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.’
It had been two days since Rodney had found him at grounding station three and John had spent practically the whole forty-eight hours thinking about, not just everything Rodney had said, but also the things he hadn’t said, along with John’s own thoughts and the things that he refused to admit to himself. In short, he’d had a lot to think about. It wasn’t like it had interfered with his duties. He was still on light duty since Heightmeyer was still unconvinced of his mental stability and most paperwork he could do on autopilot – or give to Lorne. People were now reluctantly used to his inclination to not speak and stare off into the distance so he didn’t get interrupted that much. Of course, all of that meant that he couldn’t do much else apart from think and he really didn’t like going all deep and retrospective. This would be his first time since Afghanistan, so he was probably due some self-honesty.
This was what brought him to Rodney’s door at 2am. He had been thinking so hard about so much that he had literally thought himself around in a circle – about eight times. He had to talk this out, he knew that. He didn’t want to go to Heightmeyer, hypocritical he knew, but her big blue, sympathetic eyes would make him scream. He didn’t need understanding, he needed a good kick up the backside to get him going again. There was only one person in Atlantis that he knew could give him that; one person who knew that sympathy wasn’t what he needed. He needed, wanted even, someone who understood what he was talking about, what he was feeling, and once he had indulged in an unhealthy amount of self-pity would explain to him the twelve different ways he was being a moron.
He knocked on the door and waited. It didn’t take long and as the door opened McKay began ranting. ‘Whoever this is it better be good. I haven’t slept for roughly thirty hours and.’ His mouth snapped closed and his eyes widened when he saw John standing there. ‘Um.’
John looked at his friend and saw his eyes were red-rimmed. He obviously hadn’t been sleeping well. And now he was stopping Rodney from going to bed. ‘It’s late. I should, ah…’
McKay’s eyes narrowed. ‘Don’t be so stupid.’ He stepped forward and grabbed John’s arm. ‘Get in here.’
John was so surprised he didn’t have time to react before he was standing in the middle of Rodney’s room and Rodney was closing the door behind him.
‘What do you need?’
John didn’t know what to say. Rodney had asked him what he needed, not what he wanted. John was pretty sure that was important. There were times when Rodney chose his words so very carefully and he suspected this was one of them. His mouth opened a couple of times but no words came one.
‘Well at least sit down,’ said Rodney, pushing him gently towards the bed. As John let his legs collapse from under him, Rodney grabbed his chair – tipping stacks of science journals onto the floor – and pulled it over so he was sitting close to John, but not too close.
‘You should be sleeping,’ John said, unable to say the words he really wanted to.
Rodney snorted. ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead, thank you very much.’
‘You don’t sleep enough.’
‘And neither do you,’ retorted Rodney. ‘Now, why are you here?’
‘I…’ He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. ‘I need to talk.’
Rodney didn’t move but he seemed to become more alert; seemed to sit up straighter. ‘What do you want to talk about?’ he asked quietly.
‘I, ah, need to talk about stuff, you know, the stuff on PX7 R82.’ Getting those words out, even to Rodney, had been harder than John had expected them to be. ‘You’re angry with Teer and her people for not helping me. I think I’m angry with myself.’
Rodney frowned. ‘You might need to explain that to me.’
John slumped as tension just flowed out of his body. His shoulders felt relaxed for the first time in about three weeks – or seven months, depending on how you looked at it. ‘I was hoping you’d say that.’
‘So talk,’ prompted Rodney.
‘I…I gave up,’ he admitted past the huge lump in his throat that was trying to stop his words from getting out. ‘Not just on all of you but on me as well. I’ve never done that before.’
‘I can understand why you could give up on us,’ said Rodney slowly, as though thinking. ‘To you it was months and there were no apparent obstacles in reaching you and so the idea of being abandoned didn’t seem so improbable. But hey, you do get that that’s never going to happen, don’t you?’ His eyes were boring into John.
‘I know you’d never voluntarily leave me anywhere,’ ventured John. It was nice to hear Rodney say it, but if Elizabeth and the SGC believed him to be an acceptable loss there was nothing Rodney could do about it.
Rodney snorted. ‘Well, obviously. But what I meant was we’ll always come and get you.’ Suddenly his face fell and he looked nervous, unsure of himself. ‘That’s what teams do, right?’
‘It is Rodney,’ agreed John quietly, ‘but if Elizabeth, the SGC or IOA order you otherwise you have to obey them.’
‘I could do both.’ But John wasn’t sure he could and by the break in Rodney’s voice, neither was he.
‘Atlantis comes before me, Rodney. Always has, always will.’
‘And Atlantis isn’t Atlantis without you. It’s like she’s sulking when you aren’t here. Single-handedly you’ve turned a millennia old city into a fourteen year old girl. You must be so proud.’
‘Rodney,’ he warned.
McKay scowled and crossed his arms. ‘Fine. I’ll save the simpering idiots from blowing themselves up – again – and at the same time Conan and Xena will rescue you. That seems like a perfect plan to me.’
