Author's Notes: 115, 242 words later, we're finally at the end! Apologies again for the delay. Note to self: next time, write most of the fic before starting to post...


Sam stands outside the innocuous looking front door, trying to decide what she expects to find behind it. McKay's message had been specific on the details, but on personality it was vague, other than a name and an address she now checked and rechecked for a fourth time.

McKay's apartment left little clue to the life he had been living, other than the usual male bachelor clutter. Most of the furniture was SGC issue, and Rodney never struck her as the sort of person who collected knick-knacks. She scanned the titles of the DVDs left behind, disgusted to find a scrawled post-stick from McKay listing the date they were due to be returned. Not that she has any intention of following his instruction; let Rodney pay the fine owed to Blockbuster, the next time he returns to Earth. By then, she figures, it will have become a significant amount.

There were no photos. She wonders if this is because McKay took them to Atlantis, or whether, like an emotional hermit, he has none. His wardrobe was limited, occupying a single box in the living room, now awaiting transport along with the rest of the physicist's possessions. Aside from food and a backlog of science journals, there was little else.

Sam writes to the necessary universities, apologetic notes posing as a relative, citing 'unexpected personal circumstances' as the reason for McKay's disappearance. Other loose ends are the responsibility of the SGC.

Except this.

"He's a friend," McKay told her, over a video link. "Sort of."

Sam stands before the door and wonders what 'sort of' means, and what she has agreed to. How much McKay owes her for this number of favours.

She checks the package beside her one final time, adjusting it slightly, then knocks.

A woman opens the door, middle-aged with dark hair and a bright smile, which falters when she sees Carter's uniform.

Another detail of McKay's.

"Can I help you?"

Sam extends her hand, a gesture of friendship more than formality, but has to wait a moment while the woman decides to accept. "Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter, United States Air force. I hope you can help me. I'm looking for someone. Brian Kozoll."

The woman's gaze narrows in suspicion, hackles rising. "What does the US Air force want with Brian? He's a good boy. He wouldn't deliberately do anything wrong…"

Sam lifts her hand to forestall any further protests. "Brian isn't in any trouble, Mrs Ko…"

"Musgrove. And it's 'Miss.' Jane."

"I'm not here in an official capacity. Actually, I'm here because of a mutual friend. Doctor Rodney McKay?"

She pauses, suddenly realising she has no idea whether McKay is known to this woman. Fortunately, at the physicist's name Jane relaxes.

"Oh. Brian was wondering where he'd gone. I'm so glad. The apartment is empty - no word, nothing to say where he's gone - and Brian seemed to like him. Too many people have taken advantage of him in the past."

Carter manages to school her expression and avoid looking too surprised. "Is Brian in?"

"Of course." The woman takes a step back, moving aside to allow Sam to enter. She eyes the oversized package suspiciously, watching as Sam attempts to manoeuvre it into the apartment. "Do you need a hand?"

Sam nudges it up over the bump of the doorstep, then rolls it inside. "Thank you, but it's on wheels. It's not a problem."

She pulls it behind her, following Jane as the woman leads her into the apartment. The space is smaller than McKay's, and more closed in, a corridor running from the front door to a living room Sam sees beyond. They turn off before the end, facing an inner door at which her host knocks.

"Brian, honey? You've got a visitor."

She hears a male voice call out, "Coming!", and then a few seconds later the door opens.

Brian is not what Sam expects. Young, and looking at her with a wide-eyed innocence. A curious expression that turns into a frown when he spies the large package by Sam's side.


"Hi," Sam says, and smiles. "Brian, isn't it? I'm Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter. I'm a friend of Rodney McKay's."

The change in the man is instantaneous. He immediately breaks into a wide smile, stepping forward eagerly to peer out at the corridor. "Is he here?" he asks.

"No, I'm sorry." Sam feels genuinely torn that she cannot offer an alternative answer. "He couldn't be here. That's why he sent me."

The man - boy, Sam corrects - deflates, looking at Sam glumly.

"He's gone. He didn't tell me."

"Not a word," Jane interrupts sharply. From her tone Sam identifies her as Brian's mother.

"I know, and Rodney wishes it were different," she replies, smoothly, "but he had to leave unexpectedly. Problems at work."

