A/N: This is a short one, that grew out of a drabble, that grew out of a first line, that grew out of the need to get Jessica to write something for me.So, thanks to Jessica and of course Ellex and ga Unicorn for incomparable beta'ing yet again. The problems that are left are mine alone.
I still don't own Stargate Atlantis, but I'm working on it...
Summary: Rodney has a bad day. Again.
There shouldn't be days like this.
Or there might be, but they shouldn't be happening to me. This is superhero stuff: Ronon and Teyla, and god-damned and blasted Sheppard.
I was made for the cosy life – a lab somewhere, my own three billion dollar research programme and pretty grad students to bring me fresh hot coffee every hour. Surely that wouldn't be too much to ask? I'd have settled for two billion to guarantee that the only precipitation I'd have to see would be on the side of a bottle of champagne. I'd cut back to a billion if I never had to see dirt again.
And I'd work in a crumbly little university lab so that the only colleague I'd have to carry would be the lazy post-doc who buys the coffee.
"Hell! Sheppard!" I try to pull him upright, but I'm hampered by the rain and mud. The stuff is seeping into my boots and my grip is slick. "A little help here?"
He mumbles something incoherent; probably swearing.
"Does your mother know you say words like that? You should be ashamed." I give up trying to get his feet under him. I hook one hand into his belt and tighten my grip on the arm he's slung over my shoulder. We (and by 'we' I mean 'I') start walking.
He mumbles something else. This time it's more of a groan than words.
"That's not any better. Fine educated soldier and all you can manage in this stinking hell hole is 'lemelymin'? Lack of imagination, my grandmother would say. There are more inventive things to say about this planet."
The rain might be getting heavier, but it's hard to tell. I'm pretty sure that the next stage after this is underwater and we'll be standing in an ocean. There's so much water that it seems to be coming up as well as falling down. And mud. Did I mention the mud?
"For example, as a start, stinking hell-hole is a traditional one. Although the smell here isn't so bad. Sodden planet wide disaster is good, which is how I wish the Wraith would…"
I slip, or Sheppard shifts his weight, because one minute I'm managing step after step down the incline, the next I'm face down in the slime. Somehow I keep Sheppard's face out the mud, but it's at the sacrifice of my own balance. As I spit the crap out of my mouth, I reflect that prior to this whole Atlantis nonsense the only thing I'd even consider sacrificing was my lunch break.
Sheppard has stopped making any noise now, and I know this is one of Beckett's mumbo-jumbo-voodoo-bad-signs. Carson would probably stop now, whip out a nice clean bandage and bind the bleeding head wound. We'd be home in time for the six o'clock drug round.
Perhaps I'll add him to the list of superheroes that should be having a day like this.
To make matters worse, it's getting dark. What little light has been filtering through the storm clouds now seems to have given up the fight. The sodden shapes of dying trees and branches are becoming darkened shadows. I manage a couple of steps before the ground slips out from under my feet. At least I stay upright this time, and we're sliding towards the gate.
"Was it this far before? Do you remember? Because I'm pretty sure I would have remembered ten miles uphill to the village." Of course it hadn't been raining then and the vague shapes that are looming closer were pretty trees and shrubs. Back then, a whole four hours ago, I wouldn't have swapped going through the gate for any research post with any budget.
Back then, things were peaceful. Birds sang, children played and beautiful half-naked women danced and served little dishes of finger food. Sheppard complimented everyone on the good food and good wine. Teyla made trading overtures while Ronon ogled the women. Not the ideal place to barter for technologies, but I'll willingly put up with a bit of backwardness for serving girls dressed that way. I couldn't think of anywhere I'd rather be.
Now, of course, I can think of a thousand places I'd rather be and none of them are wet or dirty. I picture my little lab, with its ordered chaos; and I ask myself, again, why I ever let myself be coaxed out of it for this superhero nonsense.
"Sheppard," I hiss. "Do you think Teyla and Ronon got back ok?" I'm asking because I need to hear a voice. The rain is driving down and the only noise is its constant thrum. It's gone past drip, through patter to thrum, and it's droning in my ears like a hive of great big bees.
