Pogrebin (pogrebin) wrote,
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SGA/SG-1 Fic: Starting Over (In the Same Place), gen, after the finale

starting over (in the same place)
SGA, Team + SG-1, gen, a finale fix-it with spoilers to 'Enemy At the Gates', 9300 words.

AN: Consider this a version of what happened after the end. And-- because people get ever so worked up about these things-- yes, there are mentions of McKay/Keller because it's canonical, but it's placed very much in the context of team relationships. It's sort of how I think it would work. John/Rodney friendship, Team, Carter, Mitchell, Landry,Lorne, Zelenka sprinklings of IOA politics and general absurdity abounds. Your comments/thoughts are, as always, appreciated.



By the end of the first day they’re on Earth, the IOA orders the as-yet-Commanderless General Hammond to beam out the top-tier of the command staff-- Woolsey, Keller, Sheppard and McKay-- for debrief, leaving Lorne in temporary command of a base that has been shot at, burned, nearly vaporised and quarantined. Sheppard relays these orders to him in the Gateroom with a bag already in one hand and a slightly manic grin so Lorne very deliberately does not freak out, sob or in any other way compromise his flyboy cool. Not that anyone would notice. Woolsey is readjusting his shirtsleeves minutely and obsessively, and McKay is--as usual--paying him absolutely no mind, speaking into something that looks suspiciously like a cellphone (Lorne does not even want to know how he’s getting coverage in a top-secret military base from another Galaxy that just happens to be overlooking the Golden Gate bridge, and he’s not going to ask). Sheppard’s radio crackles on and he gives Lorne a sloppy salute and drawls, “see you in two months, Major” before the flash of the beam blinds him temporarily. Lorne makes it back to Sheppard’s-- his-- office with his eyes mostly closed, slumps at his desk and does not freak out, sob or in any way compromise his flyboy cool for a whole twelve minutes forty three seconds. Then Cadman knocks on his door, and informs him that their Stargate was just beamed out and was that supposed to happen, Sir?

Lorne looks desperately at his desk for some sort of transitional memo or briefing while knowing deep in his soul that Colonel Sheppard-- for all his merits-- would never even have thought about writing one much less gotten around to it.

He moves the pencils around and shuffles some papers, but unfortunately when he looks up Cadman is still there.

That’s when a thought occurs to him. “Er, Cadman,” he begins, warily. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but what are you doing here?”

“Dialed Earth, ended up here, sir.”

There was a time when Lorne had found Laura Cadman’s talent for succinctness charming. That time appeared to be a distant memory. “Before the gate disappeared, presumably?” He prompts, tapping his radio and calling for a security team as discreetly as he possibly can with Cadman standing just under three feet away. She raises an eyebrow at him in disappointment and he shrugs. “No offense, Cadman. Besides, in this universe, you’re not a Captain.”

The little frown-line between her eyes grows deeper. “Sir. I got promoted eight months ago, just before I got assigned to SG-12.” Something suspiciously close to a pout twists her lips. “I sent you an invitation to the ceremony. Sir.”

“Uh,” replies Lorne. He’s saved from the embarrassment by the arrival of four Marines with P90s, but not for long, because none of them seem particularly surprised that Cadman is there or that she’s a Captain. Lorne shuffles around some more papers, but they’re still there when he looks up. And now instead of one set of eyes looking at him expectantly he has five. Which is when Vala Mal Doran saunters in, perches on his desk, splays her legs all over Sheppard’s desk and purrs at him.

“Laura,” she breathes, oozing sweat and mud and offworld and a sharp, strong flowery scent around his vicinity. “you’ve been holding out on me, you little minx.”

Lorne manages not to twitch. Much. Cadman shakes her head and muffles what Lorne is resolutely not calling a giggle. He places his serious and capable expression on his face and resists the urge to stab his biro into his thigh. He taps his radio. “Zelenka?” He barks, gratified when he hears an irritated mutter on the other end. “Explain why I have Laura Cadman, SG-12 and Vala Mal Doran in my office. And why the Stargate has--,”

“Beamed out. Yes, Major, I am aware of this. I attached the beacon myself.”

“My question was ‘why’, Radek,” he interjects.

“So that we avoid further SGC personnel ending up here accidentally, yes? Unless you would like to open-- hostel, intergalactic rest-house for wayward gate teams. You would like this, Major?” His voice is cracking because the comm relays are experiencing some power fluctuations because of their rather violent re-entry, but also because he sounds as unhappy as Lorne is with his sudden and unpleasant promotion.

“Radek?”

He can hear Radek sigh, an enormous and expansive noise routed directly into his ear. “We have a Pegasus gate, Major. It takes precedence over the Milky Way Gate in Cheyenne Mountain. As long as it remains in proximity to Earth, all traffic is diverted to it. That is why it was beamed out. Colonel Sheppard did not warn you? Plan was agreed many hours ago.”

“That’s fine, Radek, thank you,” he says, firmly and pleasantly before clicking off, face still firmly in place as he steeples his fingers together, ignores Vala’s hand skimming up his lapel and prepares to take control of the situation.

--

The first thing James Coolidge notices is that his old friend and fellow IOA council member Richard Woolsey hesitates just a fraction before shaking his hand. He doesn’t think anything of it at the time, putting it down to the understandable stress of holding a flying city together with experimental tech and superglue and then having to attend the debrief 22 hours later. Colonel Sheppard stands stiffly in the middle of the room and salutes, which kind of voids James’s gesture, and McKay is barely in the room before he’s grabbing everything-- styrofoam cups of coffee, biscuits, printouts, laptops, keyboards, marker pens-- and he looks so thoroughly baffled when James extends his own palm that he drops his wrist and turns it into some sort of vague hand-wringing accompaniment to the little ‘welcome back’ speech that he’d practiced to put them at ease. It doesn’t seem to be working. The failure of his simple gesture of greeting is-- in retrospect-- a clear marker of how things are going to go between them; at the very first official meeting of the newly Earthbound Atlanteans and the SGC, he was left shaking his own hands.

