Author's Notes: It's the end! Wow. I never thought I'd see it. Thank you for every single review, they're lovely to read, and you're all wonderful for writing them. Thanks go again to OXBastetXO for her help in a couple of technical details.
If I Die
Chapter Twenty Five - Three Stooges
Elizabeth heard the team before she saw them.
Was surprised the entire station couldn't hear it. A pause, then a sudden, thunderous rattle of metal upon metal, and a number of whoops and cries from several identifiable sources.
She risked a peek around the corner of the corridor, and couldn't help but smile at the scene.
At the far end, upon a table, sat McKay, propping himself up with one arm awkwardly, and in his free hand he held what looked to be a stopwatch. Beside him stood Teyla, holding a scrap of dull white sheeting roughly daubed with black squares. Ahead of them, along the corridor, raced the two men.
Then perhaps that was crediting them with too much maturity.
Ford rode a wheelchair, McKay's, she guessed. He was pushed far forward in the seat, almost bent double as he wrestled with the two wheels, driving the contraption forward as fast as he could manage. His hands kept slipping on the wheels, then grabbed hold again. At about a meter's width was Sheppard. He stood – or rather, skated upon…
Now where had he got one of those?
Stepping backwards and out of sight, Weir carefully smoothed her uniform, pursed her lips into a mock frown, waiting until she judged the thunderous rattling of metal could come no closer… and then walked out into the corridor.
Ford yelped with surprise and slammed on the brakes, nearly jerking his arms out of their sockets with the effort. The sudden force caused the wheelchair to topple backwards, and she heard a distinct "Crap!" as his head hit the floor. Sheppard was initially a little more dignified, aiming for a skid, pushing out with one foot to send his skateboard into a right angle, touching off the wall as leverage. If he'd been on a conventional, Earth-made board he might have succeeded, but under this unexpected stress the home-crafted wood and hand driven nails protested angrily, before collapsing completely. With the support under his right foot suddenly in splinters, Sheppard toppled sideways and landed on the floor in an ungainly heap.
In the silence that followed one of the skateboard's wheels decided to separate from the group and rolled across the floor comically, coming to a stop at Weir's feet.
"Did I interrupt something?" she asked, finding it very hard to remain straight-faced.
Sheppard gave an exaggerated groan, pushing himself into a sitting position. Behind him Ford had struggled out of the overturned wheelchair and was sat on the floor, rubbing what was undoubtedly a significant bruise on the back of his head.
"Nothing important," Teyla responded, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. Putting down the starting flag, she walked across to Aiden and offered him a hand up.
"Nothing important?" Sheppard protested, picking at the remains of his skateboard. "I was about to win the Atlantis record for the hundred meter race!"
"On two wheels," McKay added.
Weir considered the scientist for a second, gladdened by the sight of colour in his cheeks, the brightness of his eyes. Didn't let her stony façade drop. "Am I right in thinking this would be an Atlantis record because –"
"It's never been tried before?" Teyla finished. "I did point this out to the Major, Doctor Weir."
"That just makes it more exciting." Sheppard retrieved the errant wheel and fingered it sorrowfully. "Or at least, it was until my board broke."
"We can build a new one," Ford offered. "Maybe it just needs a little reinforcement –" He stopped, silenced by a look from Weir. "Uh… that is, uh, if we're, um, allowed."
"I have no objection to hobbies on Atlantis," Weir started, in her best school mistress manner. Then she slipped up, let a smile escape. "I might suggest better places to hold the races. You didn't have to pick a populated section of Atlantis."
Sheppard got to his feet, using the wall as leverage, then started ineffectually rubbing at the dirt on his pants. "Yeah, well Carson said we could only take Rodney out for a day trip if we promised to stay close to the infirmary."
"And you decided the best way to spend the time was to hold skateboard races in the middle of a corridor?"
"That wasn't our first idea," Ford started, "We were gonna –" He stopped again, this time due to the cutthroat actions Sheppard was miming behind Elizabeth's back.
"It's partly my fault," McKay broke in.
Weir turned to him, raised an eyebrow. "Really? How?"
"Uh…" Rodney glanced downwards, then back up. "Not sure," he admitted. "Just thought I should add something. It was actually all Major Sheppard's idea."
"Oh, thanks, Rodney."
"Somehow that doesn't surprise me." Elizabeth glanced at Sheppard, who was doing his best to look chagrined. "Perhaps you'd like to retrieve the parts of your skateboard and keep the rest of this race for another day? I need to speak to Rodney."
"Right. Sorry." Sheppard bent down and started scooping the remains of his creation into his hands. Aiden righted the wheelchair, then rolled it across to McKay's table. He offered a hand to Rodney, but the scientist shrugged it off.
"I'm fine," he snapped, defensively. Shifting forward, McKay let his feet touch the floor, then slowly dropped his weight onto them, supporting his upper body on his arms against the table. His forearms quivered with the effort, his face draining of colour, and it was only the quick movements of his teammates that prevented a complete collapse – Sheppard's arm under one shoulder, Ford's under the other, and Teyla maneuvering the wheelchair underneath McKay's body so he could be lowered into it gently, if a little awkwardly.
