"You gotta believe me. I'm still on your side. I've always been on your side! Can't you see they're setting us up?" Sheppard's weapon wavered slightly as he pleaded.
She kept her eyes trained on the wall behind the director. Her head was still buzzing from the roar of the weapon's discharge, but Teyla had already shown too many weaknesses that day. She wasn't keen on revealing more, especially not to the people in this room.
"Agent Emmagan, do we have an understanding?" Weir's voice was even but the tension lines on her forehead betrayed her state of mind. "This is the last chance you're going to get. Otherwise—"
Teyla didn't let her finish. "I understand. We will recover the device within twenty-four hours."
Her spine stiffened — another inadvertent sign of weakness — when the man next to her snorted. She gritted her teeth and asked, "Is there a problem, Agent Dex?"
"I could have it in twelve." He crossed his arms and slouched, a move that didn't diminish his towering bulk in the slightest.
Woolsey cleared his throat. "Which is why you're working together. We've tried it the SGC's way; now you're going to try ours. Agent Emmagan will continue to run point on the operation until the device has been recovered."
When Dex continued to protest, Weir gave him a pointed look and shook her head, just a fraction of an inch. He stopped in mid-sentence and ground out a resentful, "Understood."
"What the hell is all of this?"
Rodney fumbled the phone cases he was trying to restock and swore under his breath. A woman browsing through memory cards on the other side of the display glared and stalked away, tugging her sullen child along behind her.
"McKay! I'm talking to you!"
Ignoring the summons, Rodney bent down to pick up the packages he'd dropped. Once he'd finished hanging them in their designated spots, he turned to acknowledge the man who had stomped up behind him and was now crowding into his personal space.
Michael Kenmore smiled, and Rodney shuddered. The skin pulled tight around the two symmetrical piercing holes in Michael's face — which were somehow not against corporate dress code policy although the metal jewelry that should fill them were.
"Why are you out on the floor? I told you to clean the customer restrooms, McKay."
"What? No! It's not my turn; it's Zelenka's week to do all the backroom stuff."
Michael brandished a printout, the cheery store logo emblazoned on nearly every square inch of paper that wasn't filled with typing. He shook it in Rodney's face. "Ah ah ah," he mocked. "Someone didn't check the revisions when he came on shift like he's supposed to!"
He pulled the paper out of reach when Rodney grabbed for it, then handed it over with a smirk. "A guy just went in with his baby. You might want to give them a few minutes."
The paper made an almost-satisfying crunch when Rodney balled it up and eyeballed the increasing distance between himself and the back of Michael's head. He rolled his arm back to throw, and someone behind him cleared their throat.
"When your target is moving, you should use a projectile with more heft so that it will achieve a greater velocity."
Half of the cases on the display crashed to the floor again when Rodney spun, excuses already tumbling out of his mouth. "I was just— He'll need the schedule if— I should really ... get ... Um."
The woman smiled, slow and sure.
"Who was that?" Radek Zelenka propped an elbow on the top of the paper towel dispenser. "She was gorgeous."
Rodney glared at him in the mirror. "Her name's Teyla, and don't even think about it. She was just picking up a couple of flash drives."
"Did you get her—"
"Why would I ... No, I didn't get her phone number, Radek. She was buying a flash drive, not a boyfriend, and anyway I don't have time for—"
"How do you know she wasn't shopping for a boyfriend? Did she tell you she wasn't?"
The door swung open and a tall, heavily muscled man stepped inside, pulling up short when he saw Rodney bent over the counter and Radek hovering behind him. He spread his hands and started backing out again. "Whoa, sorry, guys. I was just looking for the manager's office."
Jeannie and Kaleb had already retreated to their bedroom when Rodney got home. He helped himself to a plate of leftovers he found in the fridge, then spent ten minutes with a toothbrush trying to scrub the taste of tofu out of his mouth.
Radek was sitting on the couch with a carton of takeout Chinese when he walked through again.
