Now The People Will Know We Were Here
(or: Everything I Know, I Learned From Heritage Minutes)

By Chandri MacLeod

Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Rating: PG
Pairing: John/Rodney
Categories: slash, humour, hurt/comfort, team, fluff, CRACK galore
Warnings: er, violence?
Spoilers: probably pretty much everything
Summary: Team Sheppard goes to the Olympics.
Disclaimer: They're not mine, alas. I'm just using them for fun.
Author's Note: Written for McShep Happyfest 2008. Betaed by artemisiabrisol and calantha42, who are entirely to blame for this phenomenally self-indulgent crackpile. Also betaed by mik100; last-minute critique provided by Daroos.

If you grew up in Canada - or really, have watched cable in Canada for more than two hours since 1991 - you will be familiar with Heritage Minutes. If you're not, go here, and read all about them. Heritage Minutes (officially: Historica Minutes, but nobody calls them that) are short films about Canadian history. Yeah, pretty straightforward. Some are serious, some funny, some clever, but all are a bit of a joke, because they were so very earnest. Heritage Minutes are the reason why if you yell "I smell burnt toast!" in a crowded room anywhere in the English-speaking world, any Canadians present will burst out laughing, or perhaps groan.

The logo for the 2010 Winter Olympics? Is an inukshuk. If you don't know what an inukshuk is, I'm not going to tell you. Rather, I'll point you here, so you can find out the same way I did. :)

ETA: Now with fanart by artemisiabrisol! Of Ronon and Quatchi. I have no words to properly convey my squee. :)

And also: the curling match, also by artemisiabrisol.

Thirdly, by me, because I could not resist: we're thinking, t-shirts?

It's known as a crap job, benign punishment detail for being mouthy but too high-rank to be made to clean out toilets. Secretly, it's the job most officers want, because even if it means sitting around with your ass falling asleep for hours at a time, it's low-impact, and nobody shoots at you. Mostly. Since the duty landed permanently with the SGC it's been more actively sought-after, though everybody still acts like it's a hardship, because that keeps competition down.

So when O'Neill calls John into his office, John's posture is a study in reluctance, his shoulders slumping as though the mere idea exhausts him. Then again, for most people, the idea of spending their free time with Rodney McKay is genuinely exhausting, and John's never thought it wise to let on to too many that he actually likes hanging out with the guy.

"Well, you had to know it'd land in your lap eventually," says O'Neill. They've been back on Earth for almost two weeks, and the review's been uncommonly gentle this time around. Well, Rodney would say, two weeks under siege by two Wraith hive ships and no relief until they'd already pulled a miracle out of their asses, the least the SGC could do is go a little easy on them.

"And here I thought the whole two-week siege thing would buy us some points," John says, raising an eyebrow, but O'Neill just laughs.

"Not in the SGC, Sheppard," he grins, clapping him on the shoulder. "For that kind of thing, you have to actually be dead. And even then," he adds thoughtfully, and John grins back, even meaning it.

O'Neill hands him a thick folder. "There are some usual suspects that sometimes show up at international events like this — most of 'em are minor Goa'uld we think might be hiding out on Earth, ones we never tracked down after we took apart their empire, but you never know. Earth's been turning into Grand Central for alien petty criminals on the lam."

John takes the folder and thumbs through it. It's mostly pictures and profiles, a dozen or so names he remembers reading in SG-1 mission reports.

"We expecting any trouble in particular?" John asks, but O'Neill shrugs.

"Not that I know of. But these kinds of things give even ordinary criminals a lot of cover - all those visitors, a couple hundred contributing countries, not to mention corporations so big they might as well be countries, too big to keep track of. Just, y'know, keep your eyes open," he says. "You know how it goes." He shrugs again, somehow conveying the inexplicable what-the-everloving-fuck quality of life in the Stargate program. John shrugs back, nodding. O'Neill smirks, a little.

John's always liked O'Neill.


"We're going where?" Rodney's tone is incredulous, mouth open as John moves around his quarters at the SGC, folding clothes into a bag.

"The Olympics," John repeats, easily, hiding a smile at the way Rodney keeps trying to work up an irritated expression and failing.

"Okay, yes, I heard that part," Rodney says irritably, "but why?"

John shrugs, sitting down on the bed to unlace his boots. "There's always an Armed Forces rep at the Olympics, you know that. The branches take turns. It's our turn." Actually it's been the SGC's gig since the USAF started keeping ships in orbit with Asgard beaming technology, ready to step in at the first sign of trouble.

"Okay, okay, but why do I have to go?"

Pausing, John raises an eyebrow at him. "What, McKay, you don't like the Olympics? International co-operation, the spirit of peaceful competition..."

"...The totally unjustifiable glorification of physical perfection to the exclusion of all else?" Rodney interrupts sarcastically. "The suggestion that the thing nations have most in common is the meaningless development of their bodies in preference to their intellects? Yes, I can't imagine why I would have trouble generating enthusiasm. You know most Olympic athletes barely graduate high school? And then they retire in their thirties, because they've so grievously abused their bodies that they're not even fit to run a track anymore, and by that time it's all they're qualified to..."

"Okay! Jesus!" John exclaims, kicking off his boots. He's kind of hurt, after all the wheedling he did to get Rodney and his team included on this assignment, but he's not going to let Rodney see that. The whole point was to take Rodney's mind off what happened last week, not help him dwell - and Rodney McKay is an Olympic-level dweller. There's an irony here that's making John comfortable, so John shakes his head. "You don't have to go. I just figured, it's in your home town—"

"Vancouver is not my home town—"

John rolls right over him: "Your sister's there, the SGC's gotten us tickets for the whole slew, Ronon and Teyla are going - I thought you'd enjoy doing something with the team for a change that doesn't involve anybody shooting at us." And provides plenty of distraction, he adds to himself. He stands up to strip off his t-shirt, reaching for another one from the bed, pulling it on over his head so hard he hears the static crackle. He runs a hand through his hair, looks at Rodney to find him blinking, open-mouthed, at his midsection. John tries very hard not to find that satisfying, but after two years of watching the slow-motion train wreck that ended last week, it's all he can do to keep the satisfaction off his face. "Rodney," he says, a little more harshly than he intended, and Rodney blinks again, looks up.


"You don't have to go if you don't want to," John says again, with a little more patience.

Rodney glares at the floor for a minute, then shrugs. "We've been away for a while, I thought we'd get some actual leisure time, and I thought—" He cuts himself off, something Rodney almost never does.

John rolls his eyes. "You were going to Vancouver next week anyway."

Rodney looks stubborn, but he's about to yield, John can sense it. "Ronon and Teyla are coming too?"

"Yup," John says, sitting down next to Rodney to pull on his sneakers.

"What about the - what about Torren?"

"Him, too. The whole family, McKay."

"Oh," says Rodney, looking thoughtful, and John nudges him with his shoulder.

"So, you in?"

Rodney heaves a purely theatrical sigh. "Yes, I'm in," he says, and stands up, going to the door. "I'd better go pack."

"You do that," John tells him, and Rodney goes. John allows himself a moment of grinning stupidly at the closed door - wonders why he feels like he's accomplished something - and then goes to find Ronon and Teyla, give them the good news.

Really, John thinks, after the last couple of years, they deserve this. All of them.


At YVR they discover the airline has lost their luggage, which sparks off a predictably venomous tirade on the subjects of corporate monopolies and nose-diving service standards and something about nostalgia for the noble red goose. John has no idea what Rodney's talking about, but he shares bemused glances with Ronon and Teyla, sticks his hands in his pockets, and watches with a little smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Teyla has hoisted herself up on the low fake-stone wall bordering the baggage claim area, and is hiding her own smile by pretending to pull Torren's hat more securely down over his ears. Torren protests this by repeatedly yanking it off his head with a loud "No!" and flinging it to the floor for John to pick up, before falling into exhausted, twitchy sleep against Teyla's chest. Ronon's scanning the shiny pamphlet they were handed at Customs and ignoring all three of them.

There's something relaxing about listening to Rodney McKay complain, even if he's now on his way into a second-wind diatribe about hot towels and footrests. He stops only when Torren suddenly wakes up, lets out a whimpery, miserable muttering sound - he's been irritably non-verbal for about three hours, now - and flails against Teyla's gently restraining hands. "Want to go," he insists, face red and scrunchy and ominous. John senses a tantrum on the horizon.

"Oh, hey," says Rodney, looking uncertain, "is he okay? I mean if I hate flying it's got to be worse for somebody who can't properly articulate—"

"I think he's been managing pretty well, McKay," Ronon mutters, rolling his eyes fondly. Torren made his displeasure pretty well-known twenty minutes into the first flight, after all, John cringing when he realised they'd become Those People with the screaming two-year-old. Or they would have been Those People, except Teyla plopped Torren into Rodney's lap and the kid went quiet so fast John wondered if she'd drugged him. This is a trick discovered early on in Torren's first year, when he discovered the power of screaming to get attention, and Rodney's presence turned out to have a soporific affect.

"He is all right, Rodney," Teyla says, but hands over her son when Rodney reaches tentatively for him. "He is merely tired."

"Well, you know all about being cranky, right? You guys can commiserate," John says, ruffling Rodney's hair, and Rodney only makes a token attempt at ducking out of reach. Glaring for a second, he turns his attention to Torren, who is burrowing his face scowlingly into Rodney's shoulder. Rodney's eyes rest firmly on the tousled top of Torren's head, and John knows he's staring, so it's a damned good thing that neither Teyla nor Ronon is paying him any attention.

Except - Teyla's looking at him with another smirky little smile, and he ducks his head, turning to scan the crowd again. Luckily, they're interrupted before Teyla can say anything shrewd and kind and embarrass them both horribly.

"Welcome back, and what took you guys so long?" demands Jeannie Miller's voice, and John turns to see her elbowing her way through the crowd, Madison trailing behind her. She stops just short of them, eyes her brother with his armful of toddler, and then throws her arms around John's neck instead.

"Our flight was late," John manages, once he's got some air back into his lungs. Jeannie's hugs take no prisoners. He pats her back until she draws away. "We got stuck on the ground in Toronto for an hour until the storm cleared."

"Ha! Snow! Well, good luck finding any of that here. It's been raining for two weeks." She turns to give Ronon the same treatment, and Ronon accepts the hug with grace. "And who's this?" Jeannie asks, beaming, turning on Rodney with a focus that makes him start, a little, tightening his hold on Torren.

Jeannie turns to Teyla. "Is this..."

John realises with a shock that this is the first time Jeannie's met Torren. The last time she was on Atlantis, before they spent a year and a half deprived of Daedelus runs, was back when Rodney's brain was deteriorating. That time, Torren was on the mainland with Kanaan.

"This is Torren," Teyla confirms, sliding gracefully to her feet and taking the two steps between the wall and the two McKay siblings. She gives Rodney a nod, and he grudgingly gives up custody of Torren to Jeannie, who expertly folds him up with his bottom braced in the crook of her left arm.

"You," Jeannie says to Torren, in the same serious voice Rodney uses with him, "are a very handsome young man."

Torren, who is developing into a shameless con-artist like every other toddler John's ever met - Rodney blames John's influence - smiles angelically and says "I know." Which John privately blames on Rodney's influence.

Jeannie laughs delightedly. "My god, he's so big! I've only seen pictures, and the last one Mer bothered sending, like, two years ago, he was still this squinchy little pink thing." Teyla inclines her head in Jeannie's direction with a smile. Rodney looks mulish until his sister notices, then rolls her eyes and slings her free arm around his neck, pulling him close.

"Yes, idiot," she says into his neck, as Rodney resists for a second before relaxing into the embrace - it makes John's chest hurt, a little, the way seeing Rodney with his sister always does. "I missed you, too."


Jeannie refuses to let Rodney drive - "you know exactly why, Meredith," - and gives John a glare when he offers. "I've heard things about you, John Sheppard," is all the explanation she offers, before packing them into a sleek green minivan parked in the short-term lot.

"I don't want to talk about it," she says wearily, when Rodney gapes at it. "It's a rental. It's bad enough that there's a piece of paper somewhere that will forever attest to this thing being in my custody for two weeks." Rodney contents himself with a smirk, and sits back in his seat with his arms crossed while Jeannie helps Teyla buckle Torren into Madison's old car seat, before buckling Madison in next to him. Ronon, Teyla and John get the back row. It really is only just enough space for all of them with one spare seat, despite Rodney's obvious amusement.