It’s only because his mind picked this particular detail out of the vast array of information to turn into a symbol that he notices they all do it. James is a career politician. He’s not a diplomat like Elizabeth Weir was; he’d never had to learn about body language, and cross-cultural observation. He played mind-games with people who all knew the rules, who were conversant in the same gestures and inflections, and every single one of them is meaningless. Not this, though: the Atlanteans do not like shaking hands. There is always a momentary hesitation, a tamping down of some emotion on the face before they stick their hands out gracelessly and get the process over with. They treat it like an alien ritual. They almost never use it with each other--instead they touch each other on the arm or elbow or back, very rarely with an open palm, often with the sides of their hands or knuckles or fingers. A few even perform the quietly intimate Athosian greeting that was in the orientation packs but most just take to sticking their hands into their pockets or setting their jaws before they come in for their reviews. James is not sure whether they were like this the last time, whether a switch has been flipped in his head all of a sudden or whether this is something altogether new. He is not even sure whether they realise they are doing it.

Later, when he’s looking through the xenobiologists’ report on Wraith anatomy, complete with photos from dissected corposes, his eyes linger on the bluish palm-- feeding slit like a wound, a mouth, an empty eyesocket and then flick to his own. He has to turn his own right hand palm side up and run his other palm over the skin; a totally irrational urge. But it’s only when he gets to the military reports and sees the scars left on human chests with those Wraith hands that he maybe shivers through some inkling of why the peoples of Pegasus might consider a stranger extending their right hand a threat rather than proof of innocence, a gesture that required a pre-existing trust.

James makes it a point not to extend his hand out to Atlantis personnel again. Unfortunately, he’s as much a product of his environment-- there are times he can’t stop himself from at least beginning the gesture; when the Atlanteans are around, he ends up shaking his own hand a lot. It sort of fits.

--

They do a bunch of formal events during the first five days-- partially to keep the expedition busy because they are restricted to Atlantis and the SGC for two weeks, till they clear medical-- but also because Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagan have been granted Ambassadorial status. They’re envoys from Pegasus, and the Wraith threat has placed Pegasus firmly in the sightlines of every bureaucrat and dignitary in Washington with enough clearance. Cam Mitchell’s fallen into the role of unofficial liaison between the expedition and the SGC and so ends up in his dress blues offering Teyla champagne and introducing the brass. He leaves the party pretty convinced that he’s in love with Teyla Emmagen. I mean, what isn’t to like. She’s gorgeous, doesn’t talk a lot, is completely unavailable, could kick his ass with sticks and most probably hates his guts. Teyla spent quite a lot of the evening with her eyes fixed firmly on his left ear (a deliberate slight, she’s too much of a diplomat for that to be unintentional) while talking in a perfectly flat voice about the future of her people, the Pegasus galaxy, her son (she does not have to remind him that they are keeping her from him). She’s wearing a one-shouldered red dress, with a red scarf that drapes over her elbow and trails down to the floor. Like a flag. Lady Liberty. As she talks, Mitchell sees her expand, loom over him, fill the room with her words and spread the wings nestling underneath her skin. He stutters out something apologetic and official and she turns her cheek, smiling sadly. (Every time they slight her, they slight the Pegasus Galaxy. )

Her face shifts under the lights, and Mitchell’s breaking into a sweat underneath his dress uniform. His fingers itch. Off to the side, McKay is insulting someone, Sheppard is smirking and dragging him away to the buffet and Ronon is watching their six.

Teyla’s face is so calm, so still. She is a statue.

No. A figurehead.

Men have marched behind her into battle.

Jeanne D’Arc.

Her eyes promise that she will burn rather than buckle. Her eyes reveal something inhuman. No-- unearthly. Underneath the womanly flesh and smile full of white teeth she is-- to Mitchell at least-- completely alien.

This is unsurprising. Every time he goes through the stargate, Mitchell feels like it steals a piece of home. He looks past Teyla’s head and to the room full of bureaucrats and brass, Washington suck-ups and their aides and sucks in a breath: they’re as alien as this ambassador from another galaxy, as alien as his own changing face in the mirror.

--

At some point in the middle of the Welcome Back To Earth!/We Didn’t Die!/We Didn’t Accidentally DeClassify the Stargate Program (We Hope)! Party Laura Cadman ends up with a drink in either hand and only one mouth. She spots Jennifer chatting to one of the nurses and clutching an empty glass so crosses the room and offers her some punch. The nurse gives Cadman a quick, nervous smile and slips off-- Cadman thinks she might have been the one that she ‘accidentally’ smacked with a crutch the last time she broke her leg off-world, and so doesn’t begrudge her the hasty retreat. Jennifer accepts with a slightly-shy smile and Cadman breaks the ice by blurting, “Seriously, you’re going out with McKay?” Jennifer looks a little bit wide-eyed and weirded out. “Mitchell told me.”

“I think Colonel Mitchell was hitting on me,” Jennifer confides.

Laura rolls her eyes. “You have to really watch that one. Though,” she tilts her head thoughtfully. “Did he take off his pants? Because that isn’t actually flirting, it just happens to him a lot.”

Jennifer’s eyebrows are making a run for her hairline. “O-kay. I’m not even going to ask.”

“But seriously though,” Laura interjects. “McKay? Seriously?”

“Hey. He’s-- a good guy. Deep down. He really has a lot of very appealing-,”

“Whoa!” Laura throws her arms up in front of her face, warding off any further explanation with her already-empty glass. “Seriously. Was inside McKay’s head, remember? I know all about his, uh,” Cadman’s eyes gleam. “Appealing qualities.”

Jennifer blushes. “I so did not mean it that way.”

“Whatever.” Laura cracks her knuckles. “Hey, I’m kidding. I like Rodney. Just don’t tell him I said that.”

“I swear.”

A weird look crosses Laura’s face for a quick moment, before it’s carefully blanked out-- Jennifer follows her line of sight to Carson, standing a few feet away, deep in conversation with Dr. Lam from the SGC. Jennifer reaches out for Laura’s shoulder, but is shrugged off good-naturedly. “Hey, doc, I’m fine. Just weird, is all.” She shakes her head. “We broke up a long time before he died.”

“You’ve never thought about-- taking a second chance?”

