Elizabeth makes mistakes, Halling runs for president of Atlantica, and Sheppard accidentally learns something about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. McKay/Sheppard.

General spoilers for Seasons One and Two.


Little House on the Mainland
by eleveninches

 

"My people are used to destruction," Halling said to him, "but this is a bit much."

John leaned against the shovel he was using to toss dirt onto the burning pile that was once a hut. "Hey now," he said, "you know Elizabeth didn't mean for this to happen."

Halling's gaze traveled over the wreckage. "Is that so? This is not the first time Dr Weir has 'accidentally' burned down our village."

The former Athosian settlement was a smouldering black mess. The cooked grass beneath their feet fanned out into a large circle, and the handful of trees that dotted the hamlet were brown and withered. Halling was staring at the elaborate fountain Elizabeth had installed as a peace offering for that one time with the Wraith virus-infected lab rabbit and the really big rocks that everyone had agreed never to mention again. The fountain was the only thing that didn't look ruined. That was probably a metaphor for something, but the look on Halling's face kept John from bringing it up.

Instead, he said, "Actually, last time was my fault, since I was the one who turned the doohicky on with my brain," and boy, had that been a mess.

Halling gave an unconvinced "hmm." When he didn't say anything else, John blew out an irritated breath and went back to shoveling. He understood that Halling was angry, but Elizabeth didn't mean to do it. No one could have predicted this would happen. Well, okay, that was a lie; Rodney had repeatedly said it was a bad idea, and so had Zelenka and Simpson and Kavanagh and that scary blonde German, and actually, John had told her it wouldn't work, too. But the point was, Elizabeth hadn't had any bad intentions, and no one had died, except for that one guy, and nobody had liked him anyway.

"I do not mean to ask you to say anything disrespectful about Dr Weir, but I must know, with whom did she duel to win her position?"

John carefully lowered the shovel. "Huh?" he asked cleverly.

"I ask because, if you will forgive me, sometimes I wonder if the previous leader of your people was very weak, allowing Dr Weir to win a match she--"

"Duel?" John cut in.

Halling gave him the same look he had when they'd first met and John had asked what the hell a Wraith was. "When one our people wants to take command, he must fight the current leader to the death."

"I thought your people were peaceful?" John gaped. Then a horrible realization struck him. "Does that mean Teyla's your leader because she killed someone?"

"Of course not," Halling said calmly, "we would not make someone our leader just for that. She had to kill his second as well."

That actually explained a lot about Teyla. John had always respected the fact she'd totally kill him if she had to. Of course, now that he knew she would for sure, that sort of creeped him out. He glanced over to where she and Ronon were cutting down some of the burned trees. She noticed and sent him a friendly grin. He waved back nervously, tightening the grip on his shovel.

"Our people don't pick our governments this way," John told Halling. Then he thought about it and shrugged. "Not where I'm from, at least."

Halling rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Then how did Dr Weir come to be your ruler?"

John didn't know what was going on here, but it was really starting to pissing him off. Elizabeth was different from every other superior he'd ever had; when she asked him to do something, he didn't immediately want to do just the opposite. Usually. Halling didn't know anything about how they did things in Atlantis.

"A bunch of people from different governments came together and decided she was the best person to handle this," John said, maybe a little too defensively.

At least, that's how he figured things had gone. He hadn't really been around when all that had been going down. For all he knew, maybe Elizabeth really had killed someone to be there. And maybe one day he'd actually read all those personnel files was supposed to.

"Where exactly are you going with this?" John asked.

Two hours and several misunderstandings later, Halling was declaring a coup. And possibly offering a hefty amount of Athosian marijuana cookies for Elizabeth's head on a pike.

*

When John made it back to the city, he tried to take the long, scenic route to the briefing room -- which was actually only about ten minutes longer, because Atlantis was weirdly interconnected like that -- but Halling knew the city almost as well as John did, and he had to jog to beat Halling there. He didn't think he'd ever seen Halling move this quickly, and he'd seen Halling in plenty of near-death situations by this point.

"You idiot," he heard Rodney shouting by the time they made it within fifty feet of the room, "they're not pacifists, they're hippies! Don't you remember the 70's? They know how make bombs from things found in nature!"

Elizabeth started to yell back, "Rodney--"

Then they noticed John standing in the doorway. He must've had a weird expression on his face, because Rodney paled slightly, took a step forward, and asked, "Colonel, what--?"

"I did something bad," he said.

Elizabeth's eyes widened. "What's going on?" she asked, glancing over John's shoulder at Halling. "Halling, I've already told you how sorry I am for what happened."

"Dr Weir," Halling said with a stubborn straightening of his spine, "we must speak of many things. Important things, such as congress and infrastructure."

Both Rodney's and Elizabeth's eyes flitted to John.

"I, uh, sort of told him how the American electoral system works?" John said.

Elizabeth blinked rapidly. "I'm not sure I understand."

Halling cleared his throat. "It has come to my attention that among your people you had a philosopher who believed in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This philosopher also, I believe, said that if your government fails you, you have the right to make a new, better one."

"Actually, Locke's philosophy was 'life, liberty, and property,'" Rodney said airily, and John heard the unspoken sneer of, "Americans."

"Exactly how much did you tell him?" Elizabeth demanded, turning to John. She was clearly catching onto what was going on much faster than John had back on the mainland.

"Just the basics," John said, which he thought sounded a hell of a lot better than, "He manipulated me!"

She did that thing again where she widened and narrowed her eyes several times, before smiling thinly at Halling and saying, "Unfortunately, while Atlantis is a self-sustaining city, we don't have our own government. We're a research and military outpost, not a colony of Earth."

"Well," Rodney started, but he snapped his mouth shut when both Elizabeth and John glared at him.

Halling placed his palms flat on the table. "Dr Weir, in the past, my people have always been grateful for the way you have protected us against the Wraith. But in the years since we first arrived on the world of the Ancients, we have faced much destruction that has been caused by your poor decisions. Something has to change. Either we do this in the tradition of your people, or we do it in mine."

John crossed his arms over his chest. "Fine, we'll do it your way. I'm Elizabeth's second."

"Teyla is mine," Halling replied.

"Fuck," John said.

Elizabeth touched John's shoulder. "No, it's alright. Actually, Halling might be onto something." She cocked an eyebrow. "We'll have elections."

Halling smiled triumphantly.

"What?" Rodney exclaimed. "Am I hearing things? You want a bunch of scientists, marines, and alien refugees to vote on a governor of Atlantis? First of all, this is a horrible, horrible idea, and second, did you even stop to think you might lose?"