‘Teyla and Ronon…’
‘Aren’t bound by the same rules we are,’ interrupted Rodney. ‘The SGC, IOA, UN, FBI, CIA, NSA and Dept of Homeworld Security can’t stop them from rescuing you.’
‘They could keep them confined to their quarters.’
Rodney levelled an ‘are you really that stupid’ glare at him.
‘You’d bust them out,’ said John, more to himself than to Rodney, because Rodney was obviously steps ahead of him.
‘Of course I would. Now can we please stop planning your hypothetical – but at the same time quite inevitable – capture and rescue and get back to the question in hand.’
‘What do you mean when you say you gave up on yourself? You seemed perfectly healthy to me.’
‘I didn’t try to get back.’ The shame burnt through him and he dropped his eyes to the floor, unable to even look at Rodney. Even a hint of agreement on his friends face would br…be difficult to accept and a look of understanding would send him to the hills because he didn’t deserve any sympathy.
‘But you couldn’t,’ said Rodney, sounding slightly bewildered.
‘But I didn’t even try,’ he repeated. To him that was unforgivable and the anger he felt at himself welled up. He hit the mattress a couple of times.
Rodney opened his mouth a few times but no sound came out. If John hadn’t been feeling so desperate, wasn’t wishing for an answer, he’d have found that funny. He decided to take pity on Rodney and elaborate.
‘They told me I couldn’t leave and I believed them.’
‘To be fair, they were telling the truth,’ pointed out Rodney.
‘Not the point, Rodney. I didn’t even try to leave. Just accepted what they told me as gospel. At no point did I go exploring. I didn’t go back to the cave, apart from one time to get some stuff. I didn’t look for another way out. I keep reminding you that I could have been in MENSA, but I never even thought to look for the power source for the shield. And my god, it was a time dilation field. How did I not get that? There was no light coming through the doorway. If that wasn’t the biggest clue ever, I don’t know what was.’
‘It’s always easy once you know the answer,’ reasoned Rodney. ‘You’re blaming yourself for something you had no control over, even I can see that.’
John scrubbed at his eyes in frustration and anger. ‘I lost six months of my life because I didn’t use my brain. Six fucking months, Rodney. Six months in two hours.’
‘Six hours,’ corrected Rodney.
John glared at him.
‘I doubt that, uh, really matters in the great scheme of things.’
‘Not so much, no.’
‘I didn’t do anything, Rodney. I ran. A lot. I meditated so much that if I see another candle in my life I might just crack. I saw two seasons pass and bought in a harvest. I became a god damn farmer.’
‘Well, you being from the south and all, you should be used to that.’
Before John could even begin to think about getting angry, Rodney winced. ‘Sorry, sorry. Didn’t mean to say that. It just, you know, came out. You know what I’m like. Please don’t get angry and walk out. I can be quiet.’
John grinned at such a ridiculous notion. ‘No you can’t, Rodney.’
‘Well, okay, maybe not. But I can try.’ He sounded so eager and earnest and John hated that.
He always took it for granted that Rodney knew how much he meant to John and how much John valued his unique friendship. ‘I don’t want you to try. If I wanted that I’d have gone to see Heightmeyer.’
Rodney’s eyes widened in surprise. ‘Oh. Okay.’
John smiled at his friend. He felt it fade as he remembered what he had come here to talk to Rodney about.
‘So you thought you were stuck there and tried to make the best of it. They weren’t bad people as such, so why would you try to get away?’
‘To get back to y…to Atlantis. I still can’t believe I didn’t think you’d come through for me.’ He had been so angry, so hurt, coming to the realisation that although he’d risk life and limb for any of them, they wouldn’t do the same for him. Then, when he had seen his friends, seen how relieved they were to see him, he had felt so guilty that he had doubted them and that, in turn had made him angry.
Rodney was sitting practically on top of him; their knees touching. His eyes were narrowed and he was considering John, thoughtful expression on his face. It was a look Rodney got when thinking through a particularly complex problem. It didn’t normally stay this long on his face, though.
John squirmed under the attention. It was quite intense being the sole recipient of Rodney’s stare. ‘What?’
Rodney frowned slightly. ‘Thinking,’ was all he said.
‘What?’ John could feel the tips of his ears begin to turn red and he wanted Rodney distracted by something else before he noticed.
‘Thinking,’ he repeated. ‘Shut up.’
John knew there was no chance of breaking McKay’s concentration short of hitting him over the head and that didn’t really appeal. He wanted to get up and walk about until Rodney decided to talk, or whatever, but he found his legs were unwilling to move. So instead he stayed where he was, looking everywhere but Rodney.
John was staring blankly at the shelves of journals (since when did Rodney have shelves?) when his friend finally spoke.
‘Being angry at us doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human.’
‘How did you figure that out?’
‘You can’t leave people behind. You thought we had. Of course you were angry. It wasn’t going to leave just because you found out we’d been working round the clock to save you.’
John opened his mouth to speak but Rodney beat him to it.
