For Madelyn's Cuff 'Em, Vamp 'Em, or Just Make 'Em Come Already Kink and Cliche Multi-Fandom Challenge: Bad guys (or, well, anyone) force our Intrepid Hero (or, um, villain) to fess up to feelings for Guy B.

An old friend needs McKay's expertise, so he takes Sheppard as collateral. Getting Sheppard back may prove to be harder than expected when McKay realizes they're dealing with a lunatic. McKay/Sheppard.

Spoilers up through and including 3x20 First Strike.


Certain People Got a God Complex
by eleveninches

 

"I believe I have found us a fully-functioning ZPM," Teyla said.

In retrospect, her words should have been the first sign something was wrong. Not because Teyla was untrustworthy, or because John didn't think she could really find them a ZPM, but because things didn't really fall into their laps like that, not without something bad happening. They found an advanced civilization; it was full of human-form Replicators. They found an Ancient ship; the entire crew (plus Wraith) was in statis. They found an Ancient weapon outpost; it had the potential for tearing a hole in the space-time continuum. It was almost like the Ancients had wanted to trip them up.

John wasn't suspicious, though, because he was distracted by Rodney jumping on him the instant he walked into the briefing room: "Kusangi found some of the whales living off the mainland, I thought you might want to go check it out later? Maybe my friend will be there."

He looked so eager that John would have to be a jerk to say no. Besides, he liked whale watching with Rodney; it was relaxing, and Rodney was good company. So John said, "Sure," as he headed for his usual seat. Rodney followed at his heels.

"Excellent," said Rodney. He looked happy, and John bit the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning. "It's a date. Not a date-date, just a friendly get-together between two single men, that is in no way romantic or sexual in nature." Rodney paused, then added desperately, "Oh look, everyone's here."

So when Teyla made her announcement, John was busy wondering what the hell was wrong with Rodney. Of course, he'd been asking that question for three years and hadn't come up with an answer yet.

"Hold on, did you say a ZPM?" John asked, finally realizing what this meeting was about. "They'll let us just waltz in and take it?"

Teyla nodded. "Yes. However, there is one problem. The world on which the ZPM lies is very... conservative." She looked kind of uneasy. Or she really had to pee; John never could tell with her. "They have very... traditional values, and do not like... certain groups of people."

Elizabeth's brows knitted together in a way that told John she completely understood what Teyla meant. He hoped he wasn't the only one lost here. It'd be really embarrassing when he got through the gate and had no idea what was supposed to come next. The last time he'd done that -- after daydreaming during one of Rodney's long explanations about some Ancient thing that was really important and would help him do blah blah Ancient technology blah, whatever, John didn't need to know how it worked, just that it did -- his team had ended up walking into the middle of a civil war. Which they'd realized when both sides had stopped their battle in order to chase them back to the stargate. John had been on worse missions, sure, but he really didn't want to be hounded by three hundred guys on Segways equipped with rocket launchers. Again.

"Teyla, are you saying what I think you're saying...?" Elizabeth trailed off.

"Yes," Teyla said gravely, "they have banned both musical theatre and tight pants."

"Then it's a good thing my pants are already loose," John said, throwing Rodney a smirk.

Rodney slowly looked up from his tablet to stare at him. Elizabeth rolled her eyes towards the ceiling.

Teyla studied John for a long moment, then, as if deciding something, turned back to Elizabeth. "Perhaps I should take Major Lorne's team. Since..."

"Since what?" John asked.

They both ignored him. "That might be a good idea," Elizabeth said.

"Wait, wait," Rodney cut in. He held up a hand. "Seriously? I didn't think people in this galaxy felt that way. I thought you were all about how important it is to live life to the fullest before you're sucked dry -- very painfully, might I add -- by a Wraith."

Ronon swiveled his chair to make a face at Rodney. John leaned forward a little just to make it easier for the big guy. "Have I ever said anything like that to you?"

"You tell me to calm down a lot," Rodney pointed out.

"Hey, we can do this," John said to Teyla. He leaned back again and flashed a smile at Elizabeth. "It won't kill us to pretend to be 'traditional' and 'conservative' for a few hours, right, guys?"

Ronon snorted. "Maybe McKay and I can," he muttered, almost too quiet for John to hear.

"I know I say this all the time, so it's probably lost all meaning by now, but we are so going to die," Rodney said.

"John, if you're sure," Elizabeth said, sounding uncomfortable.

"Yeah, I'm sure," he replied sharply. He was getting irritated at everyone's assumption he'd screw this up. He didn't screw up nearly as much as Rodney did when it came to making new friends, but no one was questioning him. "We'll go in, play nice, grab the ZPM, and be back in time for dinner."

Teyla reached across the table to grip John's hand. "I should also point out they have banned styling products."

"Going to die," Rodney repeated, sing-song.

*

"What's this planet called again?" John asked, while the team waited for Rodney to finish yelling at Sergeant Campbell and join them. It was the usual pre-mission chaos. ("No, this goes here, and that one goes there," Rodney was saying. "Are you a complete imbecile or did they teach you how to blow up Ancient tech at RMC?" "Oh, is that why there was a post-it stuck to it with 'do not remove' written on it?" Campbell asked sarcastically, and Rodney sputtered.)

Teyla tore her gaze away from Ronon twirling his gun -- What a show off, John thought -- to give John an impatient look. He had a feeling she'd said the name enough times for him to remember it by now. "Eternia."

"Eternia?" John asked.

"Eternia," Teyla said.

John was still trying to wrap his mind around that when Rodney came bumbling down the stairs, carrying his tablet under his arm. "I swear to God I can't leave these people alone for a second," he complained. "Anytime I step offworld it's, 'I can't get the DHD to work, Dr McKay,' 'I don't understand what these results mean, Dr McKay,' 'I pushed the wrong button and now the city's come to life and is using the ventilation tubes to choke us to death, Dr McKay.'"

John rolled his eyes. "We know, we'd all be--"

"Dead without me? How nice of you to notice my incredibly hefty responsibility for the lives of everyone in the city, including yourself, Colonel."

"You only tell us that every day," said John.

Rodney bristled. "I do not."

"You told me this morning at breakfast I'd better give you the last muffin because later you might be too hungry to save my life," Ronon said dryly, coming up to stand beside John.

"Yes, well," Rodney sniffed, "it was blueberry. You know they're my favourite."

John shared a smirk with Ronon. Behind him, the gate whooshed as it activated. He waved goodbye at Elizabeth before turning back to his team; Elizabeth made a strange gesture back at him. "Ready to head to Castle Greyskull on planet Eternia, Dr McKay?" he asked.

"Yeah, I can't call it that," Rodney said.

"I do not see why that name is so funny," Teyla said.

John was about to walk through the event horizon when Elizabeth suddenly rushed down the steps, looking peeved. "John," she called, "I was trying to tell you something earlier."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," he said, "don't trade any weapons, don't make any new enemies, don't hit on any women."

"Actually, I was going to say that maybe you should let Ronon and Teyla do the talking on this one."

John didn't know what to say to that. Teyla, he understood, but Ronon? Really? "Why?" he asked apprehensively.

Elizabeth crossed her arms over her chest and raised her chin. He was getting the feeling she was embarrassed for some reason. "I think given how their society idealizes masculinity, Ronon would be the best choice to--"

"Hey, I'm very manly," John interrupted. He was starting to get angry here. What, did a guy have to be as built as Ronon to go to a world where they'd banned tight pants? "I am so manly. Killed-things-with-my-bare-hands manly."

He caught McKay's exaggerated grimace of the corner of his eye. Pissed, John whirled on his teammates; all three of them quickly dropped whatever faces they were making.

"Yes, we get it," Rodney said to him, sounding irritated. He used his hands to outline something that might've been John's body. "You have a big gun and you're tall and lean and have an ass that just won't quit. We know."

John frowned. "I have a what?"

"I can talk for everyone," Ronon cut in. John glared. Ronon added, "If it comes to that."

Elizabeth took a deep breath. "John, no one is questioning your manliness."

He wasn't mollified. It was like everyone knew something he didn't. "Yeah?" he demanded. "Then what are you questioning?"

Elizabeth and Teyla glanced at each other. "That's not important," Elizabeth said. "What's important is getting out of this mission without causing an interplanetary incident. If the people of Eternia -- John, Rodney, stop snickering -- won't let us have the ZPM, don't push it. We're doing perfectly fine with the one we have now."

This time it was Rodney's turn to squeak, "What?"

John nodded at her. "You got it," he said. But he knew if the people of Eternia weren't using their ZPM, and there was a chance they could get it without anyone getting hurt, his team was making a break for it. He'd had enough Replicator attacks to last him a lifetime, and who knew what Rodney could do with two ZPMs at his disposal. Having a shield that lasted more than a day or two would make up for Elizabeth being angry with him.

Elizabeth pressed her lips into a thin line. "Be safe," she said, backing up.

John turned back to the still-open gate. Teyla stepped up beside him. "John," she said quietly, "please behave less... friendly towards the inhabitants of this world than you would under normal circumstances. This is very important."

"Why does everyone on this planet sound like a jerk?" John asked, but his words were swallowed up by the wormhole.

The world on the other side was completely flat. Brown and green plains stretched for miles and miles, disappearing into the blue horizon. Within a few yards of the gate was a village consisting of wood buildings with wide porches and swinging doors. Something that looked like a zebra was tied to a stake in front of what was probably, from the looks of things, a saloon. Aside from the stone monuments in the near distance, and the very alien print on the windows of the shops, it looked as if they'd stepped into an old Spaghetti Western. A few of the people on the street paused to stare at them. Well, they'd been to plenty of Medieval worlds, and even a couple of Blade Runner worlds; it was only a matter of time before they'd find a cowboy world.

"This is so not what I was expecting from a planet named 'Eternia,'" Rodney said, sounding disappointed.

"Maybe we're in the Plains of Perpitua," said John.

"How do you know so much about He-Man?" Rodney crossed his arms over his chest. "Hold on, half-naked warriors with bulging muscles and swords? Why do I even ask."

Ronon looked at John over Rodney's head. "Big swords?"

"We'll watch some when we get back, buddy," John promised, slipping on his sunglasses.

Rodney pulled out the life signs detector. "I'm not reading any energy sources here. Teyla, you're sure your contacts meant this planet?"

"Yes, they were very specific," she replied.

A group of men exited from the saloon-like building and headed towards John's team. They didn't look particularly angry or menacing, but John gave Teyla and Ronon the signal to get ready. In his experience, it was always the nicest-looking aliens who were the most deadly. While the locals may or may not have been dangerous, there was one thing for sure: they looked a lot like lumberjacks, with their flannel shirts, suspenders, and worn boots. John was kind of disappointed they weren't cowboys instead.

"Hey, look, Rodney, here come some of your people," he said.

