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September 2014

The gate opened early. Two, maybe three minutes. John's team was usually late, but this mission had been purely recon, so it wasn't all that unlikely that Rodney had gotten bored. John wasn't usually susceptible to whining, but he had his moments.

The IDC came through, the iris went down, and three people stumbled through the gate. John collapsed almost immediately once across the event horizon. Rodney managed to stay standing, but even from the bridge Elizabeth could see his lost expression.

Ronon, carrying Teyla, dropped to his knees barely managing--and Elizabeth could see the willpower necessary for such an achievement written across his face--to stay upright, to hold her off the ground.

Rodney scrambled onto the ground, his hands fluttering uselessly over John's body. He was screaming about medical assistance. Elizabeth's hand was already at her comm. piece, ordering Carson to the gateroom. She was running herself, flying down the stairs, possibly more than one at a time.

Ronon's arms were trembling under the strain of holding Teyla. Elizabeth said, "Ronon, let me-"

Ronon's eyes were wild, even more so than that first time she'd met him, when he'd not yet washed off the toxic sun of his most recent planet. He clutched Teyla even more tightly. "No."

"Ronon, the medical team-" was filing into the room, and Elizabeth stood back.

Carson went to John immediately, but Rodney said, "Teyla first."

"Rodney-"

"Damnit, Carson, is it really my regular practice to be noble and selfless?" Rodney's hands were steeped in John's blood. Elizabeth thought that the blood she could see across the back of his shirt might be his.

Carson moved over to Teyla. It was then, looking at Teyla the way Carson must look at all his patients in that first moment of assessment, that Elizabeth saw what had Rodney so panicked. Teyla wasn't breathing.

Carson--formidable when intent--peeled Ronon's grip back, ignoring Ronon's repeated growls of, "No."

Ronon went wild when Carson finally managed to get his hold released, but luckily a combination of blood-loss and the marines guarding the gateroom were able to keep him from attacking Carson. Carson and his team went to immediate work, Carson asking, "What happened?"

Ronon, no longer struggling, but watching intently from where four marines were holding him back, said, "Monsters. Family of them. Stumbled on a nest."

It was an hour before Carson finally admitted defeat, an hour before he looked at Ronon and said, "I'm sorry, son, she's-"

Ronon shook his head. Repeated the word, "No."

"Ronon, there's nothing I can do," Carson was saying, but Ronon was already moving toward his wife, pulling her back up into his arms.

He stayed there, his own blood indistinguishable from hers, pooling ever larger onto the gateroom floor until Elizabeth finally found it in herself to give the order to sedate and move him.

*


December 2008

Satedan wedding custom had no best man. Athosian wedding custom had no maid of honor.

So Elizabeth had planned a reception for Ronon and Teyla at which she and John could tell embarrassing stories about the two in the guise of toasts. Rodney, not wanting to be left out of the festivities, had paid for the champagne, which he insisted neither Elizabeth nor John knew enough about to be of any use.

Elizabeth had arranged diplomatic functions by the score, including picking the beverages and refreshments so as not to cause any international, or worse, intergalactic incidents, but she had let Rodney have his way. He was endearing when sneeringly determined to do something better than anyone else. Also, he oftentimes managed.

Elizabeth's toast was dry, amusing, and ultimately loving. Teyla had long since fulfilled her potential of being one of Elizabeth's most trusted councilors, and more often than not, the person who explicitly pointed out to her that she was being an idiot. As Teyla had grown more distant from her people, the pain of separation writ large on the increasing tension of her body, the sharpness of her eyes, Elizabeth had tried--and perhaps even succeeded--to fill some of that emptiness. She could not advise Teyla on how to lead, how to decide the things she did not want to decide, but she could listen to her stories about how she sometimes wanted to knock John and Rodney's heads together.

And Elizabeth, for all that she hadn't touched a man since Simon, could give excellent dating advice. Even, as it turned out, when the dates were with a largely silent, undeniably skittish, alien man.

It was in Athosian custom to dance with one's friends, and so at the reception, Teyla had requested that Elizabeth dance with her. Elizabeth allowed herself to be lead through something that was a bit like a waltz, only less complicated. She caught on quickly; ballroom dancing was required knowledge for any woman diplomat with ambition. Teyla whispered, "Without you, I do not imagine for one second that this could have happened."

It only took Elizabeth a second to realize that Teyla was talking about the marriage itself, not the wedding reception.

Elizabeth told her, "I wish you only the best, my friend."

*


September 2014

Rodney was obviously, unquestionably, the worst possible person for the job he was about to do, but everyone else who had the ability to perform the duty was either unconscious or distraught and still trying to run a city. It had already been too long. Rodney had waited--patiently, for once--for one of the medical staff to get to him, to sew up the gash on his left shoulderblade and assess that the pain in his ankle was a sprain rather than a break.

The other three had kept him from worse. Of course they had; that was their job. Rodney held onto this thought desperately.

He showered before doing what he had to do. Most of the blood on him was his or John's, but it wouldn't help the situation any.

When he reached Teyla and Ronon's quarters, Leandra was already home. It was a Tuesday, which seemed odd. Despite nearly a decade of living in a place where days of the week meant nothing, Rodney had never gotten used to thinking that any regular Tuesday could go quite this badly. Leandra would have been at pre-school all day, part of the day school Elizabeth had finally pressed the USAF to send teachers for when it became clear that people in the city were determined to come together and create offspring.

She was home alone, because Teyla would have been expecting to get back early enough to greet her. Teyla preferred--had preferred--not leaving her child with a babysitter when possible. If there had to be a sitter, Teyla always tried her hardest to make sure it was one of her or Ronon's friends, either from Atlantis or the mainland.

Leandra smiled at him when he walked in, all determination and only about three-quarters of her teeth. Rodney had heard John teaching Ronon and Teyla about the tooth fairy not six months back.

Despite his best attempts, Rodney had never been able to quash Leandra's affections for him. Like her mother, she was patient and perseverent, and when she put her mind to something, she never gave up on it.

She came at him, obviously intent on welcoming him in the Athosian custom, her forehead to his, and instead of doing everything in his power to avoid her,--as he normally would have done--Rodney lowered himself carefully to the floor. When she was close enough, he wrapped his hands around her arms and held fast.

"Uncle Rodney-" she squirmed in his grasp a bit. She still had trouble with the letter "r," particularly without the aid of all her teeth, and his name always fell from her mouth in a way that reminded Rodney how young she was. Even now, when her forehead was crinkled and her mouth pursed.

"Lele," he said, using the nickname everyone in the city except for him called her by. He felt her stop breathing. He said, "Take a breath."

She didn't. He shook her slightly, not hard enough to hurt, just enough to get her to listen. It knocked her breath loose. She struggled for a second, but when she realized he wasn't letting go, she went limp. Rodney pulled her in, hugged her to himself. She didn't even hesitate before latching on. "Lele," he repeated.

She asked, "Daddy?"

"He's in the hospital, sweetie." Rodney, who had never once in his life voluntarily touched a child, brought his hand up to the back of her head and gathered up his courage so that she wouldn't have to ask another question. "It's your mom, Lele. We. . .we were looking at some caves. I thought there might be a power source, you know, to make all the things in the city work. And she was protecting me, your mom and your dad and Uncle John were all protecting me, and we were attacked by this," Rodney didn't know, couldn't remember, could only remember the terror and the blood, and Teyla falling behind, "thing, these things, and she got hurt and the Doctor, you know Carson, right? He couldn't fix her."

Leandra's eyes, huge and dark, came up to look at his face. "She's broken?"

Rodney swallowed back bile and tears and a scream or two. "She's dead, Lele. Your mom died." The second time probably wasn't necessary, but it was Rodney's first go at the words, and he couldn't seem to stop them from coming out in whatever way they would.

Leandra tilted her head. "But. . . She's coming back, right? She said she was coming back. This morning. She kissed me and said so."

Rodney could explain the concept behind wormhole function, he could decode and simplify Ancient schematics, and he could outline any numbers of plans to save the city once again in terms simple enough for John and Elizabeth to follow. He had absolutely no idea of how to explain death to an almost five year old girl. "When she said that, she meant it, Lele. But sometimes things happen that we don't mean to happen, even to grown up people like myself and your mom and your dad. Your mom can't come back anymore."

"This is her home," Leandra explained, patiently, as though Rodney was the one who didn't understand.

"This was her home, sweetheart. She has another home, now."

Leandra frowned. "She left?"

"She didn't want to. She had to. She tried very, very hard to stay with you and your dad."

"Where'd she go?" Leandra's lower lip was trembling now, her eyes wet and wavery.

Rodney, an affirmed, dyed-in-the-wool, willing-to-burn-for-his-beliefs atheist, said, "Somewhere perfect, where she'll be happy all the time."

*


January 2009

It had taken Teyla all of a month after the wedding to get herself with child. She announced it with her normal, to-be-depended-upon serenity. Ronon stood near, face blank, eyes terrified.

John, predictably, was thrilled by the news. There were congratulations and back slapping, and that grin that hid all his intelligence without any of the effort he normally put into doing so. Rodney, for his part, sighed and told Teyla, "I really would have expected better from you."

Teyla smiled at him and asked, "Why now, when you never have before?"

Rodney, knowing when others had a point, even if he wasn't keen on admitting it, nodded. "Is this going to affect your ability to save my life?"

Ronon, who quite obviously had no sense of humor about his recently-conceived embryo, growled. John patted him forcefully on the back. Reassurance between the two of them was frighteningly near to something Rodney recognized as mortal combat. John, still grinning, said, "I'm sure Teyla and I can find someone to fill in for her when she feels it's necessary."

"Certainly," Teyla said, and Rodney knew there'd be no talking anybody out of the damn baby idea.

*


September 2014

John awoke to a very quiet, worn Rodney at his side and bit down on the urge to howl, to rage, to do anything other than lie there and let his body continue to heal. He said, "Ronon?"

Rodney didn't say anything. John followed his gaze to where the other man slept, Leandra curled up over him, not even half his size. "How bad?"

"Not like you."

"Then why's he still asleep?"

"Sedatives. Probably enough to fell an elephant, which. . ." But Rodney just trailed off.

So John asked, "How're you?"

"Tired of answering your stupid questions."

John relaxed a little at that. "Elizabeth working out the details?"

Rodney nodded, a tight, controlled little nod. "She contacted the Athosians for guidance. She's waiting to see if he can- If there's something he needs, tradition-wise."

"He needs his wife and his child's mother back," John said, hazel eyes a dusty, shaded brown.

"I," Rodney swallowed. "I'm sorry-"

"Rodney-"

"No, John-"

"No, Rodney," John said, in the way he sometimes said, "go!" when things were about to blow up, or "you will do as I say," when Rodney was fucking up his strategy. John would live through Teyla's death under his command. It wouldn't be the same as any of the other eight hundred and thirteen personnel he'd lost since assuming command of Atlantis, it wouldn't even be the same as Ford, who had left John a long, lingering, nearly crippling hope inside of him.

For ten years Teyla had been his voice of balance, often of mercy. She had been willing to smile for him when he couldn't, and to place cool, steady fingers at his shoulder, his arm, even his cheek once in a while, letting the world still for a moment in her touch. Before Atlantis, John hadn't believed that friendships were meant to last lifetimes, had had no frame of reference for how they could.

John would live through her loss, through this loss, but only if he could minimize the damage, could save the rest of his team. He couldn't do that with Rodney devouring himself in guilt. "If anything, I should have been paying closer attention. You were paying attention to what we need you to pay attention to."

"That's such bullshit, Colonel, and you know it. There's a reason I go out into the field armed, and it's not because the equipment makes the ladies stop in their tracks."

An angry Rodney was easier to handle than a saddened one, but John wasn't a fool; he knew what lay beneath the anger. "No, it's for emergency situations. And without you carrying, there's no way I'd be talking to you right now."

John didn't remember much, but he remembered Ronon diving into the fray to carry Teyla out. He remembered getting stuck behind. He remembered fire that wasn't his own, and just enough, just enough cover, to run, to protect Rodney and Ronon on the way back to the gate. Rodney said, "She was taking care of me. She was always taking care of me."

John, exhausted, and in enough pain to know just how much he was going to be in later, said, "Yes. Because she wanted to. Because we signed on for that, knowing what it meant. Having experience with what it meant."

Rodney opened his mouth to argue. His eyes flickered down to John's face and whatever he saw there caused him to change his words. "Go to sleep."

John didn't want to leave Rodney, particularly like this, in danger from his own, less corporeal but equally destructive monsters. So long as he had Rodney's to deal with, his own could be kept at bay. So long as he could fix Rodney, not everything he did would feel like failure. He said, "All right, but when I wake up. . ."

*


April 2007

John had only interfered when it became patently clear that Teyla was going to have to take Ronon by force to get him to listen. Ronon seemed like the kind of guy who might like it a little rough, but John just felt that was a bad way to start things off. So he played dirty, taking Ronon to the mats and allowing himself to be pounded until Ronon was tired enough to take a bit of a pounding himself, along with a few small words of advice.

The pounding went down easier. John wasn't terribly surprised.

Ronon glowered and said, "She's perfectly safe without me."

Which would have had John stopping in his tracks, if doing so hadn't meant immediate (although probably painless) death. "You've been a part of this city for nearly two years and so far nothing disastrous has occurred."

Ronon threw him to the ground then, and settled for looking at him. John shrugged from his prone state. "Well, nothing that you caused."

Ronon helped him up from the ground. He said, softly, "I don't like seeing her hurt."

John ran a hand through his hair. "Then stop resisting."

"I meant-"

"I know what you meant."

Ronon backed up a bit, physically.

John sighed, aware that he was being slightly cruel. Teyla had reminded him--at the beginning of all of this when she had come and asked forthright questions about humans and fraternization policies and all sorts of things that John had told her to ignore--about the village that had been culled in Ronon's wake. John knew that Ronon kept a sack of survival gear near his bed, on him at all times, just in case he should have to flee. He knew Ronon kept his headset close enough that he could hear it should it come on in his sleep, close enough that he could contact the others if necessary. He said, "You live here, Ronon. You're one of us."

"I-"

John shook his head.

Ronon looked away from John. "In my sleep, they are still right behind me. Right behind her and you. Even McKay."

John smiled at this last, admitted grudgingly. "I know," he said. He had those sorts of dreams, too. Different settings, different villains, and different outcomes, but the heart of the matter was all the same. "But you can't allow your fear to make decisions for the both of you."

"I can," Ronon said stubbornly. John already knew that Ronon realized he shouldn't. He didn't say anything. There was a time to push, and then there was a time to step back and let things happen. Most of the time, with Ronon, the latter worked far more efficiently.

John said, "I have a briefing with Elizabeth," although he had no such thing. She'd allow him to come in and chat over basic logistics for a while, just to give the lie some truth. After all, she'd been having to stand by a frustrated and hurt Teyla for at least four months now.

Ronon nodded, and let him go.

*


September 2014

Leandra's head was on Ronon's stomach when he awoke. He couldn't see it, but he knew the feel of her, how much she weighed, the way her hair fanned out, the pattern of her breaths when she was awake, and when she was asleep. At that moment, she was asleep.

From his side he heard Elizabeth say, "We couldn't get her to go home. Rodney and I both tried."

Ronon tried to swallow, to work up some moisture in his mouth. Elizabeth's hand found its way to the back of his neck, the other one holding a cup. One of the ice chips slid onto his tongue and Ronon allowed the cold of it to numb his mouth. Other parts were being taken care of with something, morphine, perhaps. Other parts weren't being taken care of at all. Ronon concentrated on his mouth.

He asked, "What time is it?"

"Almost three."

"Morning or afternoon?"

"Morning. Of the fifteenth." It had been the twelfth when they'd left.

"Has she left at all?"

"No."

"Has she eaten?"

"Carson forced the issue on breakfast, lunch and dinner. We can't get her to take sweets."

Ronon looked at Elizabeth then. Leandra had a sweet tooth worse than McKay. Elizabeth's skin was looking even more paper-thin than usual, the shadows around her eyes dark and angry. The eyes themselves were distinctly lacking their trademark hopefulness. He said, "I was right beside her. I was looking the other direction."

It sounded like an apology even to his own ears. Elizabeth would know for whom it was meant.

Her own apology went something like, "There was nothing on the telemetry. No sign of even so much as a bird." It wasn't meant for him either.

He asked, "McKay?" first, because if McKay wasn't all right, if this had all been for nothing, it was best to know that upfront.

"Minor injuries."

Ronon took another ice chip and let it melt before braving the question, "Sheppard?"

"It's going to take some physical therapy, but Carson says he'll make a full recovery."

Though it seemed irrelevant at the moment, Ronon knew that would change, that he would remember to be relieved that he hadn't lost his closest friend at the same time as his wife. Ronon's fingers curled unconsciously about the strands of Leandra's hair, finer in texture like Teyla's, darker in color, like his. Because Elizabeth was the woman his wife had gone to when she hadn't known where else to go, and because his wife had been the woman he had gone to first, second, last and when he had no other options, Ronon said, "I don't know what to tell her."

Elizabeth looked down at the child in question. Softly she said, "Rodney tried to explain. We think she understands that her mom isn't coming back."

Ronon caught the tremble of Elizabeth's chin. He didn't say anything. "I don't know if I can let her out of my sight." Or have her near all the time, her voice a purer version of Teyla's husky tones, her grin a carbon copy of her mother's. And there would be other things to tell her, more questions that she would realize when they were alone, without McKay's brain, or Sheppard's affectionate charm, or Elizabeth's careful knowledge of words. Without Teyla's hugs and customs and beliefs.

Elizabeth's gaze flickered from the curtain--behind which Sheppard's bed most probably lay--to him. She said, "I know."

*


January 2009

Although they had never counted the days, or even spoke of it, really, Ronon knew the exact moment Leandra was conceived.

It had been after another mission, another first contact from which they'd returned bruised and battered and without any agreement to trade. Sheppard had a dislocated shoulder, and Ronon a concussion. Carson let him out of the infirmary, but only after Teyla had promised--with her most serious, most austere I-am-a-leader-of-the-Athosian-people face--not to let him sleep.

Once they were safely out of Carson's hearing distance--and Ronon knew from unfortunate experience that his range was wider than any human's should have been--Ronon snickered at her. "You will not allow me?" he asked, mimicking her tones.

"I will not," she said, ignoring his antics.

Ronon decided to push his luck. "And how do you plan to keep me from doing anything I want?"

Teyla said, "I have my ways," and pushed him into the nearest room, which happened to be the puddlejumper bay. Later, Ronon would ask her if she had purposely taken them there--he hadn't been paying attention to the direction of their wanderings. She would never let him wander anywhere dangerous; at least not without telling him he was doing so first. He would also ask if she had known there would not be anyone there.

She would answer neither question. Ronon supposed that neither answer really mattered.

What mattered was that she had taken him on the bench in the back of Puddlejumper Three, straddling him and pressing him into the slope of the ship's wall. The wall was rough against his back, and she solid against his front and she whispered, "Stay with me," the whole time.

Ronon growled, "I would never-" over the pleasure of his release, and despite the fact that he couldn't finish, she had squeezed his thighs between hers, ground her hands into his shoulders and said, "I know."

*


September 2014

Elizabeth broke four days after Ronon carried her best friend through the Stargate already past hope of revival. Ronon and John had both woken, if not managed to stay that way for very long, and Leandra was eating small bits, if nothing that made Elizabeth think she was going to grow into her mother's physical condition.

She was preparing for the service, to be enacted as soon as Ronon was able to stand for at least ten minutes at a time, and preferably walk the length of Atlantis' halls. A knock at her door made her look up and she managed, somehow, to find a smile for Halling and Jinto--now a man in his own right--who were both standing just outside her office.

"Come in," she said, and, "I'm sorry. I hope it was not perceived as inconsiderate that I sent Major Lorne with the news. Colonel Sheppard and Ronon were both wounded-"

Halling held up a hand. "It was perfectly acceptable, Dr. Weir. May we sit?"

Elizabeth resisted the urge to pinch at the bridge of her nose in an effort to try and stem the pain that had taken up permanent residence in her skull. "My manners seem to have disappeared entirely. Please, have a seat." She gestured to the nearest two available.

Halling said, "After she joined your expedition, Teyla was never thereafter entirely one of us."

Elizabeth heard the lack of accusation in the statement. "She always thought of herself as Athosian. She had begun to teach Lele the-" To her horror, Elizabeth's voice caught in her throat. She took a breath. "Perhaps there is someone who could help Leandra continue to know the traditions of her mother's people?"

"Of course," Jinto said. "For the moment, however, we came to offer any assistance that might be necessary in planning her service. We are certain she would have wished it planned by you, but if you had any questions, it would be remiss were we to make ourselves unavailable."

Elizabeth tried to explain how very little she knew about Athosian customs, for all that she felt like Teyla and her had talked about them endlessly. She tried to explain how, in a lifetime of perfectionism, she had never felt the pressing need to do anything so perfectly as she did now. She began to say, "I appreciate-" but what came out sounded more like a whimper, and Elizabeth could feel the hot, slow slide of tears on her cheeks. "I'm sorry," she said, not turning away, as that seemed the only thing worse than facing them with this.

Halling said, "We try our hardest to celebrate our dead's journey. A continuation of existence to which the living are not privy." His eyes were sad.

Jinto said, "It can be hard."

Elizabeth bit her lower lip and willed herself to bring her emotions under control. When she trusted her voice, she said, "I have questions."

Gently, Halling said, "Ask."

*


June 2007

John and Elizabeth had monitored what they had taken to calling "Operation: Lurve in the Pegasus," together. (Mostly John called it that, and Elizabeth didn't come up with anything else.) What one knew, the other very shortly found out. It was the only way to maintain sanity, and the lives and safety of everyone on John's team. Or so they told each other. In her more honest moments, Elizabeth was aware that she and John were closet romantics living vicariously off the unspoken soap opera unfolding before their eyes.

One Sunday, roughly two months after John had successfully beaten Ronon into accepting Teyla's advances, Teyla had come and stood in the gateroom for the better part of an hour. At first, glancing outside her office, Elizabeth just assumed she was waiting for someone to come back through the gate, or some other tangible event to occur.

After the second hour passed, she went down and stood by her friend. "Good morning."

Teyla turned her face just enough to smile at Elizabeth, a bare curving of lips, lifting of cheekbones. "Indeed."

Teyla's lips were swollen. Elizabeth hadn't felt the pressure of another's lips against hers in two years, but she could still remember how it looked afterward. Elizabeth smiled in return.

Teyla said softly, "It has been a very long time since I wanted to give another something that did not exist. The temptation to run from the impulse is very strong."

Elizabeth glanced at the inactive gate. "I can imagine."

"I have long since learned to live conceiving of safety as an illusion. To fight for what I want, accept what I have, and be happy with that which is."

Elizabeth did not say, "It must have been hard," because Teyla had told her stories of terror and survival, and Elizabeth knew her equilibrium and optimism were hard won, and faltered from time to time.

Teyla said, "He still wants things he no longer believes in."

But as hard as Teyla's life had been, Ronon had lived apart from any touch, any hint of love or compassion or even interpersonal strife for seven years. "His ideals were all he had for all his time as a Runner."

"I am unsure that he can stop Running. Or that he will, for me."

"He's already slowing down."

"I cannot see it."

"No," Elizabeth was unsurprised, "you're running alongside him."

"I have no other way to keep up."

"I have a solution, but it's risky."

Teyla looked at her full-on, then. "Please."

"Stop following him. Take the chance that he will notice you've fallen behind, and will come back for you."

Teyla said, "I am very afraid that I love him."

Elizabeth, who remembered what that looked like as well, said, "I don't think you're alone."

*


September 2014

There were things to be done. The energy conduits on the west side of the city were sporadically shutting down for no reason that anyone on the team Rodney had sent out could determine. The diode converters beneath the gateroom were working at twenty four point nine two percent less capacity than normal. There were three recently discovered items of Ancient technology at which Rodney had not yet gotten time to poke and prod and maybe even coo at a little. If nobody was around to watch.

Instead he was sitting watching Elizabeth pull herself together with twine and perhaps a bit of Elmer's Glue--nothing so sturdy as duct tape, or even fishing wire--and try to give a eulogy for a woman who could not be eulogized. Rodney was tempted to give into the full blinding force of his disgust with the proceedings, to stand and laugh at all these people who thought Teyla could be remembered with words, contained with a ceremony.

Rodney's tongue felt scorching in his mouth. To his right, though, two seats over, Ronon sat holding Leandra on his lap. She hadn't let go of him since she'd been told, since she'd clasped Rodney's hand so tightly he'd felt bones shift and pulled him to the infirmary. Ronon looked like he might break apart if she let go, like he might disintegrate on the wind and join Teyla's ashes, waiting in their urn for those still study enough to spread them.

Rodney was already partially responsible for Teyla's death. (More than partially, really, but Rodney found himself unable to help acceding a bit to John's insistence that he believe otherwise.) Neither his actions nor his words would be what robbed Leandra of a second parent, John of a second team member. Not even if Rodney had to adopt silence as a mode of operation in Ronon's presence. No matter what.

Elizabeth said, "I thought, when I came here, with the arrogance acquired only as we age, that I knew what friendship was. Teyla made me see how very superficial my understanding of that word, that idea, was."

But Elizabeth wasn't the one whom Teyla had gently, and over a period of years, cajoled into learning self-defense out of a pure, uninhibited concern for her welfare. Rodney had never wanted to admit to himself that he had done it for her, had been so very comfortable with his ability to place himself before others. She had asked if she could teach him just a few things, "Skills to help you be less dependent upon us," she had told him, an ironic twist to her mouth, and Rodney had taken her at face value.

But she had been patient, and always at his side, his back, on missions. She had never assumed that anything she could teach him would lessen his need for her, not really. She had never assumed that anything he knew--or said he knew--meant that her position in his life was less important. Rodney never asked her why she never laughed at him to his face, or responded sharply to him the way others did. He reassured himself that it was simply cultural, or that she was laughing behind his back, or that she was one of the few people who actually understood his importance to the Pegasus Galaxy.

Right now, though, with Elizabeth saying, "She had the right smile for every occasion, and her instinct for which one to use was infallible," Rodney could not get away from the feel of that smile settling on him, approbatory and unfailingly fond. He could not escape the feel of her palm settling against his wrist in comfort, or the memory of the way she had come to carry extra power bars in case Rodney needed calming.

Rodney, who had rarely ever been at a loss for a way to describe things in words, knew that there was no way he could talk about those memories, make them sound the way they felt inside of him. All there was to do was to fix Atlantis, discover new things about her, make it so that Teyla Emmagen had not pushed Rodney McKay through one last Stargate for no reason.

Elizabeth said, "I will miss you, my friend."

Leandra said, softly, on a sob, "Mommy."

John sat in a full Air Force Dress uniform. His breath, when existent, was stuttered, choked.

Ronon had a hand nested tightly in Leandra's hair. It had to be hurting her.

Rodney held onto his seat to keep himself from running for the safety of his labs.

*


October 2009

There were times when Teyla would need to do something, something that required the use of her arms, and she would swiftly transfer Leandra into Rodney's arms, not even looking for more than a second to see if he had actually managed to grasp on. The first time he had exclaimed, "Oh, very smart, baby-dropping is the number one cause of permanent brain-damage in infants, you realize?"

In fact, Rodney knew of no such statistic, as Rodney had never cared to know anything about infants, much less human ones, but it sounded rather plausible. It seemed unlikely that Teyla would know any differently.

"I feel that your intelligence will help you find a way to manage to support one nine pound infant for a few moments, Dr. McKay," Teyla said, as though she wasn't risking damage to her child's thinking capabilities. Then again, maybe Ronon and she didn't consider that a priority. Still, nervous function was based out of the brain as well.

Then again, she had a point. Holding a child couldn't possibly be that complicated. People far stupider than Rodney managed it all the time.

Leandra had hauntingly familiar eyes, eyes that belonged in the faces of his friends, not this three week old bundle of cells whom he barely recognized. She made lots of nonsensical noises and wiggled erratically in his grasp.

Actually, the noises were sort of nice. They reminded Rodney of several different Ancient artifacts that he'd had yet to sort out completely. The artifacts made random, high-pitched noises as well, and Rodney liked to think that they sounded as fond as Leandra clearly sounded.

The artifacts, however, were clearly smarter, as Rodney did appreciate them.

Teyla, who had become more easily affectionate since conception--and really, she'd outdone the rest of the team in that area before, anyhow--stole her daughter back from Rodney's unsure hands, her forehead fluidly moving into his without awkward bumping or knocking. "Thank you, doctor."

Rodney scowled. "Next time, ask."

Teyla had never learned to do that. Rodney had given up trying to get her to.

*


September 2014

The sticks burned in John's palms. He gripped at them tighter, took a breath, said, "Don't think," and fought against the sensations his mind was calling forth. The wood was perfectly room temperature, melded flawlessly to the palms of his hands. There was less likelihood of the sticks causing blisters than his P90.

