RATING: T for language and adult themes.
SEASON: Second season sometime after Grace Under Pressure.
MAJOR CHARACTERS: The boys, of course, (if you don't know who I'm talking about, you're in the wrong fic).
CATEGORY: a little of this, a little of that.
SUMMARY: Sometimes it's easier to live the fantasy than accept the reality. And sometimes your best friend keeps shoving it in your face. Sheppard-McKay friendship.
SPOILERS: A few things are hinted at, but not much is spoiled. Anything up to and including Grace Under Pressure is fair game, though.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please. I thrive on it and so do the bunnies.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own them, nor do I really care for Daylight Savings Time.
NOTES: This story is part of the Dictionary series and all that that entails. You don't have to read the others to follow this story but a few refs might make a little more sense if you did. The list is on my profile page if you're interested.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Special thanks, as always to Koschka for the final once over. She wanted yummy fic and I did my best to oblige. And thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed my other stories…it really is very much appreciated!
a·sy·lum (u-sī'lum), noun, 1. a place offering protection and safety; a shelter. 2. an institution for the maintenance and care of the mentally ill, orphans, or other persons requiring specialized assistance.
Time changes always got to him. It was funny, considering jet lag was rarely a problem. He could fly from Siberia to Colorado and a few hours sleep was all it took to shake off the groggy fog that had descended during the inflight movie. But throw in a single hour of Daylight Savings Time and his system was in an uproar for days. Maybe it was because it made no rational sense to change the time and his body knew it. Maybe it was the absolute lack of need to change the time since that extra hour of sunlight really made little difference when you were cloistered away in the lab until all manner of ungodly hours. Maybe it was his body's way of saying it's the principle of the thing, dammit, and electrical consumption be damned. Because, honestly, when you were using enough power to light a moderate size city every time you dialed the gate, what difference did a few million kilowatts of lamplight make?
So, when the alarm went off yet again and he reached out a hand to slap haphazardly at the snooze button again, the only explanation he could come up with was that the time must have changed… again. Spring forward, my ass, he thought, pulling the covers back over his head and burrowing into his pillow as the morning DJ's voice was cut off with a satisfying snick.
"Rodney," a female voice called from the next room…the bathroom his brain figured, mentally recalling the layout of the apartment, "no more snoozing. We need to get to the Mountain sometime today."
His mind put a name to the voice… Sam… and she had gotten up out of bed and headed for the shower two snoozes ago. He peeled the blankets down and peeked into the other room. Damn, she was already dressed, looking in the mirror and running fingers through short blonde hair still wet from the shower. With a sigh that he had slept through the only worthwhile image to see that morning, he pulled the blanket back up over his head.
Weight hit the bed, causing the mattress to bounce and the voice was closer, right at his ear. "Come on, sleepy head, this isn't like you. Time to get up."
"Don't want to," he grumped, holding tighter to the covers when fingers start to pull them away.
"Awww," the voice teased as teeth nipped at the outline of his ear through the sheet, "did I wear you out last night? Play too hard?"
"Ha! As if you could ever do that," he returned, unable to keep the smile from his face at the thought, because the actual memory of it seemed a little too hazy through his sleep-muddled mind.
The voice drifted up and away as a hand slapped mischievously at his butt. "Face it, McKay, you lack the stamina to keep up with me. You might as well admit it; I'm your superior in all matters, intellectual and physical."
Oh, she was in for it now. Throwing back the blankets, he was already ranting playfully, "You are so full of…" when he stammered to a halt, the familiar feminine blonde hair and blue eyes he was expecting replaced by unknown darker ones in housed in decidedly male features to boot. "Shit," he finished lamely; looking around in a growing panic at what was no longer his bedroom but obviously a hospital room, although half the equipment was totally foreign, as was the man watching him warily from the seat by his bed.
"Rodney?" the hazel eyes narrowed as if not sure exactly who he was talking to.
"Shit!" He repeated. The man knew his name. Who the hell was this guy? Where the hell was he? He looked anxiously for an exit when he remembered where he had just been seconds before. "Where's Sam?"
At his exclamation, the eye's clouded with confusion. "Sam?"
"What the hell have you done with Sam?" he demanded as he jumped from the bed.
"Aw, hell, McKay, not again." The man raised his hands in a distinctly nonthreatening manner, but it did little good. Eyes darting nervously toward the door, Rodney saw the way out and made a break for it, but the man was quicker, positioning himself so that he successfully blocked his chance at freedom. "Rodney, it's me, Sheppard. John Sheppard. Do you remember? We've known each other for almost two years now, worked together that entire time here on Atlantis."
"Atlantis?" They had been working at the SGC to decipher the texts to find the way to the Lost City of the Ancients, but Jackson was nowhere near finishing the translations. For all they knew, the city didn't even exist or, if it had, it had been destroyed millennia before. Regardless, that information was classified and seeing as he was obviously not at the SGC, this guy must be an operative trying to get information. With a defiant lift of his chin, Rodney glared at his captor. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about. And I've never laid eyes on you in my life."
"You need to calm down, okay? You were exposed to a chemical off-world. It's messed with your memories… among other things," he added cryptically. "You need to take it easy and get back in bed before you have another episode. Beckett's worried about your heart, so you need to just take my word for it and get back in bed."
Yeah, right. This guy was either off his rocker or one of the worst kidnappers he had ever met to think he would buy that story and just happily climb back into bed so they could do God only knew what to him. Not that he had met many kidnappers. None actually. Of course, when you spend all your time ensconced in a laboratory several stories underground and surrounded by more military than you could shake a recruiter at, not to mention sleeping with one of the sexiest Air Force officers around, kidnappers didn't usually figure into the equation. Still, if he could catch him off guard…
"My heart?" Rodney tried for worried, which given the circumstances wasn't much of a stretch.
"Yeah, your heart. The drugs they're giving you to treat the symptoms of the gas did something to your blood pressure, which was elevated anyway." The caution on the guy… Sheppard… on Sheppard's face gave way to humor for a second. "You would think jogging a few times a week would have helped that, but evidently that's just a McKay fact of life."
Jogging? He really was insane if he thought he would buy the fact that he, Dr. Rodney McKay, astrophysicist extraordinaire, actually jogged. He had a better chance of qualifying for an SG team and stepping through the stargate than that ever happening. Of course, if he actually did start jogging, maybe he would pass the physical and be allowed off-world. But first things first. He had to get out of here and back to the SGC before he could even think of doing something like that.
"And this Beckett, he's a doctor around here?" Rodney asked suspiciously.
"Yes, Carson Beckett. Let me just go get him so he can check you out and I'll explain everything…again."
Rodney nodded silently and Sheppard leaned his head out the door. "Carson," he called, "we need you down in Rod…"
But he didn't get any further as Rodney took advantage of the distraction to plow a shoulder into the man and knock him to the ground. Rodney didn't look back, just kept moving out the door, but his taste of freedom was extremely short lived as the man hooked a hand around his ankle and soon he was down, as well. "Get off, you son of bitch!" He kicked violently at the hand on his ankle while simultaneously trying to crawl down the hall. Sheppard held tight, working his way up Rodney's body until he had him pinned to the floor. Rodney swung a wild fist, trying to catch the man currently straddling his back, but all that earned him was his arm twisted painfully behind him.
"Sorry, McKay," Sheppard told him in a winded voice, and the odd thing was, he really thought the man meant it. "Beckett!" he called again and this time another man, obviously the physician in question, came running down the hall followed by two others.
"Oh, bloody hell," the man exclaimed in a Scottish brogue even as he readied a hypodermic needle. "I take it we've had a relapse."
"You could say that." Sheppard's voice was tense as he fought to hold Rodney on the floor.
"What the fuck is that?" Rodney demanded as his eyes widened at the sight of the needle. "What the fuck are you giving me?" And that's when the pain started. Tight and suffocating across his chest and he was pretty damn sure it had nothing to do with the weight of Sheppard on his back. "Oh, Christ, I can't breathe," he groaned out, clenching his eyes tight against the pressure.
"Rodney?" His arm was released and he was being turned over to his back as the hand that had held him so securely now rested on his aching chest with genuine worry and concern. "Rodney, you okay?"
"My chest," he croaked, curling into a ball against the growing heaviness there.
"Carson," Sheppard grit out, then when the physician called for beta blockers from the nurse behind him, turned back to Rodney on the floor. "Stay with me, McKay. You're going to be all right. Just hang with me here, okay?" Beta blockers. It was his heart. Christ, he was having a heart attack or an aortic dissection or an embolism or something as horrendously bad, and he was going to die in this hallway with only a stranger to comfort him. A stranger that was more concerned than he should be for a prisoner, no matter how potentially vital information he possessed.
"Sheppard, right?" Rodney asked, confirming the name, because something about the way the man was worried about him said it was important that he remember. That whether Rodney wanted to admit it or not, wanted to remember it or not, they were friends.
"Yeah, Sheppard, John Sheppard," he reaffirmed taking his hand in a tight grip. "And I expect you to remember it the next time you wake up." Sheppard's face swam around him as he looked up at the spinning ceiling. A prick on his arm told him the Scot had injected him with something. Heart meds, sedative, both, he didn't know and didn't care, because the pain was fading, as was the voice reminding him, "John Sheppard."
"John Sheppard," the Air Force major offered along with his hand as Rodney stood across the table from him in the cafeteria.
With a nod of greeting toward the table where Jackson and Teal'c sat eating their lunch, Rodney ignored the hand and ducked his head instead. "Major. So, what about the jello?"
The Major eyed the parfait glass of blue jello on his tray, keeping the hand extended. "I have to admit that I've never met anyone forward enough to ask for my jello before. Especially someone who won't take the time out for a common courtesy like an introduction."
With a roll of his eyes, Rodney took the hand and shook. "Dr. Rodney McKay. Now, can I have the jello?"
