SPOILERS: through the end of season three
NOTES: Despite putting concentrated effort into avoiding spoilers for the second half of season three, which has yet to air in the U.S., I managed to have two major plot points spoiled for me. While I don't know the details of either, both are mentioned here. One inspired this fluffy little bunny. Thank you, PurpleYin for betaing this without spoiling anything else for me with your more-informed corrections. Please don't tell me this premise is wrong in a review, because I don't want any more spoilers!
DISCLAIMER: Stargate: Atlantis and all things associated with it belong to other people.
MILES TO GO
She'd been anticipating this for quite some time, but that didn't make the prospect any less dreadful. The adventure of Atlantis had begun with a core group of people in Antarctica. The others had all died or returned to Earth, leaving just the two of them. Now it was her turn to leave.
The Daedalus arrived after breakfast, with Woolsey accompanying Dr. Driscoll, the man who was replacing her. After countless desperate crises and profound discoveries, all the struggle and heartache, there was no way to evade the emotional blow of this. She'd given up her best chance at a personal life for the sake of Atlantis, grown to think of the Ancient city as her home, and now she was being shown the door. It made her want to review her old notes on refugees, but she could probably add a few chapters to that college text, given what she'd learned in Pegasus.
Woolsey was his usual courteous yet forthright self, bringing Dr. Driscoll straight to her office. Once past the initial introductions, she tapped the comm in her ear. "Dr. McKay, would you please come to my office?" There was no point delaying the inevitable, and she predicted, as the last of the original Atlantus team, Rodney was the one who'd need the most time to adjust. John and the others could be informed later.
"I'm kind of in the middle of something..."
She wasn't thrilled at having to repeat her request in front of her guests, but as soon as her displeasure flashed through her brain, she wondered why she worried about how it looked, given the situation. "Rodney." Even over the comm, there was no misinterpreting her tone.
"I'm coming." She could imagine him scowling and huffing impatiently about being interrupted during prime lab time, especially considering how little of it he'd had recently.
Dr. Driscoll's raised eyebrows caused her to smile as she remembered her own initial encounter with the astrophysicist. Rodney had managed to be arrogant, belligerent, insulting and dismissive all at the same time, yet she hadn't found him in the least intimidating. She'd always believed that was the primary reason he listened to her. "As both the Chief of Science and a member of Atlantis' top away team, Dr. McKay doesn't get as much time in his lab as he'd like. With the majority of his research being vital to Atlantis, it's understandable that's a priority to him." Besides, Rodney was a scientist, not an office drone or government lackey who was supposed to jump at his boss' summons.
The explanation seemed acceptable to Dr. Driscoll, though he commented, "I've read a wide variety of reports about Dr. McKay. He seems to be a...colorful character."
She tried not to laugh at his choice of words. "I'm sure you'll get along just fine, once you get to know each other." It wasn't often she stretched the truth so far in attempting to be diplomatic. Her first impressions of Dr. Driscoll were causing her to doubt the man's ability to deal with the city's CoS. Aside from his being wiry and shorter than Rodney, Dr. Driscoll had no background in linguistics or diplomacy, no skills that would allow him to perceive the emotional complexities beneath the bluster. Worse, she had sensed no humor in the man. Admittedly, taking over Atlantis was an intimidating prospect, one that would be difficult to face without being completely serious, but it took a certain temperament to work well with Rodney, one in which humor was essential. At least Dr. Driscoll was older and had an air of authority, though she questioned how much either would matter. Rodney tended to only appreciate intellect and ability; having topnotch bureaucratic credentials would not impress the often-obstinate Canadian.
"I've wondered if sending the Chief of Science on offworld missions isn't unnecessarily risky, given his work's importance."
Elizabeth hated having to justify herself to people who'd never been in her shoes, but this man soon would be. So, for the sake of Atlantis' success, she did her best to remain intellectually detached and hopeful that she might depart some wisdom. "Academic capability and quick thinking are two vastly different skills. While all of the scientists on Atlantis are in the top of their fields, they are not equally capable of innovation on a moment's notice. I assure you that the ability to think on one's feet is best honed by participating in away missions. During times of crisis, there's usually no room for academic debate, and the Chief of Science, above all others, needs to be able to adapt quickly."
"Here he comes," observed Woolsey, lifting his chin in the direction of the control room.
She glanced over to see Rodney cross the catwalk with his attention solely on the computer in his left hand, his right poised above it like a bird of pray, occasionally swooping down to tap at the touch-sensitive surface. He didn't look up as he walked through the door. "Yes, Elizabeth? You needed to see me?"
"Dr. McKay, I'd like to introduce you to Dr. Driscoll."
Despite his general lack of perception when it came to the nuances of social interaction, Rodney knew when she called him "Dr. McKay" in person that it was time to act official. His head popped up, and he gave her a flustered look before dropping his computer to his side and finally taking note of the other people in the room.
With only Woolsey and a stranger to choose from, Rodney stuck his hand out to Dr. Driscoll and put on one of his patently fake, I'm-pretending-to-care smiles. They exchanged "nice to meet you"s, then Rodney asked, "So what brings you to our fair city?"
"I'm the new administrative head of the Atlantis Project."
"Excuse me?" Letting go of the man's hand, Rodney's glance moved to her for clarification.
"I've been relieved of my position," she explained.
He blinked at her. "What?" There was no missing the incredulity in his voice.
"The IOA has determined Dr. Weir's skills would be best applied elsewhere," offered Woolsey.
Rodney's blank stare skimmed across Woolsey and Dr. Driscoll before returning to her. Then, without a word, he stiffly turned on his heel and marched across the catwalk, absently thrusting his computer into the hands of the Sergeant manning the Gate, whose puzzled gaze traveled back and forth between the ex-head of Atlantis and his fellow Canadian. Rodney continued across Control, past the meeting room and onto the empty balcony beyond, oozing tension the whole way.
She was so stunned by his reaction that she momentarily forgot she wasn't alone. Woolsey cleared his throat to bring her attention back to the two men still in her office. She smiled at them, then wondered why she bothered. "If you'll excuse me for a moment, gentlemen." She walked around her desk and followed the path Rodney had taken, pausing briefly at the Gate console. "Sergeant, please escort Mr. Woolsey and Dr. Driscoll on a tour of the control room and jumper bay."
"If I'm not back by the time you're done, take them to the cafeteria for refreshments."
The young man glanced at the balcony then back. He gave her a understanding smile and a nod. "I'll keep 'em busy."
"Thank you." For some reason, his simple act of loyalty stirred the deep reservoir of sentiment she'd been trying to ignore, and she was reminded painfully of Peter. There were so many she'd lost, and so many she'd miss by leaving. Before she let her feelings get away from her, she moved past him toward the balcony.
Outside, the morning air was mild and breezy, and it took her a moment to adjust to the light. In his offworld black clothes, Rodney was like a brooding patch of darkness, contradicting the sunny day. She approached him quietly. "Rodney?" He pulled away from her hand on his shoulder and moved around her toward the door. "You must have known this might happen. I'm sure you and Dr. Driscoll will get along just..." She stopped when he yanked a crystal out of the door control and stuffed it in his pocket. Then he faced her with an intense gleam in his eye, the likes of which she'd never seen before. With determined intent, he pulled the communicator from her ear then took her head in his hands. She managed a sputtering "What're you-" before he covered her mouth with his own. It was definitely not a reaction she'd expected!
Surrounded by the military's finest, she had never perceived Rodney as particularly brawny, but he overwhelmed her. The breadth of his shoulders blocked the wind, giving her an irrational sense of security, yet the power of his physical presence, up close, with his concentrated focus on her, was almost frightening. With her hands pressed against his chest, his heart pounding beneath her fingers, it was impossible not to perceive him as a sensual being, something she'd done her best to avoid for simplicity's sake. One by one, her senses went into overdrive, noting the details with unabashed fascination. His lips tasted of coffee, and his cologne reminded her of the sea. Although their bodies barely touched, he felt so reassuringly solid. His hands were remarkably warm, and his heated kiss made her pulse block out all other sounds. While he was exuding masculinity, it was seeing the soft, lush curve of his thick eyelashes against his cheek that caused the already stressed dam of her emotional restraint to finally give way. From the beginning, this man had stood by her through thick and thin, risked his life for her countless times. No matter how complicated and trying, he was brilliant and brave and kissing her. So she closed her eyes and kissed him back.
Her response caused a pleased rumble to pass through his chest, and his lips grew less demanding, more persuasive. She felt his hands shift, and suddenly her inner balance was thrown for a loop, her arms automatically reaching around him for stability. It took opening her eyes and seeing the top of the central tower to realize he'd dipped her! Closing her eyes, again, she enjoyed the intoxicating experience and marveled at the unexpected talents of Dr. Rodney McKay. It made her regret all the times she'd kept him at arm's length, using the excuse of her position to keep from getting too close. After a long moment, he brought them both upright then tamed the kiss further, making it almost sweet before setting his hands on her shoulders and finally pulling away.
Opening her eyes, she found Rodney sporting the most satisfied look she'd ever seen on him. It was her turn to blink incredulously. Once she caught her breath, she asked, "What was that for?"
