Summary: It's always been difficult, letting go of control. Even when in a galaxy far, far away, surrounded by life-sucking aliens, John hesitates. (All he has ever wanted to do is fly.)
Meanwhile, Rodney struggles to figure out the puzzle that makes up Major John Sheppard and not get killed by aforementioned aliens or some other disaster in the process. (All he has ever wanted is to be acknowledged for being something more.)

Categories: Slash Pairings > McKay/Sheppard
Characters: Aiden Ford, Carson Beckett, Elizabeth Weir, John Sheppard, Radek Zelenka, Rodney McKay, Teyla Emmagan
Genres: Angst, AU - Alternate Universe, Pre-slash
Warnings: Adult themes
Chapters: 4 [Table of Contents]
Series: None

Word count: 19288; Completed: Yes
Updated: 15 Sep 2013; Published: 16 Aug 2013

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Story Notes:
This is the first part of my Alpha/Beta/Omega AU series Building Neutron Stars, which also can also be found on AO3. This is the first part of the John/Rodney Arc.

Fly /flaɪ/
to travel through the air; 
be airborne; soar;
to use wings; be free 

In many ways, life is a bitch.

John can in all honestly say he knew this.

It's just the way things are, he supposes, being the hotheaded, far-too-determined omega nobody really knows (people would turn eyes on him, wondering, seeking his smile, but he rarely gave away anything). Having practically lived on suppressants for the last fifteen years ... helped. Sort of.

Deathly uncomfortable, perhaps, and painful and inconvenient from several sets of perspectives, but he can't just walk around broadcasting the fact that, yes, I'm an omega, so what? in the world of stuck-up, powerful alphas and a couple of betas which make up the Air force (and any kind of military alongside it). Going into heat while in training or in the middle of an op really isn't an option.

Between the choice of flying or being shipped off to be bonded to someone anonymous with more interest in his ass than his person, it wasn't a difficult one to make.

His days at the Academy hadn't been too bad. A bit lonesome maybe but that he expected, in fact welcomed. The pills helped making people think that he's just an ordinary nondescript beta and effectively kept the alphas at bay – at a passable bay, at least, because he still got looked over and commented on for his good looks but that was it, no heat pheromones shaking off of him, no one pinning him down.

On the other hand it was totally okay for a beta to be odd and a bit geeky and not as outright macho as the alphas. Nobody believed he was that good at maths or physics or thinking or anything really (except flying) until he was ordered to stand up and prove it, and John had nearly lost it then, not knowing whether to smirk and glow with pride at the fact that he finally was noticed even if it was just over an equation that he could solve with his knee-cap (in his sleep) or, if he should back down and refuse when realizing that he was standing in a room full of wide-eyed alphas, alone and unguarded and for the moment he wasn't wearing a sidearm.

But no one figured it out then. And no one figures it out now either.

It's somewhat of a shock to rise in the ranks to a Major – unheard of; an omega, a fucking Major (with a PhD that he tells few people about because it's easier to slip by when they think he's just another flyboy) – but inside he's shaking and he can't sleep when remembering Afghanistan and the curling smoke and the cries of dying men.

Antarctica is meant to be punishment but it's a gust of fresh air and the cold, pale landscape is soothing to his soul. To soar above it is more calming than any medication.

Flying is being free. All he has ever wanted to do is fly.

The doctor – an omega, John senses, one not going on any medications or anything even if he's standing in an underground military base (might be because it's also filled with betas and scientists) – is going on and on about alien genes and transportations through the universe through wormholes when a hum tingles down John's spine, urging him near the weird chair sitting on a pedestal and the doctor lunges out too late to stop him.

The hum intensifies – is it this ATA-gene thingy that the doc was on about, making him attuned with this ancient tech or is it something else? – and the Scottish doctor rushes out of the room. He's back a minute later, a group of people in tow which John's never met except the general whom he escorted here earlier, and the sharp scent of an aggravated alpha attacks his nostrils. He barely hears General O'Neill berating him for disobeying orders (again).

"Major," says a voice; he glances slightly down and there's an alpha in a bright orange fleece standing near his feet, and his pulse picks up at the closeness and this strange tugging somewhere in his chest. "Imagine where we are in the solar system."

Then a galaxy forms above his head in blue and white lights, swirling and alive, and John wonders if he's dreaming or just going crazy.

