"I would... I would hate to think that recent events might have permanently dimmed your faith in my abilities, or your trust. At the very least, I hope I can earn that back."
"That may take a while," Sheppard said with bite in his voice.
Rodney wouldn't say he was surprised. In eighth grade, he'd been taunted when he failed at a simple history question during a class game, causing his team to lose. Figuring out that people only tolerated him when he was successful had been a hard lesson to learn, and there had never been any reason to think Sheppard was any different than the rest.
"I see." And Rodney did. No rose-colored glasses for him now, and he wouldn’t forget.
"But, I'm sure you can do it, if you really wanna try." Sheppard got in the transporter, reaching for the screen. He had this weird smirk on his face, and as Rodney turned, he saw it blossom into a smile.
Sheppard was amused by Rodney's failure, by Rodney's humiliation, and Rodney stopped the door before it closed. He shouldered his way inside and cast aside his apologies.
"Fine. You don't trust me. Well, let's draw some parameters here. Do you trust me to push the right destination on this board? Cut the right wire on a bomb? Fly the puddle jumper when you've been shot for the eighteenth time?" Rodney savagely pressed the board to take them to the control tower. "Is this where you wanted to go? No? Well, you shouldn't have trusted me!"
Fast, Sheppard got off the transporter. "This is not how you earn back trust, just in case you were confused, Mr. Genius."
It was the same mocking crap, all over again. It took his breath away. "Oh, I think I get it, Mr. I Woke the Wraith on My First Day of Work." Rodney saw the fury and anger blossom in Sheppard’s eyes, but Rodney didn't give a damn. "I never asked if I could trust you, and in hindsight, that was a big mistake on my part."
"We're done." Sheppard turned on his heel, striding away with his shoulders straight.
"Trust me when I say, good riddance!" Rodney bit the bullet and marched to Dr. Weir’s office. She looked up, confusion fading into annoyance, and before she could open her mouth to yell at him some more, Rodney said, “I’m off Sheppard’s team. He’s made that clear, and I agree. If you need me, I’ll be in my lab for the foreseeable future.”
“Colonel Sheppard removed you from his team?”
Instead of re-hashing it for her challenged intellect, Rodney walked away, not listening to the words she shouted after him. After his public set-down, he didn’t much care what she had to say. She could put it all on his yearly evaluation.
The lab was quiet when he got there, and he fielded the few baleful looks with glares of his own. They’d had a memorial ceremony, and their job was dangerous, and no one would blame the people who chose to go to Earth on the Daedalus.
Zelenka slunk over to the stool next to Rodney. Neither of them put their hands on their keyboards, sitting slumped in unison. “Perhaps you should pick a less crowded area for your next argument with the colonel?”
“I’ll write that down somewhere.” Rodney opened up a file. “Let’s finish up the paperwork on this debacle, but I’m not giving up on it, just pushing it to the back burner.”
“Like all Ancient weapons, it is buggy.” Zelenka’s hands began to fly across the keys. “I am still angry with you.”
Rodney got them both a mug of coffee and sat back down. “And that’s different from normal how?”
“True. You are very annoying man.” Zelenka sipped his coffee, nodding. “Will you be reprimanded?” His voice was barely above a whisper now.
“I’m sure they put a note in my employment file. ‘Does not play well with others. Has inflated sense of self.’” Rodney wouldn’t spend one second worrying about it.
“I am fairly certain those notes were already in there.” Zelenka pushed his glasses back. “There was no talk of Siberia?”
“They might ship me off to the Genii to help build naquadah generators.”
Zelenka shot him an alarmed look, and then they shared a raw chuckle. The only good thing to come out of Siberia, as far as Rodney was concerned, was Radek Zelenka, even if it had taken him a year to learn the name.
“I still think Zalumpa fits you.”
“You realize that I hate you?”
Rodney nodded, continuing to work and ignoring that pesky voice in his head whispering about Sheppard and friendship.
Hours later, Rodney stuck his fist against his back and managed to get to his feet. Those stools were hell on his back, but he doubted his requisition for an actual office chair would go through this time. Zelenka and the rest of the lab rats were long gone, and Rodney took a stretch before setting off to his quarters. A shower, a power bar, four hours of sleep, and he’d get back at it.
That was the plan, but the best laid plans of mice and… all that.
No one knew the showers had alarm systems built in, at least not until Sergeant Jordan had passed out in his after a difficult mission. Atlantis had notified the infirmary, and they had responded quickly after a brief moment or two of confusion.
Remembering that gave Rodney a measure of comfort in the split second between his feet slipping out from under him and falling towards the floor. Pain flared and then nothing at all.
“Rodney? Come on, lad.”
The words were dim, far away, and Rodney tried to focus. He wanted to rub his eyes, someone caught his hands, and he was awake. “I’m here,” he mumbled.
“Good.” Carson smiled down at him. “You gave us a bit of a scare.”
“Sorry?” Rodney moved his head to the side and winced. “What happened?”
“You fell in the shower. Right stupid of you.” Carson didn’t allow Rodney to touch his head. “You have a goose egg on your temple, which is a bad place to have one. Don’t touch it.”
“Okay.” Rodney took the tiny sip of water that was offered, feeling his stomach roil. “Nauseous.”
“You have a concussion.” Carson raised Rodney’s eyelid just a bit. “I need you to stay awake now.”
Rodney swallowed hard and breathed through his mouth. “Tired. Hurt.”
“I know, but don’t fall asleep yet.” Carson gave him another little sip. “Rodney, what’s the last thing you remember?”
There wasn’t much room for thought in Rodney’s brain, just ache, and he hesitated. He blinked, wanting to look around but could only see a curtain and Carson’s homely face. “I’m…” He needed to get it right. It was important to always be right, and he tried very hard. “I know you.”
“That you do.” Carson smiled. “Breathe. It’s okay.”
“It’s not okay.” Rodney could barely work up the energy to be outraged. “Was I working on something important? Will it explode if I pass out again?”
“I’ll check.” Carson looked worried now. “Don’t move.” He faded from Rodney’s line of sight, and Rodney shut his eyes, trying to breathe through the pain in his head. Whoever Carson checked in with must’ve taken their time, because it was forever before Rodney heard anything.
“It’s fine, Rodney. No worries.” Carson patted Rodney’s hand. “Rest. Someone will wake you in a couple of hours.”
“Sure,” Rodney mumbled, not looking forward to it all, and he was right in that it was miserable. He couldn’t get comfortable. His stomach hurt. His brain wanted to ooze out his ears, and every time he managed to doze some nurse showed up to ask him moronic questions.
When he woke up to Carson’s tired face, Rodney was actually relieved. The infirmary was brighter so Rodney assumed it was day time now. He took the offered sip of water and tried to sit up a little. Carson helped him without a lot of fussing.
“Yes.” Rodney still thought his head might fall off, but it was a concussion, and those were serious. “No brain damage, right?”
“Not that I can find.” Carson checked Rodney’s eyes again. “Who’s your best friend?”
“Why do you morons keep asking me such stupid questions?” Rodney needed coffee. “You’re my best and only friend. Now, let’s talk coffee.”
“Not happening.” Carson took Rodney’s blood pressure, waiting until the stethoscope was out of his ears before asking, “What planet are we on?”
Now Rodney sat up a little straighter. He furrowed his brow, thinking furiously. “Do we have to play twenty questions? I’m a genius. I’m going to win.”
“Who is your direct supervisor?” Carson was very serious now.
Rodney touched his head and flinched. “I’ve been trying to get attached to the Atlantis project, which you know, so please stop asking.”
“Look, tell them I’m sorry.” Rodney bit his lip, anxious now. He couldn’t afford to screw up again, so soon after Siberia. “I learned my lesson, Carson. You know I did.”
“I know.” Carson pulled up a chair and sat down. His brow was furrowed, and that was usually bad news. “Relax. I let them know, and no one is angry.”
“Thank god.” Rodney unclenched his hands, wanting to believe him. “If I destroy another project, I’ll end up teaching at some community college for the rest of my miserable life.”
“No, Rodney. That won’t happen. I promise.” Carson got him another drink. “Think you can eat?”
“Maybe?” Rodney’s stomach felt better. “Which hospital is this?”
“Mine.” Carson hurried away, and Rodney tried to get comfortable. Every muscle in his body ached, and he must’ve fallen quite hard. He shifted, hearing voices and trying not to think too much about how Carson had gotten a hospital. It hurt his brain.
“It’s just as well he can’t remember,” some nurse whispered. “I think the colonel wants to kill him.”
Rodney clutched his blanket, trying to remember how to breathe.
“The colonel won’t forgive him. McKay will be lucky if he can even stay here.”
“Oh, god.” Rodney chewed his lip and tried not to puke. He’d done it again, and this time, Colonel Carter wanted him dead. He should probably try to find his shoes and stagger somewhere safer. Shutting his eyes, he put his hand over his mouth so no sound came out. He had to be the unluckiest scientist in the galaxy.
“Here’s a bite to eat, Rodney. I hope you can keep it in your stomach.”