Rodney scowled at him. "We didn't exactly have a lot of lumberjacks in Windsor, I'll have you know."

The group stopped in front of John's team. They didn't seem to be reaching for any weapons. One of the men, however, was staring at John's hair with a poisonous look on his face. His own hair was flat and frizzy; he must've been jealous. It wasn't John's fault they'd banned gel on Eternia.

"Hey," John said, stepping forward confidently. He gave the man his most charming grin.

"Stop that," Rodney hissed, "are you trying to get us killed?"

"I'm not doing anything," John muttered back, annoyed. To the locals, he called, "We're visitors. We don't mean any harm. Can we talk to whomever's in charge here?"

The men exchanged glances with each other, but remained silent. John shared a glance of his own with Teyla, finally getting why she'd told him to lay low: "Conservative and traditional" was code for "xenophobic and deadly." He continued smiling as he adjusted his grip on his P-90.

Ronon shouldered his way to the front of their group, one hand on his holstered gun. "We need to see your leader," he said roughly.

Like most people, they seemed to cower beneath Ronon's hugeness. Okay, maybe Elizabeth had been right about Ronon being the one to do all the talking. "The Master of the Universe is this way," said one of them.

John barely managed in time to turn his laugh into a cough. Rodney made a choked off sound of his own. "Oh my God, we really are on Eternia," Rodney said gleefully.

"Thank you," Teyla said serenely, completely ignoring the both of them. "Would it be too much trouble if you were to lead us to him?"

"Follow me, please," the man replied, giving Teyla a serene smile of his own. John rolled his eyes.

They trailed behind the native as he pointed out the various sites to Teyla: the saloon, the general store, the zebra veternarian. John stopped paying attention to the conversation and focused on the scenery instead; people were peeking at them from behind windows or around corners, but he didn't see any signs of weapons. Their guide didn't seem to be carrying anything either, from what John could see. Ronon would probably be able to tell if he had something stashed away, though. John kept smiling and nodding whenever Teyla or the man glanced over at him, and suddenly the guy was saying something to him and he didn't know what it was.

He glanced at Rodney for support; Rodney made a face that John interpreted as, 'You think I was paying attention?'

"I'm Elon," said the man.

He punched John in the shoulder. Hard. So hard, in fact, that John's back went stick-straight as he tried not to double over in pain.

"Uuugh," John replied. "I mean, hey there." He tried to smile, but it came out as a grimace. He'd been thinking this guy was kind of hot, but now he was totally taking that back.

"Welcome to Eternia," Elon added pleasantly.

"I'm Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard, this is Rodney and Ronon, and I guess you've met Teyla," he managed, hoping no one else heard the strangled tone in his voice. He punched Elon's shoulder in return, with as much force as he could muster; Elon didn't even looked fazed. Just what he needed, a planet full of people with Ronon's stamina. He really didn't want to have to go back to Atlantis and explain he got beaten up by a lumberjack.

"Is that how you greet each other here?" Rodney asked worriedly, backing away before Elon could punch him too.

"How do you greet each other on your world?" Elon asked, looking puzzled.

"They shake hands," Ronon said. "This makes way more sense to me."

"You mean you touch each other? In such a vulnerable spot?" Elon sounded appalled.

"Are you okay?" Teyla asked John quietly, gently touching his uninjured shoulder. The other shoulder hurt like a bitch. It hurt way more now than when Teyla and Ronon beat him up. and they were by far the strongest people he'd ever met.

"Never better," he said weakly. "This is nothing."

The tour continued; as they made their way to wherever it was Elon was leading them, they came across a man in a Medieval pillory, stuck between two buildings. His head hung low, and his hands were pink from being locked in place for so long. It looked really out of place for a village set in the Old West.

"What did he do?" Rodney asked, pointing. "I don't want to get chained up like that."

Elon shook his head. "He did something unbecoming of an Eternian. He cried. In public."

"He cried," Rodney repeated flatly.

"In public," John reminded him, bumping his uninjured shoulders against Rodney's.

"Yeah, and just because his father died," said Elon. "Can you believe it?"

"What a pussy," Ronon said dryly. There was a sound behind John like flesh hitting flesh, and Ronon "oomph"-ed; John glanced over his shoulder to see Teyla glaring and Ronon sheepishly rubbing his arm.

*

At the entrance to a building, Elon stopped them and said, "Here's where I leave you. This is the home of the Master of the Universe. He'll be able to answer all your questions."

"Thank you, Elon," Teyla said graciously.

As he passed John, Elon socked him in the shoulder again. John barely held back a manly squeak of pain. "Be seeing you, Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard," he called, but it didn't sound all that inviting.

"Yeah, bye," John replied stiffly. He was going to have bruises on top of bruises from this.

"Every time he hits you, your whole body kind of seizes up," Rodney said, looking gleeful. "It's pretty funny."

John punched Rodney in the shoulder.

"Ow!" Rodney complained, drawing away from him. He rubbed his arm, making betrayed faces.

"See how you like it," John said crossly.

Ronon snickered. Teyla rolled her eyes and said, "If you are done...?"

The building Elon had left them at was higher than the others in town, four stories to the others' one or two. It was built from the same reddish wood. There wasn't a porch attached to the front, but there was a sign hanging over the door, in Eternian or whatever the local language was called. When they stepped through the door, a tiny bell chimed, like they were at a store and not the home of a leader.

"Come in, come in," said a male voice, from somewhere beyond the foyer.

Following the voice, John turned the corner -- and stopped dead in his tracks. Rodney slammed into his back and yelped, "Hey, watch it, did you forget how to walk in the one point five seconds it took you to-- Jesus Christ on a cracker."

Elon had led them directly to a man who was wearing a white robe and sandals. His long hair and beard were both light brown. The expression on his face was peaceful. John had been to a lot of strange planets during his brief stint in this galaxy, but this was one of the few times he was dumbstruck by what he saw.

"Hello, my children," said the man. He rose from his polished wooden throne and spread his arms. "Welcome to Eternia. I am the Master of the Universe. How may I help you?"

From the way they greeted him, Ronon and Teyla didn't seem to think anything was odd, but Rodney pulled John away by the back of his tac vest.

"Cowboy planet, lumberjacks, son of God," he whispered, ticking them off his fingers. "Where the hell are we?"

"This is like all my childhood fantasies and nightmares rolled into one," John whispered back. "Except this time I'm not wearing hotpants."

"Is that part of the nightmare or part of the fantasy?" Rodney asked suspiciously.

Teyla bowed her head at the Master of the Universe. "Thank you for welcoming us on your world. We are in search of a device, and were wondering if you might help us locate it."

He gestured for them all to sit at a long table that sat before his throne. The set up reminded John of the Tower's "throne room" on the planet with the Ancient city, except instead of a room with stained glass and marble floors the Master of the Universe's court had wooden floors and walls, and a fireplace on the left-hand wall. It was more like a house than a palace.; John wondered if the guy lived on the other three floors.

John and Teyla each took a seat; after throwing Ronon and Rodney a glare or two, the rest of their team followed. John started yet another round of introductions: "I'm Lieutenant Co--"

"I know who you are, Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard," the Master of the Universe said, expression shifting from open to wary, and John stiffened. "I was told of your arrival the moment you entered my village. Who you are doesn't concern me as much as why you are here. Why are you here?"

"We have come to ask your permission to allow us into your ancestral temples," Teyla asked.

The Master of the Universe looked startled. "You ask permission to pray to our gods?"

"Oh please," Rodney murmured under his breath.

"I am afraid not," Teyla said calmly, as if she hadn't heard Rodney. "We are hoping your temples contain a... sacred relic, of which we are in great need. It would have been put in your temples a long, long time ago."

John leaned forward, catching the man's eye. "It would really mean a lot to us if you'd give us permission. We promise we won't touch anything but our, uh, sacred zero point module." He gave his best, most innocent smile (the one that almost always worked on Elizabeth, but never on General Landry), but the Master of the Universe looked perplexed. His mouth puckered like he'd bitten into something sour, which really wasn't the response John had been hoping for. Maybe he was losing his touch.

A hand on his shoulder abruptly pulled him back. "Christ, Sheppard, tone it down," Rodney whispered in his ear.

John frowned. "What?"

"You need to be more careful here," Ronon quietly said to him.

"I'm not acting any differently than I always act," John hissed.

"Exactly," Rodney murmured.

Rodney's breath was warm on John's cheek, and he felt a twinge of disappointment when Rodney sat up straight again. The Master of the Universe's gaze flickered between the two of them, and, if it was possible, he looked even more leery.

"Look," Rodney said, "all we want is what's in the temple. It's important to us, and completely useless to you. Just let us in; we'll be gone before you know it."

Out of the corner of his eye, John saw Teyla stiffen. He discreetly kicked Rodney in the shins. "Like I said, it would really mean a lot to us," he said, as Rodney's face reddened.

The Master of the Universe gave him a look. "You would be interested in allying with us?"

John wasn't sure how to answer that. "Well..."

"Our leader would be willing to discuss an alliance with you," Teyla said, much to John's relief. "After we have received our sacred relic."

"I would like to return your artifact to you, but I'm concerned you will go back on your word and rob us," said the Master of the Universe. "Our temples are filled with many riches, you understand. People have tried to steal from us before."

Ronon slammed a hand on the table, causing everyone to jump. "I give you my oath, on the Warrior's Code of Sham-lok Cha, we won't take anything but what belongs to us."

The Master of the Universe regarded Ronon with respect. "That is a powerful statement," he said.

"You have my warrior's whatever too," John offered, puffing out his chest.

"That is a great insult coming from someone like you," said the Master of the Universe. A look of disdain that strong looked really weird coming from someone who looked like John's so-called personal Lord and Saviour.

"Hey, my hair naturally does this," John protested. Rodney sent him a disbelieving look and mouthed, "What?" John pointedly ignored him.

"It's okay, he'll do what I say," Ronon said. He slung an arm across the back of Teyla's chair, looking smug. "McKay's my scientist, Teyla's my woman, and Sheppard's my man-servant. I'm the one really in charge here. So it's okay if we go to your temples now, right?"

John was going to kill Ronon as soon as they found the ZPM.

"Ronon," Teyla snapped, as Rodney sputtered. John was still too bewildered to say anything. "I am not your woman."

The Master of the Universe nodded at Ronon. "This is acceptable to me. Make sure he doesn't put his filthy hands on anything."

"Now you have proof Jesus really does hate you," Rodney whispered, and John grit his teeth.

*

The way to the temple was bright and sunny. Rodney was absolutely miserable. The sun was warm and shining (sunburn), the field was dotted with blue and yellow flowers (allergies), and the air was full of butterflies and insects zipping around (West Nile and Malaria). The worst part was Sheppard was clearly lost and leading them around in circles, despite the temples being huge and obvious. He didn't understand how this man had ever fought in a war. Or how he managed to get from his quarters to the control room every day. One morning Rodney was going to wake up to Sheppard calling for help over the radio, saying he'd been on his way to the washroom and had somehow ended up in a flooded corridor.

