down into the stardrive, hard on-ramp curves to the shields, weapons, parts of the city still dreaming their own dreams, a voice that may be his or someone else's: what do you need?

This: Rodney walking next to John, P90 clipped to his vest because he can't gesture and hold an assault rifle at the same time. Seriously, Harker so made those readings up and he's back in the city laughing at us, Sheppard. He stomps along so twigs break under his boots and John has to laugh and -

then he has to grab for Rodney's collar, yank him down to the forest floor. The sheet lightning of stunners whites everything out except hail of bullets, the culling beam.

Anything to fix that, to get him back. Yeah, yeah, to the throb of drones, the city locking out Sam's command codes, that, that, that.

He's a circuit, memory-intention-will-city, Rodney's mouth frowning and his mouth slack when he stares down at John and his entire face is shadowed but John knows he's amazed. John wants that back, needs it, something with substance, not the images that play in Technicolor across his synapses, what Atlantis strains to give him. Think about where you are in the universe, only these are his memories he's seeing, overlaid with tracery of city systems and woven in with them, and he can't pull apart waking up with Rodney and waking up the pulse cannons.

Who makes four-minute snoozes? Rodney grumbles, shoulders a smooth slide against John's chest as he rolls to smack at the alarm clock. And the alarm clock should be playing Johnny Cash, because it's John's quarters, but it's saying EM pulse charging. Full capacity in 2.01 minutes and counting, and it's his own voice, John thinks, that says it. The curve of shoulder under John's fingers flickers from dependable skin to the polymer contact pads on the control chair's armrest.

Rodney's face, his face, in the black spaces the curve of gunmetal warming in his hands, a thousand weapons and none of them enough, no, not now, not for what Teyla says waits, for where she says Rodney's gone, thePegasus equivalent of gagged and tied up in the trunk with the Wraith taking him back to one of their home planets.

"They know our history with the Hive ships," she says (this is why I need you, he tells the city now), "and they will not risk keeping him on one longer than needed. They are going to one of their planets. I know this." She stares at Sam, who knows intellectually about Teyla's connection with the Wraith but still can't believe it.

It's okay, it's okay, hands unhesitating on the contact pads. He has the city's arms, stretching out to cup the air, cold shiver of the shields as they come online, cold shiver when he has only enough time to press his fingers against Rodney's pulseless throat, Ronon grabbing him, buzz-whine of the dart coming, coming, drowned out by the stardrive.

They don't have a mile of water to fight, weightless like hanging there with Rodney holding him up, the two of them twining together, Sam's voice breaking through like the thunder on the other side of the window that stormy morning when they'd been fifteen minutes late, making out in the shower, water spilling down the city's piers, rush of the clouds Rodney's hands down his body and then blackness and stars and the funnel of hyperspace.

Nothing to do but wait the three hours out in the chair, Zelenka a fuzzy and fuzzy-haired presence outside the doors. He had found John in the labs twenty minutes after Sam's dismissal and had said, "As you, Colonel, have found yourself with free time on your hands, I wonder if you would take Major Lorne's place in the control chair diagnostics."

The warmth thinking of that breaks the ice on the city walls, warm like Rodney's sudden, crazy smiles. John goes with it, Rodney's kinetic self painted across hyperspace, infinite, close enough for John to reach out and touch, to bring back to him and contain in the scope of his hands. And he would, he would except circuitry unravels in his fingers, Rodney's face fuzzing, communications, a voice not his own talking to him.

"Colonel Sheppard, I order you to stand down immediately." Sam's got her full colonel voice on, the one that shuts down Caldwell and Ellis and Woolsey. The city bends close to him, whispers to him with his voice, what do you need?

Fuck rank, fuck demotion, you know what I need.

This: Back in the city, resentment brews like acid. It chews through two days of Sam wanting recon on Helice to tell her what Teyla already knows. John paces the twisting cages of hallways with Ronon; the city is resonant with impatience, no time, no time, time bleeding away, blood under John's fingers.

