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23 October 2011 @ 07:48 pm
Chain Reaction by the_cephalopod - J/R (NC-17)  
Title: Chain Reaction
Author: the_cephalopod
Pairing(s) : McKay/Sheppard
Rating: NC-17
Word count: ~15,500
Author's Notes: Written for mcshep_match. Many grateful thanks to my betas, lantean_drift, sgamadison and zinfic who were absolutely fantastic. All remaining mistakes are my own.

Summary: Rodney gets kidnapped and John comes to the rescue, but when they’re both back home on Atlantis, it seems that things are only just beginning…



Chain Reaction

Part One


"You know, I could really do with a cup of coffee right about now," Rodney said. "Hot, thick, strong – really gets the creative juices flowing." He cast a quick glance at the stoic guard scowling at him. "Hmm," he reconsidered. "Perhaps not really a job requirement for you, but the caffeine would probably improve your bench press."

The guard made no response other than to place his hand on the butt of the weapon at his hip with menacing purpose.

Rodney sighed. "I'll take that as a no then," he muttered, reaching out for a marker with a hand that, despite his best efforts, still trembled slightly. Before the guard could carry out his implicit threat, Rodney turned quickly back to the board in front of him, taking a steadying breath as he did so. The threat of violence and bodily harm was, he supposed, a type of communication, just not exactly the kind he particularly wished to encourage. With concerted effort, he raised his hand to the board and started, slowly and carefully, to write out a row of numbers, checking each one against the print-out in his hand before cross-referencing them with the scatter-plot he had created. He took a certain amount of pride in the fact that, despite the tremor in his limbs, his characters were firm and steady. Soon the steady rhythm of writing took over his body and his mind relaxed. He'd long since lost count of exactly how many hours he had now spent at this board, working tirelessly through line after line of alien algebra.

It had been at least three days, by his somewhat concussion-affected calculations. Three days since SGA-1 had set foot on PX3-Y74 and been subjected to the now-standard alien ambush. Three days since he'd been separated from his team. It had seemed, at the time, to be random bad luck that he was the one who had been taken, but it was now appearing increasingly likely that it had been a carefully planned maneuver on the part of his captors. And it had been three days since he'd awoken here – wherever here was – with an aching head, a badly sprained ankle, and his own matching set of prison guards.

One moment he'd been crashing through the undergrowth of PX3-Y74 trying to find cover, his flight spurred on by the staccato of Sheppard's P-90 and the pulse of Ronon's energy weapon, and the next he'd found himself surrounded by a group of armed men. He'd only had the chance to realize that they were neither Genii nor Wraith before a searing pain had shot through his body and everything had faded to black.

SGA-1 hadn't anticipated any hostile reception from the people of PX3-Y74; their MALP scans had indicated that they were at an early 20th century level of technological development. It was to be a standard recon mission, hopefully a prelude to trade negotiations and some sort of alliance. But, as was all too usual, someone had obviously failed to tell their attackers that. They had appeared out of nowhere, just as Rodney was conducting a scan of the local area.

Looking on the bright side, Rodney supposed that he should at least be thankful that he hadn't been badly treated all in all, the injuries sustained during his failed attempt to evade capture and subsequent imprisonment notwithstanding. His cell was basic, but not unpleasant – a twenty by fifteen foot room with a bed, sink and toilet at one end and a desk chair and white board at the other. There was a row of windows set high along one wall, letting in light but no view, and large, bolted door at one end of the opposite wall, at which at least one armed guard was perpetually on duty. There had been no torture and no overt demands for information. Indeed, his captors had been disturbingly silent as to the exact purpose of his incarceration. Or why, as it now appeared, he had been the only member of SGA-1 taken.

He'd decided, early on, to assume that Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon had all gotten off the planet in one piece. To even admit to the possibility of anything else was far too terrifying and so he hadn't. No, he told himself firmly, the rest of his team had fought back the aliens, made it to the 'gate, and were even now planning his rescue. At any moment, he would hear the sound of P-90s, explosions, and Sheppard's lazy drawl telling him to hurry the fuck up and run for the jumper. Until that happened, all he could do was work and wait.

The work part of the whole captured thing was nothing new – from repairing darts whilst hopped up on Wraith hormones to an equally memorable experience, although for entirely different reasons, of building a water-wheel. His experience of Pegasus was that, even if they didn't want to actually eat you, the people who captured you generally wanted something from you. What exactly it was that these particular people wanted, Rodney had yet to decipher.

Apart from the guards, who never spoke, he'd had only one other visitor – a middle-aged woman who, strangely enough, at least in Rodney's unfortunately vast experience of being captured, wore nothing even remotely resembling a uniform. She had appeared in the doorway of his cell several hours after he'd regained consciousness and, at first, he'd take her apparent lack of military allegiance as a good sign. Unlike the guards, she had spoken to him at length, but her words had been meaningless to Rodney and it had soon become obvious that his to her were equally so. After several fruitless hours, during which Rodney had given up on verbal communication and had been reduced to miming out his requests for his freedom, and a stargate, to no avail, the woman had dashed his hopes of a peaceful period of incarceration by snapping something to one of the guards and Rodney had learned firsthand that the guards' taser-like weapons were best avoided.

