Author Notes: I own nothing recognizable. I do not have any background that would give me expertise for these stories beyond my love of SGA and my Googling skills. Constructive feedback, suggestions and edits are always welcome as fictional writing as a whole is a new avenue for me.
Summary: Everyone has their limits; even the genius Rodney McKay. Short term crises are his forte - surviving the never ending, day after day demands of being the foremost expert in Ancient technology is another matter entirely.
Setting: No specific timeline and not really set within any specific episodes but includes Keller and Woolsey and they are still in Pegasus so somewhere early Season 5ish.
Chapter 1: It starts out small
Contrary to popular belief, Rodney really did know his limits.
Physically, he's quite aware he's not going to be the first one picked for any sports teams in the near future, but honestly, that's why all they brought all these military people - to do the actual heavy lifting. When needed he can hold his own and that's really all that matters at the end of the day. The level of physicality varies depending on the risk/reward scenario. For example, punch that guy out or he stabs you - Rodney can handle that. Pick up the pace on the long, boring walk to the gate and you can beat out the crowds on meatloaf and cupcake nights - seems like a worthwhile expenditure of energy.
Intellectually, he's unrivaled by anyone on/from Earth. Samantha Carter gets close to being his equal in her brighter moments, but otherwise, he's in a league of his own. Rodney's not so blinded by arrogance that he doesn't recognize other races may have a better understanding of some principles - but they've had a several thousand-year head-start in the evolutionary race. Just give him enough time and he'd surpass them and all their fancy technology too.
Rodney's also quite proud of his ability to overcome exhaustion to keep working and keep everyone alive. It's not his fault his limit of mental exhaustion was way past most people - that's hard-earned endurance from a lifetime of having to be the best and brightest. Taking university classes while in high school after skipping several grades doesn't leave a lot of time for lounging on the couch or lazy weekend mornings. You learn to roll with what's needed to always meet and exceed the next expectation and find a new normal that allows you to function as needed with as little rest as possible.
This talent - no scratch that - this skill has benefited everyone on the expedition more times than they even know. How many times has he saved their asses by working for days with little or no sleep. He tries to keep the occasions to a minimum but when the wraith attack, replicators decide it's time to wipe them out, or even when the desalination tanks all started draining at once - it's him they look to do the work, lead the teams, and ensure they all make it through another day.
Off-world he's pushed beyond normal limits to ensure he and his team make it back in (sometimes more or less) one piece. You can't ask a suddenly violent group of villagers you inadvertently ticked off for something as silly as merely looking at their 'sacred' statue to see if glowing crown was powered by a zed-pm, to just relax for a few hours while you have a hot meal and get some sleep before resuming their all-out assault on you and your team. All while you try to fix the DHD one crazy-haired Colonel 'accidentally' damaged in the crossfire. Granted it was to keep Telya from being hit so, you know, but really is it too much to ask that they keep the shooting away from the 10,000-year-old technology?
But there's a cost to these long days. Following most of these times, Rodney would grab a quick meal and collapse on his bed for 12 hours straight before getting up and moving on to the next inevitable crisis. While he never feels completely recovered from the more harrowing times, after a few less adrenaline filled days that allow for luxuries like lunch and maybe even a coffee break with snack if it's a really good day, he usually recovers enough. Pegasus has required Rodney to continually push his limits a few more notches up to a new normal required to address the challenges faced by the mission.
While these short-term crises can be taxing, the real killer is the long-term constant demand that comes with being the most brilliant physicist in this galaxy. You can't exactly take the weekend to visit the cottage (or more accurately tell all those annoying undergrads you went to the cottage and really hideout on the couch watching Dr. Who for three straight days without speaking to another human).
Aside from the 'days off' you might get trapped in a hospital bed, there's never really any true downtime in Atlantis. Someone can always find you to fix the problem they've created with their idioticness after being left unattended for more than 2 minutes. There's also always a long list of repairs, questions, and general things-to-do just waiting for him to have a few spare minutes. Let alone any time to actually do something he enjoys like working on a research paper to ensure he gets his credit when this mission is declassified or checking the ancient database for answers to life's important questions like what really happens to matter in black holes. Hawking has his theory of course, but Rodney just knows there's more to it - if only he could prove it.
With these constant demands and little time for rest, Rodney could feel himself continuing to exceed his limit for long-term sustained productivity. In short, he was burning out.
This is not a new state for him. Rodney, recognized the ever-growing list of symptoms including waking up in the middle of the night for no discernible reason aside from his ever-busy mind determining a few hours of sleep was all he could afford as there's a long list of tasks scrolling through his brain to attend to. Even though he was exhausted, sleep would elude him after this point so might as well get up, grab some coffee (or whatever they are pretending is coffee these days) and move on to the next task on the list.