He packs lightly, taking only the necessary things. A Johnny Cash poster and a well-thumbed copy of War and Peace (he's going to finish it, one day, really, he is) and, hidden away where no one can find them, a stash of suppressant pills to last for at least a year (if he's careful). It's not a lot, but enough to get by, for now, and he has survived before. Having done this for year after year he knows how to slip it with him so that nobody notices – quantity is not an option.

It's not going to be enough. If it is one-way and Earth will be a shadow behind them that they cannot reach, it definitely won't be enough. But it'll have to do.

(And in another galaxy, maybe, someday, he hopes, he won't have the need to hide anymore. In Pegasus, maybe, someday, it won't matter that he's omega and still not mated, tied down. John has always feared being tied down.)

The Stargate is grand and breath-taking and startlingly simple. John hesitates to believe Lieutenant Ford's admissions of it hurting to pass through the event horizon.

The unsteady blue dissolves as he steps through, and the world beyond is dark, until he takes a few steps in with that humming – just like with the chair back on Antarctica – at the back of his head. The city comes to life in lights and sounds. Dr Rodney McKay is half a step beside him and the scientist eagerly pushes past him following Dr Weir, their shoulders brushing ever-so-briefly and John halts sharply at the touch. Nobody notices, too occupied in exploring this new world – and, fuck, he's in another galaxy.

The city is underwater and they're running out of power already.


"There's no way to open a wormhole back to Earth," Dr (Dr) Exasperating Know-It-All says sharply to Colonel Sumner, who isn't too fond of Sheppard (the feeling's mutual) and  spent the last half hour barking orders at his men.

"What about somewhere in this galaxy?" John suggests and calmly raises an eyebrow, meeting the startled, incredulous look McKay sends his way head-on. Has the man never been confronted with a thinking military man before?

Or maybe it's just another of McKay's traits, John figures, recalling seeing the alpha rushing about in the base in Colorado just before leaving Earth; the man had been fiddling with his laptop, running a dozen equations all at once and never giving it a moment's rest, yelling at the other scientists in loud arguments, shouting at the lieutenants who knew no better than to cow beneath the heated gaze and generally bothering all and any other personnel available. John had given him a wide berth. But there was something, though. Like a tug at the bottom of his gut every time the man came into view. Almost like -

Not ready yet to face the implications, John turns to look at the screens filling up with data – shield collapse imminent, twenty-eight per cent of power left and dropping exponentially, radio static flickering in the background instead of the man's face, as McKay thoughtfully nods.

"That's relatively easy. We've already been able to access part of the city's database and found some gate-addresses in storage."

Weir nods, voice stern, without hesitation but John finds it difficult to miss the flashing in her eyes. She doesn't want to evacuate. Not now. Not yet. It's too soon, they've only just arrived and already the dream is slipping away.

"Do it."

"We do not trade with strangers."

The woman – Teyla Emmagan – is tall and soft-looking, but John is pretty sure it's a mask, one that could easily fool those without a sharper mind (those without their own secrets); there's the underlying scent of an alpha, heady and firm, surrounding her albeit mixed with that of smoke and food cooked over fire in the tent. The villagers are tense and silent as they regard the earthlings and John doesn't blame them. After all, how else could they react, but with distrust and suspicion, when a group of armed strangers appear in the middle of night?

They had stepped out of the gate expecting anything and yet been so unprepared, and John had been startled to find two children – alien, but human all the same – within aim of his P90. Then, a man had burst through the trees, pleading them not to shoot.

Colonel Sumner glares at him when he attempts to speak with the woman (honestly what's the harm of mentioning Ferris Wheels? He's just trying to break the ice), shooting the people his trademark grin, and John has to back down eventually alongside Ford. They leave the tent so that the colonel may sit down with the village's leader and discuss a treaty. Outside the tent it's cool and dark; he guesses it's somewhere half-way through the night albeit John has no idea how long the days are on this planet.

The younger man's jittery beneath the cool exterior, an anxiousness contradicting the arrogant certainty of his status as alpha rolling off him in waves. "I'm sure the colonel will, you know, break the ice with these people."

"Yeah, sure," John says (not as certain that Sumner's attitude will be as welcome to the natives), glancing around. Now aware of their presence, the villagers have risen from their rest, tents lighting up from within, warm yellow glows from candles.

It's starting to sink in now, that they're in another galaxy on an unknown planet and millions of lightyears from home and they might never get back. He's stuck here, surrounded by aliens and military who glare at him (just another stupid beta who cannot follow orders, that one with the black mark) and a scientist in particular with an incredibly sharp, quick tongue.

