Vegas…was there anyplace like it?
The lights, the energy, the women.
The drop dead, gorgeous women.
And when you're on leave and in the midst of that energy, keeping company with one of those beautiful women, you could almost forget how you swallowed your pride and asked that cold son of a bitch who shared your name to salvage what was left of your career. Yeah…almost.
McMurdo and exile versus Nellis and a chance at redemption. The Air Force wasn't big on disobeying orders, no matter what your reasons. Flying Pave Hawks at Nellis was an unbelievable opportunity, and if I'd had to sell a big fat slice of my soul for it, well, a deal's a deal.
Only I wasn't in Nellis now. I'd been sent to Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, ordered to report to General O'Neill, and that was the sum total of my knowledge. And as with all military operations, big and small, there was a fuck up. My clearance hadn't come through by the time I arrived, and apparently you needed a shitload of clearance just to drive by the damn place and check out the curb appeal. Actually passing through the gate and getting a place to sleep was out of the question. But, hey, if I got to stay in a semi-nice hotel with room service and a mini bar on the Air Force's dime, who was I to bitch?
There was snow on the ground here and a ball-freezing chill in the air. Oddly enough it didn't make me miss Nevada. I liked the snow and the quiet that came with it. And not for the first time I thought Antarctica and exile might not have been the worse thing that could've happened to me. But you make your bed—you sure as hell do. I checked into my room--no mini bar, cheap bastards—and called about my clearance. I was told it would run through by morning and make myself at home.
I sprawled on the bed, watched a little TV, then decided to get a beer at the bar before sacking out. It was a nice bar, all polished wood and soft lights, and pretty much empty. Not one Vegas style woman to be seen anywhere. Philosophically, I ordered my beer and asked the guy next to me, "Hey, buddy, could you pass the peanuts?"
Funny, how a little craving for salt will come back to bite you in the ass.
The guy turned to look at me, if you can call a split second glance by disdainful blue eyes a look. "Not interested," he said brusquely. "And, quite frankly, a little perturbed they're starting out with you as first string. Is it the shirt?" He frowned and pulled at the material with thumb and forefinger. "It's not pink, you know. It was red, a nice Canadian patriotic red, but there was a slight laundry mishap…just so you're aware." He took a swallow of his own beer, snapped his fingers in emphasis and repeated, "Unavoidable bleach related incident. Not pink."
I blinked. Looked at him, then the peanuts, and then back again. "Let's try this again. You're Canadian. Maybe there's a cultural chasm regarding peanuts I'm totally unaware of. I just want the peanuts, okay? So pass them down. And, yeah, sorry to break the news…your shirt is pink."
This time he really looked at me…with impatience, annoyance, and more than a little weariness. "I'm certain you're very good at this ordinarily, although peanuts, really, that could use some work. And the hair, that's definitely an acquired taste, but it's been a long trip and I'm dead on my feet and simply not interested in selling out my country, this country, any country. Although if you were really serious, you would start with a blond…with breasts. The breasts are important. A brain would be nice too, but I suppose that might be asking a bit much on short notice."
This time I got up, walked around him, got the peanuts and brought them back to my stool. I popped a few in my mouth, chewed, and turned my back on Mr. Pink Shirt. Futilely, as it turned out.
"Really, you shouldn't take this personally. You'll never last in the business if you do." It was said with the most damn peculiar mix of sympathy, arrogance, and exasperation. Worse yet, I heard the son of a bitch get up and move over to sit on the stool right next to me. Reluctantly…very reluctantly, I turned enough to keep him in sight. Best to keep the loonies in view. "Seduction and spying is a somewhat difficult field I'm guessing," he went on condescendingly, words beginning to slur around the edges. "Rejection must be rampant. I mean, okay, you're not my type, but you're bound to be someone's type."
Gee, that was nice to know.
He waved his hand at the bartender for another beer and was beginning to think maybe that he'd been waving that hand pretty frequently. "Seriously, about this whole shirt issue. I was in Budapest once at a conference and they sent me a blonde, a redhead, and a brunette and when that didn't work then they sent in the guy. So, I'm a bit…just a tiny bit, mind you, worried here. Is it something besides the shirt? Am I less buff and manly than I once was?" He considered as he took another pull of the beer. "Or maybe I'm too buff. Well dressed, bulging muscles, a certain je ne sais quois." He shook his head. "That's it, isn't it? I guess I have no one to blame but myself."
I looked him up and down. Rumpled shirt, stocky body with a slight softness at the middle, frazzled fine brown hair, a more-than-aggressive chin and a crooked non-stop mouth. "Yeah, buddy," I drawled, "that's exactly what it is. Us spies will know better next time. Scout's honor."
That was my luck, wasn't it? To sit down beside some guy who was obviously stuck in some James Bond style fantasy—either drunk off his ass or crazy as a bed bug.
He scowled instantly. "You must be new, because, trust me, I'm totally worth all this. I'm Dr. Rodney McKay—the Dr. Rodney McKay…Einstein's spiritual lovechild. What I don't know about astrophysics…what am I saying? There is nothing I don't know about astrophysics. I'm so goddamn brilliant I'm surprised they aren't parachuting naked blondes onto my balcony with bags of cash in each hand. In fact…."
Face first onto the bar. I gave a sigh of sheer appreciation for the golden silence before the annoying finger of civic duty began to poke me in the ribs. "How many did he have?" I asked the bartender as a small pool of saliva began to form around the slackly snoring mouth.
"Three," the bartender grinned.
"Three?" I said nonplussed. "No one's that much of a lightweight."
"Well, two and a half really." He dabbed at the drool with his bar rag. "He said he'd had a long trip. Hadn't slept in a while." Shrugging, he added, "Hell, maybe he's narcoleptic. Either way, have fun getting him back to his room."
"What?" I demanded. "Oh no. I don't know the guy from Adam. No way I'm hauling his ass upstairs."
"You talked to him last. He's your problem now."
My answer to that was bull-fucking-shit. And that was still my answer when they closed up the bar and I was dragging Dr. Pinkenstein to the elevator. He participated some, legs moving stiffly…enough to let me think he might just be exhausted, but I wasn't really curious enough to try to ask him. He mumbled nonsensically once or twice before I finally got him to the room embossed on the keycard in his pocket. I propped him up, opened the door, dragged him in and dumped him on the bed.
His eyes popped open then for a brief second, widened, then closed in resignation. "Rip my clothes off if you want. I won't tell you a thing."
"Tell you what. You leave them on and I promise to tell you anything you want to know," I snorted as I dumped the keycard on the nightstand. "It's true what they say. No good deed goes unpunished," I muttered under my breath and then left Dr. Rodney McKay…the Dr. Rodney McKay…snoring on the bed and fully clothed in his pink shirt.
I had nightmares all night about that damn pink shirt.
The next morning I was at Cheyenne Mountain. General O'Neill wasn't ready for me yet, so I wandered the floors I had access to, which weren't many. After seeing what looked like a big black guy wearing sparkly gold eye shadow, I decided the brain was shutting down from lack of nutrition and I headed for the cafeteria. Picking up a tray, I got in line and frowned as I saw someone take the last cherry jello. "Hey," I said, "you mind if I take that? I can't eat the orange." Any further words died in my mouth as the guy turned to face me.
x x x x x
She sure the hell looked like Miro…Miso? No, that wasn't right, either. Well, whatever her name, the Japanese woman currently sitting in the SGC infirmary was a dead ringer for the one with the same name…whatever that might be… that was currently working at the Antarctic outpost. The one I had left the day before after spending two days and sleepless nights trying to get that damn chair functioning. After Carson chickened out for the third time, I had called in Mito..damn, that wasn't right either… to help, only to receive word that I was to report to the SGC immediately. One quick trip on the Prometheus had brought me half way around the world to be beamed into Cheyenne Mountain and after a quick briefing by O'Neill, led to the infirmary where I had promptly proclaimed with a yawn, "Yeah, that looks like her. Now, where's my hotel room?"
Normally, I would have been fascinated by the idea of interdimensional time travel, but at that moment, all I wanted to do was raid the mini bar and crash until morning when I could process the information with more than bleary eyes and a fuzzy head. Of course, there hadn't been a mini bar…cheap bastards…so I had headed down to the full-sized variety only to be accosted yet again by an undercover angel, this one not a midnight fantasy. I mean, he was attractive enough, for a guy. If I was interested in that sort of thing, which I wasn't. And although I was pretty sure he had been in my room (he had obviously slipped something in my beer to knock me out when he was reaching for the peanuts) I was also pretty damn sure he hadn't done anything to me seeing as I was fully dressed, zipped, and unviolated when I woke up. Either that or he was wholly unmemorable and I had trouble believing that. Not that I was thinking about how memorable he would have been, because I wasn't.
Nor had I been thinking about him that morning in the shower. He just kept popping up…annoyingly so…when I was trying to remember the blonde I had turned down on that last trip to Zurich. In fact, when the guy behind me in line at the cafeteria asked for my jello, I had thought for a split second it was him again, before deciding whatever drug he had slipped me the night before was still playing fast and loose with my senses.
But when his eyes rolled and he shook his head with a disbelieving, "You have got to be fucking kidding me," my own eyes widened in recognition.
"What the hell are you doing here?" I hissed. "How did you get past security?"
"I didn't 'get past' security, I was ordered here by General O'Neill."
Taking in the uniform I furrowed my brow. "You're Air Force? Do they have any idea that you do what you do…I mean, what you were doing in that bar?" Another frustrated shake of his head and he walked over to a table with his tray. I followed after him as I realized what he must have been doing. "Oh, my God, you're a plant! An undercover agent looking for potentially loose-lipped members of the SGC. Aren't you?"
"Look, McKay, was it? I have no idea what an SGC even is, much less how loose their lips might be."
I leaned in across the table, eyes darting conspiratorially to make sure no one was listening in. "Then why were you hitting on me last night?"
"As much as 'passing the peanuts' might apply to certain…anatomical short fallings on your part, that was not what I intended when I asked for them. It was purely a desire for salty snacks…once again, not yours…on my part that led to the request. Nothing, and I cannot stress this enough, nothing more."
"I'm not gay," I blurted defensively. When eyebrows rose at my assertion I tried to clarify. "I mean, I didn't imagine you coming on to me out of any sort of underlying desire. So, obviously you were coming on to me."
His grimace spoke volumes. "Yeah, all right, normally, I might be somewhat flattered by the fact that you obviously have a subconscious attraction to me. But if you hadn't notice, I'm an officer in the United States Air Force, in uniform and about to enjoy a military meal in a military chow hall. So I'd appreciate it if you would keep the accusations of flirting with a member of the same sex to yourself."
Nodding perceptively I lowered my voice further. "Oh, right. I understand. Don't ask, don't tell. Got it."
