Atlantis was silent as Sheppard stepped through the gate. The wormhole disengaged and he was left in complete darkness. Flicking his light on, he lifted his P-90 and stepped cautiously away from the gate. Unease flickered down his spine as he belatedly realised that not only was Atlantis silent, there was no light as nothing was turned on. Even as he walked carefully towards the stairs, the lights and consoles stayed stubbornly off.
In the control room, once it was painfully obvious that no-one was there, he lowered the gun but kept the light on – it being his only source of light and all. He walked up to the control panel, ran his hands over it, desperately thinking ‘on’ at it. Nothing happened. Not a flicker.
The unease he had been feeling since arriving blossomed into real worry and fear. Atlantis always responded to him, so why wasn’t she now? And, even more worryingly, where was everyone?
He ran his light around the room, his stomach clenching as he took in sheaves of paper scattered haphazardly on the floor; datapads abandoned on top of consoles. Even a half eaten sandwich. Looked like ham.
Where was everyone? What had happened in Atlantis?
Nothing had happened to Atlantis as far as he could tell. No signs of a battle; no telling smell of charred flesh or destroyed buildings in the air. So why had everyone left?
Why had they left…him?
Determined that that wasn’t the case, John set off, looking for any sign of life; any sign that he wasn’t alone.
He didn’t see it as he walked through the corridors of Atlantis, the light reflecting eerily off the walls, casting shadows that looked like his team-mates looming out at him. All he saw was further evidence of a mass exodus – parts of people’s lives dropped like they didn’t matter as they ran for their lives.
But ran where?
Wherever they had gone, they would have needed transport. There was only one place to get a ride in Atlantis and that was a puddle jumper. So John turned back around and headed for the stairs that led to the jumper bay. Glancing into each room as he ran by it, he saw more evidence of a deserted Atlantis.
John walked into the middle of the jumper bay and looked up. The moon was out and the hanger bay roof was open, so light was pouring it. John kind of wished it wasn’t.
The pain in his chest broke into a thousand little pieces as what had been suspicions turned into reality. A reality he couldn’t hide from when faced with an empty jumper bay. Even the one Rodney and Zelenka had been taking to bits wasn’t there.
They had left him.
Really left him.
John’s eyes snapped open as he jolted out of his nightmare. He gulped air down into his lungs, fisting his hands in his mattress.
After a few moments of deep breathing he calmed sufficiently to be able to sit wearily up. Glancing at the clock on his bedside table he saw that he had only been asleep for an hour.
He groaned and rubbed his eyes. The sheets were wrapped around his legs and he was bathed is sweat.
Tiredly he kicked the sheets away from his legs; they weren’t doing much good down there. He swung his legs over the bed and sat there for a few moments, blinking away the remains of his sleep. He reached for a pair of sweatpants and pulled them on.
He walked slowly across his room, opening the doors to his balcony and welcoming the cool breeze that was coming up off the ocean. He had missed this; missed seeing the ocean everyday, smelling the salt, feeling the sea breeze and going to sleep hearing the waves. He knew that if he ever returned to Earth permanently, he would need a place that was literally on the edge of the beach, otherwise he’d never sleep again. He had thought that while on Earth after the siege and now he knew it to be true.
His legs still felt too shaky to lean against the railing, so he sank gratefully to the ground, his back against the cool wall.
Tonight he had dreamt that Atlantis had been deserted. Last night it had been the one where he returned to find his home destroyed by the Wraith. The night before it had been the one where everyone had been killed by the Genii – throats slit mercilessly. All were different but all had the underlying theme of Atlantis destroyed, his friends dead and him left alone forever.
On PX7 R82 his dreams had been different but no less nightmarish. To begin with he had dreamt of Atlantis being destroyed and his friends dying horrible, painful deaths. After about a month, his dreams had changed. Atlantis was no longer being destroyed and his friends were no longer dying. Instead Atlantis had been full of life; full of his friends, teaming with joy and laughter. All while he was stuck in some backwater village with a bunch of enlightened hippies. They had known he was missing, known where he was but they hadn’t cared; were just glad to be rid of him. All in all, both Atlantis and his friends flourished without him.
He sighed, staring sightlessly out to sea. He didn’t need Freud (or Joseph) to interpret his dreams for him. He knew what they meant. He just didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to acknowledge he was having a problem. He was home, that should be enough for him. He shouldn’t be bitching and moaning about something that hadn’t happened. No-one had deserted him – they had done everything in their power to get to him as quickly as possible. It wasn’t their fault that the time difference had been so great. So why couldn’t he get past it? He wanted to be in Atlantis, there was no where else he’d rather be. And yet, he just couldn’t do it, couldn’t get back into the swing of things. It was driving him crazy and those closest to him had begun to notice. Especially Rodney, who wouldn’t stop shooting him worrying glances.
Sooner or later someone was going to say something and he wouldn’t have anything approaching an answer for them.
Sighing in resignation, he slowly stood up. He knew what the problem was; he just couldn’t work out a way to solve it. He wandered back into his room. He looked at his bed. He didn’t want to go back to bed. He didn’t want to dream again. But he knew he had to; had to get some sleep. His lack of sleep was being noticed by more people than his disassociation was. Most nights he went running instead, Ronon inevitably ending up running with him by the end. The running helped clear his head, like it had in the Time Dome. He had done a lot of running in the Time Dome. More than he’d ever done before in his life, not that it had helped him all that much, but he had felt like he was doing something.