Sheppard indicated the chair opposite his. "Tell me again why you have to eat the blue jello when there are lots of other colors in the cooler?" When Rodney remained standing, Sheppard pushed the chair with his foot so that it scooted a foot or so across the floor.
With a resigned sigh, Rodney sat. Why the hell this guy wouldn't just hand over the jello and let him go on his way, he had no idea. "Allergies," he explained succinctly. "I'm deathly allergic to citrus and all that's left is lemon and orange jello."
"Allergies?" The major considered the justification skeptically. "Is there even any citrus in yellow and orange jello?"
"Honestly, I don't know," Rodney sniffed. "But I'd rather not risk anaphylactic shock here on this less than sanitary linoleum just to prove a point."
The smirk on Sheppard's face said he might consider it worthwhile to put that theory to the test, then with a shift of shoulders he acquiesced, "Fine, you can have it." A hand shot out and grabbed the dessert glass before Rodney's could. "After you bring me an orange one to replace it."
With an irritated huff, Rodney rose and fetched a proxy dessert which he slammed on the table before the man. "There, satisfied? Can I take my jello now and go?"
"Nope," the Major told him with a condescending smile. "You have to sit and eat it with me."
"Why in the world would you think I would want to do something as mind numbingly dull as that promises to be?"
The smile never left Sheppard's face. "I'm hurt, McKay, truly. I may just have to drown my sorrows in two bowls of jello."
"Hey, a deal's a deal. I gave you a perfectly viable substitute and now the blue jello is mine."
"Where are you going to go eat it anyway, Rodney? In the lab? With those yokels over in the corner? What's the harm in hanging out with me for a few minutes?"
"No offense, Colonel, but I spend way too much time with military types on a daily basis as it is that I have no desire to socialize with them, as well. Well, with one notable exception, but that is no business of yours just as where I plan to eat my dessert is no concern of yours."
"Major," Sheppard corrected as he took a bite of whipped cream from the top of his dessert then used the spoon to point out the gold oak leaves on his shoulder. At the confused scowl Rodney gave him, he went on to explain. "You called my 'Colonel', but I'm only a major."
"I didn't call you 'Colonel'," Rodney insisted.
With a tap of his spoon toward the empty seat, Sheppard continued. "Yeah, you did. Maybe I remind you of a colonel you know or something." The man lifted almost hopeful eyes to his.
Rodney sat with a shake of his head. "No, I can't recall meeting anyone as self-centered as you seem to be."
Sheppard choked on a cube of gelatin. "Well, then Dr. Rodney McKay meet Dr. Rodney McKay, you should have a hell of lot in common. Your egocentric ways only one of many things, I'm sure."
Taking a bite of his own, Rodney's mouth twisted in a mock smile. "Gee, and I was wondering why you had to resort to holding innocent astrophysicists hostage with jello in order to have a lunch companion. What with your winning charm and dazzling charisma, it absolutely boggles the mind."
"Doesn't it though?" the Major agreed with a mirror expression. "Actually I'm just here on a TDY; shipping out to Antarctica at the end of the week. Don't know anybody on base… until now that is."
"I'm honored beyond words."
"You should be," Sheppard informed him earnestly. "It's quite a privilege being my new best friend, McKay."
"Yeah, right," Rodney snorted as he dug out another piece of jello. "What is that expression? Oh, yes… that'll be the day."
"Seriously, McKay, you're my best friend. Best one I've ever had, as a matter of fact. You just need to remember, that's all." Rodney blinked at the statement because there was not a shade of doubt that the man meant every word. Sheppard stood then and picked up his tray from the table. "I'll see you later tonight when I come over for the game."
"What? You aren't coming over for any game?"
"Be there around six, I'll bring the beer, you order the pizza." Before Rodney could protest further and threaten to take out a restraining order, Sheppard leaned in and told him in a low voice, "By the way, she's not real. The sooner you realize that, the sooner we can get back to Atlantis."
Atlantis? That was the second time someone had mentioned Atlantis to him today. Although for the life of him, he couldn't remember who else had. But all thoughts of that disappeared as a kiss landed on his cheek and a delicate hand took the spoon from his. "Blue jello, my favorite." He looked back with a grin as Sam took a bite. "Been waiting for me long?"
"No, I was just talking with Major Shepp... Where did he go?" Sheppard was gone. In fact, all signs of him were gone. There was no way he could have dropped his tray and made it out the door by now, but he was nowhere to be seen.
"Who?" Sam asked stealing another bite.
"John Sheppard. He was right here." Rodney scanned the cafeteria in confusion.
"Major Sheppard? Never heard of him."
"He's just here for the week. Being reassigned to Antarctica or something."
"Wow, wonder who he pissed off? Not even you managed to get sent someplace that desolate."
"Hey!" Rodney frowned, "that's not necessary. True, but not necessary. Regardless, you know everyone on base. Sure you haven't heard of him?"
Sam shrugged unfazed before placing the spoon back on the tray. "Maybe I just haven't seen him yet. I'm going to grab a tray, be right back."
Rodney trapped the hand that landed on his shoulder. "Sam, has Daniel made any progress on the Atlantis work?"
Now it was her turn to look confused. "Not that I know of. He's been pretty wrapped up in the ruins on P4X-953 to work on anything else for the past couple of weeks. Why?"
"No reason," Rodney reassured with a shake of his head, "just something Sheppard said."
Blue eyes studied him in concern. "You okay? You haven't been yourself today."
"I'm fine," he reassured. "Just don't think I slept very well last night. Kind of have a headache is all. Go get your lunch. I'll be waiting right here."
"Good." The hand squeezed affectionately. "I'd hate for you to run off on me. I've grown kind of fond of having you around."
"I wouldn't dream of going any place else." And he forced a smile and returned the squeeze in kind.
With a final pat she turned and headed toward the cafeteria line. Rodney watched her go then closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose and willing away the growing headache that had started as soon as Sheppard left the room. Vanished into the thin air was more like it. It almost made him wonder if he had really been there at all. But when he reopened his eyes and saw the man sleeping in the bed opposite his, he began to wonder in a panic if Sam had really been there at all. She's not real. The words lingered in his subconscious and he pushed them back even further, because of course she was real, completely and totally real and nothing would convince him otherwise.
Of course, if anything could, it would be his current surroundings and the man lightly snoring across the way. He was back in the infirmary again, the strange infirmary that he had dreamed about last night. Right? It was just a dream. But if it was, why the hell was his chest hurting so badly and his head throbbing in time with the pounding of his heart?
"Rodney, you are awake." A woman's voice, but not Sam's, spoke behind him.
Turning his head, he saw an attractive woman with long brown hair and concerned brown eyes. He held the panic he was feeling at bay and pointed at the sleeping man as he asked cautiously, "John Sheppard, right?"
With a smile of relief she nodded her head. "Yes, that is correct."
"Major John Sheppard of the Air Force?"
The smile wavered. "Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, but yes, of the Air Force."
"Son of a bitch," he breathed, placing a hand across his eyes.
"Are you in pain? Should I call Dr. Beckett?"
Rodney lifted his hand and peered out at the woman that was obviously as worried about his well being as much as his reaction. "Don't take this the wrong way, but who the hell are you?"
"Teyla…Teyla Emmagan," the woman stammered over the unexpected requirement for an introduction.
Rodney took in the clothes, a combination of homeweave and government issue, as well as the muscular build and authoritative set of her shoulders. "Are you Jaffa?" Because something about her said alien.
"No," she corrected patiently, "Athosian."
"Never heard of it," Rodney told her distracted as he looked around the room further. "Of course there are tons of worlds spread across the Milky Way the SG teams travel to that I have no clue about."
"Oh, Athos is not in the Milky Way, it is in what you refer to as the Pegasus Galaxy."
"Of course," Rodney agreed patronizingly as he folded his hands in his lap. Best just to go along with this, he thought, because obviously he was not in his right mind. He had been exposed to something and was now delirious in the SGC infirmary. That idiot Lee had been fooling around with some new plant spores that SG-2 had found on one of the planets, he probably released it into the ventilation system or something. The man was incredibly slack when it came to following containment protocol. Yes, that had to be it. The only logical explanation. And as soon as he stopped hallucinating the nurse that was treating him as an exotic alien he planned to pummel Bill Lee to death with the contamination control procedure. "So I take it that Athos has intergalactic travel capabilities."
The woman shook her head. "No, we Athosians have never left our home galaxy."
"Ah. Therefore, since you are here, it must follow that I am in the Pegasus Galaxy," Rodney rationalized.
"Yes, that is correct."
Yeah, the three-ring binder marks weren't going to fade from Bill's ass anytime soon. Rodney sat and drummed his fingers on his leg, waiting for the delirium to pass or change or fade or something because the woman just kept smiling serenely at him and the man on the other bed just kept snoring and surely something would happen soon or he was going to go nuts….if he hadn't already thanks to the incompetence of that moron Lee.
As if sensing his discomfort, the woman offered, "Can I get you something? Dr. Beckett should be here shortly, but he said that if you woke you could have something to drink."
Beckett? Beckett? Why the hell did that name sound so familiar? When he realized the woman was still waiting for an answer, Rodney shook his head. "Look, Tanya…"
"Teyla," she corrected.
God, he hated names. Why the hell couldn't everyone be named something easy like Jane or Bob or Bill or John... He looked back over at the sleeping man. The same man who had given up his blue jello and was threatening to come to his apartment that very night. Was he really in the infirmary, too, exposed to the same contaminant as him or was he just a figment of his imagination, as well?
He was saved from having to reconcile that question and trying to apologize for getting yet another name wrong…although, come to think of it, this was his fantasy and if he happened to call someone by a much easier to remember name than the one they were using, it should be his prerogative to do so and their feelings be damned. This brought up the whole new conundrum of why he would imagine such a name in the first place. If he had his druthers everyone in this alternate reality would be called Bubba. And that's exactly what he planned to do, starting with the man wearing a white lab coat with a stethoscope slung around his neck that had just walked into the room.
