The World According to Rover XVII
A Death in the Family

Orithain and Rina

January 2006

Disclaimers: We only wish they were ours. Sadly, this is as close as weíre going to get.

"You know, I could almost like this planet," Rodney commented as the team hiked through a field under a bright blue, almost cloudless sky. The weather was pleasantly mild; there were no biting insects; and Teyla had assured him that the trees up ahead had edible, non-citrus fruit on their branches. There were no hostile forces shooting at them, no Wraith darts trying to scoop them up, Ronon wasnít complaining about Rover, and heíd managed quite a good grope of Johnís ass just a bit earlier, so he was in fine spirits indeed.

Ahead of him, John chuckled as he looked back over his shoulder. "It seems nice enough," he agreed, "but we donít have to be here for you to leer at my ass."

Ronon snorted as he strode along ahead of them on point. "Iím amazed McKayís eyes ever rise over crotch level."

"He likes my hair," John replied blandly.

"Youíre just jealous that no one ogles your ass, Conan," Rodney sniffed, resting a hand on Roverís housing as the cart rolled along beside him.

"I find Ronon quite pleasant to look at," Teyla said.

"Did I mention that I requisitioned the Conan movies in the Daedalusí next supply run?" John murmured for Rodneyís ears only.

Rodneyís snicker at the way Ronon looked back over his shoulder at the Athosian woman turned to a squawk when Johnís words registered. "You what? Bad John! No sex for you tonight!"

John glared. "No sex and I give Ronon a private screening!"

Rover darted ahead to bang into Johnís heels, making him stumble.

"Hey, you little monster, heís the one threatening me!"

"Who ordered the movies, and donít call Rover a monster!"

"I agree with Sheppard. Your machine is vicious, McKay."

"Rover is not vicious!" John was instantly distracted by the need to defend the cart.

"Exactly, heís just protective."

"All of you are insane," Ronon sighed.

"Itís part of our charm." John gave him a toothy smile.

"You do grow used to it," Teyla laughed.

"Unless youíre Caldwell," John grinned. "He still looks constipated every time he lays eyes on one of the carts."

"Caldwell can go fuck himself," Rodney grumbled, still smarting from the way the other man had shoved himself into Johnís duties when heíd been infected by the retrovirus even though it had been months before.

"Someone should, it might get the stick out of his ass," John muttered. Heíd always had a problem with authority, but Caldwell was like a red flag to a bull to him. The man pushed all his buttons, and he wasnít the only one. John would swear Elizabeth took a perverse glee in pissing Caldwell off as well.

"I hope you arenít suggesting any of us!" Rodney asked, his voice heavy with disgust. "I wouldnít even wish him on Kavanagh!"

"Maybe a Genii," John mused before starting to laugh at Rodneyís expression. "Donít worry, Iím not about to try to set him up with anyone."

"It is most probably much safer for all concerned if you do just that, Colonel," Teyla murmured, smiling.

"Exactly, Iím still not sure if Lindstrom and Bates are going to ever do anything except make goo-goo eyes at each other at each other."

"Foreplay," John replied succinctly.

"Pervert," Rodney muttered.

"Thatís why you love me."

"Someone please attack us," Ronon groaned.

"Be quiet!" Rodney hissed. "Youíll jinx us, and I already said I liked this planet!"

"Insane," Ronon repeated.

"Experienced," John sighed, looking around warily. "But this does seem like a nice planet."

"No sign of Wraith or UAs or even Genii; this might be a good alpha site."

"The planet is well known to many societies," Teyla pointed out.

"But itís still nice. And itís big enough that we could have a settlement away from anyone else. Not ideal for an alpha site since weíd need time or the jumpers to get back to the gate, but still a good fallback position."

"We saw caves in the hills up ahead that would be easily defensible," Ronon commented before looking to the left. "Thereís a lake over there."

"A lake?" Rodney glanced in the direction Ronon indicated. "My feet are really sore; a good soak would do them wonders."

"Having a beach picnic would improve MREs," John mused, already veering toward the lake. "Then we can check out the caves."

Teyla smothered a smile and darted a glance at Ronon, who rolled his eyes in response when Rover levitated over the grass and zipped ahead of them toward the lake.

"Heíll find us a good spot." Rodney glanced at his sensor for any sign of energy readings, then frowned and tilted it to get the sunís glare off the screen.

Catching the frown, John stopped. "Whatís up?"

"Thought I saw a signal, but thereís nothing there now. It may just have been the glare." Rodney fiddled with the settings and shrugged. "Thereís nothing there."

Now frowning himself, John continued toward the lake with increased alertness. Glancing back to speak to Teyla and Ronon, he saw that he didnít need to. They too were scanning their surroundings warily, knowing that Rodney didnít often make mistakes.

"I told you heíd jinx us," Rodney muttered.

"I think itís this galaxy. The only planet weíve ever found that didnít have some kind of problem had an Ancient living on it."

"Not talking about her..."

John grinned. "You can stake your claim when we get home."

"Please!" Ronon groaned, though his attention was still on the surrounding area.

"Conan pimping for you now, John?" Rodney smirked before he caught sight of Rover returning. "Well, he doesnít seem upset over anything."

"True but phantom energy signatures still make me nervous."

"Not arguing that, but my feet could really use a soak."

John hesitated a moment longer before nodding. "Ghost in the machine, I guess. So letís go have that picnic, and yes, you can soak your feet."

"Iíll keep an eye on the readout and watch for any repetition."

"I was sure you would." John knew that Rodney hated mysteries.

"I think your machine wants you to go," Ronon observed as he watched Rover try to herd John and Rodney toward the lake.

"Of course he does. Rodney wants to soak his feet, so Rover wants him able to do that," John laughed, speeding up slightly to pacify the cart.

"Teyla..." Ronon groaned.

"It is best to go along with Rover," the Athosian said soothingly. "It never endangers Rodney and can be quite persistent in its desires."

Rodney glanced over at the other pair and chuckled. "I think Rononís getting a headache," he murmured to John.

"I think he sympathizes with Caldwell," John snickered.

"Maybe Teyla will rub his temples for him..."

"Perhaps you should concentrate on your readings," Teyla said quellingly.

Rodney gulped and moved to get on the other side of Rover even as the cart got behind him.

John snickered. "You know heís harmless, Teyla. And he only does it with people he likes."

"Yes, I see how he has enjoyed throwing Dr. Weir and Col. Davis together," she commented, while the three men snickered.

"See, youíre in good company."

Ronon growled.

"It could be worse," Rodney commented. "I could have been trying to set one of you up with Kavanagh."

They both shuddered. "Rodney, you are a friend, but I would be forced to do you serious harm in that event," Teyla said.

"And if you were alive after that, Iíd manage to hurt you even more," Ronon snarled.

"No sense of humor," Rodney sighed, though he carefully kept both John and Rover between him and the other two.

"I donít think anyone would have a sense of humor about being paired with Kavanagh," John laughed. "Personally, Iíd shoot you, so itís fortunate thatís not going to happen," he added with a warning glare at Rover.

Ignoring them all now, Rodney walked on ahead, Rover by his side. "My, my, look at the lovely lake up ahead."

Laughing, John caught Rodneyís arm and pulled him around to face him. Once Rodney had stumbled to a stop, he kissed him hard.

"What was that for?"

"Because I wanted to."

"Oh. Okay, I was just wondering." Rodneyís smile was back, and he slung an arm around Johnís waist when they started walking again.

"Insane," Ronon sighed.

"Crazy in love," John called back, his own arm around Rodneyís waist.

"Hey! Speak for yourself; I refuse to be called crazy!"

"Youíre not crazy about me?" John pouted.

Rodney groaned and pulled John in for another kiss.

Smiling, John wrapped his free arm around Rodney and leaned in, enjoying the moment.

"Walking would be good," Ronon grumbled, jostling them as he passed.

"I think someoneís getting frustrated that heís not making much headway with Teyla," Rodney murmured.

"And I think theyíre both going to pound you into the ground if you keep it up," John warned laughingly. "Try concentrating on me for a while."

"Iíll be glad toóonce we get back to Atlantis!"

"Mmm, Iím looking forward to it." John grinned as they started walking again. "Maybe we could come back here sometime when weíre not on a mission. That lake looks great for swimming."

"With fish?"

John eyed him. "Please donít tell me youíve never swum in a lake or the ocean?"

"Camp. Ten years old." Rodney shuddered at the memory.

"I promise itíll be a lot more fun with me. You liked the body-surfing, didnít you?"

Rodney groaned.

All three of the others chuckled. Teyla said, "I do not understand why you continue arguing, Rodney. You end up doing as the colonel wishes."

Rodney glowered.

"You do, McKay; donít deny it," Ronon put in.

"Of course, that works both ways," John said hastily.

Rodney looked toward the sky and shook his head. "Why me?"

"Youíre just lucky that way."

"Maybe I should soak my head instead of my feet." At that comment, Rover wheeled in front of Rodney, blocking his way.

John started to laugh. "I donít think Rover approves of the change in plans."

"Maybe he wants to soak your head," Rodney murmured.

"Naw, he likes me."

Rover spun his wheels in the dirt, spewing dirt on Johnís pants.

John looked down and sighed. "Remind me again why I didnít get a cart of my own to protect me?"

Rodney chuckled. "Rover wouldnít let you."

"He just wanted to be able to abuse me without interference."

"Yes, but notice that he doesnít let anyone else do it."

"Very true. Weíre one weird family," John chuckled, patting Rover.

The cart shivered and pressed against Johnís leg, then scooted around to do the same to Rodney.

Ronon sighed and shook his head. "Iím actually getting used to that."

John laughed. "We could give you the gene therapy and get you a cart if it takes."

"No!"

"Iím sure Carson would be interested in seeing if it took on natives of this galaxy," Rodney offered.

"No!"

Even Teyla was laughing now. "A second cart could be very useful on missions," she observed mischievously.

"Then why you havenít tried the therapy?"

"It would not be wise to attempt it when I have Wraith DNA."

"I do not want a cart!"

Rover rose up and dropped quickly, forcing the air out from under him with a rude noise. John laughed. "I donít think Rover thinks one would have you."

Ronon glowered at the cart, and Rodney snickered. "Donít worry, Conan; you donít want one anyway."

"Oh look, hereís the lake," John said before violence could ensue.

Rodney dropped down on the sandy shore, groaning as he pulled off his boots and laughingly swatted at Rover as the cart tried to help.

"Iíll keep watch," Ronon growled.

