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Field Trip

Chapter Text

“Oh, come on!”

“I said, no .”

“Sheppard, I can’t have one of your random goons protecting half the science team, what if something happens?”

John stopped abruptly in the middle of the hallway they were traversing, spinning to face his current tormentor.

“Rodney, this is a field trip,” he grit through his teeth, stressing each word. “The planet’s been checked and rechecked. Your merry gang’s been there two times already. And if I don’t deliver these reports by tomorrow, Elizabeth’s gonna flip!”

“You could type them planet-side, basking in the sun…” McKay said, his smile fake and saccharine. “I really need you there. Who’s gonna stop me when I get violent? That concentration of moronic per square meter can end poorly and I need someone to hold me back,” his voice dropped to mutter then “without harming me in the process…”

“No. Just no. You’ll have Zelenka, you’ll manage. I, on the other hand, don’t intend to torture myself with reports and two days of technobabble at the same time. I did it once and I’m not going to this time. End of discussion”

Rodney pouted, watching John’s back as he resumed his stroll down the hallway. To be fair, the Colonel had a point. Ten scientists in one place, for hours, was grating even for him. And although he strongly believed that the periodic science field trips were one of his brighter ideas, Rodney dreaded them himself.

It started about two months ago, when he noticed the tension in the labs growing. And if even he noticed it, the problem was bad. In times of peace and quiet, the science team proved to be a troublesome bunch. They clashed in many ways, especially sharing the too small spaces of the science division. Cabin fever. City exploration could help only so much and the new science areas were still a work in progress.

That’s why, ‘inspired’ by one of Elizabeth’s comments (he refused to admit that it was her idea in the first place), he decided that some variety was in order. Since he was painfully aware that it was in the nature of the smart kind to loathe the outdoors (not long ago, he was the prime example of that. What the hell happened since then?), he devised a plan to engage them scientifically… outside.

There was a small, uninhabited planet - P2X-817 - that turned out to house Ancient ruins. It was low priority on their list in times of crisis because the more important parts of the science outpost was decimated even before the Ancients left the galaxy and the other half required ridiculous amounts of research and restoration. The equipment there, huge machines stationed amongst crumbled rocks that were once buildings, were in a sore state from exposure and war damage, but were clearly some sort of experimental power generators. Even though the Ancients didn’t deem them good enough to salvage, the new Atlantis inhabitants could use additional power.

And so, McKay, with help from Zelenka, created groups of ten that each week would go there and do some restoration work. Rodney didn’t give it a snowball chance in hell to work but the pretense was good enough, so he didn’t share this opinion with anyone. The scientists complained loudly about being pulled away from more important projects but he could clearly see that every group came back a bit happier and more relaxed each time. He secretly enjoyed seeing how they bantered and laughed between themselves after coming back to Atlantis with sun kissed skin, smell of summer grass in their clothes and new wind under their wings.

Rodney really hoped that they won’t figure out this was all a ruse for them to get some of that D vitamin - he wouldn’t want them to think he was being nice to them or something.

He realized that most of the town’s population resented him, the scientists most of all. For now, Elizabeth’s authority kept them in check - they knew that Rodney’s standing was her doing. But, after only a few months, most of them were still not used to his abrasive ways and felt abused by his loud disposition. The ones that worked with him before, had it easier. They were at least a bit desensitized. But sometimes, he wondered how far his scientific superiority will take him in the leadership game in the long run.

He was not an inspiring person. He was not even a dignified person. He didn’t have the social skills to deal with humans. What he did have, on the other hand, was a very keen sense of hearing. And he heard a lot of their comments on how whiny, arrogant and self-centered he was.

That’s okay, Rodney told himself. He didn’t need them to like him, he didn’t even need them to respect him in any capacity other than his genius mind. At least for now. He consoled himself with the thought that, at the moment, many of them were as fractious as he.

And damn them, he’s gonna give them some relaxation time if it were to kill him.

----

“Just look at the asshole, with his SPF-100 sunscreen. I swear, he drives me crazy.”

Radek glanced at McKay, standing a ways back, commandeering equipment placement, while rubbing the sunblock on his neck. Then his eyes returned to the two gossiping scientists nearby. This was not the first of those talks he overheard today.

“Yeah, the princess can’t even carry more than one case at a time. His wrist hurts, boo hoo. I’m so done with his hypochondriac lies. He can carry his scanners back himself. I’m not doing anything to help his whiny ass today.”

“I have no idea how Sheppard’s team puts up with him, that sort of liability in the field must be staggering.”

Zelenka left then to take care of setting up a small station on the other side of the machine. The growing hostilities were grating his nerves. He worried that if this goes on, Elizabeth will be forced to pull Rodney’s title… and Radek had a pretty good idea to whom it would transition. He definitely wanted to avoid that. For now, life was quiet. But overall, he strongly felt that making life and death decisions was not his thing. Rodney was the one that thrived in these situations, solving problems of astronomical proportions on a daily basis. Not to mention that the Chief Science Officer was a post inextricably connected to being a part of the main offworld team. And as much as he liked this idea of scientific downtime on a lovely planet, running around with Sheppard’s merry gang wasn’t something he saw himself doing gladly. Things were good as they were - being McKay’s sidekick wasn’t as bad as it sounded.

Hours later, in the late afternoon, Radek’s worries were long forgotten. The work was relaxing, their ‘schedule’ deliberately set at a snail’s pace. A light breeze was blowing, the sun was shining pleasantly through the clouds and life was good, overall. The planet was nice. And Radek felt grateful that for once, the Ancients decided to have their tech labs abandoned on such a lovely planet.

His content musings lastet all of three seconds, as gunshots rang in the distance, where the Stargate was.

His head spun around, first to glimpse the other nine scientists raising from what they were doing, and then to the one Marine that, until now, longued nearby. He could be heard calling out to his radio and then moving back towards where McKay was already making his way to meet him halfway. Not waiting to stand close, the Marine said loudly:

“Doctor, please gather your people. I’m going to check…”

They would never know what he wanted to check, as rapid shots could be heard and the young man dropped where he stood. Chaos ensued, people ducking for cover, when a leather-clad, hairy monstrosity of a man emerged from the forest not far from their puddle jumper at the far end of the clearing. He seemed in no hurry, as he took his aim at Kusanagi, clearly meaning to shoot her next before… falling down himself.

Radek stared with wide eyes at McKay, standing where he stopped, sporting a 9mm (where did he get a gun from so fast? Was he carrying one on a goddamn field trip ?), aimed at the dead man. His eyes were round and lips parted as he swept his surroundings with a quick glance. His gaze zeroed in on Radek and he lowered the gun, his jaw clenching and body springing into motion.

“Zelenka!” he shouted “get the people to the treeline! Here!” with that, he clicked the safety on and threw the Beretta to Radek. Not looking if Zelenka caught it, he was already running towards the fallen Marine.

The scientists swarmed, making their way to Radek, who stood there, uncertainly, watching Rodney check the soldier’s pulse. The physicist’s eyes closed briefly. He then started turning the body over and unclipping the black vest. He glanced in their direction and something dark flashed through his face.

“Did I stutter?” he shouted, his voice pitched high. “Tree line, NOW!. I’ll cover for you, don’t know how many there…”

More shots rang, and more men started emerging from the forest again. The scientists were already making their way to the trees, fear making them move faster but with no coordination whatsoever. Radek reached the low bushes and spun around just in time to see McKay succeed in his struggle with the belt that held a P90 to the corpse’s body and raise it to his eye level. He shot a few short bursts before grabbing the vest he stole from a dead soldier and ducking to the side. His gunfire was returned but the enemies, seemingly more cautious than the first one, were still making their way to the campsite.

