Title
Sprites
Prompt
Big Bang 2007.   After season 3.
Summary
"You know, the universe is a big place. Who knows, maybe we'll bump into each other again," Rodney said hopefully.

"Aye," Carson sighed. "Who knows?"
Pairing
McKay/Sheppard
Rating
PG-13
Word Count
44341 words
Notes
Betaed by Celctic_tigress (who helped me as all my other betas were too busy), test read by Woodstock (my brother, who talked me through this for endless hours and did the victory dance alongside me)and Beasty101. All remaining mistakes and plotholes are mine.

The whole thing was inspired by the last couple of seconds of the Episode "Sunday", the fact that Rodney just couldn't go out of this as easy as he did in the plot, at least not in my opinion, and my love for the name Meredith. It's just pre-slash and touches a lot of plots that run along outside of the story just like a real episode would, or at least that was what I meant it to look like. Also, I used several spoilers for the real season 4!

Titles inspired by Dr. Who, several movies and "Goodnight Elizabeth" by the "Counting crows" (mentioned through the first dream sequence).

English isn't my native language and this was by far the biggest story I ever wrote, (and posted afterwards) driving me halfway insane in the process, but my brother Woodstock grounded me and helped me through the writer's block and plotholes: This story is for you as thanks for your endless patience and the fact that you had time to talk me through the plot although you had to get ready for your university-entrance diploma at the same time.

Special thanks to newkidfan who helped me with tweaking the story.
Companion Artwork
  • Orange Sand by newkidfan
  • Sleep by newkidfan
  • Striking Back... by Cynicatlantis
  • The Rescue by newkidfan

"You know, the universe is a big place. Who knows, maybe we'll bump into each other again."
"Aye, who knows?"
Rodney & Carson out of the Episode "Sunday"

 

Dune

The sun wasn't Rodney's friend.

Rodney had known this since his earliest childhood days. The fact was carved into his memory and into sensitive skin, painfully clear ever since the day right after his sixth birthday: the very same day he foolishly spent swimming and jumping around at the beach without care for painful, carcinogenic ultra violet radiation.

He had visited his grandmother's beach house that summer and he had loved the ocean and the sand instantly, but it turned to a literally torrid, burning love affair. He was just a child for a while, without the burdens of a kid who had started to solve highly complicated math problems with age three and a half.

This instant love, like most others in his childhood and later in his adulthood, had come back to haunt him with a vengeance. His play bound him to a dimmed bedroom with his face full of strangely numb blisters and sunburn so painful he wasn't able to move even a finger for three days straight.

His mother had merely screamed at him and lectured him about the way sun could hurt him and how he would eventually die of one of his various medical problems if he wouldn't look after his body's health and, god help him if he dared to keep peeling long stripes of burned skin off his arms.

His grandmother had smiled, fussed over every single blister, had cooled his flaking skin and had made ice tea and cookies for him to keep him from feeling miserable. She kept him company, silently and patiently, and was always there for him, just there, no matter how much his mother told her to stop, or how much of a pain in the ass he'd been. Of course, she could be even worse if she wanted, ranting and raving that even Rodney's mother had flushed in embarrassment.

He'd truly loved his Nana.

Rodney had gotten the mouth and attitude of the old lady, that much was sure.

In the end, his mother had given up and just forbidden him to go out of the house for the rest of the summer and, quite frankly, he had sworn to never talk with his mother for the rest of his miserable life, so angry had he been. Then, his grandmother had showed him the soothing qualities of music and started to teach him how to play on the old piano that stood in the attic.

She would sing, or clap along and he tried to keep up.

Sometimes Rodney missed her, and sometimes he missed others that had played roles like hers in his life. Carson had reminded him a little of the old, unique woman who helped him more with her presence as with anything else...

He didn't want to think of that.

...or of Sheppard, when he sat by Rodney's side on secluded balconies, looking at the ocean in comfortable silence.  The cocky flyboy absolutely failed at baking cookies though and, oh god, singing.

Rodney imagined a repeat of the last karaoke night in the mess hall and shuddered, even Johnny Cash didn't deserve such wanton slaughtering of his songs.

On the other hand, with their current situation back on Atlantis even the musical massacre of Christmas 2006 would have lifted the spirits to better levels than they were right now.

The crash landing of their city and Carter replacing Elizabeth as expedition leader was somehow just the beginning...he really should stop thinking and pay more attention to his scanner.

Concentration on reality and his current position in it didn't help either.

How Rodney wished for the music, the attic and the piano.

Rodney would have done anything to not need to stomp through the heated sand of this hell hole of a planet and have iced tea and cookies instead. He would even listen to Lorne's team singing ABBA songs, if he would never have to set foot on such planets again.

The orange sand was so damn fine it had worked its way into his boots even before the Pirian's oasis came into view, and walking through the dunes on the way back was a nightmare. He more stumbled blindly than actually knew where he was going, slipping occasionally and had only his cap, trusted sun cream and glasses to ward against the barbaric sun and heat. Heat, and oh, let's not forget the stupid natives he just had to deal with, for one single, lousy little light device.

So much for their so called allied 'sources' and their vital intel.

Their allies were all idiots, total idiots. And he hated nothing more as dealing with stupid natives...

"M.A.S.H." John said serenely, nodding his head to himself.

...or stupid Colonels, for that matter.

He had been busy finding their way back from the Pir's oasis to the Stargate through nothing more but sun and hot orange sand and absolutely no time to keep track of the stupid small talk between Sheppard and Dex. Speaking of stupid, why the hell hadn't they taken a jumper?  Oh, right, can't scare the superstitious natives.

Sheppard looked over to Rodney, a broad grin on his face, visibly in his element in the sun and sand. Rodney, of course, had no problem picturing the other man in shorts at the beach, tanned and happy with his trunks low on his narrow hips.... he grimaced, let's not go there and focus.

Rodney snapped out of his little fantasy and raised a single eyebrow at the obvious lunacy going on around him as his only answer, before returning his attention to the scanner. The last thing they would need would be missing the gate or getting lost in the endless sand because Rodney couldn't tell the gate's location from the occasional echoes flickering across his screen.

"What are you talking about?" Rodney asked and deliberately didn't look up at Sheppard again.

"I finally recalled what my office reminds me of," Sheppard drawled happily.

It wasn't unusual for Sheppard to make very little sense, so he decided that he would rather concentrated on things that mattered, like finding the way back to the gate. The way to the oasis had been easy, following the life signs and all, but returning seemed to prove difficult, especially since the aforementioned energy echoes had started to fluctuate since they'd left the settlement.

"Waste disposal on the south pier?" Ronon suggested from behind them.

Dex was their only company on the trip now that Teyla was no longer going on first contact missions, well, since she was pregnant and all that, anyway, and she was on New Athos at the moment anyway, so... where was he?

Sun tended to make him a little unfocused.

"No..." Sheppard said and gave the big man an unreadable look from behind his black sunglasses.

Rodney snickered. "Well, the smell has absolutely stunning similarities."

"Oh how funny," Sheppard huffed and looked into the blue, cloudless sky for a moment, then back at Rodney and his scanner. "Your laboratory smelled far worse the last time I was there."

"That was because of Kusanagi blowing up that purple egg thingy," The city had reacted to Kusanagi's activation of the unknown device with releasing a stinking but harmless gas, seemingly to get them to leave the room in time to avoid the explosion.

They hadn't gotten out yet how or why it had happened which was just another reason for Rodney that added up on the long list of things he could be investing his time in better than getting lost on alien worlds.

"... and has nothing to do with the fact that your office smells like something died in there." Rodney shrugged and looked up from his scanner to the horizon ahead of him. The gate should have been in sight already, but somehow wasn't.

"It's not that bad." Sheppard shook his head but smiled in amusement. "You don't understand what I mean. Am I right?!"

"Oh no, no..." McKay waved a hand dismissingly. "I do understand that you see similarities between your office on Atlantis and a TV series from the 70s," McKay snorted. "Which is a bit strange, even for you, but alright, it's not as if we aren't used to you doing strange things."

There was the pout Rodney loved to provoke so much. "I am not doing strange things."

"But fun to watch," Ronon added and Sheppard grumbled to himself.

Rodney laughed.

Scientist and Runner were not merely brothers in food and, occasionally, arms; no, they pretty much also shared the same kind of evil humour.

"See Sheppard," Rodney pointed over his shoulder at the Satedean behind him. "...even he says you are doing strange things, and you look funny while you're at it."

Sheppard glared over his shoulder and Ronon just shrugged, not the least bit effected, instead he said, "And what's with this golf?" sounding totally innocent of course.

"That's not strange," Sheppard defended. "It's a sport."

"It's hitting a ball with a club," Ronon grunted and asked, "What's the sense of that?"

"You know what? Can we change the topic?" Sheppard stopped, took the sunglasses off for a moment and pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh before walking on.

"How about we talk about what we give Teyla for her baby shower..."

That sounded like a brilliant idea for Sheppard but Rodney just snorted snidely.

"You'd rather discuss baby boots than golf?"

Sheppard set his glasses back on his nose. "Yeah, right now I do,"

Rodney returned his attention to the scanner once more and another spike in the echo made the entire scanner readout flicker and turn. The echoes alone were normal, just some sort of background reflection of minerals and metals, however they usually weren't this volatile or strong.

"Stop!" Rodney declared and raised his fist to stop his teammates, nearly punching Sheppard in the face.

Somehow the readings didn't make sense.  The gate should have been nearby, but it wasn't in sight yet and when he was correct, and he almost always was, that meant nothing good in combination with all those exceptionally strong echoes around.

"I told you not to do that."

Sheppard rolled his eyes and pushed the scientist's hand back down.

"I think we have a problem. " Rodney ignored the Colonel and adjusted something on the scanner, without any visible effects on the readings however, which made him a bit nervous.

"The Stargate should be another two clicks in that direction," He pointed across the next dune. "...but, obviously, isn't."

"What do you mean it isn't?" Sheppard asked and took his sunglasses off again.

He'd known something was off - the sun had been in the wrong place compared to where it had been when they had arrived, but the fact that most planets had more than one sun or their sun running in a different orbit had let him ignore the feeling.

Rodney looked up from his scanner once more and jerked his hand into the general direction of the dunes before him. "Well, it isn't there!"

First the sun, then the march from gate to the Pirian oasis, Sheppard's annoying flirting with a space bimbo for three hours of unbelievable boring talks, and now, as if it hadn't been bad enough for Rodney to have wasted his time in this spectacularly useless way, the gate was gone, too. Or they just had missed it thanks to the echoes, or wandered into the wrong direction... or something.  Jeez, it made no sense, but what of these kind of jaunts ever did?

"How can the gate not be there?" Ronon looked around, one hand on his gun. "Have they buried it?"

"No," Impossible; Rodney would have it still on the scanner if it was buried, the naquadah would show up. "I rather think something disturbed the scanner and we walked into the wrong direction or something like that."

The background signals, or echoes, they had detected with the MALP hadn't interrupted the scanner so much on the way to the settlement, so why should it now, and anyway, even if the gate was buried or something, he should be able to scan for the naquadah even with the background noise.

He gave his 'sensitive' equipment a light blow against the casing, and the scanner results jumped back in the right order.

"Ha!" He hummed in triumph.

Sheppard peered in over his shoulder. "Do you have something?"

Yes, he did; he could detect the gate's naquadah, just totally in the wrong direction. Stupid echoes!

"Huh." He turned around and nearly pumped into Sheppard. "We walked past the gate already,"

The gate was four clicks to their right, hidden behind a couple of very high dunes Rodney couldn't remember from the way to the oasis. Perhaps they hadn't looked this high from the other side, or had shifted or something.  Alright, no, that made no sense. But the gate was there and no longer before them.

"It's a couple of clicks into that direction." He pointed at the high dunes.

"Are you sure?" Sheppard followed his pointing with his eyes, obviously thinking the same as Rodney had. "Doesn't look like the path we came by."

"Do you see paths around here?" Rodney spat.

The heat irritated Rodney; sweat, sun cream and sand weren't the ideal combination either.

Sheppard raised an eyebrow questioningly.

"Oh don't look at me. It was a stupid idea to go by foot," Rodney added snidely and looked back at his scanner. "It's hot, I am sweaty and I have sand in my boots, and now the Stargate starts playing hide and seek!" He just couldn't help it, and stupid comments didn't help matters much.

"Alright, calm down Rodney," Sheppard sighed. "I guess we go over there," Sheppard imitated Ronon's grip on his gun and raised his P-90 just in case. "... and we'd better hurry a bit before it vanishes again."

"Oh please, the gate can't just vanish," Rodney snapped and fell into step by Sheppard's side.

"No, it just changes locations from one moment to the other," Sheppard snapped back.

"It can't just jump around. Perhaps the signals we picked up all the time during this little torture trip, which I still think was a great waste of our time by the way, might have messed up the scanner readings a little..."

Sheppard sighed. "Rodney. Just move."

Ronon grunted in agreement and took the lead.  He was better than any scanner when it came to reading tracks. Rodney walked in the middle and Sheppard by his side with his eyes glued firmly on his scanner to not lose the focus on their destination again.

The sand of the dune was anything but stable, and so loose it started sliding downwards in small sand avalanches that grew bigger the further they managed to climb uphill.

"I think we should take another way..." Sheppard stopped. It had probably not been the smartest idea to climb straight upwards to begin with, and he wondered when he had suppressed his basic survival training from back in the Gulf War so much that he hadn't seen this before.

"You think of that now!" Rodney nearly went downhill with another patch of moving sand and Sheppard had to grab for the other man's backpack to keep him in place.

Ronon was a couple of feet in advance of them, looking slightly bothered by the movement of the dunes as well.

"We have to go down again and retrace our steps." Dex turned to them slowly, balancing on the sliding ground.

Sheppard grunted in agreement, but that didn't look particularly safe either.

"Downhill isn't such a good idea either." Rodney squeaked holding to Sheppard as another piece of caked sand loosened below him, sliding down just as he tried to take a step downward.

Sheppard grunted struggling himself. "Well, it's only up or down."

Sheppard sounded perhaps a bit exasperated. The desert wasn't his friend so much either, and now that he had tried to remember what he'd learned about it, or where he had used it the last time, it reminded him far too much of times spent in the sand and rocks he rather wanted to forget.

"Up." Ronon reached out and pulled McKay forward on his tac vest.

Rodney made another unmanly squeak. "Hey, you..."

"Then it's up!" Sheppard said as his teammate was dragged up before him and followed carefully.

There was a hissing sound in the air, one, two, and three... and Ronon stopped abruptly, Rodney started slipping in the sand again and Sheppard grabbed for him to keep him from slithering down the dune.

"What's wrong big guy?" Sheppard asked looking up.

Rodney could see something flying in their direction too, oh crap.

"DOWN!" Ronon yelled and pushed Rodney backwards.

Rodney overbalanced, crashed into Sheppard and both lost their footing, going down hill in a wild mix of limbs, Sheppard couldn't even shoot something before he went down, involuntarily buffering Rodney's fall.

The first arrow hit Dex in the upper arm. Those that followed impacted in a rough circle around him in the sand.  Everything went into a crazy tumble of legs, arms and gear down the dune afterwards, the hot orange sand sliding along with them.

Dark figures appeared on the edge of the dune above and more sand came sliding as they moved across the dune's edge. Ronon, who had not fallen fully yet pressed himself against the sand as well as he could to return the attack, but couldn't keep his footing for very long either.

Sheppard and Rodney ended their uncontrolled slide at the base of the dune, sand half-burying them as another arrow graced Ronon's thigh and stopped him effectively from shooting more when he fell backwards and slid down the dune, too.

Sheppard's world was spinning as he untangled himself from sand and Rodney, and he grabbed for what he could get of his wildly struggling buddy to get him on his feet and going.

Rodney saw Ronon land far too hard in a cloud of sand as he crawled away from the arrows with Sheppard on his heels, and felt an impact in his arm next.

He fell and Sheppard landed almost on top of him, swatting the arrow away like a fly, but it may have been too late already.

It wasn't like those that were even now impacting around them; it was smaller and stung more and the world went blurrier around Rodney than it already had been from the fall in a matter of seconds.

"Rodney!" Sheppard tugged at the loops of his vest and pulled. "Keep moving!"

Rodney couldn't help or talk, or even move.  He just gaped at the chaos around him, the dart before him in the sand and the dark figures closing in. Sheppard must have fired, Rodney was sure, then it stopped and everything went quite as the dark blue sky above.


Hannibal's Creatures

Rodney dreamed of narrow hips and boxers that hung far too low on them to be G-rated. The trail of hair that led from a loose waistband upwards invited him to follow it with his tongue and Rodney wanted nothing more than that, but somehow his mouth was too dry and he couldn't breathe, everything was too hot and too cramped...

He woke with his face pressed into far too warm ground and with a trail of drool neatly going over into a puddle of caked sand below his face.

"Urgh..." He spit, spluttered and tried to turn his face away, but somehow nothing cooperated like he wanted to; he couldn't even open his eyes properly.

He drifted for a while watching a little stone fly. Well, it didn't really fly. It was thrown from sun-tanned hands while other hands were clapping every time the stone flew.

The person throwing tried to grab the other stones in the sand before him while it was in the air, somehow familiar if he only could remember from where...

The stone was caught, took flight and was caught again.

He had absolutely no clue where he was for a very long time.  Fine, he knew he was somewhere in the sand, with his face burning where the sun hit and itching awfully where he rested it on the ground, but that was all. He couldn't really scratch, couldn't really try and it made him almost crazy.

Rodney just pressed his hurting eyes shut tightly from time to time and wondered what had happened, but always came up blank.

Then the fog lifted, and Rodney suddenly recalled that game they were playing and the figures playing it.

The Pirians, his brain supplied and the stone took flight again.

The stone was caught and all around him came back into focus. The sand, the dunes beyond the settlement, the black tents, the darkly hooded and veiled people below high, black palm trees, everything. It had been a first contact mission, and finally he remembered the tumble down through the sand and what had felt like a small dart impacting his arm.

Than shaky pictures of endless orange dunes and blue sky twirled through his mind, as well as visions of a Stargate that wasn't were they had left it.  Or rather, was in the correct place, but just showed up wrong on his scanner... oh, his head hurt. 

He had watched Ronon go down with an arrow in his arm and countless others stranding themselves into the sand around him, and how Sheppard had called his name, how he had tugged him into non-existent cover by the loops of his tac vest.

Arrows, P-90 fire, and then silence.

He opened his eyes again and peered at where the only sounds he could hear came from. The clapping of the people who threw the stones was rhythmic like his grandmother's as she had shown him how to keep with the beat of a song. He could almost see her sitting there...

The Pirian settlement, right.

There were cage walls around him now, wooden grates buried in the sand like one of the Pirian livestock retainers he'd seen in passing.  It seemed he was the livestock in this one, but without one of the shading palm leaf roofs above, judging by the sun burning down on his face.

He could see a pile of gear, backpacks, scanner, shoes and vests close to the playing people, even their guns.

Alright, the people of Pir had attacked, had caught them and had stuffed them in a cage. They had taken their vests, shoes and anything else that could have protected them from the sun, expect for shirts and pants. Crap, so much for friendly natives on first contact missions.

Sheppard had jinxed them, probably had flirted with the wrong space bimbo again; at least, she had looked sour enough to send hell after them at their departure.

O-oh, Rodney would rip Sheppard's head off if this was about to turn into yet another Pegasus style shot gun wedding, really.

Sheppard, right, he looked around and this time his head worked somewhat better but the world still wobbled a bit.

Sheppard had to be there, too, and Ronon.

Rodney had barely turned his head as he already found someone, just not exactly who he had searched for.

"Carson?" He croaked with more sand than salvia in his mouth.

The other man greeted him with a wave of his hand and shook his head at him, or rather, at the current quite lousy situation.

"Hello Rodney," He said softly and Rodney blinked twice before he pressed his eyes shut again tightly.

"O-okay," Rodney lifted his head again and stared at Carson for several moments more. "You are not here, are you?"

Carson raised an eyebrow at his friend and Rodney rested his head back in the sand with a wince. "Of course you aren't here, you are dead. You can't be here,"

Rodney chose to ignore him just a little for his sanity's sake.

"What trouble have you gotten yourself into again, Rodney?" Carson asked, still there.

He was losing his mind, or hallucinating things again, yeah right, headache. They had drugged him, or hit him over the head. Exactly, that had to be it! He was drugged and seeing things, like the time on the infirmary as he saw Carson standing by his beside instead of Keller.

This had to be a repeat performance of just that hallucination.

"Crap..." Rodney huffed and snorted, his face falling back in the sand.

Carson chuckled shaking his head.  "Aye, I guess that it is."

Rodney's head rolled over, away from his friend's illusion and watched the people of the settlement go about their daily business in the shadows of their tents once more. He had known from the beginning that the people of Pir were anything but good traders, anything but trustworthy people, ever since they had looked so surprised that the light device actually lit up for him. It was sort of a intuitive feeling right from the start, even stronger than his usual bad feeling... uh.

Now his bad feeling made sense, more than he liked.

"They attacked us," He spit, getting sand in his mouth.

Carson nodded absently, looking oddly out of place in his white lab coat.

"Ronon?" Rodney looked at Carson questioningly. If he was there, than perhaps he also could help out; imaginary-Sam had. "Sheppard?"

Rodney couldn't see Ronon or John anywhere around.  In fact, there was just the one cage and nothing else, not even palms to give him shadow.  The settlement and the trees were several yards away from the cage, and the closest people seemed to be the playing guards.

Rodney swallowed with a dry mouth, eyes fixed on the tents far away and on the fact that he wouldn't be able to stomach losing more friends, especially with the one he already lost making his appearance to remind him of past mistakes.

There was only sand with him in the cage, and Carson, nothing else. Hot, orange sand that reflected the heat back at him in all the wrong, skin cancer provoking, ways.

Their gear was there, though.

"Not here," Carson said.

Rodney rolled his eyes.

"Oh I see that they're not there," He grumbled, more than just annoyed.

Ronon wouldn't be dead. Something like this wouldn't get him down, would it? Not on a godforsaken backwater planet and without a proper fight, and that ambush had been anything but proper. And Sheppard, shit, the man had more lives than a cat, what were a couple of arrows compared to flying nukes into Hive ships, for him? Nothing.

"They're okay," Carson assured Rodney and looked into the blue sky, as if he could read the questions drumming through the restless but blurry mind without even looking at McKay. "...they could already be on their way home."

Rodney looked back over again. "And you know this how?"

Carson stared at him and titled his head. This was the part Rodney always hated about his imaginary friends; they never gave clear answers when needed. It had been the downside of hallucinating Carter, and it had been the same with hallucinating in general. These guys were a part of him and when he didn't know...

"Never mind," Rodney licked his dry lips and contemplated getting up, too.

If the big guy and the Colonel weren't there but their gear was, then he would have an even bigger problem. They wouldn't be able to call for help and Atlantis didn't expect them back for several hours, which he was positively sure hadn't past yet, and that could only mean they had a lot of time left before anyone would begin to miss them.

A lot of sun, lack of water and lack of nourishment could happen in that period of time, along with a lot of other bad things.

At least he would die of something else first before the sun would give him skin cancer. That was a good thing. The native people had to have a pretty high incidence of that, although statistically speaking they would probably die by the hands of the Wraith first, or from their own stupidity.

His overheated brain started wondering what kind of death would come first if there was no rescue, and the natives and their weapons aside, hypoglycaemia and thirst took the lead in his top ten, closely followed by the combination of both and the fact that his head would get dizzier with time and whatever the Pirians had caught them for would probably not work so well with him in a coma.

In the end, he would be useless and die long before Sheppard or Ronon, unless Sheppard had pulled one of his stunts, then there was an 80% chance that they would die around the same time... or maybe 75%... Sheppard wasn't predictable enough to give clear numbers.

He thought about the problem for a seemingly endless period of time, but all thoughts circled down to the heat above and the warm sand below him. Strangely enough, he didn't even care much and the fact that his brain, as much of a hypochondriac as Rodney tended to be usually, couldn't come up with more possible deaths, should have had him scared for life alone, but really, didn't.

"Would you stop thinking about all the ways you could die, please?" Carson groaned from his position. "...you aren't dead yet."

"I haven't," Rodney started to ask and frowned at Carson's feet not far from him. "...have I talked out loud?"

Carson nodded grimly and Rodney grimaced. "Sorry."

The influences of the sun and the heat were catching up with him fast. How long had he lain there? Not long enough yet, he had just eaten a MRE before they went on their way back and had enough to drink, oh sure, the darts, the sedative darts.

"I think I am stoned from whatever they gave us," He mumbled.

That in addition to a banged up head from the fall down the dune must have been responsible for his less than coherent state of mind.

"My Uncle used to say the same after eating my mother's liver pies," Carson said and titled his head. "...I guess you're right, you are drugged."

"How good that my imaginary dead doctor tells me that, I wouldn't have noticed otherwise." Sarcasm still could be as sharp as a knife, Rodney noted, even without much heat behind it.

Rodney sighed bitterly and rested his head back in the sand for a moment. It was pretty useless and he was pretty screwed. Really screwed: nothing to eat, no clue what happened to the others, no sign of help and a hallucination, as seemed to be becoming a habit for him, appearing out of nowhere to annoy him a bit.

He turned his head away from Beckett and back to the people outside.

The small group of men by the nearest palm tree were talking with each other.  They were playing some sort of game and somehow, one of them must have seen movement which was directing all attention on the cage.