He crossed the sticks defensively at the sound of the doors swishing open. The burn heightened so that John nearly gasped at it when Ronon walked through. He was empty-handed. He stood at the door for a few minutes, seemingly waiting for something. Not sure if it was what Ronon wanted, but glad of the excuse to do so, John set the sticks down neatly next to his shoes. "Spar?"

Ronon nodded, his eyes still on the sticks. It took less than a feint for him to spring into action. John didn't mind. Being thrown on the ground repeatedly hurt less than the searing heat pressed up into his skin. Ronon was wild, unpredictable, and John didn't try to strategize, didn't try to win, just fought to stay upward, stay in the game, stay with Ronon.

When they were finished, Ronon was panting, wet from head-to-toe and John had bruises that Carson would glare at him for and lecture him over later. John found his breath and admitted, "I don't know what to do about having you on the team."

Resting on his knees on the mat, Ronon's body posture was limp, defeated, as if he didn't realize that he'd been the one to destroy John. "I told her once that I couldn't stay still. Couldn't live like that."

"That was before Leandra," John said. He didn't know how he knew, he just did. He had a feeling it had been before a lot of things, but it had certainly been before this. He wasn't sure Ronon knew what the definition of "living" was at the moment. John certainly had no handle on it.

"Who would you replace us with?"

John's bruises began to ache at the word "replace." There was no replacing anybody, John had long known that, he just hadn't entirely understood. Bringing new people into a unit, that was one thing. Finding two new people for a four person team he'd led for over a decade was something else entirely. It wouldn't be a reconstructed team. It would be a different team. "One of the Athosians who trained up on the mainland."

Several of the Athosian teens had implemented a program to verse themselves both in Athosian fighting and American military combat maneuvers. It was proving enormously useful. "Someone who knows at least a little about the surrounding planets."

Ronon stayed quiet, waiting. John said, "I don't know. Maybe one of the special ops kids."

Ronon regularly took on three of the special ops kids at a time, but they were better than anything else, and with both Ronon and Teyla off the team, John was going to need some seriously trained people.

Ronon said, "Unell."

John began to make himself learn the name and face of every single military personnel sent to him in the third year, when it was painfully obvious that he was going to lose considerable numbers of them. He didn't want to show up in his dress whites not having any idea of who the people in the coffins were, he was tired of that. Most of the time knowing only made it worse, but that John could handle. The guilt of having his own people be anonymous to him was soul-destroying. "Dusty."

Ronon looked at him blankly. John shook his head. "Nothing. All right."

The blank look did not disappear. John said, "We'll find you a way to keep moving," and made his brain work at the problem, think like a military commander. Nothing came to him immediately, but he could find something. He would find something.

Ronon slumped just a little bit further down to the floor.

*


May 2009

John rubbed his hand over his eyes and scrolled back to the top of the list he'd been perusing for over an hour. He had narrowed down possible candidates to temporarily take Teyla's place on the team while she was out on pregnancy and maternal leave, but actually choosing someone was another thing entirely. Everyone on the list--it was a short list--had proven combat and diplomacy skills, and all of them had been serving on alternate teams for at least two years time.

They were the best of the best of the best.

Not a one of them was Teyla. John keyed the list down and decided it was time for coffee, and possibly a bit of Rodney interaction. One of the benefits of Rodney's near complete lack of sentimentality was that it tended to lead to good decisions on John's part, if not on Rodney's.

He made it as far as the coffee, but Teyla was in the mess, sucking down on what was easily her fourth meal that day. She'd never exactly been a tiny eater, but at the rate she was going, John had to wonder how large that kid was going to be. He slid into the table across from her. She smiled, "Colonel."

"How's the kidlet?"

"Energetic," Teyla said, a touch of ruefulness in the answer.

"Surprising, given who its parents are."

She looked amused. "Did you need something?"

"You don't, by any chance, have a twin sister, or even a half-sibling, that you haven't mentioned up until now?"

"Is it your practice, on earth, to substitute one for the other?"

"Sometimes. Happens a lot on the first of April."

Teyla's eyes blanked slightly, like they did when she was confused but sensed that she probably didn't want or need to get answers. "On Athos we see each sibling as an individual, regardless even of common appearance."

John took a drawn-out sip of coffee. "It's all pretty hypothetical anyway, isn't it?"

"Indeed, I have not been holding blood kin a secret from you."

"Good to know. I was going to have to feel hurt."

Teyla was silent for a bit, and John sunk into the lapse of conversation, easy as it was between the two of them. She said, "Perhaps you would like to talk over the candidates with me?"

John shook his head. "They're all qualified. I should probably just put the names in a hat and draw."

"Are any of them women?"

"A couple, yeah."

"There have been times, Colonel, when my presence as a female on the team has been useful to you."

John had an uncomfortable flashback to P63-M72, or--as he and Rodney preferred to call it in private--Planet of the Scary Ass Amazons. John liked a woman who could kick his ass as much or more than the next guy, but there were limits. "Excellent point."

"Have I eased your task for you?"

John finished his coffee and spared her a smile before standing. "Always."

*


September 2014

After four nights of Leandra crying well into the morning hours, incapable of sleep, Ronon went to Carson. He said, "She's-- I can't--"

Carson put a hand to Ronon's forearm. "I'm going to give you some light sleeping pills, but you'll have to be careful to wean her off, or this problem will happen all over again."

Ronon nodded and took the bottle Carson proffered. "Thanks."

"Do you need something?" Carson asked.

Ronon wasn't sleeping either, but a good half of that was his choice. Sleeping meant he couldn't watch over Leandra. Sleeping meant possibly seeing things he had no desire to see ever again. "No."

Carson looked doubtful but didn't press the issue. "Have you made an appointment with Dr. Heightmeyer?"

Ronon walked out. He didn't particularly dislike the city's psychologist, but when he talked to her, even in casual conversation, he could feel all of her projected sympathy drenching him like the rains that came in the fall. At first they gave the impression of being refreshing but soon enough they were just driving, ever-present and cold. Dr. Heightmeyer knew nothing of him, and couldn't use his words--when he was able to give them--to create an accurate picture.

If he needed to talk, there was John. Even Rodney knew how to listen in his own, abrasive manner. Ronon almost preferred that at times. Sympathy from Rodney was never cloying, or anything other than underlying and real.

There was Elizabeth, too. Ronon had learned, in the final month of Teyla's pregnancy, that Elizabeth could listen to hours of silence and never once pretend that there weren't a million things being said. She never pressed, neither with words nor fingers.

Which was why he couldn't go to her, not at the moment. Teyla had been equally unbothered by his silences, the way he would create distances. They were different in their reactions, Teyla pragmatic and willing to push if necessary, Elizabeth endlessly, almost surreally patient. But sometimes, much of the time, it felt the same. The sensation was too close, too familiar, too much of what he could no longer have.

Leandra was still in her bed when he returned, struggling futilely to actually achieve some rest. John was there, were Ronon had left him, watching her so that Ronon could walk a few halls down without blind terror clutching at his insides. John asked, "Carson have something?"

Ronon held up the bottle.

John said, "You should take a couple for yourself."

Ronon's gaze strayed to his daughter's figure, a lump no less rumpled than the rest of the bedding. John nodded. "I know, I'll stay. Elizabeth's got me on desk duty anyhow, at least until I've reported to Heightmeyer a few times and secured the rest of the team. She'd like us to do a few second and third contact missions before we jump back into first and then-"

Ronon knew the sound of John talking on auto-pilot. It wasn't as common as the sound of Rodney doing so, and Ronon had learned to understand the weakness that it betrayed, weakness that John didn't allow much of anyone to see. Later Ronon thought he might appreciate the gesture. John swallowed loudly enough for Ronon to hear. He said, "Anyway, I could stay. Watch over, um, her."

If Ronon could remember how to smile, he would at John's elided comment. Instead he did the only other thing he could, and tipped four pills out of the bottle: one for Leandra, three for himself.

*


May 2007

After he had conceded to being romantically involved with her, Ronon had forced Teyla to beat him nearly unconscious before he would allow her to touch him in any manner that did not involve violence. When she finally gained the right, she held him to the ground under her thighs, and soothed a single dredlock back from his forehead.

Then she rolled off of him, let him up without touching him, and as well as refused to touch him again until he caved, catching up to her in the hall one day, wrapping one of her elbows in one of his palms. Then she had said, "All right," and brought the arm that was free up, her own palm sliding along Ronon's jaw. She kissed him right there, in the hallway, American military and the more-than-occasional scientist passing by. Ronon was used to feeling others without seeing them, smelling and hearing them even from an inhuman distance. He didn't notice a thing but the feel of her skin, hard and smooth, the slide of her tongue over his, pressing into the roof of his mouth, insistent, flirtatious.

She pulled back from him, merely sinking back onto her heels. He attempted not to pant, not to grab her to him. "You win."

Her hand still hadn't left his jaw. She used it to caress the skin. "It is not a contest, Ronon. Nor is it a fight, or a game, or a race."

He was pretty sure she had saved that one for last purposely. Not even Teyla found as much safety in running as he did. "Then what is it?"

"I would have you tell me," Teyla said, and punctuated the thought with another kiss, this one lighter, more invitational.

He took her up on the invitation, using his grip on her elbow to bring her whole body just a little bit higher, wrapping his other arm behind her shoulders. The skin of her back which came in contact with his arm was cool, slightly damp, as though she had just showered. It made him want to press his lips to her shoulderblades, taste her, the soap he could smell on her, made of sweet brearcombe and jona leaves.

She said, "You seem to have some ideas."

He said, "Not here," because he had been made a show-thing for the Wraith, but he would not make one of himself for the denizens of Atlantis.

She asked, "Your room?" but he found himself wanting to be surrounded by everything her, and so he answered, "Yours."

*


October 2014

Elizabeth made herself stand and watch as Sheppard's team stood before the gate for the first time since--

She couldn't force the words, not even in her head.

Since the last time.

Rodney was complaining about the sun on the planet they were about to step onto, a planet they'd been to several times. This was nothing more than a mission to make sure the locals were still happy with the trade arrangements. Easy, everything a known quantity. As safe as stepping through the gate ever was.

Lt. Unell was looking at Rodney with a slightly quizzical expression. She hadn't been exposed to him much up until now and Elizabeth remembered that he took a bit of getting used to, but right now, listening to him prattle, watching his eyes slide toward John occasionally, right now she would hug him if it wouldn't embarrass everyone involved.

Jinto, on the other hand, was smiling, looking away from Rodney so as not to insult the man with his amusement. Teyla had trained Jinto along with several of the other Athosian youths how to build and maintain relations with the other races in the Pegasus so as to make sure her people would be able to prosper even on their new homeland. It had worked out splendidly. Elizabeth couldn't help but be a little soothed by the presence of someone personally taught at Teyla's knee on the team. It wasn't Teyla, but to some extent it meant that her voice was there, her experience.

John looked up at her, smiling bravely, half-formed and cocky like she was used to. It was only because she had watched that same smile every single time (of the hundreds and hundreds of times) that he had plowed through the event horizon that she knew it was just an inch, maybe even just a centimeter off. She had no doubt her responding nod was as well. "Dial the gate."

The chevrons locked in easily, the heavy metallic sound familiar but not, at that moment, soothing. Rodney looked back at her and smiled the same smile he always had when he was terrified out of his mind. Maybe this is too soon, Elizabeth thought, but knew the sound of desperation in her own head, knew when she was making excuses.

She crinkled her eyes and didn't quite smile back: the look that meant, "You'll be fine, Rodney," and meant that without any condescension. Rodney nodded, once, sharp, and looked back toward John and the gate.

Blue mass exploded from the center of the ring and there was just a second's more hesitation than Elizabeth could ever remember from John before he moved forward. Rodney followed him straight through, nearly on his heels, as though afraid to lose sight of him. Jinto stepped through and Unell finished things up, nearly hopping through the gate. Another twenty or so seconds and the portal closed.

Their check-in time wasn't for another eight hours.

Elizabeth said, "I'm going to run to the mess for some coffee and then I will be in my office if anybody needs me."

She hoped nobody did. At present, it was more than enough work taking care of herself and the city.

*


July 2009

As the pregnancy progressed, Teyla spent even more time around Elizabeth on average than she had at any point in the four previous years of their friendship. Elizabeth finally asked--although none of the signs that she would have expected were forthcoming--"Is everything all right between you and Ronon?"

Teyla looked puzzled. "We are fine. Has he or I given you reason to believe otherwise?"

Elizabeth tilted her head to study Teyla. "Not in words, no. You've simply been astonishingly available for the last month or so."

"Ah." Teyla nodded. "Some of the other Athosian women--mothers--warned me that I would need to escape into female company as my time approached, but I did not believe them. I did not expect Ronon to fuss so much as their men had. I should have remembered his fear of losing me."

"Extending now to a fear of losing the child as well?"

Teyla rolled her eyes in fond exasperation. "Never before have I known him to spend so much time with the doctor."

Elizabeth suddenly understood Carson's odd, hastily muttered request that she send Sheppard's team out on more missions. Ronon was driving him insane. Elizabeth tried to hold back her initial reaction, tried with everything she was worth, but in the end she burst out into laughter. Teyla didn't even bother to look indignant before joining her.

"Oh dear," Elizabeth said, the tail end of the laughter curling itself around her words.

The press of Teyla's lips against one another was emphatic. "Indeed. Even worse yet, he has managed to enlist the help of several of my people--all male. All unmarried males, as the married ones would most certainly be kept in check by their wives. Do not misunderstand, their concern is touching. It is only that it is also--"

"Overwhelming?"

"I was going to use the word oppressive."

"Sometimes I can't turn the diplomacy off."

"I have noticed. So has John. I have seen him take advantage of it once or twice."

"I'll keep an eye out," Elizabeth said, a wry smile stealing over her lips.

A comfortable silence settled between them for a bit until Teyla's quickly indrawn breath broke it. Elizabeth asked, "Someone kicking?"

"Learning to stick-fight, I believe. It is an odd feeling. Uncomfortable in a physical manner, and yet so very reassuring in all the ways that matter."

Elizabeth, sensing there was more on Teyla's mind, waited. Finally, Teyla said, "I never thought of myself as a mother. A leader, teacher, mentor, but not a mother."

"You are even younger than I am," Elizabeth--who had thought of herself as a potential mother, occasionally, when the circumstances permitted--told her.

"Yes," Teyla said. She had no need to argue that her breadth of experience made her nearly as old Elizabeth. They both knew.

Elizabeth asked, quietly, as if it might lessen the invasiveness of the inquiry, "Are you as scared as he is?"

"It is different. I trust my body. And I can feel the child, I know it is there, waiting. It is what happens after the birth that is terrifying for me. Whether I am worthy of this creation the two of us have formed."

"How could you not be? You already have so much love for it."

"In the Pegasus, I am not entirely sure that is enough."

Elizabeth shook her head. "There are some things that are multi-universal."

Teyla's expression was uneasy, but Elizabeth recognized her indomitable store of hope beneath it.

*


October 2014

Rodney found himself battling with the strange urge to hiss at Unell, which was odd for two reasons: 1) snakes hissed, humans didn't, and Rodney didn't generally feel compelled to act in animalistic manners, and 2) Unell was actually less mocking than Ronon had ever been.

Then again, he'd wanted to growl at Jinto earlier, and issue number one applied there as well, combined with the fact that he'd known Jinto since he'd been a child. Granted, given Rodney's feelings toward children in general, that might have been a cause, but Rodney didn't think so. He let himself use the excuse anyway.

On the upside, Jinto seemed to sense the problem and went off to stand somewhere that wasn't within Rodney's growling range. Unell, trusty Marine that she was, just continued standing where John had ordered her to keep watch, feet slightly spread, P-90 cradled in her arms. Ronon, once he had finished sufficiently annoying Rodney would always wander off a bit, content to keep to the spirit of John's orders, if not the letter. Rodney always came back alive and it was easier, having him off doing whatever Ronon did when nobody else was looking.

Rodney would have suspected romantics trysts, except that Ronon had married Teyla, who had been, well, Teyla. She would often look as though she was thinking about a cup of tea and a nice book, but Rodney had watched her go from smiling to downing three incoming enemies within the space of a millisecond.

Jinto stood with Teyla's posture. Rodney wasn't entirely sure how John could stand to have him around. Rodney spent most of his time with his face buried in his instruments, ignoring the others. There had been a time, early on, when Rodney would do that as a defense mechanism, a reminder to himself that he was the important center of the team, the reason why they were all there. If they didn't want to speak to him--didn't want to listen to him--that was simply because they were jealous of his superior intellect and obviously higher status.

Now he did it because the conversations always sounded wrong, off, like there was too much distance between points that he had measured repeatedly and always come away with the same length. Rodney could think up mathematical and scientific ways to explain the difference to himself, words that he would understand, that maybe only he would understand, but it wouldn't mean that when he looked up from his instruments, Ronon would be trying to irritate Teyla mostly because even with the Wraith and other assorted assailants, that was still the hardest thing to do on a mission.

Instead he reigned in as much as he could of his dissatisfaction with Unell simply for not being large and Satedan and intrinsically annoying and said, "I have what I need here." Then he marched up past her, leaving her to scramble along with him--and fuck it, why could none of the Marines manage a decent scramble as opposed to a dignified stride when catching up?

She asked, "Anything good?"

Rodney told her exactly what he'd found in the most precise technical terms out of pure spite and took a little bit of comfort in the confused expression on her face, the one that she obviously figured out was safer not to give voice to.

*


March 2005

Rodney wasn't lonely very often. Or at least, Rodney didn't admit to anyone--himself included--that he was lonely very often. Loneliness, like fear and pain, was a weakness that others could and would use against him.

He had things in his life, artifacts and equations and theories. Each, in its own way, was far more interesting, vibrant and reciprocal than other human beings. Rodney knew this, had always known this, so it was annoying that every once in awhile the desire to simply talk with someone else who wasn't mocking him, wasn't rolling their eyes at him, came and settled in to stay for a bit.

It always went away. Or at least, it always had before. Rodney blamed Major John Sheppard for the surprisingly long stay of this latest wave of fruitless yearning. The Major didn't seem to get that people like him weren't supposed to take no offense at people like Rodney, weren't supposed to take his ideas seriously, or value him even when he wasn't immediately, obviously the most important man in the room. Granted, that wasn't often--but it happened, and the Major was supposed to just let it, just allow Rodney to fade into the background, another scientist to be shouted down.

It was unnerving, for something that looked to all appearances so much like friendship--Rodney had observed the phenomena, after all, he knew its characteristics--to be seemingly offered, when Rodney well knew from experimentation and eventual scientific proof, that he was not the sort of person people offered their friendship to. Particularly not ranking military officers who made friends simply by walking into a room.

There was a trap in the Major's easygoing ways, in his unwillingness to let Rodney ruffle him into getting the hell away, somewhere, anywhere that was not near Rodney. Rodney could sense the trap, but he hadn't figured out how to spring it without injuring himself yet. Which meant a double-dose of wariness so far as the Major was concerned.

The conclusion was a solid one, somewhat workable. Workable enough to suit Rodney in this particular instance. At least it was until Teyla actively began inviting him to sit with her and the Major whenever he entered the mess while they were dining. Before he would invite himself, intrude on whatever conversation they were having, supersede it with one of his own. Rodney had found this to be a nearly infallible way of driving people to madness, bringing out their true feelings for him.

It hadn't worked on either the Major or Teyla just yet, but he was giving it time. Only Teyla's welcoming smile, her, "Doctor," and the slight shift of her body so that he could sit down without jostling her, suggested that she, at least, hadn't caught on to the fact that she wasn't supposed to like Rodney.

It wasn't just in the mess, either. She would smile at him in the hallways, and nod a greeting. Rodney knew that gestures such as hallway-recognition were supposed to stop mattering after high school, but Rodney had only spent a month in high school before they packed him off to a Uni, and sometimes he thought that his ability to understand human behavior had gotten stuck in a loop due to missing most of his own history to academic pursuits. Not that he minded. He loved physics, loved the things he knew that nobody else did, nobody else could.

Every once in a while, though, knowing that he was the one who didn't get other people, knowing that he was the one who didn't understand, well, it became a little cowing. Worse so when neither Teyla nor the Major would act according to the rules Rodney had carefully and painstakingly come to understand.

When they were on a mission, sometimes she would ask what he was doing--and she had the uncanny knack of asking when he wasn't totally absorbed, didn't need all of his concentration. It was getting harder and harder to snap at her that she wouldn't understand, not when she kept trying to, when she kept making him feel like she would like some insight into his world.

There were other things. Whereas the Major broke Rodney's rules simply by not obviously disliking Rodney, Teyla often destroyed them by actively trying to enjoy his presence.

The whole thing was unsettling, and frustrated Rodney, as his happiness with solitude and work was eroding in ways it never had before. That contentedness, that focus was important, more so than it ever had been before. Rodney was clearly the only thing between the hundreds of people on Atlantis and death every single day. He didn't need Teyla, or anyone else, interfering with that.

But secretly, very, very secretly, he thought maybe he might want her and the others to.

It was a dangerous thought, and as he so often did with loneliness, he pushed it away where it wouldn't bother him anymore than absolutely necessary.

*


November 2014

Jinto was a good kid. John could remember hundreds of tiny details about the child Jinto had been, things he imagined he would remember about a niece or a nephew, had he siblings to provide him with some. He was trying to lock those memories away where they would be safe, and keep him safe at the same time.

Whereas Teyla had been friend and teammate and responsibility and counselor to John, Jinto was friend and teammate and responsibility and informant. John could not, for the life of him, figure out where the gaping distance between the two positions came from, but it was there, solid and immutable. It was as if John had traded in his fresh-off-the-line Lamborghini for a classic, one that had as much class and speed, but would require infinitely more care.

His confidence in his ability to take adequate care of Jinto was something John was just a bit short on at the moment. He hadn't said that to anyone--he thought Rodney, who was always figuring out things he shouldn't be able to, knew--but sometimes when he looked at Jinto all he could see was a child in the night, running from the Wraith.

Teyla had lead them away from the Wraith. Teyla had cared for John. John had simply always been returning the favor. At some point John had lost his belief that something could happen to Teyla. Not rationally, of course. John was military: he knew a threat when he saw one, hell, he knew a threat when it was hypothetical. (Hypothetical in the normal person sense: possible, but unlikely at best. Not hypothetical in a Rodney sense: if you find me some fishing wire and an outlet, I'll have that done for you.)

John kept thinking it would get easier. That Unell's wiry frame, her intense stance, would come to feel like Ronon's deceptive ease at his back. Or that he would start to forget the differences, at least. That Jinto's pleasant chatter would start to sound like Teyla's thought-packed silences.

John had spent his life adapting to change. Atlantis was the first type of permanence he'd ever known. He hadn't imagined he had gotten quite so used to it, that he had started believing things lasted.

His mistake.

He was trying to rectify it, holding Elizabeth and her questions about the new team at arm's length, answering with perfunctory politeness and charm and just enough information. She would watch him when he did this, her eyes hard and hurting, and John knew that she never let a conversational partner see anything in those eyes unless they were the exact emotions she wanted conveyed. John hadn't yet managed to keep himself from caving, keep himself from muttering something real, something he would never put in the report.

She never said anything. She never pushed past that first question in her eyes. John knew that if he were to walk out of her office without giving her what she wanted, she would let him go.

It seemed that giving her up without a fight was as much of a problem as giving up Teyla without one would have been. And John had come terribly close to dying for Teyla. He was glad for the scars from that fight. He needed something to keep with him. Something to show. Something to talk when he couldn't, couldn't even find the words let alone force them into his throat, onto his tongue.

John took to hanging out in Rodney's labs late at night, when neither of them could sleep. Rodney's chatter was at least familiar, even if it had a slightly different tone of late, a stiltedness that John imagined his cadence would have as well, if he could manage to get himself started. Still, it was closer to right than anything else.

John listened to every word Rodney said, focused on each in a way he'd never bothered to when he had other things on which he didn't mind focusing attention. So it was that he heard Rodney's frustrated, "Why couldn't she just have--?" in between his shouts at an Ancient device that didn't want to do what Rodney was so certain it could.

Rodney didn't wait for an answer, didn't even indicate that the question had been about Teyla, but John knew. John knew because in his guiltiest moments, his own mind sounded like that one, aborted question.

He didn't have any answers to give Rodney, even had the moment not passed.

*


October 2009

Satedan men, as a custom, did not stay with their wives while the women gave birth. When Ronon told John this he also said, "I think that's just because Satedan men were almost always off with their regiments, not because of a taboo, or anything."

Nonetheless, the custom was as it was, and anyone who knew Ronon knew that he got a bit finicky when asked to defy Satedan traditions. Carson suggested that Teyla ask Elizabeth to be the birth coach. Teyla took to the idea, and Elizabeth accepted the responsibility without hesitation. As such, Ronon was free to pace the halls for the excruciating seventeen hours of Leandra's birthing process, growling at the soldiers and generally scaring the crap out of any scientist who needed to pass.

By the time the third complaint came in to him, John--who had been dutifully distracting himself with a veritable mountain of backed up paperwork--went to go see if he could insert a little sanity into the situation. His hopes were not high.

Ronon did have the grace to look at him a bit apologetically when John rounded the corner to find the man practically running between pacing points. John asked, "Wanna go for a run?"

Ronon stopped. He stared hard at the door to the infirmary. "Yes." He stayed exactly where he was.

"Okay, buddy. It's gonna involve some running."

Ronon still didn't move, so John leaned up against the wall. Ronon finally said, "Guess not."

"Yeah," John said. And because he felt that someone should say it, even if it came out shaky and unsure, "She's gonna be fine."

"I don't think she's weak," Ronon said carefully.

Where John was from, women had been dying in childbirth for centuries, Amazons had fallen to its dangers, as well as everyday women just making their way. "No."

"This is terrifying." Ronon sounded as surprised to be saying the words aloud as John was to be hearing them spoken that way.

"If-" Ronon swallowed. "I don't wanna have to live thinking I was the one that killed her. I've already done that, knowing that I was the one. . . I've already- Those people weren't even her, and I didn't, couldn't shake the. Um, guilt."

John blinked. "I say once again, she's going to be fine." It came out more confidently that time, although John was fairly certain that was a by product of his shock at Ronon's conception of the situation. "And were anything to happen, that would not be your fault. The Athosian body is not perfect."

"Pretty near," Ronon muttered.

John looked away so that he could grin without seeming flippant. After a moment, Ronon grunted a laugh. "Yeah."

John said. "We both have our radios on. Come running. If nothing else, you'll be doing a friend a favor and saving me from paperwork."

Ronon looked at the door again. "If I were on Sateda, I would be with my regiment. I would not be told that my child had been born until after, when the suffering was over before it could begin."

John said, "If you were on Sateda, you wouldn't have her."

They both knew that he also wouldn't have this terror, this fear of himself as deathbringer, but neither of them said that. Ronon nodded, "No, I wouldn't," and set off down the hall at a pace that made it difficult for John to catch up.

*


November 2014

The Americans on Atlantis tended to get homesick in the season of the Earthian fall. John had explained once about the feast holiday named for a giving of thanks. One year, needing to cheer herself up, Elizabeth had thrown a dinner party to celebrate the occasion. She said, "Because there are so many things to be thankful for here," and raised her glass to everyone at the table, but Ronon had noticed her looking specifically at Teyla. Sometimes he wondered if Elizabeth had known friendship like that before meeting his wife. He had found that sort of trust and care to be pretty rare.

The dinner became tradition, as much as anything on Atlantis could. There were years were it had to be held off until the Earthian December, and years when it had to be scheduled ahead of time. But it was always held.

Leandra grew up going to it. Teyla and her had begun to help Elizabeth when Leandra was barely a month old and now it was not even a question: Leandra would be dropped off at Elizabeth's on the morning of the celebration and would spend the day helping her Aunt 'Lizbeth prepare.

She always, always looked forward to it.

This year, Ronon had to bribe her to go. He was bad with bribery--Teyla had always warned him that his prizes were too big--but he was hard-pressed to care at the moment if only he could find something, anything to make his daughter happy. As the day of preparation had always been one of her favorite things, always a special just-her-and-mom-and-Elizabeth thing, he was completely unsure of how to handle the situation.

Teyla wasn't there to ask. He squeezed his eyes shut against the burning pain in his chest, and chilling, sickening rage at everything that built up in his shoulders and arms if he didn't find his way to the gym and dispel at least the physical properties of it.

Ronon asked Elizabeth instead. It didn't seem fair to ask John, when he used John as a target for his rage in those sessions in the gym, used John to remind himself how far he could safely run without leaving Leandra behind, used John when there was nothing left inside him but screams.

Rodney, for all his intelligence, bordered on idiocy when it came to the raising of children, so he wasn't really an option either.

Ronon said to Elizabeth, "She doesn't want to come," and left it to her to unravel the meaning behind the shuttered, incomplete words.

That was what Elizabeth did, though, so she replied with ease. "And I suppose you want to get up and go to your job every morning?"

