RATING: PG-13 for language.
SEASON: First season before, during and after Letters From Pegasus
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Beckett POV with plenty of Sheppard and McKay interaction and a bit of Weir and Zelenka.
SUMMARY: Beckett POV before, during, and after Letters From Pegasus, with a little added twist. Sheppard-McKay friendship. One-shot (complete)
SPOILERS: Oh, basically anything up to and including Letters From Pegasus.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please. I thrive on it and so do the bunnies.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own SGA, Mother Teresa, John Woo, Henry V, James Bond, The Matrix, Darby O'Gill, G.I. Joe, The Simpsons, The Wizard of Oz, Highlander, Stratego, The Super Bowl, Durex, Burger King, or Coco Puffs. I also don't own any sheep and none were harmed in the writing of this fic.
NOTES: This is another of my "Outside Looking In" POV stories that follows the McKay/Sheppard friendship as established in my story "Tokens." It is a follow up to "Sentry Duty", "Games", "Casting Stones", and "Bugs in the System". Although it is technically a one-shot, you should go back and read the others if you haven't as some of the jokes and angst will make more sense. Who knows, you might even enjoy yourself!
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: This story has not been Beta-ed, mainly because I don't have one. So, all mistakes are mine. Also, thanks to everyone who has reviewed my other stories and those that haven't reviewed but have added me to their favorites or author alert. Flattery will get you everywhere! As always, this is all your fault.
Fall From Grace
I hate to fly.
Don't get me wrong, now, I think commercial airliners are remarkable inventions. They have done wonders for the global economy, truly making the phrase 'a small world' a reality. I mean, how can you complain about a technology that lets you travel halfway around the world in a matter of hours instead of weeks or months? I even have a socio-economist friend who wrote his thesis dissertation on how affordable airfares had played a direct role in the fall of Communism in the old Eastern Block. Still, that doesn't stop the heart palpitations that start every time the plane I'm on starts down the runway and begins to lift off. And I don't care how many people tell me that horrible mechanical grinding sound is just the landing gear retracting or the flaps adjusting, my stomach still kinks up in its own version of a Celtic knot. Maybe it's the physician in me; there are just certain things that the human body was not meant to do, and flying is one of them. Maybe it's me Mum's voice echoing in my head; 'If God had meant for us to fly, he would have given us wings.' Maybe it's the pragmatist in me; if you fall from the sky, there's just one way to go and it's a very, very long way down. Maybe it's something else entirely, but the result is the same.
I hate to fly.
So you can imagine my consternation when Dr. Weir insisted that I learn to fly the Jumpers. I don't like being a passenger on an aircraft that is being flown by a person with a thousand hours of experience, why in the bloody hell would I want to fly the buggers myself?
It's this damnable gene, of course. This accursed, wretched gene that means that there was some Ancient numpty in my lineage that was on the pull and didn't really care if he got a leg over on his own kind or one of the local birds he met on Earth. Crivvens, but if I had a chance to take that damnable time machine that the alternate Dr. Weir traveled in, my first stop would be to find that dolt and give him a Durex and the talk me Da gave me when I turned sixteen, 'If you're going to take a trip up the river, lad, make sure you paddle with your boots on.' Then, I wouldn't have to fly the jumper and I wouldn't have to play human lab rat for Rodney McKay. Thank the heavens that Major Sheppard happened along with that extra-potent ATA gene of his or I would do nothing all the day long but try to make things turn all glowy and deadly for Rodney's amusement.
Now, John Sheppard, he's an entirely different creature. The man was made for flying; evidently born to it. I've been tempted to check his bum for tail feathers on more than one occasion. It's as though he has wind coursing through his veins instead of blood, and he could lift off the ground if he just flapped his arms fast enough.
And Rodney, Losh, but the man is nothing but curiosity and determination held together by flesh and bones. I almost wish the gene therapy had failed with him. He would definitely have fewer visits to my infirmary if it had. But it gave him wings as well, and unlike me, he has taken quite the fancy to playing pilot. I'm not sure if it is the same love of flight that flows through Major Sheppard so much as conquering the heretofore considered impossible, but he will literally jump at the chance to sit in the pilot's seat, often knocking people out of his way to do it.
So, the good news is that we have an extra pilot on Atlantis. The bad news is that two of them are often running willy-nilly across the galaxy leaving us one short when they are gone. Unfortunately, that's were I and my pain in the arse ATA gene come in and why I had to learn to fly the jumper in the first place. And to some extent why I find myself in my current predicament of hanging upside down in the jumper bay with only Rodney's hands around my ankle to keep me from plummeting to the floor three stories down.
"Carson, whatever you do, don't look down," Rodney tells me.
"Don't look down!" I demand. "There's no other bloody view from this angle, you bampot!"
"What the hell is a bampot?"
"This is no time for lessons in semantics!" I scream as I try to pull up slightly so that I can see his face.
"And for God's sake, stop moving around!" He says through gritted teeth. "I've barely got a hold on you as it is. If you keep wiggling, we're both going to take a dive."
"Okay, okay, okay," I whisper and remain as still as possible, afraid that lifting my voice will be enough to send us both tumbling to our deaths.
I know what you are thinking. How did I, Carson Beckett, M.D., head of the medical team on the Atlantis Expedition, end up dangling like a fish on a line with only the tenuous grip of one Rodney McKay, PhD. in Astrophysics and lead scientific advisor on same expeditionary team, holding off the cold hands of the Grim Reaper? Well, it's a rather complicated story; one about friendship and anger, trust and perceived betrayal and a little bit of heroism and more than a fair share of stupidity and way too much booze and way too little sleep. And it all started about a week ago…
"So, are you in any pain?" I asked the agitated astrophysicist sitting on the examination table before me. I tried my best to keep my face from betraying the humor I felt, a skill any physician worth his weight has honed over the years.
"What do you think, Carson? Just what do you think? Look at me! Look at me and ask that question again, I dare you."
"So, I take that as a yes, then."