Rodney also realized the near-constant headache that continued even after he would take some of his precious supply of OTC painkillers he smuggled back after his last trip to Earth wasn't a great sign of peak health. He knew the infirmary had stronger stuff that would actually put an end to the constant thumping pain, but that would require a conversation with a particular blonde doctor and Rodney was just not ready to open that line of questioning. Jennifer would most likely try to run every scan and test she could think of to find the root cause as "Headaches are often a symptom of other underlying issues, Rodney". There was no way Jennifer would just give him the damn pills so he could move on with his day.
He was also finding more and more instances where he realized his jaw was sore. It took a few occurrences to recognize this wasn't from some off-world injury or accumulated damage from all the less than textbook jumper 'landings' he's endured, but from grinding his teeth in perpetual frustration at the level of ineptitude he found himself constantly surrounded by.
Speaking of which, he was also self-aware enough to see that his notoriously limited patience was even more limited than usual. Annoyances he would have formerly huffed at and moved on were driving him fucking crazy. Like if Yen taps that pen one more time Rodney's pretty sure he'll break Yen's arm and feel totally justified. Even Rodney knows that's probably a bit extreme; hence, the jaw clenching.
Rodney was also having episodes of vertigo at seemly random times to keep his days extra interesting. No one seemed to have noticed as he always caught himself or remained stationary until the symptoms abated, but it was close a few times. The worst was during the mandatory team training Sheppard made him attend yesterday afternoon. Ronan was showing him some secret handshake thing that could be used to loosen rope bindings (why a guy with two PhDs needed this skill was a real testament to how not normal his life was). It took a second for Rodney to realize it was him and not some failure of the City's stabilizers but luckily he was close enough to a wall to pass off steading himself as slumping against the wall in a typical cross-armed slouch the others would expect from him during forced physical activity.
While all of this was annoying, he could endure the physical symptoms. But the lapses in concentration that started just a day or two ago (or was it three or four now...fuck) were starting to interfere with his ability to work. The episodes were minor and his superior intellect allowed him to recover before anyone else noticed but Rodney noticed. Like this morning's staff meeting where he drifted through Woolsey's round-table on supplies required for the next Daedalus run but he caught her look and just stated that he'd have a list to her later instead - apologies for the delay and all. And when Zelenka pointed out the error in his math, he simply passed it off as a test to ensure Radek was paying attention.
But these concentration slips were getting worse and Rodney would find himself lost on tangents for indeterminate amounts of time. For example, on Tuesday, or was it Wednesday, maybe it was last week? What day is today - oh fuck it all, why do we insist on using the Earth-based 7 day week when we don't have work days and weekends. There's nothing magical about a 7 day week. The moon cycle on this planet is not conducive to being divided by 7 (not that the one on Earth really is either...) and there aren't 7 'heavenly bodies' or whatever other random cues that lead Earth use a 7 day week. I guess it's a reminder of home for the sappier expedition members. What we really need is something like a star date system - but one actually based on actual changes in the relative position of something in Pegasus. This would be both efficient and more relevant to life here in Atlantis. I wonder how the Ancients measured and divided planetary rotational cycles - I bet they had a better system but I'm sure they managed to somehow fuck that up too - just like the desalination tanks that all enter cleaning cycles at the same time leaving you with NO WATER - fucking morons! It took weeks to reprogram them to stage the cycles so the tanks rotated through and you didn't have gaps in something as important as drinking water supplies. He must be something missing, like another set of tanks somewhere else or a redundant system they haven't found yet as what idiots would program all their drinking water to be unavailable at the same time - that's just, well idiotic. God he must be tired - can't even come up with half decent insults. What started this line of thinking anyway? Oh right - concentration lapses. Of course, irony, or something...he is so screwed. "Get a hold of yourself man!" - was his inner dialogue just in Cadman's voice...wow he really might just be losing it.
Startled, Rodney, was diverted from his introspection by one John Sheppard looming over his shoulder. All he could spare was an annoyed glare and huff before turning back to the equations that should allow them to recharge a zed-pm - if only the solution would appear. Rodney tried to appear to be totally focused on working in a valiant effort to get Sheppard to leave him the hell alone, but John just pointed to the screen asking:
"Shouldn't that be the other way?"
Rodney huffed and started to prepare an epic rant about flyboys interrupting actual scientists when he glanced where John was pointing and - shut the front door - he was right. The formula was transposed.
