Sometime...Somehow... Part XI (Final chapter)
Because I've only seen roughly half the episodes of Atlantis (and few of the earlier ones), I've needed to play fast and loose with Rodney's personal history for the sake of the story. So some of this is undoubtedly not strictly cannon and for that my apologies.
"Uh, we have a problem."
Elizabeth Weir, seated in the temporary office the SGC had granted her aboard the Daedulus, looked up to see Radek Zelenka enter her opened door, and for a brief few seconds a terrible de-ja-vu rushed through her, her heart dropping out of sight. A few years ago Radek had entered her office on Atlantis in much the same way bearing news that Rodney McKay was lost to them, possibly forever.
But that was then and this was now and Rodney, lagging behind a few seconds, followed Zelenka in through the door, his nose buried in his electronic notes.
She breathed a silent sigh of relief, collected herself and asked "What have you got for us Doctor?"
Whereby Rodney began to speak "Well, it's not that the program is faulty, it's just that-"
"Excuse me, Doctor McKay." As uncomfortable as it was she had no choice but to remind Rodney once more. "I'm sorry but...I was addressing Doctor Zelenka."
Rodney snapped his head up, and Zelenka suddenly looked very uncomfortable. Elizabeth could see that Rodney, by the quick blush to his face and his short nod, remembered once more that he was no longer in charge of...anything. They were utilizing McKay's magnificent brain but it was Radek Zelenka that the SGC had put in charge of the "Eradicate the Iratus and Raise Atlantis" mission. They had expressed "grave concerns" about Rodney's present mental fitness to endure the man-hours necessary to work out the mathematical calculations and his over-all physical well being, which continued to improve but, according to the report Doctor Beckett had filed with SGC's Chief of Medicine, was by no means back to normal.
Rodney gave the floor over to Zelenka with a casual wave of his hand "Sure, sure, sorry. Whatever." He said to Weir and then, losing what little patience he possessed, snapped at Radek "Come on, tell her."
Elizabeth had not repeated the details of the SGC or the IOA's opinions regarding Rodney to Rodney himself, but earlier had merely cited to him that Zelenka's current position within the scientific community had to be honored. She could see that although McKay had expressed his understanding of protocol, it was obviously sticking in his craw a little.
With a nervous glance over to McKay, Radek continued "The program, Rodney's program is perfect, but the problem is the Replicators are as well versed as we are in the nature of computer viruses and the fractions of time units within which they can be enabled. The problem is the attosecond, as short a unit of time that it is, isn't quite short enough and the Iratus nanites will be able to over-write the program in a matter of minutes. They'd be back to full mobility and even though-"
Radek's habit of using twice as many words as necessary finally got on Rodney's last already frayed nerve and he verbally walked overtop "Look, I know it isn't protocol for me to speak out of turn but can we skip to the chase here?" Without waiting for Weir to say yea or nay he plunged ahead. "The code won't keep them down long enough for the poison to take full effect. The problem is we'll be initiating the program and then making real-time adjustments from the Daedulus computers and they are simply too slow."
"Why do adjustments need to be made?" Weir asked.
"Because the nanites themselves will begin to adapt to the Yes/No virus in a matter of seconds." Zelenka said.
Rodney added "So unless we can continuously re-write the code as we go along, this whole thing is pointless – we may as well not even attempt it."
"Well, how do we-?"
"I have to go down there." McKay said. "I need to be there, in Atlantis, on-site for this to work. The Atlantis computers are ancient tech' and way ahead of anything that's human or Asgarrd. I can make any needed adjustments there in real time. As the nanites adapt, I change the code, they adapt, and I change it again, that way we stay ahead of them until the poison takes full effect. Then it's just a matter of beaming the smell and the mess out into space."
Weir chewed her pen thoughtfully. "But the control room is flooded."
"Yes, I'd have to go down in a submersible suit – adapted."
He wiggled them for emphasis. "Well, I'd need my fingers free, so gloves but not metal - too confining."
