The Toss of a Coin

Rina

August-September 2005

Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis, the characters and universe are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, Gekko Productions and the Sci-Fi Channel.

Chapter 2 ~ Chapter 3 ~ Chapter 4 ~ Chapter 5 ~ Chapter 6 ~ Chapter 7 ~ Chapter 8

~ Chapter 1 ~

In the year that the Atlantis team had been away, many things had changed at the SGC; Gen. O’Neill was now in Washington, and Gen. Landry was in charge; SG-1 was in limbo, and the Goa’uld had been defeated across the galaxy. One thing had stayed the same: the bureaucracy.

As the overall Atlantis mission debriefing dragged on and on, Rodney McKay became less and less interested in it. To someone who had lived through the harrowing days in the abandoned city of the Ancients, the fact that people who, until just over two weeks ago, had never heard of or imagined anything like the Wraith were questioning decisions that had been made by the command staff galled him.

That he, Elizabeth, and Carson had to sit here and defend their decisions and those made by Col. Sumner made him want to give in to hysterical laughter or weep, or perhaps some strange combination of the two. So many losses, military and civilian, and each demanded an explanation, even when there wasn’t one except for ‘wrong place, wrong time’.

Life in the Pegasus galaxy was hard, and it had hardened all of the people from Earth who had survived its ravages. Friends were few and far between, and many of those they had made had been all but wiped out by the reawakened hive ships that were still decimating the inhabited worlds. Necessity had turned scientists into soldiers and soldiers into lab technicians as they all worked together to try and survive everything they had met - though many hadn’t survived.

The conference room door opened and closed, but Rodney didn’t even bother to look up at the sound. They were nearing the end now, recounting the losses during the final battle with the Wraith, and those were some of the most painful: Peter Grodin in the satellite, Aiden Ford in the water outside the city, and Marshall Sumner.

The first two had been friends, close ones, and Col. Sumner, while not close, had earned Rodney’s respect in the way he had quickly realized that the scientists were every bit as important to Atlantis’ survival as his soldiers were. His death hadn’t been easy, but it had come protecting the city and had given them vital minutes they needed at a critical time.

"Sorry I’m late; there was a little incident on PRZ-367 that needed some attention."

Wondering just who could walk in and disturb the meeting that way, Rodney looked up from his laptop and rubbed his bloodshot eyes as he frowned. The newcomer looked familiar, but he was so tired he simply couldn’t place him.

"That’s all right, Col. Sheppard," Gen. Landry answered. "Have a seat; I’m sure you’re familiar with the material we’re going over."

Sheppard, Sheppard... The name clicked, and Rodney turned in his seat to stare at the newcomer. Yes, it was him all right, that tall, lanky son-of-a-bitch who had made the command chair in Antarctica sit up and sing. The same son-of-a-bitch who decided a trip to Atlantis wasn’t for him, and how many times had they wished they had a trained pilot in the mix to help them figure out the damned gateships?

As if feeling the weight of Rodney’s glare, Col. Sheppard turned to look at him, offering an easy grin that had Rodney’s scowl deepening. "What the hell is he doing here?" he demanded, cutting across Carson’s recently resumed explanation of how Lt. Ford had died.

"Rodney," Elizabeth said sharply, pinning him with her own glare.

"Once the debriefing is over, that will be explained, Doctor," Gen. Landry said calmly. "Now, if you’ll continue, Dr. Beckett?"

Though he seemed to be looking at the reports in front of him and paying attention to the answers Dr. Beckett was giving Gen. Landry, John Sheppard’s attention was actually centered on the appearance of the three senior members of the Atlantis expedition. He’d met them all briefly in Antarctica when he’d flown Gen. O’Neill to the Ancient outpost there. While he was there, he’d also been attacked by some strange squid-like drone the Scottish doctor had fired by accident, found out that he had some rare genetic anomaly that made him a direct descendent of these so-called ‘Ancients’, and that he had more natural affinity for their technology than anyone tested so far.

Big fucking deal.

To be fair, he’d listened to both their hard and soft sell, being faintly amused by the way the lead science geek had seemed at times in awe of his ability and at times pissed off at him because of it. In the end it had come down to the toss of a coin, and John hadn’t gone to Atlantis, but, instead, ended up at the SGC. It was supposed to be another dead-end assignment, given that O’Neill was pissed at him for not taking the offer to go to Atlantis, more of a ‘get him out of the way because he’s seen things he shouldn’t have’ type thing. But then he’d gotten assigned to an away team and loved it. Soon he was leading his own team and found, in the words of Gen. O’Neill, that people who didn’t want to go through the stargate were nuts. And he found out that he regretted that fickle chance had taken away an opportunity that he might never get again.

And then the messages came through from Atlantis. And the ZPM was found in Egypt.

He had a second chance, and this one he wasn’t trusting to probability. They needed him on Atlantis, he could tell. Weir, McKay and Beckett all looked worse for wear from their time there; wary where before they had been optimistic, defensive where they had been forth-coming, and, according to the reports he’d read, all bore scars, both internal and external. John knew he couldn’t change the past, but he still had to wonder if there would have been anything he could have done to spare them those if he had been there.

~ Chapter 2 ~

Once the last battle with the Wraith and the successful camouflaging of Atlantis had been laid out and dissected to the SGC command staff’s satisfaction, Gen. Landry stood. "Doctors, thank you for agreeing to this. I know reliving these events must be painful for you."

Rodney glanced over at Carson, who was sitting with his lips pressed together as if holding back an angry retort, then at Elizabeth, who was surrounded with an aura of calm that he knew would fall away when she was alone, and rolled his eyes. "As if we had any other choice," he muttered under his breath.

"With Col. Sumner’s unfortunate death, there’s a need for a new military commander in Atlantis," Landry continued, ignoring the comment. "As there are no original military personnel left in the city above the rank of sergeant, promotion from within is not an option. Given the unique situation with the technology you deal with there, however, we do have an excellent candidate for the position."

"I’m going to have to speak to this person before I agree to the appointment," Elizabeth said firmly.

"Quite understandable, Dr. Weir," Gen. Landry nodded. "I’m sure Col. Sheppard will make himself available to you at your convenience."