When he'd awoken the second time, he'd found some bandages for his ankle, a plate of bread, cheese and some sort of fruit tart, and a huge stack of papers covered in screeds of mysterious characters, endless charts and graphs, and a large array of maps. And, of course, the ever-present guards.

The sound of footsteps behind him jolted Rodney back to the present to find his hand still scrawling across the board on autopilot. After three days, the mysterious characters weren't quite so mysterious any more. Little by little, things were clarifying and he'd finally been able to make some headway in deciphering what had, at first, appeared to be nothing but a mess of text, numbers and schematics. Whether or not his first few forays into xeno-statistics were enough to satisfy whomever it was who had captured him, still remained to be seen.

He tilted his head to the side carefully, keen to avoid garnering the guard's attention again, and glanced out of the corner of his eye at the new arrival. As expected, it was the woman again, her arrival heralding both a changing of his guard and his mid-day meal. It also meant that it was time for his daily check-up.

Rodney re-capped his marker pen and stepped away from the board, letting the woman approach and look over his work. She set the large bag she carried beside the desk on her way over to the board, the heavy fall of it on the floor surprising Rodney who was far more used to the click of slim line pads than the weighty fall of paper. Rodney's usual modus operandi here was to sit back patiently wait until the woman had inspected everything to her own satisfaction. Such patience was a hard won skill, one deeply engrained following an in-depth discussion he'd had with Teyla about how not to piss off the local populace. That particular conversation had followed after an exceptionally grueling mission involving a not!chicken egg omelet, which Rodney still swore blind his, and a very close shave with something that resembled a guillotine. Needless to say, such patience with others was not something that came naturally to him. Even when he was nothing but a lowly PhD student, he had been unable to simply sit idly by while his supervisor reviewed his calculations. He had an in-built need to be part of the process – a strong desire to always actively engage with whoever was reviewing his science, be it to learn from them, as it had been in those early days, or teach them something, as it invariably was now with his department on Atlantis. But his department and Atlantis were both a long way away and the guards' Taser-like weapons were painful.

The woman was muttering something incomprehensible under her breath as she paced slowly in front of the board, her eyes never straying from Rodney's calculations. As far as he'd been able to ascertain, the data with which he'd been provided related to the epidemiological basis of a range of new diseases that were spreading across the continent. He couldn't think of any other reason why he'd been given maps, head counts and coordinates, annual crop yields and birth rates, along with information about the local geology and topology. It had taken him a full day to work out the numerical basis for this particular alien's mathematics, but once he'd figured out the various integer symbols and differentiated them from the operators, it had been easy enough to make the transition from the mathematical language he knew to this one. After all, he'd been working with the Ancient and Wraith numerical languages for long enough, transposing yet another one was no real hardship. The real hardship had been the complete lack of context – always in the past he'd had something tangible from which to work, be it a burned out hiveship, a fistful of data crystals or an entire Ancient city, complete with mainframe. And, even with the most seemingly comprehensive dataset – the blueprints and full-scale mock-up of an Ancient weapon, for example – mistakes were all too easy to make. Now he had nothing – just page upon page of printed data and this daily inspection of his progress.

To make matters worse, although he could now understand the numbers and the various correlations and meta-analyses, he'd had no such luck with any of the actual textual language. Math was all very well and good, but trying to work out what exactly this woman actually wanted him to do with it all was a bit like trying to work out how to produce a symphony when all you had was the score and no concept of an orchestra. Still, if there was one thing that Pegasus had taught him, it was how to work blind with one hand tied behind his back, so he'd carried on regardless. It did seem like there was some pattern there, but he was far from convinced it was anything more than coincidence.

The woman suddenly made a loud tutting noise and turned away from the board towards the desk littered with Rodney's notes. Despite Radek's frequent moaning to the contrary, Rodney had always been something of a compulsive note-taker, detailing every step of his thought processes. His mind had a tendency to move faster than his hand and it was hardly his fault if other people had trouble deciphering his notes. The shorthand he'd developed for his tablet, and insisted all members of his Science department learn, had helped, but as far as he could tell, there weren't any kind of computers here. Not that he could work on and certainly not that he could send any kind of message on. It'd been years since he'd had to document his progress by hand, but he'd done his best. The thick stack of papers, through which the woman was currently rustling, was testament to that.

She turned away from the desk suddenly, a single piece of paper clutched in her hand that she held out insistently towards Rodney. Puzzled, he reached out to take it, glancing down to realize it was the long-hand calculation that had led him to the plot and number sequence he had currently written out on the board. It was a rather nice piece of work, Rodney had thought privately to himself when he'd completed it. Statistics had never been a particular interest of his, but needs must and he'd been surprised at how much had come back to him as he'd trawled through the reams of data. That he could do any of it by hand, not to mention call up the dim and distance memory of significance values varying with degrees of freedom was, quite frankly, amazing.

"You see," he said, unable to keep silent any more and hoping that the woman's apparent interest would save him from the guard's weapon this time. "There is a correlation between the disease rates and the crop yields, but it's a negative one. Whatever you think the link is, it's not a causal one – at least not between these two factors. There's something else going on here." He gestured towards the correlation coefficient he'd calculated and then pointed at the plot on the board, willing his words to penetrate.