"McKay's right," John said.

But Elizabeth said, "It'll be just like high school," and her eyes were wide and dreamy, and-- dear God, she looked happy. She turned to him, brightening, and he knew this was going to end badly. "Would you help me make campaign posters?"

*

"High school sucks," John grumbled, rubbing that weird Athosian berry paint between his fingers. He knew from previous experiences that this stuff wouldn't come off for days.

Rodney looked up from where he was filling in bubble letters. Pink bubble letters. "This is so your fault."

John held up his stained hands. "Hey now, how was I supposed to know this would happen? One minute he was saying Elizabeth had destroyed the village on purpose, and the next he was asking about the electoral college."

"No one understands how the electoral college works," Rodney said hotly, "not even Americans. Did you know I'd never even heard the words 'electoral' and 'college' used in the same sentence together before I went to university in the States? It's because the whole system is a dirty little secret." He dotted the "I" almost angrily.

John smiled. "Yes, Rodney, we're oppressing you with our funny elections."

Rodney gave a long-suffering sigh and began filling in the letter "Z." They were sitting on the floor in John's tiny apartment, papers and jars of paint spread out around them like a rainbow, and a forgotten half-eaten bag of chips under the bed. They'd been through a lot together, but John had never thought he'd see the day when Rodney McKay would be wearing a ratty Roots hooded sweatshirt and jeans, painting a big pink 'Vote For Dr Elizabeth Weir' campaign poster while complaining that holding a paintbrush for more than half an hour was giving him arthritis.

They'd already finished a huge stack of sixteen-by-sixteen size posters, which were drying on John's bed. Rodney's posters were meticulously done, every brush stroke perfect and straight, but John, on the other hand, was having a really, really hard time staying in the lines. It was just his carefree spirit, he figured.

"And anyway," Rodney continued, "this whole thing is ridiculous. Elizabeth should've told Halling that if he doesn't like how she runs things, he should just find a new planet. Granted, they had to come here after you woke the Wraith and doomed us all, and Jesus Christ, is 'Weir will never steer you wrong' the best you can do? Why don't you just write 'vote for Weir, I'm a queer' and get it over with."

"At least mine aren't boring," John said, rolling his eyes.

"Because lame is so much better than boring," Rodney shot back.

"All work and no play makes McKay something something," John said cheerfully.

Then John's paintbrush slipped out from under him and left a blue smudge across the page. "Goddamn it," he growled, and he jerked his arm back, smacking Rodney in the face. Rodney flailed "Ow! What the fuck? Ow!" -- and knocked over the glass they'd been using to clean their brushes.

"Goddamn it," he repeated, watching as both their posters soaked up the brown water.

In revenge, Rodney reached over and painted a long pink stripe on John's cheek. It was the first day of the campaign trail, and things were already starting to look bad.

*

John made the newest wave of marines from the SGC tack the posters to the walls in the lived-in areas of the city. They all eyed him funny, although he wasn't sure if that was because of the ridiculousness of the situation, or if it was because he still had that pink line on his face that wouldn't wash off. Sometimes he hated Rodney so much.

On his way to grab some lunch, he found Rodney, Ronon, and Lorne standing in the corridor, judging his artwork. Not that Rodney hadn't already seen the pictures the day before, but from the way he was squinting almost comically at the wall, John knew he hadn't been able to scream at his geeky minions as much as he'd wanted, and that meant John was going to suffer for the rest of the day.

"Your posters are horrible," Rodney said snottily as John approached. "Is that supposed to be Elizabeth? It looks like a lion."

"That's her hair," John said defensively.

Rodney snorted. "I once had a professor that said people good at math are supposed to be artistic. Now I know that's a total lie."

"Art's for fags," Lorne said.

Everyone turned to stare at him.

"What's a fag?" Ronon asked.

Lorne started, "It's a--"

"I'm plenty artistic," John said quickly. He'd already had several chats with Lorne about watching his language in public, especially around someone as impressionable as Ronon, who'd been taught by the marines that it was perfectly acceptable to go around calling people "hos" and "niggas." Which had led to a really awkward conversation when Teyla had asked, "Ronon said I was his 'bitch,' should I be insulted?" Which had then led to Elizabeth passing out feminist pamphlets on how everyday English oppresses women. There'd been mutterings of sensitivity training, too, and it hadn't been until John had threatened to throw himself off the balcony that Elizabeth had relented.

"I can play guitar," he added.

Rodney looked at him sourly. "No, you can't."

"I used to play the drums when I was in high school," Lorne offered.

"I played the loobaloo on Sateda," Ronon said. When they looked at him blankly, he shrugged and explained, "You blow into it, and it makes music. You know?"

"You played the flute?" Rodney asked, sounding horrified.

"We should start a band," Lorne said brightly.

"Or how about we don't," John said.

Teyla appeared at John's shoulder, looking concerned. "Colonel, can someone please explain to me what is going on? Halling is saying he is going to run the city of the Ancients, and what are these horrible pictures doing on the walls? I believe they are frightening the children."

*

John had never understood why his father the general committed suicide that cold October night, but once he became military head and had to face paperwork, he started to have an idea.

"Sheppard," a little voice in his ear asked, "what are you doing right now?"

"Longing for death's sweet embrace," he replied.

"Oh." Rodney paused. "Well, when you're done with that, we may have found something that -- shut up, Zelenka, it's not a blender, but if you want to put your hand in it, by all means go ahead. Like I was saying, if you don't have anything to do later, we might be able to use you in the labs."

"And we will make smoothies, perhaps," Zelenka's voice broke in.

"In other words, you're bored and want me to come hang out," John drawled.

"Yes, I discovered a way to create unlimited power, destroy the Wraith, and end world hunger, all before my lunch break," Rodney said, which John knew was code for, "Yes, I'm bored enough to ask you to come down here and annoy me."

Rodney and Zelenka were still arguing via radio when the door to John's office opened and Lorne strolled in.

He froze when he saw John at his desk. "Oh. Sir. I didn't even know you knew you had an office."

John smiled thinly and closed his laptop. He could hear Rodney calling Zelenka an idiot, so he turned off his radio too, leaving behind blissful silence. "I found it by accident," he said easily. "What can I do you for, Major?"

Lorne sank into the chair across from the desk. He squirmed like a kid in the principal's office. "I can just fill out a form, sir, that's actually what I--"

John waved a vague hand. "Nah, I hate paperwork. Just tell me."

"Sir, I need to request time off," Lorne said.