"Col. Sheppard?" Elizabeth, Carson, and Rodney all chorused.

"Isn’t he the person who already said he didn’t want to go to Atlantis?" Rodney protested.

"That was then, this is now." The colonel’s smooth answer had Rodney glowering at him.

"Oh, that’s just the attitude we need," he snarled. "Hell, even Everett was better than this!"

"Easy, Rodney," Carson murmured, putting a hand on Rodney’s arm and squeezing it. "He has the gene, and the Lord knows we need all the people who can activate the technology we can get."

"I can fly too," Col. Sheppard said easily. "Might come in handy with those gateships of yours. And who the heck named them that?"

The silence that followed was heavy before Carson finally answered. "That would have been Lt. Ford."

To Sheppard’s credit, he at least had the good sense to look abashed, though it didn’t make Rodney more inclined to like the man. He had no clue what they’d all been through. Reports were cold, plain facts; they didn’t tell you how it felt to have a man blow his brains out next to you because some parasitic alien had stolen all of his youth and middle age and left him a husk of himself. They didn’t show you how someone could make you laugh, then drown in the water with a Wraith hand stuck in their chest. And most of all they didn’t pass on the information of how, after endless pain, sometimes it just stopped hurting, and that that was the scariest thing of all.

"Dr. Beckett." John gave the geneticist his most charming grin, sensing that of the three command staff visiting from Atlantis he’d be the easiest to win over. And he had to win them all over - or at least convince Beckett and McKay of his usefulness to their mission before he met with Weir or the whole point was moot.

"Col. Sheppard." Beckett rose from the desk where he’d been studying what looked like personnel files and walked around it to shake John’s hand, his grip firm. "Thank ye for coming; as ye can see, I’ve a bit of work piled up." He gestured to the pair of chairs in front of the desk. "Please, sit. I’ve tea if you care for some."

John smiled again and nodded as he sat. "I love a good cup of tea." He watched while the Scot poured him a mug and refilled his own, remaining silent until Dr. Beckett was seated as well. "So, what questions can I answer for you, Doc?"

Beckett pondered the dark depths of his tea for such a long time that John felt the urge to squirm or fill the silence with idle chatter - probably just what the doctor wanted him to do. This was a test, and he supposed he couldn’t blame them for putting him through it, but it didn’t make him like the situation any more.

"I’ve only one question, lad," Dr. Beckett said as he finally looked up to study John’s face, his blue eyes tired and serious. "Why do ye want to go to Atlantis?"

It was a fair enough question, one John had heard already from both O’Neill and Landry. He’d convinced them, so he could convince Beckett; he was sure of it. "Because I think I can help. You said yourself that you need every person with this ATA gene you can get, and we already know their technology loves me.

"I’ve spent the last year thinking I made the wrong decision and the past month knowing that was a fact, and when I make a mistake, I fix it. I want to go to Atlantis, Dr. Beckett. I want to do whatever I can to make it better there whether it’s by military action, finding new trading partners, or making things light up so the science whizzes can test them."

Beckett smiled at the last and leaned back in his chair, finally taking a drink from his mug. "Good. Ye can be at Rodney’s beck and call when he needs something activated; I’m tired of that duty myself."

"If I can convince Dr. McKay and Dr. Weir that I’m the right person for the job," John allowed.

"Aye, I doubt they’ll be quite as easy to sell yerself to as I was." Beckett paused and took another drink before continuing, letting John mull over his comment while he did so. "I’m recommending to Elizabeth that she take ye on because we need a man with yer abilities. She and Rodney will have to come to that decision themselves, so ye’d best be on yer top game for them. Do ye understand, lad?"

John nodded, his expression turning serious. "I understand that this isn’t a game; it’s life or death out there, and I’ll do my damnedest to make it more of the former and none of the latter."

Beckett eyed him assessingly, then leaned over and patted his shoulder. "That’s what we need out there, lad; remember that."

"I will, Doctor, I can promise you that."

Finishing his tea, Beckett stood, apparently deciding the meeting was over. As John rose as well, the Scot held up a hand, halting him. "One more thing, Colonel. When ye go talk to Rodney, bring something to eat."

"Something to eat?"

"Aye, just not citrus, he’s deathly allergic to it."

"Food, but not citrus, got it. Any reason why?"

"Dr. McKay is hypoglycemic and he’s always hungry. Trust me, ye don’t want to deal with Rodney when he’s hungry."

John nodded slowly as he handed his own mug back to Beckett. "I’ll remember that, thank you."

~ Chapter 3 ~

"Is everyone here an idiot?" Rodney sighed as he studied the readouts from the disassembled Mark II naquadah generator. There was so much damn energy waste in the thing, energy that could have been used to power the chair longer, which in turn would have saved more lives.

"Naw, just a few of us." The unexpected answer caused Rodney to start and curse when he smacked his knee on the table leg. Seeing who was standing, no, lounging in the doorway to the lab, he scowled. "Just what are you doing here, Colonel?"

Sheppard shrugged negligently. "You keep ducking meetings I try to set up, so I figured it was easiest to track you down in your lair."

"My lair? I’m not some wild animal, you know."

"I don’t know, this seems like the lair of a world-renowned astrophysicist to me."

If anything, Rodney’s scowled deepened. "If you think coming in here and complimenting me is going to get me to recommend that Elizabeth take you on, you’re more ignorant than the idiots who designed this monstrosity." He waved a hand at the generator as he spoke and knocked part of the housing to the floor.

Sheppard bent to pick it up at the same time he did, and they narrowly avoided cracking their skulls together. "Hey, I didn’t come here to compliment anyone," the colonel said, holding his hands up as he straightened, letting Rodney grab the housing. "If I had wanted to do that, I would have done what Dr. Beckett suggested and brought you food."

Rodney slammed the piece of metal down on the table. "Carson’s too soft for his own good or anyone else’s." That said, he turned back to his work, hoping Col. Sheppard would get the hint and leave. Sadly, the lack of any sound made it clear that Sheppard was too stupid to do that.

