McKay is... different. Still as arrogant as ever, still rude and impatient, still ignoring 99% of what other people say. But different. More high-strung, almost vibrating half the time, which Sam can understand after reading the Atlantis mission reports. If someone had asked her five years ago, she never would've believed that McKay could do everything he's done. His amped-up tension makes sense.
But that isn't it. He's changed like that, yes, but it's more. He's not so removed. He's lost that cool superiority that used to make her want to kick his teeth in, whether he was insulting her intelligence or leering at her ass. Not that he still doesn't do both, but he doesn't do them in the same way.
He's mellowed. And it seems like it's more than Atlantis.
Sam thinks she figures it out on the second day.
She's lucky to have this short visit between imminent disasters, and she won't let her Earth-timelag cost her any time at the Ancient technology. Which means she's headed to work before most people are awake.
Not everyone, though.
Sam pulls up at the end of the dim hallway; she doesn't need to be close to see that she'd be interrupting something. McKay is leaning against the door to the main labs, a woman standing in front of him with her arms resting loosely on his shoulders. Sam recognizes her immediately, and feels her jaw drop. Because if you'd asked her to pick out any woman in Atlantis who could handle McKay's bullshit, Teyla Emmagen would be the last one on the list.
It looks real, though. They're talking quietly, McKay's hands resting on her hips, and she hears them laugh together before McKay leans in to kiss her. The kiss isn't quick, either. They pull away from each other slowly, and Sam can see them both smiling before Teyla walks away.
McKay is still smiling when Sam walks into the lab five minutes later.
She thinks she gets it until the third day.
The main gym should be deserted so late, with the regimented Marine PT times and the fact that the civilian science personnel aren't usually too hot for working out. Sam expects to have it alone until she nears the door, until she hears the grunting noises inside and looks through the panel. McKay again -- Atlantis is like being at McMurdo, she can't go an hour without meeting the same people.
She doesn't intend to keep watching, not after a long day bent over lab benches and her body aching for exercise. But it's odd, seeing McKay in gray sweats and circling warily -- and his opponent is Ronon Dex, the big alien that Sheppard adopted -- Sam can't imagine a more uneven match. He feints left and McKay falls for it; he has McKay tripped up and pinned on his stomach in less than a three-count.
She can hear their voices through the door. "Jesus, you ape, enough! Okay, I give!" and is McKay laughing? Sam shifts for a closer look.
Dex has one arm around McKay's neck, lightly, the other holding McKay's right wrist to the floor. He lets McKay squirm free, then rolls over on his back, grinning, and uses his legs to weave between McKay's feet as he tries to get up.
"Ronon!" McKay yells, because he's falling over with his ass in the air, his feet scrambling for purchase. Dex pulls him back down, arms wrapped around McKay's chest, twisting and rolling until he has McKay pinned underneath him again. This time on his back.
Sam watches for longer than she should, because it's obvious that they aren't really wrestling even before they start kissing.
By the fourth day, she's totally bewildered at how McKay is pulling this off. She sees the three of them together at various points: eating meals, going on a mission, attending briefings, and there shouldn't be any way in the universe that someone as transparent as Rodney McKay should be able to play both ends against the middle.
The fifth morning, the day she gates back to Earth, Sam tries to just forget about it. She has enough to do with wrapping up her work and packing components for transport and attending her final briefing with Dr. Weir. McKay's bizarre social life is not her business.
Everything is good. It's a beautiful morning -- Atlantis is prone to gorgeous extended sunrises because of the longer days, and there's a wide layer of altostratus casting pink and blue light across the sea. Sam manages to dig out her digital camera before her gate time; it's not a luxury that she's had very often on SG-1 missions.
She makes the rounds of a few balconies around the control center to find the best angle -- and yes, of course, she's hardly surprised to see who's on the last one. The theme of her Atlantis trip, running into Rodney McKay.
It's a little more surprising to see Colonel Sheppard stepping up to lean against the rail next to McKay, and passing him a cup of coffee, and for the two of them to stand there watching the sunrise with Sheppard's hand resting easily on McKay's wrist.
Sam gives up, right then, and turns back for the gateroom. Either McKay is the luckiest sonofabitch in two galaxies or he's in a lot of trouble. She almost doesn't want to know which one is true.