A scarlet flush across his cheeks contrasted with the grey. "Thanks," McKay mumbled, shifting in the chair. He shot a look up at Ford. "The seat's still warm."
"My pleasure," Ford grinned.
Sheppard's face scrunched into look of revulsion. "Oh, that's disgusting."
Teyla looked confused. "I do not understand."
"I'll let Major Sheppard explain," Weir said smoothly, trying not to grin. She took hold of the wheelchair handles and started to gently push Rodney back towards the infirmary. She could still hear the two children bickering as she turned the corner. "Feeling better?"
"Much." He tilted his head to try and look up at her. "Ready to go back to work."
"Don't even try," she advised. "Dr Zelenka is more than able to handle your workload."
He snorted. "Glad to know I'm missed."
She patted his shoulder with one hand. "You're irreplaceable, Rodney." And quickly, so his ego couldn't expand, "That doesn't mean I'm about to let you back into your lab."
"Huh." She knew he was scowling. "Carson's a worry wart."
"Possibly. He's also the chief medical officer." She'd pushed the chair to a nearby door, which opened automatically onto a balcony. It was a warm day, the sun spilling over a calm blue sea, a slight breeze ruffling her hair. She maneuvered the chair to one side, so McKay was facing out into the ocean, then stepped back to stand beside him.
He said nothing for a moment, closing his eyes, obviously enjoying the fresh air. She smiled, and did the same, putting the reports and orders and reviews awaiting her attention out of her mind.
But only for a moment. "The Silani have called."
He'd opened his eyes, but was still looking out into the ocean.
"Several hours ago we received a radio communication."
"I guess that lab held more than just weapons statistics."
She winced, and nodded. "They're learning how to use the Stargate. I believe they saw the address for Atlantis when Teyla used the DHD."
"Huh. Did they have anything interesting to say? How's the weather? Wish you were here?"
There seemed little point in faking a smile. "It seems there's been a change in government. Marikar is no longer head of the Silani council."
"Amin took charge, did he?"
She dipped her head slightly. "They've asked for our help, Rodney. They've found a lot of information that could help rebuild their civilization, but their scientists need training."
One hand waved in the vague direction of the ocean. "Send Kavanagh. He'll like having minions."
She frowned. "Rodney…"
"Fine." She watched him shift awkwardly in his chair, grimacing, one hand moving to clutch at his side. "Are you going to ask Sheppard?"
"I've already spoken to him."
"We don't owe them anything, Elizabeth. I'm not ordering him back there, and I'm sure as hell not going either."
"He said," she spoke delicately, "that the decision was up to you. You are in the best position to decide whether an alliance would be advantageous to both sides."
"You mean, what would we get out of it?" He sighed. "I don't know. I barely glimpsed the lab and, ah, I was a little distracted."
She saw his hand tighten around the arm of the wheelchair, knuckles white. Kept her voice cool. "I realize their technology is not as advanced as ours, but there are other opportunities. Our food supplies need replenishing and from what Teyla's report said, Silan is a fertile place. When it's been farmed properly –"
"Right." Another sigh. "We help them out with their science experiments, they give us their first …" another wave, "bread crop, or something."
"Or something," she agreed. Took the couple of steps up to the edge of the balcony and leant out over the rail. "We need allies, Rodney."
"You should trust your allies," came back the response, bitter.
"I realize that." She pushed herself away from the rail and turned to face him. "I'm asking whether you think we can?"
He'd dropped his chin to his chest, folding his arms awkwardly. "You think I'm the right person to answer that?"
"I think you're the only one who can."
There was a long silence as he refused to look at her, one finger tapping insistently against the metal chair. Finally: "They were desperate. I can understand that."
"We all can," she agreed.
"When he could, Amin released us."
Her turn to look away from him. "Eventually."
"Right." McKay took a deep breath, lifting his head. "We need allies. But I think they'll need time to recover. As things stand, they don't have anything to offer."
She nodded. "Fair enough. And in a few months time?"
"Then we send Kavanagh."
She smiled, met his gaze and nodded with mock solemnity. "Fair enough." Added, "It might be an idea to send a team with him."
McKay pulled a face. "I suppose."
Dropping a hand to her shoulder, she moved the chair away from the balcony edge to the door. "I take it he's causing trouble in the labs?"
"More than usual. Zelenka's ready to throw him overboard." Added, thoughtfully: "That wouldn't be a bad idea."
"Only a little overboard." Paused. "Perhaps not."
"No." She was about to push the wheelchair towards the door, then stopped. "Now that I have you out here, perhaps you could let me in on a secret?"
He looked up at her suspiciously. "Elizabeth?"
"Tell me what Major Sheppard was originally planning to do before this skateboard race?"
McKay rolled his eyes. "I'm sworn to secrecy."
"I'll tell that to Carson," she said, meaningfully. Watched him bite his lip, and glare at her.
"Fine. Although I want it made clear I'm only telling you under threat of torture."
"The infirmary is hardly torture," she admonished.
He ignored her. "Bottle rockets."
"Really?" She took hold of the chair again, and rolled it through the open doorway.
"Yes." McKay twisted his head up to look at her. "Why? What are you going to do?"
Elizabeth put on her best innocent look. "Rodney. What would make you think I'd stoop down to their level?"
THE END (phew!)