Title: Losing Touch
Author: Winter Ashby (rosweldrmr)
Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis © Brad Wright & Robert C. Cooper
Warnings: McKay Whumping. Because I'm only happy when he's miserable.
Time Line: Somewhere between 2.16 (The Long Goodbye - the one where Weir and Sheppard get taken over by aliens and try to kill each other) and 2.19 (Inferno - the one where SGA1 get trapped on the planet with a super volcano).
Summary: The city was too quiet without it, too lifeless and dead. It reminded him of life before, of earth, of Antarctica and Russia and a time before cities could fly and swim and think. Before buildings could hum and light through stained glass could sing. Before he was whole, before he had friends and purpose and before, when the world was so much smaller. | Rodney's ATA gene therapy stops working and he struggles to cope while the rest of the team rallies to come up with a solution. But is there something else he's not telling them? [McKay Whump]
Authors Notes: I chose to set this fic during this period because it's when Ford is gone, Ronon is part of the team, Weir and Beckett are still alive, and the Dedalus (under an un-Goa'uld infected Caldwell) is making regular runs between the Milkyway and Pegasus, and before Michael comes back or Teyla gets preggers. This is sort of the period that I love the most, when everyone is there and happy and perfect. It was the Golden Age of the expedition.
This story is told through the perspective of John, Rodney and Radek, for no real reason other than that's what happened as I wrote. Trust me, there was no planning that went into that.
- JOHN -
It affected McKay the most.
John could tell. Past the bravado and accusations that Beckett 'was a glorified witch-doctor,' John could tell that McKay was honestly, truly shaken.
"I lived without it for thirty-five years, I can do it again." his words said. But his eyes, John knew, said: I don't know how.
"It was never a sure thing." Beckett told them in a briefing as McKay's bandaged hand rested on the table, like the elephant in the room.
"What does that mean for us?" Elizabeth asked, but John could hear the dissociative use of the word 'us'. She didn't count him or her among them.
"Honestly?" Beckett asked, the mask of the disimpassioned researcher dropped, revealing a face that was far too telling. "I don't know." he admitted darkly, and pointedly looked away from McKay.
"Can we expect what happened..." Elizabeth paused, her eyes flitted to McKay and back to Beckett. The meaning of her words, evident. "... to happen again? To others?"
"Aye, I fear it's all but inevitable."
"What happened, exactly?" John asked, and fumbled with the papers of the report Beckett had handed out.
"MENSA, riiiiight." He heard McKay mumble under his breath and turned back to the laptop monitor in front of him.
"I mean, what caused the... reversal?"
"It wasn't a reversal, so much as a rejection." Beckett told him and moved from holding his weight on his left to his right and back again, giving John the impression that he was a child that need to use the restroom.
"Why now?" Teyla asked, thoughtfully. Her hair falling to the side as she tilted her head. Sometimes, she really reminded John of a puppy.
"I can't say, for sure." Beckett told them, and clearly the guilt of having no answers was becoming a strain.
"Look, the ATA gene therapy was never a guarantee." McKay chimed in, almost as if he'd taken pity on Beckett. "It didn't work for everyone to begin with. And now..."
"Now, it seems that those who did prove receptive to the initial treatments have begun rejecting it." Beckett jumped in when McKay's eyes turned wide and expressive and too close to real pain that even John had to look away.
"What can we do?" Elizabeth asked, ever the pragmatists. If there a problem, she wanted a solution.
"I don't know. For now, at least, I've done all I can think of. Unless we find something in the Ancient's database, or come across a civilization in Pegasus that has experience with or knowledge of Lantean genetics, I don't have much hope of reversing the... the reversal."
"Rejection." McKay corrected him, and closed his laptop. His right, bandaged arm hung limply at his side while he gathered his belongings with the other, trying to balance the computer, his pen and paper, and coffee cup while trying to stand.
Ronon made a move to help him, and McKay drew back, away from him quickly and sharply. Enough that Ronon allowed a moment of shock to pass over his face, before a wall of indifference shot up to cover it.
"Rodney, please." Beckett reached for him, but McKay already had his back to one of the pivoting door panels of the room, and he was blindly pressing his wrapped hand along the seam, looking for the door's release.
"We should recall all ATA therapy recipients from assignments where they might put themselves or others in danger." McKay said, and audibly sighed with relief when the panel clicked and swung open. He stumbled down the step, spilling his cold coffee over his bandaged hand and shirt, as he pawed at the wall for balance.
Then he was gone. Papers still hung in midair as his retreating back shook and he clutched his injured hand to his chest. There had only been a second where John had seen McKay's face as he fled. But what he saw there was unsettling.
McKay was devastated.
"We can't let this happen again." Elizabeth told the rest of them as the panel eased shut. "What if he'd been piloting a jumper or trying to access a sensitive city system and not just gotten a nasty shock from the control panel he was working in?"
"Aye, it could've been much worse." Beckett agreed, nodding his head and looking sullen.
"I do not think Rodney would agree with you." Teyla informed them, quietly, in that way that spoke volumes.
"He'll recover." Elizabeth said as she gathered her papers to her chest and stood.
"I do not know that he will." Teyla responded, still watching the walls as they turned opened on Elizabeth's mental command.
- RADEK -
"They're going to replace me." Rodney confessed to Radek. An untouched MRE sat on a tray, pushed half-way across the table. As if even the sight of it was offensive to him.
"Dr. Weir would never." Radek insisted, knowing with one hundred percent conviction that his statement was true. Dr. Weir would never replace Rodney. Not ever. Not over something he had no control over.
"I'm not saying she'll do it next week or anything, but eventually." He mused, and itched, idly, at his exposed injured fingers.
"Do not scratch." Radek admonished, and slapped his hand away. He wondered, sadly, when he'd turned into his mother. "You blew up a galaxy and she did not fire you then." He reminded Rodney, and his face turned sour.
"Oh, don't start with that again. It wasn't the whole thing. It was only 5/6th of a galaxy-"
"And if you had listened to me, none of it would have happened." Radek reminded him, not for the first time. "You should have listen to me then, so listen to me now." He implored, with the grace and skill of guilting that even his mother would've been proud of.
"How can I do my job if I can't access or use most of the technology in the city?" Rodney shot back at him, and rested his hand in his lap.
"You will find a way." Radek told him, and was almost sure he believed it himself.
"Not this time." Rodney, hunched over, told the table.
- JOHN -
"Where's Rodney?" Elizabeth asked as she stood at the head of the table. Teyla, Ronon and John were all there, but there was no sign of the persnickety astrophysicist.
"I haven't seen him in days." Ronon's gruff voice hinted at the worry that was almost palpable in the room.
"Was he aware there was to be a meeting?" Teyla asked John, who only shrugged.
"John, you need to speak with him." Elizabeth said thoughtfully. "This can't go on. He's missed the last two off-world missions.
"I was under the impression, given his situation..." Teyla balked, and John was having a hard time not doing the same. "You gave the order that all ATA therapy recipients were to be... relieved until a solution could be found."
"I didn't mean Rodney!" it was Elizabeth's turn to look stunned. "I just didn't want someone to lose the ability to control Ancient technology in the midst of a mission, so no one would get hurt like he did. But he's... the damage is done. I thought he was healing and mopping, that's why he wasn't participating." John smirked as he watched the truth sink in. "He thought, you all thought... what? I was going to lock him in his quarters? Send him home?" she looked around the room, from one set of eyes to the next. All of them said the same thing: 'Yes'. Unequivocally, John knew it was only a matter of time before he was replaced.
At first, it would be on an as needed basis. When there was a mission that required a skilled scientist with the gene. Then, when there was another crisis in the city, and McKay couldn't get to something, or turn something on, he would be need help. And soon he would send someone else when he knew he couldn't. And, eventually, he would be a stay-at-home mom for the civilian scientist. John never thought Elizabeth would send him home. She wasn't that cruel. But she would give him a bureaucratic title, like Chief of Staff, and he would be miserable and eventually he would leave.
"This is unbelievable!" Elizabeth huffed and put her hands on her waist. "What you're suggesting of me... how could I ever... It's RODNEY." she emphasized and gestured her hands in what she thought was a 'no duh' kind of motion.
"He thinks the same thing." Ronon informed her. "He didn't say anything to me, but I can tell. He feels betrayed."
"And isolated." Teyla amended. "He is surrounded by wonders that he was sent to discover but he can no longer perform the most basic of functions with that technology. You can not imagine what it is like for him."
"It's torture." All heads in the room turned as McKay's voice chimed in from the doorway. "I would have been here sooner, but I couldn't activate the transporters, or open the restricted doors in the East corridor." And all the bluster, all the confidence and arrogance that John had come to associate with Rodney McKay was gone. Swallowed up by the fate of losing what was once second nature.
"I'm no good to you here anymore." he informed them. "The best thing I can do now is go back to Earth, continue my research into the practical application of Ancient technology."