Sheppard doesn't answer. So I talk. "We haven't seen them for hours, and I'd hoped they'd be bringing a jumper back. This weather is a little inclement, and maybe Lorne is nervous about flying in the rain, but right now a jumper would be nice. A warm, dry jumper…"
And when I get back, I'm never leaving again.
It's almost totally dark by now. The shadows have merged into one great dark menacing mass. I stumble on a rock, or a log, it's impossible to tell, but Sheppard doesn't react. I half expect him to chide me for my inability to do this simplest of tasks. Understand a ZPM, rewire the entire Atlantis hardware, make a nuclear bomb – I can do those. But I can't get us home.
His weight is slipping again, and I have to shift my grip to keep him from falling into the knee deep mud. Who knows what kind of bacteria are living in it? All kinds of deadly ones, no doubt, and if we get back to Atlantis I'm in the shower for an hour at least. This uniform is going to be burnt in a bonfire on the north pier.
Somewhere to the left I hear a werewolf. Or at least it sounds like what I imagine werewolves would sound like if they weren't only a figment of Victorian imaginations. I think about all those aliens, wrapped up warm in their cabins with cozy hearth fires and the doors locked.
"Werewolves now. As if this place couldn't get any better? Mud. Rain. Wild animals. All my favourite ingredients for a perfect day out."
I recall making the mistake of calling this planet perfect, back in those good old days of four hours ago (back when I wasn't ready to jack all this superhero business and go hide in a research lab somewhere). Back then, while enjoying the warm sunshine and the meal that the half-naked women brought, I remember saying – "Well, this makes a nice change. A nice planet. No raging aliens, no inclement weather and good food. I could get used to perfect missions."
Inevitably, five minutes later, all hell broke loose. Only this time I'm sure it wasn't my fault that the aliens decided that we were less than perfect houseguests. Lots of sticks, and rocks and very, very angry half-naked women. It took Ronon a full minute to get into his kick-ass-superhero routine. The man appreciates a good show. I bet he has wet dreams about the fighting Amazonians when he's wrapped up warm in his quarters on Atlantis tonight.
We were split up pretty quick. Seems like the alien women took a liking to Ronon, and Sheppard and I were ignored. Ronon was flinging knives, and Teyla high kicked and whacked with a length of stick. I would have gone to help, except I was stuck with the Colonel. He was reeling about the place like a drunken Scotsman. The rock that got him between the eyes must have been about the size of a curling stone. It makes my eyes water to think about it, but in this rain it's hard to tell.
Ronon caught my eye as he knocked down another Amazonian fighting woman. It was one of those 'communication' moments that soldiers use – one blink means kill him, two blinks means shake his hand. Scientists, however, don't understand them. I don't make any excuses – I don't get people. Ronon's look might have said 'you go get the pizzas while I stay and wash the dishes'. Thank goodness Teyla shouted, "We'll meet you at the gate, don't move until it's safe," before they were swamped by the raging hoards.
The next bit is a little vague. I encouraged Sheppard out the door at the back of the hut and into the village proper. We hid behind a water butt. The sounds of fighting filtered over the buildings. Then someone spotted us, and gave chase. At that point Sheppard was still capable of independent mobilisation, and we made good time.
Unfortunately, it was good time in the wrong direction. We just ran, and I'm sure Sheppard told me to go right. He'll deny it, but by that time he was so out of it he shouldn't remember a thing.
The rain was definitely his fault. We were resting in a stand of trees a mile from the village and two miles from the Stargate. "What else can go wrong?" he asked and I swear two seconds later the rain starts.
And it hasn't stopped since, but at least we're not being chased any more. I'm sure the aliens are all hiding in the dry and warm. They may just decide to let the rain and the mud kill us, or let the werewolves do it. I can hear more howling to the left and right. There may be one in front of us, but I decide to ignore that. I have to because I don't think I'm in any shape to face a werewolf just now, and Sheppard's not even conscious.
It howls again.
We are so dead.
I almost stumble over the DHD. What little light there is shines on the panel. I can make out the symbols, but I can't dial with both hands supporting Sheppard. I've got one hand holding his arm around my shoulder, and the other is tucked into his belt which leaves some pretty easy math.
It's a problem that almost makes me give up. I'm standing in front of my route home, there big as life. A way out of the mud and rain and crap, and I can't work the simple puzzle of how to press the damn buttons.