John nodded, letting the Satedan work off his annoyance without comment. He glanced at Teyla, who nodded, indicating that she would keep Ronon company.

"I guess he really doesnít want a cart," Rodney shrugged, rolling up his pants, then standing up and wincing. "Ow, ow, ow..."

"What the hell did you do? We didnít walk that far today."

"Need I remind you that sand is made out of rocks and I donít have hooves?"

John stared. "Youíre complaining that sand hurts?"

"Not helping here." Rodney tiptoed into the water and sighed. "Oh, this is better."

Shaking his head, John removed his boots and socks, rolled up his pants to mid calf, and waded into the lake. "Nice," he agreed. "And for the record, Iím not carrying you back to the gate."

"Did I ask you to?"

"I was being proactive." John grinned.

Rodney turned his head and glowered at John. "Rover would carry me."

"True. But there are lots of things I can do for you that he canít."

"And vice versa."

"Which is why we work together," John replied easily, long past being jealous of Rover.

"Oh, come here and give me a kiss," Rodney sighed.

"With pleasure." John pulled Rodney to him and took his mouth in a long, deep kiss that left them both hard and panting.

"Bastard," Rodney groaned, resting his head on Johnís shoulder.

"But Iím your bastard."

"Damn right you are, or are you forgetting this ring you gave me?"

John caught Rodneyís hand in his and rubbed his thumb over his grandfatherís squadron ring. "Never. So youíre stuck with me now."

"As if I didnít know this already."

"Just reiterating." John laced his fingers through Rodneyís and waded a little farther into the water. "This is nice."

"Yeah, it is." Rodney leaned against Johnís side and looked out of the water. "If the beach house doesnít work out, we can build our retirement place here."

"That could work." Johnís free arm went around Rodneyís waist, holding him close. "Itíd be nice to have nothing to worry about except each other, wouldnít it?"

"Mmm, yes, but weíd probably get bored eventually; even with your overactive libido we couldnít have sex twenty-four hours a day."

"It would be fun to try for a while though!"

"The sex twenty-four hours a day?"

"Yup. Sounds good to me."

"Such a slut," Rodney sighed. "Iíll try it for you though."

"Gee, such self-sacrifice!"

"I know, the things I do for you because I love you."

John snorted. "I donít think anyone would believe that youíre only interested in sex to keep me happy."

"I like keeping you happy almost as much as I like annoying and frustrating you." Rodney grinned as he spoke and canted a sly look up at John.

John groaned. "Iím doomed."

"To a life with Rover and myself."

"So I get exactly what I want. Cool."

"Youíre so easy."

"Thatís why you love me." John gave him a beatific smile.

"Yes, thatís the only reason," Rodney said dryly.

John snickered. "I hate to be unromantic, but my toes are pruning up. Are you finished soaking yet?"

Rodney wiggled his toes under the water, and nodded. "Much better. We can sit, eat and relax, then go check out those caves."

"Sounds like a plan." John turned and started back to shore, where Rover was waiting for them. "Weíll have to look for a shell for him."

Seeing them returning, Rover floated out over the water, his anti-gravity motors raising waves to form under him. "Yes, Rover, we were talking about you," Rodney laughed, petting him when the cart reached them.

"Got tired of waiting for us, huh?" John patted him as well before switching on his comm. "Ronon, Teyla, weíre going to have lunch. Meet us back at the shore."

"On our way," Ronon radioed back.

Rodney minced his way up the beach to sit in the shade, Rover switching back to his wheels when they reached the shore and rolling alongside him. "So do you want stew, sweet and sour chicken, or chicken and dumplings?" Rodney asked, digging through the cartís storage area.

"Chicken and dumplings. If I squint, I can almost pretend itís a turkey sandwich."

"Colonel, I sometimes wonder that you havenít sprouted feathers with your turkey fascination."

"Turkeyís good!"

"Not every day of the week!"

"Says who?"

Ronon looked at Teyla as they neared. "Maybe we should leave again?"

"It would be best if we stayed to remind them that there is more of the area to explore," she chuckled.

"I heard that and we can control ourselves!" Rodney muttered.

"Nothing else even crossed our minds," John stated with dignity that was ruined when he chuckled at the looks on their faces. "Oh, sit down and grab a meal. Roveríll warn us if anything comes near."

"Well, theyíre caves and they look empty. We walked all the way here, why?"

"Because if weíre going to use this as a fallback position, we need to make sure that nothingís living in them. Or do you really yearn to share space with a bear or t-rex?"

Rodney glanced over at Ronon and arched his eyebrows, smirking before he glanced at his energy detector. "Well, Iím not reading anything from this or life signs, so it should be safe."

"Then we had best make sure," Teyla said, switching the light on her P90 on and walking into the cave.

As Ronon followed her, John placed a hand on Rodneyís back, rubbing lightly. "You okay with this?" he asked, knowing that Rodney was a bit claustrophobic. "Theyíre nice and big."

"Just fine," Rodney answered tightly, not bothering with his light as Rover had turned on several beams that illuminated the area around them.

John left his hand on Rodneyís back but didnít comment further, knowing that nothing would help but getting this over with and getting back outside. And saying anything else would just make Rodney defensive and more irritable.

"Tunnels up ahead," Ronon called back. "Splits in at least two directions."

Once they caught up, John peered down the tunnels. "Seems quiet enough. You two take the one on the left; Rodney, Rover and I will take the right. Check in every fifteen minutes. If we donít find something in half an hour, we meet up back here and head back to the stargate."

"I hate caves," Rodney muttered as they started down the tunnel, Rover leading the way.

"Yeah, Iíve noticed that." John took his hand as they walked.

"Itís because there are generally disgusting, slimy creatures in them," Rodney continued, tightening his fingers around Johnís, his gaze darting around them.

"The last one I was in had a lot of bugs." John looked around a bit warily himself.

Rodney tightened his fingers around Johnís hand before reluctantly letting go so they could have both hands free if needed. "No bugs here, I hope anyway. Not much of anything here." He glanced down at the energy sensor, seeing the small blip that was Rover up ahead. "Nothing but us andóWhat the hell?" A large reading appeared farther ahead of them.

"What?" Johnís grip tightened on his P90. "Weíve talked about this, Rodney. Donít do that! What did you see?"

"Big energy signature up ahead." Rodney snapped his head up when he realized that Rover had vanished in the direction of the reading. "Rover! Get back here!" he shouted, hustling after the cart, for once leaving John in his wake.

"Rodney!" John jogged after him, cursing mentally as he tried to raise Teyla and Ronon on the radio, his concern growing when there was no response. "Damnit, Rodney, get back here!"

"Rover!" Rodney shouted before skidding to a stop in a large cavern that his flashlight barely illuminated. Spotting Roverís lights across the wide expanse, he trotted that way before stopping and staring at what the cart had found.

"John, thereís another stargate here," he said needlessly, hearing the other man come up behind him.

"A very astute observation, Dr. McKay." The voice that answered wasnít Johnís, and Rodney felt his stomach hit the soles of his boots. Rover squealed his wheels and darted to his side as Rodney slowly turned around, his fingers tightening on his P90. "Kolya."

"So nice to see you again, Dr. McKay." Kolya stood easily, his gun pointed at Rodney. He barely glanced at the apparently mechanical cart that stopped at McKayís side. He opened his mouth to say something else, only to close it again without a word when John pressed a gun to the back of his head.

"I told you what would happen if I ever saw you again," John gritted out.

Kolya smiled thinly. "If it was only myself here, I might be worried, Sheppard." As he spoke, a squad of Genii appeared to surround them.

"John..." Rodney choked out, keeping a hand on Rover for support and trying to appear calm.

John let his gun drop to the ground and moved around Kolya to stand between him and Rodney. "Itís going to be fine."

Rover bulled forward, settling in front of John and spinning his wheels backward, sending a spray of gravel toward the Genii.

"Of course itís going to be fine, Dr. McKay," Kolya smiled. "As long as no one does anything rash."

"Why donít you just carry on with whatever it is youíre doing, and weíll leave and pretend this never happened," John suggested, glaring hatred at the Genii leader.

"Oh, but why?" Kolya inclined his head, and his men moved closer. "Itís just us here."

"Are you sure about that?" Rodney asked, fingering his weapon nervously.

"You should leave," John said coldly, his eyes going from the berretta on the ground to Kolya, his fingers twitching toward his P90. "There are no deals to be made this time, no reason to pretend to civility."

Kolya sneered. "And no reason not to shoot you where you stand and take Dr. McKay back with us to help our nuclear program."

"As if Iíd do anything to help you," Rodney snarled, moving up behind John and trying to hand him his gun.

"As if Iíd let you get out of here alive with him." John didnít bother pretending that Rodney wasnít important to him, the look in his eyes promising Kolya hell if he tried to get near the scientist.

"Trying heroics at this time is just going to leave you dead," Kolya commented, nodding his people forward. "Get their weapons."

John pushed Rodney further behind him. "I promise Iíll take you with me."

At that, Rover sped forward, slamming into Kolyaís legs and grabbing for his gun, slashing viciously at his hands with his pincers.

"Rover!" Rodney shouted, when the Genii began firing at the cart, both he and John raising their weapons to shoot at the other men.

"Bastards!" John yelled, putting a bullet between Kolyaís eyes before joining Rodney in shooting the other Genii. Moments later Teyla and Ronon arrived behind them, and with the Genii caught between them, it was only a short time before the last few Genii dropped their weapons to the ground and raised their hands.

John paused to tell Teyla and Ronon to secure the prisoners, then dropped to a crouch beside Rodney next to Rover. "Rover?"

"No. No, no." Rodney was moaning and running his hands over the bullet holes that riddled the cartís sides. "Címon, Rover, youíll be okay, weíll fix you up."

"Oh God, of course we will. You can fix him; I know you can." John was stroking Roverís sensor array over and over, willing him to wake up.

Rover shuddered and his lights went totally dead, his arms freezing into place, pieces of Kolyaís uniform still caught in his pincers.

Rodney gave a tortured moan and spun away from the unmoving cart, pulling his sidearm and emptying it into Kolyaís body then punching and kicking at him while hoarse sobs wracked his body.

"Rodney, heís dead. Heís dead, stop." John wrapped his arms around Rodney, drawing him away from Kolyaís body, tears running down his own face.

Teyla looked from the cart to the two men to the Genii, her eyes dark with anger. "Can he be repaired?"

Ronon squatted down by the cart prodding at the holes in its side and shrugged. "We should take him back, get Zelenka to look at him."