"You should try getting up Rodney," Carson said. "I have the feeling you'll be getting company soon."

Their guards seemed to talk with each other for a moment longer, than one, a younger man with pale hair and darkly tanned skin, got up and staggered over to the cage.

Rodney tried to roll over to get into a sitting position and wasn't very graceful while doing so.  In fact, he seemed to be royal amusement for the young man who grinned broadly as he reached the cage.

He was titling his head curiously at McKay's struggles and they made eye contact for a few seconds before the unknown man started to chuckle at him in a kind of scary way, giving Rodney a pretty good impression of how an ape in the zoo must have felt about curious spectators.

"Hey Harab!" The man turned around again and yelled. "I think you're right. The thing's awake."

The man who answered to the name stood up at the call and sent another young man off to go and get someone from the settlement.  He walked over slowly to join the younger man by the cage followed by a couple of veiled people several moments later.

One of them seemed to be Lyri, the woman who had flirted with Sheppard all the time they had spent in the settlement, up until he had activated the little light device.

She'd grown strangely forced after that and Rodney had known back there already that his bad feeling wasn't just his jealousy acting up, but the sure feeling of impending doom looming above his head like a thundercloud.

He wanted to tell Carson how right Rodney had been with the assessment that Sheppard's tendency to flirt brought nothing but trouble, but the guy wasn't there anymore.

"Typical," Rodney snapped at the thin air.

The woman walked up to the cage, a couple of armed guards by her side. She joined Harab by the cage and pulled the veil she wore as protection from the sun out of her face.

"Is it awake?" She leaned forward, titling her head.

She looked at Rodney with curious eyes as if she was seeing him for the first time, or one time too many, and not in a good way, rather like his first girlfriend used to eye his cat before kicking the animal out on the balcony — she'd done it twice before he noticed and kicked her out pretty much the same way.

Rodney felt foggy and thirsty and dull in his head and it annoyed him a lot.  It seemed to annoy her, too, and she made what Rodney interpreted as a disgusted face.

"Perhaps it's thirsty?" The young man suggested, staring at him. "It drank a lot of water out of their strange repositories when it was here first."

"It is thirsty," Lyri agreed. "Bring it water! We need it upright for the work."

One of the guards fell into movement, seemingly they, at least, cared for him enough to give him something to drink, so he tried sitting up again but that wasn't so easy if the rest of him wasn't much for cooperation.

He rolled over once more and tried pushing himself up against one side of the cage and after several moments of sitting there his vision cleared, too.

The guard reappeared and pushed a small earthen cup through the bars. The whole group of Pirians watched with curious eyes how Rodney moved forward to get to the water.

Yet another zoo moment. 

Well, water was a bit an optimistic way to describe it. Really, it rather looked like very thin mud and was probably full of parasites and bacteria. Rodney threw them a look and battled it down in three gulps anyway, nearly choking on the taste.

He not wanted to be ungrateful, really, but the stuff they had given him tasted like Ronon washed his dreads in it, and if that wasn't a taste he preferred thirst to, they would have to deal with it.  The Pirians however took it probably right that way, because Lyri looked at least as disgusted about Rodney's reaction as the stuff had tasted.

"The creature is very ungrateful," She said, displeased.

"Ungrateful?" Rodney squeaked.

He had to admit throwing the earthen cup at her feet had probably been a bit an overreaction, but hello, low blood sugar, heat and thirst did such things to people.

"Why have you attacked us?" Rodney asked straight to the point. "We have done nothing to offend you! And where are my friends, huh?"

Lyri's eyes flickered from Harab to Rodney and she straightened up again, turned her head to Harab and nodded in what seemed to be approval.

"Very well done Harab," She said and the man bowed deeply, a hand over his heart. "...your deeds in the matters of our survival will be marked in the scrolls of the forefathers." She added and laid a hand on his hair.

That seemed to be the greatest compliment that could be made because Harab started to almost explode with pride and self-esteem after straightening up again.

"Thank you honoured Lyri." Harab stood so proudly stiff Rodney would have hurt his back in his stead.

Nobody seemed to care for the questions at all, as if Rodney wasn't even there.

"Hello? I asked you something?!" Rodney snapped. "Why have you ambushed us, we came in peace for nothing but trade and friendship?"

That finally got the attention back, although Rodney wasn't sure he wanted it back so much. The stares of the armed men and others around were pretty dark and intimidating, given that he was unarmed and in a cage without water, drugged and flailing uncoordinatedly while moving, like fish on dry land.

Lyri and her fellowship looked at him but there was no sign of them understanding what he meant, in fact, they looked as if they were surprised he was capable of speaking at all.

"The creature shall listen now, I will not repeat myself," Lyri started. "The Creatures have come to us freely, and this one shall serve us from now on."

"Serve you?!" The déjà vu was stronger than the sun. Not that again. "Like what, Slaves? You have no fucking right to take me as slave!"

"The Creatures came through the beast's hole," Lyri explained arrogantly raising her chin. "... like all the beasts did before."

"Oh I knew this wouldn't be an easy mission..." Rodney babbled shaking his head.

"The creature belongs to the Pir now, like its forefathers have ever since the times of the running sands," She declared.

"We have nothing to do with your forefathers or the ancients or anyone," Rodney tried. "Really, just let me go!"

Lyri seemed very displeased about him talking back at her, narrowing her eyebrows at him and hissing openly. "The Creatures are unclean, share the blood of the beasts. They crawled out of the hole. It shall be ours now."

She, and her minions, seemed to get pretty pissed about the whole conversation pretty fast, fast enough to make Rodney press his mouth shut before the next question could bubble forward. The crossbows were a good argument on their side, after all.

"Are you sure, honoured Lyri that this creature can be of help?"

Another man appeared by her side with his arms crossed over his dark tunic.

"It seems problematic." The man added.

The scientist, Carba was his name when Rodney remembered correctly, which he mostly did, and he seemed to be as displeased about the situation as Lyri, eyeing him carefully.

"I am positive. This one seemed to be the one with the most interest and knowledge in what we showed to it." Lyri smacked her dark lips.

She had showed them a device, not more than the Ancient equivalent of a child's night light but enough to wake Rodney's interest, plus, he had made it shine for her before declaring it's utter uselessness for their cause.

"If the creature is of no use than we will dispose of it." She continued looking at Rodney venomously.

She obviously had not forgotten the remark about the Pirian level of intelligence either. Oops.

"Wait? Dispose?!" Rodney wanted to interrupt.

"There are more where it comes from and they will send for it sooner or later," Lyri continued unimpressed.

"Oh they will send someone, a whole fucking platoon of Marines will come and crush your little settlement, be assured." Rodney snapped. "So better let me out now and to my friends, we'll go and never come back!"

Carba smirked and Lyri just pulled her veil back up to cover her face better against the sun, giving him a look that seemed to be nice crossbreed between pity, annoyance and disgust.

"The Creatures kind has not much to say against our weapons or our mother the sand, which will not change if they come in higher numbers." Lyri assured. "They will be lost as this Creature was."

"Oh, I wouldn't be so sure about that, we are pretty advanced." Rodney answered annoyed by it all. "And can you stop calling me a creature? I am the same as you are..."

Lyri's eyes went wide for a moment, than she started to laugh. Soon most of the guards joined in and Rodney just couldn't understand what the hell was so funny about his statement.

He rolled his eyes to the far too sunny skies and crossed his arms. "Oh yeah, great, I am so funny, lets all laugh till the scientist dies of thirst."

The fun seemed to last for about a minute before Carba called a stop to the hilarity with a wave of his hand that also dismissed most of the present people. He gave Lyri a last nod and stepped forward to the cage with a couple of the guards on his heels.

"The Creature has to be silent now!"

"My name's Dr. Rodney Mckay!" Rodney protested. "And you damn well know that!"

"The creature has been chosen to help us in matters of defence." Carba explained and the guards opened the door of the cage, motioning Rodney to rise to his feet with the same sort of crossbows they had attacked with as Rodney's team had tried to leave.

The blood rushed to his head and he swayed dangerously and fell back down. Carba stood above him and suddenly Rodney's vision blurred into pictures of how Carba had stood above him after the attack, pointing at him and dismissing Sheppard and Ronon with a wave of his hand.

"You shot them!" He was pulled to his feet by the guards as he didn't get up fast enough, eyes wide with fear and anger. "You... you shot them and let them there in the sand! Without gear... and..."

And that probably was hours ago, God.

"The Creature shall be silent," Carba commanded and walked ahead of the guards and him.  "It will repair the defences for us, or it shall be disposed off in the never ending sand," He peered over his shoulder and back at him with amusement in his eyes. "...like its companions."

That was enough answer, enough for Rodney anyway.

The small hidden path Carba followed led away from the tents and along the rim of a dirty little lake which, judging by the presence of busy women and animals, clearly seemed to be the only source of water, serving as bathroom and the watering place for the animals as well.

It seemed like a completely different settlement than before. Sure, there were the tents and the people, but the rest- they should have known, Rodney should have known just from the way the people looked at them at their departure.

The path took a sharp curve to the right after the last tent and lead to a pile of big stones decorated with bleached bones of, oh holy crap, human heritage.

The half dozen guards with them seemed appropriately cowed by the place, keeping their distance from the stones and the bones.

"The den of the beasts," Carba declared and smiled at Rodney.

He probably expected a frightened expression, whispers of awe or something, and to some degree he got what he wanted because Rodney was absolutely disgusted by the decoration, but not really in a panic about the scene yet.

A big round stone seemed to be the centre of the decoration, and at the same time, the only stone without bones, marks or what seemed to be bloody handprints.

Carba bared his teeth in a snarl as he didn't see the reaction he hoped for from Rodney and turned his attention back to the entrance to continue his explanations in a much grimmer voice.

"It is one of our holiest places, but do not worry creature, nobody expects it to understand what that means."

He held out his hand and touched the stone, which flickered and disappeared like a hologram being deactivated. The opening was oval in shape and pitch black beyond the little spot of light the sun created, just perfect to tickle Rodney's love for small spaces, as if everything else on this hellish planet wasn't enough.

"Is it too late to mention that I have an absurd fear of small places?" He whimpered, and Carba gave him a satisfied look before he vanished into the darkness with the first two guards.

Rodney was pushed in next and found himself almost falling down the first few steps of a staircase that perfectly mirrored the Ancient's usual style.

"Move creature!"

One of the remaining guards pushed Rodney forward and he moved, green dots dancing in front of his eyes. In fact, he was almost glad the guard held onto him; he wasn't sure he could have guaranteed his ability to stay upright all the way down otherwise.

The lights were glowing faintly, as if initiated and put on stand by quite a while ago, and the dry air smelled stale and mouldy, with a touch of decaying flesh and burning candles in the background.

Carba was waiting at the base of the second flight of stairs near a door, watching as the lights brightened just a little as Rodney reached his position. Rodney looked around in wonder before he sobered and his hate for the other man turned almost touchable in the warm air.

"Now Creature, behold the den of the beasts," He declared and pealed his disgusted look away from Rodney who had met his eyes bravely.

He opened the door and, as Rodney had already expected, a typical control room came into view, if a bit redecorated with skeletons mounted to walls and bodies impaled on the dully lighted pillars dotting the room. As gothic as the decoration skills seemed, the candle wax on the consoles was even worse.

"Our ancestors slew the beasts in these rooms," Carba explained proudly. "Hung the remains high for us to remember their heroic deed and worship the untamed power they had over our enemies."

The wax of generations of palm oil candles must have melted over the console's keyboard, freezing them in place or ruining them for good. There was no chance in hell for the console to still work properly, not the slightest one.

"Oh, this isn't true..." Rodney grimaced at the picture before him. "Let me guess, it stopped working and you have no clue how to fix it?"

Carba shot him a dirty look. "For this we have brought the creature here."

Rodney had known it, it always went like that. The idiots caught him and equated genius with doing the undoable, not that he was bad at doing that, but, hell, usually he had at least a bit of a chance.

"Look, I can really repair a lot off stuff, Mcgyver-ing a nuke out of thin air, no problem... but that," Rodney pointed at the console and shook his head. "Sorry, but it has to be a bloody miracle if there is anything still capable of working below all this stuff."

Carba narrowed his eyes. "So the creature can not fix it?"

"I didn't say that," Rodney snapped, suddenly remembering their plans to 'dispose' of him when he was no longer useful. "...but the chance is pretty slim."

Astronomically slim.

All these stupid natives had the same trick with candles. Were they to stupid to understand how bad the stuff was for the fine electronics of consoles? Oh, of course they had no clue, how Rodney could have ever thought of them as capable enough to differentiate an ancient shield generator from, let's say, a book shelf?

"It shall better start working than," Carba said and the guards stepped back.

Intelligence was such a rare thing in this galaxy.

Rodney growled and muttered something under his breath but went to start a careful check on the damage. Sadly, or well, not so sadly, the prediction he had made wasn't at all wrong.

Most keys on the console were a total loss. They would ever move again, let alone work and when he finally prised a panel at the side open, well, it looked even worse.

"Oh for the love of..."  He groaned. "What the hell did you do with this console?"

Something brown and slimy dribbled at one connector of the first crystal he pulled from the casing and he nearly gagged from the smell. This was a new low, absolutely. He actually was happy that he hadn't eaten for a while, because if he had he would have been very close to redecorating the Pirian control room some more.

Vomit certainly would have fitted perfectly into their design agenda.

The world wobbled slightly around him, and wow, his brain really had seen better days too, demanding water and nourishment, and probably, a little vacation in the infirmary. But not with Dr. Keller, the little Voodoo witch was far too bouncy for his taste and had absolutely no talent with needles, how the woman got through med school... he blinked, oh right, where was he?

He decided he'd better sit down, or rather, go to his knees.  It turned into a graceless slumping to the floor, and he only stayed in the sitting position because he leaned his head against the seriously damaged control console to take a couple of deep, even breaths and focus again.

A giant mistake.

He started by pulling the parts out of the casing with one hand while he held the other over his nose and mouth to be able to breathe. It was actually a worse smell than the taste of the water had been, if that was even possible.

It looked bad, really bad. The crystals were dead, the whole control unit was dead, but still somehow got power from somewhere. The mysterious power source had probably caused the interference with the scanners and his team's presence in the settlement above must have made it worse.

"Did your incompetent fools puke into it, or something?" He muttered his voice high and nasal.

Feathers and what looked like fur hung on the next crystal. New low point, really.

"It shall repair the shield or the creature will end like its ancestors!" Carba commanded, not happy with the progress.

Rodney gave the decorative bones a glance from the corner of his eyes.  A nice death it was not, but neither were most.

"What do you think I am trying to do here, bake cookies?!" Rodney snapped back, and shoved the burned crystals he had pulled out last back in the place where they had been before. He wouldn't be able to repair the console even if he could concentrate properly. Not with animal remains and candle wax all over the crystals.

"It shall repair it!"

Carba didn't like arguments and made no secret out of it. He waved a hand at the guards who lifted their almost-crossbows higher, aiming probably pretty precisely for Rodney's position behind the console.

"Alright," Rodney said slowly, he wasn't keen on arrows. "Let me explain this so you and your trigger happy friends understand me better..."

There was just one more crystal left and that seemed as coated as all the others, the whole console useless, utterly useless. From the wax coated keyboard to the slimy inside, absolutely useless.

"Your great beast slaying ancestors kept burning these nice candles, and the wax went over the keys and into the casing, and I don't want to know what you did else here, but it caused a total shorting out of the circuits..."

Rodney staggered to his feet, slightly swaying and pointed at the console. Carba didn't look as if he had the first clue about what Rodney was talking, and his guards weren't better at hiding their utter idiocy either.

"You have shorted out the control unit, which is bad, okay? Really bad..." He added.

He tried to show the dimensions of bad with his hands, but hey, the present Pirians were probably about as intelligent as the mucus in the console and the candle wax combined, at least in Rodney's opinion.

"The creature will repair the defences," Carba commanded absolutely unimpressed.

"God. How stupid are you guys?" Rodney threw his hands into the air rolling his eyes. It was as if nobody in the whole stupid universe ever listened to him. "What about shorted out the control unit did you not understand?"

The scientist's eyes grew as wide as saucers at Rodney's raised voice and the two guards at the door twitched, their hands tightening visibly on their almost-crossbows. They raised them just enough to show Rodney that he had probably opened his mouth a bit wide and that a mouth could also be used as target, not a proper behaviour for livestock, obviously.

"It shall not raise its voice at this holy place!" Carba chided with a dangerous tone in his voice.

Rodney huffed. "Then listen to what I say the first time around!"

"The creature can not repair the shield?"

Carba moved completely aside and out of the way of the guards, and Rodney had a bad feeling about where this was obviously going.

"Hey, I didn't say that..."

They moved forward and Rodney moved the matching amount of steps back, holding his hands up in a sort of surrendering gesture.

"Then what did the creature say?" Carba smirked downright smugly as he signalled the guards to halt with a jerk of his head.

Rodney crossed his arms over his chest in a way too self-righteous to be allowed and gave a pretty great impression of Dr. Kavanagh at his worst, ego almost enough to sink Atlantis, missing nothing but the ponytail.

And crap, what was wrong with his brain, McKay wondered, when he was thinking about Kavanagh's ponytail in such a situation?

"I can't repair your shield with these parts, as I said, and I hate to repeat myself, but your control unit has shorted out." He pointed jerkily at the burned out and smelly console.

"No control unit, no shield. And can you stop calling me creature? I thought we settled I am human."

"If the creature tries to trick us..." Carba ignored the comment about Rodney's humanity as he had the last time, thinking of it as obviously not funny, and also ignored every little comment about how screwed the console was.  Fine, Rodney hadn't expected him to grasp the picture anyway.

"Yeah, yeah...the creature gets disposed of. Look,"

Rodney sighed and switched to the same voice he usually berated his own minions with. Even his niece could understand things a lot faster than these incompetents.

"You've got a couple of crystals in there that burned out. There is absolutely no way to repair anything without spare crystals to replace them, even if you let your soldiers use me for target practice," He continued.

Quite frankly, even then the chance was pretty much zero, but that would probably narrow Rodney's survival chances further so he didn't spill that little secret.

The two soldiers gave their sort-of crossbows longing glances which made Rodney regret the last sentence just a little bit- no, make that a lot. He swallowed and stepped another step back for good measure, but luckily, the scientist got the picture eventually and nodded very slowly.

"Then the Creature will produce a spare crystal,." Carba said sternly and turned around, clasping his hands behind his back.

He walked back to the door as if anything was settled with this simple statement.

"And with what?" Rodney spluttered.

The stupidity of some of the natives in this galaxy must have reached a new record on this backwater world, and Rodney was half way sure they also clearly were the most tasteless people of the lot when it came down to decorating.

"Haven't you understood what I just said?"

"I have understood that the creature requires spare crystals to repair our defences," Carba said but didn't look back. "And I have commanded the creature to produce what it needs, or it will be disposed off."

"Fine, than better shoot me now, because I'm not exactly Harry Potter," Rodney pointed around the room. "...which makes it hard to conjure up a set of new crystals out of thin air?"

The Harry Potter thing got lost on the Pirians present, well, Rodney had liked The Lord of the Rings better anyway. The elf ears were so cute and teasing Sheppard... uhm...anyway

Carba huffed and threw McKay a disgusted and impatient look over his shoulder. He studied Rodney for a long tense moment, a moment in which Rodney whished for nothing more than the aforementioned squad of armed Marines to suddenly rush through the hall outside to his rescue, crushing the Pirian scientist and all these mislead Laurence of Arabia wannabe cast members in the process.

"The creature has a very big mouth."

Carba looked ahead of him again, down the hall, nodding his head for the guards to move already.

"It shall watch where it is going to end up with this mouth." He added.

Most of the guards followed him, all but two.

One of the two guards came up to McKay as soon as Carba had started to walk down the hall and back to the stairs, and yeah, now Rodney really regretted his comments about target practice.

The other guard followed the scientist and stopped by the doorframe, waiting for the others with a malicious grin on his lips. Rodney just knew he was pretty much screwed there, and really no movie comparison would even start to cover it.

"Can't we talk about this?"

"Shut up!" Guard One snarled and jerked his crossbow in the direction of the door. "Now move, piece of dirt!"

Rodney hurried after the scientist and past the other soldier, unprepared to be shoved into the wall, hard. They laughed as he ended up on the dirty ancient floor, knee banged up and the world swirling in all the wrong ways, but alright, he could deal with it, it wasn't his first capture and they hadn't killed him yet. He'd gone on with low blood sugar before, had been through worse, too.

"Oh look, the creature fell."

"Yes, yes, how unfortunate," The other guard laughed.

"You are so going to regret this..." Rodney muttered under his breath and slowly got back on his feet.

He used the wall to pull himself up and nearly crawled up the stairs to the oval opening above. Sheppard would have moved, too, and the least bit Rodney could do was keep moving until the rescue came.

Carba was already waiting for their arrival, arms crossed and foot tapping impatiently.  The heat was like a physical wall for Rodney and the sun was far too bright for his eyes to compensate. He saw nothing but green and black dots all over his vision for a couple of seconds.

They didn't go away all the way back to the tents.

The world titled sideways without the influence of his captors this time and he crashed hard into the sand. Either dehydration, blood sugar or the rest of the sedative, his brain supplied as he came to again, and crap, his wrist hurt too!

The guards laughed again and he was sure he heard a couple of jokes about how clumsy the kind of creatures he belonged to usually were from the people around, complete with a couple of spoiled brats kicking sand at him to have some fun and annoy him.

And they were, by the way, very successfully doing so, too.

"The creature shall watch where it goes." Carba commented, still not laughing although Rodney felt like the resident one-man comedy show for the Pir.

Rodney just rolled his eyes; the whole trip had turned to a very bad horror movie rip-off. He glared at the children and snarled at them with bared teeth in a pretty good Ronon impression, scaring the brats off. They screeched and went running and at least that made Rodney smile, of course he wouldn't have hurt them but scaring them a little was alright, wasn't it?

Not the Pirian mothers, of course, who took their scared children and hid them away from the beast in their tents. Hey, you can't have everything. Rodney was pulled up and Guard two pushed him forward at the shoulder, growling loudly.

"Move already you beast!"

Rodney would have fallen into the sand again but the guard held on to a handful of his shirt and half dragged him on to follow Carba back to the cage.

The stupid rescue could come now, really, he had had enough of the whole kidnapping thing, and his wrist hurt, too, god-fucking damn it. Sheppard must have woken hours ago, he just had to have done.

They must have gone back to the gate, crawled the four remaining clicks to the device if needed, and contacted Atlantis. Somehow they must have contacted them even without their gear, Sheppard was pretty smart after all. He was just sure Sheppard would come and get him, he knew it.

Rodney looked around briefly and scanned the field and settlement for signs of his people, but there was no rescue in sight yet. No jumpers or Marines armed to the teeth hiding beyond the palm trees, ready to get his sorry ass out of this ugly situation, just sand, palms and more sand beyond the palms.

The young man from earlier sat in the shadow of the same palm tree as he had earlier and the cage Rodney was in was still empty.  Rodney just knew rescue would come soon.

Lyri appeared out of nowhere once more and gives him a disapproving look that was kind of intimidating, even with half her face covered.

"Has the creature repaired the defences?" She asked Carba, but looked at Rodney questioningly.

"No," Carba answered and bowed his head. "It said it would need spare crystals."

"The Creature needs spare crystals?"

Lyri formed the words carefully as if she'd never heard of them before, and Rodney was sure he was pretty damn right with that assumption because she clearly didn't know what she's talking about.

"Than the creature shall produce them," She added.

Rodney just wanted to go berserk on the whole damn lot of them.

"Oh this is a god damn nightmare," He whined instead.

He rolled his eyes heavenward and rubbed his brow as well as he could with the guards hanging onto him.  His skin was aching and he probably had sunburn as bad as the ones from his childhood. Crap he hated the sun and what it did to his brain.

"It said it can not produce them," Carba explained before Rodney could fall into a full-blown rant.

Rodney pointed at the arrogant wannabe scientist enthusiastically. "Exactly, what he said."

"Hm..."

Lyri eyed him, nothing of the warm welcome she had offered before their attack left in her eyes.

"Bring it to the disposal."

Now that he heard before. "Wait! You can't kill me!"

"The Creature shall be silent and it will not yet die," Carba muttered and shared a grin with Lyri, "Be assured honoured Lyri, I will make sure it does its job or I will propose its offer to the forefathers personally."

She knitted her brow curiously but agreed without further questions.

"Very well."

Carba bowed his head again and took the lead once more. Rodney just went along, across the settlement and further down to what looked like an old, now dry riverbed.

There was another ancient structure where the bed fell down in an almost straight cliff. Old worn out stone steps led down and to what looked like a stone wall with another oval opening.  It wasn't cloaked like the other one and had an old wooden door hanging awry in the door instead of the fancy holographic portal.

The first room seemed pitch black and sand sifted down from the narrow ceiling above them, generally looking as if it was ready to collapse above their heads any second, but inside the second room...

"...another part of the base."

He wondered and frowned at the ancient walls and machinery that blended so well with the rough stone walls in the room.  It was actually pretty neat work, impossibly the product of these idiots here though, and the shapes and shadows of bones on the floor assured him, yes, they hadn't built it themselves.

The walls looked as if they had literally grown into each other, going from rough natural stone wall and ground into polished ancient metal with barely a bump in the surface. Another, third door opened for the scientist, an ancient one and he stopped, stepping aside.

"The creature can search in there. It has one hour."

