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Reprise (Abandoned)

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This one would've started where "Resolve" left off:  The arrival in Atlantis.

Throughout this one, Rodney will be scrambling to make Atlantis safe based on what he knows -- getting rid of the shadow creature, sealing off dangerous labs, preventing the waking of the Wraith , and so on.  He will have to stay very, very busy to keep ahead of a fully staffed city.

He also must try to recreate his friendships, and since he's not starting from the same point nor going through the same shared experiences, that doesn't go as well as he'd like.

I have flaws as a writer.  Oh, do I ever. One of them is a tendency to just throw myself off the woobie cliff and rely on good betas to pull me back.  A bunch of this is overwrought. I'm just gonna put the whole thing up, though. Text in square braces is notes; text not in braces represents scenes; any text in curly braces is commentary as of this abandonment.

[Possibly restate some of the end of the prior.  Once they're through -- Rodney hustles Elizabeth through and follows on her heels -- he immediately preps, calling for Sheppard.  John protests that he's supposed to stay near the gate. Rodney says yes, he's proud that John has managed to obey an order for once in his entire life, but he has a new order, and by the way if he doesn't snap to it they're all going to drown so he should come with Rodney if he wants them all to live.  At Weir's nod, he obeys, pointing out to Rodney that, "Kyle Reese you're not." This earns him a startled smile before Rodney guides him exactly what to turn on and keep off. He has given a core team directions for integration of the naquadah generators and dives into the systems to access the release from the ocean floor before the shields fail.  They are successful, losing integrity only in a few outmost areas. ("Parabolic decay, you idiot, parabolic! Sector-based just increases the load!") Rodney must then have someone find the address to Athos (he's still trying to be careful about addresses; Peter Grodin asks if he should call out each chevron as the SGC does and Elizabeth asks him please not to bother, a smile in her voice) as he assesses their power situation and tries to clear a few spaces to get people out of the gateroom.  He tells John not to touch the necklace (which he may have told him before.)  Sumner's team and John go through, same events as canon, and bring the survivors back.  Rodney's furious that John can't follow simple directions {John didn't know it was a necklace until after he'd touched it} and orders that generator 4 be pulled back out; he has to rewire it.  (Rather than pausing to figure the number of addresses to be tried, he pauses with a gesture to John to fill in the 720, which John does with some confusion; Rodney then smoothly repeats the number and continues.  Rodney remembers only one allowed a lock so he can let the others fiddle with dialing as he works.) He saves a little time by taking both John and Elizabeth to the jumpers and telling John about the cloak. He's also sending John with what amounts to a backpack nuke, which raises eyebrows … but John insists on saving his people, while Rodney knows they have to shut down any Wraith that might have direct information from Sumner and they have to rescue Teyla, so they work to persuade Elizabeth.  At some point Rodney mentions to John that "I am sending you to a hive ship in a jumper with a nuclear bomb that I built ," which is profoundly ironic (or whatever -- but only to him, of course) and he'll be freaking out about that later, when there's time.   Rodney instructs John to "park" as close as humanly possible to the hive ship, to take the nuke in, and if it looks as if the "base" is rousing, use it and run like hell because they have no shield and cannot withstand any attack whatsoever.  (Cover story yet also true!)]

[Rescue goes close to canon but with much less time for the Wraith to scramble and with the pseudo-nuke taking out the ship.  The few remaining darts are taken out by drones or pursue and hit the shield. {Maybe slight changes -- maybe John decides to blow off the keeper's head by emptying the rest of his ammo into it; maybe this lets Sumner survive, but wizened?  Because as convenient for John and Rodney as it is not to deal with Sumner, that doesn't mean it's necessarily right to stick to killing him off as canon did.} They come in, triumphant. Rodney demands Teyla's necklace -- not grabbing it because he doesn't want her to break him in half, but he needs it.  At her reluctance he realizes, oh right, and gives his name and that he finds Ferris wheels trite, hates American football, but respects speedy vehicles when they're handled responsibly. {Again, I don't know if Rodney would actually know about this conversation, so maybe not.} This particular choice of topics has both Teyla and John looking at him curiously.  In a fit of sudden inspiration, he then sends the necklace to Chaya's gate, figuring she can handle Wraith and any Replicators who might get the address he dials from him. He explains the necklace was actually a trap. Bates is suspicious of McKay and of Teyla; Rodney snaps at him to get over himself and his xenophobia, she's an ally, Rodney trusts her with his life -- which is more than he can necessarily say about Bates.  They would have been fine if Lieutenant Colonel Can't Follow Directions hadn't touched the thing. John suddenly realizes that Rodney has frequently called him by the wrong rank, but just the generic Colonel, which John took for Rodney confusing him and Sumner; the specific Lieutenant Colonel designation, though, is one up from John's actual rank and too specific.  With John now the ranking military member {or whatever if Sumner is still around}, if he were to be promoted officially to account for that, he would be a Lt. Col.  He takes this to mean that Rodney knew all along -- knew about the necklace and knew what John would have to do to Sumner {/would happen to Sumner}. He seizes Rodney by the shirt and shoves him up against the wall, accusing him, and Rodney protests that if John had just listened it wouldn't have happened, Sumner would be alive {which maybe he is, so it's an odd protestation if so, but it's one Rodney would naturally make because Sumner being dead is written far more deeply in his head}, the Wraith … and he pauses.  He demands John let him go so he can check the sensors. He asks for confirmation of whether they woke the Wraith, and both John and Teyla are able to report that the hive ship was destroyed and they think all the darts were as well. Accessing the long-range takes some doing (they were buried in canon until they were suddenly needed), but he checks and finds the Wraith are not moving more than just normal low-level hibernation-time activity (or so he estimates, never having seen such a thing). Rodney realizes that he's changed it, stating this in shock as he backs away from them.  Maybe here: Teyla clarifies that he knew what was to happen, was gifted with a foreseeing -- and he reacts to that suggestion with disgust. It's no gift .  He reaches a wall, slides down it to sit (maybe -- this might be used too much; maybe instead have him or someone first cast around for a chair?), and bursts into tears .  {He's been up for a very long time, working intensely, and he's just done something huge, but … still.  This would have to be done carefully.} John is astonished and Elizabeth inquires, shocked, Rodney?!   She calls for Beckett, who sees Rodney promptly and goes to him, trying to calm him and asking when he last slept.  Rodney grips Carson tightly and tells him he can't do this anymore, he doesn't think he can keep playing all the angles, and he doesn't know what to do because he doesn't want this to be real but he doesn't want Carson to die.  They all take him for incoherent and Carson gives him something to calm him down. Rodney responds to the medication rapidly, turning loopy and dazed. Carson corrals John into helping him get Rodney somewhere to sleep it off; as they proceed, Rodney rambles on with less control than usual.  John asks what the heck the doctor gave him, and Rodney says that he has a disproportionate response to CNS agents -- finishing proudly, though John can't tell whether that's because of the subject or simply for managing to get the syllables out, which Rodney does have a little trouble with. Carson mutters that that would really be useful information to know, to which Rodney scoffs that Carson's the one who told him that.  Carson responds, oh yes, of course, how silly of him, what was he thinking, sarcasm plain (Rodney pats him, taking him seriously and forgiving him the lapse). Carson adds that even so, Rodney's as affected as he is in part because he hasn't been sleeping properly, which makes Rodney note that there's no time and to try to pull free of them because of all he has to make safe before anyone trips over it.  Note: Since everyone's so restricted, there isn't very long for this conversation to occur, but that's helped if Rodney has cleared a few spaces outside the gateroom itself.  If the jumper bay is mentioned, whether as cleared space or as somewhere on Rodney's list, Rodney has to stress it's very very important no one with the gene touch any of the jumpers because one of them is a time-travel device unless Elizabeth is around (possible confusion about having to look for Elizabeth) except, no, the ZPMs weren't in the right configuration for that.  So one of the jumpers is a time-travel device and it would take John back to the middle of a battle where he would immediately be shot down and die. It would be stupid to get all this way and then die right away, and -- swaying against John -- John isn't stupid, even though he likes to pretend. They promise him that they'll make sure no one goes wandering and he lets them persuade him to take a little nap; he doesn't understand where they're going because this isn’t the way to his quarters or the infirmary, which confuses them.  They get him to a cot in either the small area Carson has commandeered as an aid station or in the infirmary if Rodney has cleared that:]

"Sit here, lad."  Together they got McKay sitting on a camp cot against the wall.  Then Beckett took a gadget and a few smaller supplies from his kit.  He did something to McKay's hand that had the scientist yelping a plaintive "Ow!" and sticking his finger in his mouth.  The doctor fiddled with his gadget and made a tching sound. "I thought as much. You're not going -- stop that, it's unsanitary."  He pulled McKay's hand away from his mouth.