Rodney forced his eyes open and hoped his blood pressure went down before he died of a stroke. “Tell me what I did. Tell me! I screwed up again! Who died? Oh god, did I kill O’Neill or Jackson?”
That was impossible. Rodney swung his legs over and took a hold of Carson’s lab coat. “What did I do?” He emphasized every word. “Who did I kill?”
Carson’s eyes couldn’t get any bigger. “Rodney, I need you to listen.” He put the tray to the side and took Rodney by the hand. “O’Neill and Jackson are fine. You hit your head, and you’re a mite confused. Please, you need to rest and eat, and things will become clearer.”
“It’s bad. I can see by your eyes. I really did it this time.” Rodney let Carson put him back in bed because his legs were wobbly. “I should’ve been a pianist. At least then no one would have died from the horrible music. I could’ve earned a living at the local bar, working for tips, and no one would’ve sent me to Siberia because my technique wasn’t good enough!”
“Breathe, Rodney, breathe.” Carson felt Rodney’s forehead. “Do not hyperventilate on me.”
“Can I go home?” Rodney thought that was an excellent idea. “If I’m lucky, I’ll fall asleep and never wake up!”
“Ever the optimist,” some guy drawled, coming to stand right behind Carson. “I heard McKay has an owie.”
Carson’s mouth flapped open and shut, but no words stuttered out.
Rodney wasn’t sure what to say. The guy was clearly military, even with the slouching. He looked Rodney over and said, “Nice lump on your head. Shame I wasn’t there to see it happen.”
A thousand retorts clogged Rodney’s throat, and he flushed, trying to get his bearings. He was used to people hating him, but they didn’t usually follow him into the infirmary to tell him about it. “I get it. You don’t like me. If I had a nickel for every person who felt that way, I could retire a wealthy man.”
“Rodney, hush.” Carson grabbed the guy by the jacket and hustled him away, and Rodney could only hear the whispers, not make out the words. Carson came back with a strained grin. “I want you to eat. Just that. No thinking. Eat and then sleep.”
“Then I’m getting the hell out of here before that lunatic comes back and puts another lump on my head.” Rodney managed to eat some toast before his stomach demanded he stop. He sipped some lukewarm coffee and tried not to notice that Carson was running about like a chicken with its head cut off. There were whispers and such, and Rodney hated to fall asleep but his eyes were heavy. Head injuries were awful.
Sitting up with a groan, Rodney rubbed his face, careful of his head, and tried to figure out how he could escape Carson without being caught.
“Take it slow.”
Rodney turned towards the voice and felt his jaw drop. “Wait, did we get married and I forgot because of this lump on my head?” He pointed to it, just in case she’d missed it.
“No. I’m Dr. Heightmeyer.” She smiled.
It’d been too much to hope that he’d married a gorgeous brunette which, while not his favorite hair color, was perfectly acceptable. He nodded like he knew that, even if her face didn’t ring any bells at all. That happened all the time. Most people didn’t make an impression on him whatsoever, and he was terrible at names. He still hadn’t gotten Zalumpa’s name right.
“How are you feeling, Rodney?”
“Wow, that’s a dumb question. I’m going to guess you’re a medical doctor.” Rodney began to fidget with his scrubs, needing to get up. “Can you get Carson? I have… needs.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I was hoping we could talk a minute.”
“I’m more than happy with Carson as my primary physician, thank you. I know he’s not the best, but he’s the best I’ve seen.”
“A rare compliment.” Carson came around the curtain. “Were you nice to the lady at all, Rodney?”
“Yes, of course.” Rodney sat up straighter. “She doesn’t seem very bright, but most of you aren’t. Now, I assume you don’t want me to fall down again, so give me a hand.”
Carson moved quicker now, and Rodney actually groaned with relief when he pissed. He’d been about ready to burst. Carson had turned away but stayed close. “Feeling steady on your feet?”
Rodney took a long stretch and didn’t fall over. That was a good sign. There was no mirror to show him the lump on his head, and that was when he noticed how different everything looked from a normal bathroom.
“Where am I?” Rodney turned to Carson and grabbed him by the arm. “Don’t give me any doctor mumbo-jumbo. Just tell me.”
“Please wash your hands.” Carson waved at the sink and the water started.
Rodney glared, but he washed, worried about how damaged his brain was if he’d forgotten in the first place. He used the air dryer and then rounded on Carson with a glare. “Just give me the bad news. Drawing it out isn’t going to make it better.”
Carson rolled his eyes and took Rodney back to the gurney. “You are steady enough, I suppose. I’ll order you a tray. Keep it down, and I’ll release you.”
Getting comfortable on the gurney was the first priority, and then Rodney crossed his arms. “Look, I know I killed someone. Just tell me who. I can take it. It wasn’t that Zalumpa guy, was it? I kinda don’t hate him.”
“He’ll be relieved to hear that.” Carson twitched the curtain further shut. “Relax. Eat. I’ll explain everything after I’m sure you won’t vomit.”
Gaze drawn to the curtain, Rodney looked down and saw the heels of a pair of military boots. He swallowed hard. “That’s my guard.” He felt his heartbeat go straight through the roof. “Carson, I can’t go to Siberia again. I can’t!”
“He’s there in case you need a hand. That’s all!” Carson looked guilty as hell. “I’ll be right back.”
“Well, I won’t be going anywhere.” Rodney had no fond memories of the military men who had escorted him out of Cheyenne Mountain. He shivered and then tried to get a hold of himself. Carson wouldn’t lie, not exactly. Rodney couldn’t be in too much trouble. As soon as he got his hands on a computer, he’d find out how far they were sending him this time. He didn’t recall a secret moon base, but he’d bet if there was one, O’Neill would ship him there. Heart still racing, Rodney looked about for his clothes, seeing nothing. He eased off the gurney, as quiet as possible. Even if he couldn’t get out of here, maybe he could get his hands on a laptop. He kept an eye on those boots and went to the backside of the curtain. Ducking under and coming up, he almost screamed.
“I told Carson you’d make a run for it,” drawled the guy who wanted to put lumps on Rodney’s head.
There was another guy, even bigger than the first, and he was cleaning his nails with a knife. Neither of them smiled. Rodney’s feet didn’t seem to want to move, and Rodney took a good look around for a fast exit. It was immediately clear that this was not the Mountain, or anywhere else Rodney had ever worked.
“Where am I?” he whispered, wanting to touch everything. “Not that it matters because I’m sure I’ll be shipped off to hell, but, hey, maybe this is the new Siberia.”
“Still talks a lot.” The big guy slid the knife away into his hair, and Rodney took a step back, the curtain swirling around him.
“I’m here!” Rodney fumbled with the curtain, finally getting on the safe side of it. He got on the gurney while Carson glared. Rodney tried to look very innocent, which he’d never been able to pull off with any reliability.
“I should’ve used the restraints!”
“I was just curious!” Rodney took the offered tray fast and began to eat. “See! I’m fine!” he mumbled around a mouthful. “Who’s the mountain man?”
“Ronon.” Carson sat on the edge of the bed and watched him eat. “Slow down.”
Rodney took a breath and pushed the tray away, concentrating on the coffee, which he suspected was decaf. “Fine. Good. Talk.”
Carson rubbed his forehead. “It’s very complicated, and Dr. Heightmeyer wanted to speak with you first, and I honestly don’t even know where to begin.”
“Tell me his name.” Rodney was sure he’d killed someone. There was a reason for the guard.
“Dr. Collins.” Carson sighed. “You were working on a project and there was an accident. Collins died. The project blew up, literally exploded. You and Colonel Sheppard barely made it out alive.”
Sitting back, Rodney put his hands over his face. This time, someone had died. He remembered his arrogance when it looked as if Teal’c would die, and how the science had seemed more important, and he wondered if he’d made that mistake again. It seemed to be a flaw of his, and he had no idea how to fix it. People lived and died, but the science could make a man immortal. Einstein, Galileo, they were remembered.
“Rodney? It wasn’t your fault. No one could’ve guessed the technology would react the way it did.”
Putting his hands down, Rodney shook his head. “I bet I thought of it, and that guy with the crazy hair obviously blames me.” He thought everything through again in a blink. “I fell in the shower and forgot it all. Short-term amnesia, brought on by head trauma, with a side diagnosis of reality avoidance. Great, just great.”
Carson started talking fast and furious, but Rodney didn’t listen to a word of it. He knew the truth. It wouldn’t be long, and he’d have his memory back, and Collins would still be dead.
Rodney raised his hand. “Can I go to work?”
“Absolutely not.” Carson looked offended. “You can go to your quarters, but no work, and I’ll be checking on you this evening.”
“Thanks.” Rodney didn’t move to get up. “You’ll show me the way?” he asked in a quiet voice, more ashamed than he’d admit. He felt like an idiot, a weakling, and he hated those feelings like he hated citrus.
Giving him a pat on the leg, Carson nodded. “I had the nurse get you some clothes. Did you eat enough?”
“More coffee would be nice.” Rodney got off the gurney, taking his time to make sure he wouldn’t get dizzy. “I’ll probably be fine by morning. The swelling will go down – the bruise will heal on my brain – and I’ll remember.”