"No, apparently, you don't understand. You were a little intoxicated last night, so I can appreciate your confusion…"
With a condescending shake of my head, I cut him off. Who did he think he was fooling? And here he was talking to me, the Rodney McKay, as if I were a slow preschooler trying to glue crayons up my nose. "I'm not drunk now and you're still hitting on me."
"How am I hitting on you?" He practically spit the words across the table.
"You're sitting with me aren't you?"
"You sat down with me!"
Now it was my turn to explain things in a manner his simpleton brain could comprehend. "Yes, because you invited me to."
"Hey, buddy," I mimicked, "can I have that jello?" With a snort, I took a bite of the pot roast on my plate. "Might as well have invited me up to your dorm room to see your record collection."
"I asked for the red jello because I have a citrus allergy and can't eat the orange."
Nearly choking on the piece of meat I was chewing, I regarded the Air Force major across from me. "Are you serious?" When he nodded in the affirmative, I shook my own head. "You have food allergies?"
"Yes, lots of people have food allergies."
"Yeah, sure, scrawny little kids who live in bubbles maybe. Those that Darwin would consider a weak link in the evolutionary food chain."
"I'm sorry if my less-than-superior genetic makeup offends your manly, pink-shirt wearing, latent-homosexual sensibilities."
"I am not gay!"
"So you've said." He took a bite of his potatoes with a patronizing shrug. "Repeatedly."
Grasping my fork in a death grip, I challenged, "And who the hell ever heard of being allergic to citrus?" I looked him up and down, taking in the thin frame. "Although the resultant scurvy could account for the malnourished skeletal look you have going there."
"I'm a delicate creature, McKay. I guess I'm just lucky you're such a beer-swilling brute that you passed out after a whole twenty ounces of Coors Light else you might have eaten me alive." Now it was his turn to give me the once over. "Along with anything else that wasn't bolted down."
Glaring, I took the parfait glass of red gelatin and pointedly moved it out of his reach. "Guess that means there's no chance of me sharing dessert with you, then, is there?"
Instead of being angry or hurt or irritated, he only seemed amused. And that was something I wasn't used to. No tears, no snarling back, no storming off in a huff threatening to send me to darkest Russia as punishment, just the slightest quirk of lips and a hedging, "We'll see." And as much as I wanted to wipe that smirk off his face, I couldn't help but think I could get used to this guy.
I was saved from having to decide which I was going to do at the moment by Samantha Carter walking in and scanning the cafeteria. Leaning forward I demanded quickly, "See the blonde that just walked in? Has she spotted me yet?"
Hazel eyes narrowed warily. And who knew hazel could be such an expressive color? "Yeah, she's walking over this way."
"Is my collar straight?" Shrugging my neck to shift my shirt, I didn't wait for an answer. "What does she look like? Happy? Excited? Aroused? Pissed?"
"Constipated." What? At my confused face he elaborated. "Somewhere between pained and resigned to her fate."
Before I could ask if I had food in my teeth, she was standing behind me. "Rodney, glad you could make it."
Quickly sucking at my front teeth, I beamed up at her. "Sam, so good to see you again. I was hoping to run into you last night, even requested the room next to yours, but O'Neill told me about the infestation in the residential wing and the fumigation that was taking place."
"Yeaaaah. It's been a real pain."
"Must be hard having to save the galaxy without the luxury of a lab and the comforts you're used to. Of course, I do that on a daily basis now at my new assignment."
"Yes, congratulations on your new position. I'm sure the penguins feel much better knowing you're there." It was really pathetic how she tried to cover her true feelings for me under all that sarcasm. But the passion was obvious in her eyes and if she could just get over her feelings of inadequacy around me, I thought we had a shot at something special between us. I mean, I never expected her to discuss the intricacies of wormhole physics while she was riding me like a Pochhammer-Chree wave anyway. Then again…
Before I could completely imagine those possibilities, she stretched an arm across the table and shook hands with my lunch partner. "Major Sheppard, I'm Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter. It's nice to meet you. General O'Neill has been pulled away on other business, but he's asked me to brief you in his absence."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. This is John Sheppard?" All thoughts of what Sam could do to my 'infinite rod' disappeared as I learned that the man across from me was the one that was supposedly so vital to the Atlantis expedition.
Both of them gave me bewildered looks, Sam since I had no clue who I was eating with and Sheppard because I obviously knew about him and he knew nothing about me. I studied him a little closer, looking for any sign of why someone would travel across a dimensional rift and back in time to make sure this man joined us on our mission.
Physically leaning back from my scrutiny, he asked Sam, "Should I be worried that whatever it is that General O'Neill needs me to do involves him?"
Sam opened her mouth as if to say something then closed it with a reassuring smile. "I should probably keep my opinion to myself. If you'll come with me I'll try to explain."
And after a trip down to O'Neill's office, a quick security overview and signing of nondisclosure paperwork, Sam gave a very brief synopsis of the Stargate Program and summary of how Miko…that was her name!...had arrived a few days prior.
"So, let me get this straight. This woman moved from an alternate reality into this one, then jumped back in time, then hitched a ride in a wormhole and traveled from another galaxy to get here to say I needed to go to Atlantis?"
"I know it sounds outrageous," Sam consoled a very skeptical Sheppard, "but believe me, everything she's talked about doing, others have done, as well…just not all three at once."
"The United States Air Force actual has time travel machines? What, a garage full of DeLoreans equipped with flux capacitors?"
"The American cinema is going to rot the brains of every person on Earth, I swear." I shook my head in disgust. "No, she had a device that was built by the Ancients…they're the race of people that built the Stargates and Atlantis is what we believe to be their home city. Where is that thing, Sam?"
She pulled out a box and handed it over and I opened it to reveal a smooth, flat, coin-shaped device that would fit easily in the palm of my hand. I started to pick it up to show him when he let out a worried, "No! Don't touch it!"
"Why? I assure you it's perfectly safe to handle the Ancient's devices, especially if you don't have the ATA …" And I stopped in midsentence as something clicked in my head. "You can sense something about this, can't you?"
He seemed reluctant to admit it and he looked between me and Sam before finally begrudging, "Yeah, I can. It feels…dangerous."
Oh, dear God, he had the gene. And if he could sense it, could feel warning bells being given off from a piece of Ancient technology, then it had to be strong. Stronger than anyone else I had ever met, and I had met every person with an ATA gene that we knew about on this planet. Snapping my fingers excitedly, I ordered Sam, "Get me another device. Anything. Jackson's bound to have something squirreled away somewhere."
Within minutes we had Sheppard activating equipment that had sat dormant for years. Hell, after a trip down to Jackson's lab, he had things glowing blue that we hadn't even known were Ancient. And each time he did it, each time he hesitantly placed a hand on a contraption and thought about turning it on, my smile grew. By the time we had run through every piece of Ancient technology we could locate on the base, I was bouncing on my toes. Clamping a hand on his arm, I was already dragging him down the hallway toward the gateroom. "Call the Prometheus, Sam; we're going back to Antarctica."
"Whoa, hold on, McKay." He dug in his heels and I jerked to a stop. "I dodged that bullet once before. What is so important about going under the ice?"
I smiled broadly, unable to contain my glee. "I have a chair you need to sit in."
"A chair?" he asked dubiously.
"Believe me, Major, you make this chair work and you can have every bowl of red jello I come across."
x x x x x
This annoying goddamn guy.
I'd been on a spaceship, a spaceship…I mean, my God. No pilot alive could out-cool that shit. There were stars and the misty blue curve of the earth beneath us—I was Han Solo, Buck Rogers, Captain Kirk. I was flying in a way I never had before. Never had dreamed was really possible. The Prometheus made the shuttles look like tinker toys. It was…there were no words for what it was. Up to now though, it was the best moment of my life.
But although I had no words (well, I had one. Cool—which had gotten me a roll of astrophysicist eyes), McKay had hundreds. Thousands. Ancients, drones, Ascension, the Pegasus galaxy, gene therapy…the latter, he explained condescendingly, was for the normal personnel. Mutant throwbacks wouldn't require it. This ATA gene was most likely linked to a low prehistoric brow, small brain, and tendency to eat one's own bodily vermin.
"I thought you said humans were the second evolution of these Archaics…Ancients, whatever. The super-advanced guys?" I pointed out. "Wouldn't that make me a superior blast from the past?"
"That's quite a conceited and utterly incorrect concept." He turned from the blue, white, and black view before us to glare at me. "Second evolution, coined by Dr. Daniel Jackson who has obviously lost brain cells from his ten or so expirations, is a misnomer. You've seen their technology. At best, we'd be a de-evolution. Or…." His eyes sharpened in consideration. "As I've hypothesized, a horny Ancient or two diddled whatever tool bearing monkey that was around at the time and here we are. A cross-breeding. Of course, if we knew exactly when they left and when they returned and why we're still here if they ascended. Wouldn't we have ascended with them if we were one evolving race? Or were we still the flea picking, grub eating, stick waving white trash relatives that they were too embarrassed to haul with them? Sure, we'll be back for you. Here's our forwarding address. Check's in the mail. Don't let the fuzzy dice hit you in the ass." He snorted and shook his head before brightening. "But they did leave us some truly amazing toys."
"In other words, you don't have the gene, right?" I grinned, picking that pertinent fact out of all the morass of McKay ranting. A McRant if you will. They had McMuffins, why not McRants? Just substitute a Canadian astrophysicist for the Canadian bacon and you were set.
When it came to him not having the gene, I'd suspected as much when I was the only person turning things a glowing blue back at Cheyenne Mountain. There was no way McKay wouldn't have tossed a few in if he could. Born show off. I was one, too, and it took one to know one.
"I," he said with narrowed eyes and out-thrust chin, "am not included with the mutant throwbacks, no."
Yeah, this guy…I had to say I'd never met anyone like him. Simultaneously smug, conceited, a shithead of unbelievable proportions, but…don't ask me how there was a but, I don't have a clue. There was one though. A 'but.'
He was brilliant, sarcastic as hell, a complete dork around women, and he didn't let me get away with anything. Most people did. I had the occasional higher-up who hated my guts, but as a rule, I could charm anyone. To be more honest, manipulate anyone…especially female. Flash my cocky grin, bring up roller coasters for women (how fun and cute…and that little boy hair is just adorable) or beer, football, and flying with men (damn, he's cool. Babes, planes…he's Maverick without the Scientology.) It was pure survival instinct on my part…at least I hoped it was. I hoped it wasn't coldly intentional, that it was a result of more bases and schools than I could count. After all, the more you made them like you, the less likely they would leave you, right?
For your mom to leave you, you have to be one helluva loser. Obviously changes needed to be made and work needed to be done. Simple math, even for a kid. So, I did the calculation and then I did the work. And I'd never stopped.
A Texan Machiavelli or the remnants of a long gone kid doing his best to survive…whichever. I had my moments and they weren't all good. Rodney…shit, McKay…didn't fall for any of it. He couldn't care if I was a hotshot pilot, he didn't care I had several women in the cafeteria smiling and flirting with me at a distance. He didn't let me pull anything, didn't acknowledge my Joe Cool personality (probably thought charisma was just a hot actress on some TV show), and only listened to what I did say so he could immediately contradict it. He….
