TITLE: Prelude to a Duet
AUTHOR: Wraithfodder
CATEGORY: Gen, humor, angst
SPOILERS: Season two episode "Duet"
See Part 1 for copyright disclaimers
PART 3

It was about a day until I really saw Rodney again. Oh yes, a briefing here, a 'how ya doin'?' there, but Rodney was resting up and he wanted his space. I couldn't blame the guy. We've all got our own personal space… that distance we don't want people violating, and apparently it's different in every country. We Americans have put the most distance between ourselves and others, and Rodney is no exception. He'd lost all his personal space in the flash of a Wraith dart beam. So, everybody was respecting his request to leave him alone. He wasn't hostile about it. He just wanted to bask in being alone.

So, I'd busied myself with the Dex situation, and took some time for a talk with Lieutenant Laura Cadman. Beckett said she'd weathered the experience quite well, considering, which was good because my talk wasn't the most pleasant follow-up. The officer's manual didn't cover being stuck in someone else's head. I knew all about engaging the enemy, being captured by the enemy and the enemy figuratively trying to get into your head but not this real 'get in your head' mess, so I'd had to wing it. Just told her that she'd done okay, considering. Some folk might panic or have a total breakdown if trapped in such a mess and she hadn't, but…. I empathized that she should not, if she should ever find herself in a similar situation, ever 'hijack' another's body for a midnight run. She agreed and apologized, although it's Rodney who needs the apology, not me. Before I could figure out how to ask her – this was an informal debriefing of sorts – she actually spoke up and said that with the exception of the run and the kiss, she hadn't done anything… inappropriate. It was at that point I sorta went silent, which probably worried her to no end as maybe she was thinking I was going to reprimand or demote her for something, but instead I was pondering... did McKay just tell her not to look when nature called? Oh, hell, I did NOT want to go there. No, all that personal stuff could get ironed out with Heightmeyer. Cadman definitely left the meeting with an understanding that McKay's body was his own and that the constant struggle over dominance had nearly cost them both their lives, so next time, let the experts handle it. I wasn't sure what experts I was talking about, but she'd looked serious, which meant I got the point across, and she saluted and departed with my permission.

Crap, why couldn't I just deal with my people shooting each other or something simple like that?

I found Rodney in his lab, working on his computer. Normally I just barge in through the open door and annoy the man just as he annoys me. That's just the way it is, but I'm not sure how he's handling the decompression from his experience, so I knock. His head pops up from the laptop he was staring at, wide eyes looking at me. Not horrified or anything, which to me means I've got the A-okay to proceed.

His lab is a clutter of Ancient technology and our stuff. How Rodney gets the two technologies to work together is beyond me, but he's the genius in that department. He still can't fly a jumper in a straight line, so I've got my job nice and secure.

"So, they say silence is golden," I remark.

The tiniest quirk touches his lips. "You have no idea, major."

"Colonel," I correct.

"Oh yeah. Still getting my brain back," McKay grinned a bit sadistically. I know he's getting revenge. He said that on the trip back on the Daedalus, I'd mentioned my promotion at least a dozen times. Heck, it hadn't been THAT much, plus I had to practice saying 'colonel.' Once in a while, I'd still sign something 'major', which really ticked off the person who had to redo the form.

"So, how are things with Chex?"

"Dex," I correct with a lopsided grin. Yeah, I don't think that's gonna last long, but it's better than calling him Bigfoot, which I heard McKay muttering at one point. The sight of McKay hanging upside down on the planet had been a fleeting glimpse. I'd been preoccupied with catching Ford and had, by default, entrusted McKay's welfare to Dex. He'd cut down McKay with a minimum of fuss and no damage. In retrospect, it had been a damned dangerous thing to do, leaving McKay hanging there with a stranger, but I'd felt I could trust the man.