“You could be right.” Carson helped him dress in that he didn’t let Rodney fall down. Rodney sat down to slip on his runners and felt a little tired just from dressing. Carson must’ve noticed. “You had a severe concussion. No showers for a few days.”
Rodney shrugged, not caring. He straightened and put on his worst scowl. “Carson, where am I? And don’t avoid the subject this time.”
“I’ll show you. It might do the trick for your memory.” Carson took him by the arm and led the way. Rodney noticed that the two scary guys trailed them. Every step was full of amazing things, and then they stepped out on a balcony. Rodney felt his throat thicken. Carson smiled. “Atlantis. You’re on Atlantis.”
It was devastating, and Rodney wanted to crouch and rock back and forth. He wrapped his hands into the railing, squeezing with all his might, and stared out at the beautiful city. He’d had it all, and he’d screwed it up. It was all broken now. They’d let him come to the most amazing place in two galaxies, and he’d ruined it.
Refusing to let the hurt show, Rodney turned away. “My quarters?”
“We’ll take him, Carson,” the hair-challenged guy said.
Carson looked doubtful, and Rodney slid a half-step behind him. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to arrive at my quarters without another lump on my head. Carson, please.”
“Right.” Carson licked his lips.
The big guy, Roger, or something like that, shrugged and walked off without a word. The military guy just tilted his head.
“You sure he’s not faking it?”
“Off with you, Colonel.”
“Go put more product in your hair or something else constructive.” Rodney kept Carson between them.
“Rodney, you shouldna antagonize Colonel Sheppard any more than necessary.” Carson didn’t rush them through the corridors, and Rodney stared in wonder at the transporter. It was more than amazing. This place was a miracle, and no doubt, he’d be tossed of f it by the end of the week. He put his hand against a wall, shocked when it opened.
“You have the gene, Rodney.”
“I do?” Rodney stared at his hand, imagining the possibilities. “Did you fix me?”
“That I did.” Carson palmed open another door. “In you go.”
Rodney played with the door several times before going inside. “I suppose this is where I get my memory back.”
“Maybe.” Carson looked about the room. “Do you remember your cat?”
“Of course.” Rodney went to the picture and scooped it up. “Where is he?”
“You left him with your neighbor.”
“That hot girl who wouldn’t even look at me? That was a mistake. I’ll get him back when I go to Earth.” Rodney wanted his cat now. His cat never criticized unless his bowl was empty or his potty pan was dirty. It was the perfect relationship. “That was Colonel Sheppard? The guy I escaped with?”
“Yes. He’s been a mite angry.” Carson shrugged. “I think you two had an argument.”
“I imagine we did.” Rodney would believe they’d had more than one argument. “Well, I’m sure I’ll remember it all by tomorrow.” He went to the balcony to open the door and stare out again at such a lovely sight. He wanted to drink it in before he lost it. “Tell them I’m sorry, will you? I’m sure my arrogance ran away with me again. You’d think Siberia would’ve taught me a thing or two. Maybe I forgot. Had I suffered a head injury after I got here?”
“Not as such, but you’ve had a few mishaps.” Carson stared intently at his shoes. “Rodney, it wasn’t your fault.”
“Right. Like anyone believes that.” Rodney didn’t believe it, and he didn’t remember what had happened. “Dinner together?”
“That’d be grand.” Carson looked up with a small smile. “And don’t worry. You’re not going anywhere.”
“Except right back to Siberia. Wait, is there a Siberian equivalent here in Pegasus?” Rodney thought there had to be. He sat down on the bed and toed off his shoes. “Can I sleep without someone asking me asinine questions every hour or so?”
“I’ll have someone check on you.” Carson felt Rodney’s forehead for some strange reason and then got him a couple of Tylenol and a glass of water from the bathroom. “Rest. You’ll heal.”
Rodney swallowed them, the lights dimmed, and he got comfortable. At least he’d brought a good mattress with him. Shutting his eyes, he resolved to straighten his spine and carry on as if he were fine. He wanted to kick his own ass for being an idiot, but it was no doubt his fault for forgetting how horrible Siberia was and how afraid he’d been of getting sent back there. Living here had probably been comfortable, easy, and he’d gotten cocky. He did that when the science was too easy.
He clenched his hand, insanely glad to have the gene. When they sent him home, he’d have an advantage over the other scientists. He would leave the SGC project and find work that was satisfying and didn’t kill people. It had to exist.
When Carson woke him up, Rodney waited for a good minute or two for his memory to return but nothing of significance came to mind. Rodney put his legs over the side of the bed, sat up, and took a good hold of his head.
“I’m okay.” Rodney wasn’t, but he said it to reassure his only friend. “Do you think I lost any I.Q. points? In my line of work, I need all of them.”
Carson helped Rodney get going with shoes and all, and they walked together back down long hallways. When they got to the transporter, Rodney raised his hand without thinking and pressed a circle on the screen.
“You remember!” Carson seemed very pleased.
“Muscle memory.” Rodney wanted to examine the transporter later, even if he was sure he’d already done it and just forgot. They met more and more people as they went along, and Rodney didn’t know whether to smile or frown. “Are any of these people my friends?”
“Well, Ronon, Teyla, and Colonel Sheppard are on a team with you. They’re your friends.” Carson stepped into a queue that went by a table loaded with different food items. “There’s Zelenka, and I know you’ve made a friend or two in the botany department.”
“Zalumpa’s here? It’ll be good to see him.” Rodney tried to look around without being obvious. “Botany? Why is there a botany department?”
“Rodney.” Carson rolled his eyes. “You usually sit with your team.” He pointed to a far table, and sure enough, Robert and the colonel were there.
“That Robert fellow is huge.”
“Yes, yes.” Rodney noticed a good number of people staring at him. “Most people dislike me, right?”
Carson handed him a tray. “I wouldn’t say that.” He smiled. “You’ve been happy here.”
“Of course I have been. The technology alone is enough to make me want to clap my hands and dance in circles, but that doesn’t mean I have friends. I’m sure my colleagues tolerate me, and my boss wants to strangle me.” Rodney didn’t dredge up the memories of his Russian supervisors. He’d vowed never to think of them again. “Is Colonel Carter here?”
They had made their way through the line and were almost at the team table when Rodney asked the question. Colonel Sheppard answered. “Your imaginary girlfriend couldn’t make it. Still with the amnesia, huh?”
Rodney blinked and turned, spotting someone he knew from Area 51. “I’m not sitting by someone with the raw intelligence of a crazed hedgehog and hair to match.”
“He sounds fine to me,” Ronald said.
“Rodney, it’s not a…”
Carson’s voice trailed away as Rodney went to sit by Thompson across the cafeteria. “Can I sit here?”
Thompson looked surprised. “I think I’m supposed to be mad at you.”
“Oh.” Rodney understood that. “I’m sorry about Collins.”
“He was a good guy.” Thompson got up with his empty tray. “You always sit with your team anyway.”
Rodney didn’t think he’d be making that mistake today. He found an empty table near a window and sat, wishing he had something to do with his hands besides eating. After a few moments, Carson slid into the chair across from him.
“You need to stop fighting with the colonel,” Carson said.
“But he has such witty repartee.” Rodney ate with the single-minded determination to get out of the cafeteria as soon as possible. He had a lot of practice at it over the years. Carson refilled Rodney’s coffee twice, which cemented the theory that it was decaf.
“It is good to see you, Dr. McKay.” A smoking hot girl in a skimpy top sat down next to Carson. “How is your head?”
“Better.” Rodney swallowed hard, feeling shy. “You’re hot. Really hot.”
“Rodney.” Carson rolled his eyes. “You know Teyla.”
“Of course I do, and I’m hoping to get to know her better.” Rodney smiled his very best. “Did someone sprinkle stardust in your hair when you were born? Because you’re an angel come to Earth.”
“I don’t believe so.” Teyla smiled. “I was born on Athos, not Earth.”
Rodney liked the way she wasn’t running away screaming. Encouraged, he tried, “Athos sounds nice. Maybe you could take me there. Show me around.”
“The Wraith would come, and that would be very unpleasant.” Teyla frowned. “You know this. Carson, what’s going on?”
“Rodney has a wee bit of amnesia from the bump on his head.” Carson explained further, “He can’t remember anything since before we arrived.”
“Or so he says,” Colonel Sheppard said, sliding into a chair next to Rodney. “He does have an impressive lump on his head, but I thought that only happened in the movies.”
Carson launched into a lengthy explanation, and Rodney crossed his arms. He didn’t want to sit and listen to their blather. Spotting Zalumpa, Rodney surged up and crossed to him.
“Zalumpa! It’s good to see you!” Rodney gave him a fast hug, more of a pat on the back really. “I haven’t had anyone to argue with in ages.”
Behind glasses, Zalumpa blinked furiously. “Zelenka! It is Zelenka! And you always lose.”
“Not lately.” Rodney tried not to smile but failed. “This place is great, huh? I wish I could stay longer.”
“You are not leaving.”