"Ah, Rodney, I see that you're awake again. Are you still experiencing the same confusion that you were previously?"
There was something innately wrong with calling a man with a Scottish accent Bubba, but there was something innately wrong with everything he was experiencing right then. So, what the hell?
"Well, Bubba, that depends what sort of confusion you are referring to."
The man froze in opening his chart, his eyes darting questioningly to Tey…Bubba sitting by his bed.
"He seems to be having trouble remembering names and where he currently is," female Bubba explained.
"I see." Turning back to Rodney, Dr. Bubba asked, "Do you remember what happened to you? Anything about your exposure to the chemical?"
"I knew it! I knew that simpering excuse for a scientist Lee exposed me to something."
"Lee? No, no, lad, you were visiting a chemical production plant on the Thereasian home world when they had a release. If Colonel Sheppard hadn't found you in the crowd of evacuees and brought you back to Atlantis as quickly as he did, chances are you would have suffered the same fate as the other poor souls that were contaminated."
Rodney glanced back at the man in question, still sleeping through the entire conversation. "Colonel Bubba saved my life?"
"Aye," Dr. Bubba answered hesitantly, "Colonel Sheppard did. You were a mess when he finally got you through the gate. Convinced he was a Goa'uld system lord trying to implant a symbiote in you, that Dr. Weir was the head of the Asgard nation and they were now in league with the Goa'uld to conquer Earth…"
He knew that name. "Dr. Weir?" he demanded excitedly. "Dr. Elizabeth Weir, the former head of the SGC?"
"The very same. She's now the expedition leader here on Atlantis." Rodney rolled his eyes at the news. The human brain really was a remarkable thing to be able to integrate past memories into current delusions, and he vowed to give the next psychiatrist he was sent to a break for taking on such a challenge as trying to understand the workings of such an incredible complexity as his genius had obviously created. When he didn't respond, the physician continued. "And then when we finally got you restrained and medicated, the drugs interacted with your blood pressure medication and that, combined with your agitation, caused your blood pressure to spike through the roof. I'm rather surprised you didn't go into cardiac arrest then. But it gave us all quiet a scare, especially after your last collapse, so we had to change the antipsychotic medications we are administering. These new ones are nowhere near as potent as the original drugs, which is why you keep having relapses, I'm afraid. But at least there are no more worries over the interactions. In fact the meds will act to lower your blood pressure, so use care when you stand up as you may have a tendency to become light headed or faint when you do."
That triggered…something, a flash, a memory, a recollection. With a hand to his chest, Rodney's eyes widened. "I had a heart attack."
"A mild one. We were able to catch it in time and the damage was minimal. Once the chemical's effects wear off, I doubt your risk will be any greater than it was prior to the incident. Not that it was anything to brag home about, mind you, but not nearly as great as it has been this past week."
"A week?" Rodney asked with a skeptical tilt of his head.
"Nine days, actually, McKay," Colonel Bubba told him as he sat up with a yawn. "Nine really long days."
"Colonel, I'm glad to see you finally took my advice and got some sleep. Feeling better?"
With a roll of his neck, he assured the physician, "I'm fine. And I would get more sleep if Steve McQueen here would stop trying to reenact 'The Great Escape'."
"Nine days? I think not. We were just eating jello in the cafeteria at lunch time. But don't worry if you're a little confused, Major. This is all just delirium brought on by alien plant spores. Once they wear off, everything will be back to normal."
Quizzical eyebrows rose at Rodney's justification. "Uhm… sure, Rodney, if you say so."
"Oh, I know so. Depending how quickly we process the spores through our system, we could be home in time for dinner. Which, by the way, we will not be sharing as you are not coming over to watch any game at my place."
"Yeaaah, well, I guess I'll just have to fend for myself, then." Wary looks were exchanged around the room.
Christ, Rodney thought with a disgusted shake of his head, why were people so difficult? Even nonexistent ones. You would think that as brilliant as he was, he would be able to come up with better company than these three. Have an intellectual conversation with Newton, Einstein, and Hawkins about the fallacies of their respective theories while the Playmates of the Ivy League played nude badminton in the background. Was that really too much to ask? With a disgruntled huff, he threw off his covers and went to stand.
"Rodney, where do you think you're gallivanting off to?"
He ignored the way the room spun around him as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. "You know, it's been fun hanging out with you, Dr. Bubba. And no offense to Colonel Bubba and the space bimbo Bubbette that I've evidently dreamed up for no apparent reason other than to add a little exposed flesh to the exposure induced illusion, but I think I've had just about all of you folks that I can take. So, I figure if I go out the door, the scene will change and I'll get to spend some time with someone new. Hopefully someone either more scantly clad or more intelligent than the likes of you three."
"McKay, I don't think that's such a good…"
But Colonel Bubba's warning came a little too late. The ground tilted under his feet… useless piece of shit floor… and evidently came up to meet the rest of his body. Because, suddenly he was lying on it and looking at the legs of his hospital bed. It was dark under the bed, growing darker by the second, just as the words the three Bubba's were saying were fading away.
"He's fainted," an exasperated Scottish voice stated in the distance.
"Don't let him hear you say that." He felt hands pulling at his arms, and wasn't it odd that he couldn't see them? But they obviously belonged to Colonel Major Bubba Sheppard. "Teyla, can you give me a hand here?"
"Can I give you hand?" the woman locking the apartment opposite his asked as Rodney juggled the grocery bags while he attempted to unlock his door at the same time.
"Uh, sure." The woman reached to take his keys from his hand just as Rodney heaved the bags at her, causing her to stagger as she fought to balance them in her arms. "Hey, careful, there are eggs in there."
"Sorry," the woman apologized from behind the bags. Rodney opened the door then relieved her of the groceries. "I am Teyla Emmagan. I just moved into the apartment across the way."
"You don't play loud music at all hours do you?" Without waiting for an answer, Rodney walked through the front door and deposited the bags on the kitchen island.
"No." He almost jumped out of his skin at how close the voice was behind him. She had followed him into his apartment without being invited? How rude was that? "I keep my music at a reasonable volume."
"Well, good. I'd hate to have to call the cops on you, especially after you helped me with my door."
She inclined her head in acknowledgment. "You are welcome, by the way." The raised eyebrow suggested she was expecting more from her new neighbor.
"Yes, well, thanks, and I'm sure I'll see you around in the hallway or mailbox or parking garage." He extended an arm indicting the door but before the woman could leave, his cat trotted into the room.
"Oh, you have a cat," the woman beamed, squatting to pick up the animal before he could shoo her out the still open door.
"Very astute observation there." Annoyed by the fact that she showed no intention of leaving, Rodney moved to start unloading the groceries, hoping she would eventually take a clue and go away. The woman… Teyla, was it? What was that, Romanian, Swahili, what? Teyla, however, seemed perfectly content to stand and snuggle with the cat while Rodney placed milk and eggs in the refrigerator. He was just about to skip the pleasantries and just flat out tell her to get the hell out when there was a knock on the door frame.
"Hope you like Labatts, it's the only Canadian beer I could find." Well, this day just went from bad to worse. It was bad enough he had a neighbor that refused to leave, now he had a stalker that refused to take no for an answer. John Sheppard stepped in, holding up two six packs of beer. Completely ignoring the disapproving glare Rodney was giving him, he instead smiled broadly at the neighbor. "Oh, hey, it's a good thing I picked up two of these bad boys seeing as you have a guest and so do I."
"Wha..what?" Rodney stuttered in outrage. "You brought a guest? You weren't even supposed to bring yourself. Who the hell did you bring? I thought you didn't know anybody else."
Making himself at home in the kitchen, Sheppard pulled three beers out of the dozen he placed in the refrigerator, handed one to Teyla and used the other to indicate the open door before handing it over to Rodney. "I met the pizza guy downstairs. He's going on his dinner break as soon as he finishes up his delivery here in your building. He has two large supremes he's willing to share, so I invited him to watch the first part of the games with us."
Rodney's mouth opened and closed repeatedly before he could form a coherent response. "You invited a complete stranger into my home? After I specifically told you you weren't welcome?"
Sheppard let the rant slide off his back as easy as his first swig of beer slid down his throat. "Relax, he's not a stranger. His name's Ronon. Seems like a nice enough guy, and hey, free pizza." Another gulp and he moved into the living room. "Besides, this isn't your home."
Rodney stalked after the man who slumped leisurely into the center of his couch and propped his feet on the coffee table in front of him. "This is so my home."
"No, it's not," Sheppard disagreed simply as he picked up the remote and clicked on the television.
Rodney jerked the throw pillow out from under Sheppard's arm. "Yes," using the pillow he swatted angrily at the feet on the table, "it is."
Almost amusedly, Sheppard lowered his feet to the floor, moving over slightly to make room for Teyla to sit. "No, it's not. And if you would just get over this whole… hiding from reality stint you have going here, life would be a hell of a lot easier on everyone."
"He is correct, you know," Teyla agreed, scratching behind the ear of the cat in her lap.
"I am not hiding from reality," Rodney insisted.
"Yeah, you are." And the feet were back on his coffee table.
"I am not hiding. If anyone is hiding from reality, it's you people. You've taken a permanent vacation from reality as far as I can tell. And get your damn feet off of my fucking coffee table!" The repeated bashing of the booted feet with the pillow finally had the desired effect. Finally, he thought, I'm starting to get control of the situation.
"Hey, are there any more beers?" At least he thought so until the extremely large, tattooed man, with dreds and sleeveless t-shirt walked into his apartment carrying two boxes of pizza.
"In the fridge," Sheppard indicated without looking back.
