were before in terms of energy and technology, and I assume we still have our new food trading partners." He tabbed through the windows on his laptop and checked the optimistic chart he'd made four days ago. "Of course, all our short-term planning and mission priority assessments need to be reconsidered. I had some extremely useful things in mind for that ZPM, in addition to being able to contact Earth again, which none of us even considered while it was brainwashing the lot of us, and—"

"Yes, Rodney," Elizabeth said firmly. "Dr. Beckett?"

Beckett reported that Pinheiro was feeling much better and no one else, as far as he knew, had been physically affected by anything the lamp device had done. Rodney very carefully did not look at Sheppard. Beckett and Teyla also talked about their trip to the mainland, saying that at least everything was all right with the Athosians, who had been unaffected by what had gone on in Atlantis — they were all well, the crops were growing, they'd found good hunting grounds, and Mitti was pregnant with twins.

"You couldn't wish for a healthier group of people," Beckett said. "It's a joy to see."

Rodney looked at Teyla's hands resting on the table, seeing in memory the lamp crystals light up against her slim, strong fingers, and said nothing.

Bates had made a risk assessment of Sheppard as a security threat, and was not at all pleased with the result; after the meeting, he kept following him about, scowling like a nanny whose toddler has already set fire to the curtains once. Zelenka dragged Rodney off to talk about new wiring and beer, and then Rodney went past the infirmary to check on Pinheiro, who was feeling well enough to throw her pillow at him when he asked her if he should bring her a laptop so she could check on the waste disposal process from her bed.

Pausing only to steal a cup of juice from the nurses, Rodney set out across Atlantis. Sheppard wasn't in the mess hall, and he wasn't in the jumper bay, and he wasn't on any of the balconies off the gate room. Rodney finally tracked him down in the room he and Teyla used for their stick-fighting practice.

"Uh, so," he said, stepping onto the smooth wooden floor, "about what we said before," and that was as far as he got before Sheppard crossed the room and pressed him back against the wall, body fitting against his with the click of magnets locking together, kissing him and kissing him and kissing him.

Sheppard pulled back briefly to say, "This is what we were talking about before, right?"

"Yes," Rodney said, fitting his hand against smooth skin and muscle in the small of Sheppard's back, under his tight black tee-shirt. "And if it wasn't, it should have been."

"Good," Sheppard said, and then he stopped talking.

The seventeenth night, Rodney got into bed next to Sheppard and slept, deeply and dreamlessly, till morning. He woke up with his face pressed against the back of Sheppard's neck.

* * *

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