"Yes, you can take that as a yes. Definitely take that as a very definitive yes."
I called to the nurse, requesting a mild painkiller. Believe me the temptation was there to order up something much stronger if for no other reason than to knock the man out so he would get some much needed rest. The subsequent peace and quite would be pleasant as well and much appreciated by the rest of the science staff, I'm sure. Still, I had actually seen this condition before and as alarming as the appearance could be, I knew that the associated pain was rather mild and that Rodney was just playing the drama queen as he usually did when his injuries were small. It was when he said he was fine that I grew concerned.
"Now tell me," I directed him as I finished making notations on his chart, "what does this little contraption you were playing with actually do?"
"I'm not really sure. Zelenka thought it might be some sort of entertainment or informational paraphernalia; it looks kind of like a pair of virtual reality goggles. But I'm starting to think it might be some sort of diagnostic tool because for the split second before it tried to suck my eyeballs from their sockets, I really thought I could see Radek's spleen." His face lit up then, as best it could given its condition at the time, and he said, "You know, it could be a medical instrument. Maybe you should come down to the lab and try it out."
"Oh, no, no, no." I told him with a wave of my hands, "Not after what it did to you. And just what were you doing piddling around with it in the first place? I thought we agreed that you were not going to go messing around with anything that could attach itself to your body after that little incident where you got that miniature toaster stuck on your thumb for two days."
"It wasn't a toaster."
"It looked like a toaster."
"Well, it wasn't one. It was a…well…I really don't know what that thing was. But that isn't the point, it could have been very important, may still be in fact, and someone has to try these things out, and seeing as there are only a few of us that can actually operate the Ancient devises, that someone often has to be me."
"You're not the only one, Rodney, you can ask for help."
"Oh, like I see your Cowardly Lion ass beating down the door to help. Don't you have any of that strapping Highlander stock in you, like Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod? You know, where the men are men and the sheep are scared." I gave him a disapproving look but he just kept yammering. "Honestly, why can't you be more of a burly, manly Scot, like Sean Connery or Groundskeeper Willie and less like Darby O'Gill?"
"Darby O'Gill was Irish not Scottish. Besides, I'm plenty manly. I'm just a bit more cautious with certain personal effects, like my body."
"All I'm saying is that James Bond would have sat in that drone chair without complaining. In fact, he would have enjoyed himself."
"With the chair or the sheep?" I asked in annoyance. How many generations of Scotsmen were going to have to be compared to the Connery icon before we were able to free ourselves of his overblown shadow?
I decided it was time to get this conversation back on line. "I'm not talking about me helping you. Why didn't you ask Major Sheppard? If I recall, he was the one that came up with the rule about not affixing Ancient toys to your person in the first place."
He folded his arms across his chest and frowned. "I couldn't find him."
I blinked a couple of times in surprise. "You couldn't find Major Sheppard?"
"That's what I said isn't it? Those goggles didn't affect my speech." His response was defensive, then changed to concern and his hand went to his throat. "Oh God, it didn't affect my speech did it?"
"No, no," I reassured him, "unfortunately you still have your voice and I can understand you as much as I ever can, which really isn't admitting to much. Still, I'm just a little surprised that you couldn't locate the Major is all."
He let out a small sigh, "He's been holed up with Ford and some of the other military types since we found out about the Hive ships heading our way. Military planning, combat strategizing, testosterone generating, that sort of thing. "
I swear, he sounded like a five year old who had just found out he had the chicken pox and his mates where going off to play football without him. No matter, I thought as I took a quick glance at my watch and heard the distinct booted footsteps entering the infirmary, that was all about to change. See, Atlantis is really a small community living in an enormous city. So, if anything happens to anyone, everyone knows about it in a matter of minutes. And if anything happens to Rodney McKay, it is just a matter of time before….
Cue themes music and….curtains!
Right on schedule, John Sheppard pulled back the privacy screen and stepped into the examination area behind Rodney. "Hey, McKay, I ran into Dr. Zelenka and he told me you….Holy crap!"
Rodney turned and blandly regarded the back-stepping Major with two blood red eyes; dark bruises were already forming around the lids themselves.
"What the hell happened to you?"
"Ocular Barotrauma," I supplied, "or as SCUBA divers know it, mask squeeze. He's lucky it's just a relatively mild case and didn't progress to Hyphema."
The Major gave a sympathetic and slightly disturbed grimace, "Is he going to, you know, stay that way?"
"It's like a bruise to his eyeballs. The change in pressure caused the blood vessels to burst; it looks terrible now but he'll be back to normal in a few days." I assured him.
Contented by my answer, he addressed Rodney. "Mask squeeze, huh? Did you finally find the dive shop on this island and not let me know?"
Rodney just frowned so I answered for him. "No, he was playing with a new Ancient's device he found; one that went over his eyes." When it comes to the welfare of the crew, especially ones I consider friends, I'm not above snitching.
"Rodney," John scolded, "I thought we had this settled after that thing with the toaster. Why didn't you call me?"
"It wasn't a toaster!" he started then shook his head. "And I did try to call you, only you didn't answer. Seriously, those little earpieces everyone wears? They are supposed to be used for more than just reliving your glory days working the drive thru at Burger King or pretending you are the token badboy with a sensitive side in the latest boy band video. Oh, and just as a related aside, no matter how much you try to convince Teyla that you are trying to recreate an Earthly historical event, she is not going to let you try to demonstrate the Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake wardrobe malfunction of last year's Super Bowl."
The Major ignored the rants with little more than a somewhat guilty frown. "We had our comlinks off during the meeting with instructions to only interrupt us if Weir called."
"Well then," Rodney said with a smug scowl, "I guess that answers your question then."
"It explains why I didn't answer when you called; it doesn't explain why you went ahead and used the devise."
"Just because you decide to go off and play Stratego, Major, doesn't mean everything else comes to a screeching halt."
"Since you seem to be having problems remembering thing today, let me refresh your memory. We have three Wraith Hive ships bearing down on us. So forgive me if I don't have time to come play, Rodney, because in about two weeks I'll be running a war."