John had decided to rotate Ronon between training the new military forces which appeared with every Daedalus run, and working with Marine tacticians to improve city-wide security. There wasn't the thrill of walking through the 'gate, never knowing what was on the other end, breaking free and fighting one's opponents, but they were jobs he did well, jobs that gave him the chance to move without risking his life needlessly. Risking more of Leandra's happiness.

Still, no, most mornings he would have preferred simply to sleep until his body refused to return to unconsciousness, to run through the city endlessly, to return through the 'gate, return to the monster and pour out his wrath, even if in the end, it would have him as it had had Teyla. "Not the same thing."

"Yes and no," Elizabeth said calmly. "She's depressed, Ronon. You're both depressed. Your instinct when depressed--whether natural, or cultivated through experience--is to run, or at least move. Hers is evidently to stay still. That's not unusual. And she's a child, she's never been depressed before. She's never learned that it will go away."

"Will it?" Ronon bit the inside of his lip once the question was asked. He hadn't meant to voice it.

"I didn't say the grief would. Not. Not all of it." Her answer was sharper than most of her speech. Ronon could hear her own pain.

"You think I should make her."

"I think you’re her father. Not I."

"I'm useless to her."

"You're everything to her," Elizabeth said, not without sympathy.

"Elizabeth," he said, and didn't reject her touch when it came, her palms to his forearms, steady and cool and as calm as Teyla's. Teyla's were warmer, heavier, more forceful. Ronon appreciated the difference. He nodded. "Okay. Okay."

*


November 2008

Ronon had never had cranberries before, let alone cranberries soaked in sugar and something called "sherry" and heated unto the point of stickiness. They were sweet and tart in his mouth, and he took more than his share. Elizabeth just grinned and said, "That was my grandmother's recipe."

Ronon's grandmother had recipes too, but most of them had involved the meat of Satedan mountain cats or the fruit that sprang out of Hallian trees during harvest season. They hadn't tasted anything like cranberry sauce.

The sauce left Teyla's mouth stained with its blood pink shade, and Ronon could no more resist the taste of it on her than he could in its more sedate form--lying in Elizabeth's plain brown crockery. The taste mixed with the creamy-cinnamon bite of the dessert Elizabeth had served; another traditional dish called "pumpkin pie."

Teyla pulled back from him at one point, licked her own lips, tilted her head to look at him and said, "That is odd."

He didn't have to ask what she meant. They ate meals that were crafted for Earthian palettes all the time, but the majority of those had shades of the Pegasus. After all, the denizens of Atlantis traded throughout the galaxy for food supplies on a constant basis. Also, those meals were mass produced, and less likely to closely resemble their original intent than something made for a relatively small dining party.

Elizabeth had pulled rank to get the ingredients she wanted. Rank and--if Teyla's hints were to be believed--possibly a little bit of skin in the direction of Caldwell. Her dinner had been purely Earth-based, no exceptions.

"You taste of. . ." Teyla took another taste.

"Things I've never seen," Ronon finished for her when she gave his mouth back to him.

"I have seen them. In a way." She had told him of the time the mist aliens had projected the Earth that Rodney, John and Elizabeth knew into her brain.

"Is that what I taste like?"

She shook her head slowly. "No."

"Maybe it would taste different-"

"-on John?" Teyla's smile was amused. "Maybe. He certainly does not taste anything like you after a session in the gym."

Even knowing the story, Ronon blinked at her. She didn't generally bring it up. "You're trying to make me jealous."

She raised one eyebrow, stretched out a little so that her golden skin pulled just a bit more taut, more slick-smooth to the touch. "Are my attempts affecting you?"

He touched one finger to the corner of her mouth. "I trust you."

She didn't say anything. He made a sound low in his throat. "Yes."

She smiled knowingly. "Maybe it would be best if you proved to me that you are the only man for me."

The cranberries were bitter and soft and warm on her tongue. Ronon was up to the task.

*


November 2014

Even as a baby, Leandra had seemed sturdier than the other children, as if some of Teyla's even-headedness and Ronon's fierceness had settled into her tiny toes, bite-sized hands, and allowed for a strength to which most infants simply couldn't lay claim. This aspect of her had only grown as she had, her first steps being more firm than Elizabeth was used to, her first words coming out more confidently than most children's.

Standing in the middle of the small Atlantis kitchen--the one used for emergencies and that could be utilized for private use--a place she'd stood practically since she'd been able to stand, she looked lost. Fragile.

Elizabeth knew the feeling. She slipped down beside her god-daughter, her knees resting against the smooth floors of Atlantis. Leandra said, "My dad said I had to come," but she didn't sound angry. Elizabeth would have preferred anger to the emptiness she heard.

"Dads do that sometimes. It's in the job description."

"He said you needed my help." Leandra turned her head then, her gaze searching.

Elizabeth wished she knew exactly what the little girl was trying to find. She wished she could guarantee that she had it in her power to give. Finally, she said, "It is true, it's hard for me to do all of the work by myself. But what I really needed was to spend some time with you. I hardly see you at all anymore."

It was a long time before Leandra said, "You're my mom's friend."

Elizabeth nodded. "Your mom was one of the best and most treasured friends I have ever had. That does not mean that I cannot value your friendship as a separate gift. Do you understand? You are important to me too. And now that she is gone, it is even more needful that we take care of each other. She would want that. She was always worried that people didn't watch over each other enough."

Leandra sniffled a little. Elizabeth said, "It's okay to cry, Lele. I have. Lots and lots."

"My dad hasn't."

"Your dad cries in different ways."

"Are you taking care of him, too?"

Elizabeth blinked at that before she remembered her comment of the moment before. She started to say "yes," instinctively, when it occurred to her that overwhelmingly, she'd left that duty in John's hands, unsure of whether she was up to the task or not. She hadn't done her best at watching after John, either. "I'm going to try my best."

Something in Leandra's body posture shifted. It took a second for Elizabeth to realize exactly what it was and to open up her arms so that the little girl could curl up inside them, wrap her arms around Elizabeth and hold on with tiny fists buried in the fabric of her shirt. Elizabeth waited until the first sob broke free to run a hand down Leandra's back and make nonsense noises meant to soothe. She said, "It's all right, Lele," which was a lie, because it most certainly wasn't.

But Elizabeth had plans to pull herself together, and do her best to make certain that it could be.

*


November 2013

The best part of her Thanksgiving dinners, Elizabeth always thought, was Ronon's tradition of finding a way to make sure that Leandra was seated next to Rodney. It was diabolical and ingenious, and generally something Rodney would have done. Elizabeth valued Rodney in a way she never suspected she would a hard scientist--and she had always known they had their uses--but turnabout was fair play, truly. And between the two of them, Ronon and Rodney were more than able to give as good as each other got.

Elizabeth would be ill-at-ease with Leandra being the instrument of Ronon's revenge in this case except for two details: 1) Leandra worshipped Rodney for no evident reason other than the fact that he was always unintentionally making her laugh, and 2) Teyla never intervened, and nobody was more concerned about Leandra's welfare than Teyla. For that matter, Ronon wasn't entirely less than psychotically protective of his daughter himself.

Before dinner started, Leandra took the liberty of hauling herself up onto Rodney's lap. Teyla's gaze was even, amused, as Rodney spluttered but very carefully did not shove her daughter off. To the left of Rodney, John listened to Leandra with the intense concentration he always showed her, not a bit distracted by Rodney's antics. Teyla said softly, so softly that Elizabeth doubted anyone but she could hear, "John likes children."

It was an obvious statement. Elizabeth had never seen John around anyone younger than fifteen who didn't make him even brighter, easier than he was in general. Teyla's words often meant more than one thing, though, so she nodded slowly. "Yes."

But Teyla didn't say anything else, just crinkled the corners of her eyes in a smile and caught John's eyes in a momentary glance. He smiled back before returning his attention to the miniature Teyla right at his side. Ronon peered down at Teyla with a questioning look on his face. She tilted her head up and kissed him.

Elizabeth had noticed how that had taken care of a lot of Ronon's questions over the years.

Once he was free of the kiss, Ronon's glance darted furtively over to where his CO was sitting. Said CO was far, far too busy with Ronon's daughter to be at all concerned with any impropriety on his subordinate's part. Besides which, it was an unspoken truth that John's relationship to military law was flexible at best, filled with tension at worst. It made him the best head of military that Elizabeth could ask for on Atlantis, where none of the rules that any of them were so familiar with, so comfortable with, applied. And it meant, sometimes, that there was room for joy where there otherwise might not have been.

Elizabeth didn't want to think about the measures Ronon would have gone to in order to maintain John's respect, John's command, had he asked it. There had been a time when Elizabeth hadn't understood the force with which officers could command other people, but that had been before meeting John, meeting Ronon and Rodney and Teyla, who each brought their own views of loyalty and service to the table.

At some point, John took pity on Rodney and lifted Leandra off his lap, twirling her in the air and saying things about airplanes that made her crinkle her face in confusion. He then set her down so that he could try and explain airplanes, which she'd never seen. Rodney, of course, trampled over John's explanation--which involved a lot of what the sky looked like and how speed felt--with technical jargon about how the plane could actually fly. Leandra seemed pretty entranced by both dialogues, but then, these were her men.

Teyla smiled at Elizabeth, and Elizabeth could practically hear her thinking the same thing. They were their men, too.

*


December 2015

Despite all the words that have passed between Rodney and Jeannie, despite his disappointment in her choices and his long unwillingness to understand her happiness in them, Rodney had learned how to buy Christmas gifts for her and her boys. With all the countless miles between them and the even more unbridgeable gap of personal history, she was far, far easier to buy for than the people Rodney spoke to every day, the people Rodney would lay his life down for. (He would complain, but he would do it.)

Teyla had been the easiest, not so much because he knew her the best, but simply because she liked gifts. She appreciated intent far more than content, and never seemed let down by the things Rodney came up with, even when he could tell for himself that Elizabeth's presents were always far more fitting.

Rodney sorely longed for her non-judgmental calm as he struggled to find gifts for Elizabeth and John, for Leandra. Ronon, thankfully, was fairly easy as well. Having discovered a taste for coffee that rivaled even Rodney's upon coming to Atlantis, high-quality pre-ground beans were always a sure bet with him. Rodney clung to the absolute surety that Ronon would enjoy the gift. It was unoriginal and unexciting, and Rodney thought that for once, that was exactly what both of them needed.

John needed a million things, none of which were in Rodney's power to give. It was endlessly frustrating to be the one person on the city who could always, always fix everything except for when he couldn't fix anything.

He couldn’t fix Teyla. He certainly couldn't fix the system breakdown that had occurred in her wake.

Instead he implemented the improvements he'd been working on in secret for nearly a year to one of the puddlejumpers and said, "I need you to test something out for me," to John.

In fairness to John, he was trying his best for a semblance of normal, so he said, "You've been tinkering with my girl?"

"I have a far more carnal knowledge of your girl than you have ever had or will ever have with any woman. Now fly the damn thing."

John pouted at that, and whispered something to the puddlejumper that sounded like, "He doesn't mean it, baby." John was clearly going to be a raging psycho when it was Leandra's honor that needed protecting.

He changed his tune quickly, though, once they were in the air and the changes were apparent: her ability to fly more quickly, to dive with more accuracy, to respond to his mental commands even as he was forming them. He stopped her in mid-air, allowing her to hover. "You work with the weapons systems, too?"

"I'm working on a way to implant drones in her arsenal, but I haven't quite figured out a way to have the command to release work without the neural interface that the Chair provides."

John flashed him a smile that was nearly giddy, as close to anything like actual glee Rodney had seen since they'd lain Teyla on the floor of the gateroom, already cooling to the temperature of the metal beneath her. "This is good, Rodney. Great, this is-"

"Merry Christmas."

John said, "Oh, yeah, right. I haven't figured out what to get you."

John was still smiling though, and since Rodney couldn't say, "That's all right, I'm covered," he said, "Belgian truffles will do."

The jumper dropped slightly out of position, John evidently ready to see what other new miracles she could perform.

*


December 2005

In Rodney's mind, Christmas was a time of obligation to family members one mostly didn't like and who generally returned the sentiment. Family members who willfully made all the desserts with lemon, lime or orange simply as a way of letting him know how they felt. As if Rodney weren't smart enough to figure it out on his own.

When John said, "I'm having a little, thing. Ford's homesick and Teyla keeps saying 'Christmas' like it's one of our more bizarre little Earthian rituals, so I thought, y'know-"

"You'd do a 'thing'?" Rodney asked, sneer mildly in place.

John shrugged.

"If you were hoping I'd unearth some of my chocolate stores for the occasion-"

"I was hoping you'd show up, Rodney."

Rodney assessed John carefully. The inconvenient thing about humans was that, unlike machines or even stars, they couldn't be taken apart to discover how they worked and then put back together. For that matter, even when taken apart, the things "medical doctors" learned had absolutely no practical use for Rodney, who only needed to understand their motivations. Not that big a request, really. "Will there be desserts?"

"I'm buttering the cooks up. When I was a kid, Jareth used to make these spice cakes that were pretty worth dealing with everything else the holiday involved."

John didn't talk about anything before Atlantis very much, so Rodney took the opportunity to ask, "Jareth?"

"My family's cook," John said, and didn't elaborate. "I think the cake might have had lemon in it, but I'm sure we could find a recipe that didn't involve that. I mean, there must be a million recipes for spice cake, right? And the cooks here find ways around your allergy all the time. Plus, I can offer coffee, for certain."

Rodney thought it over. "Would I need to bring presents?"

"I'm leaving that one open. I think Ford is going to, so I'd feel like a jerk not getting him anything, but I haven't really decided as for the rest. Maybe Teyla, too, so she can get a real feel for things." John was smiling like he did when there were lots of things he wasn't saying. Rodney hadn't learn to recognize much, but that was an easy one, so far as he was concerned. John wore it a lot.

"I don't know. A lot could happen between now and-"

"A week from now?"

"I'm the head scientist on Atlantis."

"Yeah, I'll give you that, but still. It's only for a couple of hours."

"Maybe."

John grinned.

Rodney said, "Don't tell me you never learned the meaning of the word, 'maybe'."

"I keep forgetting. Remind me?"

Rodney glared. John grinned all the way to the door. Rodney wondered if he possibly hadn't been using "maybe" in its intended form since coming to Atlantis. If he hadn't, that was all John's fault. Rodney wasn't taking any responsibility.

*


December 2014

John was getting to the point where he felt as though he could find Ronon by instinct. Ronon would take off for parts unknown--still available, even after a decade in the city--in the middle of the day, working at what was needed from remote locations, his radio kept active. He never declined to respond when needed.

John could have called him, certainly, and Ronon would have made his way through hallways and doors and whatever other obstructions there were to come to John. John didn't call. He learned to follow patterns that he was pretty sure other people couldn't see, bread crumbs that he was fairly certain Atlantis was leaving for him, not Ronon.

The city's approval was more than enough for John. Ronon was always slow to permissiveness, even more so since his loss of Teyla, who would often lead the way.

The most recent search had found Ronon on one of the city's lowest balconies, where on a turbulent day, the ocean had no issue with reaching out and taking over.

The ocean was almost entirely still. Ronon was scowling at it a bit when John said, "Hey."

Ronon, who was never, ever surprised by John's appearances, said, "Hey."

"You know what a bike is?"

This took Ronon off-guard. He looked blankly at John, who sighed. "Yeah, didn't think so."

"Earth thing," Ronon said.

"Method of transportation. Parents on earth give them to kids around Leandra's age. It's a big thing, like getting a car when you're sixteen."

Ronon clearly had no idea about that either. John waved a hand. "Nevermind. Anyway, the point is, I kind of messed up with her birthday this year."

They all had. It had occurred less than a month after Teyla's death.

"And I was thinking I could make it up to her, over the winter holidays, with a bike."

"So do it."

"Ronon."

"What? What, John? What am I missing now?" Ronon's hands gripped at the salt-encrusted railing. John knew that the sand-paper consistency of it would tear at even Ronon's toughened palms if he held on long enough.

"I was asking permission. It's not usual for someone who's not the parent to give that sort of a gift. I was asking, I suppose, if you wanted to go in on it." In fairness to Ronon, John knew he wasn't the most communicative of men. He knew he often left too much unexplained. But he had become so used to Ronon knowing what was necessary at all of their worst moments--running from danger, running for their lives--it was crippling to have to return to the awkwardness of every day communication.

After a long silence, Ronon said, "Permission? You would never hurt her. And anything else-"

John said, "I'm sorry I wasn't the leader you needed me to be."

"I thought we were talking about a bike."

"I thought so too. But you think the only thing I could need permission for is to cause harm, so maybe not."

"I don't blame you."

"You're too busy blaming yourself, but I figure you'll get around to it sooner or later."

Ronon leaned more of his weight upon his hands. "No."

"I shouldn't have-"

"She would hate us for this." Said low, and hard to hear over even the occasional lapping of ocean against metal.

John opened his mouth to protest but ended up saying, "I wouldn't want it. Wouldn't want all of you- Wouldn't want this."

"She made her own choices."

"To the Athosian's never-ending frustration."

"But I still want-"

John could think of a million endings to that. To have been there. To have killed That Thing. To have saved her. To feel the guilt. To blame you. He asked, "To give Leandra a bike?"

Ronon glanced back at John. Finally he said, "Yeah."

*


December 2009

"Is there some kind of, I don't know, Athosian first year thing that I could get her?"

Teyla tilted her head. "Athosian first year thing?"

"You must have gift-giving customs. What culture doesn't have those? People like gifts."

"I suppose we have customs of exchange. But nothing that would specify a certain gift for this particular day of celebration."

John ducked his head. "You're not being very helpful."

Teyla smiled. "It is your tradition, John."

John returned the smile. "I've never had a niece before." He had explained earth family relations to Teyla pretty early on in the pregnancy so that she could understand the adoptive stances all the members of the team were taking.

"Leandra has never had an. . .uncle before, either." Teyla was still getting used to how it all came together.

"Good point. But I don't want her growing up with low standards."

"I have found Earth standards to be largely incompatible with Athosian ones."

"That's just because your people haven't gotten around to building malls. Give it a few years." John hadn't had to explain malls. The mist-people had taken care of that for him. Given her upbringing, John considered himself fortunate that she was awed by the mass consumerism that was Earth culture, rather than repulsed by it. He was also very accomplished at not second-guessing good luck.

"What is it that you imagine she could need? She was given everything before her birth."

Elizabeth had arranged for a baby shower. Half of Atlantis had seen to it that the kid was provided for.

"Christmas isn't about need, Teyla," John reminded her patiently.

"Ah, yes."

"What does she want?"

"She is barely sixty days of age, John. She wants love and time to sleep."

"And she already has all those fashionable pajamas. Damn Zelenka."

"Her sleeping attire is quite becoming."

John scowled at her. Teyla looked back at him quite innocently. He said, "I can come up with something better."

"I am quite certain of your ability to do so."

"Don't humor me."

"Perhaps a jumper? You seem rather fond of yours."

"She's a baby."

"Yes, she is."

"Don't think you can talk me out of getting her something."

"No, I would not imagine I could."

"It's her first Christmas."

"Yes."

"And she is the closest thing I will ever have to my own child."

Teyla caught his chin with her hand. "John."

"Don't-"

"John. You do not know that."

"I have family-phobia."

"I know. But you cherish us. You cherish her. And you are young."

"Atlantis isn't exactly-"

"Ronon and I found each other."

"That was sort of a one-in-a-million chance, wasn't it?"

"It was."

"Yeah." John ran a hand over his face. "Still, she's my niece."

"You will find the right gift."

*


December 2014

Three months of desperate, clumsy, fumbling attempts to get a smile out of Leandra, it was John's bike that did the trick, and had he not been so damn grateful Ronon would have hated John. Only she was smiling and poking her fingers between what John called "spokes" and asking how it worked.

She hadn't asked about anything since she'd stopped asking where yangu had gone, why yangu had left, if yangu was happier where she was. Ronon found it hard to believe there was a time when he never believed he would tire of the Athosian word for "mother" or "mommy."

She hadn't asked anything until she said, "What do you do with it?"

Rodney looked affronted, which was interesting, since it wasn't even his present, and usually he was delighted when other people's gifts failed. "You ride it."

Leandra looked doubtful. John pressed on, however. "Remember I showed you that movie, with the horses and the people climbing on and-" John whipped around. "How old was she when I showed her 'National Velvet'?"

Ronon hadn't a clue what John was talking about, but it seemed rather important to him and Leandra was looking at him like she used to, like he might have answers. "Not very old."

"Right. We're just gonna have to do this the hard way. Ronon, hold the handles."

Ronon was, at best, unfamiliar with the contraption in front of him, but there was only one part that could viably be called "handles" so he grabbed onto them and held tight. When John gave an order, there was usually a good reason. Usually. And Ronon had never been all that discerning in the ones he followed.

John fit his hands over Leandra's waist--it disappeared inside the broad palms--and lifted her onto the triangle part at the center of the thing. Leandra made an uncertain squawk and John said, "Yeah, I know, I could have sworn I ordered one with training wheels, but either the crew of the Daedalus screwed up and no one was willing to own up, or I forgot. Sorry, kid, but if you have half the coordination of your father, we're golden."

Ronon was pretty sure she was just taken by surprise at the sudden air-lift, but he let it go. "Training wheels?"

"You know, to train on."

Ronon had no idea. John shook his head. "Aliens. All right, here's what we're going to do."

What they were going to do involved a lot of rolling Leandra around on two wheels, so far as Ronon could tell. It didn't seem like a grand master plan for anything, let alone cheering his daughter--who had been depressed for the better part of four months--up. And yet, Leandra was leaning forward, her tiny hands safely curled around the handles beneath his. She kept looking up at him, as if asking if she was doing it right.

Ronon hadn't a clue, but he nodded at her time and again, because it didn't matter. What mattered was her active pursuit of something.

John said, "The point is to eventually be able to let go, let her ride on her own."

Ronon thought that day was a long, long way off.

*


December 2005

That first Christmas, when Teyla had a year's worth of experience on him, but was perfectly willing to admit, "I am still growing accustomed to their traditions," Ronon had shied away from the festivities. Not that John had actually allowed that. Rather, Ronon had hidden himself in parts of the city that no creature--man nor beast--should logically have come looking.

John did.

Which, Ronon thought, explained a lot about why he stayed.

Rodney gave him shampoo that year, which Ronon only understood as an insult much much later. The year he figured it out, he gifted Rodney with deodorant.

John gave him a vest, supple and leather, and Ronon figured that he must have had Teyla barter for it.

Elizabeth, who hadn't really known him, had given him some of the translations she had managed to work her way through regarding the Ancient surveys of Sateda.

Teyla didn't give him anything. He tried not to think about it too much. He wondered if perhaps, coming from Athos, which no more had this holiday than Sateda, the act of not giving a present was its own sort of gift, a cultural solidarity of sorts.

Only he had carved her a hair clip, the kind she most liked with close snaps that would hold her hair tightly even through a three hour hand-to-hand with the Wraith. So much for solidarity.

Later, though, she stood at his door and asked, "May I come in?"

He said, "Sure."

She walked in and stood before him and handed over a package. Ronon took it from her, his hands still but unsure. "What is it?"

"Your gift."

"We-"

"You seemed unnerved by the presence of the others."

"Just not sure-"

"They are learning to adapt their traditions as well, you realize?"

He had, on some level, but until she put the question in to words, not in any way he could have expressed. He nodded and set to opening the package. It was a length of cloth, and all he to do was unwrap the layers to reveal the most gorgeous knife he'd ever laid eyes on, even given all of those belonging to the officers of the Satedan army.

He stared for several moments.

She smiled. "You are easy to procure gifts for."

His wife hadn't thought so. He wondered if maybe, over seven years of blood and speed and death, that had changed. Or if Teyla just saw things that other people didn't. Perhaps a bit of both.

"My gift-"

"Is perfect." She brought her hand lightly to the back of her head, where it rested. Ronon's gaze followed the line of her wrist.

He could not find it in himself to tell her that it was nowhere near perfect enough.

*


January 2015

Elizabeth was a woman of resolutions. Somewhere before the first of January 2004 she had resolved to go to Atlantis, and so she had done. Generally Elizabeth knew what she wanted from her years. It was less guaranteed that she would know how to get those things for herself. But she didn't do so badly on that score, either.

But when she made a resolution she carried it off as best she could. So it was that 2015 began with a resolution that was spiked with promise; a resolution that meant letting go of things she could never get back. The fifteenth year of the millennium that Elizabeth still thought of as new began with a resolution to heal.

The resolution was, of course, meant for herself. But if she could drag the others with her, she damn well planned on doing so. Leandra most of all. Leandra, who was still too young to realize just how much she could effect her own decisions. Elizabeth knew Teyla would have gotten to teaching her that.

Elizabeth knew that in her absence, Teyla would have entrusted Elizabeth with that responsibility. Most of all, Elizabeth knew that it was time to start acting like the adult.

She couldn't begin without a tangible place to start. Or rather, she could, but it was always easiest to be able to see where she was on a map before she headed out in the direction she most hoped would get her where she needed to go. Elizabeth woke up early in the morning--even earlier than her usual four-thirty/five by Lantean time--and got herself landside.

Teyla was buried amongst her kinsmen in the burial ground the Athosians had carefully tended over the years. There was an empty spot reserved next to her. Elizabeth hoped never to see it filled; the thought of losing Ronon too left her sore, aching inside in ways she knew couldn't be comforted.

Elizabeth lay the wildflowers she'd collected on her walk there atop the marker, a simple stone with Teyla's initials on it. Athosians believed it was those who survived the dead who marked the space of a grave, not epitaphs. Elizabeth had to admit she'd never missed that particular aspect of the cemetery.

Elizabeth folded to her knees, willing to allow this woman to see her less than collected, less than superficially whole. She said, "Teyla," and then nothing else for a very, very long time.

Then, "You'd better be watching out for us."

She walked away then, because Teyla might watch, but she wouldn't answer. Elizabeth burned with the anger of the neglected for a moment, let it ride through her--clean and powerful in its own right. By the time she reached the jumper she could breath in the cold air of the Lantean world's mornings and feel it all the way to her lungs.

She had a resolution, a place to start.

She'd had less to go on before.

*


Even though Lantean cycles really had very little in common with Earth ones, in the shadow of the Daedalus' influence, the city functioned very similarly to the Judeo-Christian world that Rodney had grown up on the inside of, with none of the insight into it that being an insider might suggest. Rodney understood Atlantis a little bit better, but that was only because she often spoke in physical equations, and he had a bloodstream full of falsely induced genes.

Different cycles, aside, January was Rodney's very favorite month on Atlantis. He had long hypothesized that the city had an AI component, something that connected into the gene. She read emotions and fed them back. It was why she fought as hard as they did to keep her halls Wraith free. It was why, when the Earth-centric new year began, and people remembered what hopefulness felt like, she always managed to open more of herself to them.

January was Rodney's favorite month. It was also, invariably, his busiest.

Rodney couldn't remember a year when he'd been more grateful for the excuse of the JanCraze--as John had long ago termed it--to get away from other people, get away from himself. Which was saying something, because those escapes had long been Rodney's goal. The Lanteans that Rodney liked were family, something more, maybe, but as safe as they were, they were nowhere near as safe as machines, as components that came alive under his concern and care.

Machines, particularly the ones strewn about Atlantis, might have the ability to maim, mutilate or kill him, but they weren't half so violent as other humans in their daily practices of simple communication.

Now, with John trying to teach Leandra how to ride a two-wheeler like the accomplishment might bring Teyla running around a corner to see, with Elizabeth liaising with the Athosians as though the old diplomacy Teyla had kept between the two inhabitants of Atlantis' planet could viably continue, with Ronon skulking the corners of Atlantis as though keeping the city safe might undo all the danger already wrought upon them, now Rodney needed the cold focus of his machines and his science as he never had.

John, unsurprisingly, had been a regular moron about understanding that. Rodney had said, "Could you stop touching things before you kill more of us?" in a moment of desperation, a moment of, "please, please, please, I need not to remember." John hadn't spoken to him for the week since, unless it was to say, "You done here?"

Rodney still wasn't entirely comfortable with Jinto and Unell, so he would have suspected this was some sort of sadistic "I'll show you," on John's part, except that he was smart enough to know that John was just concentrating really extra hard on keeping him alive. He was smart enough to know that there were some things that couldn't be apologized for. Rodney could say "I'm sorry," over three-quarters of an uninhabited star system, but he couldn't do it for even implying that he thought Teyla's death was John's fault.

Instead he found John and when John started with, "You-" Rodney said, "You kept me alive."

John said, "Rodney-"

"No. You can act stupid on your own time, but mine is infinitely more valuable, so you'll have to respect that and follow, the way I know you can. You didn't kill anyone. You kept me alive."

"Regardless of what you may think, you're not the only member of my team."

"No, but I am the one the marines are sent to protect."

"Teyla was an invaluable cultural liaison."

Rodney didn't deny it. "She was invaluable, John. But--and should you repeat this, I will reverse engineer the response systems to the gene throughout all of Atlantis so as to make your life a living hell--so is each and every one of the Marines. They're still warriors. And still sent to protect the scientists."

