Thanks to the reviewers: a writer of fics, BetherdyBabe, DaniWilder, ElisaD263, JperW, RoryFaller, and xPKx. This one's for you.
Disclaimer: MGM owns Stargate Atlantis; I do not.
Rating: T (for minor language and sexual situations)
Time Frame: After "Missing" (Season 4 Episode 7)
Canonicity: AU diverging after The Return (Season 3 Episodes 10 and 11)
Spoilers: 1x06 Childhood's End; 4x07 Missing
"Come on, come on, come on, come on, come on!"
The longest thirty seconds of his life, Rodney spent crouched behind the DHD, railing at the stargate like it was Radek Zelenka. A bug, a bullet, or a burst of wind might delay the wormhole's collapse long enough for that crucial universe-splitting moment when one Rodney McKay goes home and another lies dead in the dirt.
He opened fire when the villagers entered range, and his shell casings tinkled over the DHD buttons like tiny mallets striking the keys of a toy xylophone. For one of the McKays it would make for a strange funeral dirge.
For the other...
The wormhole collapsed. His first temptation was to pound the symbols in rapid succession, but he made himself take the time to press each deliberately. Cover fire by his teammates scattered the villagers, but Rodney doubted he'd get more than one chance to dial before someone wised up and targeted the guy operating the DHD.
The corporal's condition meant he could barely hold his P90 steady, much less aim with any great accuracy. As long as he kept it pointed in the general direction of the enemy, though, and limited his fire to short, staccato outbursts, the automatic weapon did its job. Ronon with his handgun and Sheppard with the repeater he swiped from the church handled the marksmanship.
When the gate established a lock, Rodney yanked Watkins to his feet and retreated backwards, continuing to fire until he passed the event horizon. Dusk was nearing on this new world, and though Rodney's eyes took their time adjusting to the sudden change in light, he could not miss the dark stain spreading across the corporal's tac vest.
Lowering Watkins to the grass, Rodney unzipped the vest. The shirt beneath was soaked. Back in the church, dried blood had stiffened the tee so that it hung at an odd angle off Watkins' frame when he stood.. Now it stuck to his stomach and made a slurping sound when Rodney peeled it away.
Searching the vest turned up fresh bandages but no more disinfectant. Rodney tore open a bandage and... What the hell do I do? He needed water to clean the wound, right? He was about to call for help when Ronon knelt beside him. The Satedan really was silent as a cat.
Ronon took the bandage. "Sheppard wants to talk with you."
"You're going to..." He indicated the corporal.
"Field medical training. Required in the Satedan military."
Ronon went to work on Watkins, who was mumbling about how nice the grass felt against the back of his head, and Rodney went to Sheppard. The colonel was leaning against the DHD counting cartridges.
"You won't need those," Rodney said. "The villagers won't follow. Even if someone managed to memorize which six symbols I used, the odds of entering the correct sequence at random are—"
"One in 720, I know." Sheppard pointed at himself. "Math major, remember?"
"I'm more concerned about the locals." Sheppard slid a cartridge into the chamber.
"Why? Don't you know where we are?"
"That's what I wanted to ask you about – where we are and why were here."
Rodney laughed. "You really don't recognize it? Of course not. You haven't been here in two years, and you never came through the gate on foot. We're on M7G-677."
"The kids' planet? But you hate this place."
"It's my own personal hell, yes. But hell gets good reception since we gave them a radio." Rodney surveyed the lake and the nearby forest. "I had hoped they'd post a sentry or something. Keras always sends someone to meet us when they call for assistance."
"That's what we get for showing up unannounced." Sheppard slung the rifle over his shoulder. "All right, let's go."
"You could barely walk back on the trail."
"I was drugged, probably a muscle relaxant, but it's wearing off." Sheppard cupped his hands in front of his mouth. "Ronon! We're going for a jog. You see any kids, even if they're armed, don't shoot 'em. Tell 'em you're from Atlantis and that Uncle Rodney is here."
"And promise them chocolate," Rodney added. "Lots and lots of chocolate."
"Ares is as much of a prick as ever, isn't he?"
Rodney watched him scurry up the rope ladder that led to the village elders' treehouse. Because of the scientist's intervention two years ago, the electromagnetic dampening field protecting the villages of this planet had expanded, allowing the population to grow. Keras had reportedly been taking advantage of the situation with a rather attractive redhead when Rodney and Sheppard showed up. Ares had gone to fetch him.
Cleo tugged on Rodney's sleeve. "What's a prick?"
Rodney exhaled loudly and massaged the area between his eyes. He'd almost rather face Olmos again than an inquisitive twelve-year-old girl he'd apparently just taught to curse.
Sheppard answered for him. "A very unpleasant person."
