Six months after a devastating attack against Earth, Sheppard gets a promotion and a reassignment to Russia, where he encounters evil aliens, Rodney McKay, SG-1, a possible plot against him -- and a series of unexplained visions. Alternate Universe. McKay/Sheppard.

Spoilers: SG-1 5x21 Meridian, 6x01/02 Redemption, 6x21 Prophecy, 6x22 Full Circle, 7x01 Fallen, 7x21/22 Lost City, 8x19/20 Moebius, 9x01 Avalon; SGA 1x01/02 Rising, 1x08 Home, and 3x09 Phantoms.


There's No Such Thing as Daniel Jackson
by eleveninches


Art by ciderpress.

 

December 2002

The first time John Sheppard ever laid eyes on a stargate, all he could say was, "Holy crap."

It was also his first day as a major, and the two were not all that unrelated. John had heard of the stargate plenty of times -- everyone had after Anubis, some crazy alien from outer space who really hated Earth, had blown up the US's gate and, by proxy, most of North America, including John's parents' home in LA -- but it was different seeing it in person. It was especially different when a guy only had a vague idea of what the hell a stargate was.

But John didn't begin his day in a newly-constructed underground facility in Siberia. He started it by dreaming of a city with high towers, surrounded by a wide, endless ocean. He was standing on some kind of balcony, and he could feel the breeze on his face and smell salt in the air.

Suddenly, he was in a white, windowless room. Another guy was there, dressed in a white sweater and jeans.

"Hello, John," said the guy with a squinty smile.

"This is the weirdest sex dream I've ever had," John said. He shrugged. "Oh well."

He was unbuckling his belt when the guy said, looking startled, "No! God, no. That's-- that's not why I'm here."

"So we're not having sex," John said disappointingly.

"No," said the man, drawing out the word. "I'm here to tell you something very, very important: you need to remember 'Atlantis.' That's it, just 'Atlantis.'"

John scrunched up his face. "Sure, okay, Atlantis. Got it." He glanced around the room, but there really wasn't much to see. "You sure this isn't a sex dream? You look like a guy I met once in Bermuda."

When John woke up, and pretty abruptly at that, he was the same place he'd been for the last six months: Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Someone was shaking him and saying his name. They sounded pissed. "Shep, I'm not telling you again, wake up!"

Groaning, John mumbled, "It's too early to have a snowball fight." Without opening his eyes, he pulled the covers over his head and rolled over.

He was warm and content for all of three seconds before Mitch yanked the blankets down over his feet, exposing him to the freezing air. "You need to get up right now, you lazy fucker," Mitch said. "The Colonel wants to see you in his office."

John sat up grudgingly. "What time is it?" he asked, rubbing his face.

"Almost ten. You didn't answer your door," Mitch explained when John gave him a curious look.

When John stood, fumbling for the pants he'd draped over his desk chair, Mitch glanced at his chest and looked away, face blank. It took John a second to remember he was wearing one of Holland's t-shirts. He'd hastily pulled it on the night before, praying on the jog back to his place that no one saw him and wondered just why he was sneaking out of Captain Holland's quarters at three in the morning. Again. Hopefully, that had nothing to do with why the Colonel wanted to see him.

"Why does he want to see me?" John asked. He slid his winter parka on over the t-shirt and shoved his bare feet into his boots. "If this is about the thing with the goat, I wasn't even there. Burns gave me his share because he's a vegetarian."

Mitch shrugged, scowling a little. John figured he was still irritated he hadn't gotten any of the goat meat. "Dunno. The Colonel saw me coming out the mess and told me to find you. It sounded urgent."

The ten minute walk from John's quarters to Colonel Newcombe's office was just this side of unbearably cold. The bottom of John's pants were soaked by the time he managed to find a hardened path, created by people moving back and forth over the same patch of snow for six months, leading to the office. Shivering, John shoved his hands into the pockets of his parka. Some of the guys who'd been on tour longer had told John the winters before the attack were plenty cold, but they were much worse now. It had been months since John had seen sunlight.

Colonel Newcombe was waiting behind his desk. The blast of heat that hit John in the face as soon as he entered the room reminded him just how cold it really was out there. "Sir," John greeted, brushing the snow off his shoulders with one bare, ice-cold hand. Damn nuclear winters. Maybe next time they'd get attacked by aliens with a heat ray.

"Captain Sheppard, you've been given new orders," Newcombe said, getting straight to the point.

John wondered why Newcombe was telling him this. "We have, sir?" he asked.

"No, you have."

Newcombe handed John a stack of papers. The words John Sheppard, report to the US-Russian Stargate Command Facility, and Siberia jumped out at him. And also Военно-воздушные Силы России, but he had no idea what that said. It was co-signed the US Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the Russian VVS Commander. John's stomach dropped.

"Am I being punished, sir?" he asked worriedly. He tried to think of what he'd done lately to piss off his CO. Okay, so he didn't always follow orders to the letter, and he didn't tuck in his shirt even though they always yelled at him for it, and maybe he'd missed a few briefings because he was busy playing Xbox, but he was pretty sure that wasn't enough to ground him. Oh, and there was that whole gay affair thing, but that was totally a secret. He zipped up his parka a little higher though, just in case.

Newcombe rolled his eyes. "It's a promotion, Captain. Or should I say 'Major'?"

Major. Major John S. Sheppard. Take that, Dad, he thought triumphantly. Then he remembered his dad was dead, and he felt kind of bad.

"Why me?" he asked.

"I guess they thought it was time you were promoted."

That left John feeling even more confused. He glanced back at the papers in his hands. "You're sure this was meant for me, sir?"

"Maybe they saw your Xbox scores," Newcombe said dryly.

"But... but what about the war?" John asked. He'd liked flying, even while being shot at; flying was the only thing in life he'd ever felt passionate about. But no one on the base had flown for months, and getting sent to Russia seriously lowered any chances John had of flying again.

Newcombe sighed, rubbing his forehead. "Son, with the end of the world and all, I don't think the war against terrorism is all that important anymore. It's been months since I've received orders. Besides, the Taliban have probably frozen to death by now."

"But--"

"You've been given an order, Major," Newcombe snapped.

John grimaced. "When do I leave?"

The Colonel glanced at his watch. "In about fifteen minutes."

"What?" John asked.

He clapped John on the shoulder. "Merry Christmas, Major."

*

The elevator ride to the centre of the Earth was long, cold, and unnervingly quiet. They were playing Britney Spears over the speakers.

After a flight that had felt longer than his entire Afghanistan tour, John had been dropped off, alone, on a landing strip in the middle of a snow-covered field. The only signs of life in the area were a locked private hanger and a one-story building that sort of resembled a park restroom. The air was cold enough to freeze the inside of his nose and mouth, and his eyes stung.

"This is bad," John said to himself, after he'd waited five minutes and no one had come to meet him. The plane was long gone by then.

After ten minutes, he thought, I'm fine. This is great. I'm totally fine. So cold he was shaking, he pulled his hood down over his forehead and wondered how long he should wait before he tried to build an igloo, and whether or not he had the guts to kill a Siberian wolf with nothing but his trusty Swiss Army knife. Finally, just when John began feeling antsy, the thick metal door to the restroom slammed open. A man in a fuzzy, fur-lined hat poked his head out. "Major John Sheppard?" he asked in a heavily-accented voice.

"That's me," John replied with relief.

"This way to the Stargate Command, please."

He'd given his coat, gloves, and scarf to the man and was escorted, none-too-gently, into an enormous elevator. By now, he'd been inside for a good ten minutes, and he wasn't much warmer than he'd been on the outside; John's bare fingers felt stiff and frozen, and the skin on his face -- the only part of him that had been exposed to the Siberian air -- burned. He was pretty sure his toes were numb, even through three layers of wool socks. He wondered if Russia was any colder now than it had been before the nuclear winter.

When the elevator reached level eight, it paused long enough to let on two burly guys with identical sour expressions. They flanked John on either side without saying a word. John wondered if all the guys at the SGC were this huge; he'd been pretty sure this place was run by the Air Force, not the Marine Corps, but now he wasn't too sure.

"Hey there," John said.

The man on John's right quietly reached over and pressed the button for the twenty-fourth floor.

"It's my first day," John said, smiling at one, and then the other. He had to lean back and up to see them. Neither of them reacted. "Don't speak English, huh? Are you Russian? Ru-skee?"

The time, the one on his left glanced down at John. The look on his face was anything but inviting.

"I get it," John said, turning to stare at the door. "Playing it cool, huh?"

At level fifteen, ten floors above where John was supposed to get off, the elevator stopped again. A guy wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt and BDU pants stepped on. He had a book in one hand and a peeled banana in the other, and he started humming along to the music, which had rolled over from Britney Spears to something John vaguely recognized.

"Words can't keep me do-- Oh, hey, you must be the new guy." The man tucked his book under one arm and held out his free hand. "Jonas Quinn, SG-1."

John had no idea what an SG-1 one was, but he shook Jonas's hand anyway, glad someone was being friendly towards him. "Major John Sheppard." He couldn't help but puff out his chest a little when he said it. "What gave me away?"

"The only people here who wear a dress uniform are the liaisons and General Landry," Jonas replied, gesturing to John's chest with his banana.

"Are there other liaisons?" John asked. He hadn't put much thought into what exactly it was he was doing here. He hadn't really had time, in between the promotion and the flying across the entire continent of Asia and the waiting in the snow for someone to get him. Maybe they'd left him outside on purpose. Maybe he was just one more interloping officer the SGC had to deal with, butting into their business and telling his bosses every move they were making. They probably hated him for it. He kind of hated himself, just thinking about it. At least in Afghanistan everyone had left him alone.

"Just the Russian liaison, Major Damurchiev," said Jonas. "The Americans haven't had one since Anubis attacked." He glanced away, looking sad. "Poor Major Davis. He never saw it coming."

As John contemplated what exactly it was that had happened to Major Davis, klaxons went off. He immediately tensed. He'd thought the one perk of being assigned a desk job was not worrying about being attacked without warning. "Unscheduled offworld activation," said a voice over the intercom.

"Uh-oh," Jonas muttered.

"What's going on?" John asked. "Did he just say 'offworld'? Is it Anubis?"

Jonas handed his book and banana to John and hit the number twenty-eight on the elevator keypad, followed by a red button that said 'override.' The two Russian guys started rapidly talking to each other. "Everything's fine, yes, and probably," Jonas said, glancing back over his shoulder with a grin.

"Great, attacked by aliens on my first day," John muttered.

Floor twenty-eight was a long corridor leading to a blast door and a smaller, person-sized door. John followed Jonas through the latter and up a set of stairs into some kind of control room, where the atmosphere was thick with tension. Among the people there was a guy about John's age with a receding hairline yelling at a hot blonde in fatigues, who kept trying to direct a bunch of people on computers. Both of them looked furious. One of the techs kept repeating, calmly, "Gate will not deactivate," and a shorter man in full uniform paced between the computers and the arguing couple. While John stood there goggling, a man with greying hair and a big dude with a gold thing on his forehead pushed past him to dash out the door. It was a lot more chaotic than anything John had ever imagined happening at an intergalactic command base. Everyone on Star Trek was always really calm.

That was when John noticed it: the huge, round stone standing behind the glass. The middle of it was lit up, and there were a bunch of officers pointing guns at it. It was like a beautiful, terrible alien creature.

"Holy crap," he said without thinking.

It seemed like the entire room stopped to look at him.

"Uh, hi," he said, raising his hand for a wave.

All at once, everyone in the room went back to what they were doing. The man with the receding hairline, however, gave John a look of disgust and turned back to the female officer. Belatedly, John noticed he was still holding onto Jonas's banana. This was officially the worst first impression ever.

"Well, that could've gone better," John said to Jonas.

"Most of them are really nice people," Jonas said. "It took them a while to warm up to me too. Just be glad you're not replacing someone they loved and admired. Duck."

John, intrigued, started to ask, "You replaced a guy named Duck?" when Jonas grabbed his arm and pulled him down -- just as something whizzed over his head; whatever it was had gone through the bullet-proof glass and into a computer, right where John's chest had been. John could hear gunfire on the other side of the glass, and when he stood back up, a bunch of armour-plated men -- women? aliens? -- were running through the blue watery circle and being shot down by the airmen. The two guys who had passed John earlier were taking down most of them. It would've been a lot cooler if ten aliens weren't running through the circle every time one was shot down by the SGC's people.

"That's it!" he heard the blonde woman exclaim. He tore his eyes away from the scene below in time to see her hurry over to the computers; one of the techs offered her his seat, and she started typing away.

Seconds later, the giant stone circle appeared to... shut down, or turn off, maybe, just as the last alien had a bullet put through its head.

"Unbelievable," said the balding man, drawing the word out. There were a few, "Good job, Major Carter"s and, "I knew you could do it"s, but instead of congratulating her like the others, the guy pushed her aside to check what she had done, scowling. What a jerk, John thought, just as the older man in uniform stepped forward to get John's attention.

"Major Sheppard," he greeted John, his thick Southern accent polite despite the smirk on his face. John had a feeling this was the General Landry Jonas had mentioned in the elevator. It was more than the uniform; he had that kind of assholish air of authority John was used to from his commanding officers. "How do you like our facility so far?"

John was covered in glass shards, his dress uniform was singed where he'd brushed against the computer that had shattered when a spear went through it, and he had no idea what was going on. Yeah, he was having a blast. "Does this kind of thing happen to you guys often, sir?" he asked.

"A little too often, if you ask me," said a new voice. It was the grey-haired officer who'd blown the shit out of those aliens, looking like he wasn't even breaking a sweat. He must've come back in when John hadn't been paying attention.

"Indeed," said the tattooed guy behind him.

General Landry gestured towards them. "This is Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c." John waited for a last name, but Landry didn't offer one. "Major Carter is over there. And I see you've already met Jonas Quinn." Landry nodded at Jonas, who was picking his squished banana up off the floor. John must've dropped it when he'd been knocked over. "SG-1, this is Major Sheppard."

"Sorry about your banana, buddy," John said to a disappointed-looking Jonas.

"This is Sheppard? Hmm," O'Neill said. He critically dragged his eyes from the tips of John's boots to the top of his head. But then he slapped John on the back, surprising him. John squirmed awkwardly at the unexpected show of affection. "Looking forward to getting out there?" O'Neill asked.

Confused, John asked, "Out-- out where?"

"We'll get your team set up in the morning, Major," said Landry.

"My team," John repeatedly blankly. "But I thought I was a liaison. Shouldn't I be liais... ing?"

"I have direct orders to put you in the field, son," Landry said gravely.

"You want me to go through that?" John asked. He gaped at the huge, alien ring.

He was pretty sure his orders hadn't said anything about going through stargates or fighting bad guys in space; that was where everyone had said Anubis was, in space, with a huge fleet of ships ready to attack at any moment, but John had had problems believing that even after the stargate had exploded. All he wanted to do was fly planes. John didn't know what any of this stargate stuff had to do with him -- or more importantly, why the Air Force had chosen him, of all people. Maybe Newcombe was right and the they had seen his Xbox scores. This was what he got for playing so much Jedi Starfighter.

But then again, being able to explore other worlds -- that was a big deal. He already knew there were aliens, but there could be things out there he had never even imagined. He could be the real life Captain Kirk, or John Sheridan, or Phillip J. Fry. He could boldly go where no man had gone before.

"Cool," John said.

*

The next few hours were filled with paperwork. On top of the normal stuff, John was instructed to sign a series of confidentiality agreements. It seemed awfully redundant; the whole world knew about the SGC and the stargate by now. It was kind of hard to miss, what with North America being destroyed and all. Six months ago, John had crowded around the tv with the rest of the people on base at Bagram, trying to make sense of what the BBC reporter had been saying: "The US was in possession of a device called a 'stargate,' which allows people to travel to other planets via a 'shortcut' through outer space. It was this device the alien warlord Anubis detonated. Many of the personnel of this 'Stargate Command' were able to escape the destruction -- but unfortunately, most of the people of Canada, the United States, and Mexico were not so lucky." Those had been some rough days.

He also had to sign a document about what was to be done if he died in battle (against aliens! he thought wildly). It had one part for if they had a body, and one part for if they didn't. That one made him uneasy. He'd known what he was signing up for when he'd entered the Air Force; filling in forms for what to do if his body was "misplaced offworld" or "lost in an incident involving alien or experimental technology" was an entirely new experience. One that he wasn't sure how he felt about.

There was one thing definitely bothering him, however. "Sir, you said you were given orders to put me on a team?" he asked, signing his name on the final paper.

Landry simply smiled and collected the documents into a folder marked SHEPPARD, JOHN SEAMUS. "Walter will help you with whatever you need, Major," he said, ignoring John's question. "You can leave your jacket here; we have plenty of extras."

He left John alone with a beaming Sergeant Harriman. "If you'll let me give you the tour, sir?" Harriman said, clutching his clipboard to his chest.

Not seeing much of a choice, John stood and draped his ruined uniform jacket over the back of the chair. A second later he popped open the first two buttons of his shirt and rolled up his sleeves. "Where to first, Airman?"

"Oh, no, sir, we're not going anywhere," said Harriman, before launching into a lengthy description of the entire facility. "You can go anywhere but levels six and twenty-three. You need special clearance for those. The mess is located on level ten; personal quarters are on levels eleven through fifteen..." He went through the entire base like that, although there were some things John didn't understand -- what the hell a Kelnorim room was for, for instance, or why the infirmary needed two whole floors. There were twenty-eight floors, total, stretching miles and miles underground, with laboratories, living quarters, offices, power generators, and training facilities. From what it sounded like, the SGC was bigger than the nearest town, Alzamay.

When he was done, Harriman looked at his watch and said, "You have twelve hours until your briefing with General Landry. What would you like to do?"

Normally, when John landed on a new base he either went directly to his own quarters or to the hangers to check out the aircraft. He wasn't really a social guy. At the SGC, he only had two real options: either going to his room and hiding from the big, scary aliens, or staring at the stargate some more. He had to admit, both had their appeal.

As if sensing his indecisiveness, Harriman said, "You could go get something to eat at the mess. Or you could go to the fifteenth floor lounge and meet some of the other officers. Or," he suggested brightly, "you can go to bed."

John checked his watch. It was five PM Irkutsk Time (two back at Bagram; two in the morning, the day before, in Pacific Time). "How about I don't. What do you guys do for fun around here?" he asked, heading for the elevators without any real place in mind. He'd made up his mind; he had nothing to do until tomorrow, and he was in a base full of alien things. Maybe there were even aliens walking among them. There was no way he was going to go sit in his room for the rest of the night.

Harriman trotted after him. "Fun, sir?" he squeaked.

John pressed the 'up' button. "You know, that thing you do in your off time?"

"We don't really get off time, sir," Harriman explained. The elevator arrived, and he followed John inside. But before John could touch anything, Harriman hit the key for level twelve. "Some of the guys and I play Magic: The Gathering between shifts sometimes," he said as they started moving.

"No thanks, I gave that up," John said.

The elevator stopped on level eighteen. Once again, Jonas stepped on. This time he was wearing camo pants and a black t-shirt. He was also carrying a green apple. John wondered where he was getting all this fruit from. Last he'd heard, Earth was in short supply.

"Hey there," Jonas said with a wide, sparkling grin.

John couldn't help but grin back. "Hey."

"Mr Quinn," Harriman said, standing tall, "if you don't mind--"

"You want to meet some people?" Jonas asked John slyly, interrupting Harriman.

John left the stammering sergeant to follow Jonas back down, this time to level nineteen, a long, cold hall of locked doors with strange sounds coming from behind them. "These are the labs," Jonas explained, as they passed a door with blue smoke billowing out from under it. The corridor didn't look all that different from the other ones John had seen, but it felt different; there was a definite air of cautiousness. These labs were serious business.

"I remember what it was like being the new guy," Jonas said as they turned a corner. He tossed his apple from hand to hand. "Unfamiliar people, unfamiliar place... they all call you 'hey you'... you miss those little cakes your mom used to make..."

"Mostly I miss being warm," John said truthfully. He hated being pasty. Belatedly, he realized he should probably have said the thing he missed the most were his parents.

"I miss Colorado," Jonas said wistfully. "One of the women anchors on the local news channel was very, uh, impressive."

They stopped outside one of the doors, behind which John could hear arguing. "Who exactly am I meeting?" he asked.

Jonas made a grand gesture of opening the door. "You, my friend, are about to meet the SGC's best and brightest."

Inside the room were at least twenty people. Some were dressed in white lab coats; some were arguing over various equations scribbled onto a large white board; others were typing rapidly onto clunky laptop computers. It was some kind of meeting room, although it looked more like the scientists were going to beat each other senseless rather than share ideas.

The people who took notice of John and Jonas fell quiet. Others started following their lead, until John had a silent room staring at him. He was experiencing a keen sense of deja vu.

"This is Major Sheppard," Jonas said cheerfully, not looking or sounding uncomfortable at all. "He's been outside." He put his free hand on John's shoulder and pushed him forward.

"Oooh," said one of the scientists, and John found himself crowded by a bunch of eager brainiacs.

"What's it like up there, on the surface?" someone asked.

"Cold," John replied.

"I knew I should've bought that cottage in Aruba," mumbled a crazy-looking guy with glasses.

John looked around at everyone's pale skin and dark under-eye circles. They all had them except for Jonas, who was as tanned and polished as a movie star; the perks of being on SG-1, John guessed. "You don't go outside? Most of Moscow and St Petersburg are still standing. You could take a week off."

"You're assuming," came a sneering voice, "that we'd want to go up into that frozen wasteland."

Several of the scientists ducked out of the way of the sneering guy's wrath, clearing a path between him and John. It was the same man from the Embarkation Room, the balding one who had looked at John like he was something he'd stepped on. This time he was wearing a green t-shirt that said 'My Other Ride Is Your Mom' and khakis. Up close he was taller than John had thought, almost John's height, with wide shoulders and an angry, crooked mouth. He looked like the kind of guy who'd been on one too many caffeine benders.

"So you would rather be stuck down here for the rest of your life?" John asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

"No," the guy said, sounding like John has just asked him the stupidest question he'd ever heard. "Just until the SGC can find us a safe place to move to. I'm not freezing my nuts off trying to see the last vestiges of human civilization." Jonas cleared his throat, and the man rolled his eyes. "Fine, Tau'ri civilization, are you happy?"

"You want to leave Earth?" John asked. It hadn't occurred to him that that was what people might be using the stargate for.

"Hello, nuclear winter, North America blown to bits, farmlands devastated, aliens bent on our destruction -- haven't you been paying attention?"

"Come on, it's not that bad," John said defensively.

The cranky guy gave him a look. "Kevin Costner is the president of Kevin Costner Presents the People's Republic of South Florida."

"It could be worse," John pointed out. "He could be wearing a postal worker's uniform. Besides, where would you go?"

"Anywhere not populated by Goa'uld, Replicators, or, I don't know, disgusting, goopy aliens who eat human brains."

John thought he understood most of that sentence, but he glanced over at Jonas for support, who was listening to all of this intensely. "Goa'uld?"

A hush fell over the lab. "You don't know what the Goa'uld are?" one of the scientists asked, her eyes wide.

They were all looking at him like he was nuts. Cranky Scientist Guy had a tight, pinched expression on his face, like he wasn't sure whether or not he believed him. John didn't care what he thought right now, but he hated being left in the dark. "Hey, I just got here," he replied, putting his hands on his hips. "One minute I'm in Afghanistan running drills, the next I'm being flown up here to do some liaising."

Someone muttered, "Poor Major Davis." John really had to get the story on that.

"The Goa'uld," Cranky Guy began, drawing himself up straight, "are a race of parasitic aliens who rule entire star systems as gods. They pilfer technology from older, more advanced races, and use it to conquer planets and enslave the people. We, by which I mean the SG teams and myself, from a classified, secret location--" A scientist in the back coughed, and John spotted at least two of them rolling their eyes. "--have been fighting them for years."

"So they're aliens with super powers," John deducted, beginning to realize what exactly he'd gotten himself into.

"And Anubis is one of them," said Jonas.

John looked around the lab, at the cheap, bulky computers sitting in the underground bunker that looked straight out of one of those PSAs from the 60s, and thought about all the science fictions shows he'd loved, and how the people of Earth still used fossil fuels and called technical support whenever their printers ran out of ink.

"How advanced are we talking about?" he asked.

The geek squad looked shifty. Jonas picked at the skin of his apple.

"I think I need to sit down," John said.

He wasn't sure whether it was better to know what was out there or to live in ignorance. It sounded like the SGC had been fighting these Goa'uld for years while John had been playing video games and flying Apaches. His life would've been completely different had he known what was going on. Probably. Even worse, the Air Force wanted him to go out there and fight them -- fight this alien race that had essentially destroyed the planet Earth. John was a pretty optimistic guy, but the odds were really not stacked in his favour here. He'd been expecting bad guys with a level of technology along the lines of their own, when in reality Earth was getting its ass kicked.

By the time he got over the initial shock, it was time for his meeting with Landry to discuss the formation of his team. Being Air Force, John wasn't a stranger to new places, but he hadn't slept much the night before; every creak and ping had jolted him awake, reminding him he was miles under the surface. The room they'd assigned him was cold and dark, with a video camera in the corner -- which meant John was never, ever jerking off again -- and the kind of decorations he was used to seeing in cheap motels. He'd stayed awake most of the night while his stomach churned as he thought about alien invasions.