“Pretty sure I have another Siberia in my future.” Rodney gave him a whack on the shoulder. “I’ll drink some vodka for you.” He went back to his tray and noticed they were all staring at him in what looked like amazement. Rodney glared. “He’s not an idiot like you guys. I’m going to go find a laptop. I don’t have much time.”
“Rodney, no one blames you for what happened to Collins,” Carson said.
Rodney happened to be looking at the colonel and saw the truth written on his face. “Sheppard does, and since he’s a colonel, I assume he’s in charge of this base. He wants to hit me, doesn’t like me, and I’m obviously on my way out the door. Catch a clue, Carson. I have amnesia, but I’m not an idiot.”
“I don’t understand,” Teyla said.
“Explain it to her, Colonel Porcupine.” Rodney didn’t stick around any longer. He went to bully Zalumpa into getting him a laptop, a charger, and access to the network.
“Senior staff meeting. Senior staff meeting.”
Rodney noticed the commotion as people started moving towards the exit, but he was surprised when Carson came over to him. “That’s us, Rodney.”
“I’m senior staff? Well, of course I should be, but I never thought it’d happen while O’Neill was alive to hate me.” Rodney closed the laptop. “Are you sure?”
“I’m very sure. The meeting is about you.” Carson seemed to be waiting for something, and it took a moment for Rodney to figure out what it was.
“I don’t know the way.” Rodney felt his face flush. “The caveman is senior staff? Really?”
“Ronon, and yes.” Carson led the way with Rodney a half-step behind, but when he saw the stargate, he had to stop and stare.
“Wow.” Rodney’s fingers itched to touch every console, and he couldn’t see how he could’ve forgotten all this beautiful technology. Carson chuckled and gave him a tiny push. Rodney crossed a bridge that he hoped was secure after ten thousand years, and he was in an office.
Everyone seemed to be staring at him. Rodney took a cautious seat at the table and shot a questioning look at Carson. The pretty doctor from earlier was there with a notepad, and Teyla, Zalumpa, Colonel Hedgehog, and Randy rounded out the group. That left one tall lady who Rodney was shocked to recognize.
She smiled. “You’re feeling better, Rodney?”
“Of course.” Rodney ignored Carson’s shake of the head. “I’m glad you managed to land heading up this expedition. I was worried it’d be run by military goons.” He shot a glare at Colonel Crazy Hair.
Weir didn’t lose her smile. “I’m glad to be here. Carson, are you sure he’s fit to be up and about?”
“It looks worse right now than it is.” Carson waved at Rodney’s head. “He needs to rest soon, but he’s healing. I’ll get him under the scanner tomorrow.”
“He should begin cognitive therapy today,” Heightmeyer said.
Rodney never enjoyed being discussed as if he weren’t in the room, but he hesitated, not sure of his role. He was senior staff, but in what capacity was the question.
“Rodney, I’m sorry, but you can’t continue as Chief Science Officer as things stand.” Weir looked sad. “Carson believes your condition is temporary, and I’m sure you’ll be back terrorizing your staff in a matter of days.”
A little stunned, Rodney nodded out of reflex. He should’ve known he was in charge. Of course, he was in charge.
“Dr. Zelenka, please take over until Carson clears Rodney for active duty.”
“I am sure it will be soon.” Zelenka ducked his head. “Perhaps in meantime, he could continue to work in labs?”
“Not like he normally does,” Carson said with no delay. “Light duty.”
That didn’t sound reasonable at all, but Rodney wasn’t going to argue about it. He’d just do what he wanted behind their backs.
“Dr. McKay will not be joining us on our away missions?” Teyla asked.
“No, lass, not until this is resolved.” Carson shook his head. “I doubt he remembers how to fire a gun.”
“I fired a gun?” Rodney blurted and then blushed. He saw Sheppard roll his eyes.
“None of this makes what happened at Doranda any different,” Sheppard growled. “McKay screwed up.”
“I’m not sure why you care.” Rodney made sure not to glare. “One of the scientists is dead, not a soldier, and from what I read in the reports, I was trying to secure a weapon for you and the military complex.”
“You blew up a solar system!” Sheppard shouted.
“Big deal,” Rodney muttered, remembering Carter’s mishap with a sun. “No one was using it.”
Weir rubbed her forehead. “Enough. We’ll work it out. This situation is further complicated by Rodney’s injury.”
“If it’s a real one,” Sheppard grumbled.
“Shut up,” Rodney said, furious. “Dr. Weir heads this base. Not you.”
Sheppard’s eyes flared, a muscle pulsing in his jaw, and everyone at the table seemed to be holding their breath. Rodney was done listening to other people decide his day for him. He got to his feet, stuck out his chin, and said, “Zelenka’s the boss. I’m going to work. Dr. Heightmeyer, I’ll meet with you later. Carson, I’ll go to bed early. Everyone happy? Good.”
Before anyone could say anything else, Rodney escaped the room. He had a ton of reading to do, and he wanted to cram as much in his brain as possible before they wised up and sent him back to Earth. It was frustrating to have to re-learn, but he wasn’t going to sit in his room and wait for his memory to come back.
“Colonel, there is damage to Rodney’s frontal cortex, clearly visible under the scanner. Please stop suggesting he’s faking it,” Carson said. “He’ll get his memory back soon enough, and then you two can go back to arguing about your regular topics.”
John fumed, but he would stop. If Carson said it, it was true.
“Radek, keep Rodney busy enough that he doesn’t go crazy, but don’t let him work too hard,” Weir said.
“And you may want to catch up with him. He has no idea where anything is,” Carson said.
Zelenka nodded, grabbed up his laptop, and fled. John wanted to complain some more, but he caught Carson’s sharp look. Instead, he tried to sound reasonable. “So, Rodney screws up and gets off the hook because he has the good fortune to fall on his head?”
Carson lowered his head and spoke in a quiet voice. “He’s terrified he’s going to be sent away. For him, very little time has passed since he returned from Siberia, and that was no walk in the park.”
“You knew him then?” Heightmeyer asked.
“Aye.” Carson hesitated. “We met in Germany. Rodney was being shipped back to the States and the hospital I was at was his first stop.” He didn’t meet anyone’s eyes. “The rest is patient protected information.”
No one said a word. John wanted to read that file right now. He leaned back and waited for someone to say something.
“He seems different. Less confident,” Teyla said. “You are certain his memory will return?”
Both Carson and Heightmeyer nodded, and that was good enough for John. John looked forward to reaming Rodney out for being such a dick. Even with no memory, Rodney was a pain in the ass. Then it hit him.
“I’ll ask Zelenka to assign our team a scientist.” John shrugged like he didn’t care. “Rodney had already quit anyway.”
“Your fault,” Ronon said. “Can’t blame him for trying to kill Wraith.”
“It wasn’t quite that cut and dried, Ronon, but John, I had hoped you and he would work it out so he would stay on your team.” Elizabeth wanted to John to apologize, but that was out of the question. Rodney had screwed up, not John, and John would be damned if he’d go begging.
“Let’s all remember that Collins is dead, and that--.”
“Don’t you dare blame Rodney for that!” Carson got to his feet. “Our jobs out here are dangerous. We all know that. Do you blame yourself for every soldier who runs afoul of the Wraith?”
“Yes.” John thought that one word was enough. “They’re my men. Collins was Rodney’s responsibility.”
“John, the military is very different than a lab.” Elizabeth fiddled with her dad’s watch. “You can’t draw false equivalencies.”
John thought he damn well could since it was the same thing.
“Dr. McKay earned our trust.” Teyla went right to the heart of the matter. “Have you lost your trust in him, Colonel?”
“Yes.” John had, damn it, and he was done here. “I need to meet with Colonel Caldwell. Excuse me.”
Elizabeth sighed but waved him away. “John, don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
Those were words to live by, but John hadn’t gotten the hang of it yet. He strode from the room, noticing that Ronon stayed behind. Carson still looked angry, but John didn’t much care. Rodney had blown it. Rodney had screwed up. Rodney. Not John. He had to be able to rely on his team in bad situations, and Rodney had proven that he couldn’t be trusted to think about anything but his own ego.
John was very sure that in a couple of days Rodney would be back to his old self, and then they could yell about this some more.
“Perhaps you should speak to him,” Teyla said.
John knew exactly who she was referring to, and that wasn’t going to happen. “Rodney looks perfectly happy. Let’s not disturb him.”
Ronon snorted, but John was through talking about it. John did take the time to really look at him, and Rodney seemed to be fine. The bruise on his forehead was a little better, and he was camped out in a group of scientists, talking a mile a minute about some theory. Rodney didn’t even look over at them.
“Stupid,” Ronon said. “You should’ve just hit him and then you two could’ve been friends again.”
“Ronon, there are other ways to work out problems.” Teyla patted John’s hand. “He is your friend.”
“Was, Teyla. Rodney was my friend.” John figured that ship had sailed. “We have a mission tomorrow. Let’s go over it again.”
“Find someone else, Radek,” John growled. “Someone who won’t faint!”
Zelenka shrugged and nodded. “It is not an easy task.”