"Okay," John replied, drawing the word out. This was the first time anyone had asked him this. He wondered if maybe Lorne should fill out a form or something. "Can I ask why?"

Lorne squared his shoulders. "Sir, the full moon is coming up. I need to be on the mainland to converse with the trees, sir."

John stared. He opened and closed his mouth a few times.

"It's a religious holiday for me, sir," Lorne added sharply, defensively. He looked completely serious. "Normally, I'd just do a small ceremony with a potted plant, but since Dr Weir's... project did so much damage to the land, I think I need to be there. So they understand we didn't mean to do it."

"The Athosians?" John asked hopefully.

Lorne frowned at him. "The trees."

John exited his office the same time Sergeant Reid was walking past. John pointed at the man, who was big enough to crush John's skull with his hands, and shouted, "You! Go ahead and tell me what ever messed up thing you do in your spare time, so I don't have to find out later when you want time off for one of your sick games."

Reid stammered, "I-I play Dungeons and Dragons w-with the anthropologists on Thursdays, s-sir! I'm a halfling named R-randy who likes to fuck uni-- unicorns."

"Well, I've learned my lesson," John said, backing away carefully.

But Lorne was still in his office filling out paperwork on how he needed to have next weekend off because he was a warlock, so John ran away to the labs, where, for the first time in history, saner people were fiddling with Ancient blenders.

*

The biggest problem with having elections between people from two different galaxies wasn't in the campaign itself. The problem wasn't in the way Halling spread rumours about Elizabeth being a lesbian after John accidentally told him about dirty politics. It wasn't in the way Elizabeth tried to frighten everyone into submission by saying Halling didn't know what to do in case of a Wraith attack on Atlantis. There was nothing wrong with Halling promising slack regulations, or Elizabeth promising tighter regs but casual Fridays, or both of them promising new uniforms. John suspected there were a lot of private deals being made, too, considering how the botanists made cow eyes at Halling. The botanists and Lorne, actually.

The problem was actually that people had already made up their minds before the whole thing even truly started.

Atlantis was John's city, so he wasn't restricted to the same social boundaries as everyone else. He was the military commander, so in the locker rooms, gyms, and mess, he heard marines talking about voting for Halling because Elizabeth had been in charge too long and made too many mistakes, or because Halling had once trained with them, so he knew which regs to use and which ones to ignore. (John figured they probably thought the same about him. Assholes.) He was friends -- or whatever -- with Rodney, so he was in the labs when the scientists talked about how either Halling was a nature lover and therefore one of them, or Halling was a primitive fool who would let them do whatever the hell they wanted.

John found the whole thing personally offensive.

A month into the campaign -- just a week before the actual voting would take place -- John was starting to actually get worried. Elizabeth had no idea any of this was happening. She thought that since everyone liked her, they'd vote for her, because that had gone so well for her in high school. But the truth of the matter was Elizabeth wasn't one of the people; she had everyone's respect, but she wasn't one of them, not in the way Halling was.

Ronon was the only person John felt comfortable telling who to vote for. John justified it by telling himself that Sateda was probably a military dictatorship, and since this was Ronon's first real election, he might not want to screw it up by voting for the wrong person.

"You're voting for Elizabeth," John said, making it an order.

"There's no point in voting," Ronon said grimly, not looking up from his tray when John sat across from him in the mess. All of John's noble intentions were disappearing faster that Ronon's dinner. "All elections are fixed by the establishment."

"Ronon," John said patiently, "we are the establishment."

Ronon paused mid-bite. He looked down at his hands. "What have I become?"

*

John steathfully managed to avoid Lorne after their talk, except for during events like meetings, where John was, for once, completely professional. His old man would've been proud. Well, actually, no, he wouldn't have; the general would have had the pagan beaten out of Lorne, and then he would've told John to cut his hair and stop being such a pansy. Not that John was bitter or anything.

On the day of the Atlantian elections, a squad of marines had to rescue John, Teyla, Ronon, and Rodney from the forest planet of MX-132, where they'd accidentally walked right into the middle of a civil war. The mission ended with a victory for the rebels, a handful of very smug marines, and a disturbingly chatty Ronon escorting the busty, and very thankful, princess he'd rescued single-handedly. John would've teased him about it, but Teyla had always been a better friend to him than he was to her, and anyway, the scowl on her face had already scared the marines into silence.

"How come I never get any princesses?" Rodney whined to him. "The only person I ever rescue is you."

John swore he heard Ronon snicker. "Rodney," he threatened.

When they got back to the jumper, John was surprised to see Dr Parrish already there, loading several crates of plastic baggies and test tubes onto the ship. They were all filled with green, red and blue things that must've been plant samples.

"Hello, Colonel," Parrish said with his usual slow, goofy grin. "Fascinating world you got stuck on."

"Parrish thinks some of these plants might be edible," one of Lorne's teammates said.

John sank into the pilot's seat. "Cool."

"I'm going to look around the perimeter," Lorne called from outside.

Ten minutes later, he still hadn't returned. Parrish had finished bringing all his samples back onto the jumper, Teyla was eagerly giving the princess directions on how to get to a world really, really far away, and Lorne's team was standing outside telling Ronon why rap was the greatest music ever made. (Once John had tried to introduce Ronon to the Stones, David Bowie, and Iggy Pop, but, well, Ronon still didn't use cutlery at the table, so John shouldn't have expected him to recognize genius when he heard it.)

"Problems, Major?" John asked into his radio.

"No, sir," Lorne replied, sounding tiny and far away, "just checking things out."

"And by 'things' you mean 'trees,'" John said. No answer. He glanced at Parrish, who was humming 'Sweet Home Alabama' and writing something on his pad. "So, uh, you know about Lorne's... religious... thing?"

Parrish smiled dreamily. "Yes, I do. It's so wonderful to work with someone in the military who loves nature as much as I do."

"What's going on?" Rodney asked.

"Lorne's a pagan," John said.

"This explains so much," Rodney said seriously.

John kicked Rodney in the shins, then he glanced back to the open hatch. Lorne was still nowhere in sight. "Major," he shouted, "we need to go."

"One more minute!" came the reply, this time from somewhere in the distance instead of the radio.

John scowled, even though Lorne couldn't see him. "Get into the puddlejumper and away from the trees right now, young man."

"But--"

"If you're not here by the time I count to ten, you'll have to walk home!"

Lorne came stomping up the ramp. "This is discrimination," he muttered, just loud enough for John to hear. "I thought you people were supposed to be open-minded."

"What?" Rodney demanded shrilly. "What did you say?"