Laura’s laugh is sharp and short. “Is that what it would be? No offense, but that’s a different guy. It’d be like-- dating Carson’s twin brother, or something.” She pauses. “Besides, Carson and me didn’t work out for a reason.” Jennifer only tilts her eyebrow slightly, but Cadman grins and continues, “It was kind of intimidating. Dating one of the original expedition. I guess I could never get used to not being the person he went to. You know?”

Jennifer’s eyes drift over to Rodney, who is attempting to wrestle a plate of dessert from Ronon while John is apologising halfheartedly to various dignitaries that they’re flicking with chocolate frosting in the process and fixes a smile on her face before she replies, “Yeah. I know.”

--

Sam’s eyes widen as she reads the fourteenth emergency report from Atlantis in five days and puts her coffee down with a little frown. McKay is glaring at her across the table, while simultaneously typing furiously into his laptop and playing freecell on the slow-slow-oh-god-so-hopelessly-slow-I’m-dying-of-boredom-just-thinking-about-how-little-RAM-this-thing-has SGC computer (Sam had rolled her eyes during his tirade, but her first reaction to this lab had pretty much been ‘It’s running Windows what?’ as Bill Lee shuffled his feet and mumbled about never getting around to updating the systems on this floor-- a blatant lie, because he had so taken over the room next door for gaming after the last Warcraft expansion pack had come out). She keeps sneaking little glances at him as she reads, and is unable to resist a grin when he breaks, smacks a hand on the table and demands, with a petulant toss of his head, “What?!”

“What, what?” She inquires, politely.

Rodney stops typing to glare, opens his mouth and then shakes his head firmly. “No no no, we are not getting into that little game. I’ve worked with Sheppard for five years now, I am absolutely immune to childish games of this nature. You will not draw me in with your petty taunts and-- and-- feminine wiles, and frankly, I expected better of you, Samantha.”

“Feminine wiles?” She grimaces a little bit, very tempted to pull on the finger that McKay is waving dangerously close to her grab-zone. “Seriously?”

“There are wiles. There are plenty of wiles. Don’t think I don’t know about them. Because I do. I am wise to the wiles!” He declares, lamely.

Sam decides to put him out of his misery by interrupting before he can continue talking. “I’m just reading an update from Atlantis.”

“Oh,” he says, very obviously trying to play it casual and disinterested but really just looking like he’s about to strain about seventeen muscles in his neck. “Wait. What? Another one?” His voice elevates in pitch and tone, and Sam only just has time to snatch her laptop out of his surprisingly quick lunge. “What the hell is that bastard Czech doing to my city?”

“I think that’s officially none of your business for the next six weeks.” Sam really was planning to extend baiting him for a lot longer, but his expression-- all big eyes and affronted dignity and pressed together lips-- breaks her resolve. She gets his worry like it’s her own, sitting low and dull in her belly-- she was in charge of the city for a year and here she is, reading these damn reports instead of working on personnel assignments for the General Hammond. “Relax, McKay. Everything’s fine--,”

“For now.”

“They have the situation under control,” she continues, ignoring his interruption. “To be honest, I think it’ll actually work in your favour.”

Rodney perks up a little bit. “Because it proves that I am invaluable to the smooth operation of the city and its continued not-sinking-into-the-ocean?” He beams.

“Nope. But at least now it’s pretty obvious that you and Sheppard aren’t the direct cause of all the nearly blowing up that Atlantis seems to do.” Rodney’s gone an impressive shade of scarlet, and Sam really wants a camera. “I have to say that I’m actually kind of impressed. I didn’t realise that Lorne and Zelenka could rival your theatrics.”

Rodney opens and closes his mouth several times before he draws himself up in his chair, nudges up is laptop screen and huffs, “I don’t know what you could possibly mean.”

Sam grins, and gives in to her very last mean and school-girl urge because this is McKay, who needs needling, not sympathy, and if she takes a little perverse pleasure in offering him her own brand of salve then who’s going to judge her? “On the other hand, it might not work in your favour at all,” she says, musingly, as Rodney’s head snaps up. “I mean, the city still nearly explodes a lot, but the IOA are getting a whole lot more timely paperwork about it.”

--

On the second Wednesday they’re stuck at the SGC the doctors miss something in SG-4’s bloodwork after they come back from a mission, and they go beserk in the 14th level staff room. Which would not have been such a big deal if that hadn’t activated the contamination protocols, locking the rabid team in with a whole bunch of scientists and off-duty personnel, including AR-1, who just happened to have discovered the Pac-Man machines installed in the staff room by the Radiology department. By the time Lee and the science guys break the quarantine and the Marines rush in there’s no more hostile situation. Instead: SG-4 and three others are trussed up on the floor with their own torn up jackets, Sheppard and Ronon are covering them, Teyla is dressing one of their wounds (all of them have incapacitating gunshot wounds or have been stunned) and McKay is playing Pacman with one hand, cradling his 9 mil with the other.

SG-4 is coming to, the contagion working its way out of their bloodstream, and Landry gives the team leader a once over before he’s wheeled out. “Hurts like a bitch, sir,” he grits, and Landry winces in sympathy at the bullet hole in his kneecap.

From the other side of the room, McKay doesn’t even look up as he calls, “Sorry about that. But in my defence you were trying to eat Teyla’s face.”

“Which is totally not cool,” Sheppard chips in.

“Dr. McKay shot you in the kneecap?”

McKay must catch something incredulous in his tone-- but he laughs instead of puffing up affrontedly. “In the interests of full disclosure, I was aiming for his liver.”

The entireity of SG-4 loses whatever colour was returning to their faces, and Ronon claps McKay on the shoulder and grins bloodily.

The mixture of soldiers and scientists-- some of them forming parts of offworld gate teams and therefore with SERE training, for God’s sake-- look generally sheepish after the med-teams finish carting out the wounded, and they have to report to Landry, who is feeling increasingly irked that his guys basically stood around panicking and falling over each other while AR-1 contained the situation. Sheppard’ face covered with streaks of soot and blood, and he’s flanked by Ronon and Teyla: two brown-skinned, grinning shadows clutching P-90s, looking like every Apocalypse Now cliché in the book. He’s patting the hand of Captain Wilkinson from SG-10, who is mumbling something apologetic and horrified about how she’d managed to concuss her team-mate Briggs with a ceiling vent-- Landry had already decided he was going to studiously ignore that part of the report when it arrives on his desk-- and saying, his eyes flicking to Landry, “Don’t worry, Wilkinson. Chemistry doesn’t happen overnight.”