"You can't mean that." Elizabeth spoke up, and made a move to block his exit if he tried.
"I do mean it."
John fisted his hands in his lap and tried not to think about what it would be like to lose the ability to control systems with his thoughts. It was something that came naturally to him. Since the moment he sat in that chair and 'pictured our place in the universe,' it was a part of him. The way it felt to fly, or feel connected to the city was like nothing else in his life. He felt alive and free and real and like a dream all at once. It was exhilarating and mesmerizing. Whenever he used the chair he felt like another piece of himself was falling into place.
To lose that, to lose all of it, that connection, that sense of purpose and direction, he wasn't sure how he would or could cope with that. So he turned to watch McKay's profile, the way McKay jut out his chin in that indignant way that he did and informed them all that he was leaving on the Dedalus on it's next run.
"We don't have a replacement!" Elizabeth pleaded, but it was clear to John that McKay's mind was made up. "You don't have permission to leave."
McKay only gave her a sad, knowing look that said 'You won't stop me' and turned to leave. His hand was out of the bandage now, but the electrical burns that crisscrossed over his skin like the white, raised strands of a spiderweb served as the catalyst for John.
He watched the way McKay's hand swayed as he walked away and felt the stir of that 'no man left behind' mentality begin to kick in. He wasn't going to let something so simple, so banal as genes get in the way of the perfect team. It'd taken him years and millions of miles to finally get to a place in his life where he felt right and safe.
Pegasus was home. Atlantis was home. His team was home. And losing any one of them was unacceptable.
John stood and strode out of the room, trailing in the direction of the western dock. From the direction he'd gone, John knew McKay was headed there, which was fine with him. It was always the place he found it easiest to be open with McKay, when they were in the open.
- RODNEY -
He hadn't really expected this to be easy. But then again, he also hadn't expected to become so reliant on the ATA gene to feel whole and sane and real. And he certainly never considered what would happen to him without it.
He didn't really want to leave. But walking these halls he'd come to know so well, and feeling so empty, useless, it was something he couldn't cope with. Rodney was a genius. One of the few true geniuses in two galaxies. And sitting idle, doing nothing, waiting for someone else to be brilliant ate at him.
After he'd left the briefing room, his feet took him towards the west pier. It was one of the last places in Atlantis that offered solace. When he was out there, the whirl of the wind drowned out the silence of the city, and the waves lapping at the dock that rocked him made it easier to think, to breath, to live.
He knew Sheppard was following him, the long way, since Rodney could no longer activate the private corridors or restricted transporters that he used to take.
'Fine,' he thought, 'if he wants to waste his time and follow me all the way out there, the long way, then let him.'
He wasn't in the mood to fight anyway. He just wanted things to be the way they were before all this. He hated the listlessness that'd settled in his limbs since he'd been removed from off-world missions. It was so strange to think, something that he used to dread - leaving the safety of the city to explore the unknown and get shot at and kidnapped - was now something that he thought of wistfully, fondly.
Rodney shook his head as the last door slid open, revealing a brilliant sky and alien sun slowly creeping toward the horizon.
- JOHN -
"You're like a dog." McKay spat over his shoulder and didn't bother to turn around. The pinks, yellows and oranges of the setting sun reminded John of the stained glass windows in the gate room. The way they shone and seemed to dance in the sunlight.
"Funny, I think the same thing about Teyla sometimes." John said as stood beside McKay.
"Don't tell her that." McKay said, a smile in his voice that was nothing but a lie.
"Despite what you may think, I'm not a moron." John deadpanned and was unrewarded when McKay's face remained as still and solid as stone. "Listen..." John signed an ran a hand through his hair. He really was crap with all this emotional stuff.
"No, you listen." McKay shot back, without giving John a chance to break into his carefully improvised monologue about what it meant to be a family. "I can't stay here. Not like this." he spread his hands wide in a gesture that said 'me, who I am now'. "Not when I can't affect change. Not when I can still remember what it was like, if only for a little while, to feel like I was more highly advanced."
"But you said-"
"I know what I said!" McKay snapped, and John shut his mouth. "I know I said that it was just random. But that's not what it feels like. Not to me. Not when I see how easy it is for you. And for me, even when the therapy was working, nothing came that easily. I had to struggle for every command. I had to practice thinking 'On. On. On.' over and over just to get the lights to listen. And you walk around here, like a purebred Ancient, like this place was made for you, like it was just waiting for you to come home." McKay's face crumpled and his voice cracked when he said 'home'.
"Between you and Beckett, I know you can figure this out." John said and nearly cringed at the insincerity in his voice. "Stay." he amended quickly, before McKay could argue. "You have to."
"I'm a civilian. I don't take orders from the Air Force." McKay snipped, but there was no fire in his words, no passion in his eyes. It looked as though he hadn't slept in days. He looked defeated.
"It's not an order."
"Then don't ask me to." McKay said, and looked out at the sherbet sunset.
"Because, I might cave."
"Why?" John asked again, digging for the root of his words. The meaning that he felt like they danced around too often without ever explicitly saying.
McKay sighed heavily, his shoulders drawn down, under the weight of John's question. "Because we're a team."
"Then stay." John shrugged, like it was the easiest thing in the world. And for him, it was. Being part of this team was natural, it was right.
"Ugh." McKay groaned and ran his hands down his face and through his hair in frustration. "It's not that easy Sheppard."
"Just, stay for a while. The Dedalus comes on regular runs now. Skip this one and if by it's next trip you still want to leave, I won't try to stop you." It wasn't a solution. John knew better than to think that it was. He just needed more time. He needed McKay to have more time to figure it out.
"Fine. I'll give it until the next run." McKay huffed and crossed his arms over his chest, drawing his hands to rest on his arms. And somehow, it still felt like a defeat. John would have expected him to research, to test and try and think. To use his hands to fidget and make and break. But instead, he just sat there, watching the inky-black of the night mute and overtake the sunset.
- RADEK -
"He is not himself." Radek confessed to Dr. Weir and tried not to watch the way her hands moved. He always loved her hands, but now wasn't the time for that.
"I've noticed." She said from behind her desk, and wore a far off look that Radek knew to be concern.
"He has not even tried to research it. It is like he is in mourning, unable to move forward." Radek had seen the symptoms of grief enough in his life to know what it looked like. As sure as Rodney was, he'd lost something that he didn't know how to get back and he was paralyzed with fear and regret that prevented him from finding a solution or even looking for one.
"John said he'll stay until the next Dedalus trip." But the 'what if' hung in the air between them. What if it wasn't enough time? What if there was no solution? What if Rodney left?
"Has Dr. Beckett found anything?" Radek asked, hopefully.
"No, unfortunately, Carson seems to be suffering from the same nihilistic attitude that Rodney is. He doesn't think there's anything he can do." Dr. Weir took a sip of her tea, and Radek felt his heart sink.
"What about Atlantis' sister city? They had some knowledge of the gene, maybe their database contains..." Radek trailed off, not really sure what an agrarian culture of infighting, spoiled royalty would be able to offer that Rodney and Dr. Beckett couldn't.
"I've already asked John to reach out to them." she said with the same hollow tone.
"There must be something!" Radek insisted, and was urged to stand. Dr. Weir startled at his sudden movement and smiled coyly.
"Rodney is lucky to have a friend like you, Dr. Zelenka."
Radek promptly blushed from head to toe and all he could think of was the brilliant smile on Dr. Weir's face. He nodded, once, before fumbling for the exit.
He was resolved. He was going to find something, anything that would help. He was going to do it for Rodney, and Atlantis. But more than that, he was going to do it because that look on Dr. Weir's face when she was proud was heart-stopping.
- RODNEY -
Rodney watched Radek leave Elizabeth's office and felt nothing but exhausted. He hadn't been sleeping well, without the hum, without the city to rock him to sleep with dancing light and nearly imagined songs that seemed to come from the walls themselves. His labs were too bright, too busy, too full of life and thoughts and advancements that he could no longer make.
He spent most days working in his office, trying to wrestle with more abstract problems of energy distribution and capacity. Something that didn't require calling someone else to activate anything. It was just numbers and equations and models and so much like what he used to do, before he'd ever visited SGC and that deathtrap of a mountain.
And he knew, if he went back, it's what his life would be again.
- RADEK -
"Would you care for some company?" Teyla asked Radek as he sat at a mess hall table, alone. Blurry-eyed and past exhausted, he hardly acknowledged her existence with an almost imperceivable tilt of his sleep-addled head. "Are you not going to rest, Dr. Zelenka?" Teyla asked and he could only shake his head and grip his cup of steaming coffee with numb fingers.
Radek meant to answer. He meant to say 'I can't, because the Dedalus just left and now I only have three weeks left to cure Rodney or he's going to leave us.' He meant to nod or cry or collapse. He meant to do anything. But the fog of sleep deprivation and false-caffeine-induced-alertness was long since gone. Now, he was just cold and so exhausted the effort of breathing seemed like too much.