"I can't believe you got us lost," Rodney grumbled. "Oh wait, yes, I can."

Sheppard looked at him. He was wearing his sunglasses, but Rodney could tell he was glaring. "We're not lost. We just... took the long way. I know exactly where we're going."

"Next planet, I'm leading," Ronon muttered.

Rodney glanced down at the life signs detector. "I'm still not picking up any energy spikes. Teyla, you're sure--?"

"As I said before, I am sure this is the correct location," Teyla interrupted sharply.

It took them nearly two hours to reach the nearest temple, a stone ziggurat surrounded by old, gnarled trees that were probably infested with all sorts of diseases. And ticks. Rodney was so going to get Lyme Disease from this excursion.

"Still not reading anything," he announced.

"Maybe the stone's blocking the signal," Sheppard suggested. Rodney glanced up, mouth already open, but the way the sunlight hit Sheppard's face and hair as he gazed into the distance, like a work of art, caused Rodney to completely forget what he was going to say.

They were almost to the door of the temple when the largest tree beside it began to shake. A figure dropped from the branches, head bowed, covered in moss and leaves. Rodney jumped back behind Teyla and Ronon, yelping. In a very manly way, of course.

"What took you so long?" asked a familiar voice.

It was none other than Aiden Ford, former lieutenant in the US Marine Corps and current Wraith enzyme abuser. He had leaves in his afro, and his clothes (leather, of course, although they were obscured by mud, moss, and twigs) were wrinkled and looked slept-in, but the fresh face and creepy black eye were definitely Ford's. He peered at them all and grinned.

"Ford!" Rodney, Sheppard, and Teyla exclaimed at once, but each in a different tone. Rodney didn't think Sheppard's half-hopeful cry or Teyla's surprised shout meant what Rodney's "Ford" did, which was, "Oh my God, everyone back to the gate before we get murdered by a junkie space pirate." Ronon, at least, pulled out his gun and aimed it at Ford's head, but Ford didn't look concerned.

In fact, he looked pissed. That was probably from the Wraith enzyme. He was probably high out of his mind right now. "Come on, guys, I've been sitting in that tree for three days. What the hell were you doing? It's a fifteen minute walk from the stargate!"

"Sheppard got us lost," Ronon said.

"I did not," Sheppard snapped. To Ford, he asked, "What are you doing here? I thought-- we thought you died on that hiveship."

With a disgusted look, Ford picked a green bug out of his afro. "Nope, still alive and kicking. Did you seriously get lost, Colonel? Look at this. I had to start eating bugs and twigs to survive. Nature's disgusting." He held the insect out towards Sheppard.

"Ew," said Sheppard, recoiling.

"Didn't you used to live in a cave?" Ronon asked Ford.

Suddenly it made sense to Rodney why none of the morons on this planet had known anything about an energy source. It wasn't that they were too primitive to recognize it; it had never been here to begin with. "You lured us here," he accused, "for some-- for some nefarious purpose, didn't you?"

"Why do we keep falling for this?" Sheppard groaned.

"This is a trap?" Teyla demanded. "But I was told explicitly there was a zero point module on this world. These words came from Bartholeminus himself."

No one knew what that meant. Everyone shifted awkwardly.

"My second cousin," she added, sounding irritated she had to remind them.

"Yeah, him," Sheppard said, "with the hair and the-- eyes, and the-- Yeah, I remember Bartholemy. What a guy."

"Bartholeminus," Teyla corrected.

"Can we get back to me?" Ford asked. He struck a dangerous pose. Although the moss and the mud really detracted from whatever evilness he was trying to project. He smirked at the team. "You were told what I wanted you to be told."

Ronon bared his teeth. "Why'd you want us here?"

That was a good question. An excellent question, really, and Rodney's chest tightened as he was torn between being outraged and terrified. Ford had left Atlantis, he couldn't just show up whenever he felt like it and coerce them into helping him destroy the Wraith. It didn't work that way.

Ford smiled at them. For a moment, he looked like his old self. "I was remembering some of the good times we used to have. Even after all this time, I still remember every little detail about you guys. Colonel Sheppard likes things that go fast. Teyla likes feeling useful. McKay likes..." Ford's grin now was different from before; a cold shiver ran down Rodney's back. This wasn't the Ford who'd help them first explore the Pegasus Galaxy, the kid he, Sheppard, and Teyla had teased. This was the guy who'd gone planet to planet looking for Wraith to fight, hopped up on drugs. Ford was wild and unpredictable, and Rodney didn't know what would happen if Ford shot him up with the enzyme again. Detox had nearly killed him the first time.

The memory of that particular adventure caused his rage to flare up again. "You knew us pretty well when you kidnapped us, almost turned us into drug addicts, and forced us to take part in your suicide mission," he said, patience running out.

"What I mean is, we were tight."

"Ford," Sheppard started, sounding pained.

"And the thing is, being your teammate and all... I know all your secrets. Granted, some were easier to figure out than others," he added, glancing at Rodney again with that weird black eye.

"What does that have to do with bringing us here?" Sheppard asked, face scrunching up in confusion.

Ford turned to Rodney. "I want you to make me something." He reached into his coat; Sheppard, Ronon, and Teyla jumped, bringing up their P-90s, but Ford merely drew out a rolled up piece of what appeared to be parchment paper and handed it to Rodney.

Rodney took it gingerly. It was heavier and thicker than it looked; he had no idea what could be on it. Ford had a degree in Psychology, for Christ's sake. He didn't know how to build anything outside of what the USMC had taught him. Which meant, Rodney thought sourly, it was probably plans for a bomb. "What is this?" he asked warily.

"Well, I was on Manara, and I got in this barfight, and when I woke up after the concussion I had this great idea. --"

"As is how all great plans are borne," Rodney said sarcastically.

"--Wouldn't it be nice if instead of having to go out and find a Wraith, I could capture one and take the enzyme whenever I need it?"

Rodney sneered, "If you think I'm helping you support your habit, you're out of your fucking mind."

Ford, faster than Rodney could have imagined -- although he should have imagined this, because Ford was on the Pegasus version of steroids, and was probably having some sort of drug-induced fit -- threw an arm around Sheppard's neck. With his other hand he pressed a Genii-style gun to Sheppard's temple. It all happened in the blink of an eye; Ronon and Teyla, with matching dumbfounded expressions, raised their weapons, but they didn't fire. Even Rodney's impressive brain stuttered to a halt.

"What the hell are you doing?" Sheppard demanded. He started to push back against Ford, but Ford's arm visibly tightened around him.

"You're building this for me, McKay," Ford announced threateningly. "I need it."

"What you need is to let me go," Sheppard growled.

Rodney finally found his voice. "Ford, you're freaking out. How many fingers am I holding up? Do you need a glass of water?"

"Ford, this isn't the way to get what you want," Sheppard said.

"Let him go," Ronon demanded, pointing his gun directly at the two of them.

"If you shoot, you will hurt John," Teyla said, grabbing Ronon's arm.

Sheppard began: "Yeah, Ronon, that's not really--"

"It's set to stun," Ronon replied.

"No!" Rodney shouted, and Teyla yelled, "Wait, Ronon!" But he didn't listen to them; before they could do anything to stop him, he'd pulled out his gun and shot Ford. And because Ford's arm was still around his neck, Sheppard.

Sheppard sagged, unconscious. Ford was the only thing keeping him upright. The same Ford who was very obviously not stunned by Ronon's pistol.

"Oh," Ronon said. He studied his gun. "Hmm."

"He's on the enzyme, you moron," Rodney exclaimed.

"Hey, thanks, this makes things a lot easier," said Ford. Sheppard's head rolled back onto his shoulder; Ford adjusted his grip to wrap around Sheppard's waist instead of around his neck. For an instant, Rodney felt stupidly, ridiculously jealous of Ford. "See, McKay, I told you, we were friends. I know all your secrets. And to make sure you build this thing that's really important to me, I'm taking away the thing that's most important to you, the thing I know you don't want to live without."

"My intelligence?" Rodney asked in horror.

Ford stared at him. "No, Sheppard. Jeeze, are things exactly the same as they were last time we met?"

"Pretty much," Ronon replied.

"Yes, it is quite sad," Teyla said.

Ford shook his head. "I know you'll do whatever you can to get the Colonel back, McKay. You have one week to build what I need, or else I'll kill him. Or maybe I'll hand him over to the Genii; I haven't really thought about it yet."

Rodney went cold all over. "You wouldn't do that!"

Growling, Ronon started to move towards him, but Ford took a step back. "I'll shoot him before you can shoot me," he warned. "Faster reflexes, remember?"

Ford hefted Sheppard over his shoulder like he weighed nothing. Granted, Sheppard was skinny, but it wasn't like he was the size of a child (or Major Lorne). Rodney remembered how strong he'd been on the double dose of the enzyme, how he'd known he could have easily killed Ford's goons with his bare hands without even trying. Ford could probably snap Sheppard in half like a twig. But that wasn't what he did; instead he gave the team one last grin and dashed into the cluster of trees surrounding the temple.

Ronon made a feral sound in his throat and took off after him, Teyla at his heels.

Rodney gaped at the spot where his teammates had been before chasing after them. There was no way he could catch up to Ford -- he couldn't run as fast as Ronon and Teyla, with their crazy Pegasus genes that somehow gave them bodies of Olympic triathalon competitors -- but there had to be something he could do to stop Ford from taking Sheppard God-knew-where. Anything. He was a genius, after all, surely he could come up with something.

He couldn't have been running for more than five minutes when he heard the gate activate. Wow, it really was only a fifteen minute walk.

Ronon stepped out from behind a tree, chest heaving from exertion. Rodney wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand and demanded, "Where--?"

"He pulled John through the stargate," Ronon said grimly.

*

Their arrival in Atlantis wasn't pleasant. It reminded Rodney of when Sheppard had been captured by Kolya, except this time a) they knew who had him, and b) it was all Rodney's fault. He was extremely, painfully aware of that last part in particular. Teyla and Ronon were looking sombre and ferocious, respectively; as soon as they received back up, they could find Ford and tear him limb from limb if they wanted. Rodney, on the other hand, felt nauseated with terror.

"We need Marines," he announced the second the wormhole closed behind them. "Ten, no, twenty of the toughest Marines in the city, at least two puddlejumpers, and the biggest guns we can find." He cupped a hand around his mouth and shouted up to the control room: "Campbell, you hoser, see if you can locate Colonel Sheppard's subcutaneous tracking device."

"Uh, sure thing," Campbell yelled back.