"How many times do I have to tell you to stop sneaking in here?" he hissed. "Jeannie's going to kick both of our asses."
"She told me I was welcome in her house anytime!"
"Yeah, when we were ten and she was trying to guilt-trip us into taking her— Okay, not the point. She took back your key after the last time. How'd you get in?"
"A magician never reveals his secrets." Radek slurped up a mouthful of noodles. "You had a package waiting on the stoop. I put it on the kitchen table."
Rodney was already tearing the small paper-wrapped box. "Huh, eBay sellers aren't usually this fast."
"What is it?"
When Rodney didn't answer, Radek twisted to look over the back of the couch. His glasses slid down his nose but he tilted his head back to peer through them rather than relinquish the food long enough to push them up.
Rodney dropped the box with a huff. "Not what I ordered. It looks like a knockoff of a Game Boy knockoff."
"Maybe it's worth something. Who sent it to you?"
The return label was streaked with ink, like someone had smeared their hand over it while it was still wet. When he squinted, Rodney could almost make out an S, an A, and a lot of squiggles that didn't look like anything at all. He frowned. Maybe it was someone's idea of a joke — who sent a crappy video game system without any games?
"I told you we should've grabbed the little guy before he got in the house."
"And I believe I have told you repeatedly that when you are in charge you will be allowed to second-guess decisions. Until then, Ronon, please do me this small courtesy."
At breakfast, Jeannie didn't wait for Rodney to finish his first cup of coffee before she started looking at him with the big doe eyes that infuriated him and made him want to leap tall buildings in equal measure.
When she tried to touch his hand halfway through the familiar pep talk, he pulled away to pick up his fork and shovel a huge bite of pancakes into his mouth. She kept talking like neither of them noticed how her expression fell.
"I'm just saying, maybe it's time you got over it. It's been almost two years and you're still just drif—-"
"Oh, gee, why didn't I think of that?" Pancake crumbs flew out of his mouth to land back on his plate, which he shoved away in disgust. "Why don't I just get over it!"
Kaleb sat forward, like he was ready to climb over the table to put himself between them if necessary. "I don't think that's what she meant—"
"Oh, I know what she meant." The chair made a horrible scraping noise that made everyone wince when he jumped to his feet. "If you'll excuse me, I'm just going to go get over having my life's work ripped out from under me before my shift starts."
He picked up the box he'd left on the table the night before and stomped off to his bedroom, righteous indignation fueling every step.
After twenty minutes, his stomach started to growl.
"Oh, shut up."
"I've located the contact. The device was delivered to him yesterday but I was unable to retrieve it."
"We can't afford any delays, Agent Emmagan. If you don't have the device in hand within the next three hours, I'm going to authorize Dex to carry out his original orders."
The apartment was too quiet once Kaleb and Jeannie left for campus.
Rodney wandered into the kitchen and poked through the fridge for something that might have once passed near an animal. The closest he got was a package of tofu hot dogs that nearly brought his pancakes up again.
His shift didn't start until six, so once he'd choked down a fake chicken sandwich and a salad drowning in cheese and dressing, he flopped down on the couch with the cheap-looking handheld gaming system.
"Let's see what you're all about, eh?" he murmured to it as he ran his fingers around the edges, trying to find an on/off toggle. There were finger-shaped grooves on the bottom, and the whole thing slotted into his grip like it was made just for him. He brushed his thumb across the display, which remained stubbornly dark no matter what he did.
He'd moved on to the cursing and trying to pry off the back with a butter knife portion of the testing process when the doorbell rang. He shuffled through the living room and opened the door then walked away, expecting Radek to follow him inside while he continued to pry at the hard plastic casing.
"You should have left me some of that Chinese last night," he called over his shoulder. "I think Jeannie's trying to starve me into dieting again."