"Well, if you wouldn't cut me," McKay started petulantly.

Beckett just guided McKay into holding a square of gauze against the finger.  "Just hold it like that a moment and it'll stop. And drink this." He pulled a plastic bottle of some kind of liquid from his kit and pressed it into McKay's free hand.

McKay scowled.  "I hate this stuff."

"Aye, and you shouldn't need it.  You told me you had it under control."

"I did.  I do. It's just, there was too much to do, and I tried but nobody would bring me anything."  John could swear the man was pouting .  Then Dr. Rodney McKay, terror of the expedition, man who could cow an entire roomful of scientists with one well-timed glare, shrank under Beckett's disapproving frown and drank.  He made a face as if the liquid were unspeakably foul, but he finished it all, shuddering dramatically as he handed the empty bottle back.

"Good lad.  Now lie down."  McKay was apparently too distracted making faces at the aftertaste to resist the doctor's guiding hands.  "Just a wee nap. As a favor to me," he added, which somehow worked to cut off McKay's protest.

"Maybe half an hour," McKay offered reluctantly.

"An hour, minimum, and then we'll consider," Beckett countered.  He took the folded blanket from the foot of the cot and settled it over the other man.  "Get some rest, Rodney, please."

He straightened to move away but was pulled up short when McKay grabbed his sleeve.  A flicker of annoyance crossed his face but he spoke soothingly, patting at the clutching hand.  "It's all right. You can go to sleep. I'll make sure everyone knows not to mess with anything. And no one will bother you here, not without hearing from me.  You're safe, I promise."

"Not me," McKay mumbled, his fingers tightening in the doctor's sleeve.

John just shrugged when Beckett glanced over at him.  He had no idea what that was supposed to mean, either.  Beckett sighed and knelt down next to the cot, murmuring reassurances with a fond exasperation.  Within a couple of minutes McKay was out, his hand loosening until it dropped to the cot. Beckett drew John away from the corner.

"You really gonna wake him up in an  hour, Doc?" John asked, careful to keep his voice low.  McKay looked like he could sleep for a week.

"Don't be daft," Beckett scoffed, equally softly.  "If he manages to wake himself in the next hour, he'll not be allowed up, not without close supervision.  After that we'll see." He gestured one of his medics closer and relayed the same information as instructions.  He and John then headed back to where they'd left Dr. Weir. 

"So … you and McKay.  You're friends, right?"  The prospect seemed strange -- that this gentle, kindly doctor would be friends with the short-tempered, ill-mannered physicist -- but John had heard it was the case and had seen signs of it himself.

"He's a handful, but yes, I'd say we are."

"For a long time?"

"We met in Antarctica, so it's been a few months."  Beckett frowned a little then, as if that wasn't quite right, but he didn't clarify.

"Do you ever … does he seem to know things?  That he shouldn't?"

Beckett chuckled.  "He knows everything, to hear him tell it.  He is a genius -- as he's only too happy to remind."

That wasn't exactly what John had meant, but maybe it was an answer.  However McKay had known things he couldn't have earlier, maybe it was specific to their arrival.

Weir wasn't where they'd left her, so they followed the pointing fingers until they found her out on the balcony.  Expedition members bustled around her, but John and Beckett had all her attention once she saw them. Beckett assured her that her chief scientist was exhausted but resting and would likely be fine, and some of the tension left her expression.  She glanced at John questioningly and he shook his head, figuring she wanted to talk more about McKay's strange claims and that they should probably wait to discuss that less publicly.

He frowned as he started to recognize the activity around them.  "Are you setting up a party?"

"Of sorts," she agreed, smiling at his surprise.  "We made it here. We're all alive, we managed to avoid a lasting conflict, and we have a new set of potential allies.  As Dr. McKay reminded us, repeatedly , we need to be careful about exploring the city further because the power levels are precarious, and Dr. Zelenka is not comfortable clearing additional areas without his input.  And we all need to eat. It's a lovely evening and we're not using much power out here, so I thought this would be a good opportunity for us to get to know our neighbors better. So, yes, a party.  Mingle." She smiled at him -- either encouragingly or deviously, he couldn't tell exactly which -- and let herself be drawn away.

He would have to do as she said at some point over the next few hours, but he wasn't ready to deal with that just yet.  He drifted over to the edge of the balcony and gripped the rail tightly, trying to absorb everything that had happened since he had stepped through the gate at the SGC.

Rodney wasn't used to waking slowly.  The times he wasn't jolted awake by clock alarm, a system alarm, an urgent radio call, a troubling dream, an annoying teammate, a nagging doctor, or a persistent cat were rare indeed.  Which was to say, pretty much nonexistent.

Now, though, he found himself drifting in half sleep, feeling … not too bad.

He wasn't comfortable .   Whatever he was lying on was apparently designed for, if not maximum discomfort, at least three-quarters of it.  He had the dregs of some kind of medication hangover. And his mouth was foul .

But something felt … right.  Or satisfying. Or something.

It took him a long while to place it.  Smell .  They had been topside long enough that the surface air had threaded its way into the city, its subtly distinctive scent persisting through the ventilation system filters and crowding out the recycled staleness of ten thousand years.  He took a deep breath, savoring it.

New Lantea had never smelled quite right.  He had gotten used to it quickly, forgotten about it, but … this was what home smelled like.  And that was the strangely right feeling.  Home. He felt himself smiling, just a little. 

An unholy clattering crash sent him bolting upright, flailing for his radio.  Because clearly it was against every law of nature that he ever have a single peaceful morning.  And, right, home was populated by fumble-fingered morons .

He blinked at the room and realized he was in the infirmary.  They were still setting the place up, including the sterling examples of humanity that were scrambling to gather scattered shining metallic objects like the most demented piñata party ever.  He had been left on some kind of cot, apparently before they had managed to deal with setting up the stretcher-bed things.

He was alone.

He sighed and rubbed at his face.  Right. One piece at a time.

"What the bloody hell are you lot playing at?"  Boy did Carson ever sound cranky. Ah, he must have been asleep, too, going by his hair.  Possibly napping at his desk or in a cot of his own, because he looked profoundly annoyed.  Carson spotted Rodney and narrowed his eyes. "And you've woken our patient, too. I hope you're proud of yourselves."

Rodney hoped he'd keep yelling, because he could be fun to watch the rare times he really got wound up, but he headed over to Rodney instead, so Rodney smirked up at him.  "Novel approach. I'm not sure stress-testing your patients while they sleep is really an effective way to improve your productivity, though." 

Carson gave him a long-suffering look.  "You're feeling more yourself, I see." He checked his watch and raised his eyebrows.  "Nine and a half hours. I'm impressed."

"I slept nine and a half hours ?  I haven't slept that long since high school!"  Not counting the times he'd been concussed, infected, drugged, detoxing, or crashing from stims, of course.  "No wonder I feel like I've been sleeping for a month ." 

"You could do with doing it a bit more often, I'd say," Carson muttered, taking Rodney's wrist to check his pulse for reasons only he could fathom.

"Yes, yes, I already know you secretly belong to the cult of Somnus, and I'm not interested in converting.  Can I go now?"

"As soon as I'm sure your blood sugar is where it should be," Carson answered, producing equipment for the ritual bloodletting of his professional faith.

