Not an episode tag, though it was inspired by the end of "This Mortal Coil," which I've only times than I've rewatched the end of "Miller's Crossing"?

Mechanics of Coping

Rodney's opinion of the soft sciences being what it was, the botany greenhouse was a long shot, but John had already tried the three computer labs, the engineering bays, the robotics shop, the ZPM room, the accelerator chamber, both biochemistry facilities, and even ducked into the geology lab on the way out from the infirmary, and had come up empty.

John was familiar with all the labs in Atlantis--all the ones in regular use, anyway; there were dozens locked off, put aside until time and people could be allocated to properly catalogue them, and whatever dangers they might hold; and dozens more yet unfound. Maybe hundreds.

Maybe thousands. He didn't always appreciate Atlantis's size, but some months back he had rolled his eyes at Rodney's request for still more military personnel to assist his science teams. "It's been three years, McKay, what more do you think you're going to find?"

In answer, McKay had shoved his nose into a few screens of city schematics. "West pier, this tower is thirty stories, twenty chambers a floor. It's marked as a research station, those rooms might all be labs, we don't know, we've never even set foot in this complex--and this complex has eight towers--you do the math, Colonel."

John had run the numbers in his head before McKay finished speaking, and put fifteen more Marines on the on-site exploration roster. That evening, he had gone out on the balcony beside his quarters, salty breeze nipping his bare arms, and had looked up at the city's shining spires. As big as Manhattan, and as brilliant under the stars; lights gleamed in the windows, but the rooms behind them were deserted, save for the few hundred of their expedition. All those labs, waiting to be found; all those distant porch-lights left on, waiting for someone to come home.

He'd never liked big cities, the bustling crowds, the noise and heat and smell of so many strangers packed close together. New York or Kabul, they'd felt equally as foreign to him, equally uncomfortable. There was no solitude in cities, no quiet places. Atlantis's stillness he loved like he loved the sky, like he'd loved the cold clean silence of Antarctica; but at that moment he'd wanted to hear footsteps down all her deserted corridors, wanted voices ringing off her pristine walls. Had wanted all her empty rooms filled, as once they had been.

At the time, he had retreated back inside, bypassed his room and gone to the commissary-turned-nightly-theater, where some sadist had been subjecting the audience to the complete Ed Wood oeuvre, digitally remastered so that every string suspending the flying saucers was clear on the screen. He'd fallen asleep on the couch halfway through Plan Nine from Outer Space, with Rodney on one side of him trying to explain Bela Lugosi's career to Teyla on his other side.

Now, when John passed the commissary, no one was there. The late-night cinema had been disrupted by the city's move. New planet, new commander, and everything shaken up hadn't yet settled back into their old positions. The movie projector, a dubious fusion of Ancient tech with a Panasonic DVD player, had been damaged in the touch-down, and there had been too many other things to worry about in the past few months to get it up and running again.

Last week John had overheard Corporal Flemming trying to bribe Dr. Zelenka into fixing it for two bottles of premium vodka. In time for Christmas, Flemming had wheedled; no one wanted to miss the annual Atlantian re-dub of The Grinch, with Dr. Potemsky's dynamite impression of one Rodney McKay. Zelenka had been the one to put the projector together in the first place, but with the Replicator virus to work on, he'd only been able to promise, "Later."

A later that might never come, now. John averted his eyes from the empty commissary and kept moving, heading for the botany lab.

It was an hour past midnight, New Lantean time, and after three hours he still hadn't located McKay. John hadn't been in the mood to stage a manhunt, hadn't meant to; he'd just wanted to drop by before going back to his room, see what project Rodney was busying himself with--was hiding in.

That was it. He'd had no intention of dragging Rodney back to the infirmary. Radek wouldn't be waking for hours yet--if he awoke; it had been in Keller's eyes, even if what she said aloud sounded hopeful. "His CT scan was promising," but that meant only so much, here in the city of the Ancients with all their broken promises.

Rodney had been sitting by his colleague's bedside for hours by then, waiting for the diagnosis. He'd been alternating typing on his laptop with addressing Zelenka's wan, motionless figure, explaining in verbose detail howRadek was supposed to be the cautious one around Ancient equipment; and that this mandatory medical leave was not getting him out of a single maintenance rotation; and that Rodney needed someone to debug every line of the virus's recompression subroutine and he sure as hell wasn't trusting a hotshot like Wong with a task that tedious; and God, Radek, we don't have time for this, not now, how could you have been this stupid; and please, Radek, please don't do this.