"First off, as I've already told you, you won't be running a war, you'll be running a suicide mission if you think you can actually take on the Wraith with the handful of men you have at your disposal." He spit the final word with a snarl of his lips. "And I use that last word with all the disgust I can muster because that is exactly what you will be doing with yourselves. Secondly, that is precisely the point. We only have about two weeks to study the devices we have found. Somewhere in there may be the salvation we are looking for and I'll take ruby red eyeballs over you and all your G.I. Joe friends throwing yourselves on the hand grenade any day."
"Rodney, we've been over this before…"
"Yes, we have and I am more than happy to go over it again if it will bring you out of your Homo habilis, primal instinct haze and get you to think like one of the more highly evolved life forms."
"I don't have time to go over this again, besides, it's kind of creeping me out arguing with you with your eyes like that. I keep thinking your head's going to start spinning around and once that starts the projectile vomiting is never far behind."
Rodney glared with his flaming eyes and the Major actually took a step back. "Well, don't let me keep you. You were already much too busy to witness my screaming agony when the goggles activated, I would hate for you to miss out on planning your own screaming agony for when the Wraith arrive."
"Look, I didn't have to come down here."
"Then why did you?"
"I, uh, wanted to make sure you were okay."
"Gee, John, how down right saintly that is of you."
"Rodney," he said with a sigh, "don't be like this."
"No, seriously, Mother Teresa has nothing on you. I'm surprised I didn't hear the angelic chorus announcing your arrival, didn't see the rose petals fluttering from on high to line your path. And is that a halo I see floating above your head? Or maybe a bullseye to make it easier for the Wraith warriors to hit you with their stunbolts?"
"You want to act this way, then fine, I'm out of here." Major Sheppard turned on his heels to leave.
"Fine!" The Major stopped as he nearly crashed into a side table with various instruments and supplies. He stared at it for a moment as if considering then looked over at me with a defiant stare. I suddenly became very interested in Dr. McKay's medical file that I still held in my hands. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him grab a handful of surgical gloves from the box on the table and stuff them in his pocket.
He turned back and quietly addressed Rodney. "If I get out of my meetings, maybe we could get together later on, to, you know, commiserate your disastrous romantic failure with that archeologist, Allina, back on Dagan. I realize I never returned the favor for the consolation drinking you arranged over Chaya. Besides…" he pulled the gloves partially out of his pockets and nodded to Rodney in a knowing manner.
Rodney let out a sigh. "Fine. Come find me when you're done."
John grinned then and started to leave when I spoke to him without looking up, "You better come and find me as well, seeing as you can't seem to keep your sticky little hands off my medical supplies. I don't know what the two of you are doing with them, but listening to the latest McShep rumor that Kavanaugh started this week, I can come up with some pretty disturbing ideas unless you want to set the record straight."
"I told you, you don't possess any finesse," Rodney told the Major with a shake of the head.
"Okay, I'll find you both," he said with a roll of his eyes and turned once more to leave. "And Rodney, keep your fingers out of the cookie jar, or toasters, or any other little devices you have laying around." And he was gone.
Problem was, he didn't come and find either of us that night, or the next, and Rodney just buried himself deeper in his work, ate little, and slept even less.
Perhaps it was a good thing that John didn't have the time to go out drinking with us. If not for that, I don't think Rodney would have come up with as efficient an algorithm as he did to send that little data burst home to Earth. It's almost ironic if you think about it, in all the ways that Rodney could possibly save the Earth, the best warning they may ever receive regarding the Wraith may have come as a direct result of one of his sulking fits. I wonder if Stargate Command has some sort of commendation for that; Courageous Moping Under Fire or Resourceful Pouting in the Line of Duty. The man wouldn't be able to walk from the weight of all the medals if such things existed.
Finally, the knock we had been expecting for days came, we headed to the balcony, and I got my first lesson in glow glove launching. Since I was the 'latexinal virgin' as Rodney called it, I was responsible for bringing the bevvy. Although I could have easily gotten my hands on some of the Athosian alcohol, I decided that the night deserved something more so I broke out my special stash that I had been saving for the right occasion. When I brought a bottle of fifty year old scotch with me, I had thought it might be for something a little more celebratory than a night on the balcony watching valuable medical supplies go flying into the sea. However, the chances were slim that there would be any celebrations happening in the near future, seeing as the chances were slim that there would be a future at all. So I decided, what the hey, wouldn't want it to go to waste.
I pulled out the bottle and handed it to Major Sheppard. He looked at it skeptically for a moment before observing, "Looks like you've already sampled this bottle, Doc."
He was right, of course, as a fat finger's worth had gone to sooth my nerves and privately toast the lives of Markham and Smith after I had watched them explode into a shower of flaming nothingness and drop piecemeal to the sea. There is a song I know that goes 'If I should fall from grace with God were no doctor can relieve me, if I'm buried 'neath the sod and the angels won't receive me, let me go boys, let me go boys, let me go down in the mud where the rivers all run dry.' I have often thought of this phrase when I loose a patient. It reminds me that sometimes, no matter what I do as a doctor, sometimes the choice is out of my hands and I just have to let go.
Those boys were beyond my relief before the jumper I was piloting passed through the debris field that the Wraith Dart had reduced them into, but when you see something like that, when you live it, sometimes you just can't let go. After we landed, my mouth felt as dry as the rivers in the song, and I had hoped that a belt of home would muddy my brain just enough to let them rest. When it didn't, I just decided to let go of trying to let go for the time being.
I nodded with a forced smile and told the Major, "Aye, I had to make sure of the quality before I go sharing with the neighbors, don't you know."
He took a swig and let out a satisfied sigh, "No worries there."
"Scotch?" Rodney asked in awe. "Real scotch? From Earth? Not some weird Athosian nonequivalent made with alien grass clippings from three planets over that we bartered for band aids and cough syrup?"
"It's the real McCoy, McKay," the Major assured him as he offered him the bottle.