The darkness inside was worse as in the second room.  There were no windows, no ancient lighting and no sign as to where he was or what was around him, but at least the temperature seemed much more bearable. For a couple of seconds he just enjoyed it, breathing in and out with the cooling air washing over the sweat all over his body. Alright, he thought, he wasn't John but had a gene as well; the light, if it was there, probably just needed to be initiated properly.

The other part of the base, and by now he was sure it was a pretty big and old one, too, had still energy, so logically, this section was bound to have at least emergency lightning. Well, if he had a bit luck, which he hadn't till now... Anyway, he tried and thought 'on' with all his mental might.

He felt the tug of ancient technology in the back of his mind and opened his eyes.

It was not as bright as the other room had been, but clearly enough to see and to marvel at the collection of artefacts thrown all over the floor, working benches and shelves of the not at all small room.

"Oh my..."

It was an Ancient laboratory, two-tiered, with narrow stairs leading down to a much bigger lower level. He could see the outlines of hundreds of artefacts, boxes and parts he had never seen before and all just laid around there, ready to be taken.

"O-oh my ..." He sighed happily, the pain in his wrist forgotten.  "This is a fucking goldmine."

The laboratory looked exactly like his own at home, just so much larger and fuller.  He nearly jumped the last two steps of the stairs and almost fell over a desk with at least three dozen hand held scanners placed neatly on its surface, side by side.

But it didn't end there; one of the geological probes they had found on Jumper seven and what looked like other equipment ready to be attached to Jumpers covered half the room and there were big screens coming alive before him, full of wonderful Ancient data.

His vision blurred again and he fell back on an abandoned chair near one of the benches, sighing deeply. Alright, he could wait out his rescue down here.  His head wasn't so bad and he could watch ancient data scroll by, maybe even learn something out of his misery. And oh man, they had to come back here again when the Apollo or the Deadalus were back in Pegasus.  They could just beam anything out of this laboratory and take, if possible, the database along, hopefully completely avoiding the natives.

He almost forgot the fact that Carba had given him just one hour, and with Rodney's luck the hours on Pir were shorter than on earth, too.  So, no rest for him.  Instead he needed to get up and out of the laboratory, no, wait, better, he had to stay in here without a chance for Carba and his armed idiots to get to him.

He could sit out the rescue in a nice cool place, and would certainly find something with which he could detect when a Jumper or his rescue team was approaching.

Rodney grimaced at his own plan and sat back down. Alright, he probably wouldn't be able to distinguish the approaching Pir from his own people but a Jumper he would absolutely see on one of the scanners if he calibrated it right.

The blocking of the door came first.  Carba and his guys were probably working with it in the same way the doors worked for the non gene-carriers on Atlantis, so Rodney would have to change that to a more controlled setting, and that without the guards, who probably stood outside in the dark, noticing it.

"Okay, alright, first priority: door panel and tools to open the door panel." He looked around but got distracted by the screen which flashed with even more data.

He followed the data running across one of the large wall screens for a moment, catching glimpses of words like adaptive data processing and defence and already calculated seven possible ways this could relate to a possible defence against Wraith or whoever else would come along when a sound behind him startled him.

"Okay Carson," He sighed and turned around. "...you'd better be here to tell me that help is coming because your wannabe Scottish castle spook routine just sucks royally."

There was nobody there, not even Carson.

"This is not funny." He said slowly. "I am dehydrated, hungry, drugged and overheated and you as my Doc..."

Rodney caught a shadow moving out of the corner of his eye and turned around fast, but there seemed to be no one there. He wasn't so sure anymore that his visitor was his friend, especially since the Scott, hallucination or not, had never really played the part of the spook so well.

There was another sound.

"Carson?"

For a moment he blamed heat, hunger and thirst, but there came another rustling sound from a different corner of the darkness behind him, and he wasn't so sure anymore that it was a hallucination.

He inhaled a couple of time, standing stiff and still in the uncomfortable silence to listen for the direction the sounds were coming from.  After a moment, he decided they came from somewhere to his right. Rodney turned without warning to see what had caused the noise but, there was nothing but a device rolling along the floor to end up before his feet.

Usually he would send Sheppard forward now, or take a step behind Ronon, but right now he had only the brave choice as option, and god, was he bad at that.

There was a geo-probe on the next best bench and he grabbed it with a wince, cursing his wrist.

"Hello?"

The light flickered and he nervously looked around.  The situation was now really taking on ridiculous horror movie overtones.

"Alright, whoever it is..."

Where was Sheppard when you needed him, huh?  Rodney so wasn't good at this whole "aliens in the dark" thing. He'd had Sheppard with him for a reason, god damn it.

"I've got something pretty heavy and I know how to use it." Partly true, he winced.

Another movement caught his attention, just like a small creature running from desk to desk on the other side of the room, and this time he actually could see where it went.

He contemplated following the thing for a moment, unsure if he really wanted to know what he was caught with, but given the alternative...

"Hello?"

Rodney could be brave if he wanted, and the shadow hadn't looked very big, so he followed it, cautious step by cautious step.

"Don't hurt me."

He blinked into the darkness. The whimper seemingly came from below the desk right before him.

"Don't hurt me." A child, he was almost certain.

"Please."

He leaned over and peered below the bench, and indeed, there was a child. Small, barely Madison's size and holding to a little device that worked like the ancient equivalent of a nightlight. She was shivering and visibly scared shitless, that much was obvious.

He went to one knee, frowning at her. If there was one thing he was worse at than being brave than it was soothing children.

"Hi."

She scooted further back into the shadows and Rodney congratulated himself on the fact that, yes, he was absolutely hopeless.

"Don't hurt me!" She whined.

"Hey, I am not going to hurt you, I promise!"

She stared at him with wide open eyes, her pupils darting from his hand to his face and back. Oh sure, he understood, she was scared because he still had the piece of probe in his hand to scare off his attacker. That wouldn't work so well with a child barely Madison's age who, obviously, was terrified by his mere presence.

He threw the piece of probe away and ducked his head back down, smiling his usual crooked smile. It worked with most alien women, so logic dictated that it had to work with tiny women too.

He waved his good hand.

He didn't know much about kids, in fact barely enough to survive one single Christmas without tears, well, on his side at least, but smiling was usually good. Expect, sometimes his turned scary... Jeannie had said he'd looked rather scary when he smiled at Madison, err, anyway...

He tried again, showing his empty hand. "Hello."

She blinked and tilted her head in a gesture that reminded him a lot of Teyla.

"Hello?" She echoed.

He smiled some more, aiming for the stupid grin Sheppard tended to have when dealing with small, annoying natives to impress their well-endowed mothers.

"I am Rodney... and what's your name?"  The introduction was a good approach, he thought, but she just looked at him for a while, and he sighed.  This whole thing wasn't really going anywhere, was it? No wonder, he was bad with kids.  So spectacularly bad in fact, that he felt miserable about that to some degree, at least when it came to his own niece and natives... and... he should aim for a less scary smile, a bit of a grimace perhaps, Maddy had laughed as he had grown really red with annoyance...

He bowed back down, smiling as friendly as he possibly could.

"I won't harm you, I promise." He wriggled the fingers of his good hand a bit to sort of wave at her. "See... I am not armed. No need to be scared..."

No reaction.

"Alright... I see we aren't getting anywhere here." He really hadn't the patience for this.

He still had to find tools for the door and tiny natives couldn't help him with that problem, so he also could leave her down there, she was probably better off down there anyway.

"My creators gave me no name." She blurted out suddenly and he looked back down.

"What?" He frowned.

"The people who brought me here said I don't require one." She supplied.

"Alright," he hissed, realizing that the little girl must also have the gene. "This planet is full of bastards."

Anger flared up in him, this planet really was full of absolute idiots, who not only had no fucking clue about real science, but treated people with the gene like leprosy patients, or slaves, or worse. Oh, and intelligence seemed to be a crime worthy of death...

She just stared at him.

"Can you give me one?" The girl asked from her hiding spot and he looked back down at her.

The frown on his face deepened.

"Give you what?"

"A name!"

A name? Fine, what else? He huffed and grumbled. "Will you get out of there then?"

She nodded her head fast, crawling forward and out of her hiding space to get on her feet before his sitting position within a few seconds.

She was almost on eye level with Rodney's kneeling height as she stood there, clothed in a white knee-length dress and with a disarming shy smile. Her skin was pale as well. Too pale to ever have seen the sun for any long period of time, a fact that made him even more confused than her mysterious presence in the underground repository. Perhaps she wasn't alone down here either. The laboratory was big and had many desks and benches standing around to hide below, he couldn't be sure if it was the only room down here, either.

"Are there more like you around here?"

He looked around a bit, eyeing the piece of probe he had thrown away on the ground not far.

"No," She said. "There was nobody like you for a very long time, I can barely remember them."

He sighed, and was perhaps a bit relieved, too.  So they probably brought her food, or something, but left her completely alone otherwise. Somehow, that made him even angrier than he was about the whole kidnapping thing, and he could safely say that he was already pretty pissed about the whole "being sedated and dragged off while his team was down in the sand".

The only thing pissing him off more was the lack off nourishment and water.

"You don't have something to eat or drink around, do you?"

She titled her head again.

"Something to eat, I am hungry and thirsty. They just had this ugly brownish brew, I get kind off dizzy without..." He swirled a hand into the direction of his head.

She shook her head eventually.

"I didn't think so."

Fine, they probably took any leftovers with them, or she had nothing left, or she hadn't been fed today yet.

Okay, back to the original plan then. He tucked his aching hand tightly against his chest and stood up again, the little girl watching his every move.  Scanners, probes and other devices he had never seen before were all over the room, but no sign of the tools boxes he searched for.

"You wanted to give me a name," She reminded him, bouncing from one naked little foot to the other after a couple of minutes watching him looking around.

"Right," He hissed.

He bit his lips and nodded, looking up at the top level on the other end of the laboratory.

"But first we find a way out of here, okay?" He added and gave her the smile again.

"Out of here?" She frowned at him as if she didn't quite understand.

So their children weren't the smartest little buggers either, apparently.  Rodney had almost expected it, and anyway, she'd probably never been outside before, since why should she want to when the bad people were out there?

"Why?" She asked and pulled him out of his thoughts.

Normally he would have snarled at anyone who dared to ask such questions, but they usually were a lot bigger and had a lot less right to ask stupid questions than this little girl had.

"There are people out there who hold us both captive in here," He explained and pointed up to where the door was. "I am going to search for something in here that keeps the bad people outside till our rescue comes.  First thing, something to pry the door panel open and cut off the energy to the opening mechanism. That should keep them out."

She followed his hand's movements then looked into a distant corner of the laboratory before running off.

"Hey, wait!"

He was half way up the stairs to the door level again as he noticed that she had taken off, turned around, and then gone back down, almost stumbling over his own feet.

"Stupid children, why can't they ever do..."

The kid stood right at his feet again before he had even reached the last step of the stairs, holding what seemed to be a ZPM in her arms like Madison would have held her favourite doll.

"Perhaps this can help!"

He just stared and she offered it to him.

"Holy..." He blinked at her mouth wide open speechless and shocked.

He took the precious piece of technology carefully, grimacing about the pain in his wrist while setting it in his good arm like a baby.  He even crooned at it affectionately, although he blamed the sun for that, entirely the sun.

After Atlantis' damned crash landing, energy was more precious than diamonds right now, even more than it had been in their first year. It was so much colder on that damn ice moon they were on now, too. Ice as far as the eye could see and with temperatures down to negative 30° Celsius at night, he shivered just thinking about it.

"Can I be called like you?" She asked, still standing before him.

"What?"

He had almost forgotten she was there, stupid kid, stupid lack of concentration, man, how long had it been since he got something to eat the last time?

"No..." He snapped in irritation and glared. "You can't!"

She was blinking again, wide eyes full of curiosity, though no tears, even though he had spoken rather sharply.

"Why not?"

"It's a boy's name." He rolled his eyes and turned around to climb the stairs again.

This was exactly why he disliked kids and all their stupid questions.

No tool box as far as he could see, perhaps he could short out the door crystals. That could work too.

"And?"

She drummed her fingers on the railing, staring up at him.

"There are boys and there are girls... and you are a girl... girls can't have boys-names." Rodney explained waving his hand over his shoulder while reaching the top of the stairs.

She nodded as if she understood exactly what he meant and follows along with a frown on her face. He looked around himself and studied the shelves along the walls by the door.

"Can boys have girl names?"

"No." He turned around again and stared at the girl. He could have sworn to any god possible that she must have been related to Sheppard because that talent to annoy him couldn't be copied.

Upon reflection, that was a lie.  Boys could be so unlucky to have girl's names; he was the best, or worst, example of that, but the little brat didn't need to know that.

"Why?" And she was the best example for being an annoying little kid, too.

"You are worse than my niece," Rodney muttered and turned his back on her.

He went through the shelves with his eyes, hands full and shaking his head. He couldn't deny that he, somehow, was amused by the girl too, and wondered only briefly about that development, blaming Jeannie entirely for it and nobody else.

"What's a niece?" She asked next.

"It's my sister's daughter," He explained putting the ZPM carefully on a bench at the door.

The girl watched him move and sat down on one of the larger boxes beside the door, swinging her legs in the air. "What is their name?"

"Jeannie and Madison," Rodney supplied, yipping in triumph as he finally found a little collection of tool boxes he probably had just overseen, stupid low blood sugar.

He went to his knees by the door by the panel. It was in the usual position by the door and he just prayed that these demented natives hadn't messed with this piece of technology yet.

The little girl watched him for a while before she pushed herself off the box and walked over to him, poking into his shoulder with a very pointy finger.

"WHAT?!"

She bounced backwards and he waved the tool at her.

"Sorry, okay..." Rodney too a deep breath and put the smile in place again.  "What did you want?"

"I want to have your name," She said with demure voice a determined nod.

"No, Okay." Rodney stared at her for a moment, flashes of all the reasons why he had called himself Rodney instead of Meredith coming to his mind.

Technicolor pictures or his royally messed up youth and endless lines of bullies calling him Merry, Queen of the geeks. Well, he frowned at her, her childhood was so much more messed up than his, and to make it worse, he must have scared her again with his answer, because she chewed on her lip hugging herself now.

"Okay, don't cry..." He put the tool he held aside and awkwardly reached out to rub her shoulder in a, what he hoped to be a soothing way.

"It's alright, okay, you can be called like me."

She started smiling and he had the feeling that he was now —somehow- wrapped around her finger, just like he had been Maddy's servant after she'd broken out into a flood of tears. Well, that and Jeannie had boxed him into his shoulder until he apologised, and damn could she be scary since becoming a mom.

"How about we call you Meredith, hm?"

She didn't look at him still, lower lip quivering. "Your name is Rodney."

"Meredith Rodney McKay..." Rodney sighed deeply, rolling his eyes. The universe hated him. "Meredith is a name that is also a girls name, we can call you that."

"Meredith." She looked up at him and broke into a smile. "I like that."

The girl threw her arms around his neck too fast for him to react and pressed her face into the side of his neck with a barely audible sigh. "Will you take me with you?"

He blinked with wide eyes at the whole situation for a very long, very awkward moment until he decided that she probably expected him to pat her or something; most kids seemed find that soothing.

"Sure." He would, sure.

"You promise?"

"Sure." He repeated.

That was difficult to promise because right now he wasn't so sure as to how to get out of this mess himself and with the child... well, but the kid would feel better and he wouldn't leave her behind if he could help it.

She pressed a little tighter. "I like you."

"Ah, how nice off you," He mumbled and rubbed her back carefully.

She stepped back smiling broadly and he couldn't help but return the smile.

The lights flickered again, and all the other sources of light turned off just a second later.  Meredith let him go with something like a panicked whine and ran away from him and back down the stairs as fast as she possibly could.

"Wait!" He called out but the door opened behind him and the shadows falling into the room made it more than clear that the time was over.

He rose to his feet, shielding his eyes with his good hand. It was Carba and his trained apes again. No wonder the little girl had run off; she was probably hiding from them all the time, and he, truth be told, thought about doing the same.

Carba raised his nose and sniffed arrogantly. "Is the creature finished? Has it found what it needs?"

"No, the creature is not finished," Rodney growled and pointed jerkily into the darkness around him.

"There are too many devices here to find the right one. I would need days, months, perhaps even years to get through everything in here!"

Carba just looked at him with a raised eyebrow. He had probably never moved much further into the darkness, and of course, it dawned on Rodney then, the girl probably had a stronger gene and mentally yelled at the system to stay dark every time the door opened so the Pirians didn't know the extent of their laboratory anyway, and right now, she did it perhaps even to hide him too.

"The creature had one hour," Carba sneered and looked blankly at Rodney.

"That was no hour." Rodney protested.

They were grating on his nerves, really, and he was getting dizzier again and just wanted to get something to eat before the whole mess would move into the really uncomfortable part of low blood sugar.

"The creature will obey or be disposed of."

Rodney rubbed his sweaty brow. "I don't know how often I have to explain it, but I can't do miracles, fine, occasionally I do, but usually I have at least something to eat while doing so..."

Carba laid his head to one side as if pondering what exactly Rodney might be babbling about, or, more likely, what might work to shut Rodney up for good in the fastest way possible.

"The creature can call itself lucky that I do not have much more patience as the honoured Lyri has, she would have disposed of the creature after it has proven to be useless for the first time..." He warned Rodney and lowered his head. "Does it have a way to repair the den of the beasts and our defences, or not?"

The guards moved forward, aiming at him.

"Listen, I did what I can. It wasn't enough time..."

"Bring it!" Carba seethed with disgust, baring his teeth and turned around to go back outside. One of the soldiers made a jerky gesture with his crossbow that probably meant something like 'follow him' and Rodney looked back into the darkness once, before following back out into the light.

This time around he seemed better adjusted to the light difference when he found himself face to face with Lyri and a couple more of her people that waited a few of yards away from the exit in the dried out river bed. She raised her chin arrogantly as Rodney was signalled to halt in their midst.

"The Creature says it can not repair our defences," Carba reported dutifully and bowed his head. "It still refuses to cooperate."

"I don't refuse to help, you narrow minded idiot, but you gave me neither the time nor the means..." Rodney complained and the guard pushed him to the ground with a well-placed shove into his back. "And shoving me around won't change that either!"

Carba bowed his head as deeply as he could without bending over.

"I have disappointed you, honoured Lyri," he said and waited patiently for her reaction.

"Do not worry Carba," She said and patted his scalp gently. "You have tried your best and not "

This must have soothed Carba's damaged pride, but the anger about his humiliation stayed visible even for Rodney. Lyri stepped forward and circled Rodney once, her hands clasped behind her back and her head raised high, looking him up and down.

Rodney usually would have been flattered at so much interest from an attractive woman, but not when her scrutiny was probably just to decide which part of him they could cut off first to make him do his work.

"The creature is useless to us." She decided and Rodney glared at her.

"I agree," A random man, probably her partner, announced from the crowd and a lot of the others present started to nod and whisper with each other. Carson stood among them, shaking his head at Rodney.

Rodney gave him a tired glare. Sam had at least been a useful hallucination, but he was gone after Lyri's next pass.

She stopped in front of Rodney, smiling down at him with something like pity in her eyes. "Then it is spoken and agreed upon."

More of their soldiers moved into the first line, some of them with the spears, or blowguns others with what looked like long and extremely sharp swords. That alone looked like a gruesome death lay ahead of him, but they all stepped aside for a muscle man with an axe and naked, wildly tattooed upper body, and god, did Rodney dislike where this was heading.

"Wait, hey... stop..." He raised his finger and pointed at the guy with the axe. The mountain of man smiled toothlessly in return.

"You don't need to do this, just give me some more time and I can repair your defences," Rodney added hastily.

She just smiled. The same alluring smile she had used to invite them, trade with them what seemed hours ago, but there was no pity and only ice in her eyes now and he could sense how useless begging for his life had become in that moment.

"The kin of the creature came as they were ordered by the forefathers and did not fight." She said with the same smile and turned to join her people again.

Rodney felt the urge to correct her about that, Sheppard and the others hadn't been amused when the ambush came out of nowhere, but the sedative darts and pointy arrows had just been the better argument on the attacker's side. These bastards had left Rodney's team alone to die, lifeless and without shelter from the sun, probably gravely wounded and that had been hours ago.

"It did not spill blood of us when it was collected and behaved almost civilly, so it may have a good death." She continued.

Carba might have disagreed on the behaving civilly, but couldn't add to Lyri's judgement without risking his position further.

"Not dying would be better, thanks." Rodney whined crawling backwards in the sand, and away from the palm log two of the guards had set down right in front of him.

"I agree." Another man in the crowd stepped forward, and Rodney could see the young man from earlier again.

Lyri nodded. "Than it is spoken and agreed upon."

The guy with the axe nodded as well and went to do his job.

"Can't we talk about this? Ow..."

Rodney wanted to crawl further back but two strong pairs of hands hoisted him up by his arms, pulled him up and, really he was no coward anymore, not after years of doing this, but he screamed anyway.

"The creature shall be silent," Lyri chided him shaking her head and promptly someone stuffed a piece of cloth into Rodney's protesting mouth. "This is a very holy moment"

This is not the way to die, it's not the way to go, his mind protested as he was pulled forward to be positioned on the log, and god damn it, he was a genius and not meant to be decapitated on Tatooine or star in a horribly bad Silence of the Lambs revival.  He wanted his rescue, and he wanted it now!

Suddenly it came to him that perhaps this was the end, and that Carson just had been here to lead him to the afterlife and the resulting feeling of understanding was incredibly sharp and painful.

He felt like the little child in this scene now, swallowing hard as some of the trigger happy soldiers put their crossbows aside and strode up to him to grab him by his arms, positioning him properly on the log.

He struggled and kicked out, even tried a few of the moves Sheppard and Lorne had thought him, but with his head nearly blinding him with pain, no water, the rest of the sedative and his low blood sugar, well, to say it was futile would have been a understatement.

Lyri strode purposefully up to him and bowed over to appear in his field of vision again.

Rodney needed three people to keep him on his knees and pressed down, as she reached out to card her fingers through his hair soothingly. This was what cattle must feel like before being lead to the slaughter, he thought with distant horror. God, he would never again eat meat, crap, he would never eat again at all.

"The creature shall be silent now." She said and caressed his sandy hair once more. "It has to die silently to praise the victory over its kin."

She smiled again and he wished for nothing more than that Sheppard was there, shooting the goddamn smile of her fucking face already, and where were they anyway? The rescue could really come now, any second, really.

He closed his eyes tightly, and ironically, he found himself not seeing a colourful flashback off his childhood days, or Carson waiting, or Jeannie or all the people that usually haunted them in his nightmares. There was nothing. It would frustrate him for as long as the guy with the axe would need to chop his head off, and that fact frustrated him even more.

But for not nearly as long as he thought it would.

Instead of lowering the axe the hangman just made a gurgling sound and than there were several horrified gasps in the audience.

Rodney's eyes flew open wide at the screams of the audience around him just in time to see how the muscled man crashed into the sand with a hole in his head.

He could hear the drones coming before they touched ground, hissing through the air and, oh thank god finally, crashing into the sand not far from the audience. The whole river bed went up in clouds of sand and sound and the Pirians seemed to be so shocked and scared all of sudden they didn't even think of defending themselves, they just took off in wild unorganised chaos.

All but Carba, who swayed through the sand, and Rodney, who struggled to his wobbly legs as fast as he possibly could.

The Pirian scientist had his own crossbow in his hands and murder written in his eyes but the next well placed drone send them both down before he could take aim and Rodney crawled away, He spit out the gag and started running into the general direction of the palm trees.

Another cloud of sand went up and the arrows started flying, as apparently the Pirians obviously remembered that they also had defences, Rodney noted. The glorious choir of hisses of the bullets gliding through the air above came next as he tried to get away, and they sounding like music to his ears, music that mowed the big guys who had wanted to decapitate him just a minute ago down like so much grass.

He threw himself down behind the first palm tree he could reach, out of breath and with sand in his eyes.

"See, I told you they are okay!" Carson said and Rodney blinked up at the Doctor before him blurrily.

"You could have helped me, you know?!" Rodney rubbed his face, ducking his head as another arrow swished narrowly past the palm tree.

"I did!" Carson protested indignantly.

Rodney gave the dead man a glare, but Carson looked away, his attention drawn to movement in the palms ahead of them. Fire of a P-90, Yes, they left nobody behind, never would, and he was never so glad about it as he was in that moment.

"MCKAY!"

Rodney would have recalled the voice and the impossible hair style anywhere, even with sand and all hell breaking loose around him.

"HERE!" He yelled out and Carson stepped aside.

P-90 fire echoed to his left and a moment later a figure crashed down by his feet, narrowly avoiding the arrows going down around them both.

Sheppard had white cream on his face, covering what must have been an ugly sun burn but seemed fine otherwise.  Sandy, annoyed, and angry, but fine. He wore the brown uniform he usually only sent his marines on tour with and was in full soldier attitude from head to toe.

Rodney refrained from hugging him just barely.

"It's about time!" Rodney exhaled, broadly grinning.

"Jeez, typical, nothing but complaints!" Sheppard ducked into the cover by Rodney's side with a pained hiss and Rodney suddenly remembered the arrows and Ronon.

"Were you hit? Have they shot you?" Rodney couldn't see Ronon anywhere, couldn't be sure Sheppard was okay.

Sheppard waved the concern off with the round of bullets he gave off, before returning for cover.