Rodney watched as Sheppard wondered aimlessly through the control room. He wasn’t really looking at anything anyone was doing, just slouching around with the most faraway expression on his face. All Rodney wanted was for Sheppard to snap out of it. First off, he missed his friend – missed spending time with him, missed their banter, missed his annoying but kind of sensical questions. On a second and slightly more selfish note, Rodney wanted to stop feeling so guilty.
Rodney started the diagnostics he wanted to run, keeping one eye on the Colonel as he went over to one of the windows and stared out at the water.
It had only been a couple of months since he had nearly killed himself and Sheppard on Doranda. Their relationship still wasn’t back on an even keel. From the outside Rodney had no doubt that they looked as though they were back with all the banter and everything, but that wasn’t the case. Sheppard didn’t come and annoy him in the labs, they no longer played Pegasus Galaxy Civilisation and Rodney didn’t feel as though he could go and find Sheppard for no other reason than he was bored. He knew Sheppard still didn’t trust him. He had, in the back of his mind, kind of hoped that by getting Sheppard out of the time dilation field he could get back on Sheppard’s good side. However, if anything, Sheppard had become even more distant.
Rodney nearly jumped out of his skin when Elizabeth appeared next to him as if out of nowhere.
‘Any problems?’ she asked, nodding at his data pad.
Rodney shook his head before his eyes involuntarily sort out Sheppard, who was now slouching against the wall, staring at the Stargate.
Elizabeth’s eyes followed his. ‘Any change?’ she asked quietly.
Rodney jerked his head in an attempt to shake his head.
The only difference now was that this time, it wasn’t just him who Sheppard was shutting out. Teyla was continually shooting worried and concerned looks in their friend’s direction, as was Elizabeth. Even Ronon was watching Sheppard thoughtfully, as though waiting for some sign. If Rodney had noticed then it was unlikely that Sheppard was oblivious to it all.
Elizabeth, obviously not knowing what to say next, moved away. For a moment she wavered, as though she was going to go over to Sheppard and try to get some reaction out of him. In the end she didn’t, walking back to her office.
He knew that Heightmeyer had tried to get the Colonel to talk about his experiences in those few hours, but, unsurprisingly Sheppard had been very evasive and in the end Heightmeyer had left him alone because she wasn’t achieving anything. Of course, if she had actually been successful in her attempted treatment there probably would have been an investigation into what she did right. So far, to Rodney’s knowledge, she had nearly had Teyla’s mind taken over by a Wraith. She had created a pod-person situation between him and Cadman. He liked Cadman in an annoying kind of way, but every time he saw her, he couldn’t stop the feeling of helplessness that engulfed him. It was very distracting.
When Sheppard had been going through his whole bug thing, Rodney had wanted to go to him. Keep him company, try – unsuccessfully, no doubt – to keep his mind off the whole situation. But he had been too afraid to. He hadn’t been sure that Sheppard would want Rodney anywhere near him and, possibly worse, would tell him to go away. The upshot of that was that it had been Elizabeth who had tried to comfort Sheppard and Rodney was pretty sure that she hadn’t been all that good at it.
Then, when Ford had caught them, he had been worried about Sheppard. Even after the former lieutenant had tried to kill him, Sheppard seemed unable to see Ford as a threat. He still wanted to save the man, even though it was obvious that that was never going to happen now. His attempt to save his friends by taking a massive dose of the Wraith enzyme hadn’t even been acknowledged. He wasn’t even sure that Sheppard knew of his wholly irresponsible action to save him, Teyla and Ronon. It wasn’t as though he wanted his friends to bow down and worship him for what he had done, but he was pretty sure that if either Ronon or Teyla had done as he had they would have been given at least ‘that was stupid, don’t do it again.’ He got nothing.
And now, even when he had managed to save his friend, he had still managed to fuck it up more than it should be possible. First off, in a futile attempt to impress Sheppard, he hadn’t taken the time to sufficiently investigate the video. It had been right there in front of him and he just hadn’t bothered to look until it was too late. His negligence had subjected his best friend to six months of thinking his friends had abandoned him. Then, once he had finally worked out what was going on, in his rush to correct his mistake, he hadn’t taken a few seconds to let Sheppard know what was going on.
Would Sheppard be coping any better if Rodney had written a note? He wouldn’t have needed much. Sheppard would have understood immediately the words ‘time dilation field’ and known that even though it felt like forever, it really wasn’t. He couldn’t get out of his head the very real possibility that everything would be normal now if only he had taken the time to explain things to Sheppard.
Watching his friend there was nothing he wanted to do more than go over and tell Sheppard that if he needed to talk, Rodney would drop whatever he was doing, whenever and wherever he was doing it. Well, unless the city was seconds away from sinking or the Wraith were seconds away from blowing them away. Apart from that –oh, and nanites – he would drop everything just to get Sheppard back to his normal geeky, suicidal hero self. Also, getting rid of the grey rings around his eyes would be a good thing as well. Even through all the crises they had been in, Rodney had never seen Sheppard looking as worn out as he did now.
‘Diagnostics are done.’
Rodney jumped as the gate technician spoke. He scowled at him, but didn’t say anything as the man disconnected the cords from the console. He was too busy worrying about his friend.
‘Dr. McKay,’ ventured the technician.
‘What?’ he snapped, possibly louder than he had meant to, since everyone including Sheppard slide their eyes over to him.