"Would using your radio not be easier?" Teyla asked.

"No, it would not," he said snidely.

Elizabeth came running down the stairs. He met her halfway; she spun around to follow him up to the gate room. "Rodney, what's going on? Where's John?"

He leaned over Campbell's shoulder and usurped his workstation as Ronon and Teyla explained the situation to her. He couldn't believe this was happening. Actually, he could; these kinds of things always happened to him. Although how Ford knew about his stupid crush, he had no idea. He'd worked very hard to keep anyone, especially Sheppard, from finding out. It wasn't so much he feared losing Sheppard's friendship or having Sheppard make fun of him as it was he feared the crippling pain of rejection. He could handle people like the beautiful Samantha Carter saying no to him (over and over again), but when it was someone he truly wanted to be with, well. That was different.

Not that he was in love with Sheppard or anything, which was what Ford had been implying. The very idea was ridiculous. It was merely an infatuation. One which he'd been waiting three years to go away.

"So Ford was hiding in a tree," Elizabeth was saying when he snapped back into focus, "and then Ronon shot John."

"Yes," Teyla said.

"That about sums it up," Rodney agreed.

Ronon shifted silently, looking a little embarrassed.

Elizabeth tapped her radio. Her face was tight with worry. "Major Lorne, please come to the control room immediately. We have a situation."

Rodney said, "Elizabeth, that is without doubt the strangest planet I've ever been to. I cannot begin to tell you how bizarre it was. It looked, from the outside, like one of those Wild West amusement parks, but it was filled with-- with lumberjacks, of all things. Their leader -- who called himself the Master of the Universe, which is so wrong -- looked more than a little like Jesus. I suggest, in my official capacity as the smartest man in the city, and who are we kidding, the galaxy, no one from Atlantis ever visit Eternia again."

He was desperate to convey to her how fucked up the situation was. They needed to send someone after Ford now; while they were wasting time, Ford was probably taking Sheppard to a space rave. They were going to have to send Sheppard to rehab, and then Sheppard would become a Born Again Christian or something and then decide he wasn't gay anymore, and Rodney would have to watch him have sex with hot women instead of just tentacled energy aliens. Rodney's life was one never-ending crapfest.

"Was there any reason Ford chose that planet specifically?" Elizabeth asked.

Campbell glanced up at Rodney. "I can't find Colonel Sheppard's signal on the long-range scanners," he said quietly.

Rodney was beginning to feel helpless. He couldn't stand feeling helpless. Being sad made him so angry. "I don't know," he told Elizabeth.

"Perhaps for the series of temples near the stargate," Teyla said. "He knew he could hide there and wait for us to arrive."

"He knew we'd go looking there first," Ronon added.

Teyla placed a hand on Rodney's arm. "Is there a way to use the data crystals to find out which address Lieutenant Ford dialed?"

"No," he answered, disgusted by the very suggestion. "Dialing an address leaves an imprint on the control crystals, but it's impossible to tell the order in which they were dialed. By the time we find which planet Ford went to, he'll most likely have moved on. Or are you forgetting our last team reunion?"

Teyla looked as frustrated as he felt. It was at that point Lorne came jogging into the control room, shrugging on his tac vest. "I got here as soon as I could. What's the problem?"

Teyla appeared to be about to leap into another long explanation, so Rodney beat her to it: "Colonel Sheppard was taken hostage and was lured -- well, not lured, more like carried -- through the gate by Ford. We have to find him before Ford does something unspeakable to him."

"How'd he get Colonel Sheppard to go through the gate with him?" Lorne asked, looking shocked.

Everyone looked at Ronon.

Ronon raised his eyebrows. "I was aiming for Ford," he said grumpily.

Lorne turned back to Rodney; as usual, Lorne only seemed to recognize he had something useful to contribute when the situation was dire. "What did the Lieutenant want?"

With a jolt of surprise, Rodney remembered the blueprints still clutched in his left hand. "Oh, right, yes," he said, unrolling the paper, "he wanted--"

He took one look at the plans and felt his stomach bottom out. "Oh no."

*

When John returned to consciousness, the first thing he noticed was that he lying was on a stone floor. The second thing he noticed was that his entire body ached; he'd had enough embarrassing experiences being stunned to immediately recognize it as the cause. Being hit by a stun blast had never looked this painful on Star Trek, that's for sure. Groaning, he pressed his pounding forehead against the cold floor surface. "Ronon," he moaned, "you're so grounded for this."

"I see you're awake," said Ford.

John rolled onto his back, startled. Ford was here and his team was not. That was definitely not good. He was carefully pushing himself into a sitting position when he realized his hands and ankles were bound in front of him.

"What's with this?" he demanded. "What's going on? Ford?"

"Yeah, I guess you missed that conversation, didn't you," Ford said. He pushed aside his leather jacket to kneel next to John, who had finally managed to sit up. "Sorry, Colonel, but taking you was the only way I could be sure McKay would make me my Enzyme O' Matic. As soon as he delivers it, I'll let you go back to Atlantis."

John wasn't sure which part of that explanation bothered him more. "And if he doesn't?"

"Then I'll sell you for drug money," Ford said frankly.

John grimaced. "You're sounding uncomfortably like my father."

Ford looked surprised. "Wow, sir, you have parents? Is your mom hot?"

"Ford, I'm, like, forty," John said.

"So... no?" Ford asked.

*

"Ford-- he-- he tricked me," Rodney gasped, horrified, holding the so-called blueprints away from his body. "These aren't blueprints, they're the scribblings of a madman. This was an elaborate ruse to capture Sheppard and keep him for himself! Or worse, hand him over to someone else. Oh God, you don't think he sold Sheppard into sex slavery, do you?" He spun to face his remaining teammates. "Why didn't one of you shoot him the minute we saw him? What use are you?"

"Rodney, please calm down before you say something you may regret," Teyla said, the tone of her voice implying Rodney was supposed to be regretting a lot already.

But he couldn't calm down, because Ford had given him a crude drawing of a syringe with a pump at the end. Nothing about it was scientific. Instead, it looked like something he'd expect from Loony Tunes. Every individual part was labeled, but with words like, 'long ass needle' and 'enzyme sucker'; the outline of the suction device itself was drawn in a style similar to a child's. Sheppard's life depended on this?

Ronon pulled the blueprints out of Rodney's hands and studied them. "Seems obvious to me. He wants you to build this thing that burrows into the Wraith's arm and takes the enzyme without killing it. You can build that, right?"

Rodney snatched the plans back. "No, I cannot build that. Do I look like I know anything about Wraith physiology to you? The only way I could make something to extract the enzyme from a Wraith without killing it would be if I had a Wraith to experiment on." He paused. "We couldn't get a Wraith, could we?"

"No!" Elizabeth said.

"Worth a try," he muttered.

Less than fifteen minutes later, Lorne, Teyla, and Ronon were heading back through the gate -- without him. That was because Lorne was a moron who still, to this very day, despite all they'd been through, didn't realize Rodney couldn't sit around and twiddle his thumbs while Sheppard was being held captive by a crazy person. And something about how the last time Sheppard had been kidnapped and they'd gone looking for him, the only thing Rodney had taken out was a rat. When Lorne had said no to his going with them (his exact words had been, "God no"), Rodney had said, "But it's my-- team leader. Type. Person. Who's been kidnapped," and Lorne had just sort of... squinted at him like he knew all about Rodney's stupid, stupid feelings.

He felt ridiculous and useless standing beside Elizabeth as his teammates and five hulking Marines disappeared through the event horizon.

"Welcome to my life," Elizabeth told him, looking at him sympathetically.

"I'm only worried because the Colonel's desire to be cool makes him easily susceptible to peer pressure," he snapped.

There was no way he was going to be able to stand there until Lorne returned. So he did what any other sane, well-adjusted person would do in a situation like this: he went to Sheppard's quarters and pretended he could detect a trace of cheap aftershave in the air.

Rodney looked at the surfboard Sheppard never used, the guitar he probably didn't know how to play, the model airplanes he was stupidly proud of, the sheer, sparkly curtains he-- actually, Rodney had no idea what those were about. Sheppard's golf clubs were propped up in a corner. On his desk were his aromatherapy candles, organized by colour and scent, and normally Rodney would find that ridiculously anal and worry about Sheppard's deteriorating mental state, but now it just made him sad. Which then, of course, made him angry. It was a vicious cycle of rage and melancholy.

Zelenka's voice came over his radio: "Rodney? Where are you? Dr Weir said there is an emergency."

"I'm in Colonel Sheppard's quarters," he replied.

A few minutes later, Zelenka came bustling in through the door. He had his tablet in one hand. "What is going on? Why are we in John's room? And how did he get curtains that match his bedspread so well?"

Rodney wanted to punch someone. Like maybe Ford. Except hitting things inevitably led to bruised knuckles and him getting his ass handed to him. "Sheppard got taken by Lieutenant Ford. He wants me to build him this contraption so he can extract the enzyme from a Wraith without killing it."

Zelenka gaped. "But why did he take John?"

"For his great conversation skills. Why do you think? To ensure I would follow his instructions."

Zelenka started pulling something up on his tablet. "Can we track him using--?"

"No." Rodney's shoulders stooped. "I've already tried it. Either Ford has removed the subcutaneous tracker, or he's taken Sheppard somewhere underground."

"Maybe Major Lorne will find him," Zelenka said hopefully.

*

"We couldn't find him," said Lorne.

He had the decency to look embarrassed. Teyla, however, looked murderous, and Ronon's left eye was twitching. Rodney didn't know what his expression was like, but Lorne glanced over at him and hastily added, "Sorry."

Elizabeth pressed her palms flat against the tabletop. Rodney had seen her do that particular gesture enough times to know she was mentally counting to ten. "Teyla," she asked, "what did your contacts say?"

Teyla's lips thinned. "We traced the chain of information back to what appeared to be the original source. Unfortunately, it seems the person to whom Ford originally gave the false information was killed shortly after passing it along. I believe Ford himself killed this man to prevent us from finding him."

"No one else we spoke to on the planet had seen or heard from Ford," Lorne continued. "Although one or two did have some, uh, colourful things to say about Colonel Sheppard."

"What kinds of things?" Rodney asked, appalled. How dare those backwards, unwashed, self-absorbed, Jesus freaks say anything bad about Sheppard!

"They thought he was a little gay," Lorne said.

"Oh," Rodney said, "well."

"I think it's time to ask our allies if they've heard anything," Elizabeth said, narrowing her eyes.

"With all due respect, Dr Weir, I don't think that's going to do any good," Lorne replied.

Lorne, Elizabeth, and Teyla began arguing all at once. But their bickering was pointless, because Rodney knew what he had to do.

He carefully rolled up his sleeves and stood. Lorne broke off his argument to stare at him; soon Elizabeth and Teyla were doing the same. "Someone get me a syringe, a Slinky, and a funnel," Rodney said firmly. "I have an Enzyme O' Matic to build."