Jane scowls, a defensive action to protect her son. "He told Brian he wasn't working. Retired."

Sam internally curses McKay, wishing that the scientist had given her more warning as to what to expect. "He was on leave for several months while certain issues were… worked through. Unfortunately circumstances changed and he had to return early."

"You work with him?" Brian asks.

"Don't be silly," his mother chides. "You said Doctor McKay was a - what, astrophysicist? What would the Air force need one of those for?" She pauses, and looks back at Sam. "Let's go into the living room. Would you like a drink? Coffee?"

"A coffee would be great, thank you." Carter turns to move her cargo, only to find that Brian is one step ahead of her, pushing the box towards the living room. She opens her mouth to ask him to be careful, but stops herself upon seeing the attention the boy pays to his task.

The apartment is clean and neat, adorned with personal touches to give it a familial warmth. A tall bookshelf covers one wall, housing fiction novels and an unusually large number of astronomy books. She recognises a few of the titles from her years at college, and is surprised at their relative complexity.

Photos stand beside the books. A familiar face in younger years; in Halloween fancy dress or sports outfits. In some photos Jane appears, in others a middle-aged man Sam doesn't recognise, but she assumes to be Brian's father.

She takes a seat on the couch, aware of Brian's keen gaze fixed on her. She struggles to remain controlled beneath his scrutiny, feeling increasingly lost. The boy watching her so closely is as far from what she expected as could be, and she finds she has to not only adjust her approach to the conversation, but also rethink her perception of McKay.

"I'm sorry," she says, apologetically. "Rodney didn't really tell me much. How do you know him?"

"I'm the guard," Brian responds, then gestures towards the floor, and the levels below. "But there's not much to guard. All the tenants are nice. Doctor McKay gave me astronomy lessons." He pauses, frowning. "What about you? Are you his girlfriend?"

Sam tries very hard not to laugh, stifling a snort by pressing the back of her hand to her mouth. "No. Truthfully…" she leans forward, and whispers so she will not be overheard by her hostess, "I do work with McKay. But our work is secret."

Brian appears to think this over for a moment, then nods. "I thought so."

"That's why he had to leave so suddenly," she explains. "I know he wanted to say goodbye properly."

"What about his friends? Sheppard and Carson?"

She blinks, momentarily thrown, wondering at recent events and McKay's understanding of the SGC's non-disclosure policy. "They work with him too."

Brian nods, seemingly pleased by this news.

"Coffee," Jane announces suddenly, appearing from the kitchen bearing a tray. She sets it down onto the table; two coffee mugs and a glass of cordial, which Brian takes. "I wasn't sure if you took sugar…"

"Just milk is great." Sam takes the mug offered to her, wrapping her hands around the warm ceramic. "I'm sorry for interrupting your day like this."

"No apologies necessary. It's always nice to have visitors." Jane pauses, gaze dropping to the covered cargo positioned by the couch. "Can I ask what's in the box?"

Sam takes a sip of the coffee, then places the mug onto the table. "It's from McKay. He asked me to give it to you since he couldn't come."

"A present?" Brian asks, eyes wide.

Smiling, Carter turns and grabs hold of the box, pushing it towards Brian. "Open it."

Hesitantly, Brian leans over and tugs the thing towards him. It was well wrapped by the store, the bottom cut out to allow use of the wheels. Even so, the boy makes short work of the packaging, peeling back tape and ripping up cardboard with haste, until the item within revealed itself.

Jane frowns. "What is it?"

Brian grins, reaching out to touch the metallic surface reverentially. "It's a telescope."

"That's a telescope?" she asks, incredulously.

"It's probably a little bigger than the ones you've had in the past," Sam explains. She doesn't add, 'more expensive,' though she has seen the amount printed on the invoice. "McKay seemed to think you'd like it."

Brian starts to pull out accessories from within the box, lenses and filters and other items, all encased in bubble wrap. His excitement builds at the sight of each one.

"This is amazing!"

Jane coughs, deliberately. "It's very nice of Doctor McKay to do this but I don't know why."

Sam starts, suddenly remembering another part of her instructions. "Rodney gave me a note." She fumbles in her pocket, locating a crumpled piece of paper, and unfolds it to reveal McKay's untidy scrawl. She reads, "If you're going to be an astrophysicist, you might as well do it properly."