Rodney blinked, looking between the behemoth popping the top off the Labatts in his kitchen and the two people intently watching the television. "Wha… you can't… who said you could… What the fuck is going on here?"
"We're watching the games, McKay." Sheppard indicated the television with his beer bottle as Ronon carried the pizzas over to the living room.
"What'd I miss?" the large man asked as he sat cross-legged on the floor and flipped open the first box.
"They just started the pole toss thingy they do."
Pole toss thingy? At Sheppard's description, Rodney turned to see a man wearing a kilt balancing what looked to be a telephone pole as he walked to a line and tossed it. The announcer on the television proclaimed, "Oh, that was a stunning toss by Carson Beckett. He's really dominated these games this week." The competitor, Beckett, seemed highly pleased with the results himself and waved cheerfully to the crowd.
"You're watching the Highland Games?"
"Well, yes." Sheppard's tone was one reserved for the most idiotic of idiots. "What did you think we were going to be watching?"
"Hockey, baseball, football, basketball, tennis, golf, anything that didn't involve men in skirts throwing trees across fields."
"It's called a caber, McKay," he was informed around a mouthful of pizza by the big guy…Ronon? Again with the names. Who names their child Ronon? Of course taking in the hair and tattoos, this guy was probably christened Ronald at birth and changed it when he dropped out of high school to start a band and score more babes.
On the television, the next competitor was preparing for his toss and the other three watched the screen intently, Sheppard actually leaning forward to do so. When the pole..sorry, caber flipped, a cry went up in the room. "Oh! He blew that one," the Air Force officer decreed with a shake of his head.
Ronon swallowed the pizza and pointed at the screen. "He didn't come anywhere near the twelve o'clock position."
"Ten and four at best," Teyla concurred.
"Beckett has this one all wrapped up," Sheppard told Rodney with a knowing nod.
Rodney flung his arms up in frustration so hard that the pillow went flying. "What in the hell are you talking about?"
"The toss," Sheppard pointed at the screen again before patting the sofa beside him. "Here, sit down. It's obvious you have no clue about what you're watching, I'll explain it."
Rodney looked at the three people sitting in his living room… the pizza delivery Rastafarian chomping contentedly on his food, the woman sipping her beer and quickly becoming his cat's new best friend, and the major looking to him expectantly. When had he moved out of the rational world and into the funhouse mirror reflection of it? And how in the world was he going to get back? And even more disturbing, why didn't he really feel the need to do so? With a 'what the hell' shrug he sat, picked up his beer from the table and listened as Sheppard explained the intricacies of the Heavy competitions of the Scottish games. And to his surprise, he found himself interested and the excitement of the other three in the room contagious.
They were halfway through the Clachneart competition when Ronon looked at the clock on the DVD player. "Oh, dude, I've gotta go. I should've been running pizzas again almost an hour ago."
As Ronon stood, so did Teyla. "I should leave as well."
"Already?" Rodney was almost as shocked at his question as the others were that he asked it, and given his prior reaction to their arrival he couldn't blame them.
Teyla smiled reassuringly. "Do not worry, Rodney, I will see you around. As you said, there is the hallway, the mailbox, the parking garage."
Ronon slapped him hard enough on the shoulder that he staggered to keep his feet. "Yeah, and I'm in this building all the time on deliveries."
"Okay, then." He was almost dazed by the disappointment he was feeling that they were leaving. "I'll walk you out."
Closing the door behind the two, Rodney retrieved the last two beers from the refrigerator and sat back on the sofa beside Sheppard, who showed no indication of leaving anytime soon. Taking the offered beverage, Sheppard sipped before looking around the apartment with an appraising eye. "This is a nice little setup you have for yourself here, McKay."
"It's nothing fancy but it's really all I need. I think Sam would like a bigger place, but both of us spend so much time at work anyway it seems kind of a waste." He took a gulp of his own beer, barely tasting the bitter hoppiness of the drink. He couldn't believe he was so disconcerted the other two were gone.
"You really like her don't you?"
"Sam? She's incredible… gorgeous, smart, funny. Everything you could want in a girlfriend."
"And the work at Cheyenne Mountain, it must not get much better than that for a guy like you."
"The Department of Defense doesn't usually scrounge on their research funding," Rodney admitted with a small gloat.
"Perfect girlfriend, perfect job. Government funded research in a lab buried hundreds of feet below ground followed by a nice home life on the surface. No risks, low stress." Rodney couldn't help but smile at Sheppard's positive assessment of his life. "I'm surprised you would settle for that, Rodney."
The smile turned to a frown instantly. "Settle? I'm not settling for anything. I make groundbreaking strides in science every single day. And there's plenty of risk. I deal with dangerous alien technology on a regular basis. And Sam challenges me plenty. Our sex life if incredible, amazing. Not that it's any business of yours, but it is. Mind blowing is the word that comes to mind."
Ignoring the argument, Sheppard asked, "Why haven't you ever joined one of the SG teams and gone through the gate?"
"My blood pressure is too high," he justified, defensively sitting straighter.
"Surprised you can survive all this mind blowing sex if that's the case."
Frowning deeper he explained, "I can't get a medical clearance for gate travel."
Sheppard just took another drink from his bottle. "Funny, that never was an issue on Atlantis."
Here we go again, Rodney thought. "Colonel, there is no Atlantis."
"Yes, there is an Atlantis, and by the way you keep calling me Colonel even though here I'm just a major, I think you know I'm telling the truth."
He had done it again. Why the hell did he keep calling him Colonel? "It's the beer talking. I'm just a little fuzzy headed right now."
Sheppard snorted into his bottle. "Three beers and you're fuzzy headed? You really are a wussy here, Rodney. The truly fuzzy headed Zelenka would eat you alive and build his science throne from your bones if you were like this at home."
"First, I have no idea who you are talking about, and second, I am not a wussy."
"You're playing it safe, McKay. Hanging out in your little mental sanctuary here. You've created quite a comfortable safe house for yourself, I'll give you that."
"And just what exactly am I seeking sanctuary from?"
Sheppard shrugged and worked on peeling the label off his beer. "The Wraith, the stress, the pressure of an entire expedition depending on you to make the right decisions day in and day out. Who knows? Other than you, I mean, and you're not telling. Although I can't imagine it was much fun watching all those Thereasians going nuts before your very eyes while you did the same."
At the mention of the Thereasians, Rodney had a flash of a chaotic crowd, people screaming, running, falling, and he was one of those people. He watched as one man pulled a tool from his belt and proceeded to beat another man with it until the second was unmoving on the ground and still the blows fell. Another was begging a woman to pull the bugs out from under his skin while the woman implored the voices only she could hear to shut up. Rodney just wanted it to stop, all of it, and when Sheppard appeared in the middle of the insanity, pushed through the throng of people to reach him, squatted on the ground in front of where Rodney had curled into a ball against the pandemonium around him, he had thought his prayers had been answered. Then John's eyes had flashed gold and the nightmare had really begun.
With a shake of his head to clear the vision, Rodney stood abruptly. "Sam will be home soon, you should probably go."
Raising eyebrows in surprise at the sudden suggestion, Sheppard stood as well. "Evidently I hit a nerve."
"No, it's just getting late and I haven't seen Sam since lunchtime so we'll want to spend some time together when she gets home."
Sheppard downed the last of his beer and handed the empty bottle to Rodney. "Yeah, nothing like imagining hot sex to forget about the emotional trauma."
"You know what? Fuck you. You barge uninvited into my home, into my life, claiming it's all a delusion…"
"I brought beer," Sheppard defended.
"Well, I think you're the delusional one if you think that will make up for what you've done and I'm telling you to leave. Now. So just get the hell out."
"Fine, fine, I'm going." Rodney watched as the man walked to the door then stopped before opening it. "Just do me a favor. When you're all tangled up in the sheets with the woman of your dreams tonight, think about what seems more real, watching the Highland Games with three strangers or having sex with your supposed longtime girlfriend. If you can honestly tell yourself it's her, then you'll never see me again. If it's us, I'll give you my blue jello tomorrow."
And with that, he was gone. It was a shame that someone that had seemed like he might be fun to hang out with was so obviously insane. It made Rodney stop and wonder about the psych screenings the military was performing these days. Evidently lacking in thoroughness given the evidence before him. And later that night, with Sam sleeping on the pillow beside his, his hand resting on soft skin, feeling her warm back rise and fall with each breath…she sure as hell seemed real. How could she not be real? But even as he drifted off to the sound of her murmuring in her sleep he somehow knew for a fact that he would be eating lunch with John Sheppard the next day.
Rodney cracked his eyes open and groaned when he saw he was back in the damn hospital bed. The bed opposite his was empty, as was the chair beside his bed. No Sheppard, no Teyla, no anybody. He almost breathed a sigh of relief but then a large man in leather shirt and pants carrying a tray of food walked in.
"Oh, hey, you're awake. Hungry?" The man placed the tray on the side table and slid it into position.
"Ronon?" What the hell was the pizza delivery guy doing here in the infirmary of the SGC?
The scruffy face twisted into a pleased smirk at his recognition. "Yeah. So, you're finally starting to remember things?"
"Depends. Are you a pizza delivery guy aspiring to be a hospital orderly or an orderly moonlighting as a pizza delivery guy?"
"Neither," Ronon admitted disappointedly.
Rodney winced at the answer. "I was afraid you were going to say that. So, where's Sheppard? He's usually hanging around somewhere."
"Went back to his quarters," the pizza orderly explained. Yes! Rodney thought triumphantly. He's not here, he won't be here, and that means Sam's real and he's the fake one. Pausing at the look of satisfaction on Rodney's face, Ronon finally continued. "After you tried to beat him to death with your pillow in his sleep, Beckett thought it would be a good idea if he got out of here for a while."
"Beckett, the caber flipping guy?"