Rodney took the bottle, and wiped the mouth of the container with a disgusted look at the Major.
"What? It's alcohol, it's self sanitizing."
He then poured himself a cup and sipped appreciatively. "Oh, Carson, you are a sneaky little Scotsman. Why did you keep this to yourself for so long?"
I took the bottle back and poured my own serving. "Perhaps if you had kept your derogatory sheep comments to yourself, I might have been obliged to share sooner."
Rodney looked like he was going to say something in response but evidently thought better of it, seeing as I still held the precious bottle of booze. He turned to address Major Sheppard. "So, Radek has been tracking the Wraith on the long range scanners. He thinks he has recognized a pattern to them coming in and out of hyperspace."
"Yeah, he told me he is going to try to project where they will be stopping so that we can possible get some intel on them."
"Intel?" I asked, "what sort of intel?"
"I was planning on getting a looksee at the fleet that is heading our way," he told me.
"You want some company?" Rodney asked.
"Nah, I'll take Teyla. She may know where the best place to observe them would be. Besides, you have your data compression program to work on."
"Ends up I've had a little more free time than I had thought I was going to over the past couple of nights. It's in pretty good shape, very impressive, even if I do say so myself."
Major Sheppard frowned at the jab, "If anyone was going to say so, it would be you, McKay."
Rodney's frown mirrored the Major's and I stepped in before they could get into an argument similar to the one I had witnessed in the infirmary. "Now, is anyone going to show me how to launch one of the gloves? And did you bring any extra uninflated ones that I can wear for touching the jock strap? Unlike the scotch bottle, it is not self sanitizing."
A few hours later, all the latex gloves had been launched and most of the scotch had been drunk. As I poured the last little bit into our glasses, I requested, "So, tell me about this bird we are commiserating tonight. Allina was it?"
Rodney sipped from his glass and sighed. "Ah, Alinna, Allina, Allina, how to describe Allina…"
"She was a crackpot," offered Major Sheppard.
Rodney shrugged, "True, but then again, she was so much more. She possessed a certain poise that you really only see in the truly fanatical."
"Was it just me," the Major asked, "or did anyone else think it was weird that they called themselves the 'New Brotherhood' when they were women?"
Rodney ignored him and continued to wax eloquent about the Dagan archeologist, "And she just exuded charm, buckets of the stuff. Even when she was having me held at gunpoint and taking the only power source that could give us any chance of surviving the Wraith, you could see it."
"I mean, why didn't they call themselves the 'New Sisterhood?' Of course that might have been confusing since there wasn't an 'Old' Sisterhood, at least I don't think there was. Maybe just the Sisterhood. That would have worked."
"And she was attractive, a very cute girl. Even I, the man she condemned to a horrendous death when she took the ZedPM from my clutches, could see that."
"Then again, maybe there were men in the group, but we just didn't meet them. They could have called themselves the Protectors, that has a certain…flare. The Potentia Protectors."
"And she was smart, quite bright really, in a sixteenth century, totally ingrained in religious doctrine, sort of way."
"The prim and proper Potentia Protectors," the Major giggled softly before continuing. "Come to think of it, why didn't they just go back to using the Quindosim? Now that is a kick ass name. Brings up images of people walking in slow mo with long leather jackets and sunglasses, very Matrix-like, totally John Woo."
Rodney shook his head, "Oh, who am I kidding, I didn't have a chance with her. I don't know why you guys ever tried to convince me she had a crush on me in the first place."
"I was trying to get you laid," the Major told him defensively.
"But she wasn't even really my type."
"The hell she wasn't. She was interested, breathing, and I'm pretty sure female, although that whole Brotherhood thing really has me thrown for a loop."
"Look, all I'm saying is that you work too hard and sometimes you need to take a break. And I really believe that having sex with an attractive zealot with some possible gender-confusion issues could have done you some good."
"As much good as getting off with a ball of pure orgasmic energy did for you?"
"Absolutely." Rodney huffed in disbelief and the Major continued, "Listen, I'm not saying Chaya was a keeper. I mean she did betray us almost as badly as Allina did. But when all is said and done, at the end of the day, I got laid and you didn't and you have no one to blame but yourself."
"Maybe you're right," he conceded as he drained his cup. "Maybe if I had been able to….well, that's irrelevant now." He actually ran his finger down the inside of his glass, licking off the last drops of scotch. "Maybe we should form our own brotherhood; the Brotherhood of Men Screwed Over by Alien Clerics of Misguided Convictions."
"But there's only the two of us. Can you start a legitimate Brotherhood with so few members?"
"Shakespeare thought so: 'we few, we happy few, we band of brothers'," Rodney quoted.
"Ah, 'Henry V'," I noted. "I always did like that speech, very stirring."
Rodney continued his recitation, "For he who today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile…." Rodney paused, whether he forgot the rest or just wanted to address his companion I wasn't sure. Major Sheppard, I noticed, sat with a frown, staring into his cup. "You know, Major, that really is an inspirational bit of rabblerousing, maybe you should use it to provoke the troops. We're going to need something to steel our backbones before the coming battle."
"What do you mean, 'we'?" the Major demanded.
"We, as in 'we'." He motioned his arm back and forth between the two of them. "We band of brothers, we brothers in arms."
"There is no 'we', McKay, when it comes to any battles with the Wraith. You are not one of my 'brothers in arms,' leave that to the military."
"But I'm one of the few people that can fly the jumper…"
The Major shook his head. "We'll train others, do more gene therapy if we have to, but there will be no civilians in the air if I have any say in the matter."
I admit I let out my own silent sigh of relief at that statement, but of course Rodney wouldn't let it go.
"What, are we not good enough to join your little Royal Atlantian Airforce?"
"It's not that, McKay, and you know it. This is not your job. Your job is to be the annoying pain in the ass brilliant civilian genius; the key word being civilian. Leave the 'brothers in arms' crap to the professionals."
