Of Duty, Atonement, and Redemption

AUTHOR: SGC Gategirl


RATING: Ages 15+ (T+)

CATEGORY: Drama, angst, hurt/comfort, physiological whumping

SUMMARY: The fallout from the Arcturus project might be more complicated than it seemed to be at first. (Episode tag/addition to 2x06 "Trinity".)

SPOILERS: 2x06 "Trinity"; passing reference to 1x10 "The Storm", 1x11 "The Eye", 2x04 "Duet"

WARNINGS: Rodney's and John's potty mouth at times

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is my first real fic in the Stargate Atlantis universe. This was originally supposed to be a short little 50-page story, it has quickly morphed into something else entirely. : shrug : I guess I just can't do short very well, or really long for that matter, but that's another conversation entirely.

Many, many thanks must go to the YIM girls: Aniko, Yllek, Steph, Toni, and Emm. They spent way too much time listening to me write and complain and generally being very paranoid. I don't call myself "paranoid chick" for no good reason.

Also, thanks to Rox who stepped in and did my final beta and put up with me poking at her asking: "Are you done yet? Huh, huh, huh? Are you done yet?"

Medals all around.

ARCHIVE: Do not archive without the author's express permission.

DISCLAIMER: The Stargate, SGA, the Wraith, and all characters that have appeared in the series STARGATE ATLANTS, together with the names, titles, and back story, are the sole copyright property of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., the SciFi Channel, and Acme Shark. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea, and the story itself are the sole property of the author.

Of Duty, Atonement, and Redemption
By SGC Gategirl

"Condemned into everlasting redemption."
—William Shakespeare, Much Ado about Nothing. Act iv. Sc. 2.

"What atonement is there for blood spilt upon the earth?"

"It is easier to do one's duty to others than to one's self. If you do your duty to others, you are considered reliable. If you do your duty to yourself, you are considered selfish."
—Thomas Szasz

Doctor Rodney McKay stormed through the hallways of Atlantis, his mouth set in a thin line, his head down, his eyes refusing to meet anyone else's. He could hear their whispers as he passed by, could feel their eyes on the small of his back. They weren't subtle about their stares, about their comments. The chill in the hallways wasn't due to some strange misfire of the heating units.

It was because of him.

How long had it been since Elizabeth had dismissed him unceremoniously from her office, her disgust with him clearly etched into the lines of her face? Five minutes, maybe less. And the rumors had already spread, rolling out in waves before he could get under cover, before he could crawl into his quarters away from the prying eyes, from the accusation he knew was in their eyes.

His room—his haven and his prison. At least she hadn't insisted on an armed security escort.

The words still echoed in his head, Weir's anger mixing and mingling with his own guilt and terror. He knew he'd screwed up. He wasn't oblivious to everything that went on. Screw ups were things he never forgot.

You destroyed three quarters of a solar system!

What was it about him that couldn't help but make corrections, adjustments, even when he was being reprimanded? Even standing there in Weir's office, the door closed behind him, McKay knew that their heated exchange could be heard all throughout the control room. Out of the corner of his eye he'd seen Teyla and Ronon pause, glancing up toward the second level after the gate closed behind them even as Elizabeth's angry words demanded his attention. His mouth, though, had another thought in mind and he found himself responding. Crossing his hands over his chest, he'd replied, his tone arrogant, his words condescending.

Well, five sixths. It's not an exact science.

Nothing in his life was an exact science. It never had been and he was resigned with it never changing. Sometimes he wished he could predict the outcome of every decision he could make with the same accuracy as his astrophysics calculations. Then, he wouldn't have to worry or feel guilty when he screwed something up and someone paid the price.

And the list kept getting longer and longer.

This time no one had died. Scratch that. No one had died today. Yesterday was another matter entirely. He still swore he could smell the scent of Collins' radiation-laden and burned corpse that he'd had to bring home in the back of the jumper. He knew he would never forget the tendrils of smoke that rose from the fused fingers on those blackened hands. Hands that had been sure and steady while piecing together circuits and electronics, hands that would never wrap around his "Spock Lives" mug of earl grey tea.

And Collins had been one of the smarter ones in the science department—except for Grodin, Zelenka, and himself, of course. But come to think of it, Grodin was dead already, blown up on the Ancient space station months ago, the staff still trying to fill his place in the control room and in the science department.

He rounded another corner, nearly colliding with a shocked airman who quickly flung himself against the nearby wall allowing McKay to proceed without missing a beat. Good reflexes on the new recruits, he thought absently. Too bad most of them didn't have two brain cells to rub together when it came to common sense. And the scientists were just as bad. Maybe it was time for him to talk to Carson about clones. At least they'd be able to get the city up and running and he'd be able to sleep more than four hours in a night.