"Fucking Kolya, fucking Genii," Rodney gasped, clinging to Johnís shoulders as his knees gave out. "Kill them all."

Holding him tightly, John looked over at Teyla. "Dial Atlantis. We need to get home. We can send another team back to find out what the Genii were doing here."

Teyla nodded tightly, casting a last look at the silent cart before running for the DHD near the secondary stargate in the cavern and pressing the symbols for Atlantis while Ronon prowled around the prisoners, hoping for someone to make a move so that he could take his anger out on them.

"Címon, Rodney, we need to get home so you and Radek can fix him. The cityíll help, Iím sure." John urged Rodney toward the gate, not without his own glance at Rover standing there still and silent.

"We need to bring him now," Rodney choked out, turning back toward the cart. "You know how he doesnít like being away from me."

"I will bring him, Rodney," Teyla offered, but neither man was listening. They walked over to Rover, and each took hold of him on one side, slowly dragging him toward the gate.

"Weíll fix you, Rover," Rodney rasped as he and John dragged the immobile cart to the event horizon and through it, stumbling when they reached the other side.

Elizabethís eyes widened with shock when she saw the three of them arrive, and she ran down the stairs, Radek on her heels. "What happened?"

John looked up, his eyes red. "Genii. Kolyaís dead, along with several others. Teyla and Ronon are bringing some prisoners back."

"They shot Rover," Rodney slumped to the ground next to the cart, ignoring Carson and the rest of the medical team as they rushed in to check them out. At the sight of Ciora and Reza, he winced and looked away, hiding his face against Roverís cool, metallic side.

John knelt next to him, one hand on Rodneyís shoulder and one on Rover. He looked at Radek, his expression plaintive. "Can you fix him?"

Radek looked at the cart in dismay, unconsciously placing a hand on Rezaís housing for comfort. "We... will do our best."

"Rodney, Colonel," Carson said gently, "ye should come to the infirmary so we can make sure yer both all right."

"How can I be all right?" Rodney screamed, turning to glare at the other men. "They fucking killed Rover!"

Everyone flinched, all eyes darting to Rover.

"We need to get checked out so we can come back and help Radek fix Rover. Well, you can help fix him; Iíll just turn on things and see if the city can help in any way."

Rodney shuddered and slowly stood, leaving his hand on Rover until the very last second before disconsolately following Carson out of the gateroom, leaning against Johnís side, needing his support.

"Weíll fix it," John vowed, sounding choked up. He concentrated on Rodney as they walked, not allowing himself a glance back over his shoulder at the motionless cart with everyone clustered around it.

"Yeah." Rodney took a deep breath that turned into a hitching gasp. "We will; heíll be back as good as new. Heíll be okay; we all will be okay."

"Of course we will." John hugged Rodney closer. "I promise we will. Rover will be back in his corner in our room where he belongs."

"Come on, lads, have a seat, and weíll get this done quickly," Carson said gently, steering both of them toward beds but letting them move at their own pace.

John glanced down toward where Ciora sat, keeping back, out of Rodneyís line of sight. He nodded slightly, nudging Rodney toward a bed and sitting down beside him. His mutinous expression warned Carson that trying to make him move to another bed would be futile.

"Yer both bleeding, ye know," Carson commented quietly.

"Huh?" John looked down at himself in surprise, seeing the trickle of blood on his upper arm where heíd been grazed by a bullet and a similar wound on Rodneyís side. "No, actually, I didnít." He moved his supporting arm higher so that Carson could get to Rodneyís wound without John letting go of him.

"Hurry up and stick something on it so I can go fix Rover." Rodneyís voice was dead, and he made no complaint as the medical staff cut away his shirt to clean and bandage the wound.

Johnís arm tightened around Rodneyís shoulders, and he pressed a kiss to the scientistís forehead, completely ignoring the medical staff tending his own wound. "Iím sure Radek is taking care of him till we can get there."

"He canító" Rodney took a deep breath and nodded. "Heíll get him to the lab."

"Aye, he will," Carson said gently, looking up from Johnís arm.

"And weíll be there soon." John leaned his cheek against the top of Rodneyís head, drawing comfort as much as offering it. Despite their rocky start until sorting out their respective positions in Rodneyís life, heíd come to care for the cart almost as much as Rodney did.

Rodney nodded and reached over to run his hand over the bandage on Johnís arm. "He shot you too, the fucker. I wish we could kill him againóand take longer at it."

"Iím just glad he finally is dead," John said, his voice low and colder than anyone in the infirmary had ever heard it before. "And Iím glad I was the last thing he ever saw."

"All right, the two of ye are done," Carson cut in, pretending he hadnít been listening. "Just take care; Iím taking ye both off active duty for three days, and Iíd like ye both to consider talking to Kate."

"I have more important things to do that that," Rodney snapped, hugging John close for a moment before straightening up and grabbing his jacket.

John didnít even bother answering before following Rodney out of the infirmary and toward his lab, where Radek was checking Rover.

"Isóhow does he look?" Rodney asked, pressing his hands against the bench theyíd set Rover on to keep them from shaking.

Radek hesitated, not sure what to say. His first inspection left him believing that the cart was utterly destroyed, beyond any hope of repair, but he didnít want to say it, didnít want to admit that Rover was dead.

Rodney nodded tightly. "I see. Now leave; Iím going to fix him."

"Then I will remain and help you," Radek replied, his tone unyielding. He didnít see how Rodney could accomplish his goal, but if he was going to try, Radek intended to be there every step of the way providing support and assistance. And Rodney did have a habit of pulling off the impossible.

"Then do something to help; get the datapad that had Janusí notes on it."

Radek nodded, pausing to grip Rodneyís shoulder before going for the pad.

"Weíll find a way," John murmured, still holding Rodney.

"Of course we will." Rodneyís try for a supercilious tone failed when his voice broke as he studied the multiple bullet holes in Roverís housing and the shattered sensors in his array. "Janus left detailed notes; there has to be a way." He reached down and caught Johnís hand, holding it tightly.

Johnís fingers tightened around Rodneyís as well as he too stared at poor Rover, and he placed a shaking hand on the cart, reaching for him mentally at the same time, trying to find some spark of power left in him. Radek came panting back into the room after running to the cart storage room for Janusí datapad, and he stopped, his expression clouding with sorrow as he saw the three of them.

"All right." Rodney snatched the datapad from Radek and straightened up, forcing himself to look at Rover with a clinical eye. "Letís get to work."

"Have they made any progress?" Carson murmured to Elizabeth and Paul Davis, who were standing outside the lab along with quite a few others, most of them cart owners themselves. Heíd checked over the Genii prisoners, none-too-gently though that was something that didnít trouble him too much at the time, then gone in search of Radek, Rodney and John in hopes that there would be good news.

Elizabeth sighed as she shook her head. "The repairs to his casing seem simple enough, but the bullets that destroyed his sensor array..." She bit her lip. "His Ďbrainí is behind them, and itís badly damaged. It could be replaced from another of the carts, but it wouldnít be Rover."

"Och," Carson groaned, shaking his head and unconsciously resting a hand on Cioraís housing. "Is there nothing they can do?"

Paul shrugged, glancing back into the lab where Rodney and Radek were attaching sensors to the exposed parts of Roverís interior while John helped as much as possible. "We donít know yet; I think only time will tell if they can resurrect him."

"Rodneyís not going to rest until he succeeds or is forced to face the fact that he canít. And if the latter, itís going to devastate him," Elizabeth said quietly, her eyes worried as she watched the miserable man.

"And John as well," Carson said quietly.

Lt. Lindstrom joined the crowd as she came off duty, her eyes going worriedly to the two men who had become friends despite the difference in rank between her and the colonel. "Is Rover really dead?" she asked, one hand resting on Loki.

Leo Stackhouse stood up from where heíd been crouching next to his own cart, and he shook his head. "Dr. McKay and Dr. Z are trying to fix him, but it doesnít look good."

After sparing a brief smile for the blonde lieutenant, Elizabeth focused on Carson again. "I know."

Carson glanced at his watch. "If they havenít collapsed in another five hours, Iím going to toss them out on their ears and give them a sedative; they canít come up with any solutions if theyíre the walking dead." He winced at his last word, grateful Rodney or John hadnít heard it.

Paul nodded and glanced from the lab to the people gathered outside. "All right, folks, I know youíre all worried, but standing around out here isnít going to help anything. If you like, take shifts so that if they need anything, someone will be here to get it for them."

Stackhouse slowly got to his feet, one hand still on his cart. "Lunchmeat and I will go get some foodóin case they get hungry."

"And Iím going to go talk to the prisoners, try to find out what they were doing on that planet," Bates said, pausing just long enough for Dr. Weir or Col. Davis to object if they were going to before striding away.

Cadman and Lindstrom leaned against the wall. "Weíll take this shift," Lisa said. "Rodney usually puts up with us." Cadman nodded.

Elizabeth smiled gratefully at them. "Thank you all."

Laura looked back into the lab, her lips pressed together. "Iím betting itís nothing they wouldnít do for any of us, maíam."

"Theyíre still fortunate to have such good friends."

"And Iím sure theyíll be grateful when theyíre thinking clearly again," Paul added.

Lisa quirked a wry smile. "They were there for me after... Peter. Now I get to pay them back a little."

"I think Rodney would have said his birthday party was quite enough." Elizabeth smiled sadly as she spoke. "Let me know if anything changes here."

"Yes, maíam." The two lieutenants nodded and saluted Col. Davis as he and Dr. Weir left. Since Stackhouse hadnít returned yet, that left the two women alone outside the lab, their eyes intent on the men working on the cart.

"I really hope they can find a way to fix him, Laura," Lindstrom said softly. "Heís too important to Rodney."

"You donít have to tell me," Cadman murmured. "I was in his head, remember? You wouldnít believe how upset he was when Rover wouldnít come near him then."

"Sure I would. I have a cart too, remember? And I would be devastated if he pulled away from me, and heís not nearly the same as Rover."

"Sorry, Lisa, as if I could forget Loki." Laura pointed a finger at the cart when he advanced on her. "You poke me and Iím tying a knot in your pincer."

Loki stopped in his tracks and scooted behind Lisa, making both women laugh. "I hope Iím only ever attacked by men," Lisa chuckled. "Otherwise Iím on my own."

"Typical man," Laura sighed, shaking her head, "canít take a little challenge."

Loki extended a pincer from behind Lisa and pinched Lauraís calf, making her jump.