From their hiding place, they could see Rodney look around the camp, spot something and give another burst of gunfire to the advancing group. One of the hostiles fell back with a yell. Rodney, not wasting time to watch the small commotion of people trying to find cover, fished in the vest. He obviously knew where to look, as his hand emerged with a hand grenade, which he struggled with clumsily, trying to release the pin without dropping his gun.

They all watched with morbid fascination, as their Chief Science Officer peeked from his hiding place behind a pile of crates, before standing up and throwing the grenade. It sailed in an arch straight between two groups of enemies. It didn’t quite reach any of them but when it connected with the ground, it was enough to graze both of them with fire and debris.

McKay was already running by then. He sprinted through the open field to the other side of the camp, the bloodied vest hanging open from his frame. There was nothing graceful to his run but the man was surprisingly fast. He didn’t even hesitate before grabbing a computer and what seemed to be a life sign detector, before making a sharp turn in their direction. This might have just saved his life, as rapid gunfire resumed at this moment.

Seeing them still semi-visible in the bushes, Rodney snapped his jaw in sudden anger, before waving the gun at them.

Run !” he shouted, before stopping by one of the ancient machines and returning fire.

They did as they were told, clambering deeper into the woods. They ran for long enough to slow down from exhaustion Radek, keeping to the back of the noisy group since he had their only gun, could see people ahead of him suddenly disappearing down a hidden ledge of what turned out to be a small ravine. Cries of pain and fear could be heard and when Zelenka reached the drop, he could see scientists helping each other to their feet. He slid down the five-foot high rocky drop and surveyed the situation. Simpson was sitting on the ground, clutching her ankle, while Malozzi was frantically trying to stop the bleeding from a gash on Donaldson’s forehead.

“What is going on?!” Coleman asked Radek as soon as he joined them.

“I do not know,” he answered truthfully, lost. The gunfire behind them ceased a while ago and he was more interested in listening for any signs of danger.

There was a nearing sound of someone running, sudden rustle above them and earth pelted them as Doctor Rodney McKay tumbled gracelessly, practically falling on top of Radek.

There was another commotion as they all swarmed the scientist. Radek tentatively wriggled away from McKay, noticing that the other man was still clutching the laptop to his chest, curled around it protectively. No one dared to help the man up, they were made very aware of just how much McKay didn’t like to be touched a long time ago. Instead, they started throwing questions at the back of his head, as he uncurled from where he lay.

“Shut the hell up, what are you, stupid? Sound carries like crazy in the woods!” he barked to them, trying to raise himself from the ground.

“Rodney, what’s going on?” Radek asked very quietly in the silence that followed. McKay, now sitting at their feet, hastily opened the laptop, wincing at the cracked display. He threw Zelenka an angry glare, as he started typing furiously. He looked a bit ridiculous with his feet in front of him, twigs in his hair and mud on his face. And a bit scary with the fierce scowl and the bloodied military vest on his shoulders.

“We were attacked, obviously,” he answered sourly, not stopping.

“Yes, but who were they? We thought the planet was uninhabited,” said someone from above them.

“Step away from me before I catch your stupid,” Rodney barked. “They must’ve come through the Stargate, that’s where the rest of the Marines were stationed. And before you ask any more brilliant questions, no - I don’t know what their intentions are. No - I don’t know how many there are. No - I don’t know why they decided to shoot first and ask questions never. There were about twenty when I ran. What I know is that they were clearly here after the machinery in the ruins, they didn’t seem to want to chase us. And as much as it pains me…” he raised his head to look at them with a dark glint in his eyes, “... I can’t let them have it.” His index finger then dropped on the Enter key.

There was a moment of complete quiet. And then, from a few hundred meters back, a series of explosions rocked the ruins. The scientists, not prepared for the tremendous noise, ducked reflexively. Small cries of fear rose from them but then the natural silence of the forest, not disturbed even by the wildlife, took hold soon after.

Chapter Text

“The place was rigged?!” someone from the small crowd hissed after they decided that there was to be no more mayhem.

“Oh my God, those were priceless findings…” someone else moaned in the back.

“Donaldson, of course it was rigged. It’s an ancient power generator lab connected to a long-range weapon facility five miles from here, plus all our equipment and computers with tremendous amount of data. And as much as I agree that this might have been valuable if we ever got the generators fixed, It’s practically standard procedure with long-term offworld projects like this to secure them from falling into the wrong hands. You know, with the Wraith looming and whatnot.” McKay answered matter-of-factly, handing the laptop to Zelenka, who was watching him very carefully.

Rodney was sweating profusely, which was sort of expected after what happened in the clearing. But as he clambered to his feet, he grunted heavily and all color seemed to drain from his face, as he swayed a bit. Radek stabilized him quickly.

“Are you all right?” he asked, peering at his friend.

“Yes, yes. Just winded, took a poor tumble. We need to round up back to the gate,” the CSO answered impatiently, pushing away from his helping hands and not looking at any of them. Radek’s brows drew together.

“Wait, what weapon facility?” Donaldson cut in.

“Ancient one. You deaf or something?”

“We were never told about a weapon facility…”

“There wasn’t much to tell, I’ve been there, like, five times and found absolutely nothing to drool over,” Rodney muttered, looking around. “The weapon system was levelled. But our new friends there didn’t necessarily know that. We discovered it only after the second recon. And its purpose took a while to figure out.”

“Five… times? So this was all investigated and researched already?” someone else asked.

“Well, clearly, we had to make sure the planet was safe for your sorry lot to work on AND not bring mayhem to the galaxy by accident. This was supposed to be a safe haven. Listen. As much as I love the chit-chat, we really need to make our way to the gate. I don’t know how many more of those bozos there are.”

“We need to take care of the wounded first,” Radek said and McKay followed his gaze to the three people that were sitting down - Simpson’s leg was swollen and she cried a bit as Malozzi was trying to wrap it. Coleman looked pale, as she was trying to stem the bleeding from where she cut her calf and Donaldson, even though he seemed very vocal just a few seconds ago, looked slightly dazed as blood kept trickling from his head.

“Make it fast,” McKay said and they could hear the strain in his voice. He was the only one from their group that was a regular in offworld expeditions and it was showing now - his gaze was calculating and as he poked around the vest for field med kit, they could see this was not the first time he was dealing with a situation like this one.

He made his way to the injured people, silently handing them the small packets of gauze and bandages. He looked pale and scared, just like the rest of them. But it didn’t escape their attention that not a single complaint left his mouth ever since the first shots could be heard in the distance. Like a switch was flipped the moment their day went sour.

They’ve seen this before, to some extent. Under duress of their circumstances, he did seem more focused and task oriented. But this - this was a whole other person.

“Doctor McKay, I think your hand is bleeding,” Coleman said cautiously, taking the bandages from him. And surely, a small trickle of blood was making its way down the back of his palm, from somewhere under his sleeve.

“Oh, brilliant,” he hissed, rolling the material away. There was a thick bandage covering half of his forearm up to his wrist, now completely soaked with blood. “Carson’s gonna have my ass for this,” he grumbled, wiping the blood away and peeking under the warp. “And he did such a nice stitching job, too…”

They stared at him, as he slowly and carefully sat next to Coleman, snatched one of the bandage rolls and carefully started wrapping it around the existing patch, wincing slightly.

“We didn’t know you were hurt, Rodney,” Radek said carefully. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“It’s a leftover from the last mission. The hand’s fine, probably a few stitches gave way. Carson specifically told me not to strain it under the threat of cross stitching the word ‘idiot’ on me. I imagine that ‘straining’ includes tumbling into ravines and shooting a rifle,” McKay rambled, focusing on tucking the bandage into a lopsided knot, failing miserably. Mallozzi, who had the extended first-aid training, moved from Simpson and took it from his hand carefully, like he was dealing with an angry snake. With a sort of satisfaction, Radek remembered that he was the one to comment about Rodney not carrying stuff earlier that day.