Rodney wanted to break down in tears right there, but that wouldn't help his growing feeling of failure - so he defaulted to his always present anger. Standing up so abruptly he nearly hit his head on John's chin Rodney grit his teeth as gravity betrayed him as he raised his finger to point accusingly at John to start a rant of epic proportions. But just as he opened his mouth, John announced "It's time for dinner!" and grabbed his outreached hand and started dragging Rodney out of the lab. It took a bit for Rodney's brain to catch up with what just happened and he snatched back is hand and went to turn back to the lab when another wave of vertigo hit. John simply reached out and grabbed his shoulder stating "This is why you need to eat." before forcefully guiding him the rest of the way to the mess.
By the time they reached the mess, Rodney, realized he really was hungry. Being the genius he is, he also realized it made the most sense for him to grab a quick dinner before returning to work. A hypoglycemic episode wasn't going to help his concentration. Rodney and John both loaded their trays with the always interesting mix of foods (all certified citrus free of course) and found a table near the windows.
Rodney quickly started in on his tray, thinking he must have been way hungrier than he thought. But it hadn't been that long since he ate…what...lunch...maybe? Was it pseudo mac and cheese today, or was that yesterday.
"Hungry there Rodney?" John quipped glancing up at Rodney from his own dinner.
"Huh? What? Oh, ya I guess. Busy day keeping the City functional with all these morons running around touching things they know nothing about. Do you know that one your guys nearly blew up the southwest pier because he thought the naquadah generator could just be unplugged and moved a bit so it was easier to see from his post? He kept interrupting me all afternoon I went down there and explained that he was welcome to move the generator if his goal was to kill us all."
"So I heard." John chose not to elaborate as it was clear Rodney was more focused on his food, but Captain Koshkinen had spoken to John that afternoon. The Captain was actually trying to see if the generator could be moved so it would be in a more concealed position instead of being visible from halfway down the pier making it a very open and hard to defend target. John actually thought it was very forward thinking and connected Koshkinen with Zelenka to have arrange to have generator moved.
They finished their meal in companionable silence and after dropping off their trays, Rodney started back towards the labs to get back to his work thinking he was going to need a large dose of caffeine. He was trying to remember exactly what he was working on when his purposeful stride was distributed by John pulling him backwards by his left bicep.
Glancing down at John's hand, Rodney followed the arm up all the way to roast John with one of his most scathing glares "What are you doing? Let go of me."
"You are not going back to the labs. You" John punctuated with a finger in the centre of Rodney's chest "are going to bed."
Wrenching his arm free, Rodney exclaimed "I don't need you to put me to bed. I'm not your subordinate that you can just order around. If you want to go to bed, then go, but leave me to my work keeping this City afloat." And with that Rodney turned back towards the labs.
Unfortunately, gravity betrayed him once again and he stumbled slightly reaching out to catch himself on the nearby wall.
"And that is why you are going to bed." John grabbed his arm again and practically dragged Rodney towards his room. Rodney reluctantly opened the doors and stomped into his room towards the bed without a backwards glance.
"Night Rodney. See you in the infirmary at 0800". John watches the door close and turns to continue walking down the corridor to his own room.
Rodney's mostly closed door suddenly slides fully open "Wh..what..why am I going to the infirmary? I'm fine. Totally fine." Rodney sputtered.
Rubbing the back of his neck, John gives his friend a concerned look responding "Ah...it's for the standard pre-mission check? Before we go on our mission tomorrow. You do remember we have a mission scheduled, right?"
"No, no, no, no, no, no. I clearly remember that we decided the mission was on Sunday...because…..ah…ah…." famous Rodney double-hand pop finger snap "because Teyla told us...something...harvest cycle….moon dance….some other ridiculous god-worshiping ceremony was going on and we couldn't talk with anyone until after that...hence the mission is on Sunday."
"Tomorrow is Sunday, Rodney" John stated flatly watching the triumphant grin fall from Rodney's face.
"Are you sure? Like really sure? Because I have way too much to do before the mission for it be tomorrow. Maybe all that hair has made it hard to keep track of the days. Also, why do we even use the Earth calendar"
"when we could have much more efficient system that's actually relevant to the Pegasus"
"instead of holding onto something simply because it too difficult for some people to"
Sighing, John physically rallied all the patients he could this late hour to calmly state "Rodney, it's definitely Saturday today making tomorrow definitely Sunday and you will be in the infirmary at 0800 if I have to drag you down there myself. The Umbato have agreed to allow us access to the Ancient outpost after months of negotiation, so you need to be your charming self all ready to go at 0800."
Before Rodney could respond, John grabbed his shoulders turning him around and pushing him back into his room closing with "Go to bed Rodney. I need you ready to explore the Ancient outpost tomorrow so that we can try to see what goodies the Ancients left behind; hopefully without blowing anything up."
"Fine." And with that Rodney walked further into his room heading towards the bed with the doors sliding closed behind him. Maybe he could get some sleep and tomorrow he might actually be able to honestly consider himself fine.