Following his gaze, the woman frowned and then, to Rodney's great relief, nodded slowly.

"So," he continued hopefully. "I'm going to need some more data. Maybe you have a computer or a scanner I can use?" He trailed off at her blank look. "No, of course not, probably too advanced," he muttered to himself, wondering if he should make another half-hearted attempt at mime. When he got back, he'd have to suggest to Elizabeth that they all learn some sort of basic sign language. Maybe someone had already invented a Makaton programme for Pegasus?

Instead of the hoped for PADD or tablet, the woman leant down and pulled yet another heavy file out of her bag. She held it clutched to her chest for a moment as if unwilling to part with it, but then placed it carefully on the desk, her hand resting on top of it protectively and her eyes locked on Rodney's.

"Okay," Rodney said slowly, wondering what exactly the file contained that it would engender such a reaction. "You know, if this is something important, I really should have had it to begin with."

His chiding tone must have been a step too far because the woman's expression morphed into one of anger and she rattled off something, a sharp command, that had the guard stepping forward, weapon raised, and Rodney wincing bodily, falling to his knees with his arms thrown up over his head. The expected blow never actually came, but as the woman turned on her heel and marched out, Rodney got the message: work, keep silent, or else.

~*~



Two hours after SGA-1s return to Atlantis from the disaster that had been their mission to PX3-Y74, John was anxious: the debrief was proving to be long and he didn't want to be stuck in an office dwelling on what had gone wrong, he wanted to be out in the field planning a rescue. Eight hours after their return, having returned to the planet only to find the people who had taken Rodney had gated off-world and left behind them a shattered DHD, he was frustrated: Elizabeth's voice of reason and Radek's comparatively slow analysis of PX3-Y74's DHD control crystals both feeling like unnecessary delays. By twelve hours after their return, he was climbing the goddamn walls: he needed to be out there, searching for Rodney – finding Rodney.

Sometimes John wondered whether he should become resigned to the reality of losing people on missions, but even if that were to happen, this wasn't just another person. This was Rodney – his team mate, his CSO, his friend. He'd never managed to retain the emotional distance from his own team that his superiors had required of him and, despite losing Holland, Sumner, Ford and countless others since, it seemed that it would remain an affliction of which not even Pegasus could cure him. Instead of a limitation, as many of his supervisors had viewed it, he considered his refusal to give up on his men one of his strengths. Especially on Atlantis, where there were so few of them and where everyone counted on each other for their very survival.

But there was something different about his reaction to a missing man this time around. Of course, circumstances and his reactions to them were different each time. With Holland, there hadn't been any time to react – it had simply been a matter of turning his chopper around and going in, his orders be damned. With Sumner, it had been a matter of putting himself in the man's place and doing what had to be done. With Ford, it had been a slow, tortuous set of stages leading to one inevitable conclusion, one that had damn near torn John apart. And there was no way he was going to lose Rodney to Pegasus in the same way – he was going to find him and save him and that was all there was to it.

Of course he understood the logical need for Radek's analysis of the damaged crystals and Elizabeth's sign-off for the rescue mission, but his instincts were screaming at him to get off his ass and start searching already, even if it meant picking planets at random from the Ancient database. This certainly wasn't a situation that called for him to take off on his own, but he had to do something.

Losing Ford had been crippling; losing Rodney was unthinkable.

Unable to sleep, completely lacking in appetite, despite the food Teyla had tried to foist upon him, and having already run a five mile loop around the city, he'd retreated to the one place that he felt he could actually make a positive contribution to the search. Almost a full twenty-four hours after Rodney's capture, John was sitting in Jumper One planning the rescue.

"So, are we going or what?" Ronon's voice echoed through the jumper bay startling John.

He pulled his attention away from the control panel he was studying and glanced through the open hatch at the back of the ship at his teammate. "Just as soon as Elizabeth gives the go ahead," he replied.

Ronon grunted at that, ducking his head to enter the craft before sprawling down into the co-pilot's seat. "And when's that gonna be?"

John shrugged and turned his attention back to the read-out he'd been studying. "Soon," he replied, pleased to hear that he'd managed to keep his tone at a happy medium between decisive and relaxed, as opposed letting the impatient agitation he was feeling seep into it. "Radek's still running through the DHD data and unfortunately, with those damaged data crystals, it's gonna take a while 'til he has a location. Still, we can't go anywhere 'til we know where we should be going."

Ronon grunted again and twisted the chair around so he could stretch out his long legs towards the back of the jumper. "It's taking too long," he said shortly. "McKay could be dead by now."

Something within John froze at the words whilst at the same time, something else surged into action. In a move that surprised even himself, he was out of his chair and had a hand around Ronon's neck before he knew what he was doing. "Don't say that," he gritted, his hand tightening even as he felt Ronon's own hand come up and grasp at his wrist in return. "They took him for a reason – he's fine. I'll... we'll get him back."

The grip Ronon had on John's wrist was painful, but at John's words, the incipient anger in his expression died away. "Perhaps," he replied, leaning forward and staring John straight in the eye. "But we need to move, Sheppard." His grip on John's wrist tightened even more, causing John to only just suppress a wince as the bones rubbed together. "Now," Ronon finished on a growl, before releasing John's arm and settling back down into his seat.