Morning came all too soon, and John walked into the briefing room feeling completely unprepared. He figured everything was fine as long as he stayed cool, despite the nauseating pit in his stomach that had been there since yesterday. It worked up until the moment he saw SG-1 sitting alongside General Landry, already deep in conversation. They fell quiet when he got close enough to be spotted.

John acknowledged them with a nod. "General. Sirs." He didn't know what to call the others. "You guys."

Along with SG-1 and General Landry, there were two people he didn't recognize at the table, sitting across from each other: a terrified-looking kid with huge eyes, and a handsome guy around John's age. Everyone was wearing the black t-shirt, green camo pants ensemble John had found waiting for him when he'd opened his door several hours ago. John took the seat between General Landry and the guy about his age. At the other end of the table, Jonas flashed him a grin, but the rest of SG-1 didn't acknowledge him.

Landry greeted him with, "You're looking a little pale, Major."

Bitterly, John wondered how relaxed Landry had looked when he'd found out there were evil aliens bent on enslaving mankind. "Just so we're clear, sir," John asked, "you want me to go through the stargate and fight Goa'uld on other planets?"

"That sounds about it," Landry replied with a smile.

John licked his lips nervously. "Do I have any choice in this?"

The smile stayed on Landry's face, but it grew cold. "Not really."

"Don't worry, you'll love it," said O'Neill, but John couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or sincere.

"Can I pick my own team?" John asked.

"No," said Landry.

"Can Jonas be on my team?" John asked.

"Yes," said Colonel O'Neill.

Landry and Major Carter both glared in O'Neill's direction. "No, Major Sheppard, I'm afraid Mr Quinn is already on a team," Landry said. "I've already decided on a team for you. In fact, we're waiting for Doctor McKay right--"

He was cut off when an all-too familiar voice drifted into the room, from the direction of the stairwell: "What's this meeting about, exactly? I cannot begin to describe how much work I have to do -- work that, if you'll remember, you assigned me so I can-- oh, hello, Major Carter." He sent her a smarmy smirk before locking eyes with John, who was trying really hard not to smack himself in the forehead.

Doctor McKay, it turned out, was Cranky Scientist Guy.

"Nice of you to join us, Doctor," Landry said dryly.

"What's this about?" McKay demanded. He pointed at John. "Why is Captain Newbie here?"

"Major Newbie," John corrected. He glanced over at Landry. "Sir, no offence, but are you serious? I can't have this guy on my team."

"I'll have you know, I'm extremely competent in high-stress situations. And 'team'? What team?" McKay looked John up and down and made a face, like he didn't like what he saw. "I thought he was a liaison," he said accusingly to Landry.

"You know what they say about assumptions, McKay," O'Neill said breezily. Major Carter ducked her head, smirking, and the kid looked back and forth between John and SG-1 like he couldn't believe where he was.

Grumbling, McKay took the seat beside the young officer -- putting him directly across from John. "What team?" McKay asked again, while John avoided eye contact.

"The team I'm putting you on," Landry replied. He folded his hands and set them on the table. "Major Sheppard, let me introduce you to Doctor Rodney McKay, Second Lieutenant Aiden Ford, and Captain Cameron Mitchell. The four of you are about to make up our newest gate team, SG-13."

"But--" John and McKay began simultaneously.

"Major, Doctor, I know neither of you have gate experience," Landry continued, raising his voice. "However, both Captain Mitchell and Lieutenant Ford do. I'm sure they'll be happy to teach you everything you need to know about interplanetary travel."

The kid -- Ford, John guessed -- swallowed thickly. Mitchell puffed up like Landry had said he was the best officer on base. McKay stared at both of them with obvious disdain.

Knowing there were two people on his team who had done this before made John feel a little better. He started to mention as much when McKay stabbed a finger in Carter's direction and shouted, "You! I knew you were up to something. All those compliments you were giving me on my ability to stay alive despite my numerous enemies -- you were just waiting to put me on one of your death teams!"

"I wasn't complimenting you," Carter said to McKay, sounding agitated. "I was calling you a cockroach."

"Your mouth says 'cockroach,' but your eyes say 'sexy man beast,'" said McKay smugly.

"'Death team,' that doesn't sound like fun," John said, trying to bring the conversation back around to the part he cared about.

"Only one guy's ever died on this team," said Jonas, in a light, teasing tone. Carter blanched, and Teal'c and O'Neill looked uncomfortable. Realizing his mistake, Jonas's eyes went wide. "Oh. Ah. Is it too soon?"

Landry raised a hand to his temple. "Doctor McKay, no one's trying to kill you. Mr Quinn, yes, it's too soon to make that joke. And, Major Carter, as much as your hate for Doctor McKay is justified--"

"Hey!" McKay said.

"--can you save those comments for outside the briefing room?"

"Yes, sir," Carter said sheepishly, staring down at the table.

Standing abruptly, Landry said, "Well, I'm going to give y'all a few minutes to get to know each other while I take some Aspirin. Suddenly I have a headache."

He went into his office but left the door open. SG-1 immediately launched a conversation between themselves. Or continued one, from the sound of it. "I don't care how much you pay me, sir, I'm not helping you cheat at a crossword puzzle," Carter was saying, and O'Neill whined, "Come on, Carter."

The first person to break the ice on John's side of the table was McKay, who eyed the top of John's head and sneered, "Nice hair, Sonic the Hedgehog."

John narrowed his eyes. "Nice bald spot, Captain Picard."

Mitchell hastily reached across the table and stuck his hand out at John. "Captain Cameron Mitchell," he announced, cutting off McKay's angry sputtering. He had a drawling Southern accent, but not the same accent as Landry's. "General Landry wants me to keep an eye on you."

From the direction of Landry's office came a low grumbling sound. John had a feeling Mitchell wasn't supposed to tell him that. He was glad Mitchell had, though; it was better to get these things out in the open. John didn't particularly like surprises.

"John Sheppard," he said with a handshake.

"I really wanted to be on SG-1," Mitchell added loudly, throwing a glance in SG-1's direction. At the far end of the table, O'Neill rolled his eyes. "I applied, but they turned me down. I guess this'll have to do for now."

"I think this is awesome, if you don't mind me saying so, sir," Ford cut in. He gave John a big, toothy smile, but he was still looking nervous. "I was on SG-8, but my team leader, Colonel Betton, didn't make it off the Mountain when Anubis attacked. I'm the last one from my team to be reassigned."

"How old are you?" McKay demanded. John was wondering the same thing, but he still didn't like McKay's tone. He couldn't believe this creep was going to be on his team.

"Twenty-two. I was recruited straight out of TBS."

The kid was a Marine. John raised his brows in surprise, and even McKay looked slightly taken aback.

"So I'm on a team with a snitch, a guy who just saw his first stargate, oh, yesterday, and a twenty-two year-old who can kill me with his pinkie," McKay said, ticking the items off with his fingers. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Oh, this is fucking great. Why don't I just shoot myself in the head now and get it over with?"

"Yeah, why don't you?" Mitchell muttered under his breath.

"Wait a minute," John protested, lightly hitting a fist on the table to get their attention. "Where's this negativity coming from? We haven't even had our first mission yet. I don't see why we can't be the first team to kill some of these Goa'uld whatchamicallits."

"SG-1 has killed sixteen," Mitchell pointed out.

"Well, hey, that means we have a chance," John said enthusiastically. He beamed at his new teammates, at Ford, who was wincing, at Mitchell, who had a frown on his face, and at McKay, whose contemptuous expression still had not changed.

That was when Landry returned to the meeting. Taking his seat at the head of the table, he said, "I hope everyone has had a chance to talk. Now, Major Sheppard, let's discuss the dangers you're going to face on this mission," and John felt his grin fade.

*

SG-13's first mission was to escort a group of diplomats, ambassadors, and world-building UN types to a secure location on another planet. John had soon discovered the reason SG-1 had been at the briefing was because they had some experience with the people who currently inhabited the world; apparently the natives (aliens!) were happy and peaceful and not at all dangerous, according to Jonas and Major Carter, something which John was looking forward to (Mitchell had been disappointed). All his team had to do was make sure their group got to the pre-determined location without any scary bad guys getting them. As far as first missions went, it sounded like a walk in the park.

John could barely hold down his jittery excitement as he dressed in his gear and mozied over to the Embarkation Room. McKay was already there when he arrived, staring at the stargate with a look of dread on his face. His tac vest and camo gear looked out of place, and the pristine black cap on his head was obviously brand new. When he noticed John he looked like he wasn't sure if he was relieved or worried.

"Nervous?" John asked.

McKay's mouth flattened into an even thinner line. "No, of course not. Just because I'm a scientist and shouldn't be going on an away mission in the first place doesn't mean I'm nervous." He shuffled his feet. "Are you?"

John gazed up at the stone ring that was about to send him via an artificial wormhole halfway across the galaxy. "Nah," he said.

"How nice it must be, being you," McKay said with a glare.

John smirked. He was about to reply when the doors opened, and in walked General Landry, Mitchell, Ford, and five people John didn't know. "Major Sheppard will personally ensure you reach your destination safely," Landry was saying, indicating John.

All of them looked petrified, with the exception of a tall, thin woman with wavy hair, who was gazing at the gate, clearly awed by what she was seeing. John definitely understood how she felt. He smiled at her, and she smiled back shakily.

Even though he had already seen the stargate in action, when it was activated, his breath caught. He stared at the rippling wormhole a long time before he realized the other people in the room were looking at him expectantly. Landry raised his eyebrows and cocked his head at the gate, and John grimaced.

"Right," he said, trying to smile, "let's get this show on the road."

He walked up the platform, Ford at his heels. Up close, the wormhole looked solid, not at all like something he could pass through. It was terrifying.

"Does it hurt?" John asked quietly. Ford had been through the gate plenty of times; it couldn't have been that bad if people did it every day.

"Like hell, sir," Ford said, face grim, bursting John's bubble.

"You're sure you want to do this?" he heard McKay ask, but when he turned McKay was talking to Landry, arms crossed over his chest. He didn't look happy.

John swallowed thickly and closed his eyes, taking a step forward. He felt the rest of his body tugged through the event horizon, and a disorienting moment later, a cool breeze ruffled his hair. When he opened his eyes, the dirt path and rolling hills in front of him told him he was definitely not at the SGC anymore.

He was still gaping when the rest of his team and the diplomats came through. McKay was the last person to arrive, stumbling out of the gate like he'd been pushed from the other side.

"--Dim-witted cretin!" McKay was shouting. He stopped and looked around, blinking rapidly. "Huh."

John's first alien planet was disappointingly similar to Earth, from the clear blue skies to the boreal trees. But still, there he was, on another planet light-years away from the one he'd been standing on just minutes before. The future was awesome. Already, he knew the stargate was going to be his favourite new way to travel. He heard a low murmur coming from the diplomats; out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ford and Mitchell exchange grins.

Ford walked up beside John. "The beta site's on the other end of this path, sir."

John sucked in a deep breath, trying to quell the butterflies in his stomach. He nodded. "Right," he said. "This way, folks."

The trail followed the natural shape of the terrain, which meant they zigged and zagged through the woods for a good while. The sun on his face felt great; John hadn't been in weather this nice for nearly a year. At one point, they passed a large, metal box that reminded John of electrical boxes people had on their lawns, except he couldn't figure out what it was doing in between two trees. McKay eyed it as well, narrowing his eyes, but he didn't try to stop and look at it.

Not long after, John heard a series of strange, unfamiliar sounds in the distance. He signalled for his team to halt.

"Goa'uld staff weapons," Mitchell said in alarm. He and Ford raised their P-90s, looking in every direction.

"I thought there was a shield around the gate and compound," John said.

McKay blanched. "The shield must be down. That was probably the thing we passed earlier." He swung his backpack around to his chest and rummaged inside before pulling out a tool kit. "I can fix it."

"You can?" John asked worriedly. McKay had to be pretty smart to work at the SGC, but this was alien technology they were talking about here. "Are you sure?"

McKay glared. "I realize we don't know each other very well, Major, but trust me, I can fix anything."

"Major Sheppard," asked one of the diplomats, "are we safe?"

John looked at the terrified faces of the people he was supposed to protect. He made up his mind. "Lieutenant Ford, go with McKay," he ordered. "The rest of us will head towards the beta site. You get in any trouble, call us."

"Sir, yes, sir," Ford said enthusiastically.

With John in front and Mitchell in the rear, the group headed towards the drop off point. John kept his eyes and ears out for anything suspicious, but the only thing he knew to look for were armoured guys holding big sticks. If the Goa'uld were as advanced as McKay had said they were, then they probably had a few more surprised up their sleeves.

"Major Sheppard?" came McKay's voice from John's walky-talky. "I need-- ow! I need an assistant."

"What's going on?" John asked, coming to a stop.

"I'm at the shield generator. I need someone to hold the front panel open while I work. I'd ask the Lieutenant to do it, but it's very crucial right now that he protect me. I'm an invaluable member of the SGC."

John couldn't afford to leave the diplomats unprotected like that. Dividing his team in half was bad enough; he didn‘t think it was a good idea to let Mitchell go as well. While he tried to think up something, the thin, dark-haired woman who'd smiled at him earlier stepped forward. "I'll do it," she said, raising her chin high.

"Dr Weir, I must protest!" one of the men exclaimed.

"The sooner we get the generator fixed, the sooner we'll be safely indoors, Simon," she said fiercely. "We're sitting ducks out here."

"I can't let you do that," John said. She was a civilian, for crying out loud.

Weir stiffened. "Major, I assure you, I‘m--"

"Y'all," Mitchell said abruptly, "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…" He pointed at the sky over John's shoulder. "Deathgliders."

John braced himself and turned, afraid of what he was about to see. It was just as bad as he'd expected; he had always thought his first time seeing a spaceship would be a happy one, but when he saw four small, sleek, and definitely deadly ships running a patrol, he had a sinking feeling.

"You don't have much of a choice," Weir said to him. She put her hand on his arm, expression softening. "I'll be fine."

"I guess you don't want this shield fixed," McKay butted in impatiently.

Angrily, John snapped at McKay, "Dr Weir's coming, hold your horses."

Weir took off down the path, while John and Mitchell hurried the rest of the diplomats in the opposite direction. Moments later, the Deathgliders were back, except this time one of the them broke away and headed in John's direction. They were busted. He thought, Shit, and said, "McKay, we've been spotted."

"I'm working on it," snapped McKay.

John looked at Mitchell. "Do bullets have any effect on these things?"

"If they fly low enough, yeah," Mitchell said, but he didn't look confident.

Together, they pushed the civilians back into the trees and aimed at the ship. But it was no use; she soared overhead, firing lasers directly at them. The ground shook where the lasers hit it, puffs of smoke rising from each new hole in the ground. The ship disappeared, probably to swing back around and finish them off, and that was when John saw the three other ships, most likely having been alerted to their location by the first one, coming straight for them.

"McKay, we need that shield up now," he shouted into his walky-talky.

"I've just about-- Aha!" McKay exclaimed, and just in time, too: two of the ships fired at once, and it bounced harmlessly off an invisible bubble over their heads. John heard a few relieved gasps from the civilians behind him. He was pretty relieved himself.

"Good work, McKay," he called.

"Yes, of course. Genius here." There were the low sounds of talking, and then McKay added, grudgingly, "And I suppose some credit goes to Dr Weir and Lieutenant Ford for assisting me."

They made it to the beta site in record time, where Ford suddenly and astonishingly took out every single enemy combatant. John finally got why Landry had put Ford on his team; in the time it took him and McKay to get rid of the Jaffa standing guard over the local military officers, Ford had made it through all three levels of the stone fort.

John and Mitchell stared. "You got all of them?" John asked, a little strangled.

"Yes, sir," Ford said cheerfully. He casually brushed something off his sleeve that looked like brains.

"Jarheads," Mitchell said, shaking his head.

The local general took Ford's hands. "You have our thanks, young man," he cried. He was an older man with a deeply lined face. Like the rest of his people, he was wearing a high-collared robe that belted at the middle. For an alien, he looked surprisingly human. John was pretty disillusioned by the whole thing.

"I'm the one who fixed your shield," McKay said cheekily. "And I shot somebody!"

"We will escort your people to our capitol city, where they will be quite safe," said the general, still addressing Ford.

McKay looked pissed. "Must be tough, not getting the recognition you deserve," John said dryly.

Sniffing, McKay replied, "Exactly. You'd think, as the smartest person in the galaxy, I would-- Oh, I see what you're doing. Very funny, Major."

On the way out, John caught a glimpse of Weir deep in discussion with one of the native officers and another diplomat. He caught her eye and flashed a smile; she waved back.

Halfway back to the gate, Mitchell said, "Good work, sir."

John looked for a sign Mitchell was pulling his leg, but, surprisingly, he looked sincere. Nodding, John said, "You too, Captain."

"Did you see me back there?" he heard McKay ask Ford. "I shot one of the Jaffa in the leg. How much of a badass does that make me?"

*

"Come on, Rodney," John said. "I thought you said you wanted to be home in time for lunch."

They were wading through an endless sea of brown and green grass that was almost as tall as he was. It stretched for miles and miles. John stopped to allow McKay to catch up. Behind him, he could make out the faint signs of a village, but it looked impossibly far away; in the direction he and McKay were headed was a huge man with dreadlocks, and John could just about make out the coppery top of a woman's head. The man kept glancing down at her and chuckling, the sound carried back to John by the wind.

Rodney hurried to John's side, panting and red-faced. "Not all of us have your freakishly long limbs, Colonel."

John raised an eyebrow. "We're practically the same height."

Scowling, but still flushed, Rodney said, "Yes, but I'm much more well-proportioned than you are."

"Hey, I'm proportionate," John protested, glancing down at his body.

"I have two words for you: chicken legs."

John rolled his eyes, even though McKay wouldn't be able to see it behind his sunglasses. "Quit your belly-aching, we're almost to the gate."

As he said it, they reached the top of the hill, and the stargate came into view. It was resting on a high stone platform; engraved steps on all four sides disappeared into the grass.

"Finally," McKay sighed, wincing and pressing a hand against his side.

The man and woman they were traveling with waited for them on the steps, guns drawn and aimed behind Rodney and John. McKay ambled over to the DHD, muttering under his breath.

"Do you think Weir will be mad we destroyed their government?" the guy in dreads asked. His face was blank, but he sounded amused.

"No," John replied. He paused. "Well, maybe a little."

"John," the woman called urgently.

John turned in time to narrowly miss an arrow landing on his foot. At that moment, McKay finished dialling and the wormhole formed, the tail end barely reaching the edge of the platform. Another wave of arrows hit the stone floor, ricocheting off in every direction, causing McKay to yelp loudly and the woman to determinedly fire into the grass.

John reached up and turned on his radio, shouting, "Atlantis, this is Sheppard. We're coming in hot."

"You have a go, Colonel," said a voice in his ear.

McKay and the woman jumped through the wormhole together, and John and the big guy threw themselves against the far side of the platform just as a wave of arrows plummeted down on where his team had just been standing, effectively blocking them from getting through the gate. John counted to three, raised his head, and fired in the direction the arrows had come from, satisfied by the cries of alarm coming from the field. The other guy did the same, but he had some kind of cool laser pistol.

"Wonder what we did to piss them off," John yelled, and the man gave him a look.

After they'd been arrow-free for three minutes, John turned to his teammate and said, "On my count, make a run for the gate."

The man nodded. "And you'll be right behind me." It wasn't a question.

"You betcha," John replied. He braced himself for a moment, and then pushed up on his knees, shooting down into the grass. Before John even finished firing the last bullet, the other guy leapt to his feet and jumped, from exactly where he was standing, into the wormhole.

John gaped for a second. Then he realized there were no answering arrows, and he took a running leap for the event horizon, and--

John awoke with a start.

He blinked up at the cement ceiling; for an instant, he didn't remember where he was, but the hard mattress and chilly air brought him back to reality. That had been one intense dream. He'd felt the grass as he'd walked through it, he'd known those people, and Weir -- that had been the woman from his first offworld mission, hadn't it? The last time he'd had a dream that vivid had been the day he'd gotten his assignment, a month ago, and all he remembered about that was a city on an ocean.

December had been relatively quiet. John's team had gone through the gate four times since that first mission, each one slightly more sticky than the one before it, but nothing they couldn't handle. Even McKay was starting to bitch less and less. In the past three weeks, his team had been trapped in a cave (John and Ford), nearly cannibalized (McKay), married to an alien princess (Ford again), and stabbed (Mitchell, in the foot). From what John understood, this was pretty typical of the gate teams. One of the medical doctors -- a pretty but scary lady -- was practically an honourary member of SG-1. (John never got her during his post-mission physicals; he was always stuck with this chatty Scottish guy who liked to lecture him on how much he was eating, or not eating, or what he was eating, or something; John just smiled, nodded, and let his mind wander.) Most of Earth's leaders had been shipped off to other worlds with the help of other various gate teams, and SG-13's recent four missions had all been recon.

At least his team didn't get the kinds of missions SG-1 did. Jonas would disappear sometimes for days at a time and come back looking worn out. John found him on several occasions hunched over his desk, reading book after book in strange, alien languages. The rest of SG-1 wasn't much better. John had heard from McKay that Major Carter liked to lock herself into her lab, alone, and whenever John saw Colonel O'Neill in the corridors the man pretended not to recognize him. Teal'c remained as mysterious as ever.

Despite the coolness of being able to go to other planets, being a member of the SGC was kind of boring. There wasn't much for John to do when he wasn't gearing up for a mission, especially since he didn't have many excuses to go to the surface. He'd gone up a few times to check out the bookstores in Alzamay and Nizhneudinsk, but getting back and forth had been such a hassle, it wasn't worth it. He'd also gone skiing twice with Ford, but Ford kind of talked a lot, and apparently it looked bad to request to go skiing alone -- something about moles in the SGC, or something.

When he ran out of his own books, he started asking around. Luckily, Jonas had a library in his office, a tiny, cluttered room on level eighteen. It was more accurate to say Jonas's library contained an office; books covered the room from top to bottom, on shelves, on tables, and even on the floor. He also had a tv, on which he was constantly changing the channel to find a news station with the weather. (John could've predicted the weather for him: snow, snow, clouds of ash, more snow.) He didn't seem to notice, or care, most of the channels were still running old episodes of Russian soaps.

The morning of his dream, a cold, January day, John went to see if Jonas had anything to read in English. He would've even settled for manuals at this point. He was thinking about maybe teaching himself Russian, or reading up on stargates so he could surprise McKay the next time McKay lectured them on wormhole travel -- anything to distract him from the intensity of that dream. There was something about it he couldn't shake off.

Atlantis, he thought dully on his way to Jonas's office. Why did he have a weird feeling about that?

He found Jonas studying something that looked like a stone tablet. He was popping green grapes into his mouth, one by one. Today his tv was turned to Russia's Channel One, which was telling John the weather outside was a cool minus forty-three Celsius.

"Knock, knock," John said, leaning against the door frame.

"John," Jonas said brightly. He tucked his pencil behind his ear.

"Mind if I borrow a book?"

Jonas looked amused. "Be my guest. I might even have a few fiction ones over there." He gestured to the far right corner of the room, where the books were a little less faded and weather-beaten than the rest.

"I've never heard of these," John murmured, scanning the titles. There were a few in Russian and French, but most of them were in languages he didn't recognize.

"It would be strange if you did, considering they're from another planet," said Jonas, chuckling.

"Cool," said John, pulling one from the shelf. He had no idea if the squiggles were supposed to be read right to left or left to right. "Which planet is this one from?"

"Mine."

John's head snapped up.

A smile tugged at Jonas's lips. He looked delighted by John's surprise. "I'm from Langara. I met SG-1 when they came through our stargate last year."

"And they let you on their team?" John asked. He couldn't remember the last time he'd heard someone refer to aliens -- or humans not from Earth, John guessed, or else really human-looking aliens -- in a way that wasn't borderline-xenophobic. John didn't have any problems with people from other planets himself, even if most of his missions ended with his team getting shot at; he'd figured all societies had their good and bad. It must've been a big deal for SG-1 to have an alien on their team.

"Well, they already had Teal'c..."

John's mouth dropped open. "Teal'c's an alien too?"

Jonas frowned at him.

He was still dwelling on this new information when he went to the mess to get lunch. Suddenly it made sense why Jonas didn't have his PhDs on his wall like the other scientists and anthropologists, and why he had smiled blankly at most of John's jokes. Those had been some funny jokes, too.

Disappointingly, his detour to Jonas's office had put him just in time for the lunch rush, and the mess was bustling with activity. He tucked the physics book he'd borrowed under his arm and joined the line.

A few minutes later, he was scouting for a free table. He wanted one to himself, but it didn't look like that was going to happen. Mitchell had his t-shirt sleeves rolled up and was talking to a pretty blonde at his very populated table; Ford, at another table, was laughing at something one of his young friends was saying. John caught a glimpse of O'Neill near the door, doing what looked like paperwork, but the prospect of sitting with him was too scary. There were a few other people John recognized, but no one he really knew well. And wow, he was just realizing he'd been at the SGC for three weeks and knew the names of less than fifteen people. He wasn't going to be winning any popularity contests anytime soon.

Finally, he spotted the perfect place to sit.

As soon as John set down his tray, McKay snapped, "Funny, Major, I don't remember saying you could sit here."

While John contemplated whether he should leave and eat in his office or stay and annoy the crap out of McKay, McKay stammered, "Sorry, sorry, of course you can sit here." He pushed some of his papers aside to make more room. "Sorry," he repeated. "I'm a little on edge right now."