So instead he sat there, cup in hand, and let his thoughts fly to other things. Other places, other people, other times, other galaxies.
"Come." Teyla said and pulled him to stand from under his arm. "You must rest. You will not be able to help Dr. McKay if you push yourself too hard."
And he wanted to say 'Thank you'. He wanted to ask for help, or why Rodney wouldn't. But he couldn't. He couldn't form coherent thoughts or words. So he just nodded, and let the coffee cup remain on the table as she led him towards his lab. She must have known he had a mattress under his desk because she was settling him down and he was out before she'd even turned off the lights.
- JOHN -
The triumphant cry of Zelenka echoed down the halls of the Science wing. The echo was followed closely by running footsteps leading to the gateroom.
John, who had been on his way to the control room for a briefing, was faced with a decision. Move out of the way, or time his steps to keep pace with the scientist who was already barrelling down the hallway. John chose to keep up with him.
"What's up, doc?" John asked, and Zelenka looked a little startled to find he had company.
"I have it." he said, and the soul-crushing relief that crashed over John was nearly paralyzing. He stopped and grabbed Zelenka's arm.
"Really?" he asked, and there was so much optimism packed into that one word, John felt like he was choking on it.
"Really, really." Zelenka said, and gave John a wry smile that made the soles of his feet ache with hope.
- RADEK -
He had it. Radek clutched the papers to his chest and nearly shook with anticipation. He hadn't spoken to Dr. Beckett yet but he knew, knew, that it would work. It had to work.
Radek knew Ancient Technology better than anyone, well almost anyone. But the one person who could run laps around him - not that he'd ever admit it outloud - was unable or unwilling to offer his input.
But it didn't matter anyway, because Radek had solved it.
And, he may not have been a medical doctor, but what no one else in Atlantis knew was that he started out as pre-med at university. It wasn't until his fourth semester when he met a pretty girl and followed her to engineering that he found his true love. So, unlike Rodney, Radek wasn't completely lost.
Starting with Dr. Beckett's research that proved the gene therapy only worked on individuals who had the a dormant version of the gene, and Dr. Daniel Jackson's research that posited that all modern humans were the second evolution of Ancients, Radek operated under the assumption that all humans, in both galaxies (since they were seeded by the Ancients) possessed at least the dormant form of the gene.
Given this rather large leap, he was able to form the hypothesis that all humans had the capacity for gene therapy to work. So the 48% success rate must be due to some other factor.
Using the research from the Sister City planet where the Lord Protectorate and his descendants, whose own success rate with the gene therapy was now somewhere around 15%, Radek began dissecting Dr. Beckett's original theory about gene therapy and came to the conclusion that the mouse retrovirus was the culprit of the inconsistencies.
Not all cultures had the same immunities or diseases, or even the same species that was being used to fuel the therapy. Radek knew that the mouse retrovirus would need to be replaced. But it wasn't until a few nights ago, while he was combing through the Ancient database that he stumbled onto the answer.
There it was, sitting there, tucked between files about Ancient experiments on geothermal power and Wraith Social Hierarchy.
It'd been flagged with red for 'Military' uses and sealed away behind Milkyway firewalls that the SGC and IOA set up because they deemed the research 'too dangerous' for further investigation. But, being Secondary Head of the Science Department on an alien base, in another Galaxy, and more than capable of doing a little creative accessing, he was able to get in without a problem.
And there it was, the answer. The Ancients had already done most of the work for him.
- RODNEY -
"The problem is not with Rodney, or me, for that matter." Radek was explaining the breakthrough he'd had to Rodney, Elizabeth, Sheppard, Teyla, Ronon, Carson, and Sheppard.
Rodney heard, more than saw, Radek's revelation in the labs a half hour ago. He'd gone running from his office, lab coat flapping, and papers twisting and leafing in his hands as he sprinted to the gateroom. And Rodney couldn't help it, he couldn't stop the desperately hopeful surge that swept over him, like a tsunami of relief.
Maybe it was possible. Maybe he wouldn't have to leave. He could stay in Atlantis, and be useful and brilliant and everything would be as it was, as it should.
He was on his feet and sprinting - yes, him, The Great Dr. Rodney McKay was actually running through the halls of Atlantis after Radek and Sheppard. He was sweaty and short-breathed when he reached the briefing room, and still he was the last one there. Rodney figured Sheppard radioed everyone on the way.
Rodney's hand came up to his ear, and he realized in his haste to follow Radek, he'd forgotten his radio. It was still sitting on his desk, probably crackling with confirmations that all Department Heads and Senior Staff was present and accounted for.
Rodney tried to slow his breathing, and wiped his brow with the back of his arm before taking a seat as the doors closed on Elizabeth's mental command.
"The problem is with the gene therapy." Radek announced and Carson was looking extremely displeased.
"No offense, son, but you're not exactly a medical doctor." He uncrossed his arms and reached for the stack of papers Radek had slammed down in front of each of them as they sat.
"Yes, of course, Dr. Beckett. But you see, the problem is not biological, it is technological." And they way Radek smiled at Rodney made his insides twist with hope. With 'please', and 'maybe', and 'God, just let this work'.
He didn't even bother to snap that he was the expert on technology, or that medicine was all voodoo anyway. He didn't even comment on the way Radek seemed to be taking all the credit, because he didn't care.
He didn't fucking care if Radek won the Nobel fricken Prize for this, the only thing he wanted, needed, couldn't live without, was that piece of him he'd lost.
That part of him that came from the Ancients. It was a connection to history, a link to what came before. It was primal and instinctual and without it, he knew, he would never be whole again.
The city was too quiet without it, too lifeless and dead. It reminded him of life before, of earth, of Antarctica and Russia and a time before cities could fly and swim and think. Before buildings could hum and light through stained glass could sing. Before he was whole, before he had friends and purpose. Before, when the world was so much smaller.
The only thing he could equate it to was science fiction or fantasy. The way the city felt after his gene had been activated, it was like being connected, it was like giving life to inanimate things that he'd always just taken for granted. But after, when he could feel a device activate at his touch, come alive, show life and take breath, and be.
And now, now...
Now, Radek was explaining the basic assumptions he'd made about all human's having the gene, dormant or otherwise and Rodney had to keep himself from screaming 'Get to the point!' But with every excruciatingly slow minute that passed in explanation, it all seemed to make so much sense. There was an itch, the feeling like a suppressed yawn or when he would will the lights in his room on. It was a tickle in the back of his mind that made him think, 'Yes.'
- JOHN -
"Biogenic Weaponry." Zelenka was saying after he'd given some background on his theories. John stilled immediately and Elizabeth nearly choked on her coffee.
"Come again?" Beckett asked while Elizabeth sputtered and wiped her chin. Zelenka owl-eye-blinked at them and paused, like he hadn't expected anyone to ask questions. And John was sure the frazzled Czech hadn't slept properly in weeks, not since McKay announced he was leaving.
Because there was a countdown, an invisible calendar that counted down days until the Dedalus would be back, and if they hadn't found a solution by then - McKay would leave. John could feel the pressure of it, the weight of less than two weeks left settle on his shoulders. And as he watched the somewhat manic expression Zelenka wore, he considered that perhaps he wasn't the only one who felt it.
"The Ancients were halfway there, although they were developing it in hopes of killing the Wraith, which turned out to be much more difficult than they had anticipated, and they were under siege for many years..." he trailed off, apparently lost in thought, and John could practically hear Elizabeth's frustration grow.
"Dr. Zelanka, take a moment to gather your thoughts." She said, and laid a soft hand on his forearm. And almost instantly, John could see the other man's eyes clear and focus.
"The Ancient Nanovirus." Zelenka said, finally.
"The one that almost killed you?" John asked, feeling like he wasn't going to like this idea very much.
"Yes, and no." Zelenka pushed his glasses up the ridge of his nose and John struggled to stay focused. There was too much riding on this, it was too important to just zone out, like he normally did.
Next to him, he could just make out the shape of McKay huffing and crossing his arms.
"The research for the Ancient's Biogenic Weaponry started with the Nanovirus that we encountered. But after that was abandoned, and locked away, a team of different scientists took what they had learned and went in a new direction." he paused, and John could swear, he was on the edge of his seat. "Biogenics." Zelenka enunciated bio-genics with great care, and gestured with his right hand for emphasis.
"Like P4C-970?" John asked, and every head in the room swiveled to look at him. "What, like I'm not allowed to read old mission reports?"
"You mean the Aschen?" Elizabeth asked and John nodded.
"Aye, SG1 made contact with them in 2001." Beckett nodded his agreement, obviously being familiar with the case-file. "If I remember correctly they tried to use those biogenic weapons against us."