John stepped back as Ronon moved out of his grasp and turned away, angry at himself for letting his emotions get the better of him. Not meeting Ronon's eye, he threw himself back into the command chair, calling up the star chart of PX3-Y74's sector with a thought. "I know," he said.

Ronon eyed the star chart with a speculative gleam in his eyes. "You've got a plan," he said – a statement, not a question.

"Of course," John replied, nodding towards the screen and a trajectory superimposed itself across the field. "With a jumper, we can get through the 'gate and reach orbit in three minutes. Rodney's loaded the jumper's computer down with enough analysis programs that we should be able to pinpoint his position anywhere on or in the planet within an hour or two." He patted the console affectionately as he recalled just how proud of himself Rodney had been when he'd installed them all. He'd talked at John for at least thirty minutes straight about the various intricacies of each program before he'd realized that, instead of listening and taking notes, John was playing minesweeper on his tablet.

Ronon studied the display for a moment before meeting John's gaze. "And if he isn't there? The tracks left did indicated that they'd taken him through the 'gate."

John shrugged. "That's why we've got Zelenka working on decoding the DHD records. The plan will still hold no matter what planet we gate into. It's just a matter of getting the go ahead. Once I've finished here, I'm going to see Elizabeth. We can get a full sweep done on PX3-Y74 now, just in case, and, if Rodney's not there, hopefully by that time Zelenka will have done his thing and we'll know where else they could have taken him."

Ronon nodded at the display and then turned to John. "And when we find him?" he asked, a feral grin on his face.

John grinned back. "I was hoping you'd ask that," he said, calling up the weapon's array and gesturing towards them expansively. "Got any good ideas?"

"Always," Ronon replied, already reaching towards the console.

"Great," John said, feeling something deep down in his gut ease ever so slightly as he watched Ronon detail a plan of attack. "I'll get Teyla down here too, and we'll hammer the logistics of the ground assault."

As he reached up a hand to his radio, he was surprised to feel Ronon's hand land heavily on his back. He looked over, surprised, to find Ronon gazing at him.

"We will get him back, Sheppard," Ronon said gravely.

John swallowed thickly, feeling hope surge. "I know we will," he replied.


~*~



The beep of his radio woke John out of the fitful sleep Elizabeth had insisted all of SGA-1 get prior to approving the SAR mission. He was on his feet, radio in his ear with his pants half way on before it had a chance to chime again. "Sheppard," he barked impatiently – this had to be it.

"Ah, Colonel," came Radek's voice, and John felt a thrill of triumph at the sound. "I have located the-"

"You have him?" he snapped briskly, cutting Radek off mid-flow as he pushed his feet into his boots and grabbed his tac vest off the floor.

"Yes," Radek replied, a sound of satisfaction in his voice. "The analysis of the DHD crystals is complete and I have the address."

"Good – meet us in the conference room in ten," John ordered as he left his quarters, heading for the transporter. "I want to be en route within the hour." Snapping the connection closed, he switched radio channels to contact Elizabeth and the rest of his team.

'Hold on, Rodney', he thought to himself as he ran down the corridors. 'We're coming; I'm coming.'

~*~



John felt exhilarated as he piloted the cloaked jumper through the 'gate and into orbit around P37-T5R – the planet designation Zelenka had finally managed to pull out of the PX3-Y74's broken DHD crystals. This was right, he thought to himself, this is where he should have been all along: out here actively searching for Rodney. With barely the barest brush of his mind along the navigation controls, he steered the jumper aware that, beside him, Teyla was already running the search programs while, behind him, Ronon had started the tactical analysis of the planet.

"What have we got?" John asked as he'd established an orbital flight pattern that would allow them to scan the entire planet in the space of a two-hour period.

"Nothing as yet," Teyla said. "I have begun the scans in the area of the stargate, searching primarily for Rodney's ATA gene and any energy signatures indicating the presence of Ancient technology."

"Ronon?" John asked next.

"There doesn't seem to be any reaction to us," Ronon replied. "I don't think they know we're here and, even if they did, it doesn't look like they have any kind weaponry we need to be worried about."

"Good," John replied, nodding.

As his team continued to work, John activated his own analyses programs, the ones Rodney had installed to give the pilot an overview of the results from both the tactical and science stations. He reviewed the topology of the planet, picking out the continents, mountain ranges, and oceans. From orbit, P37-T5R looked very Earth-like: a similar ratio of land masses to water, with polar ice caps and an arid central equator. It was a reassuring sight – the similarity meaning that there would be no additional difficulties with landing the jumper and launching the tactical ground assault once they found Rodney as was a possibility if the topology or environment conditions had vastly differed from the ones in which SGA-1 usually operated.

Suddenly, a light flashed on Teyla's console. "I have something," she said, a note of excitement creeping into her voice.

"It looks like an ATA signature," John said, calling up the scan results on his own console and checking the coordinates. "On the second largest continent - I'll take us in closer."

"It is almost certainly Rodney," Teyla said after a few minutes and John felt his heart jump in response to her words. "I am reading the ATA gene in a human male," she continued. "He is only ATA carrier that the scans have picked up, even though the estimated population of this continent is 600 million."