Damn it, that son of a bitch never did give me his jello.
The last thing about McKay was, well, he was entertaining…especially to see in action. He was all over the bridge of the Prometheus…a goddamn spaceship, I was never getting over that, swear to God…shooting questions like bullets, correcting anyone and everyone who was trying to do their job. Their hunched shoulders and expressions of panic and annoyance were immediate the instant they saw him coming. It didn't slow him down a bit. At one point he crawled under a console and started ripping things out, worked for all of two minutes, came back out and said caustically to the crewmember and room at large, "Now you won't end up in the center of a sun at the end of your next hyperdrive jump. Enjoy."
He was like the Energizer Bunny with the brain of Napoleon. Unflagging drive and the smarts to back it up—not to mention a dash of gleeful fascism. It was a good thing Canada was such a peaceful, civilized nation, because I had the feeling with McKay on their team, we could've easily ended up saying 'aboot' and saluting the Maple Leaf for the rest of our lives. Welcome to the Southern Canadian States, where Prime Minister McKay rules with an iron fist and impatiently snapping fingers.
Which he was doing right now. Snap snap. "Are you listening to me, Major? I realize this isn't a bar and you're withering away from lack of alcohol and petrified legumes, but this is important information I'm giving you."
I opened my mouth to give back as good as I'd got when I saw him. Her. It. At that point my mouth stayed open and my mind did a somersault then curdled a little. What the fuck? Seriously…what…the…fuck? I finally managed to get my mouth closed before any saliva escaped and said firmly if hoarsely, "If there are any anal probes on this ship, I want off. Now."
McKay rolled his eyes. "Says the man who tried to pick…er…borrow my 'salty snacks' last night." Then his gaze caught up with mine. "Ohhh. That's just Fenrir. He's an Asgard. Only one of them, Loki, ever did any probing. You're virtue is safe, Major, have no fear." He folded arms and leaned against the bulkhead. "Curious really, why their black sheep would be up to such tricks. Maybe the Asgard, having no genitals, have no…ah, other area…either. Maybe he was simply curious. Maybe…."
"Maybe he was studying to be a proctologist," I gritted. "I don't know and I don't care. It's an alien. A real live alien and it's naked." I didn't point at it…McKay said there were no probes aboard, but who really knew. No sense tempting fate. I did jerk my head in its direction though. "Naked." I looked away, looked back, looked away, and looked back again. "And smooth," I lowered my voice, more than a little disturbed. "It's all…smooth…down there. It's…holy shit. It's coming over here."
No, not coming. It was there. Right in front of me, impossibly large eyes studying me, and it… he… smelled. Not bad and it wasn't strong at all, but he definitely didn't smell like a human. In fact, he sort of smelled like root beer. Yeah, definitely root beer. A root beer smelling alien, hopefully without a probe, and he was staring at me. Finally, the small mouth moved. "I'd heard you located another human with a genetic mutation, Dr. McKay. I'd assumed you meant the ATA gene. I was unaware your scientific community had mapped the human genome for catastrophic follicular aberrations."
As McKay immediately gave an obnoxiously explosive, "Ha!" I ran a hand over my hair and scowled at the Asgard, "Hey, ET, at least I beat out a Ken doll for anatomical accessories. I've got a Disney song for you, pal. It's called the Bare Necessities. You should look into it."
"Whoops. Sore topic. Moving on." McKay snagged my arm and urged me across the room, muttering under his breath, "The Asgard don't have sex…well, they don't breed. Maybe they have sex. Maybe instead of bumping uglies they're bumping smoothies, I don't know. Either way, they don't reproduce. They've long lost the ability, the fertility. Whatever. Now they clone."
"Yeah, that's a shame, but it's no reason to pick on my hair." Women loved my hair, goddamnit. "Hell, they're bald. What do they have to be so smug about?"
"Oh, pretty much everything really," he said with dark cheer. "They even imagine their brains are superior to mine. Can you believe it? An entire race utterly deluded, but we need their help on occasion, so what can you do? Just muster up a little genital schadenfreude and you'll feel much better. Now." He stopped and faced me, bouncing on his heels. "Seen enough. Ready for the big toys?"
The thing was, I knew Rodney…McKay, I meant…McKay…oh fuck it. I knew Rodney could've just beamed us up and beamed us straight on to Antarctica. In fact, the Scotty-type member of the crew that did the beaming seemed confused when we didn't just go on. But Rodney had taken the time to show me around. He wouldn't give me his jello, by God, but he did give me a tour of the most amazing thing I'd seen in my life. He gave me time to wander the bridge, pointed things out (when he wasn't ripping them apart), and he'd let me….hell. He'd let me be a huge-ass tourist. No. A geek. He'd let me be a geek and just soak in what I'd dreamed of since I'd seen my first Star Wars movie.
It was better than jello.
"Yeah." I took another look around…still barely able to grasp that it was real. "I owe you, Rodney. So let's go sit in that chair of yours."
"Rodney?" he snorted and lifted haughty eyebrows. "You deny you want my peanuts, but that's a bit familiar and not exactly respectful of my station. I'm…."
"Dr. Rodney McKay. The Dr. Rodney McKay," I grinned. "I remember." One of my favorite movies when I was a teenager had been Ghostbusters. There'd been a scene where the con artist played by Bill Murray introduced himself as Dr. Peter Venkmen, his colleague as Dr. Raymond Stantz, and the most brilliant of the team, with more doctorates than he could carry, as plain Egon. Hey, if it worked for Bill Murray….
"So, just how cold is it down there…Rodney?" I asked innocently.
He frowned and shot back caustically, "Enough that you'll soon be joining the ranks of the Asgard, so button up." Caustic, yes, but there was a glitter in his eyes that was almost pleased. I doubted he got back as good as he gave very often. That mouth would scare the hell out of your average geek underling. And the military weren't allowed to shoot him. The man probably didn't get a lot of dialogue going on in his life. He was all monologue, and that had to be kind of boring, especially for a man as smart as he claimed he was. It would also be a little lonely.
Less than forty-five seconds later I found out how cold it was. Even inside where the conditions were supposed to be livable. It was one helluva change from Vegas and made the Colorado we'd just left look balmy.
"Okay, Fuck the chair. Send me back. Preferably to Hawaii. Any beach with a luau will do." My teeth chattered and I zipped up the coat they'd given me on the Prometheus.
"Ah, yes. I'm sure there's no citrus anywhere there." Face turning pink with the cold, McKay slapped gloved hands together. "All right, bubble boy, let's see what you can really do."
We walked through the huge space. Although it looked as if it had been hollowed out of ice, there was the occasional metal arch inscribed with odd symbols. People were milling about, working on machinery or computers. No one gave us a second glance; although a few people bolted off the instant they saw us. One of them had a shock of brown hair, heavy curved eyebrows, and soulful blue eyes. He looked to be a bit pudgy under his heavy coat, but he could sprint with the best of them.
"Oh, fine, Carson. Run away, you coward," McKay called after him. "Big baby," he muttered under his breath. "He blows up one Russian satellite and you can't get him near the chair now."
"Russian satellite? You're shitting me, right? The one that dropped a flaming chunk that missed that cruise ship by less than fifty feet?" I said nonplussed.
"Please. It was sixty-five feet and I'm sure great entertainment for Gopher and Captain Stubing." He nudged me back into motion and then there was the chair. It was metal and crystal and looked for all the world like Darth Vader's barcalounger.
"So," I said slowly, "how did this thing have anything to do with blowing up a satellite?"
"It links to everything in this Ancient outpost. Everything…if we could get it to work…including weapons systems. Just don't think about blowing things up and you'll be fine." He nudged again, then pushed when I didn't move fast enough to suit him. "Sit, make yourself at home, take a load off. Whatever. Just turn the damn thing on, would you?" he ordered impatiently.
And I got it. To him, this was as amazing as the Prometheus was to me. Except I'd been on the Prometheus and McKay could only press his nose to the glass here. He didn't have the gene. I'd flown on a spaceship, but to Rodney his ship was sailing overhead while he was firmly and futilely stuck on the ground. That had to suck pretty badly for him.
"Okay, okay. Sitting." I sat gingerly as I did my best to think about nothing, which would hopefully equal not destroying Russian satellites. As soon as I sat, the seat back reclined and the whole thing glowed to life. I shot a nervous look at McKay, trying to ascertain that all satellites were still safely in orbit. He didn't seem worried, in fact, he seemed rather pleased.
"Good. Now, think about….think about where we are in the solar system. Think about Earth."
I was going to. I had every intention of it. But I had one thought that slid into home first. Cold. I was still cold as hell.
Abruptly the blue glow brightened. From the chair. The floor. The walls. The ceiling. The room beyond the doorway. Everything. The light shone through the ice with an intensity that had it cracking, melting and pouring to the floor in watery waves. Metal and crystal walls were revealed, mosaics, more machinery. There was massive hum as the entire outpost came to life and warm air drifted around us like a blanket.
Rodney, bathed in blue light looked around, his mouth open, eyes unbelieving, before looking back at me. I grinned and then we both said it simultaneously.
x x x x x
I don't like people. I tolerated them, I put up with them, I endured them because, unfortunately, there are only twenty-four hours in a day, I only have two hands and two eyes, and eventually I run out of clean underwear and need to eat. But as a general rule, I don't like people. And actually, that's okay, because to be perfectly fair, people don't like me. Hard to believe, considering how I have all but devoted my life to finding ways to improve theirs, but it's true. For some reason they wanted their geniuses to be brilliant as well as charismatic, thought provoking while self-deprecating, outspoken and yet soft spoken. They wanted to place Albert Einstein, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa in a blender and create a scientist smart enough to save the world on principle alone and, while he's at it, give them all a hug. Well, sorry, I liked food and I didn't like hanging out with people with communicable diseases, so they would just have to settle for the I.Q. and skip the PDA and thank their lucky stars that I decided to use my powers for good instead of ruling the world from a secret lair in a dormant volcano. That's just the way it was, me domineering, them quaking, work getting done, progress being made.
Until I met John Sheppard.
For two and a half weeks, I had been working with the man. Actually working with him. Not me dictating and him groveling. Not me dazzling him with my intellectual prowess and him basking in my glory. Not him hiding and me dragging him by the scruff of the neck to cower before the equipment. But actually accomplishing what we set out to do on a daily basis.