McKay sighed heavily and and closed his eyes in resignation, rubbing them with his other hand. Radek noticed it was shaking. That he allowed Mallozzi his ministrations without a word was even a greater testament to the fact that something was clearly wrong .

Only a few minutes passed when they heard shouts from the distance. Their heads spun in the direction of the late ruins in apprehension.

“Okay people, we need to move. Like, yesterday,” McKay snapped and pulled his hand away from Malozzi. He seems to gather his strength before pulling himself back to a standing position where he wobbles for a fraction of a second. A drop of sweat made its way down his brow as he moved to start walking to his left.

“Isn’t the gate that way?”

“I think Dr McKay wants us to avoid enemy, even if it means we need to circle the area a bit,” Esposito piped up and Rodney turned to her, surprised.

“Finally someone that has at least two brain cells connecting,” he muttered, as he made his way deeper into the woods. They all followed him silently.

---

The trek was difficult. The underbrush was thick and littered with rocks, but still they made a good distance in the first fifteen minutes. The Stargate was a few miles away from the ruins and now, tired and scared, they could all keenly feel the loss of the jumper that, unfortunately, was still stationed in the clearing.

Radek heard a short discussion somewhere in the back of the group about why they hadn’t ran to it in the first place, but they were smart people - they could see the reasoning behind McKay’s orders quite clearly. The first enemy emerged from the woods just meters away from their transporter. Running there, seeing how many showed up soon after, would have meant almost certain death, as the invaders didn’t seem to be interested in taking prisoners.

After a while, the brisk walk slowed to a painful crawl. They were all exhausted and the adrenaline rush that was keeping them all moving, dwindled out of existence. Simpson, as much as they’d like to deny it, was slowing them down considerably, Coleman and Donaldson didn’t look so hot either. They were all tired - this was probably the most exercise some of them got since their preliminary fitness tests, before joining Atlantis expedition. And they still had possible hours of walking ahead of them.

“Doctor McKay?” Esposito moved to the front of the group, addressing the physicist carefully. The way he carried himself, plowing through the underbrush with his jaw locked tightly and clouds in his eyes, definitely didn’t encourage conversation.

“What,” he barked and it sounded… winded. There was a weird sort of tremble in this one short word and Radek had to crane his neck to look at him, as McKay glared at the pretty young woman.

“They don’t seem to be following us… Maybe we could stop for a bit? Let the injured rest…?”

“The injured will need to suck it up, if they want to make a hasty return to their cozy labs,” Rodney grit through his teeth and the breathy stutter that they could now clearly hear in his voice rang all sorts of alarm bells in Zelenka’s head. Not only his, as it appeared.

“Sir, are you sure? You don’t look so…”

“We don’t have time for this, Esposito!” was the terse answer as he spun around to continue on his way…

...and his legs buckled under his weight, dropping him suddenly to all fours. A startled groan of pain escaped his lips as he clutched his midriff with one hand, his eyes screwed shut.

“Rodney!” Zelenka was at his side instantly, together with a few others, easing him to the ground completely.

“On second t-thought… a f-few minutes b-break s-s-sounds good…” McKay stuttered out, as they all crowded around him. Mallozzi was already peeling the physicist’s hand away from his ribs, undoing the clasps of his vest.

The light jumper he had underneath was soaked with blood around his lower left ribs. Gasps could be heard, as Malozzi, with gentle help from Radek, pulled it up to reveal torn edges of a bullet wound.

“You were shot !?” Radek exclaimed, horrified

“A little louder, why don’t you! I don’t think the whole forest heard you!” McKay snapped, jutting his chin out defensively. “It didn’t seem too serious,” he added after a moment, sputtering a bit.

“Sir, there’s no exit would,” Mallozzi said, clearly shaken. No first-aid training prepared him to handle that sort of injury. “I think the bullet hit your rib”

“Well, ain't I lucky. I get a souvenir. And you get to keep your grubby fingers if you remove them from my person.”

Mellozzi hesitated, as if he actually wanted to move away. Instead, Radek could almost see his thought process as he assessed the situation. The wound was nod bleeding hard at the moment but the angry flesh around it was swollen and torn.

“Sorry Doctor McKay, you’ll just have to wait with chopping them off until we get back. I need to stop the bleeding.”

“I’ll scout for someplace more secluded for a shelter,” a voice suddenly piped up and they all looked at Kusanagi with astonishment. The small, awkward woman didn’t wait for acknowledgement, instead moving away from the group.

As Mallozzi prepared to dress the wound, Radek looked around. They were not prepared for this. They were scientists, most of the having next to none offworld experience. Even though they were reluctant to rely on Rodney, at the moment he was their best chance to go back home relatively safely. And to be fair, his little stunt at the ruins did put him in an entirely new light in the eyes of those that didn’t know him too well before today.

A sense of fear and unease radiated from his colleagues and Zelenka cursed their bad luck. Their last check-in with Atlantis was literally minutes before the attack, last one planned for today. The next one - the one they’d have to miss to alert the city of trouble - was scheduled for next morning, hours away. And from experience, Radek knew that the command center usually waited a few hours before reaching out.

It looked like it’s going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

Joseph’s fingers were shaking as he tentatively cleaned his boss’ wound. This was not what he wanted to be doing. This was the reason he didn’t sign up for an offworld team. He liked safe. He liked quiet. The first-aid training wasn’t even an attempt at bravery on his part - it was taken purely on a dare from an insanely cute engineer he worked with a few years back. The girl never went out with him. But he had to admit, he was grateful for how it turned out today.

It appeared that the vest slowed the bullet down, which might have saved McKay’s ribs from snapping entirely and puncturing his lung. Mallozzi didn’t know what drove the scientist to grab for it when he did but it was clearly another stroke of the man’s genius. The weapon he’s been shot from was crude and  didn’t have much fire power, but the projectile’s velocity was enough to break through tactical gear, which meant that without it McKay might have been long dead by now.

His patient, looking a bit dazed, lay unmoving under his nervous ministrations. Well, maybe not unmoving, the man seemed to be in constant motion all his life. He trembled lightly and flinched every time Joseph touched him but it was safe to say that they expected more… everything. More complaints. More pained lamenting? Squirming? In the labs, he seemed like such a complete wuss, it was unbelievable that he not only didn’t admit to the injury but ran and walked with it for nearly an hour without emitting as much as a peep.

Oh, they knew very well that his grating, loud personality was a well-honed mask. No one was naturally this daunting. But only now did it start to occur to Mallezzi that this abrasive veneer might be something more than a way to gain attention.

“This is going to hurt,” he said apologetically, as he showed the physicist the disinfectant fished from the vest’s first-aid kit. McKay’s Adam’s apple bobbed heavily but he nodded, his gaze scared. They looked at each other for a moment longer and Joseph realized in this moment why Dr McKay avoided eye contact with people. Because suddenly Mallozzi understood that his eyes were the poster case of the whole ‘eyes being the window of the soul’ thing.

“I swear to god, If you’re hitting on me right now, you’ll be buried in waste recycling projects for the rest of your stay on Atlantis,” Rodney muttered after a moment. “Stop with the eyeballing, pour the damn thing and let’s get this over with.”

Joseph flushed heavily, even more so when he heard a few sniggers behind him. Ducking his head, he focused back on the task at hand, as he doused the wound with the disinfectant.