But then, they'd just accuse him of catering to his ego or something else just as ridiculous. Was it his fault that he was always right…most of the time?

Rodney, can you give your ego a rest for one second?

Apparently, that was something beyond his grasp, he thought as he finally reached his quarters. Waving his hand in front of the sensor, the door slid open. He thought the lights on—a handy skill thanks entirely to the Ancient gene therapy Carson had given him—dimming them immediately so that most of the room was shrouded in darkness. He wasn't in the mood for bright lights.

As soon as the door closed behind him, he engaged the lock with another mental command before dropping fully-clothed onto his bed.

He groaned into the pillow, his relief at being home tempered with the fact that he had nowhere else to go.

After Elizabeth had yelled at him, her voice raised in anger as she tried to get through to him, she'd closed down. Rodney could see the exact moment it happened, her face becoming set in stone, her fury cold. She'd walked behind her desk, fingering the reports piled to one side. It didn't take her long to make a decision, to choose his sentence. Her words still stung, even now. He knew she had a backbone and a temper—she needed one to run the SGC and Atlantis and for all the high-level treaties she brokered—but he'd never experienced it firsthand.

I can't let this drop, Rodney, not this time. You are supposed to lead, to be an example for your staff. I can't remember ever seeing this kind of inappropriate, unprofessional behavior from you before and I expect to never see it again. Understood?

Her eyes flashed once, the anger in them rendering him speechless. He'd nodded once, slowly, a tendril of fear creeping up his belly.

I'm relieving you of duty for the next week and you are confined to your quarters. Doctor Zelenka will take over your responsibilities during this time. This is non-negotiable.

She'd added the last part as soon as he'd opened his mouth to protest, the words dying before they had the chance to leave his tongue.

And you are also to consider yourself grounded for the next four weeks. Colonel Sheppard will either make do with one less team member or else choose another scientist to accompany him off-world. At that time we can re-evaluate your standing on this base.

He'd swallowed hard and he could feel the blood draining from his face as she'd continued, his eyes widening with every word she uttered.

Am I perfectly clear?

Rodney had nodded, muttering something that passed as an affirmative answer as his eyes dropped toward the floor, whatever little of his pride, his self-respect disappearing in an instant.

Do I need to send you with an escort or can you make it to your quarters on your own?

His head came up for that question, surprise, anger, and hurt running through his mind, the emotions sweeping across his face. He'd told her no, that he could find his way; that they weren't necessary. She'd nodded sharply, her eyes cold.


He'd blanched at her treatment, at the coolness of her words as whatever color was left in his face drained away. He'd turned on his heel and retreated from her office without looking back.

And now, lying on his stomach, his face mashed into his pillow, Rodney realized just how screwed he was. It wasn't bad enough that she had made him feel like some errant five-year-old as he was reprimanded and sent to his room. But it was obvious—even to the usually oblivious physicist—that he'd lost her trust and her respect.

He needed to apologize. Not only to her, but to Radek, the science staff, and Colonel Sheppard.

He had to start somewhere. To try and make things right with an apology was a small gesture, but right now that was the only thing within his power to do. But, stuck as he was in his quarters, he didn't have many options.

Groaning as he levered himself upright, he headed for his laptop sitting on his desk at the far side of the room. He'd moved the desk a few weeks ago when he'd been working on some project or another. It had been tough and his mind hadn't been as cooperative as it normally was. But once he'd moved the desk, positioning it so he could see out of the glass door leading to the small balcony outside his room, he'd discovered that everything came easier—even though he often found himself staring out at the ever-changing sky above Atlantis.

Popping his laptop open, he booted the machine and began rummaging in his desk drawers. He had a few PowerBars stashed in there somewhere. After finding one, he moved to the balcony door, opening it to let the cool air brush against his flushed face. Ripping open the foil wrapper, he took a bite of the bar, chewing slowly as he tried to calm his mind that was threatening to run away with him. He knew what he had to do and it was just a matter of taking everything step by step. Then, things would be back to normal in no time.

He hated being reminded that he was human, that he wasn't always right. He preferred being the genius, the so-called 'Answer Man'. Those men didn't make the mistakes he did, didn't send people to their deaths.

Several minutes passed before he turned back to his computer, his fingers flying over the track pad to click on several icons, launching a variety of programs in addition to his email client. While he was fiddling around with the laptop, he might as well check on the experiments he had running in the lab. And there was some research he'd been meaning to do in the Ancient database. His week of downtime might end up being very productive.