Oh sure, he'd been plenty dazzled by the Prometheus but that was to be expected from anyone who had argued as a child over who got to be Han and who had to be the Wookie. And as wary as he'd been about sitting in the chair, he did it, unlike some Scottish sheep huggers that shall remain nameless. I swear to God, he shoots down one satellite…one!.. and you'd think the world was coming to an end. I've been to Russia; the television reception sucked when the satellite was still in orbit, so it evidently wasn't doing much for them to begin with. Besides, it's not like there's anything worth watching from Western networks anyway. But Sheppard had sat in the chair, and aside from threatening the melt the polar ice caps, which I assured Elizabeth was very unlikely to happen in actuality…at least I was ninety percent sure it wasn't going to happen.. nothing cataclysmic had occurred.
Nothing except that I found I actually enjoyed hanging out with him. I mean, I wasn't going to propose marriage or anything, but for the first time in years I found myself looking forward to working with someone as opposed to just wishing I could clone myself and do away with the minions. He was smart, in a borderline idiot savant sort of way. He was confident, in a 'my hair looks good doing an impersonation of a porcupine in heat' sort of way. And he was amusing in a 'no, seriously, my hair looks good like this' sort of way. He did what I asked, he didn't back down, and he didn't take shit from my staff, from the Marines, or from me. Especially from me. It was like he took great pleasure in pushing my buttons instead of avoiding them like most people did. And that was… unexpected… and ultimately refreshing.
Carson, however, was on the verge of dropping on one knee and breaking out the prenup, which would have said I'll do anything you want as long as you keep Rodney from asking me to activate another piece of Ancient technology. Major John Sheppard was the answer to his prayers and dreams all in one. A uniform-clad savior with the genetic makeup to finally put his theories of an ATA gene therapy to the test. Carson didn't have to sit in the chair, or try to activate a device or even button up his coat in his lab for that matter since Sheppard had arrived. And he had collected enough blood from the Major that I was surprised the man wasn't collapsing from anemia in the lab. Just the day before, I had been looking for Sheppard to help with one of the consoles we had uncovered during his great defrosting episode. When I called for him on the radio, Carson answered instead.
"It will be a bit longer before Major Sheppard can come help you, Rodney."
"Why is that?" I demanded suspiciously. "And more importantly, why the hell are you answering for him?"
"The Major is feeling a tad…woozy right now."
Pushing the Czech guy with the ridiculously long name out of my way, I started toward the infirmary. "Godammit, Carson, did you break him? Because I told you if you kept tapping him like a maple tree, you were going to damage him."
"I'm not a remote control car, McKay," Sheppard slurred across the airwaves, "He can't break me."
"If anyone could, it would be Count Beckulla, the Scottish vampire," I countered.
"If anything, the Major is on the verge of exhaustion, Rodney. He doesn't need to be working in the labs until the wee hours of the morning. And neither do you for that matter."
"He's working the same hours I am, Carson and I'm not feeling 'woozy'." I rounded a corner as I formed air quotes and nearly collided with Grodin who turned and started trailing after me.
"You did get lightheaded last night," the Major reminded me.
"I did not." My chin rose, even if he couldn't see me. "I simply felt like putting my head down on the table in frustration."
My defense obviously did little to convince our chief medical officer. "Did you skip dinner again?"
"It may have slipped my mind." Frowning, I shoved the folder Peter had handed me back into his chest without even opening it.
"Rodney, how many times do I have to remind you to eat? You know you're blood sugar drops dangerously low…"
"Dangerous is such a dramatic word," I protested across the radio.
Grodin, who was still matching me pace for pace as I made my way through the base, snorted. "You claimed you were defying death simply standing in line when I took the last muffin at breakfast last week."
With narrowed eyes at the Brit, I inquired, "Aren't you supposed to be finishing up a report on the power consumptions of a fully operational base?" He pressed the folder back in my hands and I glowered harder.
"Whoa, what do mean dangerous?" Sheppard cut in as I flipped the report open while I walked.
"You mean he didn't tell you? Dr. McKay is hypoglycemic, Major."
"No, he failed to mention that," Sheppard drawled meaningfully in my ear.
"He tells everyone else." Grodin's mumble beside me earned him another glare.
Carson's explanation had Sheppard asking, "So this hypoglycemia, that's bad?"
"Well, it's not as serious as his heart condition…"
"Carson, have you even heard of patient/doctor confidentiality?" Turning back to Grodin, I slammed the folder shut. "According to your calculations on page three, we'll be consuming enough energy to suck a white dwarf dry in fifty years. For some reason, I doubt that's the case."
"I didn't extrapolate the power usage for fifty years; I only did it for five."
"Rather short sighted of you, then. Redo it. And run the calcs by Simpson before you bring it back to me. I have more important things to do than read rough drafts."
Peter gritted his teeth and grumbled, "It's not a linear relationship, Rodney."
"Prove it." I pushed the folder back at him and walked through the infirmary door, leaving him hovering in the hall.
"And you call me a bubble boy," Sheppard scoffed from where he sat a little glassy-eyed and propped up on a hospital bed with an ice pack on his neck.
"Am I fainting in the middle of the day? No, I don't think so. When I do, then you have permission to ridicule. Until then, just lay there and practice focusing on moving objects."
A technician walked past me and Sheppard took the offered cup. "I didn't faint," he growled. "I just stood up a little too fast after the last blood draw. And evidently the only reason you didn't is because you horded all the pudding at lunch."
"I gave you the red jello, didn't I?" Reaching out, I snatched the cup from his hand before he could take a sip and tuned my anger on the technician. "What the fuck is this? I've heard of shirking work but sending patients straight to the reaper is taking that concept to the extreme, don't you think?"
"Rodney, what's the problem?"
At Carson's question, I stuck the paper cup irately under his nose. "Orange juice, Carson." Turning back to the tech I poked a finger in his chest. "You like having heat in here don't you? Then you might not want to kill off the damn thermostat."
"Rodney, I'll handle this," Carson assured me then led the technician away for a lecture on patient's charts and allergy warnings.
"Uh, thanks, McKay," Sheppard said sheepishly. "I guess I wasn't paying attention."
"It's a wonder you made it to adulthood. Natural selection should have culled you from the herd years ago. But seeing as your hair defies the laws of physics, I shouldn't be surprised to see that the rest of you has defied the laws of nature."
"I do have a problem with following the rules," he smirked. "You should read my personnel file."
"I have." His face darkened at the news and I informed him simply. "I'm the lead scientist on this expedition, Sheppard. I attend the senior staff meetings. Did you think your service record wouldn't come up when we were discussing bringing you along on the trip through the worm hole?"
"And what's the consensus?"
"Me, personally, I couldn't care less. You could have been storing parts of door-to-door salesmen in your freezer to eat as a side dish to your Lean Cuisines; I would have simply proposed we muzzle you a la Hannibal Lecter and dollied you through the gate on a hand truck. That's how badly we need your ATA gene. Elizabeth and Carson feel pretty much the same way. Sumner is the only one that has any problem with it but O'Neill outranks him and Elizabeth out finesses him, so your transfer paperwork should be coming in sometime this week."
"You can't be stationed at Nellis and on the far side of the galaxy at the same time, that's a little conspicuous. So you'll be officially transferred to McMurdo like most of the military on the expedition."
With a grimace, he removed the ice pack and rolled his neck. "The Colonel isn't going to happy with that."
"Like I said, Sumner doesn't have a leg to stand on with his protests," I assured him. "Considering that Miko number two took the transdimensional express to make sure you do go to Atlantis, no one has much of a valid argument against you going. In fact, you're the only one that can say no at this point seeing as it's a strictly voluntary mission."
"Not Colonel Sumner, Colonel Sheppard." When I furrowed my brow in confusion, he went on to explain. "My dad, Rodney. He used up his last silver bullet to arrange to have me stationed in Vegas instead of Antarctica. And now I'm requesting to be transferred here?" Swinging his legs off the bed, he shook his head. "This is pretty much going to blow the cease fire we've had for the past year."
"Oh." What else could I say? Families…families pretty much sucked in my book. And evidently they weren't too high on the list of favorite things for Sheppard either. "Well, in all fairness, you won't actually be here but on a top secret, first of its kind mission to another galaxy. Of course, he won't be allowed to know that. But the fact remains…"
"He isn't one to let facts get in the way of the official record." Standing, he put a hand on the bed to steady himself and changed the subject. "Now, do you still need me to look at that console?"
"Yes. That is, if you feel up to it."
He seemed to consider it for a few seconds then finally said. "You know, I'm not so sure I do. I think I'm going to head back to my quarters for a little while. I'll meet you in a couple of hours."
"Sure," I granted weakly. Not that I knew him that well, but it was the first time I had seen Sheppard unsure of anything and the lack of his usual cockiness was admittedly a little unnerving. He simply nodded and headed toward the door somewhat unsteadily. "Major," I called after him and he stopped without turning around. "For what it's worth, I do prefer facts to official reports. And I think you did the right thing in Afghanistan."
He still didn't turn but he seemed to straighten slightly. "I'll see you in a few hours, Rodney." And he was gone.
When he finally did show up, he was back to his old self and I decided to let the whole transfer issue slide. Who needed to get all emotionally touchy feely about these things anyway? It just complicated matters and things were complicated enough without them what with the tech and the preparations and the other issues both personal and professional that I had to deal with.
Sheppard's paperwork came in right under the gun. Not surprisingly, the United States Air Force runs their administrative department with the same harrowing precision as an air show fighter jet team… hold the formation until the last possible second then veer off into the clouds to avoid a collision. It was the day before we were to leave, all personnel were to report to the SGC having made their arrangements and said their goodbyes in what we all hoped was a temporary but had accepted as a potentially permanent deployment.
The Major had disappeared as soon as the papers came in and, after a little investigating, I tracked him down outside, sitting on a patch of grass on the hillside above the Mountain, flipping a coin. He snatched it from the air when I walked up behind him. "Why don't you just go ahead and scale Pike's Peak next time? I think the climb would have been just as difficult."
"We can see the parking lot from here, McKay. That hardly qualifies as arduous."
"I'm not a field person," I huffed as I sat next to him. "Why do you think I chose theoretical physics as a profession? It's not like you think you're going to get a lot of chance to practice these sorts of things hands on when you're writing your dissertation."
"You will tomorrow," he grinned.
With a flick of eyebrows and a flash of smile, I concurred, "I know."
"So, all ready for the big trip?"
With my less than animated response, his eyebrows rose. "Yeah, I can just feel the excitement coming off of you in waves."
"I had to give my cat to my neighbor last night," I admitted morosely.
"You have a cat?" he asked in genuine surprise.
"Had a cat," I corrected. "And don't seem so shocked."
"You just don't seem like the type of person that would have a pet, that's all."
"So how exactly do you picture my life away from the labs, Major? Sitting alone in my apartment wearing a t-shirt and boxers, eating a meal of dry toast and beer in the dark?"
He shrugged. "Pretty much, except now I picture a cat rubbing up against your ankle while you do it."
"Really? That's really what you think my life is like?"
"Hell, McKay, I honestly can't picture you away from the lab, period. The only time I haven't seen you in it is when you go replenish yourself on dessert foods and caffeine in the cafeteria. And seeing as I'm not sure how that's keeping you alive, it amazes me that you could keep anything else alive, either."