“McKay was the one.” Ronon just wouldn’t turn it loose. “Where is he?”
“Rodney and I have divided up the workload quite nicely. He is focusing on theoretical work right now.” Zelenka pushed his glasses back. “I asked him to come to the meeting, but he laughed and told me to have fun.”
John rubbed his hands down his pants. He hadn’t seen Rodney in a week, except once or twice in the cafeteria. Of course, he didn’t want to see Rodney at all, but it was inevitable on a base this size.
“He asked me out on one of your Earth dates.” Teyla surprised them.
“Did he cry when you shot him down?” John asked, feeling smug again.
“The movie was enjoyable, and he was very nervous. It was sweet.”
Everyone stared at Teyla, but John almost fell out of his chair.
“All the scientists call you Colonel Hairboy now. Well, some of them go with Colonel Hedgehog. What’s a hedgehog?” Ronon asked. “Can you eat them?”
Elizabeth bit her lips, no doubt to keep from smiling. “I spoke with Rodney at length yesterday about his role here until he regains his memory. He doesn’t want to leave on Daedalus.”
Caldwell had said nothing for the last two staff meetings, concentrating on looking disapproving, which he did very well. Now he cleared his throat. “I’d recommend you put him back on your team, Colonel.”
“No way. There’s no telling what he’s forgotten.” John wouldn’t even hear of it. He did think it was time he spoke to Rodney again. The name calling needed to stop.
“He re-qualified on the shooting range.” It was odd information for Carson to have. “I think he was hoping it’d spark his memories.”
“Did he shut his eyes like he did before?” John ignored Caldwell’s look.
“Not that I noticed.” Carson shook his head. “He should’ve recovered by now, but Rodney’s stubborn, and his brain isn’t your run-of-the-mill version, so leave it to him to make this difficult.”
“His brain?” Elizabeth asked.
“Larger than most.”
John had known Rodney was a fat head. Elizabeth caught John’s gaze. “John, speak to him. You need him on your team.”
“Not so much.” John was sure of that, but he nodded. The rest of the meeting passed quickly, and John headed to the cafeteria to get some lunch. He wasn’t tackling McKay on an empty stomach. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Rodney was there too. He was tucked in a corner with another scientist that John didn’t know very well. Their head were bent close, and they were whispering.
John put his tray down next to them. “We need to talk.”
They both jerked away, and Rodney looked guilty for a moment, then he shifted to what John was more familiar with - smug. “Can I help you, Colonel?”
“Haven’t seen you lately. Thought we’d catch up.” John sat down without asking. “I heard you killed some paper down on the shooting range.”
“It was exhilarating.” Rodney’s voice was dry as dust. The other scientist picked up his tray and fled. Rodney shrugged. “You have three minutes. I have a simulation running.”
John doubted it. “Stop calling me names.” It came out a lot more like high school than John intended. “Act your age.”
Rodney slurped some coffee. “That’s hilarious coming from a man who hasn’t conquered the hair brush. Two minutes.”
“Leave Teyla alone.” John couldn’t believe that popped out of his mouth, but he was going with it. “She’s been through enough.”
“In other words, you already been there and done that.” Rodney rolled his eyes. “Fine. I’ll back off. Anything else, Your Hedgehoginess?”
Anger made John say things he normally wouldn’t. “You’re an ass.”
“News flash!” Rodney checked his watch. “Gotta go. This wasn’t fun at all.” He stood and got his tray. “I don’t remember what I did to make you hate me, but it must have been a doozy. Everyone tells me we were friends. I wonder what I became to get me to that place. Right now, I have work to do, and I’m not going to screw it up.”
“Bite me.” Rodney left without a look back.
John stared down at the food on his plate and tried to remember what he’d planned to say in the first place. He was sure he hadn’t covered it.
“What did Rodney do?” Teyla slid into the chair next to him, and she must’ve been lurking close.
It took John a long minute to say again. “He told me to trust him, and I did, and then.” He stopped talking, unsure of what to say.
“Your faith was not rewarded.” Teyla spoke with regret in her voice. “I am sorry, but do not ever tell someone that you have claimed me again. I don’t appreciate it.”
“I didn’t!” John flushed red. “Teyla, I…” But he was talking to no one. He picked up his sandwich and considered throwing it. Nothing was going right lately.
All the paperwork was done, and John was tired of reading the same magazines over again. He’d worked out with Teyla, run with Ronon, let Ronon beat him up, taken a shower, and now he was bored.
Almost automatically, his feet took him towards the lab, and it wasn’t until he got there, that he realized that he was an idiot.
“Rodney is not here,” Zelenka said, not even turning on his stool.
“I came to see if you wanted to play some chess,” John said, making it up on the fly.
Zelenka turned fully to him, eyebrows high and eyes wide behind dirty glasses. “No, I am busy. Perhaps someone else?”
John felt like an idiot. He shrugged, wishing he’d never walked down here, and that’s when Rodney and some other scientist came around a corner. They were laughing, talking, clearly friends, and then the whole planet came to a twisting halt as Rodney received a quick kiss to the mouth.
Zelenka grabbed John by the arm. “Rodney hid it from you. He doesn’t remember to do that now.”
“Why?” That was the other word John could wheeze out, and then he blurted, “I thought he was dating Teyla?”
Rodney caught sight of them, did a quick turnaround, and was gone in a flash. John blinked, wondering if he’d hallucinated it all. Also, it sorta stung that Rodney wouldn’t even talk to him.
“I mind my own business.” Zelenka let go of him. “You should do the same?”
Confused, John nodded. “I’ll go see if Carson wants a game.”
“Do that.” Zelenka went back to work.
John wondered if Carson could give him a pill to make the world stop spinning. Right outside the doorway to Carson’s office, John paused. He could hear voices, and he eased closer, pushing his shoulders into a depression and asking Atlantis to make a room. She did with a grunt, and he listened.
“I see him and my stomach just twists into knots! That has to be treatable!”
“Rodney, you and he were friends. You played chess together, watched movies, caused trouble. I’m sure on some level, you miss him,” Carson said.
“He’s an asshole!”
“You are too,” Carson said with great patience. “And you like that in a man.”
“True.” Rodney sounded calmer. “But I get the feeling he’s just waiting for me to screw up so he can ship me back to Earth. What happened to Collins was terrible, but it isn’t any worse than all the other scientists who have died since we got here, and you and I both know more people will die. This technology is too advanced. Even at Area 51 they have two casualties a year on average, and Atlantis is a lot more dangerous than that!”
That morbid statistic made John catch his breath. He hadn’t known the risk was so high.
“Medical personnel are at risk as well. You’ve lost three! We’re exploring the galaxy. Hello, it’s dangerous!” Rodney took a breath. “Does Sheppard blame me for everything? How could we have been friends?”
“You saved his life. He saved yours.” Carson paused. “He’s angry, and no, I don’t know why.”
“Maybe there’s video somewhere of right before I fell.” Rodney sounded tired. “I should go back to Earth, retire, and work on my research. I’m getting too old for this bullshit. At least in Siberia, I knew what they were angry about, and they felt better after they beat me up!”
A part of John panicked, then horror took over, and he pressed his lips together so he didn’t make a sound.
“No, Rodney. You need to settle down. Give this more time. Did you see Heightmeyer today? Let’s get you under the scanner again.”
Carson and Rodney went out the other door, and Rodney complained until he was out of earshot.
“Hear anything good?” Ronon growled.
John nearly pissed his pants. He shoved away from the wall, heart beating in his throat. “When did life get so complicated?”
“For me or you?” Ronon asked.
“Never mind.” John wanted to figure this all out, but the one man he needed to discuss it with didn’t remember a thing. “You want to play a game of chess?”
“Boring.” Ronon preferred games that involved hitting. He was a killer at slapjack. “Teyla is still mad at me. She doesn’t understand that I had to kill him.”
Stopping in his tracks, John felt like a victim of information overload. “Who? When? What?”
For a second, Ronon looked young and vulnerable, and then his expression hardened. “Let’s get food and talk.”
Ronon had never been much of a talker, and John ate an entire sandwich in silence, finally deciding to ask him what was going on, but before he could even open his mouth, Ronon started his story. He kept his voice low, his cadence steady, almost as if he were reading a book, and John didn’t dare interrupt. Only when Ronon went back to eating, did John venture a question.
“We’re not at war with the Satedan colony, are we?” That seemed the best question to ask.
“No.” Ronon shrugged. “I was right. Everyone there knew it.”
“Except Teyla, who might’ve appreciated a heads up if you were gonna start killing people.” John didn’t meet Ronon’s eyes. “The Athosians are a peaceful people. They fight with sticks, Ronon.”
“I know,” Ronon said, soft and low. “I didn’t think in my anger.”
“That’s been going around lately.” John rubbed his face, wishing his team wasn’t in four separate pieces. “She still trusts you.”
“Does she?” Ronon shook his head. “You still trust McKay?” Before John could think of what to say, Ronon went on, “He didn’t kill that guy. You thought it was a good idea to go back.”
“I thought he could do it.”