And they're aliens, these people, even if they have human faces and human hands and – if they ever got a chance to medically test them – probably human DNA.

Atlantis was void of life when they arrived, but it somehow had felt more right to step into the city than it had felt to enter any home he'd ever lived in, any base he'd ever operated on.

They had woken the city only to break it – the shield collapsing slowly inwards, flooding pier after pier - and John wonders what the hell they should do if they really have to leave this place (though path of he knows it's more of a question of when, not if), where they'd go. For now, the only choice is this planet – whatever it was called – and its unfamiliar people, and they could only hope they will take pity and stretch out their hands willing to give aid.

Morning nearing, Teyla tells him about the Wraith, the great enemy (John briefly recalls the hologram Doctor Beckett lit up using his gene), and she speaks of cullings and human herds. John nods and replies calmly, but inside he might be freaking out because she's basically stating there are life-sucking alien vampires out there and they return every few hundred years or so to take their share. And these people have lived under their oppression of millennia, ever since the ancients packed up and left ten thousand years ago.

Teyla seems taken aback when she realizes that their world has never been culled, that it knows nothing of the Wraith and John vaguely lets it slip that he didn't even know that there was anything like Stargates until a couple of weeks ago.

"And you are certain you cannot return home?"

Home. Earth is home, he supposes, but he's never really got the feeling.

He nods, shrugging. "We haven't got the power."

Sumner has already ordered Ford and a couple of the men back to the gate and they will return to Atlantis soon, empty-handed save for the news that there is a powerful, probably technologically advanced enemy out there somewhere set to kill all humans.

"Not all," Teyla says softly when John voices the thought and she looks away for a moment, face darkened. "They always leave a certain number to reproduce. They cannot survive without food."

John shivers.

"We believe," she goes on, "that is why some are given gifts, so that we may mate and bear offspring to carry on the next generation."

So that's why she smells like alpha, why he's spotted several couples emitting the clear scent of mating and lover in the main tent. Seems like humans in Pegasus aren't that different, after all.

(Only here everything is much more dire and dangerous and real.)

By the time the fires have gone out and the smoke settled, fifteen bodies are strewn across the forest floor – villagers and marines and a broken, twisted anomaly which came down with the crashed alien craft – and many are missing, disappeared into the beams of light coming from the ships. People are crying and screaming and there's nothing left but destroyed homes and ruined futures, and John cannot find Teyla nor his commanding officer anywhere.

Ford is the only one with the address to whatever the aliens – the Wraith – took these people.

When they return – the people are hesitant, not wanting to step through the gate at first when realizing that it would transport them to the ancestral city – there's chaos in the gate room. Weir is shouting something. The scientists are rushing to and fro.

Now John ignores all this as he ushers the people inside, heart beating fast with adrenaline and shock – fuck, his men were just taken by freaking aliens. He steadies Jinto as the boy quietly asks if they can ever find his father again.

Weir rushes down then to meet them, yelling at them angrily but John meets her head-on, unlike what so many omegas would've done and he becomes aware of McKay approaching as well (hands full of data, eyes filled with purpose) when the city starts trembling.

Atlantis isn't humming anymore in his head, it's singing, as it breaks up through the ocean and into the sunlight. The shield no longer being under the heavy strain of holding back the water, the power consumption drops at once and McKay's face is full of astonishment and glee as they receive the readings.

They've just received days and weeks, not the mere hours they had before.

In the exhilarating rush of we're alive, we made it, the city hasn't crumbled down on us, John doesn't put any distance between himself and the alpha as McKay joins him by one of the wide windows, an elbow pressed against his side, the man's breaths tickling his neck.

Not until his pulse evens out and he realizes that McKay is staring at the curve of his ear. He takes a step away, flashing his trademark grin at the man, and for the first time he sees not the arrogant smirk but an honest smile of relief and happiness there, aimed at him. Maybe he's an okay guy – if you oversee his petty attitude. Or his whole attitude.

The pills mask his scent, but it's been well over twenty-four hours since John took his last and McKay's eyes narrow after a moment, like in suspicion; John doesn't linger to give him more time to figure it out.

An hour later he flies the puddlejumper with his mind.