"Where do you put your hands?" Sheppard would have a dozen answers for that one, and none of them helpful.
I stand in front of the DHD, listening to werewolves advancing. I look at the symbols. I can feel the Stargate nearby.
What I need is Sheppard to start yelling at me. Hanging useless on my shoulder is no good; it's just no help at all.
Then - unscheduled off-world activation.
The world floods in blue rippling light, whoosh. Out comes the blue stuff. I wonder, briefly before it settles, what happens to the rain water that lands on the vortex?
An instant later the Stargate has settled into the familiar pond with the wonderful water hues of the way home.
I don't have time to move before the superheroes arrive.
Teyla leads the way. She has her hair tied up, but I can still see the streaks of mud and dirt on her face. Her uniform is filthy in the way that dirty things get if they're scraped clean. Ronon is in much the same state. Neither seems to be sporting any real injury. They both move quickly enough.
I think it's Lorne next, with P-90 primed, then random Marines whose names I would never remember even in the warm corridors of Atlantis. Finally, Beckett, looking like he's survived walking through the looking glass again. It's just the gate, Carson.
They look around as I stand and watch from the DHD. The mud on my uniform camouflages me in the rain. I must look like one of those bog monsters from a B-movie classic. What with the werewolves, we could have a good old show out of this.
I start to giggle, and Ronon finds me by the noise of hysterical laughter.
Teyla is close in front of my face. She says, "Dr McKay," the way you do if you've said it a few times already.
I shake my head a little, and the water flicks everywhere. I don't answer, but she knows I'm listening.
"Dr McKay, you need to let go. Ronon will take Colonel Sheppard." She's speaking in a calm voice that was designed to soothe little children in thunderstorms. I feel like a little child in a thunderstorm.
I have to pry my fingers off one at a time, but no one hurries me. I can sense rather than see the strong arms hovering. Ronon's and Carson's maybe. I know that I can trust them, almost more than I trust myself. Superheroes.
The silent burden is gone and I have to right myself back to vertical. Sheppard is whisked off just the way I knew Carson would. They're through the gate before I can bring myself to stand straight. Teyla is hovering.
Suddenly, despite the rain on this god-awful planet, there is quiet. Something settles, and although it's still wet and I can hear a werewolf somewhere, there is peace and I smile. Teyla does something unexpected. She takes the hand that I had wrapped around Sheppard's belt and holds it tight in her own. "Let us go home," she says.
I follow her through the Stargate.
Home is dry. I live in a city perched on the ocean, and the first thing I think when I arrive is It's dry! It's beautiful, and it's dry and I'm glad to be there.
I don't want to go with Teyla, because I know where she's going to take me, but her pull on my arm is inexorable, like mud sliding down a hill, and I have no choice.
The infirmary is drier and cleaner than anywhere I could imagine. I stand in the doorway, wondering how I managed to get through Atlantis without realising it. It's like some trick in a film. I drip mud and water on the clean floor.
Teyla has been talking. She's been saying calming things and I've ignored them all.
A nurse says "Strip," and she hands me a pair of scrubs. My numb fingers drop them to the floor, and she tuts as she moves to retrieve them.
Teyla gets there first, and thanks the nurse in a cool tone.
I need Teyla's help to get out of the soaking uniform. Parts of it have dried hard already in the heat of Atlantis, but the trousers are heavy with water. I'm clumsy with the zippers, and if I had the energy I'd be mortified that she has to help. Right now, though, I'm as numb as my fingers. I need to get out of these clothes, and I need her help.
I wonder about telling her to leave the uniform so I can burn it, but figure its irrelevant now. So I shiver as she coaxes me into the scrubs, and then she makes me sit on a bed. She wraps a blanket over my shoulders.
This isn't the way it's meant to be, I think. She's meant to be fluttering around Sheppard, because that's what heroines do. She should be weeping prettily at his bedside, or being stoic, or something.
Ronon appears from somewhere. He says, "You look like hell, McKay."
I'm not even sure if the words make sense.
He doesn't seem to mind that I don't answer. He sits on a plastic chair and stretches his legs. Teyla doesn't say anything, but takes up position at the side of the bed.
I pull the blanket close around my shoulders and watch.