Weir nodded, gathering the new problems and their solutions into her mind. She turned to Zelenka "Radek, could you make the necessary adjustments?"
Radek suddenly looked nervous. "Uh, um, er, yes, yes, I think so, but Rodney –"
Weir saw the look on Rodney's face and thought not for the first time that as much as she loved her job once in a while it had its drawbacks. "Rodney and I need to have a discussion, Doctor Zelenka. Would you mind waiting outside?"
Weir could tell McKay knew what was coming, so there was no need to announce it, simply explain why. "It's too risky, Rodney. You're still on heavy pain medication – Doctor Beckett and his medical team still have no idea if your lengthy..." She had no idea what to call it – coma, slumber, near-death experience, cold storage? She finally settled on "...absence has left you with permanent physical problems. Plus you tire easily and recently you've had some...bad news."
Rodney looked away briefly, and swallowed. "It's been two weeks since Sheppard told me. I've dealt with it and I'm fine."
"You've dealt with it?" she repeated tenderly, her tone gentleness itself. "Coming back from the dead to find Atlantis, your department and the work you love, and your sister gone?" Weir looked at him sadly. "I'm not sure I would be "dealing" so well if I was in your place."
Acerbically "Well, you are not me." He countered. "You think I haven't suffered losses before I came to Atlantis? Before the worm-hole accident? Well, I have and there's one thing I've learned about myself and that is no matter how bad things get, I bounce back."
"I believe you, Rodney, but I think that's because life hasn't often given you a choice." When Rodney had been found and revived the IOA had decided to further her education regarding her former genius employee. His re-introduction back into active life required, they claimed, a certain level of intrusion upon the part of those who had taken charge of his welfare, as least in the short term – and the person they had chosen for that education was her. Therefore Weir had been granted the unique privilege of reading Rodney McKay's personal and somewhat unusual educational history.
Where he and his sister were concerned, the report was both tragic and redemptive. A sister and her older brother, both genius-level brains who's talents had been nurtured since very young, a cold, perfectionist professor father dead in a car crash when they were both teenagers, mother dead a few years later of alcoholism, and Rodney and sister sent to separate schools to continue their education in the fields of science and mathematics, courtesy of government funds.
With that, the decision makers, who were not acting from altruistic motivations, wanted something in return for their generosity. A brilliant mind and a young soul who could be molded into exactly what they needed: Atlantis's new resident genius. The emotional and vulnerable side of the equation, she mused, had not been the priority where their new genius was concerned and Weir could well imagine the loneliness that resulted as Rodney was made to learn alongside those years ahead of him in age, and no doubt brimming with resentment toward the youthful genius, but who soon fell rapidly behind him in mental prowess, while the professors and interested others took a keen intellectual interest in both students, both of whom having showed remarkable creativity and intuitiveness in the field of astrophysics.
She could also imagine the flattery they must have heaped upon him in order to keep him under their collective thumbs, and she could hear their promises of glory and fame, filling Rodney's head since his youth, never once factoring in his human side, the side that might desire something other than mathematically derived theories and proofs. Such praise might have bolstered up the rickety self image of a young man torn from his normal home and routine, but would have left him with little choice but to seek whatever friendships he might garner among a collection of adults whose sole interest in him was not how to be a kind and supportive companion and friend but how to exploit his near one-of-a-kind brilliance, and all of it offered as a substitute for whatever real feelings of love and acceptance he might have otherwise craved.
A child prodigy in every way, Rodney had grown up isolated and confused about most things that did not originate on a blackboard. Weir herself had witnessed it; comprehension of simple, human feelings that other people took for granted, like relationships, friendships and forgiveness, Rodney had experienced only from a distance or by reading in a book.
Rodney had been raised for half his life in an imitation family. The protective cloak of hostility which he used to protect himself from hurt and the near emotionally crippling fear of failing his superiors and friends suddenly made so much more sense. "You can't fool me, Rodney. Jennie was the only family you had left in the world and now she's gone. I know you're hurting."