"Anything I can do to help?" John asked, eying McKay's half-empty coffee mug. McKay really needed to see a shrink or something.

"Not unless you can postpone Major Carter's latest paper while I finish mine. She's three ahead of me now. Three! It's humiliating."

John took a bite of his Chicken Surprise. "So that Major Carter's pretty smart, huh?"

The outraged expression on McKay's face was pretty funny. He stared at John furiously for a long pause and then said, "Oh, I see what this is. You're trying to goad me. Well, it's not going to work."

They ate quietly for a few minutes. McKay pointedly snorted at John when he set the physics book down beside his tray, but John was determined to ignore it. Instead, he contemplated what he'd just learned. Jonas didn't act like the kinds of aliens John had imagined when he was a kid. He wasn't a Spock or a Chewbacca or a Dalek. He was kind of like a Luke Skywalker though; Luke Skywalker had started out as a normal guy.

"Did you know Jonas is from another planet?" John asked as casually as possible.

McKay's brows rose. "Yes, of course I did."

"Why didn't anyone tell me?" John demanded. He felt like an idiot.

"I've been calling him 'that little alien guy' for weeks," Rodney said disbelievingly, which didn't make John feel better at all.

"I thought maybe he was Canadian or something," John exclaimed.

McKay scowled. "I'm Canadian."

"You think you know a guy," John said sullenly, and McKay's scowl deepened. "Anyway, he told me he'd replaced someone, how was I supposed to know he wasn't from Earth? He implied the guy died."

"That's right. Radiation poisoning," McKay explained, expression grim. "Horrible way to go, if you ask me."

"Just like Spock," John agreed, digging into his green beans. They tasted stale, like they'd been frozen for too long.

McKay froze mid-motion, fork inches away from his lips. "Just like-- how did you--? I said the same thing when I found out."

A month ago, having the same reaction as McKay would've pissed him off. But either McKay was less of an asshole now, or John had gotten used to him -- or maybe both -- because instead he felt pleasantly surprised. "I've got MechAssult for Xbox," John found himself saying. "You wanna play a few games?"

McKay blinked and lowered his fork. He looked bewildered. "I-- Yes. Okay."

*

"Major Sheppard, can I help you with something?"

John had been standing outside General Landry's office for a better part of an hour, waiting for the man to finish his numerous daily phone calls. Everyone on base knew what those calls were: the only way prime ministers, congressmen, presidents, vice presidents, ministers, and other stately heads could get orders to their nations (the ones that hadn't descending into chaos, at least) was via the stargate, and vice-versa. John had heard from Mitchell, who'd heard it from Sergeant Silar, who'd heard it from Sergeant Harriman, that Landry had been forced to cut back on offworld missions to make room for the daily transmissions, which were beamed to the SGC and then sent out to the governments for which they were intended.

Landry was poking his head out the door and waiting for John's reply. John straightened up from his slouch against the wall. "Sir, if I could talk to you privately..." he started.

With a sigh, Landry gestured for him to come in. John took a seat in one of the two chairs in front of the desk. On the desk itself was a framed photo of an Asian woman and a girl in her twenties. This must be Landry's family, John realized. Their absence was probably a bad sign. Maybe that explained why Landry was such an asshole.

"What did you need to talk to me about?" Landry asked, taking the chair behind the desk.

John hesitated. He must've been nuts, asking Landry something from a dream, but it was really bothering him -- he'd felt like he'd heard the name Atlantis before, and not from any ancient myth about a lost city. It was the same feeling that told him his dream wasn't an ordinary dream. Since it was Landry's job to read every mission report from every team, if anyone in the SGC knew, it would be him.

"This is going to sound weird," John said, squirming, "but have you ever heard of something called 'Atlantis'?"

He expected Landry to laugh it off, or to ask him if he was cracking from the pressure of being a team leader, but something changed in Landry's face. "Just that old myth," Landry said with an obvious forced casualness.

He was lying.

John stared at him incredulously, until Landry said, "Anything else, Major?"

"You've never heard of Atlantis?" John repeated.

"No, I haven't." Landry's voice was cool. "Was that all?"

It wasn't until he was on the way back to his quarters that John started to get angry. Landry had flat-out lied to him, and for what? What was Atlantis? Did it have something to do with Anubis, was that why he didn't want John to know? Even if that was the case, it was John's dream, he had the right to know what was happening in his own head. The only reason he could see for Landry not telling John was because he didn't trust him. Well, that was fine, because John sure as hell didn't trust him. John had had plenty of COs just like him.

"Major Sheppard," an unfamiliar voice called.

"What?" John seethed, turning around.

To his surprise, a man was hurrying down the otherwise empty corridor to catch up with him. He had short blond hair and dark eyes, and he was wearing a full dress uniform. A thin, white scar ran from under his eye to his jaw. He didn't look familiar at all. "Do we know each other?" John asked.

"We should know each other very well," the officer said eagerly, slightly out of breath. Now John recognized he had a Russian accent -- and his English wasn't too great, either. "I am Major Viktor Damurchiev, representing the Russian Federation in this fine place."

"Nice to meet you," John replied automatically. But he wondered if it was okay for them to be talking; no one had bothered to tell him exactly how much Russia and the United States were "cooperating" with each other. For all he knew, the SGC was undergoing a second Cold War and John was violating all sorts of unspoken rules. As pissed as he was, bringing down the SGC really wasn't in his agenda for the day. He'd kind of gotten used to going through the gate.

"How'd you know who I was?" he asked.

"Everyone knows you, Major Sheppard. You are often a subject of conversation in the mess."

John stiffened. "Oh, is that right?" He wondered what was being said about him -- probably nothing good. He guessed as long as no one was speculating about his sexuality it wasn't really important what they were saying. That didn't make it any better to hear, however.

Lowering his voice, Viktor said, "I am wondering, if you will answer, why is it you were brought here."

John blinked. "What do you mean?"

Viktor glanced side to side before stepping even closer and replying, "I have seen your record. There is nothing special there. Other SGC officers, they are at the top of their class. You are a good pilot, yes, but you were not brought here to fly airplanes through the stargate. Is this not right?"

"That's right," John said carefully, although it wasn't like the same thing hadn't crossed his mind. "What are you trying to imply, Major?"

"The old SGC leader, General Hammond, he was open with my commander, Colonel Chekov. This General Landry is most secretive."

It was nice to know John wasn't the only one Landry was frustrating. "Look, I don't know what to tell you," he said frankly. "I just go where I'm assigned. If General Landry has some ulterior motive, I don't know it. I don't know anything! I don't know how we got a stargate, I don't know how we got to be in this intergalactic war, I don't know anyone who works here, and I seriously, honest to God, don't know why they picked me for a gate team."

Despite John's outburst, Viktor's eyes narrowed. "I--" He poked John in the chest. "--do not believe you."

John put his hands on his hips. "Fine," he sneered, drawing the word out.

Viktor wasn't intimidated. He started to stomp off, looking incensed, medals on his chest clinking with every heavy step, when something occurred to John.

"Hey," John called. Viktor turned, looking curious. "Have you heard anything about something called 'Atlantis'?"

He waited for the same flicker of recognition he'd seen on Landry's face, but it never came. "No, I have not," Viktor replied, disappointingly. "Is that a... what do you call it, code word?"

"I wish I knew," John said, disgruntled.

By his team's next mission, a week later, John was having doubts. Maybe he'd been so eager to find a reason for having such a weird dream he'd imagined Landry's reaction. Since then, he hadn't had another one; just his usual, muddled dreams about flying and clowns and showing up to work naked. It didn't make sense that Landry could know something that was happening in John's head. It was impossible.

His conversation with Major Damurchiev had only increased his uncertainty. Obviously, Landry was acting shady around the Russians, too. For all John knew, he was just one of those guys who always seemed to be up to something.

John was half-listening to McKay detailing how badly he was going to kick John's ass at chess when Landry entered the briefing room. He clicked a remote, and a digital image from the MALP jumped on the projection screen.

"Gentlemen, your mission is to pick me a flower from this seemingly unguarded field."

"Why would it be guarded?" John asked.

Landry smiled. "Yes, why would it be guarded?"

"That didn't really answer my--"

"Wait one minute," McKay interrupted loudly. "You want us to pick you a flower?"

John was behind Rodney one hundred percent with this, but he was glad Landry's cool gaze was directed in his teammate's direction instead of his own this time. "Yes, that's exactly what I want," said Landry.

McKay didn't seem to notice the temperature of the room had dropped ten degrees. "Is this a magical flower?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

"McKay!" Mitchell hissed. "Shut your pie hole."

The flower, to no one‘s surprise, was on a planet run by the Goa'uld. The field wasn't guarded, but the crumbling stone temples between it and the gate were; as soon as John plucked the flower, about a dozen Jaffa appeared out of nowhere, weapons drawn. The team managed to get off a few shots of their own before hiding behind one of the temple remains.

At least half of the Jaffa were dead when John heard, over the sounds of gunfire, a cracking noise. McKay shouted, "Watch out!" and rammed into John. The force of it knocked both of them over, and a heavy stone -- which would have landed right on top of John -- crashed harmlessly to the ground. Unfortunately, then part of the temple broke off and trapped the two of them between it and what was left of the temple wall, cutting them off from the fight.

While they were waiting to be rescued, John asked, sitting on the ground and staring at the sky, "What was the point of this mission?"

McKay looked unhappy. John nudged him with his foot. "Thanks for, you know. Trying to save me."

"Of course I'd try to save you," McKay said. One corner of his mouth curled downwards. "We're-- we're teammates. We're friends. Aren't we? I mean, not Ford and Mitchell and myself, but you and I are, right?"

"Yeah," John said, both touched and surprised -- at McKay, and at himself. "We're friends."

The thing was, John didn't have a lot of friends. There were plenty of people who liked him -- there had been a couple of guys at Bagram he'd played chess with, and he and Holland had started hanging out after one memorable PS2 NFL tournament -- but he'd never really felt like he was part of anything, and there had never been anyone with whom he'd really connected. Dex and Mitch had always had his back, even when he'd done things they didn't approve of (like sneak around with Holland), but he was pretty sure the only time they'd ever taken him seriously was in the field. And they hadn't been the only ones who'd treated him that way. It was something John had always had trouble understanding, because seriously, he was such a cool guy.

He knew exactly who to blame for all his problems. "Sometimes I have so many feelings," a teenage John had once said to his father. "Keep it to yourself," his dad had replied.

For some reason, knowing McKay didn't have many -- if any -- friends, and yet considered John one, made John, well, feel kind of close to him, in a way he never expected. Part of him wanted to ignore it, but another part of him couldn't stop thinking about the sincere look on McKay's face.

That look haunted him for the next few days. On the third day, Mitchell knocked on his door at seven AM and asked if he wanted to go for a jog.

"When you said 'jog,' I thought you meant around a track," John panted as they ran through level twelve side-by-side. They'd passed John's door four times by now. "Why don't we go to the gym on level thirteen?"

"I don't run with Russians," Mitchell said darkly. "They smell like potatoes."

"I guess that's as good a reason as any," John said slowly, eyes on the wall ahead.

When they stopped for a water break outside the communal toilet, John found himself leaning his hands on his knees and asking, "Hey, Mitchell, how well do you know McKay?"

Mitchell gave him an odd look as he towelled the sweat off his brow. "I know he used to work for Area 51 and got sent here because he pissed off General Landry and Major Carter. Teal'c got stuck in the stargate--"

"Hold on, that can happen?" John asked worriedly. No one had ever told him you could die in the stargate. Sure, near, in front of, behind, and in the general vicinity of, but not in.

Mitchell ran a hand through his short, damp hair. "Nah, not that often, I'm pretty sure. Anyway, Teal'c got stuck, and McKay wanted to turn off the stargate, which would've--"

"Killed him," John finished with a dawning realization. No wonder Carter hated him. Well, that, and he was annoying. "Did McKay ever, you know, apologize?"

"McKay, apologize?" Mitchell replied with a snort, which was all the answer John needed. "No one likes him. Get this, they sent him here so they'd never have to deal with him again, and then everyone had to come here after Anubis... A lot of people were pissed. A couple of the geeks were from Area 51 and had to work with him back in the day. They say he's not any better now. I reckon General Landry put him on our team hoping he'd get a staff weapon to the face."

John frowned. "How do you know all this?"

"I talk to people. People talk to me. It's not hard. You oughta try it sometime."

"Hey, I talk to people," John said indignantly.

"No, you talk to Aiden, Quinn, and me," corrected Mitchell. "I know you don't like people, but you should try being more social. The future Mrs Sheppard could be out there."

The last Mrs Sheppard hadn't spoken to him since he'd cheated on her with her brother, but John had a feeling it wasn't a good idea to share that with Mitchell, not unless he wanted everyone else at the SGC to know too. (Also, she was probably dead, so he would have felt bad talking about her like that.) Instead, he bent down and took his time tying and retying his laces.

"Man, listen to me," Mitchell said fondly. "I sound like my mom."

He went quiet, and John cringed; Mitchell's family had been in Kansas, which was currently under several hundred feet of nuclear-poisoned earth and water. He diligently pretended to work on a knot.

When he stood back up, Mitchell was draining the last of his water bottle, but his eyes were sad. "What's up with all the questions, anyway?" Mitchell asked.

John shrugged. "I think I should spend more time with him. As team leader," he added awkwardly. He didn't feel embarrassed, exactly, but he felt weird about Mitchell knowing he and McKay were friends.

"Great, losers unite," Mitchell said. John glowered at him, but Mitchell didn't seem to care.

This time when they reached John's door again, Mitchell decided they were done for the day. Good-naturedly, he called as he headed towards the elevators, "You have fun with McKay. I'm gonna go sit in the mess and gaze longingly over at SG-1's table. See you later, alligator."

John rolled his eyes -- and he'd called John a loser -- and headed inside for a shower.

*

Most of the lab doors on level nineteen were closed, but one or two were open; on his way to visit McKay, John passed one room where a few scientists were territorially circling some kind of cylindrical, glowy rock while debating matter. As he approached McKay's lab a single, angry-sounding voice got louder and louder. Suddenly, the door slammed open and out ran two terrified-looking scientists, almost knocking into John.

"Whoa there," he said, catching Dr Lee's glasses before they hit the floor.

"Thanks," said Lee. He put them back on his nose, where they perched crookedly. He didn't seem to notice. "Dr McKay's in quite a mood."

"Major Carter figured out something before he did," explained the other scientist, Dr Rode, wringing her hands.

"Well, I don't know why he's so upset," Lee said indignantly. "Someone was bound to realize sooner or later it used zero point energy. If it hadn't been Major Carter it would have been someone else. Maybe even me."

"Or me," Rode said, narrowing her eyes.

John ducked into McKay's lab as they started arguing among themselves. As soon as the door shut, McKay sneered, "What can you idiots possibly-- oh, it's you."

"Just me," John replied lightly.

John had only been in there a few times, but he was unsurprised to see the lab a total wreck. Empty pudding and Jell-O cups, gnawed-on pencils, and files littered the tables. A half-finished equation was on the white board. On the opposite wall, an empty can of Folgers was turned over on the bookshelf. McKay was hunched over a laptop and glaring.

"Hurricane McKay strikes again, I see," John said.

"Funny," McKay said. His t-shirt today said 'I'm Huge in Japan,' and it was a little snug around his arms, which suddenly looked a lot stronger than John had realized.

John, trying to keep his eyes off McKay's arms or chest or shoulders, tried peering around McKay's laptop. "Whatcha doing?"

"Something far too important for you to understand," McKay scoffed, moving his laptop so John couldn't see what was on it. "Why are you here?"

If John hadn't known McKay secretly wanted to be his best friend, he would've been hurt. "Just wanted to see what you were up to," he replied. "I thought you might want to go running with me in the mornings."

"I don't know who it was who told you I work out, but they were lying," McKay said shortly, giving him the stink eye.

"No one told me. I figured you might want to, you know, hang out."

"Oh." McKay looked thoughtful. "I'm not in the mood to give myself a heart attack, but we could do something else, maybe?"

Was McKay coming onto him? "I, uh..."

McKay reached under his bench and took out a cardboard box, setting it on the table. He dug around for a moment, then pulled out two of the Star Trek movies. A quick peek told John there were a bunch of DVDs in there. "How do you feel about Star Trek: The Original Series?"

John wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed. "That depends," he said instead, leaning a hip against the bench. "We don't have to watch the one with the whales, do we?"

McKay snorted. "Only if we're trying to punish ourselves. Quick: who was originally up for the role of Spock?"

"Martin Landau," John replied automatically.

McKay looked impressed. "Congratulations, you've just outed yourself as a Trekkie."

"I believe the term is Trekker," John said.

Together, the two of them carted McKay's laptop to an unoccupied lounge ("Supposedly, this is for my so-called peers," McKay explained, "but I don't think anyone ever uses it") and watched two Star Trek movies and The Matrix. It had been a long time since John had hung out with someone who knew about his love of sci-fi and didn't think it was lame. During a heated argument over which Star Trek movie was the best -- John's vote was for The Wrath of Khan, but McKay's personal favourite was The Search for Spock -- John realized this was the most fun he'd had in months. McKay was still a jerk; he kept insulting John and their team and the other SGC personnel offhandedly, like he didn't even notice he was doing it, but it wasn't nearly as irritating as it had been a month ago. In fact, now it was kind of funny. They'd played Xbox together just last week, and chess a few days before, but things were a lot easier between them now since McKay had admitted John was his friend.

As soon as McKay stopped to take a breath, John said, happily, "It's nice we can talk like this."

"Whoa," said Rodney, holding up his hands, "let's not ruin the moment with feelings, okay?"

Movies turned into chess, chess turned into MechaAssult, MechaAssult turned into sitting around and just hanging out, and by the end of the week, they were eating meals together and writing emails to each other when they should've been working. It was strange McKay was the first one on the team John was the most comfortable with, but, well, McKay was his age and liked a lot of the same stuff (except sports; he was pretty adamant about that), why shouldn't they spend time together? It beat getting pitying looks from Sergeant Harriman whenever he caught John eating alone.

"The defense didn't cover the receiver because he didn't think the quarterback could throw that far," John was saying on the walk back to his quarters from a team pow-wow late one night, two weeks after almost getting his ass kicked over a flower.

"You realize I don't care about any of this, right?" McKay asked crossly. He looked offended. "Who the hell likes Star Trek and football?"

John narrowed his eyes. "Me, that's who. Come on, what's not to love about football? It's real, it's unpredictable, it's full of passion and... beer... and hotdogs..."

"Cheerleaders," McKay agreed. He smiled blissfully, caught up in some memory John didn't want to know anything about.

They reached John's door soon enough, but when McKay didn't show any signs of leaving John said pointedly, "Night, McKay."

McKay blinked, freezing. "Oh. Yes. Right, I'll see you tomorrow then." He wandered back towards the elevators, muttering to himself.

John couldn't help laughing as he got ready for bed, first brushing his teeth in the restroom down the hall and then tossing his BDU pants in his overflowing hamper. He tried reading another chapter of a book he's borrowed from Jonas -- something about Ancient Egyptian religion, but at least it was in English -- but three paragraphs in his eyes started to droop. The book slipped from his hands, but he was too tired to set it back on the nightstand...

"Come on, what are the odds of me having the same gene as these guys?" John asked.

Much to the Scottish guy's obvious horror, John took a seat in the freaky blue chair. As soon as his ass touched the seat, the back reclined, startling him. The armrests under his hands lit up, and blue tinged his vision; the back of the chair had probably lit up too. The Scottish guy yelped, "Dr Weir! Don't move!" he lectured John, holding out a hand like he expect John to leap from the chair, and then he scurried off.

John couldn't get up if he tried. While he stared at the domed ceiling, frozen in place, several people ran up to him: Rodney, Scottish Guy, O'Neill, Weir, and a familiar-looking man wearing round glasses, all with identical shocked expressions.

"Who is this?" asked Weir. She was gazing at John like he was too good to be true.

"I said don't touch anything," said O'Neill, sounding pissed.

John was in so much trouble. "I-- I just sat down," he explained.

Rodney, looking like he'd packed on a few pounds and dressed in a puffy orange vest, instructed clearly, "Major, think about where we are in the solar system."

John did. In the empty space above him, a beautiful digital image of the solar system formed. It came out of nowhere, but McKay looked like he'd expected it.

"Did I do that?" John asked worriedly.

They all started talking at once. Rodney was making excited sweeps with his arms, and the beaming smile on Weir's face was blinding. Even O'Neill got into it. The four of them seemed to forget John was there, throwing out words like, "Ancient gene" and "aliens" and "stargate."

John started to move, but a firm hand on his arm stopped him. The guy in glasses was leaning over him with an intense expression. None of the others seemed to notice what he was doing; they continued their argument without so much as glancing in John's direction.

"John, you will go to the Dagoba System," the man said. "No, wait, Taonas. Now that's just embarrassing." He sighed, shoving something into John's hand: a piece of paper with a seven-symbol gate address on it. "This is all Teal'c's fault. Taonas. You really want to go to Taonas."

John's eyes snapped open. I have to get to Taonas, he thought immediately.

He rolled over violently and fell out of bed and onto the floor. It was enough to wake him up completely.

After a long run that made his legs feel wobbly, John found himself in the mess. He grabbed a carton each of Cheerio's and milk and was heading back towards the exit when he noticed a familiar, hulking figure sitting at one of the tables.

John sat down. "Hey."

"Hello, Major Sheppard," Teal'c said blandly. His tray was piled high with eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, fruit, and two different types of juice. He didn't blink an eye at John joining him.

"Can I ask you a personal question?"

Teal'c rose an eyebrow. "You may."

"Do you like Star Wars?" John asked.

"I do not like Star Wars, Major Sheppard," said Teal'c. John was beginning to feel a faint sense of disappointment when Teal'c added, "I love Star Wars."

"Was there any way I would've known that?" John asked.

Teal'c cocked his head. "You may have known this if you've spoken to O'Neill."

In other words, no, John thought, stomach twisting nervously. But this time his fear was tinged with excitement; something was happening here, something real, and something important. First Landry had known something about Atlantis, whatever it was, and now this. He wasn't going nuts after all. He just wished he knew what exactly this important thing was.

*

But John didn't get a chance to try to figure out why he was getting visions telling him to go to Taonas, because later that day he and his team went through the gate. It had taken them a few missions, but they had a routine by now: Ford had enough C4 in his tac vest pockets to blow up what was left of Texas, Mitchell was clutching a grenade in his hand, and both John and Rodney had their safeties off before they even walked through the event horizon. The MALP hadn't found any signs of human (or humanoid, whatever) life on P4Y-1264, but John sure wasn't placing any bets.

On the other side of the wormhole was a room, which hadn't been what John was expecting. This was the first time he'd gone through the gate and ended up indoors, not counting all the times he'd gated back to the SGC from another planet. The dry, musty air and the hard flooring under his feet threw him off a second.

From the looks of things, they were in some kind of laboratory. Along three of the walls were dusty glass cases, each one of them packed with fragile-looking dirt and sand at varying levels. They sat on tall, grey consoles, with computer screens built onto the top, directly in front of the glass cases. It would've looked like a museum had it not been for the table lined with misshapen beakers and unfamiliar, decaying equipment.

"Hey, those look like terrariums," said Ford, peering over John's shoulder.

McKay frowned at him. "What?"

"Terrariums," Ford repeated, shrugging. "You know, you grow mini-environments in them, maybe have a frog or two? I had to make one in high school Bio."

John remembered that, kind of. He was pretty sure all his plants had died though. High school was a crazy time. "You think this was a garden?" he asked.

"Nope," said Mitchell. He was standing at the fourth wall, where there were no terrariums, awkwardly poking the lit screen of one of the computers and squinting at it. The terminal was almost as high as his shoulders.

"Are you sure you want to do that?" John asked warily, edging towards him. He wasn't in the mood to get blown up today.

"Don't touch anything!" McKay exclaimed, shoving past John and Ford to stand beside Mitchell. "How stupid can you possibly be?"

Mitchell pointed the screen, glaring at McKay. "There's plans for a city in there."

"How'd you turn it on?" John asked. He glanced around. None of the other screens were lit up.

"I touched it, and bam, there it was. It's one of those touch-pads, like they have at the bank."

Rodney scoffed. "They're called 'touch screens,' genius. And how'd you know this was a city? It's all in... alien. Don't tell me they teach you alien in the Air Force now."

"I knew because it looks like a city," Mitchell said irritably.

As Mitchell turned to let McKay touch the screen, John caught a glimpse of some kind of blocky, Lego-like script scrolling across it. "It doesn't look like any language I've ever seen," he mused. Not that he had a lot of experience in alien civilizations or anything, but he liked to think he could contribute somehow.

"You think?" McKay asked sarcastically. John resisted the urge to reach over and flick his ear.

While the rest of his team was gawking at that, John wandered off, looking to see if they'd missed anything. When he reached the far eastern wall a door panel silently slid open, automatically.

"Huh," John said.

He waited for something to happen, like an explosion or something to rush out and attack him, but nothing did. He poked his head in. It was a tiny room, with a small table and a white, boxy crate that John would have said was a refrigerator, had they been on Earth.

"Don't go in there alone, what's wrong with you?" McKay shouted.

John rolled his eyes. "I think this is a break room."

Behind him, Rodney let out an exasperated sigh. "What, an alien break room? It can't be--" He came up beside John, blinking comically. "Or maybe it is a breakroom. What are the odds?"