What happens next is vague. I think Beckett comes, but I have to blink to try and clear my vision. It doesn't work and I feel moisture on my face. People speak. Stuff happens. Damn doctor stabs me with a needle.
Then I fall asleep.
It hurts to open my eyes, so I keep them closed. I wonder how long he's been watching me.
"Well don't speak then. That's ok. I was getting to like the quiet."
I don't know how he knows I'm awake, but I keep quiet anyway.
"After all, that little lab sounds nice. How much of a budget did you want again?"
I crack my left eye open to let in some of the daylight. It's midday and I'm warm and dry. The shape in front of me is lying on a bed. There is an elbow planted on the pillow, and the figure's bandaged head is propped on its hand. My vision hasn't cleared enough to make out features, but I recognise the voice.
"You are awake." His free hand waves. "Hi, Rodney."
I manage to haul my eyes open a little more. I haven't the energy to do anything more. "Hi," I whisper.
I can focus enough now to make out the smug grin. He drops back off his arm and onto the pillow. There is silence for a moment that's broken only by steady bleeps. I check Sheppard's bedside, then realise that it's me that's hooked up to the monitors.
He props himself back up again, and I can see that there's something else behind the grin. The smile fades a little, and I can see something else in his expression. Maybe my eyes are clouded by whatever voodoo stuff Carson's given me this time, but Sheppard looks worried.
"Do you really want it?" he asks.
I have no idea what he's talking about.
"How'd you know?" I ask.
He shrugs with one shoulder. "You talk in your sleep. A lot." He flashes the grin again. "I'm not sure you'll get many grad students offering to bring you coffee dressed like those serving girls."
I think I must flush. What the hell have I said?
"So do you? Would you give all this up?" He gestures at the infirmary walls.
"I can't do it," I answer. "I'm not built for days like that. I can't. I messed up."
He's staring at me, but I sense that he's heard this already. For all I know, I've said the same thing in my sleep a hundred times already.
His answer is quiet, almost a whisper, and it's so unexpected that I forget my aching head and swirling nausea. "You don't have to be a superhero."
"Damn it," I snap, and I struggle to pull myself up to sit. That makes the whole room swim, and I want to vomit. "I can't do it. I didn't do it. I got to the DHD, and I couldn't make it work!" I remember that feeling of helplessness. I couldn't get it to work because I was using both hands to carry Sheppard.
"You would have."
"I couldn't. We could have been there for days, and I still wouldn't have got my brain to do what I wanted. We would have been eaten, or drowned."
"You were sick."
I swallow down the bile that's risen in my throat. "It doesn't matter." I close my eyes again to stop the world lurching. I pull my legs up to my chest and rest my head on my knees. "You would have done it," I say quietly.
I hear the sound of footfalls on the floor. I want to push his hands away as he rests them on my shoulders, but I don't for fear of setting the dizziness off again. My head is pounding.
"Rodney," he says. "I don't want superheroes."
"Teyla and Ronon," I whisper.
I feel his shrug through his hands. He replies with a smile in his voice. "Okay, maybe Conan and Xena can be superheroes. But I need an evil genius too."
"Evil genius," I whisper.
"Well, the whole evil thing is just a party affiliation. You don't have to be an evil genius. Say, how about plain genius?"
The world is settling again, and I chance opening my eyes to see an earnest Colonel Sheppard sitting in front of me. At least as earnest as he can be with the bandage around his forehead making his hair even more experimental than normal.
"Or if genius isn't manageable, McKay, I'd settle for just you."
I squint at him, trying to see a lie in what he's saying. But there isn't one I can spot. "You've been practicing this," I say.
He smiles. "You've been talking about superheroes and labs for ages. I've been listening for hours."
Damn Sheppard. I feel my lips twitch into a tired smile.
"I knew you'd see it my way. Now go back to sleep." He pushes me down into the bed, and I haven't the strength to fight it. He tucks a blanket around my shoulders. I feel the warmth spread through me.
"So," he says from his bed, "you'll come with me through the gate."
I whisper a reply, sleepily. "If there are no half-naked grad students, I don't want the lab. I'll come with you, but just until a better offer comes through."
Before I slip back to sleep again, I'm sure I hear him say, "You know, I'm sure I told you to go left."