"It's just a scratch," He snapped and one hand came to rest on Rodney's knee perhaps a moment longer than it should have. "Can you move?"

"My wrist hurts... and I'm hungry, dizzy, you really could have come earlier!"

Sheppard smiled satisfied about the answer.

"You can complain later, McKay." Arrows flew past on both sides of the tree, impaling themselves into the sand around their hiding spot. "Now we have to get out of here."

Sheppard fired again and gave Rodney the sign to run in the direction had Sheppard come from, and McKay dived past a broadly grinning Carson, from tree to tree dodging arrows and spears in the process.

They both dove into a dune and than there was Ronon, not with his usual gun, but alive, and at least five or more Marines that Rodney could see as he raised his head.  A Jumper was hovering above the green of the palms like trees, too, shooting drones.

Sheppard pulled Rodney up by a hand full of sweaty shirt and both made a dash for the Jumper sitting dead-ahead in the cover of the dunes beyond the trees.

Rodney collapsed in the co-pilot seat of the Jumper, welcoming air conditioning and the loving purr of Ancient technology in his head, and of course, the bottle of water someone pushed into his hands. Carson hovered above him, watching him.  The Marines were giving those still approaching the Jumper cover from the natives and it was just like in the past, so perfect.

He nearly forgot the ZPM he had left - and the girl- over the endorphins dancing through his wobbly legs and aching wrist. Meredith was still hiding in the laboratory, and if not now then when else would there be a chance to free her?  Plus- ZPM!

"Wait, wait..." Rodney jumped back up, pulling at the loop of Sheppard's tac vest.

"This is a bad idea!" Carson warned. "Let it alone!"

Sheppard was about to ready the Jumper for take off, about to signal his Marines to fall back into cover as he looked up questioningly. "What is it?"

"We have to go back!" Rodney yelled at John over the P-90 fire, pulling on the pilot's clothes.

"What?" Sheppard looked at him in irritation. "No we're not, sit down!"

"But we have to!"

Rodney huffed and let go of Sheppard's uniform.  Instead, he grabbed the gun John had put aside with his good hand, ready to move past the remaining Marines who were providing cover fire and straight into the direction the arrows and returning Marines came from.

Carson stood in front of him suddenly and Rodney stopped, not running out as he had planned. "No Rodney, I mean it, it is a bad idea."

"Go away!" Rodney hissed and the Marine at the door looked at him oddly.

"God damn it, Rodney!" Sheppard jumped up and stopped Rodney by a fist full of shirt, pulling him back forcefully. "You don't know what you're doing, come back!"

"I know what I am doing!" Rodney protested loudly, straining against John's grip with all his weight. "There is a little girl, we need to get her out!"

Sheppard looked at him as if Rodney had grown a second head.

"And a ZPM, too, of course, now come on, come on!" He added and tried to peel John's hand off.

Worry bled into the annoyance about Rodney's behaviour now, and it was really no wonder. McKay looked like the living dead with the red blisters on his pale face.  He had sweated so much that his brow was as dry as the land outside and his eyes must have looked wider and wilder than ever before.  He felt miserable, too, had no problem admitting it, but Sheppard had to understand that there was an important reason to go back.

"I know, you think I'm crazy from the sun, and hey, perhaps you're right, because me and kids? Honestly," Rodney made a grimace. "...but they have an Ancient laboratory and a lot of gadgets, and there is a ZPM too, and they're holding a kid captive. She's got the gene, that's why they have locked her up!"

The Marines and Ronon, now with his trusted gun, filed in behind John and Rodney, and a lot more than the five Rodney had seen before came running from the trees.  The jumper soon became crowded but still, Rodney didn't move.

"Rodney, just stop and sit down!" Carson tried a last time but a Marine moved in and walked right through him, making him disperse as ripples in the air.

"We need the ZPM. And...She's all alone, and they treat her like... I don't know livestock or something!" Rodney pointed at the still open Jumper hatch.

Sheppard looked downright worried now, trying hard to make sense of the babbling.

Heatstroke or worse came to mind; he'd seen better men go down from the heat, and had needed longer than he liked to get on his feet himself.

"We go back to Atlantis and get you checked over by Dr. Keller," He announced finally, and gave Ronon a nod to keep Rodney in check while he lifted the ramp.

"Have you had too much sun?" Rodney yowled as Ronon's hands closed carefully over his shoulders.

"There is a perfectly fine ZPM! And we can't just leave!" He added and waved his good hand.

"They outnumber us Rodney, we can't go back." Sheppard answered and flopped back into his seat. The Jumper came alive just a second later and the Marines settled down for the flight.  The arrows of the Pirians pattered on the top of the Jumper and the angry natives yelled louder and louder, breaking out of the forest behind them as the Jumper took off.

"Outnumber us?" Rodney spit. "We have Jumpers, and guns... and Marines!"

"Sit down!" Sheppard growled over his shoulder, looking back at Rodney sternly before he concentrated again on the HUD.

Rodney stared at the back of Sheppard's head, blue eyes wide and asking - no, make that begging - wordlessly if Sheppard truly could leave a child behind in hostile territory like this.

It was atypical for Rodney, and yes, it probably was the sun to some degree, as it was possible that he had hallucinated part of last few exhausting hours, but Sheppard had the stupid habit of saving innocents on a daily basis with Rodney's not entirely innocent ass among them more often than he could count. Meredith was just a kid god damn it, he had to make John understand.

"I swear there is a ZPM," Rodney started. "This is not the sun, alright!"

"Rodney," Ronon grumbled from above, and pressed down on his shoulders. "Calm down!"

"I am calm!" He spit at Ronon and the big man raised an eyebrow, letting go of McKay's shoulders. "Look Sheppard, We need the ZPM. What does it matter if we rescue the kid along with it?"

Sheppard growled and turned his attention to the flight path.

"Make a diversion with the Jumper, blow something up since you're so good at it! I don't care, but we need to get her out of there!" Rodney argued and fell back down into the co pilot's chair. "We can take the ZPM, too, nobody will complain if we come back with a ZPM. Just trust me, Carter will be ecstatic."

Sheppard grabbed the controls hard for a moment.  Trust, yeah.

"She's all alone and barely as old as my niece, we can't let the kid alone there." Rodney stared ahead, almost giving up.

He had to admit he'd never imagined being so afraid for a child. He didn't like kids, they annoyed him mostly, but nobody had a right to treat any human like that, nobody.

"There's Jumper One. Lorne, do you copy?"

Sheppard called up the HUD before him and Rodney looked over to the other man, more than confused for a moment.

"We are on your six, Sir." Lorne's voice crackled over the radio and the life signs started blinking on the screen. "We are heading for the gate"

Sheppard looked at Rodney from the corner of his eyes.  The scientist was already tired and worn, even if it was just the sun responsible.

"We don't leave yet."

Rodney had known Sheppard wouldn't.

Lorne cleared his throat in irritation. "Sir?"

"Yeah, look Rodney found a ZPM." Sheppard said as if it would explain everything, and it probably did. "We're going to take it along. Cause some distractions, fire on the village's rim the furthest away from the river bed!"

That sounded plausible enough and nobody asked questions; a ZPM was enough to risk it.

"Copy that, sir."

Sheppard flew a wide curve over the vast expanse of sand below them and back to the oasis and the settlement. Lorne's Jumper gained speed and moved ahead to send drones out.

Rodney could see the drive pods open and the lights fly across the sky.

They impacted the planet's surface and clouds of sand raised in the air, much the same way they had at the beginning of their rescue mission. The dots on the scanner started to move away from the settlement and some of them, the guards probably, headed right for the explosions in their stupidity.

Sheppard flew another curve over the river bed and turned the Jumper around, lading it directly before the opening to the chamber containing the ZPM.

He jumped up from his pilot seat and moved to the back of the Jumper, sharing a long look with Rodney, while taking his gun in hand.

"Sgt. Potter, you will give cover should the hostiles come back. Ronon, you come with us..."

Ronon grunted and the Marine nodded, both readying their guns.

The ramp lowered and they headed out.  The Marines secured the Jumper while Rodney, Ronon and Sheppard went for the door.

The doors were no problem and even the Ancient door opened without a problem for John - and that even though the scientist had probably tried to lock it.

The light in the laboratory didn't come on, though.

Sheppard lit the closest area with the small flashlight attached to his P-90 before he let Rodney in, but the scientist just brushed past him and went for the ZPM and the side and tugging it into his arms. Normally that would have been it, but this time there was something else Rodney needed to take care of.

"Hello? Hey it's me, Rodney!" Rodney moved forward in the darkness, almost to the railing and called out. "I'm here to get you out!"

There was not a sound other than explosions and, now, gunfire from outside. Rodney tried again and again, but neither the lights came on for him, no matter how much he wanted them to, nor was there any sign of the little girl itself.

Meredith and her stupid, stupid hiding.

"Sir, they are closing in again." Potter's voice came over the radio and they could see the first arrows flying outside, hitting the Jumper like the first drops of a rainstorm.

Sheppard moved forward to Rodney, lighting the area below while Ronon waited at the door. "Rodney! Move it!"

The child wasn't there. She had either taken cover from the explosions outside, or had been merely a hallucination to begin with. John couldn't see a thing and had no time to investigate either.

"Come out already!" Rodney huffed in utter frustration. "Meredith, come out!"

"Sir, here is Jumper two, the Pirians have noticed you and are closing back in on your position..." Lorne said this time.

Sheppard touched his radio, taking a firm hold on Rodney's upper arm next. "Understood, secure the gate we are on our way back."

"Yes Sir!"

"We can't go!" Rodney wanted to protest, swaying into the hold Sheppard had on him.

"She's not here anymore, Rodney."

Sheppard tugged hard on Rodney's good arm.

"They've taken her away, okay, now come." Sheppard added.

Rodney nodded grimly, the Pir probably had. Perhaps it was that moment which made Rodney not sure anymore if he hadn't hallucinated the kid as well as Carson to begin with.  It might have been Sheppard's worried look, or the fact that his blood sugar may have just reached a new record low, he wasn't sure, but now he wasn't sure of anything anymore.

The rest of the way back to the Jumper saw McKay growing dizzier and dizzier with every step, but he didn't let go of the ZPM, not even as he was pushed back into the co pilot's seat, and later, back on Atlantis when he was wheeled out and brought to the infirmary.

The last thing he saw before Keller took over was Carson, who stared with narrowed eyes at the ZPM in Zelenka's arms as they followed the stretcher Rodney lay on.

Everything went a bit out of focus after that.


Voodoo Child

Rodney had to admit that he hadn't understood much of what happened after the Jumpers went back to Atlantis. Low blood sugar tended to do this to him when it got bad, but the warm cadence of Atlantis's soothing whispers, the voices of real and imagined friends, held him down and in check.

At least his nightmares left him alone for a while.

Most of the dizziness probably came from the remains of the Pirian's sedative and vanished slowly over the hours he slept. The sleeping helped the other problems he had gotten himself into as well, and surprisingly enough, both dehydration and hypoglycaemia turned out to be not as severe as Keller had expected them to be at first, either.

In some ways he had been lucky.

The Pirian mud water not only included mud, but seemed to be the key to their survival in the heat and sun of their planet - isotonic properties of the soil or something. It came as a bit of a surprise, but made enough sense for Rodney to settle with the fact that without the brew, he would probably be dead.

Some reasonable fear about parasites remained however, and he didn't fail telling Keller about it until she showed him his blood samples on a large projector screen and told him that she would not do the tests a sixth time.

He hadn't even banged up his head.  Sure, the dizziness and headache was there but that most likely came from the sedative and the hallucinations, too. Carson hadn't been there, like Sam hadn't been there when Rodney had been caught in the Jumper, and perhaps he had even imagined Meredith, he wasn't sure anymore.

Well, he hoped for her sake that she wasn't real, and for his as well, because she had trusted him so much, had just been a child and he had promised to get her off the planet and he hadn't. He didn't want to think about it...

A couple of lovely little IVs took care of anything else that hours of captivity on the sandy hell hole had caused and, after a nice but short shower and a clean set of scrubs, Rodney felt almost human again.

But really, just almost human, because the damn scrubs itched and he had been forced to offer his ass for Dr. Keller's target practice yet again and that had not been on his plan for the week.  If he looked at it statistically, he probably would have ended up in the infirmary for the obligatory after mission check up anyway, but if he was right, and he usually was, it would have been Dr. Biro's shift and the old British hag still had more appeal than Keller.

Not in the sex appeal kind of way of course, because urgh pathologist, but eh...anyway, he just couldn't deal with Carson's replacement yet, especially with Carson's voice still seeming so painfully fresh in Rodney's mind, as if he still was around the infirmary, as if the next man with a white coat would be him.

The limited amount of available doctors of medicine forbade him from really demonstrating his dislike anyway, which made him grumpy every time; that and the lights which Keller was so persistent in shining in his eyes every god damn time she came past.

"Can you stop that already?" he snapped at her. "I don't know what there is in my eyes to see that all your shiny machines haven't possibly spit out yet."

Keller furrowed her brows lightly but didn't go for the bait.

"It's a routine check, Dr. McKay." She put the light away and into her coat pocket. "Besides, you were dehydrated and had a nice case of hypoglycaemic shock to go with it, plus, you were given a foreign sedative that makes me a bit more cautious. "

Rodney glared at her and she smiled innocently.

"We don't want your precious brain to bleed out of your ears, do we?" She added.

"Funny," He grimaced at her, not at all amused.

She grinned and headed for the data pad on the neighbouring bed to add whatever his pupils did in reaction to the light to her notes.

"When exactly will you let me go?"

He tried crossing his arms, but the IV and the sprained wrist stopped him so he fell back onto his pillows with a huff instead, drumming the fingers of his good hand on his thigh.

She didn't even look up from her data pad. "...if your test results tell me that I can let you go."

"I think you don't grasp the picture here, Doctor..." He stressed the Doctor a bit. "We have a nice new ZPM!  It's shiny and seemingly fully charged and I need to be there when it's checked over and installed!"

"Dr. Zelenka has everything fully under his control as far as I know," Keller said and Rodney snorted derogatively.

"Zelenka, well, he's not as stupid as the rest, I give him that, but I found the ZPM, and there were a lot more devices where that came from.  We have to send the Deadalus there, and I found the ZPM..." Rodney hesitated.

She looked attentively at him from below her bangs. He had lost a bit of his momentum at his own words. It wasn't true; Meredith had found the ZPM.

"I have a right to be there, they'll need me!" He added, looking away from her.

"I think they are getting along just fine without you right now. Colonel Carter contacted the Deadalus and really, everything is under control." Keller looked back down. "You have to relax a bit."

She sighed at her data. "Your vitals weren't the prettiest in the past few weeks before your last mission anyway, and it's understandable with what happened..."

If by that she meant that he had been busy because his precious city had nearly been destroyed and almost-crash landed on a ice moon, Elizabeth wounded and send back to earth as barely conscious invalid and his greatest rival send to replace her, than yeah, he had a bit of a stressing couple of weeks behind him.

Just then it seemed to be months that everyone had felt like that.  The department heads had to compensate for it. Rodney did, Sheppard did and Lorne and Zelenka looked like dead on their feet more often than not and that Elizabeth's departure had brought back Rodney's haunting nightmares as well didn't help either.  Alright, Keller had her fair share of it too, as did Carter ,and it wasn't fair to take it out on them, but Rodney just couldn't change it, did not have the power to do so.

"...and the last mission, well, you can be glad you are such a stubborn man," She finished.

His lips twitched but somehow the comeback just didn't want to come as easily as it would have with Carson.

"Are you stressing the Doctor again?"

Sheppard sported a fresh coat of the white lotion stuff on his sunburned cheeks as he wandered into the infirmary. He looked absurdly clown like, complete with a red nose and comically exaggerated grin.

"No." Rodney said exasperated.

Sheppard chuckled shaking his head.

"And, how is he doing?" Sheppard asked Keller and leaned against the bed opposite to Rodney, watching Keller scribble.

"He is right here and feeling fine, thanks!" Rodney snapped pointing at himself with his good hand.

The movement tugged at his IV and drew the attention of the Doctor again, who shot him an admonitory look that promised more needles in his future than he liked.

"Fine so far," Keller narrowed her eyes at him further before she looked over to Sheppard with an open smile. "His blood sugar is improving, as is his blood pressure and hydration... his mood, well..."

"They kidnapped me, gave me nothing but some disgusting brackish water to drink, and don't get me started on parasites," He glared at Keller who smirked at her data. "They wanted me to repair their shield, treated me like the dirt under their boots and wanted to kill me afterwards, and then she" He jerked a finger at her. "...just locked me up here!" Rodney snapped in annoyance and waved a finger at her.

Keller was so much not Carson it hurt sometimes, he would have understood. Of course she wasn't to blame that she wasn't Carson, but she could at least try to pay attention to what happened outside of her little world.

"Of course I am not that happy." He spit out.

"We all know what you've been through, McKay." Sheppard crossed his, equally as sun burned, arms over his chest.  "It wasn't a walk in the park for any of us."

"No, It wasn't," Rodney said bitterly. "...but you, at least, got out of this Voodoo farm. I am stuck here and kept from my important work."

The glare was directed at Keller once more.

"An arrow just graced my side. I have 5 stitches... not more." Sheppard explained.

As it had turned out, the arrow which had struck Sheppard down had caught in a less protected part of his vest, a lucky shot for the Pirian shooter and a even luckier one for Sheppard who had already been half way limp from the sedative, because just a inch further in any direction and it wouldn't just have been a scratch.

Ronon had taken an arrow straight through the upper arm, and Rodney hadn't even noticed the size of the wound until Keller had mentioned it to him. The rest had been the work of the Pirian sedative which had left the two men unconscious and exposed to the sun, for hours. He felt a little strange that his people had come to rescue him even though they'd been wounded and drugged. And even if the drug had been less effective on them, they still had, as he had thought, more crawled than walked to the gate, sending a signal to Atlantis through Morse code by tossing little stones against the shielding three times before anyone checked what was going on and went to investigate.

And even that was only possible because, for a change, the city had been able to identify the planet it was dialled from without the usual long comparing with the database.

"Colonel Sheppard is off duty as well," Keller added. "As you will be Rodney, for at least two more days."

"What? Two days?!" He gaped at her. "Are you crazy?"

"No, and if I didn't know that your quick return to your work and the laboratories is essential, then I would send you on a nice, long holiday," Keller said sternly.

Rodney spluttered.  Was she crazy or something? Was this some kind of mutiny against him? He shared a look with Sheppard and mouthed 'long holiday?' at him.

"I wouldn't..."

"Don't even start Colonel Sheppard," She held up a finger to silence him before he could give his opinion about it. "...it's the same with you. In fact it's the same with almost everyone. So be glad that you have at least 2 days to rest, most others don't."

Rodney clicked his mouth shut and huffed, he couldn't argue against that fact; his minions were tired, he was tired, anyone was tired, but still!

"....but Sheppard is at least not in here!" Rodney sounded like a petulant child.

Keller inhaled deeply and clutched her datapad with both hands. She was a tolerant person, but sometimes Rodney made it hard.

Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter walked in on the scene as if on cue, clad in her usual skirt and blue uniform blouse. It was still rather disconcerting for Rodney to see her in this extraordinarily feminine uniform, but somehow he couldn't find the same charm in it he probably would have years ago, especially with Sheppard looming in the background.

She greeted Keller with one of her warm, probably a bit compassionate, smiles before focusing on Rodney.

"Now, how are you Rodney? Better?" She asked.

"Peachy, can I go now?" Rodney snarled and Carter raised one eyebrow at the heated answer.

"Dr. Keller?" Carter just looked to Keller with a questioning expression.

"Oh he is fine," Keller clutched her notepad tighter. "A sprained wrist, slight dehydration and a bit of shaky blood sugar, but overall he's on the way to get better. However, he should rest a couple of days to be absolutely sure..."

Carter nodded. "Well, you heard the Doctor, Rodney."

"What? No!" Rodney protested heatedly. "Not you, too, the ZPM needs to be checked out! You need my help Sam!"

"Rodney..." Carter shook her head. "I just came from the laboratories and Dr. Zelenka has anything under his control, you can relax."

"Oh please, as if he could do all the scans on his own, and I wouldn't even dream of letting anyone else in the vicinity because that can't end well..."

Rodney needed to have his hands on the ZPM, not that he truly thought Radek was too incompetent to deal with it, he'd long time accepted the other man's intelligence, but he just owed it Meredith to make sure her gift came to proper use without more people dying. No matter if she had been real or not.

"Rodney, I don't want to argue."

She jammed her hands onto her hips, which made the blouse go tighter across her breasts and Rodney looked somewhere else as fast as humanly possible, not that he wouldn't like the visual, but hello, thin scrubs and no privacy. Plus, Sheppard was glaring at the back of Carter's head in a not so nice way.

"I should be in the laboratory!" Protests were obviously futile against Carter, Rodney knew that, too, but did it anyway.

"I will help Dr. Zelenka if he should require assistance and you will go to your quarters as soon as you are released. I don't want to see you even close to the laboratory for the next two days!"

"But..." He spluttered.

"No buts," Carter said sternly.

God, she sounded like his mom, Rodney thought and visibly winced at the thought just a moment later. Oh god, she was not his mother. Argh, that visual was disgusting on a totally new level and perhaps his quarters weren't such a bad idea after all, he had had a long day.

Alright, he'd had too much sun, he had to admit that much, and he was tried but really, he was mostly just fatigued and wanted to sleep. And forget Meredith, Carson and the Pir, and all the shit of the last hours.

Rodney threw his good hand into the air, rolling his eyes. "Fine. Great, can I go now?!"

"Alright, I will let you go, but you will not work, drink enough non-caffienated liquids and eat, and you will come back in before breakfast tomorrow to check your blood sugar." Keller looked at him sternly. "Do we understand each other?"

"Yeah, sure, whatever you say!" Rodney agreed hastily. "Just let me out of here!!"

"I'll send a nurse for the IV." Keller rolled her eyes and walked out of the room, leaving the three of them alone.

"The Deadalus will reach the planet for a closer check in two days, so you have time to rest," Carter continued as Rodney looked back up. "I am expecting your reports to be finished by then, too."

She turned to Sheppard, who suddenly went as stiff as a board. The two just hadn't hit it off yet, Weir just left too big of a hole to fill so fast and both officers seemed to know that.

"No problem, Ma'am." Sheppard nodded, holding back the salute that wanted to come.

A couple of moments later one of the new nurses sashayed in, gave Sheppard a extra swing of her hips and ripped out Rodney's IV without even looking at him.

"Ouch, hey, I need my hands, you know! And I am already wounded..." He whined showing off his bandaged sprained wrist.

"Sorry Dr. McKay," She said over the little band-aid she'd slapped on next with a bit too much force.

Rodney moved off the bed as fast as possible, shooing her off with a gesture of his newly wounded arm. "Yeah, great, apology accepted, now get out of here!"

She gave him a pout and walked out with the same swing of hips again. Somehow, all the new nurses seemed best friends with Keller and had nothing better to do than flirt with Sheppard. He glared after her, but glared even more at Sheppard who had the nerve to look after her.

"Can't you stop that?"

"Hm?" Sheppard turned back to him.

"Looking after her while I am in the room, you know, that's kind of..." He waved some more at the general direction in which the nurse had left to.

Sheppard rolled his eyes. "It's not like I'm about to jump her, Rodney."

"Yeah, not as long as I'm in the room," He muttered and pulled the curtain around the bed to get into his normal clothes. "... but who knows what happens when I turn around?"

Ronon had been so kind as to leave an extra set of science blues, as he had been on the infirmary to let the doc look after his wound this afternoon.

"Whatever," Sheppard scratched a spot on his arm noticed what he was doing and shoved his hands deeply into his pants pockets, biting down on the grimace he felt like making. "Hurry up a little, Teyla and Ronon want to meet us at the mess hall."

Rodney ripped the curtain open and glared. "You so knew the Voodoo witch would let me go tonight and didn't say a thing before?"

"Keller said you would be under supervision for 24 hours," Sheppard drawled and smirked at him. "... 24 hours are over, and you had the obligatory blood sugar check."

"You are just here so I don't sneak off to my lab, right?" Rodney gave him an annoyed look and slipped into his jacket; evenings got chilly in the halls due to the energy conservation protocols nowadays.

Sheppard shrugged.

"I so hate you."

Sheppard grinned shyly. "No you don't."

Their not-thing in action again, and really, was there anything more annoying about it than to know he would jump you if he could risk it? No, there was not... Rodney knew that best.

"I do." Rodney grumbled but smiled.  "And you look like a clown."

"Why, thanks," Sheppard drawled with a little shudder, falling into step beside Rodney as they finally left the infirmary. "Now I know what I'll be dreaming about tonight, as if space vampires weren't enough."

"You are just grumpy because of the sunburn," Rodney found the banter somehow soothing for his mind. "Perhaps you know now why I prefer to never go without it."

"If you make the stuff less smelly, then perhaps I will think about it." Sheppard said.

Rodney gave him another glare. "I prefer odiferous over blisters any day, thanks."

"Oh, it's not so bad.  Dr. Keller can be very gentle..."

Rodney knew Sheppard was just torturing him, annoying him a bit to make sure Rodney was okay. Old games.

Rodney wrinkled his nose. "She's a sardonic little woman..."

"Shouldn't you be nicer to her? She has needles as big as those knitting things."

Sheppard pulled his hands out of his pockets to mimic knitting before pressing the button for the location of the mess hall on the next transport unit.