"Looks like McKay alright," Ronon added. "There's a large complex down there and he appears to be in the middle of it. The place looks like it has an outer defense perimeter, but there aren't any shields or weapon towers that I can see. Should be fairly easy to penetrate," he concluded and John could hear the grin in his voice.

"Right," John replied, zeroing in on the location of the complex and scanning the surrounding area with a practiced eye. Spotting a small clearing in the deciduous forest less than a klick from the complex, he grinned. Perfect.

"I have a landing site," he said, the adrenalin starting to surge through his system. "Be ready to move as soon as we touch down."

~*~



They were out of the jumper and making their way, quickly and quietly, through the dense forest in record time. John was in the lead, his scanner with Rodney's life sign shining like a beacon, clasped firmly in one hand and his P-90 at the ready in the other. Teyla and Ronon were in flanking positions to either side of him, their movements barely detectable in the dusky twilight.

The sight of a tall, grey wall rising out of the forest ahead of them had John drawing to a stop, gesturing for his team to do likewise. With out the need for any words to pass between them, they moved effortlessly into a scouting pattern, making their way around the perimeter of the wall until they encountered an entrance gate.

"Two guards," Ronon whispered low as the three of them converged under cover of a large tree. "Don't think they'll give us much of a challenge."

"No," John agreed. "And it looks like there armed only with non-projectile weapons," he added, gesturing towards the baton-like weapon hanging from the guards belts.

"We are very close to Rodney here," Teyla said, glancing down at her scanner and then back up to John. "He is only a few hundred meters from our current position."

John felt a surge of pleasure shoot through him at her words – they were almost there.

"Right," he said. "The aim is to get in, get Rodney and get out as fast as possible. The first obstacle is the guards – we'll take them both simultaneously. Ronon, you take the one on the right; Teyla, the one on the left." He consulted his scanner, assessing the distance between the entrance gate and Rodney's location. "Once we're through, there only looks to be one other person between us and Rodney," he said. "So I'll concentrate on breaking through the gate and retrieving him. You guys hold the gate for us and cover our exit." He glanced up to meet each of his team mates gaze in turn, seeing his own determination reflected there. "Then we get the hell out of here and head home."

~*~



The assault of the complex was quick and bloodless. The guards never knew what hit them as Ronon and Teyla attacked in tandem, rendering them both unconscious without a signal shot being fired. Trusting his team to take care things outside, John concentrated on forcing open the gate and getting into the main complex. Once through, he found himself in an open courtyard, his scanner telling him that Rodney was only a stone's throw away.

Turning towards the small bunker on his left, John kicked the door open with a single blow, his weapon at the ready. A long corridor lay before him, with a single guard standing outside a door about halfway down. Weapon raised, John approached the guard at a run – certain Rodney lay behind that door. The guard gathered himself together sufficiently to raise his baton at John's approach, the end of it sparking like a Taser, but John dealt with him with one well-aimed blow to the head with the butt of his P-90.

As he dropped his weapon and scrambled to undo the heavy bolt securing the door, John had to bite his tongue to stop himself calling Rodney's name. Finally, after what felt like forever, the bolt slid free and he was able to heave the door open.

Rondey stood at the far side of the room, his blue eyes wide with shock and an up-turned chair, presumably a make-shift weapon, held above his head. The heady flood of relief that crashed through John at the sight was dizzying.

"Good to see you too, McKay," he quipped, watching with deep satisfaction as recognition and joy spread across Rodney's face.

"John," Rodney said, dropping his chair to the floor. "Thank god!"

For one breathless moment John thought Rodney would move forward to embrace him. He even went so far as to take a couple of steps forwards himself, one hand already reaching out towards Rodney for some reason he couldn't fathom. But then a shout from Teyla, urging them on, broke the spell and spurred Rodney into action.

Dropping his gaze from John's, John watched, with no small amount of pride, as the soldier in Rodney came to the fore. Rodney surged into motion immediately, stuffing a handful of papers into his vest before grabbing the weapon John held out to him.

"Are you okay?" John asked in concern as he led the way out of the bunker and towards the entrance gate. Rodney was limping slightly as he ran.

"Yes, yes," Rodney replied impatiently, waving away John's concern. "Let's just get out of here – where's the jumper?"

"About 700 meters form here," John replied as they ran through the gate, joining Ronon and Teyla who were standing in position beside it. "Any sign of a counter-attack?" he asked them as they fell into step on either side of John and Rodney.

"No," Teyla replied with a smile.

"Good,' said John, reaching out a hand towards Rodney and patting him once quickly on the shoulder as they ran. He was unbelievably thankful to have Rodney, alive and unharmed again at his side. "Almost there, buddy, " he said. "We're almost home."


~*~



A short two hours later found SGA-1 firmly ensconced in the commissary. Rodney's ankle had been treated and he'd been given the all clear by Carson. John had agreed to Elizabeth's suggestion to postpone the de-brief to the following day, so they had the evening free. True to form, Rodney had insisted on food, so they'd headed to the commissary. Now John found himself sitting with his team, watching Rodney practically inhale at least six sausages and several ladles full of creamy mashed tormack.