"Then, Rodney's a prick." That was Casta. Puberty's onset had convinced him that Ares had the right attitude about full-growns.
"I like Rodney," Cleo insisted.
Keras descended, hair disheveled and grinning. "Here is the radio."
Rodney snatched it. "Oh, thank God."
Cleo said, "Who's God?"
Dusk had come and gone by the time they returned to the stargate, forcing Rodney to dial home by torchlight. He figured his team had missed two scheduled check-ins. If a rescue team had been sent after they, he hoped they left base heavily armed. He shuddered to think what the villagers would do to an unsuspecting gate team.
As the comforting glow of the wormhole washed over him, Rodney sagged in relief. He closed his eyes, opening them a moment later when a voice and a crackle of radio static demanded his attention.
"Atlantis, this is Sheppard. Hope you haven't given up on us."
Carter's voice answered over the radio speaker. "Good to hear from you, Colonel. You had us worried."
"Sorry about that, Colonel Carter. We ran into trouble."
"Have you rendezvoused with Major Lorne's team?"
"We're not on M4S-392 anymore, and I'd suggest you get Lorne out of there ASAP. The locals are pretty vicious."
"That's what Lorne reported."
Rodney could hear Carter give the order to lower the shield.
Sheppard said, "I'll need you to send a medical team through. We've got casualties."
In the background someone said, "Isn't that the entire team?"
"Watkins is shot," Sheppard went on. "I'd rather not move him again unless it's on a stretcher. Ronon's shot too, but he's walking it off. McKay and I are just banged up. I'll send McKay through. He'll brief you on what we need."
The wormhole died without Rodney noticing. Vaguely, he was aware of Colonel Carter descending the stairs from the control room and heading his way. But what held his attention was the brown wheeled suitcase seemingly abandoned to the side of the gate platform. Days ago he wheeled that suitcase in here and watched someone else disappear with it through the stargate.
He answered Carter's questions on autopilot, his eyes straining to see past her as far as possible down the hall to the infirmary. In moments his suspicion was confirmed. He'd broken his promise.
Jennifer Keller helped push a gurney into the gate room. One hand rested on the medical bag thrust atop the rolling bed; the other clutched its rail with a grip so tight it blanched her knuckles.
Look up, he silently begged.
She complied, and for the second time in a week, he saw tears she was too stubborn to vocalize slide down her cheeks.
Carter also noticed the medical team's arrival and turned to give the order to dial M7G-677. Rodney estimated he had thirty seconds, forty-five at the most, before the technician finished dialing and the medical team would be expected to begin their transit. He moved past Carter and went to Jennifer.
When she opened her mouth to speak, Rodney claimed her lips, crushing her against the P90 clipped to his chest. Kissing with a split lip hurt as much as he predicted, especially with salty tears stinging the cut. Still, he didn't stop until he heard the whoosh of the wormhole forming behind him. As much as she needed his touch after New Athos, he needed hers now.
"I meant it," Rodney said, every word." His eyes bored into hers, willing her to believe.
The blush caused by his kiss faded to a pallid white as she scrutinized his appearance. Her fingers caressed his bruised face and throat, deft hands and sharp eyes searching out his injuries. "What happened?"
"This? It's nothing. Couldn't let you hog all the sympathy."
She almost smiled at that but sobered quickly. "Lorne found your jacket and all that blood in the chapel. I thought..."
"It's okay." He wiped away fresh tears with the pad of his thumb. "I'm okay, and I'll be here when you get back."
He nodded. "This time, I'll even keep it."
Twas the kiss seen round the city, or so it seemed.
Word of Rodney and Jennifer's very public display of affection streaked through Atlantis' gossip network faster than news of Teyla's pregnancy. The way some told the tale Jennifer slugged him and demanded an immediate transfer to Earth. Others swore they began undressing each other on the spot and Carter had to call security to pry them apart. Most agreed that Rodney picked up her suitcase. The point of contention was whether he pitched it off the balcony or took it to his quarters where she'd secretly been living for months. He did take her luggage. That much was true, but he stowed it in her office, not his quarters or hers – which were separate. And it stayed put until she returned. So did he, like he promised.
Gossip would be a problem for the two of them. Being seen locked in a passionate embrace with a beautiful woman did more for his ego than anything in recent memory, but his ego wasn't worth her discomfort. Before their night together he hadn't been certain they were in a relationship. Come to think of it, he still wasn't sure.
If she wanted to keep things professional in public, he'd understand. Both of them were acutely aware of her status as the only department head on Atlantis under thirty. Add to that the fact that she was a woman and had to work twice as hard for half the respect. The possibility that anyone might attribute her success to her sleeping with him made him angrier than he could have imagined.