Rodney whirled around. The woman from the store the previous day — the beautiful woman with the hair and the perfume and the smile.... "What are you doing here?" he squawked, then cleared his throat and tried again. "Hi! Hello, um, Teyla! What are you doing here?"
The device in his hand clunked against the wall when he tried to prop himself up in a nonchalant pose. He looked down at his hand, surprised, noticing as he did that he was barefoot and still wearing the sloppy t-shirt and boxers he'd slept in. He felt a dull flush starting to creep up his neck, prickling under the stubble on his chin and cheeks.
"I moved into the complex a few days ago," she said. She made a gesture over her shoulder and smiled. "This morning when I looked out my window, I saw the Nerd Herd vehicle in the parking lot. Of course I could not be sure but I thought I would take the chance that it was yours."
"Sure," Rodney agreed, nodding like it was the most sensible thing he'd ever heard. "Of course."
He stood there staring stupidly at her for a long moment, until she dropped her head and looked at her feet.
"I am sorry, Rodney. I am imposing. I will—"
"No, come in! I'm sorry, God, how rude am I? Please, come in. I'll just, uh, I'm going to put on some pants and— Can I get you anything? A drink? Water, coffee, juice, there might be some—"
Teyla held up a hand to interrupt his babbling. "No, thank you. I am fine."
"Right. Okay. I'm just going to, yeah. Okay. I'll be right back." He started down the hallway, got about eight feet, then turned around and headed for the living room again. "I'm sorry, I'm not normally this...."
As he turned the corner, a massive hand closed over his shoulder and pulled him into the room. He stumbled over one of Jeannie's all-vegan hand-woven free-trade and impossible-to-keep-flat rugs and crashed into the back of the couch.
"Ow. What the hell—" A huge man stood over him, with hair like a caveman's and a chest that looked like it was straining the seams of the apartment building, let alone the shirt stretched over it. "Hey, you're the guy who was looking for the manager's—"
"Where's the device, McKay?"
"Ronon, I told you that I had this under control!"
"What device? Who the hell are you— Wait, you know him? You're with him?"
"This is not what it looks like, Rodney."
"Don't listen to her: it's exactly what it looks like, McKay. Now hand over the device and we'll get out of your hair. You can go right back to not knowing anything."
Rodney stayed where he was, backed against the couch, clutching the game system so tightly the corner was cutting into his palm. "But I don't know anything. This is all, all of this is a complete unknown! If you tried to test me right now, I would flunk whatever it is you're talking about, I swear!"
Ronon took a menacing step toward him, but stopped when Teyla stepped between them.
"Everything will be okay, Rodney," she soothed.
He switched his attention to her. "Okay? Okay? Conan the friggin' barbarian just bodyslammed me in my own living room!"
Ronon (ha! Rodney thought wildly, no wonder he looks like) snorted. "I barely touched you."
Somehow Teyla had managed to walk right up to him before he noticed that she was even advancing. She laid one hand on his forearm and wrapped the other around the hand in which he was clutching the broken Game Boy clone.
"We know that Sheppard sent you this device. We need to take it back to—"
Rodney stopped glaring at Ronon and whipped his head toward her. "Did you say Sheppard? He sent me this piece of junk that doesn't even turn on—"
A blinding flash exploded in his face. The last thing he remembered was falling face-forward and hitting the floor like a stone.
"What do you mean, the device is compromised? I've seen with my own eyes what that particular unit holds!"
Ronon kept staring straight ahead with his hands behind his back, leaving Teyla to explain what had happened.
"It appears," she began, staring directly into the lens of the camera as though a direct gaze would somehow lend more weight to the argument she was about to make, "that the device was compromised accidentally. The contact is now an asset."
She glanced down at the display long enough to see Weir's brow wrinkle.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, ma'am, that the device activated and had time to complete the upload."
Weir sighed and gestured to someone off-screen. "We'll send an extraction team to bring you all back to the Mountain."