Finally, Rodney pushed back his mostly empty plate with a sigh of sated pleasure. "That," he said with intense satisfaction, "was a meal almost worth being kidnapped for."

"Really?" John asked, unable to resist the temptation to bait him. "So you'll be volunteering for kidnapping in the future."

"Uh-uh, Colonel," Rodney replied, waggling a finger at him. "I've been kidnapped, worked to the bone, rescued and am now far too full – I'm not being pulled into any kind of argument with you."

Raising an eyebrow, John just waited. He didn't have to wait long.

"But, no," Rodney continued. "There should be no more kidnapping of me ever. I'm reached my quota. Seriously, any more and I'm suing the SGC for employee exploitation."

John snorted. "If only we could," he said. "I'm owed millions."

"You?" Rodney replied in indignation. "No, no, no, Colonel. You're military – you signed up for this. I'm the one wronged – civilian contractor here."

"So you did not sign up for this, Rodney?" came Teyla's lightly teasing voice. "I am very hurt to discover you did not choose to serve with us."

"What? No!" Rodney backtracked quickly. "Of course I choose to be here – I mean, you need me. After all, who else would keep this city afloat and all of you alive? Radek? It took him, what - three days? - to repair some broken control crystals. Ridiculous. What I meant was..."

As Rodney continued to sputter, Teyla reached out a hand and placed it over Rodney's "It is okay, Rodney," she reassured him. "I was only teasing you. I am very thankful you are home."

"Yes, well," Rodney replied, a blush blooming over his cheeks. "Thank you for, you know, the rescue." He smiled shyly back at Teyla before glancing over to Ronon and then finally to John, his smile growing as their eyes met.

"Any time, buddy," John replied easily, reaching out under the table to nudge Rodney's leg with his own in friendly camaraderie. It felt good, reassuring to feel the answering press of Rodney's, and something warm settled comfortably within his chest. "Although, I have to say, I'm all in favour of you giving the being kidnapped thing a rest too. Far too much paperwork involved."

"I dunno, McKay," Ronon interjected, reaching out to pull the remainders of Rodney's dinner towards himself. "If we get food like this on your return, maybe it is worth it after all."

As Rodney started sputtering again and the argument deteriorated into a tug of war over the remaining tormack mash, John let himself slouch down in his chair and just watch his team. His eyes came to a rest on Rodney and he felt the need, unexpected but not unwelcome, come over him again. The need to reach out and touch Rodney – to reassure himself that Rodney was real. Giving in to the temptation, he reached out and slung his arm around the back of Rodney's chair, enjoying the heat Rodney's body radiated and luxuriating in the feeling of warm contentment that spread through him.


~*~



When Rodney awoke the next morning, he was initially surprised to find himself back in his bedroom in Atlantis, the reflection of the water dancing on his ceiling and the incessant beep of his alarm sounding in his ear. Reaching out to turn the damn thing off, he proceeded to slowly roll to his feet and make his way towards the bathroom, flipping on the coffee machine en route. The day was shaping up to be a busy one – he had the mandatory de-briefing with Elizabeth first thing and that was to be followed by a Science department meeting and then an off-world team meeting that afternoon. Quite when he was going to get any actual work done was anyone's guess.

On his way back from the bathroom, he spied the large pile of papers he'd managed to bring with him from the cell. Despite his utter abhorrence over being kidnapped and forced to work, he had to admit his curiosity was piqued over what exactly it was he had been kidnapped to do. And he knew himself well enough to know that, once his interest had been caught, his brain wouldn't let him rest until he'd solved the problem.

Prior to falling into bed the night before, he'd been unable to resist scanning the papers and notes he'd taken into Atlantis' computer system. With the exception of the final set of information the woman had left with him just before his rescue, everything else was now sitting happily in a new file on his tablet, just waiting to be analysed.

Washed, dressed, and with a coffee cup in one hand and his tablet in the other, Rodney exited his quarters only to walk straight in to John Sheppard.

"Hey!" Rodney complained as hot coffee ran over his hand, splashed on to his shirt and came dangerously close to hitting his computer.

"Shit," John swore, reaching out with one hand to take the now half-empty mug from Rodney and with the other to grasp firmly at his shoulder, steadying him. "Sorry," John said, his hand lingering. "Didn't expect you there."

Rodney huffed, shrugged, and then wiped his hand on his already stained shirt before glaring over at John. "What?" he snapped, vaguely aware that John was still touching him. "You didn't expect me to be coming out of my own quarters?" Seeing John open his mouth to reply, he quickly waved away any arguments. "You owe me coffee," he declared emphatically. "Come on." And, with that, he pulled out of John's grip and led the way down the corridor towards the commissary, trusting John to follow in his wake.


~*~



Clutching what had to be at least his fifth cup of coffee that morning, Rodney sat in the conference room listening to John's account of the rescue mission. Of course, he'd had the abridged version last night, but at the time he'd been rather more focused on the fact that he was on Atlantis again, with John, Ronon and Teyla, and in front of a huge plate of hot food. For a time there, he'd wondered if he was going to be stuck in that tiny cell forever. The thought was intensely disturbing and Rodney made a mental note to keep that little piece of information to himself – there was no telling what amount of counselling Heightmeyer would subject him to if he voiced such a thought in her presence.