McKay jerker under his hands and if it weren’t for Zelenka holding his arms, would have probably bolted away completely. As it was, his fists clenched at the jumper he was holding up as his muscles spasmed, emitting a guttural growl. Joseph could swear he heard his teeth grating as the scientist looked around wildly, probably afraid of how much noise he was making.

Still, he was holding up admirably. Joseph was impressed, knowing first-hand how alcohol burned on open wounds. Still, the noises were not pretty in any way and he could hear people behind him make various noises of distress. Zelenka looked green with worry.

“That was fun,” McKay ground out after a long moment, his nostrils flaring. “Let’s not do that ever again, ever.”

“Yes sir, I’ll happily agree,” he answered with fake lightness, as he gently applied one of their last dressings.

---

Miko came back to a silent horror show. Just a moment ago she was eager to happily report her findings but terror replaced her optimism as she saw her brave, genius boss choking on a pained moan before their eyes. Her respect for him grew ten times that moment. And then she realized that she’s been staring at his exposed abdomen, covered in blood as it was, but still, naked for her to see.

Her cheeks flushed crimson and she had to turn away. She prayed that none of them saw that, she wouldn’t bear for them to see her dishonoring this man with her thoughts.

“Hey, Miko,” she heard behind her and froze. Turning slowly, she looked at Harriet Hewston with mortification.

“Scary, right? I couldn’t watch either, I’m really bad with blood,” the other woman continued. “I hope that’s the worst of it. Did you find anything?”

“Y-yes… yes,” Miko gasped out, cursing her squeaky voice.

“Oh, great, we could use a break. I don’t think we’ll be getting much farther before dark. Dr McKay, Miko found a hideout!”

“Marvelous,” the man muttered sourly as Zelenka slowly helped him to his feet. “Is it far?”

“A few kilometers in the direction we’re headed, Dr McKay,” Miko answered timidly, wringing her hands. “A hillside cave, should be big enough to fit us all for the night.”

“Ugh, that’s exactly what I needed, another cave,” he grumbled and Miko’s stomach dropped. He was displeased. She failed again!

“All right, lead the way, Doctor Kusanagi.”

Somewhere from the group of scientists she heard “how did she make kilometers in such a short time? Did she run ?”

Yes. Yes, she did.

----

“Stop glaring at me like I told your grandmother about your porn collection.”

“Rodney, how could you not tell us you got shot?!”

“Again, keep your voice down, drama queen.”

“This is a life threatening injury! The bullet’s still there!”

“You have nothing to complain about until you have to carry me.”

“I practically am carrying you!”

“I’m leaning slightly on you, you big baby!”

“Define slightly.”

“Shut up, I’m concentrating. Walking downhill is hard.”

“And I swear, after you run away from the infirmary, I am not hauling you back to your quarters from the lab again.”

“Oh come on, this was one time!”

“One time this month, ty nevděčný hajzle!”

“Watch it, you might just find yourself fixing an old Kavanagh project.”

“Too late, you already assigned the last of those. Watch your step here, if you slip I am leaving you in the mud.”

“No you won’t, then you’d have to manage that ungrateful bunch. And I know just how much you loooove those staff reports, Radek.”

“Nemůžu to stát. Nemůžu to stát a já ho kopnu.”

“You do remember I’ve taken up language lessons, righ?”

While they let their banter flow aimlessly, they exchanged covert glances. There were a few quiet sniggers from behind them and the tension eased just a bit. Rodney discovered early on in their expedition that a moderate dose of lighthearted jibes between people in charge made for a good stress relief and diversion from people’s own worry.

Not many people around McKay were aware of his skill at using various masks and their respective personality traits in that manner. With time, he learned when to use his angry outbursts, paranoid fearfulness, even how to boost his hypochondria to a whole new level of ridiculous in order to diffuse tension or divert attention. He was quite a skilled actor, if he wanted to be. Although, the awkward, starved for attention, socially gullible side of him was something he could never quite manage to hide, as much as he tried. All he could do was to take all the emotional baggage and personality traits that came with that and use them to the best of his ability.

It took Radek years to uncover these carefully guarded secrets. And almost as much to learn how to roll with it, how to boost the effect Rodney McKay had on his surroundings. How to manage fallouts. They were a good team, not only in terms of science. It was a mutual deal that emerged naturally - Radek brought the rationality to the table, the pragmatism to offset or emphasize Rodney’s special kind of crazy, depending on the situation. In return, he got to be the wiser one. The one people secretly admired for putting up with all that crap. The one they sympathized with. Or at least that’s how he felt and that was enough.

What he had with McKay was not perfect, definitely a little twisted, but it worked for them - and for others, after a while.

Right now Radek had difficulty balancing their magical act and his worry. McKay was leaning heavily on him and the few kilometers up and down the not-so-gentle slopes were a grueling journey. The physicist was getting winded from all the talking, whispering a complaint about it hurting to breath in a while ago. What alarmed Radek even more, was the heat that radiated from the physicist. No sanitation could change the fact, that a bullet left in a wound was nothing more than an infection pill. Rodney’s eyes were already glazing and when his movement became sluggish not much after their little banter, Zelenka was painfully reminded of another important matter.

“Rodney,” he muttered so that no one else could hear.

“Mm?”

“When was the last time you ate something?”

“Um… supper?”

What .”

“Jesus, how many times do I have to tell you to keep your voice down!”

“Are you insane, man? Do you not remember what happened in Siberia? Můj bože, Rodney!”

“I’ll eat the the vest’s MRE when we get to the shelter.”

It didn’t escape Radek’s attention that Rodney couldn’t name the MRE as the dead soldier’s.

Chapter Text

“O no no no no no no no no. I am not getting in there .”

“You can’t stay out here. It’s starting to rain. You have a fever. You need to rest in warmth.”

“Exposure is way more fun than tons of earth crushing you to death. Everything is more fun than tons of anything crushing you to death. Well, maybe not Wraith. And drowning. And...”

“Rodney…”

“Dr McKay?”

“What is it, um… Esposito?”

“If they are tracking us and they spot you outside of the cave, you could endanger the whole group.”

There was a dead silence for a moment, all of them waiting for the sure outburst.

“Oh, goddamn you and your reasonable arguments.”

The cave was not tiny per se. But in the semi-darkness that was descending, it looked like a gaping mouth in the face of the mountain. They awkwardly huddled together for warmth, since they agreed that lighting a fire would be the worst possible idea and the night was slowly getting colder.

They situated Rodney somewhere in the middle, not in the far back of the shelter, where his breathing hitched and eyes got wild for a moment, but between themselves. The military vest now served as a makeshift pillow and someone provided their light jacket to throw on his trembling shoulders.

Mallozzi told them that the infection was progressing fast and that if they didn’t get help, it could get dangerous.

“Doctor Kusanagi,” McKay then said and she perked up immediately.

“Yes, sir?”

“You know how to get to the gate from here?” his words were getting a bit slurred.

“Yes.”

“Good. Take Esposito and the Life Signs Detector and scout ahead. Check how many people are at the Stargate and the easiest routes to access the DHD with the least possibility of horrible death. Esposito, take the 9mm but use it only if absolutely necessary. Return as fast as possible and for heaven’s sake, watch each other’s backs. I swear, if I have to make one more of those family death notice videos, I’m gonna lose it and stab someone.”

The women nodded and left quietly. The whole group stared after them until they vanished in the dark and then zeroed in on Rodney as one, even Radek was surprised.

“Seriously? Kusanagi and Esposito? Are you out of your mind?”

“Not as much as I thought I was just a few minutes ago. They were the best choice from your merry bunch of losers.”

“How do you figure that, oh Wise One? Hm?” Radek said, crossing his arms. Rodney blinked at him blearily for a moment.