"Yes. Well, from what the SGC could ascertain, given our brief encounters with them, and the information Lieutenant-Colonel Carter was able to glean, I believe the Ancients may have been on the verge of a similar technology, before they left Atlantis." Zelenka cleared his throat and waited for that little nugget to sink in.
"The Aschen's biogenic weapons seemed to be composed of an unknown form of living, radioactive material that had the ability to be programmed to target and destroy a specific type of DNA." Beckett explained and Zelenka nodded along.
"The research I found suggests that this team of Ancient scientists also ended up developing a cybernetic approach. Part biological, part technological." Zelenka smiled, triumphantly, and the room fell still.
Usually, it was at this point in the briefing that John would roll his eyes and tune out. But his heart was pounding so hard in his chest, he thought it might bruise his ribs.
- RODNEY -
"This could work." Carson said, as he flipped through the research Radek had presented them with. It was quiet, more like he said it to himself. But the thrill of anticipation that shot through Rodney was so powerful, he nearly gasped for air. Carson looked up from the papers, and pinned Rodney with the most devastatingly optimistic expression that made him ache. "This could work."
- RADEK -
"Yes, yes." Radek said and Dr. Beckett pointed to another page of material. "That is exactly what I was thinking." Dr. Beckett and he had been pouring over the material he'd printed out for the past fifteen minutes in a kind of medical/technical shorthand. No one else was really listening anymore and he knew Dr. Beckett could see it now too... the solution. Laid out so cleanly, so perfectly, just waiting to be dusted off and utilized.
It was almost too good to be true.
"And they were so close." Dr. Beckett agreed and Radek was beginning to feel that terrible burden of knowledge slip from his shoulders.
"Carson?" Dr. Weir asked, and as Radek looked around the room, he could see the same blatantly hopeful expression thunder across each and every face.
"They were nearly there, Elizabeth. They have the genetic material and the nanobots ready to program. They just couldn't control it as a weapon, and they were losing the war. They just, gave up. Probably when they returned to Earth." Dr. Beckett explained and Radek waited for her to ask her next question, because he already knew what she'd ask.
"Who was the lead scientist?"
"Janus." Radek answered, before Dr. Beckett had a chance. And that look, that smile and hope and pride that she showed him made the tips of Radek's ears tingle. This is what he'd been killing himself for the past two weeks for. Well, for Rodney too, but also this. To see her face when she really, really believed that it was true.
That moment when he became the hero.
- JOHN -
"Let me get this straight." John said, leaning back in his chair, "They had it all ready to go, and just walked away?"
"Well, no. They were trying to develop a weapon." Zelenka said, sheepishly. "They had problems with delivery and dosage and other things that do not concern us. There also seemed to be quite a bit of political impediments from the Council, that we, obviously, do not have."
"The Council was never very accepting of Janus' work. Just the fact that it came from him probably would have made it impossible for practical use. The Council never trusted Janus." Elizabeth explained and John squirmed at the way she sounded nostalgic, homesick. After the 10,000 year old version of herself told her about Janus, last year, she'd spent months poring over everything she could get her hands on about the man.
John didn't like the way she'd seemed to form an emotional connection across thousands of years and alternate versions of history.
"Okay. So no weapon, no council." John confirmed and spared a glance at Teyla and Ronon who nodded in unison. "So, where does that leave us?" He asked Elizabeth, who immediately turned to Zelenka and Beckett.
"Close." Beckett said, "Very close."
"All we have to do is replace the mouse retrovirus with the new Ancient cybernetic retrovirus." Zelenka said and John was fighting back against a derisive quip about 'all we have to do.' But bottom line, two of the three smartest people on the base were in complete agreement.
"McKay?" John turned in his seat and tried not to topple over at the sight of McKay, smiling.
"Oh, it'll more than work."
"Rodney?" Elizabeth asked for him to expand, and McKay's smile transformed into something darker, something almost sinister.
"With the cybernetic retrovirus, there's the potential for the ATA gene therapy to be effective indefinitely. I have no idea about what this will do to the success rate, but the nanobots would mean that if the treatment ever began to fail, they would reinitialize. It would be like getting constant, continuous boosters. We'd never have to worry about it failing again." McKay was almost leering with what John could only hope was excitement.
"Does that mean the therapy would be more effective?" Elizabeth asked Beckett.
"I don't think so. The retrovirus can only do so much to activate dormant genes. I would think that the success rate wouldn't be much better then it is now, it could even be worse." Beckett confessed, and pointed looked away from Zelenka - who John knew, it hadn't worked for. "But McKay's right. It won't, can't be rejected."
"Can we use it against the Wraith?" Ronon spoke for the first time and John was a little more than embarrassed that it hadn't even occurred to him. He was too focused on getting McKay back that he hadn't even considered the military uses for something like this.
"Ronon is right. If we could adapt the Iratus bug retrovirus to be delivered with these cyber-netic," the word sounded strange and forced coming from Teyla, like she was imitating the sound of the word, syllable by syllable, rather than recognizing the actual word. "...perhaps the relapse that Michael suffered would not occur again."
Beckett's brow furrowed as he considered her comments.
"I'm not sure it would work. The ATA therapy was designed to be universally acceptable. The Iratus bug retrovirus is targeted specifically to attack the Iratus bug DNA within Wraith." He chewed on his lip and stroked his chin, lost in thought. "It would certainly be worth investigation. But the Ancients had problems with using it as a targeted weapon, I don't know if we'd be any more successful at making the treatment permanent. Unfortunately, we just don't know enough about the Iratus bugs or Wraith to say for sure. But Ancient physiology and Human, I'm confident that we will be ready for Pegasus Galaxy human trials in a few weeks."
- RODNEY -
"... a few weeks." Even as Carson said the words Rodney could feel himself come unhinged.
A few weeks.
In a few weeks, he would be whole again.
In a few weeks, he would be useful again.
In just a few weeks, a handful of days, he would be alive again.
He wouldn't have to suffer three weeks on the Dedalus, trapped in close, cramped quarters. He wouldn't have to deal with Hermiod's unnerving eyes, or Novak's annoying hiccups, or Caldwell's awkward small talk. He wouldn't have to plaster Dramamine patches up and down his arms in an ultimately fruitless effort to stave off space-motion sickness.
He wouldn't have to play nice with the crew so he could request assignment to the Dedalus when he got back to SGC, just so he could see his friends and his former home again. He wouldn't have to endure crap assignments, and subpar staff with mediocre colleagues where nothing interesting ever happened.
He wouldn't have to spend all the savings, back pay, and cash out investments and call in IOU's he'd been hoarding away his whole life, so he could buy a private island in the middle of nowhere just so he could sleep at night. Because, God knew, he'd never slept so soundly as when he stepped through the Pegasus gate and discovered the soothing sounds of ocean breezes and lapping waves outside his window.
He'd already started planning what kind of home he would build, how to power it, and get communications. It was a daunting idea, when everything he wanted was right here.
In just a few weeks, he'd get to keep his room with a view of the towering Ancient spires and endless ocean-sunsets. He wouldn't have to leave Atlantis.
Because, he knew, even if he built a fraction of what he'd found here, it wouldn't be the same. Not when he could still remember what it was like to live in a city that hummed with life and potential and friendships that cut so deep he was sure he would carry the scars for the rest if his life.
Now... now he could stay. And he would be whole. And his life, God, his life would go back to... how it was supposed to be. He would go back to commanding Ancient technology with nothing more than his will. He would go back to feeling the city shift under his feet and obey his commands.
- JOHN -
"... in a few weeks." Beckett's voice sounded so far away. Like he was at the end of a long hall, or speaking from an intercom in another room. And past the rush of blood in his ears, John struggled to hear anything else.
In a few weeks, McKay would be back to normal, and they could go on away missions and explore and McKay would be back to doing the impossible and being an arrogant dick, and John couldn't think of a thing in the universe he wanted more. He wanted his team, all of them, back the way they belonged. Bickering and laughing and being that unnameable force in his life that made him feel strong than he was, braver than he was, better than he was when he was on his own.
- RODNEY -
"Elizabeth?" Rodney asked from the doorway of her office, his foot edging halfway between in and out - much like he felt.
"Rodney, come in. What can I do for you?" She stood and waved him in.
Rodney glanced around her office. The glass walls and natural light spilling in always reminded him of an aquarium. He could feel the eyes of everyone in the control room, and on the floor of the gate room on him. Even if they weren't watching, reading his lips, following his movements and gestures, they were aware of him, of his presence in her office, just as he was aware of them. His stomach knotted in a ball of nerves and guilt and shame.
He didn't want to do this here. Hell, he didn't want to do this at all. Just a few weeks, right? Just a few weeks, and no one would have to know that he was a fraud.
"You must have the worst office in Atlantis." He barked, offhandedly, and began pacing. "I mean you're the leader of the Expedition for Christ's sake, couldn't you at least get an office with an external window and some proper doors or walls?" Even as it said it though, he knew he'd gone too far.