The warm, subtle press of John's leg against his own underneath the table snapped Rodney's attention back to the meeting. They were, as per usual, sitting side by side, but Rodney couldn't help but notice that John was seated a little closer to him than was normal. Rodney let himself idly ponder this fact for a moment before dismissing the thought as he realised that John was winding up his report and that it would be Rodney's turn next.

"And we're very pleased to have you back, Rodney," Elizabeth said as John finished, smiling over at him. "Do you have any idea why it was you were captured?"

Rodney frowned and shook his head. "Not as such," he replied. "I mean, it's obvious that they wanted me to do some work for them, but what exactly I was supposed be doing isn't something I ever managed to figure out." He grinned wryly as he continued. "We didn't exactly speak the same language."

"No, that much I gathered," Elizabeth said, and Rodney definitely did not like the sparkle in her eye. "And while we're on the subject of their language, Rodney, I'd like you to liaise with the linguistics department to see if we can work up a translation program as there doesn't seem to be a record of it on the Ancient database."

"Yes, alright, fine," Rodney replied dismissively, mentally relegating that particular task to the very bottom of his to-do list. "But that's not really the main issue anymore - I'd pretty much figured out what information they were giving me anyway. No, the real question is what did they want me to do with it?"

"And what were they giving you, Rodney?" Teyla asked. "You mentioned something about a disease."

"Aye," Carson interjected. "But thankfully nothing unusual came up on the scans or blood work, I did."

"No, no, no," Rodney replied, shaking his head. "It's not a disease that I could catch. At least," he added suddenly a little worried, "not as far as I understood it. No, what their data seemed to indicate is that they are concerned about incidents of all kinds of sickness - in people, livestock and crops."

"An epidemic of some kind?" John asked, sitting up a little straighter and glancing over at Rodney sharply.

Rodney shrugged, noticing absently that his shoulder almost brushed against John's as he did so. "I don't know. Perhaps, but the problem they were having – the one I think they wanted me to solve – concerned the link between what they were seeing." He turned to look at John directly. "If it is an epidemic, then it's certainly not the kind we're accustomed to on Earth. There's not just one set of symptoms, if you will, but more like hundreds."

Deciding that he needed to show them what he was talking about, Rodney flipped on his tablet and activated the screen in the centre of the conference table, projecting onto it one of the maps he'd been working on just prior to his rescue. "You see," he said, overlaying the map with layer upon layer of coloured filters. "Each colour represents the incidence rates of a different type of outbreak over a twelve month period - there's everything here from birth and death rates, to crop yields and livestock losses." He next flashed up a series of scatter plots, each one showing a positive correlation between the events themselves and the passage of time.

"And what exactly are we looking at here, Rodney?" Elizabeth asked.

"To put it succinctly," Rodney replied. "A mess." He flipped through a few dozen more plots to prove his point. "Basically, the data indicates that everything is related to everything else – decreases in fertility over time, for example, which I've also shown correlates with the falling crop yields, the deaths of domesticated animals, as well as an increase in the number of serious cases of ill health in adults. All of which, might I add, also correlate with each other."

"That makes no sense," Ronon commented flatly. "What does cattle death have to do with fertility?"

"Exactly my point," Rodney replied, pointing a finger at Ronon. "Nothing."

"Correlation not causation," John muttered from beside him.

"And ten points to the Colonel here," Rodney said, finger sweeping around in an arc from Ronon to John before snapping in triumph. "It makes no sense because there isn't a causal link here at all. There's something missing."

"Something big," Carson said, frowning up at the display. "Some of these figures are frightening. If these trends continue, I can't see how these people will survive for much longer."

"The situation is that serious?" Teyla asked, her concern evident in her voice. "Can we do anything for them."

"That's what I want to find out," Rodney replied. "Just before you guys arrived, my one contact gave me another stack of information. I haven't had a chance to look through it yet, what with the escape and all, but she seemed very reluctant to let me have it."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," John interjected, his leg brushing against Rodney's as he shifted in his seat. "Let's just slow things down here. Rodney, these people kidnapped you and you want to help them?"

Rodney had to admit that he had a point, but the mystery of the situation still called to him. "Well, not exactly," he admitted. "But I am curious and-"

"And we have to help them," Carson interrupted. "It's our duty."

"I have to say that I agree with Carson, John," Elizabeth said, glancing between the two men. "From what you've said, these people pose no real threat to us. They obviously took Rodney out of desperation. If we can help them, we should." She then turned her gaze directly to John. "Unless, that is, you have a reason to believe there is a danger to us?"

John gestured to Rodney as he answered. "Other than the fact they've got lousy social skills and obviously don't know how to play nice with others?" he asked sarcastically. "No."

"Relax, Colonel," Rodney said. "I, for one, certainly have no intention of going anywhere near that planet ever again. That said, I do have the information – I might as well take a look."

"Fine," John said. "But if there is to be any further contact," he continued, looking beyond Rodney to Elizabeth. "Any further contact is to be handled by military teams - no arguments. This can no longer be just a scientific or diplomatic mission."

"Absolutely, John," Elizabeth replied.