‘Is…is everything alright?’
‘As long as you don’t spill any drink or crumbs over this highly sensitive equipment, it’ll be fine.’ He really should have been able to come up with a more biting reply but his heart wasn’t in it.
Rodney grabbed his data pad and headed to the labs. To do so he had to walk past where Sheppard was leaning and to his eternal surprise Sheppard peeled himself off the wall as Rodney passed him and fell into step with him. He didn’t say anything in explanation but at the moment Rodney didn’t care. He was just relieved that Sheppard was with him.
Rodney didn’t say a word as they walked down the corridor towards the transporter. He really wanted to, but he didn’t want to say the wrong thing and have Sheppard walk off, no doubt mad at him again.
When Sheppard had first arrived back on Atlantis everyone had treated him with kid gloves. Not many people could wrap their heads around the idea that six hours for them had been six months for Sheppard, but they knew it must have fucked with his head, because that would mess anyone up. Rodney, though, had never been much of a coddler and so had treated Sheppard the same as he always did. Or, to be more precise, he had tried to. It wasn’t like he’d seen much to Sheppard to try and get their friendship back on track.
The few times they Rodney had seen Sheppard hadn’t ended at all well. The first time he had said something apparently offensive, Sheppard had yelled at him. Honest to god, yelled at him. Rodney had been so shocked that he hadn’t actually heard anything Sheppard had said. Though, he had noticed Sheppard’s fists bunched up and the tension radiating off the man was enough that even Rodney had been able to see that he was holding himself back. He certainly hadn’t been given an opportunity to yell back as Sheppard – mid-sentence – had stumbled away from him with a look of horror on his face.
Rodney hadn’t seen him for a couple of days after that, but kept tabs on him via Teyla, Ronon and the security feed running through Atlantis. There had been no more yelling after that, but, on the rare occasions he was with them, Sheppard had taken to walking off when Rodney was mid-sentence or mid-rant. Most of the time he hadn’t a clue what he’d said, and by the look of Ronon and Teyla’s faces, sometimes neither did they.
Obviously his ‘bulldoze through everything until you find the root of the problem’ approach wasn’t going to work. The problem was that that was pretty much the only way Rodney knew to talk to people. He couldn’t do subtle, he couldn’t do patient and he certainly couldn’t sit around quietly as someone worked through their problems in front of him.
He had spent a lot of time trying to work out how best to approach Sheppard, because neither bulldozing, nor coddling where working. There had to be some kind of middle ground that Sheppard would feel comfortable with. And though he might have found a possible solution to the problem, implementing it was the biggest problem he faced. Elizabeth and Heightmeyer were proponents of the coddling stance. He couldn’t talk to any of the men under Sheppard’s command. He had the same problems with the scientists. That left pretty much three people Sheppard could conceivably talk to in the whole of Atlantis: Ronon, Teyla, and scariest of all, him. He just hoped that either Ronon or Teyla would be able to get him to confide in them, because if they didn’t, the entire expedition was doomed.
Suddenly he didn’t think going back to the labs was such a great plan. At this time of the day there would be lots of people there. Yes, they’d probably all be neck deep in experiments, diagnostics, system checks, repairs and creating the next crisis that he would have to divert, but Sheppard wasn’t doing so well around crowds at the moment. He seemed to spend an hour in the control room each day and then disappear to places unknown (also known as his office). Stepping into the transporter, with Sheppard still by his side (surely this was the most time they had voluntarily spent together since before Doranda), he hit the jumper bay instead of the labs.
‘What are we doing here?’ Sheppard asked as Rodney walked purposely towards jumper six.
‘Jumper six has been having a few problems. Radek has been looking it over, but I’ve been meaning to have a look over myself for a few days.’ Okay, he could do this, keep it professional, don’t resort to sarcastic barbs. It couldn’t be that difficult.
‘What’s wrong with it?’ asked Sheppard, dropping into the pilot’s chair.
Rodney glared at him. ‘Didn’t what I just say suggest to you that we don’t know yet?’
Shepard shrugged and then turned to stare out of the window.
Rodney nearly hit himself. Why couldn’t he do this? Was acting like the concerned friend he was so difficult? It seemed every time he tried to help all he did was make everything worse. Sheppard had asked a question; his first one in about three weeks and Rodney had shot him down. Way to go.
‘Power fluctuations but we don’t know where they are coming from.’ It was the best he could offer, but he hoped it would work; that it would be taken as the peace offering it was meant to be.
‘How did you find them?’
‘I didn’t. Lorne did. The jumper nearly pitched into the sea. Luckily he was really close to Atlantis, and managed to get it back in one piece.’
Sheppard swung round to look at him. ‘Why didn’t I hear about that?’
Rodney nearly cheered. Sheppard has sounded both concerned and angry instead of indifferent.
‘You had been ordered to take out your radio so you could try and get some sleep.’ Rodney had thought it a really stupid idea but Elizabeth had come down on the side of Heightmeyer. Preventing Sheppard from knowing what was going on in Atlantis was surely just going to make everything worse for him.
‘Not one of their better ideas,’ muttered Sheppard under his breath.
‘Not really’ agreed Rodney. ‘I didn’t…’
‘Yeah, I know. Can’t see you letting that one go quietly.’
‘I tried to sneak you another radio,’ he admitted quietly. ‘But Elizabeth rumbled me.’
‘You couldn’t lie for coffee, McKay.’