Mitchell raided the fridge while Ford took photos of the terrariums and Rodney muttered to himself, trying to download the data from the computers onto his PDA with some kind of scary-looking USB cable. Without much else to do, John paced the laboratory, keeping his eye on things. He wondered what would happen if he started pressing random buttons on the consoles.

"Y'all, I think the refrigerator still works," Mitchell called when John was walking right in front of the break room's doorway. His voice bounced around the inside of the crate. "Too bad the aliens didn't leave any brewskies in here. I think there's something in-- oh, gross. Okay, whatever you do, don't touch that. Anyone got any hand sanitizer?"

Ford took out a tiny bottle from his tac vest pocket and tossed it into the room. It sailed over John's shoulder. Mitchell rubbed a generous amount on his hands, making a face.

On John's fourth trip around the room, he noticed something he hadn't seen before: a thin, horizontal line going across one of the terrarium consoles, right beneath the screen. John poked it with his finger; it retracted slightly and pushed back. He felt along the side, and--

"Rodney, there's a drawer here," he said, pulling it open.

The only thing in there was something that looked like a miniature satellite dish and a remote control. He set the dish beside the terrarium and studied the remote, which was small and black and had one large, red button on its face.

McKay set his PDA down and joined John. "What is that?" he asked.

John touched the button. A tiny, red laser shot out of the dish and hit the wall, but otherwise nothing happened. "What the hell is the point of this?" he asked.

"Try aiming it at some of the equipment," Rodney said eagerly.

Mitchell came out of the break room saying, "Whoa, whoa, we're on a reconnaissance mission. The General didn't say anything about playing with the alien equipment."

Ford, predictably, said, "I agree with Captain Mitchell, sir. It could be dangerous."

"I'm making a command decision," John replied defensively. "We're trying this out. It's not going to hurt anything."

They tried aiming it at the terrariums, the refrigerator, the walls, and even, after careful deliberation, John, but the only thing that happened was the dish beaming out red light.

"Maybe you're not doing it right. Hand it over," Rodney insisted, prying it out of John's fingers.

So they tried the last thing they could think of: ice from the alien freezer. As soon as McKay hit the switch, a beam of light shot out of the dish and melted it into a puddle.

"Oh," John said, excited they made it work. Then he realized all it could do was melt ice. His shoulders slumped. "Oh."

"Well, that was incredibly disappointing," said McKay. The rest of his team looked equally dejected.

"I don't know, I thought it was kinda cool," Ford said. McKay shot him a nasty look.

Surprisingly, General Landry wasn't happy about their finding. When they told him they'd found something, he asked, face glowing with excitement, "Did you find it? Tell me you found it," which didn't make any sense to John. It wasn't like they'd been looking for anything specific. But as soon as Rodney and Mitchell gave him an overview of the laboratory, Landry's face fell. He didn't seem too interested after that; he told John to brief SG-9 and let them take care of it, much to John's team's disappointment.

"But, sir," John protested, exchanging a glance with a panicked-looking Rodney, "it's our discovery, shouldn't we--?"

"Your team is needed for more important things than cataloguing dusty lab equipment, Major," Landry snapped.

"What could possibly be more important than an alien laboratory equipped to deal with a food shortage problem?" McKay demanded. "In case you haven't noticed, there isn't much arable land left on Earth."

"That's why SG-9 will be handling it," Landry replied.

Rodney squeaked, "But--"

"Make sure Mr Quinn gets all of the reading material," Landry said, before storming away. Mitchell and Ford looked as confused as John felt.

The team quietly watched Landry leave. John could practically feel the rage steaming off Rodney. He was a little pissed off himself; it was their undiscovered alien lab, they should've been the ones to take it apart, not SG-9. SG-9 had two botanists and a guy whose default tone of voice was sarcastic, for God's sake. They weren't nearly as awesome as John's team was. He knew Rodney could figure out what all that alien stuff was long before anyone on SG-9 could.

"Were we supposed to be looking for something?" asked Mitchell, brow knitting.

"You would know," Rodney sneered. It was his turn to make a big production of leaving; he hurried off in the same direction Landry had, his "General Landry!" echoing as he disappeared down the stairs.

Mitchell looked uncomfortable. Ford did too, but it was a completely different kind of uncomfortable. "Sheppard, you know I'm not--" Mitchell began.

"Yeah, sure," John said dismissively. He knew Mitchell wasn't hiding anything, but he also knew Mitchell was reporting to Landry everything John said and did. Just because John understood didn't mean he was totally cool with it. He left his two teammates and followed the path McKay had taken out of the briefing room.

He bumped into McKay standing red-faced in the corridor. "He won't listen to me," Rodney explained. "I told him about the ice-melting beam, and he said, and I quote, 'What use is that? We can melt ice too. It's a special thing called room temperature,' and then he said he had a meeting with SG-1. Hmph."

With a report to prepare, John gave Rodney a sympathetic pat on the shoulder and headed for his office. He wondered if Landry was expecting his team to find something offworld. But if he did, why wouldn't he have told John? Or Mitchell, at the very least; John knew he was desperate to get close to his heroes, and not opposed to kissing Landry's ass.

The next day, SG-9 headed for P4Y-1264. John watched jealously from the control room. One of the guys on the team -- the sarcastic one, John noted, not one of the botanists or geologists or whatever they were -- gave him a little wave before following Colonel Edwards through the gate, as if he knew what John was thinking. They were back the next morning before John woke, and their data was immediately sent to Jonas for translating, who was supposed to send it to one of the other scientists for analysis.

Things were strained at breakfast. Rodney and Mitchell weren't speaking to each other. Ford, riled up from the tension, kept nervously knocking things over. At one point he flipped a piece of toast into McKay's lap.

"Jesus," McKay snapped, grabbing a handful of napkins to wipe off the butter and grape jelly, "how the hell are you an explosives expert? Don't you need to have steady hands for that kind of work?"

"Rodney, leave him alone," John said. McKay glared at John but wisely kept his mouth shut.

After a knocking back his own toast and orange juice ("You're going to choke if you keep eating that fast," McKay warned), John jumped up and said, "I'm going to see what SG-9 brought back."

On his way out of the mess, he bumped into Viktor Damurchiev.

"Major Sheppard," said Viktor, straightening his jacket, "we should discuss the sharing of informations."

"Sure, maybe later," John said, knowing full well it was never going to happen.

Viktor must have realized this too, because his smile grew strained. When John left him, he was muttering something under his breath that sounded like, "Amerikanski. Huyeplet."

When John made it to Jonas's office, Jonas was talking to the same guy from SG-9 who had waved at John the day before. Several open books lay open on his desk, as well as some plain, paper notebooks, filled with scribbling. "It's just so fascinating," Jonas was saying, face bright with excitement.

"What's up, Sheppard," said the guy, spotting John. Captain Lorne, if John remembered right. E-something. Erwin, maybe. Erwin Lorne. He didn't really look like an Erwin though.

"Hey," John replied, approaching the desk. "How's it coming along?"

Jonas beamed. "There's so much interesting material here. I'm not even sure where to begin."

"I thought McKay said it was all about plants," John said, raising an eyebrow.

"Some of the database was, sure. But the rest of it-- you saw those city plans, right?" Jonas asked. Too caught up in his discovery, he didn't bother to wait for John's reply. "I need to look at it some more. The only thing I was able to really decipher was something about overpopulation."

John leaned over to peek at Jonas's notes -- which didn't work; Jonas's notes weren't in English -- and said, "Maybe they were looking for ways to thin the herd, if you know what I mean."

Lorne looked concerned. But Jonas grinned and replied, "Ouch, that's cynical. You've been spending too much time with McKay."

"Ugh, I can't stand that guy," Lorne said.

John shrugged. "I like McKay," he said. Then, with some alarm, he realized it was true: he liked McKay. He liked McKay a lot.

"Don't tell Mitchell," he added.

*

In March, John had a chance to take a day trip to Nizhneudinsk. Part of him had expected the snow to be on the verge of melting, but instead Siberia in March looked exactly the same as Siberia in December. Rodney, who John had dragged along for the ride, claimed this was a result of the nuclear winter.

"It was about minus six here last March," he explained. His voice was muffled from a neon green scarf he had wrapped around his neck and chin. John did the math in his head: that was about eighteen degrees Fahrenheit. It was easily twenty or thirty degrees colder than that now, and the sun was covered by big, black clouds of soot, which only made it feel colder.

They got through one used bookstore and one tiny, hole-in-the-wall toy store before Rodney's bitching started to grate John's nerves.

"I'm freezing my balls off here," Rodney said for the third time.

"Jesus, Rodney, would you give it a rest?" John finally snapped, exasperated. "I get it, you're cold. I'm cold too, in case you haven't noticed."

Rodney huffed. "Why didn't you bring Quinn with you?"

John glanced at him sideways. "Can't, you're the only one who gets my jokes."

In truth, John hadn't wanted to take anyone else. Ford was too chatty (not to mention way younger than John, which just made it creepy), he and Mitchell didn't have much in common outside of sports and planes, and Jonas was a cool guy, but John couldn't imagine spending an entire day with him off base. When Sergeant Silar had told John it was his turn to use the hum-vee, he'd immediately known he and McKay were going to Nizhneudinsk, whether McKay liked it or not. Rodney must have wanted to get out of the SGC as well, because he had agreed to come before John had even finished asking the question.

"No one gets your jokes because they're appallingly bad," McKay said.

"Hey, you laughed at the Justice League one."

"I was laughing because it was so horrible," McKay replied, but he was grinning.

Together, they bought a bunch of pirated action movies with really horrible English subtitles, and John found a stack of old, used romance novels. They might have been crappy, but they were written in English, and that was all John cared about. But the best find of the day was the set of rusty golf clubs John got from a thrift store. Rodney was in the middle of a rant on how golf was the most boring sport in the world (after NASCAR racing, which, Rodney said, didn't count as a sport) when he spotted one of those ship in a bottle kits. John rolled his eyes as Rodney forked over five hundred roubles for it.

"I never realized you were an old man, McKay," John said as they walked back out into the bitter cold.

"I'm running out of physics journals," Rodney retorted.

John hefted the clubs higher on his shoulder. "You could read a book."

"We live in a post-apocalyptic world and are fighting a race of parasitic aliens," McKay said. "Why would I want to read fiction? Besides, I was never very good at using my imagination. It's one of my very few character flaws."

The drive home consisted of a few hours of bad Russian pop music, an argument of which was colder, Russia or Canada (or the Island of St Trudeau, as the remains were now called), and "I Spy" games. John was saying, "I spy with my little eye something..." when he noticed McKay watching him with a sappy, lopsided smile. John felt the intensity of his gaze all the way down to the tips of his toes. He swallowed thickly. "What, do I have something on my face?" he asked, feeling weirdly embarrassed.

McKay looked away with a sharp jerk of his head, as if coming out of a daze. "What the hell are we listening to? Music like this makes me glad civilization ended." He reached over the started fiddling with the dial, and John was stuck listening to Beethoven for the rest of the ride.

*

He was in a small spaceship, hands hovering over the controls. Space stretched for miles and miles in front of him.

Someone behind him grunted; in the reflection in the cabin window, John saw it was the guy with dreadlocks, sitting in a chair behind the same pretty lady. "So people just sit and watch this box for hours at a time?" He -- Ronon, a voice in John's head supplied -- sounded like he thought they were pulling his leg.

"Yeah, people do," John replied.

The women looked intrigued. "Is it that engaging?"

John knew her name as well: it was Teyla, and she could kick some serious ass. "Depends what's on it," John said, shrugging. "There are lots of programs on dozens of channels, every day, all day."

Rodney snorted. He was sitting directly behind John, and his reflection was wearing full offworld gear. "Most of which are fictional representations of ridiculously attractive people in absurd situations."

"There are educational programs, all sorts of documentaries. Not many people watch them but, uh, well, they're on."

"And that's what everybody on your planet does for entertainment?" Ronon asked, raising his heavy brows. "Watch a box?"

"Not everyone," said Rodney, sounding superior. "Although I will confess to the occasional half hour of 'Jeopardy.'"

Now Ronon looked interested. "Jeopardy?"

"It's the name of the show. 'Jeopardy.'"

"Sounds dangerous."

"Double jeopardy -- that's twice as dangerous," John said, knowing the only one in the cabin who would get the joke was Rodney, and that was when he woke up in his own bed.

For a second he was shocked, and then he was mad as hell. That was it; he needed to figure out what was going on before he lost his mind.

He threw on his shoes and went to find the one person he was sure would believe him, or at least not go blabbing about his being nuts to everyone and their mother. The fact Rodney had been in all his visions was important. Maybe. At the very least, it told John Rodney was the right person to see. He'd already tried telling Landry, who he didn't trust; now it was time to go to someone he did.

Except Rodney wasn't in his room, and when John went his lab, McKay already had company. He and Carter were inside bickering about something. John lingered in the doorway silently, wondering if this was a bad time to interrupt. Despite his harsh words, Rodney was gazing at Carter with a look of rapt adoration; John's stomach twisted uncomfortably.

He left McKay to his... whatever... and headed back to his quarters. Maybe he'd feel better after he ran a few miles.

But instead of thinking about his dream, he was preoccupied with the way McKay had been staring at Carter. When it came down to it, he wasn't sure how he felt about McKay. He knew he liked him, they were friends, and Rodney was hot, as much as he'd tried not to notice. The guy was a jerk, sure, but he'd shown how much he cared; he could spend an entire mission insulting John, his team, and the entire race of people of whatever world they were visiting, but in the end he would do everything he could to save them. He knew what movies John liked, he saved John a seat at meals, he dragged John into the labs to show him stupid shit he thought was exciting (and okay, it usually was) and then bitched when John made him take breaks. Before now, John hadn't really let himself think too much about how much he enjoyed hanging out with McKay, how easy it was to be with him. It was thinking like that that had always gotten him trouble. It was so much easier to be with guys he wasn't all that into.

Jonas was hanging around outside his door when John arrived at his quarters, sweaty and irritated with himself. He didn't see John at first, and John hesitated; he wasn't sure he was up for company.

Jonas spotted him. "John," he called, heading to the turn in the corridor where John was reluctantly standing, "Teal'c and I were going to race the computer chairs down level fifteen."

"I'm in," John said, relieved Jonas wasn't there to talk about dead languages or alien plantlife. Mindless entertainment he could do.

On the way down, it hit John that Jonas was smart, well-read, and more importantly, an alien who'd been to a bunch of planets. "Does the name 'Ronon' sound familiar to you?" he asked.

"'Ronin'? Like the samurai code?" Jonas asked, tilting his head thoughtfully.

John squinted at him. "I thought you were from another planet."

"Hey, I have Wikipedia too, you know."

John just looked at him. "Anyway," he said after a beat, "it's 'Ronon,' not 'ronin,' and there was also the name 'Teyla'..."

Jonas's brow knitted. "Where was this?"

"Just something I read," John lied lamely.

He didn't know why, but he knew Jonas wasn't the person with which to share this. It was weird, because earlier he'd been so set to McKay all about it, and Jonas was four hundred percent less spastic than McKay. Of course, he wasn't as smart as McKay was either -- if anyone was going to figure out what all this stuff meant, it would be McKay. It was just a fact.

"Hypothetically, have you ever heard of someone having weird visions?"

"I was having visions last month," Jonas said.

John's heart hammered in his chest. "Y-you were? What was it?"

"Brain tumour," said Jonas.

John made a mental note to get a CAT scan straight away.

"Nearly killed me," Jonas said cheerfully. "Didn't you notice I had brain surgery?"

Truthfully, John hadn't. In mid-March, his team had walked into a coup d'etat and had been stuck on the planet for five days, waiting it out so they could sneak back to use the well-guarded gate. It had stormed every day they'd been there, and seeing as how they'd spent their time hiding in tents on the edge of a jungle, John had returned to the SGC wanting nothing more than to spend a week at the beach, alone. But since he couldn't, what with the oceans being near-frozen and all, plus that whole abandoning his post thing, he had done everything he could to avoid people. It had worked for three days until Major Carter and another scientist John hadn't recognized had come to his room looking for McKay. After that he had accepted it had been time to get off and his ass and get back to work.

"Of course I did, buddy," John told Jonas. "It was a hard time for everyone."

Teal'c was waiting in the officer's lounge with three black, wheeled computer chairs. "I have procured the chairs," he announced.

Jonas rubbed his hands together. "Great, where'd you get them from?"

"I merely asked Dr Lee if I could take the ones from his lab. He said yes immediately."

"Well, yeah," John said. He couldn't imagine anyone saying no to Teal'c. The man was built like a brick shithouse.

But for a big guy, Teal'c wasn't that fast. Jonas beat them in the first two rounds, and John won the third. They were laughing each time they reached the end of the corridor -- even Teal'c, whose deep laugh was almost scarily enthusiastic.

On the fourth round, John was in the lead. Pulling up his legs and zipping around the corner, he was almost at the finish line when the elevator doors opened. He ploughed right into Ford and Mitchell as they stepped out of it dressed their work-out clothes. Ford was carrying a beaten-up soccer ball under his arm, which went sailing down the corridor when John rolled over his toes and knocked both Ford and himself to the floor.

He lay there for a moment, more stunned than hurt. Ford said weakly, "Ow, sir."

Mitchell pulled both of them up by their respective elbows. "You two okay?"

"Never better," John replied, twisting his neck and wincing at the popping sound it made. He flipped his chair back onto its legs.

Jonas came around the corner next, followed by Teal'c. For some reason, Mitchell looked taken aback at the sight of them. John had a feeling it wasn't because they were riding in chairs.

"I'm okay," Ford said, rubbing one of his knees. He looked worried. "You're probably breaking all kinds of rules, Major Sheppard, sir."

Jonas and Teal'c rolled to a complete stop. Unlike John, they managed not to hit his teammates. "Beat you again," Jonas said to Teal'c breathlessly as he pumped his fists in the air in triumph.

With a polite nod to Mitchell and Ford, Teal'c stiffly excused himself.

"He's probably going to go cry in the shower," Jonas said lightly. He jumped to his feet and reached over with his free hand to pull Teal'c's chair against himself.

Mitchell turned on John. "You're friends with Teal'c?" he demanded, looking at John suspiciously.

"I guess," John said, glancing at Jonas.

Gritting his teeth, Mitchell said, "No one on SG-1 can remember my name."

"I remember your name," Jonas said. He seemed fascinated by Mitchell's behaviour. "Captain Marshall, right?"

"Cam, they're SG-1, you can't expect them to remember your name," said Ford, as Mitchell ignored Jonas completely. He said "SG-1" with only slightly less awe than Mitchell usually did. "They're heroes."

Mitchell wasn't mollified. "But they remember Sheppard's name, and he's-- he's weird."

"Hey," John cut in. He was almost offended by that.

"Well, you are," Mitchell replied stubbornly. With one last withering glare, he stormed away, leaving John a little irritated. Ford threw John a look that said 'what can you do?' and followed, stopping long enough to pick up his fallen soccer ball.

"So Marshall has a hard-on for SG-1, huh?" Jonas asked, clapping John on the shoulder. John stared at him. "What? Jack taught me that word."

John was still feeling sullen a couple of hours later. He was throwing paper airplanes at his trashcan when Rodney barged into his office, announcing, "I need a break from the idiots." He eyed John. "What are you doing?"

"Paperwork," John replied, swinging his feet off the desk and back onto the floor.

Now was a good time as any to bring up the freaky dreams, John supposed, as McKay looked disapprovingly at his dart board. He started with, "Listen, I've been having these dreams, and in some of them you're there, and--"

"Are you coming onto me?" Rodney asked. "Because I'm sorry, but Major Carter and I are destined to be together. I'm merely waiting for her to realize it."

John hated Carter and everything she stood for. "No, I'm not," he said fiercely. "And I'm pretty sure she hates you."

"She'll come around," Rodney said, smirking.

John was torn between wanting to sock McKay in the mouth and actually finding that arrogant demeanour a good look for him. It was a lot like his I'm-smarter-than-you look, and for the second time that day, John was annoyed with himself. "McKay, would you pay attention? I'm not talking about the nasty dreams you have about Major Carter -- which, by the way, you'd better hope she doesn't find out about," he added passionately, and Rodney dropped his smirk. "I'm talking about the kinds of dreams that feel totally real, and when you wake up you can't tell if it was a dream or a memory. You know what I'm talking about?"

"Not really," said Rodney, "but go on."

John glared. "I've been having these dreams of places I've never been to. You're there too, and we're on a team like we have now, only without Mitchell or Ford--"

"Funny, your dreams sound a lot like mine."

"--And they want me to go to this place. A guy told me to go to a planet called Taonas."

McKay went still. "You're having dreams telling you to go somewhere?" he asked, a funny expression on his face. He shut the door to John's office. "You haven't told anyone about this, have you?"

John sat up a little straighter. "No, why?"

"Because you're having dreams telling you to go somewhere, hello! In what universe is that not a trap?"

"A trap?" John repeated. His relief McKay believed him disappeared when he realized what McKay was talking about. "You think it's the Goa'uld?"

"Who else could it be?" Pacing in front of John's desk, Rodney murmured, mostly to himself, "Anubis blew up the Egyptian gate but couldn't get rid of us completely, so he must be trying to send you to this Taonas to get something he can't get himself."

John wiped his sweaty palms on his thighs. "So you're saying I should tell General Landry?"

"No!" McKay bellowed. "Absolutely not! You have to-- to just ignore it."

"I can't ignore it. Maybe if I tell Landry he can do something..."

Only, the same gut feeling that had told him not to share this with Jonas had also been telling him not to go to Landry. It was one thing, bringing up Atlantis; telling Landry he was having dreams about things that had never happened was something else entirely.

McKay looked furious. "Or they'll send you to work for another planet's government, so they won't have to deal with you. They'll turn you into a glorified bodyguard. That's what they did to me. Well, not the bodyguard part, but they clearly sent me away so as not to steal the thunder from Major Carter."

"Or because you nearly killed Teal'c," John offered.

Rodney deflated. "Oh, you heard this story already. Damn."

"They can't get rid of me that easily," John said. "I'll-- I'll go to the president if I have to. Or maybe I'll go live on a planet somewhere by myself. There are non-Goa'uld-occupied worlds out there."

He'd only been doing this a few months, but now he couldn't imagine not being able to step through the stargate at least once a week. After all the things he'd seen and experienced, he couldn't go back to the life he'd had before. He loved exploring, and even if the excitement of being on a gate team sometimes got to him, he wouldn't want to give it up; doing a desk job at some alien embassy, or worse, being stuck on a base in some frozen country, would be his own personal hell.

McKay didn't look convinced. "Oh please. Have you ever disobeyed a command?"

John glared. "More times than you could possibly--"

"A big one."

John smirked at him, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms over his chest. "I've been breaking one of the big ones for years."

McKay stared at him for a long moment. John tried to mentally give him a push, but then McKay hissed, "You've been selling secrets to the Russians?"

"What? No," John replied, annoyed.

After that, McKay made John promise he wouldn't tell anyone about the visions. Seeing how worried Rodney was gave him a petty, shameful rush of satisfaction, which only made him feel like a jerk. So he guiltily swore on the life of McKay's estranged sister he would keep what had happened between the two of them.

*

For Mitchell's thirty-third birthday, the team went on a mission to a dry, desert planet. The sky was a pale pink, making the sand appear sparkling white; the first thing John did when he got there was slip on his sunglasses and squint into the distance. He couldn't see much thanks to the massive sand dunes on every side. A dip between the two dunes directly ahead looked like the only way out of the valley, and the absence of footprints in the sand hinted the planet was probably uninhabited.

"Is it okay for us to be breathing this air?" John asked.

Rodney's forehead wrinkled as he cupped a hand over it, following John's line of sight. He had a smear of sunblock on his nose. "Of course it is. The MALP -- the version of which, need I mention again, I helped design -- said it was, didn't it?" He waved a hand. "I'm sure it's just a weird star... thing.

"'Weird star thing'?" John repeated. "Who's the astrophysicist here?"

"Major Sheppard, sir," Ford shouted from where he was balanced on top of the sand dune to John's right, "you should have a look at this."

The desert, it turned out, was only surrounding the gate; the rest of what they could see, as soon as they passed the dunes, was composed of rocky mountains. Growing out of the cliffs were clear crystals the size of SUVs. It looked like a science fair project gone bad, or maybe something out of a B-movie.

Rodney didn't look excited, staring at the rocks with the expression of someone who'd gotten a whiff of a particularly bad smell. Without waiting for the "I'm an astrophysicist, not a geologist!" conversation, John headed towards the nearest gathering of crystals, humming 'Livin' on a Prayer' under his breath. He was in a pretty good mood; no one had shot at them yet, and there was a birthday cake waiting for them back home. It was all a guy needed in life. When Ford caught up to them, he realized what John was humming and started harmonizing along.

John laughed while McKay rolled his eyes in disgust. "Do you remember 'Bed of Roses,' sir?" Ford asked, grinning.

"I don't listen to any 'Jovi after '96, Lieutenant," John said.

"I danced to that song at homecoming," Ford said. He pulled off his cap to wipe the sweat off his forehead. "The fast part always confused me. You slow dance, and then there was that fast part, sir, do you remember? You couldn't really dance to that."

John was too horrified to answer.

"I'm sure Sheppard could dance to anything," McKay said dryly.

John glanced at him, smirking. "Wanna see me jitterbug?"