The great Wraith ship, that Teyla calls a hive, is eerily still and empty. There are oddly few guards, but John doesn't realize why until later, when the Queen's shrill screams have echoes across the planet and the Wraith begin to wake, one by one, small dots on the life-signs detector (another little piece of ancient tech that he found by just stretching out his mind just so ...). When they find the captured villagers and marines, they are huddled in a cell, pale and shaken but all right. Colonel Sumner isn't with them.

By the time John gets there, it's too late, the man a living corpse attached to the Queen's hand. It takes only one well-aimed shot.

Besides being life-sucking aliens, the Wraith are also somehow telepathic. It's like she's thrown a collar around his neck and is pulling him down, forcing him to kneel. She's furious. John just barely manages to think Fuck, Ford's better get here soon! when she suddenly jerks her hand back, inches from his chest.

She's got a bullet in her head and is still alive. Gunfire rings out from Ford's hand. The grip on him lost, John rolls to the side and grabs the nearest object he can find, one of the aliens' stun weapons and using it like a spear he guts her. That has got to kill her.

"Sir! Sir, we got to get out of here."

Ford rushes up to his side. Wraith are strewn across the room haphazardly and John glances at Sumner's lifeless, unnaturally aged body as the Queen hitches a final breath, a smirk on her lips.

The others will wake.

Upon returning, the surviving people of Athos rejoice in reuniting with their friends and family, and Jinto rushes into his father's arms with a whoop; the people of Earth aren't unaffected either, and there is celebrating. They have found what they have sought, the city of Atlantis, and it is tenfold grander than they had imagined – even if there are enemies out there, even if the Wraith have now awoken, even if the military commanding officer now is dead by a bullet John fired. Weir doesn't blame him, but John knows how this'll look in his records – even if he only worries for a while because this is Pegasus and they may never get back to Earth so then he has nothing to be concerned about.

Nothing to be concerned about.

There's something about McKay that doesn't make sense.

He is ruthlessly tactless with little thought of subtlety, so certain of himself and his theories, and he has an ego big enough to fill the whole of Atlantis and more. He's selfish and greedy and generally the sort of person John wouldn't imagine going on this mission, at first. Here there'll be little chance of gaining fame or winning a Nobel, which he's sure McKay wants – SGC is a secret and they may never return to Earth anyhow. McKay could've stayed there, been a brilliant scientist, found someone to mate with – John has found no evidence yet that the man was mated but maybe there's someone back on Earth – because even if his personality was lacking, he was still an alpha and when in heat an omega would be willing.

(That's what's frightening to think and John fears what'll happen once he runs out of medicines and he is forced into heat. Will he be respected, the alphas keeping their distance, or will the inevitable finally happen ...?)

Still, McKay chose to come here, to Pegasus, risking his life merely by stepping through the gate. He doesn't seem like the person to sacrifice for others and this expedition is very much a collective experiment, wherein everyone must think not just about themselves but about others.

McKay looked at him sometimes, with clear blue eyes, like he was ready to devour him and it gave him goose bumps all-over for some reason. People have looked like that at him before; he's not unused to people complimenting his looks, a hand reaching out to clasp his arm, touch his back but he's always shied away.

John doesn't like being touched. Having people stand too close. Other omegas were okay, like Doctor Beckett, and some of the scientists, but he wasn't sure how to act now when surrounded by some many betas. And there are so many alphas as well, not just the marines but some of the civilians, chosen for their brilliant minds and not their bodies.

It's not like they're keeping tabs but over the days, he's figured out at least eight other omegas on the base, both male and female – and they don't hide, because they aren't in the military and don't fear. Nobody raises an eyebrow at omega scientists or doctors; in fact it's perfectly natural and expected. The alpha scientists are a bit more unexpected. Several of them aren't particularly buff or loud or anything else that one directly connects with alpha behaviour.

Maybe, John ponders, it's because he's been around military for so long it's strange not to hear the scientists make those laidback comments about claiming and taking and breeding – words he's never liked, his gut curling in unease, but he's always smirked alongside them nonetheless. (They never talk about giving or sharing.)

The scientists don't act like that. Perhaps it is unnecessary for them. They compete amongst themselves in other means, and right now everyone is just busy trying to save the city and everybody in it to care about competition and showing themselves as strong alphas right now.

There's a dark, shapeless monster on the loose slowly emptying their power generators.

By the time he finds Jinto, Halling's son, huddled in the corner of a storage room, the thing has been loose for several hours. McKay is there too, searching for the boy with him, a datapad resting in the scientist's hands and he's staring at it intently, reading some sort of power output or another. McKay has been riding on some sort of high all since he got his gene therapy and found an ancient personal shield, making him essentially invulnerable since four hours back. Halling's wounded leg stopped him from joining them in the search for the missing boy.