‘You’d be surprised what I’d do for coffee, Colonel,’ retorted Rodney seriously.
‘Not really. Why didn’t I hear about Lorne nearly pitching one of my jumpers into the sea?’
Rodney swallowed a smile at hearing Sheppard refer to the jumpers as his. Perhaps things were getting slowly back to normal. ‘I think he sent you a report but since nothing actually happened, Elizabeth didn’t want to disturb you.’
Again Rodney had thought that a mistake too, although only in hindsight when he’d been applying his brain to the problem of Sheppard. The Colonel should have been involved in any problem in Atlantis once he was back, to show him how important he was; that they would never have abandoned him because they needed him. By coping while Sheppard was there, it would give the impression that they could have coped if he hadn’t been there. It had taken him a week to work that out, but he thought that was something Elizabeth should have picked up on. Normally she was quite successful at reading her senior staff, but here she had failed. Though, this wasn’t exactly a normal situation and Rodney knew he was only being hard on Elizabeth because this was Sheppard and he was worried about his friend.
‘Still, shouldn’t that be the kind of thing I’m told about anyway?’ Sheppard sounded kind of peeved about it. Any other time Rodney would have rolled his eyes, but now he wanted to literally jump up and down at the prospect of Sheppard being angry about anything.
‘Didn’t you read the report?’ Rodney knew he hadn’t, if he had then he would have been down asking Rodney what had happened not matter how uninterested he felt. There were some instincts that refused to die.
‘You know I didn’t,’ muttered Sheppard as he brought up system diagrams of the jumper.
Rodney glanced over to Sheppard. He was slouching back in the pilot’s chair, chin resting on his hand, staring intently at the screen in front of him. A slight frown was marring his features. ‘What do you do in your office then?’ Rodney was genuinely curious. He had assumed that Sheppard had been doing paperwork so he could avoid people. Obviously that hadn’t been the case.
‘What do you do in your office?’ repeated Rodney.
Sheppard didn’t speak and for a moment and Rodney didn’t think he would. ‘Think.’
‘Oh.’ Sheppard didn’t seem to want to say anything more and Rodney was scared of pushing him or saying the wrong thing, something he was remarkably good at. You could even say he had a talent for it.
‘It’s not helping though.’
Rodney blinked. ‘What?’
‘Thinking,’ Sheppard explained patiently. ‘It’s not helping.’
‘In what way?’ Rodney asked carefully.
‘I’m still…’ he waved his hand vaguely, trying to convey something.
Sheppard stood suddenly. ‘Look, I, uh, I got to go.’ He walked past Rodney and out the hatch. He paused and turned to Rodney, opening his mouth to say something. He got a deer in headlights look on his face and his face turned blank.
‘I’ll see you round okay?’
Rodney stood and watched helplessly as Sheppard walked quickly out of the jumper hanger. And he had thought that he’s been doing so well. There had been that one sarcastic slip, but other than that he had thought he’d been projecting a good picture of the concerned friend. Obviously he had been wrong.
Signing, he turned back to the jumper. This needed more thought if he was going to save his friend from himself.
John came to a stop, and took several deep breaths, while Ronon looked on, amused. Bastard was hardly even breathing hard.
‘You okay, Sheppard? You’re turning McKay red.’
John glared up at Ronon. ‘No I’m not.’
Ronon shrugged. ‘Okay, you’re not. You’re getting better at this.’
‘Thanks,’ drawled John. About the only thing John missed about the whole being a bug thing was that he’d wiped the floor with Ronon – had totally outrun him. It had been the only time he’d ever done it, and was probably the only time he’d ever manage it. Having said that, Ronon was right. He was running better. And for that he had the Time Dome to thank.
‘You need to talk about it,’ announced the Satedan.
Ronon fixed him with a look that made him feel about twelve years old. Surely a man who was younger than him shouldn’t be able to do that. ‘About whatever’s been bothering you since you came back.’
John grunted noncommittally. It wasn’t like he had to ask Ronon what he was talking about.
‘You should talk to McKay.’
That did shock John and made him look at Ronon. ‘McKay?’ he repeated. ‘Why McKay?’
‘Because he has a better chance of understanding what you are talking about.’
‘We are talking about the same McKay, right?’
‘He understands the physics. He had Cadman take over his body. He was worried about you. Took the rest of us a while to understand why McKay was so frantic.’
John didn’t quite know what to say, so he didn’t say anything. For once Ronon seemed to be in a talkative mood – or what passed as talkative for him, and John was content to let him continue.
‘He blames himself.’
‘What? Why?’ What had happened to him had been shitty, but it hadn’t been Rodney’s fault.
‘Because he didn’t send a note.’
‘Huh?’ John really couldn’t think of anything more intelligent to say. ‘A note?’
Ronon shrugged. ‘He thought he should have added a note telling you what was going on.’ Ronon looked thoughtful for a moment. ‘I don’t know if it would have helped, but he does.’
‘A note,’ repeated John incredulously. Did Rodney honestly think that a note would have made everything better? That somehow a note would have…
‘Yeah. Telling you why it seemed to be taking so long.’
‘He would have taken out the time to write me a note?’ God, how old would he have been if Rodney had done that?
‘Said time dilation field would be enough.’
John really couldn’t think of anything to say to that. If he had known what was going on, he might have handled it better; might not have given up on his friends like that. He still couldn’t believe that he had managed to convince himself that his friends had deserted him.