Rodney's mouth twitched as he tried to keep from smiling, and Ford, sounding slightly uncomfortable, jumped in with, "Doing anything special for your birthday, Cam?"

"Just dinner with a couple of beautiful women," Mitchell drawled, looking smug. He hadn't been paying attention to the Bon Jovi conversation at all, from the looks of it.

"A couple of?" Rodney echoed skeptically. He turned to John. "When's your birthday?"

"Not for a good while," John said.

"How old you gonna be?" asked Mitchell.

"Thirty," John said.

Both Mitchell and McKay glowered at him, not buying it. Ford just looked surprised. "You are such a liar!" McKay said.

John scowled. "Fine, thirty-five."

McKay gave him an appraising gaze. "There's no way you're older than me," he accused, staring pointedly at John's hair. "You look too good-- young. I said 'young'! You look too young, much too young."

John eyed him. "That's because I sleep."

Mitchell clapped Rodney on the shoulder, who was beginning to look indignant. "Face it, McKay, a steady diet of coffee and Snickers isn't exactly the fountain of youth."

By that point, they were approaching the crystals, which was why John shouldn't have been surprised when the natives jumped out of their hiding places in the rocks. They were wearing animal-skin loincloths and vests and had necklaces made out of what looked like bone, but the part that had John concerned was the spears they held in their hands. He gripped the handle of his P-90, but since the locals weren't aiming at them, he wasn't about to start shooting into the crowd.

One of the men looked straight at John and said something that sounded like, "Rok, rok-a-too," which John took to mean, "My crystals, not yours."

"Hey, we're all friends here," John said warmly, smiling.

The natives looked at one another. One in the back said something, and suddenly they all started talking quietly to each other at once. Someone loudly chimed in with, "Rok, rok, tok," and then they fell into an obviously unanimous babble.

"We come in peace?" John said, beginning to get worried.

Abruptly, the natives stopped chattering and stared at him. Then they pointed their long, pointy spears at his team's necks.

"Aw, come on," Mitchell said, drawing his gun, "it's my birthday! I'm not supposed to have to run for my life on my birthday!"

John fired into the air; screaming in terror, the locals scattered, running back to their homes in the mountain, or wherever it was they had come from. "I say we've got ten minutes before they come back with something bigger than a spear," he said.

At least this time the run back to the gate was short. Rodney was dialling the gate as fast as humanly possible when John heard someone yell, "Watch out!" Next, he heard a clunk, and the back of his head exploded in pain.

He was back in his place in Bagram, luggage at his feet and room in disarray; his clothes, CDs, Xbox, games, hair gel, and the one paperback he hadn't read yet were hastily packed away. A photo he had debated over taking -- a picture of Holland, John, Dex, and Mitch flipping off the camera and laughing -- was left behind on John's desk, along with a couple of other things he hadn't had room for.

"They're sending you to Russia?" Holland was saying incredulously.

"Crazy, isn't it," John agreed, fishing out his right hand mitten where it was wedged between his bed and the wall.

"Just you?"

"Yeah, I thought that was weird too," John said. He frowned. "You don't think this is an excuse to get rid of me, do you?"

Holland chuckled. "Well, the Colonel does hate you."

"All my COs hate me," John replied flippantly. He tucked his mittens into an empty pocket in his parka, and gave the room one last, long look to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything he really needed.

"It's going to suck without you here," Holland said abruptly. It was the closest either of them had ever said to 'I miss you.' John couldn't think of anything to say that didn't sound insincere, and the look on Holland's face changed, from embarrassed to impish. "You care about me, right?"

"Yeah, maybe, I guess," John said awkwardly.

Grinning, Holland said, "Shep, you sweet talker."

That wasn't right. The thought struck John from out of nowhere: that wasn't how his last conversation with Holland was supposed to go. They were both supposed to promise to write, and then, knowing the other was lying, give each other a manly goodbye hug. Neither of them had ever been the touchy-feely type. It was why they'd gotten along so well in the first place.

"I care about you, too," Holland said.

"Jeeze, I know," John said, scratching the back of his neck. "We don't have to talk about this, do we?"

Holland picked up the photo from John's desk, looking bemused. "Do you remember that thing I always said?"

Thinking back, John replied, "Uh, 'if I ever go down in a flaming ball of fire, I want someone to come after me'?"

"No, the other thing."

"'There's nothing more important than family,'" John repeated from memory. He'd always thought that had sounded cheesy. Besides, he and his friends had never been a family; John had had his parents up until the attack, even if his dad had been a bastard who'd thought he couldn't do anything right, and Dex was married to a girl he'd met in Korea. He was pretty sure Holland had a brother or two out there somewhere.

Holland grabbed John's shoulder. "You're gonna need to remember that later."

John pulled away, taking a step back. "Why? Why's it important? What's going on?"

As soon as the words left his lips, Holland and his room melted away into blinding whiteness. All of a sudden John's brain kicked into gear, and he realized he was asleep and this was a dream. A seriously messed up dream.

Once the thought occurred to him, he was standing in a tent made of some kind of ornate, patterned cloth. The sand beneath his feet was warm and soft; hot sunlight seeped through the tent covering his head, tinting the room red. It was as real as any place he'd ever been. Wake up, John, he thought ineffectively. Whatever was going on, it couldn't be good.

Someone cleared his throat, and John turned.

At the entrance to the tent stood a man dressed in long, brown robes. His eyes looked unnaturally blue in the right light. It took John a moment to realize where he'd seen him before -- he was the guy who'd given him the gate coordinates in his dream with the big chair. This time he wasn't wearing his glasses, and the robes weren't anything close to the vest he'd worn in the dream.

"This is taking a lot longer than I'd expected it to," said the man, sounding irritated. He was kind of hot, except he was doing this weird squinting thing.

"You!" John exclaimed. He took a threatening step forward, hands balled into fists. "You're the one doing this to me!"

"Yeah, sorry about that," the man said, in what was obviously a lie.

"What kind of game are you playing?" John demanded. He didn't feel any sort of satisfaction at finding out he'd been right about someone messing with his head. Instead, it was actually really creepy, and he still didn't know what this guy wanted with him.

"It's not a game at all. Well, maybe it is to you." The man looked incredibly annoyed. "You're the one who's being so stubborn. It's really upsetting my plans."

"Your plans?" John echoed. With a feeling of dread, he said, "So you are a Goa'uld."

The man's eyebrows shot up. "Ah, no, I'm one of the good guys."

Yeah, right. John scowled. "Then why have you been sending me these dreams?"

"Because I need you to do something for me."

"Oh yeah? What?" John sneered.

"I can't tell you -- the Others won't let me." He said "Others" in a very disdainful, but meaningful, tone. "But believe me, it's important. Fate of the world important."

"And this is supposed to convince me you're not a Goa'uld?" John asked sarcastically.

"No, I'm Daniel Jackson, that should be convincing enough."

He gazed at John expectantly, and John, even more pissed off now, crossed his arms over his chest and bluntly said, "Daniel Jackson, huh? Never heard of you."

"Really?" Jackson looked hurt. "No one's mentioned me? Not once?"

"Nope," John replied.

"Those jerks," Jackson muttered. He sighed. "Okay, let's forget that. You need to go to Taonas. There's something there that will help you get to the Pegasus Galaxy, and once you're there, there's this... thing you need to get, and then you'll go to the Ancient outpost in Antarctica--"

"The Pegasus Galaxy? Antarctica?" John interrupted. "Can't you just tell me what it is you want me to do that's so important?" He was getting really sick of this riddle crap. He put his hands on his hips. "If you were really on my side, and not an evil alien trying to control my mind, you'd tell me."

Jackson pinched the bridge of his nose. "I've been trying to be subtle so I won't get-- Look, it's terraforming technology, okay? The Ancients used it a long time ago to start life in this galaxy. It's in the lost city of Atlantis."

John jumped. Atlantis?

Without noticing John's reaction, Jackson continued on. "You're the only one--" He broke off, looking thoughtful. "Well, Jack is too, I suppose, but if something goes wrong... Earth really needs Jack."

"Gee, thanks," John said flatly.

"I tried telling McKay to help you, but he just thought he was high from a chemical spill."

John bit back a smile. That did sound a lot like Rodney. A thought occured to him. "Wait a minute, if this was about getting me to the lost city of Atlantis, why did you send me so many visions about me and Rodney? You playing intergalactic gay matchmaker?" he asked suspiciously.

Glowering, Jackson replied, "How many times do I have to tell people I'm not gay?"

"You're undressing me with your eyes right now," said John, unconvinced.

But Jackson was determined to get back on point. "John, there's something they're not telling you," he said softly. "I know you've felt it. You need to talk to Sam."

"Sam?" John asked blankly. "Sam Carter?"

"When you do, tell her you need a ship. You're going to need to fly to Taonas, and take the ZPM with you. She'll know what I mean. Oh, and you'll also need hazmat suits. It's a little hot down there."

"What am I supposed to do when I get there? If I were to go," John added hurriedly.

"Dial Atlantis." Jackson reached out, and gate coordinates formed in the sand beneath his outstretched hand, which was pretty cool.

John looked at the gate coordinates, and then back at Jackson's smiling face. There was no way he was doing any of this; he didn't make a habit out of going to weird planets just because a guy in his head told him to. As if sensing what he was thinking, Jackson's smile faded.

"Seriously, you've never heard of Daniel Jackson?" Jackson asked. "Saved the galaxy a few times...?"

John scoffed. "I think if you'd saved the galaxy I would've heard of you."

Jackson narrowed his eyes to slits. He waved his hand in front of John's face, and John woke up, gasping.

"About time you came to," said a disappointingly familiar, accented voice.

He was in the infirmary. His Scottish doctor was leaning over him, looking pleased John was conscious. John sat up, and a sharp pain blossomed in the back of his skull. "Ow," he said, pulling himself upright with the metal bars on the right side of the bed with both hands. "What happened?"

"You were hit in the back of the head with a rock," replied his doctor. "Pretty standard injury now, wouldn't you say?" He took out his penlight and flashed it in John's eyes.

John hissed in pain. "How long've I been out of it?"

"A few hours. You're all stitched up. Take one of these--" He handed John a tiny plastic tub with a blue pill in it, followed by a cup of water. "--and you can go when you're ready."

John took the pill and eased back down; sitting up hurt too much. The head injury was almost comforting, because it totally explained that stupid dream he'd had. Daniel Jackson, sure, whatever. The Goa'uld could've at least come up with a better name than that. "I'll get up in a minute," he murmured, and the doctor patted his hand.

With the pain killer in his system, he dozed. When he woke up again, the pain had mostly faded, although the back of his head felt gross and swollen to the touch. Also, much to his horror, there was a bald patch now where the doctor had shaved to put in the stitches.

The infirmary was quieter now than it had been when John had woken up the first time. His doctor was treating an unconscious Sergeant Silar in the bed next to his, clucking at a series of scars on Silar's arm.

Remembering what Jonas had said about the tumour, John said, "Hey, Doctor..." He looked for the badge on the guy's lab coat, but he couldn't make out what it said from that angle. "Doctor. If I asked a personal favour from you, what are the chances it wouldn't get back to General Landry?"

"Oh, bloody hell," said the doctor. He pulled the privacy curtains shut around John's bed, red-faced. "You know, I've said more than once the SGC needs to start doing safe-sex seminars. We're really running low on penicillin. Syphilis is a very nasty disease, and I'm certain much of the people you meet offworld don't bathe regularly."

John cringed. It was sealed: he was never having sex with anyone at the SGC. "Actually, I was going to ask if you could do a CAT scan."

The guy blinked. "Oh. Well, that's not a typical request. Why do you think you need a one?"

There wasn't much John could say that wouldn't get him put on medical leave or sent to the base shrink. He rubbed the back of his neck. "Why ruin the surprise?" he asked with a smirk.

"You don't need a CAT scan, laddie," said the doctor. "What you need is a sandwich. Don't let Dr McKay trick you into giving him your food on missions with his 'hypoglycemic' clap-trap. What he needs is an evening with my mum, now she'd..."

John kept a smile plastered on his face, looking for an escape route while the doctor rambled on his psychotic Scottish mother. The sad thing was, John had heard this speech before. It hadn't been any more interesting the first dozen times.

"--should probably get her Christmas pudding recipe while I still can. The post is never on time anymore; I suspect in a few months we'll be out of contact with--"

"I take it this means you're not going to do a CAT scan, huh," John interrupted.

The doctor looked offended. "You came back with a head injury, I gave you a CAT scan not five hours ago. In fact, you get a CAT scan during every post-mission physical. Honestly, Major, if there was something physically wrong with you we'd know. If this is about Jonas Quinn's tumour, it grew very rapidly in a short period of time, as a result of being in contact with Goa'uld technology. It was an isolated incident."

John nodded thoughtfully. "So my chances of having a brain tumour are slim?"

"Slim to none," the doctor replied. He rifled through his pockets and pulled out a tattered notepad. "Now, if you're having headaches I can give you something for them."

"I think I'm good," John said, pushing himself out of bed.

Scrubs and all, John headed out of the infirmary. He bumped into Rodney at the door, who looked surprised to see him.

"Major!" McKay said. He grabbed John's arm as if to steady him. "Excellent, you're awake. I came by earlier but you were asleep, and there'd been so much blood when we brought you in..." He trailed off, looking pale.

John grimaced. "Yeah, it wasn't my favourite mission either."

"Are you hungry? Of course you're not hungry, what am I thinking, you've been--"

"I could eat," John interrupted, before McKay could get himself worked up. He needed to tell McKay about his latest dream anyway. "I'll meet you there."

He went back to his room and changed into a t-shirt and jeans. On his way out, he noticed a letter had been shoved under his door. He tucked it into his jeans pocket and headed for the mess, where he found McKay already seated and, of course, arguing with a few of the scientists. Rolling his eyes, John grabbed a cup of blue Jell-O and grabbed the empty seat next to him.

He bumped Rodney's shoulder with his. "We need to talk later."

Rodney waved a hand. "Do you mind? I'm in the middle of something here."

Snorting, John pulled his letter out of his pocket and tore it open. It was dated about a month ago. He was surprised it had gotten to Russia, considering the state of things. 'John,' it began, 'I don't know if you already know this...' The handwriting was familiar -- Dex's -- but John couldn't remember the last time Dex had called him anything but 'Shep.' A cold fist settled in his chest, even before the words jumped out at him: 'Dave Holland died three days ago.'

He read the words 'strike' and 'Taliban motherfuckers hiding in the snow,' but they didn't make any sense.

Rodney finally turned to him. "What did you want to talk to me about?"

John blinked. "Nothing," he said, stuffing the letter back into his pocket. "It's not important."

The next thing he knew, everyone was leaving. They'd finished their meals while John had been staring blankly at the wall. "You didn't eat your Jell-O," McKay said, looking concerned. "Do you need to go back to the infirmary?"

The following days were a blur while John struggled with feeling sad and angry and confused all at once. He should've been there for Holland, he thought more than once while unsuccessfully trying to fall asleep at night, the thought repeating in his head until he passed out from exhaustion. He was mad at Landry for making him come to the SGC. He was mad at himself for not fighting it. And most of all, he was mad at McKay for making him forget all about Holland. Emotions had never been easy for him, and he didn't know what to do with feeling so much at once. What he did know was he didn't want to be dealing with any of this crap; he wanted Landry to stop acting like he was expecting something from him, he wanted McKay to like him back, he wanted "Daniel Jackson" to leave him out of whatever the hell it was he was doing, and he wanted Holland to be alive, making snowmen in Afghanistan with Dex and Mitch.

John didn't know what he would do if any of his teammates asked if there was something wrong with him, but luckily none of them did. If they noticed he was avoiding them as much as possible, or if he was working himself too hard in the gym, they didn't speak up. He was fine with it; it was one conversation he had absolutely no interest in having, with anyone.

Things came to a head on their next mission. John was ready for -- more than ready, looking forward to -- a fight, but he didn't get one: the planet was quiet, the area around the stargate surrounded by a plain preparing for autumn. They followed a path from the gate until it came to a fork.

"What's the plan, sir?" Ford asked.

"Why don't you come up with one for once?" John snapped, and Ford looked crestfallen.

"Jesus, what's crawled up your ass and died?" Mitchell demanded. "You've been acting like a dick all week."

John looked away, swallowing thickly. "Nothing. Let's go left, okay?"

John's bad mood lasted throughout the mission and well into the evening. Back at the SGC, "What's crawled up your ass and died?" echoed in his head until he couldn't take it anymore. By the time Rodney showed up at his quarters, pretending to be there to borrow a ruler but obviously wanting John to ask him to stay and hang out (which John was definitely not going to do), he'd already finished half a bottle of the moonshine the Russian officers made in one of their labs under the guise of creating a cleaning solution.

When he noticed John sitting on the floor, sagged against his footboard, McKay asked, "Er, Sheppard, are you okay?"

Numbly, John said, "My friend died."

"So you're not okay," McKay said carefully. He sat down next to John, heavily. Their knees bumped together, and suddenly John, feeling like shit, was aware of how grateful he was Rodney was his friend. Maybe even his best friend. Loud, annoying, egomaniacal McKay, who thought everything was trying to kill him and yet had never learned how to hit a target. Holland, John remembered dully, had won awards for his marksmanship.

Thanks to his father, John didn't have the right words with which to express himself. "I'm feeling a lot right now," he said.

"Great," McKay muttered. "You should know, I'm really bad at other people's feelings."

"That's just what Dad would've said." Much to his own horror, John started tearing up. "Dad would've hated Holland."

Rodney looked like he was ready to bolt from the room. But he didn't; he wrapped a hand around John's upper arm and asked, "Do you-- do you want to get drunk?"

John wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "I already am," he said sadly, holding up his mostly-empty bottle. He sniffed and blearily focused on McKay. "Where'd you get that black eye?"

"The lovely Major Carter," McKay grumbled. He gingerly prodded the skin under his eye with the hand that wasn't grasping John. "I pinched her ass and she decked me."

John felt sick. "Good," he snapped, pulling his arm out of Rodney's grip. "Didn't you ever take sensitivity training?"

McKay sniffed. "As a matter of fact, yes. Sensitivity training sent me to anger management, who sent me to a therapist. The shrink mentioned something about my delusions of grandeur being a mask for my low self-esteem, and then she charged me two hundred bucks. I don't know what she was talking about, I really am as fantastic as I think I am. Now, I've never said this before, so pay attention: Enough about me. Let's talk about you."

John set his jaw. "I told you, my friend died. He was my-- we were--"

He didn't want to have to say the words. He wasn't even sure which words to use; Holland had never been his boyfriend, just his friend with whom he'd happened to have sex. A lot of sex. John hadn't had a boyfriend since he'd been stationed in Colorado, back in '97, and that had really only been because he'd been rebounding from his ex-wife's brother, Steve, who'd decided he was straight again and had gone back to his wife. The '90s had really sucked for John.

McKay caught on. "Oh, ah," he said quietly, "I didn't-- I didn't know. I mean, I thought you were-- I didn't know for sure."

"Yeah, well, now you do," John said.

"That explains all those comments Mitchell was making," Rodney murmured, and John frowned. "Are you and that alien -- Quinn -- are you...?"

"We're just friends," John said. Rodney's tense expression softened. "He's a good guy. He just wants to help people. You're a good guy too," he added, slurring a little. A voice in his head said he'd regret saying that tomorrow. "We're a different kind of friends."

From that moment on, John thought he noticed Rodney looking at him a little bit differently. Not bad differently, just different; he would sneak glances at John when they ate meals together, or when he thought John was concentrating on a particularly tricky chess move. John wondered if it was because he kept expecting John to have another outburst, or talk about something gay, but a part of him hoped it was something else. He wasn't really an expert in these kinds of situations; other people came onto him, and normally, by the time he realized he liked a guy, they'd already been sleeping together for weeks, or one of them was shipping out and there was little chance of them ever seeing each other again.

Weirdly enough, telling Rodney about Holland had made him feel better. He'd woken up the next morning a little hung over, but without the same kind of suffocating grief and rage he'd been experiencing all that week. John had never been one of those guys who believed in talking about your problems made them go away, but he had to admit, it had done more good than bad. Rodney hadn't forced him to talk about his feelings or try to get him to work through it. All he'd done was argue with John and, later, take him to the toilet to puke.

He was feeling more like himself by their next mission. Ford had accepted his kind-of apology by then, too; John had invited him the next time he and McKay watched movies, and while Ford had declined ("Oh, um, you guys watch a lot of sci-fi, don't you"), he had smiled and stopped sulking, which had made Mitchell go back to normal too.

Their mission was set on a planet with huge, stone pyramids jutting out of the jungle. So far they hadn't run into any natives, but John had a feeling they wouldn't anyway; it was pretty obvious, once they got to the temples, no one had lived here for a long, long time.

Inside the pyramid nearest the gate, John picked up an old, decaying brick. A set of them sat by the entrance. "Looks like whoever built this didn't finish blocking the door," he said. The brick was already crumbling in his hands.

"Look at this," Mitchell said from a little further into the pyramid. When John got to his side, still holding onto the brick, he was standing in front of a wall covered in very alien glyphs.

"Wonder what they say," Ford mused.

"It's probably a warning," Rodney said, looking around anxiously.

"Too bad Daniel Jackson isn't here to translate this," Mitchell murmured.

Dimly, John noticed the brick slip from his hands and fall to the floor, shattering into pieces. Ford jumped back and cried, "Sir, that almost hit my foot!"

"What?" John asked Mitchell.

Mitchell frowned. "Uh, Daniel Jackson? You know, kooky archaeologist, used to be on SG-1? Died after getting radiation poisoning on Quinn's homeworld, Ascended to another plane of existence? Come on, I thought everyone knew that."

"I didn't know," John said, mind reeling. Ascended to another plane of existence? He looked at Rodney. "Did you know about this?"

"Uh, yeah," Rodney said, sounding confused. He glanced at the others like he had done something wrong and was looking for their support. "I met Jackson last year."

"What?" John repeated stupidly.

He didn't pay much attention to the rest of the mission after that, which was mostly just Mitchell taking pictures of the carvings and Ford and McKay checking for signs of recent civilization. He felt his team's worried gazes on him at various times, but he was too busy trying to figure out what the hell was going on, why a Goa'uld would pretend to be Daniel Jackson of SG-1, or better yet, why it would make perfect sense if the Daniel Jackson in his dreams wasn't a Goa'uld at all.

After the mission, as soon as Landry let them go their separate ways, John grabbed Rodney by the tac vest and dragged him to an unused briefing room. McKay flailed the entire time, and as soon as John let go of him and locked the door, hissed, "Way to fuel the gossip mill, Romeo! It's not like everyone doesn't already think we're having sex. Illegal sex."

John was momentarily thrown. "Who thinks that?"

"Major Carter." Rodney's voice dripped with disdain instead of its usual lust. "She said I've been easier to get along with since we started 'seeing' each other."

John was pretty sure it was more illegal for her to be discussing him having gay sex than it was for him to actually be having it, but he didn't have time for this crap. "Then later you can tell her she turned you straight so she'll sleep with you," he snapped impatiently. "Listen, Daniel Jackson's the one I've been seeing in my dreams."

"Too much information!" McKay said, making a face.

John glared. "Not those kinds of dreams. My-- my visions, or whatever you want to call them. He's the one who's been telling me to go to Taonas. He's the one who told me about the terraforming technology."

"You're kidding," Rodney said, eyes widening. "No, you're not, are you. Are you crazy? This is so obviously a Goa'uld trap."

"That's just it, I don't think it is. Mitchell said Jackson was on another plane of existence. Does that mean he could get into my dreams?" John felt the same mix of worry and excitement he had when he'd realized the first time his dreams were real. This time, though, he didn't feel ridiculous for believing something he'd seen in a dream. He felt energized. "Think about it," he said vehemently, "why would a Goa'uld tell me to go get terraforming technology to help Earth? The Goa'uld want us dead."

"The Goa'uld want SG-1 dead, they want the rest of us enslaved," Rodney corrected sharply.

"But it doesn't make any sense why--"

Rodney threw his hands in the air. "Sheppard, none of this makes any sense! If Daniel Jackson wants you to go to Tao-whatever, then how would Landry know about it? Didn't you say yourself you asked him about Atlantis and he lied to you? How does that fit into your 'visions'?"

John closed his mouth, feeling cold all over. He'd forgotten about Landry. "But Atlantis is real," he protested feebly. That had to count for something.

"Even if it is, and this isn't a Goa'uld trap -- which it so is! -- Daniel Jackson was insane!" Rodney yelled. His face was turning red; John didn't understand why he was so angry. "You never met him. I did, and believe me, the man was one fry short of a Happy Meal, and he can't possibly--"

He broke off abruptly, staring at the door. John turned to look in the same direction. Mitchell was standing in the doorway with an expression on his face John couldn't decipher. He was still wearing his gear from the mission, and the smudge of dirt on his cheek had been there when they'd walked through the gate. John wondered how long he'd been standing there listening.

"What are y'all screaming about?" Mitchell drawled nonchalantly.

"Nothing," John said, before McKay could say something to give them away. Something in his gut said Mitchell couldn't know what was going on. "What are you doing?"

Mitchell pointed down the corridor. "I had to pee. I thought I heard a pair of familiar voices."

"Yes, well, I think we're done here," Rodney said briskly. As he shouldered past John, he sent John a look that said to find him later.