Torren doesn't talk much, though John knows he can - he's just a quiet kid, except when he's throwing tantrums. For some reason, John always imagined any kid of Teyla's would be as Zen as she is, but as it turns out, toddler-hood is pretty much the same in any galaxy: food-throwing, foot-kicking-tantrum-pitching, and all.

The first thing Torren says, though, ten minutes after they've finally made their way out of the airport parking lot, is: "There's trees!"

"Yes, those are trees," Rodney agrees from the front passenger seat. Madison, sitting next to Torren's car-seat, kicking her heels against the floor, asks:

"Can Torren read yet?"

Rodney turns around to answer her, his mouth already open, but swallows his words when Teyla tells her: "When he chooses. But he is very stubborn." Rodney is Torren's most eager tutor, though he usually pretends it's a burden.

"Huh." Madison wisely nods her head, as though this is some universal truth. Torren is beaming now, watching buildings and telephone poles and rain-washed city streets flicker past, quick as the wind. John always forgets this about Vancouver: That it's damp and grey-skied but as a trade-off is also green and gleaming, like the forest is trying to creep in. It doesn't hurt that Jeannie's taking a deliberately showy route past all the most attractive landmarks, including an extended wait at the intersection right outside Vancouver City Hall on their way into the suburbs. Her passengers obligingly ooh and aah over the Olympic flag waving over City Hall and the thirteen-foot-high light-sculpture inukshuk crouched beneath it.

That, John thinks is pretty cool. It's sort of... Unearthly is the word that springs to mind, though he doesn't know why he thinks that. It doesn't look unearthly, and he's got six years of experience on the subject. It just...

"Lots of big trees!" Torren exclaims again, pointing, and looking at Madison, who giggles.

"Yeah," she agrees, reaching out to pull Torren's hat back down over his ears, a gesture that's weirdly Jeannie, but the frown she uses to answer Torren's sulky batting hand is her uncle's rather than her mother's. From the front seat, Rodney smiles, just a little, and turns back to face the front. John turns to look out the window, throat swelling tight around something he's not sure how to define - it might even be gratitude.


Jeannie ushers them all upstairs, says "You know where everything is" to the three men, and goes into the kitchen while Madison trails them up and down the hallway, offering help and asking questions at a million miles a minute. John and Rodney take the room to the left, where they stayed in the last time they were here, and Madison takes Ronon's hand and tows him along to the larger room that was hers, the last time John was here - she's since moved into the newly-finished room over the garage. She tries to unfold the cot in the corner next to the two twin beds, and John strides across the room and rescues her before she gets her fingers tangled up in the hinges and Jeannie has all their heads.

"Oof!" says Madison, with grinning emphasis. "That's for Torren. Okay?" She looks at Teyla, only a little less sure of her than Rodney, John and Ronon - she doesn't know Teyla, but she comes with Rodney's approval, with John's, with her mother's, and that seems to be all any McKay needs to trust someone. At eight, Madison is all soft, gangly limbs and curly blond hair, as outwardly guileless as any little girl, but she's still Jeannie's daughter, so she has instincts other people don't, even if she doesn't know it yet.

"I'm sure he will be very comfortable," says Teyla. She's occupied with trying to wrestle Torren out of his jacket, but she spares a moment to meet Madison's eyes and smile warmly, to wait until the smile's returned. Then Ronon reaches out and plucks Torren out of her lap, tucks the struggling toddler under his arm like a football.

"I'll put him down," he says, and Teyla looks so grateful John thinks she might actually hug someone. But instead, she rises gracefully to her feet, herding John and Madison effortlessly before her, stepping out into the hall with John. Behind them, Torren lets out a high-pitched squeal of laughter as Ronon lifts him high in the air and blows a raspberry into his bellybutton. Teyla shuts the door softly behind them.

"I love him," she says, "truly I do, but sometimes I wish my son was a little less..."

"Two?" ventures John, and Teyla sighs.

"Ancestors, yes," she agrees.

"Anybody hungry?" calls Jeannie's voice, from halfway up the stairs. "I've got dinner just about ready." Madison shoots off down the hall, disappearing down the stairs, and Teyla follows, a little more slowly. John comes to the head of the staircase and hooks a thumb back over his shoulder.

"I'm just gonna-" he says, and Jeannie nods when she translates go get Rodney,] her smile, as always, a little too shrewd.

"It'll still be warm," she says, and follows Teyla and Madison.

John steps into his and Rodney's room and checks the hall before shutting the door behind him. Rodney is sitting on the bed, taking folded clothes out of his suitcase and sorting them into piles - given the state of his quarters, most people would be surprised to learn Rodney is this compulsive about his laundry, but what makes it into his drawers is always neatly folded and sorted by category. It's a shade neurotic, but not excessively, and John's always found it kind of...

...he shakes himself. Really, unbelievably not the time for that. Trust him to make it six years without outing himself only to blow his cover by smiling in the wrong way.

"Dinner," he says, kicking his own duffel into a better spot next to the door. "You coming?"

"In a minute," Rodney says, getting up to move his piles to the waiting dresser drawers. He's distracted, yes, but he's tense, too - shoulders an unnatural straight line, the muscles of his back bunched and tight. John knows all the different moods of Rodney's body, has gotten used to reading them as easily as text, and right now Rodney's body is unhappy, braced as if expecting attack. Here in his sister's house, it doesn't make any sense, but it's what it is.

"Food'll get cold," John tells him, which is untrue, but he can't say nothing.

"I said, in a minute," Rodney snaps, and shoves the drawer shut. He zips up the empty suitcase, props it against the wall. Downstairs, John hears the front door open and close, a chorus of voices - Kaleb's home. For a moment, neither of them speak, as Rodney agitatedly fidgets with the zipper on his jacket, then peels it off and throws it over the desk chair.

"Are you, uh—" John tries, knowing he's supposed to say something now, now that he's provoked it, something carefully-phrased, something bland and smirky to prop up his buddy. Rodney's expecting it, so John adds a rolling shrug, meaningful and silent. Rodney sighs, heavily, scrubs at his hair - like it wasn't standing up enough already.

"I— yeah," he says, tiredly, and only now does he look up and meet John's eyes. He looks exhausted, hollowed-out, and still wears traces of the hurt confusion he was wearing when he showed up at John's door last week, demanding John take him out and get him drunk. And that's an experience John never wants to repeat, because Rodney really meant it. And Rodney? Has a surprisingly high tolerance for alcohol - fortunately not so high that he was babbling or saying things he shouldn't - barring one mumbled "maybe I'm not supposed to be with anyone."

Or maybe, John remembers thinking, that's just because he was so determined to get oblivious. He mostly fell asleep in John's lap in the cab and leaned against him as John steered him back to his quarters. The hangover wasn't pretty, either - anybody who thinks Rodney's hard to deal with when he's sober has no idea what they're talking about, and John's got experience in this kind of thing. "I know I've been..." He circles one hand in the air, then waves it dismissively. "It's no wonder Jennifer dumped me. I don't know how you haven't killed me already; I'm such a drama queen."

This is Rodney offering him an out from the unmanly sharing-of-feelings, and John knows he's supposed to smirk, but instead he finds himself saying: "Hey, no. It's not a big deal, Rodney, okay?" with far too much sincerity, and Rodney squints at him a moment, looking surprised, and then dubious, and then, finally, pleased, in a way that makes John's stomach do flips like a teenager's. He hides it, though. He's pretty sure.

"C'mon," he says instead, reaching out to pull Rodney around the bed by his shirt. If he's been touching Rodney a lot more lately, there's nobody around to prove it, since Rodney certainly hasn't noticed. "Food."

"Oh, right, food," Rodney agrees, face going vague and greedy; John laughs. Rodney elbows him in the side. "Even if it is vegetarian," he amends, thoughtfully.


The break-up - or as John refers to it in his head, The Disaster - was bad. Really bad, incredibly bad, worse than even John's most pessimistic imaginings of the very worst Rodney could possibly do, really putting his mind to it.

The worst part, and the part that makes John feel the guiltiest, is that Rodney wasn't doing his worst. Rodney at his worst is, as defined by lower forms of life (read: People Who Are Not Rodney), is difficult to many, intolerable for most. Rodney at his most - well, his most Rodney, John thinks, is hard to stand... but he's not really that hard to like. You just have to be willing to pay attention. To accept that Rodney's blustery arrogance is defensive, that his fumbling attempts at kindness are sincere, that when he's at his meanest, he's at his most uncertain.

John likes Rodney at his worst. He likes Rodney, which is something it took him the better part of a year to examine in any detail, because that was how long he'd known Rodney before he met anyone who'd known Rodney pre-Atlantis, pre-Siberia. Of the two exceptions, Elizabeth was always too hard to read, Carson too kind. Their first too-long debriefing at the SGC, their first visit back to Earth, was a condensed course in how Rodney McKay Used To Be An Asshole. One introduction after another to people who scowled at Rodney constantly, from whom Rodney backed down, who sent dirty looks at the back of his head as they passed him in the halls. It was like being back in high school, for Christ's sake, and it made John twitchy, made him want to reach for a weapon. It made the SGC hostile territory, and what you do in hostile territory is protect your own. Rodney was his own. Rodney is his own.

What Rodney knows is this: John gives a damn about him, and that's novel enough, by Rodney's standards, that the rest of it is immaterial. John wishes it could be immaterial, but the more time passes the harder it gets to pretend that he doesn't care what Rodney does in his spare time, and John's pretty sure that's not something best friends are supposed to have opinions about.

And after all, Rodney's not stupid. He's noticed John cares a little more than he's supposed to - with Katie he got mad, the one time John broke and suggested maybe she wasn't right for him, that it didn't work because it wasn't supposed to. Rodney took it as a slight, a criticism of his own character, though that wasn't how John meant it.

Rodney was trying. It's the part that bothered John the most, the part that made him excuse himself in the middle of meals, that had him holding himself stiff and frustrated every time Rodney and Jennifer Keller were in a room together, every time Rodney mentioned her name.

Keller didn't want Rodney at his worst.

It wasn't as painful to watch as it was with Katie. That was Rodney pretending and knowing he was pretending. That was Rodney trying not to spook a shy botanist he knew couldn't withstand the full force of his personality. With Jennifer it was worse, though, because Rodney had already learned that just pretending didn't work.

Jennifer could have handled Rodney, the real Rodney; she just didn't want to, and evidently had no qualms about letting him know it.

John hated that, always hated that, Rodney thinking he had to change, had to become a "kinder, gentler" version of himself - except "kinder and gentler" translated as tentative, uncertain, with so much of his passion tamped down. The first time Rodney said that, it was all John could do not to scream at him, just getting himself out of the room before both hands curled themselves into fists and he could no longer keep his feelings off of his face. Rodney wanted to be different, wanted to be happy the way he thought he was supposed to be, wanted it so badly that he wasn't pretending, he was trying.

Trying to change. Trying to be likeable to other people, ordinary people, people who weren't so consumed with their passion that they forgot to be polite, the weight of whose opinions, less than a year ago, Rodney might have dismissed as inferior.

And that was the most upsetting part, maybe. Rodney was making himself less, to make himself acceptable, to make himself different, so that other people would like him.

People who weren't John.

John wasn't privy to the break-up itself, but he knows things were slowly disintegrating for months. Knows it better than Rodney did, because when Rodney devotes himself to a project he ignores everything else, and so he didn't know when things started coming apart at the seams. It's how he blew up a solar system and managed to be surprised about it. It's how everyone else knew what was coming between him and Keller - that for three months before she finally did it, Jennifer was trying to find a way to end it amicably - and Rodney had no idea. She's not a bad person, no matter how many bitter, juvenile fantasies John had about her falling into the ocean, breaking out in disfiguring purple spots, jealousies more suited to an eighth-grader than a man of forty-two.

He still thinks it was cruel of her - though how much better she could have made it, he's not sure - to wait until they were back on Earth. Because there, she could walk out of Rodney's quarters and fly back to Wisconsin for two weeks. She could escape on Earth as she couldn't on Atlantis, where there was no escaping anyone, and it couldn't look like anything else than her getting as far away from Rodney as possible.

Try as he might, John can't hate her for that, either. She went about it the wrong way, but she really wanted it to work. He knows she did. He knows what that looks like.