Lorne was a fine officer; that was what Colonel Caldwell was always telling John. "I see things are the same as when I left... you're lucky to have Major Lorne here, Colonel." Lorne knew he'd be hard to replace, which is why he felt comfortable making fun of John and Rodney and Beckett and the Athosians and pretty much everyone but Elizabeth and Caldwell, and John suspected that was probably only because he was afraid of them. For the most part, John could respect that, but if he got court martialed because of one of Lorne's little comments, John would kill him in his sleep.

When they made it back to Atlantis, John went immediately to the control room to find out who won the election. He smirked as he passed the clean up crew taking Halling's posters off the walls ("Halling or DEATH," they proclaimed rather harshly), taking that as a good sign. But when he arrived, with Rodney, Ronon, and Teyla in tow, the mood was grim. Elizabeth stood on the balcony overlooking the stargate, her shoulders drawn in a tight line, one eye twitching.

"So who won?" John asked.

Elizabeth burst into tears and fled the room.

"Halling won," answered Chuck the tech guy, "about three hundred to two."

Horrified, John whirled on his teammates. "Did you guys vote?"

"No," Ronon said, as Rodney and Teyla looked everywhere but John.

Teyla began, "I had a conflict of loyalty..."

"Halling promised me free reign to do whatever I want," Rodney said quickly. "I mean, not that I'll, say, start experimenting on people, but there are just some things Elizabeth wouldn't let me do, such as try out that--"

"Rodney," John said tiredly, "shut up."

*

He found Elizabeth in her quarters, nursing a large mug of what might've been coffee but clearly wasn't, judging from the half-empty open bottle of alien liquor on the table. John would have liked to say they got the moonshine from the Athosians, but in actuality, they traded for it with a small band of people on a world that worshiped empty tin cans. It was John's favourite planet.

"Yes, John?" she asked when he walked through the door.

"Oh my God," he said without thinking, "your apartment is huge."

She frowned. "Well, I am the head of Atlantis. Or at least I was." She sniffed loudly, touching one of the weird fertility statues of MX-17, which was a little too clown-like for John's comfort. She probably didn't even realize John would've killed several innocent people to get an apartment like this. Were those real wood floors?

"Isn't there anything we can do?" he asked, pulling up a chair to the table and resisting the urge to ask to see her closet space. "We can say the whole thing was just a joke."

"No, I couldn't do that," she said, widening her slightly glazed eyes. "It goes against my moral principles. It's... un-American."

John said, "Morals, schmorals."

Elizabeth reached for the liquor bottle and sloshed some into her mug. "I can't believe this is happening. I was the homecoming queen," she said wistfully.

"So was I," John deadpanned. She stared. He cleared his throat and added, "If it helps, I voted for you."

She patted his hand while giving him a wide, drunken smile. "Oh John, I know you did. It's times like this I think to myself, 'If only John wasn't gay.'"

"Um," he said.

*

As it turned out, Halling asked Elizabeth to remain as both a diplomat and a liaison between Atlantis and the SGC, which she accepted with a lot more grace and dignity than John would have, if he'd been in her situation. She did a scarily excellent job at hiding her all-consuming rage. John, on the other hand, made a point of not going to Halling's swearing in ceremony, but later he cornered Rodney and demanded all the details.

"Caldwell was silent and intimidating, Teyla sang an Athosian song that strangely reminded me of Lord of the Rings, only with more crushed velvet, Ronon drank too much punch and had a sugar rush like the twelve year-old he really is, and everyone else looked really bored."

"That's it?" he asked, disappointed.

Rodney glanced up from his laptop and squinted. "What did you want to happen, a revolution? Why didn't you just go? Zelenka was the only one who got to hear my hilarious commentary."

"Yes, lucky me," Zelenka said. He was standing at another lab bench, poking at something that may or may not have been an Ancient joystick.

John shifted uncomfortably from his spot on the edge of Rodney's table. "I was trying to support Elizabeth."

"Poor Dr Weir," Zelenka sighed. "She is so brave and strong to remain after everyone betray her. This is why I vote for her."

"See, this is why I like Zelenka more than you," John told Rodney.

The next thing Halling accomplished was earning the love and devotion of everyone by somehow improving the food in the mess. It was a crafty, evil plan, and it sure as hell worked.

"Holy shit," Rodney said, mouth full, "this is real steak. I always knew the Athosians were holding out on us!"

However, John refused to be swayed by cheap tactics like good food and new titles (Elizabeth wasn't the only one to get a new job; Ronon was insisting everyone refer to him as Lord Dex, Grand Poo-ba of Military Training and Fitness) and secure peace treaties (damn that new Genii government!). The only reason John had listened to Elizabeth was because he believed in her, and even then he disobeyed her. A lot. So much, in fact, that when Halling called him for a conference, John was seriously worried about being demoted. If that hippy Lorne got his job, John was going to blow up the mainland.

But instead, Halling said, "I have always been proud of you, Colonel Sheppard. I would like you to create more teams to explore the city of the Ancients so it might one day be one hundred percent functional," and even better, "I have spoken to your SGC about bringing in more weapons."

All John could do was blink and say, "Yes, Halling, um, sir."

Halling gave John that fatherly smile of his and patted him on the head. "Now off you go. Try to finish your paperwork before dinner."

Even Elizabeth seemed to be enjoying herself. After she came back from the world of the Chion, hair singed, face dirty, head held high, and declared she'd ended a century-long war and gotten Atlantis a techno-savvy ally, she ended her speech with a round of high-fives to the marines who'd accompanied her. Chuck gossiped to anyone who'd listen that he'd seen Sergeant Stackhouse pinch her bum. The next day, Stackhouse had a nasty shiner, and Colonel Caldwell's hand knuckles were bandaged.

*

Then came the time for Lorne's requested vacation. If anyone asked, John had completely forgotten about it, but that was a total lie. Worshiping nature goddesses was just one of those things that one never forgot about a person they worked with every day, like music taste, or cannibalism.

He had a sinking feeling about the whole thing as soon as Teyla mentioned it off-world. They were headed back to the stargate on an uninhabited world when Teyla said, "Major Lorne has extended an open invitation to participate in his rituals."

"Have fun," John said cheerfully.

Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "Since neither you nor Dr McKay are religious people, I believe it would benefit you to attend."

Rodney said, "It's not that I'm irreligious, so to speak, it's just that I think it's complete bullshit."

"Ronon's going," Teyla said.

Both Rodney and John looked over at Ronon, who ducked his head and scratched the back of his neck.

"Well, if Ronon's going," Rodney said sarcastically.