‘I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m pretty bad at dealing with emotion or any kind of human interaction. That’s because it’s not logical. The way we feel has no formula, can’t be figured out. You suddenly not being angry with us would be the logical response once you found out our side of the story and that is precisely why it didn’t happen. Emotions are illogical. And god, could I sound anymore like Spock if I tried?’
‘Maybe I am angry,’ conceded John, ‘but how can I be both angry at you and grateful that you came for me?’
‘Because we got you out of hippy central?’
Rodney shrugged. ‘I don’t know. I worked out a long time ago that I was the worst person to try and figure out how the brain works because it makes no sense to me. What I do know is this; if it had been me, I’d have been just as angry as you are now.’
‘Yes, really. Only difference is I’d probably be a lot crankier.’
John smiled. A lot crankier he was willing to bet.
‘What I also know is this – the reason you are pulling away from us is because you’re scared that you’ll get angry at us and, well, I hadn’t got further than that, but I assume you think something bad would happen. But, just so you know, that’s crazy.’
John shrugged noncommittally. That was his way of agreeing with what Rodney had said and he was relieved when Rodney nodded as if he understood.
‘I hated it there, you know. The people, they were so placid. Nobody ever got annoyed, angry or frustrated.’
‘It looked like you got on with Teer fine.’
‘Well, yeah. She was okay, I guess.’ He really didn’t want to talk about her.
‘What do you mean? Nothing happened.’
‘You know, I don’t often get to say this, so I’m going to relish it; you’re lying through your teeth. Spit it out.’
‘Lying?’ he spluttered.
‘Yes,’ replied Rodney smugly. ‘And if I’m saying that, you can only imagine how transparent you’d be to anyone else right now. So, I repeat again, Colonel, what happened?’
‘Where did you get the bookshelves from?’
Rodney looked wonderfully confused before scowling. ‘Did you hear any of what I just said?’
‘Yes. Now where…’
‘Sheppard, you’re trying to change the subject, badly, I might add.’
‘Cadman made them for me,’ Rodney interrupted. ‘My mess offended her female sensibilities.’
‘Wouldn’t let her hear you saying that if I was you, McKay.’
‘You know she’d…’
‘Sheppard, tell me now, or god help you, you’re going to have cold showers for a month.’
I had the worst sex of my life.’
‘You did?’ Rodney sounded as though he didn’t know if he should sound interested or shocked.
‘Believe it or not, I got that,’ said Rodney dryly. ‘How did it happen?’
She more or less propositioned me.’
‘Why did you, um…’ Rodney waved his hand around, encompassing, John presumed, having sex. Now that they were having the conversation Rodney seemed to be as uncomfortable as John was. Perversely, that made John feel more comfortable talking to Rodney about it.
‘I don’t know. Nothing else to do, I suppose.’ He shrugged. ‘Might as well be bored having sex instead of bored not having it. I guess, I, ah, well, I also wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere.’ He sighed. ‘It didn’t help though. Made it all the more obvious that I didn’t belong there.’
Rodney licked his lips. ‘So, you, you don’t miss her then?’
‘Miss who? Teer?’
‘Yeah. Her.’ Rodney seemed nervous. He kept glancing at John and then quickly looking away.
‘Of course I don’t. Why would you think that?’ Surely the fact that a) John had been impatient to leave and b) bad sex had been involved should have made it obvious that he hadn’t wanted to stay.
‘I was wondering if at least some of the whole being quiet and withdrawn thing was because you missed her and regretted not ascending with them.’ Rodney said it in one big breath and looked terrified that he was saying it. John could relate. He didn’t like this whole examining his emotions thing. But he preferred the idea of Rodney knowing what was going through his head than anyone else. Though he had to wonder what was going through Rodney’s head if he thought John was regretting not ascending.
‘Rodney, all I wanted was to get back here. So, no. I don’t miss anyone.’
‘It’s just I thought part of the, uh, moping could, well, be because.’
‘No. Just no, Rodney. I, I…’ He rubbed his eyes. God, this was so difficult. He hated talking about these kinds of things. ‘I lost six months of my life to farming and I didn’t even fight it. I didn’t fight to get back to Atlantis. Why…’ He couldn’t finish the question.
Rodney’s eyes widened. ‘Oh my God, please don’t tell me you think this.’
‘Think what?’ he asked quietly.
‘You think you failed Atlantis.’ Rodney’s mouth opened and closed a few times as though he was looking for other words to follow, but just couldn’t find them.
‘Do you know what could have happened to Atlantis, to all of you in six months, Rodney?’
‘But it wasn’t six months. It was barely six hours.’
‘But it could have been, Rodney. What would have happened if it had been? I didn’t try to get back. I did fail. How can you, any of you, trust me again?’
‘If an opportunity to get back had presented itself, you would have taken it.’ He held up his hand to forestall John’s reply. ‘You would have. You would have been genetically incapable of not returning to us, uh, Atlantis.’
‘I have nightmares.’ John froze. Had he really admitted that? Had he really told Rodney that? He had never told a single person that; had never trusted anyone enough to tell them. Not even his wife, who, yeah, had known he had nightmares, just not what they were about. Mostly because she went and slept in the guest room whenever he had one.