Several rude beeps erupted from the machine on his desk, pulling Rodney's attention back to the messages flashing on the screen.

"Access denied."

"Access denied."

"Access denied."

What the…?

His email was up and there were several messages waiting in his inbox, but nothing else had launched correctly. Quickly closing the dialog windows, he tried logging onto the various servers again.

And got the same response.

Sighing heavily, he raised his hand to his ear, clicking his radio on to transmit. What was Zelenka doing to the computer system? There was nothing scheduled, no maintenance. Everything should be up and running. He'd been gone a few hours and the Czech already had the system in knots.

He couldn't help it, but his frustration and anger bled into his voice. "McKay to Zelenka, respond."

It took a few seconds before his call was answered—and not by the scientist. "Doctor McKay," came the smooth reply, "is there some kind of emergency?"

"Sergeant?" he sputtered after a few seconds as his brain made the connection of who had answered his call. It was the Canadian who sat at the communications console in the control room. Rodney could never remember his name—first or last. It took too much energy to remember every last person's name on the expedition and he had better things to spend his brain power on. His reply was lame, he knew, but it was the only thing that came to mind. "I was trying to reach Zelenka."

"Yes, sir. Is there something I can help you with?"

The man's tone—overly polite and condescending—drove him to distraction, ratcheting his anger and frustration up another notch. "Unless you know how to fix a computer mainframe, then I think the answer is no. I need to speak with Radek."

"Hold on a moment, Doctor."

"Finally," McKay muttered, his hand drumming a steady beat against his bouncing leg. This was unbelievable. The Czech had the guy in the control room running interference for him, taking messages, acting like his secretary. Apparently, his temporary promotion to head of the science department was going to his head and it only took fifteen minutes. Unbelievable.

What was more astonishing to Rodney was why he didn't think of it first.

"Doctor McKay, what seems to be the problem?" Weir's icy tone immediately snapped him back to the present, his hand and leg freezing in place.

"Elizabeth?" he choked out. He'd been planning on avoiding her for the better part of a day before attempting the apology. Fate, it seemed, had a wicked sense of humor.

"The sergeant mentioned that you were looking for Doctor Zelenka. Can I ask what it's in reference to?"

Rodney sighed. He was going to have to have a serious talk with Radek when this was all said and done. What did he have on Elizabeth that she was acting as his secretary? "There seems to be some problem with the mainframe because it's not letting me log into any of the servers or the database. I was hoping to discuss that with Radek."

"There's nothing wrong with the computer systems."

"What do you mean there's nothing wrong?" he asked testily. "I keep getting error messages."

"Apparently, I did not make myself clear when you were here earlier. You have been relieved of duty for a week, which means no research, no access to servers or to the database. If you need to leave your quarters for any reason, you have to get it cleared by me or Colonel Sheppard and you will be accompanied by a security officer at all times. If your expertise is needed for a project and Doctor Zelenka deems it important enough, we will contact you directly. Do you understand now?"

He swallowed twice before replying. "Perfectly."

"If that's all, I have some reports which need my attention."

"That was all. Sorry to bother you. McKay out." He clicked off his radio, yanking it from his ear and tossing it on the desk, watching as it bounced several times before stopping. Turning slightly in his chair, he leaned down, his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands as he tried to breathe, tried to get rid of the heavy weight that had landed on his chest.

He was so screwed.

Colonel John Sheppard never did things halfway. He was an all or nothing kind of guy and, so far, it seemed to work very well.

And to top it off, he had always been a good judge of character, of people.

Until now, it seemed.

When had things gone pear shaped? And how could he be so oblivious to not see it coming in the first place, or the second place for that matter?

This was why he never let anyone get close, why he kept everyone at arm's length. It was easier to see through all of the bluster and the arm waving, to get to the heart of the matter when his emotions weren't engaged.

Cold and clinical kept you alive.

Mistakes happen when you get too close. It happened to him in Afghanistan. And that wasn't the first time. He had sworn back then that it wouldn't let it affect him again, but somehow, someway, McKay had wormed his way past his defenses.

And sure enough, mistakes had followed.

And he wasn't sure who he was angrier with—himself or the scientist—for in this instance they were both to blame. Even if John hadn't pushed the button, he'd allowed it to happen, allowed McKay to manipulate the situation so he'd have to go along with his plan, his idea, his over-inflated ego.

Trust me.

Rodney's words still echoed in his ears, taunting him, haunting him.

He should have known better, shouldn't have let their friendship be the deciding factor in what had been a very straightforward decision. But he did trust—had trusted—the scientist with his life time and time again. They were a team. Life and death hung on the confidence they had in each other. And it was true, McKay had never asked for his support, his trust, in such a public way.