And it's not as though Rodney's acting heartbroken. But Rodney as a grim drunk instead of babbling and flushed, Rodney apologising for being snappish before his morning coffee - these are not signs that all is well in Rodney-land. Rodney doesn't keep things to himself unless they're dire, fatal, catastrophic.

Rodney's quiet again in the morning, only muttering over breakfast as the Millers buzz and swoop and laugh around them. They've swept up Teyla and Torren in their madness. John never thought he'd see Teyla like this: gregarious and talkative and, laughing, god, wiping Torren's syrupy hands with a washcloth as Kaleb pours her another cup of tea.

Madison is yawning over her Cream of Wheat, bent over a book that looks heavy and thicker than anything John's ever seen in the hands of an eight-year-old. He sees the title for a second - it's a dogeared copy of Pride and Prejudice - and thinks it's best Rodney's distracted, because the last thing they need at seven-thirty in the morning is a Rodney-esque tirade about how his niece's mind is being polluted by "the romantic claptrap that passes for literature in your department." John figures if the kid's smart enough to skip a grade before she's ten (Rodney's been telling him every time the subject of his family came up for six months now, and Madison's first words when she saw them were "Uncle John, guess what? I'm in Grade Three now!"), she's smart enough to read a few novels with no redeeming scientific value and not suffer any lasting intellectual damage.

They've got several hours to kill before even the most preliminary of opening ceremonies that evening, so they drive - with Jeannie once again at the wheel - to Pacific Centre. This is actually Teyla's idea, because she's never forgotten seeing a shopping mall that time they were all nearly killed by sentient mist, and hasn't had a chance to see one again, any of the times she's been on Earth. She's pretty much never been outside the SGC, which strikes Jeannie as criminally unfair, so they spend almost two solid hours going from clothing store to clothing store, stocking up Teyla and Ronon and Torren on enough Earth clothing to last them a month, never mind the two weeks they're actually spending in Vancouver.

And this is another thing John never expected - Teyla, in a place where nobody is working against them, where everyone else expects no disaster, smiles, laughs, and her face lights up when Jeannie pulls a scarf of brilliant, silky blue out of a discount bin in some store whose name John has already forgotten ten minutes later. There's an easy looseness about her John isn't used to seeing, the fleeting, infrequent smiles she shows when they're sparring, when they have a moment of unexpected quiet and he spies her believing she's safe, and it's so... nice.

It's so nice that the first two times Rodney opens his mouth to complain, John elbows him in the side, shakes him gently by the shoulder. The third time, as they take a detour into a store with Japanese dishes stacked up to the ceiling, it's Ronon, who tries his very best to appear uninterested, though John twice catches him fingering soft shirtsleeves and leather jackets with something like wonder.

"Okay, look," Rodney begins, arms crossed over his chest, and John is about to reach out and jostle him into silence, but Ronon steps in close before he can move. He leans down and murmurs in Rodney's ear, nodding in Teyla's direction, and Rodney lets out a grudging little sigh.

"Fine," he says, looking surprised and embarrassed and pleased. John nudges him, raising questioning eyebrows, but Rodney just grins and shakes his head.

Ronon carries Torren on his shoulders while they trail the two women through seven stores, Madison hanging on her father's hand looking more bored and bad-tempered by the minute. John can't help noticing that Rodney is heading in the same direction, hands shoved in his pockets, steps getting downright stompy by the time they stop in a Sport Chek at the far end of the mall, where at least John can lead Ronon over to the sports equipment and enthuse over the finer points of high-end putters.

"I still don't see the point," Ronon mutters, letting Torren dangle by his ankles, shrieking with laughter. The salespeople are too busy making awww faces to quiet them down.

John looks up from weighing a graphite putter in both hands. "In graphite?"

"In golf," Ronon replies succinctly.

They leave Rodney and Madison standing with their arms crossed, glaring at nothing, near a display of flag-branded backpacks and suitcases near the entrance, while Kaleb dutifully holds up the rain jackets Jeannie's pulling off the rack for Teyla to slip her arms into them, allow Jeannie to turn her this way and that, looking in the mirror. John keeps an eye on them, nudging Ronon until he looks and grins, bouncing Torren on his shoulders.

But finally, when Jeannie and Teyla come away from the register, laden with bags, and Jeannie starts: "Ooh, there's this cute little boutique by the food court, I just wanted to—" Rodney and Madison heave an irritated sigh with such identical pitch, wearing such similarly curdled expressions, that John cracks up so hard he has to bend over, clutching his stomach and gasping for breath.

"Oh, shut up," Rodney gripes over John's helpless laughter, but when John finally gets control of himself, Torren's giggling, and Ronon's grinning, and even Rodney has a smile on his face that he's fighting. John can't stop himself from reaching out and slinging a companionable arm around Rodney's shoulders, even though the shrinkingly-sensible part of his brain that usually keeps him from doing things like that too often is warning him against it. Besides, Rodney just re-crosses his arms, still smiling.

"Muu-uuuum," Madison whines, tugging on her mother's sleeve as Teyla beams at them all - this planet makes them all crazy, John thinks, weirdly unbothered by the realisation - "I'm bored. And I finished my book an hour ago." For the first two hours of their trek through the mall, Madison was trailing after them with her nose in Pride and Prejudice, her hand hooked in Kaleb's pocket. Kaleb looked so proud that Rodney didn't say a single word when he noticed what his niece was reading, though he muttered it to John as they were having lunch.

"I thought we were going to the Olympics, not going shopping all day."

Jeannie rolls her eyes a little and tugs on one of Maddy's curls. "We've been here three hours in total, brat. And we are going to the Olympics. But there's still three hours until they start, and your uncle's friends needed some things."

"Don't they have clothes?" Maddy asks, arms still crossed, but she looks puzzled.

"We come from very far away, Madison," Teyla explains, calmly, taking Torren from Ronon and handing Ronon the bags to carry - he takes Jeannie's as well. "And we did not have time to pack. Besides, it rains a great deal, here, and we were unprepared." She says this last part wryly. With their pay piling up while they're far away from shopping malls, they've all gotten into the habit of coming to Earth with hardly anything in their bags. Most of what John and Rodney brought with them is uniforms, and most of what Ronon and Teyla have with them isn't exactly appropriate either for the season or the locale, but replacing everything on the rare occasion that they're here isn't much of a burden.

Well; except for the fact that Rodney claims to hate malls.

Madison sighs. "Fine," she huffs, and John chuckles again.

Rodney stops even pretending to complain when they stop in the newly-opened Future Shop, where both he and Jeannie briefly lose their minds, and John realises that Jeannie was possibly pretending more enthusiasm for clothes-shopping for Teyla's benefit than was strictly true. Both McKay siblings vanish, squabbling, pleasantly, into the computer hardware aisles for twenty straight minutes before John and Kaleb go to tow them out again.

"You can shop for ethernet cable at the end of the week, McKay," John assures him, when Rodney makes a yearning face in the direction of the receding storefront.

"Fine," he agrees, grudgingly, a moment later, falling back into step with the rest of them. "But if I let my sister re-wire her network by herself and she— ow!" He breaks off as Jeannie reaches easily back and smacks him in the back of the head.

"And when I do, I'm not buying components from Future Shop, she tells him, scathingly.

Their last stop, around two in the afternoon, is at the Bay, which turns out to be a bad plan because it's covered, stacked, positively festooned with Olympic merchandise and despite his many tirades about corporate monopolies, Rodney's kind of a sucker for souvenirs. There are banners everywhere declaring the Hudson's Bay Company as a "Proud Official Sponsor" and on every sign the Olympic rings are paired with the coloured stripes of the Bay and the inukshuk logo John's been seeing all over town since yesterday.

Rodney says "Oh, hey," and before John knows it, Rodney's pulling a fuzzy green hat down onto Torren's head (it's embroidered with a yeti in a ski hat which Rodney insists is actually a sasquatch), and shoving Teyla and Ronon towards racks of fleece jackets up against one wall and rifling through a pile of hats - "Toques," he corrects John, when he asks Rodney what he's doing, exactly - until he comes up with a bright red one with the inukshuk embroidered on the front in white, a tiny white maple leaf underneath.

"Here," Rodney says, shoving it at him. John takes it gingerly, turning it over in his hands. Rodney gestures impatiently. "Well, go on. It's a miracle those pointy things you call ears haven't frozen off already, and we're going to be sitting in a freezing cold stadium, and it's always cold, no matter what they tell you, after dark, and damp cold is colder than dry cold—"

"Rodney," John says slowly, "I've already got a hat." To demonstrate, he pulls the plain black hat he's been wearing since this morning out of his coat pocket and waves it. "Also, I lived in Antarctica. This is nothing compared with—"

Rodney glares at him. John shuts up, and puts on the hat.



And Rodney - Rodney beams. And John feels something in him stutter, covering it just in time as Rodney turns away, busily sorting through a rack of hooded sweatshirts. The tips of his ears are pink. "There," Rodney says, shoulders hunched up around his ears, embarrassed rather than uncomfortable, still sounding unreasonably pleased with himself. "Was that so hard?"

When they leave the Bay half an hour later, Ronon has been flirted with by every salesgirl on the top floor of the Hudson's Bay Company, Jeannie is snacking on peanut brittle from the impulse-buy table near the cash registers, and Rodney has bought: hats for Torren, John, and himself. Warm fleece jackets for everyone, including Kaleb, Maddy and Torren (Torren's has what John thinks might be an otter wearing sunglasses emblazoned on the front, and little earflaps), a t-shirt for John, a scarf for Maddy, a pair of blue earmuffs (for Ronon, apparently), and three enormous stuffed yetis wearing earmuffs and possibly mittens. John's not sure, because he can't get any of the three yetis ("He's a sasquatch, Uncle John,") out of their recipients' hands long enough to inspect them closely - Ronon growls when he tries, and John once again laughs so hard that he has to pause and lean against a wall. Jeannie is grinning, and teasing Rodney about buying shares in the Olympic committee, if he's going to spend this much money on pointless souvenirs, but John notices she put her jacket on the moment they left the store and hasn't taken it off since. Rodney's got his hands back in his pockets, but he's smiling into the zipped-up collar of his own blue Official Olympic Trademark fleece.

They're almost back to the bank of escalators that will take them back down to the parkade level when Madison suddenly stops walking, and wanders over to the railing overlooking the open court at the bottom of the escalators. "Maddy, come on," Jeannie says, and John joins her at the railing.

"Whatcha lookin' at?" he asks. Madison looks puzzled.

"Who's she? Is she famous?" asks Madison, one arm wound securely around her huge stuffed yeti, the other pointing. John looks, and sees what Madison's asking about - a blond woman, tall and svelte, is making her way imperiously along the other side of the mall, chin in the air - she's followed by half a dozen men wearing expensive suits, all well-muscled and carrying themselves as though they're armed. The back of John's neck prickles, and he glances back at Ronon, who's come to stand with them. Ronon frowns, shrugs: No immediate threat.

But still. John looks at the woman again as Rodney, Teyla, Jeannie and Kaleb join them at the railing. "Probably some actress or something. Whistler's going to be terrifying, all these famous people trying to make an appearance," Jeannie muses, linking her arm with Kaleb's.

The tone is dismissive and pre-emptively weary, and should make John relax, but for some reason, he just can't, quite. His tension is not helped when Rodney says, "Huh," in the thoughtful voice he uses when he's just discovered something Very Interesting - Very Interesting ending in general disaster a solid six times out of ten.

"What?" John asks, with a quick glance at Madison to make sure she isn't paying attention, but she's gone back to looking bored.

Rodney doesn't answer right away, stares until the woman and her - John's really sure, now - security detail are out of sight. "I don't know," he says, slowly, then seems to shake himself. "She looks kind of familiar. That's all."

"She's probably somebody famous," Jeannie repeats, shrugging. "Come on, guys. Let's get out of here before the after-work rush shows up. Not to mention the tourists are going to hit pretty soon."

That's enough to get Rodney moving, practically dragging John down the escalator ahead of everyone else.


They take the SkyTrain back downtown as it's getting dark - "Because I'm not insane, Mer, and traffic will be" - and climb up to street level with Rodney complaining about the climb ("If they don't get that escalator fixed in the next half-hour people are going to die, and I'm not even kidding,") and the crowds, and Madison literally - finally - bouncing along beside them, still clutching her stuffed yeti.