*

On the third day, Ford got the munchies and wandered away. He came back twenty minutes later carrying a dead animal. "Want some jackalope?"

"I think I'll pass," John said.

"Your loss, they're delicious," Ford answered. He stepped over John's half-sprawled body.

John settled back against the wall as best he could. The leather rope (he really, really hoped it wasn't a whip, because he seriously didn't want to think about why Ford would have one) around his wrists had started chafing days ago. Across the cave, Ford was fumbling through a pile of junk. Sitting around waiting for the team to rescue him was fine and good -- and his team would find him, they were awesome like that -- but that might take too long. He knew from past experience a hopped up Ford was an unpredictable Ford, and he might sell John to the Genii (or worse) before Rodney pinpointed his location.

Ford didn't have a posse any more, and he was living in a cave in the middle of nowhere. Maybe now John would be able to convince him to go back to Atlantis with him. This time Ford didn't have anything to gain by being on his own. All he had to do was remind Ford how great life was before he got hooked on the enzyme. That would be a piece of cake.

He and Ford hadn't spoken much since he'd woken up. Mostly, he had listened while Ford had ranted about things the SGC was supposedly keeping from them all, including something about Beckett having performed secret experiments on them while he was supposed to be doing pre- and post-mission physicals. So far every conversation had started with, "And here's another thing the government doesn't want you to know." It really made John uneasy.

His mind made up -- Operation: Get Back Ford -- John casually stretched his legs. "You know what this reminds me of? That black market episode of the new Battlestar Galactica Rodney made me watch. Only instead of Apollo to save me, I'm waiting for McKay."

Just as he'd expected, Ford perked up. "Oh yeah?" he asked. "Did they figure out the Cylons' plan yet? The lack of decent cable in the Pegasus Galaxy really bums me out."

"Season three sucked big time. I'd rather be strung out on drugs than watch that again."

Ford stared at John, face impassive.

Uncomfortably, John said, "Maybe I will take some of that jackalope."

Ford gutted and spit the animal. He hadn't been kidding; it really was a jackalope. That was kind of messed up. John wondered where in the galaxy they were to be on a planet with real live jackalopes. The last time Ford had pulled this crap he'd taken them through the gate a few times so Atlantis couldn't follow their trail. That had been the part of Ford that had remembered his training, the part John had spent weeks trying to appeal to. But last time he'd also been living off raiding the Genii, and had a fully-stocked base of operations, not a bunch of rubble tossed in a cave somewhere. For all John knew they were an entire galaxy away from Atlantis.

"What've you been up to since the hiveship blew up with you in it?" John asked.

Ford wiped his knife clean. "Planet-hopping, mostly," he said with a shrug. "I thought I'd seen a lot working for the SGC, but, man, there are things in Pegasus you'd never believe. I've seen unicorns, talking animals, whales--"

"I've seen the whales," John muttered under his breath.

"--Leprechauns -- he told me to stay away from his pot of gold and then he stabbed me in the leg -- monks, androids, you name it. I spent a night on a planet full of ninjas not too long ago. The last couple of months I'd been living on this world with these people who've reached Enlightenment, and they invited me to join their society. They know everything, even more than McKay. They told me Jesus wasn't human."

John repeated, "They told you about Jesus. In the Pegasus Galaxy." A thought occurred to him. "Are you sure they weren't talking about the Master of the Universe?"

Ford frowned. "What does He-Man have to do anything?"

John let his head fall back to hit the cave wall. After rummaging around his junk pile for a minute, Ford pulled out two metal plates. He cut off some jackalope meat and handed the plate to John, then sat himself just outside of John's reach, Indian style. The sleeves of his leather coat rode up to reveal a series of intricate metal bangles. Ford was kind of starting to look like a character from Pirates of the Caribbean. Unfortunately for John, that character was not Johnny Depp.

"Come on, buddy," John said, putting as much gentleness into his voice as he could muster while being bound and held against his will. Ford was a good guy. He was just going through some hard times right now. "Come back to Atlantis with me. I think that band you liked released a new cd since you've been gone. Death Cutie for Something?"

"Death Cab for Cutie?" Ford asked. A bead of sweat visibly broke out on his forehead. "No, no way, don't even try it. I don't need the old ways anymore. One thing I've learned being in this galaxy is you gotta take their enzyme before they take yours."

"Humans don't have the enzyme," John pointed out. "That's sort of a Wraith thing."

Ford crossed his arms over his chest defiantly. "Sorry, sir, but I've made up my mind. McKay's going to make my Enzyme O' Matic, and then I can kill all the Wraith."

"What makes you think Rodney's going to build you this Enzyme Whatever, and not just come here with the Daedalus and take you out?" John realized what he'd said. "Well, maybe Rodney wouldn't take you out, but Ronon and Teyla are pretty scary when they're angry. I know you remember the time you drank the last of Teyla's tea and she made you cry like a little girl."

Ford looked at him strangely. "He'll do it because I told him I'd kill you, and he wouldn't take that chance."

"He's not going to make you anything that can help you."

"He will because he thinks you'll die."

"No, he won't," John said proudly.

"He--" Ford broke off, furrowing his brow. "Are you socially retarded or just really, really closeted?"

"What are you talking about?" John asked.

Now Ford sounded exasperated. "The reason I took you is because McKay's in love with you. He's going to build me whatever I want as long as it means you get back to him okay. He's going to feel like he doesn't have any choice."

John started, "That's--" Never going to work, he was going to say. But then he thought about how upset his team had been when Kolya had captured him. He hadn't witnessed any of it firsthand, being stuck in Kolya's pleasure palace and all, but Lorne and some of the Marines had dropped hints about how freaked out everyone had been, and when they'd gotten back to Atlantis Ronon had given him a bone-crushing hug that had hurt his newly-regenerated rib cage. If his team wasn't here by now to rescue him, it meant the cave was deep enough to block his subcutaneous transmitter, and this time there wasn't a Wraith around to team up with. The longer he was gone, the more his friends were going to panic. And Rodney had never been good at keeping cool under pressure.

"That's a pretty good plan," John said finally.

Ford smirked. "Yeah, I know."

They stared at each other in silence for a long moment. Ford picked at a loose string on his leather coat; John wondered how hard it would be to hop his way to safety.

"Did you say Rodney's in love with me?" asked John.

"For Pete's sake," Ford said.

*

Focusing on building the physical manifestation of Ford's insanity held back the crushing waves of anxiety and fear which threatened to overcome him. As long as he had something to do, Rodney didn't have time to contemplate how Sheppard, the only person in the entire universe who understood, and more importantly, still liked, Rodney, was suffering at the hands of Ford because of him.

The problem was, Rodney wasn't entirely sure what he was doing. For one, he had no way of knowing whether or not shoving a needle into a Wraith's enzyme sac would kill it. For another, medical equipment wasn't exactly his area of expertise. Bombs, shields, weapons, those were easy; if Ford had asked him to build a Wraith-crushing robot that ripped the enzyme sacs out of their arms, Sheppard would be sitting in the mess eating pudding right now. Whatever happened to the Ford whose main joy in life was blowing shit up?

Okay, so maybe Rodney could work and think about Sheppard at the same time. Damn his ability to multi-task.

"These are the plans Lieutenant Ford gave you? Where did he get crayons in this galaxy?" a voice asked.

Rodney's heart nearly stopped in his chest as he was startled out of his revere. He dropped the screwdriver, scattering the gears he had lined up on the lab bench. "Do you mind?" he snapped, looking up.

"No, not really," Elizabeth said dryly. She was holding the blueprints in her hands. "It's amazing he was able to spell Enzyme O' Matic without an 'E.' Or a 'C.' Or any 'M's.' And what's this, 'Man, I could really go for some Taco Bell'?"

"Told you, crazy," Rodney said, twirling a finger in the universal gesture for 'insane.'

"How's it coming?"

"It's not." Frustrated, he shoved his tools aside. He hated everyone. "I can't do this. I have four days to build Ford this-- this joke, and when he realizes that I couldn't do it, he's going to kill Sheppard. Or hand him over to the Genii rebels, who will kill him themselves. And not because he hates Sheppard, or because he finds Sheppard annoying, because let's face it, most of our enemies hate him because he's such a smart ass. But no, no, he'll kill Sheppard for the sole purpose of punishing me." He stared at the screensaver on a laptop across the room. "I don't understand how he knew," he murmured to himself.

Elizabeth slid into Zelenka's ergonomic chair and scooted closer to the bench, bringing Ford's blueprints with her. She looked like she did at every meeting -- folded hands, attentive expression -- but her tone held the kind of gentleness that was usually only directed at him when he was dying. With everything going on, he didn't think he could handle it if she told him she loved him again. "Rodney, what happened on the planet?" she asked.

He turned to his laptop, avoiding her gaze. "Nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. Not unless you count Ford being much more observant than anyone gave him credit for, that is. Well, than I gave him credit for; the Colonel obviously saw something in him, since he put him on our team and all. But honestly, if he was so good at reading people, you'd think he'd have been--"

"Rodney," Elizabeth repeated sternly, this time raising a brow.

"He said he took Sheppard as a hostage because he's the one I care for the most," Rodney said in a rush, "and he knew I would do anything to get him back."

Her eyes widened. "I see. Are you and John...?" She looked simultaneously curious and uncomfortable. Mostly uncomfortable, though.

"Don't be ridiculous," he replied. Personally, Rodney wouldn't have been embarrassed if Elizabeth was convinced he and Sheppard were having some sort of secret love affair, but he sincerely doubted Sheppard felt the same way. As it was, if -- when, Rodney told himself firmly, although he wasn't sure he believed it, when -- they got him back, he probably wouldn't want to have anything to do with Rodney anymore. Three years of trying to keep Sheppard from realizing he had a thing for him, ruined.

"The idea of us in a relationship is completely absurd," he added.

"I wouldn't say that," Elizabeth said, sounding way too amused for Rodney's liking.

"Well, I would say that, and I would know, wouldn't I," Rodney said fervently. "We're not together. We'll never be together. He's so-- and I'm so-- And not everyone realizes how wonderful I am." He raised his chin.

Elizabeth's mouth twitched upwards. "Oh, I think he knows, deep down. John's very... I don't want to say 'clueless,' but-- no, actually, 'clueless' works."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "He never even realized everyone on the He-Man planet hated gays. I think he thought they didn't like his hair."

She ducked her head, chuckling. Ford's sketches crinkled under her hands. Rodney had a flash of the last time he'd seen her like that: at breakfast on the morning of their ill-fated mission, laughing over something Sheppard had been telling her. Rodney had heard it from across the commissary -- he specifically remembered complaining to Zelenka they were only exacerbating his pre-coffee headache. Rodney felt his grin fade. He was never going to be able to build this contraption, and Ford was going to turn Sheppard into one of his super space pirates, or kill him and leave his body to rot on some unknown planet, or something else too horrible for Rodney to imagine. And Rodney could imagine quite a lot.