"I think we now have proof that thatís all Rover and not Rodney," Lisa chuckled, before sobering as she realized what sheíd said.

"Hey." Laura tried a smile. "If anyone can do this, itís Rodney."

"Especially with Radekís help. Theyíre an unbeatable team." They exchanged a look that was as much hope as conviction.

After finishing her shift of Rodney-watching at the lab, Annalisa Lindstrom returned to her room and sat down on the floor in one corner, not bothering to turn the lights on. Loki settled at her side, pressing close, trying to comfort the distress he could sense.

The Marine lieutenant raised tear-filled blue eyes to look at the cart, one hand coming up to pat him, comforting both of them with the touch. "Rodney shouldnít look like that," she whispered, "not so broken. Itís likeó" She broke off abruptly, not willing to speak Peterís name just then, not even with no one but Loki there to hear her. But the pain in Rodneyís eyes had been akin to what sheíd felt when she lost Peter, and she knew from her own feelings for Loki that the carts were far more than tools. And Rover was more than the other carts. Had been more. She bit off a soft whimper of dismay.

"Theyíll fix him. Nothingís stumped them yet, and this matters too much. Theyíll fix him," she whispered again, trying to convince herself.

The door chimed, and, too tired to stand, she used to gene to open it. The panel slid aside, revealing Marcus Bates, who was radiating a strange combination of discomfort and resolve. "Lisa, I thoughtóit seemed like you were pretty upset over all of this."

Barely able to see him with only the soft moonlight for illumination, she turned the lights on low as she stared up at him with sorrowful eyes. "I..." She had to stop to calm herself, her voice thick with tears that she forced down even though she didnít think Bates would think less of her for them just then. "Rodneyís a friend, odd as that is, and... and it all hits just a little too close to home, you know?" The hand that still rested on Lokiís sensor array trembled almost imperceptibly, and she closed her eyes for a second before finally pushing to her feet.

"It makes you think of what youíve lost," he answered quietly, stepping forward and holding out a hand for her to take if she wanted.

Lisa curled her fingers around his hand, taking comfort in the human contact. "Which makes me feel like a self-centered idiot. Everybodyís lost friends since we got here."

"Everyone takes things differently, and we all havenít lost lovers."

She smiled sadly. "It was supposed to be me, you know? Not him. Iím the soldier; he was the scientist. He was supposed to be safe."

"Supposed to doesnít mean much here, Iíve found," he murmured, tightening his fingers around hers.

"Yeah, Iíve noticed that too." Lisa looked down at their joined hands and then back up at him. "Among other things."

Bates nodded. "Lots of things here are different than we expected, than what we knew." He paused and sighed. "I suppose it took some of us longer to realize that than others."

"Itís okay. Youíre cute; you donít have to be a genius," Lisa said kindly, patting his cheek with laughter sparkling in her eyes, cheered by his presence.

"Cute?" Bates sounded highly offended. "No man wants to be called cute."

She chuckled warmly, dashing away the last remnants of her tears with her free hand. "Hot?" she offered.

"That depends; are you giving an example or changing your description?"

"Adding to my description. I stand by the cute."

Bates smiled briefly. "I suppose I can live with that description to see you smile again."

She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "I think that I may have a lot more reasons to smile than I realized."

His smile widened, and he shifted his grip to twine their fingers together. "Though the question remains: is your cart going to attack me because of this?"

Lisa glanced down at Loki, who was settled in the corner and showed no signs of moving any time soon. "I think he likes you," she said softly.

"Iím going to count myself thankful for that; I donít want to have to practice hand-to-hand to fend him off."

Loki shifted slightly in place, somehow managing to make it clear that he was laughing at the idea.

"I think thatís best for everyone," Lisa replied diplomatically.

Bates chuckled, managing to pull her a little closer. "True, I donít need it to get out around the city that I had my ass handed to me by a cart."

"It wouldnít do any good for the Marinesí reputation," Lisa agreed. "I guess Iíll have to make sure that doesnít happen."

"Offering to protect me from your cart? Things are looking up for me, Iíd say."

"Actually, I think he likes you," she repeated. "He usually likes the same people I do."

Bates slowly brought up his other hand to Lisaís waist.

"Iím glad you came tonight," she whispered.

"I didnít think you should be alone." He paused. "And I didnít want to be alone either."

She looked at him searchingly before taking a step backward, drawing him with her. "So stay."

"I didnít mean I came hereóI thought you could use a friend," Bates began, though he didnít fight her gentle pull.

"If I thought you came here for this, Mark, it wouldnít be happening," Lisa said softly. "But youíre right, Iím tired of being alone, and I like you, and weíve been edging toward something for a while."

"Lisa..." When she looked up at him, he closed the distance between them. "I like you too," he murmured before leaning in to kiss her.

For a moment she couldnít help but compare it to the way it had felt when Peter kissed her, but that passed and Lisa opened to Marcus, sliding her arms around him as she kissed him back.

"Youíre not alone, Lisa," he murmured, brushing his lips against hers as he stroked a hand over her hair.

She lowered her head to his shoulder, eyes closing as she allowed herself to lean on someone elseís strength. "Just hold me," she asked.

"It would be my pleasure."

"All right, itís late and ye all are exhausted; itís time to get some sleep," Carson ordered. He was standing near the trio of men, none of whom had noticed his approach as they intently worked on Roverís remains.

"Not going," Rodney slurred. "Just give me some of the good stuff, Carson; Iím not leaving."

About to agree, John took a good look at Rodney, then at Carsonít determined expression, and hesitated. "Rodney, you donít want to make a mistake because youíre tired. You should get some sleepówe all shouldóand then we can continue fresh in a couple of hours."

Radek regarded them blearily, exhausted but willing to continue if Rodney was.

Rodney blinked and lifted his head to stare at John, the dark circles under his eyes standing out in stark relief against his pale skin. "I canít leave him alone; you know how he gets if heís left alone. You and Radek go if you need to sleep; Iíll take a nap in here."

"Go and rest, McKay," Ronon grumbled. "Teyla and I will stay here and watch your cart."

John shot him a grateful look, knowing that nothing would have moved Rodney otherwise. It was still going to be an uphill battle, but at least this way he had a chance of success. "Címon, Rodney, just a couple of hours, then we can come back to work on him."

Rodney opened his mouth to object, then really looked at John and Radek and nodded, his shoulders slumping. "Donít let anyone touch him," he ordered.

Carson slid an arm around Radekís waist to help support him. "Ronon and Teyla will make sure Roverís left alone, Rodney."

"I swear it on my honor," Teyla affirmed, placing a hand briefly on Rodneyís arm.

Now that Rodney was agreeing to stop, Radek allowed himself to slump against Carson for support, his eyes already closed, knowing Carson would steer him to their bed. John smiled faintly at the sight, most of his attention on Rodney as he urged him out of the room.

When they reached the doorway, Rodney stopped, craning a final look over his shoulder before his whole body slumped and he allowed John to steer him to the transporter and then into their rooms.

John wrapped his arms tightly around Rodney, holding him close as he maneuvered them to the bed and sat down, drawing Rodney down with him. "Weíre going to fix this," he promised, his voice thick with unhappiness.

Rodney was quite for quite a while, then shuddered and wrapped his arms tightly around Johnís torso. "They shot him; they could have shot youóthey did shoot you." His whole body hitched as he swallowed a sob.

John leaned his cheek against the top of Rodneyís head. "And they shot you too, the bastards. My only regret is that I canít kill that bastard again and make him suffer for everything heís done to you. And to Rover."

"Heís dead; thatís all that matters," Rodney whispered against Johnís chest as he dragged them to a prone position so that they could curl up closer together, both of them so tired that they didnít even notice that they were mirroring the same conversation theyíd had earlier. Rodney kept his eyes closed as they moved, not wanting to look over and see Roverís empty corner.

Johnís eyes did go to the conspicuously vacant spot, and he swallowed hard, his arms tightening convulsively around Rodney. "Heíll never hurt you again." He never realized that his fingers were stroking the faded scar on Rodneyís arm.

Rodney nodded, his body slowly relaxing as exhaustion claimed him, Johnís arms and familiar scent granting a fragile sense of security that enabled him to fall asleep. John held him close, staring into the darkness, and it was a long time before he closed his eyes.

Although Radek had been nearly dead on his feet when they all finally left the lab and Rover, by the time he and Carson made it back to their quarters, his racing thoughts had him wired and wide awake again. As the door slid shut behind them, he dropped to his knees, needing to get close to Reza while he looked up at Carson tragically. "I donít know if we can fix him this time, Carson."

Carson knelt on the floor beside Radek, and Ciora crowded up as well, joining the huddle. "Yeíll do yer best, love; no one can ask for more." He circled Radekís shoulders with his arms, holding him close as they all rocked back and forth.

"I will. Did you see Rodneyís eyes? Heís devastated, Carson. He loves that cart almost as much as he loves John. If we canít fix Rover..." He trailed off, unable to verbalize the thought.

"It would be a terrible loss fer all of us." Carson leaned his forehead against Radekís, and Ciora shivered, pressing closer to Reza. "So weíll just have ta do our best to make sure that doesnít happen."

Radek nodded, somehow holding all them close. "Rover will lead the parade again at the next party," he whispered, but it sounded more like a prayer than a statement.

"Weíll have one for his return," Carson promised. "And I think we should get you to bed, love. Do ye want anything to eat before ye go to sleep?"

Radek shook his head, faintly nauseated at the thought. "No, I just want you to stay with me," he murmured, his head on Carsonís shoulder and his eyes on Reza.

"Of course. Always," Carson vowed, gently urging Radek toward the bed, the carts trailing along by them.

Radek slid into bed a few minutes later and curled naked into Carsonís arms, both of them trailing a hand over the side of the bed to touch Reza and Ciora, who settled right next to it rather than retreating to their usual corner.

Rodneyís movements woke John some while later, and a quick glance at his watch told him that it was less than four hours since theyíd lain down. Still, it was longer than heíd expected to be able to keep Rodney out of the lab, so he sat up, scrubbing a hand through already messy hair as he yawned widely. "Shower, coffee and food first," he said firmly.

"But..." Rodney started to protest before sighing and nodding. "All right." Even as he spoke, he was getting out of bed though he did give John a hard hug first.

"You need to take care of yourself too, or Rover and I will both be pissed at you," John said, his tone not admitting any doubt that Rover would be there to hover over Rodney.

Rodney gave a sad laugh. "And I wouldnít want that; Rover would pinch me, and you would pout at me."