“Esposito was raised in military bases, her father was a, um… military something something. She knows her way around a gun, at least. And Kusanagi, apparently, is a very dedicated survivalist and attended some pretty hardcore youth bootcamps. The tiny Asian could kick your ass into next week.” His eyes closed somewhere in the middle of his mumbled response so he completely missed the astonished looks he got for it.

“And you know that how?” was Donaldson’s incredulous question.

“Contrary to popular belief,” Rodney’s eyebrows creased with the increasing effort of talking. He smiled humorlessly, raising a shaky finger in a gesture of a drunk philosopher that fit his current speaking cadence. “I do read your files, people.”

After that, he seemed to drift a bit. Radek frowned. Rodney was loosing coherence and Zelenka was pretty certain that it wasn’t just from the infection.

“All right, Doctor McKay, it’s time to eat something,” he said. “Help him sit, please.”

“We have food?” Simpson asked hopefully.

“There are a few MREs from the vest but we’ll have to share. And he really needs to get some sugar in him so he gets a whole package.”

“Don’t tell me you buy into this hypoglycemic crap, too!” Donaldson commented but he wasn’t as sure of himself as just this morning. His face fell, when Radek’s dark glare turned on him.

“Oh, I buy into it,” he said with deceptive calm. “I bought into it when I had to wait for a chopper in a week-long blizzard in Siberia, glad for his seizures because they were not a coma. I also buy into it every time he crashes after a week long crisis on Atlantis because I am as busy as he is and forget to remind him to eat or at least take a glucose pill. Just because you do not see it happening, does not mean it doesn’t.”

“O-oh…”

There was a moment of loaded silence after the short tirade. Radek Zelenka was generally not a very outspoken person and because of that, it made even more of an impression. They all started when a throat was cleared.

“Now Radek, stop selling my sob stories before I publish my autobiography,” was a quiet quip, followed by a nervous shuffle of Rodney’s hands. He finally pointed at the MRE. “Gimme that.”

They handed him the food and helped him up a bit. No one commented on his messy eating. They shared the rest of the packets as evenly as possible.

They laid McKay down, after that. Coleman dribbled some water into his mouth from a bottle she’s been carrying with her since they left Atlantis. They all listened to his heavy breathing amongst the muted sounds of an alien forest, waiting for two petite women to come back and tell them if they could do anything to get back home. Mallozzi busied himself with checking other scientist’s injuries, as much as the darkness and the tiny flashlight they had allowed.

They murmured consolations to each other, someone cried a bit. They knew that come morning, Atlantis would send someone so check why they haven’t dialed in to report, but so many things could go wrong in that time. So many thing did go wrong. Fear was their blanket for now, with added bonus of guilt and worry over their head of department. With everything they saw and learned about him today, quiet questions arose what else he’s been hiding behind his cynical, childish mask of general assholery. It was undeniable that he most probably saved their lives today, risking his own in the process. Even if they didn’t feel inclined to befriend the man, they at least owed it to him to get him back home in one piece.

Esposito and Kusanagi came back after about two hours. By that time, Mckay woke up from his daze, a bit more lucid after the bare minimum of nutrition he got.

“Report,” he said upon seeing them and giggled right after. “Damn, I always wanted to say that.”

Esposito threw an uncertain glance at Zelenka but Miko didn’t hesitate with her answer.

“There are about forty men and women around the gate, making camp, Dr McKay. They seem to be a mix of soldiers and what I would assume are scientists but their perimeter is solidly secured and in my opinion not breakable with our available resources. There are patrols scattered around the hills, we had to work hard to avoid them.. We think that they are some sort of traveling expedition, they have a lot of equipment with them.”

Rodney stared at her for a moment, his face expressionless.

“Kusanagi, when we get back, you should definitely consider military career. You obviously have more talent for that than for any sort of science.”

The small woman seemed pleased and offended at the same time.

“Squeeze in, warm up. The rain probably didn’t do you any favors, one fevered scientist is enough for today.”

“Yes, sir.”

---

“This is bad. Real, real bad,” Rodney mumbled to Radek, doing his best to keep his voice from reaching the other scientists. The Czech nodded, glancing into his friend’s bloodshot eyes.

“We have two hours to the morning report deadline. It’s not that long.”

“Yeah, maybe not but assuming Kusanagi know how to count without using visual aids and guessed their numbers correctly, it will be difficult to avoid discovery from their patrols. They’re probably scouting for the hidden weapon facility, so they’ll look into every nook and cranny.”

“What should we do then?”

“You didn’t seriously just ask me that. How should I know? It’s Sheppard’s thing to be all tactical and strategy-y!”

Rodney seemed barely lucid and Radek felt bad to push him. His fever was on the rise again and the added stress of their new surveillance was definitely not helping. But they had no choice. They needed some sort of plan.

“So ask yourself: ‘what would Sheppard do?’”

McKay seemed to consider that, looking to the entrance.

---

“What would Sheppard do… What would Sheppard do…” Rodney muttered to himself, thoughts swirling in a fevered soup of disjointed thoughts. The problem with being a genius was that the constant thinking never ceased, even when his brain was physically incapable of doing it right. It was a dizzying array of half-formed ideas, bad puns and muddled equations that plagued his days, only made worse by the blasted infection.

“What would Sheppard do…”

“I would retake the jumper but wouldn’t recommend that to you.”

Rodney flinched, his eyes going large as a black-clad, wild-haired man strolled casually through the cave entrance, his hands in his pockets. He wasn’t wearing tactical gear and was weaponless, his pants and t-shirt completely out of place in the cold night. It took Rodney all of three seconds to realize what this was.

“Oh, come on!” he said way too loudly, not realizing that he startled the dozing bunch of scientists half to death. He didn’t register that, as the hallucination looked at him with this annoying smirk.

“R-Rodney?” Zelenka’s uncertain voice made its way through the haze his mind was currently in but he ignored it completely. He was livid.

“I refuse this. I don’t want you here,” he stated as strongly as he possibly could, pointing his finger at the hallucination.

“You can refuse all you want. But you should move from here.”

“No. No. You don’t get to give me any advice. You refused to come here so you don’t get a say in this.”

The not-John leaned forward a bit.

“I am not here. I’m you, dumbass. And I tell you you should move from the cave.”

“We can’t move, we’ll be spotted in five minutes! We have injured people. I’m injured people!”

“Yes, Rodney, you are,” the vision answered pointedly, in this annoyingly Sheppard way. “But when did that ever stop you?”

“Like, five hours ago, when I collapsed with this burning hole in my side! How do you imagine I make the trek, huh? You stupid hallucinations and yous stupid advice. I swear, if you start stripping right now I am so done.”

“McKay, you are making yourself look even crazier than you are in front of your subordinates.”

Rodney froze for a moment, then spun his head to the ten people that stared at him with morbid fascination. Mallozzi was tentatively moving towards him, raising his hand to put it on Rodney’s arm. One death glare stopped the motion.

“Doctor McKay? Are you all right?”

“Well does it look like I’m all right?!” McKay snapped defensively. “I’m hallucinating a John Sheppard. Under what circumstances is that all right?”

From the corner of his eye he could see Sheppard snigger.

“Oh, laugh all you want, you crappy imitation!”

Just then a shiver wracked his whole body and he folded in on himself. Warm hands steadied him before he toppled over.

“We need to do something, he’s getting worse!” he heard from the side.

“Rodney,” John cajoled mildly.

What!

The people around him started but he ignored them.

“Remember what happened when you didn’t listen to Sam in the jumper? Now you really need to listen to me. You have to move away from the Gate.”

