RATING: T for language.

SEASON: Third season just after Phantoms.

MAJOR CHARACTERS: The boys with a little Carson and told from the unnamed Canadian gate tech's POV.

CATEGORY: Angst, h/c, humor, episode tag

SUMMARY: The unnamed Canadian stargate technician: the unsung hero of the control room and the unnoticed witness to a conversation about the circular nature of life. Tags for Phantoms and McKay and Mrs. Miller combined into a compact little one-shot. Sheppard-McKay friendship.

SPOILERS: Anything up to and including Phantoms is fair game but Phantoms and McKay and Mrs. Miller both get hit pretty hard.

FEEDBACK: Yes, please. I thrive on it and so do the bunnies.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own them but I do own my fair share of Hot Wheel's tracks… and they really rarely do work like they do on the television ads.

NOTES: This falls into the realm of my POV stories and although I have chosen some rather obscure characters for the POV voice in the past, I can honestly say this it the first one that no one has any idea what the poor guy's name actually is. But that doesn't mean we don't all know and love him anyway. You don't have to read the other stories in the series before hand but a few refs might make a bit more sense if you did. The list is on my profile page if you're interested.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Special thanks, as always, to Koschka for the final once over.

Vicious Circle

by liketheriver

Being a gate tech isn't the most glamorous of jobs. You tend to blend in with the wallpaper…or screens of scrolling Ancient text, as the case may be. You run your diagnostics, dial the gate, raise the shield, lower the shield, monitor the comings and goings of the teams, announce unscheduled offworld activation. Now that's one of the trickier responsibilities I have… giving the statement enough urgency that people pay attention without inciting panic and chaos. A good stargate technician can have heads perking up throughout the control room like a colony of meerkats, have Dr. Weir out of her office and looking over my shoulder for the IDC, and still manage to maintain a normal pulse rate during the whole undertaking. It's not a skill that's easy to come by, let me tell you. There are just a handful of us out there. Of course, to be fair, how many gate techs do you need when the SGC only maintains bases around two stargates? We're a small circle, that's for sure- probably not going to see us running wild in the Des Moines Holiday Inn at the annual stargate technician's convention. But we do our jobs, make sure the teams get to where they are supposed to go, make sure no one gets back through the gate that's not supposed to come through the gate, and sit happily in the fringes of the activity around us. The unsung heroes of the program, if you're feeling generous. That guy, what's-his-name, behind the controls, if you're not. But that's okay. It's a career, you could say, I was born to pursue.

I'm the middle child. Literally, dead center. The fifth of eight children: the veritable short stop in the center of a genetic baseball team. And that's the position I took for myself in the family…the go between, the person that covers the critical holes and makes sure second isn't left open, the person that tries to hold it all together and keep the momentum going. So, maybe I was preparing for my position here on Atlantis during my entire upbringing in Canada. And maybe that's why I called Colonel Sheppard when Dr. McKay walked…or should I say, listed unsteadily, into the gateroom and cradled himself in the crook of the empty stargate.

"How long's he been there?" the Colonel asked when he arrived, newly showered from the team's recent return off the Daedalus and the planet with the Wraith experiment. He tried to stifle a yawn where we leaned against the railing above the embarkation area watching Rodney. The lead scientist here on the Atlantis expedition was dressed in hospital scrubs and sitting seemingly unaware that we were even there as he stared intently into the curve of the gate high above him.

"Fifteen minutes, maybe," I shrugged with hands in my pants pockets. We were the only three people in the room seeing as it was approaching midnight Atlantean time. "Didn't say anything, just went and sat down."

"Thanks, bud." He slapped me on the shoulder as he started down the stairs and I had to wonder, yet again, if he even knew my name. Not that I wasn't used to that in a family my size. My dad called me Roger for two years before mom corrected him; evidently she forgot to tell him she changed her mind on the name they had agreed on before I was born and then, honestly, never noticed until my younger sister was born and he couldn't just call me 'the baby' anymore. After that, Dad became a little gun shy and just started calling all of us champ or sport or princess… yeah, on particularly hectic outings I got that one once or twice myself. But there was no denying that Colonel Sheppard knew Dr. McKay's name.