John hadn't said much of anything, just sat on the uncomfortable infirmary folding chair with his own computer, playing Solitaire, mostly, while pretending to prepare the new shift rotations. Then he'd looked up to find Keller turning in for the night and advising him to do the same, and McKay was gone. To sleep, Keller had said, and John had nodded politely at that bullshit, patted Radek's still shoulder and left to find Rodney.

Only Rodney wasn't holed up in any of the labs he usually frequented, and wasn't answering his radio if he still had it on. John had even stopped by McKay's quarters, just to be thorough, bypassed protocols and let himself in, but no one was there, and the rumpled bed probably hadn't been lain in for days.

He could drop by the control room again, do a scan for McKay's transmitter, but that would make this informal search more official than he cared to. Not something there ought to be a record of, that Atlantis's military commander was the kind of paranoid control freak who tracked his men off-duty. And he wasn't nervous, not really, didn't have a gut feeling that anything was wrong.

Just, he was used to being able to find Rodney. Was used to knowing where all his team was at any given time. Teyla was off-world now, tracking down a personal contact who might have some clue where the Athosians had gotten to. She'd visited the planet a dozen times, she'd assured him, and had checked in only--six hours ago, by his watch, right on schedule. But still, knowing she was off Atlantis while the rest of them were here jangled on John's nerves, like the itch of a mosquito bite he was trying to ignore, so he wouldn't scratch himself bloody.

And now there was Radek, lying in an infirmary bed--breathing on his own, but he hadn't been when they had brought him in, Rodney had said. They'd thought it had been an electrical discharge from a short circuit. Not anything as intentional or dangerous as the Ascension-o-matic, but this was Atlantis and you never could be sure. Even if they'd been working in that computer lab since their arrival; even though Zelenka had repaired those very circuits how many times before. This evening had just been an accident, just bridging the wrong gap with the wrong tool, nothing more, or less.

Rodney wouldn't have gone to bed, wouldn't sleep tonight and wouldn't try, even if he'd not been able to bear the muted beep-beep-beep monitoring Radek's heartbeat any longer. The primary computer lab had been the first place John had checked, but Doctors Wong and Lopez had just shaken their heads; they hadn't seen their boss since he had run past, hard on the heels of the medical team rushing to the infirmary. Neither had any of the other scientists burning the candle at both ends in any of the other facilities.

So now, search pattern nearly exhausted, John was at the botany lab, striding past jars of seeds and trays of specimens flattened between the tiny microscope slides, to the greenhouse, leaves spilling over etched pots and racks of soil samples. The lights were off, except for the dual moonlight shining through the glass overhead, and a yellow circle of artificial illumination cast over one table in the corner.

Dr. Katie Brown looked up from measuring a white poinsettia-like flower, or maybe just a plant with white leaves. "Colonel Sheppard," she said, surprised. "Hi. Good evening. Um, night. Morning?"

"'Evening," John said, not really paying attention to whether he was smiling or not, and then, because it was well past midnight and he had had enough of this, damn it, McKay, you don't take off that radio unless you're asleep, what if the city needs you?--he asked, "Have you seen Rodney?"

"Oh. No," and Dr. Brown frowned, at her plant, not at John. "Not for a few days. He's been busy, working on that Wraith program..."

"Yeah, uh, sorry," John said, less because he was in the habit of apologizing for Rodney and more because it beat saying nothing.

Katie shook her head, blinking up at him again with her eyes wide. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean..." She put down the chrome gauge, twisted her fingers together, her face all soft concern and sympathy. "I heard about Dr. Zelenka, I was so sorry to hear--I don't know him very well, but I know he's a good friend of Rodney's. Is is he?"

"Doc says he's going to be okay. Hopefully," John said. He looked around the dark greenhouse, seeking the exit, the polite way out of this. Not really thinking when he commented, "It's pretty late, isn't it? Didn't think botanists had the night shift, I thought you'd prefer working in sunlight."

Dr. Brown's round doe eyes lowered to her white flower again. "Our plants are photosynthetic; we aren't. You can still get plenty of research done at night. Especially with how much we have to do...there's so much. And we don't know how long any of us has to do it."