"Exactly. So itís much easier on all of us if you just do the smart thing and take care of yourself so we can avoid all that." John got up and drew Rodney into another hug, then brushed a light kiss over the down-turned lips.

"All right, shower, coffee and food first."

John smiled and turned them toward the bathroom, keeping an arm around Rodneyís waist, his fingertips lightly caressing Rodneyís hip. "I do love you."

Nodding, Rodney turned sharply and hugged John to him, his arms clinging with a desperate strength as he pressed his face against the crook of Johnís neck, his answer muffled against him.

Sorrow filled Johnís expression before he reminded himself that they were going to find a way to fix Rover. If he had to find Janusí notes on time travel and get Radek to build another timejumper to go back and save Rover, heíd do it; whatever it took, he wasnít going to let Rodney lose Rover. But he didnít think it would come to that, not with two of the best minds in two galaxies working on it. He held Rodney close, murmuring comfortingly.

"Okay, Iím better now," Rodney finally said, straightening up and giving John a shaky smile. "Or as good as Iím going to be until heís fixed."

"Which will be soon." John let go of him to step into the shower, then held out a hand. "Come on, you have your own personal back scrubber waiting here."

Rodney glanced at the bandage on Johnís arm. "If you get that wet, Carsonís going to be annoyed."

John shrugged. "We have no shortage of bandages, and itíll give him something to do."

"Good point, and that way he wonít be nagging us." Rodney grabbed John by the hand and dragged him into the shower.

"See, I do have good ideas." John thought the water on, and they stood under the pulsing hot water, trying to relax.

Rodney nodded, reaching for the soap and starting to rub it over Johnís chest, taking comfort in the normalcy of the moment. John brought his hands to rest on Rodneyís shoulders, his fingers gently kneading the tense muscles even as he relaxed under Rodneyís attentions.

Allowing his mind to remain blank for now, Rodney sighed and gently turned John around so he could wash his back as well, his fingers trembling slightly as the previous dayís events replayed in his thoughts despite his best efforts to banish them.

John reached back to catch hold of one of Rodneyís hands, interlacing their fingers. He drew it forward, around him, pressing their joined hands to his chest. There were no words that would help, so he simply stood silently, offering the comfort of his touch and presence.

"I love you," Rodney murmured against Johnís shoulder. "If I donít say it a lot... I still do, okay?"

"I know. Just like I love you."

"Okay. I just wanted to make sure you knew that." Rodney kissed Johnís shoulder and hugged him tightly before backing away to let John wash his own hair while he soaped up.

"In other words, youíre planning to concentrate totally on the issue at hand and ignore me except when youíre barking at me to do something, so you wanted to make sure Iíd still be here afterward," John translated easily. "Youíre stuck with me for life, Rodney. Bark away. Iíll get paid back later."

"Damn right," Rodney murmured, giving a lopsided smile.

"And donít think I wonít collect on that." John grinned before ducking under the water to rinse the shampoo out of his hair.

"If you didnít talk about sex at least a dozen times a day, Iíd start to wonder about your sanity." Even as he spoke, Rodney rinsed off and stepped out of the shower, quickly drying himself off and getting dressed, in a hurry to get back to the lab and Rover.

"See, itís my duty to be obsessed with sex, to keep your mind at ease," John said virtuously. He dressed equally quickly, determined to stay with Rodney that day, knowing that the other man would need his support.

Rodney gave a half-hearted laugh and straightened up from tying his boots. "So I guess youíre going to make me eat now."

"Damn right! I donít want Roverís first action when he wakes up to be pinching me for letting you get too skinny."

"No, we canít have that." Rodney got to his feet again and hugged John, leaving an arm around his waist when they turned and headed out of the room.

"Good boy. For that you can have something cream-filled later."

"Once we have Rover back, I plan on it," Rodney promised, leaning against Johnís side, not willing to give up contact with him for now.

John nodded, tightening his arm around Rodneyís waist, not caring who saw them just then. Fortunately, the Daedalus wasnít due back for another month, since he wouldnít have let Caldwellís presence keep him away from Rodney. He and Rodney needed each other just then, and he knew Elizabeth and their other friends would stand up for them if necessary. "Sounds like a plan to me: food, fix Rover, and sex."

Rodney laughed sadly. "Heíd be glad to know he came before sex in your eyes." They entered the transporter then, and he punched the panel to get them to the mess hall before John could respond.

"It was a chronological list," John retorted even as the doors opened into the dining room, and they exited, trying to pretend they didnít notice the sudden hush.

"Dr. McKay?" Miko Takata walked over to them, wringing her hands as she looked from John to Rodney. "I am so sorry about Rover. If thereís anything at all I can do to help you..." At that, she burst into tears and rushed away, sobbing.

There was a low chorus of similar sentiments, though without the crying, from most of the room before things went back to a more subdued version of normal.

"Dr. Takata really needs to get a man of her own," John observed blandly as they walked up to the front of the room to get their meals, something else that felt off since Rover usually did it for them.

"Not arguing that point," Rodney murmured as he looked at the breakfast offerings and realized he wasnít in the least hungry. Knowing that John would complain if he only took coffee, he put a muffin, a piece of fruit and a bowl of yogurt on his tray before getting his drink.

John frowned at the meager breakfast, but he didnít push it. His own stomach was more than a little upset thanks to the stress of the day before, so he could only imagine what Rodneyís felt like. As long as he ate something, John would be satisfied.

They found a table, and while others were sitting near, no one tried to ask for details, a fact for which Rodney was grateful as he poked listlessly at his food, eating a few bites more to appease John than anything else.

John forced himself to eat most of a bowl of cereal before pushing his tray away. "This is pointless. Ready to head to your lab?"

"Yes!" Rodney exclaimed, pushing aside his tray and getting up, turning to hand the tray to Rover before realizing what he was doing and sighing.

John noticed but didnít comment, not wanting to make it worse. He just hoped Radek was already in the lab, or Rodney would probably make his life hell for a while.

"Good morning, sir, Dr. McKay." Leo Stackhouse leapt to his feet when they entered the lab, and Lunchmeat attempted a salute as well, scattering playing cards across the floor.

Rodney looked at the cart oddly and managed the barest of nods before walking over to the benchtop where Roverís parts were spread out.

"No oneís bothered anything," Stackhouse reported while Lunchmeat busied himself gathering up the cards.

"Thank you, Lieutenant," John replied, his eyes on Rodney as the scientist rested a hand on the scattered components. He looked over his shoulder, almost sighing with relief when Radek entered. He raised an eyebrow interrogatively when he noticed that Reza wasnít with him.

"Sheís staying with Carson and Ciora this morning," Radek explained quietly. "I thought it best."

John nodded his thanks.

"You should be asleep still," Rodney commented when Radek joined him at the table. "Iím surprised Carson let you up."

"Carson knows how he would feel if it were Ciora," Radek said simply.

Rodney nodded at that and moved the datapad over so Radek could see it as well. "Well, youíre here; you might as well help me find a way to reconfigure the memory crystals." Though his tone was brusque, there was gratitude in his expression.

Radek simply nodded, and they got to work, not even noticing when Stackhouse left and John sat down off to one side to wait until they needed him.

With Rodney and John safely occupied in the lab, Elizabeth and Col. Davis went to the prison cells to meet the Genii brought back from the abortive raid on Sheppardís team. As they walked down the corridor toward the nearest transporter, Elizabeth wondered, "Do you suppose they were looking for Col. Sheppardís team? Or one of our teams at all or was it simply a coincidence?"

"Teyla did say the world was one that was often visited by other cultures; it could be they were there to forage for materials."

"Yes, that makes sense. Much more than to think they somehow knew that we would be visiting that world." Her mind racing, Elizabeth mused, "Weíll have to search the database to find out why there were two gates there. Until now, Earth has been the only world with two, and to all indications, the Antarctic one hadnít been used since the Ancients brought Atlantis here. I wonder if there are other worlds with two gates... maybe even this one?" she added with growing excitement at the possibilities.

Paul nodded thoughtfully before frowning. "Itís a possibility. Before we research that, weíre going to have to decide what to do with the prisoners though." He glanced sidelong at Elizabeth. "They canít leave."

She stopped walking and, after looking around to make sure they were alone, leaned against the wall and rubbed her temples tiredly. "I know. But Iím not about to authorize cold-blooded murder of half a dozen human beings who are in our custody. I honestly have no idea what to do with them. Weíre not set up here for long-term detention."

"I know; weíll think of something," Paul murmured, stepping forward and sliding his hands under hers to massage the tension away. "The mainland is a possibility; they canít go anywhere from there."

Elizabeth sighed and leaned against him, allowing herself the momentary luxury of accepting someone elseís support. But the sound of approaching footsteps ended the moment, and she straightened up, although not without a wistful glance. "Once weíre done with all this, would you care to join me for lunch in my quarters?"

Paul stepped back and smiled slightly. "That sounds wonderful; something to look forward to after this."

She nodded before squaring her shoulders and continuing toward the transporter. "And now for our very unexpected guests."

The Marines on guard duty snapped to attention when the expedition leader and colonel stepped out of the transporter into the detention area, and Elizabethís eyes went straight to the large cell. She felt a twinge of relief that Sora wasnít one of the prisoners; sheíd grown rather fond of the obstinate redhead during the time Sora had spent in Atlantis, and she hoped that sheíd gotten through to the Genii woman.

"Have their injuries been seen to, Lieutenant?" she asked Bates.

"Yes, maíam," the lieutenant replied quickly. "Dr. Beckett was here earlier to check on them; no major injuries on any of them." His tone seemed to indicate that fact was a pity.

"Have they said anything?" Paul asked, studying the prisoners as he spoke.

Observing the sneers on some faces and stoic expressions on others, Elizabeth held back a sigh. "No, they wouldnít have, would they." She moved closer to the cell, making all the Marines come to attention despite the shields between her and the Genii.

"You might as well sit down," she informed the Genii calmly. "Iím sure weíre all very impressed at you remaining on your feet, but youíre going to be here for a very long time."

"You canít hold us here. We demand to be released!"

Her eyebrows rose, and she favored them with a decidedly cool expression. "You arenít in a position to demand anything. Colonel?" She glanced at Paul, giving him a chance to speak up if he wished.

"We could release them," he mused. "Itís a long swim to the mainland."

"And if any of them did somehow make it, Iím sure the Athosians would be delighted to greet their former trading partners," Elizabeth added.