"Wouldn't that be cutting off your nose to, y'know, spite your face?"

Sometimes, John was completely oblique to Rodney. "What?"

"The reverse-engineering thing?"

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Also, most likely impossible."

"Now you're scaring me."

"I didn't mean it."

"You never do, you always say stuff is and then--"

"I didn't mean the thing about you getting her killed."

"Doesn't make it less true."

"Haven't you noticed how most of what I say isn't? I mean, disregarding science. Just ask Radek. Or rather, don't, not unless you can be subtle about it. Which you can't."

"Hey," John said, weakly, and without much real indignation, but it was something to go on. At least he was speaking.

"I am done here."

"Yeah," John said. "Okay."

*


Sometime around the beginning of February the air-circulation systems in the living quarters of Atlantis broke. It wasn't terribly hot outside--although it was getting to that point--but in the middle of the ocean, with sunlight reflecting against every angle of the city, everybody's rooms became quite toasty.

John gave up sleeping. Extreme heat meant nightmares about Afghanistan, and given the choice right now--and the knowledge of how one nightmare could easily lead to another--John chose exhaustion.

Elizabeth noticed fairly quickly, the third day in, and said, "Are you feeling all right?"

John waved off her concern. "Heat makes it hard to sleep."

Elizabeth looked at him for a long moment, her head tilted slightly. "Cold, for me."

"You must have loved the Antarctica base."

"I wasn't broken up when we finally got the go-ahead to step through the 'gate."

"I could stand to do that right about now."

Elizabeth laughed.

John frowned. "Was that funny?"

"You haven't slept in three days and you expect me to sign off on you leading a mission through the 'gate? A little bit funny. Also, if you hadn't noticed, this city is desperately in need of your team's scientist."

John had noticed. He just sometimes wished that Rodney, who could figure out how to do just about anything, could manage to clone himself so that he could be in two places at once. John never mentioned this to Rodney, as he had a sneaking suspicion Rodney shared the thought, and might take John's interest as approval to go ahead and experiment on some of the less highly-placed scientists. Or, knowing Rodney, the cadets. "I could borrow a scientist."

"That bad?" she asked.

John pretended not to understand. Elizabeth shook her head slightly. "Walk with me."

John couldn't be sure when he had stopped worrying so much about the distinction between civilian commander and commanding officer, but it was rare that John didn't take the things Elizabeth said as orders anymore. Still, he hesitated.

She asked, "John?"

He said, "I really have to--"

"The paperwork can wait. It's been forever since we've spoken."

John knew. It wasn't that he didn't care for Elizabeth, or enjoy her company. Neither was true. It was that Elizabeth was good at getting him to say the things he planned on keeping to himself, and there had been quite a few of those in the last six months. "Getting Rodney used to Jinto and Unell has been a task."

Elizabeth's smile was gentle, unfooled. "I can imagine."

John walked with her, as she had commanded, but didn't say anything.

"I could go first."

"Go first?"

Elizabeth all but rolled her eyes at him. One of these days John planned to ask her how she conveyed such amused disdain without actually physically representing it. "When I was sixteen I was asked to junior prom by a senior. Henry Trenor, president of the debate team."

John smiled. "Crush much?"

"Oh, and then some. I was beside myself. Convinced my parents to let me go to a salon and buy me a new dress, the whole nine yards."

"Ever the perfectionist."

"Oh, don't kid yourself, I was a sixteen year old girl is all."

"All right. So Mr. Trenor shows up at your door--"

"With a corsage and all. It started out very well."

John tensed.

"Prom was in early April that year and we were living in upper Michigan at the time."

"Cold."

"Yes, a tail-end snowstorm had hit late in the week, and it was clearing up, but it was frigid out, with slush everywhere."

"Mr. Trenor not a very good driver?"

"He was quite skilled, actually. But when it became clear that I could and would fight off his advances, he said he was going to take me home and instead dropped me off on a completely unpopulated stretch of highway."

At his side, John's hand tightened around the gun in his thigh holster.

"This was before cell phones, and while it was still when I probably could have hitched a ride back to town without much risk, it was late at night, and there was nobody to hitch with. It took me three hours in heels, a prom dress and a parka to make my way to the nearest gas station. I'm just glad my mom insisted on that coat. I hadn't wanted it. Too bulky, and it got in the way of the dress."

"I'm amazed you still have all your fingers and toes."

"It was a close thing," Elizabeth said softly. "The gas station owner had dealt with emergency situations before, he knew how to-- I was a mess, didn't want him to touch me, what with, well, Henry had. . .I didn't want him touching me, but he just did what he had to do and I owe him."

"Trenor's lucky I don't live on Earth anymore."

Elizabeth's hand came up to the corner of her mouth in what John knew was an unconscious gesture. "He's lucky I never thought to use my powers for evil."

"Rodney and I are working on training that out of you."

"Don't think I haven't noticed."

John tried looking ashamed. He failed.

She said, "Your turn."

"I wasn't sixteen, and I wasn't anybody's prom date, that's for sure."

"Tell me anyhow."

"Your command only extends so far--"

"This isn't a command. Or it is, but from a friend. Sometimes we have to pull rank that way, as well."

John gave a little bit then, because he was weak when it came to his friends. He wanted to resent Elizabeth for taking advantage of that knowledge, but the expression in her eyes was too worried to do much other than take revenge by mostly thwarting her desire. "It's Afghanistan stuff."

"Afghanistan. Where you deliberately ignored orders in an attempt to save fellow soldiers."

John nodded.

"And where they were already dead by the time you reached them."

"So you already know."

"You know that I walked for three hours in heels, but you haven't the slightest idea of what the road looked like, John."

"Then even if I told you--"

She grabbed his shoulder and yanked until he was facing her. "Maybe I just need to hear. Maybe I just need someone else to verbalize their grief, because I'm the leader and not supposed--"

John brought his hands up to close over her shoulders. "Elizabeth, Elizabeth."

She quieted.

"They were my friends. They were my friends and except for the one, the one I also couldn't save, by the time I got there what was left was smoldering body parts, nothing I could even piece together, except that I could, in my mind. And it was even hotter for all the smoke and the blood smelled like bile and vomit, and maybe it was, but red and brown everywhere, and. . .and I hate the colors red and brown."

"And the heat."

"Just when it won't go away."

"And at night."

"And then."

She said, "Rodney will fix this, you know."

He said, "He says I kept him safe."

"You keep all of us safe."

"Not all of us."

"You're only human, John."

It was one of the many things he wished he could fix about himself.

*


John had explained the whole two-wheel training process to Ronon, and it sounded infinitely doable until Ronon tried and discovered that he could not let go of the bike. Leandra would yell, "Let go," and then, "Dad!" and then, "I can do this!" and then, "DAD! LET GO!" and Ronon simply couldn't.

Leandra's look, when she had finally hopped from the bike was full of threatened mutiny, but whatever Ronon's face had shown her, she instead crumbled into his arms and stayed there for a long time. Ronon whispered, "Love you, love you," into her hair. He had only said it to four people in his lifetime--three of them now dead--and it seemed reckless, unwise, but he didn't know how else to let her know. Ronon could remember, vaguely, needing to hear the words as a child.

Leandra said, "It's okay," which wasn't right. Ronon had always said, "Love you too, mom," or, "yes, sir," to his father, but not "it's okay." There had never been any need for reassurance, then.

"Uncle John can help." John would be able to let go. He was often better at doing what was necessary than Ronon.

"No," Leandra said.

"Lele," Ronon began, only to be cut off by Leandra's insistent. "No." She clung to him more tightly, and Ronon wondered if, for all her yelling and demanding, she wasn't quite ready for Ronon to let go, either. That was perfectly fine by him. If he could have found a way, he would have kept her in his sight every moment, not even the seconds withstanding.

Of course, he'd had Teyla in his sight, too.

Ronon buried his face against his daughter's hair, letting the silken, chocolate brown strands fill his vision rather than the blaze of rusted red, plentiful and omnipresent, that threatened his vision. Leandra smelled of the gingerbread cookies that Elizabeth didn't think Ronon knew she was smuggling to her, not of the alien forest and terror and useless flight.

"Okay," he said. "We'll do it together."

She nodded her head, her hair swishing back and forth against his cheek.

"Ready to try again?" he asked quietly. Leandra didn't move, which Ronon took as a "no." After a while he realized she'd fallen asleep in his arms and he shifted her slightly so as to look at her face. Her skin was the color of Teyla's, and when she was awake, the expressions in her eyes could always mimic her mother's perfectly, but she was all feet and hands, not having come anywhere near to growing into her body. She had none of the innate grace of the woman who had borne her, and oftentimes none of the tact. She was Ronon's child in that way, stating the obvious when she felt the need to state much of anything at all.

He whispered, "I'm sorry," because Teyla would have known how to let go, would have known how to respond to Leandra's reassurances without allowing their child to take so much onto her shoulders. Certainly, if Teyla had been around none of this would have been necessary, but she would have known how to handle it in any case.

The monster on M09-CX7 had gotten the wrong parent. Ronon had no idea of how to make that up to Leandra. He didn't imagine he could.

*


Atlantis was Elizabeth's home, had been since she had made the decision to go, long before it had been tangible and real and underneath her feet. Sometimes, though, she missed Earth; missed getting in her car and feeling like the direction of her life rested in her hands; missed making a grocery store list and picking up the items written on it; missed playing catch with Sedge, the feel of Simon's arms around her.

She didn't like to think about that last one. It wasn't even Simon, she knew that. For awhile it had been. There were years of something between them. Sometimes Elizabeth couldn't remember what it was when it was, not when she had found love and intimacy to be so very different in the Pegasus. But at first it had been Simon she'd missed, she knew that much.

Now it wasn't Simon so much as the holding. She missed coming home to someone who wanted to know about her day. Teyla had been the very closest thing she'd had to that companionship for years now, and with that missing Elizabeth found herself lonely, truly lonely in a way she'd forgotten was possible.

Elizabeth figured that this was probably part of the deal: command of Atlantis for the regular creature comforts.

It wasn't that Atlantis wasn't worth it. She was. Which didn't make the trade-off any easier.

This was how Elizabeth defended her actions when John said, "Happy Valentines Day," on February 14th, and she said, "Yes, you too," a little surprised, because she couldn't remember John ever wishing her one before. Of course, responding that way was only polite.

When he looked away and said, "What time were you thinking you were going to eat this evening?" that was when she should have said something about having too much work, or a teleconference, or any one of a million completely plausible responses.

She said, "I don't know. Seven?"

"Seven it is," he said, and slid on past her to wherever it was he should have been, rather than speaking with her.

He was there at seven, already seated. There wasn't anyone with him, not Rodney or Lorne or any of the dozens of people he took meals with on a regular basis. Elizabeth sat down across from him and said, "John."

He brought a hand up and sprinkled eight or nine candy hearts in front of her. "Bad candy, I know. But they taste like Earth."

"You ordered these?"

"Nah, Rodney. He actually likes the way they taste."

It made Elizabeth smile. "What are you doing?"

"Having dinner with you."

"On Valentine's Day."

"In the mess, so I figure points for intention but neither style nor execution."

"Why?"

"Because it took less than fifteen seconds for that thing to rip Teyla apart. Felt longer. Felt like forever, but it was just. Fifteen, maybe twenty seconds."

"I don't understand."

"I've been watching Ronon. Just making sure, I guess. And I think he regrets saying yes to her, but I don't think he will forever. At some point he'll realize that was time he wouldn't have had otherwise."

Elizabeth looked down at the saying on one of the John's offering. It said, "be my hero." Elizabeth didn't need a hero, although John had more often than not played that role for all of Atlantis. "Maybe it's just survivor syndrome. Have you seen Heightmeyer?"

"Nine years says it's not any type of syndrome. At least not one that's going away."

She looked at him in surprise. He smiled uneasily. "You must have figured it out. All those times I came rushing to your defense."

"You're John Sheppard," she said.

"It's a good disguise," he agreed. Then, in a softer voice, "I'll get it if this isn't--"

She picked up one of the candy hearts, the one that said, "be a sport" and popped it in her mouth. There were a million reasons to walk away from this table and find other diners to join. There was a chain of command and the continued depth of both their grief. There was a working relationship to maintain. Elizabeth counted to fifteen in her head. "What's for dinner?"

*


John wasn't easy to read but he got easier with practice, and Rodney had had lots of practice. Also, John was very predictable in his candy-stealing practices. "I swear that if I find one single, solitary candy heart in technology more valuable to this city than you are--"

"You're admitting I'm important?" John looked validly interested.

Rodney went right on threatening. "--the small heating problem we had last month will seem like a day on a very pleasant, breezy beach."

"I don't think that's what Elizabeth did with them, but if it is, don't you think it's a little unfair that I'm the one you plan on punishing?"

"Elizabeth?"

John touched something he shouldn't have been touching--which had the audacity to whir contentedly for a moment--and didn't say anything. Rodney blinked. "Elizabeth?"

"Okay, look, I told you because you're my best friend and guy best friends--"

"I cannot believe you just came to me expecting some kind of buddy-cop moment."

It was John's turn to talk over Rodney. "--guy best friends pat each other on the back and say, 'way to go, buddy, did she say yes?'"

"Have you lost what little sanity and coherency you once possessed? We are talking about Elizabeth! Head of the Atlantis Expedition, Most Powerful Diplomat in Two Galaxies, Elizabeth."

"You can't say I don’t have good taste."

"It's a phase, John. You're going through some kind of post-traumatic--"

"Rodney."

"-stress disorder, love-developing-under-dire-and-strained-circumstances--"

"Rodney."

"--deeply moronic phase."

John was silent.

"You should go get yourself laid by one of the locals. Be generous and solve your problems all at once."

"You really think I would do that to Elizabeth?"

"Oh, for fuck's sake, John, you've given her candy hearts, not a declaration of forever and always."

"I meant the giving her candy hearts, if I thought, for a second, that this was a phase."

Rodney opened his mouth. Shut it.

"You know it's not. You of all people."

"You can't expect me to go along with this insanity. They pay me to keep this city running despite the rampant stupidity of its completely cracked ranking military officer. What happens if you two have a fight, huh? What then?"

John's eyelids flickered the way they did when he was hurt and didn't want anyone knowing it. Rodney could admit, silently, that John had never once put anything above Atlantis and didn't seem likely to start now. Rodney sighed. "Candy hearts? What kind of a stupid overture is that?"

John shrugged. "I panicked."

Rodney snorted. "Debonair."

"She seemed to take it all right."

"All right?"

"She might have had some of the same objections you did."

"Well at least one of you is walking around with a brain cell count. Do you find it hard to breathe without messages being relayed from your cerebral cortex?"

"Depends on the situation."

"Please tell me you weren't intimating that looking at her makes it more difficult. Please."

John made googly eyes.

Rodney said, "My limit of tolerance for your presence has been surpassed for this week, go find someone else to annoy."

*


John knew that at the beginning Elizabeth had only wanted him for the gene--something he still gave her no end to grief about when opportunities arose. That was all she had wanted, but when the time had come--when he was without commanding officer and had only himself and the Wraith queen to blame for that--Elizabeth had stood by him, believed in him. John looked at her, steady in her assurance that he could be what she needed him to be, and thought, "No wonder they trusted you with this place."

He knew from the very start that he would die for her. He told himself it was a crush, because a crush seemed reasonable, containable.

People didn't die for the sake of infatuation, though, and John hadn't been fourteen for a long time by that point. He knew he was lying to himself, but it was so easy, infinitely easier than having to look at Elizabeth every day and speak inner truths.

When she began joining him at dinner every night--assuming nothing interfered--John wasn't sure how he'd managed to spin out the falsehood so long. It felt as though it shattered so quickly in the face of Teyla's death, the presence of Ronon's mourning, but it was only now that John could realize how long it had taken, how lucky he had been not have things crumble before.

After the fifth dinner together John took a deep breath--slowly, so that she wouldn't notice--and said, "Take a walk?"

It was a nice night and they were friends, and he was always comfortable with her, even when he wasn't, but it was a relief when she nodded without a trace of mockery in her eyes. She said, "Yes, we should."

She kissed him on the highest balcony they knew how to reach, the one almost nobody bothered to trek up to, as it took nearly half an hour there and back. John didn't remember either of them agreeing to head that way, somehow they just found their legs carrying them upward until they were so far above the ocean its crash was distant, a whispering beneath their feet.

She turned to him as he made his way up behind her and it wasn't even so much that she moved in as that they came together, but all the same, she kissed him. Her lips were cool and smooth and slightly sugared from the commissary dessert that evening. John relaxed, because even with the kissing, this was the Elizabeth he knew, the Elizabeth who was always one step ahead of him.

She brought her hand up to play with the hair at the nape of his neck, her palm brushing the skin below. John clung with one hand to the railing and said, "Elizabeth."

She laughed a bit, that dry, knowing laugh. "John."

He wanted to say sappy, awful, teenager sorts of things. He wanted to say, "You're beautiful," or "I've waited forever."

"Really?" she asked, apropos of nothing that John could think of, but he might have missed something. She elaborated, "Nine years?"

John said, "You saw a better me than I saw," and that was a good thing to say, he thought, much better than "you're beautiful," which was true, but obvious and maybe even meaningless.

She smiled. "John the Oblivious."

He smiled in response, rakish and purposely charming. She shook her head and leaned in to kiss him a second time. "That was brave, what you did."

"The--"

"Telling me."

John nodded solemnly. Elizabeth rewarded his agreement with another kiss.

*


Elizabeth found Ronon in one of the labs on the side of the city that they'd never gotten to inhabiting, as too many things tended to go wrong whenever they stepped foot there. He looked up at her and she did her best to look disapprovingly at him.

He pointed to the computer in front of him, as if to defend himself. "I'm working."

"Diligently," she agreed. "You know we took you off John's team for a reason, yes?"

"I had McKay check things out."

"Rodney knows where you are?"

Ronon's glance flickered up to hers. "Wouldn't tell you, huh?"

"He thinks he's funny," Elizabeth said, only somewhat mournfully. She had her own ways of getting back.

"Yeah." Ronon turned back to the screen. "How was the Qea-Dan?"

Elizabeth hoisted herself up on the nearest empty stretch of counter. Ronon looked amused, but didn't say anything. Elizabeth finally answered with an, "I took Jinto. He had volunteered to go alone, but I thought it would be best if-- He doesn't have quite the same ties as Teyla had, here."

The Qea-Dan, the Athosians central form of governing, was a town-meeting type of event that took place three times a year. Since the time he'd met her, Ronon had always known that Teyla would be gone for the four days it took, representing Lantean interests to her people, and vice versa. Elizabeth had come to his quarters before she left, said, "I'm going to be on the mainland for a bit."

"Yeah," Ronon said, because he'd come back to the living far enough to know what time of year it was.

"I could take Lele, if you wanted."

Teyla often had so that she could spend time amongst Teyla's people and get to know their customs. Ronon looked at the woman in front of him, and thought that Teyla would not even have questioned doing so. Ronon said, "Elizabeth--"

"Not yet?"

He shook his head. She smiled slightly and said, "Thought I'd ask. Just-- Just in case."

He had recognized her loneliness, it was almost like looking out and seeing his own. He wanted to tell her that he trusted her with Leandra, but he couldn't form the words. He didn't trust anyone with Leandra, not even himself.

She was back now, and the loneliness was still there in the way she hunched over herself slightly. Ronon knew she never allowed herself to be anything other than ramrod perfect in front of people who weren't her friends. There were times when she wouldn't allow it in front of John, who was, in the end, her subordinate.

"Trade negotiations in place, then?" he asked.

She swung her legs out a bit, then in again. "Yes. Between Jinto and I, we managed to get them to cooperate nearly as much as she always could."

Ronon reached out and put a hand on one of her legs, stilling both. "Come and tell Lele about it some night this week?"

She tilted her head. "Of course."

She hopped from the counter and headed off with a, "Don't spend any more time than you absolutely have to in here."

When she was gone he said, "Good to have you back."

*


"Game night?" Elizabeth asked, a laugh quickly following.

"Good for morale," John said with a completely straight face. The one Elizabeth knew hid amusement. A moment later, he filled her in on the full reason. "I really think Lele can get Rodney to play charades."

Elizabeth could appreciate the brilliance in that idea. "No military."

"Not even Lorne?"

"Not even. You know how Rodney feels about his dignity."

"You know what would be nice?"

"If Rodney would wake up one morning and realize that people respect him for who he is, rather than who he thinks he needs to be?"

John blinked. "Yeah. Wow."

They were walking down a hallway, so Elizabeth didn't lean in and kiss him, but it was a close thing. "I've got you figured out, John Sheppard."

"I always fall for the smart ones," he said, somewhat mournfully.

Having had civilian control of a city for nearly ten years, Elizabeth knew exactly what kind of brains a command position took. Even if she hadn't, she would have recognized John's intelligence. She realized, however, that it made him feel safer to be the "stupid" one of the team, the one who always looked to Rodney for a way out. It took the pressure off of him to do anything more than strategize and make sure Rodney's back was guarded long enough for him to do the "real thinking."

"Rodney turn you down first?" she asked sympathetically.

John laughed, a small snort that wasn't his real laugh. Elizabeth filed the response away for later. She was relatively sure nothing had ever gone on between the two of them, but she had missed important parts of larger puzzles before.

"I'm serious about the game night," he said.

"It does make it easier to ensure we're around Lele at least once a week."

His, "And Ronon," was very soft.

"Yes."

"I still wake up thinking he'll be at my back when I step through the 'gate."

Elizabeth kept expecting to see him at John's back. Ronon was nothing if not fiercely, doggedly loyal. She wasn't entirely sure anything less than his child would have ripped him from that place, not even the nightmares of Teyla's rending.

"Jinto and Unell are great kids."

"Kids," Elizabeth said.

John nodded. "You know you're screwed when your guiding rock of maturity is suddenly Rodney McKay."

The thing was, Rodney could be horribly mature, in a grave, somber, eerie way coming from him. But neither John nor Elizabeth wanted that from Rodney. And that wasn't what John was referring to, anyhow. "They'll grow into themselves."

"They will. And in the meantime, I feel like my conscience has been ripped from me."

"My eyes," Elizabeth said.

They walked in comfortable, aching silence after that until they reached her office. John said, "Don't forget, game night."

"I'll make a memo."

"You have a memo fetish."

"It would serve you well to remember that."

John's smile wasn't all that it could be, but she knew he was trying. They both were.

*


Rodney played charades.

Rodney played charades, because Leandra and John both asked it of him, and somewhere in the last forty eight or so years of his life, Rodney had become a pushover. He was pretty sure it was within the last ten. (Also, double-teaming someone simply wasn't fair, and Rodney intended to have a talk with John about it later on. Out of Leandra's hearing range.)

It served them all right when Rodney and Ronon's team won, too, no thanks to Ronon, but because Rodney was good at charades, as he was good at everything he attempted. Well, maybe not horseback riding. Or taffy-pulling. But those were very specific instances of him lacking in talent, and he'd managed to get by just fine anyhow.

Leandra laughed a lot while they were playing it, and Elizabeth doubled over once, her eyes shining, and Rodney thought that maybe that talk with John could wait for a more serious offense.

Ronon told Leandra, "I won."

She nodded. "Do you get a prize?"

John had introduced Leandra to the concept of prizes when she was three, and Teyla hadn't spoken to him for a week afterwards. It was the only time Rodney had ever seen her hold a grudge, and when she finally explained Rodney sort of understood.

"My child does not need to think that material gain is the only worthy goal upon which to expend her efforts, Colonel," she had said.

Rodney had felt a bit sorry for John, who'd looked at the ground and said, "I didn't mean it that way. They used to give us gold stars in kindergarten. It wasn't really about the star."

Then, of course, they'd sparred and Teyla had beaten John with sticks and all was forgiven.

Rodney missed those days.

Ronon pushed an errant hair out of Leandra's face. "I think we should all get a prize."

Leandra perked up at that. "Just for playing?"

Ronon smiled at her, a real smile with teeth and eyes that curved upward and Rodney thought that they were missing a player. Ronon said, "Just for playing."

"What's the prize?"

"Pie," Ronon said.

"Really?" It was clearly Rodney's turn to perk up.

"Lemon meringue," Ronon said.

Rodney deflated. Then remembered that this was Ronon. "Oh, very funny."

Ronon smirked and Rodney blinked, it had been so long since he'd seen the expression. "It's banana cream."

"We got bananas in the city and nobody told me?" John sounded wounded. Rodney felt it only fair that John get left out of the loop. John got all the good gossip from his Head-of-the-Atlantis-Expedition girlfriend. Rodney ought to know little things, like the fact that the SGC had finally managed to figure out a way to send bananas en masse without them going bad in transport. Which he had.

"I've seen a picture of bananas," Leandra said.

"Not the same, kiddo," John said while swinging her up onto his shoulder. "You're gonna see in a moment."

"What do they look like?" Ronon asked.

"They're yellow," Leandra told him solemnly.

He nodded. "So's the pie."

"Banana," she said.

Rodney couldn't even begrudge them when they took the first two pieces for themselves.

*


They ran into Asurans on P3X-M79. Not many of them, but by John's count one Asuran was too many, and the nearly dozen that were starting some sort of free colony or whatever it was they were doing--John hadn't felt the need to ask too many questions--were more than enough.

They got out, but not without Rodney twisting an ankle, and Unell sporting some pretty serious burns. When the debriefing was over, and Carson released him with an emphatic order to get some rest, John went back to his quarters, vomited, and considered the fact that he might not really be fit for command anymore.

Despite his exhaustion it took a while for John to let go of the image of Rodney falling--and it wasn't that Rodney had never fallen before, Rodney was always tripping over roots or leaves or stones, and John had gotten used to swooping down to get him as they ran, it was that now there were other images of the fallen in John's mind. John hadn't picked Teyla up. Ronon had. And by that time--

It took John hours, and then there was nothing, no second between thinking, RodneyRodneyRodney and deep, black, spiraling unconsciousness.

When he woke up Elizabeth was there. She pulled him out of bed and put him in the shower, then climbed in behind him and held him up. He said, "Did you want--"

She said, "Sh," and stayed tightly pressed against him, muscled and long and soft.

"How long was I out?"

"Ten hours. I took your team off the roster for a couple of days."

There were plenty of other things to get done, even without the possibility of being sent off-world, but John appreciated the sentiment. She would have done it for any of the teams, which made it even better, in a way. He liked being her boyfriend, not her kept man.

"Rodney's worried," she said.

"I'm fine," he said.

"You're not," she argued. "You don't do this."

"I've just needed to think. Don't tell Rodney that."

She laughed, but he could hear that it was more habit than actual amusement. "What were you thinking?"

The water was hot and comforting and John put his face in the stream as he said, "Maybe it's time to give Caldwell what he's always wanted."

Elizabeth pulled him back by his arms and put a hand to his cheek, forcing him to look at her. "Say that to my face."

He couldn't, and they both knew it. There were things John couldn't run away from, and Elizabeth may have been at the top of the list, but it was a long list, and Rodney and Atlantis weren't very far down.

She let him go and John turned his face back into the water.

"Don't make me do this without you," she said, and she sounded a bit broken. John thought, please don't let me have done that, please, even though he knew how many things would have to pile up to affect that in her, he didn't want to be in the pile.

He turned around and pulled her into him, his hand cupped over the back of her head. He said, "No, no."

She clung on to him as best she could, the both of them wet and slick and tired. He said, "No," and she nodded, her lips brushing over the skin of his shoulder.

*


Ronon found Rodney in his labs and stared at him for a good moment. Rodney said, "Have you become so desperate for entertainment that you are hanging out in astrophysics labs, finding gimpy scientists to mock with your pointed looks?"

Ronon said, "Something like that," but seemed to breathe easier.

Rodney said, quietly, "I'm fine."

Ronon nodded, but kept his gaze carefully traveling over Rodney a few more times before he nodded again. "Sheppard?"

Rodney scowled and swung back to the piece of technology he'd been poking at when Ronon had interrupted him. "I don't know. He slept for three days after the mission."

"It's only been two."

"Yes, for the illiterate, that was hyperbole."

"How long was it, actually?"

"Longer than he usually sleeps."

"McKay--"

"Why are you here?"

"What?"

"Why are you here, annoying me? Sheppard's available for this sort of thing. Other than picking me up and throwing me through 'gates, he really doesn't do much around here."

"He locked his door."

"So knock."

Ronon growled. "The report--"

"What report?"

"I read the mission reports."

"You what?"

"You thought city security was based only on what went on in this city?"

Ronon knew he had Rodney when the other man stammered a bit. Then Rodney repeated, "Why are you here?" and Ronon, not for the first time, thought that sometimes he was too smart for his own good. Or anyone else's.

"I read the report, McKay."

"And you came here?"

"I checked on Sheppard first."

"But the door was locked."

"I don't have the gene."

"Nor the engineering knowledge to open the door, let alone override the lock."

Ronon smiled. It annoyed Rodney when he wasn't upset by his lack of intellectual prowess.