"Yeah," John said, and thought, you've been spending too much time with McKay. That soft feminine murmur was not Rodney's voice, and not Rodney's tone, either; it wasn't in Rodney to sound that helpless. But familiar, all the same, the scientist working through yet another sleepless night. Maybe it was just something all scientists had in common, botanists as much as astrophysicists, always too anxious to reach that next discovery, and the one after it, before anyone else.

But then, John wasn't asleep this night, either; and maybe he'd been spending too much time with Rodney himself. Or maybe it didn't have anything to do with scientists or soldiers or Rodney McKay after all.

"Colonel Sheppard," Katie Brown said, and now some of her concern was for him, "maybe--I could help you find Rodney, if you're worried about him?"

"No," John told her, hearing his voice go relaxed and easy, reassuring her. "It's nothing important, I just had a question for him about our last mission. Thought he might be here, I know he's been hoping to have some time alone with you," and he smiled at her, friendly but not enough for McKay to accuse him of flirting. She was pretty, and nice, and who knew what the heck she saw in Rodney, but he wouldn't risk spoiling whatever they had by asking. Rodney had enough in his life shot to hell these days; John wasn't about to screw up one of the few things going right for him.

Katie blushed a little, sweetly, hardly visible in the lamplight. "You can tell him I'm looking forward to seeing him, too," she said, and John wished her good night and left the greenhouse.

Outside in the corridor, he paused to take stock of his choices. Maybe back to the control room after all; he'd tried everywhere he could think of, and while it grated on him, like losing a game of hide and seek he hadn't even agreed to play--Colonel Carter should be off-duty, anyway, and if no one was at the console he could scan for McKay's transmitter without anyone being the wiser. Then he could quit prowling the halls, try to get some sleep, and so what if it felt like failure--this wasn't a game, wasn't a mission, and it wasn't like he was supposed or expected to know Rodney McKay so well that he could anticipate his every move.

He was about to enter the transporter when his radio hissed on. "Sheppard?"

John tapped the button. "Yeah, Ronon, go."

"Shooting range," Ronon said, "maybe you should come," and he clicked off.

Ronon didn't like the radios overly much, or use them unless he had to, so John moved it, not quite running but almost--late-night jog, if anyone saw him, but no one did, the scientists squirreled away in their labs, the soldiers wisely asleep, and those on the nightshift had more important places to be.

The shooting range was brightly lit, stark white lamps shining down the long metal lanes. Ronon was standing halfway down from the entrance, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. There was one other person on the range, at the furthest lane. The retorts of his steady shots thudded dully, muffled by the anechoic shielding. Small caliber, John identified; 9mm, probably, though it was hard to be sure through the sound-proofing.

It wasn't until he reached Ronon's side that he recognized the shooter, Rodney's features obscured by the goggles and earmuffs, but he was in the same gray t-shirt he'd had on in the infirmary, and the rounded set of his broad shoulders was unmistakable. His jacket had been thrown over the bar in the next lane over, and sweat darkened the t-shirt in a swathe down his back.

His arms were steady, though, squared against the recoil, as he squeezed off shot after shot. As John watched, McKay fired all fifteen rounds into the target, dropped his hands and reloaded, snapping in the new magazine with practiced, unconscious ease.

For no particular reason that efficient motion called up a memory, the dry grit of the desert wind blowing in his face, McKay fumbling for his pistol and yelling at Sheppard as the Wraith bore down on him...three years past, and a lot had changed. Nowadays, Rodney was as familiar with firearms as he was with Atlantis's crystal arrays, blunt fingers manipulating both with the same swift dexterity, experience turning onetime conscious effort into instinct.

Still, it wasn't every day that you saw McKay on the shooting range. After ops Rodney usually wanted nothing more than to scrub the smell of gunpowder off his hands as soon as possible. During a run of easy missions, John might be able to cajole him onto the range for maybe half an hour, shouting advice over the ear protection that Rodney would ignore more often than not. He wasn't the worst shot John had ever seen--he'd once trained Carson Beckett on this range--but he wasn't exactly a natural, and what skill he did have had mostly been picked up in the field. As he was quick to inform John, Atlantis's head scientist had better things to do than target practice.

Except tonight, apparently. John watched Rodney empty the new magazine. He was firing at a regular rate, taking deliberate aim with every shot, but not holding his breath for a second too long, so the Beretta's retorts were spaced as evenly as on a timer. McKay's time-sense had always been good, and this measured drill would do any soldier proud.