"What's a caber?"
Rodney squeezed the bridge of his nose in frustration at the confusion. "Never mind." It was eerie how he was almost getting used to this fantasy with the bizarre twists on the people he met in real life. And here was another one now.
"Rodney, how are you feeling?" The chipper greeting was accompanied by a cheerful smile worn by a woman with short dark curly hair.
Snapping his fingers, Rodney pointed happily in recognition. "Elizabeth Weir."
The smile broadened, "Yes, that's right, that's wonderful. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever be more than a malicious Asgard in your eyes again."
"So what are you doing here? I thought you had headed back to the Baltics for another round of trade negotiations once you finished up your stint at the SGC."
The smile froze as her eyes darted over to Ronon who only shrugged. "No," she corrected patiently, "after my time at the SGC I went to head up the team in Antarctica studying the Ancient outpost there."
"Antartica! That's where Sheppard's going." Finally a connection to tie this crazy dream into his life.
"Yes, that's where I met him. Actually, that's where I met you, as well." The smile transmuted into a frown of concern. "You don't remember any of this, do you?"
"There's nothing really to remember. See, the way I figure it, I'm sleeping right now and I'm just taking a few memories from today and jumbling them all up in my subconscious so that I'm incorporating them into a dream." Hands twirled in demonstration of the intertwining of fact and fiction in his mind. "Any minute now I'll be waking up next to Sam and ready to start my day back in the lab."
Elizabeth crossed her arms with a slightly raised eyebrow at his assessment of the situation. "I see. Does Carson know you're awake?" Wary eyes slid in Ronon's direction.
At the meaningful look, Ronon stood abruptly. "Oh, maybe I should go get him."
"Thank you, Ronon," Elizabeth watched the large man leave before turning back to Rodney and attempting small talk. "So, I see you have lunch. You should probably try to eat something."
Rodney turned up his nose at the tray. "I would hardly call red jello and apple sauce lunch."
"How about blue jello, then?" Sheppard strolled smugly through the door carrying a bowl of the preferred confection. "Consider it a peace offering against whatever the hell it was that I did to earn pillowcase burns on my head."
"God dammit!" Rodney exclaimed when the man walked in the room. "You weren't supposed to be here. And you sure as hell weren't supposed to be bringing me jello."
Sheppard took a step back at the outburst and Rodney wasn't sure if he was going to run for cover or sulk in the corner. "So much for détente."
"I don't care what you say, Sheppard, Sam's real." Rodney crossed arms defiantly across his chest. "Sam's real and you're not. You're a figment, an illusion, a manifestation with bad hair and good jello. And don't think that's going to help your case any. Because it won't. I can get good jello anytime I want. I don't need you for that. I don't need you for anything. I don't need you to bring over Canadian beer or blue jello or to save me from the Thereasians…"
Another image, this time alarms sounding, the Thereasian scientist acting as his guide bolting for the door even as it slid shut and locked into place, the smell of the chemical that was almost floral and so thick in the air that he could taste it… like standing next to an old woman wearing too much makeup. Then the disorientation, the panic that wouldn't stay down now matter how hard he tried, the man that had picked up a stool and pounded on the door until the seat shattered into toothpicks and still they were locked in. Something in Rodney said they shouldn't leave, that they would be breaking quarantine if they did. But something else was telling him, it wasn't so much quarantine as containment and if he didn't go, he would never get out, that he would die in that lab with all those people as surely as he was standing there fighting the paranoid thoughts that had taken control of him. And then the sound of gunfire, a familiar voice calling through his radio and until that moment he had forgotten he was even wearing it, but by the rawness of his throat he suspected he had been screaming into it. Then the door was exploding inward, knocking him and the others around him to the ground and like a curling wave they rose as one and crashed through the newly formed exit and out into the clearing beyond.
Rodney pulled his knees up under the covers of his hospital bed and wrapped arms that wouldn't seem to stop shaking tightly around them. When Sheppard called his name worriedly he buried his face in his knee caps as well. "Go away." He hoped the muffling of the blankets would hide the quaking in his voice.
"Rodney, we got you out. We got you home."
Sheppard's voice was so close that he knew at any second the hand was going to fall on his back and the reassurance and the friendship and the everything else would just be too damn much for him to deny. He couldn't let that happen, because if he did, then Sam, the cush job, the normalcy, the safety would be gone. No, he couldn't let it happen. He wasn't quiet ready to leave the asylum. Not yet.
"I said, go away!" Face still buried, eyes clenched tight, tight, tight, he could feel the hand hovering just above his shoulder, frozen in space and time by conflicting emotions of hurt and worry and fear of doing even more harm. "When I look again, you'll be gone. You'll be gone and Sam will be here and everything will be back the way it was, the way it should be."
And when he opened his eyes, Sheppard was gone. And so was the infirmary and the hospital bed, but Elizabeth Weir was still there.
"Dr. McKay." Elizabeth called down the corridor then sped up so that she could match strides as they walked through the halls of the SGC.
"Dr. Weir, what brings you back to our little top secret base? Visiting General O'Neill or checking lost and found for a missing sweater, perhaps?"
"Actually, I was hoping to have a word with you."
Rodney, who was already late for the cafeteria…and he knew very well what that meant for his dessert prospects… picked up his pace hoping to ditch her. "If you're looking for insight into the Russian people for an upcoming negotiation, all I can tell you is based on my experience, they're obsessed with toilet paper, potatoes, and action/adventure films…at least that was the case with the old woman who lived down the hall from me and her teenage grandson who kept trying to get me to discuss which 'Rambo' movie I liked best."
"I'll keep that in mind should it come up, but that's not what I wanted to talk to you about." Remarkably she was moving just as fast as he was. Seeing as she was obviously not going to give up and he was starting to get winded, he slowed back to a normal speed. "I was hoping you could assist me with some research into the Lost City of the Ancients."
"Sorry, but that's Dr. Jackson's realm, not mine."
"Yes, I understand that, but Dr. Jackson seems to have other projects that he finds more important at the present time and I need help with this project now."
Rodney stopped in the hallway and regarded the woman curiously. "Why is it so important that you need help now? And why so desperate that you would come to me to help when I'm an expert on the stargate and wormhole physics, not the Ancients."
"Actually, you're one of the foremost experts on Ancient technology around," she countered.
Rodney crossed his arms and rocked back on his heels. "Well seeing as we have only ever come across a handful of Ancient devices and only a handful of us have even seen them, much less studied them, by default I would have to agree with you. But that doesn't mean I have any inclination to do so now."
"Between you and Dr. Zelenka…"
"Who?" Rodney asked in annoyed curiosity.
"Radek Zelenka, a Czech engineer on the Atlantis…"
"Never heard of him," Rodney dismissed instantly and continued walking down the hall.
"You have, Rodney. You've worked with him for almost two years, but if you don't break the code and find your way back to Atlantis, you may never see him again."
Atlantis, Atlantis, Atlantis. What was with these people? With rolled eyes he shook his head. "Oh, dear God, have you been talking to Sheppard?"
Seemingly ignoring the question, Weir continued. "Daniel Jackson has all the research data in his laboratory. You need to find the address to Atlantis in there, and then you need to come home."
If she could ignore his question, he could ignore her request. "He has been talking to you, hasn't he? That son of a bitch. I've lost track of how many times I've told him to go away and he still keeps coming back again and again, like a freakin' comet on a short orbit through the solar system."
A hand latched onto his arm. "Rodney, you need to find you're way back to Atlantis. Just take over the research from Dr. Jackson and it will help you find you're way there." And with that warning she turned and walked the opposite way down the hall.
And thank God for that. With a relieved sigh and grumbling stomach, Rodney continued on toward the cafeteria. It was Swedish meatball day… spheres of meat and the Nobel, what more could you want from a country… and he planned to have a double serving. So when you found himself outside Jackson's door, he had to wonder where he had taken the wrong turn. Must have been distracted by the hunger. He looked down the hallway; toward the direction he should have been going, then paused. What would it hurt to at least ask Jackson what sort of progress he was making on the research? None, really. And maybe he could provide some assistance, a fresh set of eyes, so to speak.
He raised his hand to knock just as the door opened and Sam nearly ran into him. Jumping back with a start, she laughed and grabbed her chest. "Rodney? What are you doing here?"
Completely caught off guard, he stammered, "Oh… Sam… I was just… I thought maybe… I thought Daniel might be able to use my assistance on his Ancients research."
She blinked in surprise. "Really? No offense, but why would you be able to help him in that area?"
Straightening defensively, Rodney told her, "You said he thinks it has a gate address somewhere in there. I'm more familiar with the gate than anyone so I thought I might be able to recognize something he's missing."
"Okay, I'm more familiar with the gate than anyone, although you do rate a close second."
Rodney frowned at the way she smiled teasingly. "Old arguments aside, is Jackson in there so I can at least ask him?"
"Actually, no, he's not. He's off-world with SG-3 and needed one of his reference books. I was just taking it down to the gateroom so that Teal'c could take it through to him."
"Ah," Rodney couldn't believe the disappointment in his voice any more than he could hide it. "Well, then, I guess I'll talk to him about it when he comes back."
Sam rested a hand on his shoulder then moved it so she could run a thumb along his jaw. "Seriously, I'm sure Daniel has it all under control. It's probably best to just let him handle it." When Rodney dropped his eyes and nodded lamely, she cheered. "Hey, have you eaten lunch yet? Let me drop this off and I'll meet you in the cafeteria. Okay?"
He forced a smile. "It's a date."
With a quick kiss she headed off to the gateroom. Rodney turned in the opposite direction, licked his lips and tasted the cherry lip balm Sam had been wearing. No longer having to force the smile, he walked the rest of the way to the cafeteria in anticipation of a good half hour of Sam, meatballs, and conversation that was never dull. What he found instead when he walked in was Sheppard sitting at the table directly in line with the door, two blue jellos placed on the tray sitting before him, and a smug as hell smirk on his face. When he saw Rodney, he waggled one of the glasses happily.