But it seems as if it might have been misplaced.

Stalking down to the infirmary, Sheppard refused to stop, dodging bodies that got in his way. He just wanted to get this stupid exam over with so he could get some real work done. He had reports to write and things to do and a date with a very heavy punching bag in the gym.

Teyla and Ronon should be back soon—at least that's what he thought. Hopefully that trade agreement had gone better than this blasted science experiment.

What had McKay been thinking? Smarter than the Ancients… What was it with McKay and that ego of his? Sooner or later that was going to be the death of them all—and it nearly was this time. As it was, they'd lost Collins.

There had to be a better way to control it, or at least contain it. Whatever Weir had in mind as punishment for McKay was probably nowhere near what he really needed. She was soft, lenient when it came to the scientist—always had been. If there was a time for tough love, this was good enough as any. There had to be a way to rein McKay in. They couldn't afford to have another incident like that again. John couldn't even begin to imagine what might have happened, how many more people could have died if he'd allowed the other scientists McKay had wanted to return with them.

Storming into the infirmary, John spotted Beckett at the far end of the room talking with one of the nurses—Matthews he thought. She was a new recruit, coming over with the last batch on the Daedalus. Either he'd heard his stomping feet or else the eyes in the back of his head had 20/20 vision, because Carson turned offering a smile in welcome.

"Colonel Sheppard, what a pleasant surprise that you're here and I didn't have to track you down." His eyes slid around the Colonel obviously looking for someone else. "Where's Rodney?"

"Still with Doctor Weir. Look, can we get this over with?"

Beckett's eyes widened, but he didn't comment at John's harsh tone, merely gesturing to a nearby bed. "Hop on up and we can get started."

The doctor moved quickly, every motion crisp and efficient, keeping conversation to a minimum, which suited John just fine. He wasn't in the mood to talk. He'd been talked at all day long and was ready for some peace and quiet.

What made matters worse was that his day was far from over. The paperwork that went along with destroying a solar system had to be bad. He was about ready to find out.

And he still had to finish his conversation with Elizabeth. God only knows what mood she'd be in when she concluded her discussion with Rodney. He could try your patience on a good day, but after this debacle… John was glad the flight home had been short. He normally wasn't a violent man, but this time if he had to spend another minute alone with McKay, he might have done something the physicist would have regretted—and would have involved copious amounts of drugs from Beckett.

McKay should be grateful for small favors.

As Beckett finished filling the last vial with blood, the infirmary doors slid open and John tensed, his hands clenching into a fist. John forced himself to relax the muscles in his arm, but they weren't cooperating as quickly as normal. He could hear the sigh the doctor uttered as soon as he'd reacted, but Beckett didn't say anything, instead turning his head to catch sight of Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagan, the other half of Sheppard's team, as they walked in the door.

"I'll be with you two shortly," he said, turning back to John.

"We are not in any hurry, Doctor Beckett," Teyla replied, her voice musical, her tone tighter than normal.

John shifted a little on the exam bed, trying to see around the doctor. Beckett tugged him backwards slightly so he could finish. John scowled, but permitted the doctor's hands-on approach. There was no point in fighting with it since it only meant that this whole ordeal would take longer. "Everything okay?"

"We are fine, Colonel," she replied, stepping closer as Beckett taped the gauze pad to the inside of Sheppard's elbow.

"You're done," Carson replied, a slight edge to his voice. But Sheppard ignored it as the doctor turned to the two new patients. "If you give me five minutes I'll be back for your exams."

"Fine," Ronon replied, his hands on his hips, his eyes never remaining still for long.

Teyla nodded her head, offering a tired smile to Beckett. "We shall be waiting your return."

Beckett moved away without another word, making notes in Sheppard's chart as he took the blood samples back to the lab.

Sheppard eyed his teammates, eyes shifting between the two of them. "What happened on Belkan? I haven't seen you this tense in a while." He slid off the exam table, shoving his sleeve down and shrugging on his jacket.

"Nothing, Colonel. The negotiations were difficult, but no more so than expected. We obtained the grain Doctor Weir requested. It should bolster our supplies for a time. Some of the Marines have already transported it to the labs for testing before it is brought to the kitchen."

Teyla's response, while appropriate, didn't seem to be the entire story. Glancing at the tall warrior, John tried to figure out what was tweaking his radar, but Ronon wasn't offering any hints.

"Colonel?" Teyla began a few moments later, her head tilted to the side, her forehead furrowed. He turned toward her and she continued. "When we arrived through the Stargate, we…overheard part of a conversation between Doctor Weir and Doctor McKay. It seems as if things did not go well on Doranda."