"I managed to keep your sorry ass from going into anaphylactic shock, didn't I?"
At my bristling tone he rolled his eyes. "Yes, you did. And I'm sorry if the Distinguished Service Medal didn't go through. Evidently my pull isn't what it used to be with the big wigs back in Washington."
"It's because I'm Canadian, isn't it?" I grumbled in mock outrage. "Nationalist bastards."
"Yeah, that must be it."
Returning the grin he gave me I eyed the folder with his transfer papers meaningfully. "So, I heard your paperwork finally came through."
"Leave it to the Air Force to wait until the last possible minute to tell you where you're going."
"And are you going?" I tried to keep the anxiousness the coin in his hand brought out in me.
Realizing why I was asking, he flicked the coin again, fisting it tightly when he caught it without even looking at it. "Believe it or not, I made up my mind to go the day I met you, McKay. I mean the day I actually met you and not the drunken crackpot who thought I was whoring myself for peanuts and classified information."
"Believe me, it wasn't as far fetched a conclusion as you seem to think it was."
"I'm starting to see that."
Was that a compliment? I mean, I wasn't unfamiliar with being told I was a genius but his appraisal seemed to be more than just an assessment of my intellect. Caught off guard and fighting to cover how flustered I found myself, I flicked a hand toward his fist. "Then what's with the coin?"
"Just trying to decide a few other things before I go. You know, every ending is a new beginning sort of stuff," he told me philosophically.
"And are you debating the beginnings or the endings?"
"Little of both," was his cryptic answer.
He wobbled his head enigmatically. "Depends."
"Well, then, I'll take that as my cue to leave you the hell alone." I stood and brushed at the dampness that had soaked into my pants from sitting on the grass then started down the hill back toward the base.
"I'll see you at the gate tomorrow, McKay."
And sure enough, he did. I watched him from the Control Room as he tentatively approached the gate while that kid Marine… Ford, I think… flopped into the event horizon as if it were a swimming pool, saw the slight wince as he scrunched his eyes closed against the trip through the wormhole, and stepped through himself. I was in the first wave of scientists that came in behind him, falling into step at his heels as he moved forward, gun in hand and the steps of a dormant city awoke with his footfalls. We both froze when it happened, shared a quick glance of wonder and amazement, the same way we had when he sat down in the control chair and the ice melted and the water started to flow. And just like that day, I could see he was thinking the same thing I it didn't stay cool for long and the water started flowing in Atlantis, as well. Only this time, it was an entire ocean's worth that was crashing in on us and threatening to drown us all if we didn't do something fast. The city was submerged, which was one of the most incredible things I had ever seen, as was the shield that was holding back the Atlantean sea…except for the fact that it was failing and the ZedPMs in the power bank were on their last leg. And suddenly all the wonders of the city- a hangar full of spaceships, the architecture and spires we could see in the distance, even the blue-lit steps and sliding doors fell to the backburner as we fought to connect the generators to the control stations and DHD so the city would respond.
"Get Miko number two up here," I called across the radio, "and see if she can help us. Her expedition obviously survived this." She had refused to tell us anything about what had happened when we were back on Earth, claiming she feared impacting the expedition if she did. But she had promised to help us once we were on the other side of the gate if we would take her back with us. And now it was time for her to live up to her promise. Then something dawned on me. "And Sheppard, get him up here too. Maybe this was why it was so critical that he come along."
"You mean it wasn't just for my sense of style and winning personality?"
I rolled my eyes as Sheppard walked up behind me, oddly relieved that he was there. "Yes, we just needed someone to stand around and look pretty. John Sheppard, Atlantean spokesmodel." Crawling back under the console, I started connecting wires from the generator to the panel. "Where have you been, anyway?"
"Checking out the ships with the Mikos." He flicked his eyebrows excitedly.
Patting a hand on the floor for a pair of pliers, I asked him, "Do you think you can fly them?"
He squatted and placed the tool in my hand. "Do you think it will come to that?"
Yeah, I really thought it would. And that would suck on so many levels I didn't want to think about it. So, instead I told him, "Just stick close, okay?" The reasons why I wanted him to were something else I really didn't want to think about and seeing as I was neck deep in trying to keep us all from being neck deep in water, I really didn't have time to think about it either.
"I was kind of thinking the same thing," he admitted with a frown.
"Well, unless I can get these generators to connect up or you think the Miko twins can call forth Mothra to fly us to safety, it might be our only chance. "
"Dr. McKay?" A wary feminine voice called above me.
"Seeing as I'm the only one working around here, that's a pretty safe bet," I snapped but peering out to see a shy Asian face looking down at me, I amended quickly, "Oh, good, it's you. So tell me, how did I stop this in your reality when we came through the gate?"
"Oh, no, Dr. McKay, I'm Miko number one." She pointed to the 'Hello My Name Is Miko 1' nametag she was wearing. If only Elizabeth had let me write one and two on their foreheads with indelible ink like I had wanted, I wouldn't have had these sorts of problems.
The sorts of problems I didn't have time to deal with at the moment. "Well, then where's the other one?"
"Gone?" I clambered out from under the control panel. "What do you mean gone? Where could she go?"
"She went into the spaceship, the one with the strange console, and just disappeared."
"Disappeared?" Sheppard asked in amazement. "The ship too?"
"Yes. And then I found this next to where the craft had been parked." She opened the duffle bag she was carrying and pulled out a ZedPM. A ZedPM. She was holding a goddamn ZedPM in her hands.
"You do realize what that is, don't you?" At my question she nodded her head vigorously. "And you do understand that we're all going to die without one of those, right?" Once again she gave me a wide-eyed nod. "Then what the fuck are you still doing standing here? Go install that damn thing!"
People. I swear to God. No wonder I had no use for them. She scampered off at my order with me hot on her heels. And true to his word, Sheppard was right there beside me.
Well, I considered as we jogged through the hallway of an alien city, thinking for the first time in several hours that we may just live after all, maybe I had a use for at least one.
x x x x x
"Miko, it is time to go."
"One moment more," I requested of the man standing in the doorway as I read over the message I was leaving in the database.
To my dear friends and colleagues of the Atlantis Expedition:
It is my fervent hope that this message finds you all well and that my plan has worked as I had hoped it would. You must forgive me, Dr. Weir, for I went against the orders spelled out by Stargate Command. I can tell you, now that the time is past and the deed is done, that I was supposed to send you all to your deaths. In my reality, the quantum rift that allowed me to travel to your reality was caused by a malfunction of a time travel device that the Ancients had developed and left on Atlantis when they abandoned her ten thousand years ago. This occurred when Atlantis flooded and did not rise from the ocean when the expedition first entered the city. In my reality, Dr. Weir traveled back in time ten thousand years and met a very kind and wonderful man named Janus who helped her by activating a failsafe that allowed the city to rise when people returned and configured the ZPM bank so that there would be minimal power remaining in the city from a lone ZPM. However, for this to occur, Dr. Weir had to stay behind in stasis and awaken every three thousand years to adjust the ZPMs. Unfortunately, everyone else on that first attempt died. In my reality, we believed that Colonel John Sheppard was the pilot of the Gateship that transported Dr. Weir back in time. We also believe that since no one had any memory of Colonel Sheppard but only records that had yet to be affected by the rift, that he did not go through the gate, and without him there to pilot the Gateship, there was no way for Dr. Weir to travel back and ensure that the city rose. So, it was my mission to travel into your reality and make sure that Colonel Sheppard did in fact take part in the expedition. And in that, I am proud to say, I was successful.
However, I could not stand by and watch everyone die again in your reality. When I originally crossed over through the quantum rift, I brought with me a ZPM to power the gate and allow me to travel between Atlantis and Earth. Fearing that a fully charged ZPM would alter what happened in your reality, I was directed to place the ZPM on a feedback loop so that it would eventually drain. I did as I was told. However, I must beg forgiveness as I did not travel back the two months before the expedition was to depart as I was supposed to in order to give it time to drain. Instead, as you know, I arrived a few weeks before the departure date. Therefore, the ZPM was only partially drained to a state similar to the one that was left behind for the expedition in my reality.
This would mean there was no reason for Dr. Weir to travel back in time and attend to the ZPM bank and no reason for everyone else to die. However, I could not leave the Gateship capable of time travel with you as that could potentially change your history. So, I took it back to the time of the Ancients to make sure of two things; the time travel device that caused the rift was destroyed and the failsafe was activated to allow the city to rise. As I had hoped, both have now been accomplished. It has also allowed me to avoid the entropic cascade failure that was inevitable if I had remained in your time with my alternate self. Therefore, I beg your forgiveness in disobeying the orders given me, but I hope that you understand that I had only the best intentions and the well-being of the expedition in mind when I did so.
As to Colonel Sheppard. I have thought long and hard as to why it was necessary for him to come on the expedition now that I have taken the need for his piloting skills out of the equation for the initial survival of the expedition. It is my deepest belief that his role goes well beyond that one simple act. Although I cannot remember exactly what he did on our expedition as the quantum rift had impacted our memories by the time I left, I cannot help but think it was significant seeing as he was a Colonel in my time and reality and only a Major at the time of the expedition here in yours. But I also firmly believe that his military skills are only a portion of his impact on the people of this mission, in particular Dr. McKay. This is why I left a personal 'note' for Major Sheppard and Dr. McKay in the Major's pocket while we were working on the Gateships prior to my departure. I hope I was not being too forward when I did that, but I felt it was important that they understand how things were in my reality prior to the rift and now that the rift has been repaired, I trust they have returned to the way they should be.
Atlantis is an amazing city. Having seen it at its most brilliant here in the past, I can only say that you have much to look forward to in your exploration. I consider myself most fortunate to have had the opportunity to see it this way. And although I cannot tell you more, I must let Dr. McKay and Dr. Zelenka and all my other colleagues know that you have only just scratched the surface of what she is capable of accomplishing and I am most envious that I will not be there to share your excitement when you do. You will also have many hardships ahead of you but I have included the addresses of five planets that currently have known functioning ZPMs so that they may be of assistance to you in the time to come.
And with this final farewell, I must depart Atlantis once again. This time I am returning to Earth with the Ancients and a new and exciting adventure. It has been my greatest honor and privilege to work with you all in both realities and please know that I will miss everyone but look forward to what is to come.
Most respectfully yours,
"Miko, we really must be leaving now."
Saving the message, I turned and smiled up at Janus who was standing with his hands on my shoulder. "I am ready."
"I truly believe they will be fine," he offered with a small encouraging squeeze.
"So do I," I agreed with a pat to his hand. "You did set the failsafe, correct?"
"It is set. When they install the ZPM you left for them, the failsafe will activate and the city will begin the process of rising."
"And the time travel technology has been destroyed?" Just in case there was a failure for some other reason, I needed to make sure the quantum rift wouldn't form in my original reality and my mission would be a success.