McKay had had a tough last last couple months – saving the city, dealing with a sporadically homicidal Ford, and now this. Why the hell he didn't put in for some vacation is beyond me. Even with the time on Earth, he'd worked all of that time as far as I knew. The man has some vacation coming, but then again, where would he go? He doesn't strike me as the kind of guy to go to the beach, not after all that whining about sunburns.

"Hmmph," muttered McKay, looking at his laptop.

"What?"

"Nothing."

I picked up some Ancient techy-trinket that McKay had yet to figure out what it was. I figured it was a doorstop but he refuses to admit that. He'll go to his grave insisting it's an important doodad of some kind. "I spoke with Lieutenant Cadman." Out of the corner of my eye, I could see McKay looked a tad bit panicked. Just how much into his mind did the woman get? Or what happened that she didn't tell me about? McKay managed to eek out an "Oh?" that he tried to make sound blaise.

"About taking your body out for a midnight stroll," I elaborated, watching a flutter of relief go across his face. "Beckett mentioned your invite to dinner." Actually, he'd mentioned a little more than that – amazing what you could pry out of the doc with a jar of real orange marmalade swiped from the messhall.

The expression I saw cross McKay's face looked pretty similar to how I must have looked when he'd planted that kiss on the doc. I know he's just thrilled to death that he, Cadman and Beckett are going to do a little group therapy with Heightmeyer later today. Just to iron out any wrinkles, so Elizabeth had said. I'd agreed. The whole situation was pretty bizarre and apparently when somebody got possessed by aliens back at the SGC, they got sent off to a shrink.

"Oh god, I can't believe that…" He nearly put his face in his hands.

"Don't worry," I say, trying to avoid any panicking on his part. "We'll go out on a mission, trip over some Wraith, have to run for our lives. Be back to normal in no time," I joke.

Okay, I realized that the whole getting minds back into the proper bodies experiment might have been a lethal disaster, and that McKay probably let Cadman have her last word… so I continued. "Rodney, it's no big deal," I said. "So what if you nearly sucked Carson's face off?"

"I did not!" McKay practically howled.

Crap. He's not still upset about that?

"It was just a kiss and not even ME," he continued, then sat down on a nearby stool, a glum look spreading across his expressive face. "Do you have any idea what it's like have somebody stuck in your head who is…" His face crinkled up in distaste. "Entertaining lascivious thoughts about Beckett?"

I think I must have looked like a beached guppy, mouth open, not quite gasping for breath but certainly grasping for a reply to a question like that. No, I did not. I hoped to hell I never would. I like the empty space between my ears. Well, not empty, but certainly not sublet out to a tenant I couldn't evict. And as for Beckett, I sure don't swing that way, and I'm pretty confident McKay doesn't either the way he goes on about that blonde Colonel Carter. He's just a stereotypical geek type who spent his formative years with computers instead of chasing girls. Geez, why is McKay staring at me and glaring like I'd just dropped a virus on his PC? "What?" I shook my head. "No," I replied honestly. "Never had anybody inside my head."

McKay typed something on the computer, but it looked like he was hunting and pecking just to keep himself occupied. "What, um, er…"

Well, that was helpful. Okay, I'll take a wild guess. "Beckett talked to me. He thought you might be heading toward a breakdown after you invited him to dinner. Well, after Cadman invited him to dinner."

I saw McKay's eyes narrow to suspicious slits. He's still pissed at the hijacking. I couldn't blame him. I couldn't really reprimand Cadman for her actions as the regulations didn't cover this kind of bizarre situation, but I'm sure Heightmeyer is going to give her an earful about her behavior while stuck inside Rodney, only in a nicer and probably more coherent manner than I had.

"Nothing happened," I assured him, "security kept a tab on you. Didn't take long to figure it wasn't you, well, you you, if you know what I mean."

"You had security watch me?" McKay didn't seem to like that, but I didn't care. I was responsible for his welfare, whether he liked it or not.

"Yeah," I replied. "What if you went wandering off down a corridor and had an accident."