John listens to him with half an ear as suddenly Jinto leaps out of the shadows and into his arms without concern for the weapons John is wearing. "Major Sheppard!"

"Jinto!" Kneeling to be at the boy's level, John takes in his appearance. He looks shaken but unhurt. "You okay, buddy?"

"Hmm," McKay says, approaching some orange device, its shape a vague resemblance to their own naquada generators, sitting on a console in the middle of the room. There's intent written all over his face and John finds his gaze inexplicably drawn to his fast-working hands, pressing buttons at an impressive rate with a weird sort of elegance. Before he can delve more into the matter, John averts his gaze, focusing on Jinto instead. He suspects the boy may be hero worshipping him since he and his team of marines rescued Halling and Teyla and the others from the Wraith.

"This could be some sort of research lab. Not the first we've come across. These consoles generally access the central computer systems, so Jinto could have caused what we thought were malfunctions from here." The scientist pauses and John drags himself up, Jinto's gaze flickering nervously between the two men as McKay looks at the boy sharply. "Look, I need to know everything you touched."

It takes a while to track down the entity and figure out what to do with it. It's dangerously close to disaster when they do.

Once it's finally gone through the gate, thanks to McKay's spur-of-the-moment decision to wear the shield he'd struggled (and fainted from manly hunger) to get off, everyone exhales as one and they can relax, at least for a moment.

There's still the Wraith and who knows what else out there to worry about, and the majority of the city is still unexplored; anything could be hiding in the long corridors and abandoned rooms, like that energy-sucking entity. But for now, everything is okay, they're alive and well, and John can get a proper night's sleep for the first time in two weeks.

McKay's actions have raised John's opinions of the man some. The man basically saved their asses in a stroke of reckless selflessness. So maybe he isn't that much of a git, after all.

When Weir tells him to organize a gate team for off-world exploration, insisting on a scientist on it, John decides fairly quickly. Besides being decidedly smart and sharing (some of, at least) his wit, the man has proven himself to be someone they can depend on in dire situations, and he's also the only scientist John really knows. There's this Kavanagh guy whose John's only experience with was when the pony-tailed man made a rude off-hand comment, so, not really an option, and while Dr Zelenka seems an okay guy he's just not made for fieldwork.

McKay is also one of the few alphas that John feels comfortable enough around to jibe and joke with, even if the man sometimes gets a bit too close, stepping into his personal space without boundaries, not seemingly able to read simple social codes like Please step back you're standing too close to me.

(Choosing him to be on his team has nothing to do with ... with whatever he might be feeling whenever McKay enters his vision.)

He also chooses Ford, because the young man's a good solider and John trusts him to have his back and then Teyla, because she has requested to help them and she's mild-mannered, good at negotiation and talking and at the same time a good fighter (he's seen her work out in the gym once beating the hell out of a marine using a pair of wooden sticks). He can trust her.

Trust is difficult to come by and keep. Trust is, for him, difficult to take to heart and not simply push away but he's a soldier and he's learned to trust comrades in battle, just like he's learned to take aim and pull the trigger.

When facing McKay about the decision, the scientist merely shrugs, busily running a simulation on his computer and he waves a hand nonchalantly in John's direction. The space which the alpha has occupied as his private lab is propped with computers and machinery and the room has already begun picking up McKay's scent. Being in there makes something in John's mind reel.

"Well ... okay," McKay says, sounding not too enthusiastic about the prospect of having to start carrying a sidearm; "As long as you guarantee that I won't be shot down or mutilated or die in some other horrible way at once, flyboy and, oh, I will have time for research and science, right?"

Which sounds fair enough. You know, when you're stuck in a galaxy far, far away filled with life-sucking aliens and ten thousand year old sunken cities.

John's body is slowly numbing away. The pain, at first sharp like a knife working its way through his veins, ebbs away and then he realizes he cannot move his legs, cannot lift his arms, barely move his head as it is, as the bug digs into his neck harshly.

They're lodged half-way in the gate with thirty-eight minutes left until the ship will definitely split in two.

McKay, come on, you can fix this, John thinks, a mantra he holds onto as the world begins to blacken around the edges; I'm counting on you.