Rodney shook his head, as though to dispel her words from his thoughts. "It doesn't matter...right now. Once this is done, once Atlantis is safe, then I'll take the time to mourn, I'll stay on Earth for a while, go home to Vancouver, if that's what you want."
"Rodney, you saved our lives and the city, and you lost over three years of your own life doing it. You've sacrificed so much already - let someone else take the risk now." Weir found herself almost pleading with him. "You don't have to prove anything. You've done enough."
Rodney sighed, shifting his feet. "Well, Atlantis doesn't look particularly saved right now, does she?"
"Rodney – "
"I...I need this Elizabeth." He bit his lip, glancing once to his hands and then away. They had begun to hurt again. His feet would soon follow. He said nothing what-ever about them to her however. Not now. "Please let me do this. Please, I need to...I need to finish what I started or...or none of it makes sense. I was...there, o-on that planet for...for too long to lose her now."
She...her...Atlantis. His beautiful and beloved friend, his great love perhaps? His expression was so earnest Elizabeth couldn't help but wonder if they were being too hard on him, too protective. Weir almost caved and had she not been impelled otherwise by those above her, she might have. But, no, it was time for Rodney to find warmth in his life again somewhere besides a power conduit or a Naquadah generator coil.
"Rodney..." she said it softly, wishing her words would take away his pain; that which lay apart from the physical, whatever it was, but there was no meeting him even half way. Despite her own wishes, Stargate Command had made the decision for her. "I am sorry, Rodney, but the answer is no."
Radek, encumbered in his submersible suit, but with his hands relatively free inside the modified rubber gloves, found the bulky unit unbearably hot despite the chill of the surrounding ocean water. "Are we ready with the toxin?" He asked through the suit's communication link to the Daedulus.
"Affirmative. Ready to deliver when you are." It was Sheppard's voice. In the background he could hear Rodney complaining about the micro-fractional second communication delay between the Daedulus's transmitter and those in Atlantis's Control room, and Sheppard making soothing noises, doing his best to reassure him.
"Okay. On my mark, deliver the toxin." Zelenka shook his head to clear the sweat dripping into his yes and readied his finger above Atlantis's main computer control. All he had to do was push Execute and Rodney's program would flow into every conduit, circuit and anything touching them through-out the city, infecting each and every Iratus bug in a cascade. At the same instant the toxin would be delivered, via a hundred and twenty nine modified bombs set to go off and infect the sea water contained within Atlantis's shield with a poison deadly enough to kill millions of colonies worth of the insect invaders.
Radek stated once more "This should effectively kill the Iratus bugs and the nanites within, at the outside, twenty minutes." He had thirty minutes of air in his suit. Plenty of time. Radek announced it at the same time as he depressed the button "Execute!" An invisible wave of deadly zeros and ones were transmitted through-out the flooded city in a near instant. At the same time he heard the toxic bombs going off one after another in a physical and lethal wave that lasted another few seconds. Then all was silent, and it seemed somehow anti-climatic.
As he watched for the first signs that the Iratus were dying, Radek said into the communicator "Beginning randomization of the anti-nanite virus now." For the next nineteen minutes or more he would have to make continuous random changes to the virus program to stay ahead of the nanites extraordinary ability to self-repair and recover. Rodney had coached him about in what directions to take the virus, and his fingers entered numbers rapidly.
After five minutes had gone by, though, his fingers began to stiffen and with horror Radek realised his arms were rapidly tiring. Forgetting he was on VOX he said "Uh oh."
"What "uh oh"?" It was Rodney's voice.
His arm muscles began to burn from the forced, unbroken work. "Um, I'm having trouble with...this much typing...this much so fast without a break - my...my hands are starting to cramp up."
He could hear Rodney's cursing over the mic'. "Look," Rodney said "you can't stop but you can slow down for a few seconds. Just shake out one hand at a time, then go back at it, you've only got fourteen minutes left to go."