‘You’ve got a new one?’
John looked up, shocked, or more shocked, to be precise. ‘What do you mean, have I a new one?’
‘Well, you have lots of nightmares.’ Rodney shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
‘How, how do you know that?’ He had thought he’d kept his nightmares secret. How did Rodney know about them? Carson didn’t know. Heightmeyer didn’t know. He hadn’t slept with anyone since coming to Atlantis. So, how the fuck did Rodney know something so personal about him?
‘We share a tent off-world. It’s a bit hard to not notice.’
Shit. Why hadn’t he thought of that? ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’
‘I didn’t think you’d want me to,’ answered Rodney honestly.
‘Didn’t it annoy you?’
‘Why would it do that?’
‘Apparently I’m a bit loud when I’m in the middle of a nightmare.’ Every girl he’d ever slept with had told him that.
‘Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m pretty loud all the time. I don’t think I can throw stones.’ He looked John in the eye. ‘I haven’t told anyone about them. I supposed that if you wanted to talk, you’d go to Heightmeyer or something.’
‘I never talk about them,’ he admitted. Hell, he’d never before admitted to never admitting to them before. Apparently this was a night of firsts for him.
‘I’m shocked,’ replied Rodney dryly. ‘Do you want to? Not necessarily the old ones. I know all about them. The new one. This one. Do you want to talk about it?’
‘No. I don’t want to. But I’m going to.’ He cocked his head to one side. ‘Or at least try to anyway.’
Rodney nodded encouragingly.
‘I dreamt about Atlantis. That she was destroyed. That you were all killed in new and interesting ways as well as by our regular enemies.’
‘Isn’t it depressing that we actually have “regular enemies”. The only other people I know who managed that are SG-1.’
He managed to choke out a laugh. ‘We are part of an exclusive club, Rodney. You should be proud.’
Rodney snorted but didn’t actually say anything.
‘I dream about Afghanistan; about waking up the Wraith; about the Genii incursion. About the 10,000 year old Wraith; about the nanovirus; about watching the Wraith cull that planet with Teyla; about the siege; about,’ he swallowed thickly, ‘about turning into an alien bug.’
‘I know,’ said Rodney softly. ‘You talk in your sleep when you have nightmares.’
‘Oh.’ He didn’t quite know what to say about that. Rodney had never even given him a clue that their tent sharing was a less than enjoyable experience for him. Rodney knew things about him no-one else did. He knew that should worry him, but it really didn’t.
‘You know you’re delusional, don’t you?’ Rodney asked him conversationally. ‘You didn’t fail us. You didn’t desert us.’
‘But it feels as though I did.’
‘Perhaps you should pay attention to the fact that no-one else here thinks that.’
‘Everyone keeps watching me.’
‘Because they’re worried you’re going to jump off a balcony or something equally stupid. People think you regret coming back here. They are worried for you.’
‘How, how do I stop feeling like this, Rodney? How do I stop freaking everyone out? People shouldn’t be worried that their military commander – the person tasked with their protection – is about to throw himself off a balcony.’
‘So, maybe I over exaggerated the whole suicide thing,’ Rodney allowed, ‘but that doesn’t change the fact that people are worried about you.’
‘So how do I get back to normal?’
Rodney shrugged. ‘I don’t know. This is more Heightmeyer’s area of expertise.’
John suppressed a shudder. He really didn’t want to go and see that woman. There was something creepy about her. He didn’t know what it was, perhaps it was the way her eyes always looked blank, but it was there. He didn’t care if that made him a hypocrite. If seeing her helped some of his men, or the scientists, fine. But not him. ‘Would you go and see her if it was you?’ John asked pointedly.
‘Are you crazy? Of course I wouldn’t. Look at what she did with Cadman and me. She nearly killed us both.’
‘Who would you talk to instead?’ he asked softly, ignoring the way his stomach dropped at the idea of Rodney being dead.
Rodney shifted uncomfortably on his chair. ‘Well, I suppose that if I had to talk to anyone, if it was really necessary for me to have girly conversations about feelings and the like, which make me supremely uncomfortable and that I’m no good at, I just end up pissing off the person I’m talking to…’
‘McKay,’ he interrupted just before the scientist took off at 200 mph and didn’t stop talking for about ten minutes, if he was lucky.
‘You.’ Rodney said it very quietly and John wasn’t entirely positive he’d heard that right.
‘Say again, Rodney. You were uncharacteristically quiet.’
One side of Rodney’s mouth was down-turned as he began to speak. ‘You. You are the only one I’d trust not to use what I tell you against me and who I know wouldn’t push for me to talk about more than I’m comfortable with because you’d be just as uncomfortable as me.’ He glanced down at the floor. ‘Kind of like now.’
‘What? Really? Why? I’m terrible at this.’
John smiled. ‘Yeah, you are, but then, so am I. It makes me comfortable that you’re so uncomfortable.’ He frowned. ‘Does that make any kind of sense that isn’t twenty types of fucked up?’