Landry grinds his teeth in his sleep every night for two weeks.

--

On the eleventh day of the stand down and review, SG-1 sitting in the waiting area outside General Landry’s office when the door to one of the conference rooms swings open and McKay strides out, face red and hands clenching like he wants to hit someone. Airman Brandt rushes out after him, mutters something low and conciliatory and McKay sighs gustily and follows him back in. He leaves the door slightly open, so the voices travel enough for them to hear-- it’s Senator Amelia Jensen, who’s on several defence and appropriations committees. “I’m simply pointing out that the Atlantis expedition began as a colonial mission and never shed those protocols. You have all developed strong bonds-- with each other, with your posting. It would only be natural that you consider Atlantis your home.”

“What do you want me to admit?” The sneer in his voice is sharp and hard, even muffled by walls and a door. “If we wanted to oh my God! secede-- we’d be gone. We’d never have bothered coming back to Earth, nearly vaporizing the city with experimental technology in the process.” There’s the sound of something breaking-- a coffee cup? a glass? The Senator says something softly and McKay laughs. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s us, and there are the things that want to eat us.”

“Would you consider yourself a patriot, Dr. McKay?” Her voice is soft and insinuating. Cam glances sharply at Daniel, who looks a little shocked.

McKay’s voice sounds wobbly as he spits, “I’m Canadian, you know,” as he walks out the door and down the corridor, barely sparing a glance for the four of them.

“A patriot? Isn’t that someone who loves their country?” Vala asks, face scrunched up, after McKay’s far enough away.

Daniel nods, “It’s used in that sense, yes. But it’s from the Greek patriotes-- patrios, ‘of one’s fathers’. Pater, father.”

Vala raises a skeptical eyebrow. “No offense, Daniel, but aren’t some of your fathers horny Ancients from the Pegasus Galaxy?”

Cam snorts. The side of Teal’c mouth twitches.

They track McKay to his quarters, where he’s changed his MSN messenger status to ‘Fomenting Revolution (Away)’, overridden the security protocols to his room and is refusing to come out for his afternoon interview with the State Department. They finally blast open his lock with a small wadge of C4 and stumble in to find him irate, covered in plaster and curled up in bed in his pyjamas with an Xbox 360 controller in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. “Seriously?” He coughs out, waving his arm and sloshing coffee over at least one explosive-wielding Marine. “Seriously?”

They search his room but find no evidence he’s doing anything other than playing Fable II (‘as a girl. In a corset.’ ‘Are you implying that a girl in a corset can’t kick ass, Mitchell?’ ‘What- no-’ ‘Because I’m sure Teyla would love to hear about that.’ ‘God, I hate you so much, McKay.’) and greviously failing in matters of personal hygiene but Cam sees something disturbing in the scientist’s eyes. An hour later he’s hacked into the SGC email system and sent an ATTN: defining ‘irony’ in terms a bit more colourful than Webster but plenty as effective.

On day twelve he gets weapons-grade uranium shipped to the SGC from ‘an old friend’ in Russia.

On day fourteen he manages to rig all the showers and pipes to spray water that’s glittery and floral-scented. The glitter lasts for four days, even with personnel given special time off to go home and shower that afternoon.

On day fifteen he reprograms the SGC computers to respond as HAL and pipe ‘Daisy’ through the comm system on repeat. Every time they try to fix the problem, the screens flash up ‘I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that’. Dr Lee ends up sobbing in a supply closet for an hour before they find him and send him home.

On day sixteen a small, localised war breaks out between three Marine gate teams, the Anthropology department and the Lab Techs union. The disturbance is traced to one evening involving homebrew booze, a blow up doll, and incriminating photos uploaded to the SGC server which were ‘accidentally’ decrypted. Landry can in no way tie McKay to this event, but base chatter widely holds that Zelenka has had an illicit still in a sublevel of Atlantis since the first year of the expedition and so he is not putting it past him.

On day eighteen McKay summons Cam Mitchell to the small non-networked labspace cleared for him, screeches and points at the four neatly wrapped bars of Lemon Poppyseed pound cake dessert (standard issue in MREs) on his desk and hisses, “You’re all trying to kill me! I can’t possibly work like this.” He files a formal complaint to General Landry, and then threatens to call the Joint Chiefs. On a hunch, Cam checks the mission packs in the storage space nearest to where AR-1 has been assigned and the four MREs on top are slightly unwrapped round the edges and missing their desserts. Landry vetoes fingerprinting or using Goa’uld DNA scanning devices (‘down that road madness lies, Colonel’ ‘I think we may already be there, Sir’), Sheppard denies it vehemently and Cam is too frightened to ask Ronon or Teyla, so nothing comes of it.

On day nineteen, SG-2 gets dosed with sex pollen and marries eighteen people on Maxalos, one of their trading partners. McKay probably has nothing to do with this either, but Landry still glares at his stupid smug face in the corridor.

On day twenty someone sends him flowers and chocolates. They’re just sitting on his desk when he arrives in the morning. By afternoon, Landry is so sick of people snickering or giving him goofy grins that he declares himself ill and makes a tactical retreat to his apartment, where he drinks a fifth of a bottle of bourbon and goes to bed.

On day twenty one, General Landry calls a manic, wide-eyed and crazy-haired McKay into his office, spreads his arms and asks, “So, Dr. McKay, what can I do for you?”

McKay grins. “Lab time in Atlantis to work on the wormhole drive.”

Landry signs off on his requests with barely a shudder, and calls it a win.

--

When he beams back to the gateroom of the SGC after another 16-hour stint in the Atlantis labs, wrestling with Zelenka over acceptable safety margins Walter Harriman takes one look at his face, whispers ‘thank god’ fervently and thrusts a cordless phone into his hands. Rodney looks at the man like he’s insane but lifts it to his ear and says, “Hello?” Even before the first syllables of his greeting have died away, he recognises the irate voice that’s yelling on the other end.