But Radek knew it would soon become impossible to keep up the pace. "Rodney, I've done what you suggested and it's not really helping."
"Well, just suck it up. If we stop now this whole thing is a bust."
Radek could feel the headache starting behind his eyes and the panic building in his chest. "Rodney, I'm not going to be able to keep this up for much longer...I –I just can't, my arms are killing me. Someone has to get down here and help."
On the Daedulus Rodney turned to Sheppard. "I have to go." When Sheppard didn't answer for a few seconds, Rodney jumped all over him. "Look - we don't have time to argue about it. If anything goes seriously wrong down there, we're screwed anyway – right? So if nothing else maybe this time you'll get the chance to save me."
Sheppard had a feeling it would come to this. The universe seemed to be a bitch that way, but there were out of time and he could see no alternative. Gritting his teeth "Go," he said. "Lorne, help him into the suit."
It was another four minutes before Rodney was standing beside Radek in the flooded tower. Rodney poised his hands over the Atlantean keyboard and said "When I say stop, pull your hands away. Ready? – Stop!" At the same instant that Radek ceased entering code Rodney took over, his fingers flying over the keys as fast as Radek had ever seen. Considering the added pressure of the water against his movements, it was remarkable to watch.
A beeping on his suit's control panel announced it was time for him to think about heading back to the ship. "I only have nine minutes of oxygen left." Radek said needlessly to Rodney.
"Fine, go-go-go." Rodney kept his eyes on his task, not even looking up.
For the next several minutes the nanite's attempts to adapt and overcome his carefully engineered virus was a race almost neck and neck with the Atlantis team leader staying ahead by barely a nose. Rodney barked into his comm-link "How much longer?" His own muscles were showing the first burning signs of cramping.
Radek, safe and sound aboard the Daedulus, answered "Another four minutes. How are you doing...Rodney? Is everything all right?"
"Yes – stop talking to me, I'm concentrating on the echoes."
"I'm getting some bounce-back from the virus program which means the nanites are adapting faster than before, so this isn't as easy as it was - stop bothering me."
Rodney's vision began to swim and his face mask began to cloud up which, he suddenly remembered, was not supposed to happen. He glanced down at his oxygen indicator level attached to the right arm of his suit. It showed five minutes of oxygen left and he had just under five minutes remaining in his battle against the nanite horde's collective intelligence that was fighting to break free from his murderous code.
As his left hand continued to enter corrections with a speed unparalleled to any time during his career, Rodney gave his right wrist a quick shake. Suddenly the oxygen indicator level dropped to zero. "Great." He muttered. "Surrounded by ancient technology and they give me a suit manufactured in Guatemala!"
"Rodney – what's going on?" Radek asked.
"Nothing, nothing - almost done here." He probably had enough oxygen inside the suit itself to complete the work and make it back to the Daedulus just fine - as long as he didn't do a lot of breathing.
Sheppard spoke next. "Rodney. The Daedulus's scanners indicate the Iratus are all dead, so if the code worked against the nanites, then we've done it." Aboard the Daedulus Sheppard and everyone involved felt much relieved that this was almost over. Atlantis was as good as theirs again, and this time Rodney could come home in one piece. "Rodney?"
The code having finished its unique work, with the dead and nanite-inactive Iratus drifting in the mild currents of the flooded tower and his oxygen at zero, grey clouds began to close in on his field of vision as oxygen deprivation slowly took Rodney's sight, and then his consciousness, from him. He fell over in the heavy suit, landing softly on the floor of his beloved city.
Atlantis was saved. Mission accomplished.
Aboard the Daedulus Sheppard tried the comm-link again. "Rodney? Rodney!" Sheppard barked at Zelenka "Get him out of there!"
Zelenka took the controls and entered Rodney's coordinates. "Uh, having some trouble locking on, there is no power indication from his suit now – the batteries must be dead. And the bodies of the Iratus are scattering the signal and making it impossible to lock down his exact location."