"Accident?" prodded McKay. Why the hell was he making this so difficult? "Yeah, like slipping on a banana peel. I don't know. All they did was just make sure if you an adverse affect to the, uh, transference, someone would spot you." He didn't need to know that he'd been banned from gate travel, banned from stepping foot on a jumper and god forbid he even think about touching a naquadah generator when he'd been in that state. It wasn't that I didn't trust him or Cadman; I didn't want a repeat of the transformer miscalculation, only on a much larger scale.

McKay's expression changed, and for a moment, it eerily reminded me of when Cadman had taken control of his body, but it was, I realized, just the over-thinking Rodney expression.

"What did Beckett… say?"

An earful, much of which didn't make sense, but Beckett had cheerily put the whole fiasco behind him once he'd discovered Cadman's amorous interest in him. I saw the way the doc's hand lingered on her hand before we left the infirmary. But anyway…

"Well, first, Beckett said you were … nice."

"I can be nice," McKay replied, giving me a frosty stare that contradicted his very words.

"Very nice," I said, trying not to smirk. McKay abruptly looked horrified. Good lord, it wasn't as though Cadman tried to seduce Beckett while in McKay's body, at least I sure hope not. Beckett had gotten this knowing look when I talked with him but never said anything. I'd have to score a tin of scones or something to wrangle more out of him, I think. "As in well, just too nice. And then, the second tip off…"

McKay scrunched his face in dreaded anticipation.

"You don't run, Rodney, let alone jog."

One of McKay's eyes twitched. A little repressed hostility? Oh yeah, he had a bone of contention to pick with Cadman over that, but after watching him slowly walk the next day, I think they'd already hashed out that little transgression. He'd probably awoken feeling like Ronon Dex had wiped the mat with him. The man was not an athlete by any means.

"But I'm sorta impressed," I added, crossing my arms. And I was.

"At what?" McKay frowned.

"You clocked a mile," I replied.

"Oh god, no wonder it felt like I'd been tortured," he responded with a groan, putting his face in his hands as he leaned forward. "Do you have any idea what it's like to wake up not knowing where you are or how you got there?" He sat up and stared at me with an odd exasperated expression. "Oh, look at who I'm talking to."

Wait a second. Was he implying I made a habit of doing that? I decided not to respond to that remark, arching an eyebrow instead.

It was almost like our regular banter. Insulting each other but not meaning to, and ignoring it, but I could see that Rodney was still a bit unnerved by the whole experience. Something was eating at him, and having another mind in with his own didn't seem to be the real problem. He'd explained earlier that he could hear what Cadman said, but couldn't get into her thoughts, and vice versa, so it hadn't been like she could unearth any deep dark secrets he was hiding.

I watched as Rodney went back to his laptop, complaining to himself about the order of some file on a shared drive, when it hit me. It wasn't the fact that a strange woman had been cohabitating in his body, or the kiss. It was order and control. Rodney may deal with wild scientific theories but in the end, it all boils down to controlling an environment or situation to get the desired solution. He hadn't been able to think straight – nearly frying the transformer in the dart because of an erroneous calculation – and that had to have been a massive blow to his ego. But worse, he'd lost control. Period. Goes to sleep in one room, wakes up in another.

And this wasn't like some wild weekend blackout where you try to figure out where you parked the car, because in that case, you were responsible for your actions. In this case, someone else was – and you knew it.

As Rodney puttered on his computer, saying uncomplimentary things about something Zelenka had done, he thankfully ignored me standing there. I tried to put myself in his shoes. Nah, I wouldn't have needed a sedative or anything if I'd woken up with another voice in my head – as long as someone – and that would probably have been Rodney, no doubt perversely amused at my predicament – told me what was going on. After shooting a Wraith and watching her come back to life, a voice in the head seemed downright tame.