At my question, he sighed gloomily. "Yes, per the Council's directions, I have destroyed all my work."
Not all of it, I thought to myself as I fingered the smooth device I carried in the pocket of my robe. But I would let that be a surprise once we made it through to the other side of the gate back on Earth. He still had another Gateship to build once we arrived back there to allow the SG1 team to travel back and leave the fully charged ZPM that would eventually make its way back to Atlantis via the Daedalus and save us from the Wraith.
Evidently I wasn't very good at covering my thoughts because he narrowed his eyes. "You know something you are not telling me."
Trying my best to hide the emotions on my face I reminded him. "The others are waiting. As you said, we must go."
"Very well, but I will get it out of you somehow. I am a very persistent man."
"Soon," I promised as I slipped my hand comfortably into his.
"I will hold you to your word." And this time the smile had a bit of mischief behind it.
He dimmed the lights in his lab and we walked through the corridors to the gate room hand in hand. I was still amazed by how similar and yet how different the city looked here in the time when it was inhabited by its creators, like Ryugu when Ryo-Wo still held court. And never had I felt more like Princess Otohime than with Janus by my side. The gate activated as we entered the embarkation room and we fell into line with the others leaving for another galaxy. It was odd, to be leaving a city that had been my home for several years to return to the planet of my birth that would be as foreign as Atlantis had been when I first stepped foot through the gate all those years ago, ten thousand years in the future.
With a final lingering look back, I stepped through the gate to the Earth of my past, to an unknown future and their intersection that was now my present.
x x x x x
From the moment I'd met Rodney McKay it had been a wild ride.
Stargate Command. The Prometheus. The Ancient Antarctic stronghold. The Stargate to another galaxy.
And all of it, in my mind, was so inextricably linked with a certain astrophysicist that they all went hand in hand. One simple 'pass the peanuts' and I almost die in another galaxy. I mean, I know it didn't happen that way. With or without Rodney passing out in a hotel bar, I'd had my orders. I still would've made it to the SGC.
The flip of a coin, though, that was a different matter. I'd told Rodney I'd already made my decision about Pegasus before I started tossing the quarter, but that there were other decisions to be made too. One of those decisions got me punched in the nose. Maybe I deserved it, maybe I didn't, but either way, the pain of a busted nose is exquisite. It almost takes your mind off the fact you're sitting on your ass on the floor, having been knocked there by the head science geek while in front of several marines.
It doesn't happen that way in movies. The hero doesn't come back from the literal brink of death, messy, nuclear death at that, only to be punched in the nose for his trouble. I guess Rodney didn't waste much time on watching movies…like I'd said, he was one wild ride.
We'd almost died from moment one. The city's shields began to falter, flooding began, and I wasn't the only one to think we'd walked through the gate only to die. But then the city had risen…some sort of failsafe a fuzzy little Czech guy had said—'my own indomitable genius,' Rodney had contradicted. Either way, Sumner had wanted some options in case the city didn't stay afloat. We'd gone to Athos, gained Teyla with my charm and love of rollercoasters, lost Sumner through sheer shitty irony. Woke the Wraith…one of the many things the other Miko hadn't told us about. We'd seen planets and people that, in the end, were more like us than they were different from us. Unfortunately the most like us had turned out to be the Genii. For all I hated their guts, I recognized my own kind when I saw us in a mirror. I recognized myself.
The scraps of their nuclear bombs had helped us take out one hive ship though. That was something. It hadn't been enough, but it had been something. Then the Daedalus had arrived right in the nick of time. And then, like in the best of all soap operas, we'd faked our own death.
The city had been emptied of Wraith.
Of some people, too. Gone. Food or dead. Ford was still in a coma from the earlier attack by the lone Wraith. Bates had been infected with the Wraith enzyme. Big and coolly angry before, now he was…something magnified. Colder. More full of rage. Bigger. Twisted.
We'd lost a lot, but not as many or as much as anyone thought we would. We'd survived. Against every fucking odd, we'd survived.
And I'd come back…just as I'd promised Rodney I would. I was good at making promises and mostly I kept them. This time…this time I'd known I'd just wrapped a lie in bright paper and shiny ribbon and called it something it most definitely was not: the truth.
Yeah, I'd lied to him because at the time he'd needed it. And, damn it, I'd needed it too. I'd needed that lie so fucking badly.
We'd come back from the Brotherhood planet…one of the five planets Miko Two had told us about in her message we'd found a few weeks earlier… and Rodney had been an unholy mess. At first, I hadn't been able to decide if he was more upset that I, not him, had solved the puzzle or that that Brotherhood chick had used him.
"I thought she'd liked me," he'd said plaintively. Drunkenly…with his head in my lap. Alcohol, it's so clever at getting us to do and admit what we don't even want to admit to ourselves. We'd sat in that Ancient star viewing room, drinking and wondering how long we had to live, when Rodney had toppled over, the back of his head impacting my upper legs…luckily only my legs as he fell pretty damn hard.
"I thought she liked me," he'd said, eyes confused, with short hair a mess and arms folded defensively across his chest. "I really thought she liked me. You said she liked me." It had been mournful, accusing, and woebegone beyond the imagining. In vino veritas, right? What Rodney would have never let slip from his lips sober had been pulled out reluctantly now. Another victim of Kavanagh's hooch goes down.
I'd sighed and patted his chest lightly. "She did like you, Casanova," I'd told him. "She just liked duty more. Look at it from her point of view. If some hot thing came along and asked you to give up what you value you most, would you?"
He'd glared at me with eyes bloodshot from fermented alien potatoes and then the glare faded. "Sometimes they're the same thing," he'd said simply.
It had been almost like an echo, but not. As if he'd said this…no…as if he'd not said this before, but said something so close to being the same. And I'd thought of Miko…thousands of them in thousands of universes. Thousands of Johns and Rodneys too…doing/not doing. Saying/not saying. The coin toss going one way then another. How can you do the right thing, say the right words, be the right person, if someone doesn't give you a goddamn handbook to go with all those choices? How can you?
Miko Two had tried, with that photo she had smuggled across time and space and slipped silently into my pocket before disappearing to the past to save us all, but even she had only known one thing for sure. And, timing, well, it can be everything. And as we'd seen, sometimes people were in the same places in the different dimensions and sometimes they weren't. I'd imagined I lived in lots of them and died in an equal amount.
Miko had only known her world, and barely remembered bits of it at that. She didn't know ours. But I'd gotten a grip on it fast. It was dangerous and no insurance company in existence would hand out a policy here. I was military. I was here to protect the scientists, protect the geeks, protect that annoying one in particular that somehow I'd ended up spending all my time with. I was the wall between the Wraith and our people.
Walls are torn down. Just torn the fuck down…all the time.
It hadn't stopped me from repeating his words in my mind…sometimes they're the same thing.
I'd leaned back and felt my bones melt a little. Long day, a moderate amount of alcohol, a helluva lot of regret, and a warm lap…McKay put off heat like a furnace…it wasn't conducive to a high degree of alertness. Just as I'd begun to doze, he'd shifted in my lap and wrapped a hand loosely around my wrist. "There's a reason that I didn't notice Alina at first," he'd offered quietly. "I'm a social moron, I know, but I'm not completely hopeless."
That's when it had hit me. He'd been thinking, but just not about what I'd guessed. Not about being dumped for a ZPM or pulling in second on a puzzle. He'd been thinking what I'd been thinking since I'd found Miko's message. Hell, to be honest, what I'd been thinking before I'd found Miko's crumpled bit of paper.
"No?" I'd tilted my head. His hand had been warm on my skin, his fingers textured with calluses. Acid, electrical burns, building fembots, those things leave their mark.
"No." He'd wanted to be exasperated, I could tell. Wanted to snap his fingers, twirl that manic hand. But he hadn't. For all the typical McKay impatience, for once he'd been afraid of what he might hear. Rodney wasn't one for long bouts of internal reflection, to say the least. Then Chaya came along, and I'd done what I'd thought was best for everyone's sanity. It hadn't done any good, and I'd thought I'd seen that light bulb flare behind his eyes then. As he'd said…social moron, but not hopeless.
At that point, we'd had two weeks until the Wraith arrived. Two. There was no way to fight them, at least not the kind of fight you'd walk away from. We'd probably end up evacuating everyone we could through the stargate…assuming we could find someplace to evacuate to. As I watched, my geeks would disappear through the event horizon, probably with Rodney bitching the whole way. I'd send every man I could through with them, but someone would have to bring up the rear. And the people who do that…the ones who make up the wall…yeah.
He had asked, and there could only be one answer. One promise. One lie.
Two weeks with me…just try to get him through the gate then, especially considering the message Miko had left. I'd known how much damage I could cause to Rodney. The Wraith were imminent, death with pale skin and soulless eyes, and yet it had been somehow possible for me to actually make things harder for him…should he survive. I hadn't been able to do that. Not to Rodney. Wouldn't. Couldn't.
My lips had curved slightly and I'd run a thumb lightly along the line of that pugnacious jaw. I hadn't been able to see the bristle but I had felt the invisible prick of it against my skin. Rodney had changeable eyes. From a distance they almost looked hazel, but up close they were blue. Clear blue but for a single brown speck near the pupil of the left one. Usually they were dark with irritation and impatience, then they had been dark with something else. Hope. Fear. An almost belligerent vulnerability. And other things…better things…things meant only for me.
I'd leaned forward until my forehead rested against his and closed my eyes. His free hand had come up to tightly cup the back of my neck, and we had stayed that way for minutes, maybe longer. His breath had been warm against my ear, soft and even until it had finally hitched slightly. "So…time for the big lie?" He had tried hard…he really had. And he'd almost pulled it off. It had been breezy and casual, cracking only the tiniest amount at the end.
I had exhaled, opened my eyes and straightened. I'd slid my hand through his grip until I could link fingers, promising quietly, "After the Wraith. When we're safe. We'll do things that will have Zelenka crying for his mommy, we'll make the backseat of every jumper unsafe for human habitation, and I'll be all over your peanuts." Then I'd grinned. It hadn't been a false one. It had been utterly genuine and real, because it hadn't been for me. It had been for Rodney.
He had smiled back…it was faint and crooked as always, but it was there. "You give great lie, Major. Don't let anyone tell you different." He closed his eyes, but his hand stayed firmly almost desperately wrapped around mine as he demanded obstinately, "And I want to see whatever the hell it was that Miko Two left you."