"I can't," John said, a feeling of dread knotting in the pit of his stomach. "I have important things to do."

Rodney puffed up. "And do you think I can just leave the city any time I want to go frolicking with Major Harry Potter? No, of course not. I have to make sure the lab monkeys posing as scientists don't accidentally kill us all. It's a heavy responsibility, but someone has to do it."

"Halling has given his permission," Teyla said pointedly. "He said it would be a good learning opportunity for you both. I believe he said he would make it an order if it came down to it."

"Fine," Rodney said. He stabbed a finger in Teyla's face. "But there will be absolutely no talking of feelings."

Teyla smiled. "Then I will inform Major Lorne you both are attending. Thank you."

John protested, "Hey, I didn't agree to anything." He didn't like how Teyla'd assumed he'd just follow Rodney anywhere, as if they were joined at the hip. But at the same time, he was sort of used to that, so it was hard to be really offended anymore.

"You can't leave me alone with the hippies," Rodney hissed in his ear.

"You're the one who agreed to go," John whispered back, "I was going to find us a way to get out of it."

Which is how they ended up in the jumper bay a few days later, helping Lorne prep two (two!) jumpers for a trip to the mainland. There were several locked metal crates waiting to be loaded that John didn't want to think about.

"Please let those be full of drugs," he muttered.

Worse, there were twenty people or so waiting to board. John very carefully didn't make eye contact with anyone he knew.

Lorne came out of the back of the nearest jumper, yelling, "We need to get all the boxes on board, guys."

"Let's get this farce over with," Rodney said, crossing his arms over his chest.

Ronon, Rodney, and John each heaved a sigh and marched up to Lorne, who was leaning off the ramp and yelling something to Parrish that sounded like, "Don't forget the fucking sandalwood this time." He seemed pleased to see them, and called, "Sir! Dex! I'm glad you-- Oh," he said dejectedly, "you're coming too, McKay?"

"You don't want me to come?" Rodney asked excitedly.

John grabbed his arm before he could walk off. "My whole team's coming, Major."

Lorne beamed. "Rock. We're just about ready to leave."

Rodney asked, "Will there will be any hallucinogenic drugs involved in this ritual?"

Lorne's glanced at John sheepishly. "Uh, yeah, there might be, but--"

"Thank the heavens," Ronon said, sounding relieved. He marched up the ramp.

"Looks like Ronon's enthusiastic," John said. He grinned and slapped a very unimpressed Lorne on the back.

*

The first thing John did when they hit the mainland was walk right into Laura Cadman.

"Oh God," John said, covering his face with his hands. "You never saw me here, Lieutenant. Got that?"

She smirked. "Sure thing, Colonel. Hey, McKay! Ready to get down with nature?"

"This is going to suck," Rodney moaned, stomping off. Ronon threw John a sympathetic look and followed, obviously looking for Teyla, who'd boarded the other jumper.

"Why are you here?" John asked Cadman.

"Are you kidding? It's better than a movie. I hope Lorne goes all Carrie on us and tries to kill us all."

John laughed nervously and tried to edge away from her, which put him right in Lorne's path. Much to his surprise, Lorne put an arm around his shoulders -- which wasn't an easy feat, considering their height difference -- and began, "John..."

"John?" he repeated, recoiling. Shep was one thing, he was used to Shep, but John?

"There aren't any secrets in the circle, John," Lorne said. He seemed to think about it for a moment, then he looked back at Rodney and twitched. "Well, I mean, except. Yeah."

The only military personnel attending the ceremony were John, Cadman, and a beefy blonde woman named Pat. ("That's Parrish's girlfriend," Cadman pointed out. "Parrish has a girlfriend?" John asked.) Both John and Rodney had practically begged Halling to allow Zelenka to come too, but he'd said that since Rodney would be on the mainland, they desperately needed Zelenka on Atlantis. Everyone else in the clearing was either a frazzled-looking male scientist or a moony-eyed female one, and the latter were looking at Lorne in a certain way. John knew what those looks meant; he'd invented that look. Most of the men might have been actual nature lovers, or Dungeons and Dragons weirdos, but the women were there as Lorne's personal fanclub. When Lorne walked out of the jumper in an obviously homemade black cloak, there was a lot of sighing and giggling.

John squeezed his eyes shut. "This is so embarrassing."

Cadman punched him in the arm, hard. He scowled. "Come on, Colonel, where's your sense of adventure?"

"Pegasus galaxy," he reminded her.

"Oh, right," she said. "Hey, do you think maybe there will be some sort of freak accident and Lorne will really cast a spell on somebody?"

"No?" John said uncertainly.

"I'll keep my fingers crossed. I'm gonna go sit with the ladies." She jerked her thumb towards Dr Brown, Pat, Dr Heightmeyer, Dr Simpson, and a handful of other women scientists he didn't recognize but should, considering all the time he spent in the labs. They were probably social scientists, which meant Rodney was too much of a snob to allow them into his precious main labs with the "real" scientists.

John found Rodney sitting on the ground next to Ronon and Teyla, looking glum. John flopped down next to him. "Cheer up, Charlie Brown."

"I can't believe so many people I once respected are here," Rodney sighed. John snorted. "Okay, fine, people I almost, could have possibly one day respected."

"I used to like Lorne," John mused.

Teyla glared at them both. "I cannot believe you two. How does Major Lorne's religion change who he is as a person?"

"You've got to be kidding me," Rodney said.

"What McKay means--" John shot him a pointed look. "--is that Major Lorne's... religion is kind of... unusual."

"That, and he's really weird," Rodney said.

"I don't care if he eats babies, as long as this is quick," Ronon said.

"I believe I will sit with Lieutenant Cadman," Teyla sniffed, climbing to her feet.

"Thanks a lot," Ronon said dryly to John and Rodney, watching Teyla's retreating back.

Conversation died down as Lorne and Parrish dragged a large plastic box into the centre of the clearing. Lorne looked completely ridiculous; this was -- in John's humble opinion as manly man who cared nothing about clothing choices, especially not those of the men who worked for him, even though, hey, John was the one who had to look at them all day, so the least they could do is be considerate -- worse than that time Lorne had to pretend to be a Genii.

"Everyone ready?" Lorne called.

"I hate my life," Rodney muttered.

"Commence with the free love," John drawled loudly with a wave of his hand.

Lorne turned to him, horrified. "I'm not that kind of warlock, sir."

"So there's not going to be any sex?" Ronon sounded irritated. He slowly crossed his arms over his chest. John had been on the receiving end of that glare before, and it usually resulted in a lot of bruising and occasionally some internal bleeding. Some of the women giggled.