"Wanna play some B-ball?" Mitchell asked when they were alone. "Aiden has a lunch date or some shit. One of the nurses. She's kinda dumb, but you know Aiden, doesn't care what's in their heads as long as he can stick his d--"

"Okay, stop right there," John interrupted, cringing. The last thing he needed today was hearing all about Ford's sex life.

"So no B-ball?"

"No B-ball," John said.

Then he went back to his office, alone, and freaked out a little. Dead guy in his head, no problem. In the past few months, he'd had to deal with stargates and aliens and parasites, and in the past year, the end of the world; this wasn't anything he couldn't handle. In fact, he'd already been handling it. Knowing it was absolutely true, and knowing it might be someone on his side and not that of the Goa'uld, was better than when he'd been doubting himself. As he paced the tiny room, John thought: So he knew Atlantis was real, so what? What was he supposed to do now? Stupid Jackson and his stupid quest from beyond the grave. Who did Jackson think John was, Harry Potter?

Deep in thought, he almost missed the knock on his door. "Yeah?" he called warily.

His door cracked open. Sergeant Harriman poked his head in, looking flushed, as if he'd run the whole way there. "Sir, General Landry requests you in his office," he said, wiping his brow.

"Why didn't he just call me?" John asked.

"I asked him that very thing, sir," Harriman said sadly.

Old habits were hard to break, and John had never liked being called out. He sauntered into Landry's office wearing what he knew was a nasty expression and slouched as low as he could in the offered chair. He didn't know what this was about, but he guessed it wasn't good -- especially since Landry was looking pleased with himself.

"You wanted to see me, sir?" John asked flatly, wanting to get back to working out what he was going to do next with the information he'd learned. He resisted the urge to rest his mud-caked boots on Landry's nice, clean desk.

"I heard you know what Atlantis is," Landry said casually.

John jerked in surprise. "How--?" Mitchell, he thought, horrified.

Landry smiled. He leaned forward and clasped his hands together, resting them on his desk. "John, son, you did good work," he said warmly. It was the nicest Landry had ever been to him, and it was creepier than John ever could have imagined. "So what is it? It's a weapon, right? Something by one of those old alien races Dr Jackson was always going on about in his reports."

"It's a city," John said.

Landry's face crumpled. "Repeat that, Major?"

"It's a city in another galaxy. One of 'those old alien races' used to live there." Landry's face was becoming more closed off with every word out of John's mouth, and John asked, hesitantly, "Sir, you're going to send a team there, right?"

"No," Landry said.

John stiffened. "But, sir, I have it on good authority there's terraforming technology there, we could use it to--"

"In case you haven't noticed, Major Sheppard," Landry said roughly, "we're losing the war. What we need now are weapons, not something with which to grow plants. Our first priority is survival."

"Which is why we need to get this technology," John countered. He leaned forward, lowering his voice. "Sir, evacuating Earth isn't going to make the Goa'uld leave us alone, and you know it. Anubis is pretty determined to wipe us out. Won't fixing our planet make it harder for him to do that whole dividing and conquering thing?"

Landry's stony expression did not change. "Did I not make myself clear the first time? I said no. I'd hoped-- we'd all hoped--" He broke off, looking away, and John suddenly noticed the lines around his eyes and mouth. "Dismissed, Major."

When John got to the bottom of the stairs, Rodney was waiting for him. He was looking frantic. "Sheppard!" he said, slightly shrill. "I heard you were-- why do you have that look on your face?"

"Mitchell," John hissed, storming past.

"Where are you going?" Rodney asked. He followed at John's heels, trying to get his attention, but John was too mad to stop now.

"To kick Mitchell's ass, that's where I'm going," John shouted.

"While I'm not totally against this, what?"

John quickly spun around to face Rodney. His hands were balled into fists; he was so, so fucking angry right then. Mitchell was on his team, he wasn't supposed to do things like that. "Landry wanted to see me about Atlantis. He said he'd heard I knew what it was. Gee, who could've told him that?"

Rodney blanched. "You don't think--?"

"I do think," John said. "I really do think."

He was gearing up to hunt down Mitchell like a rabid dog when, to his surprise, Rodney stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. "Listen, I realize how mad you are, but you can't do this right now. You need to come with me right away."

John scowled. He couldn't imagine Rodney had anything in his lab he wanted to see. "It can't wait until after I beat the shit out of Mitchell?" he demanded.

"No, I said it can't, didn't I? Learn to listen." Rodney snapped his fingers in front of John's face, and John shoved his hand away, glaring. "You see," McKay started tentatively, "I may have asked Major Carter about the possibility of there being some kind of alien city called Atlantis--"

"Hey!" John exclaimed.

McKay crossed his arms over his chest. "Oh, believe me, it's a good thing I did," he said, and he didn't sound smug about it. John's anger instantly faded when Rodney realized wasn't being superior because he was genuinely afraid. "You're really going to want to hear what she has to say."

*

Major Carter was typing rapidly onto her laptop when John and Rodney barged into her lab. She didn't look like she'd been waiting for them, but she didn't seem surprised to see them, either; Rodney started to say something, but she held up a finger and bit the inside of her cheek while she finished whatever it was she was writing.

John fidgeted. McKay slapped his arm; John slapped his back.

Carter closed her laptop and turned towards them, still seated at her bench. She looked like she was trying not to laugh. "McKay, did you tell him?"

"No, I thought you should," Rodney replied, straightening his shirt.

"Somebody better tell me," John warned.

"I know about Atlantis," Carter said, and John swiftly looked at Rodney. "No, he didn't tell me. SG-1's known for a while. Known about you, too; you weren't assigned here at random."

The look on his face must've been pretty bad, because Carter's gaze flickered towards Rodney before adding uncomfortably, "General Landry didn't want you to know."

It was unbelievable. "What do you mean, you knew about me?" John asked, slumping into the stool beside her. A second ago he had been outraged, and now he reeling from the shock of yet another mystery. This was a crappy end to a really crappy day. He just wanted someone to tell him what the hell was going on; it seemed the only person who had been honest with him from the start had been Rodney. And maybe Ford, but he was sure Ford would blow that illusion any second now by announcing he was an alien or a woman or a drug addict, or maybe a female alien drug addict.

"Why is nothing ever simple around here?" he asked no one in particular.

"Tell him what Landry didn't want him to know," McKay demanded tersely.

Carter exhaled sharply through her nose. "You know that after Anubis's attack, the Earth's ecosystem was significantly altered. One of the major changes that occurred was winds pushing the Sahara out of most of North Africa."

John looked at Rodney. "What does this have to do with me?"

"I'm getting to that. A few months ago, a group of archaeologists, intending to do what they could to preserve the pyramids, found something that had been buried in the sand, something that had been there for thousands of years."

"This is the good part," Rodney interrupted, tapping John on the shoulder.

"McKay," Carter said with a reproachful look. To John she continued, "It was an alien power source. And a videotape."

"A videotape?" John echoed. "What was on it?"

"SG-1," Carter said simply. "Colonel O'Neill, Teal'c, Daniel, and me. Now, the video was a slightly different format than what we're used to, but it didn't take long for us to figure out how to get it to work. There were four hours of information on it. Because this SG-1 was from an alternate timeline -- one where either Anubis never attacked or they found a way to stop him -- there were some differences between our two realities, but most of it was the same. There was one thing, though, that caught the attention of the US government."

She took a deep breath. "The alternate Daniel said they'd gone back in time to get the power source to a Major John Sheppard, and that he needed it for Atlantis. Colonel O'Neill -- General O'Neill, in that reality -- said the SGC's first priority was to give Sheppard the power source, and that if there was no Atlantis, something was wrong."

Dumbstruck, John said, "So when Landry lied to me about knowing what Atlantis was..."

"In a way, he was being honest: he doesn't know," Carter replied. "No one knows exactly what Atlantis is. The President and Joint Chiefs were hoping it was a secret weapon to fight the Goa'uld. They transferred you here in hopes you would find it."

John scrunched up his face. "Why didn't anyone tell me?"

"General Landry thought if you knew, you'd call the first alien weapon you found an 'Atlantis' and give up looking," Carter said. She looked embarrassed, although John doubted she had anything to do with any of this. Landry on the other hand, he thought sourly, was an asshole.

"Atlantis isn't a weapon," he said. "It's a city. The race who built the stargates used to live in it, but they died out. Jackson called them the 'Ancients.'"

Carter perked up and said, "That's great! We can--"

"I already asked Landry. He said it was a waste of time to go there."

Both Carter and McKay looked aghast. John definitely agreed with their sentiment.

"How did you find out what Atlantis was?" Carter asked.

John cringed. He'd really been hoping to avoid this part. "This is going to sound crazy," he said, scratching the back of his neck, "but Daniel Jackson told me. He wants me to go there and find this terraforming technology."

"Why you'd tell her that?" Rodney groaned. "Now she's going to think you're--"

"I believe you," Carter interrupted, grabbing John's hand. Her eyes were bright.

"You do?" John asked, as Rodney said, "Really?"

She nodded. "I know Daniel would do anything he could to save Earth. It'd be nice if he visited me though," she said loudly, looking around the room with a glare.

"I think he's pissed none of you guys mentioned him to me," John said.

"Good to know he's still a freak even when dead," Rodney muttered, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling.

"John, we need to get to Atlantis," Carter declared. She had a brave, earnest look on her face, and John was almost sorry to remind her Landry had already shot him down.

"Landry refused to send a team, remember?" Rodney said darkly, before John had to.

Carter frowned. "Maybe if I tell Colonel O'Neill, he'll ask the General if we can go in your place. He might--"

"No way," John said abruptly. Both Carter and McKay stopped their bickering to gape at him. "Look, Major, I'm doing this, with or without Landry's permission. No offence, but Daniel Jackson came to me, not SG-1." He purposely omitted the part where Jackson had said John was the best choice because he could die. Neither she nor Rodney needed to know that.

Carter stared. Even Rodney was strangely quiet. "You'll be AWOL," Carter said slowly, like it appalled her to even think it.

"Yeah, you're probably right," he said, but he didn't care.

He hadn't been sure before now, but he was going to go through with Jackson's plan. It was about more than finding this Ancient technology; it was about saving his people, protecting those he cared about, with everything he had. John hadn't asked for this responsibility, but he fully intended to carry it out. Maybe that was why Holland had died, maybe that was why he'd visited John, to show John he had to do the right thing, even if it meant breaking the rules. John had spent his whole life rebelling in little ways -- pissing off his dad, messing around with guys, playing video games instead of paying attention to his COs, hanging out with aliens -- so maybe it was time he stood up for something important.

Rodney's mouth dropped. "What? You're not going!"

"Yes, I am," John said firmly.

"Then-- then I'm going with you."

He looked shocked after he said it. John was shocked too; he thought Rodney was so sure this was all a trap.

"I don't think so," John said. He couldn't put Rodney -- or anyone else -- in danger like that.

Rodney set his jaw stubbornly and crossed his arms over his chest. "Face it, Major, you need me. What if you have to manually dial a gate, or the, what was it, Ancient outpost isn't functional? You'll never be able to figure those out on your own. It takes a genius like me--" Carter cleared her throat. "--or Major Carter. Besides, you said it yourself, I'm already involved in this. And furthermore--"

"Rodney--"

"I don't want you to get hurt," Rodney said in a rush. "I care about you, okay? Which, trust me, is a new and exciting emotion for me to be experiencing. It's because of you I went through the stupid stargate in the first place and got to do all these things; it's because of you I met Mitchell and Ford, however annoying and immature they may be, and-- and if this turns out to be a Goa'uld trick and you die, I don't know what I'd do. I might, I don't know, go crazy and blow up the Earth."

"You'd blow up the Earth for me?" John asked. That was the most romantic thing anyone had ever said to him.

McKay turned pink. "Maybe. If I was insane with grief. I spent a year working on naquada generators, you know. It wouldn't be that difficult for me to do some real damage."

John stepped closer. "Rodney," he said in a low voice, unable to keep the grin off his face.

Carter cleared her throat again, and John jumped; he had forgotten she was there. She was blushing, but she was also smirking triumphantly, like none of this was a surprise to her. "Do you two want me to leave?"

"No, it's alright," Rodney said. "I'm going, okay?" he added fiercely to John. "We're in this together. If this was the other way around, wouldn't you want to be there?"

John bit his lip. "Okay," he agreed. To Carter, he said, "We need hamzat suits, and a ship. I don't think we're going to be able to catch a flight to Taonas, and I'd really like to avoid stealing one from the Air Force."

Carter pursed her lips. "I may know someone who can help."

*

John and Rodney followed Carter to level twenty-two, which, if John remembered right, was one of the floors with rooms for foreign and/or alien delegates. It was much quieter than any of the other floors with personnel quarters; the officers' floors always had people exercising or listening to loud music or, once, a Dance Dance Revolution tournament. They passed a nice-sized kitchen on their way.

"Hey, we don't get that," John said, pointing. If they'd had a kitchen he could make falafel. He really missed falafel.

"Really?" Rodney asked. "My floor does."

Carter knocked on one of the doors, and a bald man in a braided tunic and leggings answered. John wondered just how many aliens the SGC was hiding on Earth. "Dad," Carter greeted, and John traded a surprised glance with Rodney. He'd been pretty sure Major Carter had been born on Earth. Was everyone on SG-1 an alien? It would explain why O'Neill was so terrifying.

"Sam," her father said warmly. But all trace of friendliness wiped off his face when he looked at John and Rodney. "And who is this?"

"That's sort of why I'm here," she said sheepishly.

Her father gave a put-upon sigh and moved to let them enter his quarters. "I should've known. Come in."

His room had the same decorations as John's, but it looked more lived-in than his. There was a cheap Russian soap opera muted on the screen, and a handful of baubles and framed photos resting on the top of the dresser. The bed, sporting the same floral pattern as John's, was very precisely made.

"John, McKay," Carter said, gesturing, "this is my father, Jacob Carter. Dad, this is Major Sheppard and Dr McKay."

"I don't understand why we're here," Rodney said rudely. John winced and flashed Jacob a polite smile.

"Dad's a Tok'ra."

John had no idea what that meant, but Rodney blinked rapidly. "He is?"

"What does that mean?" John asked.

"He has a symbiote him, but blah, blah, alien resistance, thousands of years of history, blah," Rodney explained flippantly, staring at Jacob like he was the best science fair project McKay had ever seen. "Basically, he's on our side."

"Yes, that's the gist of it," said Jacob, glaring at Rodney. "My symbiote and I work together," he said to John in a calmer tone. "It's a very different relationship than what the Goa'uld have with their hosts."

"So you have one of those snakes in you?" John asked. He couldn't imagine anyone doing that to themselves willingly.

Jacob's eyes narrowed dangerously, and Carter, looking vexed, jumped in with, "Dad also has a ship."

"Why do you need a ship?" Jacob asked. He didn't sound particularly happy; John supposed he wouldn't either if his daughter showed up with two strangers wanting to borrow his ride. By now, it must've been obvious this visit wasn't sanctioned by General Landry.

In tandem, John and Carter told him about needing to get to Taonas in order to gate to Atlantis and retrieve the terraforming technology. John left out the part about Daniel Jackson, and he was relieved Carter did too; Jacob would probably be less inclined to help them if he thought John was as crazy as a coconut. Instead, Carter worded it like it had been something they'd discovered on a mission, leaving it vague enough so she wasn't technically lying. John got the impression she was in these kinds of situations a lot. It made him feel bad for hating on her because of Rodney, especially considering her obvious disinterest. He'd make it up to her when he got back.

When they were done, Jacob looked skeptical. Unexpectedly, he turned to Carter first, with a stern expression. "You could get in a lot of trouble for going behind General Landry's back," he warned her.

Carter nodded. "I know. But if this saves Earth, then it's worth it."

"And what if they die trying?"

A panicked expression flitted across Rodney's face. "No one said anything about dying!"

"We're not going to die," John said determinedly.

"There, you've just jinxed us," said Rodney, throwing up his hands.

"You really want to take him with you?" Jacob asked John.

John shrugged. "He has his uses."

It was easy to come up with a plan when the four of them put their heads together. Three days later, John arrived at the Embarkation Room a little earlier than usual. His team had a mission to P3B-010, which was uninhabited, according to the team who had been there before his; it looked like now that Landry knew Atlantis wasn't what he'd thought it was, John's team was reduced to scouting for naquada. As thrilling as that was, John had other plans: while he had been getting ready for the mission, Carter had been plotting a course to Taonas using the gate coordinates Jackson had given John. He spotted her in the control room now, arguing with Jonas and gesturing to one of the computers. Landry wasn't anywhere in sight.

"Good morning," Mitchell said cheerfully when he entered, as if earlier in the week he hadn't stabbed John in the back.

McKay came in next, nervously clutching the straps of the backpack he was wearing, and then Ford, glancing at Rodney in confusion.

"Everyone set?" John asked. He tried to be loud enough so Carter would take notice, which she did, breaking away from Jonas in what looked like mid-sentence.

"Wait a minute, Major Sheppard," she said over the mic. "I still have your Swiss Army knife you loaned me."

When she came down to the Embarkation Room, she passed him the knife, along with something else. He felt a folded piece of paper pressed against her palm. He took both, hastily sliding them into a pocket on his tac vest before anyone noticed.

"Good luck," Carter whispered, her lips barely moving.

"Now you're friends with Sam too?" Mitchell asked bitterly as the gate activated. "Oh, SG-1 just loves you, don't they."

John was still too pissed at Mitchell to make a joke about that. He smiled thinly instead.

Now that he had the flight coordinates for Taonas, all he needed was a distraction so he and Rodney could sneak away. He had been waiting for days to feel sick or panicked about abandoning half his team and his mission to go to another galaxy, but he hadn't yet; his gut told him this was the right thing to do, consequences be damned. Yeah, he was worried, but he was more worried about what would happen if he didn't go. Jackson had been trying to get him there for a reason. Rodney, as if inspired by John's determination, hadn't tried talking him out of it. Instead, he'd worked hard to fill in the blanks from John's visions. This meant spending long hours in the lab staring at the zero point module like it was the Holy Grail, and not in John's bedroom, which, frankly, sucked for John.

John saw his opportunity to get away when Mitchell and Ford got into an argument over who was hotter, Jessica Alba or Jennifer Garner. (John thought Garner, but hey, who was he to judge.) The stargate on P3B-010 had dropped them off on a forest-covered mountain. According to SG-2, the nearest population was several miles away, and didn't care if anyone took what was, to them, useless rocks.

"No way, Jennifer Garner looks like a man," said Ford as the team walked along the trail that led down from the mountain.

Mitchell looked offended. "She does not! You ever seen Alias? Her body is tight."

"What do you think--? Hey, what's going on?"

Ford had turned to ask them their opinion at exactly the moment John was pushing Rodney into the woods. The four of them stared at one another for a long, tense pause.

"Are you two leaving to have sex?" Mitchell asked knowingly. Ford boggled for an instant, then, apparently deciding he was okay with it, smirked.

John glanced at Rodney hurriedly. All he could hope was that Rodney would follow his lead. He nudged Rodney with the elbow of one arm and flipped the safety off his gun with his free, and hopefully hidden, hand. "Looks like they've figured us out."

To his surprise, Rodney threw an arm across his shoulders. "What can I say, I'd have to be an idiot to pass up this hot ass," he boasted. He pulled John against him so quickly John stumbled over his own feet.

It was too much. Ford's smirk started to fade, and he asked suspiciously, "Where are you really going?"

Mitchell startled. "What's going on?"

John brought up his P-90. "Look," he said regretfully, "I don't want to do this. But McKay and I really need to do this thing. It's kinda complicated."

Mitchell and Ford had twin looks of betrayal on their faces. But John knew they'd never let Rodney and him go; as it was, Mitchell was probably planning in his head exactly what he was going to tell Landry when he stepped through the gate minus two teammates: "I tried to stop him, sir, but he pulled a gun on me..." It wasn't Ford he was worried about -- if he ordered Ford to go with them, he probably would, but Mitchell was another story. He'd already ratted on John once.

"Sir!" Ford cried.

"You can't be serious," said Mitchell, raising his hands in surrender.

Rodney looked like he was going to be sick, but he'd pulled out his Beretta. "It's very important we do this," he said, voice trembling a little. John noticed he aimed at Mitchell and not Ford; it looked like McKay hadn't forgiven Mitchell either.

"You're going to have to trust me," John told them. "I'm going to save the world."

A look of disbelief crossed Mitchell's face. "Sheppard was completely nuts!" he was probably adding to the report in his head.

"Sir..." Ford began.

John shook his head. "Sorry, but you're not talking me out of it."

"I'm sure whatever you're doing, you could use our help," Mitchell said.

"Your help?" John said peevishly. "Why don't you just be honest and say you want to come so your report to Landry will be more complete? First you're spying on me--"

"He ordered me to tell," Mitchell snapped. He started to put his hands down, but John waved the barrel of his gun pointedly. He knew he wasn't going to shoot them, but they didn't. "There are cameras in the halls, dumbass, so when he saw you and McKay go into one of those briefing rooms he got suspicious, I guess. He made me tell him what I'd heard you arguing about. I'm not the kind of guy to go running to the boss every time one of you does something stupid. I thought you knew that. I thought we were pals."

"What about your reports?" Rodney asked.

Mitchell faltered. "Oh, yeah, those. I was kind of hoping you wouldn't remember... I didn't have a choice. What was I supposed to do, say no to an order?"

"I didn't make any reports, sir," Ford said to John, eyes darting to Mitchell.

John hesitated. He wanted to believe Mitchell, he really did. "You're staying here while McKay and I go through the gate," he found himself saying. Ford's eyes rounded, and Mitchell's face hardened. "If I so much as hear you following us, I'll shoot to kill. Got it?"

"Yes, sir," Ford said. Mitchell nodded tersely.

When they were hurrying to the gate, Rodney hissed, "You left them with their guns!"

"I know," John said, grabbing Rodney under the armpit so he'd move faster. "Make a run for it before they notice."

*

The stargate on the world which Jacob Carter had instructed them to meet him on was in the middle of a lush, thick forest. Its massive trees reminded John a lot of California Redwoods, each one easily as wide around as a small house, with long, gnarled roots; in his sprint from the gate after popping out the wormhole, John stumbled over a root and threw his arms out for balance. Rodney scowled and said, "Watch where you're going, Major Clumsypants!"

The first thing John noticed, other than the trees and those tricky roots, was the complete absence of any animal sounds. No birds, no gross alien crickets, not even a fuzzy animal. The only real noise was dried leaves crunching loudly as Rodney trampled over them, looking around for the clearing in which Jacob had told them he'd be waiting. John had been to enough woodland planets in the past few months to know something was wrong.

"This is all very Lord of the Rings," Rodney muttered, narrowing his eyes like he expected a Nazgul to pop out from behind a tree at any minute.

"Jacob said he'd be east of the gate, so come on," John said, heading in that direction.

They walked for a good five minutes without seeing anything suspicious. But the further they walked, the stronger that feeling something was going only got worse. Finally, when the hair on the back of his neck started standing up, John signalled for Rodney to stop moving.

"Something's not right," he said warningly.

He was going for his gun when an armour-clad Jaffa stepped out from behind a tree. His staff weapon was already pointed at John's face; John was close enough to catch a whiff of smoky, singed metal coming from the tip, which was aimed somewhere near his left eye.

"Crap," John said.

"Kree!" shouted the Jaffa.

Another came out of the woods behind them, staff weapon already drawn and aimed at their chests. John totally should've seen this coming.

"That bird-brained Tok'ra didn't mention this planet was run by Goa'uld," Rodney moaned as both he and John raised their hands.

Just as John thought they were fucked, a series of shots came from the trees and hit the first Jaffa in the chest plate. He went down hard; without even thinking, John grabbed Rodney and threw them both to the ground. The other Jaffa spun around, bringing up his staff, but he was too late; a few more shots were fired, and then he joined his buddy on the ground, dead.

A second later, Ford and Mitchell walked out of the woods.

"What are you doing here?" John demanded. He pushed himself to his feet, and Rodney, who'd had his hands protectively covering his head, gaped openly.

Ford grinned. "You really think you're saving the world without us, sir?"

"Hell no you're not," added Mitchell. "This is totally something SG-1 would do. What, did you think as soon as you left we'd go running to General Landry?"

Actually, yeah, John thought sheepishly. "How'd you know where we were?" he asked instead. "I made sure no one was following us."

"I'm a Marine," Ford said simply. "Our boot camp's more involved than yours. No offence, sirs."

"None taken," Mitchell said good-naturedly. He reached over to Ford and teasingly pulling the cap down over his eyes. "Those were some mad stealth moves, Lieutenant."

"If we're all done playing last action hero," Rodney cut in. He was brushing the dirt off his tac vest and glowering.

"Grateful as always, McKay," Mitchell said, rolling his eyes. He turned to John, who was busy feeling like a dick, and asked, "So?"

Rubbing the back of his neck, John said awkwardly, "Sorry for what I said about you spying on me." He hated saying that almost as much as he'd hated telling Rodney about Holland, but the fact Mitchell was there and not at the SGC told John he'd been wrong -- it was obvious Mitchell hadn't been lying about where his loyalties lay. Ford and Rodney seemed to think so too; both of them watched John expectantly.

Thankfully, Mitchell wasn't interested in making John talk about his feelings. "Aw, shucks, Sheppard," he replied, laughing, "you're making me blush. Don't worry about it. I probably would've thought the same thing."

John nodded, relieved. "Right. Okay, we've still got to meet Jacob Carter. You guys coming with?"