"You wouldnít dare!" another prisoner protested. "I had heard that you prided yourself on your compassion."

"That was before your people made the mistake of attacking and killing ours twice."

"This is the third time the Genii have chosen to attack us without warning or provocation," Elizabeth said, her tone diamond-hard, "and the third time we have defeated you. Where we come from, we have a saying: Three strikes and youíre out."

"Out of what?"

"Chances. Options. The game. Time. You seem to believe that our patience is infinite and that we wonít act to defend ourselves. Iíll let you in on a little secret. We will. And you really donít want to know what weíre capable of in a real war." She was aware of Bates behind her and could imagine the expression on his face and those of his security guards.

"Your machine attacked Commander Kolya!" another Genii protested. "We were protecting him!"

"Rover wouldnít have attacked anyone unless Dr. McKay or Col. Sheppard were in danger," a Marine snarled. "And the way I heard it, Kolya was going to kill the colonel. Or at least he was going to try. Again," the soldier ended smugly.

"Perhaps they need more time to think about their situation?" Paul murmured to Elizabeth.

"I believe youíre right," she agreed, turning on her heel and walking away without another glance at the Genii. Only after the transporter doors shut behind them did she allow her rigid posture to unbend in the slightest. "I hate this."

"But youíll do it anyway." He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. "And Iíll do what I can to help."

"Just knowing that helps a lot," she murmured as she let her head rest on his shoulder.

Paul pressed a kiss against Elizabethís hair and held her close. "Come on, letís get you back to your room. You didnít sleep at all last night, did you?"

"It shows, does it?" she asked wryly. "Well, Iím not surprised. Every time I closed my eyes, all I could see was poor Rover and the look in Rodneyís eyes." She shivered. "It wasnít conducive to sleep."

"I have to agree with you there." Paul hit the panel to send them to the location nearest Elizabethís rooms. "So youíre going to rest after we eat, all right? Thereís nothing that needs your immediate attention, and the Genii need to stew a while."

"I just feel like I should be doing something to help. And yes, I know thatís ridiculous; thereís absolutely nothing I can add to whatever Rodney and Radek are doing, and Johnís there for him." She sighed. "Iíll try to rest. I donít want to have to ask Carson for something to help me sleep tonight."

"I could tell you a bedtime story if it would help."

"Actually, you look tired yourself. Maybe you should lie down too."

They reached the door to Elizabethís room and Paul nodded. "I doubt I got much more sleep than you did, so I may have to take you up on that."

She gave him an almost arch look. "I donít think it will be a chore, Paul."

He rubbed at the back of his neck and managed a sheepish grin. "Can I plead exhaustion and a habit of not presuming anything?"

She broke into a chuckle as she sat down on a small sofa, waiting for him to join her. "I think Iíll let you make it up to me."

"Would you like me get our lunch first, or are we delaying our meal?"

Her smile turned sensual as she leaned back. "We can eat later."

Paul nodded and slowly sank down beside her, sliding one arm around her shoulders and catching her hand to bring it to his lips.

For a moment she caught herself comparing him to Simon, but she pushed the thought aside. Then his lips were on hers, and she wasnít thinking of anyone except Paul Davis when he drew back to look searchingly into her eyes. She met the warm gaze with a smile and simply said, "Yes."

"A mission? I canít go on a mission, not now," Rodney protested, glowering at Elizabeth, whose expression was understanding but also determined.

"Iím sorry, Rodney. I wouldnít ask you if there were any other choice, but we need you to do this. Dr. Manion thinks thereís a ZPM on this planet, but she canít track down the readings. We need you and John to check it out."

"But..." Rodney began before taking a deep breath and nodding. "A ZPM? Well, sheís not a total fool, so she could be right."

"Weíll go and check it out while Radek continues the work here, and as soon as weíre done, youíll get back to it too, fresher for the break." John hugged Rodney, offering his support.

Rodney nodded. "Youíre right, I know Iíve been... distracted for the past few weeks by what happened; I apologize, Elizabeth."

"Rodney, we all understand. And if there was any other way, Iíd never ask this of you." She placed a hand on Rodneyís shoulder. "And you know that if you need anything, itís yours."

"Thank you, Elizabeth." Rodney met her gaze and managed a more normal smile. "IóI know I havenít said it, but I do appreciate all the support everyone has shown."

"Itís the least we can do. We all care about Rover too." Elizabeth hugged him, letting go after a moment when he awkwardly returned it.

"We should get going," John said quietly, reaching for Rodneyís hand.

Rodney nodded, grasping Johnís hand like a lifeline. "Letís go find a ZPM."

Teyla and Ronon were already in the jumper when John and Rodney arrived, and Teyla offered a sympathetic smile. "I am sure that this will not take long, Rodney."

"Yes, well, Iím sure Radek will do his best while weíre gone."

"If he doesnít, I can hang him over a railing for you," Ronon offered.

John chuckled. "While we appreciate the thought, I donít think you really want Carson after you. The man has a truly evil streak at times." He glanced over at Rodney and squeezed his hand before reluctantly relinquishing it so he could fly the jumper.

"If you want to make me feel better, you can do it to Kavanagh," Rodney offered, giving a bit of a smile.

"You could even drop him. If he landed on his head, he couldnít possibly be hurt." John still hadnít forgiven the man for the fiasco that switched the genders of all the ATA-gene-carriers months earlier.

"I could say it was a mistake," Ronon mused, making all the others chuckle.

"I believe you already," John averred, making Teyla shake her head.

"However, it is well known that you have a predisposition to dislike Dr. Kavanagh, John," she pointed out dryly.

"I believe you too," Rodney offered.

"I do not believe that Elizabeth would believe it."

"But she might pretend to," John mused. "She doesnít like him either."

Ronon chuckled. "Is there anyone who does like him?"

"Itís highly unlikely." Rodney commented. "Rover always tried to cut off his hair."

"Next time weíll let him, even if we do have to disinfect him afterward," John decided.

"Iím fitting him with that laser so he doesnít have to get too close."

John burst into laughter. "Just so long as he doesnít start zapping me instead of pinching. I donít need my ass barbecued."

"No, I prefer it just the way it is," Rodney smiled.

"Skinny?" Ronon asked.

"Iím not skinny!" John growled.

"Youíre just right," Rodney soothed him while Ronon smirked.

John glared at Ronon, reminding himself that Atlantisí senior officer shouldnít stick his tongue out at people. "Youíll never know what youíre missing!"

"And Iím very glad of it!"

"As am I," Teyla agreed. "And I believe Rodney would agree as well."

"Itís a good thing you want me, Rodney, because apparently no one else does."

Rodney snorted. "Planet full of nubile young things who thought you were a god..."

"Oh, not that again," John groaned. "They didnít think I was a god!"

"They were bowing to you," Teyla pointed out.

"And I heard chanting," Ronon added helpfully.

"And I seem to recall offerings..."

"From me to you!" John grumbled.

For the first time since Rover had been shot, Rodney laughed.

"That bread made out of that fruit was very good," Ronon mused.

"We could always go back. Or send someone anyway," John added hastily. "Iím not going back there, bread or no bread!"

"Major Lorne would be a good choice," Teyla offered.

"And heís been looking tired lately. He might appreciate some time off world," John chuckled.

"I guess he canít handle a Canadian," Rodney murmured.

"I think the problem is too much handling," John laughed. "From what Iíve heard, Bryanís the Energizer Bunny of Atlantis."

"Energizer Bunny?" Ronon asked, glancing over at Teyla for clarification.

The Athosian woman shook her head, understanding no more than he did. John sighed. "Something that keeps going and going and going and going and going and... I think you get the idea."

"Like John when he gets going about the jumpers," Rodney offered.

"I do not!" John brought the jumper down to land next to another one in a clearing and looked out. "Anyone see our team? Or are we supposed to wander in circles hoping to stumble over these readings that may or may not be a ZPM?"

"We do have these amazing inventions called radios..."

"Smart ass. So? Are you planning to call Dr. Manion sometime soon?"

Ignoring John, Rodney did just that, and soon they were on the ground near the crumbling building that the energy readings said housed something.

"It doesnít look like much," John observed, watching Rodney focus on the readings, relieved to see him distracted for a little while.

"Which makes it a good place to hide something of value, right?" Spotting Dr. Manion, Rodney hurried over to speak to her, leaving the others behind to examine the structure.

"Thank God for this mission," John murmured to Teyla, who nodded her understanding.

"Yes, it is good that Rodney has something else to think about for a time," she agreed.

"Not to mention that another ZPM would be very useful," John admitted with the faintest of smiles before following his scientist.

"Having them both back to normal would be even more useful," Ronon murmured.

"Itíll happen. Rodney wonít allow anything else." John said over his shoulder before stopping at Rodneyís side. "This looks pretty ruined to house a ZPM."

"If it was hidden and no one knew about it, there would have been no reason to keep up the structure, would there?"

"True." John eyed the crumbling structure, half expecting it to collapse at any moment, and he cautiously approached it, only to jump back with a yelp of surprise when a section of the floor dropped and slid aside, showering rubble into the newly opened hole. "I think I found something," he announced dryly.

"Impressive observation skills there, John," Rodney snorted, unhooking his flashlight from his pack and shining it down into the hole.

"Thatís why Iím the colonel." John peered over Rodneyís shoulder, one hand on the other manís arm in case he slipped. "I suppose you want to go down there. At least thereís a ladder, though how solid it is after ten thousand years is anybodyís guess."

"Then we should have Ronon try it out first."

Ronon growled at him, but he did take a step toward the opening. As far as he was concerned, it made sense to send the most expendable team member first. And heíd grown confident in his team matesí ability to stage a rescue from just about anything.

The other members of the team crowded around the opening as Ronon slowly descended the ladder, and when he got to the bottom, Rodney called out, "See anything?"

"No, itís too dark down here. I canít see anything away from the immediate area. But the ladderís solid enough for you to come down."

"And maybe there are still some lights down there thatíll respond to the gene," John said. "Okay, Iím next, then you, Rodney. Teyla, you stay up here in case we run into anything down there and need rescuing."

"I will watch the area and Dr. Manionís team," she replied, inclining her head.

Rodney was already halfway down the ladder, nodding when several lights flickered on when his feet hit the ground. "Now this is interesting," he murmured, walking over to one of the walls and studying the faded signs painted on it.

"Looks like a subway route map," John observed.

"And here I am without my Metropass," Rodney said dryly.

"Your what? Never mind," John said hastily. "Do you have any idea what it means?"