‘He looked terrified when he realised that time was moving quickly where you were.’ Ronon looked momentarily guilty. ‘I didn’t get it.’
John snorted. ‘I didn’t get it either and I had six months to work it out.’ And, God, did that piss him off. He kept teasing Rodney that he could be in MENSA and the first time he has an opportunity to prove his intelligence he acted exactly how Rodney would expect a common grunt to; he gave up.
‘McKay thinks he’s failed you.’
‘How do you know that? Has he told you that?’
‘He doesn’t have to. Written all over his face every time he looks at you.’
‘How does he think he’s failed me?’
Ronon stared at him a moment before sighing. ‘He nearly killed you both on Doranda. Then he couldn’t do anything when you turned into a bug. Then he didn’t realise about the time dilation field until it was too late.’
John rubbed his eyes, feeling a wave of helplessness draw over him. ‘I don’t have the time or the energy to deal with Rodney’s problems at the moment.’
‘What else are you doing?’
‘You’re moping. That doesn’t take a lot of time or energy.’
‘I’m trying to sort things out in my head.’ And boy, did that sound lame.
‘Your problems and Rodney’s problems are related. You can either help each other or stay broken.’
John felt all his indignation deflate. Maybe Ronon was right. Perhaps if he listened to Rodney, helped Rodney and let Rodney help him, everything might return to normal. Rodney wasn’t just a team mate he was responsible for, he was also his best friend and that had responsibilities in itself. Perhaps he should stand up and be the friend that Rodney deserved and that Rodney obviously wanted to be for him.
‘Just think about it.’ With that, Ronon jogged off, leaving John staring after him.
Rodney looked up as Teyla and Ronon sat down opposite him. He grunted his greetings as he shovelled another mouthful of almost-beef into his mouth.
‘Talked to Sheppard today,’ said Ronon as he sat down.
‘Who did?’ asked Rodney swallowing his mouthful of food.
‘Told him to talk to you.’
‘To, to me?’ spluttered Rodney. ‘Why would you do that?’ His great plan had been for Sheppard to want to talk to either Ronon or Teyla. Not him.
‘Because Sheppard won’t talk to anyone else.’
‘But…but…’ He couldn’t understand why his friend would do that. To him, or to Sheppard.
‘I too suggested to Colonel Sheppard that he should consider talking with you,’ Teyla informed him as she picked up her glass of juice. Not orange, he was pleased to note.
‘You too?’ he exclaimed, his voice rising to unnatural heights. ‘Why would you do that?’
‘Because Ronon is correct, Rodney. You are the only one who understands completely what happened to him and with whom he feels comfortable speaking.’
Ronon looked smug.
‘He might have once upon a time,’ he admitted, ‘if you twisted his arm, but not anymore. Not since…’ He swallowed around the lump in this throat. ‘…since Dornada.’ Never had the loss of such trust; such friendship hurt so much. Probably because it had been the first one he’d ever truly had.
Doesn’t matter,’ said Ronon. ‘You’re still the only one he’ll talk to.’
‘Seems to matter to Sheppard,’ snapped Rodney, his appetite diminishing but not leaving him entirely.
‘Rodney, he too feels guilt about what happened,’ Teyla told him softly.
‘Guilt for what?’ asked Rodney, bewildered. Sheppard hadn’t done anything wrong; he had.
‘For failing you,’ replied Teyla, watching him carefully.
Rodney opened his mouth but was only about to make a spluttering sound.
Teyla finally took pity on him. ‘Your tendency to get involved in your work is well known to us all, especially Colonel Sheppard. We have all witnessed it, but never to that extent. Colonel Sheppard feels he should have seen how involved you were and stopped you.’
Well, that was certainly a novel interpretation. ‘I make a huge mistake and he still manages to make it his failure. It’s almost impressive.’ And really irritating.
‘His ability to take responsibility for every little thing that goes wrong is impressive,’ Teyla agreed. ‘You both admit to making mistakes. You both wish to change the outcome of your past actions. Perhaps it is now time to move on. You have both learnt from this experience but do not make the mistake of losing something valuable because of it.’
‘Valuable?’ he whispered.
‘I’m referring to your friendship with Colonel Sheppard, Rodney. I know how much it means to you, as does Ronon. We also know that it means a great deal to Colonel Sheppard too.’
‘But you’re both stubborn and proud,’ butted in Ronon.
‘Rodney, neither of you can blame yourselves forever. It was an unfortunate accident, but one neither of you meant to happen. Don’t punish yourself forever. I said much the same thing to Colonel Sheppard while we were training, but I am not sure that he listened to much of it.’
‘I still don’t understand why you suggested Sheppard speaks to me. Couldn’t you have spoken to him? He listens to you.’
‘I would have been most pleased to help the Colonel had he asked of it. However, I was unable to get him to open up to me.’
‘You should have hit him with your sticks,’ Rodney muttered, stabbing his food. ‘That would have got him talking.’
‘That is what I did, Rodney. He still refused to talk.’
‘Stubborn,’ surmised Ronon, looking up from the wedge of bread he was eating. ‘I would have talked.’
‘You would have?’
‘She hits hard.’
‘And yesterday, I hit very hard.’
Rodney suppressed a grin. Teyla rarely showed her anger but he had no doubt that the Athosian had other ways of making her displeasure known. It was one of the many reasons he refused to train with her.