John watched, and felt vaguely ill, for no reason he could say. "How long has he been here?"

Ronon shrugged. His eyes, too, were on Rodney. "I've been here about an hour. He was here before me. I saw him pass the gym a while ago, never saw him come back."

John nodded, waited for Rodney to finish off the clip and then stepped forward, touched his shoulder. McKay jerked, not anything as startled as a jump, but twitching his shoulder away as he glanced back at John. "Sheppard," he said, as his hands worked the pistol's slide without looking, ejecting the spent magazine and dropping it clattering to the pile at his feet. He grabbed a new magazine from the stack, rammed it in place and checked it was seated, then snapped back the slide to chamber the next round. All blind; he could reload in the dark as easily as he could touch-type.

Like clockwork, textbook technique, and John had the overwhelming, irrational urge to tear the Beretta out of Rodney's hands and throw it, hard, far down the lane, out of reach.

Instead he said, raising his voice to be heard through the mufflers, "Your grip still tenses when you squeeze the trigger, it throws off your aim at the last second."

It was hard to read Rodney's eyes through the goggles' tinted lenses, but his voice sounded normal enough, the vaguely resentful edge. "Yeah, I've been working on that."

John disturbed the collection of spent magazines with the toe of his boot. "Wasting enough ammo here?"

"So I've said," McKay replied. He pushed one side of the mufflers off his ear. "As I recall, your counterargument was that every bullet spent here equals one going where it should go, when it matters. Besides, we can get as much as we need from Earth these days. Or are you going to tell me that we won't need to be spending or sending any more bullets anywhere? Because given the state of this galaxy, I'd have to disagree."

He turned away, settling the earphones back in place, raised the pistol in both hands and took aim at the half-shredded paper target at the end of the lane.

Before he pulled the trigger, Ronon asked, "How's Radek doing?"

He said it to John, and not that loudly, but his bass must have cut through the mufflers because Rodney's shoulders tightened. Then relaxed as he released a properly timed breath, but his arms were too tense and the next shot went wide, clanging off the baffle between lanes.

John looked from Rodney's back to Ronon, still slouched back against the wall, arms still folded over his chest, and answered, "He'll be okay, doc says. Probably."

"We don't know yet." Rodney's gaze stayed focused down the lane, following the barrel of the pistol. His voice was a little louder than necessary, compensating for the mufflers. "We won't really know until he wakes up."

"Which won't be until tomorrow morning at the earliest," John said. "You planning on staying here all night?"

"You'd rather I didn't practice? It's your back I'm guarding when we're off-world," Rodney said, arguments from long before reflected back at John with precision. "How many times have you told me that?"

"I'm not the one in the infirmary tonight," John said, automatically and not really what he'd meant to say, but it snapped his amorphous discontent into focus. Because a bullet, however well-aimed, would not have helped Radek tonight; would not have saved Elizabeth, or Carson months before that. Because Rodney was the problem solver, the ultimate repairman, always seeking the solutions; and there were no answers on the shooting range, not tonight. He shouldn't be here.

John reached out, dislodged the earphones before Rodney could take aim again. "Don't you have the Replicator virus to work on?"

Rodney's glare showed clear through the goggles, as he grabbed the mufflers back from John. "I can't," he said, a petulant whine. "Not until we test-compile it, because if it fails I'd just have to redo whatever code changes I make anyway. And it can't be compiled until the compression matrix has been finalized, and I haven't been the one working on the matrix algorithm--" Then his jaw clicked shut and he turned away again, shoulders hunched and his fingers curled tightly around the gun's grip.

He didn't put the ear mufflers back on right away, though, and didn't raise his hand, resting the pistol's barrel on the shelf like the Beretta had gotten too heavy to lift.

After a moment, Ronon pushed off the wall. "I'm hungry," he said, heading for the exit without looking back. "Gonna get something to eat."

It wasn't said like an invitation, and wouldn't have been one from anyone else, but John let go a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding, and nodded; and Rodney took off the earphones and goggles, put the pistol in his hip holster and picked up his jacket; and together they followed their teammate off the shooting range.

The commissary was still deserted, but there was always fruit and baking left out on the counter, for those too lazy to cook up something for themselves. John took a pseudo-apple tart; Rodney piled half a dozen pieces of fruit on a tray along with a cup of coffee and the last chocolate chip muffin, which Ronon promptly swiped the moment he sat down next to him.