That jostled a memory that explained most of the taste in his mouth, at least.  He winced as the lancet sliced his finger open. "I'm probably diabetic now, after that disgusting syrup you force-fed me."

 "You'd be feeling a lot worse right now if I hadn't," Carson answered, his attention on the meter.  "And you should have eaten something more solid after, but unfortunately you seemed to need the sleep more.  I only hope we haven't made things worse." His eyebrows moved downward a bit but he didn't break out a full-on frown, so Rodney's blood sugar must be back to normal or close enough.  "Promise me you'll eat something in the next hour and you can go."

Rodney wasn't about to turn down what had to be his easiest infirmary reprieve ever, so he tried to stand.  The cot was low and saggy, though, and in the end Carson had to give him a hand up.

"Make that half an hour," Carson said.

He was smiling a little, though, and he patted Rodney on the shoulder as he turned away.  So Rodney called, "Oh, ha ha," after him and seized the chance to escape before Carson came back to his usual imprisoning senses.

He headed towards what should be the mess hall, if anyone had actually paid attention to his instructions.  The quiet around him was unsettling. It was the sort of hour no thinking human should be awake, the sky barely beginning to lighten through the windows, and fittingly he saw only military personnel wandering around.  They passed him in pairs and small groups, some apparently patrolling, others moving various equipment to unknown destinations. Rodney clenched his teeth and kept going. If he was going to have to clean up after several dozen people who couldn't bother to wait a few hours, he definitely needed fortification.

One of the grunts did a double-take as they crossed paths, holding up a hand to signal Rodney to wait as he finished saying something into his radio.  Oh, right, Ford. Rodney discarded his planned snide comment.

Done with the radio, Ford said, "Hey, Doc.  You okay?"

"Oh.  Um." He really needed to stop forgetting to give Ford more credit.  "Yes, I'm fine. You know how Beckett gets."

"Cool.  We're setting up a mess hall."  Ford gestured in the right direction.  "There's coffee."

"I knew you were smarter than you look."  It was too early and he was far too undercaffeinated to come up with anything better than that.  Ford grinned, though, taking the insult in stride. He started to give directions but Rodney waved him off.  "I can find it."

"Oh, right."  Ford tapped his own nose.  "I forgot you're like a bloodhound with coffee.  You probably already smell it, don't you?"

Rodney did, actually, but more because Ford had clearly already had some of his own and smelled of it.  No harm building a reputation, though. He grinned back. "Remember that if you ever start getting crazy ideas about trying to hide coffee from me."

"Gotcha, Doc," Ford chuckled, giving him a sketchy salute.  They parted ways, Rodney feeling significantly more enthusiastic about his day.

The mess was in fact in the right place and there was in fact coffee.  Spotting a pile of napkins, Rodney shook his head at military priorities but detoured to grab one of those and use it as a rudimentary toothbrush, which at least made his mouth feel less disgusting.  He realized too late he should have asked Ford where his personal belongings had been stashed. He had no idea what would have happened to them while he was busy with the whole not-drowning, not-waking-the-Wraith thing.

After that he downed a couple of cups of coffee, grabbed one for the road, and pocketed a couple of packages of alleged pastries from the scattering of off-hours supplies.  Being military rations, they were dense enough to deserve a space at the lower end of the periodic table, but they were safe to eat and reliable. They served for a walking breakfast as he made his way back to the gateroom.

[Once he wakes, Elizabeth insists on a meeting, including John as the acting military commander.  Rodney agrees, knowing he has to deal with this, but he insists that they talk as he clears more areas and arranges power distribution, because they have several dozen / a couple of hundred people all waiting on him. (This lets him use apparent distraction to hide when he's lying.)  Preferred: He insists that Teyla be included, because he trusts her and will tell her everything he would tell them, so do they really want to risk the chance she'll think to ask something they don't later? In truth, he just wants to get it over with among all the people who know about his "foresight".  He calls for someone to track her down and ask her to join them, but when she arrives -- escorted by Bates -- she is clearly, to him, pissed off. He realizes Bates didn't exactly ask, yells at him, and offers that if Teyla wants to punch him in the face or something he promises not to see anything. She declines but, amused, thanks him for the offer.  He acknowledges that, yes, he knew about Atlantis, that it was submerged, and about the Wraith, because of something that happened to him at the SGC. He implies that he didn't see beyond that and he's now changed things, so everything to come is as much a mystery to him as everyone else, except for a few dangerous items he'll need to ensure no one goes near.  He recommends this be kept between them, maybe including Carson.]


"Co-- Sheppard?" Rodney returned.  He was getting better about that. Sort of.

Sheppard moved slowly into the lab, his expression that bland half-smile that Rodney was really getting sick of.  "I was just wondering if we could schedule some time to assign a few of your scientists to gate teams. Or should Dr. Weir be involved in that?  She said I should talk to you, but …."

"No, no, that's definitely me.  How many do you want to start with?"

Sheppard shuffled.  "Oh, you -- now?"

"Might as well.  At least the basics.  I'll need to review files before any final decisions are made."  He needed to remind himself what these people were good for now , not as he remembered them.  At least he had made them fill out questionnaires this time.  "So how many?"

"Oh.  Well, I … how many do you think?" Sheppard stalled.  The last time Rodney had seen him that uncomfortable, Sheppard had been trying to decide how to talk to Teyla after he had completely pissed her off over the whole pregnancy thing.  In other words, he had no clue what he was doing.

Rodney sighed.  "I'll set up a ranking system.  Ask Elizabeth how many teams she wants to start with and what schedule she wants for expansion.  And what specializations she wants. We're going to have to start cross-training, but that will take time, of course."

"So … she should be involved, then."

"Eventually, yes, just not in choosing specific people.  Just get a list, Sheppard. I'll take care of it." He switched windows to add that near the top of his list.  He was so damn tired.

"Okay.  Except she did say I definitely needed somebody for the first-contact team.  Anybody I can give her for that?"

"What? Me, of course."

"… You."  Sheppard's tone was skeptical.  Rodney turned to look at him directly and found himself facing the eyebrow of disbelief.

"You think I'm a coward," he said, numb.  This wasn't supposed to go this way at all.

"I didn't say that," Sheppard said, the words right but everything else completely wrong.  They should have come with a mocking smirk, one that implied he meant exactly that but that really meant he thought the opposite.  Instead they came with that careful, polite distance that meant he did mean exactly that.

They didn't have the personal shield to act like excited kids over.  He had cleared out the energy creature, so there would be no proving himself by marching into it to save everyone.  This Sheppard didn't know a thing about him.

He fought down a wave of homicidal loathing aimed in Carter's direction and turned to the nearest whiteboard.  "Right!" He swiped a clear space across the trite -- to him -- equations. "Gate Team 101."

{Sam, I love you!  Rodney's just hurt and lashing out!}

{I very nearly deleted this as being insufferably self-indulgent, but no.}

[This may go better after the next section.]

Rodney filed the latest update and turned to the nearest pair of whiteboards with a sigh, wondering what new travesty he would have to correct.  It was just a fragment of standard wormhole theory, though. He studied the equations at length, but he couldn't find any errors.

And he couldn't stop looking at it.

"There is a problem?"  Zelenka's voice came from somewhere beside him, wary.

"It's …."  Rodney wasn't used to words failing him.

"A mockery?" Zelenka suggested after several long seconds, drily.  Which could only mean he wasn't really looking .  "An embarrassment to their universities?"

Rodney tilted his head and finally found a word.  Inadequate, but it would do. " Beautiful ."

"Oh."  Zelenka moved forward, into the corner of Rodney's vision, but Rodney just couldn't look away from the board.  "Yes," Zelenka said at length. "Yes, it is." His voice was soft and pleased. Rodney finally managed to tear his eyes away for a quick glance and saw that Zelenka had this truly sappy smile that Rodney ought to find disturbing, but he couldn't bring himself to sully the moment with derision. 