But I hadn't shown it to him then for the same reasons I hadn't shown it to him when I first found it in my pocket after shooting my CO in the head. At that moment, I knew the universe was filled with monsters, real ones that could have stepped straight off the screen of a Wes Craven horror flick. And what I'd seen in the photo…what I'd seen the other John and Rodney had…well, as much as I might have wanted it, it was a luxury that we couldn't afford. It was always the horny teens in those slasher movies that were the first to buy the farm. And I wasn't going to fall prey to the same hormonal inattentiveness that took them out in the end. So, I'd kept the note to myself and Rodney in the dark and he would have stayed that way if Miko hadn't spilled the beans in her farewell to Pegasus message we had found in the abandoned lab several weeks before. Ever since then, he hadn't let up about the damn thing and I hadn't given in. I'd told him I'd never found a note, that it must have been destroyed in the laundry, that she must have slipped it into someone else's pocket…any lie I could come up with. So that by the time I had promised his drunken ass a happy ending, he was right…I really did give great lie.
As it turned out, it hadn't been a lie. I'd made a promise, I'd kept it…was really looking forward to keeping it. Eagerly looking forward. In fact, if I weren't so exhausted, emotionally and physically, I would've been so eager, it would've been virtually pornographic. So why the hell was I sitting there on the floor, tasting blood on my upper lip, and having a pissed off Canadian cursing me? From his twitching foot, I thought he might be considering kicking me as well.
"You son of a bitch. 'So long, Rodney'?" He bent and snarled in my face, "Yes, that's exactly the goodbye I'd been hoping for. So fucking long. Surprised you didn't text message it on your way out. OMGCUL8R. Asshole."
And there came the foot. I caught the boot with one hand, it wasn't that serious an attempt, as I wiped blood from my upper lip with the other. "Okay, Dr. McKay. Someone obviously has been on the Air Force good speed for a little too long now. Let's see about getting Carson to give you something and bring you back down."
Which wasn't true of course. Well, a little true. But after making sure the city was empty of Wraith, hiding the city under the camouflage of a shield and nuclear bomb, and doing a head count of his geeks, Rodney had probably mostly come down from his high. '…just speeding away, thought he was James Dean for a day.' I shook my head free of random song lyrics and thoughts and stood. Rodney knew exactly what he was doing. He'd thought I'd died. Hadn't known that the Daedalus had beamed me to safety. For nearly a minute I was the late great Major Sheppard, gone to Glory on a bomb Rodney had built with his own hands.
God, he never would've forgotten that.
And he was right. I admitted it. I was an asshole. I'd ran out with nothing more than a so long, because I'd known what he'd do if he recognized my intent in my eyes. He would've been after me in a hot second. It was the only thing I could've done, but that didn't mean it had been the right thing. Necessary, yeah, but not right.
"Bring me down? Bring me down? Trust me, you've brought me down plenty already, Sheppard. Let me count the fucking ways."
With that, I had his arm up behind him as I marched him hurriedly out of Control. Rules were still rules. Laws were still laws. It might change, but it hadn't yet, and Rodney's mouth didn't need speed to be out of control. I kept pushing, ignoring his attempts to dig in his heels, until we were in a transport. I thought us to the nearest transport station to Rodney's quarters. Rodney's because I didn't want anyone showing up looking for me at my quarters, not with what I had planned. I let go of his arm then and he leaned back against the wall, slid down to sit on the floor and dropped his head in his hands. "You son of a bitch," he said quietly, all the anger and venom gone. "You goddamn son of a bitch."
I sat beside him. We were already at our destination, those things worked instantaneously, but that didn't matter. This was what mattered. "I know." I leaned my shoulder against his. "I know and I'm sorry, Rodney. Sorry as hell."
"We watched it on the scanners, you know," he said with eerie calm. "I wondered which of those pixels of light was your disintegrated bits floating around. It was strange. I thought if I looked hard enough, I'd recognize it. This…this is the precise spot that John ceased to be. I don't know why it made a difference. It's not like I was going to have the opportunity to float a wreath out there for you, but…I just wanted to know. I wanted to know where you'd gone through the door. I wanted to pretend you were still hanging around on the other side of it. That I could knock and maybe you'd open up and come back through." He straightened and leaned his head back with a distinct clunk against the transporter wall. "I'm so high" He exhaled and rubbed his eyes. "No, not high. Down, six feet under and all used up." He looked at me, deep raccoon smears around his eyes. "I want to go to sleep. I want to forget this day ever happened. I want to see that goddamn note." He blinked as his words began to slur. "I want to forget you died. I want to forget…."
His eyes rolled back, lids closed and his head hit my shoulder with the same clunk that it had the wall. And he was gone. Out.
I leaned my head against his, buried my nose in hair that smelled of sweat and two days without a shower and I didn't mind one damn bit. I managed to get his unconscious body to his feet, although it wasn't easy. I wasn't precisely in the pink myself. I hoisted him over my shoulder and staggered to his room. The door opened and I blinked to the sight of Dr. Z belly flopped on Rodney's bed.
His shirt was half pulled over his head. I could only see one ear, the ear stem of glasses and lank hanks of hair. His pants were around his knees and some Czech version of Spiderman underoos was proud and loud in white, blue and orange. And the snoring….it put the underoos in the shade.
"Well," I cleared my throat and said conversationally. "Rodney, you stud."
It was too bad he was out like a light and couldn't hear me, him or Zelenka. Someone did though.
"Our quarters were destroyed," came the calm voice of Miko One. Our Miko. She smiled at me. I thought I'd earned a little extra fondness back in the days when I'd tackled Rodney before he could label her with a permanent marker…on Elizabeth's order, of course. Miko would've let him too. She thought Rodney hung the Sun and Moon. And she thought Zelenka had created them. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she tried tugging at Zelenka's shirt while a hand swatted at her and grumpy Czech curses filled the air…all while he still slept on. He and Rodney had helped to save our asses, and their bodies were paying the price now.
Undeterred, Miko kept it up until she'd gently maneuvered him free. Smoothing his hair, she removed his glasses and laid them on the bedside table. "So, Radek said Dr. McKay would not mind sharing." There was a twinkle in her dark eyes. "They are so like little boys with their games."
Games? Yeah, but less like little boys and more like ego driven, stubborn geeks from hell. I grinned at her, "I'm sure Dr. McKay won't mind one bit. Make yourself at home. Rodney can sleep it off at my place."
"I'm sure we'll have new quarters as soon as Radek awakes. There are many empty rooms…."
"No," I shook my head. "Let's stick to what we know. The scanners say there are no more Wraith in the city, but best to play it safe for a while. And if Rodney feels….cramped, he can bunk with me for a few weeks." A perfect excuse, perfect revenge, and a perfect way to overcome any last attempts at pissiness on Rodney's part. It was like a gift. I wasn't going to waste it.
Ten minutes later we were in my quarters and Rodney was snoring on my bed. He gave Dr. Z a run for his money. Except for the underoos. He'd gone with boxers. Plain white boxers that he'd also taken a permanent marker to. Across the back of them in bright purple, it read: BITE MY EARTH ASS. Just like Rodney…even if he got sucked dry by the Wraith, his corpse would have the last word.
"Sorry, Supergeek," I snorted, "I don't think that's where they planned on sucking out your life." Then I pulled his shirt off to discover there was a similar message written on the bare skin of his chest. FUCK YOU, CATFISH SHITHEAD.
I laughed. I laughed until my chest hurt and my eyes were watering. Then I stripped off my own clothes and spooned with a drooling, snoring, graffiti-covered geek. I nuzzled behind his ear and the line of his jaw. The warmth of his skin against mine was indescribable. I'd never noticed anything like that before. I'd noticed breasts and full hips and when was I getting laid already? I'd done the work, but it was always marking time for the end game. With Rodney…there was no game. There was no looking ahead to the big moment, although I knew it would be fucking amazing, no pun intended. With Rodney, it was about every moment…being in every moment. This moment of warm skin, his chest moving up and down, his rattling snore, the smell of salt and old fear on his skin.
It was a perfect moment. Just like all moments with him were. No matter how fucked up the situation, how annoying he was being or I was being or we were both being. Despite all those things, every moment was perfect, was what it was meant to be. Every moment was full of the details of life I'd never bothered to notice before.
Even sleeping has its moments…ones of fear and terror and regret and dying in a Wraith ship, dying on a jumper with a bomb, watching someone you love die….
"John, wake the hell up."
I opened my eyes to see bloodshot blue ones three inches from mine. A short space, but like the moments, a perfect one.
I kissed him. With the remnants of nightmare, the debris of a life nearly as terrifying. I kissed him and tasted morning breath, old power bars, bad coffee, and Rodney. Through and through, all Rodney. There were moments and there were moments, and when he surged against me and kissed me back, I almost had a moment all over his leg.
There was a painful nip to my bottom lip and he pulled back. "You lied," he said flatly.
"I did." Might as well admit it…he knew it. He'd known it all along. But I hoped later, when I showed him Miko's note, showed him a photograph of our mirror reflections wearing mirrored silver rings, he'd understand why.
"You're a shithead." His eyes narrowed, then he exhaled. "Goddamnit." This time, he was the one to close the distance between us to kiss me.
It was…it was the silver rush of an event horizon, the gut punch of your first space flight, the soaring height of a mythological city, the flip of a coin tumbling through icy air—it was the biggest fucking rollercoaster in the world.
A wild ride. One damn wild ride.
I would never look at a bowl of peanuts in the same way again.
x x x x x
Reality 1 Redux
Life has a way of catching you off guard. One day you're doing your post-doc under a government grant, the next you're assigned to the Pentagon to advise them on wormhole physics because they found a device that actually creates them. One day you're called in to save the Earth from the ill-conceived machinations of a reckless, although sexy, blonde Air Force officer, the next you're on a military cargo flight to Moscow. One day you're walking through the gate and discovering the most amazing city ever built in the universe, the next you're laying in a bunk of the Daedalus, gripping a pillow with burned and bandaged hands waiting to die.
Miko had been gone over two days now. Back to the past to fix the rift that was eating its way through the fabric of our existence. It would overcome us soon, overwrite this reality with the one where Atlantis never rose and as best we could tell, the expedition didn't live. I couldn't help but wonder what that would be like when it happened. Would we feel what it was like to die? Would it be instantaneous, like a bubble popping? Or would it be gradual, like a ghostly fading? Would we be immediately transported to an afterlife…dead relatives beckoning, white light, fluttering cherubs and pearly gates… or would we just simply be gone? And if no one even remembered what happened, would it even matter? If a tree falls in the woods, if a reality ceases to exist in the vastness of space, if at first you don't succeed… blah, blah, blah. Philosophy and pep talks were completely useless at this point and the only thing that could help us was completely out of my control so sulking and bemoaning my fate seemed as good a course of action as any for the time being.