‘Not so much, no.’ He bumped John’s knee with his own and John smiled, knowing that was Rodney speak for ‘ditto’.
They stayed like that, just sitting comfortably in each others presence, for a few minutes. Predictably it was Rodney who first broke the silence.
‘I think,’ began Rodney, before frowning and stopping. ‘I think you need to start doing stuff again. You know, coming to eat with me, Ronon and Teyla in the mess. Team movie night. Poker with Lorne and the marines, who, by the way, I still haven’t told that you count cards.’
‘That’s only because you get some of the spoils, McKay,’ teased John.
‘Well, that is certainly a big incentive not to,’ agreed Rodney. ‘I get Canadian beer out of it. And chocolate. It’s a win-win situation.’
‘McKay, you take none of the risks, but reap the rewards,’ protested John. He tried for indignant but was pretty sure he came off as relieved. Relieved that his banter with Rodney was so easy to fall back into.
‘Have you seen my poker face?’ Rodney seemed to be similarly affected. He was far too happy. ‘I’d lose everything if I was there. You, on the other hand, could sell ice to the Eskimos.’
John grinned. ‘You’re too kind.’
‘And you’re too charming,’ shot back Rodney.
‘Aw, Rodney. You think I’m charming?’
Rodney snorted. ‘Please, I’m a genius. Others round here are that woolly-brained and will fall for practically anything.’
John was about to come back with another winning one-liner when Rodney yawned so wide that John was almost positive he’d seen Australia, so instead he said, ‘Okay, buddy, you need to get some sleep.’
John stood up at exactly the same time Rodney did, meaning there was hardly an inch of space between them. Before John could say or do anything, Rodney stumbled back and nearly fell over his chair, just managing to catch himself in time.
‘Rodney, you okay?’
‘Uh, yeah, must just be more tired than I thought, I think.’
‘Right, I’m going. You get some sleep.’
Rodney just nodded, too busy yawning to actually reply.
‘Hey, uh, Rodney?’ He rubbed the back of his neck.
‘Umm, thanks, you know, for, well…this.’
‘Anytime. And, uh, Colonel?’
John turned around.
‘You know you aren’t doing this along, right? We’re all here to help you. Especially Ronon and Teyla. And me.’
John smiled and quickly made his getaway before things got anymore awkward or embarrassing.
John slipped into the alcove next to the mess hall. His stomach was all in knots and he wanted to get himself together before entering. After returning from PX7 R82 he had pulled himself out of his friends’ lives and this was his first lunch with them since then. He couldn’t believe that he had done that, couldn’t believe that he had thought that the way to sort out and get over his abandonment issues was to abandon his friends and forget what he was living and fighting for.
After taking a deep breath – and checking that there was no-one in the hall to see him – he slipped back out and squared his shoulders. He could do this. More important, he wanted to do this, to get his life back on track. He knew that Rodney was going to be there, waiting for him, along with Ronon and Teyla. Rodney was keeping his promise that John wasn’t going to be doing this alone.
Standing inside the entrance, he had a moment of panic when he couldn’t see his friends, but then he spied Rodney sitting with Ronon and Teyla, their food already in front of them. The knot in his stomach loosened a bit.
As he walked from the door to the food line he plastered a slight grin on his face and made a few inane comments to the various marines and scientists who greeted him. He didn’t like the attention, just wished everyone would carry on like normal, but there was a small part of him that was appreciating the welcome he was getting. He had never felt needed like this before, looked up to. He was lucky they had waited for him and hadn’t found someone else to more capable, someone less likely to be affected by these things.
It felt like he’d been away for months and he was being welcomed back. Perhaps he’d been just a little too self involved for just a little too long. Thank god Rodney had decided to kick his ass when he did, otherwise it looked like his command were close to thinking he was dead.
He gave a little relieved wave to Teyla when she saw him.
He watched as Teyla leaned over and said something to Rodney, who turned around so quickly that John was positive he got whiplash. As his eyes settled on John his face relaxed into a smile.
John rolled his eyes before turning his attention to selecting food.
‘Good to see you, Colonel,’ said the airman serving the food.
‘What will you have, sir?’
‘How about some of that?’ – John pointed at something that looked a bit like chicken casserole – ‘and, uh, some of those potato looking things.’
‘Excellent choice, sir,’ said the airman cheerily.
John raised an eyebrow and the airman grinned back at him.
Picking up his tray, he walked over to his friends, noticing that they had chosen a table a little out of the way. No doubt that had been Teyla’s idea, trying to keep him comfortable.
He felt a little nervous walking over to where his friends were sitting. Over the last few weeks he had either ensured that he ate when he was positive none of them were in the mess, or if he had had to go in when they were there, he had ignored all their attempts to call him over. Rodney had kept up trying to involve him the longest, but eventually he had just watched John’s path across the mess with sad, rejected eyes. John knew this because he could feel Rodney’s eyes on him the whole time and a few times Rodney hadn’t turned away in time to stop John seeing what was there.
Now that he actually wanted to sit with them, chat with the, he was half afraid that they were going to tell him to fuck off.