Knowing he wasn’t going to get anything done until he’d talked to the man, Rodney finally swore under his breath and looked up again, fighting the urge to throw the piece of housing at the colonel’s smugly smiling face. "Just what do you want?"

"What I want is for you to hear me out." Sheppard walked forward as he spoke, and he ended up leaning over the bench Rodney was working at, making him fight the urge to step back and get some space between them.

Gathering his anger around him like a mantle, Rodney flipped a hand in Sheppard’s face. "Fine, talk. Tell me all about why you now have a hard-on to go to Atlantis when you didn’t want to go near the expedition before."

The fact that the colonel paused before answering gave him even more ammunition. "Let me guess, and please, tell me if I’m right because I really hate to be wrong. It’s the fear of the unknown. I mean, walking through a stargate into who-knows-what... Golly gee, that would terrify anyone. But guess what, Colonel, it didn’t scare everyone. Good people went through that gate. Good people who died because we found monsters on the other side and I hope to hell you can’t sleep at night because of thinking that maybe one or two of them might have been alive if you had gone with us."

"I know. That’s why I want to go now." Sheppard’s quiet reply caught Rodney off-guard, and he paused, lifting his chin to stare at the other man in consternation.

Pleased and somewhat surprised that his comment had stopped the tirade, if only for the moment, John continued. "I want to go because if I don’t, I’ll regret it the rest of my life."

Ignoring McKay’s muttered ‘Boo fucking hoo’, John continued. "I’ll regret it, and, in all honesty, you will too. Look, Dr. McKay, you know as well as I do that there’s something about me Ancient technology loves. Do you really want to pass up the opportunity to see just what I can turn on there? I already promised Dr. Beckett I’d take his place as your modern-day light bulb, and I’ll make the same promise to you."

Yes, it was prostituting himself, but in a way John knew he could live with and a way that hopefully would play on McKay’s greed for knowledge.

"So you’ll turn on tech in between blowing things up? How kind of you," McKay snorted.

John shrugged. "I’d rather make friends than blow them up, but if it comes down to it, as it seems to have with the Wraith, I say the bigger the bang, the better."

"Should have guessed you were a size queen."

"Pardon me?" John’s eyebrows rose and he stared at McKay.

"A size queen, Colonel," the scientist explained, his tone pure exasperation. "A person who prefers quantity over quality."

"Hey, now," John countered, unable to stop himself from grinning, "all my explosions have both quality and quantity, so what does that make me?"

"An idiot."

"That’s not what the people at Mensa told me when they were trying to get me to join." Since being truthful hadn’t worked, and neither had charm, it was time to pull out his ace in the hole, his IQ.

"What do you mean, ‘that’s not what the people at Mensa told me’?" Rodney asked snidely. "Why would they be talking to you?"

John shrugged, knowing he’d just hooked himself a big one. "I took the test in college, passed it, but who wants to deal with all the crap?"

"You turned down the offer of membership?"

"I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me I’m smart, McKay."

"Well, of course not, but still..."

McKay looked flustered, and John smiled to himself. "Look, I’ve told you what I can bring to the expedition. If you think that’s not enough, then tell Dr. Weir that you don’t believe I’m a good fit for your team, but it’ll be your loss."

"Fine," McKay said shortly. "If you’re done blathering, would you leave now? I have important work to do, and I can’t do it if you’re hovering there."

"Sure there’s nothing here I can touch for you?" John asked, realizing he enjoyed getting McKay going.

"Just. Leave. Colonel."

McKay looked to be on the verge of throwing something at him, so John raised a hand to wave and ducked out the door, whistling as he walked down the hall.

~ Chapter 4 ~

"So, gentlemen, recommendations?"

Rodney looked up at Elizabeth, motioned to his full mouth, and nodded at Carson, indicating he should go first.

"All right." Carson shuffled some papers in front of him and pulled out one in particular. "Here is my written recommendation as chief medical officer of the Atlantis expedition regarding Col. Sheppard."

Elizabeth scanned the short memo and nodded. "So you believe he’ll be an asset to the city; what do you think of him personally?"

"He seems a likable enough lad." Rodney snorted but only shrugged when Carson frowned at him. "I’m sorry if ye dinna agree, Rodney, but I believe he is. We need someone like that to help us with the locals. Ye all know I held Col. Sumner in the highest regard, but he wasnae the best at first contact."

Elizabeth nodded tiredly. "You are right in that regard, Carson. I’m hoping we’ll be able to reconstruct some of the bridges we failed with before.

"Gee, Elizabeth, you mean like with the Athosians?" Rodney asked snidely. "I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to see us again, considering we got half their population eaten."

"Aye, but the colonel and his team also saved their leaders, which should count for something."

"They gave us a polite version of ‘go away and don’t darken our doorstep any more’."

"Yes, but now we’re in a position to offer more in terms of trade than we were before," Elizabeth stated.

"And wrap it all up in a pretty, Southern-accented bow."

"Why, Rodney," Carson laughed, "I thought you’d be impervious to the colonel’s charms.

"Go to hell, Carson."

"I’ve been there, lad." Carson’s reply held a world of pain. "And all too recently."

Elizabeth rubbed her forehead as if she was feeling a looming migraine, and that as much as Carson’s pain made Rodney draw in his claws. "Look, I’m sorry, I just don’t like the man."

"Is that a personal or professional reaction, Dr. McKay?"

The formal title told Rodney just what opinion Elizabeth wanted to hear, and he sighed as he poked at the remains of his sandwich. "It’s personal, and as such doesn’t have to have a rational basis. Professionally... he can do the job, and I hate to say this, but he’s probably the right person for it."

"Can you work with him? Because right or not, I’m not bringing on someone who will cause problems.

Rodney made the mistake of glancing over at Carson who was giving him his patented ‘this will hurt, but it’s for your own good, son’ look. "I won’t have a problem working with him," he said flatly.

Carson beamed, but Elizabeth was eyeing him as if she didn’t quite believe him. "Elizabeth, it’ll be fine. If you want him, bring him; he’s got to be better at activating the artifacts than Carson."

"Colonel Sheppard, please come in."

John smiled and inclined his head as he walked into the office and heard the door shut behind him. "Dr. Weir." He waited until she sat behind her desk before taking his own seat, leaning forward expectantly, his elbows on his knees.