Instead he looked back at the wonderful, beautiful equations.  They were quiet together for a couple of minutes, but then Rodney lunged forward, because this wasn't enough.  It was amazing, yes, but this was just the result. He grabbed a marker and started filling in the supporting equations and theories.  He needed to see all of it.  He needed to see the underlying structure, the struts, the girders, the crenellations, whatever -- he needed to see it all.  Because it wasn't just the end product that deserved admiration, it was all the pieces, everything that end product comprised.

"Is this a private moment?" Zelenka asked finally, amusement creeping into but not taking over his respectful tone.

Rodney grabbed a second marker and tossed it over his shoulder.  "You've wasted five seconds on talking already," he muttered.

Zelenka sighed but wasted no more time, taking a spot at the other board and starting a different section.

They worked in near silence for a while, except for occasional mutters prompting for a reminder of a constant or murmurs of appreciation for a particularly elegant element.  Then Rodney stepped back a moment to find another area to fill in and found himself looking at the back of Simpson's head. Others drifted in over time, asking no questions, just taking up a marker and finding a space.

They rapidly ran out of space, actually, and more boards showed up, hastily cleared of their former contents.  Dense areas sprouted pieces of paper, sometimes pulled from binders, or post-its, and at least one broad blue-green plant leaf from nowhere Rodney could bring readily to mind, all tacked to the edges of the boards with whatever sticky substance was nearest to hand.

One by one they stepped back, running out of pieces to contribute, until finally only Simpson was left.  She neared the very last characters but then paused, looking around. After a moment's consideration she held the marker out to Rodney, yielding the honor of completion to him.

He filled out the end with hands that did not shake, because his hands never shook when he was working.  He pressed the marker firmly against the board with his final stroke and stepped back.

There were no gaps, no omissions.  Five boards and countless add-ons expanded the original equation into its full glory, in a riot of colors, shabby and magnificent.  His own careful hand and Zelenka's barnyard scratchings, Simpson's anorexic lettering, Kusanagi's angled script that seemed to be fighting a headwind, Richter's stubborn comma decimals, Kavanagh's tiny grudging characters guarded by great swooping integrals -- it was completely mismatched and completely perfect.

He glanced around and found that they had all stuck around, looking at their work or each other with a little amusement and a lot of pleasure and pride.  Rodney had to clear his throat to speak. "Good work, people," he said quietly, keeping his gaze on the boards.

They stirred a bit, probably shocked, and eventually drifted away.  Rodney had to wait until they'd all left, even Zelenka, because he just couldn't stop smiling.

Rodney threw on the brakes then.  He had cleared as much as he could of the immediate dangers, so they had time now, and the work they were doing deserved the attention they now could afford. 

Besides, he had fallen in love.

He had never fallen so hard or so far before, and it took him completely by surprise.  He wanted the chance to indulge it, for once.

It wasn't some new fling.  In a way, he had rediscovered his first true love, his old college sweetheart.  So there was a lot familiar to enjoy, but they had both grown out of late-adolescence awkwardness.  He knew enough now that he could truly appreciate what he had.

It wasn't that he wasn't fond of engineering.  He liked it well enough -- the slightest dislike would have turned to loathing in the pressure of a doctoral program -- but that was as much a political marriage as anything else.  He needed engineering, and keeping the city going through a war meant it needed him. He was fond of it; he didn't love it, not really.

But all that time he'd had to neglect physics, demand quick answers, snatch from its greatest reaches for swift solutions, take it for granted, because he just hadn't had time to appreciate it properly.  And now that he did, he was reminded of just how damn beautiful it really could be.  He could take time to step back and really appreciate all the wonderful little parts of the magnificent whole.  He could see so much of how the universe fit together in it, and this -- this was love.

He realized just how much he'd lost it when he caught himself contemplating raiding the ethnomusicologists to see if one of them had a keyboard he could appropriate, on the theory that he might be any better at composition if he had a subject he truly cared about.  He rolled his eyes then -- serenading a field of study? really ? -- and assigned himself two full days of maintenance work only .  He needed to keep his head on straight, and he would have sentenced any of his people to at least the same if he had caught them mooning like this.

But once he'd done that -- honestly, with no cheating -- he made sure to spend at least as much of his time on physics theory as all his other duties combined.  It deserved at least that much from him.

[{This needs a lot more refinement; it's quite clumsily done.}  John is in the mess hall one day when his attention is drawn to McKay because of the sudden silence.  It is raining heavily and the room is filled with typical dining noises, including that of clattering cutlery.  John looks over at the line to see McKay staring, pale and frozen, and Zelenka speaking urgently to him. (A sound close enough to the metallic scraping of a knife in combination with the rain has triggered a flashback; Zelenka knows the reaction, if not its reason.)  John goes over to try to help; he and Zelenka chase off the nearest onlookers. Zelenka tries to reassure McKay that he is safe and among friends; McKay knows that and tries to say so but is still caught up. Zelenka proposes taking him out to the dining balcony. John points out it's kind of raining out there, but Zelenka thinks they should get McKay somewhere more private and knows any other route would require passing through a smaller space than they're in -- and he knows McKay is claustrophobic.  They try that, guiding him outside, but that only makes things worse -- growing soaked, McKay flinches away from them, blurting, "Don't, you need us, you need both of us --"  Zelenka shrugs off being wrong, worried, and John proposes the jumper bay, even though that means hallways and at least one transporter.  They get him there and he sits huddled against the side of a jumper. Zelenka has John get a blanket before asking McKay if it is all right to remove his wet things (just jacket and maybe shoes -- those and lower pants would be soaked but maybe not shirt or upper pants), draping the blanket over him promptly and backing away.]

[The first several missions go very differently.  In one, they have an unanticipated emergency situation and the others have little patience for Rodney's panic; he snaps back at them that this is what he does -- he can try to be stoic or he can actually work on fixing the problem, but they don't get both.  From that mission or another, they have to run like mad back to the jumper, and Rodney has sliced his hand open on something. Once they're safely in the jumper, John is shocked when Rodney starts chuckling or possibly even giggling and tells Teyla to check on him, thinking he must be more badly hurt than they thought.  Rodney waves them off, cradling his hand and applying pressure, saying he's all right -- well, no, typing will be a pain in the ass for several weeks, and with his luck he'll get gangrene and lose the hand, but he can't believe he's missed this.]

{I had thought I had at least notes about a potential scene in which, angry because his staff have ignored a safety guidance, he pulls them into a room and tells them they have to locate and save someone in a sunken jumper; they dither and waste time, and when a timer goes off, he angrily tells them they've killed their colleague and storms off.  I'm not sure where I planned that to go; it really ought to build into something specific.}

[Teyla finds herself fascinated by Rodney.  He, like John, actually looks at her, when he really looks at very few of his own people; unlike most of their people, to a degree even Elizabeth, he treats her seriously and acts as if her voice matters.  His attention is intoxicating, and she is not stone. He has flaws, and she is not necessarily {what? not at all!} lusting after him, but she enjoys his attention. He shows up at her quarters one day asking if he can hide there -- Beckett is threatening to sedate him if he keeps his present pace, so he claimed he would go to her for meditation, but he won't really bother her, he can just sit in a corner of her room and work for an hour, if that's okay.  He calls her Teyla but then interrupts himself to ask if that's rude, everyone calls her that so he does too but he never asked if it was appropriate, maybe it's colonialist -- he's Canadian, they don't do that, not anymore anyway, at least they try -- but should they be addressing her as 'Teyla Emmagan, daughter of Tagan' or maybe by some "leader" title? She tells him that her people do not treat with strangers and she would expect a full, respectful title from them, but his people are allies and he may call her Teyla without causing offense.  He awkwardly assures her that she may call him by his name as well. She takes his tablet from him and leads him over for meditation. He protests that he didn't really mean it but she tells him that her people have a saying: Never cross the healer. She will not be a party to misleading Dr. Beckett; after all, he has very large needles. (Somewhere in there she notes that his people use the same archaic title for master healers and master scholars, except when they don't.) He tries to protest he can't do this, his brain doesn't work that way, but he doesn't fight her very hard.  She notices that he takes the position she would have asked of him without needing direction for that. He is a poor student, she finds quickly, so she tries humming, partly to guide him and partly to try to settle her own nerves, as he is making her only more tense. At his query, she tells him it is a focus aid for meditation, though she doesn't share that it's typically used only with young children. (He is surprised: "But you never … I mean, I never heard you do that before.") She notices that his fingers start to move in time with the melody of her tune. He finally seems to be managing a calmness … and then she realizes he's fallen asleep.  She would normally wake him, but she remembers how tired he's seemed, eases him into a more comfortable position, and checks with Beckett to make sure he's probably all right.] 