Rodney eyed his hands. "From where do you know how thick knitting needles are? Wait, no, I don't want to hear it, I remember where the last discussion about baby stuff went."

Right into the ambush of the Pir.

Sheppard's grin turned a little forced as he followed Rodney around the next corner and down the hall.  "I still think it's important to give Teyla a gift for the baby shower..."

"Maybe, but I won't start knitting, no matter what..." Mckay trailed off.

Sheppard chuckled. "I would never expect that from you..."

Meredith appeared in the hall before Rodney, standing there with her naked feet, the little hands and the ZPM in her arms like a doll. Rodney stopped and a Marine nearly bumped into Sheppard as he stopped too.

She had trusted McKay to get her out, had put all her hope into him and he had let her down, one of the many people he had let down in such situations and somehow that thought haunted off the half way good mood he was in. Rodney pressed his eyes shut and forced himself to focus on something else as he opened them again.

She wasn't real, it was just the rest of the sedative.

The Marine gave his CO an apologetic look and made a beeline for the mess hall entrance, leaving Rodney and John almost alone in the hall.

"Rodney?" Sheppard was confused now, honestly, perhaps a bit worried, too.

"Yeah, look, perhaps I just had enough of the whole baby talk for a while, I hate kids, you know... and..." Rodney waved his bandaged hand a bit and regretted it momentarily. "I am tired, okay?"

Sheppard knew something was wrong; he knew Rodney too well for this behaviour to make sense and there was the worried look on his face again that made Rodney want to throttle him.

"And could you just stop making that face!"

"What face?" It looked almost like his default setting nowadays.

"That face," Rodney mimicked Sheppard's face badly.

John just frowned and opened his mouth to object, but clicked it shut again as he saw Teyla exiting the transport unit behind them, Ronon trailing after her. It had to wait, and the hall hadn't been the right place for it anyway.

"Ah Rodney," She greeted McKay, and Rodney turned around.

She wore a wide sleeved green dress and looked very round already, glowing and happy. His eyebrows rose as he noticed exactly how round she was, how long had she been gone to New Athos? A month? Two months?

She looked like a whale, a intimidating whale who could kick his ass royally. Okay, no...He frowned and stared at her belly for a couple of seconds, to say that out loud would probably mean a lot of pain in the near future.

But that was not all, Meredith was walking alongside her, staring curiously at Teyla's big belly as if she'd never seen something like that before, which she probably hadn't.

Rodney closed his eyes tightly and hoped she would be gone when he opened them again. Teyla must have taken that as sign for discomfort, because a moment later, he felt her soothing touch on his shoulder, rubbing slightly.

"Teyla," He tried to smile at her but it was really hard with Meredith walking around them. "How was your trip?"

She kept her smile, though it grew a bit forced. "Fine, if a bit straining."

He wasn't so sure she was really telling the truth, and Ronon's grim look stated something similar.

"I was worried you would be not released from the infirmary yet," She continued and rubbed his shoulder soothingly. "I am glad you are up and about again."

Ronon agreed with a nonverbal grunt and scratched his arm below the sterile white bandage. Meredith stood beside Dex's face just at the height of his gun and poked the glowing ball of the gun's indicator lights with a small finger.

"We were worried," Ronon added and Rodney tried hard not to jump and swat the little hands away from something so dangerous.

He was going crazy from this sedative! First Carson and now Meredith were appearing to his poor deluded brain. Rodney couldn't suppress the need to just get away and be alone for a while.  It was too hard to differentiate real from unreal this way, and the unconditional friendliness and friendship his friends offered him only made it worse.

"Yeah thanks, I am fine now," He said, following Meredith's movements.

Rodney followed Meredith's hand rubbing over Teyla's round belly with his eyes, his mouth forming a pretty tense crooked line. Telya wasn't even noticing the touch, sure, how should she, Meredith was just a figment of his sun burned mind.

" Look, I just was telling Sheppard that I am still very tired," Rodney said and looked away from Teyla and the baby belly tensely. "And that I would like to go back to my quarters..." Rodney explained pointing at Sheppard with the thumb of his unbandaged hand.

Teyla frowned slightly, then she looked to the side and away from Rodney, her hands coming to rest on her belly.

"I understand."  She sounded sad, and Rodney blinked.

Well, no, she probably didn't. And neither did John. And Ronon just raised an eyebrow, which looked just as intimidating as it usually did, even with the lotion on his face and Rodney regretted the fact that he, sometimes, was simply a coward.

"Teyla..." Rodney tried to say something, anything, but he wasn't good at soothing others so it didn't work and nothing came out.

This had been happening for a while, or rather, since she became pregnant and Rodney, following that, became more and uncomfortable and unsure around her, and right now he had no clue what to say or do even more than normal.

Rodney just wanted to hit his head against the wall every time, because that wasn't how he had meant it. He was tired and didn't feel like company; he never did when things like this happened, and they seemed to have happened without a pause since Carson's burial.

"And you should go and rest if you feel like it." She said with a smile that looked even more strained than before on her lips.

"I..." Rodney blinked and found Meredith staring at him. "I actually do..." He swallowed hard.

He was giving in to his hallucinations, and it was like losing another battle with himself and his sanity, but he couldn't stay, just couldn't.

"Very Well, Rodney." She nodded slowly in agreement and squeezed him with the hand that had wandered from Rodney's shoulder to his elbow.

She was still trying to comfort him, even though he was about to run off any moment and she thought it was because he was uncomfortable around her pregnancy.

"I understand, but I still hope you will be present tomorrow to assist me in finding a suitable new room." She sounded hopeful

"Uh?" Rodney blinked in confusion.

Sheppard sighed scratching his brow tiredly. "The real estate thing..." He supplied mutedly.

"Oh that, sure!" Rodney nodded. He had spent all his free time before the mission on picking candidates for that. "Sure, sure of course I am there."

"I am glad." She gave him one of her less tense smiles. "Good night Rodney and sleep well."

"Thanks!"

He escaped the scene hastily, leaving Meredith and the others standing in the hall, heading for his quarters as fast as he could. Rodney didn't even think about making a detour to the laboratory until he had already reached his bedroom. And he didn't even matter for him right that moment!

God, how crazy was he? This bloody sedative had messed him up royally.

The lights were out and he sighed deeply.  It had been incredibly stupid to just run off like that, he had to admit it, but he couldn't stand company as long as he couldn't determine what was real and what not, and sometimes he just didn't want to risk being in company when he felt like this.

He had even forgotten to take a sandwich along and eyed the power bars on the bedside table for a moment. Better than nothing. The dark greens and greys of the sundown coloured his room into a sickly combination of familiar shapes and shadows, and perhaps it still was the sun, he didn't know, but he didn't want to see, or hear, half of them.

"I don't think that power bars are enough, and anyway,"  Carson leaned against the wall beside the bathroom door. "...what are you doing here, huh?" 

Rodney inhaled deeply, closed his eyes and counted to ten before he opened them again.  The shadow was still there.

"You should be in the laboratory!" Carson said and walked over to his side, staring over his shoulder. "Don't you want to check on the ZPM at all?"

Rodney toed his boots off, stepped out of his pants and unwrapped a power bar from his stash by the bedside table, stuffing it into his mouth without much appetite. Of course he wanted to, but somehow, just felt too tired to actually go and start the argument with Carter all over again...

"Can't you haunt someone else?" He said chewing.

Carson rolled his eyes. "Right now, No."

"I am tried right now, so just go back to being dead, please." Another bar followed, but Rodney couldn't get himself to finish it off, throwing the rest across the room and neatly through Carson's shadow by the wall.

"I need you to listen to me." Carson said.

Rodney threw himself back on the bed and huffed, burying his face behind a hand. Why could they not all go away, Carson, Meredith... and all the others.  They haunted him enough in his dreams, there was no need for it when he was awake.

They kept reminding him of his guilt.

And yes, he was blaming himself for most of their deaths, because it was his fault and now he could add another name to the list and it haunted him.

Gaul and Abrahams, Grodin and Collins and Grayson and all those others...

Carson.

Elizabeth.

Granted she wasn't dead, but as good as.

And now...

Meredith.

No matter if she was just a hallucination or real, she haunted him just as tangibly.

All the others that died, all the people he had let down, and the kid just seemed like just one more failure of his own promise to not do it again.

"Och, Rodney." Carson sighed sadly. "When will you finally stop blaming yourself?  It wasn't your fault."

"When it stops being my fault." Rodney sneered.

He turned his head and watched the blood red minutes on his clock tick bye. Perhaps he was about to loose it, he certainly felt like it.

"Stop blaming yourself and finally listen to what I am saying, I need you to pay attention to what's going on!" Carson was still there; Rodney could hear him pacing up and down the room.

"Oh just go away, I am too tired to argue with a hallucination!" He muttered and curled up in a ball on his side, watching the numbers on the clock till his eyes became too heavy to keep them open.

Hearing voices was a sign of loosing it, wasn't it? How could Sheppard deal with all the people he'd send to his death, or lost? Or Ronon, how could Ronon cope with all his lost friends... trying to not being bothered by things he could not change, yeah, well as if that could work for Rodney.

He fell asleep in the green light of the upcoming night with burning eyes, wishing for Sheppard to help him, or Ronon, but there was just Carson silently watching.


Goodnight Elizabeth

He sat in his laboratory watching the ZPM's power simulations running over his laptop screen, feet propped up on the edge and the radio singing along to the waves crashing against the edge of the tower.

He could see the reflections of the waves dancing across the ceiling of his laboratory, and he abruptly missed the warm breeze as much as the salty smell in the air.  The first few chords of Goodnight Elizabeth began to play and he let his head fall to the side, watching how Weir walked past his door, talking heatedly with Carson about whatever they had shared on that day.

Then, he was alone again, not a single one of his trained monkeys disturbing him, which alone should have been odd, but somehow wasn't. It was comfortably quiet for a change, with only waves and music filling the air, and he didn't even care that the data on the screen made less sense than Simpson's last theory about the improvement of the city's sub light engines.

It was one of those days on which he had actually managed to get work done, long gone now, and it had probably never really happened in this exact scenario.  He wondered if he should have followed Elizabeth, have a little talk, a little dance, but the fear that the nice dream could go downhill the same way reality had kept him on his chair.

Instead he looked around the room feeling at peace for the first time in a very long time until the little grabby hands going for a device on Zelenka's laboratory table put an end to it.

"Stop!" He bellowed and the little hands stopped mid gesture, two big dark eyes staring at him in surprise. "Don't you dare to touch that!"

"Why?" Meredith asked blinking at him in confusion and pulled her hands back with a pout.

He stood up and walked over to her and the device. "It's possibly dangerous and nothing for little girls to touch."

She pouted at him but stepped away from the desk to walk over to Rodney's desk and tried to sit in his chair. She needed a few jumps and a lot of scooting back before she sat comfortably, looking up at him curiously.

"Why dangerous?"

"It can do you harm." He explained and checked the scanner the device rested under.  Data was running over Zelenka's computer screen as well. It didn't quite make sense, but was familiar somehow and he crossed his arms with a deep frown on his face. No matter how he turned the data around it remained gibberish, as all things tended to be on such days.

"This makes no sense." He sighed and shook his head.

He hadn't the patience to deal with such things, never had.  Alright, so that might be a lie.  He had once; curiosity pushed him forward and made him think about anything and nothing, he just hated it sometimes.

He looked up to find her sitting on his stool. It had been such a nice dream till she appeared.

"It's dangerous, and you can not touch it because we don't know what it does, alright, now go away from there..."

He waved his hand at her in some kind of shooing motion to make her move, but she just titled her head. Her eyes were so curious it hurt.

"What's that?" She asked and pointed at the screen.

"A ZPM Power simulation to determine out how much we would need to compensate for the heightened power consumption of climate control..." He huffed.  The kid was really stubborn, but he could be at least as much. "Can I sit back on my stool now?"

Meredith giggled and shook her head. "Why?"

"My back kills me when I have to hunch over the controls all day, plus, I am older than you, so..." He swirled a hand at her direction. "Now, move!"

She looked at him with raised eyebrows. Alright, she probably meant the heightened power consumption, or so he guessed at least. "We are on an ice moon, pretty much no warmth through the thick atmosphere, can I sit down now?"

She nodded and smiled broadly, running for the balcony that suddenly was there, pulling him along by the hand as she went past him.

"And that?!" She pointed out at the blue expanse of ocean.

Rodney inhaled deeply and lowered his head sadly. "That's home."

"Home." She tested the word in her mouth. "It's nice."

"It was."

She looked up to him and watched him intently for a while. "It hurts you?"

"I miss it."

"Miss it." She looked out ahead forming the words with her lips a few times.

"I miss a lot of things." He blurted.

Elizabeth, the freedom to just laugh with Sheppard, maybe pursuing their thing without fear of Carter watching, the training with Teyla and Ronon, the Jumper gliding along just a couple of feet over the water, the sun over the ocean.

Atlantis as it had been, with Carson and Elizabeth and warmth and sun... Home.

But then there was the ice, and Carter and Elizabeth's goodbye, Teyla's fatherless baby... tension in the city, the darkness outside, the tenseness.

A moment later he found the child hugging his waist, pressing her face into the side of his belly.

"Don't worry!" She declared. "You don't have to hurt anymore!"

He had no clue how to react to this and raised his hands awkwardly, blinking down at the child that reminded him too much of his first encounter with his niece, and Jeannie's child in general, to be fair.

And in reality, this dream-child was most likely dead by now.

"I like you." The child mumbled into his belly and he sighed, lowering his hand to pat her head awkwardly. "And I will make you better!"

He stared back out over the ocean, a Jumper zipping along the surface like a bird in the distance, like a little hope flying away.

"I wish you could."


Team Dynamics

Rodney wasn't used to waking up to a green sunrise any more than he was used to the intensively green-grey sundown every evening, let alone the seventeen hours of strangely blue-green daylight in between, and he probably never would. Not after years of ocean and sunsets in all shades of gold and red as far as the eye could see, waves crashing at the base of the towers he lived in from the very first day he slept there.

A strong, painful, contrast to the ice moon, or rather, the formerly vivid and living planet that had gone through some sort off post apocalyptic, possibly asteroid inflicted ice age. Hell, the Apollo had had to shoot holes into the ice for them, and they still had nearly crash-landed there.

The ice outside glowed in a disgusting mint green where it reflected the first sunlight, turning into a more mossy dark shade where the last shadows of the night still lingered.  It made his head ache just from opening his eyes. On the other hand, that also could have come from the fact that he had gotten nothing more nutritionally sound than IVs, soup and power bars in the last days.

No hallucinations so far.

Perhaps the sedative was gone out of his bloodstream; perhaps a bit of normalcy had returned. At least his dreams had been kind of, well he wouldn't say soothing, but calmer than the worst case scenario scenes he usually dreamed about.

He threw a blurry look at his clock and the red letters told him that it was barely half past five in the morning, plenty of time before the doc awaited him, plenty of time to freshen up and sneak into the laboratories for a peek.

They were probably ruining months of his work, disassembling his precious calculations, simulations and programs just by looking at them. It made him grumpy. Well, it was a legitimate excuse for his grumpiness, either that or the way the man in the mirror looked back at him, all unshaven, grey and ruffled.

Sometimes he wished for the attic and the piano, for the last time his skin ached like this and how easy his life had been.

He could feel his blood sugar dropping again, and no wonder.  Keller would have his ass for ignoring her demands like this. Sheppard would probably offer it to her on a sliver platter, too, the flirting bastard.

He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the cool surface of the Ancient mirror, cursing the Ancients in seven different languages for what they put him through.

He could have filled dozens of hard drives with theories about how utterly deprived of sanity the Ancients were, complete with a long and detailed thesis about their odd habit to create their own worst enemies with seemingly utterly stupid motives. The whole leaving of unfinished business all over the galaxy, the lack of warning labels on crazy experiments... and all the cruel traditions their descendants cooked up in the long, long thousands of years since the Ancient's departure would have figured prominently.

The Pirian's way of treating everyone with the ability, and knowledge, to use Ancient technology like slaves was just so typical of Ancient heritage, so typical.

He hadn't even stuffed himself into his shorts again when his door called for attention.

He grabbed his fuzzy blue bathrobe, threw it over his shoulders and stomped to the door.

"WHAT!" He growled darkly at whoever was there, and the person had better have a good reason to be there, too.

Sheppard raised his eyebrows at him, the skin looking white and flaky around his eyes.

"Good morning to you too," He said surprised.

"Is the city sinking or something?" Rodney narrowed his eyes, one arm leaning on the frame of his door, the bad hand stuffed into a pocket of his robe. "Because if it's not, then it's definitely too early to get up.  Oh, let me guess, Zelenka and Carter messed up and they need my help now, am I right?"

"No." Sheppard drawled. "And as far as I know the City isn't sinking either."

Sheppard's smile was actually quite fond as he walked in.

"But you had an appointment with the lovely Dr. Keller, and we wanted to scout for new quarters today?  Did you forget?"

"No," Rodney grumbled something and stalked off back to his bedroom.

"Good, because Teyla and Ronon already headed for breakfast and want to met us there. You know Teyla gets grumpy if we get late," Sheppard said and leaned against the wall by the door.

"She gets emotional about everything nowadays," Rodney muttered and went scouting for his cloths.

"But she still can kick our asses, even more so since she's having mood swings..."

"Does she know you said that?" Rodney perked up from smelling at his shirt.

"Oh, wait, no she doesn't, because if she did then you probably wouldn't be able to still walk upright..." He added and threw the shirt away, frowning at the spot where it landed for a moment before looking back up at Sheppard.  "Wait a second, isn't it too early for breakfast?"

"It's half past five." Sheppard said looking at him worriedly. "Did you forget that the planet has a 26.3 hour rotation?"

Rodney looked stupidly at his clock. "Uh..."

Right, additional hours in the night had changed the whole schedule.  He had even calculated it himself.  Wow, his brain really had gotten cooked on that stupid planet, for him to forgot his own change of the time schedule.

Sheppard watched him for a couple of moments; default setting again.

"Well, doesn't matter, come on now, let us get you checked out and then you can have a nice breakfast," He said after a while.

Rodney finished dressing without further conversation, perhaps a bit too confused for his own good, damn, he really wasn't clear in his head yet. Keller, after a very annoying check of his vitals for both parts involved agreed on that much.

"Have you eaten last night?" She scowled at him from above her scanner screen. "And I mean more than a couple of power bars?"

Rodney defended himself. "I was tired."

She stepped around the scanner screen and looked at him with her own version of the scary doctor look.

"I let you go under the one condition that you eat regularly and rest.  If you don't then I will put you back into one of the beds here and stick needles into your arm until I am satisfied with your readings, do we understand each other?" She said.

"Yeah, alright, I am going to go to breakfast first thing, and I will eat at least three meals a day... can I go now, Mother?!" He glared.

She let him go, but only after instructing Colonel Sheppard on when exactly she wanted Rodney back, and what Sheppard had to make sure the other man did.  Sheppard had smiled, nodded and made this disgustingly worried face, but at least he hadn't flirted with the nurses again.

Afterwards Rodney managed to run, of course totally by accident, into Zelenka on the way into the mess hall, but the Czech didn't give him more than an "everything is alright, I have all your projects safely closed off from rest of laboratory" and "Colonel Carter thinks we are going to initiate new ZPM around noon..." as he hastily went past.

It annoyed him terribly and the only thing keeping him from freaking out was the breakfast buffet and a more than hungry stomach, combined with the fact that neither Meredith nor Carson were anywhere in sight.

Breakfast turned out to be the usual collection of piled plates in which Sheppard turned out to be the only one without a second helping in the end, and Rodney felt almost normal for a while. Expect for the aforementioned glances from Sheppard when Rodney checked for hallucinations and Carter... and the ZPM.

He would probably hack into the security feed of the laboratories later and get Kusanagi to do a running commentary for him over a closed radio channel. That had actually worked before and would help him keep track of his projects and the city's safety...until then, however...well, Ronon and his taste concerning sleeping arrangements, furniture and wall hangings would be a welcome, if creepy, distraction.

Rodney took the lead after breakfast, directing his team into the right tower with his notepad tucked safely under his bad arm. Sheppard was flanking his side with a backpack full of sandwiches and water bottles on his back, and in the 'unlikely' even that anything might happen, his gun was strapped into his thigh holster.

Teyla was 'gracefully' waddling along between them, strangely quite and distant. But that barely registered past the fussing over her by the biggest mother hen ever seen in two galaxies.

First Ronon had been excited and impatient to start on the search, and later he had started complaining about everything, and God, was Rodney just glad he'd done the work of picking the safe candidates for the relocation out before he had gone on the mission to the Pir or this would have taken years instead of hours.

"I don't like the balcony." Ronon stated, glaring down at the wide expanse of glass before him. "It's too much glass."

Too much glass, jeez. Rodney rolled his eyes.

It must have been one of the prettiest views Atlantis had had to offer back when there had still been an ocean outside and not deadly ice and unhealthy air. It made Rodney grimace at his scanner rather than look up and see the atmosphere again.

"We can lock the door mechanisms," Sheppard said leaning on the frame of the main door. "It should be an easy thing to do, right Rodney?" He looked at the quiet scientist questioningly.

Rodney agreed quickly, not looking up. "It should be."

Ronon turned around to Teyla watching her carefully. "We would have to trade for more curtains and carpets..."

Rodney rolled his eyes at Sheppard and the other man smirked amusedly, lowering his head and shaking it.

"And a bigger couch," Ronon added.

Teyla nodded with a smile and continued pacing the room slowly. She looked into each of the two smaller rooms and the bathroom for several minutes, her hands on her swollen belly and her face thoughtful, while Ronon was inspecting all of the panels in the wall.

"I would like to see another room," She said after a few minutes more. "...if it is alright."

They exited the room again and trailed after Rodney across the hall. He checked the room for integrity with his scanner before opening the door and that took a few minutes. The air outside wasn't exactly lethal but icy cold and with an uncomfortably low percentage of free oxygen. It was far from perfect but there hadn't been anything better available for them to land on, not for a thousand light years.

"Okay," He opened the door after finally deciding it was as safe as it could be. "So, how about this one?"

Sheppard walked in first and made the lights come on and the doors open for inspection, grinning broadly out of habit at all the pretty lights. Rodney dully remembered the face John had made once when he had caused the all the lights down an entire corridor to start blinking in all the colours of the rainbow, smiling back as the man turned. It was clear that he enjoyed something as simple as initiating new pieces of Ancient technology stuff. It was a piece of hard-won normalcy.

A bit of their familiar not-thing passed between them and ended as fast as it came.

Ronon peered in over Rodney's shoulder. "And?"

"Actually it's nice..." John looked around and away from Rodney.

"Two bedrooms, bath... and tiny living room." Sheppard pointed at the doors as Teyla appeared in the entrance to the apartment.

Teyla nodded slowly and repeated the slow pacing inspection she had done in every room until now, with Ronon on her heels like before.

Rodney and Sheppard went back to the door. It was almost funny how Ronon had turned into an over protective shadow of their vulnerable team mate, even more so since she had started visibly showing her condition. For most it must have looked like he was the nervous, but intimidating, soon to be father, scaring the shit out of everyone looking at Teyla in the wrong way.  In truth, even John and Rodney didn't totally understand, but knew it was better this way.

The identity of the father of Teyla's child was a well kept secret that no one talked or asked about, although Rodney had the strange feeling that the Athosians probably had asked... well, it would explain the distance.

It was a nice way to spend the morning anyway, and it helped Rodney to not think about the rest of his life too much, even with the green ice outside as constant reminder of their problems, or the ZPM, which probably was already installed by now.

"Do you think she'll take this one?" Sheppard leaned a shoulder against the door frame again and looked at Rodney.

Seemingly the aftermath of the mission had given John far fewer emotional problems as it had Rodney.

"Who knows," Rodney shrugged absently scratching his cheek. "... I certainly would. Did you see the bath tub in the last one?"

Sheppard smirked.

"It is appealing." Teyla announced and came to a halt in the middle of the room. "However I dislike the direction of the windows, and it has a balcony."

"Alright." Rodney sighed. "Next room."

They repeated the procedure with the next room and ended up sitting side by side on one of the couches standing in the hall while Ronon measured the width of the main room with his steps and Teyla compared the room to the last seven.

"I could do so many more important things right now," Rodney sighed shaking his head and taking a gulp from his water bottle. "...I definitely wouldn't have spent all those years in school if I had a secret desire to become a real estate agent."

He shook his head and took another gulp. Thoughts of the ZPM gnawed at him, as did the fact that Carter had held it in her possession and he didn't, not to mention that the Deadalus was probably almost at the desert planet already... and there was the pang in his chest again.

Alright, perhaps Rodney had been wrong; it didn't help him much to watch his pregnant team mate waddle around and inspect one room after the other for hours on end.

There was a giggle at the end of the hall and Rodney knew it had to be Meredith. Shit.  His first thought was that the sedative hadn't worn off yet, but that excuse was beginning to wear a little thin.

"What's more important than helping a team mate?"  Sheppard asked and watched Rodney look down the hall.

"Three letters Colonel. Z.P.M.," Rodney said and turned back to him as the giggle trailed off. "And you know that it is doubtful she will stay on the team with a snotty brat at her heels."

"We'll cross the bridge when we get to it, McKay." Sheppard knew it too and clenched his fingers around his own water bottle, trying to avoid scratching his flaky skin.