He knew they wouldn’t. Rodney wouldn’t have expended so much effort finding out what his problem if he hadn’t been genuine; he wouldn’t have seen the effort as worthy of his time. Plus, the relief in his eyes when he’d seen John was genuine – Rodney couldn’t hide his emotions for all the coffee in the universe. Rodney had told him he wouldn’t be doing this alone and John had been sure that he’d been speaking for both Ronon and Teyla in this, Teyla’s own pleased wave being testament to that. But, even so, there was a part of him that wouldn’t blame for shunning him because that was what he’d done to them, but with no just cause.
‘Sheppard,’ grunted Ronon, shovelling food into his mouth.
‘It is good to see you, John,’ said Teyla, smiling warmly.
‘Sit down, Sheppard,’ snapped Rodney, waving his hand at the seat next to him. ‘I’m trying to convince Ronon that the Evil Dead movies are better than the Resident Evil movies. I need your help.’
‘Sorry, Rodney,’ said John, setting his tray down at his seat. ‘But I got to go with Ronon on this one. Plus, you know, hot chick.’
He grinned at Ronon as Rodney spluttered indignantly. ‘How can you say that? You’re marginally intelligent, or at least you were last time I checked. You can’t honestly believe Resident Evil is better than Evil Dead. At least he has an excuse, he’s an alien, he doesn’t get what good taste is. What’s yours?’
‘I never said I didn’t like the Evil Dead movies, McKay, just that Resident Evil is more fun.’
‘Yeah, McKay, it’s more fun,’ repeated John grinning unrepentantly at his friend. God, this was even better than he remembered.
‘Remind me why I missed you while you were having your existential crisis?’ snapped Rodney.
‘My charming personality?’ suggested John, ignoring Ronon’s snort.
‘I hate you.’
John bumped Rodney’s shoulder with his. ‘I know.’
‘Just as long as you know that I only put up with you out of the kindness of my heart,’ sniffed Rodney, piously.
Ronon choked back his laughter and John followed him. Teyla just rolled her eyes at their antics but there was a smile playing on her lips.
‘Oh, you think that’s funny, do you,’ said Rodney, scowling at Ronon, but there didn’t seem to be his normal bite in it.
‘Yeah, McKay, I do.’
‘Well, that goes to show how much you don’t know, doesn’t it?’ snapped back Rodney.
He leaned back in his chair, watching the banter between Rodney and Ronon, despite Ronon hardly saying a word. It was more a combination of grunts, nods, scowls, glares and smirks.
He didn’t remember the scientist and the Satedan having such a rapport before their trip to PX7 R82. He was both pleased – and just a bit relieved – that the two team members appeared to be friends, but he regretted that he hadn’t witnessed the friendship growing.
He leaned over to Teyla. ‘Not that this isn’t great’ – he waved between Rodney and Ronon – ‘but how did it happen?’
‘Rodney was not sleeping well after your incident with Elia.’
John didn’t need Teyla to add that Rodney hadn’t been sleeping properly since the disaster on Doranda. He had known that. He just hadn’t done anything about it, some strange way of punishing Rodney. It was just another way he had failed his best friend.
‘Ronon started teaching him some basic self-defence moves. After your return from PX7 R82 he was even worse, so Ronon began running with him.’ She smiled at him. ‘I did attempt to get Rodney to meditate, but it did not work.’
‘I don’t think Rodney has the patience for meditation,’ agreed John, grinning at the idea of Rodney sitting in a room, being quiet, trying to clear his mind. ‘Definitely wouldn’t work.’
‘No, it did not. Nor did he have the patience for the Bantos sticks. Ronon was more able that I to get him out of the labs to do other activities.’
‘That’s good.’ His voice couldn’t have sounded more wooden if he tried. He had missed out on too much; it would be impossible to catch up. He was forever going to be on the outside looking in.
He nearly fell off his chair as Rodney knocked him with his shoulder.
‘What?’ he snapped, glaring at his friend, secretly relieved that Rodney had stopped him from falling back into his own head, it was a dangerous place there.
‘Whatever it is you’re thinking, stop it.’
‘Why?’ How did Rodney know he was going to a bad place?
‘You’re getting that far away look in your eyes,’ Rodney told him. Teyla and Ronon were watching them carefully, not saying anything.
He couldn’t admit to what Rodney was suggesting, but he could mention something else that was on his mind. ‘I’ve missed a lot over the last few weeks. I’ve got a lot to catch up on.’
Rodney frowned. ‘Was there a crisis I somehow missed, because I can’t think of anything important happening.’
‘I don’t mean crises, Rodney.’ He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. ‘I mean people stuff.’ He might pretend to not pay all that much attention, but he did like to think that he knew his people. All that moping and self-loathing had put paid to that.
‘We would all be happy to bring you up to date on anything you feel you might have missed,’ offered Teyla, indicating between herself, Ronon and Rodney.
‘Gossip, you mean,’ corrected Ronon.
‘I would prefer to think upon it as informing the Colonel of information he has otherwise missed over the couple of weeks,’ retorted Teyla.