Jane frowns.

Sam winces, and apologies: "subtlety isn't one of Rodney's talents. Oh, but…" she pulls out an envelope from the same pocket and hands it to Jane, since Brian appears too consumed by his new gift. "There was also this."

Hesitantly, Jane runs her finger under the envelope's seal, opens it, and pulls out a letter. She reads the top line, then stops, and turns to Brian. "You should take this. It's your present."

Moving away reluctantly from the telescope, Brian accepts the letter from his mother. He reads silently, mouth forming a silent 'o' in surprise.

"The college is a little out of town," Sam explains, because she has already seen the letter's contents, "but there's a bus which picks up from the centre."

"Astronomy lessons?" Brian asks, blinking owlishly.

"And anything else the college offers." She's seen the list, impressed at the extensive opportunities available.

Jane is frowning again, deeper than before, picking at the hem of her skirt. She inches a little closer to Carter and, lowering her voice, whispers: "I can't afford to pay for this, and if he has to leave after a year…"

"It's a subscription fee," Carter explains. "And McKay is paying."

"And this college, it…" the mother pauses, and asks deliberately: "he'll be okay there, won't he?"

Sam smiles. "I've done a bit of research. It's got a good reputation."

"Please don't take this wrong, but why?"

She answers as honestly as she can, from what little she knows or can guess. "McKay isn't good with, ah, with people. You," she addresses Brian, "must have impressed him."

The boy flushes.

"As much as McKay derides ignorance, he also doesn't like to see talent going wasted. And," she pauses, because it still seems strange, "he said you and he are friends."

Brian nods eagerly.

Jane's suspicion seems to ease. Sam now realises why McKay specified so many details - her presence, donning the uniform, using full titles - when he could have sent the presents through the mail. An act of kindness from a stranger in such a manner would have provoked only paranoia and hostility from the mother - understandably. Sam suspects Miss Musgrove could be fiercely protective over her son if anyone tried to exploit him.

She glances, discretely, at her watch. "I'm sorry, but I have to go. My plane leaves shortly."

Another detail deliberately dropped to impress sincerity upon the mother. It seems unnecessary. Jane sighs, looking disappointed, though not as much as her son.

"I thought you might stay," Brian objects, hopefully. "Have dinner."

"I wish I could." Sam gets to her feet, putting her coffee cup on the table. "It's been a pleasure meeting both of you."

Jane leads the way to the front door, Brian following, picking his way through the path of destroyed paper, cardboard, and plastic wrapping.

"Will you thank him?" he asks. "Say hello for me."

"I will," Sam promises. "And I'm sure he'll write."

She isn't convinced of the truth of this statement, but pledges herself as reminder if McKay conveniently forgets. Then, spontaneously: "Look, I understand if you don't want to - you don't know me, after all - but if you needed help with your studies…" She pulls out a card from the inside pocket of her jacket, and hands it to Brian. "Email me. You've got a computer?"

He nods, smiling, head ducking shyly.

"You can email me with any messages for McKay too. He doesn't get access to his own email very often," she explains. Pausing, she glances again at her watch, knowing there is a car outside waiting for her. "Thank you for the coffee, Miss Musgrove."

"Jane," the other woman repeats, warmly. She puts a hand on her son's shoulder, and tugs him gently back inside the apartment. "Come on, Brian. You can show me how your telescope works."

He frowns slightly, but nods, following his mother inside. Sam starts the walk towards elevator, feeling unsettled.

When McKay instructed her to visit his 'friend,' she never imagined anything like Brian. The scientist was deeply obnoxious when they first met, arrogant and heartless. Their second meeting did more to change her opinion of him, but she knows McKay does not make the best first impression, and his immediate hostility served to drive most away. The past few years on Atlantis, the reports from the city and their infrequent exchanges of ideas and conversation have caused Sam to change her perception of the Canadian, but she is still astonished by Brian. Meeting him, and glimpsing a part of Rodney's life - his life, stripped of science or position - Sam realises she must yet again adjust her picture of McKay.

Of course, Sam muses, McKay is still arrogant and frequently obnoxious. Perhaps she can now erase the 'heartless' comment.

She hears the apartment door click as the lock is pulled back, and turns to see Jane, peering out into the corridor hesitantly.