Meredith walked down the hall from the other direction and Rodney followed her with his eyes, watching how she skipped and bounced through the door and into the room with Teyla and Ronon. The uneasy feeling returned and the need to run like he'd done last night sneaked up on him again, growing stronger the longer the silence lasted.

Rodney looked over and found Sheppard gnawing on his lower lip, which was a bad sign. Sheppard always pulled out the Team Leader Attitude when he looked like this, uncomfortable and bad with such things but dutifully pressing himself to get everything back in order.

This was all a mess.

Bantering with Sheppard was one thing, it felt good, felt normal, but this kind of silence was just awful.

"So M.A.S.H. ..." Rodney drawled, sighing with his eyes closed and both hands on his bottle.

Rodney had been so right; the Colonel was already preparing for a speech.

"Huh?" Sheppard blinked.

Rodney swirled his good hand through the air. "You said your office reminds you of M.A.S.H."

"Oh that..." Sheppard fixed his eyes on the moving hand, licking his lips carefully.  "That's because of Lorne..."

"Lorne?"

"Yeah," this time John swirled with one hand, quite Rodney like. "He's developed the habit of hanging up his paintings in the office," He let the hand flop back on his knee. "It's kind of disconnecting to have half of Atlantis watching me doing paperwork. Especially the one he did of Elizabeth...it's like having everyone checking in on me every time I look up."

The mentioning of Elizabeth stung a bit.

"And that has to do with Allen Alda how?" Rodney asked tiredly but desperate to avoid the speech.

Sheppard sat up slightly, elbows leaning on his knees and watched Ronon make another turn in the room.  "Have you ever watched the series? Colonel Potter painted all the time..."

"I have seen the show, but just up to where Blake left." Rodney said.  Somehow this diversion thing didn't really work either and he just knew they were heading for the unavoidable.

"You were avoiding us last night..." Sheppard said after a few more seconds.

"I wasn't, I was just tired," Rodney answered and closed his water bottle.

"Come on, I am not that blind," Sheppard huffed, put the bottle back into the backpack and crossed his arms to keep from scratching them again. "Something is wrong with you..."

"I don't know what you are talking about," Rodney lied through his teeth and glared at the wall.

"Oh, you don't?" Sheppard actually snorted. "Let's be honest, okay? Is this about Teyla and her baby?"

"How do you even come to that idea?!" Rodney squeaked indignantly.

"Well, you hate kids, and never failed to point that out to us, and you had the thing with your sister turning up pregnant." Sheppard started eying him from the corner of his eyes. "It is a pretty similar situation and you sometimes look pretty tense with her around."

"Oh that's not true." Rodney protested. "And that situation with Jeannie was completely different!  I thought she'd ruin her life by having a child back then, and I was wrong, okay? It has nothing to do with Teyla or her baby!" Rodney stared at him with a worried frown. "Does she believe that?"

"Maybe," Sheppard drawled. "...she's worried. I'm not really good at the whole feelings thing, but I think it's concerning her." He titled his head.

"So worried that she actually got you to talk with me?" Rodney asked, incredulous.

His uneasiness around her, and he agreed on that much, had perhaps had something to do with Jeannie and how he had reacted to her pregnancy and with seeing how wrong he had been about the whole thing with his own parents.

"I was just tired last night. You have to tell her that!" he insisted.

Rodney felt perhaps a little hurt. Alright, so maybe he hadn't been the happiest man in the world when it came down to talking about knitting patterns and baby boots.  It hadn't worked like that with Jeannie and he regretted it now, but his grumpiness and all the rest of his uneasiness had nothing to do with Teyla and the baby.

"Does she really think I don't want to see her because of the baby?" Rodney asked, eyeing Teyla inside the room.

Meredith imitated Ronon's steps around the room. The Pirians were to blame for last night, they and their stupid hallucination causing sedatives.

"The Athosians didn't exactly welcome her back with open arms..." Sheppard laid his head back against the wall slowly, watching Rodney attentively.

Rodney wouldn't have expected them to be so picky just because the child didn't have a real father. She had kept the secret to herself and although people wanted to know and asked, she never told. Ronon would have volunteered to play the part of the father even if he wasn't, but Teyla had refused his help and the decision to keep it that way was made.

"She asked if she'd done something to make you uneasy as well." Sheppard added.

"No, No, she didn't... I am just..." Rodney swirled a hand.

Meredith was walking over to the windows at the end of the room, looking outside with her back to him. A lunar storm was brewing outside, barely visible through the coloured glass.

"Tired," Sheppard completed his lips a thin tense line.

The little girl turned around and smiled at Rodney, waved her hand at him and vanished out of sight. Rodney closed his eyes and looked down.

"It has nothing to do with her, okay?" Rodney turned his face back to Sheppard.

"Rodney, there you are!" Carson was hastily walking down the hall and up to them. "Rodney, we're going to have a big problem!"

Rodney ignored him and looked at Sheppard's worried face instead.

"Really Colonel, there is nothing to worry about, I am fine. A bit tired, and the whole new location thing throws me off, you know how it is..."

"I do," Sheppard said flatly. "But I also know it isn't that. This thing started long before we changed the location, it just got worse because of it." He swallowed.

"Rodney! Stop ignoring me!" Carson was shaking his head with that look on his face he'd always had when chiding Rodney about not taking his medications and Rodney looked away, pressing his eyes shut.

"Rodney..." Sheppard inhaled deeply and probably wanted to say something else, but the crackling of the city wide communication system stopped him from further world shaking interrogations.

"Dr. Mckay please report to the control room..." Chuck's voice echoed through the halls. "I repeat, Dr. Mckay please report to the control room!"

"Ha, as if they could get anything done without me..." Rodney muttered and jumped up, welcoming the distraction more as anything else.

Carson rolled his eyes about the hasty departure and suddenly jerked as if zapped from an invisible gun.

He was half way down the hall to the nearest transport unit already when Teyla and Ronon exited the room they had checked through.

"I think we might have to continue this later!" John called to his friends and followed Rodney in a jog down the hall and around the corner to the transport.

Carson turned to the windows inside the room with a grimace. "Oh just bloody great..."

He looked down the hall after Rodney and the other way at Teyla and Ronon who got ready to head for the transport units, too, with a concentrated look on his face.

Meredith stood by the window as he looked back in, staring at him sternly. Something was wrong.

"I am not giving up that easy, little beasty"  He said, then vanished into thin air.


Under the Weather

Rodney had never been so happy about a crisis than in that moment.  There certainly was no better way to put a halt to Sheppard's sudden urges to talk about Team dynamics than impending doom - that much was sure. The Control room was unusually crowded as Rodney and Sheppard arrived. McKay had to push past Chuck and Lorne to get to the main console at which Carter and Zelenka worked.

The Czech sat at his laptop and typed away on something, with Carter looking in over his shoulder. So, they had initiated the ZPM and had problems with it now, so typical, first not allowing him to check and then whining afterwards that he wasn't there to save the day.

"Alright, what have you done now?" Rodney grumbled and pushed himself between Carter and Zelenka.

The first thing Rodney noticed were the unusual spikes in the energy flow charts shown on the screens, spiking in all the wrong spots.

"We have an odd energy flow on the scanners, but I can't determine where it goes to," Zelenka said and pushed his glasses higher on his nose. "... it's all over the place."

Rodney could see that, too; he, after all, was perhaps crazy but not stupid.

"Have you initiated the new ZPM yet?" Rodney pushed Radek aside and typed himself, calling up a few of his more trusted scan protocols.

"Yes, but there is no indication that it caused the problem," Carter said and pointed to the readings on another screen that looked perfectly normal. "... you have programmed the modifications for the power consumption..."

"So I should know why it does what it does, now shut up and let me work!" Rodney waved a hand to hush them.

Carter huffed and crossed her arms, watching him and the flow chart, which made leaps up and down like a runaway roller coaster. Something was slurping energy from the old ZPM but luckily not touching the new one that was already initiated, and wasn't that highly suspicious, given past experiences.

Rodney tried the emergency protocols, which should have cut off anything that could have pulled energy, like the shielding of the living areas, as well as the commands to turn power consumption to only their own generators. The only way to isolate it then was to remove the ZPM manually and it looked dangerously as if they would have to do just that.

"We should disconnect the ZPMs manually," He suggested, still looking in on the screen.

Carter jerked her chin into the direction of the Czech, who, accompanied by Lorne, who had gotten an equally commanding movement from Sheppard, headed for the closest way to the ZPM power room. They were half way down the control room stairs when the flow chart changed.

"Wait!" Rodney called out and held out his hand to stop them. "Huh."

Zelenka and Lorne returned with confusion clearly written on their faces.

"What!" the Czech called coming back into the control room, eyes on the main screen.

The flow chart had returned to normal from one second to the other, following the shut down protocols Rodney had activated with what seemed to be 2 seconds of delay.

"That's odd..." He mumbled.

The program shouldn't have a delay rate above 0.0001 seconds between command and execution. This was like something had only followed the command after the former command was done, or as if one command had struggled against the other, and Rodney's hadn't given the first one.

"What?" Sheppard asked confused.

Carter must have seen it, too, visibly confused about the change from one moment to the next.

"It's stopped..."

"Stopped?" Sheppard looked from one scientist to the other. "Did you deactivate it?"

"I'm not sure, okay, it could have been the command... or it stopped itself," Rodney said looking at him across the console.

"Can you find out where the energy went?" Carter asked next.

The city's schematics swirled into focus on the main screen behind them, Rodney turned on his stool to point out the pulsing red point appearing at one corner of the star.

"The energy was sucked to the top of tower 8B on the north-western pier," Rodney said and the schematics zoomed in closer on the tower. "It's outside of the cleared area, but we should take a look..."

In fact, the tower was not only part of the not cleared area, but also of that part which had been sealed off from the life supported area of the city to avoid venting atmosphere or heat.

Rodney nodded. "There are possibly leaks, but we can't seal off the area without taking a ZPM online again."

"Then we'll have to take the UAV suits to go there..." Sheppard added.

Cater contemplated the whole situation for a couple of seconds, chewing on her lip, then she nodded. Elizabeth would have trusted in what the others said, what Rodney said, and would have given them the go ahead, not hesitated. She still didn't trust in herself or him,  Rodney knew, it was why the banter with her didn't feel nearly as comfortable as it had before, back on Earth.

On the other hand, on earth he had only been called in as some sort of addition or reinforcement to fend off near death situations, he never carried the whole load of responsibility like he did in Atlantis. The change of rules had made them tense and left her unsure and him less relaxed around her, until even the flirting had died out into occasional attempts to joke a little.

"Alright, take a look." She gave Sheppard a nod and he took off with Rodney and Lorne.

The suits weren't particularly well insulated, but with the winter gear it was tolerable for a few minutes outside. Sheppard and Corporal Lawrence, one of Lorne's Marines, went first, lighting the area around the shadowed balcony.

It was day, or what went by the name of it on their new planet, but the thick ash loaded clouds let even less light through than they usually did.

"I could be wrong," Lorne who had moved out nest said into his radio, sounding a bit unsure of his words. "...but has anyone else gotten the feeling that it's gotten darker within the last 15 minutes?"

They had, strangely enough; Rodney had noticed it too as he caught up to Sheppard. The Colonel gave him a questioning glance and Rodney, after a quick look at his scanner, pointed ahead of him in the greenish half dark.

"Whatever it is must be on the end of the balcony!" He said and Sheppard nodded.

Two more Marines exited the door behind Lawrence, Lorne and the rest, and spread out over the balcony to light the way to the antenna at the end of it. The ever present wind blew the usual snow-ashes mix along the ground as they moved, and coated the whole console that the antenna sprung from.

"This is interesting." Rodney mumbled and bit the corner of his lip as he waved the snowy stuff off the no longer active console. "It's dead now, but I am positive it was the source of our problem."

The antenna had something of a grounding station and probably worked along the lines of one as well, but it had sent energy in this case, instead of redirecting it for whatever reason.

"Colonel Sheppard, do you copy?" The radio came to life. It was Carter. "Have you found something?"

"Yes, it seems as if," Sheppard said and frowned at Rodney.

"It seems to be some sort of dispatcher antenna, but..." Rodney continued poking at the console. "It's dead now. In fact there is no real sign of recent activation, at least not initiated from here."

"We couldn't find an activation protocol either," Carter said on her side of the connection. "The energy must have been absorbed somewhere between your position and the ZPM."

"Well, perhaps you should have waited with initiating the new ZPM until I could help with the system check up," Rodney answered and almost enjoyed the little, barely audible squeak she usually delivered when she wasn't of his opinion.

"We checked everything three times, and the new ZPM didn't cause the energy fluctuation," She answered with fake patience. "...there are no indicators..."

"Well, anyway," Rodney huffed a little louder. "...the antenna is dead now and I'm going to disconnect it manually to make sure it stays that way."

Rodney flopped more or less gracefully to his knees and peeled the panel open, ripping one blue crystal out after the other. It reminded him a lot of Pir but thankfully not of their barbaric interior design methods, although, and he couldn't be totally sure, the way in which some of the crystals seemed to be cracked and singed reminded him of it.

"The antenna shorted out..." Typical patterns of a general short out with a little spice up by unknown influences.

"That might be the reason why it stopped so suddenly," Carter said and Rodney grunted in agreement, pulling another crystal from the casing.

Sheppard was looking at the sky instead of listening to their exchange yet again.  Rodney could see it out of the corner of the hilarious suit they all wore and enjoyed the attempts on old patterns perhaps even more.

A bright red flash of lightning struck the snow a couple of miles away, and just a second later thunder echoed across the vast expanse of dark ice and the city so loud that the ears of everyone were ringing.

"Wow." Sheppard blinked as the next lightning bolt struck red and pink from the grey-green sky.

"Colonel Shep..." Carter's voice crackled over the radio, interference making it hard to hear her. "... lolnel Sheppard do you..."

"Here." Sheppard pulled his eyes away from the spectacle before and above the city.

"You shoul.. co... back into the ...red area of the city, there ... storm coming in..." She said barely understandable as another lightning crashed, leaving a cloud of ashes and snow high enough to be seen from the balcony.

"We can see that." Sheppard swallowed. "We are drawing back."

The wind picked up and it left absolutely fascinating readings on the scanner, everything turning and quivering and it was somehow familiar, too. Rodney would have stayed and watched the electrical signals and interference progressing, but Sheppard had different plans.

"Alright, draw back, come on..." He pulled on Rodney's arm hard.

"But..." Rodney spluttered barely able to look away from scanner and storm while getting up at the same time.

"McKay, you are the physics expert here, I don't need to tell you how nice antennas and lightning work together, do I?" Sheppard snapped with a raised eyebrow and tugged him back into the safety of the hall.

They all were back inside just in time to witness lightning hit a tower not far off to their right, making sparkles of energy crawl all over the tower's surface.  The next flash of lightning just seconds later hit a tower even closer to their location and pressed them back against the wall of their hall with the force of the impact.

Everything went dark a couple of seconds later.

"Oh great," Rodney muttered and blinked into the darkness.

It stayed dark.

"There go the backup systems." He added.

The light on Sheppard's gun went on, Lorne's followed.

"Everyone alright?" Sheppard asked and another lightning flickered across the sky outside.

A series of 'yes sir' echoed through the halls.

"Rodney?" Sheppard patted Rodney's shoulder and Rodney just nodded in return.

"Cold," Rodney said, he could feel the cold creeping through the layers of their protective suits, the warm undergarments and their uniforms already. "...really cold, and we should move away from the antenna and further into the centre of the tower,"

Thunder echoed through the sky and flashes of orange and red light crawled along the clouds, discharging vast arrays of energy dangerously close to the city and her spires just a moment later.

"...before another lightning hits." Rodney swallowed hard.

"O-okay..." Sheppard seemed equally impressed by the vehemence of the impending storm. He gestured for Lorne to take the lead and move, lighting the hall ahead of them with their gun's flashlights.

Several minutes later in the half dark, the emergency light came back on, followed by the crackling of the radios.

"Colonel Shepp....you c...py..." It was Carter again, still not really easy to understand.

They headed down the hall to the next best transport unit to get back into the shielded areas of the city as fast as possible and luckily the doors dutifully opened, and even the lights on the destination panel came on for them without fluctuating.

Rodney did a quick scan of the transport unit before declaring it safe enough for them to head back to the control tower. They arrived in one of the main corridors of the control tower just seconds later.

"We are back in the shielded area," Sheppard pulled his suit's helmet off and inhaled deeply. "... all safe and accounted for."

The light flickered all over the hall as they followed Sheppard's example. Every single blow from the storm seemed to interrupt the Naquadah generator powered emergency shielding as well as the emergency lights, which, technically, shouldn't be happening if everything was working the right way.

"Rodney?" Sheppard threw Rodney a questioning look as the hall lights went on and off one at a time.

"Radek, what the hell is going on up there?" Rodney asked, peeling himself out of his suit, too.

There was nothing but static for a couple of seconds, nothing but more flickering lights. It went on and off and as it turned on again Meredith stood there and smiled broadly at Rodney, before she was gone again with the next flicker of the lights.

"What the..." He had nearly dropped his hand held scanner, caught his feet in the suit around his legs and swayed dangerously.

"Careful Doc!"

Lorne had to steady him with one hand, another Marine helped out as well.

"I am fine, I am fine..." Rodney needed a couple of seconds to get it together again, and shrugged his shoulder to free them of the others' hands jerkily. "I just stumbled, let go already..."

Meredith appeared with the next flicker again, titling her head with the same confused face she had asked Rodney after her name. Rodney rubbed his good hand over his face for a moment and pressed his eyes shut with a groan. He missed out on the worried look Sheppard and Lorne exchanged.

"Radek, can you hear me?" Rodney asked and opened his eyes again. Meredith was gone and he free of the suit. "What's going on with the Naquadah generators?"

There was silence for a long moment and Sheppard and the rest of the team started their way back up to the control room, taking the several levels of the staircase instead of another ride with the transport.

"Lightning is overpowering the grid," Zelenka answered eventually. "... we might be safer if we turn the generators off and reinitiate the old ZPM to power up the main shield."

"Do you really think that's safe?" Sheppard asked, pushing Rodney ahead of him up the next flight of stairs.

Rodney wouldn't admit it openly, but he was glad the other man climbed them behind him, the constant appearing and disappearing of Meredith slowly got into his bones.

He swallowed hard. "Well, safer than overloaded Naquadah generators..."

"It might be our only way..." Carter said as they reached the level of the control room. "I sent Dr. Zelenka to keep an eye on the procedure from the ZPM room."

"Alright..." Rodney was out of breath by the time they left the staircase and headed for the gate room, and kind of wobbly on his legs so he almost fell into the stool by the control console.

Carter stepped aside, busy with her own part of the procedure. They had no real alternative.  With the flickering lights and unstable power supply they wouldn't last very long with the not exactly friendly atmosphere outside and the cold any other way.

The shielding appeared above the city in time to hinder a handful of flashes from impacting into the spires, rerouting the energy along its surface instead. Anything outside of the windows flashed and sparkled in red and white instead of the usual green for a moment and most people stared in amazement at the skies.

"O-okay," Rodney sighed and leaned back in the chair. "...so far so good, we should be safe for at least a few days now."

Meredith sat nearby on a vacated stool and let her little naked feet dangle in the air, watching the flashes of light that could be seen through the large gate room window with amazement in her eyes. She reminded him a lot of Madison on Christmas Eve, or of Jeannie as she'd seen his City the first time.

Carter had leaned forward and blocked Rodney's vision for a moment. "We still have a few fluctuations on the screen," she poked at her laptop. "... but as far as I can see, it seems to be inside tolerable amounts."

"And now?" Sheppard called him out of his stupor.

"We can't relocate again, that's for sure, even with the new ZPM." Rodney huffed crossing his arms over his chest and looking away from Carter. "And I might add that I wouldn't install the new ZPM until we have checked it over again..."

His hand ached a bit as he stuffed it below his other arm's elbow and it felt almost comfortably real in comparison to all his hallucinations.

"It is alright," Carter sighed and rolled her eyes. "Dr. Zelenka and I checked it personally, it is working quite fine..."

Rodney grinned smugly. "But you didn't initiate it a moment ago anyway, did you?"

She rolled her eyes and looked back at the screen.

"Evacuation?" Sheppard suggested and Carter nodded thoughtfully, still watching her own laptop.

"It would be safer," She straightened up again.  Meredith was gone from the stool and Chuck sat there again. "...at least until we know exactly what's going on."

Rodney agreed on that much; if this was just the beginning than they were better safe than sorry with the weather and energy fluctuations all over the place, not to mention his more than shaky brain.

Meredith appeared beside Sheppard and looked up at the wild haired man with curious eyes, as if measuring what exactly it was Rodney liked about him and Rodney could only stare at the spot of ground she stood on. Sheppard noticed it, of course he had to, and Rodney looked away fast, but the worried look was there again, worse even, because as Rodney looked up he could see Carter share an equal frown of worry.

They were teaming up on him, he felt it coming. He had to go away before he could convince them further of his utter insanity, either caused by stress, real lunacy or sun — he would have preferred the last.

"I am going to take a closer look at the antenna's design." He said and stood up.

"Keep me posted," Carter answered and Rodney moved out of the room as fast as he could with the laptop he had just worked on under his arm.

"Get me on the city wide." She waved a hand at Chuck and stepped closer to his console.

Chuck pressed few buttons. "Go ahead, ma'am."

Rodney was down the stairs by the time the call for the evacuation protocol came. Everybody was to prepare to move out for the Alpha side and wild activity broke out on the halls. He pulled an energy bar from his pocket and chewed on it while all hell broke out around them, more coordinated as the last time, but still chaos. Sheppard and Lorne organised the military and the civilian personnel were probably handled by Carter and Rodney's subordinates; they had done it so often they knew how to do it mostly on their own by now.

"Rodney..." Carson appeared behind him, matching Rodney's fast pace while avoiding collisions with all the other people in the halls.  Rodney almost choked on a bite of power bar in surprise.

"Not you again." Rodney hissed and grabbed his laptop a little bit tighter, stiffening all over.

The two lab assistants who had just walked past him gave him a wide berth, all of a sudden, and looked after him for a long moment, but he ignored it; most people already thought he was crazy and they had their own problems to tend to right now.

"Yes, me again," Carson said and followed Rodney around the corner into the Laboratory. "You have to take another look on the ZPM!"

It was mostly empty now, with most scientists getting ready for evacuation elsewhere and the rest working on packing up the sensitive equipment they would probably need. It was routine by now.

"It's not my problem right now," Rodney mumbled and lined his notepad up to gain access to the database. "... now go away."

Flow charts started to appeared in one corner of Rodney's screens but they were all alright, expect for minor jumps here and there which were caused from the lightning impacting into the shield.

"You are wrong!" Carson grumbled. "Can't you see that?"

"The amplitude is completely normal when you take the lightning into account," he pointed at the screen, before he noticed what he was doing. "Why am I talking with you? You aren't even here!"

He called up the schematics of the tower with the dispatch antenna on another screen and tried hard to concentrate on what he was searching for, if he only knew what that was.

"I am not a hallucination. I know that's hard to grasp right now." Carson rubbed the bridge of his nose. "You are smart, Rodney, you must understand it!"

"Oh I understand it pretty well," Rodney typed a little more forceful than needed and turned around to Carson, finger pointed at him. "I am aware that I am losing my mind here, you and the little girl are the best proof I can have, but that's okay, genius and madness never lay far apart, but please, leave me my bit of sanity until I've managed to save the city, alright?  After that you can drive me nuts all you want!"

"Rodney, I would love to solve this problem myself and leave you alone like I did before, but sadly, I am not exactly what this city needs right now." Carson said and sounded sad. "I am just a medical Doctor."

"And a dead one at that," Rodney said grimly and returned to his laptop. "...I noticed that."

Rodney copied the antenna's schematics down on his hard drive and tried to make sense of the text that came with it.

Carson stood still behind him, looked at the screen and didn't go away, no matter how hard Rodney tried to will him away, as if that had worked with the other hallucinations... at least the other hallucinations were a bit more in character as this one.

"I need your help with this."

It didn't even sound like the whiney but brave Doctor he had known. Well it did sound like his voice, and it looked like his body, but Carson had been far less annoying. Of course only as long as Rodney hadn't missed out on an appointment or on his medicines... he was getting a headache.

"Oh bloody hell Rodney, just use the big brain of yours, the kid..." Carson stepped around Rodney's desk, looking more than just annoyed and laid on hand on each side of Rodney's laptop. "...she is not who you..."

Rodney blinked at him for a moment and suddenly the light went out again, Carson vanishing with it.

"Oh perfect," Rodney grumbled, his shoulders slumping.

He walked out on the hall and peered through the small windows there.  The shield flickered in and out of existence, and even the main tower seemed to have problems with the energy. He touched his radio and waited for a signal of activity, but it seemed the fluctuation had been strong enough to kill the radios for the moment.

It crackled and whined, and he could actually hear voices, but nothing clearly understandable.

Rodney went back in and took his laptop, glad that he had copied the data on it to keep looking it over. He would need to move back into the centre of the spire to be safe from the lightning and for the possible event of venting of atmosphere, at least as long as the energy would be out.

He'd barely taken three steps before the sound of another impacting lightning made the windows he had just past shiver and whine. He jumped backwards and pressed himself against the wall, watching with wide open eyes how the energy of another lightning crackled up and down the main tower in a spectacular rain of sparks and electric arcs between the towers around.