Rodney was standing now, seething. "So, let me get this straight. Even after all the times I have physically put my life on the line to save you and all of Atlantis, after crawling around in the black shadowy creature, shooting the uberwraith, standing up to the Genii, shooting down Darts, drowning in one reality and nearly drowning in this one, I still don't qualify as one of your 'brothers in arms'?"
"Rodney,…" he started with a frustrated shake of his head.
"No, you don't have to explain, Major, it is all perfectly clear, now, perfectly crystal clear." He turned to me. "Carson, thank you so much for sharing your scotch and I take back every disparaging comment I ever made regarding your heritage and livestock, but if you will excuse me now, I have a compression algorithm I need to perfect. Major, enjoy your romp with the Wraith tomorrow, and be sure to give them my worst."
"Rodney," the Major called after his retreating form, but the man never slowed. John leaned his head back against the wall he was sitting against and let out a small growl. "He can sure be a pissy little shit, sometimes."
"Major," I offered, "he's just trying to help, in his own impossibly difficult, sleep deprived way. He just wants…"
"I know what he wants, Doc, but it just ain't happening, not on my watch. I've had plenty of 'brothers in arms,' great guys, the lot of them. Problem is, they're all dead now." He drained his cup and stared into the empty depths. "I hate what I'm having to do. I just wish that Sumner…Well, I just wish things were different, but they're not and I've got a job to do and so do my men. We all knew when we signed our name on the dotted line that this day might come. I'll admit I never imagined when I put pen to paper that it would come in a different galaxy, but that's beside the point. We're prepared to do our duty, and here on Atlantis that means protecting the civilians or die trying."
"Even if they are pissy little shits?" I asked.
"Especially if they are pissy little shits," he said with a sad smile. "Because he's the best bet any of you will have for getting home someday." He stood then and patted me on the shoulder. "Thanks for sharing the hooch, Doc." And then, he too was gone.
I sat on the balcony for a while longer, thinking about how much I hated to fly and how much Rodney loved it and how the Major was the act incarnate. I thought about Markham and Smith falling from the sky and falling from grace and letting go and how difficult that can be when you know someone and how impossible it would be if you cared for them. After a while, my mind became so boggled and befuddled with these thoughts that I shuffled my way back to my quarters and sank into sleep, knowing full well that neither Rodney or John were doing the same.
The next day, I recorded a message to my Mum. All the saints protect us, but that had to be one of the hardest things I have ever done. Its one thing the lie to yourself that you will come out of a near impossible situation alive; it's another completely to lie to your blessed mother and convince her of the same. And to do it all while nursing a headache from a hangover from high quality scotch makes you feel the need to find a priest and a confessional booth.
After finally finishing up with Lt. Ford and my tape, I went in search of Rodney to see how he was faring after his night of drinking. I found him in the laboratory, his own video recorder running, so that I stood near the door so as not to disturb him and waited for him to finish.
"Jeanie, this is your brother, Rodney…obviously." I started to leave then, thinking that I should leave him to privately record his message, but his next statement stopped me cold and warm all at the same time. "I wanna, s..say, um, I wanna say something. Ah..Family is important. I..I've come to realize that…because the people here have become a sort of …a surrogate family to me. Now I know what you're thinking, I've never really been the poster child for that kind of sentiment but when…ah, when one's contemplating one's own demise, one tends to see things more clearly."
Obviously, his sister had never seen him drunk and rambling on about brotherhood and maybe it took a trip to another galaxy for him to realize how important a relationship like that could be. So many orphans we have on Atlantis, whether by choice or by fate. So many people running from something only to run into something else, either what they were looking for or what they thought they hiding from, or what they never knew they wanted in the first place.
"And I'm sorry we weren't closer. Perhaps,…if by chance I make it out of this, perhaps one day we can be and I would like that." His voice and posture changed. "Now, if there's time, I'd like to go back to the subject of leadership…Crap." I looked over and watched as he took the tape out of the recorder and began rummaging around the lab.
"Rodney?" I called once I figured the coast was clear.
"Oh, hey, Carson. Listen, you don't happen to have another video tape do you? This one ran out."
"You recorded an entire tape's worth of messages to your family?" I asked in surprise.
"Well, no, only the last few minutes were to family, the rest were to humanity in general. Well, humanity that is in possession of the proper security clearance." He continued to search, fidget, move perpetually. "I didn't have time to finish up what I had to say, you know for posterity's sake and all that."
"Lad, when was the last time you slept?" I asked him, seeing signs I knew all to well.
"Oh, you know, an hour here, fifteen minutes there. Kavanaugh gave one of his thrilling briefing yesterday afternoon and I think I got a full thirty minutes in then, it would have been longer but as usual he really didn't have anything to report."
"Rodney, you need to sleep. If you don't get the rest you need, you won't do anyone any good."
"I'll sleep when I'm dead. Which given our current situation means you only have to wait about a week and a half to see me sawing logs and pushing up daisies all at the same time."
"I don't think that will be soon enough."
"Who said that anyway? Not the daisy part, the 'I'll sleep when I'm dead' part. Someone famous, obviously, or no one would remember it."
"Rodney, I'm serious, as the medical director here on Atlantis, I really must insist that you…"
"Any word from John and Teyla?" He tried to sound casual, but for the first time since I entered the room, he stopped moving.
"Not yet," I told him with a sigh.
"Radek says the Hive ships have dropped out of hyperspace at their location. They should have had plenty of time to do their recon and get back by now."
"They could just be lying low, playing it safe until the ships pass over. Major Sheppard wouldn't do anything to put Teyla or himself in danger."
He snorted in disbelief with a small frown then blew past me on his way out the door, video tape in hand. "Sorry, Carson, but I need to get this tape to Lt. Ford."
My next stop was to see Dr. Weir. As I said, I'm not above snitching when it comes to the welfare of the crew. When I explained the situation, she studied me with crossed arms.
"And you think this is serious enough that you and I should intervene?"
"Aye, I do." I told her simply.
"And you think that my giving an order to go to bed will really do any good?"