Lorne slowly laid out a white cloth over the metal box, not looking at John. "I was asked to leave three different covens. I couldn't get behind some of the fertility rituals. You'd think witches would want to be 'fertilized' by warlocks--" And John twitched as Lorne made the air quotes and everything. "--But apparently... some warlocks aren't down with witches? I don't know, it was... difficult, to say the least."

The circle got very quiet.

"Didn't you promise us peyote?" John asked finally.

*

No one else seemed to have a problem when Lorne took out the coloured candles, bowls, bags of herbs, and long, pointy sword, so when Rodney muttered, "This must be what having a brain tumour feels like," John, shoulders sagging with relief, whispered back, "We have to get out of here ASAP. I'll think of something."

He stood and stretched. "I have to pee. Rodney, want to come with?"

"Er," Rodney said, and John walked out of the clearing and away from Lorne's bewildered face, Rodney at his heels.

"You couldn't have come up with a better excuse?" Rodney demanded once they were out of earshot. "I think you've forgotten we're not girls."

John shrugged. "It worked, didn't it?"

"Yeah, but God knows what Lorne thinks we're doing out here. Probably having sex. He's always thinking about gay sex, have you noticed that?"

They didn't go very far, since John had a bad habit of getting lost in unfamiliar places. It wasn't too long before John couldn't see Lorne or anyone else anymore, but when the wind picked up, he could hear snatches of conversation and something that sounded like bells. The mainland forest was old and filled with ancient, enormous trees, which made sense, considering no one had been around to cut them down in over a millennia. John had been always more of a beach guy, but these woods were cool and calming. There were worse places to spend an afternoon.

"Here," he said, lifting himself up onto the lowest branch of the nearest tree, "we can sit up here until they're done."

After a bit of huffing and puffing, Rodney managed to make it beside him. The huge branch didn't even sag beneath their combined weight. "Have I mentioned lately how much I hate nature? I think I have a splinter. Why couldn't Lorne have been a Born Again Christian? He'd be just as easy to make fun of, and we'd never even have to leave Atlantis."

"This is nice," John said. He smiled at Rodney until Rodney's scowl melted away.

A breeze blew, and John heard Lorne's voice: "This is the boundary of the circle. Only love shall enter and leave."

Rodney said, "By which he means only manly, heterosexual love, of course."

The sky opened up, and rain starting furiously pouring down. Rodney and John stared at each other, open mouthed. Then, just as quickly as it started, it stopped.

"You don't think--?" John nodded in the direction they'd come from.

"There's no such thing as magick, Lorne's just fucked in the head," Rodney insisted. He brushed a hand across his forehead, pushing away big droplets of water.

"I call upon you, Elemental Earth, to attend this rite and guard this circle, for as I have body and strength, we are kith and kin."

"Does any of this bother you?" John asked.

"Of course it does," Rodney snapped. "I'm an astrophysicist. It goes against the very core of my being."

John slumped, looking down at the massive tree they were sitting on. "I was raised Catholic," he said.

Rodney sputtered. "You've got to be kidding me. Have you noticed you, oh, kill people for a living?"

"Really? I must've missed that while converting aliens and flushing condoms down the toilets."

"You--" Rodney broke off, eyes narrowing thoughtfully. "They send condoms on the Daedelus?"

"Sure." Actually, John had no idea. But there had yet to be any babies born on Atlantis, so it was safe to assume Carson was storing some. Or else he was performing abortions in a back alley somewhere.

"My parents were Buddhist," Rodney said. At John's raised an eyebrow, he snapped, "I'll have you know Canada's an extremely diverse country. We met with our Buddhist chapter weekly to perform chants. I was very into it when I was a child, but when I got older I realized how stupid it was to chant to a wooden box on the wall. My parents were crushed."

"I thought your parents were cold, distant, and unloving," John said, crossing his arms over his chest.

"What," Rodney replied, snorting, "you don't think Buddhists screw up their kids too? It's a religious philosophy revolving around a prince who gave up his worldly possessions, sat under a tree for a few years, and then didn't have sex with a prostitute."

"Funny, I under the impression Buddhism was about how your attachment to this world only leads to suffering."

Rodney glared. "Who's the Buddhist here? Also, you look like a drowned rat." He reached out and carefully ran a hand through John's hair; John winced as Rodney's hand got stuck, then glided through, which actually left John blinded by his own bangs.

A wind rose. "I call upon you, Elemental Air, to attend this rite and guard this circle for as I breathe and think, we are kith and kin."

They weren't on a mission; they weren't about to die. They were just two guys standing soaking wet in a forest while their co-worker performed magick rituals on trees. It was as close to normal as John had felt since sitting in that chair in Antarctica.

"You wanna make out?" John asked.

Rodney slowly turned and looked at him. "In the middle of the woods?" he asked, sounding disgusted.

John stared. "You know what? Forget I asked."

"Hail to the elementals at the four quarters! Welcome Lady and Lord to this rite! I stand between the worlds with love and power all around!"

"I can't believe this is taking so long," Rodney said. "How long can it take to throw a few herbs around?"

John glanced at his watch. "Apparently half an hour."

There was the sound of bells again, and then, "Behold the Great Lady, who travels the sky; the stars shine around her and light up the night," and then Ronon very distinctly said, "For the love of all that is sacred, is it over already?"

Rodney slid off the branch. "Come on, someone just said there's cake."

John frowned. "What? Just now? I didn't hear anything."

"Nope, I definitely heard cake," he said, offering John a hand.

When they got back to the clearing, soaked to the bone, John's casual hairstyle ruined, John could feel all twenty-something pairs of eyes turn to watch them. Rodney, cheeks a little flushed, walked directly over to the silver crate serving as a table and cut two pieces of cake (one noticeably smaller than the other). Ronon, standing beside a very irritated-looking Teyla, had a piece in each hand.

"You missed the whole thing," Lorne said to them. "Where'd you go?"

John started to tell him, but Ronon beat him to it, with a, "We've learned not to ask."

Rodney handed John the largest piece of cake. John felt he'd missed something terribly important here, but all he knew was that he was cold, he was embarrassed for no reason, he was maybe possibly outed by Ronon, which he should have seen coming, come to think of it, and Rodney didn't want to make out with him but would give him his cake.