"You could say that again," Sheppard muttered, rubbing a hand over his face. Before either Ronon or Teyla could respond, he continued. "The power source we found ended up blowing up in our faces. If it weren't for the Daedalus, McKay and I probably wouldn't be here right now."

"What went wrong?" Ronon asked, worry and surprise briefly sliding across his face.

"McKay went wrong." From their startled expressions, John knew they probably had a lot more questions, but this wasn't the time or the place. And besides, he wasn't in the mood. Near-death experiences made him testy. "I have to get back up to finish my briefing with Elizabeth. Why don't we meet in the morning and I'll try to explain what happened?"

Teyla inclined her head in a deep nod while Ronon offered a shrug. "Sure, Sheppard."

"Colonel, you're still here?" The question startled him, jerking his head around to come face-to-face with an irritated Beckett. "I thought you were in a hurry."

"I'm just leaving," John replied, striding to the door. He could feel the weight of Beckett's stare between his shoulder blades but he didn't turn around. And even before he was out the door, it was gone as the doctor moved to tend to his two new patients.

Doctor Elizabeth Weir picked up her tablet PC in an attempt to do some work, but her mind kept drifting. Between the death of Collins, the communiqué from Colonel Caldwell about the results of McKay's science project, and the brief conversation she'd had with both Sheppard and McKay when they returned through the wormhole with a frantic 'close the iris' command, she'd had just about enough aggravation and stress to last a lifetime.

And if she was honest with herself, she was angry, furious even.

She'd worked with Rodney for more than two years now and she'd grown used to the arrogant man. She trusted him. He had his faults—his ego for one—but they'd never gotten in the way of his job, of his duty, his responsibilities. For some reason, even as abrasive as he was, people trusted him, listened to him, followed his lead…respected him even. It was odd, to put it mildly.

He was a genius; of that she was certain. It was evident in everything he did.

But his behavior today…

Weir sighed, resting her elbows on her desk as she absently fiddled with the open file on her desktop. Even thinking about everything that had transpired today made her blood boil.

And it wasn't only his abysmal behavior. It hadn't helped the situation to have Colonel Caldwell egging McKay on, which only placed her in a more difficult position. Even if she'd said 'no' to the continued experiments, she knew the Pentagon well enough to know that they would have issued an order permitting the continuation of the work Rodney had begun. She would have bought them a few days, a week perhaps, but the amount of lives that may have been lost if most of the science department had been there when the weapon exploded was too immense to imagine.

She'd been elegantly backed into a corner especially when John had come to her, asking her to reconsider. She should have stuck to her initial decision, whatever the cost, refusing to allow circumstance and strong personalities to change her mind.

A knock on her door drew her attention to her visitor, a rather ragged-looking John Sheppard.

"Colonel? I thought you were doing your post-mission check-up with Carson?" she asked, gesturing for him to take the chair across from her desk. As he seated himself, the door to her office slid shut behind him. Some days she was jealous of his ability to use those mental commands.

"I'm done. Ronon and Teyla are in there now. Things went well with their mission?"

"I think so. I didn't get the chance to speak to them when they returned. I'm sure Teyla will stop here before she turns in for the night."

"They didn't stop to give you an update?"

Weir glanced down for a beat. Raising her head once again, she held his gaze steadily as she answered. "I was otherwise engaged at the time. Doctor McKay and I were having a…conversation about the events on Doranda."

John's eyebrows rose as he shifted in his seat, his face hardening. He'd understood her unspoken words. "What did you decide?"

Glancing down at her hands briefly, she raised her head once again to meet his eyes. "He's been relieved of duty for a week and he's grounded for three weeks beyond that. It's up to you if you want to add a fourth to your team while he's restricted to the base."

John's expression didn't change, but Weir wasn't expecting it to. When he entered military mode, nothing appeared to faze him. "You have Zelenka in charge of the science department?"

"Temporarily, yes. I haven't decided yet if it's for the month or just the week."

Sheppard nodded. "If we draw a more scientific-oriented mission, I'll talk to him about assigning one of the scientists to my team. They need more off-world experience anyway."

"John…" she began, glancing down once again, noting her rough cuticles, a jagged edge on one of her nails. The frustration and anger she was feeling began to bleed into her voice as she continued, "What happened out there? Rodney was so sure this would work, but then Doctor Zelenka approached me with other information. What went wrong?"


"That's it?"