"No, probably not. But an order to the infirmary and a little help from some of the better Earth-based pharmaceutical companies could do the trick."
She seemed to consider her options for a moment then shook her head. "I need to get the intelligence that Major Sheppard is collecting on the Wraith back to the SGC."
"Elizabeth,.." I started imploringly.
She held up a hand. "After the data is collected and the burst is sent, I'll authorize medical intervention if it is still necessary. Not before then."
I nodded my reluctant agreement with the compromise and returned to the medical bay.
What should have been a slow day, quickly turned hectic. An entire Athosian family came down with a bacterial infection that appeared to be something similar to salmonella. Then two marines fell from a platform that collapsed. Fortunately there were no broken bones, just sore bodies and bruised egos. Still, the day passed quickly and I was not around when Major Sheppard and Teyla finally returned.
It was about three in the morning when a knock came at the door to my private quarters. Groggily I stumbled through the dark chamber and activated the door. What I had expected to see was one of my nurses, come to fetch me because one of the Athosians had taken a turn for the worse, instead the concerned face of Dr. Zelenka stared out from a disheveled head of hair. He pushed his glasses up on his nose and apologized for the interruption.
"Radek?" I asked trying to clear my bleary vision, "What's the matter?"
"So sorry to wake you, but it is Dr. McKay. He has discovered how to use the little toaster devise."
"So, it was a toaster after all?"
"No, but that is how it looks, yes?"
"Has he injured himself with it?"
"No, no, not yet, anyway. No, he needs someone to help him operate the devise."
"You woke me up to help operate something that looks like a toaster but isn't?"
"I apologize, I am making no sense. Rodney has kept me up very late the last few nights. No, I woke you up because I am concerned about him. He is acting, strange, like he is…how do you say…coo-coo for Coco Puffs, only there is no Coco Puffs, only naquedah powered devises that tend to explode if not handled carefully."
I frowned. Rodney behaving normally would be cause for concern with such toys, but if he was behaving irrationally the good Lord alone only knows what kind of mischief he could cause. "Have you told Major Sheppard?"
He ducked his head then shook it. "I have tried, but I could not find him."
I nodded in understanding, then recalled what he had told Rodney in the infirmary. "Call for him on the radio, tell him that Dr. Weir is looking for him, then intercept him."
He took off then and I quickly dressed, grabbed my medical bag and headed to Rodney's lab. I found him sitting at his work bench, mumbling to himself, one foot tapping rapidly, as if the motion alone were keeping him awake. "Rodney?" I called.
"Carson! Glad you stopped by. This is good. Yes, good, good, good. I figured out how the toaster works!" He held it up proudly as if that would explain it all. I could see why Radek was concerned. His hair was standing up in a believable, if not lighter and thinner, facsimile of the Major's. His eyes were bloodshot with dark circles, although I had a feeling mask squeeze had little to do with it this time, and they had an almost fevered look to them.
"So, is it a toaster after all, then?" I asked.
"No, no, no, no, no. Much better. Much, much, better. It's a lock!"
"And not just any old lock. It's an Ancient's lock."
"Well, seeing as they created it, that would make sense."
"Don't you see? It's very useful. It locks out other Ancient devices and it is a personal lock, like the personal shield. I'm the only one that can operate it. It's perfect, just perfect." He laughed then and I really became concerned.
"Rodney," I asked cautiously, "what are you planning to lock with that little gizmo, there?"
"It's a secret," he whispered with a giggle. "But I need your help." He grabbed my arm and started pulling me toward the door.
I dug in my heels as best I could; he's a scrappy little bugger! "Oh, no, no, I'm not helping you with anything until you tell me what it is."
"I'll tell you when we get there," he said, then pulled me out into the hall.
I keyed my comlink and called, "Major Sheppard, do you copy?"
With lightening speed, Rodney's hand whipped out and plucked the radio from my head. "Oh, no you don't," he said. "No spoiling the surprise." He continued to lead me down the corridor until we reached the Jumper bay. He opened the doors with a whoosh and we stood inside the large, dark room. "We need to access that catwalk, up there, so I can get to the proper control panel." He pointed to a maintenance walkway near the ceiling. It appeared to lead to the portal that opened to allow the Jumpers out of the bay.
"Rodney, we are here now, tell me what you are planning to do," I insisted.
He sighed heavily but told me, "I'm locking out the controls to the roof opening so that only I will be able to open it."
"Why in bloody hell would you want to do a daft thing like that?"
"Because," he told me as though it were the most obvious answer in the world, "if they can't open the roof, they can't go out and fight the Wraith when they arrive."
"So, why do you need me?"
"After I install the lock, I need you to try to open it from one of the Jumpers. I can't test it because it will open for me."
"Maybe we should get Major Sheppard to…" I started, but he cut me off.
"Are you insane? He'll try to stop me just so he can play big brave empty headed fly boy when the time comes." He darted off toward the catwalk before I could even make a grab for him.
"Rodney!" I called and took off in his wake.
I was shocked at how fast he could actually move, given that he was suffering from near exhaustion and sleep depravation. He was almost to the top before I finally caught up with him. And that's when I made my big mistake. Maybe if I had called his name, first. Maybe if I hadn't tried to grab him by the shoulder. But the fact is that I didn't do the one and I did do the other and I had seriously misjudged both his jumpiness and his strength.
The instant my hand touched him, he spun and swung his arm, as if he had been attacked. The look in his eyes as I went toppling backward over the railing changed from fear and defiance to fear and shock. With those same quicksilver reflexes that had nearly pushed me to my death, his hand snapped out and grabbed my ankle, leaving me dangling three stories up with a horribly impressive view of the parked Jumpers and the floor an incredible long distance below.
"Carson, whatever you do, don't look down."
"Don't look down! There's no other bloody view from this angle, you bampot!"
"What the hell is a bampot?"
"This is no time for lessons in semantics!"
"And for God's sake, stop moving around! I've barely got a hold on you as it is. If you keep wiggling, we're both going to take a dive."