*

Once they were back in the city, Halling had several (very good) suggestions regarding security that John passed over to Lorne, and Simpson and Kavanagh found a tucked-away laboratory that infected their entire team with an Ancient virus that made you very smart but very, very itchy, so it was easy to fall back into routine. For everyone else, having Halling as a president (or whatever; everyone just called him "Halling," without a title) wasn't so bad, but John couldn't get the man to bend to his will as easily as Elizabeth had, no matter how much he pouted.

When he'd disobeyed Elizabeth, which was quite often, she'd lectured him, or made him feel bad, or even told him he had done the right thing, but Halling had a different strategy. In fact, after John had disobeyed Halling's orders and went in to save Simpson and Kavanagh before they'd scratched themselves to death, Halling grounded him for two weeks. And sent him to bed without supper.

"Serves you right," Rodney said jovially that evening, sneaking him a bologna sandwich -- okay, half a sandwich -- and a cup of blue jello.

John glared. "I've never met anyone more disloyal than you."

"The first thing I did when I turned eighteen was defect to the States," Rodney admitted. "Granted, they said no, but the point is I tried."

"I'm going to laugh the day you guys create something smarter than you and doom us all, all because Halling let you have free reign," John said menacingly, stabbing his jello with his spoon.

Rodney actually looked somewhat worried, which made John wonder just what the hell they were doing in the labs these days.

*

John could still remember the first conversation he'd ever had with Lorne:

"What happened to your last second?"

"Oh, you know, developed some bad--" Rodney had coughed. John had scowled in his general direction. "Okay, developed a drug habit, ran off with a jumper. That sort of thing."

After the Full Moon Rite, as John had later found out it was called, things with Lorne were-- strange. It seemed on the one hand, Lorne had figured John and Rodney had left to have dirty homosexual intercourse because it would ruin Lorne's life, but on the other hand, John had been there to share in Lorne's very personal religious ceremony. So it was like any other day, really, with Lorne being angry at himself for respecting John, but still taking it out on John at every opportunity. They really needed to have a talk about the gay jokes, because now some of the other marines were starting to get in on the "joke" too.

Lorne passed by John's office several times before John gave up and shouted, "Lorne, I can see you, for God's sake."

"Blessed be," Lorne said, poking his head in the door.

"What'd you just call me?" John asked.

"No," Lorne said, "it's a greeting that we--" Was Lorne trying to bond with him? John could only stare in mute horror as Lorne stepped inside and continued: "I was thinking, John, maybe at the next Rite--"

He had to put a stop to this madness right now. "Look, Major," he interrupted, "I like you. I respect you. You're a good officer and you make a mean quesadilla, and-- everyone in this galaxy is weird. I'm weird, you're weird, hell, Dr Weir and Colonel Caldwell are weird. But I'm not entirely comfortable with this whole witchcraft thing."

That was the wrong thing to say. Lorne's eyes narrowed, and his jaw twitched. "Well, sir, maybe I'm not comfortable with you being a faggot, but I let it go anyway."

"You do not!" John protested. "You make gay jokes every time I walk into a room! Just this morning you said I must be in a bad mood because I'm on the rag!"

Lorne looked around nervously. "Did-- did you just come out to me? Fuck, Shep."

John grit his teeth. "Lorne," he said with exaggerated patience, "I need our relationship to be purely professional. We need to be able to trust each other, but also know when the other's being a dick. You know this. So you're going to leave, and we're never, ever going to talk about pagans or my sex life ever again. In fact, after you go, I'm going to hit my head against the wall a few times to make sure this whole thing's forgotten."

Lorne's face smoothed over with clarity. "Sir, yes, sir!" he said. "No more pagans or gayness, sir."

He turned on one heal and left. John pressed his forehead against the cold desk, wondering why life on Atlantis had to be so hard.

That evening, someone chimed on his door right as he was settling down to re-watch 'Back to the Future' for the tenth millionth time. (He'd abandoned War and Peace a while ago, because he'd been too lazy to keep up with all the characters. He figured that was a metaphor for his life, somehow.)

"Colonel," Rodney said stiffly when John answered the door, in a tone that suggested John dare not say no, "may I come in?"

Rodney had never asked to be allowed to enter a room in his life. Startled into silence, John just stepped aside, and Rodney walked in, closing the door behind him. He clasped his hands behind his back, standing tall. It was a horribly endearing look, although John was sure Rodney thought it was intimidating. "Colonel. John. It occurred to me that you propositioned me while we were at Hogwarts."

"Oh, that," John said, smirking despite the nauseating knot in his stomach. "I just thought it'd really piss off Lorne."

Rodney stared blankly for a moment before breaking out into a bright grin. "It would've, wouldn't it."

"So we're cool?" John asked casually.

He was such an idiot; he never should've said anything in the first place. But he'd thought Rodney was a sure thing, that they were on the same wavelength, which meant he really didn't understand Rodney at all. He'd been misinterpreting him from day one. This was turning out to be the worst Full Moon Rite ever.

Rodney said, "I'm cool if you're cool."

John said, "My whole life is a lie. I mean, I'm cool. Totally cool."

And Rodney said, "I like you too. Wait, what?" and John said, "What?" and Rodney said, "Jesus, why is this taking so long? I'd thought we'd be making out by now. Your seduction skills really suck, you know that? I brought you my blue jello and everything, and all you can say is, 'Are we cool?'" Then Rodney shut up long enough to kiss him again and again, and somewhere between the door and the bed they lost their clothes, and Rodney ran his big hands all over John's body and pulled John's legs over his shoulders, and then John woke up in the middle of the night freezing to death because Rodney had stolen all the blankets. He snored, too. John poked him until he rolled over on one side, cracked open an eye, and muttered something was either "Pass the ketchup," or "Go back to sleep, doofus."

"Maybe I was a little hard on Lorne," John told Rodney's shoulder sleepily, tugging the blankets back over himself.

"Best Full Moon Rite ever," Rodney murmured, patting John's head like a puppy.

John grinned to himself. He'd been totally right about Rodney.

*

"See, this is what I want our apartment to look like," John said.

Rodney scoffed. "I can't believe they let you into the military. And are you asking me to move in with you? Isn't it a little soon? Okay, I know what you're going to say, we've known each other for years, but--"

"This is nice and all," Lorne cut in, "but can you guys maybe wait until after we're rescued?"

It was almost pathetic how easily they'd been captured by the Kathosians -- who were apparently the evil cousins of the Athosians, if Teyla's reaction was anything to do by. John had never heard words like that come out of her mouth before. The evil lair of the Kathosian overlord was all black leather and dark wood, classy yet modern, just the kind of place to awe prisoners and alien delegates alike. As it was, John was wondering how Halling would react if he walked through the stargate with that armchair.