"Hey, Rodney, what's up? Thought you were supposed to be in the infirmary hooked up to a morphine drip. At least that's what you were insisting on when we were on the planet."

"Couldn't take it in there any more." He waved an arm grandly that suggested he must have had a good dose of morphine in him before he left. "Carson keeps having the other doctors and nurses recheck his work. It's just…unnerving. Besides, that is just way too many people hovering and touching and unnerving me."

"Yeah, it's been that kind of day." Sheppard settled into the gate opposite my supervisor as if they did this sort of thing every single day.

"Unnerving?"

"The kind you can't take any more of," Sheppard clarified.

"You can say that again." McKay slumped in further against the inner curve of the gate and I was reminded of the logo for that film studio with the boy fishing from the crescent moon and I couldn't help but wonder what he was fishing for.

"Nope, that's something else I've had enough of… repeats."

"Well, some things bear repeating. Like, you shot me."

Colonel Sheppard hung his head with a moan at the accusatory tone. "What do you want from me, McKay? My left arm? My left kidney? My left nut? What? Because evidently saying I'm sorry just isn't cutting it."

"You shoot me and you're only offering me the left ones?"

"Well, you know, seeing as I'm right handed and all…"

"How about I flip you for them? Don't suppose you have a quarter on you."

"Nope, used that last one in the slots in Las Vegas trying to hit Megabucks."

McKay gave him a small smirk then looked up at the stargate arching over them. "You know, this thing reminds me of Vegas. It's like a giant roulette wheel spinning and spinning, only instead of a hundred bucks on the line, it's our lives."

Following Rodney's gaze up, Sheppard gave a small shrug. "Funny, it always reminded me of those Hot Wheels tracks with the loop in the middle. The ones that glowed in the dark were my favorite. God, I begged for every one of those they showed on television."

"Those things always pissed me off," Rodney grumbled. "They looked so cool in the ads but the cars rarely made it through the loops."

"I know," the Colonel grinned. "But when they did, it was pretty fucking spectacular."

"The simplicity of what it takes to please you is what's spectacular, Sheppard."

"It's the little things, Rodney. If you have enough of those then hopefully they'll counteract the big bad things that happen along the way."

"Oh, you mean like when you shot me?"

Sheppard clunked his head back against the metal of the gate. "McKay, you are killing me here, you know that, right?"

Rodney sighed through a humorless laugh with a scrub of his face. "Sorry. Maybe if I say it enough, it'll start to make sense. Because right now, nothing makes any sense… hasn't for a while now."

Sheppard looked up to see me still standing by the railing and I quickly moved back to the control consol, but it didn't stop me from seeing the minute shudder as he told him quietly, "I didn't… see you, Rodney."

"Well, that was pretty damn obvious given the way you looked right through me. You weren't even there to see me, Sheppard."

"It was a little confusing out there. That device really screwed us over. And the sad part is, we were the lucky ones."

"Speak for yourself. You're the only one on the team without a fresh bullet hole."

"Yeah, no bullet holes. Guess I got away home free." The smile he gave was as stiff as the way he patted Rodney's foot and sat up. "Come on, we should get you back to the infirmary."

"You mean we shouldn't talk about this anymore." McKay flicked his hand and looked back toward the darkened windows behind the gate. "You go on, Sheppard; I'll go back in a little while. Don't worry about it."

"I said I was sorry, goddamn it."

"I heard you, Colonel. What I haven't heard is an explanation as to why my best friend shot me then walked over me like I was little more than a piece of garbage blocking his path."

"Because that's what I saw, Rodney! I saw a goddamn piece of Taliban shit that shot down my helicopter and shot down my friend's helicopter and would have shot us both dead if I hadn't shot him first!"