"Colonel Carter?"

Sam stops. "Yes?"

"I just…" The woman glances behind her, then steps out into the corridor, closing the door carefully behind her. She clasps and unclasps her hands nervously. "Brian isn't… he isn't good at judging a person's character. People take advantage of him because of that. I'm just glad…" Again she pauses, then smiles. "Thank Doctor McKay for me."

Sam returns the smile. "I will."

Jane nods, seeming satisfied, then ducks back into the house, the door closing behind her.

Carter turns back to the elevator, and addresses the air, as though her thoughts can travel light years.

"You continue to surprise me, McKay."


"Miko has been working on converting our binary code to the script used by the Ancients. She moved her equipment into here, as she could easily converse with Doctor Taylor when needed; however, you may wish to move the both of them next door when you are ready. Miko tends to be a little… distracted when you are in the room, Rodney."

"And what's that supposed to mean?!"

Zelenka ignores him. "We have managed to improve the efficiency of the ZPM by two percent; it sounds very little but anything we can do is important. Unfortunately that has meant temporarily suspending Doctor Mycroft's project looking at the inertial dampening system - however, it was agreed that given our current situation the project is very low on our priority list." He walks quickly, McKay keeping pace behind him. The lab is quiet, the few scientists who have dared to occupy the room intelligent enough to know when to stay silent. They glance curiously towards McKay when they believe the physicist is oblivious, then duck back to their work when he turns their way.

"This is where I have been working. It is a little disorganised at present; I was planning to audit the various devices and parts we have in storage but as you can see, this task is not finished. There are a great many pieces which serve no useful function and could be stored elsewhere." He pauses, arriving at the far end of the lab. "And this," he says, with a grin, "is the coffee machine." He gestures at the table. "Fresh filters are to the left; mugs on the right…"

"I know where the damn coffee machine is!" McKay explodes, red-faced. "You're enjoying this far too much, Radek!"

"Perhaps," he admits, pushing his glasses up his nose with one finger, "a little. It is rare that I have the opportunity to give you direction, Rodney."

"Orders, don't you mean?" the Canadian mutters darkly. "You said you were okay with me coming back and taking over as department head. If this is some twisted punishment for that…"

"Please, Rodney," Radek objects, "I am not that childish. No, I told you I was happy for you to take over. And I am. I have decided I am not suited for management."

McKay grimaces. "It's not my favourite part of the job either. People behave like children."

He says this part loud enough for the rest of the lab to hear. Radek notices several annoyed faces, and thinks to himself, yes, things can return to normal.

"Why didn't you use my office?"

He turns. Rodney is walking to the far end of the lab, and the partitioned area he had claimed as his own early on in the Atlantis mission. Close enough to yell at his minions or demand fresh coffee, but an area defined in a way which offered him his own personal working space.

The 'room' is much as McKay left it. Files on one side of the desk, laptop on the other. Coffee mug, with the words "physicists take matters into their own hands" stamped on the side. A present, McKay had said, with no further explanation. A box, padlocked, containing chocolate and other sugary snacks. A small number of CDs, Wagner mixed in with backup copies of databases. Everything in its place, but for once, tidy and dusted.

"I did not like the confinement," Radek excuses. "I prefer to see the rest of the lab while I am working."

He does not mention the sense of impropriety he experienced even stepping into the room without McKay's presence. As though he was crossing into someone else's territory, and knowing he has not done enough to earn access rights. Foolish, perhaps, and Radek will not admit the truth from embarrassment.

Rodney shoots him an odd look, and under his scrutiny Radek turns away.

"I believe that is everything. You have read the reports from the past few months?"

"While I was on the Daedalus."

"I can ask the team leaders to update you on their progress, but we have a staff meeting scheduled for tomorrow. You still have access to the systems - your account was disabled, but not deleted. And your emails… well, they may number into the thousands. If I were you I would delete the entire inbox and start from scratch."


He turns. McKay is glancing around the lab nervously. He takes a step back, into the office, and Radek follows, curiously.

"Look, I…" Rodney swallows, folding his arms across his chest. "I wanted to say…" His voice falters.