As he'd come to after the crashing halt, McKay had kneeled by his side, a hand on his shoulder – the one without the bug resting on it – and having his hand there had been comforting, steadying him. When McKay had removed it to stand and work on a crystal panel, John already missed the warm grip.

The minutes trickle by and, afterwards, his memory is fuzzy of the whole ordeal. He remembers pain, abruptly sharp and he might have screamed, sound ripping out of lungs and then, he'd ordered Ford to use the defibrillator, holding his stare and McKay had looked on disbelievingly, John glaring at him to Keep working, fix it, McKay! and there was a white soaring flash of memory and then –

He wakes in the infirmary, hours later, a terrible bruise on his neck and his body sore but otherwise unharmed.

McKay had fixed the jumper, retracting the pods just in time and then Ford had saved them all by blowing open the rear hatch, getting the jumper through the gate. Pride swells in John's chest when he hears the report, as they stand around his bed; his team and Weir but most importantly McKay, who's looking at him with such warm intensity like he cannot quite believe he's there and for once John doesn't mind. (He can't quite believe he's there either.)

He's never liked infirmaries or hospitals. Not because of the whiteness, the smell of medicines and the doctors swarming around, too many hands and eyes and ears. But a doctor could always figure it out; a simple blood test would reveal the chemicals from the pills and a full exam could always conclude in his secrets being leaked. And then ...

He wonders if Carson knows.

His team isn't looking at him any different now, as they stand around him; Teyla is calm, as always, collected and firm whereas McKay is a bundle of energy. Ford is on another bed, asleep; having been briefly exposed to vacuum isn't good for anyone. As they take their goodbyes and leave him to rest, John is aware of McKay glancing back at him, but no more words are exchanged.

Then, Carson approaches his bedside. "I believe we need to have a word, Major."

John doesn't swear aloud but he does in his head, and he may look calm on the outside but his gut ties itself into knots. No. Don't let anyone know, please. Don't let them have me degraded, don't let them send me away to be mated –

"I found traces of heat suppressants in your blood system."

"... Yeah."

"You are aware that they are not originally meant for long-time consumption?"

John winces. He knows. There are warnings on the packets, fierce letters in red, and he knows because he's experienced the pain and nausea of long-term use, when he has forced his heat away for months and years at a time, his cycle wholly disrupted and his body crying in pain.

"Yeah, doc. I know."

The man sighs and shakes his head, muttering something about stubborn military and John weakly cracks a smile. "Look, doc, I just ..."

"I know that the military aren't too fond of omegas in their ranks, Major," Carson cuts in, gently, "so I do understand at least some of your reasons to taking them. But from what I concluded from the tests you've been eating suppressants for a dangerously long time, possibly several months. There are side-effects, and your body must be given time to work in its own pace as well. When was the last time you entered and went through a natural heat?"

"Uhm," John looks away, at his hands, suddenly embarrassed because it's been years and it's not normal, he's over thirty years old for god's sake and – "Five years ago, give or take?"

(He'd been on leave for four weeks, back in the States after long months in the unforgiving dry desert. He'd thought it'd be well more than enough, but after locking himself up in his basement for those long awful days, body aching and trembling with need, alone and cold in the dark, he'd felt hollow and empty when letting himself out again. It'd fucking hurt and he hated being so alone but there were no other options and two weeks later, just as he'd begun recovering, he'd been sent back out to the front again, dust on his jacket.)

The startled look on the man's face indicates that this is probably very, very bad. "Lad –"

"Look, doc, I know it's not ... ideal, but –"

"I'm just saying, major, that you should give your body some rest by allowing it to go through a heat or two. Postponing it for this long can be potentially very harmful."

He can't. Not now. (Then when?) "I am not going through heat now, doc. I can't."

The doctor sends him a helpless look. But, there's some understanding there too. And when John insists, Carson finally nods and he says, "As long as you're certain, lad."

He isn't, but he has no other choice, he can't face questions right now and definitely not a mating. He's not ready for that, or willing.

"This is confidential, right?"

The man looks for a moment like he doesn't want to agree, but eventually nods jerkily, knotting his hands against his crisp white coat. "It is. Unless you are having suicidal thoughts?"

"What? No. No. Nothing like that, doc."

It could be worse.

It could always be worse (he tells himself and holds his breath).

There's something about John Sheppard that doesn't make sense.