With a groan, Rodney walked briskly to the table. "You are supposed to be gone. You promised last night you wouldn't be here again."
"And, yet, here I am. Imagine that."
Slumping into the seat in absolute frustration, Rodney implored, "What? What is it that you want me to do so you will really, truly, and completely go away and leave me alone."
Pushing the jello over to Rodney's side of the table, Sheppard leaned across conspiratorially. "Meet me at Jackson's office after you finish eating lunch." He stood and told him, "I'll be waiting for you there," in way of goodbye.
Yeah, sure, fine, whatever. God damn, this was exhausting. Who knew insanity was so tiring? Eating his jello, he barely noticed Sam sit opposite him. "You saved one for me," she beamed at the second parfait glass. "You are the best boyfriend ever."
Yeah, he just hoped she didn't find out he was the craziest, as well.
Lifting his eyes from his jello, he found that he had instead lifted his head from the pillow back in the infirmary. Sighing he dropped it back down, hoping the three people standing near the doorway talking hadn't heard him. He had no desire to talk to them right now. Maybe if he just ignored them the dream would fade and he could get back to reality all the sooner.
"Shouldn't he be getting better by now?" That was Sheppard, standing with his back to Rodney and his hands on his hips, and it wasn't so much a question he was asking as a challenge to the other two… the Scottish physician from before and a new blonde woman that he hadn't seen before.
"Mental illnesses like this can take weeks or even months to respond to medications, Colonel. Everyone is just going to have to be patient."
Sheppard's arms moved to cross across his chest at the blonde's explanation. "He's not mentally ill; he was poisoned by a biowarfare agent that has screwed with his brain chemistry."
Stepping in before Sheppard could get anymore agitated, the Scot told him, "His body may not have created the imbalance, but it is responding the same as if it had. Kate's suggestion to use the antipsychotic medications may be the only reason he's as lucid as he has been."
"But shouldn't it be wearing off by now?" Sheppard asked. "It's been nearly two weeks; surely the chemical has left his system by now."
"We have no way of knowing how long it will be affecting him or if the psychosis is even temporary."
"What the hell does that mean?" Sheppard demanded of the woman… Kate, Rodney assumed.
"It means, John, that we know nothing about this chemical or its long-term effects on the human body," Kate reasoned.
"And the Thereasians are not supplying any information for us to work with, either. They evidently didn't take too kindly to you breaking their quarantine protocol and blowing off the door to the facility."
At the physician's assessment, Sheppard snorted. "Well, I didn't take too kindly to their idea of just leaving McKay and all those others to die in that goddamned place."
"Well, Dr. Weir is still trying to negotiate for more information, although with it being a weapon and all, they are claiming national security as an excuse for not sharing the data they have."
"Yeah, funny how that little tidbit of information never came up in any of our discussions of their chemical production capabilities."
The Scotsman continued, only pausing to sigh mournfully at Sheppard's interruption. "We've offered to supply the same medication we are using to treat Rodney for their own exposed people, but so far those bleeding fools have refused every proposal we have made."
"I think it's too late for the others, Doc," Sheppard told him regretfully.
Rodney flinched at the image of a gun-shaped apparatus placed to a forehead, a spark that caused the body to convulse then fall twitching to the ground. Gritting his teeth, he willed the image to go the hell away, and thankfully, it did.
"Aye, lad, I fear you may be correct. But at least it's not too late for Rodney."
"So, what do we do now?" Sheppard asked wearily. "If the Thereasians won't help us, how do we figure this out on our own?"
"We can always send him back to Earth," Kate suggested. "The facilities available to the SGC for treatment and analysis of his long-term prognosis are the best available anywhere."
"You want to just ship him back to Earth? Off to a bunch of strangers?"
Sheppard's reaction was pretty much identical to Rodney's, unless… maybe this was his brains way of assimilating the two realities into one. If this existence were to send him back to his real existence, then maybe this one would disappear completely. And that was exactly what Rodney wanted. Right? Then why the hell did the thought of being sent back to Earth cause an absolute feeling of dread to take up residence in his stomach?
"Kate's right, Colonel, but I think we can hold that as a last resort." The Scot dropped his hand on Sheppard's shoulder. "My recommendation to Elizabeth is going to be to monitor him for a few days more. If we don't see any marked improvement, I'll advise sending him back to the SGC for further treatment. God willing, his trip back to Earth will be temporary if it comes to that."
With a resigned nod of his head, Sheppard watched the other two go then came to sit by Rodney's bed. Rodney had closed his eyes as soon as he turned toward him and was feigning sleep when Sheppard leaned against the railing of the bed. "We're running out of time here, McKay." He spoke softly, not wanting to wake him, and Rodney was more than willing to oblige. "It's fourth and long and we're going to need to pull off the Hail Mary of a lifetime, but you've done it before. I just hope like hell you can do it again."
Rodney continued to fake sleep so that he didn't have to talk to the man, but when he finally drifted off for real, Rodney found he was hoping like he could do it, as well.
"I can't do this," Rodney told Sheppard as he flipped through yet another of Jackson's field journals. What did the archeologist do, write down every damn thing he saw off-world? There was thorough and then there was obsessive and then there was Daniel Jackson.
"Sure you can, Rodney," Sheppard assured him distractedly as he sat stacking various artifacts on top of one another.
"You know, I might be able to actually accomplish something more than breaking and entering if you would, oh, I don't know, get off your ass and help."
The Air Force office simply stacked another stone relic on top of the others. "I am helping, McKay. I'm providing moral support."
"You're providing the seeds of a migraine and the datum point for my descent into madness. That's what you're providing, Sheppard."
"You still haven't caught on to this whole alternate reality thing have you?" At Rodney's rolled eyes of disgust, Sheppard continued. "I can push, I can prod, I can point you in the right direction and cheer you on when you find it, but I can't do it for you. You have to do this for yourself."
Tossing aside the journal he was flipping through, Rodney picked up another one. "How very twelve step program of you. And what exactly is the vice I am trying to rid myself of?"
"Sam," Sheppard told him simply, sitting back to admire the tower he had built.
Rodney juggled the field log that slipped from his fingers at the revelation. "Sam? You think I'm a sex fiend or something?"
"Okay, not going into that big, dark corner of your mind, Rodney. Some things were just not meant to be understood by mortal men. Besides, I didn't say sex, I said Sam."
Crossing arms around the book, Rodney demanded. "Then just why the hell is being in a relationship with someone as wonderful as Sam a failing on my part?"
Sheppard spun in the office chair and regarded him for the first time. "When was the last time you ran into Sam? When you were trapped in the downed Jumper, right? And what did you do while she was there with you?"
"Provided reassurance, comforted me, kept me alive." Rodney's chin rose defensively.
"Yeah, by stalling you, distracting you and trying to keep you from doing what you really wanted to do." Spinning back in his chair, Sheppard began working on a second tower. "What I can't seem to figure out is how you overcame her tactics then, and nearly cost yourself your life in the process, but you can't seem to overcome them here, when she's the one leading you down the primrose path to disaster this time."
"Well, that's easy. This time she's real."
"See, there you go. She's got one hell of a hold on you and I'm not sure I can get you to break free."
"You are so full of it, Sheppard. I don't know why I've let you weasel your way into my life like this. More than that, I don't know why I've let you talk me into risking everything by breaking into a colleague's office and rummaging through his belongings all on a wild goose chase for something that in all likelihood never existed, or, if it did, turned to dust eons ago."
"Because, deep down, you know I'm right and you know that you want to come back. Otherwise, you wouldn't have even known what a Jumper was, much less that you had been trapped at the bottom of the ocean in one."
Rodney swallowed nervously at the self-satisfied smirk Sheppard was wearing. And the worst part was, the man deserved to be wearing it, because, he was right, Rodney knew exactly what a Jumper was although he would swear he had never heard of one in his life. Pushing back the panic he was feeling, he glared at Sheppard. "I know you're the crazy one. I know you are the one that should be taking a break in a padded cell with a few meds to keep you company. I know you… what's that?" Rodney stopped in mid-rant to look over Sheppard's shoulder at the tablet he was tilting against some of the other stones.
"I don't know. I just thought it would make a nice ramp for the little Egyptian guys to walk up." In demonstration he took two small statuettes and shuffled them up the tablet to the top of his tower to overlook the little city Sheppard had built.
"Give me that!" Slapping at Sheppard's hands he took the tablet and studied it. "That's Ancient writing," Rodney told him as he pointed to the runes on the stone.
"Huh. Would you look at that?" But the gleam in Sheppard's eyes said he was anything but surprised. He stood and Rodney dropped without thinking into the chair, still looking at the stone. "You might want to take that to your lab, I think Jackson's due back today."
Looking up to see the man standing in the door, Rodney asked, "Where are you going?'
"Have a briefing with General O'Neill. I'm shipping out tomorrow, remember?"
"Tomorrow?" Rodney demanded in alarm. "But there's no way I can decipher this by then."
"It's crunch time, McKay. Time and sanity wait on no man, and neither does a superior officer. Hopefully, I'll see you before I leave."
"Wait, Sheppard." With Rodney's call, he paused in the doorway, and now that Rodney had his attention, he really didn't know what to say. He just knew he really didn't want him to go. "What about helping me, you know, pushing me in the right direction?"
Sheppard tilted an unruly head toward the tablet. "You have everything you need right there, Rodney, I can't help you anymore. Actually, you have everything you need right here." He tapped a finger over his heart. "But, you don't seem to want to listen to that. So, we'll go with the more rational approach instead. Later, McKay." And he walked out the door.
