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Collateral Damage

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"Hey, Radek, a word?" John steered Zelenka out onto the balcony where it was private. There was a fresh wind from the east, and puffy white clouds scudded across the sky.

"Colonel?" Zelenka looked drawn, dark shadows under his eyes. He was probably having to pick up some slack with Rodney below par.

John rubbed the back of his neck, unsure how to broach his concerns. "Um, it's Rodney. Just, I'm a little worried about him, y'know?"

Zelenka sighed and took his glasses off, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "Yes, as am I. Has not been an easy few weeks, but I was thinking he was a little better. Then, two days ago, back to square one."

John nodded. "Yeah, I haven't seen him all day. He didn't come in to the lab?"

Zelenka shook his head: "Not today. Rodney called in sick." He frowned. "Is very unlike him. Even when depressed he would come." Zelenka shrugged. "Admittedly he would be like bear with sore head, impossible to be around, but still, he was there and working."  

"Damn." John gripped the railing and stared at the clouds, unseeing. "I was. Um, I was kinda hard on him right after. Told him he'd have to earn my trust back."

"You were not alone in that," Zelenka said, frowning. He shot John a sidelong look. "But he values your good opinion the most, I think."

John bit his lip. "Hell, I calmed down pretty fast. Thought things were getting back to normal, he seemed chattier, almost the old McKay snark coming back. Then a coupla days ago he just…"John waved a hand and Zelenka nodded.

"Yes, is very strange. Is not the scientists – that is to say, scientists are no more a cause for concern to Rodney than usual. Nothing has happened in the labs to set him back like this." He looked a question at John.

"Nope, nothing I know of with the team. And no recent databursts from Earth."

Zelenka looked at John. "Then you know what must be done, Colonel."

John made a face, "Yeah. I'm gonna have to talk to him."


John had to lean on the lock panel for a while before the door finally slid open. Rodney squinted up at him, dishevelled and unshaven. "Go away, Colonel."

"Nah, can't do that McKay." He pushed past Rodney and looked around the dimly lit room. It was a little messier than usual, but at least there was no weird ancient tech around that might have harmed Rodney and made him hide away. "Not until you tell me what the hell's going on?" John thought the lights up a bit brighter and leaned on the edge of the desk.

"Oh for–" muttered Rodney, sagging down onto his unmade bed, head in hands.

"You eaten at all?" John asked, peering about. No signs of any plates from the mess. "Can't let yourself get hypoglycemic, y'know, McKay."

"I'm not fucking hypoglycemic, all right?" snapped Rodney, glaring at him. "I had an MRE yesterday and some powerbars today. And since when do you give a shit about me anyway?"

"Hey, I give a shit, okay?" said John angrily.

"Yes, yes, very touching," Rodney muttered. He flopped down dramatically to lie on his back, eyes closed. "Piss off, John."

John frowned. "Yeah, no. Not until you tell me why you're so goddam miserable."

"For fuck's sake!" Rodney yelled, muffled, arms crossed over his face. "I destroyed five-sixths of a solar system and damn near killed us both, isn't that enough?"

"Nope," said John. "You were getting over that; we all were. Things were settling down, and then you got weird again, the last couple of days. What gives?"

Rodney rolled over on his stomach and grabbed a pillow, holding it over his head. He muttered something inaudible. John rolled his eyes and pushed off from the desk, plonking himself down beside Rodney on the bed. He lifted an edge of the pillow. "C'mon, spill, what’s up?"

"Database," sniffled Rodney, and jeez, he was actually crying. John patted his arm awkwardly. Rodney curled into a fetal position facing him, clutching the pillow to his stomach. He wiped his nose and sniffed. "I was researching some stuff in the database about the Dorandan system."

"Yeah, but it was uninhabited, right?" John asked, feeling uncertain now.

"Yes," said Rodney, hugging his pillow. "But there were several planets in the system. I was reading about one of them. Not Doranda, further out but one of its moons was capable of sustaining life. They'd terraformed it specifically as a greenhouse."

"Who, the Ancients who were running Arcturus?" John asked.

Rodney nodded. "Yes. It was a long-running science project and…they were scientists." He lay there, looking bleak.

"And?" prompted John. "They were scientists, so?"

"So what do scientists need, John?"

"I dunno – grants? Bunsen-burners? Post-docs?"

"For fuck's sake, no one needs post-docs." Rodney wrenched himself up to sit on the edge of the bed, still holding the pillow. "Coffee, they need coffee."

John frowned. "So this moon…"

Rodney raised his eyebrows sarcastically and rotated his hand in a come on, come on gesture.

"Was a greenhouse, you said?" John's eyes widened.

"Yes, Colonel, a specially created environment to grow something not found elsewhere in Pegasus. To grow coffee."

"Jesus," said John, stunned. "You blew up the coffee planet!"

Rodney looked fearfully at the door. "Keep your voice down, moron." He looked up at the ceiling. "And I'm not sure that Zelenka hasn't got this place bugged, I wouldn't put it past him. Anyway, it wasn't a planet, it was a moon. A large moon, but still."

"You blew up the coffee planet…" John couldn't get past it. This was huge: the scientists were going to lynch Rodney if they found out. Not to mention the marines. His eyes narrowed. "We gotta keep this quiet, or you're a dead man."

"Oh so now you see why I'm freaking out, huh? You absolutely have to promise me that you won't tell anyone!" Rodney clutched at John's arm, face pleading and terrified.

"Yeah, yeah," John shook him off and he subsided into a lump of misery, head in hands. "Okay, here's the plan. We never speak of this again, and you delete all references to the coffee planet"—Rodney winced—"from the database. Right?"

Rodney nodded, then raised his tear-stained face. He put a tentative hand on John's arm. "But, Colonel. Will you ever forgive me?"

John gave him a hard look, thinking about Teyla's undrinkable grass-flavored tea and the price of a sachet of stale instant Nescafé on the Atlantis black market. "That may take a while. But I'm sure you can do it, if you really wanna try."

- the end -