“So did he.” Ronon stole the chips from John’s tray. “He wasn’t trying to let you down. Not like I did Teyla.”
John froze, unsure what to say or do. He took a deep breath. “I expected him to get it right.”
“Science stuff is hard.” Ronon pushed away from the table. “I have to make it up to Teyla. Might as well get started.”
“I’ll put in a good word for you.” John would try. He sat for the longest time and stared at his empty tray. Nothing was black and white in this galaxy. There were only shades and shades of gray. Images from the last mission flitted through John’s mind, and he remembered his real anxiety at having Dr. Nanak behind him on the trail. Nanak seemed like a good enough scientist, but John hadn’t trusted him with his weapons. The guy had been casual, trying to impress, and it’d just made John nervous. And that was long before they’d gotten to the tech part of the mission, and at that point Nanak had failed miserably. John hadn’t been surprised. He’d scrubbed the mission at that point, not caring who was frustrated.
Rodney was always nervous, fidgeting, worrying that he’d shoot himself in the foot, and that, for some reason, made John trust him more, not less. Knowing his own limitations made Rodney more of an asset.
“Unless the area is science,” John whispered, and then he had to admit he expected Rodney to excel and damn quick about it too because it was usually a matter of life-and-death. And Rodney always came through, except at Doranda, where John could reluctantly admit the situation was totally different.
“Hey.” Rodney sat down with a thump. He looked everywhere but at John. “So, I found some surveillance footage, and after Zelenka helped me decipher it, well, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have made that crack about the Wraith. I don’t remember why I was so upset, but I am sorry. I was way over the line.”
“No. You weren’t.” John was not going to argue with him this time. “I said some mean stuff too. It wasn’t a good day.”
“I guess not.” Rodney glanced up. “I’ll stop calling you names.” He got to his feet. “It’s not like we ever see each other, so…” He shrugged, looking away.
“Yeah.” John didn’t know how to say that none of this was what he wanted, that he was sorry too, and he wished they could go back to the way things were. “I hope your head gets well.”
Rodney nodded. “I have a date, so, bye.” He trotted off, only stopping to grab up some coffee. The scientist from earlier appeared, and they left together, walking in step.
John sat for a very long time, doing nothing but staring at his empty tray.
All during his date, the incident with Sheppard stayed in the back of Rodney’s mind, and it made it hard to concentrate. Rodney made it through without falling on his face, but it was close, and he babbled, and once he stared off into space thinking furiously for way too long.
They didn’t have sex, which Rodney wanted, but at some point it became obvious that it was more about the work than any kind of attraction. Rodney hated to suspect he was being used from his genius again, but it happened more often than not.
Long before midnight, Rodney was back in his lab, working at his whiteboard, considering six things at once and wishing the scene with Sheppard wasn’t one of them.
“I thought you were on date?”
Rodney shrugged, wondering why Zelenka wasn’t in bed. “He wanted to talk about his project. I got bored and wandered off.”
“Ah.” Zelenka picked up his own marker and added a notation. “You spoke to the colonel?”
“I apologized.” Rodney changed one of the negatives to a positive. “I don’t remember what I was thinking, but I shouldn’t have thrown that Wraith thing in his face.”
“I think when he said you had to earn his trust, you lost your mind.” Zelenka switched it back to a negative with a glare. “Even I wanted to kick his shin.”
That was easy to believe. Rodney would admit he had trust issues. “I haven’t read all the mission files, but he probably didn’t like me to begin with. When’s the last time my boss liked me?” He went ahead and laughed at the idea.
“He is only boss when you are on mission.” Zelenka flipped the board and pointed.
“True.” Rodney blinked. “This is so wrong that I need to invent new vocabulary to describe it. Did you let someone from botany work on this?”
Zelenka laughed. “You would think. I am tired. This is for tomorrow.”
“Go on. You need some beauty sleep.”
“Jerk.” Zelenka didn’t stick around so the marker missed him. Rodney’s eyes began to bleed from the horror on the whiteboard, so he flipped it back. Two cups of coffee later, Rodney quit and went to his quarters.
Another day, something else to re-learn, and usually Rodney stayed far away from the gate room, but Zelenka had asked him to fix something that his fellow Canadian had broken, so there Rodney was when the stargate whirred to life.
The jumper came through, stopped on a dime, and went up to the bay. Rodney couldn’t help but stare in wonder. Did the morons realize the math behind all this?
“We need medical in the jumper bay,” Sheppard said, over the comm system.
The entire base seemed to spring into action, and Rodney felt both useless and like a fifth wheel. There was nothing he could do but gawk. That got old after five seconds, and he went back to fixing the panel. For the record, he was not eavesdropping. No one was talking softly or making any attempt to go to Weir’s office. Rodney wondered if she always conducted meetings near the stairs.
“Smith stepped out of the jumper, fell in a hole, and broke his ankle. We came back. The mission was a resounding success.” Sheppard was very good with sarcasm.
“It was dark! And foggy!” Smith yelled in his defense as they wheeled him away on a gurney.
“It was heavily forested. We didn’t pick up any energy readings that were strange.”
Rodney didn’t think Teyla had a degree in science, but it was possible.
“No abandoned cities, just villages.” Sheppard sounded disgusted. “I guess we could go back at a later date.”
Rodney snapped the cover into place and picked up his tools. He never should’ve glanced at them. It was a mistake, and he knew it when Weir met his gaze.
“Dr. Zelenka, report to my office. We need to discuss a new scientist for Sheppard’s team.”
There was no way to hear the answer, and Rodney made a quick retreat before they all looked at him. It was time for lunch anyway, and then he had a list of subsystems that needed work. He still felt like he had so much learn, but he was gaining ground every day. He’d given up on regaining his memories, even if Carson and Heightmeyer hadn’t. They said he was blocked. They said it’d come. He didn’t care any longer. What mattered was right now, and right now he felt like a kid at Disney World.
At first, it had stung a bit that he wasn’t the Chief Scientist, and then he’d seen the virtual piles of paperwork that Zelenka had to do because Rodney couldn’t remember anyone, and it had faded. Rodney had time to work and do research, and if he could’ve, he’d have kicked up his heels. Of course, Zelenka had guilted Rodney into overseeing a few departments that weren’t possible to screw up, but that was nothing.
Rodney put his tray down and encircled it with three tablets. He ate with only his left hand, leaving his right for work. There was nothing worse than a sticky screen.
A noise made him glance up, and Sheppard was standing on the other side of the table with his tray in hand. “Can I join you?”
“No. Working.” Rodney didn’t have time to argue with the colonel. He was far too busy to listen to whatever Sheppard was on about today. Sheppard didn’t move, and Rodney was about ready to get annoyed. “Look, Zelenka wants these done yesterday, and I have to re-learn about half of the systems, so please, go away.”
“Dr. Weir wants you on my team,” Sheppard said.
Maybe if Rodney pretended Sheppard wasn’t there, then the guy would go away. Rodney enlarged the schematic to the proper area and focused on that. The problem, as Rodney saw it, was power. He just needed to tweak the system a little to let it flow through the correct conduit.
“How about for two minutes you pretend we used to be friends and listen to me?”
This was beyond ridiculous. Rodney leaned back and turned his most terrible glare on the man. “I doubt we were ever friends. I bet you made fun of me a lot, and I trailed along behind you offering movies and games for your entertainment. It’s what I do when faced with someone with your good looks. I probably had a crush, but when, like any normal human might do, I made a mistake, you told me to fuck off because geniuses aren’t supposed to make mistakes. Does that about sum it up?”
Sheppard’s eyes were blown wide, mouth slightly open, and even his hair looked alarmed by the truth.
“What did you ever do for me?” Rodney crossed his arms, wanting to know. “Did you ever invite me to your quarters?”
“Did you ever ask me to dinner? Did you ever initiate a game of chess?” Rodney snorted, seeing the truth on Sheppard’s face. “You see? I was being my usual stupid self. Did you and your buddies get a good laugh? That’s what your type usually does. I’m the geek. You’re the hero. What I don’t understand is why I fell for the routine so hard. I actually believed you trusted me. You either did a heck of a sales job, or I turned a blind eye to all the times you made it clear you thought I was pathetic. I’m guessing the latter because it’s more my style. Now. Go. Away.”
Face red, Sheppard bit his lower lip and then finally moved to his regular table. Rodney refused to feel even a trace of guilt. The colonel was obviously delusional. Friends. Right.
“He has forgotten more about Ancient technology than most of us will ever learn.”
“It’s the forgotten part that worries me.”
Rodney felt like he was at a tennis match. Zelenka had dragged Rodney to this senior staff meeting, and now all they were doing was discussing his many inadequacies.
“He’s still the best for this job,” Zelenka said. “If you are going to investigate Ancient warship, you will need him.”
“Rodney?” Weir asked. “How would you feel about re-joining the colonel’s team for this mission?”
It sounded like a terrible idea, but it was an Ancient ship, and Rodney’s palms were sweating at the idea of getting his hands on it. “Can I keep it?”
Sheppard laughed. “That’s why we’re going. Let’s see if we can find your vest.”