I sunk down a little further behind my computer screen, part of me thinking maybe I should leave, but the other part afraid that I would draw attention to my presence if I did. Besides, I was on duty and couldn't just walk out. Not that I really had to worry about it; neither man seemed to remember that I was there. In fact, by the way Dr. McKay was staring at the man standing over him, you would think they were the only two people in the galaxy.

"You… you thought you were back in Afghanistan?"

"McKay…" Sheppard ran a frustrated hand through his hair; obviously torn between bolting from the room and feeling he owed his friend something more.

"Oh my god, you went after a friend." Rodney's tone was one of someone that had just figured out a mystery he had been puzzling over for years. "I mean, I always knew you defied orders and went after someone trapped behind enemy lines, but I had no idea he was a friend of yours."

"A lot of good it did him," the Colonel snorted bitterly. "Dragged his ass halfway to Kandahar and he died anyway."

"Did it do you any good?" Rodney asked with genuine interest.

"Well, let's see, it nearly ruined my career, nearly got me court-martialed, nearly got me killed… what do you think?"

"I think you never would have forgiven yourself if you hadn't tried, I think you gave it everything you had, and I think it sucks that you had to go through it all again."

"I think living through it the second time was probably worse than the first."

"Well, I definitely think my involvement in the whole thing this time around was the worst part for me."

"Yeah, me too." Taking a deep breath to seemingly clear his head of those thoughts, he asked, "So, how're the ribs?"

"Still broken, still hurt like hell," Sheppard winced at the assessment and Rodney's voice softened somewhat reluctantly, because admitting he wasn't suffering was something McKay detested. I hated to speak ill of a fellow Canadian, but the man would whine about a stubbed toe like you had amputated his leg. "But thanks to Teyla and body armor, Carson says no permanent damage. That is, after he had every doctor, including Biro, come check it out."

"And she agreed it's going to be okay?" The Colonel quickly followed up his concerned question with, "Not that I don't trust Carson, it's just that he seemed to have it rough out there and isn't exactly at the top of his game."

"Yes, she agreed, although she seemed rather disappointed with the prognosis. And, yes, Carson definitely has a few sessions with Heightmeyer in his future."

"What about you?" Sheppard returned to his seat on the gate.

"What about me? Am I disappointed that she says that I'll live? Honestly, it depends on what day you ask me and who's on shift in the lab."

"I meant, how are you doing with what you experienced from the Wraith device?"

"Oh, that." McKay flicked an overly casual hand. "Well, you know, ultimate failure and imminent death. You would think I would be getting used to that by now."

"You didn't fail, Rodney. Teyla, figured out how to shut it down based on what you were in the process of doing."

Looking up into the metal arch towering above him, McKay snorted. "Do you know what time it is, Sheppard?" Eyes flicked to his watch but he never got a chance to answer because the physicist continued before he could. "It's time to send the weekly data exchange back to the SGC. Oh, wait, we can't! We don't have a ZedPM to power the gate."

"You can't take all the blame for that one, McKay. It was your sister's formulas, Carter's suggestion, Zelenka even agreed with it this time around. Hell, if your double had just stayed here like he had planned to do when he originally left his reality instead of getting homesick and insisting on going back, we'd still have half a ZPM to work with."

Rodney mumbled something that sounded like, "Yes, but we'd still have him hanging around, as well," before asking more loudly, "He was worth losing the ZedPM over, wasn't he? He seemed noble and self-sacrificing and…" A hand twirled in search of the correct word and he crinkled his nose when he found it. "…nice to everyone."

"Yeah, after a while it started creeping me out. It was like being in some old episode of the 'Twilight Zone'. I kept wanting to pull my gun on him and demand to know what he had done with the real McKay."

Colonel Sheppard was right in his assessment; Rod had been an interesting person. He was identical to Rodney intellectually. He knew all the answers, could spot a problem just walking through the control room but without the expected, "Where did you get your degree? Did it come free with the tinker toys you used to rebuild this panel?" followed by a screwdriver being yanked from my hand as he crawled under the consol to complete the repairs himself.