"I'm sorry my office is such a disappointment to you, Rodney." Even as dense as he was about people's feelings, he knew she loved her office. He remembered her spending hours setting it up, displaying her relics and artifacts, turning a bowl this way and that, putting it on one shelf, then another, gauging, judging the way each one looked in relation to the other, cast in the the colored, alien light of the stained glass from the gate room.
She'd told him, once, tear-stained and shaking, that some days, it was the only good thing about her job. It was the day after the storm. After Kolya. After Atlantis was forever made vulnerable in Rodney's eyes. That was the day he really began to understand, accept the lie he'd been feeding her, him, all of them.
That day still played in a loop in his nightmares.
'I've gots lots of plans about lots of things' The blade slicing into his arm, the sound of splintering strands of nylon as his jacket yielded to the blade. The hot, sharp pain that blossomed behind the spotted darkness of his eyes and he did he best to block out the panic and fear and pain. The thundering ache of shame when the plans tumbled from his lips as he panted and begged for it to stop. He would have told them anything they asked, in those moments, when Rodney forgot about everything except the bright, terrible pain.
'Trust me, I'm not that brave. I would help you if I could.' The water raining down his face, chilling him to the bone. The feeling of Kolya's fingers gripping his arm, and the metal railing pressing into his back. Elizabeth watching him, shivering and helpless, he could almost read the regret in her eyes. The fear and pain and 'if only' things had turned out differently.
'I don't know if you noticed or not but I'm an extremely arrogant man who tends to think all of his plans will work!' Followed immediately by the sting of Koyla pistol-whipping him. The ache of another bruise, pain that radiated out and down and made him quake with regret. Rodney was made of nothing but fear in those in between moments, when the plan went to hell, and people were dying, and he couldn't stop it.
Elizabeth had called him into her office, as the rest of the expedition was shuffling through the rippling event horizon. She stood too close, and touched his poorly bandaged arm and professed, tearfully, that she was sure she would've died if it weren't for him.
He should have told her then, but the way she looked at him when she thanked him and apologized for letting them be taken by surprise, and confessed (desperately) that she wanted to go home, halted the words in his throat. He couldn't bring himself to tell her, to admit that all her confidence in him, all her faith that he would save them was wrong. He understood, if somewhat fragmented, that she needed it. She needed to believe that she was safe, and in that moment what made her safe (feel safe and perceive safety through the tinted lens of remorse) was him.
He didn't want it, the responsibility, the gut-wrenching, pitiful contrition that made him remember Sunday school lessons as a child. He didn't need that. He was all mixed up as it was. Exhausted and tortured and so much changed since 48 hours ago.
But then she's straightened, stood to her full height and wiped her face and it was gone. That moment to confess, to comfort or turn away. He'd missed his chance, to do anything. Instead, he's just stood there, at let her think of Earth as home. But that was then, when she'd still had the hope of Simon.
Now, Atlantis was home, and Rodney had offended Elizabeth.
"Shit, I didn't mean it like that. It's just... easier, would have been easier to tell you what I wanted to tell you without the picture window and audience." He apologized, as best he could, and twisting his fingers together behind his back. A nervous habit that made him, curiously, wish he had a gun. Something about it strapped to his leg or side always had a way if making him less fidgety.
"We can go somewhere else, if you like. Somewhere more private?"
"No, no. It's fine. I'll just..." He gestured at the opened door.
"By all means." She nodded and he shut it. The audible click of the latch made him feel more comfortable immediately. There was just something about having a tangible barrier between the outside and this terrible conversation that made it marginally less daunting.
And it was going to be terrible. He knew it would. Because it would mean admitting, out loud, his deepest fear. He paced some more, twisting his fingers and lost in thoughts about what it meant that he was actually sorry to not be armed.
"Shepard's been making me train with Ronon. Did you know that?" He asked as he spun on the heel of his foot.
"Yes, I was aware." Elizabeth nodded and sat, slowly, her palms resting on her desk. "Is there a problem?"
"I'm an astrophysicist, damn it! An engineer, I have no business carrying a gun!" This really wasn't going the way he'd planned it.
"I seem to recall you demanding to be armed." she pursed her lips. "And I also seem to recall that carrying a gun has saved you, and your team, on more than one occasion."
"Well, yes. Of course. It only made sense, at the time. We were getting ambushed by the Wraith every time we walked through the gate. Pardon me for not wanting to die a horrible, painful death at the hands," he paused and turned to her, "the literal hands of soul-sucking-space-vampires!" he held up his palm and felt a little shameful. How had this conversation gotten so far away from him?
Glass walls, nervous, gun, moral/ethical dilemma, Sheppard's influence, blaming someone else... Oh, right.
"Rodney, I'm sorry the situation has made you so uncomfortable, all this time-"
"I lied." He blurted out, suddenly unable to contain the guilt a second longer. He twisted his pointer finger so far around his middle that he thought it might snap at the knuckle.
"What?" Elizabeth blinked once, twice, three times and Rodney was fighting the urge to scream. "I'm sorry, I don't follow."
"I lied to you, to everyone. No, not lied." He corrected himself.
"You didn't lie?" she asked, puzzled.
"No, I..." He paused, to rifle through the synonyms in his mind, like flipping through the pages of a thesaurus. "...misrepresented."
"You misrepresented your preference for side arms on away missions?"
"What?" Rodney eyed her skeptically. It was a mystery how other people's minds worked. "No, forget the guns. Being armed is a good thing, I just think I've become too reliant on it to feel secure." He waved off her questioning look and pushed on. "I came here because I've been pretending to be something, someone I'm not."
"I don't understand, Rodney. Who is it that you're supposed to have impersonated?"
"An expert, a..." He floundered for the right words. He was never very good with words. Numbers, equations, algorithms and proofs and postulates, theories and experiments, technology and calculations, yes. But words and people and feelings? He shook his head. "A hero." He finally admitted, and he swore he could feel the universal peg of Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay being taken down a notch.
- JOHN -
"He said he'd been pretending, this whole time." Elizabeth said over the brim of her tea cup. John knew, she was shaken, from the way the double-fisted the mug, like it was all that stood between her and ruin.
"Pretending about what?" John asked, not really sure what this emergency meeting was all about, or why Elizabeth had asked to speak to him, alone, in her rarely used lab. He had to use his life signs detector to make it through the maze of corridors and hallways to get here. She was a solitary blip on the far edge of the city. It was no wonder she was never down here, it was more than a mile from the nearest transporter.
"He said he'd been pretending to be a hero." John expected a chuckle to go along with her words, but her face was solemn and cast in shadows that made him squirm uneasily in his seat.
"I don't remember anyone giving him a medal, or a bat signal." John joked, trying to get a handle on what it was that she was trying to say.
"He said all the times he saved us, the city, your team, every time he pulled a miraculous save out of thin air, it wasn't him." And she looked haunted.
John promptly shut up, and ran through the unofficial tally in his head of all the times McKay managed to save their asses at the last possible second. "Then how..."
"He said it was the city." Elizabeth nursed her mug and John shrugged.
"So?" He asked, because, clearly, there was something he was missing here.
"So, he thinks I should replace him with someone who doesn't have the gene. He recommended Dr. Zelenka." And, 'oh shit' was the only coherent thought John could form.
- RADEK -
"I told her the truth." Rodney said, slumped over his desk, his forehead resting on the tabletop.
"The truth about what?" Radek asked, not really sure he was following.
"All those times I saved the city, or did the impossible, it wasn't me." his voice was muffled as he spoke to the desk.
Radek eyed him, quizzically. "Of course it was you. No one else could have-"
"It was Atlantis." Rodney said and rolled his head to the side, to rest his cheek on the metal surface.
"That can not be true, Rodney. I have seen you save the city, when no one else could." Radek admitted, begrudgingly. Ordinarily, he would rather chew his own leg off than admit Rodney's genius, let alone trying to boost his ego, but something about the destitution in Rodney's voice made it easier to praise him. This crisis of confidence was... unsettling for Radek. He'd never known Rodney to be anything but contrite and arrogant when it came to, well, everything. This new Rodney, the one with spiderweb scars and no Ancient gene who questioned his contribution to the expedition and his skills as a scientist was deeply alarming.
"But that's just it, Radek. It wasn't me." Rodney sat up and ran his hands through his hair, over his face and sighed. "For a while, I thought it was. I thought I was finally getting the hang of the Ancient gene, and controlling the systems. But then things would happen that I hadn't even thought of. Things I couldn't have commanded, because I didn't know they were even possible. And it was almost like there was another force that was taking over, stepping in, when there was a problem."
Radek wanted him to stop, to shut up and just go back to that brazen, egotistical man he knew so well. This wounded, shaken man who didn't think he was capable of the impossible was a stranger to him. "We do not fully understand how the Ancient system's mental interface works, Rodney. It is still possible you were responsible for it."