[John starts team nights, for bonding.  He finds that if they watch a movie, McKay can be counted on to bitch about the movie for the first ten minutes and then fall asleep against whoever is next to him; Teyla can be counted on to ask questions he and Ford have trouble answering; and Ford can be counted on to whoop at explosions, sometimes waking McKay.]

[John remains somewhat distant from Rodney:  The guy's interesting, if intense, but he keeps watching John expectantly -- shading into disappointment.  It reminds him too much of Nancy. To Rodney's surprise, he ends up closer to Ford than the first time around, because Ford has played his video games and has reason to respect him.] 

[{I'm not sure I'd really want to include this:} The team does meals together frequently.  At one point, Rodney's tablet / laptop makes an odd sound, getting his attention immediately.  Rodney checks it and then bolts. John can't work out which is more shocking -- that Rodney has left behind a device he almost never lets go of (it has his encrypted notes) or that he's running full speed -- before he registers that either one is likely serious enough that he should follow.  Rodney has run to the control room to check the long-range sensors; he eventually reveals that the Wraith are moving. The Genii have woken the Wraith -- they know enough of the expedition to have rushed their own plans and to have conveyed to the Wraith that a rich new food source has been revealed.] 

[They end up at Chaya's planet, to Rodney's disgust, possibly due to damage going through a gate; if so, Rodney will say not to land and John will tell him they don't really have a choice.  When they meet Chaya, Ford snickers and Rodney smirks, pleased at the reaction. Rodney persistently doesn't hold out hope that they'll get anything useful from her and blocks any suggestion of showing her Atlantis.  John (?) eventually asks Ford what's up, and Ford recites a side-script from one of Rodney's games: The legend of Chai Attar. Rodney is delighted to find that Ford has memorized the whole thing, which he based on Chaya but vagued up and had Kaleb rewrite all myth-style.  Chaya is suspicious of this tale of their people and of Rodney, who is thrilled to have their positions reversed. He may propose that Chaya and John do their glowy thing and get it out of the way, since he can't know if John got some kind of benefit from that.] 

[After a staff meeting, Rodney stops John]

"Look, I was just wondering, do you miss flying?"

John had no idea what McKay meant by that.  "I … what?"

"I just -- I mean, yes, the jumpers, and the speed is much more than you could ever -- and orbit, and space , and -- but the dampeners, it's less tactile, and I thought you might miss that.  And it's not -- we don't have a kit or anything, obviously, but we do have a limited fabrication ability, and then there's the fuel, but that's just chemistry.  I'm sure I have someone who could come up with something." He frowned, distracted. "Though, well, if it were that easy, we wouldn't have wars for oil, although with how much your military keeps secret, that could be just a pretext for -- right, right, sorry.  Anyway. Maybe I could come up with something, but I don't know, maybe the jumpers are enough. So do you?" His eyes searched John's expression intently.

John wondered if he should ask one of those chemists to find out whether McKay's coffee had something a little more potent than coffee in it.  "I like the jumpers fine," he ventured carefully, hoping it answered whatever the actual question was in all that.

"Oh.  Right.  Good. I mean, no, that's good, it's not as if I -- right."  He looked at John a little longer and then deflated slightly.  He didn't look disappointed, exactly, but it was something like that.  "And I'm sure you have drills or, or marching or something, and I have to."  He gestured over his shoulder with a thumb. "Go. So." He turned and headed back to his lair at his usual breakneck pace.

John just stood there a few more seconds, watching him leave, feeling slightly run over.

[{This is overdone.}  As The Storm approaches, Rodney grows more and more tense.  He has made sure to have all the grounding stations repaired well in advance; they evacuate most staff just in case, and he tells them that they'd better not try to come back because he's locking the gate shield in place, so if they have trouble they should just gate to the alpha site or something.  (Weir and/or John will object; he won't care.) He also has a larger staff stay to implement the shield plan and insists that every one of them be armed. Either Beckett and Zelenka stay or they're allowed to return swiftly. Once the plan is implemented successfully they all congratulate one another, only to find Rodney sitting on the floor at his console, shocky and breathing raggedly, flinching from every touch.  They summon Beckett, who offers to give Rodney something to help him calm down; Rodney nods his agreement, but when Beckett puts the needle to his arm, the light glinting off the metal, Rodney jerks away and scrambles back to huddle against the console, pleading, "No don't don't please don't I'll tell I'll tell I'll tell just don't --" John realizes Rodney is protecting not his midsection but his arm. Beckett offers him something oral instead and Rodney takes it; Beckett then takes him off to the infirmary for observation.  Beckett later has John and Elizabeth report to the infirmary because Rodney will not sleep, despite desperate need and apparent desire to do so; he keeps jerking awake, asking urgently after both of them, fearing one or both is injured or dead. Beckett hopes that if they're both plainly there, Rodney will sleep. They try this, but at first it doesn't work perfectly -- Rodney settles quickly on seeing them safe but still keeps jerking awake. Elizabeth then starts talking to John about some sort of operational thing; John is confused but eventually realizes that as they both speak, Rodney can hear them and is calmed by their obvious presence.  Rodney sleeps a while and John starts to think about heading out for sleep or food himself but finds that Rodney has awakened and is watching him. Rodney says he's sorry, he didn't mean to tell. His brain works fast, too fast, and when he realized Kolya was serious he knew Kolya would keep cutting him until he got what he wanted, and if that wasn't enough he'd figure out to go after Elizabeth to make him talk … and he'd like to say that's really why he broke and revealed John's position but it hurt, it really hurt, and he's not good with pain, he doesn't know how not to feel it. But he's sorry. John sees that Rodney needs this private confession but assures him that everyone's fine, they're all safe, no one's been hurt.  As Rodney recovers, Ford shows John the game "Incursion", which gives Rodney's confession context and makes them both (?) suspicious.]

"Wait a second.  Are you telling me McKay's having flashbacks because of a video game ?"

Ford fidgeted.  "You really think that's it, sir?"

"What do you mean?"

"I was just thinking -- the Research Station is kind of like Atlantis, right?  And that whole thing with the explorers, and the Scourge that are like the Wraith, and the VEMs -- that was in games he was putting out months before they even found the base in Antarctica.  He had that other game that sounded a lot like that Chaya lady, too, and he always knows where everything is before anybody else. I'm just thinking, maybe he … knows things, you know? I mean, it sounds weird, but it sounds like all kinds of crazy stuff used to happen at the SGC and we never knew it was real.  So … what if this game is what was supposed to happen?"

[Probably soon after that, someone -- possibly Ford -- has put together enough to demand an explanation for how Rodney knows the odd things he does.  Rodney calls Weir, Sheppard, Ford, Teyla, Beckett, and Zelenka into conference to give them all a shortened version of the truth, now that he's had time to establish himself as (hopefully) trustworthy and deserving of their belief.  He explains in this some of the deadly devices he's prevented from affecting them. Zelenka realizes that this is where the "Arcturus model" comes from and Rodney agrees, giving them a little more background on that. Everyone is stunned to realize why he is so certain they can re-contact Earth; their power profile is iffy because they're on the first-pass ZPM (check this:  In "Rising", they depleted their ZPM and are running solely on their naquadah generators) rather than the Janus-rigged second-pass one, he explains, but they do have enough to call back if they need to once Earth has gotten its new ZPM. (He also knows how to get the one on Dagan but has withheld that.) Rodney is asked to give a full report on everything he remembers but he refuses to do so -- it's a security risk.  This may trigger arguments. (If someone -- probably Weir -- demands what gives him the right or authority or otherwise makes him better than anyone else to have this knowledge, he'll retort the fact that he's the one who's had to do this does. Possibly also adding that any of them is free to do the same and if they do, he won't pester them. (Of course, before going through it, he absolutely would have been pestering.))  He does offer some information but holds some back, including Ford's original fate. In the hours or days after this revelation, John finds that McKay has gone out onto the pier, which John has always thought was his way of getting alone time. When he gets there, he notices how much beer (of which supplies are getting low by now; possibly alt local ale) McKay has brought out and asks if McKay knew he'd be there. Rodney says he hoped John would show but, if not, more for him.]