"Then you came here."

"I did," Ronon said, and left it to Rodney, and his enormous stores of knowledge, to puzzle out.

Rodney stared at him for a bit before opening a drawer and tossing something at Ronon. Ronon caught it, instincts as sharp as ever despite months at the equivalent of a desk job. He opened his hand. "Key?"

Rodney said, "Reverse-engineered it."

"Right. Thanks." Ronon turned to go.

"Ronon?"

"Rodney?"

"Thanks for stopping by."

Ronon started to go again. Stopped. "Yeah. I'm glad you were here."

*


Elizabeth put off sending John's team out into the field again for as long as she could, until Lorne started looking steadfast but worn every time he came back through the gate and John said, "We talked. You said you wanted me to keep my job."

Elizabeth had long since learned the lesson about not having her cake and eating it--which seemed pointless, really, since what else was one supposed to do with cake, once one had it?--but it was hard, all the same, to nod. "I know."

"That means missions."

"Yes," she said, and ran a hand through her hair. "I'm pretty clear on your job description.

"Markham fell asleep in a briefing last week."

Elizabeth winced. "Maybe I'm the one who ought to be relieved of duty."

"Sure, we could bring in a whole new team of leaders. It would be like election year. Only with Wraith."

"Bad idea?"

"Oh, hey, I didn't say that."

Elizabeth laughed, softly. "Oh shut up. I can still fire you, you realize?"

"Oh, but now I have all sorts of incriminating evidence for my sexual harassment suit."

"There is that."

"I could blackmail you into returning my team to the roster," John suggested. Then, more seriously, "Unell made it all the way through a practice session with Ronon yesterday. Even Carson would clear us, I'm sure."

"I know." Elizabeth knew well. She kept track of these things. Every single one of them.

"Is it about--" John stopped, ducked his head and peered out at her from under his eyelashes. "Is it about what I said? About Caldwell? Because if you've rethought--"

"No, not that. Your ability to command isn't slipping. But my nerve very well might be."

John asked, softly, "Breaking point?"

Elizabeth knew the exact number of soldiers, scientists and diplomats who had died since the Atlantis base opened. She knew the exact numbers of the ones she had known personally, and she knew the exact cause of death in each of those cases. She had allowed every death a little bit of space in her mind, a little bit of time in her soul. And she had put all of that grief into a specified place, and let it stay there, a lesson and a part of being alive.

She couldn’t fit Teyla there. She couldn't fit Teyla, and she was a afraid, nigh onto terrified of having to fit Rodney or Ronon or John in there alongside her.

For a moment, for the last week, when Unell was clearly in good enough condition to be put back in the field and Rodney had long since healed up, she had allowed that fear to sneak in places it had never seen before. Places that stayed her hand from signing mission reports and kicking them off through the 'gate. Now though, it was time to regain her "leadership mojo" as it were, or hand over the keys.

She keyed up her computer. "There's a mission on P59-TX2, basic recon, but the long ranges on the puddlejumper picked up anomalous readings when Ogden's team was out there two weeks ago."

"Sounds like a case for Doctor Rodney McKay."

"Yes." Elizabeth typed in her authorization key. "It does."

*


Doctor Rodney McKay didn't think there was a ZPM on P59-TX2, but John was looking at him like he might be able to pull one out of his ass, and every once in a while, Rodney liked proving John right. It didn't help that John was being funnier, drier than his usual, which was a sure sign of fear or stress or grief or some brilliant, complex combination of all three.

After seven hours, though, Rodney had to admit that he couldn't exactly make a ZPM, and nothing short of that was going to cause one to show up. "There's nothing here," he said.

"Time to go, then?" John asked.

"No, I thought we'd stick around and make daisy chains. I was just informing you of the critical failure of the mission as a way of making conversation."

"Are those daisies?"

"Do I look like any of the botanists you know?" Privately, Rodney thought it might have been of more use to bring a botanist on this particular expedition, but that was entirely beside the point.

"Over the years, you and Iguro have developed a striking resemblance."

"Oh, very witty."

John resettled his P-90 against his chest. Rodney would never have admitted it, but he found the motion comforting, almost a reminder that John knew exactly what he was doing. John took one last look around. "Nothing?"

Rodney shook his head slightly. "Not for me. We probably do want to get some kind of earth sciences team out here. Those readings are coming from the dirt."

"The dirt dirt? Not something under the dirt?"

Rodney rolled his eyes. "I have been doing this for as long as you. And I really didn't think you needed reminding of the three PhDs I hold any longer, but perhaps I have once again overestimated you."

"Earth sciences team it is." John started walking, but not without rocking back on his heels a bit, the sign that had somehow been worked out between the two of them meaning 'you go on ahead.'

It was only a few steps before Unell tumbled out of wherever she'd been posted and was guarding Rodney's front, two more before Jinto was at his side. Rodney wasn't surprised--John would never put him out front without someone already watching over that portion of him.

He slowed his walk a bit. "We should revisit P92-M14."

"The one Lorne was on last week?"

"I went over the data. Bryerson missed something."

"What?"

"If I knew, would we need to go back?"

John smirked a bit at that. "I'll talk to Elizabeth."

"Or I could, seeing as how I'm the one who actually knows what he's talking about."

"There's that."

The gate was in their sight by this time, so Rodney said, "Home sweet home."

John nodded.

Rodney, who didn't know how to say, "You got us back," or, "Sorry I didn't find anything," clapped John on the shoulder, and moved up to walk on through.

*


John filed the papers to make sure botanists were sent to P59-TX2 and his team was sent to P92-M14. Rodney didn't find a ZPM, but he found an entire mountainside structure full of Ancient artifacts, which had him a little bit perkier. John, who had begun to despair of ever seeing Rodney truly, fully, utterly engaged in a project, spent a lot of time sneaking down to the lab to watch from afar as Rodney yelled and bullied and generally managed to get things done.

On the fourth day of watching, it came to John that Rodney had probably not ingested anything more substantial than an endless supply of power bars and coffee for at least seventy-two hours. John hauled Rodney--kicking and screaming--into the mess, where he plunked him down at the table Ronon was already occupying.

"Why are you here?" he heard Rodney whine as he walked to get them food.

He caught Ronon's, "To eat."

When he came back, Ronon was eyeing the artifact that Rodney had managed to swipe off his desk before John could wholly drag him away. Ronon asked, "Any good new toys?"

"None of them go 'bang' as of yet," Rodney told him derisively.

Ronon shrugged. "I'm sure you'll find one."

John smiled into his food. "What about the one that nearly blinded Zelenka?"

"That wasn't weaponry, that was the result of human idiocy."

Ronon raised an eyebrow. "From Zelenka? Wasn't it just last week--"

"All right, fine, there were extenuating circumstances."

John knew that Ronon was referring to Zelenka having saved the lab from a complete meltdown when Rodney fell asleep while working on a molecular-level experiment. After that, Elizabeth had taken to ordering him at least eight hours of sleep a night. John had put in an order for an extra stash of Ethiopian blend coffee from earth, as he knew it was Zelenka's favorite. Then he'd spent two days surreptitiously checking to make sure that Rodney was following orders.

Rodney had caught him, of course. Rodney had also yelled at him but it had been missing Rodney's truly sparkling wit, so John suspected it was more habit than anything else. He could take the heat for making sure that Rodney was around to give him more of it.

"Extenuating circumstances that might lead to weaponry?" Ronon asked. John looked over at him. Ronon hadn't been quite this persistent at poking Rodney in a while.

"I could make a weapon out of a binder clip if I so chose, that doesn't mean I should."

"I could make a weapon out of a binder clip," John said.

Rodney chewed for a moment and then gave John his most annoyed look. "Even you aren't so dense as to have missed my point."

"Ronon's got one, too. We're fighting pretty hard out here, buddy."

"Shockingly enough, I'd noticed that. It's hard to get to the important stuff when you have a colonel constantly on your back to leave the lab for things like eating and sleeping, things, I will point out, that can be done perfectly well in the lab."

Ronon snorted at that. Rodney glared. John said, "I'll take my licks for that."

Rodney grumbled something that John didn't catch and began on his food again, haphazard and yet intent, the way he was about everything that pertained to himself. John smiled sideways toward Ronon, who, for the first time in six months, returned it without visible effort.

John clapped a hand on Ronon's shoulder. Rodney's eyes came up and flickered between the two of them for a moment before he returned to his previously scheduled obliviousness.

*


When he was Running, Ronon never dreamt. There was no time for it, really, not even in his sleep. Then, when he stopped Running, it was as if his mind had forgotten how. Carson once explained that even though the space of his sleep seemed black and less-than-infinite that he did in fact see things, things that were opaque to his waking mind. Ronon was pretty sure that meant the same thing as not dreaming, but perhaps there were subtle differences that he was missing.

He was not one for subtleties.

It was only when Teyla finally caught him, finally held him in one place long enough for his body to slow and his mind to match its pace that he began remembering the things that came before his waking. Even then his dreams weren't much for coherence. There were colors and smells and sometimes music but actual narrative was always lacking.

Ever since Teyla's death, he had dreamt of coffee. He had no idea what the dream meant. Teyla did not drink coffee, at least not on a regular basis. Occasionally she would come home from an evening spent with Elizabeth and he would taste something he later learned to identify as hazelnut--bitter with a slight cream overlay--on her breath. Other than that, however, she mostly stayed away from the stuff, preferring apple juice and tea when earth drinks appealed to her at all.

It was Ronon himself who appreciated coffee, its deceptively sweet smell, its rich darkness.

Every morning he awoke cold, still expecting Teyla to have gotten tangled in him at some point during the night, or vice versa. He awoke cold and with the faint taste of coffee in his throat, and the slight, shimmery memory of having drank to beyond his fill throughout the night.

It drove him to drink at least two cups every morning once Leandra was off to school and he could get himself down to the mess. He had begun to be uncertain whether it was the heat or the taste he needed more, but either way, both were addictions. He didn't let himself wonder about what would happen if he suddenly couldn't have it anymore. His mind--somewhat surprisingly at this stage of loss--seemed to have hit a wall in understanding the things that could be given up without sanity following in their footsteps.

Or maybe, Ronon quietly admitted when nobody, nobody was around, he was already a bit past crazy.

If he was, he swore that nobody would find out. There were plenty of things Ronon still hadn't puzzled out about earth society but he knew they took children from crazy parents, they said things about it being the best for the child. Maybe it was best for the child but Ronon didn't care. He would sooner give up coffee than his daughter. Besides, she needed Elizabeth and John and Rodney. Between the four of them, one of them had to be sane enough to be considered a suitable parent and Ronon figured that was enough for staying with him to be in her best interest.

When he had finished with his coffee--a third cup called but Ronon tried to keep himself from drinking more than two at a time, even when rations permitted--he meant to go toward the puddlejumper bay, where they wanted to look into further securing the jumpers' access to the gateroom. He found himself heading toward John's office, which wasn't out of the way, exactly.

It wasn't on the way, exactly, either.

John was there. Ronon hadn't really expected him to be, not even as he distractedly wandered in the direction of the office. He rarely was. He looked up, though, and smiled--grinned, really, even though it was small and smirk-like, Ronon recognized it for what it was. Ronon said, "Hey."

John said, "Rescue me, buddy."

"Show me the threat."

John spread his hands over the paperwork splayed out in front of him.

"Maybe you should learn how to make your subordinates do the grunt work. Or make Elizabeth promise to let you off a bit once she's," and here Ronon smirked, "happy."

John raised an eyebrow. "That's my girlfriend you're talking about."

"So you're talking about it?"

"Not really. This is you."

Ronon wasn't quite sure what sort of response John could possibly expect to that comment. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate the confidence. It wasn't even that he didn't like the intimation of it. It was that he wasn't sure how to bear its responsibility anymore. How to know that John was here and telling him things at this moment and could be off on a planet being sucked dry by a Wraith or shot down by a superior weapon the next. Such an idea used to be so easy, and the solution even easier: turn around, leave, walk away, accept loneliness as a more constant friend than any friend could ever be.

Ronon wasn't able to turn around and leave. He tried. It should have been simple, not even terribly symbolic. John was in his office and easily accessible any time Ronon should care to return. Clearly he was open to being visited.

John looked at him with a calm expression. "You wanna work out of here today? The actual sites can get a bit loud, I know."

"You here all day?"

"I just got back yesterday, so yeah, it's catch up time."

"I have to go check some stuff out."

"Then come back?"

"If the offer's good."

"It's good."

Ronon nodded. "Then I'll see you when I get back."

It was still surprisingly hard to leave.

*


After game night one week, when Leandra had been safely put to bed, and Ronon was blinking in the slow, deliberate manner that meant he was rather likely to fall over at any given moment, Elizabeth said, "We should be off," and corralled Rodney and John through the door.

Rodney walked with them for a bit, making sure that they both understood that he actually would have won at Pictionary had Leandra, ". . .any idea what a dinosaur actually looks like. I mean, honestly, what are the schools here teaching these children? I suppose in an Athosian-Satedan child it's not such a horror that her knowledge of pre-human Earthian life forms is less than complete, but the children who might actually return and embark upon a career of paleontology with wholly inaccurate--"

"We get the latest textbooks brought to us via the Daedalus, you do realize?" Elizabeth asked.

"Why would I know anything about that?" Rodney waved his hands impatiently. "What's more, what does it matter if they're the latest if they're still dedicating page space to inherently flawed information? And you mean to tell me that the whole of America--at the very least--is teaching its children that bipedals had three legs?"

"I think the third leg may have been the result of Leandra not yet having developed much artistic acumen," Elizabeth said, somewhat diplomatically, since even Leandra's stick people looked like a pixy stick orgy gone awry. Next to her, she heard John catch a laugh in his throat.

Rodney's grunt matched John's stunted laugh. "You just don't want to be bothered with the minutiae of further cultivating the young minds in this city. We won't be around forever, you know. But since you have me right now and I am perfectly willing to work for this city at any time, day or night--"

They had nearly approached Rodney's labs and he was clearly getting ready leave them to themselves.

Elizabeth said, "Walk a bit further with us."

"So that I'm forced to double back? Whatever collusion you and Carson have gotten up to regarding my exercise habits, it's not going to work."

"You're colluding with Carson?" John asked mildly.

"Wildly," Elizabeth said. "Walk with us, Rodney."

Rodney walked because while she hadn't yet resorted to her Commander Of This Expedition Elizabeth Voice, she had called upon the Slightly Less Than A Friend Elizabeth Voice. Rodney was smart enough to recognize the import.

"If this is because you guys are having a squabble and need someone between you two at all times--"

"You're not between us," John pointed out.

"I meant metaphorically."

"We're not having a squabble," Elizabeth said.

"A chaperone then? To quiet wagging tongues?"

"Have you been reading Jane Austen?" John asked. "Because I would think you'd know better."

Rodney scowled. "Just because some of us only pretend to turn the pages of the book we've been reading for nearly ten years does not make the rest of us illiterate."

Elizabeth thought of John the Sunday before, when the Daedalus had shown up with all the goodies that implied, not the least of which was six months of John's subscription to Flight Journal. John had spent hours sprawled over his bed, stomach down, reading about the latest developments in non-classified earth aerospace technology and more about the history of the area as well. Elizabeth knew that he already possessed much of the knowledge in the magazine's pages, and that in and of itself was a comforting fact. She also knew that he was always looking for the information he had somehow missed in the bulletins and memos and calls from the SGC.

Rodney and John were still bickering half-heartedly at each other when they reached her quarters, which were the closest to the nerve center of Atlantis. Rodney said, "Is it all right with your majesty if I head back to my labs now?"

Elizabeth considered the request carefully. If it had been said with pure sarcasm, absolutely nothing else to it, she might have let him. But there had been a moment, right before he had asked, where his eyes had strayed to her door, had looked purposely anywhere but at her or John. "Why don't you come in for a bit?"

"I actually do have work, you realize? So that the city runs and you're a happy little expedition leader?"

"It can wait until the morning," she said. "If it couldn't, you would never have been at game night." She wouldn't make the offer an order, however. There were some things that Rodney had to decide for himself.

Rodney shifted a bit on his feet, looking between Elizabeth and John. Sometimes Elizabeth worried that Rodney's mind would eventually go in too many directions at once and there would be no gathering it all back together. Tonight was evidently not that night though, because he eventually said, "Another hour or so probably won't have the city sinking into the ocean. Although if it does, and you even try to pin me with the blame--"

"I'll fight for your honor," John assured him.

"Oh, shut up," Rodney said, following the two of them in the door. "As I was saying. . ."

Elizabeth listened a little as she watched the way John listened to Rodney, lackadaisical intent and automatic, almost inborn enjoyment settling over his features. She listened as she watched the way Rodney's shoulders lowered fractionally with each minute he stayed. She listened and thought about the way things on Atlantis never went the way a person rightfully expected them to go, and how sometimes the things that made the least sense on earth made the most sense here.

She listened and tucked herself at John's side, enjoying the natural drooping of his hand over her shoulders, the automatic ease with which he stroked her arm, even as the majority of his attention was focused on Rodney.

She listened and watched through half-shut eyes as Rodney's glance kept flickering toward John's hand.

She listened and heard Teyla's voice. "You have the gift of being able to see possibilities where they do not even know they exist. Why are you always running from this ability?"

At the time Elizabeth had laughed at the question, slightly offended. "I fought for the privilege to travel across galaxies on the premise of a possibility. No small feat for any earth citizen, but even less so for a woman."

Teyla had nodded. "You are tired, then?"

Elizabeth was more tired now than she had ever felt with Teyla there to prod her on, which was why it seemed somewhat irrational for this moment to be the one where she pushed herself to her feet and explored what there was to see anyhow. John was laughing, soft and low and real beside her.

Someone had to.

*


Rodney missed an embarrassing number of things about Teyla, a number that he would never share with anyone, not even under the threat of--or actual--torture. Well, maybe actual torture. It had been proven he was not the best at resisting. But it would take effort, that he knew.

At the very top of his list, though, was that he missed her and Ronon. It had been so easy to understand the two of them. No, that was wrong. It hadn't been at all easy to understand them, it had been easy to understand why they worked. The two of them had always spoken each other's language, even when they seemed to be basing things off a different dialect.

Even easier had been the act of just being around them, casually. Teyla and Ronon just were. There was no questioning, no more than there was questioning something like gravity. The theoretical nature of it didn't matter so much as the tangible practice.

John and Elizabeth were nowhere near so easy.

It wasn't that Rodney couldn't comprehend what was between them. Rather, he could probably make flow charts to explain that relationship, full with illustrations. It wasn't ineffable, but sensible in the way that Ronon and Teyla had been: it was purely a matter of time taking its course.

What Rodney couldn't have made a flow chart about--or any sort of chart or graph or even list--was his reaction to it.

It wasn't shocking to Rodney that he was jealous; at least, not so shocking that he couldn't recognize and process the emotion. Rodney was used to being jealous of interpersonal relationships. He was bad at them, even when he tried, and though he'd somehow gotten particularly lucky on Atlantis with a group of people who were either equally bad--therefore leveling the playing field--or bizarrely phenomenal at the skill, he had at least a solid three decades of experiences to base this statement on and know that it was true. He had those same solid three decades of looking around and noting--through less than scientific, but nonetheless accurate observation techniques--that most people managed to get along just fine in that arena.

So Rodney had Atlantis and his team. (When Rodney thought about his team, it was always Teyla and Ronon along with him and John. He felt guilty about this, and tried to figure out another word for the group that consisted of Jinto and Unell, since they were good kids, really. So far, nothing had worked out.)

He had Atlantis and his team and that had always felt like enough, more than enough, a nearly gluttonous amount of enough, but with John and Elizabeth seated across from him, casually leaning into each other it suddenly wasn't anywhere near enough. It was infuriating, and for once Rodney's grief over Teyla was more anger than anything else, because Rodney had never once doubted what he had when he was near her and Ronon.

It was irrational, he knew, to assume that if Teyla had lived that John and Elizabeth would never have figured this out. They would have. Rodney would have eventually helped, because it was the right thing to do, and somehow Rodney always found himself walking that path. He would have helped and Teyla would have helped and Ronon would have sat back and rolled his eyes.

Rodney wondered if it would have been as bad if things had unraveled that way.

He had a sneaking suspicion they might have. It was the same suspicion that made him think he'd been jealous all along and had just never had to deal with the emotion, because Elizabeth and John were always busy with other, less important things.

Of course, it was mostly Rodney's fault that he was here, now, watching them be John and Elizabeth. He hadn't planned to be here--he really did have work that he could be doing--but all the same, Elizabeth would have taken no for an answer, he knew. He just hadn't been able to find the word at the time of her offer.

It wasn't that Rodney wasn't enjoying himself. John was three-fourths of the way to relaxed, which was the closest he ever got these days, and Elizabeth had her eyes closed, something she would never dare do in the presence of just about anyone else. Rodney knew when he was being honored, even if he wasn't always willing to verbally recognize it as such.

Rodney liked being here, liked being here a bit too much. He could stay in this place--well, maybe a bit closer to where John and Elizabeth were, a few inches or maybe the whole seven feet--forever. Of course he wouldn't cross those seven feet, not for anything. Because whatever else, John and Elizabeth did make sense, and were meant to happen and all that fantastic bullshit, and at the moment, they were the only thing living up to their end of the bargain.

Rodney was not a homewrecker and he tried, he really, really tried, not to be a world-wrecker, either.

Rodney stayed where he was and when Elizabeth actually fell asleep, her mouth pressing into John's shoulder, he thought, sweet and then, I'm friends with losers.

He said to John, "Maybe I should go."

It took John what felt like a long time to say, "Yeah, I guess."

*


John didn't realize it at first, but somehow his dates with Elizabeth--and dates was an awfully formal word for two people crashing at one or the other's place for dinner and maybe, maybe some coffee afterward, and usually some pretty nice sex--were turning into evenings spent with Elizabeth and Rodney. Not the sex part--he would have noticed that straight off, he liked to think--but the dinner part. Coffee was also more predictable when Rodney was around to see to it.

It was a bit hard to notice because while John was fairly certain he hadn't invited Rodney, Rodney was well known for being everywhere, and so it just seemed natural that he would be with them pretty often. It was only after a few months of this behavior that John remembered that he and Elizabeth were technically involved and she was a girl and girls weren't always so laid back about things like dates and he should maybe ask her if she was all right with the way Rodney was always coming around.

When he got around to asking, "It isn't bothering you, is it? That we spend so much time with Rodney?" she looked at him oddly. It was then that John remembered that Elizabeth wasn't all that much like other girls. It was sort of why he'd wanted to get her to kiss him for so damn long.

"Is it bothering you?" She asked in response, her mouth twisting in something that might have been a smile. John was fairly good at reading her but there were times when she used her diplomatic wiles to make herself opaque, even to him. He wondered if perhaps she stored those moments up particularly for him. Then he thought he was probably being paranoid.

"Well, no, but--" It occurred to John mid-sentence that it wasn't entirely tactful to suggest that Rodney was his friend and not Elizabeth's. Rodney was Elizabeth's friend, it was just that Rodney was his teammate and his best friend and his guy buddy, and clearly Elizabeth's relationship to Rodney was different. "I don't know. I thought maybe I was being insensitive, always having him along. I, uh, despite the Kirk thing that Rodney's always on about, I rarely get past the third or fourth date. And you've actually hung in there well past my wildest expectations so I'd really prefer not to fuck up at this stage. If that's possible."

"You've been asking Rodney over?"

"Uh, no, but you know how we are with the team and all. It's sort of an unspoken open invitation."

"I think you're underestimating Rodney."

John tilted his head slightly. "I'm not sure there was an estimation in this process."

"You just pretty much assumed that Rodney would continuously inject himself within our romantic life."

John blinked. "He is Rodney. I mean, the fact that it took me this long to notice is one of the reasons we're friends. His behavior is just, uh, his behavior. It works for me. But he's still sort of socially inept."

"And you're not," she said, and there was definitely a smile accompanying the sentiment.

Luckily, John was completely willing to own up to his personal inadequacies, particularly in the face of her acceptance. "Oh, I am, I just pick different ways of going about it."

"Rodney may just be Rodney, but he has some sense of when to bow out."

John thought about this. "Sometimes. But it's us, so that may or may not screw with his intuition on that sort of thing."

"Hm," Elizabeth said.

It was this small sound, not even a full syllable, really, that made John go over the conversation in his mind. "You've been asking him along."

"Is it bothering you?" she asked again. The question sounded different the second time around.

John thought about it, but there was too much information missing for him to come up with any kind of reasonable answer. "I don't get it. Why would you-- I don't get it."

Elizabeth breathed out a word that sounded suspiciously like "men." "What do you imagine he would do if I were not to, with the two of us together more than not and Ronon caught up with Lele?"

"All right, probably work himself to death and leave us to fend for ourselves. Still, don't think I haven't watched you manipulate a situation more sticky than this one, if you had preferred us to have time to ourselves--"

"I could have found another solution."

"Yes."

Elizabeth said, "You enjoy having him around."

"He's my best friend," John said, perhaps a touch more fiercely than the situation called for. It wasn't that Rodney was John's first best friend, but he was the first person to actually merit the title. And John was a little wary of losing even small bits of that relationship at the moment.

"Best friend," Elizabeth said softly and much like a question.

"Okay," John said slowly. "I think I don't know what it is we're talking about here."

"Did you know," Elizabeth asked, conversationally, "that when you say that Rodney is part of your team it never sounds the same as when Lorne mentions Osuda being a part of his, or Brighton talks about Cermak being part of hers?"

"Well, Brighton's only had a team for about two years and Cermak came on six months in when Kucera decided she couldn't take being this far from her family. And Osuda and Lorne work together well in a team environment but there's always been a bit of a cultural barrier between the two."

"Thirteen teams, you're the only person who sounds like that."

John racked his brain. "Not even Cuperson? He's pretty close with his."

"Not even," Elizabeth confirmed, still looking at him like he was the one missing something.

"Maybe it's just 'cause, I mean, it's been a hard year--"

"You did it before Teyla. It was why--not to say that I would have otherwise expected it--but your sudden pursuit of me was a bit, well, surprising."

John looked at her. She had already washed her face free of makeup and she looked older and more tired and more her. This was secretly John's favorite version of her, mostly because he was the only one who ever saw it and John rarely, rarely, had things to himself. Elizabeth, more than most, was the property of everyone and everything in Atlantis at some point, and it was perfect, beyond perfect that there were moments when she was just his. Or rather, that there were moments when she was just hers, and she let him share those moments. He said, helplessly, "It wasn't surprising to me. Maybe the part where I got up the nerve. Definitely the part where you were okay with it and then stayed and didn't seem to mind that I'm not really the best at reading people's minds and can even be pretty stupid--"

"John."

"It's not like that, Rodney and me."

"Are you certain?"

He opened his mouth to say, "Of course I'm certain," to say, "I don't even know where you're getting this," to say, "I love you," when he realized that only the last was true and that he wasn't sure this was the best time to mention it. All he managed was a broken, "Elizabeth."

She touched his chin and said, "Please don't--" before kissing him and whispering, "I wouldn't make you choose. I couldn't do that. Not now."

"Even if it were true, even if it were, how could I do that? You said yes and you stayed. You stay."

"He stays too, in his own way. I'm not sure that can be ignored."

"I can't hurt you. Not willfully." John noticed his fist--which had at some point wrapped itself over Elizabeth's elbow--tightening. He made himself loosen his fingers.

"Can you hurt him?"

Breathing was infinitely harder, John noticed, when one had to think about how to do it. "Why are you--"

"I'm stronger than I look."

"You're the leader of the Atlantis Expedition."

"And you're smarter than you look."

"Um, thanks?"

"Tell me you don't think we can make this work."

"I'm military," John said, like it was the most unworkable part of this whole idea, when in fact, it came nowhere in the running.

"As if anyone is going to touch you for anything short of treason while setting your own troops on fire."

"This is crazy."

"We're leaders of the Atlantis Expedition."

She had a point. On a relative scale regarding most of the things they did, this was practically intelligent and well thought out. "You're serious."

"As the Wraith."

"Way to kill the mood."

She kissed him. "Still dead?"

"No, not so much."

"Rodney?"

"We could try it."

"But first we could do this," Elizabeth suggested, her hand ghosting over the fabric covering John's cock.

"Definitely," John agreed.

*


Elizabeth was sitting by herself in the commissary which was fairly unusual these days. Ronon took the seat across from her. "Wanna be left alone?"

"No," she said, smiling at him like she meant it. It was hard to tell with her, she could smile and talk and even use her body in sincere ways when all she wanted was to scream--he'd seen her do it. Still, he believed her, so he sat. Mostly he believed that she didn't lie to him, or at least, not as much as she lied to others.

He felt awkward saying it, as he knew there had been more than the normal trouble from the Asurans and that she was fending off a few of the regular troublemakers from earth, but Leandra--who, once she had stopped asking non-stop for her mother had since refused to even mention the word--had asked why Aunt 'Lizbeth never came around for anything other than game night anymore, and well, awkwardness didn't seem such a large obstacle in the face of that. "Think you could stop by my place, some time in the next couple of days?"