“That was different! I was completely alone, drowning at the bottom of the ocean and with a concussion. There are people here I can brainstorm with. Smart people!”

“Yes, there are people. But right now you’re under a lot of stress - and we all know how you react to that - you have a high fever and are put in charge of innocent civilians that rely on your experience and leadership. And you obviously feel you needed someone you trust with your life to lean on and advise you. So here. Your voice of reason, impersonated. You need to move.”

Rodney closed his eyes for a long moment, collecting his jumbled thoughts and looking for a way to address this. He turned to the people that justifiably looked at him like he was a crazy person.

“Ok, look. I know how this seems,” he said to them. “And I need someone to verify this for me because my subconscious mind in the form of an extremely annoying Colonel tells me that we need to move from this cave and away from their perimeter, stat. The patrols are probably looking for a hidden facility and will make their way here sooner rather than later. If they are moving radially from the gate, which they probably are...”

There was a loaded silence in which Rodney suddenly found John leaning down even more.

“Wow, look at how not crazy that sounded, good job, buddy!”

“Screw you. So. Anyone? Insane, fever induced babble or coherent thought? I really need some input here.”

“I think this is a good point.”

Haugen. Thank God, he’s one of the smart ones.

“Um… thank you?”

Did he just say that out loud? Damn it! And the stupid hallucination kept snickering at him.

“Is it smart to move the injured in the dark?” someone else asked but Rodney was focusing on chasing away the spots dancing before his eyes too much to care who.

“If they are broadening their paths, it won’t take them too long to reach this place. It looks like Dr McKay does have a good point.

“Kusanagi, could you scout ahead?” Rodney asked, fighting a sudden wave of tiredness. “Somewhere in the direction opposite of their gate outpost.”

“Yes, Doctor McKay!”

“Good, good. Keep… radio contact. Don’t take too long.”

---

They crawled out of the tiny cave fifteen minutes later to follow Miko to a new location. Almost immediately they discovered that the light rain that had fallen over the area a few hours earlier made the forest cover slippery and hard to traverse. Just ten minutes into the trek, Dr Simpson, who’s ankle was still swollen and difficult to step on, slipped badly, only to aggravate her injury even more. As Mallozzi fretted over her makeshift splinter, she wiped a tear of pain from her eyes and looked at them miserably.

“I’m slowing you all down… Maybe you go on, I’ll try to catch up…” she said, trying for bravery but failing somewhat spectacularly.

“Yeah, no. C’mon, get up and let’s go,” was a hoarse answer from somewhere in the front of the group. The scientists split like a tiny red sea to create a path for eye contact between the blonde and the man currently leaning against a tree.

“Dr McKay, I can barely walk…”

“Oh, that’s rich, Simpson. Say that to me again,” he grunted, staring at her daringly.

“Sir…”

“No. You don’t get to be a martyr today.” He pushed away from the tree, wobbling just the tiniest bit. They could all see the rant building up, like a high energy cannon. “You don’t get to put it on my shoulders that I left you behind, risking your life and ours. Because that’s what you’d do, staying here in the open, risk our safe return home. When they’d find you, a lone woman in the woods, what do you think they’d do to you, hm? Besides the obvious choice for a group of brutish mercenaries faced with a defenseless female, of course. The answer is - if they didin’t kill you on the spot, they’d probably try to get intel from you. They’d threaten you, and beat you and cut you. Believe me, they’d make the pain and fear so unbearable that you’d sing like a canary. And that we can’t have. ‘Cause all scientific discoveries we make are worth crap if we endanger anyone on Atlantis. First and foremost we protect each other. By protecting yourself, you are helping prevent harm to your colleagues. So suck it up and get a move on!”

Nobody said a word, as a tiny sob escaped Simpson’s throat. Rodney, winded from the exertion, lost most of the angry steam in the silence, his eyes doing this awkward little dance of uncertainty, before he raised his chin again and turning around to resume his pained trek. Zelenka hesitated for just a moment, before taking up his position as a human crutch.

“Is she following?” Rodney whispered, his eyes trained on the ground below his feet.

“Yes, they are helping her to her feet.”

“Good. Because I don’t think I can make another speech like that anymore.”

“I think that one was enough, Rodney.”

Chapter Text

Their new hideout was nothing more than a space under an overhang caused by a fallen tree. The overturned roots created an additional wall, while the other side was overtaken by wild shrubbery, giving at least some sense of security.

It wasn’t cold, but they were all tired and a little damp, so they sat close to each other for warmth and comfort. Soon the foliage glinted with raindrops as the grey light of the dawn rose and the group found solace in the fact, that their check-in deadline was quickly approaching. In an hour or two, Atlantis should be sending someone to check up on them.

They only hoped that the help won’t be lost to the enemy camping by the Stargate.

They put the injured in the middle, to McKay’s dismay. It was quickly forgotten, as he passed out from exhaustion and fever. Mallozzi took this opportunity to redress his wound, discarding the old gauze, soaked in blood and smelly puss. They briefly debated attempting to remove the bullet but it was agreed that it was too much of a risk, especially if their people were to get them back soon.

Donaldson didn’t look so good, too. They suspected a small concussion, so they kept him awake, just in case. They busied him with calculations of how much farther they can walk in this terrain without losing radio contact with the gate, but their moods dropped when they realized that they’re most probably beyond that point already. They stuck to the prime-not-prime after that.

After only a short while, McKay woke up with a gasp. They tried to make him rest again but he only muttered about a new nightmare in his collection and demanded to be propped up, because laying down was making it hard to breathe. His eyes were hooded but it was easy to notice him following something with his gaze, like he observed a person strolling back and forth.

“Spare me the pep-talk, will you,” he muttered at some point, clearly answering to something only he could hear.

---

“No, but really. Even I’m surprised at how well this is going, all things considered,” the not-Sheppard continued, strolling back and forth like he owned the place. “And since I’m you, it clearly means you don’t think you’re such a screw-up.”

“As evidenced by me slowly dying in the bushes of an alien planet.”

Rodney was vaguely aware that he shouldn’t have said that out loud, for the ten frightened scientists to hear. His brain was screaming at him that this was not a thing one says, when one is responsible for the health and safety of people that rely on them. But he was just so tired . Sheppard, the real Sheppard, should have come with them. If he did, this responsibility would not be on Rodney’s shoulders right now. He had his fill of being the brave one and he didn’t like it. He got shot for it, made all the wrong decisions and was now feeling his body slowly giving up on him, as darkness loomed in the corners of his vision.

“McKay, you did everything you could, long before this trip. You secured the area weeks before them coming here, you protected them from being shot dead when unpredictable circumstances fell upon you, you led them to safety…”

“John, this was supposed to be a field trip . That is me quoting you, by the way,” he snapped, agitation pressing on his sore chest, making it hard to focus. “They were supposed to relax in the sun, not run for their lives! If t-this is not… a screw-up… I don’t e-even…”

Someone was shaking him lightly. He took a moment to catch some much needed, if pained, breath. His tunnel vision, focused on verbally attacking a figment of his fevered mind, receded a bit as he looked at Mallozzi’s worried face.

“Doctor McKay, you need to calm down,” the man was saying gently. “You’re in a bad way, you can’t exert yourself.”

“Piss off, Joseph. What do you care.”

He felt a simultaneous rush of satisfaction and guilt, as a hurt expression passed over the older man’s face.

“That was mean, Rodney,” John pouted theatrically.

“‘T was s’pposed to be mean,” McKay told him, feeling himself slipping into darkness for a split second. “Won’t have… the.. the pity… and...  worrying...“

“Too late for worrying, Sir,” someone said from his other side. Xiang, was it? “But no pity. Pity gets us overtime, I imagine.”