"I don't think a rescue team's coming," Ronon said, struggling with the rope around his wrists.

"It has been three days," Dr Parrish agreed.

Those were the first words Parrish had uttered since they'd been captured, outside of "Don't kill me, kill McKay instead!" Trying to kill his boyfriend aside, John felt sorry for the guy; Parrish obviously wasn't cut out for this lifestyle. The other two soldiers on Lorne's team, whose names John could never remember, spent the last three days calming him down. For all his bitching and attitude problems, Rodney had always been pretty handy in situations like this, even from the start. Parrish was practically paralyzed.

"They're probably too busy enjoying how nice things are without McKay there," Lorne grumbled. The nameless marine on John's left snickered.

"Why don't you just ask Mother Nature to save us, Major Napoleon Complex?" Rodney retorted.

"Listen here, I'm perfectly average height for--"

"For what, a pygmy?"

"Guys," John said loudly.

"I hate this planet," Teyla hissed. Everyone went quiet. Her eyes looked a little bloodthirsty. Not for the first time, John wondered if there was an evil Teyla somewhere on Kathos right now.

"We've been in here for hours," Rodney whispered to John. "Not that I'm in any hurry to be tortured, but shouldn't something be happening?"

"Maybe they have a lot of interrogations to get through today," John said. Rodney was right, there was something fishy going on here, but the longer they had to wait meant the closer they were to an escape plan. If only John could think of one.

Just then, the binds around Ronon's wrists snapped. He waggled his eyebrows at their surprised faces. "What? It took me all this time to get the knife out of my hair without using my hands."

*

John walked out of the stargate and smack into Ronon's back, who was standing perfectly still, as if he'd taken a few steps out of the wormhole and just froze. Rubbing his stinging cheek, John started to say, "What the hell?" but only got out a syllable before noticing exactly why Ronon and everyone else had just stopped moving.

The nearly-silent gateroom was filled with armed marines and stoic faces, and Elizabeth was standing a safe distance away, hands clasped behind her back.

"Welcome back, everyone," she said. She was wearing her old red shirt and jacket, both of which were a bit wrinkled, as if they'd been shoved in a drawer somewhere for some time -- which they had been; it'd been at least three months since John had seen her in red and not black. The smirk on her face was triumphant.

"What's going on?" John asked suspiciously.

"Atlantis is back in the hands of the SGC," Elizabeth said, although her tone suggested she wanted to add, "By which I mean me."

"Really?" Rodney asked. He sounded disappointed.

Teyla took a step forward, tossing John a quick, worried glance. "Halling is unharmed?"

Elizabeth frowned. "Yes, he's fine. You can see for yourself." She nodded to the balcony, where, Halling and several other Athosians were sitting, bound and gagged. Thankfully, they looked more angry than hurt -- the cloudy rage in Halling's eyes was really, really creepy, actually -- although John knew it would be a cold day in hell before Elizabeth would have someone killed for having the gall to be her competition.

Rodney rapidly snapped his fingers. "You had the Kathosians hold us while you re-took the city," he stated in that "we're so going to die" voice.

"I'm sorry we couldn't tell you," Elizabeth said, but to John, who felt shocked and betrayed and more than a little impressed, "but we couldn't take the chance you'd alert Halling."

She nodded to Sergeant Stackhouse, and he gestured for the marines to lower their guns.

"John?" she asked, almost worriedly, as if he was debating his options right now.

He glanced at his livid former president on the balcony and back at his awed teammates, who were quietly waiting for his reaction. Then he snapped a lazy salute and smirked. "Good to have you back, Doctor."

*

"Seriously," he said to Stackhouse, "military coup? You didn't think that was something I needed to know about?"

"And me," Lorne said, "you should've at least told me."

Stackhouse shifted uncomfortably. "There was no way we could've been sure both of you'd be behind Dr Weir a hundred percent, Colonel, Major."

"I'm the one who voted for her," John exclaimed. "The only one!"

"Would you believe me if I said that was a clever ruse?"

John narrowed his eyes. "Was it?"

Stackhouse lowered his head. "No."

"I can't believe I had to sit through days of listening to Sheppard talk about decorating while you got to be a coup," Lorne complained. Stackhouse's eyebrows shot up.

"Lorne, shut the hell up," John said. He'd really wanted those armchairs, too. Maybe the Kathosians would just give them to him if he promised not to blow up their city in revenge for kidnaping his people.

After John pulled Rodney out of the infirmary, where he was still complaining of the rope burns he didn't have, the two of them tracked down Elizabeth. They found her sitting in her new old office, and she seemed to just be breathing it all in. It was almost jarring to see her there, even though the rational part of John's mind knew she belonged in that office more than Halling ever did.

"So how'd you do it?" John asked, perching on the edge of her desk.

A smile curved her lips. "Well, it was pretty easy to make friends with the marines after I was put on an off-world team."

"It was?" Rodney asked, sounding bewildered.

"After that, it didn't take much to convince the Kathosians to hold your team for a few days while we infiltrated the control room and took back the city."

"You evil genius, you," John said. He raised his eyebrows at Rodney and thought: "Remind me to never double-cross her." Rodney raised his right back.

Within a matter of days, everything went back to the way it was before, as if leadership had never changed hands. Halling's new security measures were replaced by the older, shoddier ones. The food in the mess went back to its usual standards, much to everyone's chagrin. The scientists were given a series of long lectures, something about robots and clones and playing god that Rodney would never fully explain to John, not even in bed, where he tended to babble on and on as if someone had hit a switch. The botanists were instructed to burn their new "special project," which John had definitely not known about. And one or two of the disgruntled anthropologists moved to the settlement on the mainland.

Not long after, they had another crisis. John and Rodney were held prisoner (again) by a group of seemingly peaceful farmers (surprise) to be traded for weapons (the usual), and Ronon and Teyla kicked ass and took names (typical).

When all four of them stumbled into the briefing room, exhausted and covered in dirt, Elizabeth took one look at them and smiled like it was her birthday.

"I'm glad things are back to normal," she said.

In the brief time with Halling as head of Atlantis, John had been taken hostage, humiliated, forced to take part in pagan rituals by his own people, treated like a child, and best of all, begun an illicit gay affair to end all gay affairs. When he thought about it like that, it was almost like Elizabeth hadn't been gone at all.

Under the table, Rodney's hand started creeping up John's thigh. "Yup," John said, "totally back to normal."


Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis does not belong to me. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

More than a few knee-slapping lines in this are by Keri. This fic wouldn't have been possible without her.

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