Lifting his hand, Rodney pointed at several of the symbols. "Apparently it is much like a subway system map, of the tunnels at least; these are directions."

"System? Directions? How big is this... cave? Complex?" Ronon asked warily, peering over Rodneyís shoulder but unable to make sense of the pictograph.

"Iím not sure of the scale," Rodney shrugged, "but itís large, very large, so weíd better get going." He looked down at the scanner, then back at the Ďmapí, trying to orient himself.

"Rodney, if you get us lost down here and some witch starts fattening us up for dinner, Iím going to be really pissed," John observed, his P90 held ready for whatever mightóand probably wouldóleap out at them.

"So bring breadcrumbs."

"Breadcrumbs?"

"Long story, and totally pointless," John said. "Besides which," he added to Rodney, "that didnít work particularly well, if youíll recall. Do you really want to provide the appetizer to lead whatever to its main course, namely us?"

"Rover will lead us..." Rodney cut himself off and pressed his lips together tightly. "Well then, I suppose weíll have to remember which way we came."

John broke his own rule about conduct on missions and pulled Rodney into a tight hug. "Weíll come back to explore more of it with him when heís better."

Rodney allowed himself to lean into the embrace. "Heíd like that," he murmured before straightening up again. "All right, standing hereís not going to find us that ZPM, so we should get going."

"And donít forget to keep an eye out for a rock for Rover too," John added. "So, which way? And tell me, donít start walking. Let us soldierly types go first to make sure itís safe."

"Fine, fine, to the left and then..." Rodney glanced at the symbols again, "down the second corridor."

"Iíll take the lead," Ronon stated, turning toward the tunnel.

"As soon as we let Teyla know where weíre going," John said, immediately suiting action to words. "Weíll keep in contact, Teyla, as long as nothing down here interferes with the transmission," he concluded.

"If you have not returned in an hour, I will alert Atlantis."

Rodney groaned. "I hope it isnít an hour away."

"We could all use the exercise," John said. "Too much reliance on the jumpers lately is making us soft."

"I like soft; soft is comfortable," Rodney grumbled as they started walking.

"It makes you a good pillow."

Ronon snickered.

Rodney glowered at both of them. "Oh, just walk."

John pointed at his moving feet. "See John walk."

"And you can talk at the same time; Iím impressed."

The hazel eyes narrowed. "I can shoot while walking too!"

"Iím walking too," Rodney said quickly.

"Good man."

Ahead of them, Ronon groaned. "I think Iíd welcome the ceiling falling in on me."

"Just stay far ahead of me!"

"Thatís my Rodney, always concerned for his fellow man."

Rodney growled.

"I know, I know, the Peace Prize isnít the Nobel you want." John chuckled as he followed Rodney into the tunnel, Ronon a bit ahead of them, moving easily until he reached the first branching.

"Which way?" he asked over his shoulder?"

"Keep going straight," Rodney answered, "then right at the next corridor."

"Do you have any idea what weíre looking for, or do I just keep going until a force field knocks me off my feet?"

"I wonder if it would curl his hair more or straighten it?" John mused.

Rodney couldnít help but snicker at that. "It might singe his fringe," he murmured before speaking louder for Rononís benefit. "Hopefully a ZPM and there were no notes about force fields, but donít go running around, just in case."

Ronon just grunted, the noise eloquent of his disgust, making John grin.

"You just win people over everywhere you go."

"Itís a gift, I know." When they got to the next intersection, Rodney halted, motioning the others to raise their lights so that he could examine the wall. "Yes, yes, weíre on the right trail," he murmured.

"If we find the Blair Witch, I swear Iíll haunt you for eternity," John muttered. As he looked around, squinting into the darkness, the passageway gradually brightened, the walls themselves lighting up.

"I think itís more Ďfollow the yellow brick roadí, and if you call me the cowardly lion, I will shoot you."

"Next time, I want to be the one to guard the hole," Ronon sighed.

John laughed. "Teyla had a year longer with us than you did. Iím sure sheíd say you have to catch up." He eyed Rodney thoughtfully. "Blue gingham and ruby slippers might work. Itíd certainly bring out your eyes."

The look Rodney gave him could have cut diamonds.

"You know I love your eyes." John smiled innocently.

"I know Iím going to kick your ass if you keep it up."

"You know I love it when you kiss it," John said, purposely misunderstanding.

Rodney sighed and shook his head before starting down the corridor toward the energy reading. Snickering, John followed him, keeping a wary eye on both Rodney and their surroundings.

"Large room up here," Ronon commented, sweeping the open space with his light.

"Good, good; we need to go through it and into the next one."

"Itís weird that Dr. Manion couldnít find this," John mused. "Itís almost as if it was waiting for us."

"She doesnít have gene, and itís possible that this place, like the city, loves you."

"It seems to like you perfectly well too!"

"Letís see... it opened a hole for you, lit up for you; Iím betting it spits the ZPM out the minute you get near it."

"I would think that would be a good thing," Ronon commented from up ahead.

"It is. Rodney just has gene-envy issues," John chuckled. "And it lit up for you first. The first room anyway."

"Fine, I get to be the conductor on your love-train," Rodney sighed though he was smiling slightly as he spoke.

"You can keep any of that for back in Atlantis," Ronon growled. "I donít need to see it."

John laughed. "Donít worry, the love train stops in our quarters."

"I meant the way Ancient places love the colonel!"

"I prefer having you love me."

"Do either of you want to look at this room up here?"

"Why? Whatís in it?" Rodney asked, hurrying forward to peer around Rononís bulk.

"Nothing, but it shut you up."

John burst into laughter.

Growling, Rodney pushed past the Satedan and into the room which lit up obediently.

Following him, John asked, "So where should we..." He trailed off into silence when a panel slid open at his approach, displaying a sealed case inside.

"Iím waiting for the spitting," Ronon commented.

Rodney looked up from the scanner and sighed. "Go ahead and get it."

John gave the case a dirty look, knowing that he was never going to hear the end of this, but he obediently stepped forward and reached for the case, half expecting to hit a force field or get zapped, but he retrieved it without incident and handed it over to Rodney. "So do you think weíve actually managed to get one of the ZPMs the Ancients left?" he asked, unwilling to open the case for fear of finding it was another disappointment.

"Itís a distinct possibility." Rodney weighed the case in his hands before glancing at the other two. "Shall we take a look?"

"You have to open it eventually," Ronon said pragmatically while John shrugged and nodded.

"If itís booby-trapped and we get flash-fried, Iím never going to forgive you." Saying this, Rodney set the case on the floor and crouched down beside it, feeling around the edges for a catch.

Johnís hand shot out, stopping him, and John stared at it intently for a long moment before releasing Rodney again. "It doesnít feel dangerous."

"Glad to hear it, Iíd hate to be blown all over the room."

"I wouldnít be too happy about it either."

"Will you just open the case!"

"Iím trying!" Rodney protested, before handing the case over to John in frustration. "Here, you try it." John winced slightly as he accepted it. He looked at the box for a moment and then simply touched it and it opened. Any comment Rodney might have made was forestalled when he caught sight of the caseís contents, and he gave a pleased cry when he drew the ZPM from the padding around it.

"Still charged?" John asked, his eyes on the small power source that could make frequent gate travel between galaxies possible for the time in ten millennia.

Rodney was too busy connecting the ZPM to the scanner to answer, but his pleased expression made words unnecessary.

"The SGC will be pleased, as will Elizabeth." John slid an arm around Rodneyís shoulders, careful not to jostle him, and hugged him.

"It was almost too easyónot that Iím complaining," Rodney added quickly before unhooking the leads and setting the ZPM back in its case.

"I think we were due a break after the last two." John shook his head at Ronon when it seemed the Satedan would question that statement and mouthed "later." "Even in Atlantis something should occasionally be easy."

"True, very true." Some of Rodneyís happiness at finding the fully-charged power source dimmed, and he stood, gripping the case tightly. "We should get back."

The two men only nodded, knowing that Rodneyís thoughts were on Rover again now that the mission had been accomplished. John radioed Teyla to let her know what theyíd found and that they were on their way back, and he slid an arm around Rodneyís shoulders as they walked.

"Too bad buffering a new central processing crystal for Rover wasnít that easy," Rodney murmured as they headed back to the main room and the corridor beyond.

Johnís arm tightened around him. "Itís not easy, but you will do it. Even the universe wouldnít dare balk you on this one," he teased gently. For a moment he tensed, almost stopping as the shadows made it appears that something Rover-sized was moving in a cross-corridor, but then they drew nearer and he saw that it was just a visual effect caused by the dimness everywhere but the hallway they were in and what seemed to be an inset shelf. He sighed, missing Rover almost as much as Rodney did.

Rodney glanced over and tightened the arm he had around Johnís waist. "Weíll fix him; I know we will."

"Of course we will. Heís part of our family, and weíre not going to lose him."

"Exactly." Rodney nodded and hefted the case and smiled again. "After all, now that we have a spare ZPM, I can do anything."

"I always knew you could."

"Thatís because youíre pretty damn smart as well."

"Can you stop complimenting each other and walk?" Ronon growled.

"We are walking," John pointed out. "I mastered walking and talking years ago."

"And he does both very well," Rodney praised.

"Aww shucks, you noticed."

"I think Iím going to be sick. Or possibly shoot you both."

"You wouldnít!"

"No, but I can dream about it!"

"The fact that you talk about dreaming about us makes me very uneasy. Does Teyla know this little fixation of yours?"

John was laughing so hard he had to stop as he bent double, clutching Rodney for support. Teylaís voice came through the radio, "I too am interested in these dreams."

"Teyla!" Ronon yelped and glared at the other men.

Rodney was snickering as well. "You brought it up, Ronon, not us."

Teylaís rich chuckle filled their ears. "We shall discuss it in private back in Atlantis, Ronon."

John grinned and turned his radio off for a moment. "You can thank us tomorrow."

Ronon chuckled after a moment. "I may do that."

"If you can walk," Rodney smirked.

"Rodney, stop teasing the much bigger man. I donít want to have to shoot him to save you."

Ronon smiled slowly and checked to make sure his own radio was off. "Actually, Iím hoping that happens myself."

John chuckled. "Good luck with that. And now letís get back. It sounds like we all have things to do tonight."

Rodney snorted. "Some more than others."

"Donít worry, I wonít let him send Rover to interrupt you once we get him fixed," John promised.

"Thatís a damn good idea."

"Once we fix Rover, weíre taking him on a vacation."