Rodney grabbed the tablet and ran after him into the hall, and he was nowhere to be seen. "How the hell does he keep doing that?" he mumbled then jumped at the voice behind him.
He guiltily pulled the tablet to his chest as he turned to see Sam grinning at him. "Nothing."
The happiness in the Sam's grin transmuted into suspicion. "Whatcha got there, Rodney?"
Realizing he couldn't defend his actions, he took the more belligerent approach. "I have a tablet with Ancient text on it. It's obviously doing little good to anyone sitting under a pile of archeological research journals, so I thought that I would take a stab at it. Do you have a problem with that?"
"No," she told him with a small shrug. "Daniel might have a problem with your rummaging through his things, a pretty big one, actually. But as far as I'm concerned, knock yourself out."
"Really?" Sheppard had no clue what he was talking about. Sam wasn't trying to stall him and here was living, breathing proof. "You don't mind if I work on this?"
"Not at all, as long as it's not tonight." Then again, maybe he had spoken too soon about Sheppard's clueness. "Tonight I plan to take you home, order pizza, and snuggle up, just the two of us." She stepped in for a warm kiss. "Maybe even throw in a bubble bath."
Oh, hell. Oh, fuck. Oh my God, did he ever want to do those things. Kissing her back, he told her breathlessly, "Just let me drop off the tablet in my lab and I'll meet you up topside."
"I'll be waiting." The smile was accompanied by a more than promising kiss goodbye before she turned and left.
Rodney moved as quickly as he could without breaking into an all out run. Depositing the tablet on his table, he moved just as quickly to the elevator and waited impatiently for it to open. When it did, it wasn't on the typical military gray transport, but to the damn infirmary again and a frizzy head bent over a laptop.
"Who the hell are you?" Rodney demanded in irritation.
The head popped up and fingers pushed glasses back into place. "Dr. Radek Zelenka," he was informed in a thick Czech accent.
"Never heard of you," Rodney dismissed as he sat up and looked around the room. "Where's Sheppard?"
"Gone," the Czech told him simply as he turned back to his laptop.
"What about Teyla or Ronon, or the Scot or Weir for that matter."
"Not here," he was told succinctly as the tapping of computer keys echoed in the room.
"Well, where the hell are they?" Rodney's patience was running as thin as the hair of the man completely ignoring him.
"Somewhere besides here," he was informed in mirror irritation. With a shake of the fuzzy head, Zelenka mumbled to himself. "They say sit with him; chances are he will not wake… rarely does. Just be there if he needs anything or has fit and must be restrained again. So I do, I sit. I bring work because am suddenly swamped because glorious McKay can never do anything small. Cannot just go little bit crazy. No, must go all out Jack Nicholson crazy. And not 'Cuckoo's Nest' crazy, but 'Shining' chopping through doors crazy. So crazy that he can no longer remember where he is, much less how to get to lab and do his fair share of work." He looked up then and glowered at Rodney as he jabbed a finger in his face. "I expect glowing annual review for this. And supplemental pay for pain and suffering."
"Look, I really have no idea who you are or what you expect of me, nor do I really care…"
"Yes, am well aware of fantasy you have created for yourself. Although why you would choose to waste dream world on small-breasted Samantha Carter when could have chosen magnificent breasts of Carmen Electra is beyond me. Should take Mensa card and shred it into pieces smaller than lovergirl's cup size."
Rodney rose angrily. "Hey, that's my girlfriend you're talking about there!"
"Yes, yes." A dismissive hand flipped at him before descending back to the keyboard to type again. "Please to return to happy land of easy work and flat-chested women so that I can return to my work here fixing Gordian knot you have left power distribution system for entire city in."
Rodney sat back haughtily. "Well, if I designed the system, then it is obviously your lack of ingenuity that is keeping you from solving the problem."
The Czech just rolled eyes behind his glasses. "For someone working pansy ass job on Earth, you have arrogance enough to bleed between fantasy and reality. If you think you know so much, then you fix problem."
Rodney suddenly found the laptop dropped unceremoniously on his legs. "And just where do you think you're going?" he demanded of the retreating back heading for the door.
"Coffee and Tylenol. If I must truly deal with likes of you instead of just watch while you snore and still get paid more than me, then I am in need of both." A hand waved over his shoulder. "Just be good mad scientist and stay in bed and work on power distribution system. I will return in ten minutes, fifteen if I am lucky."
Rodney watched him go and then turned back to the laptop in front of him. Looking over the schematics, he shook his head. "This isn't that bad. A simply boost of power from this generator will help take up the slack here…" He worked for the entire time the Czech was gone, and continued working even after the man returned with two cups of coffee, a second laptop and a walkman and set up shop on the table on the opposite side of the room.
Rodney took a sip from the cup that had been left on the table for him with little more than a nod. "What the hell is this?" He barely kept from spitting the liquid across the room.
The other scientist lifted the headsets from one ear and regarded him with humor. "Decaf. Carson says no caffeine for you."
"Who in their right mind would bring decaffeinated coffee to an entirely different galaxy? I mean, what is the goddamn point?" He pushed the cup away as if it had a skull and crossbones printed on it.
"I don't know, Rodney, what is point of coming all the way to entirely different galaxy and pretending it does not exist?" With a knowing flicker of eyebrows at the comment Rodney had just made, the Czech placed the earpiece back in place and returned to his work, singing 'Funky Town' lightly under his breath.
Rodney frowned, pointedly ignoring the meaning behind the comment, as well as the horrendous singing, and returned to the power distribution problem before him. After almost an hour, he had it working properly again, at least in theory. It was up to these people to put it to the test. Because when you got right down to it, it wasn't his problem anyway.
He closed the laptop with a snick and looked toward the door again. "Seriously, where are Sheppard and the others?"
"This concerns you greatly, does it not? Not knowing the whereabouts of these people that you do not even believe are real?"
"It concerns me when things change. Hell, I don't even like it when the time changes. I like stability. I'm a big fan of the status quo. And you are not that. This is the first time I've seen you and you're here and the others aren't and that makes me wonder what else is going to change. And yes, that concerns me. Greatly."
Zelenka continued to stare at his computer. "What is saying? More things change, more they stay the same?"
"And just what the hell is that supposed to mean?"
With a sigh, the other scientist leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes behind his glasses. "It means, Rodney, that we have not changed. It is you that is doing all the changing yourself." Rodney slumped back against his pillow in a funk. Zelenka adjusted his glasses and gave him a sympathetic smile. "Get some more rest. When you wake, the others will be here. The question is, will you?"
Doing his best to ignore the question, Rodney rolled to his side and pulled the covers up to his shoulder. He wasn't changing; in fact, he was the only constant in both realities. Well, that wasn't true if he stopped to think about it. Sheppard had been there. Always. Here in the infirmary, back at the SGC, on the Thereasian home world… with a shudder Rodney shut his eyes, wishing he had never stepped foot on that damn planet. Which made absolutely no sense, since he had never stepped foot through a gate in his life. But as sure as he knew that, he also knew that Sheppard had saved him, gotten him home alive.
He only hoped like hell he could do it again.
Behind him, he heard a door opening. The others! Sitting up excitedly, he turned to see the superintendent of his apartment building walking out of Teyla's door. Sam was opening the door to their place and Rodney frowned as the old man began disassembling the lock on the door.
"There a problem with the lock?" Rodney asked.
"Nope," the man told him without looking up from his work, "just standard protocol when someone moves out."
"Moves out?" Rodney demanded. "When did she move out?"
"Few days ago," the man shrugged.
"But she just moved in. Where was she moving to?"
"Didn't say, didn't even leave a forwarding address, just packed her things and left."
At Rodney's insistent tone, Sam furrowed her brow. "Rodney, what's the big deal? People move out all the time."
What was the big deal? He had only met her once and all she had managed to do was turn his cat against him. Still, she had said she would see him again. What happened to keeping your promises? It was the principle of the thing, really. "It just makes me wonder if there was problem we should be aware of, is all. That maybe this place is an electrical nightmare and the walls are going to start smoldering while we sleep and we should look for a new place or something."
Sam dragged him into the apartment when the super scowled at his comment. "This place is fine…wonderful, in fact," she called a little louder so the man in the hall could hear. "So stop trying to get us evicted."
"But it just makes no sense that a person would move in and move out all in the same week."
"What doesn't make sense is that you would even care. You were thrilled that that apartment sat empty for so long."
She was right, of course. The less people he had to deal with the better. With a sigh he mumbled, "It's just odd."
"It's also dinner time." Sam poked playfully at his stomach. "Order the pizza, Mr. Curious."
Then a thought hit him. "Where's the phone book?"
Sam's voice called back from the bedroom. "The phone number's on the magnet on the fridge."
"I wanted to try another place." The place where Ronon worked, he thought to himself. "I… uh, I've seen the delivery truck outside several times. Thought is might be good."
She came back out of the room dressed in a small silk robe. "What's wrong with our usual place?"
"Nothing." He opened several drawers in the kitchen until he found the phone book. "I just thought we should see what everyone else in the building thinks is so great, you know? Try something new."
Wrapping arms around him from behind, Sam nipped an ear. "But we know our place is good. Why take the chance that this place sucks? Why mess with a good thing?"
Yeah, why miss with a good thing? And the way his eyes were threatening to roll back in his head with the way she was nibbling at the nape of his neck made him wonder why he was so determined to challenge the status quo. It also made him wonder why Sam was so determined to keep him from doing it. Shrugging out of her kisses, Rodney told her, "Just humor me, okay?"
"Sure." Her lower lip drooped slightly in a pout. "If it's that important to you, then order the pizza."
Squeezing her hand he, grabbed the phone and started dialing. "Thanks. Why don't you go find an old movie or something to watch on television? Save me spot on the couch, I'll be right there."
With a final kiss, she moved to the living room and Rodney ordered the pizza. Before hanging up, he couldn't help but ask, "Is Ronon delivering tonight?"