"Kolya and Ford both used me to threaten Sheppard. This is the first time the situation's been reversed, and I have to say, I don't like it. It's different from the literally hundreds of times I single-handedly saved his life on missions. I feel, um." He waggled his fingers thoughtfully. "What's the word?"

"Responsible, because you love him?"

"Who said anything about love?" he squeaked.

Elizabeth started droning on about the importance of overcoming denial and opening your heart, but since she was obviously talking about Sheppard, Rodney didn't bother listening. Six exhausting hours later, he looked up and she was gone. But it didn't matter, because he'd finished it. He'd built what he needed to save Sheppard. He'd built-- he'd built--

He'd built a can opener.

"Goddammit," he said, and flung it against the wall. The glass tubing connecting the needle to the pump fractured into two large pieces.

When they found Sheppard, Rodney hoped Teyla and Ronon broke Ford's kneecaps.

*

Since his change, Ford didn't really talk much. Much like last time, he spent most of John's captivity by himself, either shifting through piles of debris or scribbling into a small, leather-bound pad he would periodically remove from his coat pocket. After a few days of this, John was so bored he almost wanted Ford to kill him and get it over with. He'd already played hours and hours of I Spy with himself, counted all the stalactites he could see, and tried to get Ford to join him in a game of Prime Not Prime ("You mean the game you and McKay used to use to make fun of me?" "Uh, nevermind, forget I asked."); he was bored enough to start making up haiku.

"Trapped in a cave. It is one hop to freedom. But my feet are bound."

Ford glanced over at him from behind his trash heap. "What?"

"What?" John asked.

Ford narrowed his eyes at him, but returned to his work. "What're you writing?" John asked, stretching his neck.

"An attack plan."

He walked over and handed the notepad to John, who tried to balance it between his cuffed palms. His hands were kind of tingly. The paper was made with an unusual texture, and it crinkled beneath his fingers; he wondered which planet Ford had picked it up on. Scrawled on the top page was:

  1. Get McKay to make the Enzyme O' Matic.
  2. Form a new gang with the guys from Swamp World.
  3. Get rid of the tracking device implanted in my brain.
  4. Kill all the Wraith.
  5. (blank)
  6. Join Jesus and the Elves in the Afterlife.

"Wow, impressive," John said carefully, with a tight smile.

This, the kidnapping, and parts of their earlier conversations over the past few days were really not making Ford look good. John didn't know if the paranoia and delusions was from living on the run for the last few years, or if it was the side effects of long-term enzyme abuse, or what. During this ordeal he'd seen a side of Ford he'd never seen before. The Ford who had been his 2IC had been naive and silly, but also competent, and a staunch believer in hierarchy and order; after his change, "deceptive" and "single-minded" had also been added to the list. Still, John had always known his buddy Ford was somewhere deep inside the kid warped by addiction.

But if Ford was crazy, did that mean everything he said couldn't be trusted? There was one thing on John's mind in particular. He was torn between wanting to pretend he'd never heard about it and wanting to know more. He wished he had a coin to flip.

Curiosity won in the end. He cleared his throat; Ford looked up from his scribblings. "So McKay really...?"

"I can't believe you didn't know that. I knew and I haven't even been there."

John bit his lip. "How'd you know?"

Ford shrugged, smiling a little. "You were my teammates. It wasn't too hard to figure out."

John really, really needed to learn how to recognize these things. If Rodney had been in love with him long enough for Ford to recognize it, then that meant it had been going on for a long time. His chest felt weird and fluttery at the thought. Maybe Ford did know what he was talking about.

"I can see why you don't like him, though," Ford said. "He's a real pain in the behind."

"Hey, he's a lot more than a pain in the-- behind," John replied. He couldn't believe Ford still didn't like Rodney, after all Rodney had done for him; Rodney had worked his ass off to save Ford's life plenty of times in the past. They had teased each other a lot, but he knew Rodney had respected Ford up until that whole hiveship fiasco. Apparently, Ford hadn't respected Rodney at all. "Sure, he's a jerk, and yeah, he can be annoying -- really annoying -- but he's brave when it counts. He's the smartest person in any galaxy. And just because he pretends he doesn't care about people doesn't mean he doesn't. He cares about people just fine. You just have to get to know him."

"Uh-huh," Ford said, looking at John weirdly.

He had complete, utter faith Rodney would swoop in and save the day. Because that's what Rodney did: he bitched and he moaned, but he always came through for John. Except for that whole Duranda thing, but that was a million years ago. And Ford didn't know what he was talking about; John liked Rodney just fine. Rodney was his best friend. In fact, he--

And it was at that moment John realized he was in love with Rodney too.

"Aw, crap," he said.

*

When Rodney was in elementary school, he had done a few of the other boys' homework in exchange for not getting regularly beaten up. Building Ford's Enzyme O' Matic was a lot like that, except instead of doing Jimmy Holbrook's math homework he was building Ford something to help him get high, and instead of doing it to prevent getting his nose broken he was doing it to prevent his friend from being murdered and/or traded to the enemy. Unfortunately, he couldn't do to Ford what he had done to the obnoxious twerps in his class, which was routinely humiliate them until they learned to leave him alone. He'd humiliated Ford plenty of times when they had been teammates, and the kid had kept coming back for more.

Rodney had gotten virtually no work done on Ford's device. After he'd built a can opener, a set of tongs, and an overly-complicated turkey baster, he'd tried crawling through Carson's notes on Wraith physiology. That was a lot harder than he'd expected; the man had even written with an accent.

It would have been easier if Sheppard was here and someone else had been kidnapped. As much as he hated to admit it, he could really use Sheppard's imagination right now. But no; everyone was relying on him to save Sheppard all by himself. Sheppard had probably gotten himself captured on purpose to drive Rodney insane. He loved making Rodney's life miserable.

Rodney buried his face in his hands. "Oh my God, I'm in love with him."

Someone cleared their throat.

He peeked between his fingers. Ronon and Major Lorne were standing at the foot of his bench. "Er," Rodney said.

"We want to help you get the Colonel back," Lorne replied.

Ronon nodded determinedly. "He's our friend too."

"What can you two possibly do to help me?" Rodney asked.

"We could help you come up with a plan," Lorne said, reaching for a set of Ancient tools. Rodney slapped his hand away before he had a chance to break something. He really needed a sign on his door that said 'No idiots allowed.'

Ronon picked up an Ancient remote control. "Don't touch that," Rodney said angrily. "I don't need your help. And more importantly, I don't want your help. What I want is to build Ford what he wants so he'll let Sheppard go, except, oh wait, it's impossible to get the enzyme out of a Wraith without killing it."

"Why don't you just build something that looks like what he wants?" Lorne asked.

Rodney sneered at them. "Oh," he scoffed, "why don't I-- why don't I?" he asked himself. He looked at the Ancient and Tau'ri equipment piled onto various lab benches; he had countless Ancient terminals and toys he'd taken apart and put back together over the course of three years. And Ford, he remembered, a plan beginning to form in the back of his mind, didn't have the gene.

*

At the end of the week, John woke up and found a giant needle sticking out of the crook of his elbow.

"Aaahh," he cried, jerking back. The needle remained in place. The worst part was his hands were still tied, so he couldn't yank it out unless he planned on dislocating his shoulder. He looked around wildly, but Ford must've been asleep, because all the lights in the cave were out and he couldn't see a damn thing. "There's a fucking needle in my arm! Ford!"

"There's no need to curse," came Ford's voice from somewhere above him.

John squinted into the darkness. "What the hell are you doing?"

"I tried to get the enzyme out of you."

John was a pretty easy-going guy. In his time in the Pegasus Galaxy alone, he'd been through invasions, kidnappings, betrayals, and the Amish, but seriously, enough was enough. He knew Ford was a drug addict who'd been living on the fringe, or whatever, but there was only so much crazy John could deal with in one week. "I already told you, humans don't have the enzyme in them," he shouted. "It's a Wraith enzyme, only Wraiths have it."

One of Ford's industrial-sized lanterns switched on; John tried to block the glare with a hand before he remembered he was tied up. "Well, I know that now," Ford said. He reached out and pulled the syringe out of John's arm; it didn't hurt that much, but there was an awful lot of blood.

"You weren't even aiming at the right spot," John grumbled. He frowned at his bleeding arm. A familiar voice in his head -- Rodney's voice, and jeeze, that whole love thing was so obvious now that he thought about it -- quipped, "You'll need a full blood work-up after this little adventure. Not that you shouldn't be getting one after every mission anyway." Great, even the Rodney in his head was a hypochondriac. That probably said a lot about him.

Angrily, he asked, "What's happened to you? I don't remember you being this stupid."

He knew it was a mistake the second he said it.

Ford's expression darkened. He brandished the syringe in front of John's face. "Stupid, huh? Would an idiot do this?"

John braced himself, waiting for whatever it was Ford was going to do. He wasn't sure what he expected, but one thing was for sure: he wasn't expecting Ford to roughly stab himself in the thigh with the needle.

John stared, gaping. "What does that prove?"

"That I'm not a coward," Ford replied. He scowled at John like this was something he should've known.

"But I said you were being a moron, not a coward."

Ford stared at him for a long pause, unblinking. Then he pulled the syringe from his thigh. "Did you?" he asked in a low voice.

Rodney will save me, Rodney will save me, John thought desperately. This was the most freaked out he'd been since he'd crash-landed in Afghanistan and his best friends had died in a flaming ball of fire. Sure, it had been the number one worst moment of his life, but at least he'd had a spare bottle of hair gel and pants that had made his ass look good. Now, not so much. He was tied up and alone with a crazy guy. Even the Wraith were starting to look less scary than Ford.

"Can't we talk about this?" John asked.

"No," Ford said ominously. "Because we have to go meet McKay so I can exchange you for my Enzyme O' Matic."

The tight ball of tension between John's shoulders relaxed slightly. "We're going through the stargate?"

"No, we've been on this planet the whole time. I only dragged you through the gate long enough to make sure they'd gone back to Atlantis, then I brought you right back here."

"We're still on Eternia?" John asked incredulously.

"See," Ford said, tapping his temple, "not stupid."

*

The day before Rodney was scheduled to meet Ford, Elizabeth sent Lorne's team back to Eternia. The plan was they were supposed to watch the gate and grab Ford once he came through, but when Rodney stepped onto the planet the day of the exchange, Lorne and Ronon were waiting for him. Lorne didn't look happy. Rodney had a feeling his unhappiness was not due to his friend and CO being missing.