When Rodney woke, he was in a strange, lumpy bed, surrounded by cinderblock walls painted an uninspiring shade of beige that might once have been white. Aside from the metal-framed bed and a battered metal chair, there was nothing else in the room.
"You'd better not be aliens!" he shouted to the empty room. "And if you are, you're awfully crappy ones!"
It took almost three full days of arguing and every favor she was able to trade in order to cajole the joint commission to release Rodney under her supervision. In the end, it was only because his personality made him unpalatable as a permanent resident, and the database that had been instantaneously uploaded into his memories from the Ancients' device made him far too valuable an asset to terminate.
Not until they found a way to download the information again, at least, as Ronon reminded her when he stopped by her office to give his usual token protest at having to work for her again. Teyla tamped down the flare of panic that erupted at his words.
"I hate Atlantis City," he said as he loped out of her office again, bringing her back down to earth. He'd spent the better part of an hour paging through all the books on her shelves. "So don't expect me to be good company."
She pitched her voice loud enough to carry all the way to the other end of the bullpen. "I would not dream of such a thing!"
Due to budget restrictions, they had to take a commercial flight back to the coast instead of using any of the project's aircraft. Rodney kept up a running commentary for the entire flight, with complaints about the seats, the seatbelts, the meal, the lack of snacks, the miniscule soft drink, the turbulence, the tone of the captain's voice over the intercom...
By the time they touched down, Teyla wondered if it were possible to wrench the database from his brain with her fingers.
Five minutes later, as Ronon pulled their bags from the conveyor belt and slung them around his neck and shoulders, Rodney finally fell silent.
She didn't have time to thank the Ancients for their blessed gift of quiet before he tugged at her sleeve and whispered out of one corner of his mouth, "Bomb, green suitcase by the door. Number Seven Most Wanted just left it there and started walking this way."
"You had a flash?"
"No, I recognized him from our bimonthly supervillains meeting. Of course I had a flash."
She pulled her primary weapon and moved toward the man he'd pointed out. "Stay here. Tell Ronon to find a way to evacuate all of these people quickly and quietly then take cover yourself."
Rodney caught her hand as she turned to go. "Be careful," he said, his mouth turned down and his face tight with tension and worry.
"I always am," she assured him.
But of course, there were limits to being careful, including the inability to deflect a wild elbow headed for one's ribcage when one was busy trying to subdue a suspect three times one's size.
"Well, that was just stupid, wasn't it?" Rodney griped as he sat next to her in the hospital waiting room.
"He took me by surprise and I was unable to defend myself in time. I have extensive training in a variety of fighting techniques."
Rodney dropped the magazine to his lap and blinked at her. "What? Oh, no. I meant that we should have tried one of the urgent cares instead of coming here. We're going to be waiting forever for X-rays."
Teyla had to agree, looking around at the over-crowded room.
"What you did was brave, not stupid," Rodney continued. "Well, no, actually— maybe it was a little stup—"
"Thank you, Rodney," she said. The speed with which he snapped his mouth shut and went back to his magazine kept her smiling through the rest of the wait.
"You could have told me you were seeing someone, Mer! Jesus, you just disappear one day — I thought you were dead! And instead you're off on some romantic vacation!
He dodged the half-hearted swats she was aiming at his arm. "I, ah, I didn't know I was?"
Jeannie blinked at him as though his words were in the wrong order and took some time to re-assemble. With that expression, one she'd seen repeatedly leveled from Rodney to Ronon, the resemblance between them was undeniable.
"You're even dumber than I thought." She turned to Teyla and smiled, her expression just this side of manic. "Sorry. Welcome! It's so nice to meet you! I don't know why you picked this doofus but I'm very glad you did."
Teyla smiled and tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow. "I believe I am as well."
If the words kept bouncing around in her head for the rest of the night, she hoped it wasn't obvious.
"This is going to make him an even bigger target," John had said that night as they faced off on a deserted road many miles from the Mountain. "Are you sure you can protect him? There's not much I can do after this."