"Well," Rodney said, deciding that he'd had quite enough and realising that, if he was lucky, he could squeeze in about thirty minutes work before his next meeting. "Now that we have that established, can I go get some real work done?"


~*~



The rest of Rodney's day progressed much as anticipated – a series of dull meetings interspersed by sporadic flurries of work and the odd city-related emergency. At such times, Rodney wondered whether they would ever get the city running without incident. Then again, perhaps this was what was considered normal when running an entire city, one that was at least a couple of millennia old, on a single ZPM assisted by nothing more than a series of hopped up naquadah power generators. Added to which, they were fielding a full-force of off-world teams and powering the 'gate was the single largest drain on their grid. Throw in a fight-to-the-death incident with the Wraith every few months, and Rodney reckoned he should be pretty damn proud of the fact that the city was still in one piece.

He was currently re-configuring one of the east pier's water filtration nodes to deal with the additional input from the south pier. Most of his engineering team, with Zelenka at the helm, were dealing with the repairs to the entire southern grid, which had suffered catastrophic damage in the last Wraith attack. Most of the transfer work had been completed, and Rodney only had another couple of physicists with him to deal with the remainder of the transfer. It was fairly mindless work, the complex configuration of Lantean technical specifications now second nature to him.

Truth be told, he shouldn't really have been out there at all. He should be sitting in a meeting of SGA-1, assessing subsequent targets and reviewing mission protocols. It was normally the kind of meeting he almost enjoyed – John was never one for formality (not that Rodney really paid any heed to those who were) and he did like getting an input into mission objectives. However, having already spent over four hours in various meetings around the city, Rodney felt that he had more than fulfilled his meeting quota for the day. Still, he thought as he reached out a hand to snag a piece of freshly baked chocolate muffin, at least the Science department meeting had had its upside; Miko really was an excellent cook.

The bleep of his radio interrupted him just as he was making the final adjustment to the flow matrix. He was tempted, for a moment, to ignore it, but knew deep down that doing so would be to no avail: John would just track him down anyway and Rodney didn't think he could take much more of watching him pout. For all that he was supposed to be a hard-ass military man, Rodney had never known anyone with a more effective set of puppy dog eyes and pouty mouth than John when things weren't going his way.

It had actually come as a bit of a surprise to Rodney to witness how his capture had apparently affected John. After all, it wasn't like Rodney hadn't been in danger before – from billowy shadow creatures to knife-happy sociopaths, he'd certainly had his share of close encounters – but, he supposed, this was perhaps the first time that he'd been captured and actually separated from John by god knows how many light years. As a result, it seemed as if the man had suddenly become his shadow – appearing outside his quarters first thing in the morning, lurking by the lab just as he was heading out to lunch, and, apparently, chasing him to the east pier when he took too long to answer a page.

Giving in to the inevitable, Rodney quickly closed the node's hatch, taking in a deep breath as he did so. In addition to developing some sort of stalker-like tendencies, John had become very touchy-feely of late. Which was odd, because John didn't do the touching thing. Ever. Even Ronon's back slaps and Teyla's gentle forehead thingy seemed to wig him out and Rodney had never seen him more uncomfortable than when Elizabeth had hugged him after he was beamed out of the Wraith-bound, bomb-laden jumper by the Daedalus. Yet the fact still remained that, since his return, whenever Rodney was in John's presence, the man seemed to find some excuse to touch him. It was beginning to become just a tad distracting: Rodney may have relegated John to his 'gorgeous but unattainable' list pretty much on first sight, but he was only human. Too much more of this and John would find himself facing the very real possibility that Rodney would start touching back.

"Something wrong with your radio, Rodney?" John called out as soon as he was within earshot. "Or perhaps your watch? You missed the meeting."

Struggling to his feet from where he'd been hunched over the control node, Rodney flapped a hand at John. "Please," he said. "All I've done today is sit in meetings. I have a million and one things to do, the very least of which is single-handedly solving a number of alien epidemics." He held up a hand to forestall whatever comment John was about to make. "And, I'm warning you now, you're not getting me back into one for all the coffee in the city."

John raised a speculative eyebrow in response. "How about all the chocolate muffins?" he asked, reaching out a hand to brush against Rodney's chest.

For a second, Rodney could only stand there frozen in disbelief as he felt John's hand, the fingertips hot and blunt, swept lightly over his pecs, one grazing tantalizingly over his nipple.

"What?" he stuttered in confusion, feeling a hot flush work its way over his cheeks as his body started to respond.

John's hand dropped away. "Crumbs," he said thickly, a look Rodney couldn't quite decipher gracing his face.

"Oh," was all Rodney could think of to say. And then, into the heavy silence, "Miko – she... uh... she baked them for our lab meeting."

"Ah," John replied, nodding. "So that's the way to get you to meetings is it? I guess that getting the commissary to break open the last of the tormack harvest isn't enough for you?"

"Wait, what?" Rodney asked, blinking in confusion at the strange direction the conversation was taking.

John shook his head, another odd expression on his face. "Nothing, McKay," he said, turning on his heel and heading back towards the city.

Rodney was left, confused, breathless and more than a little aroused, staring after him.

~*~


Read Chain Reaction part 2.