"Not a single person has come through the gate," Lorne said before Rodney could get a word out. He sounded incredibly annoyed. Also, he was wearing camouflage BDUs and facepaint, and in any other circumstance this would have been hilarious. Okay, it was still pretty funny. Especially since Lorne was all made up and Ronon was wearing his usual potato sack and leather pants.

"Are you sure he told you to meet him here?" Lorne asked.

"Of course I'm sure," Rodney snapped. But a sense of dread was creeping over him; maybe he'd been right to think Ford's whole plan was to get Sheppard, and he'd given Rodney this task to keep him occupied.

"Maybe I'm early," he added apprehensively. He eyed Lorne's helmet. "What's with the antlers?"

"I'm supposed to be a jackalope," Lorne said, like that made any kind of sense. "Wild jackalopes are rampant here."

"You're certainly the right size for one," said Rodney.

"Ha, ha," Lorne replied. He muttered something under his breath that sounded like, "Fatty."

Rodney opened his mouth to give Lorne the emotional flogging of his life, but then Teyla came hurrying out of the saloon, one of the local men trailing behind her. "Rodney," she called breathlessly, "Elon has a message for you."

The guy looked kind of familiar. "Yes?" Rodney questioned. He didn't trust this "Elon" character.

"A man approached me and said to tell you to meet him at 'the same place as before,'" said the native. "The man was very insistent that you come alone."

Rodney exchanged a glance with Teyla. "It appears Ford arrived here before we did," she said darkly.

"Alright." Rodney swallowed thickly as he adjusted the backpack on his shoulders. No matter how many times he risked his own life to save Sheppard's, it was still terrifying. "Lead the way, Elaine."

"You're not going alone," said Ronon, scowling.

"I have this completely under control," Rodney said. Ronon looked doubtful.

"I don't think it's a good idea either," Lorne said.

"No, no, no, I have to go alone." Rodney said worriedly. "The plan only works if I'm alone. If Ford sees any of you, he'll think I've gone back on the bargain, and then we'll never get Sheppard away from him. I'll send Ellen back so you'll know I'm okay."

"I believe we should trust Rodney," Teyla said.

He snapped his fingers at her. "Yes, see, listen to Teyla."

"However," she added in a reasonable tone, "I also feel we should prepare as many weapons as possible, in case Lieutenant Ford kills Rodney and we are forced to attack before he does the same to John."

"That's very encouraging of you, thanks," Rodney said.

*

As soon as he reached the temple, Ford fell out of the tree, clutching a tied-up Sheppard.

"I was coming," Rodney yelped, jumping back. "You couldn't have waited for me at the entrance? Or anywhere else on the ground?"

Ford climbed to his feet, brushing dirt off his knees with one hand. His other arm was around Sheppard's neck, bicep neatly tucked under Sheppard's stubbled chin. All in all, this was a familiar scene. "Element of surprise," he said boldly, picking a leaf out of his 'fro.

Rodney glanced at Sheppard, whose eyes were looking a little crazy. Something in his chest loosened at the sight of Sheppard alive and seemingly undamaged. He felt like he could breathe for the first time in a week. "Are you okay? He hasn't hurt you, has he?"

"I'm great," Sheppard said with an insincere smile. "He only tried to stab me once. Help me."

At that, Rodney immediately started fumbling for the Enzyme O' Matic. Or what was supposed to be the Enzyme O' Matic, at any rate. He'd only just stuck his hand in his backpack when, as fast as lightening, Ford pointed a gun at Sheppard's temple. Rodney froze, his fingers wrapped around the device. He was having an incredibly strong feeling of deja-vu.

Ford nodded at the backpack. "Just checking to make sure you won't double-cross me. Open it slowly."

Rodney carefully pulled out the Enzyme O' Matic and let his backpack slide to the ground. Sheppard's expression was placid, but Rodney had seen him flinch when Ford had shoved the gun up against him. "See, I built what you wanted," Rodney said shakily.

Ford sent him a toothy grin. "I knew you'd come through for me, McKay. You'd never let Sheppard die. Didn't I tell you, sir?"

"You sure showed me," Sheppard replied.

"The Colonel and I have been bonding," Ford said. He sounded proud, as if his arm was slung across Sheppard's shoulders instead of pressed against his trachea. "Tell him about your hot mom, sir."

"Can we leave my hot mom out of this?" Sheppard asked.

Rodney raised his eyebrows. "You have parents? Huh. That totally changes my perspective of you."

"Why does everyone think I was hatched from an egg?" Sheppard asked grumpily.

"Hold on, that's my Enzyme O' Matic?" Ford interrupted, staring at what Rodney was holding in his hand. His face was darkening with an expression Rodney couldn't read.

"I had to make, ah, a few modifications from your original design, purely for function, you understand," Rodney explained. He pointed out the parts he himself had invented. In his not-so-humble opinion, the device looked incredibly impressive.

Ford narrowed his eyes. "It doesn't look anything like my plans," he said lowly. The arm clamped around Sheppard's neck tightened visibly.

Rodney faltered, hastily saying, "The flat part fits over the Wraith's feeding hand so you don't have to worry about it trying to suck the life out of you while you extract the enzyme. Once you attach it to the hand, you can angle the needle so it goes right into the enzyme pouch. Then all you have to do is turn it on and watch as the vial fills with enzyme."

Ford didn't really react as Rodney finished stumbling through his speech. He gazed at the Enzyme O' Matic in Rodney's hands without saying a word, dark eyes (eye) slitted thoughtfully. Rodney hoped to God (or Allah or Buddha or Yahweh or whoever, he wasn't picky) that Ford's sudden expertise in body language didn't include the ability to tell if he was lying. He had complete confidence his little device would do exactly what he wanted -- he had invented it, after all -- but whether or not Ford would buy it was an entirely different matter. His plan was so simple, so easy -- of course it would be ruined by something as foolish as Rodney not projecting the right amount of confidence. He didn't deserve that acting award if it meant he couldn't even fool someone so obviously disconnected from reality.

Finally: "That's a lot better than what I had," Ford said, sounding awed.

Rodney couldn't help but preen a little. "Of course it is."

"You didn't really build it," Sheppard said disbelievingly, his voice rising. "Rodney! I thought you had a plan."

"This is the plan, Princess Leia," Rodney sneered.

He must've been convincing, because Sheppard's eyes widened, and the line of his mouth flattened with disapproval. He probably thought Rodney was risking the fate of the galaxy to save his scrawny ass. That was so like him. (Not that Rodney hadn't been fully prepared to make Ford exactly what he wanted to get Sheppard back, but he was going to chalk that up to momentary hysteria.) There was no way for Rodney to get it across to Sheppard that this wasn't the real Enzyme O' Matic. Sheppard was just going to have to trust him on this.

"Did you just make a Star Wars joke, McKay?" Ford asked, breaking the tension.

Rodney frowned. "You don't get it? He's captured, I've come to rescue him, we're on an alien base..."

"Doesn't Ford being a space pirate make me Han Solo in the carbonite?" Sheppard asked, squinting.

"I suppose so," Rodney mused. "Except that would make me Leia, and I'm not the woman in this relationship."

"Is this another joke about my hair?" Sheppard asked.

Ford shook his head. The look on his face was almost... fond. "Aw, you guys are nuts."

Rodney exchanged an uncomfortable glance with Sheppard, who grimaced and stared at the grass. "We sure are, buddy," Sheppard agreed, not making eye contact.

Ford kept smiling, up until the point where he said, "I think I oughta test my Enzyme O' Matic first, just to be safe."

Heart suddenly pounding in his chest, Rodney asked, "Do you really think I'd put Sheppard's life in jeopardy like that?"

Ford studied him. Rodney clenched his shaking hands, struggling to keep his expression safe.

But then Ford grinned and said, "Yeah, what was I thinking. Thanks, McKay. Okay, toss it to me."

"What?" Rodney blinked. "Hand over Colonel Sheppard first, and then I'll give it to you."

"If you don't give it to me now, I'll put a hole in his head."

Sheppard started to say, "Rodney, don't--" and Ford moved so that his hand was gripping Sheppard's neck. Sheppard broke off, choking. Rodney went still.

Getting Sheppard hurt wasn't part of the plan. It was the inverse of the plan, actually. Rodney needed to be brave and do this; if he let Ford use Sheppard to manipulate him even further, they would never get out of here alive. What would Ronon or Teyla do in this situation, if they didn't have any weapons and Ronon's IQ was about a hundred points higher and they were given muscle relaxants so they couldn't fight? "I'm not giving you anything until you release Sheppard," he said, drawing himself up to his full height and crossing his arms over his chest, like Ronon would have done.

Ford smirked at Rodney's attempt at being threatening. "You know what? I think I'll keep him. See what else I can convince you to build me. I could use some new weapons."

"What?" Sheppard demanded, head snapping up. "Ford, he gave you what you wanted. You need to fulfill your end of the bargain."

"You need to be quiet, sir," Ford growled.

Rodney started to protest, "But our deal was--"

"I know what our deal was," Ford snapped. "I'm breaking it. I'm not going to repeat myself: hand over the Enzyme O' Matic before I kill your boyfriend."

"'Boyfriend' is a little premature," Rodney said.

"McKay, I'm not joking around!"

"Okay," Rodney said, "I'm going to-- I'm going to toss it at you, like you said. Just don't hurt him."

He met Sheppard's eyes right before he threw the Enzyme O' Matic at Ford, knowing full well that if given the choice between letting go of Sheppard and letting go of his firearm, Ford would let go of Sheppard. And because Rodney was a genius who had planned this very scenario, much in the same way he had tricked the invading Asurans into eliminating themselves, Ford did exactly what Rodney had anticipated: he released Sheppard to catch the device in one hand. Sheppard, using his brain for once, started to dart away from him.

Before Ford could lunge at Sheppard again, Rodney thought, On.

As expected, Ford collapsed, convulsing from the waves of electricity passing from the device into him. Rodney flipped the Enzyme O' Matic off with his mind before there was any permanent damage -- though he wouldn't have lost any sleep over it if there was.

Sheppard gaped at Ford's prone figure. "What's going on? What'd you do?"

Rodney yanked on his arm. "Come on, Sheppard, hike up your skirt, kick off your heels, and run for it. We need to get off this planet before he wakes up."

"How'd you know he wouldn't live up to his end of the deal?" Sheppard asked. He sounded dazed, staring down at Ford with a flabbergasted look on his face. God, maybe Ford had been cutting off the circulation to his brain with his biceps of steel. They needed to get back to Atlantis immediately.

"Because that's what he did last time, remember?" Rodney reminded him. "'We'll let you go if McKay fixes this dart for us'?"

Sheppard hesitated. Rodney could feel Sheppard's muscles tensing under the hand he probably should have removed by now. But he didn't want to let go yet. He hated himself for asking, "Do you want us to take him back to Atlantis with us?"