Elizabeth slowed in her eating. "Of course. Everything all right?"

"Lele misses you." He tried to leave the accusation out of his voice. She was a busy woman.

She caught it. She was good at reading nuance. "Teyla would be rather disappointed in me, wouldn't she? Not that it matters, what with you being disappointed."

Ronon started to tell her he wasn't, only he was. It was a bit uncomfortable to realize. He always assumed that Teyla had the ability to disappoint him, but she had exercised her right to it so rarely that Ronon had often forgotten about it. Sheppard certainly had it, and managed on a regular basis to remind Ronon just how human he was. Rodney, surprisingly, used his rights up a bit more sparingly but did so all the same. Elizabeth was less likely to, though, and so when she did it always came as a shock, like a cold shower when the water was supposed to be hot. "She was asking for you," was all he said.

"And I've been off with John and Rodney," Elizabeth finished for him.

He shrugged. "She would've liked that."

Elizabeth's gaze flew upwards, sharp and unsure. "Liked what?"

"That John finally--" Ronon smiled slightly. "And that you didn't just leave Rodney to his own devices."

"Teyla would have-- It was something you spoke about?"

"I could be trusted with her secrets, evidently," Ronon deadpanned.

It took Elizabeth a second before she smiled. "Wait, you mean you were her husband?"

Ronon was pretty sure it was the first time he'd managed to find anything regarding Teyla amusing since she'd been pried from his arms that previous September. "So she told me. Sometimes repeatedly."

"She did have a way of stating the obvious so that it seemed as though we actually needed reminding, didn't she?"

"And not saying things that might have actually been useful."

"I wouldn't have minded knowing how John felt."

That thought stopped Ronon for a bit. "You would have done something about it?"

Elizabeth rubbed at the back of her neck. "I don't know. Sometimes things just have to happen as they will, which was something she knew better than anyone I've ever met. Which was no doubt why she never said anything, but I wouldn't have minded her doing so. If for no other reason than to have heard what she thought about it all. I don't even know what I think about the situation, most days."

Ronon chewed slowly, wondering if he was ready to say what she clearly needed said. He wasn't used to being able to read her so well, or maybe he had just always trusted Teyla to do so, and had never noticed as his ability came along. He said, "It works. For all of you."

"Perhaps it will," she said.

He grunted. "Not yet?"

"John was a bit lost on the concept."

Ronon would make fun of him, but he probably would have been too until Teyla took his hand in hers and looked him in the eye and said, "Ronon," or "Husband," the way she'd had to do even when it was just the two of them. "You can bring them along. Lele'd enjoy that."

"Maybe another time. Tonight's for us girls."

"That a hint?"

"Oh, hon," she said dryly, "you can be one of the girls anytime you want."

Ronon grinned and turned his attention back to his food.

*


Elizabeth helped Ronon put Leandra to bed that evening and stayed long enough to share his evening pot of coffee before heading back to her quarters. Upon arrival she found John with his hands on Rodney's shoulders, clearly testing out the boundaries of Rodney's permissiveness while trying to get him to relax, just a bit.

Her arrival undid any progress he might have been making. Rodney's gaze flew up to where she stood and he snapped, "You can't send me home just because your boyfriend is a faithless nymphomaniac."

She couldn't help the, "I'm sure I could find a more plausible reason for the SGC to swallow."

Rodney yelped. "This is no fair! I came over here in good faith. There were promises of Toblerone, and possibly the latest Playstation to make it over and instead I find your military commander pulling a Mrs. Robinson on me and I'm the one who gets sent back to earth?"

"I'll be certain to spank him for you," Elizabeth said, making sure not to look at John, who was all but on the floor with laughter.

Rodney's eyes flickered to the side where he made note of John. "Oh, very funny."

There was more muttering as Rodney gathered himself and got to his feet and Elizabeth was smiling gently up until the point where it became clear that he really was leaving. Then she was in front of her door, hands on Rodney's chest with a firm, "No," making it's way off her lips.

Rodney's expression was nine-tenths anger and one-tenth fear and it was only because she knew him so well that she could see that last. She could. He asked, "Are you looking to have me press sexual harassment charges?"

"Is that really how you want to do this?" she asked, and pressed a small kiss to the corner of his mouth.

Rodney reared back, tripping over the couch and falling down onto it. John, who was still sitting there, carefully didn't touch him. Good boy, Elizabeth thought.

"You are both crazy," Rodney informed them, in a tone of deep disapproval and even deeper disbelief.

John shrugged at that. "Atlantis."

"People don't do this sort of thing. There are mathematical reasons, I'm sure, if you just gave me some time to--"

But John evidently had no intention of giving Rodney that time, and Elizabeth couldn't say that she thought that was a bad plan. Giving Rodney time to think could be fantastic in life and death situations, where mostly there wasn't any time to give him, but in any other context, it was really much better to lead him blindly and set him free. He didn't know it, wouldn't have admitted if he did, but Rodney McKay worked best under pressure.

John said, "I don't think we have much to do with math," and kissed Rodney. It was a slow kiss, not much for fierceness. Elizabeth often thought that John must have been taught his manners by a woman--an older sister, or a mother. He was a polite seducer, it wasn't until later, when he had assured himself of conquest, that the inner, more mischievous John was allowed free roam.

Rodney said, "Well, yes, but just because you can manage non-linear equations does not make you some kind of math expert."

"I guess not to you, no." John seemed unbothered by this assessment of his abilities. He was looking at Rodney expectantly.

Rodney sighed. "Yes, all right, fine," and leaned in to kiss John back. It was a mere peck and then he was turning to face Elizabeth. "Well, are you going to be joining, or is voyeurism more your thing? Because I have to tell you, I'm not really sure how much of an exhibitionist kink--"

John cut him off. "She's joining."

Elizabeth made her way across the room, to where John was waiting for her to drape herself over him, to pull Rodney over the both of them. John murmured, "How was Lele?" into her neck.

"She misses her mom," Elizabeth said, because sometimes Leandra looked at her like maybe if she kept staring hard enough Elizabeth would disappear, and Teyla would be left standing there. Sometimes, Elizabeth thought that if she could manage that trick, she would. "But we made our own fun."

"And Ronon?" John asked.

"He misses his wife," she said, despite the fact that Ronon never seemed to see anyone but her when she was standing in front of him.

"Yeah," John said, and reached out to latch on to Rodney's wrist.

Rodney looked down at where he was well and truly captured and then up at the two people before him. "You're completely certain this is what you want? Because I could probably--"

"We're certain," Elizabeth told him.

"Come here," John said. It wasn't at all his team-leader voice that he gave the order in, but Rodney obeyed, just the same.

*


Radek looked at Rodney when he finally managed to get into the lab the next morning and said, "This lateness is not like you."

"What, I'm not allowed to sleep now?" Rodney asked, but it was lacking in its normal bite. He could still feel John's hands working the suds through his hair, the surprisingly smooth slide of Elizabeth's teeth over the curve of his shoulder.

"You are not wholly subject to the human need to sleep, I do not believe," Radek said, his eyes narrowing.

Not at the moment, Rodney wasn't, but he knew that without coffee, another two or three hours would have him there, given the dearth of actual rest the evening before. "I'm making a coffee run. Can I get you anything?"

Rodney realized his mistake a moment too late. Distraction as a technique was all well and good--even with someone as smart as Radek--but only if it was in character, and offering to ferry goods for others? Not a terribly Rodney-ish thing to do.

Radek now looked concerned. "Are you certain you are feeling all right?"

There was nothing for it now but to stand by his guns. And to act really annoyed while doing so. "Do you want anything or not?"

Radek shook his head without ever once taking his eyes off Rodney. Rodney sighed, and slipped out to head for the commissary. John, of course, managed to find him on the way there. Rodney said, "It's not even nine in the morning and you've already caused me grief without so much as needing to be present."

"So you want me to go?"

"The damage is already done," Rodney said and moved just a tiny bit closer to John, not enough that anyone looking would notice, but enough to let him know that the words meant nothing.

John smirked.

"Please, keep broadcasting signals that you've become the poster boy for 'Don't Ask Me, I'll Tell You Everything You Never Wanted To Know.'"

"Rodney, believe me when I say that nothing about us walking down the hall looks any different than it did yesterday, other than the fact that you can't stop blushing. Which is boyish and charming, if I do say so."

"You are a cretinous being," Rodney said in an offhanded and distracted--if sincere--manner.

"Coffee run?"

"How can Elizabeth refuse to abuse her power in this way? Nobody would think twice if she were to hoard just a few provisions--essentials, you understand me--but no, butter wouldn't melt in her mouth."

"Wouldn't it?" John asked,

Rodney lowered his voice. "And as you're clearly not the type of boyfriend who brings his well-deserving lovers coffee and perhaps a bit of solid sustenance upon waking, it falls to me not only to forego sleep for the two of you, but to have to run my own errands."

"You are egregiously neglected," John agreed, sounding all too cheery about the situation.

As they had arrived at the commissary, it was time for action. "Two poppyseeds," Rodney said, pushing John in the right direction.

John laughed, but by the time Rodney had poured himself the requisite amount of coffee, John was at his side, having charmed the staff into giving over the requested items--something Rodney almost never managed to do. It usually took him saving everyone's lives, as opposed to just a third or half of the city.

Rodney took the muffins from him without so much as a thank you. John followed him out of the commissary anyway. He asked, softly, "Still such a bad boyfriend?"

Rodney glanced to his side, where John's posture was relaxed but his head was tipped to the side, the way it was when he was actually listening to something. Rodney said, grudgingly, "You have your moments."

John grinned. "Aren't you supposed to be making sure we don't sink into the ocean?"

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Or figuring out how to make sure you're the first one down."

*


Unell shouldered her P-90 and said, "Permission to speak freely, sir."

Ronon wouldn't have asked. John flinched at the unfairness of the thought. Ford would have. "Go ahead, Sergeant."

"We won't lose McKay, sir."

John frowned. "Explain, Sergeant."

"You think we don't notice how you almost never leave one of us to guard him?"

John stared off at where Rodney was cursing at his computer. "Yeah, I can see how that probably seems like I don't trust you."

"Is that to say that that isn't the case, sir?"

"If it was the case, neither of you would be on my team."

"Then why--" Unell used the hand that wasn't propping her weapon up to gesture somewhat meaninglessly.

John understood. "Because he's the most valuable person on Atlantis and I have a hard time turning my back on that, even knowing that somebody else's eyes are on him."

Unell looked unsatisfied with this explanation. John thought she had to know that there had been times in the ten years before she had come on the scene when he must have left Rodney to Ronon, to Teyla.

John bit out the words, "Because I turned my back on one of my team members and she was torn to pieces just in time for me to see it."

"That was. . .honest."

"You're part of my team," John managed to say without hesitation or faltering.

"Perhaps, but I think McKay's part of your family."

"You haven't been around long enough to figure out that there isn't much of a difference."

"You've been with one team too long to remember that there actually is." Unell held herself stiff, as if aware she'd gone too far with that last remark, that the permission to speak freely was more limited than the words implied.

Only she was part of John's team, he'd chosen her for that role. He couldn't have just bits and pieces of her. They would do him no good. "Perspective's a bitch, eh?"

Unell laughed, a choked, surprised little sound. "Perspective."

John squinted, watching Rodney talk to himself using a considerable number of hand gestures. "Do you trust me?"

"Colonel?"

"I mean, as more than your commanding officer?"

"The trick is to trust your commanding officer with your life. You want more than that?"

John didn't even blink. "Yes."

"Oh," Unell said, clearly brought up a bit short.

"When you figure out how to, or--and I find this more likely--just realize you do, then you'll get what it means to be part of my team."

"Do you trust me like that?" she asked.

"You're standing next to me, helping me watch over McKay. What do you think?"

After a long silence, she said, "That maybe you're right."

John didn't ask about what. "One of the perks of being a CO. I always am."

*


Ronon knew he was supposed to stay safe and centered and close to Leandra, who needed him, needed him more than the city or John or anybody ever had. He knew that, but sometimes he missed the feel of motion so much, the experience of the new, that it was all he could do not to leave Leandra in Elizabeth's arms and dive headfirst through the 'gate.

Of course, that was generally during the day, when Leandra was off at school and he didn't have to look at her face--the way her eyes had the exact shade of Teyla's, and her nose the same curved grace; the way she tilted her neck just the way Teyla had when slightly puzzled.

The way she wasn't wholly Teyla, but Leandra, and there wasn't anything--not even adventure and the smell of unexplored terrain and the safety of John and Rodney--that could matter more to him.

Still, he missed missions.

So when John came around one Sunday morning and swung Leandra up onto his shoulders and said, "Come on," Ronon didn't ask where they were going. It didn't really matter.

Elizabeth and Rodney were waiting in the jumper. As part of city security, Ronon felt like he should say that it was a bad, bad, bad idea for the city's leader, head of science and military commander to all leave the city as one. He stayed silent.

Ronon recognized the planet they landed on, but only faintly. He imagined they must have done some scouting on it at one point or another. Maybe it had been one of the hundreds where nothing had happened, where Rodney had bitched about a lack of energy sources and Teyla had sunbathed without once letting down her guard and John had kept his P-90 just a bit further from his chest than usual.

Or maybe he just thought it was familiar. Sometimes the places they had been blended together. Ronon didn't like that, wished that all of his memories of them--maybe even the bad ones--were separate and distinct and there for him to handle when he so chose. But he had seen a lot of green and brown and grey in his life, and even Teyla's laugh, warm and sardonic at once, couldn't always make the colors and scents and sounds of a place sharp in his mind.

Someone--John?--had brought Leandra's bike, and there were paths here, long smooth paths. Ronon asked Elizabeth, "Are there inhabitants?"

She nodded. "The Kaden. Not so advanced as Sateda, but not quite as agrarian as the Athosians. We have a trade agreement with them."

Rodney was criticizing Leandra's riding, telling her all the ways she could improve and Ronon thought about coming to her rescue, only she was rolling her eyes even as she obviously listened. She listened to all of them.

And it did make it easier, whatever Rodney had told her. She leaned forward a little further and the muscles in her legs relaxed a bit. She pedaled faster. Ronon knew himself for a hypocrite then, wanting to tell her to slow down, not to go so far. John was running not far behind her, though, and he trusted John to keep her safe. Even now, he trusted John with that duty.

John brought her back to him, lifting her off the bike and carrying her all the way, even as she squirmed and screamed at him. Rodney trailed along behind with the bike. Ronon knew that he would say something when he was within earshot, something biting about being forced into manual labor, but he didn't look all that bothered. Not for Rodney.

John deposited a still-writhing Leandra into Ronon's arms and said, "Lunch time."

Ronon shifted so that he wouldn't drop her and said, "You can ride more after you've eaten."

"I want to ride more now," Leandra whined, but she also stilled so that Ronon could hold her properly.

"You'll never get big if you don't eat," he said, despite not having eaten well for years and having maintained what Rodney had more than once referred to as giant-like-proportions. Genetically, Leandra was probably set.

"Fine," she said, clearly put-upon.

John and Elizabeth were setting up a picnic, their hands brushing every once in a while, John continuously handing Rodney bites to eat so as to keep him mollified. Ronon thought about stepping inside their space and then thought, no, not yet. After which he thought, what?

But Leandra was heavy and safe in his arms and there was a different sun than the one he was so used to shining on him and it wasn't the time to worry about where his mind wanted to go without his permission. It wasn't a time to worry about anything.

It was time to eat.

*


Elizabeth found that when John's team didn't show at its scheduled time--an occurrence she ran into rather more often than she would have preferred--she could call Ronon to her on the excuse of wanting to talk about reinforcements to the city and nobody so much as raised an eyebrow. John and Rodney, after all, had brought their fair share of bad news back to the city. (Amazingly, more John than Rodney.)

The two of them were giving Unell and Jinto a bad name. One those two seemed to carry with pride. Although she felt like any responsible leader would have, Elizabeth couldn't see fit to blame them. She knew her limits; knowing them was one of her strengths.

Ronon would come up to her office and say something like, "Zelenka says the ZPM will hold," or, "We should have Marine reinforcements on the lower east pier," or whatever, it didn't really matter. Then he would sit down and wait with her. Sometimes he brought work, so that they could both be bent over the projects they were using to distract themselves, projects that would have to be redone later, when they could actually think. Sometimes he just watched over the gateroom, as Elizabeth longed to do.

He had good instincts for when the 'gate was about to open, his muscles tightening before the first chevron would ever lock. She wasn't sure how she could feel it--he wasn't near enough, and she was always looking the other way--but in her office, between the two of them, his expectation was palpable.

On the evening that followed the return of the team--after Elizabeth had taken and bedded what was hers--she would come around to Ronon's with smuggled wine or whiskey or rum, or whatever she could get that had mind-altering properties and liquid form, and drink silently with him.

She wasn't secretive about where she went. Rodney once said, "Do you talk about us, when we're not there?"

She said, "All the time."

He narrowed his eyes. Then he said, "Well, that's only right. John and I talk about the two of you behind your backs."

Elizabeth believed him. She wasn't worried.

John sometimes walked her to Ronon's place. He never asked to come in. One time, he said, "You know I do my best to come back, right?"

She did. But then, so had Teyla. What's more, Elizabeth was pretty sure John went his best one better when protecting his team. Which made the reassurance less than wholly reassuring. She kissed him then and said, "We know. But it doesn't make the wait any shorter."

"Yeah," he said, dragging a hand through his hair, "no, it wouldn't."

There was the night when, before she began pouring, Ronon said, "If you wanted to ask them--"

"I don't." This wasn't about John and Rodney. Or rather, it was about John and Rodney, but it was between Ronon and her.

"What do you think they do when we do this?"

"I don't know," she said. She didn't think about it. It was wholly possible that they slept together. John and she had done so without Rodney. She had, once or twice, thought what it would be like to have the whole of Rodney's attention focused on her. Rodney could have incredible amounts of concentration. She thought, though, that she would want John there to witness, to know what was between her and Rodney. She hoped the two of them felt the same. It was possible that was something she should have asked, but everything seemed so precarious.

She knew better, she knew that it was only in silence that tension and breakability bred. She couldn't say why she hadn't said anything yet, only that the time had never seemed right, the atmosphere never. . .complete.

He said, "They watch movies."

She stopped mid-pour. "You've asked?"

"No," he said.

"Then--"

"Team thing," he said.

"Team thing?"

"The four of them get together and one of them--usually the person who came closest to dying on the mission--gets to pick a movie and they all watch it. Rodney wouldn't do it with Unell and Jinto at first, because he's got that loyalty thing that's mostly just crazy."

Elizabeth heard the approval in his voice, even as Ronon said the words. "But he does now?"

"John said he'd invite me."

"You said no."

Ronon looked at her. "They're not my team."

"Trust me, they know it."

Ronon shrugged. "They are John and Rodney's. So they watch movies."

"They've never said."

"You're not their team."

Elizabeth set the liquor down and said, "I like to think I'm some sort of team with them."

"It's different," Ronon said.

"Even with--"

"It was different," he said.

"It's frightening, the business of being on the outside."

Ronon nodded and looked away and Elizabeth thought that this was a bad time for her usual knack for being observant to have deserted her. She handed him his glass, and he took it from her, not flinching when their fingers brushed.

*


Jinto had truly awful taste in movies, which was sort of nice, because while Rodney never minded going completely out of his way to find a derisive comment, it was always more convenient when they just came to him. Also, the fact that his comments never became aggressively mean--not in any serious way--made him remember that even if Jinto wasn't Teyla, not at all, not even in his speech patterns, that he was still a good kid and a good team member.

Like Teyla, he would smile blandly at Rodney's remarks. Unlike her, he would answer back. His answers were clever and sharp and they sometimes made Rodney ache for Teyla, but mostly they amused him.

Not that he let on.

Unell was nearly as much of a geek as John, so most weeks Jinto's votes were overcome by what Jinto fondly referred to as Geek Despotism.

John called it Chain of Command. In private, Rodney would pet his arm and say, with a sneer, "Yes, dear, you're still in charge."

(Sometimes, John would prove it by pushing him onto the bed and kissing him and then letting Elizabeth have him. John was, at times, a good little soldier.)

After the movies, John and Rodney would always take their time walking back to Elizabeth's place, giving her time to get there before they did. They had arrived early a few times only to wait. It wasn't that they didn't know how to interact without her--they did it for hours at a time, days at a time, sometimes nearly a week. It was that similarly to how it would have felt to simply fill someone in for Teyla--Ronon still on the team--being the two of them when it was time to be the three of them just wasn't right.

When they would get there, Rodney would talk a lot. Not that he hadn't spoken through the movie, or really, stopped talking before, but Elizabeth was always pretty quiet and she smiled at him a lot, no matter what he said. Sometimes, late, late into the night, with his leg slung over Elizabeth's and his fingers lazily stroking at the skin just above John's hip he would whisper, "We don't mean to scare you."

She would say, "I don't mean to worry."

Rodney would say, "Except that you know the city would fall apart without me."

Then, one night she said, "It's not the city I worry about," which stopped Rodney cold. She must have felt him tense because she said, "Rodney--"

He cut her off with, "I can fix the city, Elizabeth, I can make it run so well--"

"You can make me smile," John said, sounding sleepy and disgruntled and concerned. "She likes that."

"Other things, too," she said softly.

Rodney said, "I don't worry about whether or not I'm good enough for the two of you. I do, on occasion, worry if I am selling myself short, but this isn't the most heavily populated city and my options are somewhat limited, and if nothing else, I've manage to manipulate two thirds of the central power figures into my bed, and since I am the third of that equation, that shall have to be enough."

"Mm," Elizabeth said. John agreed with an, "Okay."

She untangled herself from Rodney, though, and pulled herself from John's loose hold and tumbled over Rodney in order to press him into the middle of the two of them. John buried his face in Rodney's neck, his hair tickling at the underside of Rodney's chin. Rodney said, "Honestly, haven't you ever met with a pair of scissors?" but John was already breathing evenly and Elizabeth said, "Shh, I like being able to guide his mouth."

"Power whore," Rodney said.

"The way I figure it, takes one to know one."

Rodney laughed a little and said, "We really don't mean to scare you."

She nodded, her chin pressing against his shoulders. "Some things really are out of our control."

*


It was very rare that John ever felt things actually needed to be said. Usually there were other ways of conveying necessary sentiments that would do as well if not better.

So when words began to stick in his chest, to try and push their way past his lips, that was generally when he took it as a sign that something validly needed saying. Which was why he took Ronon to the mainland, where there were places to run that involved sun and grass and fresh air. And when he could barely speak for the need to breath, he said, "You're not part of my team and you're not part of this thing that I'm having or doing or something with Rodney and Elizabeth and I don't know what you are part of, except that it has to be something, because. . .because."

Ronon, who did not go out on missions with them anymore, who stayed in the city and should have been more winded than John, said, "Because," easily.

Annoyed, John asked, "That's all you have to say?"

Ronon didn't seem bothered by the unwonted irritation. "Was there something you wanted me to say?"

John had the feeling there were virtual mountains of things he would have liked Ronon to say, but he had no words for them, so it wasn't precisely fair to blame Ronon for not coming up with them himself. Not that John was in a particularly equitable mood. He walked a little further, mostly to feel as though he could get away from the things he couldn't command--or, at the very least, trust.

Ronon followed.

John said, "It has to be something."

"You're repeating yourself."

"I keep expecting her to come back and kill me herself for the mess I've made of this."

"She would have given you a second chance."

"At this point, it would be a twentieth."

"She would have given you that, too." Ronon nodded slowly. "I was well into my fifties, I'm pretty sure. Maybe more."

"That doesn't really make me want to be an utter screw up about this."

"John--"

"I have been."

Ronon didn't say anything.

"I'm not really improving on that, am I?"

Ronon shrugged. "You're allowed a bad day."

Maybe, but John knew that he wasn't allowed to take it out on Ronon. Not yet, not when Ronon wasn't part of something, at least not something he could put into words. "We left you."

"Fuck you," Ronon said, sounding much more at ease with the words than he had the first one hundred times he'd said them. It had taken a while for him to settle into Earthian curses, and when he was most mad, mad in the ways that caused him to be unable to think, he would still swear in Satedan.

It was how John knew there was hope for the discussion. "I just meant--"

"You think I need you to have sex with me? Would that have made everything better?" Ronon was walking at an excruciatingly fast pace for someone who had just finished an extensive run.

John put a hand to Ronon's elbow, forcing him to stop, or at least slow. He knew it would do neither if Ronon didn't want it to. Ronon stopped. John said, "No."

"What we do right now, it works."

John looked at him. "It does." It was more doubt than question.

"I don't need--"

John waited to make sure Ronon wasn't going to finish his thought. "Us?"

"Whatever you think I need."

"I think you need us."

"I think you need a way to know that you can still tell me what to do and know that I'll do it." Ronon didn't sound mad any longer, though. He sounded like he was finally telling John something.

"I could," John said. "If I needed you, I could."

"Yes," Ronon said. "And you don't know what you're talking about. Left me? When did that happen? What part did I miss where you weren't there?"

"I just meant--"

"Not everything is about structure. I'm not part of your thing or your team, but my daughter still calls you her uncle--whatever that means--so I'm part of something."

"You know what it means."

"I was making a point."

"I know," John admitted.

"Are you done?"

"Probably not."

"At least for the moment?"

John couldn't give him much, but he could give him that.

*


Ronon didn't lie much, not really. There wasn't any reason to most of the time. John and Rodney and Elizabeth usually took the truth--whatever it was--in stride. As such, it wasn't until nearly a week after he'd had the conversation reassuring John that he hadn't been left in any way that he realized he had, unintentionally, lied.

The truth was that Teyla's death had left Ronon with very few defense mechanisms for coping. The best of them was to simply ignore things, to pretend that they would go away on their own. Some did. They weren't the important things.

But the choice to ignore things, once made, was hard to set aside and for the most part, Ronon hadn't even noticed what there was between John and Elizabeth, John and Rodney, Elizabeth and Rodney, the three of them. He had known. He had watched and seen and known. But he hadn't thought about it. At all.

Until John had to open his mouth and suggest that maybe Ronon was outside of that structure, that team, that thing that nobody knew how to talk about, or even think about. Until John and Rodney and Elizabeth came for game night and stayed after Leandra had gone to bed. Until Rodney made John laugh--a real laugh, not a smirk combined with an eyeroll--and John leaned his head just slightly toward Rodney, enough for the two of them to nearly touch.

Nearly.

And suddenly, Ronon realized how very much space there was in the seven feet between him and them. It was mostly metaphorical.

He had gotten rather good at convincing himself that he forgot the dreams he had at night, when the touch of Teyla's palm at his back, the smooth length of her thighs circling his hips, the firm press of her lips to the crest of his jaw would settle in his mind for the hours he was asleep. The sensation of physical touch was more avoidable during the day, but with John and Rodney there in front of him, all-but-touching, touching in the way Ronon knew touch mattered, Teyla was everywhere. Her chest was at his back, her mouth at curve of his shoulder. Her hair was brushing over his neck.

Ronon took a breath and fought to slip back into his forced state of ignorance. John straightened and it still wouldn't come.

Ronon thought, liar, and the voice in his head sounded like Teyla. He didn't answer her, himself.

He heard Elizabeth say, "We should go."

Rodney said, "I have to get back to the lab."

John said, "It's midnight," as though that meant something, when all four people in the room knew that for Rodney, the lab only closed when even coffee lost the ability to keep him thinking straight.

Predictably, Rodney rolled his eyes. "Was there something complicated about my statement that I only had a few hours for pandering to your need for companionship this evening, or have you just begun to lose what few memory cells you had to begin with?"

Elizabeth cut off whatever John had opened his mouth to say with a, "An hour, Rodney. Then go to bed, even if it's not ours."

There was a flash of something in Rodney's expression that Ronon had only learned to understand as unease after a long, long time of knowing Rodney. John must have caught it, as he said, "It had better be ours," in that low, threatening way he could without actually sounding threatening to the people who knew what a real threat from him sounded or looked like.

Rodney's shoulders loosened a notch, and he said, "We'll see," as haughtily as he could. Rodney was excellent at coming off haughty. He nodded at Ronon. "You were going to come by in the morning and talk with me about the space on the outermost wing?"

Ronon said, "Wear walking shoes."

"Yes, yes," Rodney waved a hand irritably. "I'll see you then." Without looking at either John or Elizabeth, he left.

Elizabeth asked Ronon, "Do you need anything?"

He looked her in the eyes and lied. "No."

*


Two days later the plumbing systems on Atlantis simply ceased to function. There was a time when such an event was fairly commonplace, but it had been a while since they had really had many problems with basic life-support type apparati. Twenty-seven hours in, when Jinto arrived back from the mainland with water rations to at least keep the situation from becoming deadly once they ran out of pre-filtered water. At the same time, a good chunk of the life scientists were working on ways to filter the water around them without relying on the city's help. It was then that Elizabeth called John and asked, "Is Rodney eating?"