“Meredith Rodney McKay. I cannot believe you didn’t tell me you were back on Earth.”

“Should you be saying that over the phone?”

“What? Meredith, it’s a secure phone. I use it to consult.”

“You’re consulting regularly now?”

There’s the briefest of pauses. “Yes,” Jeannie’s voice sounds slightly abashed. “Which you would know if you-- you know-- got in touch with me like a sane person. Teyla had to call me and tell me to contact the SGC. Teyla. She‘s an alien and she still managed Earth culture better than you.”

“That’s-- less surprising than it should be.”

“You’re telling me.” There’s another pause. “Meredith, is everything okay? Teyla told me-,”

“Everything’s fine, Jeannie. I’ve just been-…I need to finish this project. The wormhole drive. They won’t let us go back unless we can prove we can come back when they snap their fingers.”

Jeannie sighs into his ear. “Meredith, this might sound stupid but-- are you sure? Earth really isn’t so bad.”

“I know,” he deflates slightly. “But it isn’t-- home.”

“Oh, Meredith.” Her voice breaks slightly, Rodney fights the urge to reach out across space and pull her into a hug. Something. Just to touch her. “You tell me if you need anything. And-- try and visit? Bring your friends.”

“I think watching Ronon eat tofurkey might just make it worth it,” he sniggers. “Actually, there is some math that you could have a look at. Not that I need your help. It’s grunt work really and I would just ask my usual incompetents to do it but they’re all doing repairs and getting their hair done so--,”

Jeannie cuts him off with a laugh. “Just send it over, Mer. God. And call me sometime. Don’t make me harass the SGC again, it won’t be pretty.”

Rodney looks over at Harriman’s white and tight-lipped face. “I believe you,” he says, solemnly.

--

Rodney finishes his third cup of blue jello before waving his spoon in front of John’s face to get his attention. John considers disarming him, but then decides it would be too easy. Instead he leans back and makes a face. “So,” Rodney begins, satisfied that he’s paying attention. “Do you want to know how close Atlantis came to vaporising when it initialised the wormhole drive?”

“Er, no,” John says, with earns him a glare. He sighs. “I thought Zelenka said fifty-fifty.”

Rodney snorts. “Hah. No. I mean, yes, they didn’t have any other options and Radek made a reasonable calculation given the time and data they had available. But no, it wasn’t fifty-fifty. Not even close. They got-- suspiciously lucky,” he shudders.

John nods sympathetically, but also uses Rodney’s uncharacteristic distraction to steal a handful of fries. “It worked out, we’re here.”

“Yes. We are. But John, with odds like that. Do you know in how many universes Atlantis blew up on the edge of the Milky Way?-- I mean, of course you don’t, you’d need a brain like mine to even comprehend the numbers-- Or crashed through the atmosphere and left a gaping, irradiated hole the size of San Francisco? We have to be more-- more responsible.”

John looks off with something unidentifiable in his eyes. “Jeez, Rodney, life isn’t hard enough without worrying about other versions of us you have to keep safe? And people keep telling me I have a martyr complex.”

“They tell you that to your face?” Rodney exclaims, impressed, face falling when John rolls his eyes.

“No. It‘s pretty much just you, McKay.” The silence stretches comfortably between them until John drags his eyes back from whatever he’s looking at, and raises an eyebrow. “So, Rodney,” he says, with elaborate and strained casualness. “How much time have you actually been spending on our fucked up alternate universes?”

“Everyone needs a hobby, Sheppard,” Rodney says, mouth curving into a stiff smile when Mitchell slides into the chair next to them and gives them a grin. “Mitchell.”

“McKay.”

“Remember to use small words, Sheppard, Mitchell isn’t quite up to your intellectual calibre,” he snipes.

“Ouch!” Cam mimes being wounded and widens his eyes. “That hurt, McKay.”

Sheppard laughs. “Did you just say I had intellectual calibre, Rodney?”

Rodney waves a hand. “Only comparatively, don’t get your hopes up-,” he stops when he spots Sam in the queue and picks his tray abruptly. “Must run. You two boys enjoy being vapid and generally useless.”

John smacks him on the arm. “We will, mother.” Rodney favours him with a quick, genuine grin before bustling off. “He’s a teddy bear, really.”

Cam tilts his head. “You know that you guys have absolutely no concept of personal space, right?” He gestures with his fork. “I mean, I’m not sure McKay ever had any, but all of you guys-- just-- crowd each other a lot.” Sheppard raises an eyebrow. “Hey, you asked me before. That’s one of the things that makes the brass think you guys are weird.”

“Small base. You kinda get used to it,” says Sheppard, shortly. “Or,” his voice goes a bit darker and he adds some Twilight Zone wavy fingers for effect. “It drives you loopy.”

“Loopy.”

“Loopy,” he confirms. “Like Ramirez, or Swann. Or Bambus, poor bastard. Whose idea was it to transfer him to Atlantis just because he got put on my temporary team when I was here?”

“Loopy, how, Sheppard?” Cam asks, nudging him back on course.

Sheppard gives him a totally uncalled for look that clearly says: haven’t you been reading our reports? Cam counters with the stink-eye of: I’m pretty sure I know who hands in your paperwork and it ain’t you and congratulates himself when Sheppard drops his gaze momentarily, looks off towards the cafeteria line where McKay-- in Cam’s opinion-- is touching Colonel Carter way too much for a man that seems to like not having broken arms and says, “Most of us take up hobbies.” Cam regards him suspiciously and Sheppard shrugs his shoulders. “What?” He drawls. “We take them seriously. I’m pretty sure Lorne’s been smuggling tubes of watercolour in with the C4.”

“We should probably look into that,” Cam offers, finally, as a kindness.

Sheppard glares at him and then prods at his mashed potato with more viciousness than is strictly necessary. “Yeah. You probably should,” he agrees.