"It's likely he's dead already," Sam says, and twists the knife.

No no no not dead, and the one thing he needs he can't tell himself, that Rodney's still alive.

"And you know this because you've lived in Pegasus so long." Three days of acid pours out behind the thrust; John waits for her to look up at him to add the "ma'am."

Now: "Colonel Sheppard, again, I am - " And he turns his head away from her voice, to a darkness that flickers Rodney Rodney Rodney and a countdown for forty-five minutes until arrival.

Then, when he couldn't block her out: "Colonel Sheppard, I'm ordering your team on stand down for the time being." Not again, and now he doesn't know who he is, the man lying still in the chair or the mind unravelling itself from past to future, twined in with weapons systems and space, and the only things he can say about himself are the things he sees and feels, and his own voice telling him what he needs to do.

This: Two hours later word comes from the SGC that the Daedalus and Apollo won't be redeployed to Pegasus for the sake of Rodney McKay. She starts watching him, and he knows she knows he's planning something. She had a team of her own, she's not stupid, she knows where his head's at; she's also more Air Force than Atlantean, and John knows which way she'll come down when the inevitable happens.

Then Radek comes to him, and John's heartbeat quickens with knowing. The whole crazy plan spins out in front of him, orderly as the city corridors, straight as the tunnel of hyperspace, the light that arrows down to a point and breaks in fractals when the drive shuts down and pitches him back out into stars that stand still.

Still like lying under the portable MRI, staring up into it and thinking about returns to the womb and asking Rodney what's going on, and he can't see Rodney but he can hear him, fast footsteps and faster words, explaining how he thinks the chair synthesizes memory and volition as part of how it figures out what you want and need, "remember to pay attention because I'm going to ask questions later," he adds when the chair tilts back and John is gone.

Gone into shields and offensive countermeasures, weaving in and out, the drones bright points of wanting against the dead grey of the planet, flaring how Rodney is molten and liquid against his body, what do I need to do to get that back? The hiveship closes in, one because they're that arrogant, and knowing and action are the same thing, effortless as opening up to Rodney, opening new arsenals. Pain flecks the corners of his eyes, scratches, bites, a cruel, sucking hand on his chest - no no no, and he hears his voice telling him to calm down, what do you need?

City sensors fumble through a junk drawer of discarded humans, sprawling honeycombs that might be Wraith suburbs. So much down there, seething, but only one, one - there, the needle of Rodney's subdermal transponder in a haystack of life signs. He reaches, reaches, one hand out for Rodney's, Rodney's eyes hollow and desolate, Elizabeth's gone, John. She -

You're here, Rodney, John tells him, and he is, right here, a supernova wearing dust and filthy, torn clothes, racing with a thousand thoughts, They wanted me for my replicator expertise, oh my god I'm not dead, I'm here, how - John? Footsteps, and he'd reach up to pull Rodney to him except he can't move, not now, still more need to get the city out of here and back to New Atlantis.

The planet smolders behind them when they break for hyperspace, cold water to wash away the smoke of a mission gone bad, cold enough for John to shiver and think about turning up the heat, but Rodney's there, "I'm cheating death twice in one day, being shot at is bad enough but now I'm courting pneumonia." He doesn't touch John, just stands there and watches while John scrubs cinders from his hair, finally caves and turns the water to hot because some people, Sheppard, take cold baths as penance, but Rodney isn't one of them. Between the cold and hot and Rodney, John comes out clean, scars on the city now, an ache in his mind and an emptiness where memory falls back, and he comes back to himself.

What's it like in the chair? Rodney asks him, hands faltering on John's face, still sticky from the webbing, from sweat and sex, shaking with disbelief. "John, oh my god, are you okay? Are you alive? Alive enough for me to kill you for being incredibly stupid?"

Like talking to yourself, he whispers to Rodney's mouth, city thinning when he touches Rodney's cheek, flesh instead of crystal, "Yeah, now I am."