Would I have let Cadman take control of my body, even if she asked? Hell no. I'd pull rank if nothing else. Plus I could stay awake for days on end; I'd done it before. But then again, I had caught catnaps, just a few minutes here or there. Hell, she could take me over at that moment of weakness. That would suck. Actually, it would be frightening. What if the Wraith attacked while I was asleep and she was busy doing… whatever… or she touched some Ancient thing and my gene activated it? Not that she would do it intentionally, but hell, she could accidentally blow up the base.

A loud noise startled me out of my disturbing thoughts. Rodney was watching me with a very amused expression. He put down the coffee cup that he'd slammed against the countertop to get my attention. "Earth to Sheppard."

"I'm here," I said defensively.

"That's debatable," he replied. "Where were you?" He rapped a finger against his own head.

"Just thinking of what it must have been like for you," I said truthfully.

He was silent for a moment. "And?"

"Couldn't have been fun."

"Hardly," he snorted. "Cadman talks way too much. Nattering on constantly."

"Nattering?" In all the years I'd been in the military, I'd never heard the word 'nattering' applied to any military personnel.

"I still don't know how it worked," Rodney continued, "but she could just increase the volume in my head, asking the stupidest questions. She could be very grating."

"Ah," I thought. "That must have been the 'do you have a degree in physics' remark?"

He glared at me, but that didn't last long. "And then, she had the gall to…"

Yeah? And? What? I hated when he did that as I really didn't know how to finish that sentence in this situation and it was rare that he didn't finish his sentences. Cadman had sworn she'd done nothing inappropriate…

"She gave me … dating advice."

I relaxed and did my best not to burst out laughing if that was the worst thing she'd done. "That's it?" The glare returned with a vengeance, the type that would have turned me into a pile of charred cinders if it were possible. "What? Are you engaged now?"

"No!"

Geez, is that mortal terror I detect lurking in those hubcap-sized eyes? But he quieted down, settling back to a slightly disturbed expression. What was going on? Okay, nothing inappropriate, probably bad dating tips – at least for him, nattering, not shutting up. Oh.

I hesitated, then asked, "Did she try to control the situation?"

He didn't answer. Didn't have to. It was written all over his face. He'd suffered a seizure because of control issues, turned himself in lab experiment because of it, and could have killed himself in the process of ending it.

"I guess," I began, but faltered. I wasn't sure what to say.

"Ah yes, that sounds about right," Rodney snapped, waving an arm. "You've never been in a situation like this so all you CAN do is guess. Even trying to fathom what it was like is nothing like the real thing."

I just stared at him. I wasn't the person to play dime-store shrink with him or anybody else. He interpreted my reluctance to reply as a negative response.

"It's so frustrating to not be able to do what I needed to do because she was constantly there," he continued caustically. "And she wouldn't take no for an answer."

Crap. Mental duress, even if it wasn't meant as that, was not good. "Such as?" I asked quietly.

"Well, no, I was sleeping, so that doesn't run doesn't count – you know, I think I have shin splints now," he complained, more to himself than to me, I think. "And well, the slap, that doesn't count either, really."

Slap? He slapped himself? Or she slapped him or he slapped her? And why? Oh hell, I don't want to know who said or did what to whom to elicit that reaction or maybe I did, but not just now. I'll save it for a boring spate of time on a mission. However, I decided not to feed his hypochondria about shin splints, so I simply smiled, which seemed to tick him off.

"You know, you could show a little more sympathy," he protested. "It wasn't easy. Talk talk talk. Why this? Why that? If you'd just listen to ME once—"

God, that sounded more like having a nagging girlfriend stuck in your mind and I really didn't recall Cadman being like that, but maybe the stress of being stuck in McKay's head was driving her nuts as well. It couldn't have been an easy place to be. Or maybe it had been like having a female duplicate of himself stuck in his head. He could talk more than anybody I knew. I did try to listen to what he said, but he has a propensity to go on at the mouth, especially when he feels when something's gone terribly wrong, or that imminent death is dangling over his head, waiting to snatch him in its horrid clutches.