--

Teyla is the only one who is willing to brave Bill Lee and his endless discussions about World of Warcraft to come bother Rodney in the SGC labs. She finishes a discussion about Mages and co-operative gaming with a graceful smile before sidling up behind Rodney and poking him quite viciously in the ribs. “Rodney, when did you last sleep?”

“Oh, huh, I don’t know,” he replies, vaguely. “Could you get me some coffee?”

“Rodney.”

“I’m doing simulations on the wormhole drive. I need to be awake.”

Teyla looks at his hunched up figure, his bloodshot eyes, his coffee-stained t-shirt, and sighs. For all his impossibility, Rodney is the only one she can truly speak to about their situation. John cuts her off every time with a grimace and a tight smile, Ronon refuses to look that far ahead, preferring to deal with his problems as they come. But Rodney, with his abrasiveness and his unstoppable honesty is incapable of avoiding her questions, even when they discomfit him. “Rodney, it is all right. We all made our choices,” she begins, kindly. “You do not have to fix everything.”

“Yes,” Rodney says morosely, hunching over his keyboard and glaring at the screen. “Yes, I do.”

“John believes--,”

“John,” Rodney cuts in, his voice bitter. “Is completely and totally and chracteristically in denial.” She has nothing to say to that, and so doesn’t. He looks up from his calculations, and his open eyes are tired, and sad, and vulnerable, and so determined. “If they tell us to stay here, you’ll go back to Pegasus. Sheppard will do whatever the Airforce tells him to, because he’s a complete moron, and they’ll reassign him somewhere where he’ll be utterly wasted. And Ronon will end up leaving to go and kill Wraith, and get himself killed without us to watch him. And-- and-- even if Sheppard disobeys orders and goes back to Pegasus he’ll kill himself with guilt. Because, you know, complete moron.” Teyla places her hand on his shoulder and he stills a little, and his breathing quiets. “They need to let us go back, Teyla. It-- it just won’t work otherwise. And this is the only thing I can do to make them. I’m not a politician or-- a strategist, I have to leave that to other people. I-- the wormhole drive is all I can do. So I need to do it, okay? I just need to do this.”

Teyla doesn’t say anything else, but she comes back two hours later with a sandwich and a chocolate brownie, and watches him eat. She doesn’t say: you are not alone. She doesn’t need to.

--

The commissioning ceremony of the General Hammond falls on the anniversary of their first month back home. Its first mission is to the Pegasus Galaxy-- the IOA is nervous enough about the ZPM-powered hive ship having left a trail that others could follow that they authorise medical supplies and aid in addition to the recon team that’s going to be based out of the old Alpha site. Their presence in the Pegasus galaxy has officially been scaled down to a handful of guys with guns in one hand and antibiotics in the other. It shouldn’t be a blow-- the review is still going, the final decision has yet to be made-- but it makes them all nervous. Especially because Teyla is leaving on board, to join Torren and Kanaan on New Athos. “I will reassure our trading partners and allies that you have not abandoned them,” she promises.

“Tell them we’ll leave a note next time,” Sheppard agrees, his smile fixed.

Ronon hugs her. “See you soon.”

Teyla bends her forehead to Rodney’s, and it is into his eyes that she states, “Yes, you will,” with a quick glance at John, like the force of her words can shape the future. Rodney wants to tell her to stay here, not to break up the team, not to give up, not to go but her hand tightens around his and pushes all the protests back down his throat. “You will,” she repeats.

“Try not to die,” is what he manages to choke out eventually, and it’s completely graceless but Teyla doesn’t seem to mind.

Sam comes up to him just before they’re all about to beam up and he congratulates her. “You’re not worried about the review, are you, McKay?” She asks, her tone artificially light.

“What’s to worry about? The IOA has shown such sound and reasonable judgement in the past. I’m sure they’ll do what’s in the interest of science and the advancement of the human race.”

She grimaces but doesn’t falter. “You have a good case with the wormhole drive. There are a lot of people on your side, even in Washington.” She hesitates slightly before adding that last phrase, wondering what meaning-- if any-- Rodney will read into it.

He chews on his lip. “Sam. Have you been calling in favours for us?”

A siren starts going off from the inner recesses of the building and Sam looks up in relief. “That’s my ride, McKay. Don’t blow yourself up without me to look over your shoulder.”

“Oh, please,” he huffs, then fixes her with a look. “You worried about me or something?”

She holds his gaze and lifts an eyebrow. “Yeah. So shut up for a minute,” Sam grins when her strategy actually works, and Rodney’s left wordless. “Good luck, Rodney. And uh, you know,” her smile turns a bit wicked. “Try not to die.”

“You too,” he replies, just before she dematerialises in a flash of light.

John wanders over to hand Rodney a beer and some kind of crabcake. “You know, maybe you should stop flirting with Carter when Jennifer’s around,” he suggests.

“What? Are you high? I was not flirting. Shut up. Is Jennifer here?” Rodney manages to say all of this in about .5 seconds, with a crab puff stuffed into his mouth (‘Nice, McKay’ ‘Hey, the day you teach the caveman to use a knife and fork, I’ll stop talking with my mouth full’ ‘I am not your mother’ ‘Well, no. You really don’t have the hips for childbirth’). “You’re surprisingly laid back about all this.”

“It’s a party, McKay.”

“I meant, about Teyla. And-,” he makes various runic gestures with his hands that try and encompass his complex feelings about Sheppard’s bordering-on-neurotic denial of the reality of their situation. “Stuff.”

“I have beer and nobody’s trying to kill me. I’m a pretty easygoing guy,” Sheppard drawls, leaning against the table and smirking-- all three things that drive Rodney insane. “Besides. You promised you’d get us home.”

Rodney, as always, is happy to play the game. He squawks, glares and mutters, “I hate you so much, Sheppard, I swear to God.”

They clink their mugs together and drink until they can’t see straight.