Sheppard yelled as he ran from the bridge. "When I've suited up, transport me to his last known location. Once I've got him, lock onto my suit and transport us up."
Sheppard, still in his suit and dripping water on the transport platform, removed his helmet, thankful to see that medical staff had been ordered on stand-by and were ready with oxygen for the fallen scientist.
Sheppard waited anxiously as they divested a prostrate Rodney of his helmet, strapped an oxygen cup over his nose and mouth and began feeding him the precious gas that would bring him out of his faint. After a too-long minute Sheppard breathed a sigh of relief when Rodney's eyes fluttered open and he started sucking in deep, reviving breaths, his eyes watering with the delight of once again being able to breathe sweet, sweet air.
Radek blew an explosive sigh from his lips and with it went most of the stress of the last half hour. "That was too close."
Sheppard, once he had finished shedding his own suit, suddenly lost the strength in his legs and collapsed to his backside, though keeping his eyes focused on Rodney who, though now sitting up, had not yet moved from his spot on the floor. But the scientist was very much alive and drawing in gallons of air like it was the best drug in the galaxy.
In a satisfied stupor Sheppard watched Rodney as his colour returned to normal. It felt good just to sit there and let his racing heart settle back to its normal level of terror as he watched his friend, his present and living friend, staring back with his disconcerting blues across the ships' deck. And was Sheppard imagining it or did Rodney look apologetic? He decided it didn't matter. Rodney was never good at saying he was sorry anyway, it took a lot out of the guy. Besides he could always kill the crazy bastard later for making him nuts with worry. "Yeah." Sheppard agreed quietly. "Way too fucking close."
Atlantis was raised from her watery grave and the garbage-ing out of her commenced via the Daedulus's transporter. The evacuation of all the water and the cleaning out of every dead Iratus body and egg would be a drawn-out process involving shifts of rotating clean-up crews that would last many months.
Sheppard stood before the Stargate Command Military Council and the IOA Board of Directors to answer for his breach of duty.
"Colonel Sheppard, please rise and stand before the Council." General Landry said who, along with General Caldwell, were seated as the two heads of the Board of Inquiry. Landry continued. "You stand accused of partaking in a cross-system theft of the body of one Doctor Meredith Rodney McKay, using the Daedulus as the vehicle for this illegal act. You then abandoned your post aboard the Daedulus without permission from your superiors. You also refused to answer all attempts made by Stargate Command to contact you so you could explain your actions to them. How do you answer these charges, Colonel?"
Sheppard had practised what he was going to say the previous evening, trying to figure out a way to make them understand but the facts were bald and he could not deny any of them. They were all true. The problem was the answer was too simple. So simple in fact that it had no wings and would likely not fly as an excuse for anything he had done.
From the General's side of the continuing battle against their enemies, things were hardly ever simple. General Landry, as good a man as he was, had never been in combat other than a few skirmishes in Afghanistan. He had only been in space a couple of times, had never faced the daily dangers inherent in Stargate travel, and had never been personally faced with the need to sacrifice his own life for the good of his city, his team or his comrade in arms. No, not for the many...
Nor even for the one.
The necessary words would not come, Sheppard realised. There was too much to explain, and too much that was without explanation. Rodney was not only a friend, he was a member of his team who had suffered right along with them in countless encounters with the Wraith, the Replicators, the Genii and a half dozen other groups who had decided that Atlantis was an elitist enemy rather than an powerful ally. Getting Rodney back was something he'd simply had to do. He was a soldier first and as such there was one hard and fast rule in peace-time or in times of war –
"I will not leave a man behind, sir."
General Landry looked At Caldwell, whose coldly practical eyes had not left looking into Sheppard's. Landry consulted the papers set in front of him that had set forth in military legalese the matter before the Board, and then suddenly closed the folder altogether.