"And thatís an even better one." John nudged Rodney to get him moving again, and they all made their way back to the exit and up the ladder. Dr. Manion barely nodded at them before starting down the ladder, intent on investigating the complex.

"So, do you want to tell Elizabeth or shall I?"

"I wouldnít dream of stealing your moment. Iíll just stand behind you, smiling smugly."

"We could tell her on the radio, you know..."

"So youíll be the only one to get the benefit of my smile. I think Iíll live with the disappointment."

"Well, Iím sure Ronon will enjoy it too, and you can repeat it when we get there so Elizabeth can see it as well."

"I have a feeling weíll be heading directly for the lab when we get back. Elizabethís seen me smile before."

"True, and I want to see if Radekís come up with anything while weíve been gone."

"Iím sure heíll have been working non-stop. And much as you hate to admit it, heís damn near as smart as you are. Together youíll find a way."

Rodney nodded as they walked into the jumper and strapped themselves in. "Damn right, now get us back so I can work, you can smile, and Ronon can do things with Teyla that I am determinedly not thinking about."

"Which means that I will not have to give you another lesson with the sticks," Teyla observed, making John grin.

"Careful, Rodney, or weíre going to have to fix you too."

"Oh, ha ha."

"I thought it was funny," Ronon commented.

"Play nice and donít distract your pilot," John suggested. "Ronon, concentrate on Teyla."

Teylaís eyebrows rose. "I believe I would prefer to wait until we are in private."

"As do we all," Rodney nodded.

"Almost there, people. And then we can all go off and do whatever it is we have planned," John said, hoping to distract them before he heard more than he wanted to.

"Which in my case will be getting this to the lab and seeing what I can do with it." Rodney ran a hand over the case containing the ZPM as he spoke.

John smiled faintly, knowing full well that not even a ZPM was going to hold Rodneyís attention once he got back to his lab and Rover. And he probably wouldnít let Zelenka play with it either until Rover was fixed. Then again, John mused, he was probably doing Radek an injustice; the Czech had a cart too and would likely be focused on Rover as well.

"Radek!" Rodney shouted as he swung the case up onto a lab bench and unfastened the clasps. "We have work to do."

Radek glared at him. "Some of us have been working," he growled over Roverís parts.

"Yes, but you can work better with this; I have an idea..." Rodney began, setting the case on the bench top and opening it, impatient to test the theory heíd come up with regarding using the ZPM to power a buffer while transferring Roverís memories to a new command crystal.

"You found another ZPM!" Radek leapt to his feet, babbling in Czech before switching back to English to demand, "Do you think it will help with the memory transfer?" as usual following Rodneyís thoughts.

"The problem weíve had is sustaining a strong enough buffer while transferring his personality," Rodney explained unnecessarily as he carefully removed the ZPM from the case. "Elizabeth had an issue with us rerouting the cityís power for even the few seconds the transfer would take, but with this newó" He paused and hooked a set of sensors to the power unit. "ófully charged ZPM, we can effect the transfer without affecting the cityís security."

Radek nodded as he watched over Rodneyís shoulder. "It should work," he agreed. "It will provide sufficient power to avoid data loss or corruption. Which means that all that remains is to do it."

"After I recheck the equations." Rodney looked over at the new housing theyíd retrofitted to hold the specialized crystals that housed Roverís personality and intelligence.

Radek nodded and John came forward from where heíd been sitting out of the way. Placing a hand on Rodneyís shoulder, he leaned in. "Can I help?"

"With the equations?"

"Yes, with the equations. Not an idiot here, remember?" John lightly kneaded Rodneyís shoulders, trying to dissipate some of the tension as he ignored the snap in Rodneyís tone.

"Fine, take a look at them." Rodney glanced back over his shoulder and gave a small smile of thanks before he grew serious again. "Radek, whereís the new master crystal?"

"Right here." Radek opened a padded case to let Rodney see the crystal. "I wanted to keep it safe until we were ready for it."

"Good, good." Leaving John to the math, Rodney walked over to the inert housing, checking the placement of the secondary crystals inside the sensor array.

"I think this will work, Rodney," Radek said encouragingly. "All we were missing was the power, and youíve solved that problem. You will have him back soon."

"Of course he will; why are you acting like youíre doubting me?"

"Iím not," Radek said indignantly. "I was attempting to be a supportive friend, but obviously that is too much for you to grasp." He followed up with a short diatribe in Czech before turning back to his own computer, obviously ignoring Rodney.

"Touchy people," Rodney muttered before going to peer over Johnís shoulder. "Well?"

"Looks good," John replied simply, leaning back against him.

Rodney rested a hand on Johnís shoulder and squeezed it tightly. "All right then. Radek, will you please get the old crystal for me?"

The polite request had Radek peering suspiciously at Rodney briefly before he smiled faintly. "Of course." A moment later he handed the crystal over and was looking over Rodneyís shoulder, offering suggestions.

After almost an hour of minute adjustments, calibrating and recalibrating gauges, Rodney finally nodded. "It looks good."

Radek nodded and John simply shrugged. Theyíd gone beyond his understanding about thirty seconds into it. "So, shall we make the attempt?" Radek said.

Rodney straightened up, rubbed at his face before taking a deep breath. "Not an attempt, weíre doing it."

"Of course." Radek hesitated. "Do you wish me to do it or to do it yourself?" he asked delicately. This should work, but if it didnít and Rodney had been the one to do it, he wasnít sure if McKay would be able to handle it.

"No, Iíll do it." Moving fatalistically slowly, Rodney triple-checked the leads connecting the ZPM to the device that held the crystals. After assuring himself that the energy signatures were stable, he pressed his lips together and entered the command to begin the information transfer from the broken crystal to the whole one.

The ZPM glowed as it drew more and more power, and after a moment all three men relaxed slightly as it became obvious that something was happening and nothing was blowing up.

"How will we know when itís done?" John asked in a near whisper.

"When that readout in the lower right reaches one hundred, itís done." Rodneyís voice was hoarse with strain, and he looked as if he was bodily trying to inch the figure higher. John laced his fingers through Rodneyís and stared at the readout with equal intensity, Zelenka nearly vibrating with tension beside them.

"And then you reactivate him or he just starts up..." John trailed off when he realized that they didnít have any answers; no one had ever done this before, not with Rover. He stood silently, just believing, one small part of his mind wondering if he should clap to show that he believed.

Rodney gave a small laugh. "Well, first we have to put the main crystal in his new housing." His eyes flicked from the screen to the cart and back again in time to see the figure reach seventy.

"Ah, yes." John managed a faintly embarrassed smile, but honestly, he didnít care since it had made Rodney laugh. "I guess I am an idiot after all."

Tightening his fingers around Johnís, Rodney shook his head. "Far from it, Colonel." The readout hit ninety, and the thrum from the ZPM took on a deeper note.

"Almost there," Radek breathed, staring intently at the readout along with Rodney and John, all of them unconsciously holding their breath as the total crept up percentage point by percentage point.

"Ninety-four, ninety-five, ninety-six..." They were all counting aloud now and a new note cut through the low thrum from the ZPM, a high whine from the cracked crystal.

Johnís eyes darted to the crystal, and he stared, praying that nothing happened before the transfer completed. Even four percent of Roverís personality being lost would make a noticeable difference, not to mention that exploding crystal wouldnít be good for the three men hovering over it.

The readout climbed slowly through ninety-seven and ninety-eight, the whine rising in pitch as it did so. "Just a little more," Rodney whispered, tapping a few keys to modulate the buffer slightly, hoping that would keep the crack from spreading further.

John hesitantly moved closer to the glowing ZPM, one hand reaching toward it. Although he stopped short of touching it, the glow brightened, and the count seemed to speed up slightly.

"Be careful, John," Rodney rasped, reaching out for his arm. "Iím not losing you too."

"Youíre not losing me either."

"Right, that too." The readout stalled at 99.3%, and they watched as the crack in the flawed crystal deepened.

John moved closer to the console and the ZPM and placed both hands on it, one on either side of the power source. His eyes closed as he concentrated on it, all but begging the city and the system to do this for them.

"John..." Rodney began worriedly before jerking as the readout flashed red and showed 100% transfer. "Shut it down!" he shouted, knowing Radek would get the leads as he hit the command keys.

Radek was already moving, having seen the readout at the same instant Rodney did. John backed away from the console, only the sweat that he nonchalantly wiped from his face showing his awareness of the danger heíd been in.

"Never, never do that again, do you hear me?" Rodney growled, pulling John into a tight hug.

John shrugged even as he hugged Rodney equally tightly. "It worked, didnít it?"

"Youíre an idiot," Rodney sighed, "but yes, it did."

"So trust me. Whatís the point of this super-gene if I canít use it now and then for something worthwhile?"

"You just enjoy attempting to give me a heart attack, isnít that right, Radek?"

Radek appeared to give the question due consideration before he finally spoke. "I believe it is the colonelís preferred form of entertainment."

"Youíre not helping, Dr. Zelenka," John growled, trying not to laugh.

"Iím surrounded by them," Rodney grumbled, glowering at the two of them before giving in and smiling.

"Arenít you lucky?" John said cheerfully while Radek chuckled.

Rodney sighed and pushed past them to carefully remove the crystal from its supports, weighing it in his hands before carrying it over to the new housing and settling it in place.

Once again everyone seemed to hold their breath as they waited to see if Rover would reactivate. John leaned forward, his eyes intent on the as yet inert cart, and his lips were moving in a silent of chant of "come on, you can do it, boy."

Rodney forced himself to keep still. "I canít take this; I need a tranquilizer." As if hearing that, the cart shuddered and slowly turned in his direction, the lights on its sensor array flashing.

"Rover?" Rodney whispered, crouching down and holding out a hand. "Come on, Rover; the transfer worked; I know it did."

"Thatís it, Rover," John murmured, "you can do it. Rodney wants you. You have to give Rodney what he wants."

The cart seemed to lean slightly toward John, as if listening, then shivered and rolled to Rodneyís side.

"Good boy," Rodney choked, reaching out a hand to stroke the cartís sensor array and closing his eyes when Rover leaned into the touch and extruded an arm to pat his leg.

John squatted down next to the cart and patted him with a shaky hand. "Welcome back, boy," he whispered.

Behind them, Radek whispered a soft prayer of thanksgiving before slipping silently out of the lab and sealing it behind him to ensure the small familyís privacy while he went to inform the rest of Atlantis of the good news.

END

  since 02-03-07

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