Despite the steady drizzle - Rodney and the Millers don't even seem to notice - Dunsmuir Street is thick with pedestrians. In the distance John can see orange traffic barriers and uniformed police officers directing the crowds - and it's lit up almost as bright as day. Light pollution means they can't see many stars, but there are little white lights in every single tree, and colourful Olympic flags fluttering from street light. Despite the crowds and the noise and the push it's kind of - it's actually kind of charming, John thinks. And he can feel the excitement building from here.

They make a weird little group, the Miller family, Ronon - who is actually wearing the earmuffs - with Torren still perched on his shoulders, exclaiming in a wondering babble half-interspersed with actual words, Teyla, smiling affectionately at them both, and John and Rodney trailing along behind. Rodney still has his hands in his pockets, but he's been smiling since they left the house, even though he's been trying to pretend he isn't. Everyone, including Kaleb, is wearing the jackets Rodney bought earlier. They look like a walking magazine cover story, and in fact, they get waylaid by a reporter not two blocks from the arena, right as they turn onto what the signs identify as Expo Boulevard. They seem to be everywhere, dotted throughout the thickening crowds, and the one that zeroes in on them gravitates right to Jeannie, Kaleb, and, okay, Ronon.

"Hi folks!" she says cheerfully. Really cheerfully. "Are you going to the opening ceremonies?"

Jeannie answers in the affirmative as Teyla and Ronon both watch her, warily, as though making sure this is something Earth-normal, unworthy of suspicion. While she chats up Jeannie - who is as enthusiastic as anyone seeking a sound-byte could possibly desire - they both relax, after a final glance back to John for a reassuring smile - Rodney has made himself unobtrusive behind John.

"How old is this little guy?" The reporter has turned her big shiny smile on Ronon and Teyla. Teyla answers her, and the reporter bobs her head.

"He sure is lucky to have parents like you," she gushes.

John winces, but Teyla just smiles and doesn't correct her. "I am sure he will remember this," she assures the reporter, before they move off again. Ronon's face is strangely blank - more than usual - and he brings Torren down from his shoulders to carry him propped against his hip.

The thing is, John's not sure Ronon's really carrying a torch for Teyla, or anything. He knows that before Rodney and Keller got together there was some interest there, but when that fizzled out Ronon started spending a lot of time with Torren. Ronon's Teyla and Kanaan's first-call babysitter, and has been since he started talking. But there isn't really anybody else, and John wonders sometimes - because the happiness of his team is his business, no matter if sometimes he thinks maybe the four of them are a little more into each other's pockets than is strictly normal - whether he's lonely.

Well, he thinks, nastily, maybe Keller'll want to re-evaluate him, now.

But he quashes the thought immediately, because it's petty and, may as well admit it, he's sort of biased.

"So tell me something," Kaleb asks, and John almost jumps, because Rodney's brother-in-law very rarely talks to him. He only talks to Rodney when he has to, though they seem to get along a lot better than they used to, have for a couple of years now. But John and Kaleb mostly smile politely at each other and nod in acknowledgement and sometimes, if the moment's just right, look similarly exasperated at the antics of their respective McKays.

"Do my best," John nods, zipping up his jacket a little higher because it's February, and okay, so maybe Rodney wasn't just whining, it's actually pretty cold out here.

"Why are you guys really here? I mean, you can't tell me the Air Force sprang for - what, ten grand worth of tickets - just to fulfill some kind of diplomatic necessity. Especially since you two have been practically ducking into the bushes every time you see a reporter."

This is true. Miss Big Shiny Smile was actually the third reporter they've seen in the past fifteen minutes, just the first to approach them.

"Not that I'm complaining, or anything," Kaleb hastens to add. John grins.


Kaleb shrugs.

"Part of it's just what Rodney told you guys - they've got to send somebody, and this year I got handed the gig. But, y'know, there's always the chance somebody will try and use the event to cause trouble, and there's a better chance, these days, that that someone will be..." John makes an expansive hand gesture that is an attempt to encompass weird shit, seriously weird shit, you have no idea. He's pretty sure Jeannie's been telling Kaleb stories about her little trip through SGC memory lane, what Rodney calls the Mission Reports' Greatest Hits. And Kaleb must know better than most that Earth isn't actually all that separate from the world of alien overlords, Grand Theft Spaceship and honest-to-god space pirates that is constantly going on outside its atmosphere. What happens out there, matters down here.

Kaleb nods, thoughtfully. "This is a pretty big event. I guess if aliens attack BC Place you want somebody around with alien-fighting experience," he says, with a half-smile and a nod.

"Yeah," John agrees. He's about to say something else, but then they round a corner of the stadium and the words fall right out of his head.

"Wow," says Rodney, to his left. John sneaks a glance at him. He looks genuinely impressed, eyes wide and reflecting the lights, mouth half-open. The rain's easing off as they stand there, and there are tiny droplets of water caught in his eyelashes. "They really went all-out. It's actually... I mean it's really—" he looks at John, almost appealingly, but it's Teyla who voices what all of them are thinking.

"Beautiful," she murmurs, soft and amazed, eyes dark and glowing. "It is beautiful." Ronon nods, actually, visibly smiling.

"S'pretty," Torren agrees.

"It's called the Plaza of Nations," Jeannie says, slipping her hand into Kaleb's. "They built it for Expo in '86. I think it's full of casinos and sports medicine clinics now, but back then it was where they had all the big ceremonies. See all the flags?"

The row of flagpoles behind them, lining the water's edge, are lit from the ground, massive and colourful and flapping in the light breeze.

"Twenty-two million people from all around the world," Jeannie adds, obviously for Ronon and Teyla's benefit. "There's probably more here, now."

Before them, the Plaza rises up, three stories of glittering glass, lit from within, almost Lantean in its spare lines and pure light. Behind it, the stadium is a white dome, covered with crawling multicoloured lights that make it look like it's writhing, rising and falling like the ocean behind them.

"That's where we're going," Madison says, pointing, and then she smirks. "The marshmallow in bondage."

John can't keep in the guffaw, covers his mouth too late, and almost misses Jeannie's outraged "Kaleb! I told you to stop calling it that in front of her!" and the loud smack to his arm.

"What? What?" Kaleb laughs, dodging Jeannie's next swing. "That's what it looks like! Maddy, you traitor!"


"I'm just wondering," Rodney mutters, as they finally - finally - make it to their seats half an hour later, midway up the Level 2 seating area, "exactly what they're expecting to happen. I mean, we'd know if there was a fleet of ships bearing down on us, wouldn't we? Or are we looking out for someone expected to make a move? Should we be more worried?"

He spends a couple of seconds fussily wavering between one seat and another, and finally chooses the one second from the end of their row - the SGC bought out an entire row of ten seats. They have spares. People are glaring bloody violent death at them from all round. John shakes his head and takes the one on the end. "I dunno, Rodney. You saw the same files I did. They just said 'keep your eyes open.'"

"Oh, don't get me started on the files," Rodney huffs. "It was like the Wanted wall at a Wild West post office. I mean presumably if they're hiding on Earth they look like human beings, and how many alien criminals have you met whose first priority is absorbing Earth culture? Not that you can call this culture." Rodney glares a little, at nothing in particular. The elbows-first struggle from the gate to the seats was plenty of time for Rodney to regain his bad mood, especially since Jeannie and Kaleb have been cuddly and adorable ever since their little slap-fight in the Plaza. John's vaguely sure that nobody who's been married eight years should still be this disgusting, but he's happy for them anyway. He likes Jeannie and Kaleb, likes that real people can still be happy like that, even though it's clearly reminding Rodney of things that make him anything but happy.

"I mean what, exactly, could any alien have to gain from infiltrating a glorified pep rally? It's pretty enough, I suppose, but there aren't any weapons, there's nothing really worth stealing, and by the way, 'keep your eyes open?'" He stabs the air viciously with his index finger. "That's like SGC code for 'the sky is falling.' On-planet detective work is usually SG-1's gig. The only reason they gave this to us is because they're pretty sure something irritating and inconvenient might happen, and they hate us."

"Aw, come on, Rodney, they bought us tickets to every single event for the whole shebang. There's got to be something about this that you like." John knows he's wheedling, but he can't help it. By now it's just standard response to a crotchety Rodney. Besides, it's kind of true. People who joined the Atlantis expedition by choice do tend to get the short end of the stick, when it comes to any assignment taking place outside the Pegasus Galaxy.

Rodney's quiet for a second, then he offers: "I guess the hockey finals might be worthwhile," he admits, and John smirks, because Rodney's posture and the downright avaricious gleam in his eyes says they're going to be better than just worthwhile. John stares at him, still smirking, for several long seconds before Rodney lets out an explosive sigh. "Fine, I always watch the gold medal game, okay? It's not like I have a choice. Everything stops dead during hockey finals - any hockey finals. Schools close, all work stops, the sun stills in the sky... My second year of university they cancelled classes so everyone could squeeze into the floor lounge and watch the men's gold medal game. I thought I was going to go deaf from all the air horns. I wouldn't have really minded except for how we got totally robbed by Czechoslovakia. And Russia! They stole the sport from us in the first place!"

Rodney is still using his bitchy voice, but he looks a little less like he's being marched slowly to his firing squad. "I thought the silver in '88 was..." John wracks his brain. "Wasn't it Finland?"

Rodney waves a hand dismissively. "Not '88 - the Sarajevo games. The Russians got the gold that year, too, though. Bastards."

John raises his eyebrows. It's not like he doesn't know that Rodney is uncommonly, improbably smart, and he knew Rodney had started university pretty young, but not at... fifteen? John realises, doing some quick mental arithmetic. Wow. He's impressed, and he does his very best to wipe it off his face before Rodney can see. Instead, he makes a show of chafing his ears, which are getting a little cold, so that Rodney sees.

"Where's your toque?" he demands, frowning. "I bought you a toque so your ears wouldn't freeze off, remember?"

John pulls it out of his pocket. "Right, sorry," he says, pulling it on. "Forgot."

Rodney glares at him a moment longer, as though he knows he's being manipulated, but then he just looks pleased, and John basks in the pleasure of a Rodney well-played. And his ears aren't cold anymore. It's a pretty great hat.



"That was the year Torvill and Dean got that record high score, wasn't it?" John says, only half-meaning for Rodney to hear it, but of course he does.

"Figure skaters?" Rodney repeats, disbelievingly. "You can't keep track of hockey medallists but you remember figure skaters?" He eyes John critically. "Figure skaters. And weren't they the ones with the floppy purple shirts?"

"Hey, I had a crush on Jayne Torvill," John says, defensively, and is glad he's wearing the hat, because his ears are suddenly burning. Yeah. Jayne Torvill. That was it.

"Besides, highest score of all time, Rodney. That's pretty cool, even in figure skating."

"Uh huh," Rodney says, dubiously, then smirks. "Ice dancing. Really."

"Figure skating," John insists, mulishly. Because Figure Skating is a sport, damn it.

"I want popcorn!" Madison announces, after they've been sitting there, shuffling and re-shuffling seats, for about fifteen minutes.

Jeannie looks dubiously up to the top of the stadium, and the billion or so people wandering up and down the stadium steps. "I don't know, honey," she says slowly, and John recognises a mother vacillating between Make My Child Happy and Wade Through That Crowd.

Fortunately, Ronon looms up to his feet, depositing Torren in Rodney's lap - Rodney opens his mouth to complain, but subsides without anybody even elbowing him in the side or glaring at him, sighing in mock-suffering and re-arranging Torren more comfortably to look out over the stadium.

"I'll take her," he offers, tilting his head in Jeannie's direction. Maddy bounces to her feet, eyes wide and pleading.

Maddy declared Ronon her new best friend just this morning, when he gave her one of the beads from his hair and helped her braid it into one of her pigtails. To Rodney's gobsmacked expression and John's blank surprise he offered only a shrug and the explanation: "Four older sisters - you learn or you die."

"Can I, Mum? Please?" she begs, and Jeannie eyes Ronon for a minute, mouth twisted in a knowing little smile, until she finally nods.

"No candy, Madison," she warns.

Madison emits a high-pitched shriek of glee that makes Rodney start in his seat as she takes Ronon's outstretched hand and pulls him out into the aisle. "Hey, hey, can you get me—"Rodney begins.

"You get what you get," Ronon rumbles, and he's smiling, big and warm and white, as Madison drags up him the steps towards the upper corridors. Rodney looks annoyed, but only a little - probably because they both know Ronon will get him exactly what he wants in the end.