"Okay, okay, okay."
What in the bloody hell have I gotten myself into this time?
He leans back and I feel myself lift up and toward the railing ever so slightly. I can hear him grunting to pull me to safety. "My God, Carson, what have you been eating?" he asks through his groans. "Have you got a stash of more than just Scotch hidden away in that medbay of yours? A couple of haggis maybe?" He pulls again and I almost have my knee to the point where I can lock it around the railing. "Warren Zevon!" he suddenly exclaims and I feel myself slipping.
As if he realizes that he has loosened his grip, it retightens and he begins to pull me up again. "Warren Zevon, he's the one that said 'I'll sleep when I'm dead'."
"Well, I'm about to have one doozy of a nap if you don't get me up!" He pulls again and I hear a voice call out from below.
"Doc? You in here?" I look down and see the shadowy form of Major Sheppard wandering through the bay.
Thank the heavens and all the saints. "Major!" I yell.
I feel myself slip down a little further and let out a small squeal. Connery be damned, I don't care how girlish it may sound. "Shut up," Rodney hisses, "he will hear you."
"Well, that's the whole bloody point, now isn't it?" I tell him.
"Doc?" John calls again, this time looking up.
"Major, up here!" I scream over Rodney's cursed protests.
He looks up, finally spotting us. "What the…?" I hear him say, then, "Hold on, I'll be right up."
"I swear to God, Carson, I should just let you drop," Rodney hisses above me. "I mean, what the hell? Don't you know what a secret is? Do you even own a God damned dictionary? And what about patient doctor confidentiality? I mean if anyone can keep their yap shut it should be a doctor."
I try my best to ignore Rodney's cursing and wait the eternity of minutes it takes Major Sheppard to reach us. He finally does and between the two of them, they are able to wrestle me back on the catwalk. I sit panting and shaking while Major Sheppard demands to know what happened.
"Ask Judas, here," Rodney tells him then begins making his way down the catwalk. I hear him say something about Plan B and suddenly forget the concern I had for my own safety.
The Major kneels in front of me and I tell him, "Go after him, he's not thinking clearly." Now isn't that the understatement of the year.
The Major starts down after Rodney and as soon as I get my legs to stop wobbling, I follow. I find them in Jumper One. Rodney already has the control panel open and bundles of wires exposed.
"McKay," Major Sheppard demands, "what the hell you are you doing?"
"Fixing a problem," he tells him as he snips a wire, "righting a wrong."
"What are you doing to my ship?"
"Making it so that it is my ship," he tells him.
John grabs him by the arm and swings him around so that he lands hard on the bench opposite the control panel. "Well, cut it out. I happen to like this ship and plan to keep it."
Rodney sits on the bench, eyes as wild as his hair, and glares at the Major. He is shaking visibly. "Rodney? Are you okay?" The Major notices his condition for the first time and the concern is obvious in his question.
Rodney just stares back defiantly, but I ask gently, "When was the last time you ate, lad?" I know he has been eating almost as little as he has slept and his blood sugar is being affected by his exhaustion.
He laughs then, a small chuckle that grows to an all out guffaw. He draws his knees up and hugs them tightly. "When, when, when? You ask too many questions involving time, Carson. Don't you know time it relative?" He drops his head so that his forehead rests on his kneecaps. "God, I feel like I'm living on the edge of a black hole, watching time bend, watching my life slip away in slow motion but unable to move fast enough to get away from the event horizon." He laughs again. "You want to know about time, Carson? Well, how about this. One point three seconds. In that infinitesimally small amount of time I was able to send enough information back to Earth that I may have saved the whole Milky Way from the Wraith. And yet, in all the months that we have been here, I haven't been able to find a way to save the people that matter to me most in the entire universe. I ask you, what is a galaxy compared to that? Nothing. Absolutely nothing."
"Rodney," the Major starts softly, but he just ignores him and continues to talk.
"How about ten minutes? That's about the amount of time we had the ZedPM before we lost it." He looks up, meeting Major Sheppard's eyes. "I had the thing in my hands, John. I had it and she took it. I mean, what the fuck? I had it, the answer to all our problems, and I let it go. I let it go, and now…" his voice hitches and he lowers his head back to his knees, "and now, you have to…" he breathes, deep quivering breaths before he again raises his face. "I would trade that entire one point three seconds of salvation if you didn't have to fight the Wraith."
Major Sheppard sinks into the seat next to him and he again hides his face. "Rodney, it wasn't your fault. She took it from all of us, not just you. There was nothing we could have done."
I squat in front of them, touching Rodney lightly on the leg. "Here, lad, you need to eat this. It will make you feel better." Hesitantly, he takes the offered power bar and begins to eat it. He finishes it off in about three bites, then leans his head back against the wall.
"Promise me something," he tells the Major, "promise me that you will not try to play the hero." Before Major Sheppard can protest, he cuts him off with a raised hand. "I know you have to fight them, just promise me you won't go off and do something rash."
The Major sighs, then nods his head, "I promise I will only do what is necessary."
"My, how conveniently evasive of you."
"I'm not suicidal, Rodney."
"Not unless it is necessary, right?" He yawns loudly, closing his eyes, "See, I can see through your little ruse."
John laughs softly, then says. "I want you to promise me the same thing."
"Fine, I'll only do what is necessary, as well. Just be prepared if I find it necessary to fly wingman." His eyes remain closed and the last words are spoken with a sleepy slur.
"Not on your life, McKay."
"My life, my choice, no one else's." He says as his head slumps and finally he is asleep.
"The hell it is," the Major says quietly to the man sleeping beside him.
"Major," I hold out a second power bar, "I think you could use one of these as well."
He shakes his head, "Not hungry, Doc."
"Humor me," I say and he takes it, swallowing it down almost as quickly as Rodney had. That is one thing about the military, those lads will eat on demand.
He finishes chewing then leans his head back as well. "I never wanted this. I think it is punishment for being greedy."
"Greedy?" I ask as he closes his eyes as well.