"I’ve spoken to my senior staff..." She trailed off, opening an official looking folder that John would bet his pension was his military records.

"And let me guess, Dr. McKay doesn’t like me much," he offered, grinning.

She looked up from the folder, her thin eyebrows raised. "Actually, he doesn’t, but he still agreed with Dr. Beckett’s recommendation that I approve you as Atlantis’ military commander."

Now John looked surprised. "Okay, I’ll bite; why?"

"Because he agrees with the assessment that Atlantis needs a man with your qualifications."

"Not that I’m arguing, but are we talking about my military skills or the fact that I’ve got the ATA gene?"

"Both, actually. The first will help protect the city; the second will help keep it alive."

John nodded, seeing the wisdom in those statements. "So both Dr. Beckett and Dr. McKay think I should go. What about you, Dr. Weir?"

She looked at him steadily, and John could see the strength that had helped carry the Atlantis expedition through its turbulent first year. "We need a strong military presence, but they need a leader who understands that this is a civilian expedition and our main purpose is research."

"I’ve been off-world before, Dr. Weir," John stated, meeting her gaze squarely. "I know when to stay back and let the science staff geek out, and I know when to step in for backup.

"Do you understand who has the final word on Atlantis?"

"I believe that would be you, ma’am, though I hope you aren’t saying that being your lapdog is part of the job description because then I’ll have to withdraw myself from consideration for the position. You may have the final word on operations there, but the city’s safety would fall under my jurisdiction."

Weir nodded and, for the first time he’d seen, smiled. "That’s very similar to the arrangement Col. Sumner and I had. You don’t try to run rough-shod over me, Col. Sheppard, and I’ll listen to you when it comes to the safety of our people. Fair enough?"

John sat up and grinned. "Is that a job offer?"

She nodded and held out a hand. "Col. Sheppard, welcome to the Atlantis expedition team."

~ Chapter 5 ~

A late flight from Vancouver had left Rodney tired and aggravated by the time he finally arrived back at Cheyenne Mountain, but still, he felt oddly euphoric. For the first time in probably twenty-five years he’d sat and actually talked with his sister, and once they’d gotten around the awkwardness brought on by years of little communication and by the fact that he couldn’t tell her where he’d been or what he’d been doing there, they’d actually had a decent conversation.

He was still smiling when the military sedan dropped him off at the base’s entrance, and he actually nodded to the guards on duty who checked his ID before waving him through. Listening to Jeannie’s stories of the PTA, soccer-mom conflicts and the traumas of raising two pre-teen boys should have been boring as hell, but for some perplexing reason it hadn’t been. Maybe it was the fact that her oldest showed quite the aptitude for the sciences that held his interest, but Rodney had a feeling it was because he was desperate for contact: normal, simple contact with normal, simple people leading normal, simple lives.

If asked, he would deny it of course; suburbia and its pabulum had never held any attraction for him, but the knowledge that there were people out there who might never know about Atlantis, or the stargate program, but were alive because of them made him feel somehow good inside - either that or he had indigestion from the horrid food on the flight; either was a viable possibility.

"Hey, McKay, how was the trip?" Hearing the cheery voice, Rodney groaned. The last person he wanted to deal with right now was Col. Sheppard. In the week since his assignment to the Atlantis expedition, Sheppard had proved relentless in his need to be underfoot at all times, dropping in on meetings he, Carson, and Elizabeth were having on the pretext that he ‘wanted to learn the team dynamic’. Several times already Rodney had told him where he could stuff his team dynamic, but the colonel was indefatigable, always shrugging and grinning but not leaving like he should have.

"Long, tiring, and boring. Now if you’ll excuse me, Col. Sheppard, I’m going to get something to eat and go to sleep."

It was a curt dismissal, but of course Sheppard didn’t get the hint. "Cool, I was just heading to the mess myself; we can walk there together."

Rodney glared at the other man, but, as usual, the look that had sent strong men fleeing had no effect on him. "Wonderful, walking to the mess with you is the highlight of my day, Colonel. Let me guess, you’ll add some lemon juice to my water while I’m not looking to make the experience complete."

"Won’t that kill you?" Sheppard asked, looking at him oddly.

"My point exactly."

"Uh huh."

Rodney couldn’t help but smirk, seeing as he’d effectively shut the other man up - for all of thirty seconds. "So what happens if you ingest citrus, anyway?"

"What part of ‘I die’ don’t you understand? I means me, die means the end of life; very simple concepts."

Now Sheppard rolled his eyes. "What I mean is what happens, how long does it take; will epinephrine halt the crisis, or do you need something stronger?"

Now it was Rodney’s turn to look at the other man oddly. "You’ve been talking to Carson, haven’t you?"

Sheppard shrugged. "Some, but I wanted to hear your answers; it’s your life at risk after all, and it’s my job to protect you."

"You mean I have my own personal Air Force colonel? Gee, Timmy, I always wanted one of those!"

"Damnit, McKay, I’m serious here!" Sheppard growled.

"And I’m tired and hungry, so we’re even." Rodney lifted his chin as Sheppard tried to crowd his personal space. "Fine, your answers are I feel the effects almost immediately; I have no idea how long it would take me to die because I haven’t so far, but after a few minutes my throat’s totally closed; and yes, epinephrine works. Happy?"

Sheppard immediately regained his easy-going manner, straightening up and smiling. "Well now, that’s all I wanted to know; that this would work." He reached into a pocket and pulled out an Epipen, holding it up so Rodney could see before tucking it away again. "After all you’ve been through, can’t lose you to a rogue orange or anything."

Rodney just stared at Sheppard. "Yes," he finally stammered. "Well, my alveoli thank you for the precaution. I... I don’t think I’m hungry after all." They reached a crossing hallway, and Rodney turned to the right. "Good night, Colonel."

"Dr. McKay!" Rodney turned at the call and dropped his bag when a protein bar was tossed in his direction. "In case you get hungry later." Col. Sheppard grinned again and headed down the corridor, leaving Rodney to stare after him, not sure if he was more annoyed or surprised.