But those were thoughts for another day. He took a deep, cleansing breath and rounded the corner into the infirmary. A doctor had checked him out earlier and sent him away with an armful of analgesic cream, ice packs, and acetaminophen. Jennifer had been in surgery with Watkins at the time, and Rodney surprised himself by not being too jealous. It helped that he was developing genuine affection for the boy. After all, Watkins had been present for Rodney's incident on M4S-392, and that kind of stuff bonds people, even if you're half out of your mind when it happens.
Watkins was still in post-op recovery, but Rodney put in face time with Ronon and Sheppard. Fortunately, Teyla was there and handled most of the conversation, allowing Rodney to bow out when he caught sight of Jennifer.
The lovely doctor crooked a finger, and he followed her into her office.
"Wait." She held up a hand and lowered her fingers one at a time. "Three, two one. There, I am officially off duty." Leaning forward, she kissed him, a quick peck on the lips."
He took it as a good sign.
"I got you something. On Earth. Well, obviously. Where else have I been lately, right?" Her hand dived into her suitcase. "You didn't snoop around in here, did you?"
Jennifer raised a brow.
"Cross my heart. Hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye. If I'd known about a present though..."
Laughter like music filled the air. "Okay, I believe you. Now sit down and close your eyes."
When she said he could look, she was holding open a blue hinged-box. Inside, mounted on a tiny pillow, was an expensive wristwatch. The way Jennifer held it made Rodney think she should have been on one knee.
"It's shock resistant to ISO standards, waterproof to 200 meters, and it even has an electronic compass if you get lost off world. You broke your last one rescuing me, and I was planning to get you something anyway." She indicated his wrist. "May I?"
He nodded, and she unclipped the watch from its pillow and slid it over his wrist. She fastened it just right, not so tight it would leave a mark, not too loose it would shift position. His second-in-command's engagement wristwatch came to mind. "Have you been talking to Radek?"
Jennifer shook her head. "No more than usual. Why?"
"No reason." Rodney found he was a little disappointed at that.
While he was examining his new toy and thinking it was much too nice to wear off world, Jennifer surreptitiously closed the blinds. Privacy assured, she said, "Thank you, Rodney."
Confusion crinkled his brow. "Aren't I the one who should be saying that? This watch must have cost a fortune. It's much nicer than the one I broke."
She explained: "I appreciate what you said to me i-in bed the other night. I know I sprung a lot on you, and I'm sorry. But I don't want you to think you have to keep saying it."
"No, it's okay you don't feel the same. I can take it as long as we're honest with each other."
Rodney shook his head. He thought they'd cleared this up. "Is this because I hesitated?"
"You looked like you were about to be sick."
"I was scared."
"Well, I'm letting you off the hook. We can go back to how things were before." Her voice dropped. "We can even keep sleeping together. I just don't want us to end because I was vulnerable and said something stupid."
"Jennifer I was scared you didn't mean it."
"You doubted me?"
"I doubted me. Do you not know how amazing—?" His voice hitched. Unable to speak, he drew her to him and hugged her waist. She steadied herself against his shoulders and rubbed the back of his neck. God, he loved it when she did that. Finally he managed to squeak out, "You deserve so much better than me."
"There is no one better, Rodney. You—" It was her turn to be choked up. "You're the one I want. You're perfect."
He snorted. "We both know that's not true."
"You're perfect for me. Why did you doubt?"
"Honey, you'd been through some pretty messed up stuff." There was no need to specify. The best cosmetics couldn't render the rapidly healing cut on and below her lip invisible at this distance. "And you said it at a very...strategic time."
"Right after you, uh, reached your happy place."
"I've heard it's a very emotional time for a woman."
"And you think it was...what, my hormones talking?"
"Thought," he corrected. "For like two seconds."
"What turned you around?"
"I decided it didn't matter. Whether you loved me or not, it didn't change how I feel about you." He took her hands, gazed deeply into her eyes. "Jennifer Annabelle Keller, I love you more than I have ever loved anyone, more than I thought myself capable of loving anyone. And I will tell you so every time I see you and as often as it takes until you believe me."
"Rodney, my middle name is not Annabelle."
"Well, you never told me your middle name, and it seemed like a middle name moment."
She laughed. "Suppose I tell you that I believe you. How often will you say it then?"
"Every time still. I love you, Jennifer."
"In that case, Meredith Rodney McKay..." Each name she punctuated with a kiss, the last one taking on a life of its own and ending with both of them breathless and clinging to one another for support. "In that case, I love you too."
Thanks for reading. Reviews are appreciated.
The sequel "Aftermath: The Seed" and a side story "Scotch on the Rocks with a Twist" are now posted. You'll find links via the author's profile.
Rev. Jan 2011