"I asked to be stationed at McMurdo to get as far away from the world as I possibly could. Then, this post came up and I thought you can't get any further from the world than actually leaving it. I just wanted to come here and disappear. Instead…well, I guess I got found."
"To paraphrase a wise man, you can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need."
He smiles, "I never considered Mick Jagger a wise man."
"The man is in his sixties and still has women throwing their unmentionables at him. That qualifies as wise in my book."
He laughs. "Good point," and stands putting a hand out to steady himself. "Well, better get sleeping beauty here back to his quarters."
"I don't think so, John, you'll never make it. You'll be asleep yourself in a few minutes."
"Doc?" he asks suspiciously, "What did you do?"
"Let's just say that little snack you ate should probably be called a Power Nap Bar." I told Elizabeth I would wait until the data burst was sent, and I did. If she wants to argue the point I have a third drugged bar with her name on it.
The Major drops heavily onto the bench across from Rodney. "You're just a regular Dr. Feelgood, aren't you?"
"Only doing what is necessary," I tell him. "Believe me, lad, after five or six hours of uninterrupted sleep, you'll thank me." No, it won't be enough, but hopefully enough to take the edge off. Perhaps by helping them fall asleep, I can hold off their inevitable fall from grace for just a wee bit longer.
He leans over so that he is lying on his side and watches as I gently work Rodney into a similar position. "He's right, you know. And if you tell him I said so, I'll swear it was the drugs talking. But after what I saw today, all those ships, we don't stand a snowballs chance of surviving them. We'll have to run, blow the city, find a safe harbor, if one exists." He yawns, pulls his knees up slightly, and closes his eyes.
"Well, that's good to hear. There's something to be said about living to fight another day."
"There's something else I realized today, watching the culling. Teyla said she's never seen so many taken and given what I saw, I believe her. But seeing all that chaos, all those people just disappearing like that, I decided that there is only one way in hell I'm letting them take any of you, and that's by going through me."
"I think Rodney may find that to lie outside the definition of necessary."
"Well, there's a lot of room for interpretation there. I'm sure he'll be pissed if I end up a midnight snack for some albino Rob Zombie wanna-be, but I'll just have to figure out some way to apologize."
I look down at the small locking toaster Rodney never got to install, pick it up and put it in my pocket. "Getting on his bad side can be a dangerous undertaking."
He lets out a jaw cracking yawn, "Yeah, the only thing worse than falling out of the good graces of Rodney McKay is actually falling into them in the first place." And then, he, too, is asleep.
Whatever is necessary, sometimes there is no other choice. I did it tonight and the Major and his men will do it when the Wraith attack. And I have no doubt Rodney will do what he thinks is necessary when that time comes, as well. I sit in the pilot's seat, deciding that as much as I normally hate it, it would do just fine for a quick forty winks of my own.
I sit in my office feeling somewhat refreshed after my few hours of sleep in the Jumper. I didn't sleep quite as long as the other two, but then again I didn't slip myself a power bar mickey. There is a light knock and I look up to see Major Sheppard leaning into my doorway.
"So, have you come to curse me as well?" I ask.
Rodney has already been here this morning, threatening to have my medical license revoked in three countries (although I explained I never intended to practice medicine in Canada) and two galaxies (although I've never seen a medical review board in Pegasus). He then questioned the reputability of my sheep's skin, and proceeded to discuss the irony that the printing of said diploma involved the use of that particular barnyard animal, even asking if I had been intimate with the one used for my own document. After tiring of that line of insults, he moved on to my lineage going all the way back to the Ancient that had passed on the hated gene, at which point I informed him that I was in entire agreement with his assessment of that particular ancestor. Satisfied that we had reached common ground, we then made plans to meet later for lunch. Fortunately, he never mentioned the little personal lock I had squirreled safely away. Whether intentionally, accidentally, or coming to his better senses, I may never know.
John grimaces shyly and lowers his voice, "Actually, you were right. I do feel better now that I've had some sleep. Just don't let anyone know I said that."
"Your secret's safe with me," I tell him with a wink. "But I do apologize that I had to be so sneaky about it."
"Believe me, I've learned my lesson, no taking candy from strangers or Scottish physicians." He steps into my office and I can see he holds a piece of paper folded in half. He seems to consider it for a second then hands it forward. "Speaking of apologies, I was wondering if you could hold on to this for me."
I take the paper, noting the simply written 'McKay' on the outside fold. "Just give it to him when…well, when the time is right."
I start to protest, to tell him it won't be necessary, but I know it will sound hollow because we both know how necessary it may be. I nod and he seems content and turns to leave. "Major," I call as he reaches the door, "I'm meeting Rodney in an hour for lunch. Would you care to join us?"
"If I can," he tells me and I have a feeling we will not see him there. "Thanks, Doc," he says then leaves.
I open my desk drawer, intending to place his note on top of the one with his own name on the outside that Rodney just gave me this morning, but I hesitate. I know I shouldn't, but I cannot resist opening the folded sheet. Its funny, you know, how time isn't the only thing that is relative, how something small can really be large. Rodney said more in one moment of sleep deprived insanity than he did in that entire hour of video that was sent back to Earth. And the Major? He hadn't had a personal message to send back to Earth at all, instead he is leaving one here. His note is one word. One single word written across a map of the southwestern United States, the route from Colorado Springs to Las Vegas highlighted in yellow. The word 'Sorry' is printed in a neat black hand and nothing more.
I refold the note and put it away in my desk, speaking a silent prayer that I won't have to deliver either note, knowing the chances are good that I won't, but for the horribly wrong reasons. I know that sometimes the choice is out of my hands, I know that sometimes even the most deserving fall from grace, fall from the sky, fall into the gray murk between necessary and heroic. I know it and yet I can't let go. I can't let go of the images of young men dying bravely, and friends saying goodbye in their own small way, and the fear of what is to come. And yet, I also can't let go of the hope because sometimes, that is necessary too. I can only pray that this time, it will also be enough.