"No! It took me weeks to get the shower to respond me. Then, what, I have a random, unformed, fleeting idea about some far fetched, scientifically improbable solution, and the Ancient computer just picked up on it, and what, enacts it without my direction - because I might have come up with it in the back of my mind?" He shook his head and let out a soft breath. "No, Radek. It wasn't me. It was never me. It was always the city, protecting herself."
"No, Rodney. I have seen you. I have seen you work out the solution."
"Sometimes, I think it's the city that feeding me the solutions."
"What about the Jumper? And all the times off-world, then? It could not have been the city then." Radek countered, and he was pleased to see a look of exasperation pass over Rodney's face. It was fleeting and unintentional, but it closer to the old Rodney, the one who would berate Radek for asking 'the obvious'.
"Well, yes. I mean, some of that was me."
"And back at SGC, before you came to Atlantis." Radek jumped over his words, trying to make Rodney see. Make him understand that he was still that same man. The expert, the genius, the hero he had always been.
"Yes, yes. Okay. I do have a knack for saving everyone when no one else can. But, Radek, it's different now." Rodney's voice grew soft, hesitant, as he turned his eyes away.
It was a submissive gesture, and something about it struck Radek as wrong. This was wrong. This Rodney was wrong, not the man he'd followed to another universe just for the opportunity to be ridiculed and belittled and awed. "Stop. I can not sit here a listen to you question yourself like this." Radek stood up and turned towards the door, unable to watch his friend slip away a second longer.
"The storm." Rodney called, and just the mention of it halted Radek.
He knew, remembered, the cut on Rodney's arm and the almost frantic, wild-eyed look he'd had for months after, as he overhauled the city systems and worked himself into the ground trying to set things right. He knew something had changed during the storm, something that frightened Rodney to the core. Radek had always assumed it was the invasion, and being tortured for information. But maybe there had been something more. "What about it?" Radek asked as he turned.
"That's when I realized it wasn't me. If the city had listened to me, we would have died. Everyone that was in the city would've died. Elizabeth, Sheppard, Carson, Teyla, Ford, that Genii woman... I would've killed us all. I thought I knew the precise time to engage, and I kept telling the city to listen. I thought 'do it, do it, do it'. But it wouldn't listen to me. It ignored me. And it would have been too soon. There wouldn't have been enough power, and the city would have been torn apart and we would have drown. After that, I knew, it wasn't me. If it had been me, we would have died. Atlantis would have fallen. Ten thousand years, abandoned, submerged, she waited for us. And in less than 6 months, I would have destroyed her."
"That proves nothing, Rodney."
"It proves everything!" Rodney roared and stood, abruptly. The stool crashed to the floor and Radek took a step back, surprised by the vehemence in his voice.
"It is a collaborative system, Rodney. We know the city has safety controls that we do not fully understand. But that does not mean that the city has been in control this whole time. What about when Dr. Weir went back in time in the alternate universe when Atlantis did not rise?" Radek was grasping, searching his mind for anything that would show Rodney the truth of it.
"But then Janus created the safety protocols. What if the program he wrote included some kind of neural artificial intelligence, capable of determining threats and, through our presence, get us to carry out its solution? I mean, he knew we were coming, Elizabeth told him." And there was nothing more in the world Radek wanted to do than to storm out of the lab. This was impossible. What Rodney was suggesting was, disturbing. "Think about it. Why else would our long range sensors turn on conveniently just when as those Wraith hive ships were on the way? How else could the holo-learning program answer questions we didn't even know to ask?"
"No, Rodney. You are wrong! I have made incredible advancements in my field without the ATA gene. Are you saying that was not my doing?" Radek shook with anger and trepidation. Because no matter how impossible this was, it had a way of sounding so... logical.
"No, your advancements, your work is your own Radek. Hell, I've made amazing advancements since I've been here too. But Hail Mary, last ditch, insane, impossible, pull something out of my ass saves, that wasn't me, it never was. Since the moment Atlantis rose to the surface, it's been something else." Rodney settled down, the agitation gone, and in its wake, Radek could only see acceptance. "I've asked Elizabeth to remove me as head of the Science Department, and I've recommended that you take over. Since you have the most experience with Ancient systems and don't have the gene."
And Radek felt a little like he was slipping, or falling. It was a strange sensation, like the kind he got as he was falling asleep sometimes, halfway between dreaming and being awake.
This couldn't be real.
- RODNEY -
"What does it matter?" Elizabeth asked Rodney.
She'd showed up at this door at eleven o'clock at night. Rodney threw a shirt on, and walked, in his sock-covered feet to answer the door. Since he still couldn't open it with his thoughts. "Elizabeth?" he asked, and stumbled back as she pushed passed him, not even asking to come in.
"What does it matter if it was the city?" She asked again, and Rodney was beginning to feel like this was some kind of trap.
"Because, it wasn't me."
"The city may have come up with it, but you still had to understand what it wanted and do it. Execute it quickly and correctly." She crossed her arms over her chest and he closed the door. Standing in front of her in his linen pants and soft cotton shirt was an uncomfortable feeling. Like he was going into battle and wasn't wearing armor.
"No buts, Rodney. Is there anyone else on Atlantis, or on Earth - for that matter - capable of comprehending and performing Atlantis' solutions correctly, in the time needed, other than yourself?"
That, threw him. "Uh, I'm not... I don't really... I've never given it much thought." He admitted.
"Well, think about it and get back to me in the morning." She said, and strolled out, leaving Rodney to think, most of the night, about what she'd said.
- JOHN -
"You look like crap." John said the next morning, when once again, the department heads were called to a briefing.
"Long night." McKay said between gulps of his third cup of coffee, that John had seen. God knew how many he'd downed before he made it to the meeting room.
"Rodney, did you have a chance to think about what I asked you yesterday?" Elizabeth asked, and John's ears perked up. What had she talked about with McKay yesterday?
"I did." McKay answered, gravely, and John had the sneaking suspicion that Elizabeth's question is what caused McKay to look as walking-dead as he did.
"And?" She pressed, and all others in the room fell silent. From the looks of it, no one else knew what the question had been either. But from the way they all hushed and listened, they all knew it was important.
"One, maybe two others." He said, jutting his chin out in that arrogant, proud way that he did when he knew he was right and everyone else was wrong. It was so familiar, and yet something that had been so painfully absent from the briefings, from McKay lately, that it made John's chest tighten.
"Then, the matter we discussed yesterday is moot." She looked at Zelenka and John, and that unsettled, twisting sensation he'd had in his gut since yesterday started to fade.
"Enough, Rodney. Carson and Dr. Zelenka are working on the retrovirus as we speak, and as early as next week we can begin trials." John could sense McKay bracing, like he could feel the other shoe dropping. "I feel I have been more than accommodating while we all struggled with the ramifications of failure of the ATA gene therapy. I know this has been a particularly trying time for you, after your injury and the changes in policy, but I will not continue to indulge you as you wallow."
"I am not wallowing." McKay sounded angry. Like he did when one of his people almost blew up the city kind of pissed.
"The hell you aren't!" Elizabeth shot back, and damn - she looked like she could just about kill someone. Wisely, John and everyone else had fallen into utter silence. He was sure he wasn't the only one holding his breath.
- RADEK -
Radek gripped the arm of his chair, white knuckled, and tried not to move. The tone of Dr. Weir's voice sent tendrils of panic coursing through him. And Rodney was half standing in front of his chair now, like he was ready for a fight.
"It's not right, Elizabeth. It's not safe for the expedition to rely on me." Rodney's anger slowly ebbed as he spoke, until he finally sat, heavy boned, and looking so defeated.
"The expedition relies on everyone." Teyla spoke even and solidly, in that unhurried way that all the Athosians did. But when she spoke, Radek always felt like he should listen, because when Teyla did speak, she always had something important to say.
"Yeah, you can't just quit because you weren't ratman." Ronon said, helpfully and Radek stifled a chuckle.
"Batman." Rodney corrected.
"Whatever." Ronon shrugged, and Radek smiled. It was nice to see how far the Satedan warrior had come since the Runner Dr. Beckett had performed unanesthetized surgery on. He really was an integral part of the team, and for some reason, that Radek didn't like to dwell on, he always felt like he understood Ronon and Teyla better than some of the other members of the expedition did. Those who had never lived in a war-torn region. "You'll get the therapy, and be back to saving everyone on a weekly basis."
"Ha!" Rodney barked a mirthless laugh as a retort and crossed his arms over his chest, like a sulking child.
"Rodney, you have said yourself that you have made unquestionable advancements in your studies, and you have managed to accomplish, if not the impossible, then certainly the improbable, while at the SGC, off-world, and away from Atlantis." Radek pointed out, and he could feel all eyes in the room turn to him. He was sure some members of this meeting were clueless as to the dilemma that Rodney and Dr. Weir were arguing about.