"No," Sheppard said slowly, "he's ireedemably nuts. I just feel--" He shrugged awkwardly; it looked like he was trying for nonchalant and failing miserably. "Kinda bad about it. If only there was a way to find out what made him go crazy."

As soon as the words left Sheppard's lips, a jackalope hopped past them and into the bush. It was followed by a bunch of hungry-looking lumberjacks with clubs.

"How much do you want to bet it was this planet?" Rodney asked.

*

When they got back to Atlantis, Sheppard was immediately swamped by his adoring fans: Ronon and Teyla, neither of whom had let go of Sheppard's arms since Rodney and Sheppard had showed up at the gate on Eternia; Elizabeth, looking suspiciously misty-eyed; Lorne, still wearing his antlers; Campbell and Zelenka and a few other people Rodney didn't recognize. Sheppard was smiling too, looking glad to be back. Rodney was so unbelievably relieved both he and Sheppard were safe until he remembered Ford had told Sheppard all about Rodney's hard-on for him.

After that, he was too humiliated to be in the same room with Sheppard.

"McKay," Sheppard called as Rodney headed out the nearest door, voice muffled by the crowd surrounding him, but Rodney kept walking. "Rodney!"

He went to his lab and very pointedly did not think about how uncomfortable it was going to be next time he and Sheppard were alone together. He'd felt pretty amazing when he'd walked to the stargate with Sheppard in tow, but now he felt sick to his stomach, as if he'd been the one electrocuted within an inch of his life. He was really, really not looking forward to the conversation Sheppard would inevitably want to have about how he just saw Rodney as a friend.

When Sheppard sauntered in a little over an hour later, looking clean-shaven and freshly showered, Rodney had occupied himself with organizing the Ancient tech he'd cannibalized to make the Enzyme O' Matic. He'd separated the piles into Usable, Unusable, and Trade For Beans.

Sheppard held up a plate. "I brought you some cake."

"There was cake?" Rodney asked.

"And a big banner that said, 'Glad You're Not Dead Yet.'"

"How very touchy-feely of them," Rodney said in disgust.

"I think Ronon made it," Sheppard replied thoughtfully.

The idea of Ronon learning to read English so he could make Sheppard a banner caused Rodney's stomach do backflips again. He snatched the plate from Sheppard. "Thank you, you can go now," he said shortly.

Sheppard narrowed his eyes at him. "Is there anything you need to tell me?"

"Absolutely not," Rodney said, concentrating very hard on his cake.

"Ford sure told me something really interesting," Sheppard said, deliberately baiting him.

He waved a vague hand. "I'm sure it was merely the ravings of a madman."

"Could've been," Sheppard admitted, furrowing his brow. He started to look uneasy. "He said you... you know. Like me."

Rodney honestly hadn't expected the rejection speech to come so soon. He thought he'd at least get a week so he could prepare a speech on why Sheppard being aware of Rodney's feelings wouldn't destroy the team dynamic. (Point one: Rodney's crush had been going on for years, and they were still breathing. Two: Who was going to replace him? Zelenka?) But then he remembered Sheppard may have hated talking about his own feelings, but he was fine when it came to other people's, as long as nobody started to cry. He should've seen this coming.

"'Like' you?" he asked, laughing like this was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard. "What are we, in elementary school?"

Sheppard gave him another narrow-eyed look. "Feels like that sometimes, yeah."

"For your information, no, I don't 'like' you," Rodney said, drawing himself up to his full height. "Obviously, Ford misinterpreted my feelings for you as a teammate. I do care about you, in my own way, but most days I would not even consider you a friend, much less a-- a potential love interest."

Sheppard's face screwed up. "Alright," he said. There was a weird wobbly tone to his voice Rodney had never heard before. "Well, thanks for saving me. I'll let you get back to whatever it is you're doing."

He clapped Rodney on the shoulder as he left. Rodney had definitely dodged a bullet with that one.

Except a second later, Sheppard came hurrying back into the lab, looking furious.

"You do too like me!" he accused, putting his hands on his hips.

"Are you calling me a liar?" Rodney demanded. "Are you saying I lie like one of your women?" A sudden wave of anger overtook him; anger at Ford, for putting him in this situation, and anger at Sheppard, for demanding Rodney explain himself. It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair. "Fine, you know what, Ford was right: I'm in love with you. I've been in love with you for a long time, and I'm not going to apologize for it. I haven't done anything wrong, have I? I haven't come onto you, or touched you inappropriately, or sexually harassed you, even though you're asking for it -- which, by the way, you should be grateful for, because many, many men and women have succumed to the McKay charm after some gentle prodding--"

"Prodding?" Sheppard interrupted.

"Do you mind? I'm talking here. As I was saying, I cannot adequately express how upset I am that Ford not only told you (and Ronon and Teyla) about my feelings, but also used them to blackmail me. I'm sorry you were hurt, and I'll understand if you want me to--" It pained him to even say it. "If you want me to leave--"

"The whole time I was with Ford I knew you were going to come for me," Sheppard blurted. Then he looked horrified at himself.

Rodney went still. "What does that mean?"

Sheppard rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. His gaze drifted to the general vicinity behind Rodney's left shoulder. "Let's just say I wasn't upset when Ford told me about your... feelings," he mumbled.

"You weren't upset," Rodney repeated. That couldn't possibly mean what he hoped it meant. "Then what were you? Happy? Sad? Disgusted? Hungry?"

Rodney watched as Sheppard hesitated -- much in the same way he'd hesitated over leaving Ford on Eternia. There was probably something significant in that, but Rodney had no idea what it was. "For God's sake, Sheppard, what are you trying to tell me?" he asked.

"That I feel the same way about you as you do about me," Sheppard said, finally meeting his eyes. He sounded almost angry. "It just took a cracked-out, runaway Marine to show me."

"I'm both touched and alarmed by that statement," said Rodney.

"Touched, huh?" Sheppard asked, smiling crookedly.

Faint hope sparked in Rodney's chest. It wasn't so much the words that moved him as it was that smile; Sheppard had smiles for alien delegates, smiles for SGC personnel, and smiles for bad guys with guns pointed at his chest, but this lopsided grin almost exclusively came out when he thought they were doing something really cool. Rodney had done a lot of stupid shit for that smile.

So it wasn't any surprise when he found himself saying, "This better not be a trick to get me into bed. I know everyone thinks I'm some kind of playboy--"

"That's not really the first word I'd use to describe you," Sheppard said, raising a brow.

"So when Ford told you about my, um, feelings, you were happy?" Rodney asked, just for clarification. He wasn't sure what he would do if Sheppard was pulling his leg.

Sheppard took a step towards him. "Well, I wasn't unhappy."

"Very funny," Rodney said, scowling.

"You know, there's one thing that's really bothering me," Sheppard said.

The tips of Sheppard's boots touched Rodney's runners. They were close enough for Rodney to see each individual colour flecked in Sheppard's eyes, and to catch a nice whiff of the aftershave Sheppard swore he didn't wear. When Sheppard's tongue darted out to wet his lips, Rodney's gaze followed.

"W-what's that?" Rodney asked.

"How did everyone know I was gay?" Sheppard said sullenly, reaching for Rodney's forearms.

"It's a real mystery," Rodney said sarcastically, then kissed him.

*

The next day, John whistled 'In Your Eyes' on his way to the daily morning briefing. He'd given his unofficial report to Elizabeth (and by proxy, Zelenka) last night over cake, before he'd left the mixer to find Rodney; her response had been, "I never quite know what to say when Rodney plays hero," and, "That must've been an awful experience for you." "You said he tried to take your enzyme?" Zelenka had asked, puzzled. Lorne's team had returned to Eternia after dropping John and Rodney off in Atlantis, but Ford had been long gone by then. John hoped his adventures would lead him to the planet of the rehab centre.

Rodney was already there when John entered the briefing room -- they'd agreed the best course of action was to leave his room separately -- and he flushed when John caught his eye. John took the seat beside him and pressed their calves together, feeling a little overheated himself. He looked across the table to see Ronon rolling his eyes.

"Isn't this nice," Elizabeth said affectionately. She beamed at them; this was one of those moments when John felt she wanted to give them all gold stars and cookies. "The whole team back together again."

"I still don't get what happened," Ronon said, rolling his chair from side to side.

"How can you not get what happened?" Rodney asked, voice raising in pitch. "I used Ancient gene-activation technology to create a tool that rendered Ford unconscious, thereby allowing myself to rescue Sheppard and bring him back to safety."

"My hero," said John.

"There's no need to be sarcastic," Rodney said.

"We are all very glad to have John back," Teyla cut in. She threw Ronon and Rodney a dark look, and then reached over to pat John on the shoulder. He was instantly uncomfortable.

"So what's on the agenda this morning?" he asked casually.

Elizabeth nodded at Teyla. "Teyla has found something that may be important."

"I was hoping a week of being tortured would get me some time off," John said, disappointed. He was already having visions of secluded, sandy beaches and chances to finally use that surfboard.

Rodney looked at him in alarm. "You were tortured?"

"Well, emotionally," said John.

"You may be interested to hear this, John," Teyla said. "I was given an interesting piece of information from an old friend. He claims to have personally seen it himself -- a 'magical' orb that gives those who touch it the strength of ten warriors. It is the relic of a civilization that was once prosperous but has been torn apart by war."

"Do you think he's telling the truth?" John asked as he leaned forward on his elbows. He wouldn't mind checking out something like that. Rodney had gotten superpowers; it was totally his turn to get some awesome ability from some Ancient thingamabob.

"You think this will help us fight the Wraith?" Elizabeth asked him.

"Right, the Wraith," John said. She gave him a look. "Where can we find it, Teyla?"

Teyla smiled broadly at him. "I am glad you asked, John," she said. He heard the real meaning behind her statement: "I am glad you asked during the meeting and not as we were about to step through the stargate." "I have never been there, but I have been told it is a fertile world with honourable people. I believe they call it Cardassia Prime."

"You have got to be kidding me," Rodney said. John caught his eye; Rodney looked as astonished as he felt. Was there something going on in this galaxy that he didn't know about?

"Is this something you would like to investigate personally, John?" asked Elizabeth. Obviously, she wasn't a sci-fi fan.

Maybe it was the being held hostage, or maybe it was the nasty looks he'd received from the Eternians, or maybe it was even the ache in his thighs from him and Rodney getting to know each other better, but there was no way in hell John was stepping onto a world named Cardassia Prime without a full regiment of Marines, a fully-loaded puddlejumper, and as much artillery as he could pack into Ronon.

"You know, I think Major Lorne could use a little excitement in his life," said John.


Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis, He-Man, and Star Trek do not belong to me. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Thanks to Jenn for beta reading, and Keri for helping me over a few roadblocks.

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