“Damn straight,” Rodney answered gruffly, satisfied with the small chuckle he got in return.

God, he was tired.

---

Miko couldn’t take it anymore. She was sick with worry for Doctor McKay. The more she watched of his delirious rambling, the more she prayed for help to arrive before it’s too late.

He was holding up admirably, Miko was as impressed as they get. But how much longer? And how exactly will they get him to the gate? Even if help arrives, even if they find them on time, by some miracle, what will they do? A puddle jumper can’t land here, the gate is swarmed by barbaric murderers… Hope was fading fast in her heart, as statistical probability coursed through her mind. And Miko Kusanagi was very good at calculating probability. The numbers were not looking good.

She felt helpless, and when she felt helpless, she felt the urge to do something. That’s why currently, she was standing just outside the bushes that sheltered them from the morning breeze that rustled the tree crowns, craning her neck to look down the hill. Doctor McKay told them to stick together and not to wander off but she was almost certain that she could heard a stream in the distance. And stream meant water. Water they could drink, clean wounds with and use for cold compress to bring down a suffering man’s fever…

A rustle near her announced someone’s presence and Miko closed her eyes. Hewston was getting on her case, approaching her every time she stepped away to collect herself. She was all heart and consolation and…

“Don’t move,” she heard a harsh, male voice right in front. As her eyes flew wide open, she realized that it wasn’t her colleague coming from behind, but a tall, leather-clad man holding a crude gun, pointed straight at her.

There was a commotion behind Kusanagi’s back, as well as before her - more armed people emerged, forming a loose half-circle in front of their hideout.

Miko’s blood ran cold.

“Finally found you, imposters,” the man continued, smiling humorlessly and she whimpered, taking a step back. The gun pointed at her twitched.

“You will answer for the slaughter you commited. Who is your leader?”

She felt her voice catch in her throat, terror making her focus on the barrel of the rifle...

“That would be me.”

And suddenly someone obscured her view of the man, moving smoothly between her and the gun. Not comprehending what’s going on, she stared at the back of brown-haired head neck and the bloodied tac vest of Rodney McKay. Miko took another step back, reflexively.

Doctor McKay held himself stiffly, pain visible in the square of his arms. As Kusanagi slowly backed away, joining the rest of the science expedition, she watched him fold his hands awkwardly behind his back. She could almost imagine the stubborn tilt of his jaw.

“You? Don’t look like one,” the bandit scowled, looking the physicist up and down.

“Sorry to disappoint.”

“Are you the one that blew my men up?”

“Um, yes, of course. What do you think,” they heard him scoff, “that this sorry lot could do that? They’re a bunch of cowards.In fact…”

He turned his head towards them and his face melted from a stern scowl to an urgent frown, as his gaze zeroed in on Doctor Zelenka.

“... I’m surprised that didn’t run for cover when you arrived.”

As he said this, his eyes visibly flickered to the side, where there was a wide gap between the wall of the cliff and the fallen tree. He must’ve seen something in Zelenka’s eyes, as he set his face back in stone and turned back to his adversary. A soundless ripple went through their small group.

The man was talking again, but all Miko could focus on was Dr McKay’s hand, still hidden behind his back, that spread open, then his thumb bent, then his pinky…

He was counting down.

“... and put your hands where I can see them!”

“Oh, certainly,” was McKay’s answer as his pointer finger folded, creating a perfect fist, which was soon sailing at his assailant.

It was all chaos after that. As Miko scrambled with the others to duck behind the tree trunk, from the corner of her eye she could see her boss launching himself at the man before him. Then there was a sound of two bodies hitting the ground, and loud gunshots as a gunfight broke out.

A gunfight?

Confused, Kusanagi glanced at the P90, slung uselessly over Esposito’s back and the Beretta clasped in Zelenka’s hand. Through her own panting while she ran, Miko could hear shouts and what she distinctly recognized as a blaster shot.

They sprinted around the cliff face, some two hundred meters, where they stopped, panting, and listened to the dying sounds of primitive rifles and what was clearly Earth military machine guns.

---

Silence fell over the woods, broken only by their hopeful breathing and Simpson’s sobs of pain and fear. Doctor Zelenka backtracked a few steps, craning his head to head in the direction where their Chief Science Officer, his colleague and friend of over ten years, may have sacrificed himself for the second time in as many days to allow them escape. His whole body shook from fear and exhaustion, but he itched to know if, if…

He would not forgive himself if  they lost Rodney today, on the second day of an unofficial science recreational field trip.

“Zelenka!” he could hear from the distance and a breath left his body he didn’t know he was holding. A black-clad man was trekking down towards them. Radek gladly stepped out from behind the rocky wall.

“Colonel Sheppard,” he called back, waving his hand. He then indicated to the rest of his group to follow him.

“The coast’s clear,” Sheppard said as soon as he reached them, “but we need to get going. there might be more of them here.”

“Yes, yes. There are many patrols.”

“Ok, let’s get a move on.”

They walked back as fast as the injuries amongst them allowed. Donaldson was slowly losing his battle with the concussion and Simpson was just about done over. Even Coleman, who so far fared admirably, was limping heavily up the hill. The sight of the rescue party nearly reduced them all to tears of relief.

Sheppard jogged the last twenty meters to the three other people and squatted next to Teyla who was gingerly checking on a man laying on the ground.

“Rodney…” Radek breathed and sped up to join them, his heart sinking.

“I have sent Ronon to retrieve the backboard from our jumper,” Tayla was saying to the Colonel. “But we need to hurry, Rodney is not well.”

“Yeah, I can see that. Radek, what the hell happened here?”

“We were attacked suddenly, the enemy killed the Marines. We had to run for our lives,” was Zelenka’s short version. He was too focused on observing Rodney’s ashen face as it twitched and twisted into a scowl of semi-lucidity. By that time the rest of the science team joined them.

“And why are the ruins leveled to the ground?” Sheppard’s voice was deceptively mild and Radek was grateful when it was Rodney who answered him:

“I d-didn’t account for… ah… t-the chain r-reaction…”

“McKay,” John groaned, “do you have to blow up everything ?”

“H-hey, I resent t-that!”

“To be fair, there was a lot to account for,” Mallozzi piped up from behind them, “and he got shot at before that. And fell down a ravine.”

Sheppard threw him an unreadable glance and then looked up the hill, where Ronon was running with the backboard.

“He had worse and managed,” the Colonel said.

“Way to... console... the dying man,” Rodney grumbled. Suddenly, his unfocused eyes moved upwards and to the side and he groaned.

“Oh g-god, this is... so confusing,” he muttered. John and Teyla reflexively looked up and then at each other, perplexed.

“Oh, yes,” Radek said to Sheppard matter-of-factly, “apparently, he’s been hallucinating you for four hours now.”

He could only imagine the overtime he’ll get, based on Rodney’s glare.

Totally worth it.

---

“... So I figured that since all the reports are done, it’s highly unfair that you get to warm your pale ass in the sun while your team’s all cooped up on Atlantis. I switched duty with Reed, grabbed Teyla, Ronon, a few cans of beer… Thought we’d hang out.”

Sheppard was rambling on as he carried the leg end of the backboard, trying not to be too obvious about his attempt at keeping Rodney conscious.

During the short trek to the puddle jumper (which was parked about half a kilometer down the hill, in a small clearing), he explained how they got to the scientists. Before their departure, McKay requested an additional puddle jumper to transport some of the Ancient machinery back to Atlantis, so the morning security swap was to fly over. Feeling guilty about ditching Rodney (that part he didn’t admit aloud), John arranged for this impromptu Team Day Off, but as soon as they crossed the Gate, they were assaulted by a gang of Ronon wannabes. Seeing what happened at the expedition site, they started sweeping the area for Rodney’s subdermal tracker and found them just in time to save the day.