Teyla adjusted her grip. "I can protect him, John. I will. You have done enough."
The recoil from the weapon threw her shoulder almost out of its socket, but that was nothing to the wall of noise and blinding light that slammed into her seconds later.
Ronon was sharpening one of his many knives in the living room of the surveillance apartment when she let herself in after the "family" dinner Jeannie had insisted on hosting every weekend. He watched as she let down her hair and kicked off her shoes with a sigh.
"You've got it bad already, don't you?" he rumbled. "Maybe we should switch to one of the alternate covers."
Off her puzzled look he stretched his arms over his head and shot her a lazy grin. "You'll be able to keep a better eye on him if you're married, right?"
"Do you know, Ronon, there was once a time when I did not daily contemplate the likelihood that you would suffer a debilitating injury?"
He winked, his smile as impish as the little brother she had always imagined for herself.
They quickly settled into a routine that wasn't all that dissimilar to the one Rodney had followed prior to his activation. Ronon worked in Rodney's store as an assistant to some other level of assistant manager — but he was not an assistant manager himself, as the Assistant Store Manager apparently tried to remind him daily.
All of Ronon's requests to forcibly relocate the man were denied.
With the information Rodney was able to access during his flashes, within the first three months of his activation they were able to apprehend four fugitives: two of whom were on the FBI's Most Wanted and one which was of particular interest to her own agency. They had also broken up two smuggling rings and surprised a smash-and-grab team of amateurs who mistakenly believed that the Buy More was the easiest and most lucrative target at the Pegasus Mall.
"I still think we should've shown them how lucky they were they didn't trip any of the anti-personnel—"
Even easier than posing as an indolent and indulged woman — who spent most of her days sunning by the apartment's pool — was posing as Rodney's girlfriend. After the first few weeks, even Ronon stopped teasing her about her attraction to their asset though he continued to give her concerned looks when he thought she wasn't looking.
As for Rodney, he transitioned from civilian to activated asset with every bit as much frustration, angry outbursts, and irritation as she could have expected. It took several weeks before he stopped snapping at them all in the wake of each flash, and Teyla spent more time than she reported merely sitting with him and nodding as he paced from one end of his bedroom to the other.
"Isn't there any way to get this crap out of my head?" he barked one day as Ronon finished restraining the assassin they had surprised as she browsed the weapons for sale at Large Mart.
Ronon ignored him and hauled the woman to her feet. Teyla stepped up behind Rodney and laid a hand on his back between his shoulder blades.
"As I have told you every time you have asked: my agency is still working through channels to recall Dr Carter from her off-world assignment. Once she makes planetfall arrangements will be made to have her examine you."
He huffed out a heavy breath and let his shoulders slump. Teyla squeezed his arm, biting back the urge to hug him instead.
Dr Carter arrived two and a half months later with an entire Marine contingent and more menacing equipment than Teyla had seen outside of Ronon's personal armory. After two days of examinations, she threw up her hands and admitted there was no way to remove the database without irrevocably damaging Rodney's brain.
So, of course, when Rodney had his inevitable panicked meltdown — when his hands shook with fear and his mouth turned down on one side, when his voice grew louder than she had ever heard it — of course, that was when Teyla gave into impulse and kissed him.
"On the whole," Rodney said, his voice sleepy, soft and low and vibrating under her cheek, "on the whole I think I might finally have to forgive that son of a bitch Sheppard."
Teyla closed her eyes against the bolt of dread that the name gave her.
"I mean, sure, he ruined my career and now I have to work with barely literate teenagers who pretend to be electronics experts, and live with my sister and her crimes against cuisine, and if I never have to see another cracked laptop case I will die a happy man but—"
His lips stilled under hers. Teyla traced the line of his jaw with her fingertips as she pulled away. "I am grateful to him as well, Rodney. Perhaps some day I will be free to explain to you how much."