The distinctly teenage voice on the other end told him, "Nah, Ronon doesn't work here anymore."
"Quit, got fired, it all depends on who you talk to. He got into a huuuuuge fight with the manager last night. I mean Kavanagh's a raging dick, no doubt about it, but jamming his face in the bin of pizza sauce was probably pushing it a little too far. So, did you want to add breadsticks for another two bucks?"
"What?" Rodney shook away the dread that was settling over him. First Teyla, now Ronon. What did that mean for Sheppard? When his brain finally processed what the kid had asked, he told him, "No, no breadsticks. Listen; did Ronon say where he was going? What he planned to do now?"
"Dude, he was dripping marinara and Kav was screaming to call the cops, I didn't stop to ask him as he stalked out the door."
"Right." Rodney's voice was listless as he hung up without another word. Dazedly he walked to the sofa where Sam sat with a throw across her feet.
"Hey," she called worriedly when she saw the look on his face, "you okay?"
"Yeah," he reassured as he sat beside her, laying his head against her chest and nuzzling soft skin. She was real, so damn real. How could she be anything else? "Just been a long week, that's all."
Arms wrapped around him holding him close. "I know what you mean. Glad it's finally over."
"Me too," he agreed and a part of him really meant it. Whatever this bizarre nightmare had been for the past several days, it was finally over and he was right where he wanted to be, where he was supposed to be.
And he just kept telling himself that. During the old episode of 'The Outer Limits' that they watched while eating their pizza; while they sat in the tub, the water so high that it sloshed over the sides when Sam turned and slid soapily against him and they did more than soak; even when she fell asleep in his arms, her skin still damp and smelling of tangerine bubble bath.
And yet, as soon as her breathing deepened and evened in sleep, he pulled his arm from beneath her, slid out of bed and dressed quietly in the dark, not even bothering to leave a note saying where he was going. The guards at the SGC didn't question why he was there so late. Operations may have slowed in the evening, but they never stopped at the base. So there were very few people in the halls as he made his way to his lab and started working on the tablet. It was just a bunch of indecipherable block shapes, but the longer he looked at it, the more sense it started to make. And after several hours of attempting to transcribe and then scratching what he had and trying again, he finally had it…a gate address, only with eight glyphs instead of seven. And that had to mean the address led to another galaxy.
"Pegasus," Rodney breathed in awe when he realized what he had before him.
Running before he realized his feet were moving, he tore through the hallway on his way to Control to try the address. The control room itself was empty, which was odd enough, but what was really odd was what he saw in the gateroom.
Sheppard stood at bottom of the embarkation platform. The blue BDUs that he had been wearing since he first arrived were replaced by dark gray pants and jacket, a black field vest and P90. Keying the microphone in front of him, Rodney called excitedly, "Hey, Sheppard, I figured it out. I found the address."
At his words, the gate whooshed to life. Rodney looked down at the controls in front of him then backed away. He hadn't touched them and by all the readings, this was definitely an outgoing wormhole. Sheppard didn't seem fazed by the events at all. "Knew you had it in you, McKay," he told him then started up the ramp.
"Whoa, wait!" Jogging down the stairs and into the gateroom, Rodney paused at the bottom of the ramp. "Where're you going?"
"Told you I was shipping out today. It's time to go."
"You're going to Antarctica through the gate?"
Sheppard shook his head with a sad grin. "Not Antarctica, Rodney, Atlantis."
For the first time, Rodney noticed the expedition patch on Sheppard's shoulder. Subconsciously, he reached up to his own shoulder, expecting to feel a similar one there. "It's real, isn't it?"
The grin broadened, "Oh, yeah, it's real. And it's pretty damn amazing. You coming or not?"
At the question, Rodney took a step back. "I've never been through the gate before."
The disappointment was obvious when Sheppard spoke again. "You still believe that?"
"Honestly, I'm not really sure what I believe."
"That's too bad, because you love being on Atlantis…constant bitching and incessant moaning aside."
Taking a step back on the ramp, Rodney grinned in return. "Now, that I can believe."
"So, what are we waiting for?" Sheppard continued up the ramp and Rodney found he wanted to follow but just couldn't seem to get his legs moving.
"I... uh, I don't know."
Sheppard sighed. "I zip-tied you and threw you over my shoulder the last time, Rodney. With you kicking and screaming the entire time, even. But, I can't do that here. This time you have to walk through on your own."
With a deep breath to steel his resolve, Rodney took a step and then another and another until he was bathed in the blue shimmer of the event horizon.
"Rodney, stop!" Sam. It wasn't that he had forgotten her, as much as she had been fading away, like a dream upon waking. But turning and seeing her standing at the base of the ramp, he floundered. "What do you think you're doing?" she demanded accusingly.
He took a few steps back toward her and Sheppard warned, "McKay, we need to get going here."
"Just, give me a second. Okay?"
Sam looked past him to Sheppard and glared then turned the same to Rodney. "Where are you going?"
Rodney gave a self-deprecating laugh. "I think I'm going home."
"Home? You were home, with me, in our bed. That's home, Rodney. That's where you're supposed to be." The anger in her voice quaked with new emotions, hurt and betrayal.
Placing a hand on either of her shoulders, Rodney tried his best to explain. Tried to put into words what he had been trying to deny every since he woke up to the sound of Samantha Carter showering in his bathroom. "Sam, you… you are the most amazing woman I have ever met. You're smart, beautiful, incredible in bed. You also think I'm the most egotistical man that has ever walked the Earth, would probably become nauseated if I even suggested doing what we did in that bathtub tonight, and actually have much smaller breasts than you do right now."
Looking down at the low cut blouse she was wearing she demanded in outrage, "What?"
"You are the woman of my dreams. It just turns out that in order to get you, I really had to be dreaming." With a finally deep kiss, he released her and started back up the ramp. "Goodbye, Sam."
And this time when she called his name, he ignored her. Making his way back up to where Sheppard waited for him, he shook his head in disbelief. "I can't believe I'm giving up regular sex and stimulating conversations for you."
Behind him the pleading for him to stay had turned into threats to get his ass off that ramp combined with a few less than flattering names. Sheppard just raised his eyebrows as they headed for the gate. "Yeah, I can see where it would be hard giving up a woman with a mouth like that. Is 'fucking bastard' a special pet name she had for you or can I use it, too?"
"Shut the hell up. You could push a man to the very brink of insanity, you know that?"
"Evidently I can also pull him back at the last second, as well."
The frown Rodney tried for faltered, but he spoke just the same. "It's a good thing you aren't real, else there would be no living with you when we get back."
Sheppard had stopped mere inches from the event horizon. "Yeah, but you'll know I saved your ass yet again, and that's all that matters." With a grin he hitched his head toward the puddle. "Ready?"
Now that he was actually there, Rodney hesitated. "Atlantis is really on the other side? All I have to do is step through and this will all be over?"
The grin widened. "I like to think of it as picking up where we left off. See you at home, McKay."
Sheppard stepped through the gate, disappearing into the watery blue surface without a look back. And a heartbeat later, Rodney did exactly the same.
Opening his eyes, Rodney saw the infirmary again only this time it was familiar… more familiar than it should have been, that's for sure… and on the bed opposite his lay Sheppard. His eyes were closed, but he wasn't sleeping. There was something too strained about him for his body to actually be asleep. Without moving from where he lay, Rodney asked, "They're all dead, aren't they? The people that were in the chemical plant with me?"
Sheppard didn't open his eyes, not yet, anyway. As if it was easier to give the news without actually having to see his reaction. But Rodney knew anyway. This was just confirmation. "I think so. The Thereasian government won't give us a straight answer, but yeah, I'm pretty sure they are."
"I saw them, you know." Rodney snorted humorlessly. "I mean I was upside down with plastic restraints cutting into my wrists, but I saw them shooting the survivors with those zapper things. Executing them where they stood."
Using long fingers to rub tired eyes, Sheppard admitted, "Yeah, I saw that, too. But it was all we could do to get you out. And by the time we were able to reestablish contact with the Thereasians…" The regret was thick in his voice but he forced it away with an exhalation of breath. "We got you out, though, and that counts for something. A lot, actually." Finally opening his eyes and looking over to where Rodney lay in his bed, he asked exhaustedly, "You finally back?"
"God, I hope so. I'm too easily annoyed to live a double life, twice as many people to piss me off."
"Good," he told him as he closed his eyes again; evidently satisfied that when he looked at Rodney he finally saw his friend again. "I hate goodbyes."
And so did Rodney, almost as much as he hated change, because when you got right down to it, that's all goodbyes really were.
"John?" Rodney called quietly before the other man could drift off to sleep.
"Yeah," Sheppard yawned as he wrapped an arm around his pillow.
"Thanks for…" For what? For saving his life, for hog-tying him and dragging his ass off a planet where they were intent on killing him, for being his best friend, for being such an integral part of his life that even his subconscious used him to drag his ass back once again? "Just thanks." What more could he say?
"You're welcome," came the simple reply, then, "Just stick around this time, would you? Things are about to get good and I'd hate for you to miss it."
"Really? Why do you say that?"
Sheppard smirked sleepily. "Because they always do."
Rodney snorted at the logic but couldn't argue with it. He considered calling Carson, letting him know that the trip back to Earth would be unnecessary and, seriously, good luck trying to get him through the gate and back to the SGC now. But he knew that would just result in people and tests and a flurry of activity that would result in no sleep for Sheppard. And by the way he was already snoring softly, he seemed to need it. No, all the other stuff could wait for later. For now, he was just happy to be back in Atlantis, back where he was surrounded by people that knew him and friends that liked him and that was an asylum in and of itself… that was home.
And as long as they didn't institute Daylight Savings Time on Atlantis, he had no desire to be anyplace else in the universe but there.