"Colonel Sam Carter has filed a statement in support of your actions as has Colonel Ellis and General Caldwell." Landry explained. "As General Caldwell is on the Board, I am forced to disregard his recommendations for leniency. However, the other two affidavits stand on their own merit. We recognise, Colonel Sheppard, that this has been a difficult time for you and do not think for one moment we do not appreciate what you have tried - indeed have succeeded - in doing. Your actions have led, though not entirely directly, to the reclamation of Atlantis as an important intergalactic military base and presence in the Pegasus Galaxy, and as a first defender of Earth in our own. As well you and your team, including Doctor McKay, have managed to remove the Iratus infestation from Atlantis and as a result any risk of them obtaining a foothold on Earth in the process." Landry took a breath. "But be that as it may, obedience and discipline within the ranks is both a required and necessary platform from which a soldier must conduct himself, and in this instance you as a soldier and a commander of others have failed to fulfill that duty.
"So it is hereby the decision of this board that you will be reduced in rank to Lieutenant Colonel until such a time as this Board sees fit to alter that decision, and you will be removed as commander of the Daedulus and returned to your previous duties as Military Team Leader of the Atlantis Expedition. This Hearing is adjourned."
General Landry walked over and grasped a stunned Sheppard's hand. "Congratulations, John. God speed to Atlantis."
Not shaking his hand but only putting his trim hat back on his balding head, General Caldwell remarked soberly "I pulled some strings to get you Atlantis again, John, so try not to fuck it up, okay?"
After a celebratory drink with Sheppard, Rodney sought out and found Radek in the SGC mess hall. Radek was sipping tea and reading a scientific journal.
Rodney read the title. "Astron' and Astrophys' huh?"
Radek nodded. "Just trying to catch up."
Rodney sat down and Radek noticed the contents of his glass. "Yeah," Rodney said with distaste "Vitamin water. Beckett's orders until my kidneys improve."
"Probably a good idea." Radek remarked.
They sat in silence for a moment and then Rodney said "You ever thought of writing a paper on, you know, what happened?"
Radek raised his eyebrows. "You mean on the wormhole experiment?"
"Yes, of course on the wormhole experiment. You know - the one that almost killed me? You haven't done any other crazy experimental stuff since then have you?"
"Er - no." Radek shook his head. "Uh, look, Rodney about that, I haven't had a chance to say –"
With one hand Rodney waved away any awkward apology. "Forget it, forget it. What's done is done but - look, you basically invented a time machine and I'm the proof that it works. You should publish a paper on it."
Radek shook his head. "Well it may be a time machine but it's uncontrollable and almost killed you and might have killed everyone else in Atlantis."
"Yes, yes, yes but suppose someday someone finds a way to control it? Maybe someday you'll find a way and presto! - Instant going back in time and placing a winning bet on the Grey-Cup. It worked for Marty McFly didn't it? Well I mean it would have worked had the doc' stopped trying to thwart his efforts. The point is you'd be rich and famous...well, sort of. Besides it's only a paper on a revised theory of time travel and how it might be accomplished, I mean it's not like you can blab that you actually built the thing."
Radek was unconvinced. "Rodney, I haven't written a paper in over twenty years. I wouldn't even know how to begin. And I'm a complete unknown now in the scientific community – no one would publish it."
Rodney looked over to where others were eating MRE's or talking. "Well, maybe I could...help you write it. I could be your co-author."
Radek seemed genuinely surprised by the idea and that it was coming from his old mentor. "You would do that for me? Really?"
"Sure. Why not? You deserve the acclaim, I mean you sent me back in time by nine thousand years and almost killed me with it but...well, that certainly proves it works doesn't it?"
"Wow, um, wow, Rodney, I don't know...I don't know what to say. Um thanks, thanks very much. I'll try to get started on that as soon as I can. Uh, today even, a-as soon as I finish my tea."
Rodney nodded his approval. "Good." He stood to leave but then had a thought. "Um, on that paper, I'll want my name beside yours, not below."