John rubbed at his eyes with the palm of his hand. "If I show up with it, he eats it."

"And you've been--"

"Look, even if he wasn't my boyfriend, it would be kind of irresponsible of me to let him go into hypoglycemic shock right now, seeing as how we broke the city."

Elizabeth knew when John was parroting Rodney. It wasn't that hard to tell. "He thinks we broke the city?"

"That's what he's saying. Although sometimes he names specific culprits, so that's always sort of amusing."

"Oops?"

John smiled. It was a tired, stretched smile, but it was genuine. "Jinto came through?"

"A combination of Jinto and my promise of sexual favors to any Athosian male who so desired for the period of a month."

"How does a guy sign up to be Athosian?"

She found a smile for him then. "I'll be posting the forms in some of the common areas later today."

"I'll be sure to look."

"Have any idea of how the life-scientists are coming along? Ronon's down there with them specifically so I would have someone likely to actually report to me but he went radio silent."

"I'll beat him up for you later, but right now he's busy playing errand-boy to a bunch of over-stressed, under-fed and under-rested scientists with a big problem on their hands. A few of whom have a crush on him."

"Right. Remind me who sent him there?"

John's smile flickered in appreciation of the vague self-depreciation. "I'm pretty sure that was you, but I haven't had a lot of sleep recently either."

Elizabeth nodded.

John said, "You know, I've been dealing with the details, water-transportation, getting some of the city to the mainland until this blows over, and Rodney's sort of preoccupied right now and I was just wondering--"

"How are things actually looking?"

John nodded. "Because I think we can actually get about one hundred and fifty Marines out of the city for a while. It's not the best plan ever, but it's workable and not completely suicidal."

"Hold onto the thought for about five hours."

"Five hours?"

"Rodney promised he'd have a report to me by then, and I promised in turn that you would barricade his access to the coffee if he didn't."

"Useful knowledge. I need time to set up a defensive action like that, you realize?"

"I was going to tell you at the two hour mark."

"Your confidence does my ego well."

"You have to go now, so that I can run a city that doesn't want to be run."

"At the risk of being insubordinate, I'll do that in a moment," John said, and kissed her slowly, gently, his hand curving firmly around the back of her neck. He pulled slightly away and said, "Rodney's got this one under control."

"I know," she said. She believed him.

John's roundabout to leave her wasn't as smooth as it could have been. She appreciated the gesture.

*


At the first evidence of successful water flow, Rodney found himself being collected by John. Not that John was obvious about it. Or rather, John was obvious about it, obvious in that overblown Colonel-Sheppard-and-his-buddy-Doctor-McKay way that seemed to throw everything completely off the scent. For his part, Rodney just wanted to be taken home--he didn't even care whose home, he certainly couldn't be bothered to care who was watching.

He had John for things like that.

When they made it to Rodney's room Elizabeth was there. She said, "I can't stay long, I just wanted--" She pressed her lips to Rodney's. "Thank you for fixing my city."

Rodney frowned. "It's my city."

"All right," Elizabeth said, pressing her forehead to his. "Get some sleep."

Rodney was tired and irritable and all he wanted was to sleep, but he didn't so much want to be told to sleep. Instead he asked, "Where's Ronon?"

Both John and Elizabeth's face went blank and it took several seconds for Rodney's sleep-deprived mind to catch on to why that could be considered an odd question. He said, "Nevermind," even as John said, "Helping recovery in the botany lab."

"What kind of moron assigned him that task?"

"This moron," Elizabeth said, sounding decidedly unfazed by Rodney's criticism. "He likes plants. And most of the botanists don't have the ability to move planters."

Rodney scowled, knowing that the idea was actually a good one and there was no reason for Ronon to be here, but Elizabeth and John were and he wanted Ronon too, and hadn't he just fixed the city? Again?

John smiled and said, "I'll tell him you missed him," but the tone was off. Even exhausted, Rodney could hear that. He had, somewhere along the way, gotten used to listening to John in the same way that he read phsyics equations: with an ear or an eye toward what didn't quite fit.

"You will most certainly not," Rodney said, doing his best to work up some righteous indignation. He hoped he was at least close. They would let him off easy. They did when he was weak. Sometimes they did even when he wasn't weak.

"I can be persuaded."

"I haven't slept--"

John rolled his eyes. "Not that way. Get yourself in bed in the next sixty seconds and Ronon will never hear so much as a word of this conversation."

"Do I have to take my shoes off?" Rodney asked. The in bed thing he could do, but probably not if it required any sort of coordination beforehand.

John pushed him to where he was sitting on the bed. It was undignified and cruel and Rodney let him have his way. John and Elizabeth tackled a shoe apiece. Rodney did the rest for them, falling to his side and closing his eyes. One of them--maybe both--pulled the blankets over him.

He muttered, "The question made sense. I'm smarter than both of you, even like this, but you know it made sense."

John's fingers rifled through his hair and Elizabeth said, "sleep," and Rodney did.

*


When everyone who had been shipped out of the city had been successfully returned and things had quieted down to as much of a dull roar as they ever managed, John went to go find Ronon. He tried the botany lab first, but evidently he'd long since moved on. After that he looked in at Leandra's daycare. Leandra was there. Ronon was not.

He tried all the cubbyholes that he knew Ronon sometimes hid away in, and the mess hall and finally even Ronon's quarters, all to no avail. He was about to ask Elizabeth if she had any ideas when he all-but-ran into his quarry walking down the hall. John said, "Oh, hey, where have you been?"

Ronon said, "Looking for you."

"Figures," John muttered. Ronon laughed.

John said, "Rodney was asking for you."

"He's supposed to be asleep."

"He is. He did the asking before."

Ronon thought about that. "Lele and I could come by. Later."

John tried to find a way to tell him that he thought maybe this was one time Ronon ought to swing by before Leandra was out of daycare. It sounded too much like the things he'd been trying to say in their conversation a week earlier, and Ronon had already told him not to pursue it. John could take hints and orders and all sorts of directives when he so chose. Finally he said, "Yeah, thanks."

Ronon nodded, watching John like he had early on, when nothing any of the Lanteans did made any sense. Teyla had had a similar expression, she just hid hers more carefully. Unless, of course, she wanted to make the point that somebody's actions made no sense. Ronon didn't care who knew that he was confused. It was acceptable to him that aliens should be odd. John agreed, wholeheartedly. He also adopted the look for times when Rodney became strange enough to merit it.

Ronon said, "You and Elizabeth were there."

It took John a second to realize it was a question. "Yeah, for a little bit. Long enough to get him in bed."

"But he asked for me."

"He asked where you were. But he sounded, well, you know. Expectant."

"He's Rodney," Ronon pointed out.

"There is that," John said.

There was silence between them then, not exactly awkward, but odd in a way that their silences generally weren't. Ronon asked, "Should I have been there?"

John rubbed a hand at the back of his neck. "Rodney didn't sound crazy for asking. Sleep-deprived and slightly loopy, but not insane."

"You knew where I was."

"Sometimes it's hard to ask."

"But Rodney has no problem with telling."

John caught Ronon's gaze. "Sometimes, with you, it's hard."

Ronon said, "Pretend it's not."

"That's sort of--"

"Have I asked for anything else?"

Slowly, John shook his head.

"Then fucking pretend," Ronon said, not placing enough emphasis on any of the words to sound mad. Ronon's outer signs could be deceptive, though, when they weren't being overly easy to read.

John rocked back on his heels. "You got it."

"Still want us to drop by?"

"Yes," John said.

"I have to go pick my daughter up," Ronon said.

"You should sleep at some point." John was only throwing this out as a suggestion.

"We'll see."

John asked, "Do I need to make it an order?"

Ronon smiled, "Not part of your team."

John smiled, too. "Uh huh."

*


Ronon found them in Elizabeth's rooms. Hers had the most space, even if John's were generally the cleanest. Leandra climbed atop Elizabeth's lap, yawned and promptly fell asleep.

Ronon smiled. "She had a long day."

John was blinking with startling regularity, Elizabeth's eyes were black marks in her face, and Rodney was still looking a little blurry around the edges. Each had an expression that suggested they believed him. Rodney evidently couldn't resist saying, "Yes, I remember her being right at my side when I nearly drowned."

John said, "I saved you."

"My hero." Rodney sounded neither impressed nor enchanted. Ronon thought Rodney should give John a little something, as John had been shaky for a good few hours after the living quarters on the third level had flooded, nearly killing a good chunk of the engineers and Rodney.

Rodney hooked his fingers in the waistband of John's pants, and Ronon thought, yeah. Rodney said, "You could sit, you know. Pretend like you want to spend some time with us."

Ronon stood, mostly just for the sake of being contrary. And because it wasn't him who was sleeping with the other two adults in the room. Rodney was smart enough to know when he was talking out of his ass, so long as someone was willing to signal their displeasure.

Instead of acknowledging the preposterous nature of the comment, Rodney unhooked his fingers from John's pants, buried them in Ronon's shirt and dragged Ronon to the couch. Ronon came along pretty willingly. He didn't really come to see Rodney struggle more.

Once he was seated next to Rodney, their legs touching, warm against each other, Ronon realized it would have been wiser to say he needed to take Leandra home, put her in bed. He hadn't done that, though, he had sat. Teyla would have told him to stop being a coward, and for once accept that running was the one thing that wouldn't save him.

Teyla would have told him that, only she was dead and there were days when Ronon wished he hadn't listened to her in the first place. Less now than at first. When he got to thinking that, Leandra invariably asked him a question, or pestered him to help her ride her bike. Ronon was pretty sure it was all right that the pure beauty of Leandra's existence at times overcame the grief. He was pretty sure Teyla would have approved of that.

Elizabeth did, he knew. He caught her looks of "well done" on occasion, when she wasn't expecting him to catch her gaze. The two women had been different in so many ways, but often in the ones that mattered each woman's reaction to a situation was a good way to judge the other's, even if the two weren't identical.

Elizabeth was on the other side of Rodney, who now had Leandra's legs in his lap. At some point, John had settled on the other side of Ronon. John said, "Maybe next time I should skip the talking part."

"We're at another part?" Ronon asked.

"You're an asshole," Rodney informed him before pressing his lips to Ronon's. Ronon didn't return the kiss, but he didn't pull away from it either. Rodney retreated on his own. He looked at Ronon for a long time. "You don’t have to."

Ronon said, "It's not like that."

Elizabeth's long fingers stroked once, twice at Ronon's shoulder. "She wouldn't judge this. Not this."

"I comfort myself with the belief that were she around to say something, she would kick my butt but good and explain to me how I'd gone wrong and then probably take me to Carson to get patched up." John didn't look at Ronon as he said it.

Ronon grabbed John's chin and forced the issue. It was not a gentle gesture. John did him the respect of not averting his eyes. Ronon said, "If she were around to say something we wouldn't be here."

John's eyes were wet, but nothing fell from them. Elizabeth said, "There must, must be opportunity in loss. Otherwise we would never move past it. We would fall further into it until there was simply a lacking. A nothingness. She knew that. It's why Athosians mourn as they do."

"We are not Athosian," Ronon said.

"We're none of us precisely Earthian or Satedan anymore, though, either," Rodney said.

"What does that make us?" Ronon asked, not really expecting an answer.

"Lanteans," Rodney shrugged.

Oddly, it was an answer that made sense, even if what it really meant was, "we belong to each other." And it was that definition that made him sit back slightly, that made him pull John just a little further on top of him, Rodney and Elizabeth just a little further in. He said, "Leandra's here. And I'm too tired--"

"Yeah," John agreed, with a depth of emotion.

"As long as we've got that settled," Rodney sniffed.

Elizabeth laughed softly and buried her face in Rodney's shoulder. Ronon leaned his head back but did not close his eyes.

*


For all that Rodney wasn't someone who easily endeared himself to others, it was often hard to find Rodney on his own. When he wasn't consulting with Zelenka or yelling at one of the scientists or in a meeting or on a mission or eating with John, he was generally sleeping. Not that he did that all that terribly often, either. And Elizabeth and John were trying to cut down on the amount of times when he did it by himself.

It took Elizabeth nearly two weeks of looking for an opening to catch Rodney having a coffee by himself, eyes glued to his laptop, clearly uninterested in being disturbed.

She sat down across from him.

"It'll have to wait," he said.

"You are clear on the fact that I could technically send you back to earth?"

Rodney didn't even look up while rolling his eyes.

E;izabeth said softly, "Three minutes, Rodney."

"I gave you half-an-hour this morning, and then I gave your little lackey, what's-his-face, ten at around noon."

"Darden is his face, and as the Wraith are not bearing down upon the city as we speak, and I was able to flush my toilet this morning, you can give me three minutes."

Rodney snapped his gaze up. "What, Elizabeth?"

"When you look at Ronon, what do you see?"

"This is what cannot wait?"

"You're telling me whatever you're doing with that computer is more important than Ronon?"

Rodney scowled. "If I'm not allowed to use math against you--"

"When was that rule established?"

Rodney blithely ignored the fact that the rule did not actually exist. "--then you are not allowed to use your diplomatic wiles."

"My wiles?" Elizabeth raised an eyebrow.

"That is a perfect example of what I mean."

"So Ronon isn't more important."

"No! I mean, ye-- Importance is relevant."

Elizabeth wasn't about to disagree with that. She'd made her point, anyhow. "What do you see, Rodney?"

"Conan the barbarian, you?"

"It depends. Sometimes I still see Teyla's husband, or even a runner."

For the first time since she'd sat down, Rodney stilled. His fingers stopped tapping and the nervous energy that generally ran through him leached out. "Sometimes."

"Sometimes I see one of my top security consultants and sometimes I see a man who is slowly becoming my lover."

Rodney pushed the laptop slightly to the side.

"What do you see, Rodney?"

"Equations."

"Equations?"

Rodney shrugged. "No matter how many times I figure out that humans are less solvable, less likely to resolve for pi, I still hope, I guess. Because I can solve equations. Ones that nobody else can."

"And the solution, in this case, seemed to be that if you could just make him wholly part of us again, no matter how that part played itself out--"

"It will sound stupid if you convert it into words."

"It wasn't stupid. You don't need to be told you aren't."

"No, but rhetoric to the contrary, I'm well aware that I do stupid things. Particularly when it comes to the people-- You and John and Ronon."

Elizabeth allowed herself to hear the "that I care about" Rodney had cut off. "It wasn't stupid."

"As he barely seemed to want us there for game night, you'll forgive me if I disagree with your infinite wisdom."

Elizabeth smiled, "Sometimes you're stupid about the people you care about."

Rodney frowned down at his coffee.

"Sometimes," she said, "I still see Teyla's husband. When I look at him."

"We would never betray Teyla," Rodney said, low and mad.

"I know that. She knew that. He even knows that, but the breadth of difference between what a person knows and what a person sees or feels is. . . You know that people aren't equations."

"I wouldn't have had to wait until I was in my forties to be involved in a multi-partner relationship, if they were."

"You do know how to make a girl feel special."

"I think I would have, though," Rodney said, and it sounded like reparation, but not of the hasty, insincere sort. Elizabeth wasn't sure what to say. Rodney said, "That was considerably more than three minutes."

She wanted to kiss him. They were in the middle of the mess and she was supposed to be having scandalous relations with only one of her city's chief officers, so instead she stood at said, "Get back to work, doctor."

He was already engrossed by his Dell screen.

*


Rodney ended up responding to a call from Ronon regarding the response of the Ancient technology in one of the lower labs to the Ancient gene--largely that there suddenly was none. They had run into the problem a couple of times over the years. It was complicated by the fact that the solution never seemed to be the same. Unlike Earthian computers, glitches with Ancient technology were never repeats of the previous ones, no matter how much they looked, smelled, sounded and felt like an identical problem.

Ronon did as he generally did in these instances, which was to say, "It doesn't work."

Rodney, who had gotten used to this, rolled his eyes. "All right, I accept that you can't tell me how or why it doesn't work, but would an example of its inability to work be too much to ask?"

Ronon looked over at one of the lab techs. Rodney knew she had been around for at least two years, but he had no idea what her name was. He also knew she came by the gene naturally. She stood in front of the door to the lab. Nothing. Rodney came to stand beside her, just in case it was reacting differently to the engineered gene.

Evidently not.

"Go," Rodney said, "All of you."

The scientists who knew him scurried because they knew to get while the getting was good, and also that Rodney would call them if he had need--loudly, and with inventive turn of phrase. The scientists who didn't particularly know him knew of his reputation, and were no less quick to head in all directions.

Ronon didn't move.

"What, were you planning on helping?" Rodney snapped.

"Want some breakfast? I was gonna head up to the mess."

"Good, go get me breakfast. And then leave me with the problem you found for me to fix."

Ronon was already gone by the time Rodney was done. He was back in a surprisingly short time, or perhaps it had only seemed short because Rodney had tried everything they had used in the past to fix this problem and nothing had yet worked. Of course.

He brought more food than even Rodney could eat, which was fine, since he seemed content to help Rodney out with the food in silence. Rodney finally asked, "Don't you have better things to be doing?"

"Than making sure one of our primary labs is in working order?"

"Than bugging me," Rodney clarified.

"Am I?" Ronon asked.

He wasn't, really, which made Rodney sort of uncomfortable. He was used to the presence of others being bothersome. Even after years of John's presence being near-to-unnoticeable, if not helpful, in a crisis, and Teyla's presence bordering on the reassuring and Ronon's being. . .

If he were honest, Ronon's presence was the part that often made Rodney want to prove himself. Without even realizing what was happening, Rodney at some point slipped into wanting Ronon to know that he would always make right what was wrong: that he would not allow for Atlantis to become Ronon's second Sateda.

Which was why it wasn't necessarily easy to have him around when fixing a problem.

Which was why it was perhaps impossible knowing that Rodney was powerless when it came to Teyla being dead. Even his efforts to bring Ronon to the three of them--to put him where he rightly should be--were not going as Rodney would have predicted.

Rodney knew he was late in saying, "Always." He expected Ronon to use it against him. Ronon did, in a way. He smirked, slid down the wall into a seated position, and made it clear that he had no plans to leave.

It wasn't the worst revenge anyone had ever enacted upon Rodney.

He brought Rodney lunch, too. Unlike Elizabeth, he didn't make Rodney stop to eat it, and unlike John, he didn't ask distracting questions. Rodney said, "I think I'm nearly there, you really can run along."

In response, Ronon said, "You think I keep myself too far away as it is."

Rodney nearly choked on his coffee.

Ronon smacked him far too hard on the back and said, "I can stay until you finish."

*


After game night, while Elizabeth was putting Leandra to bed, John said, "Do you think it will be the same?"

Ronon said, "Get out."

John got up to leave, but Rodney said, "You are such a pussy," and, "He didn't mean it that way, and if I know that he didn't, you have to know."

Both Ronon and John blinked at that logic.

Rodney shrugged. "You both do the 'I don't need words to express myself' manly bullshit thing. I always figured it was code."

"No," Elizabeth said as she came back into the room, "It's actually what it looks like. Utter and pure lack of ability to communicate."

"Oh." Rodney sounded disappointed.

John said, "It wasn't what I meant."

He was pretty sure Ronon was going to stand by his decision to kick John out until he relented--his body uncoiling slightly--"I suppose you can stay."

It made John want to say, "I meant, is that why you're afraid?" or, at the very least, "We were her team, but we aren't her and we won't take that from you," but neither of those fit in the paradigm of manly and taciturn and so he knew his tongue wouldn't make the right sounds. They would come out jumbled and garbled and a lot like his first comment, which almost got him ejected from the room.

He sat back down close to Elizabeth. He wasn't touching her, but he was close enough that if she chose to reach out, he could be. She would if he really needed her to.

Instead of reaching out, she said, "He meant to ask if you thought we were trying to replace her."

John bowed his head and motioned loosely toward Elizabeth with one hand. If he looked up, his face would be earnest, he knew, and later, when all of this had worked out and the only part that still wasn't laughable was the absence of Teyla, Rodney would make fun of him for it.

"If you do," Rodney said, "you're a complete asshole, and we're never having sex again."

There was a moment where everyone in the room thought about that. Then Ronon laughed the rich, harsh laugh that John had nearly forgotten, except that he hadn't. John soaked it up, unable to laugh for wanting to listen. Next to him, Elizabeth was chuckling faintly and Rodney had a knowing smirk on his face, but John just watched all of them.

Ronon still sounded amused when he made himself say, "My memories of her, so many of them--"

John, who maybe did communicate silently a little better than he was generally willing to let on, asked, "Involve us?"

Ronon nodded. John knew Teyla for a whole year before Ronon ever tied them to each other and considered killing her and himself, so he didn't act as though the statement was ridiculous. He couldn't think of Teyla without Ronon, nor Ronon without Teyla, not for any considerable length of time.

"I don't know that the four of us are ever going to manage not to bring her along in some way," Elizabeth said.

"Since when did that become replacing something? Last time I checked, replacing something meant getting rid of the old, unusable model. It meant that the part being replaced was undesirable and no longer needed. Carrying the memory of someone--"

Ronon cut Rodney off. "I know what replacement is."

"Then act like it," Rodney snapped.

Elizabeth reached out, then, but not for John. John watched her hand slide over one of Rodney's shoulders, watched Rodney not shake it off.

Finally, Ronon asked, "How do we work?"

"Without Teyla?" Elizabeth asked. She grimaced. "We've been figuring it out, haven't we? Slowly."

"No," Ronon said. "I meant. How do we work?"

John, who knew that question, if not the answer, "Without words. Like a team. We'll just--"

"Work," Elizabeth and Rodney said in different tones, the same meaning clear in the single shared syllable.

Ronon shook slightly where he stood, not something John even so much saw as felt and John rose then for the second time that evening, but did not move to leave. He put his chest to Ronon's and looked up and said, "They're the smart ones."

Ronon's arms came around John.

*


There weren't that many people on Atlantis whom Ronon trusted with Leandra that weren't Elizabeth, John or Rodney--none of whom were available for his needs in this instance.

There was Zelenka, who, despite being sort of befuddled by children in general, was patient and kind with her, and didn't yell, not even when she truly did mess things up.

There was Jinto, whom Teyla had used as a babysitter on more than one occasion. And because they often came as a pair these days, there was also Unell.

There was Carson, who had good ways of explaining the world in words that made sense to a child.

There was Lorne, who liked to carry her around on his shoulders and made her laugh, and there was Cadman. John had finally won in his battle to do away with several regulations regarding fraternization on the grounds that he couldn't keep court-martialling his best officers for falling in love with people that they were very possibly going to live and work with for the rest of their lives. At which point Cadman had gone off and gotten herself married to Lorne and stopped for long enough to bear the two of them a son. Oregon was a year younger than Leandra, and evidently named for Cadman's birthplace. Lorne had explained, somewhat placidly, "We thought about Jeff, after my father, but Sheppard keeps using up all the normal names for the Wraith."

There was also Novak and Hermiod. Ronon wasn't even sure how Leandra had first met the two of them--he had no recollection of taking her aboard the Daedalus--but Novak took to humans who didn't expect much from her surprisingly well, and Leandra had pretty low expectations of everyone. Mostly, she just wanted people to be nice to her.

Hermiod was willing to accept anyone who accepted Novak.

It wasn't a long list, not in a city of well over a thousand people and an adjacent mainland, but it was a long enough list that Ronon felt confident in his ability to get people to take her for a few nights so that he could test the boundaries of his relationship with Elizabeth, John and Rodney.

That said, he had to be careful. Lorne, Cadman and Unell were all military and he had long learned that the American military had odd rules about seemingly inconsequential choices that its soldiers made. Add to that John being their superior and Ronon was pretty sure he had secrets he shouldn't be telling others.

Jinto was on John's team, and Ronon knew what that meant well enough to know that there were things that Jinto might know, but he didn't need to be told. Not by Ronon, at any rate.

Novak and Zelenka and Hermiod were all Rodney's colleagues in one way or another, and Rodney had enough issues about his own authority for Ronon to make more problems there.

Carson was the best solution for the moment. He wouldn't ask questions, and even if he did, he would keep the answers confidential. Later, when Ronon had talked to the others, asked them what could and couldn’t be said, or at least brought up the issue and saw what they were thinking, then he could use his other sitters.

First, though, Leandra had to agree to it. He hadn't left her for a full night since Teyla's death and while he knew he probably ought to purely for the sake of cutting off any co-dependence that was likely forming, he couldn't without having her tell him she would be all right.

Ronon prevailed upon John to flirt up the kitchen staff for lasagna, which was Leandra's favorite earth dish. When he put it on the table that night she smiled, a real, complete smile and said, "'Pasta cass'role!" That was what John had called it before she could pronounce "lasagna." It had stuck.

Ronon smiled back and let her talk about her day, about the girl who had taught her how to spin without getting dizzy, and how her teacher had given her a perfect grade on her math test. She wanted to show Novak and Hermiod the test; they had helped her study.

When she was finished he fished out the cookies that Rodney had smuggled to him the week before, making it clear that they were meant to be Rodney's and it was only out of the goodness of his heart and his complete and utter selflessness that he was giving them over to Ronon. Ronon felt it only right that he, in the spirit of Rodney, share them with his daughter.

She clearly agreed.

When she was on her second cookie, he finally said something other than, "Sounds fun," or, "good girl." He said, "Lele."

She had learned, in the last year, to understand his tones. She stopped eating. "Daddy."

Ronon said, "It's not bad."

She didn't bring the cookie to her mouth.

"I was just wondering if you would mind spending a night with Doctor Carson?"

Her eyes widened slightly. "You can't go away."

"Go away--" Then Ronon realized that the last time she had spent the night with someone had been while Teyla and he were on a mission. "No, I'm not leaving the city."

"Then why do I need to spend the night with Dr. Carson?"

Reasonable question. Not one he had any intention of answering. He went with the relatively true, "Rodney and John and Elizabeth need me to do something."

Leandra frowned. "Something away."

"No, something right here."

"Then why--"

"You can't go to work with me, right? Even though I stay here."

Slowly, Leandra nodded. He said, "It's like I'm going to work. All night."

She took another bite as she considered, which was how Ronon knew he was almost there. Finally she said, "You promise you won't leave?"

Nothing was certain, but Ronon was relatively positive he could survive a night with the three of them alive. Intact was another issue, but alive he was relatively okay with promising. "I promise to try my hardest."

"Promises are hard to keep," Leandra said softly, sadly.

Ronon pulled her onto his lap. "Not to you."

She curled further into his arms. "One night."

"Then I'll be back," he all-but promised.

*


Elizabeth was relieved that there was an unspoken agreement about meeting in Ronon's rooms. After all the discussion around Teyla's presence or lackthereof in their relationship, it was good to know that they all silently needed to feel her near. Elizabeth didn't know if that would change. She didn't think she wanted it to, but she could remember other things in her life that she had thought would always stay the same.

Elizabeth's life has had an almost startling landscape of change.

Rodney showed up with Oreos, which seemed like a good idea, what with them being an almost-universal comfort food. Even Ronon understood the gesture. Then again, Oreos were Rodney's offering every time they all should have been too nauseated to eat. Ronon and John dug in. Elizabeth, sensibly, was too nauseated.

She had learned, though, over the years, that the best way to push past the nausea was to take whatever was causing the underlying anxiety and move into it, beyond it. She let Ronon finish his cookie, but it was a near thing. Then she kissed him.

His hands came to her shoulders, the back of her head. They were warm, like the floors in her room when John or Rodney would walk upon them barefoot. Elizabeth had allowed herself to imagine things--how Ronon's hair really felt, or the touch of his tongue to her ear, but never the big things. She had not let her mind wonder about how his hands would feel on her breasts, or his lips against hers. She had not let herself wonder for fear of somehow warding off the reality, even in the depths of her own mind.

But now his hands were on her, larger than they seemed when looked at, gentler than was probably physically possible.

At the last moment of making her mind form full words, she breathed out, "John, Rodney."

Ronon's eyes flickered over her shoulder. "I think they're all right for the moment."

"What--"

He took her back for himself, then, though, and she was in no position to argue. His thumb brushed at the hair falling over her forehead. He said, "Up," and she had no idea what that meant until he hoisted her at the waist.

Elizabeth was not a tiny woman, not the sort of woman men carried over a threshold, but she wrapped her legs around his waist instinctively and he moved as though he were carrying nothing, maybe one of his guns. Something he was used to, comfortable with. For a moment, Elizabeth wondered if he had ever carried Teyla this way. She thought not, but it didn't matter, not really. She was not Teyla, neither for herself nor for him.

Her chin resting on Ronon's shoulder, she watched John and Rodney following them--John's eyes slightly glazed, Rodney's lips puffy and bitten. She didn't think he'd been biting them himself.

Ronon set her down and sat next to her, his thigh lining up with hers. She had sat alongside him before and never felt as though she would burn alive were she to stay in her clothes. Instead of working to remove them, though, she indulged her fantasies, and went to pull Ronon's from him. It was a little hard, but Rodney stood in front of Ronon and helped out when she didn't quite have the height to tug. John slipped to the floor and unlaced Ronon's boots, taking his time pulling them off.