"And then she started closing up," he went on, the anger in his voice seeming to coil around itself. "She could have died because of me."

And there it was, so clear it could have smacked me right in the face and I'd missed it. Survivor's guilt – only nobody had died.

"And she's alive because of you," I added resolutely.

"Through sheer dumb luck," he said morosely, which wasn't at all like him. Depressed Rodney I did not need. Neither did he.

"Rodney, you can be more obnoxious and annoying than a mosquito, but you're not dumb and you make things work, and it's not because of luck."

"She actually volunteered to … go away… because she felt she was less important," continued Rodney bleakly.

Ah great, the obnoxious mosquito remark went right over him.

"And that's why you rushed to experiment on yourself?" I asked.

McKay paused, staring mindlessly at the laptop for a moment. "Well, yes, that and the thought of an upcoming fatal brain seizure."

I could say something stupid, but it wouldn't solve the problem at hand. "If she'd died, it wouldn't have been your fault."

McKay's gaze bored into me a laser. "I should have been able to figure it out sooner."

"Why? Because you're the resident genius who saves the city at the last minute?"

"But …" he argued.

God. Guilt and Rodney McKay make a lousy combination, like vegetable-flavored ice cream and yet every so many years some dolt thinks consumers will shell out for spinach flavored ice cream. He hadn't seemed this down since Gaul and Abrams had been killed by a Wraith back on that desert world. Even when Grodin died, he hadn't been so introspective, but that had all happened so quickly, and it hadn't been something he could literally feel inside him. When Cadman had begun to fade, had it bee a pervasive physical sensation of loss?

"Rodney." I leaned against the counter, just several feet from the scientist. "I know this may take a while to digest, but Lieutenant Cadman is a soldier. She's here to protect the civilian population, just like me. We make sacrifices and sometimes, it means we die."

Oh great, now he looks more depressed.

"Look, she signed up for this expedition knowing full well what the hazards were. Come to think of it, so did you," I said. "None of us expected the Wraith, and from what I gather, nobody gave much thought to the Gou'ald running around until somebody made the Stargate work."

"Dr. Jackson did that," replied McKay dryly.

"Whoever." Now was not the time for a history lesson. "Listen, did Cadman blame you for what happened?"

I could see McKay's eyes sort of darting around, as if the answer were on a scrap of paper somewhere on the counter, but the logical side of him was creeping back in, thank god. "Um, no, but…"

"So stop beating up on yourself, and next time, scatter."

"What?" "Cadman told me she'd ordered you and Beckett to scatter. Beckett did, you didn't."

"So now this is my fault?" shot back McKay, definitely insulted by what I said, and oddly enough, that made me happy.

"No, but next time when some yells scatter, do it," I suggested, pushing back off the counter. "Look at this way, it could have been a lot worse."

"Oh, in what respect?" he crossed his arms. "Unless you mean you would have missed shooting down the dart and I'd have ended up a buffet for a bunch of energy-sucking Wraiths."

"There are worse things," I taunted.

"Do tell," he prodded sarcastically.

I just grinned like a Cheshire cat. "Could have been Beckett stuck in your head instead."

"Oh god." McKay actually looked downright mortified. "I would have shot myself," he vowed. "At least Cadman was calm about imminent death but could you imagine the squawking Carson would have put up when I decided to bypass the mice test to just get it over with? Bad enough he whines incessantly about going through the gate but…"

"Uh huh," I agreed happily as McKay continued to dwell on the hazards of mental cohabitation with Beckett. Yeah, that might be a nightmare, but I still think having McKay stuck in my head would be my worst nightmare.

A voice sounded in my earpiece, startling me. Must have been what Rodney felt – startled. I tapped the radio, responded. I was wanted back in the armory. Another mix-up, this time with P-90 ammo, but now, I wasn't so annoyed at the bureaucratic bungling that seemed to have crept in from Earth. There were worse things, and Rodney was doing okay…

…At least until the therapy session with Heightmeyer.

THE END