To Dr Rodney McKay, PhD, PhD (most brilliant scientist in one, probably two, galaxies), this is especially frustrating. To not be able to pinpoint or calculate a problem is direr and more nerve-wracking than meeting with alien cultures or avoiding a planet-wide attack and saving millions of lives in the process. No. He'd face any improbable equation before this one.

There's something about Sheppard that just cannot be solved.

The man is laidback and he smiles often to a whole lot of people and Rodney could easily overlook him, except he's hinted that he's actually got a brain between those ridiculously pointy ears and the man is fucking gorgeous, even if his hair hasn't seen a comb in years.

Rodney wouldn't mind having him in his bed, no, not at all, but Rodney has never been good at this relationship thing and despite the man being a typical flyboy there's just something ... something that Rodney doesn't want to ruin with a one-night stand. He wasn't really good at one-night stands either to be honest. He's far too possessive for that. Once he's got his hold on something, he wants to keep it that way, only it's difficult to balance people with science, with time.

Maybe that's why he's never settled down. Never let his heart be captured, as cliché and stupid as that sounds. Oh, fair enough, he's lusted after his fair share of men and women and for a while – which was an awkward time no one is allowed to mention – he had the hots for Samantha Carter, even if they were entirely incompatible (even if she's quite smart). No alpha would be able to stand him. The only upside of an alpha-alpha relationship would be the lack of kids – he's never liked them that much anyway, they're only in the way. There are few children he's tolerated for more than ten minutes before he wants the mout of his sight and hearing range.

Which brings him back to the puzzle of Major John Sheppard. A fairly good pilot but he's got a black mark in Afghanistan (getting a hold on his file wasn't difficult. Rodney read it out of curiosity, nothing more, between working hours back at SGC). Kind of clever, for a military man anyway. Easy on the eyes, with a warm drawling voice and hazel eyes. Not to mention he has the gene – okay, so Rodney's a bit jealous that this man had the strongest naturally occurring gene they've ever come across.

His scent ... it's addled. Almost non-existent - which is the case of all betas.

It's kind of a pity ... because if Sheppard was an omega (even an unruly, rule-breaking, stubborn omega), at least Rodney would have a legible, unquestionable excuse for wanting him.

But now, with Sheppard being beta, why would he ever want to lie down and spread his legs for Rodney? There's no reason. He can't even be sure that Sheppard's gay (even if his hair is a bit too wild for a straight military guy) and even less know if the guy is interested in him in any manner.

He doesn't want to accuse anyone of being a spy and neither does Weir or nearly anyone on the base.

But McKay was just shot with a Wraith stunner right in the face and the moment he fell, there in the gate room, still and silent onto the floor - John's heart had stopped for a moment.

Then Sargerant Bates, who oozes with confidence born out of the fact that he's alpha and military and has the upper hand, has the guts to accuse Teyla of handing off information to the Wraith and John gets rightfully pissed in addition to worried. Clearly Bates is a blind idiot because Teyla's people were driven from their home planet by the Wraith, her people have been killed by those creatures generation after generation and she's grown up under their shadow. Anyone having met her should have seen the fire in her eyes as she spoke of the Wraith and know that she never would betray any other human to them.

While Rodney recovers – fairly quickly, even if he complains about his numb foot for hours after he's let out of the infirmary – investigations starts and the Athosians are confined to their quarters as they are taken out for questioning, one by one. John feels a little sick thinking about it. These people couldn't – surely ...

"This is stupid."

John glances at the scientist who takes another sip of his coffee, eyes fixed on the screen.

He's not sure why he does it, visiting Rodney in his lab now and then, just dropping by. Between missions and meeting in the mess hall, this is where they see each other. At least, despite calling him a flyboy, Rodney tolerates his presence. Plus he probably wants him near to light up ancient things with his gene – and while it's not ideal (nothing is ideal) it is enough for John.

He can't recall the exact moment when he became Rodney instead of McKay.

"Which one, those equations you're looking at or the questioning of the Athosians?"

"Well both. One can obviously see the blatant errors in this theory, at least if you have an IQ higher than a peanut, which completely disregards the existence of –"

John rolls his eyes and smirks and quietly admits that Rodney can be kind of cute.

Well, for an alpha with attitude problems.

"- and anyhow," Rodney's saying as John bites his tongue and returns to the world, heart thundering, "if there were spies in Atlantis why haven't they attacked the city yet? It's illogical, unless of course they're taking their time in coordinating an attack in which case I'd say we're well and very screwed – oh, look, you! Czech guy!"