Radek swiftly nodded his agreement. "Right, right...beside...good idea, of course, yes-yes, you got it - absolutely."
With Rodney in tow, Sheppard entered his friend's former quarters in Atlantis. The cleaning crew had worked months preparing the city for occupation once again. The room was clean but bare of all furniture.
Rodney dumped his bags on the floor and looked around. "Seems familiar, the emptiness I mean..." Rodney indicated the bare walls with his hand "No furniture, everything a clean slate again...weird."
Sheppard could not help but agree, except for the emptiness part. As long as good friends were present, it was as full as it needed to be. "Was anything salvageable?"
Rodney shook his head. "No. I'll have to get my housekeeper to send me new photos of Jules."
"My cat, and don't start with the teasing me about the name- I named him after Jules Vern, okay? He was an author I just happen to like."
Sheppard, dressed back in his fatigues, spread his hands in protest. "Hey, I didn't say a word." The fatigues were not necessary as there would be no scheduled missions anywhere until Atlantis was well stocked again with people and supplies, but he simply preferred them. He felt the most comfortable in them. But it was a bit of a surprise about Rodney's cat – that the man actually wanted framed photos. There were still things about Rodney he had no idea about. Rodney - the grumpy atheist and science whiz who liked animals.
"I'm going to have to buy a bed sometime today." Rodney complained. "The city's supply stores are still bare as bones, so just where am I supposed to get a bed?"
The Daedulus had no spare room to transport people's furnishings and the people as well so but for a few exceptions no one had a bed yet. Sheppard shrugged. "Most off world villages have them...things that kinda' pass as beds anyway."
"Oh, yeah, wooden frames with woven animal hair or cattle fodder for a mattress - I don't think so. My spine would disintegrate in a week."
"Well, I have a brand new queen sized Pillow-Top logic mattress bed already installed." Sheppard said wiggling his eyebrows. "With new Eight Hundred Point weave sheets, too. You could always bunk with me for a while."
Rodney glared. "Um, let me see - no thanks! I'll be keeping my body to myself from now on, GI-John. Those two weeks aboard the Daedulus just about made me crazy. Your leg hair alone gave me a rash."
Sheppard pouted. "Come on Gramps, it wasn't that bad."
"Are you kidding me? I've still got rug burn."
"Stop exaggerating." Sheppard said. "Come on, old man let's go see if Supply has unloaded any Army-issue cots yet."
"Hah! Those are worse than sharing a bed with you. Seriously where am I supposed to sleep tonight? Unless you're willing to do what you should have done..."
"You mean sleep on the floor?" Then with gentle tease "Geeze, Rodney, it's a Queen-sized bed. You're so homophobic."
"I am not homophobic, I'm-I'm hetero...preservative."
Sheppard placed his arm around Rodney's contrary, argumentative, infuriating but highly valued shoulders, steering his old but young friend to the door and the hunt for a suitable bed. "Rodney, this city just wasn't the same without you."
To which Rodney heartily agreed. "This city didn't survive without me."
"We lasted for a while." Sheppard reminded him. "Some of us can get along just fine without the great ol' Doctor McKay." As a mission bed-hunting wasn't very challenging, but at least they were able to embark on it together and, after what they had all been though, the simple task of some relaxing down time, or just dispelling the boredom by walking the city with Rodney were hours Sheppard welcomed without complaint.
Rodney jumped on his last words. "And stop calling me old – I'm not old."
"Does it bother you that much? You have aged nine thousand years, give or take thirty-five years."
"In actual years, yes, but my body hasn't. I am as fit as I was before all this mess began, so quit it. Anyway, it's not common knowledge."
"Um, actually among the Atlantean folk it is common knowledge."
"What? You mean I'm going to be the butt of old man jokes from everyone now?"
"Rodney, my old, old, old pal, I can pretty much guarantee it."
END *Remember, there is a sequel coming up (some of it already down in ink), plus two other stand-alone stories to be posted either before or after the sequel is finished – not sure which yet.