"We were friends, you know.  Before, I mean." McKay's gaze never left the dark water.  "I know it doesn't make sense, but you were probably my best friend after Carson …."

John knew the next word should have been died .  McKay had made enough comments and references to that effect over the past several months to have Beckett rattled, but he never actually said the word when he wasn't melting down.

After several seconds of silence McKay took a drink of his beer, lowered the can back down between his knees, took a deep breath, and shrugged.  "I don't know if it was the same for you. Probably not. I mean, you and Ronon had that whole jock-buddies thing --"


McKay's hand made a little gesture of dismissal.  "I'm still working on that. But anyway, I mean, you actually spent time with me.  On purpose. You turned out to have a brain under all that hair, and you pushed me into things I didn't know I could do, and we'd make jokes nobody else would get.  We played this game that, well, wasn't really a game but we didn't know that, and then after we shut that down we would just watch DVDs or something. And we started coming out here to sort of get away from things for a while.  Every now and then."

After another lengthy silence, McKay hunched in on himself further.  "We came out here when …." His hand tightened on the can. "I was dying.  It was … think of a sort of really fast, parasite version of Alzheimer's. So, you know, just the worst possible way to die ever, and I knew what was happening, and … we came out here and I wanted to say goodbye while I still knew what that meant.  But you wouldn't let me. I remember that."

It was hard to make out his expression from this angle, in the dark, but it looked like he was frowning in concentration.  "I don't remember much, really. It's all vague and mixed up and huge chunks are just not there, because, you know --" His fingers wove a complicated pattern near his temple.  "-- declining mental function and all that. But … you were there. I mean, everyone tried to help and was really nice to me, but … the whole time, you were there .  More even than Jeannie, I think.  And that helped." John tried hastily to remember who in the expedition was named Jeannie as McKay continued, "Even when I was lost and scared and not entirely sure what my own name was, you were there, and that helped.  So … thank you. For that."

McKay didn't use words like scared , at least not about himself.  He used words like petrified and justifiable caution and perfectly reasonable terror Scared was a word he would use about one of his minions, belittling them, treating them like children.  Yet somehow John could almost see it for just a second, McKay lost and scared and childlike, stripped of the intellect he normally wielded so proudly.  He shifted. "Um. I didn't …."

"No, no, of course, you haven't done that yet.  And you won't, because we're never going to that planet, and I've made sure the medical scanners should be able to pick up that stupid parasite now, and the infirmary is under strict orders of exactly what to do if I ever get sick and won't wake up and then start acting all nice to people, so they can catch it while there's still time.  And I don't know how to make the friend thing happen. But my point is, I never figured out how to say that.  I mean, you knew, so it was okay. But now you don't know, and … you should." He sighed. "Or something. I don't know."

John had understood McKay's whole strange reset story, at least in theory, but he was really starting to get how it all fit together now.  All McKay's strange phobias and bizarre idiosyncrasies, his incomprehensible mutterings -- they did make sense, to him .  He didn't just have some checklist of problems to avert.  He was actually living a section of his life over again and having to adjust as it went differently.  He knew battles and disasters, and he had to relive some of them, and he had been working desperately to avert the ones he could.  That was why the guy barely slept their first two months.

And McKay hated it.

If he had been asked, John probably would have said going back to redo things like that would be pretty cool.  A chance to fix everything that went wrong, or know what not to bother with? Who wouldn't sign up for that? McKay had never acted that way, though.  He had acted stressed and tired. He had reacted with disgust when Teyla had called his "foreseeing" a gift. He had already known Teyla, before ever meeting her, and he had known John and Elizabeth and all the rest of them before they knew him.

Except, for McKay, it wasn't really even like that, was it?  They had known each other, and then everyone around him had forgotten him, in a way.  He was the only one who remembered while everyone else forgot. John thought back to how surprised McKay had been when John didn't plan to put him on the first-contact team.  He thought back to the occasional bizarre conversation like the one when it almost seemed like McKay was offering to build him a plane if he wanted one.  He thought back to all the expectant and disappointed looks McKay had given him, the ones that had kind of pissed him off because he didn't know what he was supposedly doing wrong.

And none of that was because McKay was wrong or weird.  John was the one who wasn't playing along. No, there was no way he could have known, and he probably wouldn't have believed it if McKay had explained it right off, but he still felt bad because McKay had tried.  He hadn't just run up and declared that John was his best friend or anything; he had just tried, in his clumsy way, to get back to what he'd already had and then had to watch as it went wrong.

John took a drink of his own beer.  "2009, huh?" What would McKay be interested in that wasn't work?  "So you know what all the Cylon models look like?"

McKay wasn't his best friend, and maybe he never would be.  But John could try, dammit.

Because he didn't leave people behind if he had any kind of choice about it.

McKay huffed a tired chuckle.  "Did you pick that on purpose just to mess with me?  Because, seriously, not a great sense of humor right now."

John frowned.  "No, I just heard a couple of scientists talking about it in the lunch line the other day.  Wondering if the new series was any good. Why would that be messing with you?"

"'All of this has happened before … and all of it will happen again.'"

"Oh, right."  He winced. "Forgot about that.  Sorry. I really didn't mean anything by it.  I just thought it seemed like your kind of thing.  You know -- spaceships and robots and really hot women in skimpy dresses?"  Which, okay, probably gave away that he had kind of liked the miniseries, too.

From the corner of his eye he could see McKay looking over at him.  He noted that he should never let McKay play poker. Even in the low light, the look of warring hope and doubt was plain.  "Oh. Um. Yes, actually, I do. Know the Cylons, I mean. Well, all but one. They were supposed to reveal the last one, but then there was the writer's strike, so half the season got delayed.  I think I heard they were just about to start up again. You know I was probably only about a week from knowing the last one? I can't believe I have to wait an extra seven years!"

"Big deal, huh?"

"Are you kidding?  The betting pool was rivaling the GDP of small nations.  In the labs, anyway. And -- and you, too, even though you'd never admit it outside the team."

Crap.  They must have been friends if McKay already knew he liked that stuff that much.  He scrambled for a distraction.  "Oh, right, it's like Back to the Future --"

He couldn't help grinning at McKay's long-suffering "Gah!  What is it with you and that movie?"  There was fondness under the exasperation, the rhythm of an old in-joke, and John could easily believe he would have talked the movie up as much as possible to tease the guy, if they were friends.

"Oh, come on, like you wouldn't take advantage of the opportunity.  Is that how you got so big in business? You secretly make your fortune betting on sports?"

McKay made a scoffing noise.  "Please. First, I am a genius, and I am perfectly capable of launching a business on my own, thank you.  Second, that would have been more effective if I'd ever cared about sports to pay attention to the big contests.  It's not as if anything else came back with me, you know, and I don't exactly make a habit of memorizing sports almanacs.  Although … I did make arrangements for baseball for this year. It should pay out to my sister. Kind of make up for her taking my cat."

"Wait, you know who wins the World Series this year?  Or … maybe already won it by now." He frowned, trying to remember what month it was back on Earth.

"Yes, but only because one of the replacements wouldn't shut up about it.  He managed to piss off Simpson, which … well, okay, actually isn't that hard, but it was still impressive.  By the way, if you're ever tempted to talk about some kind of sports thing as a miracle? Don't do it to a room of scientists who just barely held off a Wraith siege."