Rodney clicks his fingers to get the attention of the scientist who just entered the lab, one whom Rodney clearly can never recall the name of but John recognizes him as Dr Radek Zelenka. The man has this nervous look about him, brown hair falling into his eyes as he keeps readjusting his glasses, pushing them further up his nose every fifteen minutes. Another of the omega scientists that no one raises an eyebrow at.

Well, fair enough, all known omegas get checked out by the alphas every now and then, especially when signs come telling that they're nearing heat. It's a distraction for the marines, having all of these omegas on the base, but it keeps their minds off the impending threat of life-sucking aliens for a while. If only they'd stop leering and staring. John doesn't know how to tell his men to stop doing that without raising too many eyebrows.

(Maybe had he pursued a scientific career John wouldn't have bothered to hide as he does now. He could have become an engineer or mathematician or whatever, but he could never have gone through with it if it meant never being able to fly.)

"You know who wrote this?" Rodney asks Radek furiously, gesturing at the whiteboard. And all focus is back on the stupid backwards theory again. "This is idiotic! This variable here ..."

John wonders if Teyla's all right, if her people are coping well under the pressure of being accused of being spies in the city that took them in as refuges. Guilt tugs in his belly. If they hadn't come, if they hadn't been caught, if he hadn't killed that Wraith Queen then the others wouldn't have woken and they wouldn't be in this mess.

If they hadn't come through the Stargate, if he hadn't flown to Antarctica and met Rodney –

He bites his tongue again; don't go there now.

(Don't go there ever.)

Finally they come to realize that the spy was not a person, or even a sentient being, but an innocent looking necklace that had caught John's gaze as it had gleamed between the sand back on Athos. Unknowingly activated at his touch, for all these weeks the Wraith had become aware of them – of some people out there carrying the Ancient gene.

Again, the guilt comes creeping up on him but at last there's something they can do about it. The trap is set and they don't have to wait long for the Wraith to show up; three drones and another, taller one without a mask. They take down two quickly and then move to capture the third alive, but its self-destruct activates before they can act. John barely manages to yell "Take cover!" and the marines on the oppose side of him turn around.

The ground shakes by the explosion and John and Rodney are thrown back, tumbling down a slight slope until they come to a halt between some jagged rocks – the last remnants of some long ago fallen civilization. John's ears ring from the explosion, dust and adrenaline lingering.

He rolls over onto his back, glancing at the alpha, who's got a small gash on his forehead but otherwise looks fine. "You okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, fine," Rodney groans, rubbing at his neck, "nothing broken. I think. Gods, what was that? I didn't know Wraith could self-destruct. Ugh, my ears are ringing."

"Didn't know that either." He comes to his feet and tugs on Rodney's arm, trying not to think too much or else he'll never stop dreaming about touches. "Come on. There's still one of them left."

Teyla heads back to the mainland shortly thereafter, to where her people have been relocated. They are more at ease there, she assures him when John asks if they'd not rather stay with them in the city. Some of them still fear Atlantis, the city of the ancestors, and they are more comfortable near the woods under the open sky. They can grow their own food there, as well, and the children won't be in the way.

John doesn't tell her or anyone out loud but he'll kind of miss the laughter of the kids and having them running down the corridors – it had kept him at ease. But he understands. Atlantis isn't that safe; it is a military base more than anything else, despite the majority of civilians. It's a war zone, the Wraith still out there, hunting for them.

There's still a Wraith in one of the cells at the bottom of the city left to deal with, trapped between the bars. It does not pace. It just stands there, still, with a confident patience born out of a life hundreds of years old.

John goes down there alone this time.


The edges of the Wraith's voice are jagged with dry humour and had it had any eyebrows John is sure they would've raised one of them.

"Your kind is persistent. I thought you would have given up by now."

"I got all the time in the world. You, on the other hand ..."

There's already hunger in its eyes, furious and raw and it slams a hand against the bars, toward John's chest, drawing back only as it is stopped by a blue force field.

"I'd give you a week, maybe two, tops ..." Taunting it is only so effective.

"You waste your time, human. I will provide you with no information."

"I wonder what hurts more," John goes on as if he hasn't heard. "The gunshot wound or the hunger. I'd love to help out, but, how'd McKay put it? 'We can't meet your dietary requirements.'"

"You may think," the Wraith hisses, "that by my capture, you have won a victory. But by bringing me here you have only hastened your own doom."

And somehow John's got a feeling it's not just an empty threat.