Ronon rolled his eyes as Rodney launched immediately into a story.
‘Oh, you’ll never guess what has happened, though!’ exclaimed Rodney, half turning in his chair and grabbing John’s arm. ‘Kavanugh’s back.’
John felt his eyebrows climb. That really was news. Especially as Kavanugh had sworn he’d never be back. How had he missed Kavanugh’s reappearance? It would explain the tension he had noticed in Atlantis over the last days. He had thought it had been all in his imagination, but apparently it hadn’t been.
‘I know, tell me about it. The labs just got 43% stupider. And, if it’s even possible, he’s even more unbearable than ever.’
‘I bet he has,’ agreed John.
‘Caldwell couldn’t wait to get Kavanugh off the BSD.’
‘I really think Caldwell would appreciate it if you stopped referring to the Daedalus like that, Rodney.’
‘What does it stand for?’ asked Ronon.
‘Battlestar Daedalus,’ replied Rodney, smirking.
At Ronon’s blank look he deflated a little.
‘As in Battlestar Galactica,’ he explained, looking just a little bit too hopeful that the Satedan would get it.
Ronon continued to look blank.
‘Doesn’t matter,’ dismissed Rodney with a wave of his hand,’ Zelenka has the DVDs. He’ll lend them to you. But as I was saying, he looked like he had been sucking lemons for three weeks. Hemiod – well, it’s difficult to know what he’s thinking at the best of times – but he seemed more short-tempered than usual, and Kavanugh would try the patience of a saint.’
‘Don’t call him doctor,’ interrupted Rodney, ‘it actually makes him sound like he knows what he’s talking about.’
‘Rodney,’ warned John.
‘What? Oh. Right. Teyla, ah, carry on.’
‘As I was saying, Dr Kavanugh has also been spending a lot of his time with Elizabeth, suggesting ways to improve the running of Atlantis.’
Rodney snorted. ‘So far his brilliant ideas have consisted of making Atlantis more open to attack by the Wraith, Genii and whoever, than it is for a kid to smash open a piñata.’
‘Ah, that explains the slightly pained expression on Elizabeth’s face when I’ve seen her over the last few days. I meant to ask if everything was alright, but I forget every time.’ At the time it had just been a detached observation – one made knowing that if anything was wrong with Atlantis, Rodney would tell him no matter how much of an ass he was being. Now he wished he had said something, anything. He knew that he was the only one Elizabeth confided in to any degree and it made him feel guilty at having removed that outlet for her. ‘When did he arrive?’
‘Well, I still have three days left to rid us of his narrow-minded, petty incompetence, so he’s been here about twelve days.’
‘I’m sure you’re more than up to the challenge,’ John reassured him, still wondering why the hell Kavanugh was back. There hadn’t actually been a party when the man had left, But Rodney had been so joyful that to many it had felt like one – even with all the work that had to be done after the siege.
‘His ideas are just so predictable, so pedestrian, so boring,’ whined Rodney.
‘Which one’s Kavanugh?’ asked Ronon.
‘The one with the glasses and a ponytail who runs away from you,’ said Rodney.
Ronon smirked evilly. ‘Oh. That one.’
Rodney turned to John. ‘And believe me, Colonel, you have never seen Kavanugh move as fast as when he sees Ronon. It often ends up being the highlight of my day.’
‘I’ll have to see that.’
‘I’m sure that could be arranged.’
Ronon nodded in agreement, glancing around as though looking to see if the hapless scientist was around.
‘Doctor Beckett and Lt. Cadman appear to be getting on well,’ said Teyla.
‘He finally asked her out?’ This was something he wanted to know – information about his friends. He also wanted to know what had been happening to his team, but he couldn’t think of a way to ask them without it being terribly obvious what he was doing.
‘After several false starts’ – Teyla looked at John for confirmation that she had got the saying right – ‘Laura asked him out.’
‘Ah, that sounds like Cadman,’ said John, grinning.
Rodney rolled his eyes. ‘I really don’t get what he sees in her.’
‘She’s funny and hot and knows how to blow things up. What’s not to like?’
‘You think Cadman is hot?’ asked Rodney flatly.
‘No.’ Had he said that? He didn’t think he’d said that.
‘You can’t say she’s both hot and not hot. That makes no sense whatsoever.’
‘She’s hot, just leave it at that, Sheppard,’ interrupted Ronon.
‘I believe they match each other well and are happy. Is that not the most important thing?’ enquired Teyla, which was her way of telling them to stop gossiping about their friend’s personal lives.
‘You’re no fun,’ groused Rodney. ‘But in a good way,’ he added quickly as Teyla stared steadily at him. ‘Hey, Lorne’s team went to some back-world planet where they were forced to wear grass skirts and necklaces made of flowers.’ Rodney grinned evilly. ‘I do believe that Radek managed to get pictures.’
John smirked. Of course Radek got pictures. He was even more of a danger than Rodney when it came to acquiring blackmail material. Of course, it never remained blackmail material, becoming common knowledge around the city.