No, Rod didn't operate that way. He came in, looked over my shoulder as I worked, then said, "Do you mind if I point out something here? If you swap out those two probes, you'll boost the efficiency by at least twelve percent. Here, let me show you." And I spent the next fifteen minutes listening to him tell me how the system worked in excruciating detail when I was the one that updated the line drawings just last week. He then crawled out, handed back the screwdriver and told me with a broad toothy smile and a squeeze to my shoulder, "I'll stop by later today and show you how to reconfigure the DHD controls to improve your ergonomics. You seem to be slightly misaligned in your lower vertebrae." And for some reason, instead of looking forward to stopping the twinge in my lower back, I felt the need to check for slime on my shoulder and the urge to trade in my Dad's Buick for a newer model.

"He went golfing with you," Dr. McKay pointed out. "You love anyone that's willing to join you in filling the Atlantean ocean with small white balls. I swear, sea level has risen a good inch and a half since you started building up the seafloor with Titleists."

"It's not filled with Titleists," Sheppard defended in a huff before mumbling, "Those are too expensive to lose in the water. I save them for playing on the Mainland." At Rodney's rolled eyes, he changed the subject slightly. "Besides, that whole driving range outing with Rod ended up being a lot less fun than I thought it was going to be."

"Why's that?" Rodney demanded with renewed interest. "Did he suck? Did he throw the nine iron in the water and storm off in a tizzy?"

"No, Rodney, he couldn't do that since you had already dumped my nine iron in the drink when you had a tizzy the one and only time I managed to get you out to play."

"Well, I'm sorry, but the whole sport is based around simple mathematic and physics concepts and if anyone should be able to make the goddamn ball go where it is supposed to go, it should be me. And seeing as it didn't go anywhere near as far as it should or in the direction it should, that leaves me with the undeniable conclusion that the game is stupid and a complete and total waste of my time and… oh, my god! He was better than you!" The look on the Colonel's face confirmed that McKay's realization was correct. "He was, wasn't he? He was a better golfer than Lt. Colonel Tiger Sheppard."

"Not only better," he admitted in reluctance, "but he offered me pointers on top of it. I would have probably thrown him in the ocean if he hadn't seemed so genuinely concerned with wanting to help me improve. And the worst part is the son of a bitch actually helped me add another twenty yards to my drive."

"Then I guess he was a better man than both of us."

At Rodney's frustrated toss of his arms, Sheppard shook his head. "He wasn't a better man; he was just a different one."

"Of course he wasn't," McKay scoffed sarcastically. "Christ, I couldn't have done what he did. Step into a matter stream with just a personal shield and a hypothesis to protect me as I moved from one reality to the next."

"You're right, Rodney, you couldn't have done that. You had already burned out the personal shield by stepping into a sentient energy field and saving us all with nothing more than a gut instinct that it would work."

Sliding my chair so I could see McKay's reaction to the knowing grin and tap of boot to socked foot that Colonel Sheppard gave him, I saw a small flicker of pride across the scientist's face. "That was pretty daring, wasn't it?"

"It took invulnerability to new heights, even if you did… pass out in the end."

"Well, you know how it is," Rodney scowled, "manly hunger and all."

"Saving the expedition is ravenous work. Believe me, when I was hunting down rogue Genii in the city, all I could think is I could really go for a turkey sandwich right about now."

"Smartass," McKay snapped, but there was little bite behind the insult.

"The point is, Rod was a nice guy, he was a brave guy, he was good at everything and, when you get right down to it, he wasn't really all that different from you. He just had a flair for presentation is all."

"So, I made the right decision by not shutting down the ZedPM and letting him make it home, right?"

"Let's see…risking everything to save a man's life. I think you know where I stand on that sentiment."

"Yeah, but you only endangered yourself. I endangered the entire expedition."

"We've been in this position before. Most of these people walked through the gate knowing they might never go home. I didn't see a mass exodus of personnel when the Daedalus left. I know it's hard for the illustrious Dr. McKay to do, but give the people around you a little credit. They're tougher than you think."