John Sheppard was sitting in one of Colorado Springs’ most expensive restaurants with a group of people he would be traveling to another galaxy with in two days’ time, and all he could think of was ‘When Harry Met Sally’. Not that he’d have seen that movie on his own, but the girl he’d been dating when it came out wanted to go, and John wasn’t the type to rock the boat if it meant not getting laid that night.

The movie hadn’t been horrible as chick flicks went, but two scenes had stuck in his mind: the famous fake orgasm scene, and the way Sally had ordered her meals, and it was the second he was reminded of right now with Rodney McKay starring as Sally.

"What about the lamb? It says there’s mint sauce, but what is it made of?" This was after similar questions regarding the duck, the salmon, and the trout. The waiter grinned and put up with it, probably hoping for a huge tip to make up for the annoyance.

"All right, I’ll have the filet, cooked medium well with a baked potato, butter and chives on the side separately, and the steamed vegetables."

"And for your choice of salad dressing, sir?"

"Oil and vinegar unless you put unknown herbs in the oil."

"No, sir, it is pure virgin olive oil." The waiter’s expression was growing pained, and it was with visible relief that he finished with the orders and backed out of the private dining room.

John had to stifle a snicker when McKay looked around at the others, perplexed by the smiles. He supposed he could understand the man’s paranoia about his food. Knowing a splash of lemon juice in a sauce could kill you would make anyone careful about their meals, but after that performance, all John could hope was that McKay didn’t start moaning over his food when it finally got there!

Idle chatter filled the time until their meals arrived. After the food was served, fresh wine poured to all who needed it, and the staff gone, Gen. Landry stood, offering a toast to both the veterans of the expedition and the newcomers. It was sufficiently vague for a semi-public place, but the lack of specifics didn’t lessen the heartfelt words, and John found himself nodding as well when Landry said he was looking forward to what they could accomplish together and with the SGC’s support.

Once the general was seated again, everyone tucked into their food, conversation resuming around clinking crystal, silver, and china. John talked easily with Dr. Weir, Dr. Beckett and Gen. Landry and at least pleasantly with Col. Caldwell, the commander of the Daedalus, the ship that would be taking them to Atlantis.

It was no secret that Caldwell had wanted the position John now held, but the man didn’t seem to hold a grudge - he hoped. The only person who persistently rebuffed his attempts at conversation was McKay, but that came as no surprise as it was no different than any other time he tried to talk to the man. But John was nothing if not persistent, and they had an eighteen-day trip to Atlantis coming up; he was sure he’d be able to pin McKay down along the way. After all, what could happen?

~ Chapter 6 ~

If Rodney had been a paranoid man, he was sure he’d be thinking that the Pegasus Galaxy had it out for them all. They’d been within its confines less than twenty-four hours, and one of his staff was dead. The question now involved finding out how Dr. Monroe had died and what they could do to prevent a recurrence of the unfortunate event that was looking less and less like an unfortunate event and more like murder.

Thankfully, Caldwell had listened to reason and dropped the Daedalus out of hyperspace so that they could investigate the problem more fully; if there was a saboteur on board, this was the time to find the person.

Hermiod, of course, proved more difficult, wanting answers where Rodney had none at this time. Wanting to escape the badgering and muttered Asgard invectives, Rodney grabbed his datapad and groaned when he heard Col. Sheppard’s lazy drawl.

"How’s it coming, McKay?"

"It’s going to take a while." Rodney’s tone was as flat as the glare he gave the colonel, who, of course, didn’t seem to notice or care; he was too busy warily watching Hermiod.

"Don’t stare; he hates it when people stare," Rodney hissed.

"Am I the only one who thinks it’s strange we’re working with an alien?"

"Intergalactic hyperdrive technology is kind of new to us, so we need his help, and that’s a hell of an attitude for a member of the SGC to have." Aware of the way Hermiod was watching them, Rodney tried to keep his voice down though he was pretty sure the Asgard could hear every word and was cursing them in his own language. "Haven’t you seen a Tok’ra or Jaffa on any of your missions?"

"Well, yeah, but - " Sheppard cut a glance over to Hermiod, who was still watching them, eyes narrowed. "Is he supposed to be naked like that?"

Just wanting to get away from the inanity, Rodney shouted for Lindstrom and stalked out of the control room in search of information that would let them know just who was behind Monroe’s death.

Sending Lindstrom to look at the logs, he started to check the junction box, growling when the tests turned up negative. "I’ve got nothing, you?"

"Wait a second... I got something."

"Well, what?" Rodney snapped, turning to look at the other man before the beeping of alarms made him jump. The blast of coolant gases from conduits in the ceiling forced him to stumble backwards, choking to clear his lungs of the poisonous fumes even as he hit the intercom button, the feed showing him that Lindstrom had taken refuge in an airlock.

What followed could have been a scene from a horror movie, and Rodney knew he’d be seeing Lindstrom’s panicked expression and hearing the cries the cut off audio feed had muted for months to come.

The emergency team showed up not long after that, accompanied by Carson, Elizabeth, Caldwell and Sheppard. Brushing the medics aside, Carson took over, shoving an oxygen mask on Rodney’s face and ordering him to hold it there while he checked his vitals. Any other time, Rodney would have been glad for the medical attention, but the damn mask made it impossible to speak, and every time he tried to get it off, Carson pushed it back into place again.

"I already told you, I’m fine." Rodney lowered the mask as he spoke, and, once again, Carson replaced it, this time more firmly than Rodney thought necessary.

"He’s right, it appears he didn’t inhale enough toxins to cause any permanent damage, although a few more seconds of exposure and it would be quite a different story." In full chief medical officer mode, Carson directed his comments to Col. Caldwell, then, apparently satisfied his patient would survive, patted Rodney on the arm and left.

Lowering the damned mask once again, Rodney explained the situation to Caldwell and Elizabeth, pointing out the fact that no one knew just where he and Lindstrom were.

"Security cameras." Sheppard commented, looking over from where he’d been studying the video monitor on the wall. "If the person who killed Monroe was able to get into the system to erase evidence, there’s no reason he couldn’t do the same to keep tabs on the investigation."