‘But you think he’d talk to me? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m not exactly good with people, even Sheppard.’ They seemed to be convinced that Sheppard would talk to him, so perhaps it was time to remind them how bad he was with people. No one ever came to him for advice.
Ronon shrugged and took a huge bite out of his bread roll. ‘Bad with people, good with Sheppard.’
‘Did you used to distribute fortune cookie wisdom?’ he snapped.
Ronon turned to look blankly at Teyla who just shook her head. Rodney took that to mean ‘ignore the crazy earthling’.
‘What does that mean, anyway? If you’re going to say something at least let it make sense.’
Teyla looked like she was going to explain something to Rodney again, when Elizabeth walked up to their table.
‘Elizabeth, please join us,’ invited Teyla.
‘Thank you, Teyla.’ She sat down, nodding to both Rodney and Ronon. ‘Gentlemen.’
Ronon snorted but thankfully didn’t say anything. Rodney had once asked him why he snorted whenever Elizabeth said “gentlemen”. Ronon had replied that that there was nothing gentle about him, and there wasn’t that much gentle about Sheppard, either. Rodney had yet to convince Ronon that the word was just a pleasantry. Either that or Ronon was yanking his chain.
‘So, what are you discussing? You looked as thick as thieves as I walked in.’
Both Ronon and Teyla swapped very confused looks while Rodney rolled his eyes. ‘Elizabeth, don’t confuse them. It’s always Sheppard and I who are left to clear up the mess and explain to them a phrase that makes no sense even when you happen to know what it means.’
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow in amusement. ‘I would have thought that “thick as thieves” would have been easy to explain.’
Rodney waved his hand impatiently. ‘Well, yes, that is one of the easier examples. Others are less so.’
‘We were discussing how to bring Colonel Sheppard back into Atlantis society,’ Teyla told Elizabeth, essentially cutting off Rodney’s rant.
‘Have you come up with any solutions?’
‘Both myself and Ronon believe that Colonel Sheppard would benefit from a conversation with Rodney,’ Teyla informed her.
Elizabeth looked startled for a moment, before she covered it up with a wan smile. ‘Really? She couldn’t quite hide her disbelief though.
‘He’ll get so annoyed with McKay that he’ll talk just to shut him up,’ said Ronon, flashing Rodney a quick smile.
‘As opposed to you just grunting at him and Teyla…’ He slammed a hand over his mouth just in time.
‘Teyla what?’ she asked serenely, but Rodney wasn’t fooled. He had no idea what had been about to come out of his mouth, but he was certain it would have resulted in him getting beaten by Teyla and her sticks.
‘N…nothing,’ he stammered, resisting the urge to push his chair further from her.
‘Don’t you think John might be better talking with Dr Heightmeyer to begin with?’ asked Elizabeth. ‘He might have some issues he wouldn’t be comfortable talking about with a friend.’
‘Forgive me, Elizabeth, but I disagree. Colonel Sheppard finds it difficult to confide in people. He will be uncomfortable talking through difficult issues with someone he doesn’t know.’
‘I understand, Teyla, but Dr Heightmeyer has been trained to help people through difficult moments in their lives, making her more equipped to offer Colonel Sheppard the help he needs’
Rodney was about to refute everything Elizabeth had just said when Ronon beat him to it.
‘She’s never been off-world.’
‘She’s never been on the frontlines,’ he clarified. ‘Never experienced the emotions there. McKay has making him a better choice.’
‘There are other reasons we involve neutral parties, Ronon. They have no emotional bias towards the person, making it easier for the patient to confide in them.’
‘Heightmeyer will never see past what Sheppard wants her to see,’ Ronon warned Elizabeth.
‘That is included in her training as well.’
‘Sheppard’s been doing it longer than her.’
Rodney looked at Elizabeth and shrugged; he couldn’t fault Ronon’s logic, mostly because he was right. Sheppard had so many walls that he could being down a couple; pretend that Heightmeyer had broken him and still not have told her anything of substance.
‘What makes you so sure,’ Elizabeth asked.
Ronon fixed her with a blank stare.
‘Right. You’ve been doing that for a long time as well,’ she answered for him.
Ronon nodded once before returning to his food.
‘I still don’t understand.’
‘There is a certain bond that develops between team members, it is difficult to describe, but a trust grows. Although both Dr McKay and Colonel Sheppard find it difficult to discuss their emotions’ – at this Teyla glared at him – ‘but they seem to have an understanding and I believe that could be more important than any of Dr Heightmeyer’s training.’
Elizabeth still looked unconvinced. Rodney was almost positive that she was thinking about the tatters their friendship had been left in after the disaster that was Doranda. He didn’t blame her. Before it, he might have believed Ronon and Teyla when they said he might have a chance of getting through to Sheppard. Now he tended to side with Elizabeth.
‘Look, Elizabeth, nothing else has worked yet, has it? How much worse could I make it?’
‘Rodney, I don’t mean to lessen your desire to help your friend, but you aren’t known for your people skills. I only suggest Dr Heightmeyer because she has the necessary experience dealing with a touchy situation like this one.’
‘You mean like she did so well when Cadman invaded my brain?’ Sooner or later he was going to have to drop that, but really, feeling squashed in your own brain isn’t a pleasant experience.
‘Rodney, I’m not saying you don’t care, but, well I’ve never witnessed any particularly deep conversations between you and the Colonel and I don’t see that changing in the current situation.’