"Why are you so happy, anyway?" Rodney asks, letting Torren wave the tail-end of his scarf at people passing up and down the stairs to their right. Random fellow audience members keep catching his eye and stooping down to wave and make ridiculous faces as they pass their row. John looks at Rodney, but to his surprise, Rodney's not annoyed, like he's been actively seeking out targets for his bad temper since they set foot back on Earth. He's looking at John with genuine, open curiosity.

"What do you mean?" he asks. "We're at the Olympics, Rodney. It's not something you do every day."

Rodney rolls his eyes. "Well, obviously, you're very into these symbolic, once-in-a-lifetime things, but I just meant..." he jerks his head out over the crowded stadium, what has to be at least sixty thousand people, well beyond John's usual comfort level. "Usually, when we come back to Earth, you're all... twitchy."

"Twitchy?" John makes a face.

"Well, you know what I mean." Rodney's tone is exasperated. "You don't - you don't really seem to like it here. On Earth, I mean. It's a wonder you survived as long as you did, before—" he breaks off, as though only just now realising they're in a public place and he probably shouldn't be talking about Atlantis quite so candidly. His cheeks are a little pink. "I just, I just wondered, that's all." He's absently bouncing Torren a little in his lap, and Torren has now begun muttering to himself, what sounds like an Athosian counting song. John wonders what he's counting but doesn't want to interrupt him to ask.

"I dunno," John shrugs. "Just... I told you. I thought Ronon and Teyla would get a kick out of it..."

"Yeah, I'm sure that was a tough call," Rodney observes sardonically. "An all-expenses-paid vacation to the most expensive exhibition of physical prowess on the planet Earth, which hey, has no marauding space vampires—" he cuts himself off again, carries on as though he's simply deleted the classified information and picked up on the other side: "—And all sorts of amenities like fast food and shopping malls. It's always about other people with you, isn't it?" He gives John a look that's uncomfortably like studying, and unconsciously shifts Torren in his lap when he slumps back against Rodney's chest, still flapping the fringe end of Rodney's scarf in his tiny fist. Rodney looks away from John's face.

"I'm fine, you know," he says, kind of quietly - for Rodney, anyway. If he were being quiet by a normal person's standards John wouldn't be able to hear him over the latent roar of the settling crowd. "I don't - I mean obviously I'm not fine, but this isn't like I was held hostage and I'm going to crack any minute. I just... I just got dumped. It happens to people all the time. It's not a big deal."

"Yeah," John drawls, sarcastically. "Sure. I can really tell."

"I want to sit with Mata," Torren interrupts, looking up at Rodney, who sighs elaborately.

"Okay," he agrees, handing Torren to John, who tickles him, and then passes him on to Teyla, who is sitting to his left, pretending very hard that she isn't listening to their conversation. It's not like it matters - Teyla knows everything already anyway, John's pretty sure, and she was certainly privy to the fallout of The Disaster.

She's the one who found John head-in-hands in the SGC cafeteria after he finally got Rodney to bed in his own quarters. He was mainlining coffee and trying to will himself out of a pretty good level-three freak-out - part trying to talk himself out of doing something stupid, part trying to talk himself into saying something honest. The kind of freak-out made worse by the fact that the two instincts are directly in conflict. She just rested her hand on his arm and talked lightly of nothing at all for two hours, until they started serving breakfast and John could stumble back to his own room and collapse into bed, thereby putting the whole thing off for another day.

Rodney frowns. "Look, I know I'm terrible at this sort of thing, but I'm better than I used to be and, and she was right. I wasn't paying attention, but it wasn't working, and I guess that means I'm improving, because it was bad, it was terrible, which you know because you were there for the drinking and the passing out, but I remember what she said and she was right."

John opens his mouth to interrupt, to say that she absolutely wasn't right, that he's got nothing to be sorry about, but Rodney shakes his head. "I haven't done this much, but two years is pretty good, I think, and I'm not going to lock myself in my room and blast the Smiths and, and refuse to answer the telephone or - or whatever it is people do. I don't... look!" he says, pointing at John with his mouth set into a determined scowl. "Acting like it's a big deal is just making it - is making it a big deal, all right?"

John watches him for a second, but the expression doesn't falter. He knows what Rodney looks like when he's trying to be brave and not feeling it, and this isn't it. "Yeah," he agrees finally. "Yeah, okay."

"Thank you," Rodney says, with a huff, just as Ronon and Madison return, loaded down with Maddy's weight in popcorn (also branded), and the lights begin to go down.


Outside on the street, it's drizzling again (Jeannie says "spitting") and everyone around them is by turns wild with residual excitement or asleep on their feet. It's such a weird feeling of collective goodwill that John expects to get jittery in reaction, but doesn't. He walks slowly next to Rodney, who is quiet again - differently quiet, more pensive than the tense, unhappy silence of the past week - and idly watches the passing throng, cataloguing automatically, filing away anything noteworthy without even thinking about it. There's a group of people wearing Chinese flags carrying on a tense discussion with three men with clipboards and a woman with a blond ponytail wearing Olympic staff jackets. It involves lots of emphatic hand-gestures and forcibly polite smiles, and John guesses "random drug test" and dismisses it.

Everybody else he sees is smiling - it would be creepy except he's fairly sure he's smiling too. How do they do that with just music and a few lasers? He knows the Olympics are supposed to be about fellowship and harmony and all that jazz, but personally John's always taken a practical approach to that kind of thing - play along only insofar as you have to, as it applies to you, directly. Like standing up for the national anthem during a baseball game.

Then again, he wonders if maybe solidarity and strength in diversity are concepts he has a little more vested in, these days.

There's not much choice but to sort of drift with the crowd back to the train, it's John's turn to carry Torren - who is sleepy and murmuring into John's neck - because Madison, drowsy but fighting it, is getting a piggyback ride from Ronon. Jeannie has linked one arm with Kaleb and the other with Rodney, who submitted only a little hesitantly, and looks tired and happy. Ronon and Teyla, who are flanking John and the rear of their group, both look slightly dazed with lingering traces of awe.

To John's surprise it was Ronon, not Teyla, who watched the ceremony, with all its elaborate light displays and powerful, exciting music, with a kid's pure, joyful amazement, though now he's back to himself, smiling just a little at whatever Madison is saying and looking weirdly content. "The drumming was cool," was all he offered when Teyla asked. John agrees. There was a lot of drumming, a lot of dancing and eerie, beautiful singing by pretty, dark-haired girls and equally pretty boys, and a lot of drumming, and the word "heritage" was used a lot, but in a good way. It was all extremely cool. His skin's still tingling.

"John," says Teyla, and he looks down at her to see her raising one hand, telegraphing the touch before she does it, getting his permission. She curls her hand around his elbow, gentles one palm down Torren's back, and sighs. "I wanted to thank you, again."

John ducks his head. "Teyla, I told you. It's just—"

"Yes, you have, and I remember," she says, amused. "But still." She nods. "Thank you. You find it difficult to express affection in company, and for you this is a grand gesture, and I appreciate that."

"Uh, thanks," John says, and suspects that maybe he's blushing a little. If he is, the chilly bite of the air is stealing away the heat of it as Teyla carries on.

"Sometimes I fear that Torren will only know a world that is dangerous." She looks down at the top of her son's head - Torren is fast asleep, boneless in John's arms. "To be here," she says softly, "to remember this... I am very grateful to you, John, and to Rodney, and his sister and her family." She's quiet again, for a moment. "You are very different here," she observes.

John thinks about that. It's true, really - he's been feeling it since they got here. It's been years since Colonel John Sheppard and John himself were different people. In Atlantis things bleed together too much, and it's hard to keep track, and it's not like John was ever very good at defining things like that for himself, anyway. But here, he's just one more spectator, one more face in a crowd, one more guy trudging through the mall after his—

He starts a little, tightening his hold on Torren, because as he thinks it, Rodney tosses a glance back over his shoulder at his team-mates and smiles a quickly-hidden smile before turning away again. His family. With his family.

Whoa. Okay. When did that happen?

"John," says Teyla, softly, and John looks at her almost guiltily, because of course, of course Teyla caught all that - Teyla knows pretty much everything. And yeah, she's smiling at him, almost indulgently.

And that's cryptic, even for Teyla, but John finds himself letting out a breath he didn't even know he was holding, and saying nothing else, and they walk the rest of the way in companionable silence.


There's a lot of argument over how to spend the next couple of weeks, most of it because John points out they should try to be around as much as they can to fulfill their obligations to the SGC and Rodney and Jeannie only really care about the hockey (preliminary), the hockey (semifinal), the hockey (qualification playoff), the hockey (quarter-final), and the hockey (medals; bronze, silver, and gold). John does a lot of eye-rolling of his own during this conversation, because he's pretty sure Rodney's only endorsing their attendance of the bronze and silver medal games so he can rub the Czech Republic's miserable defeat in Radek's face when they get home.

John likes hockey just fine, but the idea of twenty hockey games surrounded by twenty thousand screaming Canadians is enough to make him exhausted in sheer anticipation.

He gets his own back, though, when they come around to figure skating, and John, Jeannie and Madison totally gang up on Rodney and Ronon and John absolutely, positively refuses to feel ashamed of gloating when an eight-year-old girl is his tie-breaker. His life is just too pathetic already, thank you very much.

Teyla abstains from the vote, as does Kaleb. Ronon opts out. Rodney, both John and Jeannie agree, isn't allowed to opt out.


The pairs medal competition is actually kind of awesome - or it would be, except John is getting progressively too distracted to appreciate it much. He's always liked skaters, even though he can't really skate for beans, himself. There's a grace, a dynamism, in the way they move that reminds him of flying. Also, figure skaters are probably in better shape than half the other Olympic athletes, and when he was fifteen that had a lot of sway in his preferences.

It doesn't so much anymore, and he hates to admit it, but that's mostly because he's got Rodney sitting right next to him, radiating scorn and rolling his eyes. Jesus, this is pathetic. Rodney bitching and scowling and sulking should not be distracting.

But he is, and by the time it's over, John's unreasonably annoyed with Rodney for ruining it. Privately he knows making Rodney come was a mistake, but for some insane, stupid reason it seemed really important at the time, that Rodney come here. John's not sure he really believed Rodney would actually enjoy himself, but if he did he was stripped of that illusion pretty quickly. Rodney spent only the first hour showing remarkable restraint, watching patiently and watching John.

John watched the skaters, remembering watching the '84 pairs competition on TV and his incredibly, unbelievably stupid teenaged revelation that he liked watching Jayne Torvill's partner just as much as he liked watching her. John remembers what Christopher Dean looked like, too, blond hair, toothy camera-ready smile, in his memory still surrounded by the same kind of glowy halo that framed him when John was fifteen. They always leaned into each others' space as if unable to keep their distance, and the ease with which he lifted her into the air was - it's the kind of clichéd crush everybody has, to feel embarrassed about later, though maybe not for quite the same reasons.

Rodney gripes for fifteen minutes straight during lunch, subsiding only when their food shows up - god, is everything here stamped with a logo? It's like being in Disneyland, without the ever-present aroma of churros and popcorn. Food is one on a very short list of foolproof ways to shut Rodney up, and while he's trying to eat his whole burger at once, like he's been starving or something, Jeannie excuses herself and Madison to "go in search of the mythical ladies' room," leaving him and Rodney alone at the table.

John's tense again, picking at his lunch, waiting for - he's not sure what, exactly. Rodney, as per usual, ignores him for a few minutes while he eats, giving the food all the attention it deserves, before he wipes his mouth with a napkin and regards John with narrowed, considering eyes. The tension in John's spine ratchets up another notch, and suddenly he knows exactly what he's been waiting for, and knows it's about to happen.

Rodney, though, stares at him for a while, and then averts his eyes, the considering look gone, replaced by the awkward earnestness John usually only sees when one of them's about to die. It makes John, as it always does, uncomfortable, nervous.

"So, uh," Rodney says, swirling a French fry in the little mayonnaise cup on his tray, "I just figured something out."

It's not a question - it's emphatically not a question - but it's still, in a way, Rodney asking permission for something.

"Yeah?" Tacit permission. Do your worst.

"I feel kind of stupid for not figuring it out sooner - I mean, I'm supposed to be smart. But I'm not - not like that, usually." The tone is rueful, unusual for Rodney, and still nervous.

"Rodney," John grits out, warningly, reminding him there's an expiry date on this conversation.