Rodney hissed like an offended cat, and Ronon broke the muffin in two, dropped the smaller piece back on Rodney's tray and stuffed most of the other half into his mouth. Rodney stared at him, as if Ronon's table manners continued to astonish after two and half years. "You could just get your own tray."

Ronon shrugged. "Why? You got enough there for three."

"Hyp-o-gly-ce-mi-a," Rodney said, enunciating each syllable, and it was the same old line, but his hands were trembling slightly as he picked up the pomegranaline and broke it open, green seeds spilling out.

His grip on the pistol had been steady, but then, Rodney could type an accurate hundred words a minute when there was more caffeine than blood running in his veins. John had seen Rodney working on nuclear bombs after eighty hours without sleep; he could force the tremors still, enough to type or shoot.

Didn't mean he didn't feel it. There were shadows under his eyes now, and he picked at the fruit seeds listlessly, eating them one at a time, ignoring the muffin.

Ronon was waiting for John to say something; he could feel his teammate's eyes on him. John wished Teyla were here where she belonged, not off-world trying to right a catastrophe that never should have befallen her or her people. He should have insisted they accompany her after all. Then they wouldn't be in the commissary now, would be wherever together, maybe wouldn't even have heard about the most recent disaster...

And Radek might've been in the lab making repairs alone, no one haranguing him to get the console fixed so they could get back to real work, and no one might have known about the accident until it was too late.

"Radek's been working on the compression matrix," Rodney said without warning, breaking the silence at the table like he was answering a question neither John nor Ronon had asked. "Of the virus. The Wraith programming is totally different from anything we've got, but Radek claims it's like a type-inferred language he fooled around with developing in college. He had some ideas about how to up the algorithm's efficiency, so I said sure, knock yourself out. He promised to have it finished by tonight, so we could run the compile test. But the main console kept shorting out, it's been a major annoyance, and we needed it, Atlantis's system is fifty times faster than our best machines for this kind of brute-force calculation. A quick fix and then back to the programming, he said...I told him not to waste his time, there are other consoles, but..."

"They haven't told me a damn thing, Dr. Keller doesn't know anything yet," Rodney had said, when John had found him in the infirmary, gray-faced and pacing a rut in a corner out of the way of the medical staff. Radek had been out of sight behind an off-white curtain, urgent voices murmuring over him. "He wasn't breathing, I was doing CPR for a good five minutes before the medics got there, don't know what the hell took them so long..."

Rodney split a chunk of the pomegranaline further open, stripping the seeds off the rind and scattering them across the tray. His fingers were sticky with lime-green juice. "He told me some of what he was doing with the compression matrix. And Radek's anal about documentation, most of the time, but when he gets a brainstorm he takes notes in Czech, and it's a headache to translate. It'd take me a couple days at least to catch up with his work with the matrix; it's faster just to wait, and let him finish it when he wakes up."

"Makes sense," John said, even if it wasn't an explanation, not really.

"Everyone needs to be better about documentation," Rodney said, talking more to the fruit on his tray than to them, but his tone was rising in intensity, the most life he'd shown. "With everything that can happen here--can't afford to waste too much time playing catch-up, if we lose someone. I try and I try to explain that, but they don't listen. The new guys are ignorant idiots, and if you're here too long, you start believing you've beaten the odds. And they're all scientists, academics--everyone's thinking about publishing someday, about presenting their discovery, getting the credit, the name, the tenure, the Nobel. They just don't get it, that here, what's important is what you know, not who knows it. We're not theoreticians, this is all applied science, and what you inconsiderately keep in your head, however brilliant, means squat if you get Wraithed tomorrow."

John cocked an eyebrow at him. "Didn't I catch Zelenka getting pissy with you just last week because you haven't been writing down half the changes you've made to the virus?"

Rodney flapped an irritated hand in his direction. "Of course I don't document everything I do; even if I had the time, no one else would have a chance in hell of following most of it anyway."

He dropped the pomegranaline, slumped back in his chair and stared at the bare yellow rind, muttering, "Damn it, I don't have the'd take weeks we don't have, to follow up on all the..."

Rodney trailed off, then sat up abruptly. Shoving the tray toward Ronon, he stood. "Here, have it all. I'm going to..."