"Well, of course I've made advancements, and saved our asses four dozen times-"
"Then what does it matter!?" Dr. Weir cut him off as she slapped her palms against the table and stood. Radek held his breath and prayed that Rodney would be sensible, for once, and not fight back.
- RODNEY -
'What does it matter?'
Rodney could hear the question Elizabeth asked last night echoing around in his head. He'd heard the same question all night, when he laid on his back and watched the brilliant moonlight streak across his ceiling as dawn inched ever closer.
It was the same question that he'd tried to answer or ignore or understand since the storm. Since Koyla and torture and almost losing everything.
What did it matter that it wasn't him? What difference did it make if the city used him sometimes? Did anyone even care that he hadn't saved them?
But then he thought about Elizabeth's face, in her office, when she thanked him and confessed how scared she was. He knew that he'd let her believe that he could do it, do anything, if that meant that she felt safe. It was the same for Sheppard, and Radek. If they thought he could do it, then it was such a small thing, a grace, to let them think it. It was his problem, his conscience, the burden of their hope that weighed heavy on his shoulders. And it was selfish to try and take that hope from them, because he didn't want to be the one they turned to.
Especially because he admitted, in the dark last night, that he always would be there. As long as he was capable or brave enough, he would protect his team, his city, his home, his planet, his galaxy with everything he had in him.
That was the decision he'd come to last night.
Did it matter? No.
It didn't matter how they were saved, just that they were saved.
It didn't matter that he wasn't quite as brilliant as he took credit for. He was still more intelligent than anyone in Pegasus, and almost everyone in the Milkyway. It didn't matter that Atlantis was a little alive, a little smarter, intuitive than he was. The only thing that suffered was his pride. And, he knew, he had more pride than most.
But in the meeting, when Elizabeth had attacked him, said he was wallowing, all of a sudden it seemed so important. More important than hope or safety or perception. His wounded pride was the only thing that mattered.
So, yeah. He'd been wallowing.
"Then what does it matter!?" Elizabeth all but flung herself across the table at him. And from the looks of it, she was about ready to shoot him, or strangle him. Honestly, neither would have surprised him in that moment.
"It doesn't!" He shouted, and was horrified to find that his voice cracked. "It doesn't matter." He tried again, and managed to keep his voice even and calm. His arms were still crossed and the simple gesture did wonders to make him feel more powerful than he knew he was.
"It's never mattered." Elizabeth breathed, low and so close to tears that Rodney bit the inside of his cheek to keep his lip from trembling.
"You must stay." Radek affirmed, and Rodney did his best to keep his face impassive.
"Yeah, McKay. Who else would I bully into saving the day?" Sheppard chuckled, like he found this all to be oh so amusing.
"Fine." Rodney closed his eyes and signed. "Fine."
And Teyla reached over from her seat and squeezed his arm when he sat.
"Besides, you lot wouldn't survived two weeks without me." And he smiled, crooked and cocky and so far from how he felt. But he was needed, and he loved it here, and he couldn't just run because he wasn't as good at doing the impossible and he wanted to be or let others think. He wouldn't run from his home, his friends, his family like he did when he was younger.
- RADEK -
"I wanted to thank you." Dr. Weir said, as she leaned back in her chair and Radek could feel his stomach flutter at her words. The way she smiled, and held his gaze made him feel strong and confident, and for the first time, Radek really understood how Rodney could act like this all the time. If a woman like Dr. Weir had as much faith in him as she did in Rodney, Radek admitted that he might be arrogant too.
"You are very welcome." Radek said and tried his best to look dignified. And not like a skipping boy, the way her smile made him feel.
"Rodney wouldn't be here now if it weren't for you." she reiterated, and Radek knew she was referring to the Dedalus that had just departed half an hour ago.
"I am just glad that he has finally seen reason." Radek chuckled, because the words 'Rodney' and 'reason' weren't usually said in the same breath.
- JOHN -
"So, I guess we're stuck with you now?" John asked from the doorway of McKay's private office. He leaned one shoulder against the frame and smiled crookedly. It was a non-confrontational posture, one John had adopted purposefully. He had no interest in fighting with McKay today.
The Dedalus had just left, and for some reason that John didn't particularly feel like examining, he'd posted himself on the south pier as they loaded up supplies and personnel to ferry back to Earth. He knew McKay wasn't going to try and sneak away, but still, it made him feel better to watch the faces of those departing and verify that McKay wasn't among them.
Since their last meeting, when he finally agreed to stay, McKay had shut himself up in his lab, running experiments on non-activated technology and scribbling on whiteboards equations that John recognized, begrudgingly, that had something to do with probability and dispersion.
He suspected McKay was trying to understand why some people had the gene, or were capable of activating it, and others didn't. But rather than tracing lineage or anything biological, as John was sure Beckett had done, McKay was taking a different approach.
He had adapted a version of the Lagrangian particle dispersion model, which John was pretty sure was used to track air pollutants and fallout from Nuclear accidents, to try and predict where the gene had been, and where it was moving, based on people dispersion. It was a mind-numbingly brilliant approach to genetics that John didn't even want to think about too much. Just looking over McKay's calculations made his head hurt. It was exactly the kind of intuitive leap that McKay was so good at. It was exactly the kind of thing that proved McKay belonged.
He hadn't seen McKay do this kind of abstract, numbers-only research in a long time. John knew he preferred to work with his hands, tinkering, and fixing. He may have been an astrophysicist, but John knew McKay was really an engineer at heart.
McKay looked up slowly, like he'd barely heard John say they were stuck with him. And John could see large circles under the other man's eyes. He wondered how long it'd been since he'd had a decent night sleep. "Hu?" McKay grunted, still caught in his own thoughts and John sighed. When he got like this, there was nothing he could do but give him a snack and send him to bed.
"Come on, buddy." John said and waved McKay over. "I've got a power bar with your name on it."
McKay made a noncommittal noise and dragged his feet as he made his way across the room to meet John at the door. "Okay." John smiled and handed him the bar he'd been holding.
"Beckett thinks he'll be ready to test the new ATA gene therapy on you tomorrow." John said as they left McKay's office and made their way to the transporter at the end of the hall.
"Yeah." McKay nodded and followed John without any protest. John was headed to McKay's quarters, and he knew, from experience, that if he could just get McKay to his room, he'd collapse without any arguments.
"You looking forward to getting back into the city systems?" John asked as he pressed the section of the city with the officer's rooms on the display and the transporter doors slid shut.
"I'm looking forward to sleeping again." McKay admitted and leaned heavily against the opposite wall of the closet-sized room.
But the doors whooshed open before John had a chance to ask McKay what he meant. He was already three steps ahead of John, lumbering slow and unsteady toward his room a few doors down.
The late afternoon sunlight spilling in through the large colored windows made John think of long Sundays spent in mass. It always had a way of making him feel hot and tired, and even as McKay's door pulled open, John had to stifle a yawn.
"Get some rest, and tomorrow, everything will go back to normal." John clapped him on the back as he passed over the threshold into his room.
"Normal." McKay echoed and bobbed his head in agreement. He had his back to John, already making his way towards his bed, and John was struck with the strangest sense that McKay was crying. But he quickly shook it off and left McKay to sleep in peace.
- RODNEY -
'Normal' Rodney thought. Tomorrow he would get the therapy and he would be himself again. He could take the transporters by himself, and hear the hum of the city, the vibrations of the conduits and the feel sway of the oceans like he was always supposed to. He would sit in the command chair all day and soak in the feeling of being connected again. Of being part of the city. Spires and towers, catwalks and piers, bolts and rivets, metal walkways and glass windows, Ancient crystals and Naquadah Stargate. He wouldn't just be a custodian of the city systems,he would be part of them.
It wasn't until his shins touched his mattress and he collapsed into bed that he even registered the tears on his face. He was just so tired, and ready to get on with his life. He wanted to sleep with the sounds of the city rocking him into that dreamless slumber that he'd only ever known when he was on Atlantis and could feel her breathe and hear her heartbeat in time with his.
He hoped Sheppard hadn't seen him crying. But he was too exhausted to care. So he curled in on himself, shoes and pants still on and slept fitfully in the unnatural silence that he'd been exiled to for the past two months.
- RADEK -
"Ready?" Dr. Beckett asked Rodney. The needle was already filled and tapped, a rubber strap was tied around Rodney's upper arm as Radek held his breath and gripped the hem of his shirt so tightly his knuckles ghosted white.
"As I'll ever be." Rodney nodded, and he didn't even try to hide that desperately hopeful tone, or expression as he watched the needle pierce his skin.
Then, before Radek could even see it coming, Dr. Weir, who had been standing next to him watching, reached out and took his hand in hers. Radek did his best to swallow his 'eep' and keep the blotchy blush he knew he had from creeping too far up his neck and cheeks.