And boy, did the day need saving.

McKay was hanging on by a thread and John had to focus all his willpower on stopping himself and Ronon from running with him to the jumper. Zelenka told him a bit more about what transpired in hushed tones and even though worrying, Rodney’s conduct made John proud. And angry. Why did he get to be graced with a whiny, wimpy McKay, while his subordinates got one that walked five miles of mountain terrain with a gunshot and raging infection, while saving them twice?

Well, he knew why. Rodney was no coward, contrary to popular belief. He just liked for people to think that - cowards get killed much less, or so they say. His team mostly rolled with it, at least it was a good frustration outlet, to get McKay in line every once in a while.

“Yeah, having the time of my life,” the physicist slurred in a brittle voice, pulling John back to their conversation.

“I imagine. Heard we had a long chat I wasn’t a part of. Wanna tell me about it?”

“How about I focus on... not dying instead. And later on... not murdering a Czech in his sleep for... being a blabbermouth.”

“The best Idea you had today. Hey, is that your hand bleeding, too?”

“Um…”

“Ho boy, Carson’s gonna have your ass for that.”

“I know.”

“And he did such a nice stitching job, too!”

“Right?!”

Sheppard didn’t exactly know why the scientists collectively found this particular quip so amusing.

Chapter Text

“Doctor Boivin, welcome on Atlantis.”

“Pleasure to be here, Doctor Weir. I waited to join the expedition ever since Dedalus started coursing here.”

“Glad to give you the chance, then. Doctor McKay was supposed to be here to welcome you as well but his team caught a little snag on their offworld mission. I’m sure he’ll be back in the labs by the time you get through orientation. If not, Doctor Zelenka will guide you.”

“Oh, um… okay, thank you, Ma’am.”

Matisse followed an airman to his new quarters, wondering about a division head going on offworld missions, but paying it no thought beyond initial surprise. He was shown around the common areas, went through security training, medical training, medical checkups, ate a late lunch in the mess hall and finally found his way to the labs.

It was Doctor Zelenka that welcomed him there and got him through all the introductions to people and his future duties. The Czech seemed nice, even if a bit frustrated and tense. Matisse didn’t know why - the personnel seemed focused and efficient, the city didn’t seem to be in a state of crysis, everything looked to be in order.

He was in the process of setting up his workstation when a speaker cracked in the lab and a voice Matisse could vaguely recall as a technician from the Control Room sounded, from the speakers:

“Doctor Zelenka, hurricane McKay heading straight at you.”

“Konečně,” Doctor Zelenka muttered, raising his hand do an earpiece he was wearing. “Carson?”

He listened for a second and seemed to relax instantly.

“Doctor Beckett gives all clear,” he announced to the room in general.

The atmosphere in the area shifted. Matisse watched the scientists, as they casually moved away from the central workbench, clearing it of papers and computers. One flipping a coffee machine on on the way, another calmly unwrapping a sandwich and putting it on a plate, just to place it on the far end of the table. It looked like a synchronized dance, practiced over and over.

Half a minute later a man in what Boivin knew now to be full offworld gear stormed into the lab, carrying what looked like a dragon egg made of metal. Not sparing any of them a glance, he deposited it carefully on the central table and proceeded to reach into his backpack for a laptop and a scanner. He slid the latter across the table, where Doctor Zelenka was ready to plug it into his own computer.

“I have more important things to do, you know,” Zelenka grumbled, although the calm expression on his face contradicted the offended tone. McKay didn’t seem to notice, as he carelessly discarded the backpack, tac vest and jacket of his BDU on a nearby chair.

“Sucks to be you, then,” he snarked, bending over the egg.

“Yes. Yes it does.”

A few minutes passed during which Matisse wondered if he should approach his new boss or wait to be noticed. He chose the latter. Rodney McKay didn’t look like a person you wanted to interrupt. In the meantime, a pretty girl with curly hair (Esposito, was it?) snagged the discarded gear and moved it closer to the door. Without noticing, the CSO moved around the station, only to catch the sight of the sandwich.

“Whose is this? Nevermind, it’s mine now,” he called and snagged the food, shoving it in his mouth. He continued on the previous trajectory, only to stop again, glaring daggers at a middle-aged blonde, typing away on her computer.

“Jesus Christ, Simpson, I feel like a broken record here,” he bristled, shoving her hands away from the keyboard. Matisse was appalled at the rude gesture but the woman didn’t seem to care all that much. “input your goddamn variables after injecting the extrapolator. How can I make it sound easy enough for your tiny brain to grasp? Variables before... Boom.” He made an explosion motion with his hands, a piece of lettuce falling from the half-eaten sandwich in his right palm.

“I’ve had just about enough of you for today. And I’m not even half an hour in. Go be stupid somewhere else, and don’t show your face today. You’re even more useless than normal,” he barked out, giving the woman, Doctor Simpson, a death glare, before turning back and joining Doctor Zelenka to stare at his laptop. The woman pushed a few more keys on her own device, closed it and scrambled for the door.

Matisse stared.

Why is she smiling ?

Just a moment after Simpson left the lab, Doctor McKay raised his head again, surveyed the people remaining and added in a withering tone:

“Hewston, Esposito, go with her, make sure the moron doesn’t twist her ankle or something.”

“Yes, Sir!” they both answered with hidden smiles of their own and left in a hurry.

Just what in the hell is going on here?!

Nobody left in the office paid any mind to the staggering abuse the CSO was unleashing on their colleagues and Matisse felt sick to the stomach. Was mobbing not recognized in Pegasus Galaxy? Who allowed this psycho to even be here?!

“Hey, you the new guy?”

He froze. Maybe Dedalus was still in orbit, maybe it wasn’t too late to…

“Hey, talking to you here!”

“Oh, um… yes, doctor Matisse Boivin.”

“Yes, yes. Since I’m in a good mood, your assignment for tomorrow is to sift through this preliminary I just sent you and figure this baby out,” he pointed at the egg with his chin. “Radek, take him with you, give me some breathing space. Sheppard was unbearable today.”

Doctor Zelenka smiled and nodded, getting up. He motioned for Matisse to follow him.

“Rodney,” he threw over his shoulder. “You will join us later, yes? I will come get you in, say, two hours?”

“Mhm,” McKay hummed, not raising his head, engrossed with what he was reading.

Boivin and Zelenka left the lab, clearly going in the direction of the mess hall.

“Doctor Zelenka…”

“Ah, yes, no one probably let you know,” the Czech interrupted him. “Doctor Simpson is having a birthday party in half an hour. Would you care to join us? She would be very glad, the more the merrier.”

“Uh… yes?”

“Wonderful. Please remember to compliment her on whatever gift she shows off. She has been bragging about the present from her nieces arriving on Dedelus today. She could not wait to get it.”

Matisse nodded, deep in thought. As he thought about this, comparing what he’s seen so far with the praise the Atlantis Science Department was receiving on teamwork and driven approach to problem-solving, a thought popped into his head.

“Wait… was this… bizarre display earlier Doctor McKay’s convoluted way of giving Doctor Simpson and her girlfriends the rest of the day off?”

“Aah, I see you are already catching on. Good, good, you will fit right in. And Rodney seems to like you, he gave you a fresh piece of tech to work on. But please,”he added, his face going serious, “do not, under any circumstances, let the junior staff and military in on this. McKay’s reputation is one of the only things giving us space to work in peace.”

“Should I assume then that the rumors that circle around SGC about Doctor McKay being an asshole are not true?”

“I would not go that far.”