"Assuming it’s a he," Rodney put in after taking another hit of oxygen, annoyed that Sheppard had actually come up with an explanation for the incident. His annoyance was then compounded by Caldwell confining all civilians to their quarters. ‘Present company excepted’ of course.

"Well, since you’ve just locked up any extra resources we could use to find the answer to this problem, I’d better get to work on it," Rodney growled, tossing aside the oxygen mask and pushing past Sheppard to had back to the engine room and see if Hermiod had any more information for him.

"Dr. McKay, you are just in time." The Asgard’s voice held an inflection Rodney had never heard before, and it took him a moment to identify it as worry.

"For what? What are you looking at?"

"The sabotage we’ve been searching for."

"It’s a virus."

"How perceptive of you."

"Where did you find it?"

"One of the navigational computers. There is evidence of it in communications and some of the propulsion systems as well."

"So it’s spreading."

"Yes, and changing."

"What do you mean?"

Hermiod’s answer gave Rodney an idea, one that he hoped wasn’t right, but that the translation program confirmed. A Wraith virus had invaded the Daedalus and was slowly taking it over. As the Asgard said; ‘Crap indeed’.

As John listened to the rundown of their present situation, he found himself fascinated by McKay’s delivery of the news. The man seemed almost morbidly pleased at their predicament, though perhaps it was simply pleasure at being able to show up the grunts as McKay seemed very happy to condescendingly answer his every question or comment. He thought about that for a moment, and realized it was only his comments that got the full force of McKay’s derision, even when his statements proved to be helpful.

Theoretical arguments of what the virus could and would do were put on hold when the damn thing started broadcasting a distress call that would bring the Wraith right to them. He watched McKay turn to a control panel and start entering commands and walked over to take a look. "What are you doing?"

"Theoretically we should be able to cut power to the long range transmitter. We won’t be able to send messages, but neither will the virus."

"Theoretically." The fact that McKay hadn’t snarled the answer told John more than anything how much shit they were in, and Rodney’s continued explanation as to how the virus was keeping one step ahead of them did nothing to improve his assessment of the situation and neither did the knowledge that they were going to be transmitting for at least an hour while the crew set up for a complete shutdown and reboot.

"Every minute we wait, we increase our chances of being detected; we need to turn off the transmitter array now."

"Do you have an idea?" Caldwell turned his attention to John as he spoke.

"As a matter of fact, I do."

Caldwell hadn’t liked the idea, and McKay had been most vocal about not trusting him not to blow a hole in the ship, but it was really the only thing they could do, so he had to do it - plus there was the fact that he got to take one of the F-302s out for a spin, something he’d been wanting to do ever since he’d learned about them.

Of course when said F-302 decided to take him for a spin of its own, the sense of accomplishment he’d felt after neatly destroying the transmitter array turned to ashes in his mouth.

"Col. Sheppard, this is Dr. Weir. Rodney seems to think the virus has taken over your ship, so we’re going to try to beam you out."

"Acknowledged." John kept an eye on the instruments as he unhooked his facemask and waited.

"John, we’ve run into a slight snag. Rodney just has to make a few adjustments before we can get you out of there."

The fact that she’d called him ‘John’ for what was probably the first time told John just how deep the shit he was in was getting. "Okay..."

"Don’t worry, we’re not about to give up on you just yet."

Of course, stuck in a rogue fighter with no hope of controlling it, with an astrophysicist who hated his guts as his only hope out of the situation, John wondered if he shouldn’t be doing just that. Now wouldn’t that just be the ultimate in irony?

Lost in his reverie regarding the fact that maybe he just wasn’t supposed to go to Atlantis, John didn’t hear Dr. Weir the first time she called him, or the second.

"John, are you still there?"

"Go ahead." A glance at his instruments told him just how far he was from the Deadalus.

"We’re going to use your radio to target the transport beam. We’ll have you out of there in just a minute."

"Sounds good, so I’m still in range, right?"

There was a brief moment of silence that told him people were discussing his fate. "Rodney seems to think you’ll be okay."

"Well, that’s good. Wouldn’t want to leave any parts behind." John started a mental countdown in his head, steeling himself for the unknown feeling of being transported and praying that he wasn’t too far away for McKay to get a lock on him.

~ Chapter 7 ~

Rodney gave a sigh of pure relief when he saw Sheppard materialize on the bridge. Of course, he’d had the utmost faith that his plan would work; it was just at the end there, the signal had gotten faint and well...

Apparently the colonel’s sense of humor had survived the trip intact as well as his arms, fingers and whatever body parts he wanted to check out later, and the comment gave Rodney time to recover.

Once Col. Caldwell ordered the reboot, he had plenty to do, and getting Col. Sheppard out of his way was the foremost. "Do you mind?" he asked, pushing past the other man to begin entering commands into the system.

"This is what I do when I have a problem with my laptop. I turn it off, and then I turn it on again."

Rodney spared half a second to turn a condescending look in Sheppard’s direction but was spared the need to speak by Elizabeth’s interruption. "I think it’s a little more complicated than that."

"I’m just saying that if we’re taking a book from the John Sheppard book of computer repair, we’re really desperate."

Ignoring Sheppard’s comments, Rodney waited for the word from Caldwell that the crew was ready and entered his commands and gave Hermiod the okay to do his part. The ship went dark and Rodney held his breath, fighting the claustrophobic terror that clawed at him, conjuring up events from the past year and replaying them in glorious Technicolor in his mind.

Finally the reboot was accomplished, and Rodney got himself under control as the lights came up, pouring over the readouts until he had his panicked breathing under control, then gleefully announcing that the systems were clean - and they stayed that way until the ship got underway and the virus took control of the navigational systems.

Of course, having Col. Sheppard accuse him of misreading the data annoyed Rodney almost as much as the fact that they were now heading toward the coronosphere of the nearest star, but at least the other man’s comments led to the discovery of just where the virus was hiding.

While Elizabeth contacted the bridge, he and Sheppard headed for the fighter bay, the urgency of the situation making him put aside all personal dislike of the other man.

When the first door to the bay closed in their faces, it was a concern, but the second route being cut off was a more serious problem. "It’s the virus."