Carson put in his two cents worth. “Physically, he’s fine. It’s his mental condition that worries me.”
“It’s always worries us too, but I’m sure we can handle it,” Sheppard said. “The Daedalus has a sickbay. We’ll be fine.”
“I’ll brief their physician.” Carson sounded worried. “Don’t hit your head again. That only works in the movies, and the last thing you need is another concussion this year!”
“I’ll get him a helmet,” Sheppard said. There were chuckles and smiles all around the table, and Rodney saw clearly their former relationship. It was built on jokes, and mostly he was the butt of them.
“Does Colonel Sheppard have to go? How about that other guy, Major Lorenzo? He seems perfectly competent,” Rodney asked, aiming his question at Weir. She raised her eyebrows, looking surprised.
“It’s Colonel Sheppard’s team,” Weir said into the total silence. “Teyla, why don’t you help Rodney find his gear?”
“And a gun,” Ronon growled.
It was hard for Rodney not to bounce to his feet, even if Sheppard was going. Weir smiled. “Report to the Daedalus within the hour. I’ll speak to Colonel Caldwell.”
“You heard the lady. Move, people.” But Sheppard didn’t move an inch, slouching in his chair. Rodney shut his laptop and headed to his quarters to get changed. Teyla told him to meet her in the ready room, and he agreed. Carson trailed him all the way to his door.
“Are you going to help me change?” Rodney asked, worried about the answer.
“Maybe you shouldn’t go.” Carson followed him inside and plunked down on the bed. “And don’t be forgetting your Epi-pen.”
Rodney nodded, going to his closet. A million things were running through his mind, but his hands seemed to know which clothes to pick, so he let it happen.
“Ronon is a good man to get behind if the Wraith show up, and remember that Teyla can sense the Wraith.” Carson blathered on and on. “I’m sure the colonel will take good care of you.”
“Really?” Rodney dithered over shoes, finally picking sturdy trainers in case he had to do some serious running. He wasn’t sure about those combat boots at all. After hitting the bathroom, he came out to find Carson looking upset. “Carson? I’m going to be fine.”
Carson nodded. “I wish you had your memory back is all. I never dreamed it’d go on this long!”
Now Rodney was worried. “Do you think I’ve forgotten too much? I’ve worked hard to catch up!”
“I know, and as far as the technology goes, you’ll be fine.” Carson gave him a fast hug. “Just be careful.”
“I promise.” Rodney would admit he was touched, even if Carson was a loon. “The Daedalus will be there, and that Colonel Caldwell is scarily efficient.”
“He really is.” Carson still walked Rodney to the ready room and watched him put on a vest and strap on a gun under Teyla’s watchful eye. Rodney made a face at him and shooed him away, and Carson finally trundled off to do god knew what.
Teyla double-checked the straps on Rodney’s holster. “You will be fine, Rodney.”
“I hope so.” Rodney would admit to butterflies in his stomach. “Carson said to stay behind Ronon.”
“That is usually a wise decision.” Teyla smiled and nodded. “I have missed you on our team.”
“Thanks.” Rodney didn’t know what else to say about that. He liked her a lot and wouldn’t want her mad at him. “I’m going to grab some stuff.” He waved his hand in that direction.
“I will meet you on the Daedalus.”
Rodney hurried to his lab, loaded up on anything he thought might be useful, made sure he had
an Epi-pen, and noticed that it was time to get moving to the Daedalus. The gun seemed heavy on his hip, but he could tell it was in the right spot, and that was worrisome too. He made his way to the bridge of the Daedalus without any trouble only to discover that he was the last one to arrive.
“Nice you could make it, McKay. Did you get lost on the way?” Sheppard asked with his usual sarcasm.
It’d be easy to blame Carson, but before Rodney could draw breath, the big guy rumbled a question.
“Did you get one of those pen things?”
With a blink, Rodney re-drew several conclusions. “Yes, and thanks for asking.” He shot a glare at Sheppard, who was peeling open a power bar. Rodney made sure he had a couple of his own, and then Weir stepped on the bridge with Caldwell close at hand. Caldwell gave them all a sour look, but it wasn’t long before they were making their way through hyperspace, and Rodney had a hard time not staring in wonder. He had to remind himself that he was a jaded scientist twice.
“It is beautiful,” Teyla said, coming up behind him. “Are you nervous?”
“Of course not,” Rodney lied, feeling his eye twitch. “Okay, maybe a little. There are so many unknowns. Any number of horrible things could happen.”
Teyla, to her credit, didn’t roll her eyes or laugh. “A ship would be worth the risk.”
“It really would.” Rodney wanted to get his hands on it right now. “Maybe it’d be a good idea to take some of Caldwell’s men? Just for backup?”
Caldwell raised his eyebrows at the idea, and Sheppard abandoned his slouch to prowl right up to Rodney’s face.
“What’s the matter, McKay? Don’t trust me?” Sheppard spat the words like bullets.
“Well, I don’t know you all that well, and I’ve never seen you on the firing range, and the one mission I did see, your scientist came back injured, so no, I don’t trust you, and I don’t see whyI should trust you!”
A sharp pain hit Rodney right above the eye, and he gasped, going blind for a moment.
Sheppard didn’t step back. “At least I won’t blow up whatever solar system we happen to find ourselves in!”
“As if you could!” Rodney managed to yell back at him, ignoring the gawking bystanders. “Why did I ever trust you?” He heard his voice hit a pitch that was almost a scream, and then his knees hit the carpet. It was all downhill from there.
Shock quickly followed the fury, and John managed to catch Rodney before he toppled over and hit his head on a console. Carson would be furious if that happened.
“Medical to the bridge!” Caldwell snapped.
Teyla’s hand went to Rodney’s neck. “His pulse is fast.”
“It’s always fast,” John said. He glanced Caldwell’s way, and it was easy to see the scorn on the man’s face. Something else that would have to be dealt with. “Come on, Rodney. Wake up. No manly fainting on the job.”
Rodney didn’t even twitch, and John wanted to curse. He’d known bringing Rodney was a bad idea, but Elizabeth had insisted, and he’d caved.
“Back away, Colonel. Let medical do their job,” Caldwell said.
John gave him over to their care, taking a step back and almost hitting Ronon’s chest. Ronon growled right in John’s ear, “You don’t trust him.”
Turning fast, John glared right in Ronon’s eyes. “I do, too.”
“Prove it to him.”
Medical had Rodney on a gurney and were taking him to the infirmary. Teyla grabbed John by the hand. “We have hours to wait. Let’s do it at Rodney’s side.”
John nodded, but he saw Caldwell’s hand motion. “You guys go ahead. I’ll be right there.”
They fell into line behind the gurney, and John waited, knowing that Caldwell wanted to dress him down in public. It wasn’t the first time in John’s career, and it probably wouldn’t be the last.
Caldwell put his hands on his hips, and John upped the threat level.
“Not your finest hour,” Caldwell said, but his voice was low and hard, not yelling. Yelling might’ve been easier to take. “You’re a--.”
The thing inside John that always got him into trouble snapped. He narrowed his eyes. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve heard your speech more times than I can count, and I’d rather check on McKay than listen to it again.”
“Let me be clear: Dr. McKay is a valued scientist. The Air Force has plenty of colonels,” Caldwell snarled.
“Yes, sir.” John gave him a half-hearted salute and turned his back. The Air Force didn’t have plenty of colonels with the ATA gene, or John might’ve been replaced earlier, but Caldwell was right about one thing. McKay was valued, and it was time for John to act his age instead of his shoe size.
Consciousness was no fun, not with a headache the size of the solar system he’d destroyed. Rodney groaned, curled to his side and put his hands over his eyes. It all tore around in his brain, and he felt like he might explode, or vomit, or something else gross.
“Don’t rush, Dr. McKay.”
“Push the IV.”
The galaxy dimmed in and out for several minutes, and Rodney tried to breathe. Just breathe. Nothing else. His brain clamored for attention, thrusting one image after image at him, and he screwed up his eyes, trying not to notice.
Horrifying facts blasted through him, and he sat up violently, only to be grabbed on either side by nurses. His eyes were wide, and he was sure his voice hit an octave or two above normal. “No, no, no, no!”
“It’s okay, Rodney,” Teyla said from her position near his feet. “You are fine.”
He fell back flat and sucked air, hands thrashing. She was so wrong. It was not fine, and it might never be fine again. He felt the side of his head, almost expecting a knot there, but there was no pain, and it wasn’t that he needed Carson, but he’d feel so much better if Carson were here.
There were whispers and mutters, and he wanted to scream at them all, not Teyla, but everyone else, and especially Sheppard.
“How long until we get there?”
“Should we go home?” That was Teyla.
“Carson was afraid this would happen.”
“Give him a minute. He’s still the best we got,” Sheppard said.
Fury replaced some of the anger, and Rodney fought to sit up again. With a shaking hand, he pointed at him. “Shut up! You! Shut up!”
All the color drained from Sheppard’s face, and he turned on his heel, leaving the infirmary. Rodney clutched his stomach, leaning over, feeling the tug of the IV. The doctor had his hands in the air like he was afraid of Rodney.