"I just - you didn't have a crush on Jayne Torvill, did you?" Rodney blurts out, and John looks up. Rodney's hands are gripping the edge of the table, white-knuckled, and his face is - well, it's a uniquely Rodney face. Determined, embarrassed, bright red, and something else - for the first time in a long time John can't read everything in there, and he looks away again. There's something huge and cold and prickly making it hard for him to swallow, but he tries anyway, so that his voice is even when he answers.

"No," he admits. "Not Jayne Torvill," and shuts his eyes. When he opens them again, Rodney nods, twice, decisively, blowing out a breath and reaching for his coffee.

"Okay," he says, adding a handful of sugar packets and nodding some more. "That - he - you - that—" he meets John's eyes, nods once more, offers a tiny smile, just a twitch of one corner of his lips. "I'm babbling, ignore me. Okay?" he says, and John relaxes, just a little, nods back. Rodney gulps back his coffee so fast he burns his tongue and says "Fuck!" loudly enough that a woman at a nearby table full of pre-teen kids turns and glares at them.

John's not quite sure what just happened, but for some reason he feels better.


Madison and Jeannie return just as Rodney's finishing up his French fries, and Madison immediately engages Rodney in an argument about whether classical literature is a waste of her "Valuable, still-developing mental faculties" (Rodney's words) or necessary in the interest of "A balanced range of interests" (Madison's - or possibly, Kaleb's). Outside the Coliseum it's turned into a rare, clear, bitingly cold afternoon, and John finds himself with Jeannie at his side, more importantly, a Jeannie wearing a shrewd smile. Jeannie wearing shrewd expressions is something John has learned to fear, because it generally heralds questions he'd rather not even think about, let alone answer. Unfortunately, she knows his expressions nearly as well, and she cuts him off before he can formulate some excuse to draw Rodney back into adult conversation and save himself; maybe defend Wuthering Heights or, or...

"Oh, calm down, John," Jeannie chides him, slipping her arm through his. She's been touching him a lot more lately, as though Rodney's cavalier disregard of John's personal space entitles her to similar privileges. Not that John minds - he doesn't generally like people touching him, but Jeannie is Rodney's sister, is - well, it's different, that's all.

"Don't know what you mean," he tells her, smiling his most charming smile and knowing she's completely immune. And damn it, there's the smile again.

"Uh huh," she says, and slows her steps just enough to make sure her brother and daughter are out of earshot. Then her smile turns sharp. "Spill."

"Christ," he complains. "You can't give a guy some warning?"

She lets out a huffing noise. "And give you a chance to escape? Not likely. Come on." She gives his arm a gentle little shake. "What the hell's up with him? Are you guys fighting or something?"

"No!" John says, more emphatically than he intended because she surprised him, god damn it, and her eyebrows shoot straight up. "Jesus," he hisses. "Look, no. He..." Jeannie's got him pinned, totally pinned, and all she's doing is looking at him. How does she do that?

"Keller broke up with him," John finally admits, all resistance leaving him in a whoosh.

Jeannie's eyes widen, then narrow. "When?"

Christ. He's had training in resisting torture, he's actually been tortured, this should not happen every time he ends up in a room with Jeannie Miller.

"Last week. Or - no. Week before that."

Jeannie glances at Rodney's back - he's paying them no mind whatsoever. He's pointing at something along the path between the Pacific Coliseum and the parking lot; John thinks maybe the tall wooden roller coaster on the adjacent Playland fairgrounds. He made Rodney ride that with him once, a couple of years ago, and Rodney muttered the whole time that the entire structure was bound to collapse under them at any minute, and wooden coasters, I ask you, it's the twenty-first century for fuck's sake. They didn't ride the Ferris wheel that trip. John's not sure why, it just didn't feel right. Felt like it might be weird.

By that time, he'd already known he was doomed.

"Where is she, then?"

John looks up at the grey and cloudy sky when he answers, as though there might be salvation from above - but nothing happens. Jeannie's still got him by the arm. "Wisconsin. She kind of - left the same night."

Jeannie makes a noise John's seen described in novels but never actually heard a person make - like an angry cat. It's weird, and jarring, and so purely made of violent emotion that John jumps. When he looks at her, though, she looks sad.

"What did he do this time?" she asks, more quietly.

"Nothing!" Again, said a little too quickly, and Jeannie's eyes snap back to his face. He shakes his head. "Nothing. He didn't do anything. It just..." he waves his free hand, helplessly. There's a reason he hates talking about this shit - he's really, really bad at it.

"He tried. He was trying." It doesn't seem like enough to say. He tried. God, did he try. He tried so hard it hurt to watch.

Jeannie's silent a while longer, then nods. "I really believe he was. I just wish I knew what that means." It's not a question, not wistful. Not with the look she's giving John.

"He doesn't want to talk about it," John tells her quickly. "I mean, I know you - you try and fix things." You both try and fix things. "But he doesn't..."

"I know, I know," she sighs. "If I thought he was going to, I wouldn't have asked you, now, would I?"

John doesn't answer. He's not really supposed to. And if Jeannie's looking at him a little more shrewdly than before, squeezing his arm in a way he can only read as comforting, he's not really supposed to notice that, either. After all, he's not the one who's supposed to need comfort.


Keller ended things on Earth not an hour after their last debriefing, but before that, their last day in Atlantis, she came to see John in his office. He was in the midst of frantically trying to complete paperwork for the trip - usually he can get Lorne to do most of that stuff, but Lorne was on a month's leave in the time leading up to the attack and John let it get ahead of him, instead.

She knocked on the doorframe, and then came in without invitation. "I need to talk to you," she said. "It's important," she added, and stood there, wringing her hands.

John gestured to the chair, and she sank into it gratefully, but held herself rigid, looking around at the messy office, taking it in, categorizing, analysing. Smart, she was smart, that was why Rodney liked her, John reminded himself. Also kind, and she cared, and she liked Rodney. She blushed when Rodney was nice to her.

"I need you to answer a question for me," she said, sounding like she'd been bracing herself to say it while John wasn't looking - he'd been digging through a stack of B forms for a missing F form - but at the tone, he looked up. She was watching him, mouth drawn up in consternation.

"Doctor Keller—" he began, hoping maybe he could derail this before it began, but—

"You're never going to call me Jennifer, are you?" she asked, sounding resigned. John just shrugged, gave her a smile he hoped was charming, disarming, but he could never seem to put much energy into the act when it was Keller alone. She just frowned at him.

"He's never gonna be happy like this, is he?" she asked, hands twisting together in her lap, pale and graceful. The nails, John saw, were bitten down to the quick. Later he thought, crazily, that it was that sign of close-to-breaking in another person that shocked him into honesty against his will.

"He's never going to be himself," he answered, and then snapped his mouth shut, biting his tongue, because she blinked at him in surprise, mouth open. There were tears in her eyes, even though he'd said it, he thought, gently. She looked away.

"No," she agreed. "That's what I thought. Not with me."

And then she looked at John again, questioning, waiting, he realised, for him to say something.

When he didn't, not for a long, long time, she sighed, got to her feet, and left again - she looked sad, tired, resigned again, and John felt shaky, so he sat down and leaned his elbows on his knees and tried to find some way to parse that conversation that didn't make it sound like Jennifer Keller had come marching in her to demand his intentions.

When she broke up with Rodney, not much more than a week later, John had a horrible feeling that maybe something he'd said had made the decision for her. He felt guilty for a grand total of thirty-three minutes before deciding, impulsively, that it didn't matter. Rodney was better off, and so was she.


They're nearly back to the parking lot when they hear the sirens, see two police cars pull in and uniformed RCMP officers spill out. But they're moving at a brisk walk, not running, so the three adults look at each other, turn, and follow them back, Madison asking "What's going on?" and "Why are we going back?" and "Hey, do you think they've got guns?"

The Vancouver PD and the RCMP have moved fast - the INRS site, a pre-fab structure set up for on-site dope testing, is already cordoned off when they arrive. It's also swarming with people in uniform, and two people in CSIS jackets.

"Do you think it was an athlete?" Jeannie muses, holding a curious Madison back from the police tape. "Or an actual robbery? I mean, if it was just the ordinary tampering, they'd just use on-site security, wouldn't they?"

John doesn't answer, because Rodney's got his Deep Thought face on, and John's got a really bad feeling about this. Finally he calls out to a passing CSIS agent and pulls out his I.D. "Agent in charge, please?" he asks, and a few minutes later he and Rodney are on the other side of the tape.

Five minutes after that, Rodney's glaring down into an open freezer and John's got his cell phone out and dialling the SGC.

"It never fails," Rodney mutters, arms crossed. In the freezer, tucked into a corner behind cold packs like somebody missed it, is a frost-covered glass canister, except it's not glass and the design's weird. Also, it's full of creepy giant brain snake. John just never stops finding even the idea of sentient brain parasites really, really creepy. His skin's crawling, and the thing's at the bottom of a freezer, locked in a jar.

"I go on vacation," mutters Rodney, irritably, "and I end up working. God, why do I even bother?"


The surveillance tapes showed the perpetrator - the blond woman they'd seen in the mall, in point of fact, snooty expression firmly in place, but wearing staff gear. Unfortunately, the local area scan the Odyssey did immediately following the robbery yielded exactly nothing in terms of leads. The whole city is so blanketed by general electromagnetic noise that the trace amount of Naquadah in a Goa'uld host body may as well be invisible. ("Cell phone towers," Rodney said, ominously. "Give you brain cancer and conceal evil alien parasites masquerading as deities. Glorious.")

"Athena," said the disturbingly clean-cut Lieutenant they'd sent to liaise with the Odyssey. "Facial recognition is a match. She was a relatively minor Goa'uld, but she's been hiding out on Earth for years, now. We weren't even sure she was still in North America."

"So what the hell's she doing here?" Rodney demanded, still looking mostly annoyed at the inconvenience. "I can't imagine anyone trying to take over the world from Vancouver."

"Agreed," said Lieutenant What's-his-name. "Actually, the SGC thinks she may be here seeking a new host."

Rodney's in an even worse mood by the time they get back to the house that night, but at least it's an ordinary, run-of-the-mill, bad-tempered-Rodney-is-bad-tempered sort of mood. They've spent what even John admits is a completely useless afternoon going through surveillance tapes, running scans, and on Rodney's part, getting mildly electrocuted trying to make the Odyssey's scanners co-operate with their search efforts. He's still sucking burned fingers as they toe off their shoes in the foyer of the Miller house.

"Well, that was an interminable waste of time," Rodney says, letting his head roll back on the couch. "Now we know there was a Goa'uld there who isn't there anymore. Hooray."

"We still don't know why she was there," John points out, and this is the part he finds frustrating. "Or why she'd leave one of those snake things behind. I thought they had to be inside someone's head for them to..." he shudders involuntarily - Jeannie, in solidarity, looks green.

"They do," Rodney agrees, with unusual patience. "That wasn't a snake, that was a husk, probably a discarded one, and you really don't want to know any of the twelve reasons she might remove a husk and keep it in storage. And anyway, they've been known to keep minions around them. You hardly ever find just one brain-snake, you find one head-honcho brain-snake and a bunch of other - look, why am I explaining this? You've read the same reports I have. Maybe it was her valet."

"Yeah, I have," John says, darkly, because that's a few hundred thousand words he'd really like to un-know.

Rodney shrugs. "Right. Goa'uld are nuts. Who knows why they do what they do? The point is, she was there, she's not there anymore, and we have no way to track her."

"At least it makes sense," says Jeannie, humming gratefully when Kaleb comes into the living room with three mugs of hot coffee and settles down at her side. "I mean, they have to change hosts, right? How often?"

"Not very, but stuff happens." John shrugs.

"Right," agrees Jeannie. "And what better place to find the world's prettiest, healthiest people?"

"But she couldn't have just abducted somebody," Rodney says, pondering. "I mean, presumably she was masquerading as part of the drug-testing staff so she could, I don't know, have access to their DNA, test for compatibility, something - but she couldn't just snatch somebody and..." He makes a complicated, descriptive hand-gesture that despite its vagueness still manages to make John feel faintly ill. "She'd have to take them over. Take over their life. And from what I remember it's a pretty gruelling process. How was she going to get her pick away from the crowds long enough to change hosts? Away from security and everything?"

John thinks about this for a while, and doesn't like any of the answers he comes up with. Fortunately, most of them are pretty implausible. "No idea," he says. "But security's been alerted, now. Let's hope she's been scared off."