Elizabeth could sympathize with the urge to go slowly, to make sure this was all real, and to make sure this was all going to work. That didn't keep her from flipping Ronon's pants open, making sure they were ready to be pulled off when John had finished with the boots and socks.

Rodney was impatient, she could see it in the way his hands ran over Ronon's shoulders, quick and artless. He was also unwilling to push, as was obvious from his silence. Luckily, Ronon could see, or at least feel, the same things she could and he pulled Rodney down onto his lap, kissing him until he was looser, more pliant. Then he dropped Rodney halfway into Elizabeth's lap and inquired, mildly, "Why am I the only naked one?"

"I could be naked," Rodney said, very agreeably.

John smiled, a slow spread of happiness across his face, and got to work on Rodney's shoes.

*


Rodney rested his head on Ronon's knee and let John do all the work. Normally, it would have been because it was fun making John into his personal slave, John was built for manual labor and sexual subservience. Tonight, though, it was because he simply couldn't have undone the laces if he'd tried. Not with Ronon watching, a peculiarly soft expression of uncertainty on his face. His hand was in Rodney's hair, and for all that the touch wasn't terribly firm, it was anchoring.

Rodney thought about pressing his head back into the hand, but there was an unspoken agreement to let Ronon do as he would, and Rodney wasn't going to be the one to break that pact. There were times when he did not know better than everyone else.

When John had stripped Rodney's shoes and socks he cupped his hands over the soles of Rodney's feet. Ronon asked, softly, "Does he like that?"

John smirked up at Ronon. "He likes everything."

Rodney would have protested, but John was busy running his hand up beneath Rodney's pants, massaging at his calves, and Rodney needed to concentrate on the feel of John's fingers, the cool touch of Elizabeth's palm at his neck, the pattern Ronon was now making with the hand in Rodney's hair.

Rodney tried to focus, tried to watch as John looked up, asked with his eyes for clues from Ronon. Ronon said, "Everything?"

John asked, "Watch?"

Ronon nodded, his eyes careful and something else, yearning, maybe. Rodney had only rarely seen Ronon openly yearn, generally in the direction of Teyla, or regarding Atlantis. Rodney, who had never truly lost a home, had always looked upon Ronon's moments of yearning with a respect, an awareness that there were some things that were un-mockable. It was a little unnerving to be the focus of that, to find himself unable to shrug off this moment as just another second, just another occurrence, something that would eventually become a memory.

The addition of Ronon made this permanent in a way Rodney suspected he always knew it was, but had never needed to verbalize, even mentally. Permanency was terrifying for its lack of promise. Permanency, as it turned out, was only as permanent as the fates decreed, and while they had been invariably kinder to Rodney than his childhood would have lead him to believe, that only made their moments of cruelty that much sharper.

All of that was somehow unimportant in the moment, however, because John was undoing the buttons on Rodney's pants, and tugging, and Rodney really, really had no choice but to lift his hips a little, help out. For her part, Elizabeth was also feeling helpful, tugging Rodney's shirt over his head. Rodney brought his arms up, catching her hand in his as she tossed the shirt with the other one. She held on.

John's mouth was on Rodney's cock then, just a bit, just a little suction at the tip. Rodney had to remember to breathe, the way he always did when John was like this, his hands strong on Rodney's thighs, his mouth gentle, but not too much so. Rodney put one hand in John's hair and held on. He knew it was too tight, that he had to be hurting John, but John wasn't fussing, was taking more of him in and Rodney couldn't let go, couldn't until Ronon took the hand for him, freeing John.

Rodney watched Elizabeth lean further into Ronon, watched Ronon focus his eyes on John, now getting into the rhythm, sliding up and down, updown on Rodney's cock.

Rodney said, "John, John," and, "Stop," because he wasn't a young man and even knowing it was selfish he wanted for this night to be more than this, more than just John, even if John was far more than Rodney should have asked for in the first place. Rodney was smart enough to know what was too much, but he was also smart enough to know not to give up the things--the impossible, perfect things--that were being offered to him.

John stopped and looked up at him, mischief in his eyes. In response, Rodney rolled his. John said, "Something else you would prefer?" The question was just on the edge of complete sarcasm. Rodney knew that John would do as he asked. For all that John was good at leading in times of crisis, he was generally eager to please when it was just the two of them, three of them, four of them, just them and a bed.

Rodney said, "Them. Them and you." It wasn't his most eloquent moment ever. For once, he didn't care. He didn't think he would even if they mocked him for the rest of their lives. He hoped it was a long time.

"Yes," John said. He stood, and pulled Rodney to his feet.

*


When John was in the Air Force Academy the townie girls had been, in general, more than willing to avail themselves for dates and anything else the candidates might want. As the school provided a good three-fourths of the young men in town, this was unsurprising. However, there were the few and the far between that simply weren't interested.

John, of course, fell for one of these. Her name was Sera Jane Tweedy and despite his continued requests for one measly little date, she was coolly resistant.

Finally, desperate and more than a little hurt, he had asked, "Is it the hair?"

"The lack thereof?" she asked.

John shrugged. "A crewcut isn't any guy's best look."

"It's the mentality," she said.

"Mentality."

"All you boys think you have to be a general in bed."

John, who had grown up with a family that had groomed him to be a CEO and abandoned him when he expressed desires otherwise, said, "Give me a try."

She kept on trying him for nearly two years until he shipped out and she said, "I'm not the type to keep the home fires burning."

John hadn't thought he was the type to come home. Only here he was now, somehow home when he hadn't even noticed the journey. And it hadn't been there to come back to, only to go forward to.

Here he was now and his practice of learning to concentrate on the pleasure of others, to let himself be swept up in the accompanying pleasure of knowing he had created that pleasure, brought it to its fulfillment, was somewhat useless. Because the look on Ronon's face told John that what Ronon wanted--if only for this moment--was not to have to make any decisions; to be the one guided rather than guiding.

John could have passed off the responsibility to Elizabeth or Rodney, either of whom was quite capable of taking charge in a situation like this, but Ronon wasn't silently asking it of them, and John--who had never been good at refusing--wasn't about to ignore Ronon's desires in that way.

It took a moment to figure out the logistics in his head. He hadn't really thought about the practicalities of the situation until this moment. Mostly when the idea of sex with them had passed through his mind there had simply been lips and fingers and cocks and breasts, but no organization to anything.

Luckily, there were obvious things to attend to. He said to Ronon, "Elizabeth is still dressed."

It was cruel, maybe, to make Ronon be the one to undress Elizabeth--Elizabeth, who was nothing like Teyla, but had the most parts in common with her. John watched. For all that he wanted Ronon, for all that he had to believe that things would have come to this no matter what, he needed to know that Ronon saw Elizabeth.

Ronon's fingers hesitated at the hem of her shirt, his thumbs slipping inside to caress at her skin. She said, "If you--"

"Give me permission," he said.

"I'm not head of Atlantis just now," Elizabeth said.

"No," Ronon told her, her tone sensible and a little bit impatient, "you're Elizabeth."

"If you don't get me naked very, very shortly, I shall take my boyfriends and leave," she said, amusement running through her tone.

She was wholly without clothes in a matter of seconds. John would have been impressed, but he had seen Ronon work before. Not like this, but it was only a matter of extrapolation to have believed him capable of such aptitude.

John pulled Ronon away from Elizabeth, up to the head of the bed so that he could rest his back against the headboard. Then he held out his hand and brought Elizabeth up to them, settling her back against Ronon's chest. Ronon, figuring out what to do on his very own, cupped his hands underneath her breasts.

John looked at Rodney, who smiled at him, his pleased, knowing smile. Rodney, as it turned out, was rather fond of and brilliant at cunnilingus. John had asked him about it once, or more, looked at him and said, "Um, Elizabeth liked that."

Rodney had shrugged. "I was smart enough to figure out that mine wasn't the sort of personality that would have women falling over themselves to date me."

John had frowned at that. Rodney had kissed him, and to this day, John wasn't sure if it had been for the frown, or simply because Rodney had wanted to kiss him. Rodney had said, "It isn't about that with her. But it makes me happy when she looks at me like I've brought her the moon. I guess I should thank all the others who just liked me for my mouth, huh?"

John settled himself next to Ronon and let Rodney settle between Elizabeth's legs, watched him make a path up her thighs with his mouth. Ronon laughed--a low, pleased rumble--when Rodney began pleasuring her in earnest and she arched under his hands, her head falling back. Ronon bent even further over her to bite at the ridge of her jaw. He took one of Elizabeth's hands in his and gave the other to John, who threaded his fingers in hers and didn't mind when she squeezed hard enough to hurt.

Not wholly taking his eyes off of Rodney--who was lithe and confident when he was making Elizabeth whimper--John licked at the ridge of Ronon's shoulder. Without even looking at John, Ronon asked, "Why are you still dressed?"

He didn't sound pleased.

John laughed against the curve of Ronon's shoulder and then pulled away to throw off his clothing. Then he went to the foot of the bed to kneel over Rodney, to kiss his way up Rodney's back. He wrapped his hands over ankles--one Elizabeth's, one Ronon's--and held on, his eyes meeting Ronon's as Elizabeth's whimpers became more frantic. Ronon whispered something in her ear, something John couldn't hear, but he didn't look away from John.

When she went quiet and loose in Ronon's arms, John pulled Rodney up against him, crossing his hands over Rodney's chest, kissing lightly at his neck. He backed up so that they were both off the bed and said, "Lie down," to Ronon.

Ronon obeyed.

*


Ronon felt John's hands on him, pushing him onto his side. John said, "Elizabeth," and nothing else, but there must have been a look shared between them, since she came to Ronon then, lying down on her side, facing him. She laid the fingers of one hand over his cheek and opened her mouth, as though she were about to say something. She was silent.

Carson had once accidentally let it slip to Ronon that as he had been removing the implant from his back, John had been training a sniper gun on him, ready to shoot at the soonest sign of a threat. By the time Carson had told him, Ronon hadn't had the heart to feel betrayed; he knew how things on Atlantis worked. Instead, oddly, the knowledge had made him feel safe, knowing that John had been watching, making sure everything went as planned.

And although Ronon had trusted John to tell him where to go and what to do for almost three years by that time, it was only then that he realized just how fully John equaled safety in his mind.

He didn't need to glance over his shoulder, to know where John was, where he was putting Rodney. He was able to concentrate on the layered earth brown of Elizabeth's eyes, different than Teyla's golden-flecked brown. She finally said, "This is--" the look on her face suggesting that she wasn't sure how she had ended up here, her nose nearly touching his.

"Different," he said, and then lost all ability to explain as one set of teeth sank gently into his ass, and another tongue worked its way lazily up his spine. Elizabeth said something he could hear, but one of the mouths had made its way to his asshole and he couldn't make the syllables form themselves into much sense. She didn't seem to mind, as her hand--the one that had been at his cheek--fell down and cupped his balls.

Ronon stopped breathing.

John came up for air long enough to say, "Breathe."

Ronon inhaled.

There were hands everywhere on him, the broad warmth of Rodney's on his thigh and lower back, the callused texture of John's at the back of his neck, draped over his hip, the silky gentleness of Elizabeth's over his balls, pressed to his stomach. Ronon pressed one palm into the sheets, the other into the base of Elizabeth's back.

Elizabeth said, "John," and John said, "Go on," and before Ronon could ask what any of it meant--not that he would have--the mouths were gone and Elizabeth was wrapping one of her legs over his thigh, the hand on his balls now grasping at his shoulder, helping as she repositioned herself so as to take him into her. When he figured out her intention, he helped, bringing his own hands to her waist, pulling her further and further onto him until they were fitted together, inseparable.

There were fingers in his ass, Ronon thought two of them. Ronon thought one was John's and one Rodney's, but it was hard to tell. It was next to impossible to concentrate with the fingers flush up against his prostate, Elizabeth pressed up to him, around him. The fingers slid from him and the head of a cock pressed its way inside.

It had been awhile since Ronon had done this, a long while now, even though there were times when he woke from dreams of Sateda and forgot just how many years had intervened. He stopped breathing again. John said, "Hey, you--"

"John," Ronon said, and he wasn't sure exactly what he meant by it other than, "don't stop, don't stop touching me." John must have understood, because he pushed further into Ronon, slowly, slowly and Ronon almost wanted to tell him to just do it, the aching progress of pleasure/pain driving him to distraction but he remembered, just in time, that he trusted John, that he had left this up to John, and John would do it right, the way it needed to be done.

After a rough stretch of forever, John's chest aligned itself to Ronon's back and his leg came up, curving over Elizabeth's, bringing her even closer in, his arm also encompassing both of them. There was a slight moment of exhalation and then, impossibly, John somehow drove even further into Ronon.

Ronon couldn’t understand what had happened until John gasped, "Rodney," the sound full and broken, commanding and pleading all at once.

Rodney's hand came to rest on Ronon's tricep and Ronon heard an amused, "Yes, yes," and then there was rhythm of a sort, controlled by Rodney's thrusts into John, trickling down into John's thrusts in Ronon and finally, finally, Ronon's thrusts into Elizabeth.

Elizabeth's mouth was on his again, liquid and strong and perfect, and John's lips were at the back of his head and he could hear Rodney talking, mumbling happily and articulately, a consistent rumble running through John to him. Ronon thought, hold onto this, hold on, but he was only a man and a man who hadn't been touched in quite some time.

The first time Teyla had kissed him, after all those years and years of being on his own, he had come in his pants. She hadn't laughed.

It was this thought, this thought and the touch of Elizabeth's tongue to his, John's quick, excited pants of breath in his ear, Rodney's hyper, awed commentary that brought him to finish, spilling into Elizabeth, holding on, being held onto, so that none of them could escape, none of them could leave him, not in that moment.

As Rodney gave into the urge--his fingers closing over Ronon's arm so hard as to be anchoring and painful and needed--and John--his legs and arms tightening, trapping Ronon and Elizabeth to him--and finally Elizabeth--her mouth crushing itself to his--Ronon thought, not just this moment and knew that he was right. Even if there were events he couldn't predict, the only way they would leave him were through machinations that were in no way their own, choices made for them. And although he could fear that, hold it cold and sharp in center of his chest, he needed to accept it as well. Accept that until that hypothetical moment, they were his, entirely.

He stayed still as the three of them slowly, carefully untangled themselves, as John padded away and brought back washcloths, as he and Elizabeth and Rodney, dragged the cloths--warm and soft--over themselves, over Ronon. He stayed still and when they were done, they came back and retangled themselves in him and he fell asleep to the rhythmic cadence of Rodney taking a very, very long time to say "goodnight."

*


Elizabeth woke to the smell of coffee and an empty bed.

She wandered to Ronon's eating table where there was a thermos and three notes, one laid out beneath the next. The first one was in Rodney's handwriting. It said, "Zelenka called. There's been an insurrection. They're burning the labs."

The second was in Ronon's hand, and said, "Promised Lele I'd pick her up before school."

The last was in John's scribble and said, "Tried making myself wake you up. Failed. I won't let the city fall into the ocean."

Elizabeth unscrewed the top to the thermos and took a sip. It was a dark roast and she silently thanked whoever had implanted Ronon's odd hedonist tendencies in him.

True to his word, John had not allowed Atlantis to sink during Elizabeth's brief sojourn. She found him in her office, battling paperwork with a confused look on his face. She asked, "Something I can help with?"

"Not unless you can explain to me why one of my guys would have requisitioned well over one hundred bouncy balls."

Elizabeth blinked. "Uh, team morale?"

"Isn't that the sort of thing you'd think he'd run by me first? I mean, I'm all for team-building exercises that involve quick-flying non-lethal projectiles, but it seems like the sort of idea I would have at least heard about."

"Does the requisition form actually say bouncy balls?"

John handed it over. It did.

Which lead to her next question. "Was there really an insurgence in the labs? And if so, why wasn't I woken?"

"Nah, one of the biotechs was getting uppity."

"The biotechs?" Clearly sleeping with three other men had tilted the balance of the universe to where it no longer was willing to balance on its own, not even given the chance.

"According to Rodney, they've been in something of a Shakespearian conflict with the engineers over the Ancient device that the botanists have been using for ambient light."

That, at least, sounded familiar, which meant she had no doubt read a report about it and noted it as something to worry about at a later date. She would have to ask Rodney if the later date had made its appearance. "Did you see Ronon before he left this morning?"

John nodded.

"You look guilty."

"There was kissing."

"You and him?"

"And Rodney, a little bit."

"Did there need to be?"

John thought about the question. "Pretty sure, yeah."

"Next time, I could stand to be woken."

"You sleep less than any of us."

"I can sleep when I'm dead."

John's muscles tightened ever so slightly. She said, "I didn't mean I planned on indulging anytime soon."

"Kate's pretty sure I have PTSD."

"Kate's pretty sure everyone in this city has PTSD."

"I think she thinks mine's a little more extensive."

"Well, you are the military leader. Calls for a little something extra, doesn't it?"

"Wouldn't want to set a bad example."

"Perish the thought," she said softly. "And he was all right, when he left?"

"Worried about Lele, but yeah, as all right as any of us get to be at this point."

After a silence, Elizabeth admitted, "I don't know how all right that is."

"Me neither, really."

Elizabeth, who had always managed just fine on her own, was rather glad to find herself with company in this particular instance.

*


Once Rodney had smacked the biotechs around a bit and re-established some control in the labs, he went to go find himself more coffee. Because as it turned out, sex with three really hot other people was all well and good, but a little exhausting.

Ronon was in the mess, staring at a computer screen with a look that said he was about to go find the author of whatever memo he was reading and kill them, quickly and without fuss. Rodney didn't really blame him, but Elizabeth tended to get fussy over that sort of thing, which would interrupt his suddenly adventurous and semi-plentiful sex-life, so he sat down and asked, "Which department?"

"Endocrinology."

Rodney had to admit to a little surprise. It had only been about a year or so since the medical teams had really started branching out, specializing in their research. Most of the time they were quiet and worked fairly well together. Rodney put this down to Carson, who wasn't much interested in conflict. "What does Carson say?"

"The email is from Carson."

"Carson is pissing you off?"

"No, the asshole who's now put two of Carson's staff in harm's way over the course of three missions is pissing me off."

"Wait, is this that Barett guy, the new one?" He'd actually been in the city for almost eight months, but in Rodney's estimated, that was fresh off the boat. Or ship, as it were.

"Think Elizabeth would send him back to Earth if he were to lose a couple of fingers?" Ronon sounded validly pensive.

"Have a way to make it non-traceable?"

"You could come up with something," Ronon said, not even bothering to look at Rodney.

"Oh, yes, leave all the work to me."

"Make it up to you later," Ronon said, a small smile quirking at the edge of his lips.

"That is not all I think about."

"You saying you don't want to permanently disfigure Barett?"

Rodney frowned and muttered. "Pricktease."

"Not what you were saying last night."

"Not to John, at least."

Ronon rolled his eyes.

Despite the fact that he made it his prerogative never to ask people about their offspring, Rodney knew that last night was the first since The Incident that Leandra had been wholly without Ronon. "How was Leandra this morning?"

"Carson and her made popscicles. He let her have the orange ones."

"And in exchange, you want me to provide some sort of untraceable device-originated accident to rid Carson of his workplace worries?"

"Seemed like a fair trade to me."

Ronon had a point. Not that Rodney had any plan to admit that. "She's your child."

Which was when Ronon said, "She's not exactly not yours," and shut Rodney up completely.

It only took Ronon a few seconds to figure out that he'd managed to shock Rodney into silence--he wasn't one to take long with his comebacks.

Ronon said, "You walk out on her now that it's been said--"

"I'm clearly not the complete asshole you have me painted as," Rodney sniffed.

"You're one of the bravest guys I know, but you pick odd times to scare easy."

For the second time in a single conversation, the only response Rodney could come up with was a blink and what he thought might be a frown. Finally he said, "I just hadn't really thought of her that way. It was like. . .stealing."

"When was there anything that Teyla didn't share?"

Rodney was looking at the one thing Teyla hadn't shared. Except that he couldn't help but wonder if maybe that had only been because she'd never had the chance to get around to it. "Leandra was her daughter."

"That much more important that the three of you were there."

If Rodney thought about it--and he hadn't felt the need until that moment--he could trace back the almost symbiotic nature of the team to the moment of Leandra's birth. Before that it had been inseparable friendship, but often in fragmented ways: him and John, John and Ronon, Teyla and Ronon, John and Teyla, etc. Once Leandra had come along they had formed into the solid corps of Leandra's family. "So she likes the orange ones, huh?"

"She likes citrus," Ronon said.

Rodney shuddered.

"It's not personal."

"Sure," Rodney said.

"More coffee?" Ronon asked.

"I'll need at least that if I'm to plan the accidental de-fingering of a voodoo practitioner."

Ronon went off to fetch.

*


John received an email asking, "Pick up Lele for me?" at around three, and fired back with, "Something come up?" to which Ronon said, "Don't worry about it."

Technically, John figured that meant he should probably worry about it, but he didn't. He stopped by the mess to see if they had any of the Athosian fruit that was Leandra's favorite after-school snack and stopped by the school at four. She was playing with some of the other kids and didn't see him immediately. The teacher did, but John put his finger to his lips and the other man nodded and went back to what he had been doing.

Leandra was smiling. It wasn't a huge smile, not like John could remember seeing on her face practically since the moment she had been born. It certainly wasn't a laugh. But it was a smile. The girl sitting next to her was smiling too. They were talking quietly, a boardgame between them. Shutes and Ladders, John thought.

Leandra rolled the dice and for a second the smile was gone, melted into a look of consternation, but she moved her piece and when her opponent rolled the dice to equally bad luck, the smile stole back. It wasn't malicious, just pleased that the game would continue.

John, who had paperwork that needed doing, and a meeting with Lorne in roughly half an hour, stood and waited for her to finish the game. Only then did he steal her up from behind and throw her onto his shoulders.

She squealed. "Uncle John!"

"Lele!" he said, his tone equally indignant.

"Where's my dad?" she asked.

"He had a project. I'm gonna take you to hang out with Jinto and Unell for a bit, that all right, buddy?"

"They gonna teach me sticks?"

"Sticks," in Leandra-language meant the Athosian method of fighting. She had been asking for months now. John said, "I think they're gonna hold off on that for a while. How about checkers?"

He could feel Leandra shrug. "I guess."

John squeezed her knee. "That's the spirit."

He reached Jinto's quarters and walked in. He was expected. Unell said, "What'd you bring us?" and reached her arms out to receive a Leandra-package.

John said, "She's small, but mighty, and will serve your people well."

Leandra, who was busy being tickled by Unell, giggled and said, "No, no, no!"

John asked, "Where's Jinto?"

"Some of the marines had a question about planet PX7-936 before embarking. He'll be right back."

John mouthed, "thanks," while Leandra was still busy squirming--Unell dutifully ignoring her pleas for a cessation of the tickling. Unell made a clear "not at all" face. "What time you think you're gonna pick her up?"

"Ronon should be by at seven, latest."

"Then we'd best have a good time fast, missy," Unell said, with a sudden upright twist to Leandra so that she could face her.

Leandra's face was red and her eyes a bit crossed, but she nodded. "Uncle John said you'd teach me sticks."

"You gotta learn to lie after I'm gone, Lele," John said.

"Checkers?" Unell asked.

"Or charades. I leave the choice up to you, really." John gestured to prove his magnanimity.

"Excellent," Unell said, and set Leandra on her feet. "Well? You know where the board is."

Leandra evidently did, as she ran straight off.

*


Ronon picked Leandra up a couple of minutes past when he was due. Jinto, unbothered, said, "I bet the whole of the mainland to her on our last game of checkers. She's now supreme ruler of all who dwell there."

"Was that really yours to put on the table?" Ronon asked.

Jinto shrugged. "She's Teyla's daughter. It was going to become hers one way or another."

Ronon said, "Give her a couple of years." He took her hand and they walked back home, where even if she was Teyla's daughter, she was also his daughter, and all that meant was that he was responsible to her. That he could protect her from things like having to be supreme ruler of so much as the bedroom. Supreme rulers had to make far too many decisions.

To his surprise, Elizabeth was there, waiting for them, and their common room smelled a lot like food. He said, "Did I cook something?"

Elizabeth bent down to hug Leandra. "I hunted and gathered."

"Aren't you supposed to have people who do that sort of thing for you?"

Elizabeth stood. "One was busy in the R&D lab and the other was sketching out mission assignments with his second-in-command. I was left to fend for myself."

Leandra went to wash her hands and climb into her chair. Elizabeth had set five places. Ronon said, "They coming?"

"Sooner or later," she said, and took her own seat.

As it turned out, it was considerably later. Rodney stumbled in just as Elizabeth was finishing up her off-key lullaby for Leandra. Leandra said sleepily, "My mom had a prettier voice."

"I know, baby," Elizabeth said, and kissed her forehead. "But I'm trying my best."

After a moment, Leandra said, "Okay. Night, Aunt 'Lizbeth."

Ronon backed out of the room and waited for Elizabeth to follow before shutting the door behind her. He said, "She's still kind of--"

"Teyla's voice was prettier. Not that that's saying much. And she should still be 'kind of.' I hope she always is."

"So, don't apologize?"

"You'd know if she needed you to apologize," Rodney said. Elizabeth gave him a wry smile.

Ronon asked, "Come up with any new weapons?"

"We've got a theory on one, but I've yet to convince Carson to lock you up and experiment on ways to siphon pheremones directly from you, so as of yet no practical application is possible."

"Carson Beckett, my hero," Ronon said.

"I don't know if I can handle one more cock in this relationship," Elizabeth said, somewhat thoughtfully.

Rodney smirked. "Save me any dinner?"

Ronon gestured toward the kitchenette. "It's not all for you."

"I require a certain amount of sustenance, you realize," Rodney said without much indignation, righteous or otherwise.

"There's a lemon meringue pie," Ronon said.

"Oh, yes, very funny. That one never gets old."

Ronon laughed. It never did for him. John chose that moment to slide in the doors, look around and ask, "Where's Rodney?"

Elizabeth sidled up to give him a hello-kiss. "Eating your dinner."

John looked at Ronon. "You weren't standing guard over my evening meal?"

"Did you leave orders that somehow got mislaid?"

"Providing for my basic human needs didn't make the situation clear enough?"

"I must have missed that day in my Satedan House Boy Training program."

"Clearly," John said, and granted Ronon his own hello kiss. "Lele have a good time this afternoon, or am I going to have to send my own team on a series of boring and punitive missions?"

The temptation was too much. "Boring and punitive," he kissed back.

"They're still new. I'm working on it." John stepped back with a smile. He turned away and headed to where the food was waiting, along with Rodney. Ronon thought about following him, about seeing if he kissed Rodney, about watching. Instead he crossed to his couch and sprawled out. He closed his eyes for a brief moment and it was in that period of darkness that Elizabeth molded herself at his side, her head dipping just below his chin.

"Is this all right?" she asked.

"We had sex last night," Ronon pointed out, because even after almost ten years with these people, he didn't have their taboos.

Evidently her question wasn't about that, though, because she said, "Sometimes sex is easier than the small things."

It forced him to think about how this was just him and her after a long day at work, how this was just comfort between the two of them. It forced him to think about how this wasn't just physical, just fleeting, just something that didn't have its base in friendship, and history, and maybe love.

He brought his arm around her shoulders.

Rodney re-appeared then, his mouth and hands full and said, "Hey, you're supposed to wait."

John was quick on Rodney's heels. He looked at the couch. "What are they doing? Did I miss something?"

"They are sitting and touching," Rodney said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, which, given the factitious nature of the statement, Ronon supposed it was.

John, reasonably said, "Yes, Rodney."

"Touching," Rodney said again.

"Yes," John repeated, taking a step so that his shoulder aligned with Rodney's.

That seemed to calm Rodney down a bit. He emptied the contents of his right hand into his mouth. John brought a hand up and placed it on Rodney's back, pushing him slightly toward the couch. Rodney took a few guided steps. "Stop shoving me."

"No," John said, and kept his hand where it was until Rodney was seated on Ronon's other side.

"Bossy," Rodney said, with a pout.

Elizabeth snorted. John smiled serenely and sat down on her other side, his arm coming up to rest atop Ronon's. Ronon felt John's fingers, warm and steady, settle over the back of his neck. Rodney made a contented noise. It wasn't that different from his annoyed sound, but Ronon could discern the slight alteration in pitch and emphasis. He stroked lightly at Rodney's arm.

John asked, "How was everyone's day?" He sounded half-asleep.

"Someone sank my city," Elizabeth said in a faintly accusatory tone.

"Did not!" John and Rodney both protested.

"Must've been me, then," Ronon said.

"Must have," Rodney agreed.

Ronon squeezed Elizabeth slightly, "I'll make it up to you later."

She relaxed into the squeeze. "All right, then."

John asked, "How?"

Rodney said, "I'm sure I'll be called upon to think up something."

Ronon laughed. His eyes slid closed. Elizabeth asked, "Falling asleep on us?"

Ronon said, "Yes," and thought be here when I wake.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile