Word Count: 44341 words
Notes: (participation into SGA-bigbang) links to the Fanart to this story and notes at the end
Summary: Rodney's decent into madness is a slow process, taking his friends (dead and alive) along for the ride. (spoilers for Season 3&4)
"You know, the universe is a big place. Who knows, maybe we'll bump into each other again," Rodney said hopefully.
"Aye," Carson sighed. "Who knows?"
Rodney & Carson out of the Episode "Sunday"
The sun wasn't Rodney's friend.
Rodney had known this since his earliest childhood days. The fact was carved into his memory and into sensitive skin, painfully clear ever since the day right after his sixth birthday: the very same day he foolishly spent swimming and jumping around at the beach without care for painful, carcinogenic ultra violet radiation.
He had visited his grandmother's beach house that summer and he had loved the ocean and the sand instantly, but it turned to a literally torrid, burning love affair. He was just a child for a while, without the burdens of a kid who had started to solve highly complicated math problems with age three and a half.
This instant love, like most others in his childhood and later in his adulthood, had come back to haunt him with a vengeance. His play bound him to a dimmed bedroom with his face full of strangely numb blisters and sunburn so painful he wasn't able to move even a finger for three days straight.
His mother had merely screamed at him and lectured him about the way sun could hurt him and how he would eventually die of one of his various medical problems if he wouldn't look after his body's health and, god help him if he dared to keep peeling long stripes of burned skin off his arms.
His grandmother had smiled, fussed over every single blister, had cooled his flaking skin and had made ice tea and cookies for him to keep him from feeling miserable. She kept him company, silently and patiently, and was always there for him, just there, no matter how much his mother told her to stop, or how much of a pain in the ass he'd been. Of course, she could be even worse if she wanted, ranting and raving that even Rodney's mother had flushed in embarrassment.
He'd truly loved his Nana.
Rodney had gotten the mouth and attitude of the old lady, that much was sure.
In the end, his mother had given up and just forbidden him to go out of the house for the rest of the summer and, quite frankly, he had sworn to never talk with his mother for the rest of his miserable life, so angry had he been. Then, his grandmother had showed him the soothing qualities of music and started to teach him how to play on the old piano that stood in the attic.
She would sing, or clap along and he tried to keep up.
Sometimes Rodney missed her, and sometimes he missed others that had played roles like hers in his life. Carson had reminded him a little of the old, unique woman who helped him more with her presence as with anything else...
He didn't want to think of that.
...or of Sheppard, when he sat by Rodney's side on secluded balconies, looking at the ocean in comfortable silence. The cocky flyboy absolutely failed at baking cookies though and, oh god, singing.
Rodney imagined a repeat of the last karaoke night in the mess hall and shuddered, even Johnny Cash didn't deserve such wanton slaughtering of his songs.
On the other hand, with their current situation back on Atlantis even the musical massacre of Christmas 2006 would have lifted the spirits to better levels than they were right now.
The crash landing of their city and Carter replacing Elizabeth as expedition leader was somehow just the beginning...he really should stop thinking and pay more attention to his scanner.
Concentration on reality and his current position in it didn't help either.
How Rodney wished for the music, the attic and the piano.
Rodney would have done anything to not need to stomp through the heated sand of this hell hole of a planet and have iced tea and cookies instead. He would even listen to Lorne's team singing ABBA songs, if he would never have to set foot on such planets again.
The orange sand was so damn fine it had worked its way into his boots even before the Pirian's oasis came into view, and walking through the dunes on the way back was a nightmare. He more stumbled blindly than actually knew where he was going, slipping occasionally and had only his cap, trusted sun cream and glasses to ward against the barbaric sun and heat. Heat, and oh, let's not forget the stupid natives he just had to deal with, for one single, lousy little light device.
So much for their so called allied 'sources' and their vital intel.
Their allies were all idiots, total idiots. And he hated nothing more as dealing with stupid natives...
"M.A.S.H." John said serenely, nodding his head to himself.
...or stupid Colonels, for that matter.
He had been busy finding their way back from the Pir's oasis to the Stargate through nothing more but sun and hot orange sand and absolutely no time to keep track of the stupid small talk between Sheppard and Dex. Speaking of stupid, why the hell hadn't they taken a jumper? Oh, right, can't scare the superstitious natives.
Sheppard looked over to Rodney, a broad grin on his face, visibly in his element in the sun and sand. Rodney, of course, had no problem picturing the other man in shorts at the beach, tanned and happy with his trunks low on his narrow hips... he grimaced, let's not go there and focus.
Rodney snapped out of his little fantasy and raised a single eyebrow at the obvious lunacy going on around him as his only answer, before returning his attention to the scanner. The last thing they would need would be missing the gate or getting lost in the endless sand because Rodney couldn't tell the gate's location from the occasional echoes flickering across his screen.
"What are you talking about?" Rodney asked and deliberately didn't look up at Sheppard again.
"I finally recalled what my office reminds me of," Sheppard drawled happily.
It wasn't unusual for Sheppard to make very little sense, so he decided that he would rather concentrated on things that mattered, like finding the way back to the gate. The way to the oasis had been easy, following the life signs and all, but returning seemed to prove difficult, especially since the aforementioned energy echoes had started to fluctuate since they'd left the settlement.
"Waste disposal on the south pier?" Ronon suggested from behind them.
Dex was their only company on the trip now that Teyla was no longer going on first contact missions, well, since she was pregnant and all that, anyway, and she was on New Athos at the moment anyway, so... where was he?
Sun tended to make him a little unfocused.
"No..." Sheppard said and gave the big man an unreadable look from behind his black sunglasses.
Rodney snickered. "Well, the smell has absolutely stunning similarities."
"Oh how funny," Sheppard huffed and looked into the blue, cloudless sky for a moment, then back at Rodney and his scanner. "Your laboratory smelled far worse the last time I was there."
"That was because of Kusanagi blowing up that purple egg thingy," The city had reacted to Kusanagi's activation of the unknown device with releasing a stinking but harmless gas, seemingly to get them to leave the room in time to avoid the explosion.
They hadn't gotten out yet how or why it had happened which was just another reason for Rodney that added up on the long list of things he could be investing his time in better than getting lost on alien worlds.
"... and has nothing to do with the fact that your office smells like something died in there." Rodney shrugged and looked up from his scanner to the horizon ahead of him. The gate should have been in sight already, but somehow wasn't.
"It's not that bad." Sheppard shook his head but smiled in amusement. "You don't understand what I mean. Am I right?!"
"Oh no, no..." McKay waved a hand dismissingly. "I do understand that you see similarities between your office on Atlantis and a TV series from the 70s," McKay snorted. "Which is a bit strange, even for you, but alright, it's not as if we aren't used to you doing strange things."
There was the pout Rodney loved to provoke so much. "I am not doing strange things."
"But fun to watch," Ronon added and Sheppard grumbled to himself.
Scientist and Runner were not merely brothers in food and, occasionally, arms; no, they pretty much also shared the same kind of evil humour.
"See Sheppard," Rodney pointed over his shoulder at the Satedean behind him. "...even he says you are doing strange things, and you look funny while you're at it."
Sheppard glared over his shoulder and Ronon just shrugged, not the least bit effected, instead he said, "And what's with this golf?" sounding totally innocent of course.
"That's not strange," Sheppard defended. "It's a sport."
"It's hitting a ball with a club," Ronon grunted and asked, "What's the sense of that?"
"You know what? Can we change the topic?" Sheppard stopped, took the sunglasses off for a moment and pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh before walking on.
"How about we talk about what we give Teyla for her baby shower..."
That sounded like a brilliant idea for Sheppard but Rodney just snorted snidely.
"You'd rather discuss baby boots than golf?"
Sheppard set his glasses back on his nose. "Yeah, right now I do,"
Rodney returned his attention to the scanner once more and another spike in the echo made the entire scanner readout flicker and turn. The echoes alone were normal, just some sort of background reflection of minerals and metals, however they usually weren't this volatile or strong.
"Stop!" Rodney declared and raised his fist to stop his teammates, nearly punching Sheppard in the face.
Somehow the readings didn't make sense. The gate should have been nearby, but it wasn't in sight yet and when he was correct, and he almost always was, that meant nothing good in combination with all those exceptionally strong echoes around.
"I told you not to do that."
Sheppard rolled his eyes and pushed the scientist's hand back down.
"I think we have a problem. " Rodney ignored the Colonel and adjusted something on the scanner, without any visible effects on the readings however, which made him a bit nervous.
"The Stargate should be another two clicks in that direction," He pointed across the next dune. "...but, obviously, isn't."
"What do you mean it isn't?" Sheppard asked and took his sunglasses off again.
He'd known something was off - the sun had been in the wrong place compared to where it had been when they had arrived, but the fact that most planets had more than one sun or were running around their sun in a different orbit had let him ignore the feeling.
Rodney looked up from his scanner once more and jerked his hand into the general direction of the dunes before him. "Well, it isn't there!"
First the sun, then the march from gate to the Pirian oasis, Sheppard's annoying flirting with a space bimbo for three hours of unbelievable boring talks, and now, as if it hadn't been bad enough for Rodney to have wasted his time in this spectacularly useless way, the gate was gone, too. Or they just had missed it thanks to the echoes, or wandered into the wrong direction... or something. Jeez, it made no sense, but what of these kind of jaunts ever did?
"How can the gate not be there?" Ronon looked around, one hand on his gun. "Have they buried it?"
"No," Impossible; Rodney would have it still on the scanner if it was buried, the naquadah would show up. "I rather think something disturbed the scanner and we walked into the wrong direction or something like that."
The background signals, or echoes, they had detected with the MALP hadn't interrupted the scanner so much on the way to the settlement, so why should it now, and anyway, even if the gate was buried or something, he should be able to scan for the naquadah even with the background noise.
He gave his 'sensitive' equipment a light blow against the casing, and the scanner results jumped back in the right order.
"Ha!" He hummed in triumph.
Sheppard peered in over his shoulder. "Do you have something?"
Yes, he did; he could detect the gate's naquadah, just totally in the wrong direction. Stupid echoes!
"Huh." He turned around and nearly pumped into Sheppard. "We walked past the gate already,"
The gate was four clicks to their right, hidden behind a couple of very high dunes Rodney couldn't remember from the way to the oasis. Perhaps they hadn't looked this high from the other side, or had shifted or something. Alright, no, that made no sense. But the gate was there and no longer before them.
"It's a couple of clicks into that direction." He pointed at the high dunes.
"Are you sure?" Sheppard followed his pointing with his eyes, obviously thinking the same as Rodney had. "Doesn't look like the path we came by."
"Do you see paths around here?" Rodney spat.
The heat irritated Rodney; sweat, sun cream and sand weren't the ideal combination either.
Sheppard raised an eyebrow questioningly.
"Oh don't look at me. It was a stupid idea to go by foot," Rodney added snidely and looked back at his scanner. "It's hot, I am sweaty and I have sand in my boots, and now the Stargate starts playing hide and seek!" He just couldn't help it, and stupid comments didn't help matters much.
"Alright, calm down Rodney," Sheppard sighed. "I guess we go over there," Sheppard imitated Ronon's grip on his gun and raised his P-90 just in case. "... and we'd better hurry a bit before it vanishes again."
"Oh please, the gate can't just vanish," Rodney snapped and fell into step by Sheppard's side.
"No, it just changes locations from one moment to the other," Sheppard snapped back.
"It can't just jump around. Perhaps the signals we picked up all the time during this little torture trip, which I still think was a great waste of our time by the way, might have messed up the scanner readings a little..."
Sheppard sighed. "Rodney. Just move."
Ronon grunted in agreement and took the lead. He was better than any scanner when it came to reading tracks. Rodney walked in the middle and Sheppard by his side with his eyes glued firmly on his scanner to not lose the focus on their destination again.
The sand of the dune was anything but stable, and so loose it started sliding downwards in small sand avalanches that grew bigger the further they managed to climb uphill.
"I think we should take another way..." Sheppard stopped. It had probably not been the smartest idea to climb straight upwards to begin with, and he wondered when he had suppressed his basic survival training from back in the Gulf War so much that he hadn't seen this before.
"You think of that now!" Rodney nearly went downhill with another patch of moving sand and Sheppard had to grab for the other man's backpack to keep him in place.
Ronon was a couple of feet in advance of them, looking slightly bothered by the movement of the dunes as well.
"We have to go down again and retrace our steps." Dex turned to them slowly, balancing on the sliding ground.
Sheppard grunted in agreement, but that didn't look particularly safe either.
"Downhill isn't such a good idea either." Rodney squeaked holding to Sheppard as another piece of caked sand loosened below him, sliding down just as he tried to take a step downward.
Sheppard grunted struggling himself. "Well, it's only up or down."
Sheppard sounded perhaps a bit exasperated. The desert wasn't his friend so much either, and now that he had tried to remember what he'd learned about it, or where he had used it the last time, it reminded him far too much of times spent in the sand and rocks he rather wanted to forget.
"Up." Ronon reached out and pulled McKay forward on his tac vest.
Rodney made another unmanly squeak. "Hey, you..."
"Then it's up!" Sheppard said as his teammate was dragged up before him and followed carefully.
There was a hissing sound in the air, one, two, and three... and Ronon stopped abruptly, Rodney started slipping in the sand again and Sheppard grabbed for him to keep him from slithering down the dune.
"What's wrong big guy?" Sheppard asked looking up.
Rodney could see something flying in their direction too, oh crap.
"DOWN!" Ronon yelled and pushed Rodney backwards.
Rodney overbalanced, crashed into Sheppard and both lost their footing, going down hill in a wild mix of limbs, Sheppard couldn't even shoot something before he went down, involuntarily buffering Rodney's fall.
The first arrow hit Dex in the upper arm. Those that followed impacted in a rough circle around him in the sand. Everything went into a crazy tumble of legs, arms and gear down the dune afterwards, the hot orange sand sliding along with them.
Dark figures appeared on the edge of the dune above and more sand came sliding as they moved across the dune's edge. Ronon, who had not fallen fully yet pressed himself against the sand as well as he could to return the attack, but couldn't keep his footing for very long either.
Sheppard and Rodney ended their uncontrolled slide at the base of the dune, sand half-burying them as another arrow graced Ronon's thigh and stopped him effectively from shooting more when he fell backwards and slid down the dune, too.
Sheppard's world was spinning as he untangled himself from sand and Rodney, and he grabbed for what he could get of his wildly struggling buddy to get him on his feet and going.
Rodney saw Ronon land far too hard in a cloud of sand as he crawled away from the arrows with Sheppard on his heels, and felt an impact in his arm next.
He fell and Sheppard landed almost on top of him, swatting the arrow away like a fly, but it may have been too late already.
It wasn't like those that were even now impacting around them; it was smaller and stung more and the world went blurrier around Rodney than it already had been from the fall in a matter of seconds.
"Rodney!" Sheppard tugged at the loops of his vest and pulled. "Keep moving!"
Rodney couldn't help or talk, or even move. He just gaped at the chaos around him, the dart before him in the sand and the dark figures closing in. Sheppard must have fired, Rodney was sure, then it stopped and everything went quite as the dark blue sky above.