McKay's tone sobered at the end and John swallowed.  He forced his tone to lightness. "Well? You going to tell me which team it was?"

"Why would I do that when I could just take the whole betting pool?  Of course, you'll probably try to order them tell you who I bet on. Then again, I could tell you now in exchange for half your winnings …."

{Haha John would never believe the Red Sox that year.}

{I kinda hate this next section?  Mostly I hate where it goes; it's too settling-for-dark for me.  I'd probably either punt it or find some way to have them get a tracking system working instead.}

McKay abruptly signaled a halt.  Which was, okay, really damn funny.  "McKay, what --"

"Shut. Up." McKay hissed through clenched teeth, eyes still on his scanner.

John glanced around but didn't see anything.  He put his hand on his P90 just in case. "What?" he whispered.

"Just wait."  McKay looked up at the trail ahead of them and … stood there.  Every few seconds he glanced down at his scanner and then back up at the trail.

Two minutes of that was really tedious.  John took a breath to ask McKay what the hell he was up to, but just then someone moved silently around the bend in the trail.  Whoever it was kept right at the edge of the trail and froze at the sight of them.

Everyone raised their weapons -- except McKay, who whispered a soft curse, his shoulders slumping.  He then muttered an irritated " Stop that " at them before holding his free hand out wide and calling, "Wait!"

The figure held there, neither fleeing nor approaching, but one hand moved in a typical reaching-for-a-weapon way.

"We're not going to hurt you," McKay called out.  "I mean, well, as long as you don't hurt us. We'll just … talk for a minute, like civilized people, and then go on our respective ways.  Deal?"

The figure shifted slightly, not actually producing a weapon.

"I … suppose that's a yes.  All right. Now, are they here?"

After a moment the figure cocked … his? … head questioningly.

"They're tracking you," McKay said irritably.  "They're chasing you. Are they chasing you right now ?  Are they here on this planet?"

The figure took a few seconds and then shook his head.  "Don't think so," he -- no, she added in a low, raspy voice.

"Good, good.  That's very good."  McKay dropped to his knees, shrugged off his field pack, and started rummaging through it.  "I'm going to give you some things. Just basic supplies. I wish … it's something, at least."  He started tossing things forward. "That's food. Food. Food. Food pack. Be careful with those, some of the stuff in there isn't food, it's chemical heaters or utensils or napkins or spices.  You can trade that stuff. Food pack. More food. Hmm, you're going to need a bag or something. Here, that's … bag-like."

He took a moment to glance over his shoulder at the rest of the team.  "Enough of the looming , people.  What are you afraid she's going to do, starve at you until you submit?"  He turned back. "Sort-of-blanket, socks, more food …."

John lowered his weapon slightly and signaled the others to do the same.  The woman waited several seconds and then edged towards them warily. As she moved closer, John started to make out that she was filthy , with matted hair and ragged clothes.  She inched forward to take the thing McKay had called bag-like and started putting everything else into it, watching them the whole time.  McKay just kept tossing more stuff her way, emptying about half his pack. "And that's a med kit, which … be careful, because you won't be able to read our script.  There are dressings and things like that, those'll be useful. Anything that's a cream is probably supposed to go on wounds. Stay away from the pills, there are too many different kinds.  Anything in needle form is probably either for pain or to restart your heart or breathing. You'll have to figure out whether you're bad enough off to guess on that one. Are you fighting back?"

The woman just looked at him again.

McKay sighed.  "You're not brand new at this.  Are you? Have you just been lucky?  Do you just let them take you when they catch up?  Or are you going after them, too? Taking … taking out the ones you can?"

The woman showed her teeth.  "I fight."

"Okay."  Then McKay unclipped his P90.  "This is a projectile --"

"McKay!" John barked.

"We can spare one , Colonel!" McKay barked right back.  John wasn't sure whether the wrong rank was meant to be a hint or just typical distraction.  McKay took a deep breath before continuing. "This is a projectile gun. More effective than most stun weapons for what you need.  It's set to single-shot mode right now. Keep it there, because otherwise it goes through ammunition in seconds and you'll run out.  It'll take several shots to knock them down, usually. Headshots are better for that, but go for center of mass because you can't spare the ammunition to practice your aim.  Okay, well, you actually probably would know that. Anyway. It's got a hell of a kick, so be ready for that. When you run out of ammunition … well, you can leave it … no, actually, try to get it back to the Athosians.  They know how to find us. Do not bring them trouble.  Trade it to someone who will agree to trade it to them."

He set the weapon flat on the ground and shoved so that it slid a few feet towards the woman.  "And be careful with that thing. Don't aim it at anybody, especially before you figure out how to fire it.  And don't you dare use that thing on people.  You use it on people, and I will track you down and make your life a living hell --"

John could practically hear McKay wince.

"Okay, yes, pretending I didn't say that.  But seriously, no using that on people. No matter what.  Understand?"

The woman nodded once and carefully reached to pick up the P90.  John tightened his grip, just in case, but once she had the weapon she held it so that it aimed at the ground.  Once she had studied the rest of them long enough to apparently be sure they weren't going to shoot her for touching the weapon, she looked at McKay.  "Why?"

"Because I don't want people thinking we give our weapons to just anyone so they can threaten people with them --" McKay started to rant.

"No."  She lifted the bag slightly.

"Oh.  Right.  That. Because this galaxy sucks?  Because … I can't do more right now.  I'm sorry."

She just looked at him, as if she was trying to figure him out.  Good luck with that one, lady .

"Oh!  Oh, wait, except --" McKay dove back into his bag, rooting around and occasionally dropping some random bit of tech on the ground.  He finally stood, holding something that looked like a cell phone crossed with a tiny metal porcupine. "It's not a jammer, not really.  I've been trying to build one, but it's harder than … well. This is more of a … scrambler, maybe. When it's on, it'll disrupt the signal.  Not a lot , not enough to hide it completely, but enough that they won't be able to get a better fix on you than about fifty meters.  Which is not ideal, but hey, it'll give you an edge. Keep it off unless you absolutely need it, because our battery tech is still inexplicably pathetic so it won't last long."  With a few jerky steps in her direction, he set it on the ground with apparent reluctance before backing away again.

The woman looked down at it.  "How do …." Her voice was rough, as if she barely used it.  "How do I know it won't just bring them to me?"

"Because I'm not that much of a jerk?  Because I hate them too? Because why would I have spent weeks of my valuable time building that to help them , and now I'll have to spend more making another one?  Because that would be redundant , because hello, they've already got that built-in so what would be the point ?"

The woman seemed to find that last suggestion the most persuasive.  She picked up the gadget.

"You should probably go," McKay said wearily.  "If you're not moving for too long …."

The woman looked sharply at him and then nodded once.  She worked her way around to the edge of the path and inched past them.  Once she was well clear of them, she looked at McKay again. "Thanks."

"Good luck," McKay answered.  "I'm sorry."

The woman darted away, quickly moving around another bend in the trail and out of their sight.

"What the hell , McKay?"

McKay gave him an annoyed look.  "You did that wealthy-upbringing-and-horses thing, Sheppard.  Ever been foxhunting?"

John knew how he did, but it still weirded him out when McKay just knew things like that.  "Why?"

"Because she's the fox."

John just gave him a puzzled frown, not sure exactly what he meant by that.  Teyla had her head tilted like she was working out a translation. "Are you saying she is a Runner?"

"Runner, yeah."  He glanced over at John.  "They're also called Wraithbringers."

John hated being left out.  He worked through the term and a few things McKay had said, ending up at a really unpleasant thought.

"You aided a Runner?"  Teyla was starting to sound … angry?  "I thought they did not exist, but I have heard the legends of what happens to those who assist Runners.  The Wraith ensure that everyone knows the cost."

"So what did you want me to do, spit on her?  Don't you think she's got it bad enough, without us piling on?"

"That is not what I am saying," Teyla said.  "I am merely considering the risks. But you knew what she was.  You knew she was coming. Your scanner can detect Runners?"

"It can now."  He looked at John again, including Ford in his glance this time.  "The Wraith pick certain people, stick trackers in them, set them loose, and then hunt them down."