‘However, they did succeed in negotiating a trade agreement that will increase out food stocks by a considerable amount.’
‘Even so, I recommend we avoid PX9 34R, Colonel.’
‘I agree. I don’t think I have the legs for it.’
Rodney opened his mouth to respond, but closed it as his eyes focused on something behind John. ‘Elizabeth,’ he said formally.
‘John it is good to see you,’ Elizabeth greeted him, smiling. He could tell that she was genuinely happy to see him and made a mental note to go and visit her during the afternoon to see if she needed to get a few things off her chest.
‘You too,’ he said. ‘You care to join us?’
‘I would love to, but I have a meeting in fifteen minutes. Did you eventually go and see Dr Heightmeyer? She didn’t mention it.’
‘That’s because I didn’t go,’ he said genially.
Elizabeth’s smile faltered slightly. ‘I see.’
‘Don’t worry, I know I have to see her before I get put back on active duty. I’ve set up an appointment for tomorrow.’
‘You’re going to see that quack?’ demanded Rodney.
‘Dr Heightmeyer is a respected professional in her field, Rodney,’ said Elizabeth.
‘And she’s done such a stand up job so far,’ scoffed Rodney.
Before Rodney and Elizabeth could get into an actual argument, John jumped in. ‘It’s a military requirement, McKay. I have to get her to sign off on it. Just one of those things, okay?’
‘Well, I think it’s a stupid requirement,’ huffed Rodney, crossing his arms.
‘You think practically everything to do with the military is stupid,’ John reminded him.
‘That’s true,’ conceded Rodney.
‘Well, I have to go and prepare. I’ll see you all later,’ said Elizabeth.
‘Hey, who’s the meeting with?’ asked John.
‘Kavanugh.’ Even Elizabeth couldn’t hide her grimace at that.
John winced in sympathy. ‘I’ll come by later, okay?’
Elizabeth nodded, looking relieved. ‘I’d like that. We could go through assignments.’
‘Why don’t you just get Ronon to stand guard outside your door? He wouldn’t even come into the control room if you did that.’
‘Rodney, I think Ronon has better things to do with his time than stand guard outside my room,’ said Elizabeth.
‘I don’t mind.’
‘See, told you.’
‘Thank you for the offer, Ronon, but I think the IOA might have some issues with me using you to intimidate my staff, no matter how much I might want to.’
‘Let me know if he doesn’t go away. I’ll swing by and scare him away.’
‘Thank you, Ronon.’
John swapped a grin with Rodney. It amused both of them that Elizabeth just didn’t quite know what to make of Ronon or how to treat him.
As Elizabeth walked away, Rodney groaned. ‘Heightmeyer is making a beeline for this table,’ he warned John.
‘Colonel Sheppard, it is good to see you here. How are you feeling?’
‘Good, thanks. Had a chat with Rodney last night.’
The look on Heightmeyer’s face was priceless. John wished he had a camera because this was a Kodak moment if ever there was one. Perhaps Rodney could get a still off the security cameras.
‘With Rodney?’ she repeated.
‘Yep. He was really helpful.’ John leaned back in his chair, looking as relaxed and innocent as he knew how.
I’m, ah, glad to hear that.’ She rallied herself. ‘I’m seeing you tomorrow, yes?’
John was pretty sure that those were the kind of things that she shouldn’t be saying in a fairly crowded mess hall. He knew that things were relaxed in Atlantis, but should those kinds of details really be included? ‘Yes, you are. See you tomorrow morning, doctor.’
After an awkward moment or two Heightmeyer walked away.
‘Don’t you think you pushed it just a little bit too far?’ asked Rodney, as she walked out of earshot. ‘As if she’s going to believe that I was any help.’
John cocked his head as he looked at his friend. ‘But, Rodney, you were helpful.’ He’d been more than helpful. He’d been pretty instrumental in John’s re-emergence to Atlantian society. But it wasn’t like he was ever going to admit that. The thing he really appreciated about his friends was that they knew how to read between the lines and see what he really meant.
‘I have new marines to beat up,’ announced Ronon, standing up. ‘Going to meet Lorne.’
‘And I have a meditation class in twenty minutes. I should go and prepare,’ said Teyla, also sanding up.
‘And I have to go and keep an eye on the imbeciles the SGC is trying to convince me are experts in their fields. I don’t know where they get these guys from but if they are from MIT, Northwestern, Cal Tech, or any other supposedly prestigious institution, then we have to fear for the very survival of our race.’
‘Hey, guys, before we go, I was thinking…’
Rodney stopped talking, Ronon and Teyla both sat back down.
‘What is it, John?’
‘We haven’t had a movie night in a while, I was thinking we should have one, tonight, maybe. In my room.’
‘I would like that,’ said Teyla, smiling.
‘Are we watching Resident Evil?’ asked Ronon.
‘Sure, we can watch Resident Evil,’ replied John easily.
‘Do we have to?’ whined Rodney.
John grinned at the normality as he stood up and grabbed his tray. ‘Yeah, Rodney. We really have to.’