"Don't want it." Ronon pushed the tray back, and extended his other arm to block Rodney's way, slouched back in his chair with his head canted up toward the scientist. Even with him sitting there wasn't that much difference in height. "Sit down. You're still hungry."

"No. No, I'm not," Rodney said, but he sat before Ronon could grab him and make him. John suspected that Ronon would have; their much larger teammate didn't look especially patient, brow drawn into a frown.

"You know they don't like it when you take mugs out of the commissary," John remarked. There had been more than one pointed memo about going to the labs if there were no available cups on the racks, though the message had yet to take. "Finish your coffee, at least, before you go."

Rodney didn't reach for the mug, looking at it like the coffee had been spiked with lemon juice. "I'm a selfish bastard," he said to it.

"Yeah, so?" Ronon plucked a couple green grapes (the real deal, Earth seeds grown in hydroponics) off the cluster on Rodney's tray, swallowed them whole.

Rodney didn't even glance at him. "Radek's down in the infirmary, we're waiting for him to wake up, if he's going to wake up, to see how much brain damage he might have sustained from electric shock and possible oxygen starvation. And all I can think about is how damn much work it's going to be, how long it's going to take to complete all his projects, if he doesn't--if he's not capable of completing them himself, after this. And I'll have to do most of it, I don't have the time, but I couldn't trust anyone else to...because if it were anyone else, I could leave it to Zelenka, but this time I couldn't, and I couldn't...I can't do this, not now, not again, and...and I'm such a selfish fucking bastard."

He pushed the tray away, folded his arms on the table and rested his forehead against his crossed forearms, eyes closed, breathing hard.

Ronon's chair was close enough that he didn't have to lean more than a little to the right to bump Rodney's shoulder. "He's probably going to be okay," he said.

"Probably. Maybe. There's a chance. We don't know," Rodney said, his voice even, but he didn't open his eyes or raise his head.

"No point to worrying until we do know, then," Ronon remarked.

"That's so entirely not..." Rodney paused, finally concluded, "...untrue."

He picked up his head, swiped his sleeve across his eyes for no reason, because they were dry, if bloodshot and dark-ringed with fatigue. He hadn't gotten the five hours that counted as a full night's sleep for him for a while. Maybe not since the Wraith had brought the virus.

John would have told him to get to bed, if he'd thought he had a hope of being listened to. Instead he asked, "So what are you going to go work on now?"

"I don't know." Rodney looked up, and then looked at him, straight on, eyes open and too honest. "Like I said, the virus needs to be compiled, so I can't do anything with that yet. I was looking at the nanite operating program earlier, but I implemented one of Jeannie's suggestions a couple days ago and I wanted Radek to check it over, in case I missed something likely insignificant. I've been adjusting the ZedPM's usage requirements, but Radek had a concern about the output reduction that isn't entirely baseless and warrants further testing before we proceed. The jumper hyperspace engine is coming along, but if I screwed with one of Radek's precious vehicles without his permission, he'd..."

"I get it," John said, quietly. There hadn't been any answers on the shooting range after all; Rodney hadn't gone there looking for any solutions. Just a place to hide, because the work where he usually escaped to was too full of what he was hiding from. Like dropping a gas grenade down a rabbit's burrow, and he'd fled, as far away as he could get.

Which would never be far enough. John knew something himself of running away. And Rodney wasn't the coward he took himself for; he was all too aware of his limits, and not always of his strengths. Tomorrow morning he would be in the infirmary, waiting; and by the afternoon he would be back in the labs, no matter what happened in the morning.

John wished he could declare a new mission for tomorrow afternoon. Explain to Colonel Carter that Teyla needed their help. A couple days off-world, bringing Teyla a step closer to her people, accomplishing something real. He could tell Rodney it'd put his shooting practice to good use.

But Carter probably wouldn't be convinced, and this probably would turn out to be a dead-end for Teyla as much as the other avenues they'd tried. And Rodney wouldn't go anyway, not now, not when he didn't have enough time as it was, with the Replicator armada out there and time running out for more worlds and peoples every day.

But that was tomorrow. Tonight it was going on two A.M., and they weren't going anywhere. John looked around the commissary, the vacant tables and chairs casting soft shadows under the dimmed lamps, low and warm as candlelight. Their voices echoed in the empty spaces, though none of them were talking loudly. "Well," he said thoughtfully, "if you don't have anything better to do now..."