‘Just because we don’t sit around platting each other’s hair doesn’t mean we don’t talk,’ snapped Rodney. Sheppard was his best friend, and having anyone tell him that they didn’t see it, hurt.
‘I’m not saying that you aren’t friends, Rodney,’ protested Elizabeth. ‘It’s just that, if it has to be a friend, wouldn’t Teyla be more suited? She has the patience and the understanding necessary and is perceptive enough to know if John is not being honest with himself.’
‘Well, of course she’s the better choice, but apparently Sonny and Cher have told Sheppard to talk to me.’
‘Both myself and Ronon tried to talk to Colonel Sheppard but he evaded our questions. I believe Dr McKay has the best opportunity to make him talk.’
‘Goes to show how much they know,’ he grumbled.
‘You should go find him,’ rumbled Ronon. ‘Attack while the Silu sleeps.’
‘Indeed,’ agreed Teyla.
Rodney looked over at Elizabeth and was gratified to see her looking as bewildered as she was.
‘Um, what?’ he asked.
‘A Silu,’ repeated Ronon in a tone of voice that suggested they should know exactly what one was. ‘You never heard of them?’
‘It’s not a common animal on Earth,’ said Elizabeth, a smile playing around her lips.
‘You would say – what is that expression? Strike while the iron is hot?’
Rodney stood up, pushing his tray over to Ronon, who accepted it greedily. ‘I might just do that. If you’ll all excuse me.’ He looked at Elizabeth. ‘I’ll leave you to find out everything there is to know about Silu’s.’
He walked off, leaving Teyla looking satisfied, Elizabeth apprehensive and Ronon, well, Ronon was eating Rodney’s lunch, so he really didn’t know how the Satedan was feeling except hungry.
John groaned audibly as he heard the door behind him slide open. He hoped that whoever it was would see that he obviously didn’t want any company and turn around and leave him to his wallowing.
Since his talks with Ronon and Teyla, he had been thinking through the last few months and realising that his behaviour had been appalling, and not how a military commander should be acting. He had responsibilities and he had been neglecting them. He had also been neglecting his friends, especially Rodney. In fact, he had realised just how bad a friend he had been to Rodney. Everything had been about him; he had never thought how events must have affected Rodney and that made him feel guilty and selfish. He was trying to work out how to make things better with Rodney. Going and talking about himself didn’t seem the way to do it. He needed Rodney to know that John cared about him, not to think that John was just using him as a sounding board. Problem was, he had no idea how to go about it.
‘Oh, here you are. Why are you all the way out here?’
John groaned again. He was never going to get rid of Rodney. Hang on, why was he wanting to get rid of Rodney? Here he was trying to work out how to get his friendship with Rodney back on track and he wanted to get rid of him? That was just messed up.
‘We’re at the third grounding station. It’s a twenty minute hike out here.’
‘Rodney, I know how long it takes to get out here, remember?’ He winced at his choice of words. All Rodney had were bad memories of this place. He shouldn’t be bringing them up when all Rodney was going was trying to help him.
‘What? Oh, yes, of course. But seriously, why are you out here?’
Ignoring Rodney wasn’t going to work, so he might as well respond. And anyway, spending time with Rodney in the jumper had reminded him how much he enjoyed his friend’s company. ‘I want some time alone?’ Though time alone that kept Rodney near was acceptable as well.
‘All you’ve been having recently is time alone. Why come all the way out here for it?’
Was it his imagination, or did Rodney sound rather bitter?
‘It’s quiet?’ He didn’t mean for it to come out as a question but Rodney’s apparent agitation had thrown him slightly. He knew that he was being slightly aloft but he didn’t think Rodney had a real reason to be pissed with him.
‘It’s quiet?’ repeated Rodney his voice rising.
‘Rodney, it’s no big deal. I just needed to think.’
‘And you couldn’t do that in your room?’
John looked out across the sea, avoiding Rodney’s gaze. ‘I can hear the ocean better here.’
‘The ocean? Why do you want to hear the ocean?’
John didn’t say anything, just stared out, not really seeing anything. He felt a bit stupid talking about it.
‘I missed it on PX7 R82 and it helps me think,’ he said in a rush.
‘Oh. Okay then.’
Rodney didn’t say anything after that and, despite knowing that he hadn’t heard Rodney walk out, John still had to glance sideways to check his friend was still there. Silence wasn’t something hid friend did all that well.
Rodney looked as though he was trying very hard not to talk and his face was scrunching up in ways that would ordinarily make John laugh. He didn’t feel much like laughing at the moment.
‘Spit it out McKay,’ he said reluctantly.
‘Whatever it is you’re thinking, just get it out.’
‘Umm, no, it’s okay. I’ll just leave you to it. We can, ah, talk later, maybe, if you want.’
Suddenly John was curious to hear what Rodney had to say. One moment he couldn’t have cared less, the next he was literally craving to hear what was going through his friend’s mind.
He stared steadily at Rodney, who, after a few moments cracked and threw up his hands in defeat. ‘You being in the time dilation field wasn’t easy for us either, you know. Or, to be more precise, for me, since I was the only one who truly appreciated what could be happening to you while everyone here continually asked me what the big rush was. I’m surrounded by a group of apparently exceptional scientists and everyone else here is supposed to be intelligent. Why it was so difficult to understand, I don’t know. ’
‘McKay, I was only gone a couple of hours for you. How has my six month leave of absence affected you?’
Rodney fixed him with a glare. ‘It’s not that.’