Ronon put his big hand on Rodney’s shoulder. “You remember?”
“Of course, you walking wall of hair.” Rodney drew several deep breaths. “I have never felt so stupid!”
“Maybe you don’t remember everything?” And Ronon smiled.
After a second, Rodney choked out a laugh at Ronon’s joke. “Good one.”
“Dr. McKay, please lay down. We need to assess--.”
“No.” Rodney stuck out his arm. “Take this out. I’m fine. Not great, but fine.”
The doctor protested, but Rodney harped at the man until it was done, and then Teyla and Ronon steadied him when he hopped off the gurney.
“Welcome back, Rodney,” Teyla said. “You have been missed.”
“You didn’t like that other version of me? I can’t believe I asked you out on a date!” Rodney flushed. “Please don’t hit me.”
“You were a gentleman.” Teyla didn’t hit him, which was a relief.
“You asked me on a date, too. Remember?”
Rodney’s mouth dropped, and he rounded on Ronon. “I did not!” Then he paused. “Did I?”
Ronon laughed and hugged him, and Rodney tried to punch him, only managing a weak flail.
“Let’s get coffee,” Teyla said.
Now that was an excellent idea, and Rodney gained strength with every step. His head still hurt like someone was playing the bongos, but he had Tylenol in his vest, and he took four with his first cup of coffee. He crouched over the cup, enjoying the smell, not sure what to say.
“You have to speak with the colonel before we arrive at the Ancient ship,” Teyla said.
“Don’t hit him like you hit me,” Ronon said. He had food and was working his way through it.
“Harder, right?” Rodney wished that were the answer to his problems.
“Right.” Ronon handed him some Jell-O. “Eat. It makes everything better.”
Rodney took it, and they sat in companionable silence. He had missed his team, and he hadn’t even known it. “Everything okay with you two?”
Teyla looked at Ronon for a long moment, and then she nodded. “We are well.”
Ducking his head, Ronon might’ve smiled. “Yeah, but Sheppard’s a wreck.”
The memories of their arguments pounded through Rodney’s skull. “I have to fix it or give up and leave Atlantis.”
Their silence was affirmation, and he sipped his coffee. “Did I really date Dr. Simon?”
They nodded and shrugged, and he leaned his face against his palm. The bisexuality cat was certainly out of the bag. “I had made up my mind to stop dating men when I signed on to work the Atlantis project. The American military is rather close-minded about the subject. It just seemed safer.”
“No one cares,” Ronon said. “At all.”
“Well, that’s something.” Rodney finished his coffee and rubbed his head, trying to figure out a way to get over this bump with Sheppard. Nothing came to mind. He’d apologized more than once, and that hadn’t worked. It dawned on Rodney that maybe it wasn’t his problem. Maybe Sheppard really was an asshole.
“Can I sit?”
Rodney looked up, surprised to see Sheppard asking and then flashing back to the last time that had happened. “Of course. Go team.” He didn’t even try to sound sarcastic. “Ronon and Teyla were just informing me that it wasn’t all just a dream.”
“Not even close.” Sheppard had his own coffee, blowing on it before slurping. “We have a mission. Is your brain gonna make it?”
“Maybe.” Rodney hoped so. The silence now was awkward, filled with arguments and apologies that hadn’t worked. His head still hurt, and he’d like to lie down before they explored the Ancient ship and most likely tried not to die. “Is there some place I can rest until we get there?”
“Sure, buddy,” Sheppard said, and with those words, Rodney knew how they were going to play it. They were going to ignore it, and he was strangely okay with that. At least for this one mission, forgetting everything since Doranda was a good decision, and Rodney let his team herd him to a tiny set of quarters and a bed. Teyla helped him take off his vest, and Ronon threw a blanket on him. Sheppard was at the door, and their eyes met for one second, and then Rodney looked away.
Everything was different now.
There was something beyond creepy about a ship chock-full of old Ancients, and Rodney had to quell the desire to whisper twice. His nerves faded when he saw the pods, and he began to draw the conclusion that there was much more to this ship than met the eye.
Getting the life support up and running was easy enough, and he was glad to shuck the cumbersome suit. Then it was back to the pods, and he was thrilled when Teyla found an empty one.
“You’re sure this is a good idea?” Sheppard asked, looking worried.
“What’s the matter, Colonel?” Rodney couldn’t bite back the words. “Don’t you trust me?”
Sheppard narrowed his eyes, shifted on his boots, and the tension between them practically crackled. “Yes, just, be sure. I don’t want you frozen in there.”
“Is it safe?” Teyla asked.
“Would I be volunteering to go if it wasn’t?” Rodney was sure, but of course, he’d been sure when he’d blown a solar system to hell. He took a deep breath, hoping his hands weren’t shaking. “Look, people. There will always be an element of danger when we deal with Ancient technology. If you want everything safe and sound, you have no business leaving Atlantis.”
Ronon’s eyebrows went up. “Not exactly safe there.”
“You know what I mean!”
“We do.” Teyla put a reassuring hand on Rodney’s forearm.
“So, I’ll go.” Sheppard sounded sure about that. “That way, you’re on this side if something goes wrong.”
“Nothing is going to go wrong!” Rodney hoped not at least.
“Great.” Sheppard climbed in the pod, and Rodney decided to not argue about it. Either way, one of them had to go. He regretted that decision when Caldwell turned out to be a colossal pain in the ass and Wraith showed up. It could’ve been worse Rodney supposed, and then he found out they were going to be blown up, and he vowed to stop tempting fate.
There was no moment to think, no chance to hesitate, and Rodney flinched as Sheppard blasted the Wraith. It didn’t take a genius to connect the dots between trust and such. The rest of the mission was a blur, and it felt like Rodney didn’t take a deep breath until the instant before he drank the champagne. He downed it, put his glass on the table, and avoided everyone’s eyes.
“Glad to have you back,” Elizabeth said.
Rodney nodded, unsure what to say. Sheppard bumped Rodney’s shoulder. “We’re a team.”
“A good team,” Teyla said.
Ronon edged closer. “Yeah.”
“Words of wisdom from a caveman.” Rodney rolled his eyes. “If you’ll excuse me, Carson wants to tinker with my brain.”
“I’ll walk you.” Sheppard trooped along beside him, and Rodney found himself almost smiling, but now was not the time to get sentimental or indulge in the fantasy that this was more than residual team good feelings. Sheppard managed to ease closer. “Ronon says you asked him out.”
“I did not!” Rodney was going to try to actually smack Ronon during their next sparring session, instead of just running.
“That’s good, otherwise I’d have to get my feelings hurt.” Sheppard didn’t even slow down after delivering that bombshell. Rodney nearly stumbled, caught up with him, and waited for a smirk or some kind of joke. It never came, but Sheppard stopped at the door to the infirmary. “Hey, I’m glad you got your brain back.”
“I wasn’t faking it.” Rodney felt like he had to say it.
“I know. I was being an idiot, like you always say.” Sheppard rubbed the back of his neck and shrugged. “We cool?”
It was one of those questions that Rodney hated. He grimaced and sighed, going with his usual answer. “You’re cool. I’m--.”
“You’re cool, too,” Sheppard interrupted. He might’ve smiled. “Game of chess later?”
“Unless Carson dissects my brain, yes.” Rodney left him on that note, before they started yelling at each other again. Whatever they had now seemed fragile, whisper thin. Carson took him by the arm and fussed and fussed, and Rodney put up with it.
John took a shower before heading to the cafeteria for food and chess. If he were honest, he was a little depressed. Every time he got his hands on an Ancient ship, it blew it up. At least. He took a deep breath. At least, things were square with Rodney now. They could… start over, maybe.
“Maybe try to be less of an asshole, John,” John muttered right before he pushed the button to take him to see Rodney.
Of course, Rodney wasn’t there, but he stormed in before John had finished his turkey sandwich, getting his food and slumping down across from John. “I swear Carson drains my blood just to annoy me.”
“Probably.” John wasn’t going to step into that old argument. “You feeling okay?”
“Fine. Still embarrassed.” Rodney kept his fork moving, but his cheeks were slightly pink. “I really wish we’d stop exploding Ancient warships.”
“Me too.” John sighed, mostly because he had something he had to say, and he hated that. “I trust you.”
Rodney’s eyebrows went up. “I proved that I trust you.” He’d moved pretty quick when he’d hit the floor. He sighed, echoing John. “I suppose you proved it as well by climbing in that pod.”
John nodded. He’d been an ass, and he didn’t want to talk about it any longer. He swallowed hard and tried to talk above a whisper. “Want to play chess in my room?”
There was a very long pause, and Rodney held very still. “Really?” He sounded as if he’d been hit with a stunner. “You aren’t just teasing? Like usual?”
“No,” John croaked. He hastily drank some water. Rodney leaned back, crossed his arms, and smirked. He smirked. John found a glare. “Shut up.”
Later, much later, the air cool on Rodney’s skin as he lay on John’s ridiculous bed in a post-orgasm haze, he decided that his big brain had had a plan all along.