"Fuck," He cursed and stepped forward carefully, too fascinated by the picture to care for the dangers for a moment. It was beautiful in a strange way. He would go as far as to say that it gave his city the most beautiful appearance since they had landed it on this piece of ice, so beautiful he had to look away for a second.

He looked up again to see the shield rising over the city in time with a couple more flashes of lightning, and finally all the lights in the city came on again, including those in the, seemingly undamaged, main tower.

"Rodney, can you hear me?" It was Zeleka, a little out of breath but alright.

Rodney's good hand flew to his radio. "I am here, everyone alright over there?"

"Ano, we are fine, a little shaken," Radek inhaled a bit unevenly. "...We had a fluctuation in the old ZPM. I had to exchange it with the new one but we still have problems with life support and the transport units are dead, too, probably because of lightning..."

Rodney sighed and started moving again. "I thought so. I am on my way."

Rodney took another flight of stairs with only his breath and the lightning outside as company, ignoring how Meredith appeared now and then in the corners of his eyes, standing there in halls or corridors to watch him run.

"McKay?!" Sheppard suddenly almost yelled over the radio and Rodney, who had watched the shield out of the small windows, jumped.

"Yeah, Yeah I am here, no reason to yell Sheppard!" He rubbed his ear. "Do you want to make me deaf or something?!"

"Sorry, just wanted to check if you are alright!" He panted and sounded as if he was climbing stairs again.

"I wasn't in the main tower, but it looked pretty spectacular from here," Rodney started to decent his own flight of stairs. "...everyone alright?"

"We have a couple of people caught up in a lower level hall, a couple of windows broke or something," Sheppard was probably on his way right there, wore probably already his gear. "...Teyla and Ronon are among them, too."

"Shit." Rodney cursed, already on his own way down the stairs and over to the bridge that connected the laboratory tower with the nearest tower to the central spire.

"We are on our way to get them!" Sheppard finished.

Rodney sped up a little to do his own part.


Family

They had been unbelievably lucky, it was a bloody miracle. Yes, the window front of one of the halls had broken and the heat and atmosphere had started to vent, but somehow, and nobody really knew how without energy, a door to a windowless storage room had cracked open — probably from a lightning introduced energy spike - and allowed them to escape inside and Ronon and a few of the soldiers present had managed to wrestle the door closed again before the atmosphere had reached toxic levels. It wasn't perfect, but they hadn't been set out in the cold poisonous surroundings for long enough to really take serious damage.

Teyla had been brought to the infirmary first along with Ronon and the others, all looking pretty frozen through and in various states of gas poisonings, but more or less alright compared what could have happened without the small miracle.

Opposite to the Stargate and long distance communication, which had both taken badly to the effects of the lightning, they couldn't call the Deadalus and the whole evacuation plan was on hold until further notice as well, but as it seemed the worst was over anyway.

The fluctuations had settled after the new ZPM had been initiated and the storm had calmed down shortly afterwards, too. Of course, there was still lightning and large amounts of snow and, strangely enough, rain that beat every Earthly record, but nothing too dramatic.  The shield was up and protecting the city from further storm induced malfunctions and everything seemed to be under control, more or less.

They made the people stay closer to infirmary, main tower and Mess hall anyway, just because those towers where shielded better from the lightning by virtue of the position they held in the city's structure.

Hours later, Rodney still couldn't make sense out of his readings, or out of Meredith's or Carson's role in it. Carson had babbled something about the ZPM and the kid, but the readings from the ZPM were stable and he hadn't seen Meredith since he'd arrived in the control room after Sheppard had headed out to rescue Teyla.

It just didn't fit together, nothing did and his hallucinations least of all. Perhaps he was just tired; he had been dehydrated and pretty out of it just a couple of hours ago and had been running around pretty much since then, it was only natural to be tired.

Or he was crazy, nuts... lunatic.

At least he understood now what role the antenna had played in the whole mess.

"Any news about the weather?" Carter asked walking into the briefing room and Rodney looked up from his screen, blinking the tiredness out of them.

"Yes and no." He said and let the reading spread to the main screen. "We seem to have caused the storm ourselves..."

A schematic of the city's storm front appeared, showing a bright red centre of activity that spread out from the position of the city with every shown screen shot until it went almost once around the planet.

Carter looked at the screen with a surprised expression. "The device was a weather machine?"

Radek answered shaking his head and typed something on his own laptop. "No. Not that, I think..."

The schematic changed to a picture of the entire planet, the red activity spots spread out across the entire planet.

"The antenna shot an energy impulse into the atmosphere.  What our scanners show is that a massive chemical reaction started in the atmosphere above us, it's like, I don't now, the CO2 levels were changing, and following the reaction we got a heightening of the temperature in the air and more sun comes through again..."Rodney explained and twirled his hand to illustrate the spreading shown on the screen.  "It's something like a fast forward greenhouse effect, but not quite."

"In other words, the planet is reheating." Zelenka added.

"And we caused that?" Sheppard watched the process with raised eyebrows.

"Yes." Rodney nodded.

"We can be glad we have the new ZPM in place." Zelenka added.

Carter, who didn't seem to trust the entire change of the weather to a weather machine, probably because of past experience, rubbed her brow.

"Could the installing of the new ZPM have something to do with it?" She asked and looked at Rodney.

"Well, it's possible that the city detected the new source of energy..." Rodney felt a little bit smug about her admitting the possibility of a failure this way. "...and initiated protocols which would come into action should the surroundings of the city be unfriendly to human life."

"There is no direct evidence of that in the database however," Radek said and Rodney rolled his eyes. "... the antenna's purpose was not exactly elaborately explained."

"All we know is that we seem to be safe right now, we disconnected the antenna from the power and the shield is running without further fluctuations, the gate computer reboot should be finished within the next hour and we should be able to call the Deadlaus as soon as that is finished..." Rodney explained and Carter nodded.

Everyone looked tired, Col. Carter included. First the rescue mission from the Pir, then the sudden storm and the rescue of Teyla and now the whole change of climate.

"I think we can do nothing else than keep an eye on the weather for now, right?" She asked into the round and most people nodded. "Good, then I would say we all rest for a while, we might need our skills soon enough." She said and stood up, dismissing everyone wordlessly before leaving the room. Sheppard relaxed visibly in his chair as soon as she had vanished and watched the pictures on the screen for a couple of minutes more, before standing up too.

"I think I am going to take a nap," He announced and looked at Rodney expectantly. "... you should have a bit of a rest, too.

Rodney shook his head determinedly. "I need to check the shield dynamics a second time."

"Fine," Sheppard watched him a little longer, then huffed. "...but afterwards,"

"I am taking a nap when I am finished," Rodney snapped and glared at Sheppard.

He nodded slowly and left without further discussion. Rodney watched him swagger out, down the few steps and out of sight in the control room, but even his usual fantasies weren't about to make an appearance. He really was tired, and didn't that sound better as nuts...

He tried to concentrate back on the readings and his problem at hand: the city energy schematics and the sudden weather change.

A couple of minutes later, Zelenka yawned loudly to his right. "I am tired, too."

"Go, already," Rodney snapped, not even looking up.

Zelenka gave him a short grateful smile and left the conference room too.  In the end Rodney was alone.

The readings didn't change, the progress didn't even slow down. The heating would probably take not more than a couple of weeks.  At this speed, the sky would clear eventually and the ash fall down with the rain, the ice would melt and soon the city would float on an endless ocean once more.

A protocol or a hidden emergency setting, which got only initiated when the surroundings were too dangerous for the city's occupants, something like that, for sure.

The age old programming had hic ups now and again, fragments of old programs came up here and there, and the weather changing machine was probably just another one of those. Exactly like the security protocols that had jumped on in the last months, small things here and there like the gas that had been released in time to get Kusanagi and the others out of harm's way as the egg thingy exploded.

Or the door that had cracked open for the caught people, he wondered how Teyla was, how she had survived the cold and the bad air... and the baby...

He got up and decided to go and look for her, perhaps she was asleep and wouldn't even notice him to be there.

Biro was on duty, as Rodney had hoped, and didn't even look up from the novel she was reading as Rodney sneaked past. The infirmary was crowded and most of the nurses were busy with one patient or the other so he was unimpeded until he reached the small room they had brought her to for more privacy.

Rodney hurried inside before he could be seen and let the door close behind him, finding himself alone in the room with a  empty bed on one side and the cubicle in which Teyla rested.

He could peer inside through the curtains and could see her sleeping under covers and fleece blankets with a oxygen mask on her face and the monitors beeping along in two frequencies, one slower and one faster, the faster probably being the baby. 

She looked fragile and lost somehow, and it made him so unbearable angry with himself and the galaxy, he had to ball his hands even if his bandaged one hurt from the movement.

He'd never figured the Athosians for being so harsh about this.  When they'd first met, hadn't they been very concerned with the future of their tribe? We cherish every child, Halling had said, so why weren't they happy about this one?

This must have been how Jeannie had felt as he yelled at her about Madison, when he left her alone with Madison.

He was such an idiot in these things. He had been so wrong back then, and knew it now and if he could undo it he would. Teyla had to understand that he had no clue how to cope with this, and how bad he was with this whole feelings thing since he had actually tried to work it out.

Sometimes he was pretty dumb for a genius. God, his not-thing with Sheppard was the best proof ever.

He rubbed his eyes; perhaps she would understand once the whole mess was over. Perhaps he could make her understand.  If their current dilemma ever ended, she certainly would listen to him, she always had.

The peeping of the monitors was soothing and he toyed with the thought of curling up on the other bed for a while, nobody would notice, but no, he had to work, had to safe the others again, as always.

She seemed okay, just asleep and he didn't want to wake her up and had almost managed to sneak out again as she stopped him.

"Hello Rodney..." He voice was soft but not weak, and he turned on his heel, moving back to the curtain, feeling a little caught in the act.

She smiled from below her mask and he returned it, one corner of his mouth crooked upwards. "I just dropped by to see... how you were, are you alright?"

"I am fine, thank you." She tried to sit up slightly and he twitched, unknowing if he should help or not, but before he could decide fatigue caught back up with her and halted her attempts to sit up effectively.

"That's good..." He gestured over his shoulder into the direction of the nurses outside. "Do you need anything? I could..."

"No, thank you, I don't need anything." She smiled even more and titled her head.

She didn't look as if she wanted to ask questions or press him or anything, and he knew, if he said goodbye now she wouldn't be mad, but he moved forward anyway, stopping by the side of her bed.

"Look, about yesterday," He started fidgeting with his hands.

She reached out and patted his bandaged hand softly. "I understand Rodney, it is uncomfortable for you to be with me."

"No, No it isn't that... I just..." He said hastily.

It really wasn't that. It was the thing with Jeannie, yes, and that he felt odd around her, but that was really not it.  No. It was that he saw dead people, at least right now it was that, and that he had far too many of them haunting him. That he was just longing for the old times and all that.

He met her eyes. "It has nothing to do with you or the baby, please believe me."

She looked at him for a long moment, nodding slowly. "I believe you Rodney." She gave his hand a soft squeeze. "When you want to talk about what bothers you, you know I am here."

"Yes, Yes I do." He nodded, he had been right with his assumption.

And he would really love to, but right now, right here, she had her own problems to deal with and he, god, he had a whole planet's mood swings to deal with...

"Now I have to... you know..." He waved his good hand.

"Yes, Rodney." She said and gave his hand a last pat before she leaned back into the pillows, he nodded waved her goodbye and walked out of the infirmary feeling a lot lighter than before.

The lightness lasted the whole way back to his laboratory and made way for the tiredness as soon as he landed in his desk chair, effectively knocking him out about a minute later.


Gallery of Ghosts

Rodney stood before the large window front of one of the rooms they had visited with Teyla a couple of hours ago, watching how the blue ocean reflecting the sun at the horizon sparkled and danced.

A storm was brewing in a long dark front at the horizon, green, angry and bitter.

Carson stood beside him, looking ahead silently.

"It really is a beautiful view," Carson said and eyed Rodney. "...Teyla should really take this room." He added.

Rodney nodded slightly and rubbed his hand over his face, turning away from the window to face the room. Meredith stood there, blinking with wide open eyes at Carson. The Scot in return, stared at her with narrowed eyes, full of mistrust.

Rodney ignored both and walked across the room. "Can't you two go away?"

"Why are you not happy?" Meredith asked and walked over to Rodney's side.

Rodney didn't answer, just turned his head slightly in the direction of the door. Teyla and Sheppard stood outside, talking animatedly.  Then, Teyla left and Sheppard turned over to Carter, who had appeared out of nowhere. Yeah, it was like that, they had talked about him, probably thought he was nuts or something, and alright, he wasn't so far from believing it himself.

He walked into another room as Sheppard swirled out of focus, past Sam who watched him now and up to the infirmary bed that stood alone in the laboratory he had ended up in. A nurse without face was busy with checking monitors as she shoved his hands deep into his pants pockets and watched Elizabeth's pale face and how Carter stood beside her bed, promising to do her job..

There were other rooms and other doors, a lot of them and behind each and every one another scene like this waited. How Gall's withered form shot himself in the dark alcove of the old Wraith Ship, or how Johnson screamed and convulsed in her last seconds.

Rodney's own personal gallery of ghosts that he could wander, damned to do it every night.

He allowed himself to feel the anger in that moment, directed at Carter and at all the others, and Meredith curiously watched.

"Let him alone, lass." Carson stepped into her way.

"I have to make him happy!" She narrowed her eyes at him, stomped her naked foot on the ground and walked away.

"Open your eyes Rodney. Take a look at what you've gotten yourself into!" Carson's whisper echoed through the foggy sphere as the picture turned and swirled into something entirely different.

Sam was already half way asleep as her door woke her up again, she groaned and pushed herself up slowly, rolled over and grabbed for her bathrobe on the way of the bed and to the door. She was ruffled and bleary eyed as she palmed open the door and needed a couple of seconds to blink the blurriness out of her vision.

"Rodney?" She looked him up and down and frowned. "Did something happen?"

He bounced on the balls of his feet, hands stuffed in his pants pockets.

"Nope." He stepped in, forcing her to take a step back to give him space.

He had this odd smile on his face, the one with the slightly croaked corner of his mouth and looked so very smug that she wondered if he had made a sensational break through in the laboratories or something. Something definitely seemed off with him, though.

"Look, if it's not an emergency then we can talk tomorrow morning, please?" She explained, stepping back to the door to keep it open for him; he would get the picture eventually, he always did.

"I just wanted to drop by..." He said and turned to face her in the middle of the room still bouncy.

"I want to sleep now," She crossed her arms under her chest, glaring fiercely, but McKay seemed to persistently ignore it. "...McKay, really, we had a long couple of days and I am tired..."

He bounced on his feet, seemed exited and then it hit her hard what exactly was wrong with him. His face was clean and without sunburn and, god how stupid had she been, the colour of his eyes was wrong as well.

The door slid shut before she could move into the direction of the hall and as she wanted to dive for her gun on the nightstand; he had already his own 9mm in hand.

"Shit!" She cursed, the barrel of his gun right below her nose.

"Killing hurts and is not right," McKay said, bouncing on the balls of his feet yet again. He took the safety off and grinned more innocently. "Expect in case of really big emergencies..."

She stepped back against the wall, her hands raised. "You are not Rodney."

She said matter of factly; there was no doubt about it.

And he shot.


Shrink

Rodney jerked awake with the shot still echoing in his mind as if it had been fired in the same room and the same moment. His laboratory however, was completely quiet and half dark. Nobody was there expect for him and perhaps it had been best that way, because the last thing he had needed his minions to see was him babbling in his sleep again.

God, his face itched and his arms, and crap, his skin was peeling. Urgh. His belly knotted as well, showing him that he hadn't eaten properly and that Keller would probably have his ass once this was over. Well, a month of leave or so didn't sound so bad anymore, not really.

He went for the power bars he stored in his desk and ate two, watching the simulations on the screen run for several minutes.

The weather simulation was still running on his screen, showing a constant change of the atmospheric properties in the higher layers of their planet's sky. It was like fast forwarding on a greenhouse effect simulation, heating up in a way which would have been deadly if not for the fact that it only melted the snow and heated their sky, cleaning the air and the atmosphere or its toxic properties while doing so. Or, well, perhaps it wasn't, he wasn't so sure if he should trust in the numbers the whole simulation spit out.

The other laptop showed the energy schematics of the new ZPM. The flow charts looked surprisingly even for the fact that the shielding was running on full power under moody weather.

"What are you doing there?" Sheppard asked, leaning in the door frame of the laboratory in all too familiar slouch.

"Well, saving the day I suppose, what do you think?" Rodney snapped back and threw the wrappers of his snack into the bin below his desk.

Sheppard pushed himself off the door frame and swaggered over to the desk, sitting down on the corner of the desk Rodney worked at. "Shouldn't you sleep?"

"I can sleep when we're not about to change location again," Rodney grumbled and poked at his keyboard with a bit more force. He so knew where this was heading again. "Are you here to annoy me, or to actually do something useful like getting me coffee or something?"

"Actually something useful..." Sheppard trailed off and frowned at a spot before his boots.

"Then go, get me coffee." Rodney waved his bandaged hand slightly at the slouching Colonel.

Sheppard inhaled and scratched his arm. "I am normally not the one starting to talk," He drawled. "...about this kind of things."

Rodney had known it and started to type furiously at his laptop. "What kind of things?"

Sheppard rubbed the spot between his eyes. "Don't force me to say it out loud, it was hard enough this morning..."

Rodney stared at Sheppard. "That again?"

"Yeah, that again." Sheppard said.

Rodney stared at him in annoyance. "I don't know what you want Sheppard, but I am busy calculating right now, how long exactly we will survive here..."

"You do have problems Rodney." Sheppard hissed uncomfortably. "And I want you to go to Heightmeyer about it as soon as this is over."

Sheppard hated to say it. It was clearly written onto his face and carved into the tense wrinkles around his mouth. Rodney couldn't believe it and gaped at him with wide open mouth.

"You were the last person I expected to hear this from! Since when do you believe in shrinks, huh?" Rodney scoffed and a distant feeling of anger crept up inside him again.

Sheppard sighed. "We talked about it..."

"We? Who do you mean with we? Did you talk with the Voodoo bitch?" Rodney stood up and pointed a finger at him as Sheppard grimaced. "Oh no, you talked with Carter, I knew it!"

Carson appeared, flickering in and out of focus for a moment, it seemed to cost him some energy and he groaned as if in pain which distracted Rodney for a couple of seconds that not went unnoticed by Sheppard at all.

"Look, just so you know, Colonel Carter came to me, not the other way around we are all worried about you ..." Sheppard objected, watching Rodney worriedly.

Rodney spluttered as he caught up to the words of the Colonel.

Carson seemed to win out against whatever he fought with and walked in from the hall. "Rodney, the ZPM..."

"You've been behaving kind of weird in the past few months." Sheppard waved his hands awkwardly, visibly more than just uncomfortable with talking.

Carson tried to gain Rodney's attention again. "Rodney!"

"Odd?" Rodney didn't believe it. He flushed red under his sunburn.

"Rodney, stop squabbling and look..." Carson growled loudly.

"Could you both just shut up already!" Rodney hissed at them both.

That was just too much for him to deal with at the same time.

"Both?" Sheppard's eyebrows went upwards. "Rodney, what..."

Rodney tensed up and swallowed hard, waving his hand dismissingly. "I meant the simulation, it peeped..."

I hadn't peeped and Sheppard knew that too, but Rodney had no clue what else to say and really, he didn't even want to look at Sheppard right now because he didn't want to see the look of pity and worry again that he'd from so many other faces. Wait a moment, the readings really looked a bit...

"I am here." Sheppard said suddenly, and seemingly the radio rescued Rodney once more from awkward flailing. "What?"

Rodney turned around at the sound of his voice. "What happened?"

"I am on my way!" Sheppard said letting go of his head. "Someone shot Colonel Carter!"

Sheppard took off down the hall.

"What?" Rodney jumped up and followed Sheppard out of the laboratory.


Bleeding for a While

The first thing the two of them heard as they came down the dim hall was loud counting.

"Three, four..." One Marine was counting in time with his movements, pressing down onto Carter's chest before he bent over and breathed into her opened mouth. Her chest rose, fell and the other Marine pressed down harder on the wound at the side of her chest while the first one started all over again. The third marine, who Rodney dimly recalled to be named Lt. Potter or something, stood outside in the hall, securing the area.

"Oh god..." Rodney couldn't believe how big the puddle of blood already was.

"What the hell happened here?" Sheppard asked as he came to halt by Potter's side.

The young man seemed a bit shocked. "Colonel Carter was shot, we... we found her as we came past the open door."

"Have you seen who it was?" Sheppard asked next, worried, sure he had wanted to get Elizabeth back as soon as possible, but not this way.

"Sorry sir, we didn't see anyone as we arrived," The Marine shook his head. " we don't even know how long she laid there before we came..." He added a little shocked.

The man was still quite young, just flown in with the last shipment because of his gene, so no wonder he looked a little pale.

Sheppard pushed Rodney against the wall and out of the way as Keller raced around the corner in the next moment, two orderlies with a stretcher hot on her heels. She nearly tumbled over Carter's feet, crashing to her knees by her patient.

The two other marines moved back, thrown out of the room by the medical personnel and ended up outside in the hall by the time Major Lorne arrived.

He had several men from the security detail with him, heavily armed and ready.

"Sir?" Lorne was panting and still sleep rumpled.

"Colonel Carter was ambushed, we don't know who it was. Double the security..." Sheppard commanded and Lorne took one look at the three bloody Marines and gestured for them to follow him again.

Rodney peeked into the door, grimacing at the amount of people and blood involved; he didn't need to understand what Keller was yelling to know Carter was in trouble.

"We should take a look at the security feed." Rodney suggested and Sheppard nodded.

"I'm going to the control room,"

Keller emerged with Carter on the stretcher. She was kneeling over the other woman's hips, continuing the CPR the marines had started as she got wheeled down the hall.

The men looked after them for a couple of shocked seconds, before Sheppard pointed at a Marine to follow Rodney down the hall in the other direction.

"This is Colonel Sheppard speaking," Sheppard's voice came over the city wide by the time Rodney was back in his laboratory. "We have a security lock down situation. Everyone has to remain inside their quarters until further notice."

Rodney drummed his fingers nervously on the surface of the desk, waiting for the security tape to move to the right moment. There were several short interferences and the picture blurred more and more the closer it got to the pertinent time frame, and then it cleared.

Carter walked down the hall and a second later Sheppard appeared, stopping her by her door. Rodney turned grim and narrowed his eyes at the picture, they were talking animatedly with each other for a few seconds and he fast forwarded over it, unable to deal with the whole Sheppard debacle for the moment and stopped as Sheppard left.

Carter went to her quarters. The Marines patrolled the hall, up and down, and then the hall was empty again for a very long sequence. The light flickered a few times and then the time code finally was reached.

The interferences got stronger about 21 minutes prior to the Alarm. And a figure walked around the half dark corner of the corridor and into the lighted passage near Colonel Carter's door.

"...but I..." Rodney's eyes turned as wide as possible, and his heart jumped into his throat. He had been asleep at that time...How the hell?

The McKay on the screen stepped up to the door, waited for Sam to open it and then the hall was very quiet again for several moments after McKay left.

18 minutes later, the marines passed again and saw the door standing open, they requested assistance and the rest was history.

It wasn't him, he knew it wasn't him, he had been in his laboratory, had slept bowed over the keys until perhaps 5 minutes before Sheppard had come in, but with the transporters and the remaining time left to come back.... Oh, god he couldn't show this tape to anyone!

Nobody would believe that he wasn't there; the evidence was to clear. He had a motive, they would say, maybe that the excessive stress had made him loose his mind or something, or post traumatic stress disorder from being kidnapped and held thirsty and starving or the fact that she had replaced Elizabeth although Rodney hadn't been happy about it... something like that.

God, even Sheppard would be able to vouch for the version with the stress, because he had reacted so strangely in his presence just minutes after the attack. Oh god, he was so screwed.

Rodney hastily started erasing evidence, wiping as much of the time code as possible before Sheppard walked in just seconds later. "And?"

"I am almost at the correct time, nothing so far..." Rodney said fast, twitching slightly as the other man appeared behind his shoulder.

Sheppard looked at him oddly, Rodney knew, could feel it in the back of his head.

"Are you okay?" He asked after a while.

"Yeah, just," Rodney fumbled with his hands and waved awkwardly. "... this is a shock."

Sheppard nodded slowly, laying a hand on Rodney's shoulder with a caring squeeze. "She'll survive Rodney, I know Dr. Keller isn't Carson, but she's good at what she does or she wouldn't have the job."

Rodney nodded fast and wished so much he could tell Sheppard, just say something, but right now it would endanger him, too.

"I know." He croaked.

Sheppard squeezed one last time before letting go of Rodney's shoulder. "Alright, I am in the control room, keep me posted..."

Rodney nodded fast. "I will tell you as soon as I find something."

Sheppard nodded again and left the room, the door closing behind him. Rodney buried his face in his hands as soon as the other man was out of earshot, whimpering miserably.

"Rodney..."

"Go away." He whined muffled through his hands.

"I can't." Carson said. "You have to finally listen to me."

"Can't you just shut up for five minutes?" Rodney sighed and pressed the heels of his hands into the sockets of his eyes until it hurt.

"Just for a bit." He begged.

Carson sighed deeply and moved to look out of the small window. The sky was of a dark grass green with only the red and orange flashes illuminating the sky.

"I hate to force you into this,"

Rodney whined from behind his hands. "No, you don't..."