Rodney and Dr. Beckett's eyes were glued to the needle as Dr. Beckett pressed the plunger in and it emptied itself in Rodney's vein. There was no one else to see Dr. Weir as she stood shoulder to shoulder with Radek and held his hand in hers.
Radek kept his eyes fixed ahead and remained silent. But when she squeezed his hand, in something he imagined to be a 'this will work' affirmation, Radek simply rotated his hand to lace his fingers with hers, giving their intertwined hands the same, reassuring squeeze.
This would work. It had to.
- JOHN -
John struggled to catch his breath, flat on his back, as Ronon loomed over him.
Sparring had seemed like such a good idea, before. Before he tried to sleep last night and found only strange, fleeting dreams about oceans and alien lights that left him feeling hollow and uneasy. That was before this morning, when he couldn't keep this thoughts from drifting to the infirmary where right this second, McKay was being stuck with a needle, and Elizabeth was praying.
Now that it was morning, and this was happening, John found that he couldn't stay focused enough on Ronon to dodge a single blow. He was now peppered with bruises, sore, sweaty, and ashamed that he'd been too much of a coward to go to the infirmary this morning.
"Enough." Teyla's voice cut through his thoughts and John grunted as Ronon helped him up.
"You're not paying attention." Ronon said, helpfully, and John grunted.
"Come, let us take you to the infirmary so that Dr. Beckett can look at that cut on your head." Teyla's voice was soft, almost cooing. Like she somehow knew that's where John really wanted to be. And with a sigh, he realized, she did know. She was always so perceptive, it was a little aggravating sometimes.
"Let's go." Ronon announced, and John slumped into the taller man's side and let them lead him towards the transporter.
- RODNEY -
"Did it work?" Elizabeth asked just as the tip of the needle withdrew from Rodney's arm. He didn't bother to answer, because honestly, he wasn't sure.
Would he feel different immediately? He tried to think back to the first time. Nothing had clicked in him, or changed. He could just activate the personal shield in his hand, and then he'd been so caught up in it that it didn't occur to him until later that night, after he'd saved the city - he reminded himself, that he could feel it.
But this time, he was looking for it. He closed his eyes, and imagined the retrovirus spreading up and out and through his vascular system. Carried to his heart through capillaries and veins and arteries. And in the darkness behind his eyelids, he listened. Strained to hear it.
He almost begged the darkness for it. 'Please, let this work.' He bargained with the unseen city to let him in.
'Let me back in. Let me come home.'
He longed to hear and feel the hum. The hum that he'd felt so acutely absent in the space between reaching for the conduit and the electric shock that burnt the hair off his right arm and chest and left thick, angry scars crisscrossing up his arm that Carson assured him would fade with time.
And when he heard it, really heard it - not just the wishful thinking of what he remembered it sounding like, there was no doubt in his heart or mind.
There was nothing like it. Nothing like the drumming of energy flowing around him and the feeling city rocking gently beneath him. There was nothing like that connection, that feeling of power and unity and possibility that surged through him. In his veins, his blood, his muscles, brain and heart, it was there.
He was connected, alive, whole.
And with it, the ache of relief, the absolute heart-wrenching felling of solace that swept over him was so sudden and so strong that he couldn't stop the gurgle of a half-sob that erupted from his throat.
- RADEK -
"Did it work?" Dr. Weir, Elizabeth (as Radek finally allowed himself to think of her as) asked as she withdrew her hand from his. And he missed it. He felt the lack of warmth and her distance in his chest. But he stole only a second to dwell on his loss before he trained his eyes on Rodney.
Rodney's eyes were closed and he didn't answer. In fact, it seemed to Radek that he was focusing on something. Maybe he was trying to control the lights, or reach out mentally to the city.
All three of them fell silent as they watched Rodney. The way his eyes crinkled and his mouth twisted down at the corners. In those moments, Radek prayed. He prayed to an entity he'd long since given up on, he prayed for Rodney and for Atlantis and Elizabeth. He prayed for 'please' and 'just this one thing'.
And when Radek knew, could see, almost feel the instant that Rodney knew it'd worked. There was a sob caught in his throat and his eyes flew open, misted and gleaming with what Radek new to be happiness, true and utter in its purity.
For years, decades, Radek would carry that image with him. The way Rodney looked when the gene therapy had worked. Radek held it inside him, and used it as a gauge, a measure, an example of what perfect happiness looked like.
And in those seconds when Rodney's eyes fell heavily on him, Radek felt truly great. Not just a smart scientist, or a skilled researcher. Not even a good man, or a loyal friend. He was so much more. He was powerful, Rodney's faith in him, his friendship, his gratitude was the single most defining accolade of his career.
Even if the Stargate program was never declassified, even if he never published again, and every project he ever worked from then on failed miserably, it wouldn't mean anything in the face of Rodney's honest, genuine recognition.
Even if Rodney never said the words aloud. Even of he never owned up to his appreciation, it wouldn't matter because Radek had seen it. A fleeting glimpse into the heart of a Titan. And he saw, he had a place there.
He was respected.
- JOHN -
"Did it work?" John heard Elizabeth ask just as the three of them made it to the infirmary door. And John was struck silent and still. His grip on Ronon turned into a clinging, but Ronon didn't seem to notice.
And John froze, irrationally frightened that he if moved or spoke it would distract Rodney and ruin the process.
So he too closed his eyes, ignored the throbbing in his head and the ache in his side and focused only on the feeling of the city. The way it shuttered under him and quaked around him and yielded to him. He reached out with his mind, entreating the city, seeking permission or confirmation that it'd worked.
And just a second before he heard Rodney's sob of joy, he swore he could feel an almost imperceivable nod from Atlantis. Like she took a great, yawning breath and inclined her head and spread her arms wide and drew Rodney into the heart of her, against her breast, and welcomed him home.
- RODNEY -
"You should have seen his face!" Ronon roared with laughter in the mess, a group of young marines or airmen or some kind of armed service branch fledglings all joining in his amusement. "Sheppard almost passed out."
But Rodney couldn't make himself care. He sat at a less crowded table on the other side of the hall along with a handful of scientists and servicemen/women who had all recently lost their ATA gene and had been put right by Radek's cybernetic retrovirus.
And no one at the table, not a single person who knew what it was like to lose a part of themselves and be made whole again laughed. In fact, as he looked around, he saw several people, men and women both, wipe their eyes.
Rodney didn't begrudge Ronon for retelling the story. At least he'd left out the part where Rodney had broken down completely, when he knew it'd worked. When he saw Elizabeth crying and Radek looking so damn proud, Rodney turned to find Sheppard in the doorway of the infirmary looking so fucking happy, he'd split down the middle with relief. And he'd cried. Huge, unmanly tears that made his cheeks red, his eyes swollen and his nose run.
Sheppard did look like he was on his last leg, with Ronon's arm holding him up. But Rodney had the sinking impression that Sheppard's reaction had more to do with relief and gratitude than any injuries Ronon had inflicted on him during their sparring that morning.
And God, he didn't care. He didn't care because he got to stay. He would stay in Atlantis as long as he had breath and life in him and courage and permission. He would stay, surrounded by these men and women he hadn't chosen but grew to appreciate and respect and rely on.
This family that he didn't ask for but couldn't live without. This life that sprang forth from necessity and clawed it's way out of the smoldering remains of culled worlds and tattered fragments of humanity that scattered like dandelion seeds in the wind across two galaxies.
He was home.
### The End ###
I love fake science. If there was a degree in Fictional genetics, I would have it by now. This was so much fun to write. I got to make everyone angsty, and whump on Rodney, and let Radek save the day. Awesome. And I hope you enjoyed too.
The whole secondary plot about Atlantis being the one to make decisions and save the day is something I've been toying with for a while, and it just seemed to fit so well in this fic, when Rodney is already suffering a crisis of confidence. I like the idea that the city is sentient, a character, almost.
You will also notice this is set up immediately before Michael shows back up in 2.20 and they weaponize the Iratus bug retrovirus. I thought this fic gives credibility to the idea that Carson and Radek could weaponize a retrovirus so quickly, because they have just done extensive research on it to cure Rodney. BOOM, canonized.
Also, the effective rate of the ATA gene therapy was 48% at first, but then at some point it dropped to 47% during the series. I'm going to go ahead and claim credit for that with this fic.
You'll notice that I left the Morgan Le Fay hologram in his fic, since Daniel doesn't realize she's an ascended Ancient until 3.03 (or thereabouts).
Also, can I just admit that trying to keep POV straight in this fic was harder than I thought it would be. Particularly when it came to names? Like, how Sheppard probably calls him Zelenka but Rodney probably calls him Radek... GAH! It took me a while, but hopefully it should all be consistent within the POV switches.
Thank you so much for reading.