Later, Rodney only manages to strip down to boxers and a t-shirt before collapsing in a heap on his side of the bed, and lies there limply while John gets ready for bed in a slightly more methodical way. Maybe it's the silence that makes John need to ask, because he does ask.

"Look, that thing we talked about..."

He trails off, and Rodney, who was probably almost asleep but was at least partly pretending, rolls over, opens one irritated blue eye, and demands: "Huh?"

John sits down on his side of the bed, scrubs a hand through his hair. "It's just - you brought it up. I just wanted to make sure—"

"John," Rodney interrupts him, squinting tiredly, "will you just—"

"I just wanted to make sure it wasn't - you know, a problem."

Rodney opens both eyes then, lifts his head from the pillow long enough to stare at John for a long, searching moment before flopping back down on the bed with a disgusted noise. "Don't be stupid," he says, muffled by the pillow, which is, strangely, reassuring. "Go to sleep."

"Okay," John says, and "okay," and turns out the light.


Something John never really considered until now: A cute kid and no partner is basically a sign flashing "available," at least to some women. Ronon isn't exactly mobbed wherever they go, but he definitely gets approached. He gets "approached" almost everywhere they go that week, especially the Two. Whole. Days they spend at Canada Hockey Place and the Thunderbird Arena watching hockey game after hockey game after hockey game. Thunderbird Arena is on the University of British Columbia campus, and what happens whenever they stray too close to roving crowds of undergraduates, as Rodney puts it, "Proves my point that he looks like nothing so much as a hipster drama major; all he needs is a pair of black-rimmed glasses and he'll have whole ensemble."

This gets Rodney disapproving looks from Teyla, but John has to admit he's kind of right, because Ronon has a growing fan club of young, pretty, all obviously very smart women who strike up conversations with him on the flimsiest of pretences.

The first few times it happens, Ronon looks genuinely surprised, even embarrassed - he actually stutters once or twice, which the girls find absolutely charming - and it makes John remember just how young Ronon really is. Usually he forgets. But gradually he starts to get used to it, even enjoy it, smiling with one side of his mouth and answering questions with one-sided shrugs which oh god is a move he absolutely stole from John, and John's really not sure how he feels about that.

Jeannie thinks it's "adorable," and Teyla just smiles a lot of knowing smiles, making absolutely no objection to the fact that her son is being used to help Ronon pick up girls, and John and Rodney mostly stand back and watch in fascinated... horror? Maybe. John's not sure and he doesn't think Rodney's sure, either. Not that he'd put money on it, because Rodney's been acting kind of weird around him for the last couple of days, a lot of untranslatable looks he doesn't quite manage to hide, and John's starting feel the old familiar resignation of pulling back from whatever this has been - whatever spurred that conversation over Olympic-brand fries and scalding hot Olympic-brand coffee.

Ronon's most impressive acquisition is the amused, effusive devotion of what appears to be the entire Swedish women's Olympic hockey team. By the third straight day of hockeyhockeyhockey, Ronon's hardly to be seen out of the company of at least one blond, gorgeous, athletic female Olympian - John's not even sure all of them speak English, but this doesn't seem to present much of a barrier. Sometimes a few of them join Jeannie, Maddy and the team for lunch. They leer at John and smirk at Rodney. This drives Rodney completely insane, so John decides he likes them.

He is aware that this is immature.

There is one really hilarious moment, though, the first evening after Ronon acquires his flaxen-haired fan club, where they're on their way home and Ronon says: "It's weird. I thought they all made furniture."

It takes a few seconds for that to penetrate, before John remembers the tense, Rodney-funded, Jeannie-herded trip to the Richmond Ikea after Jeannie's near-death nanobot experience. Of course, John completely loses it, right there on the SkyTrain with the rain streaking across the train windows, and it's a good thing they're not under attack right now because he's laughing too hard to even breathe, let alone defend anybody from alien invasion. But when he gets his breath back, Rodney's red-faced and watery-eyed and wheezing with laughter, so John figures that's okay, too.

Y'know. Compromises.


There isn't a whisper of parasitic-brain-snake activity for the next two days, which is, sure, good news.

Unfortunately Kaleb chooses to break up the monotony of the All Hockey, All the Time diet by insisting on them all attending one curling game - for educational purposes. Teyla watches and listens very attentively - bless her - to Kaleb's explanation of the rules, while Jeannie and Madison play travel chess astride the bench to his left, and Ronon lines up to play winner. Ronon's been getting pretty good at chess over the last year. One day he's going to beat Rodney without cheating and Rodney's head is going to explode.

Torren, back in Rodney's lap, falls asleep. Then Rodney falls asleep, slumped into John's side and snoring softly, nose and cheeks going rosy from the cold, even though he's got a scarf wrapped three or four times around his neck and his hat - toque - pulled low.

John almost misses the hockey, but figures this isn't really all that bad.


The next day they're back to hockey, second-last before medal sessions. "That's the important one, right?" John asks, mock-innocent, and it's a testament to the infectiousness of Canadian hockey madness that even Ronon growls at him, a little. It's looking like it'll be Canada vs. Sweden in the final women's game, which John keeps imagining is going to end in a fistfight between Jeannie and Ronon. Jeannie might win. Ronon's bigger, stronger, but Jeannie has a lifetime of The Madness on her side.

John fully intends to tease Rodney about this, next month when they're back in the city and out of Jeannie's reach. Is the madness hereditary? Is it something in the water?

There's still no sign of Athena - she seems to be lying low, or has given up - which gives John a lot of time to watch his team unobserved (even Teyla's getting properly into the spirit of things, now - hearing Teyla chew out a hockey ref for the first time was an experience not to be quickly forgotten), and more specifically, to watch Rodney.


John's long ago lost track of what everything's called, but the last game before medal sessions is vicious, all grunting and elbows and ruthlessness, and the hockey players are pretty scary, too. There's the smell of blood in the air, and the crowd reminds John a little of villages in the Pegasus galaxy that had "eat first, ask questions later" policies. Rodney's not as bad as Jeannie, but John catches him punching the bench a few times when somebody makes a bad call down on the ice.

It winds up with Sweden crushing Switzerland at 4-2, which John privately thinks is a godsend because he really wouldn't want those women as enemies. The gold medal game's gonna be a bloodbath.

All goes well, the air full of triumphant cheering and flag-waving, and the teams are shaking hands and then retreating to have big semi-violent group hugs in their own endzones - and then the Swedish goalie (John's forgotten her name, but she's the smallest on the team, a slender blonde who looks like she could model underwear if she didn't already have a rewarding career in co-operative face-smashing) disappears from the middle of the group in a flash of light so quick, John's sure he imagined it. But then:

"What the fuck?" Ronon exclaims, half-rising to his feet, one hand coming up to automatically steady Torren on his shoulders.

Approximately six seconds later, the whole team's cell phones all start ringing at once. John can hardly make out what's being said when he picks up - the crowd's still cheering, haven't noticed what happened, though the Swedish team is milling around in confusion, outrage, and John's about to suggest they get out of here, someplace quiet...

Rodney, always more expedient, just grabs John by the wrist and shoves his way up the stairs.

"Rodney!" John shouts to be heard over the crowd. "What's going on?"

"Well, the Sweden team's goalie just disappeared, I thought maybe—"

"She was beamed out!"

"I know she was beamed out, I was watching," Rodney tells him, still dragging him along.

"So what the hell are we—"

"The Odyssey picked up the signal. Now they pick up the signal. Come on." He applies elbows and shoving to break free of the press of the arena and make a run for the parkade, still holding John by the wrist. "They know where it came from, but we have to go there to figure out where it went!"


"Huh," John says, staring up at the inukshuk sculpture. It's still weirdly pretty, still feels sort of unearthly - at least until Rodney reaches inside and pulls out what looks like a mass of wires and crystals bundled together with alien duct tape. The weird aura of the thing fades abruptly. John pulls up the collar of his fleece, zipping it to his chin. The sky's doing what Jeannie calls "spitting" again, somewhere between fog and rain, like the air's heavy with water it's not quite sure it wants to shed. It's damp and chilly, is all John knows.

"I got a weird feeling when we drove past this thing last week," he says. "Now I guess I know what it was."

Rodney stops what he's doing - poking at the thing with a crystal probe and muttering vile imprecations on all engineers who aren't him - and gapes at John. "You had a - why didn't you say something then?"

John shrugs. "It was just a feeling. I didn't think anything of it at the time. I mean, there's Ancient artefacts all over this planet, right? That kind of thing just... happens, sometimes."

Rodney gives him a scathingly disgusted look that John knows is at least half jealousy over John's greater natural facility with his ATA gene, and goes back to fiddling with the... thing.

"It's a... a sensor array, I think? Part Ancient, part Asgard - she was using it to track, I think, some kind of implant. This bit's a super low-power version of the initiating circuit of an Asgard beam system. See this?" he points at a shiny silver protuberance that looks just like the other twenty shiny silver protuberances. "That's an uplink module - probably to a satellite in orbit, then right back down." Rodney hooks the thing up to his laptop - "It's not even drizzling, don't be such a whiner," is all Rodney says when John asks how waterproof the laptop is - types very fast for a while, mutters some more. John sits down next to him on the bottom step and sticks his hands in his pockets, and waits.

After a while, he becomes aware that both the typing and the muttering have stopped, but Rodney isn't talking.

Oh. That's because Rodney is looking at him, looking kind of... anguished. Once again there are water droplets caught in his eyelashes, and it seems such an absurd thing on which to fixate, but John can't stop staring.


Rodney's mouth does that thing where it twists up on one side - usually, this means unhappiness, sometimes frustration. John thinks maybe right now, it means both. "Nothing," says Rodney, and turns back to his laptop.

John blinks at him. "Okay," he says, slowly. But a second later Rodney sighs, heavily, and blurts:

"You know, you could have just said something."

John opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. Wow, blindsided. "Said—"

"Oh, not about that, you idiot," Rodney tells him scornfully. "I know why you didn't say anything about that. Aside from your completely neurotic inability to simply talk about things—"

John opens his mouth again, maybe to note that Rodney calling him neurotic? Is kind of pushing it, but Rodney rolls right over him, "—I can see how it might have been, well, awkward, though believe me," he adds, pointing a finger right into John's face, "we are going to be talking about that later. And about how valuable my time is, but for now let's just focus on the part where you - not Ronon, not Teyla, but you, you knew it wasn't going to work out and for almost two years just... just..."

John lets Rodney run out of steam, watches the pointing finger sag, and then asks, carefully, "What should I have said?"

Rodney gives him an outraged look and waves one arm frantically - a flapping gesture that's supposed to communicate... frustration, helplessness, John's not sure. "Oh, I don't know - hey, Rodney, you're wasting your time; hey, buddy, she wants you to turn into somebody else and you should quit it because it's pathetic and everybody's laughing at you—"

"Nobody was laughing at you," John said, angrily. "We just—"

Rodney says, more loudly, eyes a little wild: "Hey, Rodney, I kind of hate her guts and I'm pretending I don't, because—"

John lets out a frustrated growl and puts his head on his knees. "How about: Hey, date me instead?" he offers viciously, and covers his head with his hands. God. Fuck. He's damp and shivering and why can't the ground just open up and swallow him? He knows there's a fault line somewhere around here.

Rodney stops. When he speaks again, his voice is small. "Well, yeah, there's that."

John sits up so fast he feels something crack, and he rubs at his back while Rodney starts, blinking rapidly, still staring. Rodney's mouth opens, closes, opens again, and he holds up a finger, suddenly looking serious. "Okay, okay, just hold that thought, okay?" He pulls out his phone, dials, and then rattles off a set of co-ordinates to the person on the other end. When he hangs up, he looks at John with a face John almost can't read, brows drawn together, mouth pressed thin.

"It'll take them about twenty minutes to track down the trace I just sent them. We should..." he hesitates, snapping his laptop shut, glancing at the ground, his hands, John. "We should probably get back to the arena."

"Yeah," John agrees, and stands up as Rodney packs away his equipment into his laptop bag. When he's done, they walk back to the car, still illegally parked at the curb. John slides in behind the wheel, and Rodney takes his time with his seatbelt, shuts his door, sits back with his arms crossed.

"You could have, you know," Rodney says, after they've pulled into traffic. John doesn't look at him, just grits his teeth.

"I didn't know that," he says, after a while, and it's almost like it hurts to say it, like he's been carrying it so long he forgets what it's like to be without the weight. He thinks - he thinks it's a relief, but for the moment it's all the pins-and-needles of long disuse.