"That's really messed up," Ford said, looking ill.  "But can't they just ditch the trackers?"

McKay shook his head.  "They try, yes, but the trackers are embedded near the spine.  Most cultures aren't advanced enough to do that kind of surgery."

Teyla frowned.  "But your doctors are very skilled."

McKay closed his eyes for a second.  When he spoke, he sounded annoyed. "Yes.  Yes they are. Beckett's a geneticist and he can do it as a field surgery.  Happy?"

"No, I am not happy, Dr. McKay.  You sent her away, even though you know your own doctors might be able to free her from being hunted like an animal.  How could you do such a thing?"

"What do you want me to do?" McKay demanded.  "Okay, fine, say I offered, and she believed us, and she trusted us to operate on her when she has no idea who the hell we even are, and the surgery was successful.  What do you think happens then?  They make more .  We end up with a wrecked, post-traumatic, possible time bomb of a refugee with probably no society left, and the Wraith take some poor schmuck who would have been sucked dry but at least died quickly or put in storage or maybe not even picked up at all and they make him a Runner.  Or maybe a couple, while they're at it.  And maybe that one isn't as durable, doesn't last as long, whatever, so they make another.  And another.

"Tell me, Teyla!  You tell me what I'm supposed to do!  You tell me how many replacements it takes, how many Runners who wouldn't have been, before I'm right not to have thrown that switch, because I don't know !"

McKay bent down and gathered his scattered gadgets, throwing them savagely into his pack.  Then he snatched up the pack and stomped away along the trail.

McKay had mentioned changing things relative to his other timeline, but he only ever mentioned making things better.  He had never really mentioned having to let bad things play out or having to choose to make something worse.

They scrambled to catch up to McKay, who was setting a respectable pace for once.  Ford gave John a questioning look once they caught up, but John shook his head. Probably better to leave McKay alone for a while.

A couple of minutes later, Teyla broke the uncomfortable silence.  "Dr. McKay?"

He ignored her.

She took a few quicker steps to catch up to him and touched his arm.  "Dr. McKay." But he twisted away from her and sped up himself. She easily moved forward and blocked his path, forcing him to stop.  "Rodney. Please. I'm sorry."

McKay said nothing.  He was flushed, his breathing a little heavier than the exertion alone could really account for.

"I am sorry," Teyla said again.  "You have had longer to consider the ramifications.  I had not known Runners truly existed. I needed time to understand."

McKay's shoulders dropped and he ran a hand over his face.  "Crap. Yeah, I know. Sorry."

Teyla reached out and drew McKay into her little head-bump thing, which for some reason made McKay's breathing go shuddery for a few seconds before he controlled it.  "I know that you are a good man," she said emphatically. "I know that you would not refuse aid to someone in need without good reason."

McKay pulled back and looked at her searchingly.  "Really?" he asked in a tiny, pleading voice.

Teyla's smile was consoling.  "Yes, of course."

McKay nodded to himself.  "Right. Good. So, what --" He cleared his throat and tried again.  "What are we standing around for?" He stepped around Teyla and this time she let him.  "Come on, come on, day's wasting here. The longer we're away from the city, the harder it will be to fix everything the idiots are doing in my absence.  And one of you had better have a PowerBar on you or something, because I'm starving ."

They kept up with him easily.  Ford produced a PowerBar and grinned as McKay wolfed it down.  He waited until McKay had chased down every last crumb from the wrapper before speaking.  "So if you can't do much, why'd you change your scanner to watch for them?"

"Because there's one I'm looking for."

"And we can help that one, right?" John said.  "Because there's a reason you know about the trackers, and that Beckett can remove one in a field surgery."

McKay shot John a startled look, his steps slowing briefly.  Then he smirked. "Very good, Sheppard, you're not completely hopeless.  Yes. We helped him the first time, so I don't think we can make things any worse.  Well, except some things are already different, but still, it's at least close. And he's … important.  Not, I mean … call it nepotism or something, I don't know. But he belongs with us. Only I don't know how much we've changed in terms of Wraith movements, so I can't guarantee he'll be where we originally found him, so --" He waved the scanner.  "Besides, maybe eventually we can do something more for the others."

"And when possible, we can at least offer them supplies," Teyla agreed.  "Can you create more of your blocking devices?"

John really wished she hadn't said that, because McKay sagged, looking exhausted again.  "I guess. I mean, I'll need something, just in case we find Ronon with the Wraith hot on his tail.  I'm trying to bring down all the transmitters, or at least find a way to jam them, but … it's tricky."

"Ronon?  You've mentioned that name before, haven't you?"

McKay glanced at John and then looked firmly at the trail ahead.  "Probably. You'll like him. You both like idiotic sports and shooting things."

"Can't wait."  John patted McKay on the shoulder, just briefly, because McKay looked kind of brittle if he did too much of that sort of thing and out in the field would be a bad time for that, even if McKay wasn't already wound tight.  "You'll crack it. Besides, you've got the design for something that at least helps, right? You were saying it scattered the signal? So put one of your minions on mass production."

"Those idiots?"  McKay brightened at the introduction of one of his favorite topics, just as John had hoped.  "Do you have any idea what sort of disasters they attempt to cause on a regular basis, just working in their areas of alleged expertise …."

He continued in that vein for an impressively long time.  Ford managed to mutter a quiet, "Did you have to, sir?" that Teyla also caught but McKay, luckily, talked right over.  John and Teyla shared a look, and then Teyla went forward to listen attentively to McKay while John dropped back a little to give Ford a quick lesson in morale management.

{I have no idea how far into the story we would be by this point.  I tend to plan long and fall short. All of that is just the first year, and Rodney has five to get through.  And certain developments deserve to be touched on; else why bother with a back-in-time plot? But I don't remember most of them anymore .}

{At some point, the issue of Katie would come up, and Jennifer.  Rodney would likely avoid Katie, knowing that wouldn't work out. If he mentions Jennifer to John, John will tell Rodney to be more chill about it, because he's pretty sure women don't actually respond well to the whole I am your density thing (Back to the Future in-joke).}

[Years, changes, similarities.  As they reach the date he was reset, Rodney becomes more and more tense.  If the Replicators haven't been attacked, there won't be a Wraith ship capable of reaching Earth so easily; however, there may still be a ship in the path of the transmission.  They must watch for this and deal if there is a ship in that path … but space is vast, so depending on the canon properties of the signal, having it miss all ships may be not just reasonable but realistic.  Once that's past, Rodney will be a nervous wreck until he gets past the reset point for certain.  Maybe then go to Chaya for an explanation?]

{I did write a side ficlet with the explanation, but it's terrible, so:  The gadget way back in the first story was, fundamentally, an Ascension device.  Shocking, I know. The idea was to prime it with a specific personal-development objective and then fuse someone's consciousness with either one's more specific-objective-enlightened later self from the same timeline, which gives me plot-hole problems; or one's more specific-objective-enlightened later self from a closely adjacent timeline.  That device was then lost track of, degraded, and misunderstood; and when used by humans who did not and would not have the gene, it functionally just shared feelings. Since that was all it was known to do, that was what it was used for; no one knew it had originally had a more complex purpose. But Rodney-without-team-feelings could be linked to a gene-enhanced Rodney-with-team-feelings in a nearby timeline (that, *cough*, happened not to have discovered the device), so the full function kicked in and fused them.  2002 Rodney was inadvertently software-updated, so to speak; he can't get back to his "original team" because, strictly speaking, he was never actually there. This is his only reality and he must learn to be content with it, differences and all. His current team are a little hurt that there's a part of him that wants to leave them behind; he's hurt that he's spent all this time partially chasing something he can never achieve. But, on the whole, he's managed to build something pretty good here; he just needs to learn to accept it.

Elsewhen, a 2009 Rodney wakes in the infirmary, Jennifer hovering with worry.  He's disoriented for a moment, reveals that he dreamed Sam threw a Toclafane at him, and shrugs it off as possibly having shocked himself a little repairing a panel or some such.}