John shrugged, his eyes drifting to a spot over her left shoulder. "There's really nowhere else to look. Everything revolved around what McKay thought he could do and we all know what he thinks about his own abilities. That's never an issue when it comes to McKay. We should have stuck with our first decision instead of letting him talk us into it." He paused, a flash of something Elizabeth couldn't recognize crossing his face before he met her gaze once again. "And honestly, Colonel Caldwell was no help."

"Agreed," Weir nodded, leaning back in her chair. "But he was right. Once the SGC and the Pentagon got involved we would have had no control over the situation at all."

"But, it would have bought us time," Sheppard replied, his tone determined and strong. "Maybe Zelenka would have been able to talk some sense into McKay. All we needed was a little more time." John took another breath, letting it out slowly. "McKay was wrong and he still couldn't see it even when the building was beginning to crumble around us. If we had delayed a few more seconds, nothing would have saved us from that explosion."

"What do you mean?"

"If I hadn't been able to get McKay to move, he would have stayed there trying to fix things until the building exploded with him inside of it. He had tunnel vision, like he couldn't see anything except that damned Nobel Prize he keeps talking about."

Weir felt her anger bubbling once again as John verbalized what she'd been trying not to think about. "We can't have that kind of attitude here. We can't afford to." She paused, trying to draw an air of calm back to herself. "And I know that's just a human failing, Rodney's biggest failing. But I can't just let this slide. Something has to be done."

"I agree and I think what you've done might be enough to dissuade any of the other scientists from doing something—anything—even remotely like that again. But, honestly, I'm not sure if that's enough to get through to McKay."

"After the month, we'll have the opportunity to re-evaluate him and we can decide then if it's a good idea for him to remain on Atlantis." John narrowed his eyes, but Weir continued before he could say anything.

"We have to consider it, John. If we can't rely on Rodney to do his job, he might be a liability. As much as we need him on Atlantis, there are other scientists who can step up to the plate. I admit that he's probably the best man we have, but if he continues with this kind of one-track mentality, these kind of incidents, we're not going to survive his experiments, let alone the Wraith."

John didn't reply, but he nodded his head slightly, enough for her to know that he was following her, listening carefully to her words.

"Step back and look at the whole situation," she continued, her voice firming up as the words formed. "This is an entirely different job than I agreed to. We were supposed to be exploring a new galaxy, making allies and discovering the great secrets of the Ancients. Instead, we're fighting a war. There's no room for personal quests and I don't think there's a doubt in either of our minds that Rodney was focused. Not on the benefits this technology could have brought to Atlantis, but on what kind of acclaim it would have brought him personally."

She took another breath, her eyes holding John's steadily as she leaned forward, her elbows on her desk, her hands clasped in front of her. "We should know in a month if he's up for the job he signed on for."

The insistent beeping of his headset pulled Rodney out of the half-sleep state he'd fallen into, his arm thrown across his eyes as the damp ocean air swept over the bed and through the room.

Rolling to his feet with a groan, he hissed as the muscles in his back complained. He stumbled across the room in his sock-clad feet, grabbing the headset and jamming it in place.


"Oh, there ye are, Rodney," Doctor Carson Beckett replied. "I need you to report to the infirmary for your post-mission check. It seems as if it may have slipped your mind."

"Fine," he said, shaking his head as he moved to close the balcony door. "Give me a few minutes."

"Aye. And no gettin' sidetracked."

"Trust me, I don't think that's going to be a problem. McKay out."

Wonderful, he thought. As if being locked in his room wasn't enough, now he was going to be poked and prodded by the good doctor and resident sheep shearer.

Turning his radio off, he sighed again, rubbing the back of his neck as he glanced around the room. He spotted his uniform jacket lying in a heap near the bathroom door, still in the same place he'd thrown it an hour ago.

Staring at pile of rumpled material, he realized that he didn't feel like wearing it, didn't feel like wearing anything he had on. And besides, he was off duty as Elizabeth had so plainly reminded him.

Moving quickly to his closet, he stripped off his shirt throwing it in the same general direction as the uniform jacket as he dug into the closet, his fingers finding the pile of T-shirts on the back shelf. He pulled the top one off, shrugging it on quickly, checking to make sure he had the blue Atari logo in the front.

His pants came off next, landing in the same pile as his other clothes. He grabbed for his jeans, shoving several pairs of his uniform pants out of the way to reach them. He slid his legs in, the cool, thick fabric warming immediately against his skin.

He leaned down, looking for his sneakers. Snagging them, he moved back to the bed, sitting down to get his old familiar footwear in place.

His casual clothes felt good. Rodney couldn't remember the last time he'd worn them. It had been too long. There had been a time in his life that jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers were all he wore. It was a simpler time. Less stress, less chance of dying in some freak, horror-show way.

Maybe it was time to go back.