"How can it do that?" Despite the question, Sheppard looked as if he was in agreement.

"It’s thinking ahead, anticipating our moves like in a chess match."

"I hope you’re good at chess."

Rodney couldn’t help his reaction to the question. "I don’t get to play much; it’s tough finding challenging opponents."

What followed was an exchange that shocked him to the core. "Whoa whoa whoa whoa, wait a minute. The transport beam wasn’t designed to beam from one point to another point inside the ship. We could end up rematerializing half inside a wall!"

Sheppard only shrugged. "Well, we’re just going to have to take that chance."

As Hermiod made the corrections necessary to perform this utterly stupid move, Rodney shrank in on himself, hoping that by decreasing the space he took up, he’d also lessen the chances of getting his atoms mixed with Sheppard’s or reappearing as part of the fighter bay. He saw the look the other man gave him but chose to ignore it, concentrating on his own personal safety for now.

They appeared in the fighter bay, McKay still in that ridiculous posture. John shook his head at the scientist’s wondrous ‘It worked’ and looked around at the F-302s. Before he could suggest a division of work, the claxons sounded, signaling the opening of the bay doors.

"Oh boy." He and McKay looked at each other, the horrified wonder on the scientist’s face echoed on his own. "We should really, really be dead right now," McKay continued, leaving John to wonder why they weren’t.

Hermiod’s curt explanation galvanized both of them into action, and they raced around the bay, removing each fighter’s drive before moving on to the next. The Asgard’s warning that the virus had invaded his controls spurred them on to even faster work, and John grabbed McKay, shoving him up the steps to the last fighter even as Hermiod announced that shield failure was imminent. Once he was sure the other man was secure in the back, he yanked out the drive, closed the canopy, and leaned back against the seat, not hearing McKay’s vocal complaints or Col. Caldwell’s request for their status.

"You really should answer that, you know," McKay finally said, apparently having reached the end of the wrongs John had committed against his person.

"Huh? Oh. This is Sheppard; we’re okay. We managed to get in the last F-302 before we lost atmosphere. Any chance you could beam us out?"

"Sorry, John, we lost the transport beam; you’re going to have to sit still for a while."

"We pulled all the memory units; another shutdown should work." McKay sounded on edge, and John resisted the urge to look back at him.

"You know," McKay continued as the crew of the Daedalus got ready for the shutdown, "I’ve never been inside of one of these before today. It’s a little, uh, cramped."

"Just relax, McKay, we’re safe..." John couldn’t resist. "For the moment."

"Right." McKay definitely sounded out of breath. "Quick question though, out of curiosity, how much, like, air do these things carry."

McKay’s whining was starting to get on his nerves, but John tried to contain his temper. "Lots."

"I’m just saying, just because if we need to go to another planet, who knows how long we could get stuck in here and it, it would - "

"You know what, McKay, you’re exactly right, so why don’t we conserve it by you not talking." McKay started to respond, and John raised a finger. "At all."

John could practically feel McKay’s glower after that, and he knew he’d just lost the tiny bit of progress he’d made with the other man. The bay went black as the Daedalus was powered down again, and they both turned on their flashlights, the tiny cones of white only making the darkness outside the cockpit more intense.

The lights came back up, and both men breathed sighs of relief that were short-lived when they learned that the virus had reestablished itself again.

"This thing is like a damn cockroach; you just can’t kill it."

"This should have worked," McKay sputtered. "We’ve disabled every navigational computer in this bay. There’s nowhere else on the ship the virus can hide."

"You’re right, there’s nowhere on the ship for it to hide, but we didn’t get every computer."

"What are you talking about?" For once the stinging sarcasm was missing from McKay’s voice, probably scared out of it by their new predicament.

"We missed one."

~ Chapter 8 ~

Oh, we are so fucked. Rodney gagged on the words that clawed at his throat, fighting the pure panic that was cascading inside him. Trapped in a fighter in a decompressed bay with a man he didn’t trust to do anything except turn on Ancient technology was not the way he wanted to face the current crisis.

If he was in the engine room or on the bridge, he could, oh, find a way to remote pilot a fighter so they could go after the virus-controlled craft. Yes, and we all know how well your last little experiment with that went, the defeatist part of his conscience reminded him. Col. Sumner made a lovely explosion when he took out the hive ship.

Sheppard was moving around in the front of the cockpit, and Rodney jumped when he heard the whine of the fighter’s engines powering up. "What - what are you doing?"

He didn’t need to hear the colonel’s explanation of just what he was planning to do as it really was the only option, but the idea of trusting his life to this easy-going flyboy who had all the ethics of a slug galled him. Realizing Sheppard was serious when he started ordering Caldwell around, Rodney fumbled for his harness, trying to hold his hands steady when the craft started to move before he was belted in.

"Have you ever flown one of these things before?" he snapped to cover his nerves.

"Plenty of times," Sheppard answered easily. "In simulations."

"Oh great. Dead man back here."

"Relax, McKay, no virus is going to out-fly me."

"Why doesn’t that comment give me any reassurance?" A beeping noise filled the cockpit, and Rodney looked down at the instruments in front of him, searching for a malfunction. "What’s that?"

"It just got a lock on us, not to worry."

"Too bad, I’m worrying!" Rodney fought nausea as Sheppard took them through a series of turns and flips that proved just how ineffective inertial dampeners were at high velocities. The analytical part of his mind made a note to look at the systems and make some recommendations for improvements - if they survived this.

"Just gonna tap on the brakes..."

"Wha - " Rodney’s question was cut off as the fighter dropped speed, flinging him forward against his harness. Whiplash, definitely whiplash, he groaned as the colonel chased after the virus-infected craft, taking them ever nearer to the coronosphere.

He hated the nervous babbling he was spewing, but talking had always been a defense mechanism, and he’d honed it to a razor-edged weapon, which, at this moment, was aimed at Col. Sheppard.

The ships flew deeper into the sun’s radiation until Sheppard finally got a lock on the other fighter and blew it up. Rodney had to admit to feeling a jolt of pure adrenaline at the kill, and he wondered just how it had felt for the colonel.