"So, we're back to square one again." McKay exhaled heavily as he patted his metal seat with a sloppy hand. "I think you're right, Sheppard; this naqueda monster is more like a race track and we just keep circling around it."

"What comes around goes around?" Colonel Sheppard suggested.

"Once bitten, twice shy is more like it."

"If at first you don't succeed…"

"Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more, or fill the wall up with our English dead…"

Rodney glanced up into the control room and I knew he was thinking of the man that had sat in this seat before I joined the expedition. Peter Grodin had been one of those that Colonel Sheppard had mentioned before. He had walked through the gate not knowing if he would return to Earth or not. Ends up he didn't. I'd come over on the first staffing run of the Daedalus and arrived in an Atlantis powered by a fully functional ZedPM- a luxury that the existing staff was still getting used to. But now that we were back to naqueda generators and the limping remnants of the original power source, it never dawned on me to return back to Earth on the last ship out. I was a resident in the Lost City of the Ancients. How cool was that?

"English dead, American dead, German dead, Finnish dead, Russian dead…" Dr. McKay continued morosely. "Henry the fifth didn't have to worry about a veritable United Nations of corpses when he made that speech."

"At least there's been no Canadian dead," Sheppard offered with a certain amount of relief in his voice. And I have to admit, I was definitely relieved by that fact myself…and rather selfishly hopeful that it would stay that way.

"This time around the track," McKay pointed out with a raised finger. "Who knows what will happen when we circle round again?"

"Maybe we'll get a second chance that we weren't expecting."

"I think second chances are highly overrated and rarely live up to the hype. I mean, sure, John Travolta's comeback gave us 'Pulp Fiction' but then he went off and made 'Battlefield Earth'. I would be begging you to shoot me if I had to sit through that celluloid horror again."

Leaning back with crossed arms, Sheppard informed him, "You'd be out of luck, my days of shooting you are over."

"You say that now, but just wait until we come across some other alien mind altering device and that promise will go out the window."

"You really do think of this baby as a truly vicious circle don't you?" Sheppard patted the ring they sat in almost affectionately.

"I just never know what we'll be walking into on the other side. Will we meet the Athosians or the Genii? Will we find a newly charged ZedPM or a Wraith device intent on killing us all? Will we come back whole or with holes?"

"No more talk about holes, okay?" Colonel Sheppard grimaced.

"I'm just telling you, every time we walk through here, we're taking the ultimate crap shoot."

"And those are the best table odds in Vegas, I might add," Sheppard interjected.

"Well, if nothing else, you have to admit that the chevrons are rather fang-like."

"That doesn't worry me. I hear gate techs double as lion tamers on the weekends." The Colonel flashed a smirk in my direction and I grinned back awkwardly that he had caught me eavesdropping before sliding back behind the displays. "Look, you're right, okay? It's dangerous out there. But is that going to stop you from going?"

"Of course not," Dr. McKay scoffed. "What are you going to do, have Ronon fix things when they go south? Unless his dreds have evolved an intelligence all there own and are hording laptops along with his multitude of knives, I believe the technical term for the team would be screwed all to hell."

"I'll be sure to tell him your glowing opinion of his capabilities the next time I see him."

"Please, as if that threat scares me. Ever since you shot the two of us, we've bonded."

"Dammit, Rodney, you are just not going to let that go are you?"

Trying to control my snicker at the way Dr. McKay had yet again managed to sneak in that jab, I barely made out Rodney's next question seeing as he asked it so quietly. "Did he thank you?"

"Did who thank me?"

"Your friend you tried to save in Afghanistan. Did he thank you for coming for him?"

"Not in so many words. Not that he really had much of a chance."

"But was he at least grateful to see you?"

"Yeah, I think he was," he admitted with melancholy.

I was so intent on trying to hear the conversation that I didn't notice Dr. Beckett's approach until he was already frantically waving his arms at the wall screen behind me. "We need to activate the city sensors. The ruddy fool has run off and I can't find him anywhere."