"Rodney I have just a bit of time before nothing of me is left in the city..."  Carson sighed.  "You have to face the problem She is not who she says she is!"

"I am facing the problem, that's why I am here!"  Rodney mumbled. "And hallucinating doesn't help, by the way."

Carson glared into the corner where Meredith stood. "I am not the hallucination here, you know that."

"Oh you aren't?" Rodney stood up fast, spluttering. "Then it's her, huh? That's great, I mean, I either hallucinate my dead friend or a girl I promised to rescue and left alone on a bad rip off of Dune."

He waved a hand at Meredith who stood there and smiled at him in return. "And as if that isn't enough, no, Sheppard thinks I am crazy... and perhaps he isn't even so wrong about it, because hey, it's me and I don't deserve any better, do I!"

"That's not true, you know it Rodney. But now is really not the time for this ." Carson turned and stared at the child. "I am not the hallucination, and the little lass isn't one either." He said darkly staring at the innocent child.

She looked at Carson, smiling friendly but with cold eyes.

"Why don't you go away," Meredith asked. "Rodney hurts."

"I can't go away." Carson answered. "Not as long as you are here!"

"Then I have to do something against you, too." She said with a determined face and balled little fists.

Rodney looked up and from one to the other. "Can't you both shut up?!"

"You are a bad man," Meredith stepped closer to Carson, and narrowed her brows at him. "...and you must go away!"

"That's not going to happen..." Carson growled.

He didn't exactly sound like the Carson Rodney had once known, but on the other hand he exactly was the man he'd called almost something like his best friend. Even if he had been a coward most of the time he'd been brave too, when it mattered and he always protected his patients, in the end, even with his life.

Meredith crossed her little arms very Rodney like. "You must go away!"

"I am not leaving my city, forget it."  Carson growled back and mirrored the stance.

"Then I must make you..." Meredith stepped forward and threw her arms around Carson, causing both of them to disappear and leave the lights flickering from one second to the other.

Rodney blinked for a couple of moments, and suddenly it made sense. God, how stupid had he been.

"Meredith..." He hissed. Meredith was the cause, it made all sense now. Carson had told him she wasn't the hallucination, apparently neither was Carson, but that was another thing to solve later on, and now she was Rodney's problem not the doctor.

She'd been there in his dreams, had been there as he had felt angry about Sam and how she had replaced Elizabeth and then his dream had turned to a awful scene that came back to him in exactly the moment all facts fell into place to make space for clarity.

Of course, she was a program, now it made sense, she'd never seen other people because no Pirian had the gene, probably was a damaged or unfinished experimental AI or something. Oh crap, and she had given him the ZPM, probably used it as her way in.

He had held his promise and had taken her with him, he just hadn't known until now.

And she had shot Sam.

He had to stop her!

But how?

Okay, alright, the old ZPM still wasn't depleted and it was offline now, but had worked before the new ZPM had been initiated, and, although Carter and Zelenka hadn't found any sign for anything as they checked it through, it still could have transported Meredith. And Carson had known all the time.

He frowned, he had no clue what Carson had to do with it, or why he had appeared, but he had no time to wonder about that now, he had to pull the plug on Meredith and reboot the system with the back up and the old ZPM.


Trust Me

First, he would have to get out of his laboratory and into the main generator control room to line up the naquada generators in the correct way to ensure that infirmary would still stay online while the rest would reboot as fast as possible and he would have to break into the ZPM room afterwards to rip the current one out to reboot safely.

oh...which would only work with a little diversion because he was very sure that Lorne had not only dutifully doubled on guards but had also placed them around the vital areas of the city for security measures.

Well, time to be stealthy , which honestly never worked before...

He past two Marines in the hall who looked after him intently as he used the transport to get to a different area of the city and, as predicted, run right into another security detail as he exited the unit on the level of the main generator control room.

"I... need to check something up," he said fast and pointed a finger from his laptop to the control room door behind the bulky guys. "...the guy who shot Carter, probably tried to manipulate... something."

He was nervous as hell, but the Marines obviously took that either as his normal setting or as shock in the wake of Carter's ambush so they stepped aside and let him pass. The taking online of the generators and the manipulating itself was easy after that, and luckily, uninterrupted by Meredith — who probably was busy with Carson — or the Marines, not even by the control room.

He had written most of the codes the controls interpreted so it was easy to cover his moves as he lined a single generator up to the infirmary, independent from anything else and without anyone in the control room a couple of levels above noticing.

Two more generators took over the backup for life support and the 8 others got on stand by to cover the rest, he would have to pry open the casing of the ZPM console and switch a couple of crystals once he had the ZPM ripped out than anything would reboot independently with the system backup from prior to the new ZPM and the new ZPM, and nothing of Meredith would be left.

Well, always given she really was a program.

He initiated the little diversion and returned to his laptop and snatched it up, walking out.

"I've got what I need," He declared and hurried past the four men before they could try and hold him back.

He beamed to a relatively secluded area and waited a couple of minutes until the log down his diversion had initiated sounded and used his knowledge of the city to wire up the transport unit the right way to go right where he wanted to.

He picked a location on the level of the ZPM room next and, luckily enough, came out in an empty hall, ready to get the girl out of the system.

He only had to break his way through a couple of doors now, and pray nobody would come after him.

The first door worked well somehow, the normally quite resistant technology, gave way to his lock breaking attempt easier than usual, and perhaps he was imagining it, but he could have sworn he felt the encouraging whispers of Carson in the back of his mind every time one the locks gave up.

It was as if one part was holding them closed while the other part wanted to open for him desperately. Perhaps that was where Carson came into the equation... He wondered, getting up from his knees with a whine.

Every bone hurt, he wasn't meant to be the hero, for that he usually had Sheppard...

A pair of hands grabbed him none too gently from behind and pushed him hard against the nearest wall. He whined rather pathetically, flailing with his arms before his attacker pulled him around to face him.  In the next moment, he found himself face of with Sheppard.

He had Rodney by the collar of his uniform to push him up the wall by the fists full of jacket, Sheppard's weight pressing the last bit of air out of his lungs with the momentum.

"What the fucking hell is going on here, Rodney?!" He growled darkly.

Sheppard looked at him like he was the problem or something, that was anything but good, and he would probably not believe a word of Rodney's explanations.

Rodney whimpered. "Would you believe me if I said I see dead people?"

John narrowed his eyebrows and looked only angrier.

"Rodney." He warned.

"No, Look, it's..." Rodney gave it up and sighed deeply. "The girl, Meredith... I see her, she's talking to me... and she sort of started to argue with Carson..."

Sheppard didn't look as if he believed a word Rodney was saying, but hey, Rodney wouldn't have believed himself if he hadn't known the facts. And he was still a bit shaky about them himself... 

"Yeah, look, I didn't think you would believe me either, because, hey, I'm not really believing it myself on some of the things I've seen in the last half hour." Rodney banged his head against the wall behind him.

Sheppard's fists tightened in Rodney's collar, still pressing him into the wall, but the angry grimace changed to a worried frown. "They told you to shoot Cater?"

"What?" Rodney glared. "No... I didn't shoot her."

"Rodney, I wish I could believe you, but I saw it on the security tape," Sheppard sighed and looked away for a moment. " the tape you tried to manipulate..."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "I erased the incriminating video for just this reason!  I knew you wouldn't believe me, and I have to stop her!"

"Stop who?" Sheppard looked back at him.

"Meredith." Rodney whispered.

Rodney stared at Sheppard's shoulder for several seconds.

"It's her, I mean, it's not a her, it's an it. A program, she's in the ZPM, or was in the ZPM ..." He started. " The Pirians  didn't know she was down in the laboratory, and she had no name, never even saw someone before me... I thought she was just hiding from those bastards but she wasn't."

"They sent me down there and I thought on, on, on, and that must have activated her... she's an AI, a program probably on standby for ten thousand years like the rest of the old base, but she wasn't finished or broken and tagged herself to the ZPM thinking I was her creator..."

He waved a finger in front of John's nose. "Of course, the standby mood also was the reason for the signals that made the gate jump!"

she had changed the weather for him because he had liked the ocean more, she had vented atmosphere in the hall Teyla was in because he felt uncomfortable with the baby and she shot Carter because he had resented her and wanted Elizabeth back, and ... shit.

Rodney stared at him. "She said she would make me stop hurting."

The understanding that he had been the reason for this, he and his stupid depression and tiredness of it all, really hurt.

"Rodney?" Sheppard wanted to believe, wanted to just trust him.

"Do you trust me?" Sheppard stared at him. "Just, trust me, I am right about this, she's the source of this and she has shot Carter."

Sheppard lowered his head with tired sigh. "A program has shot Carter, Rodney, I wish I could trust you..."

"You think I've lost my mind on you, right?" Rodney asked waving his good hand. "With all the people I've lost, with the work dumped on me all the time, the constant near death situations... well, I don't blame you, I think I am crazy, too, just not that crazy,"

Rodney let his hands fall to his sides. "...you should know me well enough, John."

Sheppard loosened his hands in his collar. "Rodney,..."

Sheppard stepped back from him, hands balling to fists.

"I need to reboot the system, she probably copied herself into the database and took over new functions... We have to turn off the systems and take out the ZPM, she can't hide anywhere if we disconnect both ZPM and reboot with the emergency energy of the Naquadah generators and the old ZPM the system backup that I rigged up."

Sheppard clenched and unclenched his fists a couple of time, then stepped back once more, tension lines contorting his face. "If you try anything..."

"You can shoot me!" Rodney said quickly. "Can we go now, before she starts to..." He waved hand. "Kill everyone who ever annoyed me... which would be pretty much everyone?!"

Sheppard nodded and Rodney moved to break through the last door; after that there was only the ZPM room left and that would open normally with the right codes.

Sheppard pressed the buttons and waved his hand in front of the door panel once, twice, three times but nothing happened.

"O-okay," He drawled and turned to Rodney, both hands back on his P-90.

The hall doors they had just broken open closed before McKay could even open his mouth to say one word, and as if that wasn't bad enough, the lights went out around them, too.

"Oh this is not good," He whined.

The door to the ZPM room was locked, as well as the hall doors and the temperature was starting to fall. The hiss of the ventilation system could be heard and even more cold air invaded the room.

Even with the changing atmosphere outside, and the already slightly heightened temperature, prolonged inhalation of the air still could cause very uncomfortable medical conditions and Rodney had enough of them already, thank you very much.

"So-o not good." Rodney added.

"Rodney," Sheppard inhaled deeply and grabbed his gun tighter, staring at Rodney in the dark.  "...and now?"

Rodney snapped with the fingers of his good hand. "I crack the door open."

He went for the door panel of the ZPM room and started to peel the lead off with Sheppard's P-90 as only light source. The air started cooling the room so quickly that they could already see each other's breath puff in little clouds from their mouths before he even had the panel open.

It chilled to temperatures below zero in mere minutes.

"Hurry up Rodney," Sheppard was flexing his fingers to keep the feeling in his fingers and breathed into the collar of his jacket to avoid the still acrimonious air.

"I'm trying!" McKay rubbed his own hands against each other, cursing. "Crap...my fingers are numb already."

"Rodney?" Meredith swirled into focus at the end of the hall, her little face contorted in a shadowed grimace.

"Jeez!" Sheppard had his gun pointed at her in a fraction of a second, blinking wildly. "This is Meredith?"

Rodney nodded and put on the sternest face he knew, aiming for the same one his Mother had had as he had tried to steal the Christmas cookies from the kitchen once.

"Meredith. Stop this mess this instant!" He bellowed. He even pointed his finger at her.

"Why?" She asked and titled her head in the usual way.

"Because you're going to kill us!" He yelled. "You tried to kill Sam and you will hurt many of my friends with what you're doing here!"

She narrowed her brows at him for a long moment, unable to fully understand what was going on, or so she looked at least. "But you didn't like it..."

"I told you already, I don't like a lot of things," Rodney snapped. "That doesn't give you the right to go ahead and try killing people at random!" ...or not so random actually

Meredith looked hurt. "You told me you wished I could change that you hurt!"

Sheppard had his gun raised at the kid, blinking as she changed into a different form. Rodney's eyes turned equally as large and he stumbled to a halt in his frantic tries to open the door and talk her out of blocking it in the same moment.

"You wanted it to change..." She pouted wearing the still almost frighteningly young face of Dr. Gaul. "I want to make you happy!"

She changed into another person.

Adams, Grodin... she changed into every person he had ever... let die.

All the people from his little gallery, all the rooms back and forth like in his nightmares. She'd probably seen them all, had been there with him as he dreamed them, how he didn't really know, but that didn't matter.

"Then stop it!" Rodney growled looking away from Dr. Abrahams and back to his work. "That will make me happy!"

"Why?" She said and looked back up to him, just not in her form. She got blurry for a moment and reappeared in the form of Elizabeth.

"See, that's why I can't stand kids!" Rodney threw a glare at Sheppard who looked kind of shocked, still aiming for the girl. "Always asking questions, not understanding anything..."

Meredith titled her head and blinked and looked down, visibly on the verge of tears, which looked a lot like his last memory of the proud woman he had adored and enjoyed to work with until she had been catapulted across the gate room and broke her spine.

"Almost..." Rodney pushed at the crystal, air biting in his lungs and his eyes and his head and vision already blurring.

The door cracked open, just a slit and Rodney moved to press himself into it to push it open further.

"A hand here..." He growled and Sheppard came to help.

The door gave way and groaned obscenely as both men finally managed to squeeze through.  Meredith, in Elizabeth's form still, just walked up to the slit, blurred and sharpened on the other side again.

Rodney hurried to the main console and started hooking up things and ripping out crystals as fast as he could, coughing now and again from the obvious change in atmosphere in the room.

Sheppard pulled what Rodney pointed him at, piling the crystals by the side of the console before Rodney shoved them back in into a different setting.

Weir followed his movements with sad eyes, and perhaps understanding dawned on her as well. "Why?"

It didn't matter, he just had to pull the ZPM and reboot with the backup and she would vanish. He pressed the release button, but nothing happened.

"Rodney?" Sheppard had both hands before his face now, coughing into them "Why have you stopped?"

He watched her and sighed, pausing a moment in his work. "It doesn't work."

"Why?" She said and balled her fists.

She looked like a petulant child, even with Elizabeth's face, and that was it!

Perhaps, deep inside she was just a kid who was alone and couldn't understand why everyone was gone. And that for more than ten thousand years, no one but he had come and she just wanted him to not leave her alone again, doing anything for him for a little attention so he would be happy and not run away.

The similarities to times in his own life hit home, leaving a sour feeling he had to swallow hard.

Of course they had left her, typical for the Ancients to leave unfinished work behind; on the other hand, they had not much of a choice in this case. They had been slaughtered by the Pirians and used as wall hangings and fragments of miserable interior design.  After that, the Pirians had just used what they had left undamaged to handle their defences.

"Meredith, they are gone, okay?" Rodney snapped. "I can't change that they are gone and you can't either.  I have to learn to live with the changes like you had to learn to be all alone in your laboratory."

Her eyes flickered up at that. So, she probably hadn't been on standby all the time, perhaps was active for a while and alone, scared, left alone, probably even blaming herself. Oh and wasn't that familiar...

"It's not your fault that your creators left, they were killed by the Pirians," He swallowed and looked down, avoiding the sideways glance Sheppard gave him. "...and I know it hurts, but it's not your fault."

It was like the pot calling the kettle black or something, Rodney knew, and the whole thing was swiftly turning into a metaphor for his own problem. The look on Sheppard's face, well below the hands he held before his nose and mouth, was telling him the same, and the whole being forced into admitting it hurt probably the most.

"You have to cope with it, as I have to cope with my own problems, okay, it does hurt but eventually it gets better." Rodney added.

Meredith tilted her head, changing back into her real form. Alright, change of plans... he had promised her in the beginning to help her and he would.

"Go to sleep," Rodney said and rubbed his fingers against each other, coughing from the air and the cold. "...get back into your ZPM and let me put you to sleep, really asleep without waiting and waking. It will stop hurting, I promise you."

"Really?" She blinked.

He nodded. "I promise Meredith."

She looked at him for a couple more seconds, nodded slowly and dissolved into a few sparkles. The light flickered and the ZPM in the console glowed a little brighter, the console activated as well and Rodney typed the commands to release the ZPM as fast as possible.

He pulled it out and set it on the ground beside the console in the darkness that followed, shoved the remaining control crystal in, put the old ZPM in place and waited a couple of moments before the system reinitiated the reboot automatically.

The lights came on, one by one all over the city and the computers started booting up again, all the screens coming to life around them in the same moment.

"That was it?" Sheppard asked and looked around carefully.

Rodney nodded slowly as the heating came on and the air conditioning started venting the room quickly. It had worked.

Sheppard sighed and sat down on the ground with a groan, rubbing his face, even though the blisters where there. "Oh man, Rodney..."

"Yeah..."

Rodney flopped heavily to his ass, leaning against Sheppard with his shoulder. They were both cold and felt tired, their throats hurt and their lungs ached. They generally looked like absurd creatures out of a zombie move all white, frozen and with blisters on their red faces, but alright... god, this was...a bit too much.

Meredith rested in the ZPM at their feet, silent, quite and deactivated.

"She's asleep now," Rodney said.

Sheppard nodded slowly and watched him for a couple of seconds, his hand coming to rest on Rodney's knee again to squeeze a little, a simple gesture so much more relaxing that any hug or word could ever made him be.

"You okay?"

"No..." Rodney grumbled and Sheppard squeezed a little harder.

For a couple of moments both just sat there, the air warming up and both leaning against each other. Surprisingly enough, it felt good to have admitted that much, but to be honest, he was much too tired to think about it any further.

Sheppard's radio crackled and he pushed it back into his ear. "I am here..."

He looked at Rodney who stared at the ZPM. "We have eliminated the threat."

Sheppard patted Rodney's knee and gave him a little squeeze before pushing himself to his feet and walking out of the room.

Rodney was so tired, so tired he could have drifted to sleep right on the spot. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, resting his head against the console behind him.

"It's okay now Rodney, you can rest."

His eyes flew open again and Carson was perched there before him, smiling warmly at him.

"Carson?" Rodney croaked and eyed the ZPM.

"Aye Rodney, it's just me, everything is alright." He said and the lights dimmed a bit to accommodate Rodney's approaching headache. "You can rest, I have everything covered now."

He frowned at his friend before it dawned on him. "Oh..."

A thousand questions came to his mind, but somehow his mouth felt too tired to form them all, Carson smiled and raised one eyebrow at his gaping friend, then Rodney's mouth clicked shut.

"You know what, never mind." Rodney waved his good hand and closed his eyes again.

Carson smiled softly and went to repair the mess in his City.


Deus Ex Machina

Rodney stored the data tagged to the ZPM away in a crystal and put it into a small box, hiding it away securely below his bed where Meredith would be able to sleep peacefully, and perhaps he would visit Kate again, he had already once or twice, just to make sure Sheppard's looks changed back from worried concern into the occasional flirty winks.

They had taken Meredith's ZPM to the isolation laboratory after he had copied her out of it and scanned it once over with the help of the Deadlaus when they were finally contacted, just to check, but there was nothing left of Meredith. Not a single line of code left; so they cleared it as safe.

The Deadalus visited the Pirian planet just a few days later, beaming on board what was left of the secret underground laboratory with the given caution for the planet's still ignorant people. The Pir had no need for help, or were to stupid to see the truth about their position, and not wanted it so they locked their adress out of the Database and never returned afterwards.

The whole thing brought good things, though. In fact so good, that his entire department had been busy for three weeks straight with what the storm and weather change in combination with the parts the Deadalus brought held in store for them. Most of the stuff from the Pirian lab was in bad shape, but good enough to serve, once probably checked through, as spares for several things that needed replacing after the happenings of the last years.

Rodney felt guilty, anyway, just a bit; not because the people of Pir or that he couldn't have repaired their defences even if he wanted to, or because he had been on the infirmary and off duty for the first few busy days after the incident, but because of Meredith. Even if she hadn't understood what she was doing, she had meant well and in the end, had trusted him to put her to sleep even after he had tried to deactivate her.

She even changed the weather for him, and if nothing else had prooven her good will, this had. At least for him, or from the point of view of the meteorology department - who had a non stop orgasm since at least three weeks, because of the readings from the fast forward climate regeneration.

It was not their former planet, not by far, but the endless blue-green ocean that spread around their Ancient city gave it some of the feeling back. The green of the light had changed into a more petrol colour after the clouds had thinned out in the last month and the air had come to a stable oxygen level with temperatures averaging between 10° C and 20° C. Even the nights had stopped being so awfully chilling and the improvement in weather had also improved the whole mood of the city's inhabitants.

They even decided to hold Teyla's baby shower outside.

It turned to a big busy party in baby pink and blue with a buffet and, typically American, BBQ. Teyla had gotten anything she could ever need for the little monster, from baby boots Kusanagi and Simpson had knitted, to a mobile with little airplanes from Sheppard and a hand built baby bed from Ronon right down to a toy box covered in hand painted butterflies from Lorne, and of course, a lot of other clichéd paraphernalia.

The Lanteans made up for the Athosian dislike of her situation as well as possible, and judging by the small honest smiles Teyla had on her face, it worked. They even started singing for her, and man, although karaoke was evil and Rodney shuddered at every little note, she loved it all the same.

Carter sat in wheelchair at one table, a bandage peeking out from below the collar of her bathrobe and a bit pale, but she smiled and talked with Dr. Keller and some idiots from geology whose names Rodney couldn't remember.

Rodney leaned against the railing on the rim of the balcony that hosted the spectacle and watched the scene with a cool beer in his hand. It was a little like their first evening on Atlantis, as Weir had hosted the welcome party; Carson's presence only strengthened that déja vu.

"Be honest Carson," Rodney leaned over to the doctor at his side, curiously smiling at the other man. "...You were around all the time?"

"Aye." Carson chuckled at the way the people erupted in laughter as another gift was opened, presenting a little hand sewed expedition uniform with red patches.

"How," Rodney watched him. "I mean, not that I believe in the whole Sci-fi ghost in Machine cliché thing, or anything supernatural...but, honestly, how is it working, are you ascended or something?"

Teyla thanked the Marine, who had sewn the piece in cooperation with a female anthropologist, with a touch from brow to brow, and the people cooed and ahhed some more over the perfect little imitation of a diplomat's uniform.

"Ah, not ascended." Carson quipped, a grin spreading over his face.

Rodney frowned at his friend, taking a gulp from his beer. "But what else?"

Carson smiled and turned back to his friend, one hand tracing the railing while he sighed.

"There are a lot of things out there." He said with a twinkle in his blue eyes. "You know, the universe is a big place and there a lot of things far over our heads...."

"I guess." Rodney remembered the line from his last goodbye from Carson. "But that doesn't explain how you can be here and work with the city, in the city. How I can see you?" Rodney frowned a little. "Can others see you too?"

Carson just grinned and looked at Rodney in utter amusement.

"That's not fair," Rodney sighed.  "Honestly, can I scan you at least a little, just for the old times, you scanned me a lot, you know..."

"Rodney..." Carson chuckled.

Sheppard appeared out of the crowd, heading for their position with two new beers in his hands. He wore a broad, happy smile directed at Rodney and it melted Rodney little, too.

"Ah, I am sure, one day you'll figure it out..." The dead Scot said.

Carson watched Rodney swallow hard with a goofy grin on his own, before letting go of the railing to push himself off into the direction of the crowd. Carson took Rodney's bottle of beer, and Rodney was vaguely curious how he could take the bottle with being not really there and all...

"Well, see you around." Carson said setting the bottle down at the edge of the first table he came by.

"Yeah." Rodney nodded faintly and watched his friend disappear into the countless number of people as Sheppard arrived beside him.

"Here Rodney." Sheppard grinned and handed over the beer.

Rodney took it and leaned back against the railing. "Thanks."

Teyla opened another gift and lifted a couple of fluffy balls out of the pinkish wrapping package. She looked confused and one of the gate technicians gestured to explain, well, Rodney had to admit he had no clue what they could be for either.

"You know," Sheppard drawled and took a mouthful of beer. "...I think this was one of the best ideas we ever had."

Rodney nodded faintly in agreement. Teyla set the balls aside, and there was nothing more comical as Ronon's experimental poking at the fuzzy little things; she seemingly thought the same and erupted in laughter.

It was like music to their ears.

Rodney looked up into the sky, inhaling deeply, salt and water fresh in every breeze. A little more like home, complete with a few soft clouds at the horizon.

Rodney frowned. "It looks like it's going to rain."

"Hm," Sheppard looked up, too. "Nah... not really." He looked over. "You know, Keller said we shouldn't be out in the sun too much yet, with the remaining sensitivity to sunlight and all..."

Rodney looked at him questioningly and Sheppard looked innocently back out at the party, taking a sip from his beer. Sheppard had grown more daring concerning their not-thing in the last weeks, had even accepted that it, somehow, was a thing, and that being there for Rodney was indeed a better course of action than talking about team dynamics - more comfortable for Sheppard, too.

"I just thought..." He shrugged and raised an eyebrow, thousands of vivid pictures of possible ways to break all these annoying fraternisation rules oozing out of every pore. "I've got all the seasons of M.A.S.H. in my quarters..."

Rodney grinned and took another gulp from his bottle.

"Lead the way..."

And as the doors to John's rooms opened faster than they normally did, as the lights dimmed without command and the city protectively hummed around them while they did anything but watch TV, Rodney finally figured it out.

The End