"We sure are, sir," Ford quipped.

"I've never been introduced to Sam's dad," Mitchell said darkly.

They moved along the same path Rodney and John had found before the ambush until they came across a spacious, empty clearing about a mile from the gate. John was pretty certain this was where they were supposed to meet Jacob, but there was definitely no ship there. His stomach dropped.

"I thought he said he'd be here," Rodney said, and then walked straight into an invisible wall. "Ow!"

The air shimmered, and a Tel'tak cargo vessel emerged. He'd heard about them once or twice at the SGC (mostly from Mitchell, who had read every SG-1 report backwards and forwards, even the ones that were blacked out because he didn't have full clearance), but this was the first time John had seen one up close; she was a lot smaller than he'd expected, and the paneling was burnt and misshapen in a couple of spots. There were several areas where the grey paint was a slightly different shade from the paneling around it. John inconspicuously checked to make sure he wasn't drooling all over himself.

"Cloaking device," Rodney muttered, voice muffled by the hand over his nose.

A door opened on the side, and John braced himself. Ford and Mitchell trotted in at once. Rodney started to follow, but when he noticed John was standing still he paused at the entrance. "Sheppard, aren't you coming?"

"I'm going inside a spaceship for the first time," John said. "I need a moment."

Rodney walked inside muttering something under his breath that sounded like, "Crazy pilots." After taking a few deep breaths, John joined him. The interior was as banged up as the outside -- flickering lights, dents in the walls, scuffed flooring -- but it was still the best thing John had ever seen in his entire life. This thing flew through space. It was way cooler than any stargate. He couldn't believe he'd gone through thirty-four years of his life without having ever flown one. He was going to have to do something about that ASAP.

"What took you so long?" Jacob asked from what was probably the pilot's seat. He had his hands on some kind of large, rolling ball, jutting out of a computer panel. John had such an inappropriate boner.

"Couple of Jaffa tried to stop us," John replied breezily, sliding into the co-pilot's chair. He touched the edge of the control panel reverently.

"Is there a bathroom on this?" John heard Ford asking, and Jacob, face stony, asked, "Who are these people?"

John glanced over his shoulder. Ford was peeking around corners, Rodney was gently touching the tip of his own nose, and Mitchell was gazing around at everything with an awed expression, the same one that had probably been on John's face a second ago.

"Hey, Carter, how many times has SG-1 been on here?" Mitchell asked.

"They're my team," John said fondly. He crossed his arms behind his head and settled back for the ride.

Sadly, the ride turned out to be a hell of a lot longer than John had expected. Worse, there wasn't much to look at or do once they entered hyperspace, which was pretty much as soon as they got off the planet. Jacob had switched the cloaking device back on when they'd taken off, so they managed to avoid the numerous Goa'uld Ha'tak, Al'kesh, and Deathgliders orbiting the world.

"I've done some recon on this fleet, so I knew the best passage to and from the planet," Jacob said when he noticed John's annoyed glare focused on him. He made a face. "Alright, so I probably should've warned you about the Jaffa."

"Nah, nothing my team couldn't handle," John replied, mollified. It was hard for him to be mad at a guy with a spaceship.

They hit hyperspace twenty minutes after sailing clear of the Goa'uld. From there, it was a twelve hour ride to ride to Taonas's solar system. That was better than if they had left from Earth; Carter's estimation had been two days. Unfortunately for them, hyperspace wasn't the fun and games it had looked like in movies. It was twelve hours of nothing but sitting and waiting and thinking how there was still the tiniest chance he was leading them into some kind of trap. That tiny sliver of doubt only got worse as the hours dragged on. Earlier he'd been so sure it was real. Now he struggled to maintain that same level of fierce confidence. He had to believe in what they were doing; he'd risked his life and his friends' lives for Daniel Jackson's undead shenanigans.

After four hours, John started fidgeting -- the novelty of being on a spaceship was really starting to wear off -- and he could tell Ford and Mitchell were getting antsy around five. Jacob and McKay were the only ones who seemed content; Rodney had hidden his laptop away in his oversized backpack, which he'd somehow plugged in the Tel'tak's wall.

At the sixth hour, John couldn't take it anymore. "Can I fly?" he asked.

"No," Jacob said shortly.

"I'm not interested in your daughter," John pointed out.

"I'll give you fifteen minutes," Jacob said.

He grabbed John's right hand and put it on the globe, which was surprisingly warm under John's palm. He beckoned, and John handed over his other hand; Jacob placed that on a gear on the control panel. "It should fly on its own," he said, "but sometimes the autopilot's finicky. The ship could really use a tune-up, but it's hard to find a Goa'uld repair service willing to work on a stolen ship."

"You don't have any Tok'ra mechanics?" John asked. He was trying so hard to hold in his excitement his voice cracked on the last word.

"We do, but sometimes the host and the symbiote argue so much nothing gets done," Jacob said casually. A shiver went down John's spine as he tried to imagine that. "Once I took it to a remote Goa'uld outpost and pretended to be one of the senile locals who thought it was ten years ago and called everyone 'Jim.' They overcharged me, but at least it got fixed."

His fifteen minutes flew by, and then Jacob was taking back the wheel and saying it was another six hours before they could even think about dropping out of hyperspace. Disappointed, John let go of the globe.

"I think somebody took the sleeping bags out of the closet a few hours ago," Jacob said, entering something into the computer. "Why don't you try to get some sleep?"

"Yeah, I guess I will," John said sullenly.

Mitchell was playing Solitaire on Rodney's computer in the front of the ship when John went looking for the sleeping bags, but he didn't see Ford or Rodney anywhere. After checking the bathroom (and he was really glad they weren't in there together; he might've been older and wiser, but there was no way he could kick Ford's ass), he heard voices coming from the storage unit in the back of the Tel'tak.

"--waiting for you to ask him out," Ford was saying.

McKay snorted. "Oh, of course. And what a lovely date we would have in our underground military facility."

"You could have dinner together, alone," Ford said pointedly. "You could go to Alzamay for the weekend. You could go skiing. You could--"

"Okay, I get it."

"Hey, you asked for my advice, and that's what it is: just do it. You said he seems interested."

"Seems. What if I'm wrong? If he was interested, wouldn't he have said something?"

"The Major's kinda, um, private. And, well, one of the lunch ladies has been throwing herself at him for months, and I don't think he's noticed."

They were talking about him, John realized with a jolt. His ears burned. And really, was that what Corporal Reines had been doing all this time? He'd just thought she was being nice.

"It's just-- you see-- I'm so bad with people," Rodney said, faltering.

"Wow, I had no idea," Ford said sarcastically.

Deciding to spare Rodney the mortification of saying anything further, John cleared his throat. Rodney jumped, a horrified look coming over him. "Sheppard!" he said. "We were just--"

"Just about done here, sir," Ford said casually, throwing Rodney a look that said 'shut your face.'

He and Rodney were laying out four military-issue sleeping bags and pillows, all in a row. Rodney had taken off his boots and left them beside the tac vest he'd thrown against the wall, and now he was on his knees smoothing out one of the bags, not meeting John's eyes. John grinned and sat on the bag directly beside Rodney's, pulling off his own shoes.

Not long after, when the four of them were curled up in their respective sleeping bags ("Just like a sleepover," Mitchell had said cheerfully, then he'd rolled over and started snoring loudly) and John knew Ford and Mitchell were dead to the world, John flopped over on his back and whispered, "Rodney. Rodney. McKay!"

Rodney snuffled loudly and mumbled, "Huh? What? Huh?"

"Thanks, buddy, for being here," he said, trying his best to let Rodney know he felt the same way Rodney did. He had thought Rodney had known he was a sure thing after the whole 'I would blow up the Earth for you' conversation, but it looked like Rodney didn't have any idea how much John wanted to be with him -- how much John had been wanting to be with him. It was kind of a shock to John, too, to realize this; maybe his ex-wife had been right when she'd said he was about as self-aware as one of his model planes.

Rodney yawned. "Of course I'm here," he said sleepily. "Where else would I be? You'd be dead in an instant if I wasn't there to save your scrawny ass."

"My ass isn't scrawny," John said, but Rodney was already asleep. John scooted closer and put his head on the pillow next to Rodney's and let himself drift.

*

"That's Taonas," Jacob said.

John's knees felt weak with relief as they exited hyperspace and came into orbit around a large, red planet. An instant later, he understood why Jackson had said to bring hazmat suits: there was no way anything was alive on that planet. It looked like it was one massive continent of molten lava, which would have been really cool if John hadn't needed to go down there in person.

"You're sure this is where we're supposed to be?" Jacob asked.

John licked his lips. "Yeah, this is it." He looked over his shoulder at his team, who had lined up to gaze out the cockpit window too. "We're at Taonas."

None of them looked enthused. "Yay," Rodney said flatly.

"Is that lava?" Mitchell asked.

As they flew over the surface, another screen superimposed itself over the window. It looked like a readout of the planet. "There's some kind of dome over there," Jacob said, gesturing to the right. "Hold on, I'm getting closer."

John was confident this was exactly what they were looking for. He gave his team the order to suit up, and everyone except Jacob climbed into their stuffy, uncomfortable hazmat suit. After moving some of his gear from his tac vest to the hazmat suit pockets, John said, "We're ready."

"The crust's thin enough for the rings to penetrate," Jacob called, scanning the readout, as the team stood over the ring device. "Stand by to beam down."

There was a flash, and they were an underground cavern. The light around them was red; squinting through the mask, John drew out his flashlight and aimed it at the tunnel ahead. Even through the hazmat suit he felt sticky heat rising from the planet's surface, causing him to break out into a sweat.

"There's a lot of radiation being emitted," Rodney said loudly, sounding agitated. "If any of us ever plan on having kids, we shouldn't stay long."

A bead of sweat dripped down the side of John's nose. Deeper into the cavern, the thick, tall stalagmites became carved stone monuments. The tunnel divided into another passageway on the left, and on the right rounded off into some kind of room; the rest of his team pointed their flashlights at the room's silver walls, but John's eye was drawn to a chair sitting on an inactive platform.

Rodney beamed his light down the side tunnel. "The stargate's down here."

John tentatively took a seat in the chair. He had no idea if this was going to do anything -- it looked like no one had used it in a long, long time -- but he'd done this in his dream. And just like his dream, the chair came to life and tilted back. "What are you doing?" Mitchell yelped, shining his flashlight in John's face.

John thought, I'm really hot in this suit, and something moved over his head. And just like when Jacob's Tel'tak had lowered its cloak, the air began to shimmer, forming a hard shell. Instinctively, John knew this was a forcefield was closing in over them. Several lights on the walls began to brighten as well, and by the time he'd pulled off his hood the air was crisp and cool.

"It's okay, it's breathable," he said to his team's horrified faces.

"How did you know that would work?" Rodney demanded, after he'd removed his own hood. He was flushed and sweaty.

John shrugged. "I did it in my dream."

Rodney narrowed his eyes at the chair. "Can that thing turn on the stargate?"

"I think so." He rested his head back and thought about the gate address Jackson had drawn in the sand. A second later, he heard the gate whoosh as it was dialled and activated. "You three go through," he instructed. "I'm going to disconnect the ZPM. I'll be right behind you.

"But-- if you disconnect the ZPM, the force field will collapse."

"Yeah, and probably the rest of the outpost too," John said gravely.

"Couldn't we just use the module-thingy, whatever it's called, that McKay's carrying?" Mitchell asked, tucking his mask under his arm.

John shook his head. "That's for Antarctica."

"We need something to get off Atlantis, genius," said Rodney.

"Uh, can you explain what Atlantis is again?" Ford asked, sounding nervous. He looked unsettled at the idea of leaving his team leader behind.

Rodney heaved a put-upon sigh. "I explained all of this to you on the ship. We have to use the stargate here to dial Atlantis, because, as I brilliantly put together from Sheppard's visions, this outpost is powered by a zero point module, which will allow us to dial into another galaxy. Atlantis is where the terraforming technology is. Once we have that we can take it to Antarctica and use it in conjunction with the ZPM we already have."

Mitchell turned to John, mouth set in a determined line. "Alright, let's do this thing."

John walked his team to the gate. Mitchell and Ford went through first, but when it was Rodney's turn, he just stood there, wringing his hands. "What are you doing?" John asked.

"What if you disconnect the ZPM wrong?" Rodney asked anxiously. "I should be here to supervise."

John sighed. "Go through the gate, Rodney."

"We should really do this together."

Gritting his teeth, John said, "As your team leader, I'm ordering you to go through the gate."

Rodney clenched his jaw. "Fine! But I'm not happy about this."

"I don't care," John shot back.

"Just so you know," Rodney began, sounding a little choked up, "if this is a trap and we don't make it, I-- I--"

"It's not a trap," John insisted loudly. He couldn't have gone this far and have it be a trap. There was no way he believed that. "Whatever you're going to say to me now, save it for when we get through this," he added more gently. He was going to hold Rodney to that, too; after all this saving the world crap, he wasn't going to let either of them walk away from this.

Rodney nodded. "The stargate's naquada will have absorbed some of the ZPM's energy," he explained in a professional tone, checking his watch, "so once you disconnect the ZPM you'll have roughly two minutes to get through the gate before it shuts down."

John gulped. "Right."

With a mournful look, Rodney stepped through the gate and disappeared.

John headed back to the chair room and reattached his hood, sucking in a breath of stale, recycled oxygen. He counted to three, and then kneeled down and disconnected the ZPM.

Instantly, the lights dimmed and the forcefield dropped. As soon as the ZPM in his hands darkened, the floor began to tremble, almost knocking him over. A rock fell from the ceiling and slammed into the chair, breaking off one of its arms, and John realized he had to haul ass if he was going to make it out of there alive.

Clutching the ZPM to his chest, he staggered towards the gate. The ground was shaking more now, and moving was harder than he'd expected. The giant stalagmite nearest him cracked and shattered, huge chunks of rock narrowly missing his feet as he stumbled into the tunnel wall elbow-first. Pain shot up his arm, but he had to keep going. The gate was getting nearer and nearer; the tunnel was blue now instead of red, and he could see it now--

He heard a great cracking noise, and without even thinking about it, he took a running leap for the gate--

The world twisted and turned, and then he was slamming down onto a hard, cold surface. A hand touched his back, and there was Rodney's voice: "Jesus Christ, Sheppard -- one minute and fifty-eight seconds. Did you enjoy giving me a heart attack? I swear that took at least ten years off my life."

John blinked; they were in some kind of large room. There were stairs about twenty yards in front of where his team stood. The only light in the room came from the activated, bright blue wormhole, which John knew was going to disconnect at any second.

"Is this it?" he asked, climbing to his feet. "Is this Atlantis?"

The wormhole deactivated, plunging them into darkness.

"This isn't good," said Mitchell, somewhere to his right.

John had no idea how they were supposed to reach the terraforming technology when it looked like everything was powered down. He pressed the ZPM into Rodney's hands and, heart pounding, he took a blind step forward into the darkness.

Dim lights clicked on the second his foot touched the floor. Sets of lights were going both horizontally and vertically along pale, blue-grey walls, giving off barely enough light to see.

John paused mid-step. When nothing else happened, Rodney hissed, "Keep walking!" With every step John took more and more lights brightened or clicked on, on stairs, on walls, on hulking computer consoles, until it became evident what they were in was some kind of enormous Embarkation Room. It was as beautiful and as alien as a stargate, and that was how John knew they were in exactly the right place.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we're in Atlantis," he said shakily, beaming.

"About time you got here, John," said a familiar voice.

John looked up. Daniel Jackson was waiting for them at the top of the staircase. He was wearing a white sweater, and he looked as real and alive as any member of John's team. Mitchell gasped; Rodney, face pale, took a step back and bumped into a wide-eyed Ford.

"You know me, always like to make an entrance," John said, climbing the stairs to meet him. With every drop of his foot the room became brighter and brighter. The room on top of the stairs was filled with glass partitions, computer consoles, and crystal screens, which flickered to life as soon as John came near. He felt a kind of tingling in his fingers and toes. Behind him, he heard his team, still silent, scurrying to follow. "How long have you been waiting?"

"Time doesn't really have the same meaning when you're Ascended," Jackson said, smiling crookedly.

"What's it like, being Ascended?" asked Mitchell, evidentially over his shock.

Jackson seemed to think about it. "Oh, you know... A lot like being alive, only omnipotent."

Mitchell looked impressed. "Cool," said Ford.

Rodney was studying Jackson's face. "So do they let you choose how you want to look when you're dead? Because last I heard you were very... melty."

"Thank you for reminding me of my excruciatingly painful death," Jackson said flatly.

"Where's the terraforming stuff?" John asked, looking around the spacious control room. He didn't really want to think about what Rodney had meant by "melty."

Jackson winced. "Ah, before I take you there, first you'll have to plug in the ZPM, unless you want to drown. Sorry, I should have mentioned that."

Rodney looked stricken. "Drowning is my third least favourite way to die, right after anaphylactic shock and being burned alive."

That wasn't how John really wanted to go either. "ZPM it is," he said.

To get to the ZPM room, they followed Jackson down a long, dark corridor and across an open sky bridge. John had been to a lot of places, both on Earth and offworld, but he'd never seen anything more beautiful than this. Atlantis was all high, arched ceilings and stained glass and blue stone, as clean and polished as if the Ancients had just left yesterday. When they stepped onto the sky bridge, though, was when John got a sense of the city Atlantis really was. Seeing the towers from the huge corridor windows was one thing, but walking between them and realizing they were so high up he couldn't see the ground was completely different. More surprisingly, the city was under water, protected by the same kind of forcefield as the outpost on Taonas. Jackson's warning felt a lot more dire then.

"Oh my God, this is fucking amazing," Rodney said breathlessly when they got to the ZPM room. He handed the ZPM off to Ford and immediately started keying something on the computer. "This is the most incredible thing I've ever seen."

"I thought you would've said that when we saw the cityscape," John said, raising an eyebrow.

Rodney waved a hand. "Yes, yes, that was impressive as well. But this... are you seeing this? The level of technology here is beyond anything I've ever seen."

The ZPM room was essentially one large, raised, coral-coloured platform in the shape of a star, with computer consoles attached to every side. There was more than one ZPM slot in the centre. It looked like three were already plugged in. Rodney hooked up his laptop to the side of one of the computer consoles and rested it beside a crystal, alien keyboard.

"Jackson's right," Rodney said, reading the screen, "power levels are dropping like a stone. There are currently three ZPMs plugged in, but two are entirely depleted and the third is reaching maximum entropy. We need to plug the ZPM in now or else risk a gruesome, watery death."

Ford started moving towards the platform, but Rodney snapped, "What are you doing? Hand it over."

"I was going to put it in," Ford explained.

"No one's touching anything here but me, got it?" Rodney asked, throwing a glare around the room.

"Not that you're possessive or anything," John said dryly.

Mitchell snorted. "Yeah, what do you think we're gonna do, push the wrong button and blow up the city?"

"Yes, that's exactly something one of you would do," Rodney said. He pointed at Jackson. "Especially you!" He snatched the ZPM out of Ford's arms, climbed up on the platform, and, with an elated expression, pushed it into an empty slot.

Nothing happened. Rodney jumped back down to the floor and hurried over to his laptop. "Energy levels are stabilizing," he said confidently.

"Good, because if you drowned the Earth would never get saved," said Jackson, sounding relieved.

John puffed out his chest. "You think so, huh?"

"Yeah, considering how long it took me to get you guys out here."

"Maybe you could try being a little less subtle next time," John shot back.

Jackson sent him a squinty glower. "Remember this conversation when I get punished by the Others." His expression softened. "Come on, the terraforming device is this way."

The technology was in a laboratory that almost brought Rodney to tears, sitting next to a pile of what looked like junk.

"Look at-- and--" Rodney was saying, overwhelmed. He touched the edge of a two-sided viewscreen hanging from the ceiling that would've made a killer television. "I was born on the wrong planet."

John stuffed the device, a shiny box with a long silver tube coming out the side, into Rodney's backpack next to the ZPM he'd stolen from the SGC. "You can have a species-related identity crisis later, right now we've got to get to Earth. You remember Earth, don't you?"

"Of course," Rodney sniffed, but out of the corner of his eye John caught him gazing longingly at an Ancient computer.

Jackson glanced to the side. He looked like he was concentrating on something. "I've dialled the gate for you," he said a moment later, eyes coming back into focus.

"I don't know if anyone's thought of this, but how are we going to get to Antarctica if the outpost on Taonas was destroyed?" asked Mitchell, leaning an arm on the computer console.

Jackson made a face. "I've taken care of it. Perks of being an all-powerful being. I'm already in trouble for bringing you here, I may as well go all the way."

John glanced back at his team, confused. "Uh, thanks?" he said to Jackson.

This time when they crossed the sky bridge, John noticed more of the towers were lit up. It must've been the work of the new ZPM. He slowed his steps; he could have spent the rest of his life exploring a place like this, and if they didn't have to terraform Earth, he wasn't sure he could be convinced to leave. Don't worry, I'll be back, he thought, patting one of the corridor walls outside the control room. He thought he felt an answering vibration in his own body.

"Did you just pat the wall?" Rodney asked.

John's eyebrows shot up. "Yeah, don't you feel that?"

"Feel what, sir?" asked Ford.

"Feels like... I don't know, she has a personality." John shrugged uncomfortably, unsure of how to describe what he was feeling. "You don't feel it?"

"No," Rodney said jealously.

John looked at Ford and Mitchell in askance. "Sure don't," said Mitchell, and Ford shook his head.

Maybe that was what Jackson had meant when he'd said only John could save the world. "Cool," John said, grinning.

When they stepped through the gate, John understood what Jackson had meant when he'd said he'd taken care of them: they were on a completely different planet than Taonas. This was one of the prairie worlds, where the natives grew a kind of wheat-like product they weren't too keen on sharing. As soon as Ford, the last of them, landed, rings surrounded the entire team; there was a flash of white light, and then they were back on Jacob's Tel'tak.

Jacob was waiting for them by the ring controls. He looked unsettled. "I was waiting in orbit over Taonas, and suddenly the Tel'tak was here. I could see you on the ground from the cockpit. Does anyone want to tell me what the hell is going on?"

John winced. "Daniel Jackson--"

"Say no more," Jacob cut in, holding up a hand. "I should've known this had something to do with him."

"Not a fan?" John asked.

"Oh, no, Daniel was a good guy. Always thought Sam should've married him, but she said he wasn't her type. But if anyone's going to save the world while being dead, it's him."

"I always thought he was gay," Mitchell mused.

"You think everyone's gay," sneered Rodney.

"Everyone I've ever said was gay has been gay, thank you very much."

"Boys," Jacob said loudly. Rodney and Mitchell fell silent. "We have more important things to worry about than Daniel's ambiguous sexuality. In fact, we have a pretty big thing to worry about, like the fact Antarctica is covered in ice. How are you going to get down there?"

That hadn't even occurred to John. From the look on his face, Rodney hadn't thought of it either.

"I have an idea," Ford said hesitantly.

Mitchell and McKay gaped at him. Ford looked torn between regret and obstinance.

"Really?" John asked. "That's great!"

*

Ford's plan took them first to M74-2112, or the Crystal Planet, as Ford had named it. They shot through the stargate and into the pink, open sky, circling around the glittering mountains. It was such a rush, John was sorry when he had to remind Jacob, "We need to be by the gate."

As they flew back, closer to the ground, the natives began chasing the Tel'tak, shaking their spears in the air.

"Can't you shoot them?" Rodney asked.

Jacob looked annoyed. "The defenseless natives? No."

"Rodney," John warned, and Rodney said, "What? What if we call it self-defense?"

Jacob landed the Tel'tak in the sand between the gate and the mountains. John instructed Mitchell to fire into the air if any of the natives got too close for comfort. While the others secured a crystal to the roof of the ship, John and Ford went through the gate to P4Y-1264. Much to John's chagrin, SG-9 was there; Lorne and one of the botanists were sitting on the floor, typing onto laptops that were plugged into the alien computer consoles, and Colonel Edwards and the other botanist looked like they were trying to move one of the consoles away from the wall. The only one who looked surprised when John lied and said Dr Lee had requested the ice-melting device was Lorne, who started at John like John had asked Edwards to hand over his first born. Although that might have been because John had explained he didn't know what Lee wanted with the device because, "I don't speak geek" -- Lorne, John remembered belatedly, knew John was friends with Rodney.

"Captain, give the Major the device," Edwards said.

Lorne frowned suspiciously. "Sir?"

John didn't know what he was going to do if they didn't give it to him. Ford audibly gulped. But Lorne handed over the device, and John went back through the gate feeling like he'd just dodged a bullet.

The rest of his team was just about done attaching the crystal. But what caught John's attention was the fact Rodney, looking very satisfied with himself, was directing a team of loincloth-clad natives which way they should position the crystal on the roof of the Tel'tak's slanted cockpit. Rodney was yelling at them and waving his arms, and every so often one of the natives would yell something back and make what was probably a rude gesture, but none of them seemed to be leaving.

John and Ford goggled. Mitchell wandered over and said, "They wanted to help."

"What's holding it together?" John asked. He didn't see any ropes or anything.

"Don't ask," Mitchell said, shaking his head. "It took McKay longer to explain it than to actually do it."

"Sheppard!" Rodney shouted, heading in his direction. "Give me the ice melter."

He took it from John and climbed up on the Tel'tak next to the locals. His back was to John, so John had no idea what he was doing, but when he jumped back down the satellite dish-shaped device was stuck, face down, to the back of the crystal, so when they turned on the device the laser would be aimed diagonally towards the ground.