"Dr. Beckett?" I stood to see him randomly touching controls, concentrating for a split second before moving to the next.

"How in the name of all that is holy do these damnable gadgets work?" He touched another monitor and the alarms starting sounding. "Oh, bloody hell," he squeaked out as the doors to the control room swung shut.

Reaching around him I deactivated the manual lockdown he had initiated and offered, "Doctor, if you'll just tell me what you need, I'll be more than happy to help."

"Rodney. He's disappeared from the infirmary. And don't you dare tell me he's in the morgue because I have two nurses and marine with an aggravated ulcer that swear they saw him in his bed less than an hour ago." Dark shadowed eyes red from lack of sleep pinned me to the spot and I faltered in my answer as I saw a man haunted by more than exhaustion standing before me. Fortunately, Colonel Sheppard had come up the steps when the alarms started.

"Doc, what's the problem?"

"Colonel, thank God. You have to help me find Rodney."

"He's okay, Carson," Sheppard reassured with a hand on the physicians shoulder as he led him to the railing to show him the subject of his search sitting up uncomfortably with an arm wrapped around his side and a worried expression on his face. "We were just having a talk, but I think we're done now. Right, McKay?"

"Yeah, heading back to the infirmary now."

He started to push to a stand, let out a yelp of pain and sank back down. The three of us moved quickly down the stairs and I had to put out a hand to steady Dr. Beckett when he nearly lost his footing in his rush. Sheppard easily reached him first, but Beckett slapped his arm away before he could help McKay stand.

Squatting before the injured scientist, Carson clucked testily as he lifted the hospital scrub to reveal a red-stained bandage. "You've ripped your sutures, Rodney. Not that I'm surprised with you gallivanting about the city when you should be in bed. Resting. Letting your wounds heal. Not using the stargate like a beach hammock."

"Shit, McKay, why didn't you say something?"

At Sheppard's accusatory reaction to the blood, the injured man frowned. "I didn't know, okay? Do you think I would have just been sitting here if I had known I was bleeding again? In fact, why am I still sitting here? Get me back to the infirmary."

This time Beckett stood aside and let the Colonel loop an arm around his teammate and help him to stand with a loud hiss of pain. "Sorry," he grit, taking more of McKay's weight when he reached his feet. "You all right?"

"No, I'm not all right. I've been shot and I'm bleeding here." Sheppard's head sagged as he was reminded once again of his actions but Rodney squeezed the shoulder he had his arm slung around. "But thanks for asking." He was answered with a wary glance from hazel eyes. "In fact, thank you. You know, in case I don't get the chance to say it sometime in the future."

"Just… never need to thank me and that'll be thanks enough for me."

"That's rather circular logic, Colonel."

"What can I say? I'm a sucker for a good Hot Wheels track."

Sheppard grinned as he led his charge up the stairs, taking them one at a time and wincing every time McKay did. Beckett followed along behind, still berating the men for being in the gate room at this hour in the first place. I watched them go, none of them so much as looking back in my direction as they made their way to the infirmary.

But that's okay. It's all part of the job. A good gate tech can run the whole control room and no one will even know he is there. We watch all the teams go out and we watch all the teams come back in… if we're lucky. When we're not, we watch four members go out and body bags return instead. Or they simply vanish, never to be seen again, gobbled up by the unknown or the circle of life or maybe the fangs of the gate that Rodney had observed. And sometimes, even us gate techs can't tame that beast, no matter what Colonel Sheppard might think. We see it all: the triumphant returns, the defeated retreats, the welcoming homecomings, the worried vigils… and even the simple conversations and bickering among teammates.

With a last look at the three men moving slowly down the hall, I was reminded of the last family get together we had before I left Earth. Squabbling with my little sister, laughing with my older brothers, poking fun at our parents behind their backs, saying goodbye for who knows how long. Family: it's the same the universe over. It doesn't matter if you're born to it or find yourself assigned to it. It may not always be glamorous, but it's the best damn job you'll ever have.

Kind of like being a stargate technician on Atlantis.

The End