‘Well, what the hell is it then?’
‘I don’t understand,’ he practically whined.
John was baffled. Since when did Rodney admit he didn’t understand something? And, more to the point, what was it he didn’t understand?
Something in his expression must have told Rodney how much John didn’t understand what he was saying. ‘I don’t understand how they were able to ascend.’
John frowned. Surely that had been covered in Ancient 101. As he opened his mouth to speak, Rodney waved him quiet. ‘That wasn’t what I meant.’ He frowned, obviously deep in thought. ‘I probably won’t explain this very well,’ he warned.
John just shrugged, curious to find out what was bothering his friend. It vaguely surprised him that he cared that something was bothering Rodney. He was so used to feeling kind of distant from his friends – of observing them but not really being there, that he was happy that something was bothering Rodney so it could bother him.
‘I always kind of thought that if you or when you ascended it was because you were a better person. I didn’t see anything there that suggested those were morally superior people – that they were any wiser than us mere humans.’
‘McKay, they were a peaceful people who mediated to find their path to enlightenment.’ Not only was he sure he had mentioned that in his report, he was also positive that McKay had read it at least twenty times, for whatever reason.
‘That sounds like it came direct from the brochure,’ interrupted his friend, seemingly unimpressed with John’s defence.
‘Not the point, McKay.’
‘They were very dictionary definition of selfish. How can you ascend if you’re pathologically selfish?’ John didn’t even get a chance to open his mouth this time. ‘Dr. Jackson worked his entire life for a greater understanding of everything around him, even if he was only into the social sciences. He always wanted to know more. He gave his life to save an entire planet from nuclear annihilation. Didn’t think about it, just did it.’ Rodney sounded as though he was fighting his grudging respect for Jackson pretty hard.
John didn’t understand where Rodney was going with this, but he wanted to find out.
Rodney’s mouth turned down and he waved his hand vaguely in the direction of the sky. ‘They, on the other hand, what did they do? They had no interest in broadening their horizons, of understanding how things work on why they work, of making people’s live better, of helping people or anything else that seems worthy. They were content with where they were and what they were doing. How does that make them worthy of ascension? It shouldn’t be that easy to ascend. Jackson said that the ancients only helped certain people ascend – that most people weren’t worthy. They just had to sit there, clear their minds and suddenly they are a ball of glowing energy? If it’s that easy why the big hullabaloo about ascension?’
‘I didn’t realise you had thought so much about it,’ John confessed, surprised by the depth of emotion coming from his friend. ‘But they weren’t bad people, Rodney.’
So far Rodney had been leaning on the rail, his eyes determinedly fixed at a point so he didn’t have to look anywhere else. Now though, he pushed himself off the rail angrily and turned to face John. ‘How can you say that?’ he demanded. ‘They kept you there against your will for six months. They knew how to let you out because they did it when we came to get you. They knew that you wanted to leave but not even once did they say ‘hey, we’ll let you out. We know how.’ They let you to believe once in, you had to stay in. You didn’t want to be there.’ Rodney paused and stared at him. ‘You didn’t want to be there, did you?’
John just shook his head. He was just slightly polar-axed by Rodney’s interpretation of events.
‘Of course you didn’t. I knew you didn’t. Just wanted to make sure you knew you didn’t.’
‘Selfish,’ he prompted. He needed Rodney to explain this to him. His brain felt a bit numb; he couldn’t quite process anything, but he had a feeling that what Rodney was going to say could be important – it might even be the thing he needed to push him back to normality.
‘They knew you were coming, or at least Peer…’
‘Teer,’ John corrected automatically.
‘Whatever,’ dismissed Rodney with a wave of his hand. ‘Anyway, she knew, so I’m assuming they all did. They did nothing to stop you arriving and certainly nothing to help you leave. They wanted you there. You’re brave. They weren’t. They needed you because you fought their homemade monster when they couldn’t. In your reports you said Teer called you their instrument of Ascension, so basically they were all hanging around waiting for you to turn up and do all the work for them.’
‘I…I never thought of it like that,’ he muttered. He wondered how Teer and her people would defend themselves against Rodney’s accusations.
Rodney rolled his eyes. ‘Of course you didn’t.’
John frowned. Lots of thoughts were flying around his head, colliding and going off in another direction. He couldn’t get them in any order, couldn’t think through things just yet but Rodney had given him a new way to look at what had happened. He needed time to think about his time there and how the people there had helped or hindered him.
‘Hey, Rodney, thanks.’
John shrugged. ‘I’m not sure, but I’ll get back to you on it.’ What he did know was that the tightness he had been feeling in his chest and in his head had begun to lessen. It had started as soon as Rodney had expressed his anger with Teer and her people. It had made him feel inexplicably reassured.
John sent a small but genuine smile Rodney’s way. This was the first smile he ha meant since stepping back on Atlantis. If the look of relief that crossed Rodney’s face was anything to go by, his friend knew that.
‘Will you, ah, be around over the next couple of days…’ He trailed off, not quite sure how to ask Rodney to be available to talk if he managed to get his head back in gear.
Rodney though, seemed to know exactly what he was trying to ask. ‘I’ll be in the labs, helping Zelenka fix jumper six or, failing that, catching up on my sleep.’
‘Have you worked out what’s wrong with it?’
‘Not even close.’ Just as he walked back inside, he turned around. ‘Don’t stand out here too long. You’ll get cold.’