"Other than fulfilling a personal fantasy?" Even his most smug, lopsided grin didn't hide the uncertainty in him.
She couldn't help but cock a quizzical eyebrow. "You fantasize about kissing me?"
"I'm hetero, male and breathing." He said it in that it's-self-evident way of his, as though every man were secretly infatuated with her, a prospect she found both disturbing and unlikely.
Using her best serious yet sensitive tone, she insisted. "Yes, other than that."
"I..." His mouth opened and shut then frowned. "After Carson, I..." He looked down as a flash of pain crossed his blue eyes. Brow creased in consideration, he met her gaze, again. "I promised myself I'd do a better job of telling the people I care about how I feel. But with you still my boss..." A shrug was followed by an uncomfortable smile. "I've made your life difficult enough without dumping something like this on you. Besides, I really didn't want to lose my job." His laugh was singularly awkward.
"You thought I'd fire you if you told me how you felt?"
He nodded then glanced at the railing. "That or you'd get Ronon to throw me off a balcony."
The thought of it made her laugh. "Rodney!"
"Lesser women have done worse," he responded airily. Then his expression grew cautious, again. "So...you're not mad?"
She thought about it for a moment, cataloging all the different sensations his kiss had induced. Her pulse was racing; she was still slightly breathless; the blush of his cheeks and lips made her want to kiss him again; she felt like laughing, though she wasn't sure why. It was all a bit much. "I'm surprised and confused," she confessed, "but I'm not mad. I didn't know..."
His brow furrowed briefly, as though he found it unlikely, then he tilted his head. "Confused?"
How to explain? "I prefer to take time to think before making serious personal decisions."
"You prefer not to make serious personal decisions," he corrected. She gaped at him, and he blushed, removing his hands from her shoulders so he might continue, if a little less confidently, with the benefit of gestures. "If you think about it, it explains why you're still single. You holed yourself up when the Ancients kicked us out of Atlantis. Carson told me what it was like at your place when he dragged you to dinner with us. He also told me his theory about that pendant you used to wear and a Dr. Wallis." His hands flew left for Carson, right for Simon, to himself and to her, and to his throat as he mentioned the various components of his ramble. "At the time, you kind of distanced yourself from me and favored John. So I figured I either reminded you of the guy who gave you the pendant, or, with access to Earth and other scientists, you realized could replace me if I got too annoying." He shrugged uncomfortably. "Or, you know, that the thought a relationship with me was repulsive..."
She'd gone through a lot once they'd first established contact with Earth. On top of losing Simon, her leadership and one of the most valuable members of her expedition had been threatened. It was only natural she'd become focused on defending John and looking good for the IOA, but she had never meant to neglect her friendship with Rodney, let alone cause him the same sense of insecurity she was trying so diligently to escape. It hurt to hear that he could think such things of her, and apparently it showed in her eyes, though he misinterpreted it.
"Oh, it's okay. I'm kind of used to the women I'm most interested in having the least interest in me. That's why I did my best to back off and not tick you off. I know it may not seem like it, but I've tried to be a better person so I wouldn't cause you so much grief. So long as you aren't mad-"
Grasping his hands, she silenced him. "Rodney, I never meant to give you any of those impressions. Admittedly, two years ago would have been a bad time for me to start a relationship, but I've never thought of you as repulsive or replaceable. You can be..." He seemed afraid of what she might say, so she smiled at him and squeezed his hands. "...overwhelming, sometimes, and this is overwhelming. There's nothing wrong with that, but personal and overwhelming aren't a combination I'm comfortable with. I can't decide how I feel about this after one kiss."
His eyes lit up. "How about two kisses? ...three?"
She laughed, and it made him smile. "Plus, my last long-distance relationship didn't go so well..." There was no questioning whether or not Rodney would stay on Atlantis; the city needed him.
"Long-distance might be beneficial when it comes to dealing with me." She'd always wondered how such an egotistical man could be so privately self-deprecating.
"How about we discuss this over dinner?"
"Dinner?" he parroted with hopeful surprise. "Just you and me?"
"Yes, Rodney, just you and me." Reaching up, she gave him a quick peck. "In the meantime, let's try for a better second impression with Dr. Driscoll?"
"For you, anything." He didn't need to say it; he'd proven it countless times.
"First, you need to fix the door."
"Oh!" Sheepishly, he fished the crystal out of his pocket. "Right."
Together, they left the balcony for he cafeteria. The wind would explain the blush on their cheeks, but, given this was the day she'd lost her job, there was no explaining the smiles they shared. For once, she didn't care what people thought. This wasn't something she needed to justify to anyone.