Wrapping my arms tighter around my pillow I found myself staring yet again at the screen saver on my laptop. As amusing as Kitten Wars might have been, it just seemed…wrong. And it was more than just baby tabbies wielding light sabers that seemed askew. It was like there was something that should have been there that wasn't. Everything felt wrong, had felt that way ever since the glitches with the ZedPM had started. I found that I kept looking over my shoulder as if expecting someone to be there, kept feeling disappointed when I went back to my empty quarters, kept sleeping crammed against the goddamn wall. And if Miko didn't succeed…
With a sigh I clenched my fist in the fabric of the pillowcase, wincing at the pain that shot through my hand at the action. Stupid injury. Stupid quantum rift. Stupid screen saver mocking me from across the room. I forced myself to close my eyes, turning my face into the pillow for good measure to completely block it from view…and nuzzled the warm flesh of a familiar neck. Flexing my fingers, I felt muscles ripple across his ribcage as John shifted and wrapped his arm around me with a sleepy exhalation of breath. I did the same, moving my hand back and along his shoulder blade in an almost desperately possessive move.
His hold on me tightened as well as he mumbled in my hair, "Hands bothering you?"
Opening my eyes enough to look at my undamaged appendages I asked, "What?"
As if realizing what he said and that it had made no sense whatsoever, he yawned an apology. "Sorry, weird dreams."
"Yeah," I agreed against his skin, the smell of him alone causing my words to thicken. "Thought I'd lost you." The dream itself was fading, leaving behind the lingering emotions as the details grew fainter by the second.
"Never." It was as much hope as it was promise but after the news he'd received, I wasn't surprised.
I'd been working in the lab earlier that day, trying to track down the cause of those ZedPM tweaks that had occurred for some unknown reason then just stopped as mysteriously as they had begun when he finally worked up the courage to tell me what had been bugging him for the past day.
"So, you up for a trip back to Earth?"
I had narrowed my eyes and studied him. No, I wasn't up for a trip back to Earth. The entire damn city could sink on a whim if the ZedPM decided to flare up again, and that was just on top of all the other issues that were simmering in the background. The anchoring field that kept the city from bobbing like a cork on the ocean was showing signs of weakening and the engineers had traced it back to faulty power transfer in the distribution hub. The biologists were worried about a decline in the number of Atlantean sea gulls that had been residing in the city since it rose. Normally that wouldn't have been a hot burner topic for me except for the fact that a nesting colony had set up in the distribution hub and were dive-bombing the engineers when they tried to repair the transfer. Ronon had had to pick Radek up by the scruff of his shirt when he had stormed the cafeteria at dinner time…covered in alien bird guano with tufts of hair pulled straight up by angry beaks… and tried to throttle Pyongg who had refused to move the birds as he had originally agreed to do in the morning staff meeting. No, now was not the time to be heading back to Earth, but there was something about the way he crossed his arms with a forced casualness and wouldn't quite meet my eyes that had me biting my tongue.
"Elizabeth came to see me." He shifted awkwardly. "Something's happened…family stuff."
With a sinking in my stomach I demanded, "Oh, God, Nana? Jeannie?"
"No, no!" he reassured. "Not your family, my…family." And don't think I missed the way he stumbled over that last word.
But the relief I felt had me sitting back on my stool. "Okay, first of all, never let Nana hear that you don't consider her your family else she'll lock herself in the bathroom and we'll never get her out because her security makes the Ancient systems look like twisty ties and hand-written 'keep out' signs. And second, seeing as I'm sitting here, you must be talking about your dad."
His shrug was as uncomfortable as the grin he tried to force. "Guess I was wrong; ends up the bastard couldn't live forever."
Looking around the lab, I noticed for the first time that we were alone. I couldn't help but wonder how long he'd waited for everyone to clear out before he came in here. Standing, I wrapped arms around him, waiting until he did the same to me before continuing. It took a few seconds for him to accept the comfort, accept the fact that he wanted it, that he needed it, but finally he did and his fist tightened in the back of my shirt. "When's the funeral?"
"They're waiting for word from me. Waiting to see if I can get leave from my deployment." He snorted against my shoulder. As far as anyone on Earth knew, he was stationed on a secret mission, probably assumed to be in the Middle East somewhere. Even his father never knew exactly where he was, just knew he wasn't where he thought John should be.
Increasing my hold, I told him, "Have Elizabeth notify the SGC that we'll head out first thing in the morning."
We went home and packed. Or I should say, I packed and John crammed every pair of socks we owned in a duffle bag before moving zombie-like to the next drawer and starting on the underwear. Looking over from where I was zipping up the garment bag with his dress blues and my suite, I frowned. "So exactly how many pairs of boxers are you planning on going through while we're there?" He blinked as if waking from a daze then started pulling them back out blankly and dropping them by wadded handfuls on the floor. "And since when do you unpack like I do?" Moving over to stand beside him I took both of his hands in mine before he could release another mass of cotton at his feet. "All right, stop, just stop. Maybe I should pack and you should go get us some dinner. Okay?"
Taking a deep breath he nodded his head. "Yeah, okay." Exhaling forcefully, he looked down at the pair of boxers he held in his hand. They were mine, plain white except for BITE MY CANADIAN ASS printed across them in faded purple. One of several personal messages I had left for the Wraith during the siege of Atlantis and my underwear of choice on any mission that promised to be a particularly dangerous one. The quirk of lips that usually accompanied John seeing them was replaced this time with a frown. "I wish…" he started then just shook his head.
Yeah. Sometimes I wished, too. Leave it to the death of another to remind you of your own looming mortality, of opportunities missed, choices made or not made, time lost. You don't always get a second chance. We had. When Elizabeth had traveled back in time, she gave all of us a second chance at finding the glories of Atlantis, and John and I a second chance at a first time. And I couldn't help but wonder about the choices John and I had made in the infinite number of multiverses that were out there. Did we or didn't we? Did we give in to the needs and wants and throw caution to the wind? Or did we do what we did here…what I did here. When John came back from that suicide run to the Hive ship, he would have lived up to his promise. I could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. But I had finally gotten my senses back from my drunken, albeit truthful, confession. The laws hadn't changed yet and I knew my limitations on keeping things undercover…pretty damn limited. I wouldn't risk losing him all together due to my carelessness. So I preempted any starts by passing the entire conversation off as drunken stress-induced ramblings and surely he didn't take me seriously, right?
Taking the boxers from his hand I leaned in and kissed him. "It happened when it happened, that's all that matters. And I wouldn't change a thing." With a crinkle of my nose in disgust, I amended, "Except for the whole kissing Carson bit; that I would have skipped." When he gave me a small snort I patted his chest. "Now, go get us some food while I search for our wallets."
He headed for the door then stopped. "Thanks for…you know… all this shit. It's not something you should have to deal with."
Digging through the desk drawer with my right hand, I held up my left and waggled my ring finger at him. "If you deal, I deal. It's part of the contract."
"I'm just saying, that if you're too busy to go…"
"Stop right there. Don't let another idiotic word come out of your mouth. There is no way in hell you're going without me. I have no doubt that if left to your own devices you'd eat little and sleep less and, given your recently demonstrated packing skills, you'd do it all wearing nothing but boxers and tube socks. I'm sorry, but you're just going to have to admit that you need me and get over it."
"I need you." There were very few times that John let raw emotions out. They were there, buried under sarcasm and cockiness and usually expressed through a touch or a smile or a worried frown. They were covertly portrayed through code names like Supergeek and the clink of our wedding rings was his own romantic version of Morse Code. And I understood every secret message. But this time, he wasn't hiding it in the least and it made my chest ache to see it.
"You've got me," I assured simply. And he did. Let Atlantis sink. Let the sea gulls go extinct and the city wash up on the shores of the Mainland for all I cared. John needed me and that's all that mattered. He had me, from the moment that ice cave fell, from the moment the Daedalus beamed him back from the brink of certain death, hell, from the moment we walked through the gate and the city glowed to life he had me. And nothing would ever change that. He gave me a grateful smile, still standing in the doorway until I set him back to his task with a reminder. "Dinner."
"Oh, right, dinner." And he was gone.
That had been early in the evening. I had finished packing and we had eaten, eventually we turned down the lights and curled in bed together. And that's when I learned a lot about John's father and John's relationship with his father. Some of it told to me, but most of it inferred from the silence between the words. John's mother was actually his father's second wife. Wife number one was rarely mentioned…dead, deserted, or fed up, John never knew. But it had meant that his dad was closing in on forty when John was born. That was probably strike one against any chance of a close father/son relationship, a generational gap that was more like a chasm.
The second strike was that John was his mother's son. Even though he could barely remember her, it was obvious that he hadn't inherited his easygoing way with people, his devil may care charm and his recklessness from by-the-books Colonel Hank Sheppard. Those had come from his mom and I had a feeling there were other similarities if he had had the chance to know her. No, he was a lot like his mom in all ways except one…John Sheppard didn't run away from his responsibilities. Even when he was given a way out.
When John disobeyed orders and risked his life and precious military property to save those men in Afghanistan, his dad had offered to call in a favor and cushion the blow to John's career. Because in his father's mind, it was also a blow to his own spotless military record. Evidently mandatory retirement a decade prior hadn't sunk in just yet. But the offer had come with strings, strings John didn't want anything to do with. So he passed up the career-building position in Nevada and took his lumps in Antarctica. And thank God for that. It makes me shudder just to think that he might not have come on the expedition, that I might have never met him, never have known him. But the trade off for John was that he never spoke to his father again. Strike three; you're out of my life forever.
But the game goes on. And John had more than proved he was capable of knocking them out of the park when life threw him a curve ball. Now, laying here in bed with him, I just considered myself lucky that he wanted me on his team, in his life, as his family. I snuggled in closer to him, no longer even able to remember the dream that had woken me a few minutes before. "Go back to sleep," I coaxed, trying to shake the disorienting feeling that was almost like déjà vu…it didn't feel so much like I had experienced it before so much as I had almost experienced it. "We've got a long day ahead of us." Airports and funeral homes and lawyers and insurance paperwork and the reality of a thousand other things that come to the surface when someone ends up six feet below it.
He yawned again against my hair and completely out of left field warned me in a sleepy voice, "Don't touch that Ancient diagnostic doodah in your lab. Not safe." That last was little more than a mumble that trailed off into a snore.
But that was John. Like I said, born and raised in left field, not to mention abandoned and now orphaned there. But he wasn't alone. As long as I was around I'd make sure of that. Coming to Atlantis and meeting John and the others, allowed me to put my sister's choices in perspective. Jeannie had chosen a family over science and it had taken me years to understand that. In fact, it had taken nearly dying with a group of people that had just months before been strangers to let me realize what family meant and why she might make that choice. But falling in love with John had helped me put my choices in perspective. I realized he had become the reason behind everything I did. Science was still my life, but John was my soul. And I suddenly didn't just understand family, I was part of one.
On the far wall, I could just make out the outline of our family portrait, just see it shimmering ghostlike in the faint moonlight. A little over a week ago, I couldn't fathom why John would want such a thing, now I couldn't fathom why I hadn't wanted it. Closing my eyes again, I let out a drowsy snort against my human pillow at what a sentimental schmuck I had become. Well, I guess that's what comes of wearing a ring on your left hand and taking up residence in left field and being the support system for the one left behind.
And in reality, I guess that's what family is all about.