"You did great back there, Rodney," Sheppard commented as he swung the fighter away from the sun. "Want to take the stick?"

Unsure if he was more surprised by the offer or Sheppard’s use of his first name, Rodney blinked. "Really?"

"No."

Fucker.

As John settled the fighter into a course back toward the Daedalus, he grinned. There was nothing like a good old-fashioned dogfight to get your blood flowing, and if his elation had been tempered by McKay’s constant bitching, well, his last comment had shut the doctor up quite nicely.

The last thought gave him pause as he realized McKay had been awfully quiet since his joke about letting him fly the fighter. Now listening intently, he could hear the other man muttering under his breath and realized that McKay was sulking.

Great.

"Hey, Rodney."

"What?" Damn, the amount of acid in that single word could sear flesh.

"I was just kidding; you want to give it a go?"

"And when I say yes, you’re going to say ‘just kidding’. Sorry, Colonel, not up to providing you with amusement right now, you’ll just have to play with yourself."

"Nah, not when there are gonna be people waiting for us when we land. Wet spots on my uniform might give them the wrong impression."

"What?" John could picture the expression on McKay’s face just from the sound of his voice. "I wasn’t suggesting that you masturbate, you cretin!"

John smirked as he listened to McKay rant - and the man said he wasn’t up for providing him with amusement. The strange thing was, snide comments and annoying arrogance aside, John had found that he enjoyed McKay’s company. They’d spent enough time together on the trip out that he’d even seen flashes of the person behind the armed and wired exterior though of course the exchanges had never been directed at him.

"McKay." This was said loudly to cut through Rodney’s complaints. "Do you want to fly the ship or not?"

"I - fine, yes. I helped design these, you know." The fighter wavered when John let go of the stick and settled into a somewhat less steady line of flight.

"You did? Cool."

"Mostly the propulsion systems, adapting them from what we learned from the Goa’uld death gliders and our own work." Rodney’s tone had softened, and John could hear small rustling noises as he moved around in the seat, probably craning his head to look out the canopy.

"Nice work, these little babes can move, that’s for sure. I’m looking forward to trying out one of those gateships of yours as well."

"Yes, well, those require the gene..."

"Which I have."

"As I was trying to say," Rodney huffed, "Carson and I both learned to fly them, so I’m sure you could too."

John had to laugh at that. "If I can’t figure it out, you can give me lessons."

"And what would I get in return?"

"Oh, I’m sure I’ll think of something."

"Col. Sheppard, this is the Daedalus. The virus has been eradicated, and we’re back online. Once you’ve landed, we can get underway."

"Acknowledged." John turned in his seat, craning his neck to look back at McKay. "Hey, Rodney, mind if I drive now?"

"So, are ye glad that Col. Sheppard came along with us?" Carson asked as he examined Rodney for signs of radiation sickness.

"Just because he proved useful doesn’t mean I have to form an instant bond with the man," Rodney growled.

"Well, the two of you did share a small space for quite some time," Carson gently teased as he swabbed Rodney’s arm with disinfectant and then drew a blood sample from him.

"Ow! Damn it, where’d you go to veterinary school?"

"I didn’t; I ordered my degree over the internet as ye well know."

"See? I knew they only took the best and brightest on this trip." His own examination finished, Col. Sheppard peered around the curtain that partitioned off the examination room. "So, how’s the parboiled patient, Doc? Is he gonna live?"

"Much to our sorrow, yes," Carson laughed, ignoring the glower Rodney directed toward him.

"I have an idea: why don’t the two of you team up as a comedy act and hit Vegas; I’m sure you’ll be a hit."

Sheppard shrugged. "I’d rather play Atlantis, myself."

Rodney actually felt his blood pressure rise, and he climbed off the table, shaking off Carson’s hand. "This is not a goddamned game, Colonel," he hissed. "A hell of a lot of people have died here, two within the last twenty-four hours, so don’t you dare treat this as a game."

"Whoa, whoa, okay!" Sheppard took a step back and held up his hands. "I wasn’t trying to!"

"Rodney, I think ye misunderstood..." Carson began, but Rodney wasn’t in the mood to be soothed.

"No, Carson, I think we all misunderstood, and we’ve made a serious mistake because of it. Pretty and charming don’t save people; a work ethic does, and that’s something Col. Sheppard is sorely lacking."

That said, Rodney shoved passed the colonel, stalking out of the infirmary and ignoring the protests behind him. One more day, they’d be at Atlantis in one more day, and he could surely ignore Sheppard for that long.

John turned to watch the astrophysicist stomp out of the ship’s infirmary, then looked back at Dr. Beckett, his expression bemused. "Hmm, is it me or does he just not seem to like me much?"

"Don’t take it personally, son," Carson replied as he handed the blood samples over to a technician to process. "The past year’s been a hard one for Rodney; he doesn’t seem to like anyone much any longer."

"I was under the impression it hadn’t been an easy year for any of you, not just McKay." John leaned against the examination table and studied the other man, noting the lines around his eyes that he doubted had been put there by laughter.

"Not all of it," the doctor murmured. "Parts of it were quite amazing, but knowing that the Wraith were out there tainted it for many of us."

"Well, knowing that they think you all have blown yourselves to kingdom come has to help some."

"Aye, but they’re still out there, feeding on innocent people."

John’s smile was slow and easy. "I’m hoping I can help do something about that - as well as something about helping find us some allies."

Carson chuckled. "You do seem to be the type that makes friends easily, Colonel."

"With rational people at least."

"If yer referring to Rodney, the man’s brilliant, but rational? Only at times."

"Which makes him a challenge. I like challenges."

"If ye’d care for a bit of advice, son, I’d not be saying that to Rodney."

John smiled widely. "Oh, I don’t know. He thinks I’m pretty; that has to count for something."

Carson stared at him, blinking his shock at that statement. "I take it back; after that comment, ye deserve everything he does to ye."

"Oh, now that’s a wonderful attitude for a doctor to take!" John laughed.

"Isn’t it though? Now go, bedevil someone else, Colonel. I’ve had enough of ye for now."

"I’ll see you later, Carson."

"Not if Rodney gets a hold of ye first."

TBC

 

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