--

Shen hates that Dr. McKay bothers her so much. The IOA’s scientists have arrived-- as they were supposed to-- an hour before her meeting with him about Ancient weapons technology so that they can condense his notes and reports into something that she can understand. And perhaps even relate to. McKay has been surprisingly helpful-- bitingly sarcastic, prickly, overtired like a five-year-old that needs a naptime but in general tractable and free with his research and conclusions. Shen does not remember him being this willing to acquiesce to any demands for bureaucratic oversight, reasonable or not. Yet there is something about him, about all of them, that sets her teeth on edge-- it isn’t just her. Landry has the same tight lines around his mouth, even other scientists and soldiers on the base, though they attempt to hide it with their precise masks and professionalism. Is it jealousy, perhaps? For some of them, yes. Perhaps for her as well.

But it’s more than that. The instinctive-- almost fear that flashes in her belly when she reads their reports, the desire that she has to curtail to cut their funding, to fling her arms round their shoulders and drag them backwards. Their shadows are lengthening beyond the confines of their bodies, spreading to fill the high ceilings and dwindling-into-the-sky towers of their Ancient city, and they do not even realise it. She fears them because: they are frontiersmen, they make their own laws, their town is the size and shape of a Galaxy. They are the literal, glistening, fleshy embodiment of every moral dilemma or question of medical ethics or colonial mentality or appropriate bounds of scientific research that the SGC has no answer for. They have lived in a warzone, and those who came back through the Gate are the ones that learned to survive. Their home is a weapons platform, a pulsating city built around a stardrive and nestled upon Ancient weaponry.

Their successes span galaxies and their failures destroy solar systems. They rewrite time and history and their own DNA.

So yes, Shen fears them. And yet, she knows: humanity have always been explorers. The first ones too, must have been feared by those left behind.

McKay throws open the door and nearly falls over a chair as he walks in, spilling his coffee with a string of curses both inventive and thorough. His shirt ends up sopping wet and he uses some of his reports to mop up his front. Shen’s fingers relax around the desk as he glares at her. “What? Oh, I’m sorry, is my sleep-deprived hungover state not polite enough for you? I’ll pass on the memo to the other guys in charge of saving the planet.”

“No, no, Dr. McKay,” Shen smiles, beckoning him to sit down. “It is just good to see you. Sit.” He regards her suspiciously but does, hair a mess, clothes askew, all eyes and hands and quick, darting movements, and for a few moments, what she says completely true.

--

“So. Sheppard,” Landry begins, when Cam walks into his office. Cam looks at him with as much resentment as is allowed, and Landry only offers him a small smile in response. The bastard doesn’t even have the grace to be sneaky. “You appear to get on with him. In fact, Ithink you’re the only non-Expedition member he willingly interacts with.”

Cam opens his mouth to disagree, and then catches sight of some of the papers on Landry’s desk-- the General probably has the black-and-white proof of that bland statement sitting right there, in surveillance logs and psych profiles. “Airforce Lieutenant Colonels club, Sir.”

“Quite so, Colonel,” agrees Landry, with the sort of tone of voice that suggested he’d better be coming up with better answers if he ever wanted to be promoted out of that club, fun as it is. “My point is--I’ll be honest with you, Mitchell-- I think I’m in need of an outside perspective on the man. He seems to trust you.”

The implicit statement is: he doesn’t trust Landry, and Cam only wishes he could demur. It isn’t that Sheppard is supremely arrogant or rude like McKay, or carefully, didactically dull like Woolsey or even brightly evasive like Keller-- instead he’s blankly, by-the-book present in a way that is comprehensively dismissive. He nods his head in all the right places but his silence isn’t acceptance, it’s resignation. In front of the review board, Sheppard only inhabits the outer layer of his skin. His persona is only two inches deep, and there’s only stone underneath the veneer.

“I’ve just got one of those faces, Sir,” Cam deadpans, and then regrets heartily. Landry trusts him too, but Cam has never forgotten that short conversation he had with him when he was first assigned to SG-1. Landry knows his job, and he likes to know his people; he is very, very thorough. The man seems to have an understanding of and with Jack O’Neill, for God’s sake. “What I mean is-- I think Colonel Sheppard hasn’t exactly had the best experiences with COs before, Sir. The SGC is kind of exceptional on that count.”

Landry nods, quickly. “Well, we let people get away with more ‘independent spirit’ than they’re usually allowed in the military. Then again,” he adds. “You guys do save the Earth a hell of a lot more.”

“Big damn heroes, Sir,” Mitchell agrees. But here’s the thing that Mitchell knows, and that Sheppard knows too: knows it too: he’s fine as long as he keeps winning wars out there in the badlands, but when he fucks up he won’t be a disgraced hero like Mitchell or O’Neill would be, he’ll just be a disgrace.

Jack O’Neill once said to Cam, “What is it with Atlantis and exile?” Okay, he probably didn’t quite say that, maybe he said something like, “Sheppard told me he liked Antarctica”, a little smile on his face like he was passing on some wisdom, and maybe he was. Sheppard and Antarctica, McKay and Siberia, Earth tossed these guys away and the Pegasus Galaxy gave them Atlantis, that lit up when they walked in her corridors.

So while Cam really likes and respects Landry, and gets why Sheppard’s attitude and insubordination bothers him, his sympathy is limited. Which is why he clears his throat and puts his career on the line and tells Landry, “Sheppard will do what needs to be done, Sir,” and just hopes to God that whatever that is doesn’t end up diverging too radically from the SGC’s plans, because what he just said is the gospel truth.

--

Hank Landry watches Mitchell leave his office, and relaxes a little bit behind his desk. He looks down at Sheppard’s personnel files-- the unexpurgated version, with extra vetting done by the ex-CIA boys upstairs at the SGC--and, irritatingly, finds them as inexplicable as the man himself when he’s standing at attention, giving him his best ‘yes, sir, fuck you sir’ smile that Hank is reasonably certain he’s picked up from the Marines under his command. He flips through the reports. He’s nearly committed them to memory now. The official version of the helicopter rescue gone bad, testimonials from Sheppard, his CO, his squad, even Captain James Holland’s parents. The thing is, considering Sheppard disobeyed orders and risked throwing away his career, Landry would expect to find the picture of someone popular, close with his men, friends with Holland and the other crashed pilots, just another soldier that got too close, subsumed duty to the code, to his country, to the military into personal bonds. But instead the reports are clear, and nearly universal: Sheppard is a talented pilot, an underachieving officer, a respected CO-- but not a particularly well-liked one. From his own personnel evaluations it’s obvious that he knows his men, but there are no mentions of him interacting with them in anything other than a professional capacity. He’s never busted for sneaking out to the local bar, or gambling with the resupply guys; he comes off as a loner. In Basra his CO notes that he started a football team with some local kids, in Bosnia he learns the language in eight weeks and in Grenada he steps between his team-mate and three bullets, and lives. His squad described him and Holland as ‘colleagues’, but not close; Sheppard had never met Mr & Mrs. Holland from Minneapolis.