Zelenka grimaces, clearing his throat. "Rodney, you do not have to…"

"Yes, I do," the scientist interrupts, firmly. "I… I realise I treated you, ah… badly. Before. When I…"

"Yes," Radek says, because Rodney does not need to identify his failings for them to be recognised, and Radek will not force him to. "You were a…" He pauses, thinking of the correct word. "An asshole."

McKay colours, but says nothing.

"Your actions were not justifiable, Rodney, but I understand. And you are forgiven."

"Oh." His friend appears flummoxed. "Ah… thank you. And the healing device…"

"If it were me," he cuts in, smoothly, "if I were injured and you had the device, what would you do?"

McKay stares at him, and doesn't answer. They both know there is little point.

"Your thanks are appreciated, Rodney," Radek finishes, "but not necessary. Now," he turns, gesturing at the laptop and the desk. "Do you wish to start work now?"

A slight smile appears on McKay's face, a sense of contentment and relief. "Yes. I have to see what damage has been done in my absence, don't I?"


Rodney does something he never has before; he searches for his team.

Previous to his accident, as he has decided to refer to it, personal engagements were forced upon him. Usually Sheppard, often Carson or Elizabeth, and occasionally Teyla would appear at the lab or at his quarters, asking for his company. He would frequently turn them down, though his habits had changed sufficiently over the past three years to mean that happened less. He would force himself to go, despite reactionary excuses: work, time management. Other, more pressing demands for his attention.

He made excuses.

It is only now, after long months spent on Earth and the weeks aboard the Daedalus, that Rodney realises his mistake.

He tries their quarters first, having checked their schedules to be certain they are all available. When this fails to yield a response, McKay goes to the training room. Lorne and a nameless marine are practising unarmed combat, and McKay's appearance is enough of a disturbance to allow Lorne to pin his surprised opponent to the mat.

"McKay," the Major pants, breathlessly. "The Colonel isn't here."

He blinks. "Why do you think…"

Lorne lightly presses his elbow against the poor marine's windpipe, effectively trapping the other man. "Hey, if you're here to train, doc', I'll be glad to help you out."

He scowls deeply at the comment, folding his arms across his chest crossly. "Even if I needed 'training,' Major - which I don't - I've got better things to do."

"Sure," Lorne shrugs. "Hey - McKay…"

Rodney stops, one foot already out the exit.

"It's good to have you back."

He flushes, and ducks into the corridor without another word. For the past two days he has been subjected to well-wishers, all smiles and waves. McKay has done his best to appear hostile, bristling and retorting to the comments with a snapped insult. It doesn't work. He can feel himself weakening, unable to deny the secret pleasure he feels upon his return. Even his responses to the lab technicians have been unusually mild.

He wants to be flattered, but isn't used to the feeling, and instead backs out of the training room as fast as possible.

McKay heads toward the mess hall, then changes his mind, and decides to pay a visit to the infirmary. He has barely seen Carson since his return, both men caught up in work.

The Scot is bent over lab equipment, something in test tubes, part of a science McKay has no desire to understand. Rodney stands in the doorway, watching his friend work. He never takes the time to watch Carson Beckett the geneticist, the researcher. Usually the only role he sees is that of Carson Beckett, the man keen to stick his friend full of needles.

"Rodney." The physician looks up, surprised. "I was just going to call you. Schedule your last check up."

Inwardly McKay groans, but the word 'last' stops him from making too much of a protest. "I'm fine," he grumbles. "I haven't had any problems."

"Aye, I know, but it pays to be careful. This was untested technology, Rodney." The Scot puts down the beaker he holds in one hand onto the bench. "What is it I can help you with?"

He shrugs. "I was looking for Sheppard."

"He was here a couple of hours ago." Carson frowns. "I believe you were to blame, actually."

McKay stares at him, confused. "What?"

"You gifted Ronon with that bloody wrestling DVD. Sheppard wouldn't tell me exactly what happened but I suspect that was the reason behind his wrist."

His eyes widen. "He broke his wrist?"

"Sprained, and only a slight one, but it will put him out of commission for a few days." Shrugging off his lab coat, Beckett turns to hang it on a rack against the wall. "He did mention he was going to get something to eat. I turned down his invitation because I thought I'd be working here but your interruption is fortuitous, Rodney. There's only so long I can stare down a microscope and watch the same test results occur." He glances at McKay. "Hungry?"