Rodney thanked the natives before they left. "Yes, yes, rok, tok, zoot, I know," he said dismissively, as they patted his shoulder and left, one after another.

"What the hell happened here?" John asked him.

"They came out to correct me," Rodney said glumly. "Can you believe it?"

"Now, now, I know being the smartest person in the galaxy meant a lot to you," John said, rubbing his back, and Rodney's face turned a funny shade of purple.

Getting the ship back to Earth was easy; finding the Ancient outpost was another matter. They came out of hyperspace way too close to the planet, and the ship jolted like it had slammed into a wall, shaking as they rapidly descended. "Shit," Jacob hissed, frantically hitting a button on the controls. They dropped into the atmosphere and were on a direct line towards the Antarctic mountain range, the ice getting closer and closer.

"Pull up!" John shouted, feeling his stomach leap into his throat.

"I'm trying!" Jacob retorted.

John jumped to his feet. "Trade places with me." Without a protest, Jacob let John push him over into the unoccupied chair.

"Do you even know what you're doing?" Rodney screamed over John's shoulder as he took the pilot's seat.

John didn't answer, quickly trying to catalogue which controls did what. Fifteen minutes of flying in a straight line hadn't prepared him for this. But soon enough, his instincts kicked in, and he put both hands on the globe and pushed; he could feel the pull on the ship lessen, and slowly, slowly they started to slow down. "Hold on," he called, dodging the pointed tip of a mountain, pulling the ship up to avoid careening into a cliff. He was thrown back and forth in his seat, slamming his already-busted elbow into the cockpit's wall; Rodney was gripping the back of his seat tight enough to turn his knuckles white, and Jacob swore loudly as he scrambled to keep hold of the console. A crashing noise erupted from behind John.

Finally, they were coasting over an enormous snowy plain, and John remembered to breathe. He pulled his hands off the globe, realizing he had been gripping it so hard his fingers hurt.

"Well, that wasn't too hard," he said.

"I think I'm going to be sick, sir," Ford moaned.

Smoothly, John nudged the Tel'tak over the vast, white plains. He didn't know what he was looking for, exactly, but he had a feeling he'd know it when he saw it. He doubted the Ancients had left a big sign that said, 'Secret Outpost Here.' Sure enough, within a few minutes he was bringing the ship to a halt.

"It's here," he said, pointing to what looked like a bunch of nothing. But underneath the snow was the Ancient outpost. "Hit the switch, Rodney."

Rodney looked unconvinced. "You're sure about this?"

"Hey, who's the one with Daniel Jackson in his head?"

Rodney pulled the remote out of a pocket on his tac vest. He aimed it at the snow like he was pointing at a tv, and then he pressed the button.

Within seconds, a red light shot from the direction of the Tel'tak's roof, the device's useless laser having been magnified a thousand times by the crystal. Great puffs of smoke drifted up from the melting snow, and John could see what looked like a tunnel being carved into the ice below.

"This is the best method for killing ants ever," Ford said excitedly.

"This was a great idea, Lieutenant," Jacob said.

John smirked. "The SGC's probably freaking out right about now."

He imagined Landry and Harriman watching the satellite images of the Tel'tak shooting a giant laser beam and having no idea what was going on. They had to do this fast, before the SGC figured out a way to shoot them down. Carter would probably do what she could to stall, but John didn't know how long he could count on that.

"Lee's probably wetting his pants," Rodney said, sounding gleeful.

Jacob reached over and hit a button the console. A viewscreen superimposed itself over the window. "We're picking up a set of rings down there, beneath the ice," he announced twenty minutes later.

Below the ice was some kind of outpost, like the one on Taonas; it was easier here to see the same architecture as Atlantis: high blue walls, metal lattices, and crystal designs. There was the chair -- the chair, the one John had sat on in his vision -- sitting innocently on a raised platform. John wondered if Rodney was going to ask him to imagine where they were in the solar system.

Jackson was there too, waiting patiently. He began speaking as soon as John's team stumbled into the chamber: "A long time ago, after the Ancients fled their home galaxy they set up an outpost here on Terra, or Earth. Here they also constructed a great city, Atlantis. After a plague wiped out most of--"

"Okay, enough with the history lesson," Rodney interrupted. He set his backpack on the ground and started pulling out the terraforming device and ZPM, setting them both on the ground.

"We're kind of busy here," John said, agreeing. "Maybe you could wait until after we save the Earth."

Jackson looked dismayed. "Are you sure? It's a really good--"

"Is this where we stick the ZPM thingy?" Mitchell called. He and Ford were poking the various hexagons on the platform.

"It's like a team full of Jacks," Jackson muttered to himself.

A minute later, Rodney was inserting the ZPM into its slot on the platform. Lights flickered on, and John noticed they were in a much larger facility than he'd expected. "Sheppard, sit in the chair," Rodney instructed.

John swallowed thickly and sat down. Just like on Taonas and in his dream, the chair lit up. Rodney was on his right, plugging the terraforming device into another outlet on the platform, and Jackson stood with the rest of his team on his left.

"It's in," Rodney said. Already John felt a change in the chair. Or maybe not the chair; the whole outpost.

"John, visualize Earth," said Jackson.

John did. But not the new Earth; the way Earth used to be, green and blue and full of life. He thought of the Pacific coastline, where his mother had taught him how to surf as a kid, and the Gobi desert and the Rocky Mountains, and all the places his dad had taken him to: Tokyo, Sydney, New York, Paris, Vancouver. He thought of scuba diving in the Bahamas. He thought of pictures and movies he had seen of Prague and the Amazon and Tibet and Buenos Aires and St Petersburg. He thought of flying planes over Germany, and buying postcards in Rome, and kissing Holland in Afghanistan.

"Rodney," he said without opening his eyes.

"Are you doing it?" Rodney asked in an awed whisper. "Is it working?"

John reached out and blindly grasped Rodney's hand. Rodney squeezed his tightly in return.

"I think it's working," he murmured, feeling a strange jolt of energy go through him. His fingertips were tingling, even the ones of the hand clutching Rodney's.

"It's working," Jackson agreed excitedly. Then: "Uh-oh," and Mitchell was saying, "Where'd Jackson go? What's going on?" and the ground was shaking and John could feel the device working, electricity pulsing through him, and in his mind he saw the ice melt and the ashes being sucked from the sky in a great whirlwind. Rodney's hand slipped out of his, and that was when John passed out.

*

He woke up on the floor of the Tel'tak.

"Wha--?" he managed. His mouth tasted like it had been stuffed full of cotton, and his head was pounding. He didn't know how, but that chair had kicked his ass. When he pushed himself onto his elbows, whole body aching, the throbbing in his head only intensified. Groaning, he mumbled, "Anyone catch the plates on that truck?"

A hand on his shoulder kept him from sitting up all the way. "Not so fast, sir." John squinted; when his vision stopped swimming, he saw Ford looking down at him with worried brown eyes.

"Did we do it?" John asked, relaxing back onto the floor.

"I don't know," Ford admitted. "We didn't get a chance to stay and find out."

John shot up. His head didn't like that; he reached out and grabbed Ford's knee to steady himself. "We left?"

This time Ford really did push him to the floor. "Sir, you're hurt, you should sit down! We had to go. Dr Jackson disappeared, and there was an earthquake, so Captain Mitchell ordered us to evacuate."

"We need to get back to Earth," John said grimly. He blinked at the ceiling. "And get me some Advil, my head's killing me."

Ford looked sheepish. "Um, that's our fault. We were carrying you away from the chair and we sort, of, uh, dropped you. On your head."

"You dropped me?"

"Sorry, sir, but you try carrying a one hundred seventy pound, six foot tall, grown man," retorted Ford.

"One ninety," John lied grumpily. "And there were three of you!"

He was still lying on the floor feeling crappy when Rodney came into the back storage compartment about an hour later. "How are you feeling?" Rodney asked, kneeling beside him. The worried expression on his face was nice to see, but the huge bump on the back of John's head wasn't letting him forget that not only had he been dropped, he'd been dragged off the planet he'd been trying to save.

John beckoned him to come closer. "C'mere."

Rodney leaned over him with a spark of hope in his eyes. John smacked him upside the head.

"Ow!" Rodney said, pulling away. "I'm not the one who dropped you. It was Lieutenant Butterfingers over there."

"Did not!" Ford exclaimed.

"You did too! I believe your exact words were, 'I'm sure I don't need two hands to carry him.'"

"That's great, when can we get back to Earth?" John interrupted, glaring.

Rodney glanced at his watch. "Oh, I'd say in about an hour or two," he said, and John's annoyance lessened.

An hour and a half later, Jacob dropped them off on the nearest planet with a stargate. There were no ships patrolling the system or orbiting the world, so instead of beaming them down with the ring device, they took the risk of landing the ship on the surface. According to Jacob, the only people who lived there were a group of nomadic animal herders, who, coincidentally, they flew over while heading for the gate. John was pretty sure what they were herding were fluffy llamas.

The Tel'tak landed without a glitch. As SG-13 was stepping off the ship, Jacob called to John, "By the way, Major Sheppard, if you did something to Earth and killed my only surviving child, I'll hunt you down." Then he closed the hatch and started the engines.

John looked at the startled faces of his team. "He's kidding," he said, not truly believing it himself.

Of course Earth was fine. He'd felt the device working through him, felt something changing. He was sure Jackson's sudden disappearance was completely unrelated to what was going on, not those "Others" pulling him away. And the earthquake, too -- that had just been the device doing its thing.

When the gate activated and John had sent his IDC, Mitchell stopped John from walking through with a sharp, "Wait a minute. We oughta phone in first."

John shot him a look. "Why?"

"In case something's happened and the iris isn't lowered."

John pressed a hand to his temple; his head didn't hurt as bad as it had a couple of hours ago, but there was still a dull, steady ache. "You mean, in case everyone's dead." In case they'd screwed up, neither of them said.

Mitchell didn't reply. "He's right," Rodney said. "Do you know what will happen if the iris is up? After all this, I'm not getting killed by our own gate, thank you very much."

Just to prove them wrong, John hit the button on his walky-talky and said, "SGC, this is Major Sheppard."

There was no response. Mouth suddenly dry, he repeated, "SGC, are you there?"

"Major Sheppard? Is that really you?" It was Sergeant Harriman, sounding astonished, and John let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

"See, not dead," John hissed to Mitchell.

"Um, no, sir, I'm not. But you might want to come back here ASAP. There's-- I can't really describe it."

That was all Harriman had to say. John hurried through the gate, his team on his heels. When the world righted itself again and he was in the chilly Embarkation Room, he noticed there were no Marines waiting to provide backup, and Harriman was the only person behind the glass control room window.

John froze in a panic. It had been a Goa'uld trick all along. He'd destroyed Earth!

The intercom clicked on. "Everyone else is outside, sir," said Harriman into the microphone, sounding a little bitter. "You should really go check it out. It's unbelievable."

An elevator ride later, John was pushing his way to the front of the crowd that had gathered outside the SGC's tiny exit. Some of the scientists were stretching their pale faces towards the sun, looking dazed; one of them was adjusting his glasses and swearing loudly in Czech. Harriman had been right, it was unbelievable: the snow had melted, leaving behind lush, green grass. The Torporok River was sparkling blue, instead of its usual brown ice and slush. But the most striking thing of all was the sky, which was bright and clear, not a black cloud in sight, and John just beamed: the Earth was saved (although Anubis was still out there), Jackson was real (but still Ascended -- was that dead? Undead? -- and MIA) and his team was still alive. At that very moment, his life was fucking awesome.

"We did it," John said, turning to the shocked faces of his teammates. He reached out and grabbed Rodney's arm; Rodney's face was filled with a wondrous surprise. "It worked!"

"You did this?" Landry interrupted. He'd been gazing at the sky in awe, and he blinked at John, eyes going round.

"Yes, sir," Mitchell said proudly.

"We found terraforming technology. In Atlantis," John added pointedly.

The look on Landry's face made it all worth it. "Wasn't your mission to make first contact on P3B-010, Major?"

"Well," John began, "about that..."

"General Landry! General Landry!"

Sergeant Harriman was pushing his way to the front of the crowd, face red and glasses askew. He tripped over John's and Rodney's legs and almost planted himself face-first in the newly-seeded earth.

"General Landry," he panted, " you need to get down to the Embarkation Room right away. SG-1's back -- with Dr Jackson!"

*

Alive, Jackson looked the same as when he'd been Ascended. Same short, brown hair, same squinty blue eyes, same thick, muscular arms John was trying really hard not to find hot. The only real difference was now his face had a kind of innocence John hadn't expected to see on a member of SG-1. Or anyone who worked at the SGC, for that matter. The Jackson in his visions hadn't really seemed the naive type either; despite being physically identical to the Daniel Jackson from before, it was almost like looking at a completely different person.

SG-1 was currently talking to Jackson behind partially-closed curtains while John perched on an empty bed on the other side of the infirmary, waiting for his chance. He had a feeling he'd be waiting a while; the team was on Teal'c's third hug, and Major Carter was crying a little.

"They found him naked in the sand," Rodney said, coming up to stand beside John. He studied Jackson's face. "Hmm, maybe that's why he looks so embarrassed."

When General Landry came in and pulled O'Neill, Carter, Teal'c, and Jonas aside, John made his move. What he was going to say, he didn't know; maybe, "Thanks for saving everyone," or, "Sorry we got you kicked out of Heaven, and by 'we' I mean 'I.'" He grabbed Rodney's arm and pulled him behind the curtains, trying to keep Landry from spotting him; Landry had forgotten about the whole terraforming thing when SG-1 came through the gate, but John knew it was only a matter of time before he had to make an official report. He wasn't looking forward to telling Landry the parts where he had aimed his weapon at his team, abandoned his mission, and used stolen SGC goods to gate to another galaxy. On the bright side, if he got court martialed he could go to the beach now.

Jackson looked up in surprise when John walked to his bedside. For a guy who had been dead a year, he was awfully tan, John noticed. A pair of round eye glasses sat in his lap, untouched.

"Hey," John said.

Rodney waved a hand. "Hello there."

"How're you feeling?" John asked.

"Um," Jackson said. His gaze flickered over to where SG-1 was talking with Landry.

John shoved his hands in his pockets. "Listen, about what happened... If I had known, I would've--"

He broke off when he realized Jackson was looking completely baffled. "Do we, ah," Jackson began, smiling politely. "Do we know each other?"

John stared at Jackson's open, trusting face.

"No," he lied. "We've never met. I just wanted to say, get well soon."

Rodney made a noise and John dragged him away, smiling at Jackson the whole time. Jackson watched them go with an expression on his face that said he thought John was completely nuts.

As soon as they were safely behind another partition, Rodney demanded, "Why didn't you tell him?"

John put his hands on his hips. "You really want to be the one to tell the guy the reason he lost his memories was because he was kicked out of the afterlife for saving a people he doesn't remember?"

"Good point," said Rodney. "We'll let SG-1 handle that. They're good at delivering bad news."

John peeked through the gap between the curtains. "He's going to be really pissed at me when he gets his memories back. I really should've paid attention when he said that thing about being subtle to avoid getting in trouble, or whatever."

Rodney didn't seem to have a response to that. John opened the curtains a little wider and watched Landry finish up with SG-1 and leave the room. "When do you think Landry's going to make me give him a report?" he asked. "Maybe Mitchell will do it if I ask really nicely. I don't think Landry's going to like what I have to say."

"Yes, yes, you're a dead man," Rodney agreed briskly, "but now that Jackson's back and we've accomplished what we set out to do, um, I thought we might discuss, ah..." He lowered his voice; curious now, John turned towards him, eyebrows raised. "I found a way to hack into the security feed into your room. I've set it to play a continuous loop of you sleeping. So now instead of seeing us -- I mean, if you want it be us in your room, of course -- they'll just think you're clinically depressed."

John grinned at Rodney's awkwardness, feeling warm and happy and a million other things he didn't have words for right now. "I don't know," he said, "Jacob Carter was looking kinda hot in his Tok'ra gear."

Rodney looked appalled. "That's disgusting, he's old enough to be your father."

A shadow fell on the bed. O'Neill was standing in the opening of the curtain, with pursed lips and a thoughtful expression on his face. John went still, images of a dishonourable discharge flashing through his mind, but O'Neill just raised an eyebrow and said, "Finally, someone more gay than Daniel." He closed the curtain behind him as he left.

John looked at Rodney. "Which one of us was he talking about?"

"Gee, that's a tough one," Rodney said sarcastically.

He took John by the wrist and practically dragged him out of the infirmary and towards the elevators. John almost missed, over his laughter, Jackson saying to SG-1, "Please never leave me alone with those two again."

Rodney was gone when John woke up the next morning. His stomach went hollow when he sleepily rolled over and saw the empty space where Rodney should've been, followed by a realization one of the blankets he'd kicked to the floor last night was draped over his shoulders. He relaxed. He'd been doing the sneaking around thing for a while, but until that very moment, he hadn't known if it was something Rodney was willing to do. They were good.

It must have been nice outside -- and that was going to be a weird thing to think about after all this time -- because the SGC was nearly empty when he went looking for Rodney. The only people in the mess were Mitchell, Ford, and a group of young, pretty female officers who were gazing at them adoringly, along with Major Damurchiev, who was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and watching Mitchell like he was a really interesting tv show. "There we were, on this alien outpost on Lava World," Mitchell was saying, "and the walls started coming down around us..."

Waiting right outside the room was Colonel O'Neill, leaning against the door frame with his arms crossed. He was listening to Mitchell's tall tale, one corner of his mouth curled up. When he noticed John eavesdropping too, he nodded in his direction. "Good work on the terraforming thingamabob, Major," O'Neill said, looking proud; John stood a little taller. "How'd you know where to look?"

"I was having visions telling me to go a planet," John said.

O'Neill's eyes drifted to John's forehead.

"It wasn't a brain tumour, sir," John added sourly.

"General Landry wants to see you, by the way," O'Neill said. "Something about him having a hard time explaining what happened."

John grimaced. "Thanks for the warning."

O'Neill smirked. "Hey, I'm just glad it's you this time and not me." He turned back to Mitchell's story.

John was almost to level nineteen when Sergeant Harriman caught him sneaking out of the elevator. Harriman was a man with a mission, and soon enough, John was dragged to one of the conference rooms, which held not only Landry, but also the leaders and ambassadors from several nations, all of whom were waiting for John to tell them why it was suddenly okay to go outside again. When John got to the part about finding out Jackson had been a member of SG-1 and not a Goa'uld overlord, Landry started looking harried.

"You chose not to send an SG team?" the President of China asked Landry curtly.

"Now, Mr President, I understand your concerns," said Landry, visibly sweating, "but at the time, I thought it more important my teams concentrated on finding weapons to use against Anubis, not going on a wild goose chase to find some Ancient city."

He may have wanted to use John as a secret weapon to defeat a race of super aliens, but for the first time, John felt sorry for General Landry. Especially when the president of Russia leaned over and whispered something to President Wentz of the US, both of them looking contemplative. This was probably how the last general had gotten fired, too.

There came a knock on the door, and Sergeant Harriman poked his head in, looking abashed. "I'm sorry, General Landry, sir, but it's an emergency."

Landry left hastily. The door was barely closed behind him when Britain's Prime Minister said, with no concern for John's presence, "I told you replacing General Hammond would be a bad idea."

"Yes, we know," snapped the French ambassador in heavily-accented English. "We only debated it for seven hours."

"Maybe it would have gone faster it you hadn't vetoed every suggestion, Michel," said the Canadian ambassador.

As the argument picked up momentum, John slouched lower and lower in his chair, feeling really uncomfortable. He wondered if anyone would notice if he snuck out. All he'd wanted was to find Rodney and spend the day in bed (or outside; he wasn't picky where they were as long as it was private and they were naked), not be there in the middle of a political showdown. John didn't even like doing paperwork; he wasn't interested in any of the command decisions that went into the SGC, unless that decision was whether or not he still had a job. And no one had mentioned the words "discharge" or "prison" yet, so he felt he was okay.

Everything came to a halt when Kevin Costner asked suddenly, in a quiet, intense voice, "Major Sheppard, who do you think should be put in charge of the SGC?" The room fell quiet, all eyes on John again.

"You're asking me?" John asked dumbly, sitting up.

The Russian President snorted. "Bah, what does he know about running a base? In Russia, we use sissy Air Force majors for target practice."

That explained a lot about Viktor. "Actually," John said, "there's an American diplomat, a Dr Weir. She's currently in one of our offworld bases. I think you should consider her for the job."

President Wentz looked impressed. "I'll keep that in mind, Major."

When it didn't look like Landry was coming back, John finished his report and was finally dismissed. Landry, expression tense, was entering the room as he was leaving; John braced himself for Landry to say something about John disobeying his command, but instead he said, "You did good out there, Major."

"Thank you, sir," John replied, both pleased and confused.

"I still don't like you," Landry said.

"It'll be hard, but I'll try to get over it," said John.

The door closed, and John was alone in the corridor. He had a feeling that was the last time he would ever see Landry.

Too lazy to finish searching for Rodney and with no other destination in mind, John headed for the Embarkation Room. Captain Lorne was the only one there when he entered, holding a mug of steaming coffee and staring at the gate thoughtfully. Or vacantly; John never could tell when Lorne was being serious. Sticking his hands in his pockets, John stood beside him.

"SG-1 and Dr Jackson just left to find the Eye of Ra," said Lorne in greeting, not looking at him.

"Oh," John said. "What's the Eye of Ra?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," said Lorne. "You know SG-1, always... doing things. By the way, Jackson says he remembers everything and he hates you."

John looked at Lorne in alarm, but Jackson couldn't have been too mad if that was it. If John had been in his shoes, he would've at least gotten out a few threats before going through the gate. "Did he say anything else?"

"There was more, but I'm not comfortable repeating those words to a superior officer," Lorne replied.

They stood in companionable silence for another minute before Lorne said, "I think they're going to send me to a mining planet."

John glanced at him sideways. "Yeah?"

"Shouldn't've slept with that priestess," Lorne muttered under his breath, scowling at the gate.

"I have it on good authority a lot of alien natives have syphilis," John said casually.

Lorne looked worried.

John was still standing there smirking when Rodney appeared, looking rumpled and clutching a stack of photos in his hands but otherwise seeming okay. He wasn't surprised Rodney had tracked him down, even if it had taken a few hours. As soon as Lorne caught sight of Rodney, he murmured something about asking for a reassignment and left them alone.

"Sorry for--" Rodney glanced around furtively, but no one was there to overhear. "You know. Leaving this morning." He looked around again, and then leaned forward and kissed John lightly on the mouth. "Don't worry, no one's going to look at us when the all the 'important' people are upstairs."

John could spot the edge of a hickey poking out from under the collar of Rodney's t-shirt. He bit the inside of his cheek, unsuccessfully trying to hide a smile. "Next time wake me up before you leave," he murmured, reaching out and tugging up Rodney's collar.

Rodney's smile was bright enough to light up the room. "Next time I will."

"Where'd you go, anyway?" John asked.

Quickly regaining his composure, Rodney indicated the set of glossy satellite photos he was carrying. "We finished our scans of the planet. According to this, we -- you, rather -- fixed the climate problem, but none of the missing pieces of North America are back. Which makes sense; it was terraforming technology, not a time machine. Things will still be chaotic for quite some time, but at least now we don't have to worry about starving to death."

"That was a possibility?" John asked.

"And anyway," Rodney added, pointedly ignoring him, "with the Ancient outpost in Antarctica we now have a chance to defend ourselves in case Anubis attacks. The linguists and archaeologists are looking into seeing if they can find us another power source, so we can dial out to Atlantis without removing the ZPM from the Antarctic outpost. Apparently, SG-1 has come across Ancient equipment in the past, so they think we have an excellent chance at finding at least a partially-working ZPM out there."

With a city as big as Atlantis, John had to bet there were hundreds of ZPMs waiting to be discovered. Those Ancients had been pretty smart. There was no way they left their home without a backup plan.

Rodney sighed. "It really is a shame we couldn't bring one of those ZPMs here. Do you suppose we'll ever get to Atlantis again?"

John thought about Ronon and Teyla out there somewhere, waiting for John to find them, and he and Rodney together in a galaxy millions of light years away. "You know," he said, pressing his shoulder tight against Rodney's and smiling up at the stargate, "I have a good feeling about that."


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

Huge thanks to Keri for beta reading this as light speed, and to her, ciderpress, and Jenn for all their encouragement.

This was written for the Another Atlantis challenge. My prompt was:

Anubis succeeded in blowing up the Antarctic stargate in "Redemption," decimating most of North America and dooming Earth to a slow death by nuclear winter. The Russian government takes a leadership role in evacuating the Tauri to other worlds through the Giza gate, while searching the galaxy for a way to save the planet.

Rodney McKay was mysteriously never recalled to the SGC to deal with the attack, and as Earth's last remaining gate expert he's one of the most influential scientists in the program. John Sheppard, stationed in Afghanistan at the time of the explosion, was promoted rapidly through what remains of the US military and has ended up liaising with the Russians. The two of them have nothing in common except their ties to a blasted continent...and some mysterious visions, from people who should've died in the blast, guiding them towards the Lost City of the Ancients and the terraforming technology that could one day heal their world. Can they work together to find Atlantis? Can they convince the Russian government to send an expedition? And why wasn't Rodney recalled to the SGC, anyway?

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