"I know," Rodney admits, sounding like it hurts him too, sounding almost guilty. When John dares a glance, Rodney's got his head tilted back, his eyes closed. "Neither did I."

When John sighs, this time, it is relief - the relief of breaking surface, of breaking atmosphere. It's Rodney, though, who fumbles for John's hand, squeezes for a second, hard, before letting go.


There are something like ten thousand athletes attending the 2010 games, which means they've been put up in hotels all across town, and Tonje - which Ronon provides as the goalie's name - has been abducted to her own hotel. He leans over Rodney's shoulder as they both squint down at the little blinking dot on Rodney's lifesigns detector.

"We think she's been injecting the ones she likes with subcutaneous transmitters during routine drug tests," Rodney explained on the car-ride from the arena to the hotel. "With access to a beam she could pick one, press a button, and just bring her choice right to her. When we finally found the right wavelength, we picked up thirteen more tracking signals across the planetary grid than we should have - there's a list of everybody planet-side who should be carrying subcus, and these ones aren't ours. Fortunately, I," and Rodney's chin lifts a little, "managed to pull her code from the sensor array she's been using, and voila! Instant Goa'uld tracker. Look," he adds, looking anxious, "we really don't have much time. "

And John says "Right," and opens the car door. He doesn't know what happened to the rest of their backup, but John and his paltry three Marines and Rodney make their way up the stairs anyway.

"Rebecca Torrence" has taken possession of a many-roomed suite not two doors from the Swedish team's rooms, and has been staying for three weeks now. A check of the hotel's scan of her I.D. from check-in, executed en-route, confirms that the woman who's been masquerading as a drug-tester is a physical match for the last body the Goa'uld known as Athena used as a host.

"Are we sure they cleared this whole floor?" Rodney hisses as they step out onto the sixteenth floor.

"I'm sure, Rodney," John tells him, glancing up and down the hall. Hotel management evacuated this floor on the pretence of a gas leak.

They stand outside the door for a second, listening, until Rodney whispers, "Look, I'm serious, it doesn't take long for them to move from one host to another, and--"

"Okay," John says, because Rodney still looks anxious, and John's trigger finger's itching. It's the sudden sound of a young woman's voice exclaiming in surprise that does it, and John nods to one of the Marines, who does a silent count of three, two, one, and then breaks down the door.

It's a nice room, John thinks, taking that in before seeing the scene at the far end. Eight thugs, not six, Rebecca Torrence, and Tonje-the-goalie passed out on the bed, looking drugged, but snake-free - this last John surmises because they get a total of two seconds to look around before the Goa'uld shouts something in an improbably deep, resounding voice and people start shooting.

The Marines take out three of the thugs with Zat shots - and John spares half a second to think longingly of their first year in Pegasus if they'd brought Zats along - before the remaining five produce Zats of their own and start firing back. It's still going their way for a couple more seconds before it stops going their way. Athena shouts something else, and the thugs part before her like the Red Sea, and near the door, Rodney swears.

Being a megalomaniacal self-proclaimed goddess, of course, Athena's come prepared - she suddenly throws out her arm, and there's a flash that slams their Marine muscle into the corridor wall like cast-away dolls.

John has just enough time to think, Where the fuck is my backup, and is grabbing for Rodney's arm to suggest a tactical retreat—

—then she turns on John and there's another flash that sends him skidding back across the carpet, into another wall, and for a second the world explodes into splinters of colour. That's really going to hurt later, John thinks, as he tries to get up and stumbles dizzily.

Rodney throws himself out of the way of her next shot - Rodney's good at that - and then drags John to relative safety in the corridor, and then shouts something into his phone before patting up and down his torso for anything broken. John's kind of out of it - he thinks he hit his head, maybe - but it kind of feels nice when Rodney, eyes wide and worried and blue and kind of pissed-off cups John's face with big gentle hands and hisses, "I swear to god if you die now, I am going to kill you." It isn't exactly the heartfelt declaration John was hoping for, but hey, he'll take it.

And okay yeah, he's definitely got a head injury. It kind of sounds like the ground is shaking, or maybe there are elephants stampeding in their direction, but no, it's February, it's way too cold for—

And then Rodney yells "Shit!" with great conviction, and when John looks up, the crazy blond woman is marching across the carpet with murder in her eyes.

John gropes for a weapon that isn't there, sees Rodney do the same and come up empty, and the unconscious Marines and their guns are too far away, and the rumbling is growing closer, and he's read about this, that thing glowing in Athena's palm, has read that it hurts—

And that's when the Swedish women's hockey team come surging up the corridor and bear the bitch to the ground.

Some of them are still in full gear except for their skates. It probably hurts a lot.

This is John's favourite part, when he tells the story later.


What happens after that gets a little complicated, what with security interviews and fourteen non-disclosure agreements being signed in a locker room and the onerous task of doing a thorough sweep for any lingering bad guys on foot in a city presently hosting upwards of a two hundred thousand extra temporary residents.

The Atlantis team opts out, or at least that's what John calls it after Rodney calls up General O'Neill and tells him, in what for Rodney is a carefully calm voice, that they are going to take the rest of their leave as actual leave, and the SGC won't be hearing from them again until it's time to go home, thanks, bye.

O'Neill doesn't call back.


John's head injury isn't serious - barely qualifies as a head injury except for the splitting Migraine of Death that descends upon him as night falls that evening, and by morning, when everybody else is getting ready to pile into the van for the women's gold medal game (Canada v.s. Sweden - bloodbath, John thinks), John is curled up in a ball on the very edge of his and Rodney's bed, thinking irritably that the light in here is too fucking loud.

He can hear the sound of voices out in the hall - not-soft like people sound when they're talking over one another and still trying to be quiet. The first is Rodney's, because Rodney is spectacularly bad at whispering.

"Well, if somebody doesn't, he's going to try and get up and pretend he's fine, isn't he? Look, it's no big deal. I've seen plenty of hockey games in my life. It's not like they're going to revoke my citizenship. I'll stay here and be spared a migraine of my own from the screaming and the air horns."

Somebody answers - it's a woman, either Jeannie or Teyla, but John honestly, truly, can't figure out which one; she's too successfully being quiet.

Then Rodney's voice again, flustered and - pleased? - saying: "Yes, yes, I'm a saint, now you guys had better get going before your seats get stolen by American tourists," and the door is creaking quietly open and John hears feet padding across the carpet. Fingers brush his cheek, and he opens his eyes, just a little, to see that it's Torren, little hand gently patting his face.

"Hey, TJ," John whispers in a rusty voice, as Torren frowns at him. And this is where he sometimes is all Teyla, through-and-through, because he smiles at the sound of John's voice, as though John's done something praiseworthy.

"Hi," he says, a breathy, little-boy whisper, careful as though somebody's told him to be quiet. "Your head hurts." A pronouncement, not a question.

"Yeah, kiddo," John agrees, but Torren's seen his mother and the three of them badly hurt too often not to worry, and he's a smart kid, so he adds: "But m'okay. Be okay in a while."

Torren considers this for a moment, then nods, soberly. "Okay," he decides, patting John's cheek once more before Teyla appears and scoops him up into her arms.

"Come, Torren," she says, smiling. "Be well, John," and there's a brush of strong, slender fingers across his temple before she's gone, too, and John hears somebody going down the stairs, more distant voices, the front door opening and closing.

When the light goes away, sudden and miraculous, he lets out an embarrassingly relieved whimper and relaxes so abruptly that he almost slides right off the edge of the bed, but big warm hands close around his shoulder and his hip and manhandle him gently back onto the mattress. Once he's sure it's dark in the room and going to stay that way, John risks cracking his eyes open to find out who it is. He's not exactly surprised to find out it's Rodney, but he still shuts his eyes again. Fuck. Rodney. He's not sure why he's embarrassed, but he is, and not just because he's totally helpless with the pounding in his head and the tension twisting up his neck and shoulders from gritting his teeth against the headache all night.

Ow, ow, ow. He clutches at his head and wonders if death could really be worse than this.

"God, you are such a whiner," says Rodney's voice from somewhere above him. The hands are gone momentarily, and John hears water being poured, and a rattling sound - shaking? Something like that. Then the hands are back, and this time they're gentler, careful, sliding a hand behind John's neck and helping him sit up just enough so that John can take the pills he's handed and gulp down the glass of water Rodney offers. Then he curls up again and prays for death.

"M'sorry," he mumbles into the pillow. "Don't think I c'n go to the game." Jesus, what did Rodney give him? He sounds drunk, or maybe that's just the headache. Come to think of it, drunk would be better.

Rodney chuckles. "Gee, really? I never would have guessed. What with you writhing in agony up here for the past two hours."

"I'm not writhing," John says indignantly, or tries to say indignantly, but it comes out in a whine. "M'dying." This last is a piteous moan, and Rodney laughs again, the heartless bastard.

"Try getting two doctorates in four years, then come talk to me about migraines," Rodney says, but it's not unkind, even though it's definitely mocking. There's a pause, and then: "Seriously, though, are those pills helping at all? I can call Dr. Lam and have her send a scrip for something stronger, but that'll take a couple of hours—"

"No," John interrupts him, rubbing at his forehead. It does feel a little better - just a little, but that's something. Then he remembers something else. He lifts his head a little, opens his eyes just enough to see Rodney crouched at the side of the bed, eyes worried.

"Why aren't you gone?"

Rodney's mouth opens, and stays that way, and he looks hurt for a second before he stands up. "Right," he says, wiping his hands on his jeans. "Fine, sorry—"

"Rodney," John says quickly, because shit, he can't seem to say anything but the wrong thing lately, can he? Rodney stops though, thank god, and turns back. "S'not what I meant," John says, hoarsely. Rodney comes back, crouches back down so he's at eye-level with John.

"What did you mean, then?" Rodney asks, a little petulantly, but he's holding out one hand as though he wants to touch.

"Just meant - how come you're not at the game?"

"Oh, that," Rodney says, and gives John a thoroughly exasperated look. "You expected me to leave you in the house alone with industrial-strength painkillers in your bloodstream?"

"I don't—"

"Just shut up, okay?" Rodney says gently, and John knows this look - this is Rodney's you're a moron, but I like you anyway look. It's a little fonder than it was the last time John saw it. And finally the hovering hand comes to rest, gently, in John's hair, and John hisses, expecting it to hurt. But Rodney just shakes his head and is careful, running gentle fingers across John's forehead, rubbing soft circles into his temples, flattening his whole warm palm against the top of John's aching head. And it helps - it shouldn't, but it helps, and John leans into the touch without even thinking about it.

"How's your head now?" Rodney asks, and John reaches out and grabs Rodney's other hand, looks at it, thinks about kissing the shiny pink burns from where Rodney electrocuted himself yesterday, just a little. Maybe tomorrow.

"Better," John says, truthfully. Today the edges of things feel kind of fuzzy and he needs to take advantage of that. "I kind of... I'm kind of in love with you."

Rodney breathes in sharply, closes his eyes. "I kind of got that," he answers. "I'm sorry. I should've worked it out, could have avoided this whole mess—" John shakes Rodney's arm, just a little, until he stops talking, goes back to touching, fingers in John's hair, on John's skin - he likes that, and he has a fleeting thought that if he were awake, no pain, no drugs, he couldn't do what he's doing, not so fast. That's why these are the good drugs. Rodney's face is very close and he doesn't mind at all.

"I'm going to kiss you tomorrow, okay?" Rodney murmurs then, right into John's ear, and John laughs, because it's a question, he's actually asking.

Rodney's staring at him, and he looks a little shell-shocked, and definitely kind of scared, but mostly he just looks... happy, John thinks. He's not sure he's ever seen that on Rodney's face before, not all by itself, and he's used to seeing everything on Rodney's face. He looks at Rodney's face kind of a lot, even though he's not supposed to, and whoa, those are the drugs really kicking in, right there.

He fumbles for a handful of Rodney's t-shirt and pulls, and pulls again until Rodney gets the message. Rodney mutters "okay, okay," and rolls John over onto his other side. John hears him toeing off his shoes, and then the bed dips and there's warm, solid, breathing Rodney all pressed up behind him. They lie there just breathing like that, John counting heartbeats, thinking how quiet it is, in the dark room in the empty house, and then he feels Rodney press his face into the back of John's neck and breathe in, a little shaky on the exhale.