Rodney opens his mouth to say no, when his stomach answers for him, growling a complaint. "I suppose," he admits. "But it's late. They won't be serving any more."

"I'm sure we can rustle something up."

Carson heads out of the door, McKay following. He assumes Sheppard will have left already, and dismisses his pursuit. He was searching for company, and now he has it - another change he has brooded upon. Solitude is appreciated, at times welcomed, but after having it abruptly thrust upon him by his accident McKay now realises there are alternatives.

"How are you settling back in?" Carson asks, as they walk towards the nearest transporter. "Finding your feet?"

McKay resists the urge to roll his eyes. "I've not been gone that long, Carson. And yes, now that Radek's power trip has ended and he's allowed me to get on with some actual work."

"Kept interrupting you, did he?"

"Helpful suggestions," he replies, lacing his words with heavy sarcasm. "Checking I knew where the spare hard drives were kept and the location of personnel files."

"You can't object to the man having a little fun at your expense," Carson points out. "Radek has covered for you for several months, Rodney, and if wasn't for his work on the healing device…"

"I know, I know," he grumbles. "Zelenka won't let me forget it."

"And what about everything else?"

He glances at the Scot suspiciously. "What else?"

Beckett looks at him for a moment, then turns away. "You were on Earth for a while, Rodney. Returning here so abruptly must be a bit of a culture shock."

He shrugs. "It's a change of pace."

"Working aboard Atlantis from sitting on your couch?" The physician's eyes twinkle.

"I was a little more active than that!" he huffs, indignantly. "I had a job…"

"Consulting on papers…"

"And I was about to start a new one!"

"Aye," Carson agrees, "very self-sufficient of you."

They step into the transporter, Beckett thinking the device towards their intended level. It is a trick that McKay, with his artificial gene, has never been able to accomplish, and Carson's natural skill still annoys him as much as it ever did.

They arrive to discover that Sheppard never left the mess hall. His feet propped up on the table, the Colonel is in deep discussion with Ronon. The Satedan sits opposite, chair tipped back, and his laughter carries loud in the empty space. Behind Sheppard Teyla perches on a table, her long legs folded beneath her. They are the only ones in the mess hall, bathed in a solitary pool of light, and they turn when Beckett and McKay enter.

"Hey," Sheppard waves at them. His left arm is in a sling. "Come to join us?"

"Searching for food," McKay explains, heading toward the serving area. The silver heating trays are empty and polished clean, but a quick look in the refrigerator reveals a selection of sandwiches and fruit. He grabs a number of items, piling them onto a tray.

Further into the kitchen, Carson has accessed the drinks machine and is busy heating water. He glances at McKay, and offers: "Coffee?"

Rodney grunts, more concerned with the act of carrying his tray across to his team's table to answer coherently. Sheppard moves his feet off the table and grabs a chair, pulling it forward for McKay to sit down.

"Hungry, McKay?" the Colonel asks, eyeing the heavily laden tray, one eyebrow raised.

"Starving," he replies, grabbing a chicken salad sandwich and ripping the wrapping open. He glances at the dirty dishes beside his team. "What did I miss?"

"Pie," Ronon responds. "And curry."

"Ronon had both," Teyla explains, leaning past McKay to take an apple from the tray.

Carson reappears from the kitchen, carrying a large pot and two mugs. He sets them down onto the table, then drops onto the chair Sheppard pulls out for him. "How's your arm feeling, Colonel?"

"Aches a bit," Sheppard admits.

McKay tries not to stare at the bandage. "What did you do?"

"Bionic elbow, then a corkscrew leg drop," Ronon explains, matter-of-factly. "He should have ducked."

"It wasn't the ducking that was the problem," Sheppard objects. "It was the part where you slammed me into the floor face first."

"You were supposed to be relaxed." Ronon shrugs. "It wouldn't have hurt if you'd been relaxed."

Only a minor injury, McKay thinks, trying to concentrate on his dinner. Nothing to be worked up over.

The chicken tastes like ash. He forces himself to swallow, then sets the remainder of the sandwich down onto the table.

He hears Maggie's voice in her head. "Aren't you worried what will happen if you're not there to protect them?"

"McKay?" Sheppard prompts, poking him with his uninjured elbow. "You still with us?"