Shrugging off the thought, he headed for the door, unlocking it with a quick command. It slid open before him, but even before he took a single step outside of his quarters a voice stopped him.

"Doctor McKay? Where are you going?"

Turning, he came face-to-face with Major Lorne. Rodney wasn't sure who was more surprised by this turn of events: him or the Major.

"Are you loitering outside my quarters?" Arrogant and condescending all wrapped up in a single question.

"I don't think Colonel Sheppard or Doctor Weir would consider guard duty loitering, Doctor," Lorne replied, a slightly sheepish expression on his face as he continued. "Were you going somewhere?"

"Carson asked me to go to the infirmary for my post-mission check up. Is that a problem?"

"One second, Doctor, and I'll find out." He turned, tapping his radio. He spoke quickly and quietly, the conversation taking no longer than thirty seconds. Swinging back around, Lorne offered a smile. "If you'll accompany me, we'll be in the infirmary shortly."

"I know how to get there, Major," Rodney replied, the words pushed past his tightly clenched jaw, his muscles rock hard. He could feel knots forming in his shoulders.

"I know you do, but I'm under orders, as are you I imagine. Just consider this part of the service."

Gritting his teeth, Rodney nodded and gestured for Lorne to lead. Following a half-step behind, Rodney could feel the heat rising in his cheeks. This was humiliating. He kept his head down, his eyes watching his feet as they walked through the corridors, the Major greeting many of the people they encountered along the way.

Could this get any worse? He wasn't sure how, but as soon as that question entered his mind, he knew somehow, someway it would.

The door to the infirmary slid open and Lorne paused just inside the door, waiting as Rodney stepped through. "I'll wait here until you're done."

"Fine," he replied, waving off the other man with an absent gesture of his hand. Maneuvering through the quiet room, Rodney found Carson at his desk, sipping at a mug of tea.

Clearing his throat to get the other man's attention, McKay offered a weak smile when his friend raised his head. "You were looking for me?"

"Aye, Rodney," Carson answered, putting his mug down gently as he rose to his feet. "I wasn't expecting you so quickly."

McKay shrugged his shoulders. "Figured it would be easier than having you haunt me."

Beckett moved briskly past him, leading him to an exam bed. Patting it with his hand, he continued walking. "Sit up here. I'll be right back."

Watching the back of his departing friend, he settled onto the bed Carson indicated, his right hand drumming a steady beat on his leg. A few minutes passed before the Scotsman returned. Throwing a glance over his shoulder as he got closer, Beckett turned his puzzled look on McKay, his eyes widening when he finally looked at him.

"What's with the clothes and your friend by the door?"

"The last time I checked I was allowed to wear clothes other than my uniform when I'm off duty," he snapped as Beckett got to work. Shoving up his sleeve, Carson quickly pulled the tourniquet tight against Rodney's arm, tapping the inside of his elbow to get the veins to come to the surface. "You do own jeans, don't you? I've seen you in enough of those hideous sweaters to know that you did bring some casual clothes to Atlantis."

Rodney flinched as the needle pierced his skin and Carson quickly filled two vials with blood. Gauze replaced the needle and McKay held it without being asked. He'd been through this too many times to complain—although that didn't necessarily stop him normally. "You might best remember who has the big needles, Rodney," Carson commented as he deposited the vials on the nearby tray. "And Major Lorne just decided that you needed company?"

"Can you just drop the game of twenty questions, Carson, and get this over with? I'd like to go back to relaxing sooner rather than later."

Beckett raised an eyebrow at the comment, throwing a puzzled look at the other man, but nodded in agreement. The rest of the examination was done quickly and in silence—much to McKay's surprise and relief.

Fifteen minutes later, he was hopping off the exam table and heading for the door. He could feel Carson's eyes on his back, but he refused to turn around. He didn't want to see the confusion or the pity in his friend's eyes. That was the last thing he needed or wanted.

Moving easily through the dimly lit and silent corridors, Carson Beckett smiled slightly to himself. It wasn't very late, but it was far enough into the evening that most people were already where they were going to be for the rest of the night. He'd passed the science labs a little while before and he'd spotted Zelenka hunched over a laptop, while one or two others were packing up to head out.

He'd kept moving, not seeing McKay anywhere in the science area, and not willing to bother an obviously busy Radek.

It wasn't as if he were looking for Rodney. He really wasn't. Between him and John and then Major Lorne's obvious presence during the physicist's post-mission check, Carson was certain something had happened.

And if Rodney wasn't in the labs, then he had to be in the mess or in his quarters, but something made him hesitate from going to either location. What was he going to say anyway? The whole 'something weird is going on and I think you need to tell me about it' only got him so far. And besides, they were in another galaxy, for Pete's sake. Everything here was weird.