His second psych profile includes some work-up about his family life (dead mother, estranged father and brother, one ex-wife, contact sporadic to non-existent on all fronts) and concludes that Sheppard is highly motivated, professional to the point of detachment, but for military purposes-- functional. That’s when Hank has to get out the NSA file to fill in the censored out sections in his military jacket, because that‘s the kind of profile that gets you tapped for black ops.

Sheppard still steps in front of bullets and attempts to throw his career and life away on a semi-regular basis, God, Hank’s reasonably sure that flying a nuke on a suicide mission will henceforth be called ‘pulling a Sheppard’, at least at the SGC. But it sure as hell isn’t from detachment, an inability to form personal bonds. Hank knows that Sheppard is genuinely popular on Atlantis with the Marines, with the military, even with his COs-- Elizabeth went to bat for him back in the first year and Carter wrote him some kind of stellar recommendation and even Woolsey seems to have gone to the dark side (Hank hasn’t ruled out the possibility of some kind of Atlantis-fever that compromises judgement, but-). Sheppard’s obviously strung to the city and his team-mates in a way that’s instantly recognisable to Hank from working with SG teams, even if he hadn’t seen the requisition form for assembly kits for two remote controlled cars signed in McKay’s slopy, aggressive writing. It would be easy to think that nothing had changed and that all of Sheppard’s shrinks and COs were wrong about him but Hank doesn’t think so; Hank is quite sure that out in Pegasus Sheppard finally, finally found something to care about. Hank isn’t a psychologist but he is a strategist. Major Sheppard, loner, underachiever, black ops recruit, could win battles; the kind of guy history tosses aside, uses up. Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard, though, is the kind of man that could change the tide of a war.

So Hank signs off on his recommendation that Sheppard be left in command of Atlantis, and adds some complimentary statements in the margin-- he’s a good officer, but Hank really just wishes he could like the guy.

--

Radek counts down from fourteen and makes the conscious decision not to punch his co-worker. Instead, he pinches the bridge of his nose. “Yes, Rodney. Only you are allowed to break laws of physics. You and physics have special relationship, you have been through much together, rest of us could not possibly understand. I know,” he’s losing his articles because of his vehemence, but he’s beyond caring. They’ve been on Earth for six weeks, and the final decision of the IOA commission is bearing down on them. “Just look at calculations?”

“I-- yes, fine. I’ll look at them. Now go to sleep, Radek, you look like shit.”

Exactly two hours later, when Radek is about to fall asleep, his door chimes and Rodney barges right in with a tablet in one hand and a chocolate bar in the other. He presses both into Radek’s completely stunned fingers and says, “You’re a genius!”

Radek looks down at the chocolate bar, eyes skimming over the simulation that has turned up ‘successful’, and hisses, “You are giving me chocolate?” while Rodney claps him on the arm and then squeals and pulls him into a hug. “Rodney. Rodney!”

“It works, you fool!” Rodney crows.

“Of course it does,” he agrees, dismissively, more weirded out by Rodney’s gift of Godiva. “But did you really give me chocolate, Rodney?”

“Yes,” Rodney nods. “Of course I did. You know why? Because thanks to this, we can come back to earth every time I’m peckish and get more.”

--

Their announcement of the functionality of the wormhole drive is anti-climactic. The IOA representatives are all incredibly stoic, Rodney and Radek are all but bouncing on their heels, and everyone else is metaphorically crossing their fingers.

“We’ll take it under advisement,” James Coolidge promises, and ushers them out.

Their decision arrives eight hours later, when everyone should be asleep, but really isn’t. It’s Amelia Banks, who’s in charge of regulating the email server, that finds out first. She’s smart, and enjoys having limbs, so radios Rodney as she okays the email to go citywide. Fifteen minutes later, there’s a party going on in the mess. Sheppard comes to collect him on the way and pulls him into a full body hug in the corridors, where everyone can see them. Rodney swats his hands away but John just keeps holding on. “Knew you’d do it,” he mumbles into his hair.

Rodney huffs. “Zelenka helped,” he admits, sheepishly.

John just grins and waves the bottle of single-malt he’s been saving. “Come on, McKay, there’s an evening of blind drunkenness with our name on it.”

Rodney, instead of protesting about brain cell death and his general hatred of evenings that end with him having to hold Sheppard’s ridiculous hair off his face as he throws up, smiles back and says, “Let’s go.”

--

Lorne wakes up the next morning almost certain that he did not tackle Sheppard into a bear-hug in his newly-not-his-again office, and proceed to get horribly drunk at the Back-to-Pegasus party and confide something ill-considered and heartfelt about B-teams and riding the short bus to school and how Sheppard was his lollipop-lady into Sheppard’s shoulder but when he rolls over convinced he’s going to throw up over the floor he finds his bin has been very considerately dragged to his bedside. There are two post-it notes tacked to the inner rim. Lorne has the presence of mind to retrieve them before vomiting copiously. He goes back to sleep almost immediately and wakes up three hours later with the sticky bits of the note tickling his cheek. He peels them off. They’re in Sheppard’s handwriting. The first one says: LORNE-- YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO CHOKE ON YOUR OWN VOMIT AND DIE. THAT’S AN ORDER, in clear, easy capitals. The second note, however, is scribbled, hastily written, with one or two scrubbed out false starts, and says: we’re all b-team to them. Or maybe it just says: thank you.

He goes back to sleep, and when he wakes up, their wormhole drive has leaped galaxies, subverted physics and human scales and ambitions, just to get them home.

--


End.
Tags: fiction, sga
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