"What?" Rodney cocked his head, curious in spite of himself.

"Corporal Flemming's been hoping to get the projector fixed, to get movie night going again. He's been asking, but no one's had the time, and since it's partly Ancient tech it's not like we can just requisition a new one."

Rodney frowned. "Is that why they stopped showing movies? I hadn't heard...there was an even-numbered Trek film marathon scheduled, too..."

John got up, letting himself smile. "Want me to go get a toolbox?"

"I can go," Ronon offered, also standing. "Be great if you were the one who fixed it."

"It would be?" Rodney eyed him guardedly.

"The guy who makes the projector gets veto power over what movies it shows," John explained, as Ronon charged off to the transporter. "At least, that was how it worked before."

"But I'm not the one who made it," Rodney pointed out, getting up and brightening the lights around the projector sitting silent in the corner. "I sure as hell wouldn't make something this...look at this!" He already had pulled off the cover shielding the main connectors. "Triple redundancy on the power conversion, on an Atlantis connection with all its built-in fail-safes, no wonder it shut itself off--I know this was thrown together early on, when we didn't know as much about Ancient systems, but you'd think the engineer--and I use the term loosely--would have thought to trust electrical wiring that had lasted ten thousand years..."

Rodney stopped, rocked back on his heels to reach up and touch the top of the slim silver DVD player, almost gently. "Zelenka put this together, didn't he."

"Yeah," John said. "The first month we got here."

"Someone probably told me that at the time, I don't remember. I didn't even know his name then. Knew his face, knew his science, couldn't get his name straight." Rodney sighed, rubbed his hands over his face, stretching the skin under his eyes. "God, I hope he's all right."

"Me, too," John agreed, and wanted to say more. Wanted badly to tell Rodney what he needed to hear, about legacies and carrying on. About how Radek was part of this city, and always would be no matter what happened tomorrow; about how his work would continue whether or not he was able to continue it, because Rodney would see to it, just as Radek would try to do for him.

About how Radek understood the importance of this projector, had wanted to fix it himself, but hadn't had time, so to repair it now was not to write him off, but to do him a favor. And Radek and Rodney had similar enough tastes in movies that there shouldn't be much extra conflict, even though Rodney probably would veto Akira if the Anime Association of Atlantis tried to show it for the tenth time.

About how John hated to see how well a gun fit in Rodney's scientist hands these days, and yet was so proud to have Rodney on his team that he was glad to see it there, glad to know Rodney was strong enough to do what he had to, for all of them and for his own sake.

If Teyla were here, she might have been able to say some of that; but she wasn't. So John just sat himself down on the floor next to Rodney and asked, "So what's your choice for the first movie?"

Rodney had put the DVD player between his legs, had stripped off the duct tape and was pulling cables, disconnecting plugs and examining the prongs. He might be getting decently handy with a pistol, but here he was the undisputed fastest draw, Wild Bill of the machine world, here on Atlantis surrounded by broken things needing to be fixed. "Hmm," he said as he worked. "The New Who Christmas special hasn't aired yet, obviously. I've been curious about Stardust, if we could score a high-quality bootleg. I'll tell you one thing," and he held up a warning finger before John could open his mouth, "it's not going to be Fantastic Four 2, I lost enough brain cells to the first one, thank you."

"The new Batman's not out yet, is it?"

"The Dark Knight? Not for another year. Maybe...geeze, Radek, a 4-pin connector? To an Ancient display terminal? Seriously?..."

John looked around the commissary. Rodney would have the projector up and running by morning--probably in under an hour, judging by the disparaging but absorbed tone of his muttering. They could show movies tomorrow night, barring galactic disaster. Atlantis was a big city but a small community, and word got around fast; this time tomorrow the place would be packed. He could almost see it, half the expedition flopped over the couches and on the tables, asleep or getting there, a few night-owls readying the projector for the post-3-AM porn.

They'd have work to do, all of them, important work, research and training, programming and shooting practice. Lives and worlds to save, including their own. But this was important, too, for his soldiers, for Rodney's scientists; for all of them, living where they might lose everything tomorrow, with only one another to carry it on.

"Maybe," Rodney said softly, "we can let Radek decide what movie to show tomorrow. Since it is his projector. Unless it's one of his ridiculous Japanimation films, have to maintain some standards..."

"Yeah," John agreed. "That's a good idea."