He looks up, controlling his expression and the tone of his voice. "The wrestling was your idea or Ronon's?"

"Both," Teyla explains, with a perfected, long-suffering sigh.

"And you didn't pay attention to the 'don't try this at home' label?" He snorts, faking normalcy. "I thought that warning was only for eight year olds, but apparently maturity doesn't come with age."

"Or common sense," Carson adds, taking a sandwich from the tray.

Sheppard pushes his right hand into the sling, massaging his wrist. "Point taken," he concedes. His gaze lingers on McKay. "Elizabeth's given us our next mission. We go off-world the day after tomorrow."

"A simple trading mission," Teyla explains.

McKay scowls. "Which means angry natives who think human sacrifices are a good way to spend a Saturday night."


"It isn't pessimism," he shoots back, glaring at Sheppard, "when I happen to be right."

Sheppard shakes his head, then pauses, meeting Rodney's gaze evenly. "You can't think like that," he says, calmly. "Wondering about the what ifs, preparing for the worst. It doesn't work. Trust me, I know."

McKay returns his gaze for a moment. He sees Sheppard's expression, the reassuring warmth of his words betrayed by the hint of apology and sadness in his eyes.

Pegasus is a dangerous place. He almost told Maggie as much.

It isn't cowardice, McKay tells himself. Not when the fear is real.

But he has overcome that fear before, and will do again. Will, because he now sees and understands all that comes with it. The benefits to life in Atlantis, as well as the dangers.

He looks at Sheppard's injured arm, and sees a sprained wrist, and two foolishly immature men trying out WWE moves on each other.

"Idiots," he mutters, loud enough for them both to hear.

Sheppard grins, removing his right hand from the sling to reach out and grab McKay's uneaten chicken sandwich. "A snack," he explains, taking a bite and ignoring McKay's affronted: "hey!"

Ronon slaps the scientist on the back, hard enough to dislodge fillings. "It's good to have you back, McKay," he says, gruffly, then grabs a beef sandwich from the tray.

"Will people stop saying that?!" Rodney protests. He attempts to cover up the tray with his hands. "And would you stop stealing my dinner? I brought you a present, isn't that enough?"

Teyla leans forward again, reaching out to steal another piece of fruit from McKay's tray.


She takes a bite, then points out: "You did not bring me a gift, Rodney."

"I…" he splutters, feeling his face grow red. "I didn't have chance! Besides, I only bought Ronon the stupid DVD because I saw it in the duty free and unless you wanted a bag of Skittles or a bottle of cheap perfume…"

"He's right, love," Carson interrupts. "But I'm sure Rodney will make up for it, once the Daedalus returns to Earth."

"Right!" he protests, thankful for the backup.

Sheppard grins, swinging his legs up so his feet are once again propped up by the table, obnoxiously close to McKay's tray of food. "Teyla, have you ever tried Skittles?"


"No," the Athosian admits. "They sound… intriguing."

"But they… they're…" Language failing him, Rodney snaps his mouth shut and glares at Sheppard.

"You should learn to share," the Colonel replies, simply. His grin widening, he pushes his feet a fraction closer towards McKay. "And Ronon's right. It is good to have you back."

Pulling his tray closer towards his chest, and glaring at Sheppard's feet in disgust, McKay retorts without venom: "Yes, well I'm having second thoughts."

Sheppard shrugs, ignoring him, munching into his chicken sandwich happily. "Where were we?" he asks of Ronon.

The Satedan rolls his shoulders. "Star Wars."

"Oh, yeah. See, there's this guy called Yoda…"

McKay rolls his eyes.

He has his lab back. The potential of Atlantis awaiting discovery. And the day after tomorrow he and his team go on their first off-world mission for months.

Carson's mother was right, he muses. It is impossible to have a heart in two places at once. A clichéd truth, but a truth nonetheless. Returning to the city has given him a sense of peace that Earth could not.

Peace that is shattered when Sheppard suddenly cuffs him around the back of the head, hard.

"Hey! Pegasus to McKay, you listening?"

Mouth open, he splutters indignantly at the assault. "You hit me!"

"We were debating something important. Star Wars or Star Trek?"

Dumbfounded, he stares at Sheppard for a moment, then shakes his head. "I should never have left Earth."

The End!

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