It had been several hours since he'd seen either of them—and no one was talking, which was odd in itself. Usually, he got updates about missions and things, just from conversations with the people who dropped by.

But not today.

Surprising himself, Carson discovered that he'd walked to the gate room, his feet slowly taking him up the stairs toward the control room. The second shift was in place and he smiled at them as he passed through toward the low-lit office at the end of the room where he could still see a figure seated behind the desk.

Slowing as he reached the door, he watched her for a minute, her forehead creased in concentration as she studied the laptop screen before her.

He tapped quietly, trying not to startle her. "You know, looking at computer screens all day is bad for your eyes, lass," he said, keeping his tone light as he caught the tension in Weir's frame.

She glanced up, her eyes wide. Elizabeth was jumpier than normal tonight. "Carson," she finally said with a light smile—the expression obviously forced. She settled the tablet to the side and gestured to him to enter her office. "I didn't hear you."

"Obviously," he replied pinning her with a glance for a moment before she turned her eyes away. Sliding into the nearest chair, he tilted his head, trying to catch her eye again. Instead of ignoring him, however as he thought she would, Elizabeth straightened in her chair, her jaw tightening, her eyes narrowing as she returned the look with equal weight, examining him carefully.

"You wanted something?" she asked finally, her voice stern, clipped.

"Yes, but are you okay, lass?"

"I'm fine, it's just been a long day and I should really head back to my quarters." She began to lean forward, her hands reaching for the papers scattered over her desk. "Can this wait until the morning?"

"Depends," he replied and stilled immediately, the iris of her eyes darkening. He plunged on even though his better judgment told him to back off. "There seems to be a problem with Colonel Sheppard and Rodney. They're not acting like themselves."

Weir replied, rising to her feet, her voice cold. "That particular conversation is best left to another time."

"Why?" Carson said as he stood, his confusion blending with anger and heating his words. "Are you uncomfortable with the topic or is it some deep, dark secret? Having Major Lorne follow Rodney around isn't exactly subtle."

He waited, letting the question sit between them, watching Elizabeth carefully. She was trying to control her temper and it surprised him. For as long as he'd worked with her on the Atlantis project, Elizabeth was the only one who rarely, if ever, lost her temper. Maybe that was due to her training as a diplomat. And with all the different nationalities and people involved in this project, they needed people who could keep their heads.

Usually, Elizabeth was the voice of reason, but something had worked its way under her skin and it had to do with John and Rodney. What the hell had they done this time?

She took a breath, as if the additional oxygen would steady her. "Doctor McKay has been relieved of duty for the next week and is restricted to the base for a month due to his actions on Doranda. We're hoping that this situation will be temporary."


"Colonel Sheppard and I."

"So, what does this mean exactly? Rodney's not military."

"Everything's been explained to him. He knows what he can and cannot do."

"And Major Lorne is around to make sure Rodney follows your orders to the letter? Whose brilliant idea was this?"

Weir's eyes flashed an angry warning and he knew he'd gone too far. "This is not up for discussion."

The muscles in Carson's back immediately tightened as he straightened in surprise, his own temper rising quickly to the surface. "Fine," he replied tightly. "I'm nae gonna say a word about it. But, whatever you're hoping to accomplish with this piss poor example you're making of Rodney is not going to work. This is not the way to prove a point to him or to his staff. It just shows them that you're hurt and you're angry. This'll come to a bad end. "

"Your concern is noted, Carson, but we're going to do this my way. I guess we'll see what happens in a month."

"This isn't a game, Elizabeth. We're talking about Rodney—"

"Yes, we are. And right now he needs to understand exactly what his responsibilities to this expedition entail. Playing hardball is the only way to get through to him."

"So you say," Beckett replied, shaking his head as his anger drained from his body as he discovered how unmovable she was on the topic. Arguing right now would not get him anywhere and might only get Rodney into more trouble. "But don't be surprised if you discover him to be a very different person than you think he is."

He turned, moving to the door and into the control room beyond. A few steps into the corridor and he turned around, walking back to her office, pausing in the doorway. "Do me one favor," he began once he caught her eyes. "Think about it carefully tonight and if you have doubts, any doubts, please change your mind. My mother always reminded me that the wrong decisions make themselves known in the wee hours of the night. Give Rodney the benefit of the doubt. That's all I ask."

Elizabeth nodded once, some of her own anger draining away only to be replaced by a deep weariness. "Good night, Carson."

"Night, lassie, and get some sleep. Things always look better in the morning."